Search This Blog

Monday, 27 May 2019

Book review - THE MILITARY PHILOSPHERS


Anthony Powell’s ninth book in his series, A Dance to the Music of Time (1968) is the third to deal with the narrator Nick Jenkins’s time in the Army during the Second World War, covering the period 1942-1945 and his being demobbed.


Jenkins is not in the thick of the fighting, though working in Whitehall, he is the witness to the devastating threat of flying bombs, and this is well described: ‘The moonlit night, now the melancholy strain of the sirens had died away, was surprisingly quiet. All Ack-Ack guns had been sent to the coast, for there was no point in shooting down V1s over the built-up areas. They would come down anyway.’ (p153).

His job is to look after the Poles in so-called Allied Liaison. Regulars from the earlier books appear – Widmerpool, Farebrother and Templer. At one point he is allocated a driver, one Pamela Flitton, Stringham’s niece. Flitton is a flirt and moves in and out of Jenkins’s life as she climbs through various officers to the dizzying heights of being engaged to Widmerpool himself! Some characters we’ve known before are killed off – off-stage.

We come across Mrs Erdleigh again, who ‘Stevens treated her as if he were consulting the Oracle of Delphi.’ (p143). A few lines further down, ‘She glided away towards the lift, which seemed hardly needed, with its earthly and mechanical paraphernalia, to bear her up to the higher levels.’ 

Jenkins does cross to Normandy, in the wake of the Allied invasion, but his life is never in jeopardy.

Powell’s humour is droll but imaginative, and obviously endeared him to his readers: ‘Like Finn’s aching jaw on the line of march, the war throbbed on, punctuated by interludes when more than once the wrong tooth seemed to have been hurriedly extracted.’ (p73)

The task presented to Jenkins isn’t particularly easy. Heweston said, ‘When you’re dealing with two Allies at once, it’s wiser never to mention one to the other. They can’t bear the thought of your being unfaithful to them.’ (p101)

The audacious brave Officers’ Plot against Hitler is touched upon, if briefly: ‘They had failed, but even the fact that they had tried was encouraging.’ (p149)

Three more books to go in the sequence.

Editorial comment

‘Grinning at them all through his thick lenses, his tone suggested the Minister’s insistence had bordered on sexual importunity.’ (p20) How can he grin through spectacles? Needed rewording, along the lines of ‘Glaring at them all through his thick lenses, he grinned, his tone…’

He refers to V.1.’s when it should be V1s (p153).

‘… watched the Royal Tournament, horse and rider deftly clearing the posts-and-rails, sweating ratings dragging screw-guns over dummy fortifications…’ (p247)  Of course this should have been guns – the gun-crew do the dragging. – unless he was imagining it as he thought it was as a child…

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Book review - REACTION OF THE TIGER



It may be two years since I read the last André Warner thriller, The Man Who Hunted Himself, but it doesn’t matter, I quickly re-entered his first-person world. The writing as ever is consistent where the character is the usual mix of a flawed and deadly assassin. Warner holds little back: he’s over-confident, a red-blooded male doubtless unwelcome in modern MeToo society, who is nevertheless gallant, bold and brave with an ambivalent conscience.

This time he takes on a killing task for a friend, a friend who saved his life. It involves tracking a British double-agent in Finland and eliminating him. As we’ve come to expect, it isn’t as simple as all that. There are complications, presented by Warner’s current love interest Maura, the machinations of a local gangland boss, and the ever-insidious influence of The Syndicate.

If you want fast-paced action, a strong main character, detail that puts you in the action and  paints a realistic image of various countries covered, then look no further than this thriller, which has all that and plenty of more, with twists and surprises to please many an aficionado.

I’m looking forward to the follow-up tome, She Kills.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Book review: A Dead Man in... Naples



Michael Pearce's cozy crime novel (2009) captures the period of Naples just prior to the First World War (1913): ‘Things spilled out from the workshops: wood from the carpenters and turners, sheets of cork newly cut from the trees on the hills above the city, great sweeps of sailcloth spreading right across the street, blocking off the view; half-completed rush mats, wickerwork baskets and chairs still being worked on, their spokes pointing up into the air, low wooden racks filled with pipes in various stages of progress.’ (p110)

There’s plenty of light humour, too: ‘The people he tried speaking to in the street were nearly incomprehensible, especially if, as was often the case, their reply came from a mouth practically without teeth.’ (p111)

This is one of several books in the ‘A Dead Man in…’ series concerning the Special Branch police officer Seymour working for the Foreign Office. This time he’s called to Naples as a consular official called Scampion has been murdered in the street. Much of the plot revolves around the new craze of bicycling and an upcoming race, which might involve the Camorra, the secret society, political chicanery, gambling and thwarted love.

The characters are well drawn, mostly revealed through dialogue, but there’s little in the way of ‘show’, it’s mostly ‘tell’ by the characters’ speech. Seymour and his fiancée Chantale do not involve the reader, sadly, though they have their uses to join the dots to arrive at the (fairly obvious) solution to the mystery of Scampion’s demise.

Editorial comments
 
Very few typos, but here’s one:

‘Where they children of my people…’ – 'Where' should be 'Were'. (p102)

Inconsistency:

Betting slip: ‘The one you found in your brother’s trousers?’ (p104) Unfortunately, the slip was found in her brother’s shorts.

Characters beginning with the same initial (writers should try to avoid this to avert confusion!):

Giorgio and Giuseppi. (There are plenty of Italian male names to choose from, after all!)
Scampion and Seymour.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Review - Mystery Weekly Magazine - October 2018


This is the annual Sherlock Holmes special, which appears every October.


We begin with Michael Mallory’s tale ‘The Inimitable Affair’ which cleverly has Holmes and Watson dealing with blackmail, an ex-actress called Ellen Ternan and a certain Charles Dickens. Enjoyable, indeed.

Next is ‘The Very First Detective: The Killing Stone’ by Nik Morton, which is a pastiche concerning one prehistoric Olmes and his narrator, Otsun, based on ‘a series of controversial prehistoric paintings on stone tablets recently discovered in a secret cave complex in the Pyrenees’. A great appropriate cover by Peter Habjan.

A non-fiction piece by Bruce Harris interestingly analyses an incident in A Study in Scarlet.

A non-Holmes tale is ‘The Secrets of Skin’ by Thomas K Carpenter, set in ancient Rome, where the obese magistrate Ovid is placed in the unenviable position involving politics and theft. Some excellent humour in this story!

Tim McDaniel’s ‘A Death in Tadcaster’ is homage to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, concerning one Miss Dalyrimple, with a neat twist.

The prolific Holmsian S Subramnian’s contribution, ‘The Beginning of the Final Problem’ is just that, a precursor to the Holmes story ‘The Final Problem’, and it’s well done.

Lastly, Peter DiChellis provides a ‘you solve it’ short piece, ‘Treasure Cave’ – you’ll get the solution next issue, however.

Available on Amazon.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Charlie Whipple - R.I.P.

I was greatly saddened to learn that Charlie died last week from pancreatic cancer. We'd been distant writing friends for about a decade - distant in the sense that he lived in Japan and I live in Spain. He was a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction and with wide interests and he touched many lives. We co-edited a western anthology, A Fistful of Legends (2009). He wrote his excellent westerns under the pen-name Chuck Tyrell; his Japansese historical adventure stories with the overarching title The Masacado Scrolls are written as Charles T. Whipple.


A good and sincere friend with a sense of humour.

Fellow author Tom Rozzo has posted a tribute to Charlie here:

Those who knew Charlie are diminished by his passing.

Condolences to his family.

R.I.P, Charlie.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Book review - Queenpin


Megan Abbott’s third novel, Queenpin (2007) surpasses her excellent previous books, The Song Is You (2005) and Die A Little (2007). She has since published another six crime novels.






The Queenpin of the title is a mob moll called Gloria Denton, who’s ice-cold, calculating and exceedingly good at her business, having been at the top of her game for a couple of decades, reliably transporting stolen diamonds, race-track winnings, fixing the odds, all for the bosses. 

Maybe because age or the business is catching up with her, Gloria takes the narrator, an unnamed young woman under her wing, rescuing her from hum-drum book-keeping in a lowly nightclub and trains her as a go-between.

As we’ve come to expect by now, Abbott gets under the skin of the narrator with ease. This is all so believable, almost like a confessional, with plenty of wisecracks and slick one-liners and period description.

Slowly, Gloria’s tuition pays off and our narrator looks, sounds and acts like a younger version of the Queenpin. But then things start to slide into noir territory as the protégé falls heavily for a loser, a guy who is never going to win the big score, no matter how often he tells himself he will. From there, the tension mounts.

Then there’s a shocking murder, a disinterment, and more than one betrayal along the way, told with grim precision and word-economy.

Riveting, page-turning stuff.