Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Book 100 & Extraordinary People

This entry is part 65 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

You have no idea for how many years I’ve tried to sustain a consistent blogging effort.

Honest, since I was a teenager, it’s been going on. I would sit down, tell myself I was going to blog blog blog and not stop.

Then I’d stop.

Sometimes it would be blogging on life, sometimes writing tips, occasionally individual life stories and sometimes longer novels posted over the weeks.

But it never worked. I could never keep it going. You’d look at the archives of my blogs, and there would be entries for three months of a year, followed by a ten-month gap, followed by entries across a couple of months followed by a gap of eighteen months.

And so on.

This was all part of a larger scale inconsistency. I spoke recently about how between the ages of six and 24 I would write in clumps. A few weeks here, a few months there, followed by significant periods of nothing. I think back on it now, and I hate how I wasted all the holidays and free time I had when I could have been honing my writing skills, but hey, it goes how it goes.

When I turned 24 and got back into the book that would become my first Mark Ayre novel – Poor Choices – I decided it was time to take things seriously. I was going to write every spare hour I had. I was going to get there.

But this meant more than just consistently writing. It meant consistently blogging too.

I threw myself into this as I had thrown myself into the writing, but it was difficult. I wanted to get a new blog up once or twice a week but to always think of something to say was tough.

I was doing okay, but I could tell it would all unravel before long. I knew, if I was to keep this up, I needed something that would make consistently coming up with things to write about a little easier.

Coincidentally, at the same time, I was chastising myself for leaving so many books unread on my bookshelf. This was a process that had been going on for years. Certain books – such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I’d had for almost two decades without reading, yet I kept buying more books and letting the existing ones fall further and further into obscurity.

From January 2017, I had told myself I would read through every book on my bookshelf without buying any new ones, and I got through a fair chunk like this, but I was still buying books. It’s a disease, you see.

It wasn’t until October 2017, almost a year ago as I write this, that I decided to combine the issues of finding blogging consistency and having too many books going unread.

Thus, Man vs Bookshelf was born.

I counted all the books on my bookshelf, not including those I had read since January, and pledged to read or re-read all 210 of them in 210 weeks.

Still, at the time, I wasn’t sure how well the challenge would go.

After all, I had never proven consistent at completing tasks I set myself, and I was looking at going over four years without buying a book – madness!

But I wanted to try.

I threw myself into it, and something marvellous has happened.

It worked.

For the eleven months, I have been racing through books and blogging about every one. There have been low points, where the blogs and books haven’t been so good, and at times it has been tough. But so far I have never gone more than a week without publishing a blog or reading a book.

That’s pretty damn impressive for me, and what it means is I have now hit a massive milestone.

With Extraordinary People, I have now read 100 books for this challenge.

That’s in 48 weeks, so well ahead of schedule.

At 100 days I went into the stats of the thing, and I plan to do that again in around a month when we hit 365 days.

For now, I want to revel in my achievement of reading 100 books and writing 64 blogs (this will be 65) around them in the last year.

It’s been good for me, and long well it may continue.

Well, for another 110 books at least. God knows what I’ll do after that. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, let’s look at the positives, and get on with the review.

Extraordinary People

One of the books acquired when I was looking to write a story about my won detective, my mum recommended me Extraordinary People, and picked it up in a charity shop for – hold on – £2.49

A bargain.

The book, by Peter May, is the first Enzo McCloud investigation, a series in which Scotsman Enzo tries to solve the seven most famous unsolved crimes in French history using science and technology that would not have been available at the time of the crime.

Book one covers the investigation into a man who disappeared, presumed dead, a decade before and involves Enzo following clues across the country, each of which hints at the name of one of the killers, as well as the location of the next evidence.

Oh, and each of the clues contains part of the dead man’s long decomposed body.

Groovy right?

The Mystery

Often my girlfriend and I will be watching telly, and I’ll get angry when something hugely coincidental happens.

At this point, Fay will say: “all fiction relies on coincidence. Your books rely on coincidence!”

I’ll grumble a little more at this, and that will be the end of it.

I know she’s right, and also what’s annoying about this book is how much it relies on coincidence.

No, no, hear me out.

I do get that any story needs a dose of coincidence. Otherwise, it would be a struggle to drive the narrative forward, but there’s coincidence, and then there’s what happens in Extraordinary People.

Ten years after the disappearance of a genius, Enzo goes out to prove someone killed said genius. This he manages.

That’s fine.

However, by utter coincidence, just days ago there has been a collapse in one of the tunnels of the Catacombs under France and a chest had been revealed.

Actual Catacombs picture – man the French are messed up

This chest contains the skull of the murder victim, as well as the first set of clues that will eventually lead to Enzo solving the case.

I get it, coincidence in fiction has to happen, but for these two events to occur within days of each other, ten years after the initial murder seems a little too coincidental, even for fiction.

Maybe that’s just me.

Setting this annoyance aside, there is more to be mad about.

The premise is indeed interesting. Trying to solve an old crime with technology and science that wasn’t available then. And it’s great to watch Enzo rush around the country unravelling clues to find the next piece of the puzzle.

The problem is it feels as though he unravels the clues too easily. Each chest uncovered hands Enzo another body part(s), and a set of seemingly random items, such as a meat cleaver or a referees whistle with a date on it.

The problem is with a few simple Google searches, Enzo usually very quickly finds the relevance of each item. A lot of the time it feels as though he luckily stumbles onto the right answer and when he follows it up it is almost always right.

Until the end, his guesses seem never to lead him astray, and, even once they do, another theory quickly leads him back to the right location.

I get that Peter May didn’t want this book to be a thousand pages, but it was frustrating to read as Enzo sat at a computer, threw a couple of ideas around and pulled together a load of disparate clues with no trouble at all.

Were you able to set this aside (along with the massive coincidence at the beginning) the story moved along nicely.

The pace was good, and there were intrigue and exciting incidents throughout, including a couple of set pieces as well.

The ending, too, where so many novels fall, was excellent. There is a bit of drama as Enzo has to save the life of someone and the killer is found and dealt with. It all happens at the right speed, and then the story ends. There is no dicking around for one hundred pages post tale.

So while the points around solving the mystery could be annoying, the story itself worked well and was good.

The Cast

As characters go, Enzo was good. He dressed like a hippy and had long hair which is unacceptable for any male, especially one nearing fifty.

But the story of him raising his daughter alone was good, and he was a character not too annoying to follow around – even if he had lived in France for 20 years and had never heard of the Catacombs.

His supporting cast, too, was impressive. His daughter, Sophie, her boyfriend, Bernard, his love interest Charlotte, his friend Simon, his partner, Roger and his assistant, Nicole, all had interesting and diverse personalities, and they all helped to move the story along as they move in and out of Enzo’s investigation.

For all the annoying points to do with the mystery, the pace of the story and the characters helped to make up for it.


I’m not sure I would read anymore Enzo books. I will certainly not be rushing to buy them once this challenge was finished.

However, this was a decent book, and if you’re interested in detective stories, I supposed I would not begrudge you giving it a go.

Next time

Next time we’ll be stepping in back in time to review book 99 and forward to discuss book 101.

The former of these is an Arsene Wenger biography taking us to around 2008 (if memory serves).

The latter is from 2014 and details the fifty top-flight English seasons since the beginning of that ultimate football program. Match of the Day.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: The Finish Line & The Bachman BooksMan vs Bookshelf: Arsenal & MotD >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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