Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

"We stood up on our bikes and pumped our legs, pedaling faster, leaving behind the neighborhood and talk of our futures"

The 1980s are enjoying a long overdue renaissance through TV shows like Stranger Things celebrating all things analogue. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is set firmly in this movement.

The story concerns 14 year old Will Marvin whose life revolves around music, film and 8-bit computer video games until the moment TV icon Vanna White appears in Playboy. Will's world begins to spin in a different direction as he and his friends become obsessed with getting hold of a copy of the magazine. They devise increasingly complicated schemes to procure the magazine from various stores in their home town of, aptly named, Wetbridge New Jersey.

Wetbridge is brilliantly portrayed by Rekulak as dullsville, a town in which the local cinema has only limited letters for their marquee meaning that films end up being renamed, like "LITTL SHP OV HORRS", for this unique New Jersey audience.

Mid caper Will meets Mary, a young computer nerd who works for her father in a shop that sells typewriter spares and a very limited range of basic home PCs. The plot develops like a Speilberg movie with the pair working together to help programme Will's own video game, The Impossible Fortress, which they enter into a regional contest.

The narrative moves like a classic platform style video game where the players must overcome various challenges to get to the next stage and the end reward. Readers can can actually play along at Rekulak's own website ( which brings a brilliantly conceived experiential aspect to the book - take note publishers.

The current trend for all things 1980s could well be driven by a need to escape to a time when relationships were defined by cassette mix tapes and fear by Stephen King novels but whatever the reason The Impossible Fortress is a brilliant read.

The book cover taps into the craze around the Netflix show Thirteen Reasons Why, surely no coincidence.

I read this novel in almost one sitting mostly at home in Oxfordshire.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak published by Faber and Faber, 304 pages.     

Agree with my review? Comment and share to join the discussion #readmorebooks

Friday, 21 April 2017

Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

"Far away, between the trees, she saw the sea and behind it a dark mountainside where the sunshine glinted on windows like stars - as though a piece of sky had fallen to earth"

This week I'm thrilled to be featured again in a blog tour from the wonderful folks at Orenda Books - thank you for the review copy! This time I'm delving into the world of Nordic Noir with Faithless (Oslo Detectives) by Norwegian prize winning crime writer Kjell Ola Dahl. Its my first read from K.O. Dahl, though I'm a huge fan of the genre, so as the first rays of Spring sunshine tentatively pour through my kitchen window I'm already wondering whether Oslo Detectives can match up to Iceland's Ari Thor or Sweden's Kurt Wallander.

So, some context. Faithless is set in Oslo and features detective partners Gunnarstranda and Frolich who feature in at least three other novels from K.O. Dahl. Don't let this worry you, I managed fine without having read the other novels in the series. The story begins with a reassuringly dark discovery when the boiled and bagged body of a young woman turns up in a dustbin - fans of the genre will not be disappointed; clearly the rain soaked streets of Oslo deliver the sorts of chilling crime that detectives from Stockholm to Reykjavik are familiar with.

In a separate story line Gunnarstranda is despatched to Northern Norway to investigate the murder of another young woman but its the body in Oslo that Frolich is left to investigate that yields the best story. There is a great twist to this case as Frolich actually recognises the dead girl having come into contact with her recently. This personal angle proves to be the most gripping aspect of the story and humanises Frolich in a way seldom seen in classic hard-boiled Scandi crime.

The case develops at a bit of a plodding case and is a little corny in places; 'As Marilyn sings so convincingly, "Diamonds are a girls best friend"', but at other times Kjell delivers the vividly brutal sort of scenes we've come to expect. These are interspersed with banter about Sinatra and the Rat Pack which seem out of place but perhaps I'm missing something by not having read the other novels featuring Gunnarstranda and Frolich (I probably will put this right).

If you like your crime fiction chilly then Faithless is for you but if you need a more bitingly cold and pacy read then stick with the genre but try Arne Dahl or Ragnar Jonasson.

I read this novel in paperback mostly at home in Oxfordshire.

Faithless (Oslo Detectives) by Kjell Ola Dahl (translated by Don Bartlett) published by Orenda Books, 276 pages.     

Agree with my review? Comment and share to join the discussion #readmorebooks

Friday, 14 April 2017

Fish Have No Feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

"Is Keflavik a beautiful prayer or a bright embrace?"

I recently took a short break to Iceland and literally haven't stopped thinking about the extraordinary landscapes and brooding skies ever since. When I realised that there was an Icelandic novel in the shortlist for the Man Booker International prize I had to get hold of a copy. I've read a number of Icelandic crime novels before from Ragnar Jonasson and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, but I was interested to see how a literary novel translated from Icelandic into English would fare? Can a novel capture the sense of place that I felt as I left Keflavik Airport for home?

Fish Have No Feet is a family drama which hinges on the character of Ari returning home to Iceland from some years working for a publishing firm in Copenhagen. The story is set in Keflavik, a town on the far edge of Iceland once home to a US Airbase, hamburger joints and dance halls but now left with "nothing but abandoned buildings and unemployment". Keflavik is a metaphor in the novel for a particularly cold and isolated view of Iceland that Ari sees through regretful eyes. Going to Keflavik, Ari remembers, "is always like driving out of the world and into non-existence".

As Ari makes his way back to Iceland  he looks back on his own life and that of his relatives before him. Stefansson brilliantly allows the narrative to move backward and forwards through time by anchoring the story through a deep understanding of the culture, "where human life measures itself against the sea" that tightly binds this remote part of the island together.

The novel is dark and reflective in places but for every shadow there is a glimpse of sunlight. Ari is a a Nordic 'everyman' dealing with family, career, pride and self-worth and looking back on a youth in which he didn't know what life was for.

Fish Have No Feet is an brilliantly unforgettable novel set in a completely unique town. Stefannson's prose, and Philip Roughton's translation, is as idiosyncratic as the lunar landscape that surrounds Keflavik - a view that anyone visiting iceland will see for themselves on the transfer from the Airport to Reykjavik. If a novel can ever lay claim to real place-making then Fish Have No Feet puts Keflavik firmly on the map.

I read this novel in paperback on the train into Marylebone

Fish Have no Feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson (translated by Philip Roughton) published by MacLehose Press, 384 pages.