Thursday, July 20, 2017

ANTHONY BLUNT his lives - Miranda Carter

























Miranda Carter traces Blunt's transformations, from young member of the Bloomsbury circle, to left wing intellectual, to camouflaged member of the establishment.  Until his treachery was made public, Blunt was celebrated for his ground breaking work on Poussin, Italian art, and Old Master drawings; at the Courtauld Institute he trained a whole generation of academics and curators.  And yet even  as he ascended from rebellion into outward conformity, he was homosexual when homosexuality was a crime, and a traitor when the penalty was death.

The last part of the above paragraph is a bit melodramatic seeing as he confessed to being a spy in 1964  but this wasn't made public until 1979.

This is an excellent read which the author has set it up in headings School boy, Undergraduate Recruit, Talent Spotter, Spy, Writer etc and has detailed his achievements and  treachery in each part of his life.

He spyed for the Russians and although I've seen written previously that he did not do too much damage and that his spying did not result in any deaths, unlike Philby, the truth is he worked hard for the Russians getting them as much intelligence as he could lay his hands on.

The underlying  story in this as it is in all the "Cambridge Spy Ring" books is Guy Burgess.  Burgess may have been a drunk but he was the true believer and he drew the others around him, especially Blunt it seems, they were true friends, and they always gravitated back to each other.

The second underlying story in this and in all the other books is the sheer incompetence of the British Intelligence Services. These people were all member of the communist party at one stage when Russia really was intent on world domination but they all got work with UK intelligence services or highly sensitive positions within government.  They were all 'establishment' except Cairncross, so they were just taken on.

Blunt worked for the Queen and did a great job as Surveyor of the Queens Pictures getting things is order when things were in total disarray and had a full life as an academic, not always popular but it was work of note and he was highly regarded by many.

What made me smile throughout is human nature, many of his life long friends suddenly could hardly remember meeting him once he was publicly named as a spy.

The author asks several times why Blunt was a spy.just as he was himself after he was disclosed publicly, she has no answer just as Blunt himself didn't, publicly anyway, but this is a interesting book about an interesting man who mastered compartmentalizing his life.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A RIGHT TO DIE - Rex Stout

























Susan was bright, petite, beautiful and white.  When she was murdered, all the clues pointed straight to her dapper, well educated fiance who was black.  The Homicide Bureau thought they had the case sewn up.  Until Nero Wolfe uncovered a new kind of motive for murder.

These are always a good read, the mystery is easily solved but I don't read them for the riddle more for the excellent dialogue and the humour that Stout brought to his novels.

This is of the usual high standard, a short read, perfect for a cold Sunday on the couch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE DAYS TRILOGY- H.L. Mencken

























In 1936 at the age of  55, H. L. Mencken published s reminiscence of his Baltimore boyhood in The New Yorker.  With this modest beginning, Mencken embarked on what would become the Days Trilogy, a long and magnificent adventure in autobiography by America's greatest journalist.

This is actually three books in one binding an edition by  The Library of America.  It is a great social history.  Mencken starts writing about his boyhood from 1880 right through to when he is famous and travels the world.

As a Managing Editor he wasn't about inventing news to get the circulation ticking over so what is happening today has all been done before.  He admits that he has "gilded the lily'in these memoirs as well but that doesn't matter because what we get is several hundred pages of fascinating writing that at times makes you laugh out loud at times and shake your head in disbelief at others.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE BACHELORS OF BROKEN HILL - Arthur Upfield.

























Among the inhabitants of a properous mining town in New South Wales stalks a killer.  two elderly bachelors have already died from cyanide poisoning.

When Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the half-aboriginal detective, arrives on the scene two months later he is faced with a cold trail- no motive, no clues- only vague descriptions of a woman who was on the scene at the time.

So Bony sits down to wait for what he feels must be the inevitable- a third killing...

This has excellent dialogue , very clever banter between the characters but if you hope to solve the mystery good luck as the solution comes completely out of the blue with no hint in the lead up.

This doesn't make it a dud book, just frustrating for the mystery reader who likes chance to have  a guess at the solution.

Unlike the earlier books in the series (published 1958) there is not the accent on Bony's mixed race which is not mentioned.

Worth the read but like a lot of Christie the cheat by the author is massive.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

WALL OF EYES - Margaret Millar

























Since the accident that left her blind, Kelsey has become more difficult than ever.  At least tis is what Alice told the psychiatrist.

Languishing in a house full of servants and unloving family, Kelsey has become bitter.  She was driving the car that night.  Geraldine did die, and Kelsey will never see again.  but that was two long years ago.  Time enough to heal.  So why wold Kelsey now want to end her life with a grain of morphine.

This is the first Margaret Millar book I have read and it is very, very dark, full of repulsive characters which makes for a fantastic read.

Even the Detective Inspector is next level strange when compared to the British versions of Marsh, Tey etc ( this is set in Toronto).

There is murder, there is a mystery and the solution keeps you guessing until the last few pages.

This is one of the best of this genre I've read in a long time.

Plus I discovered after buying the book that Ms. Millar was the wife of  Kenneth Millar, who under the pseudonym Ross MacDonald wrote the superb Lew Archer series, which is one of the best.

Margaret Millar is on the " must find" list.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Millar

THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG - Margery Allingham

























You go to a mans funeral in January and then he goes and dies again in June.

This is the mystery that Albert Campion and his irreverent man servant Lugg have to solve in this very funny wee book.  Its only 128 pages.

Not a great technical murder mystery but Allingham's stories generally aren't, its very character driven and makes for great reading.  It very nearly goes Wodehousian which is never  bad thing,.

I can highly recommend anything Allingham wrote and she is still in print which says a lot for her quality.  This was written in 1937.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

























Solzhenitsyn's devastating picture of one day in the life of a prisoner in a remote Siberian labour camp has been hailed by the world's critics as an undisputed masterpiece.  This moving novel is a powerful expose of the corrupt conditions that Solzhenitsyn suffered in a concentration camp under Stalin and is a scathing indictment of Soviet bureaucracy.

I first read this many years ago and the idea of a crust of bread being the height of luxury stayed with me and was just as moving with this second reading.

These men are forced out to work in -27 degrees, their wildest fantasy is that the temperature will drop to -41 degrees meaning they don't have to go to work.

They have to build in these temperatures but have great difficulty because the mortar often freezes before it can be laid .

An incredible read, its very short, only 156 pages but it should be read by all generations.

The " great Soviet experiment" to be mocked for eternity