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Book Review : A Scream in Soho by John G Brandon ( British Library Publishing )

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This book is one of the new editions of the successful British Library Crime Classic series. A Scream in Soho which is the 10th title in the British Library Crime Classics series was first published in 1940 within the era widely acknowledged as the golden age of British detective fiction

A Scream in Soho’s writer John G Brandon (1879-1941) was born in Australia but lived in Britain where he wrote over 100 crime novels. Coming to Britain as a prize fighter before starting his writing career, Brandon is all but forgotten today. His prolific writing career also included contributing to The Thriller magazine and some of the Sexton Blake mysteries.

A Scream in Soho is set in London during the 2nd world war, where the streets of London were under black out conditions and conspiracies abound regarding foreign nationals and their potential for espionage. Brandon cleverly weaves the cosmopolitan mix of people who were living around Soho into his plot, concentrating on the Italian and German eating places catering for the rising Italian, Austrian and German refugee population. Brandon shows a great deal of sympathy for these refugees but acknowledges that there are  ‘ugly little black sheep who creep into every flock and, indeed, are there only for their own ulterior purposes.’

Our story begins with a piecing scream heard by our hero Detective Inspector McCarthy. Rushing to the scene of the scream the only clues are a blood covered handkerchief and a blood splattered door step.   McCarthy born and bred in Soho is a larger than life character whose good looks and quick mind is well known in the area and he quickly galvanises the local populous in the search for the body and the murderer. Brandon further introduces the espionage potential with the theft of British anti-aircraft defence plans which McCarthy is ordered by his superiors to investigate.

Soho in our story becomes a hive of detective activity with McCarthy taking risks to his own life, as well as the residents of Soho. The seedier side of Soho is revealed throughout the story and its environs brought to life in the superb pacey narrative that Brandon uses.

The questions raised by the novel would have sent a chill into the lives of the wartime British population and reinforced some of their suspicions regarding the people they had perhaps lived and worked with for many years. A Scream in Soho is a book that captures the essence of the period, where Britain is at war, but not yet under fire. It is this illustration of the ‘phoney war’ that will fascinate the modern reader and offers some insights into how the blacked out Soho streets were the scene of considerable conflict and intrigues.

Brandon was more of the fast paced thriller side of the murder mystery genre rather than the more sedate whodunits of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. He was one of a number of prolific writers catering for a huge demand for these types of books who are generally overlooked and their reputation has tended to fade over time. It is ironic that these books were written quickly to reflect the fast moving contemporary events in London, however we now are more interested in them for their historical interest.

This book will appeal to those who like the Sexton Blake and Bulldog Drummond fast moving thriller, however the main character transcends the restrictions of that particular genre, Detective Inspector McCarthy is a likeable hero with a sense of humour with a genuine affection for the Soho area and for its inhabitants.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would further information or buy a copy of the book, visit the British Library shop website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

Book Review : Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay (British Library )

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This book is one of the new editions of the successful British Library Crime Classic series. This is the third book by Mavis Hay that the British Library has re-published, having already re-published two of Hay’s novels “Death on the Cherwell” and “The Santa Klaus Murder”.  Mavis Doriel Hay (1894-1979) was a novelist during what was considered the golden age of British crime fiction. Her three detective novels were first published in the 1930’s.

Murder Underground was the first mystery book written by Mavis Doriel Hay and is set in North London around the area frequented by the Northern Line. When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow boarders at the Frampton hotel set out to find the culprit.

The book is almost a cross between Agatha Christie and P G Wodehouse, and although set in North London it has a gentle rural feel displayed by the leading characters, their day to day experiences and the description of the local area. Whilst there is no Miss Marple or Poirot, the amateur sleuths of the Frampton Hotel attempt to make sense of the murder, whilst the bumbling antics of the murdered woman’s nephew almost give the reader a sense of comic relief.

Unlike many crime/mystery novels, Murder Underground has no central character; Hay cleverly transports the reader into the  thoughts and feelings of our cast, thus we are able to gain insights into their motives and secrets. Hay, gives the reader a real sense of how the ‘well to do’ live in 1930’s Britain, the Frampton Hotel is a place for ‘gentle and respectable’ residents, where Mrs Bliss ‘cares’ for her residents with a sense of superiority and condescension, although the reader should be able to detect a more earthy upbringing of the said lady. The murderer is finally revealed by a combination of events, and peace is restored and the threads of romance interspersed in the novel come to fruition.

Murder Underground does not have the gore of modern crime/murder fiction, but in its gentle way the plot offers a distinctly different experience. One of Hay’s strengths in this novel is the way she illustrates to the reader a sense of Britain in the 1930’s, especially the changing of social structures and the uncertainties of the time. Ultimately I agree with P D James who suggests “The detective stories of the interwar years were paradoxical. They might deal with violent death, but essentially they were novels of escape.”

Murder Underground offers the modern reader an entertaining escape back to the 1930’s, this novel will especially appeal to the fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Although Hay never reaches the highs of those novelists, she does possess a sense of comedy that is rarely seen in this genre.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information of buy a copy of the book, visit the British Library shop here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

Book Review : Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (Orion Books)

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One of the UK’s most successful writers and screenwriters, Anthony Horowitz returns to the world of 19th century London and the world of Sherlock Holmes with his new novel Moriarty.

The novel is set a few days after the events at the Reichenbach Falls which resulted in the death of Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty.  The death of Moriarty creates an opportunity for other criminals to fill the criminal mastermind vacuum in London and Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase travels to London in pursuit of a new criminal mastermind with murderous intentions.

Chase also travels to the Reichenbach Falls pondering on the death of Holmes and Moriarty and relates his meeting with Detective Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard in the crypt of St Michael’s church in Meiringen, within the crypt lies the body of James Moriarty.

Chase informs Athelney Jones that although one criminal mastermind may be dead, another American criminal mastermind had relocated in London and was planning to extend his corrupt empire. Altheney Jones, a student of Holmes’ methods of detection and Frederick Chase eventually  decide to form an alliance to fight the new mysterious mastermind. Chase proposed a toast ‘ To the capture of  ‘Clarence Devereux’ and ‘to the two of us, Scotland Yard and Pinkerton’s working together. ‘

What follows is a series of incidents that lead our heroes deeper into the darkest corners of the capital hunting for the shadowy mysterious figure of Clarence Devereux and his associates.  Some savage murders shock the two detectives, Chase arriving at the scene to an awaiting Altheney Jones remarks  ‘ his face – pale and disgusted – warned me that this was a scene of horror which he , with all his experience, had never encountered before’.

A dinner with the Altheney Jones in Camberwell gives Chase some insight into the Detective Inspectors character when Mrs Altheney Jones confides that it was her husbands failure to impress Sherlock Holmes in their meetings that drove him on to try to replicate Holmes’ success.

However as body count rises and the net closes, the ghosts of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty pervade the ongoing developments  leading to a shocking denouement.

Anthony Horowitz manages to create an homage to the world of Conan Doyle’s ‘great detective’, but also produces a thrilling plot with a series of twist and turns. Followers of the original Holmes stories will be familiar with a number of characters  that reappear in this book which add to the sense that the Victorian world of Holmes is being recreated faithfully.

However for all the Holmes’ references, it is the unlikely partnership of Altheney Jones and Frederick Chase that is central to this intriguing mystery. The different approaches of the Pinkerton man and the Holmes’ disciple compliment each other and provide considerable impetus in the investigations. An ingenious touch is that Altheney Jones himself features in a couple of Holmes’ stories, one real and one invented and featured at the end of the book.

This book will appeal to the many Holmes aficionado’s  but can also be read as an exciting and fast-moving thriller, Howowitz brings all his writing  and dramatic skills to structure a well paced, intricately plotted and knowledgable book that will delight and surprise in equal measure.

 Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

if you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the Orion website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.

To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock (Bloomsbury)

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Miss Carter’s War is the first novel by Sheila Hancock, the highly regarded actress with a distinguished career covering film, television, theatre and radio. She has had previously published three autobiographical works, Ramblings of an Actress, The Two of Us, a  bestseller about her marriage to John Thaw, and Just Me, a memoir of her life as a widow.

In Miss Carter’s War, the author takes us to the immediate period following the Second World War, by looking at the life and times of one individual, their aspirations and beliefs, through their relationships both platonic and romantic that forge their life up until the birth of the 21st Century.

The main character of the book , Marguerite Carter has survived traumatic experiences in occupied France which involved working for SOE. She had returned to England after the war to further her education and in 1948 becomes one of the first women to receive a degree from the University of Cambridge.

Miss Carter then becomes an English teacher in a girls’ grammar school, and what follows is a wonderful graphical insight of how war weary Britain begins to deal with the dilemma of trying to re-establish its once pre-eminent place in the world.

Part of her mission is to change the world for herself and her ‘girls’ which means getting involved with many of the burgeoning movements including the peace marches in the 1950s, the battle for Women and Gay rights, and responding to the rise of the ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher.

But giving all her time  to her friends and her causes, can she ever find true love for herself ?

Through the life of the remarkable Miss Carter, the  book charts how the second half of the 20th Century drastically changes life in Britain from the austerity of post war Britain to the relative enlightenment to the way we live today.
As we follow Miss Carter through the burgeoning feminist movement and a new age of acceptance of difference, we gain insight into Miss Carter’s background and her own heroic past and guilty secrets.

Miss Carter may seem to be a ‘wonder woman’ to the modern reader, but the author embodies her with the very real sense of idealism prevalent after the war that propelled many people to want to ‘change the world’, the success of the Labour party over Churchill was a testament to how strong this feeling was. This idealism carried on into the sixties and led to a large number of successful movements. However the rise of Thatcher and the Iraq war were reminders that idealism can be sorely tested by world events.

This is a very ambitious book telling the story of a woman’s life within the framework of large scale developments in the wider society, however the author uses her considerable knowledge of the London in this period to give the book the air of authenticity. The book successfully reminds us about how far British society has moved in a relatively short time and how the various moves forward have been bought about often by the sacrifices of extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the book or to buy a copy , visit the Bloomsbury website here

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There will be a Bloomsbury Book Club Event with Sheila Hancock being
interviewed by Kate Mosse

Date: Thursday 23rd October

Time: Drinks at 6pm and talk at 6:30pm

Place: Bloomsbury Publishing, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP

Tickets: £25 including a hardback book or £10 without the book

Book tickets at www.bloomsburyinstitute.com

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : Storm by Tim Minchin (Orion Books)

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October sees the release  of Tim Michin’s illustrated book Storm which is based on the hit online animation of the same name.

Tim Minchin is a award-winning Australian musician, songwriter, actor and comedian who had developed his own unique brand of musical comedy over the last decade and attracted a growing number of fans along the way.
In the introduction to the book, Michin relates the origins of Storm which was a short song he used to play called ‘If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take my Wife) ‘. He wanted to develop the idea further but could not find the right vehicle until a fateful dinner party. His discussions with a fellow diner provided the main focus of what became a sort of beat poem, which Michin used to end his comedy show. It was at one of these comedy shows that the poem attracted the attention of Tracy King and DC Turner who asked Minchin permission to produce an animation based on the poem. Two years later the animation was launched at an Animation festival at Bristol and uploaded to You Tube, where it has to date been viewed around three million times.

The scene of the poem is a dinner party in a North London flat, Tim and his wife are the guests of longstanding friends. Another guest has been invited, a young woman whose name is Storm, when she arrives Tim is rather stuck with her attractiveness but becomes slightly unsettled when he notices that she has a tattoo of a fairy just above her ‘ derriere’. As soon as the introductions are over and the wine begins to flow, the battle begins.

It seems that Storm is a hippy at heart and professes belief in astrology and natural remedies, Tim a rationalist at heart grows more and more exasperated until delivering a rant about how can people believe in unproven beliefs whilst science has opened up so many worlds of wonder.

Although the verbal and intellectual battle is the main focus, a great deal of the humour comes from Tim’s awareness that the other guests are often frozen in fear about what will happen next.

The illustrated book provides plenty of visual fun by illustrating some of Tim’s more outlandish remarks and shows that his battle is not just with Storm but with his own thought processes. The reference to Scooby Doo is a wonderful scene where the dinner party guests assume the guise of the characters of the animated cartoon.

The success of the Storm is that it works on many different levels, although many people celebrate the poem as an anthem for critical thinking there is far more to it than that. It charts a debate where there are no winners or losers  but people entrenched in their own world view. Tim’s rant on rational thinking is often irrational and Storm’s irrational ideas are often presented rationally, therefore  further confusing  the issues.

Storm is an unusual book  that brings together ideas, poetry and comic book type illustrations which perfectly complement each other. Tim Minchin’s dazzling wordplay and DC Hunters impressive artwork provide a book that may ask big questions but does so with humour and self parody

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the Orion website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

Book Review : The Planner by Tom Campbell (Bloomsbury Circus Books)

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The Planner is Tom Campbell’s second novel following on from his debut Fold which was published to critical acclaim.

The main protagonist in The Planner is James, a town planner in a local authority whose career and life seems to be stalling whilst his university friends careers are progressing accumulating wealth and prestige on the way.

Worse than that, he is now in his thirties and feels like he has missed the boat, his pursuit of his career in Town Planning  was worthwhile but had he forgotten to live life to the full in his “roaring” twenties ?

Attending the office he begins to suspect he will end up like his colleagues especially Lionel his boss, ” Poor old deciduous old Lionel , with his dry skin and  wet eyes , his pink nose and unhappy pouch,  the seasons hadn’t been good to him. He had ineffectually chaired too many meetings, watched too many PowerPoints and dunked too many biscuits into mugs of sugared coffee.”

To get over his malaise,  James  talks to Felix  a successful Brand Planner  who suggests that James  needs a plan, a new worldview to enter  the glamorous London world to which he aspires.

Felix introduces James to the world of private clubs, executive boxes, book launches, art galleries, drugs and exotic women.

But a walk through the City of London gives James time to consider his situation ” The City , the whole of London, has detached itself from the rest of the country , and become instead a global capital for culture and commerce, for vanity and greed. You can only succeed here if you could forget everything you learnt in England . But he wasn’t like Felix or Alice : he was essentially a provincial , with provincial aspirations and fears.”

It is the two sides of James’s character that provides the considerable humour in the book, his adventures and misadventures in the different areas of London  show real insight into some of the absurdities and contradictions of the capital.

The book could be seen as provincial innocent being slowly corrupted in the ways of the big city, but this is not a simple morality tale , in many ways the author plays with this well-worn theme by allowing his main protagonist  to  question the ethics and amoral behaviour of many of the characters  he meets. However that does not always mean his own behaviour is particularly ethical when sometimes the pursuit of new experiences  overrides his common sense.

Most biting satires work when they are based on truth, and anyone who has moved around London’s cultural landscape would instantly recognise many of the characters that populate this book.

This well written and intriguing book  populated by believable characters would appeal to anyone who would like to make sense of 21st century London and is willing to be amused by many of its foibles and strange entertainments.

But equally the book is a personal journey of an individual trying to make sense of the city both  though its physical buildings but also in a human sense as a solitary lonely person in a city of 7 million.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the publisher’s website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

Book Review : An Appetite for Murder by Linda Stratmann

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An Appetite for Murder by Linda Stratmann

The Frances Doughty Mysteries are a series of whodunits written by Linda Stratmann, set in Victorian Bayswater featuring a young female detective.

Frances used to help her father and brother run a chemists shop in Westbourne Grove until their deaths, however with her assistant Sarah she has forged a new career as a detective.

Considered a bit of a novelty in Victorian Bayswater, Frances finds support from the ladies of the Bayswater Women’s Suffrage Society, but opposition from the local police detective Inspector Sharrock.

An Appetite for Murder is the fourth Frances Doughty mystery and includes an interesting mix of Diet Doctors, Suffragettes and shady businessmen.

The novel is based in the respectable streets of Bayswater in 1881, the sudden death of overweight Thomas Whibley  sets off a heated debate between rival diet doctors. The debate descends into anonymous  and libellous accusations and Frances Doughty’s services are required to unmask the mysterious writers of these libellous letters known as “Sanitas” and “Bainiardus”.

Before she can delve into this mystery, our young lady detective is visited by a former  colleague of Mr Whibley, a Horace Sweetman who has just been released from prison after serving fourteen years for a crime he claims he did not commit and is seeking his estranged family.

At the end of the visit, the mystery deepens when the police arrive to arrest Sweetman for the murder of his wife.

The Frances Doughty mysteries in general and  this novel in particular has populated Victorian Bayswater with a series of almost Dickensian figures, however the writer’s real strength is make these characters rounded and credible.

Linda Stratmann has written several books about real life crimes  and this probably explains her ability to examine with great insight the seedy undercurrents of Victorian Society.

But the writers finest achievement is the characters of Frances Doughty and her assistant Sarah whose intelligence and sometimes brawn are bought into play time and time again.  What is particularly impressive is we are left in no doubt that Frances and Sarah are operating in a Man’s world and have to face the everyday prejudices associated with that.

It is significant that Frances keeps her calm in many dangerous situations but loses her cool when propositioned by a so called respectable gentleman.

Bayswater is an unusual and interesting choice to base the novels, although we probably see the area now as an area full of hotels and perhaps transient population, in Victorian London it was considered quite a wealthy area with good quality housing and plenty of quality shops.

Linda Stratmann’s attention to historic details allows you to get a real feel of this environment of the perhaps not “rich” but “comfortably off.” Of course this is the very environment in which white collar crime thrives behind the wall of  so called respectability . And it is this type of crime which is often difficult to detect as Frances quickly finds out first impressions can be deceptive.

This book will appeal to readers who like their mysteries based in a Victorian London full of interesting well drawn characters and who like to see a complex plot unravel slowly to an unpredictable finish.

 

Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended

If you would like to buy a copy of the book, visit the Visiting London Guide Bookshop here