22 03 2014

The Bat by Jo Nesbo


Detective Harry Hole is meant to keep out of trouble. A young Norwegian girl on a gap year in Sydney has been murdered, and Harry has been sent to Australia to assist in any way he can. When the team unearths a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop Harry from finding out the truth. The hunt for a serial killer is on, but the murderer will only talk to Harry.

It’s entertaining enough but difficult to escape the idea of the traditional model of detectives being sent to Australia at the end of their careers rather than at the beginning. Can’t really complain though and a decent start to what is a pretty good series of books featuring Harry Hole who becomes a rather compelling character.
2 star

House partying

15 03 2014

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley


Denis Stone, a naive young poet, is invited to stay at Crome, a country house renowned for its gatherings of ‘bright young things’. His hosts, Henry Wimbush and his exotic wife Priscilla, are joined by a party of colourful guests whose intrigues and opinions ensure Denis’s stay is a memorable one.

Huxley’s debut novel is a satirical flight through a 1920s gathering of bright young things at Crome, home of the Wimbushes. Denis Stone, the innocent young poet, recounts the action and really has very little positive to say about most of his fellow guests. The back story of the previous Crome owners is very entertaining although the line taken by one guest, the improbably named Mr Barbecue-Smith, on higher education is unfortunate: “illuminating, but provoking the Lower Classes to discontent and revolution”


Not so heroic

8 03 2014

The Hero by Somerset Maugham


Decorated Boer war veteran returns home to his small village to a hero’s welcome. He realises he no longer wants to marry his fiancee who has waited faithfully for him so he breaks off the engagement, much to the distress of his parents and the whole community. He feels profoundly affected by his war experience and continues to struggle to come to terms with a world which hasn’t changed.

It’s a quick read, well crafted and really quite poignant. Maugham captures well the torment and oppression of the returning hero to his small town and his ensuing relationship turmoil.

3 star

Scotland’s streets

1 03 2014

Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith

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Have recently rattled through a subset of the full Scotland Street series:

The Importance of Being Seven:

Despite inhabiting a great city renowned for its impeccable restraint, the extended family of 44 Scotland Street is trembling on the brink of reckless self-indulgence. Matthew and Elspeth receive startling – and expensive – news on a visit to the Infirmary, Angus and Domenica are contemplating an Italian ménage a trois, and even Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery. But when Bertie Pollock – six years old and impatient to be seven – mislays his meddling mother Irene one afternoon, a valuable lesson is learned: that wish-fulfilment is a dangerous business.

Bertie Plays the Blues:

Even down to its well-set Georgian townhouses, Edinburgh is a hymn to measure and harmony. But on Scotland Street, domestic accord is in short supply. Matthew and Elspeth welcome three new arrivals, though the joys of multiple parenthood are somewhat lost due to sleep deprivation and the difficulties of telling their brood apart. Angus and Domenica are to marry, and Domenica has ambitious and disturbing plans for their living arrangements, especially when it appears that Antonia, in Italy recuperating from Stendhal Syndrome, may not return. And little Bertie, feeling blue, puts himself up for adoption on eBay. Can Edinburgh’s most deliciously dysfunctional residents forsake discord and learn to dance to the same happy tune?

Sunshine on Scotland Street:

Scotland Street witnesses the wedding of the century of Angus Lordie to Domenica Macdonald, but as the newlyweds depart on honeymoon Edinburgh is in disarray. Recovering from the trauma of being best man, Matthew is taken up by a Dane called Bo, while Cyril eludes his dog-sitter and embarks on an odyssey involving fox-holes and the official residence of a cardinal. Narcissist Bruce meets his match in the form of a sinister doppelganger; Bertie, set up by his mother for fresh embarrassment at school, yearns for freedom; and Big Lou goes viral. But the residents of Scotland Street rally, and order – and Cyril – is restored by the combined effects of understanding, kindness, and, most of all, friendship.

With great characters and entertaining plotting this really is a series which keeps on giving. Originally published as weekly instalments in the newspaper (and they may still be) they retain a feel of a series of interconnecting episodes. If you’ve not read any of these before then it’s time to catch up with all of the Scotland Street fun and games.


Going postal: Approximation of a playlist §65

15 02 2014

Originally posted on Prole Art Threat:

Songs or artists relating to matters postal

Pillar To Post – Aztec Camera
Note to Self – Jake Bugg
Don’t lose the faith – The Dears
Recovery – Frank Turner
Stand And Deliver – Adam & The Ants
The Sign – Ace Of Basepostbox
Paperback writer – The Beatles
Such Great Heights – The Postal Service
Messages – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Send In The Clowns – Frank Sinatra
Dear Prudence – The Beatles
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye – Bananarama
He’s frank (slight return) – The Monochrome Set
Sign Your Name – Terence Trent D’Arby
Message in a Bottle – The Police
Date stamp – ABC
Please Mr. Postman – The Carpenters
Rudi, A Message To You – The Specials
Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder
The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You – Bee…

View original 49 more words

Harvest time

15 02 2014

Harvest by Jim Crace


As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire. Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it . . . Told in Jim Crace’s hypnotic prose, Harvest evokes the tragedy of land pillaged and communities scattered, as England’s fields are irrevocably enclosed. Timeless yet singular, mythical yet deeply personal, this beautiful novel of one man and his unnamed village speaks for a way of life lost for ever.



Timeless and with no specific location, it’s a terrific novel and wonderfully written. Crace uses a small canvas but offers some really rich colour and great detail. Highly recommended.

four stars


8 02 2014

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens


Wealthy old Martin Chuzzlewit is surrounded by a host of grasping, unscrupulous relatives and suspects the family vices of selfishness and greed are already showing in his grandson. The younger Martin is therefore cast out upon the world to learn to fend for himself. Apprenticed to the oily hypocrite Pecksniff, he meets both the sweet-tempered Tom Pinch and the irrepressible Mark Tapley, with whom he sets forth to America to find his fortune. Dickens created some of his most gleefully repulsive and enduring characters in this tale of corruption and virtue, murder and unrequited love.

It’s a really good (and, of course, very long) yarn. The diversion in America is all a bit off-piste but you can understand why it caused a bit of controversy for its portrayal of Americans. Overall though it’s classic Dickens, pretty amusing in places, and well worth the commitment.

four stars


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