The Cunning Man by John Yeoman: Book Review

So Dr. John Yeoman offers some wonderful creative writing tips, courses, classes and bukes via his web presence at the Writers' Village. He allayed my insecurities over a certain story a few years back, and did a pretty powerful edit on it to boot.

He's written a collection featuring the hero of his novel, Hippocrates Yeoman. The character is a witty Elizabethan apothecary, something of a Colombo / Holmes mystery-solving type. The collection is called The Cunning Man. A nice size for a collection, at about ninety pages.

Alongside the text is commentary from the author, where he shows the reader how he writes. He indicates where he has used the "rule of three", for example, or where he echoes a previous piece of text to bring home a point or to mine for humour. The protagonist-narrator is a funny guy, and there are more than a couple of chuckles.

One big criticism is that I wouldn't have opened with the first story, a tale about the theft of a goblet. The second story, featuring a near-destitute milliner is - I feel - a stronger introduction to the hero and his everyday life. We get a feel for him immediately. The first story is itself an interesting piece, but I'd argue it is more complex in its character dynamics. So start with the second one and go back!!!

The third is even better than the second, featuring some pretty inflammatory (inflammable? inflammatory? flammable? flaming?) pubic hair.

Anything anachronistic that I've queried checks out according to the InterWeb. The first appearances of phrases and such, which I would have thought came from after the Bard's time, frequently pre-date it. It's impressive (as is the historical accuracy), from my layman's perspective. And the stories get better and better.

The tales are told in more than one voice, occasionally narrated with more flair by the hero's poet brother than the hero himself, whose less flowery voice also impresses. Stylistically, I felt initially that Hippo's writing was very workmanlike, too minimalist for Tudor Eng-ur-land, but it's certainly in keeping with a sceptical Elizabethan pharmacist. Highly recommended historical mysteries.

Get it at Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Eclipse 2015

The end of days was a bit of a let down. If only light didn't bend quite so much it'd be darker and more exciting and...Einstein would be wrong...the spoilsport.

Review: John Updike's Terrorist - Suggested reading for GLACIAL READERS!!!

This is a review for people who read VERY slowly. Updike's Terrorist (from 2006) was a published book what I had on the go for about eight months.

I could've read it in a few sittings, but the thing is - and here's the thing, folks - the novel is populated with a handful of interesting, wonderfully-drawn characters so it's very easy to abandon for weeks at a stretch and return to without needing reminders.

Brilliantly-researched, featuring a gynandromorphic imam with a chip on his shoulder, teaching the eponymous (anti)hero - a young man fresh out of a New Joyzee high school - how to read the Quran. Rewarding stuff for any reader curious about Islam. The conversations between student and teacher at the mosque are so eruditely honed that I can say with complete certainty that Updike has forgotten all the stuff he must've learned in the course of his research. (Mainly because he died in 2009. RIP.)

The boy's mother - a single woman whose male-gaze descriptions vividly blah blah ahem-hem - conducts an affair with the boy's guidance counsellor, a married Jewish chap shy of retirement with an overweight wife, whose sister works as a gur'min employee under some kind of federal anti-terror czar. The boy's mom is a hobbying artist, a redheaded Irish Catholic. The boy's estranged father is Arab. So the boy embraces Islam, and gets a job at a company run by a Muslim family. Join the dots, folks.

Too much of the plot revealed already here! The writing is pretty damn good. It's all gripping stuff, and the kid's radicalization is more deft and subtle than a bear thieving a pic-a-nic basket at Jellystone Park*. YOINK! 

So there you have it: Very good stuff. I am arbitrarily awarding Up-a-dike's buke nine and a half out of eleven pic-a-nic baskets!

*Yogi Bear - if memory serves - does not feature in the novel.

Bertram and Gertrude's Steamy Amsterdam Weekend review

Hilariously funny stuff, with wonderfully descriptive writing, from the pen of William Frederick

Available on Amazon here!
And at Goodreads here!
Scanning much of this novel (and there's a lot in it, well worth its price), I can say that it's brought a smile to my face on every second or third page. The two central characters Bertram and Gertrude are reconciled and reunited in middle age after years apart. The result - alongside a plot involving a Chinese troublemaker and the Dutch secret service - is lewd filth of the highest order! (That's a good thing.)

There are gags about infirmity, with Bertram frequently struggling for breath or requiring assistance (both chemical and physical for numerous reasons and in a variety of ways), doooobul untundras all over the place, and a very vivid prose style. 

There is some wonderful characterisation too. Intelligent stuff beneath all the buffoonery.

Bertram seems such a reluctant, cowardly and unreliable hero that he earns the reader's sympathy through sheer force of requiring it. Not an easy task for the author, but his narrative style is impressive in that respect.

Bertram's a decent guy whose attempts at casual slyness are so obvious that he doesn't seem a likely candidate for espionage of any kind. Yet he would bury the misanthrope in anyone. For example, when being sent into a potentially lethal situation he is concerned about his costs. His good nature doesn't permit him to consider the peril involved, or the fact that he's being manipulated (of which he seems aware but feels it's unimportant). Yet he's endearingly selfish and canny enough to appreciate that he wants his and his friends' expenses covered.

The book is a rollicker! Lots of spliffing up, and food, and sexual shenanigans, and it's very Bacchanalian and debaucherous. Not three bad at all for a debut novel, or even a tenth novel. (But it's the writer's first.)

Follow the author William Frederick here!