There’s been a murder (or two)

17 03 2018


The Seven Dials Mystery

Gerry Wade had proved himself to be a champion sleeper; so the other house guests decided to play a practical joke on him. Eight alarm clocks were set to go off, one after the other, starting at 6.30 a.m. But when morning arrived, one clock was missing and the prank had backfired with tragic consequences.

For Jimmy Thesiger in particular, the words ‘Seven Dials’ were to take on a new and chilling significance.

A Caribbean Mystery

An exotic holiday for Miss Marple is ruined when a retired major is killed…

As Jane Marple sat basking in the Caribbean sunshine she felt mildly discontented with life. True, the warmth eased her rheumatism, but here in paradise nothing ever happened.

Eventually, her interest was aroused by an old soldier’s yarn about a strange coincidence. Infuriatingly, just as he was about to show her an astonishing photograph, the Major’s attention wandered. He never did finished the story…

The Murder on the Links

An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son’s overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse.

I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was much, much younger and found both Marple and Poirot unbelievably exotic and strange. Reading them again many years later they seem no more dated than they were in the 70s but they do retain that exotic feel.

Lots of murders then, many a twist and turn, a dead end and a missed clue, but the plotting remains immaculate, the primary characterisation impressive and the pacing generally excellent, even if Christie is of a different age. Still worth reading.


No Dominion

10 03 2018

Dominion by C J Sansom


1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House.

Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organization is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle for ever.

Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men . . .

Sansom presents an alternative history which proves to be as frightening as it is realistic. Imagining a Britain which surrendered in 1940 and where the Nazis rule is he offers a rather unpleasant picture of this country. But it is nevertheless a good yarn which also has some parallels with Sinclair Lewis’s ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The portrayal of Churchill as resistance leader is a good one and Senate House as the German Embassy looms large over proceedings. The only mild criticism is that it is a bit over-long and, like in the smog, things move rather slowly at times.

Fiery and furious

3 03 2018

Pussy by Howard Jacobson


Pussy is the story of Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duchy of Origen, famed for its golden-gated skyscrapers and casinos, who passes his boyhood watching reality shows on TV, imagining himself to be the Roman Emperor Nero, and fantasizing about hookers. He is idle, boastful, thin-skinned and egotistic; has no manners, no curiosity, no knowledge, no idea and no words in which to express them. Could he, in that case, be the very leader to make the country great again?

It’s a sharp and brutal take on the Trump election which feels horrifically accurate and is just too real to be funny in many places. As a satire it works only too well and gives a compelling summary of the rise to power of a highly improbable leader. Scathing and frightening.


Amusing, but really not that alarming

24 02 2018

Going Off Alarming: The Autobiography: Vol 2 by Danny Baker

The dazzlingly funny second volume of Danny Baker’s memoirs: the television years.

Since my first book was published I have had countless friends and family members get in touch to say how come I hadn’t included this story or that tale. Was I ashamed of being shot twice, once up the arse, in Jamaica Road? How long should a man live with such a secret? If by retrospectively dropping my trousers every few pages I can reveal a fuller picture of myself during these years, then so be it.

Besides. Being shot up the arse. In front of your mates.

What else did he forget? Loads, and there’s undoubtedly plenty more to come. A couple of years after eventually getting to the first volume, I finally got round to volume 2. There are some laugh out load moments, a great set of stories involving the dog, Twizzle, and just lots of entertaining anecdotes from the world of Baker (plus the yarn about being shot up the arse). I have to say I found the final chunk of the book, focused on Paul Gascoigne, really not that interesting though.



17 02 2018

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson


1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

It’s a pretty decent thriller, very atmospheric and rather spooky. Plenty of twists and turns and much to keep your interest right to the end. And the Icelandic setting really adds to the flavour.



Dead good

10 02 2018

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

Not at all sure it is better than some of the other books on the Man Booker longlist or shortlist but nevertheless it is a really excellent read. From some unfathomable principle I generally aim to avoid reading Man Booker winners for at least a few years. However, in this case I’m really glad I didn’t as it really is an incredibly original work, clever, funny and very moving in places.


four stars


20 01 2018

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff





With extraordinary access to the Trump White House, Michael Wolff tells the inside story of the most controversial presidency of our time.

The first nine months of Donald Trump’s term were stormy, outrageous – and absolutely mesmerising. Now, thanks to his deep access to the West Wing, bestselling author Michael Wolff tells the riveting story of how Trump launched a tenure as volatile and fiery as the man himself.

In this explosive book, Wolff provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office. Among the revelations:

– What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
– What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama
– Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
– Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room
– Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
– What the secret to communicating with Trump is
– What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers
Never before has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.

There are plenty of revelations as indicated in the blurb. It reads like a thriller and is a real page turner, relating story after story of pure awfulness. Whilst there have been plenty of doubts cast about the veracity of some of the detail of some aspects the overall impression of utter and total chaos and a Whitehouse full of largely terrible and/or incompetent individuals (all with very distinctive names) is inescapable. It’s not going to end well.

I kept being reminded of this while reading it:


And this quote was really striking:

The information he did not get was formal information. The data. The details. The options. The analysis. He didn’t do PowerPoint. For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to—“professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note—he got up and left the room.


In addition, one of the most improbably named individuals, Reince Priebus, who spent six months as Trump’s Chief of Staff, and doesn’t come out of it terribly positively, I kept imagining was actually a fictional royal relation of a famous Ian Rankin detective, Prince Rebus. That didn’t help.

So, it’s flawed and grim but a compellingly awful read.


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