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C. E. Utley "Charles Utley" (London, UK)
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Sandel
Sandel
Price: £5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Celebration of Paedophilia - but Quite Good, 18 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Sandel (Kindle Edition)
This is a novel of its time. I doubt very much whether any major publishing house would take on anything like this today. Written in 1968, as we were approaching the age of the Paedophile Information Exchange, when the conventional intellectual left-wing view was that there really wasn't a lot wrong with "pure" sexual relations between adults and children, it tells, sometimes rather movingly, of a male undergraduate's love for a thirteen-year-old choirboy. Today, of course, we understand a great deal more about how damaging such relationships can be. And, yes, there is probably an element of puritanism in our approach to the subject matter of the book.

Nevertheless, even to a 21st century readership, Stewart's first novel has some charm. He suffered, I suspect that is the right word, from being the son of J.I.M. Stewart (also known as Michael Innes), an exceptionally distinguished academic who also wrote many wonderful novels (the more serious ones under his own name and the delightful detective stories under his pseudonym). I think one can detect, in Stewart Junior's novel, an attempt to emulate his father's achievements. Sometimes he slips into what one can only term self indulgent efforts at "literary" writing. When that happens I would guess that he loses the attention of most of his readers. But then he snaps back into a better, clearer style of writing (actually more akin to his father's) and he has us with him again.

What the modern reader finds uncomfortable in this book is its attempt to convince us, not only that there is nothing wrong with a love affair between a young adult and a pre-pubescent boy, but that that is actually something to be admired and encouraged. But I do think it worthwhile to try to overcome distaste at that theme and to enjoy the many gems to be found in the story.

For my own part, I particularly enjoyed the gloriously funny portrayals of eccentric dons and even more eccentric choir school masters.

This is not a great novel, it is occasionally distressing (at least to this puritanical reader), but it has many merits.

Charles


The Dead (The Enemy Book 2)
The Dead (The Enemy Book 2)
Price: £3.59

4.0 out of 5 stars These books are not meant to be read by anyone other than disagreeable teenage boys., 14 Nov 2014
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I see that giving a book 4 stars means "I like it". I think I have broken the rules. I don't much like these books (I have read the first one as well). But they are not written for me. I assume they are written for rather anti-social teenage boys (I have two sons who come into that category). They are relentlessly depressing to an adult readership, but I understand that boys will not mind that. The endless descriptions of diseased adults, their disgusting bodily fluids oozing from every orifice as they lurch around in search of children to eat are extraordinarily gruesome, but I do know that most teenage boys will adore that sort of thing. And, I assume, they will not be at all put off by the dreadful deaths of many of the child heroes. I do wonder, though, whether even those uncivilised teenage boys will really want to stick with a series of novels in which no end ever seems to be in sight.

I have seen others comparing these books to the Lord of the Flies. But the comparison is not accurate. The Lord of the Flies had a satisfactory ending. These novels offer no prospect of that. The nastiness is just going to go on for ever.

No, I do not like these books, but that doesn't mean they are bad. They are very well written. There are some very moving moments in them, The children are real characters with easily recognisable faults and virtues. And, above all, teenage boys, who generally never seem to read anything, clearly love them.

Higson is to be congratulated, but his older fans will probably join with me in praying he will have another go at writing less revolting adventures.

Charles


Drift (School Story Book 1)
Drift (School Story Book 1)
Price: £4.64

1.0 out of 5 stars A Very Nasty Book, 7 Nov 2014
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I thought long and hard about how many stars to give this book. There are good things to be said about it. The writing is excellent. There are moments of humour. Once or twice we are even treated to uplifting accounts of honour and decency. But it does have to be said that the overall picture given to the reader is bleak and, to be frank, rather nasty and disgusting. In the end I decided that I really had no choice: only one star could be awarded.

I had better explain. This is the first of three books set in an English public school during the second world war. Seven new boys, all thirteen years-old, arrive in Ansell's House in Cranchester School. Our hero is the smallest and most innocent of them. His name is Christopher Angus. We follow him and the other six through their first year in the school. The author suggests, in his introduction to the story, that it is largely autobiographical. What is more, he urges us to believe that it is all true. He tells us that he has done his best to disguise the school and the main characters. But the events he describes, he assures us, actually happened.

The school is certainly very well disguised. It is, we are told, one of the dozen top public schools, not a sort of Dotheboys Hall. The impression we are given is that it is ranked with Eton, Harrow and Winchester, though its is plainly a lot lower down the list than those establishments. Mackenzie-Blair has effected the disguise by making the boys use a combination of the jargon of a great many public schools. The rather ludicrous result is that no boy in Ansell's House is capable of speaking in plain English. But that probably doesn't matter a great deal. Much more distressing are the graphic descriptions of the sort of depravity which, in the popular mind, is associated with boys' boarding schools.

There is not much in the way of a plot. Instead, we are treated to endless accounts of small boys being savagely beaten by prefects, obviously called "praefaectors", for such heinous crimes as having failed adequately to warm the praefaectors' beds by lying in them for a sufficient time before the praefaectors retire for the night.

And then there is sex. All your assumptions about boys' boarding schools and homosexuality are confirmed in this rather disagreeable story. The boys, of course, are told, by the captain of the house, that they will be thrashed within an inch of their lives if they are ever caught masturbating. But then it transpires that they are required to indulge, on certain special nights, in mutual masturbation with the praefaectors whose beds they have to warm. This practice, we are assured, is an old tradition in Ansell's House.

Most of this is, as you have worked out, a complete nonsense. Of course, I acknowledge that, until surprisingly recently, many public schools allowed prefects to beat younger boys. Indeed, my own school (which I went to between 1965 and 1970) entrusted most corporal punishment to the head boy and the house captains. It may well be that, in the 1940s, the exercise of that power was not as rigorously controlled as it was twenty years later. But the idea that top public schools allowed prefects regularly to beat boys for not warming their beds properly is plainly ludicrous.

And the sexual depravity portrayed in this book could never have taken place. Oh, I know (I am not as naive as you think) that older boys in boarding schools used sometimes to do evil things to younger boys, But Mackenzie-Blair's contention that every prefect (I can't go on using his pretentious term for that office) was required to indulge in sexual relations with younger boys is wholly incredible.

This is all rather sad. Mackenzie-Blair can write very well. There were parts of this book, when he forced himself to stop describing masturbation and beatings, which were amusing and even moving. But the book, as a whole, is revolting. I fear I cannot bring myself to read books two and three.

Charles


Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes Novel Book 2)
Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes Novel Book 2)
Price: £6.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as Good as House of Silk, 3 Nov 2014
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This is a slightly amusing book, but it is nowhere near as good as House of Silk. Perhaps that is just because, until a rather strange last chapter which has very little to do with the story, Sherlock Holmes and Watson are conspicuous by their absence.

Did Holmes die at the Reichenbach Falls? We know he didn't, but what about Moriarty? A body is found. Inspector Athelney Jones, of Scotland Yard, rushes to Switzerland to see the evidence. When he gets there he finds Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton investigator, already there. It seems that Moriarty had been about to form an alliance with Clarence Devereux, a truly nasty American gangster. Jones finds a coded message concealed in the lining of the dead man's jacket. It is an invitation from Devereux to Moriarty to meet in the Cafe Royal. The meeting is to take place in a few days' time. Jones and Chase decide to join forces. They speed across Europe to get to London in time for the meeting. And the adventures start.

As with House of Silk, though it didn't matter so much with that excellent novel, the book is certainly too long. The Sherlock Holmes stories were all much shorter than this one is. But my guess is that Horowitz is not to blame. His publisher will have demanded a very long novel. He had to go along with that demand.

It is not easy to identify what is wrong with this novel. But I suspect it is the absence of Holmes. This is, in effect, just a story about a policeman and an American private detective trying to track down an American gangster in London. It's not a bad story, but it isn't what one might call wonderful. True, towards the end, there is a surprising twist, but we have to wait a long time for it. And all the while we long for Holmes and Watson.

I think Mr Horowitz should get back to writing his Alex Ryder stories: they are much better than this.

Charles
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 6, 2014 1:15 PM GMT


FATHER BROWN: 53 STORIES (The Complete Collection). (Timeless Wisdom Collection Book 1130)
FATHER BROWN: 53 STORIES (The Complete Collection). (Timeless Wisdom Collection Book 1130)
Price: £0.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Generation Must Read these Stories, 1 Nov 2014
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It is one of the consolations of age that one can read books one read in childhood without having any recollection of the stories.

I think I must have read most of the Father Brown stories by the time I was about 13. Now, at the age of 62, I have read them again, without being troubled at all by remembering the story lines. And they are just as wonderful as they were fifty years ago. The only difference, I suspect, in my appreciation of the stories is that it is not restricted to the plots. I can now see how much theological wisdom Chesterton gives us. Father Brown's constant attacks on superstition, while still believing in miracles, are as valid today as they were when Chesterton wrote the stories.

I hope Father Brown is now gaining many more fans.

Charles


Lamentation (The Shardlake series Book 6)
Lamentation (The Shardlake series Book 6)
Price: £7.19

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Relief, 1 Nov 2014
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I confess I was worried. Sansom took time off from writing his brilliant Shardlake stories to produce a, frankly, disappointing "alternate history", set in the early 1950s, about post-war Britain following a German victory. I feared he had lost his touch.

Lamentation, gloriously, demonstrates that I had no need to fear. This is a simply wonderful novel.

We have come towards the end of Henry VIII's reign (the story is set in 1546). He is vacillating between religious conservatism and radicalism. His subjects live in terror of getting their religion wrong and being denounced, and killed, as heretics. Those in most danger are the radicals, or reformers. It is a capital offence, punished not just by death but by being burned alive, to deny that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the Mass. It is not heresy to believe that salvation comes through study of the Bible or that certain people have been chosen for salvation and that it can't be achieved by good works. But there is the ever-present risk that Henry and his more conservative advisers will assume that anyone holding those beliefs is secretly a denier of the real presence of Christ in the Mass.

Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr, is a convinced reformer. She has never turned her back on the Mass, but she holds decidedly protestant views. What is more, she has secretly written a book, "Lamentation of a Sinner", which sets out her reforming creed. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, learns of the existence of the book (there is only one copy). He urges her to destroy it so that the King will never know about it. She puts off following his advice. Then disaster strikes. The book is stolen from a locked chest in her bedchamber. If the thief were to hand it over to the King the Queen's life would be in danger. She decides to call on Matthew Shardlake to help recover the book.

And so begins an extraordinarily well-crafted story of adventure and intrigue. Sansom has definitely not lost his touch. His descriptions of Tudor England are as perfect as ever. His ability to grip the reader (of 650 pages) so that he or she never wants to put the book down is astounding. I admit that I guessed, quite early on, who had "Lamentation". But then I kept doubting whether I had got it right. It was only towards the end of the novel that my early guess was confirmed to be correct.

I adored this book. And I say that even though I am a Catholic (a species which I suspect Mr Sansom despises). The villains in his stories do tend to be those who adhere to the "old faith". But he is wise enough to give us a subsidiary hero, Guy Malton, who is undoubtedly a good man and who secretly owes his religious allegiance to Rome.

I pray that Shardlake will appear again and that his creator will not decide to make another venture into more modern history.

Charles


Gray Mountain
Gray Mountain
Price: £7.47

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Reader is Cheated, 31 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Gray Mountain (Kindle Edition)
This is a strange book. Grisham has, largely, turned his back on courtroom drama. Indeed, our heroine only conducts one court hearing, and that a very minor one which lasts no more than about half an hour. True, she becomes involved in a few other legal battles which seem to be likely to lead to splendid court scenes, but they never happen. That, to a Grisham fan, is very disappointing.

The story is a simple one. Samantha, our heroine, is a high flying associate, specialising in commercial real estate, in a gigantic New York law firm. She has an enormous salary, massive bonuses and ludicrously long working hours. But then comes the collapse in the property market caused by the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Samantha's services are no longer required. She is told she might be asked back to the firm in a year or two if she finds an unpaid job in a "non-profit" in the meantime. So she trots off to the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia. There, a world away from New York, she finds herself having to do all sorts of work of which she has no experience. She has clients who are "real people". They have awful problems, mainly due to their poverty. Not surprisingly, she quickly takes to her new role as part social worker and part lawyer.

Most of the problems in Brady are caused by evil coal mining companies. They are all run by crooks who think nothing of exposing their employees to highly dangerous levels of coal dust, thereby causing their horribly painful deaths, destroying the environment by slicing off the tops of mountains, making their truck drivers career around like maniacs ploughing into, and killing, innocent children and poisoning the water supply so that lots more decent people die.

Of course, it may be that Grisham is right in his description of American coal mining companies. I, a mere Englishman, have no way of knowing whether it is really true that America allows this sort of wholesale murder by rich corporations. But I hope I am not thought too evil for saying that I doubt whether every single American coal mining company behaves in the way Grisham depicts.

Still, this is fiction and one must not be too pedantic when one is required to believe the unbelievable. The point is that Samantha discovers that these appalling mining companies are committing dreadful crimes which are destroying the lives of her poor clients. She, we keep hoping, will take on those vile companies. A typical Grisham David and Goliath story is waiting to be told. But, to the distress of all those Grisham fans, it is not told. Yes, it starts. But it never finishes.

It is the modern fashion for a few loose ends not to be tied up in novels. This book takes the fashion to extreme lengths. Loose ends on a simply gigantic scale are left flapping about, wholly untied. Were they to be tied, it would take another full length novel to do the job. Maybe that is what Grisham proposes. Perhaps he wants us to buy another book in order to read of Samantha's valiant battles against the mining companies. All I can say is that, until that further books appears, I am left feeling cheated.

No, this is not Grisham at his best. It is readable, but that is about all one can say for it.

Charles


Vagabond
Vagabond
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Writer Decides to Become Dan Brown - Very Sad, 14 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Vagabond (Kindle Edition)
Seymour is talented. But he needs to try to keep his feet on the ground.

This is a silly story. We are required to believe all sorts of complete nonsense. I must try to explain.

Danny Curnow was in the British army during the troubles in Northern Ireland. He was a sergeant. He ran agents (meaning he was responsible for looking after Catholics who were prepared to snitch on the IRA). As far as one can gather, he was a disaster at that job. All his agents ended up dead. But, for some unaccountable reason, he was thought to be the best. Then he walked out. He deserted. The army didn't mind about that. No one tried to catch him and prosecute him. He just wandered off to France and took up taking tourists round war graves.

A few decades pass. The Good Friday Agreement has led to most IRA members joining the establishment. But a few of them hold out. They want to go on bombing and killing. But they are short of arms. They need to get guns, grenades, missiles etc. A man who has made them money by smuggling cigarettes into Ireland says he can get them the arms they need. Unknown to them, he is an MI5 agent. Someone is needed to "run" him. A top chap at MI5 decides that the obvious choice is Danny Curnow, the sergeant who deserted about thirty years earlier having built up a reputation for getting all his agents killed. Curnow, despite having hated everything so much that he deserted, immediately agrees to help. And it gets even more incredible as the story continues (I shan't reveal more of it in case anyone wants to read it).

It is sad that Seymour, whose first novel, Harry's Game, was set in Northern Ireland and was brilliant, has descended as low as this. But I suppose we are now in what one might call the "post-Dan-Brown-age". Even competent writers think it is now perfectly all right to churn out wholly incredible stories Readers are now assumed to be stupid.

Oh, all right, this book is not quite as bad as I have painted it. Seymour writes well. He is miles better than Dan Brown. If you are good at suspending disbelief you will probably enjoy Vagabond. I just think it miserable that Seymour has given up on writing believable fiction.

Charles
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 26, 2014 9:58 PM GMT


The Girl Next Door
The Girl Next Door
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly Unrealistic, 14 Oct 2014
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There is nothing wrong with revealing the murderer at the beginning of a murder mystery story. That is not my complaint about this book. And it has to be said, at the outset of this review, that the novel is very well-written and has some fascinating characters. I hope I don't put people off reading it because I, for one, found it rather fun. But I do have to say that I thought there were some problems with it.

All the main characters were around during the last war. Most were children then, though the villain, who is still alive, was an adult and is now approaching his hundredth birthday. So the main cast is made up of men and women who are now in their late seventies or early eighties, with one being ninety nine. They are brought together, decades after the events with which the story is concerned, by the discovery of a tin containing two hands, one of a man and one of a woman, in the tunnels in Essex in which the younger of them played during the war. We know, because we are told at the outset, that the ninety nine year-old murdered the two victims. The question is whether the police, and the former children who were around at the time, will work that out. And there is a subsidiary question: who was the male victim?

Baroness Rendell has decided to give us an extraordinarily unrealistic story about geriatric promiscuity. I know she will say I am being "ageist", that I am wrong to think men and women in their late seventies and eighties tend not to jump in and out of bed with each other at the drop of a hat. But that politically correct response simply won't wash. I accept that I am only sixty two and can't be expected to know how those who are fifteen or more years older than I am behave. But what Lady Rendell doesn't understand is that we youngsters know many people who are older than us and we know they simply don't behave like her characters in this book do.

It was an amusing idea and, as I say, the book is a good read. But it is miles away from being Rendell's best. I think you should all read it, but you should not have high expectations.

Charles


The Lake District Murder (British Library Crime Classics)
The Lake District Murder (British Library Crime Classics)
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Enjoyable Mystery - Though not so much of a mystery, 13 Oct 2014
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This was Bude's second murder story. Unlike the earlier one, however, no attempt is made to conceal the identities of the killers. We know from the start who is to blame, but what has to be worked out is how it was done. All the crooks seem to have perfect alibis. Inspector Meredith sets about painstakingly pulling them apart.

Although the Inspector is clearly an able detective, he does take an awful lot longer than the average reader of this book will to work out what is happening at the petrol pumps. It is slightly irritating that one has to wait so long to be told what one already knows. But that is a minor complaint.

Like the Cornish Coast Murder (the first), this is a light and pleasant read.

Charles


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