Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Click Here Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Shop Women's Shop Men's
Profile for Dr. R. Brandon > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Dr. R. Brandon
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,040
Helpful Votes: 2463

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Dr. R. Brandon (England)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
[ DAN LENO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM BY ACKROYD, PETER](AUTHOR)PAPERBACK
[ DAN LENO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM BY ACKROYD, PETER](AUTHOR)PAPERBACK
by Peter Ackroyd
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Attention Grabbing, Macabre, But Overstuffed with Historical References, 9 Sept. 2017
It was with some trepidation that I bought this book as I have not forgiven Peter Ackroyd for disseminating unpleasant myths about the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor in his novel, ‘Hawksmoor’.
This book is set in the years running up to 1880 and is, in many respects, a re-run of the Jack the Ripper murder story. Our central character Lambeth Marsh Lizzie starts life in abject poverty living with her mother. She then ingratiates herself into a troupe of players who perform six nights a week at various music halls around London, the only one of which is extant being Wilton’s. Lizzie moves on to eventually marry money but this is by no means the whole story. Co-incident with the story of Lizzie we have a series of East End murders taking place, some of which the author chooses to describe in graphic detail, which some may find shocking. Various famous real-life characters are introduced into the story including the novelist George Gissing, Karl Marx and the theatrical artistes Grimaldi and Dan Leno. This is interesting and allows Ackroyd to tell us something, if not always correctly, of these people but they are not wholly relevant to the plot. Rather it appears that Ackroyd has inserted them simply for period ‘colour’, to set the story in its time.
The author utilises his encyclopaedic knowledge of London to mention the locations of many music halls, theatres and other key locations, and is always keen to name streets and squares many of which no longer exist. For all the presentation of historic detail the author fails to really bring the Victorian city to life. The scene setting is not graphic despite topographical references. There is much quoting from old playbills and references to music hall characters but they are merely silhouettes in this story. As has been noted elsewhere, sometimes Ackroyd the historian gets in the way of Ackroyd the novelist.
Despite a distinct slowing of pace some two thirds into the novel, the author does bring all the different strands together in a very satisfying conclusion. The story is macabre, it does employ a ‘flowery’ literary style, but it does have a quality that makes you want to keep turning the pages right to the end.


A Man Without Breath: Bernie Gunther Thriller 9 (Bernie Gunther Mystery 9)
A Man Without Breath: Bernie Gunther Thriller 9 (Bernie Gunther Mystery 9)
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Wonderfully Constructed Plot Line, 6 Sept. 2017
Having read nine ‘Bernie Gunther’ detective novels I have to say that this volume is one of the best, and the previous works had already set a very high bar. I particularly liked this novel as it progresses in a very logical way and the twists and turns of the fascinating plot are resolved in a particularly satisfying manner. There is no awkwardness or leaps of fancy, just a wonderfully constructed plot line.
The action takes place in March 1943, the German armies have been stopped at Stalingrad, and Gunther has been seconded to the German War Crimes Bureau in Berlin. The Bureau was created to investigate possible war crimes by the Allies or Russia. Any such events were then to be utilised by the Propaganda Ministry of Dr Goebbels to undermine Allied war effort. Gunther is called upon to travel to Smolensk to investigate a possible war crime in the nearby forest of Katyn. The investigation must be handled with great care and veracity and there are many for whom this is not welcome.
Many of the essential ingredients of a good Gunther story are to be found here, with events woven around real-life characters from the Nazi Reich and a background of true historical detail. The writing of Phillip Kerr is wonderfully visual and the reader will have little trouble picturing all the action in his mind’s eye. As we have come to expect, Kerr’s writing style and construction are worthy of any first-rate modern literary fiction.
Very strongly recommended to all Gunther fans without reservation and to all those readers not yet familiar with these excellent books.


A Loyal Character Dancer: Inspector Chen 2 (As heard on Radio 4)
A Loyal Character Dancer: Inspector Chen 2 (As heard on Radio 4)
by Qiu Xiaolong
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, But A Slightly Disappointing Plotline, 25 Aug. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There is a Washington Post quote on the front of this paperback which reads, “Wonderful”. Well, this book is very good but it is not wonderful, and falls short of Qiu’s first Inspector Chen novel, ‘Death of a Red Heroine’.
The plot involves the disappearance of a key Chinese witness in an international people smuggling case and makes very interesting references to the experiences of ordinary people on both sides of the devastating cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Many of the familiar and well-loved elements of Qui Xiaolong’s writing are present; excellent literary writing style, the poetry and food references, the Shanghai topography and a credible feeling of the political constraints under which senior Chinese detectives must work. However, for me the plot line involving Triad gangs was a little forced and too remote. The point on which I felt I could not give this book a top rating was the disappointing use of the device of gathering all the characters together towards the end of the story and then unravelling the complicated plot line for the erudition of all concerned. This is fine for a one-hour television drama or a period Poirot novel but I expect better from a modern crime fiction writer with literary pretensions like Qui. A more mature approach would be for the plot to naturally develop and unfold as the book progresses.
The author deals well with the interplay between Chief Inspector Chen and the female American detective temporarily seconded to Shanghai. The tension and slight sexual frisson between the two characters is handled extremely well and is very believable.
A very good read with the provisos outlined above, in this, the second novel in the Inspector Chen series.


Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain
Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain
by Julian Glover
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Informative and Thoroughly Enjoyable Book, 8 July 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I found this a very enjoyable book. Unusually I felt there was quite a lot of the author, Julian Glover, in this work. That is not to say the book contains information about Glover, but rather you can feel his sympathetic and caring attitude towards his subject Thomas Telford. The author gives what feels like a very fair appraisal of Telford, the man and his work, and is not overly generous in any way. However, you can sense a feeling of regard for this man who was at times self-promoting to the detriment of his close allies and not generous towards those who inspired some of his greatest work.
Many of Telford’s major projects such as the Menai Bridge, the London to Holyhead Road and the Caledonian Canal went on for many years and thus overlapped in terms of timescale. The author handles this difficulty very well and manages descriptions of these undertakings without any narrative awkwardness.
This is a book of the man and his projects, so that the specific engineering content of Telford’s work is briefly discussed but the nature of the man himself, and of his dedicated team of engineers and project managers who made real his visions and plans, are never forgotten.
The author provides a fascinating insight to a subject not often found in current literature, and that is the strategic importance of Telford’s road building schemes and their contribution to communication and commerce. The impact of Telford’s new roads on coach journeys and the strategic importance of linking remote parts of Scotland to the Union were easily as dramatic in the late 18th and early 19th century as anything that was to follow in the railway, or our modern motorway, age.
This is a very informative, well written and one of the most thoroughly enjoyable books I have read in quite a while, and is recommended without reservation to all.


Power and Glory: France's Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016
Power and Glory: France's Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016
by R. T. Howard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Insights But Let Down By Choppy Style, 4 Jun. 2017
Rather like the curate’s egg, this book is good in parts. The main thrust of the author, R.T. Howard an intelligence commentator, is that much of French foreign policy since the end of the Second World War to the present day is motivated by a suspicion of, and competition with, the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ nations Great Britain and America. To some extent the author makes a good case, however, most nations act in self interest and in a number of the cases covered in this book this could equally well provide a good explanation for the policy carried out. Access to resources and arms sales also motivate much of American and British foreign policy. The parallel motivation that Howard provides for French foreign policy is that of enhancing the ‘power and glory’ of France. To this end the author cites the French wish to re-establish their colonies in Africa and Indo-China following the defeat of Germany and Japan and to ward off competing American and British colonial interests. This is quite convincing, as there was little economic benefit from the Far East colonies in particular.
The book takes us right up to 2016, and perhaps one of the most troubling revelations concerns the Libyan War of 2011. The author asserts that all the reports that Muammar Gaddafi was about to slaughter thousands of his own people was a construction of the French security agencies to justify intervention by President Nicolas Sarkozy. (France sees the Mediterranean as its own sphere of interest and also anticipated oil exploration rights). True some two hundred insurgents probably died but these were revolutionary militia killed in firefights with the army, not cold-blooded massacres as alleged. Contrary to popular belief Gaddafi had no history of widespread killing of his own population. This makes the Libyan intervention yet another recent war fought by Western nations on false pretences.
Whilst much of the book is interesting, for there are few English language books that deal with French foreign policy, the presentation and style often makes the book hard to follow. The book is split into separate chapters dealing with wars and incidents in various African states, the Far East and then the Middle East. Occasionally the timescales are confusing and in a number of cases the stories appear to be incomplete. The section on the Algerian War is, perhaps, the most dissatisfying. Whilst the book clearly represents the product of much research and at times is quite gripping, it is let down by the style and the occasionally disjointed way in which it is presented.


Vichy France: old guard and new order, 1940-1944
Vichy France: old guard and new order, 1940-1944
by Robert O Paxton
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The Product of Prodigious Research, The Classic Work on Vichy France, 26 May 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book by Robert Paxton has the reputation of being ‘the’ classic work on Vichy France, and deservedly so. It is a wonderfully researched book based largely on contemporary German and French archives and avoiding, where possible, the self-serving post-war press coverage and trial statements.
Paxton demonstrates quite clearly that the Vichy Government lead by Marshal Petain was motivated largely by a compulsion to keep the government of France in French hands. Petain made efforts to re-establish French rule in the Occupied Zone, which in retrospect appears faintly ridiculous. The Vichy Government took on willingly more and more tasks often in anticipation of German wishes, rather than following German directives. As time progressed this lead to complicity in some repulsive activities such as helping to facilitate the expulsion of Jews and drafting forced labour to work in Germany.
These activities are often cited to demonstrate the fascistic nature of the Vichy Government but Paxton shows that the motivation was largely nationalistic. Petain and many Frenchmen expected Hitler to win the war and wanted to establish France as an equal partner with Germany in the New Europe. Churchill was viewed at the time as an annoying obstacle to peace.
Pierre Laval, often painted with some justification as the arch villain of Vichy, was something of a spiv and opportunist although not corrupt as often alleged. Laval was re-instated at the insistence of German Ambassador Otto Abetz after dismissal by Petain and was maintained in power by the Germans until the end of the war. For this he paid the price of a sham trial and execution by firing squad.
Paxton concludes that the Vichy Government achieved little or nothing by collaboration compared to fully occupied countries such as Belgium and Holland, Hitler simply utilising their efforts to save the Reich money and manpower. Finally, reference to German plans for the post-war settlement, demonstrate that France was to never to become an equal partner in the New Europe.
The result of prodigious research, this is required reading for anybody seriously interested in the truth about Vichy France avoiding all the subsequent myth making and distortion. This book is straightforward, free from hyperbole, and seemingly a very fair description of Vichy France. Highly recommended for all serious students of this period of history.


At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
by Sarah Bakewell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, Interesting, But Not as Easy as Suggested, 12 May 2017
A cover review suggests that the author makes the philosophy of Existentialism “easy to understand”.
However, I would guess that the majority of people who read this book will not feel that they now clearly understand Existentialism. There is a very good reason for this. All the main proponents of Existentialism, or phenomenology as some protagonists insist on labelling their ideas, disagreed among themselves as to what it really means. The ‘pre-existentialists’ Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Heidegger, and Existentialists, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Raymond Aron and Albert Camus, all espoused differing views on this most modern of philosophies. For me the most abiding message of Existentialism is to consciously exercise your free will within any proscribed situation in which you find yourself and be prepared to take the consequences.
The author, Sarah Bakewell, has produced an interesting and well written book although I defy any reader (other than a professional philosopher) to follow all her explanations completely. The author has made the very wise decision to leaven the philosophy with biographical details and to also explain the context and political circumstances in which each of these colourful characters was operating. However, it is hard to carry forward the complex thinking of one philosopher (or indeed several) to the next philosopher in the narrative chain.
Much is made of the apparent Nazi sympathies of Martin Heidegger, but for me the Stalin apologist Sartre is perhaps even more objectionable as he was more in touch than the recluse Heidegger and was well aware of what was actually taking place in the Soviet Union. The author seems to favour the slightly ‘off-stage’ character of Maurice Merleau-Ponty the most.
Bakewell tends to explain some of the French Riots of 1968 as arising from a student appreciation of Existentialism. I prefer the view of academic Tony Judt who sees them as closer to self-indulgent nonsense at a time when millions around the world were truly repressed.
Well written with interesting biographical and contextual detail but perhaps not quite such an easy read as suggested in the reviews.


After Midnight
After Midnight
by Irmgard Keun
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A Minor Masterpiece, Superb, 1 May 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: After Midnight (Hardcover)
I found this short book really superb, and considering it was first published in 1937, remarkably modern in construction. I do not propose to recount the plot as has been done already elsewhere. Suffice to say the story is set in Frankfurt in a Germany ruled by the Nazis but before the Putsch against the SA in July 1934. The plot takes place over a very short timescale but the characters and back-story are filled out by reminiscences on the part of the central character and narrator, Susanne, or ‘Sanna’. Susanne increasingly experiences the constrictions of the new government despite being non-political herself. The books of her half-brother are suppressed, Susanne is denounced by her aunt, and numerous other day to day incidents, including a visit to the city by Hitler, press upon her as the story builds towards a party. Many of the key characters are due to appear at the celebration including Susanne’s boyfriend, Franz. Franz is also under suspicion for “talking like a Communist”.
The book was published after a period of Expressionism in German art that reflected psychological or disturbing dream-like experiences and is a superb example of the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’, new objectivity or ‘straightforward’, style of writing. The events in the book are lucidly described and as the plot unfolds the tension and pace are increased. You can sense this quite clearly as you read rather like a sound or note increasing in pitch towards a final ‘crash’ or release. Really clever writing.
I have not read the two earlier works by Keun which achieved great success, but this for me is a minor masterpiece and it is disappointing that it is currently out of print. Superb, and recommended to all.


Pale House, The (Gregor Reinhardt 2)
Pale House, The (Gregor Reinhardt 2)
by Luke McCallin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual and Very Entertaining Story, 24 April 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I decided to read this book as the setting is unusual for a German soldier/detective novel. It takes place in 1944 Sarajevo with German forces on the retreat and still having to work with their difficult and unruly allies, the Croatian Ustase. The hero of the story, Captain Gregor Reinhardt, has been drafted into the Feldjaegerkorps, an emergency corps created in November 1943 to maintain discipline, rather like ‘super’ military police. Feldjaegerkorps officers were able to exercise considerable power over other units including even the Waffen SS.
Captain Reinhardt comes across a number of unexplained killings that disturb him and he decides to investigate despite the ongoing evacuation of the city and the increasing terrorism of the Ustase.
The author has an excellent writing style and his descriptions of the topography and scene setting are just right. There is a slight longueurs in the middle of the book when our hero is struggling with his conscience and the ‘love element’ is being developed but I would urge readers to plough on as the story is resolved in a very satisfactory manner.
The author very helpfully supplies an ‘Historical Note’ at the end of the book in which he demonstrates that the novel reflects very well the actual historical situation in Sarajevo and the various factual characters involved in the fighting, particularly in the Ustase and the partisan forces.
I found the book very entertaining and a really good read despite my slight reservation and would recommend it to all fans of this genre of detective fiction.


The Nine Lives of Otto Katz
The Nine Lives of Otto Katz
by Jonathan Miles
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Interesting and Revelatory Book, 15 April 2017
A really excellent book and one that taught me a great deal despite having read widely about the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
The life of the Communist spy Otto Katz was so labyrinthine and multi-faceted that one can only admire the ability of the author to track it and bring it to life in a book of such interest. Otto Katz was born an Austrian in Bohemia, but following the First World War found himself a Czech citizen. He became a convinced Communist at an early age and following training in Moscow he was assigned to the well known controller Willi Munzenberg. The career of Otto Katz is far too complicated to try and describe in a few lines but his particular talents included an ability to charm people, to move in all social circles and to write and organise. He seemingly had a prodigious capacity for work setting up Communist Front organisations in many countries, whilst collecting and disseminating information for the Party, and very successfully raising money. He was a writer for many newspapers and periodicals and part owner, part editor, on many.
The book is revelatory in identifying Communist agents and supporters in the British, French and American establishments and in the glamorous milieu of Hollywood. The post war House Committee on Un-American Activities of Senator McCarthy rightly gets a bad press but Jonathan Miles describes significant Communist influence in tinseltown. Left wing writers and directors such as Lang, Brecht, Hammett and Hellman were able to direct and produce films clearly sympathetic to life in Soviet Russia under the guise of anti-Nazism. Otto Katz was instrumental in promoting and helping finance such activity. The character of Victor Lazlo in the famous film ‘Casablanca’ being clearly modelled on Katz. When Katz became unwelcome in America he moved to Mexico and immediately began organising Communist influence there through the activities of front organisations and publications. He lived in Cuba for a while laying the foundations of a Communist organisation in that country also.
The book begins and ends with the arrest of life-long Communist supporter Katz in Prague following the establishment of a Communist regime in Czechoslovakia now under the influence of Stalin. Otto Katz was one of the ‘fourteen’ senior Communists to appear in the ‘Slansky show trials’ of 1952. These sections of the book are both harrowing and shocking as the author does not spare us any details of the treatment of the accused.
This is an excellent and most interesting book and is generally well written. My only criticism, and it is a quibble, is that in explaining some of the relationships that Katz and his associates formed I became lost in the detail and had to re-read small sections. A truly interesting book and astonishing that hard back copies can be bought at such low prices.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20