Reading roundup

At the risk of becoming a book blog, musings on the rest of my January reading.

Although I was a lone voice in enjoying The Brief History of the Dead at the inaugural (or inaugurable, as I said on Monday – no chicken expected this one) bookclub, it did incite some interesting discussion. One stray comment was on how we feel influences what we read and vv – someone mused that they might have enjoyed bleak metaphysical Antarctica more if it hadn't been so grey and bleak outside; someone else felt it was entirely appropriate. And I realised that it had simply influenced my choice in what to read next, which is a sure sign I've enjoyed something: I go looking for similar / sympathetic books to extend the experience and provide interesting comparisons.

At least, I assume this is how I found myself reading books set in wintry Moscow. Snowdrops by A D Miller is billed as a crime thriller and starts, Gorky Park-like, with a body in the snow. You know it's going to end badly, but it spends most of its modest length masquerading as an ill-starred romance and taking a look at what modern Russia can do to a nice Englishman. Or well, not that nice – he's a corporate lawyer.

Arguably car crash reading, but I found this diverting. It's hard to like the narrator, but I liked the device of the novel as 'confession' to his new fiancée (although I wouldn't marry him after it!). Being a big fan of Arkady Renko, I am already too cynical to have expected anything other than the dirty outcome.

It in turn spurred me to finally get round to reading Michael Frayn's The Russian Interpreter, or more adventures in car crash Moscow. Much lighter hearted than Snowdrops, this book of comic mishaps makes far more sense when you realise it was written (and is set) in the 60s.

With another even more naive Englishman at its heart, Interpreter derives much of its comedy from the English unwillingness to rock the boat. The spooky bit is where Gordon describes what he does; I can be forgiven for not checking the publication date until much later, as his trade is essentially the very modern cult of reality tv star as celebrity.

The comedy of one man interpreting for the most unusual 'lovers' segues into a low grade spy caper that is largely unsatisfying, but as with Snowdrops, the point here is character development (destruction?) over plot; each novel strips its protagonist of all his comforting self-deceptions and leaves him shivering in the snow.

After all which slightly weighty and terribly straight subject matter, I turned to Moon over Soho for light relief. Ben Aaronovitch's second outing for PC Grant is as entertaining as the first. The Met's secret magical investigators are struggling to cope; Grant is racing to learn enough magic to get by, Inspector Nightingale is still weak after being shot, and someone is stalking jazz musicians in Soho.

Laugh out loud funny in places, dark in others, Moon has a lot of heart and a lot of jazz – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Delightful pulp; I look forward to the third installment's exploration of the Underground.

I finished the month with some unsatisfying Charlie Connelly. And Did Those Feet was less about walking and more a set of rather biased potted histories. Not quite what I expected, nor what I was in the mood for this month. Disappointing.

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