About Me

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I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

"Songs of the Humpback Whale" by Jodi Picoult

Picoult's first novel, published in 1992. Here is my review of a more recent novel, Small Great Things, published in 2016.

A man (a famous marine biologist) and his wife have an argument; it turns violent. The woman and her 14, soon to be 15 year old daughter travel across the United States from California on the West Coast to Massachusetts where the woman's brother works on an apple farm. Along the journey (which follows a route designed by Joley, the woman's brother, in letters left at the post office of the previous stage) the woman remembers her childhood with a father who physically and sexually abused her. On the farm both mother and daughter fall in love with apple farmers. The marine biologist, a somewhat controlling man, follows them.

The story is told in fragments, from the point of view of the marine biologist, Oliver, his wife, Jane, her daughter, Rebecca, the brother/ uncle, Joley and the apple-farm owner, Sam. The narrative has an interesting structure: whilst Jane's sections travel forward in time, Rebecca's go backwards, creating something like a chiastic structure. The narratives adjoin in what is therefore clearly the central part of the book, when the road trip arrives at the cornfield in Iowa where Rebecca's plane crashed when she was a small child; Oliver is also coincident at this place. Thus, often, you know what happened and your interest is maintained by trying to jigsaw together the narrative so you understand why it happened. Also, the fundamental question of whether the man and his wife will get back together is left until the end of the book.

This can mean that the narrative sometimes feels a little bitty and there are events whose purpose I found difficult to pin down. It is not always easy to know whether what seem to be crucial turning points are truly so.

It also means that sometimes the same event is described by different narrators. I think Picoult misses a trick here. So far as I could see from a single reading, these events were described in exactly the same words, even down to the participants using the same words in a conversation. I would have expected each participant in an event to have put their own interpretation onto it and therefore to have remembered it differently, and this could have been used to develop character.

Of the characters, I was least convinced by Oliver, the controlling husband and marine biologist. The mother and daughter seemed scarcely differentiated.

The book seems to be pregnant with metaphor. Much of the action happens on an apple farm and there is a scene in which Sam the farm owner violently removes an apple from the hand of Jane saying that if she eats it she will die (because it was sprayed that morning with pesticide). How much more Garden of Eden do you need? (Perhaps the added hint that the local burger bar is called Adam's Rib!) On this interpretation the impossibly beautiful Joley is an angel (Jane's guardian angel? although during the incidents of physical abuse from their father Jane protected Joley); describing himself and what he does as “I fix the unfixable. I bring trees back from the dead. ... I've become mythic. The god of second chances.”. Hadley, the farm hand with whom Rebecca falls in love suffers a very real fall from grace. Rebecca herself has fallen, right at the start of the book, when she s one of only five survivors of a plane crash; perhaps she is the fallen angel Lucifer whose job is to tempt mankind. Paradise Lost anyone?

And what about the whales?

  • Oliver the marine biologist is obsessed by them; his wife Jane will not even swim although she can because when she was a girl she was swimming with her adored little brother Joley and saw him getting into difficulties and had to rescue him so "I didn't want to offer myself so easily to the entity which has almost taken away the only family member I loved.
  • The population of humpback whales on the west coast is distinct and never mixes with the east coast whales so the journey of Jane and Rebecca from California to New England represents in some way a transgression, a flouting of the natural order.
  • We are told that only male whales sing but the principal narratives in this book come from the women and the three men add little more than embellishments.
  • Oliver points out the link between whales and the aeroplane out of whose shattered body Rebecca came as a child: images of Jonah? “Have you ever noticed the parallels between humpbacks and airplanes? The elongated body, the hub of the cockpit and the whale’s jawbone, the wings and the fingered fins, the cross section of the tail and the fluke?

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book is the way that Picoult can describe a normal even using a slightly different word and so make it memorable:
  • You're getting that weepy cow look again.
  • When it is over her hair is free and our clothes are puddled around us.
  • Mama’s crying carpeted my footsteps.
  • Her socks had come off, bunched and burrowing in the toes of her boots.
Other wonderful lines included:
  • If you leave things to their natural course, they go bad.
  • We've been keeping tabs on the women that come in - no real lookers, yet, but it's been getting darker, and everyone's getting prettier.
  • Oil and water don't mix ... but that's no reason they can't both sit in the same jar.
  • In the real world, ‘forever’ may only be a weekend.
An interesting book which kept me turning pages.

October 2019; 427 pages

Sunday, 27 October 2019

"The Camberwell Miracle" by J D Beresford

Beresford wrote over thirty novels in the early to mid twentieth century but is perhaps better known to day as the father of Elizabeth Beresford who wrote the Wombles stories.

My copy of the book was pre-owned by T J Fletcher; I believe this to be Trevor Fletcher (1922 - 2018) who was at one time the lead HMI for Mathematics in the UK; he knew my mother in their youth.

The book was published as a Penguin paperback in the second month of World War 2: This is its eightieth anniversary.

Which family connection means that I wish I could be more appreciative of the book.

A doctor, educated at the "grammar school" in Bedford, practising in Camberwell, discovers the gift of faith healing. When the newspapers discover him he has to disappear because there are too many people seeking to consult him. A young girl who was crippled by polio when she was two seeks him out; whether or not she marries her ugly psychoanalyst boyfriend depends on her being cured.

Thus this is science fiction of a sort. Faith healing is explained by analogy to histolysis, the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, and by appealing to the common (but I think incorrect) belief that quantum physics has revealed that the laws of cause and effect no loner hold; Max Planck is quoted to support this. Psychoanalysis is added to show that the spirit or the soul can, if the subject's multiple selves are aligned in the correct direction, make alterations to cells and even genetic information in order to repair diseased organs.

It isn't that I am sceptical of the ideas, it is that they are explained at length with long paragraphs of argument. The characters are stereotypical and one-dimensional: the miracle worker is gentle and kind and good and unselfish, the newspaper editor is obsessed with his organ's circulation, the surgeon is a baddy, the sweet innocent girl at the heart of it all is a sweet innocent girl. And the working class characters touch their forelocks but sometimes let the upper-classes down because they gossip or because of other weaknesses of character. The only interesting character is her boyfriend the psychoanalyst who fell in love with her when she was ten and is worried that if she is healed she will not look at an ugly person like himself but these conflicts are never properly developed. I didn't believe in any of them and there endless theoretical posturings bored me. I skim-read most of it.

Some good moments:

  • "He was not the sort of man to find fault with himself unnecessarily." (C 1)
  • "He believed in miracles, but only as evidence of the direct interference of God, who could at His own will upset any of those provisional laws of cause and effect that He had in the first placed imposed upon the world He had created." (C 4) This put me in mind of a line in The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor: "How could he say that there was only God's insistence, even though He abided by no rules Himself, that His strictures should be discovered and obeyed?"
  • "If we're not meant to do this or that, particularly not meant to use our intelligence, we might just as well be puppets." (C 6)
  • "He was one of those rubicand (sic), full-bidoed, almost offensively healthy-looking men, who do not look their age at sixty and die suddenly a few years later of heart-failure or excessive blood pressure." (C 8)
  • "He could hear the lecherous wailing of a saxophone, the monotonous thudding of drum and double-bass ... 'Jazz ought to be made an offence against the peace ... There's something lewd and obscene about it'." (C 9)
  • "People of that sort  were always glad of the chance to get something out of you if they could" (C 14) Sometimes the author's inherent snobbery shows.
  • "Unfortunately that first love never lasted. It was largely physical, and you soon got tired." (C 14)
The plot has a typical four-part structure with the actual Camberwell Miracle, a significant turning-point, being at the 29% mark, Dick's declaration of love being at 53% and the beginning of the two trials, the commencement of the endgame, at 85%. In other words, each section is a little later than the 25%, 50% and 75% marks; perhaps this indicates that the start of the novel is too slow.

October 2019; 278 pages

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

"The Children of Dynmouth" by William Trevor

Dynmouth is a seaside resort gearing up for Easter Saturday which is the date of the Church Fete. Timothy Gedge, whose father has left his mother, fantasises about winning the Fete talent show with a comedy sketch based on the Brides in the Bath murders but he needs curtains, a suit, a bath and a wedding dress. Fortunately he the secrets of a number of the other residents of Dynmouth. Thus begins a series of cajoleries and blackmails, causing distress around the town. Is he possessed by devils as Kate believes and can the local Vicar stop him?

A charming portrait of the real life behind the pretty facade of a sleepy seaside town.

Some great moments:

  • "The souls of the adult people have shrivelled away: they are as last year's rhubarb walking the streets." (C 1)
  • "You must stick to your guns even though the joints on the left side of your body were giving you gyp. It was sticking to your guns that had made England, once, what England once had been. Nowadays it was like living in a rubbish dump." (C 3)
  • "The sea slurped over green rocks, at the bottom of the promenade wall. It was beginning to go out again, calmly withdrawing, as though trained." (C 7)
  • "The sea was calm. No breeze disturbed the budding magnolias or the tree mallows, or the azaleas for which the garden was noted.  ... In their favourite morning resting place, warm in the sunshine by the summer-house, the setters reclined with dignity, like sleepy lions." (C 8)
  • "God's world was not a pleasant place ... God's world was cruel, human nature took ugly forms." (C 11)
  • "How could he say that there was only God's insistence, even though He abided by no rules Himself, that His strictures should be discovered and obeyed?" (C 11)
  • "How could he say that God was all vague promises, and small print on guarantees that no one knew if He ever kept?" (C 11)
  • "There was a pattern of greys, half-tones and shadows. People moved in the greyness and made of themselves heroes or villains, but the truth was that heroes and villains were unreal." (C 11)
  • "It wasn't easy for him, having to accept that God permitted chance, and more than it was easy for him to be a clergyman in a time when clergymen seemed superfluous." (C 11)

October 2019; 189 pages

Monday, 21 October 2019

"Pompeii" by Mary Beard

The archaeological evidence from the city of Pompeii, buried for two thousand years by an eruption of neighbouring volcano Vesuvius, is assessed to provide evidence for daily life in the Roman world. The main message from this book is that the Romans weren't as homogenous as they are normally portrayed and that individuality reigned. How they did things in this city does not necessarily tell you how they did things elsewhere. What happened at the time that Pompeii was buried does not necessarily reflect what happened during the other many centuries of Roman Republic and subsequently Empire. And what one citizen or slave does is not the same as how another lives their life.

The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of narrative about the disaster. I suppose this has been covered elsewhere but it is the tabloid stuff. And I am not that interested in archaeology. So some of this book was rather hard going.

Nevertheless, there are some fascinating moments:

  • "The hint of 'officer class' prejudices in many modern archaeologists who have so confidently equated social mobility and the rise of new money with revolution or decline." (Introduction)
  • "Pompeii stood at the heart of a region - known, then and now, as Campania - where, long before the Romans came to dominate, indigenous peoples speaking the native Oscan language rubbed shoulders with Greek settlers." (C 1)
  • "The town of Baiae, across the Bay from Pompeii, had become by the first century BCE a byword for an upmarket, hedonistic resort." (C 1)
  • "It is hard to belive that all those Pompeians whoi lived in a single room above their shop, with not always adequate lavatory facilities, never found it convenient simply to piss in the streets." (C 2)
  • "For us, it is the rich who visit restaurants, the poor who cook economically at home. At Pompeii, it was the poor who ate out [because they didn't have kitchens]." (C 2)
  • In Pompeii, as in other early modern cities, "the mansions of the rich rubbed shoulders" with shops and workshops. (C 2)
  • "If by 'poverty' we mean 'destitution', then there were very few poor in the ancient world: for the simple reason that destitution was the first step on a fast track to death." (C 3)
  • "A tombstone from Rome ... includes the following piquant observation: 'wine, sex and baths ruin our bodies, but they are the stuff of life'" (C 7)
  • "The conventions of bathing brought everyone down to size. Bathing naked, or nearly naked ... the poor were in principle no different from the wealthy - possibly healthier and of finer physique." (C 7). I related this to Acts of Undressing by Barbara Brownie.
  • "The emperor Hadrian ... was visiting the baths one day (for even emperors might bathe in public ...) he noticed a retired soldier rubbing his back against the wall ... the man explained that he could not afford a slave to rub him down. So Hadrian gave him some slaves and the cost of their maintenance. Returning on a later occasion, he found a whole group of men rubbing their backs on the wall. ... He suggested they should rub each other." (C 7)
  • "The hot tubs in the bathing suite itself must have been a seething mass of bacteria ... Roman medical writer Celsus offers the sensible advice not to go to the baths with a fresh wound ('it normally leads to gangrene')" (C 7)
  • "The repeated slaughter of animals by humans to gods was an emblem of the hierarchy of the cosmos, with humans in the middle between beasts on the one hand and the divine on the other." (C 9)
  • "In the 1760s, the Temple of Isis was among the first buildings fully excavated on the site ... Exotic and a little bit sinister, it gave Mozart, who visited Pompeii in 1769, ideas for the Magic Flute." (C 9)

A comprehensive study. October 2019; 316 pages

Books to check out
Satyrica by Petronius

Friday, 18 October 2019

"Bus Stop Symi" by William Travis

Travis and his wife went to live on the remote island of Symi (an eight-mile long Greek island crammed with 180 churches, chapels and monasteries, in one of whose campanile's hangs "the nose cone of a 1000-kilo bomb ... its tone is good and that is what counts", at the far end of the Dodecannese, near Rhodes, under the shadow of Turkey) for four years in the mid-1960s. They rented and renovated a house, attended weddings and funerals and festivals, and had a daughter while learning about the islanders and a different way of life on an island with no roads.

It starts with three mysteries: why does the road-less (and therefore bus-less) island have a road roller, hidden away in a warehouse, and two bus shelters?

Symi is in the Iliad (as providing three ships for Agamemnon) and is famous for Prometheus. Having stolen fire and carried it in a hollow fennel stalk (as Symi women do when taking glowing coals to light a new fire) he was punished by being turned into a monkey (simis in Greek) and confined on the Island

This is a charming and lyrical record of an alternative way of life. But there are realities and sadnesses. Symi's historical trade was sponge-diving (they held the Ottoman monopoly). They dived naked until the deep-sea diving suits came in, then they went down further. Without any understanding in those days of the dangers of surfacing too quickly, perhaps one in three of the divers died from the bends; many others were subsequently crippled. The author encounters two old divers in a tavern; underneath them is a pile of stinking rags because they can no longer control their bladders. There is a terrible story related by the heroic linesman who realised his diver was having problems and so pulled him up as quickly as he could; he is proud of having saved the man's life and has no realisation that his prompt action is responsible for the man's paralysis.

There is also a fascinating account of the troubles of the second world war and the destruction of the Acropolis when the Germans blew up their stored ammunition before leaving the island; one German breaking the secrecy in which this was supposed to happen and so enabling perhaps five hundred villagers to evacuate from the area before the explosion.

One of the lasting legacies was that this couple taught the islanders to swim. Before then, despite being a an island of fishermen and sponge divers, no one swam: "the sea was dangerous ... It tasted bitter and it choked you. It took the young men away to foreign lands and drowned those who sought nin its depths for sponges." (C 8)

There are wonderful anecdotes. One concerns how a priest (who are married men, often from the community, and treated without especial reverence, at a baptism, angry at being jostled, thrust his Bible at an offending woman, striking her in the breasts. She retaliated and pushed him over; he struck his head on a marble step and it required all the available holy water to revive him. The baptism had to be cancelled.

This is better than the Corfu trilogy of Gerald Durrell (My family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, Garden of the Gods). True it lacks the bizzare antics of the Durrell family and it lacks even more the purple patches of pure wondrous description that Durrell manages it. However, it treats the Symiots with respect, rather than just as quirky characters, and at the end I felt I truly understood the everyday lives of the islanders.

There are many moments of magic and fun:

  • "Like most of Greece, Symi is built upon the bones of her conquerors and has become a living monument to them all." (C 1)
  • "Borne on the shoulders of four men was the coffin - but open and with the corpse propped up for all the world to see, or, as an observer said; 'Taking its last look round' ... Here was Death itself for all to see - green-skinned, shrunken-faced with open rictus-set jaw and shrivelled, blackened tongue. Over one edge of the coffin dangled a skinny foot ... to show the townsfolk that the deceased was going to his grave properly shod and not as a pauper." (C 3)
  • "Baptisms are more important than battles and to hold a grandchild by the hand is to hold life. He who holds a grenade holds but death ... which is why they have bomb-cases as church bells, artillery shells as flower pots, gun barrels as candle sticks ..."(C 6)
  • "The month of May is considered unlucky for marriages to be solemnized since this is when donkeys - notoriously difficult breeders in spite of their lustiness - are coupled." (C 7)
  • "A couple of years ago a group of Symi's virgins were discovered in an empty building, high up on the mountainside, dancing frenziedly about Savas [a teenage village idiot] naked as Pan and quite as hairy, with garlands around his neck and mountain flowers woven in the mat of his pubic hair and adorning his rampant phallus. Maenads still exist upon the Symiot hills it seems, and bacchanals are still celebrated." (C 7)
  • "Who can call washing-up an unpleasantness when all that is required is to slide greasy plates and cutlery a fathom deep onto a bed of sea-urchins and return an hour later to find the crockery scoured bone-clean under the polishing jaws of the sea's scavengers?" (C 8)
  • "A greengrocer asleep on a bench outside his shop will be decorated by passers-by with his own goods." (C 9)
  • "The Orthodox Church ... insists that all its village priests are married - for how can a family-less bachelor, albeit a cleric, give acceptable advice to the labouring father of ten children?" (C 9)

October 2019; 221 pages

Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
Autobiographies of men who have achieved:
  • Memoir of the Bobotes: by Joyce Cary: a brilliantly written memoir of the author's time as a medical officer during the Balkan Wars (pre World War I): the writer became a novelist and his craft shows; full of humour and keen observation
  • My Family and Other Animals (and the sequels) by Gerald Durrell: Beautiful descriptions and hilarious accounts of an eccentric family living on the Greek Island of Corfu between WWI and WWII
  • A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: a well-written, frequently humourous account of Pacific paradise
  • Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: the account of three years spent on the remote and at the time unspoilt Greek island of Symi: well-written, charming and amusing
  • Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis: an account of the famous author's life, mostly from the perspective of his Christianity: beautifully written
  • A Death in the Family by Karl-Ove Knausgard: the first volume of a series in which the author, in the guise of writing novels, portrays real people with real names: the writing is brilliant
  • Beautiful People by Simon Doonan: The story of a young gay man: well-written with moments of marvellous humour
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the third volume in the series that started with Angela's Ashes
  • The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles: a reasonably well-written account of a year spent living in Venice
  • A Detail on the Burma Front by Winifred Beaumont: a nurse's story from one of the theatres of World War II: more compassion and humour: reasonably well-written
  • Life in exotic islands:
  • Whatever Happened to Margo: Margaret Durrell's account of running a boarding house in Bournemouth: sometimes muddled but often funny
  • Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by Maggie Smith-Bendell: an interesting and reasonably well-written account of a Romani Gypsy childhood
  • Not for the faint-hearted by John Stevens: the autobiography of a senior police officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
  • Forty Years Catching Smugglers by Malcolm Nelson: the memoirs of a senior customs officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story

Thursday, 17 October 2019

"Invasion 1940" by Peter Fleming

A historical study of Hitler's plans to invade Britain in the summer and autumn of 1940 and why they never came to pass; the author was the brother of Ian Fleming of the James Bond novels and the organiser of the planned British Maquis in Kent.

This book is wonderful is an almost endless store of anecdotes about those days, some belonging to the urban myth type which are rapidly debunked (for example, the discovery of hundreds of German corpses in the sea, clogging up some south coast harbours) and others being wonderful new tales (the Austrian mountain regiment which, upon reaching the coast, decreed that every man should practise swimming at 9 AM only to find on the second day that the sea had 'moved'). It is these anecdotes which make one wonder how it is that anyone ever wins any war:

  • It was Hitler's unpractical custom to rely upon the tete-a-tete rather than the inter service conference when dealing with his commanders-in-chief ... He intensely disliked being disagreed with.” (C 3)
  • The bigger a gun the slower its rate of fire, the shorter the life of its barrel, and the less, after every round, the accuracy of its performance.” (C 4)
  • People switched their suspicions from the strangers or half-strangers on the fringe of their community to those hitherto esteemed its backbone. In Britain the churchwarden or the local philanthropist attracted that searching scrutiny which in the First World War had been reserved for the bearded vagrant or the nocturnal collector of moths.” (C 5)
  • Many a humble Dr Watson was promoted, by the access of self-importance which comes to patriots in an hour of crisis, to the status of a Sherlock Holmes.” (C 5)
  • Flashing lights, poisoned sweets, bridges blown too soon or not at all, punctured tyres, cut telephone-lines, misdirected convoys - in whatever went amiss the hand of the fifth column was detected, never the normal workings of muddle or mischance, confusion or plain cowardice.” (C 5)
  • The removal of signposts and milestones raised a ... problem ... what should a citizen do if a motorist asked the way? The short answer was the motorist should be requested to produce his identity card. But ... everyone had been warned never, in any circumstances, to show his identity card to persons not authorised to see it.” (C 5)
  • Identity “cards were all but valueless, since no photograph was affixed to them.” (C 5)
  • Several instances occurred of motorists ... who disobeyed, or perhaps misinterpreted, the Volunteers’ signals to stop and were shot dead.” (C 5)
  • In war, as in other human affairs, it is a mistake not to be single-minded.” (C 6)
  • It is surprising that there should, throughout the summer [of 1940], have been something like 1,000,000 unemployed. The total in early September was 800,000, of whom 300,000 were women.” (C 7, footnote)
  • It was ... widely believed that the best way to render petrol not only useless but harmful to the user’s vehicles was to pout sugar in it. But ... who, on whose recommendation, would authorise the issue of a ‘supplementary’ sugar ration?” (C 7)
  • The nation’s reactions might well have proved an alloy in which much was base: conceit, stupidity, xenophobia, fecklessness and wishful thinking - these, amongst other flaws, might have been found in the gleaming brass of its self-confidence.” (C 7)
  • Less than 5,000 children between the ages of five and fifteen sailed for the Dominions, less than 2,000 for the United States.” (C 7)
  • Hotel advertisements of the period serve as a sad, gentle reminder of the sanctuaries which many elderly people of the more prosperous sort felt obliged, or were prevailed upon, to seek. Though they were sometimes called ‘funk-holes’.” (C 7)
  • Churchill regretted the restricting of church bells to the announcing of an invasion saying “I cannot help feel that anything like a serious invasion would be bound to leak out’.” (C 7)
  • When a bomb scored a direct hit on the kennels of the East Kent Hunt ... the hounds, though blown far afield by the explosion, were all recovered, unhurt, in the course of the next two days.”  (C 7)
  • The unidentified white substance floating down from the sky was thought ... to prove poisonous ... It was in point of fact gossamer, which at this season of the year is discharged by spiders while mating in mid-air.” (C 7)
  • Broadcasting House received a direct hit during air raid on 16th October 1940, seven members of the staff being killed. The announcers who were reading news bulletins at the time ... continued to do so with commendable imperturbability, and listeners were not aware until later that anything was amiss.” (C 7)
  • The days of looking forward used to pass slowly and heavily because they had merely to be lived through, for the sake of others to come, but now the days are all lived for their own sake.” (C 7)
  • The Germans used terror-propaganda “as in the revelation that German airborne troops were being provided with ‘fog-pills’, which enabled each soldier to conceal himself in a small cloud.” and electro-magnetic rays. (C 8)
  • Churchill ... remained the servant of the House of Commons. In this role he never scamped his duties, showing always a jealous regard for the rights and susceptibilities of Parliament.” (C 9)
  • On a clear day it was possible, with the help of binoculars, how to tell the time by the clock-tower in Calais from the battlements of Dover Castle.” (C 11)
  • One of the main tactical problems in jungle warfare had proved to be the extreme difficulty of accurately locating the enemy’s automatic weapons in dense cover ... A temporary officer in the RAF, who in happier Times had been enthusiastic water-diviner, claimed to be able to solve this problem ... A form of martial arts hunt-the-thimble was organised, but the machine-gun-diviner failed in every instance to locate his quarry.” (C 11)
  • One German spy was unmasked when he tried to buy cider for breakfast. Another was unable to speak English. (C 12)
  • The total available stock of rifles in the country was believed to be 70,000; these were supplemented by a miscellaneous collection of 20,000 firearms handed into police stations as the result of an appeal.” (C 13)
  • Pronunciation-tests for suspects were issued - Soothe, Wrong, Wretch, Rats, Those.” Not quite Shibboleth. (C 13)
  • At Margate it had been hoped to block the advance of German tanks through the town by means of bathing machines filled with sand.” (C 13)
  • A sixty-three-year-old Zulu whose father had led one of Cetewayo’s impis against the British ... was among the first volunteers in a coastal district of Glamorganshire where it was hoped that, if the invaders landed, his appearance on the foreshore might suggest to them a serious error in navigation had been made.” (C 13)
  • Goering alone had Hitler's ear and could perhaps have recalled him from his dreams. He made nothing of these duties and these chances. He played a lone hand, he played it badly, and he sometimes played in fancy dress.” (C 14)
  • In the beginning we tried to get the girls to leave those rooms in which ... radio telephonic communications was broadcast from the aircraft during air fighting - for the language was terrible ...The girls refused to leave their jobs and said they didn't mind the language as much as we thought. They added that it was nice to think of their being like that, all the same.” (C 15, footnote)
  • Two Mountain Divisions, raised in the highlands of Austria and Bavaria, were allotted to Army Group A in a cliff-scaling role. The commander of one of them, reaching his training area on the Channel coast, decided that his men must learn to swim ... swimming instruction would take place daily at 0900 hours. On the first day, at the appointed time, the battalions jogged smartly down to the sectors of beach allotted to them and swam or floundered according to their lights. Breasting the sand-dunes at 0900 hours on the second day, they were astonished and dismayed to find that the sea had moved; it was much further away than it had been the day before. A naval liaison officer explained this phenomenon.” (C 16)
  • Somehow it is generally a junior officer who does night-duty at the week-end.” (C 19)
  • Bisected by a river spanned by too few bridges, dotted with railway termini and criss-crossed by thousands of acres of permanent way, its subsoil laced with tunnels, drain and cables, its heart sheltering the seat of Government, its port indispensable to the island’s survival and its residential areas to the continued presence at their posts of the men and women who made the metropolis work, London offered not so much one huge unmissable target as a congeries of interrelated bull’s eyes.” (C 19)
  • On the continent, the RAF dropped leaflets in German, French and Dutch; they took the form of a phrase-book ... ‘Was that a bomb - a torpedo - a shell - a mine?’ ... ‘We are seasick. Where is the basin?’ ... ‘How much do you charge for swimming lessons?’ ... ‘See how briskly our captain burns!’ ... ‘Why is The Fuehrer not coming with us?’” (C 19)

There is humour and insight in this beautifully written study. It was a joy to read.

October 2019; 284 pages

Books about war in this blog:

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

"Under Another Sky" by Charlotte Higgins

The author and her boyfriend travel around England, Wales and Scotland to see the ruins of the Romans; the narrative includes stories of the characters who were also fascinated by the traces of Roman Britain. Her journey is geographical but also chronological: she starts in Kent where Julius Caesar landed, moving to Colchester and London, she ends back in East Anglia (“We drive through the outskirts of the town [Great Yarmouth], past endless rows of static caravans poised for occupation by those with a taste for the bleak.”; C 12) with relics of the departure of the Romans in or around AD 408.

I learned many interesting things:

  • The first record of Kent, Cantium, is in a book by Diodorus Siculus written in the 1st century BC. (C 1)
  • Romans weren't the first road builders! A road in Shropshire thought to be Roman was found to have wooden foundations dated to the second century BC (C 1)
  • The first image of Britannia is found on a relief panel on a building in the city of Aphrodisias in modern Turkey. (C 1)
  • Shakespeare's Cymbeline is based on the real Iron Age King Cunobelinus. (C 2)
  • The borders of Londonium still, more or less, mark the borders of the City of London, because the Roman walls became the mediaeval city’s boundaries, entered and exited by those long-perished portals that have a ghostly presence through their mediaeval names: Cripplegate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Bishops Gate, Aldgate, Ludgate. All these were Roman gates; only the seventh, Moorgate, was a medieval newcomer.” (C 3)
  • London’s Roman forum, near where Fenchurch Street crosses Gracechurch Street included a three-storey basilica “which was the biggest building this side of the Alps” (C 3)
  • The early Anglo-Saxons abandoned London and settled in “Croydon, Battersea, Tulse Hill, Kingston, Upper Norwood.” (C 3)
  • The colour of sunlight gleaming off a sword will change, depending on whether it's a warm sky or not.” (C 4, quoting Rosemary Sutcliff)
  • At Hadrian’s wall inscriptions mentioned the word ‘cervesa’ (usually translated as Celtic beer) “which is surely the ancestor of the Spanish cerveza.” (C 7)
  • The English mountains the Pennines were so named because they were likened to the Italian Appenines in a forged Roman manuscript which was believed to be authentic for many years. (C 7)
  • Dido builds herself a funeral pyre, takes Aeneas’s sword, which he has left behind him, and stabs herself ... It is a cruelly symbolic suicide, penetrated by her lover’s weapon.” (C 11)

I was particularly interested in those who were interested in Roman Britain.
  • Archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler seemed to rely on his wife to do more of the unsung management of his archaeological digs. She was quoted by a newspaper as saying "she had always endeavoured to be a part of the shadow behind her husband.” (C 5) Meanwhile Mortimer enjoyed multiple affairs. He was returning from one foreign dig to which he had taken his latest girlfriend when, in a railway carriage, he read his wife's obituary in the newspaper.
  • Poet Wilfred Owen as a lad in Shropshire used to cycle to the Roman ruins at Wroxeter to search for coins. 
  • R G Collingwood made his name as a major philosopher but he was also a keen academic archaeologist. When he was living near Coniston he met Arthur Ransome whose Swallows and Amazons tales were based on boating adventures with Collingwood's family. Collingwood offered Ransome his savings when Ransome was sued by Lord Alfred Doublas over the former's biography of Orcar Wilde. Wilfred Owen visited here as well.

An interesting selection of anecdotes about Roman Britain.

October 2019; 230 pages

Monday, 14 October 2019

"Memoir of the Bobotes" by Joyce Cary

Cary was an Irish novelist born in 1888 and dying in 1957 whose most famous works are Mister Johnson and The Horse's Mouth.  This memoir was published after his death and refers to the time when, as a young man of about 24, he went to Montenegro to work for the Red Cross in a war zone during the First Balkan War, a fight between various Balkan states and the Turks that served as a sort of dress rehearsal for the First World War.

It has some remarkable writing which evokes perfectly the fellowship of young men in war and the everyday mundane lives of soldiers, most interested in keeping warm, eating, and where they are going to sleep than in any aspects of chivalry: “Anyone will tell you you that a war is not made up of fighting, but just exactly of stew, and if you are lucky, eggs. Just as the life of an American woman does not consist altogether of marriages and divorces, with homicide here and there, but of stew and eggs, and such matters.” (3.32) This is summed up in his last lines: "If this proves a disappointing book, it must be because there is too much eating, and too little incident in it - too much like life, which is perhaps disappointing for the same reason." He is so right in everything except that this book disappoints.

But the idea that life is made up of the commonplace is a theme of the book:

  • The commonplace infects every person and situation as soon as you are close to them. If the Lieutenant had produced a pistol suddenly, and offered to rob me, there would have been no more than a troublesome brawl, less picturesque than a fight between two sparrows in a gutter or an apache outrage.” (1.2)
  • I saw an Apache outrage once. ... Newspaper reports of this sort of affair make every city clerk long for romantic outlawry. He takes tram to Poplar and smokes opium, or goes for a gypsy during his week’s holiday, and gets harvest bugs in his legs and can't sleep at night without making his under arm go dead. Real outlawry is no more romantic than a desk.” (1. 2)

Ironically, because this is a memoir of war, it is packed with incident. Almost as soon as he arrives in Montenegro he does the tourist thing to see a Montenegrin citadel on top of a hill; a saboteur blows up the ammunition dump stored there and Cary is arrested by a rather frightened soldier. “I don't think he was so much afraid of the shrapnel, as still entirely overset by the surprise of the first bang. His eyes were popping out with excitement, and his breathing was like that of an old asthmatic.” (1.2) Cary is then accused of sabotage, only being released after bravely seeking wounded amid the still exploding ammunition.

He makes one feel the horrors and the everyday of war. In some ways this book reminded me of All Quiet on the Western Front:

  • As for the bodies, it is the birds and the sun that take off the noses. The nose is soft, and offers itself kindly to a beak. The sun easily shrivels it. In the same way the flesh about the mouth goes before the harder skin over the cheek bones, and the stomach before the ribs.” (1.10)
  • The whistle can be heard (very thin and sometimes intermittent) a long time before the shot arrives. You have plenty of time to reflect that you can't get out of the way because the way it's not certain enough, and that if there is going to be anyone killed, he will have to be killed, and nothing more’s to be done.” (1.12)
  • The Turks came out afterwards and bayoneted the wounded. Some of them were tangled in the wire, and hung there helpless until they were shot to pieces, or spitted.” (3.24)
  • I lay down with the soldiers - while I had the use of one man's chest for a pillow, another used my thigh” (3.25)
  • The harder it is to keep house the more important it becomes, and the more carefully is domesticity studied, as in wartime. What is the special significance of the term ‘Old Soldier’? It means one who is so cunning a housekeeper that he can make himself comfortable where others are at a loss. A man who always has something eatable in his haversack and drinkable in his bottle, a reserve of tobacco and matches, a warm hole to sleep in.” (3.27)
  • Though I had not made my sleeping sack ... I had watched over it, it guarded it, trundled it about, shouldered it or over the hills, until it had at least the status of a comrade, if not altogether a child of my own fashioning.” (4.40)
  • It is by an imaginative effort rather than direct realisation that danger and the possibility of bullets can be understood. The sniper waits for the failure of the imagination and shoots you because you have forgotten that you must believe in him.” (4.44)

Some things never change:

  • Englishmen pass through the world as if its countries were so many chambers of the Sarcophagus Club, as if they had been only lately elected, and were still afraid of the waiters.” (1.1)
  • Naturally, if one speaks English to a person that only knows French and Albanian, it must be spoken very loud indeed to make him understand.” (1.11)
  • It is always better to do things in Montenegro and get permission afterwards.” (3.25) I have observed that this is true not only in Montenegro but around the world.

He is excellent at description:

  • He was a portly old gentleman, and the immense long barrelled revolver, which all Montenegrins carry in the front of their sash, stood at a long distance from his backbone.” (3.32)

And he really understands people:

  • The Sergeant-Major was really a kind man, but I had not yet discovered that no bolts ever flew out of his thunder.” (1.4)

Other brilliant lines include:

  • There is no kind of work always so apt to hand in a base camp as the moving and removing of boxes.” (1.3)
  • A clergyman once told me privately that he could not understand how a boat could be sailed against the wind. I told him that I should be very diffident of attempting his trade, while he declared it required less wits than any other - that that was why the clergy wore their collars back before, as a warning that special allowance should be made for them by ordinary intelligent persons.” (1.4)
  • There is nothing so delightful as busy and active work which has some sort of immediate result, everyone likes cutting down trees, painting fences. rummaging box-rooms, excavating pits, blasting rocks.” (1.4)
  • I had a nest of my own on top of a pile of baggage, shared with an old mother, who had no corners. She was above stays, and even the point of her elbow was comfortably soft. When she laughed her whole surface waved in ripples; to make a remark to her was as if you should drop a stone in milk.” (1.6)
  • This was already the time of the armistice, which was respected far too well by the Montenegrins for their own good. For the first time they were fighting by the rules of European warfare, and they are not yet enough civilized to know that these rules are never kept.” (1.12)
  • Soap and clean sheets are only the binding of the book - useful to keep it together, but paid for with a grudge.” (2.21)
  • Cap is a marcher with that sort of spring in the joints which is like wit in an argument.” (3.23)
  • The etiquette is two salutes to the handshake - a courtesy-sandwich with the meat in the middle.” (3.26)
  • The others only desired a large fire with plenty of flame and smoke - a fire as easy to cook over as it would be to tow a baby's perambulator with a ten-coupled engine.” (3.27)
  • We had a bayonet for candlestick, stuck down in a crack of the hearth, with the candle in its socket.” (3.27)
  • The pup lost herself on Murican journey, and caused Lauder some uneasiness. He waited two days, and then marched back alone to find her. She was with a lover. Lauder did not approve the match, describing the bridegroom as a black mongrel, lame in the hind leg, with a broken tail, and forbade the banns. The pup nevertheless grieved for a few hours, and then worked off her trouble in prolonged efforts to get a four inch skull into a three inch meat tin.” (4.40)
  • You who sit in an armchair, made by a man you don't know the name of, and bought in a shop, before a fire of coals dug out by total strangers in a country as far off, for all you care, as Kamtchatka, delivered at your door by a heaver at best merely an acquaintance, arranged and lit by a servant who probably did not greatly like you, do not know what the pleasure of the fireside means.” (4.40)
  • The Boy Scouts were supposed to be a Red Cross unit, but they were of very tender years besides being armed to the teeth.” (4.41)
This is a beautifully written book.

October 2019; 164 pages

Books about war in this blog:
Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
  • Memoir of the Bobotes: by Joyce Cary: a brilliantly written memoir of the author's time as a medical officer during the Balkan Wars (pre World War I): the writer became a novelist and his craft shows; full of humour and keen observation
  • My Family and Other Animals (and the sequels) by Gerald Durrell: Beautiful descriptions and hilarious accounts of an eccentric family living on the Greek Island of Corfu between WWI and WWII
  • A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: a well-written, frequently humourous account of Pacific paradise
  • Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: the account of three years spent on the remote and at the time unspoilt Greek island of Symi: well-written, charming and amusing
  • Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis: an account of the famous author's life, mostly from the perspective of his Christianity: beautifully written
  • A Death in the Family by Karl-Ove Knausgard: the first volume of a series in which the author, in the guise of writing novels, portrays real people with real names: the writing is brilliant
  • Beautiful People by Simon Doonan: The story of a young gay man: well-written with moments of marvellous humour
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the third volume in the series that started with Angela's Ashes
  • The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles: a reasonably well-written account of a year spent living in Venice
  • A Detail on the Burma Front by Winifred Beaumont: a nurse's story from one of the theatres of World War II: more compassion and humour: reasonably well-written
  • Whatever Happened to Margo: Margaret Durrell's account of running a boarding house in Bournemouth: sometimes muddled but often funny
  • Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by Maggie Smith-Bendell: an interesting and reasonably well-written account of a Romani Gypsy childhood
  • Not for the faint-hearted by John Stevens: the autobiography of a senior police officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
  • Forty Years Catching Smugglers by Malcolm Nelson: the memoirs of a senior customs officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story

Saturday, 12 October 2019

"Small Great Things" by Jodi Picoult

Ruth is a black nurse with twenty years experience delivering babies. But her next patients are Turk and Brit, a white supremacist couple, who ask that she be not allowed to care for their newborn baby Davis. However, it is Ruth who finds Davis dying in the nursery. Should she treat him or not? After David dies, Ruth is blamed for causing his death, sacked from the hospital and charged with murder. A single mother without a source of income she is forced to use a public defender, privileged white woman Kennedy.

I am always surprised by the precariousness of American life. Ruth has worked for twenty years and yet a single incident can thrust her onto the breadline; there is no question that she might be suspended on full pay while the allegations are considered, there seems to be no question that her knee-jerk dismissal might be challenged. When she is arrested she appears in court in her nightgown; even when she is released from prison on bail the nightgown is the clothing she is given for her release.

Picoult is excellent when she describes the minutiae of everyday racism. I fully bought in to the character of Ruth to the extent that I was sure for a while that Picoult must be an African American. I was less convinced by the character of Turk, the white supremacist, and his character arc seemed rushed at the end.

The plot has a classic structure. The first act ends with Ruth losing her job; it is almost exactly at the 25% mark. The 50% mark is where Ruth reaches what appears to be her lowest point: working at McDonalds and discovered there both by her horrified son and her defence lawyer; this is the point at which Ruth decides she needs the help of Wallace Mercy, a black activist. The murder trial begins at more or less the 75% mark.

Jane Smiley in 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel suggests that the exposition of the novel (setting out the stall) must be completed by the 10% mark. This is the moment when Ruth discovers she has been removed from the care of the patient because of her colour; it is ;perhaps the moment when we become aware of her colour. Smiley also states that the 90% mark is the climax. This is the point at which Kennedy the lawyer, decides to play the race card and when Edison, Ruth's son, goes off the rails.

But the main thing about the plot is that it is so well woven that there is always something else happening to make you turn the pages.

The prose is also good. Picoult is especially skillful at using a single short sentence, in paragraph all by itself, to jab home a message.

This is a book that made me turn pages, desperate to find out what had happened, hoping beyond hope for a happy ending but uncertain of what the ending would be until almost the final page. This is a book in which I utterly identified with the protagonist. My only criticism is that I felt that the story was perhaps a little too issue driven; I would have liked to get deeper into the characters; to some extent the characters were representatives of positions rather than flesh and blood; this was most true of Turk and, to some extent, of Kennedy.

Great lines:

  • "Lost in a world of made of Ms Mina's pain and fear, trying to be the map that she could follow out of it."
  • "One of those people for whom life is just the space between crises."
  • "He's bouncing the heel of one boot like he can't quite stay still."
  • "Turk Bauer makes me think of a power line that's snapped during a storm, and lies across the road just waiting for something to brush against it so it can shoot sparks."
  • "After my brother died, everything fell apart. It was like that trial had ripped off the outside layer of skin, and what was left of my family was just a lot of blood and guts with nothing to hold it together anymore."
  • "Anger ... is a renewable source of fuel."
  • "This is what it feels like to beat someone up: like a rubber band stretched so tight it aches, and starts to shake. And then, when you throw that punch, when you let go of the elastic, the snap is electric. You're on fire, and you didn't even realize you were combustible."
  • "I smile. But like anything you wear that doesn't fit, it pinches."
  • "The words have gotten so ordinary in fact that they feel like rain; I hardly even notice them anymore."
  • "The reason we lose people we care about is so we're more grateful for the ones we still have. It's the only possible explanation. Otherwise, God's a sorry son of a bitch."
  • "It is remarkable how events and truths can be reshaped, like wax that's sat too long in the sun. There is no such thing as a fact. There is only how you saw the fact, in any given moment. How you reported the fact. How your brain processed that fact. There is no extrication of the storyteller from the story."

October 2019; 500 pages

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

"Hatter's Castle" by A J Cronin

Cronin's first novel is remarkably Dickensian in tone; almost inevitably it features a hero doctor.

However the main thrust of the story revolves around James Brodie, a hat-seller, who lives in a fantastical house that he has designed in the small Scottish town of Levenford. Brodie is a paterfamilias, a patriarch and a violent bully. He has completely cowed his wife, Margaret, who has been complicit in permitting him to bully his three children: Matt, a boy of working age, stepping out with his girlfriend Agnes; Mary a young girl with a new boyfriend Denis, of whom Brodie disapproves on the grounds that he is Irish and that his father owns a pub; and Nessie, Brodie's favourite, a young girl at school who he drives to be always the top of the class. Rounding out this dominated household is Brodie's mother, a crone whose only pleasure in life is her food.

The mostly-predictable plot delivers a moral nemesis to Brodie as, one by one, and in a variety of ways, his children and his wife fail to live up to the standards he has demanded and desert him. But the pleasure of the book lies not in a plot that twists and turns but in the very inevitability of fate. The fundamental strength of the book is the strength of the characters, especially that of Brodie.

At one point (2.4) Brodie is said to be as proud as Lucifer and the same fall is predicted; perhaps there is a genre of plot which exemplifies the phrase 'pride comes before a fall' such as that of Lucifer or Icarus.

It is, for modern tastes, over-written with too much description and certainly too many exclamation marks!!! One can see its Dickensian heritage. But as a portrait of life in a small town it was a deserved best-seller and it is a shame that it seems to be out of print.

A notable feature of this novel is that one of the characters is killed off in the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 when a bridge collapsed with a train on it.

The first chapter was, for me, the best, with a masterful portrayal of the dynamics of the little family, cramped into the confines of the small 'castle', and dominated by fear of the patriarchal bully.

The dialogue is written mostly in lowland Scots dialect:

  • "a' these hard frosts maun break some time"
  • "I dinna ken what it's to celebrate exactly, but ye micht ca' it a beanfeast without any beans."
  • "Bide a wee"
  • etc

Other quotes:

  • "If ye've something to say then we'll all stop and listen to the wonder o' it." (1.1)
  • "Matthew, looking stiff and sheepish in a brand new suit, so new indeed that when he was not in motion his trouser legs stood to attention with edges sharp as parallel presenting swords." (1.4)
  • "the rending emotions of a pain intolerably sweet, and a pleasure unbearably intoxicating." (1.6)
  • "Unstable as water, and as shallow, she reflected merely the omnipresent shadow of another stronger than herself." (1.9)
  • "She was, of course, a Christian woman, with all the respectable convictions which this implied. To attend church regularly on Sundays ... to condemn the use of the grosser words of the vocabulary, such as 'Hell' or 'Damn', fully justified her claim to godliness." (1.9)
  • "You're like a knotless thread" (2.7)
  • "her actions were as stealthy and inaudible as the movements of a shadow." (2.8)

Cronin also wrote

October 2019; 460 pages

Other works with 'Castle' in the title featured in this blog include:

Saturday, 5 October 2019

"Ask a Policeman" by 'The Detection Club'

This murder mystery is a joint effort. The problem is laid out by John Rhode after which Helena Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L Sayers each provide solutions; these authors use the detective of one of the others. Finally, given that the solutions contradict one another, and given that there are points of discrepancy (Mr Mills is sometimes in jail and sometimes free) Milward Kennedy tries to provide a final solution.

It is thus an interesting exercise but not necessarily a great read.

Of the four authors I enjoyed most the characterisations of Helen Simpson (who was using the detective Mrs Bradley, created by Gladys Mitchell):

  • "the stately gambols of Lady Selina Lestrange, who weighed fifteen stone, and seldom moved far save under haulage."
  • "Lady Selina, at her none too extensive wits' end."
  • "Marriage is like cold cocoa, nourishing but nauseous."
  • "a face screwed up like a fried sole."
  • "Men conscious of inferiority are always trying to impose themselves on others, because they know that underneath they are cowards or cretins. Very occasionally they see themselves as they are; then they go down in the dumps."
  • "Always on time, always out, even nights when there's plenty'd wait about in shelter, always worrying to be doing right."
  • "And there's my own wife; if I broke my leg to-morrow, nothing'd be too good for me, and yet if I was to break a vase to-night she'd give me hell."
  • "There is a good old Scots word. spunk. which means, I believe, tinder; he has none."

Of the other writers I selected only Anthony Berkeley, writing about Lord Peter Wimsey:

  • "My dear Charles, I am not a bad driver, as you seem to think. On the contrary, I'm an astonishingly good one. We're still alive, aren't we?

An interesting exercise.

October 2019; 311 pages

This book was one of the 'Books and Beer' subscription which my wonderful wife bought me for Christmas. Other titles include:
  • Most Wanted by Robert Craik: a fast-paced thriller set in California
  • The Devil's Dice by Roz Watkins: a whodunnit set in the English Peak District
  • Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth: a stunning tale of crime and revenge, of temptation and sin, of evil and redemption set in 1880s Queensland and as gritty as only the Australian Outback can get.
  • Snap by Belinda Bauer: a brilliant story about a young lad who, having become a burglar in order to survive, discovers his mother's killer.
  • Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic: a murder mystery set in Australia in which the PI is deaf
  • The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal: classic Chandleresque Mexican noir
  • The Closer I Get, a thriller in which an author is stalked by an obsessive fan.
  • Homegrown Hero by Khurrum Rahman, an up-to-date thriller about fundamentalist terrorism set in Hounslow, West London