Saturday, September 05, 2015

2015 books, #51-55

How to speak money, by John Lanchester. London: Faber, 2015.

A book group book; and fascinating.  Lanchester starts with a brief introduction to how he came to write this book, and some background on the financial system as it exists today; then the bulk of the book is an alphabetical dictionary of financial terms; and then he wraps up with some thoughts about the way he sees people's attitude to money changing in the present and the future.  This could be an extremely dry read, but Lanchester has come at this book as a layman, and a funny, engaging layman at that.  (And he does distinguish between BULLSHIT and NONSENSE quite early on...)  Highly recommended.  I'd quote some things, except that my copy's now at work as a quick reference for the next tricky financial term that comes along...

The bones beneath, by Mark Billingham. London: Sphere, 2015.

Absolutely gripping from start to finish.  Stuart Nicklin, a serial killer Tom Thorne put behind bars a decade before, announces that there's another body to find on an isolated Welsh island; but he'll only tell the police where it is if Thorne accompanies him to the island, and another prisoner comes with him to ensure his safety.  Thorne reluctantly agrees.  Despite the accompanying police and prison officers, Thorne is uneasy about the scary, amoral Nicklin, and this concern only deepens as the weather on the island worsens.  While this could be one of those classic "what's that noise outside; let's split up" stories, it's Billingham so it's way better than that.  And there's a strange accompanying narrative which suddenly snaps into focus... in my case, too late...  This is one I couldn't read at bedtime because the suspense was too much to be reading it in the dark!

Natural causes, by James Oswald. London: Penguin, 2013.

DI Anthony McLean has quite enough to deal with; he's been assigned an obviously old murder in the basement of a mansion, while trying to cope with the death of the grandmother who brought him up.  Meanwhile, someone is killing old and influential men...  The cases intertwine... I liked this because we really genuinely get to care about McLean's colleagues, and that's an essential as far as I'm concerned; and because there are a number of twists in the tail of this one.  Oswald's definitely one to watch.

The woods, by Harlan Coben [audiobook]. Read by Carol Monda and David Chandler. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2008.

Twenty years ago, four teenagers at a summer camp walked into the woods and were never seen again. The brother of one of those teenagers is now the county prosecutor, and is taken to see the body of a recently-dead man who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the missing.  This is another great book by Harlan Coben, where nothing is as it seems and where the lead character doubts his sanity at various points.  Really excellent stuff, and two very good readers.

The dying season, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2015.

A Bruno, Chief of Police novel and another extremely good one. Bruno is attending a 90th birthday party for a war hero; the following day, one of the guests is found dead. While the man was a known alcoholic and ostensibly the death isn't suspicious, Bruno is wary of taking it at face value.  Meanwhile, Bruno has his somewhat complicated relationship with Pamela, and the presence of hundreds of feral deer encouraged by a fervent but misguided écolo to deal with.  Again, the food, the wine and the landscape of Périgord noir feature as characters in this book, and it's not one to read if you're at all peckish at the time!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

2015 books, #46-50

Bad blood, by Linda Fairstein [audiobook]. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper Audio, 2007.

Another Alexandra Cooper book, and for me a curiously flat one. Cooper is prosecuting Brendan Quillan, a rich businessman who's accused of killing his wife.  When Quillan's estranged brother is killed in a tunnelling accident, the focus of the investigation shifts and Cooper investigates.  This one fills in a bit of detail about Cooper's later boyfriend (this is a rare series I'm not reading in order) but otherwise really didn't appeal to me; Rosenblat did the usual bang-up job with the reading, but I couldn't stop it just being background noise.

Common people: the history of an English family, by Alison Light. London: Fig Tree, 2014.

Weirdly, a colleague and I found we were reading this one at the same time.  We then worked out we'd both heard about it via the BBC History Magazine...  This is a strange book; Light looks at the history of her family, but uses it to mirror the history of England at the time.  There's a huge amount of poverty and an unexpected amount of mobility (geographical and only occasionally social), and she takes us through the world of the workhouse, the mental hostpiral and the building trade as these affected her family in their time.  I couldn't keep track of who all the people were, but it didn't seem to matter; it's a fascinating book which talks about profoundly ordinary people through the last couple of centuries.

Flowers stained with moonlight, by Catherine Shaw. London: Allison and Busby, 2005.

Another not-in-order series... Vanessa Duncan is a teacher in a Cambridge school for girls, but a notorious court case she was involved in four years before has brought her to the attention of a distraught mother.  Mrs Bryce-Fortescue's daughter is accused of murdering her husband, an extremely wealthy landowner living near Haverhill.  While Vanessa doesn't believe Sylvia committed the murder, she also doesn't believe Sylvia's story.  Investigation of the case takes her to Paris (with her fiancé and two other mathematicians) and to Calais.  I guessed what was going on quite quickly, although there was a twist I wasn't prepared for; and there's a fascinating real little episode in mathematical history built in (Catherine Shaw's alter ego is a professor of maths at Jussieu in Paris).

The truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joël Dicker. Translated from the French by Sam Taylor. London; MacLehose Press, 2014.

This is a brilliant book.  I wish I'd been able to sit down and devour it in one sitting, but it's a brick of a book so not one I could carry around.  Young star-of-the-moment author Marcus Goodman has a mentor, Harry Quebert; when bones are unexpectedly dug up in Quebert's garden in 2008, Harry tells Marcus of a love affair he had with a 15-year-old girl, Nola Kellergan, in 1975.  The bones are identified as Nola's, and Harry is arrested.  Marcus is suffering from severe writer's block (that difficult second novel) and when his publisher gives him the alternative task of writing Harry's story, he takes it on both to save his skin and to try and prove Harry innocent.  On the way, many secrets and lies are uncovered and there are some real switchbacks which make you re-examine everything which has gone before.  It's also a book intertwined with ideas of fame, and the art of writing, and reputation; a tour de force.  (Ironically, Dicker is now in the position Marcus was in at the beginning of the book.)  The front cover says it's a Great American Novel in all but authorship, and I think this is probably true; there's a slight detachment from American life which is probably necessary, but it feels American in the way that an Edward Hopper painting does - there are gaps, and loneliness, and everyone has a story to tell.

Dust, by Patricia Cornwell [audiobook]. Read by Lorelei King. Rearsby, Leics.: Lamplight, 2013.

I shouldn't have started listening to this. I really shouldn't. But some of the recent Scarpetta books have been quite good.  This, however, isn't one of them. Kay and her husband Benton (and every time she calls "Benton" I think of that bloke in the park, which really doesn't help) investigate a series of murders; while simultaneously trying to avoid Benton's evil boss.  It goes along really pretty tediously for about 9 of the 11 discs in this set, and then I had to listen to disc 10 three times to work out what the hell was going on.  The plot was OK (given that)... I think the thing which irritated me most was Cornwell/Scarpetta's inherent rush-to-judgment; always there but so much in this book.  "It's a masculine space, lacking warmth or creativity" (WTF?)... and while I don't have the exact quote, there was a statement that the lack of pens/pencils/mugs on a desk was an exact correlative to a lack of hobbies and hinterland... And why use more frigid when you mean colder?  Yes, I'm really grumpy.  Lorelei King does her best with this one, but really... no.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

2015 books, #41-45

Never go back, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2013.

Jack Reacher finally makes it to Virginia to meet a woman whose voice he liked over the phone. When he arrives, not only is she absent, but he finds himself arrested by the military police for a 16-year-old assault, and is also under disciplinary proceedings for having fathered a child at about the same time.  Reacher finds himself being summoned back under military discipline, and confronted with all the exasperation that being under a bad commander can bring.  Absolutely up to the usual standard; and the Reacher/Susan Turner combination is a wonderful thing.

Dreaming spies,  by Laurie R. King. London: Allison and Busby, 2015.

Mary Russell heads back to Oxford to study, and partly to give herself and husband Sherlock Holmes some space after a long voyage.  What she finds on her doorstep when she comes back home one evening plunges her back into events on that voyage between Mumbai and Edo, and into the Japanese culture she and Holmes encountered there.  The Russell books have sometimes been a little variable in quality, but this is one of the good ones, and highly recommended.

The Zig-zag girl, by Elly Griffiths [audiobook]. Read by Daniel Philpott. London: Quercus, 2014.

Not a Ruth Galloway book, this one - and set around Griffiths's home town of Brighton.  Three veterans of a secret army unit are brought together by the murder of a magician's assistant, found chopped neatly into three in three trunks.  Edgar Stephens, now a policeman, tracks down old comrade Max Mephisto, only to find that the victim is known to him.  Stephens's theory that the murder has something to do with his, and Mephisto's, army experience is borne out by another murder, and it then becomes a fight against an unknown enemy, with a twist in the tail I'd guessed, but only just guessed...  This appears to be the beginning of another series - I'd happily read about Stephens again.

Eddy Merckx: the cannibal, by Daniel Friebe. London: Ebury, 2012.

I learned a lot from this book - the climate of cycling in the 1970s, why Merckx was feared so much by his fellow riders because of his ferocious need to win in all circumstances, where he fits in with cycling history, and so on.  But sadly I didn't learn to like the man.  I wanted to - Friebe obviously does - but somehow I just couldn't take to him...  An interesting, well-written read though!

Recipe for life: the autobiography, by Mary Berry [audiobook]. Read by Patricia Hodge. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes/Lamplight, 2013.

Another biography, but this time a bit more of a known quantity.  Mary Berry doesn't confound expectations here - she has the blend of the highly conventional (she has strong opinions on nose-piercing, tight maternity wear and inappropriate dress) and the groundbreaking (working constantly from the early 1960s when finding a husband would have been perfectly acceptable to her family), and her wicked sense of humour shines through.  She doesn't flinch from describing either her parents' bewilderment at her lack of academic achievement at school, or the death of her son William as a teenager in his first car.  It's a story of constant reinvention.  One of the things which stood out for me was also her generous praise for other cookery presenters and writers, particularly those like Jamie Oliver who have a completely different style.  The reading by Patricia Hodge is predictably wonderful.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

2015 books, #36-40

Exposed, by Liza Marklund [audiobook]. Read by India Fisher. Bath: AudioGo, [n.d.]

Annika Bengtzon is on a summer internship from her provincial newspaper, working at Sweden's largest tabloid newspaper.  She's not initially impressed at being assigned to the tip-off line, but then has a call to say that a young woman's body has been found at a cemetery. Fiercely ambitious, Annika is not always an attractive character - she's prepared to use people for her own purposes - but the plot is gripping, involving senior politicians, nightclub strippers and rival newspapers.  I did feel that the ending let it down somewhat, but I'd read another in this series.  The main plot, it's explained, is an incident which happened to Marklund herself when she was a journalist; and India Fisher's reading is very good (I was somewhat worried when I realised she is the breathy voice of Masterchef, but she was considerably less mannered here!).

Put me back on my bike: in search of Tom Simpson, by William Fotheringham. London: Yellow Jersey, 2002.

A biography of Tom Simpson by someone who admires him, but is also concerned with drug-taking in sport; Simpson comes over as a tremendously attractive, flawed character and I really hadn't realised quite how famous he was in his time, as the first British cycling superstar. Fotheringham tells the story of Simpson's life and tragically early death, and also talks to medical experts and those who were around at the time about the use of amphetamines, alcohol and other substances in Simpson's time. It's an unvarnished account, but the respect for the man's achievement shines through both in the main narrative and in the interviews with those who were close to Simpson.

A slip of the keyboard: collected non-fiction, by Terry Pratchett [audiobook].  Read by Michael Fenton Stevens. Oxford: Isis, 2014.

Oh, Pterry; we miss you.  And never as much while listening to the acerbic wit of the man talking about how to look after authors on tour; how not to piss off authors by sending them unsolicited manuscripts; how to become an author; what it's like writing for local newspapers and as a nuclear power station press officer... Tour diaries, articles for newspapers, introductions for SF Con programmes... it's all here. And then, towards the end, the fury and exploration after the Alzheimer's diagnosis, and the passionate belief in the right to decide on the manner and moment of one's death.  I'm not sure you even need to have enjoyed anything by Terry Pratchett to enjoy reading this...

The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. London: Andersen Press, 2007.

This was my annual "challenged" book.  The American Library Association puts out a list each year of the 10 books which have been subject to the most attempted bannings at libraries. This year, this was the top book so, as far as I was concerned, a must-read. Apparently unsuitable due to being "anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
So, obviously, I had high hopes of this one going in, and they weren't disappointed.

Arnold/Junior is an energetic, opinionated, bright narrator, with a huge determination to succeed. After a couple of terrible events, he decides that only enrolment at the local selective, white high school will get him out of his current situation in a Native American reservation.  Unfortunately this alienates many of his previous friends while failing to win him new ones.  This is a brilliant depiction of teenage life, lack of belonging, the beauty of realising how your family and community fit into the wider world... It's told with compassion and a huge amount of humour - it's a hilarious book - and I'm so glad the ALA brought it to my attention...

The library paradox, by Catherine Shaw. London: Allison and Busby, 2006.

Vanessa Weatherburn, married to Maths don Arthur and living peacefully in Cambridge with her children Cecily and Cedric in the late 1890s, has a penchant for private investigation.  When she's asked by dons from London to investigate what is essentially a locked-room mystery, she can't resist. The investigation brings Vanessa into contact with the Hasidic community in North London, and the academic community based around King's College London.  The dénouement is somewhat weak, but the colours and flavours, and the exposition of Victorian attitudes towards Judaism, is rather wonderful.  And there's some Dreyfus Affair, which was about the only thing in late 19th century French history which really intrigued me.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

2015 books, #31-35

Knife edge, by Paul Adam [audiobook]. Read by Seán Barrett. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

In London, a Kurdish immigrant is murdered and found on Hackney Marshes; Joe Verdi, an investigative reporter, makes contact with part of the man's family, but the man's wife Irena has vanished into the world of illegal agricultural workers in Norfolk.  Joe tries to track Irena down, and investigate the trade in illegal workers, by going undercover as a Romanian migrant worker.  Meanwhile his partner Ellie is investigating the death of a neighbour due to typhoid, and making connections between the two cases.  This is an occasionally horrifying exploration of the world of illegal immigration, and of the price we pay for cheap food; the geography of the Downham/Lynn area is spot on here, and Barrett's reading is as excellent as ever.

Blaze: the forensics of fire, by Nicholas Faith. New York: St Martin's, 1999.

This book looks at the history of fire investigation through examples of some of the most infamous fires in the UK, Ireland and the US.  It's extremely well-written, as you might expect from a guy who has been in editorial posts at the Sunday Times and the Economist; and what surprised me was how recently forensic investigation, used in crime detection for so long, was introduced to the area of fire research.  There's also a description of how computer modelling is used to explain the causes of many fires.  I picked this up a a result of the Val McDermid book, where it was cited several times, and will try and track down some of Faith's other books on crime and air accident investigation.  Slightly harrowingly, one of the fires discussed is at the World Trade Centre, but this book was written before September 11, and the assurance Faith has that the fire precautions there worked extremely well seems sadly dated now.

How to build a girl, by Caitlin Moran. London: Ebury Press, 2014.

I am eating this noise like mouthfuls of freezing, glittering fog. I am filling with it. I am using it as energy. Because what you are, as a teenager, is a small, silver, empty rocket. And you use loud music as fuel, and then the information in books as maps and co-ordinates, to tell you where you're going.

This is brilliant.  Moran emphasises that this book isn't autobiographical - it's just about some other girl who grew up in Wolverhampton with a lot of siblings at exactly the same time as she did...  She does a fabulous job of remembering exactly what it was like being a teenage girl in a dull town; and interweaves it with tales of overly precocious (and hilarious) rock journalism and excess; she takes you along for the ride while also being able to laugh at herself in retrospect.  It's a wonderful, wonderful book.  It is, as you'd expect, very sweary and pretty no-hold-barred; and all the better for it.

Rough ride, by Paul Kimmage. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2007. (E-book version)

(Couldn't have a set of book reviews without a cycling book, obviously!)
Paul Kimmage had four seasons as a professional bike racer in the late 1980s, leaving the sport in 1990. He has immense affection for the sport, and a total hatred of the dopers who brought it down. He's very honest about his own professional career, and gives a good idea of the life of a professional domestique in an era with considerably less money in the sport, where cyclists had to wash their own kit after seven hours on the road and accommodation was occasionally on school floors. And he's also followed all the scandals, and the scientific developments, which are included in a series of epilogues to the different editions (this was originally published shortly after his retirement in 1990). It's an excellent, predictably moving account of what happens to the majority of contenders in professional sport; but with the additional horrible twist that nothing in cycling in that era or the succeeding one was as it seemed.  I started reading this in the immediate aftermath of the rather puzzling CIRC Report, with its unsubstantiated claim from one (unnamed) rider that 80% of the peleton were still doping; it does make quite sad reading.

Teenage revolution, by Alan Davies. London: Penguin, 2009.

Alan Davies was born at the other end of the country from me, but only a year before; so many of the people and events he talks about in this book are recognisable and familiar - I suspect I spent a lot of the time reading this book nodding my head...  Davies canters through his adolescence and student years in full recognition that he was a bit of an idiot a lot of the time; some of it's hilariously funny, and some quite moving, but all of it's entertaining.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

2015 books, #26-30

The burning room, by Michael Connelly. London: Little, Brown, 2014.

Harry Bosch has been teamed up with a new partner, Lucia Soto, and they have a case which is both cold and live at the same time: a mariachi musician who was shot in an apparently gang-related incident ten years before dies from his injuries, and Bosch and Soto can finally take charge of the bullet.  As they begin to investigate, Bosch suspects that Soto is not entirely focused on the case; he challenges her, and suddenly they have two cases on their hands... Another excellent book with the very likeable Bosch; and with a very unexpected ending which leaves the reader in suspense about Bosch's future...

Forensics: the anatomy of crime, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Sarah Barron. Whitley Bay: Clipper, 2015.

I'd heard the abridged version of this on Radio 4 earlier in the year, and went to the exhibition at the Wellcome Trust, which was fascinating; when it was mentioned again somewhere, I thought I'd get the full version out in hopes that Ms McDermid would be reading it*. She wasn't, but this reader is excellent; sounds enough like McDermid in the main narrative, and is able to produce accents from all over the place to differentiate the various experts.  If you're interested in the history of forensic science it (and the exhibition) won't tell you anything very new, but it's a great shortish introduction, and rattles along, much like a McDermid novel.

*My main criticism of our new library catalogue is that although you can search by reader, it doesn't appear on the record display, so if you're interested in the title, you have to search multiple times to make sure it's not being read by someone you really dislike...

I know why the caged bird sings, by Maya Angelou. London: Virago, 2014 (originally published 1969).

 The first of Angelou's seven volumes of autobiographies, this one starts with young Marguerite (Maya) Johnson and her brother Bailey Jr growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, having been delivered to her maternal grandparents at the ages of 7 and 6. It's a childhood defined by the walls of church, school and the racism endemic in the South in the 1930s, with some truly shocking illustrations of how respectable black people were subject to humiliation by white people, even the "powhitetrash". Maya and her brother are transferred between Stamps and California to stay with one parent or another; during one of the California stays, something happens to 8-year-old Maya which ends her childhood way too early and she returns to Stamps.  While this could be the worst of misery memoirs, which much justification, little Maya's (and grown-up Maya's) humour and appetite for life shine through, and there is hope and joy in this book.  This was a book group book, one I've meant to re-read for a while, and I have the second volume of the autobiography on hold at the library.

Second term: a story of spin, sabotage and seduction, by Simon Walters. London: House of Stratos, 2001.

As you can probably tell from the date, the second term of the title is that of a fictional PM rather like Tony Blair, had Blair been a hospital doctor before his arrival in politics.  PM Stephen Cane does have a pitbull-like Press Secretary, in this case a Liverpudlian redhead called Charlie Redpath, a fearsome woman with seemingly no scruples.  While it's fascinating in its imaginings of the lengths politicians will go to to retain power, and in the characters crushed in their paths, it ultimately fails because there are no likeable characters in this book at all.  It's interesting as a roman à clef, trying to imagine who's who, though, given that the author had been a political journalist for 20 years at the point of writing this book.

Runaway, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2015.

This, on the other hand, has sympathetic characters galore.  Jack, Maurie and Dave escape their various family and carers to follow their 50-year-old path back to London, as a dying wish to Maurie; the body of a man they'd all assumed long dead has just been discovered, and Maurie knows who the murderer is.  The book switches between the 17-year-olds in 1965 and the 67-year-olds now; with the addition of Jack's grandson Ricky who they've more-or-less kidnapped.  It has elements of early Iain Banks in its humour and slight absurdity (think Espedair Street or The crow road); and is also able to turn instantly from farce to tragedy.  The plot's good, but the plot's largely unimportant compared to this cast of wonderful characters. Different from the other May I've read, and absolutely brilliant.

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 books, #21-25

Inside Team Sky, by David Walsh. London; Simon and Schuster, 2014.

A much more encouraging book about cycling, this one, and one I was reading the week of the (rather unsatisfactory) CIRC report into doping.  Walsh, as a famous sceptic about the use of drugs in the sport, is invited by Sir Dave Brailsford to spend a year, or chunks of it, with Team Sky; he's asked to live with the team, ask any questions he wants, wander into any room, open all the cupboards and just generally poke around for any evidence that Sky's famous commitment to clean riding isn't as it seems.  Walsh comes at the task as someone who's almost afraid to believe that a team is this squeaky clean - and with the awareness that Sky have been caught out once over Geert Leinders's involvement - because his heart has been broken repeatedly by the sport he loves.  He's gradually won over by the 2013 Tour de France, and living on the inside of the team; Froome's success in that race makes this book a lovely thing to read.

Thinking about it only makes it worse, by David Mitchell. Kindle edition.

I've been reading this book in bits on the Kindle - I think reading it all in one chunk would be Too Much of a Good Thing, and might also make you feel quite depressed about the state of the world, which isn't what Mitchell's intending.  At least, I don't think that's what he's intending. This is a collection of Mitchell's columns collected together in themes.  Some of them I remember from the original, some I don't; in any case, it makes a fascinating picture of the things we've been obsessed with as a country over the last few years, and immensely readable.

The murder stone, by Louise Penny [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have gone to celebrate their 35th anniversary at the Manoir Bellechasses, a luxury hotel they first visited before they were married.  All the other rooms have been booked up for a family reunion of the Finneys, a strange and disfunctional family who are present to honour the memory of Charles Moreau, Mrs Finney's ex-husband.  When a murder happens, the family are most disconcerted to find that they have the chief of the Bureau d'homicide du Sûreté du Québec in their midst. As ever with these books, the plot dances along, and Sims gives his usual excellent reading.

The devil's edge, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Mike Rodgers. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2011.

Ben Cooper starts investigating some aggravated burglaries in the Peak District, one of which has involved the murder of a whole family. Meanwhile Diane Fry is, predictably, hating her secondment to management training in a nearby force. When Ben's brother shoots a man attempting to burgle his farm, Diane returns to investigate the incident; Ben, meanwhile, is partnered with an old school friend and finding connections between the crimes and events in Sheffield.  This is, as ever, extremely well-written; there's not enough Fry-Cooper interaction for my taste but the new dynamic is interesting, and this is a good reading.

One summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson [audiobook]. Read by the author. Bolinda Audio [Audible]: [S. l.], 2013.

It may be that if you look at any year, you can see many things coming together at once, but so many things which shaped 20th century America, and indeed the world, seemed to have their confluence in the summer of 1927.  Bryson looks at Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic; Babe Ruth's unbelievable summer of home runs; the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti; and the birth of the talking picture; and many more topics important at the time but since largely forgotten, like a devastating flood of the Mississippi. The characters weave in and out of each other's stories like foxtrotting couples on a dance floor, and Bryson is at his entertaining best with the incidental details and the interesting factoid.  He's also a chap who reads his own work well, so this is highly recommended as an audiobook.