The magic of the cup

27 04 2019

How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J L Carr

 

 

‘But is this story believable? Ah, it all depends upon whether you want it to believe it.’ J.L. Carr

 

In their new all-buttercup-yellow-stripe, Steeple Sinderby Wanderers, who usually feel lucky when their pitch is above water-level, are England’s most obscure team. This uncategorizable, surreal and extremely funny novel is the story of how they start the season by ravaging the Fenland League and end it by going all the way to Wembley.

Told through unreliable recollection, florid local newspaper coverage and bizarre committee minutes, How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup is both entertaining and moving. There will never be players again like Alex Slingsby, Sid ‘the Shooting Star’ Swift and the immortal milkman-turned-goalkeeper, Monkey Tonks.

 

It’s a fantastic yarn about how a team from nowhere wins the FA Cup. A highly entertaining tale which has humour, pathos and really embodies what used to be the magic of the FA Cup. It’s a timeless read and highly recommended. The story, although published in 1975, also reminded me of the Miracle Of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinnis from many years later about how a small team from a tiny town in Abruzzi made it to the top of Serie A in Italy. Wanderers perhaps have a little less of the glamour but they do have all the heart.

 

 

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Crimes in space

13 04 2019

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre

 

“This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.”
Ciudad de Cielo is the ‘city in the sky’, a space station where hundreds of scientists and engineers work in earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.
When a mutilated body is found on the CdC, the eyes of the world are watching. Top-of the-class investigator, Alice Blake, is sent from Earth to team up with CdC’s Freeman – a jaded cop with more reason than most to distrust such planetside interference.
As the death toll climbs and factions aboard the station become more and more fractious, Freeman and Blake will discover clues to a conspiracy that threatens not only their own lives, but the future of humanity itself.

I think this is Brookmyre’s first off-planet science fiction outing and it’s as gripping and entertaining as his more down to earth offerings. There are plenty of twists and turns in the low gravity plotting as well as some decent characters and credible future society politicking. Great fun and games and many a murder to solve and conspiracy to unravel in space.

 





Stories from before

31 03 2019

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor

 

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

But the aftershocks of Becky Shaw’s disappearance have origins long before then, and those in the village have losses, and secrets, and stories of their own…

A woman remembers a son’s inexperience – and a father’s rage; a young wife pushes against the boundaries of her marriage, whilst an older one finds ways to ensure the survival of hers. A hunt for a birthday present takes an alarming turn, and a teenage game grows serious.

Fresh hurts open old wounds, salvation comes from unexpected quarters and chance encounters release long-buried memories.

First broadcast as a series of specially commissioned stories on BBC Radio 4, The Reservoir Tapesreturns to the territory of the Booker-longlisted Reservoir 13, revealing the web of connections that bind us, and the many layers on which we all build our truths.

Written in the same precise, spare and powerful style as Reservoir 13, there is nothing not to admire about this prequel which comprises a set of stories foreshadowing that novel’s narrative strands. It’s an outstanding read, as ever with McGregor, and highly recommended therefore.

 





Rebus in the house (again)

23 03 2019

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

 

IN A HOUSE OF LIES

Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

It feels like Rebus is having the most active retirement imaginable. Despite being largely focused on walking his dog and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, Rebus still seems to find time to get completely embroiled in a new/old case. Naturally this brings out many a skeleton, metaphorical and in one case literal, from lots of closets for Rebus to get mixed up with.

Hard to believe after all these years but this is a series which continues to entertain and this is one of the best to date with much to challenge and stimulate. Definitely recommended.





Flying higher

19 01 2019

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

With echoes of Raymond Carver as well as Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, The Last Pilot re-ignites the thrill and excitement of the space race through the story of one man’s courage in the face of unthinkable loss.

Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot begins in the bone-dry Mojave Desert during the late 1940s, where US Air Force test pilots are racing to break the sound barrier. Among the exalted few is Jim Harrison: dedicated to his wife, Grace, and their baby daughter.

By the 1960s, the space race is underway and Harrison and his colleagues are offered a place in history as the world s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim is faced with a decision that will affect the course of the rest of his life whether to accept his ticket to the moon and at what cost.

It’s a good portrayal of an extraordinary time and place and does capture some of the excitement of the early days of the space race. But at the heart this is a tale of relationships and the absence of what would now be described as work-life balance. Whilst it is tightly written and well crafted, the comparisons with Carver and Hemingway are somewhat overstated. Nevertheless a decent read.

 





Top reads of 2018

12 01 2019

Big six

These are my favourite reads from the past 12 months. Plenty of other very good ones too but these are the stand out novels including a couple of older classics and two soon to be ones.

 

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

 

The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani

 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

 

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan

 

The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills

All highly recommended.





Jack’s back

5 01 2019

Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre


What if your deepest secret was revealed?

Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her.

Who would you turn to?

Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile, criminal source. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything.

What would you be capable of?

Thrown together by a vindictive and mysterious mutual enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they might be each other’s only hope.

It’s one of the best in the very good eight book Jack Parlabane series by Brookmyre. With all the customary ingredients including moral ambiguities and some complicated plotting the story really races along. Brookmyre often covers some really contemporary themes, including around IT, media and politics,  and this is no exception – it could all sound pretty dated in a few years but at present it feels really convincing. Parlabane is also a great leading character – largely honest and credible with some big character flaws which keep him interesting and unpredictable.

The climax is certainly a gripping one but does depend on the author holding back some narrative which would otherwise have been revealed – a bit of a cheat really but forgivable. Anyway, great fun and recommended.

 

 

four stars








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