Reading matters…….

1867145.jpgRescued this ‘Shooting In The Dark’ from ‘unread books’ section, and found it was set in York which is where we used to live once upon a time. It’s Crime Noir North of England, and good for that. Location is so important to me even in crime novels, and John Baker ensures you know you’re in York. It got good reviews in The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent and from Val McDermid, so I had high hopes and I was not disappointed. I must explore what else John Baker has written. The first third in particular read like a hard-core New York novel with humour, and then it settled into its plot the main protagonists being Sam Turner, an world-weary private tec and two vulnerable sisters one of whom was blind. This gave an entirely different slant to things. Basically they were being stalked by someone who wanted revenge for a childhood disaster. I really liked the fact that the characters were sympathetic and nearly all of the time I appreciated the minor characters being highly intelligent (much philosophising, particularly on existentialism). Recommend? Definitely……

‘Skios’ is a Faber publication, so it’s got to be good right?….my favourite publisher bar none. Here’s their blurb……..13732574.jpg

“On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming – not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.

Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality – everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science …”

At heart this is a case of mistaken identity, deliberate in the case of one of the protagonists and not so with the other. It is an old-fashioned farce. And if you like farce, you will like this. It is extremely funny throughout and, as Michael Frayn is a writer of well-received stage farces, very well written. To go on writing such idiosyncratic stuff at his tender age (born in 1933) is quite remarkable. Incredible holiday reading………particularly if you’re jetting off to Greece.

I finished my marathon reading of the 6 Palliser novels with ‘The Prime Minister’ and ‘The Duke’s Children’. Bit like reading War and Peace twice or thrice. Anyhow, highly enjoyable and quite the equal of The Chronicles of Barsetshire……

30086155115.jpgTrollope himself considered ‘Can You Forgive Her?’, ‘Phineas Finn’, ‘Phineas Redux’ and ‘The Prime Minister’ to be the four novels that constitute the Palliser series. In his autobiography he wrote…….”To carry out my scheme I have had to spread my picture over so wide a canvas that I cannot expect that any lover of such art should trouble himself to look at it as a whole. Who will read Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister consecutively, in order that they may understand the characters of the Duke of Omnium, of Plantagenet Palliser, and of Lady Glencora? Who will ever know that they should be so read?”. Self-deprecating as usual, he thought that his reputation would soon wither, and that in no time at all he would be forgotten.

However, notable fans of Trollope, according to Wikipedia,  have included Alec Guinness, who never travelled without a Trollope novel; the former British Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan, Earl of Stockton and Sir John Major; the first Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald; the economist John Kenneth Galbraith; the merchant banker Siegmund Warburg who said that “reading Anthony Trollope surpassed a university education.”; the English judge Lord Denning; the American novelists Sue Grafton, Dominick Dunne and Timothy Hallinan; the poet Edward Fitzgerald; the artist Edward Gorey, who kept a complete set of his books; the American author Robert Caro; the playwright David Mamet and the soap opera writer Harding Lemay. So I am in excellent company.

As I have said before to read Trollope is to gain an amazing insight into upper-class, and upper middle-class, Victorian society. But not just that. Trollope expounds in significant detail on the politics of the time, the role of the Church, the concept of the gentleman and gentlemanly behaviour, the role of money and debt at a macro and micro level, the standing of women, and so much else besides.  If you accept that you are in an entirely different world you will be drawn along and you will want to know what happens next to his well-drawn characters. I must say that I personally found his anti-Jew reading somewhat obnoxious, and I am startled to find so far no reference to this by the critics. That besides, what will I do now I have read all of his major work? Read them again? Quite possibly!

Reading matters……

Ill-Keep-You-Safe-262x400.jpgAnother of F.’s books, I just got in first again. Peter May is a Crime writer, but for the greater part of this book I wondered where this was going in terms of a Crime plot. It seemed more ‘Welcome to the island of Harris – we’ll tell you some things you didn’t know about this special place’. Well it certainly is special. But I couldn’t help thinking all along that my son had spent a week there with his school pal who comes from Harris and he has always said ‘Never again’. What a dispiriting place it seems. So, the plot. The two protagonists own a company that makes an upmarket alternative to Harris Tweed, one of them is blown up by a car bomb in Paris. There is a desultory search for the perpetrators. Some off-beam characters are drawn as possible suspects and then, right at the end, and as obvious as obvious can be, the partner turns out not to have been blown up after all. Weak. I would say so. I was thoroughly disappointed at the end and rather glad to get onto something else.

Sarah Langford’s ‘In Your Defence’ is one of those brilliant books that keep you up at9781784163082.jpg night, that you don’t want to put down, you don’t want to end, and which teaches you so much you didn’t know. Whilst it was her love of words that inspired her to take up the law, Sarah took an unprivileged, unconventional route that however stood her in good stead and made her determined to succeed in what is still a profession full of privilege and some bias against women. However this story is not about her it is very much about her clients, and in particular 11 clients in 11 different cases which she outlines in some detail. Each case starts with the location of the trial (changed along with personal details to protect clients’ anonymity) and a tiny note on the law involved in the particular case. These get your mind racing before you know anything about the case.  Sarah then takes us through each story from start to finish. All of the cases are to do with Family or Criminal Law. And wow how you get involved. Of course her job is to represent clients whether she believes them innocent or guilty, and to us looking in from the outside, this in itself poses incredible moral dilemmas. But, as she says herself,  “Life is not binary,” “There is very rarely a situation where there is no other version of the story.” Intricate points of Law are explained in notes at the end of the book. The cases range from a woman charged with conspiracy after a burglary, and a young man accused of assaulting three police officers during an arrest that leaves him with cuts and bruises on his hand, ribs and head to a child whose views are, unusually, taken into account in deciding which of his divorced parents he should live with. You come away feeling battered, hugely impressed with the Judges and Barristers involved, and scandalised by how little someone like Sarah is rewarded for the efforts she puts in. A thrilling book.

Reading matters…….

51YNGSmcaXL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg‘Thomas Cromwell : the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant‘ by Tracy Borman is a splendid history of the man and his times. It is amazing, and indeed reassuring how closely all of this ‘real’ history follows Hilary Mantel’s novels. As with all well written and researched histories Tracy’s book flows, and is almost like a Crime novel in that you want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. And believe me a lot does happen. Cromwell, who I studied at school and Uni as a great administrator is a man of his times. A great administrator yes, but also a philosopher, a well-read man of huge intelligence, a deeply religious man, a brutal and cunning and ruthless but loyal politician who right up to his last few days in the Tower knew how to manipulate the King and his Council, many of whom looked down upon a man risen from the gutter just as they had looked down upon his predecessor Wolsey a butcher’s son. It is no wonder that King Henry lived to regret his decision to cut off his head. As I say, this biography is absolutely compelling reading. The only little criticism I can make is that Tracy Borman, when no other sources are left to her, is willing to use the same ambassadors’ letters home (the Venetian and Spanish ambassadors particular) that she criticises in another breath as being difficult to give too much credence to. Having said that, I so much enjoyed getting to know Thomas Cromwell, and didn’t want the book (or his life!) to end………

Rummaging around in a WHS remainder shop in Plymouth (I hadn’t realised they existed), we found a couple of  books which were extremely good value. So I bought a9780007950096_1.jpg new copy of the hardback ‘The Complete Great British Railway Journeys’ priced at £40 for just £4. Amazing! The book is a compilation of ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ and ‘Great Victorian Railway Journeys’ and based on the very enjoyable BBC programmes fronted by Michael Portillo with those names. It is really for dipping into but I read it straight through, over a few weeks admittedly, and really loved all the insight into the ‘history, landscape and people of Britain’ that it gave. Partly a reflection of how much things have changed since the publication of Bradshaw’s Guide to the lines in question, but also a celebration of how much has survived and the progress that has been made, I found such a lot to interest me and so many references to subjects new to me. From the Victorian find of the Bronze Age Gristhorpe man, still on display in Scarborough, to the Preston cotton mill riots (I was born there, opposite a cotton mill) and the establishment of the Temperance Movement in Preston, I was surprised at my lack of knowledge. Great, and very satisfying, to remedy a few gaps.

51PZw3NJuxL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWith her Christmas present of a National Book Token, F. bought 4 books when we were out the other day and I have already finished one of them. In truth it didn’t take me long. It was so good. It was the kind of book you would walk around the house reading not wanting to put it down. I rationed myself to bedtime reading mainly, and there followed a few nights of reading till well past 1am. ‘Dead If You Don’t’ is the book in question and the author Peter James stand at the pinnacle of Crime writing. His DS Superintendent Roy Grace novels are set in Brighton where he lives, and where he has astonishing contacts with the Police and others and which means all the procedural stuff is spot-on. This one is about a kidnapping and about the Albanian criminal fraternity living in Brighton. It is also about many other things including the corruption of wealth, the dangers of gambling, and of course about the personal interactions of Grace with family and friends. It is taut, well written and exciting. Can you praise a Crime novel more?