Book Reviews: Betrayal Season In Greece, Or Connections In A Cul-De-Sac

May 7, 2020

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Greece – The Cookbook by Vefa Alexiadou

Betrayal: The Crisis In The Catholic Church by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe

Killing Season by Faye Kellerman

Against The Tide: Three Plays, An Opera Libretto And An Essay, edited by Allan Kolski Horwitz

Connections In Death by JD Robb

Cul-De-Sac – A Memoir by Elsa Joubert



Naming a book Greece – The Cookbook might be considered arrogant, but at 700 pages, Vefa Alexiadou, an authority on Greek cuisine, has certainly done everything possible to present the fullest possible picture to readers. An introductory section covers Greece’s regions and what each has contributed to the country’s culinary heritage, as well as how the country has, historically, shaped the diet of the whole Mediterranean territory. Early recipes cover the basics: stock, batter, pastry dough and the like. Then there are sauces – pages of them – before the actual dishes begin, and from there it simply doesn’t let up: just reading these sections will leave you feeling bloated and in need of a nap. And if the prospect of filtering all the options in order to put together a mezede, soup, salad and meat line-up of your own, Alexiadou has also included a selection of full menus by celebrated Greek chefs at the back of the book. This is not one of those offerings where the layout has a picture opposite every recipe – there are too many ideas collected here to make that viable. As such, it’s not so much a publication you browse through, with a vivid image to catch your eye, as a resource for a cook who either knows what they want and want a proven formula for making it or for someone happy to include a bit of research in their meal preparation. The range of recipes is fascinating – as much for the mouth-watering tastes suggested as for the exotic origins of the dishes. There are over a thousand options in this book – enough, supposing they’re not eating Greek cuisine morning, noon and night – to give anyone with a taste for the country’s food to try something new every couple of days for years. This is a solid, heavy achievement of a publication, the sort of thing readers might keep in the family for generations. – BD


The story told in Betrayal, of the work of the Boston Globe’s dedicated, terrier-tough investigative team, was made into a superb, hard-hitting film that shared the name of that quartet of fine journalists – Spotlight. They put in six months of work (initially) uncovering the worrying and widespread phenomenon of child abuse in the Catholic Church – first in Boston, a stronghold of that church in the US – and later, all around the country and the world. Their first report was published in the beginning of 2002, an incredibly important piece of work that changed the way millions of believers interacted with the way their church was run and which, unfortunately, gave every critic of the church a rod it deserved to be beaten with. As journalism, it’s brilliant: every angle is covered, and evidence is exhaustively gathered and collated. As a book, however, it’s exhausting. Not surprisingly, much of the information is repeated ad nauseum with minor variations, such as the particular priest involved and the details of the response (or lack thereof) of the church authorities. That is the stuff of meticulous investigation, but it not exciting to read. Every so often, there is a shocking revelation that spikes reader interest (or revulsion), but the long extrapolatory passages in between are mostly pretty tedious. The film is certainly the more accessible option: perhaps only read this if the subject is of acute interest. – BD


In Killing Season, a girl is abducted, raped and killed and her brother Ben, a high school student, is determined to find the killer, assisting the local sheriff in a small US town by following a scientific approach. The crime upsets family and community life, the detail of which is part of the story. We meet the schoolkids, and friends of the family in their daily work and play. Ben, a kind of mathematical genius, discovers a pattern that appears in further serial killings. I enjoyed the book, though I was somewhat taken  aback by its 700-page length, which follows a trend that I call ‘word volume writing’. This requires special skill to keep the interest alive, filling the plot with interesting background chat. The author succeeds, with the plot gradually expanding without much drive. A good read if you have the patience. – DB


Much great art is created as a response to institutional evil (or, at best, an absence of leadership), and all of the material in this collection was written in response to situations involving, or resulting from such graft, corruption and greed. They are, collectively, an interesting filter through which to consider the topics that inspired them – Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, in one case, or Brett Kebble’s criminal activity, in another – and the challenges of rebuilding what was broken in those periods and living with the mindsets that we now have to be educated out of. The challenge, though, is for readers to imagine the theatrical works (the plays and the libretto) beyond the words on the page. There’s no doubt that, brought to life and imbued with heart by performers, the material would take on a new dimension. But reading through this book is not as three-dimensional an experience, and well-informed readers will find themselves re-covering a lot of ground they’ve traversed via newspapers, websites and talk shows. The commitment to change from the writers here – Tsepo wa-Mamata, Tau Maserumule, Lesego Rampolokeng, Liepollo Rantekoa, Stacy Hardy, Jaco Bouwer, Patrick Bond and Allan Kolski Horwitz – is laudable, as is their quest to keep leaders past and future accountable. For readers with a less passionate heart for activism, though, some of this will be hard going. – BD


I have a rocky relationship with detective stories. On the one hand, I really do love a good whodunit, especially when the perpetrator seems to come out of nowhere – think Agatha Christie or Nicci French. Then there’s the Eve Dallas kind of detective story, as in Connections In Death: she’s a hard-bitten, boot-wearing type who lives in a futuristic New York and speaks mainly in grunts and acronyms. Although I can definitely see the appeal, perhaps more for male readers, I simply couldn’t relate to her. The story itself is absorbing. JD Robb is prolific, as Connections In Death has many predecessors, but this particular instalment in the series sees Dallas (no one calls her Eve; often, it’s ‘Sir’, which tells you a lot about both her and her world) take on two of the city’s most dangerous gangs. A former member has been found dead, having apparently as a result of an overdose, but Dallas is convinced that there’s more going on than meets the eye. As it tuns out, she’s right, and the fallout is a messy web of setups, twisted loyalties and power plays as she does her utmost to prevent a turf war. It makes for compulsive, if light reading – think beach, aeroplane or sleepless night – and will be warmly welcomed by crime fans. Oh, I also did some sleuthing of my own, and found Eve Dallas’ back story. It explains a lot about her character, so it might be worth getting into some of the earlier books in the series if you’re keen on getting the most out of this one. – LW


My reading of Cul-De-Sac couldn’t have been more poignantly timed: my husband’s step-father had just passed away, followed less than a week later by my aunt, who was run over. There’s nothing like two deaths in a family to make you consider your own mortality, especially if you’ve recently celebrated a birthday that marks what many consider the official beginning of middle age. Elsa Joubert’s meditation on the topic, and on aging in general, isn’t particularly reassuring. As she speaks of her inability to travel by plane (the landing shakes her bones to the point of pain), I thought about the things I take for granted – picking up my children, running upstairs, even simply making it to 10pm without craving a nap – and felt a keen empathy for this lack of easy mobility and how it turns you into a stranger to yourself. That sounds depressing, but it’s not. In fact, it’s rather heartening – reading this book made me hug my kids a minute longer and make the phone call I’d put off (and, yes, I know how trite that sound). I think that, perhaps, the topic might also be trite if handled by anyone less skilled than Joubert; however, her reflections on her life are so honest and raw that they speak straight to the heart. – LW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]