Tuesday, March 27, 2018

TOBACCO ROAD - Erskine Caldwell

Set during the depression in the depleted farmlands surrounding Augusta, Georgia, "Tobacco Road" was first published in 1932.  It is the story of the Lesters, a family of white sharecroppers so destitute that most of their creditors have given up on them.  Debased by poverty to an elemental state of ignorance and selfishness, the Lesters are preoccupied by their hunger, sexual longings, and fear that they will some day descend to a lower rung on the social ladder than the black families that live near them.

This is very powerful writing, extremely funny in places, but exceptional writing; funny because Jeeter Lester and his family are so ignorant they have fallen off the scale that most would consider human and are perpetually childlike - and children can be very funny, although the cause 's of the humourous  utterances and behaviours are seldom funny in themselves .  This is a world where twelve year old daughters are married off, grandparents are starved and in one case run over and left to die in the front yard .

From the rear cover:

An original, mature approach to people who ignore the civilization that contains them as completely as it ignores them - The Nation.

The really scary part is that this isn't a satire, it is a snap shot of how many lived and probably do today but with television.

This is an outstanding book.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


The year is 1921.  A passionate affair between a romantic young woman and her dentist leads them to plot his wife's murder.  They are inspired by the recent real life case of Dr. Crippen so, when the wife decides to sail on the Mauretania, the dentist books his passage in the name of the policeman who brought Crippen to justice, Inspector Dew, and then a murder takes place.

This was published in 1982 and is part murder mystery, part satire of a 'golden age' mystery. It is laugh out loud funny in parts but the mystery is entertaining and brings some tension to the story . There is a strong cast of characters on the ship who may be involved in the killing.

Good fun.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Tommy and Tuppence, two young people flat broke and out of work, are restless for excitement.  They embark on a daring business scheme - Young Adventurers Ltd - 'willing to do anything, go anywhere'

Their first assignment, for the sinister Mr Whittington, draws them into a diabolical political conspiracy, and they find themselves into more danger than they ever imagine...

This is the second book Christie had published. It was first published in 1922 and it is a light hearted 'Richard Hannay' type adventure and not a typical Christie mystery, it is also great fun. It is too long  needing an edit to tighten it up but as she was still learning her craft its a good effort.

The plot is solid, one that later became hackneyed - the super spy out to turn England into an outcrop of a foreign power- but at the time this was written it had only been used a few times.

A different Christie and an enjoyable one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

CANDIDE or Optimism - Voltaire

With 'Candide", Voltaire bumptiously skewered the fashionable misinterpretation of the Doctrine of Philosophical Optimism, unerringly offending Kings, scientists, fanatical's, publishers, journalists and even Priests; composed in a mere three days, "Candide" capacity to amuse, disgust and surprise endures today, roughly ninety thousand days later.

Its been a long time since I have read a book that has made me laugh out loud, not once but several times in a reading.  This is the book I have been waiting for my entire life.

I read it twice on Sunday, the first time as a straight read, and laughed, the second time I read it to look a bit deeper into who and what Voltaire is sticking it to and I laughed just as hard the second time.

From the Introduction by Michael Wood.

The word optimism, first used in print in 1737, represents a philosophical position, a claim that in spite of errors and appearances God's creation is as good as it could be, and Voltaire's subtitle glances at just this doctrine.  But the young Candide looks on the bright side when he can, and not one of his many moments of discouragement can prevent his innate cheerfulness from returning.

Included in the many disasters that befall Candide, his true love and companions as they travel the world, there is murder, body cavity searches, cannibalism, bestiality, many raping's, many beatings , battles and dismemberment's, all the while being hilarious.

As the rear cover states about the book " The satirical scourge of 1759" and reading it its no wonder it has has many trying to ban it seize it and ignore it.

As for one upmanship, here two of the female characters engage in some banter over who had suffered the most.

" Alas my good woman... unless you have bee raped by two Bulgars, been stabbed twice in the stomach, had two castles demolished, had the throats of two mothers and two fathers slit before your eyes, and watched two lovers being flogged in an auto-da-fe, I really cannot see that you have the advantage over me."

As it turns out the above example was simply not even close to what the old lady endured. The old woman's tale of suffering is told in the most brilliantly understated way and very very funny.

Love this and it will be read many times more, its only 94 pages and can be dipped into  for a laugh and a look at humanity with its vanities. " Lets eat Jesuit, lets eat Jesuit."

Sunday, March 11, 2018


This is the story, objectively and graphically told of the gradual passing of Sam Vettori, a gang boss in Little Italy, on the north side of Chicago; of his inevitably yielding the leadership to his young lieutenant, Cesare Bandello (called Rico); and of Rico's brief lived days of power, his forced flight from Chicago because of the murder of a police captain, and of Rico's violent end, while hiding in Toledo.

Published in 1929 this is  'the first gangster novel' that was later made into the movie that launched the career of Edward G Robinson in 1931.

This is all about the dialogue which is all in gangster vernacular -  " you want me to get my neck stretched over a dirty double crosser that ain't worth a good bullet? Listen, I'm gonna run that bird out of town."

Once you are used to the language  this rolls along  as a story of ambition  where a 28  year old moral vacuum takes anything he wants at the point of a gun.  He rises fast and falls fast as these types tend to do. 

What I have never seen is any hat tip from Graham Greene where his 'Pinky' character in Brighton Rock is a 19 year old carbon copy of Rico, the physical description is almost identical and would appear lifted completely from this novel.

This was a fun read, deeper than I thought it would be and worth the investment of time.

The edition I found was a beautiful facsimile of the original with cut pages in a slip case which was a bonus to getting a good read.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

TUMBLEWEED - Janwillem van de Wetering

Maria van Buren, a beautiful high class prostitute, is found dead with a knife in her back in her houseboat on an Amsterdam canal.  Grijpstra and der Gier must solve the murder. Her many clients all have sound alibi's.  Before the murderer is caught the detectives and their commissaris will investigate allegations of black magic, travel to Curacao , and pursue clues to a chilly island off the coast of Holland.

This is a delightful police procedural despite not being half as exciting at the above cover blurb makes it sound.

The murder is solved by the two detectives plodding along doing nothing more glamorous than getting rained on during a Dutch winter.

What makes this so enjoyable is the maudlin Dutch humour of our two lead investigators who snipe at each other like a long time married couple plus there is Oscar the cat who offers some more light relief.

This is the first of this series I've read and the second published, I've never seen any of them in secondhand stores in New Zealand but this has inspired me to shell out and buy new copies online.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Almost  twenty years after the end of the Korean War, the US Military is still present throughout South Korea, and tensions run high.  Koreans look for any opportunity to hate the soldiers who drink at their bars and carouse with their women.  When Pak Ok-Suk, a young Korean woman, is found brutally murdered in a torched apartment in the Itaewon red light district in Seoul, it looks like it might be the work of her American soldier boy friend.  Sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, Military Police for the US 8th Army, are assigned the case, but they have nothing to go on other than a tenuous connection to an infamous prostitute.  As repressed resentments erupt around them, the pair sets out on an increasingly dangerous quest to find evidence that will exonerate their countryman.

This is the first book in what had now become a series featuring Sueno and Bascom and like most first efforts its a little rough around the edges. The story is not too bad especially describing how the military machine is running during this time. The author is a twenty year US Army veteran who spent 10 years in Korea so this part of the book is not lacking authenticity.

Pacing of the plot is random however with the author going off on a few tangents that add nothing to the story which would not have suffered being culled by 50 pages.

This is a 5 out of 10 but as the series has now run to 13 novels I'm assuming things improve and I'll keep an eye out for more of them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


'Time Of Hope' is the story of Lewis Eliot's own early life from 1914, when as a boy of nine he learns that his father has gone bankrupt, until 1933, when, though greatly hampered in his London career at the Bar by a neurotic wife, he discovers that separation from her is impossible.

This is the third book published in the Strangers and Brothers 11 book sequence but the first chronologically.

The story tells of the efforts Eliot goes to to become a barrister which are hampered by his love for his eventual wife Sheila who tells him from the beginning that she is incapable of loving anyone but he goes through with the marriage anyway.

This is a 'slice of life' realistic novel of lower middle class England covering a 20 year  period.

It is engrossing detailing the miniature of daily lives.  This has me hooked and the other 10 novels in the sequence will be read.