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Andrew Donaldson: Thriller Hits Humour Chord, Le Carré Uncovered (Plus: Confirmed FLF Authors)

By Andrew Donaldson for The Times

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude.


Gun Machine, by Warren Ellis (Mulholland Books, R220)

You seldom find police procedurals that are genuinely funny. Granted, there are thrillers that try to mix the chills with the laughs, but outside of Elmore Leonard, most come across as way too contrived. Warren Ellis, thankfully, gets it right from the get-go in this hunt for a Manhattan serial killer – he is a fantastic stylist. His prose packs a sophisticated punch, and the result is a blackly hilarious page-turner.


The convenor of the Franschhoek Literary Festival, novelist Jenny Hobbs, dropped me a note about an error in last week’s column; The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was not, as I claimed, John Le Carré’s first novel – Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality appeared earlier. Apologies then. Hobbs did, however, pass on a few early details about this year’s festival, which takes place from May 17 to 19.

Confirmed foreign authors include Alexander McCall Smith (The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, among others), Anthony Horowitz (the Alex Rider series and the new Sherlock Holmes, The House of Silk), Kate Mosse (Labyrinth) and Antony Beevor (The Second World War, Berlin, Stalingrad and The Battle for Spain.)

Local writers include Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali (Sounds of a Cowhide Drum), Marguerite Poland (Taken Captive by Birds), Redi Tlhabi (Endings and Beginnings), historians Bill Nasson (South Africa at War: 1939-1945) and Randolph Vigne (Thomas Pringle), Finuala Dowling, Fred de Vries (Rigtingbedonnerd), Jo-Anne Richards (The Imagined Child), Anchien Troskie (Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer), Sydda Essop (Karoo Kitchen), Nini Bairnsfather Cloete (Remarkable Gardens of SA), Claire Robertson (Journey to the Interior), as well as the regular lineup of proficient chair-people, including Michele Magwood, Justice Malala, Jenny Crwys-Williams, John Maytham, Mike Wills and others.

Watch this space.


Philosopher Alain de Botton’s The School of Life — a London-based “social enterprise” that claims to be free from dogma and an “apothecary of the mind” — recently launched a series of small, accessible books to complement its programmes and courses on living wisely and well. First titles in the series are: How to Stay Sane, by Philippa Perry; How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric; How to Worry Less About Money, by John Armstrong; How to Change the World, by John-Paul Flintoff; How to Thrive in the Digital Age, by Tom Chatfield; and How to Think More About Sex, by De Botton.


“Canine science is intended to shed light not only on what makes dogs dogs but also on what makes people people.” – What’s A Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy and Politics of Man’s Best Friend, by John Homans (Penguin).

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