The Hound of Death, by Agatha Christie
This title is the first story in a compendium of stories from this world-famous author, and they all concern the paranormal, the occult, or both. Some are better than others and, notwithstanding that all fiction must be contrived to a certain extent, I felt that these stories were more contrived than her detective fiction—I haven’t read any of her romantic fiction [and I’m not likely to]—and they all included a character who was a doctor and/or ‘nerve’ specialist. There are the customary human foibles & weaknesses as well, of course. The age of the stories does mean that, inevitably, they have a somewhat dated feel to them and, in the more modern, mostly science-based thinking of current times, the blind faith in the paranormal, and even occasionally hysteria associated with it, does seem somewhat risible, and the characters laughably gullible; or, perhaps, I am just too cynical to be convinced by them now. They do serve as a contrast to her better-known output, and each story is tolerably short, averaging about 20 pages. The paperback I read was published in 2016 [1933, Odhams Press Limited] by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd., London, ISBN 978-0-0081-9642-4.
The Recovery Agent, by Janet Evanovich
This looks like the beginning of a new series of thrillers from this author, who already has four character series to her name; although I am reticent to describe this story as an example of “crime comedy”, as one reviewer does. Some might find an element of comedy in it, but it was very weak, for me, and without wishing to sound in any way chauvinistic, the enthusiasm with which she uses trade names of very expensive products like stiletto heels and lingerie imply that this story and any successors might be targeted primarily at women? Having said that, it is a workmanlike [if that expression is still permissible] effort: a sort of cross between Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones genre. Gabriela Rose is a recovery agent [possibly more common in the US, at a guess] who takes on a personal quest, which if successful would help to support her home community that has been devastated by a natural disaster. The first problem is that the prize she seeks is the subject of myth, and has been unsuccessfully sought by many others for decades; the second is that the area in which she has to search is rife with drug lords, who are keen to protect their ill-gotten gains, and one of these lords is highly feared & revered for possessing supernatural powers, and has a large army of devoted supporters behind him. This is light hokum, not to be taken too seriously, but pleasant reading for all that. The paperback I read was published in 2023 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., London [2022; Atria Books, USA, 2022], ISBN 978-1-3985-1027-2.
Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes, by Katie Barlow & David Tyler [editors]
I genuinely did not want this book to end, and it was a joy to read. I have to confess that, although I was aware of the subject as a stand-up comedian and, occasionally, as a panellist on comedy and/or satire shows, I was not aware of his prodigious appearances on radio, predominantly BBC Radio4—I mostly listen to music radio. I had enjoyed his dry, slightly lugubrious demeanour on television, and found him amusing, but I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to read this anthology, which is compiled from scripts for his radio & personal appearances: including a couple at a local arts festival called MusicPort. He is one of fewer than a handful of writers whose work will literally make me laugh out loud; the others are Spike Milligan and Clive James, both also deceased, sadly; Jeremy died in 2019, hence this memoir. It is probably fair to say that I enjoyed reading his musings; some of which were clearly mischievous, but nevertheless; all the more because his politics & sense of humour align very closely with mine, and his still relatively recent loss is all the more poignant for me because of that: how delicious it would have been to have him tearing strips off our current deadbeat government but, alas, such is not possible. If you enjoy satire, and your politics are left of centre, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The paperback I read was published in 2020 by Two Roads, London, ISBN 978-1-5293-0036-9.
Six Minutes in May, by Nicholas Shakespeare
If you enjoy fastidiously researched biographies or memoirs of twentieth century history, especially focusing on the political arena, then this book is for you: I take my hat off to the author, who is actually in a similar position to mine, in that his grand uncle, Geoffrey Shakespeare, was closely connected with the events examined in forensic detail here: he was, at the time, Parliamentary Secretary for the Dominions, and his political affiliation was National Liberal. The six minutes in the title was the length of time it took for the division which sealed the fate of the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and propelled Winston Churchill into the leadership of a country at war with Germany. That said, his elevation was not instant, nor was he, by any means, the favourite [or even the most suitable] for the position, and the ‘meat’ of this book is the fascinating machinations which put him in his position of power, and the character & foibles of all the associated personalities. Right up until the very last moment, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, was the preferred candidate for many, including the king, but Halifax’s persistent refusal for predominantly personal reasons which were unknown to nearly all but his inamorata, ‘Baba’ Metcalfe, the wife of Conservative MP ‘Fruity’ Metcalfe, and daughter of Lord Curzon, finally ruled him out of contention, and Churchill was grudgingly accepted, despite his lamentable performance as First Sea Lord, in the débâcle of a month earlier, with the attempted mining of Narvik harbour in Norway, which instigated a brutal German invasion. Thankfully, despite all his peccadillos, he managed thereafter to steer Britain to victory. The paperback I read was published in 2018 [2017, Harvill Secker] by Vintage, London, ISBN 978-1-7847-0100-0.