Another 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 at 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.
‘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 a 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.
With 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?