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Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Penguin Popular Classics)
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Jules Peabody Verne
Edition: Paperback

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic tale from France's greatest writer, 23 May 2002
A timeless popular classic from the father of science-fiction, I had seen the film before but I had not read the book since childhood. Reading it again made me marvel at the imagination and igenuity of a man who wrote this book remember, at the same time as the American Civil War was being played out across the Atlantic. His
description of the geology encountered on the journey and the scientific observations noted by the Professor and Axel make the one hundred and thirty years since this book was first published seem irrelevant. It makes you pause and think and if you are prepared to have your disbelief suspended then you will enjoy the journey.
Starting in Hamburg, where Professor Lidenbrock uncovers a rare manuscript, the "Heims Kringlas", which contains an encyphered message by Arne Saknussemm a famous 16th-century Icelandic alchemist telling of his journey to the centre of the earth, we are transported on an amazing journey to the very bowels of the earth with the
Professor, his ever-suffering nephew Axel and their stoical Icelandic guide Hans.
From their starting point inside the Icelandic volcano Sneffels, our trio follow in the footsteps of Saknussemm, descending along a trail of underground passages, lava gallerys and amazing geological formations, overcoming exhaustion, dead-ends and a lack of water, before emerging onto an underground sea lit by an "electric light", and inhabited by prehistoric creatures. More astounding still, they catch sight of twelve foot high humans who tend flocks of mastodons.
Through it all the Professor exhorts and bullies, Axel despairs and questions, whilst Hans, silently and without ceremony, saves their lives again and again.
The book contains a classic passage when Axel becomes separated from the Professor and Hans seventy-five miles underground. His feelings of absolute panic and despair are vividly depicted by Verne and linger long in the memory.
An exhilarating book written in an age when there was still so much exploring left to do, by a man with an almost boyish enthusiasm for adventure and mystery. Journey to the Centre of the Earth has stood the test of time and will continue to do so as long as there are people willing to be transported on fantastic literary journeys.


Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
by Mark Kram
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE book on the 'primitive art', 4 April 2002
"We went to Manila as champions, Joe and me, and we came back as old men", so said an ageing Muhammad Ali when reflecting on the final, tumultuous battle with his old adversary Joe Frazier. This is the opening line in a truly remarkable, indeed a seminal book, on heavyweight boxing from Mark Kram, who was for eleven years the boxing correspondent of 'Sports Illustrated' magazine.
Kram's knowledge of the sport of boxing is second to none and throughout he displays a deep understanding, indeed affection, for the sport and its icons, and what motivated them. Much like the two main protagonists of this story (not biography as he is keen to point out) Kram does not pull his punches and is not blinded by his own personal feelings towards either Joe Frazier or Muhammad Ali. Kram, for want of a better phrase, 'tells it like it is' about one of the most intensely felt rivalries in any sport, let alone the last true gladiatorial one.

He is equally uncompromising in his description of the public and private faces of both fighters, and what shaped their attitudes and beliefs towards boxing, and each other, as they progressed from humble beginnings towards the top rung of a sport that is as unforgiving as it is brutal. The end result is to make one re-examine the adulation that was (and still is) accorded to Muhammad Ali, and to question whether he was ever really what he seemed to be, and although Frazier is not without blemish he does come out of this examination by Kram with his integrity intact and his courage acknowledged.
Kram takes us in his almost poetic style through the lives of two of the greatest heavyweight fighters of the 20th Century, starting from where the two men are today, how they got to the top of their profession and what fuelled a rivalry that found its expression in the ring but which still burns to this day. Oh, there's also the fights, and what fights they were.
A Parkinson's stricken Ali today is just an empty husk of the explosive presence he once was, but still with enough hate to spit out to Kram that "Without me, Joe's nothin. He should stop usin' me, them fights for his fame." 'Smokin' Joe Frazier, for his part, as he sits in his Philadelphia gym complete with a huge picture of Ali on the canvas in their 1971 'Fight of the Century' taking up a whole office wall, reflects that Ali is a tin god adding that "I made him what he is" (i.e. famous, and sick).
Whilst a new film of the life of Muhammad Ali is hitting cinemas, and Will Smith tries to add to the hagiography of 'The Greatest', Kram's book and his description of the 'real' Ali is given to the reader like a bucketful of ice cold water. Kram, whilst acknowledging Ali's unparalled boxing talent, is vicious on the subject of the private Ali. Ali is disparaged as unheroic, racist, narcissistic, adulterous, insulting, hypocritical, easily manipulated ('..played like a harp by the Muslims..'), dense, frightened, boastful and above all cruel. Cruel to his opponents, both in and out of the ring (the scene where Ali tries to humiliate his old mentor Archie Moore in their fight is particularly revealing), cruel to his 'friends', cruel to the women in his life, but above all cruel to Joe Frazier. His rants and personal insults against his former friend Frazier, which included calling him an, 'Uncle Tom' (i.e. a white mans black), a coward and looking like a gorilla, wound Frazier to the very depths of his soul and created a bitter enmity that transcended boxing. By the time Kram finishes with Ali in this book, any hero worship that the reader might once have held towards the 'The Greatest' is made to seem sadly misplaced and even slightly obscene.
For me though, the actual fights themselves are Kram's tour de force, his prose turns three brutally hard fought duels into a kind of poetic ballet of pain, you are led through the fights by Kram in such a way that they take on a kind of Sam Peckinpah, slow motion aspect; deadly but beautiful.
In the so called, 'Fight of the Century' in 1971 we learn that 'Joe's head seemed stuck to Ali's gloves as rights and lefts, cringing rounds of volley, caromed off Frazier's head, then uppercuts, often used against low fighters, that jerked his head up as if it were being snapped up by a rope. His (Frazier's)face was melting into ruin...' This isn't sports journalism, this is a powerful report from a war correspondent.
In the 'Thrilla in Manila' we hear how, "Ali drew blood from Frazier's mouth with another lead right, and Joe tossed his head like a balky horse as he kept snorting and rolling in closer, ever so closer'. This passage from the epic struggle in the Philippines in 1975, which Kram himself describes as 'a kind of primitive art' is typical of the author's powerfully descriptive boxing prose.
The fast and almost contemptuous style of Ali, in contrast to the slower more workmanlike style of Frazier, produced fights on a par with the very best pugilist contests ever seen at any weight, never mind from the sports big men.
I suppose that Kram's book is ultimately about the winners and losers in this fascinating rivalry. The 'Thrilla in Manila' took a lot out of both men, but significantly is viewed by Kram as Ali's last chance to get out of the fight game before he suffered serious damage; he didn't heed the exit sign and paid the price. Frazier, for his part, effectively reached the end of the road in Manila too and even though he still resents the manner of his defeat (unfairly holding his honourable trainer Eddie Futch responsible) he was able to (on the whole) adjust to life as the proprietor of the Broad Street gym in Philadelphia.
So who CAN claim victory in, 'The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier' ? Well who ever really wins in this most punishing of sports ? but the last word I'll leave to Joe Frazier who states, "If you wanna know who won the three fights, well, just look at him now ?" commenting on Ali's descent into his own private hell of physical infirmity and torment. No quarter given or asked for in this long running contest then, and a comment that typifies how the 'Ghosts of Manila' will probably never be laid to rest.


HMS Surprise
HMS Surprise
by Patrick O'Brian
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Passage to India, 4 April 2002
This review is from: HMS Surprise (Hardcover)
This third offering from O'Brian of the Aubrey & Maturin seafaring tales is a somewhat sluggish and at times rather a monotonous addition to the series. It lacks excitement, a compelling plot and a lot of the interaction between the two that were a hallmark of the excellent predecessor, 'Post Captain'. O'Brian tries to compensate for a lack of these things by setting the tale in sunnier climes, namely the Indian Ocean, but all he succeeds in doing is bore us in exotic surroundings.
This tale carries on from the rather upbeat 'Post Captain' where Jack Aubrey, fresh from his promotion and heroics in tackling the Spanish squadron off Cadiz aboard the 'Lively' is brought heavily down to earth by the revelation that his rich pickings were 'not prize'.
Despite a daring raid to free a compromised Stephen Maturin from the hands of the French in Minorca, and an interesting and meticulously authentic description of the 'Surprise's' voyage through the 'roaring forties' and onto Bombay, this tale somehow just fails to grip. There are too many periods when nothing happens and the constant nautical jargon does somewhat start to grate, even if it is faultless in its detail and authenticity as ever.
The voyage of Jack's new command, the 'Surprise', is basically that of a transport ship, as they are detailed to convey a British envoy, the rather tragic figure of Mr Stanhope, to his new post in Kampong. Jack of course is always on the lookout for a prize, and in particular the Linois squadron rumoured to be in Indian waters. When the long awaited showdown arrives it all ends in a bit of a damp squib really, but is notable for the 'call to arms' of a large number of Indiamen (merchant ships)
The love life's of Jack and Stephen are a constant thread again in this instalment. But whereas Jack emerges from this adventure with his love life (surprisingly it must be said) relatively intact, Stephen goes through torment and even mortal danger as a result of his fatal attraction for Diana Villiers the siren who broke his heart in 'Post Captain', and who nearly destroys Stephen again.
For those snared into the world of Aubrey & Maturin by the excellent 'Master & Commander' and its worthy sequel, 'Post Captain', may well find this instalment a tad wearisome. I sailed through the first two at a fair rate of knots but found in this one I had become mentally almost totally becalmed, almost to the point of abandoning ship. However certain features remain from the previous novels, namely the unparalleled attention to detail and sheer believability of O'Brian's description of life aboard a Nelsonian frigate, for that alone it is worth giving it a go.


Octopussy (Coronet Books)
Octopussy (Coronet Books)
by Ian Fleming
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet, 24 Feb. 2002
A slim collection of Bond short stories not published until after the author's death. Dealing as they do with greed, betrayal and conscience they are a worthy addition to any Bond aficionado's collection of stories about the man from 'the Ministry of Defence'.
'Octopussy' is the study of a man in decline, as one Major Smythe, wracked by guilt over a wartime episode, gradually loses his will to live. With his secret almost mercifully exposed by a stranger, he makes his exit in the most bizarre manner since Dr No himself.
'The Property of a Lady' is a real curiosity with the final action set inside the main sale room of Sotheby's, of all places. Here Bond, aided by the suitably ice-cool Faberge expert, Mr Snowman, attempts to expose a pay-off to a Soviet spy involving a Faberge 'Object of Vertu'.
'The Living Daylights' is a melancholy tale about a 'hit' that has been assigned to Bond. It is deemed necessary in order to allow an agent, '272', to escape unhindered across from Soviet occupied East Berlin. Bond is cooped up in a small, musty apartment with the rather officious 'Number 2' of West Berlin station and eventually falls foul of him when he hesitates at the last second as the identity of his target becomes clear. The two men make an interesting combination. In Bond we see a man still guided by humanity and in Captain Sender (Number 2) we see a man guided by nothing more than rules.
Three stories then to add to the already impressive litany of Bond adventures, and three stories that reveal more about the characters themselves than about any plot. As short stories they are unable to develop the kind of fast-paced, multi-faceted, globe-trotting battle between good and evil that make up the backbones of so many Bond adventures. However, in limiting themselves into looking into why people do the things they do and the consequences of actions they are no less interesting and thought provoking.
On a different note, I think it would be a good idea if some of the reviewers actually read the book again. The instances of wrong information being contained in some of the 'reviews' is
inexcusable. For instance, in 'The Living Daylights', Bond doesn't cross the east-west strip in Berlin and in 'The Property of a Lady' he doesn't bid for a Faberge egg. There are more examples but word limits dictate. Ian Fleming deserves to have his novels more carefully examined.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2011 1:58 PM BST


Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
by Mark Kram
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE book on the 'Primitive Art', 14 Feb. 2002
"We went to Manila as champions, Joe and me, and we came back as old men", so said an ageing Muhammad Ali when reflecting on the final, tumultuous battle with his old adversary Joe Frazier. This is the opening line in a truly
remarkable, indeed a seminal book, on heavyweight
boxing from Mark Kram, who was for eleven years
the boxing correspondent of Sports Illustrated
magazine.
Be warned though, this is no Hallmark version of
the triumphs and despairs of two outstanding
boxers, this book is like the fight game itself,
uncompromising, direct and set on inflicting
damage. Both Ali and Frazier are placed under a
harsh spotlight, but Ali is the one who comes
away most exposed by its penetrating glare. The
'smoke & mirrors' used create the Ali myth are
blown away to reveal an individual that few could
describe as heroic. The reader is forced to re-
examine the adulation that was (and still is)
accorded to Muhammad Ali, and to question whether
he was ever really worthy of it, and although
Frazier is not without blemish he does come out
of this examination by Kram with his integrity
intact and his undoubted courage acknowledged.
Kram takes us in his almost poetic style through
the lives of two of the greatest heavyweight
fighters of the 20th Century, starting from where
the two men are today, how they got to the top of
their profession and what fuelled a rivalry that
found its expression in the ring but which still
burns outside to this day.
A Parkinson's stricken Ali today is just an empty
husk of the explosive presence he once was, but
still with enough hate to spit out to Kram that
"Without me, Joe's nothin'. He should stop usin'
me, them fights for his fame." 'Smokin' Joe
Frazier, for his part, as he sits in his Philadelphia
gym adorned with a huge picture of
Ali on the canvas in their 1971 'Fight of the
Century', reflects that Ali is a tin god, adding
that "I made him what he is" (i.e. famous, and
sick).
Whilst a new film of the life of Muhammad Ali is
hitting cinemas, and Will Smith tries to add to
the hagiography of 'The Greatest', Kram's book
and his description of the 'real' Ali is given to
the reader like a bucketful of ice cold water.
Kram, whilst acknowledging Ali's unparalled
boxing talent, is vicious on the subject of the
private Ali. Ali is exposed as unheroic, racist,
narcissistic, adulterous, insulting, hypocritical, easily manipulated ('..played like a harp by the Muslims..'),
dense, frightened, boastful and above all cruel. Cruel
to his opponents, both in and out of the ring
(the section where Ali tries to humiliate his old
mentor Archie Moore in their fight is
particularly revealing), cruel to his 'friends',
cruel to the women in his life, but above all
cruel to Joe Frazier. His rants and personal
insults about his former friend Frazier, which
included being an 'Uncle Tom' (i.e. a white mans
black), a coward and looking like a gorilla,
wound Frazier to the very depths of his soul and
created a bitter enmity that transcended boxing.
By the time Kram finishes with Ali in this book,
any hero worship that the reader might once have
held towards the 'Greatest' is made to seem sadly
misplaced and even slightly obscene.
For me though, the actual fights themselves are
Kram's tour de force, not dwelling too long on
the mechanics of the fight game but letting even
the uninitiated 'feel the pain' inherent in a
professional boxing contest. His prose turns
three brutally hard fought duels into a kind of
poetic ballet of pain, you are led through the
fights by Kram in such a way that they evoke
images of a Sam Peckinpah movie, pain and suffering in slow motion; deadly but beautiful.
How about this from the so called, 'Fight of the
Century' in 1971; 'Joe's head seemed stuck to
Ali's gloves as rights and lefts, cringing rounds
of volley, caromed off Frazier's head, then
uppercuts, often used against low fighters,
that jerked his head up as if it were being
snapped up by a rope. His (Frazier's)face was
melting into ruin...' This isn't sports
journalism, this is a powerful report from a war correspondent.
In the 'Thrilla in Manila' we hear how, "Ali drew
blood from Frazier's mouth with another lead
right, and Joe tossed his head like a balky horse
as he kept snorting and rolling in closer, ever
so closer'. This passage from the epic struggle
in the Philippines in 1975, which Kram himself
describes as 'a kind of primitive art' is typical
of the author's powerfully descriptive boxing
prose.
The fast and almost contemptuous style of Ali,
against the slower more workmanlike style of
Frazier, produced fights on a par with the very
best pugilist contests ever seen, at any weight,
never mind from the sports big men.
The 'Thrilla in Manila' took a lot out of both
men. Significantly it is viewed by Kram as Ali's
last chance to get out of the fight game before
he suffered serious damage; he didn't heed the
exit sign and paid the price. Frazier, for his
part, effectively reached the end of the road too
in Manila and even though he still resents the
manner of his defeat (unfairly holding his
honourable trainer Eddie Futch responsible) he
was able to (on the whole) adjust to life as the
proprietor of the Broad Street gym in
Philadelphia.

The last word I'll leave to Joe Frazier who
states, "If you wanna know who won the three
fights, well, just look at him now ?" commenting
on Ali's descent into his own private hell of
physical torment. No quarter given or asked for
in this long running contest, and a comment that
typifies how the 'Ghosts of Manila' will probably
never be laid to rest.


Flashman's Lady (The Flashman Papers, Book 3)
Flashman's Lady (The Flashman Papers, Book 3)
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just not cricket !, 29 Jan. 2002
The lady in question is Flashy's beloved (sometimes) wife Elspeth, and it is because of her that our reluctant warrior manages to get himself enmeshed in sticky situations in the East Indies and Madagascar. Not the best Flashman adventure it has to be said, but still good enough to bring a smile and keep one up late. 'Filling in the gaps' is basically what this sixth Flashman tale does, covering as it does the period 1842-45; after he returned from Afghanistan and before he got himself involved in the Schleswig-Holstein affair.
This is basically a book of three parts. The first part is mainly concerned with cricket, and how Flashy, after accepting an offer from the rather pious Tom Brown (whom Flashy sets out to shock), ends up pitting his wits against England's finest exponents of leather on willow. MacDonald Frasers description of a summer's day at Lords in the 1840's means that you are in
effect there for yourself, so atmospheric and evocative is his narrative of England and all things cricket.
An interesting diversion in this section of the book sees Flashy travelling to see a public hanging at Newgate, and his unerring ability to catch sight of famous people continues when he is close to the author of 'Vanity Fair', William Makepeace Thackeray.
The second part of the novel sees Flashy, after failing to win a cricket challenge against the likeable but enigmatic Don Solomon Haslam, and fearful of the retribution of a certain Mr Daedalus Tighe (who had money on the outcome), getting himself into hot water in the East Indies as he tries to locate Elspeth. His adoring wife you see has been spirited away by the previously unimpeachable Don Solomon, but then the said Don is most decidely NOT what he seems.
An expedition to recover his lost love, led by the eccentric and reckless adventurer 'Raja' Brooke to Borneo sees Flashy engaging in various skirmishes with pirates. The upshot of which is that he ends up in.....Madagascar ! as a prisoner and sexual servant to the highly unpredictable Queen Ranavalona.
Flashy has to 'service' the demanding monarch constantly; for failure to perform could result in him meeting a particularly nasty end. The Madagascar adventure forms the third and by far the most entertaining portion of this sixth Flashman package.
MacDonald Fraser conjures up a truly haunting and indeed disturbing atmosphere, as we are introduced through the eyes of prisoner Flashy to a Madagascar where the 'Mad' is not out of place. This is not a country at ease with itself, it is a place where fear is a neighbour, where all the norms of civilised behaviour are absent. The inhabitants of the Queen's court dress in garish clothes and ape the manners of the European nobility, but they all have one thing on their minds; survival. Madagascar is a land where life is cheap and death an occupational hazard for its unfortunate population while Ranavalona is at the helm.
Court intrigue and flight follow, culminating in Flashy and his lady getting caught up in an attack on the port of Tamitave, here a truly comical scene is described when an English and French officer argue, despite the carnage and continuing danger, over possession of a Malagassy flag.
The flight to freedom actually sees Elspeth displaying qualities not seen before from the dedicated snob and socialite, and it prompts Flashy to come out with one of his classic quotes:
'She was a soldier's wife, all right; pity she hadn't married a soldier'

This package is also interesting for that fact that it contains Elspeth's diary entries for this period and the equally acerbic comments added by her sister, Grizel de Rothschild. Incidentally, the cover of 'Flashman's Lady' shows our hero outfitted in cricketing garb but the lady over his shoulder wearing the burgundy dress is a mystery to me, whoever can she be ?

Read and enjoy, this is how adventures were meant to be.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2010 11:29 AM GMT


The Monarch of the Glen
The Monarch of the Glen
by Compton Mackenzie
Edition: Paperback

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'You know I'm crazy about Scotland.', 23 Jan. 2002
A delightful, gentle comedy, from the master of the Scottish farce. This book was the inspiration for the BBC series of the same name starring Richard Briers.
The novel itself concerns the trials and tribulations of one Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis, the 23rd clan chieftain of Glenbogle Castle, as he tries to unsuccessfully adjust to life in the 20th Century and the constraints this imposes upon him. This means for instance, that unlike his predecessors, he cannot burn his opponents in church to the piped strains of 'Mac 'ic Eachiann's Return to Glenbogle'.
Central to the plot is Donald's (or 'Ben Nevis' as he is also known) plot to try and ensnare the sister of a wealthy American financier into marrying one of his sons. Add to this the fact that the lady in question, Myrtle Royde, actually fancies a trespassing Scottish Nationalist poet called Alan Macmillan, and also that at this time, Donald is effectively in a state of war against the National Union of Hikers under the formidable leadership of Percy Buckham (the 'Little Songster' portable wireless manufacturer) and you have a recipe for hilarity.
Certain memorable and highly amusing incidents pepper the book. The American financier Chester Royde Jr's, ill-fated attempt at trying to stalk the 'Muckle Hart of Ben Glass' and his decision to wear an orange kilt so as not to offend anyone are seriously amusing. Percy Buckham's attempts to whip up his hikers into an avenging army by Churchillian speeches and his attempts to engage in guerilla warfare against Ben Nevis and his supporters are likewise hilarious.
Throughout the book Mackenzie infuses his story with a lovely Scottish Highland feel. The names of the places, Glenbogle (Donald's seat of power), Knocknacolly, Glenbristle & Drumstickit, literally ooze highland whisky and peat. Mackenzie's descriptions of the highland countryside of loch and cairn and midges, of the Glenbogle Gathering, and of secret trysts in the 'Cave of the Calf' transport you instantly to the land of bagpipes and cabers.
'You know I'm crazy about Scotland' muses Carrie Royde, the dreamy and spiritual, ancestor seeking wife of Chester Royde Jnr, as she immerses herself in all things Scottish. After reading this gem of a book you're likely to feel the same yourself.

p.s. This book is best read with a glass of whisky in hand (or jockendorrus as Ben Nevis would say) and with some Scottish bagpipe music playing quietly in the background (why not Angus MacQuat's rendition of 'Mac 'ic Eachinn's Return to Glenbogle' ?).


Flashman in the Great Game
Flashman in the Great Game
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Greased cartridges, Pandies and Makarram Khan, 18 Nov. 2001
Another rip-roaring adventure from the British Army's most noble cad. This adventure sees our reluctant hero caught up in the events surrounding the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58.
In a conflict notable for the sheer barbarism surrounding many of its shocking events, Flashy is at liberty to display his most dubious qualities of fear, funk, bluff and deceit. As a master of disguise (sometimes masquerading as a British officer) and armed with his consistent luck (Flashy would say bad luck) and his unfailing charm, he develops the uncanny ability to be present at almost every major event that made up the Indian Mutiny.
Whether its witnessing the first sparks of rebellion at Meerut, taking part in the ultimately horrific Siege of Cawnpore or risking his life to get a message from Lucknow to Campbell's relieving force (if this wasn't how it happened, it should have been), Flashy is there with his bowels in spasm and his innards
dissolving.
He manages too to meet a veritable 'Whos Who' of Victorian notables. Apart from the usual gang of Queen Victoria (Vicky), Prince Albert, Lord Palmerston (Pam), William Howard Russell and Lord Cardigan (Jim the Bear), our erstwhile warrior rubs shoulders with most of the notables of the Indian Mutiny, on both sides. On the British side he meets Sir Colin Campbell, General Wheeler, Johnny Nicholson, Major Vibart, Henry Kavanaugh, Sir James Outram, Lord Canning and Sir Hugh Rose, whilst on the rebel side he meets Nana Sahib. If you care to read about the true events surrounding the Indian Mutiny you will see these names figure prominently. History alas, was not so kind to our trembling friend Flashy.
Whilst enabling Flashman to display his usual cowardly, selfish and licentious side this conflict does enable us to glimpse a different side to Flashy too. He is genuinely appalled and angered, for instance, by some of the sights he sees during the conflict, particularly the decapitated body of his former lover and a babys hand "...like a little white crab in the dust." at Cawnpore Well. Was that also real tears we saw him shed as his schoolchum Scud East expired in his arms on a barge at Cawnpore ghat ? Careful Flashy, who knows where this could end.
He also manages to lose his heart to the enchanting Rani of Jhansi who is central to this whole tale. She is the reason he goes to India, and she soon becomes the reason he wants to stay. Beautiful she may be and clever, but we never get to know just what makes her tick, despite Flashys best attentions. Was she an enthusiastic rebel or did she have little choice but to join in ? Who knows, but she made an impression on our 'hero' and that's for sure.
Baddies abound, most notably an old adversary from 'Flashman at the Charge', Count Nicholas Ignatieff. The Russian Count is probably the most worthy foe that our hero has encountered since Rudi von Starnberg, whose voice incidentally, acts as a spur to rouse Flashman from meeting a particularly gruesome end.
For every baddie however there is a hero, no not Flashman, but his 'protector' the Afghan, Iderim Khan. This unfortunate chap had the misfortune in the first Flashman novel, 'Flashman', to be sworn to protect Flashy. Taking up his promise in this novel he has a thankless task to protect our fraudulent Hector, but manages manfully until the deception at Cawnpore. In fairness to Flashy though, there are times in this novel when he gets dangerously close to being, well, a soldier. At Cawnpore he, wait for it.......fights !

Another worthy edition to the Flashman papers then, a little slow at first, but in time you will be enthralled as you are swept up in the whirlwind of another Flasy escapade in the 'Age of Empire'. MacDonald Fraser yet again seamlessly merges historical fact with fiction in a way in which we are simultaneously educated, entertained, shocked and amused. If you didn't know much about the Indian Mutiny before this book, you know most of it by the end. Get a dusty old textbook to fill in the gaps...if you must.
The end of the novel is very clever, as we find our hero both lauded and ridiculed, as he receives the 'spoils of war' but also a rude awakening in the shape of a nasty, indeed libellous piece of literature in which he features prominently.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 17, 2013 8:01 PM BST


For Your Eyes Only (Coronet Books)
For Your Eyes Only (Coronet Books)
by Ian Fleming
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but perfectly formed, 19 Oct. 2001
Five short stories from the creator of James Bond and a curious assortment they are to. Fleming seemed to use the short story technique as an easy way to display Bond in a variety of social and foreign locations and as such not all these tales are of Bond strictly 'on the job', so to speak. Fleming also struggles to fit any romance in such a restricted timespace, but to his credit never gives up.
'From a View To a Kill' is probably the weakest of the five stories and ends up by being unintentionally amusing. Bond is on his way through France after a previous failed assignment on the Austro-Hungarian border (most of these tales actually start with Bond being at a loose-end after a previous assignment) until he is press-ganged by Station F in Paris into investigating the murder of a British Army motorcycle dispatch rider and the stealing of his documents which contained 'all the top gen'
from SHAPE headquarters. Bond eventually uncovers a 'left-behind spy unit' inhabiting a sinister subterranean hideout in a forest clearing, from which they peer at the world through a periscope. The comparison to the Tellytubbies home is unfortunately inescapable. The humourous aspect is not helped when the spies cover their tracks by
wearing tennis-racket style snow shoes as they high-stepped backwards and forwards. When you see the title don't even think of the film of the same name, as like certain other of the Bond films the only thing it has in common with the written version is the title itself.
'For Your Eyes Only' (any similarity to the film of the same name is again, purely coincidental) is basically another 'hit' tale, but this time with an element of personal revenge added. It concerns the brutal murder of two of M's friends in colonial Jamaica and Bond's journey to Vermont to dispense justice. This story starts with a
delightfully descriptive account of a glorious 'lazy day' in a colonial house garden near the Blue Mountains in late 1950's Jamaica. Fleming is at his best when describing his beloved Jamaica, and for a while the reader is there too, sitting next to Colonel and Mrs Havelock on the veranda drinking tea. This device is also extremely
effective in garnering the readers sympathy for M's evident distress over their demise and to win their support for Bond's revenge mission. Time is spelt out for us with unusual clarity with Colonel Havelock's references to the situation in Cuba towards the end of the Batista years. Unfortunately for him and Mrs Havelock, 'Cuba' was
about to descend on them in a most unexpected and terrible fashion.
The Bahamas is the setting for 'Quantum of Solace', but it doesn't really matter, for
all the action takes place indoors, in the Governor's residence to be exact. I found this
the most curious of this set of five and indeed, it can arguably be stated that it is the most curious of all Bond's adventures because....it's not really a Bond adventure at all ! Let me explain; this tale is about how love when speared by deceit can turn to hate, but it's not experienced by Bond, it's told over cigars and drinks TO Bond BY the Governor, as he attempts to fill in a 'polite hour' after dinner, before they could both retire to bed. The protagonists of the Governor's story are one Philip Masters, of the
Colonial Service, and his pretty young wife called Rhoda. It is revealed to Bond how
their wedded bliss became a living hell on Bermuda. There is a slight twist in the tail
at the end of the Governors narrative and Bond is left feeling hollow as he thinks about the emptiness of his so-called dramatic life. This is a feeling that will probably last until he beds his next beauty.
'Risico' (an Italian double agents attempt at the word 'risk') is a tale that has the reader wondering just who is the good guy and who is the bad, as we, and Bond's, sympathies, are first pulled one way and then the other. Set in Italy, this tale concerns Bond's attempts to try and stem the flow of heroin coming into Britain. He initally starts out by acting on information received from a double agent for the American's,
one Signor Kristatos, which points to the smuggling chief being 'The Dove', Enrico
Colombo, but how reliable is Kristatos's information ?
The last tale is called 'The Hildebrand Rarity' and the title refers to a very rare fish that inhabits Chagrin Island in the Seycelles group. Bond (again at a loose end following a previous case) agrees to act as a 'fish-finder' for the wealthy but obnoxious American, Milton Krest. The story eventually turns into a 'whodunnit ?' as the unfortunate Mr Krest ends up dying in very fishy circumstances.
An enjoyable selection of short stories then. As you would expect, the plots aren't as involved as the longer novels but this brevity has its own attractions. It is not long before you are straight into the action and you don't really have enough time to know just what is going to happen next. Some are better than others but all are immensely readable and at the end of the day that's what it's all about isn't it ?


The Spy Who Loved Me (Coronet Books)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Coronet Books)
by Ian Fleming
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Girl Interrupted, 6 Oct. 2001
Imagine being alone, totally alone, in a remote location during a storm, when all of a sudden, cold, merciless, danger, comes-a-knocking at your door.
This is the situation facing Vivienne Michel, a lovely French-Canadian motel receptionist at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court in upstate New York when she is paid a visit by danger in the shape of two loathesome gangsters. In 'Horror' Horowitz and 'Sluggsy' Morant, Fleming conjures up two of his more hideously thuggish creations in this gem of a tale.
The plot of this novel is basically one of a 'damsel in distress' as Vivienne, who narrates the story throughout, has to confront her worst
nightmares in the shape of the motel owners bully boys who, for some reason, seem determined to hurt her and then kill her. The 'knight in shining armour' is of course, 'you know who,' who doesn't actually show up until two-thirds of the way through the book. However when Vivienne rather fearfully opens the door to be confronted by a man who was, 'good-looking, in a dark, rather cruel way...' We know that our hero has arrived.
This is a Bond novel totally unlike any other I have ever read. It is not concerned with espionage (although Bond does tend to let his mouth run away with itself when explaining how he turned up at the motel), it does not pit Bond against some fiendish mastermind, it is not set in a glamorous location (an upstate New York forest ?) and it does not involve a female noted for looking after herself. But despite all this, it is a glorious examination of fear, and of how love can grow because of that fear. It is also compelling !

Indeed we learn a lot about Vivienne Michel. The first half of the book is mostly concerned with her life-story of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Her vulnerability, honesty and determination to stand up for herself make her
one of the most endearing of female characters seen in a Bond novel. No streefighters instinct like Pussy Galore, no self-assured confidence like
Domino Vitali, this lady is bruised, frightened and in need of a friend.
Bond is his usual, composed and confident self. His quick appraisal of Vivienne's situation is all he needs to start formulating a plan to rescue this lady from the dragons lair. However, we also see an uncharacterstic sloppiness from Bond too. He doesn't slip up once, but twice, the second mistake is so glaring that any Bond fan, familiar with Bond's usual thoroughness, would be puzzled as to why he didn't take basic precautions to prevent disaster. 'M' would have been appalled at some of his amateurish mistakes.
This book incidentally has no similarity whatever to the film of the same name. The two are completely different animals. In fairness it would be hard to make this book into a film, but it would make a truly compelling one hour TV special.
If I had to change one thing it would be the ending of the book. A little too long is spent listening to Captain Stonors homespun philosophy on 'friends' and 'enemies' for my liking, although Fleming is merely trying to show the depth of Vivienne's feelings for Bond. In fact, Fleming in this book demonstrates (especially in his detailing in the first person Vivienne's life
prior to 'Them') his ability to think and feel like a woman. The early part of the novel is essentially a work of romantic fiction, with Vivienne's loves and heartbreaks detailed in a very sensitive and basically 'feminine' way. We already knew that Fleming was an accomplished author of the ultimate mans novel, but here
he demonstrates his grasp of the world viewed through a woman's eyes as well. Remarkable !


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