In Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)
, award-winning documentary filmmaker Sandy Balfour traces the history of his longstanding fascination with the construction and solving of crosswords, and searches deeper, into the multiplicity of languages, and the relationship between setter and solver that at first appears cruel and combative, but establishes itself as empathetic and playful.
On the way, he reflects on matters less cerebral: his early life in Apartheid-era South Africa, his transplantation to Britain, the travels and tribulations of international filmmaking, and a personal journey to fatherhood; all the time both burdened and enabled by the seemingly conflicting modes of thinking--unfettered and rebellious, pedantic and disciplined--that characterise the successful cryptic crossword. The book is studded with cryptic clues (thankfully, and instructively solved later), and culminates in a crossword set by the author's chief tormentor, and hero, Araucaria, of the Guardian, which appeared in the newspaper to celebrate Balfour's 40th birthday.
Balfour writes in an easy, discursive style, and while it's doubtful that complete newcomers to cryptic puzzles will find him an entirely suitable tutor (try instead How To Do The Times Crossword), he is at least blessed with a wonderful capacity to enthuse. Crossword regulars should seek no more elaborate invitation than the challenge of the book's title. --Alex Hankin
A charming book...some of us have a new ambition to be the next Sandy Balfour -- Sunday Times
A little gem...lingers in the memory long after the final page -- Val Gilbert, Sunday Telegraph
An extraordinary memoir
A mesh of journeys and destinations, politics and romance, it touches what is beyond words -- Sophie Ratcliffe, The Times
This beautiful book is as enigmatic and pleasurable as a perfect crossword clue' -- Francis Wheen