Yes, the famine was terrible for the population of Ireland and led to many deaths and much emigration. In fact the population of Ireland went from 8 million to 5 million.
Instead of potato priests we had Potato Pete during World War II:
The "potato priests" were some priests back in the 18th century I think who showed more interest in spreading the gospel of the newfangled potato than in the other gospel.
Yes, I just Googled them. They seem to have been a peculiarly Norwegian phenomenon. I'd never heard of them until now but then I don't know much of the history of Norway apart from the World War II era.
Dangerous Davies - The Last Detective (1976) by Leslie Thomas
I love the books by Leslie Thomas, he is one of the few authors who can make me laugh out loud. Dangerous Davies is a detective constable of low standing in a north London borough. He’s nicknamed “Dangerous” because of the jobs he is assigned to, those of little meaning or very risky that no one else wants, hence the nickname - the last detective.
In this first novel of a series of four, Dangerous is assigned to find a local villain who has returned from overseas. Along the way he solves a 25 year old cold case. He gets into many fights and gets many beatings but he is dogged in his approach and gets his man in the end. The book is full of colourful characters, Mod, the Welsh workshy friend, Mrs. Fulljames, his landlady, and Celia Norris the sister of the missing girl from 25 years earlier, amongst many more.
It was great to reread this after 45 years and I look forward to the other three in due course.
Apparently 2 separate tv series have been made of this, I haven’t seen them but both Bernard Cribbins and Peter Davison don’t seem suitable for the role in my mind. I will have to try and catch up with them to see.
The Ysabel Kid (1962) by JT Edson
Inspired by 007downunder posting about owning the complete collection of 137 books by JT Edson I thought I would revisit his most most famous series, The Floating Outfit. This is the first of 66 novels in that series. It’s set just after the conclusion of the American Civil War and Dusty Fog is entrusted to go below the border on a mission, along the way he teams up with The Ysabel Kid and Mark Counter who both become part of The Floating Outfit.
In the past I have read many of the books but never this first one and I enjoyed it immensely. Dusty Fog is in the Alan Ladd mould, short in stature but a giant as a gunfighter and leader of men. The hardware is explained in great detail and never boring, it’s a good history lesson, and the wild country is evocatively brought to life in Edson’s prose.
I bought this on kindle and will certainly get the next in the series.
George MacDonald Fraser, 1983
by the author of the Flashman series and some movie about an Octopus (which was also 1983)
Extremely silly spoof of pirate movie cliches, like a Harvey Kurtzman or Mel Brooks plot that goes on for 400 pages. Full of anachronisms and cliches and characters who know they're in a certain type of story and are described as the sort of character who would be played by Flynn or Rathbone or Gable. The women characters always have a wardrobe of skin tight costumes nearby and check their makeup in the mirror before making their entrance. One wears stilettoes for a jungle trek.
All very funny but with the deliberate reinforcement of disbelief impossible to care about characters or plot, especially over 400pgs, so it took me a while.
One of the villains to plunges to his death into a pool full of giant man-eating octopi (sorry, octopodes, as the singular is greek not latin) of the type only found in these sorts of movies. Whereas in the actual movie Fraser scripted the same year the only octopus was tiny and didn't eat anybody! How do you have a movie called Octopussy and not include a giant sized man-eating octopus? especially as there was one leftover from another James Bond movie. Fraser must have got his octopodes mixed up when trying to write two stories at the same time.
I'm going to include the cover of the edition I read, just because its sexy. This pirate's name is Sheba. she's the one who wears stilettoes in the rainforest, and that outfit she's modelling is supplied by Gucci.
TRUST ME by T M Logan
Another psychological thriller from the ever popular T M Logan. This time it centres around a childless woman who looks after a baby on a train while the presumed mother goes and makes a phone call. The train stops and she then sees the mother walking away at a station. Opening the baby bag she sees a note saying trust no one, especially the police.
What follows is at first pretty good but it soon transcends intro a series of unlikely events.. The problem with Logan now is that you are expecting the twist ending as in all his novels and this no exception and I had worked it out long before the ending. He needs to do something different in his next one.
I’m obviously obsessive not enough to have the whole set I’ve now been buying the original Corgi editions. Just about got them all so now have many in both Corgi and US editions.
I’m reading A Horse called Mogollon now then onto new Jack Reacher.
Recently I bought Mr American by George McDonald Fraser a great story about a mysterious American going to England in 1910 I’d read it decades ago and a really good read.
Antony Beevor: Crete - the battle and the resistance
Beevor is probably the best known historian writing about WWII today because of his mastery in mixing accurate research, understanding of strategy and colourful anectotes. This book follows the briefly the battle against the German invation in mainland Greece where Peter Fleming (Ian's brother) contributed by blowing up a great number of bridges, the German airborne invasion of Crete, the Cretes resistance backed by the British and the finally allied victory. The invasion from the air in 1941 by the fallshirmjäger and gebirgsjäger could've been thrown back if the British commanders had shown more agression and weren't wrongly convinced most of the invading forces would come from the sea. The Cretes showed plenty of agression and bravery from the start, attacking recently landed German paratroopers using knives and shotguns, then taking captured weapons to fight on.
Then the British forces had to evacuate and the covert resistance started. Again the Cretes were uncredibly brave and patriotic, and unlike on the mainland the resistance wasn't seriously devided by political lines. They were supporter by the British, mostly by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The regional SOE headquarters in Cairo was incompetent, but the Crete part of the operation functioned well. Many of the SOE agents working in Crete were archelogists because they knew the island, language and people from working on the many historical sites there before the war. Many were colourful and most were effective. Perhaps Indiana Jones working for the American OSS (comparable to the SOE) as mentioned in "Chrystal Skull" wasn't unrealistic at all? British military special forces like SBS, LRDG and SAS were also active on the island.
If you're interested in WWII in general you can't go wrong with Antony Beevor. If you're interested in resistance, espionage and special operations too, this is the book for you!
John le Carré: The pigeon tunnel - stories from my life (2017)
This book isn't an autobiography of the great spy novel author. Every chapter is one or more story about a person or a topic such as movie adaptions of his works that didn't happen, people and experiences that inspired his novels and glimpses into his stints in MI5 and MI6. He saw the noen disclosure agreement he signed when working for the intelligence services as being for life. So his espionage stories are interesting, but not very revealing. The longest and the last real chapter is about his father Reggie. He was a charlatan and trickster, a charmer you shouldn't trust. A very honest and revealing chapter. This book is a must for anyone who's interested in the late author and his works.
Shortly before 'The Pigeon Tunnel' was published, Adam Sisman's extensive biography of le Carre was published. I read that although the biography was authorised, le Carre didn't particularly care for the finished product. Not wishing to write an extensive autobiography, he instead put together this memoir that detailed bits of his life. There is definitely overlap between the two and both are well worth reading. le Carre's life was extraordinary and because many literati don't take the theme of espionage seriously, le Carre never received the literary acclaim that he deserved. le Carre was not a spy author, he was an author whose work often took place in the world of spies, something that his literary detractors never quite grasped.
I've been saying for years that genere and popular authors should be given the Nobel prize from time to time, and my examples Are often Astrid Lindgren and John le Carré.
You are correct N24. The same applies to Graham Greene who was not at all an espionage author, but because of a few titles - and his service during the war - is often regarded as such and therefore looked down upon by some.
Cormack McCarthy is another example.
...The longest and the last real chapter is about his father Reggie. He was a charlatan and trickster, a charmer you shouldn't trust. A very honest and revealing chapter....
I didnt know there was such a book and shall look for it, though I am trying to work my way through le Carre chronologically: I like seeing how his style evolves.
His 1986 novel A Perfect Spy, which I reported on here, is an only-slightly fictionalised memoir in the shape of a spy novel, and fully half of it is about the protagonist's father who is basically le Carre's own father by all accounts. The novel suggests the skillset the protagonist unwillingly inherited from his father is what made him a natural-born spy. Previous novel The Little Drummer Girl the heroine Charlie also claimed to have a father with the same characteristics, but it turned out she was a habitual liar herself who believed her own lies. I wonder how many other books these autobiographical details slipped into? I cant imagine being raised by a father like that, poor le Carre.
I've read all of le Carre's books and am a huge admirer. I believe A Perfect Spy was his best, including his early classics. I was so moved by it that I wrote to him as a young teen when I had finished it. Much to my surprise, he replied with a two-page handwritten letter in which he suggested that that book must have been a bit of a tough slog for me but he was so happy that I had enjoyed it.
what an item for your book collection! did he say why he thought this particular book might be a "tough slog"?
He didn't, but I think it's because it was closer to home and a little heavier than his previous (or subsequent) books had been.
THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH by Arthur C. Clarke
I don't really know what I was expecting from this sci-fi novel by the famous Mr Clarke, he of 2001, etc. This is a glum look at a far distant future where the sun has gone nova and the last survivors of the human race have fled to the stars using quantum drive propulsion, heading for inhabitable planets many light years from our solar system. The space craft pauses at an Earth colony which for centuries has developed a humanist and liberal approach to life; the new comers are treated with suspicion and the two societies briefly mingle before the arrivals depart for their new world. Not a lot happens. I was very disappointed with the book which is more of a social commentary than a sci-fi adventure. Action comes via the discovery of a race of enormous pincer wielding lobsters. Clarke hints these creatures will one day challenge humans for domination of the watery world of Thassis, but it seems a narrative oversight to raise the possibility and then dismiss it as an event to occur in the far future, thus eradicating the sole source of suspense. Interesting sums up this book quite well.
THE CHRISTMAS MURDER GAME by Alexandra Benedict
Lily and her family return to her aunt’s house to play a game which will end with the winner inheriting the manor. Murder and mystery prevail as the game takes a sinister turn. Cut off by a snowstorm who is going to survive?
It’s an ok mystery and pretty atmospheric, but not a patch on the genius that was Agatha Christie.
NINE NASTY WORDS, by John McWhorter. Wanna know where all our favorite dirty words come from? Well, now you can find out! This is actually a very scholarly book that will have you turning the pages and laughing your *** off. You'll also find out that in the middle ages in England you could happily sport a name like F**kbutter (I'm thinking his descendants changed that) and in Bristol you could stride down F**kinggrove. I've never been so proud of my potty mouth!
CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI by Carlo Levi (1947)
Part political symbolism, part autobiography, part travelogue, part social-justice pamphlet, Christ Stopped at Eboli is a phenomenally detailed, emotionally pinching, intellectually provocative portrait of a year in the life of Carlo Levi, a doctor and painter exiled to a remote area of southern Italy during the Fascist era. He arrives at the stifling heat and humble crumbling houses of Gagliano, a rural backwater. It is 1935 and the Abyssinian conflict is on the horizon. The peasants have sold their gold for the war effort, killed their goats to avoid paying an incursive tax and are devoid of any worthwhile income. Levi gradually begins to ingratiate himself with the superstitious, subservient peasant classes. The novel – I think it’s easiest to call it a novel – straddles so many topics and conjures so many images and thoughts it’s almost impossible to describe.
Perhaps the scene which most conjures the book’s essence is where a group of strolling players arrive in the village and perform a stylised version of D’Annunzio’s The Light Under the Bushel, a play so well dramatized it reflects the character of the village Levi has been living in:
“The female divinities with their large, empty black eyes and attitudes charged with motionless but passionate intensity… All the rhetoric, affection and pomposity of the tragedy vanished, leaving just what D’Annunzio’s drama should have been: a bare tale of immutable passions against the background of a land that knows no time. At last one of his works seemed to me good and free of sham aesthetics.”
Later the villagers use the Easter Passion Play as an excuse to satirise the local gentry whose positions are appointed dubiously and whose powers are arbitrarily applied. Both scenes suggest that life in these poor, debilitated surroundings is no different than the middle class places Levi came from, with all their squabbles and troubles and passions. These are real people who deserve to be treated as such. The notion of a world forgotten feels genuine and is expressed with the minimum of due fuss.
In fact, Levi must be praised for the sparsity of his prose, which while never bland, also never wavers from its central message: Italy has un underclass of poverty which no one in authority wants to eradicate. Central to the novel’s success commercially was a chapter set in Matera, a neighbouring city, where conditions for the townspeople were no better than prehistoric cave-men. My main purpose for purchasing the novel was to read Levi’s account of Matera, as I’ve been there. The novel’s notoriety and ultimate success was a turning point for the Rome government to attempt to tackle the poverty in the south; not long after its publication, the traditional sassis were cleared and the population moved to new build housing. Curiously, while it is striking, the account is second hand and comes from his sister. She describes the town after visiting it. Levi never goes there.
A very fine book nonetheless, one of the great works of 20th Century Italian literature, and possibly one of the greatest book titles of all-time.
TROPIC OF RUISLIP by Leslie Thomas (1974)
Set in a middle class housing development on the outskirts of London, this is a brilliant look at the life of the residents who habitat the houses and the social divide of some of the council house residents across the railway line that separates them. Thomas captures their lives with great humour. Reading this, almost 50 years on from my first visitation, I loved it just as much as the first time, it has obviously dated somewhat but it is a time capsule of how life was at that time. Sex, snobbery, frustration, a flasher, teenage sexual awakenings, an adult son who is ruled by his mother - all human life is here and observed with a keen eye from a master of the written word.
I have started reading, or rather dipping into, Catch And Kill by the journalist Ronan Farrow, and it's his account of going after now disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein. It reads like a thriller and seems to be excellent stuff, almost putting me in mind of Forsyth's Odessa File. Things get quite sinister as Weinstein arranges for the whole Hollywood and State machinery to go after the young journalist, and Hollywood actresses are reluctant to spill the beans for fear of what may happen to them. It really does have a Watergate feel to it.
THE GREAT ESCAPE by Anton Gill (2002)
I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction but due to the movie of the same name this particular slice of history fascinates me. I read Paul Brickhill’s account when I was a teenager and Gill’s version gives more backstory but is laden with a huge number of names that are difficult to remember at times (maybe it’s my advancing years that makes it difficult, though).
The story is well known, of course, but this book conveys the extraordinary resourcefulness of the prisoners and their ingenuity in trying to get 200 men out of the camp. It is detailed and exciting, and because of the information gained since Brickhill’s book was published, it is the better version.
As promised on the Book Covers thread, I dug out my review of James M. Cain's The Cocktail Waitress, which he started in 1973, but died too soon to finish it. Well, erhm, what can I say? I read and wrote this a couple of years ago.
THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS by James M. Cain (2012)
I’ve always been aware of James M. Cain, chiefly through movies like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, but I’ve never bothered with his books. If this is an example typical of his work, I doubt I’ll bother much again.
The titular cocktail waitress is Joan Medford, recently widowed , under suspicion of her late husband’s demise, broke, desperate for money, and a leggy bosomy blonde. The set up was exactly what I’d expect for dime and dollar paperbacks. The story twisted and turned to places I didn’t expect which did nothing more than drag the prose out for page after dreary page. It was a slow read despite taking only two days and three sittings to consume. The narrative was complicated and yet plugged full of holes from poor police procedure to out-of-the-blue twists with absolutely no hint or expectation of a character’s behaviour. I’m not even going to bother to describe the plot. Suffice to say, Joan wiggles free of the police and of all the men who engage her dubious talents.
Hitchcock could turn this out brilliantly, but it was written too late for Hitch and never published during Cain’s lifetime. He died leaving a draft manuscript and the nominated editor should have left it well alone.
Unimaginative, unexciting, unsexy, unforgivably slow. Don’t bother. An inadequate work.
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
I mentioned the film on the Last Film Seen thread and mentioned the book but this was over a year ago so in some respects I'm not a fast reader! Only the library calling it back got me to the finish line. That's not saying it's a bad book but it lacks urgency for most of it, which maybe the point of it. It concerns a British consul who tries to arrange a flight out of an India province during a revolution for himself and fellow citizens - however the small plane is hijacked and they are held hostage, flown over some time to a remote part of Tibet where the plane crashes.
Quite out of the blue, they are met by a local search party, who take them to a monastery hidden away from the outside world - Shangra-La. This is evocative of Dr No, where Bond and Honey meet their mysterious host, I have to say the Bond films only really did that stuff once. I mean, there's something eerie about the set-up at Crab Key, and they could have done something similar for You Only Live Twice, Golden Gun or even No Time To Die but it doesn't really play out like that, the sense that Bond has entered another realm. You just find yourself thinking, oh, it's a Ken Adam set or, Oh, it's Freddie Mercury again, let's see if he can do some acting.
Hilton also wrote another 1930s classic made into a classic film, Goodbye Mr Chips. Lost Horizon benefited by being the first pocketbook paperback to receive widespread distribution in the US, much like Goldfinger as a film in 1964.
I couldn't find online the excellent cover of the book I picked up at the library - it's the modern edition.
The opening of the book - and film - surely inspired that of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Generally, I prefer the film in many ways. The consul, Conway, has more interesting travelling companions in the film, there are more of them and it plays out more dramatically. One of these includes a sour young woman who it turns out has a terminal illness and relishes the plight of her companions who fear for their lives as the plane is hijaced. However, her new destination plays out well for her. Another is a palaeontologist played by the camp, neurotic character from Astaire films like Top Hat. Conway's impetuous fellow American is in the film I think his younger brother, which also creates a different dynamic and certain loyalties.
Plot twists are ironed out in the film. That said the book is related as a second-hand narrative, unlike the film the story is related secondhand, between two old school friends who meet up and discuss their esteemed alumni. So any plot holes can sort of be accounted to that, also the book opts for a sense of all-round mystery along the lines of 'Did this really happen?' a bit like a JFK-style conspiracy, where inconsistencies only add to the tension and mystery.
Much of the book is devoid of too much drama and concentrates less on Conway's companions, who are lightly drawn, and more on his own character, as if fetishising him. I think the book has to be seen in the context of the early 1930s and the hangover of the Second World War, so Conway's diffident, detached approach to life might appeal to those veterans who suffered shell shock from the war, he puts the whole thing in a more dignified light. The lack of dramatic tension also works to reflect the new, remote location in which they find themselves, and its effect on the nerves. That wouldn't work so well for a film.
For all that, the film had amazing production values for its time.
good report @Napoleon Plural !
I never read Lost Horizon, but I understand it to be a variation on the "Lost World" genre usually attributed to H Rider Haggards King Solomon's Mines (1885). Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote books in this genre. why Lost Horizon is better known today I don't know, maybe because it has political philosophical implications? Whereas Haggard was Imperialist era fantasy and may be considered out of date.
You mention Indiana Jones and that was definitely influenced by Haggard. And I've long thought the Crab Key content in Dr No was similar to Haggard (and theres all those superstitious locals on the mainland warning Bond about the Dragon). I'm not sure if Fleming read Haggard but I suspect so. You Only Live Twice also has that vibe where Bond travels to a land where the rules of civilization dont apply and magic rules. So the films successfully replicated that vibe in their first entry, but I think were committed to the more sci-fi aesthetic by You Only Live Twice. but even though the films change the emphasis, I think part of the appeal of the Villains Headquarters finale comes from that Haggard-ly feel that the hero has crossed a geographic boundary where outside rules no longer apply and its all weird and threatening.
I'm also wondering: did Haggard really create the genre? wikipedia and other sources claim he did, but surely some of Jules Verne's stuff also has educated western folk finding unknown worlds, if not civilizations. and ancient stories going back the the Odyssey are prototypical, even the journals of Marco Polo would be a nonfiction prototype. but Haggard wrote at a time when Britain ruled half the world yet much of it was still unexplored, and there was a literate market back home whose imagination was stirred by all those blank spots on the map, that may be why he was so successful a new literary genre was attributed to him.
anyway now youve reminded me i to should read Lost Horizon because I like this sort of stuff
Last book I read was truthfully an audiobook. In fact, that is the only way I ‘read’ these days. So it is safe to say that if I use the term ‘read’ in reference to a book you can assume it is an audiobook. Ha!
Orphan X was the last one I read. I’m about to start the second one today. But the BEST book I’ve read lately is The Storyteller by Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. It was AMAZING! He reads it. He has a great voice. It is well worth the listen.
Lost Horizon contains what I believe to be the best opening sentence in any book ever published. It evocatively sets the scene for the tale to be told…
Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who meet again as men and find themselves with less in common than they used to think . . .
When they first see Shangri-La…
A group of coloured pavilions clung to the mountainside with none of the grim deliberation of a Rhineland castle, but rather with the chance delicacy of flower-petals impaled upon a crag. It was superb and exquisite . . . the feeling was only momentary, and soon merged in the deeper sensation, half mystical, half visual, of having reached at last some place that was an end,
Books, like films, are very personal, no one can be expect everyone to like what they like, but for me this book is a beautiful experience and I never tire of reading it.
I would love a proper TV adaption over 6 episodes by Amazon. If they want a producer, I’m here 😁