That Old Ace in the Hole
Fourth Estate, 9780007151523, £7.99
Marvellous evocation of the Texan and Oklahoman panhandles, gorgeous use of descriptive names, intensely and physically drawn people and places all make up for a witty, piercing portrait and landscape which does not rely on the slow undertow of the plot for its lasting impact.
Flights of Love
Phoenix, 9780753813973, £7.99
Nothing on the cover or the blurb of this book gives you any clue that it is a collection of short stories and not a novel. And when you start reading it is still not clear as the first few stories may or may not be linked. Which left me feeling disconcerted and a little cheated. But the stories are good – long enough to unwrap the characters and their lives, short enough not to lose you fully in the despair of love missed, loved lost, love never fulfilled. Beautifully translated in a thousand shades of grey these are haunting stories that seem choked with Eastern European ennui even when they are set in the Americas.
To Reach the Clouds
Faber & Faber, 9780571245857, £8.99
If you’ve seen the film ‘Man on Wire’ you’ll know the story. Shortly after the World Trade Centre towers were built in 1974 Petit, a French wire walker managed to infiltrate the buildings with a small team of oddballs, fire a wire between them and walk back and forth across them 412 metres above New York. If anyone ever wants inspiration to do the impossible this book is a perfect starting point. Driven with an over-arching ambition, full of passion, prone to making mistakes, but never taking his eye off the target Petit is an immensely unnerving character who writes with a choppy pace that leads you higher and higher, willing him on to defy every normal law, every grounded expectation and to reach the heavens. And he leaves you with another, more positive way to remember the twin towers.
The Excursion Train
Alison & Busby, 9780749082376, £7.99
Right, first the jacket – a coloured version of one of J.C. Bourne’s engravings of a broad gauge GWR locomotive emerging from Box Tunnel in Wiltshire. Which is misleading as we never get further than Berkshire on GWR metals in this railway detective story set in the mid-Victorian era. This is steam punk with plenty of steam and no punk – a mildly entertaining, moderately ungent, tale of murdered hangmen, murderous butchers and disturbed young women all tied together by the twin novelties of the railways and the metropolitan police.
Somerset Hills in Watercolours
Rosie and Howard Smith
Garrett Press, 9780954154684, £18.99
It is good to read a book about your own area, and it is a pleasure when that book is as well-produced and as beautifully illustrated as this one. Throughout the book Rosie’s watercolours capture the essence of the Somerset landscape, the warm glow of light on the local stone and the shadows of the past that still linger over many folds of this singular county. The text is OK, it helps make connections between places, it gives some interesting facts but it tends to bluster through the hill country at a rapid pace and with a fairly prosaic turn of phrase. Overall, this is an enjoyable read and an even more enjoyable collection of evocative paintings.