About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 19 June 2010

"The dogs of Riga" by Henning Mankell

The second Inspector Wallander mystery.

Two men are discovered drifting in an anonymous life raft. They are embracing. Each is shot through the heart. Their expensive jackets have been added after their death. They have been tortured.

Quickly, Wallander establishes that the corpses come from Riga in Latvia where the Russians are still in control (I think it is 1991). He travels to Riga where he becomes embroiled in political sheenanigans in which one of the two Colonels of Police is involved. Illegal undercover espionage end in a shop top shoot out.

We never get a satisfactory answer to the problem posed in the first pages.

This is much more James Bond than Hercule Poirot. The real mystery is why these books are called mysteries.

June 2010; 340 pages

Friday, 18 June 2010

Tooth and Nail" by Ian Rankin

An Inspector Rebus book.

Rebus comes down from Edinburgh to help the Metropolitan Police investigate a serial killer. There are some brilliant descriptions of police procedure and some naive touristic impressions of London (mostly the traffic jams). There are some nice character descriptions of the tensions between the London and the Scottish policemen and there is some cliched denouements. Rebus, using hunches and very little evidence, eventually gets the killer after a high speed chase which ends in Trafalgar Square.

Poor stuff; extraordinarily disappointing. Rebus is so much better than this.

June 2010; 275 pages.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

"Faceless killers" by Henning Mankell

Recommended by James.

This is a whodunnit with a touch of the thriller. Inspector Wallander is a Swedish policeman in a reasonable sized town. A farmer and his wife are attacked and killed one cold January night. The attack is blamed on foreigners and there are revenge attacks on the local refugee camp.

The prose style is brutal. The sentences are short. There is little description. There is a lot of action.

In classic whodunnit style the hero's wife has left him and his daughter has left home. His father is going senile. These domestic things add to the burden of his days. He cannot sleep (not that he has time to sleep with round the clock police activity) and he drinks too much. The classic cop.

The other policemen at the stable have their foibles. My favourite is Rydberg who is incredibly methodical and likes to do things by the book.

The story has large amounts of nothing happens routine police work punctuated by boy's own adventure. Wallender is involved is fighting a fire, is beaten up, is shot at, and (on a surveillance) falls from scaffolding and is left hanging by a leg upside down.

It was a massive page turned but I am not sure I enjoted it.

AND on page 11 Wallender sees that the dead farmer's left thigh is shattered. On page 27 the autopsy mentions that the right femur is broken. AHA!!! I think. I'm not sure what this means but it is a massive clue. Somehow this confusion between left and right is the answer to it all. Then on page 269, nearly at the end, Wallender muses: "Somewhere there's something I'm not seeing, he thought. A connection, a detail, which is exacxtly the key I have to turn. But should I turn it to the right or the left?" Obviously this is the thought that will lead Wallender to crack the mystery.

It didn't. The answer to the mystery has NOTHING to do with the left thigh and the right femur. I can only presume that this was a MISTAKE.

A page turner but disappointing at the end.

June 2010; 298 pages

Saturday, 12 June 2010

"The file on the Tsar" by Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold

This book tells the story of the killing of the Romanov's in July 1918 in a downstairs room at Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. Or it tells of the escape of at least the tsarina and her four daughters (the Grand Duchesses; the book is full of meaningless titles and reverence for aristocracy) and their removal to Perm, from where Anastasia escaped and was recaptured, and from where they were again taken never to be seen again. The book inclines to believe the second story.

Throughout there are rumours reported as fact, facts dismissed as rumours, selective choice of what to believe and character assassination of anyone who believed differently from the authors. Enigmatic pronouncements ("I don't have to see [the woman claiming to be Anastasia]; I know") are italicised and treated as statements of incredible historical importance; single discrepancies in witness statements are used to demolish everything else. For example, an odd scrawl on the massacre wall is revealed to b the letters LYS', written in mirror writing, clearly short for LYS'VA, one of the places on the way to Perm, even though the Russian alphabet is different from the English. Th eyewitness statement given by Medvedev is undermined because the witness was a red guard who gave himself up to the whites and then died during interrogation. Another contradictory statement is believed even though it claims to be written by a person who did not exist; the authors leap over this problem by claiming it was written pseudonymously.

Essentially this is a catalogue of evasions, rumours and contradictions through which they weave the path they clearly wanted to travel in the first place.

The third edition, however, deals in a postscript with the bodies that were found in the woods, whose DNA gave a 98.5% probability that they were Romanov. The authors start by dwelling on the possibility that Science has got it wrong; no less a person than a Russian Orthodox priest is quoted in support of this. They even find a scientist who claims that the techniques used only give a 70% chance. Clearly the fact that someone was shot in Ekaterinburg and that bodies were found in a wood nearby where peasants saw soldiers on the night of the alleged massacre and these bodies have been identified as the Romanovs would shoot even 70% chances up well beyond the 90% mark but this is still not enough for Summers & Mangold. They point out that only 9 bodies have been discovered and that the missing ones are the tsarevich and one daughter. They ride of triumphant.

I enjoyed reading the book; it is a real page turner. However, it is nonsense.

June 2010; 368 pages