Wednesday 26 October 2016

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Inspector Chopra is about to retire – at least he is supposed to. But then the mother of a murdered boy throws down a challenge. “For a poor woman and her poor son, there is no justice.” Chopra knows that he has to prove her wrong, even if it means going behind the backs of his wife and his former boss, both of whom are determined that Chopra should put his feet up.

To complicate matters, Chopra has just inherited a baby elephant named Ganesha – a most unsuitable resident for a Mumbai apartment block!

But Chopra’s determination (along with some unexpected help from baby Ganesha) will solve a crime with roots much earlier in Chopra’s career.

Khan writes with gentle affection for his creations. He paints a warm portrait of a long marriage shifting gears into retirement. And another of modern Mumbai – a city that can encompass both huge modern shopping malls and the Dharavi slum- “where houses were constructed with anything available to hand - ... – where a billion cockroaches played tag with a billion rats, where black smoke from the potters’ kilns created an artificial cloud overhead, where... the human spirit still flourished.”

Chopra will tolerate no threat to the city he loves. And while it remains under his watchful eye, you feel it is in safe custody.

A warm and entertaining read, shot through with wry humour.

You Enjoy This If You Loved: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Hamish Macbeth by MC Beaton, Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri

Avoid If You Dislike: Cosy Crime

Perfect Accompaniment: masala dosa with sambar (stuffed pancake with a spicy broth)

Genre: Crime Fiction; Fiction from South Asia

Available on Amazon

Friday 21 October 2016

The Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and The Man with the Horn.

What We Thought: The Glue Ponys is billed as a short story collection but to my mind it is more a collection of vignettes. Anecdotal in form and substance, these pieces give glimpses into life at the lower end of society. We meet the drugged up and the desperate, the sick, the dying and the imprisoned. People live in cars or on the street; they con, steal and do tricks for drug money. This is a world of junkies, hookers and hustlers.

Though often fundamentally sad, these stories are never miserable. There is plenty of humour here – dark humour involving bodies in cupboards, beached whales, over-literal porn stars, and a redneck neo-nazi “being pinned to the wall by a six foot two black male transvestite with fake tits and wearing a spandex leotard.”

Chris Wilson spent time with “the lost and wandering of America” living on the streets and in the prisons of the USA before returning to the UK. Though this collection is classed as fiction, it would seem many of the incidents recorded are autobiographical or based on personal experience. The writing is straightforward and gritty, though at times I found the language of the streets and drug culture a little obscure. No punches are pulled and the reality of life in the gutter is exposed like a pus-filled open wound.

It’s difficult not to like these bruised and bleeding characters, though – the wily, the stupid, the drug-addled – and to feel for them in their deludedly optimistic quests for another score, another hit, another chance.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jim Carroll, William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski.

Avoid if you dislike: Anything too gritty, druggy or sleazy.

Ideal accompaniments: Jim Carroll’s Catholic Boy album.

Genre: General Fiction/Short Stories

Thursday 6 October 2016

Paralian by Liam Klenk

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: The extraordinary tale of an exceptional life. Any one of the barbed wire fences Klenk has overcome might be enough to define an average person, but this journey is as far from average as can be imagined.

Born into the wrong body, adopted by dysfunctional parents, battling spasticity, marrying for convenience, living as an agnostic with Mormons, undergoing gender reassignment, suffering heartbreak and embracing career changes while digging deep for a true identity, this is an epic journey. An odyssey.

Paralian, meaning a water-dweller, is a wonderful way to connect the flowing adventures and experiences. Each chapter takes the name of a body of water, and each has as much variance of temperature and hue.

Autobiographies tread a delicate line. Especially those rare few actually written by the subject, as opposed to handed over to ghostwriters. How to balance the personal journey and the unavoidable self-regard? Thankfully, Klenk gets it right. This is essentially a subjective take on a set of jaw-dropping adventures and the character who managed not only to survive, but to triumph.

Readers travel through peaks and troughs without ever losing sympathy with our narrator, even when he exasperates himself. By the end of the book, we feel we have made a fascinating friend and feel uplifted by the encounter.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Avoid if you don’t like
: Personal intimate stories of body and mind

Ideal accompaniments: A Sea Breeze cocktail, freshly grilled barracuda and a view of the ocean

Genre: Autobiography, non-fiction

Buy on Amazon