Sunday, June 25, 2017


Agatha Troy, world famous painter, is inveigled into accepting a commission to paint the 70 - year- old Sir Henry Acred, the Grand Old Man of the stage.  But just as she has completed her portrait, the old actor dies.

The dramatic circumstances of his death are such the Scotland Yard is called in- in the person of Troy's long absent husband, Chief-Inspector Roderick Alleyn.

This is an excellent story involving an exceptionally dysfunctional family.  The story of the family and Troy's involvement with them while completing her commission is more entertaining than the solving of the mystery.

As always Marsh is outstanding.

Monday, June 19, 2017

GONEVILLE - Nick Bollinger

This is a 'memoir' not a history and for me it is a aide memoire.  The book is set mostly in the 1970's telling of Bollinger's growing up in Wellington, joining a band and travelling the country insistently for meals and love, it wasn't for wealth.

The aide memoire for me is I moved to Wellington in 1977 as a 17 year old and this brings back many many memories of how raw and  fun Wellington was for a young chap from Timaru.

As well an outline of Nick Bollinger's life it is part social history of New Zealand and a history of New Zealand bands at the time.  If you tried to explain today  to a 25 year old how in the late 70's early 80's you could not go to the bar in a nightclub and get a drink, it was waitress service only, they would think you're mad. Or just ignore you as really really tedious but it was true.

The band he traveled with for two years "Rough Justice' rubbed shoulders with all the muso's travelling the brewery circuit and there are delightful little tidbits , Ricky Ball's band history before Hello Sailor for example. There are great little pieces like this that are news to me.

Rough Justice was a Rick Bryant Band.  I never saw them I don't think but I saw the Jive Bombers lots and I can say Rick Bryant has never taken anything of himself home, he leaves it all for the audience.

There are many Auckland memories for me as well  as I move there as a 19 year old in late 1979. There is a lot of detail regarding the un-licenced clubs that tried to do the right thing for music but could not survive without a liquor licence which was impossible to obtain.  This was a real shame and was the brewery lobby that prevented these entrepreneurs from making a dollar.

I spent hundreds of hours at the Gluepot and all the city pubs that had music.  I had the best nicest piss taking of me in Queen Street by the Topp Twins when I was a young Police Constable.  This book brought all these memories back and I can thank Nick Bollinger for this.

Last but not least Bollinger saw 'Little Feat' play at the Wellington Town Hall, bastard, there will not be many New Zealanders who can say they have seen that outfit.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Twenty years after Notes From A Small Island was published it was suggested by Bill Bryson's publisher that a follow up be written.  I am very glad that it has been.  I love Bryson's easy rambling style, full of humour and information that you won't find probably anywhere else.

In this book he re-visits some places from his original book but this mostly contains places that he hasn't written about before.

He starts in Bognor Regis and ends at Cape Wrath.  A line is drawn between these two locations and is referred to as the Bryson line.  He works his trip east and west of this  entirely self created geometrical divide.

Bill Bryson is the teacher I never had, full of information with a sense of humour that never stops, read and enjoy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CLOUDS OF WITNESS - Dorothy L. Sayers

The victim was engaged to marry Lady Mary Wimsey, Lord Peter's sister.  The man accused of murdering him is the Duke of Denver, Lord Peters brother.  And his trial - in the House of Lords- is about to begin.  The the Duke refuses to help his defence in anyway.

Published in 1926 this story involves the entire Wimsey clan.  This is one of the first stories by Sayers and she introduces characters that remain until her last Wimsey book.

When it comes to 'golden age' detective writing Sayers is on a totally different level than most and this was at a time when there are many superb authors writing the genre.

This as normal has great language, the usual strong and interesting female leads and Wimsey doesn't go 'full Bertie Wooster " too often.

This is a very good multi-layered story; you can not go wrong reading anything Dorothy Sayers has ever written.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

WHY SHOOT A BUTLER? - Georgette Heyer

It is a complete mystery why anyone would choose to murder the trusted old butler of Norton Manor. Barrister turned amateur detective, Frank Amberly, has reason to believe the shooting involves the nervy young lady discovered at the scene of the crime, a snooping gentleman in the halls of Greythorne and then a second dead body.

Published in 1933 this is a run of the mill whodunnit and the first I've read by Ms Heyer, who was better known at the time for her historical novels.

The motive isn't hard to figure out and the the killer isn't either, its just a wait to see what some part minor characters play in the whole thing.  The detective Amberly isn't particularly likable either being a bit of a smart arse without any humour.

Not a great tale but the dialogue was sharp enough to warrant reading more of Heyers crime books.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

THE WAR BEHIND THE WIRE - John Lewis-Stempel

On capture, British officers and men were routinely told by the Germans: ' For you the war is over'. Nothing could be further from the truth.  British prisoners of war merely exchanged one barbed-wire battleground for another.....

It was a war with heart breaking consequences; more than 12,000 PoWs died, many of them murdered, to be buried in shallow unmarked graves.

This books is based on contemporary journals and memoirs of the prisoners that survived and were eventually returned to Britain.

The book is broken down in , "being captured", "being a prisoner", 'the camp world", surviving in the camps", "escaping" and "returning home".  No matter what chapter you read, the suffering is heart breaking.  Large parts of the book are direct quotes taken from diaries etc, stories told without exaggeration, just facts.  Individual Germans showed kindness and some humanity but the regime was almost inhumanly cruel until it was apparent that the war was lost and then back tracking became the norm.

Conditions varied from camp to camp, but in general British PoWs were made to suffer and who without the Red Cross and private care packages many more would have starved to death. Prisoners were put to work in salt mine, coal mines and multi digit sub-zero temperatures, much of which was denied by the German authorities.

Reading how the PoWs were treated is sickening as a whole but as a document it is enlightening.  I've read that the terms of the Versailles Treaty sowed the seeds for the Second World War but this does not explain  the cruelty of the German nation as a whole toward opposing combatants in their custody during the Great War.

Monday, June 5, 2017

TRAIN - Tom Zoellner

Tom Zoellner travels the globe to tell the story of the innovation and sociological impact of the railway technology that transformed the world- anbd could well change it again.  From the frigid trans-Siberian railroad to the antiquated Indian railways to the Japanese- style bullet trains.

This is more a series of essays that have then been bound into a book.  It starts strongly with a rail journey from the north of Scotland to Lands End with interesting history on development of the steam engine and observations of the passing Scottish and English countrysides.

The second is essay is about the Indian rail system, a system with truly staggering numbers- passengers carried, freight carried, number of schedules trains, staff employed and on and on.  A fact I found that most fascinating is - the steel rails in India, particularly those nearest to urban stations, must be frequently replaced because poor people have the habit of defecating on them..... The uric acid in human feces gradually eats through the steel fasteners... that hold the rails onto their ties.

The third chapter is New York to Los Angels and runs nearly a third of the book.  The Russian section is disappointing, the author gets bitten by a rabid dog and has to abandon the trip half way through it.

There are chapters that follow on China into Tibet, South America and the final chapter supposedly about the AVE rapid trains in Spain but it segues off into Americas plan for rapid rail.

Potentially this could have been much better than its turned out.  There is a standalone book on the Indian rail system, instead we get these essays that have a rushed feeling about them.  There is nothing wrong with the writing or facts but it feels like a series of New Yorker pieces.

As mentioned, I was disappointed the Russian journey was shortened, I was looking forward to comparing it to Eric Newby's The Big Red Train Ride - but I'm assuming the author didn't get bitten deliberately just to annoy me.

This makes the perfect bathroom book, you can dip into into without having to retain any thread.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

SWEET DANGER - Margery Allingham

Driving home from Italy, Guffy Randall passed by the Hotel Beauregard at Mentone, where ... he saw a small man, armed with pistol, climbing out of a ground floor window.  Guffy, who knew the manager well, stopped to tell him about the incident, and learnt that several other suspicious characters were also in the hotel.  After inquiries these turned out to be Albert Campion and two friends engaged in in a fantastic and fateful pursuit of  a European Crown.

What transpires is a very good espionage tale set in the British countryside . The search for a European Crown is actually British Intelligence Services attempting to locate a deed to a European state that would give them access to a port and oil (sounds familiar).

This an adventure in the style of Buchan, but with lots of humour. Allingham writes great characters; my favourite is Campions man servant Magersfontein Lugg, known simply as Lugg retired burglar, and as usual she has good strong female characters with sundry weird ones thrown into the mix.

Published in 1933 this is great fun

Sunday, May 28, 2017

BREAD - Ed McBain

Elizabeth screamed again, a long blood curdling scream that echoed through the squad room.  the horror of it gut-wrenched even the detectives of the 87th Precinct;..

Yet they played the tapes of the mass assault again and again.  It could be th best clue yet to a mess of arson, dope, homicide and porn.

The above blurb makes this run of the mill police procedural sound much more interesting that it turns out to be.

McBain is solid but this is one of his lesser efforts and without the outrageously bigoted  and smelly Detective Ollie Weekes it would be totally forgettable.  I'd recommend giving this a miss unless you are a McBain completist.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CASTLE GAY - John Buchan

Jaikie and Dougal, two  past members of the Glasgow Street gang, The Gorbals Die Hards adopted by Mr Dickson McCunn visit McCunn at his country retirement home in a novel is set six years after the first book that introduced these characters, 'Huntingtower".

From there the two young men take off tramping. At the first nights accommodation they find a newspaper magnate who has recently escaped from a kidnapping where he was mistaken for a local politician.
They are asked to go to the country estate Castle Gay, of the newspaper owner, Mr Craw and arrange for him to be uplifted by his staff.  On arrival at the castle it is found that this is not possible due to citizens of a European country wanting Mr Craw for their own purposes , to legitimize there control of the country and by another group wanting to re-install the legitimate ruler through the use of his newspaper empire.

This is a 'thriller'' but its all boys own stuff, where doing the right thing and being a decent person will see the good guys win in the end.  There is great descriptions of the Scottish countryside, great dialogue and its just 'nice'.  There's nothing wrong with doing the right thing and decency winning, in fact its something I admire.

This isn't in the league of the Hannay books, certainly not as serious but a very pleasant read.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

MR JELLY'S BUSINESS - Arthur W. Upfield

The car lies wrecked and abandoned near the world's longest fence, the " rabbit " fence, in the wheat belt of Western Australia.  Of its owner there is no sign.  Has George Loftus simply decamped, for reasons of his own? Or is it a case of murder? Detective Inspector Bonaparte suspects the worst, and is determined to find the body - and the murderer.

From 1937 we have this 'Bony' mystery.  This is the first of this series I've read, although I saw the television series many years ago starring James Laurenson.

Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is half Aboriginal  / half European and a brilliant detective. The mixed race issue is a factor in the story, generally with abuse towards "black fellas"and I assume this was quite a punt having him as the main character in a series written in Australia between 1928 and 1964.

This novel has two mysteries running in tandem which tie in beautifully at the end.  The story is set rurally and centres around the small town pub and weekend dances that were a regular part of Australian and New Zealand life until not that long ago.

Initially Upfields writing took some getting used to, but once I got used to the cadence, I thoroughly enjoyed it,.  There is good characterization for such a short story ( 177 pages) and a lot of humour.

Recommended if you are into this genre.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Allan Quatermain is hired to travel into the African interior to locate the estranged brother of one of his client's.

The tale is one of over coming hardship,surviving using their wits when confronted by an extremely blood thirsty tribal chieftain and the location of  a massive treasure.  Even after locating fabulous wealth they still have to escape a final threat to their lives.

This was published in 1885 and as an adventure story it stands up fairly well today.  Attitudes have changed of course but if you are able to read the book for what it is, an adventure yarn, rather than compare today's more enlightened attitudes to whats written you will enjoy it.

The dedication says it all -  To all the big and little boys who read it.

This book is nothing like the truly appalling movie of the same name based on this book starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Inspector Grant travels north to Scotland for a holiday by train; he needs the break as stress , manifesting itself as chronic claustrophobia is slowly sending him mad.

As the train berths he is on hand when a passenger in a  compartment near his is found dead.  While observing this discovery he inadvertently picks up a newspaper from this compartment and later discovers a piece of verse scrawled on it in pencil.

While fishing on a friends estate on holiday he becomes somewhat haunted by the dead man and the lines of verse so for his mental well being begins a private investigation into the death.

This is excellent, Tey writes beautifully,with great humour and of course constructs a very good murder mystery.

As the previous owner of my edition has written on the cover- "Jolly good, well written".

Josephine Tey, the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacIntosh is now one of my favourite detective fiction writers. If you see her stuff about, grab it, it will be mostly second hand as unfortunately great swathes of writing talent from the last 100 years are just not  getting re-issued.  This is her last book published in 1952 the year she died aged 56 of cancer.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Bill Masen wakes up in hospital expecting his eyes to have their bandages removed and his sight restored after being struck in the face by a poisonous plant.

What he is initially unaware of is that the previous night the majority of the worlds population had viewed a meteor shower.  This next morning the majority of the worlds population are permanently blind, million upon millions of his fellow citizens are blind.

Being one of the few people still with sight he sees civilization break down within days.

To add to what is already the end of the world as it was known deadly plants with the ability to walk called 'Triffids" are killing anyone who comes within range of them.

This book tells the story of the sighted few and their survival, battling the plants, plague and each other, knowing that they have to start the human race again.  Countries and races no longer exist, the devastation has caused such a loss of life that all there are is humans.

I remember hearing this as a radio drama when I was a kid and it was scary.  I've just read the book as a 56 year old and its scary.  The most unsettling for me is the blindness, something I dread.

This is an outstanding book, there are a few questions asked by the author that some would say are particularly relevant to the world today, the way we treat the planet etc, but mostly this is just a thrilling read.  Its so good it must be due to be made into a movie again and have the story completely destroyed.

Monday, May 8, 2017


" Julian Symons provides a stylish spin-off from the Sherlockian revival.  It tells of a fading actor playing the Great Detective in a television series who persuades himself that by following in the master's  footsteps he can solve a string of apparently unrelated murders:  the Karate Killings."

Once you get past the absurdity of the 'hero's fantasy you are still left with a quite absurd story filled with very unsympathetic characters.

This story was published in 1975 and I assume written just prior and as a 70's book its full of slang particular to that time i.e 'birds' 'poofs'.  Language that has been consigned to the rubbish dump as it should be.  I read lots of books published much earlier and they sound more contemporary than this.

So this is a short 'entertainment' which I would recommend giving a miss.  Evidently the author wrote many mysteries that come highly recommended but this is all a bit silly plus its solvable three quarters of the way through.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


"Detective Dick Martin is leaving Scotland Yard.  His final job is to bring in Lew Pheeney, who is wanted in connection with a bank robbery.  When Lew confesses to trying to open a dead man's tomb, however, Martin must unravel a mystery.  He races to find the connection between an attractive librarian, a mad scientist and the vanished heir to a vast fortune, as everyone becomes entangled in a web of fraud, deceit, torture and murder".

This started off as a standard murder mystery and then segued into a Gothic horror and then back to a plain old 'who dunnit', which was all very strange.

The story is interesting enough but there are some strange quirks about the writing.  The 'hero' Dick Martin is known on the force as 'Slick', a nick name, Wallace refers to him in some paragraphs as 'Dick' and other's as 'Slick'.  I've never come across this before and for me it was annoying, having the major character known under two different names.

The way the chapters are constructed, they are very episodic,would make for a great television adaptation which was unlikely to have been the authors intention seeing as this was published in 1926.

As stated above it try's to be  a horror story and a murder mystery and falls a bit short on both accounts.  The highlight was some great dialogue between characters but this wasn't enough to save this from a 5/10.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


"Far from the gentle slopes of the Hundred Acre Wood lies The Red House, the setting for A.A. Milne's only detective story, where secret passages, uninvited guests, a sinister valet and a puzzling murder lay the foundations for a classic crime caper.

When the local police prove baffled, it is up to a guest at a local inn to appoint himself 'Sherlock Holmes' and, together with his friend and loyal 'Watson', delve deeper into mysteries of the dead man."

The author, best known for writing the Winnie the Pooh books was hugely prolific as a writer who wrote one detective story and this is it from 1922.

This is just great fun, featuring the old 'English Country House' where someone gets murdered early on and then the mystery is solved by some nosy individual.

The nosy individual in this case is a complete amateur who happens along shortly after the killing,and drags in a friend to assist.

I was rapt to find a copy of this, I knew it existed but its not something you would see often in second hand stores.  I assume its available on Kindle so if you like this type of story I can recommend it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

HAMLET,REVENGE - Michael Innes

"The murder was planned, deliberately and at obvious risk, to take place bang in the middle of a private performance of Hamlet.

Behind the scenes there were thirty-one suspects.  In the select and distinguished audience twenty-seven. 'Suspicions' said Appleby, 'crowd thick and fast upon us.' "

I read the first 50 odd pages and was on the verge of discarding this but as it's written in four parts- Prologue, Development, Denouement and Epilogue, I decided to hang in until Part 2.  I'm glad I did as the story picked up from there until a very good ending.

The trouble I found with Part 1 was that it is  99.9% about the setting up of this private 'Hamlet' performance at a grand country estate,  Having virtually no knowledge of anything Shakespearean the entire 75 pages was a struggle until as stated Part 2, where it becomes a standard 'who dunnit'.

Innes has created a good 'Inspector' with Mr Appleby who goes about his work with some humour and a lot of patience.  The second niggle however is the 'cast of thousands' that are suspect.  Even though the story is set in a castle bigger than Blenheim Palace thirty odd suspects is a bit many and gives the author the chance to pad the tale out with speculation.

This has a very good ending, with all the information in the story as how the crime is committed; the reader just has to pay attention keeping track of the movements of several dozen people.

Again, these English country estates are lethal, hardly a weekend seems to go by without a murder or two at one.

Michael Innes was the pseudonym of J.I.M. Stewart an academic of some note the author of several novels and biographies under his real name and the 'Appleby' crime series under this assumed name.

Friday, April 28, 2017


" Sir John Phillips, the Harley Street surgeon, and his beautiful nurse Jane Harden are almost too nervous to operate.  The emergency case on the table before them is the Home Secretary- and they both have very good, personal reasons to wish him dead.

Within hours he does die, although the operation was a complete success, and Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn must find out why....".

This is a good solid who dunnit from Ngaio Marsh, she writes very well and the cheat, i.e. the clue that would have given the reader a chance, is no where as outrageous as something Agatha Christie would throw in.  The reader can have an educated guess but without a bit of missing information , that's all it is,a guess.

As always, very entertaining for those of us who like our detective fiction from a simpler, more well mannered time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PIGEON PIE - Nancy Mitford

"At the outbreak of World War II, Lady Sophia Garfield dreamt of becoming a beautiful spy..

But she never imagined having to cope with a nest of German agents in her own home.

Or they would murder her maid, and hold her beloved bulldog hostage.."

This is very funny, not as sophisticated farce as her friend Evelyn Waugh was writing but still very good.  She has a good crack at the Upper Class and all religions, especially "Popery".

This was written in 1939 during the "phony war" period and Mitford apologizes in this second edition for any perceived flippancy.

This was Mitford's third book written before her two best known, "The Pursuit of Love " and " Love in a Cold Climate" and you can see with this effort she just about had the formula right.

Not a deep read but again an insight into the how the Upper class lived between the wars.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


"Hungry for adventure following the First World War, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond begins a career as the invincible protectorate of his country.  He is sent racing off to investigate what at first looks like blackmail but turns out to be more complicated and dangerous.  The rescue of a kidnapped millionaire, found with his thumbs horribly mangles, leads Drummond to the discovery of a political conspiracy of awesome scope and villainy, masterminded by the ruthless Carl Peterson".

This is very good, published in 1920 it is the first of this series and you can see why Ian Fleming used these Sapper books as a blue print for his James Bond.

There is of course  amazing luck for our hero and his associates but this is fiction so you go along for the ride. The criminal mastermind is here as is the "femme fatale" along with the love interest for the hero, great fun to read.

Something that surprises me is how violent these books are given their time but thinking about it many readers were only two years out of the trenches so these stories are nothing to what they will have experienced.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

PERIL AT END HOUSE - Agatha Christie

' Accident Number Four:  the bullet that missed her head by inches.

But the would be murderer makes a grave mistake- he shoots at his victim within a dozen yards of Hercule Poirot.

Published in 1932 this is an above average Christie, she has good humour and general banter between Poirot and Hastings.  This was written before she got sick of her hero and started writing by rote.  The plot is clever and doesn't have an outlandish Christie cheat.

I've been reading these since I was about thirteen,  some are dross , some are great stories but  they are never too taxing and an all round fun read at the end of a busy day.

Fun fact about this copy, its a 1973 edition and the previous owner has put a plastic cover on it  like dear old mum used to have to on the school exercise books, so it is pristine,-who ever it was was a total fan.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HARP - John Gregory Dunne

A memoir or the best conversation you will ever imagine.

This starts with Dunne receiving the dreaded 4.30 a.m. phone call informing him that one of his brothers has taken his own life.  He ruminates on his  and his brothers life, being the two youngest they were close.  This first stanza ends with:

"Stephen had a funeral mass with all the trimmings.  The priest who had christened him nearly forty-fours years earlier delivered the homily. I had hired a car and a driver and we left for New York and our flight back to Los Angeles a few hours after the service.  On the ride to the airport there was one terrible moment.  I started to doze in the back seat, and suddenly just before I feel asleep, I fought myself awake.  I wondered and wonder still, if poor Stephen, dear Stephen, had one last moment like that, one moment when he realized he was slipping away, one moment when he wanted it all back."

After read that, one of the saddest paragraphs I've ever read, I was hooked and went along for the journey.  Dunne is startling honest about his relationship with his family and the writers life.

He was ( deceased 2003) a relentless observer and note taker of his observations.  He revisits his notes recalling the time and place he made the notes.  Most never make it to a novel or screenplay or book but they are all important at the time and the explanation is fascinating.

This is a 10/10 and I recommend his novel "True Confessions" its one of the best.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


"Archie Goodwin, was invited to a lavish dinner party - even though the billionaire hostess did not have fond memories of him.  It was a casual evening among gorgeous society girls - until champagne became a murder weapon."

The usual high standard of banter between Wolfe and Goodwin with great subtle humour.  Its not in the top rank of Wolfe stories but its still better than most.

An excellent Easter Saturday read.

Friday, April 14, 2017


This revolves around Dr. Aziz  and three British citizens in India between the wars.

On a trip to the Marabar Caves one of the group, Miss Adela Quested believes she is sexually assaulted by Dr. Aziz who is subsequently arrested and put on trial.

His arrest and trial brings to the surface all the racism and prejudices that already exist but are usually kept hidden behind a thin veil of manners. The people of different races revert to their own race in  their attitudes.

What surprised me most is how the Indians didn't murder most of the British in their beds and kick any remaining out.  So many of the British that lorded it over the 'natives' were third rate little despots who thought they were gentry.  The arrogance is terrible; I found the same thing in Orwells 'Burmese Days".

Once I picked this and started it I was drawn in immediately, the writing is fantastic and it is an effortless read.  I found even though I enjoyed this I had no empathy with any of the characters even Dr. Aziz the victim.  I think this was mainly because they are all so human with their petty prejudices bred into them by race and religion.

This is a fantastic book and deserves its place on all the " best/ greatest novels lists".

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Bulldog Drummond is back.  Out of 1929 Hugh Drummond and his pals stick their noses into the business of new neighbour who behaviour is 'strange'.

This "sicking their nose in" uncovers a 25  year old crime which is leaving a trail of corpses in in wake.

Again, a good light read and a time capsule of behaviours and thinking from the time period this was published.

Friday, April 7, 2017


" Alec Leamas is a 50 year old professional who has grown weary and stale in espionage.  he longs to 'come in from the cold'.  One by one his agents in East Germany have been systematically liquidated- with an uncanny deliberation- by Mundt, his opposite number on the other side of the Berlin 'Wall'.....

Recalled to London, Leamas is given a chance of re-in-statement. A subtle and torturous plot has been evolved.

This is a great book, not just a great spy novel.  The only reason I rate "Tinker Tailor.." higher is that book has Smiley in a starring role, whereas he is only a bit player in this and I have soft spot for George.

The plotting in this is outstanding, if you are reading it for the first time, you'll be thinking about what is happening right until the end.

The sign this is a classic is even though I know the story the book stands multiple readings.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


In her introduction to this edition Antonia Fraser states:

..."that Josephine Tey, whose life was outwardly sad in many ways, including her early death from cancer, did find fulfillment in her books.  Certainly they will live so long as classic crime fiction is read." 

On a spring evening Robert Blair , a small town solicitor is contemplating going home for the day when he receives a telephone call from one of two women who life at a local house called The Franchise.

Marion Sharpe wishes to engage his services to represent her and her mother who have been accused of abducting and torturing a 15 year old girl.  As the accusation sound so ludicrous Blair accepts.  It is not until he finds that the victim can describe minutely details within the house that could only be known by someone who has been inside. The problem is his clients deny that she has ever been inside the premises.

This scenario sets off a trail of events until the story reaches in climax in Court.

This is a good story, there is a couple of loose ends not very well explained away, but over all a great mystery and very well written, it kept me guessing until the last few pages.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS - Robert Erskine Childers

This is one of the original great spy stories, published in 1903.

Davies is yachting off the Friesland Coast and meets a German who attempts to wreck him on a sandbar.  After this incident Davies contacts his friend Carruthers to come an assist on finding out what is happening in the area.

The two explore the coast and come to believe that Germany is planning to use the area to launch an invasion of Britain.

This is not a James Bond story, its more a sea story but the tension mounts in small increments until the finale.

Erskine  Childers wrote this book in an attempt to alert the British Government to the idea that it was Germany that posed the big threat to Britain rather than France.  In this he was successful and Britain put in place mechanisms to protect its self in the North Sea.

This is highly entertaining, informative and is a classic spy story but not guns, women and wine.

Erskine Childers was an interesting man in his own right, author, soldier and politician.  He was executed by firing squad in 1922  aged 52 for the unlicensed possession of a pistol that had been gifted to him by Michael Collins.  His son Erskine Hamilton Childers served as Ireland's fourth President.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CARDS ON THE TABLE - Agatha Christie

I enjoy a  good Agatha Christie, the accent is on "good" here, this is not a good one.

Five people are in a room. four are playing cards, one is observing; the observer is murdered  during the card game.  So, there are four suspects all who are believed to have previously murdered.  Poirot and an exceptionally dull policeman set out to find out the killer.

Even for a poor Christie this is ridiculous, it feels like it was dictated while she was peeling potatoes. There is even a character, a female writer of detective fiction who spends the entire book disparaging the genre.

The saving grace is this was a short read, one trip on the Interlander ferry saw it off and it was only finished as it was all I had to hand.

Monday, March 13, 2017

WITHIN FOUR WALLS - Major M C C Harrison & Capt. H A Cartwright

In 1914 the two authors were taken prisoner by the Germans and both then spent the next four years making numerous escape attempts, being recaptured many times before finally being successful in 1917 & 1918.

Part of this book is part of an official account they had to provide to the War Office.  The remainder of the book was written by the authors in 1928-29.

The tales of ingenuity used are amazing, as is the courage displayed by these two and others who continually wanted to get "home" with the sole purpose of re-joining their regiments to get back fighting.

One particular frustrating attempt ended when after walking across Germany one of the authors thought he had made it to Holland; he walked into a village very pleased with himself and was promptly arrested, he had made it to Holland but had got confused and walked back in Germany.

Materials for the escaped were manufactured in camps and prisons, sent in relief parcels from wives and families, items were sent in ingenious fashion.

Every time they were caught they were sentenced by criminal courts to terms of imprisonment so they spent years in various forms of detention.

Many of the escape attempts sound like Boys Own Adventures and it is easy to forget the slaughter that was occurring at the time. Prior to his capture one of the authors was with a group of 1000 men on Monday by Tuesday there were only 300 of them still alive, truly unimaginable this type of killing.

This isn't  well written, its tedious in patches but its true and was occurring only 100 years ago.

The book was published in 1930 and the edition I have is a Penguin from 1940.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Another preposterous adventure from H C McNeile aka 'Sapper'.  Published in 1935 it finds our hero Hugh Drummond involved in a plot that has military secrets, nasty Germans and a Russian killer.

Its totally over the top but as with all these stories very entertaining and a 'time capsule' of the between the wars period.

Harmless fun and the author is nowhere near as derogatory towards Jews and the non white races in this volume, which removes much of the cringe factor of the earlier stories.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


The story of a young British diplomat posted as a vice-counsel to Moscow in 1912 and where he stayed under various guises until his arrest and expulsion in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution.

His first posting was an official one where he met and mingled with the Tsarist Government and was present into the Fist World War. He was then sent home for an extra-marital dalliance.

He then returned in an official unofficial "neither confirm or deny" capacity to act as a liaison between the Bolsheviks and the allies.  He stayed in this role until he was arrested where he was accused of  plotting to have Lenin assassinated.

This was published in 1932 so has none of the intelligence work that Bruce Lockhart was involved in in Russia.  The details of this may never be known as his papers as of 2003 "disappeared". He worked in Russia with fellow agent, Sidney Reilly and it his son, Robin Bruce Lockhart wrote the book  Reilly :Ace of Spies and who supplies the Introduction to this edition.

But despite no detail of his spying this is fascinating.  The author met regularly with Trotsky and other members of the revolutionary government and gives great insight into the mentality of the committee.

The book contains a huge amount of information more than a casual reader like myself could understand without  real background knowledge but its still worth the effort as a time capsule.
Very interesting.

Monday, February 27, 2017


I first read this book of reminiscences 40 years ago in about 1976, it was published in 1971, it was a lot fresher in 1976.

David Niven was an English actor who made several dozen Hollywood movies before his death in 1983. He is probably best known for his role as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days.

This book rambles through his life from his childhood until the books publication.  It concentrates on his education, his training as an officer at Sandhurst, his war service and his career as an actor.

He is an inveterate name dropper, (he makes no apology for this), he met everyone, real royalty, acting royalty and dined with Presidents.

For me the most interesting phase is his army training between the wars prior to his resigning his commission and heading to America. Whats unusual is he had no desire to be an actor, he fell into it more than any calling.

To his credit on the outbreak of the Second World War with a successful career that was only going to get better, he jumped on a boat and returned to England to enlist.

Like all these memoirs it is bound to be very unreliable in big parts but its entertaining and has lots of the "between the wars" period I enjoy reading about.

He wrote a follow up  Bring on the Empty Horses which is no where near as good .

This is a nice lightweight read, great for a Sunday on the couch and it won't keep you up nights pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Lastly,this is a beautiful Folio Society edition.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

STASILAND - Anna Funder

"Funder became aware of the hidden histories of people whose lives had been shaped by one of the most efficient police states in history.  She set out to collect and investigate the stories of both victims and perpetrators;  of those who worked for the Stasi (the East German secret service) and those who had been persecuted by it".

This is a chilling read, seventeen million people living in fear for over 40 years.  The Stasi infiltrated every facet of people's lives.  It is estimated that 2 people per 100 were paid police informers, families denounced each other.  By having this army of informers they quantity of information gathered on its citizens was enormous,  "Laid out upright and end to end, the files the Stasi kept on their countrymen and women would form a line 180 kilometers long".

The saddest victim in this is a women who suffered a breach birth, the child was taken to a West German hospital for treatment, over night the wall was erected and she was unable to have her son live with her again for five years.

After the war the Communists simply replaced Nazi school teachers with Communist school teachers who began indoctrinating the children- get them young and you have them forever- from there the Stasi power grew and grew backed by the threat of Moscow's tanks until all the GDR was a massive zoo controlled by Honecker and Mielke.

As from the rear cover blurb above , the author interviews both sides.  The most interesting and deserving of a book of his own is Herr Bohnsack, a former lieutenant colonel responsible for 'disinformation and psychological warfare against the west'".  His boss was Marcus Wolf, supposedly the blue print for John Le Carre's GDR spymaster "Karla".

Much of Bohnsacks work was directed against West Germany.

" It collected sensitive or secret information from agents in the west and leaked it to cause harm; it manufactured documents  and spliced together recordings of conversations that never took place to damage persons in the public sphere; it spread rumours about people in the west, including the devastating rumour that someone worked for them.  Division X men fed "coups" to western journalists about the Nazi past of West German politicians, it funded left wing publications and it managed, at least in one instance, to exert extraordinary influence over the political process itself.  In 1972, the Social Democrat head of the West German Government Willy Brandt faced a no confidence vote in parliament. Division X bribed one and possibly two back-benchers for their votes to keep him in power."

Then there is the physical torture that was used against prisoners, then there is the fact that people were shot trying to cross over  "the street" in Berlin. The horrors go on and on.

For me what makes reading this so horrifying is the remarkable writing, it is totally understated no hysteria, its just outstanding.

The author is interesting in her own right ,an Australian, "she has worked for the Australian Government as an international lawyer in human rights, constitutional law and treaty negotiation before turning to writing full time."  (Wiki.)

The only criticism I have of this book is it has the most rubbish cover in relation to the contents's I have ever seen.

A great topic, great writing, an outstanding book.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


A collection of fourteen of the best 'Rumpole' tales, with the addition of the first pages of the incomplete story that Mortimer was working on at the time of his death.

I have always had a soft spot for these stories with their humour and the humanity; traits not usually associated with the legal profession but Mortimer does it perfectly.

I can't read these stories without the voice of Leo McKern in my head.  Casting him as Rumpole was as perfect as Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster.

In addition to the great writing this is a lovely edition, a 500 page hardback with cut pages and an outstanding 'Introduction' by Mortimer's friend and colleague Ann Mallalieu.

Read all the Rumpole you can find, you'll laugh and laugh which is very good thing to do.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


"Finding a purloined portrait of a leggy blonde was supposed to be an easy paycheck for Detective Lew Archer, but that was before the bodies started piling up.  Suddenly, Archer finds himself in the middle of the decades- old mystery of a brilliant artist who walked into the desert and simply disappeared."

There is Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.  These are the three to read if you want great novels, not just great American noir crime novels.

MacDonald wrote eighteen "Archer" novels and everyone that I've read ( about ten) has been worth the it.  His books are full of damaged people, conniving ,lying and killing with Archer solving the mysteries with his own moral code.

Great writing, great mysteries.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Twelve short stories; six of featuring "Blandings Castle", one 'Bobbie Wickham" and five "Mr Mulliner's".

As always a total delight.  The world of Wodehouse is nice and funny and everyone should read some Wodehouse to take a break from life every now and again.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Rae Jeffs writes, in the preface to this book:

Confessions Of An Irish Rebel was recorded on tape by Brendan during his last visit to America, and then put to one side to enable Brendan Behan's New York to be published in the same year as the World Fair.  As a result, at the time of his death the transcript of the tapes had not been edited in their entirety, and I have been left with the monumental task of finishing the manuscript without his help.  This I have done to the best of my ability, with the aid of additional material which he wrote at different time and anecdotes which he told me and which I have reproduced as nearly as possible in his own words."

The above adding of "additional material" and reproducing of "anecdotes" is the problem with this book.  If you have read other Behan material you notice that this is full of repetition. Entire paragraphs from previous work are introduced here with no credit back to the original source.

Reading Behan is entertainment, I wouldn't pass judgement on the truthfulness of much of what he writes but he writes it well and reading good writing is what I love.

This book carries on from when  he was released from Borstal and  jailed several times for criminal offences he says he committed under the auspices of the IRA .  Again the validity of claims may be questioned but as no one will ever know for sure how truthful he has been I just accepted  the tales and read on.

If you want to read Behan, I'd recommend  "Borstal Boy" and just dip into this because this book is padded out entertaining for sure but the repetition from other works get annoying.

Monday, January 30, 2017

THE SCARPERER - Brendan Behan

"He's a mysterious figure whose influence enables Limey and a group of toughs to break out out of Mountjoy Penitentiary in Dublin...

But there's no joy for Limey:  the Scarperer has planned to fix him up with a French identity - clothing, papers, even a tattoo- and then to murder him."

This is a short crime novel originally published in serial form in the Irish Times under the pseudonym of Emmet Street, which was a street name near where Behan was lodging.

"By 1953, I was quite well known as a poet and writer, and unfortunately the Dublin intelligentsia had seen pieces of pornography that I'd written for French magazines when I was in France- in English, of course.  This didn't exactly endear me to them, so being short of the readies, I decided to write under a phoney name" -  from the Foreword to the 1966 edition by Rae Jeffs.

This is a excellent crime;as with all Behan you get the fantastic ear for conversation, the humour and  the violence that can be conveyed by language.

I never knew this book existed until a recent troll through a second hand store in Dunedin brought it to light along with another of his books which I knew existed but is hard to find.  It was one of those trolls that was exceptional.

Behan was larger than life, massively talented who unfortunately drank himself to death by the age of 41, an age where he had should have been hitting his straps.  Read anything you can find of his.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE BIG HUEY - Greg Newbold

"In June 1975 Greg Newbold was a young Auckland university student working towards a masters degree. By November of that year he was an inmate of New Zealand's maximum security prison, serving a very long sentence, 'the big huey' in prison parlance.  What caused this turn of events, and the consequences it had for him, form the subject of this engrossing, very honest and highly topical book."

What caused this turn of events was an ounce of heroin and because of this we get this book.

I first read this 25 years ago and on a re-read it is still raw and honest and entertaining.  The honesty is remarkable as he puts himself out to the reader in ways he need not of have.

The book is taken from a diary that he managed to compile and smuggled out of prison during the five years he spent locked up.  He did his time in Mt Eden, Paremoremo and Hautu, a farm in the central north island.

The writing isn't sensationalist, its just an account of the day to day experience of being locked up with a large group of males and the tensions, laughs and incidents that this involves.

The author even as a small time drug dealer was always sharper than the average prisoner and managed to complete his Masters Degree with honours while serving his sentence.This sounds easy but this was on top of his having to work on prison work gangs while on the prison farm.

Newbold was released in 1980 and this book was published in 1982, the writing is raw and unpolished. Today Professor Newbold writes in a much more finished manner from his position at the University of Canterbury.

Newbold is also one of the people who when they comment publicly on a matter he is worth listening to, always balanced and always thought out.

I've never read or heard him comment on this, but his arrest probably saved his life, he may have ended up like his associate, drug courier Doug Wilson, murdered in Australia in connection with the Mr Asia syndicate.

Can't recommend this enough, its difficult book to find but every library in the country should have a copy.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


'It's the 1950's Washington, D.C.: a world of bare knuckled ideology and secret dossiers, dominated by personalities like Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Joe McCarthy.  Enter Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism.  An encounter with a handsome State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim's first job and, after Fullers advances, his first love affair.

As McCarthy mounts an urgent bid for power and internal investigations focus on " sexual subversives" in the government.  Tim and Fuller find it ever more dangerous to navigate their double lives."

Although the above blurb mentions Nixon, Johnson and others they play no part in the story apart from the fact they are wandering around doing things at the same time as the events that this novel focuses on. The focus is on McCarthy's hearings regarding the "risk to security" homosexuals poised to the US Government.

McCarthy was a ludicrous vile man, his actions lead to people being summarily dismissed from jobs for simple going to the "wrong type of bar " for a drink.  His hounding drove people to suicide; he was allowed to continue this persecution for many years.

The love affair between Tim and Hawkins is intertwined with these hearings as they both work for persons intimately involved in them.  Of necessity their relationship has to be kept secret or their careers would be over.

The book has actual transcription from hearings which are interesting; the machinations behind the scenes, the deal making  and of abuse of power is fully on display.

Without the inside information about power broking in Washington the relationship trials and tribulations of Tim and Hawkins would be very ordinary.  Large doses of Catholic guilt and manipulation by one partner and wouldn't sustain any reader interest on its own but as a slice of life of this time its worth reading.

The author lives in Washington and knows of what he writes.  He's a very interesting man in his own right.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

THIN ICE- Compton MacKenzie

" Perhaps it was strange that George Gaymer should have become a friend of Henry Fortescue at Oxford in the last years of the nineteenth century,  Politically they were poles apart.  Henry, already President of the Union, had a brilliant future before him;  George was goodhearted but mediocre.  Above all, Henry was homosexual; George was not yet George's loyal friendship stood many tests across more than forty years, and was reliable when that of Henry's own kind proves transitory or even treacherous.

Absorbed  in Eastern politics and Empire problems, and ambitious to reach the heights in politics, Henry suppressed his homosexual he had no intention of walking on thin ice... Thus for years after he got into Parliament , he was caution incarnate.  But his failure to gain Cabinet office was so bitter a disappointment that, in search of some anodyne, he was tempted to throw caution to the winds."

This is the story of a forty year friendship covering off many of the momentous events of the early 20th century.  Both protagonists are elites, men of independent wealth who can live life as they please.

When Henry is overlooked for Cabinet due to deals done within political parties he lets a life time of discretion slip and begins to leave himself exposed leading his homosexual life style.  At this time leading a homosexual life style left you open to serious criminal sanction and more particularly blackmail.
There is a statistic quoted in the book, validity not known, that at this time as many as a third of male suicides could be attributed to blackmailing over sexual preference, horrific if even remotely true. The police were complicit, hounding and entrapping men with a vigor only comparable to the modern day fixation with speeding.

 All down the years George worries about and protects his friend as as best he can without ever understanding Henry in the choice's he makes even when he is assaulted and blackmailed.

Although this is a lovely novel of friendship it is all so a very good social document of the between the wars period. The two friends travel often and the observations on how the "Empire" treated its less than white subjects is appalling and when India rose up they were surprised!

I really enjoyed this, it's a short 188 pages but there's much packed in.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


"Eight evil men assemble in an English country house.  Thieves, white slavers, drug dealers,and communists, they share one common goal: the destruction of everything that England holds dear. Police surround the manor in preparation for a raid. Suddenly, a gang of men in black masks appears and knocks the officers unconscious.  Whips in hand, the Black Gang enters the house - and the crooks beg for the soft touch of the police."  -(Amazon)

H.C.McNeile better known as 'Sapper' is the author of this "Bulldog" Drummond adventure.  McNeile got given the name "Sapper" to write under by his publisher.  McNeile had started getting stories published while he was serving in the trenches in the First World War and as it was forbidden for serving Officers to have work published under their own name. he used this.

This is an excellent adventure where a group of ex-soldiers take it upon themselves to rid England of those that threaten the England they love.  It is great fun, the best way I can describe it is James Bond without the tedious description of everything eaten, drunk and smoked.  It's surprisingly violent for its time with a good smattering of humour.

Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond a gentleman of independent wealth spends his day s acting as a monied buffoon, a gorilla sized Bertie Wooster, whereas in reality he his gathering information to rid the country of communists infiltrators.

The only negative is the aged views on other races and religions, Jews and those of other than white skin are spoken of terribly in way that grates. Thankfully this only features in the first few chapters.

McNeile obviously sold books like nobodies business.  This story was published in 1922, this edition I have was printed in 1947 and it is the 46th edition.  Not bad in 25 years.

I have come across Sapper short stories in anthology's but this is the first novel I've found.  I will be looking our for more, really good fun.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MADAME BOVARY - Gustave Flaubert

"Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life.  An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery.  But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating."

I've seen this described as the first realist novel and as the above blurb states, it encompasses the "banality of provincial life" .  Emma Bovary makes some bad choices and this isn't a plot spoiler, - don't end well - but what I found enjoyable is the writing and the descriptions of every day life.

The book took five years to write and Flaubert wrote very slowly, "often agonizing for hours over the rhythm of a sentence".  This effort makes this a very easy read and you don't feel that you are reading a translation  published in 1857.

The book is full of small town characters, stupid, greedy, predatory, all the types that make up any community.  The highlight for me is the description of a village live stock fair. From the pompous politician to the poor servant who wins money for 50 years of faithful service to her master and then gives it all to a priest to say a mass for her!

This is the side of the book that is the most enjoyable for me, it very easy to write Madame Bovary off as vain  etc etc but she is only part of this wonderful tale.

After the books publication Flaubert and his editor were tried for offences against public morals due to this books contents but were acquitted, no idea what may have been the grounds after reading the book but perhaps it was 'racy' 160 years ago.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


"When a millionaire business man hires Nero Wolfe to probe the background of his daughters boyfriend, it seems like another case of an overprotective father.  But when a powerful gangland boss counsels the detective to drop the matter, Wolfe realizes it is much more than that."

The usual high quality from Stout; as I've said many times the quality of the banter between characters is rarely beaten. These books are much more than "mystery/detective" stories, its quality writing involving a quality mystery.

The entire series is great but this particular story published in 1949 is a beauty.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


"In the eerie green light of a sepulchral old museum of waxworks the French detective stumbles across the body of a young girl with a knife in her back placed in the arms of a sinister figure of the Satyr of the Seine.  That same morning the body of another young girl had been found stabbed in the back, floating on the Seine river."

From 1932 we have a  good mystery by John Dickson Carr aka Carter Dickson aka Carr Dickson aka Roger Fairbain aka "the master of the locked room mystery".

This isn't quite a locked room mystery but its a very good one with all the clues to the killer laid out before the reader.  The reader just has to take notes to track of the clues laid out for him.

Anything by Carr is worth reading and his books are still seen often in second hand stores, church fetes etc.

This isn't 'The Name of the Rose"  but its quality writing by a person who knew his stuff.

Friday, January 6, 2017

CARRY ON, JEEVES - P.G Wodehouse

A collection of ten Jeeves and Wooster stories first published in 1925.  This includes the tale where Jeeves is first employed by Bertie another told in the first person by Jeeves.

As always great fun - Wodehousian land is a wonderful place to visit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Finally got around to reading this and what a top adventure.  Initially thought the ruminations of someone living alone one an island alone 24 of 28 years might be a struggle but its not.

Crusoe had several adventures prior to being ship wrecked, in fact he's so unlucky if you knew he was getting on your boat you'd wait for a later sailing.  Our hero is never content , instead of settling for a comfortable life at home he insists on taking risks and this is how he ends up on his island.

Its great reading how he copes and sets up his life and ends up living alone for 24 years before life comes back to him.

There is much introspection and it his faith in God that sees him survive.  This novel is 300 years old and God was still a big part of this in the early 18th century.

This is seen as the first English novel and reading it is highly recommended, its never dull.

Monday, January 2, 2017


"The story of Victor Frankenstein, a young student, who learns the secret of imparting life.  Armed with this secret, he constructs a creature out of parts of the corpses he manages to obtain from churchyards and dissecting rooms.

Once animated, the creature longs for human contact, but finds himself shunned by all...."

This is nothing like the hundreds of movie and TV incarnations of the 'Monster'. In this book Frankenstein is as much a monster as his creature- a tale of vanity and misplaced ambition which results in a terrible revenge on innocents. This revenge is the most cold blooded and directed I've ever read, this is the terrifying thing about the entire book; calculated revenge, the worst type.

The moral for me -always pay your bills.

Well worth reading, this is a well known book written by a 21 year old, a feat of imagination.