Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

28 Nov

Eric Idle was always my favourite Python. His quick wit and way with words delighted me since I first watched any Monty Python.

His memoirs, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography”, are a delight. Self deprecating in a typically English way, but refreshingly honest and upfront. He doesn’t hide from his mistakes, or blame others, which makes a change from a lot of other celebrity memoirs.

The book is also the history of a song. The wonderful “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” first performed in “Life of Brian”. It has become the number one funeral song in the UK, and if you know the song, it’s easy to understand why. When I was fighting for my own life in hospital earlier this year, some of the words almost became a mantra to me.

I encountered the song before I saw the movie. My first year in high school we had a headmaster who always started the assemblies with a piece of classical music. One day the seventh form decided to sabotage him and swapped out his chosen piece of pompous boredom for “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. My enduring memory of this occasion is the majority of the other teachers trying not to laugh out loud. Few succeeded.

This is a gloriously delicious book. The best memoir I have read this year.

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Lies Sleeping

19 Nov

I have been waiting with fluctuating levels of patience for “Lies Sleeping”, the latest in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, to drop. It was worth the wait.

In “The Hanging Tree” we learned the identity of the rogue wizard known as the Faceless Man whom former PC Lesley May had gone to work for. In “Lies Sleeping” we learn why Lesley defected to the Dark Side, so to speak, and it’s not pretty.

Since learning the identity of the Faceless Man, several things have happened. PC Peter Grant is now DC (Detective Constable), and DC Sahra Guleed is now DS (Detective Sergeant). All the police operations from the previous books have been amalgamated into one operation under the joint heads of Thomas Nightingale and Alexander Seawoll. The task is to find the (former) Faceless Man and stop him. Not an easy task once it becomes apparent that FM has something big, and nasty, planned. Peter has to make an unlikely alliance…with the revenant that started it all way back in book 1 – Mr Punch.

“Lies Sleeping” ties up a lot of loose ends from the earlier books, but not all of them, and it sets the scene for the series to go in new directions. Which, since Ben has said he will be writing Rivers of London until he dies, could be almost anywhere.

We meet some new characters, several of which I hope stick around for further books. And we finally learn once and for all exactly what Molly is.

The sly tips of the hat to popular culture continue. On one page alone is both an Asterix reference AND a Terry Pratchett reference.

I am going to state that this is THE best book I have read all year.

In a House of Lies

12 Nov

“In a House of Lies”, the latest John Rebus novel by Ian Rankin is simply delicious.

A car is found with a skeleton in it. The skeleton of a young man who went missing several years early. Problem is, the car wasn’t there when the police searched the area.

Now the case is being reopened, with Siobhan Clarke and Malcom Fox involved, whilst Rebus flits around the edges making a hairy arsed nuisance of himself. Add a couple of bent coppers and someone stalking Siobhan, and you have a classic, gritty, Ian Rankin novel.

Often as time goes by, a series starts to get stale. There is nothing stale about “In a House of Lies”. It is as fresh and chewy as a good novel can get.

Well written, well balanced and a sheer delight from the first page to the last.

The Poison Bed

22 Oct

In the 17th century, Sir Thomas Overbury dies in the Tower of London. Not an unusual occurence, you might think. This death was a little unusual in that two people were accused of his murder. Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and his wife Lady Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset.

Robert Carr was a “favourite” of King James I. History has never been kind to that king and his predelictions towards good looking young men.

In “The Poison Bed” E. C. (Elizabeth) Fremantle makes an excellent attempt to explain what happened. The result is a book both chilling and thrilling. I found it very hard to put down.  The book is divided into alternating chapters of Robert’s point of view, and then Frances’.

The book is an interesting mix of historical fiction and psychological thriller. Brilliantly executed.

Highly recommended.

The Spotted Dog

8 Oct

“The Spotted Dog is” the much awaited new novel from Kerry Greenwood.

In “The Spotted Dog” Corinna and Daniel have a new case: dognapping. The dog of a retired army veteran has been snatched from him, and he left battered. Someone has broken into the flat of Professor Dionysus Monk. There is a ransomware attack on the cafe. And worse is to come.

I admit to being a little wary as it has been a long time between the last Corinna and this one. I shouldn’t have worried, “The Spotted Dog” is pure Kerry Greenwood snark from page one. I particular liked the exchanged about zebras and the “protective custard”.

All my favourite characters are there.  I would have preferred a little more Meroe, but there was plenty of Jason & Professor Monk to make me happy.

A fun, fabulous read.

Highly recommended.

Queen of the North

7 Oct

Anne O’Brien has written a series of books looking at the lives of lesser known female players in medieval English history.

“Queen of the North” is a novel of Elizabeth Mortimer, wife of Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, and cousin of both Richard II and Henry IV.

It’s marvellous to see people centre stage in a novel that most people seem to ignore.  History tends to focus on the men and women, unless they are Queens, tend to remain in the background.

When you read the Plantagenet family trees in some novels, it’s easy to form the erroneous opinion that the monarchs had few children. In reality, the family trees where large, sprawling, and intertwined.

The book was well written, well researched and entertaining. There is a smidgeon of romance, between Elizabeth and Henry, but not with her second husband. Anne O’Brien is pragmatic about marriage at that time period.

Highly recommended.

Sherlock Holmes: Legacy of Deeds

30 Aug

London 1894: People have been mysteriously poisoned at a Covent Garden art gallery; and a Russian Grand Duke is asking for Holmes to find the murderer of his manservant.

Are these two cases for Holmes… or only one? Add in an apparent suicide at a girl’s school and you have the recipe for an exciting and absorbing Sherlock Holmes mystery.

“Sherlock Holmes: Legacy of Deeds” by Nick Kyme is well plotted and well written, as well as relatively well researched.

Sherlock Holmes is nicely ascerbic, without being too ill-mannered. John Watson has a nice balance of outrage and sass, as well as being a valuable partner to Holmes, not a patsy. A well balanced Holmes/Watson team.

The Scotland Yard inspector involved in this case is Tobias Gregson. Nick Kyme pads Gregson out nicely. He managed to make my least favourite yarder quite likeable. I am hoping he writes more Holmes/Watson/Gregson offerings in the future.

Highly recommended.

Strange Practice

21 Aug

In “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw we meet Dr Greta Helsing, doctor to the supernatural community of London.

Someone has revived an ancient cult that murders supernatural creatures, but now, as well as vampires, they are also turning their attention to anyone they consider evil.

They attack Sir Francis Varney who managed to get to the safety of the home of Lord Ruthven, who immediately calls upon Dr Greta Helsing for aid. From this point, it becames a race to identify and stop the cult before London is destroyed.

Yup, that’s Varney the Vampire of the penny dreadfuls, and Dr John Polidori’s infamous Lord Ruthven. Both are actually rather sweet.

This is a fantastic book. Well plotted and extremely well written. Vivian Shaw has a turn of phrase that is delightful. Her description of vampires as sanguivores is delicious.

There are lots of delightful moments. The notorious case of the Vampire of Croglin Low Hall even gets a mention.

An excellent addition to the range of urban/dark fantasy genre.

Highly recommended.

Twisted Prey

20 Aug

“Twisted Prey” the latest Lucas Davenport novel by John Sandford is more thriller than crime novel, dealing, as it does, with the attempted assassination of a US senator.

So much for the plot. Actually, I can’t say much about the plot without giving too much away. Suffice to say my opening sentence pretty much encapsulates the basics.

The book is actually so slow in the beginning that I almost gave up, but decided to keep going. I’m glad I did. Suddenly the book took off and it was vintage John Sandford.

The character of Letty appears to be going in a disturbing direction.  One that I am not sure that I like.

There were shocks and jolts, then the ending seemed to be dribbling away to nothing, before John Sandford had one last shock up his sleeve.

The result is one hell of a read. Highly recommended.

The Killing Habit

23 Jul

In “The Killing Habit” by Mark Billingham there is someone killing cats in London. DI Tom Thorne from homicide is handed the case, because his superiors fear that what they are dealing with is a serial killer in training.

Meanwhile, DI Nicole Tanner, now with homicide and recovering from the traumas of the previous book, is dealing with the killing of a Syrian refugee.

Slowly, the strands of both cases weave together.

This is a superb book from Mark Billingham. Shot through, as are all his books, with the dark sense of humour that police officers the world over need as a survival mechanism.

The book is well plotted, well written, and has a bloody great twist in the tail at the end of the book. One that left me shocked.

Highly recommended.

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