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Mike Collins

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Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (Penguin Classics)
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (Penguin Classics)
by E. W. Hornung
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amateur Hour, 25 Aug. 2016
EW Hornung married Arthur Conan Doyle's sister and, as a writer of some promise, I suppose it was inevitable he would come up with something along the lines of The Amateur Cracksman. As others have noted, the stories are entertaining enough - there is certainly more substance than in Guy Boothby's The Prince Of Swindlers, for example - but there is little character interaction because there aren't really any characters. Another reviewer here mentions the inordinately long introduction and the endless notes at the back, which are OTT in many cases, but all is forgiven when you look at the cover, one of the best for any book ever. Lock up your valuables, folks, and keep 'em peeled.


Maigret's First Case: Inspector Maigret #30
Maigret's First Case: Inspector Maigret #30
by Georges Simenon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Case In Point, 21 Aug. 2016
Friends have badgered me for years to try Simenon and I finally gave in... thank goodness, as it's turned out. Although it is not the first book featuring the Parisian copper (it's No30), Maigret's First Case is a belter – a complex though coherent plot, characters who come alive with minimum effort on the part of the writer; economical prose; terse intimations of emotion rather than lorry-loads of expository guff; the sense of city life bustling all around, at work and in the streets (mean and grand), cafes and bars; and a superbly sweaty interlude where Maigret blunders into an underworld gathering at an Italian restaurant and almost pays for his folly with his life. Excellent writing from an excellent writer - order today.


Measure for Measure (The RSC Shakespeare)
Measure for Measure (The RSC Shakespeare)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Measure, 19 Aug. 2016
“His givings-out were of an infinite distance/From his true-meant design.” Lucio's words about the "absent" Duke resonate strongly because there is a nagging, elusive quality to this play to which they somehow allude, something reticent lying just beneath the surface patterns of WS's brilliant verse that I can almost grasp... but not quite. MFM, for all its claims to be a comedy, is a dark work, evoking the finality of death in the way Philip Larkin's terrifying poem Aubade does, and the prospect of torture (physical and spiritual) and execution is never far away. I am coming on like one of the professional critics (wofflers) I usually deride here, so let's just say this edition is as good as any in this marvellous series, with detailed notes and accounts of performances shot through with insight and intelligence. The play is too complex to have a simple message but "O, what may man within him hide, Though angel on the outward side!" seems an observation and a caution we should all heed.


Funeral in Berlin
Funeral in Berlin
by Len Deighton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Red And Buried, 18 Aug. 2016
This review is from: Funeral in Berlin (Paperback)
Hold on a moment, look, I'm no thickie but the plot here groans under the weight of its own labyrinthine complexity, with disguised doubles, murderous civil servants, Israeli spooks, wartime flashbacks, a tailored coffin, and an obscure Frenchman called Grenade, plus the admittedly delightful Colonel Stok (though he does bang on about the iniquities of capitalism a bit) muddying the already Stygian waters. LD chucks it all in and it's a souffle too rich for my taste, though that is just me. But surely we can all agree it's overwritten. "The road along the plage was marbled with drifting sand. The sun was bright but lifeless as it lowered itself wearily behind the mauve hills. Etc, etc." And then, to compound that, a few paragraphs further down "'Do you have any guests,' I asked wearily." There's that blinking "wearily" again. The first LD I read was Berlin Game, which is miles better. This reads like an effort churned out after a creative writing class - successful, sure, but pedestrian.


A Murder of Quality (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Murder of Quality (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Class Apart, 12 Aug. 2016
Another critic here derides AMOQ for being "absolute piffle" and they are absolutely right. JLC, on this evidence, was not sure which direction Smiley should take after Call For The Dead, so he sets him off on a road more frequently travelled by Agatha Christie and her whodunnit ilk to a west country village, with a monstrous, carbuncle-like public school attached. This aspect of the tale is mildly intriguing and I can imagine the author up to his gizzard, as per Charles Dickens, in notes about who is related to whom and racking his brains as to why the eventual murderer would've dunnit. All smoke and mirrors, I'm afraid, readers, and the denouement is as embarrassing as anything Christie could have contrived - and often did. But class is the key. Social apartheid in England still exists, of course, and many at either end of the spectrum go from cradle to grave without ever interacting with each other, save in a master/servant relationship. However, in the early 1960s (when your reviewer was a plebeian child), it was so much more deeply entrenched and unquestioned, to the extent that it seems like a different world now (hence other comments on this page about the book being "out of date"). So, who did do it? Ah, who cares!


The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories
The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories
by Malcolm Bradbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Short Changed, 12 Aug. 2016
Ask an academic for an anthology of short stories and you get..? Yep, a pile of self-referential gubbins in which the main preoccupation seems to be other upper middle-class writers, kicking off with the truly awful and profoundly pretentious 'Strange Comfort Afforded by the Profession', in which notorious drunk Malcolm Lowry shows off his literary knowledge while stupefying the rest of us with the futility and witlessness of the exercise. If he could write as well as the masters he references there might have been a point, but no chance. This crud sets the tone for most of the rest of it - and, by the way, by what twist of law was Samuel Beckett "British" when he wrote Ping, a brilliant late stab of obtuse writing but hardly a piece for a book that may have had the aim of converting more readers to short fiction. If you want excellent short stories, try the Yanks Richard Yates and Raymond Carver. If you want sublime short stories go to James Joyce's (Irish like Beckett) Dubliners. If you want pure art and soul try Anton Chekhov... but avoid this pottage.


Call for the Dead (Penguin Modern Classics)
Call for the Dead (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Zinger, 12 Aug. 2016
I can't add much to what's been said here but let's acknowledge, and perhaps lament the passing of, the etiquette of a politer world when gentlemen staffed the secret service and got involved in capers perpetrated by such bounders as the "East German Steel Mission". Smiley is about to set off in hot pursuit of his arch enemy Dieter: "He had a gun somewhere, and for a moment he thought of looking for it. Then, somehow, it seemed pointless. Besides, he reflected grimly, there'd be the most frightful row if he used it." Oh, yes, most frightful. This sequence reminded me of a moment in Eric Ambler's Cause For Alarm, written 20 years before this book, which includes a cafe stop where the hero, relentlessly pursued by the Italian police and agents of a secret Fascist organisation, drinks a "tolerable Barbera" (Italian red wine). Spiffing, though when I was in a similar situation I quaffed a thoroughly decent Barolo before making good my escape over the mountains. And this novel? O, come on. Pip, pip.


Short Cuts
Short Cuts
by Raymond Carver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cuts To The Quick, 7 Aug. 2016
This review is from: Short Cuts (Paperback)
The only trouble with these marvellous stories is how much are they the author's and how much the work of formidable editor Gordon Lish, who, though now in his eighties, looks like one of those very tough NY guys you don't mess with. He told the Paris Review in December 2015 - ‘Had I not revised Carver, would he be paid the attention given him? Baloney!’ Yeah, OK, Gordon, I ain't arguing. Anyway, some people say what we have here is boring and that nothing happens though, conversely, everything does. For one character the world is transformed: "He turned and turned in what might have been a stupendous sleep, and he was still turning, marveling at the impossible changes he felt moving over him." The first nugget in this selection - Neighbors - is the deceptively simple tale of a pair agreeing to look after their more successful neighbours' apartment while they are on vacation, watering the plants, feeding the cat and so on. But the place takes them over as each separately spends longer and longer there, becoming the people they would like to be themselves until, when they finally decide to go in together, they are literally locked out. A lot of the characters here are locked out of their lives but some find the key, as in the moving A Small, Good Thing, which proves Carver was not just stuck up Melancholia Avenue, as Richard Yates sometimes is, but ranged across all of our neighbourhoods, all of our hearts.


A Place in the Country
A Place in the Country
by W. G. Sebald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Country Matters, 17 July 2016
This review is from: A Place in the Country (Paperback)
Physics buffs have A Brief History of Time; philosophy fans Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein; mathematicians a wealth of books, many abstruse and technical, especially in those far-flung regions where numbers merge into mysticism. On a similarly sophisticated level, for us literary bods there is W.G.Sebald, author of the superb The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz (among others), a man whose death at too young an age (57) in a motor accident in 2001 near Norwich, where he lectured at the university, deprived us of a stunning talent deserving of the Nobel prize. Academic colleague Jo Catling has collated and translated this collection of six essays on writers, and a painter, and they are all pearls. I hadn't heard of four of the people here but all the accounts are insightful and beautifully written (and translated), especially those touching Rousseau and Robert Walser, author of the astounding Jakob von Gunten. Wallace Stevens's The Poem That Took The Place of a Mountain reveals the nature of the voyage Sebald had undertaken, arriving at the place "Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,/Recognise his unique and solitary home." Very few get there; Sebald did.


Berlin Game
Berlin Game
by Len Deighton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passage Of Brahms, 15 July 2016
This review is from: Berlin Game (Paperback)
I'm giving this five stars even though we sometimes get conversation like this: "I knew him back when Berlin was Berlin. We shared girlfriends and fell down drunk together. I know him the way you only know men you grew up with. Berlin! I loved that town." Er, yeah, OK, uncle Silas. And that the Giles Trent sequence is laboured and implausible (would he really have been that obvious knocking about with a KGB man in London, even as a double-treble-bluff manoeuvre?). And that it's narrated in the first person. And that the ending is more Agatha Christie than intelligent spy fiction. All that's a truth universally acknowledged, but then so is the pervasive sense of unease and betrayal; the quotidian banalities of life even for the spook community (as we call it now - anyone for a school sports day run by a bearded fool wearing "a voluminous scarf of some provincial university"?); and the sweaty climactic scenes in East Berlin with the nerdy, bespectacled, but utterly lethal Major Erich Stinnes (Stasi? KGB?) hot on the trail of our resourceful hero as he tries to get undercover agent Brahms back to the West. Flawed brilliance, but brilliant nevertheless.


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