Friday 28 February 2014


February saw me read nine books of varying lengths, sneaking a few shorties in there to keep the numbers ticking over.

Four of the authors were new to me, a fifth - Agatha Christie may as well have been since it's been probably 35 years since I last picked up one of hers. Miss Marple short stories they were, though I have been advised to try one of her longer outings next time around.

In truth it wasn't really that great a month, quality-wise. Willeford, Disher and Pryor were averagely okay, but I have read better from all of them previously. Shannon was a bit too supernatural-ish for my liking and the Livers book I meandered through.

The month was rescued by three books. The 39 Steps was exciting and a quick read, which was enjoyed before seeing a great adaptation of it on the stage.

Greed by Dan O'Shea rocked me again after his superb Penance last month. O'Shea is someone whose shopping list I reckon I could read and be thrilled by.

February's book of the month.
But by the slenderest of margins John Ball's In The Heat Of The Night scoops my book of the month award. A superb book that dismantles and exposes the stupidity of prejudice and racism. More Virgil Tibbs books to come in future months. Thanks to Keishon for the tip-off!

On my challenge front I haven't racked up too many entries. Disher did for Australia/New Zealand. Buchan for Scottish, Espionage and Vintage. Christie for Vintage - somewhere or other. Plus a slot on the US State Challenge was filled by Livers.

Harry Shannon - Behold The Child (3)

Garry Disher - Two-Way Cut (3)

John Buchan - The Thirty-Nine Steps (4)

John Ball - In The Heat Of The Night (5)

Charles Willeford - The Ordainment Of Brother Springer (3)

Dan O'Shea - Greed (5)

Paulette Livers - Cementville (3)

Agatha Christie - Miss Marple's Final Cases (3)

Mark Pryor - The Crypt Thief (3)

A close second!

Wednesday 26 February 2014


A couple of fairly recent additions to the library are some car-noir novels. Yep, car-noir.........not too sure what that is myself to be truthful, but if I pull my finger out and read them I guess I will know more.

Both novels concern a guy called Harold Dodge...pushing fifty, going grey, carrying a few extra I think I'm in love with him already; sounds like someone I would definitely like to read about, spend time and perhaps hang out with. He seems adorable!

Book 1 was published in 1998 and the second title came out a year later. He published a third fiction tome called THE MARQUIS DE FRAUD in 2001, which concerns intrigue and betrayal in the world of horse-racing. Apparently it is based on a true story.

Bird Dog

Bird Dog In his explosive debut, Philip Reed suggests the best of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen as he guides you on a lethal joyride you won't forget. Harold Dodge is pushing fifty, going gray, and carrying a few extra pounds. He's a good man. But in LA, good men some-times have to do bad things. Harold lives for women and cars...he just never figured on dying for them.

Low Rider

Low Rider Life continues to throw Harold Dodge some wicked cures. Vikki Covo, widow of Harold's former boss at the car dealership, is angling for a million-dollar settlement on her husband's life insurance policy. If Harold negotiates the settlement, he'll get 10% plus Vikki's gratitude. Vikki is one of those wicked curves and in the shape of a dollar sign. This Harold could learn to love her almost as much he loves his '64 Chevy Impala. If only she was as easy to handle...

Bird Dog will be re-published soon in e-book format by 280 Steps. I think I prefer their book cover to the one on my copy, but I expect the words will read the same!

Tuesday 25 February 2014



It’s summer in Paris and two tourists have been killed in Père La Chaise cemetery in front of Jim Morrison’s grave. The killer leaves the bodies untouched but moves deeper into the cemetery, where he breaks into the crypt of a long-dead Moulin Rouge dancer. In a bizarre twist, he disappears into the night with part of her skeleton. The cemetery is locked down and put under surveillance, but the thief returns, flitting in and out like a ghost, taking more bones from another legendary can-can dancer under cover of night. One of the dead tourists proves to be an American and the other a woman linked to a known terrorist; so the US ambassador sends his best man and the embassy's head of security-Hugo Marston-to help the French police with their investigation. At first, Hugo is stumped. How does this killer operate unseen? And why is he stealing the bones of once-famous can-can girls? Hugo cracks the secrets of the graveyard, but soon realizes that old bones aren't all this serial killer wants: his ultimate plan requires the flesh and organs of the living. And when the crypt thief spots the former FBI agent on his tail, he decides that Hugo's body will do just fine.

This is the second in a series of three books so far featuring Hugo Marston as a US embassy employee based in Paris. I read the first The Bookseller in November last year courtesy of the publisher, Seventh Street books.

This time around Hugo, as head of security becomes involved in investigating the murder of an American citizen, who happens to be the son of a senator. His dead companion is discovered to be a Pakistani citizen who has entered the country on fake documents and with a suspected terrorist, or at the least – person of interest.   

Hugo’s friend, Tom with his oft-hinted at, but never defined role with the CIA is assigned to the investigation. The belief being it is terror related. Hugo and to a degree Tom believe the reason for the murders are less straightforward, especially considering the fact that the killer was responsible for desecrating a grave and stealing some bones. Further thefts of bones occur along with additional killings, as Tom and Hugo conduct the investigation in conjunction with the Parisian police – namely Capitaine Garcia and with input from Hugo’s on/off journalist girlfriend Claudia.

I have probably rushed my summary, partly because I found the plot a little bit too........err, unconvincing. We intermittently follow our killer throughout the book and gradually come to understand what his reasons and rationale are for his actions and what the ultimate intention is for his proposed coup de grace. I was just unmoved by it.

There was still a lot to like about the book. There’s plenty of Paris on show and there’s a familiarity and likeability about the main character Hugo and his friends, Tom, Garcia and Claudia. There’s a lot of banter between Hugo and Tom and the concern about Tom’s health and substance abuse is convincingly presented. I like the recurring characters and enjoy spending time in their company.

Overall – positive points for characters and settings. Less so, for the plot. The investigation was intriguing to a degree as Hugo brought his profiling skills to bear; and remained intriguing whilst there was ambiguity in the enquiry......serial murderer or terrorist angle....the latter part of the book just sort of faded away for me. 
Not as enjoyable for me as The Bookseller.

3 from 5.

The Bookseller thoughts are here. The third in the series The Blood Promise awaits and will be read in the next month or so.

Thanks to the publisher Seventh Street books for my copy of this. 

Friday 21 February 2014


2 more from the library this week!

Dorothy Uhnak is an author that has interested me for quite a while now. She was a serving police officer with New York City’s Transit Police for 14 years. 

After the 1964 publication of her autobiographical account of her time in law enforcement – Policewoman, she quit the police to write full-time.

She has a short 3 series starring Christie Opara. These came out in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The first of these – The Bait won an Edgar Award in 1969. Other titles in the series are The Witness and The Ledger

She wrote 6 further books, 2 more in the 70’s, 2 in the 80’s and 2 in the 90’s. Several of these were adapted for TV-movies, one of which starred Telly Savalas as Kojak. There was also a TV series  - Get Christie Love based on some of her work - never heard of it myself.

Sadly, she died in 2006, reportedly of a deliberate drug overdose.

The Witness

She's the only one who saw what really happened, but this cop doesn't plan to play by the rules . . .
Detective First-Grade Christie Opara, the newest addition to the district attorney's Special Investigation Squad, has just gotten her first assignment: to tail her boss's daughter.

As soon as she sees the police barricades and seething civil rights demonstrators, Christie knows a riot is about to explode. As things spiral out of control, a solid mass of blue uniforms bears down on the mob.

Minutes later, a young black activist is dead, apparently killed by a cop. But Christie saw a different shooter.

With the public demanding blood and law enforcement scrambling to contain the fallout, Christie must go mano a mano against a cunning killer. But another meticulously planned crime is about to go down, one that will send the city - and the NYPD - reeling.

The Ledger

Every crime has its price, but for one woman, the cost may be too high

Elena Vargas is a material witness to a homicide, the shooting of a foot soldier in an international mob cartel. But the sultry call girl and sometime-mistress of gang lord Enzo Giardino claims to have seen and heard nothing.

Desperate to make a case against Giardino, the district attorney offers Vargas protective custody in exchange for betraying her lover. But no one can make her talk. The case blows sky high when a ledger is discovered, naming names and detailing the operations of a criminal enterprise that stretches to the highest levels of government.

Going on nothing but gut instinct, New York Police Department cop Christie Opara uncovers something in Vargas's past that could give them the leverage they need. It's a secret that will reverberate in both women's lives as Christie edges closer to the truth about a mother and child . . . and an answer that has been there all along.
I'll be interested to see how I enjoy this author. Female, hard-boiled.....just what the doctor ordered I reckon. I do have one of her last titles waiting for me from Net Galley which needs looking at soon.

Thursday 20 February 2014



Presented in this collection are: the man found dying in the church sanctuary; the puzzle of Uncle Henry's hidden legacy; the question of the murder with the tape-measure; the curious conduct of the caretaker; the case of Miss Skinner's maid and the baffling mystery of the stabbing of Mrs Rhodes.
Well after maybe a 35 year hiatus between my last reading of the venerable Dame of Crime Fiction, I thought it was time to head back down to St Mary Mead and see what all the fuss was about.

The easiest option for me was to have a crack at a few of her Miss Marple short stories and having picked up this charity shop bargain for the humungous sum of 25p when out and about with my wife and youngest daughter on Monday, I decided to bump the dame off.......sorry, bump her up the queue and get started.

6 stories – 142 pages – 2-3 hours reading time.

Well I can add another female author to the tally and possibly can tick a box on my silver bingo card for my Vintage Mystery challenge, I will check later. Two bonus plusses.

Verdict......well I didn't manage to guess the culprit or guilty party or unravel the mystery in any of the tales before the big reveal, so that was good. And AC can certainly paint a vivid picture for you of her characters; in this particular instance a bed-bound spinster.........with a good deal of greyish-yellow hair untidily wound around her head and erupting into curls, the whole thing looked like a bird’s nest of which no self-respecting bird could be proud. So another tick there.  Thirdly, most of the stories engaged me and had me speeding along to the end, so I can’t in all honesty feign indifference.

I think what struck me was how unsympathetic most of her victims and villains all appeared to be. In the case of the hidden legacy, I didn't like old Uncle Henry’s beneficiaries and was half hoping that Miss Marple was unable (or perhaps more entertainingly) unwilling to solve the riddle and therefore deprive the horrible, vile rats of their inheritance. I guess Marple though couldn't possibly dare to fail. There’s something a little bit unappealing to me about someone who has to be shown to be the cleverest person in the room, all the time. She might just be a little too smug and self-satisfied for me to tolerate too much of her. Time will tell; maybe a longer exposure to our elderly spinster’s charms will seduce me and have me swooning helplessly in admiration? The 4.50 from Paddington may seal the deal! I’m prepared to be wooed.

Last observation, I’m unsure when these were originally written – this collection was originally published in 1979, but there are probably too many servants and mistresses, or gentry-types and underlings for me to want to spend too much time in their company.  A bit too dated, a bit too Upstairs-Downstairs, a bit too class conscious and a bit too genteel for me. Each to their own, but I will probably not read too many of her other books.

Anyway I must dash......tea and scone time in the drawing room, nanny’s just rung the bell.......... yummy – so toodle pips!  

3 from 5

I bought my copy second-hand recently.

Wednesday 19 February 2014



In late spring of 1969, a picturesque southern town is turned inside out by the deaths of seven young National Guardsmen in a single Vietcong attack. The return of the bodies sets off something inside the town itself—a sense of violence, a political reality, a gnawing unease with the future—pushing the families of Cementville into alienation and grief.
The town appears blind to the PTSD of Harlan O’Brien, POW and war hero, even as his horrific experiences bend his mind in terrifying ways. Giang Smith, the ‘war bride,’ has fled the violence of Vietnam with her American husband only to encounter echoes of it in her new home. Evelyn Slidell, the wealthy icon and a descendant of Cementville’s founders, is no stranger to what close-mouthed grief can do to a family. And members of the notorious Ferguson clan, led by the violent Levon and his draft-dodging brother Byard, share a secret despair of their own. Through one strange summer Maureen, the adolescent sister of a recently returned GI, attempts to document the changes happening to her town.
CEMENTVILLE speaks as a grieving community—already several centuries old—being born again in times of intense change. With the Civil Rights Act only a few years old, a restless citizenry divided over the war, and the Women’s Movement beginning to send tremors through established assumptions about family life, CEMENTVILLE provides a microcosm of a society shedding the old order, a story resonant with echoes of the issues of war and social change still being confronted today.
This was another new author for me, another debut novel and my first female read of the month. I had high hopes for this book and whilst there was a lot of characters that I enjoyed reading about, unfortunately this book just didn't set me on fire. I have read a lot of books in the past, both factual and fiction about the Vietnam experience including the aftermath of the war. Books that have moved me and stirred something within, both fascinating and repelling in equal measure about the horror of a war a generation of American working class youth both black and white endured. (I’m not for one minute forgetting the horrors inflicted on Vietnam, the country and its people on both sides of the conflict. Nor those that continue to suffer today from the effects of 20 million gallons of Agent Orange.)

I mainly struggled with the cast of characters, at many points trying to reconcile, who was what to whom. I would partly blame myself for some of this confusion. Setting off with enthusiasm, I was kind of anticipating settling into a reading rhythm immediately, something which never happened. I wasn't immediately hooked, so consequently I didn't read at a pace that allowed me to gain familiarity with everyone – a self-perpetuating downward spiral ensued. The slower I read, the more distanced from the people and events outlined I felt and the greater my apathy and indifference and comprehension was, until finally it was a relief to finish. I would have benefited from a noddy guide to the cast of characters or a Ferguson family tree depicted at the front explaining all the branches of the clan as an aide memoire.

Cementville just wasn't the book I hoped for, but it was competing with a compelling rival read at the time. (My fault then!) Quite a few passages.........for example - the bus ride to the town undertaken by a couple of strangers and the realisation of where they were both headed and why - engaged and interested me, but overall I wasn't especially enthusiastic. The portrayal of the surviving veterans who returned to Cementville and their disconnection and remoteness from their families and community after their part in the war was over was convincingly depicted. 

Towards the end, one of the characters is revealed to have been responsible for the murder of the Vietnamese woman, the rationale for this and other acts, I didn't really understand. 

The fact that this would be considered more of a literary novel, as opposed to my usual fare of crime fiction, wouldn't explain my lukewarm response to it, I don’t believe.

Paulette Livers hails from Kentucky, so I will be ticking off this state on my US State Reading Challenge – 3 down, 48 to go!

3 from 5  - more of a 2 and a half, but I'm rounding up! 

Cementville is published next month by Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press. 



The Second Detective John Lynch Chicago Thriller

A taut US urban thriller by Chicago’s answer to Dennis Lehane. For fans of Lehane, C. J. Box & Jeffery Deaver.

Ex-Marine, Nick Hardin, heads back from a decade in Africa to his hometown, Chicago, with $100 million in blood diamonds stolen from an Al Qaeda’s financing pipeline. His retirement plan? To cash out through a Chicago Mossad contact and head for the beach.

But soon, Hardin’s stuck in Chicago with diamonds he can’t sell and a series of hit men, mobsters, and a Washington off-the-books black ops team on his tail.

The resulting body count leaves Chicago detective John Lynch trying to find connections among the victims, while simultaneously solving the murder of a dead infectious disease expert who’d drafted a biological weapons plan that could turn Chicago into a ghost town.

Dan O’Shea is one of my finds of the year so far. (Ok, it was late 2013 when he appeared on my radar – if we’re being picky.) Last month his debut novel, Penance scooped the much coveted, supreme accolade of Col’s Criminal Library January book of the month. This month his follow-up, Greed smacks it out of the park again and is a contender for February. Fortunately I still have his short story collection Old School to look forward to.

My Penance thoughts are here.

We are re-introduced to Detective Lynch and his partner, Slo-Mo Bernstein as well as a whole new cast of intriguing characters this time. I’ll give up on reviewing this thing coherently, because if I was to wax lyrical about every facet of this superb multi-layered crime marvel, I would be here for a month of Sundays and still wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

In the space of 410-odd pages we have tech-wiz surveillance, diamonds, WMDs, hit-men, Mexican drug lords and cartels, Chicago gang-bangers, Hollywood actors, Mob bosses and flunkies, hookers, FBI, DEA, Mossad, Al-Qaeda, local cops, ex-marines, Scottish nearly-nuns, Washington-black op types, Hezbollah, the Foreign Legion, financiers, Oprah, Liberia, Africa, Lebanon, Iran, Vietnam, France, Israel, family, death, loss, refuge, robbery, shootings, revenge, identity, retirement plans...........and a whole plethora of things I have forgotten.

If you were to sit me down and pin me to the chair and force me to re-read this straight away, I’d thank you. Not a dull sentence, paragraph, page or chapter in sight.

O’Shea deserves to reach a wide audience with this book, which was recently released by Exhibit A books. Up top in the blurb he is compared to Lehane, Box and Deaver, but having read two of the three, I’d disagree – he’s better!

6 from 5

Accessed via Net Galley.

Tuesday 18 February 2014



"Willeford, writing with quiet authority, has the ability to make his situations, scenes, dialogue, sound absolutely real" Elmore Leonard

This darkly humorous one act play is a riff on Charles Willeford's "masterpiece" (as it was called by The Washington Post), THE BLACK MASS OF BROTHER SPRINGER. It re-imagines the ordainment of Sam Springer -- a drifter novelist -- as a pastor of the Church of God's Flock in Jacksonville, FL.

"I had a hunch that madness was a predominant theme and normal condition for Americans living in the second half of the century" Charles Willeford

“Willeford's experience of his life led him to a certain attitude toward the world and his place in it, and this attitude, ironic without meanness, comic but deeply caring, informed every book he ever wrote, from his two volumes of autobiography through all the unnoticed novels.” Donald Westlake

I am a little bit biased towards Charles Willeford.  He is (was – sadly he died in 1988) one of my favourite all-time crime writers. His 4 book Hoke Moseley series - 5 if you count Grimhaven - are some of the best crime fiction books I have read. Over the years I have tried working my way through his back catalogue, much of which was scarcer than rocking horse pooh at one time, but as his posthumous popularity rose is now much more readily available.

The Ordainment is a short one act play. Hard to recommend in truth, probably more for fans who would read his shopping list, if there was one available. That’s me then!

I enjoyed it and was amused and entertained for the half hour or so it took me to work my way through it. Derived from his Black Mass novel, which I have also read albeit many years ago; it mainly served as a memory jog to pick up something of his from the stack of unread books soon. I’ll probably go for The Shark-Infested Custard – how could you not want to read a book entitled that?

3 from 5

Picked up recently and cheaply on Amazon UK for kindle. 

Friday 14 February 2014



John Ball's 1965 mystery In the Heat of the Night tells the story of a black police officer named Virgil Tibbs who happens to be passing through a southern town at a particularly inauspicious moment. An orchestra conductor has been brutally murdered and the local police, without much in the way of real evidence, arrest Tibbs. On discovering that Tibbs is not the real killer but rather a highly-skilled homicide detective, the local police enlist Tibbs to help solve the case.

Several factors made (and make) this novel so very relevant and timely. For one, the hero is a black police officer, which at the time the book was written was not a very common figure in popular culture. Tibbs's investigation leads him through the backwater town and exposes him to different forms of prejudice harbored by the townspeople. His urban sophistication and his California background also rankle the townspeople. A major accomplishment with this novel is that author John Ball refuses to discredit one stereotype by merely adopting another. He deftly manages to write a novel about prejudice and stereotype set in a region of the country where ignorance and racism cause terrible suffering, but avoids making the mistake of depicting every Southerner as ignorant or racist. Just as the portrait here of Virgil Tibb's topples some peoples' notions, portraits of some Southerners in this novel do the same.

In the Heat of the Night stands as a classic pop culture document. It is also winner of the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America as well as the Crimewriters' Association's Golden Dagger Award, and it was named one of the hundred greatest detective novels of the century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. The book's main character, Virgil Tibbs, also appears in The Cool Cottontail and Johnny Get Your Gun as part of the Virgil Tibbs mystery series.


John Ball wrote over thirty novels during his career including mysteries, war novels, adventure stories, but his reputation as a novelist is based on his first work--the 1965, In the Heat of the Night. While under considerable pressure from his publisher to make a change, Ball insisted on keeping the leading character in his novel a black man. Ball made the right decision and the book garnered him much praise for progressive thinking and a keen understanding of racial prejudice. Ball wrote other books that featured the hero of In the Heat of the Night, detective Virgil Tibbs, including The Cool Cottontail(1966), and Johnny Get Your Gun(1969). Later in life, Ball worked as a part-time police offer in Los Angeles and also trained in the martial arts. He died in 1988.

Once in a while you come across a book that makes you stop and consider the world you’re living in and whether things are better now than they were in the past.

Ball’s debut novel from 1965, takes us back to a period when skin colour was an important measurement in how society viewed a man and how the laws of the land regarded him. In certain areas, particularly the Southern parts of the states, if you knew a man was black; well ......that pretty much told you all you needed to know........ less intelligent, less capable, less trustworthy - less of a man.      

Within the space of a couple of hundred pages, Ball dismantles that notion with an intelligent murder mystery that gives us a cool, capable, black lead in Virgil Tibbs. We have the murder of a music conductor who is in town to promote a concert that will hopefully re-invigorate the town’s finances and prospects. Shortly after the discovery of the body, Tibbs is picked up in the railway station, about to depart town. With his black skin colour, he is immediately under suspicion. After establishing his credentials as a Californian homicide investigator, Tibbs is advised to leave town.

After some interference from a councilman and against the better wishes of the inexperienced and out-of-his depth police Chief Gillespie, Virgil is retained to advice on the homicide investigation – a patsy for everyone if the killer isn't caught.

During the course of the investigation, Tibbs manages to impress Gillespie and his officers, particularly Sam Wood, forcing them to re-consider their prejudices towards him because of his black skin. Their level of self-awareness of “race” throughout the book was high, but the shift in their attitude by the end was remarkable, but believable.

This was a superb read mainly for the way Ball handles the race issue which is the main theme throughout. The mystery element was secondary to this in my opinion, though it was interesting in how the resolution played out. Another facet that was apparent to me and of interest was the difference in attitudes between South Carolina and the unseen but often-referred to California which Tibbs called home. That said, some of the inhabitants of Wells were more enlightened than others, in their attitude and outlook.    

Prejudice is still with us, in many forms, though hopefully it’s a lot less prevalent than it was 50-odd years ago. In some small way, I guess John Ball has lent a hand in the progress society has made.

5 from 5

I should thank my friend Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog who recommended this book to me. It is doubtful I would have read it otherwise. Her review is here. I am looking forward to reading more from John Ball with Virgil Tibbs the star of 6 further mysteries.

There was also an Oscar winning film of this starring Sydney Poitier, details here.

I got my copy of this recently on Amazon UK for kindle.

Update - Tracy has an excellent review of this on her blog Bitter Tea and Mystery. Here's the link. 

Thursday 13 February 2014


My son, generous soul that he is, bought my wife and me a theatre package for Christmas, comprising of a pre-theatre meal at Tiger Tiger; followed by tickets for the show The Thirty-Nine Steps at the Criterion Theatre in London's West End.

On the occasions that we do travel up to London for whatever reason we typically make a day-out of it. From Leighton Buzzard where we live its approximately 45 minutes before we rumble into London's Euston station.

Mid-Saturday morning we walked the 10 minutes from our house to the train station and hopped aboard. Funny how slowly time passes when you occupy a train carriage with about 25 fractious 8 year-old cub scouts. Scouts who in their defense had already been on the train 3 hours before we embarked - it's a good job, I'm not a grumpy old man then! So after a 6 hour journey we arrived in London maybe 50 minutes later.

My son does this journey maybe 5 times a week.Several weekdays he travels up to attend a music college where he is studying and at weekends he works in retail on London's Oxford Street. We strolled around the shops for a couple of hours being blown inside out, along Oxford Street, Regent Street, New Bond Street, Carnaby Street before meeting up with him for coffee and a snack on his lunch break. We don't see that much of him at weekends with his work commitments, so its always a pleasure catching some time with him when we can.

Lunch over and the afternoon to ourselves we decided to pay a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral which is somewhere I have never been before. I'm unsure if my Catholic upbringing and education meant that a visit to a Protestant Cathedral was never going to figure on my school curriculum back in the 70's. My wife can vaguely recall a school trip there when she was a young girl.

Both externally and internally it's a most impressive structure. I know next to nothing about great architecture but I do recognise a thing of beauty when I see it and St. Paul's is magnificent....... elegant pilllars and columns, with fantastic decoration and art-work internally. It does boggle my mind, how someone could conceive such a thing in their head and then have it transformed into reality. I think the actual construction and execution from start to finish bewilders me. We climbed the 330-odd steps up to the gallery at the base of the cathedral's dome......hard work when you're a bit out of shape and you've had a couple of hip operations, but some minutes later, albeit a wee bit red-faced I completed the first part of the climb. There are 2 viewing points over London's skyline from St. Paul's - a further climb of 190-odd, narrow, spiral steps takes you to the first and a similar climb of about 120 more takes you to the summit and a superb vantage point which allows you to see out over all of London. I'm not a great one for heights but it's worth undertaking the climb for the rewarding view it offers. On a windy day at ground level, it was a tad more blowy so much higher up. (Note to any female or cross-dressing transgender types who may be considering a trip here - it's probably best if you don't wear a skirt or dress. Ascendees below you may get treated to some sights not included in the brochure otherwise!)

A short tube ride back to Oxford Street and we strolled down to Piccadilly and London's West End theatre district. Our meal was at Tiger Tiger at 6pm which gave us a couple of hours before the show.

Back in the days when my wife and I were a 2 as opposed to the 5 we are now, we used to visit the theatre several times a year. For various reasons this is not a bi-annual event for us now, so it was a real treat to be able to see a show. The last one prior to this was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert maybe 5 or 6 years ago, when we went as a 5 for my wife's birthday.

Having rushed to read the book before seeing the show, I wasn't expecting a totally faithful adaptation, particularly as the show is advertised as a comedy.  A comedy it was with 4 actors in the cast in total. Two of whom played multiple roles...............spies, policemen, innkeepers, inkeeper's wives, detectives and a theatre act comprising of a Mr Memory. Fast paced, superbly acted and laugh out loud funny in a hell of a lot of places. I was unfamiliar with any of the cast and hadn't researched any of them previously, but the lack of a big name star in no way detracted from our enjoyment. I think the show was maybe an hour and a half long with a fifteen minute interval and it absolutely flew by. There are differences between the plot of the book and the show, but the basic premise is the same. The inventive but basic portrayal of some of the facets of the tale are extremely entertaining and amusing, particularly when Hannay is pursued by aeroplane. If you are up and around London and at a loose end, I would recommend catching this one if you can.

A short underground ride back to Euston to catch the 10.34pm back to Leighton Buzzard.
Home at 11.30pm, cup of tea in hand at 11.35pm, chatting to oldest daughter for a few minutes - bed by 12. Tired feet, exhausted and exhilarated after a fantastic day! Cheers, Son.

* We're not big on photos and selfies in our house, so all the photos used are generic images plucked from the internet.


Wednesday 12 February 2014



John Buchan wrote "The Thirty-Nine Steps" while he was seriously ill at the beginning of World War I. In it, he introduces his most famous hero, Richard Hannay, who, despite claiming to be an "ordinary fellow", is caught up in the dramatic race against a plot to devastate the British war effort. Hannay is hunted across the Scottish moors by police and a pitiless enemy in the corridors of Whitehall and, finally, at the site of the mysterious 39 steps. The best-known of Buchan's thrillers, this novel has been continuously in print since first publication and has been filmed three times. Other Buchan "World Classics" include "Witchwood" and "Greenmantle".

I doubt I will be providing much original thought on this classic book which was published 99 years ago. It has 460 reviews on Amazon UK – soon to be 461, and nearly 10,000 ratings on Goodreads.
Buchan - Governor of Canada

The Thirty-Nine Steps introduces us to Richard Hannay, who subsequently figures in 4 more novels by Buchan, none of which I have read. They are;
2. Greenmantle (1916)
3. Mr Standfast (1918)
4. The Three Hostages (1924)
5. The Island of Sheep (1936)

As an aside, the time-span between the 4th and 5th books is interesting, I wonder why? 
Saying that - Buchan did live an interesting and full various times....Unionist MP, Governor of Canada, Government War propagandist, Army enlistment, diplomatic service in South Africa, church elder, novelist.  

We open and Hannay is restless and in need of an adventure to stimulate him. One soon arrives in the appearance of a stranger who enlists Hannay’s help in hiding him. The man, Scudder has faked his death and tells Hannay he is being followed by a German gang of spies. Scudder confides that he has uncovered a plot to kill the Greek Premier and also that there is a scheme afoot to steal British plans that have been prepared in the event of an outbreak of war. Scudder is discovered murdered the next day in Hannay’s flat and Richard, a likely suspect in the murder flees, managing to evade the Germans who are watching him.   

A sense of obligation and duty compels Hannay to try and thwart the assassination attempt. With three weeks to lay low until the events Scudder has outlined are scheduled to begin, Hannay takes a train to Scotland to kill time. Having taking Scudder’s notebook when fleeing London and deciphered his coded notes, these appear to contradict what Scudder previously told him.

Over the next week or two he is relentlessly pursued both by aeroplane and car, by both the Germans and the police, still anxious to arrest Hannay for murder. His adventures see him posing as a road-mender at one time and unbelievably making a political speech for a prospective politician, Sir Harry at a rally. Having taken Harry into his confidence, Harry fortuitously has a relative in the Foreign Office and writes Hannay a letter of introduction.

Still on the run, Hannay survives being taken prisoner by the enemy. After managing to escape, Richard returns to London and contacts Harry’s relative – Sir Walter Bullivant; unburdening himself of his secrets. The Greek PM still gets assassinated.  Our erstwhile hero still feels there is more at risk and gatecrashes a meeting at Bullivant’s house where he catches a glimpse of one of his Scottish pursuers in disguise. Hannay’s adversary is now in possession of material damaging to Britain’s war plans.

Hannay works with British military leaders to discover the significance of Scudder’s phrase – The Thirty Nine-Steps in a bid to save the day.  

Overall verdict – I really liked this one. It felt a bit like a Boys Own adventure and to be honest there’s a place in my reading schedule for books of this type occasionally. One criticism would be that Buchan does seem to rely on some rather unlikely coincidences to help Hannay (and the author?) out of a jam at times. Last minor gripe would be the one of language with references made to “the Jew” and a “Jewish plot.” I wouldn’t dare to tar Buchan with an anti-semite brush, but 100 years after this was written it sits a little bit uncomfortably with me.       

Happily, reading this managed to tick a number of boxes for me.  I have a couple of signed-up for challenges that this meets the criteria for, plus one of my own.

Read Scotland – tick.

Vintage Mystery Challenge - Golden – tick (not quite sure which box on my bingo card I will be ticking just yet)

Espionage Challenge (personal) – tick

In addition, my son’s Christmas present to both my wife and me were tickets to see the West End production of The Thirty-Nine Steps last Saturday, something I will briefly cover in my next post. I managed to read the book before seeing the show, spoilsport that I am.

4 from 5

I do have a paperback copy of this around the house somewhere, but couldn’t locate it, so I got a free version from Amazon UK for my kindle. There are a couple of other Buchan/Hannay books on the site available for nowt, so I now have Greenmantle and Mr Standfast waiting.


Monday 10 February 2014



Leah Flood is on the run. The cops are after her and she has to keep one step ahead. The irony is that Leah is a cop too. But she’s a cop who made a mistake. Leah knows she’s in the right, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the guys who are chasing her. Then somewhere along a lonely road in the middle of nowhere, Leah meets Tess, who is also on the run. Soon the two young women are being tracked by a ruthless killer.

But who is the intended target?

And why?

An edgy thriller that goes on the road, into the unexpected, from bestselling author Garry Disher.

'Disher is brilliant.' Sydney Morning Herald

Two-Way Cut was an e-book I acquired over the Christmas period. It was quite short at about 95 pages long, which was the main reason for reading it now; giving my 2014 Australian Reading Challenge a bit of a kick-start.

We have a cop on the run, pursued we believe by other cops who are somewhat displeased with her. As Leah, our fugitive gets out of town, she encounters Tess and her boyfriend. Coincidentally, Tess and her partner are also fleeing from something and someone.

After a bit of a romp around the countryside, with car-crashes, death, hit-men, a PI and a spot of Bed and Breakfast, we head back to town for the climax – a little bit wiser and having a better understanding of the why’s and wherefore’s, though still with time for a further twist.

The manhunt was interesting as it was initially unclear as to who was after who and why. One of the downsides to pieces this long is the feeling that things are a little bit rushed; perhaps with a longer treatment Disher could have managed to prolong the suspense and build the tension.  

Probably not his best work, but I’ve read an awful lot worse in my time. I was keen to find out what happened and with a fairly sympathetic main character in Leah and a less likeable secondary in Tess it was an enjoyable way to 
spend a couple of hours.

Hopefully I will get to read Disher again this year, with a slightly more satisfying result – either a Wyatt or a Challis series read. Challis has the edge at the minute, because I’ve not yet started this series and I ought to read more “cop” books.

Hard to wholeheartedly recommend as in my opinion this was quite a pricey read, considering its overall length, but on reflection enjoyable enough.

Score 1 for my Australia/New Zealand reading challenge.

Overall verdict  - 3 from 5.

Bought recently on Amazon UK for kindle.





This short novel first appeared in an anthology released by Cemetery Dance publications. Kealan Patrick Burke edited. The main character was to have a brief encounter with a wise old man named Johnny Divine, who lived in a town called "Brimstone Turnpike," the title of the anthology. That character would then to be given one object that would impact the outcome of the story. The writers were free to invent everything else. In award-winning author Harry Shannon's entry, Sam Kenzie is an LAPD cop who can't escape his obsession with a serial killer due to demons of his own. Shannon played by the rules, but his ending is both stunning and disturbing.

"Behold the Child", by Harry Shannon, is the perfect mix of classic Noir and the supernatural. A maverick, burned-out cop haunted by his last city case ignores advice and a "wrong" turn en route to his retirement gig in the isolated desert town of his youth. It's dark, brooding, and reminds us that unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of divine second chances."
-Shroud Magazine

"Master craftsmanship."
-Cemetery Dance

"Shannon is a writer who is never afraid to walk into the shadows and drag the things living there kicking and screaming into the light."
-Brian Keene

"Harry Shannon takes age-old themes and gives them a new and fearsome bite. Vividly realized, his writing is controlled, assured, and filled with the kind of spooky atmosphere that used to make you hide your head under the bedcovers on wind-wracked nights." 
- Tom Piccirilli

I’m not complaining too loudly but this read may just disprove the oft-quoted adage – that the best things in life are free. Never having read Shannon before my interest was aroused when I saw Bill Pronzini’s praise for his book Memorial Day. Hopping over to Amazon to check it out, I saw Behold the Child was available for free download and cheapskate that I am; I pushed the button on it.

Enjoyable up to a point; I was interested in Shannon’s cop McKenzie and his life as an LAPD officer. He was interesting, if not exactly likeable. Obsessed with pursuing a child-killer, McKenzie goes off-script which leads to his eventual departure from the police force. On his way to his new life, he encounters a shaman-cum-mystic-cum-wise-old-black-dude....... at which point I kind of lost interest.

I was fairly gripped until then but I’m not big on supernatural twists. Had Shannon kept the finale rooted in reality, he may have won himself a new fan. My impending purchase of Memorial Day has been put on hold, until further notice.

88 pages long, so not too much time invested in it.

3 from 5 overall

Picked up from Amazon UK, where it is still currently available for free.


Thursday 6 February 2014


When the much vaunted book embargo was discussed at the back end of last year, I kind of had a bit of wriggle room......voucher for birthday (October) ........voucher for Christmas (December)........not willing to discriminate against a non-celebratory month (November.)

So it was fairly clear - 2014 New Year and a new year resolution - firmly resolve to if not desist from adding to the library, at least get more out than in, perhaps rewarding 10 books read and disposed of with a trickle inwards of 1, maybe 2.

Very early on in January, whilst I was researching my Keane genealogy and family history, it became apparent that I am the last surviving member of the Keane branch of the Ming Warrior clan. I hereby claim Chinese heritage, something my affinity for take-away noodles and crispy duck in a hoisin sauce had long led me to suspect.

My great great uncle is middle row, 2nd from the left!

As we all know, us Chinese only just last week celebrated the advent of New Year and the Year of the Horse. My book embargo starts now, I guess, seeing as most of January was actually last year.  

Somewhat belatedly then - Xin Nian Kuai Le ! to you all,

Here's some of what came in.......

Early 90's Yugoslavian disintegration

Nice skull cover! Tracy?

Debut novel

Ex-CIA guy in France
My wife started but discarded this!

Classic car! Great book?

Scottish history! 

New to me author! 

Like the cover!

Keishon's fault!

I blame Tracy!

2nd in a series of 4 from cartoonist author!