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.