So here I am – back home in the messy muddle that is the closest I ever get to one piece - and those of you who pay attention will remember that back here I told you I would be part of a blog tour for John Baker's book 'Winged with Death' this week. Despite the internal muddle I can be surprisingly reliable...so here it is – my contribution to said tour (a few hours early...schools go back here on 20th...Monday morning could be messy this week).
Although we must have lived in the same county (Yorkshire, England) for some years, I first came across writer John Baker a year or so ago via Scottish writer Jim Murdoch's blog The Truth about Lies. I don't know how Jim came across John or vice versa...maybe they'll tell us in the comments...but I saw John's name and noted he wrote mainly crime fiction. I never got into reading his blog regularly (not sure why...it's a bit...clinical and impersonal for me, I suppose) but then, after a little while, every now and then he would turn up in one of my archive posts making lovely, friendly comments. He was a mystery, I thought, a man of mystery...fairly apt for a crime writer, I supposed.
Then last summer when I put my own book out I asked John to do a book swap (he had 8 books up to that point – I figured he must have something lying around the house going begging) and he did and I swapped him one 'More about the song' for one of his Sam Turner crime novels called 'Shooting in the Dark'. He wrote a good review of my 'Banging on about the song all the time' here but I didn't write about his 'Shooting in the Dark' (at least not more than a few lines somewhere...and I can't find them online now...more mystery...). It is a crime novel,'Shooting in the Dark', but I will give most books a go so I read it, didn't not like it, enjoyed some of it...but I couldn't think of anything particular to say about it...so I kept schtum (out of character, I know).
Then recently John sent me his new book, 'Winged with Death', and asked me to join the blog tour business. I am so glad I did because this book is something altogether different (I am not anti-genre fiction or anti-crime fiction but genres can so often deal in clichés...and crime fiction, particularly, can feature some of my least favourite clichés...piles of dead women, yet more mutilated women etc.). 'Winged for Death' is (almost) completely genre-free (hurray!) and, even better, it is an absolutely fantastic book. Elsewhere it has been called a literary crime novel but I would say it is only that in the sense that 'Crime and Punishment' is a literary crime novel. It is just a novel...a very, very good novel...and some bad things happen in it.
To read about how John ended up writing this particular book you should go and read the interview at This Writing Life (well worth a look – hurry there quickly...then come back and finish up here) and I might just add that 'Winged with Death' is about 1970s Uruguay, military terror, resistance, dancing (specifically the tango), love, sex, life, modern day England, policing, family, different viewpoints, movement and time. Did I say time? There is an awful lot about time in this book...enough for several PhDs...and though it is 291 pages it is a HUGE book in many ambitious ways that you will only understand if you read it...so I advise reading it, when you get a chance. It does touch on one of my old hobby horses (anything to do with Latin America...remember we talked about hobby horses here?) but most of all I found it a very vivid story – particularly the sections set back in the 70s. It is probably a good movie-possibility too – this could be it John, Hollywood calling...bring us back a souvenir...
My only problem with this fine book is the last chapter. I can't go into my reservations in this area without ruining your reading experience (and I would hate to do that) so you'll just have to read it and then we can talk it through (please don't give anything away in the comments if you have already read it – think of the others!). I have told John my feelings (and he has told me his...) but then finishing novels is notoriously difficult and finishing very good novels even harder still so there is no right or wrong, no final word on this matter. And despite my mixed feelings about the last chapter (which must remain, again most suitably, a mystery) I would still recommend this book to you all...again and again and again. It is one of the best new novels I've read in a while and you can take that with no hype, no nonsense and no sales pitch. Now I wonder how it will do out there in the big wide world. Will it get reviewed and into all the necessary retail locations? I hope so – it's a cracking read and every word laid down with passion and purpose. You could say the whole book is like a good tango in that sense. So I will. And I'll end on that thought too.