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Everything You Know
Everything You Know
by Zoe Heller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Heller's great debut, 23 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Everything You Know (Paperback)
This is Zoe Heller's first novel, and it crackles with characteristic wit and humour. Willy Muller, a TV journalist, has become involuntarily famous after his wife died in questionable circumstances during a domestic fight. Having fled London for California, he is attempting to rebuild his life as a script writer, but the whole experience has left him bitter and contemptuous of all around him - though the result is not self-pity but a sarcasm that is so corrosive that it borders on farce. Muller's ill starred attempt to fit into the American scene, meanwhile, is further rocked when he learns that one of his two daughters has committed suicide. Ignoring the deadline on his latest ghosted biography and the problem of his fast-depleting funds, he bumbles into a trip to Mexico. Yet his lost daughter's journal, which forms a second, more tragic voice to the book, won't leave him alone until he is compelled to face his past. Heller artfully blends comedy and emotion in this highly accomplished psychological drama. As good as the same author's Notes on a Scandal and in my opinion superior to The Believers, Everything You Know is a highly engaging novel that should appeal to Heller fans and novices alike.


The Making of Modern British Politics: 1867 - 1945
The Making of Modern British Politics: 1867 - 1945
by Martin J. Pugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.59

4.0 out of 5 stars The missing link, 11 Feb. 2015
In 1867, Britain had just adopted the Second Reform Act. Though this was a major step towards universal suffrage, it remained several gradations away from modern democracy yet. Its ruling parties were the predominantly agrarian Tories and the Liberals, a ramshackle group still completing its transition from the politics of Palmerston to those of Gladstone. By 1945, it had become the two-party polity we have become accustomed to. This book elucidates the era in between, the long transition made all the more painful and unpredictable by two major wars. The slow collapse of the once invincible Liberals, the surprise yet chaotic rise of Labour, and the multiple Conservative reinventions are all charted here, with due attention to electoral, ideological, and tactical factors. Complete yet clear and to-the-point, Pugh's account reflects the main historical debates as to the forces at play. It is essential reading for students of the period and of general interest in its portrayal of the country's end-transition to political modernity. Finally, British politics have recently become more multi-party again, with the first coalition cabinet in a long while, and the book's account of three-party, interwar politics may in this sense have become relevant anew.


Munich: The 1938 Appeasement Crisis
Munich: The 1938 Appeasement Crisis
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great betrayal, great account, 2 Feb. 2015
Faber's Munich: the 1938 Appeasement Crisis, is the best general-reader account of Munich as well as being the more recent to date. Both well informed and lively, it tells the engrossing story of what must rate as one of the greatest diplomatic blunders of all time. We all know how Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, surrendered the Sudetenland and with it Czechoslovakia to Hitler, not realising that far from buying peace he was making a major strategic contribution to the totalitarian camp. At least, we think we know, but there is always more to tell of this morbidly fascinating tale. Faber concentrates particularly on the British side of things and excels at showing British policy in all its nuances - Chamberlain's arrogant obstinacy, the sycophancy of his followers, the despair of anti-appeasers such as Eden, Duff Cooper, or Churchill, but also the surprise, last-minute reversal of Halifax - and in its twists and turns. His book is colourful, good at captivating the atmosphere of the time, and it contains more than a few telling anecdotes. It is highly recommended reading, even if you already have some familiarity with the subject.

Faber's book also makes a valuable academic contribution, tapping into a number of British manuscript archives from second-tier protagonists. For students, however, the major work on Munich remains Telford Taylor's Munich: the Price of Peace, a more analytical work that is also better rounded in terms of coverage of French, German, and Czechoslovak aspects as well as such issues as the military balance. Though Taylor is no revisionist, it is also worth pointing out that academic historians have recently tended to be kinder to Chamberlain than used to be the case, and to find mitigating circumstances in Britain's poor state of war-readiness and in public opinion. Frankly I find all that dubious, and Faber is a very good reminder why.


Clandestine
Clandestine
by James Ellroy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ellroy in his stride, 2 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Clandestine (Paperback)
Clandestine is Ellroy's second novel, and though it exhibits some of the features of his more mature writing - a much longer time span to the plot than is typically of noire, for example - stylistically it tends to be a conventional thriller. Set in early 1950s L.A., it also echoes the masters of the genre, as Brown's Requiem did and arguably even more so. Fred Underhill, an ambitious cop, happens on his beat on the strangled corpse of a young secretary he once knew. Months later, a connection is made with another murder exhibiting similar features. Underhill sets about enquiring on his own, then with the help of detective Dudley Smith - a major denizen of Ellroy's later works - and soon they corner a suspect and move in for a confession. But have they got the right man? As usual in Ellroy, no one is entirely innocent, and it takes multiple twists and turns before the investigation reaches any sort of closure. Clandestine is a great thriller by a master in his formative years. Lacking the staccato style of the American Underworld trilogy, more fluid and easier on the reader, I would even rate it as a more appealing novel than some of Ellroy's later, better known, and more complex works.


Brown's Requiem
Brown's Requiem
Price: £4.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Ellroy, 12 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Brown's Requiem (Kindle Edition)
This was James Ellroy's first novel. In the introduction, the author writes that it is `heavily beholden' to Raymond Chandler, but also that imitating the 1940s noir genius was 'a dead-end street on GenreHack Boulevard'. With this, all is said: Brown's Requiem is a transposition of the L.A. private eye classics to the late 1970s. With its sour and flawed but gritty hero, its excursion through vice-ridden Mexican border towns, its vortex of corrupt policemen and crazed criminals, it hits all the nails on the head. At the same time, stylistically it is not Chandler, lacking the crackling dialogue, the bygone polish, the inimitable poetic sarcasm - it is tempting to plot based on Chandler, but it is a far harder thing to write like him.

And yet Brown's Requiem is a great read. Fritz Brown, a cop turned detective and classical music buff, is hired by a golf caddie to spy on his cello-playing sister and her patron. But the caddie is not what he looks, and Brown soon finds himself investigating a far wider conspiracy involving organised fraud and arson. As a disgraced ex-cop, moreover, he comes to be at a dangerous disadvantage when he finds that powerful policemen are involved. Violent and dark but not exceedingly so, this is a thriller of the first class. It also draws from the world of golf caddies, in which Ellroy apparently did a spell as a budding writer. Its style, finally, is far different than his later novels: much less clipped and laden with slang, lacking the staccato directness of the author's 'American Underworld' trilogy, but also more fluid and easier on the reader. Ellroy remained, when he was writing this, in his formative years. For Chandler-obsessed fans, this is actually an advantage.


The Eustace Diamonds
The Eustace Diamonds
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Muted sparkle, 12 Jan. 2015
The Eustace Diamonds is the third in the six-novel Palliser series, a group of books brought together by a set of common characters, but that does not need to be read in order. Though Trollope is always good, I would not recommend it as the best in that series, however, that prize going to the two Phineas Finn novels - Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux, the exceptions in the series in that the second of these two is a sequel to the first. If you have already read the Phineas books, however, you will enjoy The Eustace Diamonds, and indeed find two of their peripheral characters acting as central protagonists here.

The Eustace Diamonds has the social climber Lizzie Greystock make an earlier marriage to a sickly heir, Florian Eustace, and promptly inherit. Lizzie is set up for life but, being shallow, selfish, and manipulative, she fails to find this enough and soon becomes embroiled in further dubious society intrigues. Part of the Eustace inheritance, moreover, was a valuable diamond necklace, and Lizzie, falsely claiming she was given the diamonds by her late husband, finds herself under attack from the family lawyer, who seeks to recover them on behalf of the estate. Inevitably, at some point, the jewels get stolen, causing the heroine to tie herself up in an even thicker web of lies. Trollope's novel deals with the familiar concerns of London, or English high society at the time, namely property, politics, and reputation among a small coterie of the glamorous and powerful. Laced with a burglary story, it is endowed with a good plot and involves the typical ironic situations and dialogues at which Trollope was a master. Perhaps because it is overladen with unsavoury characters, nevertheless, I found that it engages the reader slightly less than the rest of the series, which is otherwise a masterpiece of nineteenth-century English literature.


Abaddon's Gate: Book 3 of the Expanse
Abaddon's Gate: Book 3 of the Expanse
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Cracking, 19 Dec. 2014
Abaddon’s Gate is the third book in the expanse trilogy by James S.A. Corey, so if you have not read the first two (Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War), stop reading this review here. For those who are looking to move on to the third volume of what currently stands as a quadrilogy (but remains in progress), Abaddon’s Gate flags very slightly in pace from the first two books, but remains en excellent read. Jim Holden and his crew remain at the helm, at least at the beginning of the book, and Miller even makes a comeback. But enough said: the expanse series is consistently good science fiction, and there is every reason to continue with it.


Caliban's War: Book 2 of the Expanse
Caliban's War: Book 2 of the Expanse
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking, 19 Dec. 2014
Caliban's War is the second book in the expanse trilogy by James S.A. Corey, so if you have not read the first (Leviathan Wakes), stop reading this review here. For those who are looking to move on to the second volume of what currently stands as a quadrilogy (but remains in progress), Caliban's War does not flag in quality or pace from the first book. Jim Holden and his crew remain at the helm, and the proto-molecule has not disappeared. But enough said: the expanse series is consistently good science fiction, and if you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes there is every reason to continue with it.


Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of the Expanse
Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of the Expanse
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking, 19 Dec. 2014
This is the first book in the expanse trilogy by James S.A. Corey, a new science fiction author who is in fact two writers. The plot begins with the hijacking of a spaceship and soon moves on to the discovery of a highly dangerous alien artefact somewhere around Jupiter. Leviathan Wakes is set is an indeterminate but not so far future in which humanity has colonised the solar system, itself culturally and politically split between Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt. The recovery attempt by the pirated ship's second, Jim Holden, soon intersects with an investigation by detective Joe Miller into the disappearance of heroine Julie Mao, daughter of an interplanetary trade magnate. Meanwhile the artefact threatens to run out of control, with horrific consequences.

Leviathan Wakes is well written, with consistent characterisation, imagination, and occasional humour. The gloomy but unflappable Miller works particularly well as an archetype taken from another genre, namely noir, transplanted into a science fiction setting. I also like that it offers a progressive vision of technology, and a sober but in many ways positive peek at the future, unlike the gloomy dystopias that have become fashionable today. While politics remain as fraught as they ever are, and economic relations, there is progress of a sort. And humanity at least seeks to learn from its mistakes. Leviathan Wakes is well worth reading, and though readable as a standalone, it is the first set in a series of novels (running to four to date) of equal quality.


The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany
The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany
by Richard J. Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Reich instalment, 15 Dec. 2014
The Coming of the Third Reich is the first instalment in Pr Evans's trilogy on the subject, the second being on the 1930s Reich and the third on the Reich in WWII. As Evans himself points out at the beginning of this series of three books, published material on the Third Reign runs into the tens of thousands, more than even a professional historian can expect to master in a lifetime. Evans's trilogy, coming from a specialist in the field, is probably the most complete one can expect to find in a single book or set of books. It forms an exhaustive survey, covering social, economic, cultural, and political history, and the student should look no further. All that said, nonetheless, this first volume is less strong than the other two, it overlaps substantially with the second volume, and it can conceivably be skipped over.

The issue with The Coming of the Third Reich, indeed, is that it is neither a history of the Weimar Republic nor a survey of the Reich's origins, but something between the two. As a result, the book has too much of an air of inevitability to it - even if Evans warns against that once in a while. The Weimar regime simply looks doomed from the start: perhaps a fair conclusion, but one that looks too obvious in a book that is explicitly about its Nazi successor. The set of chapters about German history and Nazism at the beginning are likewise awkward. A history of Nazism's ideological antecedents would have worked better, or alternatively a simple, and more neutral, survey of historical works on the question. This volume, finally, overlaps with the next in its account of the Nazi seizure of power from Hitler's appointment as chancellor. The material isn't exactly the same, but the story is, making the whole account repetitive from one book to the next. Overall, finally, I would still recommend the classic account that is Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to the general reader. Yes, it is far less complete than Evans's trilogy and it focuses more narrowly on political history, but for sheer narrative verve, it remains the book to read - or perhaps a combination of Shirer and Evans's second volume, which covers the typically less well known aspects of Nazism.


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