Critical eye: roundup of reviews

11.22.63 by Stephen King, Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk, No Higher Honour by Condoleezza Rice and Back to Work by Bill Clinton

Reviewers of 11.22.63, Stephen King's story of a time-travelling teacher hoping to prevent John F Kennedy's assassination, have fallen into two camps: those unfazed by the novel's length, and those who found it the main reason to berate him and his apparently inert editor. In the latter group were the Observer's Rachel Cooke ("a self-indulgent book that is too long … too complicated, and too barmy for words"), the Sunday Times's John Dugdale ("a bloated effort that seems based on a gross miscalculation of the reader's patience") and the Evening Standard's David Sexton ("vastly too long … it could better have been a suggestive novella"), with the Financial Times's Adam Lebor mildly pointing out that King's status means "he can write as much as he wants about whatever he likes without, it sometimes seems, an editor's critical eye". However, Roz Kaveney lauded King's "charm" in his "fierce new novel" in the Independent, and in the New York Times the filmmaker Errol Morris declared it "one of the best time-travel stories since HG Wells".

In contrast, reviewers of Anthony Horowitz's Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, have been of one mind, seconding the verdict of the FT's Mark Gatiss – the co-creator of the updated Holmes TV drama Sherlock – that it "succeeds terrifically by being, for most of the time, so wonderfully right … We are in the best of hands here". The Literary Review's Jessica Mann agreed ("It's very good – dare I say as good as the original?"), as did the Independent on Sunday's Christopher Fowler ("a terrific mystery … he manages to channel Conan Doyle with uncanny accuracy").

Reviewing Condoleezza Rice's autobiography No Higher Honour in the New Statesman, Jonathan Powell subtly conveyed that he found this "canter round the world" (with "no secrets or great revelations") a yawn, largely because the author was "indiscriminately nice". How he reached this view of her was left a mystery given that other reviews concentrated on the former US secretary of state's hostile portraits of her colleagues. Rice's efforts to act as "honest broker" when in office were "overwhelmed" by infighting between Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, noted Christopher Meyer in the Sunday Times, and she now "takes swipes at all of them". "She tries to frame her book as a sober examination of statecraft," wrote Toby Harnden in the Daily Telegraph, "but there is no hiding the steel, and tinge of bitterness, behind much of what she writes"; Rumsfeld is depicted as patronising her, Cheney as "all but subverting the presidency". As with the King novel, critics clearly felt the 780-page memoir needed slimming, although their groans were more muted: it was "long", tutted Powell; Meyer preferred "monumental"; and Harnden pronounced it "weighty and ponderous".

"At no point in Back to Work, [Bill] Clinton's manifesto for getting back to work, does the author criticise President Barack Obama by name," wrote Edward Luce in the FT. "Yet it is hard to avoid seeing the book as an implied rebuke from America's 42nd president to its 44th." In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani similarly detected "a passive-aggressive subtext, which suggests that Mr Clinton has stepped into a gap … to sell Obama policies that have not been persuasively sold to the American people". Both reviewers were left unsatisfied: Kakutani dismissed Clinton's policy ideas as either unoriginal or impractical, and Luce complained that he merely "hints" at "the advice only he can give Obama".

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