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Paul D "Paul" (Darwen, Lancashire)

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Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride
Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride
by M.C. Beaton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tired and Arthritic, 23 July 2010
Agatha's neighbour and ex-husband James is engaged to be married to a much younger woman. Agatha herself has been invited. She takes a holiday in Istanbul, where she spies the soon-to-be-happy couple not once but twice, leading James to think she is stalking them. Before the wedding, however, the bride-to-be is murdered, and Agatha finds herself on the list of suspects.

This is slightly better than some of the other books in this series; there is more sleuthing work being done, for one thing. Agatha is now head of her own detective agency, which seems to give the narrative greater focus than is often the case in these books. There is a wide range of characters, although the characterisation still leaves much to be desired. It certainly appears that the writer is running out of ideas, and perhaps it would be better to pension Agatha off. The book passes the time, but is hardly demanding.


Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley
by M.C. Beaton
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stumbling Upon the Truth, 20 July 2010
Jessica Tartinck is the self-appointed leader of the local rambling group, and is determined to exercise the ancient rights of way across private land, even if that means making enemies. And it does. Very soon she is murdered, to no one's real dismay, and Agatha sets out to find out whodunit.

Different from the majority of Whodunits, in that Agatha Raisin tends to stumble across the solution, rather than working things out in the manner of the usual type of gifted amateur sleuth. Ms Beaton clearly thinks that Agatha is a feisty lady of middle-age. In fact, she is frequently simply bad-tempered, bad-mannered, and miserable. There is little sense of her actual age, or of the time-period in which the story is set. In fact, it's nineteen-nineties Britain, thought it hardly feels like it. The supporting characters are vaguely-drawn and hard to tell apart, and I thought the identity of the murderer was pretty obvious. Still, this is a hugely popular series, and this entry in the canon is likely to please her many fans. Dedicated readers of superior mysteries, however, should approach with caution.


Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
by M.C. Beaton
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stumbling onto Murder, 20 July 2010
Taking up residence at a coastal resort to recover from the effects of her last investigation, Agatha Raisin finds herself staying in a hotel with an assortment of middle-aged and elderly people. Having visited a local witch, she begins to feel reinvigorated in her new location. Then the witch is murdered and Agatha puts herself at the centre of the enquiry.

Different from the majority of Whodunits, in that Agatha Raisin tends to stumble across the solution, rather than working things out in the manner of the usual type of gifted amateur sleuth. There also isn't much sleuthing: most of the book is taken up with her personal life, and trying to decide which of several unsuitable men she might marry. In sum, passes the time but hardly occupies the brain.


Cursing Bagels
Cursing Bagels
by Alfred Brendel
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Angels Are Everywhere, 15 May 2010
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This review is from: Cursing Bagels (Paperback)
Alfred Brendel was born in Czechoslovakia, and moved as a teenager to Austria, before finally settling in England. Despite having little formal training in music, Brendel became one of the finest of post-war pianists, making many highly-regarded albums, and becoming world famous as an interpreter of the first Viennese school, particularly of the music of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven. He recorded the latter's Piano Sonatas, regarded as a pinnacle of western music, no fewer than three times during his long career.

But as well as a world-renowned musician, Brendel has always been a poet. This, his second poetry collection, was originally written in German and translated, with Richard Stokes, by the poet. The style of the poems is not easy, but neither is it ever opaque for the sake of it; rather, Brendel is elusive and allusive, letting his subtle harmonies play over the senses so their meaning is discovered gradually, the way a sonata or string quartet may seem to be random until the listener penetrates to the soul beneath. Brendel's tone is wry, gently teasing. Many of the poems are about angels and devils and their ability to alternately enrich us and plague us. Highly metaphorical, Brendel gives up his secrets gradually, inviting us to go with him into his generous, copious imagination. Not quite like any other poet I have read, but having something in common with the metaphysicals, Brendel's tone is rich, warm, humane, much like his music-making.


Selected Poems Michael Hofmann
Selected Poems Michael Hofmann
by Michael Hofmann
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.12

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Home in the World, 15 May 2010
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Michael Hofmann was born in Freiberg, West German, in 1957, son of German writer Gert Hofmann. The family moved to England in 1961, and Hofmann studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and now works as a freelance poet, critic and translator. He has won numerous prizes, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for his second collection, Acrimony in 1986.

This volume of selected poems is culled from Hofmann's four previous books of poetry, and also includes some new poems, not previously collected. Hofmann writes of experience, of the quotidian, and invests it with a depth and power that imparts to his poems their sense of a shared experience; he writes of the universal in the particular. His poems are about ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places, living, loving, getting a job, fixing a mortgage, making a living. He notices the satellite dishes and tea-towels out to dry and mixes with fat friendly ladies and truanting children / West Indian barbers and Lebanese grocers eating on the job. He writes of decay: Idyll suggests how, once he has moved out of his home, The utilities will be turned off one by one.../ the fridge will stop its buzz.../ever more elaborate spiders' webs will sheet off the corners;/rust stains and mildew and rot will spread chromatically.

But Hofmann is not only about decay; he writes powerfully of the redemptive power of love, and it is these strong, powerful emotions which underpin the best of his writing. In the short Poem he tells that When all's said and done, there's still/the joyful turning towards you.

Perhaps the best of his poems, however, are the ones that deal with his father and their relationship, the sadness of age and infirmity, the knowledge, not entirely unwelcome, that he is turning into his own father: By now, it is almost my father's arm,/a man's arm that lifts the cigarettes to my mouth. He recalls the some of their experiences: That morning you played me an interview you gave in French,/a language you hadn't spoken in my lifetime,/literally not since my birth. His father died on 1 July 1993, and this is commemorated in one of the most moving poems in the book.

Michael Hofmann is not a household name, but he deserves to be, for his writing is full of wit and irony, and hold the power to move and to charm.


Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought with Good Manners
Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought with Good Manners
by Andy Merriman
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreadnought with Good Manners, 5 Jan 2010
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Margaret Rutherford was born in Wandsworth, London, in 1892, into a family with a history of mental illness. Her mother committed suicide when Margaret was two years old, and a few years later, her father, who had been detained previously in mental hospitals, attacked and murdered his father, a clergyman. As a result, her father was detained in Broadmoor. Fearing the news might unsettle the young Margaret, she was told that her father had passed away. It was to be some years before Margaret learned the truth, and that her father was still alive. It was a part of her family history that was kept a closely-guarded secret for many years, and one which haunted the successful and seemingly untroubled actress. Later in life her father, an uncle of politician Tony Benn, attempted to make contact with his daughter, but her friends and other relations felt any such contact could only have a deleterious effect on her own health.

Margaret was subsequently taken in by a kindly aunt, and for some years she was educated at home, until it was decided that the child needed the companionship of others her own age. She was sent to a school run by two elderly spinster sisters, and it was here that Margaret decided to become an actress to the consternation of the spinster sisters who ran the school. She took examinations in piano and elocution, and for a while made a living as a tutor in these subjects, but her mind was always on her goal of becoming an actress.

Like many actors of her generation, Margaret built up great experience appearing in repertory theatre with various troupes around the country. For many years it was her dream to play the great dramatic roles - she was particularly keen to play Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Anthony Cleopatra, and the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. However, her eccentricity, perfect comic-timing and humorous appearance guaranteed that she would always be earmarked for comic parts, a fate she eventually accepted. Indeed, in many of the stage production in which she appeared, she was often the only source of praise theatre critics could find, and audiences were so taken with her that her every stage appearance was sure to be greeted with rapturous applause and laughter at every perfectly-delivered line and apt piece of stage business. Indeed, she was frequently the only aspect of a stage production to elicit any praise from many of the theatre critics of the day.

Margaret's film debut saw her cast rather improbably as a gangster's moll in Dusty Ermine, aka Rendezvous in the Alps and Hideout in the Alps. Her next film was Talk of the Devil, the first film to be made entirely at Pinewood studios, which was co-written and directed by Carol Read. Margaret was very taken with the charming young man who was later to direct The Third Man.

For some time she had been very keen on a young man she had met in one of her stage productions, James Stringer Davis. Thought by many to be possibly bisexual, and certainly tied to his domineering mother's apron-strings, Stringer Davis was clearly just as keen on Margaret and, after several years of chaste courtship, and following the death of his mother, the two were married. For the rest of his life, Stringer Davis would appear in most of his wife's films and stage-plays - Rutherford even going so far as to have it written into her contract that a part had to be found for him - but he would support her even more fully in private life. He nursed her through her many bouts of the manic depression to which she was susceptible, and took pains that she always had everything she needed whenever she was working, whether on the screen, or on the stage both in Britain and wherever in the world their stage-work took them: and Margaret Rutherford was hugely popular with audiences around the globe.

She was equally popular with her many friends, being open, ingenuous, generous even when least-able to afford it - indeed the Davises were in financial straits for much of their lives. This open nature was occasionally open to abuse, however, and some of her closest friends felt she was often taken advantage of. Certainly, she was conned by a local antique dealer who claimed to be the estranged brother of the king of Egypt. Typically, however, when she learned the truth, she dismissed the deception, stating that the man had the manners and behaviour of a king. Her many friends, one or two of whom she had kept since school, were often treated to parties and dinners, some of which would end with an impromptu visit to the nearest swimming pool, for Margaret was a keen swimmer who would not be put off by the mere fact of ice-cold water. She loved exercise, walking, swimming, cycling. She would also keep her dressing room and bedroom windows open whatever the weather, being so keen on fresh air, however cold.

Throughout her long career, Margaret Rutherford was prone to breakdowns, many brought on by overwork, although the mental illness that lurked in the family history was never far away, or so she often feared. Frequently, she would become a voluntary patient at a mental hospital, where she could rest and receive first-rate care, though such care was an additional drain on the family finances.

One of her worst breakdowns occurred after being badly treated by Stephen Tennant, who claimed to be in love with her. At one stage she was found by the butler eating coal in the coal shed. Not long after this, and in an attempt to boost her spirits, Noel Coward offered her what was to become her defining role, that of Madame Arcati in his play Blithe Spirit, which he had written to stave off financial difficulties. Initially turning the play down, Coward, along with theatrical impresario Binkie Beaumont, persuaded her to take it on, regardless of her precarious mental state. It transpired that part of her reason for refusing was that she knew people like Madame Arcati in real life; not only this, but Rutherford was a firm believer in spiritualism and the afterlife, and did not wish to be seen to be ridiculing either idea. It was agreed that she could play the part "straight" but, once on stage, she played the part for every laugh she could get. Years later, she attended a luncheon with professional spiritualist mediums, and was relieved to discover that they considered her performance to have been honest and just. Another friendship which proved to have an unhappy ending, though not, this time, from improper behaviour, was her increasingly close relationship with pianist Malcolm Troup. She developed very deep and genuine romantic feelings for Troup, and even planned to run away with him, despite their thirty-year age difference. When he eventually realised just how strong her feelings for him were, he wrote to end their friendship, and never contacted her again. Perhaps inevitably, this was followed by a further breakdown and another course of treatment in a nursing home.

Throughout her life she had a deep and abiding love of poetry. Often, she and Stringer would read aloud to each other. She performed many public poetry readings, and was delighted to be asked to read in Norway & Denmark, visits which resulted in her receiving prestigious awards from the grateful governments of these countries.

One of the strangest relationships of her life was with another person of less than total honesty, Dawn Langley Simmons, who later claimed to have been adopted by the couple, and even wrote a biography of his "adoptive mother". A male-to-female transsexual, Simmons claimed to have been born a girl before being brought up as a boy. Following gender-reassignment treatment, Simmons subsequently married, Margaret and Stringer taking all these developments in their stride.

Merriman's is the first biography of this popular and talented actress for many years. In tone, it is dry and factual, informative rather than entertaining, a resume of parts played and the critical and popular reaction to them. Black and white photographs are included.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2010 6:35 PM BST


The Devil in Amber: A Lucifer Box Novel (Lucifer Box 2)
The Devil in Amber: A Lucifer Box Novel (Lucifer Box 2)
by Mark Gatiss
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wit, Charm, and Brimstone, 14 Sep 2009
Debonair secret agent Lucifer Box is given the task of infiltrating the Fascist Amber Shirt organisation run by Olympus Mons. Running him to ground involves shoot-outs in New York, bedding willing bell-boys, a trip across the sea and a face-to-face encounter on the Alps with Box's infernal namesake.

Box is an older, wiser man than in his debut outing, and Gatiss is careful to show how the world Box understood is now changing, not necessarily for the better. With a mixture of intelligence and brute force, he is determined to overcome the power of evil, but corporeal and infernal.

In many ways, Box is reminiscent of James Bond, Philip Marlowe and Buchan's Richard Hannay. The story is fast-paced, and heavy on action. The story zips along with humour and charm, much like Box himself. Gatiss has given us a mystery with a hint of brimstone and supernatural and will have adventure fans on the edge of their seats.


Brat Farrar
Brat Farrar
by Josephine Tey
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Genuine Ashby, 14 Sep 2009
This review is from: Brat Farrar (Paperback)
Returning to England after living abroad, young Brat Farrar is presented with an offer too good to refuse. He is the double of Simon Ashby, a young man about to attain his majority, whose twin brother, Patrick, committed suicide at the age of thirteen. All Brat has to do is convince the Ashbys that he is Patrick, and that Patrick did not die, but staged his suicide and fled abroad.

Brat's false life goes mostly his own way. As the older twin, the house and its precious stables belong to him. The rest of the family, and the locals, take to him straightway, all except his twin, Simon, who maintains his suspicions. But, as the story goes on, Simon is not the only one to harbour suspicions.

This is an unusual mystery from Ms Tey: Brat is a likeable young man with scruples about what he is embarking on. As the tale wears on, it becomes apparent that there is more to the late Patrick's unexpected death than was first thought. The question is, what can Brat do about it without giving away his own nefarious position? Ms Tey keeps the reader guessing right to the last page of what is an intriguing, well-written mystery.


The Franchise Affair (Classic Crime)
The Franchise Affair (Classic Crime)
by Josephine Tey
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Affair, 14 Sep 2009
One day, after being missing for a month, a young girl appears with an astonishing tale: that for the past few weeks she was held prisoner and regularly beaten by two women who live in an isolated houser. It is up to Arthur Crook, lawyer and amateur sleuth, to prove this story false, if he can.

This is an unusual suspense tale from Ms Tey, involving no murder, and a far from common type of detective. In fact, the story is based on a real-life case from the eighteenth century. Tey's characterisation is perceptive, the characters well-drawn and idiosyncratic. Although there is not a great deal of description, the locale and the locals are brought to life so that by the end of the story we really feel we know them. Both sides in the tale, and the incidental characters, become well-known to us, so that the denouement is triumphant. This is a tale that will keep any mystery aficionado guessing right to the end.


Lady-killer (Black Dagger Crime)
Lady-killer (Black Dagger Crime)
by Anthony Gilbert
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric Mystery Thriller, 12 Sep 2009
Anthony Gilbert was just one of several pseudonyms used by Lucy Beatrice Malleson who, in her long life, 1899-1973, wrote over fifty crime novels. Lady-Killer concerns the career of Henry Grant, serial wife-murderer.

The first few chapters of the novel each follows a different object of Henry's murderous affections, until he, and we, meet Sarah, a woman who does not fit Henry's normal profile of the older, wealthier woman, but with whom he is unaccountably besotted. Could he, finally, have met the right woman for him?

Unbeknownst to him, his activities have come to the attention of lawyer Arthur Crook. No one will give him the case, as no one is aware that there is a case to be brought, but there are too many coincidences and unanswered questions for Crook's liking. Before long, he is on the trail of this modern-day Bluebeard.

In the meantime, Henry and his new bride have moved into his home, Goblin Cottage, an isolated building near woods believed by many to be haunted. Initially besotted with her elegant new husband, Sarah fails to realise how isolated she herself has become. Only after a night of terror left alone in the cottage, does she realise that no one knows where she is. Gradually, it becomes apparent that her husband, so perfect on the outside, may not be the gentleman he seems.

Gilbert has written a gripping, atmospheric thriller. It can't be called a "mystery", since we know from the beginning exactly what Henry has been doing, and what will happen to Sarah unless she can be rescued in time. The sense of menace when Sarah is left alone in the isolated cottage is palpable, her fear that she will be labelled insane and have no one to help her is beautifully conveyed.


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