Last Book Read...



  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 17,544MI6 Agent
    "Past tense" by Lee Child

    This is of course a Jack Reacher novel. The story s unusual in two ways. A lot of Reacher's story line is him researching his family history, mainly by finding the place his father grew up and learning about him.
    The second story line is about a Canadian couple who end up in a remote motell where "you can check out but never leave". The two stories don't intersect for a long time and I'd say the plot is a slow burner.
    But I think this works fairly well and the final confrontation is one of the better in the series.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    edited January 26
    The Valley of Fear
    A. Conan Doyle, 1915
    the fourth Sherlock Holmes novel
    I'm skipping past the four books in between because I just reread them a couple of years ago.

    This was written a decade after Doyle's previous Holmes book, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in which the world's greatest detective got better. That's as long as Holmes was missing presumed dead!
    Like Hound of the Baskervilles, this one is set before the misadventure at Reichenbach Falls. It even retcons Moriarty into that earlier time period, although he is not seen and only mentioned by Holmes at the beginning and the end as being the probable big baddy behind all the other baddies.

    Novel is structured almost exactly like A Study in Scarlet, with the first seven chapters being Holmes' investigation of a murder, and the final seven chapters being a third person flashback revealing the "why" of the murder, after Holmes has deduced the "how".
    I gotta brag here: as soon as I saw the corpse was found in a sprawling Jacobean manor house built on top of foundations dating back to the Crusades, and that the victim's face was blown clean off by a shotgun blast and was identified by jewelry and a tattoo, I guessed the solution about five chapters before the world's greatest detective. (perhaps by 1915, Doyle's interest in constructing a challenging mystery was slipping?)

    The second half is actually very similar, in broad brushstrokes, to A Study in Scarlet: a stranger arrives in a remote town in 19th century rural America, a closed community with its own strange system of justice, there is argument over a woman, and death decrees, then decades long pursuit across the continent and then the Atlantic. In this case the closed society is a mining town, and the unelected ruling authority decreeing death is a union boss/secret society leader. Doyle got in trouble for what he said about Mormons in his first book, I wonder if he also got in trouble for slandering organised labour?

    Moriarty content is grafted onto a plot that does not need it.
    I gotta wonder about Moriarty: Holmes insisting there is an unseen big baddy behind all the evil in England seems a little paranoid for a character who is meant to be the embodiment of reason.
    Moriarty made a good instant opponent for a story in which Doyle aimed to kill Holmes off, but that story was otherwise uncharacteristic of the Holmes formula.
    But then returning to such a character twenty years later, is Doyle no longer interested in narrative as a demonstration of pure reason? I gather he was now more interested in psychic phenomena and fairies and Atlantis and such, getting a bit superstitious in his later years, is that why he is now resorting to a conspiracy theory type character to explain a simple murder in the English countryside?

    EDIT: I see there were six short stories published in the Strand during the decade between this and the previous volume, but not compiled until His Last Bow in 1917.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    THE WRONG SIDE OF THE SKY by Gavin Lyall

    After reading a century of books last year, it's taken me a while to get into the groove again.

    I just finished Gavin Lyall's The Wrong Side of the Sky, the author's debut novel from 1961. Lyall was very popular in the sixties and seventies despite not being the most prolific of writers.

    This tale takes place in Athens, Saxos and Libya and concerns an airline pilot chasing a stolen hoard of jewels. Its fast, humourless and easily digested. Exactly what I'd expect from a Pan Books potboiler.

    Very, very good for that kind of thing.
  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 2,909Quartermasters
    chrisno1 wrote:
    THE WRONG SIDE OF THE SKY by Gavin Lyall

    After reading a century of books last year, it's taken me a while to get into the groove again.

    I just finished Gavin Lyall's The Wrong Side of the Sky, the author's debut novel from 1961. Lyall was very popular in the sixties and seventies despite not being the most prolific of writers.

    This tale takes place in Athens, Saxos and Libya and concerns an airline pilot chasing a stolen hoard of jewels. Its fast, humourless and easily digested. Exactly what I'd expect from a Pan Books potboiler.

    Very, very good for that kind of thing.

    I first heard of Lyall when I read Mike Ripley's excellent book on the golden age of British Thrillers Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (highly recommended for any Fleming fans who are keen to further their exploration of thrillers of the 50s, 60s and early 70s). Lyall sounded like an author that is well worth checking out, and sadly I have yet to read any of his works. I will keep an eye out for The Wrong Side of the Sky in my second-hand book trawling.
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 17,544MI6 Agent
    "Six minutes in May" by Nicolas Shakespeare

    This book is in short about how Britain's ver badly handled war against the German invaders in Norway in 1940 ended Chamberlain's political career and made Churchill the prime minister. I usually don't write about this kind of books here, but there are links to Ian Fleming. Ian is a very minor "character" in this story, but his future boss admiral Godfrey and especially his older brother Peter Fleming play larger parts. Peter is in fact one of the main characters. He and another intelligence officer named Martin Lindsey were the first two British soldiers to set foot in Norway after the German invasjon April 9.
    Their code names were "Flea" (Fleming) and "Louse" (Lindsey). It's astonishing how badly prepared the British were for war in and especially winter war. The first thing the two did in the town of Namsos was buying up all the white cloth they could get their hands on to use for winter camouflage. Sadly ammunition and sights (!) for the heavy weapons and skiis and winter training for the troops couldn't be bought. Later Flea and Louse were involved in many ways. They rigged a bridge with explosives once, and when Peter wasn't able to do the same when they evacuated he wrote a "document" hinting the bridge was mined, burnt some of it and dropped it in the ruins of an office hoping the Germans would find it. Later he was flown to London to brief Churchill personally. At one point Peter Fleming was reported to be killed when Namsos was bombed (Churchill made a verb of it - "Namsosed") and Ian was in tears. Peter had a Norwegian flag from Namsos next to his bed when he died years later.
    Louse (Louse) skipped the line of commando when he returned to Britain and and handed the oposition leader Clement Atlee a secret report he had written about how disasterous and horribly planned the whole Norway campaign had been. That report became central in the upcoming Norway debate that unseated Chamberlain and ironically made Churchill PM.
    I've never read about the war in Norway in 1940 from a British perspective before and I knew little about the decisive Norway debate in the House of Commons. I suspect much of this is new to you too.
    The book us very well written (The author is really a fiction writer) and the story is really exiting.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Another thriller about airline pilots caught up in affairs they really shouldn't be.

    Bill Cary is flying mineral survey sorties over Lapland and short haul errands for paying customers. He isn't earning a grand crust, but he's earning. On a whim he accepts a private commission from the polite to extremes Homer, a holidaying Virginian millionaire out to shoot European black bears. In doing so Cary opens a can of worms which include smuggled gold sovereigns, the British Secret Service, Tsarist treasure, murder, a mercy flight into Soviet Russia, a beautiful bored heiress, blackmailing Russian spies, Nazi escapees and a death hunt through the snows. Bill Cary's final week of the flying season holds more excitement than the whole of his previous ten years flying buckets around the mountains of northern Sweden.

    Lyall packs in plenty of suspense, daring flying, odd ball characters, sexy seductresses (two of them) and even has a fair crack at humour. The lead character's alcohol consumption is once more enough to kill a person's liver. It doesn't stop Cary flying, shooting or f###ing.

    I really enjoyed this. The twists and turns of the intricate plot are cleverly crafted, the reveals are unexpected - minus the last one, which became obvious by elimination - and it all ends in a Casablanca-style conversation between Cary and the British spy Judd, where the two men bury their differences for each other's greater cause.

    A very fine, swift and exciting thriller. I am really enjoying Gavin Lyall.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Still reading Gavin Lyall



    Lewis Cane is an ex-OSE agent doing casual work in France for dodgy businessmen. By chance he meets an old resistance colleague Henri Merlin, now a lawyer to dodgy businessmen, who has a well-paid one-off job offer: to drive wanted dodgy businessman M. Manganhard to Liechtenstein for a vital dodgy business meeting. Cane takes the job and enters into forty-eight hours of trouble.

    Lyall forsakes airplanes for cars in this one. Cane takes his charge and his youthful secretary through northern France accompanied by Harvey Lovell, an ex-CIA agent employed as a gun-for-hire. He needs him because the route is peppered with danger and intrigue and hoodlums galore.

    Midnight Plus One is a strong thriller, with all the basic requirements fulfilled. I enjoyed it. Lyall lacks the golden descriptive touch of some writers. His location descriptions are uniformly ordinary, but he’s good with personalities. The dialogue is crisp and the action swift. The stand out sequences are a roadside car-jacking, a confrontation with a wizened old general with a hidden agenda and a host of hidden accomplices and gunfight along the trenches of a Swiss frontier fortress. The novel lacks humour. It has an old-fashioned attitude towards rape. It has a very poor appreciation of addiction (Lovell is an alcoholic). This maybe because the novel is over fifty years old or it maybe because Lyall isn’t very knowledgeable about sex and drink. His characters are not overly sensual, even the women, who tend to be admirable objects with little character.

    The novel does have drive and energy. The scenario is fine. I enjoyed it. 

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    And another...



    Keith Carr is an ex-Royal Air Force pilot slumming it around the sunny climes of Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the fictitious Republica Libra. He takes a Hollywood film crew on a private jaunt to Santo Bartolomeo, the Republic’s capital, and so embarks on a hair-raising escapade involving gorgeous women, murder, revolution and a dawn bombing raid on an island airport.

    Gavin Lyall was well into his stride by the time he published his fourth novel, but despite the preordained tricks of his trade – the women who plays hard to get, the ex-military pilot, the shady past of all the protagonists, the constant hard drinking, the fist fights – something is missing from this adventure.

    The locations are fine and Lyall gives a nice exotic spin on areas of the Caribbean which were still inaccessible to the majority of his readers. He spends a couple of pages describing the writers’ haunts along Ocho Rios and Oracabessa, where Noel Coward and our old friend Ian Fleming had their houses. He even mentions Golden Eye by name, which is rather cute. Lyall’s spin doesn’t have affection for these places; he treats them with a cynical wonder, a travelogue of names and places and incidents. There’s little love for the sweaty bars, film sets and private airfields his hero vacations in. Even less for the imagined dictate of Republica Libra where the current incumbent General Castillo is under threat from his vice-president, General Bosca, as well as the deposed autocrat General Jimenez.

    Generally [get it?] Carr saunters around with much swagger and takes delight in rubbing all up the wrong way. He has a habit of smoking an unlit pipe which I found both odd and distracting. There is a long cast of characters, some of whom are interesting. J.B., the female solicitor to the stars, and Luiz Monterrey, a character actor with a hidden past, are probably the most interesting. The most ridiculous is Walt Whitmore, macho western star who wants to get involved in a real live revolt. There’s a sudden burst of sexual tension when Juanita Jimenez arrives, but it’s the only burst of tension in a tepid plot which resolves itself carelessly and long-windedly.

    Flying sequences aside – there’s a spectacular dogfight with a MIG jet plane and the bombing raid holds the attention – the story felt a bit flat, as if Lyall was treading water. The characters don’t grab and the incidents are slow to build. I particularly disliked a loaded-dice life-or-death gamble which lacked all suspense as the reader already knows the outcome and is even worse for being such a stupid game for Ned Rafter, one of several nominal villains, to allow himself to become involved with. Here, I feel Lyall’s people should be more verbally persuasive. They do fine earlier on, coaxing each other to assist in Jimenez’s counter-revolution, so why not now?

    A good read, but not as sparkling as Lyall’s first efforts.    

  • GymkataGymkata Minnesota, USAPosts: 2,940MI6 Agent

    @Barbel Hey there! Well, I finally did it...I got some Alistair MacLean novels and I'm working my way through them now. I'm about 2/3 of the way through WHERE EAGLES DARE and enjoying it immensely, although I think the screenplay of the film is actually much better and more concise. Good stuff, though. I think MacLean has rather a tin ear for dialog in the book but he really knows how to set up a situation and describe the action with finesse.

    Current rankings:
    Bond rankings: Lazenby>Moore>Connery>Craig>Brosnan>Dalton
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,801Chief of Staff

    Great! Thought you would enjoy the books.

    Yes, the film tightens up the plot somewhat but they're pretty close. It's a good story either way.

  • Charmed & DangerousCharmed & Dangerous Posts: 7,039MI6 Agent

    Which other Maclean novels did you get, Gymkata?

    "How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."
  • GymkataGymkata Minnesota, USAPosts: 2,940MI6 Agent

    Offhand, I think I grabbed THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, FEAR IS THE KEY, HMS ULYSSES, and ICE STATION ZEBRA. I figure that's a good enough start.

    Current rankings:
    Bond rankings: Lazenby>Moore>Connery>Craig>Brosnan>Dalton
  • Charmed & DangerousCharmed & Dangerous Posts: 7,039MI6 Agent

    Great start! Those are five of the very best. 🍸

    "How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    We should start an Alistair MacLean appreciation thread.

    My favourite is Caravan to Vaccares. Night Without End is exceptionally fine.

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 17,544MI6 Agent

    "The Kingdom" by Jo Nesbø

    This isn't a Harry Hole novel. Instead the story is essentially a story about two brothers who grew up on a mountain farm in southern Norway. The older brother stayed and runs the local petrol station. The other brother returns from studying business in Canada with an exotic girlfriend and a plan to build a hotel that could save the declining community. Unlike the Harry Hole novels this is absolutely not an urban story. Neither is it a detective story. It's more a drama involving crime told from the view point of the older brother. The Kingdom has the great plotting and sharply drawn characters Nesbø is known for. Worth reading if you're a Nesbø fanand would like to see him do something a little bit different.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent

    Lies by T.M. Logan.

    When a teacher sees his wife arguing with the husband of her friend, he then confronts him in a car park and events take place that leaves him questioning if his past life has all been based on lies.

    This is a pretty decent thriller with a twist ending. The sense of paranoia is nicely handled.

    I was sufficiently impressed by it to pick up another of Logan’s books, The Catch, which I’m reading now, which is written in a similar vein, concerning a father who does not trust his all too perfect son-in-law.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent


    The first part is more of a travelogue than the second, which tends to be extended essays on Fleming's opinions about sex, gangsters, gambling and banking.

    The stuff in the Far East offers an insight into how the author utilised his experiences for the pages of YOLT. The characters of Tanaka and Henderson are based on Tiger Saito and Dick Hughes and the early sections of the novel, where Bond tries to acclimatise and assimilate himself with Japanese civil conventions, are based on Fleming's own time spent with these two in Tokyo.

    A fun read. Half-way informative. The 'Incidental Intelligence' sections read as if Fleming copied them from a brochure.

Sign In or Register to comment.