‘Coroner’s Pidgin,’ by Margery Allingham

Novel, 1945 Crime mystery, set in the last knockings of World War Two, involving a tricky plot of art theft, kidnapping and a cast of fairly diverse and dastardly characters. London has a downbeat, authentic feel to it, with characters raising pigs and living in bombsites, so giving an example of how things are somewhat grim, but treated with a matter-of-fact humour. Albert Campion is … Continue reading ‘Coroner’s Pidgin,’ by Margery Allingham

“The Hearing Trumpet,” by Leonora Carrington

Novel, 1974 A blast of a novel, which promises a little more than it delivers, perhaps, although there are flashes of crazy playfulness and sinister goings on along the way. It’s hard to follow what should be a pretty easy thread of a narrative; of an old woman being committed to an old persons’ home-cum-asylum, but there are a number of asides which hang heavily, … Continue reading “The Hearing Trumpet,” by Leonora Carrington

“Gertrude,” by Herman Hesse

Novel, 1910 A book about a young man and his pursuit of music and love. The universal themes, multi-faceted and gloomy characters, and the determination of the first-person narrator counteract the old-fashioned feel of this book. It’s a compelling read, too, really taking the reader in and building attachment to the story’s twists and turns. A strong example of traditional, engaging writing with much to … Continue reading “Gertrude,” by Herman Hesse

“A People’s History of London,” by John Rees and Lindsey German

Non-fiction, 2012 Very decent book looking, essentially, at protest movements based or operating in London. Some of the events are more well-known than others, although the streets upwards viewpoint, rather than a view looking down from the point of view of the power structure, will be unfamiliar to most. Occasionally, an edit or two may have helped things appear more objective, and inevitably, the more … Continue reading “A People’s History of London,” by John Rees and Lindsey German

“Call for the Dead,” by John Le Carré

Novel, 1961 The first George Smiley novel, setting the scene with some wonderful character building, domestic-based espionage and a generally downbeat atmosphere which feels both plausible and eerie. The familiarity with setting and the low key action both draw the reader in, and the lack of glamour – made explicit in the opening description of Smiley’s failed marriage – contrast with other tropes and examples … Continue reading “Call for the Dead,” by John Le Carré

“Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead,” by Barbara Comyns

Novel, 1954 A rather curious, totally compelling and wonderfully atmospheric novel about the spread of madness in an English village. The setting and tone, after an extraordinary opening flood scene, feel very genial, though the presence of death is at turns outrageous and quite shocking. Some strong, weak and driven characters sort themselves out in the first part of the book, and while the story’s … Continue reading “Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead,” by Barbara Comyns

“Tales of Muffled Oars,” by Magnus Mills

Novel, 2020 Familiar Mills territory, with groups of men meeting in pubs. In this book, they’re following history, with seemingly and mysteriously time travelling Macauley, Hogarth and Swift delivering talks in which England at peace is discussed, to the exclusion of any conflict or murder. This simple idea is backed with clear, simple writing, all of which covers and discusses some hefty questions about the … Continue reading “Tales of Muffled Oars,” by Magnus Mills

“The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox,” by Maggie O’Farrell

Novel, 2006 Story of two sisters, and principally, the titular Esme, whose life is grabbed away from her when she’s committed to a mental asylum in the 1930s. In a book whose narrative slips between the two sister’s and Esme’s niece’s points of view, the overlap and interplay of very different views of the same story can be a little confusing, especially early on, although … Continue reading “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox,” by Maggie O’Farrell

‘Love of the Game,’ by Ricky Hill

Non-fiction, 2021 Account of professional footballer and coach Ricky Hill, and how his success at battling racism as a black player taking his first steps in the professional game in the mid 1970s hasn’t translated into appointments in the British managerial and coaching side of the game. While Hill is eloquent and the issues he raises have more than a feeling of truth about them, … Continue reading ‘Love of the Game,’ by Ricky Hill

‘The Cry of the Owl,’ by Patricia Highsmith

Novel, 1962 Terrific psychological thriller, in which a deranged cast of characters get involved and wound up with each other’s affairs. Every one of them ends up in a much worse place than when they started. A terrific piece of storytelling, in which tragic and almost comedically escalating situations involving stalking, ex-wives and vengeful lovers are played out against a backdrop of respectable small town … Continue reading ‘The Cry of the Owl,’ by Patricia Highsmith