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Nevermore by William Hjortsberg

Quoth the raven, "What is 
Conan Doyle on about?"
For a number of years I was mistaken in the belief that Hjortsberg's only contribution to the morass of the Western literary tradition was 1978's frankly awesome Falling Angel, intriguingly brought to the big screen as Angel Heart in the 80s by Alan Parker with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel (names not so awesome, admittedly) and convincingly evil Robert De Niro as Lucifer incarnate. Now, I learn that not only has he finally completed a monster biography of Richard Brautigan called Jubilee Hitchhiker (for more on my own personal love of Brautigan, shared via the brains of the world's most eccentrically lovely people, visit The Brautigan Book Club), but that he has also dabbled in sci-fi and been consistently dribbling other literary content onto the bib of public opinion for many years!

As a former bookstore manager, I should be ashamed. But you clearly don't know me if so you think, as I am not.

This, written in 1994, is a work that, more than just a little, put me in mind of Glen David Gold's carpal tunnel-wrenchingly thick novel Carter Beats The Devil, in so far as both feature a world famous illusionist and a series of strange goings-on to tax the mind of a genius. That Gold's is fictitious and Hjortsberg's is none other than Mr Harry Houdini doesn't add much value to an otherwise intriguing murder mystery, but might explain why Gold chose to create one himself, rather than utilise one pre-fabricated, given that this one was already taken and there are few left to compare. Of course, Houdini gets a run out in Carter... if only to provide the whet stone against which Gold's character Charlie Carter sharpens his persona. 

What Hjortsberg does with an imaginative flourish that also carries echos through Carter... is to weave the stories of Houdini's attempts to expose fraudulent mystics with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's own spiritualist tour of America, in reality two circles which did touch, two personalities who did meet and a narrative device firmly rooted in the reality of the historian's pen, albeit with the artist's permitted license to tweak time lines to suit. Doyle, haunted by the ghost of Edgar A. Poe for a reason undisclosed but delicious for its mystery, arrives in Houdini's life just as Houdini's own faith in his scepticism is trembling with the blows landed by the arcane temptress  Opal Crosby Fletcher, another real-life charlatan making her fictive bow. 

Not to give away too much of the plot, for it is entirely engrossing and complex, but Houdini's retinue, past and present is being chipped away at by an unknown serial killer, who uses the stories of Poe as a template for his morbid entertainments, and Houdini becomes both enraptured and enraged by his adulterous lust for Fletcher whilst Doyle is swept up in Houdini's reckless boast that the mind behind Sherlock Holmes would easily solve the baffling killings. 

Mixed well, generously seasoned with wit and charm, brutal imagery and delicate word play, and baked in an imagination as febrile and fecund as that of Hjortsberg, what is served up is a stout and flavoursome stew of grand designs. I thoroughly recommend Hjortsberg to the uninitiated, to the avid crime reader and the sceptic alike, with no qualms about rejections. If you haven't tried him already, then it's not too late.

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A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …