Book Reviews

Book reviews by library staff

Each month we will review a book that a member of library staff has read. If you would like to share your thoughts on this book or any other book you can submit your own review on our book lovers’ corner. You can also leave a star rating and review on our library catalogue.

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Latest Review

Lehrter Station by David Downing

Lehrter Station by David DowningLehrter Station is the 5th member of Downing`s “Station” series, also known as the “John Russell and Effi Koenen” series. Russell is an English journalist who, thanks to his American passport, was able to work in Nazi Germany up until The United States entered the war in 1941. His girlfriend Effi Koenen was a German film star of the inter-war period. These, admittedly contrived, circumstances allowed the protagonists a first eye view of the rise to power, rush to war and the murderous genocide of the Nazi`s. The whole series is in a very similar vein to Philip Kerr`s  “Bernie Gunther” series or Robert Harris`s “Fatherland”.

To complicate matters Russell is also a lapsed member of the communist party, and this drew him to the attention of the Soviet Secret Service, such that they could use his cover as a journalist in Nazi Germany as a means to act as their agent. Russell is drawn into the orbits of other foreign secret services, including those of the Nazi SD, but tries always to do the right thing whilst assuring his own safety. Koenen is his humanitarian conscience who enjoys the privileges bestowed by The Party, but is concerned with the fate of the Jews and other victims of the regimes brutality.

This book moves to post-war Europe, Russell and Koenen have miraculously escaped Germany, but are drawn back there to rebuild their lives in the land they know as home. They are sponsored by the Russian NKVD for Russell to infiltrate the fledgling US CIA and act as a double agent. Of course Russell inevitably comes up with his own plan. Meanwhile, the couple also try to piece together their lives in a shattered Berlin, whilst trying to discover the fates of those who had had to stay behind when the Four Powers converged on the fallen German capital.

This book feels very much like a postscript to the war years of Berlin, and the great number of characters  mentioned (even for someone who has read all the other books) may be challenging for first time readers, despite the author`s attempts to recap.  It also seems to be a primer for the post-war careers of Russell and Koenen in the new Europe of the Cold War. As such, though the book comes across as wrapping up all that happened to almost every character encountered in the previous four books, this tends to make it overly complicated and not as dramatic as it`s predecessors. I would recommend reading the entire series, starting with Zoo Station, then all of this would make much more sense.

Previous Reviews

Gauntlgrym by R.A. Salvatore

If you fancy a dip into genre writing, this might be a good place to start. Don`t be put off by the fact that Salvatore is a legend in the Dungeons and Dragons universe and that this book is billed as the prequel (i.e. promotion tie-in) to the forthcoming Neverwinter fantasy computer game. Salvatore is now a veteran of the fantasy genre, and his work has never been better.

Gauntlgrym by R.A.Salvatore

By my calculation this is Salvatore`s 18th novel featuring his legendary Forgotten Realms character, Drizzt Do`Urden and his companions. Do`Urden is a Dark Elf, a Drow, who has chosen to live his life in the surface of the world and reject his heritage and the evil ways of his race. In the early novels this gave the writer many opportunities to explore the meaning of race and the misconceptions that go with it.

Whilst the early books were very much made to appeal to aficionados of Dungeons and Dragons, the quality of the writing has seen the books become so much more than that. Set almost a century after his last great adventures, Gauntlgrym sees Drizzt set off with his long-time friend the Dwarf King Bruenor on a quest to rediscover the lost Dwarven city of the same name. The books deals with the inevitable loss of friends and lovers that a nigh immortal must endure, but introduces new, interesting, characters to replace the fallen.

This is book one in a trilogy, followed by Neverwinter Wood and Charon`s Claw.  How they tie-in with the forthcoming game remains to be seen, but even as a stand alone experience this book is well worth reading. Staff Member, Carnegie Library

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by le Carré, JohnWith the recent critical success of the “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” movie, perhaps it`s time to re-visit the 60`s Cold War world of George Smiley and “The Circus”.

In “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, Smiley is a largely absent presence on the fringes of the story, but “The Circus” – the British Secret Intelligence Service, based at Cambridge Circus – and “Control”, it`s leader, are very much in evidence.

In the first Smiley novel “A Call for the Dead”, an East German assassin called Mundt escaped London after being uncovered by Smiley and Co. Since those events he has risen in the apparatus of the East German Secret Service, such that his operations have blunted the efforts of the British Secret Service in the Communist Bloc country. The blame for these failures are laid squarely at the feet of the leader of the West Berlin office; Alec Leamas. He is effectively demoted in disgrace, and asked by “Control” to enter a long and elaborate ruse such that he becomes a good target for the East Germans searching for potential defectors. He is asked to stay “in the cold” without official help or sanction, and to only “Come in” once his mission of disinformation is over.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the most interesting aspects are those which make us question which side is “right”, where both sides can be viewed as amoral in the methods they use to support their beliefs and ideologies. This is not the world of James Bond or a modern Jason Bourne, as a recent review of “Tinker, Tailor” reported it could be seen as just a bunch of “old men talking”. It is the psychological realism and grey areas of espionage that make the “old men talking” so interesting and heighten the drama of the sparse physical scenes when they come along. Staff Member, Carnegie Library

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

Prague Fatale by Philip KerrThe eighth book in the Bernie Günther series about a Marlowesque policeman/private investigator in Nazi Era Germany. The series flits around in time from the March Violets of 1933 to tracking the ODESSA Nazis to the Cuba of Batista and the Argentina of Peron. Günther has a smart mouth and isn’t afraid to use it, even to Nazis superiors with no time for his Weimar Republican tendencies. Although that mouth does get him into a lot of trouble, his investigative talents are appreciated by even the most rabid of the regime, and therefore he is given some leeway to do his work.

In this book we travel back to 1941, upon Günther`s  return from working as an SS policeman in one of the Special Action Groups on the Eastern Front. Traumatised and suicidal from what he has seen and done, Günther is ordered to attend a house party in Czechoslovakia, where Reinhard Heydrich and other high ranking Nazis have gathered. What develops is an Agatha Christie-like closed room murder mystery, with the added distraction of the Fatale of the title. She is a “Joy Girl” that Günther saved from an apparent rape attack and fell for in the blackout of Berlin and took with him on the trip to Prague. As the mystery unravels, the dangers of the politics of the time endanger them both.

Brilliantly researched and written by Kerr as always, he manages to integrate real life characters into an exciting thriller AND remind us of the horrors of the Third Reich.  Staff Member, Carnegie Library

The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The Burning Soul by John ConnollyIf you fancy the idea of a crime novel series with a spice of the supernatural, John Connolly`s Charlie Parker Series is what you are looking for. Parker is a Maine based Private Investigator with issues. Not least being the fact that he is haunted by the ghosts of his murdered wife and daughter. He also seems to attract violence and bad guys of the criminal and supernatural variety.

“The Burning Soul” is Parker`s 10th outing ranging back to “Every Dead Thing” from 1998, and as much as I love the series I have to say I was disappointed in this one. The supernatural quotient is toned down in favour of a detective procedural concerning the whereabouts of a missing girl, a small Maine town and the secrets of it`s inhabitants. For added flavour stir in the fact that the missing girl is the niece of a fading mobster beset from all sides. As usual the dialogue is excellent, with Parker fulfilling his role brilliantly as the mouthy detective “asking for a smack” and the humour of his friendly guardian hit men, Angel and Louis, is much needed light relief. A few plot holes are casually tidied up in the post-script, see if you can spot them! By David, Carnegie Library

The Gentlemen’s Hour by Don Winslow

The Gentlemen's Hour by Don WinslowThe sequel to The Dawn Patrol sees Boone Daniels; a surfer-dude, ex-cop Private Investigator from Southern California taking on two cases that begin to unexpectedly overlap. His lawyer girlfriend asks him to investigate the murder of a local legend on behalf of the defendant, whilst one of the regulars of The Gentlemen`s Hour surf group asks him to follow his wife in a “matrimonial” case. Winslow is as excellent and clued-up as usual, it is entertaining and educational in equal measure, with an eye for detail and realism. So good I had to try out one of Boone`s fish and salsa tacos! By David, Carnegie Library

The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson

The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson

I loved this book! The characters are well drawn and the story is totally absorbing.  It is told from three view points, the husband and his two wives. Sometimes I can find this style of writing difficult to follow, but the author weaves the stories together seamlessly.  A fantastic read about love and choices. By Sam, Carnegie Library

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