Sunday, December 26, 2010

CAME A HOT FRIDAY - Ronald Hugh Morrieson

Published in 1964 this is the tale of two con men Wes Pennington and Cyril Kidman, who arrive in a small North island town to rip off a local bookmaker. We have sex, arson and murder as well

Along the way several locals get entwined in this plan.

The story is a great expose of the underbelly of many small towns especially in the 60's where there was nothing to do except gamble and drink.

Morriesin, who died in 1972, from what I have read, was not popular because of this exposing of the New Zealand way of life which went on in every town but was not spoken about i.e the drinking, the domestic violence. And it appears he has not gained in popularity either, which is a shame because he is a very good writer.

I also presume that he is not trendy enough to be picked up and taught at university because of his subject matter.

This story apart from its title bears no relation to the truly atrocious film made in the 1980's. The film set out to be some sort of madcap comedy, whereas this novel is disturbing and sad . A good novel, not just a good New Zealand novel

MOONLIGHT MILE - Dennis Lehane

This is the follow up to Prayers for Rain and has been written ten years after this was published.

In the intervening time, Kenzie and Gennaro have married and started a family.

The plot concerns a teenager who has gone missing,again, this is the same female who went missing in Gone,Baby,Gone as a child. Our investigators deal with many loathsome individuals but without the violence that was evident in the previous story.

This was written as the recession was really starting to bite in the US and the writing reflects this. It is very dark without the humour of previous installments of this series and this is not quite as good as Prayers..., but it is still very good and miles above most which is published as crime thrillers.

The big mistake I have made is not reading this series in order, I have yet to read, Gone Baby, Gone, which is a bugger because this is the ultimate plot spoiler here as it directly relates to Gone..

Worth the time but read this series in order and you won't be disappointed.

HELL - Jeffrey Archer

In 2001 author and deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party (Lord) Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years imprisonment for perjury. Guess what? he was innocent as well!!.

During his time in prison he wrote three diaries, one each for the different prisons he served his time in.

The edition I have has all three volumes incorporated and I have read the first volume "Hell". This concerns his first three weeks of incarceration at the maximum security prison Bellmarsh.

It is a quirk of the British justice system that you initially get sent to a maximum security prison to get classified before being sent to a prison that suits your crime and history etc. Personally this seems a bit harsh even for the likes of Archer, as a drunk driver is locked up with career criminals who are doing years in maximum.

As I said above, Archer thinks he was innocent and constantly writes about it, but reading this diary if Jeffrey Archer told me the sky was blue, I would go outside and check.

What I really have a problem with is that even though Archer was a celebrity prisoner I cannot see multiple murderers opening up to a short term prisoner in the way he says they do.

I will persevere and read the other two volumes as the first was only over a three week period and he managed to write 267 pages on that. The following two diaries may give a bit more about the system rather than poor old innocent Jeff.

PRAYERS FOR RAIN - Dennis Lehane

The initial part of this thriller is genuinely disturbing. A complete stranger accesses the personal information of his victims and then systematically destroys their lives until they take theirs. And whats really unsettling is to gather all this information is not that difficult.

This is the situation facing Patrick Kenzie and his investigative partner Angela Gennaro who must locate the manipulator before he destroys their lives as well.

This is a great thriller and Lehane is up with the very best writers in this genre ever. The plot is sophisticated and he has excellent characterisation.

You are kept guessing until the last page. Lots of humour, very black humour, but it all fits in well with the story. An excellent read.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

MR PARADISE - Elmore Leonard

I like consistency in my life, and with anything written by Mr. Leonard you know at the very least you are going to get great, sometimes brilliant.

This crime thriller is great and is set in his town of Detroit. We have one hooker and her model girlfriend going out for the evening to entertain a 80 year old retired lawyer. The entertaining comprises of dancing topless in cheerleader outfits.

Unfortunately, shortly after arriving we have two corpses, two upset hitmen, a change of identity and a safe deposit box everyone wants.

Then after this scenario is set, recently widowed police detective Frank Desla arrives on the scene and begins to unravel the confusion.

As always the story has Leonard's dark, dark humour throughout along with a great story. The perfect summer read.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I have just gone through a short martial period with my reading and it was purely unintentional. I just kept coming across good books set during wars.

This latest is no exception. It is the Vietnam War diary of Captain John Bullen, who was the officer in charge of the Australian Topographical Section stationed at Nui Dat with the Australian Task Force. He was stationed there for a period of 13 months and kept a daily diary.

Bullen was a career soldier ,a Captain on his posting and was made up to Major by the end of his tour. As he was a career soldier we don't get any overt criticism of his superiors or the fact that Australian was even in the war but we get little asides at pedantic behaviour by several of his senior officers.

He was not a combat soldier but was called upon several times while duty officer to deal with attacks on the task forces perimeter which was constantly probed by NVA and Viet Cong forces.

We get a good daily report of how Australian troops fought and (mis)behaved when not fighting. Bullen was a teetotaller so he is to my way of thinking a bit over critical of drunken behaviour by troops who had been out getting shot at and then getting hugely on the grog.

There is also a very good account of how the mail strikes and such back in Australia organised by communist unions affected the morale of the troops. The author had a leading hand in the "Punch a Postie" campaign and he should have got a medal for this alone.

A very good diary and well worth the effort if you can find it. The book was only published in 2009 and the copy I have is a review one I found second hand in Wellington, so there might be a few about.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MATTERHORN - Karl Marlantes

This novel has nothing to do with Switzerland, rather it is set in Vietnam during the war. The Matterhorn is a code name for a small hill where several hundred men end up dieing because one officer needs to make an impression so he can keep on getting promoted.

It follows the trials of a Marine platoon over a period of approximately 3 months as they fight in an area just south of the DMZ.

The author was a Marine 2nd Lieutenant in an area just like this during the war and I believe the majority of the novel is totally auto-biographical. One review I read, whose author had done some research found that Marlantes citation for his Navy Cross reads very similarly to an incident in his novel.

In the book there are several threads, particularly 'race' issues between the black Marines and white officers and NCO's, the boredom, the terror and then of course the waste that is always evident in war novels.

The writing is very very good and the cover blurbs compare it to Sasson's writing of the 1st World War and the Naked and the Dead by Mailer, (this author certainly saw a lot more combat than Mailer did ).Its great reading and recommended.

Even though it is set in Vietnam, it has only been published in 2010, so its on all the book shelves now

Friday, November 19, 2010

BOMBER - Len Deighton

Anthony Burgess includes this novel as one of his 99 best English novels written since 1930 and is absolutely correct to do so.

It is the story a RAF Bomber Squadron and their German opposition over a 24 hour period. From the planning of a 700 plane attack on Germany until they land again back at their squadrons.

It makes for a very harrowing read and it in no way glorifies war. It accentuates the exceptional bravery of those involved but it lays out for all to see the utter waste that war is.

I didn't realise how young the pilots in WW2 were, you had 23 year olds captaining Lancaster Bombers with 18 year old crewmen and 21 year old Germans trying to shoot them down. Thousands of these young men died. When they got hit by a canon round, they didn't just fall down dead with a neat little hole in them, they vaporised, suffered horrendous burns, all terrible stuff.

It is a great read and as it was first published in 1970, I wondered why it had not had the acclaim that other anti-war novels have garnered. My theory is that Deighton was primarily known for his spy thrillers at the time. It deserves to be a very famous book.

It is a wonderful book, without the humour and cynicism of "Catch 22" but the message is the same.


This is the first book by the author.

It involves a Mafia hit man who is in the Federal Witness Protection Programme. He is also a Doctor, working in a Manhattan Hospital. With me so far?

Then,as he is doing his medical duties, a patient admitted to the hospital recognises him, and from there things get really silly.

With him being recognised, a team of killers is sent to dispatch him. Mayhem then occurs. Interspersed with this mayhem we have the back story of how Doctor Peter Brown ended up a federal witness.

So we have a totally ridiculous plot, totally ridiculous characters and a totally ridiculous ending, but its not all bad,really I mean it.

There are extremely funny passages in here and they negate a lot of my criticism. It was written as the author was working as a medical intern and he will have been tired so finishing a book is an exceptional effort.

Perhaps a bit more editing and tightening up on a few parts may have helped as it looses shape often, but to use racing parlance, I believe the author will improve with another gallop.

MASK MARKET - Andrew Vachss

This is about number 14 in the Burke series.

If you like your crime stories cut to the bone these are for you. There is not a word wasted through this book or any of the others. The hero is totally hardboiled and although he can be a bit cartoonish sometimes that is a minor niggle.

This is the usual Burke type noir. He and his "family" get involved in a situation that leads to a child abuse victim and they resolve the matter,always through violence.

The whole series is totally entertaining and "Chandleresque" but there are no greys in Burkes world, everything is black or white.

This one has him tracking down a runaway he has previously rescued after a client is gunned down in front of him by a professional hit team.

Vachss does tend to be a one trick pony with his stories, but his day job is as a children's advocate so it can be expected, but if you have never come across this series try and give them ago. They are all very entertaining.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


This is Stephen Fry's second volume of autobiography, taking us from his release from juvenile prison up until the second series of "Blackadder".

This period encompasses his time at Cambridge and his early success as a writer and television personality, "star" actually. He became famous very quickly due to his immense talent.

Throughout the book we have the authors continual self depreciation regarding how lucky he was etc etc. But even if this is not an affection, I just wished by the end that he would have come out and admitted that he is a really, really clever bugger, with a near photographic memory regarding text. I wish someone would have told him its OK to be talented, and clever - its not a crime. The world needs talented, clever people, that's how we progress.

This is very funny as you would expect from Fry, full of gossip, none of it nasty and Robbie Coltrane's verbal line in picking up women is worth the price alone.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Humboldt's Gift is a slice-of-life novel with undertones of dark comedy. From the perspective of Charlie Citrine, a poet and essayist of considerable success, it examines life in America from the 1930s through the mid-1970s. Much of the novel consists of Charlie's memories of his childhood in Chicago and his days in Greenwich Village with his mentor, Von Humboldt Fleischer, who has already descended into madness and death at the time of the telling. Charlie is driven throughout the novel by memories and recriminations of Humboldt.

Citraine intersperses his reveries over Fleischer with his adventures or incidents with Rinaldo Cantabile, a try hard mobster who attaches himself to Citraine after a card game.

This is wonderfully written and gives a fine view of America into the early '70's with the start of the celebrity culture. The novel was published first in 1975.

Charlie is too weak for my liking wandering through life semi-detached due to his success- he has money troubles, women troubles, gangster troubles - all due to his desire that all life should be " nice" "artistic", for a want of better words. In the end Charlie was frustrating, he needed a good slap to bring him back to the real world.

But in saying this, I will read this again, it is great and I can see why Bellow is Martin Amis's hero and I can also see why Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities is very similar, a man completely out of touch with what is happening about him.

There is several layers to everything written in this novel and I was not able to comprehend them all at the first go, but I will go back as there is much more to get from this.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

LIFE - Keith Richards

Finally we have the true story from the man rather than the legend as written by others.

This co-written autobiography is a must for even the most casual "Stones" fan.

There is 547 pages of Keith from his earliest years up until the end of the " A Bigger Bang Tour."

Whats great about this is the confirmation and clarification of many of the urban myths that have grown up around the Rolling Stones e.g The Mars bar was nowhere near Marianne Faithfull during the police raid,- and when its explained here its perfectly logical. There are lots of examples like this throughout the book.

What this book will do ,as well as entertain, will put an end to the cottage industry that has built up over the years of repeating non-sensical tales - mostly made up by hangers on. This will happen because anyone wanting to publish out right lies will get found out very quickly because of this publication

He's frank about his junkie years and his survival. Its been mainly due to having access to top quality gear and only very rarely having to do the cliche druggy thing of scoring in the tenements.

What is apparent, and will be well known to anyone who has read the serious works on the "Stones", is his absolute commitment to the band, that's his sole purpose, always has been and will be until in his words, he croaks.

Although I am not the perfect father, even I can't help feel that as a dad he was a tad poor in regards to his first two children early on, and he admits this. With mum and dad seriously addicted to heroin the kids had a rather bizarre start to life, but it appears that have grown into pretty cool adults.

This is great considering their old man is one of the most famous people who has ever lived and any upbringing in Keiths world is as about as far from normal life as you can get. But Keith does own a caravan (Winnabago) for family holidays,so hows that for normality, and he uses it.

There are explanations regarding the rifts between him and Jagger, which are on going, but this is to be expected considering they have been together for nearly 50 years.

To readers who understand the mechanics of playing guitar he relates how he gets his sound,its very simple, he just does it extremely well.

We have a book here by a man who has through hard work early on in life, and continued hard work, has been able to live life completely on his terms. Something I am always envious of as there are so very few of us with a talent to be able to do this.

Keith is a big reader,very well read, novels and history, all which gladdens my heart.

And to top it off he even throws in his recipe for "bangers and mash".

Keith Richards, a man if you have him as a friend, he is one for life, but cross him and hell will freeze over very quickly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


le Carre is back, I was really worried after his last novel 'A Most Wanted Man" that the master had lost it, but he hasn't and this latest work proves it.

We have a young British couple on holiday in the West Indies who meet up with a Russian gangster and after a game of tennis things rapidly get complicated.

It leads from this meeting to working for MI 6 and traveling across Europe until the rather sad ending.

Nobody can build tension with two men sitting across a table talking to each other like le Carre.

The only complaint is that we never really figure out who the main character is as feature characters seem to drift in and out- but this is only a small fault.

This keeps you guessing and is great entertainment, its not a 'Smiley" but its very, very good and I hope he keeps churning them out if he can keep up this quality.

Nice one Mr. Cornwell.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Goodness gracious me ,this is tedious.

James Earl Carter was elected the 39th president of the U.S.A for one term between 1977 and 1981.

This diary covers these years with a daily account ( abridged from 5000 actual pages!!!!) of how he has all the answers - with every suggestion and idea God sent and with anybody who has the effrontery to disagree, a fool or sadly misguided.

Carter is probably a decent man, but he has a mighty high opinion of himself even for a politician.

Everything that went wrong during his presidency, the Iran hostages, stagflation, high unemployment - was all someone else's fault.

It was Ted Kennedy's fault that he didn't get re-elected for a second term, not his, every ones fault except Jimmy's.

He is also blatantly anti-Semitic, Israel is a problem, Jews are a problem according to this, Egypt et el were never at fault and the Israeli's just wouldn't listen to Carter, who naturally had all the answers to the Middle East problems.

Of course my question was if he was so bloody clever ,why did the American public reject him like no one really before or since.

Carter has the distinction of being one of only four Presidents elected for just one term since 1900 before being shown the door. (exceptions - others due to assassinations, sudden death and resignations .)

He just does not seem to get it at any stage. All through his presidency he has the press absolutely against him, which is just about impossible, given the Democratic leanings of the New York Times and The Washington Post.

This fact, that he has trouble with the press, is the only fault he acknowledges in a postscript, truly staggering when you look back at the events that were occurring in the world in the late 1970's.

After struggling, and it was a struggle, through 537 pages of egoistic musings, I found myself actively disliking the writer.

And last, but not least, he doesn't even mention his "Playboy Magazine" interview where he admitted to having 'lustful thoughts". This at the very least may have added some humour to proceedings.

Jimmy is just not a fun guy,not a bad man, just boring and egotistical.( and with diaries you do not want boring)

What were the Americans thinking?

If they thought they were atoning for Nixon , they over compensated, just like I believe they have done with the incumbent POTUS

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Autobiography PARKY - Michael Parkinson

Described as the man who has met everyone, this is Michael Parkinson's autobiography detailing his early life and his television career.

He was born into a mining family in Yorkshire and his politically left leanings were embedded here. What comes through most strongly in the early part of the book is his deep love for his parents, especially his father whom he adored.

We are then taken through a short military career and then into his work in the media, primarily his television series.

Over the years he completed about 800 interview shows, so there is a lot of truth in the saying "he has met everyone".

The majority of the book is around his media life and the people he met.

Because he met so many people, each is given about a paragraph and then he moves on. I suppose if he gave a couple of pages to all the people he met the book would be several thousand pages long.

This is a nice easy read, Muhammad Ali, Billy Connolly and George Best were his favourites.

Even with all his success I still felt at the end of the book he would have been happiest playing cricket for Yorkshire and England.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Another memoir by a left leaning politician. Cath was married to Labour M.P and Minister, Bob Tizard, they separated in 1980. She went on to become mayor of Auckland and was then appointed Governor General.

This a good entertaining read, not brilliant writing but informative.

She was such a hard worker, really amazing, firstly being the politician's wife, when they got no government support, raising four kids at the same time, lecturing at Auckland University. Then being on the Auckland City Council.

There are lots of anecdotes about her private and public life and those she met.

For me there are lots of memories as I was working in Auckland during her mayoralty. She is however slightly mistaken regarding the Queen Street riot and how it began. I was one of the 5 police members rostered to work that crowd of several thousands so I had a first hand view. But that's just a slight quibble.

Another complaint is that in the early 80's Helen Clark regularly stayed with her at her home. I just wish that Cath had had the forethought to smother her one night while she lay sleeping. Never mind.

A good read, interesting and enlightening about the office of Governor General and how it operates.

Recommended as a Christmas read. Don't let the cover put you off, but the person who allowed this book to go out with this cover on it should be taken out and shot.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A JOURNEY - Tony Blair

I will never be a Labour voter ever, but I did enjoy this memoir by Tony Blair.

It is just a memoir rather than a full blown autobiography, which is a good thing because the latter can drag when we are taken through every class the subject attended at primary school and what they had for Sunday lunch served up by their dear old mum.

Rather this is written episodically, and as he states in the introduction you can dip into it at any chapter and not miss anything.

We have here 700 pages of Blair's views on everything,Iraq of course, New Labour, Gordon Brown and Northern Ireland and a lot on domestic politics and his personal life.

What is apparent he doesn't like Brown, admires his brain but that's all. I was left wondering why he was so close politically for so long and I concluded that it was all about power, getting it and holding onto it, nothing new then there for a politician.

The chapter on Northern Ireland is very interesting, having to deal with all the nutters involved there ( and they are nutters)was a test on all concerned.

The chapter on Iraq is pretty much a waste of time in that we will never know the truth of what really happened here for about 100 years when papers may be released telling the citizens how decisions were made.

What really sets this apart from other political writing, re-phrase, writing by a politician , is that it is laugh out loud in places, really really funny.

Where Blair has a MP explaining to him how he came to be arrested after being found with a male prostitute, will have you falling off the chair.

And it is very rare to find anyone, let alone a politician being as candid about themselves as Blair is i.e wife, who can be very difficult..., this shows a man who is either very brave or runs his house like we would all like to.

At the end of the book I was still left in the dark as to whether New Labour under Blair actually achieved anything for Britain in the 10 years he was Prime Minister. I don't have to live there but I really don't think he did, certainly nothing earth shattering that he will be remembered around the world for.

I do know that he would have been a brilliant barrister if he had stayed with law, a very quick witted man.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


We have Hill's lighter detective romping through this tale at the local golf club.

Private Eye Joe Sexsmith is hired to discover who has accused a mainstay at the club of cheating.

This simple task leads to the discovery of many dark machinations and a murder.

This is a great fun read, very light, very funny and will not tax the reader.

As usual with anything written by Reginald Hill , the dialogue is brilliant.

This falls into my "read on a plane, beach around the pool."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

GCHQ - Richard J. Aldrich

This is the uncensored story of Britain's most secret intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters.

This book tells the story of Britain's electronic spying from WWII up until the present day.

It is a fascinating read and shows that the real intelligence gathering was done by "geeks" rather than by James Bond.

Tales of amazing bravery are told, we have submarines going into enemy harbours and getting as close as 6 feet away listening to signals from the opposition.

It shows how the electronic intell. gathering has had a huge bearing on all major military operations since WWII.

All is not perfect though, for some reason the British intelligence community did not learn from McLean , Philby and others. Geoffry Prime, the last really damaging spy found inside GCHQ was allowed to work for two years in a high security area before he was even vetted. Everyone was later surprised when he was found to be a spy and a paedophile!!!!!!

One very interesting fact written of here was that the Auckland power outages of 1998 were caused by hackers in Holland, rather than by faulty equipment in New Zealand, something that has never been spoken of here.

This is a very good book, not too technical and flows nicely covering many of the major moments of the 20th century.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND - Dennis Lehane

This is the first book of Lehane's I have read and after finishing it, I will track down more.

The story has US Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner travelling to a mental asylum situated on Shutter Island to assist with the re-capture of a missing patient.

They find that the patients are subject to drug experiments and experimental surgery and all is not what it seems.

I figured out what was happening half way through the book but it's that well written it does not detract from the tale.

It is genuinely creepy and keeps it up until the last page. Recommended

BANGKOK 8 - John Burdett

This a nice little mystery. The conceit is the story is told through the eyes of a Thai detective attempting to solve the murder of a U S Marine and his policing partner.

There is a lot of cultural insight with the hero being Thai. This is ambitious of the author with him not being native although he has spent many years in the east.

The tale takes us through the bars and back alleys of Bangkok, through the sex trade and those involved.

At the end we meet a very nasty villain. This is well worth the effort, clever and well written.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


The author was embedded with US Battalion 2-16 in Iraq during a 15 month tour in 2007and early 2008.

It tells the story at a platoon level of the soldiers of this battalion as they attempt to secure a really crappy part of Baghdad.

All the tales come from the soldier level rather than from command so we get all the moans and fears that are the soldiers lot.

It is very well written and very moving. During their tour the 2-16 loose 14 members and many more suffering horrendous wounds.

For me what stops this being great war reportage is that the author does not write of the humour that will have existed. It might be terribly black humour that surfaced, which always does when ever humans are put in intolerable situations, but there is none in this book at all.

This lack of humour is a shame because it will have existed,it always does no matter how bad things get.

Good reportage , a good read, but could have been great book if the negative wasn't accentuated so much.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

THE LAST GOOD KISS - James Crumley

This starts with private eye C W Sughrue tracking down a writer out on a bender and leads into the search for a girl missing in San Francisco for 10 years.

Assisting Sughrue is the alcoholic bulldog 'Fireball' and the 'writer' he has managed to track down.

This story takes us through the really seedy west coast of the USA and it is without a doubt Crumley's masterpiece.

This book would be one of the five best hard boiled detective novels ever written.

I am a huge fan of Crumley's but it is not an exaggeration on my behalf to describe it as brilliant,this is not hyperbole simply the truth.

Rolling Stone magazine says " The Last Good Kiss" ..the last good mystery.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Finally after nearly fifty years I have read this book of which I have seen several movie versions.

It is just great fun from start to finish. The characters are one dimensional but that does not detract from the adventures Fogg and his companions have on their trip around the world.

As I am probably one of the last people on the planet to read this it won't be a plot spoiler to say that the bet was won and the enterprise was successful.

Of all the movie versions made, the one with David Niven is the most enjoyable but even then the script writers had to meddle with the story. The story its self requires no meddling and should have been able to be transposed from the book to the screen, but no they had to try and tweek it a bit , never mind, if you haven't read this do, its great.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Unfortunately, I believe this is the last collection of Chandlers available.

This collection starts with an essay published in 1950 where he argues the virtues of the crime novel as literature and does a very good job . This essay was originally published in The Atlantic magazine.

After the essay there are eight short stories all originally published in the "pulps'. None feature Marlowe but the same moral code is apparent throughout.

There is one delightful story " Pearls are a Nuisance' which I think is a genuine hat tip to Dashiell Hammett and The Thin Man.

This collection was published while Chandler was still alive and are the best of the best as far as his short stories go.

He is an exceptional writer and its a real shame there are no more stories to discover.


I hate rats, and rats are my abiding memory of this travel book written by Greene about his travels in Liberia in 1935.

He and his cousin set out to travel across most of the country accompanied by native bearers at a time when there were few maps of the country at all, and none of the interior.

The group travelled from village to village and this is where the rats come into the story. At night when lying in his hammock and the lamps were doused the "rats teemed " down the walls eating everything in sight. What the rats didn't eat the cockroaches did. Greene managed to sleep most nights only due to a vast consumption of whiskey, his supply of which must have taken several natives to carry.

This is a real travel book, not written by some TV personality flown into a location for the day and then out at night to his hotel.

Nothing seems to have changed in Africa either, the europeans exploited the natives, the natives exploited the other natives who exploited anything that was left.

A great travel book with some autobiographical insight from Greene concerning his life in Britain as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

WOLF HALL - Hillary Mantel

Once upon a time I swore that I would never again read a Mann Booker winner,and I have stuck to this for several years until two weeks ago when a friend mentioned that her book club was about to attack the 700 pages of Wolf Hall.

So, armed with this information I spoke with two book sellers I know and they both said this was a fantastic book and I should get into it. So I did.

I read the entire thing concerning Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, Henry the Eight and Anne Boleyn and the split from Rome.

This book is really well written and the information concerning the history around the main characters is fascinating, but for me it started to drag after the first one hundred pages.

The positives for me were, as above, the historical facts of the characters, the fact that there was not one tedious description of the english countryside or any detail concerning the attire of the characters.

There are some marvellous lines - I have never read of a " river creeping".

The biggest negative was that I had to keep re-reading paragraphs because Mantel keeps referring to "he" and I kept loosing whether "he" was Cromwell, More or other characters.

This is a great novel and probably deserves the "Booker" but it just wasn't for me, not because it was no good rather I just didn't like it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Here we have another four novellas from one of the masters of the crime story.

The four stories all have Philip Marlowe on board helping the helpless and not getting much thanks for it.

The book title - Trouble is my Business- is the pick of the tales included here where all is not as it seems, which is usually the way.

As per all Marlowe stories all concerned drink gallons of whiskey and smoke for the Olympics as we see the seedy side of Los Angeles.

Highly recommended for fans and anyone who like a great crime story.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

HITCH-22 - Christopher Hitchens

This is a fascinating memoir from the former far left journalist, who over the years has moved to the right but has not become a venerable old Tory, rather a 'secular liberal', which is not a bad place to be.

The book starts with a synopsis of his parents and his childhood. His mother who died young by her own hand and a father he was never that close to. He attended Oxford and appears to have spent the majority of his time protesting,arranging protests and finding causes that need some protesting.

He was at this stage what would appear to me to be rather an "insufferable little shit" but very,very clever non the less. He was from an early age exceptionally well read and probably brilliant, although his results at Oxford do not reflect this.

He is very honest about his university days certainly having no false modesty when he admits, he was an "very pretty young man" and was not adverse to a quick one off the wrist with any male who was attracted to him.

Through his early Marxist background he met most of the intellectual left in Britain and for many years was one of them.

Unlike most of the intellectual left Hitchens travelled to the country's that were hot spots of revolution and senseless violence rather than just sitting and talking theory and so gradually his views have changed. They have changed to the extent that he was a very vocal advocate of the invasion and over throwing of Saddam Hussein.

What I particularly liked about this is that there is no real black and white, Hitchens realises that our world is many shades of grey and he is honest enough to view both side of all issues before making a judgement.

He really has met a lot of remarkable people, Agatha Christie (anti-Semitic), was in Bill Clintons year at Oxford (he didn't inhale , but ate the dope, he was allergic to the smoke), a great friend of Martin Amis and his father and many many others.

This memoir is well worth the effort,but if you ever meet him for God's sake do not address him as Chris, he doesn't like this and he devoted several hundred pages to the fact (a slight exaggeration, and I have told you a million times not to do that).

He is now married and a resident and citizen of the United States, still writing, for Vanity Fair I am sure of and I think The Atlantic as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CAKES AND ALE - W.Somerset Maugham

This novel from 1930 revolves around three novelists. It's is narrated in the first person by William Ashenden, who tells the tale of successful novelist, Edward Driffield's first wife Rosie. He relates the tale with all the facts given to the reader. In the book he gives only what detail he wants to to would be biographer Elroy Kear who is to write the life of Driffield.

The characters are a thinly disguised Thomas Hardy (Driffield) and Hugh Walpole (Kear).

Rosie, Driffields first wife is a free spirit who scandalised society with her friendships and in the way she eventually leaves Driffield. Ashenden has known the Driffields since he was a boy and is the only survivor knowing the full story of their marriage.

Along the way Maugham details the smugness and snobbishness of the English class system. As Rosie was a barmaid prior to marrying Driffield she is never seen as the "right sort" of person.

Through the book we have Ashenden telling the truth regarding all the relationships involved, with Kear riding over any negative information he comes across ,wanting just enough information to complete a hagiography to please Driffields second wife.

It is a story of infatuation with wonderful writing by Maugham, who is never shy about sharing an opinion.

I also discovered that Hugh Walpole was a New Zealander, being born in Auckland.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

CLOSING TIME - Joseph Heller

This is billed as the sequel to Catch 22, but even though it contains a few of the characters from the 1961 novel this is a stand alone event.

It is really two stories, one concerning the later stages of the life of John Yossarian and the other the adolescent to late middle age story of Sammy Singer and Lew Rabinowitz. The latter two grew up together in Coney Island, went to war together, with Singer a gunner on Yossarian’s bomber hence there is this tenuous link to Catch 22 throughout this.

It basically concerns the characters getting ready to die as they are all approaching the end of their lives. It deals with ,as Heller sees it, the decline in the America he knew growing up. His view is very cynical but we still have the trade mark humour which can make you laugh out loud at the absurdities of the politics and the greed and hypocrisy of American life, or anywhere for that matter.

It wanders off into sections of fantasy at times and I feel owes a lot to Slaughterhouse 5, particularly with the fantasy sections,Vonnegut actually makes an appearance in the novel.

So, a  funny, sad novel, nowhere near as good as Catch 22, but as Heller said often, nothing much is.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Just started my two yearly read of the James Bond stories something I really enjoy.

For Your Eyes Only is a collection of five stories featuring our man James Bond.

The stories are From a View to a Kill, For Your Eyes Only, Quantum of Solace, Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity

The writing in the story of For Your Eyes Only is Fleming at his best, he builds tension and develops characters even though the story is only 47 pages.

The Bond in these stories is a much more violent secret agent than he appears in the full length novels. Evidently these five stories were outlines for episodes of a proposed American television series featuring Bond which was canned prior to production.

Anyway, love the Bond books, not great literature but mighty fine entertainments and I've got the whole series to re-read over the next two years.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


From 1936 - When the body of a famous actress washes up on the coast of Kent it soon becomes apparent that it was murder and not the accident that it first appeared to be.

Called in to investigate is Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard who in the end manages to solve the mystery but not without some effort, maninly by others. He's not the most interesting Detective Inspector doing the rounds in murder mysteries but he was a work in progress when this was written, he reminds me of a very early Adam Dalglish in his mannerisims.

There are some great characters ,especially the Chief Constable's daughter -she is worth a story of her own.

The author knows how to amuse with a few laugh out loud moments and some great dialogue. Only a woman could have written about her sleuth walking up carpeted stairs trying to solve a murder and musing how difficult the stairs would be to clean.

Its not a great 'who dunnit' only because D.I Grant has very little to do with locating any of the evidence, but as it was only the authors second outing she can be forgiven. I have read that she got much better prior to her early death in 1952.

I love these ' golden age' of crime mysteries. They can be clever without graphic violence or the language that seems necessary in today's offerings.

I will read anything else I can find by Tey, but the trick will be finding them. This Pan edition I have is 44 years old.

They will be available from the U.S because the population allows a lot more work to stay in print.

Friday, June 11, 2010

THE GREAT ESCAPE - Paul Brickhill

The true story that inspired the movie.

This is the attempt to have 250 men escape at one time from Stalag-Luft III by creating three tunnels at once.

Due to circumstances only one was used and only 70 men escaped on the night.

Of these 70 only three actually made it back to England with 50 of them being rounded up by the Gestapo and murdered. The remainder were returned to this camp or to concentration camps.

The bravery and ingenuity of those involved is staggering. They constructed 250 compasses, moulding the casings from broken gramophone records and then adding needles and glass. The entire construction is detailed and is amazing.

They moved hundreds of tons of sand, made bellows for moving fresh air about, forged papers. All this was done by scrounging and stealing the required materials. Then the talents of the prisoners were put to use in making what was required.

This camp was the one where Eric Williams and colleagues escaped from and was immortalised in The Wooden Horse.

The author Paul Brickhill was also a prisoner at this camp at this time but he did not partake in the tunnelling or escape due to his claustrophobia.

This a a very moving tale of bravery and determination and another reminder why ANZAC Day is so important, - that we never forget -what previous generations have done for us.

This copy is a 1952 edition but I believe its still in print and widley available.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


One day mountaineer Joe Simpson was with a friend about to start a climb in South America and his mate said " No,forget it, I just retired". This friend then gave up climbing on the spot only to be killed a short time later paragliding!!!!!

After this happened Simpson started to believe in his own mortality and so with another friend started a list of climbs to complete and then when these were signed off the crampons were to be hung up.

So,in this volume we have a ice climb in the States (The Bridle Veil Falls at Tellirude )followed by an attempt at the north face of the Eiger.

Its a very exciting read, he builds the suspense that nicely that I have been put off driving past the Eiger let alone attempting a climb.

Included in his adventure is a lot of really interesting history concerning the climbs and the climbers,especially the 'iron men , wooden ship,' mountaineers of the 1930's.

Simpson is a professional adventurer with an obvious book contract to fulfill but it makes a difference that he can write.

I have read a previous title of his This Games of Ghosts and as I was then I still am - I would not get on the same train as Simpson simply because bad stuff will happen with him in the vicinity.

A good adventure yarn.

Monday, June 7, 2010

CRASH - JG Ballard

My god, this is vile.

We have from the 1995 introduction by Ballard to this 1973 novel......I would still like to think that Crash is the first pornographic novel based on technology.

Basically this revolves around a group of people that get off sexually around car crashes and the injuries they suffer.

As a feat of imagination its is amazing, but that's J G Ballard but many of the scenes are staggering in their baseness. He describes it as pornographic but there is nothing even shallowly exciting about it. Ballard must have been on a retainer for writing " natal cleft", if he was he made a fortune.

Vaughn the anti-hero is officially the most repulsive character in fiction, hands down there is no one even close and I would love to accept nominations.

An amazing writer but I couldn't wait to finish this. The introduction mentions metaphors that the novel is meant represent but I must be too thick to get any of it.

A truly horrible experience.

BORDERSNAKES - James Crumley

I have just had a great weeks reading and it was finished off nicely by Bordersnakes.

It features both of Crumley's P. I's in the same story, partnered up, there's C W Sughrue and Milo Milodragovitch, both alcoholic, both drug abusers, both very nasty individuals.

Sughrue wants to find the person that shot him in the guts and Milodragovitch wants to find the person that stole his 3 million dollar inheritance. That's the story and both story lines are intertwined.

The only annoying bit is that's it's written in the first person and chops and changes between the two P.I.s, not a great trick to pull on your readers, Jim ( but he's dead now so he won't ever care what I think.)

It not very often that a entire novel is populated by totally unlikeable individuals but this is one of them, even our hero's aren't nice.

Its a normal Crumley, very violent and very well written, its not his best but a great rainy day read (and we have had a few lately).

The story ranges through 'dives' and various bedrooms of West Texas and L A and finishes south of the border.

A drug fueled adventure but a very very dark read.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

JUST KIDS - Patti Smith

This is Patti Smith's memoir of her friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

They meet as struggling 20 year old's in New York and set up house together in various locations, including the famous Chelsea Hotel.

They then go onto find success in their respective artistic endeavours. Smith as a poet and Mapplethorpe as an artist. Then Mapplethorpe contracts AIDS and dies as a 42 year old. Smith carries on and is presently releasing some of her best music as a 63 year old and counting.

The book is set between 1968 and 1980 with a introduction and closing chapter set around the death of Mapplethorpe.

She tells about the scene in New York in the early 70's and the rise of what would become the punk scene there as it concerned her and running parallel with this is Mapplethorpe's route to fame, which was sped up by his mentor and lover Sam Wagstaff.

This is more Smith's story obviously but for a 10 year period their two lives were totally entwined so there justification in her calling the book their story- the story of two 20 year old's forging their way in the world.

Its an interesting read, especially concerning the New York music scene. It reads like a monologue,( the third chapter runs 122 pages) it might be me but it has a talked to tape feel about it and then transcribed. This isn't a negative just the feel of the book.

There is a very good biography on Mapplethorpe- Mapplethorpe by Patricia Morrisroe- published in 1995 which is an excellent companion to this book.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Finally, 16 years after the publication of The Dark Stuff we have something new.

Apathy for the Devil is the seventies memoir of Kent, who at the age of 20 became one of rocks premier writers, touring with everyone, partying with everyone and ended up a homeless, broken junkie with nothing - all this in the space of 10 years.

It's a memoir of brutal honesty with his admitting he got too big for his boots way too fast and the smack got him.

He met everyone who was anyone in the 70's music scene and became a celebrity himself, usually due to his totally self destructive side which consumes him in the end. There are anecdotes too numerous to even bother mentioning but its all fascinating stuff.

Its great reading especially for the rock and roll trainspotter, but as Nick Kent is a seriously gifted writer its doubly good.

And this isn't a plot spoiler, he cleaned up and has been "Joe Persil" for 20 years. I am hopeful that this will get him writing a bit more, 16 years between efforts is a bit on the tired side.

A brilliant "must" read.

P.S The title comes from a throw away line spoken by Bob Dylan when asked for a comment regarding The Rolling Stones


Imagine a Sherlock Holmes story written by H G Wells and you pretty much have "The Waterworks", except its actually written by Doctorow, who is a much finer writer than Conan Doyle or Wells.

Martin Pemberton is walking along Broadway one day shortly after is father has died and he looks up and sees his father driving past in a carriage, and that sets the scene for this novel set in New York City shortly after the Civil War.

It is a very dark, sad story in that it puts all our human frailties out there to be considered, especially greed and vanity.

There is a good suspense yarn in here as well and there are uplifting moments to compensate for the dark stuff.

Its not Billy Bathgate or Ragtime but the man can write and any time reading E.L.Doctorow is time well spent.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Although this is a biography of Andy Warhol, it only covers a 12 - 13 year period. This period was the time that the author worked for Warhol at INTERVIEW Magazine.

The author started working there in his late teens until he resigned in his early thirties. You do get the inside story though, Colacello was an intimate of Warhol's, travelling the world doing business with him and for him.

The main problem is the book is linear, month by month ,year by year and because of this it drags. Much better I would have thought to have lumped the chapters together on a single subject, even if each chapter was to cover an entire decade.

It was still interesting to me as I have long been fascinated by how Warhol ended up with the following he did, he was majorly controlling, manipulative and could be very cruel. But people stayed with him for years and put up with all this behaviour. It certainly wasn't for money , he was seriously miserable when it came to spending on staff and friends.

We get a good look at the rich and famous of the 70's, the Jaggers, the Elizabeth Taylors, Studio 54 etc, so its quite gossipy. But if you really want the gossip on these people read, The Andy Warhol Diaries, edited by Pat Hackett, Warhol himself was very bitchy.

So, this doesn't shed any new light on the subject,drags some what because of the way it is put together and could be a bit more salacious I think ( probably isn't because the author is still working amongst many of the people named in this book. It was published in 1990)

A book for the absolute fan or art historian perhaps, I wouldn't recommend it for the general biography reader.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


It is well known that there is no justice on plant Earth, but one of the greatest literary injustices is that James Crumley is not one of the best known crime writers in history. The equal of Hammett,Chandler and MacDonald.

His hero in this story is the alcoholic Private Investigator, C W Sughrue, who is not only ultra violent when the need arises but he is very human as well with lots of emotions, the strongest being loyalty. Sughrue smokes dope, snorts cocaine, smokes crack and drinks like a fish, but he gets the job done.

In this tale he sets out to help his best friend locate some files that have been stolen. And to say things get a bit out of hand is an understatement of quite large proportions, but they do, my,my.

Along the way we meet sundry psychopaths, wives, girlfriends and bent cops, all the usual for a "noir".

As stated it is very violent and you could never accuse Crumley of writing for laughs. In fact I felt exhausted at the end - its dark but mighty entertaining.

James Crumley passed away in 2008 without the following that was his due, but he's that good he'll stay in print and one day people will realise what they missed out on.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

THE BLAZE OF OBSCURITY: The TV Years - Clive James

This is volume six of autobiography from Clive James, and what an interesting man he is.

This volume concentrates on his years fronting TV shows, twenty years of them. From the start even though he is a severely intelligent man I often thought how can this guy be on TV ,he was bald and his head looks like its been in several hundred heavyweight fights and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

What comes through is his intelligence and his drive to succeed with a good product. He was never satisfied to just put anything into the market place , he wanted it to be quality.

He talks a lot about all his TV shows but I gathered he was most proud of his "Postcard From...." series. These programmes gave him the scope to be very funny and tell a decent story about his subject at the same time.

Along the way he has mixed with the rich and famous like very few others have: he had a serious crush on Princess Diana and his telling of how Pavarotti pronounced Clive is hilarious

One thing I didn't know was that with all the talking head interview shows the guests are asked the questions prior to going on live, where they can all sound very witty and sophisticated without any embarrassing silences, makes sense really.

Highly recommended, lots of quality gossip from a very hard working man with a streak of humanity a mile wide. The type who gives conservative political views a good name.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


If you like your travel writing funny, loaded with sarcasm, with many wry observations and an obvious love of the subject then this is for you.

Written 15 years ago after living in the UK for 20 years this is a memoir come travelogue of a farewell trip about Britain prior to returning to the US for a while.

I first read it 15 years ago and having just re-read it is still as funny and enlightening as the first time.

Bryson covers everything from grand palaces and stately homes to dealing with fascist " Bed and Breakfast" operators. The run ins with petty authority are a highlight throughout. Having the remnants of a bowel movement pointed out to you by your landlady is something that most travellers could have done without.

There are lots of facts and figures ( 30,000 place names in Britain ), but its never boring.

Lots of fun to read. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

KILLER IN THE RAIN - Raymond Chandler

This a collection of eight stories published in 1930's pulp magazines by Chandler.

These eight stories, actually they are all novella's, were the basis for his famous books. That's why this collection was never published while he was alive.

These stories sometimes have a few paragraphs, sometines entire chapters that went into his novels. Chandler himself called the process , cannibalization.

All of the stories are genuinely exciting and true Raymond Chandler. My favourite being "No Crime in the Mountains".

There is an excellent introduction to this edition by Peter Robinson. In this introduction he says that Chandler's was first edited by Cap Shaw in the pulp magazines and he was the man who could pare-to-the -bone anything written and still make it exciting.

There is no Philip Marlowe in any of these stories but it can be seen how the detectives here morphed into Marlowe. I just felt sorry for their livers, my god, do they put the booze away.

This collections gives you 583 pages of really ,really excellent detective yarns and its worth every cent you pay.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


We have a group of young people holidaying over summer at a Italian Castle.

The group concerned are all in their twenties and sex is on their mind.

That's it basically, they do what twenty year olds do, have sex and try and get as much of it as they can, all with their own conditions attached.

Keith Nearing the central character's purpose in life is to score not just sex, but 'hysterical' sex, as he describes it. i.e stuff a bit off the beaten track that he only gets from one of the girls. This leads to all his problems, thirty years down the track.

The whole thing is very funny and at times sad as things can be when you are twenty and things go pear shaped, when you think you are ruling the world and at the centre of the universe.

Once again we have Mr. Amis's fascination with topless sunbathing! He just goes on and on about it. Considering he's well travelled and now in his early sixties I would have thought he might have started to take it for granted. Then again Keith Nearing our hero never gets over it either.

My only complaint is a female character called, Scheherazade, this is bloody unpronouncible and appears about every second sentence, it drove me mad . There is no connection to One Thousand and One Nights so it would have made not one iota of difference if she had been called Bill or George, anything but Scheherazade.

A good read, not a brilliant read and not as good as his best, (Money?), but Amis doesn't try too hard to be too clever here which is good, because he can be so clever sometimes I can't understand him.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I was a bit worried when I started to read this and found that the author is " a bell bottom lefty" and a " Godless Commie" (his descriptions of himself). I thought I was going to have to wade through 270 pages of lefty whinging.

It was a nice surprise to find that only about a third of it is lefty whinging.

The author returned to his home town of Winchester ,Virginia after an absence of thirty years. He writes about the town ,its industry , people he knows as well as family members still living there.

I got the impression that this place was about of the size of Petticoat Junction, but a bit a research informed me that there are in fact 23,000 souls resident in Winchester, so I found Bageant's assertion that he knows everybody in town and their antecedents a bit of an exaggeration.

The premise of most of these essays is that with universal health care and education all will be rectified in Winchester and it follows the whole U S of A. This is a familiar call from the left, but as always there are plenty of reasons why, but never any solutions as to how or who is going to finance all this.

He uses as examples of the working poor a number of people that he knows from childhood. The disturbing thing here is that most of these people spend a lot of time at the local bar. Now from experience if you spend a lot of time at the local bar smoking and drinking you will have health issues and get very little done. But local bars are great places for people to moan about their lot in life ,.... as they have another beer and cigarette and get just a bit unhealthier..............

What redeems this whole book for me is the best, most balanced essay, on gun control that I have ever read. Even though he is from the far left Bageant understands the use and necessity of firearms, particuarly in the rural setting of his home town. If all gun control advocates (nuts?) read this and opened their minds there would be no debate.Very good writing indeed.

One more thing that makes this different from normal socialist writing is that Bageant has a sense of humour and can be very funny. Normally people from the left are so busy telling everyone how to live their lives that they have their humour bone amputated. e.g a million battered women out there and I've been eating mine plain.

Recommended more for the left leaning but certainly not a waste of time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FLASHMAN'S LADY - George MacDonald Fraser

Welcome to the sixth installment of the Flashman papers.

To the uninitiated the cad and bounder from Tom Brown's School Days left several volumes worth of manuscripts detailing his adventures from when he left school.

This volume starts with a chance meeting with Tom Brown who talks Flashy into playing a game of cricket for his old school. Of course Flashman ends up getting a hat trick at Lord's. But then gets into serious trouble with a bookmaker.

The adventure continues when his wife gets kidnapped by a pirate and the story travels through Sarawak meeting James Brooke,the White Raja and onto Borneo and Madagascar. Most of the historical figures encountered actually existed.

As with all the Flashman stories, historically they are very accurate apart from the hero himself who is entirely fictional.

He managers to "roger" anything female he encounters and run away from anything that would require the slightest bit of courage. If you have ever wondered about where brothel cricket originated, you need look no further than here.

All these stories are good fun and worth a read ideal for the plane trip or beach.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

RIPLEY'S GAME - Patricia Highsmith

This is the second of the Ripley thrillers and was published in 1974.

We have the anti-hero Tom Ripley coercing a stranger into committing "two simple murders". Unfortunately things are not quite as simple as first thought.

The premise here is preposterous but as The Times says on the blurb "..insanely readable"

There are several murders, the Italian mafia and some upset wives along the way.

Highly recommended if you like your " heroes" completely amoral.

Highsmith herself was a diagnosed psychopath, the real deal, and she writes very disturbing novels but they are very exciting and are "page turners".

In real life the authors personality made Ripley look like a candidate for 'the crimson", she was a truly awful human being.