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 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, 'a capable boy', tells his own tale of fateful adventures in pages peopled with  such personalities as the financial genius Abbadabba Berman, who invents a way 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 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 more memorable it " must be better" than the former bland one, even though all it is is opinion with the only fact being some individual has died.

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.