Sunday, February 18, 2018

SPIES OF THE BALKANS - Alan Furst

























Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: Northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece - the city of Salonika.  In that ancient port, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out.  On the northern border, the Greek army has blocked Mussolini's invasion, pushing his divisions back to Albania - the first defeat for an ally of the Nazi's, who have conquered most of Europe.  But Adolf Hitler will not tolerate such defiance: in the spring he will invade the Balkans and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait.

This story centres on Costa Zannis,a senior police official who finds himself surrounded by spies from all sides. And on the side he has found himself setting up an escape route for German Jews from Berlin, which sets the Gestapo onto him.

This is a good tight thriller with Furst's detail to history making it an all around interesting read.  As with all Furst's stories it shows what the ordinary people did during this time of war.

This is one theatre of the war that I've never even knew about let  alone read about.  Recommended.



Monday, February 12, 2018

HIS LAST BOW - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

























This is a collection of late Sherlock Holmes stories with the last one, this collections title, published in 1917.

I have loved the Holme's stories having read and re-read most of them many times over the years.

This is the first time I've read this collection and it is obviously from the late period, the stories have no 'zip', Holmes and Watson are lack lustre and if you've read how Doyle got sick of Holmes its apparent here.

Read this if you are a completest otherwise stick to the early tales that have amazed me for years.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

FATHERLAND - Robert Harris

























April 1964.  The naked body of an old man floats in a lake on the outskirts of Berlin.  In one week it will be Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday.  A terrible conspiracy is starting to unravel.

This is an alternative history murder mystery.  Unlike Len Deighton's SS-GB  and Philip K.Dick's Man in the High Castle this is set in Germany and apart from an American journalist all the main characters are German.

The discovery of the first body leads to more and we end up with our lead detective working against the hierarchy.  As a murder mystery its pretty standard fare, what sets it aside is the setting, Nazi Germany who in this book rule Europe.  The monstrosity that was Nazi Germany is taken to the nth degree with their policies being in force for twenty five years.

Historically much of the book is accurate up until 1945 when it becomes fictionalized. This is worth a read. It is a good solid thriller and the pages keep turning, its not life changing but it is a good reminder what has occurred in the past, especially with so many intent on attempting to re-write history.

Philip Kerr writes a very good series set during the Second World war featuring Bernie Gunther, an ex-Berlin detective who works within the system, the system being Nazi Germany.

Monday, February 5, 2018

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS - Kenneth Grahame

























Kenneth Grahame was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The adventure of Ratty,  Mole,  Badger, Toad and friends were created by Grahame for his nightly bedtime stories with his only son, Alistair.  These adventures were published in 1908 as THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and have since captured the imaginations of successive generations of children.

They have also captured the imaginations of successive generations of adults, there is plenty for  'grown ups' to take away from these tales.

There is great humour, great manners and a great lesson in humility.

Ratty, Mole and Badger are the grown ups while Mr Toad is the yahoo who consistently gets himself into trouble with his grandiose ideas and behaviour.  A recidivist dangerous driver, a thief with an ego the size of a large building and prison escapee.  Apart from this he has a couple of endearing qualities and the money to put on a slap up banquet.

There are 12 chapters, twelve adventures that are all resolved satisfactorily in the end.

This is a great read, and great fun.  Not only does the book entertain mightily it supplies
 my favourite quotation:

...there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

The title of Chapter Seven was used by Pink Floyd as the title for their  debut album:
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

This is a mighty read, only 195 pages but a delight.



Sunday, February 4, 2018

THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT - Alan Furst

























Paris,a winter night in 1938: a murder/suicide at a discreet lover's hotel.  But this is no romantic tragedy - it is the work of OVRA, Mussolini's fascist secret police, and is meant to eliminate the editor of  Liberazione , a clandestine emigre newspaper.  Carlo Weisz, who has fled from Trieste an secured a job as a foreign correspondent with the Reuters bureau, becomes the new editor.

Weisz is, at the moment, in Spain, reporting on the last campaign of the Spanish civil war.  But as soon as he returns to Paris, he is pursued by the French Surete, by the agents of OVRA, and by officers of the British SIS.  In the desperate politics of Europe on the edge of war, a foreign correspondent is a pawn, worth surveillance, or blackmail or murder.

This story does not quite have the tension that the other stories of Furst's I've read have.  The main reason I think is that the story moves between countries, has many bit players and so does not have claustrophobic feel of some of the others.  However, this is a small quibble as these are a great series.

This is historically accurate and as all these novels conveys the bravery that the 'little people' displayed when faced by monsters.

A good solid story.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

THE DEVIL DOCTOR - Sax Rohmer

























Again the mysterious and malevolent Doctor sheds his yellow light upon the populace of England.  The Reverend Eltham returns to England with the name of a secret correspondent in China.  He is followed by Fu Manchu, who is willing to use all his diabolic powers to get this information - but Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie are there to thwart him.

The second in the Fu Manchu series, published in 1916, and this carries on as outlandishly as the first.  These are hokey as all hell but are a real guilty pleasure.  The writing is average but there's several murders and narrow escapes every other page which makes for great fun.

I looked into his face - it was drawn and grim, and his brow was wet with perspiration, but his eyes had the fighting glint, and I knew we were upon the eve of strange happenings.

As the paragraph above shows, truly dreadful stuff but I've got ten more to read and I'm looking forward to it

Monday, January 29, 2018

ALIAS GRACE - Margaret Atwood

























Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, the wealthy Thomas Kinnear, and of Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress.  Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane.  Now serving a life sentence after a stint in Toronto's lunatic asylum, Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up and coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace.  He listens to her story, from her families difficult passage out of Ireland into Canada, to her time as a maid in Thomas Kinnear's household.

Again just fantastic writing from Atwood.  The description of the trip by boat from Ireland to Canada is especially moving, you get lost in the writing. 

Life in the early 1800's was hard, it was especially hard if you were female, it was especially especially hard if you were a female child having to fend for yourself with a drunken father and younger siblings.

As the jacket blurb states the doctor takes Grace along her life line until she is brought to the day the murders take place when there is a revelation .There is much historical detail along the way concentrating on describing the lot of the poor. e.g Grace never had a bath until she was 13 years old.

The one part of the novel I didn't understand was a diversion where Dr. Jordan has an affair, I didn't see any need for this but I may have missed something.

The ending is a bit Dickensian as things "fall into place" but that's a nothing, I'm a huge Atwood fan and love anything she writes.

I see this has been made into a television series I hope it does the novel justice but doubt it because no TV can replicate the writing of someone who if there is justice will get the Nobel for Literature shortly.