As you may know, J.K. Rowling has branched out somewhat since the Harry Potter series. Aside from The Casual Vacancy (which received lukewarm reviews), she has developed the highly popular Cormoran Strike series under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. The series has been well received, and is soon to be dramatised by the BBC. Having read the first and third books in the series (The Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil respectively), I was eagerly awaiting reading the second book, The Silkworm – and I was not disappointed.
As Ben Macintyre points out in Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, the relationship between cricket (that most English of sports) and spying (at which the British have always excelled) is deep-rooted and unique. Something about the game attracts the sort of mind also drawn to the secret worlds of intelligence and counter-intelligence — for both are complex tests of brain and brawn, high-stakes games of honour and ruthless good manners interwoven with trickery, dependent on minute gradations of physics and psychology interwoven with tea breaks.
Reading James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death reminded me of three classical detectives of fiction – Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, and Father Brown. In the nature of the short stories, which toy with the predominant format in similar stories of an unseen murder, investigation, and denouement, I felt some of Conan Doyle; in the setting of a rural and academic Cambridge, alongside the highly educated nature of the protagonist I felt definite echoes of Dexter; and in the ecclesiastical, gentle, and easygoing nature of the stories I felt reverberations from Chesterton. Runcie’s collection of six short(ish) stories was highly enjoyable, a nice armchair read with a good bit of character development – albeit requiring what Coleridge called a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.
Is the BBC biased? It’s interesting that in the UK, people generally assume the media to be trustworthy reporters presenting news that is of objective importance. The mainstream print media covers a wide political spectrum, from the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph which present generally conservative views, to the left wing outlooks of the Daily Mirror and The Guardian.
However, broadcasting media is dominated by one huge corporation: the corporation, Auntie, the BBC. 93% of the population of the United Kingdom use a BBC provided service at least once a week. A whopping 256 million people worldwide receive their news from the BBC in some form, that’s a staggering one in twenty-eight. This is an astronomical figure, and the BBC’s reputation and renown for impartiality even in wartime is a key factor in retaining such a wide usage-but in recent years this reputation has come under increasing attack. Is the BBC really a trustworthy source for information with regards to key issues? Put simply, can we trust the news the BBC presents?
I doubt that there are many books with a premise as downright bizarre as John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. John Green, as most readers will be aware, writes these teen angst stories very well in my (limited) experience of him, and I enjoyed Paper Towns when I read it. Yet reading this quirky book, I found myself reminded of another book, similarly quirky, and just as gripping. Was Green just trotting out a book with superficial tweaks to the plot which had worked wonders to him before?
Intriguing insight into life and discrimination after ‘The Great Depression’.
There aren’t many books named after poems. Personally I can only think of two, one by Christie, and one by John Steinbeck, whose work Of Mice and Men is so called after a poem by Robert Burns. Amongst the lines in said poem is “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley”-basically even the most carefully thought out schemes will always go wrong, following Murphy’s Law (‘what can go wrong will go wrong’). And in Of Mice and Men, there is a lot that can go wrong.
Philosophical and meaningful, one of John Green’s best.
There’s a quote I heard recently: “It’s a paper town. Paper houses and paper people”. It’s intriguing how many philosophical questions and arguments can be found in the pages of a young adult novel, though you may be a little less surprised if I told you that the author of this novel, Paper Towns, is none other than John Green of The Fault in Our Stars fame. Paper Towns is the first book by Green that I have read, but from my experience with this one it will not be the last. It was witty, charming, and interesting, and one which I would definitely recommend reading (and/or watching the film which comes out today).
Could be and should be the next big thing.
I have just finished Graeme Shimmin’s A Kill in the Morning, and I loved it. It beautifully blends several genres with astonishing ease, notably the alternative history as that exemplified in Fatherland (that where an alternative history leads to the story, rather than the alternative history being the story), and the gripping thriller/action plot as in James Bond films. This blending makes for a fantastic read, even though personally I may disagree with the comparisons with the other media above (more on that later). The story twisted and turned, yet maintained a strong pace throughout and was a real page turner.
Today, a new government will be elected. Yet the behind the scenes running of the Houses of Parliament remain a mystery to most, a sea of incomprehension-but understanding was brought to those who watched the BBC documentary Inside the Commons, or have read Order! Order!. They demystify the mystical, comprehensify the incomprehensible, clear the fog. As Gwyneth Dunwoody said, “Parliament is not only the last important forum for the British people, it is also the last defender of the rights of all citizens”. That the very place that affects us most is the place we understand least is something that we should attempt to immediately rectify, and the BBC and Robert Rogers have assisted most ably here.
Child 44–there’s something fishy afoot
When reading Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, I was reminded of something. I couldn’t think what it was when I was reading it, but later I realised: I was reminded of Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Granted, one was in Germany and one in Soviet Russia in the Cold War, but there were striking similarities. The main characters are good guys in a bad world, they live in authoritarian dictatorial nations, but don’t worry, they’re both good guys (that was sarcastic if it didn’t carry). Smith’s first novel reads exactly like Harris, and I’m not convinced if that’s a good thing.