FictionFan’s Book Reviews

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

Hear me, then, all of you: the padri preach that their Yezu rose to Heaven and because he rose to Heaven, he shall return. They say that the sky will then turn red, that the lightning will spare no one, the mountains will crumble, deafening trumpets will sound in the clouds as with the soldiers on the Belgians’ holiday. The padri say all this, but I said to Akayezu: Who will you believe? What the padri say, or what your mother relates in the evening after dark? And you women, who should you believe: what they taught you in Catechism or what the spirit of Kibogo has revealed to me? For this I tell you: Kibogo has risen to Heaven, and he shall return. He has risen to Heaven from our mountain, and he shall return on our mountain. And where the lightning struck him to carry him beyond the clouds, there the lightning shall set him down. All the thunder’s drums shall acclaim Kibogo and Kibogo shall proclaim, ‘I am your mwami, the one who has come to save Rwanda,’ and all the drums shall rumble without being beaten and all the people shall clap their hands together: ‘Ganza umwami! Ganza Kibogo! Long rule the king! Long rule Kibogo!”

~ Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga

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The 1983 election had been a watershed for Labour. With the SDP-Liberal alliance splitting the progressive vote, not only had the Conservatives increased their majority to 144 seats, despite a slight decrease in their popular share, but Labour had come within an inch of falling to third place in votes cast. Michael Foot’s parliamentary party was down to 209, the lowest number of Labour MPs since 1935. The campaign, as I remarked at the time, had started badly – and then fallen away. The manifesto – a prolix 22,000-word document described by Gerald Kaufman as ‘the longest suicide note in history’ – was read only to seek out the nuggets of political disaster. The manifesto slogan ‘Think Positively’ elicited a negative response. The message was reminiscent of the Latin American finance minister who is said to have told his Cabinet that ‘past policies have brought us to the edge of the abyss, and now it is time for a bold step forward’.

~ My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown

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….“He has always struck me as rather a stupid man,” said Miss Marple. “The kind of man who gets the wrong idea into his head and is obstinate about it. Do you remember Joe Bucknell who used to keep the Blue Boar? Such a to-do about his daughter carrying on with young Bailey. And all the time it was that minx of a wife of his.”
….She was looking full at Griselda as she spoke, and I suddenly felt a wild surge of anger. ….“Don’t you think, Miss Marple,” I said, “that we’re all inclined to let our tongues run away with us too much. Charity thinketh no evil, you know. Inestimable harm may be done by foolish wagging of tongues in ill-natured gossip.”
….“Dear Vicar,” said Miss Marple, “You are so unworldly. I’m afraid that observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it. I dare say idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it?”
….That last Parthian shot went home.

~ The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

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….Inside the palanquin it is hot and close, the smells of food and stale sweat and rosewater mingling with another smell, sharp and bitter. Once again Amrita’s hand reaches out for the little sandalwood box of pills. She watches the hand as she would a snake sliding across a flagstone floor, with detachment and an edge of revulsion. Yes, it is her hand, but only for now, only for a while. Amrita knows that she is not her body. This crab-like object, fiddling with box and key and pellets of sticky black resin, belongs to her only as does a shawl or a piece of jewellery.
….A bump. They have stopped. Outside there are voices. Amrita rejoices. At nineteen years old, this will be her last journey, and any delay is cause for celebration. She swallows another opium pellet, tasting the bitter resin on her tongue.

~ The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

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So… are you tempted?

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Crossing lines…

😀 😀 😀 😀

In a small town just outside Belfast at the height of the Troubles, Cushla teaches primary school children by day and helps out in her brother’s pub by night. As a Catholic family amid a Protestant majority, Cushla’s family have learned to keep a neutral profile, tolerating the soldiers who come into the bar blustering and bullying in their youthful arrogance. But when Cushla meets Michael Agnew, she finds herself crossing social and cultural lines, and that can be dangerous in a society divided by fear and hate…

Kennedy does a great job of evoking her setting, showing the dividing lines, the “occupying” or “peace-keeping” army depending on perspective, the poverty and the fear. The love affair between Cushla and Michael is also completely credible – this young woman who falls for an older, married man. Her writing is excellent – descriptive without being “creative” or overly flowery, and she avoids the mawkishness that often comes with stories set in such tragic times. Her characters manage to live their lives almost normally for the most part, even finding some fun along the way. But she also shows how easy it is for people, especially boys and young men, to get caught up in extremism, and how their acts ripple out to destroy their families and wider communities. And Cushla’s transgression, minor though it would be considered in a time of peace and in a modern society, hits against the excessive moral outrage of a society that uses religion as its excuse for its violence.

Lots to love, therefore, in this one, and I quite see why so many people have indeed loved it. For my taste, however, the love affair got far more attention than it should have, and the politics were relegated too far into the background. While very credibly done, to me the love affair was banal and uninteresting. Young woman falls for much older married man and, surprise, surprise, discovers she’s not his first adulterous relationship. I didn’t find Michael particularly charismatic – Kennedy has her characters mention that he’s gorgeous several times, possibly in an attempt to justify why this attractive and independent-minded young woman should turn herself into his sex toy, but I didn’t feel that would have been enough to dazzle the Cushla we get to know. Sure, Michael talks to her about books and art occasionally, but mostly they meet, have hurried and often sordid sex, and then part. Of course it happens in real life, which is why I say it’s credible. But is it interesting? Not to me, sadly.

Louise Kennedy

The politics are ever present, and do play a part in the story eventually. But for the most part, we don’t really get involved. I wondered why Kennedy set it outside Belfast where the Troubles were a little more distanced, rather than in the city itself. And I felt that it would have been a more interesting plot if either Cushla or Michael had been more actively partisan. Michael is slightly connected to the political world, in that he’s a barrister defending young men accused of involvement in the violence, but this aspect is referred to rather than shown. We don’t see him in action or meet his clients or their victims. Cushla and her family are more interested in staying out of trouble than winning, and I suspect that is probably always true of most people caught up in civil conflicts. So again I couldn’t fault the credibility, but it left the story feeling monotone – until close to the end nothing much happens apart from the affair, and even the events at the end seemed rather muted in terms of the tragedies that we know happened daily in Northern Ireland at that time. Kennedy has a habit of skipping things as they happen, and then telling them in retrospect; for example, she will start a chapter by making reference to something that has happened since the last chapter that the reader wasn’t present for. I found that prevented the emotional involvement that I was longing to feel. It may be voyeuristic, but reading about an event as if it is happening now is always more involving than being told about it as something that is already over.

Far too much criticism for a book that I enjoyed overall. I think the reason I’m being so hard on it is that I felt it was so close to being wonderful, and yet just missed. Had the love affair been more passionate, the drama more dramatic or the tragedy more tragic, then the story would have matched the excellence of the setting and characterisation. As it is, it left me admiring but largely unmoved.

Audible UK Link

The Two-Penny Bar (Maigret 11) by Georges Simenon

Down by the river…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It all begins when Maigret tells a villain, Lenoir, that his final appeal has been refused, and that he will be executed the next morning. In his bitterness, Lenoir says it’s unfair that he should pay the ultimate penalty when others who’ve committed equally serious crimes go free. He then tells Maigret of the night that he and a friend witnessed a man drop a body into the Canal Saint-Martin. They then blackmailed the man for a while, but he later disappeared. Then, a couple of years later, Lenoir saw him again, in a little place called The Two-Penny Bar. But Lenoir was arrested for the crime for which he’ll be guillotined before he got the chance to start his blackmail again. He doesn’t tell Maigret the man’s name, but Maigret decides to visit The Two-Penny Bar anyway…

This turns out to be one of the best of the Maigrets, but I must admit it has an incredibly sloppy start. Not only doesn’t Maigret ask for the name of the murderer, but nor does he get a description of him nor even the address of the bar. It also relies on the premise that the murderer frequents the bar all the time, and wasn’t just a casual visitor on the occasion Lenoir saw him there. And finally, by an amazing coincidence, another murder just happens to take place in the bar while Maigret is there. I did consider giving up on it at this early stage on the grounds that it was all so unlikely, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

It takes Maigret a while to find the bar (which he finally does by another amazing coincidence), but when he does he finds it’s on the Seine on the outskirts of the city, and frequented by a group of regulars who either live nearby or visit regularly to row on the river, play cards, drink and generally relax. They’re a close-knit group. Maigret strikes up an acquaintanceship with James, a man who drinks even more than Maigret but is full of a kind of good-natured charm. Maigret soon comes to think he might develop into a friend in time, and the feeling seems to be mutual. James gives him the entry to the group, and since Maigret’s wife is off visiting her sister for the summer, Maigret takes to spending a lot of time with them all, gradually getting to see the dynamics and relationships among them. But he still doesn’t know who the murdered man was, nor if anyone in the group is the murderer.

Short even by Simenon’s standards, the pace of the book picks up a lot once all this preparatory stuff is out of the way. As I mentioned, there is another murder and there’s an obvious suspect for this one. What’s not so clear is the motive, and since the suspect has run away Maigret’s first job is to find him. But this crisis in the group has brought some of its secrets to light and given Maigret the leverage he needs to investigate them on a more formal basis. Another coincidence gives him the name of the original murder victim, and now he can look for a connection with any of the bar regulars.

Georges Simenon

It’s the characterisation that makes this one so good, though of the group as a group rather than of each individual within it. They’re a rather louche bunch, lazily drinking their way into flirtations and affairs with each other’s spouses, but always willing to lend a hand to each other whenever trouble looms. Their social gatherings seem to be the main purpose of their rather empty middle-class lives – their tedious day jobs merely the things that fund their lifestyle. However there are a couple of them that we get to know individually – James, whose incipient friendship with Maigret is very well depicted and whose character flaws become clearer as we, and Maigret, get to know him better; and Basso, the man initially suspected of the second murder, and we see his weaknesses and guilt at his feeling that he has betrayed his put-upon but loyal wife. And the last few chapters, when Maigret manages to trick the murderer into a confession, have considerably more emotional depth than is often the case in this series.

Lest you’re wondering that I haven’t mentioned Maigret’s drink problem as usual, I shall merely say that his drink of choice in this one is Pernod, and he downs enough of the stuff over the course of a couple of weeks to float a good-sized armada. However, he manages to stay sober despite it all – what a man!

So after a distinctly dodgy start, this turned into one of my favourites so far. I loved the portrayal of the group and fell under James’ always tipsy but never drunk charm, helped by an excellent interpretation of his character by the ever-reliable narrator of the series, Gareth Armstrong, who always makes these books a pleasure to listen to.

Audible UK Link

TBR Thursday 370 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 370

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

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OK, People, time for another batch of four, still all from 2021. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a June read. Three of these are from my newish Classics Club list, which I was finalising around this time: The Chill by Ross Macdonald from the Genre section, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad from the English section, and Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada from the Foreign in Translation section. The fourth is on my list just for fun – Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. A varied bunch!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Classic Crime

The Chill by Ross Macdonald

Added 3rd July 2021. 3,935 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.08 average rating. 352 pages.

The Blurb says: Private detective Lew Archer has better things to do than take on an investigation for Alex Kincaid, a young man claiming that his new bride, Dolly, has gone missing. Snapped by a hotel photographer on the day of their wedding, the beautiful girl vanished only hours after and Alex has heard nothing since. But when Archer begins digging, he finds evidence that links Dolly to brutal murders that span two decades, and a terrible secret.

In this byzantine and compelling tale, Ross Macdonald explores the darkest experiences that can bind a family together – and tear it apart.

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Classic English Fiction

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Added 19th July 2021. 21,447 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.59 average. 245 pages.

The Blurb says: Mr Verloc, the secret agent, keeps a shop in London’s Soho where he lives with his wife Winnie, her infirm mother, and her idiot brother, Stevie. When Verloc is reluctantly involved in an anarchist plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory things go disastrously wrong, and what appears to be “a simple tale” proves to involve politicians, policemen, foreign diplomats, and London’s fashionable society in the darkest and most surprising interrelations.

Based on the text which Conrad’s first English readers enjoyed, this new edition includes a full and up-to-date bibliography, a comprehensive chronology and a critical introduction which describes Conrad’s great London novel as the realization of a “monstrous town,” a place of idiocy, madness, criminality, and savage butchery. 

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Classic Fiction in Translation

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada translated by Michael Hofmann

Added 21st August 2021. 29,670 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.25 average. 612 pages.

The Blurb says: Inspired by a true story, Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin is a gripping wartime thriller following one ordinary man’s determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule.

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels’ necks …

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Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Added 1st September 2021. 130,875 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.03 average. 257 pages. 

The Blurb says: Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor–husband, Guy, move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and only elderly residents. Neighbours Roman and Minnie Castavet soon come nosing around to welcome them; despite Rosemary’s reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, her husband starts spending time with them. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant, and the Castavets start taking a special interest in her welfare; as the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castavets’ circle is not what it seems.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Written in a secret code?


Normally at the beginning of a review I write a little blurb to give an idea of the plot. Unfortunately I have zero idea what this book is about. I only know it bored me to sleep several times, so I eventually gave up before I ended up in permanent hibernation. So let’s see what Goodreads thinks it’s about…

A mole, implanted by Moscow Centre, has infiltrated the highest ranks of the British Intelligence Service, almost destroying it in the process. And so former spymaster George Smiley has been brought out of retirement in order to hunt down the traitor at the very heart of the Circus – even though it may be one of those closest to him.

Oh, is that what it’s about? That sounds moderately interesting. And there’s no doubt that many people think it’s brilliant, heaping praise on it as the best espionage fiction ever written in this world or any other, full of suspense and tension. Amazing. I missed all that, I’m afraid. Maybe I was too busy trying to work out what all the unexplained jargon means – lamplighters, scalphunters, et al. Or perhaps I was distracted by the frankly offensive portrayal of the various beddable, sex-hungry, needy women who put in an appearance in the first third of the book. Or maybe it was the ludicrous dialogue – no one speaks like this. Or the jumping back into flashback after flashback. Or the twenty thousand names without attached characters (I may have exaggerated the number slightly). Or the dreary misery of it all. Woe, woe, and thrice woe.

Odd, because I loved The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. But I couldn’t bear this one. I stuck it out to 33% and then gave up, read the plot on wikipedia who kindly also explained the jargon, and decided I was glad I didn’t stick it out since even the plot summary nearly put me to sleep again. Clearly a mismatch between book and reader and if this kind of thing is your kind of thing I’m sure you won’t allow my reaction to put you off.

Book 2 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for February and despite my reaction I still think it was a great choice – I should have loved it and it would have been the one I voted for too. So thank you, People! And at least it’s off my TBR now…

Amazon UK Link

Looking forward to…

Episode 9

Another selection in my occasional looks back at old reviews which I finished by saying something along the lines of “I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work/this series/his books in the future” to see if I actually did read more and, if I did, did I like the ones I looked forward to as much as the ones that made me look forward to them?

Let’s see then…

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

First reviewed 17th May 2013. This is an interesting story of a true-life crime, the murder of a young girl, committed in the last days of old Peking as the threat of invasion, war and revolution spread fear amongst the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city. I said “A very well written book about a dark episode in a fascinating period – highly recommended.”  The five-star rating put French on my list of authors to read more of. But did I?

I did! But unfortunately I quickly abandoned his next book, City of Devils, another true story, this time of crime and vice in 1930s Shanghai. French chose to tell it in present tense and in a kind of stylised language meant to reflect the way (we think) people spoke back then. I hated the style so much I only made it through fifty pages, and didn’t review it. I’d still consider a future book from him, but I’d check the style first!

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The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

First reviewed 22nd May 2013. Told through the eyes of 13-year-old Lizzie. Her friend, Evie, has disappeared and Lizzie is trying to make sense of her feelings of loss, her suspicions that Evie may have been hiding something and her relationships with Evie’s family who have been her second family for so long. I said “Suspenseful to the end and with a pervading atmosphere of dread, I shared with Lizzie a need not just to know what had happened to Evie, but to understand.”  The five-star rating put Abbott firmly on my list to read more. But did I?

Indeed I did! I read and loved her next several novels, mostly about teenage girls in various extreme situations. No one does hormone-soaked teenagers like Abbott! And then… she wrote one about adults and they were just as hormone-soaked and sex-obsessed as her teens and it simply didn’t work for me. I abandoned The Turnout and, though I didn’t review it on the blog, I left an exceptionally grumpy comment on Goodreads which I ended by saying “I’ve had enough, not just of this one but, I think, of Abbott in general.” Haha! I always laugh when I look back at how grumpy I get when I abandon a book – it’s as if I take it as a personal slight! Time has passed, wounds have healed, and I’d be more than happy to read more from Abbott. And in fact I have one of her earlier books, Die a Little, waiting on my TBR… since 2015…

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Dry Bones by Peter May

First reviewed 27th May 2013. I’d been a fan of Peter May long before I began blogging, so although this was the first of his books I reviewed on the blog it was by no means the first I’d read. This is the first in the Enzo Files series, about a Scottish scientist-turned-detective living in France. I said “I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I did May’s China thrillers or his most recent and excellent Lewis trilogy, but nonetheless I thought it was a good read with engaging characters that certainly encouraged me to go on and read the next in the series.”  But did I?

Well, yes, most of them, though I never grew to like Enzo as much as May’s other work. However I also continued to read and love his newer standalone books, especially the ones set in Scotland – I think he’s at his best when writing about his native culture, even though he’s been a resident and citizen of France for some time now. Recently his books have diverged from my taste – they’ve been a little too based on making points about currently fashionable, hence over-used, subjects, in my opinion, so I haven’t read the last two or three. But he’s an author I will always keep an eye on and highly recommend, especially his wonderful Lewis Trilogy.

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Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

First reviewed 29th May 2013. Set in 1950s rural America, this is the story of Luce, who takes in her murdered sister’s two children and must try to break through the protective shell they have developed to keep out the world – a world that becomes even more threatening when their step-father arrives in town. I said “A slow-burner, building an ever-increasing atmosphere of fear and unease. But there is also warmth here, room for hope and kindness and love.”  The five-star rating gave Frazier a spot on my must read more list. But did I?

No! I have a copy of his most famed book, Cold Mountain, which has been lingering on my TBR for several years now, but for some reason it never seems to make the leap onto my reading list despite the fact that I loved Nightwoods so much! Must rectify that soon!

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So, I’ve followed up on three of these authors, and banished none completely from my future reading plans. And I have books from two of them which have been lingering on my TBR for far too long. A mixed success rate, I’d say! 😀

Have you read any of these authors?
Are they on your “looking forward to” list?

Film of the Book: In a Lonely Place

Directed by Nicholas Ray (1950)

From the review of the book by Dorothy B. Hughes:

Our narrator, Dix Steele, has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles, where he plans to write a mystery novel. Or at least that’s what he told his uncle, who has grudgingly agreed to pay him a small allowance for a year while he tries his hand at writing. He tells the same tale to Brub Nicolai, a wartime buddy with whom he renews his friendship, and Brub’s new wife, Sylvia. But Dix has a dark secret – he likes to strangle young women. And Brub has a new career, as a police detective…

You can read the full book review by clicking here

When doing a Film of the Book comparison, I normally comment on what stays the same and what changes have been made. Here that’s simpler than usual – here’s a comprehensive list of all the things in the movie that are true to the book:

1. The L.A. setting

2. A handful of the characters’ names

3. A strangling

And here’s what’s different:

1. Everything else!

Humphrey Bogart as Dix Steele

In the book, Dix is a loner, newly arrived in L.A. and with no circle of friends, who is pretending to write a mystery novel so his uncle will give him an allowance. In the film, Dix is a hugely successful screenwriter, a celebrity, and has a wide circle of friends, enemies and acquaintances, all in the movie business. In the book, he’s outwardly respectable and law-abiding. In the film, he has long had a violent streak and has a charge sheet of previous complaints against him as long as his arm. In the book, there has been a series of murders, none of whom have any apparent connection to Dix. In the film, there is only one, of a girl who works on the periphery of the film business and is known to Dix. There is nothing to connect movie Dix to book Dix other than his name and the fact that he was in the vicinity of a murder.

Gloria Grahame as Laurel

Then there’s Laurel. In my review of the book, I described her as “a beautiful dame, a sultry, sexy feline in female form. Is she a femme fatale? Or is she destined to be another victim? Is she a temptress, a loose woman, or a forerunner of the sexually liberated women about to hit the scene?” Well! In the film, she’s sweet, lovely, sensibly clad at all times, pure, loving and faithful, and positively refuses to be sultry – exactly the kind of girl you hope your son will bring home one day. There’s no pretence at all that she’s a femme fatale (though she is described as such in the movie’s advertising).

True love…

So really to compare the two is almost redundant. They have to be seen as entirely separate and judged accordingly. That doesn’t mean the film is bad, however – it’s excellent! But I did wonder why they had bothered to connect it to the book at all, given the massive changes they made. It can’t have been to attract an audience via the book’s popularity. No offence to the author, but Bogart’s star quality meant he was perfectly capable of filling seats all by himself. Did they start out meaning to stick to the book, and then drift away from it? There’s a bit in the film that struck me as amusing, when Dix’s agent is having a go at him for not sticking to the story of the book Dix is adapting for the screen, to which Dix replies that that was because the book was trash! I felt for poor Ms Hughes when she saw that bit for the first time!

Cuddling? Or strangling?

The film is more about the love affair between Dix and Laurel, and how the police’s suspicion of Dix’s involvement in the murder affects that. Bogart turns in a great performance, one of his best, I felt, and Gloria Grahame is excellent as Laurel, falling madly in love with Dix but gradually growing to fear him. In the book, which is told in the first person from inside Dix’s head, it’s clear from the beginning that Dix is a murderer, but the film leaves that in doubt till the end, using the more usual third person perspective of movies. By halfway through, when it became obvious just how much they’d changed it, I realised it wasn’t at all certain that Dix would turn out to be the murderer in the film! So the suspense doesn’t come from Dix’s increased paranoia, as it does in the book. Here, it’s more about Laurel’s fear, which might be justified or might be paranoid, and the viewer’s own uncertainty over Dix’s guilt or innocence. The book gives Dix a motivation for his behaviour – not one that entirely convinced me, but it was there nevertheless. The film suggests he has always been violent, but gets away with it due to his celebrity.

Robert Warwick’s drunk again!

There is an excellent supporting cast of actors none of whom were well known to me, but who may have been familiar faces to contemporary audiences. From my perspective, there wasn’t a weak performance among them. Stand-outs for me were Robert Warwick as an ageing ham actor, constantly drunk and spouting quotes from Shakespeare and the like; and a young Martha Stewart playing Mildred, the murder victim, as a starry-eyed ingenue bedazzled by celebrity and the glamour of the movie industry.

Martha Stewart as Mildred – the (first?) victim!

I also enjoyed the small role of Ruth Warren as Effie the maid, vacuum cleaner in one hand, cigarette in the other, who brings a touch of humour into the general darkness.

Ruth Warren as Effie the maid

While the book is a study of the mind of a killer and of paranoia, the film is more a study of the mores of the movie industry, and of legitimate fear. It certainly deserves its reputation as a noir classic, and I’m glad that reading the book led me to watch it, even if the connections between them don’t go far beyond the title.

★ ★ ★ ★

A reasonably easy decision this time – although both are recommended, the book is good while the film is great, so…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…


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Death of an Author by ECR Lorac

Behind the nom-de-plume…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Vivian Lestrange has become a publishing sensation with his literary mystery novels, especially his most recent smash hit, The Charterhouse Case. He is a recluse, however, refusing to meet journalists or even provide a publicity photograph. Eventually his intrigued publishers persuade him to meet them in person, and to their amazement he turns out to be a young woman! And then Vivian Lestrange disappears…

A very short blurb for this one because it’s so much fun I really don’t want to spoil it by giving too much away. It’s all about noms de plume and authors pretending to be someone other than they are, and the question raised again and again is whether it is possible to determine the sex of an author if all you have to go on is his or her writing. Lorac has her characters muse on whether we would know Dorothy L Sayers was female on the basis of her books alone? Is Conrad’s writing so masculine that no woman could have written his books? I loved this aspect because it’s a question I’ve often mulled, like most readers, I assume. Did anyone ever really believe George Eliot was a man, or do I just feel her books are unmistakeably feminine because I know she’s a woman? More recently, I don’t remember people saying Robert Galbraith’s first book couldn’t have been written by a man, but now that we know that’s a nom de plume for JK Rowling, it seems obvious they come from the pen of a woman. Of course, it has added piquancy because ECR Lorac is a gender neutral nom de plume and I have never been able to find a photograph of her. I know believe she was a woman because Martin Edwards tells me so, but I don’t know that her writing is distinctively feminine – her books are usually low on romance, for example. But then they’re also low on action thrills, often seen as the hallmark of male crime writers in that generation, and largely even still today.

Some of it is done slightly tongue-in-cheek, and I imagine probably reflected Lorac’s own experience within the publishing world. The men who claim that Lestrange’s books couldn’t possibly have been written by a woman clearly think that because the books are so good. How could a woman possibly put herself inside a male character’s head, they ask, dumbfounded, never wondering how male writers manage to think themselves into a female character. How could a mere woman understand so much about the less salubrious side of life, to come up with plots about vicious crimes and criminals? Lorac has other characters who answer those questions from the female perspective – i.e., that men really need to get over themselves and recognise that the days of women being pampered little Dickensian simpletons are long over. (I paraphrase!) Great fun!

The disappearance of Lestrange is investigated by two detectives – the local man, Inspector Bond, and Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Warner. They work very well together, although they both hold wildly different theories of what’s happened. Again I have to be vague to avoid spoilers, but Bond believes Lestrange could indeed be a woman while Warner is adamant that the books could have been written only by a man. This means both men are carrying out separate but joined investigations, each trying to prove his own theory but open to the idea that the other man may be in the right. I swayed back and forward all the way through, and wished I could have read Lestrange’s novel to see if I could tell his/her gender for myself!

(Just as an aside, I mentioned a while ago that I now have a subscription for these books, and each month so far a little extra has been included – a bookmark matching the book cover or something like that. This book came with a postcard showing a book cover of Lestrange’s book, The Charterhouse Case, done as a BL Crime Classics book. A lovely touch that made me smile once I realised how it connected to the story.)

The plot itself is convoluted to the point where sometimes I had to read bits again, but it’s very clever and it all works. If I have a criticism it’s that the ending is a bit of an anti-climax, but in this case I enjoyed the journey so much it didn’t bother me. One of the things I love most about Lorac is her unpredictability – she’s not afraid to try different things and often comes at her stories from an unusual angle. This one is delightfully different to her MacDonald books, and I loved it. I sound like a stuck record when it come to Lorac but… highly recommended!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 369…

Episode 369

I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump at the moment – too much politics going on in my neck of the woods! So the TBR has increased again, but only very slightly – up 1, to 170! I’m sure the bounce will only be temporary though…

Here’s a few more that should bounce off my list soon… 


The Sea by John Banville

One that I’ve dug out from the deep recesses of the TBR, on the grounds that it would be suitable for Cathy’s Reading Ireland challenge. That is, if I finish it in time to review it this month, and if I enjoy it – I’ve had a somewhat mixed experience with John Banville to date…


When art historian Max Morden returns to the seaside village where he once spent a childhood holiday, he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma.

The Grace family had appeared that long-ago summer as if from another world. Mr and Mrs Grace, with their worldly ease and candour, were unlike any adults he had met before. But it was his contemporaries, the Grace twins Myles and Chloe, who most fascinated Max. He grew to know them intricately, even intimately, and what ensued would haunt him for the rest of his years and shape everything that was to follow.

Vintage Crime

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. As I’ve mentioned before, HarperCollins sometimes randomly send me an Agatha Christie novel, and it’s always a pleasure to go back to reading a paper copy every now and again as opposed to my beloved Hugh Fraser and Joan Hickson audiobooks. I won’t be reviewing this one because I’ve reviewed it already on the blog, but since it’s one of my all time favourites I’m looking forward to yet another re-read!

The Blurb says: ‘Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a favour!’ It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the colonel was found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe.

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Exiles by Jane Harper

Courtesy of Macmillan via NetGalley. A new Jane Harper is always an anticipated treat, and it’s good to see that this one stars Aaron Falk, the detective from her earlier books…

The Blurb says: A mother disappears from a busy festival on a warm spring night. Her baby lies alone in the pram, her mother’s possessions surrounding her, waiting for a return which never comes. A year later, Kim Gillespie’s absence still casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations on a rare break from work is federal investigator Aaron Falk, who begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. As he looks into Kim’s case, long-held secrets and resentments begin to come to the fore, secrets that show that her community is not as close as it appears.

Falk will have to tread carefully if he is to expose the dark fractures at its heart, but sometimes it takes an outsider to get to the truth…

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Vintage Crime on Audio

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh read by Philip Franks

Having recently very much enjoyed my first re-visit in a very long time to an old favourite, Ngaio Marsh, I’m looking forward to listening to more of them. This is the first in her long-running Inspector Alleyn series…

The Blurb says: At Sir Hubert Handesley’s country house party, five guests have gathered for the uproarious parlor game of “Murder.” Yet no one is laughing when the lights come up on an actual corpse, the good-looking and mysterious Charles Rankin. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn arrives to find a complete collection of alibis, a missing butler, and an intricate puzzle of betrayal and sedition in the search for the key player in this deadly game.

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Historical Fiction on Audio

Rizzio by Denise Mina read by Katie Leung

I’ve called this historical fiction, but it might be truer to say it’s a fictionalised account of a real event. It’s novella length, and is part of a newish series called Darkland Tales from Polygon, an imprint of independent Scottish publisher, Birlinn. The publishers say: “In Darkland Tales, the best modern Scottish authors offer dramatic retellings of stories from the nation’s history, myth and legend. These are landmark moments from the past, viewed through a modern lens and alive to modern sensibilities. Each Darkland Tale is sharp, provocative and darkly comic, mining that seam of sedition and psychological drama that has always featured in the best of Scottish literature.” Sounds intriguing, and if this one is a success I look forward to investigating the others in the series so far…

The Blurb says: From the multi-award-winning master of crime, Denise Mina delivers a radical new take on one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history—the bloody assassination of David Rizzio  private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the queen’s chambers in Holyrood Palace.

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

Rizzio is nothing less than a provocative and thrilling new literary masterpiece.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Classics Club Spin #33

Rien ne va plus…

The Classics Club is holding its 33rd Spin, and my 15th. The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before next Sunday, 19th March. On that day, the Classics Club will post the winning number. The challenge is to read and review whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th April, 2023.

Dear Spin Gods, I’m so behind this year – please, please, pick me a shortie! Here’s my list…

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The Scottish Section

1)   John Macnab by John Buchan

2)   The Black Arrow  by Robert Louis Stevenson

3)   Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi

4)   Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway

5)   A Song of Sixpence by AJ Cronin

The English Section

6)   She by H Rider Haggard

7)   The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

8)   The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

9)   Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

10) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

The Foreign Section

11) Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu

12) Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

13) A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

14) The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

15) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Genre Section

16) The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

17) The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

18) Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

19) Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson

20) The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

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Which one would you like to see win?

The Virgin of the Seven Daggers by Vernon Lee

Gothic, weird, folk, feminist, psychological horror…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Vernon Lee, real name Violet Paget, wrote prolifically in many fields during her long career which lasted for over half a century between the 1870s and the 1930s, but her output of supernatural tales was small, mostly written in the ‘80s and ‘90s. This collection brings together ten of them, plus an essay from Lee in which she discusses the supernatural in art. It is headed by an introduction from the always interesting Aaron Worth, one of my chief guides into the world of classic horror over the last few years. There are, of course, the usual notes at the end, and I must say I found them indispensable in this case – Lee’s encyclopaedic knowledge of art, history, folklore, mythology, psychology, etc., etc., would have left me floundering without a good guide to light my path.

By nationality British, Lee was quintessentially European. Born in France to British parents, her early years were spent moving from country to country on the continent, and she seems to have continued this rather peripatetic existence throughout her life, with Italy as her most frequent home. This is reflected in the stories, many of which have settings and backgrounds culled from the art and history of various European countries, especially those in Southern Europe. Her themes are just as widely spread, ranging through high Gothic, weird, folk, feminist, psychological horror – I would find her unusually hard to categorise or pigeon-hole. The two standard features of her style are her astounding erudition on a vast number of subjects, and the excellence of her prose whether she is working in the high melodrama of Gothic or the lushness of Decadence or sometimes a plainer, more realist approach. She is said to have been influenced by Henry James, but Worth makes the argument convincingly that she in turn influenced his writing, especially in his later more ambiguous ventures into the supernatural. Certainly some of these stories have that same aspect of The Turn of the Screw of leaving the reader to decide whether events are truly supernatural or arise from the psychological flaws of the protagonists.

I loved them. They are stories to read slowly (with notes!) and to savour the language, and I found that many of them left me mulling them over for quite some time. There is suspense and spine-tingling horror, but these are also thoughtful, with much to say about the concerns of her time, and, while never strident or polemic, I felt that many of them were also strongly feminist in their underlying themes.

“Enough analysis!”, I hear you cry! What about the stories? I gave six of the ten stories five stars, and the rest four, so it’s hard to pick favourites. And little summaries don’t do them justice, since there is so much more in each one than simply the plot. But let me try to whet your interest with a few that might show the variety in the collection…

Amour Dure – the story of a young Polish historian, Spiridion Trepka. who is commissioned to write a history of Urbania in Italy. He reads about a young woman, Medea da Carpi, who died in the early 17th century, and finds himself becoming obsessed by her. She had had a variety of lovers, husbands and infatuated youths, all of whom eventually died for her and possibly at her hand or her command. It is unclear until near the end whether Trepka is really being haunted by the witchy Medea or if his obsession is purely in his mind. Lee gets fabulous tension into the end of this one in a scene that reminded me a little of Dickens’ great horror writing of the murder of Tulkinghorn (Bleak House). Art, literature and history all play their part in this Gothic tale, as they do in nearly every story.

Portrait of Vernon Lee by her friend,
John Singer Sargent

Dionea – the story is narrated by an old man in a series of letters to a Princess, who at his request has sponsored a child who was apparently washed onto the shore of an Italian village, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Dionea, as she is called, is placed with the nuns in a convent school to be educated and brought up. But she grows up wild, beautiful and pagan, and has an unfortunate effect on the morals of those who encounter her, arousing wild sexual longings in them which lead to passionate affairs, adultery and general decadence. There is wicked humour in the early part of this but it builds to an odd and disturbing ending. Male visions of women as sexual beings, temptresses, underlie the story. It is a typical, though superior, Pan story, full of lush descriptions of nature and lust, but in this case the Pan figure is female. A story that lingers…

The Doll – Our narrator this time is a woman, who collects bric-a-brac. A dealer takes her to a decayed palace in Umbria, where she first sees the Doll. It is a life-size, incredibly lifelike figure of a young woman, and the dealer tells her tale. She was the very young wife of an older Count, who worshipped her excessively, to the point of obsession. When she died in childbirth, he had the Doll made in her image, installed it in her boudoir and spent hours with it every day, raving of his love and grief. The narrator buys the Doll, and comes to believe that in some way the dead woman is trapped within the Doll, just as the living woman was trapped inside her husband’s obsession. This one is strongly feminist, and put me in mind of The Yellow Wallpaper, although the stories are very different. It’s much more plainly written than most of the stories, and I found the ending unexpected and quite disturbing.

Really an excellent collection, filled with stories that I am sure will give more on each re-reading. Lee’s essay, too, is fascinating as she mulls on the effect of literature and art on our imagination of the supernatural. Highly recommended!

(The fretful porpentine and I thought this was a wonderful one to end spooky season with
and now that the evenings are beginning to lighten
the porpy has toddled off to his hibernation box, to sleep, perchance to dream…)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Amazon UK Link

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes


😀 😀 😀 😀

Our narrator, Dix Steele, has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles, where he plans to write a mystery novel. Or at least that’s what he told his uncle, who has grudgingly agreed to pay him a small allowance for a year while he tries his hand at writing. He tells the same tale to Brub Nicolai, a wartime buddy with whom he renews his friendship, and Brub’s new wife, Sylvia. But Dix has a dark secret – he likes to strangle young women. And Brub has a new career, as a police detective…

Told in the first person, this is a psychological study of what we would now call a serial killer. This has been done many times in the years since 1947 when this was first published, of course, so a trip to the inside of the head of a psychopath isn’t as startling as it may have been at the time. The gruesomeness of the murders is mostly kept off the page, and Hughes also keeps it clean – there are hints at a sexual element to the crimes, but we are not made privy to the details. All of this means that, although it probably counts as noir in terms of subject matter and outcome, it feels considerably lighter than the little classic noir I’ve previously read. Not that I’m objecting to that – a lot of noir is far too grim and bleak for my taste, and I’m always happier when graphic sex and violence is left to the imagination.

What I objected to rather more was the incredibly slow pace of the first half of the novel. We very quickly learn that Dix is a killer, and that L.A. is gripped by this series of murders. We see the fear of the women, and of their men on their behalf. And through Brub we see the bafflement of the police, getting nowhere in their investigation and unable to predict where and when the next murder will happen. All of this is excellent, but then it dips into a sort of longueur where these things are gone over repeatedly and nothing much changes. I found it required an effort of will to keep going.

Book 13 of 80

However, it picks up considerably in the second half, and happily I at last found myself gripped. Dix falls for a beautiful dame, Laurel, a sultry, sexy feline in female form. Is she a femme fatale? Or is she destined to be another victim? Is she a temptress, a loose woman, or a forerunner of the sexually liberated women about to hit the scene? Dix thinks he sees her for what she is and believes they are destined for one another, but is that how Laurel sees it? Is Sylvia in danger? We like Sylvia – she’s all that is good about America, according to the values of the time; the feminine woman, attractive but not too corruptingly sexy, the respectable home-maker, the loving support to her husband, the little woman who needs protection. Though there might be more to her than that – we see her only through Dix’s unreliable eyes, and he gradually comes to fear that she may have seen through his outer shell.

Dorothy B. Hughes

Hughes does an excellent job of using the uncertainty in Dix’s mind to keep the reader in suspense too. Does Brub suspect Dix of being the killer, or is that just Dix’s increasing paranoia at work? As Dix’s fear of being caught grows, everything that happens begins to take on a sinister feel. Is the gardener outside really a gardener or is he a police spy? Is that car following Dix or is it just someone heading in the same direction? Dix thinks he’s clever enough to fool Brub and anyone else who might suspect him, but still his actions grow more erratic. The paranoia is the element that makes the second half work so well.

I’m unconvinced about the psychology hinted at as to why Dix became a serial killer, although that may be because we are more used these days to the idea of serial killings as being senseless, motiveless crimes. However, I felt it worked well in the context of the book (sorry, I know I’m being vague here – it’s deliberate to avoid spoilers).

Overall, the suspense of the second half made up for the slowness of the first half and I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. Now to watch the film version starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame – I get the impression it might be rather different from the book which is always fun…

Book 1 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for January (I’m running late!), and proved to be an enjoyable one – thanks, People!

Amazon UK Link

The Mysterious Mr Badman by WF Harvey

Blackmail and murder…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Athelstan Digby is holidaying in Keldstone, in Yorkshire, where his young nephew Jim is thinking of buying the local doctor’s practice. Digby is lodging with a couple who own the local bookshop and when they both want to attend a funeral one afternoon, Digby offers to look after the shop for them. During the course of the afternoon three different customers all come in looking for the same book – not the latest bestseller, but a rather obscure book by Bunyan called The Life and Death of Mr Badman. Digby can’t help since the shop doesn’t have a copy, but he’s intrigued. And he’s even more intrigued when a boy comes in later in the day with a bunch of books to sell, one of which just happens to be Mr Badman

This is another rather quirky one from the British Library – they seem to be going through a little spate of really obscure one-off books at the moment. Billed as a bibliomystery, in fact the Bunyan book and the bookshop have very little to do with the plot once the initial set-up is done. The real mystery concerns a letter found inside the book, which alerts Digby to the idea that a high-ranking politician may be being blackmailed. Reluctant to involve the police, he and his nephew Jim, along with a girl whom Jim is in the process of falling for, set out to investigate, with the idea of putting a stop to the blackmail. But then a man is found dead – one of the men who’d been looking for the book – and while the police think it was suicide, Digby, with his knowledge of the letter, suspects it was murder.

I found I had a bit of an issue with the moral stance the author seems to take over the blackmail. I don’t want to go too deeply into it for fear of spoilers, but I felt that the victim of the blackmail didn’t deserve Digby’s efforts to keep his name free of scandal. We live in a less deferential society now, and the idea of covering up dodgy behaviour simply because the dodger happens to be a high-ranking politician is more jarring than perhaps it was back then. The result was that I rather hoped the “good guys” would fail in their cover-up, so wasn’t able to wholeheartedly cheer them on.

WF Harvey

Otherwise, however, I found it quite an entertaining read. Both Digby and Jim are likeable characters and it was a good contrast to have one old and one young. Digby does the thinking while Jim takes care of the action side. The girl, Diana, is a good character too, who plays an active part in the investigation. The plot is a kind of mix of mystery and thriller that rattles along at a steady pace, which helps to disguise the inconsistencies, plot-holes, coincidences and basic lack of credibility! I quickly decided the best way was to avoid analysing it too deeply and simply go with the flow, which was made easier by the general quality of the writing.

Not one that will go down as a classic of the genre, then, but an enjoyable way to fill a few hours.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 368…

Episode 368

Well, during my hiatus I didn’t do a lot of reading but I also didn’t do a lot of book acquiring. So over the course of the five weeks or so since I last reported. the TBR has fallen – by 6 to 169! I think I’ve got the hang of this at last!

Here’s a few more that should jump off my list soon… 

Winner of the People’s Choice

Mystery at Lynden Sands by JJ Connington

I missed the People’s Choice poll for May, so decided to use the runner up in the April poll. It’s also one of the books for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge…

The Blurb says: In the fourth Sir Clinton Driffield mystery, the detective finds himself up against a missing heir, an accidental bigamist, a series of secret marriages and impersonations and an ingenious scientific murder. Aided by his wit and powers of reasoning, as well as Wendover, his very own Watson, Sir Clinton once again succeeds in piecing together a solution as the novel reaches its thrilling climax.

Political Memoirs

My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown

It’s terribly unfashionable in the UK today to admit to being a Brownite or a Blairite, but happily I’ve never been ruled by fashion. I admired Gordon Brown greatly as Chancellor, and have never doubted him as a man of principle and integrity, one of very few in recent political life. A pragmatist, he actually achieved things – something some of those currently on the Momentum wing of Labour could learn from, if they weren’t already so erroneously convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority… *smiles sweetly*

The Blurb says: Former Prime Minister and the country’s longest-serving Chancellor, Gordon Brown has been a guiding force for Britain and the world over three decades. This is his candid, poignant and deeply relevant story.

In describing his upbringing in Scotland as the son of a minister, the near loss of his eyesight as a student and the death of his daughter within days of her birth, he shares the passionately-held principles that have shaped and driven him, reminding us that politics can and should be a calling to serve. Reflecting on the personal and ideological tensions within Labour and its successes and failures in power, he describes how to meet the challenge of pursuing a radical agenda within a credible party of government.

He explains how as Chancellor he equipped Britain for a globalised economy while swimming against the neoliberal tide and shows what more must be done to halt rising inequality. In his behind-the-scenes account of the financial crisis and his leading role in saving the world economy from collapse, he addresses the question of who was to blame for the crash and why its causes and consequences still beset us.

From the invasion of Iraq to the tragedy of Afghanistan, from the coalition negotiations of 2010 to the referendums on Scottish independence and Europe, Gordon Brown draws on his unique experiences to explain Britain’s current fractured condition. And by showing us what progressive politics has achieved in recent decades, he inspires us with a vision of what it might yet achieve today.

Riveting, expert and highly personal, this historic memoir is an invaluable insight into our times.

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The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

One for my Looking Forward challenge. I’ve loved a couple of Kunzru’s later novels, so am looking forward (!) to back-tracking to this earlier one. It sounds extremely odd but then his books often are…

The Blurb says: This is the extraordinary story of a child conceived in a wild monsoon night, a boy destined to be an outsider, a man with many names and no name.

Born into luxury but disinherited and cast out onto the streets of Agra, Pran Nath must become a chameleon. Chasing his fortune, he will travel from the red light district of Bombay to the green lawns of England to the unmapped African wilderness. He will play many different roles — a young prize in a brothel, the adopted son of Scottish missionaries, the impeccably educated young Englishman headed for Oxford — in order to find the role that will finally fit.

Daring and riotously inventive, The Impressionist is an odyssey of self-discovery: a tale of the many lives one man can live and of the universal search for true identity.

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The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

This is currently the oldest crime novel on my TBR, having been on there since 2014! When it came out, it was one of those that everyone seemed to be talking about, so it’s long past time I finally found out if it lives up to the hype…

The Blurb says: When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

The Cry is a dark psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.

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Reading Ireland on Audio

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy read by Brid Brennan

I had a NetGalley copy of this when it came out, but it was so badly formatted I decided not to read it. I still wanted to, though, so picked up the audiobook and hope to listen to it in time to review it this month for Cathy’s Reading Ireland event. But I’m so slow at audiobooks, so it may slip into April…

The Blurb says: Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a shattering novel about a young woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion.

Amid daily reports of violence, Cushla lives a quiet life with her mother in a small town near Belfast. By day she teaches at a parochial school; at night she fills in at her family’s pub. There she meets Michael Agnew, a barrister who’s made a name for himself defending IRA members. Against her better judgment – Michael is not only Protestant but older, and married – Cushla lets herself get drawn in by him and his sophisticated world, and an affair ignites. Then the father of a student is savagely beaten, setting in motion a chain reaction that will threaten everything, and everyone, Cushla most wants to protect.

As tender as it is unflinching, Trespasses is a heart-pounding, heart-rending drama of thwarted love and irreconcilable loyalties, in a place what you come from seems to count more than what you do, or whom you cherish.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray

Noah’s Ark 2.0

😀 😀 😀 🙂

At an unspecified point in the not too distant future, Ben is waiting for the return of his fiancée, Cara, who has been working away from home for some months. Just as she is due to arrive back, however, Ben receives a letter from her telling him she’s not coming. She has decided to stay on the island where she has been working for a wealthy and mysterious billionaire called Pemberley. Ben can’t accept that his relationship is over so decides to make his way to the island, known as the Sanctuary, and speak to Cara face to face. But he soon finds that the community on the island is a secretive one, and they don’t welcome self-invited visitors…

Murray does a very good job of creating his setting. Although it seems the book is set in the future, it’s a future that is already very recognisable. Climate change has progressed, though not yet to the worst predictions, and extinctions are becoming more and more commonplace. Although it would appear that the society is well on the way to becoming fully dystopian, it hasn’t yet. However, the divide between rich and poor has increased, again quite recognisably, with the ordinary people living in cramped conditions in the overcrowded cities, while the wealthy live in luxury in closed villages outside. Pemberley, Cara’s employer, is the creator and owner of most of these villages, and while it’s not totally clear, it seems this may be where his wealth comes from. The place is also not specified, but feels very like Britain, with Ben living in what seems like it’s probably London, and the Sanctuary being set in the north, probably off the coast of Scotland. So there’s a real feeling of familiarity about both time and place, but the differences are enough to produce a sensation of unease caused by the feeling that we’re heading there fast.

Unfortunately the plot doesn’t really live up to the excellence of the setting. Pemberley is a cross between cult leader and the kind of billionaire that we are increasingly seeing in real life who use their ridiculous wealth to carry out extraordinary experiments, with no real democratic or governmental control over them. In Pemberley’s case, he has decided that if humanity is about to bring about its own extinction, he will use the Sanctuary as a kind of Noah’s Ark, but one where he is the supreme and sole ruler and where the normal rules of morality and ethics don’t necessarily apply. Both mad science and cultish leaders have been done many times in dystopian fiction, and I’m afraid Murray doesn’t really bring anything original to it.

Andrew Hunter Murray

As with his previous book, The Last Day, I feel that Murray has come up with a good premise but hasn’t really developed a strong enough plot to go with it. Looking back at my review of that earlier book, I see that all my praise and criticisms are the same. His writing is of a very high standard and his characters are interesting, which were the main reasons that I continued through to the end. But I kept waiting for twists that didn’t come and thrills that didn’t happen, and in the end I’m afraid I felt that the ultimate reveal wasn’t explosive enough to have justified the very lengthy lead up. I still think he has the potential to be an excellent SF/thriller writer if he learns to cut back a little on the description and scene-setting and boost the action element, so I’ll still be interested enough to look out for his next book.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

The End of the Tether and Other Stories by Joseph Conrad

Behind the façade…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This new collection from Oxford World’s Classics consists of four stories that have appeared in other collections but have never before been brought together. In the introduction, Philip Davis, Emeritus Professor of Literature and Psychology at the University of Liverpool, suggests that each of the stories is about “radical insecurity” – human beings confronted with situations that destroy the foundations on which they have built their sense of themselves, leaving them in a kind of terrifying moral void. Davis suggests that this reflects Conrad’s own fears and insecurities, growing out of his personal experiences and the conflicts within his own nature.

Since there are only four stories, rather than burbling on generally about things you too can read in the far better written and interesting introduction, here’s a brief look at each story individually:

The End of the Tether – Set around the mid-1880s, this tells the tale of Captain Whalley, once famous for finding new routes in the early days of trading in the Malay Straits region of the empire, which left him a wealthy man. Now he is old, his wife dead, and his only daughter, whom he loves, is married to a feckless man and living far away from him in Australia. He has always helped her financially, but now he has lost all his money in a banking crash. So he takes a job as Captain of the Sofala. It is owned by its engineer, Massy, who won money in the Manila lottery and decided to buy his own ship. However the law says he must have a licensed captain in charge of the ship, which he resents bitterly, and he has treated previous captains so badly that now no one wants to work for him. Whalley, however, invests his last few hundred pounds in the ship, on condition that if he leaves he will get his money back, and this prevents Massy from dismissing him and forces him to treat Whalley with at least an outward show of respect. But Whalley has a secret, one which will bring him to the end of his tether…

Wonderfully written, this is a deep character study of a good man driven to behave in a way that his former self would have found unthinkable, and the consequences of that to his sense of himself. The three other main characters are also well-drawn and their motivations are messily flawed and intensely human. Novella length, I found it a little overlong and slow to come to the point, although Conrad’s writing is of such quality that time spent in his company rarely feels wasted. The ending, however, is full of power and emotion, and it’s a tale that has lingered in the few weeks since I read it.

Amy Foster – A man is cast ashore on a land foreign to him, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. This is a bleak and tragic tale, showing the alien feeling of those displaced from their home, trying to make a life in a society with a different language and culture, and being the object of constant mistrust. While this unintentional immigrant is more effectively cut off from home than anyone could be with today’s technology, it still feels very relevant in these days of refugees seeking acceptance in societies that don’t welcome them. As Davis points out, Conrad himself was an immigrant – effectively a refugee – and while he made a success of it, Davis suggests that feeling of alienation never left him completely. It’s quite short (for Conrad!) and, while I can’t say I enjoyed it exactly, I found it was more profound about the “immigrant experience” than many a full-length novel I’ve forced my way through.

Joseph Conrad

The Return – This is a superficially simple story of a man whose wife of five years leaves him a letter to say she’s gone off with another man. Before he has time to begin processing this, she returns, having changed her mind. The story is told in third person but entirely from the perspective of the husband, Alvan Hervey. It shows the bourgeois placidity of a marriage arranged without real love, mainly to assuage the man’s sexual needs and to provide both with a secure social environment from which to pursue their conventional lives. The shock of the letter followed by his wife’s return force Hervey to find a way to react to a situation that has overturned everything he thought he knew about his wife, but also about himself. The story is powerful, insightful, cruel in its dissection of both of these empty people, and wonderfully written.

The Duel – Set during Napoleon’s wars, the story begins when one officer takes offence over an action of a fellow officer and challenges him to a duel. The incident is trivial, and the challenger, Feraud, is clearly in the wrong. But it is a point of honour that a challenge between officers of equal rank cannot be refused, and so D’Hubert agrees to fight. The outcome is bloody but not fatal, and in Feraud’s eyes doesn’t settle the matter. Over the next 16 years, he will challenge D’Hubert again and again, whenever the ongoing wars allow, and D’Hubert can never see a way to refuse without losing his reputation. It begins to define his life, and Feraud’s. No one knows what the initial offence was except for the two men and the reader, and they gradually become a legend throughout the army, where it is assumed that the secret must be a terrible one indeed to have brought about this life-long feud. This is much lighter than the other three stories and in fact there’s a lot of humour in it – and that’s not something I ever expected to say about Conrad, based on my limited reading of him so far! Again, he gets great depth in the characterisation, particularly of D’Hubert as a man caught in a web from which he can find no escape with honour.

The Duel and The Return were my favourites while reading, though I must say The End of the Tether is the one that has lingered most in my mind and which I feel would most repay a second read. The introduction is interesting and I find with Conrad that good notes are essential! Overall I loved this collection, and thought the selection did indeed achieve the editor’s aim – although very different, the stories work together very well as examinations of people forced by circumstance to confront themselves when the façade behind which they have hidden crumbles.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Amazon UK Link

The Bookseller of Inverness by SG MacLean

Will Ye No Come Back Again?

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Six years after Culloden, Iain MacGillivray is running a bookshop and bindery in Inverness. ‘Out’ for Charles Edward Stuart, Prince or Young Pretender depending which side is naming him, Iain was badly wounded in the battle that brought the 1745 Jacobite rebellion to its bloody end, but he was luckier than the many hundreds of men who perished during the battle or in the reprisals that followed it. An uneasy peace reigns in the Highlands now, enforced by the red-coated soldiers of the ruling Hanoverian King. But Jacobite hopes are still simmering, and those loyal to the cause constantly await word from France where Prince Charlie and his father live in exile, ready to raise the clans and fight again. When Iain opens his bookshop one morning and finds a man there, murdered, the Jacobite symbol of the white cockade tied to the hilt of the dagger that killed him makes it clear that the death is in some way related to the cause. And then Hector, Iain’s father, turns up, fresh from France where he is an agent of the exiled King…

Although I’m rather tired of the Scottish obsession with the Jacobites, MacLean handles the historical aspects excellently, weaving real history seamlessly into her fictional plot. She takes the Jacobite side, as is de rigueur in modern Scotland – a bit like the Spanish Civil War, this period of history has been written mostly by the losers, and we all now like to pretend we’d have been Jacobites for the romance of it, however ahistorical that might be. But MacLean shows that there were good people and bad on both sides of the divide, and that honour wasn’t the sole preserve of the Jacobites. In this sense, it reminded me rather of DK Broster’s wonderful The Flight of the Heron trilogy, also seen from the Jacobite side but which also recognises that there were honourable people on the Hanoverian side. This is not, however, as romanticised as The Flight of the Heron – MacLean’s characters ring truer and this makes the book feel more modern, not in an anachronistic sense but in that they think and act as normal flawed humans, rather than as the impossibly virtuous Highlanders of Broster’s creation.

The initial plot itself is probably the weakest part of the book, although it’s just about strong enough to carry it. It soon becomes clear that someone is seeking revenge against people who betrayed the Jacobite cause in the earlier rising, in 1715. Although we follow Hector’s and Iain’s investigations into this aspect, much is withheld from the reader, and indeed Hector withholds important information from Iain till late in the story. Oddly, despite this, I had a good idea of who both the avenger and the last victim were going to be, and I put this down to the fact that there weren’t enough credible possibilities. However, there’s a secondary plot which grows in importance as the book wears on, and this is much more successful, involving a possible new uprising and the fear that a traitor is still at work.

SG (aka Shona) MacLean

The strength of the book is in the characterisation, especially of Iain but of all the other main characters too, and in the portrayal of the town and the historical setting. Iain’s grandmother is one of the “Grandes Dames”, a small group of old ladies who have lost husbands, brothers and sons in the earlier rebellions, but who still have absolute loyalty to the King Over the Water, and who provide the backbone that keeps the spirit of the cause strong even during these years of oppression. There are younger women too – Julia, a young lady of twenty-seven, whose mother is frantic to marry her off before she is irrevocably classed as a spinster; and Ishbel, one of the many Highlanders who were forcibly transported to America and the West Indies following the failed rebellion to serve as indentured servants – slaves, essentially, but with the possibility of freedom after serving for a period of years. Ishbel has now returned, accompanied by a mixed race child whom she is bringing up as her son, and who is an enjoyable and mischievous character in his own right. MacLean mentions in her notes that it was around this time that black people began to be mentioned in Scotland’s historical records, as Highlanders’ initially enforced connections with the slave-owning colonies were formed.

Hector is the most enjoyable character – a kind of adventurer, good-looking and charming and with an eye for the ladies, who have an eye for him too! Although he’s been an absent father for most of Iain’s life, they still have a strong bond of love, and Hector’s arrival stirs Iain back to life from the kind of dull stagnation he has felt since the defeat at Culloden. The latter stages of the book take on aspects of the thriller, and again MacLean handles this very well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and found it a quick read which kept me turning those pages enthusiastically. I’m not sure whether there will be a follow up – it ends quite neatly – but if there is, I’ll certainly be reading it!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus, via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

So sorry to have disappeared like that. One of the following is the reason for my absence:

  1. I used my new time machine to travel back to the Chicago World Fair in 1893, and then it broke down. It’s not easy to get spare parts for a time machine in 1893.
  2. As I was getting the porpy’s box ready for his hibernation, I inadvertently fell in, and have just woken up.
  3. I was feeling blogged out and needed a break from staring at a screen.
  4. I was swept up by aliens, who took me for a lovely ride in their balloon-shaped ship over North America when suddenly we were blasted out of the sky somewhere over Alaska. It’s a long walk home from Alaska to Kirkintilloch.

Final Acts edited by Martin Edwards

Behind the curtain…

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The latest of the British Library’s vintage crime anthologies, Final Acts contains fourteen stories all connected in some way to the theatre. There are on-stage murders, back-stage murders, off-stage murders! Lots of potential for disguises and make-up to fool the onlookers, and lots of dramatic reactions to events. And we all know about the loose morals of these actor types, so plenty of affairs, jealousies and betrayals to drive them all to become murderer or victim! I love the theatre as a setting for mysteries because the setting and characters are especially well suited to concealment and misdirection, and drama! What the audience sees is very different to the reality hidden behind the curtain.

There’s the usual mix of authors, some very well known, like Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, some who have become regulars in these anthologies, such as AEW Mason and Julian Symons, and a sprinkling of ones who are new to me. Of the fourteen stories, I rated twelve as good or excellent, and the other two weren’t complete duds either. That makes this one of my mostly highly rated of these anthologies to date. There’s the usual introduction from Martin Edwards, and little bios of the various authors preceding each story (I always read these after I read the story, because very occasionally they can be a bit spoilery).

As usual, here’s a flavour of some of the ones I enjoyed most:

The Affair at the Semiramis Hotel by AEW Mason – A struggling young singer is tempted to steal a string of pearls, but when she sneaks into the hotel room of the lady who owns them, she finds men already there, burgling the room. They are dressed for the masked ball that is taking place in the hotel that night, so she is unable to describe them clearly. Inspector Hanaud of the French police is in London visiting his friend Ricardo, and becomes unofficially involved in the investigation which will take him into the world of opera. This is a fairly substantial story at around 50 pages, and I grow fonder of Hanaud and Ricardo each time I meet them. Neither of them is particularly likeable – Hanaud is one of these insufferable know-it-alls who is very mean to poor, pompous Ricardo. But there’s usually a lot of humour in the stories, the writing is very good, and this one is particularly well told, I think.

Blood Sacrifice by Dorothy L Sayers – Garrick Drury is an actor-manager, a great romantic lead with his finger on the pulse of what the public wants. John Scales’ first play is a dark and brooding tale of the degrading impact of war on his protagonist’s character. He’s thrilled when Drury contracts to produce and perform in the play, knowing this will bring him instant success. But the contract gives Drury the right to make alterations, and he turns the play into a romantic sob-fest with a happy ending. Scales grows to hate him… I’m not a fan of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, but I must say her short stories are excellent. This one is a great story with strong characterisation and motivation, and her description of Garrick Drury made me laugh – “Mr. Drury (forty-two in the daylight, thirty-five in the lamplight and twenty-five or what you will in a blond wig and the spotlight) was well fitted by nature to acquire girls…”

The Blind Spot by Barry Perowne – Annixter, a playwright, is in a club getting drunk because a woman dumped him. It’s when he’s drunk that his best ideas for plays come to him, and tonight it happens – a wonderful idea for a locked room murder mystery. He tells a man in the club all about it, in the way drunks do, then walks outside and gets hit by a taxi. When he comes to, he remembers everything about his plot except the solution to how the locked room element was done. He begins to hunt for the stranger from the club, but the man seems reluctant to be found… I thought this was a fantastic story, one of the best short mystery stories I’ve ever read. It starts out full of humour, then gradually the tension mounts and the denouement is beautifully paced so that the reader gets there just before Annixter does. I’ve only read two stories by Perowne and loved them both – must seek out more!

The Thirteenth Knife by Bernard J Farmer – Simone is a knife-thrower and each night she performs in a club, throwing her thirteen knives at Jean, the waiter to whom she’s engaged. But she has attracted the unwanted attentions of another man – a rich man, who’s used to getting what he wants. This is a very short story, so that’s as much as I can say without spoilers, but it’s very effective and manages to create real tension in such a short space. And a nice little twist in the tail!

So lots of variety, and loads of enjoyable stories – highly recommended!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Girl meets boys…

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This is not a review – it is my personal reaction to the characters in the book and is spoiler-filled from start to end. So if you haven’t read the book and intend to some day, please don’t read this.

The sorry tale of an idiot girl who keeps choosing the wrong man until finally there’s only one left, so she takes him. Given that every other man she’d picked had ended up dead or worse, one can only assume the final man is as stupid as Bathsheba, so they’ll probably live happily ever after.

I have to start by saying that I was forced to read this book in school and analyse it to death and, as I’ve remarked before about other classics, this always had a tendency to make me hate books I would otherwise probably have loved. This time round I didn’t hate it – in fact, despite the following, I enjoyed most of it quite a lot – but I still disliked all the characters and wasn’t too keen on Hardy himself!

Why I disliked Bathsheba…

To be fair, dislike is a bit strong. I didn’t believe in Bathsheba the farmer. One day she’s a humble nobody, next day she’s running a farm which, we only find out towards the end, the landlord could easily have given to an established (male) farmer but chose to give to a teenage girl with next to no experience. Fictional licence is fine, but make it realistic, please. All the people who work for her accept her, which seems unlikely in the extreme, and she turns out to be a wonderful farmer, despite not knowing what to do when the sheep get sick, and not reminding her employees to make the wheat ricks safe from the weather and so on. But she looks good when she goes to market and drives a good bargain, apparently, among all the middle-aged male farmers who apparently accept her too.

And then there’s her taste in men! I must admit I found this aspect much more believable than her farming prowess. Her youth makes sense for this part of the story, although her indecisiveness, especially about Boldwood, seems at odds with the strong, independent character she is otherwise drawn as. Why do the men love her? Well, apparently because she’s beautiful. All three of them “love” her before they’ve exchanged more than half a dozen words.

And lastly but most importantly, there’s her reaction to Fanny’s child. On seeing the tiny body in its mother’s dead arms, does Bathsheba show some womanly sympathy? No, she feels sorry for herself. She’s so narcissistic she could almost be twenty-first century!

The one feat alone—that of dying—by which a mean condition could be resolved into a grand one, Fanny had achieved. And to that had destiny subjoined this rencounter to-night, which had, in Bathsheba’s wild imagining, turned her companion’s failure to success, her humiliation to triumph, her lucklessness to ascendancy; it had thrown over herself a garish light of mockery, and set upon all things about her an ironical smile.

Why I disliked Sergeant Troy…

Well, this one is easy, since we’re supposed to dislike him! I actually think he’s the best-drawn and most believable character in the book. His motivation for loving Bathsheba is straightforward – she’s relatively rich, and that’s an attractive trait in a woman as far as Troy is concerned. Hardy does a great job showing his emotional shallowness – his excessive but short-lived grief for Fanny, his coldness and cruelty to the women who fall for his animal charm, his laziness and drunkenness.

Why I disliked Boldwood…

I couldn’t decide what exactly Hardy wanted us to think about Boldwood. There’s a suggestion that we should feel sorry for him – that he was tricked into loving Bathsheba by her foolish sending of the fatal Valentine card. But I thought he was a stalker and a creep, a man who would use any form of emotional blackmail to force a reluctant girl half his age into a marriage it was obvious she didn’t want. Again his “love” for Bathsheba has nothing to do with her character or personality – she is bold and independent, but he wants her to be pliable and submissive. It is her beauty he loves – he is a middle-aged lecher salivating over a young girl. I kept thinking there should be a #MeToo hashtag at the end of every paragraph he sleazed through.

Book 12 of 80
Classics Club Spin #32

Why I disliked the yokels…

I get very tired of books that have a chorus of yokels behaving humorously for the amusement of us sophisticated educated types. Funnily enough, Hardy often has yokels in his books and this is the first time they’ve annoyed me. I suspect he got better at showing them as real human beings as he aged and gained experience, but here they really are shown like a lower form of life – stupid, easily swayed, drunken at every opportunity. Compare and contrast with the yokels in Silas Marner, who are actual people rather than sideshow entertainment.

Why I disliked Fanny…

OK, I didn’t dislike Fanny – she broke my heart and the chapters in which she dies and is laid in her coffin with her infant are the best writing in the book and made me cry. But did Hardy really have to make her so stupid she turned up at the wrong church on her wedding day? Who would do that? Has any bride in the history of the world not visited the church before the wedding to at least ensure she knows how long the journey will take her? Would Hardy have made any man be quite that profoundly stupid? (Maybe a yokel…)

Why I disliked Gabriel…

Controversial, I know! But hear me out! Firstly, again he fell in “love” without actually getting to know Bathsheba and then decided to hang around her like a whipped puppy regardless of how often she married other men. Do I admire that? No! Why didn’t he simply get over her and move on? But OK, unrequited love I can forgive. What I can’t forgive is what he did to Fanny’s infant. In order to avoid selfish little Bathsheba being hurt, he erased the words “and child” from Fanny’s coffin. That little baby, who had no life, not even a name, erased even from that tiny recognition of its existence. No, I can’t forgive that – it makes me angry every time I think of it. And that puts Gabriel on a par with Boldwood the creep and Troy the cad in my book.

Why I disliked Hardy…

I love Hardy! And despite everything I loved his writing in this book and found it intensely readable and mostly enjoyable. But it was written early in his life and that shows in his attitudes. In later years he’s hailed as a feminist, but here he slips into sexism bordering on misogyny again and again. It’s not just that Bathsheba is pathetic despite being supposed to be strong and independent. It’s the actual language he uses. A few examples – there are many more:

Strange to say of a woman in full bloom and figure, she always allowed her interlocutors to finish their statements before rejoining with hers.

Loving is misery for women always. I shall never forgive God for making me a woman…

Bathsheba, though she had too much understanding to be entirely governed by her womanliness had too much womanliness to use her understanding to the best advantage. Perhaps in no minor point does woman astonish her helpmate more than in the strange power she possesses of believing cajoleries that she knows to be false – except indeed in that of being utterly sceptical on strictures that she knows to be true.

She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.

Your mother must have been so proud, Mr Hardy, to think that she had fulfilled a woman’s primary function of producing a great man. 😉

So, overall, not my favourite Hardy but still very much worth reading!

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 367…

Episode 367

Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!!! Okay, well, I’ll just say it fast and get it over… *deep breaths*… the TBR has leapt up by 5 to 175!! What shall I do?? What shall I DO?!?

Maybe I could get the cat to read these ones while I lie down in a darkened room…

Winner of the People’s Choice

The Third Man and The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene

Well, there was never any doubt about the winner this month! Graham Greene raced into the lead within the first hour and never looked back, finally winning with a huge margin over the other three also-rans. An excellent choice, People – it will be an April read!

The Blurb says: The Third Man is Graham Greene’s brilliant recreation of post-war Vienna, a ‘smashed dreary city’ occupied by the four Allied powers. Rollo Martins, a second-rate novelist, arrives penniless to visit his friend and hero, Harry Lime. But Harry has died in suspicious circumstances, and the police are closing in on his associates…

The Fallen Idol is the chilling story of a small boy caught up in the games that adults play. Left in the care of the butler and his wife whilst his parents go on a fortnight’s holiday, Philip realises too late the danger of lies and deceit. But the truth is even deadlier.

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Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

First up for my brand new Looking Forward challenge is this Scandi crime from an author whom I’ve enjoyed very much in the past, sometimes, while at other times she has become far too gruesome for my wimpy taste. There is one particular murder method she invented that I truly wish I could scrub from my mind! The blurb of this one looks dark…

The Blurb says: At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim’s family isn’t convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Guðmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn’t long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student’s obsession with Iceland’s grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems…and no one can be trusted.

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Vintage Crime

Death of an Author by ECR Lorac

Courtesy of the British Library. Always happy to see the wonderful Lorac pop up the BL’s Crime Classics series…

The Blurb says: ‘I hate murders and I hate murderers, but I must admit that the discovery of a bearded corpse would give a fillip to my jaded mind.’

Vivian Lestrange – celebrated author of the popular mystery novel The Charterhouse Case and total recluse – has apparently dropped off the face of the Earth. Reported missing by his secretary Eleanor, whom Inspector Bond suspects to be the author herself, it appears that crime and murder is afoot when Lestrange’s housekeeper is also found to have disappeared.

Bond and Warner of Scotland Yard set to work to investigate a murder with no body and a potentially fictional victim, as ECR Lorac spins a twisting tale full of wry humour and red herrings, poking some fun at her contemporary reviewers who long suspected the Lorac pseudonym to belong to a man (since a woman could apparently not have written mysteries the way that she did).

Incredibly rare today, this mystery returns to print for the first time since 1935.

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Hard to categorise…

The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. Not quite sure what this is – thriller? Dystopian? Science fiction? Speculative fiction? I picked it mostly because I enjoyed his first book, The Last Day, but also because the blurb sounds intriguing. Hopefully by the time I’ve read it I’ll know where it belongs!

The Blurb says: In a disintegrating and increasingly lawless Britain, a young man is travelling north.

Ben is a young painter from the crowded, turbulent city. For six months his fiancée Cara has been living on a remote island known as Sanctuary Rock, the property of millionaire philanthropist Sir John Pemberley. Now she has decided to break off their engagement, and stay there.

Ben resolves to travel to the island to win Cara back. But the journey there is a harsh and challenging one, and when he does arrive, a terrible shock awaits him.

As Ben begins to find his way around the island, he knows he must also work out – what has made Cara so determined to throw her old life away? And is Sanctuary Rock truly another Eden – or a prospect of hell?

By the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Last Day, this high-concept thriller will intrigue and haunt you as you too work to find out what secret is buried on the island.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?