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Giles Allison (London, England)
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The Death Trade (Sean Dillon Series, Book 20)
The Death Trade (Sean Dillon Series, Book 20)
by Jack Higgins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, Mr Higgins, 11 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a much better effort than Mr Higgins' last Sean Dillon novel. There is more action, more of a sense that things could actually go wrong for the team (Dillon finally gets injured - hooray!), the body count is massive and there are even some twists and turns in the plot. Like many of the more recent Dillon novels, this one at times seems more like a string of linked episodes than a story with a coherent and strong plot. But the strands are mainly tied up at the end and the book certainly has sufficient momentum to keep a reader's interest. That said, the basic premise of the novel, that an old Iranian scientist has discovered how to make a nuclear bomb "several times" more powerful than any existing bomb is rather far-fetched (as is the implication throughout that practically everyone in London is an Al-Quaeda agent) and the characterisation of the baddies, as usual, is completely one-dimensional.

So this review gives 4 rather than 5 stars because some of the old shortcomings remain. As with previous Dillon novels, I was left asking the same question as to why he and his friends are still alive. Time and again people are sent out to kill them and fail in the most embarrassingly inept ways. In "The Death Trade" it's Al Quaeda having a go. AQ know where Ferguson's "safe house" is, they know where the Salters' pub is in which the team hangs out. They even seem to know where Dillon's own mews house is. So why don't they just blow these places up? At one point in this novel an AQ operative watches the team in the Salters' pub and muses that a hand grenade would take care of all of them. What a brilliant idea! But of course he doesn't go home to get a grenade, or call someone else to bring one; he just throws himself in with a pistol (and no body armour, obviously - none of the baddies in a Higgins novel ever thinks of wearing a bullet-proof vest) and with the inevitable consequences. Another bizarre aspect to this novel is that one of the characters that the team comes up against early on is an Iranian Army officer called Declan Rashid. Yet when the team is at Roper's computers looking this guy up not one of them says "hmm.....Rashid - I'm sure we've come across people with that name before". Not a flicker of recognition or alarm, despite the fact that the Rashid family spent at least a dozen novels trying to wipe them all out. And how old are these people now? There's a comment in the book that Dillon is now over 50, in which case how old is Ferguson? Maybe, like President Cazelet, Ferguson inhabits his own dimension in which time has stood still. Finally, the repetitious dialogue is still there. Whenever anyone meets the newest team member Sarah Gideon their reaction is always to say "what a remarkable woman!"; team members' most common reply to other team members is "you're a right bastard, [insert name here]"; everything that happens is due to "synchonicity".

So the points above, which rather strain the story's credibility, deny a full 5-star recommendation. A couple of times in the book there is mention of Daniel Holley heading off to Timbuktu with a gang of mercenaries to rescue ancient artefacts from Islamist rebels. That's never developed (we're told he's gone, then later we're told he's back) but it's exactly the sort of story that the Jack Higgins of old, or even the Wilbur Smith of old, would have told very nicely indeed. Maybe have a go with that next, Mr Higgins, and leave the PM's Private Army alone for a while?


A Devil is Waiting (Sean Dillon Series, Book 19)
A Devil is Waiting (Sean Dillon Series, Book 19)
by Jack Higgins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.58

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pointless, 13 Jun 2012
This is almost as bad as 2007'S "The Killing Ground", and is so formulaic and devoid of suspense to be almost a complete waste of time. I say "almost" because I did actually finish it, but only because I was desperately hoping that something dramatic would happen, preferably horrible deaths for some or all of Ferguson's team. I have read every Jack Higgins novel since 1988's "A Season in Hell" and it is very sad to see what had happened to this author's work.

The plot is the same as countless other Dillon novels: bad guys decide they want "revenge" on Ferguson's team; bad guys hire incompetent ex-IRA hitmen; assassination attempts are foiled and Dillon & team chase the bad guys to a remote location where the denouemont happens; bad guys all die (that's not a spoiler - you know it's going to happen from about page 10). That's been the plot of the past half dozen or more Dillon books. And the holes in the plot are getting larger with each book. Here, Al Quaeda hire a couple of middle-aged no-hopers to take the fight to Dillon. As per usual, they botch it up and the Al Quaeda man says "fail me again and I will send my top London operatives to kill you." Er...why aren't those top operatives being sent to kill Dillon etc in the first place? Dillon's team quickly realise they are being targeted, but still wander around alone after dark, spend the night in the same locations and generally make it very easy for people to kill them. Why do they do this, and why doesn't the other side take advantage of it? But nothing exciting happens and every potentially explosive incident is quickly foiled by convenient coincidences. When a couple of incidents do happen, it's clear that they are being hushed up and officially never happened, but then the Prime Minister always says he's worried about "the press having a field day" - but why, if these events never happened and the press doesn't know about them?

I stopped caring about these characters several books ago. Because it's clear nothing, not even a scratch, will ever happen to them it's impossible for Higgins to generate any real suspense. The book only really catches fire in the last 60 pages or so, when a member of the team is kidnapped and Dillon & Holley set out to get them back. But then you realise that the pages left in the novel aren't sufficient to develop this idea - instead of devoting the whole book to this operation, which Higgins should have done, it's all over in a few pages and (this ain't a spoiler, really) the good guys obviously win. As I say, pointless.

Higgins clearly intends to churn out one "Dillon" novel a year. As I said a few years ago, he needs to kill off half of Ferguson's team and send the survivors on a revenge mission. That could be quite entertaining. As it is, don't waste your money on the hardback of this novel (which has a nasty plasticy cover) and dont buy the paperback unless it'S discounted.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2012 11:04 PM BST


Briggs: Mass For Notre Dame (Mass For Notre Dame/ I Will Lift Up Thine Eyes/ Te Deum)
Briggs: Mass For Notre Dame (Mass For Notre Dame/ I Will Lift Up Thine Eyes/ Te Deum)
Price: 14.15

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding in every way, 12 July 2010
Professional critics have been falling over themselves in praising this recording, and now having heard it I can understand why.

First, there is the ravishing beauty of the music. David Briggs (b. 1962) learnt his trade listening to the organ-playing of Pierre Cochereau and took lessons from Jean Langlais. His music inhabits the same perfumed, ecstatic sound-world of these French composers and also of Durufle, Vierne and Faure before them. The "Messe pour Notre-Dame" (2002) actually incorporates some Cochereau music that Briggs heard being improvised in the 1960s. It is an astonishing work, interweaving accompanied choral passages with organ improvisations. The shorter works are perhaps more Anglican in style, but the radiance of the music remains - think Herbert Howells with a French accent. Secondly, there is the excellence of the playing. Stephen Layton is a reliable choral conductor and the Trinity College choir sing beautifully. But it is Briggs himself on the organ of Gloucester Cathedral who provides jaw-dropping virtuosity, not least in the Messe where he improvises passages of awesome complexity.

In short, this disc is a revelation. It must be a contender for any "choral record of the year" award.


The Wolf at the Door (Sean Dillon Series, Book 17)
The Wolf at the Door (Sean Dillon Series, Book 17)
by Jack Higgins
Edition: Hardcover

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A rather pointless exercise, 23 Sep 2009
This is the sequel to "A Darker Place", which itself wasn't published that long ago. The jacket blurb/plot summary provided above is actually quite misleading. The Russians decide to assassinate most of the members of General Ferguson's team and all this action happens within the first 50 or so pages. The rest of the book is the story of how the attacks were planned, told in flashback. Within this flashback is another flashback which explains the life story of Daniel Holley, the ex-IRA arms runner (i.e. Dillon #2) who the Kremlin tasks with arranging the executions. Consequently, Dillon & co don't feature at all in the majority of the book and there is no Ferguson-led "hunt" for the perpetrators, the fate of all of whom we know by page 50. Anyone expecting the violent deaths of half the team followed by Dillon ruthlessly hunting down those responsible for the rest of the book (and I had hoped) will be disappointed.

Why Mr Higgins decided to structure the book this way is anyone's guess. By having the attacks first and then their background told in flashback, the author robs the book of any real tension and excitement - we know what the outcome of those attacks is (I won't reveal it, but have a guess...) so there is little drama in reading about how they were planned. Holley's back story is Higgins' standard "good guy witnesses something ghastly and so joins the IRA for revenge" template. He is essentially a new Sean Dillon and one wonders whether this book is designed to introduce him up for new adventures. I noted that this time the American president isn't named and there is a hint that Jake Cazelet has finally left office. Other details remain the same as before - everyone spends large amounts of time wearing Zeiss glasses and drinking champagne.

The attacks on Ferguson & co should have been tagged on to the end of "A Darker Place" and the rest of the story dispensed with; maybe that was the original intention before someone suggested spinning it out into a whole new book. I found myself skip-reading the last quarter of the book because it simply wasn't interesting. I kept hoping for a riverting twist in the tale - there is one of sorts, but like most of the denouements in the Sean Dillon series it is all over in the blink of eye and leaves you wondering why it is that all the good guys wear body armour and all the bad guys don't. It's been some years now since Hannah Bernstein was killed off - Jack Higgins really needs to take an axe to some other characters if he wants to keep the Dillon saga going, because as it stands now this series is completely out of steam and devoid of interest. That said, I'm sure I'll read the next one...
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 1, 2010 11:24 AM BST


Schreker: Flammen
Schreker: Flammen
Price: 14.40

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful late-romantic opera, 8 Sep 2008
This review is from: Schreker: Flammen (Audio CD)
Franz Schreker (1878-1934) is one of the better known "second-rate" composers from turn of the century Vienna. Whilst Mahler, Richard Strauss and the Second Viennese School have better withstood the test of time, there were plenty of others (notably Zemlinsky, Korngold, Pfitzner, Schillings, Boehe and Schmidt, as well as Schreker) who produced polished, lyrical works that have only recently re-emerged. Schreker was primarily a composer of operas, seven of which have made it to disc over the past dozen years or so. His style is very much what one would expect of the period; loud, lush, romantic and with a hint of expressionism. His harmonies have an attractive bitter-sweet quality and his orchestration, whilst sometimes a bit heavy, is well-crafted and effective.

"Flammen" was Shreker's first opera, finished in 1901/2 and which only received a concert performance in the composer's lifetime. Its 80 minutes tells the story of Irmgard, awaiting the return of her husband the Prince, who has been on crusade. Held to a vow never to love another while the Prince is away, Irmgard find herself drawn to the mysterious Minstrel. Needless to say, tragedy ensues. This is an extremely assured work for a 24 year old. The pacing is good and the music rises to the emotional and dramatic challenges of the libretto. The "flames" of the title reflect the ardour of Irmgard's and the Minstrel's love as well as the destruction of those who are torn apart by it. Schreker's music is by turns suitably ecstatic and violent; it's starting points are Wagner's "Parsifal" and Mahler, with hints of Debussy and anticipatory nods towards the Schoenberg of "Gurrelieder" (the orchestral premiere of which Schreker conducted in 1913).

This recording is of a live performance by Kiel Opera in 2001. Stage noises be heard, principally the cast running up and down the set (Irmgard's and the Prince's castle). The small cast, particularly Manuela Uhl as Irmgard, acquit themselves very well. The orchestra can at times sound a little recessed, but under the guidance of Ulrich Windfuhr it had the full measure of Schreker's complex score. This is wonderful music, radiantly performed.


Bax: Tone Poems, Vol. 2
Bax: Tone Poems, Vol. 2
Price: 12.53

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More outstanding performances from Handley, 11 Jun 2008
This review is from: Bax: Tone Poems, Vol. 2 (Audio CD)
This is the second volume of tone poems that Vernon Handley has recorded in the wake of his phenomenal account of the Bax symphonies. As with the first volume, this cd contains a mix of the familiar with the less so, together with one premiere recording. As to be expected from someone so completely immersed in the Bax idiom, Handley's interpretations are definitive.

The premiere recording is an orchestration by Grham Parlett of "Red Autumn", a piece that Bax originally wrote for solo piano in 1912 and which was then arranged for two pianos twenty years later. Parlett is a seasoned Bax scholar and has orchestrated his music before (notably the marvellous "Tamara" ballet suite, also recorded by Chandos). The work is rather intense and only lasts 5 minutes, but is sufficiently diverting to make Mr Parlett's efforts worthwhile. Perhaps the finest performance on the disc is "Nympholept", the opening bars of which must rank as some of the finest, most magical music Bax ever composed. The pace is a bit brisker than usual, and the opening in particular benefits from this; and the woodwind soloists play marvellously here. The "Three Northen Ballads" are less immediately approachable than the other works on the disc but their complexities reward repeated listening. Lewis Foreman's notes explain the history behind whether the third piece, Prelude for a Solemn Occasion, is in fact a "Northern Ballad". Whatever one calls it, the work is certainly one of the finest of Bax's tone-poems from the early 1930s, and the BBCPO brass section gives its absolute best in the climactic peal of bells with which the piece finishes.

It is unlikely that these works will ever be played better than they are on this disc. As shown in the recordings of the symphonies, the BBCPO is the natural choice for this repertoire; the depth and weight of the orchestra's sound is perfect. As with his other recordings for Chandos and other labels, one wonders why on earth Vernon Handley has not yet received a knighthood for his services to British music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2008 4:01 PM BST


Monckton: Songs from the shows
Monckton: Songs from the shows
Price: 32.26

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating repertoire from Edwardian England, 15 May 2008
Mr Sands in his review has set out the historical background to this release and I second his view that this is a very important release. It throws light on a long-forgotten part of Britain's musical heritage and it is easy to imagine turn-of-the-century Londoners humming these tunes as they went about their lives. The performers are all well inside the idiom. Catherine Bott is better known for her baroque singing, but her light, characterful soprano suits this music admirably. The baritone, Richard Stuart, is new to me but his delivery is spot-on and it comes as no surprise to read in the booklet notes that he is an old Gilbert & Sullivan hand.

If I have any reservations about this music, it is that the pattern of the songs is very similar: solo introduction (sometimes with a short interjection from the chorus), solo verse which is then repeated word for word by the chorus, a final orchestral recapitulation. This format makes the songs very easy on the ear but somewhat repetitive to listen to. Also, whilst the tunes are emminently hum-able some of the lyrics are truly ghastly and, given the excellent clarity of diction from both singers and the choir, can at times grate on repeated listening (a typical example is "All down Piccadilly" with its irritating refrain of "I just simply shilly-shally shally-shilly").

Those points aside, however, this is a worthwhile release and Hyperion and its artists deserve nothing but praise for resurrecting this music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 17, 2011 1:10 PM BST


Escenas Argentinas
Escenas Argentinas
Price: 13.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable Argentinian symphonic music, 22 Jan 2008
This review is from: Escenas Argentinas (Audio CD)
Of the composers featured on this disc only Astor Piazzolla is likely to be at all familiar. Surprisingly, I found Piazzolla's contribution to this record the least satisfying, probably because his work "Tangazo: Variations on Buenos Aires" is rather schmaltzy and jazzy, and sounds rather out of place amongst the rest of the works, all of which are of a high quality. With the exception of the Piazzolla piece and Guastavino's "Las ninas", the works on this disc were written between 1920 and 1940 and fuse Latin American dance rhythms with sumptious orchestral colour.

Carlos Buchardo's symphonic poem "Escenas Argentinas" is an excellent opener, a symphonic poem with sparkling outer movements framing a lyrical episodes that owes much to Respighi's "Roman Trilogy" (with which Buchardo's work is roughly contemporaneous). The most impressive work is perhaps Luis Gianneo's "El tarco en flor", written in 1930 and an evocation of the foothills of the Andes. An evocative, rather Baxian opening leads via a Bartokian outburst to a lyrical folksy motif that again reminded me of Respighi. "Las ninas" by Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) is a well-upholstered waltz dating from 1949. The booklet's comparison with Ravel "La valse" is a bit excessive; the work sounds more like the sort of piece Max Steiner might have written for the cinema.

Fans of Respighi, Albeniz, Falla and even Delius will find much to enjoy here. The Argentinian orchestra plays this local music with the same authority as the Vienna Philharmonic playing Johan Strauss, although its string sections could do with a bit of beefing up. The booklet refers to bats being present on the final track, but I could not hear them (as opposed to the conductor's intakes of breath, which are occasionally audible)! The booklet notes, written by the conductor, provide a helpful commentary on the development of Argentinian orchestral music. In short, a very worthy release of music that should be better known.


Sean Dillon Series (14) - The Killing Ground
Sean Dillon Series (14) - The Killing Ground
by Jack Higgins
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Time for these characters to be put to rest, 17 Dec 2007
The main problem with this book is that the characters are just so tired. As other reviewers state, Dillon and co have been around the block so many times that there is just nothing new for them to do. There is a fair amount of action, but it is predictable, entirely one-sided and takes place in the same old locations. Instead, we know from page one that nothing of any real importance is going to happen and that General Ferguson and his team will see off the usual cast of Arab fanatics and ex-IRA assassins with the usual ease. These characters have barely developed over the past few years and it shows: I realised that I didn't actually care what happened to them; in fact I kept hoping that one of the main characters would get shot just to liven the book up a bit. The product placement is also increasingly irritating - everyone either wears Armani suits or uses Zeiss glasses, usually at the same time.

Higgins has lost his flair for snappy dialogue. In this book the characters barely talk to each other in anything other than a matter-of-fact, "get in the van, Billy!", way and the dialogue is boring and repetitive. People are always meeting to discuss "the situation" or phoning to update someone else on "the situation" and so by repeating what has happened Higgins simply burns pages without bothering with any decent twists and turns in the plot. Several times someone says something and Higgins writes "After that there was simply nothing to say." That could be the motto for this entire book, and certainly the Dillon series: as drama, the series and characters have nothing left to say. Annoyingly this refrain suggest that Higgins himself doesn't actually care anymore; if he did, he'd find his characters something interesting to say.

Unfortunately, a couple of minor characters from previous books decide to join "the Team", so suggesting that Higgins intends to carry on churning out by-the-numbers Dillon stories. Put them out to pasture Mr Higgins, give some real thought to your next book, and try to make an effort. Please.


Klengel: Cello Concertos
Klengel: Cello Concertos
Price: 14.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful later romantic concertos, 19 Sep 2007
Given that concertos for the cello are rare when compared to the number written for violin and piano, this CD is a very welcome discovery. Julius Klengel (1859-1933) was a virtuoso cellist and composed primarily for his own instrument. He wrote four cello concertos and two double-concertos, for two cellos and violin and cello respectively (the former of which is included on this CD).

The insert notes states that Klengel's Fouth Concerto "can lay claim to being the best cello concerto by a German romantic composer after Schumann". Written in 1903, tt is certainly a striking work, melodious and fluently written. The first movement contains a theme that seems to have walked out of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony and the finale in places anticipates Elgar's famous concerto. The Concerto for Two Violincellos and the First Concerto that complete the disc are not as immediately memorable but are fine works. Christoph Richter is the accomplished solist and is joined by Xenia Jankovic in the double concerto. The playing of the Hanover radio orchestra is perfectly good and the woodwind solos in particular are very well played.

This music can be recommended to anyone with an interest in the cello or romantic music generally. Fans of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and English composers such as Parry and Stanford will find much to enjoy here.


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