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The Summer Reading List (Part One)
June 25, 2015 -- Chances are you have had lots of downtime this week. The summer travel season kicked off with nasty storms nationwide and airlines have delayed us with frightening, if unsurprising, regularity. About 51,000 flights ran behind schedule in the last week, according to FlightStats.com.
The solution? Have enough to read while your wait out the delays. Here's the first part of my summer reading list. I focus on some notable fiction, but, as usual, I don't fret about when the novel was actually released. Stay tuned for future columns with reviews because I think we're looking at a stormy summer and we'll need plenty of books packed in our carry-on and loaded on our Kindles.
BOND GOES ROGUE
Sir Ian Fleming published his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1953. He kept producing spine-tingling adventures of Britain's master spy for more than a decade. His last 007 novel, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, a pair of short stories, wasn't published until 1966, two years after his death. In the nearly 50 years since, other authors have stepped into the breach to keep Bond alive. Some have succeeded better than others at emulating the master and now comes one of my favorite novelists, William Boyd. He introduced us to his version of the multifaceted 007 with a novel called Solo.
Boyd has excelled with prize-winning fiction, including Brazzaville Beach, A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War. There have also been short-story collections and young-adult fiction. Boyd's initial Bond effort is set in Africa, which seems to be the author's favorite location and the place where his best tales have been told. (Boyd himself was born in Ghana the year before Casino Royale debuted.) This time around, 007 finds himself in a fictional West Africa nation torn by civil war.
Bond's mission is to bring an end to the hostilities by exerting his influence and wiles on the leader of the insurgency. There is, of course, a beautiful woman. In fact, there are two. There's also a complicated international plot that includes oil and the usual crowd of greed-driven manipulators brought to the Dark Continent by the lure of liquid gold.
In mid-course, the plot of Solo moves away from the fighting to Bond's decision to exact retribution on those who've done him wrong. That quest eventually brings him to Washington and a reunion with Felix Leiter, his old CIA buddy. And it's here that we encounter the reason for the book's title. Bond goes it alone for this mission, without permission or being assigned by his MI6 masters.
Perhaps it's the fact that Bond has just celebrated his 44th birthday in Solo, but I found the pace of this particular entry rather tame if not lame. I didn't find anything to write home about Bond's various sexual encounters, either. Maybe it's me that is getting old. It's a pleasant enough read overall but it's not a must-read--unless you're a die-hard Bond aficionado.
Believe it or not, there is a culinary bonus for those of you who read this book. James Bond's favorite salad recipe is actually spelled out. Somewhere along the way I'm going to give it a try. Given Bond's sophisticated tastes, I'm sure it makes a great salad.
DOWN UNDER TO THE DARK CONTINENT
You have to hand it to Henning Mankell, renowned worldwide for his hard-boiled fiction and detective thrillers, particularly the Kurt Wallander series. He's obviously endowed with talents that go beyond the genre that made him famous. I refer to A Treacherous Paradise, a novel that I came across by accident. Published in Sweden in 2011 and released in English in 2013, it's a peculiar story about a young woman from a remote Swedish village who signs aboard as cook on a cargo ship bound for Australia.
Needless to say, this is an unusual assignment for a woman at the dawn of the 20th century. The heroine, Hannah Lundmark, is married en route, loses her husband early in the voyage and then jumps ship at a West African refueling stop in Mozambique. By a series of rapid coincidences, including a second marriage, Lundmark inherits the largest brothel in that community. It's pleasure house staffed exclusively by black women and open only to white clients.
You'd think that a tale of a far-away brothel would be soaked in sex, but this isn't the case. A Treacherous Paradise is about the relationship between the races in what was then a Portuguese colony. The relationship virtually enslaves the black locals. Eye contact is never made and the natives have no social, economic or legal rights. It's a sorry state of affairs that prevailed in all of colonial Africa at that time regardless of whether the imperial power was British, French, German, Belgian or Portuguese.
I won't go into the rest of the story, but it's laced with surprises, suspense and, of course, a murder. It's written with great craftsmanship by the versatile Mankell and, although I had a problem or two with the ending, I found A Treacherous Paradise rewarding.
In an afterword, Mankell points out that just about all fiction is based on at least some degree of truth. He discusses the case of a Swedish woman who appeared from out of nowhere in the early 20th century and ran a brothel in Lourenço Marques as Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, was then known. She is identified in official archives as paying sizeable taxes, a sure sign of a successful business. She then disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived. Mankell's novel fills in the blanks with what he describes as pure speculation. But there's no speculation on my part: A Treacherous Paradise is a real good story.
WALLANDER DOESN'T GETS HIS WISH
Speaking of Mankell, there it was, The Troubled Man, the apparent final chapter in the Kurt Wallander detective series. As mentioned last year, it appeared that Mankell was allowing the personally challenged Swedish policeman to fade into an uncertain sunset. But not so fast. Along comes An Event in Autumn, a literary fragment short enough to be classed as a novella and published last year for the first time in English. Regardless of what you call it, though, it gives Mankell one more chance to tickle our fancy with a tale of Wallander.
The plot finds the detective seeking to fulfill the dream of a lifetime by finally, yes, finally, buying a house in the country. A hitch naturally develops: He finds two skeletons buried in the garden, a man and a woman who have been lying there for about 50 years. That's as far as I'll go here, but I will tell you that the house deal falls through.
There's an entertaining postscript to this somewhat shallow tale in which Mankell provides insight into how he writes his books and how the stories originate. The addendum, for fans, certainly trumps the novel.
Goodbye for now or, as the Swedes would say, hejda.
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.