Book Review


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The Prodigal Daughter, by Jeffrey Archer

Before I commence this review, I have to state, hand on heart, that I have no affection for this author’s political affiliation, but I hope this shouldn’t preclude me from delivering an impartial review of this story, which must be one of his best known ones. I was in the mood for an undemanding read, after having read a few gripping stories, which I have sadly not had the time to review, thanks to circumstances which have required my full attention for a week or so; also, I do tend to become involved with the plot, which can be somewhat wearing, so the occasional undemanding read is a good antidote to that and, although I can’t speak for most of the rest of his oeuvre, without wishing to be in any way derogatory, this story is relatively pedestrian. It is also one of those ‘neither fish nor fowl’ mélanges of American terminology with British spelling but, given that the story concerns itself with the American version of the subject with which the author was well acquainted; i.e., politics; that is hardly surprising—indeed, I would even go so far as to say that it is appropriate.

Another of Archer’s books, Kane and Abel, with which I am not, hitherto, familiar, must, logically, deal with two of the principal characters featured in this book, yet no reference is made to it in this story so, given that this book details the life stories of both characters, as a prelude to the life of the eponymous daughter, I would be curious to know what else the other story might have to add. This is the story of old money [Kane] versus a Polish immigrant [Abel Rosnovski] who makes a roaring success of the hotel trade, as a result of sheer hard work [a characteristic always applauded in America], and his daughter, Florentyna, who harbours political ambitions, almost from birth, so it would seem; before these can be realised, however, she learns her father’s business, through practical experience, working as a shop assistant, after an exemplary education at one of America’s foremost women’s universities, where her outstanding intellect is nurtured. This intellect is encouraged, incidentally, by an English governess, Miss Winifred Tredgold; although Florentyna only discovers this given name after the formidable woman’s death, towards the end of the book.

Early in the story, an implacable enmity between the two men is created, when Kane, on behalf of his company’s bank [partly owned by his family], refuses a loan to Abel for the survival of the hotel group which he has just taken over, following the death of its previous owner; subsequent to this, the two men are metaphorically ‘daggers drawn’ with each other, although Florentyna’s actions will precipitate a meshing of the lives of the two families, which is not easily accepted. This does facilitate Florentyna’s political career, however, and many real characters in American politics are incorporated, to give the story plausibility; and people of my vintage should still be able to remember the political events from the 1960s onwards, psychedelic experiences notwithstanding, so there is a certain nostalgia element to the story as well. This is about as much as can be revealed without spoiling the plot, but if nothing else, this is an interesting lesson in American politics, although the venality & aspirational egotism incorporated therein should come as no great surprise. The praise for Archer on the book is characteristically hyperbolic, but I have no hesitation in commending this as a well-crafted and workmanlike narrative. The paperback I read was published in 2017 [original 1982] by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5098-0870-0.

Book Review

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Liberation Square, by Gareth Rubin

I really wanted to enjoy this story; it is the first novel by this author, whose CV is very brief, and his current work environment is somewhat contradictory: as well as being an author [possibly something of an exaggeration, given that as stated, this is his first novel], he is a journalist, who writes for the Observer and Daily Telegraph, which in my humble estimation, do not make obvious or comfortable bedfellows—perhaps he is just endeavouring to be even-handed? The cover of the paperback I read; published by Penguin Books, 2019, ISBN 978-1-405-93061-1 [originally published by Michael Joseph, 2018]; is a striking monochrome image of an imposing domed building, but the surmounted red star, vertical draped red banners, on the frontage, showing a white hammer & sickle under a white outline star and over a white surrounding wreath, on the road in front a red London double-decker bus with an upper-level banner showing Russian cyrillic script, and a woman [rear view, retreating] wearing a coat in the same hue of red, all seem somewhat superimposed, instead of being fully integrated into the scene: but perhaps that is a deliberate device to communicate the origin of the story? Background information under the book’s title is: “London, 1952. The wrong side of the Wall.”

This was a fascinating premise for me: as a refreshing change from the [albeit mostly enjoyable] alternate universe scenarios in which Britain lost WWII and ‘now’ is an outpost of the German Third Reich, this one posits that, although this initial prerequisite was satisfied, Germany was then ousted from England in short order by Russia, with assistance, albeit unsought, from America. A helpful pair of maps is provided at the front of the book, showing England divided into the Republic of Great Britain [presumably evoking an earlier age], which occupies the territory below a line arcing from the eastern tip of The Wash, through the border city of Oxford, to the Bristol Channel, approximately 15km [all metric now] above Bristol, and the Democratic United Kingdom, occupying the rest of the British Isles & Northern Ireland, as a result of American forces landing in Liverpool and preventing a wholesale Russification. An inset to this first map shows London divided, as an analogue of postwar Berlin in the ‘real’ world, with the RoGB occupying 2/3 in the north, east, and south, and the DUK occupying a rump in the north-west; the passageway between the London DUK and the remainder of the country is apparently a narrow corridor terminating in Oxford, known as “the Needle”. A second, larger-scale map shows central London, from the Tower of London in the east, to Hyde Park in the west, with the later dividing wall bisecting the Thames, running south from above Westminster Bridge, and west to the National Gallery, where there is a Checkpoint Charlie [not sure about the plausibility of that one, but whatever], then north west to curve around the northern periphery of Regent’s Park and onwards further north west toward the northern perimeter.

This should have been a good palette on which to paint a portrait of a postwar Soviet satellite, but unfortunately, it disappointed me for two reasons: firstly, notwithstanding that it is a fictional narrative, and not an alternative ‘real’ history, there was insufficient background information [except in a “Chronology” section at the end, which should have been superfluous] to support the premise that Russia had just been able to sail a warship up the Thames in 1947 and oust all the remaining German occupying force from the southern sector; and secondly, the meat of the story is a somewhat squalid tale of the death of a beloved British actress, Lorelei Cawson, who supported the new régime and made propaganda films for its benefit, and the quest of the second wife, Jane, of the actress’s first husband, Nick Cawson, to find out if she was actually murdered, and whether the husband had continued to see his ex-wife in secret. The story is narrated by Jane, and although this might seem a somewhat harsh assessment, I was continually irritated by how weak-minded she was, but I am prepared to concede that this might be an unfair judgment, given that she must have been traumatised by finding Lorelei dead in a bath, and suffering concussion when she blacked out & hit her head on the bath. When Nick is arrested by NatSec [National Security] on suspicion of causing Lorelei’s death, Jane has to take in Nick’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Hazel.

Jane manages to establish a working relationship with a police sergeant who was also present when Nick & Jane were first questioned, before Nick’s arrest; Tibbot is a “Blue”, one of the civilian police who deal with non security-related crime, including suspicious death and, although initially reticent, it soon becomes apparent that the Blues are made to feel subservient to NatSec, so he is not averse to working independently to help Jane, although he makes it very clear to her how careful they will have to be to ascertain the facts in this situation. A certain amount of the party apparatus is illustrated on the way to the dénouement; several names familiar to us from the period are used for authenticity: Anthony Blunt here is Comrade First Secretary, and other personalities are scattered about in various rôles, including Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Arthur Wynn, and John Cairncross. I wouldn’t want to deter potential readers from this book, but for me anyway, it could have been slightly better constructed; I would be willing to investigate any further efforts, in the hope that progress has been made.