Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

17-john-le-carre-books-blog480As I commented earlier as I am reading some hefty non-crime fiction books alongside my usual crime fiction diet I will only be making the briefest comments on the books I read, unless there is something particularly interesting to note.

Since my last review I have read:

Entry Island: Peter May:- Neither of the two plot strands in this long book were particularly original, but the descriptive writing was excellent. The historical back story set in 19th century Scotland was exceptionally good, and a little bit superior to the modern day story set on Entry Island off the coast of Canada. 

Duet in Beirut: Mishka Ben-David translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg:- After a failed mission in Beirut agent Ronen is dismissed from Mossad, and when his former commander Gadi discovers he has gone to Beirut to redeem himself he follows to prevent another disaster. There is some discussion about the morality of targeted assassinations that inevitably lead to tit-for-tat killings, and a lot about the interpersonal relationships between the characters, a situation that is complicated by Ronen’s wife having been Gadi’s lover in the past. A good read with much more about planning an operation rather than the actual action.

The Golden Egg: Donna Leon:- The Guido Brunetti books are usually enjoyable, and his close family life with Paola and the children make such a interesting contrast to that of so many other detectives. But this was such a miserable slow paced story that even a devoted Donna Leon fan was struggling at times. 

From Eden To Exile: Eric H. Cline:- The author discusses the archaeological evidence that might explain some biblical mysteries. An interesting read although no easy answers were found.

This Dark Road To Mercy: Wiley Cash:- A gripping story told from several perspectives set mostly in the author’s home state of North Carolina. This book deservedly won the 2014 CWA Gold Dagger.

A Mad Catastrophe: Geoffrey Wawro:- One of many books published in 2014 on the centenary  of the outbreak of the Great War. This long book deals with the disastrous conduct of the war by Austria-Hungary in 1914 on both the Serbian and Russian Fronts. Full of unpleasant details of ludicrous offensives that lead to horrendous losses, and the ultimate fall of the Hapsburg and Romanov dynasties. With a few exceptions most Great War Generals seem to have been out horse riding, playing polo, or chasing women when their military schools covered the tactical lessons of the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and the Russo-Japanese War. The Great War was a dreadful tragedy that cast a long dark shadow over the last century, and we are still living with the results today.

I also tackled two very different spy thrillers A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre, and A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming [winner of the 2012 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger] which was my favourite read in January. The contrast between these books was fascinating, and in some ways surprising as the veteran was surpassed by the comparative newcomer.

I haven’t read John le Carre since The Looking Glass War [1964] back in 2010, a novel nowhere near as good as the Karla trilogy, or Theforeign country Constant Gardener. Since then I have re-watched the TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and seen the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman, and am now watching the TV version of Smiley’s People with the brilliant Alec Guinness. The amusing thing about The Looking Glass War was that the three sections were introduced by quotations from Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan and Rupert Brooke,  a choice hardly representative of  le Carre’s political stance today.

The problem with A Wanted Man is that the narrative is so turgid, and lacks the subtlety of the Karla trilogy and many of the earlier books. I read a ranking of le Carre’s novels somewhere on the internet that puts A Most Wanted Man at 20 out of 22.

I think this book could have been so much better. The author hints that the “most wanted man” Issa Karpov, a Chechen who has been tortured by the Russians,  might not be everything he seems, and there might be a clever twist to the story; but unfortunately there isn’t and the ending is both predictable, and abrupt. What was most disappointing was that most of the characters seemed more like walking political statements than real human beings. I will be extremely interested to see what the movie starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as German intelligence agent Gunther Bachman makes of the book. 

Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country also begins slowly, but it has plenty of trade craft and action as it follows disgraced agent Thomas Kell as he attempts to track down the missing newly appointed head of MI6, Amelia Levene. This is more nuanced novel with some intriguing little twists in the plot, and a very exciting ending. This was a book  that definitely deserved the award of the 2012 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. I enjoyed it so much that I am now reading the sequel A Colder War, which also features Thomas Kell.   


Posted: November 6, 2014 in Book Awards, review, USA

havanarequiem4Paul Goldstein is a Stanford University law professor specialising in intellectual property law. Havana Requiem is his third book featuring Michael Seeley and it won the Harper Lee prize for legal fiction in 2013. Professor Goldstein is in good company as the award which began in 2011 has also been won by best selling authors John Grisham [winner in 2011 and 2014] and Michael Connelly [winner in 2012]. 

Recovering alcoholic Michael Seeley has been reinstated in his position as a partner in the New York law firm of Boone, Bancroft and Meserve after a series of mishaps related to his drinking in the previous book in the series. An elderly Cuban composer Hector Reynoso is sent to him by an old friend Hector Devlin aged 89. Hector represents a group of Cuban musicians and composers who wish to recover the copyright of their music which dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. The music has become popular due to the movie Buena Vista Social Club, and is played as jingles to advertise products such as frozen tacos and rum. Royalties from their music now brings in millions of dollars, but the composers receive nothing. Seeley and his Spanish speaking associate Elena Duarte divide up Seeley’s current workload, and Seeley is surprised when the music publishers agree to a waiver that allows him to represent the hlpcomposers.

Hobart ‘Hobie’ Harriman arranges for Seeley to meet with Evernham and Company bankers, who offer Seeley a mysterious and very wealthy client if he desists from pursuing the claim for the Cubans. The reader is told Evernham are the type of bank who have clients not customers. Reminding me of the reverse message, when a health minister told dentists working for the English NHS [public health dentistry] that we no longer had patients, but now had customers and consequently less status and remuneration.

Hector Reynoso then disappears, and Seeley travels to Cuba to obtain the signatures of the musicians/composers before an upcoming legal deadline. In Cuba the descriptive writing brings the reader close to the rhythms of Africa, Cuban culture, the heat, the crumbling colonial architecture and the big old American cars. 

The candles gave off a lavender scent and the flickering shadows lent an impermanence to the room.

The dark hair that Seeley had only seen pulled back into the dancer’s severe bun, was down now, falling in curls over Amaryll’s shoulders, amazing in its thick abundance.

Seeley falls in love with the beautiful Amaryll, who symbolically drives a rickety Lada left behind by the Russians, and he becomes mixed up not only with the security police but the US State Department. 

2014-Jan-Cuba-001-242-1024x678This is an excellent book, and the characters such as the slimy ‘Hobie’ Harriman are memorable mostly as a contrast to the honesty of Amaryll, and the struggling people of Cuba. The narrative is intense and emotional taking the reader from the smart law offices, and squash courts of New York to the dismal security police prison cells and rough justice of Havana. 

“Government ?” Amaryll laughed. ‘ That is an American fantasy! There is no government here.

Fidel is a ghost. Raul is the ghost’s brother. There are just the police, who make Linares Cordina’s life a misery, and the security police , who Onelio and the others worry about.

The rest is just stories about the revolution that old white men at the Plaza de la Revolucion tell to each other. That and their dreams. But no government.


Cuban society is portrayed, perhaps harshly I don’t know enough about it, as a country blighted by racism, poverty and corruption, and the lawyers, bankers and mysterious holding companies back in the US are no better.

Paul Goldstein has brought the dry subject of intellectual property law into the world of legal thrillers with a great deal of success, while giving the reader some moral questions to consider.

Hobie was the force that brought people together with the trappings of power and pleasure.

Seeley said, ‘Who’s going to represent this kind of client if we don’t?”

” They can go to Legal Aid.”  

sycamore row 2014I was encouraged to read Sycamore Row by John Grisham after reading posts about the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction on Bill Selnes impressive blog Mysteries and More. Bill is a lawyer in Saskatchewan and he seems to be the sort of legal representative we would all like to have on our side. Sycamore Row is billed as the sequel to A Time To Kill [1989] Grisham’s first book, famously rejected by publishers, and deals with the challenging  racial atmosphere in rural Mississippi in the late 1980s.

Seth Hubbard has secretly built up a vast fortune in timber and real estate but has terminal lung cancer. He decides to commit suicide as he can’t stand the pain and prepares a new handwritten will disinheriting his worthless children, and leaving 5% to his church, 5% to his long lost brother Ancil, and 90% to his black housekeeper and carer Lettie Lang.  He sends a copy of his will and a covering letter to arrive after his death to lawyer Jake Brigance explaining his family will challenge the new will and entreats him that ” he wants this will defended at all costs…”

Fight them, Mr Brigance, to the bitter end . We must prevail.

Sycamore Row is an excellent book with a strong message against racism, and although the reader is given a hint about why Seth leaves so much on his estate to Lettie this does not spoil the story. The reader is given a lot of information about lawyering in small towns, and learns that although the sheriff of Ford County Ozzie Walls is black the county is still “segregated” socially.

old natchezFord County was 74 percent white, but Ozzie had won his election and reelection by wide margins. The blacks adored him because he was one of their own. The whites respected him because he was a tough cop and a former football star at Clanton High. In some aspects of life in the Deep South, football was slowly transcending race.

The reader is drawn in to the early chapters as we see Seth’s children Hershel and Ramona treat Lettie apallingly in such an offensive manner that it reminded me of the hlpfilm, The Help, even though that was set two decades earlier. Jake is fighting against bigger legal firms who will use any means to influence the mainly white jury that will be selected in Ford County. Jake represents the estate of Seth Hubbard, and when Simeon her disreputable husband persuades her to hire her own firm of black lawyers from Memphis the situation becomes more complex as her kinfolk arrive in droves to share in her predicted good fortune.

Sycamore Row is a long book and while the trial preliminaries drag on for months Grisham keeps the reader glued to the page with character sketches, and tales of life in rural Mississippi. 

“If you say so. You ever have a restrainin’ order?”

“No, but my brother did. Bitch convinced a judge he was dangerous, which he was, and a judge told him to stay away from the house and keep his distance in public. Didn’t bother him. Killed her anyway.”

Sycamore Row won the 2014 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction awarded by the University of Alabama to a book length work of fiction that illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change. 

I think John Grisham’ Sycamore Row  was a worthy winner of the prize, because this book despite its length and the very serious and important subject matter was an easy read.      

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The next book I read  was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger, author of the Cork O’Connor series, which is a stand alone novel that not only won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Crime Novel, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, but has been nominated for several others.


51UQkttWO5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The opening prologue sets the scene as the narrator Frank Drum  looks back from the perspective of forty years on the summer of 1961, and the seemingly idyllic setting of a small town in middle America when he was 13 years old. 

All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.

Ordinary Grace is beautifully written lyrical, emotional, multilayered, schmaltzy and very American novel. I admit to crying at one point as the plot unfolded and I realised that all the characters are flawed in some way. Their visible flaws, Frank’s younger brother Jake has a bad stutter, his older sister Ariel has a hare lip, her boyfriend Karl’s family includes Lise who is deaf and her uncle Emil, a concert pianist who is blind, are as nothing to the secrets they keep hidden inside.

It is as if Frank is feeling nostalgia for a lost time and a utopian childhood world that never was. The tone of Ordinary Grace has been compared, by The Detroit News, to Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird with its combination of dread and nostalgia. The nostalgia is heavily laid on so that the terrible events are that much more shocking.

Ordinary Grace is a very good read but be prepared to have your heartstings pulled as the crisply drawn characters exhibit feet of clay, and the reader is made to understand that although at times life is very hard we have to go on even though we are distraught with grief.

IMG4The Hunting Dogs by Jorn lier Horst translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce has won both The Golden Revolver [Top Norwegian Crime Novel 2013] and The Nordic Glass Key 2013. The Hunting Dogs is written in a clinical factual police procedural style which is compelling. I thought this a superior book to the author’s Closed For Winter. 

Seventeen years earlier William Wisting lead the investigation into the murder of Cecilia Linde, now it seems the evidence may have been fabricated and DNA may have beenn planted by the police. The convicted man Rudolf Haglund is free and Wisting is suspended as an investigation begins. 

Meanwhile Wisting’s crime reporter daughter Line is looking into the murder of one Jonas Ravneberg , and is also very concerned that the media have already made a negative judgement about her father. Then another young woman goes missing…….

‘We killed Cecilia Linde,’ Wisting repeated.

‘When you approached the media and told them about the cassette you gave the murderer no alternative.’

The Hunting Dogs explores the relationship between father and daughter, the media’s responsibility in dealing with abduction cases, and the stress placed on the detectives in such cases. It also raises issues about the question of how a system of law that is balanced heavily in favour of  perpetrators and their human rights as opposed to those of their victims can function in a very violent world. As a retired policeman once said to me “we can’t interrogate people anymore we have to bore them into a confession”. 

The Hunting Dogs has to be a strong contender for the International Dagger and Petrona Awards next year.

‘What’s he doing?’ Morten P asked.

‘He’s just sitting watching people,’ Line said but, at that moment, it dawned on her he was not simply looking. He was selecting individuals and studying them in detail. All of them young women.

51oNv3l+zUL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Cobra by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers is a fast moving thriller set in Cape Town. Benny Griessel  is called to a bloodbath when trained bodyguards have been executed at a luxury guesthouse by a professional killer, or killers, leaving behind distinctive shell casings marked with a cobra. A mysterious Briton Paul Morris, a man seemingly with no past, is missing presumed kidnapped.

Meanwhile charming young pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is plying his trade in order to help pay for his sister Nadia’s university fees. But when he is picked up by security guards for stealing a beautiful foreigner’s purse, a figure intervenes killing the guards but allowing Tyrone to escape leaving behind his mobile phone. 

Tyrone still has the disk wanted by the killers, and when Paul Morris is identified a race develops to save him and Nadia who has been seized by the Cobra killers. Yes it is all very complicated, and exciting. Although Cobra is marketed as a Benny Griessel novel, my favourite police person in the novel is:

Captain Mbali Kaleni was the only woman in the DPCI’s Violent Crimes Team. For six long months now. She was short and very fat. She was never to be seen without her SAPS identity card on a ribbon around her neck, and her service pistol on her plump hip. When she left her office, there was a huge  handbag of shiny black leather over her shoulder. 

She is my favourite character because doesn’t fit the stereotype of women cops in crime fiction, and above all she is honest.

‘State security eavesdropping on us, taking over a criminal case. Just like in apartheid times. We are destroying our democracy, and I will not stand by and let it happen. And it will, if we let it. I owe it to my parents’ struggle, and I owe it to my country.’

Another fine book that should be a contender for the International Dagger.   

51MLwvIJgBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Red Sparrow won the 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel, and this modern spy novel is an exciting read and worthy prize winner. I don’t think it quite compares to the  best work of John Le Carre, Charles McCarry or Len Deighton, but it is a very good debut novel. 

I mentioned Epigraphs when posting about Colin Dexter’s The Secret of Annexe 3, well Red Sparrow is all about Experience, Espionage and Epicure. 

Experience: author Jason Matthews has 33 years experience as an officer in the CIA’s Operations Directorate, now the National Clandestine Service.

Espionage: Red Sparrow is packed full of spy tradecraft, as CIA operative Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash is targeted by the beautiful Dominika Egorova, a trainee of the Sparrow School of seduction. Dominika  is the niece of Vanya Egorov, Deputy Director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Foreign Intelligence Service. Nate is running a CIA mole MARBLE who is embedded deep inside the SVR, and while Dominika is attempting to recruit Nate, Nate is also trying to recruit her because of her relationship with Egorov.

Like most spy stories there are lots of complexities, and love affairs, betrayals but the characters are dealt with in a mature fashion, and the writing is of a quality that makes the 500 plus pages go smoothly. Matthews makes you care about what happens to these people. In Red Sparrow there is more thinking, and eating than shooting.

Epicure [a person who appreciates fine food and drink]: One feature I loved about the book is that every chapter ends with a recipe that refers to a meal eaten by the characters during the preceding action. These vary from simple Beet Soup to Caviar Torte to Shrimp Yiouvetsi as the action moves from Moscow to Helsinki, Washington, Rome, Athens and a climax at the Narva River. 

A spy thriller with believable characters and tense situations, blended with a tempting cookbook; an original concept, and a very good read. 

The Germans would have found him shuldhaft, culpable, and given him three years. The Americans would have pegged the poor sap a victim of sexpionage and sentenced him to eight years. In Russia the predatel, the traitor, would have been liquidated. French investigators handed down a stern finding of negligent. Delon was transferred home quickly-out of reach-consigened to duties without access to classified documents for eighteen months. 

A beautiful woman, quoi faire? What could you do?      

51eK2UHfulL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_518g9AKCspL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_P1040738P1040757Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie is a very interesting read set in Lapland, where the Reindeer Police enjoy cross border jurisdiction. The Sami like indigenous people all over the world struggle to hold on to their way of life, as incomers try to exploit the mineral wealth of the country. My own personal experience of the Sami people is limited to a brief alcoholic conversation on a train journey from Uppsala to Stockholm over twenty years ago.  


See The Swedish Apache. I mention this blog post from 2009 because there are some particularly interesting  replies to my post. 

I haven’t read as much of Forty Days Without Shadow as I had originally planned simply because I have been pleasantly distracted by some summer weather, trips out to Devon’s scenic sites, and American visitors. Those visitors from the USA have included, very old friends who emigrated from England to the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1981. And fellow blogger Margot Kinberg, who it was a great pleasure to meet in person after a few years of enjoyable internet contact. 

And I have also been seduced into reading chunks of Bill Bryson’s brilliant best seller One Summer America 1927, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Herbert Hoover and Al Capone in a very different USA. I have also been distracted, possibly temporarily, by some football matches. Champions_statue


All this means that unfortunately the announcement of the International Dagger Award and the Endeavour Historical Award winners will take place before I have had a chance to read more of the shortlists. 

More about Forty Days Without Shadow next week……………


51L9kyz3feL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51ANBYTT1nL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51MIKOBq3-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51kss+dFjYL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51Ll7rHYubL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_61S3rEHE0cL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51ycKO1H8bL._There is a new sponsor for the CWA Historical Crime Fiction Prize, the Endeavour press. There is a shortlist of seven novels and the award will be made on the 30th June 2014. I think historical crime fiction is the most difficult sub genre to write successfully. Simply because the author has to add accurate  historical research to the mix of plot, character and atmosphere. 

My thoughts on the shortlist:

The Devil in the Marshalsea: Antonia Hodgson

Set in London’s Marshalsea debtors prison in 1727 this debut novel hopefully will live up to the hype. “Detail and atmosphere rivals The Master, Dickens, with added crime.”

The Late Scholar: Jill Paton Walsh

A novel which moves Dorothy L. Sayers characters Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane into the 1950s. I have read so little of Miss Sayers that I couldn’t compare it to the originals.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders: Kate Griffin

I got the impression from reading reviews of this book that it was a young adult book, but if it is good enough it does not matter who is the intended readership. Is it good enough?

Treachery: S.J.Parris

The fourth Giordano Bruno adventure set in Elizabethan England 1583. Monk, poet and detective Giordano is just the man to work for Sir Francis Walsingham in foiling Spanish plots against England and her Virgin Queen. 

The City of Strangers: Michael Russell

This is the second in a series set in the years just before the Second World War with protagonist Garda Sergeant Stefan Gillespie. The first The City of Shadows was set in Dublin and Danzig, this sequel in 1939 New York. 

Theft of Life: Imogen Robertson

London, 1785. The unconventional Harrriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther investigate the murder of a former West Indies planter and face the reality of the slave trade. 

The Dead Can Wait: Robert Ryan

I was intrigued by the blurb of this book. “At a time when Sherlockian recreations are ten-a-penny, Ryan’s Dr Watson at War series seems likely to be the one that would most have won the approval of Conan Doyle himself.”

Didn’t Conan Doyle became totally bored with Sherlock Holmes, and attempt to kill him off at the Reichenbach Falls? 

I find it rather depressing that two out the seven shortlisted books use characters created by dead writers. Perhaps I am being very unfair, I frequently am.

When entries that did not make the shortlist come from writers such as Laura Wilson, Joe R. Lansdale, Robert Harris [the superb An Officer And A Spy], Robert Goddard, Michael Ridpath, Patrick Easter and John Lawton, I wonder if my status as an amateur historian and apprentice reviewer is under threat.        

51kmTzUoq6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_A little frazzled by reading hundreds of pages about real life genocide and ethnic cleansing I picked up Six Years by Harlan Coben for some less challenging reading. I had only read one book by this author Tell No One; and I had watched the brilliant French film adaptation of the novel three times.  A serious Kristin Scott Thomas addiction.

Six Years begins with a heartbroken Jake Fisher at the wedding of Natalie, the only woman he would ever love, to Todd Sanderson in a small white chapel in Vermont. Jake is a political science professor at Lanford, one of those Massachusetts liberal arts universities where students discuss the theories of Locke and Rousseau while wondering which Wall Street firm, or US Senator will find them employable.

Six years after that wedding Jake sees on his computer news feed that Todd Sanderson has been murdered, and although he had promised Natalie he would leave her alone he cannot resist the urge to see her again and travels to South Carolina to attend Todd’s funeral. There to his shock he sees that Todd has a different widow and children grieving for him. Where is Natalie?

The set up and hook is very good, but from then on the story is a bit too far fetched and very derivative. The whole plot will be familiar to readers of Tell No One with only a few variations on the theme. Six Years was easy escapist reading and clearly if you have won an Edgar, Shamus and Anthony and your books sell in their millions you have a successful formula. But although I enjoyed the book, it was a rapid read, in my opinion you owe readers a little more than just a clever reworking of Tell No One.    

51AQPJFPPKLThe terrible weather, hiccups with my computer, and a very busy time with relatives and friends mean that my Christmas good 519EtidIF6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_wishes are a little late this year. But I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.

This year because of illness and other commitments we only had four instead of the usual seven or more at Christmas lunch. It seems like only yesterday when there were a dozen 0r more of us round the table but………that’s life. I really enjoyed a quiet Christmas Day evening watching a recording of the film Casablanca with my 15 year old granddaughter. I know the film off by heart having watched it numerous times, and could not resist stopping the recording several times to point out the special passages, political ramifications and catch phrases. She was kind and said despite my annoying interruptions it was a  very good film; and hopefully my verbal historical annotations might help her with her exams.

My reading over the last couple of weeks featured a prize winning novel that was absolutely brilliant. I like reading books in my comfort zone and this wonderful novel fitted me like a glove; I refer to Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller. I was very pleased that so many other people seemed to agree with my view even though they do not share my background. [A review to follow next week].

 I will end my blogging year with a quote from Norwegian By Night. Sheldon Horowitz as his granddaughter Rhea attempts to persuade him to go to live with her and Lars in Oslo comes up with this gem.

“What am I going to do there? I’m an American. I’m a Jew. I’m eighty-two. I’m a retired widower. A Marine. A watch repairman. It takes me an hour to pee. Is there a club there I’m unaware of?”       

Fifty Years since Dallas

Posted: November 22, 2013 in USA

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans.

 Recalled to Life: Reginald Hill 1992  

I heard the shocking news of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the communal television room at Churchill Hall student accommodation just outside Bristol. In those days we did not have televisions in our own rooms. I was 19 years old and in my first term of what was to prove a difficult five years.

ttoacmI knew very little about the machinations of American politics, and like most of my generation regarded Jack Kennedy as an heroic figure, who had saved the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and challenged the Soviets at the Berlin Wall. There was a glamour about the youngest man to be elected* President, a man who had overcome the perceived and real handicap of being a Roman Catholic to win the most powerful position in the Western world. The fact that he had a beautiful wife in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, helped his image among the young and made us believe the future was bound to bright. A new golden age was just around the corner.

 But the assassination of JFK on 22 November 1963, in Dallas, Texas, was only the beginning of a series of  events that stripped away our youthful optimism, and altered the close relationship forged during the war between the USA and the UK.

I don’t think young Britons would ever feel quite the same about the United States as they did in the summer of 1963, and that is one tragic legacy of Kennedy’s premature death.

There have been numerous books about the Kennedy Assassination and possible conspiracies, but one of the best fiction books is The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry. This 1974 novel by an former CIA operative was good enough to be plagiarised in 2011, so it is highly recommended.

[* Jack Kennedy was 43 years and 236 days when he became the youngest elected president. The youngest president Teddy Roosevelt, who was only 42 years and 322 days, when he assumed office after the assassination of William McKinley.]