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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best reads of the year.
Peter Benson is one of the finest writers of his generation, and Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke is fresh evidence of his talent.
Set in the legendary summer of 1976, and against the enchanting landscape of Somerset, it tells the story of Elliott, a young jobbing labourer who is drawn by his feckless mate into trying to dispose of a hoard of dope plants which the...
Published on 30 Jun 2011 by Paul Sayer

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A haunting book that never quite reconciles its diverse facets
The title of this novel both echoes the film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and implies a fair sprinkling of stoner comedy. It has no real connection to either and, on the whole, this is a good thing. This book is a coming of age novel and a paean to the passing of the culture of rural England placed within the context of a crime thriller. It's an odd blend but quite...
Published on 16 July 2012 by Amazon Customer


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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best reads of the year., 30 Jun 2011
This review is from: Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke (Paperback)
Peter Benson is one of the finest writers of his generation, and Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke is fresh evidence of his talent.
Set in the legendary summer of 1976, and against the enchanting landscape of Somerset, it tells the story of Elliott, a young jobbing labourer who is drawn by his feckless mate into trying to dispose of a hoard of dope plants which the two came across in a hidden polytunnel. And what follows is a manic flight across the parched countryside from the owners of the stash, a tender love affair with a hippy girl, and a general coming-to-terms for Elliott with his own dreams and failings.
For anyone familiar with Benson's earlier work, Two Cows... ranks alongside The Other Occupant, Odo's Hanging, and Riptide as his very best, and it looks sure to become one of the most beguiling reads of 2011.
Heartily recommended.

Paul Sayer - author of the Whitbread-winning novel, The Comforts of Madness.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well, that was unexpected., 3 April 2012
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From the brief synopsis I'd been given, I was expecting the sort of caper Guy Ritchie would turn into a film which convinced no-one. What I actually got was an astonishing love letter to the countryside, poetic and lyrical, and funny and frightening in equal parts. Like the other reviewer, I had to finish the book in a single sitting, then come here and rave about it, then go and buy everything else Peter Benson has written. You should too.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Joyous Surprise., 2 April 2012
By 
D. Ryan "Gerald Inflatispace" (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I was expecting a bit of a knockabout romp, but got something much better.

I love the author's decidedly idiosyncratic use of metaphor, and his ability to inspire emotion, while maintaining a good narrative pace.

I couldn't put it down (to the extent that work today was a nightmare of fatigue..)
and now I'm going to see if Peter Benson has any other delights in store.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A haunting book that never quite reconciles its diverse facets, 16 July 2012
By 
Amazon Customer (Leamington Spa, Warwickshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
The title of this novel both echoes the film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and implies a fair sprinkling of stoner comedy. It has no real connection to either and, on the whole, this is a good thing. This book is a coming of age novel and a paean to the passing of the culture of rural England placed within the context of a crime thriller. It's an odd blend but quite effective.

Our narrator, Elliot, and his volatile best friend Spike find their rural idyll in Somerset -during the blazing summer of 1976- disturbed by sinister events. Strangers from Bristol import crime and city morality to the little village of Ashbrittle and through no fault of his own, Elliot becomes caught up in a vicious underworld of drugs, corrupt police and violence. What follows is Elliot's attempt to extricate himself and Spike from this unwelcome intrusion whilst struggling with impending adulthood.

The actual plot is relatively formulaic. The familiar beats of the criminal investigation provide the framework for a fairly predictable thriller. What elevates this novel are the bits in between; the book is really about rural life at a particular moment in the past when centuries of tradition began to hurtle headfirst into the modern world. Folk law and agriculture are placed at odds with the cynical brutality of present-day culture.

This theme keeps emerging throughout the book; the backward looking hippies contrasted by the drug abusing collective that surrounds Spike; the spirituality of Elliot and his mother versus the pragmatism of his father and sister; and the casual violence of drug dealers opposing the regretful violence of the aging World War II generation.

Many of the older characters are able to choose to ignore the change that is going on about -such as the kindly farmer for whom Elliot works or his mother the white witch- but for Elliot and Spike, at the intersection of these two opposing cultures, the choice is not so easily made.

To his credit, Peter Benson does not set up an entirely polarised debate where urban culture is bad and rural culture good. Crime exists in country society, not least predicated by the wastrel Spike, and the town police give a good account of their motives if not their performance. Nevertheless, the poetic descriptions of the county do occasionally seem to be a bit of an indulgence. Equally, whilst Benson writes very pleasant prose, some of the more abstract interludes seemed a little forced.

Ultimately, I found this a very evocative and diverting read, although a little slight. Little things (such as the inter-textual promotion of Benson's next novel) kept pulling me out of the pleasant fantasy of the book. Equally, I came away with a good sense of Elliot although the other characters seemed underdeveloped. Therefore, I'm conflicted: I enjoyed the book whilst reading it but thought it inconsequential, nevertheless the sense of place and the main themes have stayed with me far longer than I thought they would.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rolling story with an extra dimension, 2 Jun 2012
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I enjoyed this engaging story for its off-beat story and interesting characters but what lifted it from just 'a good read' was the sense of place. I am not familiar with the rural area where the story was set but the writer's obvious connection with and love for the countryside added a richness to this light and pleasant tale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 21st century Oscar Wilde - Wonderful Book, 14 Sep 2012
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I am looking at a picture. It is so detailed, it exceeds the quality of the finest photograph. Not only can I see this picture, but I can smell it too; I can hear it, touch it and taste it. This picture fills my senses and as I gaze upon it I become totally absorbed in it and I am transported from my urban jungle to the place it represents - a small part of the West Country close to the Somerset Devon border. It is so powerful I am no longer aware of the concrete madness that surrounds me, instead I am in a rural oasis I recall from many, many years ago.

This picture has not been created with paint and brush though; this picture has been created by the words of Peter Benson in his book "Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke". Using words alone, Peter takes you not only into the countryside of the Somerset Devon border, but also into the minds of the people who live there; and in particular the mind of the main character, Elliot.

The story of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, is a simple one that extends to over 200 pages through Wilde's exquisite descriptions of the characters' thoughts and feelings as he luxuriates in the use of language to bring to life the period, setting and life of the people that the story revolves around. Peter Benson has achieved the same thing in this book. It is a simple story but one that has been crafted with such care and expertise. It is different to any book by a living author I have read.

I never read a book twice. Until now. I got lost in this book, I loved it, I will read it again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, 30 May 2012
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Not a bad book, I enjoyed the beginning and the initial delve into the characters, the protagonist is particularly intriguing. I appreciated the use of language as at times it felt almost poetic with the images it conjured.
Unfortunately, I feel that the story became rushed towards the end of the book and what should have been an interesting and gripping read was not delivered as a result of this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and captivating, 1 May 2012
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Excellent read and thoroughly enjoyable. Very evocative of the English rural life of the 70's and captures the mood perfectly of a bright guy looking to make his mark on the world and do the right thing by his friends and family. It's not a deep book and doesn't deal with any major issues, nor does it explore characters to any degree. However, if you are after some escapist entertainment this is worth buying as the narrative is very engaging and draws you in slowly till you are hooked. If I am forced to be critical, it loses focus a little towards the end and didn't leave me totally sated. There is also a terrible love scene where the flowery prose gets way too purple but hey, who does write good love scenes (apart from DH Lawrence). Really enjoyable and entertaining read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simply delightful, 23 April 2012
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This is a lovely book, half coming-of-age story, half love letter to rural England. The places come alive through Benson's pen; the central character Elliot will have many smiling and nodding along and noting similarities to themselves. Only towards the end with its possibly overdone diversion into police corruption did I find it less-than-perfect. Otherwise, the three hours I spend in this novel's company were a complete joy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual read, 14 May 2012
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When I bought this item I thought it was a comedy and so I was initially confused. I would say that this is more of a suspense thriller. Once you get into the storyline you want to find out what happens next. It is intriguing and realistic and current. The writing style is absolutely unique and definately gives you food for thought.
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Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke
Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke by Peter Benson (Paperback - 20 Jun 2011)
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