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A WEEKLY FEAST OF READING WITH CATHY MACLEOD

Words fail
Shakespeare
Industry

New thriller by Peter May

REVIEW:
The Travelling Cat Chronicles,
by Hiro Arikawa

REVIEW:
War Horse - Churchill at the gallop,
by Brough Scott

Och aye, it’s
Harry McPotter

New crime novels

REVIEW:
Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng

Odysseus reborn in new translation

REVIEW:
Mother Land
by Paul Theroux

Irish Times reviews

Philip Roth
on writing

REVIEW:
Bantam
by Jackie Kay

Life on the move

The dark side of Daphne du Maurier

Ten new releases recommended

REVIEW:
The Town,
by Shaun Prescott

Change in
reading habits

REVIEW:
My Absolute Darling,
by Gabriel Tallent

REVIEW:
Insidious Intent,
by Val McDermid

Utter bilge’ by bestselling author

Cambridge University Press defies China

Domestic noir

REVIEW:
Riding Route 94
by David McKie

Evelyn Waugh’s artistic war

Sizzling stories

REVIEW:
The Fear And The Freedom,
by Keith Lowe

REVIEW:
Ice, by Laline Paull

Typewriters, bombs and jellyfish

REVIEW:
A Ton of Malice
by Barry McKinley

INTERVIEW:
Emma Straub

REVIEW:
The Bureau of
Second Chances,
by Sheena Kalayil

SHORT STORY:
Clean, Cleaner,
Cleanest,
by Sherman Alexie

The dangerous academic

REVIEW:
A Ton of Malice
by Barry McKinley

Life as a work of art

A food for writers?

REVIEW:
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

REVIEW:
Daft Wee Stories
by Brian Lamond

REVIEW:
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

A million books
saved from landfill

REVIEW:
Fierce Kingdom
by Gin Phillips

Lost stories of
F. Scott Fitzgerald

BIOGRAPHY:
Angela Carter

How to rate
your boss

REVIEW:
The Day That Went Missing, by Richard Beard

Romania’s Dracula
problem

Apocalypse amended

REVIEW:
In The Name Of The Family,
by Sarah Dunant

REVIEW:
Fat or sugar?
Which kills fastest?

Blackwood’s Mag.
100 years later

SHORT STORY
by Jennifer Ryan

REVIEW:
The Joy of Big Knickers by Kate Garraway

REVIEW:
New thrillers

REVIEW:
Lincoln In The Bardo, by George Saunders

The best real
female spies

Let’s see authors

Inside North Korea

Fierce and
funny odyssey

REVIEW:
First Love by Gwendolene Riley

Obamas book deal

Who owns myths?

SHORT STORY:
The Village Church
by Elly Griffiths

REVIEW:
Autumn
by Ali Smith

Richard Hannay reborn

Social media thrillers

Masterpiece neglected for 60 years

REVIEW:
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Emily Dickinson,
 ‘no hoper’

You Have To Laugh

Jan 2017 releases

REVIEW:
The Novel of the Century,
by David Bellos

British Book Awards

Murder stalks 2017

Favourite funnies

Trump, Putin and the Big Hack,
by David Remnick

Young reads for
Christmas

Celeb secrets

REVIEW:
Mad Toffs, by
Patrick Scrivenor

Between the wars

REVIEW:
Fallow
by Daniel Shand

Bad sex award

PW best of 2016

Words of the year

REVIEW:
Essays on fiction

INTERVIEW:
Zadie Smith

REVIEW:
The Tao Deception
by John M. Green

Sci Fi gets it wrong

Can tabloids last?

REVIEW:
In the Jungles of the Night, by Stephen Alter

Pregnant Halloween

Dylan’s literary lyrics

REVIEW:
Einstein’s big error

Cherish your bookshop

Books forever?

REVIEW:
Villa Triste
by Patrick Modiano

REVIEW:
The Free State of Jones,
by Victoria Bynum

 

 

 

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CHRISTMAS: LOVE AMID THE HATE

17 December, 2017

HERE comes Christmas, somewhere sprouting tendrils of love peace and goodwill amidst the world's prevailing hatred. Viewing our planet through the busy window of news bulletins it is sad to realise that the human species is the only one that hates itself.
No matter, all an individual can do is be kind to family and friends and hope for more sensible politicians. Meanwhile there is the Tree and Giving Presents and Merry Carousing, and oh yes a Carol and a Prayer for Baby Jesus, the little bloke whose birthday this is. Despite persistent global unrest over many centuries, the message which came with this heavenly child has survived. In fact, every instance of hatred is a reminder that peace and goodwill would be a better road to travel.
End of sermon.

Prefer a violent, killing Christmas? Then do it with fiction.
For a baffling Christmas party murder try
KILL HIM SWEETLY.
Or a seasonal collection by PD James.
A diversion featuring a popular hero: SHARPE'S CHRISTMAS.
Christmas ROMANCE? These from Goodreads.
And for a merry merry laugh, courtesy
GOOGLE.
Happy Christmas reading! From Cathy.

TIME TO EXPLORE FOR GOLD

8 December 2017

HERE we are again at the happy and informative season when various sources list their Books of the Year. I always scan these lists to see if anything appeals.
In one list the other week, I found four unknown authors or titles and made a note of them. Not all were published this year, a welcome editorial decision that helps bring to light some possibly worthy titles some readers have been unaware of. Naturally, we all have different tastes, so I’ll repeat the url and wish fellow readers happy browsing:
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/11/more-books-of-the-year/

The following are not my Books of the Year, nor are they necessarily books I recommend. Some are (rated by stars). Their publication dates vary from 2017 to way back, You might have read them, or you might now discover among them an unknown gem:

A LEGACY OF SPIES  **
by John lé Carre
Show, don’t tell. 
Other lé Carre enthusiasts might enjoy this new release, but my enthusiasm diminished page by page. His characters and dialogue are great, as always. Also the ‘friendly’ interrogations. The fault lies with the book’s structure.
‘Show, don’t tell’ is wise advice to writers, and this tale demonstrates why. Its drama is diluted and eventually dissolved by lengthy memos within the Intelligence bureaucracy. Rather than reading reports and debriefings after an event, I prefer to be living it as it unfolds.
Another grouch: Whether national or personal, the story has no problem vital enough to carry the plot forward – or interest this reader.

THE LUNEBURG VARIATION  ***
by Paolo Maurensig
Overlong tension.
A good idea this, but better suited to a short story. More than 40,000 words of intense prose was too much for me, even though well written. I enjoyed descriptions of the world of chess, and linking a chess game to a murder, but was depressed by the grim concluding pages concerning the Holocaust.

A NECESSARY EVIL  ***
by Abir Mukherjee
Hard to guess.
As a whodunit this had me guessing until the end, and then I got it wrong. Clever Abir! The author recreates days of the British Raj in informative detail.
There is both mystery and pageturning action. Pairing Scotland Yard with mystic India is a great idea.

MUTINY  ***
by Julian Rathbone
Conflicting viewpoints.
The 1850s uprising against British rule in India gets plausible study from several angles. The two main characters are women from either side. Most of the people mentioned were real. The author has used their letters and memoirs to craft a thrilling tale of heroism, villainy and human nature.
The fascinating characters, whether heroic or villainous, in this lengthy and informative novel had me wondering who was historical and who invented. Thankfully the author gives an end list revealing this.

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF GASLIGHT CRIME  *****
Editor Michael Sims
From the Golden Age.
No murders here. This is strictly a treasure trove of fictional tricksters, many of them now forgotten. The authors date from late 1800s (Grant Allen) to 1951 (Sinclair Lewis). Lots of brain teasers and lovable baddies are a delight. This is good entertainment.
Equally welcome is a biography for each writer and mention of their other works. Editor Sims gives an informative introduction on Fiction’s Popular Thieves, with suggestions for further reading.

LUSTRUM  *****
by Robert Harris
The best history.
Robert Harris is the world’s best history teacher because his fiction captures the essence of the real thing. The base theme here is how Caesar rose to power despite powerful enemies. His main adversary? The brilliant orator Cicero, whose golden tongue pervades this book, second of a trilogy.
There are legal trials, political crises, corruption, treachery and murder, all deftly narrated in a compelling pageturner. With lives and fortunes at stake, the arguments are fascinating, the trickery breath taking.

DICTATOR  *****
by Robert Harris
After Caesar.
I was expecting this to end with Caesar’s death, but his assassination began a whole new era of political intrigue, treachery and murder. A rare thrill was reading Cicero’s own words and sly debate, resurrected by Harris from Cicero’s surviving writings. This conclusion to the fiction trilogy sent me on a Google hunt to read Cicero first-hand, translated from the original Latin.

Happy browsing! From Cathy.

Yes, Virginia, reviews do sell books

1 December 2017

MOST available comment suggests that reviews do not sell books, but I have read many that do. And I know this to be true because I have been the buyer.

So, just like that little girl who in 1897 asked the New York Sun if Santa Claus existed, you can believe it when you consider the essence of Christmas or of book reviews. As I see it, the main value of a review, wherever placed, is to bring the book to the attention of potential readers.

An article that gives lots of information about a particular publication is more valuable than the reviewer’s opinion. I never trust their comments anyway. Tastes differ, therefore it is content that appeals or otherwise to your fancy.

A case in point is a recent political history by Nicholas Shakespeare bearing the rather extended title Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister (£20, US$26, Au$34, 475 pages). The author’s keen research reveals the ruthless coup in which Neville Chamberlain was dumped in favour of Winston Churchill, despite Churchill’s blame at the time for a monstrous military blunder.

The review by Stuart Jeffries in The Spectator goes beyond Britain’s disastrous Norway invasion to include  the book’s revelations about some wartime politicians. He says:

    • Shakespeare’s narrative is not just more reliable than Churchill’s (in The Gathering Storm), but more fun. With understandable relish he presents us with a cast of dotty poshos and allied eccentrics seemingly strayed from Wodehouse and Waugh. They include Halifax’s mistress, Lady Alexandra ‘Baba’ Metcalfe; her improbably named husband Fruity; Major-General ‘Boots’ Hotblack; not to mention the war cabinet’s answer to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Samuel Hoare and Leslie Hore-Belisha.
  • The above paragraph was probably the one that captured my interest. Those decision makers of yesteryear were no better than our current clowns, and this to me was the clincher.

The Spectator’s informative  review is at
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/10/the-ruthless-coup-that-put-churchill-in-power/#

Reader reviews on Amazon are also unusually interesting:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Six-Minutes-May-Churchill-Unexpectedly/dp/1846559723

Incidentally, Chamberlain and his appeasement of Hitler presents historical fiction thrills in Munich by Robert Harris, which I bought recently. Did a review cause my purchase? Most definitely, because it brought the book to my attention.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

ENJOY THIS NIBBLE

9 November 2017

ONE of my favourite (and little known) stories is The Coolie’s Sweetheart, part of a longer narrative that depicts the British Raj in twilight. Throughout the book BRAT, based on his own childhood, author Bryce McBryce entertains adult readers through the eyes of a perplexing little scamp named Charlie.Here’s the start of Charlie’s scheming to help a lovelorn couple on the eve of World War 2. A link to the book is given at the end of this extract:

LONG ago when Britain ruled the world, Charlie flew on cushions, in his own private carriage. Each of its two slim wheels was taller than he was, so that on the way to school his sturdy roost between them placed him high .An upholstered backrest could cradle his five-year-old shoulders and there was a canopy should sun or rain intrude, yet most mornings he chose to ride leaning forward like a charioteer with a breeze pinking his cheeks, windforce relative to speed of travel. This in turn depended on the pull of the man between twin shafts at the front, for Charlie’s rickshaw went by cooliepower.

The human torque was top-of-the-range Tamil, skinny as tarred twine, selected for both staying power and subservience to little masters.

“Faster,” said Charlie as they left the fort, and a jog became a trot. “Stop, I forgot my comic” brought a slick turnabout and a tolerant grin, for the perspiring puller was also Charlie’s friend, yet not at first.

He niggled Charlie that first morning by arriving 40 minutes too soon at the bungalow in married quarters. He leered in sweatband and dhoti from the gate. Mum went out. “You’re too early. Little Master isn’t ready yet.”

“Good mornings, madam, my name is Nathan, madam, first-class, number-A-one coolie, madam. Early time is best, madam.”

“That’s sound planning first day on the job,” Dad commented when learning what was said. “Unusual in a native but most praiseworthy. Many a great general has rued delay he failed to allow for.”

“Charlie, get a move on,” Mum said.

He gulped his cornflakes and stuffed Tiny Tim And His Pals into his bag. Mum extracted it. “You can read that after school. Off you go.” She adjusted his pith helmet, pecked his cheek and hustled him away clutching slate and satchel. Toe-dragging the path, he dawdled, shading out the pesky adult world under the wide white brim of his solar topee.

“Good mornings, Little Master, I am Nathan.”

Next moment, before Charlie could see the owner of this spritely voice, long black fingers gripped his waist and propelled him into the passenger seat. Then they were off, Nathan’s bare feet slapping the bitumen  with an energy that took them quickly downhill.

Charlie had to keep one hand on his hat. “Slow down,” he yelled and was apparently unheard, certainly unheeded.

In fleeting minutes, still within the sprawl of barracks and homes, they came to an isolated bungalow set well back from the road, and here the rickshaw lost speed, then halted.“Why have we stopped?” demanded Charlie.

“Small time only.” Nathan stepped grinning from the shafts. “Look there, many squirrels in that big tree, Little Master. Count them until I return.”

He hopped smartly to the rear of the bungalow, which Charlie recognised as that of  the Medical Officer. At this time of day he would be taking Sick Parade up at the clinic.

Was Nathan ill? If so, this was not where to consult the doctor.

Charlie soon tired of counting tree squirrels and climbed down. Being new to the fort, Nathan would be ignorant of its medical routines. It was only fair to tell him there was no point waiting for the doctor.

As he went behind the bungalow Charlie heard voices from the servant quarters, a separate building attached to the kitchen and the laundry. On its verandah was Nathan, exceedingly healthy, chatting to the doctor’s housemaid.

They were conversing in their own language, but whatever Nathan said brought giggles of delight. Charlie was invisible, because they had eyes only for each other.

After watching for several minutes, Charlie heard footsteps. He turned to see the Colonel’s butler-cook, a self-appointed commandant of servants. His jacket and sarong were starched white and, to declare his imagined rank, he wore the Colonel’s style of moustache. Like the Colonel’s, it flared when aroused, as now.

Thirumdarran was his name. His splayed black toes gripped the grass beside Charlie, who could identify the bunched roses the man carried, for Thirumdarran never bought anything when he could requisition. The flowers were from the Colonel’s garden, as was the pink hibiscus stuck behind one ear.

“What is this?” muttered Thirumdarran to Charlie in an angry tone. The couple on the verandah were holding hands now while chuckling about something or other. “I see,” Thirumdarran growled.

What the Colonel’s servant was seeing seemed to be different to what Charlie was seeing, and the couple on the verandah continued seeing nothing at all except themselves.

Thirumdarran snarled noises not unlike his name. “I see,” he rumbled again, then about-turned with military precision and flounced away fuming, and Charlie noted the irate wrist-flick that dumped the roses into a stormdrain followed by some crushed petals of hibiscus.

Nathan returned soon afterwards, waving farewell to the maid.

“She is Azhaki,” he said as if crooning a madrigal. “She is the world’s most beautiful woman.”

Charlie glanced a fuller inspection. “My mum’s better lookin.”

Nathan laughed. “To you, yes. All boys love their mummy. I too love my mother but Azhaki is the one.”

“The one what?”

“Special is she. So now, Little Master, we continue to school after I am buying you an icecream.”

“Wow.”

“There is time. You see? Wisdom of early start.”

“You bet.”

“And if you do not tell anyone, Little Master, then nobody can forbid you future icecreams, isn’t it?”

The rickshaw sped Charlie out of the fort and along the beach road to a hut with canvas awning. While Nathan squatted in the shade smoking a bidi, Charlie watched the making of his icecream in a bucket surrounded by ice that an energetic brown shopman swirled around by means of a handle.

On reaching the right consistency, the contents went into a tall cup and thence into Charlie’s mouth. At that exact moment, Nathan became his friend.

NEXT morning, Charlie was already waiting for his early rickshaw when Nathan cantered up and lifted him aboard. At the doctor’s house, as before, Nathan set down the long shafts and nipped away. “Small time only, Little Master. Please to count squirrels.”

This occupation was no more exciting than yesterday and, after ten minutes, Charlie had counted them six times, good scholastic practice but boring. He turned his attention to a widespread mango tree up the hill and began to calculate ripe ones, yellow and ready for raiding.  It was then he saw the Colonel’s car coming, its various badges emblazoned on polished bodywork of greenish khaki.

It braked at the doctor’s bungalow and entered the concrete driveway, the Colonel scowling from the back seat. Up front was his driver in army uniform and his servant Thirumdarran, who pointed as if to say, “This is the place.”

Charlie hopped from rickshaw to lawn to warn Nathan and the housemaid, whose happy-happy cooing floated from the servants’ annexe.

“Nathan! Quick! It’s the Colonel.”

Ends sample.
The Colonel regards Charlie as a bigger menace than militant Japan. Their constant clashes are hilarious in
BRAT, £12.80 (US$16.90,  Au$22) free postage worldwide.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

YESTERDAY’S  TRAUMA  A  TREAT

21 October, 2017
TODAY world peace remains at the mercy of dictators, diplomats and economic scheming. So give yourself a break from the fearful daily news and enjoy an armchair ride through political passions of the past. Guaranteed harmless to physical and mental equanimity. Thank you, Robert Harris, an author who says he has always been fascinated by the intrigues prior to World War 2.

Published this month, his informative latest novel meets the high standards achieved in his previous books, and it leads my recent reads below:

MUNICH  *****
by Robert Harris
Guilt or guile? Prime Minister Chamberlain has been widely criticised for appeasing Hitler, but the Munich Agreement (‘Peace in our time’) gave breathing space for Britain to prepare for war. Robert Harris brilliantly transports the real drama of 1938 to a fictional thriller incorporating the hypocrisy and trickery of the nations involved: Germany, Britain, France, Italy. Plus Czech Government hysteria at impending invasion.
The politicians involved, and their beliefs, are well portrayed here. The two invented protagonists blend in smoothly with the historical facts, a source this author is always adept at researching.

THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD  ***
by Ian Rankin
Crime and cover-ups.
Police investigating police is an unusual theme, and the task gets tougher as this plot develops to high-level political corruption in Scotland. A good read from start to finish.

IMITATION IN DEATH  ***
by J.D. Robb
Good pace.
Entertaining dialogue and swift twists. This US police serial-killer chase has a single clue and a whodunit .structure. The suspects are presented via interviews and their home and business behaviour. The sassy female detective figures it out (in between tiresome romantic diversions). Shrewder readers might guess the villain. Or not. An enjoyable mystery.

THE MAHARAJAH’S GENERAL  ***
by Paul Fraser Collard
Raj villainy.
Battles galore, including information on how to command a Redcoats musket volley, and what happens if the officer mistimes it. However, the best bits for me were social snobbery in British India. Some intriguing characters have been created here by the author.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Empire’s splendour, twilight and sunset
14 October 2017
IT WAS CALLED the Empire on which the sun never set, and geographically this was true when it ruled lands throughout the world. Yet all empires end. The inevitable final sunset for the British Empire came in the 1960s on withdrawal from its last eastern territories.

Left scattered around the globe was an inherited ideology, enlightened governments, and everlasting inspiration to feed authors. The Empire lives on, hallelujah, in the world of fiction. Here readers still enjoy its splendour, twilight and demise.

I have chosen three current fiction writers to portray the rich and changing scenarios. These are all well written tales and informative, and each deals with an historical niche worthy of its place in the great human comedy.

Let’s do reverse order and begin with Sunset:

A HISTORY OF INSECTS  *****
by Yvonne Roberts
Murder, marriage and Empire’s demise.  The situations here are true to colonial norms in 1956. Bitchy wives, ambitious hubbies, and emancipated natives (oops, mustn’t call them that). A confused girl, age 9, wrestles with the peculiar ways of adults in newly created Pakistan. Nobody believes her when she tells the most awful things.
It all leads to anti-British riots -- and diplomacy at its most disgusting . This is a bloody good read.
Don’t ask me how I know, but this author, born 1948, truly depicts a society she may never have experienced. Was she there age 8 or is it brilliant research? In any case, this is how it really was.

The Heydayof Empire:
EDEN’S DEADLY SHORE  *****
by John Ivor
Conflicting ambitions. Colonists expand the British Empire in the 1830s, invincible against tribal hostility in Western Australia. But their biggest enemy is human nature. A well meaning lass tries to bring conciliation, with catastrophic results. This is actually a sequel to an earlier book where migrants leave Britain in search of a new Eden. The heroine was first introduced aged 9 in Run Maggie Run.

Empireメs Twilight
BRAT  *****

by Bryce McBryce
Pomp and prejudice.
The Colonel labels Charlie a bigger menace than militant Japan in the leadup to World War 2. Set in a British fort in Ceylon, this is a literary gem exposing the pomp and contradictions of an occupying power. A book for adults through the eyes of a child, it is also a witty exploration of an imperial niche before the birth of Sri Lanka.

The above authors each view their settings partly through the eyes of a child. It’s coincidence, I assure you. Nevertheless, one can spot a reflection in the life of the British Empire to individual lives taking place everywhere. Times change, nations change, and technology dictates, but people still feel and fear as children in a world beyond personal control.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Active fiction
28 August 2017

THESE page-turners, covering several genres, caught my attention. It’s a special delight to relax in an armchair and thrill to the frustrations and glories of active heroes and heroines.

THE RAT STONE SERENADE  **
by Denzil Meyrick
Disappointing.
Half way into this, my enjoyment was overwhelmed by the surfeit of crises and cliff hanging situations. Too much is too much.

PRUSSIAN BLUE  *****
by Philip Kerr
Twice the pleasure.
Alternating two adventures, one in 1939 the other 1956, this Gunther thriller gave me double delight. They are linked cleverly to justify the time switches.
Gunther solves a tricky whodunit in prewar Germany at Hitler’s mountain retreat. The clues are well thought out by the author, putting Gunther’s detecting ability to the test. His main problem is that the suspects are all within Hitler’s intimate circle. All have nasty secrets, and some wish Gunther dead.
The 1956 episode has Gunther himself on the run, chased not only by baddies but by police throughout Europe.
As usual, the history is fascinating and incorporates many real human monsters. Always a pleasure, Philip Kerr’s knack of blending real villains with credible Gunther heroics flows with wisecracks, good dialogue and great writing.

THE SCARLET THIEF  ****
by Paul Fraser Collard
Military mayhem.
Incredible but true. No fiction author would dare invent a plot with such costly blunders as the Battle of Alma. This narrative, however, sticks to the truth of Britain’s victory against Russia. The author simply slips his protagonist into the mayhem. The hero’s personal battle performance leans a bit towards Boys Own fare, but this is forgivable amid the improbable army mistakes that really happened during the Crimea campaign.

First of a series, I enjoyed this story from the start and finished it anticipating India for the next adventure. This is historical fiction at its thrilling best.

THE TEARS OF ANGELS  ****
by Caro Ramsay
Monster maze.
The monsters in this book are human, but it gives the Loch Ness creature a credible explanation I had not previously encountered. No need for a spoiler alert – I’m simply giving the reason for the title, unconnected with the gruesome murders.
‘Tears of angels’ is a folkname for random ripples caused on Loch Lomond and Loch Ness by gusty winds funneling from mountain glens. Conflicting forces and temperatures push the water down and up like a waterwheel, bringing weeds and other debris to the surface.
Caro Ramsay’s whodunit has nothing to do with Nessie but does centre on another Scottish myth, a rocking stone. In Druid tradition, sitting on the Lomond stone causes pregnancy.
In a police procedural maze, the diverging threads in this tale are complicated, and also brilliant, so pay attention from the start. Everything fits together in the thrilling endpages. Caro Ramsay writes well, her plotting is superbly cunning, her characters convince.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

LOVEJOY’S  IMMORTALITY

29 July 2017
IT is always grand to see a fiction character achieve immortality, and this is about to happen to Lovejoy, rogue antiques dealer and faker. First appearing in 1976 with
The Judas Pair, this unusual anti-hero sleuth has triumphed over evil in 24 novels.

The most recent, Faces In The Pool (2008), is probably the last, given that English author Jonathan Gash was born in 1933 and is now in retirement. The good news is that his popular and fascinating creation is about to achieve immortality by means of a second TV series. Lovejoy enjoyed a previous TV extension (73 episodes) back in the 1980s. This fresh series signals his everlasting role as a fiction favourite.

The 24 light-hearted murder mystery books already boast world following. These will be reworked with fresh ideas by scriptwriter Tony Jordan, the man behind BBC1 hits including Hustle and Life on Mars and EastEnders. Obviously Jonathan Gash (real name John Gaunt) would be hard pressed in retirement to churn out fresh stories.

The visible Lovejoy known to 1980s film viewers is actor Ian McShane, who will be 75 in September. Although he played Blackbeard in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, I would presume he is now a bit advanced in years for the rough and tumble of a typical Lovejoy adventure. So the quest is on for a fresh Lovejoy. Whoever is cast as the new Lovejoy will help cement the character as an alltime favourite.

Lovejoy’s creator John Grant had an earlier career as a doctor and was once in the British Army, rising to the rank of major in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He also wrote, under the pen-name Graham Gaunt, a series of medical thrillers featuring the character Dr Clare Burtonall, and a novel, The Incomer.

Dr Burtonall teams up with a gigolo named Bonn and solves crimes. There are five Burtonall books dating from Different Women Dancing (2006).

Of the many Lovejoy books, which is the best? His first, The Judas Pair, won the Creasey Crime Award. I have not read it yet but find every Lovejoy novel entertaining even when my personal ratings vary. Here’s my verdict on those I have read:

THE GRAIL TREE  ***
Enjoyable romp. 
The way Jonathan Gash goes about it, his readers will  accept the alleged Holy Grail as a priceless antique, no question. Harder to believe is Lovejoy’s method of beating the baddies. All the same this is an enjoyable romp by the lovable rogue.

GOLD FROM GEMINI  *****
Entertaining, instructive, thrilling.
Anyone planning to fake antiques can learn much from Lovejoy. This is an entertaining read featuring the usual weird folk in the Lovejoy antiques circle. Some readers might spot the big clue hidden in the sketch of an ancient female warrior. I couldn’t, which made it all the more surprising in a thrilling climax on the Isle of Man.

FACES IN THE POOL  **
Confusing.
Even for Lovejoy fans like me, this was somewhat offputting. An original idea – fabulous antiques held by expatriates of colonial descent – deserved fuller development. And the prose deserved tighter editing. I found the writing a bit careless, even sloppy, and sometimes difficult to follow.

SPEND GAME  *****
Gripping.
One of the many pagerturning adventures of Lovejoy, a charming scallywag indeed. I found the book held even more enjoyment than the 1980s TV series. Whether scheming or romancing, Lovejoy gets himself into the most remarkable scrapes. This one leads to a terrifying ordeal in the bowels of the earth, before the mystery and murder get solved.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

THE  RAJ  STILL  GRIPS
15 July 2017

THE British Raj is long gone, yet continues to serve the demands of popular fiction. Once written by people who lived in those days, both Indian and British, the passing of generations has seen a change to authors fascinated by this historical period.

I was particularly interested in reading a Raj tale that adopts the modern intricacies of a whodunit. A Rising Man, by Abir Mukherjee, is a debut novel. Intended as the first in a series, here’s hoping sales will justify the continuation of its lively characters.

India during the days of colonial rule is a refreshing new setting for a murder mystery. Author Mukherjee is London born, Scottish raised, and uses his unique viewpoint to entertain. His take on history and the conflicting cultures he inherited creates a procedural that is splendidly different.

The characters are convincing, my favourite being the British detective’s sidekick, Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee.

Particularly enjoyable situations include the white man (ex Scotland Yard) attempting to overcome native traditions and (even harder) colonial politics.

I discovered (doing some research myself) that the author secretly embeds some amusing personal mischief in this book. Factually, there was a Hindu terrorist named Mukherjee whose birth name was Banerjee!

More, please, Abir. Follow your instincts.

The Amazon link to this book is:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rising-Man-Sam-Wyndham/dp/1846559014

Still with the Raj, but totally different in theme, is unusual fiction by an author whose childhood experienced the twilight of British imperialism.

It is a literary gem called simply BRAT, by Bryce McBryce.

The author was a British Army ‘brat’, the term used for the children of married families in the British Army. It is humorous, nostalgic and philosophical, a combination I found most enjoyable. On the eve of World War 2 the brat of the title is, in the eyes of a despairing Commanding Officer, a bigger menace than militant Japan.

The Amazon link is:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Brat-boy-who-tried-good-Bryce-McBryce/1475126654

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Hurrah for the mighty Web!
30 June, 2017

SUMMER in the north, winter in the south. Book readers of Planet Earth get contrasting options at this time of year. That is because publishers, as always, launch new titles suitable to the season.

In the northern hemisphere, summer reads now predominate. It means emphasis on Beach, Holiday and Romance. Down south, amid dark cold nights, sales tradition suggests fireside tales leaning towards Crime and Creepy.

As never before, however, bookworms in our World Web era can exploit the best of both seasons at any time and any place. It is still interesting, though, to note how different genres north and south are capturing big sales according to geography.

Take Britain. Apart from potboiler crime, which never lags, the accent is on domestic mystery. Among leading bestsellers right now is The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.

The same goes for The Button Box by Dilly Court.

In The United States, again except for ever present crime thrillers, top current sales are with The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand. It is a story about twins who couldn’t be more different. There’s also a newfound novel by the late Michael Crichton involving dinosaur bones and cowboys: Dragon Teeth.

Go south to Australia, and readers are keen on Oz author Liane Moriarty whose latest creation is Big Little Lies. Three women at crossroads in their lives. Or there is the latest by Nora Roberts: Come Sundown, a tale of love, lies and murder.

It really is a boon to browse worldwide, assured of finding a book to suit one’s mood rather than the weather! Try here for exceptional all-time titles, including several award-winning favourites, in a variety of genres.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

RECENT  READS
SPEND GAME  *****
by Jonathan Gash
Gripping.
One of the many adventures of Lovejoy, a charming scallywag indeed. I found the book held even more enjoyment than the popular TV series. Whether scheming or romancing, Lovejoy gets himself into the most remarkable scrapes. This one leads to a terrifying ordeal in the bowels of the earth, before the mystery and murder get solved.

JEEVES AND THE WEDDING BELLS  *****
by Sebastian Faulks
A perfect delight
. Had the cover stated ‘by PG Wodehouse’ I would have believed it. Faulks has achieved a perfectly delightful addition to the Wodehouse treasury of humour, and I wish he’d do some follow-ups. Somehow he manages to adopt the narrative tone beloved by PG enthusiasts – even including the trademark multi-metaphors.

THE NIGHT HUNTER  *****
by Caro Ramsay.
Brilliantly unusual. The puzzle is maintained throughout, with a couple of great characters and good writing. Glasgow and Loch Lomond surrounds receive vivid inclusion in a narrative that never flags. The twists come when unexpected. Caro Ramsay delivers lots of original ideas. Her whodunit plot, its structure and her unusual female amateur sleuth contribute to thrilling entertainment.

BED OF NAILS  *****
by Andrew Puckett
Pageturner.
I could not put this down, from the opening sentence until the conclusion. The tension is constant, thrills galore and character conflict gripping. The science is also intriguing. Written in 1983, the author’s imaginative AIDS cure, which is described in brave detail, might nowadays have come to pass.

NIGHTFALL   **
by Stephen Leather
Believers only. 
Recommended only for folk who believe in monsters under the bed. The gripping and credible start devolves into Satanism and a B-movie fantasy.

NEXT   *****
by Michael Crichton.
It’s happening! Not just a gripping novel, this is a comment AND A WARNING  on the dangers inherent in gene therapy. With medical researchers currently fiddling with human genes to cure disease, design babies and clone who-knows-what, the plot is convincing and a bit frightening. Also a great read.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

PARTY TIME IN LILLIPUT

11 June 2017

AN island of giant rats, a river of black swans . . .the Land of Lilliput has just celebrated its modern existence. It is now a far cry from the unexplored wilderness pinpointed by Jonathan Swift in his 1726 satire.

One hundred years after Gulliver’s Travels, Britons came to this place seeking an Eden far from a troubled world. They renamed it the Swan River Colony, today it is Western Australia, richest natural portion of the Great Southland.

Annually the first Monday in June commemorates Western Australia Day, recalling  June, 1829, when shipwrecked settlers made it to shore. Cut off from the rest of Australia by deserts and mountains, the continent’s western third has long prized its isolation and its mateship. Its foundation, however, was steeped in murder and ruthless ambition. It has survived, and thrived, from a fascinating history little known beyond its shores.

The most readable history of Western Australia is The Fabled Swan by Charles Bryce, describing its heroes and villains.

Secrets of the stubborn penniless Scot (James Stirling) who initiated the crazy yet much vaunted Swan River Scheme are revealed in Captain Striver by John Ivor. This author also exploited Swan River’s brutal history in a thrilling fictional series researched from diaries, letters and a hand-written newspaper unique in journalism. These are:
Java’s Dream, recounting the first humans in this the world’s oldest land mass.
Run Maggie Run, a flawed heroine’s odyssey to womanhood amid murderous rival ambitions.
No Kiss For A Killer, in which a self-confessed coward vows to avenge his father’s murder.
Eden’s Deadly Shore. Servant girl Maggie defies upperclass bigotry but good intention brings bloody conflict.
Amateur Rebel describes how the pluck of individuals in a thorny romance saved the failing Swan River Colony.

True to my favourite historical fiction, these entertaining and informative novels insert imagined protagonists into intrigues and events that really happened. A rare treat from messy days of empire.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

The fake news world plague
4 June 2017

HAVING recognised and resented a widespread plague of distorted reporting, I was pleased to find some especially informative comment on this dangerous disease. The web link appears below.

Sadly, it has become commonplace for news providers to present opinions as fact. This is a crime against populations around the world. People and governments rely on journalists to tell them the truth.

There’s an old saying: Don’t believe everything you read in a newspaper. This advice can now be updated to don’t believe anything at all until the facts are well sourced and reliably confirmed. Suspect reporting and shonky editing stretches beyond newspapers to radio, television and even longstanding newsagencies. Social media hastened this modern scourge and apparently infected the professionals.

What’s the cure? There isn’t one.

Just pray that honest newshounds outlive the inept, the dubious and the deceitful.

My praise in the first paragraph of this blog refers to a May 20 article in The Australian Spectator by David Flint, prolific current affairs author and former chairman of the Australian Press Council.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Happy browsing ahead

21 May 2017

TALES of colonial warfare do not come better than the books of William Clive – unless they happen to be written by Ronald Bassett. They are the same person.

I made this discovery only recently after coming across a 1973 narrative of the Zulu Wars, The Tune That They Play.

It is a William Clive depiction of the Isandhlwana massacre of a British army. Long ago, I had read Clive’s story of the Indian Mutiny and his description of Britain’s invasion of China, and for many years wondered why this talented presenter of historical fiction was not more prolific. With the miracle of internet browsing I found the answer. And this leaves me with the many books of Ronald Bassett to explore. Happy browsing ahead!

Meanwhile The Tune That They Play has proved gripping and informative. Apart from the fictional characters and their personal woes, the author goes to great detail garnered by research into the world and the weapons of the 1870s.

Political attitudes and bureaucratic policy played a part in the massacre, but mostly it came about through individual military incompetence.

Incidentally, the unusual title quotes a line from Barrackroom Ballads by Rudyard Kipling: You won’t get away from the tune that they play to the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

TV GETS AWAY WITH MURDER
14 May 2017
THE TV crime series
Line of Duty gets away with sloppy plotting that no novel ever could. That’s the recent claim by Guardian critic Danuta Kean, who ponders: “How did writer and director Jed Mecurio get away with a plot so full of holes it could double as a colander?”

Alas, this sort of thing is common on television. Readers know that books are better than telly, but why is a visual thriller allowed to ignore vital gaps unacceptable in print?

Complained Danuta: With the subtlety of a size-nine boot, each Line of Duty episode was riddled with inconsistencies that would never pass muster in a novel. The coincidences piled up like corpses in Midsomer Murders.

Credibility was stretched to breaking point. But there is a reason for this.

A literary agent said TV drama demands speed over substance, to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Also, sheer number of characters on screen means it is possible to distract attention from the unbelievable. In TV, you have more to take your attention away from how ludicrous the plot may be.

In books, of course, happenings can be just as ludicrous too, but only provided the author, eventually, convincingly, explains all. A good example is the newly published 5-star whodunit Murder Comes To Friendly Week. Author Ann Morven goes boldly into the theme of rebirth, a concept unbelievable to most people but not all.

Her mystery is set in Singapore, where multi-culture thrives. Australian folk singer (and bumbling sleuth) Sheil B Wright puzzles reincarnation, stumbles into murder and is horrified to find she herself is seen as a Hindu deity reborn. Soon her greatest challenge is to stay alive.

It’s a cracking tale and, unlike television, credibly satisfies crime  enthusiasts.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Comes-Friendly-Week-nobody/dp/1542758769/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494148622&sr=1-1&keywords=morven+murder+comes+to+friendly+week

Digital: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/699182

The Guardian feature is at:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/30/crossing-the-line-of-duty-why-fiction-would-never-get-away-with-tv-crimes
Happy reading! From Cathy.

Hits and misses
7 May 2017
GREAT STORIES keep coming but it is not always easy to spot them. I was surprised to have missed a bestseller by Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame, but this just shows how even a favourite author can sometimes go unnoticed.
Busy times can sidetrack a reader like me. I like to try unknown authors, hoping to find the rare gem. The recently read titles below are not by unknowns, yet might have been missed in your own ocean of books available. Most are exceptionally good. A couple need approaching with caution.

NEXT   *****
by Michael Crichton.
It’s happening! Not just a gripping novel, this is a comment AND A WARNING  on the dangers inherent in gene therapy. With medical researchers currently fiddling with human genes to cure disease, to design babies and clone who-knows-what, the plot is convincing and a bit frightening. Also a great read.

WILD STRAWBERRIES  **
by Angela Thirkell
Waste of time and paper. Not funny, nor even amusing. I bought this 'classic' (thankfully at low-cost and secondhand) after a celebrity compared it to PG Wodehouse. Regret to say PG was defamed. I cannot imagine why such infantile nothings were ever written or published. The author was guilty of extreme laziness in failing to give readers a plot or two as her characters interact insipidly in an English county mansion. I give it two stars rather than one because it is not possible to 'hate' such feeble writing.

ACCUSED   *****
by Lisa Scottoline
Toprate legal thriller.
Former lawyer Scottoline presents intriguing legal debate along with great character conflict, smooth dialogue and, surprisingly in this whodunit, some tweaks of humour.
Enmeshed with the forensic proceedings is The War Of The Wedding Dresses between two Italian mums. It adds nothing to the plot but delighted me as ‘comic relief’ and as an astute true-to-life depiction of human ways. Actually, so is the murder. This author knows what makes people tick.

GALLOWGLASS  **
by Gordon Ferris
Unconvincing.
The Glasgow street dialogue is well done, perhaps overdone when applied to educated bank staff. The Clydeside locations come alive, the low-life characters are cleverly sketched, but everything collapses through an unconvincing story. The narrative action is no more credible than an Oor Wullie comic strip.

COFFIN ROAD  *****
by Peter May
Well thought out. 
An intelligent thriller, bang up to date. Good research, good characterisation, too, and a structure that is unusual yet works to perfection. I love May’s descriptions of the remote and hardy Outer Hebrides and the dwellers therein. It’s where my Macleod granddad comes from. He left to be a self-styled missionary to Glasgow’s city sinners!

LITTLE BLACK LIES  **
by Sharon Bolton
Imperfect ending.
This is a long, passionate and enjoyable read towards a conclusion that is unacceptable. Such last-page mischief is destructive to an author and diminishes the publisher.
Other than this fault, easy to amend yet unwisely deliberate, the whodunit aspect is compelling. So is the descriptive content concerning the Falkland Islands community. I loved it until disenchanted by the final page!

THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING  *****
by Bill Bryson
Up to date.
It’s good to read such a frank and entertaining observer as he travels modern Britain once again. Now in his well advanced years, it is also hilarious to detect some ‘grumpy old man’ comments from this genius.

THE HOUSE OF SILK  ****
by Anthony Horowitz
Almost a pastiche.
This is written in the best Holmes tradition, a puzzler and a thriller. Well up to the Conan Doyle mark. In fact, the narrative captures the mood and style of the Holmes creator. It is so exact, and at times so incredible as events unfold, as to be almost a pastiche.
I was also pleased to find rare snippets of Horowitz fun. For instance, the London gentlemen’s club where talk is forbidden and where the doorman was sacked for bidding a member goodnight.

LIKE THIS FOR EVER  *****
by S.J. Bolton
Thrilling whodunit.
Challenges belief? It is, after all, fiction and the author makes her tale convincing. SJ Bolton is Sharon Bolton by another name. She seems to know exactly what a reader wishes in pageturning suspense. But surprises are frequent. She is among the most entertaining crime-fiction creators.
Happy reading! from Cathy.

Crime event of the year
23 April 2017
CRIME fiction heads the book world next month when readers, authors, publishers and booksellers gather for the annual CrimeFest event in England. Since founded in 2008 this entertaining showcase has become a world attraction.

Among top names to be interviewed at the Bristol celebration (May 18 to 21) are Anthony Horowitz, Ann Cleeves and Peter Lovesey. There’s also an Agatha Christie discussion and focus on Nordic writers who have achieved international prominence. Also arousing much advance interest is a debate to be held on which is the best crime genre.

Several publishers are using the event to promote new titles. Among these is Ann Morven’s whodunit that takes murder into the mystic theme of reincaranation. Like her other books, Murder Comes To Friendly Week is unusual, entertaining, and has attracted much comment online. It is released in both paperback and kindle. It is the fifth adventure of bumbling sleuth Sheil B Wright, this time set in Singapore.

Another unusual and entertaining read is Alan Bradley’s Thrice The Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, which I review below.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

SHAKESPEARE  ROTE  IT  RONG
16 April 2017
ALAN Bradley’s newest whodunit in the Flavia de Luce series has a puzzling title equal to the murder mystery within.
Thrice The Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d reads like a misprint and therefore confuses readers who know how to spell.
Is it a misprint then? Yes, but the blame lies squarely with Shakespeare.
A ‘brindled’ cat is wellknown for its brownish streaks, but this Old-English word (origin Scandinavian) is actually pronounced brinded. Just one of the many weird spellings in the English langwidge.
The line about cats comes from the witches’ chant in Macbeth, before they go on about  eye of newt and toe of frog and double-double cauldron bubble. Correctly spoken as ‘brinded’ on stage, the word was ignorantly written down by Shakespeare himself, or by some other bad speller transcribing scripts for the First Folio.
Having got that off my chest, I’ll confess to Bradley bamboozling me with nursery rhymes ascribed to a famous children’s author I’d never heard of. Bradley keeps the fun and mystery fresh, page after page. His female sleuth, age 12, is a delight for adults throughout the Flavia series. He writes, too, in a literary style that often opens unusual visions for the reader.
Happy reading! from Cathy.

Adios to the readers’ last bastion
7 April 2017
OH HORROR! Hi-tech tyranny has invaded the last surviving bastion of Bookreading, your local public library. In our world of disappearing bookshops and digital texts this used to be the one place to find a good book without having to wrestle a robot. Not any more.

Globally now, municipal bureaucrats are trending towards self-service libraries. Readers borrow and return books via a machine.

Initial reaction has been mixed. Many local councils like them because they can reduce staff numbers. Others find that at £6,800 per machine, plus ongoing maintenance, the machines are not cost effective. Some have played safe and are doing trials.

Here’s a 2017 Irish report on recent responses:
http://www.anglocelt.ie/news/roundup/articles/2017/01/17/4133199-mixed-reaction-to-self-service-library-plan/

And here’s what mums in England have commented:
https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/1919397-Self-service-library-counters-I-hate-em

One reader was happily surprised when his library robot demanded a 30p overdue fine and then gave him £2.30 change:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8757606/Self-service-libraries-can-leave-you-long-overdue.html

In noting that some worried librarians believe self-service heralds the beginning of the end for the Public Library Service, I can add that it also signals the end to my own library borrowing. I still struggle with parking meters and the last time I approached a bank ATM it gobbled my card and refused to give it back. What’s more, I always avoid my supermarket’s automated checkout.

On reflection, although library books give pleasure, I have found wider selection and more reading joy from buying online (usually secondhand from Abebooks).

My reluctance to embrace library robots is also due to the fact they operate by ‘radio frequency identification’, known as RFID. This stores your personal data and book preferences which is a guide to one’s lifestyle preferences. I nurse suspicion that radio frequency can send outward information to global marketeers of all kinds of stuff. Witness the spam in my email inbox. Who tells them my online purchases?

Maybe I am just a 21st century luddite. After all, I prefer paperbacks to online reads.

Happy reading (however you may do it) from Cathy!

 

Creativity: a human magic
25 March 2017
WHERE does Creativity come from? Like the human soul, it is a magic within that survives – even thrives on – adversity. This thought came to me on discovering new fiction from North Korea, a land where everyone is a lifelong prisoner of the State.

The Accusation is a short story collection, written anonymously under the pen-name Bandi, which means ‘Firefly’. Now translated into English, it paints a powerful portrait of life under the dictatorship. It is a timely book, too, its release coinciding with the much publicised political murder of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur Airport.

The characters in these emotional tales vary, but all convey the horror of existing without recourse to justice or human rights. It is described as ‘a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions’.

This is the review in New Statesman magazine:
http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2017/03/powerful-new-book-shares-dissident-stories-smuggled-out-north-korea

And here’s the book at Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Accusation-Forbidden-Stories-Inside-North/dp/0802126200/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Happy reading! From Cathy.

The many-splendoured genre

18 March 2017

THERE is good reason why crime fiction is the favourite genre worldwide. Its mass popularity arguably began with the first Sherlock Holmes puzzle 130 years ago. Since then its growth is many-splendoured, allowing plots that vary from romance to humour to thrills and, of course, brain teasers.

Released this month is a whodunit that involves the mystic field of rebirth. Murder Comes To Friendly Week, by Ann Morven, is set in Singapore. I found it a baffling mystery, traditional style, but also morphing into a thrilling finish.

Bumbling sleuth Sheil B Wright, visiting a Hindu temple, is amused, then alarmed, at suggestions she is a powerful deity reborn. She offends the local Great Detective and others in this island renowned for multi culture.

Solving murder? Her greatest challenge is to stay alive. This is a good five-star read.

Here’s more crime fiction with unusual themes I have recently read:

A DARK AND TWISTED TIDE  *****
by Sharon Bolton
Compelling situations.
And lots more. Good mystery here and great dialogue and character conflict. The unusual location also fascinates, giving a different aspect of the River Thames and its London surrounds. I have lived in London yet never suspected the details concerning folk living on the river in a variety of boats and buildings.
Apart from her writing talent, the author has delved deep in research regarding illegal river users and Thames mythology. These she weaves cleverly into a most unusual plot.

IF THE DEAD RISE NOT  ****
by Philip Kerr
Double delight.
This double treat for Gunther fans is almost like two books combined, with two stories 20 years apart. They are linked, however, and the thrills and wisecracks never flag.
World War 2 is approaching as corruption taints the 1936 Olympics. Good historical revelations here, with Avery Brundage and others besmirched.
In Gunther’s later troubles, the Nazi nasties are succeeded by US gangsters in Cuba, 1954. Again good historical research, plus intriguing encounters with the Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky.
Philip Kerr defines his characters by means of fast and amusing fancy. A few samples from this double delight:
He had thick, bottle-glass spectacles, and eyebrows like a pair of mating badgers,
His hair was curly and black and grey and plentiful, as if there had been a sale of wire wool at the dollar store.
I felt like a porcupine in a room full of toy balloons.
He had one of those startled animal faces that makes you think God has a wicked sense of humour.
He had ears like an Indian elephant, a moustache like a toilet brush, and more chins than the Shanghai telephone directory.
Can’t get enough of this author. Forthcoming next month, April 4, is a new Bernie Gunther thriller,
Prussian Blue. It is the 12th of the remarkable Gunther series.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

Been  hooked  lately?
11 March 2017
A GOOD opening line is the bait that hooks readers. If you come across one, there is a contest to welcome your find. It is part of the 2017 ThrillerFest (July 11-15). Details of this First Line contest, and of the annual event in New York, are at:  http://thrillerfest.com/best-first-sentence-contest/
Last year the entries unearthed the following brilliant variety
:
   
Sometimes good luck turns into a death sentence.
    It wasn’t the first time this man had died, but it was the first time he’d   been murdered.
    Ellice Littlejohn was very good at keeping secrets which made her very good at being a corporate lawyer — a profession where keeping secrets is next to godliness.
    The screams were loudest at night, when the soldiers came out.
    They were all dead, except for one.
    I’ve targeted the sperm donor ’cause I blame him for the fat.
    Ten years ago, my father bought my freedom with his death.
    I’d just returned from eulogizing Bud Daley when, much to my surprise, I found him sitting in my recliner smoking one of those godawful cigars of his!

Of course, one of the most famous openings is in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which begins with just two words: “Who’s there?”
In more recent times, a hook that got me was line one of The Seventh Petal:
Solo female on a long hike, I found words pinned to a dead man’s chest and they mesmerised me.
Mind you, an author’s hook usually goes beyond the first sentence.  A few years back I wrote an ezine article that went global by asking if first lines really mattered. Sometimes they don’t. Judge for yourself.
Happy reading! From Cathy.

MURDER  AND  REINCARNATION 

4 March 2017
March 4 is release date for an exotic new mystery by Ann Morven, diva of the whodunit.
Murder Comes To Friendly Week takes her bumbling sleuth into the mystic charms of a Hindu temple and reincarnation as the nations of Asia gather to celebrate in Singapore. Her novel is subtitled ‘Trust nobody, no one at all’.
“Singapore’s famed multiculture was the inspiration for this particular plot,” the author commented. “As usual my folksinging heroine, Sheil B Wright, is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly. And of course, she offends the local investigator – this time a repellent Great Detective.”
Ann Morven’s murder mysteries range geographically. Previous puzzlers have included the Borneo jungle, Scottish Highlands, rural England, Australian Outback, an Asian sultanate and other intriguing places.
Published by Darling Newspaper Press, they enjoy a big following among fans of the traditional whodunit.

GAMBLE  *****
by Felix Francis
Cheating the EU.
With all the current European Union woes, this was a timely thriller, intelligently narrated. The final twist took me completely by surprise. The sequence of events is believable, or at least possible, and the entertainment never flags.

A DARK DIVIDING  **
by Sarah Rayne
Too many twists.
For me this book self destructed a hundred pages before its Page 470 conclusion. The author plots well, researches keenly, writes brilliantly, BUT . . . In this book there are too many threads for a single plot. It is like a jumble of different plots, sufficient for half a dozen different titles.
It was confusing trying to keep track of the characters with their separate problems, and the novel’s structure does not help. When hooked I like to stay with the protagonist, not suddenly faced with a new one suffering some fresh trauma. And then another troubled person, and yet another and so on. Sarah Rayne connects them all in the end, but my patience dwindled long before that. I skimmed from half way, just to learn how everything pans out.
This was my first Sarah Rayne book. Because of her obvious talent I’ll look into some of her many others. For original ideas and gothic atmosphere I judge her one of the best.
Happy reading! From Cathy.

WHAT MAKES A CLASSIC?

24 February 2017

THE simple answer to what makes a literary classic is ‘Time’. Let’s say a bestseller that lasts for many generations. Not all of them do.

The classic must have enduring elements that continue to appeal long after first publication. But even this is a wobbly formula.

Forecasting a future classic is unreliable, yet remains a happy guessing game. Anyway, there are two distinct types of classic. One is the book, the other a fictional character. I can name a third, too, which is the revered author.

Think on this: will Harry Potter survive as long as Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland? Will Morse or Barnaby or Commander Dalgliesh outlive Sherlock Holmes? And how soon from now might Lady Chatterley’s Lover be forgotten as tepid in our sex-enlightened era?

These questions came to me on reading about literary critics, whose views presumably help create literary reputation.

According to a fascinating essay by Joseph Luzzi, Voltaire denounced Shakespeare as a ‘drunken savage’. Shakespeare was also, as I’ve read elsewhere, belittled by others in his day. The sublime poetry of Wordsworth was long ago dismissed as ‘trash’ by the editor of the Edinburgh Review.

So what is the magic that rebuffs contempt and projects a written creation to immortality? There are some interesting clues in Mr Luzziメs conclusions.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

Desert sands, burqa protocol,
and baffling murder

4 February 2017

NOW that accountants decide what we read, the book trade has fallen into mediocrity. But sometimes a new author wins well-deserved recognition, and such is Zoe Ferraris.
So far she has written three crime novels, each located in Saudi Arabia. The one I have just read is reviewed here.

CITY OF VEILS  *****
by Zoe Ferraris
A banquet of a book, and extremely well written. Its appeal is broad and I’d describe it as a whodunit, cum romance, cum thriller. Its four protagonists (two female, two male) alternate four points of view as the plot unfolds. There’s also intriguing insights into Muslim domesticity and the frustrations of sharia law in Saudi Arabia.
The major protagonist is a desert guide and amateur sleuth, devout in Islam. He even prays a lot, which makes him a most unusual detective.
The others:
A Detective Inspector who leads a police procedural Jeddah style. Fascinating! He’s not allowed to interrogate women directly, but . . ..
A Muslim woman in the police lab who lied that she was married in order to get the job. Ambitious to become a detective.
An American woman fearful that her American husband, besotted with Islam, could take a second wife.
The initial victim, of course, is interesting too. A young Muslim TV journalist, hot for women’s rights, she was trying to prove the Koran is not actually the words of Allah. But is this what got her killed?
With such ingredients and characters, Zoe Ferraris has achieved an intelligent and many-faceted pageturner. She married a Saudi man in 1991 and has lived in Jeddah, background to this story.
Her full repertoire to date comprises The Night of the Mi’raj (2008) , City of Veils (2010), Kingdom of Strangers (2012). They establish her as a fresh literary voice in crime fiction with an assured readership.

THE JANUARY LIFESAVER

27 January 2017

WHERE would we be without our public libraries? During January, a notorious month with few attractive releases from publishers (they pin sales hopes on the forthcoming European Spring), I rely on library offerings. As always, it was a mixed safari during January 2017, but I found some of the selected titles worthy of mention.

Sometimes I take a lucky dip with an unknown author, and this I believe is where libraries can be a lifesaving godsend. Often I have found a new favourite that way. Mind you, one has to be prepared to experience disappointment. From my hopeful addiction as a bookworm, the following emerged as notable:

A DARK DIVIDING  **
by Sarah Rayne
Too many twists.
For me this book self destructed a hundred pages before its Page 470 conclusion. The author plots well, researches keenly, writes brilliantly, BUT . . , In this book there are too many threads for a single plot. It is like a jumble of different plots, sufficient for half a dozen different titles.
It was confusing trying to keep track of the characters with their separate problems, and the novel’s structure does not help. When hooked I like to stay with the protagonist, not suddenly faced with a new one suffering some fresh trauma. And then another troubled person, and yet another and so on. Sarah Rayne connects them all in the end, but my patience dwindled long before that. I skimmed from half way, just to learn how everything pans out.
This was my first Sarah Rayne book. Because of her obvious talent I’ll look into some of her many others. For original ideas and gothic atmosphere I judge her one of the best.

IF THE DEAD RISE NOT  ****
by Philip Kerr
Double delight.
This double treat for Gunther fans is almost like two books combined, with two stories 20 years apart. They are linked, however, and the thrills and wisecracks never flag.
World War 2 is approaching as corruption taints the 1936 Olympics. Good historical revelations here, with Avery Brundage and others besmirched.
In Gunther’s later troubles, the Nazi nasties are succeeded by US gangsters in Cuba, 1954. Again good historical research, plus intriguing encounters with the Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky.
Philip Kerr defines his characters by means of fast and amusing fancy. A few samples from this double delight:
He had thick, bottle-glass spectacles, and eyebrows like a pair of mating badgers,
His hair was curly and black and grey and plentiful, as if there had been a sale of wire wool at the dollar store.
I felt like a porcupine in a room full of toy balloons.
He had one of those startled animal faces that makes you think God has a wicked sense of humour.
He had ears like an Indian elephant, a moustache like a toilet brush, and more chins than the Shanghai telephone directory.
Can’t get enough of this author. Forthcoming in 2017, April 4, is a new Bernie Gunther thriller,
Prussian Blue. It is the 12th of the remarkable Gunther series.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS  ***
by Stuart Woods
Like a B-movie.
This is entertaining yet totally unbelievable.

AFTER THE HOLIDAYS

14 January 2017

THE world returns to its normal chaos after the boozy gluttony of the Christmas-New Year festivities, the sacred rituals, the merrymaking, the gifting, and optimistic resolutions not yet broken for the year ahead. We have all marked the entry to 2017 according to individual preferences.

In this opening month to a year of ongoing global troubles I was pleased to note the Times Literary Supplement maintaining a light tone in a major book review. Dark times ahead? Never mind that. Join me and the TLS in a good laugh to welcome 2017.

“Stewed to the gills, tanked to the uvula” comments on a brilliant collection taken from the works of PG Wodehouse. Edited by Richard T. Kelly, Highballs For Breakfast presents the very best of PG on the joys of a good stiff drink.

During the holidays I came across a number of authors who were somewhat unfamiliar to me, yet surprisingly excellent.  Such as . . . .

THE WESTERN LIMIT OF THE WORLD  *****
by David Masiel
I have enjoyed Conrad and Melville and enjoyed this even more. It is a great and unusual story, a modern masterpiece of people who live and work on the sea.
The protagonist is sort of an Ancient Mariner haunted by his past and obsessed with a young female crew member. He is Bosun of a decrepit chemical tanker, and has devised an illegal scheme to make millions. Provided, that is, he and the Mate can fool or bribe authorities in ports ranging from America to Africa. And provided the Mate, a brute, does not murder him.
Masiel’s bio says he has personal experience of the sea, which appears obvious as the tale unfolds. I suspect autobiography here too, in the progress of a young inexperienced hand the author has chosen to name Maciel.

Wrapped into the thrilling narrative are histories, cultures and politics of our unsettled world. Also the interaction between folk who follow their differing personal agendas.

THE LOST AND THE BLIND  ****
by Declan Burke
Murderous maze. From the start, twists and turns kept me enthralled until the final page. There is more than one mystery to delve into, dating back to massacre when a Nazi U-boat visits neutral Ireland. What’s the link to murders in the present time?
This plot goes deep and unravels to thrilling suspense. The change of settings as surprises mount are enhanced by the author’s style.

And then there was this disappointment from one of my favourites of long ago:
THE BIRDS OF PARADISE   **
by Paul Scott
Boring, uneventful, insignificant.
Had this been a record of Paul Scott’s early life it would have justified publication. As a fictional memoir it fails. Boring, unevenful, insignificant . . . these words come to me (and I’m a Paul Scott fan!).
Here is memory and trite description of boyhood in India, fatherhood in England, unhappy marriage, Japan’s military atrocities in Malaya, and childhood friends meeting briefly again as adults. I found myself skipping pages.

Christmas treats

6 January 2017

THE Christmas holidays, hopefully, provide time for readers to enjoy some thrilling seasonal treats. So why not dastardly Crime tales to balance the festive Goodwill?

I was delighted to find author Sophie Hannah’s Christmas mystery in the year-end edition of Britain’s Spectator magazine. She is the brilliant weaver of plots who resurrected Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in two first-rate novels. Her Spectator short story, The Dwelling, is not a Poirot puzzle but I recommend it to all who love a great mystery:
www.spectator.co.uk/2016/12/the-dwelling-a-charlie-zailer-christmas-story/

Another popular crime author, Ann Morven, has an “impossible” Christmas murder to entertain readers. It is not free but a festive giveaway at 99c! Kill Him Sweetly  features bumbling sleuth Sheil B. Wright. This female amateur detective is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human frailty:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/110

Fancy some evergreen crime classics? Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown and other famous characters, plus authors including Charles Dickens and Damon Runyon. There are ten free Christmas mysteries:
http://chriswellnovelist.blogspot.com.au/2009/12/10-christmas-crime-stories-online.html

Happy reading! From Cathy.

Best reads of 2016

11 December 2016

WE all have our favourite reads for the past year. In case you missed the following literary landmarks, here they are as enjoyed by some top authors.

Meanwhile the longlist for the prestigious Dublin Litrerary Award has been announced and it provides a huge array of talent for readers to browse. This I believe to be the main value of awards, which seem to be proliferating madly as publishers compete to get their titles known and sampled. The winning title is not always one that appeals to all. Hence the importance of naming heaps of alternative goodies.

When the Dublin shortlist is announced next April 11, the serious debates will begin. Of the 147 titles nominated by 109 libraries in 40 countries, 43 are in translation with 35 nationalities represented.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

Who believes the blurb?

26 November 2016

BLURBS are a vital ingredient in choosing a book to read when the author is unfamiliar. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ is a saying we all know and always ignore, because the blurb has become the only way to judge if it is worth the trouble to proceed to sampling.

I have read too many testimonials of praise on the cover of a bad book to ever trust them, but the descriptive blurb by the publisher has to be believed if you’re seriously seeking a clue to the contents. Often this blurb is misleading or badly written. Who writes them? Is it an office junior, or the author in person, or an artful marketing scribe? I don’t know the answer.

The blurb is a tool that sells books. It was enlightening to read about this essential literary bait in an article by Jason Guriel. Interested readers can find it here: https://thewalrus.ca/the-art-of-the-blurb/

The Booker Bombs Again

I NEVER did like the notion of throwing open the Man Booker Prize to authors beyond Britain and the Commonwealth. There is after all a separate International Booker. The fact that winners of the Man Booker all too often appear to me unworthy did not convince that wider nominations would improve things. And they haven’t.

The choice by the judges of best book for 2016 diminishes this major award. The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a gripe about race relations in the United States. It focuses on the woe of Black Americans. It was a strange choice for Britain’s most famous annual book honour. I found its narrative style boring, its attitudes unoriginal and its chip-on-the-shoulder humour vulgar.

CLOAK AND DAGGER MONTH

6 November 2016

APART from being the month when Christmas book sales hot up, November celebrates spies and treason with Bonfire Night on November 5, lest we forget the infamous Guy Fawkes. He wanted to blow up Britain’s parliament, politicians and king in 1605, a crime known as the Gunpowder Plot. History has many villains every bit as evil, but it is left to fiction to provide readers with memorable goodies in the world of espionage.

Whether male or female, these brighten bestseller charts and make treachery a respectable vocation. With this in mind, I took a quick look at the spybook releases in this the traditional month for fireworks. As might be expected, it is a list containing several brandname authors, but there are also one or two new champions of the genre.

One title I’m particularly looking forward to is The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith. This author is by no means prolific but that is probably the reason for the superb quality of his stories. This latest one, according to the blurbs, takes place in WW2 and is a retelling of Italian history that will ‘take your breath away’. Yet most of all, we’re told, it is a love story.

For a glance at some notable November spy releases, visit this Amazon link:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/new-releases/books/10493

Should nothing take your fancy, there is no shortage of taut spy tales previously published. Among my own recent reads I have rated these:

THE GENEVA TRAP  *****
by Stella Rimington
Never disappoints.
The tensions are personal as well as diplomatic as Stella delivers another compelling plot. She is an author who has won my total confidence that superb entertainment will follow when I begin one of her books. This tale of intrigue between intelligence agents of several different nations builds to a thrilling climax.

THE UNFORTUNATE ENGLISHMAN  **
by John Lawton
An unfortunate flashback.
Just as I was enjoying this Cold War tension, a long flashback at threequarter stage killed it with unfamiliar characters and unwelcome details from a time before. For me this structural fault ruined a potential five-star read.

SPY GAMES  *****
by Adam Brookes
Chinese twists.
From east Africa to Southeast Asia, the Chinese schemers seem to be everywhere. Brookes has secured his continuing popularity with this second spy novel. His over-sensitive heroine and his naïve hero give this author a distinctive difference. A joy to read!

Happy reading! From Cathy.

FOREIGNER  SNATCHES  THE BOOKER

25 OCTOBER 2016

IT is good to see a lesser known author win the annual Booker Prize, with added satisfaction his publisher is a small independent. It also creates controversy over whether this major British literary award should be open to foreigners. Paul Beatty, a 54-year-old African American, won with The Sellout, a satire on American politics.

There were three small indies this year, namely Oneworld (the winner’s publisher), Contraband, and Granta. Announced in London on Tuesday October 25, the favoured non-Briton takes a prize of £50,000, but also of immense value are the sales and the ongoing reputation that follow his success.

Mind you, all of the six shortlisted novels get a generous surge in sales. This year, for the third time, the contest was open worldwide, with the six finalistsfor 2016  chosen as follows:


Author (nationality) - Title (imprint)
Paul Beatty (US) - The Sellout (Oneworld)
Deborah Levy (UK) -
Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) -
His Bloody Project (Contraband)
Ottessa Moshfegh (US) -
Eileen (Jonathan Cape)
David Szalay (Canada-UK) -
All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)
Madeleine Thien (Canada) -
Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books

Read about them here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/13/man-booker-shortlist-2016-announced-graeme-macrae-burnet-deborah-levy

The big earnings of Man Booker novels is highlighted in an enlightening article recently in The Spectator by Helen Nugent, that magazine’s Online Money Editor.

In recent years, I confess, I have been disappointed in Booker winners. However, reading tastes differ and this is a factor that makes the task of Booker judges extremely difficult in arriving at their ultimate Number One. I wonder . . . did the current United States presidential election farce influence their choice? My advice? Check out the shortlisted authors, not just the winner, and always get a sample before purchase.

Happy reading! from Cathy.
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WORDS FAIL THE SHAKESPEARE INDUSTRY
21 October 2016
by Charles Bryce
STIFF upper lip, chaps. Mustn’t let the side down. Say not a word.
A mind reader can find the above counsel raging beneath the outward calm of England’s Literary Establishment, which has apparently been struck dumb since publication of a certain book earlier this year. It contained  irrefutable proof of Shakespeare’s real identity.
Significantly, loud silence has greeted this overwhelming evidence that the Bard of Avon never was. Lack of counter argument indicates No Contest to the submission in
Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare, written by a pair of  literary detectives, Professor William D. Rubinstein and Dr John Casson. Where is the riposte?
Experts who rejected previous claims to the Shakespeare authorship are now speechless. And yet thy fiercely opposed eight earlier books that nominated Neville as the true creator of the famous plays and sonnets. Scholarly arguments had surged against Neville being Shakespeare ever since author Brenda James nominated him in 2005. This time, in the year marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, there comes strange silence. I’ve googled in vain for a rebuttal to the Casson/Rubinstein research. Why is there none?
The answer is in the quietly sensational deposition by Messs Casson and Rubinstein. Each had written previous works citing Neville. The Shakespeare pundits spurned such heresy, as they did all prior nominations for the genius behind the  country lad from Stratford Upon Avon. This time in tandem the Neville champions present testimony that is apparently undeniable:
Writer of the great comedies, the histories, the tragedies and the poetry was a courtier residing near the hamlet of Waltham St Lawrence in Berkshire. A Member of Parliament, ambassador, and eventually prisoner in the Tower of London, Neville kept his authorship secret for fear of death. He came close to losing his head when supporting rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Essex, her former favourite who met that grim end.
Ironically, the truth is revealed in the very year England holds 400th anniversary shows, events and celebrations to honour ‘The Bard of Avon’.
It is no wonder, but a literary shambles, that the Shakespeare industry refuses to hear dissenters against their nationwide festivities. Absorbed in jubilant worship, it would cast a pall for celebrants to even consider the possibility that the much vaunted Bard of Avon wrote nothing. Nevertheless, for the book’s authors, the timing is perfect to insist that William Shakspere, gentleman of Stratford, penned not a single line to enrich world literature.
The Shakespeare Authorship Question has for many years debated who was he (or she?). Because an unlettered country lad from Stratford upon Avon could never own such easy familiarity with court circles, knowledge of European places and languages, and the life experiences evident in Shakespeare's works. A host of candidates have long been suggested as the true author against vigorous defence from Stratford believers -- who over the years have theorised the many ways young Wil came to own such erudition in so many diverse areas.
The main past Shakespeare aliases included the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland and others. When eventually – as they must -- authoritative sources accept Sir Henry Neville it would destroy a Bard of Avon ideology built over 400 years. Lauding Neville would embarrass England's tourist promoters who pull visitors from all over the world to ‘the birthplace of Shakespeare’. Could a new idol supplant the Stratford pretender?
Neville’s birthplace is a small village between Maidenhead and Reading and ten miles from Royal Windsor. Could the appeal of Stratford Upon Avon fade before the thrill of treading the ancient lanes of Waltham St Lawrence (population 1500)? The famous Anne Hathaway Cottage would have to bow out to a totally different heritage in Waltham, such as The Bell pub --  or maybe the Neville Community Hall?
Most alarming, tourists would spurn ‘Shakespeare’s tomb’ at the Stratford Holy Trinity Church in order to seek Neville’s grave at St Lawrence Church in Waltham.
It is a serious issue for Stratford Upon Avon, the economy of which centres around Shakespeare and five million tourists a year. In contrast, Waltham St Lawrence is off the tourist map, although not without minor fame as a television clone site for episodes of
Pie In The Sky, Rosemary And Thyme and Midsummer Murders.
It is hard to imagine what Stratford can do to retain the town’s reputation and prosperity. Doubtless the mute pro-Stratfordians are desperately seeking (and failing) how to respond to the Casson/Rubinstein apparently absolute proof.
Dr Casson, now retired, is a psychotherapist specialising in psychodrama – which includes how an individual uses language. He is also an expert on ancient documents.
Professor Rubinstein is a historian with enormous experience and scholarship, a Royal Historical Society member whose work is well known internationally and highly regarded.
They solve the Shakespeare puzzle by comparing undisputed chronology of the famous works with events in the life of Sir Henry Neville of Waltham St Lawrence and that of William Shakspere of Stratford, actor, theatre manager and property investor.
Also, they detail scribbles and annotations by Neville in books recognised as source material for many Shakespeare plays. They compare Neville’s letters with words and phrases used at a later date by Shakespeare. Handwriting too. They point out a change of genre in the plays, from comedy through history to tragedy, as Neville’s parliamentary career progressed to imprisonment in the Tower of London when linked to the Essex Rebellion of 1601.
They explain why Neville chose to write secretly – his head was at risk. They show how Shakespeare had Neville family members in his histories, and how he often twisted facts to turn historical Neville baddies into goodies.
Most enlightening, they insist Shakespeare was not just writing for fun or profit. They identify themes coinciding with dangerous ideas about dethroning an English monarch.
As for Shakespeare’s sonnets, these are analysed to show motive and relationship with Neville’s Tower of London accomplice.
This book is well produced by Amberley Publishing, with extensive endnotes and a massive bibliography. It is so convincing that I declare the Bard of Avon to be well and truly dead. Long live Wil Shakespeare of Waltham St Lawrence.
At the age of 15, Neville matriculated from Merton College, Oxford and toured the Continent with his tutor. He was Member of Parliament for New Windsor (1584, 1586, 1593), Sussex (1589), Liskeard (1597) and Berkshire (1604, 1614). His father (also Sir Henry) took custody of Mary Queen of Scots 1584-1585 before her beheading in 1587.
Neville succeeded his father as High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1595. He owned a business that made cannons. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Berkshire in 1596 and knighted in 1597. Appointed Ambassador to France, he returned to became involved with the 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Essex. Confined to the Tower, he was released 1603 when James of Scotland succeeded to the throne.
Like all writers, Neville used biographical experience in his fiction, leaving an uncanny trail now brilliantly exposed before a nation reluctant to acknowledge him.
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BOOKTASTE OCTOBER 15 2016
CLOSED CASKET  *****
by Sophie Hannah
Brilliantly baffling.
Sophie Hannah gives herself away! Not the plot, never the plot. What she reveals via Lady Playford accidentally (or, I suspect, deliberately) is her own philosophy on writing whodunits. Lady Playford, an author of mystery books, says forcefully as a blunt instrument:
“If my plots were simpler then people would guess, wouldn’t they? And you can’t have people guessing. I’m afraid I don’t write for dimwits and nor will I, ever. I write for those capable of rising to an intellectual challenge.”
To me this is the perfect riposte to readers who found her initial Poirot story (
The Monogram Murders) too convoluted. Of 722 reviewers on Amazon,com, 19% gave it a ‘hate it’ one-star – almost equal to 22% who loved it (five stars). In comparison, Amazon’s UK site (510 reviewers) shows 31% love-it to 21% hate-it.
Britain, of course, is home to the traditional cozy, a genre synonymous with Agatha Christie. Sophie Hannah achieves unqualified success in resurrecting the famous detective complete with that essential intellectual challenge. Her Closed Casket
is brilliant and baffling. Narrator Catchpole of Scotland Yard is amusing, the characters are gripping and their introduction non-confusing. Clues that contradict and plot twists maintain pageturning puzzles. This is brilliant writing and the surprising solution reveals not only the  Who but also a fascinating Why and How.
Certainly not for dimwits, it is agile exercise for the little grey cells.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
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THE  IMMORTAL  DETECTIVE

8 October 2016

THE most famous sleuth, created 1887 (A Study In Scarlet), continues to grip mystery fans worldwide with new adventures stretching his genius via television.

Sherlock Holmes out-thinks evil adversaries, as always, in two fresh BBC tv series beginning in January. They’re titled The Six Thatchers and The Lying Detective. Sherlock’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would be flattered to know that modern script writers are still rehashing his baffling plots. These latest tv tales are based, respectively, on Conan Doyle short stories – The Adventure of the Six Napoleons and The Adventure of the Dying Detective.

The immortality of this character is amazing. The author killed him in the Swiss Alps in 1893 (The Final Problem) in order to concentrate on different writing. Public and publisher demanded Holmes’s resurrection, so Conan Doyle brought him back to life in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903). Since then until His Last Bow (1927) he continued a prolific series totalling 60 stories. No wonder the tv script writers do not need to puzzle themselves over new plots. Adapting existing ones is easier.

Other authors, however, have churned out an endless stream of original mysteries for the great detective with every twist they can imagine. One even includes his female descendant in modern times in Australia (Murder Piping Hot by Ann Morven). A challenging mystery this, like many of the pseudo Holmes offerings.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is why Sherlock Holmes holds fast to immortality while other  fictional favourites die from dwindling readership as generations go by. To that I do not have an answer. Sherlock Holmes himself might possibly figure it out. Definitely a ‘three pipe problem’.

Happy sleuthing! From Cathy.
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CLOAK AND DAGGER HITS

18 September 2016

IN A TROUBLED WORLD the thriller authors and their imaginations keep pace with real dangers that eddy in the very heart of civilization. A thriller by Luke Harding, however, is simply deft investigation into the factual murder of a Russian dissident in London. This and the fiction titles below are surefire cloak-and-dagger hits.

A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON  *****
by Luke Harding
How guilty is Putin? Published 2016, this 426-page paperback leaves no doubt. It is a detailed account of the murder in London of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the Scotland Yard investigation, the legal hearings and the bold and dramatic conclusions by the judge. The book also reports on other murders – in Russia and abroad – of people deemed to be enemies of Vladimir Putin.
Not all of these used ‘the very expensive poison’ (radioactive polonium), yet together they point  to a relationship in Russia between government and organized crime. This is chilling as a le Carré spy novel. The intervention in Syria and the shooting down of a civilian airliner in Ukraine are explained in analyzing Putin’s ongoing political strategies.

BREAKING COVER  *****
by Stella Rimington
Tense and convincing.
This author’s inside knowledge of MI5, in which she rose to be its first female Director General, guarantees the authenticity. Her added skill in describing tense encounters gave me a nail-biting read – as usual with Stella. In starting one of her spy tales, it is always  a comfort to know there is no chance of disappointment ahead.

Away from spies and into murky finance is a thriller that is inspired by scandals now in the news regarding the usage of  offshore tax havens;

CROSSFIRE   *****
by Dick and Felix Francis
Intelligent pageturner.
The final joint authorship by father and son before the death of Dick Francis. It is a pageturner and intelligent in concept and presentation. Lots of surprises, plot twists and the unusual physical problems of a one-footed action hero. The narrative never flags and the structure is well thought out.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

MY $2 COMPASS TO OLD GOLD
11 September 2016
THE other day I paid $2 for a second-hand copy of Argosy, a long-gone British story magazine. My purchase, dated 1958, included a couple of familiar authors in its index but mostly unknowns. It was these writers I had never heard of that interested me.

I believed that googling their names might bring me a fresh source of reading pleasure, and I was right. Most were on Amazon, which is a miraculous provider of ‘out of print’ books and authors.

In the past there have been several magazines named Argosy, but my investigation concerned the British one. It was published from 1926 to 1974 with short stories and novel extracts by top authors. These can be seen on front-cover images at the website http://www.philsp.com/mags/argosy_uk.html

Advertised inside my1958 issue was the first issue of another UK magazine, Suspense. Lasting for 32 issues only, this monthly specialized in thrillers before merging with Argosy. It too remains remembered online and serves as a compass to great writers of the past who can still be found on Amazon Their names are listed on the covers at http://www.philsp.com/mags/suspense.html

Narrative styles may change over the years, but the reading of a good story remains a delight. An author in Argosy or Suspense half a century ago would predictably also have written a few novels between then and now. Using the browsing technology of today, it was an easy matter for me to discover the old gold awaiting anyone who is prepared to dig.

Happy reading! From Cathy.
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PAIN AND JOY OF A BOOK REVIEW
4 September 2016

BOOK REVIEWS? Authors hope for them and then often hate them and, occasionally, experience delight in them But here’s a question to ponder: Should authors review books by other authors?
As a New York Times article pointed out a few days ago, actors and musicians do not comment on the creativity of their fellows. Why do authors? Why indeed.
Read the full piece here.

Most popular crime
TRUE crime has topped the fiction kind in
a survey among book critics. The trend will soon be reflected in TV drama. We all know that truth is stranger than fiction, but overcoming fiction in popularity comes as a surprise. Could it be because current crime fiction has failed to stir sufficient enthusiasm? I will say this: there are too many clones of best-selling titles

Forthcoming notables
THE .Publishers Weekly has listed its pick of
noteworthy titles about to be released. It covers all genres

Happy reading! From Cathy.

A best-of-British spy debut
21 August 2016
NIGHT HERON  *****
by Adam Brookes
Master of the craft.
It is good to discover an author who, hopefully, will entertain me for many years to come. This, his first novel, marks the arrival of a spy-story craftsman who has behind him world experience as a journalist in several political hotspots. Topical as tomorrow’s headlines, the plot involves current rivalries in Southeast Asia and the push into new weapons for our Digital Age.
Human emotions (fortunately for authors) do not change as fast as whizbang technology. The narrative employs strong characters and tight tension between them. Also deadly situations that had me hooked, page after page.
A first-rate British thriller, the storyline includes scheming and interventions by Intelligence personnel in the United Kingdom, China and America. Some of these folk are frightening. Others, who are minor yet well imagined, help knit the fascinating plot. My favourite of these was Granny Poon in Beijing.
The author brilliantly blends the conflict of individuals and the excitement of action. The end chase is sizzling stuff and unpredictable in its progress across China. I look forward to the next work by Adam Brookes. Its title: Spy Games.
Happy Reading! from Cathy.

RECENT READS
14 August 2016
THE KINGDOM OF ASHES  ***
by Robert Edric
A missing ingredient.
Excellent characters, fine interaction, tense situations and a sincere depiction of a grim era, but WHERE IS THE STORY? This lack, I feel, negates the good writing. I was left unsatisfied.
This was my first reading of Robert Edric. Hopeful his other novels might prove more pleasing, I shall browse his offerings at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Robert-Edric/e/B001HCV15S

THE WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION  ***
by Agatha Christie
Readable mix. 
Agatha is always readable, even when her end solutions don’t quite reach a reasonable credibility. These short stories present a good mix despite the inevitable old-fashioned nature of style and content. The title yarn is page-turning, while the last tale is a clever Poirot investigation.
A story called ‘Accident’ is one of this author’s best.  The others are okay, and even the least worthy offerings exercise a reader’s little grey cells.

HIT MAN  ****
by Lawrence Block
A certain genius.
It takes unique genius for an author to extract humour from the crime of murder. Of course, detective stories do this fairly frequently, but Lawrence Block’s protagonist, ha-ha, is the killer in person.
Each tale here presents a challenge to Keller, a professional assassin who loves dogs and is a decent chap in all but one grim and gruesome detail. The characters and situations are brilliantly entertaining.

Happy reading! from Cathy.

North Korea’s Dear Puppet
7 August 2016
THE peculiar worship by North Koreans of a single godlike leader has always astounded me. Brainwashing from babyhood would help explain it, but starving people must surely put their hunger first. Right? Perhaps and perhaps not. A website run by refugees who escaped the dictatorship gives extraordinary insight into the realities of this rogue nation and its ‘Dear Leader’ – www.newfocusintl.com
I learned of its existence from reading recently a book called Dear Leader, written by a former top-ranking cadre who fled in fear of his life. Author Jang Jin-Sung (a pen name) was once highly favoured as poet laureate to the current dictator’s father, Kim Jong-il. While Jang’s  book
reads like a thriller with portions of horror, its most fascinating chapters reveal North Korea’s unique power structure. The so-called Leader is not quite the deity presented to the world.
Particularly enlightening to me was the policy of diplomatic deceit and nuclear provocation. This ensures that a flow of foreign aid continues to prop up an evil tyranny.
The future of a third-generation Kim God gets some end comments deserving fuller treatment. As mentioned above, I found this at the author’s website.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

CRIME LEADS THE WAY

31 July 2016

CRIME leads reading preferences because it is available in so many forms and fancies. Authors and publishers over the decades have shown that dastardly deeds entertain in all the genres. Romance, historical, comical, thrillers, even science fiction have all been host to the illegal behaviours that makes a good story. Murder, theft, kidnapping . . . name your choice and there’s a heap of book titles to entertain you.

Latest author to make a name in crime is ex-cop Clare Mackintosh. She won Best Crime Novel at the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival with I Let You Go. The judges preferred her work over a short-list of five other writers, including JK Rowling, the Harry Potter creator who pens crime under the name Robert Galbraith. Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel won her £3000 and lots of publicity. Check her appeal via Google.

It is good to have these awards – the Crime Writers Association runs similar annual contests – as a guide to quality releases. This is especially helpful for me, having read everything available by my favourites PD James, Ann Morven and Caroline Graham.

Notable at the Theakston event (which Val McDermid helped innovate some time ago) was a special prize for McDermid herself. Her crime fiction never fails to please, and this was recognised by an Outstanding Contribution honour.

Away from the mainstream, I have discovered a useful website which features a large array of crime fiction in all genres. It’s name: Booklist Reader.
http://www.booklistreader.com/2016/05/02/book-lists/the-years-best-crime-novels-2016/

Meanwhile, the strange tale of a best-selling crime novel is both informative and wide ranging at The Washington Post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/blockbuster-the-strange-tale-of-the-best-selling-crime-novel-of-the-19th-century/2016/07/20/57b074d8-4a91-11e6-90a8-fb84201e0645_story.html

Happy reading from Cathy.

GRAND YEAR FOR BOOKS

24 July 2016

WE all have our preferred methods of seeking the next read, and there’s no scarcity of book lists to help bring the best (and others) to our attention. At the halfway mark of 2016 it has been a big year for books, and doubtless the critical news events the world is now experiencing will inspire many future tomes.

Just as there is no shortage of books, there is a variety of sources naming and recommending worthy creations. One of the more reliable for quality is Publishers Weekly. Top authors and richly promoted titles get substantial reviews in this publication’s ‘Summer Reads’.

At last beyond doubt!
Shakespeare’s real identity

Britain’s Guardian newspaper regularly keeps readers posted, although their preponderance of pictures makes their index hard going. My preference for a substantial array of releases is The Millions website http://www.themillions.com/2016/01/most-anticipated-the-great-2016-book-preview.html

But to my mind the first half of 2016 has seen publication of a classic that  shakes the literary world: Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare – the Evidence. It is convincing proof by two literary detectives that identifies the real identity of Shakespeare. It is not the first of many books disputing the authorship of plays and sonnets by England’s genius, but for the first time it places the matter beyond doubt. There is a good comprehensive review by Charles Bryce.

Several major anniversaries have resulted in books this year, with more to come before now and Christmas. They include the Great War battles of the Somme and Verdun (100 years) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (75 years ago). And 25 years ago came dissolution of the Soviet Union. In Britain the big literary celebration turns (again) to Shakespeare 400 years after his death.

A good read, mind you, does not have to be recently published. Browse your authors of choice to select assured entertainment.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

A SHOCKING GOOD READ
17 July 2016

DISCOVERED by chance, I came across one of the best crime reads any reader could wish for. First published a year ago, and now highlighted anew on the Internet, it is an anthology of sensational cases solved by the Singapore Police Force. The Straits Times Press has done a brilliant job in editing and presentation.

These true crimes occurred between 1965 and the present day. They range from murder to massive fraud. Each case is described in grim detail followed by the forensic clues, the trial, cunning defence by perpretators and the eventual unmasking. I found it every bit as compelling as a whodunit bestseller. To mention just a few of the cases:

The perfect murder appeared lucratively successful when a man reported his girlfriend had disappeared while diving beneath the ocean. Her life had been heavily insured, causing the insurers to be suspicious. Yet what could they prove?

In another murder, two brothers and five other youths killed a businessman and two of his employees for 120 gold bars, worth more than $500,000.

A dance hostess was the first woman sentenced to death in the Singapore Republic. She killed the wife of her Japanese lover.

A gunman met his end in a shootout with police. Such was his notoriety that 33 inmates absconded from a reform centre to attend his funeral. 

An evil charlatan and his two ‘holy’ wives kidnapped, tortured and killed a pair of children. It was revenge against police for charging him with rape.

Rogue trader Nick Leeson, while based in Singapore, brought down Barings, Britain’s oldest merchant bank, in a global financial scandal. He falsified accounts, racking up $2.2 billion.

Tourist from Hell: John Martin Scripps befriended tourists, then butchered them and drained their bank accounts.

The above and other fascinating crimes, and how they were solved, are at
http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/guilty-as-charged-25-crimes-that-have-shaken-singapore-since-1965

If your fancy is fiction, there is a wide variety of baffling murder cases well written at
http://www.amazon.com/Ann-Morven/e/B008GREDDE

Happy reading! From Cathy.

What killed the Western?

10 July 2016

THEY are still around, but no longer the dominant genre they were in their Golden Age when Zane Grey rode the purple sage. The world has moved on from Wild West years, yet those same years spawned other genres that still remain hot favourites – such as Romance, Mystery, Historical, Spies, Fantasy and Sci Fi.

So why this wane in the popularity of the rootin-tootin shoot-out? Zach Rabiroff discusses the puzzle in a long and nostalgic article, found at Open Letters Monthly. It made me curious to learn what the genre still offers, and to seek some of the modern authors who still create oldtime cowboy yarns.

Ron Schwab has a wide following. His latest is Medicine Wheel, just published. Likewise J. Lee Butts with A Bad Day To Die in a series about a tough Texas Ranger. Then there’s Strong Convictions, by J.P. Hutchinson, and late last year Incident At Diamond Springs, by Kendall Hanson.

The genre side-tracks a bit under the romantic Harlequin pen of Maisey Yates (Tough Luck Hero), and travels across the world to Australia, where John Ivor’s No Kiss For A Killer has all the classical ingredients of love, hate, wide lands, influential baddies, justice denied, tribal hostiles and, yes, even a fast-draw cowboy. A short digital extract makes an exciting short story at Smashwords under the title Kill.

It seems to me that the traditional Western elements – the emotions, the adversities -- remain in most recent fiction. Therefore it is a bit of a puzzle why the Wild West is nowadays not such a bestseller location. I don’t know the answer.

The article by Zach Rabiroff ponders the current sparsity of fresh authors in this genre. It’s an enjoyable read and includes a few nostalgic extracts older readers might recall from their teen years when cowboys and injuns were all the rage. Find it here:
http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/twilight-cowboys/
Happy reading! from Cathy.

DEATH OF THE SHAKESPEARE MYTH
23 jUNE 2016
by Charles Bryce
SUCH A SHAME, but now proved beyond reasonable doubt. The much vaunted Bard of Avon wrote nothing. William Shakspere, gentleman of Stratford, penned not a single line of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets that enrich world literature. Two learned literary detectives have finally cracked the mystery which baffled academics for 400 years.

The Shakespeare Debate has raged fierce and wide, so who was he (or she?). An unlettered country lad from Stratford upon Avon could never have the familiarity of court, knowledge of European places and languages, and the life experiences evident in Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies. Many candidates have been suggested as the true author against vigorous defence from Stratford believers who have theorised the many ways young Wil came to own such erudition in so many diverse areas.

Over the years the main Shakespeare aliases have included the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland and Sir Henry Neville. The last named is the true creator of the famous works, according to seemingly irrefutable evidence. This is recently published in Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare, by Professor William D. Rubinstein and Dr John Casson. So far (meaning my last google search) it has not been challenged.

With Bard of Avon ideology now convincingly demolished, methinks England's tourist promoters will have to create a new profile for the genius author.

Until they do, Stratford on Avon is sure to lose much of the glitter that annually draws tourists from all over the world to ‘the birthplace of Shakespeare’. Is a new idol (perhaps the Bard of Berkshire) now going to supplant the Bard of Avon because Neville was born in a small village between Maidenhead and Reading and ten miles from Windsor?

Must the appeal of Stratford on Avon fade before the thrill of treading the ancient lanes of Waltham St Lawrence (population 1500)? Should Anne Hathaway Cottage bow out to a totally different heritage, such as The Bell pub or Neville Community Hall? Or tourists spurn ‘Shakespeare’s tomb’ at the Stratford Holy Trinity Church in order to seek Neville’s grave at St Lawrence Church?

It is a serious issue for Stratford on Avon, the economy of which centres around Shakespeare and five million tourists a year. In contrast, Waltham St Lawrence is off the tourist map, although not without minor fame as a television clone site for episodes of Pie In The Sky, Rosemary and Thyme and Midsummer Murders.

It is hard to imagine what Stratford can do to retain the town’s reputation and prosperity. Doubtless the pro-Stratfordians are desperately seeking how to respond to the Casson/Rubinstein evidence. They face a difficult task.

Arguments against Neville being the Shakespeare writer have been made before, ever since author Brenda James nominated him in 2005. In fact, eight previous books have explored the Neville qualifications. However, none has been as thorough and overwhelming as the Casson/Rubinstein findings. Both wrote previous books on Neville as Shakespeare, but now their teamed talents combine in what I would call absolute proof.

Dr Casson, now retired, is a psychotherapist specialising in psychodrama – which includes how an individual uses language. He is also an expert on ancient documents.

Professor Rubinstein is a historian with enormous experience and scholarship, a Royal Historical Society member whose work is well known internationally and highly regarded.

They solve the Shakespeare puzzle by comparing undisputed chronology of the famous works with events in the life of Sir Henry Neville of Waltham St Lawrence and that of William Shakspere of Stratford, actor, theatre manager and property investor.

Also, they detail scribbles and annotations by Neville in books recognised as source material for many Shakespeare plays. They compare Neville’s letters with words and phrases used at a later date by Shakespeare. Handwriting too. They point out a change of genre in the plays, from comedy through history to tragedy, as Neville’s parliamentary career progressed to imprisonment in the Tower of London when linked to the Essex Rebellion of 1601.

They explain why Neville chose to write secretly – his head was at risk. They show how Shakespeare had Neville family members in his histories, and how he often twisted facts to turn historical Neville baddies into goodies.

Most enlightening, they insist Shakespeare was not just writing for fun or profit. They identify themes coinciding with dangerous ideas about dethroning an English monarch.

As for Shakespeare’s sonnets, these are analysed to show motive and relationship with Neville’s Tower of London accomplice.

This book is well produced by Amberley Publishing, with extensive end tnotes and a massive bibliography. It is so convincing that I declare the Bard of Avon to be well and truly dead. Long live Wil Shakespeare of Waltham St Lawrence.

At the age of 15, Neville matriculated from Merton College, Oxford and toured the Continent with his tutor. He was Member of Parliament for New Windsor (1584, 1586, 1593), Sussex (1589), Liskeard (1597) and Berkshire (1604, 1614). His father (also Sir Henry) took custody of Mary Queen of Scots 1584-1585 before her beheading in 1587.

Neville succeeded his father as High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1595. He owned a business that made cannons. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Berkshire in 1596 and knighted in 1597. Appointed Ambassador to France, he returned to became involved with the 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Essex. Confined to the Tower, he was released 1603 when James of Scotland succeeded to the throne.

Like all writers, he used autobiographical experience in his fiction, leaving an uncanny trail to be brilliantly exposed only 400 years after his death. Ironically, the truth is revealed in the very year England holds 400th anniversary shows, events and celebrations to honour a Bard of Avon who never was.
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Always a delicious blend

7 May 2016

STORIES fascinate and so do great events of the past. Blend the two and you get the thrills, entertainment and knowledge of historical fiction. Maybe the heyday of such novels is past, yet adventure (to me anyway) is never more delightful than when an author places it in a bygone era.

That’s my lead-in for a mention of the novels of John Ivor. His theme is a fascinating niche in the days of the British Empire, the attempt to create a social Eden in a wilderness at the end of the world. It was Britain’s first free settlement in the Great Southland – nowadays called Australia. The idea was widely hailed, the outcome horrendous. John Ivor’s fictional characters do their thing amid the weirder ones of real history!

John Ivor’s books are displayed on his Amazon page or, for digital enthusiasts, at Smashwords.

For Barnes & Noble customers (with whom he’s a favourite) the link is http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22John%20ivor%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall

Meanwhile, I was interested to glance through another reader’s list of the 200 best adventure stories of all time. We all have personal preferences. Here I found a few unknowns to be investigated in days ahead. The Internet makes browsing an ongoing joy.

Happy reading! From Cathy.

SHAKESPEARE’S  ANNUAL  EXHUMATION

2 May 2016

THE delving into Shakespeare’s death is over for another year. How the world loves to speculate about it! His grave, his Will, his dying days . . . all get an airing on the anniversary of his passing in April 1616. That’s 400 years ago, yet the world invokes the genius with ever-swelling enthusiasm. This year was no exception and it all made for some lively debating.

Amid the many theories concerning conspiracy and identity, Lloyd Evans in The Spectator revealed a possible cover-up to disguise the actual cause of the Bard’s demise. Whether one believes it or not, the diary of the 1661 Vicar of Holy Trinity has intriguing details.

Was England’s immortal playwright an alcoholic? Did he suffer from the pox? Is there a clue to the real man in his fictional writings?

Fascinating stuff.

Equal Shakespeare puzzles are presented by fiction author Ann Morven in her whodunit The Killing of Hamlet, which I have mentioned before. Her modern murder mystery includes the grave, the real identity and a Will that stretches across the centuries to an English village linked to the Battle of Agincourt.

In the aftermath of their crowded week of remembrance, Shakespeare addicts will find the Spectator article here:
http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/was-there-a-cover-up-over-shakespeares-death/

And Ann Morven’s delightful fibs, in paperback or digital format . .
.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Killing-Hamlet-Evil-will-out/dp/1468023802?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Happy reading! From Cathy.

JUDGING DONALD TRUMP BY HIS BOOKS
17 JULY 2016

CAN we tell what a person is really like by reading their writings? Before he became president of the United States, Barack Obama’s books (I read several) suggested a decent sensible man. The books of Donald Trump (I have read none) suggest exactly what we have seen on television. Good or bad? That’s what Americans are struggling to decide. And so is the rest of an unsettled world. The result of the US presidential election on November 8 is going to affect us all.

As those insulting, brawling, infantile debates recur, my conclusion is God Save America. They remind me of kids squabbling in a schoolyard. I decided early that I wouldn’t vote for any of the three Republican front runners: Trump, Rubio, Cruz. Nor Clinton or Sanders for the Democrats.

The Republican establishment has an unusual dilemma in that their most popular candidate is the anti-establishment Trump. He is also a prolific author, so what do his written words reveal?

Late last year he became a book-a-month creator (mostly co-written) to seek votes for his presidency bid. Certainly the titles are good: The Art of the Deal, Make America Great Again, Time To Get Tough  . . . and he has repeated their big-sell messages on the debating stage. Is he an actor, a salesman, a genuine author? A more unsettling question is his worth to lead the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country.

Trump, 69, has a website that for many years has pushed themes like How To Get Rich, Think Big, Make It Happen, The Midas Touch, Think Like A Billionaire, and so on.

His books on Amazon share five-star praise and one-star venom, leaving readers (as with all Amazon reviews) to sift for reviewer sincerity.

Here are some resources that might clarify Trump’s literary and presidential talents.

Trump’s Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Donald-Trump/e/B001H6O8M2

A sober anti-Trump assessment:

http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-ugly-things-you-learn-about-donald-trump-reading-his-books/

Trump’s personally written books:

http://www.trump.com/publications/http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/07/10/15-Facts-You-Didn-t-Know-About-Donald-Trump

Some unbiased facts:

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/07/10/15-Facts-You-Didn-t-Know-About-Donald-Trump

Happy reading! from Cathy.

BULLYING BIGOTS THREATEN BOOK TRADE

7 February 2016
THE first month of 2016 showed that the weird and wonderful world of books is thriving stronger than ever. Too bad the weird and wonderful was not actually a book but the peculiar reaction to one. As often happens, its cover offended. What was the offense? Believe it or not, the outcry was because it showed American slaves who were smiling.
SCAKEcholastic Publishing caved in and (shame on them) withdrew this children’s book from distribution and offered to refund people who had already bought it. Their statement said:
“Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”
I’m still flabbergasted that there still exist bigots who exert such influence in the book trade. They are real and dangerous enough, though. The School Library Journal in the US said the book was ‘highly problematic’ and Kirkus condemned it as an ‘incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery’. Agitation followed by librarians, social justice groups, activists from BlackLivesMatter and some journalists who should know better.
One summed up Scholastic’s crime thus: “The need for accuracy, not for sweetening, with regards to the enslavement of Blacks in America is critical to this country. This era in American history has shaped our national identity and until we get it right, we will continue to be encumbered with racism.”
I fear these bullying wowzers may infect children’s books from now on. No more friendly tigers (unless the author warns they eat people), ditto happy crocodiles and loving dragons. And for goodness sake, never portray those victimised fox creatures as baddies. The Big Bad Wolf? Hey, that’s an endangered species, so do not disparage. Cinderella? Ban her. She gives false ideas about handsome princes. Snow White? A misleading representation of dwarfs.

My verdict: children’s books are for children to enjoy before they grow up to the realities of history and this troubled planet.  And I rather like the fantasy of President Washington hugging his Black chef, as appears later in the book. It suggests to me, and perhaps to children, that Black and White Americans can co-exist without rancour. Now where can I purchase A  Birthday Cake for George Washington?

 

I

PaintMO

ANN MORVEN
whodunit diva

PaintIVOR

JOHN IVOR
historical tales

PaintMcB

BRYCE McBRYCE
humour

150chas

CHARLES BRYCE
non-fiction