Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Chain is out today!

Whoa, 2 years in the making and finally its here... my novel The Chain is released in every English
speaking market today July 9th.*

Please check it out and if sounds like your sort of thing well then do get yourself a copy. And if you like it oh my goodness I'd be so happy if you left me a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you like to leave reviews.

Finally, if you are in Scottsdale tonight I'll be launching The Chain at Poisoned Pen bookstore with the great Diana Gabaldon.

Thank you folks for sticking by me and my apologies for what has been a LONG gap between books.

Hopefully Duffy 7 will be up next...


*(Except of course the Isle of Man where it will NOT be on sale because of a bad experience I had there in the eighth grade.)**

** I kid! I love the Isle of Man! It's the best.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My full interview with James Ellroy from last week's Crime Reads

I’m interviewing James Ellroy over lunch in half an hour and I realize I have already miscalculated. We’re meeting at Gallagher’s Steak House in Mid-Town, New York and I have decided to walk from my apartment on the Upper West Side to clear my head and think of some really interesting questions that he hasn’t been asked a million times before. It is however already 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level that makes it feel much warmer. I’m wearing my bog standard black jeans with black DM’s, a suicidal sartorial choice for a Belfast boy. Back home in Northern Ireland people start fainting and complaining about the heat when it gets into the low 60’s.
Born and bred in Los Angeles and a famous writer for over two decades, I imagine Ellroy is used to all kinds of heat. Used also to interviewers showing up flustered, sweaty and maybe a little bit panicky. Ellroy’s reputation precedes him. There are numerous reported incidents of him not suffering fools gladly. There was that time when he heckled a documentary about his own life at the premier and he has abruptly terminated interviews for tardiness or because the interviewer was poorly prepared.
As it happens I arrive at Gallagher’s Steak House on West 52nd Street before Ellroy. I get a quiet table in the corner and order a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice, ginger & ginger beer) as a restorative. It hits the spot, and as I’m searching for my list of questions, Ellroy comes in looking lean and tall and hungry. He’s 71 years old and casually dressed but he looks younger and sharper, and if you didn’t know, you’d peg him as a philosophy professor, perhaps in his early sixties.
“Hey Adrian, good to meet you,” he says, shaking my hand. “I gotta hit the can.”
“Can I order you a drink in the meantime?”
“Just black coffee,” he says.
Ellroy doesn’t drink anymore, having had substance abuse and alcohol problems in his teens and twenties. His parents both were drinkers. Alcohol destabilized their marriage and in his memoir My Dark Places and in other essays he describes his mother’s rages and melancholy promiscuity when under the influence. Her still-unsolved rape and murder when he was ten years old was, of course, a critical turning point in young James’s life.
Back from the bathroom, Ellroy scans the menu and orders a dozen clams and a salad he makes up himself. I settle for the safer bet of a club sandwich.
“So what about you. They say you’re from Belfast, is that right?” he asks.
“Yes that is right.”
“I’m just back from the UK and Ireland. You know, I think I prefer Belfast to Dublin. Something about the people, something about the vibe,” he says and smiles.
I know he’s not kissing up. He never kisses up. If there’s one thing that Ellroy is famous for telling, it’s for telling it straight. “I read the review you wrote of This Storm in The Guardian. I never read reviews but they gave it to me when I was there so I had to read it.”
“And?”
“Well you actually read the book so that’s something. You wouldn’t believe how many people come to interview me or who review my stuff and they only read the first 100 pages, you can tell. It’s lazy and unprofessional. I liked the thing you said in the review about David Peace. He’s good.”
This takes me aback. The night before I’d been trawling through other Ellroy interviews where he talks about never reading any contemporaries with a few exceptions for spy fiction authors such as Daniel Silva and John le Carré. “What do you like about Peace?” I ask him.
“I like his world. His Yorkshire reminds me of my Los Angeles.”
“Have you ever read his football novels?” I ask hopefully, but Ellroy shakes his head. The image in my mind of James Ellroy in his lair reading about Brian Clough and Bill Shankly and Emlyn Hughes is too delicious to let go. “They’re excellent. The Damned United is a minor masterpiece and Red or Dead is a major masterpiece.”
“I wanted the scale of those Red Riding books to be bigger. I wanted deeper. Like Winslow does in The Cartel. I wanted more from Peace. And as for soccer, I don’t know. The only sport I know about is boxing,” he says.
This opens the floodgates and for the next twenty minutes we talk about the state of the sport, particularly the heavyweight division. He knows one of Deontay Wilder’s trainers and likes him. I tell him about Tyson Fury’s Belfast connections. We agree that the Wilder-Fury was one for the ages. We discuss the recent Joshua-Ruiz fight which he missed because he was in England. He thinks Joshua is too nice to be a fighter but I counter with how charming I found Ruiz to be on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Ellroy has no TV in his apartment so I’m not sure if he knows who Jimmy Kimmel is. He has no TV, no cell phone, no internet, no computer. He writes in long hand and sends the pages to be typed. He corrects the typed pages in long hand.
“How do you watch the fights if you have no TV? Do you go to a bar?”
Ellroy explains that his girlfriend (his ex-wife) lives in the same apartment building as him in Denver, Colorado. She has a TV, radio and computer. We talk a little bit about Denver. He moved there a little over three years ago; I lived there from 1999 – 2008. I talk about the Beats and their surprising connections to the city but his eyes are glazing over and I can tell Ellroy couldn’t care less about the Beats. I ask him about Kerouac, Burroughs et. al. and he confirms that he doesn’t rate them as writers or as people. “Immoral and self centered and dull,” he says.
He asks me what I thought of Denver.
“It was nice. I liked the snow. I grew up in Ireland where we never really got snow. I taught at this private school, there where they got Fridays off to ski. I never skied before so they sent me for lessons so I could supervise the kids. So what do you do in Denver for fun?”
He tells me he enjoys driving or walking around downtown. He describes a monastic lifestyle of writing in the morning, exercising on an elliptical machine, more writing and then down time with his girlfriend reading or listening to music.
“What music?” I ask.
“The good stuff. Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart.”
“I noticed in This Storm there’s a subplot about the smuggling of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony into America.”
“Ah so you did read the book all the way through.”
We talk This Storm for a while. I suggest that Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese is the moral disaster at the heart of the book which he sort of agrees with. I then ask him why he felt the need to kill two of my favorite characters in the novel.
“It was their time.”
“You let Dudley Smith live to a ripe old age, but you kill these two. Come on man, it’s not fair.”
“And that’s the point isn’t it? To give you a picture of an unfair, immoral, corrupt world.”
We talk some more about POV characters and their arcs and how important it is for him to understand even the vilest of men. “Liberals hate that about my books,” he says.
And yet I wonder if maybe he’s a kind of secret liberal, delving deep into fascist demimonde exposing the underside of America, a project the late Roberto Bolaño was doing in his last fictions. Ellroy is not interested in such conjecturing. He avoids politics and he confirms to me what he said at the Hay Festival, that he’ll never write a book that takes place any later than 1972.
We get to talking about American Tabloid and I ask him about Don DeLillo and he lights up. “Libra changed my life!” Did he ever tell DeLillo that? He says that they talked briefly in Amsterdam at a literary festival.
WE GET TO TALKING ABOUT AMERICAN TABLOID AND I ASK HIM ABOUT DON DELILLO AND HE LIGHTS UP. “LIBRACHANGED MY LIFE!”
I tentatively discuss class in American fiction. He worked full time as a golf caddy until his fifth book and I ask him if American letters is perhaps too full of rich kids who graduate from expensive MFA programs with an elegant prose style and nothing much to say. He grunts an agreement but clearly to him this is airy-fairy theorizing and he’s not really into it.
The conversation moves onto film. He talks about his love of the actor Paddy Considine and I excitedly tell him about The Ferryman on Broadway. “They have a live goose on stage!” I say as my closing argument and he laughs, but tells me he’s leaving New York tonight.
We unpack our favorite and least favorite movies. He tells me he is not a fan of Tarantino or most modern movies. He hates The Wire. Somehow we find ourselves in a heated argument about, of all things, Billy Wilder. Ellroy can’t stand him. “Not even Some Like It Hot?” Ellroy shakes his head. He explains that he thinks the way Marilyn Monroe was portrayed was sordid and unbecoming.
“OUR REAL FAMILY NAME WASN’T ELLROY BUT MCILROY BUT MY GRANDFATHER CHANGED IT BECAUSE HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SHANTY IRISH. MY DAD TOO WAS ALWAYS SAYING THAT IF I MISBEHAVED HE’D SEND ME TO THE CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN BROTHERS SCHOOL.”
It’s Martin Scorsese who really rubs him the wrong way. He doesn’t like movies that glamorize or fetishize drug taking, alcoholism or revel in violence for the sake of violence. I wonder if this is a reaction to his childhood or a Puritan streak. We get to talking about religion and he tells me he’s a Lutheran but on his father’s side they were Irish Presbyterian. This hasn’t come up before in my previous research and I’m a little surprised by it. I dig deeper. “Our real family name wasn’t Ellroy but McIlroy but my grandfather changed it because he didn’t want to be associated with the Shanty Irish. My dad too was always saying that if I misbehaved he’d send me to the Catholic Christian Brothers School.”
“The McIlroys were from Ulster. No wonder you like Belfast. It’s an atavistic thing,” I tell him laughing. He’s laughing too now and warms to the theme. “Joyce aside all the great Irish writers were Protestant,” he says. “Beckett, Wilde, Shaw, Synge, not O’Casey. . .”
“Nope O’Casey too, despite the name. But not Behan or Heaney or Muldoon or. . .”
He looks at his watch. We’ve been talking for over two hours.
“Oh I’m sorry I lost track of time,” I say.
He brushes it off. “We’ll talk again, I enjoyed this,” he says.
I look at my list of questions that I was going to ask. I haven’t gotten to any of them. I wanted to know what poetry he reads. There’s an Anne Sexton epigraph in one of his books and I’m a huge fan of her writing. . . It will have to keep.
We shake hands.
His charming publicist arrives and picks up the tab and Ellroy leaves a tip that makes the waiter catch his breath for a moment.
This morning he was with The New York Times. For lunch it was me and now Ellroy’s off to do another interview. He seems to dig all this. To me he’s a classic introvert/extrovert who hibernates for four years between books before enjoying this carnival of publicity and performance.
I fold up my question sheet. I didn’t get to ask him about race or Donald Trump or a clever critical review of This Storm I’d just read in The New Statesman. Next time, I tell myself, I’m going to steer us clear of the boxing.

Friday, May 31, 2019

A THIRD CONSECUTIVE *STARRED* REVIEW FOR THE CHAIN

I am really honoured and very grateful to get a third starred review for my new novel The Chain. This time from Bill Ott in Booklist. Thank you Bill, thank you Booklist and thank you everyone who has taken the trouble to read and review this novel.


Friday, April 12, 2019

My review of Philip Kerr's Metropolis in The Guardian

Metropolis by Philip Kerr review – the last outing for Bernie Gunther

This posthumously published novel sees the world-weary Berlin cop join the murder squad on the eve of the Nazi rise to power
Bittersweet ending … a street in Berlin, December 1928.
 Bittersweet ending … a street in Berlin, December 1928. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images
Philip Kerr’s untimely death last year at the age of 62 deprived us of a gifted writer of a variety of books, from children’s to non-fiction. But it was his creation Bernie Gunther, a sardonic cop and private investigator in Nazi Berlin, that captured the imagination of fans across the world. Gunther first appeared in 1989’s March Violets, as an ex-policeman specialising in what Dashiell Hammett called “wandering daughter jobs” around the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The original Berlin trilogy took us to the end of the war; after that Kerr had fun plunging readers forward into Gunther’s postwar career in Cuba and back into the Nazi era.
Metropolis, the last Gunther novel, begins in 1928 with Gunther working in the Berlin police vice department and lodging with four wonderfully drawn Christopher Isherwood types, including a writer and a musician/escort. A veteran of the Great War, Gunther is the perfect world-weary investigator for the glittering, doomed demi-monde of Weimar Berlin. As Metropolis opens, he is newly promoted to the murder squad of the Kriminalpolizei and begins investigating the serial murders of four suspected prostitutes. In a brilliant set piece scene deploying all Kerr’s empathy and intelligence, Gunther enters into an imaginary dialogue with Mathilde Luz, a young Jewish factory worker who was the first victim.
Nazis in the department wonder why Gunther cares so much about one dead Jewish girl – and of course within a decade a million Jewish children will be murdered under the Nazi racial laws. But nowhere in the series does Gunther commit the fallacy of thinking numerically about moral facts, and in a universe spiralling towards chaos his desire to establish a little local order in a sea of entropy is the best that he can do.
When the daughter of a local crime boss is killed, the stakes are raised – and then someone starts murdering disabled veterans, as if wanting to purge Berlin of ugly reminders of a more complicated past, just as a bold tomorrow begins to gather strength. Wonderfully plotted, with elegant prose, witty dialogue, homages to German Expressionism and a strong emotional charge, this is a bittersweet ending to a superb series.
 Adrian McKinty’s The Chain will be published by Orion in July. Metropolis is published by Quercus (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Pre order The Chain here...

My new novel The Chain has been presold in 31 countries and is currently being translated into 22 languages...here are what some people are saying about it:

THE CHAIN is diabolical, unnerving, and gives a whole new meaning to the word “relentless.” Adrian McKinty just leapt to the top of my list of must-read suspense novelists. He writes with confidence, heart, and style to spare. He’s the real deal.

DENNIS LEHANE

This nightmarish story is incredibly propulsive and original. You won’t shake it for a long time.

STEPHEN KING

You have never read anything quite like THE CHAIN and you will never be able to forget it. This book is Jaws for parents. It belongs in the elite company of world class thrillers like Gone Girl and The Silence of the Lambs.

Adrian McKinty is one of the most striking and most memorable crime voices to emerge on the scene in years. His plots tempt you to read at top speed, but don't give in: the writing in THE CHAIN -- sharply observant, intelligent and shot through with black humor -- should be savored.

TANA FRENCH

A masterpiece. THE CHAIN is one of the finest novels ever produced in the genre – I may not read a better thriller in my lifetime.

STEVE CAVANAGH


Saturday, March 30, 2019

my review of The Border from the Sydney Morning Herald

CRIME FICTION
The Border
Don Winslow
HarperCollins, $32.99
American movies in the 1970s tackled the big political issues of the day. Faced with a chaotic world, a corrupt, imploding presidency and a national sense of failure, Hollywood produced the greatest era of American cinema since the 1940s. But that Hollywood is long gone. It's all superheroes and sequels now and we are fortunate then that some of America's best novelists are rising to the challenge of documenting our era and its present ills. In an eerie act of precognition Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel, The Border, that must have taken at least two years to write and yet seems to be about the America of this week.
Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel.
Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel.
Winslow has been writing about the politics of the "drugs wars" since his early masterpiece, The Power of the Dog, in 2005. That book introduced Vietnam vet, half-Mexican Art Keller, a DEA agent sent to Mexico in 1975 to burn the poppy fields and "stamp out the drug problem once and for all". His nemesis becomes Adan Barrera, a central figure in the Sinaloa drug cartel. The murder of Keller's partner and friend, Ernie Hidalgo, and the massacre of innocent people in a Mexican village make Barrera Keller's enemy for life.
The Cartel (2015) follows Keller and Barrera throughout the 1990s and 2000s as Mexico veers into chaos and becomes in effect a narco state slave to America's insatiable demand for drugs. Perhaps 150,000 die in this slaughterhouse and Winslow shows the murder of journalists, cops, women and children with dispassionate, clinical rage.
The Border by Don Winslow.
The Border by Don Winslow.
Winslow's writing in The Cartel reaches new heights and there's a remarkable scene late in the novel when an old caballero attempts to defend his ranch against narco invaders that is written so vividly that I felt I was in the house with him. The Cartel ends with Keller and Barrera facing off in the jungle.
The Border concludes this epic trilogy. Keller is living in retirement with his doctor wife in a small Mexican town when he is offered the post of head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and promised the resources needed to knock back Cartel infrastructure within the United States. South of the Border it is now the post-Barrera era and the various Diadochi struggle with one another to become kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel and, in a way, de facto president of Mexico.
Winslow's book mirrors real events, with the US suffering a self-inflicted opioid crisis and its biggest heroin epidemic since the 1970s. The Border is an outraged, scathing novel that despairs at America's treatment of Mexico and is furious about corruption on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The rise of Donald Trump has given Winslow a perfect foil for his indignation. In Winslow's fictional universe, John Dennison, a pompous real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-host decides to launch a presidential bid in 2015 by lying through his teeth about his achievements and painting a casuistic picture of how to fix America's problems. Dennison has no difficulty flirting with the radical chic of alt-right racism and his speeches become increasingly unhinged and apocalyptic.
Winslow's Dennison joins Robert Graves' Caligula and Sinclair Lewis' Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip as perfect personifications of Trump. In a plot point that made me choke on my tea, Dennison's son-in-law, Jason, is in a parlous financial situation after a disastrous over-leveraged purchase of a Park Avenue skyscraper. Jason needs money and the banks won't lend to such a dim-witted incompetent so the cartel offers to help him out. This is level-headed, livid satire of the highest order and its claims of influence pedalling and corruption at the highest levels are entirely believable.
The Border, like its predecessors, is a glittering, brilliant, violent novel and it is not for the faint of heart. But it is worth sloshing through the gore. In my estimation Winslow joins James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo as the most acute unpackers of an American dream dissolving into American nightmare.
And as for life on the other side of the border? Perhaps the 19th-century Mexican president Porfirio Díaz still says it best: "Poor Mexico so far from God, so close to the United States."
Adrian McKinty's next novel, The Chain, will be published later this year by Mulholland Books.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Being Various: New Irish Short Stories

I have a story in this new collection of short stories edited by Lucy Caldwell. My story is a homage to Ted Lewis called Jack's Return Home. The collection is published by Faber and is available from next week. I'm not supposed to say this cos I'm in it but I thought the book was really good. Lucy and Faber did a great job.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Marlon James

I interviewed Booker Prize winner, Marlon James, for the Age. We talked for about 2 hours about everything from Skippy Dies to Star Trek. You can read all about it here.

He's good people is Marlon.

and here's the full version of the interview in the Irish Times:

Friday, February 8, 2019

more than 13 ways of looking at a blackbird

you might be familiar with the anonymous 9th century Irish poem "a blackbird over Belfast Lough"
which has been translated many times, perhaps most famously by Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson amongst others... A pencil sketch of the Lagan valley blackbird is now the symbol of the Seamus Heaney centre.
...
Anyway I love this little fragment of a poem and I thought I would offer up my own translation for your approval. The male pronoun works I think because in general only the males have a yellow nib to their beak. There's a little bit of invention with the use of "mudflats" but I figured that was ok because most of the translators of this poem use the word "Belfast" and Belfast as a concept didn't exist until the seventeenth century whereas the muddy "Black mouth" of the Lagan clearly did exist as a place back in the 9th century. I also didn't completely cheat in the rhyme scheme - in Ulster English beak is pronounced bake and round my way sometimes beagh which sounds a bit like lough.
...
This poem is a little bit like Basho's famous frog haiku which has inspired MANY translations, because, I think, it is so simple.

Anyway here's my version of the poem followed by the Irish itself...





a little bird 

singing

from the tip of his yellow beak 


a blackbird amongst the gorse blossom

throwing music

over the mudflats of Belfast Lough




nt én bec

ro léc feit

do rinn guip, glanbuidi



fo-ceird faíd

ós Loch Laíg

lon do chraíb, charnbuidi

-anon from the Irish c.9th century

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Todd Purdum's Something Wonderful


a real little gem I reviewed last year & now out in paperback:


In early 1942 Richard Rodgers, the composer, realised that he might have a problem on his hands, when, one night after dinner, he watched his lyricist, Lorenz Hart, drink 14 whiskies in a row. Rodgers was clearly in need of a new partner for the musical he was cooking up about the Oklahoma territory. Rodgers and Hart, two Jewish boys from Harlem had been so successful they had appeared on the cover of Time magazine but a series of flops and Hart’s alcoholism could have meant the end of Rodgers’ dreams of reinventing American musical theatre.
          
Into the breach stepped Oscar Hammerstein another gifted Jewish kid from the neighbourhood (he lived literally round the corner from Hart and Rodgers) who had had some moderate Broadway hits of his own.
            
The partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein would last from 1943’s Oklahoma! to 1959’s The Sound of Music. The pair would dominate Broadway for twenty years, win thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
            
Todd S. Purdum’s well written and very well researched Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution unpacks not just the personalities of Rodgers and Hammerstein but also what made the musicals themselves tick and how and why they were so ground-breaking.
            
Before Oklahoma! Broadway shows had talky bits and singy bits that didn’t really gel together. Oklahoma! was a complete musical vision with unity of book, score, ballet and performance that would set the template of how to do musical theatre until 2015’s Hamilton sort of changed the game again.
            
Something Wonderful will cure you of the notion that tunes are somehow composed in the ether and simply written down on sheet music. Oscar Hammerstein worked from dawn to midnight on the book and lyrics for his shows and Rodgers, who had a gift for melody, would trim, re-arrange and brutally cut songs and interludes that failed to connect with the audience. Just how much blood, sweat, tears, cutting and editing went into these productions is astonishing.
            
Oklahoma! was followed by Carousel which was followed by State Fair, South Pacific and The King and I. Every one of them was a winner. Housewives, factory workers, presidents and kings found themselves ‘Whistling A Happy Tune’ or singing ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’. By the 1950’s Rodgers and Hammerstein were a musical producing factory who had become such a juggernaut that even their flops became hits. Who now remembers Allegro,  or Me and Juliet? Yet both of those pulled the punters in in their tens of thousands.
            
Both men had happy marriages to women called Dorothy who were interior decorators. Australian readers might be surprised to learn that Hammerstein’s Dorothy was from Tasmania and he seems to have spent a surprising amount of time relaxing in Melbourne.
            
But, into each life some rain must fall (not a lyric by Oscar Hammerstein alas) and this would be a dull book if it was a merely a record of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s upward trajectory of triumphs. Pipe Dream, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, is the first of their flops to actually flop and it’s fun to read about Henry Fonda ghastly croak of a voice and Hammerstein’s starchy and confused attempt to write a musical set in a brothel but not actually set it in a brothel.
            
After the failure of Pipe Dream and the moderate hit Flower Drum Song the final collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein is the undeniably brilliant The Sound of Music which has hit tune after hit tune, a charming book, witty lyrics and just enough darkness (the Anschluss) to leaven the pudding.
            
Hammerstein was diagnosed with stomach cancer and did not live to see the superb film version starring Julie Andrews. He died surrounded by his family (including sort-of adopted son Stephen Sondheim) at the top of his game.
            
Sometimes it’s best to know when to leave the stage. Purdum points out that Richard Rodgers lived long enough to see his work considered to be ‘middlebrow’ and ‘unsophisticated’ and sadly Rodgers seems to have been believed some of these criticisms and he too began drinking heavily like his ex partner Lorenz Hart. He died in 1979 a man baffled and out of touch with his times.
            
Today, however, the work keeps going strong. Five thousand Rodgers and Hammerstein productions take place each year and it’s a good bet that someone somewhere is singing ‘Edelweiss’ or ‘Happy Talk’ on a stage as you read this. Purdum isn’t interested in literary criticism or Marxist deconstruction or semiotics (thank goodness) he just wants to tell the story of the plays and the personalities and he does this with breeziness, cheerfulness and aplomb. Something Wonderful is one of the most enjoyable books this reviewer has read in a rather depressing year for non fiction and that, surely, is something to sing about.