Monday, December 31, 2012


Sunday, November 18, 2012

PREDICAMENT - Ronald Hugh Morrieson

Young  15 year old Cedric lives in a small New Zealand town with his grandmother and mad father.  During the holidays he meets up with 19 year old Mervyn who is very sophisticated in the ways of the world and criminal activity.

Before long Cedric realises that Mervyn is no good but because he is already involved in a blackmail scheme with him he has to appear to go along.

We have a wonderful story ,great story telling, with murder and lots of humanity.

I've read three of Morriesons novels and they are all fantastic.  This is the best of them in that technically he has got so much better than the earlier efforts.

The story is written in a strong New Zealand vernacular and is set in the 1930's but no one from anywhere should be put off by this, it is great writing.

It is a crime that he has not ever been taught in New Zealand schools, he's been dead for 40 years and has received no recognition as one of the best New Zealand ever produced.


The cover blurb from Elmore Leonard states this is the best crime novel ever written.   Elmore is absolutely correct.

Eddie Coyle is a small time hood who is supplying firearms to other criminals but as he is in trouble for trucking illegal liquor he has to do a deal with the authorities and then things get out of control.

The story shows exactly what criminals are really like, no glamour just lying, thieving pieces of humanity who will do anything to save their own skins.

The dialogue is out standing , this is the best crime novel I've ever read.  Brilliant

SIDESWIPE - Charles Willeford

Hoke Moseley is a stressed out detective who leaves his job to run a hotel for his father in Florida.

At the same time a retiree called Stanley Sinkiewicz,   teams up with a class one sociopath Troy Louden who organise's a bank robbery.  Eventually they all meet up.

This is great, its funny with brilliant characters , big violence and Stanley is the nicest man ever to get tied up with a mass murderer.

This is the first of this series I've found, sadly Willeford died in 1988, so there'll be no more but great fun.  If you like Carl Hiassen you'll go looking for this.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES - Edited by Chris Williams

I like diaries to be full of gossip,observation of their time, honesty and most importantly a good dose of humour.

These diaries of Burton's fail to meet my criteria in that 95% of  the are solely about himself and his twice wife Elizabeth Taylor.

The entries are  sporadic in that often months and sometime several years pass between entries.

When the entries are prolific it is when he and Taylor are reasonably happy together, giving detailed miniature regarding meals taken, books read and dinner guests.

When these diaries should have been unputdownable - when his marriages were in trouble- there are no entries.

From what is written I got the impression that Burton was actually a loner who was most happy reading on his own or with Taylor.  He was seriously wealthy but had to keep working as he ran several households for family members and adopted children.

His alcoholism dominated his life -  it was a constant battle to control and the diary is full of contriteness when he has played up or many more entries counting off a couple of weeks without getting drunk, which he inevitably does and then another cycle starts of guilt and then ......

It didn't help his drinking that Taylor was just about as bad as he was, so heavy drinking was around him all the time.

The lack of honesty comes through regards his drinking and it is apparent in other entries, especially when it is known he was a serial philanderer, but there is no mention of other women.  Of course this may have a bit to do with the fact that Taylor had access to the diary and even made entries herself, so its not really a diary rather a journal.

There is very little in the way of gossip, a few mentions of actor friends getting drunk but nothing startling, they are generally very gentlemanly and well mannered, even when he criticises co- stars he is fairly nice.

A few of the entries offer laughs but they are few and far between over 660 odd pages.

As diaries these are 'small beer' when I was expecting strong spirits from a man who lead a life many on the outside envied. (2012)


Another very ordinary 'Poirot'.  The Belgian sleuth is  travelling in the middle east with a group which includes a horrible American matriarch. 

This horrible bit of goods gets the chop and because she's such a nasty piece of work she deserved it.

Its very hard to get involved in the story when there is absolutely no sympathy for the victim.

Anyway Poirot sets out to solve the murder and he does but with one of the real cheat endings of Christie's career .  The reader should at least have an outside chance of solving the murder but this one gives you no hope.   Not great. (1938)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

THE CLOCKS - Agatha Christie

A very ordinary 'Poirot".

It was one of the last and the Belgium only features in about 30 pages in the entire story which revolves around a body found in a blind women's house in suburban England - not even an exotic location for this one.

Even for Christie it was a stretch to tie it up at the end. There are much better ones about than this effort.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SOLAR - Ian McEwan

Michael Beard is a Nobel Prize winning physicist whose best years are well behind him as are five marriages. He's short over weight and somehow human catnip to females.

He's a totally unlikeable individual who does nothing unless he is the first beneficiary of his efforts.

When he cottons on to work done by a younger staff member and makes it his own he appears to be once again to be a leading force but..............

The highlight  for me of this novel  was the following paragraph -

“There was an Old Testament ring to the fore warnings, an air of plague-of-boils and deluge-of-frogs, that suggested a deep and constant inclination,enacted over the centuries, to believe that one was always living in the end of days, that ones own demise was urgently bound up in the end of the world, and therefore made more sense, or was just a little less relevant. The end of the world was never pitched in the present, where it could be seen for the fantasy it was, but just around the corner, and when it did not happen, a new issue, a new date would soon emerge.”

This sums up the the climate change brigade nicely and while Beard is not totally skeptical he is more inclined to think of climate change believers in the above terms than not.

The novel starts strongly and is very funny - even though it does peter out to a  foreseeable conclusion it is worth the effort to read it - I enjoy seeing the selfish reap their just deserts and for an Ian McEwan novel it is almost uplifting meaning I wasn't so depressed at the end of it I thought of self harm. (2010)

Monday, October 15, 2012

FEARLESS JONES - Walter Mosely

...Paris Minton is minding his own business -  a small used bookstore of which he is the proud owner- when a beautiful walks in and asks a few questions.....

From this we get a very stupid story-  Paris gets beaten up, slept with, shot at, robbed and his store is burnt down and it goes on for over 300 pages.

Mosely has gone away from his 'Easy Rawlins' series and started this - incidentally the person named in the title is Paris's best friend and apart from being able to take a punch he is a complete dolt - after finishing the book I could still see no point in having 'Fearless" in it.

Mosely is normally good, with a finger on the era he writes best about - the L.A of the 1950's from the point of his black hero's - but he missed the mark here really badly.(2001)

Monday, October 8, 2012

ALICE IN LA LA LAND - Robert Campbell

The rich beautiful  wife of a television personality searches out our hero 'Whistler'- a private eye- because she believes her husband his trying to have her killed.

Once you get past the obvious question, why would this rich beautiful woman search out a PI who is not very successful and spends his days in a Hollywood coffee shop you get a story that's not bad, although it could have been trimmed by 50 pages with a bit of ruthless editing which would have made no  difference to the story.

You get  murder, sex and a twist at the end that you can see coming but you need to finish the story just to make certain you're right.

A story of a very seedy Los Angeles where the rich are good at using the less financially endowed and are used to getting away with 'murder'.  (1987)


This is just one of J J Marric's ( John Creasey) 600 novels, yep 600 he wrote during his life time.  Its a day in the life of Superintendent Gideon of the Metropolitan Police.

It covers several seemingly unrelated events, and some of them are unrelated, in this day which includes child murder, armed robbery and general violence.

Its a police procedural in the truest sense, no great heroics just solid police work and of course the luck needed to solve the crimes.

Its a nice read showing all concerned as human.  Its of its time ( mid 50's) but still readable.

I read lots of Creasey as a teenager ( The Toff, especially) and he's still worth the effort when you come across anything he wrote at book-fairs or second hand stores who have the sense to buy his stuff.

Monday, October 1, 2012


This quite uplifting for Orwell.  The book is series of  tales of a time he was a dishwasher in Paris restaurants and  a tramp in London.

I am presuming he endured this as some sort of social experiment rather than of necessity, which appears proven as he always has someone to give him the cash to survive or travel.

We are introduced to the filth and appalling conditions endured by many, some through choice, some through life just being harsh.

How the book was uplifting for me was that many having no other choice just got on with it and did quite amazing things to survive.  What was really apparent is that just because there was poverty there was no automatic drift into crime - which seems to contradict much of what today's social engineers would have us believe. 

A interesting read from the early 20th century.  (1933)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

AFTERNOON MEN - Anthony Powell

A novel involving the 'lost generation' - that group of young people between the wars who seemed to spend their time, drinking partying and proposing to any female who would listen.

The synopsis  to this edition has this absurdity to say  " Nobody, not even Evelyn Waugh has done the British "lost generation" better than Anthony Powell......."

Well, I have to disagree, this is a poor mans "Vile Bodies"  at this stage of his writing career Powell was not even close to Waugh and as this was published a year after 'Vile Bodies" the conclusion is that Powell pretty much copied Waugh's scenario.  This story has some very funny moments, the chapter at Pringle's country house is very clever, but overall not as consistent as the mighty Waugh at this age.

Worth reading, its light and short but if you read Powell go in boots and all to his twelve volume masterpiece " Dance to the Music of Time" then you will be reading a novelist that is the equal of Waugh.   (1931)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

THE SCARECROW - Ronald Hugh Morrieson

How can you not love a book that contains these couple of paragraphs:

"According to my father the police have found out that this guy conks them first and then roots them and that makes him the saddest guy and a necro something"

" Well, Les, you certainly surprise me. I'm not quite sure I quite understand this conks and then roots them business."

"Well neither am I, Neddy,' Les confessed. ' But you can take it from me that's the general idea.  It's what my father said to my mother and he wouldn't be kidding her"

This is the world of 14 year old Neddy Poindexter and and his mate Les in small town New Zealand in the mid 20th century.

This small town is visited by rape and murder and along the way we glimpse the idiosyncrasies of the people living in this town.

Morrieson has got the time ,place and country down pat and this coupled with a good Gothic horror storyline makes for a great novel.  In my opinion  this story leaves Stephen King's 'The Body"  or Stand by Me ,the movie version, for dead, bad pun intended.

Again. I have to wonder why Morrieson is not better known especially in New Zealand, its something that worried him prior to his death in 1972 and I'm wondering still.  He's just very good and his books should still be in print. (1963)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WOE TO LIVE ON - Daniel Woodrell

Set during the American war this novel is brutal. It follows a band of southern irregulars who justify their torture, barbarisim and constant murders as the acts of freedom fighters.

The northern Federals are just the same, they just wear different colours.

There is no glamour in this western, it shows how hard life was for the farmers and these men alike.

The story itself is nothing marvellous, the narrator is a young murderer who eventually sees some sort of light after several incidents and steps back from the way he has been living.

Whats great about  the book is Woodrells prose, I'm still raving to people about 'Winters Bone" and although this is no where near as good , the writing is quality and just great to experience.  (1987)

CREOLE BELLE - James Lee Burke

Another Dave and Clete story that started out absolutely riviting and then sadly lost it's way.

Much " meaning of life" thinking from our hero which gets a bit old for those who have followed the series.

The boys are out to solve a murder or two, kids are involved, nasty oilmen types as well and professional killers.  It really should have been much better and after finishing it I was still left with a big "why' regards several of the killings.

I hate to say it but the "Robicheaux" series has run its race, a pity because its been fantastic, I've been there all the way but this latest effort was just confusing, too many story lines and not enough resolution.   (2012)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MR STANDFAST - John Buchan

The third Richard Hannay adventure.

This time Hannay and his usual friends are battling a German super spy who could destroy the allies chances of winning the Great War.

Unlike the first two featuring Hannay , this is much more political than  "The 39 Steps" and "Greenmantle".

The author is not fond of trade unions and Communism and all that goes with them. This does lead to a  couple of rather slow patches in the book  where Buchan wanders off with a bit of philosophizing but all in all a good adventure and the best of the three.  (1919)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

TIME FOR A TIGER - Anthony Burgess

This the first novel by Burgess written after he had been a school teacher in Malaya and he thought he was soon to be dead  of a brain tumour - he was writing to leave some money for his wife.

It has a wide selection of characters, English school teachers, alcoholic policemen, muslim policemen and Indians.  The novel is about how complex a country Malaya was after WWII when the communists were beginning their infiltration.  This is best exemplified in the novel where there is a notice in bar written in four different languages asking patrons not to spit on the floor.

It has humour, usually due to the exaggerated arrogance of the British and equally sad due to the fact that these 'tin pot 'generals are all rather pathetic.

I enjoyed it much more than Orwells's "Burmese Days" similar themes ,but George can be very intense at times.

If you were reading this as an editor in 1956 you would say that young Burgess has a future as a novelist. (1956)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

WINTER'S BONE - Daniel Woodrell

A couple of times a year, if I'm really lucky I find a book that's extraordinary and 'Winter's Bone' is one, its an amazing book.

Set in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, 16 year old Ree Dolly goes looking for her father.  She lives in a area where everyone knows how to shoot  and 'most families are cooking up crank on the back porch'.

She finds out that asking questions is dangerous for your health.

The writing draws you in and makes it un-put downable.

It's a short read ,193 pages, its dark  and  tells a tale of people who have no time for authority and where a slight can go unforgiven for generations.

It has been made in to a movie and I am dreading how a screenplay will butcher this wonderful writing. (2006)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

VANILLA RIDE - Joe R. Lansdale

What's truly remarkable here is that Lansdale has been able write a comic without any pictures and that comment is a compliment.

Hap and Leonard are friends, Hap is white and heterosexual, Leonard is black and homosexual.

There is no back story, I presume something must have been explained about them in early episodes but here there is nothing except they kill boat loads of people every time they step out side their respective dwellings.

Hap and Leonard go and rescue a friends granddaughter from some penny drug dealers- at which they succeed at with much slaughter.  The only trouble is these guys worked for the 'Dixie mafia' and they then keep sending car loads of goons to enact revenge.  This results in an absolutely massive body count, invasions of countries have been completed with less death.

Finally the ultimate ' pro hitter' is sent- Vanilla Ride.

As stated, a comic book, great fun, lots of laughs perhaps too many - the good 'ole boy wise cracking does get a wee bit tiresome as it is constant but that's being really picky, an awesome wet day relaxing read.


Detective Miller is called into investigate a series of murders where the victims suffer a sever beating and are then killed.

As the investigation progresses he and his team discover that none of the victims exist.  He then sets out to find the common link.

The story becomes very political, very political actually, but there is enough action to keep the pages turning, all 500 of them.

Lots of killing, lots of intrigue, a tad far fetched in that the police aren't really as stupid as they are made to appear here but if they were any sharper we would have no story.

A good read, not brilliant but enjoyable with a good twist in the tail.


DEAD LIKE YOU - Peter James

Two series of violent rapes separated by a decade are too co-incidental for Superintendent Grace to ignore, this coupled with a young woman who he believes has been murdered by the rapist set the scene for this murder mystery that's not too bad, but it needs editing, it's way to long.

It's a bit graphic regarding the raping of the victims, I must be getting old but too much detail adds bugger all to the plot.

James can write and his plot is  about 80%, maybe we could have done without a couple of the red herrings as its fairly evident whose the killer is about half way though but like I say the writings good so I wanted to get to the end where there is a surprise so the story doesn't just fade away.

But again too long, the plot can't justify 600 pages.

This series is one I've just found and  I'll read more of them.

THE RISING - Brian McGilloway

The latest Inspector Devlin, ho hum, a local drug dealer is found burnt to death in a barn and it appears the work of local vigilantes.

The teenage son of his ex-partner goes missing at the same time and then more bodies start turning up, all related to drug dealing.

This is very ordinary, Devlin isn't as doltish as he's been in earlier books but I still think he's run his race and perhaps should be retired. 

The whole thing doesnt work, just too predictable and dull.


Another nice wee tale of murder and humour set in the Scottish Highlands

Constable Hamish McBeth  is all set to go to the alter when bodies start turning up, the main one being a rather nasty old lady who has moved into a local mansion.

By putting in his usual degree of hard work so he can maintain his lazy life style McBeth sets out to solve the mystery.

Packed with the usual laughs , another enjoyable read from Beaton.

Its not high literature but really enjoyable.

Monday, June 18, 2012

CAPONE - John Kobler

This is a dossier on Chicago gangsters from the late 1920's until Capone's death.

It is full of fascinating information, the most amazing being the wealth that Capone accumulated through being the gangster's gangster.  It was costing him 30 million a year just to buy off the police and judiciary , but it was money well spent as he was never touched.

Another interesting point was he was never  in the Mafia, he was just a  force of nature all on his own.  He worked with the mafia but they came to him as he was the power in Chicago.

The book has details obtained from the 'horses mouth' as it were, the book was published in 1971 so the author had the opportunity to speak with many who were in the rackets at the time the book is set.

Two things were re-iterated to me at the end of the book - prohibition was the most outrageously stupid piece of legislation passed any where at anytime by any legislature, no argument, and men will do anything for money, you can have all the standards and laws in the world but when money is on offer men will grab it with both hands.

The best book I've read on organised crime . (1971)

GOING TO THE DOGS - Dan Kavanagh

Another subtle little gem from Kavanagh ( Julian Barnes).

Self employed private eye Duffy gets a job at a country manor working for a friend who has a colourful past. It starts out with his just having to check the alarm system but shenanigans ensue and it gets more serious.

Its a tale of drugs and deceit told with lots of humour and  nothing overly violent.

A nice little country manor mystery peopled by lots of very strange hanger on's. Good fun.  (1987)

Sunday, June 17, 2012


The premise of this is that Britain has declined culturally and morally etc with the decline in standard of the Bond books from the beginning the series until its end.

The idea is pretty thin, but then many of these cultural history's tend to be, i.e having a basic idea and then the author is off on his hobby horse and mentions his premise every couple of chapters to justify it.

This is awful, truly awful, 291 pages of  left wing carping by the author .  Even for lefty writing this is dreadful.


" The Royal Marines monument in the Mall in London stands in for many others in its casual savagery, with its bronze relief of the 1900 attack on Tientsin, showing a seemingly helpless Chinese being run through with a bayonet while most of his colleagues flee in a cowardly way. Clearly there is something immensely violent and callous about the British Government..........."

Utter rubbish, no bibliography, nothing, just undergraduate ,chip on the shoulder, dross.

This is awful, on Amazon I'll give it one star ,only because that's as low as you can go.

And as for Bond, he rarely gets a mention, just thrown in to justify the title. 

This is that bad that the Russians would have had second thoughts about it being read at the height of the Cold War - it is the sort of anti -west propaganda they loved but they would have had second thoughts about exposing young minds to this. (Published 2006)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


After a 10 year wait the fourth volume of this fantastic biography of  Lyndon Johnson has been published and it was well worth waiting for.

This volume picks up with the run up to the 1960 Democratic Party campaign for the Presidential nomination.

It ended up being between Johnson and Kennedy.  Early in the campaign Lyndon Johnson only had to go out into the provinces and meet the people and he would have bolted in as the nominee and then gone straight into the White House, but he didn't and his hesitation doomed him to be Vice President under Kennedy.

The early part of the book is all about the Kennedys, especially Robert, who comes across to me as a nasty, nasty man - others could say that he was just protecting his brother whom he adored, but as I am not a Kennedy fan, I'll stick with nasty.

Johnson and Bobby Kennedy hated each other, a real hatred, not just dislike.  It all went back to Joe Kennedy who Bobby believes was slighted by Johnson.  Bobby Kennedy took the opportunity to slight and embarass Johnson at every turn when he had the opportunity, which was often,as the Vice Presidential job is evidentally one of the great non-jobs in the world.

What was fasinating is that Johnson just took it, he didn't like it but he took it, almost to the sycophant level but he just did his work such as it was.

All this changed on 22 November 1963 in Dallas and Johnson achieved his lifes ambition and basically swore himself in as President of the United States.

It is from here that we see Johnson as the consumate politician, in the space of several months he managed to get legislation passed that Kennedy would never have got through.  There were tax cuts and civil rights legislation that only Johnson could have got going.  His mastery of using power is totally evident here cajolling, stroking and threatening to get his will done.

There are times in the book when I was glad Johnson was not President early in the 1960's, I believe he would not have handled the Cuban crisis at all well and an escalation of violence may well have ensued.

There is 605 pages of brilliant biography here and there promises to be at least one more volume covering Johnson's own 1964 election as President and his retirement.

I wish Robert Caro good health,  he is now 76 years of age and he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

There are a good selection of photographs spread through this volume, the one absolute stunner is of Jackie Kennedy walking down the steps of the Capitol with her children after the eulogies for JFK, a remarkable photograph.  (2012)


This is the first of this author that I found and bought it on the blurb on the back of the book. 
It promised a tale of a New York Detective trying to live up to the myth of his dead father, another detective who with a band of colleagues had cleaned up organised crime in New York.

What I got was the cliche alcoholic cop who, although very good at his job, is trying to be better than his father, whom he believes had feet of clay.

The book abounds with cliche's-  Parrish's girlfriend is the hooker with the heart of gold, the NYPD is picking on  our Frank  and of course there is the long suffering partner. And rather a silly part of the book where he has to see the department shrink daily and he spills the entire investigation to her in serial form and she becomes this cheer leader type.

But apart from this its pretty good.  Needs some serious editing though, comes in at about 100 too many pages, all of which would be the shrinks role.

Ellory can set a mood and writes of drinking dens very well but I found with the books back story the serial killer being hunted takes a back seat.

But I will buy his books again worth the investment.


A Don Winslow book where the hero is not a drug dealer or a hit man, Jack Wade is an arson investigator and very good at the job.

He gets sent to investigate the apparent death by smoke of a wealthy woman whose body is found  in the burnt out wing of her mansion.

Wade is an investigator of the old school , he follows his instincts and in doing so unearths a web of corruption that  reaches right through his community.

We have corrupt cops and Russian gangsters, everyone is beautiful and California cool, a complete page turner. Its all excellent stuff. 

As well as a good murder mystery the book is a hand book on the investigation of an arson.  Winslow was an investigator in a prior  incarnation and he knows his stuff.

An excellent read (1999)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

THE OVERLOOK - Michael Connelly

This a 'Harry Bosch' novel, generally a guarantee that it will be value for money.

I picked it up and at first thought I'd got a large print edition as there seemed to be about 12 words to the page.  I read it and as I was doing so it seemed really lightweight because generally Connelly writes something that's not too throw away.  The further I got into it the more it felt like it was a short story that had been padded out.

So, when I finished it there was no surprise to see at the back of my edition that it was originally a story that had been serialized for the New York Times Sunday Magazine and had been "re-visited" (padded out no less ) by the author and put out as a book.

Tacky and very disappointing -  as for the story well, there's a murder and radioactive material is stolen and it turns out the the entire FBI has no idea, the entire Los Angeles Police Department has no idea -  Harry being the only one to figure it out.

Connelly does this every now and again , writes some utter tripe and then redeems himself ,but this is poor, really poor.  (2007)


Cacciato is a member of a U S Army platoon in Vietnam and he goes AWOL.

His platoon take off after him and once this starts the reader is taken on a mystical walk where the platoon walks to Paris to get him back. 

So, the book is divided into two parts, there is vignettes of real combat scene's that the platoon is involved in and then there is the ' magic' scenes where they walk through countries  and experience lots of things that are metaphors for whats happening in the world.

The writing is brilliant, but I still don't ' get  it' anymore this time than when I read it 30 years ago.

To me its very dated and is a real 'child of its time' written in the late 70's, when everyone was still clinging to the 60's.

As a war novel its a bust ,as a novel  to me it's the type of novel that would go down well with the literary set for book awards, for that type of reader  its probably gold, but its not for me and even if I'm still around in 30 years I won't pick it up again.  (1978)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Don Cubbin is the president of a near million member labour union and there is a challenger for the position at the next election. With the job comes riches and admittance to the real power in Washington.

It opens up the corruption that is endemic when at this level of politics.

This is a world Thomas knew well as a labour organisor and Campaign Organiser for political candidates seeking office.

Once again the master gives us intrigue, sex, greed and some of the best descriptions of men hungering for power you will ever find.  Most of them are vile humans, totally selfish.

Even for Thomas this is brilliant, as always there are great characters with sparkling dialogue  plus, the unfaithful wife, the hitman and the Washington power brokers pulling the strings.

As always  Thomas can't be recommended highly enough, but again for some reason this is out of print, astonishing with writing of this quality.