This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor


Paul Thomas (Bitter Lemon Press: £8.99)

This column has met Detective Sergeant Tito Ihaka before, when Mr Thomas’s award winning novel Death on Demand was reviewed in 2013. In fact, Ihaka first appeared in 1994, and has been going strong ever since, with a few breaks.

Mr Thomas has been called the Godfather of New Zealand, and one critic, referring to the book which introduced Ihaka, described it as “Elmore Leonard on acid”. If one throws in Mr Thomas’s acknowledged influences such as Shane and Philip Marlowe, there is a degree of familiarity. Not, however, one which breeds contempt. While Tito Ihaka’s traits are familiar – maverick loner, problems with authority etc, etc – this in no way detracts from the qualities of the book.

An investigation into a cold murder case casts doubts on the cause of death of Tito’s father. Not surprisingly this involves some detours. The trail follows some of New Zealand’s richest and most powerful people, and branches (with deviations) into the murky world of trade union fallouts in the 1980s. One has to concentrate to keep up with the dramatis personae, but the drive and strength of character (to say nothing of the wit) of the main protagonist hold everything together.

This book may not be groundbreaking, but it is very enjoyable.

The Cochrane Diaries

Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall

Alan Cochrane (Biteback Publishing: £18.99; e-book £9.59)

Alan Cochrane is Scottish editor and columnist for the Daily Telegraph. In these diaries he seeks to record the long road to the Scottish independence vote held on 18 September 2014.

We learn as much about the author than we do about the campaign and the politicking. He is clearly a man devoted to his family, a proud and supportive father, who also enjoys the company of a vast array of interesting people, in nice settings, sometimes in the Caledonian Club in London or New Club in Edinburgh, or the glens of Angus. He has firm views of BBC Scotland, not much time for some politicians (all named), and enjoys plenty of the “red infuriator” along with having a huge whisky collection. He's also skint.

We learn how journalists operate as editors, as well as general information gathering. There are some brilliant vignettes of some of the key events, such as the "maniacs in the Treasury... decisions to use Lego figures... about how many fish suppers and portions of mushy peas could be bought with the £1,400 per head that the Treasury says we'll all get if we vote No in the referendum", or his clandestine meeting with Gordon Brown at the Sheraton. We have insight into the anxieties some in the Better Together camp had about the increasing strength of the nationalist vote, and how the author thought the Prime Minister's idea of setting up a personal headquarters in Glasgow from which to campaign was doomed to fail as "it would be burned down overnight".

It would have been a real bonus if Mr Cochrane had included one or two of the editorials he wrote during the campaign, especially the one of 5 September 2014 where he went "with an emotional special – telling the faithful to get out there, stop whingeing and campaign".

Cochrane describes his as a "biased viewpoint" and he has a "jaundiced opinion", but these diaries would be a joy for anyone interested in the campaign, campaigning and the key events of what was undoubtedly a hard fought contest, but one which galvanised 84% of the voting population, and for the first time 16-18 year olds, into expressing their opinion. This book deserves to be widely read.

The Vacationers

Emma Straub (Picador: £7.99; e-book £3.59)

Jim and Franny Post are prosperous Manhattanite writers in late middle age, whose marriage is under threat as a result of Jim’s infidelity with a much younger intern. With Franny wondering whether she can put up with “looking at Jim in the kitchen and wanting to plunge an ice pick in between his eyes”, they head to a villa on Mallorca for a pre-booked fortnight’s vacation, originally intended to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. They are accompanied by their adult son, and his older partner, of whom they disapprove; their teenage daughter, hoping for holiday romance; and another married couple, their friends Charles and Lawrence, waiting for news from an adoption agency.

After 40 or so pages I was ready to hate the Posts, their friends, their unchecked privilege, and their first-world problems. But much as, after a few days, one starts to acclimatise to being on holiday, I started to care about the characters, and ended up a little surprised by how much I’d enjoyed the book. With charm, wit, and the merest hint of satire, Straub addresses topics as trivial as unreliable Mallorcan wi-fi, and as substantial as enduring familial love. Mallorca, Straub suggests, is “summer done right”, and this is the summer novel done right. Read in the depths of a Scottish winter, it provided a welcome blast of sun-drenched escapism; I imagine it would also be the perfect holiday beach read.


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