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Wednesday February 15, 2023

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)


They promised delightfully irreverent - and fully delivered.
A cast of five women play all the parts - including their long-suffering servants - and yet remain weirdly faithful to the book whilst weaving in topically hilarious references.

Hopefully you can still catch it at one of the venues on tour.


Posted on February 15, 2023 at 7:59 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Tuesday January 31, 2023

Books in January

  • The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
    BOM-TheMysteriousCaseOfTheAlpertonAngels.jpg Another deliciously layered mystery from Janice Hallett, and if you have enjoyed her innovative way of presenting her previous stories, you will love it. Rather like "The Appeal", the story is presented as a series of emails, Whats App messages, letters, news clippings - and phone recordings, transcribed by a faithful assistant, Ellie, whom we can also thank for the excellently curated presentation of the materials. The dossier was originally compiled by Amanda, a true-crime journalist who has decided to write her next story focusing on several grizzly murders which took place decades ago. The murders were centred around a small group dabbling in the occult, and convinced they were saving the world from the anti-Christ; the perpetrator was instantly taken into custody at the time, and is now (thankfully) incarcerated in secure institution. After the group was disbanded, a baby was taken into care, and, seeing her way into the story, Amanda starts her mission to locate the surviving members of the group, and, most importantly, "the baby" - a mission which she pursues obsessively and ruthlessly, without any apparent ethical or moral considerations. If all that were not difficult enough, Amanda is forced by her publishers to work with Oliver, an old colleague - perhaps nemesis even - upon whom, it becomes clear, she is intent on meting out some kind of personal revenge.
    Seen through their communications, Amanda is a classic and intentionally obvious "unreliable narrator", and Oliver seems to steadily disintegrate to a state of nervous breakdown - but in contrast, Ellie is a delight, and provides a much-needed stable and realistic viewpoint, while she doggedly researches and transcribes the material Amanda provides her with.
    Once again I did enjoy the author indulging her ability at pastiche in reproducing sections of other (fictional) blockbuster novels of differing genres inspired by the murders, as well as a hitherto unproduced screenplay.
    This is a much darker story than Hallett's previous books, and I felt a constant sense of anxiety, although I am not sure of its source as it was not concern for the characters, who are for the most part not very sympathetic. Although we don't like Amanda, the story is compelling with a terrifically tense and unexpectedly twisty ending - and most of all, we do love Ellie.

  • So Shall You Reap Donna Leon
    BOM-SoShallYouReap.jpg This is another wonderful treasure from Donna Leon. It centres around a cold case - a scenario increasingly popular in modern crime stories - although it is triggered by a murder very much in the present.It weaves together a number of strands of thought-provoking material examining hate crime and attitudes to prejudice, as well as how well or little we know about those we work with every day. Through attention to detail, the police team gradually unravels the secrets of both present and past. All too often in this series, it seems that even though the police "solve the crime" they cannot bring the criminals to justice in the conventional way, and at best some compromise has to be made. However, in this case, despite the powerful figures involved, you are left with no doubt that those responsible will face prosecution.
    Leon displays an admirable economy of style in her writing, where every sentence vividly conveys the essence of her meaning without being overly wordy, and her characters come to life with real depth without needing to explain every last detail of personality - or physical appearance... [Here I should say for those familiar with this book series, Signorina Elettra is an exception as we are treated to full descriptions of her wonderful clothes, mostly I think as they are so much appreciated by Brunetti]. I was interested to note that this is the first "post-pandemic" (if we can say that) book I have read and Covid is referenced I think in a rather clever way, with Brunetti casually finding that he has a face mask left as a kind of relic in his pocket, and not feeling the need to wear it - still present, but not centre stage.
    The Brunetti series has been with us for over 30 years now, and I'm tempted to describe them as "gentle" although that has come to mean "lightweight", which these books are definitely not. Leon consciously avoids political controversy, even though there are many examples of the more localised political machinations within the Italian police; in fact this particular story more or less opens with one such "accommodation" between departments. Overall, if her plots have any underlying themes, they are overwhelmingly towards issues with the environment - and you do not have to look very far to be faced with these concerns in Venice, where the books are set. However, do not think that Leon engages in clumsy eco-crusades in her writing - they are mystery stories full of interesting characters where these - often very serious - issues simply provide the backdrop.
    Brunetti himself is an interesting protagonist to have gained such a mainstream following over the years, as he is somewhat intellectual, loving opera and often to be found reading ancient philosophers. He has a happy home life - not presented as unrealistically idyllic - with his wife and children providing robust exchanges during their meals together, and insights which would otherwise bypass Brunetti.
    Despite the fact that their working day is interspersed with regular visits to local cafes for brief coffees, (and Brunetti generally returns home for lunch), you never feel that the detectives are anything less than dedicated and conscientious workers. Transport in Venice is by vaporetto - but there is also much walking, often seen as a pleasing alternative by Brunetti, during which he never fails to admire and appreciate the architecture and beauty of his home city. But I think it is his basic sense of sanity and decency in a rather less than sane environment, that instills such trust in the reader. It's not necessary to read the books in order; although Brunetti's family and the age of his children do develop through the stories, it is easy enough to place the stories within the chronology.
    So... if you have never read any Leon books before - start now!

  • Real Tigers by Mick Herron [Read by Seán Barrett] BOM-RealTigers.jpg
    Another gripping tale, which is the third in the Slough House series.
    In their efforts to rescue one of their own, our Slow Horses are thrown into real field work in which they are for the most part barely competent. This includes both Lamb and Ho, the latter proving himself wholly incompetent though surprisingly willing. This story has even more deeply political overtones, and the cynical asides - sometimes presented in the minds of the characters and sometimes not - are satirical genius.
    I have now watched the Apple TV versions of the first two books and as dramatisations they are well up to the standards of the books. The cast is terrific and, even though I always visualise Charles Grey playing a slobby version of Mycroft Holmes, Gary Oldman works well as Lamb. I'm not sure they've quite nailed Roddie Ho - the actor is perfect but we cannot be privilege to the inner working of his mind in quite the same way on the screen, so while he seems crass enough, he's less overtly preposterous.
    [Note that I had great difficulty in finding any on-line links or references to this ISIS audio recording by Seán Barrett - even seems to have gone from the library site from which I obtained it - hence the link to a US site].

  • 3NewMarple.jpg Marple: Three New Stories
    Three new stories featuring Agatha Christie's heroine, reimagined by contemporary mystery writers for a new generation: a murder, a theft and a mystery where nothing is quite what it seems.
    Twelve new stories in total have been published to mark 45 years since the publication of Agatha Christie's last Miss Marple novel.
    The ones broadcast here are:
    • Murder at the Villa Rosa by Elly Griffiths [Read by John Heffernan].
    • Miss Marple's Christmas by Ruth Ware [Read by Georgie Glen].
    • The Unravelling by Natalie Haynes [Read by Monica Dolan].

  • WilliamTheGreatPerformer.jpg Just William
    The Great Performer by Richmal Crompton

    Some further Richmal Crompton stories brilliantly read as ever by Martin Jarvis - really make you laugh out loud.
    • William Joins the Carol Singers
    • William - Only Just in Time
    • William the Great Actor
    • William's Midnight Adventure
    • William Goes Shopping

Posted on January 31, 2023 at 12:50 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday January 6, 2023

Christmas Jigsaw - "A"


George fits the last piece to the Mike Wilks jigsaw: "A".
We completed it a little quicker than "S" as it's only 1000 pieces.


Posted on January 6, 2023 at 6:58 PM. Category: Staying at Home.

Saturday December 31, 2022

Books in December

Having discovered that a number of well-known authors (some surprisingly) have tried their hands at extending the James Bond canon, I decided to read them. William Boyd was the first one I found, after reading The Romantic, and this led on to the others via a review column. I already knew knew Anthony Horowitz had written Trigger Mortis ("the" sequel to Goldfinger), using some of the text or chapters that Fleming had already written. At the time of publication, I took the opportunity to read it as well as Goldfinger; I did not know however that since then he had written a second Bond novel.
As a Guardian reviewer, Sarah Ditum, points out - modern day authors have an issue with recreating Bond - a "cold war relic". Fleming himself is acknowledged to be a sadist, a racist and a misogynist - maybe of his time - and the parts of his style that are easy to pastiche are also intolerably obnoxious. Thus the author's task is simple and borderline impossible: do Bond exactly the same, and make it different.
Most of these authors tone him down and the contemporary reviewers of the individual books give better opinions than I can on how well each of them does this and how much is left of the "real" Bond.
I'm listing the books in the order in which I read them. With each one I thought I liked it the best, but looking back at them, I think they are pretty equal in my estimation. In each case the narrators chosen for the books are heavyweight actors with very distinctive voices, and known for their portrayals of suave English gentlemen.

  • Solo William Boyd [read by Dominic West]
    BOM-Solo.jpg Boyd is an excellent story teller and the overall structure and pace are very much in keeping with the original Bond novels. As in many of his novels, (notably the first), Boyd draws on his knowledge and experience of Africa to provide the backdrop to this adventure. It's set in 1969, chronologically 6 years after the last Bond book, and we find 007 celebrating his 45th birthday - alone. The subsequent mission sees him sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in a small West African nation but seemingly without any tangible means to set about it. We are all set for a classic Bond outing - albeit with a rather convoluted plot.

  • Forever and a Day Anthony Horowitz [Read by Matthew Goode]
    BOM-ForeverAndADay.jpg I was in two minds about this before I read it, as I wasn't too keen on Trigger Mortis; I wanted to like it but... didn't much - despite my gushing devotion to Horowitz. However, as acknowledged by Horowitz, quite a few sections of that book were written by Fleming himself, with Horowitz filling in the blanks. I feel that this book is far better in that the author is less contrained by anyone else's style - not only in terms of the writing but also in the general character of Bond. Some noted that Horowitz was still "labouring in Bond's shadow", but I think that because it's a prequel so we can observe Bond's character less than fully formed - in a Good way! - and I applaud the portrayal of his relatively emancipated female lead.
    Initially not knowing this was a prequel, I was quite taken aback buy the opening of the book (certainly obeyed the rules of fiction and got my attention): "007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.... M laid down his pipe and said tetchily: 'We have no choice. We're just going to bring forward this other chap you've been preparing. But you didn't tell me his name.'..."
    It's time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill.

  • Devil May Care Sebastian Faulks [read by Jeremy Northam]
    BOM-DevilMayCare.jpg This book was published in 2008 to celebrate the Centenary of Ian Fleming's birth. It's apparently written in Fleming's style and set in 1967, keeping the same time frame, and seeing Bond return to action after a sabbatical following the death of his wife. The arch enemy is Dr Julius Gorner, a megalomaniac chemist, (my favourite kind!), complete with the physical deformity apparently almost de rigeur in the Bond movies. However, the female side-kick is once again not just a pretty face, proving herself suspiciously useful in a fight, and ultimately a fully independent character in her own right. [It has to be said that the unreconstructed Bond character is manipulated from the outset into accepting her as a partner, believing her to be a conventional damsel in distress]. Faulks said: My female lead has a little more depth than Fleming's women, but not at the expense of glamour.

  • Colonel Sun Kingsley Amis [read by Simon Vance]
    BOM-ColonelSun.jpg Kingsley Amis published this work in 1968 under the pseudonym "Robert Markham" - which is presumably why I was never previously aware of its existence. Colonel Sun is the first James Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming's death in 1964. The story begins with M's being kidnapped, and Bond's being sent to track him down and rescue him - and I trust it's not too much of a spoiler to say his mission is successful!
    Colonel Sun is the villain of the piece, and is an interesting choice - being "ostensibly the most repellent racial caricature of all", and yet "arguably as much a critique of Fleming's two-dimensional villains as a continuation of the pattern" - as is the choice of baddie nation being China over the traditional USSR. Similarly the female lead "both conforms to the Fleming formula for Bond girls and deviates from it". I recommend reading this 2018 review by John Dugdale as it covers this in more detail plus a number of points I found most interesting.
    Apparently elements from this story have been used for some of the films, including adapting the torture scene for Spectre (2015). Much of Blofeld's dialogue in the torture scene was written by Amis for Sun, resulting in an acknowledgement to Amis' estate in the end title credits.
    Amis wrote two other Bond related works, of which I was also ignorant: the literary study, The James Bond Dossier and the humorous The Book of Bond.

There are in fact several other illustrious novelists who have turned their hands to Bond stories - but I think I have had my fill for now...!

Posted on December 31, 2022 at 12:15 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Thursday December 29, 2022

Christmas Jigsaws


Today I completed my cat jigsaw, which was a Christmas present from Rob. It's very pretty, and an absolutely exquisitely made item - each piece made of thick wood in a unique shape - some of the shapes are identifiable as other objects - an anchor, squirrel etc. This made it quite difficult but then also a bit easier as well.... (work that out).
Alongside this, we started our new Mike Wilks jigsaw: "A".

Posted on December 29, 2022 at 6:16 PM. Category: Staying at Home.

Sunday December 25, 2022



Posted on December 25, 2022 at 6:41 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Wednesday November 30, 2022

Books in November

  • An Air That Kills Andrew Taylor [read by Philip Franks]
    BOM-AnAirThatKills.jpg Suffering from deprivation of Marwood and Lovett, I decided to try a previous series - removed from the Ashes of London by a couple of hundred years. Anyway, I love it so much, I think I can now count Andrew Taylor as one of my new favourite authors.
    The Lydmouth books were written in the 1990s - much earlier in Taylor's writing career. They are set post-WW2 in a very clearly described period of change. Our protagonists are a policeman new to the area, and a young "career woman" - both of them have similar issues in finding their places not only in the local community but also in society in general. Those who used to be controlling forces in village life, ex-military officers, those with titles, landowners etc while not the force they once were (many in reduced financial circumstances), still believe they can exert influence and attempt to enforce their views on "the lower orders". Policemen (especially in-comers), and women, should know their place.
    These two - similar to Marwood and Lovett - do not really have any kind of relationship in the book - just more of an interaction. Their lives are described essentially separately, which I particularly like. (They do not develop into Steed and Mrs Peel).
    I was so enamoured of the book that I immediately wanted to move on to the next in the series. However, one thing I enjoyed was that the story is set in November, and the description of the weather and so on are totally in keeping with the time in which I am reading it. The next book seems to be set in June, so I am going to defer reading it until the season turns....!
    Other readers like me, moving on from the 18th century stories, have mentioned finding it disappointing - but far from it for me. I think perhaps they liked the "Georgette Heyer" model of historical novels, unfavourably comparing the dismal backdrop of the 1950's and the not-always-likeable characters. However, I am fascinated by this period and feel he writes about it, and the people living in it with great realism and perception. [One reader says they prefer the "historical" novels which made me smile as I need to point out that although it's also only yesterday to me, the 1950's are three-quarters of a century ago...].

  • The Cat Who Caught a Killer by L T Shearer
    BOM-TheCatWhoCaughtAKiller.jpg If you love cats and the so-called cosy crime genre (as I do) you will enjoy this book. It's not a demanding read and would provide perfect travel reading - especially if you were off for a weekend in London, as the protagonist (Lulu) lives on a canal boat and so the book includes picturesque descriptions of, and information about, the area around Little Venice.
    As many other readers have commented, the calico cat of the title does somewhat steal the show, and since it is revealed in the opening pages, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the cat has the power of human speech. "Conrad" as Lulu names him, is not at all twee, but rather a sensible, down-to-earth and serious character - and despite there being no real hint of this in the text, I was also driven to wonder if his vocalisations were more an expression of Lulu's loneliness after the loss of her husband, since (again realistically) no-one else ever hears anything other than cat language. However, despite never hearing Conrad speak in actual words, all the other human characters are immediately captivated when they meet him - as I'm sure you will be too.

    [Although this book is definitely not a comedy, I could not help but be reminded of Lynne Truss's hilarious books about the Evil Talking Cats (ETCs). (Note: Conrad is definitely not one of those).]

  • Trueman-Riley.jpg Trueman and Riley
    Two bickering detectives solve Yorkshire's trickiest cases. The duo began life in a BBC Radio 4 play in 2002, with DI Trueman called back to work after a nervous breakdown in order to solve a high profile murder case, backed up by Detective Superintendent Riley. This was followed by three further crime dramas in 2005.
    I thought this was an excellent radio drama series, with short episodes, involving amusing and interesting yet everyday police cases. I listened to all 3 series and a prequel. It's presented in the highly professional manner heard in the early radio dramas (before TV) with a minimal cast used to great effect. The actors work well together seemingly with real rapport - as do the characters they depict.
    Robert Daws and Duncan Preston - both exceedingly well known actors from TV - star as Trueman and Riley, and the director is Toby Swift.

Posted on November 30, 2022 at 12:37 PM. Category: Books of the Month.