Thursday, October 19, 2017

DR NO - Ian Fleming

Crab Key island is desolate and remote.  So why is Dr No defending it so ruthlessly? Only Bond can uncover the truth.

Its been many moons since I read this and it has not aged well, certainly not like From Russia With Love or Goldfinger , still a fun afternoons read but not in the top echelon and I love Bond books.

The best part of re-reading this was the Introduction by Jonathan Freedland who explains the Bond phenomenon better than most, especially their initial popularity.

For Fleming never forgets that a thriller has to thrill; that, what ever else it does, it must entertain.  Central to such fiction's magic is the promise of escape.  When Casino Royale the first Bond novel, appeared, rationing still had a year to run in Britain.  To a readership still trudging through a drab, grey country exhausted by war and austerity, Dr No offered the prospect of azure skies, powder-white beaches, gorgous women and handsome men.  When jet travel was still a novelty, when foreign tourism was still off limits to all but the wealthiest, how exotically enticing must have sounded Jamaica's North Coast, Blue Mountain and even Crab Key.

To the Brits back home , heads down against the rain, their legs whipped by the wet hems of their macintoshes', a Bond novel was a ticket to distant joys.

If you've never read these books, invest a few weekends, the trick is they were written contemporarily, views, expressions and attitudes were not as they are today.

I say to anyone who wants to alter older books to censor or change, sell a few million of your own before you start touching up those that have gone before you.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

CORONER'S PIDGIN - Margery Allingham

Albert Campion is home on his first leave from the war for three years.  He is in his bath when he hears a ruckus in his lounge.  He goes out to find his man Lugg and a lady "of unmistakable aristocratic bearing" carrying a corpse.

So begins this very dark mystery first published in 1945.  This is much darker without any of the flippancy that were a feature of Allingham's pre-WWII Campion novels.

This story is set over a week and involves some very nasty people dealing in stolen property that the war has enabled them to profit from.

Very dark, very entertaining, very recommended.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE - Margery Allingham

A young war widow begins receiving photographs of her presumed dead husband.  The husband was supposedly killed during the D Day landings but these photographs have him walking around London within the last week.

She goes to Albert Campion to have him attempt to locate what is almost certainly her husband.

From this the story explodes into dealing with a stone cold killer, professional burglars and a decent mystery.

This is great fun, an adventure with the usual witty dialogue from Allinghams wonderful characters.  She has the City of London as one of the main characters in this book with the heavy fogs adding atmosphere throughout the story.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

FIVE RED HERRINGS - Dorothy L.Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey could imagine the artist stepping back, the stagger, the fall, down to where the pointed rocks grinned like teeth.

But was it an accident- or murder?  Six member of the close knit Galloway artists' colony do not regret Campbell's death.

Five of them are red herrings.

This is a proper mystery story, all the information is laid out for the reader to follow the logic in solving the crime (to a pedantic extent sometimes) , you will need to take notes but if you do you should arrive at the correct conclusion the same time as the books characters.

The book has been deliberately written in this fashion and as such can be repetitive and lags.  There is also this supremely annoying inclusion on page 21.

(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details himself, they are omitted from this page).

The direct appeal to the vanity of the reader is , I think ,a bit unnecessary.

So this is a bit slow with Wimsey is a lot more serious in this book than others in the series but if you like jigsaw puzzles it will have an appeal.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Alan Grant, Scotland Yard Inspector is feeling bored while confined in hospital with a broken leg.  Marta Halland, an actress friend of his, suggests he should amuse himself by researching a historical mystery.  She brings him some pictures of historical characters, aware of Grants interest in human faces.  he becomes intrigued by a portrait of King Richard III.  He prides himself on being able to read a persons character from his appearance, and King Richard seems to him a gentle and kind and wise man.  Why is everyone so sure that he was a cruel murderer?

With the help of  other friends and acquaintances, Grant investigates Richard's life and the case of the Princes in the Tower, testing out his theories on the doctor and nurses who attend to him.  Grant spends the weeks pondering historical information and documents with the help of  Brent Carradine, a likable young American researcher working at the British Museum.  Using his detectives logic, he comes to the conclusion that the claim of Richard being a murderer is a fabrication of Tudor propaganda, as is the popular image of the King as a monstrous hunchback.

This is very clever, the mystery is solved by research using contemporary documents available to Grant working on the case 400 years after the event.
It never falters , potentially it could with the entire novel being set in one room in a hospital, but the flow of information is so constant and interesting you get to the end of the book without realizing.  It is very easy to understand that this is rated one of the best mystery stories.
The bad news is Tey only wrote seven novels before her premature death and there is only one remaining for me to read.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

MYSTERY MILE - Margery Allingham

Judge Crowdy Lobbett is a man of justice, an upstanding pillar of American society.  And now he is in deadly peril, tailed across the Atlantic by the ruthless Simister gang.

Luckily for Judge Lobbett, however, he makes the acquaintance of one Albert Campion during his voyage to England.  The enigmatic amateur sleuth bundles the Judge off to the country house of Mystery Mile, where its a race against time...

This is more of a caper than a mystery, which was originally published in 1929.  It has lots of action and humour, a light John Buchan or very similar to a 'Bulldog Drummond'.  Either way its great entertainment.

Allingham manages to write different books in different styles while keeping her same core characters.  This is a light adventure but others in the her Campion series are very dark  mysteries.  Again, either way she is in my top three or four mystery writers.  Never disappointing and comes highly recommended.

These English country houses are just dangerous places, never a quiet moment.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

NO CLOAK, NO DAGGER - Benjamin Cowburn

First published in 1960, No Cloak, No Dagger tells the story of four missions undertaken by Cowburn in France between September 1941 and July 1944 for the Special Operations Executive. The purpose of that organization was to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines, to ' set Europe ablaze' as Churchill ordered on its formation.  It was a clandestine group of whose existence very few were aware.  Some of the books action takes place in Vichy France, somewhere very much the subject of Cowburn's spleen - "truly the comic opera setting of officialdom wallowing in mediocrity" with the rest in the Occupied Zone and. briefly, Spain and Portugal.

What amazes me reading this is the understatement of Cowburn  , "jumped out of airplane at 500 feet and got on with it."  Even though Cowburn grew up in France the risks taken were unbelievable, while the attrition rate of his fellow agents was approximately 50%.  Attrition here means captured and executed.

The biggest risk to the networks set up was infiltration by collaborators who then betrayed everyone.

This is not a James Bond book, its all very matter of fact.  This however does not detract from the tension the author and his fellow agents lived under.

Amazing stuff.