Saturday, December 31, 2016

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY - Patricia Highsmith

























" Rydal Keener, a young American'doing' Europe, is standing idly on the fourth floor of a shabby tourist hotel in Athens.

Chester MacFarland is also waiting- for a light tap on the shoulder that will mark the end of a life times successful fraud. And Colette, Chester's beautiful, wide eyed wife? She doesn't know it but she is waiting for something too.."

These three do meet, they meet over a dead body and that is when the trouble starts. We follow them around Europe betraying, and hurting each other at every chance.

The people in this book are selfish, repulsive humans, all that is bad in us.  Here we see what pressure and guilt will do to people who have only ever thought of themselves.

Highsmith writes about damaged people, she writes about them so well reading her is unsettling.  She herself had a horrible upbringing and what appears to have been an unhappy life.  Allegedly her mother told her at one point she had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine,  the stuff of happy Xmas's.

I've always found reading Patricia Highsmith like watching a car crash, unpleasant but compelling, she could write and so tuned to our dark side.

Read anything of hers, it might not be a happy experience but worth the effort.

Monday, December 26, 2016

THE FASHION IN SHROUDS - Margery Allingham

























"First, there is a skeleton in a dinner jacket.  Then a corpse in a golden aeroplane.  After another body, Albert Campion nearly makes it a fourth.

Both the skeleton and the corpse have died with suspicious convenience for Georgia Wells, a monstrous but charming actress with a raffish entourage. Georgia's best friend just happens to be Valentine, a top couturier and Campions's sister.  Campion must unravel a story of blackmail and ruthless murder."

This is written in 1938 and makes Allingham a contemporary of Agatha Christie but she writes better and gives you all the clues in the book, rather than doing a Christie and pulling the big surprise at the end.

Campion is a very dry fictional detective, plodding, just obtaining the facts. If he was on his own this with be a struggle but Amanda Fitton is introduced who is delightful, full of fun and attaches herself to Campion as his "assistant".  With her involved there are genuinely laugh out loud moments.

Allingham's writing can be a convoluted e.g.

"It was a little over six weeks later, one evening when the summer was at its height and London was  sprawling, dirty and happily voluptuous, in the yellow evening sun, that Mr Campion, letting himself into the flat, was accosted by a hoarse voice from the bathroom."

She tends to over egg like this often so you have to pay attention or you miss facts but that's the only moan.  I love these "golden age" mysteries; what is strange that Allingham is no where as well known as others from this period such as Christie,Sayers,Josephine Tey or Ngaio Marsh.

Friday, December 23, 2016

GLITZ - Elmore Leonard

























Lieutenant Vincent Mora of the Maimi Police gets shot during a robbery which is bad but then-

..his girlfriend takes off for Atlantic City to be a " hostess"; then a not-nice-number called Teddy Magyk, rapist and ex-con, comes looking for the cop who put him away many years ago. Pretty soon Vincent is in Atlantic City, wising up on the gambling and drugs scene, trying to avoid the madman Magyk- looking for the person who pushed his girlfriend off the 18th floor balcony".

This is Elmore Leonard who is is the same class as Chandler and Hammett when its comes to writing crime.  He has never written a bad sentence.

Its the holidays and anything of Leonard's is perfect for kicking back and relaxing with on the beach or the couch.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

THE CAPTAIN AND THE ENEMY- Graham Greene

























"The Captain always maintained that he won Jim from his father at a game of backgammon.

Fraud, adventurer, robber and thief, the Captain has as many tall stories to tell as Jim has had boarding-school dinners.  Now aged twenty-two, a hack journalist and unwitting Judas, Jim attempts to piece together the Captain's story."

Even for Greene I found this tale of love and duty taken to an extreme especially bleak.  Its really sad, damaged humans forging a life held together by one mans love for a woman who he is never sure loves him at all.

You never read Greene for the giggles and even though this is written so well and it's one his last, after finishing it I felt like pulling the covers over my head for a week.  A positive - it's a short read but not a beach book, more for when your wife leaves, the bank calls in the mortgage and the car's stolen.  If these things occur you'll be in the perfect frame of mind to get into this.

And I may have missed it but according to me there's no redemption for anyone at the end which is unusual for a Greene novel.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

BILLY BATHGATE - E.L. Doctorow

























" Billy, 'a capable boy', tells his own tale of fateful adventures in pages peopled with  such personalities as the financial genius Abbadabba Berman, who invents away to change the days winning number at the last minute, the fastidious Irving, who mixes drinks with the same precision as he disposes of dead men; the lovely Miss Lola Miss Drew, who dresses herself in cream and aqua to runaway with the killer of her dreams; and the one-time Bronx kid Arthur Flegenheimer, known by the world as Dutch Schultz...."

This is my favourite of Doctorow's books, which stands up well to a re-read. The hero 15 year old Billy narrates  all his adventures in an easy to read style giving us a view into post repeal New York, with it's corruption and quest for the dollar.  A time where gangsters are not only admired but needed to give the people the vice they crave.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NUMERO ZERO - Umberto Eco

























1945: Lake Como. Mussolini and his mistress are captured and shot by local partisans.  The precise circumstances of Il Duce's death remain shrouded in confusion and controversy.

1992, Milan.  Colonna takes a job at a fledgling newspaper financed by a powerful media magnate.  There he learns the paranoid theories of Braggaadocio, who is convinced that Mussolini's corpse was a body-double and part of a wider Fascist plot.

This sounds like a conspiracy theory thriller but what it is a savage indictment on the media; how news is manipulated, how journalists themselves are manipulated and how what is purported as fact can be any ones agenda - facts are quite irrelevant.

It shows how opinion can be inserted into a simple news story so that this opinion may have the effect of altering some reader's perception of the event.  When you see it written out I realized that this happens everyday.

E.g A car crash occurs and an individual is killed. This is an everyday occurrence with basic facts.
       To alter the readers perception of this everyday occurrence you insert witness quotes.

       Local Quote One:  "Its a sad event but a common occurrence."

       Local Quote Two:   'Its a bad bit of road and we've been on to the National Government for a                                              long time  do something about it.  Why won't the Prime Minister do         "
                                       something?

So all of a sudden a drunk crashing on Saturday night is political and directly becomes the Prime Ministers fault even though the witness may have no idea what has actually occurred at the crash because the latter quote is something remembered must better than the former bland one.

Or how bad political news for the party the paper owner supports will be put among something very emotive like a large spread on violence against women or children, something that all agree is abhorrent and the bad poll or scandal may be overlooked.

How statements no longer have to be disproved rather it is now more common to attempt to undermine those that make the argument  - identity politics.

This is my book of the year and this is unlikely to change in the next 18 days.  For Eco it is a very easy read, a short book with a bath and a one and a half hour flight seeing it finished.  If you are concerned about the state of our media its well worth the effort, it explained a lot for me.

I've had a look at other reviews and mostly they have concentrated on the conspiracy theory aspect of this book, then again lots of these reviews are published in newspapers.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

HAVE HIS CARCASE - Dorothy L.Sayers




















Harriet Vane fresh from being acquitted of a murder charge is rambling along the coast where she finds the body of a male who has recently had his throat cut.

Soon after Lord Peter Wimsey arrives to support her and to attempt to get her to marry him.  Along with the local police the couple set about solving the mystery of the body on the rock.

This is a very clever plot, if you read it carefully all the clues are there especially for the real history buff.  I didn't get close to figuring out how it was done.  A top read and very good mystery.

Monday, December 5, 2016

STRONG POISON - Dorothy L. Sayers

























Harriet Vane is being tried for murdering her lover by poisoning him with arsenic, the jury retire but as they are unable to reach a verdict are discharged. The Judge orders a new trial.

Lord Peter Wimsey who has been sitting in on the trial and has become enamoured with Miss Vane now has a month to find evidence she is innocent or she will be hung by the neck until dead.

This is a good solid murder mystery with Sayers usual quality dialogue making it good fun.

Sayers's feminism is very subtle and I suppose it had to be in 1930's when this was written as all the detecting is done by women who gather the evidence in the quest to prove Miss Vane innocent.

She also has subtle digs at contemporaries at one stage Wimsey's butler Bunter is reminded to stop "trying to sound like Jeeves" and Zuleika Dobson gets a mention as "the Beerbohm girl ".

Again this is part of a beautiful Folio Society set that I don't believe was ever read by the original owner.

Monday, November 28, 2016

MURDER MUST ADVERTISE - Dorothy L. Sayers

























There has been a mysterious death at Pym's Publicity and Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover to obtain any information that he can to see if there was more to this death other than a trip down a stair well.

There are several excellent detective story writers from the 'golden age', generally the 1930's - 1950's, but for me Sayers is at the very top.  Compared to Agatha Christie Dorothy L. Sayers is next level. She has well plotted stories, character development and wonderful banter between these characters.

Sayers did work at a advertising agency and her inside knowledge is put to full use here,  As with all her stories she subtly mocks a society that continually has women as second class citizens.  She was a very clever feminist many years before most knew how to spell the word.

Sayers is still widely read today because her stories are generally timeless, this was written in 1933 and apart from some phrases stands up well.

Not only is this a good detective story it is also a beautiful edition, part of a Folio Society box set of five books I received as a gift.   Not only a great mystery writer but a very interesting woman.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

CRIME STORIES FROM THE STRAND - edited by Geraldine Beare

























This is a Folio Society edition containing 18 crime stories published in The Strand magazine between 1891 and 1942.

Included are two Sherlock Holmes's, two Agatha Christie's, the only detective story written by Rudyard Kipling, G.K. Chesterton, Edgar Wallace and my favourite from this anthology by Margery Allingham.

An excellent collection of tales with a great preface by the Editor who gives a run down on what a fine magazine The Strand was.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

4.50 FROM PADDINGTON - Agatha Christie

























"Having done her Christmas shopping, Mrs. McGillicuddy relaxes happily in a train. Then another train, going in the same direction, draws abreast and for some minutes the two trains proceed side by side...... In the first class carriage of the second train, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees, to her horror, a man strangling a woman...."

Another Christie- an inoffensive murder mystery featuring Miss Marple.  This has some decent characters in it and for a change all the clues are laid out so it can be solved by the reader rather than her normal outrageous cheating.

Always a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

GALAHAD AT BLANDINGS - P.G. Wodehouse

























"Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in."  - Evelyn Waugh.

This is a further adventure involving Galahad Threepwood and the usual cast of characters at Blanding's Castle.  The usual Wodehouse themes of love, lost love and ridiculous misunderstandings again create several hours of absolute joy.  Reading him should be compulsory.


























Friday, November 18, 2016

BELOVED - Toni Morrison

























It has been a long time since the first chapter of a book got me like the one in this novel. There was that much crammed into it, it can stand alone as a short story.  From here I was hooked.

Set just after the end of the American Civil War, Sethe a former slave is living in the north with her daughter.  Two boys have run off and another "Beloved " is dead.

The story contains supernatural elements coupled with strong women and men bearing the mental and physical scars of slavery. It is a fantastic feat of writing, the imagination involved is indescribable.  It is easy to see why its on great novel lists and why Morrison has been awarded a Nobel prize for her body of work.

I can't say I enjoyed reading this, I was left feeling unsettled with what occurred but its a great book.





Saturday, November 12, 2016

THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN - Aldous Huxley

























"This is a historical narrative of supposed demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression and mass hysteria that occurred in 17 century France surrounding unexplained events that took place in the small town of Loudun.

It centers on Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier and an entire convent of Ursline nuns, who allegedly became possessed by demons after Grandier made a pact with Satan."  (Wiki)

The priest arrives in town and promptly gets off side with everyone, he's self centered , arrogant gets one local girl pregnant then denies any involvement.  He next seducers another woman and manages to convince her that he has the power to marry them and puts her through a mock ceremony.

Naturally the locals don't take too kindly to this and from then on he is a marked man.  He not only has to deal with the locals but he has also upset many movers and shakers in Paris.

The head of the local convent  Soeur (Sister) Jeanne become infatuated with him and after he rejects her sexually and refuses to become the convents spiritual adviser she to sets out to destroy him.

The seventeen nuns at the convent become over taken with a mass hysteria where they are allegedly possessed by various demons.  The priest is blamed for this.  The church sends in exorcists rid the nuns of these demons.

For the next several years these exorcisms go on.  They become public entertainment .  People travel from all over Europe to witness the nuns lewd and outrageous behaviour , witness the exorcists whipping them, performing enemas. (This is all true)

This is all an amazing stitch up of the priest, who although he is everything that a priest should not be he hasn't infected these women with  demons.

Eventually after years of "evidence" being gathered  to use against him and the most horrific torture Grandier is burnt at the stake.

The ignorance of all concerned is fascinating, it shows the farce that religion is and even though this was 500 years ago it is still staggering what people believed.

Huxley manages to explain well the physical filth that people lived in these times.  One of the priests concerned in gathering evidence to convict Grandier slept in his clothes for 20 years and explains how it took him several hours to remove his shirt which he changed once a week.

There is a lot more to this than I've said here.  Huxley used many sources as material including an autobiography written by Soeur Jeanne herself and several other contemporary accounts.

This is the book that Kens Russel's film  "The Devils "  is based on.  I've seen the film and many said it was over the top.  After reading this I think Russell was remarkably restrained in his treatment.







Saturday, November 5, 2016

TWILIGHT AT MAC'S PLACE - Ross Thomas

























"When veteran agent Steadfast Haynes quietly dies in a Washington hotel room, few seem to notice or even care.  But official indifference turns quickly to panic when it's discovered that Hayne's son, a Los Angeles homicide detective turned actor, has been offered $100,000 for his fathers memoirs, sight unseen- by an anonymous bidder".

Once again we have a superior story from Ross Thomas who was the master of the "political/intelligence caper" novel.  This has the the traits of all his books, great story, great characters, humour and violence in the right amount.

Thomas writes books that can be read many times, they are just fantastic, the only trouble being they are not available in New Zealand new.  They have been re-issued in the US however so they can be imported.

If you see any at second stores or book fairs, grab them because they are very hard to find


Thursday, November 3, 2016

THE THIN MAN - Dashiell Hammet

























"The ace performer..... I did not invent the hard-boiled mystery story and I have never made any secret of my opinion that Dashiell Hammet deserves most of the credit.

Raymond Chandler

Retired detective Nick Charles and his new wife Nora become embroiled in a murder while attempting to have a few drinks and a pleasant Chrsitmas in New York.

The couple are plunged into a world of - gangstersmanipulators, corpses and speakeasies". 

This is hard-boiled at its best with a great story, characters and the dialogue is first rate.  If you have never read Hammett treat yourself.  This story might have been written in 1934 but it could have been published yesterday.

This book was made into a very decent movie with several sequels which were great fun starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

DON QUIXOTE - Miguel De Cervantes

























I bought this book on the 31st of March 2004, I know this because at the time I was writing the purchase date inside the book, anyway, it has sat in the pile for 12 years until last week.

Last week I picked it up, started it and put it down rarely, mainly for sleep and work.  This is an absolute joy to read, I had heard and read that it was amusing, I didn't know that large parts are absolutely hilarious.

There are actually two books, Part One was published in 1605 with Part Two published in 1615.

The story revolves around Alonso Quixano who after reading many books on Knights and chivalry goes insane, thinks he's a Knight errant  ( a Knight who travels widely in search of adventures) and heads out looking for adventures,taking along as his squire ,the wise dolt Sancho Panza.

Part One is pure farce with many incidents, the best known is with his fighting the Giants (windmills in a field).  He also witnesses two armies fighting for their lives ( mobs of sheep moving across the plain) with many many similar adventures.  Panza knows his master is insane but gets caught up in the madness as he has been promised " spoils" from the adventures.

Part Two is not quite as humorous and dips into tragedy as many friends and family know that Quixote is the "drunken uncle" at Christmas, a figure of sadness rather than one for constant ridicule.

Although Quixote is certifiable he speaks forthrightly to many he meets on his travels, these speeches make sense to the reader and other characters but at the back of it , he' mad and needs help, which is forth coming eventually.

This is spoken of as the first modern novel, the novel from which all forms of novels written since take in part.  Reading the book  you can see this.  There are novels within the novel, we have Cervantes as a mere medium for the real author of the book supposedly.  Its an amazing work, the original of all that's come since.





Saturday, October 22, 2016

HEAVY WEATHER - P G Wodehouse

























Galahad Threepwood writes his memoirs, these memoirs will evidently cause embarrassment to to many of Britain's aristocracy, recounting as they do youthful escapades. Some people in his family and circle want publication, while others will do anything to prevent publication

So, once again we enter Wodehouse's world at Blandings Castle where a cast of characters, many who are very dim, many who are very cunning and all of whom are very funny attempt to get their own way.

We have the usual misunderstandings and machinations that are usual in Wodehouse's writings; writings which are impossible to criticise because they are such a delight to read.

Of course the Empress of Blandings plays a pivotal part.

Friday, October 21, 2016

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT - Ed McBain

























This one of the "Matthew Hope" series written by McBain with Hope being a Florida lawyer.

Hope is hired to prove that Ralph Parrish didn't murder his brother.  He is also dealing with surveillance on his business partners  wife who appears to be having an affair.

This book is muddled, way to coincidental even for a crime novel and its tedious, I only finished it as I was on the ferry and it was all I had to hand.  Everybody in the book is unlikable including star of the show.

If you're going to read McBain read his procedural's rather than this series.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD - Rex Stout

























"What happens when the condemned man doesn't want to be proven innocent?'

Another great little murder mystery from Rex Stout featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.  This has the usual high quality interaction and humour between the combatants that all these tales have.
The Nero Wolfe mysteries are timeless, this was written sixty years ago, but you wouldn't know.

The pile of these I found at Jason Books for five dollars a piece is getting lower and lower and I'm going to have to look further a field to find more.  Finding these older mysteries is now difficult as we do not get new printings of these stories in New Zealand.  We would if they were cook books but alas.....

Friday, October 14, 2016

THE ISLAND OF SHEEP - John Buchan

























This is the fifth and last of the novels revolving around Richard Hannay, he of The 39 Steps fame and subsequent stories.

Some years earlier after a showdown in Africa he and his friend Lombard swear an oath to protect an associate's family.  Now many years later they are called upon to honour the oath.

The story travels from Africa to England to Scotland finally ending reaching its climax on a Scandinavian island.

This has great descriptive backgrounds to all the locations with much local colour.  The story itself is full of outlandish coincidences but you get that with the thriller genre, so you accept it and enjoy the story.

The book is of its time, meaning all the hero's are elites with the attitude and beliefs that were prevalent in 1936.  This could be off putting to the young progressives who may pick this up but if you look past it you will have several hours of enjoyment.

A good read in the "stiff upper lip " tradition.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD - Michael Chabon





















This is a "swashbuckling adventure set in the kaganate of Khazaria (now south west Russia ) around AD 950.

The story centers on two world-traveling Jewish bandits who style themselves with the euphemism "gentlemen of the road".  Amram is a hulking Abyssinian who is equally proficient with an axe as a game of shatranj:  he is haunted by the disappearance of his daughter many years ago. His companion is Zelikman, a Frankish physician who uses an over sized bloodletting lancet as a rapier.  Zeliikman has a morbid personality due to the trauma of watching his family slaughtered in an anti Jewish pogrom.  ( Wiki)

The two become involved in trying to restore a " displaced prince " to his throne.

I can see what Chabon is trying to do here, write an adventure like Ivanhoe but it didn't capture my imagination.  It was originally published in episodes and perhaps suffers from a lack of continuity because of this.

There are some great action sequences which are enjoyable and these are "swashbuckling" but in the end I found this hard work, nothing like Chabon's Sherlock Holmes story which I enjoyed recently.

The author has a a good body of work so I'd recommend everything prior to this.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND - Ed McBain




















Body parts start turning up in the 87th Precinct and the detectives have another murder to solve.

This has the usual high quality banter from the characters of the "87th" that lift this series well above most "cops & robbers" mysteries.

This was written in 1960, this particular edition is a UK one out of 1962. I picked it up from a second hand store while driving from Dunedin to Timaru last week.  A bargain at $5 and in great condition for something that's 54 years old. I love the cover art, a lot of effort was made.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

CATCH 22 - Joseph Heller





















The greatest anti-war novel ever written  and one of the greatest novels ever written.

I have read this three or four times and every time its new.  With every read I find something hilarious I previously missed or something tragic I see differently.

The novel follows the members of the 256th Squadron on a Mediterranean Island during the Second World War.  The main character John Yossarian is continually attempting to avoid combat because he doesn't want to die.  The supporting cast is many and varied.

For a proper synopsis of this Wiki. it, it is explained lucidly there, I can't do it any type of justice as there is too much to write about.

Fantastic is all I can say equally laugh out loud funny and desperately sad .

I will re-read many times yet.

Monday, September 19, 2016

NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH - Rex Stout




















This comprises two novella's featuring Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin.  Both tales are set during World War II with Archie serving as a Army Major.

Like the seventy odd other episodes in this series its note worthy for the quality of the verbal jousting. For me the mystery in each story is secondary to the banter.  If you like a very well written mystery give the Nero Wolfe series a look, they are ageless and always entertaining.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

STIFF UPPER LIP, JEEVES - P G Wodehouse




















"When the news breaks that Madeline Basset is engaged to Gussie Fink-Nottle Bertie's releif is intense.  But when Madeline attempts to turn Gussie vegetarian Bertie's instinct for self preservation sends him with the steadfast Jeeves on another up-roariously funny mission to Sir Watkyn Bassets's residence, Totleigh Towers.."

The world of Wodehouse where the worst things that can happen to you are a marriage engagement or a slight hangover.

This, like all Wodehouse is a delight, there is no mood that can't be improved by reading him.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

HOLY WARRIORS - Jonathan Phillips




















This is a 355 page over view of the Crusades.  Its brief, and for the casual reader like myself perfect in length, explaining things briefly and factually.

What it gave to me more than anything is what misery religion has and continues to bring to our world.  The atrocities that have been committed in the name of gods can fill all the volumes in all the libraries. These atrocities have been committed for nothing other than a none existent 'thing' for which humans keep killing each other.

No side, 'christian ' or ' muslim ' is any worse or better than the other.

I was staggered by the volume of killing, hundreds of thousands, over and over.  Richard the Lionheart has the throats cut of 2700 prisoners in one day to "teach a lesson".

The only problem I can see with religion disappearing is humans would invent something equally as ludicrous to keep at each other.

The author is Professor of Crusading History at the University of London and as I stated he done a great job in making this readable, informative and light enough to be entertaining for the casual reader.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

WAITING FOR SUNRISE - William Boyd




















This starts in Vienna in 1913 when a young English actor, Lysander Rief,  meets  "the intensely beautiful Hettie Bull. One year later, home in London, Lysander finds himself entangled in the dangerous web of wartime intelligence- a world of sex, scandal and spies that is slowly, steadily, permeating every corner of his life."

The above blurb makes this sound like a lurid penny dreadful but this is a well constructed thriller that keeps you guessing to the end.

Its intelligent and unpredictable. Recommended.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

THE COMEDIANS - Graham Greene




















Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt 'Papa Doc' and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police.

Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American and Jones the confidence man - these are the 'comedians' of Graham Greene's title.  Hiding behind their actors' masks, they hesitate on the edge of life.  And, to begin with, they are men afraid of love, afraid of pain, afraid of fear itself..

I don't know how accurate the last paragraph of the cover blurb above is after finishing the book but it is a very enjoyable read.  There is lots of dark humour, similar to 'Travels With My Aunt" which I find rare in Greene's novels. Often,after finishing a Greene novel my initial thought is to indulge in a bit of self harm, he can be very dark.

The novel is set against the Haiti of the 1960's , a horrible, violent regime lead by Duvalier and then continued by his son.  Many, many thousands of people were murdered and disappeared.  Again,these regimes were tacitly supported by America because they were 'anti-communist'.

The ending is especially uplifting for our three 'comedians', who are not three of life's leading lights but whose characters make for a very good novel.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

RESTLESS - William Boyd




















During the long , hot summer of 1976, Ruth Gilmartin discovers that her very English mother sally is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre and one-time spy.

This is a very good thriller told from 1976 in flashback form until its climax in 1976 London.

This has been made into a TV serial evidently, I won't bother because I enjoyed this too much.

Solid and very well written.

IF DEATH EVER SLEPT - Rex Stout




















Wolfe is offered $10,000 to send Archie Goodwin "undercover" into a family situation to prove the wife of the client is being duplicitous.

The family concerned are totally dysfunctional, very wealthy and people start dying.

A good yarn.

DEATH OF A DUDE - Rex Stout




















Archie is having trouble solving a murder in the wilds of Montana where a friend has been charged and appears 100 % guilty.

This situation necessitates Wolfe leaving New York and travelling into the wilderness to assist.

Stout didn't write any bad books.

MAIGRET'S PICKPOCKET - Georges Simenon




















Maigret has his pocket picked while travelling on a bus. A short time later it is returned to him  by post with a request for help from the thief who has found his wife murdered.

A good solid story, one which is very bleak.

Monday, August 15, 2016

TREMOR OF INTENT - Anthony Burgess




















The genius known as Anthony Burgess turns his hand to a spy thriller and what great fun.

Denis Hillier went to get a defecting scientist back from Russia. He didn't realise he wasn't supposed to come back himself"

Burgess has a great crack at Le Carre, Fleming and Nabokov as well as writing a story with a decent plot.  Its funny, tense and a wee bit disturbing with some of our hero's behaviour but worth finding and reading.

The books of Burgess's I can read, and that not all of them ,I love, this goes very close to the re-read category.  Great stuff

DEATH THREE TIMES - Rex Stout




















Another one of my $5.00 gems.  This is a collection of three stories featuring Wolfe and Goodwin.

Three excellent stories with the humour and banter associated with this series.  Great fun.

MAIGRET TAKES THE WATERS - Georges Simenon




















Maigret goes on holiday and ends up involved in a crime.  This is a good wee who dunnit.  All these stories are quality

MAIGRET HESITATES - Georges Simenon

























Maigret is Maigret,a policeman who listens and solves crime.  There are nearly a hundred of these in circulation.  They are very good and I recommend reading any you find.

IN THE BEST OF FAMILIES - Rex Stout




















I've been lucky enough to find a pile of Stout's at a second hand book I haunt and I'm picking these up for $5.00 per time.  Extremely good value!

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin must help a rich old woman whose husband is getting money in a most mysterious way.  But when the case leads Wolfe to the most dangerous man in the United States, he knows that if he wants to live, he will have to do the one thing that he has never even contemplated- run and hide.

This is a good one, the perfect Sunday afternoon couch read.

HOCUS POCUS - Kurt Vonnegut




















"Here is the adventure of Eugene Debs Hartke.  He's a Vietnam veteran, a jazz pianist, a college professor, and a prognosticator of the apocalypse ( and other things Earth-shattering).  But that's neither here nor there.  Because at Tarkington College-where he teaches-the excrement is about to hit the air conditioning.  And its all Eugene's fault."

Normal Vonnegut - funny, very funny, gut wrenchingly sad and a wonderful read.

THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE - Philip Kerr




















The latest "Bernie Gunther"  We find him working as a hotel concierge on Nice when a former Nazi SS Captain known to Bernie walks into the hotel.

This Nazi is now operating as a blackmailer and his target is Somerset Maugham.  There is a photograph in his possession showing several men in compromising positions at Maugham's house including Guy Burgess.

Bernie gets involved as he normally does and we have a solid thriller.  I've been with the series since day one and they are solid.  Brag time, I've met Mr Kerr and I was one of those boring buggers who wanted a photograph, for which he obliged.

A good read and a good series to read.

PUT OUT MORE FLAGS - Evelyn Waugh




















Basil Seal needs a war.  Seal is a 'scoundrel" and what would probably be called a "waster" in these enlightened times.  World War II breaks out and he needs a job, no one wants him, he's generally no good and too old, but eventually opportunities arise.

This is an account of his adventures during the "phoney war" period which leads into the heavy fighting and tragedy that is to follow.

Great satire, but again like Sword of Honour this shows the senselessness and sadness of it all.

I re-read these constantly, you can't go wrong reading anything Waugh has written.

THE BLACK MOUNTAIN - Rex Stout

























Nero Wolfe's best friend is gunned down in New York, to solve the crime he must leave the house ( if you've read these books this is very rare ) and travel to Europe.

You can't go wrong with these, Wolfe and Goodwin, great crime reads.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A HISTORY OF THE MODERN WORLD From 1917 to the 1980's-Paul Johnson

























From the ending of the the First World War...which saw the destruction of the traditional European order, the triumph of Einstein's new cosmology, the full impact of Freudianism, the establishment of the first Marxist state and the genesis of the great Marxist heresy, Facism.

We travel through the decades   ....the rise of the two super-powers, locked in Cold War, the Communist revolution in China, the decolonization of Asia and Africa and the tragic aftermath of independence, the stunning recovery of democracy and capitalism in Western Europe, the rise of the Pacific enterprise economies led by Japan, the radicalizng of Latin America, the expansion of Soviet Russia as a global military power, the hegemony of the United States followed by its attempted suicide in the years 1965 - 80.

A very interesting read, it won't be for many left leaning folk, Johnson mounts attack after attack on leftist political thinking and shows it up for the sham that most hard left politics are.

But as a "go to" book of facts in one volume you'd be hard pressed to find a better one.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

RAGTIME - E L Doctorow

























This is an historical novel set at the beginning of the 20th century told mostly through the eyes of an anonymous narrator.

As normal in Doctorow's novels real people feature in fictionalisd settings.  Here we have Houdini, Henry Ford and J. P. Morgan.

Most of the novel is set around the deprivations suffered by the poor and black when dealing with the huge industrialists that came to the fore at this time. It ends with one man trying to start a private war as a result of a huge injustice he endured.

Again, with  many Doctorow novels he starts up a character who is given what appears to be a leading role but after a few chapters just disappears. You don't hear from them until a small explanation at the end of the book but that's him and he did this often.

A rear cover blurb on my copy states -Ragtime is the most acclaimed novel ever published-  this is a major stretch " Billy Bathgate" and  "The March" are both much better but this is quality and worth reading.




Sunday, June 26, 2016

TRYING TO PLEASE - John Julius Norwich

























This is an excellent autobiography by the son of Duff and Diana Cooper.

From birth to when this was written we get a very honest and very funny telling of a life, that while privileged appears never to have been taken for granted.   Yes, the Churchill's come to lunch, yes, your mother gets a one on one with the Pope in Rome but all these things were of a time and place and not unusual due to your parents social position.

From Eton to Oxford to the Foreign Office and then taking a punt to become a full time historian we meet famous and interesting people.

I love the " between wars period"in the UK and this is another brick in wall.

The author is still ticking over in his late 80's and still writing history.  A pleasure to read.

ROMMEL? GUNNER WHO? - Spike Milligan

























Volume 2 of Spike's WWII biography which finds 19 Battery in North Africa.

This is biography is interspersed with fake telegrams,illustrations and is all very entertaining.  Whats true and whats made up doesn't really matter, its Spike, and its laugh out loud apart from the sad bits where you laugh quietly.

MRS McGINTY'S DEAD - Agatha Christie

























Mrs McGinty's dead and her lodger is about to be hung for her murder but Poirot steps in and finds there's much more to this than was originally presented to the Court.

An entertaining yarn but with one of Christie's biggest cheating's of the reader I've come across, but if you don't get upset about this is a solid mystery.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

SWORD OF HONOUR - Evelyn Waugh


























This is the final version of the three Second World War novels featuring Guy Crouchback written by Waugh.  They were originally published over a 10 year period as, Men At Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender.

From Waugh:

The product is intended (as it was originally) to be read as a single story.  I sought to give a description of the Second World War as it was seen and experienced by a single, uncharacteristic Englishman, and to show the effects on him.

There is much satire involved but gives way to farce in the way men were treated and how the army as an organisation was run.  I have read "Brideshead" half a dozen times and always thought that his best book but re-reading this I find that it is this that is his masterpiece, not his funniest but his best.

Interestingly for me is the book concludes in Split, Croatia . My father in law still lives there and where as a 14 year old was wounded fighting with the Partisans whom our main character, Crouchback interacts.  Our kids think it nifty that one of their grandfather's has bullet holes in him!

This is a great book, one to be read many times.


THE PURSUIT OF LAUGHTER - Diana Mosley

























A collection of book reviews and diary excerpts all written by Mosley (nee Mitford) over the years.

All are entertaining and amusing with the added spice that she had generally met the subject or the author of the book she is reviewing.

She is totally disparaging of anything to do with the UK penal system, having been locked up for 3 years during WWII because she was married to the head of the UK Fascist Union, Oswald Mosley.   She married Mosley at Goebbel's house prior to the war starting so people were understandably not that tolerant!

She is also the mother of Max, recently departed from the head of F1 due to the Nazi uniform fancy dress thing, but a good collection worth reading.




THE PIANOPLAYERS - Anthony Burgess

























The story of Ellen Henshaw, born before the 1st World War and that of her father, who scrapes a living playing in silent movie houses.

The first part of this book is the adventures of travelling about getting work, having her father drink or womanize himself out of work.

This part is autobiographical in that this was how Burgess's father made a living from when Burgess was an infant.

The second part of the story is how Henshaw goes on to become one of Europe's most sort after courtesan's and then on to running a string of 'Schools of Love' in Europe and Asia.

This is entertaining, a bit creepy where its related how Henshaw is seduced by a paedophile but a light read with Burgess's humour interspersed throughout.