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.