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Thomas Holt

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The Crime at Black Dudley (Classic Crime)
The Crime at Black Dudley (Classic Crime)
by Margery Allingham
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Enter Mr Campion, 5 Jun 2012
This is the first of Allingham's wonderful Campion series. They are not really whodunnits a la Christie, but more adventure stories, even though many of them have a twist at the end - as does this one. Allingham's great gifts are a Dickensian ability with characterisation and scene-setting; evident, but not yet mature, in this early work. She also understands how to use dialogue to move the plot along, to develop character, and to build tension. Moreover, Allingham's dialogue is believable conversation, making allowances for when the books were written and the idiosyncracies of Campion!

A house party at an ancient mansion develops a macabre twist when the uncle of the host is murdered, and the older guests turn out to be a horribly stereotypical German criminal mastermind and his henchmen, out to retrieve a priceless missing document. The novel pursues a series of exciting adventures as the younger guests attempt to escape, including rambles through secret passages and the like. There are two very notable characters, Mrs Meade - a yokel with religious mania who locks herself in a room for days waiting for the bad guys to meet their fate at the hands of her belligerent son, and Albert Campion - originally introduced to add a touch of whacky humour but he imposes himself on the plot to such an extent that Allingham's American publishers virtually insisted that he should feature in future novels. Amen to that! The actual main character of this novel, Abbershaw - a freelance pathologist, was intended to be the hero in subsequent works, but he is dull, dull, dull!

Even in this early work, the quality of Allingham's prose shines through - later acknowledged by the great American realist crime writer Raymond Chandler - who was highly critical of the formulaic technique of Christie, for example. My main criticism of this novel is in the motivation of the killer. This implies a sort of brain-washing that simply would not work, and is more the product of an intellectual snobbery prevalent in many of the British middle-classes before the great leveller that was WW II. To Allingham's credit, I can't think of a later Campion novel where this is the case - probably helped by the introduction of Lugg. Similar thoughtlessness is endemic in much of the work of Christie (even after WW II) and, to a lesser extent, in some of Dorothy L. Sayer's offerings.

All in all, a good read and a taste of much greater things to come.


Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Poirot) (Hercule Poirot Series Book 39)
Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Poirot) (Hercule Poirot Series Book 39)
Price: £3.85

2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Feeble!, 31 May 2012
It's virtually impossible to say anything about the plot of this novel without giving the game away. So I'll concentrate on its weakness. The problem I had with it is that I found it utterly unbelievable; the motivation, the method - literally incredible. Once I realised what was going on, I found the book so dull that I started looking for temporal howlers. Since the book was written, I think, in 1940, and published in 1975, this was vaguely entertaining. For example, Poirot saying medication was the only treatment for heart problems, you couldn't replace worn out organs (7 years before publication the first heart transplant had been performed). Then there's Christie's peculiar views on hereditary traits. I suppose in 1940 you could have got away with saying an individual's evil nature was passed through the genes from a parent. But, in 1975, you would have been laughed at.

This is easily the worst Poirot. Hastings comes near to killing someone. The only surprise is that it isn't Poirot! If my best friend had treated me the way Poirot treated Hastings, I'm sure I could have got away with justifiable homicide, or at very least self-defence!


Once Upon A Time In America [DVD] [1984]
Once Upon A Time In America [DVD] [1984]
Dvd ~ Robert De Niro
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars great film, but...., 28 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This isn't a review, just some information. 40 minutes is lost from the version currently available on DVD, because of butchery by studio execs who (probably rightly) considered the film too long for commercial success. However, if you want to see it as intended by Leone (269 minutes!) keep your eyes open for a new version in a year or so. The remake is, I think, supervised by Martin Scorcese and, though there has been some delay due to ownership conflict over 24 minutes, this is being resolved by Leone's heirs. In the meantime, the currently available DVD is a very fine movie and well worth getting, but not for the squeamish.


Elephants Can Remember
Elephants Can Remember
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well written yarn, and an interesting puzzle, 26 May 2012
This review is from: Elephants Can Remember (Paperback)
This is one of Christie's better efforts in terms of characterisation and plot development. As with all studies of a crime that occurred long ago, pace is necessarily sacrificed in the pursuit of information. Christie compensates for this by giving a very limited number of possibilities and introducing a lot of highly entertaining dialogue into the gradual development of the solution. Because of these factors, the rules of the puzzle are not typical Christie. Gone are the hundreds of suspects in an obvious case of murder, allowing you to play the guessing game if you are too idle to try and work it out. With this novel, you have to work out if there has been a crime and then, I suggest, use the slow pace to try and work out every aspect of the solution. Guessing is easy in this case, but will only give you part of the puzzle - even if you guess right - so what's the point? The two clues that Poirot bangs on about are all you need to work out everything by about three-quarters of the way through the book. Ellery Queen would have put in a challenge to the reader there. Then you can have the very great satisfaction of smugly nodding your way, in great detail, through Poirot's explanation.

WARNING Possible spoiler: Readers under 40 might find the behaviour of one of the characters, as described in the solution, utterly unbelievable. I would ask them to think that when the incident occurred, people were very different - more sure of what was right and wrong and, therefore, more able to decide and do what was "honourable". I hasten to add that this does not make them "better" than more recent generations, they just had a more simple outlook that made these decisions easier. Personally, I think a little uncertainty is a good thing; it makes you less likely to make mistakes!


Hallowe'en Party (Poirot)
Hallowe'en Party (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre, 25 May 2012
I don't see how one reviewer can say that this book is quite short at 200 pages. Perhaps his version is on very big pages with small print? In this edition, it is nearly 100 pages longer than similar editions of much better Poirot's. This is because the main fault of the book is shameless padding - I nearly stopped reading after the first two chapters - tedious detail about the planning and execution of an excruciatingly boring middle-class party for ordinary kids. Fortunately, it picks up a bit in Chapter 3, but the verbiage continues, usually in the form of pointless dialogue that does nothing in terms of character or plot development. You could easily lose 100 pages from this and not notice the difference! What condemns it to two stars, rather than three, however, is the extremely simple "puzzle". I got the main elements of this before Poirot; not, I hasten to add, a feat I am used to.

I suppose it's worth reading if, like me, you want the dubious satisfaction of having read all Poirot stories. Otherwise, there are far better ways to pass the time.


The Clocks (Poirot) (Hercule Poirot Series Book 34)
The Clocks (Poirot) (Hercule Poirot Series Book 34)
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly worth reading, but not as a whodunnit, 22 May 2012
First, the good. This novel introduces a plethora of excellent characters surrounding a Crescent where a most peculiar murder takes place in the home of a blind woman. The leading investigators are a Detective Inspector and a marine biologist who seems to work for both MI5 and MI6 - perhaps Christie was unaware of the distinction? There are, of course, ancillary murders - which led me to discover half the puzzle. Without giving the game away too much, I will now try to describe what's wrong with this book.

Christie was in her 70s when she wrote this, and obviously sick of Poirot - he doesn't make much contribution until the "action" is almost over. However, the main problem here is that the puzzle is unbelievable, and therefore, logically unsolvable. The culprit has some knowledge that they couldn't possibly have and the reason for the initial killing, and the circumstances surrounding it are, in my view, ridiculous and involve some irrational behaviour that is totally unexplained. There is also at least one error in the run-up to Poirot's summing-up - but this is sloppy, not fundamental - and, as I said, Christie was in her 70s.

Almost to the presentation of the solution, this is an excellent novel - well-written, good characters, and an interesting plot - let down in the home straight. The feeling I get is that Christie lost interest when it came to explaining the tangled web she wove! One almost gets the feeling that, as she aged, she could have developed a second career as a writer of excellent "straight" novels - she certainly had the insight and the technical ability. As I said in the title, mostly worth reading.


La Cuisine: Everyday French Home Cooking
La Cuisine: Everyday French Home Cooking
by Francoise Bernard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.63

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great practical cookbook, 19 May 2012
Forget everything you like about your favourite cookbooks - those criteria don't apply here. Not only are there not too many glossy pictures, there aren't any pictures, glossy or otherwise! What? you like detailed prescriptive recipes, every step listed for you? Sorry, this book more often than not doesn't even bother to tell you what oven temperature to use. But, and it's an immense but, it does say things like moderate oven, and 230 C when it is really important. Let's face it, in these days of fan-ovens, and even more esoteric gadgets, when did you last find a cookbook whose oven temperatures made any sense? Anyone who uses their oven knows that they have to judge the right oven temperatures based on their experience of their equipment. So, we've established that this is not a cookbook for absolute novices. But, if you can boil an egg, and use the little grey cells, then you will be fine with this. The hidden truth is that photos don't really help you cook, they just make you feel inept if your offering doesn't come up to scratch. Then there's the plethora of "step by step" cookbooks. After a couple of dishes, don't you find them tedious? After all, you're not an idiot! If you even half agree with me, then this book is not only for you, but it will become your absolute favourite.

So, enough of what you don't get, what does "La Cuisine" have to offer? According to the blurb, 1000 of the best recipes of the woman who simplified French cooking - made it practical for home cooking - Francoise Bernard. But, there's another unusual thing about this cookbook, it is over-modest. Every recipe has extra advice from Bernard; what might accompany the dish to best effect, then there's copious advice on how to vary the recipe. My guess is that this book has something like 3000 recipes, using the standards of its competitors. All recipes give an estimate of ease, cost, time, and number of servings. It has sections on: Soups (26), Cold Starters (54), Warm Starters (32), Eggs (44), Meat and Poultry (160), Charcuterie and Other Meats (40), Wild Game (28), Seafood (114), Vegetables (94), Pasta and Rice (30), Sauces (32), Desserts (124), and Cocktails and Drinks (10). The number in brackets after the section name indicates the number of pages in the section. Units are in metric.

If you're deadly serious about creating restaurant-quality French food, and have lots of time, then you can't do better than the two volumes of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". But, if you're happy just producing great food time after time in relative ease from a very well-organised cookbook, then "La Cuisine" is the one for you. My most used cookbook is a very battered UK Good Housekeeping offering from the 1980s. Over the next few decades, "La Cuisine" is going to run it close.


On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact
On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact
by Patrick V Kirch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fills a great hole in the literature!, 18 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
On a recent trip to New Zealand, I became very frustrated with the historical sections of the bookshops I visited. I have been interested in Pacific migrations since reading Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki Expedition as a kid. But in New Zealand all I could find, and in excruciating detail, was the history of the Maori - almost exclusively since they landed in New Zealand 700 years ago and most of if covering only the period since Europeans had an impact - a mere 150 years. Now the Maori are a very agreeable people, and I'm sure their recent history is of interest, but I wanted to know the why and how of this nautical drift eastwards of closely related ethnic groups over possibly thousands of years, of which the Maori are only a small part. "On the Road of the Winds" fulfils this need admirably - or, at least, it provides a prodigious starting point. The problem is that much of the archaeology remains to be done, and durable remains tend to be scant.

This is a very scholarly archaeological analysis, drawing together such sources as there are into a coherent and logical picture. The whole is illustrated with extremely useful maps, line-drawings, and photographs. Rather than attempt to describe the encyclopaedic scope of this book, I will list the chapters: 1 Discovering the Oceanic Past, 2 The Pacific Islands as a Human Environment, 3 Sahul and the Prehistory of "Old" Micronesia, 4 Lapita and the Austronesian Expansion, 5 The Prehistory of "New" Micronesia, 6 Micronesia: in the "Sea of Little Lands", 7 Polynesia: Origins and Dispersals, 8 The Polynesian Chiefdoms, 9 Big Structures and Large Processes in Ocean Prehistory. These are followed by Notes, copious References, and a comprehensive Index.

Although aimed at the professional archaeologist, this book is still a readable narrative for those with more than a passing interest in this fascinating subject. You might be tempted to gloss over the extensive academic references. My advice would be not to do this. Try and take them in, it's easy once you get used to it. It's this that separates a valuable scientific work, like this, from the largely worthless coffee-table fare, with lots of pointless colour photographs, that is all too commonly available.


Cat Among the Pigeons (Poirot)
Cat Among the Pigeons (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Five stars if you like classic school stories!, 18 May 2012
Agatha Christie had a rather strange, yet happy, upbringing. She was educated at home with, for example, a mother who didn't believe children should learn to read before they were eight. Christie demonstrated an early rebellious streak by teaching herself to read at the age of four! This lack of formal education likely explains her atrocious spelling and sometimes laughable grammatical lapses. Since her siblings were considerably older than her, Christie developed an extensive pretend world to compensate for the lack of peer companions. This included a highly detailed imaginary school. Clearly, this experience contributed to her later facility as a writer and this novel draws on her "school" experiences.

A succession of murders of staff at a very posh private school for girls provides the puzzle, against a backdrop of strife in the Middle East and more than half a million pounds worth of precious stones - gone missing! The description of the effect of this on the life of the school is brilliantly done, particularly if you are familiar with the works of Frank Richards and the early P. G. Wodehouse. Just to take one example, I once had the very great pleasure of being the dinner companion of a former headmistress of a similar school in Australia. Her tales of developing the school were remarkable - she was exactly as Christie had drawn Miss Bulstrode - the headmistress of the school in this novel! Such perception is rare amongst novelists, particularly those associated, shall we say, with the consumer end of the market. By any standards, this is a very good novel, with excellent characters, an evocative description of life at such a school, and some very moving moments - all done with great empathy and compassion. Purists might find the main puzzle less than fiendish but I, for one, failed totally to anticipate the final twist. Poirot appears almost as an afterthought, and solves the problem in quick time. Personally, I felt that the highly competent police and Secret Services would have got there in the end.

Some, rather snobbish, critics catalogue Christie with the dime-novelists. One suspects that they haven't read much of her enormous output; they certainly have not read this book. You should!


Dead Man's Folly (Poirot)
Dead Man's Folly (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christie scores again!, 15 May 2012
After a some rather feeble late Poirot offerings, I really enjoyed this. Christie is back to the scenario she is most familiar with: upper middle-class England, living in Devon, landed gentry forced to sell the family home..... The house evokes memories of Christie's own house, Greenway near Dartmouth, Devon; the house is of similar antiquity, has a pictureque boathouse, and is surrounded by woods, even if only half the area of woodland in the novel. Greenway is an NT property and well worth a visit - lovely house, fascinating history, glorious location, and excellent tea and cake!.

In spite of Poirot being invited down to prevent a murder, there are eventually three! A cast of well-drawn characters stage a fete at a country house in Devon, including a murder game devised by the gargantuan detective-story writer Ariadne Oliver. Guess what...? The plot is well-constructed and moves along at a good pace. Christie's racism has moved on from Jews (unacceptable after the Holocaust) to stereotyped Europeans - but you can always chose to interpret it as a feeble attempt at humour. The puzzle is fiendish, I failed to solve more than half of it even with, in retrospect, the most outrageous clues. Fortunately, Poirot is made of sterner stuff, although he doesn't crack it until very late on.


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