A Passage to Africa

by George Alagiah

Lent to me by my aunt Wendy, this book was written in the mid-1990s and so you might argue that it is no longer an up to date representation of the situation in many of the African countries described.  But as a picture of Africa overall, presented by someone who grew up there (in Ghana) but whose parents were also outsiders (from Sri Lanka) it stands up well even twenty years on.

Alagiah writes well and comes across as a person of integrity and passion.  His love for African is plain to see, but he is not uncritical.  How could he be, having witnessed and reported on some of the worst horrors in places such as Rwanda, DRC and Zimbabwe?  In spite of the misery and suffering he describes, there is however a thread of hope running through this book.

I devoured this book eagerly, and would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone wishing to understand a little more of this troubled continent.

Leaving Berlin

by Joseph Kanon

I’m not good with spy stories, and when I sat down to write this account – less than a month after finishing the book – I struggled to remember what it was about.  Fortunately, there are reviews and summaries aplenty on the internet.  And I think it was an Amazon recommendation that caused me to download this eBook.

So, what can I say about it?  It is set in East Berlin in the immediate post-war period, and one is immediately struck, not just by the bleakness of the place, but also by the relative lack of any legal control where the handling and killing of spies is concerned.  But perhaps the world of spies is always like this.  I do recall, when I visited the GDR museum in Leipzig a few years ago, being shocked by the number of executions of very young people, mainly men in their late teens and early twenties, in the five or so years after the end of the war.  Maybe life was still cheap, and people’s memories (on both sides) allowed them to commit atrocities with a clear conscience.

The story just doesn’t come back to mind.  I find this is usually the case with spy stories, presumably because things are not how you think they are, and the truth only comes to light in the last few pages, when you find out that the ‘good guy’ is really working for the other side.

It was a compelling enough read, but I won’t recommend it – unless you like spy stories.

Mr Mercedes

by Stephen King

What can I say?  Stephen King writes so well, and yes, some of what he writes is almost too gruesome to imagine as a reader – and you wonder how a writer could ever have imagined it.  But there is so much more to King’s writing than just horror.

The events of this novel are almost believable – which of course makes it all the more scary.  Mr Mercedes is a killer who causes death, injury and panic by driving a car into a defenceless crowd gathered at a stadium to apply for jobs during the 2008-9 recession.  he is widely assumed to have died himself in the incident.  But he stalks a retired detective electronically, and so the chase begins…

This is the first in a series of three books featuring some of the same characters.  I will take my time before reading the other two.  There is a lot more of King’s back catalogue to be savoured!