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Search tags: british-authors
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review 2017-06-13 19:11
Clouds of Witness / Dorothy L. Sayers
Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers

Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt – until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be – a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt ... a grieving fiancée with suitcase in hand ... and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

 

Dorothy Sayers works seem to me to be perfect for anyone who enjoys the writing of Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. Sayers imparts an acerbic edge that keeps things from getting too twee. She manages to make sharp observations on both the gentry and the socialists, sometimes at the same time. I’ve recently been cataloguing the works of H.G. Wells, who wrote a lot about socialism in the early 20th century, and I find Sayers’ insights on the complicated societal changes of this time period to be spot on.

She isn’t gentle with her fellow authors either. I loved the following exchange, heard by Lord Peter while dining at the Soviet Club:

The authoress was just saying impressively to her companion: '-ever know a sincere emotion to express itself in a subordinate clause?'
'Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax,' agreed the curly haired man.
'Scenes which make emotional history,' said Miss Heath-Warburton, 'should ideally be expressed in a series of animal squeals.'
'The D.H. Lawrence formula,' said the other.


Poor old Lawrence, maligned again for trying to express what he considered to be real emotions and realistic human behaviour in his novels.

For some reason, it made me think of Dilbert, when his pointy-haired boss decrees that, “starting today, all passwords must contain letters, numbers, doodles, sign language, and squirrel noises.”

Being unable to express my review in either animal squeals or squirrel noises, I must tell you in English that this series is worth trying.

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review 2017-04-25 18:26
Spook Street / Mick Herron
Spook Street (Slough House) - Mick Herron

A shakeup at MI5 and a terrorist attack on British soil set in motion clandestine machinery known to few modern spies. David Cartwright isn't a modern spy, however; he's legend and a bonafide Cold War hero. He's also in his dotage and losing his mind to Alzheimer's. His stories of -stotes- hiding in the bushes, following his every move have been dismissed by friends and family for years. Cartwright may be losing track of reality but he's certain about one thing: Old spooks don't go quietly and neither do the secrets they keep.

 

Mick Herron has really hit his stride with the fourth book in the Slough House series! River Cartwright is an inspired creation, grandson of an admired British “spook” (that’s a spy to you & me) who has been sabotaged during a training exercise by a frenemy and ended up in Slough House, the place where failed spies go to be punished for their sins.

There’s been a bombing of a shopping centre, plus River is starting to worry about his grandfather’s mental state. He has the same concerns that everyone has about relatives with dementia, plus the added concern that his grandfather may indeed shoot someone who comes to the door, believing that they are out to get him. That spy-paranoia doesn’t just go away just because he is losing his grip on every-day life.

As per usual, Herron provides a complex plot, with plenty of twists & turns to keep the reader on their toes. There are interesting revelations from the past, political machinations of the most vicious & devious kinds, and Herron isn’t afraid to sacrifice a person or two along the way. The ending is also skillfull—I was given enough resolution to satisfy, while still left with enough loose threads that I am happily anticipating the next installment. Well played!

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review 2017-04-20 18:13
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd / Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

 

M. Poirot, what were you thinking? Retiring to a small village to grow vegetable marrows? I too would hurl them in fits of regret! As if marrows could suitably engage those little grey cells!

Excellent depiction of the competitive sport of gossip. Small communities everywhere suffer from it. That is one of the reasons that I came to live in a city—I can actually keep my private life relatively private!

Dame Agatha really did set the patterns for current mystery literature, didn’t she? Very, very enjoyable and as usual, I had no idea who the perpetrator was until M. Poirot did the big reveal.

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review 2017-04-13 22:39
Lord of the Flies / William Golding
Lord of the Flies - William Golding

Somehow, I missed this book during my school years. I remember seeing stacks of them in our school, but it was never assigned in one of my classes. I can see why it is a staple of high school curriculums, however, since it’s themes are easily seen and interpreted. There is plenty to discuss.
I would have appreciated it in high school, having struggled with Orwell’s Animal Farm instead. Lord of the Flies is pretty straight-forward in its depiction of the descent of supposedly civilized British boarding school boys into “savages” when left without adult supervision. Perhaps it is also a comment on boarding schools in general, which a couple of my friends have experienced (and do not recommend).

I find myself wondering how Golding would have written things differently if there were girls in the mix. Would they have been considered a “civilizing influence”? Or would they have become prizes or hostages in some boy’s competition? How did the “Little’uns” manage to escape the worst of the mistreatment that can be dished out when group dynamics go awry?

I chose this book after reading Barrie’s Peter Pan last year, wanting to contrast the “lost boys” in both novels. Unlike Barrie’s Lost Boys, the boys in LOTF have to grow up. Golding makes them struggle with adult responsibilities that they really aren’t prepared for, like keeping a signal fire going and building adequate shelters. I was also reminded of Robinson Crusoe, but his journey was actually towards religion, rather than away from it. Many years with only a Bible to read turns him into a religious man, which at the time would be considered more civilized.

A worthwhile book, but not one that I will ever likely re-read.

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review 2017-03-15 17:17
Survivors / Richard Fortey
Survivors: The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind. Richard Fortey - Richard Fortey

Evolution does not simply obliterate its tracks as more advanced organisms evolve. Scattered across the globe, organisms and ecosystems that survive from far earlier times can speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. It is these animals and plants that Richard Fortey visits in the field, taking the reader on a voyage to the exotic, and sometimes everyday, places in which they live. Landscapes are evoked, boulders are turned over, seas are paddled as he explains the importance of understanding plants and animals as pivotal points in evolutionary history itself. Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has left Behind is a journey across the globe and across time that weaves a rich and brilliantly delineated tapestry of how life and our planet have evolved together.

 

I love Richard Fortey’s science writing. Two of his books are among my absolute favourites (Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1). Perhaps because there’s an awful lot of stuff happening in my life right now, I didn’t get into this book in quite the same way as those two.

Still, it’s an extremely enjoyable book if you are a fan of paleontology and natural history. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a “living fossil” and Fortey explores it thoroughly in this book (while explaining that the whole idea of a living fossil is a bit off-base—they may look the same, but many things will still have changed over the millennia). I am more than a little envious of Mr. Fortey, as I would dearly love to travel to see some of the creatures that he visited for this book. I mean, Horseshoe Crabs? Sign me up to go see them at spawning time! Wouldn’t you like to hold a Lungfish in Northern Australia? Or is it just me?

What I truly appreciate about Fortey’s writing is the enormous depth and breadth of knowledge of paleontology. Now, he does shine brightest when talking about invertebrates, as you would expect of a trilobite specialist, but he’s a dab hand at fish too and obviously an enthusiastic naturalist when it comes to plants and birds. I am amazed how much natural history knowledge resides in one person’s skull.

Add to that the charm of quoting poetry and literature in meaningful ways, making allusions to dance and art, and one has to admit that this is a well-rounded scholar.

Recommended for those who are fascinated with paleontology in all its glory.

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