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.