Last Book Read...

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  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,221MI6 Agent

    It's a short book, guys. My review might be as long as the text and that'll really annoy @Number24

    ๐Ÿ™‚๐Ÿ™‚

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,746MI6 Agent

    ๐Ÿ˜’๐Ÿ˜ซ๐Ÿ˜–๐Ÿ˜–๐Ÿ˜–

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,925MI6 Agent

    "They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

    Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That demmed [sic] elusive Pimpernel."


    The Scarlet Pimpernel

    Baroness Orczy, 1905

    I've been searching for a copy of this book for ages, as its often cited as the first example of the masked-mystery-man-with-a-secret-identity, thus a prototype of the comic book superhero

    but til now this book itself has proved demmed elusive. This copy I've found is printed 1964, 84th printing! that demmed elusive Pimpernel does get around! but I've finally caught up to him, and now can tell you all about him


    the adventure is set during the French Revolution Reign of Terror, when all aristocrats were rounded up and beheaded. The  Scarlet Pimpernel is a British aristocrat master of disguise who crosses the channel and snatches the victims right out from beneath the guillotine and delivers them to safety in Britain. If this premise sounds familiar, it is also the plot of Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (which has much better action sequences)

    thing is, this Pimpernel is so elusive, he is offstage for most of the book. We catch a glimpse of him at the end of the first chapter, disguised as a tricoteuse*, then for several chapters at the end disguised as a pathetic impoverished Jew (for whom the principles of égalité do not apply in Revolutionary France), and in between in his foppish idiotic secret identity, unsuspected by even his own wife.

    Story is told from the point of view of Marguerite St. Just, cleverest and most beautiful woman in all Europe til the Revolution, now the estranged wife of Sir Percy Blakeney, the foppish and idiotic best friend of the Prince of Wales. They live in a fabulous manor house at the edge of the Thames on the outskirts of London, in separate wings. Marguerite  is being blackmailed by a sinister French diplomat with the life of her brother, still trapped in France, and the cleverest woman in all Europe cannot tell even her own husband, so he suspects her of being a Revolutionary collaborator. After a bit of a row halfway through the book, Percy leaves "on business" in the middle of the night. and Marguerite dares sneak into Percy's private office and finds his secret. Final act takes place on the French coast as Marguerite tries to catch up with her husband and explain all while he is busy rescuing another group of aristocratic refugees.

    despite being credited as a prototype of the superhero genre, this is really more of a Gothic Romance, like Wuthering Heights or Rebecca, with the overemotional heroine creeping round the shadows of the manor house to find her husband's secret.

    ________________________________________________________________________

    *tricoteuse: one of the elderly women who sat by the guillotine everyday watching the beheadings as they did their knitting. a word I learned from a David Bowie album! who here can name the album?

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    The song is Candidate but I couldn’t remember which album it was from so I cheated and looked it up in my album collection. I will leave answer to someone more knowledgeable.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,221MI6 Agent

    Fleming compares Irma Bunt to a tricoteuse. Or was it Rosa Klebb? I'll have to look it up.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,925MI6 Agent

    you are correct @CoolHandBond , that is the song, and I will leave the question open, giving everyone an excuse to listen to their Bowie collections one more time!

    I'll just say the first side of the album is perhaps my favourite album side Bowie ever recorded, it flows by as one big songsuite and climaxes with one of his greatest singles.


    @chrisno1 I'd forgotten Fleming used the word, proving after all these years my knowledge of the Fleming canon is still not as great as my knowledge of the Bowie canon.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,660MI6 Agent
    edited June 2023

    That rang a bell with me too. It was Rosa Klebb who Kronsteen imagined as what the tricoteuses would have looked like. The final chapter, where Bond confronts Rosa Klebb in disguise as an elderly Parisian with poisoned knitting needles is called La Tricoteuse. That's another interesting link between Bond and the French Revolution there. I think I had a thread on that topic once. It's just another example of how learned a writer Ian Fleming truly was. The third tricoteuse in this contemporary painting certainly has a grotesque Rosa Klebb look about her:


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,221MI6 Agent

    @caractacus potts My shame would be not knowing enough Bowie - however I still wasn't bright enough to remember which character Fleming was describing - so thanks to @Silhouette Man ....

    and while I am about it, in the film Klebb is disguised as a hotel maid and Lotte Lenya looks remarkably like her pictured fictional-historical counterparts...

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent
    edited June 2023

    Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

    Five interconnected stories taking place between 1960 and 1999 with the Vietnam war looming in the background over the narrative.

    Low Men in Yellow Coats, the first story, introduces us to three children (Bobby, Carol and Sully-John) whose experiences over the course of summer vacation force them to endure fundamental changes to their nature.

    The remaining stories add other characters while weaving in insights on the main three, showing us where their lives went and their unexpected ongoing connections to one another.

    By the end we circle back to where it all starts, with an emotional reunion suggesting there just may be a little magic in the world.

    Unlike many of King's other works, this book isn't about the scares but is rather a thoughtful tale about friendships made and lost, love found and lost (and maybe found again) and our capacity for kindness and cruelty, often going hand in hand.

    With its many references to King's Dark Tower opus, beautifully realized characters (some of King's best in my opinion) and an emotional ending that got me more than a little misty-eyed, the book just exuded heart and turned out to be one of my favorite Stephen King reads.

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent
    edited July 2023

    Dracula by Bram Stoker

    Solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to a remote castle in Transylvania, tasked with attending to the needs of the mysterious Count Dracula who is in the process of buying an old property in England. The count, having decided to leave his native land in search of greener pastures and fresh blood to consume, leaves Jonathan stranded in his castle and at the mercy of his undead brides. Upon his arrival in England he immediately sets his sights (and fangs) on the innocent Mina and Jonathan's fiancee Lucy.

    I first read Dracula when I was in my late teens and even though I've always been a fan of horror the story did absolutely nothing for me. I found the melding of Victorian melodrama and horror to be an odd union that came across as a badly overacted stage play with absolutely no sense of dread or menace. At my brother's urging I decided to revisit the book and see if it would make a more positive impression on me. Things started well enough with Jonathan's visit to Castle Dracula but once the action shifted back to London I began to remember why I disliked the novel in the first place.

    Some of the situations presented were positively eye-rolling. As an example, we have Mina slowly being corrupted by the evil count. When traditional medicine proves useless in diagnosing her mysterious blood loss and Dr. Van Helsing is consulted, we are subjected again and again to bouts of stupidity that defy logic. From the start Van Helsing is suspicious that something is afoot and it's pretty obvious he knows a vampire is on the prowl. He insists on Mina not being left alone and being watched day and night, until that is, she starts to show signs of improvement from his treatments at which point he is happy to leave her alone and unguarded in her room. The first time this happens we can chalk it off to bad judgment; by the third time it's just plain stupidity and the book is riddled with situations like this. Jonathan watches in horror as Dracula climbs down the wall of his castle like some lizard, only to eventually escape the castle himself by deciding to climb down the very same wall; bonus demerits to Stoker here as he doesn't even document how Harker accomplishes this as when we next see him he is hospital bound with brain fever. We also get subjected to Mina going on and on about how she has three suitors and how much she loves the smell of garlc, Lucy pining for her Jonathan, Van Helsing bemoaning his failures to save Mina to God, on and on and on.

    I know that the story is very much a product of its time but compared to other examples of horror from the period it all seemed almost comical to me. I got about halfway thru the novel, suffering thru a chapter recounting the curious incident of an mysterious, possibly rabid dog, when I decided to quit while I was behind and called it quits.

    Time to return to more familiar ground. I ordered Stephen King's Billy Summers today and look forward to diving into that next week.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    I very much enjoyed that book, and hope you will too!

    (PS The Bride is currently slogging through "Fairy Tale" and finding it hard going. This is after me telling her how much I liked it!)

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,925MI6 Agent
    edited July 2023

    @TonyDP I've never read Dracula, but your description of it sounds much like my impressions of the Scarlet Pimpernal: much more Gothic Romance than the proto-superhero story I was expecting. I had assumed in the case of my book that my expectations came from later works that were influenced by it, whereas the original was maybe more of an evolution from an earlier form. Like a typical Gothic romance with one influential twist that became a genre in itself.

    But I understand there were vampire novels long before Dracula, some of which may more closely resemble the horror films we're used to. So I wonder how Dracula became the defintive vampire story?

    ________________________________

    by the way I see above I posed a question I never answered.

    The David Bowie album that used the word tricoteuse is Diamond Dogs, and as CoolHand correctly stated the song is Candidate


  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    Quick guess- because it was made into a stage play (before movies, of course) and the others weren't?

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,925MI6 Agent

    that certainly makes sense @Barbel , I gather all those turn of the century stageplays were popular source material for the earliest films, even if theyre forgotten now.

    the reason I know there was vampire novels before Dracula is because Ive been watching a few Hammer horrors, so I can be more conversant with you filmbuffs here! and of course I went straight to the ones that sounded most interesting: the early 70s trilogy about lesbian vampires who keep taking their tops off! turns out theyre based on Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. OK thats 26 years earlier, not "long before" like I said above without factchecking, but long enough, Stoker was a latecomer to the genre.

    I would guess maybe Carmilla was less likely to be adapted to early film (or stageplays) because of the lesbian content?

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,221MI6 Agent

    Goes back further than that, look up Dr Polidori. He was present at a "legendary" weekend when Mary Shelly concocted the bones of Frankenstein and he wrote an early version of The Vampyre. Ken Russell made a film about the occasion called Gothic.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Polidori

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    That reminds me of a question which is likely to cause great arguments (and possible fighting!)- who wrote the novel "Frankenstein"?

    No, not Mary Shelley.

    Mary Godwin - she hadn't married Shelley when she wrote it. The first edition was published anonymously, though the second had her by now married name on it.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    That’s something I didn’t know @Barbel

    I had a few editions in my time, probably from the 70’s, but it was never very popular, the Donald F Glut series sold many more copies.


    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent
    edited July 2023

    @Barbel, I've been meaning to get more into King's straight crime drama novels and based on feedback from the Stephen King reddit and other places this seemed like a good one to start with. The hardcover is supposed to arrive Monday, looking forward to diving in that evening.

    I've been trying to get my brother to sample some of King's work for a long time. On a whim he decided to check out a graphic novel I had of The Gunslinger; it didn't go too well and he got bogged down about halfway thru. I'd suggested starting with something a bit more accessible (maybe one of his novellas) but no luck. So I feel your pain.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    And now she's decided to quit ๐Ÿ™ Where, I hear you ask? Charlie is locked in the dungeons. I know, I know- how can she stop there? !

    It's not like she's not read King before. She enjoyed the entire Dark Tower series, among others. Ah well.

    Meanwhile, I've read the first two Gwendy books and am awaiting the third.

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent
    edited July 2023

    Aw man, that's right when it really starts to ramp up. How can she leave poor Radar in limbo like that?

    FWIW I have noticed that Fairy Tale can be pretty divisive even among King's constant readers. I've seen more than a few write it off as boring, especially from readers who are more partial to his earlier stuff.

    I've only recently become familiar with his Gwendy books. I hope to get to those some time down the road. After Billy Summers I'd like to read Insomnia as it's one of the last books with a strong Dark Tower connection that I still haven't read.

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent

    Billy Summers by Stephen King

    Billy is a hired killer and a very good one at that. Trained as a sniper during the Gulf war he now uses his skills to conduct hits, but he will only kill really bad people: murderers, rapists, pedophiles, etc. While mulling retirement he is enticed to take one last job and, is often the case with "last jobs", this one does not go as planned. Not by a longshot.

    Stephen King often likes to make his protagonists writers of some kind and he does the same with Billy. While waiting for his mark to appear, he takes on the guise of a budding writer working on his first book, which he decides will be an autobiography tracing his life from his childhood to his time in Iraq and ultimately his life as a hitman. Against his better judgment he starts to befriend and form relationships his new neighbors and co-workers despite knowing that he will eventually have to leave them all behind when he finally makes his kill.

    Like much of King's more recent work, Billy Summers is something of a slow burn that's more interested in fleshing out the characters and world they inhabit and by the end of the book I really felt like I'd come to know these people and even felt sympathy for Billy despite his profession. The pace is generally slow, even leisurely a lot of the time and some may find it boring though I enjoyed kicking back in my reading chair, turning on my lamp and losing myself in Billy's world. While well written, something happens about 3/4 of the way thru that made me guess at how the story would end and I was a little disappointed when I realized I had guessed correctly.

    The book is a straight up crime drama, without any of King's signature horror or supernatural elements other than some references to a certain location from one of King's earlier books that readers familiar with his work will appreciate.

    Overall another solid, page turner from King. I've been really binging on his works this summer and am already looking forward to what I can sink my teeth into next.

    Oh, and for @Barbel and any other of King's constant readers, just one more thing: F#$%&g Marge!

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent

    Needful Things by Stephen King

    The mysterious Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock and opens up a store where you can buy all sorts of things that seem to be made especially for you, if that is, you can afford to pay. And payment is almost never solely in the form of money. While most of the town is impressed with Gaunt's wares and more than happy to perform his weird, seemingly harmless errands, Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who has seen his fair share of strange stuff in his life, is a bit skeptical and cautious. Needless to say, all is not as it appears to be inside the store called Needful Things and when all is said and done Gaunt and Pangborn will face off in a struggle for the very souls of the town's inhabitants.

    Castle Rock has been the setting of several King stories but with this one, King introduces us to a lot of the town's inhabitants, their wants, needs, petty jealousies, prejudices and even a few pretty dark secrets. If anything, there are almost too many characters to keep track of at times and I think King himself must have realized this at some point as whenever he pivots back around to someone we haven't seen in a while he'll take a moment to remind us who they are and what they do to help the reader keep it all straight. As with many of King's longer works, he takes his time here; nearly the first 2/3 is spend laying out the town and letting us get to know everybody before the real fireworks begin.

    Gaunt is a classic King archetype; it's not a spoiler to say he isn't quite human but his motivations remain vague and even when his plans are revealed, you're never really quite sure exactly why he does what he does. Pangborn, again like many King protagonists, also ends up being more than you might first think, displaying some truly interesting abilities of his own by the time we reach the book's climax, again without any real explanation. The rest of the characters are fleshed out to varying degrees but always enough so that we know their motivations.

    I'd purchased this book years ago but never got around to reading it. As I've been binging on King all summer I was able to pull it off the shelf and get into it quickly. Overall it was another satisfying read and held my attention all the way to the end.

    The summer of Stephen King will continue when my copy of Duma Key arrives next week. In the meantime, if you ever find yourself in a sleepy little out of the way town and come across a quaint little store that seems to have that one thing you've always wanted, just remember that time worn admonition every shopper should heed: Caveat Emptor.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    @TonyDP Needful Things is one of my favourite King novels and with Duma Key you’ve got another great one - enjoy!

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    This film resembles "Needful Things" in several ways. So much so that I could clearly see Peter Cushing as Leland Gaunt while reading the King novel - not that Max Von Sydow was bad at all in the movie version.

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent


    @Barbel, there was also a memorable episode of Rick & Morty that parodied the novel, right down to the name of the store. Of course, Rick had a lot less trouble dealing with "Mr. Needful" than Pangborn. Peter Cushing from his Hammer days would have made a great Leland Gaunt. I've never seen the theatrical adaptation or From Beyond the Grave; going to have to check both of them out.

    @CoolHandBond, looking forward to tearing into Duma Key as soon as it arrives. I've always been partial for hardcovers and actually managed to find a first edition in "like new" condition.

  • 00730073 COPPosts: 985MI6 Agent


    I just had a listen to a podcast called "The Rest is History" by Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, very much recommended. They handle a wide variety of historical topics from Genghis Khan to Monty and Patton and from Decolonising Africa to Victorian holiday travel in an entertaining and not too serious manner. What is relevant here is of course episode 101 (in spotify) "James Bond" where they pretty much destroy Ian Fleming as a fantasist and a reactionary even for his days. Even if I'm not totally onboard with their take on the subject which borders on blasphemy, I still recommend it!

    As for latest books read, I went on a "Tom Marcus" binge this summer reading back to back 3 of his books: "I Spy" (non fiction) "Capture or Kill" (fiction) and "Defend or Die" (fiction). I can recommend the "I Spy" without reservations; I own the previous book " Soldier Spy" and "I Spy" takes the subject a little further. It is an autobiographical take on the life of an MI5 surveillance officer, what they need to do to accomplish their mission and to keep the realm safe. Their targets range from Russian spies to muslim terrorists. The fictional topics on the other hand are in the same literary category as all these other books by former "operators" such as Andy McNabb, Chris Ryan and Bear Grylls (of which I rate BG the worst by far). You have to like the genre to like the books. I do and therefore recommend, but with the afore mentioned caveat.

    "I mean, she almost kills bond...with her ass."
    -Mr Arlington Beech
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    There’s nothing like reading a first edition - I’m not sure what it is, but it just seems special somehow, like you’re the first person reading it, even if it’s an old battered well read edition.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    As well as his Bond books, Anthony Horowitz has also written two Sherlock Holmes novels. I've had the first "The House Of Silk" for a few years, but only recently bought the second "Moriarty" from eBay.

    I haven't read it yet (still working my way through a Stephen King doorstopper) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Horowitz had signed the copy. If I was inclined to complain I'd wish it had been one of his Bond stories, but I'm pleased enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 26,482Chief of Staff

    The House of Silk was excellent…I enjoyed Moriarty too, not as much…but it’s worth a read ๐Ÿ™‚

    YNWA 97
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