Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Hot summer reads

The Pictures / Conclave - Two unputdownable thrillers ideal for summer travels ... and this current heatwave.
  
THE PICTURES by Guy Bolton. Who would have thought a novel set in Hollywood's Golden Age in 1939, just as MGM and Louis B Mayer prepare for the premiere of THE WIZARD OF OZ would be so gripping?

World-weary Jonathan Craine is a detective at the LAPD who has spent his entire career as a studio ‘fixer’, covering up crimes of the studio players to protect the billion-dollar industry that built Los Angeles. When one of the producers of The Wizard of Oz is found dead under suspicious circumstances, Craine must make sure the incident passes without scandal and that the deceased’s widow, the beautiful starlet Gale Goodwin, comes through the ordeal with her reputation unscathed.
But against his better instincts, Craine finds himself increasingly drawn to Gale. And when a series of unsavoury truths begin to surface, Craine finds himself at the centre of a conspiracy involving a Chicago crime syndicate, a prostitution racket and a set of stolen pictures that could hold the key to unravelling the mystery.

It seems the studios ran a high-class call girl racket, for their stars, to avoid unnecesary complications, but the mobs and the gangsters are also involved. Add in a sadistic killer who likes torturing his victims before despatching them; an idealistic young Irish detective Patrick O'Nell who helps Crain regain his conscience, and assorted shoot-outs at the end which leaves almost everyone dead, and this is a fascinating page turner by a writer new to me, Guy Bolton. Real stars dot the narrative too, as we spot Gable and Cooper, Astaire, Crawford etc. 

CONCLAVE: Robert Harris is another terrific thriller writer (I love his POMPEII) and his latest is well up to scratch. It takes us behind the scenes as a new pope is elected in Rome as we are locked in the Sistine Chapel with all the cardinals as the ballots get underway. 
The Pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and twenty Cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world's most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals ...
Fascinating stuff for the layman, though Catholics will be familiar with the process. It emerges there are four main candidates and a surprise outsider. Our narrator Cardinal Lomeli is a main candidate too and we see it all through his eyes as the intrigue and blackmail surfaces. There is a perfect surprise ending too.  One could say Harris has given us back the power and majesty of The Vatican and its history, after those trivial Dan Brown capers.

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