Recent Reading and Listening

I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this summer, but I did manage to get through a couple of terrific and rather hefty crime novels. The first was Revelation by C.J. Sansom. I have enjoyed his Matthew Shardlake series ever since the first one, Dissolution, and this, the fourth, is up there with the best. It’s 1543 and Henry VIII, old and sick, has his sights set on Lady Catherine Parr. Against a background of court intrigue and religious mania, lawyer Shardlake finds himself investigating a series of gruesome murders based on the Book of Revelations. In modern-day terms we would call them the work of a serial killer, but no such creature existed in the 16th century imagination, though Sansom does give a couple of intriguing parallels. As usual, the period detail is impeccable and the plotting and pacing spot on.

The other is a first novel by Tana French called In the Woods, which recently won both the Edgar for best first novel and an L.A. Times book award. This is an absorbing tale about the search for a young girl’s killer in a small community outside Dublin. What gives it a special edge, though, is that one of the detectives on the case, Adam Ryan, grew up in the community, and his two best friends disappeared while playing in the same woods twenty years ago. One of the real joys of the book is the quirky relationship that grows between between Adam and his partner on the case, Cassie Maddox. The goods news is that there’s another Cassie Maddox book out now, called The Likeness.

As far as music goes, there has been a bumper crop lately. The first CD from the Fleet Foxes is a joy to listen to, Eliza Carthy’s Dreams of Breathing Underwater pushes the boundaries of “folk” even further than usual, and Thea Gilmore’s Liejacker is one that I’ll be listening to again and again over the coming months. Evil Urges, the new CD by My Morning Jacket, at first seems something of a mixed bag compared to their previous work, but it definitely grows on you, and “Librarian” is a standout track. I would also be remiss in failing to mention three live concerts recently issued in CD form, all from roughly the same period. First comes The Byrds Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1971. It’s not their best line-up by a long shot, but it’s a good show nonetheless. Next is The Doors Live in Pittsbrugh, 1970, a remarkably together and focused performance for that period in the band’s history. Last but not least is David Bowie Live in Santa Monica, 1972, gems from the Ziggy Stardust era, with the excellent Mick Ronson on guitar. Finally, I should mention a compilation called Tribute to Goffin & King 1961-67, which, even if it didn’t have lots of other great songs, would be worth it just for Dusty Springfield’s rare version of “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

I was also lucky enough to get to the Beverley Folk Festival in late June and heard great sets from Edwina Hayes, Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, Chumbawumba and Waterson: Carthy. Perhaps the standout act for me, though, was Martin Simpson & Andy Cutting. From the traditional (“Little Musgrave”) to the contemporary (“Never Any Good”) their skill and intensity entranced everyone, and I think I held my breath through their moving version of Richard Thompson’s “Strange Affair,” a song very dear to my heart.