Sunday, December 30, 2018

THE EVE OF SAINT VENUS - Anthony Burgess

At the rambling Gothic mansion of Sir Benjamin Drayton, the preparations are in full swing for his only daughter's marriage.  The cake is ready for cutting; the champagne aches to be uncorked; the baronet is ready to start the toasts.  But corruption lurks in the wings, and plans are afoot to stop the marriage from ever taking place.

Until, that is, a little intervention from Venus herself adds divine meddling to mortal schemes.

This was originally written as a libretto for an opera Burgess planned, he then decided that it was miles too long for an opera and decided that it would be a good play, but not considering himself a playwright he refashioned the story as a novella and this is what we have here.

The story is set in a 24 hour period with the looming marriage and all the pressures that go with it.  Sir Benjamin is the only character who doesn't get too exercised but the whole thing, regularly consuming bottles of wine and staying very relaxed and the source of constant laughs.

Good fun, the regular Burgess themes are here, religion and his loathing of homosexuality.  His issue with homosexuality is strange as his main character in Earthly Powers  (his best book) is homosexual, reading him I often wonder if he "doth protest too much".  Anyway this little book is fun, 125 pages, fills in an afternoon nicely.

Friday, December 28, 2018


In the early 1960's Steinbeck took off with his 10 year old poodle for a trip about the United States.  He says he covered 10,000 miles and saw 32 states.

Weather this is completely true or not affects the book not at all.  We are only told about 4 or 5 states  but this is wonderfully entertaining.  Steinbeck seems to be a bit unfashionable  with some who write tweets as there main contribution to literature but his easy conversational style sucks you in and takes you for a very pleasant ride.

The only negative of this travelogue/ novel is that he finishes in the South where racism is alive and kicking and so the book ended on a sad note with Steinbeck looking at the way some humans treat other humans.

A great writer, a very good book.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

JOSEPH ANTON - Salman Rushdie

On February 14, 1989, Valentines Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been 'sentenced to death' by the Ayatollah Khomenini, a voice reaching across the world from Iran to kill him in his own country.  For the first time he heard the word "fatwa".  His crime?: To have written a novel called 'The Satanic Verses", which was accused of being 'against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.

So begins the extraordinary, often harrowing story- filled to with surreal and funny moments- of how a writer was forced underground, moved from house to house, an armed police team protection team living with him at all times for more than nine years.  He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by.  He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names, then it came to him:  Conrad and Chekov- Joseph Anton.  He became "Joe".

This is a great read, very honest.  We read of two divorces, several break ups, births and raising of children on top of the constant pressure of living in secret.

Although the British Government supplied protection they were not always supportive.  In fact they were incredibly weak when it came to condemning  Iran.  There were airlines who would not fly him and then there were writers who blamed him for his situation, particularly John Le Carre, very particularly John Le Carre.  There were MP's who were happy to see him dead because of there cuddling up to adherents of a stone age religion.

There were many writers who supported him 100 %, supplying him with houses, publicly speaking out on his behalf, Harold Pinter and wife and Bill Buford are the stand outs

A fascinating read, much too much to explain in this little bit


A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods.  Worse still- both his family and the police- is that the body was in an area that had already been searched.

Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case.  There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now- after a decade without answers- it's time for the truth.

This isn't one of the best in the series.  It's almost time for it to be the "Clarke"series.  The Clarke character is strong enough to carry a book on its own.  In this story, Clarke has the interesting crime to deal with while Rebus potters along on another investigation who feeds bits of information to Clarke's investigation.

For me the story is cluttered with too many characters, there's Cafferty of course and for some reason Rankin continues to employ the 'Malcolm Fox" character who adds nothing to any story he's been in.

My suggestion is that Rebus is time shifted back to when he was a working copper rather than the retired one who has populated the last few books.

This is one of the great series, Rebus, a great character but something needs to be done.  This formula of two investigation in a book is old already.


Storm clouds loom over Europe. Treason is afoot in the highest social circles.  The very security of the nation is in peril.  Jeeves, it transpires, has long been an agent of British Intelligence, but now His Majesty's Government must turn to the one man who can help... Bertie Wooster.

Yes I can confirm that this is every bit as bad as the above blurb states.  Bertie is shown here as someone who can reason and make decisions, it just doesn't work.

There are a couple of smiles but thank goodness there are 95 Wodehouse's to read & re-read. 

The Wodehouse estate is doing no one any favours by licensing this stuff

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


This is the last collection of articles that have been mined since Eco's death in 2016.   This collection is taken from his regular column in l'Espresso magazine.

There are 116 column's and they cover pretty much everything, daily life, cell phones, education, religion and philosophy, media, conspiracies, books and stupidity.

They are all short and for someone with a brain the size of the writer very accessible.

These are an absolute joy to read and can be recommended as the perfect summer beach book.

Spend the money and buy this book.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

VIETNAM An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975- Max Hastings

Hastings does a fine job of turning an immensely complex conflict into something very readable within 650 pages.

He covers all the major battles with some politics thrown in but it is more the story of the combatants.

The absurdity of war and bureaucrats is summed up when Dein Bien Phu is written of:  As the French were desperately trying to hold on they parachuted untrained troops in but refused to issue then with parachute badges afterwards because they hadn't done the formal parachute course, brilliant stuff.

The war was lost by 1968 when Johnson stated he would not run again but  they kept it going for another sevens years with thousands of more totally unnecessary deaths.  Utterly criminal and understandable that there were major discipline issues from this time onward.

Hastings is nothing but fair when it come to laying out the facts on atrocities committed by both sides, mass murder in other words, thousands slaughtered and this is civilians here not combatant.

Interesting aside regarding My Lai; the massacre was basically written off as "nothing to see here' by staff officer Major Colin Powell.This was the killing of up to 500 civilians and they pinned it all on a sub-intelligent Lieutenant who finally served 42 months under house arrest as a punishment.

The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were just as brutal, the true extent of the atrocities they committed against their own people will never be known.

I took away from this book what a total arsehole Robert McNamara appears to have been, He just kept throwing humans into a meat grinder with no plan, no hope of success.  He compounded this by everything he did previously with Project 100,000, where people who were deemed too unintelligent to be enlisted previously were then signed up. McNamara okayed the lowering of the IQ and physical standards, so basically mental defectives were enlisted and sent off to die.

This is a great read, like all Hastings histories he keeps it moving an provides wonderful overviews of what was an 'epic tragedy".

Thursday, November 15, 2018

MYTHOS -The Greek Myths Retold - Stephen Fry

This is Stephen Fry's retelling of some of the Greek Myths , not all of them but many, and its a lot of fun.

He gives us lots of conversation and doesn't shy away from the sex and violence that are intrinsic to the myths with many laugh out loud moments.

I've read the Robert Graves translation which is wonderful but as an introduction and easy read  this is hard to beat.

The remarkable thing about the myths is the impact they have on our every day language the roots of many of our most common words, phrases and things are seen here for the first time.  Good stuff

Sunday, November 11, 2018


My book of the year, I've just spent a fortnight reading this and loved everyone of the 972 pages involved.

It starts with the arrival of the first settlers and ends at the end of the Clinton administration.

Johnson take on things is right wing, something that he has never disguised and upsets some, not me, but his detail is astonishing so anyone ignoring his works for his politics is doing themselves a major disservice .The amount of information packed onto a page is enough to send the reader seguing off to find several more books.

One of his most interesting take is with the breaking up of Standard Oil ,Carnegie's steel empire and several others the government did the public a disservice. Once these business's were broken up prices increased for the consumer.  This is relevant today as calls were made just last week to end Amazon's dominance in online retailing.

There are several more examples of Government interference being bad for the people, prohibition obviously and  poor handling at the beginning of the great depression, Johnson's contention is it may have ended earlier if Hoover had let the markets correct themselves.

Its not all politics with plenty on social history as well, fantastic.

A riveting read without a dull page.

AND YET - Christopher Hitchens

The very last collection of reviews and essays from Hitchens, his premature death in 2011 robbed us of  genius .

Witty, sharp and always up for an argument he is a joy to read , his jottings on a milk carton would entertain.

Sadly from now on its just re-reads

1984 -George Orwell

First time I have read this in 30 plus years, its not much of a novel but the message is chilling.

Intolerance allows suppression and we are living in very intolerant times.  We are starting to see history re-written when in practical terms we should see both sides of an issue promoted.  We are seeing  a partisan media actively promoting their views with no regard for fact in many cases.

A very chilling novel if you are remotely aware of what is going on around you.

FEAST DAY OF FOOLS - James Lee Burke

Featuring the third outing for the character Sheriff Hackberry Holland in his small south west Texas town.  There are people smugglers, murderous preachers many killings.

Burke is very readable but as he's got older the moral up rightness of his star characters has got a bit tedious.  No one is as unbending as Holland, an there is two too many bad guys in the story.  Not his best not his worst.


This is a re-read, with another copy I bought.  Chandlers diaries and writings on his creations, writing in general, working in television and movies.

A talented individual but I imagine could have been very hard work to deal with.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

THE BIG SLEEP - Raymond Chandler

An early morning call to a dying millionaire sets private eye Philip Marlowe on the fast inside track of West Hollywood's  hidden sewer of blackmail, menace and muscle.  Neither of General Sternwood's daughter's it seems, is going to come up smelling of roses.  Marlowe senses it is his job to protect the two women.  But then he hadn't considered himself becoming part of the wholesale nastiness of it all.....

Its been several years since I've read this but the quality of the writing is such even if you remember the story its still a great journey.

Chandler was a superb writer and an interesting man.  Its too hard for me to pick who I prefer , Chandler or Dashiell Hammett as they are both the best and the rest is the rest when it comes to hard boiled ,I can't recommend the Marlowe stories enough, great writing great mysteries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


The Burning Library brings together forty of the best of Edmund White's essays, articles and reviews from more than twenty years, and presents a fascinating portrait of the writer and his time.  Within a broad spectrum of interviews, profiles and essays, the collection focuses on the lietary and cultural figures whose work has influenced or intrigued White: Valdimir Nabokkov, tennessee Willaims, james Merrill, Michael Fucault, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roland Barthes, Christopher Isherwood, Juan Goytisolo, Marguerite Yourcenar.  While their work is illuminated by White's pungent and sensitive criticism, the men and woman are brought to startling, vivid life by his gift for conveying quirks of personality and the oddities of place.

The book reviews are amazing, I've heard of very few of the authors but the reviews are of such a quality they are entertainment in themselves.

The essays especially the earlier ones about homosexuality have not aged well but they were written of a time and place .  What staggered me was that until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.

So White grew up in an era when his sexuality was considered treatable and with enough visits to the shrink you would be cured.

All in all a very good collection of essays, essays that can be re-read again and again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


This has his Diaries from 2005 -2015 which take up the majority of this book.  There are also some address's he has made, introductions to works and a play. But for me its all about the Diaries, they are an absolute delight.  Observations and comments utterly understated but a point is always made and not a word is wasted.

Bennett states continually he is a very shy person and that he can go unnoticed even when he is the most well known person in the room. This obviously isn't true but it is how he feels.  His personality has given him the ability to be a great observer and the only time he gets really exercised about anything is where the police are concerned,there is no love lost.  I assume he has mentioned why in earlier Diaries but I can't remember the reason.

There are many entry's about theater people, plays and travel but there are equally as many  about his neighbourhood shops,and his long time personal friends.

Anyway if you love Diaries these are some of the best going around.  There are two earlier volumes going back over the previous years prior to 2005.  These are as enjoyable as this selection.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Bernie Gunther's latest move in a string of varied careers sees him working for an insurance company.

Sent to Athens to investigate a claim from a fellow German for a sunken ship, Bernie takes an instant dislike to the claimant.  When he discovers the ship in question once belonged to a Greek Jew deported to Auschwitz, he is convinced the sinking was no accident but an act of vengeance.

The atrocities carried out in Salonika during the second world war are not as widely known as those in Poland etc but the slaughter was enormous.  This theatre is the backdrop to this story, however the story doesn't do it justice.  I'm a huge fan of this series but this is the second dud out of thirteen so its not bad, this just doesn't have the tension of the vast majority of this series.

As usual real historical figures play a major part in the novel but its dull- Bernie is getting on a bit in years but he needs a bit more spark to liven this up.

I'm putting this down to Mr Kerr having had the 'flu and will await the recovery.

Monday, September 24, 2018


McMurtry writes frankly and with deep feeling about his own experiences as a writer, a parent, and a heart patient, and he deftly lays bare the raw material that helped shape his lifes work: the creation of the vast, ambitious, fictional panorama of Texas in the past and in the present.  Throughout, McMurtry leaves his readers with constant reminders of his all-encompassing, boundless love of literature and book.

Larry McMurtry, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the author of twenty-three novels.

This is a book containing four essays, all biographical about his childhood, through his writing life, his book scouting and his book store owning.

This is a guy who has a personal library of twenty thousand volumes and his total ownership is approximately five hundred thousand in his secondhand bookstores.  He has been a huge reader since he was gifted nineteen volumes at approximately twelve years of age.  The only time he stopped reading for pleasure was after his bypass surgery where he was unable to read for pleasure for two years.

This is a book about reading, if you love reading you should read this.  He is also a handy writer, Lonesome Dove, Texasville and many more besides.

Also he is the father of musician James McMurtry.  This is a great wee book.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Collected Essays 1944-2000.

This is a stunning collection of writing.  The essays cover a huge number of topics with writing that is effortless to read.  The skill you must have to possess to create writing that is so easy to read.

There are 43 essays, my favourites are the first " A Boy Grew in Brooklyn' which is a reminiscence of his boyhood.

"The Night Ed Murrow Struck Back"  where TV presenter Ed Murrow help to destroy the odious creature Joseph McCarthy..

"The Pure in Heart Need No Lawyers ", about Sid Shapiro an American who lived in China from the early forties.  Even though he was of the left Miller sees through and writes about the blind adherence to a political philosophy by Shapiro even when faced with facts debunking his arguments for Communist China.

Great stuff, Miller was so much more than a playwright,this stuff is beautiful to read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


A powerful and ruthless American capitalist is found dead in the garden of his English country house.  But why is he not wearing his false teeth?  Why is his young widow so relieved at his death?  The artist and amateur detective Philip Trent arrives to find there is some more to the case than the solving of a puzzle:  he must accept his own fallibility, in detection and romance. 

This was published in 1913 and "written in reaction against the solemnity of the Sherlock Holmes stories".

I looked for this for ages finally found it, read it and was really,really disappointed.  Its all a bit silly. Bentley does the "Holmes" deduction thing with humour but plot wise its a dud and Raymond Chandler who knew a bit about writing, was right to ridicule the story.

Agatha Christie did a bit of thievery from this tale and made much better use of the device.

This is a book that needed to be ticked off as I'm a fan of the genre but wouldn't recommend it for any other reason.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


A collection of non-fiction writing from 1992- 2002..  We have essays on The Wizard of Oz, U2, Princess Diana and football (Rushdie is a Tottenham Hotspur tragic.

There is also newspaper columns & transcripts of addresses made to various groups over this period.

Superb writing, a wonderful sense of humour and highly recommended

Monday, August 27, 2018


Henry Pulling , a retired bank manager in his mid 50's meets his aunt at his mothers funeral.  From this meeting Henry travels the globe with his Aunt.  His first adventure is when his mothers ashes are swapped out for weed by his Aunt's  much younger lover to hide it from the police, the ashes go down the drain and Henry ends up being interrogated by the law.

Next there is currency smuggling in  Europe, followed by gold smuggling.  We travel on the Orient Express and by air.  As the novel progresses it becomes obvious that Henry's Aunt is really his mother and that her sister raised Henry as the Aunt was a working girl, performer and petty crook.

This is my favourite of the Greene's that I've read.  It doesn't get a mention with his "serious" works but this is a great story of how you only get one crack at this life so don't waste your time because it'll be gone before you know it.

Great fun and the ending is spot on, Henry might have started late in living his life but he is not going to waste anymore time on his flower garden.

As Rod Stewart says in The Killing of  Georgie: Parts I & II

Never wait or hesitate
Get in kid, before its too late
You may never get another chance
'Cos youth's a mask but it dont last
Live it long and live it fast

Monday, August 20, 2018


Vidal was a man of vast contradictions and enormous energy:  a brawler with aristocratic pretensions, an intellectual and a workhorse, a tireless sexual adventurer and genius.  His houses were grand, his feuds ( with Truman Capote, Bobby Kennedy and Norman Mailer ) were legendary, the scope of his friendships ( with Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman, John F. Kennedy, Princess Margaret ) unparalleled.

Firstly, the person who wrote this  cover blurb has not read this book.  Vidal meet Kennedy several time but there was no friendship and what relationship there was ended abruptly after Vidal got liquored up at the White House and failed to cover himself with glory.

This is a good entertainment, Pirini was a friend of Vidal's for 30 plus years but its not a hagiography. He is well aware of Vidal's short comings and doesn't shy away from apportioning blame where it is deserved.

Vidal did know 'everyone' he lived a life where through his family and his talent he mingled with politicians the theater and movies from his teens up until his death aged 86.

He was a brilliant essayist, his collection  "United States 1952 -1992 is stunning.  Personally I have trouble reading his fiction, some is very clever, too clever and can be overly 'wordy'.

This book precis's his novels and memoirs with Vidal's reactions attached.  His reaction to poor reviews was legendary.  He never forgot a bad review and was notoriously thin skinned about criticism.  Narcissistic to the core bad reviews were a result of poor critics  never his writing.

He lived with Howard Austen for over 50 years ,it was hardly an exclusive relationship but the depth of feelings was apparent after Howard pre-deceased him and he seemed to give up on life, trying desperately to drink himself to death.

Like many who have lived a life in the spotlight Vidal did not handle it well when he slipped from the spot light, he stilled lectured but his fame petered out.  His alcoholism no doubt helped with this as he became less reliable and tended to ramble.

But reading this no matter how thinned skinned, how nasty, how vain he could be, his dedication to hard work could not be faulted.  Tired or hungover he religiously wrote, always planning something, a book, a play, a screen play or review.

He was a fascinating individual, unfortunately it doesn't look like he kept a diary.  It would be explosive.

This is a good biography, it flows, its honest and not tedious, tedious is bad.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Schoolboys are disappearing all over Aberyswyth and nobody knows why.  Louie Knight, the towns private investigator, soon realises that it is going to take more than a double ripple from Saspan, the philosopher-cum-ice-cream seller to help find these boys and whether or not Lovespoon the Welsh teacher, Grand Wizard of the Druids and controller of the town, is more than just a sinister bully.  And just who was Gwenno Guevara?

The first thing you realise when starting this book is that all belief that this is a run of the mill murder mystery must be suspended.  It set in what is loosely a parallel universe, a universe where Wales has many returned veterans from the 'Welsh Vietnam' roaming the country side.  The 'Welsh Vietnam' refers to Wales going to war against Patagonia.

Once you accept that this world is slightly out of kilter you can settle into a very funny mystery with great characters and an outlandish plot. I think of it as 'C' grade Douglas Adams which is not meant in a derogatory fashion, its just there's Douglas Adams and then everyone else goes to grade 'C' regards imagination.

Our hero of course falls hard for the star of the local cabaret and then has numerous run ins with the local gangsters.

All this, plus a fantastic title, with great cover art work and a diabolic scientific genius makes this something completely different and a really fun experience. 

Plus I can pronounce Aberystwyth like a native.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

SALVATION OF A SAINT - Keigo Higashino

When a man is discovered dead by poisoning in is empty home, his beautiful wife, Ayane, immediately falls under suspicion.  All the clues to her being the logical suspect, but how could she have committed the crime when she was hundreds of miles away?

This is a straight mystery with a limited cast.  The method of murder is very clever albeit with a major cheat that stops the reader figuring out the sequence of events.

My only complaint is that the writing is flat.  This may be my usual complaint about translations, people do not talk like this in real life, the conversations are too grammatically perfect.

The star of the story is the physics professor Yukawa who assists the police,he has at least has a  sense of humour and is not as 'flat' as the detectives.

Would go again with this author just to see if things liven up a bit.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

SELF'S DECEPTION - Bernard Schlink

When a young woman goes missing in Berlin, her father, an over bearing local official, demands that private Investigator Gerhard Self track her down.  But Sweet Afron-smoking, armchair- philosopher Self requires some gentle persuasion if he is to take on the case.   In this instance, the persuasion arrives in the form of 5,000 marks in cash, delivered in an unmarked brown envelope, enclosed with a photograph of the missing girl; however, Self becomes suspicious when it seems there may be more for him to uncover than just the location of the officials daughter..... Secret after secret is unearthed.

This is  set in the early 1990's in Germany  involving terrorists and a major government cover up.  Our hero is a 68 year old ex prosecutor who ambles along, nothing dearing do but asking questions and putting things together.

Not a bad story but like lots of translations I am always left with the feeling I'm missing some subtleties  but this worth a read and I'll read any others I come across.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Horace Rumpole had been a novice at Number 4 Equity Court, fresh from a quiet war in RAF ground staff and a law degree at Oxford, when the murders at Penge first hit the headlines:  two war heroes, bomber pilots who'd flown numerous sorties together over Europe, apparently shot dead after a reunion dinner by the son of one of them, young Simon Jerold.

Finally we get the story of the Penge Bungalow Murders, the famous case that Rumpole has referred to constantly down the years while entertaining us mightily.

This is a full novel, a great story and one where the reader discovers how the Timson family adopted Rumpole as barrister of choice for generations of one of London's more inept criminal families.

The reader is also entertained with how Rumpole came to  marry  Hilda ' She who must be obeyed' and how he was introduced to 'Chateau Thames Embankment'.

As P.D. James states on the rear leaf ' Rumpole,like Jeeves and Sherlock Holmes, is immortal' .

Whenever I read Rumpole I forever see Leo McKern , great stories, great reading.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

FOREVER AND A DAY - Anthony Horowitz

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily.  'We have no choice.  We're just going to bring forward this other chap you've been preparing.  But you didn't tell me his name'
'It's Bond, sir' the Chief of Staff replied.  'James Bond'

We have prequel to Casino Royale, where Bond is introduced into the Double O Section and first becomes 007.

Bond then travels off to France to solve the death of the agent he replaces.

This is Horowitz's second Bond book. He establishes Bond as a killer, a lover and a fighter and gives him a reasonable villain to deal with.  The only complaint is Bond gets a bit 'goo goo eyed over a woman which is a contradiction considering he is this stone cold killer.

What I've liked about the two books by Horowitz is he has left Bond in the time and place that Fleming set his books. 

The keeping Bond contemporary has been the biggest failure of the film franchise and the several other authors who have had a crack at writing a Bond book.

This is a good light read and will fill a weekend nicely.


For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind.  Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria's killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs.  A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position.  Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

A Rebus story is always worth any money you pay.  This is no exception our hero is on top form after knocking smoking on the head and drinking light beer only. As always there are several threads to this story , all are interesting, all involving Rankin's brilliant characters many of whom are worth a story of their own. 

I've been into this series since the beginning and I have only one more to read. There has not been a single dud, a couple of weaker ones but no rubbish which is outstanding considering this is a series of twenty.


The story revolves around a CIA agent and a British Agent trying to uncover a mole supllying information to the Russionas.  To do this they have to become involved in the defection of a Russian scientist.

This is more a 'Bond' type caper than a the solid spy story Deighton is best known for, in fact it all gets a bit silly.

Deighton is a quality author I think this was his 'monday book'.


George Smiley, the cleverest and most self effacing man in Security, investigates a murder in one of England's leading public schools - a murder that was forecast by the victim.

This is an early Le Carre which has Smiley 'helping out' in a murder investigation rather than a spy story.  It is a whodunnit and it is excellent.

Smiley is one of the great fictional characters and he is surrounded by other solid characters in this story.  Read it , there will be no disappointment.

ZOO STATION - David Downing

As the Nazi hold tightens over Germany in 1939, British journalist John Russell is living in Berlin, where he has spent fifteen years working as a freelance journalist.  Despite his hatred for fascism and the signs of the coming war, Russell is determined to stay in Berlin to be near his son, Paul, and his longtime girlfriend, the German film actress Effi Koenen. For paying work, which has become hard to find, Russell agrees to take on jobs that take him increasingly deeper into an espionage web.  When British, Soviet, and Nazi intelligence all attempt to recruit him, Russell must struggle to survive and maintain his integrity.

This is a solid espionage story with a few too many coincidences even for the genre to make it remotely plausible but its a solid read.  Not one that would make you rush out and buy the entire series but if you see them cheap worth picking up.

Strangely, despite the situations Russell finds himself in there is no tension  built, the story just rock along to a conclusion that isn't remarkable.

Philip Kerr and Alan Faust are doing this historical crime / espionage stuff much better.

THE CORPSE ON THE DIKE- Janwillem van de Wetering

A recluse has been shot between the eyes as he stood looking out his bedroom window.  His neighbour, a school teacher who is a pistol champion, admits she discovered the body and failed to report it.  Is she guilty?

This is a very entertaining police procedural featuring the Amsterdam detectives Grijpstra and de Gier.  Its not a mystery but a journey through an investigation that is highly entertaining, lots of humour and filled with  great characters and a cat.

A recommended series.


What made the beautiful bit player, Gloria Scott, cast herself off Waterloo Bridge that dark night?
Was it her affair with Stuart North, the famous actor? 

We have a here a regulation murder mystery with Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University leading the chase to solve the crime.

This isn't one of Crispin's best efforts , not to be avoided but put at the bottom of the stack.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

HOLY ORDERS - Benjamin Black

1950's Dublin.  When a body is found in the canal, pathologist Quirke and his detective friend Inspector Hackett must find the truth behind this brutal murder. But in a world where the police are not trusted, and the secrets often remain buried, there is perhaps little hope of bringing the perpetrator to justice.

As spring storms descend on Dublin, Quirke and Hackett's investigation will lead them into the dark heart of the organisation that really runs this troubled city: the church.

This another very good story, not an outstanding mystery but Black is an outstanding writer and it is an utter joy to read .  In Quirke we have a cliched hero ( alcoholic loner with a need for the truth) but again Black writing lifts this above a cliche.

The BBC have made the Quirke stories into a series starring Gabriel Byrne and for a change the television plays are the equal of the books. 

There are now seven in the series and I have only two to read; I'm hopeful Black writes a few more but his "serious author"alter ego John Banville may try and write another Booker winner rather than these stories.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Paul Johnson delves deep into the 4000-year history of the Jews: a race of awe inspiring endurance, steadfast homogeneity and loyalty and, above all, the belief that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny.

With exacting precision and enthusiasm, Paul Johnson has mapped the lives pf these people from their early ancestors in the House of David, through great periods of  creativity and enterprise, alienation in the ghettos, Adolf Hitlers obsession to obliterate the race, up until the present day.

As the title states, this is "A History..." not 'The History..."  but the amount of information Johnson packs into 600 pages is astonishing.  As with all his books the reader could, if he was inclined segue off into the internet and a library tracking down and expanding on information from every two or three pages and be lost for years.

For the casual reader this is hugely enjoyable, a great overview and a mine of information. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

REBECCA - Daphne du Maurier

While working as the companion to a rich American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo, the unnamed narrator, a naive young woman in her early 20's, become acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, Maxim de Winter, a 42 year old widower.  After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him and, after the wedding and honeymoon, accompanies him to his mansion in Cornwall, the beautiful West Country estate Manderlay. (wiki)

This a very well known mystery novel and one I've been looking forward to reading.  Well I have and must say it hasn't lived up to the hype.

It is well written , supplying fantastic atmosphere but it is a let down as a thriller.  It pose's questions but its more a romance .  Of the characters the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers is a bit of work but shes not the truly evil harridan reviews would have you believe. Our unnamed narrator is a bit tiresome being over egged in her naivety which really would make you wonder how the couple would  get together. The 'mystery' is fairly obvious from the get go, it is just a reading game in seeing how we get to the end.

This is a good book, I can understand its popularity but its not a 'great' book not even a 'great crime' novel.  Reading it wasn't a waste of time but for me the anticipation was much better than reality like many things in life.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


When Rodney Bretton, a lecturer in mathematics, is run down by a lorry and killed, it appears to be merely another tragic road accident, and as such only of statistical interest to Scotland Yard.  When, however, barely two months later his daughter Wendy is found drowned in her bath Chief Inspector MacDonald is sent to make a few routine inquiries. MacDonald is immediately struck by two facts.  Rodney Bretton had been comfortably off and had earned a substantial salary, and yet his widow is forced to take in paying guests.  His daughter was not the sort who would take an opiate just before getting into a hot bath, yet the post-mortem had proved this to be the case.

This is a good run of the mill mystery with a limited cast of characters, all residents of a boarding house, all with a quirk or two.  The mystery is solvable by the reader if one sentence is picked up early in the book start apart from that its go along for the ride and fill in a afternoon with this story.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A LEGACY OF SPIES - John leCarre

Peter Guillam, former disciple of George Smiley in the British Secret Service, has long retired to Brittany when a letter arrives, summoning him to London.  The reason? Cold War ghosts have come back to haunt him.  Intelligence operations that were once the toast of the Service are being dissected by a generation with no memory of the Berlin Wall.  Somebody must pay for innocent blood spilt in the name of the greater good....

Its not imperative, and this book will still be excellent for you, but it will help if you have read-
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable School Boy and Smileys People.

Reading these four books will give you an introduction to all that happens in real time and recounted in flashback this book.

Guillman is brought to London to be de-briefed on an operation that resulted in the death of a British agent and a British communist at the height of the Cold War. An operation that was thought to be top secret but it transpires the agent had a child who was raised in East Germany and now threatens to reveal all in the British Courts.

Much of the story is told in flash back and this is where previous knowledge helps.  Many of these flashbacks pad out the previous novels with quality information for the reader especially one who has read them several times.

Several novels back I though leCarre was past his use by date but his last three novels show a writer who is close to the best he has ever been and he has just turned 86 years old. 

I thought this was fantastic and long may he carry on turning them out.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE - Mary Roberts Rinehart

Rachel Innes rents a country house for the summer with her adult niece and nephew.   Strange events begin happening in the house from the time they arrive.  It starts with strange noise and then on the second night a murder. There are several mysteries to be solved and all is revealed through investigation by the main characters.

This is outstanding.  I found a write up of this book on a 'best of site..' and finally found a copy to buy.  While looking for the book I saw that on several web sites Rinehart is referred to to as the American Agatha Christie.  This is not even remotely the case, Christie should be referred to as the British Rinehart.

This book was published in 1908 , twelve years before Christie had her first book in print.  This story by Rinehart was only her second and having read a lot of Christie I can say she only ever got this good on a dozen or so occasions.

The book has it all, tension, good characters and a nice bit of humour.  Great stuff .

Thursday, June 14, 2018

CAN LADIES KILL? - Peter Cheyney

A hard bitten FBI detective is sent out to San Francisco to investigate a letter from a women who states she has serious information for the authorities.

On arrival Detective Lemmy Caution is met by a body and this segues into several confrontations with the city's underworld.

This was published in 1938, authored by a British writer which reads very much like what it is: a pulp story written in ersatz American (wiki).

The story is a not bad with the mystery being explained with a much used plot device ( much used now but it was original 80 years ago)

The only annoying thing with the book is the "ersatz American" vernacular. e.g " Listen, Terry, has this dame got you bulldozed?  Why don't you keep your mind on your business an' when swell dolls get around just think of your wife".

This is the first of Cheyney's books I've read, he also has other series with British detectives, so he will be worth while tracking down and reading.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SWAN SONG - Edmund Crispin

When Edwin Shorthuse was found hanged in his dressing-room, there were plenty of suspects.  Shorthouse had been the most unpopular singer in the show- vain, jealous, un-coperative.

His c-star, Elizabeth hated him.  Her husband, resented the singers attention to his wife.  Peacock the musical director, feared his terrible temperament.  Joan Davis knew too much of his past and the young lovers, Judith and Boris, were bitter about the shadow he threw over their happiness.  Then another member of the cast dies a horrifying death. The search for the killer, led by Gervase Fen, professor of English language and Literature at oxford University and amateur detective, leads to only one name- Edwin Shorthouse, a week old corpse.

This has its moments with a couple of quirky characters which give a few laughs but generally  it's a weak Crispin.   It has one of the most ridiculous killings in the history of the genre.  In a genre of impossible killings this wins with daylight second, an impossible murder.

Put this at the bottom of the "to be read stack".

Thursday, June 7, 2018

GOD'S LITTLE ACRE - Erskine Caldwell

As long ago as 1933, when this world wide best seller was published, many critics forecast a place for Erskine Caldwell at the very top of American fiction.

This outrageous tragi-comedy, and the authors equally brilliant novel, Tobacco Road, are regarded as classics of American literature.

This is the story of Ty Ty Walden, his three sons, one son in law, two daughters and two daughter in laws.

Ty Ty owns a small farm in Georgia and is convinced that he will find gold on his property.  At the beginning of the book he and two of his son's have been digging holes on the farm for fifteen years  finding nothing.

One of the daughters, Darling Jill causes problems by sleeping with all and sundry, the daughter in law Griselda causes problems because all and sundry want to sleep with her.

There is also Dave the Albino who Ty Ty and two of the sons go and kidnap because they have heard that albinos have a gift for finding gold.  Dave ends up liking being kidnapped because Darling Jill seduces him.

So the first half of the book is hilarious with this groups base desires making for superb reading.

Then the book moves from farce to tragedy toward the end. Will, Ty Ty's son in law is a mill worker who has been on strike for many months and when it looks like the mill will not re-open Will organizes with others to break into the mill and turn the power back on.  Unbeknownst to them the mill owner has hired armed private police to prevent the break in.  Tragedy follows.

The title refers to the acre of his farm from which Ty Ty donates all that is produced on it to the church annually.  The only problem is Ty Ty is worried that that acre may contain the 'mother lode' of gold that he has been looking for so the acre's location on the farm changes constantly.   Ty Ty is pragmatic when it comes to his charity.

The author and his publisher were taken to Court as the book was considered pornographic due to its content and it was banned in several states right into the 1950's, again showing those who wish to ban writing are steeped in ignorance.

This is a magical read, I enjoyed it more than Tobacco Road solely because it is not so unrelentingly depressing. The themes are similar in both books but with this you get a few laughs with the protagonists rather than at them constantly.

Magical writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

MOONFLEET - J.Meade Falkner

Young John Trenchard lives with his aunt in the village of Moonfleet half a mile from the sea.  His peaceful existence ends dramatically when he discovers a secret passage into the vault of the powerful Mohune family, who once had control of Moonfleet.  Wild stories abound of bloodcurdling cries and horrific deaths, for here lies the notorious Blackbeard who, it is said, haunts the churchyard in search of a fabled but ill-gotten diamond.  Yet instead of glittering treasure Trenchard finds cargoes of contraband.  Drawn into the dangerous, secretive world of smugglers it is not long before he is forced to flee the country.

This is a genuinely exciting tale similar in style to Treasure Island.  Originally published in 1898 and set in the 1750's it's a story of violence and revenge with our hero travelling into Europe to escape  before the mystery of the fabled diamond is solved.

This is great fun, the ending is Dickensian but that was how things were when this was written. I'd never heard of the story prior to buying this & I see it was made into a TV series with Ray Winstone a few years back, all in all and excellent read.

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Scribbles the cat provided the first clue. Usually he was sedate and well behaved, but after drinking a saucer of milk he executed a wild dance around the room and tried to batter his brains out against the wall- before curling up asleep.

Investigating this bizarre incident, Nigel Strangeways stumbles on a sinister thread of mystery.  In a house party seething with secret fears and tensions he conducts his greatest murder hunt.

This is a locked room mystery and its clever with all the clues available to the reader if you wish to try and solve it along the way.

My only complaint is Blake's detective, Strangeways, is totally devoid of humour, not a skerrick anywhere along the way.  Strangeways is tediously straight, he doesn't even have an oddball side kick - his wife rides along but she's no barrel of laughs either.

A good story first published in 1941,but an unlovable solver of murders.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

PANIC IN BOX C - John Dickson Carr

While sailing to America on board the RMS Illyria, Dr Gideon Fell meets some exceptional passengers, among them the celebrated actress, Margery Vane, who sees a ghost and narrowly misses a .45 bullet.

Why is this desirable woman surrounded by fear and hate?  The question remains unanswered until Dr Fell and his shipboard companions are summoned to attend a rehearsal at the Margery Vane Theater in Connecticut.  Once there, ancient weapons, in furious tempo, provide the stratagems of modern murder.

This is a late career book, (published in 1966), by the master of the "locked room" murder and the explanation is a bit of a stretch compared with his earlier works, but he is the best at this type of story and his plots are clever.

What sets Carr apart from others is the detail and the stories are well written.  This is not his best but it'sa solid read.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Gervase Fen was standing for Parliament when he went to a village with the charming name of Sanford Angelorum.  The election campaign was exciting enough, but Fen found himself in the midst of the Scotland Yard investigation of a poisoning case, with even more mysterious happenings taking place.

This without Crispin's humour would be run of the mill but his asides keep a smile on your face while the murder is being solved.

This series comes highly recommended if you like the genre.  They are a good light read perfect for winter weekends

Thursday, May 24, 2018

COLONEL SUN - Robert Markham

I read this when I was about 14, what possessed me to read it again at 57 is beyond me.  Robert Markham is a pseudonym used by Kingsley Amis -what possessed him to write it is beyond me.

I love the Bond books but this is not remotely like anything Fleming would have written.  After reading it you can see why many thought Amis actually finished 'The Man With the Golden Gun' which is similar rubbish to this.

Anyway this is about a villain who kidnaps 'M' and wants to do bad things.

John Gardner wrote several Bond books after this and they are worth a wet Sunday, this isn't.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

DEATH IN COVERT - Colin Willock

When Sir Peregrine Piers decided to open his stately home to the public, Regency Rakes Ltd was formed to promote it.  Spectacular stunts were planned, a regency rout and hunting supper, and a midnight steeplechase.  Nathaniel Goss, magazine publisher and amateur detective, took a lively interest in regency Rakes, the more so as he had recently joined a shooting syndicate whose terrain bordered on Sir Peregrine's land.  Th syndicate is composed of some oddly assorted characters, among them the odious Dyson and the gruff Blaze, and headed by the immaculate Archie Crumbe-Howard.  Dyson meets a sticky end in a particular nasty shooting accident- or was it by design?  Domestic strife become rife, the keeper's unmarried daughter is alleged to be pregnant, and suspicion piles upon suspicion.

The only complaint regarding this solid mystery is that the author was a mad keen shooter so the reader is subjected to the miniature of several days shooting interspersed with a bit of mystery solving.  Some of the shooting stuff is interesting but in reality 30 pages could have been culled without any loss to the plot.

A diverse bunch of people are suspect and the unveiling of the villain, while not a surprise shows good reasoning as to why.  Solid, originally published in 1961.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

THE LONG DIVORCE - Edmund Crispin

The village of Cotten Abbas was prosperous, but not from rural activities -  it was inhabited by a small well-to-do middle class population and the tradesmen who served them.  But it had an unpleasant problem - many of the people had been receiving anonymous letters, which either revealed that the sender knew their secrets or were merely filled with obscene abuse.  Professor Gervase Fen visited the village in the guise of Mr Datchery to investigate the mystery, and quickly made the acquaintance of a foreign school master and his admiring girlfriend.  Events developed quickly, and what with suicide and murder the doctors, the police and the scandalmongers are all kept busy.

This doesn't have the humour of the other Crispins I've read but then again Fen hardly plays a part in the story with the majority of the novel concentrating on members of the village.  Fen basically turns up at the end and reveals "all".

Despite not being as good as other Fen stories this is worth reading, the reasoning behind the events is very very nasty and shows again what a lovely bunch us humans are.