Sunday, January 30, 2011


Volume three has our narrator out into the real world where he and his circle have to confront all of life's realities even with their wealth and social advantages.

This volume is very funny with much of the story centered on the London art world.

We see a more casual side to the socialising in this volume. That is to be expected I suppose as we are now into the late 1920's early 1930's with the " slump" underway. Characters political beliefs are coming to the fore with the upper class love affair with Marxism becoming apparent with several of them.

The annual 'Le Bas' dinner is hilarious, not just the writing but the images invoked because of the manners of the time.

And Nick starts to get some sex, which has been a while coming - he hasn't made the most of his opportunities up until now.

Roll on volume four.


This is volume 2 of the 12 part novel. Most of the characters introduced in Volume 1 make another appearance.

The scenarios here have Jenkins, attending a ball, a party and a dinner party. In fact the majority of the story takes place over one evening.

We see Nicholas starting to grow up and become involved in many more adult situations. There is an abortion procured by one of his associates and homosexuality causing problems for another. These problems are not written about overtly but that is just the way Powell has written this, and there is no need to be totally explicit anyway.

Once again there is this marvellous scene setting which draws you into this world of wealth and privilage.

I have come to the conclusion already that this is very much a soap opera but on a scale never attempted before. The whole thing is just fascinating, it flows so smoothly that you don't even realise that characters are being developed all the time, except for Jenkins our narrator who is just a conduit for information.

Again a wonderful experience.

SCORPIOUS - John Gardner

Another 007 adventure penned by John Gardner and unfortunately not one of the best.

Bond's telephone number is found on the body of a drowned female and this leads to his involvement in a religious sect wanting to destroy society. Typical Bond scenario but lacking the usual style.

Plot wise its threadbare with so much non- Bond like behaviour I wondered whether Gardner had sub-contracted this story out.

All the usual characters are here but they are all on their last legs and I believe there was only another 2 or 3 of these before they were retired.

Several of his earlier Bond's weren't too bad but even a fan like me struggled with this, it was pretty much rubbish.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MOTHER NIGHT - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Simply brilliant.

Howard W. Campbell writes this story from an Israeli prison where he is about to be tried for war crimes,- being a collaborator broadcasting propaganda from Berlin during the Second World War. From the beginning Campbell admits that he is guilty of what he is being charged with.

The book is full of Vonnegut humour and killer satire and it has a moral:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

This is more accessible than Slaughterhouse 5 I feel and I would suggest that if you haven't read "5" yet, you read this and then move on to "5".

What this book really made me do was wonder,would Vonnegut have been able to write these wonderful books if he hadn't been through the physical and mental hell that he endured in Dresden.


This memoir started in a very interesting fashion with details of Boormans early life with his parents,his start with the BBC and the early private TV channels in the UK.

The BBC model may have been very staid and run like any government department but it did give people time to develope thier talents. He made documentary series and found success with these.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a film diary , where he details all the problems associated with making his various films. Sadly all we get is the problems, Boorman admits to a depressive personality, so we never see any elation or even any real satisfaction in what he creates.

He details a friendship that developes with Lee Marvin which lasts until his death, but once again we only have Marvin as the alcoholic. The same with James Dickey, the author of Deliverance , we have a list of his problems and his behaviour while drunk.

What started out as quite an enlightening read became bloody depressing as it stumbled from one " oh my " moment to the next.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

THE ACTUAL - Saul Bellow

This is a 103 page novella concerning Harry Trellman and his first lost love Amy Wustrin, whom he has - "loved dumbly from the sideline for forty years."

It tells the story of their lives on the day she is exhuming her ex-husband to re-bury him in a Chicago cemetery.

Its short, but full of wonderful little observations on life by Bellow. A lot is made of missed opportunities either through fate or our ability as humans to make wrong decisions.

It tells of the highs and lows in the lives of the two main charcters and those on the periphery, its a delightful read, and a decent length bath will see it taken care of.

FREAKY DEAKY - Elmore Leonard

Sergeant Chris Mankowski is having a bad week, work trouble, domestic trouble and then two mad hippy sixties carry overs come to his town and start blowing people up with dynamite.

Its all about an extortion case they goes from poorly planned to a disastrous result.

Elmore is on form here, lots of violence, fun characters and lots of twists and machinations along the way.

Read it and have fun


This is the first volume in Powell's mammoth work running to 12 volumes. These were published between 1951 and 1975.

This first volume starts with Jenkins at his public school and his his two friends Stringham and Templer. It runs for four chapters , the school, a holiday, visits to his friends homes and then Jenkins first year at Oxford.

Characters introduced here leave clues to how their lives may develop and intertwine with each other in later volumes.

It is a reflection of the boys life, a chronicle of their time set in the early 1920s
the attitudes, the behaviour and of Britain's place in the world.

Its great to read, it just flows along, very detailed but it is never boring, it just draws you in to a world that no longer exits and never did for the majority of people.

This was brilliant and I am excited about reading the following volumes.


From 1959 we have super lawyer Perry Mason on the case.

A night club singer enters Perry's office with a gun and the tale of how her employers were planning to steal from a client with a gambling scam.

Then bodies start and turn up.

Of course Perry bamboozles everyone with his genius in Court as he always does with the assistance of his assistant Della Street.

My only complaint is that Gardner cheats the reader in not giving him some crucial information which breaks what Chandler calls " the rules'. The lack of this information stops the reader from logically following the investigation.

But, as with all the Perry Mason stories , its a good time filler and not unenjoyable.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

RAYMOND CHANDLER SPEAKING - Edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorley Walker

Raymond Chandler was an inveterate letter writer, he wrote hundreds and hundreds of them.

This collection has been brought together in chapters writing on various subjects.

Chandler on Chandler, Chandler on the Mystery Novel, Chandler on Writing and several others. The book finishes with the first four chapters of the novel he was writing when he died in 1959 - The Poodle Springs Story.

He writes to publishers, fans and friends. He can be very cantankerous when describing working in Hollywood and then very touching when writing following the death of his wife. His intelligence shines through these letters, I just wondered how much his alcoholism affected him mentally, it certainly affected him physically.

This collection was first published in 1962 and my copy is a hardback from 1973 which cost me the princely sum of $3 from the Quota Club book fair, God bless them.

If you like diaries and letter collections this is worth the effort.

SPYCATCHER - Peter Wright

Subtitled "The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer".

Peter Wright spent twenty years as a MI5 Intelligence Officer,from the mid 1950's until 1975. He started as MI5's first scientific officer, his background being in radio.

He spent years bugging embassies and offices across Britain and various other countries.

The first part of the book relates to these early adventures, great fun and we see the innovations that were made in electronic intelligence gathering. More Marconi than James Bond.

The latter part relates to is attempts to gather the evidence to have former MI5 boss, Roger Hollis unmasked as a spy.

Wright does become a wee fixated with this but the evidence was such that eventually Hollis was interviewed, although there was no admission and he continued into his retirement. Wright is correct when he states that with spies you either catch them with physical evidence or they admit it, there is nothing in between.

What is apparent in this memoir is just how appallingly slack vetting procedures were for intelligence operatives, just a joke. He was asked 7 questions including..ever been queer by any chance?..... It is no wonder, Philby,McLean etc were able to spy for years and cause huge loss of life. The Philby situation was particularly bad as it was apparent he was a spy but nothing was done.

This is a great read. The conclusion I've drawn over the attempts to stop it being published in 1987 was not because Wright was exposing operational matters but rather he was exposing the gross incompetence of the people running the intelligence departments.

Recommended for anyone interested in the Cold War or the spy genre. Reading this you realise how good and accurate Le Carre is with his fiction.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


After the success of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its sequels, you just knew some lazy agent would troll Scandinavia in an attempt to uncover the next Stieg Larsson.

Some lazy agent did and some lazy publisher has then punted on Jo Nesbo and his novel "The Snowman". Christ, this is dreadful, I am still giving myself uppercuts because I persevered and finished it.

The author is a musician, songwriter and an economist!!!!!!!!!!! and unfortunately he writes cliched crap crime novels. The cop is alcoholic with authority issues (aren't they all?), there is constant referall to songs and lyrics,(Rankin did it much better years ago). He has of course the estranged girlfriend who secretly wants him back and on and on and on and on.

The plot has holes the size of third world debt and to make things even worse it goes on for 550 ludicrous pages.

It is also translated and the translation just clunks - even though I admire anyone who is multi lingual the translator does this no favours at all, and it needs every bit of assistance that is out there.

I am aware Scandinavia is very socialist in its governance so the only conclusion I can draw is that authors are paid by the word, anyway, they obviously don't seem bother with little things like editors.

Save your money.


Imagine that during the cold war the Russians through sleeper agents, financing and buying influence managed to get a President of the United States elected and therefore bringing about the downfall of the West.

This is the basis of what is a really exciting spy novel. The plot sounds far fetched but its not unfeasible when read. Everthing is for sale, so why not the position of the most powerful man on earth.

Allbuery's hero's are much more physical than those of le Carre when solving problems but this is still intelligently put together.

The title has nothing to do with the story but rather the date U.S Presidents are sworn into office.

A great Christmas read or any time read actually.

AN APRIL SHROUD - Reginald Hill

This is an early installment in the Dalziel and Pascoe series from 1987 with the majority of the story featuring the "Fatman " only.

This is very much like a Agatha Christie novel with all the events taking place at a country house where our hero finds himself stranded during flooding. Very much a 'who dunnit' and great fun.

The standard of dialogue and humour is of the usual high standard with a high body count and Dalziel managing to get the girl ,for a while anyway.

BE COOL - Elmore Leonard

The sequel to "Get Shorty" written 10 years later. The defies what normally happens in that the sequel is better than the original.

This time Chili Palmer branches out into the music industry still living in Hollywood.

This story has a lot more of Leonard's trade mark humour and violence and the characters are a bit more developed than in the original.

A good read and its not necessary to read the first book , in fact its not recommended at all.

GET SHORTY - Elmore Leonard

Chili Palmer is a debt collector for the mob in Miami who travels via Las Vegas to Hollywood to recover an outstanding loan.

While there he converts into a movie producer, meeting various Hollywood types along the way and puts together a script.

This isn't one of Elmore's best, our hero is a bit too lucky and clever and there is not enough of the subtle violence that mark Leonard's best. Tends to be boring actually.

This book has been made into a movie, which is a movie about getting a movie made. Altogether too smart arsed.

Monday, January 3, 2011

ARABIAN SANDS - Wilfred Thesiger

Born in Addis Ababa in 1910 Thesinger had a life that was one big adventure.

In 1935 he joined the Sudan Political Service and began his African travels. He then served with the SAS in the Western Desert in WWII, being awarded the DSO. After the war he travelled extensively through Southern Arabia, the marshes of Iraq ( the subject of a book on its own) and numerous other African countries. These travels werer always on foot with animals rather than mechanical transportation.

This book relates to his five years living with the Beduon and entails his two trips across the "empty quarter " of Southern Arabia with some smaller trips included.

These travels were with small groups of Beduon and camels. Why anyone would want to walk across the most hostile hot desert on earth twice is any ones guess. There is the constant worry about water and food and at the time the very real threat of being attacked by hostile tribes.

There are numerous anecdotes regarding the desert life of the tribesmen which is a life of basic subsistence.

The thought of being that thirsty that you would drink camels vomit or camels urine to survive is not something that crosses your mind these days, but I suppose you'd do what you had to, I suppose maybe.............

A fascinating read first published in 1959. The only travel writing I have found more harrowing was Apsley Cheery-Garrard's " The Worst Journey in the World" and he had to walk through the Antarctic Snow to live, he didn't do it because he felt like it.