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hiker

hiker

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Traumatic times - I'll be around intermittently - hopefully back properly soon.

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since 28/03/2003

792

The Killing of Polly Carter - Robert Thorogood 13/03/2016

It's Not The Parrot That's Dead

The Killing of Polly Carter - Robert Thorogood I'm a fan of old-school murder mysteries…think Agatha Chrisite, think Majory Allingham, Dorothy Sayers… These are stories as games. Usually on the very edge of plausibility, gruesomeness kept to a minimum, police procedure trodden all over in hobnailed enthusiasm of insight and flashes of inspiration. So it follows that I enjoy TV series in the same vein: Midsommer Murders, Poirot… and Death in Paradise. It was because my enjoyment of that last-named series was known that The Killing of Polly Carter was sent my way. For those who don't know the series – and haven't come across Thorogood's books (this is the second) – the Paradise in question is the Caribbean Island of Saint Marie. It is everything a certain type of Brit would want a Caribbean island to be: hot, steamy, sort of French-African in atmosphere, but an outpost of the British Commonwealth such that for some reason we're responsible for policing it. Ok, it's got a murder rate that might put you off visiting - per capita it's got to be higher than Morse's Oxford or Rankin's Edinburgh - but generally neither the murderers nor the victims are locals. So that's alright then. In a way the island stands in for the English Country House in the Christie genre. They're not exactly locked-room mysteries, but not far from. No apologies for talking about the TV series because that's where the books originate. Thorogood is the show's creator so it is all his own work, and maybe therefore he's allowed to back-track in the ...

The Truth - Terry Pratchett 08/03/2016

Pulling Its Boots On

The Truth - Terry Pratchett Author's Note Sometimes a fantasy author has to point out the strangeness of reality. The way Ankh-Morpork dealt with its flood problems…is curiously similar to that adopted by the city of Seattle, Washington, towards the end of the nineteenth century. Really. Go and see. Try the clam chowder while you're there. Oh I am so tempted… Meanwhile, back in Ankh-Morpork… The rumour is that the Dwarfs have beaten the Alchemists to it and found a way to turn lead into gold. In fact, what they've really found is a way to turn lead into a serious form of debt in the medium term, but for now they've decided to ignore all unspoken injunctions to the contrary and adopt the movable type printing press. This isn't a new invention on the Disc, but the power of the Guild of Engravers has ensured that it has never taken hold in the City. There are rumours from faraway places however: it may only be a matter of time. Sir William De Worde makes a kind of living dealing with faraway places. He's sends a newsletter once a month back to Uberwald (Lady Margolotta paid him five dollars for it). The rest of the time, he wrote letters for other people. Or them to recipients who couldn't do so for themselves. It wasn't a particularly lucrative business, but then William had grown up with lucrative and he didn't like it much. William was the second son. His brother would inherit the family estates, which was fine by him, but he himself wasn't particularly suited to the normal occupations for spare ...

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett 07/03/2016

Diplomatically Speaking

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett The Discworld is supported by the four elephants who ride the back of the great space turtle. It is said that in times gone by there was a fifth elephant, an elephant less sure of foot that fell off the turtle and that (by some bizarre aspect of physics, possibly quantum) managed to land on the Disc. A giant elephant of even 1/5 of a planet bearing capability landing on said planet was bound to have made quite a dent. In fact it would have been bound to have caused all sorts of other planet wide effects, most of which have been lost to myth over time. The myth that survives is that over time the elephant sank down and was covered by the earth (sorry, Disc) where huge pressures compressed its body, and its bones and veins became seams of metallic ore intensely valuable and mined by the dwarfs… and its fat, became, well, remained, fat or at least wax – also mined by the dwarfs (who, let's face it will mine anything likely to be capable of being turned into gold if it doesn't start out that way). The Schmalzberg mines produce candle wax of the finest quality. They also happen to be part of Überwald, which is where the vampires live (kind of) and the werewolves and where the "old ways" are very much still held to. The elephant bit isn't important. The story would have played out much the same, one feels. Also not particularly important except in the context of character sketches for those who're coming in part way through the series is the fact that Nobby and Colon of the ...

A Notable Woman - Jean Lucey Pratt 06/03/2016

A Quiet Life - somewhat regretted

A Notable Woman - Jean Lucey Pratt We come to books by many routes, some more serendipitous than others. Some we have no expectations of, some fail to live up to our expectations and some… some prove to be exactly what we'd hoped, when we deliberately decided that this was one to seek out. A Notable Woman is in the last category. I stumbled Jean Pratt's story via a review in the Sunday Observer. It was one of the rare ones that made me actually want to go out and buy the book. But, well, Christmas was coming… and so, I duly started to read it over breakfast on Boxing Day. To be fair, I found it less of an easy read than I expected, more though-provoking. Plus it's chunkier than I expected… though quite why I might have expected sixty years' worth of diaries to have been edited down into anything less than the seven hundred or so pages we have here is anybody's guess. The net result was that (in and around life in general) this one took me all of January to read. Perhaps it was the fact that I did linger over it so much, that I enjoyed it so much, that Jean did start to emerge as the real person she actually was, that, ultimately, I decided I really didn't like her very much. That's a very personal statement, and we're not expected to like everyone who crosses our path, but I also want to say that despite that value-judgement on the individual (for which I make no excuses) I am still truly pleased that she did cross my path. Her life's work ~ for that was how she viewed her journaling ~ does have the ...

The Loney - Andrew Michael Hurley 06/03/2016

Loney-ness

The Loney - Andrew Michael Hurley It's always a privilege when you're given an advance reading copy of something – and a real 'block' when you read the small print that says 'not for resale or quotation'. Fair comment on the resale bit, but when you get something as brilliant as ''The Loney'' being required not to quote is just plain unfair. So when I originally reviewed this for thebookbag.co.uk I had to apologise to the author, and break the rules. To be fair I think we got the publisher's sanction to do so, and in so doing I hope a played a small part in getting this wonderful book the attention it deserves: it went on to win the Costa First Novel Award 2015. The point was: I finished this book with so many corners turned down, places where passages or phrases delighted me enough to know I'd want to go back to them, how can my words possibly sell it better than Hurley's… Starting near the beginning If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it The Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. Those Easter trips weren't a holiday. They were a week of penitence and prayer and a chance to look for God in the emerging springtime, that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all; nothing so vibrant and effusive. It was more the soggy afterbirth of winter. The book opens, not in Springtime, but in the aftermatch of an Autumn storm, where a sudden landslide ...

I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick 05/03/2016

Because She Is A Girl

I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick ''She's a phenomenon'' is my OH's response to any mention of Malala. I can't disagree on some level, but what this book proves is that on another she is just a girl. One voice among many. It's just that she decided to speak louder than most. We know about Malala because she got lucky. She got lucky because when she got shot by the Taliban there were people nearby, doctors who got her to a hospital, and then luckier still because when her condition worsened, nearby there were western doctors with access to western facilities and she was flown to the UK for treatment. And that's when life changed for ever for Malala. It wasn't the day she was shot. Many have been shot and killed (or worse) by the Taliban for speaking out. It was the day the news of her being airlifted to Birmingham went around the world. That was what changed everything, because that was what brought this extraordinary young woman to the attention of the world's (rather than just Pakistan's) media and gave her the opportunity to ''really'' do, what she'd set out to do. Make no bones about it, Malala might be just a girl (or a young woman by now), but by no stretch of the imagination is she ordinary. You know that Twelfth Night quote to the effect that ''some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them''? Well, Malala is one of the first kind. She is what my mother would have called ''an old soul''. We don't believe in reincarnation in my family, but my mother would have ...

The Spectre Trilogy - Ian Fleming 28/02/2016

No, Mr Bond...

The Spectre Trilogy - Ian Fleming With the new Spectre film in the cinema, it was time to revisit the original stories… what exactly is SPECTRE, who is Blofeld… and how exactly does 007 come into the picture? Vintage have repackaged the original SPECTRE stories into a single chunky volume, with a simple black cover whose only artwork (typesetting aside) is a letter O morphing into a gun barrel, with rising smoke.. a nod perhaps to the now classic title sequence of all the Bond movies. Another nod to the movies, which have no doubt kept the myth of Bond alive in a way that might not have happened on the back of the books alone, is a short introduction by Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, stepson & daughter to "Cubby" and current producers of the cinema franchise. Acknowledging the debt to the movie-makers, I now want you to forget everything you have ever seen… I say this as someone who holds all the films (even the cheesiest of them) in great affection and who feels that strangely those most recently made and based on nothing that Fleming ever wrote possibly come closer to his 007, than anything produced in his lifetime. I also say it, knowing that you won't – as I couldn't when writing about it. When you come to read the books, you'll see that the 'real' James Bond is little like some of his portrayals… but you'll also get an inkling as to why that is. Much of what is in the words would not work so well on screen – at least not without turning a 'thriller' into something entirely different. ...

Black Moon - Kenneth Calhoun 27/02/2016

Sleepless

Black Moon - Kenneth Calhoun Do you ever have those nights when you hear every chime of the clock, when you watch the shadows move round the room painfully slowly as the moon crosses the sky? Thankfully I have very few of those. I know that the thing most likely to keep you awake is the worrying about the fact that you're not asleep, and I have distraction mechanisms for when I need them. I can sleep just about anywhere and through most kinds of noise. I find the engine noise and motion and passing lights of a motor car journey in the dark as soporific as a lullaby. I have had strangers wake me to up to tell me this train isn't going any further. It is hard, therefore, for me to understand an inability to sleep. But because I generally sleep well and long, I am dependent upon it. Tiredness is not a state that I experience a great deal. I go from "fine" straight into sleep deprivation: that inability to focus enough to string a sentence together – words get slurred, syntax mangled, gobbledygook spoken as though it has some real significance. I have heard myself doing all these things. I get "twitchy". I cannot sit still, a feeling of all the tiny internal muscles repeatedly cramping and relaxing, needing to be moved. And I get angry. I will snap at the slightest thing. Irrational. It is very easy, therefore, for me to understand what an epidemic of sleeplessness might do to a population. Such an epidemic is occurring in Calhoun's debut novel. Something unexplained has happened, or is ...

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett 22/02/2016

The Problem With Magpie Rhymes...

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett The problem with magpie rhymes is that they are all wrong, for the simple reason that none of them are the ones that the Magpies themselves know. The magpies in this case are not always birds. If you've been keeping up with my re-reading of the whole Discworld canon, then you'll probably know that one of the witches had gone off to be Queen when she married the jester. (Or something like that). That meant that the coven was one short – as you know witches always come in threes. There is always the Maiden, the Mother, and the…other one. The problem seemed to be solved when Agnes Nitt decided she was better off as Agnes and gave in to her natural witchiness (which meant subduing her inner Perdita and any desire to be an Opera singer) and moved into Magrat's old cottage. So far so Discian. Discish? Anyway… the Queen has had a baby, which means two things: firstly she is now a mother. You and I might say "obviously" but when you think about the threesome, if she wants to step back into witching, it could get complicated. One will have to step down, and one will have to step, possibly, sideways. Secondly, there has to be a naming ceremony ~ which is always an excuse for a big party, to which absolutely everybody must be invited. Clearly top of the list of everybody is Granny Weatherwax. Only she doesn't seem to have got her invitation, and she's the first one to have made the 'mother' connection. Mistake number two, is that so far as King Verence is concerned ...

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett 21/02/2016

EcksEcksEcksEcks

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett It's nearly a year since Sir Terry slipped away from us, and I am barely half-way through my re(read) in honour of his memory. I can't help thinking that by the time I get to the end, it may be time to start over again. Meanwhile, back on the Disc, riding as ever through space supported by the four elephants astride the great space-turtle A'tuin… there is an unknown land: a lost continent, fabled in myth and legend. Or at least rumoured about in some of the less salubrious taverns. If you've come this far through my journeying on the Disc it will not take you long to work out that if we're in a vast expanse of red hot desert, watching red earth being thrown out of a deep hole by a muttering soul in search of grub, the soul concerned is likely to be our old unfortunate friend Rincewind: a wizard of poor spelling (in both senses) and appalling but somehow redemptive luck. It might not be entirely clear how he got here, but the locals know why. Time is all wrong, and there's been no Wet for years, and the pictures are stepping out of the rocks and well, strewth mate, someone's got to put it all back the way it should be. As if that wasn't enough, he's lost his luggage! If you've met the Luggage, then you can see that this might just be a blessing in disguise. If you've been in the desert for weeks with no clean underwear, maybe not so much. If you've been "rescued" (I use the term loosely) from the desert have started to discover the roaring nightlife of places ...

Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham 21/02/2016

When Lugg Met Crowdy Lobbett

Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham On a transatlantic liner, an American points out Crowdy Lobbett and predicts that he will have been murdered within a fortnight. Indeed he places a bet on it. It seems like a safe bet: retired Judge Lobbett has been the subject of four near misses so far: four attempts on his life that have misfired and killed someone close to him. His children have persuaded him to take a trip to England in an attempt to keep him somewhat safer, for a while at least. In the very first chapter, however, an unfortunate white mouse proves that they may be on a hiding to nothing. The mouse, it transpires, owned by one Albert Campion whose business card reads Coups executed. Nothing sordid, vulgar or plebeian. Deserving Cases Preferred. Police no object. It's not very long before Marlow Lobbett is calling on Campion's services to see if they can trace the mysterious head of the Simister Gang and put him out of business – only then will Lobbett senior finally be safe. One more attempt on the man's life that very day is sufficient to for Campion to want to be in on it. Albert Campion is said to have been created as a parody of Dorothy L Sayers' aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, but I find it unlikely that it was that considered. He starts out with only the vaguest of back-stories which Allingham then developed over a series of 19 novels, including that completed by her husband following her death, and numerous short stories. ''Mystery Mile'' is the second of the novels, first ...

The Genius and the Goddess - Aldous Huxley 23/01/2016

A Labyrinth of Interconnecting Guilts

The Genius and the Goddess - Aldous Huxley So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn’t so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell. Of the three I've read recently The Genius and the Goddess is by far the best. Given my aforementioned stance on the works generally, the fact that it is by far the shortest might have something to do with it. It winds up at a concise 120 pages (if you exclude the publishing blurb). More than that, though, it's relative strength lies in the fact that you don't have to be as erudite as Huxley himself to follow what he's talking about. Ok, you'll get more out of it if you know your Dante, and if you've got your various Greek goddeses properly catalogued, but for once you can skim over all of that academic stuff and read this one for the story. John Rivers is in his sixties (which is "old" to the mind that wrote these books – oh how we've moved on) and on Christmas Eve, which isn't particularly relevant unless you want to make the Dickens connection, he settles down to tell his friend the story of his youth. His outpouring is provoked by a recently published biography of the great physicist Henry Maartens. Rivers had been a lab assistant to Maartens at the height of his fame, but more than ...

Time Must Have A Stop - Aldous Huxley 21/01/2016

Stop Time Now, I want this one to end

Time Must Have A Stop - Aldous Huxley Sometimes we start reading "authors" as opposed to specific books, because we feel we ''should''. So it was with me and Huxley. I seem to remember reading and actually enjoying the classic ''Brave New World'' and so felt compelled to explore more of the oeuvre. On completing the second of the three I committed to reading, I slowly came to the conclusion that the reason most of us have only read ''Brave New World'' might just be because it is the only one that is remotely "accessible" to the average reader. Yes, I know that "accessible" is code for "less intellectual" but I make no bones about it. Huxley wears his academic credentials heavily. He loads his books with them and forces the reader – who is not quite so well read, or so well versed in languages, who has (as my English teacher used to say, repeatedly!) not had the benefit of a classical education – to struggle, or to skip. I did both. I skipped passages where I gave up struggling. To put it simply: Time Must Have A Stop defeated me. I struggled on to the end, but cannot say that I have gained a thing from having read it. I can roughly explain the plot, I can share some insights that the book is meant to impart, but was it time well-wasted? No, sorry, not for me. Sebastian Barnack is (according to the blurb) a handsome English schoolboy…on bad terms with his socialist father who disapproves of his hedonistic lifestyle . In fact, Sebastian is not so much 'handsome' as 'pretty'. Not so much a hedonist as ...

Christmas 2015: Tell us about your Christmas Eve party, your Christmas, your gifts... 03/01/2016

The Gift of Peace (bar a rock video or two!)

Christmas 2015: Tell us about your Christmas Eve party, your Christmas, your gifts... For us big family Christmases are nothing but reminiscences. Our families have shrunk, partly through ill-feeling and out-fallings, partly through the natural diminution over time, as the younger generations either failed or chose not to reproduce. For us Christmas is now a time of quiet fun and frivolity, of traditions of our own making, a time when we get to just be together (without me dashing off to work in some other part of the country, with neither of us "having" to fulfil duty visits), a time when we'll make time for the parties and the people we care about in early part of the season and as the new year beds in during January, but when, for most of the official holiday, we'll withdraw from the melee of the world. Mostly it will just be me, him and the cats. My Christmas starts on the 14th December. This was my mother's birthday… and it evolved during my childhood that this was the day (or the nearest Friday to it) that our Christmas decorations would be put up at home. Nothing to do with the fact that mam had organised her works' do and would be out of the way. C's family had a different tradition : they didn't decorate until the children had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. As we have our own homes, we can hold to our own in this regard. I still do the 14th… he does what he can, if he can: the "organisation" algorithm is missing from his programming. I love the tree and the lights and the whole decoration thing… but I'm lazy these days. My childhood home would ...

Unround Circle - Peter Belotte 02/01/2016

Not Rounded Enough

Unround Circle - Peter Belotte As short story collections go, this is a fairly ambition bundle, some 22 stories running to a total of nearly four hundred pages. You'll gather from the fact that I'm starting with the statistics that I didn't instantly fall in love with Bellotte's writing. In fact, I can say that whatever his talents in other departments, short-story prose is not his new-found metier. There isn't a single one of the 22 that engaged me emotionally and not one that I would want to read again. Worse, only some of them kept me well-enough interested to be even intellectually interested in what was going to happen next. I wouldn't normally feel the need to talk about each story in turn in a collection, because they should hang together in some way, but this is such an eclectic mix that it's hard to discern any anchoring thread. Some of the 'tales' don't even qualify as 'stories' being more vignettes, a look at a place and a time through a character's eyes. Contrariwise ''The Balcony'' which is one of these is one of the best of the bunch. Those that are more properly plotted, struggle to constrain their plots within the short story format and end up being explained rather than explored. Show don't tell is the standing advice to rookie writers, the more experienced author ought to already have a feel for when they're straying from that mantra. Too many of these do, lapsing towards there ends into what I think of as "…and then…and then… and then…" mode. Obviously, it's not a blatant as ...
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