Thursday, December 31, 2015

THE BLIND ASSASSIN - Margaret Atwood

Firstly, this is a rare thing in that it is a Booker Prize winner that is readable,but as it is written by Margaret Atwood this is no surprise.  I still can't believe she didn't win for "The Hand Maid's Tale".

The story revolves around two sisters, Laura Chase, who as a result of the publication of a novel titled "The Blind Assassin" is quiet notorious and her sister the narrator Iris Chase.

Iris is now 82 and poor, despite marrying a prominent industrialist at aged 18. She reflects on her life and that of her sister.  This narration encompasses the present day and then in memoir form back to their childhood.

The novel "The Blind Assassin " -"sexually explicit for its time describes a risky affair between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run.  During their secret meetings in rented rooms the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron"

So there are three stories told here and they are riveting.

Atwood is fantastic, I loved this sentence-"Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens."
You read of things "smashed to smithereens" but rarely read of the smithereens themselves.

This is great.

DRACULA - Bram Stoker

After watching Dracula movies for 50 years I finally got to read the book.

The young lawyer Jonathan Harker goes to Dracula's castle to assist with expediting the Counts move to England.  It is here that strange behaviour is noted and from here the story unfolds.

The story is told by way of diaries,letters and newspaper articles.  The diaries and letters are written by Harker, his wife and others, notably Dr Seward and Van Helsing who are all main players in the story.

What surprised me is that its not Van Helsing who is the star of the story but rather Mina Harker.
She is a true hero and I am surprised that she does not feature more when female heroines are mentioned as is often the case these days.

This is a true horror story and I should have read it years ago.

FALCONER - John Cheever

Ezekiel Farragut, college professor, junkie and a killer is sent to Falconer Correctional Facility to serve his sentence.

Cheever tells us of the  "vice, misery and degradation of prison" and he writes beautifully.

At the beginning of the book while being transported to prison a fellow prisoner, deformed by boils and acne, laments that he has never had sex that wasn't paid for; it is heart breaking to read and Cheever is able to do that to the reader over and over through the book.

The ending of the book has been done, most notably by Dumas in 1844 but the writing is brilliant so this is a small quibble.

SCOOP - Evelyn Waugh

This is a many times read book and will be read many times more.

A country columnist, William Boot of the Beast, is mistakenly sent to the African nation of Ishmaelia and becomes the super star of British Journalism.

This is very very funny and is satire at its best while still being a damning indictment on newspaper journalism.

One can only guess how Waugh would view the state of the worlds media today.  At least in his time journalists left the office and went on assignment rather than re-writing press releases in the office.


It is 1944 and an 89 year old man living in retirement the English country side becomes involved in trying to recover a stolen  African grey parrot belonging to a nine year old boy.  The boy and the bird have escaped previously from Nazi Germany.  There was a murder committed when the bird was stolen.

This bird constantly repeats a code which has several agencies clamoring to get their hands on it.

The retired consulting detective rises to the challenge and becomes involved in the case and despite his advanced years his mental abilities have not diminished too badly.

This is novella in length, very clever with a very sad ending but worth reading.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

THE GOOD SOLDIER - Ford Madox Ford

No book for years has unsettled me as much as this has.

The story is narrated by John Dowall telling the story of two couples and their relationship over a period of nine years.

As the story unfolds you realize what an 'unreliable" narrator Dowall is and nothing as described can be trusted.

Many reviews states that Dowall is naive and those about him are the manipulative ones but my conclusion is Dowall is one the the truly evil characters I have ever read, outstandingly evil.

There are no laughs here but an outstanding novel and very unsettling.

BANDITS -Elmore Leonard

An ex-con, an ex-nun and an ex-cop band together to dis-attach a Contra thug of several million dollars that he has raised to take back to Nicaragua.

The CIA and the IRA also poke their noses in.

There's no such thing as a bad Elmore Leonard only varying degrees of fun.

DEEP SOUTH - Paul Theroux

Sub title -Four Seasons on Back Roads.

This is a travel / social commentary on areas of the southern United States.  Theroux makes four separate trips into the south travelling the back roads meeting the poor, the strugglers, living in areas where the work has gone to Mexico or China and there are very few options for those living in these localities.

He meets people and then re-visits some months later, we hear if things have changed; whether money for projects has come through; usually it hasn't and more people are being helped with the same resources.

This could be really depressing but its not.  Paul Theroux has the ability to stay realistic and this stops his reportage becoming mawkish.  The thread on the state of and the ownership of  the many motels he uses is worth the price of admission alone.

Mr Theroux, like the rest of us is not getting any younger and while this isn't as good as " Dark Star Safari" its quality writing and more of the same is needed.


The travels of Gulliver in four parts.  Most of us know of the Liliput story but not the remaining three.

The voyage to Brobdingnag where he lives among a race of giants.  This race is immense , where we have Gulliver naked  stride one of the females nipples.

Part three is a journey to Laputa, Blanibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan where he ends up on a flying Island.

Part Four, a Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, which is run by horses and the human like Yahoo's are are a sub-tribe scorned as filthy and uncivilised.

The book satirises religions and governments and asks  "whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted".

The satire is savage and as things have not improved in the 300 years since this was written I can imagine Swift would have nothing flattering to say on our political situations world wide at the moment.


The best known of Dickens's tales, the story of Pip, how an act of kindness changes his life, gives him huge opportunities but then he does some major life failing because he is human.

This is enjoyable and has one of the most decent characters in literature Pip's uncle, Joe Gargery.

This is an easy read, not too many characters with silly names.

Monday, December 21, 2015

THE FOURTH OF JUNE - David Benedictus

From ValanCourt Books:

" David Benedictus was only twenty-three when this shock-filled, highly controversial first novel was published in 1962.  In "The Fourth of June", Benedictus shoows what it was like to have attended Eton College, one of England's prestigious schools.  Among its hallowed buildings, a boy is savagely beaten into paralysis by his House Captain, a bishop spends his evenings spying on a Chaplin's half dressed daughter, and a housemaster is seduced by a desperate mother.  Condemned by some reviewers as a farrago of sex, snobbery, and sadism................"

This is an excellent read, brutal; its satire taken to the nth degree which is the best kind.  I found it after reading a biography on Guy Burgess who stated it was a favourite as he lived out his life in Russia.


TROUBLEMAKER - Joseph Hansen

Bar owner Rick Wendell is murdered, a young man is found standing over the body wiping fingerprints off the gun.

Insurance Investigator Dave Brandstetter  become involves and digs deep and uncovers a mystery involving several relationships.

This series evidently is the first to feature an openly gay P.I; all the relationships in this story are homosexual but this has nothing to actually do with the plot, which is weak, compared with several others I've read in the series.  It's all a bit tedious.

The story is a 'whodunnit' but Hansen has done it better.

A LITTLE ORDER - Evelyn Waugh

A selection of Waugh's journalism.  Some if its interesting and some of its just going through the motions.  He freely admitted that he would write for money and some of these efforts are just for the cheque.

There are a couple of highlights and he always has an argument but this might be the last of Waugh's writings to be cobbled together.

I'd file this under a " must read for completests"

VOODOO, Ltd - Ross Thomas

This is another multiple re-read by the master Ross Thomas.

Again this feature Wu & Durant .  They are hired to find two missing hypnotists who are needed to prove the innocence of a movie star charged with killing her ex-fiancee.  This is all run of the mill stuff until things get complicated.

To complete the job they enlist the assistance of the crew first seen in 'Out on the Rim'.  A bunch who are completely without scruples which makes this a rollicking good yarn set in Southern California.

Thomas is the best writer of the crime caper there's ever been.  Books that are brilliantly entertaining.

Find them and read them all.

OUT ON THE RIM - Ross Thomas

Arthur Wu and Quincy Durant are " con men'- who will do most anything for a dollar.

They get involved in they Philippines with Security Experts, retired FBI agents and others in an attempt to get their hands on 5 million dollars.  Plus there are CIA agents and sundry other odious characters which make s this one of Ross Thomas's best 'capers'.

This is the 3rd or 4th time I've read this and will keep on doing so.  The characters, the dialogue, humour and the plot twists show why Thomas was the best there was at this type of book.  

Donald Westlake who was no slouch at the "caper" bowed down to Thomas.  

His books are brilliant and deserve to be better known.