The Confessions of Young Nero

3 Apr

Margaret George has made a career out of excellent pseudo-autobiographical novels.

“The Confessions of Young Nero”, the first part of the life story of Nero, is a welcome addition.

It starts with Nero’s earliest memories and goes up to the fire that destroyed much of Rome.

Margaret George is taking an interesting path with this book.  Her Nero is not the monster of legend, but a young man doing his best in a crazy and often dangerous world.

It is interesting to see a depiction of Nero as man with hopes, fears and loves, rather than the tyranical nutbag of history.  History, as they say, is written by the winners, and none of the Emperors who came after him had a vested interest in rehabilitating him.  In fact for many of them, the blacker they could paint him, the better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this rich and vibrant novel and look forward to reading the rest of Nero’s story.  Even though I know how it ends.

Move Along, Please

21 Mar

There are books of grand epic adventures. Around the world in 80 days. Across the Gobi desert on a skateboard. Sailing the Atlantic in a bathtub.

This isn’t one of them.

“Move Along, Please” by Mark Mason is something much better. A journey achievable by any one of us.

He sets out to travel from Land’s End to John O’Groats using only local buses. He has a fine old time and encounters some interesting people along the way.

The book is peppered with interesting facts about people and places and makes what, on the face of it, is a fairly mundane journey, into something exciting and adventurous.

It’s also a look at the peculiar English trait of eccentricity.

A delightful, entertaining book for the armchair traveler in us all.

Highly recommended.

Death in Profile

19 Mar

I find it very hard to resist a crime novel set in London, and when it’s set in one of my favourite parts of London, it’s doubly irresistible.

“Death in Profile” is the first of the Hampstead Murders series by Guy Fraser-Sampson.

There is a serial killer stalking London and the case team are working out of Hampstead nick.When Detective Chief Inspector Tom Allen is stood down and Detective Superintendent Simon Collison is put in his place, the scene is set for a complex and interesting story.  Especially as the most recent killing just doesn’t seem quite right.  Profiler Peter Collins is brought in to assist and things get interesting.

Guy seamlessly blends a modern police procedural with the Golden Age of detective fiction.

“Death in Profile” is an absorbing and entertaining read.  The characters are all well rounded and believable.  I hope we see more of Collison in future books.

Highly recommended.

Playing to Win

15 Mar

“Playing to Win” is Jeff Apter’s biography of Australian music legend John Farnham.

Let’s get one thing perfectly straight.  John Farnham is nice.  Really nice.  I’m talking pictures of kittens on the internet nice.

However, nice does not make for a terrifically readable biography, so Jeff Apter had an uphill battle to start with.

Though by spicing it with the troubles of John’s manager Glenn Wheatley, Apter managed to create an enjoyable read.  Even if I did feel like I should be drinking cocoa and wearing warm fluffy slippers as I did so.

I do have one niggle.  Over use of the expression “rusted-on” to describe John’s fanbase got completely on my wick by the time I’d finished the book.

I learned some things about John I didn’t know, and came away from the book with my regard for John Farnham higher than it was before.

Highly recommended to anyone who has an interest in John’s career, or the Australian music industry, or just likes a feel good read.

Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ripper Legacy

13 Mar

David Stuart Davies’ latest edition to Titan’s Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series is a ripper, pun completely intended.

Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate the kidnapping of a child.  This is no ordinary kidnapping, as he discovers when Mycroft becomes involved.

Some old enemies return and there are some new ones.  All well written and well rounded.

Sherlockians will recognize the plot as a “what if” extension of a fairly well known Sherlock Holmes movie from the late 1970s.

The relationship between Holmes and Watson is pure ACD.  No jarring notes here.

A worthwhile addition to any Sherlock Holmes collection.  Highly recommended.

A Pilgrimage to Murder

5 Mar

I got my copy of “A Pilgrimage to Murder” by Paul Doherty from the library on Friday and sat down on Friday evening and read it straight through.

The Great Rebellion is over, and Brother Athelstan, Sir Jack Cranston, and many of Athelstan’s parishioners are going on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Naturally, nothing goes to plan.  Clerks from the Secret Chancery are being murdered.  At the same time, John of Gaunt is maneuvering to claim the throne of Castile by right of both his marriage to Constanzia of Castile and his descent from Eleanor of Castile.

John of Gaunt’s right hand man, Thibault, joins the pilgrimage to meet up with representatives from Castile to discuss his master’s claim.

To add to the turmoil, someone is threatening Athelstan’s life, and this time the threats are serious.

“A Pilgrimage to Murder” is an excellent book.  The characters only get as far of the first night’s stop before all hell breaks loose.

Well written, exciting, with lots of clues to help you spot the killer.  A delicious addition to the series.

I am looking forward to the continuation of the pilgrimage, because you never know who they might meet, such as Geoffrey Chaucer… or his characters from the Canterbury Tales, or, indeed, the more rounded version of the characters from Paul’s own take on the Canterbury Tales.

The Lantern Bearers

1 Mar

“The Lantern Bearers” by Rosemary Sutcliff is set in Britain at the time on Rome’s withdrawal.

Aquila is a decurion who deserts, unable to leave his family, hiding as the boats leaving Britain pull away.

Returning home, the family’s small homestead is attacked by Saxons, everyone killed except for Aquila and his sister Flavia.  Made a thrall, Aquila bides his time until he can escape, and join Ambrosius in Cymru (Wales).

Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing has stood the test of time.  Evocative, atmospheric, and enthralling.  I read the book all the way through in one sitting.  I was not going to bed until I had finished it.  It was simply that good.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in Romano-Celtic Britain.  It also plays nicely into Arthurian legend.

Though the book is what we would today call ‘Young Adult’, there is no talking down to the reader.   “The Lantern Bearers” is readable by all ages.

Highly recommended.

Rivers of London: Body Work

13 Feb

“Body Work” is a fantastic graphic novel written by Ben Aaronovitch set in his Rivers of London world.

Miriam Stephanopolous and Sahra Guleed are less than impressed when Peter Grant turns up at the site of a car being hauled out of the Thames.  The last thing they want to deal with is any more “weird bollocks”.  Unfortunately, what they want isn’t what they get.

The discovery of the car and it’s deceased driver starts a fast paced story with extremely Stephen King “Christine” like elements, which at one point involves Peter and Sahra being chased by a pissed off BMW!

The story alternates between being funny and creepy and is a thorough delight.

A word about the graphic part.  Excellent.  The attention to detail is incredible.  One guy is eating a chocolate bar whilst driving.  It’s clearly obvious that it’s a Curly Wurly.  That’s the level of detail.  The artists involved have captured all the characters EXACTLY as I have imagined them, and that is quite a feat.

Cannot recommend “Body Work” highly enough.

Brilliant.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

29 Jan

“A Study in Brimstone” by G. S. Denning is less of a Sherlock Holmes parody (regardless of the re-writing of canon stories) and more of an alternate universe.

An extremely weird alternate universe.  One where Gregson is an ogre, Lestrade is a vampire, Mrs Hudson is a malignant dwarf…and Holmes shares his head with Moriarty and talks to demons.

And Watson?  Well, he’s much the same, except he is trying to teach Holmes deduction…and failing.

Funny, fast paced, and a delightful romp from start to finish.

The second book, “The Battle for Baskerville Hall” is due out in May.  I will be getting a copy as soon as I can.

Doors Open

23 Jan

“Doors Open” is an awesome stand alone novel from Ian Rankin.

Mike MacKenzie is a rich playboy with an interest in art.  Along with his friend Allan he gets drawn into an art heist, all the while being watched by Detective Inspector Ransome, who is interested in one of Mike’s old school pals.

Fast paced, action packed, and loaded with twists and turns, “Doors Open” is an excellent read.

Ian Rankin shows that he doesn’t need to write Rebus to create a brilliant story.  In fact, this one was better in some ways, because there was no character baggage.  There was, however, a sly reference to Rebus that made me chuckle.

Highly recommended.

%d bloggers like this: