Charlie Laidlaw has smashed it with Being Alert! I read it in a couple of seatings, chortling and snorting with amusement right through it.
Being Alert is political satire at its best, in the same league as Yes, Prime Minister and In the Thick of It. The author has a sharp eye for the outrageous and the absurd. He captures with flair and unforgiving astuteness the nonsensical antics of the ruling elites occupying the corridors of power in today’s Britain.
The main players are only thinly disguised under their new aliases: Winston Spragg (the PM), Derek Goings (his right-hand man), Kevin Kock (Health Secretary), Mick Gore, Vijay Patel (Chancellor), Timothy Raambo (the Foreign Secretary) and so on, and so on . . . ignorant advisers, slap-dash dilettante decision-makers, fantasists, sycophants and downright idiots ramble, strut and swagger through the pages of this brilliant book in a show of their abject and irredeemable incompetence.
The story is set during the turbulent time of the pandemic and while it is a satire and the author’s dry humour will have you in stitches, it is also a damning account of how badly the British government handled the crisis. There are sections in italics where Laidlaw reports the actual events and shocking statistics that require no commentary. In that respect, Being Alert is a tragicomedy – it is incredibly funny but is is also terribly poignant. Laidlaw holds Tory political elites to account, and he is merciless.
Reading just those first opening paragraphs of “The Man Who Died Twice” I was instantly transported to the cosy, yet somewhat deadly, word of the Thursday Murder Club and its jolly members. I experienced a thrill equal only to that of coming home after a long time away and catching up with dear old friends whose lives, let me assure you, did not stand still in my absence. Far from it!
In the second instalment of Richard Osmond’s mysteries, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, Ron and Bodgan are up to their eyeballs in murder, theft, mugging, spies and all sorts of crime and punishment. The fearsome septuagenarians are drawn – rather willingly – into the world of espionage, mafia, diamonds and double-crossing, not to mention the inexcusable mugging of one their own which they vow to avenge, come hell or high water.
The man in the title of this book is Douglas, Elizabeth’s ex-husband and her fellow ex-MI5 operative who arrives in the retirement village with his pockets full of stolen diamonds and the merciless mobster, Lomax, hot on his heels (followed closely by the Mafia). If that wasn’t enough for the Club to reckon with, Ibrahim is attacked in the street by a teenage troublemaker, Ryan Baird (who has no idea what deep water he has just waded into). The two plotlines take off from here, wheeze, twist and meander, until they are brought together in a spectacular finale.
Vibrant, funny, wonderfully human, “The Man Who Died Twice” is a worthy successor to “The Thursday Murder Club”. More please!
If you enjoy light, amusing and elegant humour and would relish the thrills and chills of the supernatural kind, the Something Wicked is definitely for you.
Lord Penrith is murdered by exsanguination, with only two drops of his blood left on the carpet. When an investigation into his bizarre death commences, two worlds collide, but not necessarily clash: the modern and rational world of detective Galbraith and the darkly mysterious, ancient world of secret agent, Pole. They are the worlds of humans and vampires. Williams pits the two characters against each other and at the same time brings them together rather amicably in their collaboration to track down the killer.
London features prominently in this novella. The author’s intimacy with its boroughs, squares, back alleys and all its unique rhymes and rhythms is evident. The late night’s excursion into Brompton Cemetery will send a shiver down your spine, but don’t fear – it won’t give you nightmares. This humorous detective thriller isn’t a horror. And did I mention the thrills of tango?
Williams doesn’t fail to bring history into the equation – after all, his day job is writing historical fiction. I enjoyed his exposé on the arrival of vampires in Britain and the bargain Pole (then Ivan Paolo) had struck with Charles II.
All in all, a quick fun read that will take you out of the box of grey reality.
I think I have become slightly addicted to Agatha Raisin and her world of small, secretive villages scattered around the Cotswolds.
Something Borrowed Someone Dead is yet another foray into one of such village, called Piddlebury. The name alone tells a story! One of its residents, the universally loathed Gloria French, is poisoned. Her claim to fame was her knack for borrowing and never returning whatever tickled her fancy. Such bad habit on its own doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to murder someone, but then this is Piddlebury. The locals are a bit tetchy.
Agatha is engaged by one of the residents, Mr Tarrant to find the murderer so that people stop suspecting each other. The atmosphere in the village is tense. Agatha wades on it with her big personality and makes a few enemies. Soon, the murderer is after her. Her investigating antics follow, peppered with her personal dramas involving James Lacey and the beautiful Toni…
The plot of this instalment isn’t the most elaborate or credible, but this is after all Agatha Raisin, not John Rebus, so a touch of suspended belief is perfectly in order.
How much magic, peril and adventure, how many wizards, heroes, dragons and trolls, how much wit and laughter is it possible to squeeze onto a disc carried by just four elephants standing on a single, albeit giant, turtle? The sky is the limit, but only if your name is Terry Pratchett.
The Colour of Magic will take you out of the grim reality of the year of the pandemic and into multiple fantasy worlds where everything is completely other-worldly and belly-laughingly hilarious.
Twoflower, a tourist who arrives in the city of Ankh-Morpork (on its rougher side) acquires special protection from a (failed) wizard Rincewind, primarily because of his Luggage which is filled with riches the criminal fraternity of the city has never seen before. Like a caterpillar, The Luggage travels of its own accord, using its many busy feet, and that’s not even the most puzzling thing about it . Rincewind and Twoflower meet villains, dragons, trolls and all matter of characters who either assist or obstruct them on their travels. And then they come to the edge of the disc. I can’t say anymore but the story doesn’t end there – not quite, not once, and not in the conventional sense of the word.
I reached for The Colour of Magic to shake off the blues of last year. I remembered reading I Shall Wear Midnight many years ago with my daughter, and I wanted to recapture that old magic. I definitely achieved that.
I have read a couple of books by Nick Spalding, notably my favourite “Bricking It”, and have come to expect lots of anecdotal humour, wild slapstick comedy and tongue-in-cheek observations of the crazy modern world we live in. Spalding always delivers, and “Going Green” is no exception. At the heart of the story is Ellie Cooke who jumps out of her skin to save her job, inadvertently ending up in the ‘saving the planet’ camp. Her antics at trying to impress her new eco-friendly (and quite dishy) boss Nolan Reece are at times hilarious. The scenes at the protest march in front of the shopping centre had me in stitches. Ellie may be desperate but she is also out of her depth and all her efforts come across as utter non-starters (at least in the eyes of her colleagues). Yet, she gets her point across to her boss and it looks like she has saved her job. But that’s not quite the end of the story. Expect quite a twist at the end! “Going Green” has a topical storyline, a hapless but in her special way principled heroine and a motley crew of minor characters. The story is told from Ellie’s point of view and is narrated by her. Spalding makes her believable by reducing her language to colloquial with some curses thrown in to spice things up. Perhaps a touch too many for me, but hey, that’s how most of us would speak if our job was on the line.
Much Winchmoor is a colourful West Country village populated by an assortment of lively characters. They tend to gather for a spot of gossip and some general busy-bodying at such distinguished local landmarks as the hairdressers and Winchmoor Arms public house. Much Winchmoor is full of life and good-natured hustle and bustle, until of course Marjorie is killed. Promptly followed by Doreen. Kat Latcham is to become a self-appointed village sleuth, as assisted by Will. Just as she thought she’d escaped from the clutches of parochial country living, Kat is dumped (and robbed) by her unworthy boyfriend in London. That misfortune forces her to return to the village, penniless and dismayed. She tries her hand at various menial jobs, but she is really destined for greater challenges such as inadvertently becoming an amateur private investigator. It is Kat who narrates the story and I really enjoyed hearing about her exploits first-hand from her. She is well-fleshed out and likeable young lady. Williams throws into the mix a few red herrings and there is yet another twist right at the end. I won’t go into any spoilers so will stop here. I am delighted to have discovered the Much Winchmoor Mysteries. I looking forward to reading the next one.
The premise of this story is intriguing: a young man sends a text message to all his contacts, informing them that he is about to commit suicide. And then he puts his phone on fight mode thus blocking people from replying. This isn’t a typical cry for help, and he certainly isn’t craving attention. He is not interested in the world’s reaction to his news. He is factual. He boards a sleeper train to his truly “final” destination. This book isn’t just about about the main character’s emotional state and his motives; it is also about all those contacts who receive his message and have to do something about it. The title of this book is very deliberate indeed. James’s phone contacts are the collective title character of this book. The moment the message is received and at least partially digested, a flurry of activity follows. A flatmate begins to mount a coordinated rapid response. The sister in the far away Australia starts organising a rescue operation. An ex-best friend changes course and heads for Edinburgh. An ex-girlfriend stops to think and atone. All of the people who once may have hurt James, used or abused his feelings, are united in the effort of saving him. Contacts is a beautifully written moralistic tale about empathy, second chances, redemption and the value of people simply being there for each other. It isn’t a book about suicide. Quite the opposite. I quite liked it that Watson brought the topic up to date, straight into the twenty-first century to show that human interaction may have become seriously digitised but that doesn’t mean that technology dehumanised us and left us lonely and hopeless. I enjoyed Watson’s clear prose. It isn’t emotive. It doesn’t take centre stage and it doesn’t take away from the story and the characters. It treats about emotions by it doesn’t allow itself to get carried away. I also enjoyed the wry humour. A poignant tale about a man and his network of support full of holes but also very many best intentions.
Firstly, you will come to adore the octogenarian Club members. They are something else! And they thrive on murder. Elizabeth, a female version of James Bond, in retirement. Ron, a geriatric activist and tireless instigator; quite an orator, when pushed. Joyce, quiet as a mouse, a once-upon-a-time nurse. Ibrahim, a psychotherapist with a sharp eye for detail (so sharp that it borders on compulsive-obsessive). This quartet of amateur detectives gathers once a week to solve cold cases. Until, one day, a brand-new murder lands in their collective lap; and another one a few days later. Not to mention the discovery of human bones in an old convent graveyard, which would be perfectly normal had said bones been found inside a coffin. And so the scene is set for a thorough and methodical investigation, which the actual police detectives, Donna and Chris Hudson, can hardly keep up with.
Osman builds the case skillfully, adding layer upon layer of wider social and personal background. The network of current and past events is smoothly woven together. As the unraveling of the two murders progresses, the characters develop and flourish. I particularly enjoyed the character of the Polish builder, Bogdan who started as a stereotype only to surprise me as I got to know him better (well, as Elizabeth and her husband, Stephen, got to know him better).
This is a classic cosy mystery: funny, full of observational humour, presenting the reader with a deliciously twisty and unpredictable case to get your teeth into.
I must confess I haven’t read Neverwhere and, at first, I was a bit lost in this short story. But I quickly found my way by simply following the Marquis de Carabas who in his turn was following the scent of his extraordinary coat stolen from him in mysterious circumstances. We have traversed most puzzling worlds of Below London where tube stations come to life to become characters in the story. Thus we have the Elephant, Victoria and the frightening Shepherds of Shepherd’s Bush. I found that world bewitching.
The Marquis de Carabas’s quest brought to mind another short story, “Overcoat” by Gogol. There too an owner unlawfully deprived of his precious coat moves heaven and earth to retrieve it, and not even death seems to be able to stop him. The coat represents his life. Here too, the coat has given the Marquis his name, his identity and his direction in life. Without it, he is incomplete. His older brother, Peregrine, is his guardian angel in the (many) hours of need.
I have reached for this story because I loved Good Omens and I wanted to discover a bit more about Neil Gaiman. I am hooked.