Adult literature—new books for July-August. Reviewer: Janet Croft
Best reads–one or more stars: the more stars the better!
Red Nile, by Robert Twigger. HB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $49.99
It is possible to claim that the history of the Nile reflects the history of the world. Egypt was one of the early great civilizations, and the area has connections to all the great religions. Most recently, the “Arab Spring” originated in Cairo again close to this great river. Robert Twigger has lived in Egypt for seven years and seems to have read every book written about the Nile. As well he has travelled extensively over the one tenth of Africa which forms the Nile Basin. This biography—if one can use the term about a river rather than a person-of the world’s greatest river is a very interesting and readable collection of facts and history. At times the content seems to jump around a bit and not connect well, but it always informs and keeps you reading.
**Seven Elements that have changed the World, by John Browne. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $29.99
We tend to take various mineral elements of the world for granted, in whatever form they are found. Carbon can be coal or diamonds; titanium is used to make superior aeroplanes and to whiten paint. The other elements discussed here are Iron, gold, silver uranium and silicon.
John Browne was an engineer who rose to be group chief executive of the oil and mining company BP. His knowledge and unique thinking abilities cover a wide range of issues people should think about. The use of uranium is contentious, but when you consider the amount of global warming generated form the burning of fossil fuels, you can see there are pros and cons both ways. Browne covers topics such as oil fracking, the place of gold and silver in world business, and how the world has become so different because of the use of silicon in computer chips. This is a book which I thought might have been a bit too technical and heavy, but which I really enjoyed, and which has helped me understand a lot more of the modern world and these elements.
*Rendezvous with Destiny, by Michael Fullilove. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
During the first years of the second world war, Hitler was sweeping all before him, England looked to be the next to go and the future of the western world looked bleak. The people of the United States did not wish to be at war. Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and at a slightly later stage, Joseph Stalin, had to defeat Hitler. The leaders did not know each other or how well each country would wage war or support each other. Rendezvous with Destiny, written by the Australian Rhodes Scholar Michael Fullilove shows how Roosevelt was able to use five remarkable men as envoys, to gather information and communicate with these three world leaders. This is a remarkable book that on first impression looks to be heavy going and contain just history. However the story becomes totally engrossing as you learn the personal aspects of the war and the ability of everybody involved to see what was needed; there are also some really simple quotations given, quotes which helped to make a point at a critical time and therefore to help win the war which had to be won.
*History’s Worst disasters, by Eric Chaline. PB from Murdoch Books. RRP $29.99
This is obviously a book for adults, but as I read the extracts, I couldn’t help feeling that it would be a brilliant book for secondary school libraries. The book contains outlines of 50 disasters which have occurred from Stone Age days to the present. Some are purely natural events, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the massive volcanic explosion that was Krakatoa. Some other disasters are classified as natural-human—disasters such as the Chia Floods of 1931 and the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004—because of the immense loss of life involved when areas of dense population were hit, and human disasters, where man has both caused and suffered. In this latter section, the author presents the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War 1, and of course the New York bombings on 9/11 2001. The book explores why some of these disasters have been largely forgotten, whilst others haunt modern life. The author is at pains to point out that sometimes very small changes in human behaviour can alter the outcome of potential or actual disasters, and he shows most clearly that it is up to us to take actions now to avert the massive disasters which will occur as a result of on going climate change. Each extract has a box at the beginning, giving the name and date, and type of disaster, and also a succinct summary of the cause, event, and aftermath. There are a number of photographs, some maps and quite a number of copies of paintings which illustrate the events. I find it a really interesting book, but it is one to browse over time, and in which to find information rather than to read at one go.
The New Digital Age. , by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
This book is very clearly for digital buffs, and those interested in both the history and apparent future developments of technologies, particularly computers and software. Eric Schmidt has been the boss of Google, and Cohen both works at Google and has been advisor to a couple of US secretaries of state. A few of the issues which are discussed are cyber safety and privacy, and how wars and conflicts are being and will continue to be transformed by the proliferation of drones for example. It is a dense and complex book, and some of the issues I found frightening even to contemplate. I don’t claim to have read it all but I am sure that it will be of considerable interest for serious geeks.
1001Whiskiesyou must try before you die. Edited by Dominic Roskrow. PB from Murdoch Books. RRP $39.99
We have about eight single malt whiskies in our cupboard—they are mostly drunk when visitors come, and the flavours can be tasted and compared. I was amazed to realise how many whiskies are made around the world, and partlcularly how many originate in the USA and Canada. It was fun to look up the ones in our cupboard and to learn more about their origins, and how many different styles and qualities of whisky are made in each distillery. An excellent book to share and browse over a dinner party and a wow of a gift for whisky lovers
***The Coat Route, by Meg Lukens Noonan. PB from Scribe. RRP $27.95
A fourth generation Sydney tailor, John Cutler, was given the task of handcrafting the best overcoat that could be produced. The eventual cost was $50,000. Keith Lambert was so pleased with it that he ordered a second coat, in a different colour. At first I thought that reading about wealthy people indulging their shopping fantasies would not be interesting. The author however describes the whole manufacturing process in detail, beginning with the shearing of vicunas in Peru, because the fleece is so prized that the villages have bred up stocks of this endangered animal, and now are making good money from them. The process of manufacturing the cloth, the dyeing and finishing processes, the selection of eh best silk for the lining, even the making of the buffalo horn buttons and an engraved gold label all seems an exercise in excess but as you read about the skills required, and how they are kept alive in the world by people who have the money to buy only the best, it is a really fascinating story. One can only hope that these skilled tradesmen will be able to withstand the pressures of buying cheap goods from China. Well worth reading.
*The Book of Woe, by Gary Greenberg. PB from Scribe. RRP about $35
The subtitle of this book is the DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry. It is concerned with the recently released version 5 of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders. The author analyses the origins of the first volume of this manual, and discusses how the diagnosis and treatment of so called mental illnesses have all changed so much since people with apparent mental disorders were allowed to remain in the community rather than being shut away for their own good—supposedly- as well as for the good and safety of the community, to the present. Greenburg feels that not only have the criteria for certain so called disorders changed over time, but some have been abolished, and been relabelled as ‘normal ‘ behaviours, but other diagnoses have been added. Greenburg believes that many of these changes are ad hoc solutions to behaviours which cannot otherwise be explained, or justified. He also believes that many of the big drug companies have vested interests in extending their sales of various drugs. One of the people to whom Greenberg refers frequently in the book is Allen Frances, who, in the early 1990s headed the committee of the task force which developed the DSM-1V, and was head of the school of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. Over the past few years Frances has been scathing in his criticisms of the most recent DSM task force, saying that that they are unjustifiably abusing their power and creating an even larger monolith which is psychiatric illness of whatever type. “Basically there is no definition of a mental disorder” Shock, horror—what are the psychiatrists doing? The plea is that they should look again at what they are doing, what they have created, and put people, not supposed treatments and drugs first. I found the book heavy going, but fascinating—especially where conditions such as ADHD, homosexuality, and Aspergers’ syndrome, and its apparent relationship with autism, were being discussed. IT has certainly made me consider the diagnoses of some of the students with whom I deal much more closely. For interested medical and psychological professionals.
Perfect, by Rachel Joyce. PB from Random House. RRP $24.95
Byron and James were very clever boys who both attended the same small private school. Both could become concerned about details that others never thought about. Byron had heard that the world’s time was out by two seconds, and that at some stage this would be adjusted. Byron’s mother spent her time trying to please his father Seymour, who was a banker in London who comes home at weekends. He asks difficult questions and life is more pleasant when he is away at work. The other part of the book is about an adult, Jim. He tries to work but finds life difficult and his relationship with Eileen seems fraught with problems. He thinks he prefers the time when he is locked up in a mental institution. Everybody seems to be on the autism spectrum, which gives a highly idiosyncratic and unusual flavour to the story.
Always Watching, by Chevy Stephens. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Dr Nadine Lavoie works in a psychiatric hospital. She comes from a very dysfunctional family who spent some years in a remote controlling community and now she has a strong desire to help damaged people. The book is very emotional and about people who have been suicidal and have suffered from really traumatic experiences. These are not subjects for pleasant reading.
All the birds Singing, by Evie Wyld. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $32.95
This is a rather strange story of Jake Whyte, a girl who lives on an isolated island on a sheep farm. The story encompasses both events in the present, and in Jake’s past. Jake’s only companion now is Dog, who does not communicate well. When something or someone kills some of the sheep at night, and Jake sees a person in the darkness, she reports the losses to the police, but nothing is done. Some of the story is set in England, and some in Australia and the Australian part is mostly in shearing sheds in Western Australia. The author presents the characters in the shearing teams very strongly and well, but her descriptions of the shearing process and the equipment which is used is nothing like what happens, and I found the falsity annoying. Overall I found the story gripping in places, but too complicated.
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, by Dina Nayeri. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Saba and her twin sister Mahtab, aged 11 at the start of the story, have always been fascinated by all things American. Saba finds it difficult to accept that her mother and Mahtab have left to live in America while Saba has to stay in Iran. We follow Saba as she enters adolescence, of how she is then married to an old man, but how she maintains her desire to go to America, and to live a life free of the constraints of her small town environment and country, where as a woman, she has so few freedoms. I found this to be a haunting story, and although I read it a couple of months ago—not sure why I didn’t review it then- I can still remember much of the story. Fortunately for Saba, the outcome is as she wished, and she made it to America
*The Heist, by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Evanovich is a well-known and established author, and Lee Goldberg is a writer for television. The two have put their skill together here. The Heist is a pleasant mix of a beautiful FBI agent, a smart and attractive con artist and a rogue investment banker who is hiding on his island off the coast of Indonesia. Nicholas Fox prefers to be a con artist but finds himself teaming up with special agent Kate O’Hare to catch Danny Cole. Nicholas intends to get the stolen money for himself. This is all action, with highly improbable scenes, but it is light reading which will make you smile at it all. I gather this is the first of what may become future collaborations between these two authors.
Sisters of Spicefield, by Fran Cusworth. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $32.95
What complicated lives some people live, and how difficult are some of the decisions they have to make. While this book is fiction, it nevertheless discusses and shows a fair bit of detail about IVF treatments, and the decisions which the process sometimes demands. Would you be able to donate a viable embryo that you did not want for yourself to someone else whose own treatments had not worked? Jessica and Matt have four beautiful children, but when the youngest of these dies, their marriage splits, and Jessica is distraught, and finds it hard to cope. Such unhappiness also affects the other children. When Jessica realises that a new girl at the children’s school resembles her own children too closely for it to be chance she learns that in fact this is the child from the egg that she and matt had donated seven years previously. Jessica finds that she becomes possibly overly protective of this little girl because her home environment is not what Jessica wants for someone who has grown from her. The story is gripping, thought provoking—and heart wrenching at times– and seems very realistic.
The Last Man, by Vince Flynn. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $$19.99
There is no doubt that the current war in Afghanistan has spawned heaps of novels, as well as more serious non-fiction. This is another novel about the Americans there, the CIA and their operations, and the usual complex security details. Consequently lots of people are killed in this book, and I found it unpleasant and predictable.
*Crime of Privilege, by Walter Walker. PB from Bantam and Random House. RRP $32.95
George Becket twenty-two years old, witnesses the molestation of a young girl at a society party. The two men involved were both from very prominent families who were able to use their backgrounds to cover up the crime. George has always felt that he should have done more to help her at the time of the assault. Twelve years later another girl was murdered and her body left on a Cape Cod golf course. George is convinced that the same families are involved, and now in his role as a lawyer he sets out to solve the case. The author is a trial attorney so he has considerable background legal and procedural knowledge all of which he uses to effect in this story. Good leisure reading.
***The Kill Room, by Jeffrey Deaver. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
Jeffrey Deaver has now written ten thrillers with Lincoln Rhyme as the forensic investigator. Because he is confined to a wheelchair, Rhyme has the most up to date equipment and a highly honed ability to understand the clues left at various crime scenes. There has been a series of assassinations, and Nance Laurel, who is the district attorney for New York City, is suspicious that a rogue US government is behind the crimes. Laurel hires Lincoln and his offsider Amelia Sachs to investigate, but this proves to be a move which places all their lives at risk. The Kill Room is a complex thriller with a well thought out plot, and the book demands to be read as quickly as you can!
**Con Law, by Mark Gimenez. PB from Sphere and Hachette. RRP $29.99
John Bookman is a youngish professor of constitutional Law at the university of Texas. Some of the story is concerned with how he can inspire his students to think rather than just be concerned about how to get into a big law firm. Bookman loves to become involved with legal issues, and most of the book is based on events in a small town in Texas, a town which is home to oil drillers– people who are prepared to put up with a lot in order to get and keep a well paying job. Fracking for oil and coal seam gas are both issues of current interest and relevance to Australians. The author, himself a lawyer, covers what can happen, and how the laws have been shaped to help the oil companies. Con Law is another action packed story, this one with a lot of harsh reality throughout.
*Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
London functions on many levels, and the criminal elements are complex; particularly as many of the European crime syndicates have established drug and prostitution rackets there. Police and fire brigades are called to a fire in a small convent hidden in a residential area of West London. They find twelve bodies in the convent, which had been known to house only eleven nuns. This is a substantial and well-written mystery novel as the police try to unravel connections with radical liberation theology in South America. Another possible link is with the Albanian criminals who own houses in the area. There are many questions to ponder before the crimes will be solved. Good reading.
****Unholy Trinity, by Denis Ryan and Peter Hoysted. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Occasionally we read and review a book which we feel everybody should read so that the book can be discussed publically. Institutions such as churches and the police forces have in the past used their power to try to protect their name when in fact their position has been used and abused by some members of the organisations. Denis Ryan, when a young policeman, was transferred to Mildura in Victoria in the 1970s. At that time there was a tacit agreement that priests were not to be charged for any crime short of murder. Members of the police force were usually either freemasons, or Catholics. For many years, the Catholic Church in particular never asked the police to investigate allegations of paedophilia, merely choosing to transfer the priests involved to another parish.
Denis Ryan has spent forty years fighting for justice for the victims of priests such as John Day, who has been regarded as one of Australia’s most active paedophiles. Day died without ever being charged. He was protected by senior members of the Victorian Police, the local Clerk of Courts in Mildura, and the Bishops of Ballarat Diocese. Ryan was a good cop and had the trust of the people of Mildura. He eventually served as mayor of the city. The victims had their lives destroyed by Day, who used his position to prey on young children. Day got away with his actions, while Ryan was pushed out of the police force and many of Day’s victims grew up shamed and became alcoholics. Many committed suicide. One can only hope that politicians, police and church now have the courage and integrity to stop crimes which have been far too common, and hidden for too long. A serious book, not pleasant to read, but alarming in the details of crimes which have been hidden for too long by people whom the community normally expect to trust.
**Blood Witness, by Alex Hammond. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
Alex Hammond trained as a lawyer and it shows in his excellent command of how the legal system works, and how lawyers and barristers can be called upon to defend the undefendable. Will Harris is a defence lawyer in a large Melbourne law firm. His client is a wealthy paedophile who has been accused of murdering a young schoolgirl. The police see the accused as a certainly and they have not done enough work to support their case. This is a novel of the so called underbelly of Melbourne, with drug lords, clubs which cater for deviates, and all the pressure on the police to solve crimes, as well as the possibilities that the obvious is not always what happened. This is a gripping story, written by an author with the knowledge to make it all sound totally authentic and real.
The Pagoda Tree, by Claire Scobie. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
Maya was brought up to be a temple dancer, in the hope of becoming an in house dancer for the prince of Tanjore. In the late 18th century, India was coming under the governance of the British, and the local princes were losing power. Maya moved to Madras to escape war and to try to make her living. Thomas Pearce is an ambitious young British trader who becomes smitten with the young dancer. English society was opposed to cross-cultural relationships and against the children who resulted from such matches. This is a story of a period in the history of India, and presents much of the exotic landscape and society of the time.
***Heist, by Robert Schofield. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
A very well planned robbery occurs from the mine site in Kalgoorlie, and eight twenty-kilo ingots of gold are stolen. Gareth Ford is the mine site engineer and he was taken hostage during the robbery. He can see that there was insider knowledge involved in planning the heist and it is plain to him that it is intended that he appear to be the culprit. Robert Schofield is an engineer who did work in the WA gold mining industry. His background gives him the ability to write a book that feels authentic. His use of Australian idioms must come from mixing with the characters who work in the remote mines and mining cities. This is an excellent adventure story, about outback mines, bikie gangs, suspicious mine owners and a heap of action. First rate Australian fiction story.
The Inheritor’s Powder, by Sandra Hempel. PB from Weidenfeld and Nicholson, released by Hachette. RRP $29.99
There is a subtitle to this story: ‘A Cautionary Tale of Poison, Betrayal and Greed.” In the 1830s, arsenic was available to make rat poison; it was also the poison of choice to hasten the inheritance process or to rid yourself of a person troublesome to you. Medical science was not advanced and it was always difficult to prove poisoning. Everyone connected with the Bodle family, their estates and farms in the village of Plumstead, was shocked when the family suddenly became ill, and the old master of the house died. It all developed into a court case that gripped the entire nation. Doctors were called to give evidence, and it was decided that they needed to be paid for their time and expertise, because of the need to find a positive test to prove that poisoning had occurred. The book is a record of how a death was investigated, and how the courts worked at the time. It is not a so-called murder mystery. OK reading, but not what I had expected!
The Shadow Tracer, by Meg Gardiner. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
Sarah Keller’s job is to trace people who really wish to disappear. She uses all the technology available to trace records of all sorts, including bank and phone accounts, and finds that people on the run usually make some mistakes. When Sarah’s daughter Zoe is involved in a school bus accident it is found that Sarah and Zoe had been living a lie. Medically, Zoe cannot be Sarah’s daughter. This is a fast moving story—Sarah is hiding herself from members of a rigid religious cult, and Zoe’s father is a member of the cult. The two women have to run and hide, but provide evidence to the FBI about the cult and its activities. It is a very good, almost enthralling read.
Fairfax, the Rise and Fall, by Colleen Ryan. PB from Miegunyah Press, and MUP RRP $24.99
There was a time when the Fairfax company had the most prestigious newspapers in Australia, and the so-called rivers of gold which were produced by their advertising revenue. The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s Age were part of an old and mighty empire. The members of the Fairfax family always worked in newspapers and understood the need for good journalism and to look after the business.
Colleen Ryan has written an account of the personalities involved, and discusses the opportunities missed as Fairfax advertisers went to the new electronic start ups such as Seek, Carsales.com and realestate.com. These three businesses now have have a capital value much greater than that of Fairfax. The book is a fair bit of Australian history, with an insider’s view of what happened. I have always enjoyed reading a good newspaper, but this book makes me wonder about what lies ahead for their future.