Tuesday, July 21, 2015

IVANHOE - Sir Walter Scott

In days of old when Knights were bold and as susceptible to temptation and stupidity as the rest of us.

Set one hundred years after the Norman conquest of England, we have an occupied country ruled by Normans.  King Richard is in prison and his brother Prince John is ruling for his own ends.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the son of a Saxon Lord but is out of favour with his father because he's been off at the Crusades with the Norman King Richard The Lion Heart, who as mentioned is a prisoner off shore.

We have a Friar Tuck, a  Locksley who splits the arrow with one of his own at the games-Locksley of course invents as Robin of Sherwood toward the end.

The book itself  is more about Issac the Jew and his daughter Rebecca, these two are the main catalysts for events. religion plays a large part in the story, the astounding ignorance shown by believers is staggering and these are the same problems that plague us today.

There are lots of minor characters,Wamba the Jester, Gurth the Swineherd and many Knights Templar who all add a lot to this tale.

The book is 600 odd pages and does drag a bit in the middle where Scott gets a bit verbose and tries to put too much history into the yarn, history which evidently is debatable as to whether its true or not,  but is finishes well and is genuinely exciting.

It s a great wee adventure story and not a children's book by any stretch, even if it was I'd have still read it.

This is one of those book that we had at school in abridged form when I was 8 or 9, very glad to have read the entire thing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


This is number ten in the 'Bernie Gunther' series.  This time Bernie is sent on a mission by Goebbels to locate the father of a Yugoslavian film star . The father needs to be located because the 'star' won't work unless dear old dad is located.

From this premise we have  a couple of murders which Bernie gets involved in, meet a particularly nasty Croatian killer and go along on another of Bernie's love affairs.

If you've never come across this series, the back story is Bernie is a ex-Berlin detective serving in the SD. He is continually roped in to assist the Nazi hierarchy solve problems.  He does the work to stay alive and generally gets a result which keeps his masters happy and allows him to live with his conscience.

I've read the series from the get go and apart from one real dud these stories are consistently entertaining with decent general history thrown in. I always remind myself when I finish one of these books that the world must never be allowed to forget the Nazi's- the fact that gangsters took over an entire country is staggering.

The good news is I've had the pleasure of  briefly meeting Mr Kerr and was told that the series is to continue, which is brilliant.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A FAREWELL TO ARMS - Ernest Hemingway

Frederick Henry is an American soldier serving as a Ambulance driver for the Italian Army in the First World War.

Through a colleague he meets Catherine Barkley , a British nurse.  This book is the story of their love affair with the war as a back drop.

Shortly after the initial meeting Henry is seriously wounded and the affair blossoms as Catherine nurses him and becomes his lover.  The wounding is what occurred to Hemingway in real life and he supposedly went on record as the first American to be wounded in WWI.

The affair continues and Henry eventually deserts to be with Catherine due to her pregnancy.

The Hemingway I like -the short punchy sentences - is here but in my opinion the book can't decide whether its a full on romance or full on on war novel and ends up not being either.

I began to struggle with this with about a third of the book to go, I stuck it out but it dragged for me after a promising start.  And like Graham Greene , Hemingway won't leave tired from laughing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A POINT OF VIEW - Clive James

Between 2007 and 2009 Clive James was one of several people who took part in a 10 minute slot on the BBC espousing their views on various topics- A Point of View.

This book is the collection of the 60 broadcasts.  The original text is printed and then there is a post script added by the author prior to this being published.

As normal with anything Jamesien its brilliant-funny, cynical, well researched and hits its target every time.

There are myriad of topics covered- Harry Potter, the golf ball potato crisp, Dairy of a London Call Girl, soccer (football).  My favourite started about futurologist Herman Khan.  Herman was prone to making claims about the future, what will be happening in 20 or 25 or 35 years times. Clive concludes the most impressive thing about Hermie was it made Hermie sound impressive and that is all.  The topic then segues into climate change.  Clive and I agree on the " man made climate change" brouhaha , we are not fans.

There is something for everyone here- I believe the programmes themselves are still up on his web site- www.clivejames.com.

Lastly, not wishing an earlier demise than is already underway for Mr James, who is very ill, I will mourn him for the fact the the world needs quick witted intelligent cynics like him and Hitchens.

When you read both they make you realize we humans are rather puffed up dweebs who need to laugh more at ourselves.

This collection is gold.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


This is sub-titled: A Nightmare.  Gabriel Syme is a Police detective and poet who infiltrates a meeting of anarchists,joins becoming member code name "Thursday.  This is written in 1908 when the anarchists were a movement.

The cynic in me thought that they can't have been much of anarchists if they were having organised meetings but there you go.

He soon finds out that no one is who they appear to be.  Many scenarios later there is a confrontation with the head anarchist ,Sunday, and all is found to be well  proving that goodness will prevail in a wicked world.

The clue is in the sub-title, its a feat of imagination where Chesterton goes with his characters but once its apparent what is happening it takes a bit long to come to a conclusion in my opinion.  This is not a Father Brown story by any stretch, very different.

If you enjoy the metaphysical  give this a go, its short and won't take too much of your time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


From 1932 this is Snow's first published novel and his only 'whodunnit', after this he embarked on his "Strangers and Brothers" series.

Six people are on a boating holiday in the 'fens".  The host is found shot dead at the tiller of the yacht. From this the remaining guests move to a conveniently local house to solve the matter themselves with a cameo by an idiotic local police man.

This is what Raymond Chandler called a 'cheat ' crime novel, in that the reader is not given remotely enough information to solve the crime by information from the story.

The highlight for me is the puritan housekeeper, she made me laugh constantly.  Apart from that the only interest is the manners of the people of the period- (everyone is so damn polite even though they loathe each other)- there's not much to recommend this.

It is short, two decent baths on a rainy Sunday nailed it but there's much better 'crime' around from this time period.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


After viewing several of the several hundred film and televisions adaptations of this novel I have finally read it and what treat. Its a "rollicking good yarn" of "daring do"- females in distress, political chicanery and one of the most evil females in literature.

The bare bones of the story are well known I assume, a young country lad, D'Artagnan, goes to Paris to become a Musketeer in the employ of the King.  He meets three serving Musketeers who after initial "issues" become friends with them.

They have to deal with the political trickery of the Cardinal and "Milady" who is wonderfully evil; killing and plotting with impunity until....

The Musketeers and D'Artagnan are nicely flawed humans - Athos is alcoholic, Porthos a compulsive gambler, Aramis a religious nut bar and D'Artagnan would be in jail for stalking if he behaved towards females like he does in these enlightened times.

The four are also very touchy- insult them and you're likely to get run through with a sword in short order.

This was great fun, timeless and I wish I had read it years ago.