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.