Not all of Peter James’ detective novels featuring DS Roy Grace and set in Brighton are as good as this….one of the very best. I think it is because of the hundreds of hours of research that Peter does with the police that he writes so well and so convincingly. He is a great story-teller and stylish writer too. We were lucky enough to have him a couple of times as one of our speakers at Warwick Books and his presentations were superb. If you get the chance to hear him please do so. A murder this time seems to be fairly straightforward, but lots of scenarios soon present themselves and we are soon racking our brains along with Grace. Riveting.
A Christmas present to myself, I really enjoyed finding out a lot more about the Ancient Greeks than I knew already (I did study Ancient Greek at school, fortunately). I was astounded by the up-to-date scholarship and by the sheer number of sources/resources now available to scholars, a real eye-opener. The only negative thing I have to say is that Edith Hall goes about her task in a very complicated way. She posits that most ancient Greeks shared ten particular qualities. She further says that their history over 2000 years can be broken down into ten periods. She then relates one quality to one period. Very novel. But I’m not quite sure it works and she does make heavy weather of her structure on occasions. However she does thank goodness avoid the politically charged approach that the Greeks more or less just absorbed science, culture etc from other mainly Middle-Eastern nations around them. This of course is absolute nonsense. If you can stay the course of the structure, this is a hugely enlightening and entertaining book. I just wish the maps were a little better…
Another Christmas present, and another good buy. I find Donna Leon’s plots vary tremendously…plausible, implausible, but what I always enjoy very much is the characterisation and humanity of her protagonists. It suits me down to the ground that Commissario Brunetti loves to go home to a ‘proper’ lunch with wine and has a couple of glasses of prosecco before his beautifully described dinner. After all he deserves them! We’ve always cooked fresh food, often had three courses, and enjoy wine with our meals. What’s life for? Anyway ‘Earthly Remains’ is not the usual dead body leading to contorted quests for perpetrators. It is quite different. For a start Brunetti is on well-deserved leave, a leave he is (much to his own surprise) starting to enjoy…that is until the caretaker of his villa whom he has befriended, goes missing. What follows is not only a hunt for his friend, but an eye-opening dig into the disgraceful way in which the lagoons of his sacred Venice have been treated as a dumping ground for all kinds of things, many very noxious. A really interesting take on how the modern world is destroying itself. A relaxed pace suits the subject entirely. A really enjoyable read that is at the same time politically enlightening. For how many detective novels can you say that?!
I enjoy this series of British Library Crime Classics re-publications with their nostalgic atmosphere and descriptive backgrounds. This particular novel I found a little more difficult. It tended to ramble, and become a bit too convoluted for my liking, and I found the plot unsatisfactory. However the setting – wartime, the blackout, steam train journeys – was highly enjoyable. So mixed results as far as I was concerned, and the setting should not outweigh the plot after all said and done.
I came across ‘Victoria, A Life’ when I was actually looking for a good book on Prince Albert. With such good reviews I had to buy it. I must say it has proved one of my better purchases. putting a whole different slant on the Victoria we think we know. Not only does A N Wilson approach the history from behind excellent original research, but he is a master craftsman, putting together a life story which I couldn’t put down. The Victoria he describes is immensely human, and at the same time has an unconscionable influence on the politics of her day – and not only on a dynastic and background level. She really got down and dirty with all the political questions that interested her, and she had influence beyond her strictly constitutional position. It was fascinating to see her being transformed into a figurehead for the Tory party, run of course by her very intimate favourite Disraeli. It was fascinating too to see how much she was influenced by favourites throughout her reign from Albert himself to John Brown. What I thought was tittle tattle proved to have a lot more foundation than I thought. I agree with one or two reviewers – that occasionally it was easy to lose track of who was who (not surprising with such an extended family). But the mark of a good historian is to deliver something you want to read based on impeccable research, and this is done in spades. Lots to interest and amaze you. I for one hadn’t’ realised quite how Germanic Victoria herself was. And I was continually astounded by her interference in high politics. A wonderful book.
Luckily for me I managed to get from my local bookshop the lovely The Bookshop Liskeard the two latest in the County Tales by Ian Sanson. They really are an enormous treat. The background is that the highly eccentric ‘People’s Professor’ Swanton Morley is continuing to write a history and introduction to the counties of England, aided by his incredibly glamorous daughter Miriam and his assistant Sefton. I think these are three and four in the series. The point is that the plots always revolve around a crime which has been committed at the same time as their visits, and Swanton can’t help but get involved. Often you just have one character who is always the chief protagonist, and other parts are fairly minor. But Ian Sansom really provides a treat when we get to know Swanton, Miriam and Sefton equally in themselves and in reaction with each other. The atmosphere of 1930’s England is really well created, and the approach I find incredibly humorous. Swanton who reckons to know everything about everything, and only sometimes does, reminds me of a very good friend of mine, but of course he shall remain nameless. But in any case we get to really love him despite his weaknesses and drawbacks…. a true delight, can’t wait for more…
And now for a book I truly didn’t like and couldn’t stomach – ‘Inglorious Empire’ by Shashi Tharoor. Somebody who purports to write history really should not put forward a polemic pure and simple pretending to be well-researched history. This book seems to get good reviews from the politically correct liberal metropolitan elite, but my god they haven’t a clue. After reading a small part where views were put forward as facts when in fact they were wrong, I put it to one side. I should really like to tear it to shreds…maybe that would help!