Recently there has been a little bit of debate about the reviewing of books that have been received by bloggers for free in return for reviews. For me there is, and never has been any debate – if I like it –I’ll say so, if I don’t I’ll say so. I received Tango in Madeira as a free ebook from the Librarything early reviewers programme. Before I go any further, I should point out that I seem to be very much a lone voice – all the other reviews I have seen so far seem very positive. Maybe I missed something, or was in the wrong mood, but I basically hated this book. I was determined to finish it though, so having a day with nothing much going on, I gritted my teeth and quickly read to the end with rather bad grace.
There are things that are good about Tango in Madeira – the writing is pretty good, and the characters are great on the whole, but it took far too long to get going, and became utterly tedious. I actually quite enjoyed the first 20% or so (kindle reading) and expected it to really get going after that – only it didn’t – nothing much happened – and things got a bit confusing and a little pointless in places.
The story is told by Michael Pinfold – an unreliable narrator – who like several of the other characters is quite a fascinating creation. The novel opens with Michael on board the Kildonian Castle, on its way to Madeira. Michael, the son of a retired music hall artist, is a wine merchant of dubious morals. Michael is a thief, happy to sleep with the wives of men who call him their friend. While on board Michael meets the slightly ludicrous Pennyweight and the man who he is hoping to sell some of his suspect wine to. Also on board is a lady novelist by the name of Christie, and rumours abound that the Emperor Karl is in exile in Madeira in fear of his life, and that George Bernard Shaw is staying at the hotel Reid.
Soon after the ship docks, an Englishman, Robinson is found dead. Johnny, a rather mysterious friend of Pinfold’s, with whose wife he is having an affair, may or may not be part of the secret police. Johnny calls himself a diplomat, and is tasked with keeping the Emperor safe from Hungarian assassins. Some people seem to think that Pinfold may be involved, in Robinson’s death and no matter how many times he says he didn’t know Robinson, no one seems to want to believe him. Pinfold is drawn unwillingly into the investigation of Robinson’s death.
Meanwhile George Bernard Shaw is learning to tango, writing letters to various acquaintances (the point of this is only revealed at the end) and is also writing a one act play. Unfortunately the reader is presented with three scenes from this play – which feels utterly pointless, but seems to serve as some sort of metaphor for the poor forgotten Emperor. These scenes are unremittingly dull.
I should have liked this book, I really expected to. I was disappointed to find myself less than half way through it this morning and bored with it. Oh well – on to the next book.