What I’ve been reading lately, part 45

Lead — John Greenway, Andy Blacknell and Andy Coombe

This the densest and most economical business leadership I have come across. It’s a genre I am not particularly drawn to, and which is ripe for parody, but I read it because I know two of the authors. And I have to admit, I ended up finding it really helpful. That’s because, while most business books have One Big Idea, this one settles down (after an opening going over vision, values and goals) into an efficient format of four-or-five page chapters, each summarising the big insight from another book. So there are brief chapters on thing like the Four Stages of Competence and the Eisenhower Matrix, which give you the core of each of them without requiring you to plough through a whole book. Recommended.

Tourist Season — Carl Hiaasen

Having enjoyed my re-reads of Hiaasen’s Star Island and Stormy Weather, I went back to the beginning of his mainstream bibliography and re-read this one. It forms an interesting bridge between larval-stage Hiaasen and the finished article, retaining some of the grittier feel of the earlier book in its eco-terrorist conspiracy plot, but with a fair sprinkling of the comic characters we will come to recognise as his trademark. Compelling and enjoyable.

Double Whammy — Carl Hiaasen

On to Hiassen’s second mainstream novel, this one in the murky world of professional bass fishing. It’s notable for the first appearance of his iconic character Skink, an eccentric and physically formidable wild man who was briefly governer of Florida before being overwhelmed by all the corruption. Fast moving, funny and fascinating.

Skin Tight — Carl Hiaasen

Number three in the Hiaasen bibliography is about a corrupt plastic surgeon and a cold-case investigation into his accidental killing of one of his patients.

Native Tongue — Carl Hiassen

Number four, about a Disney-wannabe theme park and its faked eco-activism.

Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! — Andrew Hickey

Not really a single extended argument, but a series of essays loosely linked by the question of what (if anything) constitutes canon in Doctor Who and in DC comics. Each essay makes interesting points, but the whole does not quite hang together; and while it’s clever, it’s not quite as clever as it wants to be. The obvious point of comparison is Andrew Rilston’s Who Sent the Sentinels? (which Hickey candidly namechecks as an influence), but while that book twists and turns to subtly build an integrated edifice, this one never quite does. Still well worth reading for the individual insights, though.

Last Night — Mhairi McFarlane

McFarlane continues to delight with another rom-com, this time under the rather different situation of a protagonist trying to come to terms with the sudden unexpected death of her best friend. As I have come to expect from McFarlane, the actual plot is fun and interesting, but much of the meat comes in the piercing insights of what it’s like to be in the situation of her viewpoint character — how it feels, in this case, to suddenly lose a friend who we had assumed would always be around. None of this is maudlin or even introspective. It’s crisp and precise, and leaves me feeling empathetic in a way I would have been before. Am I saying Last Night has made me a better person? Yes, I guess I am.

Having read a lot of Carl Hiassen books recently, and having repeatedly returned to J. K. Rowling and Ben Elton, I am forced by these books and those of Mhairi McFarlane to make an honest attempt at answering the question “what is a good author?” I have enormous respect for the elegance and craftsmanship of John Le Carré, for example, but there is no denying that there is work involved in reading his books. The bottom line is that a good author for me is one who works I want to read, and keep reading; and for whom, when I finish one of their books, I want to go straight on to another. Hiassen, Rowling, Elton and McFarlane all meet this description, and I guess in some operational sense it places them among my favourite authors.

Murder by Candlelight — Blythe Baker

A functional murder mystery set during the Victorian period, in which a young woman has to negotiate her parents’ protective instincts in order to investigate how and why an actor was killed on stage by a falling light. Passed the time painlessly enough, but didn’t leave me wanting more.

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