According to the puff-pieces on the cover, a lot of people have some very nice things to say about Craig Brown's latest book. Whether or not this is because these reviewers fear that if they're mean to him in print he might choose to send them up in Private Eye, for which he writes the spoof `diary' column, is not for me to speculate.
Brown may be best known as a satirist but he's playing this one with a straight bat. The premise is startlingly simple: Take two people who have only met in passing and write about said meeting in exactly 1001 words. Then have one of those people meet someone else, have this someone else meet up with another person, and so forth. The result is (perhaps inevitably) good in parts, and overall it works.
There are some very good vignettes here, such as the murder of Rasputin, the Queen's visit to the dying Duke of Windsor and Howard Hawks getting so confused by the plot of The Big Sleep while adapting it for the movie that he contacts Raymond Chandler for some assistance, only to find that he doesn't know who killed the chauffeur either.
Some people come across as two-faced to say the least, the best example being Noel Coward who compliments the Beatles to Paul McCartney's face while privately thinking they're a bunch of `bad-mannered little shits'.
And there are some intriguing what-ifs, the top two of those being John Scott-Ellis running over Adolf Hitler and Harry Houdini being asked (but declining) to go to Russia to unmask Rasputin as a fake.
All in all, an entertaining book that can be read either in one go or by dipping into it at any chapter of the reader's choosing.