Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE TROUBLED MAN - Henning Mankell

Every morning Hakan von Enke takes a walk in the forest near his apartment in Stockholm. However, one day winter's day he fails to come home.  It seems the retired naval officer has vanished without trace.

Detective Kurt Wallander is not officially involved in the investigation but he has a personal interest in the case as Hakan's son is engaged to his daughter Linda.

This is the last in the Wallander series and like  the entire series for me its more about the journey than the destination. There is no great mystery here, its very solvable but its a joy to read . I like the ruminations on life and the quiet depressive personality of Wallander as he doggedly solves the mystery.

Mankell tends to be a bit preachy with his left wing thinking, but the stories are so good it doesn't detract from any enjoyment.  You have to ration  these books as Mankell died in 2015 so there's no more.

Friday, July 28, 2017

ROOM 40 - Patrick Beesly

Room 40 was the unofficial name of the British Admiralty's World War I code breaking organisation. Its mastery of the German Navy and Diplomatic codes had as profound an effect on the outcome of the First World War as Bletchly Park's penetration of Axis codes did on the Second.  But for the work of Room 40, there would have been no Battle of Jutland, the Irish Easter Rising of 1916 might have succeeded, the United States would not have joined the Allies in April 1917.

These were the code breakers who broke the Zimmerman Telegram that brought the US into WWI.

When I bought this I thought it would be more about the individuals involved in the code breaking, instead I found that the author had used each instant of code breaking to explain the military action that resulted or did not result because of this.  There are biographical details of the main organizers but this is more regarding the military out come.

Not that there is not a goldmine of information it was just not what I expected.  There were 248 vessels involved in the Battle of Jutland, two fleets hammering each other. Battle on a massive scale.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the sinking of the Lusitania, it appears she was a legitimate military target and the one torpedo happened to hit armaments meant for the Allies. A massive loss of life followed, 1195 civilians, including 94 children, all of whom were unaware that they were travelling atop high explosives.

So, not the book I thought it would be but very interesting all the same.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


In January 1917 the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, sent a cable to his Ambassador in Washington for transmission to the German Ambassador in Mexico.  In it, Zimmermann announced that Germany was going to start unrestricted submarine warfare on all shipping,Allied and neutral, in the Atlantic.  he then made a startling and audacious proposal: the German Ambassador was to offer the Mexican government an alliance directed against the United States and, furthermore, to ask the Mexicans to contact the Japanese to see if they could be persuaded to switch sides ( Japan was on the Allied side in the First World War).  British Intelligence decoded the telegram and passed it onto the Americans, with momentous consequences.

From the introduction by Margaret MacMillan

The momentous consequence was that this was the final catalyst that brought the United States into the First World War at a time when Britain was broke and was only months away from having to reach a settlement with the Germans.

This book backgrounds the German efforts to start a war between Mexico and the United States. Their thinking was if the US was tied up at home they would not have the inclination to fight in Europe even if the submarines were sinking tonnage of neutral shipping.

The US President, Woodrow Wilson , is shown to be so intellectually arrogant that all he could see was his vision for the world, not the reality of what was happening about him and he would not have come into the war without the translation of the telegram being supplied to him.

There is all the details of how the British with Russian assistance managed to obtain all the German codes which with some work enabled them to read all the German transmissions for the years of the war.

The British had one huge advantage which the Germans did not appreciate.  British cable ships had cut all the German transatlantic cables at the start of the war ( day two actually).  The Germans had to use British controlled cables or wireless but they were not duly alarmed because they were convinced that their codes could not be broken.
From the introduction by Margaret MacMillan.

This is fascinating from start to finish, its a short read ,170 pages, but reads like a thriller.  Great stuff.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Hugh Drummond's wife, Phyllis, is kidnapped by one of the nastiest villains  to have gone around, Irma Petersen.  Petersen has done this to entrap Drummond and his cronies to avenge the death of her husband Carl.

Rather than kill Phyllis outright Irma makes a treasure hunt out of her setting clues for Drummond to locate his wife.

This story is totally over the top as a precursor to the Bond books should be, with "daring do" that makes Bond look like a wimp.

Published in 1928 this is great fun like all this series.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

ANTHONY BLUNT his lives - Miranda Carter

Miranda Carter traces Blunt's transformations, from young member of the Bloomsbury circle, to left wing intellectual, to camouflaged member of the establishment.  Until his treachery was made public, Blunt was celebrated for his ground breaking work on Poussin, Italian art, and Old Master drawings; at the Courtauld Institute he trained a whole generation of academics and curators.  And yet even  as he ascended from rebellion into outward conformity, he was homosexual when homosexuality was a crime, and a traitor when the penalty was death.

The last part of the above paragraph is a bit melodramatic seeing as he confessed to being a spy in 1964  but this wasn't made public until 1979.

This is an excellent read which the author has set it up in headings School boy, Undergraduate Recruit, Talent Spotter, Spy, Writer etc and has detailed his achievements and  treachery in each part of his life.

He spyed for the Russians and although I've seen written previously that he did not do too much damage and that his spying did not result in any deaths, unlike Philby, the truth is he worked hard for the Russians getting them as much intelligence as he could lay his hands on.

The underlying  story in this as it is in all the "Cambridge Spy Ring" books is Guy Burgess.  Burgess may have been a drunk but he was the true believer and he drew the others around him, especially Blunt it seems, they were true friends, and they always gravitated back to each other.

The second underlying story in this and in all the other books is the sheer incompetence of the British Intelligence Services. These people were all member of the communist party at one stage when Russia really was intent on world domination but they all got work with UK intelligence services or highly sensitive positions within government.  They were all 'establishment' except Cairncross, so they were just taken on.

Blunt worked for the Queen and did a great job as Surveyor of the Queens Pictures getting things is order when things were in total disarray and had a full life as an academic, not always popular but it was work of note and he was highly regarded by many.

What made me smile throughout is human nature, many of his life long friends suddenly could hardly remember meeting him once he was publicly named as a spy.

The author asks several times why Blunt was a spy.just as he was himself after he was disclosed publicly, she has no answer just as Blunt himself didn't, publicly anyway, but this is a interesting book about an interesting man who mastered compartmentalizing his life.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A RIGHT TO DIE - Rex Stout

Susan was bright, petite, beautiful and white.  When she was murdered, all the clues pointed straight to her dapper, well educated fiance who was black.  The Homicide Bureau thought they had the case sewn up.  Until Nero Wolfe uncovered a new kind of motive for murder.

These are always a good read, the mystery is easily solved but I don't read them for the riddle more for the excellent dialogue and the humour that Stout brought to his novels.

This is of the usual high standard, a short read, perfect for a cold Sunday on the couch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


In 1936 at the age of  55, H. L. Mencken published s reminiscence of his Baltimore boyhood in The New Yorker.  With this modest beginning, Mencken embarked on what would become the Days Trilogy, a long and magnificent adventure in autobiography by America's greatest journalist.

This is actually three books in one binding an edition by  The Library of America.  It is a great social history.  Mencken starts writing about his boyhood from 1880 right through to when he is famous and travels the world.

As a Managing Editor he wasn't about inventing news to get the circulation ticking over so what is happening today has all been done before.  He admits that he has "gilded the lily'in these memoirs as well but that doesn't matter because what we get is several hundred pages of fascinating writing that at times makes you laugh out loud at times and shake your head in disbelief at others.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Among the inhabitants of a properous mining town in New South Wales stalks a killer.  two elderly bachelors have already died from cyanide poisoning.

When Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the half-aboriginal detective, arrives on the scene two months later he is faced with a cold trail- no motive, no clues- only vague descriptions of a woman who was on the scene at the time.

So Bony sits down to wait for what he feels must be the inevitable- a third killing...

This has excellent dialogue , very clever banter between the characters but if you hope to solve the mystery good luck as the solution comes completely out of the blue with no hint in the lead up.

This doesn't make it a dud book, just frustrating for the mystery reader who likes chance to have  a guess at the solution.

Unlike the earlier books in the series (published 1958) there is not the accent on Bony's mixed race which is not mentioned.

Worth the read but like a lot of Christie the cheat by the author is massive.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

WALL OF EYES - Margaret Millar

Since the accident that left her blind, Kelsey has become more difficult than ever.  At least tis is what Alice told the psychiatrist.

Languishing in a house full of servants and unloving family, Kelsey has become bitter.  She was driving the car that night.  Geraldine did die, and Kelsey will never see again.  but that was two long years ago.  Time enough to heal.  So why wold Kelsey now want to end her life with a grain of morphine.

This is the first Margaret Millar book I have read and it is very, very dark, full of repulsive characters which makes for a fantastic read.

Even the Detective Inspector is next level strange when compared to the British versions of Marsh, Tey etc ( this is set in Toronto).

There is murder, there is a mystery and the solution keeps you guessing until the last few pages.

This is one of the best of this genre I've read in a long time.

Plus I discovered after buying the book that Ms. Millar was the wife of  Kenneth Millar, who under the pseudonym Ross MacDonald wrote the superb Lew Archer series, which is one of the best.

Margaret Millar is on the " must find" list.

THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG - Margery Allingham

You go to a mans funeral in January and then he goes and dies again in June.

This is the mystery that Albert Campion and his irreverent man servant Lugg have to solve in this very funny wee book.  Its only 128 pages.

Not a great technical murder mystery but Allingham's stories generally aren't, its very character driven and makes for great reading.  It very nearly goes Wodehousian which is never  bad thing,.

I can highly recommend anything Allingham wrote and she is still in print which says a lot for her quality.  This was written in 1937.