The Graveyard of the Hesperides, by Lindsey Davies
Hodder & Stoughton (2016), Paperback, 416 pages
I’m probably beginning to sound like a broken record on the topic of this series, but for the fourth time in this series, I once again failed to warm to Davies’ rebooted saga involving Flavia Albia instead of her disreputable adopted father Falco. I can never put my finger on it, the writing is as clever as ever, snappy, witty, but somehow Flavia Albia just does not resonate with me. In this iteration, Albia and her soon to be husband Tiberius Manlius are drawn into the case of a bar which in the course of being renovated has been found to be concealing six skeletons, whose identity is a mystery. The couple must solve the murder so the renovations can proceed, while at the same time trying to prevent their wedding becoming a family-related disaster. There is the usual delving into the sleazy Roman underworld, which Davies has made very much her own. Entertaining, funny and original, it’s all of that, but for me it just can’t compare to the Falco series, maybe it is lacking Falco’s peculiar mix of sleaze and honesty, I don’t know. It’s a great book, as all of Davies’ books, she is a true original in an overcrowded genre, but for me, something is lacking, I’m sorry.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth: A Scientific Exploration into the Heart of our Planet, by David Whitehouse
W&N (2016), Paperback, 288 pages
We know far more about the depths of space, billions of light years away, then we do about the planet underneath us, just a few thousand kilometres deep. The same applies to literature on the subject. Books on the cosmos are aa dime a dozen, but readable literature on the planet’s core is quite rare. Not surprising perhaps, since, unlike the stars, we cannot, and likely never will be able to, actually see the interior of our planet beyond a mere 12 kilometres or so down, because the heat and pressure exceeds that of the sun’s surface. All evidence comes from supposition, analysis of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and occasional rare eruptions of material from deep in the planet which makes it to the surface. With these scraps of evidence, David Whitehouse has produced a readable interpretation of what happens beneath the crust for the lay reader. Although the science can at times get too abstruse even with Whitehouse’s admirable interpretation, this is an enjoyable and educational introduction to a topic that few people know anything about, bad science fiction movies notwithstanding. While Whitehouse lacks the lyrical expression of say, Carl Sagan, who truly exposed the romance of science, his writing is lively and entertaining. A pleasure to read for science geeks of all ages.
The Story of Egypt, by Joann Fletcher
Hodder & Stoughton (2015), Paperback, 482 pages
I’ve been an Egyptophile for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, while my friends had posters of rock stars and football players on their walls, I had Tutankhamun adorning my room. I just loved the silent mummies, the beautiful dignified statues and paintings, the fascinating depths of their tombs, the whole sense of mystery that ancient Egypt still generates. While my interest have expanded substantially, I am still prey to grabbing a good book about Egypt when I see one, and this is a cracker. Joann Fletcher has condensed the whole history of Egypt, from pre-dynastic times to the death of Cleopatra, into 400 odd pages covering 3000 years, and done it very well. While the centuries fly by, and dynasty gives way to dynasty, nothing feels hurried, and Fletcher gives every Pharaoh their due according to the length of their reign, their importance in Egypt’s history, and probably most importantly, how much is known about each, which is some cases is very little. However, the book’s main appeal comes from the fact that Fletcher has avoided the temptation to just include the dry historical details, and enlivens the text with snippets which reinforce the humanity of these godlike beings. She reveals that Ramses the Great dyed his hair, the wife of Montuhotep was given to biting her nails, and Cleopatra’s father was given the nickname Fluteplayer because of his youthful predilection for that instrument. In addition, Fletcher goes beyond the stories of the Pharaohs to give information about the lives of the ordinary people of Egypt, gathered from graffiti, scraps of papyrus and pottery and their modest tombs. This is a thoroughly entertaining and informative read. I loved it.