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Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland)

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The Saint Closes The Case
The Saint Closes The Case
by Leslie Charteris
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Foreign intrigue, but a little dated to be truly intriguing, 8 Jan. 2010
Leslie Charteris, the writer, appears almost as enigmatic a character as his creation, 'The Saint'. You sense that he never entirely fitted in, never entirely settled, that here was a man with an active, enquiring mind who very early understood that losing himself in writing and fantasy would always be more satisfying than trying to find a niche in conventional society.

His father was a surgeon and wealthy civic leader in Singapore, so you sense the young Leslie Charles Bowyer Lin was born into a privileged family - he would be privately educated and tutored until the age of twelve, when he was sent to a minor public school in England. However, with a Chinese father and English mother, you suspect that privilege extended only so far - that he must have faced considerable racist exclusion (for a time he was denied US citizenship because of his Chinese heritage).

Charteris (he took his mother's maiden name as a writer) dropped out of Cambridge University to pursue a writing career. He appears to have been something of an adventurer, trying to earn an income at anything from gold prospecting to gambling, travelling the world, becoming an accomplished linguist. The success of 'The Saint', as a character to be mined by cinema (and later television), established his reputation and his fortune.

The Saint has been described as a latter-day Robin Hood, a gentleman equally at home in the (imagined) criminal underworld and the rarefied airs of high society, a man intent on justice ... and the justifiable redistribution of wealth ... a man who could work with the police while apparently still being sought by them, anonymous, yet universally known. The Saint, you feel, is a character who never quite fits in, a free spirit, a citizen of the world, but a man who would have difficulty finding a home.

'The Last Hero' (later renamed 'The Saint Closes the Case'), was the second published Saint novel, although it was actually the third to be written ('Enter the Saint' should be read as the second novel, following 'Meet - the Tiger', the book which introduced Simon Templar as 'The Saint'). 'The Last Hero' was, in fact, written as a magazine serial, published in 1929, which explains the episodic style of its writing.

'The Last Hero' / 'The Saint Closes the Case' appears somewhat rambling in places. Charteris clearly appreciated that he had a hit on his hands, that his gentleman sleuth had caught the public imagination - hence the need to produce a magazine serial to follow up 'Meet - the Tiger'. There's a deal of exposition at the start of the book as the author tries to explain that his hero has been up to a few other things before this story starts. It does slow the plot a little.

However, once we get into the main story, it becomes a bit formulaic, a bit "Boy's Own Story" - with evil foreign diplomats and magnates, mad professors with their horrifying death rays, the girl to be endangered, rescued, but never bedded, the loyal friends and retainers, the slightly inept copper, the tacit approval of a grateful Empire.

By modern standards, the characterisation is clumsy - a bit cardboard cut-out. The plot is far-fetched - The Saint seems to have the resources of the modern CIA, without any of their disadvantages. It almost has a Victorian feel - troubled Balkan provinces, exotic Crown Princes, Europe in the melting pot as the noble and the financial empires struggle for mastery.

Yet this is a Europe (1929/30) still struggling to escape the Great War, witnessing the emergence of Fascism in Italy and Germany, trying to unpick the impact of Stalin on the USSR, and conscious that another global war might still be on the horizon - with who knows what terror weapons available to the generals this time.

This is a book with no political or social realism. It is escapism - admittedly bleak, admittedly embodying the perspective that Europe faces an uncertain future. It's an adventure story - naïve, ingenuous, and clearly contrived as a page turner.

In writing style, it is slow and laboured for modern tastes. It's quite tedious in places, and quite tame throughout. It's not a novel which you would read for escapist entertainment today. This is part of the history of crime writing - a book to be read if you're fascinated by the genre and its history. It's a piece of literary archaeology.

Charteris, himself, remains a fascinating character - 'The Saint' would become an extremely successful cinema and television creature, far removed from the original books. But you sense Charteris was born before his time - that here was a very bright, curious, creative, and entertaining individual who never quite settled, whose skills and talents might have been much better appreciated had he been born in 1957, not 1907. Charteris is an author worthy of appreciation - but this is not great literature.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2015 4:01 PM GMT

La Cafetiere Stainless Steel 4-Cup Teapot
La Cafetiere Stainless Steel 4-Cup Teapot
Offered by Harts Of Stur
Price: £22.89

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stylish design, excellent performance, 6 Nov. 2009
I had a black plastic 'le tea pot' for something like eight years, using it daily. A weak point in the plastic eventually led to its demise and I elected to replace it with the metal version. It has to be said, the plastic one was an excellent servant, if it did dribble a little when pouring. The metal version pours better,

This is a wonderful teapot. The internal strainer keeps your tea free of leaves - it has a very fine mesh and copes superbly with all forms of loose tea, from the finely shredded commercial varieties to the much larger leaves of specialist or Chinese teas. The strainer in this metal version is also better positioned than in my original plastic one and, with its folding handle, makes the loading of tea leaves much easier (and cleaning easier too).

The pot holds enough tea for two pint mugs - I do drink tea by the pint - so it is excellent for individuals or couples. The level of tea in the strainer means you need to add approximately one pint of water to ensure coverage of leaves, so adjust quantities to your taste.

The teapot has proved easy to clean, easy to use, and makes an excellent cuppa. Given the eight years usage I had with the plastic version, I expect this to be a long-lasting investment, easily maintained, and resilient (the glass bowl allows you to see the depth of water and the density of colour of the tea you're brewing - and in years of regular but careful usage, I never chipped or cracked the glass).

This is an excellent addition to the kitchen. Practical, of course, but a very stylish design, and an excellent balance, easy to pour, safe, and easy to use.

The Listerdale Mystery (Agatha Christie Collection)
The Listerdale Mystery (Agatha Christie Collection)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.99

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A mystery why any of these were published, 30 Sept. 2009
Were it not for her name, it's unlikely any of these stories would have made their way into print in a magazine, let alone as part of a collection of shorts. Christie wrote a couple of whodunnit masterpieces and created a couple of memorable characters, but these stories are about as trivial as they come. They are badly worked tat.

The short story is a very tight medium - it has to be plotted rigorously, the characters drawn with economy and precision. Christie is not a master of the short story - she writes a competent Poirot novella, she does not write good short stories. These twelve are perfect examples of her shortcomings. The characterisation is simplistic and two dimensional - jolly, genteel young things (or middle aged things) struggle with mistaken identity, confusion, misrepresentation, etc., and come out on top. Good, morality, and the English way of life triumph over adversity.

It's all cosy stuff - the heroes and heroines all have private incomes or some comfortable way of life. Only the servants actually work for a living - and are grateful for the privilege. Foreigners, of course, are to be distrusted ... and are usually odious and duplicitous. It's all Established Church, King and Country fare. Christie didn't understand the psychology or sociology (or the politics) of crime, she really didn't understand people (beyond her narrow little circle and class), and it shows in these twelve stories.

The plots are threadbare, the characters are simple cutouts without any real presence, the villains are as predictable as they come. Christie can weave a masterly tale, but these are trivial. The writing can be utterly sterile, the pace turgid, and the outcome predictable.

Of the twelve stories ('The Listerdale Mystery'. 'Philomel Cottage', 'The Girl in the Train', 'Sing a Song of Sixpence', 'The Manhood of Edward Robinson', 'Accident', 'Jane in Search of a Job', 'A Fruitful Sunday', 'Mr.Eastwood's Adventure', 'The Golden Ball', 'The Rajah's Emerald', 'Swan Song') few are capable of really holding your interest; I suspect none would have been chosen for print in magazines of the day had it not been for the Christie name. The stories are trite. 'Philomel Cottage' may be better than the rest, but it is contrived and obvious - a modern writer could do a much better job developing the psychology of the story, could perhaps make it into a print-worthy narrative, but it is a good idea which lacks substance and which needed work.

If you are a Christie fan, you'll probably want to read this stuff - don't delude yourself into believing that it's evidence of her genius or that this is great writing. It's largely rubbish - and, if you write short stories yourself, look at these and learn ... understand just how bad short stories can be, and appreciate what goes into writing a good one.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2014 5:05 PM BST

Partners in Crime (Tommy & Tuppence Chronology)
Partners in Crime (Tommy & Tuppence Chronology)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Barely worth tuppence, 30 Sept. 2009
Tommy and Tuppence are a pair of upper class investigators of crime (it would be far too common to describe them as 'sleuths'), and one of Agatha Christie's residual creations. Christie could produce a memorable detective in Poirot and a Marple who seems destined to be eternally loved by an English-speaking public, but this pair are as two dimensional as they come - instantly forgettable in any of their contrived adventures.

Here, Tommy and Tuppence find an entertaining sideline running a detective agency - it's all jolly japes and anyone for tension as bored housewife and underemployed secret agent become tradesmen for a short spell. It's probably the closest either of them ever get to doing a proper job ... although you certainly never get the sense that there's any work involved, just young things having adventures.

A series of short stories results in which they face jewel thieves and nasty Bolshevik agents. Amusing, light hearted it's supposed to be - Tommy and Tuppence are distinctly Christie light relief - but this is not the sort of stuff which is going to make you laugh. Cosy, genteel, it's not going to frighten the children, servants or horses ... and it's hardly even competent whodunnit writing. In fact, much of the writing, and a number of the stories, will make you wince.

Like so many of Christie's characters, Tommy and Tuppence are two dimensional representations of a class of young things which should have been extinguished by the Great War. The stories are rigidly class-ridden and biased, they are moralistic and bigoted, and extremely dated. Christie could tell a story - she wrote a couple of the all-time great whodunnits - but her tales are largely plot driven, and her characterisation can be very simplistic. Tommy and Tuppence are the stuff of schoolgirl fantasy, hardly the stuff of a mature writer.

Christie, despite her reputation as a crime writer, clearly didn't understand crime - she wrote about sanitised crimes, crimes which could be easily understood without recourse to sociology or psychology; she pictured polite little murders and robberies and deceptions against a backcloth of flat, predictable, upper-middle class worlds where predominantly decent (if gullible and deluded) people were normally honest and unquestionably moral, a place where the working class knew its place (servants, stout labourers, and corruptible oafs who could be led into crime). It was a world where foreigners - with the exception of the odd Belgian detective - were always to be viewed with suspicion.

These stories are sterile, dated (as dated as Dornford Yates ... remember him), and, if Christie's writing reputation relied upon them, she would never have been heard of. This is simplistic stuff - read it if you're a Christie fan to recognise just how poor her writing and stories could be. It's not mature writing (it's trivia for a jolly hockeysticks schoolgirl magazine), and really, it's best left in the locker.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 13, 2013 1:19 PM GMT

L'Armee des ombres (Army in the Shadows) (Army of Shadows) [DVD] [1969]
L'Armee des ombres (Army in the Shadows) (Army of Shadows) [DVD] [1969]
Dvd ~ Lino Ventura

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a war film, an expose of French myths, 22 April 2009
Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 tale of the French Resistance, and a film which explores courage without melodrama or hyperbolic heroics. The tone is set early, with the execution of a traitor; in its early days Resistance to German occupation is an amateur cause - survival, never mind success, will depend on how quickly the amateurs can learn a dirty and dangerous profession. This is warfare without glory - its only victory is in living another day.

The film opens with a triumphant German march past l'Arc de Triomphe as their propaganda machine publicises the surrender of France and Nazi occupation of Paris. Melville does not hide the fact that France had been humiliatingly defeated, nor that many in France would collaborate with the occupying forces. France was physically divided - part of it would be German occupied, the rest left under the control of the Vichy government (a collaborationist French regime), but France was also politically divided, most significantly between Left and Right.

Melville's characters, throughout, are trapped, imprisoned in an environment controlled by the Germans. Betrayal is always possible, suspicion is the watchword. When the film's central character is taken to London for a briefing, Melville contrasts the French experience with the British one just a few miles away across the Channel: in Paris we see German uniforms everywhere, we see a handful of resistance fighters struggling against them ... and risking betrayal by their own people; in London, everyone is in uniform, everyone is in the fight against the Nazis - the Germans may be bombing the city, but the spirit of London and Londoners refuses to be broken.

Melville was widely attacked in 1969 for showing the extent of collaboration in France - especially in demonstrating that the French police and French Fascists actively aided the Germans. The myth of the French nation solidly behind the Resistance was simply rejected by Melville - he knew many had collaborated unequivocally, he'd worked with the Resistance, he knew how dangerous it was, how few people could be trusted. The film, however, received a very chilly reception, and it was years before its quality was widely recognised - either in France or abroad.

Dark, gloomy, stripped of any Hollywood glamour or bravado, Melville emphasises the moral nature of resistance, alludes to its intellectual roots (recognising that the Resistance brought together people from a wide spectrum of French politics - Communists, Socialists, Catholics, Gaullists, Republicans, even Monarchists). A courageous film in its refusal to glamorise warfare and its expose of the myth of the nation in resistance - finely acted, beautifully directed, and only lately winning a deserved reputation for its portrayal of wartime France.

We follow the tale of Phillipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), an engineer turned Resistance leader. His is an army of the shadows - they do not fight major battles, they do not wear uniforms, they seem to spend more time killing one another than attacking the Germans. They smuggle radios back and forth, they are constantly on the run, constantly on their guard against betrayal. It's claustrophobic, lacking in glamour, bleak, austere, and tinged with the depressing certainty that the Germans must get them in the end. Melville is demonstrating that it's the hopelessness of their position which makes their courage so extraordinary - and made collaboration so despicable.

The DVD offers a fine combination of extras - a 35 minute newsreel shot by Resistance cameramen during the Paris uprising and liberation of 1944. Graphic, raw in its courage, and a must watch supplement to the film. And there's an excellent commentary by Ginette Vincendeau and an analysis of Melville's work, the film, his selection of shots, etc. Excellent value.

Original Sin [1988] [DVD]
Original Sin [1988] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Antonio Banderas
Offered by Direct-Offers-UK-FBA
Price: £2.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent, but uninspiring, 21 April 2009
This review is from: Original Sin [1988] [DVD] (DVD)
Slow to start, slow moving, and a touch contrived in the manner in which it tries to establish a picture of a happy, suburban family in a happy, suburban environment, but this is a competent, made for TV movie. It'll offer light entertainment, not inspiring viewing or riveting drama.

So, take an ordinary family - he's a competent young architect, establishing a sound local reputation, she's a doting mother and teacher. They have a young son, they are good family people, with good neighbours, good church connections, good prospects - the sort of American family that could be used as a yardstick to make the Simpsons look dysfunctional. Yes, they're that goody-goody - they look about as real and as natural as the hairstyles and wigs which will dance across your screen in the course of this film.

Then somebody abducts their child. They try to cope. They cooperate with the police, they do everything they can to trace the boy. But one of them has a secret.

A drama rather than a thriller, it can be slow moving at times, predictable at others; there are times when the annoying background music becomes the most dynamic thing happening. The acting is generally good - Ann Jillian is especially convincing in the role of distraught mother. Camera work and lighting are limited, and direction is sparse - it's a very middle-of-the-road, made for TV, don't do anything to frighten the horses, cliche-ridden production, with no great surprises, no originality, everything too neat and tidy, everything tied to the demands of TV advertising.

A competent production which doesn't get above average and which won't get your pulse racing.

Othello by William Shakespeare (Spark Notes Literature Guide)
Othello by William Shakespeare (Spark Notes Literature Guide)
by SparkNotes Editors
Edition: Paperback

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spark, just enough to enlighten your understanding, 13 April 2009
"Spark Notes" is an American series 'created by Harvard students for students everywhere'. It offers a slightly different perspective on Shakespeare, so there are advantages and disadvantages for British 'A' level students. The Othello Spark Notes, for instance, present a major theme of the play as the incompatibility of military heroism and love - it would be more usual to look at the conflict between love and duty.

The Notes open with a brief biography of Shakespeare and a plot overview - what happens in the play? There are brief portraits of the three leading characters (Othello, Iago, Desdemona), then sections on themes, motifs, symbols (the Handkerchief), and a scene by scene textual analysis. It concludes with some specimen questions on the play.

This is an interesting little book which makes some useful points. I'd recommend the York Notes and the Letts Explore series as offering better value for 'A' level or even first year at university, but it's worth remembering that books like these won't pass exams for you. It's worth collaborating with your fellow students and sharing the expense of buying two or three different sets of critical notes - pass them around, talk about them, familiarise yourself with the text.

There is, however, no substitute for reading the play thoroughly, reading it several times, and, ideally, getting to see a live performance or video/DVD of the play. The value of study notes is in helping you focus, assemble ideas, and gain perspectives which inspire you to look at the text differently and help you understand it. They don't offer answers you can parrot in essay or exam - they help you think, they encourage you to learn, but they won't do the work for you.

Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories
Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories
by Richard Dalby
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories which may show their age, but also their quality, 13 April 2009
The Victorian or Edwardian ghost story is a gentle affair - no slasher horror or technicolor gore here. They describe a darkly mysterious atmosphere, a sense of you really wouldn't want to spend a night alone in this empty house. It's cerebral, the emphasis more on doubt and intrigue than on what would be described as contemporary horror. The only special effects required are your ability to doubt reality, to imagine that the physical world might be insubstantial, might be interwoven with gateways to another dimension, might be peopled with creatures and places which are not what they seem.

The writing can be dense, even laboriously ornate, like the ornamental scrolling on Victorian wrought iron ware. At best, it adds to the atmosphere, to your sense of the ominous, of the outlandish or out-of-this-worldish. The most interesting feature is the range of authors whose works appear within this volume - 42 stories by authors like Le Fanu, Dickens, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bram Stoker, E.Nesbitt, M.R.James, and many more. Some of the names are ineluctably associated with the ghost story or horror genre, but others clearly are not. These ghost stories, these writings, are an insight into the psyche of another time and another world.

For anyone interested in writing 'ghost' stories, these works represent a tradition which is far removed from the modern ghost - a creature of visceral horror or of slapstick humour. It is gentle, very gentle horror by modern standards, almost bland. But understanding the history of the genre gives the writer insight into the nature of horror. It changes through time, in parallel with our changing recognition of what counts as evil. For the reader, it demands a different suspension of disbelief, an ability to step back into a different era with a different perspective on horror and evil, a different moral and social portfolio.

If your expectation is of stories which will readily translate to the 21st century, you will be disappointed by this volume. It is nevertheless an excellent anthology.

The Anatomist
The Anatomist
by Federico Andahazi
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Censorship and sensuality, 13 April 2009
This review is from: The Anatomist (Paperback)
Federico Andahazi's first novel, 'El Anatomista', won plenty of plaudits when first published in Argentina - not least because the sponsor of one award ironically refused to present it to him, denouncing him as a "communist porn artist" ... thus cementing his literary status and establishing him as a cause célèbre in Latin America. Given that 'The Anatomist' is a book about censorship, it seems fitting that it should be exposed to censorship in its own right - the irony doubly confounded in this instance by the fact that the would be censor was a woman.

The book follows the efforts of Mateo Colombo, a 16th century Venetian physician who became the first European male to document, if not discover, the existence of the clitoris. A man, you'd think, whose efforts might have been celebrated by women, a man who, in his time was threatened and silenced by other men, notably the hierarchy of the Church.

Andahazi's novel moves at a slow but compulsive pace. He treats his subject gently, exploring and uncovering his theme, arousing the reader's interest by careful asides and explorations of Colombo's world. While his namesake discovers the existence of a huge continent - well, two, really - Mateo follows his nose to a much tinier earthly presence. Man, we find, can profit from the plundering of continents, but the pleasuring of women offended the sensibilities of the Church ... and perhaps inflated the inadequacies of too many men. The West would steal two continents, men still struggle to pinch a single clitoris.

'The Anatomist' is a compelling, funny, picaresque tale. Though an historical novel, its themes of science and discovery confronting false morality and genuine hypocrisy are no less relevant than in today's world. Censorship takes many forms, and sexuality and desire are still too often shrouded in mystery.

Mateo Columbo wrote 'De re anatomica', exploring the anatomy of the clitoris, but, while Andahazi's novel is based on historical fact, much of its detail is imaginary and imaginative. Indeed, he seems to deliver two parallel tales, the one, Colombo's obsessive love of a famous courtesan, the other, his compulsive investigation of anatomy and struggle to publish his findings in the face of censorship and an oppressive Church. We get a vision of a man with lofty, scientific ideals, and a man with baser physical desires, a man enraptured by a passion for science and enquiry, and a man obsessed with romantic love and the pursuit of the unattainable.

A funny, fascinating fable, this is a book whose subject can still shock, can still provoke violent reactions. Four hundred and fifty years after Mateo Colombo's discovery, America has been well and truly mapped, and has become the master of self-publicity. Perhaps reading this novel might acquaint you better with the smaller subject and inspire you to follow in Mateo's finger steps.

The Captive [DVD] [2000] [2001]
The Captive [DVD] [2000] [2001]
Dvd ~ Stanislas Merhar
Price: £6.15

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious? Moi?, 13 April 2009
Loosely based on a work by Proust, this is a film which rapidly dissolves into obscurity and enigmatic pretensions. A rich, effete, dilettante young man is obsessed by his skinny (almost anorexic) girlfriend. He doesn't work, he doesn't have to. Occasionally, he does some translation of literary texts ... when he can be bothered. The sole purpose for his pampered, purposeless, passionless life seems to be his obsession. He's loathe to let her out of his sight unless accompanied by another, equally slim, young woman and without, apparently, the further chaperone of a camera.

He keeps his captive in his house, she is invited to visit his bed from time to time, but his sexual contact is adolescent, premature, and entirely self-centred. He is obsessed. But what does she appear to gain from the relationship? She lives a life of idleness and ennui. Deciding which dress to wear is the most exciting and most challenging thing she will do in the day. She certainly does not appear to be captive. Somehow, she has captivated him, and he is the one trapped by the nature of his obsession.

Quite frankly, it's a film in which I could not identify with any of the characters, could not sympathise with any of them, and in no way wished to sympathise with any of them. Obsession is a fascinating subject for literary or cinematic enquiry. Obsession, here, takes place in such an extraordinary and unreal a setting as to make it trivial and unbelievable. Obsession becomes transparently the vehicle for a story which otherwise has no substance, and the absurdity of the setting robs the vehicle of any drive or direction.

In the end, you want to be charitable and decide that this is not pretentious drivel, and then wonder if you are trapped in your own intellectual pretensions and are extending too much weight and significance to this film because it's French? If it had been an American or a British movie, I would have been instantly more scathing. Because it's French, I looked for greater depth, sophistication and significance. Ultimately, therefore, I won't be charitable - this is pretentious drivel!

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