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C. E. Utley "Charles Utley" (London, UK)

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Rogue Lawyer
Rogue Lawyer
Price: £4.99

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Decline, 21 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Rogue Lawyer (Kindle Edition)
This collection of short stories (masquerading as a novel) is disappointing. Most of Grisham's novels have been vaguely credible. This one is just plain silly. Rudd, the hero of the stories, tells us endlessly about the deep corruption endemic in the American justice system. It's all quite gripping and the stories are fun to read, but one can't get frightfully upset about it all because it is all so incredible. The police, the prosecutors, the judges: they are all totally evil. There is no attempt to portray any villain as anything but that. True, there are some genuine villains (Mr Rudd's clients), but they, unlike anyone who works for the state, are permitted to be human.

I don't want to put you off. The stories aren't all that bad. You will probably quite enjoy them. But this is not Grisham at his best. I would go so far as to say that it is as bad as his dreadful Theodore Boone stories.

Charles
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2016 5:47 PM GMT


Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants (Authorised Biog Vol 2)
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants (Authorised Biog Vol 2)
by Charles Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Volume Two is as Good as Volume One, 15 Oct. 2015
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What an extraordinary achievement this is.

Of course, Moore has the enormous advantage of having been permitted to read masses of contemporary documents which the rest of us are not allowed to read. That was because Mrs Thatcher instructed the civil service to let him see it all. But that is not the only reason why we should be grateful to her for her treatment of these volumes. She also told her biographer, right from the start, that she would not read the book, which she insisted should not be published until after her death. Though I doubt whether Moore would have changed much if he had known that Mrs Thatcher was going to read his work, there would clearly have been a danger that he would have been tempted to tone down some passages in order to please her. As it is, he knew that not a word he wrote would be read by her. And he knew she would be dead before the first volume was published.

There is a general rule that almost every biography of a famous politician written during his or her life, or shortly after death, is pretty hopeless. If the subject of the biography is still alive, the author is bound to be affected by the knowledge that that subject will read the book. Even if the subject is recently dead, the author tends not to have access to important documents which will be available to future historians, and everything is usually done in an enormous rush. Mrs Thatcher was never going to read any of these volumes. Moore saw almost all the documents which will be available to future historians. He has, so far, taken eighteen years in researching and writing the book. And he does, of course, have a great advantage over the future historians who will, no doubt, write their own biographies of Mrs Thatcher in the decades and centuries to come: he was able, over a great many years, to interview almost everyone who played a part in the "Thatcher Years".

This would all have been a disaster if it had simply been endless pages of adoration of Mrs Thatcher. True, Charles Moore plainly has great affection for and sympathy with her, but he knows, and tells us, of her flaws as well as her virtues. Indeed, there were times as I read the book that I thought he was being a little unfair to her (his description of the 1987 election campaign is particularly hard on her).

Even if you have no great interest in Mrs Thatcher herself, believing her to be the devil incarnate, this volume should fascinate you if you want to know what was actually happening in the corridors of power between 1983 and 1987. Maybe, though it could be too early to say, the removal of the iron curtain was the most important process in those years. The work Mrs Thatcher put in to keep Reagan on side and to encourage Gorbachev to push ahead with his domestic reforms was remarkable.

But it is not just big pictures like east-west relations which feature in this volume. I remember being bored stiff by the Westland crisis at the time. It seemed to be a meaningless and rather childish dispute between politicians about something of no importance to the rest of us. That impression is not greatly changed by Moore's book. But we now understand much more clearly what was actually going on, and we are fascinated by it. I was totally gripped by the Westland chapter in a way I could never have predicted.

It will take you a while to read this volume. It is quite long. I took a whole week to get through it. But I loved every page. I strongly recommend it to you.

Charles


The Girl from Krakow: A Novel
The Girl from Krakow: A Novel
Price: £3.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad first novel, 27 Sept. 2015
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Following Rita from the early 1930s to the end of the war was, at times, gripping and fascinating. There is, of course, no shortage of novels about the plight of Eastern European Jews before and during the war (neither should there be). But the aspiring novelist who chooses this subject for his first novel inevitably faces stiff competition. Rosenberg has done commendably well, but there is room for improvement, and that will, I am sure, come in his future work.

The story is, as I say, a gripping one. Polish Jews are appallingly treated, first by Polish nationalists, then by Russians, then by Germans (and even by other Jews). Rita, and some others, fight to survive the successive waves of terror. There are some wonderful characters (I think the awful Tadeuz is my favourite). The plot is mostly credible (though there are some coincidences which stretch our credibility and the sudden introduction of lesbianism just doesn't ring true). The reader is desperate to find out whether Rita and the others will make it through.

But the book does have one major flaw (a surprising one from a professor of philosophy). There are what seem to be endless pages of incredibly juvenile philosophy. They could have been written by keen, but not terribly bright, lower sixth formers. Rita, and, one assumes, Rosenberg, are obsessed by their idea (which they claim to be based on their reading of Darwin) that there is no such thing as free will, that Darwin has established, once and for all, that people are not good or bad, they are just infected by their environments. Rosenberg's theory is desperately depressing but, fortunately, entirely wrong. Some people, though they mostly don't appear in this novel, did astoundingly "good" things in Eastern Europe before and after the war. Rosenberg doesn't tell us about them because, I assume, that would interfere with his Big Theory.

Rosenberg tells a good story, but he would be wise, with his next novel, to drop the adolescent philosophy and stick to the plot.

Charles


First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill
First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill
Price: £6.17

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Study of a Remarkable Woman, 22 Jun. 2015
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is well-written, highly readable and, I suspect, is the product of excellent research.

It is very odd that Clementine Churchill has not been given more literary attention. Although my guess is that Ms Purnell overplays Clemmie's influence on her husband's political opinions (when reading this book one is sometimes left with the impression that she rather Winston was responsible for most of his brilliant oratory), there can be no doubt that she played an enormous part in his work. It is particularly fascinating to see how she was privy to pretty well every state secret during the war. Even cabinet ministers, sometimes war cabinet ministers, were kept in the dark when Clemmie was told all.

Clemmie's childhood and youth were pretty rotten. Her serial breaking off of engagements to eligible young men probably strikes the modern reader as being somewhat strange. But her total commitment to Winston, when she took the plunge, was remarkable. He must have been an exceptionally difficult (though clearly loving) husband. She hardly ever wavered in her determination to support him in everything. For a large part of their married life they had awful money problems. He always assumed everything would be all right in the end. She must have been desperately worried. But she battled on. Winston and his work must always come first.

Of course, like all of us, she had her faults. She does seem to have been quite a hypochondriac (constantly going off to have "cures"). But she also suffered from real illnesses, particularly depression. The strain she must have been under, particularly during the wilderness years and the war, was plainly immense. But she never really gave in.

And I am sure Ms Purnell is right to credit Clemmie with having kept Winston in touch with the views of ordinary people when his own instincts would have been to ignore them. There are also well-documented examples of advice she gave on tactics and strategy which turned out to be absolutely correct. But, if I have one tiny concern about this book, it is its author's desire to portray Clemmie as a sort of modern-day feminist and Socialist. Of course, I accept that she favoured the extension of the franchise to women and that she had enormous concern for the poor. She also, of course, was upset at her husband's treatment by the Conservative Party in the years between the wars. She probably did think that the Liberals were altogether kinder and better people. But the constant hints in the book to the effect that she preferred Labour to the Tories (especially during and after the war) simply do not ring true. Perhaps we will have to wait for more biographies before we can work out the true picture.

For the time being, however, this is a book which I have no hesitation in recommending. It is a triumph.

Charles


The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible
The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible
Price: £4.68

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Short, but Excellent, Book, 1 Jun. 2015
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I won't pretend that there are no irritating things about this book. If L existed, why shouldn't we be told her name? If she didn't exist, why invent her? What on earth is the point of refusing to name the author's wife (or practically anyone else who appears in the book)? And, yes, especially in the early chapters, there are passages which could find their way into pseuds' corner in Private Eye.

But all those sins can be forgiven. It is fascinating to journey with Wilson as he returns to faith. As a young man he trained for ordination, but then gave that up and claimed to be an atheist. For years he was adamant that there was no God, that Christ never existed. But then he changed his mind. I don't know whether there was really an "L" who persuaded him of what he now accepts to be truth. It my well be that she is a fiction. But she is an interesting fiction.

Wilson's theme is simple, and, I accept, not novel. He deplores fundamentalists (creationists" and atheists). Both are guilty, particularly in their reading of the old testament, of taking everything too literally. The creationists are barmy for thinking that the old testament is all literally true. The atheists are barmy for assuming that the old testament can only be read as a true historical account (which it obviously isn't) and must therefore be wholly discounted. The mainstream Christian churches, of course, have accepted for hundreds of years that most of the old testament must be taken with a very large pinch of salt. But what of the new testament?

The new testament is made up of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, various epistles and Revelation. There are twenty-seven different books in the new testament. All were written between about twenty and eighty years after the death of Christ. There were several authors. They lived miles apart. The idea that they conspired together to produce a fictional account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is, as Wilson demonstrates, plainly nonsense. That is not to say, and Wilson does not say it, that every word of the new testament can be treated as being historically true. But the essential message, that Christ lived,that he preached that we should love our neighbours, that he was crucified and rose from the dead, is vastly more likely to be true than false.

Wilson's guide to how we should read the Bible will be a useful tool for many of us (so long as we are not fundamentalist creationists or fundamentalist atheists).

This is an excellent book.

Charles


A Week in Paris
A Week in Paris
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Book, 16 May 2015
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This review is from: A Week in Paris (Kindle Edition)
I am feeling rather guilty for having never, until now, read anything by Rachel Hore. Perhaps I was put off by her books being recommended by Good Housekeeping, or by the fact that she teaches creative writing. I don't know why it was but I guessed she might churn out Mills & Boon type slush. How wrong I was.

This is an extraordinarily well-written novel (despite its author's day job). It tells of the search by Fay Knox, a talented young violinist, for the truth of her first five years of life. Her mother, Kitty, an accomplished pianist, has always told her that she spent the war years living in Richmond, London and that her father, a doctor, was killed in an air raid. She has never doubted that account. But then something odd happens on a school trip to Paris in 1957. Fay has never been abroad before, or so she thinks, and yet, while visiting Notre Dame, she has a strange experience. She thinks she has been to Paris before. But how could that be?

Four years later, as a member of a London orchestra, she returns to Paris to play in several concerts. Before she leaves, her mother tells her to look in a trunk in the cottage in Norfolk where she lived from the age of five. She finds a small rucksack. Inside there is a label. On one side the words "Fay Knox, Southampton" were written. On the other was an address: "Couvent Ste-Cecile, Paris". She determines to find out what it means.

I must not say too much about what Fay discovers. Suffice it to say that it is an astounding story of love, courage and hardship in occupied Paris during the war. But have things really changed that much? Fay's week in Paris is marred by scenes of police brutality towards Algerians who are seeking independence for their country. And Adam, a young British journalist, whom she had met back in 1957 on the school trip, when he was also a pupil, is there again. Is he being as courageous as some of those heroes who did so much to help Jews and allied servicemen in the war?

This is a deeply moving and gripping novel. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Charles


The Traitor (The Carnivia Trilogy Book 3)
The Traitor (The Carnivia Trilogy Book 3)
Price: £3.79

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thriller for the Connoisseur, 12 May 2015
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The final instalment of Jonathan Holt's Venice trilogy (known as the Carnivia Trilogy) is yet another triumph.

A man is being inducted into the third degree of a very secret masonic lodge in Venice. Just at the moment when he thinks the ritual is about to be completed and he will become privy to every secret in the lodge, he feels his heart being pierced. His body is found, washed up on the shore. His tongue is beside his corpse. Kat Tapo, a Captain in the Carabinieri whom we know well from the first two novels, is given command of the investigation.

Second Lieutenant Holly Boland of the U.S. Army, recovering at home in America from all that happened in the second novel (you must read it to find out what that was), is deeply affected by her father's incapacity following a stroke. She comes across a document written by him many years previously, when he was posted to Italy with the U.S. Army. It seems to suggest that the infamous "Gladio", a collection of Italian right wing extremists trained by NATO, continued to operate after it was officially closed down. It dawns on her that her father's stroke may have been deliberately caused by someone who didn't want that news to come out. She decides to return to Italy to investigate.

Daniele Barbo, the extraordinarily talented young Venetian aristocrat who was the victim of a kidnapping plot in childhood, who came away from that with his ears and nose cut off, whom everyone has assumed to be autistic and who created Carnivia, a totally anonymous and, supposedly, hacker-proof website, has decided to hand his site over to its members, to give up his control of it. But then he notices something strange happening to the site. Could it have been hacked?

A young Libyan computer hacker is planning an atrocity on an even greater scale than 9/11. What is it? Why is he doing it? Who are his paymasters?

Is Ian Gilroy, the veteran CIA agent who was a great friend of Holly's father and who is also Daniele's guardian, being entirely honest about the part he may or may not have played in various events in Italy over the years? Has he given up whatever he has been doing?

All these questions need to be answered. And they are. What is more, all seem to be connected.

Holt has definitely not lost his touch. It is quite impossible to turn away from this gripping thriller, to do anything else but read it. It just has to be finished.

But it is not just the plot. Indeed, that, it has to be said, is rather far-fetched (though it will be attractive to conspiracy theorists). No, the joy of this book, as with the others (at least for me) is in the glorious descriptions of Italy (particularly Venice) and Italian life. Above all, I adore the descriptions of the food. And that food, I hasten to say, is not pizza and spaghetti bolognese. The account of Kat's preparation of eel su l'ara left me salivating, longing to eat the wonderful dish. But, I am pleased to report, that is far from being the only magnificent meal eaten in this novel.

I wonder what Holt will turn to next. Whatever it is, I am sure it will be splendid.

Charles
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 28, 2016 10:15 PM BST


The Fifth Gospel: An unputdownable conspiracy thriller
The Fifth Gospel: An unputdownable conspiracy thriller
Price: £1.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Persevering, 3 May 2015
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I confess that I struggled a bit for a while. It is totally irrational, but I, an English reader, found it a little difficult to cope with all those European clergymen speaking constantly in American. But I knew it was my fault, not the author's. The book is written in the English language (or a version of it). The characters are, for the most part, continental Europeans. In real life, of course, they would speak their own languages. There is no reason to believe that, if they chose English, they would not use American rather than real English. Once I got over the shock of reading about Greek, Polish and Italian clergymen using American idiom I began to enjoy the novel.

I understand that some readers have, unfairly it seems to me, compared this novel with the awful da Vinci Code. I suppose that was inevitable. The story turns on the Turin Shroud, whether it is genuine and, if so, what happened to it in the 1,300 years or so before it appeared in France. But there is, in this story, none of the nonsense to be found in Dan Brown's dreadful book. Whenever we fear that the author is about to give in to the temptation to indulge in extreme fantasy we are quickly brought back to earth.

Caldwell has plainly devoted a great deal of time to serious research. Yes, he has produced a work of fiction (and the reader should always bear in mind that that is what he is reading), but it is, largely, credible fiction. There is only one violent death, though there are some other frightening moments. Caldwell, of course, cannot resist the modern author's tendency to believe rather excitable conspiracy theories about the Vatican. But he recognises that they should not be taken to extremes. Unusually, for this type of fiction, he demonstrates a genuine understanding of the Gospels. There are no great theological surprises in the book, but Caldwell does seem to have spent more than a few moments glancing at the Gospels. His reflections on them are not, by any means, copied and pasted from Wikipedia.

I found the first hundred or so pages to be slightly hard work. But I suspect that was more due to my having to acclimatise to all those Europeans chattering away in American than to any problem with the story itself. Once I had got used to the language problem I found myself thoroughly gripped. And the end was magnificent.

I am so pleased I stumbled across this splendid novel.

I do recommend it.

Charles


Robert Ludlum's The Geneva Strategy
Robert Ludlum's The Geneva Strategy
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully far-fetched, 28 Mar. 2015
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This was really rather good fun, if not what one could describe as "literature". The plot is gloriously far-fetched. Our heroes dash around the world as they try to discover who is kidnapping people involved in the American drone programme and what dastardly plans the kidnappers may have. Fortunately, the goodies seem to be blessed with extraordinary good luck. All very gripping.


The Farm
The Farm
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Desperately Boring Book, 24 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: The Farm (Kindle Edition)
I feel rather guilty. I just can't persevere with this novel. I have only got half way through. But it is horribly boring. The sad thing is that the author writes very well. But he doesn't understand the importance of plot. We have endless pages in which nothing of any interest happens. We are meant to be fascinated about whether our hero's mother is mad or whether his father is a criminal of the worst sort, but no sane reader really cares. Mr Smith is a competent writer, but this book is awful.

Charles


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