One of the most iconic strategy board games ever invented is Chess, its spanned cultural and physical divides while also been the basis of a hit stage musical (Chess) and the central theme of one of Netflix’s leading show’s (The Queen’s Gambit). In primary school here in Ireland, nowadays and in the past, one of the many extra-curricular activities was a chess club. I wasn’t great and regularly walked home in a funk or on the verge of tears, having been soundly beaten by everyone I played, while my friends seemed to be able to easily win. But like most things, if you stick at it, you get an appreciation for it, which I have. It’s been years since I played, despite the ample availability of virtual chess games online. On top of that, I once owned a small computer chess game that supposedly recreated the moves of Grand Master Gary Kasparoff.
Never in my school days, or playing the computerized grand master, did I feel that my life depended on winning the game, unlike the central character in this month’s book review. It’s “The Last Checkmate” by Gabriella Saab and published by William Morrow ( www.harpercollins.com/collections/william-morrow ) on the 25th November.
When Maria Florkowska, a young polish resistance worker, is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, she is accidentally separated from her family, who are subsequently all murdered on arrival. From then on Maria places all her faith in a small handmade pawn clasped in her hand, as she is an avid chess player. This soon comes to the attention of her brutal camp commandant Fritsch, who sets about making an exhibition of her and forcing her and her opponents to play for their lives. Maria resents Fritsch for the event which led to the separation from her family and along with the brutal beating he metes out to her on regular basis. So, she sets about trying to avenge the death of her family and the cold-blooded execution of a polish priest she had befriended and who had taken her under his wing. Will she succeed in getting Fritsch transferred or will she survive the war and track him down to play one final game with him?
There have been numerous books and films set within the barbed wire confines of Auschwitz, from a Boy in Striped Pyjamas, as well as the more recently published book about a tatooist in there, to the bloody reality depicted in print and on screen by Schindler’s list. But Gabriella Saab’s premise of having a young female chess player, engage in a twisted forerunner of Squid Game, is truly one of the most remarkable and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long while.
The final verse of Chris de Burgh’s song ‘Spanish Train’, stuck with me throughout this read. “…The lord and the devil are now playing chess. The devil still cheats and wins more souls, and as for the lord, well he keeps doing his best.”. Because for every one of the three hundred and eighty pages you live and breathe the feeling that good and evil are meeting over the chess boards, and are on tenterhooks, as you will this young heroine to keep going and win against all the odds, knowing that one false move, will lead to certain death for the pleasure of this sadistic monster. But also, Gabriella intertwines good souls within the story who help Maria, and it’s these other characters which help to make it more realistic, because, you know that in any dire situation there is always good trying to even the balance.
Saabs’ characters are immersive and believable. While the story telling and the descriptions of life in war time Poland, followed by her internment in one of the most hellish places in history, never gets old. Despite how familiar the reader maybe with what occurred within its perimeter, I would go so far as to say that thanks to the numerous films and tv depictions of concentrations camps over the years, it is very easy for the readers imagination to get going while living and feeling every inch of this story.
This American author Gabriella Saab’s debut novel(www.gabriellasaab.com). She graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration and Marketing, when not writing she works as a Barre instructor in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Her research for this book, took her to Auschwitz and Warsaw, to dig deeper into the experiences of those who lived there during the war.
If you are looking for a great historical read over the festive season or even to set you up for the long dark days of January, I would highly recommend that you get down to your local book shop, while observing all covid the restrictions and get a copy or just download it or order one online. Then boldly step into Saab’s tense and thoroughly enjoyable novel.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
The American author and psychic Ray Stanford, whose books include ‘Fatima Prophecy’ and ‘What Your Aura Tells You’, claimed that in the 1970s he was driving himself and his wife to a meeting in Austin Texas with Uri Geller. They were stuck in traffic and wished they were closer, a couple of minutes later they suddenly found themselves and their car 60km further up the road. Stanford also tells of a prior story where while out riding he saw low hanging bough of a tree and with his horse galloping at speed and realising that he wouldn’t be able to stop, he was going to be seriously hurt. Next thing, he found himself standing upright a short distance from his horse. He was unable to deduce how he got where he was. These are more on the side of examples of teleportation, than time slips, but in both cases, Stanford seems to move forward in time and distance. Similarly British paranormal authors John and Anne Spencer in their numerous books on the supernatural, catalogue examples of various people walking around towns and villages in the UK, Europe and seeing buildings and people from another period in time. Two eyewitnesses who claim they were in the Palace of Versailles, France. when they started seeing people in period dress and parts of the building that had long since been renovated. This month’s third book review features time slips in its central plot, the book is Recursion by David J. Harrison and published by The Book Guild ( www.bookguild.co.uk ) on 28th October.
When high-flying London based artist Huraki Kensagi goes through a breakdown following the ending his marriage. His agent recommends he spends time at a remote cottage in the north of England, to getaway from it all and get his career back on track. On arrival in the little village of Barrowthwaite, he runs into Frank a local shopkeeper, who talks in the third person, while his landlord is a mysterious chap called “The Captain”. The town has no mobile coverage and the weather changes abruptly every quarter of an hour or so. When his estranged wife Jane also arrives in the village a couple of hours after his arrival, she sees Huraki having sex with Maggie the caretaker of the cottage. When she realises, he’s actually ok, and confronts him shortly afterwards, she tells him no one has heard from him in three months and his agent has been trying to reach him. But then Jane uses the only working phone in the village at “The Captain’s” house to call her employers, to say she is returning to London the next day. But is surprised to be told she has been let go, as she hasn’t been heard from in six months! When she only left London 24 hours ago! The couple soon realise they the central focus of a malignant entity who has been interfering in their lives from the very beginning. Can they escape the Lake District and the alien dangers that lie beneath it with their sanity and lives intact?
This book is an engrossing tale of murder, mystery, and extra-terrestrial encounters. With the supernatural element thrown in for good measure. I found it enjoyable, but there’s a lot of similarities to the likes of large and small screen productions such as Cocoon, The American Werewolf in London, Close Encounters of the Third kind, as well as Groundhog Day and some of the eeriest episodes of Tales Of The Unexpected.
Harrison’s story telling is good, his characterisations are shudder inducing, especially the when the entities speak in the third person. The references to gang culture are an interesting one and it’s always good to see how the uber confident underworld foot soldiers, deal with the unexplainable.
This is English author David J. Harrison’s ( www.davidjharrisonauthor.com )debut novel. Harrison was read The Lord Of The Rings as a sleeping child, while also being brought up on a diet of classic science fiction and fantasy, including the works of Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. His day job is in Biotechnology, specifically in medical devices and contributed to several new medicines. He currently lives in Cambridge.
So, if you like your books with a heady mixture of science fiction, murder mystery and the paranormal. This new author into the genre should be well worth a read. I enjoyed my introduction to Harrison and his ability keep me turning the pages.
So, head down to your local book shop, pretty sharpish, and snap up a copy. But try not to run into yourself on the way back.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
Over the past year, two independently made tv documentaries have put the spotlight on the small West Cork village of Schull and has led to large numbers of viewers flocking there. The reason for the interest in this remote hamlet, is the unsolved murder of French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996. In the interim, one man has become the prime suspect, but never been charged or convicted in Ireland. In France, Ian Bailey was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 25 years in prison. There are similarities to this case and the subject of this month’s second Book Review, the book is the Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris and published by Vintage ( www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/vintage.html ) on the 11th November.
Dublin 1856, the Chief Cashier of the Midlands Great Western Railway, Mr George Little. Was discovered dead with his throat cut in his office, which was locked from the inside, at the Broadstone Terminus. No murder weapon was found and thousands of pounds in gold and silver are left lying on his desk. Irelands most experienced detective and Dublin’s leading lawyer team up the investigate the murder. But the mystery defies all explanation and even baffles two of Scotland Yard’s top sleuths. With the days and months dragging on and five suspects arrested and released, along with every twist and turn of the case followed by the press, a local woman suddenly comes forward claiming to know the killer… Is she telling the truth, or is it just another dead end? Also, can a Phrenologist from England also prove that he can tell if a person is a murderer or not by measuring their head, if so, is the new suspect capable of committing such a deed?
I live just south of Dublin in the coastal town of Bray, and was in the city last week when I had to go to the leafy southside suburb of Ballsbridge for a work event. As for being anywhere near the north inner city, it’s been well over two years or more. The Broadstone terminus is now a large Dublin Bus depot, with a Dublin Light Rail (LUAS) stop adjoining it too. It recently underwent a major multimillion-euro restoration project of the old station building. I’ve never had any need to use it or visit the site or was I aware of an unsolved murder there.
The book is an amazing historical read, which leads the reader through every facet of the investigation and its aftermath. I was enthralled by the historical detail Morris potrayed about Dublin, Ireland, and its citizens, as well as the famous literary connectiuons to the case, like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. While reliving how basic murder investigations were back then. Especially considering how easily crime solving is portrayed in books and on the large and small screens these days, with the aid of computers and Forensics.
Back then, for example, the coroner wasn’t a medical man, just someone from the political elite who had friends in high places. Then there’s the strange interpretations of the law, like for example a wife not being able to give evidence against her husband. While forensically, the crime scene is all but rendered useless by hordes of curious onlookers and members of staff of the building entering the office to gawp at the sight of a dead man, let alone mentioning that the body is searched by members of the management of the company before any member of the police force arrives on the scene. This all comes across as very chaotic, but it is of its time and thank God things have moved on.
This isn’t my first time reading a book detailing the investigation of a real-life murder in Victorian England or Ireland. I’ve previously read the Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscales, Whicher was actually one of the two detectives sent across by Scotland Yard, although the celebrated detective remained very much under the radar and returned home baffled by the case after a fornight. On top of that I’ve also read Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer, one of many books written about Jack The Ripper. Here we realise very quickly the haphazard way things were done, even down to the anti-Semitic accusations bandied about by the public and press.
Meanwhile, if you are one who loves James Patterson’s style of serving up chapters a single page long, then you are in for a let-down, so meaty and in-depth is Morris’ research and attention to detail, they are on average twenty plus pages in length. Each one ends on a teasing and page turning high point, meaning that this could lead to a few late nights. Who needs Netflix when you can binge your way through the salacious details of a murder mystery that makes this book a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read? So delighted was I with this book, that had it arrived a couple of weeks earlier, I’d have presented it to my book group as my December choice. I suppose there’s always next year,
This is English author and historian Thomas Morris’ ( www.thomas-morris.uk ) third book, his others are The Matter Of The Heart (2017) and The Mystery Of The Exploding Teeth (2018). Before becoming a write he was a BBC Radio Producer for 18years and his freelance journalism has appeared in The Times, The Lancet and TLS. He also has a blog is subtitled “Making You Grateful for Modern Medicine”, he currently lives in London.
So, if you are interested in Irish history, or like me a local resident fascinated to learn about the capital city’s dark past, then this enthralling and highly addictive book is a must for you, or an excellent Christmas present for friends or family at home or abroad.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
If I were an an American, during the elections for president which saw Obama and Trump prevail, I would have been a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter. Personally, I feel she’s the best president the states never had. She’d might have done a better job than her husband, whose presidency was marred by a lapse personal judgement, and I feel the USA we know today would be a better place if she had won. As you can tell, I’m a fan and so I was delighted to be asked to read ‘State of Terror’ a collaboration between the thriller writer Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton and published by Pan MacMillan (www.panmacmillan.com) on the 12th october, for this month’s first book review..
After a tumultuous period in American politics , a new administration has just been sworn in . Secretary of State, Ellen Adams is determined to do her duty for her country. But she is about to face a horrifying international threat. A young foreign service officer has received a baffling text from a anonymous source. Too late, she realises it was a hastily coded warning. Then a series of bus bombs devastate Europe, heralding the rise of a new rogue terrorist organisation, who will stop at nothing to develop a nuclear arsenal. As Ellen unravels the damaging effects of the former presidency on International politics, she has to consider if the previous president was a traitor?
There’s an interesting section at the end of the book, where Hillary and Louise are interviewed about how they met and how this writing collaboration came about. It seems Hillary and her closest friend Betsy were both avid thriller readers and enjoyed Louise Penny’s books. Betsy and Louise were introduced and following the death of Louise’s husband, Hillary sent a personal sympathy card. A friendship between the three women and their husbands then developed. During covid and following a collaboration between Bill Clinton and James Patterson, it was suggested that Hillary and Louise team up to write a political thriller. Some of the characters in the book are based on, or at least named after real colleagues and friends. There are also many other characters in the book which resemble recent and current political figures, the British Prime Minister with the unruly hair for example, or that slightly mad ex-president in Florida…
This book was an exciting read from the first page and kept up the fast pace and edge of your seat tension throughout. Ellen moves from one dangerous situation to another as she races from one end of the world to the other in her search for answers. The book is full of intrigue and twists and turns. With the authors keeping the reader guessing as who is to be trusted an who isn’t, never straightforward in a world of politics where everyone has their own agenda.
Ellen is a likeable character, smart and funny but ultimately very human. She is new to the role of Secretary of State but brings to it a certain amount of street smarts from her previous career running a media empire. There’s also some family tension in relation to her son. Betsy in this book, is her lifelong friend and confidante and has a role as her advisor. She brings a wit and loyalty to Ellen’s current role, where everyone else, its seems, is her enemy. I really enjoyed the ‘woman power’ demonstrated in this story which I thought was never heavy handed.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (www.hillaryclinton.com) is the author of seven previous books which include It Takes A Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us (1996), An Invitation To The White House (2000), The Book Of Gutsy Women (co-written with Chelsea Clinton) (2019), Why I Should Be President (2014). She was the first woman in America to recieve a presidential nomination and served as the 67th Secretary Of State after nearly four decades in public office including eight years as the first lady.
Louise Penny (www.louisepenny.com) is a Canadian author of seventeen mystery novels set in the province of Quebec and featuring her hero Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, they include: Still Life (2005), Bury Your Dead (2010), The Long way Home (2014) and The Madness Of Crowds (2021). before turning to writing she was a broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, In 2017 she recieved the Order of Canadan (OC) for her contribution to Canadian culture. she curently lives just outside Montreal.
Hillary confides that there were three scenarios which would give her sleepless nights when she was Secretary of State, and this was one of them. I hope therefore, that another of the three will be a second book featuring Ellen Adams. If its as gripping as this, I can’t wait.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviwers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought. we’d really appreciate the feedback.
In 1990, I was in the first year of a two-year Media studies course in Dublin. On a regular basis the class was allowed to attend press showings, of soon to be released films, so we could practice writing reviews. In October of that year the film we were sent to review was Philip Kaufman’s movie Henry and June. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Anais Nin, both of which tell the story of French author Nin’s tempestuous affair with salacious American author Henry Miller, while he was living in Paris between 1930-1939. That was my first introduction to Miller, through my background research on him, Nin and his wife June. I’ve since relised i’ve not got around to reading any of his forty books, most notably Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Like most good things of that era, that challenged social norms, a number of them were banned. So, I was very surprised to discover that Mr Miller is one of the main characters in this month’s book review, the book is The Girl, The Crow, The Writer and The Fighter by George Paterson and published by Into Books (www.intocreative.co.uk) on the 21st October.
In 1965 provocative author Henry Miller is taken incognito to an infamous title fight. In the turbulent aftermath of the bout, Miller is forced to battle his way through the melee to rendezvous with the keeper of a tightly guarded secret. Twenty years later a young Maine waitress, May Morgenstern is bequeathed a collection of bound letters by an elderly patron. The correspondence she quickly discovers are between Miller and her late friend and recounts how Miller was accused of the murder in Paris, then asked by a French criminal gang to take a valuable African plate back to the United States, while avoiding the attention of a rival criminal gang lead by a man known as “The Crow”. Miller is left for dead in the Mediterranean and recuperates on Corfu, only returning to the states just after the war. Yyars later, he and future heavyweight champion Sonny Liston find themselves again being coerced into to completing the mission. Can they finally get the plate to its original destination, or now all these years later does May have a role in this unfinished escapade…?
This isn’t the first time I’ve read a work of fiction featuring a real life personality in the lead, previously one of our book club choices a number of years ago was The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, based on Errol Flynn’s time in Jamaica. That was an absorbing and inventive read which weaved together historical facts about Flynn’s life and his time on the island. Again, Paterson’s book takes large well documented historical parts of Miller’s eventful and alcohol fuelled life and marries them with a very believable plot.
At times you get the feeling you are reading two books merged into one, what with the large chunk of the 395 pages taken up with the supposed italicised letters from Miller, and the modern-day ramifications which have a bearing on May’s life. But overall, I found the story recanted in the letters humours and an enjoyable to read, which showed us that Paterson had gone into a lot of in-depth research to keep it as close to the truth as possible.
If I had any issues with the book, they were minor, such as thinking it was slightly over long and there was a lot of characters to keep track of, which made me think that Paterson had veered slightly into the area a lot of debutant authors make, in trying to cram too much into their first book. Some readers might find the large swathes of italicised correspondence off putting, but the overall storytelling and the sense that he got Miller’s personality down to a tee, is what makes this book an enjoyable read.
This Scottish author, Musician and DJ, George Paterson’s (@gfpaterson) debut novel. As a member of the bands White and DMP, he released several well received albums on the Poco Alto label. His musical work can also be found in a few independent feature length and short films, as well as providing musical backing to the London stage play ‘ISM’. Over the past four years his focus has been split between the spoken word – with his weekly radio show ‘Lost in Music’ and written work appearing in online publications, before finding a permanent home as a regular features writer and reviewer at INTO creative.
So, if you a fan of miller or just fancy reading an enjoyable salute to the man’s hedonistic and colourful life, then go online and order a copy. Better still support your local bookshop and while adhering to all covid restrictions, go down in person and pick up a copy and join May, Henry, Sonny and a host of interesting characters on rambunctious journey across the decades.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought it, read theiur blogs klisted below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what yopu thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.
I’ve enjoyed the chance to review several novels set in war time for this blog. Some of the books have been romance stories such as the Dressmaker of Paris, by Georgia Kaufmann and While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart. Most have been thrillers such as Liberation Square , by Gareth Rubin The American Agent, by Jacqueline Winspear, and Ben Pastor’s The Horseman’s Song. War provides a great background to any story with ready-made elements of danger and villains. This months second book review is a detective thriller set in WW2, and whilst I may have initially thought this would re-tread of familiar territory, I was pleasantly surprised.The book is of Blackout by Simon Scarrow and published by Headline (www.headline.co.uk) on the 24th September .
Blackout is set in Berlin at the beginning of WW2, while Hitler is invading Poland and undertaking ‘peace’ negotiations with Britain and France. Every aspect of German life is run and ruled by the Nazi Party including the police force. Paranoia is intensified by the blackout which plunges the city into darkness every night. When a woman is murdered, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is under pressure to solve the case. Treated with suspicion by his superiors for failing to join the Nazi Party, Schenke walks a perilous line – for disloyalty is a death sentence. When a second victim is found and the investigation takes him closer to the sinister heart of the regime, Schenke realises the warring factions of the Reich are as dangerous as the killer.
What you quickly realise about this book, is that it has all the things you’d expect to find in a standard detective novel. A smart, but isolated lead character, with a medical disability. Which makes him somewhat unique to the usual suspects in this genre , who are usually burdened with a mental health or addiction problem; there’s also a stalwart team of lower ranking staff; difficult superiors, and a love interest. Not forgetting the politics and a public who have biased views of certain other people .
However, Scarrow’s knowledge of the workings of the Reich, the paranoia amongst the public, and the level of bullying, make this book stand out from its peers. He does also show the misery of the cold winter and deprivations faced by the general public, many of whom had little appetite for another war. The persecution of the Jewish people of course come up and here we see the moral dilemma faced by Schenke. While also seeing his frustration at wanting to follow the evidence but being thwarted by politics and those wielding the power.
This book is very technically correct but Scarrow has converted some of the German job titles in the Krippo to their English counterpart to make it easier and more familiar for the reader. At heart this plot could have been set in any era including modern times but the war time background added layers of tension, intrigue and interest for the reader as well as leaving you feeling you had learned a little more of the social history of that period and place. It was interesting to hear of the hardships and fears faced by the German public, when we’re mainly aware of the Londoner’s in the Blitz etc.
Schenke is a great new addition to a list of great cerebral detectives like Morse and Adam Dalgleish. while we are also introduced to a number of interesting chracters on his team, like the OCD Liebwitz, and the loyal Sergent Hauser. I hope to see all develop further in future stories. And what of Katrin, Schenke’s girlfriend with her outspoken views? Will their romance go the course or cause more drama?
This is english author Simon Scarrow’s (www.simonscarrow.co.uk) thirty fourth book, the majority are historical fiction, and Most of have been top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. On leaving school he followed his love of history by becoming a teacher, before taking up writing full time. His Roman era Eagles of the Empire series sold over 4 million copies of the books in the UK alone and his work has been translated into 24 languages. He lives in Norfolk.
Blackout is highly recommended by The Library Door. It should appeal to fans of detective fiction and historical thrillers. It also joins the many crime stories set at Christmas so will make an ideal Christmas present for the crime fan in your circle.
Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
A little over two weeks ago the American and British forces left Afghanistan, 20 years after they entered following 9/11, the anniversary of which is marked this weekend. In the aftermath of any military campaign, especially one which entailed such a chaotic departure, it is often questioned as to what was achieved and did all those who died, die in vain? Even one hundred and seven years on from the first world war, questions are still asked by historians, and quotes still attributed to politicians and commentators of the day about the outcome.
U.S. President Wilson, thought then it would be “the war to end all wars..”, he didn’t live to see the Second World War. Hemmingway did, he was an ambulance driver in the first war and a correspondent in the second. In 1946 he wrote “never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime..”. That maybe so, but if nothing is done after all the talking and diplomatic avenues have been exhausted, then there’s the “Sliding Doors” theory that we may have all ended up speaking German, especially in relation to WW2. This month’s first book review is set in WW1, it’s ‘A Hundred Years To Arras’ by J.M. Cobley and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com) 19th August.
Robert Gooding Henson is a twenty-three-year-old farmers son from Somerset in Southwest England. Who, against his father’s wishes, joins up just after the start of the first world war. He quickly forms deep rooted friendships with Stanley, who has lied about his age, and Ernest, who joined up to escape a life living rough on the streets. The bonds of their friendship are forged through gas attacks, spirit sapping life in frozen trenches, and hunting down kidnapped regimental dogs; while all along keeping up a sense of humour. The story follows Robert, and his regimental friends as they fight through France to a crucial battle at Arras. Thoughts of his parents farm and past loves on both sides of the channel draw him home, and leave him wondering if he or his friends will ever see their beloved home again.
I’ve watched numerous war movies over the years, but the most recent one set during world war one was the 2019 release ‘1917’, which received amazing reviews for its camera work and the performance of its unknown leads, along with the stellar support cast. But as for books set in World War One, this one stands out as the grittiest and most memorable, I’ve read to date.
From the first page you’re introduced to a simple, but seemingly well-read and rational farm boy, who is exposed to the to horrors of war, where for a lot of his fellow men and women rational thoughts and actions are destroyed by the sights, sounds and smells of modern warfare. The descriptions and detailed writing by Cobley, sticks with you like the cloying and frozen mud the characters trudge through day in and day out.
No more so than one pivotal scene where Robert is selected to make up a firing squad, tasked with executing two underage British soldiers, who are caught deserting. If nothing else in this or any other book you may have read on the subject, brings you up close and personal to the realities of having to shoot two young innocent boys, for just running from their fears and the reality of their situation, this scene alone will sear itself onto your memory.
On top of that there are the realities of the effect on the animals, both the working ones and the wildlife. Caught up in this unreal and hell like scenario, which is cutting a swathe across their home, and cut down by, bullets, gas and bombs. This all seen through eyes of a young man brought up to admire and respect nature. No where is this more poigniant then on the front cover, with an image of a dead sparrow liying on top of spent cartridges.
I couldn’t put this book down. Even though, I did think the relationship with his dad was a bit of an overused storyline, until at the end you discover that this is more than a well-researched work of fiction, and that J.M Cobley is actually a descendant of Robert, and Robert Henson Snr. not wanting his son to go to war was fact. After that, I was filled with admiration for both the story of Robert and how the author came to find out about his relative.
This is English author Jason M. Cobley’s (www.jmcobley.wordpress.com) first novel. He is best known for his work writing scripts for the long running Commando comic series and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as An Inspector Calls, as well as a children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift (2018). He also hosts a weekly progressive rock show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, and currently lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter.
With a month to go to my choice for the November read of my book group, I now have a selection headache, with three possible choices. But I can tell you, it won’t take you long to go out and pick up this book or download it, Neither will it take you a hundred years to read it, but you may wish you could immerse yourself in it for that long.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what ther other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
Probably like most people, I always associate Oxford with education and in recent times with the development of a Covid vaccine. But in terms of literature and in particular crime fiction, whenever someone mentions the city, I think of the Inspector Morse books, as well as the hugely successful TV series and its spin-off Endeavour series. So I was delighted when I got sent a copy of the third Johnson and Wilde mystery series. This months Third book review is Oxford Blues by Andy Griffee and published by Orphans publishing (www.orphanspublishing.co.uk) in July.
Jack Johnson is suffering from a severe case of the boating blues as we join him aboard Jumping Jack Flash in Oxford. He has moved there following his erstwhile companion, Nina Wilde. Nina’s niece, Anna, has recently started studying in Oxford and Nina has moved to be near her. Jack hopes they can have a fresh start but finds they’re drifting apart. He throws himself into a new job and makes friends amongst his boating neighbours. Then a young woman’s body is pulled from Iffley Lock. The victim’s boyfriend is a good friend of Anna. Nina, who is still grieving the loss of her husband is keen to support him. Reluctantly, Jack is pulled into the investigation.
Followers of this blog will know I previously reviewed the first of the series, ‘Canal Pushers’. As a former boater myself, I was impressed with the technical explanations and representations of the joys and hardships of living on the water. I haven’t boated around Oxford, but I’ve experienced some river cruising around York and Cambridge. Being at the whim of the river in terms of currents, tides and floods made for interesting and testing times and sometimes inventive boat handling techniques. I recall a boating holiday around York one winter. We’d cruised up the river Ouse ok, then spent some time on the Ripon Canal, during which it snowed. We thought nothing of it until we wanted to re-join the Ouse and found it in full flood. Trying to close the lock gates at the end of the canal where the two water courses met was a nightmare, due to the strong river current and that the landing stage where I planned to hop back aboard was under several feet of water. I remember some scary acrobatic climbing down onto the boat with the gates open. I was always afraid of weirs, and to a certain extent locks. I can remember being concerned that we’d be pulled onto the weirs rather than being able to take the safe channel around. What a holiday! Even currently, any nightmarish dreams involve floods, water crossings, weirs and locks! All thrilling enough without murder and intrigue thrown in!
The job of freelance journalist and the use of a narrowboat are ideal vehicles for this crime series. They allow the story to move to different settings easily and for the main character to have both nose for trouble and an insight into how to investigate. The fact that Andy Griffee has experience, both as a journalist and boater, shines through. Everything rings true and doesn’t seem forced or unbelievable. I loved the addition of a few new characters to the story, who I hope will reappear in future adventures. There was some humour again here. Andy Griffee seems to have a fixation with naturists! Perhaps that’s another life experience he’s drawing on? Who knows! There was also some moments of well written tension, that got my heart thumping, as well as the will they, wont they aspect of Jack’s romantic interest in Nina. Certainly, there were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.
This is English Author Andy Griffee’s (www.andygriffee.co.uk) third book, his others are Canal Pushers (2019) and Riiver Rats (2020). A former journalist with the Bath Chronic;le and 25 year stint as a regional controller with the BBC, he finished his career in charge of the redevelopment of the BBC’s iconic Broadcasting House in London. He lives in Worcestersire with his wife and three dogs, where he also rears rare pigs and maintains a 1964 triumph spitfire.
I’d highly recommended Oxford Blues to other crime readers. You could read this as a standalone but it’s well worth acquainting yourselves with the previous books. I’m already looking forward to number four. So cast off to your local bookseller and hook yourself a copy.
We’ve being doing something sub-consciously for years, then over the past eighteen months or more, we’ve had to get used to doing it almost as a necessity. While also lengthening this simple act by standing two metres apart from the person in front and behind us. What am I talking about? Queuing.
Whether you’re standing at a bus stop, in a supermarket, or a public toilet, we usually form an orderly queue. But when order breaks down, or someone tries to jump the queue, that’s when problems arise. This is usually supressed by a few polite words and an effusive apology from the offender. But when fear, or if there is a perception of missing out on something, and you could look at those images coming out Afghanistan over the past couple of days, or those scenes in the past of men, women and children scrambling over each other to get at items in Black Friday sales, that things can turn bad. So, it’s in this month’s second book review that the story centres around queuing, its Line by Niall Bourke and published by Tramp Press (www.tramppress.com) in April of this year.
Willard, his mother, and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an eternal procession, as part of The Line. The Line is a seemingly never-ending queue that stops, starts, and meanders its way across vast plains, up over mountains and in and out of valleys. Daily life in the Line is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules or lose your place in the line. When, one day Willard returns to his place in the line after visiting Nyla, he finds his mum has died. Among her possessions he discovers a small booklet, unable to comprehend what it means or its refences to Ali-Ben Orkul and The Corporation, he and Nyla decide to break one of the more sacrosanct rules and leave The Line. What answers will they find in the wilderness, cut off from The Line, and who or what are the Corporation and Ali-Ben Orkul?
Over the past number of years, a host of new Irish writing talent has taken it upon themselves to breakdown old traditions and step outside the literary box so to speak. Take Mike McCormack’s award-winning Solar Bones, which is a single sentence stretching over 233 pages and the equally unusual and highly celebrated Milkman by Anna Burns, which I had to put down after 20 pages due to it wrecking my head.
Unlike Burns’ book, I couldn’t put this down. Niall Bourke’s Line is both unusual and amazing in its simplicity. There is also punctuation, as well as seemly intriguing but easy to follow story within these 245 pages.
But I was held by the mystery of this story from page one and kept trying to figure out whether The Line and Willard, his mum and Nyla were part of a wagon train crossing the Americas? Were they and everyone else migrating from Africa to Europe or from South America to North America? Bourke’s excellent writing style gives no clue and lets you wonder. But every so often, I had to ask myself, is it simpler than that? Are they just on a constant never-ending line? And there you have it, the thing I found most interesting about this book and the story, is the unknown… But then, just when you think you can relax and let the book lead on, Bourke throws in a thesis on queuing!!! Again, this was beautiful and reminded me of the asides that regularly feature is Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, and as a result I was enthralled by the uniqueness and originality of this story.
This is Irish Author Niall Bourke’s (www.niallbourke.com) debut novel. His work has been published widely in magazines across Ireland and the UK, while his poems and stories have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Costa Short Story Award and the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. When not writing he is a teacher and lives in London with his wife and daughter.
This book proves that you can make a highly thought-provoking read out of the most mundane things in life and follows hot on the heels of the recent success of fellow Irish debutant writer Jamie O’Connell and his Diving for Pearls, which we reviewed here in June. I hope Niall keeps this up and bases his next book on some equally obscure day to day ritual or maybe he’ll write a sequel.
So, as we enter the latter part of August, and the last vestiges of the school holidays. I urge you to step away from the queue to the bestselling authors as you search for your holiday read and try this brand-new name in Irish literary fiction, that will have you following a new line -the one for his next eagerly anticipated book.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought we’d really appreciate the feedback.