Wednesday Book Review: The Last Best Friend by George Sims

I am trying to put more book reviews here, so this is an attempt to get beyond one per week 😉

The Last Best Friend by George Sims

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press/British Library

Release date:  Original 1967, rerelease 2017 

Description

“The small man standing on the narrow ledge stared fixedly forward with eyes made wide and blank by terror.”

At 2pm on a Monday in 1966, Ned Balfour wakes in Corsica beside a beautiful woman.

In the same instant, back in London, fellow art dealer and Dachau survivor Sam Weiss falls ten stories to his death.

Ned refuses to believe that Sam’s death was intentional, and his investigation thrusts him into the deceit and fraudulence of the art world, where he unmasks more than one respectable face.

First published in 1967, this thrilling tale of vertigo, suspicion and infidelity is a long-forgotten classic with an intriguing plot twist.

https://poisonedpenpress.com/books/last-best-friend-british-library-classic-thrillers/ 

The introduction by Martin Edwards illuminates further who George Sims was (d. 1999) and perhaps why he isn’t as well known as his contemporaries of the time (the “Swinging Sixties”) like John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Sims’ style is descriptive, literary, revealing a deep knowledge of London. Ned Balfour can’t reconcile that his friend Sam, a concentration camp survivor, has committed suicide. Both Balfour and Sam are antiquarian booksellers (as Sims was until his death), and Ned is driven to find the answer to his friend’s state of mind.  The antique books world is wonderfully depicted as this is Sim’s home turf.

I loved Ned Balfour for his self-analysis, his somewhat jaded view of the world. His descriptions and relationships with women are archaic, but not as problematic as the homophobia that Simms’s prose touches on. It’s the 1960s, however, and I’ve read worse from modern authors. The writing and the plot were too good, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.

For an antiquarian bookseller, he’s pretty tough, but both he and Sam are the WWII generation. Ned easily talks women into bed, and he finds himself, as he approaches middle age, kind of creepy. The plot twists and turns as Ned gradually figures out Sam was murdered and drives himself hard to find out who and why. Charming and engaging, I’ll be reading more of George Sims.

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Sunday Book Review: The Cloister by James Carroll

 

The Cloister is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mirrors is the Catholic priest Kavanaugh and the Jewish docent for the Cloisters, Rachel. Rachel’s father is the link back to Abelard and Heloise, as before the war he was a scholar in Paris working on a study of Abelard’s: Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian (1136-1139).  She carries Abelard’s book History of My Calamities with her everywhere because it was her father’s. When the priest seeks the shelter of the Cloisters during a rainstorm, they fall into conversation, and she spontaneously hands it over to the priest.

The themes of obligation and exploitation, retreat and annihilation, manipulation and survival are golden threads to follow through this labyrinth. A beautifully horrifying and shattering story.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday.

Sunday Book Review: The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

Title:  The Orphan of Florence

Author: Jeanne Kalogridis

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Release Date:  October 3, 2017

Genre: Historical

Setting: Renaissance Florence

I am an absolute sucker for anything set in (Renaissance) Florence, but the author is a bit of a hit or miss for me, and I approached the novel with trepidation…

And fell right into the consuming rabbit hole of the story. Wow! 

My other absolute sucker-ness is for stories with women getting by in the world masquerading as men.

I loved Guilia—she knew from the get-go that her mind was different than the other children and adults around her.  Smart as she is, she struggles to overcome the real talent that keeps her alive—her distrust of all things except for the small family she’s made of a former prostitute and a street urchin.  She supports them by being a pickpocket, until she picks the right pocket, and though her circumstances are much improved after that fateful encounter, her new life is far more dangerous than the life she had led on the streets.

Medici spies versus Roman spies, orphans, codes and ciphers, and best of all, magic.

I loved the descriptions of Florence and the arcana—the author hit all the right notes for me from the moment I started reading. The fight scenes with Niccolo are absorbing and well researched.

BUT—does Guilia really need to say “OK” in this setting? I only laughed and moved on, but some might not. It takes more away from the story than adds to it, and as this is an ARC, I hope they remove “ok” from the finished manuscript.

P.S. Da Vinci, as much as I love him, doesn’t need to appear in every story set in Renaissance Florence, and for anyone who thinks “Da Vinci’s Demons” is history—it’s not, it’s an AU.

 

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #11

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I reviewed the re-issue of the first in the Blackstone (Blackstone #1)series from NetGalley and picked up the second (Blackstone on Broadway #2) in KU.

I’m (edit: still) listening to this one on my early morning walk around the horsetrack–I love this–I hope to see more from this author.

Karen Odden’s enthralling debut historical mystery transports readers to Victorian England, where a terrifying railway disaster plunges a headstrong young noblewoman into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest corridors of power.

Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother’s life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl.

After Paul reveals that the train wreck was no accident, and the inspector who tried to prevent it dies under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth undertakes a dangerous investigation of her own that leads back to her family’s buried secrets. The more she learns, the more she must risk. Not only are her dowry and her reputation at stake; Paul’s very life hangs in the balance when he is arrested for manslaughter. As the trial draws near, and Parliament prepares for a vote that will change the course of the nation, Elizabeth uncovers a conspiracy that has been years in the making. But time is running out for her to see justice done.

What did you recently finish reading?

I loved this novel set in Renaissance Florence, love the voice and the mysterious Magician of Florence. Great concept!  I’ve only read two other novels by this author, The Burning Times and The Borgia Bride, and liked them, though Borgias have gotten boring for me.  Like Tudors. Review to come!

Description

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

From NetGalley, I have these two to finish up before requesting the next batch:

Abelard and Heloise! 😀

1904-1924 mystery series re-issue from Poisoned Pen Press…

 

Sunday Book Review: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Title: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Author:  Fartumo Kusow

Publisher: Second Story Press

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Genre: Literary, Multicultural

Setting: Somalia

Idil, a young girl in Somalia, is the daughter of a general and whose family is of the dominant Bliss tribe. Her older brother is a sadistic creep and her younger brother has a heart as big as her own. Her mother does what is expected of her, repeating all the toxic masculinity brainwashing that goes on in patriarchal cultures everywhere.

Oh, this is a beautifully written and terrifying book!

Because of her general father’s numerous affairs, the last one ending in violence, they are moved closer to the capitol.  Thus Idil meets Sidow, and their friendship is fast and immediate.  For both her and her younger brother, Sidow is a healing balm when they can get away from their toxic household. Sidow is sweet, smart and talented, but he’s also of the Boon tribe, who are, historically, of a lower social order to the Bliss.

In a country already torn apart by civil war, the love that grows between Sidow and Idil is strong, strong enough for Idil to defy her parents and marry her soul’s mate, creating their own small resistance in the face of destructive traditions that would tear them apart. 

There is so much more going on than in this brief summary.  The author’s graceful and eloquent yet earthy language creates an immediacy and emotional immersion into Idil’s world, her mind and heart. Heartbreaking, though Idil remains strong and true as her mother, her family, her home, and country break apart.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press 😀