A Guide to Treehouse Living, by Elliot Reed
This clever & engaging book is unusual in that, rather than the diary form which is often used to notate events which happen over a specific time period, this is presented as an index, albeit as stated, not strictly alphabetical, but near enough. It presents the events in the life of a young teenage American boy and, whilst it isn’t specifically a coming-of-age story, he does learn a lot as the events unfold; in fact, because there is no introduction or prologue, we have no way of knowing how long after the events the index is written, but it feels like it could be some time, because some of the language & concepts therein have quite a mature feel to them. The boy, who doesn’t even know his real name until well into the book, decides upon the format of the index after finding them useful in books he reads to stave off boredom; he is given into the care of his uncle, who owns a mansion but likes to gamble, because his father went away and he can’t remember what happened to his mother. The most clever aspect of the book is how the events unfold more or less chronologically as one entry leads into the next. There is a whiff of Huckleberry Finn about the story, although I don’t think it is intended as a pastiche, but it didn’t take me long to sympathise with the lad and hope that his life would work out well for him. Probably a one-off story, but a later edition using the same artifice could work. An interesting slice of Americana. The paperback I read was published in 2020 by Melville House UK, London [2018, Tin House Books], ISBN 978-0-9115-4541-5.
The Winter Agent, by Gareth Rubin
This is the second novel by this author; the first being Liberation Square, which I have reviewed here previously. The first posited a fictional outcome to world war two, but this one sticks very closely to the facts about our espionage in that period as we know them; although, as he states in the final historical notes: “We will probably never know the truth…Some of the MI6 files will be opened in the 2040s…Perhaps they will contain a clue”. So this is the fictional account of an SOE agent’s work in occupied France, between February 1944 and D-Day, 6 June the same year, through which he worked with other local & infiltrated agents to prepare the way for a great invasion which was a precursor to defeating Germany the following year [given that this is a fact of true history]. Without wanting to spoil the dénouement, Rubin very cleverly conveys the permanent anxiety, and potential paranoia, associated with having to be constantly on the alert for discovery, which might or might not be a result of betrayal. Along the way, the agent, Marc Reece, a former Royal Navy officer, codename Maxime, has some very lucky [debatably, for me, too lucky] escapes, including after his situation has deteriorated significantly, but good luck shouldn’t be discounted, and Maxime was well trained back in Blighty before his essential mission, so that much is plausible. This is a well-told story, so I can recommend it. The paperback I read was published in 2020 by Penguin Books, [2020, Michael Joseph], ISBN 978-0-4059-3063–5.
The Frayed Atlantic Edge, by David Gange
This book is a real eye-opener; or perhaps more relevantly, a real mind-opener. In simple terms, it is the recounting, over the period of a year, of the author’s traversing by kayak of the Atlantic coastlines of, in compass bearing order, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. It goes without saying that he must, of necessity, be reasonably young, fit, intrepid and, depending on your viewpoint, fearless or foolhardy. What emerges is not just a travelogue; it is that, yes, in a very specific form; but it is also, given his academic speciality of historian, a social history of the narrow peripheral band of these islands which he passes and, he asserts, which has been overlooked and even, deliberately & deleteriously ignored or, worse, ravaged of both human & material resources in the name of progress, rationalised as standardisation, which is inevitably metropolitan in its conception. Given the latter, it is unsurprising that much of the text deals with esoteric concepts of artistic, aesthetic and emotional feelings, encapsulated in the work of artists, musicians, and thinkers, both ancient & modern, who experienced the might, majesty, and occasional devastation wrought by the ocean, as it interacts with these multifaceted coastlines. Gange is especially sympathetic to the until recently drastically reduced quota of non-English language users; thankfully, this shortfall has latterly been redressed, and the future for Scottish & Irish Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish is looking brighter, along with their associated coastal cultures. I very much enjoyed this book. The paperback I read was published in 2020  by William Collins, London, ISBN 978-0-0082-2514-8.
Bad Actors, by Mick Herron
Life goes on as what passes for normal at Slough House, including the occasional turnover of its unwilling denizens. River Cartwright is absent, and his currently empty desk has been requisitioned by a new occupant; merely because she prefers its position to the one assigned to her; Ashley Khan, like all of her predecessors, still harbours the romantic notion that her current discomfiture is only a temporary glitch in her career, and before very long, she will be back across the river under First Desk Diana Taverner’s notional roof. Most concerning, a personal adviser to the prime minister, the similarity of the former to Dominic Cummings which might be entirely coincidental, has started causing ructions, and is intent on bringing Herron’s version of MI5, Regent’s Park, under his control, thereby minimising, if not actually eliminating government oversight. Needless to say, Taverner is fighting this all the way. Meanwhile, an influential member of a Downing Street think tank has disappeared, and before long, the circumstances surrounding this become very murky: this murk doesn’t quickly become clearer when Jackson Lamb’s Slow Horses become involved. This story is full of almost up-to-the-minute political and espionage intrigue, and justifiably shows politicians and some civil servants displaying their worst attributes. It is accompanied by a short story focusing on Lamb, but that notwithstanding, its purpose is unclear, although a new SH story is due this autumn. The impression it leaves me with, unfortunately, is that it was rushed out to be included with this volume, because there are so many obvious typographical errors, and there is no addendum or postscript to clarify this: at 32 pages, it could have been the prologue to a new full length story: enjoyable nonetheless. The paperback I read was published in 2023 , by Baskerville, [John Murray (Publishers)] London, ISBN 978-1-5293-7872-6.