Category Archives: More Books

Some books I’ve read and enjoyed. You might like them too. I do not accept submissions for review nor discuss books I didn’t like. One man’s meat, and all that…

The Charter, by Gillian Hamer

I read a good book the other day #16

book jacketA good story well told with plausible plot and setting despite a hint of the ghostly paranormal.

Mystery set in and around the village of Moelfre in Anglesey, Wales, which caught my attention because I know that part of the world somewhat. Not a police procedural, although there are detectives in the story. I was intrigued by the setting and subject matter of the contemporary mystery which is skilfully woven around the historic wreck of the Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter was wrecked in a great storm in the late 1800’s. She came to grief near Moelfre (pronounced, more or less, somewhere between Mole-vra and Moyle-vree, for the un-Welsh) when her anchor chains parted and she was driven ashore onto a rock-bound coast. She was carrying passengers home from Australia to Liverpool reputedly laden with gold from the Australian gold rush. Although the wreck was well observed by people ashore there was heavy loss of life. Rescue services in those days were rudimentary and nobody could actually help the poor souls struggling to reach land from the pounding shipwreck. Many were said to be drowned by the weight of gold in their belts, which allows Gillian E Hamer the opening to weave the ghostly character of a drowned child into her story.

But excuse me if I digress a moment. The real story of the Royal Charter reminds me of the sage advice to modern yachtsmen that no amount of insurance will save your life in a disaster. Far better to spend your money on sound ground tackle (which is what seamen call their anchors and chains), and that, in extremis, you will regret saving money on a dinky modern lightweight job with a piece of string for a warp. When the snarling, jagged teeth of a rock bound coast threaten to leeward, even the smallest rag of sail is too much for your boat to bear and its thrashing engine seems little better than a noisy egg whisk, then the biggest, heaviest sodding great anchor you can possibly heave over the side is the only one that matters. It might just save your life. Claiming the insurance when you’re dead is not a good plan. Heartfelt personal experience in there somewhere, I think.

But back to the book in hand (or at least the book in my Kindle). With that mix of contemporary fictional mystery and historic reality it is no surprise that the author managed to weave in a thread of the ghostly paranormal. That ghost of a drowned child appears momentarily to help or warn the protagonist. Now, I’m not much inclined to believe in ghosts, other than the ones we willingly or wilfully conjure within our own heads and in dreams, but I liked the way the author managed this. It did not at all jar even with a ghostly sceptic like me, if you see what I mean.

Gillian Hamer allowed herself some licence with geography, adjusting the village and cove of Moelfre and its surrounding countryside a little to suit her story, which is fair enough. It’s what most writers do, including me. Anyone who knows the place will find pleasure in recognising it in the text, and I found myself comfortably fitting the story into its settings. I was quickly drawn to the characters too, a daughter returning from London life to clear up the estate of a late parent in the sticks; her high-flyer footballer husband; and the various characters she re-encounters from her youth and childhood in Anglesey. A good story well told, with plausible plot and setting despite a hint of the paranormal. Enjoyed it. 4/5 stars from me.

 

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

I read a good book the other day #15

book jacketDetective mystery with intriguing setting and subject matter. The case concerns the search for a missing child. Not a police procedural, but to me, very realistic and has the ring of truth.

I found The Crossing Places by accident while scrolling through Amazon’s cozy mystery category. There seem to be two sorts of cozy mystery, one characterised by cartoon-ish covers that give the impression the story might be farcical, the other with mainly straight photo covers, like The Crossing Places which is a straight detective-cum-archaeology mystery that will appeal to an adult audience, but qualifies as cozy because it contains no foul language or sex. (Um… I mean explicit sex, not foul sex… though there’s none of that either.)

In the bleak midwinter

The setting is bleak wintertime in a fictional north Norfolk saltmarsh, which sounds on the face of it less than promising. But the story concerns Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist who helps the police with their enquiries (…and there’s a loaded phrase!). Elly Griffiths shows much feeling for place and landscape but pulls no punches, allowing her characters, very realistically in my opinion, to slag off the landscape for which she shows so much affinity and observes carefully. For example, Ruth observes: “In the distance, a heron watches them, standing meditatively on one leg.” That’s exactly what herons do in north Norfolk and we get the impression the author knows of which she speaks. Some characters, however, observe the bleak marshland with a distinctly jaundiced eye and wonder how the blazes Dr Ruth can possibly bear to live there. Townies! Tsk!

Hypocrites all?

I liked the way Elly Griffiths writes interesting and realistic characters. For example, when Ruth is distressed over the death of her cat she hears a doom-laden knock at the door. It is her friend and mentor, Erik, and Ruth thinks, “Thanks be to the God she does not believe in.”

When Ruth describes the national trust as “Sensible women in quilted coats selling souvenirs at castle gates…” she is not being nasty about the sensible women or the National Trust, just voicing a certain view of them that very likely prevails in some circles.

When she tells us that the victim’s garden is “long and untidy, littered with old sofas, broken bicycles and a half constructed climbing frame” she tells us something about that family that might fit a certain ill-conceived prejudice. But then we learn something different about them in the following pages, so that our sympathies are properly restored.

As a bloke of a certain age I particularly liked this observation of modern society: “Although Ruth has often signed petitions in favour of a woman’s right to breast feed in public, in practice she finds it rather embarrassing.” To all of which I can only say, Yeah, me too! With knobs on. Like Dr Ruth, we all of us have ideals that somehow conflict with our real lives. That doesn’t make us all hypocrites, it just shows we are humanly fallible.

But there’s always a niggle…

Just one tiny niggle, an appeal to the publisher’s ebook formatter. In paper books the traditional way of signalling a section break, where the point-of-view character changes, for example, or just where the same character moves on in time or subject of thought, is to leave a one line gap between sections. But in an ebook this is inadequate because the formatter cannot predict where the section break will fall on the page. If it falls at the end of a page, then without some visual signal (a centred asterisk is adequate, three is better) the section break may not be noticed, leaving the reader slightly floundering. The un-indented first line of the new section is not adequate by itself to signal the break. Ergo, every section break in an ebook should be signalled by some visual device. Whoever formatted The Crossing Places for ebook sometimes gets it right and sometimes not. One would have thought ebook formatters (especially those working for trad publishers) would be up to speed on this sort of stuff by now. Maybe the publisher was lazy and just used the paper format without modification for the ebook. Just my personal beef and a handy stick with which we indie writers like to beat the legacy trade over the head. Not a reason to pass over an otherwise good novel that I really enjoyed.

And a surprise…

One surprise for me was the style of writing. I have never been a fan of present tense fiction. Usually it smacks of the writer attempting to inject a sort of breathless immediacy to their prose. (I go to the door. I turn the knob. The door opens. The milkman is asking to be paid…). Just my opinion. YMMV as they say these days. For some reason it always sounds French to me. Do the French always write like that? Not that I have anything against the French, you understand. France and England may have been at each others throats for centuries, but hey, we’ve moved on since Nelson (a namesake in The Crossing Places) clobbered the combined Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar, and The Iron Duke saw off the dictator Bonaparte at Waterloo. So… um… where was I? Oh, yes, The Crossing Places. Elly Griffiths writes not just present tense, but multiple-point-of-view third person present tense, and I have to say I’m a convert. She pulls it off brilliantly. Personal prejudice shattered, I’ll definitely read more of Elly Griffiths’ third person, multi POV, realistic cozy mystery. A rare 5/5 stars from me. Loved it.

Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying wood the Scandinavian way, by Lars Mytting

I read a good book the other day #14

Considering a potential husband? First, consult his woodpile…

Image: book jacketHands up those who would have thought it possible to write a whole book about chopping firewood and make it interesting! But that’s exactly what Lars Mytting achieves in Norwegian Wood. This was a Christmas present from my sister and it took me back to those teenage years when bull headed rebellion intrude on a boy’s life.

One of my chores was gathering wood for the open fires that we still had in our family home to supplement an indifferent coal fired central heating system. We had no gas in those days, so filling the coal scuttle from the store in the cellars was a chore that soon grew tiresome to a teenager with other interests. I also had to watch out for the toad who lived in our coal heap for years. I didn’t want to shovel him up and throw him on the fire along with the coal.

But when dad acquired a chain saw I discovered a new pleasure in contributing something tangible to the household economy before the time of earning money. We had enough trees in our large garden then to supplement our winter fuel, and during winter was the time dad and I would go out and choose a tree to saw down and cut into logs with our macho new tool. That was often cold work and sometimes hard labour dragging the logs back to the shed, then splitting and piling them, but it taught me to work with my father and to appreciate the value of useful, as compared to merely intellectual, work. But the part I enjoyed best was splitting the logs with father’s (or was it grandfather’s?) axe. I was not allowed to use the axe until a certain age, of course. You need enough physical growth and strength to wield an axe safely, to be able to swing it in a wide arc around your head and strike the log truly so that it splits and does not skitter sideways off the block, deflecting the axe head out of control. A miss-strike can result in the axe head making a beeline for your ankles with obvious disastrous consequences. The boat builder’s adze is an even worse offender in this respect. Luckily, I still possess both feet.

But I fear my efforts would have been laughed out of court by a genuine Norwegian woodcutter. According to Lars Mytting (and I have no reason to doubt him) in Scandinavia where winters are infinitely colder and longer lasting than our British affairs, which tend to be drearily damp and chilly with only a short burst of actual freezing thrown in for a laugh, woodcutting, like insulation, is taken much more seriously. And quite right too.

Going beyond the differences between a forest axe and a splitting axe, this and that make of chain saw, and how modern wood stoves burn more cleanly than those of old, Lars raises woodcutting, stacking and drying to an art form, including the beneficial spiritual and environmental issues of using wood as a heating fuel. When I say spiritual I don’t mean in the religious sense, I mean in the benefit to a man’s inner spirit when he feels he is doing something useful, not only for himself but for his whole family. Lars’ little side note of an old man rejuvenated by chopping his woodpile is especially touching.

Environmentally, wood is carbon neutral since the growing tree absorbs from the environment all the carbon it later releases in burning, so in a country where wood is plentifully grown it makes sense to use it as a heating fuel. Though not generally a great fan of rules and regulations I have to say that I do approve of Norway’s building regulation that (according to Lars) requires new houses be provided with a wood burning stove.

Sadly, in Great Britain our far more densely crowded islands are no longer blessed with so much tree cover as Norway, nor do we have such good access to what comparatively paltry few trees we do have for firewood. Lars says that in Norway many forest owners actually welcome firewood cutters into their forests because they help to thin the trees and carry away the unwanted surplus of a forest that is grown principally for building timber. I can just imagine (not!) rocking up in a handy UK forestry commission wood or at some private country estate with chain saw and axe slung over my shoulder and being welcomed to take what I want from their woods. Oh, if only… (And to think the history books say it was just so in medieval times, when every peasant had the right to collect firewood until greedy kings and land-grabbers got their grubby mitts on things…)

But it’s not all so serious as to be an art form. Take this (edited) extract where Lars tells us that in nineteenth century Maine, USA, a young woman considering a potential husband would be advised first to consult his woodpile:

Upright and solid pile: upright and solid husband

Low pile: cautious man, could be shy or weak

Tall pile: ambitious, but watch out for sagging and collapse

Not much wood: a life lived from hand to mouth

No woodpile at all: don’t even go there

Lars Mytting’s writing and the translation from Norwegian to English by Robert Fergusson are excellent, and there are many colour photos throughout the book illustrating points made. Lars almost makes me want to emigrate to Norway. I thoroughly enjoyed Norwegian Wood: Chopping, stacking and drying wood the Scandinavian way. If you think you might too, or somebody you know, rush out and buy a copy now.

Boldly Going Nowhere by Steven McKinnon

I read a good book the other day #13

Image: book jacketNow, this is really something different. I found it via the blog of a fellow indie author (http://www.stellawilkinson.com/im-reading/boldly-going-nowhere).

Quote from the book: “I’m sure there is a mathematical formula for how the collective mental age of men diminishes in equal proportion to the amount of men present x units of alcohol consumed.” (McKinnon, Steven (2015-09-24). Boldly Going Nowhere (p. 351). Vividarium Books. Kindle Edition.)

Boldly Going Nowhere might be fiction or might be a strange sort of autobiography. In his foreword McKinnon claims it is both: a sort of fictionalised truth. Steven (ie the character in the book rather than the author, though they might be one and the same) is the archetypal young adult of today who spends every spare moment absorbed in his PlayStation, eating junk food and hanging out with friends, the perennial kidult still a teenager at twenty-five — an age when his grandparents might have been flying Spitfires or struggling up the beaches of Normandy with Nazi bullets zipping past their ears. I suppose that’s progress of a sort. No offence, Steven, just saying…

But as if that’s not enough to make the old codgers amongst us huff and tut and mutter about the state of today’s youth Steven presents himself as a twenty-something male virgin struggling to find a relationship, who imagines all his friends are perfectly at ease with life and suffer none of his awkwardness around girls. He also has what corporate-speak-fluent young folk these days call Issues with some friends, that must be dealt with somehow.

I don’t know how near all this comes to a typical life experience for a young person these days, but to me Boldly Going Nowhere certainly carries the ring of truth between its lines, especially if we allow that more truth may be conveyed in fiction than in a self-righteous style of autobiography, which this is not. In this thoroughly engaging and witty romp through the troubled life of a socially awkward kidult much of the action is set in Glasgow or thereabouts, and the style is modern, humorous and refreshing, including one chapter that consists of just three very important words. I’ll leave you to discover what they are.

Does Steven get the girl in the end? Does he successfully negotiate the mine-strewn waters of friendships on the rocks? I won’t spoil it by telling you here but I thoroughly enjoyed this read which will, if you’re inclined to harbour a jaundiced view of today’s youth, lift the spirits and restore some faith in a section of society that might sometimes appear appallingly shallow.

My verdict: 99p well spent. Give it a go, especially if you happen to be a grumpy old codger or a desperate twenty-something male virgin. Speaking personally, having read Boldly Going Nowhere, I still wouldn’t give anybody under the age of thirty the vote though…

Courage Begins by R. Scott Mackey

I read a good book the other day #12

Image: Courage Begins book jacketUsing your nous to nail the guilty

Detective story… sort of. That’s to say, not a police detective story, though police do come into it. Ray Courage is a fifty something former college professor making a life change. He signs on as apprentice investigator for a Sacramento insurance company who harbour suspicions that one of their clients has done them over by murdering his wife in order to make a claim.

Now, I would normally find it difficult to sympathise with an insurance corporation. In my estimation they are, taken as a class of people (admittedly limited to my experience of such mundane things as motor and house insurance), a bunch of thieving baskets who only offer cover for things they think most unlikely to happen anyway! On the other hand, neither do I approve of murdering one’s spouse in a fit of resentment at all those premiums paid and nothing to show for them.

Courage is assigned this cold case as his first investigation for the company. The story is well constructed and written in a style that appeals to me. I’m not much into superheroes with the sort of mental or physical powers the rest of us mere humans lack. Roughie-toughie detectives who treat everyone else as a piece of horse manure and merrily spray bullets around the streets of New York or indeed anywhere, leave me yawning mightily. I prefer realistic characters in whose shoes I might, albeit with a little stretch of imagination, see myself or others of my acquaintance, and R. Scott Mackey gives us just this kind of story. Nothing happens that would require the likes of James Bond or Dirty Harry to sort out; no spectacular explosions; the body count is minimal; nobody does anything that any of us might not have done in similar circumstances, and that’s just the sort of story I like. Realistic people in a realistic setting, albeit filtered via the imagination of the author. Ray Courage does what detectives have to do: he follows the clues; he has to be a bit devious here and there; he uses his nous to nail the guilty, and quite right too.

Courage Begins is a novella designed as a freebie giveaway introduction to the Ray Courage series. This is a laudable marketing ploy. It gives readers new to the author a chance to try him out at zero cost, and if the rest of the series (I haven’t yet tried any of them) lives up to this intro then R. Scott Mackey has done a good job. My verdict: If you’re into mystery give him a try.

Disclosure: The author’s agent brought this book to my attention. I do not normally review to request. I only mention books I happen to have read and liked. This looked interesting and I was in need of a good read at the time so I gave it a shot. I did not formally accept the invitation to review but simply downloaded the book independently direct from the author’s website.

 

The Cockpit: Flying Adventures for Young Pilots

podcast: (download: duration 6m 31s/9mb)

I read a good book the other day #11

TheCockpit02“Dad…”

“Yes, son?”

“What does ejaculated mean?”

(Cough, cough) “Er-hum… Sorry son, what was that?”

“Percy ejaculated. What does it mean?”

Uncomfortable shuffling on the landing outside my bedroom, where Dad just happened to be passing when I asked my innocent question. “Well, it means, um… sort of… Is your bed a bit wet, son?”

“No dad. Is that what ejaculated means?”

“Never mind, son. It’s nothing to worry about. Settle down now, eh? Time for lights out.”

“But dad, it says in this book…”

“OhMyGod,” (rushes into my bedroom) “Lemmeseethatbook. What are they teaching kids in school these days?”

Dutifully I hand over my now precious copy of The Cockpit to father. It is nearly 11 inches by 8, an inch and a half thick, quite a weighty tome for a youngster. Published sometime between the World Wars it is now getting on a bit, and such are the dangers of archaic language in old books that I swear that conversation actually took place between me and my father when I was maybe eight or nine years old. Okay, so I invented the detail, but the gist is there.

Listening to Dan Snow’s Voices of the First World War on the wireless recently (BBC Radio 4: the Home Service, don’t y’know…) has been inspiring. Sadly, there are no WW1 ‘vets left now. All gone. Only their recorded voices survive to tell it as it really was. They inspired me in this centenary period of World War One to re-read The Cockpit: Flying Adventures for Young Pilots.

You’ve all heard of Biggles? The Cockpit is a collection of short stories of World War One flying. There is one Biggles story in The Cockpit, as well as seven others by a variety of authors, all brilliantly evocative of the times and of the mind-set that pervaded such stories in that heroic period of sanitised reconstruction of history for public consumption. My favourite features Comstock the Canadian Camel crasher, a Sopwith Camel being a variety of WW1 biplane, of course. He is succeeded by Glorious Devon the Perfect Pilot.

Image: The Beauty of Flight. A Hawker Hart of 33 Sqyadron RAF

THE BEAUTY OF FLIGHT one of eight colour plates by Stanley Orton Bradshaw depicts a Hawker Hart of 33 Squadron RAF, probably the most modern aeroplane depicted in The Cockpit. The diagonal stripes are a defect of digital scanning not present on the original.

There is no publication date in my copy of The Cockpit, but in this year of 2015, fully 100 years since the times and events described in The Cockpit I thought it appropriate to read again one of my favourite books from childhood. The pages are yellowed now with age, but the print is large and the paper stiff as card, so despite its thickness there are not so many pages as to daunt a nine year old. As well as line drawings depicting exciting scenes from each story there are eight gorgeous full colour plates depicting aircraft of the time in flight, one of which, the Hawker Hart, to my eye, shows in its profile hints of the Hurricane later to be developed for another dreadful war.

In The Cockpit, pilots and their gunners are heroic figures. They shoot and bomb and deal with spies and outwit the enemy’s best efforts. Their machines – that’s what they call their aeroplanes – are of the most advanced for their time. They outfly and outgun the enemy’s machines and bring them down in flames. All the stuff of adventure for boys of nine or ten. But in spite of all the carnage, nobody seems to suffer too greatly. Nobody is horribly burned or dies in agony, shot to pieces by red hot lead or plunged headlong into the ground at full flying speed. False fantasy? Not truly representative of the horrors that must have befallen many of those heroic pilots and aircrew? Yes, sure, but of such stuff is adventure made for nine year olds, without giving them nightmares. It would be just too cynical, even for me, to suspect The Cockpit of being recruitment propaganda for the next world war shortly to follow, the one in which my father served.

Do beware of letting your nine year old loose with The Cockpit, though. Some guidance might be in order. That archaic language includes words and attitudes that we might consider dubious these days. U-boats are called pig-boats, for example, which I assume was authentic language for the time but which displays an attitude to Johnny Foreigner that we might no longer wish to encourage in our children.

Don’t ask to borrow my copy of The Cockpit. I image it came to me via an uncle from one of my grandfathers whom I am sad never to have met, since he died the year I was born. I treasure it now for its heritage as well as its power to take me happily back to childhood, a momentary escape from our modern world of trouble and strife. My copy of The Cockpit is not in the best condition. It is a bit ragged round the edges, stuck together here and there with bits of tape and bearing the mouldy signs of some long past storage in a damp place. It’s my guess that you’ll be lucky to find The Cockpit even in an antiquarian bookshop, but if you do then grab it at any cost. It’s a rattling good read that takes me right back to that innocent question one night in my boyhood…

Father studies the page I show him and reads aloud the offending lines: “Forty pounds of cast iron, high explosive, delicate concussion mechanism and aluminium guide tail went hurtling toward the monster of the deep. “Dash!” ejaculated Percy, as he watched the yellow egg strike the water ten feet from the greasy-sleek U-boat. There was a gurgling roar, a torrent of foamy sea water, and that was all. A complete miss.”

“Whew!” father ejaculates, relieved. “It’s… an expression of surprise, son. That’s all.” He hands back my book with an indulgent smile and allows ten minutes more for reading before lights out.

Stories in The Cockpit, published by John Hamilton Ltd, London:

HOODOO by Kenneth Quintrel

PRICELESS PERCY by Arch Whitehouse

THE UNFORGIVING MINUTE by Kenneth Quintrel

THE ACE OF SPADES by Captain W.E.Johns (a Biggles story)

FRIGHTFULLY BRIGHT by Kenneth Quintrel

MAD MIDNIGHT by Arch Whitehouse

THE ENGLISH OFFENSIVE by Rudolf Stark (a flying story told from the German point of view)

ONE CROWDED HOUR by Kenneth Quintrel

PS: I checked ebay and found one copy of The Cockpit for sale at £52, so there are copies out there if you search.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read a good book the other day #10

Image: Gone Girl book jacket.Portrait of a wronged wife who gets her revenge by shredding her husband’s life instead of his ties.

No wonder this has been such a hit. Deservedly so. The story is set in America, with totally American characters, attitudes and language (non of which is a criticism; just so you know what to expect), but there is a lot that is universal in this portrait of a disintegrating marriage and disintegrating lives. If you don’t see yourself reflected somewhere in the first half of Gone Girl, and admonish yourself for the same stupid errors in life that you’re reading about, then you’re either very lucky or you’re telling yourself lies.

But that’s just the first half.

Suppose your spouse went missing. Who would be chief suspect? It’s got to be the partner, right? And it turns out he’s a rotten cheating louse. He appeals on TV for help to find his missing wife. At first the nation’s heart goes out to a bereft husband. Then the details of his illicit affair come out, and public opinion turns against him. In the blink of an eye he’s a murdering, philandering, dirty rotten cheating basket. It’s gotta be him, right? Unless…

I won’t spoil it with details. Suffice to say this is the story of the wronged wife who gets her revenge by shredding her husband’s life, instead of his ties. But Flynn works in twists and turns right up to the last page. The whole story is presented in his and hers chapters, so we get two points of view about everything that happens. The writing style is modern, lively and fresh. You won’t be bored; just don’t expect to feel too much sympathy for either the cheating husband or the wronged wife.

A few cautions:

1) Seriously profane language (again not a criticism…).  Characters spatter their speech when under stress with words beginning with F and C that are never uttered in my house or anywhere by me, but which I hear routinely on the street, in film, on the TV and at work. They are part of modern life now, and they are used appropriately in Gone Girl, adding to the realism, by characters who very likely would use such words in real life. Just be prepared.

2) It’s quite long. The author has clearly done detailed research and has every aspect of the police investigation, for example, nailed down. The story could have been told more briefly (as could any story; again not a criticism) but then something would have been left out and some self-appointed expert would have delighted in pointing out the omission. The detail is what makes this story authentic.

A good read. Definitely give it a try (subject to the cautions mentioned above).

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

I read a good book the other day #9

Image: The Cuckoo's Calling book jacket.J.K. took a beating… but not from me!

Detective mystery with a difference. JK took a beating from some critics when she switched from Harry Potter to adult mystery. Well, not from me. I thoroughly enjoyed this crime/mystery/ ever so nearly a romance. Took me a few chapters to understand the characters but then couldn’t put it down.

Galbraith’s detective, Cormoran Strike, is a new type in the genre. Neither cosy nor hard boiled, he is a hard man, army trained, but hampered by a peg leg (UK expression, mostly obsolete. He has a prosthesis), but as a PI working in the UK he cannot carry a gun. Strike is estranged from his long-time fashion model/society girlfriend, and he has an assistant, Robin, which allows Galbraith to inject a thread of romantic suspense. All the way through I was thinking, Will Strike and Robin get together? They don’t, in this book, but there are hints. It’s my guess Galbraith/Rowling will keep us on the hook with this strand through at least the next and maybe several more instalments in the series.

The strange name, Cormoran, is BTW the name of a mythical Cornish giant, as Galbraith reveals in the next book, The Silkworm. The aptness of the mysterious title, The Cuckoo’s Calling, does come out in the book, but I’ll leave you to discover the explanation for yourself. 5/5 stars from me. Good stuff.

 

The Magic of the Swatchways & Round the Cabin Table, both by Maurice Griffiths

I read a good book the other day #8

My 20 year old paperback editions are from Conway Maritime Press. Search Amazon for current editions.

My 20 year old paperback editions are from Conway Maritime Press. Search Amazon for current editions.

And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python. Most of my recommendations so far have been fiction. These two are what I call fictionalised non fiction. Maurice Griffiths was in his day (the 1930s to -60s) editor of the Yachting Monthly magazine in the UK. His books recount tales of cruising under sail, mainly around the south east coast of England. They evoke all the magic of a time when the seas were less crowded and a yacht could find anchorage in sheltered places where now a predatory marina occupies the best spot and works in cahoots with rascals who dress in uniform and style themselves Harbourmaster. These thieves work in packs and lie in wait with cosh and cuffs to pounce on the visiting yachtsman and empty his wallet. In some places, lying to ones own anchor is these days not only considered eccentric but actively discouraged by officious harbourmasters demanding money with legal menaces. Why, I was once hoist to the yardarm by the ankles by one of these pirates intent on shaking the loose change from my pockets. And I only made up one element of that last sentence! I would gleefully name the rascally basket here if the laws of libel were not so unfairly biased in his favour.

Do I sound peeved? Yes, you bet. I read and re-read Maurice Griffiths to sooth the hackles, comfortably settled in my armchair beside a roaring log fire during the loooong winter evenings with pipe and slippers and cat purring on my lap. Okay so I made up that last bit too, but you get the idea. If only ’twere true…

These are not stories of heroic adventures on the ocean waves. They are more domestic than that, on a scale that will chime with weekend sailors who escape their rotten, boring office jobs for a few days at a time during the sailing season, and submit to the dismal slavery of earning wages the week after. Five stars for quality of writing and stories that evoke better times. I suppose only the over sixties will really appreciate this sort of writing, more’s the pity.

Dammit, my pipe’s gone out! (reaches grumpily for ounce of rough shag and box of Swan Vestas).

 

The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson

I read a good book the other day #7

Image: The Detective's Daughter book jacket

Click the image to go to Amazon UK

A Marmite read (UK expression). Loved or loathed by reviewers (try a few at Amazon). Not exactly a detective mystery, though there is a mystery solved. Very complicated plot. Took me several chapters to get the hang of Thompson’s peculiar characters and the minute detail of their puzzling lives. Take, for instance, the weird London underground train driver who secretly lives in other people’s houses (while they are present, mark you, without their noticing). In the course of developing this character Thompson goes into considerable detail about the workings of the London underground system. I’m guessing this is intentional, to cloud the issues and obscure the truth until the end as well as to convey the strangeness of this character, which it does pretty satisfactorily. You might have to persevere, but it does all come together in the end. I was puzzled at first, then drawn into the plot, and finally I did enjoy it, which is a pretty good result overall and more or less what every author tries to achieve with what I’ll characterise as literary mystery. So, four stars. Give it a shot. Challenging, but you don’t always want easy reading, after all.