Monday, October 28, 2019

AN ICE-CREAM WAR - William Boyd

1914. In a hotel room in German East Africa, American farmer Walter Smith dreams of Theodore  Roosevelt.  As he sleeps,  a railway passenger swats at flies, regretting her decision to return to the Dark Continent- and to her husband. On a faraway English riverbank, a jealous Felix Cobb watches his brother swim, and curses his sister-in-law to be.  And in the background of the world's chatter: rumours of an Anglo-German conflict, the likes of which no one has ever seen.

This is a slow burn of a novel, starts very very slowly with several unlikable characters and then  ends up full of surprises towards the end. 

I did not realise there was even a theatre of war in Africa during the 1st World War where the land appears to have killed more than live rounds.

A good historical novel which in my opinion may have been better if it had one less major character but it is still enjoyable.  Boyd is inconsistent, when hes good hes very readable when he's off i.e Stars and Bars  you resent the time wasted.

THE LITTLE SISTER - Raymond Chandler

Not the strongest of Chandlers seven novels but still a cut above most crime fiction.

The plot gets so convoluted its very hard to keep track of what is occurring which is what I think happened for the author as well.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


The story of two cousins, Linda and Fanny.  Fanny is the narrator and recounts the life of Linda and her pursuit of love.

This is the first of Mitford's two really good books.  The humour is much more subtle than Love in A Cold Climate which is genuinely laugh out loud, but this has its moments, but is 'nicer'.

This is very autobiographical containing a huge insight into how the Mitford's were raised, which for the time was very different.

The ending while sad is upbeat and I understand why it was such a huge seller,  making Mitford as an author after her two or three previous ordinary efforts.  Good fun and good satire on the rich  and famous.

Monday, October 14, 2019


The Buddenbrook clan is everything you'd expect of a nineteenth-century German family - wealthy, esteemed, established.  Four generations later, a tide of twentieth-century modernism has gradually disintegrated the bourgeois values on which the Buddenbrooks built their success.  In this, Mann's first novel, his astounding, semi-autobiographical family epic, he portrays the transition of genteel Germanic stability to a very modern uncertainty.

This is an amazing read, detailing family life with all its troubles, wins , good moves and bad moves.  I found it unputdownable.

Nothing major happens just family stuff, weddings, deaths, feasts but it flows and brings the four main characters to life.

If Middlemarch is 10/10 this is a solid 8. Mann wrote this at 25 years of age, a true feat.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


This is a collection of short stories and novellas that I read prior to attempting  his novels. Fantastic, brilliant writing.  Don't expect to wander out on the town with a smile on your face after reading them but you can see  while he is rated as he is.


If you want to laugh out loud and learn a bit on the journey read Bill Bryson.  Never disappoints.


Sub-titled " Hot Wars and Populism" this is another collection of essays by Eco who is far to clever for me to understand what he writes about in one or several reads.  But, even with one read I am left in awe by the scope of his vision.  Superb.

THE HUMAN FACTOR - Graham Greene

A espionage story set inside the African Department of MI6.  Its a late Greene whose left leaning sympathies are as overt here as in any of his writing. 

The end was always going to end in tears but despite our "hero's" reasons for a his treason he is a very unsympathetic character who deserves his fate.

The more Greene I read and re-read the more I come to appreciate him and now firmly believe he is one of the most under rated  writers of the 20th century.


The invasion from Mars.  I assume most know the story.  This is very enjoyable with a clever conclusion

THE MOVING TOY SHOP - Edmund Crispen

This is a re-read and it was read mainly because of the rather lovely Folio Society edition I found.  It is a good fun read.  Crispen at his best was very good later when the booze got him properly he was rubbish. 

LORD PETER - Dorothy L. Sayers

A collection of the Wimsey short stories. Quality varies but a good collection for reading in the bath or when you know you are going to be interrupted  often.


A double volume collection of the Father Brown stories.  Like all collections the standard varies but all are very readable.  Chesterton can be a bit of a god botherer, throwing his religion in a bit too often but its high quality detective fiction in the end.

PRESUMPTION OF DEATH- Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers

A Lord Peter Wimsey story written after Sayers death.   A good read, as good a Sayers actually.


Again, ignore the snobs, read these for a relax.

BRAVE NEW WORLD -Aldous Huxley

First re-read for many years.  This is a scary read when you look at our society today where we have so many wanting to take away individual rights and form us into a flock of sheep.

People need read this more , '1984" has its moments but this is where we are heading.

THE LADY IN THE LAKE - Raymond Chandler

My favourite of the Marlowe stories

FAREWELL MY LOVELY -Raymond Chandler

Marlowe, the best going around in the noir PI genre.  A re-read but always worth it.

THE HIGH WINDOW - Raymond Chandler

Philip Marlowe gets the job done.  So moral which can be hard work but great stories superbly written.


Always time for a rainy day read. Ignore the snobs. 


I first read this ten years ago, the insight and subject matter, conservation etc is still relevant today but whereas I found the characters amusing then , this time around I found them to be rather horrible shallow people.

Still worth a read but perceptions change over time

Monday, July 29, 2019

THE LOVED ONE- Evelyn Waugh

This is a first read of this since high school where I didn't appreciate the satire.  Waugh was a genius.


Another many times read, he is so funny and so cruel, his satire on the bold warriors of the Empire is amazing.  This book gives new meaning to eating your girlfriend.


Another classic seafaring tale.  Iron men, wooden ships.

VILE BODIES - Evelyn Waugh

The is my umpty third reading of this and I'll read it dozens more, love it.


This is the third time I read this novella, its enjoyable, a good story but I don't see it as a great book as many have done.  The reason I've read it three times is to see what I'm missing, I still haven't found it though.

I do know that the movie is remarkable when you see how they adapted it from this story

KIM - Rudyard Kipling

This took me a bit of getting into solely because of the vernacular of the young hero but once I got the pace of it this turned out to be a very good read, geographically interesting and this book gave us    " The Great Game."


Always consistent , my only quibble is Rankin persists with the Malcolm Fox charter, an utter drongo who has no place in these stories except perhaps as a homicide victim.


An absolute delight to read.  I've never seen the movie but if its as much fun as this I can see why people still watch it.

THE ABC MURDERS - Agatha Christie

Christie is slightly unfashionable but when you want to have a read and don't want to have to tax the brain reading her is very relaxing. So I say bugger the literary snobs read a few a year for some fun.

THE HAUNTED HOTEL - Wilkie Collins

Collins's last book before the opium destroyed his ability to write completely.  Not a bad horror story, its no  " The Moonstone" but then nothing else is.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE - Anthony Burgess

This is a very difficult read because of Burgess's invented language he uses throughout.  I would have had no idea what was going on without having seen Kubrick's movie about twenty times.

The movie follows the book practically line for line and plus this edition has the real final chapter with Alex's seeing the error of his way i.e perhaps redemption.  This chapter was missing from U.S A edition for decades.

THE SECRET AGENT - Joseph Conrad

Just brilliant, I can't believe I waited this long to read it.


A true adventure tale of a young Newby enlisting for the last grain race from Australia under sail, this was the last as the second World War ended.  A good yarn

MOLL FLANDERS - Daniel Defoe

Sadly this ended up a morality tale with the redemption of our wayward heroine, all in all a bit dull.

I, CLAUDIUS - Robert Graves

A great read, Claudius is forever Derek Jacobi.


Incredible true story showing how strong the will to live can be.


Fantastic gossip from AD 121.

THE LEOPARD - Giuseppe Lampedusa

This turned into a very dull historical novel.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

THE MONK -Matthew Lewis

The Monk: A Romance is a Gothic novel written by Matthew Gregory Lewis published in 1796.  A quickly written book from early in Lewis's career (in one letter he claimed to ahve written the novel in 10 weeks...)it was published before he turned twenty.   It is a prime example of the male Gothic that specializes in the aspect of horror. Its convoluted and scandalous plot made it one of the most important Gothic novels of its time.  (Wiki)

This is excellent, remarkably graphic in its description of murder, rape,incest and general skulduggery for its time.

If you find it make sure its the original or this Folio Society edition.  Over the centuries the god botherers have got at it and watered parts of it down.  Its needs to be read as written.

THE SPY'S BEDSIDE BOOK - Hugh & Graham Greene

This classic anthology, includes stories by some of the great writers on spying and many practitioners, including Ian Fleming and John Buchan, Sir Robert Baden-Powell and Belle Boyd, Walter Schellenberg and Sir Paul Dukes.

This is a good bath book, containing snippets from well known and some more obscure spy novels.  It was published in 1957 so all the stories are of a time but as stated , a good light read.

METROPOLIS - Philip Kerr

Berlin 1928, the height of the Weimar Republic.  Bernie is a young detective working in vice when he is seconded to investigate the Silesian Station killings:  four prostitutes murdered in as many weeks, and in the same gruesome manner.

Unfortunately this is the very last in the Gunther series, the author died in 2018 and this is his last effort.

It's not great but I am assuming the author was already ill when he wrote it.  But this has been a great series, I've been on it from the beginning, all 14 novels &of those only one was a complete dud, a couple like this haven't been great but overall one of the best series written.

THRONES, DOMINATIONS- Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane begin their new life in 1936 London.  Soon they are moving in fashionable circles-  and one of their wealthy new acquaintances becomes a murder victim.

Sayers began writing this book in 1936 and then put it aside.  Her estate found the manuscript and asked Walsh to complete the story.

This is pretty much tripe with a very contrived ending.  I am fortunate in that I read one of Walsh's standalone Wimsey stories prior which is excellent.  If I hadn't I would say stay away but give Walsh's own Wimsey stories ago, give this a miss.

VENGEANCE - Benjamin Black

Why would a suicide need a witness?

On the east coast of Ireland Victor Delahaye, one of the country's most prominent citizens, takes his business partners son out sailing.  But once at sea, Davy Clancy is horrified to witness Delahaye take out a gun and shoot himself dead.

Quirke, a Dublin pathologist again gets himself involved and uncovers the usual nest of intrigue and family double dealing that populate these stories.

This isn't  as strong as the earlier ones in the series but worth a read if you like your mysteries more about thinking than busting doors down.

Monday, May 6, 2019


This is another book I've read several times and never tire of.  It will be read several more times as well as there is so much in this as well as being a very good murder mystery.

The story is set in 1327 where Brother William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk are travelling in relation to the heresies that have split the church.   William is an ex-inquisitor who is no slug intellectually.

They stop at an Abby where over the next seven days several murders occur and William is tasked to solve them by the Abbot.

As stated there is much religious philosophy, much discussion of how the church should be run, much to think about as well as a cracking mystery.

A  great book.

THE 39 STEPS - John Buchan

This is one of the original great adventure yarns, I have no idea how many times I've read it but I take it our every few years and still get great enjoyment from it.

Richard Hannay has returned to England to retire after years in Africa.  Through circumstances he befriends a man who ends up murdered in his flat.  So begins a chase by the police and 'agents of a foreign power' across large chunks of Scotland.

Yes, there are ridiculous coincidences but who cares.  This has never been out of print since it was first published in 1915 and every couple of years you can see why.

ASHENDEN -W.Somerset Maugham

This is a re-read, a selection of stories disguised as Maugham's own espionage work during WWI.

There is no James Bond escapades but people die and the works has a degree of risk.

I like Maugham's writing and anything he wrote is worth reading.  This is good

THE BIG HEAT - William P. McGirvern

Why did they fear a dead man?  Dave Bannion, homicide sergeant, fought for the answer to that question.  He got it ..Then the big heat came.

The dead man was a police clerk who shot himself for no obvious reason.  That was Bannion's first judgement, until a girl named Lucy presented quiet a different picture of the dead man from the one he had shown to the world- and his fastidious glacial wife.

Published in 1952 this is very old fashioned in its language but there are several excellent surprises on the way to a resolution.

Evidently there is a very good movie starring Glen Ford made from this book which doesn't surprise as this is a very good story.


This is the story of a Hollywood millionaire who fears his impending death, Huxley has a good crack at the superficiality of Hollywood where strangely enough he was making a fortune writing for the movies.

This was strange, so strange I may have to read it again, it starts off very funny and then wanders off.  I didn't get it anyway and may have to re-visit when I'm older and a bit wiser.

BIG RED - Douglas C. Waller

The Trident nuclear submarine is the most complex war machine the United States Navy has ever produced, a $1.8 billion marvel crammed with more modern military technology than any other vessel in the world.

The author spent a three month deployment on this sub, logistically it is an amazing bit of kit, capable of staying under water undetected for ever, its just the crew dies of old age or starvation after they run out of food.

A fascinating read but not employment I'd go looking for.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

STARS AND BARS - William Boyd

'He loved America, but would America love him back?'  This is the dilemma facing Henderson Dores - shy, English, self conscious and nearly forty- as he stands in the middle of Park Avenue, New York City worrying.

He has come to America to work- true- but he really hopes that it is America that will work for him.

And sure enough, it does- in no uncertain way.  From New York his job takes him to the deep south, to the isolated, tiny hick town of Luxora Beach, Georgia  (or is it Alabama?).  There he encounters the bizarre millionaire Loomis Gage and his extraordinary, unreal and threatening family

This started out OK, Dores goes to the south to purchase some art work, at the beginning the absurdities were amusing but as the book wore on it ran out of steam and quickly got silly.

It the end it just got annoying for me. Boyd now has now written lots of good stuff to read before you need to get into this one.