Monday, July 16, 2018

july 2018 books…

Virginia Woolf (Mary Ann Caws): Caws is a Professor of English, French and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York and this biography examines the career and private life of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). The book contains numerous photographs and illustrations from Woolf’s life and friendships – in particular her happy marriage to Leonard Woolf, the Bloomsbury Group, the house at Charleston and establishing the Hogarth Press (with Leonard). She was considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors (and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device). I’ve only read three of her books (‘To The Lighthouse’, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘The Waves’), but came to find that each of them had a haunting, rather beautiful quality. Woolf was an important part of London's literary and artistic society in the inter-war years. She suffered three mental breakdowns (before she was 32) and was dogged by severe depression throughout her life. She committed suicide (by drowning) at the age of 59. Maggie Gee (Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University) describes her thus: “She is my hero for two reasons: because she a genius, and because she was very brave, both in life and in her work”… which seems entirely appropriate.
‘Tiger’ Smith Of Warwickshire And England (EJ Smith): Another second-hand book from Taunton cricket bookshop. ‘Tiger’ Smith (1886-1979) was a notorious wicket-keeper for my ‘home county’ of Warwickshire. Although his playing career ended in 1930, he became an umpire, then Warwickshire cricket coach (until 1951) and continued to supervise the local indoor cricket school right up until the early 1970s (I remember my grandfather Fred talking about ‘Tiger’). Published posthumously in 1981, Smith’s autobiography (“as told to journalist/sports writer Patrick Murphy”) is certainly not a literary masterpiece, but it does provide a fascinating insight into some of the game’s characters (Smith himself was renowned for his ‘gruffness’ – “he was no paper tiger”!). A good read for old cricket fogeys like me!
Redeeming Capitalism (Kenneth J Barnes): Written by my great friend, this is a truly fascinating, well-researched, intelligent book (and it’s very readable too). It deals with a highly complex subject in a way which is both comprehensible and hugely thought-provoking.  The book begins with the spectacular collapse of the New York investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008 (28,000 employees and nearly $700billion of managed assets). It outlines the financial mess the bank got itself into and describes the cheating, immoral ways in which it tried to cover its tracks. It also reminds us that, despite the catalogue of errors and deceptions, none of the senior executives of Lehman Brothers went to gaol or even faced criminal charges – because the prosecutors concluded that they hadn’t actually broken the law! As Ken puts it: “the motive for deception was strong, not because the penalty for failure was severe… but because the financial reward for success was extreme”. But, hey, I’ve blogged separately about it, so I’m not going to repeat myself!
Skating To Antarctica (Jenny Diski): Diski has previously published six novels (none of which I’ve read), but this is her only non-fiction book (she died in 2016). It’s a cross between a memoir and a travelogue of a journey. On a whim, she decides she’d like to go to Antarctica (to experience an “boundless, empty white world” that would remind her of the time spent in a psychiatric hospital – white sheets and white walls) and the book recounts her observations on the natural world (including birdlife, elephant seals and penguins), explorers and her travelling companions alongside part-recollections of her difficult childhood (including being taught to ice skate from a very early age!). Her father and mother had a very stormy relationship - her father left when she was 11 and her mother was a dysfunctional parent who suffered mental breakdown and chronic depression. Diski spent much of her own youth in a psychiatric hospital – either as an in- or out-patient. She last saw her mother in 1966 (when Diski was 19). I have to say that, although I thought it was a fascinating (and, sometimes, very depressing) story, I really struggled to ‘get into it’ for the first half of the book.
In Relation (James Russell): This is the book that accompanies the RWA exhibition of the same name. It features nine couples who “transformed modern British art”: Laura Knight+Harold Knight; Ernest Procter+Dod Procter; Vanessa Bell+Duncan Grant; Phyllis Barron+Dorothy Larcher; Ben Nicholson+Barbara Hepworth; Eric Ravilious+Tirzah Garwood; Robert Colquhoun+Robert MacBryde; Mary Fedden+Julian Trevelyan; and Roger Hilton+Rose Hilton… all ‘ artist couples’ and all pivotal in their way. I knew the work of most of the 18 artists but, through seeing the exhibition and reading the book, realised just how LITTLE I knew about the lives (and work, to some extent) of some of the artists (ie. Ernest Procter, Phyllis Barron, Dorothy Larcher, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Rose Hilton). A fascinating book (and exhibition) and it’s certainly made me want to learn more, particularly for example, of Julian Trevelyan’s work.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

marching against trump…

They reckon a quarter of a million people were in London yesterday in protest against virtually everything the US president stands for and says (and there were lots of other marches around the country, including Bristol). The protesters were happy, peaceful, dignified, colourful, noisy… and DETERMINED to demonstrate to Mr Trump and the world (as if he would take any notice!) that the UK does NOT love him.
Indeed, we don’t!

Inevitably, today’s newspapers are all about Trump. I suspect that most will convey a similar message to our Guardian newspaper, so (perhaps for the benefit of my American friends?) here are just a couple of brief extracts to give you a flavour:
“The British government did its absolute best – given that the streets of the cities were full of protesters – to lay on a glittering welcome for Mr Trump this week. Blenheim, Sandhurst, Chequers, Windsor – you don’t get much more in the way of British establishment red carpet than that. But this reckoned without the Trump character and, more sinisterly, the Trump political project. The president undermined Mrs May before he even left America. He bullied and lied at the Nato summit in Brussels. He then gave an explosive and deliberately destabilising interview to Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Sun’ on the very day of his arrival in Britain…
This guaranteed that Friday’s press conference at Chequers would be purgatorial for Mrs May and maybe even a little chastening for the president and his team. And so it proved, in spite of what had clearly been the private reading of the diplomatic equivalent of the Riot Act to Mr Trump. But it was not just the rudeness that mattered – though rudeness does matter, a lot, both in personal and in public things. It was the political impact and consequence. That unmistakable consequence is that Mr Trump’s America can no longer be regarded with certainty as a reliable ally for European nations committed to the defence of liberal democracy. That is an epochal change for Britain and for Europe…
A president who supported the Atlantic alliance, the stability of Europe and liberal democratic values – in short, every other US president of the postwar era… would have tried to help, would have seen the EU-UK problem as one that needed solving, and would have used his influence to get America’s European allies to find a shared way forward after Brexit. Such a president would have been doing the right thing. But Mr Trump is not such a president. He is not our ally. He is hostile to our interests and values. He may even, if this goes on, become a material threat…
This week he deliberately inflamed the politics of Europe and of Britain” (Guardian Editorial 14 July).

“This was a far cry from Bill Clinton strolling through Hyde Park during his presidential swansong or Barack Obama dropping in on a primary school in Newport. For Trump, making his first visit to the UK as president, there was no park and no school, no 10 Downing Street, no Houses of Parliament and no Buckingham Palace. Nor was this the state visit that May had promised when she dashed to Washington shortly after Trump took office. The tens of thousands of people marching in the streets of London might have had something to do with it” (David Smith, The Guardian).
Rest assured American friends, there’s never been such UK press comment (and there will have been other similar comments in other newspapers today, I assure you) about ANY president in my entire lifetime!

In order to avoid a transport nightmare on the day itself, I’d travelled up to London the night before and stayed over in Bromley – thanks to my good friend Becki’s kind hospitality. It meant that I was able to get into central London quite early (and seeing the ‘baby trump’ inflatable in Parliament Square as a bonus!). I relaxed over coffee on the Southbank and the sun was shining… so I decided to make my way slowly across town to Portland Place (immediately adjacent the BBC’s Broadcasting House). Initially, I’d planned to take part in the main march (from Portland Place to Trafalgar Square - which was due to start at 2pm) but ended up walking with the Women’s March (Portland Place to Parliament Square – starting at noon) because, when I first arrived just after 11am, there were already crowds gathering. By an absolute fluke, I also met up with my great friends Diane and Steve Eyre, and so we were able to march together (what a very special bonus that was!).
Predictably (I’ve been on a fair few demonstrations in the past, so I know!), I didn’t actually need to have made my own placard – there were literally hundreds provided at street corner pick-ups. But, I’m glad I did… it was MY statement (although I could have added lots of other adjectives describing my opinion of Mr Trump!)… and it provoked lots of positive comment and endorsement.
Of course, we all knew that Trump was avoiding London like the plague… but it didn’t matter. Was it worth making the journey to the UK capital for a few hours “just to take part in a political demonstration” that was unlikely(!) to bring a change of heart to this so-called leader of the western world? Yes, absolutely. And, whatsmore, I felt that I was also there representing dozens of family members and friends who weren’t able to make the trip (one of the bonuses of retirement)… and, indeed, in solidarity with my friends from the USA.
Small voices against the extremes of political power… a token gesture? Well, maybe. But actually, I think it wasn’t just a message for Mr Trump… it was message to politicians/political parties throughout the world and, IN PARTICULAR, a message to our own politicians and parties here in the UK.

Monday, July 09, 2018

redeeming capitalism...

My great friend, Ken Barnes (he’s an ordained minister who has conducted business on six continents as a senior executive; he also holds the Mockler-Phillips Chair in Workplace Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston, USA), has written a remarkable book which explores the history and workings of capitalism in a business world that, these days, frequently seems devoid of any core principles or ethical constraints.
It’s a truly fascinating, well-researched, intelligent book (and it’s very readable too). It deals with a highly complex subject in a way which is both comprehensible and hugely thought-provoking.  The book begins with the spectacular collapse of the New York investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008 (28,000 employees and nearly $700billion of managed assets). It outlines the financial mess the bank got itself into and describes the cheating, immoral ways in which it tried to cover its tracks. It also reminds us that, despite the catalogue of errors and deceptions, none of the senior executives of Lehman Brothers went to gaol or even faced criminal charges – because the prosecutors concluded that they hadn’t actually broken the law! As Ken puts it: “the motive for deception was strong, not because the penalty for failure was severe… but because the financial reward for success was extreme”.
Ken goes on to list several other instances of individual and corporate fraud and financial deception. He also provides an enlightening mini-history of economics and capitalism – taking in the likes of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Max Weber – before moving on to ‘postmodern capitalism’ (which he described as “capitalism that is devoid of a moral compass and resistant, if not impervious to ethical restraint”).
I found myself constantly scribbling in the margins or highlighting fact after fact (not something I usually do with books, believe me) – SO many snippets of information and detail eg. growing wage gap between corporate CEOs and the people who work for them; 1% of Americans today have an annual income 38 times greater than 90% of their fellow Americans; 78% of the US economy is now in the service sector, including financial services; (I could go on for several pages like this!).

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his background at Gordon-Conwell , Ken is a great advocate for the need for a different kind of capitalism to emerge – one that begins to change the social, political, ethical AND religious drivers that have formed our economic system from the onset. He calls this “virtuous capitalism” and puts forward a compelling argument which re-imagines capitalism within a faith-based ethic. He maintains that “there lies in every breast of every human being a shrouded yet indelible knowledge of God and both an ability and a desire to reflect the goodness of God, which explains the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in the world (84%) still profess faith in God”. Although, as a Christian myself, I love the concept of “virtuous capitalism”, I’m afraid that I don’t quite share Ken’s optimism in people’s spiritual attitudes. Indeed (and I know one can quote research paper after research paper), a recent survey that indicates that more than half the population here in the UK has “no religion”.
Nevertheless, I absolutely DO agree with Ken that it is entirely possible to build a business ethic that is universally applicable and which incorporates such features as morality, mission, common good, openness, trust, fairness, thrift and mutuality (I think my own architectural practice was built on such a platform). There needs to be a change away from greedy, uncaring corporations towards business such as Danish company Novo Nordisk (where the CEO is paid a fraction of what similar ranked executives would make in the US; where the accounting focus incorporates environmental and social concerns; where economic performance is measured a 20-25 year view in mind).
There are far too many aspects of the book that I COULD refer to (eg. The Occupy Movement; the theology of wealth; tax avoidance; United Global Compact/the Religious Freedom+Business Foundation; the third world; world politics; rich and poor etc etc)… but you really do need to read this book for yourself!

Nearly two years ago, I read an equally fascinating book on capitalism by Paul Mason, entitled “Postcapitalism”… and, although written from very different perspectives and backgrounds, there are lots of similarities – even if their respective ‘solutions’ were fundamentally different. Much food for thought!
One of the passages in Ken’s book related to what he called “The Geography of Virtuous Capitalism”, namely: “Economics is indeed a global concern, and not just in our current postmodern context, but in all future contexts as well. The resistance of nationalists and those who gnash their teeth over the corruption and inefficiencies of both corporate and government pan-national organisations notwithstanding, railing against globilisation is akin to howling at the moon. The world is small and through interconnectedness getting smaller every day. The challenge facing our economies, political structures, and environment are becoming ever more complex and intertwined. To become a force for good in the world, virtuous capitalism cannot be based on a beggar my neighbour mentality or the weaponisation of economic policies designed to give one country an advantage over others. It must be based on a think-globally-act-locally mentality and an ethos of shared responsibility for each other and for the planet we call home”.

This struck a chord with me very locally (although perhaps not quite in the way Ken envisaged). Here in Bristol, we’ve taken an initiative to introduce what we call the ‘Bristol Pound’. It was introduced in 2012 and we have our own printed money (and it’s also accessible digitally via smart phones) to trade in Bristol, localising supply chains and keeping money circulating in our city. It’s a movement, an idea, a hope, a better way of doing money… and it works! Two years ago (this is just one example), an enlightened developer decided to construct a scheme next to the harbourside (Wapping Wharf/Gaol Ferry Steps) consisting of a mixed-use scheme of apartments and cafés/bars/shops/restaurants. The developer took great care to select those he felt would complement each other and, crucially, ensure that they were all independent, local businesses. It’s been a phenomenal success… it’s become the go-to place in Bristol (and many of the traders have also opted to use Bristol Pounds). The traders are happy and the developer plays his part by ensuring that the area is kept clean and that the development continues to ‘look the business’ (the scheme won a prestigious heritage design award last year). As a result, a real sense of community has developed – the traders all know each other and seem to get on wonderfully well. So, on the back of this success, the developer put forward ideas for further shops, a yoga/massage unit and other eating places – housed in converted shipping container units. Again, the result has been wonderfully successful… and the sense of community has continued to develop. The developer is now seeking permission to build a number of small, independent office/studio units (plus café/bar) at the opposite end of the site (again using converted shipping containers) – a hotel is planned within the heart of the development on the site of the old gaol. In normal circumstances, the developer might have struggled to obtain permission for this latest proposal but, because he has a) now developed a very successful track record, b) prospective occupiers are keen to be associated with a development which they know will enhance the area and its community and c) has the firm support from people who use the facilities, I have absolutely no doubt that this latest phase of the scheme will prove equally successful. Relatively small beginnings; a determination to do things as well as possible (from design, environmental and organisational perspectives); being prepared to engage with end-users AND the local community; the city council is delighted by its success (which ‘rubs off’ on them, so they look good too!)… Think globally, act locally? A model for the future perhaps… on a VERY small scale?

Returning to the book, I have to say I was both encouraged and delighted by what it had to say and how it said it. I’m one of those people who have really struggled to come to terms with the implications of the 2008 financial crisis (and beyond!). I’m not easily reconciled about such matters, and yet, I finished this book feeling hopeful and even optimistic(!) that redeeming capitalism IS possible – given time, commitment, faith, perseverance, a sense of serving the common good and an acceptance of the need to engage with fellow stakeholders.
I think it’s a brilliant book and, even though you might not think so, one that you should definitely read.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

the elephant man...

Somewhat unusually, Moira and I went along to the Old Vic this afternoon to sample director Lee Lyford’s take on Bernard Pomerance’s award-winning play (and we only paid £10 each for our tickets, thanks to a group booking!).The play is based upon the life of Joseph Merrick (1862-90). In 1886, the chairman of London Hospital wrote to the editor of The Times and told of a hugely disfigured 27 year-old man who was reduced to living in a small, isolated attic room at the hospital due to his “terrible deformity” (you may have seen the film, with John Hurt?… I haven’t)… enlarged limbs, lumpy skin and impaired speech. The letter resulted in public donations which, essentially, funded his hospital stay until his death. The play does NOT feature an actor with grotesque make-up in order to replicate the original Joseph Merrick. Instead, they have opted to use an actor (the brilliant Jamie Beddard) who has Cerebral  Palsy – which effectively restricts him to a wheelchair and renders his voice difficult to understand (the play effectively uses sub-titles that appear above the stage)... and yet, his performance in the role is breathtakingly rather beautiful.

In Victorian times, Merrick was seen as ‘freak show’ exhibit. Today that just seems shocking, unacceptable and barbaric. Once properly hospitalised, Merrick received financial support from the wealthy and those who went to great lengths to demonstrate to all and sundry what ‘fine citizens’ they were to support such ‘causes’. In the play, Merrick’s character (as portrayed by Beddard) makes the audience think about how we marginalise people in society today – not necessarily on purpose, but sometimes subtly and without direct intention. As director Lee Lyford indicated in the programme: “I think a lot of the time we’re all quite frightened about getting it wrong, but it’s all about asking questions and breaking down the barriers to inclusion”.
There were times in the play when I thought they were just trying too hard to emanate the ‘feel’ of the Victorian era (the stripped-back, yet traditional, staging; the quite stilted dialogue; the ‘intertitles’ music hall references of the late 19th/early 20th century silent films etc etc) but, overall, I thought the play worked very well.

It’s a powerful, thought-provoking piece of theatre which, in these austere times (which are particularly affecting disabled people) and the NHS's 70th birthday, it comes as a timely reminder that we should be thinking of the ‘common good’ and not to simply allow privilege to thrive.

Monday, July 02, 2018

june-july 2018 books...

The Lewis Man (Peter May): Having thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the ‘Lewis Trilogy’, I immediately continued with the second (and read it in less than two days). Quite brilliant… clever, tense, thought-provoking and even quite profound. Felt totally exhausted by the end of it (in a good way). He’s definitely my kind of writer… more will follow!
The Character Of Cricket (Tim Heald): It was very tempting to continue with Lewis Trilogy book 3 immediately after book 2, but I decided that I needed a brief breathing space. I bought this book for 50p at Taunton cricket ground… published in 1987, it’s a rather gentle, nostalgic reflection on the pleasures of the English cricket season. However, it’s a little different to the usual cricket book in that Heald decides to visit various cricket grounds (26 in all) around the country – taking in obscure village pitches to the grandeur of Lord’s – and reporting on his experiences (including such observations as his journey from the railway stations to grounds, the local tandoori restaurant or church, the architecture of the various cricket pavilions and grandstands, his conversations with programme sellers, groundsmen, club secretaries and ancient supporters). All gentle stuff (and frequently very amusing), but fascinating from the perspective of an aged cricket-lover like me! Despite our different backgrounds - Heald (listed as a ‘journalist’ and writer of mystery novels in Wikipedia – although I’d not come across him before) hailed from a middle-class, prep school/public school, Balliol College, Oxford – he was only five years older than me and so many of his cricketing recollections echoed my own childhood memories. An integral part of the book’s charm were the beautiful, quirky, distinctive illustrations of Paul Cox.
The Chess Men (Peter May): Wow. Just brilliant (and, again, finished within a couple of days)! Poignant, compassionate, brutal, intriguing… and a bit of a thriller. So impressed. Intelligent, tightly plotted and with believable characters… and all set against rugged landscapes of the Western Isles. Trouble is that it’s left me feeling somewhat bereft and in mourning – that was the last in the trilogy. The only option is to search for his other books (eg. Enzo Files and China Thrillers).
The Diary Of A Bookseller (Shaun Bythell): Our friend Alan lent us this book and it’s an absolute delight. It will almost certainly feature as one of my top five books of the year. It’s exactly what the title suggests… it’s a bookseller’s diary. Bythell owns and runs ‘The Bookshop in Wigtown (it’s Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop) and he writes candidly (and disparagingly!) about his customers and about his staff (especially Nicky!). It’s a lovely, lovely book – very funny and yet also beautiful, charming and passionate at the same time. Amazon’s role in book selling is slated and, after reading this book, I’ve decided to persevere with ‘real’ books rather Kindle or whatever… but maybe I’ll get a local second-hand bookseller to cast his/her eye over our list of books – with a view to creating more space on our packed bookshelves for yet more books? I found this book an absolute delight… and I felt VERY empty (almost grieving!) once I’d finished reading it… but, hey, I’ve signed up to their facebook page in order to retain a link.
The Spirit Of Cricket (Christopher Martin-Jenkins): Another purchase (for £1) from the Taunton second-hand bookshop (I love the cover photograph of two captains tossing a coin at the start of a game – both in their team blazers, one immaculately dressed and very ‘dapper’, the other rather overweight and with shabby cricket shoes. It’s a personal anthology encompassing extracts, articles and contributions from a whole host of well-known (and some not so well-known) cricket writer)s and enthusiasts. As one would expect, they include accounts and reminisces of famous matches… but, amongst my favourites, is the more bizarre stuff such as these: Firstly, Wisden (the well-known cricket ‘bible’) apparently includes obituaries of all ‘first class’ cricketers and Martin-Jenkins’s book includes a reference to one individual who gained an entry on the basis of his appearance in a game that, due to bad weather, was curtailed to just two overs… the player didn’t bowl or bat, merely fielded for 12 balls. Secondly, a wonderful tongue-in-cheek essay entitled “The Art of Being Captained” – tips on how to avoid the captain’s eye eg. “how to slip down the batting order when the wicket’s a shade too green; and how to drop catches off the captain’s bowling and still stay in the team”. A rather lovely book for cricket oldies like me!

Friday, June 22, 2018


I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Paul Wright’s “Arcadia” – a study of Britain’s shifting (and contradictory) relationship with the land through 100 years of footage from the British Film Institute’s National Archive. Although I didn’t have huge expectations for the film, it proved to be a mesmerising array of material.
Watching the film, one is VERY aware that this could ONLY be Britain – Morris dancing, fox hunting, horses and hounds, privilege and class, rich and poor, eccentricity, naturism (there were a LOT of people dancing around in the nude!), folk festivals, racism and even paganism… you get the general idea.
The film began with a series of black and white chocolate box images (plough fields, scenic villages, children dancing around the Maypole and the like)(Brexiteers would hail it as their model for the Britain of the future!), but soon moved on to encompass so many different aspects of rural Britain – the beauty, brutality, conflict, magic and madness – and, in particular, how we as a nation seemed to have largely lost our connection with nature and turned our backs on the environment.
It’s really very much a montage of archive clips - accompanied by some rather wonderful music from Anne Briggs, Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp). But, actually, it’s much more than that – I found it quite compelling (and somewhat sobering).
I need to see it again!

Friday, June 15, 2018

may-june 2018 books...

Visiting The Minotaur (Claire Williamson): Claire is a friend of our daughter Ruth and this book of poetry is the second book of hers that I’ve read (the previous one was ‘Soulwater Pool’). I really like her writing style and found myself reading every single poem out loud (to myself!). These poems explore emotionally raw subjects such as the suicide of a mother and brother; the nature of grief; issues from her own childhood… but also about raising her own children, about culture and about friendships. I’d have loved to have had some of the background to a few of the poems but, nevertheless, her words are powerful and engaging enough to speak for themselves… with the bull as a recurring motif. A beautiful, lyrical book.
Bring Up The Bodies (Hilary Mantel): To be truthful, I’m not normally a great lover of historical fiction, but I was rather blown away by this book. As you are probably already aware, it tells the story of Henry VIII’s “darkly glittering court” (to quote the book’s cover) from the perceived viewpoint of chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, at the time when rumours abounded of Anne Boleyn’s faithlessness and when the king had become captivated by Jane Seymour. Mantel’s ability to combine her eye for detail with well-researched historical context is remarkable… but she also has the incredible talent of being a brilliant story-teller and to make the reader feel we are part of each the lives of the book’s characters. Mantel is an extraordinary writer. I’ll now definitely have to read Wolf Hall (belatedly)!
La’s Orchestra Saves The World (Alexander McCall Smith): I do like McCall Smith as an author… he seems to be able to write in an almost effortless way. This novel, set on the eve of WW2, tells of a lonely, young widow who decides to bring villagers and men from the local Suffolk airbase together by forming an amateur orchestra (there’s also a love link to a Polish refugee). It’s a very easy read (I finished it in a day), but I found it all just a little too sugar-coated and altogether rather too quintessentially English for my liking (perseverance, patriotism, pots of tea and the power of music will show the way!).
Look To The Lady (Margery Allingham): First published in 1931 (our edition in 1960). More light summer reading (only my second ‘classic crime’ novel by Margery Allingham… and my second featuring ‘detective’ Albert Campion). I have to say I wasn’t very impressed. The first half of the book was intriguing (a well-to-do Suffolk family had guarded an irreplaceable chalice for hundreds of years on behalf of the crown; a band of devious criminals were attempting to steal it; Campion rescues the son of the well-to-do family from the streets of London…), but then, for me, it just descended into a rather silly and ridiculous farce (involving a crazy witch amongst other things). Despite some occasional clever and genuinely amusing passages, I thought the story petered out extremely disappointingly.
The Blackhouse (Peter May): I’d previously read (and very much enjoyed) two Peter May books and had subsequently received encouragement from various friends that I should definitely read his Lewis Trilogy of novels… this is book one. Lewis-born detective inspector is sent from Edinburgh to investigate a murder… old skeletons begin to surface. There’s something about crime mysteries and Scottish islands that appeals to me (eg. ‘Shetland’ tv series based on Anne Cleeves’ books)… baffling misdeeds in hauntingly beautiful, isolated places? Whatever it is, this book certainly delivered… something of a crime ‘thriller’, fascinating characters and a clever, intriguing storyline (with 100 pages to go, I couldn’t imagine how all – well, most – of the loose ends could be tied up). Can’t wait to read the second book.