The Daves Next Door, by Will Carver
I was sorely tempted to bail on this book, well before I reached its end; looking at it charitably, I suppose it could be considered to be ‘worthy’, if it ‘makes people think’; that is: consider their life, as an individual, and how their opinions & actions impact other people, but I have to confess I found it too full of existential angst, and a disjointed narrative which is always presenting alternatives—what if this didn’t happen, because in another universe, in fact [but is it?] it didn’t. The main theme of the story is a series of bomb outrages in London, in the very near future [the current year, 2023, in fact], and parallel to the descriptions of the various characters & their situations are reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee, which examine how the outrages could have been allowed to happen, and why they weren’t prevented. There is also a suggested metaphysical element with one character, and a thread connecting the narrative is chapters in which one of the putative suicide bombers asks himself, while he is riding the London Underground, what he is doing, why he is doing it, and even if he is actually God [as in the Judeo-Christian deity; or perhaps the Moslem God: it’s not entirely clear]. This author has written several other books, so I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this one was not to my taste. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Orenda Books, London, ISBN 978-1-9145-8518-0.
The Colorado Kid, by Stephen King
Surely, everybody who reads books or watches films, or both, must have heard of this author; but until now, I had no interest in reading one of his books, fearing that they all fell into the horror category, of which I am no aficionado [I was saddened to learn, recently, that this term originates in bullfighting]. However, I had ignored, or forgotten, that he also wrote The Green Mile, The Shining, and the source book for The Shawshank Redemption. This novella was something of a coup for the publishers, because they never thought they would be able to tempt an author of this stature to write for their revived ‘pulp’ genre, Hard Case Crime, but he jumped at the chance. This is more of a mystery than a ‘whodunit’, because although the story concerns the death of an initially unidentified man on a Maine beach, the narrative is a leisurely discussion about it between two local newspapermen, one of whom is a sprightly ninety years old, the other of who is somewhat improbably named David Bowie, and their very young colleague, Stephanie McCann, who is on a temporary work placement as a graduate student. It might be a spoiler to reveal that no provable motive for the death is revealed, but the pleasure in the story is in the interplay between the characters. The paperback I read was published in 2019 by Titan Books, London, ISBN 978-1-7890-9155-7.
Shot in Southwold, by Suzette A. Hill
This story precedes the one I have reviewed previously, The Cambridge Plot, in an earlier anthology, and it revisits a location which was used in an earlier novel, A Southwold Mystery, and to which reference is made in this story. This time, the plot revolves around a film which is being shot there, so no spoiler here, because the pun is easily found in the title. Also, the year is specifically stated as 1960 [albeit on the back cover], but even though that is more than half a century behind us, the atmosphere is not unduly historical, save for the absence of the technology which we now take for granted. The trio of characters from the later novel, Felix Smythe, Cedric Dillworthy, and Rosy Gilchrist, is present here, along with one or two other regulars. Felix has been offered a small part in the film, although the plot is somewhat difficult to discern: not least for the actors! Once the groundwork has been laid, and well into the narrative, one of the actors is murdered so, despite their having minimal enthusiasm for becoming embroiled in the unravelling of same, the trio is inevitably drawn into it. Despite some jeopardy for one of the characters near the end, the narrative ticks along at a leisurely but not unenjoyable pace towards a conclusion where the local constabulary is shown to be stereotypically plodding. The paperback I read was published in 2017, by Allison & Busby Limited, London, ISBN 978-0-7490-2131-3.
The Enigma of Garlic, by Alexander McCall Smith
This is, presumably, the latest episode in what could, depending upon one’s assessment of these popular productions, be described as a soap opera; I don’t watch any [or listen to any, with reference to the [very] long-running British radio drama, The Archers], but I will take a neutral approach, and call it an episodic saga, despite the geographic dislocation. The same regular dramatis personae appears: seven year old Bertie, in training to be a figurative doormat [although his good friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson recognises Bertie’s humanity, nevertheless] under the tutelage of his putative fiancée and Harridan in training Olive, with the sterling sycophantic support of her acolyte Pansy. One of the other threads concerns café owner Big Lou, who marries ex-strongman Fat Bob, only for rumours of his infidelity, and possibly even bigamy, to emerge; these are covertly investigated by local aphorism-dispensing nun, Sister Maria-Fiore dei Fiore Montagna. There is no explicit suggestion that the saga will not continue, and possibly a familiarity with Edinburgh & its environs might facilitate a greater enjoyment of these gentle peregrinations, but it isn’t necessary: they make a pleasant change from, and antidote to police procedurals with the inevitable blood & gore, and even espionage stories can become somewhat formulaic, so I will happily read other episodes in this series; the eponymous garlic barely gets a mention, by the way. The hardback I read was published in 2022 by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd., Edinburgh, ISBN 978-1-8469-7590-5.