It was a very good year

20 07 2019

1971 – Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth

 

The Sixties ended a year late – on New Year’s Eve 1970, when Paul McCartney initiated proceedings to wind up The Beatles. Music would never be the same again.
The next day would see the dawning of a new era. 1971 saw the release of more monumental albums than any year before or since and the establishment of a pantheon of stars to dominate the next forty years – Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, the solo Beatles and more.
January that year fired the gun on an unrepeatable surge of creativity, technological innovation, blissful ignorance, naked ambition and outrageous good fortune. By December rock had exploded into the mainstream.
How did it happen? This book tells you how. It’s the story of 1971, rock’s golden year.

This is the kind of thing David Hepworth does extremely well. His detailed, month by month exposition of all the remarkable musical things which happened in the golden year of 1971 really takes some beating. From the Rolling Stones to Bowie, The Who to the Carpenters and Don McLean to Carole King he covers them all. It’s a decent thesis and the evidence is all pretty powerful just by by the sheer volume and quality of the music but at the end of it, this is really just an arbitrary 12 month period in the great history of music. Still, all the stories are outstanding – well worth a read.

 

four stars

Advertisements




Lethal stuff

13 07 2019

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

 

 

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . .

As entertaining as the previous ones and with an intricate and twisting plot which keeps going right to the end. Strike and Robin remain completely compelling characters and their relationship continues to be absorbing. Great stuff as ever but perhaps just a tad over long. It’s hard to be too critical of this though as remains gripping from start to finish.

 

four stars





Let’s hear it for the band

6 07 2019

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away.
But on 12 July 1979, it all came crashing down.

There was Daisy, rock and roll force of nature, brilliant songwriter and unapologetic drug addict, the half-feral child who rose to superstardom.

There was Camila, the frontman’s wife, too strong-willed to let the band implode – and all too aware of the electric connection between her husband and Daisy.

There was Karen, ice-cool keyboardist, a ferociously independent woman in a world that wasn’t ready for her.

And there were the men surrounding them: the feuding, egotistical Dunne brothers, the angry guitarist chafing on the sidelines, the drummer binge-drinking on his boat, the bassist trying to start a family amid a hedonistic world tour. They were creative minds striking sparks from each other, ready to go up in flames.

It’s never just about the music…

I always enjoy this kind of thing and wasn’t disappointed. There are plenty of cliches of rock excess in here (and some musical stereotypes too)  and the journalistic style with the interspersing of a range of first person recollections can be a little wearing at times but on the whole it really tears along and takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride with the soaring 70s band after which the book is named.

Two downsides only. Firstly, it really doesn’t seem credible that an established band would allow a new member to join and then put their name up front without a hell of a contractual argument. Secondly, I never can stand fictional songs. Analysing songs which never actually existed (and the lyrics of which are appended in full) has always struck me as particularly pointless.

It reminded me a lot of Iain Banks’ wonderful Espedair Street (which I now need to go back and read again soon) but didn’t quite match some of the background detail and rich texture of the story of Frozen Gold although many of the features, styling and influences are similar.

Anyway, if like me you are a sucker for a cracking story about a fictional band then this comes highly recommended.

 





Colonial crime and corruption

29 06 2019

A Madras Miasma by Brian Stoddart

 

 

Madras in the 1920s. The British are slowly losing the grip on the subcontinent. The end of the colonial enterprise is in sight and the city on India’s east coast is teeming with intrigue. A grisly murder takes place against the backdrop of political tension and Superintendent Le Fanu, a man of impeccable investigative methods, is called in to find out who killed a respectable young British girl and dumped her in a canal, her veins clogged with morphine. As Le Fanu, a man forced to keep his own personal relationship a secret for fear of scandal in the face British moral standards, begins to investigate, he quickly slips into a quagmire of Raj politics, rebellion and nefarious criminal activities that threaten not just to bury his case but the fearless detective himself. The first Detective Le Fanu Adventure, A Madras Miasma, tells a classic tale of murder, corruption and intrigue with a sharp eye on British colonial politics and race relations. It is a story that, like its main protagonist, has its heart firmly in the right place.

A rare thing this, an erudite crime thriller written by a former Vice-Chancellor. Stoddart, whose research covers India and South Asia, wears his learning lightly but nevertheless portrays the decline of British colonial rule in a quite convincing way. It’s also a really great yarn and Detective Le Fanu is a compelling central figure. Intriguing, pacy and intelligent it is well worth reading and I’m looking forward to the next ones in the series.

four stars





It was a very bad year

22 06 2019

Diary of a bad year by J M Coetzee

An eminent, ageing Australian writer is invited to contribute to a book entitled Strong Opinions. For him, troubled by Australia’s complicity in the wars in the Middle East,it is a chance to air some urgent concerns: how should a citizen of a modern democracy react to their state’s involvement in an immoral war on terror, a war that involves the use of torture?

Then in the laundry room of his apartment block he encounters an alluring young woman. He offers her work typing up his manuscript. Anya is not interested in politics, but the job will be a welcome distraction, as will the writer’s evident attraction towards her. Her boyfriend, Alan, is an investment consultant who understands the world in harsh economic terms. Suspicious of his trophy girlfriend’s new pastime, Alan begins to formulate a plan…

It’s not his finest work by any stretch but nevertheless still extremely well written with the  contrast between the donnish author and the vibrant Anya providing the core entertainment. There is a lot of seemingly autobiographical material in here, plenty of political critique and amusing mockery of the writer. Worth a read, as always.





What’s your poison?

15 06 2019

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers

 

The classic mystery that first featured Harriet Vane, companion sleuth to the dashing, perennially popular private investigator Lord Peter Wimsey, from the writer widely considered the greatest mystery novelist of the Golden Age–Dorothy L. Sayers.

Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiance died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman’s noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to prove her innocent–as determined as he was to make her his wife.

Can Lord Peter Wimsey prove that Harriet Vane is not guilty of murder – or find the real poisoner in time to save her from the gallows? Impossible, it seems. The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing-up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of the killing her lover. And Harriet Vane shall hang. But the jury disagrees.

All very enjoyable in a lighthearted yet rather deadly kind of way. Plenty of twists and turns along the way too. This is the first book featuring Lord Peter Wimsey I’ve tried (once again at the recommendation of Gaby Neher – thank you Gaby!) and I really quite enjoyed it. However, for me it lacked some of the power of many Agatha Christie crime novels, which it kind of resembled, albeit with plenty of P G Wodehouse thrown in. Will nevertheless be keen to try a few more.

 





Troublesome priests and professors

8 06 2019

The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies

 

 

Defrocked monks, mad professors, and wealthy eccentrics – a remarkable cast peoples Robertson Davies’ brilliant spectacle of theft, perjury, murder, scholarship, and love at a modern university. Only Mr. Davies, author of Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders, could have woven together their destinies with such wit, humour-and wisdom.

A cracking campus novel. Set in a really not that modern Canadian institution it does really have the lot as listed here. It’s finely written and really well paced and is, despite the deaths, every entertaining indeed. Looking forward to reading the next two in the trilogy.

And there are some striking contemporary resonances:

 

(With enormous thanks to Gaby Neher for lending me the book.)

 

four stars

 








%d bloggers like this: