Sorry, I just realised who the saki monkey reminds me of. He looks like The Rock. Well...he does.
Next up is Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith. Another Renko novel, natch. I don't know how accurate Cruz Smith's depiction of Russia is - Rose, his thriller set in Victorian Lancashire (and that has to be a genre of one) almost worked - but to me it rings true. I've been a fan ever since Gorky Park, and although the books since then have been of varying quality - to my mind Red Square is his best - he's never less than entertaining. Renko himself is becoming almost a mythical figure, existing without sleep, living on vodka and cigarettes, surviving enormous trauma, a sounding board for Russia. Like Alan Furst, another great favourite of mine, Cruz Smith has been becoming more and more impressionistic with each succeeding novel, and I think there is some very good writing here. Elegant, touching. Much recommended.
And then there's Bad Luck And Trouble by Lee Child. I have to admit to being a huge Child fan ever since his first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor. There's an urgent sense of directness about his books that I like. You can't read them back to back because it's like being repeatedly hit with a sand-filled sock, but one every year is fine, and I've actually started looking forward to them. Of course, they're modern Westerns. Reacher is the Man With No Name (except he has a name) who lives beyond society and rides into town and rights wrongs, usually through violence. It won't be to everyone's taste, but Child works very hard and is very good at what he does, which is why he's so successful. It's fast, stripped down, full of detail, and I stormed through it in about five days. There's no room for grey, no moral ambiguity. Reacher is not like Renko. Personally, I prefer Renko.
And finally for this update I offer you Don't You Know Who I Am? by Piers Morgan. I read Morgan's previous book, The Insider, last year. That was his memoir of his time working in newspapers in London, and from my point of view it had a certain value, although I felt as though I needed a very hot shower after I'd finished it. Don't You Know Who I Am? picks up the story after he's been sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror and carries us into the nightmare that is...oh, I can't even be bothered to remember what it's called. American Idol? America's Most Desperate To Be On Television? It masquerades as a book about Morgan's journey into Celebrity and a critique on that journey, but really, like the previous volume it's just an excuse for name-dropping. No page goes by without at least one (preferably more) mention of Someone Well-Known, and it does wear you out after a while.
So why did I read this atrocity? I hear you cry. Well, Morgan, for all his faults - and they are legion - was a bloody good editor when he was at the Mirror, and I was one of those who hoped he wouldn't have to resign over the faked Iraqi abuse photos. In his chosen field, Morgan is actually a talented journalist, and it breaks my heart to see him doing this kind of stuff. Of course, he has every right to wave his latest royalty cheque at me and tell me to sod off. And of course I have every right to advise you not to read this book.