Sunday, December 29, 2013

MISSION TO PARIS - Alan Furst




Pre-Second World War espionage at its best. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Its important that the facts of Nazism never be forgotten - there can be no revisionism by historians either.  These historical fiction novels are important from this view alone plus this is a great read

Highly recommended.


Friday, December 27, 2013

SPIES OF WARSAW - Alan Furst



What an absolute gem this was. There are French spies, Russian spies, German spies and Polish spies all working in Warsaw in 1937.

Colonel Mercier , a French Military Attache is tasked with intelligence gathering in the city and through the diplomatic circle that his work takes him through.

There are no James Bond manoeuvres just solid plodding and this makes for very intense reading as failure is fatal. Reviews I've read state that the book is historically accurate as well which is always a bonus.

Highly recommended if you like your espionage stories real.  I won't watch the TV series as the book was so good it would not be able to compete, even with David Tennant.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

ONE SUMMER, AMERICA, 1927 - Bill Bryson



Cross the Atlantic with Charles Lindbergh, a record breaking season with Babe Ruth, massive flooding of the Mississippi River, Al Capone,mass murder of school children and much much more.

Bryson segues from one topic to another in his usual easy to read informative style.

1927 was a big year for America , lots of good and bad things happened.

Buy this and read it and then  you will read it again as there is far too much information in it to be absorbed in one sitting.

Its not as good as a "Short History of Everything" but that's unfair comparison anyway considering how good that was, but this is close.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

HEART OF DARKNESS - Joseph Conrad



This is a really well written story descriptively as well as in  the way it is told.  For me its not a stunningly brilliant book that will stay with me forever but worth the effort.

What it did do for me was highlight what a stunning screenplay "Apocalypse Now" is. I'm not one for comparing books with films but how the three credited with the screenplay managed to interweave this book into their movie is brilliant.

I assume Michael Herr did most of the serious writing.  There is lots of his book "Dispatches" in the movie as well.  But little subtle bits are lifted out of this work. The throwing of the helms mans body into the river with no thought translates to the execution of the Vietnamese woman in the sampan.  The Russian to Dennis Hopper.

A good book, its written of its time and I doubt you will find better writing when describing a jungle anywhere.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH - Jules Verne



This is still a delight to read after 40 years.  It is a remarkable adventure story without any of the silly Hollywood scenes, just three men on a really long walk.

Suspend your belief and read away its great fun.

GIRLVERT - Oriana Small



Sub titled a "Porno Memoir" its actually about a woman so badly damaged that she got into porn to have some self esteem. And it wasn't high end porn either it was bottom of the draw violent gonzo where the female performer is totally degraded.

A product of drug addicts she ended up with a major cocaine habit on which she blew all her income.  That, and being saddled with a boyfriend who was more pimp than friend she did eight years in this scene and ended up with nothing.

The book finishes with her marrying a guy in the porn scene, she's sobered up and is now a performance artist, which I believe is code for she still does porn  but its not as nasty and vile as what she was doing.

This is a very sad book, the fact that a teenager is so badly damaged prior to getting into this scene is an eye opener and I've been around.

Its also poorly edited and reads like its been dictated straight off a recorder. Not a nice read at all.  If you watch too much pornography read this, its an instant cure.






Saturday, November 30, 2013

THE FOLIO BOOK OF HUMOROUS ANECDOTES - Introduction by Edward Leeson



A wonderful selection covering actors and the theatre, age food, drink, sex , travel and most everything else.

My favourite.

"When he was eighty, the late Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was warned that consummating his marriage with his new young wife might prove fatal. "If she dies, she dies,' he replied.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN - G K Chesterton



The first collection of Father Brown mysteries.  Chesterton is extraordinary, blending  his humour, religion and philosophy into all his tales.

I find them easier reading than 'Sherlock Holmes' solely because of the humour.  On Kindle this edition is a public domain title an as such is available free of charge. A delightful read.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

RED SQUARE - Martin Cruz Smith




Very slow to start, boring actually, but it picks up and becomes a very good thriller.  Set in 1991 when the Soviet Union was imploding the murder of a black marketeer gets Investigator Renko involved.

The usual corruption that seemed to be part of everyday Soviet life is evident, the Russian mafia's all here and a love interest, worth reading if prefer the " thinking man" type hero.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

SOLO - William Boyd



This addition to the Bond series sees it taken back to 1969. Bond is sent to a west African country to assassinate a rebel leader. After some mis-adventures there the action moves to Washington DC where plot is unravelled.

This is not a bad story, better than Sebastian Faulks effort but I did enjoy Jefferey Deavers book which I would put on a par with this.

The positive for me is that Boyd has made the effort to write in the style of Ian Fleming, we have a Bond who is not a superman just good at his job. The plot itself is reasonable, a bit anti-American in my opinion or very cynical at least if taken against the back drop of recent world events.

The two main negatives for me are his first love interest. I won't mention why because others are to read the book but once its read I think it will be apparent. The second is Bond's use of one of the modern rap singers favourite words. This particular word is one of my favourites as well but I really don't see the need for Bond to be using it now after 50 plus years of not needing to.

All in all a good adventure, not great but some good escapisim and thats why I have read these books for forty years.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

THE VIADUCT MURDER - Ronald Knox

A very funny mystery written  several decades ago.

Knox was a very very clever man, his use of the english language is astonishing.  This book is worth reading for the vocabulary education on its own.

The Viaduct Murder is the first of Knox's detective novels, and the only one that does not include Miles Bredon. It tells the story of how four old golfing friends discover the body of another member of the golf club that has fallen, or been pushed, from a railway viaduct. They feel they have to set about investigating what really happened because, as one of them explains, "I've got the greatest respect for the police as a body, but I don't think they're very good at following up clues

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS - Agatha Christie



An oldy but a not baddy.  Yes she cheats her readers all the time by withholding information but they are a nice way to relax for a few hours.

Not her best but worth the effort.

SOLOMONS VINEYARD - Jonathan Latimer



This was written in the 1940's but was only published in its entirety in 1982.
It's great hard boiled murder mystery with a nasty reason for the homicides.

Not quite Hammet but mighty close. 

STRANGE LOYALTIES - William McIlvanney



This is the third of the Laidlaw's and I was disappointed, it is not a 'cop' story, more a 'family' story.

Its still very well written but it was a major deviation from the first two and that annoyed me personally.

But I read recently that the series has been resurrected after thirty years and a new Laidlaw is on its way, so I'm hoping he goes back to the beginning.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - Ian Fleming



In my opinion the second best Bond after Goldfinger.

The movie actually follows this book chapter by chapter.  Great escapisim, never boring.

Monday, July 15, 2013

THE PAPERS OF TONY VEITCH - William McIlvanney



The second of the "Laidlaw" books with "Laidlaw" taking interest in the death of a vagabond who passed on a message to him just before his death.

This escalates into a series of murders involving all levels of Glasgow citizenry from the backrooms of bars where the "hard men" meet to the businessmen who run the city.

The star of this story is Glasgow itself. The humour, the random violence and the climate make this a really great read. The book has been around since 1977 and there were only three of them written with Laidlaw as the cop who probably shouldn't be one, he just cares too much.

Great story, wonderfully written, don't get put off by the Scots vernacular its beautiful and where much of the humour comes from.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LIGHT OF THE WORLD - James Lee Burke



This is stunning. When I read "Creole Belle" last year I thought Dave and Cletus had ran their race and it was time for them to be retired but back comes Mr Burke with his, in my opinion, best since "In the Electric Mist...".

In this new thriller all the main characters, Dave, Clete,Molly, Alafair and Clete's daughter Gretchen are living in Montana. Due to circumstances they lock horns with an escaped serial killer, the usual wealthy bad guy and two other extremely interesting additions, an insane rodeo cowboy and his equally strange girlfriend. This all sounds silly the way its laid out by me but it is fantastic.

I haven't deprived myself of sleep to finish a book in a long time but I did with this. One of the most enjoyable things is that we don't get too much of Dave's philosophy on life,the universe and everything and the other characters share almost equal billing.

Its got it all - violence,humour,a really evil villain and the final scenes on the lake front are edge of the seat stuff.

Brilliant stuff and long may it continue.

PETRELLA AT "Q" - Michael Gilbert






















I was spoiled by reading Gilbert's " Behrens and Calder" tales before I read this collection of short stories.

These are good, very well written but not as exciting as some of his other writing. The main character in these procedural's is interesting but in my opinion better suited to a full length novel. A couple of these stories have a 'dashed off' feel about them. This is probably too harsh as 90% of short story writers would be envious in regards writing this well.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

FEAR TO TREAD - Michael Gilbert




This is a good solid mystery concerning the activities of black marketeers in early 1950's London.

A Mr Wetherall,a head master at a unfashionable inner city school becomes involved in the murder of one of his pupils father and from there his obstinacy will not allow him to drop the matter. There are some very nice nasty characters that he meets along the way and the first is not the last violent death.

This is a nice old fashioned story and proves again you don't need graphic violence to fill out a good solid plot.

The only negative I could mention is I have no idea how this qualifies as part of the Inspector Hazelrigg series as he appears in the book for about three lines.

More John Buchan than James Lee Burke but very enjoyable.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

FRANK SINATRA HAS A COLD AND OTHER ESSAYS - Gay Talese




Gay Talese or Tom Wolfe- Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese. I find it very hard to seperate these two as the greatest 'documentary' writers that I have read.

This is a collection of articles written over many years by the author. All the stories are relevant and have not aged.

My favourite is Ali in Cuba just because I'm a fan of the boxer, but you can dip into any of these writings and be amazed. Wonderful writing.

BLACKOUT - John Lawton




This is the first of John Lawtons 'Inspector Troy' stories.  I have read the series backwards so unforunately I knew what happened to several of the characters in this story but it is a good stand alone mystery and is stronger than several of the later novels.

A dismembered body is found on a bomb site in 1944 London.  Troy traces this to several other killings involving communists living in the city.

The security services and the US Army all become involved as do several women who all play a part in Troys' life in later episodes.   A good story and a good character.

A COMMONPLACE KILLING - Sian Busby





This is a great title for this book and it sums it up perfectly.

A rather 'silly' women is murdered. The murderer is a common crook. What makes this so enjoyable is the writing. Ms Busby has done a marvellous job with her characters. Her scene setting is brilliant especially as this is set shortly after the end of the Second World War.

The characters are all pathetic in their little worlds but they suit the novels tone perfectly.

A common killing involving common people but the writing is anything but common.

Unfortunately Ms Busby died prior to her completing this novel and the last two chapters were completed from her notes.

This doesn't detract from the book at all, it just means there will be no more offerings from her which is a great shame.

SEMPER COOL - Barry Fixler





Barry Fixler was a Marine in Vietnam.  He fought, he had friends maimed and killed but he survived and got on with his life.

He writes this memoir of the war as a positive experince, something he has recieved criticim for, but for this individual it was something he did, was proud to do and would do it again.

He writes well of the combat situation and of life in the camps.  He was at of Khe Sanh and that was hellish, but again he writes of it as one of lifes experiences, he was fortunate to survive and he just caarried on.

Mr Fixler is one of lifes optimists and writes a good little book, which he has done for charity. Recommended.

A MAN WITHOUT BREATH - Phillip Kerr




This is number nine in the 'Bernie Gunther' series.

Bernie is sent to Russia to uncover a massacre that has been committed by the Russians. Goebbels wants him to prove this for propaganda purposes. Along the way he gets involved with a murderer. The two stories run in tandem throughout the novel.

This is one of the best of the series and it kept me guessing to the last few pages.

High quality crime writing in an fact filled historical setting. Money well spent.