What I’ve Read This Month – September 2012

Books Bought:

  • An Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva (Kindle)
  • You Think You Know Me Pretty Well – David Kessler (Kindle)

Books Read:

  • טוב ורע בהגות היהודית – שלום רוזנברג
  • Lazybones – Mark Billingham
  • Gallows View – Peter Robinson
  • The Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva (Kindle)
  • A Dedicated Man – Peter Robinson
  • חשבתי על זה הרבה – טלי וישנה

 

It seems like I’m in the mood for lighter reading recently. Maybe it’s the holiday season (we just celebrated the Jewish New Year), which brings with it many long and lazy afternoons. Or maybe it’s just the weather, with the temperatures still hovering around 30c even though it’s alread October. Whatever it is, most of the reading I’m doing nowadays is pretty easy going. Accordingly, the reviews will be somewhat shorter and more to the point this time.

 

“Good and Evil in Jewish Thought” (“טוב ורע בהגות היהודית”) is the only “heavy” book I read this month. It’s not heavy in the literal sense; this is a small volume, part of the “Broadcast University” series from Galey Tsahal (the IDF radio station). It is basically a collection of short essays by Shalom Rosenberg, professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, originally broadcast as 25-minute lectures on air.

The title of the book might be a little misleading. The essays cover the issue of good and evil mainly from the perspective of two main schools of thought: medieval Jewish philosophy and Kabbalistic writings. There is also a chapter about the Halachic approach to the problem and another on the implications of the Holocaust, but Rosenberg’s forte, as in other books, is in the former two areas. He covers well the approach of Rambam and his contemporaries, and then delves (perhaps in too much detail for a popular book) into the esoteric Kabbala approach. He also attempts to give a wider context of the theodicy problem by saying a few words about contemporary philosophers, such as Buber and Rosenzweig, but not convincingly enough in my opinion.

Perhaps it’s the subject matter, but it seems that the format of short essays is not well suited for such complex philosophical discussions. I was left feeling the book only skimmed the issues without giving proper explanations to any of the ideas discussed.

A body is found in a motel room. The man is naked, hooded and bound in a kneeling position. When a second body is found in a similar position, and it turns out both men were convicted rapists recently released from prison, it is clear to detective Tom Thorne that this is no coincidence. He’s dealing with a killer with an agenda.

This is the basic plot of “Lazybones”, a book in the Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. Detective Thorne dives into the sordid world of rapists and the sex industry to find out who is the vigilante that manages to lure the released sex offenders into a trap where they find their death. A book suited for a lazy afternoon. Not much to write home about.

 

“Gallows View” is the first book in the Inspector Alan Banks series by Peter Robinson. I own most of the books in the series, but never got round to reading any of them. I think I’m going to embark on a mini project of reading them all (almost) in one go. See how much detective fiction a human body can take before rebelling…

Banks, for those not familiar with the series, is a detective who moved from London to peaceful Yorkshire, hoping for a more peaceful job. In this book he tries to track down a Peeping Tom as well as solving the murder of a old lady. Are the two related? Well, that’s for you to guess and for Inspector Banks to find out.

There is also the inevitable attraction of our hero to a member of the female species who is not his wife. In this case it is Jenny Fuller, a psychologist who helps the police put together a profile of the Peeping Tom. No worries though. This being an English novel, the attraction does not mature into any physical contact between the cop and the shrink. He remains faithful to his wife, Sandra, who (surprise!) becomes friends with Dr. Jenny. Perhaps Yorkshire has a dampening effect on people…

I was introduced to Daniel Silva by my boss, who gave me “Portrait of a Spy” to read. Having enjoyed that book, I decided to read more of Silva and downloaded his first novel “The Unlikely Spy”, thinking I’m in for more modern secret service action. Turns out this novel is unique in not belonging to the Gabriel Allon series (the fictional Mossad agent Silva wrote 12 books about to date). This book is actually about the German and British spy games during World War II.

Britain is preparing for D-Day and the location of the invasion of mainland Europe is kept as a top secret. Germany is desperate to find out where the Allies are planning to land (Calais or Normandy) in order to prepare their defences. Alfred Vicary, a university professor recruited to MI5 is in charge of feeding false information to Germans via the network of amateurish spies Germany sent to England, all rounded up by the Brits early on in the war. But Vicary feels there is one more German spy who managed to escape the British net. And he is correct.

Catherina Blake is the “unlikely spy”. She infiltrated England years back, killing an innocent woman to hide her traces and blend into London society. Blake is now activated to find out the secret that will determine the outcome of the war. She finds it out by seducing an American engineer working on the project and is now desperately trying to escape the clutches of MI5, hot on her heels, and pass it on to Berlin. Who wins the race? I won’t tell you, but I’ll give you a hint: the Allies won the war.

“A Dedicated Man” is the second book in the Inspector Alan Banks series from Peter Robinson. This time, a well-respected history professor is found dead. There is no apparent motive for his murder; everyone Banks speaks to describes the late professor as “a dedicated man” with no enemies.

Banks hits a dead end in the investigation. So he turns, appropriately, to history. He investigates the background of people who know the professor years ago, trying to put together a picture of the relationships in case this sheds new light on the case. The professor’s wife, some of his local drinking buddies, a colleague from York and a couple of friends from the past – all come together like a puzzle to reveal a complex picture of interpersonal feuds and friendships that ultimately reveal the killer.

“I Thought A Lot About It” (“חשבתי על זה הרבה”) is not a book I would buy, let alone read. It was given to me by a friend and sat untouched by my bedside for a couple of months. The author, Tali Vishne, is a woman psychiatrist and the back cover describes the book as a Job-like story: how the world of a young woman falls apart when a series of tragedies hits her family. Not exactly my cup of tea.

Surprisingly, I read the book in almost one take and enjoyed it (as much as such stories can be enjoyable). Shira, the young woman, is a mathematics prodigy working on her PhD in Belgium when her father and brother are injured in a terrorist attack back home in Israel. The father suffers only physical wounds but the brother, Itai, suffers a head injury that impacts his cognitive and behavioural patterns. Shira returns home to help her mother deal with the new, broken family. The mother discovers she has cancer and shortly thereafter dies. Shira is left to pick up the pieces. Oh, one more thing. While pregnant, Shira discovers her doctor husband is cheating on her.

The book is surprisingly touching. It is not written as a tragedy and is actually quite funny in some parts. Shira and her father react differently to Itai’s new personality, which can lead to despair at time. The story takes an interesting turn when Itai moves to the US with his father on a sabbatical leave, but I wouldn’t want to give away too much of the plot. The ending is somewhat fantastical but strangely believable.

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2 thoughts on “What I’ve Read This Month – September 2012

  1. Pingback: Reading List « Nafka Mina

  2. Pingback: What I’ve Read This Month – Links « Nafka Mina

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