Monday, August 14, 2017

IF THIS IS A MAN - Primo Levi

It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life span of the prisoners destined for elimination; it conceded noticeable improvements in the camp routine and temporarily suspended killings at the whim of individuals...............

It seems to me unnecessary to add that none of the facts are invented.

The above is from the authors preface.  This like the book itself is so understated its chilling.  The preface further states that he does not go into numbers to any great extent as him doing it would add nothing to to atrocities recounted many times.   The one set of numbers he does recount is there were approximately 640 humans in his train to Auschwitz, within 24 hours 500 of these humans no longer existed.

This book like ...Ivan Denisovich is about the will to survive for some humans.  Many did horrible things to enable their survival, Levi recounts some of these events stating what these people did, he admires them in a way but does not ever wish to see these people again.

This was a death camp, the ever present view of the chimneys smoking was a constant reminder what eventually awaited them all.  The "selections", when a new shipment of humans was due, camp authorities went through the barracks and selected 7% of the camp population, generally because they were failing physically sometimes just on a whim for death to make room.  This was 7% of 12,000 humans; twenty four hours later this 7% no longer existed.

Again, this terror is recounted in such an understated way it makes it doubly chilling.

This is one of those books like Denisovich that should be required reading in schools.  It was initially published in 1947 but did not find an audience until the early 50's.  Even at the time of original publication the denial machine was attempting to re-write events, sadly the denial machine is still trying to deny the monstrosity that was Nazi Germany.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

HIGHLAND FLING - Nancy Mitford

When the "Bright Young Things" meet the "Old Regime" on a Scottish grouse Moor, the real sport begins...

Jane Dacre felt that Scotland was a thoroughly respectable place- but that was before she encountered Albert Gates at Dalloch Castle.  Though of impeccable family, Albert is a surrealist painter and greatly given to outrageous pranks.

This is Mitford's first novel which was published in 1931.

Its very funny in parts with some acute observations in others.  She writes a couple of pages regarding why the men who fought in WWI should not be mocked for their post war attitudes, this was after one of the young people got a bit smart trying to impress the party. Poignant is the word to describe what she has written.

It is a first book and its  disjointed, Jane our hero doesn't even make an appearance until chapter five. However, this was the start of a learning curve which resulted in "Love in a Cold Climate" , one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Worth the effort, and again I do love this between the wars period.    It is said today many young people are layabout but if you came from money in the times of this book you really had to do nothing for ever.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, a principled heroine caught between two worlds: one 'mercenary and ambitious'  the other' entirely deficient in self knowledge, generosity and humility.'

Raised since the age of nine at Mansfield Park, the grand home of her uncle  Sit Thomas Bertram and his family, Fanny quickly become vital to the happiness of the house-hold.  But when she and her four cousins- Ton, maria, Julia and Edmund- reach the age of marriage, Fanny is forced to confront the artifice and insincerity of her upbringing as she wards off a serious rival.

I don't know whether I enjoyed this or not, there is amazing detail of family life as there has to be as the book is almost a one scene setting.  I suppose life was like this at the time . There were very few entertainment options, only the wealthy could travel even the shortest distance's, so the smallest things took on importance that would not even be noticed in our enlightened times.

There is humour throughout this book, little asides by Austen that are clearly digs at attitudes of the times.

Our hero Fanny Price has nasty things happen to her, but Austen never goes full Dickensian and has her sent off to a gulag in Siberia by her nasty aunt Mrs Norris.  Its more Mrs Norris is an old bitch and life moves around her.

So, the story is a bit too static for me and it is a formula tale, so the outcome is fairly obvious but I can see why Austen has survived, reading the book time slips away which for me is the sign of quality.

The thing that really disturbs me is this cousins marrying.  This practice may explain a lot of the undershot jaws you see these days.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

THE FOUR JUST MEN - Edgar Wallace

Manfred, Gonsalez, Poiccart and Thery.

Four men wanted by the police throughout the world- four men dedicated to prevent injustice, and to punish those whom justice could not touch.

Originally published in 1905 this is a short 150 page book detailing the plan to kill a British politician who is to introduce a bill into Parliament which would cause the death of many.

The whole thing is a set up for a locked room murder. Its short, two decent baths sees it read and its fun.  The murder weapon is very subtle and the clues are there if you pay attention.  A decent Sunday diversion.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


The poison was cyanide, slipped into the sacred wine of ecstasy just before it was presented to Miss Cara Quayne at the House of the Sacred Flame.

This is a very ordinary detective story. It is set almost entirely in a  single room.

For this story Marsh has given Alleyn, her detective, a "Watson" in the form of a journalist who continually feeds Alleyn questions like "How in the world did you discover this?' which gives Alleyn the excuse to give an explanation which is the only way of progressing the story.

When the killer is unmasked we find the entire lead up has nothing to do with the solution. Disappointing, one of Marsh's weaker efforts.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE TROUBLED MAN - Henning Mankell

Every morning Hakan von Enke takes a walk in the forest near his apartment in Stockholm. However, one day winter's day he fails to come home.  It seems the retired naval officer has vanished without trace.

Detective Kurt Wallander is not officially involved in the investigation but he has a personal interest in the case as Hakan's son is engaged to his daughter Linda.

This is the last in the Wallander series and like  the entire series for me its more about the journey than the destination. There is no great mystery here, its very solvable but its a joy to read . I like the ruminations on life and the quiet depressive personality of Wallander as he doggedly solves the mystery.

Mankell tends to be a bit preachy with his left wing thinking, but the stories are so good it doesn't detract from any enjoyment.  You have to ration  these books as Mankell died in 2015 so there's no more.

Friday, July 28, 2017

ROOM 40 - Patrick Beesly

Room 40 was the unofficial name of the British Admiralty's World War I code breaking organisation. Its mastery of the German Navy and Diplomatic codes had as profound an effect on the outcome of the First World War as Bletchly Park's penetration of Axis codes did on the Second.  But for the work of Room 40, there would have been no Battle of Jutland, the Irish Easter Rising of 1916 might have succeeded, the United States would not have joined the Allies in April 1917.

These were the code breakers who broke the Zimmerman Telegram that brought the US into WWI.

When I bought this I thought it would be more about the individuals involved in the code breaking, instead I found that the author had used each instant of code breaking to explain the military action that resulted or did not result because of this.  There are biographical details of the main organizers but this is more regarding the military out come.

Not that there is not a goldmine of information it was just not what I expected.  There were 248 vessels involved in the Battle of Jutland, two fleets hammering each other. Battle on a massive scale.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the sinking of the Lusitania, it appears she was a legitimate military target and the one torpedo happened to hit armaments meant for the Allies. A massive loss of life followed, 1195 civilians, including 94 children, all of whom were unaware that they were travelling atop high explosives.

So, not the book I thought it would be but very interesting all the same.