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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.