Back-Blogging – Five old posts about …

As I’m currently: only 88 pages into my current 470 page read, going out twice this week, and busy at work too, so it could be a few days before I have a book to review… so I thought I’d have a quick delve into my archives. To make it more fun, I’ve chosen a linking subject for the books selected, like Simon T does in his occasional ‘Five from the Archive‘ posts.

This could become an irregular feature for those between review times for me too when I haven’t anything else to blog about. Some may say it’s lazy blogging, but why not? I believe there is some value in bringing attention again to books read some time before, and it can influence your current reading directions – just compiling this post has made me want to promote books by each of these authors up my TBR piles.

My first selection is inspired by my recent discovery of the wonderful books Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge by Evan S Connell.  The book title links will take you to my original reviews.  So without further ado, here are:

Five Old Posts About: SUBURBAN LIFE

1. The Ballad Of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark


I only wrote a short paragraph about this delightfully wicked and funny short novel back in 2008. I think I unconsciously wanted to emulate Spark in not wasting a word. (Said with tongue firmly in cheek!)

Peckham Rye is a road bounding a large park about three miles south of London Bridge, and it is connected to the centre of the City by a local railway. A typical suburban location that Spark injected some life into with her 1960 novel. One I often recommend, and one I will definitely re-read.

2. In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

In a summer season

When I wrote this post back in 2009, I intended to read a lot more of Elizabeth Taylor. I adored this razor-sharp dissection of middle-class life, yet haven’t managed to read another of her books quite yet.  (I know, I really should!)

Published in 1961, the setting is the Thames Valley, prime commuter belt where “every day the men go off to work on the train to their jobs in the city”. The book examines the impact on family life when a forty-something widow remarries a younger man. It’s all about sex – mostly repressed, of course, and it gripping.

3. The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills

Mills headwayMills’s USP is that he writes dead-pan funny books about men and their jobs.

This isn’t his best, (for me that’s All Quiet on the Orient Express), but it is his most suburban book, taking place on the streets of an unnamed town.

This slim novel is all about the lengths that bus inspectors believe they have to go to to maintain the timetable, and what the drivers believe will give them an easy life.  All this to stop those three buses coming along at once.

4. Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin

Tepper Isn't Going Out

The neighbourhoods of NYC are each like little burbs of their own, so I’m including this quirky novel about a man who likes to sit in his car reading his newspaper, taking up a desirable parking space.

Tepper later becomes a local celebrity when he offers some good advice to a passer by and word spreads. Then the Mayor who is obsessed with parking control gets in on the act, but Tepper stands his ground against bureaucracy.  This is a gentle satire with a charming protagonist that you can’t help but admire, and chuckle along with.

5.The Champion by Tim Binding

BindingTim Binding was another new to me novelist that I (still) hope to read lots more of, especially as I have several of his books waiting in my TBR piles.

This book from 2011 is about class war in the suburbs, greed and ambition. The Champion is exactly the sort of novel that I wished JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy could have been. It’s a black comedy with some ‘moments of sadness and tragedy that widen the dramatic depth’, and  has two chalk and cheese lead characters that you want to find out what happens to.


Nick loves Amy, Amy loves Nick, don’t they?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone-girl This book is our book group choice for discussion this month – I would normally wait until after we’ve met to put down some thoughts about our reading, but after devouring this novel in two sittings, (I started at bedtime last night, and finished it when I woke up this morning – which did mean I got up rather late!), I feel compelled to give some instant reactions.

Ever since this book was published, it’s been making news but, for each glowing review I’ve seen, there’s been a ‘meh’ one.  I think that you can guess which camp I fall into …

Nick and Amy are a seemingly golden couple, recently moved back to Carthage, Missouri from NYC, so Nick can care for his ailing parents.  Everything changes on their fifth wedding anniversary, when Nick comes home to find Amy missing.  No body is found, and Nick is naturally the obvious suspect. He is adamant that he didn’t do it, but can’t explain many oddities or provide a full alibi that would take him out of the investigation.  So what has happened to Amy?

To say any more would be to say too much, however, it wouldn’t be spoiling things to tell you that the novel twists and turns so much that you’ll change your allegiance chapter by chapter. I gasped at some of the reveals, and then felt pleased with myself for making links – some of which would be dashed later, every little thing seeming to have its place in the narrative.

The chapters cleverly alternate between Nick and Amy’s versions. At first, Nick’s are current; Amy’s are historical from her diary entries since they first met. It becomes clear very fast that all is not right between them…

Nick – The day of:
When she spied me lurking there in grubby boxers, my hair in full Heat Miser spike, she leaned against the kitchen counter and said, ‘Well, hello, handsome.’
Bile and dread inched up my throat. I thought to myself. Okay, go. (page 8)

The plot of this novel reminded me very much of the convoluted plots of British psychodrama queen Sophie Hannah. If you like one, you’ll do well with the other. Neither Hannah’s books, nor Gone Girl stop to take breath, the action is relentless and most of what happens is usually nasty, not nice!

I’m convinced that the best way to read thrillers is total immersion, to devour them in as few sittings as possible, letting the action flow around you and not over-analysing what happens in the pages until after you’ve finished.  For me, a good roller-coaster of a plot always benefits from this approach. In this way, even the ridiculous elements of something like The Da Vinci Code can be overlooked so that you can enjoy the ride. There, I’ve said it! (I read it in one sitting on holiday years ago, and it was fun at the time.)

Gone Girl is much, much cleverer than that.  Although the plot drives the narrative, the two main characters are so well conceived, that Flynn is able to add many extra layers to the story. It will be interesting to see if any of our Book Group have the same experience, and if I still feel the same about the book in a week’s time …

How was it for you?
How do you read thrillers?

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Phoenix paperback, 463 pages.

To infinity …

The Explorerby James Smythe

the-explorerThis brilliant novel’s beginning happens near the end of the story…

Cormac Easton is the only remaining living astronaut on the spaceship Ishiguro. Cormac is not even a proper astronaut – he’s a journalist; his part in the team is to observe and document the voyage, to blog and film and send the footage back home.

Their mission was to go into deep space, the deepest manned mission ever; then they would turn around and arrive back home heroes. That was the plan, so they thought, but it starts going horribly wrong.

  ‘They died one by one, falling off like there was a checklist. First to go was Arlen.’ …

‘Second to die was Wanda. We called her the Dogsbody…’

‘Guy was third. He was German, and that wasn’t his real name.’

‘Quinn was next to die; and with him, it became almost funny, …’

‘Emmy died – I use that word, but, really, maybe it’s not that bad, maybe there’s something can be done, I don’t know – only hours after Quinn.’ …

‘All that I’ve got up here is tranquillity now, I suppose.’

… and those lines are all picked out from the first chapter.

As Cormac contemplates his lonely predicament, we learn how the team was selected and how all their different personalities meshed and irritated in equal measure.  We find out how the multinational mission came about through corporate sponsorship – it’s the only way to get a ‘proper space programme again‘.  Everything was branded,  they will eat McBars.

We also discover how much Cormac misses his wife Elena, they had parted on bad terms but he still loves only her. He spends his days grieving for his lost relationships, lulled into passivity and unable to do anything.

We wonder what really happened, and what’s going to happen. We will find out – but I’m not going to tell you!

Although this is a science fiction novel, it’s not about the science, it’s character driven, and that turns it into a first-rate psychothriller. Despite the infinity of space, the atmosphere in the ship is intensely claustrophobic right from the start. Initially we’re in dark about what happened as much as Cormac is, and as we only hear his voice, we have to question him too. It was totally gripping, in the same way that the film Moon was.

As with most works of speculative fiction, you do need to embrace the fantasy elements of the setting. I’m no astrophysicist, but I don’t think all the scientific details worked; however, I didn’t let it bother me for this is a profoundly human story and I loved it.  (10/10)5 stars



For some other reviews see: Book Smugglers (spoilers); Dog Ear Discs (no spoilers)

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I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Explorer by James Smythe, pub by Harper Voyager, Jan 2013, Hardback 266 pages.
Moon [DVD] [2009] starring Sam Rockwell, dir Duncan Jones.

Scoring books, some musings on the subject

There are two definite camps in the book blogosphere: those who give/find useful star ratings, and those who don’t. I’ve always been in the former camp, but I do recognise that ratings are no more than a highly personal snapshot of opinion at time of publication.

I started out giving whole stars out of five, then had to give half stars to reflect in between scores, and my ratings thus became out of ten. Then I found that I wanted to finesse my scores a little further and started giving half marks again. I’ve since found that I give a lot of scores of 8.5/10.  On one occasion (see here) I went one step further giving a book 7.3/10! What was I on that day eh?)

In fact it is rare that I give scores of 6/10 or less, most books get between 7 and 9,  and around 10% in a year may get the full 10/10. That makes the majority of books I read better than average.  I like to think that’s because I mainly choose to read books that I expect or know will be good, (although it can be therapeutic to read a stinker just once in a while).

pemberleyBack to the snapshot business for a moment. There are times when I’ve gushed about books and scored them highly, but with the benefit of hindsight can see that I overrated them. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James was one such case. I was about the only blogger loving this book at the time of its publication. I later realised I was reading it with rose-tinted glasses adapting it for TV as I went with Colin Firth (natch) starring. Now, I can see that as a hybrid crime/classic pastiche it wasn’t entirely successful; I stand by my initial enjoyment of reading it though.

pureThen there are books that I’ve underrated.  One such came to mind as I was writing my post yesterday about Illumination by Matthew Plampin.  I was constantly thinking of and comparing it with Andrew Miller’s wonderful novel Pure. I did score Pure as 9/10 at the time but, going by the way this novel has stayed with me, and the number of times I recommend it to others, it should have been a five star book.

All this musing leads me to ask you, dear reader…
– Are you’re bothered by scores in a review? 
– If you do find them useful, is my fussing with halves out of ten taking it too far?

I do plan to keep scoring books for my own records (they’ll appear in my Reading lists), but other than highlighting 5 star books, or absolute stinkers, I’m thinking of dropping them from my main reviews, unless you want them that is!

Thank you for bearing with me…

C’est fun, but c’est n’est pas Les Mis…

Illumination by Matthew Plampin

Illumination by Matthew PlampinGiven the love for all things French and 19th century at the moment thanks to the film I still haven’t seen that is Les Misérables, it was a good time to read a revolutionary novel. Illumination is set later than Hugo’s masterpiece,  during the Siege of Paris of 1870-71 in the Franco-Prussian War. It chronicles the siege through the story of the Pardy family – English ex-pats trapped in the City of Light.

The novel begins in England with Hannah Pardy running away from her overbearing mother Elizabeth and her literary salons of fawning authors that she hopes will provide a suitor for her daughter. Hannah is off to Paris to become a painter. There, she meets and falls for Jean-Jacques Allix, a revolutionary who wants the Parisians to fight for their city.

"Discussing the War in a Paris Café"—a scene published in the Illustrated London News of 17 September 1870

“Discussing the War in a Paris Café”—a scene published in the Illustrated London News of 17 September 1870

No sooner is she settled in Paris, than her mother arrives with her twin brother Clement in tow, lured by an anonymous letter saying than Hannah is in trouble. Their arrival is on the day all lines of escape are later cut off from the city, thus trapping them there. The scene is thus set for a novel of adventure, romance, intrigue and war.

Allix, clad in black is an irresistible leader and his form of oratory is popular in the Paris cafés. Not everyone believes in him though – the balloonist Besson, whom Clement befriends, is one.

All three of the Pardy family get stuck into the siege as it takes hold: Hannah through Allix, Clement through the balloonist and falling for the charms of copper-tressed ‘cocotte’ Laure; Elizabeth meanwhile, as an author and journalist, undertakes to advance the cause of the revolutionaries through writing up Allix’s exploits for the Paris newspapers, and he gains a popular nickname of Le Léopard.

Although full of history, some of the details in this novel seemed to have been thrown in to tick the boxes to ensure that nothing major had been omitted, something I checked by looking up the Siege of Paris on Wikipedia. Digressions into ballooning made the middle somewhat flabby, and at 400 pages was a little on the long side.

I did like the evolution of Clement from bored young man to adventurer and lover, whereas I found his twin Hannah to be rather brittle. Elizabeth for all her faults, which are many, sailed through the siege with considerable sang-froid.  This was a pageturner of a novel that wears its history lightly, concentrating on the characters, and I enjoyed it a lot. (7.5/10)

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I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Illumination by Matthew Plampin, pub Jan 2013 by Harper Collins, Hardback 400 pages.

P.S. – I edited this post to get my French dates right!

A little London loving – 1960s style…

Georgy Girlby Margaret Forster

Margaret Forster is somehow one of those familiar authors, although I’ve read any of her books.  Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve seen several of her books in shops; The Memory Box is a title that stuck in my mind.  Although I’ve no idea how old she is, or what she looks like, I didn’t associate her with the 1960s – untill I came across my late Mum’s copy of the paperback of Georgy Girl and discovered it was published in 1965!

Margaret ForsterIt turns out that Forster was born in 1938 and is married to The Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. Georgy girl was her third novel, and she’s written twenty five in total plus around a dozen books of biography, history and memoir. Her latest novel Isa and May was published in 2010, so one hopes there are more to come. So on to the book …

Margaret Forster novel Georgy Girl

Georgina is a big gangly girl. She is not very interested in her looks, and has never had a proper boyfriend  She’s a younger 1960s version of TV’s Miranda.  Her parents are the live-in housekeeper and valet of rich toff James who, unhappily married to Nelly, has treated George like the daughter he never had, but now has other designs on her.

‘… I’ve done a lot for you, George, and I’ll do a lot more. Give me a kiss.’
George dutifully pecked at him. He usually stood still and let her peck, but now he seized her and kissed her full on the mouth. His hands wandered up and down her body until her laugh sent them swiftly back to his sides.
‘What are you laughing at?’ he said, panting.
‘It’s so lovely,’ said George. She waltzed round him, spreading out her arms. ‘What more could a girl want than a devoted uncle who adores encouraging her to make an absolute idio of herself and then declares himself passionately. It just makes me feel so happy, Jimsy-Wimsy, to know I haven’t been reared in vain. No, I’ve been specially designed to satisfy the most fussy of perverts.’
James struggled not to strike her. Shakily, he mopped his lips with his handkerchief and cursed himself for touching her. He wanted her very much. He always had, ever since he had realized no one else saw how desirable she really was.

James goes on to offer her a contract to be set up as his mistress, paying for everything. Georgy plays for time before making the decision for she is enjoying her new-found freedom. Since she moved out, she has a job teaching dance to children, she has a one bedroom flat which she shares with Meredith, a violinist who is going out with Jos, a double bass player from Derbyshire.

Meredith and Jos’s relationship is based purely on sex. Jos knows it can’t last, Meredith being a renowned bed-hopper, and he can’t help looking at George…

Her mouth was too big and her jaw too heavy and that stupid pony tail didn’t help, but she wasn’t ugly. Her figure was about fifty times better than Meredith’s.
‘In fact,’ he said, ‘you just miss being beautiful.’

Things get complicated when Meredith gets pregnant. Jos feels he has to marry her, but as you might guess, she’s not the one he really wants…

Georgy Girl Film Poster

Georgy is a wonderful creation. She’s enjoying life, but you do feel that underneath she wants to be a homemaker. She’s waiting for her prince to come, and you sense it’s not going to be Jos either.

Many parts of this novel reminded me of Beryl Bainbridge’s books which would follow in the 1970s: from Georgy and Meredith sharing a bedroom like Freda and Brenda in The Bottle Factory Outing, to the complicated ménages of Sweet William. But Forster isn’t concerned in exploiting the comedy in Georgy’s situation as Beryl would do, instead we empathise with Georgy completely as she explores adult life. Georgy has the best of both worlds. In her early twenties, she has her independence, but she can always go home. Relations with her parents are a bit tense though with them being dependent on James for a living.

What I always find interesting in reading books from this period though is the sense of ‘carpe diem’ that pervades them.  The young things in these dramas may not be so far from the kitchen sink, but they do live for the moment, and that keeps  it fresh. This book was yet another discovery for me, leaving me hungry for more Forster. (8.5/10)

I’d also like to read a lot more novels set in the 1950s through to the 1970s, that means more Beryl, more Spark, more O’Brien for starters – I’m sure you can suggest some others of the same ilk for me to explore too.

I’d also like to see the 1966 film of Georgy Girl – with it’s all star cast.  Forster co-adapted the screenplay from her novel.  I shall leave you though with a clip of Australian band The Seekers singing the Oscar-nominated theme tune to the movie – are you all ready to sing along?

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I inherited this book. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Georgy Girl by Margaret Forster, Vintage paperback, 176 pages.


The ‘The Weird Attraction of Book Titles’ Formula

I was musing about book titles this afternoon during the adverts in a certain TV quiz show to which I’ve become strangely addicted (OK, I’ll tell you, it’s The Chase).  Enough of that, back to book titles.

It struck me that I’ve read loads of, and own many more, books whose titles follow a formula which goes: “The Something of Forename Surname.”  Some examples (links to my reviews) are…

I admit I am drawn to titles following this formula. If I encounter one on a book, I’ll inevitably pick it up to have a further look.  The name has to be right – they have to help us imagine the character they belong to. The ‘something’ also has to have something about it too.

At this point I tried to make up some titles that didn’t work – The Ironing Pile of Annabel Gaskell – that couldn’t be a book title, although sad but true, it is just plain silly!  How about The signature of Joe Bloggs ?  I can’t help thinking that the word signature turns Joe Bloggs into a potentially interesting character.

So I challenge you, dear reader, just for fun, to come up with a plausible title for a novel following this formula  that really doesn’t work. 😉

Safe inside the wall?

The First Book of Calamity Leekby Paula Lichtarowicz

calamity leekThis interesting debut novel is one of those that defy easy pigeonholing.

A group of girls with strange names live in a walled community looked after by Aunty with occasional visits from Mother. They spend their days cultivating roses and vegetables, looking after pigs, and sewing cushions.

At first it appears that the setting for this book might be medieval for they live in a barn with straw beds and furs for blankets; but it’s not. Then I thought it might be a post-apocalypse dystopia, which is getting closer to the mark, but still not quite right. It does gradually become clear though, and the story of how things came to be in this enclosed world and its purpose, will surprise and horrify in equal measure.

The story of this community is narrated by Calamity Leek who, as a teenager,  is one of the older girls in the group. Having grown up believing that the world beyond the wall is full of injuns and that she is being prepared for war she has, to us, a distinctly odd world-view. Calamity, being favoured by Aunty, is the keeper of the Index – an ever-expanding book of rules the girls live by, and it is her job to read from the rules each night.

When another of the oldest girls, Truly Polperro makes a failed attempt to get over the wall, Calamity has a hard time believing that Truly wanted to go and wonders what she might have seen.  Truly’s desperate act of rebellion will change everything…

This was not an easy book to read at first, given Calamity’s limited life experience and upbringing by Aunty. Her language is full of a mishmash of terms and references that at times reminded me very slightly of the regression in the use of language in Russell Hoban’s wonderful Riddley Walker, although Calamity Leek’s speech is nowhere near as convoluted.

Aunty is a grotesque creation – a bit of Swelter the cook from Gormenghast, some Ignatius J Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, a dollop of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, and bizarrely, just a tiny hint of the Hello, Dolly! loving robot Wall-E (believe me, if you read the book, you’ll get what I mean).  Whereas Aunty is larger than life, Mother, on the other hand, is dessicated and skeletal.

I’d love to describe more about what happens, but don’t want to risk spoiling anything for you.  The timeline also jumps about, so it’s hard to be sure about anything in the beginning.  Calamity’s world may be strange, but Lichtarowicz’s imagery is rich, and the promise of a stream of revelations to come kept me reading to the end. (8.5/10)

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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz, Hutchinson hardback, pub 7th Feb 2013, 304 pages.

Minimalism ain’t all it’s cracked up to be …

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

care of wooden floorsThis debut novel, published last year, was one of those books I was instantly desperate to read, but somehow couldn’t fit in at the time. The title promised quirkiness and humour, two qualities I adore in a novel. I’m glad I finally read it, for I enjoyed it a lot…

Oskar is a successful minimalist composer who lives in an unnamed Eastern European capital city. He’s married to Laura, but she lives in the US, and their long-distance relationship is on the rocks. Needing to go to LA to dismantle his marriage, Oskar needs a house-sitter to look after his flat and his two cats Shossy and Stravvy, so he asks an old friend from university to do the honours.

His friend, who remains unnamed, narrates the events of his stay in Oskar’s flat. From the moment he arrives and is faced with an apartment of pristine minimalism complete with leather sofas, a grand piano and the beautiful blond wooden floors of the title, and not forgetting the two cats, you just know it is going to go so wrong.

Oskar, of course, has left copious instructions – but not just a list on the kitchen table like you might expect. When the piano lid is opened, ‘This action caused a slip of paper to waft out and describe a swooping arabesque descent to the floor. I scooped it up and read it. Oskar had written on it in a prickly, pointy, fussy hand: Please do NOT play with the piano.‘  This note is the first of many that Oskar’s friend finds, as if his every move has been anticipated.

We read on with a real sense of schadenfreude as things inevitably happen, and Oskar’s friend tries to take care of the wooden floor.  There are some hilarious scenes, which escalate in their level of farce and absurdity as the novel progresses, although surprisingly little else actually occurs.  I found the disasters were well telegraphed and I guessed most of them anyway, but half of the comedy was in the antici…pation.

What I wasn’t expecting was the ongoing commentary throughout the novel about material things, architecture, design, stuff, and its effects on our lives.

Furniture is like that. Used and enjoyed as intended, it absorbs that experience and exudes it back into the atmosphere, but if simply bought for effect and left to languish in a corner, it vibrates with melancholy. Furnishings in museums (‘DO NOT SIT IN THIS SEAT’) are as unspeakably tragic as the unvisited inmates of old folk’s homes. The untuned violins and hardback books used to bring ‘character’ to postwar suburban pubs crouch uncomfortably in their roles like caged pumas at the zoo. The stately kitchen that is never or rarely used to bring forth lavish feasts for appreciative audiences turns inward and cold. Like the kitchen here, I thought.

I think I enjoyed this side of the novel even more than the comedy.  Looking up Wiles’s blog, I see he writes about architecture and design and was deputy editor at Icon magazine; all expertise that was brought to the novel.

Fans of Dan Rhodes will probably like this book, (my review of one of his here).  I enjoyed it very much, and hope for more.  (8.5/10)

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I was sent a copy of the paperback by the publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles, 4th Estate paperback (2012).

The adventures of a gentleman thief

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E W Hornung

Raffles 1977 TV seriesThose of a certain age like me, may well remember the 1970s TV series Raffles with some fondness. It starred Anthony Valentine (right) as the titular gentleman thief, and Christopher Strauli as Bunny, his sidekick. A pair of dinner-suited scoundrels fleecing a bunch of toffs to fund their own lavish lifestyle, combined with a bit of cricket, made for fun watching.  Since his first appearance in the late 1890s, Raffles has been adapted many times, notably in films portrayed by Ronald Coleman in 1930 and David Niven in 1939.

raffles 1After the dolour of reading Hardy’s Jude the Obscure for Book Group last month, we  chose its contemporary, the first set of Raffles stories – Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman for our February read – the two couldn’t have been more different.

The Raffles stories are narrated by Bunny Maunders, and the first one, The Ides of March, tells how Bunny who is on his uppers and near suicidal, meets his old school pal Arthur Raffles. Desperate to save his reputation, when Raffles suggests a burglary will solve both’s financial woes, Bunny goes along with it, and so starts his life of crime.

In the following chapters, Raffles and Bunny have many adventures, sometimes only escaping by the skin of their teeth. They steal jewellery, paintings and more and end up on an ocean liner after a giant pearl…

Raffles is also a sportsman; cricket is his game, and he is, Bunny tells us, ‘a dangerous bat, a brilliant field, and perhaps the finest slow bowler of his decade,’ but is not really interested in the game per se, for ‘What’s the satisfaction of taking a man’s wicket when you want his spoons?‘ To Raffles, cricket is a game of mental exercise, looking for weak spots and using your cunning in bowling – all good practice for thieving.

Raffles never does anything for anyone else; Bunny is only tolerated because he can’t do jobs alone.  This amoral quality made one of our group give up on him after just a couple of the stories, and it stands out in one tale where another thief is onto Raffles, and he and Bunny contemplate what more they can do…

 ‘What more?’ said Raffles. ‘Well, murder – for one thing.’
‘A matter of opinion, my dear Bunny; I don’t mean it for rot. I’ve told you before that the biggest man alive is the man who’s committed a murder, and not yet been found out; at least he ought to be, but he so very seldom has the soul to appreciate himself. Just think of it! Think of coming in here and talking to the men, very likely about the murder itself; and knowing you’ve done it; and wondering how they’d look if they knew! Oh, it would be great, simply great! But, besides all that, when you were caught, there’d be a merciful and dramatic end of you. You’d fill the bill for a few weeks, and then snuff out with a flourish of extra-specials; you wouldn’t rust with a vile repose for seven or fourteen years.’

Raffles’ lack of morality aside, we mostly enjoyed these tales which are entertaining, but lack a je ne sais quoi, something that a certain great detective has in spades, which brings me to Sherlock Holmes …

You see, Hornung was Doyle’s brother in law, and this volume is dedicated to him. Raffles comes across as something of a parody of Holmes, but he is no Moriarty. Bunny is no Doctor Watson either; he hero-worships Raffles and happily lets himself be Raffles’ doormat.  We found ourselves wishing that Raffles had more to him, a bit more Holmes, a dash of Flashman perhaps.  It is not quite enough that Raffles’ marks mostly deserved what they got.

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E W Hornung. Atlantic Crime Classics paperback, other editions available.