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May 2019



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September books

A Man of some Repute , Elizabeth Edmondson
Verdi The Man Revealed, John Suchet
Mrs Miniver , Jan Struther
A Youthful Indiscretion, Elizabeth Edmondson
A Question of Inheritance, Elizabeth Edmondson
Real Tigers , Mick Herron
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold , John le Carré
Spook Street , Mick Herron
Anna and Her Daughters, D E Stevenson
Please, Mr Postman, Alan Johnson
The Long and Winding Road, Alan Johnson
The Cinderella Killer, Simon Brett
Victoria, Daisy Goodwin

Anna and Her Daughters I bought when it was 99p for the Kindle. I was sure I had read it before but it wasn’t how I remembered it. Pleasant enough reading.

I enjoyed This Boy so much that I was delighted to find the next two volumes of Alan Johnson’s autobiography at the library. Please, Mr Postman takes him through life as a postman to becoming an important union official. I got pretty confused by all the inevitable acronyms and was impressed by Johnson’s grasp of detail and his negotiating skills. When I wrote about This Boy I said that when Alan Johnson was eighteen he was married with a child whereas I was preparing for A-Levels and university. The implication was: ‘poor him, compared to me’. I’ve changed my mind about that. When an able person with a strong work ethic leaves school at fifteen, he has a head start in life. Throughout this book I kept being surprised by how much Johnson achieved while still so young. At thirty-ish he had an important job in the union and was the father of teenagers. I was way behind! Here’s a good example of something I’m always banging on about; that ‘the sixties’ of popular imagination was something that affected very few people. ‘On 5th July 1969, the Rolling Stones gave a free concert in Hyde Park and I left Notting Hill for the last time. We’d probably have gone to the concert ourselves if we hadn’t had something more important to do.’ That day they moved to Slough, to the council house they’d been offered at last.

I remember being irritated by Simon Heffer’s patronising putdown of Johnson as ‘Postman Pat.’ In fact, Johnson was a voracious reader and self-confessed autodidact. Nor were his fellow workers dimwits. ‘My workmates in the sorting office included more lovers of literature than I’ve ever worked among since. … In fact the Slough sorting office was like a Royal Mail university, such was the erudition of the postmen among whom I worked.’ The Long and Winding Road sees him elected to Parliament and regularly promoted until he becomes Home Secretary. Neither of these books is the masterpiece which I believe This Boy to be but they are well worth reading.

I like Simon Brett’s detective fiction: modern and amusing. I think I’ve now read all the Fethering novels but The Cinderella Killer was my first Charles Paris mystery. It was perhaps not a good idea to start with the nineteenth and most recent book but I had no choice. Paris is an ageing, not very successful actor who gets mixed up in crimes. In this book he’s in panto at Eastbourne when the guest star is murdered and Paris can’t resist a little sleuthing. All the theatre background is very good but I’m not itching to read more in the series unless I find book one.

Are you glued to Victoria on television on Sunday evenings? I am, even though I find it ridiculous. Daisy Goodwin’s book is very definitely the novel of the series; almost word for word. I enjoyed her book My Last Duchess and I think it’s better than this one. The television series bears about as much relation to real life as Downton Abbey did, which probably accounts for its success. The casting is a problem. I find it hard to look at Jenna Coleman without seeing her as The Doctor’s companion rather than Queen. As for Rufus Sewell, cast as Lord Melbourne, if you’ve watched The Man in the High Castle (excellent), it’s hard not to see Obergruppenführer John Smith . Sewell played Melbourne with grave dignity and charm but really, who would have looked twice at Prince Albert when he was around?

Queen Victoria is certainly flavour of the month. Daisy Goodwin’s next instalment, Victoria and Albert is available now with yet another companion book: The Victoria Letters by Helen Rappaport and Daisy Goodwin. You could also be reading The Greedy Queen, Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray and Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe by Deborah Cadbury. Helen Rappaport’s Magnificent Obsession is yet another book on the subject, which I read some time ago.

I started but couldn’t finish Daughters of Castle Deverill by Santa Montefiore, which I got from the library. It’s the first of her books I’d tried; I didn’t realise she’d written so many. After about seventy pages, I decided it was 500 pages too long and not worth persevering with. In the seventeenth century, Charles II gives land in Ireland to a loyal Deverill, who builds a castle. Before he can start, he is cursed by a woman called O’Leary, a curse which will follow his family through generations. By the time the novel starts, the castle has been burned to the ground by rebels and a newly wealthy young member of the family buys and decides to rebuild it. There’s a huge cast of family and other characters to get to grips with and quite important events are dealt with in an alarmingly staccato manner. It has all the worst aspects of writing about Ireland: curses, ghosts, family feuds, grievances, yawn, yawn. In parts it’s like Cold Comfort Farm except that it’s not meant to be funny.



A good list

I've read several Simon Brett but not the Feathering series - didn't think much of the one I started. Hadn't realised he was still writing about Charles Paris who has been aging and unsuccessful for ever!

Re: A good list

I suppose many fictional amateur detectives are ageless.

Have you tried Brett's OTT Blotto and Twinks books? I find them quite funny.


I have a lot of time for Alan Johnson and he would have made a good PM in my opinion. I may well read this book.

I bought Victoria a couple of weeks ago and will probably read it next. I do like the TV programme in spite of the obvious artistic licence used. I have to agree about Rufus Sewell, he is a brilliant actor but his Obergruppenführer John Smith stands out. You are so right, who would look twice at Albert when Lord Melbourne was around. The TV series rather gave the impression that Victoria was a little bit in love with him, and who wouldn't be? :)
Reading his three autobiographical books has made me really admire Alan Johnson.

Victoria is a very quick and easy read. Victoria's love for Lord M is made even more explicit in the book.