World Book Day 2016

Young Elizabeth
by Kate Williams

Bad sex award

Weather prose

‘I’m a racist

Ridiculous facts

Best of 2015?

A Lonely Note
by Kevin Stevens

Shelleyメs lost poem

Silly robots

Love and maths

Ladybird goes adult

by Robert Harris

Hemingway in Love
by AE Hotchner

Halloween chillers

Festival of ideas

The immortal Holmes

Gay plagiarist

A Little History of the
United States, by James West Davidson

One-party Scotland

Dogs of war

Fake reviewers

by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Saltire shortlists

World’s best bookstore

Chapter 1
A Brief History
of Seven Killings,
by Marlon James

Alice in Saudiland

Favourite literary quote

The Good Shufu
by Tracy Slater

Our robotic future

Reviews queried

Going native in Burma by Paul Strachan

Golden Age
by Jane Smiley

REVIEW: Undermajordomo Minor
by Patrick deWitt

The Blue Guitar
by John Banville

Street of Thieves
by Mathias Enard




coup de (dis)grace

Maggie Smith

Michael Frayne comic novels

Booker shortlist

Midlife solution

Where My Heart Used To Beat, by Sebastian Faulks

Ainu folklore

Poppycock maquis

The Sunshine Cruise Company, by John Niven

Bill Bryson

David Frost,
by Paul Callan

In Love With Death, by Satish Modi

Ambiguity as an art

Popular fiction

by Pat Barker

The Loney
by Andrew Michael Hurley

Female authors beat
the males

A Little Lumpen Novelita. by Roberto Bolano

Terry Prachett’s last book

Short story collections

Dog thwarts Hitler

Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

Penury for writers

Mass idiocy

The perfect villain

Goodbye summer reading

Suicidal Amazon?

Horror house for sale

Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

Penury for writers

Mass idiocy

The perfect villain

Goodbye summer reading

Suicidal Amazon?

Horror house for sale

Kill Chain
by Andrew Cockburn

Pillow Man
by Nick Coleman

That’s not funny!

JFK: a first wife?

The Pope’s Daughter
by Dario Fo

Latest Readings
by Clive James

10 books that changed the world

The Nuns of Sant Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent Scandal
by Hubert Wolf

Manners matter

A forgotten colony

Man At The Helm
by Nina Stibbe

The Shouting in the Dark
by Elleke Boehmer

Future of sci-fi

Popular fiction

The Raj at War
by Yasmin Khan

The fascinating Bronte girls

Non-fiction demise?

Stonehenge battle

Guide to walking

Slowly to fame

The literary meal

Comics in 2015

FIRST CHAPTER and review:
Go Set A Watchman,
by Harper Lee

Judy Blume

Touche←: The duel in literature, by John Leigh

Libraries in crisis

Wake Up, Sir
by Jonathan Ames

Creative Scotland

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories,
by Yasunari Kawabata

REVIEW: The Dust That Falls From Dreams,
by Louis de Bernieres

Dumb songs

Russia highway to America

Mafia lemons

REVIEW: Lie Of The Land
by Michael F Russell

SHORT STORY: Going Grey by Rosanna Ley


Novelist Kent Haruf

Strange lawsuit

My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante

Robust critics needed

Death of culture

Running with wildlife

Nursery horror

Romantic Outlaws
by Charlotte Gordon

New-found fairytales

Colouring In
by Angela Huth

Women’s Fiction Prize

The wrong sponsor?

In The Unlikely Event
by Judy Blume

Lit. exams squabble

Laughing matters

Death of Sue Townsend

Major Maybe,
by Ann Beattie

Orhan's Inheritance,
by Aline Ohanesian

by Karen Campbell

On Textspeak

Remember Me, by Maggie Mae Gallagher

Writing lessons

Women dominate

Crime fiction politics

Best children’s book of all time

Thousand Cranes, by Yasunari Kawabata

Charlotte Bronte on Emily’s death

April pageturners

2015 shortlist: Walter Scott Historical Fiction Prize

Lost American classic

Barbara Taylor Bradford

Human freedom

The art of thinking

The Prince’s Secrets

Glastonbury squabble

Dead Wake,
by Erik Larson

Horseride from Hell

5 best new thrillers

Cervantes’ bones

Stifled by success

The tyranny of footnotes

Skinny Cinderella

Jeffrey Archer’s Diary

England’s uncertain future

Foreign Fiction Prize

BIOGRAPHY: Hope: Entertainer of the Century

Overdue book arrest

Blondes really do
have more fun

The literary hawk

The Anarchy, by William Dalrymple

Paintings hide secrets

Road yellow goes mellow

The Buried Giant,
by Kazuo Ishiguro

The afterlife

Sherlock Holmes find

The Illuminations,
by Andrew O’Hagan

Music for massacre

20 best crime authors

A Spool Of Blue Thread,
by Anne Tyler

Apple’s shape of things to come

Middle East in Prophecy

Loving Literature
by Deidre Shauna Lynch

REVIEW: The Mathematics of Love,
by Hannah Fry

The Whites
by Richard Price

What’s authentic?

Downunder diary

Happy Babel

Killer snails

Stephen King’s
favourite books

Stranger Than Fiction:
the life of Edgar Wallace,
by Neil Clark

Costly typing errors

Critique on critics

A year of anniversaries

Drunken Buddha

Coming in 2015

The Girl Who wasn’t There, by Ferdinand von Schirach

Psychopath nun

How Highlanders
crushed Bonnie Charlie

Silver Thaw,
by Catherine Anderson

2015 Edgar Awards

The Leipzig Affair,
by Fiona Rintoul

Joy Williams

Norse success formula

Hating the Web

Top cop v top crook

How to save Islam

Alan Bradley

Comedian’s bestseller

Man mocking

Politically correct nonsense

Beatrix Potter rival

Indians in a Globalizing World, by Dilip Hiro

Enough to make Conan Doyle weep

Nabokov and the movies

by Fay Weldon

Did We Meet On Grub Street?
by Emma Tennant, Hilary Bailey and David Elliott

Whisky galore for Harris Tweed

A life in books

Big titles in 2015

Oops! Atlas omits Israel

Self-publishers on the march

REVIEW: Jealousy,
by Peter Toohey

X, A Novel, by the daughter of Malcolm X

Stephen King on God

SHORT STORY by Alexander McCall Smith

Ghosts are in again

Dead good in 2015

Eclipse of Empires, by Patricia Jane Roylance

The world has never been more peaceful

Women um, men ah

A creative shed

The world this year

Girl Online,
by Zoe Sugg

Artful appetites

Good non-fiction reads

Eat and get slim

Reading to the end

Huff-Post recommends

Barn Owl,
by Jim Crumley

Savage Breast,
by Elizabeth McKenzie

REVIEW: Christmas in the Koran, editor Ibn Warraq

Was Mona Lisa Chinese?

Cat’s festive scoop

This digital jungle

Global book awards

We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas

Death of PD James

Right Royal Christmas

Who’s grabbing the Web?

Wonder Woman rivals

Dylan Thomas

Some good reads

The world in 2050

by Brad Watson

Why bow wow?

Invention of clumsiness

by Dickson Telfer

Row over watermelon

How To Be British, by Prince Charles

Wasting time on the Internet

A bankrupt Arab Spring

When The Night Comes, by Favel Parrett

Byron in Venice

Native history and slavery

Steinbeck find

People v Nature

EXTRACT: Disappear, by Petra Soukupova

101 two-letter words

The great Israeli novel

REVIEW: Farzana, The Woman Who Saved An Empire, by Julia Keay

Edinburgh, by Alexander McCall Smith

Books that aren’t

Pleasing paperbacks

Malala’s memoirs

Publishing’s new world

REVIEW: The Book Of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

Stupid Press surveys

REVIEW: Miss Carter’s War, by Sheila Hancock

EXTRACT: This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

REVIEW: Sometimes A Bag Is Just A Bag, by Shoshana Olidort

Rotten century so far

Self-fly aircraft

Death Railway novel wins 2014 Man Booker Prize

REVIEW: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Shirley Temple, the girl who fought the Depression

Nobel Prize winner

The office novel

The Sunrise,
by Victoria Hislop

REVIEW: The Crimson Thread Of Abandon: Stories, by Madeline Barbush

Creative writing courses condemned

The Establishment - and how they get away with it, by Owen Jones

The vanishing hyphen

REVIEW: How To End Armed Conflicts,
by Jonathan Powell

Alternative media

Short fiction by Geoff Wyss

Comedy debut

Saving oldest bookstore

Karl Miller

The Romanov tsars

REVIEW: Japan - A short cultural history, by Sir George Bailey Sansom

Infamous murder

US National longlist

A ghoulish Boswell

Fingerprint words

Wilbur Smith

If pageviews were dollars

Wanderlust mum

The president’s lover

Double acts

Booker shortlist

Adulthood is dead

Night of the White Buffalo by Margaret Coel

Diana Gabaldon

Love or hate eReaders

The Barter
by Siobhan Adcock

Between Gods
by Alison Pick

French romance

Adam Phillips

China’s Muslim princess

A floating bicycle

A Perfect Life,
by Danielle Steele

Twitter trolls slain

The Betrayers.
by David Bezmozgis

I Can’t Begin To Tell You,
by Elizabeth Buchan

ESSAY:The Rich Man In His Castle, by Sean Byrne

Mum inspired to write

Escape by time travel

Help solve the crime

All the world’s not a stage

Topless Jihadists,
by Jeffrey Taylor

Women back polygamy

Threat to purchased ebooks

Historical thrillers

The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

Putin and The Brothers Karamazov

The Pillar, by Donal Fallon

The joy of walking

Seaside is a tonic

REVIEW: The Hundred Year House,
by Rebecca Makkai

Novel via Twitter

Shadow of Franco

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, by Mandy Aftel

Roald Dahl: Symphony

Selfies a curse

NATO unprepared

Why read reviews?

The Woman in the Picture,
by Katharine McMahon

The Newton Papers,
by Sarah Dry

The sun never rises

Close Call,
by Stella Rimington

REVIEW: House of the Sleeping Beauties,
by Yasunari Kawabata

Scottish authors:
Yes and No

The Shining River,
 by Kevin Stevens

Passion for horror

by Margaret Atwood

Caitlin Moran

Chick lit fun

Britain’s breakup

Benefit in being wrong

REVIEW: All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

Rediscovered genius

Crime in translation

A Dog’s Life,
by Michael Holroyd

Babel of 6000 tongues

REVIEW: Ring, by Koji Suzuki

The power of two

Independence: An Argument for Home Rule, by Alasdair Gray
My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing, by Gordon Brown

Top prize to ‘sickening read’

Aussie prize to English writer

Remember Judy Blume?

EXTRACT: The Shining River, by Kevin Stevens

The sense of self

Pioneering females

Dark Ages return

Famous rejections

The Top Ten

REVIEW: 50 Ways The World Could End

Restaurants through history

Shakespeare’s inspiration

by Hillary Clinton

Dundee longlist

Pulitzer spat

Prize thriller

ISIS rebels explained

Necklace killed queen

Dirty flirty King Bertie

Bloody Scotland for real

Tales of the Ghost Sword by Hideyuki Kikuchi

The ideal school texts?

Baileys fiction winner

Short story by
Alexander McCall Smith

A Silver Dish
by Saul Bellow

A real Downton Abbey

Victorious Scum’
by Robert Graves

Be a rainbow in
somebody’s cloud

Black Mischief feud

Best-read cities

Pun champions

Selfish, Whining Monkeys by Rod Liddle

Rock War,
by Robert Muchamore

Red wine jogger

Democracy doomed?

Sport cures racism

Power of a touch

Glossy mags decline

MEMOIR: Is the Vicar In, Pet? by Barbara Fox

Mice despise women

Harlequin’s Millions, by Bohumil Hrabal

Why we adore animals

Philosophy of walking

The Vodka Wars

Maigret returns

REVIEW: Writing God’s Obituary, by Anthony Pinn

The ideal mother myth

REVIEW: The Walk Home, by Rachel Seiffert

The end of humanity

REVIEW: The Stories, by Jane Gardam

REVIEW: Birth of modern Britain, by Christopher Bray

Comics and cuties

Literary revenge

Publishers debate future

Farcical censors

Humanity novels

SHORT STORY by Anneliese Mackintosh

Sharia Law begins

Ogre of history

Bad grammar award

Shakespeare And the Countess
by Chris Laoutaris

John Updike

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

He slapped Tojo

Hitler and art

The new war literature

John Banville

Chop Chop
by Simon Wroe

Hebridean odyssey

Baileys shortlist

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Award to EL Doctorow

Shakespearean weirdo

Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead

Self-publish monthly prize

Global money mess

Allah, Liberty and Love

REVIEW: Hollywood
helps war effort

Cakebaking queen

Most likely alien life

The Four Streets
by Nadine Dorries

The Queen’s toys

Floating bookshop

Clouds Above The Hill
by Shiba Ryotaro

Preserving the world

Not So Wicked
by Joanna Trollope

Origins of the selfie

REVIEW: Vanishing by Gerard Woodward

 A Life In Letters,
by Sophie Ratcliffe

SHORT STORY: A Dish Best Served Cold,
by Jill Dawson

REVIEW: Shovel Ready,
a thriller by Adam Sternbergh

REVIEW: Tick-Tock We’re 30, by Milan Vohra

Age 10 And Divorced

A Lovely Way To Burn
by Louise Welsh

Revolution of ideas

Lovely letters

Ngozi Adichie

The Wedding Industry

The beast named Man

All The Rage
by AL Kernnedy

Unread books

Timely Crimean novel

The Ruined Map
by Kobo Abe

Jane Austen and others by Alexander McCall Smith

Evolution and politics

Agony Aunt tells all

Okey Ndibe

SHORT STORY: The Last Night of Summer

Mum-porn book sells 100 million copies

The Tell-tale Heart
by Jill Dawson

Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne M. Ward

Social-Media wasteland

Hard-boiled France

Helen Walsh

Books, dogs and gumption

Ukraine: What next?

Joanne Harris

The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

Fatwa targets Mars

Belinda’s Inheritance
by Valerie Mendes

Daily Rituals
by Mason Currey

Tintin politics

EXTRACT: Angels, by Marian Keyes

Trial by Twitter

Alone on Sochi ice

Andrew’s Brain
by EL Doctorow

The Sixth Extinction
by Elizabeth Kolbert

Vikings used SMS

Top sellers 2013

An Ark before Noah

Valentine’s Day recipes for romance

Laptops oust books

The Visionist
by Rachel Urquhart

Philip Pullman

Whisky for breakfast

Amazon slows in UK

Everyone’s a critic

Rereading Saul Bellow

Searching for Dad

Just a Girl Standing

Orkney celebrates books

Hotel of dreams

Locked room murders

Where Memories Go,
by Sally Magnusson

In the Wolf’s Mouth
by Adam Foulds



A feast of reading with Cathy Macleod every weekend


OOPS!  Big drop in rainfall.

THE POPE RECOMMENDS  week ending 27 November 2015

CHILDREN write to Santa Claus and, with a bit of adult nudging, they also write to the Pope. Here’s the answer to a publisher’s prayer. Sales guaranteed around the world, thanks to promotion from Catholic pulpits and the appeal of a best-loved author.

The two previous books (for adults) by Pope Francis are both bestsellers. Walking With Jesus and The Church of Mercy scored big on advance sales and have held their appeal. Their Jesuit publisher, Loyala Press, Chicago, is now preparing Dear Pope Francis, his first book for children, but it will not be in time for Christmas. Release date is March 2016.

It contains the Pope’s answers to 30 letters from children, selected from 259 submissions in 26 countries. And I’m sure the 229 kids whose submissions were unsuccessful will value their nice rejection letter from the Pontiff.

Some of the kids sent drawings and these are included, nowadays a mandatory feature of children’s books. It was not always so. My earliest book memory is sitting on Dad’s knee at age 4 mesmerised by witches and giants, fierce dragons and valiant princes. His copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, maybe preserved from his own childhood, was a thick tome of small print and not a single picture. The words and my blossoming imagination created the love of fiction that has enriched my life.

Picture books, however, is what parents usually seek. This Christmas, for ages 3 and up, one of the most vivid is Blue Penguin by Petr Horacek. Of equal appeal, I recommend Robin’s Winter Song by Suzanne Barton. Reading aloud, of course, does not necessarily demand illustrations, as I found with Messrs Grimm. Here’s another selection of tales for ages 4-8 that also depends on the wonder of words: Mousedeer by Charles Bryce. Apart from the digital download, which is all one needs for read-aloud, there is a paperback version at Amazon.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

PEACE, GOODWILL AND MURDER   week ending 20 November 2015

CHRISTMAS is coming, the season of peace and goodwill and – for crime fiction fans – a time for murder and mayhem! The 150sweetly400Christmas setting for whodunits remains strong, for the same reason Dickens (maybe) pinned his ghostly Scrooge tale to the time of year when people are most friendly and generous. Nastiness and Christ’s birthday are total opposites.

Why this should inspire authors is a subject for psychology, but it sure attracts readers. One of my favourites is Kill Him Sweetly, by Ann Morven. It is among her early short stories and has stood the test of time and Christmases Past. It's available at the major ebook sites. Amazon has it on Kindle and in a paperback anthology (Crime Please!). Smashwords offers it in all digital formats.

Whodunit and Howdunit puzzle master, Christopher Fowler, gets into the seasonal killing mood this Christmas. Read all about it by the man himself at

Mary Higgins Clark gives readers a Christmas treat in Silent Night, details online at

Departing from these recent authors, Christmas murder mysteries have been a top attraction for a century or more. There is no shortage of titles for readers keen enough to seek them out. Golden Era favourites appear in a top quality anthology for collectors by the Folio Society. Superbly printed and bound is The Folio Book of Christmas Crime Stories

In seeking your Christmas murders, there is lots of help from fellow addicts who have made lists. I guess the most comprehensive must be Danna at the Cozy-mystery website. There you'll find enough information and alphabetical authors to keep you busy right up until Christmas. The link:

Other lists can be found at several more websites. One of the best is Mystery Sequels.

To round off, take a look at The Billings Gazette, which lists Christmas themed whodunits and thrillers:

Or, for pageturners with a Christmas theme, the specialist blog is at

Happy reading! from Cathy.

BURIED TREASURE FOR WRITERS    week ending 13 November 2015

NOVELISTS doing research invariably pounce on odd or intriguing facts to colour their stories. I've found this is particularly the case with historical novels. There's no denying our ancestors were a weird bunch.

In their hunt for this buried treasure writers come up with endless barbs to prick our interest, but one gave me an especial jolt – as it must have done for author John Ivor. It became the inspiration for his best-selling Run Maggie Run, an adventurous odyssey of a child in the 1830s (adults only). His grim discovery in this supposedly enlightened past era was that Scotland hanged children as young as 7 for petty theft.

Outrageous indeed, but today it becomes the seed of an entertaining tale with these opening lines:

         A finger of sunlight poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished
         the dock's varnished panels and created a halo for the prisoner, she who was
         known as Maggie, age nine. The charge was murder. Judge: Mr Justice Gallows.

Authors are a ruthless breed! They murder zestfully to supply their detectives with a brainteaser. They show no mercy in destroying a romance just so they can patch it up again before the final page.

I'm glad they do, or reading would become the dullest of pastimes. Three cheers, then, for dusty archives where lie the hidden snippets that sustain Fiction's most vital ingredient -- reader interest.

On the Internet a few sites list remarkable truths, many of them no doubt a potential spark for writers. For example, who could not fail to invent a thrilling plot on viewing 10 Strange Facts About Historical Villains. Or to spread the oddities even wider: 40 Weird Historical Facts.

Some websites resurrect the mood of a print genre made famous last century, Ripley's Believe It Or Not. I point to the fascinating Crazy Facts From The Past. And, just to round off the incredible, you can find R-rated historical 'facts' also. There is no limit to the surprises lurking in humanity's records of years gone by.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

ENIGMATIC ISLAND   week ending 6 November 2015

I QUOTE: Rich in humour, full of insight and humanity, Elephant Complex is a very fine tribute to this enigmatic island nation.
John Gimlette has assembled a splendidly eclectic cast of characters to illuminate a tapestry of race, religion and caste still Sri-Lanka1-395x261bearing the colonial imprint of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. There are whiskery generals, whisky-soaked politicians, Test cricketers, slum-dwellers, a professor of elephants, a surgeon specialising in landmine injuries, the Vedda forest-dwellers, the last of the British tea-planters, a London-based academic who considers his countrymen ‘Brown Brits’, a tortured Tamil Tiger and the occasional elephant. Buddhist monks stalk the narrative alongside Tamil Tigers, urban Muslims and one or two tweedy Englishmen, ghosts of the 150-year British rule that ended in 1948.
The above extract from a
book review in Spectator magazine points to some of the delights of a modern travel memoir about Sri Lanka. The nation is torn between two indigenous races and a clash of cultures that goes back to the dawn of history.
Gimlette’s book is an entertaining triumph, as is that of another vivid chronicler. Bryce McBryce records a social niche in the twilight of the British Raj in his book. BRAT, which begins thus:

             Smaller than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army,
         Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts,
         puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles.

This is fiction based on fact, a mix of humour, nostalgia and humanity. Again the characters intrigue, and there is no escaping elephants or Buddhists or terrorists or chuckling confusion. This literary gem highlights the world’s big human comedy. In historical Picture1Fort Frederick, the Colonel trembles in his rage; the nuns pray; while an innocent army child strives to understand that baffling species, the Adult. The kid is a bigger problem than militant Japan.

Because of its 150-year rule, which ended after World War 2, Britain still enjoys a special link with Sri Lanka. Tea plantations and cricket are the bestknown legacies, but there is a vast array of Sri Lankan authors who write great books in the English language. I suppose one might call them Grandchildren of Empire. From their upbringing and their nation’s history they have inherited inimitable voices. From thrillers to romance, mystery or historical tales, their creations hold unique appeal. You’ll find some of them at but for instant names the most direct route is Wikipedia,
Happy reading! from Cathy.

ARE BEST COVERS BEST SELLERS?    week ending 30 October 2015

IT is said you can’t tell a book by its cover, but the cover undoubtedly sells a book. The artwork serves to attract and the jacket blurb entices. And recently the lure has become a bestselling author’s name in bold type bigger than the book’s title.

Cover fashions change. The early paperbacks (remember Penguin?) featured only title and author. So did hardbacks once upon a time. It’s interesting to view some of the covers once regarded as the best. Would they catch your notice on today’s crowded book shelves?

Readers can view ‘the 50 coolest book covers’ at Shortlist Magazine. Nowadays some of these might not catch a second glance. At, ‘the ten greatest book covers of all time’ includes many without any picture at all.

Personally I like a cover that sets the mood of the book, preferably with an image. Of course, the enjoyment of a book, once a reader delves into it, owes nothing to its cover. Here are some surprisingly good recent reads I recommend:

by Sandra Balzo.
Light-hearted pageturner. 
Convincing characters and their conflicts, snappy dialogue, spooky location and a devious whodunit. What more can a reader ask! This is my first Balzo experience. Needless to say, I’m seeking more of her jokey, thrilling brilliance.

by Blaine Harden
The remarkable odyssey of Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from North Korea to freedom in the West.

MAN OF WAR  *****
by John Masters
How to be a general.
If drafted into the next big war I shall be a general, because I know how it’s done. This novel taught me even while, or because of, gripping action and clashing personalities.
Now I know that tanks must have artillery and infantry support. Also aircover when available. And I’ll see that my army enjoys reliable supplies, signals, engineers, transport, catering, hospitals and administration. Dusty Miller, hero of this book, learns all this the hard way—in battle from the Great War to India’s Northwest Frontier, then through the Spanish Civil War and finally to Dunkirk. Two thousand versus forty thousand? No problem. Avoid set battle, hit the enemy’s weak spots.
But Dusty also has marital crises and a superior officer who hates him. Throw in some rock-climbing thrills and this is one of the best from John Masters. It is also his final creation. He died 1983. year of its publication. Nobody writes better battles.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

The Booker #!*%+≠„ Prize week ending 23 October 2015

POOR MUM, she cannot bring herself to read her son's prize novel, because of all the swear words. For the self-same reason, neither can I and so must forgo reviewing A Brief History of Seven Killings. Even devoid of the cusswords, for me this year's Booker winner holds scant appeal – it's about Jamaican gangsters and, in any case, it is not written in the English language.
However, author Marlon James, a Jamaican dwelling in the US, impressed the judges, thus who can say that profane wordage is not the best literature in today's violent world? I will say this though: I am puzzled.
It is reported that young Marlon was inspired in his writing by Charles Dickens and that he can recite oodles of Shakespeare from memory. There lies the mystery. Neither of these great writers debased their prose with crude expletives. In London's darkest dens, when Dickens needed a swear word he made one up without offending his readers. Ditto Shakespeare, master of barbed invective.
What about realism? Doesn't that call for lurid commonplace expression? Maybe, yet I don't recall bad language in the stark realism of Hemingway, Steinbeck and others. Bad language is not good literature. When Marlon James writes his follow-up book, I do hope he gives us a more subtle serving of his undoubted talent.
Seeking a sample? The link is top left.

by Stephen Leather
A rival to Holmes.
This Chinese detective in modern Singapore is a treat to rival the best of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed every one of the eight whodunits and Zhang’s flair for solving locked-room murders.
My favourite is the one set in England, where homicide spoils a convention of Mystery Writers and fools the local cops. Inspector Zhang helps them unravel the impossible while discovering how ebooks shatter the traditional publishing trade.
It is an added pleasure in these tales when Zhang, an admirer of the Golden Age sleuths, talks about the great whodunit authors of yesteryear.

SNATCH  *****
by Rennie Airth
Tense comedy.
This author is famed for thrilling police procedurals, so I was surprised and delighted to discover this chaotic humour. The plot however is a sure recipe for hilarious situations when two English crooks kidnap a baby belonging to an Italian crime boss. From beginning to end the narrative – by one of the conmen – never flags. Laughs and thrills tumble page after page. Rennie Airth is superb.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Explore the forest   week ending 16 October 2015

SANTA’S sack will be heavier this Christmas, due to an unprecedented surge back to traditional books. The trend had been growing since last year, coinciding with a slackening in demand for ebooks. Last Thursday, October 8, confirmed the British book industry’s return to paper and solid covers. Dubbed ‘Super Thursday’ the day marks release of Christmas titles, which in any year make up 30 percent of sales.

This year, super day saw the launch of 383 hardbacks. Although including the usual coffee table photo books and a splurge of celebrity memoirs, they also sparkled with the gift appeal of top fiction. Readers who have been awaiting a new Robert Harris tale will find it on sale now. Amy Childs delights as ever, Sue Perkins has another cheerful memoir, and battle guru Bernard Cornwell takes on the Vikings. There is also Bill Bryson’s first travel account in 15 years, toplisted in the favourites forecast by the Daily Telegraph.

The BBC was quick to spot the movement back to hold-in-hand paper at a time when one third of Britain’s bookstores have closed during the ebook revolution of the past 10 years. It noted, however, that the physical books this Christmas remained in the usual categories of brandname fiction and celebrity biography.

My own conclusion is that traditional books, like diamonds, are forever. Super Thursday 2015 reminded me of this and the fact that a good book never goes out of fashion. Publishers with a quality backlist find it outsells the Christmas ‘new releases’ year after year. This is because these long-lasting titles have proved their excellence beyond doubt. Christmas shoppers seeking a good book to read or to gift would be well advised to explore the forest of existing favourites. Try these.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

The Mystery of the Dagger Awards  week ending 9 October 2015

THE Crime Writers Association, British based, has gone gaga over mysteries set in the United States by non-British authors. Its coveted Dagger Awards, just announced, all take readers to American thrills and mysteries. This to me is a mystery in itself, because I have always found British crime fiction differs immensely from its US counterpart.

Readers can check out the winners for themselves, but briefly they are as follows:

Karin Slaughter, US author, for Cop Town set in Atlanta.
Smith Henderson, US author, for Fourth of July Creek, set in rural America.
Michael Robotham, Australian author, for
Life or Death about the FBI chasing an escaped convict.

The judges make their choice on the worth of the books. I just find it odd they could not find a British creation to reward. Does this spell the end to foggy London murders or slaughters in an idyllic village? Hardly. These traditions are set forever.

I have just read a British author’s collection of locked-room puzzles to rival the best of Sherlock Holmes. Stephen Leather’s detective succeeds by pure deduction. The structure is strictly British: impossible crime, clues presented via observation and interrogations, then the solution. However, Leather’s detective is Chinese and domiciled in modern Singapore. The Eight Curious Cases of Inspector Zhang is a treat for whodunit readers.

I enjoyed every one of the eight ‘impossible’ mysteries. My favourite is the one set in England, where homicide spoils a convention of Mystery Writers and fools the local cops. Inspector Zhang helps them unravel the riddle while discovering how ebooks shatter the traditional publishing trade.
It is an added pleasure in these tales when Zhang, an admirer of the Golden Age sleuths, talks about the great whodunit authors of yesteryear.

The Zhang murder puzzles are widely praised:

The CWA Dagger winners are at

Happy reading! from Cathy.

The path to war   week ending 2 October 2015
WITH Europe in turmoil (again!) I was struck by the insight of historian Sir Ian Kershaw. Just published, his latest work deals with the human and national crises that caused two major wars between 1914 and 1949. My hope is that all politicians from Putin to Merkel to Cameron and others will read and absorb the follies revealed in
To Hell and Back: Europe 1914 - 1949.
It’s a worry for the entire globe that the fear, nationalism and clashing beliefs of that era appear to have been reborn in today’s news bulletins! Lord save us.
421 different words for snow
YOU DON’T have to be a Scot to delight in Scottish words. A thesaurus published 23 September is full of them and includes many a surprise. For instance, where the Inuit of the far north have 50 words for snow, Scotland has 421.
Hard to believe? Well, they are all genuine and readable in this
online creation by Glasgow University.
British clowns, American idols
AS they both sailed to try their luck in the United States, comedian Stan Laurel recorded a fellow funnyman thus . . .
Charles put his foot up on the rail of the boat, swung his arm landward in one of his burlesque dramatic gestures, and declared, “America, I am coming to conquer you! Every man, woman, and child shall have my name on their lips—Charles Spencer Chaplin!”
This is just a snippet of the fascinating details about Charlie Chaplin in The Charlie Chaplin Archives which stretches to 560  pages. I thought I had already read everything there was to know about the comic genius who conquered not only America but the whole world. This biography of the little battler is heaped with new stuff.
Happy reading! from Cathy.

Fiction’s greatest poisoners   week ending 25 September 2015
POISON is easily swallowed by readers. Nor are they over fussy about the kind of fatal substance employed by whodunit authors – so long as it does exist and is guaranteed to kill
In this aspect of murder mystery, the acknowledged Queen of Poisons is also the immortal Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. She poisoned 300 characters in her books, using the expert knowledge she gained as a nurse in the Great War. She also devised numerous methods of administering a deadly dose. You can read about her murderous medications in the just published non-fiction A Is For Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup, herself something of an expert.
Irrespective of the type of poison used, reader appeal rests mainly in the how and the who, the means and motive.. How was the victim induced to take the stuff? And, of course, who was the murderer?
Of modern authors, PD James achieves a classic in A Shroud For A Nightingale, where insecticide gives a fatal kick to whisky.
Ann Morven, one of my favourites, invents a murder watched without suspicion by a room full of people. This is really brilliant and original, described in her thrilling whodunit The Seventh Petal, where book club members die one by one in an isolated Highland castle. Her bumbling amateur outsleuths a kilted Scottish Poirot.
Ann Granger, currently writing police procedurals, intrigues with a poison hunt in the Cotswolds, Say It With Poison, which introduces her sleuthing partners Mitchell and Markby.
JK Rowling sidestepped into poisons in Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore is the intended victim.
It was, however, the Golden Age that established the craving for poison puzzles. The great Sherlock Holmes investigated poison murders on many occasions. His creator Arthur Conan Doyle, like Agatha, had the medical expertise to ensure accuracy in narrating the demise of victims.
Dorothy L. Sayers, another from the Golden Age of detective fiction, delved into chemical crimes like most of the others. In a notable difference her amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, falls in love with a woman on trial as an arsenic poisoner – in Strong Poison.
Freeman Wills Crofts, in The 12.30 From Croydon, explores the psychological terrors of a poisoner.
Rex Stout relied on venom to mystify readers in his first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer de Lance.
John Dickson Carr, the locked room maestro, strengthens his plot with a fatal swallowing in The Burning Court, which is one of his most baffling mysteries.
Farther back in time, for hundreds of years, poisoners have thrived in fiction.
From Shakespeare’s Hamlet to olde english Lord Randall, the act of poisoning has fascinated all who love a story.
Shakespeare contemporary
Christopher Marlowe (who some claim was his ghost writer) hits the extreme in The Jew Of Malta, when Barabas murders his own daughter because she adopts Christianity.
In fairy tales, every child is familiar with the wicked queen who puts Snow White to sleep with a poisoned apple.
The ancient sagas are loaded with poisons. To mention just one of the best known,
Ovid in his Metamorphoses (book nine) describes how Hercules shoots the Centaur with an arrow dipped in the blood of a monster snake.
It seems there’s no end to imagination when tale spinners take to poison.
Happy poisoners! from Cathy.

What makes a human?    week ending 18 September 2015
HOW HUMAN were the first human beings? Or, to speculate along a similar path, what is the difference between a monkey and a person? Scientists this week launched much excited jabbering (of the human kind) after news of an ancient species who ritually buried their dead.
KINjava.jpgThe remains, in South Africa, were estimated to be three million years old. Dubbed homo naledi, the 15 partial skeletons were in an underground burial cave. Some experts say the find will change the way we think about our earliest ancestors.
According to one professor, Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum: "What we are seeing is more and more species of creatures that suggests that nature was experimenting with how to evolve humans, thus giving rise to several different types of human-like creatures originating in parallel in different parts of Africa. Only one line eventually survived to give rise to us,"
Chief of the exploration team, Professor Lee Berger, surmised that the naledi performed rituals and were physically a bridge between an ancient life form and later humans. Authors, of course, are way ahead of the professors in regard to such a missing link.
One of my favourite fictions is
Esau by Philip Kerr, an intelligent thriller about a research team resembling the naledi finders. Alongside it as a compelling read is a novella by John Ivor – Javaメs Dream. While Kerr imagines a human-like species surviving to the present day, Ivor takes readers back to the dawn of humanity. Both explore the intriguing puzzle of what makes a human.
Another author (non-fiction) believes he has the answer. Historian Yuval Noah Harari found the truly unique trait of human beings is our ability to create fiction!  His book is Sapiens: a brief history of humankind.ᅠ

Because of a pen name
A PEN NAME is common enough, but when should an author be castigated for using one? I would say never. Michael Derrick Hudson used a Chinese name to submit a work that had collected 40 rejection slips under his own.

It was a poem and it appears in The Best American Poetry 2015Now it is an industry talking point and, best of all, has garnered wide publicity for the young man and, naturally, for the American poetry anthology. But even more amusing are the varied reasons voiced by people who disapprove the deception. Three cheers for Mister Hudson, alias Yi-Fen Chou.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

How to sell a million books on Facebook   week ending 11 September 2015

AUTHORS who self-publish yearn for the mass exposure of social media. With so many people following your book blurb, there is the prospect of big sales as readers click-click-click to view your masterpiece. So here’s the sure way to do it . . . conjure up a miracle!

The truth is Facebook gets zero sales for the average author. Ask an expert. Writing on DigitalBookWorld, Michael Alvear explains the futility of this means of promotion. He says it is time wasting, costly and disheartening.

“Facebook gets you closer to book sales in the same way that jumping up and down gets you closer to the sun,” he concludes after extensive and calculated schemes to release the anticipated magic. His report and convincing evidence is at

What sells best on Amazon?
WHAT kind of books are selling best at Amazon? The answer is revealed in a current survey. I was surprised that Amazon’s figures showed psychological thrillers and romance topped murder mystery. Maybe the result gives an insight into Amazon purchasers too. It is an
interesting read.

Reading is healthy
GOOD news for readers. Getting lost in the pleasure of a book is healthy. It improves empathy and boosts wellbeing. Read the scientific

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Grand festival in Edinburgh  week ending 4 September 2015

THE Edinburgh Book Festival, just concluded, was loaded with an array of fabulous treats for authors, booksellers and readers. This renowned event seems to get better each year. David Robinson, reporting for The Scotsman newspaper, gives an informative roundup. Author Howard Jacobson, writing for The Independent, had some amusing encounters.

Mixed reviews
Long anticipated, the latest novel by Louis de Bernieres is getting mixed reactions from readers. The Dust That Falls From Dreams (lovely title) is a saga of the Great War and its aftermath. The research is brilliant and the narrative is spread among several characters. Events and attitudes of the era receive lots of exposure. The linking story is a placid love affair. There are several minor stories, involving a variety of human emotions. I enjoyed it more as a documentary than as fiction that tended to be fractured.

Another famous author, Kazuo Ishiguru, is faring even worse with The Buried Giant, his first novel in ten years. On Amazon UK, this fantasy set in ancient Britain has so far attracted 27 one-star (‘hate it’) ratings. Personally I found it unreadable. Not everyone condemns it though. It just goes to show how the world enjoys a vast population of folk with different opinions!

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Stars in the jungle  week ending 28 August 2015.

NEW authors tend to get lost in the melee of brandname favourites and the fierce marketing that their own creations fail to attract. So it’s good to welcome, once again, the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ listings. The contest invites readers to vote for their favourite book of the year, and the nominations for 2015 give a varied and promising choice.

The shortlist of six has only one big publisher. All the books are relatively unpromoted yet deemed to be brilliant. Out of curiosity, I checked them out in the Amazon jungle to see how their ratings there compare to the Guardian votes. All attracted 5-star reviews (‘love it’) and none got a 1-star (‘hate it’).

An Amazon 5-star rating is not always a reliable guide to a good read, because of organised raves by publishers or friends of the author. There is, however, the opportunity to sample a book free and that is why so many readers now turn to Amazon when deciding whether to buy.

My Amazon comparisons showed the Not The Booker shortlist attracted no ‘hate it’ reviews. One gaining 25 ‘love it’ reviews also had one 2-star (‘don’t like it’), which to me helps confirm the honesty of opinions on Amazon. Often my own favourite reads include 1-star rejections! Love it? Hate it? We all have personal tastes.

The Guardian does a good job in presenting the top choices of its readers. Its shortlist for 2015 contains a variety of styles, themes and locations, and is an authoritative pointer to some of the best new writers. Here is how the shortlist authors fare in reader reviews on Amazon:

Kirstin Innes –          Fishnet (Freight Books): 80 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star.

Kat Gordon –          The Artificial Anatomy of Parks (Legend Press): 74 Guardian votes, 17 Amazon 5-star.

Oliver Langmead – Dark Star (Unsung Stories): 70 Guardian votes, 3 Amazon 5-star.

Paul McVeigh –      The Good Son (Salt): 63 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star. 

Tasha Kavanagh – Things We Have in Common (Canongate): 61 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star, 2 Amazon 2-star.

Melanie Finn -         Shame (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): 58 Guardian votes, 6 Amazon 5-star.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Four  sparkling  reads  week ending 21 August 2015

by Dennis Lehane
Survival of the trickiest. 
Cruelty, treachery and murder fuel the crime jungle, as always, when World War 2 interferes with the traditional profits. Lehane highlights the deadly individual ambitions that drive the Mafia, and gives his sinful gangster hero a heap of nasty choices in order to stay alive.
Tangled in the merciless politics of Gangland, Joe is the scared target of a contract killing. He’s also worried for his son and can’t trust anyone – not even his own fabled cunning when events twist logic.
The characters in this tale are intriguing. The menace grips, particularly during ‘business’ meetings, the dialogue impels and the action passages blaze.

by Lawrence Goldstone
Real secrets from the past.
This fiction is strongly hooked on real medical scandals and personalities approaching the end of the 1800s. I was fascinated (and a little shocked) by the author’s revelations.
There is more than brilliant research here though. The plot delves into murky areas of medical research. The invented bits are disclosed in an author’s end note. His skill in weaving a convincing tale from actual history makes for great entertainment.

by Ann Granger
Vivid Victoriana and a brilliant whodunit.
Usually I get an inkling of the killer but this brilliant plot defied all my guesses. The devious truth, when exposed by Inspector Ross and Lizzie, his love, is wholly plausible and yet a challenge to armchair detectives like me. The author must have thought long and hard to work it all out. Every detail, eventually, is convincingly explained.
The suspects are interesting in themselves as well as in their possible links to three murders. Ross and Lizzie alternate in reporting their individual probings and reactions. The pace never flags, the cozy puzzles remain strong throughout, and we learn much about life in the London of old. The denouement is both thrilling and chilling.

by Alan Bradley
Clever puzzle, ripping yarn.
Reading this, and enjoying it, I realised that it comes uncomfortably close to a mere ripping yarn for girls. It was not quite as satisfying as the previous adult whodunits featuring a 12-year-old sleuth named Flavia – each one a five-star read.
Maybe it was the changed location to Canada, boarding school atmosphere and the school identities. Or perhaps I just missed her spiteful older sisters, loyal reliable Dogger and confused Father. I much prefer Flavia in her English manorhouse setting.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

How to outguess Agatha Christie   week ending 14 August 2015

THERE is a vital clue, heavily stressed, halfway through most of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. So concludes a commissioned study of her 66 crime novels. But there are several other ways to guess who dun it before Poirot or Miss Marple choose to name the killer.

This year, 125th anniversary of the famous author’s birth, is drawing increased attention to her prolific output. That’s the reason for investigating clues the famous author unknowingly revealed in most of her books. Or so the study discovered. Armed with this information, readers can tell at an early stage whether the murderer is male or female. Another peculiar find was that female killers were usually more despicable than murderous males! See if you agree with the text sleuths! Or have they swallowed too many red herrings?

The Booker grab
AS a sidebar to the decline of the Man Booker fiction prize (see Bye Bye Booker below), readers might be interested to learn how one big publisher captured the contest. Penguin Random House now dominate selection.

Stevie Marsden at University of Stirling, Scotland, took the trouble to investigate after five of the six books shortlisted last year came from Penguin Random House.

Its marketing coup lies in the submission rules.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Bye Bye Booker  week ending 7 August 2015

EVEN before the United States pushed into the Booker Prize last year, I had lost faith in its worth as Literature’s flagship. The Booker longlist for 2015, just released, confirms its demise. An onslaught by US publishers destroys its original purpose, which was to seek the best authors in Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth.

In recent years, controversial winners dimmed my annual anticipation. Now this prize has succumbed to the power of big global marketing. When wealth becomes the criterion for great literature it’s time for readers to look elsewhere. Sure there are great American authors, but they should not be allowed to swamp the very different brit-based cultures that have permeated the Booker since it began in 1968.

Without the Booker, where should readers browse to find the best of the best? Dare I say Amazon, where you’ll also discover the worst of the worst? It remains the world’s leading showcase for books of all kinds. It just demands one’s stamina to search and sample.

Meanwhile it seems I’m not the only literature lover to criticise Booker’s cross-atlantic sea change.

Five-star British courtroom drama

by M.R. Hall
British courtroom suspense at its best.
I could not put this down. It is superb British courtroom drama, with a heroine braving impossible odds. These include not just a platoon of cunning lawyers but influential people in church, police, bureaucracy and government.
The legal twists keep coming and there is a final nailbiting sequence that took me (and Coroner Jenny) by frightening surprise. This is the third I have read in the series and all three have given me a
five-star read.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

E.L. Doctorow joins the immortals  week ending 31 July 2015

oBITDOCTOROWDEATH happens, but great novelists live on through their creations. Now joining the immortals is EL Doctorow, pictured left, sadly departed at age 84. News of his passing drew regrets from around the world. In particular I liked the comment from President Obama, himself a talented author: “His books taught me much.”
Doctorow’s plots place ordinary folk at the centre of historical events. His books remain a valued trove for readers present and future.

Family tree thrills
THE British tv series Who Do You Thinkj You Are? has sparked global interest in genealogy. Ancestry researcher Dan Waddell offers a useful Genealogy Handbook later this year, or you can download it from Kindle right now. He has also written Be A Family Tree Detective to get children interested in the subject.

Doubtless inspired by his professional searches, he turned to creating unusual murder mystery thrills. I’ve just read The Blood Detective which introduces his intriguing chaser of killers, delightfully different.

I have solved many a fictional murder in company with various sleuths, and I’ve also delved into the delights and despairs of ancestry search. The two are remarkably similar in the way one follows the clues. Dan Waddell merges the two brilliantly.

The tension in Blood Detective strengthens when the cops find a link to London murders dating back more than 100 years. Not only do they have to catch a killer, they must guess who-and-where for the next likely victim.

The puzzles stay strong – surprisingly even in the dark oceans of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Census Returns, and other dusty social records. I found the narrative enlightening and engrossing, with scattered thrills and a nailbiting finish.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Winners and losers   week ending 24 July 2015

by Sam Thomas
Reader beware! 
The intriguing politics, birthing, religion and society during the English Civil War can blind you to clues and red herrings in this pageturning whodunit. Being a historian, the author brings the era to life. I was swept into the prejudices, fears and customs of the day, and educated in some weird beliefs and practices of the 1640s.
All this and a splendid murder mystery too. Murders plural, that is, and a sleuth who also has to watch her back as she tries to save an innocent friend from the stake.
Sam Thomas has created a most original detective and presents her with skill. He’s a born storyteller.

by Mario Puzo
Early Puzo magic.
The baddies here confirm that creating them was Puzo’s particular genius. This bunch includes villains of disparate depravity and several nationalities. There are Nazis of course, but also a communist oligarch and a respected senior judge, and others. My favourite? The Mafia boss (and he’s different to the Godfather who appeared two years after this Six Graves book).
The locations vary, too, as do the murder methods employed by the protagonist in hunting his torturers throughout Europe. The plot has twists aplenty that prevent repetitiveness.

by Ngaio Marsh
Outdated and unconvincing.
Like quite a few “golden era” whodunits, this 1934 story is outdated, the detective unbelievable and the murder method likewise. Its only appeal to me was in an excellent sense of 1930s atmosphere and the social protocols and dotty behaviour of a country house party.

Prayer  ***
by Philip Kerr

God the killer!. "HELP! God is coming to kill me because I don't believe he exists."
Readers who find even a glimmer of logic in the above sentence (I just made it up) might appreciate Prayer, an implausible thriller by Philip Kerr. For me, the novel died halfway through, killed not by God but by the author's weird plot.
Has Philip Kerr (58), one of my favourites, joined the Bible fanatics of Texas? Holy shit! (as his protagonist exclaims too often) I found this a big disappointment. As for the narrative style, I abhor overuse of the F-word, and I don't mean our Father who art in Heaven.
Kerr soared to fame with his Bernie Gunther novels about a Nazi-hating German detective who is forcibly seconded to the SS during WW2. Methinks Kerr’s switch to thrillers located in the United States is a ploy by his marketeers to recreate him as a brandname in the world’s top book market.

Bulls inspire literature  week ending 17 July 2015

BULLS attract a special mania. Long ago, people worshipped them, and they’re still regarded as semi-sacred in some parts of the world. The bullfight therefore has become a special theme for many great writers and artists, such as Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Orson Welles, Goya, and – of topical note – Mario Vargas Llosa. The Peruvian Nobel laureate, 78, when interviewed by Bill Hillman for The Los Angeles Review of Books, revealed that the corrida has a certain influence in the building of my personality — my ideas, my sensibilities”.

Here’s a link to the recent interview, which includes some vivid insights into the great author’s outlook on life and literature. His work extends through many genres, from thrillers to historical to murder mysteries. Among adaptation as movies – a sure sign of popular appeal – are Captain Pantoja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Perhaps his most famous novel is The Time of the Hero.

But there’s more to bulls than the bullring, a truth that four-legged Ferdinand taught me as a child! Bill Hillman himself wrote a book advising runners how to survive that annual street race with bulls in Pamplona. Sales probably dropped off after he got gored last year. What about bulls and murder? Ah, now there’s a great idea, and a female author makes it exciting fiction in Blood On The Windalso an intriguing lesson on the global breeding trade. Originally published in Ellery Queen Magazine, Ann Morven’s whodunit takes bullfighting (and a weird variation of the art) to the Australian Outback.

Maybe the oldest bull thriller features the Minotaur of Greek mythology, a maze-dwelling monster battled by Theseus. I remember reading that tale as a child. I’ve been scared of bulls ever since. I guess that’s why I love reading about them from the safety of an armchair

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Ride the magic carpet week ending 10 July 2015.
WITH midyear holidays now beckoning the happy few in a cash-strapped troubled world, my thoughts turn to the magic carpet for impoverished stay-at-homes. It is called the Fiction Express. This wonder whisks you anywhere and into any time – present, past or future!

It also provides a getaway that meets your mood of the moment. This can be romance, adventure, thrills, a good laugh, or whatever shape and style happens to appeal. It is the best value entertainment, a book.

Just looking at the authors pictured on this page, I can name many countries they conjure up to delight readers in a variety of genres. My favourite, mystery, sets puzzles in interesting places ranging across the globe. The whodunit diva Ann Morven, herself well travelled, will take you to the Scottish Highlands (The Seventh Petal) or the Borneo jungle (That Lovely Feeling) or the remote southwest corner of Australia (Murder Piping Hot, The Right Royal Bastard). Of course, there’s England too (The Killing of Hamlet), a land perfect for brain-teasing crime tales.

Fancy going back 190 years? John Ivor is your travel guide and spinner of suspense. Join his heroine Maggie, aged 9 and on trial for murder. Run Maggie Run begins her exciting odyssey to womanhood while travelling from top to bottom of the world. She tangles with pirates in the Canary Islands and is sold to slavery in Brazil. Her love of books gives her a wisdom that’s sometimes catastrophic!

For feel-good holiday humour, I recommend Bryce McBryce. The land he takes you to is Sri Lanka in British colonial days when it was named Ceylon. The stories contained in Brat reflect the twilight of the Raj in the years before World War 2.

To climb aboard the Fiction Express, just click on a portrait appearing on the right of my blog.

The scope is endless and the rewards as vast as the reach of your web browser. Here are some more suggestions, described briefly by fellow book enthusiast Christie Hickman.

Happy reading and happy holiday! from Cathy.

Share my crime shelf   week ending 3 July, 2015

by M.R. Hall
British courtroom suspense at its best. I could not put this down. It is superb British courtroom drama, with a heroine braving impossible odds. These include not just a platoon of cunning lawyers but influential people in church, police, bureaucracy and government.
The legal twists keep coming and there is a final nailbiting sequence that took me (and Coroner Jenny) by frightening surprise. This is the third I have read in the series and all three have given me a five-star read.

by John Dickson Carr
The hype is hollow.
Attracted to this
‘most famous and taxing of locked-room mysteries’, I persevered because of the hype, and was disappointed. The solution is over contrived by the author (and his perpetrator) to an extent I could not accept. Also, the narrative style of 1935 made reading a bit of a plod. To the author’s credit, however, he kept me curious until the end.
Nowadays there are more credible ‘impossible’ crime puzzles by Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May series) and others.

by Rennie Airth
Teasing puzzle with a sizzling finish.
The plot is complex, teasing and brilliant in the manner it links serial murders with the Great War and World War 2. Beginning as a whodunit police procedural, it progresses to a sizzling conclusion.
I found unusual appeal in the several individual detectives involved, particularly the low-ranked female cop – regarded by colleagues as their coffee maker but first to spot vital clues!

by Ngaio Marsh
Outdated and unconvincing.
Like quite a few “golden era” whodunits, this 1934 story is outdated, the detective unbelievable and the murder method likewise. Its only appeal to me was in an excellent sense of 1930s atmosphere and the social protocols and dotty behaviour of a country house party.

by Alan Bradley
To the very last line.
Compelling as always, this murder takes Flavia to creepy graves and baffling clues and chemical oddities. It is an amusing pageturner to the very last line. In addition to the child sleuth’s eventual clash with the killer, there’s fascinating English myth, poetry and history. And, of course, Bradley’s seemingly endless serving of delightful simile and metaphor.

by Neil Cross
Well written but fails to please. The premise is unbelievable. While well written, the narrative failed to convince me that anyone would behave in the manner described. Especially when the ‘regrets’ are so trivial. My sympathy for the main character soon vanished. Wishing he would hurry up and die, I slogged on to the end to find out what happened to his long suffering ex-wife, who was well rid of this blighter.

Bunk and bliss  week ending 26 June 2015
AH, doesn’t the reading world love history! Henry Ford famously reckoned that all history is bunk, while Dionysius in 40BC declared it to be ‘philosophy drawn from examples’. Me? I find it every bit enjoyable as fiction, yet true. Now drawing to a close, the month of June has served up such notable anniversaries as Magna Carta (800 years ago) and Waterloo (a mere 200). My recommended reads on the Iron Duke’s most notable victory were named a couple of weeks ago. As for Magna Carta, the
Cambridge University classic is now in its third edition.

Another thing about this month, trivial yet interesting, is the number of famous authors born in June. Of the moderns I’ve found JK Rowling, Ken Follett, Patricia Cornwell, Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Colleen McCullough and Val McDermid. From an older era are George Orwell, Dorothy L. Sayers, Pearl S. Buck, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Hardy, WB Yeats and (shudder) The Marquis de Sade.

Rockabyte baby . . .
BEWARE educated fools! This was my instant reaction on reading that scientists at the University of London recommend that babies be given an iPad from birth. Their reason: the baby will get more ‘sensory stimulation’ than from a book.

The report in Britain’s Independent newspaper is both interesting and alarming. I just hope mums and dads read through to its final paragraph. This warns of brain damage.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

The immortal Holmes at 93   week ending 19 June 2015
IS there no end to the Sherlock Holmes saga? Apparently not, and thankfully not. Fans have recently enjoyed several new versions of the master sleuth, but now comes the geriatric portrayal with a movie (and possible book version to follow) in which he is aged 93.

In retirement he has become an avid beekeeper and lives in an isolated Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son Roger. In the role played by Ian McKellan, 76, Holmes is unable to let go of his past as he tries to solve the one case that defeated him.

First created 130 years ago by Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), Holmes has become fiction’s most immortal character. Since Doyle’s copyright expired 1980, scores of writers have had a go at stories involving the great amateur whose reason solves crimes that baffle the police. And, in film and television, more than 100 actors have played the role. These include some you’d never suspect – such as John Gielgud, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Raymond Massey, Roger Moore and even Leonard Lemoy of Mister Spock fame.

The vast budgets devoted to Holmes perpetuation are ironic given the fact that Doyle got only £25 (about $50) for all rights to the first Holmes mystery, A Study In Scarlet (1886). Like many a famous author, he struggled initially to find a publisher. He was exploited by Ward Lock & Co for several years but eventually became the biggest thing in crime fiction and claimed more lucrative earnings. The reading world could not get enough of the Victorian crime solver.

Not even Doyle could kill off his creation, which he tried to do in 1893 by plunging him to death over a waterfall in The Final Problem, locked in the arms of arch criminal Moriarty. Outraged readers created such a fuss that Doyle had to resurrect his detective by writing The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Now he’s resurrected for the umpteenth time, in old age, one can only wonder how a 93-year-old brain is going to cope with the intricate clues. Actor McKellan, himself getting on a bit, has no qualms about that.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Share my crime shelf  week ending 12 June 2015
by Agatha Christie
Easy to read, harder to convince.
Poirot is a delight and Agatha Christie sure knew how to get him gripping a reader’s fascination while unravelling an unusual mystery. Like most Poirot murder hunts, this is superb. Poirot has no equals.
Apparently he is divinely informed in his eventual (and egotistically confident) naming of the killer, because some of the assumptions he makes are unconvincing. I love him still.
First published 1969, the facts and clues are honestly laid out for whodunit enthusiasts as he questions the suspects. Few readers, if any, would hit upon the linked solution to four murders. It is genuine enough, yet some of Poirot’s wild assurances in getting to the answer sound questionable.

by Peter Lovesey
Fine puzzler.
This whodunit is baffling and amusingly written by a master of cunning tales. Dialogue and situations never flag.
The traditional six suspects strut their turn in the limelight before an all-action ending that is impossible to predict or guess.
At times the police procedures of Superintendent Diamond stray towards the unlikely, but hey! it’s fiction, it’s a brain teaser, and Story comes thankfully first.
My only quibble is disbelief that any killer, let alone this clever one, would fall so stupidly into Diamond’s final trap. Such behaviour should have been explained more convincingly.

by Beryl Bainbridge
Puzzling timidity.
The writing is superb and a pageturner. Full marks, and thanks for the entertainment. But at book’s end I was left puzzling over the author’s choice of treatments. The Crimean War is described in gory horrific detail, and yet the subject of surrogate birth in the Victorian era gets only timid nudge-wink-nudge whispers. Written in 1998, surely readers deserve more explicit and lengthier development of a fascinating and original theme.
The characters interact well, although Master Georgie raised no particular interest with me, either good or bad.
‘Maid Myrtle’ might have been a better title, because this is her story. The first-person narrative is shared by several people, including Myrtle from age 12. I was reminded of ‘Run Maggie Run’ by John Ivor which portrays similar brutal times without the rare and hesitant hints that Beryl divulges with seeming reluctance.

by Peter James
Overwritten suspense.
Designer babies makes a promising idea, but this plot is more suited to novella or short story form. To achieve the longer wordage required in a novel the suspense has been stretched to lengths that I found irritating.
On the plus side, the author’s research has provided lots of interesting medical and scientific info and linked this smoothly to a couple desperate to be parents.

by Patricia Duncke
Crime, romance or sci-fi?
Certainly there’s strange mystery but the main appeal for me was the intensity of the narrative.
Alas, the opening mystery of dead bodies soon fades into personality conflict between the two main characters – the investigator and the prime suspect. Both of them are powerful and both moved by passionate music. The prose is sublime, but . . .
Is this a murder mystery, prickly romance or speculative sci-fi? I could not decide. Of course, there’s no reason why fiction can’t be all three and this book captivates many readers (see the 5-star reviews on Amazon). It was too indefinite for me after being attracted by the puzzling first deaths.

BURIAL  *****
by Neil Cross
Gripping and believable.
Convincing characters in believable trouble had me devouring this. The author’s flawless rhythm brings twists without contrivance. His narrative style took me to London and to the young and foolish years we all experience. His imagination paints a chilling consequence of the bad things that can result from innocent pleasures.
Happy reading! from Cathy.

Waterloo anniversary ‘must reads’  week ending 6 June 2015

  ALPHONSE haunted the garrison school because it was there.Ā 
  It was heavily there, on his grave.

So begins The Spirit of Waterloo, by Bryce McBryce, a comedy short where Wellingtonā€™s ghost confounds a regimental padre in the 1930s twilight of Empire. The Iron Duke has come to check that British playing fields still produce brave lads, but his eerie antics scare everybody.

With the Colonel at a loss, Wee Charlie, age 7, steps in as the army’s Forlorn Hope. It is a delightful short story. It is also a chapter in a more lengthy comedy on the British Raj titled Brat.

This humorous McBryce treatment is one way to look at the great general who changed the world on July 18, 1815. Another is the grim, authentic account of the battle by Bernard Cornwell. In Waterloo the author of the Sharpe series of military fiction has turned his skill to a definitive non-fiction account of Napoleon€’s defeat, and how the opposing generals contended.

His research for the four-day bloodbath included first hand reports by low rankers as well as senior officers and crowned heads. Fools and heroes play out a panorama over 350 pages. The author contributes his own experienced analysis of the conflict and its aftermath. Best of all, this book is pageturning as a Sharpe novel.

London meanwhile is marking the 200th anniversary in its own memorable way.

How many people know the origin of Wellington’s nickname as the Iron Duke? It has no bearing on Waterloo. After he became prime minister, the hero was so unpopular he shielded the windows of his house against stone-throwing mobs by installing iron shutters. (I got that from Bernard Cornwell’s book).

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 June 2015.

In search of Eden week ending 29 May 2015
WE each seek a personal Eden, where one can live in peace, pursue the pleasures of life and raise a family. This is the motif inspiring the thrills and romance of John Ivor’s fiction. His popular adventure tales encapsulate the common goal of humanity since pre-history.

His €˜great land of dreams” is The Great Southland, nowadays called Australia, where next week, on June 1, the locals will commemorate their happy progress. The Whites and the Blacks have much to be thankful for, much to regret, and a whole lot more to think about in a nation founded on conflicting ambitions. It is these contrary desires that make for entertaining history.

John Ivor relates the story of the first humans in Java’s Dreama novelette about a couple who defy cannibalistic tradition. They were the first dream chasers. Available Kindle edition, or other digital.

Captain Striver follows in time, 40,000 years later, and is a fictional autobiography of James Stirling. Against impossible odds, his vision created the Swan River Colony, a democratic pattern for Australia’s eventual ending of the convict settlements. Available Kindle edition, or other digital.

The above stand-alone works precede four stand-alone novels set in the 1830s where, again, mortal yearning causes the discords and the ironies of history.

The plots were waiting for me,€ commented John Ivor, himself a migrant to his great land of dreams. He lives with his family in the forested hills of Kalamunda, near Perth, Western Australia. “The real history is both shocking and intriguing. All I had to do was invent hero, heroine and a few other characters to relive everything.”

And, of course, delve deep into colonial records, old news sheets (some handwritten) and pioneer diaries. His four romantic adventures featuring Swan River Colony are:

Run Maggie Run. A girl aged nine escapes Scotland’s hangman, pretends to be a boy and finds herself among strange gentryfolk seeking an Eden in the unexplored Great Southland. In paperback or digital.

No Kiss For A Killer.  A coward hunts his father’s murderers in the newformed Swan River Colony. A teenaged girl, determined to stop him, gets trapped in a massacre. In paperback or digital.

Eden’s Deadly Shore.  Maggie’s obsession with justice for all meets a violent hurdle -- human nature and bloodshed In paperback or digital.

Amateur Rebel.  Maggie tries not to fall in love with Jeremy, who is romantically pursued by a rich widow. Magistrates commit murder, a missionary is mistaken for the Rainbow Serpent incarnated to end White settlement, and Maggie could lose her head --  literally.In paperback or digital.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

O brave new bookworld!  week ending 24 April 2015
IT has never been more obvious than at last week’s London Book Fair. The literary landscape has undergone a massive change. O brave new world! How many goodly creatures are there here! That’s what Shakespeare, as a visitor, might have been moved to comment. (Actually he did say that, but in different context in The Tempest). The outstanding differences to tradition at this year’s LBF were (a) Global publishers infatuated with ebooks and (b) self-published authors claiming unprecedented recognition.

Mind you, the annual LBF awards for 2015 tended to ignore authors, one tradition that sticks! Accolades went to publishers around the world and associated commercial factions. But the persistence of self-published  authors was never more triumphant. Here they were in glorious spectacle, displaying their goodies, chatting with marketeers and editors, and consolidating a presence that will swell for years ahead.

The LBF has always been about publishing rather than writing, but the 2015 bookfest showed that self-published authors have finally (and magnificently) gatecrashed the event. Making trade contacts is the main value of the LBF rather than winning awards. There are plenty of these offered elsewhere for authors, most recent being the Dublin Literary Awards.

The shortlist for this lucrative prize, just announced, includes ten international books – three translations among them. It is now a truly international event. Translations rarely appeal to me, but the judges reckon they have spotted rare talent. I won’t quibble about that because, after all, the wonderful words in the Bible are a translation of translations of translations!

Yet another trend in the brave new bookworld is that an author has donated half a million pounds of his earnings to help struggling bookshops in Britain and Ireland. Incredible, but it’s happening. The writer is US crime novelist James Patterson who nowadays has morphed into a robotic brandname using 20 other authors. His £500,000 donation to boost physical book stores is, of course, a marketing budget that will doubtless boost his own titles too. And why not? Authors have for years been prodded and bullied by their publishers to do sales tours. Here’s one so deservedly wealthy he can sit back and fund his own publicity in any quirky manner he chooses.

Some more details concerning my above comments . . .
London Book Fair 2015:
LBF Awards 2015:
Dublin Literary Awards:
James Patterson’s gift to bookshops:

Happy reading! from Cathy.

The grip of multiple murders 17 April 2015.
SERIAL killers have a gripping fascination – on readers and authors alike. Mystery and the thrill of the chase guarantee a good read, but mostly these plots feature a cop hunting a psychopath. Out of curiosity, I googled the genre and got 360 titles listed.

Famous authors filled the screen of my laptop . . .Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Thomas Harris, Jeffrey Deaver, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Kathy Reichs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Kellerman, Tess Gerritsen and on and on. Most of them are American and it seems that the serial killer must have especial appeal in the United States, but not exclusively.

Britain’s two most famous writers of crime fiction dabbled in serial murders also. The first adventure pairing Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, A Study In Scarlet, was a puzzle over serial suicides. Arthur Conan Doyle, however, preferred to have Holmes solving less prolific deaths. The appeal in his stories is solving a baffling mystery rather than blood spilling.

Agatha Christie? Yes, her cozy village killings usually concern a single homicide, but she, too, dabbled in serial slaughter. The one that springs to mind is Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp in The ABC Murders. Another is Ten Little Niggers – nowadays retitled as the more politically correct Ten Little Indians.

I did not view every one of Google’s 360 serial killer titles so can’t say whether Doyle and Christie are there. Nor another British author known for cozies but who has also penned a notable cozy involving serial murders. The Seventh Petal, by Ann Morven, is different from the norm in that her sleuth is neither famous detective nor police, but a bumbling amateur folk singer. The serial killer strikes in an isolated book club who gather for a weekend at a creepy Highland castle. The mystery is challenging, the denouement thrilling. Highly recommended! It is available from Amazon and other online retailers in paperback, Kindle, or in all digital formats at Smashwords.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Laughter and the war books  10 April 2015
THERE is no escape. It began last year, and until 1918 the bookworld will be inundated with titles regarding the Great War. It all happened 100 years ago, and each 100th anniversary of each particular bloodbath will be memorialised in print. Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli, Passchendaele and all the others have been written about exhaustively before, yet the studies and the commentaries by modern researchers hold fresh revelations and revised conclusions about the terrible events that shaped the world of today.

Expect more than 1914-1918, because one war, however ‘Great’, is not enough for the scribblers. The aftermath and settlements of the 20th century’s first world war led dissatisfied nations to World War 2, and thereafter to the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all the horrors still flaring in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Ironically, this week being Easter’s aftermath, peace on Earth seems to be a forlorn impossibility for the ever hopeful, ever baffling human race.

It is also a week in which two notable releases revisit the shores of Gallipoli and the suicidal April landings of 1915: GALLIPOLI by Richard van Emden and Stephen Chambers, and a new edition of Alan Moorehead’s landmark work of the same name.

Strategically sound to war planners, the Dardanelles disaster came about through muddles, mistakes and the interference of Fate. These always seem to crop up in the histories of conflict, and make grim yet fascinating reading. But war writings are not always gruesome. When catastrophe calls, people take refuge in humour. Wikipedia discusses the phenomenon at One of my favourites in this genre follows the travails of a boy puzzled by adult weirdness during British preparations for war in the 1930s. BRAT by Bryce McBryce is a fun read with many a startling truth about the way folk behave. It’s a paperback original, described as ‘a literary gem’, and is also available in digital format.

Reviews of the Gallipoli books mentioned above are a feature of the current Spectator magazine.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 April 2015.

Some recent reads:
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 3 April 2015.
by Peter May
Thrills, love, nostalgia, mystery. Peter May weaves compelling plots around average people with problems that capture our empathy. For me, this novel is a pageturner equal to his Lewis Trilogy. It opens with a murder and ends with the solution, yet in between lies a great story. Or rather, two parallel stories 50 years apart and involving the same characters.
The narrative in 1965 is first-person and in 2015 third-person. It is a comfortable division. His teenagers revived memories of my own teen years, while vividly depicting London in the ‘swinging sixties’. (Which was before I was born!). Later, as old blokes, their adventure plays out in a contrasting Britain of today. The end twist is stunningly perfect.

by Philip Kerr
For soccer morons.
Only brain-dead soccer morons could like this – but do they read? They should, however, recognise the
F-words and C-words that proliferate. I gave up after 88 pages (out of 398). The hero is too nasty and not even interestingly nasty. Ditto the officials and the players. Sorry, Mr Kerr, I love your books and ordered this one ahead of publication, but it is a nasty, boring non-story.

by Michel Faber
Expectations dashed.
I have enjoyed Michel Faber’s books but not this one. To be brutally honest, it was for me a waste of reading time and a waste of Faber’s writing time. The interesting concept is strangely unrevealed in the jacket blurb and kept secret for the first 40 pages of dull irrelevant conversations.
When it dawned that a christian missionary was bound for an alien planet to tell them about God I continued with hopeful expectations of Faber entertainment. It never came. If there is a message in this book it passed me by, or perhaps would have been more obvious in a short story. The book of strange things is the missionary’s Bible, yet reaction by the aliens is too sparsely developed and the love angle is unspectacular fizzle. This is 584 pages of non story. I find the thing most strange is that Faber got it published.

by Robert Brightwell
Enjoyable history, thin on laughs.
I certainly enjoyed the history and the researched revelations regarding real people and actual battles. This is best described as Boys Own adventure. The narrative voice comes close to GM Fraser yet it lacks his unique ability to make me laugh out loud. Flashman’s uncle, the rogue depicted here, is a little bit too heroic compared to the cowardly dirty rotten scoundrel so beloved by Flashman fans like me.

by Barry Maitland.
A whodunit challenge.
The title is taken from a play and the murders imitate different happenings in a theatre group’s performances. Easy to guess who dun it? No way.
Author Maitland has compiled a devious puzzle and its solution is well crafted. His characters and dialogue, as usual, are first rate. Sergeant Kathy Kolla’s introduction to Scotland Yard takes her (and Brock) via keen questioning and her peculiar instincts to a thrilling finish.
I found myself relating totally, I was her, new girl amid hardened cops, walking in her boots as she tracks down the killer.

by Laura Wilson
Conjoined confusion. This is more Coronation Street than a murder mystery. The narrative twists itself into a soapie, admittedly well researched and with welldrawn characters. For me the problem was finding two novels enmeshed, each detracting from the other.
The secondary plots are more interesting than the murder investigation. This crime and Stratton’s unrelated family woes all involve big problems yet little tension. Even the late revelation of a serial killer plays out in unexciting plod.

Exploring the dark caves
THE poet Thomas Gray says it best
: Full many a gem of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear. He was not specifically referring to great books that don’t get noticed, although his Elegy In a Country Churchyard does mention some mute inglorious Milton. It is a fact, however, that genius authors abound today unread in a world saturated with the written word. How can a reader winkle them out?

I still nominate my public library as the place I’ve most frequently found a new favourite. The other method I recommend is a hard slog on the Internet – browse and sample. When I do this I skim past the five-star reviews and read the one-star hates. At least one can be (almost) confident that the haters are being honest. The sad truth for readers is that it is never enough to rely on heaped praise. Likewise, the dismal reality for authors is that it is never enough to write a great book.

Marketeers control the big publishers and smaller ones weep when brilliant books get lost in the literary cosmos. So it’s interesting to learn a few tips from professional publicists. Twitter and Facebook figure prominently in their advice on getting noticed. I suppose one could accept these as multiple word-of-mouth, yet all I have ever spotted there myself is bestselling trash.

So it’s back to browse and sample for me, and a prayer my local library won’t disappear to government cost-cutting.

And here’s a thought: Google your favourite authors, particularly those long dead. I have done this in the Internet ocean and often discover a gem I never knew about, and easily fished from its dark cave.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 March 2015

Slow payers rewarded
STRIVING bookshops are nothing new, nor desperate means to cure failing cashflow. I was amused to learn how enterprising retailer Frances Steloff tackled the problem during the 1930s Depression. A poet friend penned a reminder about unpaid bills and this was artistically printed and mailed out, becoming known as The Rubaiyat of Account Overdue.

The verse appears below, but booksellers thinking of using it should be warned it did not always work. It fast became a literary collectable, and all too often regular payers became deliberately delinquent in order to receive a copy.


Awake! Depression with its long long blight
Has blown by business higher than a kite
And lo, the First Day of the Month has caught
Me bending, and this letter I indite

Oh Bibliophile, if thou canst not aspire
To pay this overdue account entire
Then break it into little bits, and send
At least some portion, for my need is dire.

Think, in this battered caravanserai
Of books, I also have my bills to pay;
I sometimes fear that never dipped so red
The ink, as where there sits my C.P.A.

Then, my beloved, write the check that clears
That old outstanding purchase of last year’s—
Before my stock and fixtures and good will
Themselves are hurried to the auctioneer’s.

I know that cash is scarce as scarce can be,
Collections slow—you think you’re telling me?
But come in anyhow; let’s talk; besides,
I’ve got a Beerbohm First you ought to see!


Good reads forever free
LOCK the doors! Turn off the lights! Ebook Week (March 1-7) has ended its bargains for another year, and top titles return to their regular price. But wait! A few of our stories stay free all the time. This is so the author can be sampled. Enjoy John Ivor’s thrills, irony and humour in The Prize Bride, Invade America, Reverend Rapist or Kill.
Other shorts, by Ann Morven or Bryce McBryce, sell at 0.99c. Bestselling novels by these longtime favourites cost  a low $2.99.
Go to our titles at to click on the books you fancy. How do we manage to keep our books so low-priced? Because they’re so popular and book readers worldwide go on buying. 
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 March 2015. 

Some of my recent reads and what I thought of them:
by MJ Carter
Enjoyable B-movie stew:
Good title, weak plot, but hey, Brit Raj enthusiasts will gobble this down. It’s a colonial stew, blandly boring in parts, overspiced in others, but full of the traditional ingredients. John Company scheming, palace intrigue, snobby white society, enigmatic political agent, dashing redcoats, sabre brawls, assassins, educated native prince, execution by elephant, tiger hunt, Thuggee – it’s all tossed in.
On page 235 of my hardback the young hero comments:
“It seems,” I said wearily, “a little far fetched.”  To which no reader will disagree. This is not Paul Scott (The Raj Quartet), nor MM Kaye (The Far Pavilions), nor Katharine Gordon (The Emerald Peacock). The naive colonial narrator doesn’t match John Ivor’s Jeremy (No Kiss For A Killer).The plot lacks cause-and-effect. Things just happen instead of being made to happen by character quirks and rival ambitions.
Despite these quibbles, and because I enjoyed it and the pairing of Blake and Avery, I recommend it for Raj fans. The title is not explained but I interpret descriptions of the strangler vine to be the British East India Company’s grip on India. I look forward to the forthcoming sequel set in London, The Infidel Stain.

by Laura Wilson
More than murder
: Exciting, informative and vividly describing a location and community long past, the 1944 London Blitz. There are four connected murders and cat-and-mouse suspense between Detective Stratton and a fake doctor. They share the narrative point of view, a device that maintains tense drama.
A third point of view is that of Stratton’s wife. Her problems deftly reflect those unique times of domestic and social hardship, doodlebugs and scary strangers. The plot brings in more than one kind of madness.
This paperback is a good long read of 424 pages. It is more than a regular whodunit/howdunit/whydunit, and this adds to the (often grim) enjoyment. As always, I skipped autopsy and bomb-victim details! The mystery unfolds to an end twist I never suspected.
In the research and the presentation, author Laura Wilson is one of the greats.

by Alan Bradley
Absolutely delicious:
This third Flavia whodunit, like the previous, is funny, teasing and pageturning. The actual mystery is well thought out and developed. Author Bradley is a superb entertainer.

by Guillermo Martinez
: The concept of logic solving murder appealed to me but I was disappointed. Professors and students of mathematics might find some joy here, but to me it was a hotchpotch of academic piffle. I persevered to the end, keen to find a solution to the first teasing puzzle of three figures in a repetitive series one has to guess. The narrator says (page 29): “I realised how simple the answer was.” Alas, I myself never came to any realisation (am I that dumb?) and the author (or the translator) didn’t bother to include it.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 March 2015.

China plans to invade the US
IT’S wildly topical: Desperate for economic and political stability, China decides to invade the United States. This gee-whiz scenario, plus tricky plotting and mystery, attracted rave reviews for
The War Planners, newly released in January. Reviewers h2 warave enthused over the authenticity and writing skill of author Andrew Watts. A former Naval helicopter pilot and flight instructor, he  planned real operations during a US Navy career that included the Persian Gulf and the Pacific.
The novella is
described on Amazon (also free sample), but I was just as interested in this first-time author who created it with such flair. The book tells how defence experts including a Chinese-American woman seek to avert the threat from China. They are taken to a secret CIA island, but all is not as it seems.
An interview with Andrew (below) revealed his unusual path to authorship.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 February 2015.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
I was a US Navy helicopter pilot for ten years.  I grew up reading Tom Clancy and Nelson Demille, and always have loved the thriller/suspense genre.  One day, while deployed on a nuclear aircraft carrier, I decided to try writing fiction.  I really enjoyed it, and when I got out of the military I decided to try my hand at self-publishing.  The military thriller genre seemed to fit with my interests and background.

Where did your love of storytelling come from?
I was a US Navy pilot, and we tend to tell a lot of stories about ourselves – almost all of it fictitious.  This was just a natural next step. 

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
I hope that my life experience will make my work more authentic.  I have flown missions in my helicopter chasing drug smugglers over the Pacific, repelling pirate attacks off the coast of Africa, and I planned ship and aircraft operations while embarked on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.  I’ve seen a lot of unique places in the world, and would like to bring these experiences to my readers.

Who are some of your favorite authors influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?
Tom Clancy, Nelson Demille, Michael Crichton. I think these authors had to do a lot of research to get their details so right in their stories.  This made them authentic and believable.  And to me, that’s what made their stories so compelling.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How do you find or make time to write?
Part-time.  I have a full time job and three kids under six years old.  I write at night and on weekends.  It’s slow and tough, but rewarding.

What are some day jobs you have held?
In the Navy, I was a helicopter pilot.  I deployed on warships for six months at a time in various parts of the world.  I was also a flight instructor in Pensacola – think driver education for new helicopter pilots.  It was scarier than any of my deployment adventures!  Today I work in marketing for a large corporation.

Did you try to get traditionally published?
I went straight to self-publishing.  So far I’m just on Amazon.  I love the freedom and the control self-publishing gives me.

What projects are you working on at present?
I am working on the sequel to The War Planners, and hope to have it out in April 2015.

Your free map to the gold
MOST readers have come to realise that the books best known nowadays are rarely the best to read. Marketing has displaced content, and publicity tops talent. The tricks of selling a title to the world are explored in
The Economist dated Feb 14, a confirmation that authors need to become ‘authorpreneurs’ in order to succeed.

This is a sad situation, and it changes readers too. Like gold seekers of old, we’ve become prospectors ever hopeful of a rich strike. Accepting, as the Economist states, that ‘chapter and purse’ is the new norm for ambitious scribblers, where do we readers unearth the ‘nonpreneurs’ who simply choose to write a good book and lack the time or skill to promote it? Well, the new norm for hopeful readers is to browse, browse, browse. And always read a sample before you buy, because reviews are unreliable (tastes differ) and blurbed praise usually purchased.

This said, I am surprised on recalling my own book prospecting triumphs. Yes I plod wearily through the online offerings but recently I have discovered a seeming Eldorado. It delivered three authors previously unknown to me who now are favourites. Where is this golden seam? No, it is not my local bookshop, which shelves only mass publicised A-List titles. It  is my local public library. Librarians, god bless ’em, can still spot a good book without being overwhelmed by the force of commerce.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 20 February 2015.

Are you bookworm, webgrub or telebug?
HOW many hours a day do you read for pleasure? Here’s a sad statistic: People in The Land Of Most Reading read for only 1.5 hours a day. The country is India where, on a national average, the inhabitants top a worldwide survey of booklovers. The survey, which records per capita hours spent reading per week, shows the average in India is 10.7 hours. Next come Thailand (9.4 hours a week), China (8), Philippines (7.6), Egypt (7.5), Czech Republic (7.4), then France and Sweden (equal 6.9).

Comparing these numbers with my own book munching, I’d have to report a regular weekly consumption of 28 hours (more or less), which takes me far ahead of every nation canvassed. But then, my contribution towards a national figure would be averaged drastically downwards by all the zeroes from non-readers. Similarly, top-ranked India has an awful lot of non-readers to lower the national bookworm average.

Furthermore, by asking around (especially teenaged relatives) I find that book readers have become a cultural minority shadowed by television and the internet. In Britain, per capita reading for pleasure totals only 5.3 hours a week. The United States is slightly better, yet still a disappointing 5.7 hours. It makes me wonder what the book world will look like two generations from now.

If you want to view the aforementioned worldwide survey of pastime preferences and compare them to your own intake of books, television and internet, get ready for a shock.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 February 2015.

Laughing Colleen
I CAN imagine the late Colleen McCullough, best remembered for her heart-tugging love stories, sounding her mighty laugh (equally well known) upon catching up with the writer of her obituary, a man who predeceased her. The article in the
Australian newspaper created a social media storm.

As newspapers do, it was written many years ago and filed away in a News Corp archive awaiting Colleen’s demise. The intro called her plain and overweight, revealing the obit writer’s sexist view of female celebrities. Times have changed. Readers responded to Colleen’s obituary in their own critical fashion. Informed sources said the obituary writer died some years ago. Nobody at the paper realised it might offend in the year 2015.

History still matters
THE best historical fiction teaches history, which makes it more valuable than ever these days as politics, commerce and science maintain their narrow and separate self-serving agendas. If only more world leaders were aware of the past, and motivated by doing the right thing rather than winning a new fortune/market/election/coup/award. But, you ask, what is the ‘right’ thing?

History suggests the answers. The History Manifesto, a study by historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage, highlights the consequences of historical ignorance. It is not likely to be read beyond learned circles, which is why I re-state the value of fiction authors in reminding the world what happened before.

Reading a review of the work by Guldi and Armitage, I was both amused and alarmed by mention of Thucydides, an author 2400 years ago. I quote this comment on his account of the Peloponnesian Wars, which he presented as a warning to future decision makers:

He described how an ill-conceived foreign adventure – the disastrous attack on Syracuse – triggered the climactic phase of a long power struggle that not only destroyed Athenian democracy but also sapped the power of the Greek city states, laying the peninsula open to foreign domination. In our own day, after a year of national mourning for the men who marched away in 1914, we might raise our eyes to take in the bigger historical picture and the haunting parallels with the lost grandeur of Greece: an international conflict that exploded out of the blue in 37 days, which was sustained for four blood-soaked years by the intransigence of national leaders and from whose suicidal destruction Europe never recovered. We may not share Thucydides’s idea of a universal ‘human nature’, but his proclamation that history matters still has resonance today.

Fresh from the Amazon jungle
Baffling indeed is the world of an Amazon auditor. According to Publishers Weekly, for the year 2014 the world’s biggest online bookseller achieved sales of $88 billion and yet showed a loss of $241 million. Apart from books, the mammoth company deals in other merchandise. I was not able to understand the figures and I wonder if the tax inspectors will do any better!

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 February 2015.

Our language has many bright colours
I AM mad about metaphors, I swoon for a simile. As a literary device they can multiply reading pleasure. Too many, of course, will detract from the story, but good ones speed it along. They add emphasis, raise a smile or a shudder, or simply give an extra dimension to an author’s creativity.

Many images have become cliched through overuse. Every reader has at some time found sleep like a baby, blind as a bat, white as snow, busy as a bee . . . vivid when first invented, they now signpost a lazy writer. The acknowledged master of metaphor and simile is PG Wodehouse, whose humour continues to please readers half a century after his death. Among my favourites is an instant description of Lord Emmsworth ‘prowling like an elderly leopard’. Or a woman who ‘looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say when’.

Where Shakespeare gives us ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, PG imagines a character who ‘felt like a man who, chasing rainbows, has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg’. He specialized in complex humorous portrayal, even in private letters. For example: ‘Things,’ he told a friend, ‘are beginning to stir faintly, like the blood beginning to circulate in a frozen Alpine traveller who has met a St Bernard dog and been given a shot from the brandy flask’.

My musings turned to these and similar figures of speech this week while I was reading one of Alan Bradley’s earlier novels, The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag. He is rather good at creating amusing images. He has someone ‘nodding like a demented woodpecker’, and others ‘queueing like crewmen on a sunken submarine for their turn at the escape hatch’.

Even more enjoyably complex was this one: ‘She made a noise like a distressed passenger at the rail of the Queen Mary on a November crossing of the North Atlantic’. And I quickly grasped a puppeteer’s thespian skill when ‘a rich, mellifluous flow of words came forth as if he had a wooden organ pipe for a larynx’.

Yes, I enjoy Alan Bradley’s whodunits, and his underage sleuth Flavia -- one of the most original and destined to live forever. In this book she is only ‘10 getting on 11’. This delightful character, who narrates each story in Bradley’s series, has been entertaining adult readers for less than six years since the first title appeared in 2009. Bradley was 71 when he launched himself (and his precocious child) into murder fun with The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie. His reliable ingredients are zany characters, a baffling murder, and crisp interaction and dialogue. The author’s really clever bit is getting grown-ups to enjoy his child heroine. But then, Flavia is something of a genius and always manages to outsleuth the professionals.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 January 2015.

A January 25 murder is announced
HOT after December 25, when the world celebrated Christmas, comes January 25 and another global joy -- to celebrate the poet Robert Burns. No other rhymer boasts such a vast array of feasts in his honour. Among this year’s events in Edinburgh is the first public display of unhappy lines he scribbled on the flyleaf of a book. His problem? Getting his girlfriend pregnant.

Ah woe is me, my mother dear!
A man of strife ye’ve born me.
For sair contention I maun bear.
They hate, revile and scorn me.

There are two more verses describing his heartbreak after Jean Armour’s parents denounced him and took her to a distant town, away from scandal, for the birth of twins. ‘Bonnie Jean’ was just one of many loves of the passionate poet, and later his wife.

How does she figure in a modern murder mystery? I’d say rather brilliantly. Author Ann Morven presents a baffling plot and lots of Scottish tradition in Murder Piping Hot. This whodunit, however, is not set in Scotland but in Australia, where a Burns Night Dinner is fatally disrupted. Seeking the killer, folksinger Sheil B. Wright challenges pedantic police inspector Sheryl Holmes, descendant of the great Sherlock.

There are tantalising clues and some red herrings as the amateur outsleuths the professional. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, Sheil is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart. She finds clues in an old Scottish lovesong and smutty verse by Robert Burns which actually exists. I loved it (not the smut, the unfolding plot).
Family secrets are revealed, dangerous passions unleashed. Then comes the horrendous truth as the killer decides Sheil must die. Until this sizzling end twist I was altogether bamboozled!

Readers can sample it free in any digital format or in paperback or Kindle.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 January 2015.

Faith, Hope and Lotsa Luck
WHEN I peer into my crystal ball seeking future images of the book world
all I see is fog. The year ahead does hold lots of promise but it is also going to require lots of luck. Physical bookshops, alas, will continue to close and ebooks continue their revolution. These two trends don’t need a crystal ball. And yet, with Waterstones announcing a dozen new stores to open, and a decline in Kindle sales, there is no certainty in reading habits during the year ahead.

Amazon ‘sales’ are up but profit down. At Smashwords, home of self-publishers, founder Mark Coker reports a great year past and a hopeful one ahead. Meanwhile the New York Times Book Review currently carries an essay denouncing digital commercialisation, where culture has been ‘destroyed by thugs’. Humble readers can only continue to have faith that writers will go on writing, and good ones come to their notice. How we enjoy them is a matter of personal taste. Hardcopy, digital, audio? Take your pick.

One advantage for readers is the ease of browsing and sampling books nowadays, thanks to the Internet. The same tools advantage small publishers in presenting their titles to the world. On that note I lay aside my crystal ball and invite book lovers to taste the offerings on this website. Just click ‘BOOKS’ in the menu bar above to view the goodies we have available.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 16 January 2015.

Forever popular, but why?
IN the opening weeks of 2015, there’s a fresh look at an old question: Why is Shakespeare’s appeal immortal? For more than 400 years, literary critics have been exploring this theme. Generally they  agree that it’s because his plots explore human nature, something common to us all. But don’t TASTEgarrickall authors do this? Most certainly, but Shakespeare somehow did it better and linked his unfolding narrative to controlled structure and (his greatest talent) poetical expression.
Readers won’t find much poetry in a modern whodunit created around the kingpin of English literature, but—true to Shakespeare – it shows how human nature leads to murder. And also to its solving. The whodunit I refer to is The Killing of Hamlet, by Ann Morven. Shakespeare wrote many a tale about murder, yet never a whodunit. In his day they were not an existing form.
Ann Morven lays her plot in a modern English village where the seed of murder was planted unwittingly by Shakespeare himself 400 years ago. It’s a clever fiction and highly entertaining in her usual style of chills and chuckles. The story sets the narrator, folksinger Sheil B. Wright, against the
hi-tech British police after playgoers, and security cameras, see her apparently killing the actor playing Hamlet.
This brilliant mystery is available in any format at Smashwords, or in Kindle, or paperback. It’s a five-star read.
If you prefer just reading what critics have said about Shakespeare over the centuries, go to
Pictured: The Shakespeare actor David Garrick.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 9 January 2015.

A Puzzling Paradise
THE world has never had so many books, digital, printed or audio. They just keep coming, and the year 2015 opens its arms this week to an ongoing torrent. It’s a Readers Paradise, but also a Readers’ Enigma when it comes to finding the right title for one’s personal taste.
Favourite authors can be snapped up without delay, but discovering fresh favourites takes time in browsing and sampling. This situation gives reviewers an important role. I read lots of reviews and sample unknown authors who come across as likely to appeal. I also like writing reviews. Here are just a few from my recent reading.

The Accidental Apprentice  *****
by Vikas Swarup
A scintillating story.
This make-believe is fiction at its best, a geewhiz story that hurtles through one twist after another. It kept me enthralled from its first incredible chapter and the strength is in the author’s storytelling skills.
As with his previous books (
Slumdog Millionaire and Six Suspects), which I enjoyed, Indian society is described adroitly along with some of the nation’s current issues. These are honour-killing, child slavery, government corruption, a transplants blackmarket,  and so on. Chapter by chapter, the scandals are spotlighted in seven tests of character put to the young woman protagonist. The personal qualities she must show are foresight, courage, leadership, integrity, resourcefulness, decisiveness and . . . I won’t reveal the seventh and concluding outcome.
Now I look forward to the movie. Bollywood producers, please note: Here’s the perfect escapism for some fabulous songs!

The Last of Days
by Paul Doherty *****
A frightening nest of villains.
What a frightening nest of villains, and all real! Paul Doherty has resurrected these nasties from the 1540s to create a gripping novel of intrigue, ambition and murder. English history is unmatched for gory and ruthless happenings when presented to the reader with such flair.
I’ll confess I could not believe the anecdotal horrors related about King Henry VIII and his infighting courtiers, so I made notes and googled them. All confirmed factual. Even the novel’s narrator is convincingly plucked from history.
Author Doctor Doherty, an Essex headmaster, sure knows his history. He also knows how to weave a story that grips.
The narrator is King Henry’s jester and confidant. The fictional conclusion is shocking yet believable, and is based on recorded facts.

A God In Every Stone ***
by Kamila Shamsie
The story disappears.
We all have our place in the chaos of history, says the jacket blurb. As in her previous novels, Kamila Shamsie links ordinary people to world changing events, yet this one goes farther. Her narrative touches two great empires – the Persian of 500BC and the British Empire of the 20th century.
Loyalty and betrayal, love and loss, conflicting ideals . . . all crop up. In particular the Great War 1915 and the hectic 1930s in British India (now Pakistan). The main characters charmingly connect the heritage of two great races – Pathan and English. As I anticipate from this author, the writing is superb. Unfortunately, however, her plot gets lost towards the end and I just don’t get it.
New characters materialise and take over. I was not interested in these strangers. I wanted conclusion for the people who had enchanted me throughout. I mean, what the heck happened to the English heroine? I know she’ll campaign in 1947 for Pakistan independence, but she’s last seen disguised in a burka during the Peshawar Massacre of 1930. And the two male leads deserved better than a casual dumping.
All praise to deep research, informative detail, ambitious vision and skilled writing, but for me a story requires a satisfying ending and I failed to find one.

by Ann Granger
Fascinating Victorian murder.
Never mind the weak title, this is good reading and an intriguing murder mystery. Set in rural England, and concluding in London, it entails fascinating insights into the people and circumstances of Victorian times.
Amateur sleuth Lizzie Martin and Scotland Yard’s Ben Ross alternate in narrating the puzzle. Their romantic link is kept to a minimum yet spices the telling of an entertaining story. Apart from the unfolding murder clues, the plot embraces detailed research into rat-catching, baby-farming, insanity and the attitudes of the ‘respectable’ upperclass.

The Looking Glass War **
by John le Carre
Story goes nowhere.
An over-eager publisher dazzled by the author’s name failed to insist he finish the job. This story goes nowhere. The positive elements are welldrawn characters, informed insight into cloak-and-dagger administration, and the technical snags in setting up a clandestine radio link in enemy territory.

Berlin Noir *****
by Philip Kerr
Informative thrillers.
These three thrillers depict the genius of the Bernie Gunther character created by Philip Kerr. They also give intriguing insight into recent German history. The first two books are set in the pre-war 1930s when Hitler was coming to power and Nazi brutality growing. The third takes place after WW2 in Occupied Germany when war criminals were skulking in the shadows.
As usual with Kerr, the research is deep and  informative, the murders compelling. I loved every page of this trilogy.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 January 2015.

Did Jesus exist?
CHRISTMAS, when the world celebrates the Nativity, was a good time to suggest we’ve all been taken for a ride – that is, if you want your controversial book to get noticed. A religious studies professor who claims there was no Jesus repeated his conclusions last week. And re-ignited the longstanding controversy that has involved biblical scholars for generations.

Raphael Lataster lectures in Religious Studies at Sydney University and his book is There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. It is one of many featuring the linchpin of Christianity. Previous works by numerous other writers have presented other theories about Jesus Christ, but largely accepted that there was such a person. He is described variously as a sage, descendant of Aliens, anti-Roman revolutionary, philosopher, deluded martyr and so on. They’re all interesting up to a point, mainly because Christianity – from the time of the Roman Empire -- has shaped the planet we know.

The first book like this I ever read was during my Sunday School days (yes, long long ago). It was by Albert Schweitzer: The Quest For The Historical Jesus. But if this topic interests you the most compelling series I’ve come across is by the recently late Laurence Gardner. His special research was into the bloodline of Jesus, naming present day descendants, and claiming Jesus survived the Crucifixion and died years later in Syria.

For readers who like non-fiction mysteries there’s an endless array of books about The Good Book, and getting to grips with Jesus Historical and Jesus Mythical is compelling stuff.

Endangered religions
HATRED and spirituality seem to share a permanent plague in the Middle East. After thousands of years, the violence and slaughter is fierce as ever. Author Gerard Russell takes a look at religions that have simply disappeared, victim to this turmoil. His book is titled Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East. His scholarly attempt to record these esoteric beliefs is
fascinating history.

Happy Reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 December 2014.

PM sets creative ideal
WHAT is it about the literati? Always bitching about something, someone, anything. And worse even than Opposition policrats and ’ticians. The latest rift is over the Australian prime minister’s taste in books, because he overruled the judges for the $80,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

Instead of giving it all to Steven Carroll’s sensitive historical fiction, The World Of Other People, he awarded half to Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Both novels are about World War 2. For reasons best known to themselves, the dissenting judges and others have accused Abbott of making the event a ‘sham’. They can’t accept that the Prime Minister has the right to name his own award winners. The judging panel, however, is only there to recommend, not determine.

At least Abbott can’t be accused of political bias. Richard Flanagan is a rampant leftie. It’s good to see the surfing, cycling prime minister of Australia separates politics and art. And he is the author of four books himself. The London-born migrant’s best known work is Battlelines, published 2009, “a frank analysis of the way forward for the Australian Liberal Party’. His love of books is revealed in this work, too. He advises young people to read the classics, Shakespeare and the Bible, because “literature is a light for the soul”. It’s a nice thought, and I reckon it applies to all books, whatever takes your fancy.

Merry Christmas and happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 19 December 2014.

Some recent reads
Murder at Honeychurch Hall *****
by Hannah
Lively characters, delicious dialogue:
This introduced me to Hannah Dennison and, because it is first in a promised series, I’ll be looking out for more. The mystery is well thought and the characters well drawn, but the strongest appeal to me was the dialogue. I was not surprised to learn that the author has left her native Devon to do Hollywood movie scripts. One could take this book almost as is and present it to the actors, so powerful, perky and informative is the spoken interplay.
Of the characters, the best loved by me were the heroine’s feisty aged mum, who writes steamy romance novels, and Harry aged 7. A Biggles fanatic, this kid is heir to the Honeychurch estate (after his obnoxious dad) and has a tendency to blurt family secrets and an occasional clue (or red herring?).

Company of Spears ****
by Allan Mallinson
The fortunes of peace:
There is less military action than usual, but lots of social interplay and scheming when Hervey hunts a wealthy widow he hardly knows -- to be his bride. The fortunes of peace are no less thrilling than those encountered in warfare, and the final third reverts to what we expect from this author – intelligent officering in Britain’s first conflict with the Zulu Nation in South Africa.

by Ann Granger
A double delight:
Two separate murder mysteries, unfolding in turn, chapter by chapter, gave me double delight. The parallel narratives are well presented in a way that maintained my interest in both of them. The Victorian murder and subsequent court trial keeps pace with a modern mystery in the same old mansion. The links over 100 years are convincing, the characters fascinating.

Wycliffe and the cycle of death **
by W.J. Burley
An illogical solution:
A prolific and feted author penned this disappointing mystery. An editor should have spotted the flaws before publication. While the narrative flows competently the solution is illogical. There is also a fatal flaw in the plot development. Without giving away details, I’ll just say that a leading character is motivated by knowledge this same character could not possibly know! Apart from this, I was irritated by the author editorialising facts the characters themselves could have imparted without intrusion.

Falcons of Ice and Fire ****
by Karen Maitland
Three voices enchant:
The unusual locations of Portugal and Iceland in 1564 appealed, and I was entranced by the gruesome Inquisition practices. This is superb historical fiction. There’s also lots of folklore and falconry expertise. The plot is a pageturner with good narrative rhythm divided faultlessly between three different voices. Essentially, however, this is a quest story and the final third is more fantasy than history.

False Impressions **
by Jeffery Archer
Brilliant dwindles to unacceptable:
A brilliant beginning deteriorates as this promising plot unfolds. Towards the end I resented this author expecting readers to accept the impossible in a final confrontation between heroine and assassin. (Copy editors where were you!).
Earlier there are some good passages, the best being the heroine enduring the 9/11 Twin Towers atrocity, described in convincing nail-biting narrative. After this, the action becomes repetitive and unlikely. At least one loose end stays unexplained (again irksome).


Political adventure tops world poll

READERS voted a dashing hero their alltime fiction favourite last week, topping Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Gruffalo and many others. Francis Crawford Lymond is the protagonist in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, set in 16th century Scotland.

He is an outlaw, nobleman, poet and soldier in The Game of Kings, a worldwide bestseller. Francis battles to prove his innocence and restore his honour with the help of an array of wonderful characters – some real, some invented. The result is a saga of treason, political intrigue and romance, brilliantly researched and written with this author’s unique flair.

The poll, which attracted voters from all parts of the globe, was part of Book Week Scotland (November 24-30) run by the Scottish Book Trust. Readers were asked to choose the best character ever in a book by a Scottish author. There are so many literary contenders they form an ocean of talent, and the response by readers showed a healthy awareness of this.

Popular scribblers such as Ann Morven (whodunits), Carol Ann Duffy (romance), Muriel Spark (humanity) and Val McDermid (crime) fell behind as counting proceeded. Masters of the pen also overtaken included Alexander McCall Smith (humour), John Ivor (adventure), Ian Rankin (crime), Rabbie Burns (poetry) and Robert Louis Stevenson (thrillers).

Selections varied widely, from Dennis The Menace to Jekyll And Hyde, Doctor Finlay to Oor Wullie, Irvine Welsh to John Buchan, to Sir Walter Scott. Every one of them is a favourite and all have an army of supporters. Was this competition really logical? No! It wasn’t meant to be, either, it was a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.

When the survey began, Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust explained: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.”  Picking a character was a new task. Last year in a similar event, readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

There was no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like to hear, because a good character and a great story last forever. Two personal favourites I have mentioned before happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George MacDonald Fraser. In reporting the winner, The Scottish Book Trust also listed the Top Ten.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 December 2014.

Hate it or love it? Market faces a real Poirot puzzle
SALES of a new book will decide the future of Hercule Poirot, that much is obvious. Not so clear is speed and volume of the publisher’s cash return, because readers are divided on the book’s merits. Since the September launch of
The Monogram Murders a flow of ‘hate-it’ one-star reviews has left the bean counters with a mighty puzzle. These days, sadly, a fast buck tops quality in the book world.

The United States and Britain are the major markets for novels in the English language, and Amazon the biggest online retailer. The Amazon reviews by readers who bought this resurrection of the great detective have been mixed.

Author Sophie Hannah has excelled in reviving an Agatha Christie favourite, yet one-star ‘hate-it’ reviews so far exceed the five-star ‘love-it’ in America (out of 265 reviews: 24% hates against 21% loves).). In Britain, where cozy murder mysteries are most popular, the Amazon reviews show 27% loves to 20% hates (out of 167 reviews).

On other Amazon sites, the sales are too low to indicate any particular trend. To me the figures shown above reaffirm that Americans prefer their crime-fiction hardboiled in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but the large number of disapproving Brits is surprising. It could even indicate a change in national reading tastes since Agatha Christie popularised the brain-teaser genre.

Sophie Hannah’s rebirth of the great detective is baffling and brilliant. Her Poirot is exactly Poirot, convincing in every way, arrogant as ever, perceptive as only he can be. She has also nutted out a classic murder mystery worthy of Agatha. Its untangling is clever and devious.

‘Why didn’t I spot that?’ I asked every time Poirot pointed out a clue that had been available to the reader.

In addition to this, Hannah has invented a narrator who is both perfect for the job and peculiar enough to appeal as himself. The perfect Catchpool is a blend of Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings – providing police info and serving as a foil to Poirot’s insight. The peculiar Catchpool is a homicide detective who funks murder scenes. Show him a dead body and he scoots for the door, even forgetting to arrange the Morgue pick-up. His talent is creating crosswords and recording Poirot antics in a pleasant manner, like this:

“Do you see the trees, Catchpool?”
I told him that I did, wondering if he had me down as a colossal idiot. How could I fail to see trees that were directly outside the window?

BACK TO THE BOOK REVIEW: There is a long denouement that, frankly, I would not wish to attempt in digital format. Sometimes the printed paper pages of a book are easier to absorb than onscreen reasoning. In an era of short perception fed by television and the Internet, perhaps this lengthy resolution is a reason for so many ‘hates’ of a prime whodunit. The complex solution is worth the mental plod because this triple murder is a mystery ranking with Fiction’s most famous. I just loved the book and I’m hungry for more!).

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 28 November 2014

Horror with a political aim
IT is a gruesome subject and studying it, I reckon, is an unsuitable job for a woman. And not too cheery for a tough guy, either! All the same, anthropologist Frances Larson has a timely book that explains the peculiar horror of severed heads. Familiar in news bulletins these days, this the most despicable of murders has always been with us.

Her book is called Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. My verdict? The scholarly work is both fascinating and nightmarish. Frances says that decapitation is ‘the ultimate tyranny’. It is a trophy that appeals to psychopaths – and occasionally to politicians or other people with a political aim. The author is a research fellow at Durham University in England and her work explores the political and cultural essence of beheadings.
Lost masterpiece or discarded drivel?
THE great authors are always with us and, from time to time, a previously unknown work pops from an attic or a dusty old diary. The latest is a satire by Robert Louis Stevenson, renowned author of adventure and thrillers. His novel,
The Hair Trunk, is now published. But is it any good? Stevenson himself abandoned it after 30,000 words. Modern readers might like it. Read an extract first.
Best books of 2014
NEARING year’s end we get a spate of Book of the Year opinions. The retail chain Waterstones comes early, doubtless hoping to sell a few of its nominations in the lead-up to Christmas. They announce a
shortlist of eight. Not every reader will agree, but when was there ever total agreement about the best books? Different offerings appeal to different people, and that’s why the book trade thrives whether the pleasure comes in print, digital or audio.
What now for .book?
AMAZON beat fellow giants such as Google and Bowker to win the right to use the domain extension .book. Having thus shown itself, once again, ahead of everyone else in the book trade the big question is how will Amazon use this unique asset?
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 November 2014.

Women lead mystery award
DO women write better crime fiction than men? It’s a much debated subject. Personally I tend to favour the superior cunning of the physically smaller (yet more compact) female brain, but then I’m biased. Nevertheless, the public at large agree with me if we accept the result of the reader-voted longlist for the 2014 Dagger In The Library award.

Run by the Crime Writers Association in Britain, its guide for judgment is an author’s entire work. Following the voted longlist, professional judges have now selected the five finalists, four of these being women. See what I mean?

The winner will be announced early December, but if you’re not already familiar with the Final Five you can investigate their creations online. (One of the blessings of www). Here they are, anyway:

Sharon Bolton has been dubbed by The Times as ‘the High Priestess of English Rural Gothic’. Bolton has written eight crime novels and is the author of the Lacey Flint series.

Elly Griffiths’ novels feature protagonist Ruth Galloway, the Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk. Her inspiration for the series came when her husband gave up his city job to become an archaeologist.

Mari Hannah has published four books to date and is the author of the DCI Kate Daniels series. A former Probation Officer, Mari lives in Northumberland where her novels are set.

James Oswald has written four books in the Inspector McLean series and first found success as a self-publishing phenomenon. Set in Edinburgh, his crime novels contain supernatural elements.

Mel Sherratt is the author of what she calls ‘grit-lit’ – crime, psychological thrillers and suspense. She has achieved huge success by self-publishing her five books.

Add the following to view the longlist: MC Beaton (Constable & Robinson), Tony Black (Black and White Publishing), Phil Rickman (Corvus), Leigh Russell (No Exit Press), Neil White (Sphere).

Some of the above are new to me and I’ll be taking a look at their work. Meanwhile my longstanding favourites remain Caroline Graham, Ann Morven, PD James and (recently discovered) Hannah Dennison. All women! Some of the blokes rate highly too, however. I recommend Stuart MacBride (gritty Aberdeen), Peter May (closeknit Hebrides) and Philip Kerr (nasty Nazis). Hey, those male authors are all Scottish. Guess I’m biased again.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 14 November 2014.

Military shambles led to victory
THE glories and the disasters of warfare have inspired many books as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of World ANZAC FURYWar 1. In Australia the emphasis is on Gallipoli, a horrendous military defeat when Churchill sent an Allied force to invade Turkey. Not so well known is a second Anzac shambles during World War 2, also inspired by Churchill.

Anzac Fury by Peter Thompson describes the brave yet futile landings in Greece, subsequent retreat and the infamous 1941 Battle of Crete. This Aussie historian has delved into the military muddles and terrible tactics to analyse the political and personal faults. Also the personality clashes. Churchill was obsessed with striking at Germany’s underbelly from the Mediterranean. The wartime politicians and generals strangely persevered despite repeated stuff-ups and full knowledge of the remote chance of success.

However, this particular boondoogle led to Hitler’s defeat. While victorious, Germany’s almighty parachute division was destroyed in the effort and never recovered.
Although outnumbered, outgunned and prey to German airpower, the tenacity of the Anzacs – who did most of the fighting and withdrew with heavy losses -- delayed the German invasion of Russia by a vital month. The Anzac threat forced Germany to split its all-conquering forces into two fronts. With resources thus weakened, Germany failed on the Russian front, North Africa, Italy and, in the end, succumbed to the advancing Allies in Europe.

For more Anzac histories see the wide selection at

The inspiring Irish
AUTHORS of Ireland stand out for their unique creations, whether humorous, tragic or sheer Celtic word magic. Readers will find some of the best in the shortlist for the
2014 Irish Book Awards.

Famous ghost stories
WITH Halloween just past, there was timely retelling of many a monster tale. An entertaining look into this genre is contained in a new book by Andrew McConnell Stott. This professor of English presents
The Poet And The Vampyre, subtitled The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 Nov 2014.

Everlasting fiction
GREAT stories last forever, and that’s why themes and situations they contain will reappear wherever folk read fiction. One of my pet grouses is that the global publishers, who still largely control the book world, milk a brilliant book quick as they can and then discard it. Fast bucks, it seems, is paramount to them. Such behaviour doesn’t have to be. That’s one reason why Amazon has captured wide acclaim – the titles it offers are immortal. It means they are available anytime, anywhere and (Armageddon permitting) forever. And as the world’s biggest bookstore, holding the longest backlist, the fast bucks still flow to Amazon’s delight.

So just what are these everlasting elements that make immortal fiction? We find them most easily in Greek, Norse, Asian and Biblical myths. Also in fiction’s bestsellers. They are the situations and emotions personally familiar to the human race.

This week I came across two modern works that reflect this rather well.

The first cleverly picks up the story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. In this original tale from Ancient Greece, Orpheus wins back Eurydice from Death by enchanting the demons of Hades with his music. And then, calamity! The modern novel, A Song For Ella Grey, by David Almond, uses similar ingredients of Love, Life and Death. It’s a good read.

The other example is a straight rewrite of ancient oral tales, Mousedeer. A collection from Southeast Asia, each story holds a moral message. This is perfect for parents to read aloud to children aged, say, 4 to 8

Forthcoming goodies
HISTORICAL fiction remains ever popular. Check out these
great titles for November 2014. And here’s one by top military author Allan Mallinson, published a while ago and still selling well: Warrior deals with a niche topic – the early days of British settlement in Cape Colony and tricky dealings with King Shaka of the Zulus. Mallinson’s spare prose has a military bearing to match his plot. No other writer I can think of reports action and tactics with such directness and authority.
The Cape Colony of 1828 is a thrilling setting for Britain’s headaches on a troubled Empire border, aggravated by the tribal intrigues of Zulu nasties Shaka and Dingane.

And it kills
EVER FASTER! Is there no end to the craving by humans to speed? An interesting new article explores
this strange compulsion.

Nobel Prize? No thanks
THE Nobel Prize for Literature is greatly prized by authors, so how could this famous writer refuse it? For a reason he considered
well justified.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 October 2014.

Loving and learning
AS we go through life we all learn a few things from the joys and snares of romance. Author Maya Rodale claims the painless way is to learn from fiction, and she lists 31 things to learn simply by reading romance novels. Whether or not you can find such enlightenment through reading, as she suggests, there’s delight to be found in her writing about it.
I came across her piece at Huffington Post and this put me in mind of a particular heroine who relies on book learning to the disadvantage of herself and everyone else. Her name is Maggie, created by John Ivor and ever enduring in his Swan River series. Originally aged 9 when sentenced to death in Scotland, this feisty lass survives a pedophile, pirates and slavery in her odyssey to womanhood in
Run Maggie Run, a novel that takes her to ‘the end of the world’ (Australia), reading for dear life.
She reappears in
No Kiss For A Killer (narrated by headstrong Jeremy), and returns to her own point of view in Eden’s Deadly Shore. Here Maggie reapplies her book learning to unwittingly bring disaster. Mind you, this is historical fiction, so readers (just like Maggie) actually do learn some grim truths about pioneering The Great Southland. Finally, in Amateur Rebel, Maggie continues her flawed progress and her prickly relationship with young Jeremy. Naturally, all ends well and peacefully. Romance? In books it never runs smoothly or there wouldn’t be a story!
Having read all these novels I can recommend them, and maybe readers will pick up from them some useful knowledge about romance. But to get the forementioned 31 lessons listed by Moya Rodale take a peek at her
Huffington Post article. I love it.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 October 2014.

Great Scot! Fiction idols contend
SCOTLAND is voting again. Hard on the heels of their vote not to leave the United Kingdom, the people are now contesting an even harder issue: who is Scotland’s greatest fictional character?
The nominations make a mountain to rival Ben Nevis and vary from crime to comics. And the debate is more steamy than a hot haggis. Consider some of the contenders created by Scots authors: Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Long John Silver, Peter Pan, Precious Ramotswe, Tam O’Shanter, The Gruffalo, Rebus, Jean Brodie.
From highland glen to city garret, the debate thrives noisily North of the Border. Their paper phantoms are on the march.
Wha’s like us? Gye few. (And they’re all alive forever!).
The nationwide poll is part of Book Week Scotland, November 24-30. This is sponsored by arts agency Creative Scotland, which initiated the Week two years ago. Although confined to Scottish authors, it is an open contest that pits comic identities like Dennis the Menace and Oor Wullie against literary favourites such as Jekyll and Hyde, Jean Brodie and Dr Finlay.
In varied manner each is a Scottish icon: sweeter than deep-fried Mars bar, intricate as woven tartan, rollicking as an eightsome reel, passionate as a pibroch. Get the idea? The Scots love their written creatures.
Contemporary writers JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks, Dorothy Dunnett, Muriel Spark, Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, and others, find their genius compared to classic greats Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, AJ Cronin, JM Barrie, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Neil Munro, Kenneth Grahame and the like.
Is this competition logical? No! It’s not meant to be, either, it is a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.
Explained Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.” The topic is new also. Last year readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
There is no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like. A good story lasts forever.
My two personal favourites happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George Macdonald Fraser

Hey! You’re not allowed to read that book
JUST like readers, every country is different, a situation that leads to certain books being banned. I was reminded of this when Singapore deemed Archie comics to contain unacceptable content and had them downloadremoved from retail shelves. Ludicrous yes – to other people. But Singapore’s government, benign in many ways, strongly condemns same-sex marriage. When this behaviour occurred in Archie’s recent adventure, censors in the island republic were
quick to act.
Elsewhere in the world, local beliefs and policies have led to similar harsh reactions. Who would ban The Wizard of Oz? A United States library who considered it supported ‘negativism’. The Harry Potter books were banned in many church schools for “inappropriate magic and sorcery”. One of the silliest bans, however, was a version of Little Red Riding Hood. Not because of the wolf or Grandma’s traditional fate, but because her basket of goodies contained a bottle of wine.

Even more ridiculous is the banning of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The reason: Dressed as a boy, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsono. And a dictionary was banned in California for including sexual definitions. Little House on the Prairie was banned for racist attitude towards Redskins (oops, I mean Native Americans). And Tarzan for shacking up with Jane before marriage.

An article in The Christian Science Monitor drew my attention to these forbidden texts. Its magazine section named 30 of them, mostly in the United States, and it makes for an entertaining read. The Washington Post meanwhile listed ‘the 10 most challenged books ever’. The New Yorker magazine also published an essay on banned books.

Why all this coinciding interest in writings that failed to meet universal approval? It was Banned Books Week, an annual event by the American Library Association to highlight the dangers of censorship in a free world.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 October 2014.

Some recent reads:

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
by Mohsin Hamid
ODD title, oddly written addressed to ‘You’, but this novel is original and compelling. Highly recommended. Different in concept and entertaining in its vision of the human condition. It is told in a radically unusual voice. I have encountered this before in short stories but never previously for 228 pages of finely crafted narrative. It absorbed me intimately spellbound.

The theme is familiar – from powerless poverty to fabulous wealth. The hero and heroine could be any of us hungry for a better life, just as the jacket blurb promises.

The book’s structure follows the suggestion of its title, with chapters divided into advice -- such as Move To The City, Get An Education, Don’t Fall In Love -- , and so on. Each relates an episode towards the ultimate goal and its pitfalls.

The Curious Incident at Claridges
by R.T. Raichev
Cozy country house mystery. The narrative is in the most entertaining Agatha Christie mood, and the plot worthy of her cleverest. Dialogue paints the characters and carries them along an intriguing murder trail.

It was pleasing to meet the middle-aged amateur sleuths – an army officer and his crime novelist wife. Their respective professions provide much of the light humour.

y Phiip Kerr
Couldn’t put it down, this is one of his best. This thriller, written 1996, takes readers to the Himalayan peaks. It is convincing, informative and exciting. There’s intelligent backing to the yeti hunt, treacherous icefields, scary cliffs and a murderous unknown spy. And let’s not forget Esau and his hairy tribe

Speculation on evolution and the origin of humans comes from the author’s hard research and a bibliography of scientific experts. A mix of nationalities in the expedition, and their conflicting personalities, add to the tension.

Flesh House
by Stuart MacBride
Entertaining horror mystery.
This is a gripping police procedural thriller. Also horror and whodunit. Meat eaters beware! Set in Aberdeen, Scotland, there’s a light touch to the narrative and cops who speak and behave like real people. Which means they’re not particularly nice and not as efficient as law-abiding citizens might wish, but they give the baddies hell.

A serial killer spreads nationwide panic when victims, or bits of them, appear chopped and packaged for sale on supermarket shelves. I liked the hero, a lowly detective sergeant who suffers strife from his superiors and his girlfriend and his scarred stomach stabbed 23 times in the line of duty.

This is a long read. Structure and pace hold nicely. Sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome, entertaining to the sizzling end.

The Blunders of Britain
IT was a close-run thing, as victorious Wellington said after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Another near disaster for Britain, Scotland’s 2014 Independence Vote, was an even narrower escape.

The definite No saw only four electorates out of 32 voting for separation from the United Kingdom. These were Dundee, Glasgow and the near-Glasgow regions of North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. This sounds reassuring but in nearly every area the margin was close. I was delighted when my ancestral Isle of Lewis voted resoundingly No, but concerned that so many voters elsewhere backed the losing Yes camp.

Saving Britain from breakup, the two million No votes outvoiced 1.6 million Yes to avoid calamity – 3.6 million people deciding the fate of Britain’s 60 million! And now comes the aftermath.

Following this near dismemberment the United Kingdom faces years of internal politicking in a backlash from the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England. These have greeted the new favours promised to Scotland with demands of their own.

Westminster’s blunder was neglecting to see the danger until almost too late. The UK parliament held all the logic for a No vote, yet failed to voice it strongly enough to be heard by jingoistic Yesers.

Nationalist Alex Salmond’s fantasy was itself a blunder because his illogical vision left Scotland still dependent on the British pound with no longer a say in its control; and still depending on British trade and the Union’s market of 60 million people (add Customs Duty) compared to Scotland’s domestic market of a mere five million.

He dreamed a cash-strapped European Union admitting yet another member to prop up (think France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain); he imagined a Defence Force conjured from nothing; tax income to equal Scotland’s present share of massive UK earnings; a Health scheme without existing generous funding; Education ditto; Pensions too; and his naive belief was that the rest of Britain would write off Scotland’s share of UK National Debt.

In short, the Salmond cart was hitched before the horse. He promised to negotiate the above national needs with recalcitrant Westminster only after a Yes vote. The amazing thing is that so many Scots accepted his illogical and belligerent rant.

The whole concept of Scotland leaving the Union was a bad idea allowed to ferment, a blunder allowed to happen. Britain has experienced others, of course, perhaps smaller in scale. While browsing I stumbled upon a whole book of British blunders. They make an entertaining study by political engineers Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. The Blunders of our Governments is a razor-sharp diagnosis of flawed government. Its message holds true beyond Britain to democratic nations everywhere.

Fictional blunders make good reading too. I recommend Run Maggie Run by John Ivor. His Scots heroine endures a maelstrom of mistakes in her odyssey to womanhood.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 September 2014.


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