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Backlist - A load of stuff reproduced without the author's written consent

 Being somewhat silly, I began my discovery of Jeff Lindsay by reading the fourth novel first (publisher freebie) and then watching the first episode of the TV series. As it transpires, that's the wrong way to do it. So, keen to make amends I picked up this three volume omnibus edition to motor through the first three books before I remembered what has happened to Sergeant Doakes, Dexter's arch nemesis (at least, his arch nemesis in the Miami PD) by book four.
The appeal lies not just in the pacing, the fact that our protagonist is a merciless killing machine, and that he's doing what most people have occasionally dreamed of doing - taking out the trash! - but in the oddly affecting and twisted humour of the novels. Whether he's ruminating on why his "dark passenger" guffaws at a particularly amateurish crime scene (amateurish from the point of view of the killer that is), or balancing the training and development requirements of his protégés (seriously) against the code his "father" Harry instilled in him, Dexter never fails to bring a bleakly humorous quality to the narrative. Take for example, the time he finds himself alone in his head without the dark fluttering of evil wings to keep him comfort - "I was alone in a dark, mean world full of terrible things like me." That's a good line right there.
The only problem with this omnibus is the third novel - Dexter in the Dark - which loses some of the forensic and psychological analysis of the killer's mind in favour of a John Connolly-esque supernatural solution which just doesn't gel, which feels flimsy, and which diverts the narrative flow by inserting a third party perspective on things. It's still good, just not as good as it should be. But at the risk of a feedback sandwich, I still really love this stuff. And I'm sure if you've stuck with me this far, you will too.

It's a trepidatious feeling, to have read a work variously described as a masterpiece. With the weight of so much opinion on the readers' shoulders (whether they realise or not), to attempt a review such as this is daunting. This is partly to blame for the length of time between finishing this novel and starting this review (the other reasons being laziness and lack of energy / internet access). For it was some time in spring when I read this on the commute between Cardiff and Swansea, and the memories I have of it are suitably dulled with the passing time. This isn't exactly a glowing reference for the prospective reader, but then Mihaly exists in some kind of dream world, and there were definitely parts of this book where I was almost asleep. Again, not such a great recommendation. However, it wasn't sleep; rather more like a trance. Szerb's story starts from a moment of crisis, where Mihaly gets his trains confused and, on his own honeymoon, realises with a rush the sudden freedom he has, and how addictive it is to live outside expectations. Of course, being the fool he is his idyll is soon shattered. He reeks of desperation. It is a curious experience, the reading of Journey by Moonlight, and whilst I'm sure my attempts at a review fall far short of the relative quality of the book, just look at the star rating [at www.waterstones.com] and be comforted by such simplicity. The book will not leave you so at ease with life.

For some reason, a reason that I can't fathom but that makes me slightly angry, frustrated and not a little melancholic, I can't get anyone to be interested in this really great book. I've tried comparing the story to Stefan Zweig's The Royal Game / Chess (depending on which edition you have), with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union (because there's a chess puzzle at its heart), and with the only other English translation of his work, Night Work, a novel which with its unanswered questions polarizes opinion, and yet not one person who has read the blurb has decided to press on. Admittedly, it's based on a real-life chess player, the little known Austrian Grandmaster Karl Schlechter, and at its core is the game of chess. But the game does not overwhelm the story. It is necessary, serving to illustrate the fabulous characterisation of Carl Haffner, and the joyful creation of the Vienna school and of his opponent Emanuel Lasker, without ever threatening to bore those whose appreciations lie elsewhere. Haffner's very existence is geared to wrench an emotional reaction from the reader, steeped in pathos and so endearing that throughout the legendary duel one's heart is in one's mouth with every move of the pieces. It is uplifting and devastating, and despite the rather bland cover is a revealing portrait of what it is to be human. I loved it, and I hope someday to convert at least one person to Glavinic's brilliance.

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The Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua

Happiness Is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky

I woke in the middle of the night last night desperate to remember something I'd half-dreamed, but I lost it. It went something along these lines–that sometimes when you pick up a novel, from an author you've never read before, it's like meeting a new person for the first time: you're either constantly on guard so as not to miss or misinterpret something or, worse, read into everything something which is ostensibly not there; or else you end up seeing them straight, only the surface registering, and you risk missing out on all their subtle complexities. I find this a lot of the time. 

But then there are those authors who surprise you; authors whose words strike a chord, whose prose is comfortable, simpatico, inspiring immediate and lifelong friendship and devotion.

Of course now you're expecting me to lump Oleg Zaionchkovsky into one of the two camps and complain or wax lyrical about his relative merits or lack thereof. Oddly enough, he falls in the gap. 

I've rea…

How To Rule The World by Tibor Fischer

Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth

Reading John Barth makes me feel a mixture of ignorance and pride - ignorance because many of the references, devices, tropes (and on and on) he uses are beyond my comprehension (or current reading level), and pride because I know which ones are which. In his appended introduction (not the one from 1966 where he blithely waffles on about listening to certain stories as recordings which don't actually exists per se) he talks about the need to get more John Barth on to the reading lists of creative writing courses across the great continent of North America. This was his attempt to add Barth to Borges, to get himself mentioned in the same breath as others who subvert the comfortable illusions of tale and teller. 


Hence the scratching of head and puffing of cheeks and regular stoppages of reading for a cup of tea or to see what the weather is like outside.


Most short stories take it out of me; all that emotional investment only to have it stop short of resolution, or to end abruptly, o…