Sunday, February 19, 2017

FOREVER RUMPOLE - John Mortimer

























A collection of fourteen of the best 'Rumpole' tales, with the addition of the first pages of the incomplete story that Mortimer was working on at the time of his death.

I have always had a soft spot for these stories with their humour and the humanity; traits not usually associated with the legal profession but Mortimer does it perfectly.

I can't read these stories without the voice of Leo McKern in my head.  Casting him as Rumpole was as perfect as Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster.

In addition to the great writing this is a lovely edition, a 500 page hardback with cut pages and an outstanding 'Introduction' by Mortimer's friend and colleague Ann Mallalieu.

Read all the Rumpole you can find, you'll laugh and laugh which is very good thing to do.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE BLUE HAMMER -Ross MacDonald

























"Finding a purloined portrait of a leggy blonde was supposed to be an easy paycheck for Detective Lew Archer, but that was before the bodies started piling up.  Suddenly, Archer finds himself in the middle of the decades- old mystery of a brilliant artist who walked into the desert and simply disappeared."

There is Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.  These are the three to read if you want great novels, not just great American noir crime novels.

MacDonald wrote eighteen "Archer" novels and everyone that I've read ( about ten) has been worth the it.  His books are full of damaged people, conniving ,lying and killing with Archer solving the mysteries with his own moral code.

Great writing, great mysteries.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

BLANDINGS CASTLE - P G Wodehouse

























Twelve short stories; six of featuring "Blandings Castle", one 'Bobbie Wickham" and five "Mr Mulliner's".

As always a total delight.  The world of Wodehouse is nice and funny and everyone should read some Wodehouse to take a break from life every now and again.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF AN IRISH REBEL - Brendan Behan

























Rae Jeffs writes, in the preface to this book:

Confessions Of An Irish Rebel was recorded on tape by Brendan during his last visit to America, and then put to one side to enable Brendan Behan's New York to be published in the same year as the World Fair.  As a result, at the time of his death the transcript of the tapes had not been edited in their entirety, and I have been left with the monumental task of finishing the manuscript without his help.  This I have done to the best of my ability, with the aid of additional material which he wrote at different time and anecdotes which he told me and which I have reproduced as nearly as possible in his own words."

The above adding of "additional material" and reproducing of "anecdotes" is the problem with this book.  If you have read other Behan material you notice that this is full of repetition. Entire paragraphs from previous work are introduced here with no credit back to the original source.

Reading Behan is entertainment, I wouldn't pass judgement on the truthfulness of much of what he writes but he writes it well and reading good writing is what I love.

This book carries on from when  he was released from Borstal and  jailed several times for criminal offences he says he committed under the auspices of the IRA .  Again the validity of claims may be questioned but as no one will ever know for sure how truthful he has been I just accepted  the tales and read on.

If you want to read Behan, I'd recommend  "Borstal Boy" and just dip into this because this book is padded out entertaining for sure but the repetition from other works get annoying.


Monday, January 30, 2017

THE SCARPERER - Brendan Behan

























"He's a mysterious figure whose influence enables Limey and a group of toughs to break out out of Mountjoy Penitentiary in Dublin...

But there's no joy for Limey:  the Scarperer has planned to fix him up with a French identity - clothing, papers, even a tattoo- and then to murder him."

This is a short crime novel originally published in serial form in the Irish Times under the pseudonym of Emmet Street, which was a street name near where Behan was lodging.

"By 1953, I was quite well known as a poet and writer, and unfortunately the Dublin intelligentsia had seen pieces of pornography that I'd written for French magazines when I was in France- in English, of course.  This didn't exactly endear me to them, so being short of the readies, I decided to write under a phoney name" -  from the Foreword to the 1966 edition by Rae Jeffs.

This is a excellent crime;as with all Behan you get the fantastic ear for conversation, the humour and  the violence that can be conveyed by language.

I never knew this book existed until a recent troll through a second hand store in Dunedin brought it to light along with another of his books which I knew existed but is hard to find.  It was one of those trolls that was exceptional.

Behan was larger than life, massively talented who unfortunately drank himself to death by the age of 41, an age where he had should have been hitting his straps.  Read anything you can find of his.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE BIG HUEY - Greg Newbold

























"In June 1975 Greg Newbold was a young Auckland university student working towards a masters degree. By November of that year he was an inmate of New Zealand's maximum security prison, serving a very long sentence, 'the big huey' in prison parlance.  What caused this turn of events, and the consequences it had for him, form the subject of this engrossing, very honest and highly topical book."

What caused this turn of events was an ounce of heroin and because of this we get this book.

I first read this 25 years ago and on a re-read it is still raw and honest and entertaining.  The honesty is remarkable as he puts himself out to the reader in ways he need not of have.

The book is taken from a diary that he managed to compile and smuggled out of prison during the five years he spent locked up.  He did his time in Mt Eden, Paremoremo and Hautu, a farm in the central north island.

The writing isn't sensationalist, its just an account of the day to day experience of being locked up with a large group of males and the tensions, laughs and incidents that this involves.

The author even as a small time drug dealer was always sharper than the average prisoner and managed to complete his Masters Degree with honours while serving his sentence.This sounds easy but this was on top of his having to work on prison work gangs while on the prison farm.

Newbold was released in 1980 and this book was published in 1982, the writing is raw and unpolished. Today Professor Newbold writes in a much more finished manner from his position at the University of Canterbury.

Newbold is also one of the people who when they comment publicly on a matter he is worth listening to, always balanced and always thought out.

I've never read or heard him comment on this, but his arrest probably saved his life, he may have ended up like his associate, drug courier Doug Wilson, murdered in Australia in connection with the Mr Asia syndicate.

Can't recommend this enough, its difficult book to find but every library in the country should have a copy.



Saturday, January 28, 2017

FELLOW TRAVELERS - Thomas Mallon

























'It's the 1950's Washington, D.C.: a world of bare knuckled ideology and secret dossiers, dominated by personalities like Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Joe McCarthy.  Enter Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism.  An encounter with a handsome State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim's first job and, after Fullers advances, his first love affair.

As McCarthy mounts an urgent bid for power and internal investigations focus on " sexual subversives" in the government.  Tim and Fuller find it ever more dangerous to navigate their double lives."

Although the above blurb mentions Nixon, Johnson and others they play no part in the story apart from the fact they are wandering around doing things at the same time as the events that this novel focuses on. The focus is on McCarthy's hearings regarding the "risk to security" homosexuals poised to the US Government.

McCarthy was a ludicrous vile man, his actions lead to people being summarily dismissed from jobs for simple going to the "wrong type of bar " for a drink.  His hounding drove people to suicide; he was allowed to continue this persecution for many years.

The love affair between Tim and Hawkins is intertwined with these hearings as they both work for persons intimately involved in them.  Of necessity their relationship has to be kept secret or their careers would be over.

The book has actual transcription from hearings which are interesting; the machinations behind the scenes, the deal making  and of abuse of power is fully on display.

Without the inside information about power broking in Washington the relationship trials and tribulations of Tim and Hawkins would be very ordinary.  Large doses of Catholic guilt and manipulation by one partner and wouldn't sustain any reader interest on its own but as a slice of life of this time its worth reading.

The author lives in Washington and knows of what he writes.  He's a very interesting man in his own right.

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