Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Reading, Reviewing and the Radio - "The Jackal’s Share" by Chris Morgan Jones

Book Reviewed
Last week I received an email asking if I could be a reviewer on Talking Books on Dubai Eye. You may recall that I did a slot as a Book Champion last year. My initial reaction was “Eeek!” With my current schedule I could not see that there was any way that I could read a whole book before Saturday. Then I had a quick think. I had a couple of days lieu leave due to me. The thought of spending a whole day reading was too heavenly an idea to not give it a go. So I said yes. Initially I had the grand idea of reading a bit every evening and finishing up on Thursday and preparing notes on Friday…… Ho-hum.  The book lovers out there will understand the sheer self-indulgence of knowing that you have a whole day devoted to reading pleasure with none of the guilt associated with time wasting when you ought to be doing other things. Reading without guilt rarely comes my way, this being a singularly selfish and solitary pursuit. My other hobbies allow me, to some extent, to convince myself that I have another end to the means. With blogging I am “keeping in touch with friends and family.”  With my various half-finished needlework projects I am always making something for someone else.  I can say without guilt “I have to watch TV ….and crochet as “I have to finish this baby blanket for pregnant person #.” Insert name of latest breeding couple I know. At a stretch I could, as a lover of non-fiction, say that I am improving my mind. Really though who give a flying fig about the improvement of my mind, other than me?  Some might say that my reading does not appear to have improved my mind a great deal.  I might even agree. I have the memory of a goldfish so whatever I read is an in the moment pleasure enjoyed for a nanosecond and then lost in the corridors of my wandering mind. If I could remember everything I had ever thought I had learned I would be scary I tell you - Scary. You are all very lucky not to have to put up with me as a person with a fully functioning memory. 
By saying yes I had given myself a day of heaven. It is true that I did not get to choose the book that I was to read but hey you do not look a gift horse in the mouth now do you? The book to be reviewed was "The Jackal Share," Chris Morgan Jones’ second novel. The back cover talks about Chris Morgan Jones being the “spy thriller for a new generation”. It is to my mind a semi thriller / detective novel /spy novel. I can’t really talk too much about the plot because if I tell you the story you will not have any reason to read the book.
I started out my reading life as a huge fan of detective / junior spy stories with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven and once I had read every single one of those I moved across the Atlantic and read every Nancy Drew and a good few Hardy boys. A couple of years later I took to Robert Ludlum’s action packed spy thrillers with gusto - reading well past lights out in a cliché of torch holding under the covers and sly hiding of novels in front of propped up undone homework. I tried reading John Le Carre around this time as my desperate parents tried to steer me away from my Robert Ludlum crush. Sadly I was just not a sophisticated teen reader so I abandoned the whole genre sometime in my 14th year and have not bothered going back there until last year when Philip and Cameron landed up being involved in an event under the auspices of the Emirates Literary Festival which had me for the first time in a squillion years reading the latest in the James Bond franchise - "Carte Blanche" by Jeffery Deaver. It was just not my taste. I sighed, lamented the loss of the excitement of a nail biting spy thriller and went back to my reading comfort zone. So when given “The Jackal’s Share” to read I was a bit nervous. I was not familiar with the author or genre of part thriller part detective novel.
The book opens with a funeral were we meet our protagonists Ben Webster, a private investigator working for a reputable organisation in this line of work and our hero. We are introduced to the smooth Darius Qazai, a sophisticated cosmopolitan man of means and Yves Senchal his somewhat slimy right hand man and lawyer, as an aside why do lawyers get such a bad rap? Couldn’t the right hand man hold an MBA? Surly they come in slimy too? The funeral is of a dear friend of Mr Qazai and jumping the gun I assume we are being set up for the follow the dotted line of the plot. Except that for the rest of the book our hero is encouraged to steer away from investigating the death that resulted in the funeral attendance and opening chapter of the book.
Ben Webster is commissioned by Qazai to investigate himself. Qazai has a business deal of a lifetime looking like it is going sour due to something “off” that his potential buyers have found about him.  So we have the premise and the rollicking read cracks on. We are lead lightly through London, Dubai, Marrakesh and Italy. There are some lovely descriptions of each city but there are some great blanks. I felt a lack of consistency in his descriptive pieces. In some areas we get an overabundance of information and others where you think you will get more you get almost nothing. I found this in the drawing of characters. You get a hint of some people and more than you might need for characters that you perceive as having the same value to the story. I found this a bit disconcerting until I looked at this book as being a series that will be developed so the characters that will continue in later novels will probably be given more attention in later books? Am I being too generous? Once I took that stance I was able to enjoy the read more.
The plot unfolds in a pleasurable progression of suspense. The reader get to see a realistic side to investigative work revolving around chasing the paper trail which results in little gems of information revealed which held my attention and kept me turning the pages. The plot builds up and heightens to include physical danger discomfort and fear. The main characters are delightfully flawed the relationships believable if somewhat shallow. I did have one  or two uncomfortable moments in the novel about the overall set up in the plot. I don’t want to give away the plot that would stop you from enjoying the turns but I kept asking Why did Darius ask Ikertu to investigate himself ,surly he must have known what they would find and then I had a think and I decided that many people are enormously self-deceptive in the most astonishing ways and do get to the point where they believe the webs they weave and the masks they wear. They become the truth. And if something becomes your truth then investigating it will show your truth. This book opens up the truth about Qasais history and the truth about his relationships with his family. The same goes for Ben  with his stubbornness  which put his and his family’s  life in danger.
At first I could not understand the point of having Ben being an employee rather than a one man band P.I. on a mission. There is a lovely practical side to the idea that there is the brief of what the company was hired to do and of Ben crossing the line into areas he was are not hired to investigate - and where the buck stops. I liked that. I liked the practical nature of it for the real world and I liked how it was used as a devise to move the plot and add suspense.
I usually read books in bed before I go to sleep and I know the book is a goodie if I fall asleep with it in my hands rather than neatly placing my marked book on my bedside table. I fell asleep with this the book in hand.   I woke up the next morning found my book on the floor and carried on reading. There  was enough sizzle in each block of two pages to keep me turning the pages over rather than putting a marker in it and taking a break. Consequently I read this book at a cracking pace and pretty much in one sitting. This all on its own is a wonderful indulgence for any reader but you cannot do it if the books are static, dull or just too difficult.
I am happy to recommend this book to anyone as a summer holiday read. If you are a fan of this genre then I think the thing to do is read the first of Chris Morgan’s Jones books involving Ben Webster, “An Agent of Deceit” and then decide if you want to read this one. Debut novels are often a treat. I will probably read the first one. Not right now but next time I have a long weekend and am lying on a beach or cozied up next to a snug fire I will probably read "An Agent of Deceit."
Come Saturday morning, having read my book and made a few notes I was rearing to go, I arrived at the studio five minutes before the show was due to go to air. Snakes alive I was worried. No one else appeared to be worried. This of course, makes one feel relieved and defunct at the same time. (Mohd.) Mustafa the Producer smiled encouragingly in the couple of minutes of settling in as the news was read and then we were straight into the review. As with my previous experience the hosts John MacDonald and this Saturday’s co-host Sion Scott Wilson helped me chat my way through the review. Damn they are good. I felt at ease within minutes, the time flew by, and before I knew it the first hour of the program was over and I was done. Now last year because of the timing I had to rush off after my bit. I had to get back to the library. This time I was able to stay for the entire program and put in my tuppence  worth (yes you can sigh) every now and then.

Book Champions Choice
The Books Champions this week were two delightful young ladies Neiha Lasharie and Tannya Jalal who Championed John Greens The fault in our Stars.” They were passionate not just about the book but about the author. I do have on my list of teen reads John Green's "Looking for Alaska." And I guess I will have to add this book to that list. So many books, so little time!



During the last hour of the programme Sion’s sons, Rory and Cameron discussed "Dark Lord – Teenage Years" and "A Fiend In Need". Two novels for the 12 to 14 year old readership written by Jamie Thomson. From what they described I think that older teens that liked the novels but would prefer something a bit more adult in writing style would probably enjoy Tom Holt’s novels.
And then it was all over. The competitons won the close out done and off to the Library I went for my afternoon shift.
When I got there my regular library partner Deborah asked if I had been on the Radio as she had heard my name mentioned a the end of the program. She asked what I had done. I explained that I had done the book review and stayed on bla, bla, bla. Deborah asked if I was the only woman on the show (teenage young ladies aside) and I said yes “oh my’ said Deborah. “I did not recognise your voice.” Well there went my ego. How can I ever have my three minutes of fame if my peeps don’t recognise my clearly generic characterless voice? Humph!

Talking of Books on dubai eye 
Chris Morgan Jones home page.

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