vrijdag 17 maart 2017

"Getekend vonnis" van Jo Claes

"De paniek gierde ineens door haar hersenen. De handen van de man zaten als een bankschroef om haar keel. Ze voelde hoe de druk toenam. Het deed pijn. Verschrikkelijk veel pijn. Ze kreeg geen lucht meer. Ze moest iets doen, ze moest..."


Net als bij vorige werken heeft Jo Claes hier weer een zeer passende titel gekozen. Het zesde boek uit de Thomas Berg-reeks speelt zich af in de wereld van de striptekenaars en -verzamelaars. In tegenstelling tot vele van Claes' andere boeken, die meestal beginnen met een lange proloog, start "Getekend Vonnis" meteen in volle actie. Al na enkele bladzijden is de eerste moord een feit. Een jonge vrouw wordt dood teruggevonden in een café. Ze is verkracht en brutaal vermoord. Een potlood is door haar tong geboord en naast haar wordt een bladzijde uit een stripverhaal gevonden, met daarop een al even brutale verkrachtingsscène. Niet veel later wordt een tweede lijk in gelijkaardige omstandigheden aangetroffen. Het lijkt erop dat in Leuven een psychopatische seriemoordenaar aan het werk is, zeker wanneer er nog meer slachtoffers vallen. Thomas Berg en zijn team tasten in het duister. Leuven raakt stilaan in paniek en omdat hij geen vooruitgang in de zaak boekt, wordt Berg het kind van de rekening: hij wordt hard aangepakt door zowel de pers als zijn oversten. Berg bijt zich echter vast in de zaak en is zelfs bereid om zijn carrière op het spel te zetten om de moordenaar in te rekenen.

Alweer een fantastische misdaadroman van Jo Claes. Elk boek dat ik van hem gelezen heb, was heel goed en elk nieuw boek is ook weer een tikkeltje beter dan het vorige. Dat geldt zeker ook voor "Getekend vonnis". Een ingenieus plot, met sterke, geloofwaardige personages, realistische dialogen en een opmerkelijk oog voor details - het zijn handelsmerken geworden van Jo Claes. Ik ben helemaal geen specialist in Vlaamse misdaadauteurs, maar wie Jo Claes nog niet gelezen heeft, moet dat zeker eens proberen. En waarom niet beginnen met deze "Getekend vonnis"?

Auteur: Jo Claes
Titel: Getekend vonnis
Uitgeverij: Houtekiet, Antwerpen/Utrecht
Jaar: 2013
Aantal bladzijden: 474 blz.
ISBN: 9789089242358


zaterdag 11 maart 2017

"The Crystal Cave" by Mary Stewart

“The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage.”

There have been countless versions of the King Arthur myth over the years, both in literature and on screen, but also in music, the theatre .... Of the more modern takes on the story, Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga is one of the most famous. The first three parts of the quintet are known as the "Merlin Trilogy"and are told through the eyes of royal adviser and prophet Merlin.

"The Crystal Cave" recounts Merlin's story from the age of about six. He grows up at a Welsh king's court as the bastard son of Princess Niniane. It's a mystery who his father is, only known to Merlin as 'the prince of darkness'. Merlin finds out he has a special gift, known as 'the Sight' and he is instructed how to cope with that by the hermit Galapas. When the king dies and his son, Camlach, becomes the new ruler, Merlin suddenly finds himself in danger. He runs away and ends up in Less Britain (Brittany), where he meets Ambrosius, who, along with his brother Uther, is preparing to conquer Britain. Arthur himself doesn't appear yet in this first book, but Merlin's prescience of the coming of the 'once and future king' is present all through the novel.

"The Crystal Cave" is a great novel which mixes history, fantasy and legend in a very entertaining way. Usually Merlin is portrayed as a quite mysterious character, but seeing the events unfold from his point of view, makes for an original take on the myth. It's beautifully written, with an intriguing plot, a fantastic, mysterious atmosphere and great characters. An excellent read.


Author: Mary Stewart
Title: The Crystal Cave
Publisher: EOS, New York
Year: 2003 (orig. 1970)
Number of pages: 495 p.
ISBN: 9780060548254

dinsdag 28 februari 2017

"The Lords of the North" by Bernard Cornwell

"It was the year 878, I was twenty-one years old and believed my swords could win me the whole world. I was Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the man who had killed Ubba Lothbrokson beside the sea and who had spilled Svein of the White Horse from his saddle at Ethandun. I was the man who had given Alfred his kingdom back and I hated him."

Uthred of Bebbanburg played a major part in defeating the Danes and helping King Alfred secure Wessex. But still Alfred looks down on Uthred, because he isn't Christian. While other warriors receive lands and riches for their service to the king, all Uthred gets are some trifles.

Disgusted by the way he has been treated, Uthred decides to leave Wessex and ride north to finally take revenge on the Dane Kjaertan, who killed his adoptive father. In Northumbria, he joins the slave-turned-king Guthred and instantly falls in love with Gisela, Guthred's sister. But then Uthred is betrayed by someone he considered a friend, and forced into slavery. For Uthred, though, this is just a minor setback in his quest for revenge.

This is part three of the "The Last Kingdom" series, which recounts the rule of Alfred the Great, seen through the eyes of the fictional Uthred. Like the first two books, "The Lords of the North" is pacey and the characters are interesting. The flimsy historical records are used to great effect, but as not much is known about the time and place, most of the story is pure fiction. Uthred is an odd character - he's obnoxious, arrogant, cruel and frustratingly over-confident, but the author still manages to make him likeable. There's a striking amount of humour in this book, most of it provided by Uthred's irony and sarcasm. Another excellent read. On to book four...
 
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Title: The Lords of the North
Publisher: Harper, London
Year: 2016 (orig. 2006)
Number of pages: 383 p.
ISBN: 9780007219704

donderdag 23 februari 2017

"Twee maal leven" van Clem Schouwenaars

"Alleen de grootste dwazen voelen zich gelukkig."

Manu Ressel leidt twee levens. In het gezelschap van zijn beroemde broer, de schrijver Ossian, begeeft hij zich voortdurend onder de belangrijke en interessante mensen. Maar dit leven is slechts een droom. De realiteit -dat andere leven- is dat hij overdag een onbetekenend baantje heeft op een kantoor - hij is slechts één van de duizenden werknemers van een fabriek. De mensen met wie hij daar omgaat zijn, 'saai', 'dom' en 'onder zijn niveau'. Manu is van mening dat hij meer verdient dan dat - dat er grootse dingen voor hem in het verschiet liggen. Hij rebelleert tegen zijn oversten en verlaat uiteindelijk de fabriek. Nu is het aan hem om aan te tonen dat hij inderdaad zijn droom kan verwezenlijken.

"Twee maal leven" vertelt een op het eerste zicht banaal verhaaltje over een kantoorbediende die zijn job beu is. Maar het verhaal gaat dieper dan dat. Het gaat over realiteit en dromen en over de grote kloof tussen beide. Over de drang om meer te zijn dan wie je bent en over het leren accepteren van je grenzen. En dat laatste betekent vaak een enorme desillusie. Clem Schouwenaars heeft me nog nooit teleurgesteld en ook "Twee maal leven" heb ik weer graag gelezen.

Auteur: Clem Schouwenaars
Titel: Twee maal leven
Uitgeverij: Hadewijch, Antwerpen/Baarn
Jaar: 1989 (oorspr. 1968)
Aantal pagina's: 145 blz.
ISBN: 9052400342

zaterdag 18 februari 2017

"The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy

“Life is an oasis which is submerged in the swirling waves of sorrows and agonies.”
 
Young Michael Henchard, a poor hay-trusser, arrives at a country fair with his wife Susan and baby daughter Elisabeth-Jane. In a drunken stupor, he sells his wife and daughter to a sailor, Mr Newson, who takes both to Canada. Some twenty years later, after the drowning of Newson, Susan and her daughter arrive in the town of Casterbridge. There, they find Henchard, who has risen on the social ladder and has become mayor of the town. Henchard, still feeling guilty about what he did all those years ago, vows to make amends and remarries Susan. But his past will come back to haunt him, again and again. As he refuses to learn from the mistakes of the past, Henchard's downfall is inevitable.

"The Mayor of Casterbridge" may not be quite as powerful as Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" but it's still a classic which deserves to be read. It has a strong plot (although a bit too reliant on coincidences - not unusual for the author) and I really like the symbolism Hardy uses. The characters -the titular character in particular- are complex and interesting. Hardy's prose is beautiful and not too difficult, but you'll have to be able to stomach quite a bit of pessimism. I happen to like a fair share of gloom in my literature, so Hardy is definitely among my favourite 19th century authors. "The Mayor of Casterbridge" didn't disappoint.

Author: Thomas Hardy
Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Publisher: OUP, Oxford
Year: 2008 (orig. 1886)
Number of pages: lxi + 364 p.
ISBN: 9780199537037

zaterdag 11 februari 2017

"Dissolution" by C.J. Sansom

“You untangle a knot with slow teasing, not sharp pulling, and believe me we have here a knot such as I have never seen. But I will unpick it. I will.”

'Dissolution', the title of C.J. Sansom's debut novel, refers to the suppression of the monasteries, a process by which King Henry VIII tried to close down all Catholic monasteries in England. This process was masterminded by the king's chief minister Thomas Cromwell, and this event provides the background for the novel.

Royal Commissioner Robin Singleton was sent to the Scarnsea monastery to investigate stories of illegal land sales, but was brutally murdered during the investigation. Now Cromwell has sent hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake to solve the murder, and at the same time continue Singelton's investigation. Soon, Shardlake discovers that he has arrived in a lair of avarice, corruption and decadence. Many of the monks are hiding something, and it becomes clear that there are a lot of suspects. More deaths follow, and as Shardlake is closing in on the truth, both he and his assistant Mark must also fear for their lives.


A murder in a monastery: it doesn't exactly sound original. And indeed, it is very probable that Sansom was inspired by Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose", though the story takes place a couple of centuries later. It is a very different novel, though. It's a much lighter read (not lighthearted, mind you), but like Eco's novel, it works both as a historical novel and as a murder mystery. The characters are excellently drawn. Matthew Shardlake proves to be an interesting and complex character that is   ideal to carry a series. The actions and motivations of all the characters are convincing. Cromwell, although he only appears very briefly, is a powerful and menacing figure. Apart from a clichéd scene in a clock tower, the ending and the solution to the murders is quite satisfying. An excellent start to a series which I will definitely read more books from.

Author: C.J. Sansom
Title: Dissolution
Publisher: Pan, London
Year: 2015 (orig. 2003)
Number of pages: 463 p.
ISBN: 9781447285830

zondag 29 januari 2017

"The Road to Little Dribbling" by Bill Bryson

“The rooms were small and airless and cramped. To make matters worse, somebody in our group was making the most dreadful silent farts. Fortunately, it was me, so I wasn’t nearly as bothered as the others.”

When you feel like having a good laugh, reading a book by Bill Bryson is always a safe bet. I've read all of his travel books, and I've smiled, grinned, giggled, laughed out loud and literally rolled on the floor laughing, unaware of the people around me, who were probably wondering what was wrong with me. Luckily, that was usually only my wife, who should know me by now. 

Anyway, one of those books was "Notes From a Small Island", an account of his first visit to Britain, a classic in humourous travel literature. Now, twenty years after that book, Bryson is back with another book about Great Britain, a country he has lived in for most of his life. So he travels around Britain again, with his keen sense of observation and his critical mind as his sole companions.


As always, the book is full of anecdotes and self-mockery, and Bryson has lots of interesting ànd funny things to say about the oddest subjects. Really, he is able to make it fascinating to read about things like the British road numbering system, spelling mistakes, or even the hairs growing out of his nose and ears. He stares in wonder at the glorious countryside, or the beautiful villages and towns he visits, but he comes down hard on stupid and rude people and he's devasted by the disappearance of so many wonderful things he encountered when he first travelled the country. He may have got a bit grumpier in his old age, but that only adds to the fun. Bryson evidently still loves Britain, but during his travels, it becomes clear that he feels the country is going downhill in many respects. His conclusion speaks for itself:

“It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if Britain is ever to sort itself out, it is going to require a lot of euthanasia.”

It isn't really necessary to read "Notes from a Small Island" first, but you might as well do just that, because it's absolutely brilliant. "The Road to Little Dribbling" may not be quite on the same level as the aforementioned "Notes..." or "Neither Here Nor There", but it's still that safe bet you were looking for.

Author: Bill Bryson
Title: The Road to Little Dribbling
Publisher: Black Swan, London
Year: 2015
Number of pages: 477 p.
ISBN: 9780552779838