Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wilt in Nowhere (Published in 2004) - Wilt traveling - Authored by Tom Sharpe

After a break of more than 2 decades, Tom Sharpe returned with the fourth novel in the Wilt Series. Tom Sharpe acknowledged that the reason for such a prolonged absence in his publication was the lack of poison in his system as it was the period he was forced to give up smoking. Other reasons mentioned by him for the prolonged absence was that the ballpoint pen he used had gone out of production! And that he had even written to his readers to send him their pens!
Whatever the reason be, the introduction to Wilt in Nowhere feels timid and as a reader one worries that Sharpe might have finally gone soft. However, upon further reading it is clear that Sharpe has upped the antics and adventures of the anti-hero of his series, Henry Wilt.
In “Wilt in Nowhere”, there are 2 plots that start of simultaneously after Wilt’s wife receives plane tickets from her Aunt and Uncle who live in Tennessee, for the entire family, to go visit them. Eva, Wilt’s wife, see this as her opportunity to try and worm her way into the will of her Aunt and Uncle, who incidentally have more money than they can spend. However, Wilt tries and eventually succeeds in getting himself out of this trip.
From there on there are two plots. One involving Eva and their quadruplet teenage daughters, who have grown up to be sex starved, foul mouthed kids; and Henry Wilt, who as always takes the poor decision to try and take a walking holiday through London to once again find the romantic and nostalgic side to it. Wilt plans to do that with nothing but his walking shoes and ill advisedly, a bottle of whiskey!    




Meanwhile, Eva is caught in the middle of a drug trafficking racket, with her as the main suspect. This in no way helps her to worm her way into her Aunt and Uncle’s fortunes, on the contrary finds herself further away from it. Her foul mouthed daughters only add to the confusion by leaving behind them a trail of destruction, insanity and angry drug enforcement agents.
Incase everything seems to spiral out of control on Eva’s front, things are no better in England, when Wilt, who was supposedly backpacking is seen drunk and unconscious in the back of an arsonists’ pickup truck. If that isn’t complicated enough, Wilt wakes up in the hospital not sure how he got there, or why he is being accused of arson, robbery and murder! And for all the mess he has gotten himself into, his worst problem then appears in the form of his old friend, Inspector Flint who would only be thrilled to investigate Wilt for all the above mentioned crimes.
A brilliantly funny read, with all the crazy plot elements in place, the book reminds Sharpe’s loyal readers of past misadventures. But, the jokes do feel ever so slightly forced. Known as the king of slapstick, in this novel Sharpe has shown himself as not just that but also someone who is vengeful and wildly amusing in his writings.

Wilt in Nowhere (Published in 2004) - Wilt traveling - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wilt on High (Published in 1984) - More fun with Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Wilt on High, is the third installment in the Wilt Series written by comic novelist, Tom Sharpe, who made a bawdy and vulgar style of writing into an art form. His writings are quite similar to those of Wodehouse, from whom he took great inspiration. But funny is where the similarity ends. Tom Sharpe takes funny and adds more crass and vulgarity to the story. Even though he started writing comedy only by the age of 43 years, his stories were an instant hit, and found a large loyal reader base.
Wilt on High, follows the exploits of Henry Wilt, a mild mannered teacher, who always gets involved in sticky situations which make for an extremely entertaining read. In this book, Wilt is shown to still be teaching at Fenland Tech. His attempts at drilling English into the minds of plasterers and dozing his way through drab committee meetings is all rudely disrupted when a dark cloud hovers over the college in the form of drug dealing. And invariably like a magnet for bad things, the cloud of suspicion finds its way to Henry Wilt.
Henry Wilt goes about his mundane life, when suddenly a departmental inquiry is conducted. Someone in the department at Fenland Tech is dealing drugs. Wilt’s friends all find themselves resenting Wilt, as they all feel that he is the reason that the department has come under such investigation. Inspector Flint, an old adversary of Wilt, takes charge of this investigation. Seizing the opportunity to try and pin everything on Wilt, Inspector Flint goes about his job with double vigor to leave no stone unturned. Knowing that Wilt is guilty of something, he sets about to try and settles a number of old scores.




Wilt’s wife is of no support to him. Like every wife, she has her doubts about Wilt, and this does not help his cause. To make matters worse, Wilt only complicates matters for himself with his talent for creating new enemies. Wilt’s inborn talent to make people hate him, starts off with an allegation of voyeurism in the ladies staff lavatory, and ends at a showdown at a US airbase, with forces of law and order on both sides, and is Wilt as always, right in the middle of this messy affair!
The book is a constant topsy-turvy journey through oddities. And where Tom Sharpe’s brilliant writing shines through is how all these eccentricities come together to make sense. From situations involving a group called Mothers Against The Bomb, to the set of murderous quadruplets and a thermonuclear war that could be set off all because of the misusage of Spanish Fly, the book is a classic Tom Sharpe novel where things just keep getting worse and as a reader we wait for it to collapse in on itself. Only it doesn’t collapse, it just keeps getting better.
Tom Sharpe is known as P. G. Wodehouse on acid! He has more or less the same comic style of writing, but with loads of vulgarity and crude humor and bold satire. Wodehouse’s influence maybe visible in Sharpe’s plots and settings, but it’s the absurd and completely unbelievable twists and turns in the story that involve the reader.  A thoroughfare of absurd situations which grips the reader to follow the simple yet odd ball character called Henry Wilt.

Wilt on High (Published in 1984) - More fun with Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Wilt Alternative (Published in 1979) - Terrorism and comedy - Authored by Tom Sharpe

The sequel to Wilt, Tom Sharpe’s second in the series is a continuation of the life and idiosyncrasies that seem to follow Henry Wilt. With satire, which is crude and offensive, Tom Sharpe was quite an acclaimed outspoken novelist. Once you are accustomed to his style of comedy, you might agree with those who feel that Sharpe is one of Britain’s funniest novelists. In the Wilt Series he has put forth a character that he does not seem to like very much himself. Hence, the strange and wrong situations that Henry Wilt, the books protagonist finds himself in often.
In The Wilt Alternative, Henry Wilt is shown to be the Head of the reconstituted Liberal Studies Department at the Fenland College of Arts and Technology. Having assumed power without responsibility, Wilt may no longer be a victim of his own uncontrolled fantasies, but visualizes how he would confront political bigots and bureaucrats.
The nature of his troubles has changed, but he is still faced with inane issues. These issues range from his wife’s over enthusiasm for everything organic and quadruplet daughters who seem to get more horrifying as they grow older, to nostalgia, temporary infatuation with a foreign student and the hostility shown by the medical services that refuse to attend to his most basic needs.
However, these problems seem to pale in comparison, when he becomes the unintentional participant in a terrorist siege. The heap of a house, which Wilt lives in, is all in line with Eva’s alternative organic living lifestyle. But when Eva, rents out the attic flat to a German student, Wilt regrets having laid his eyes on her so late in his life. He moons over her, without realizing that she is a terrorist and that their house is very soon going to become ground zero, when authorities come to try and arrest her.




He is forced to find a way out of this mess, as neither the terrorist nor the authorities know what to do when the Wilt family is caught in the crossfire. Wilt is not only confronted with issues of power, which he must deal with, but also has to resume dialogues with the famous Inspector Flint. In the process he must undergo the indignity of psycho-political profiling and at the same time fight for the liberal values which seem to be threatened by not only international terrorism but also the fancy methods of the police anti-terrorist agents.
Wilt shows great mental ingenuity, which is a result of his innate cowardice, and emerges the hero he is shown to be. Sharpe does a wonderful job to starkly highlight the bitter ironies and social norms present in today’s society. Wilt is shown to have not changed one bit. He still finds women to be horrible terrifying beings. He speaks his mind, even if at times it is just muttering to himself. Through Wilt, Sharpe has depicted albeit unsophisticatedly the absurd irregularities that exist in our societal norms.
While the jokes in the story are at times repeated or absent, and the language used to convey social realities is crude, the book has an absolute ring of authenticity to it. It shows perfectly an era of English history and fashion, which might soon be beyond living memory. Another thing that is truly ingenious about Sharpe’s style of writing is his control over the beat of the plot. As a reader, one keeps waiting for Sharpe to take a bow, after some crazy antic in the story. However, instead of hitting a peak and ending, the story just keeps getting crazier and crazier, making for quite an entertaining read.

The Wilt Alternative (Published in 1979) - Terrorism and comedy - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Wilt (Published in 1976) - Comedy of errors - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Born in 1928, Thomas Ridley Sharpe was a British novelist, who favoured satire in all his writings. Best known for the Wilt series, and Porterhouse Blue, Thomas Sharpe, better known as Tom Sharpe was an alumnus of Pembroke College, Cambridge. His novels have been well acclaimed globally and the Wilt Series along with a few other books have also been adapted for television.    
Wilt is one of the first critically acclaimed novels of Tom Sharpe. Based on the life and misadventures of a professionally underrated assistant lecturer, Henry Wilt, the book is a comedic novel which was first published in 1976. The story starts off with Henry Wilt, who has a daft job and an extremely domineering wife. Wilt has just been passed up for promotion yet again and is shown to be a guy who always takes the easy way out in life. As a result he never gets what he wants. He teaches literature to uninterested construction workers and thugs at a Community College in the South of England.
Frustrated with his job, Wilt finds no respite even at home. With a wife who is physically larger than him, but emotionally and mentally behaves extremely immature, Wilt is desperate to find a way out of his troubles. Even though he cannot do anything about his job, he loves to walk his dog and fantasize about doing something to his wife, Eva. Eva is shown to be massive, with unpredictable fits of over enthusiasm. Wilt is tired of being hen-pecked and harassed all the time by Eva, and starts day dreaming about killing her in gruesome ways.




But, then a string of unfortunate events put Wilt in an unenviable position. These events start at a party hosted by some “horrible Americans”. When his wife runs off with a college professor, Wilt seizes the opportunity of carrying out some of his more vindictive fantasies. He inflates a life size plastic doll and dresses it up in his wife’s clothes. He then proceeds to dump the doll down a 30 foot hole. And by doing something so stupid he has now started a chain of events in which suspicion and blame soon find their way back to him, when his wife goes missing.
What follows is a hilarious tale of confusion and mayhem. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And Wilt only makes matters worse when he attempts to make things better. Along the way he is subjected to humiliation and turmoil as his life is turned upside down. But going through the ordeal, somewhere along the way, Wilt finds his strengths and some amount of dignity.
He seems to be assisting the police in finding his wife, but is almost all the time under a cloud of suspicion from the obstinate police inspector Flint. Gradually with all the pressure of the investigation burdening him down, he starts to find his strong suits and begins to flourish. While the police focus solely on the circumstantial evidence they have, Wilt puts in all he has into showing the world how the Law actually works, and how they can’t seem to differentiate a missing person from a hole in the ground.
A satirical and entertaining read overall, in which Tom Sharpe has created a character, which we can all identify with. Maybe we do not recognize Henry Wilt as ourselves, but, we do recognize him as someone we are afraid to turn into. Throughout the story, the reader experiences a sort of empathy for the protagonist.

Wilt (Published in 1976) - Comedy of errors - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Into the Storm (Command Series) (Published in 1997) - Authored by Tom Clancy - The rise of the US army

Tom (who died in 2013) was a first rate author. He is famous for his series of fiction books centered around the world of his main character Jack Ryan, with a combination of intelligence agency (CIA) and military. His books starting with "The Hunt for Red October" were surprising because of the level of detail and military accuracy. This first book got a huge boost with the then President Ronald Reagan mentioning it as a book that he liked, and from that point on, there was no looking back. He wrote a series of books (many of them were quite lengthy), but for his fans, these were books that they loved and his books continued to be on the bestseller list, with many of them being converted into movies as well. Unlike many others, Tom Clancy did not portray the CIA or the military as big bad monsters, and with his main hero finally finding a place in the CIA, the CIA was essentially described as patriots, out to ensure that the United States defeats its enemies.
Some of his other famous books were such as Clear and Present Danger, Sum of all Fears, Debt of Honor, Executive Orders, etc. Some of these books could be seen as forecasting events which happened later, such as the plane crash by a disgruntled Japanese pilot in Debt of Honor was an eerie premonition of the plane crashes of September 11, 2001; and the Ebola crisis depicted in Executive Orders was probably the first time that a major author had shown the sheer horror of Ebola, and the current ongoing crisis in West Africa re: Ebola is similar (the social situation, infrastructure and countries are different, but the danger of such a virus comes real in the reading of this book).




Tom Clancy had also written some non-fiction books, which are much less famous, and since they are not fiction, they do not have the fast pace of the fiction books, but they are based on reality and are worth reading for the way that the books describes the setting. Into the Storm (which depicts the commander of VII corps during the Gulf War - General Frederick M Franks Jr) whose command played a pivotal role in destroying the effective military opposition of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces.
For those looking at a campaign from a distance, it seems about advancing into the battle and defeating the enemy, but if you want to take a closer look at the incredible amount of planning and intricacies involved in the effort, this book is a winner. From battlefield planning to logistics (and to give an idea of the sheer number of forces involved), you get details of everything in this book; it may seem too detailed, but there is a of great information available in this book - and it is hard to find this in other books.
The book also looks at the transformation of the US army. The Vietnam War was a defining moment for this institution; it was a draft based army, with discipline and training problems, and the defeat of the US in Vietnam was a huge blow to the morale of the army. From such a low, developing a professional and highly trained army that uses all the technology at its disposal effectively to be able to defeat its opponents in direct combat is a study that is brought out in this book.

Into the Storm (Command Series) (Published in 1997) - Authored by Tom Clancy - The rise of the US army

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cold Case (Published in 2008) - Authored by Faye Kellerman - A bit dull, but mystery is still there

It is a bit rare to see a husband and wife couple both writing books (and I would exclude those books where the couple are writing the book jointly), so the couple of Faye and Jonathan Kellerman are a bit unique. They are even more unique because they both have had books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time. But, if you are reading one, the style of the other is different. I have read more of Jonathan, so it was a bit of surprise to read Faye, since you start thinking that maybe the style would be similar. Even though both their books deal with police and deal with murder, the action and pace in Jonathan's books is more than in Faye's books (or it could be that this was the case with just the books that I have read).
Faye Kellerman was born in 1952 in St. Louis in Missouri and went to UCLA where she got her degree in 1974, and then studied and became a dentist in terms of education, but never did practise. Instead, what she did finally was to become an author. Her most famous creation is the detective Peter Decker, who was raised as a Baptist but went back to his Jewish roots after marriage. There are a number of books that feature this detective, at last count the number of books starring him as the lead character being a total of 22 books.




Cold Case (also called The Mercedes Coffin) (spoiler alert) is about a connection between 2 murders and the police attempt to solve them. Why call it a cold case ? Well, the first murder is 15 years back, unsolved and the second one is a recent murder that seems similar to the first murder. The first one to be murdered was an apparently much loved teacher called Ben Little and the second one was a Hollywood music producer by the name Primo Ekerling. When a hot-shot and rich female CEO reads about the second murder, she sees that there is a resemblance to the first murder - and the teacher murdered in the first one was somebody who had helped her a lot. And so she decides to use the effects of money - promising the department a nice donation if they can solve the first murder, after a period of 15 years.
The department can always use the money, and so they decide to take the case, and detective Peter Decker is assigned; and he is not happy about having to jump to the command of a moneybag, but then the money is important. He does see that there does seem to be a connection; and resolving cold cases is always morally satisfying for a detective. He sets about starting the investigation, although it can be a bit tricky. The then police detectives have retired, and even though one of them is cooperative, the other one is not, and suspiciously dies of a suicide within 12 hours of the discussion. Over a period of time as he does the investigation, he figures out that there are connections. There is some amount of cross-region police politics that he has to handle, and his daughter is also now a police detective, Cindy Kutiel, whose superior office also needs to be handled politely.
The book does take the reader to a climax that can be unexpected, but it is a slow book, and I almost put it down; it did not generate the same kind of enthusiasm and tension which can keep me gripped to a book till I finish reading it.

Cold Case (Published in 2008) - Authored by Faye Kellerman - A bit dull, but mystery is still there

The Private Patient (Published in 2008) - Authored by P D James - Murder in a plastic surgery clinic

In 2008, P.D James published her last, till date novel starring the familiar and constant Scotland Yard Detective, Commander Adam Dalgliesh. At 88 years of age, Dame James still has her wits about her and even though the language and speech is of an era long forgotten, the story - Private Patient is an interesting read in complete P. D. James style.
The book is set in an old house – the Cheverell Manor, which has now been renovated and converted into a clinic discretely offering plastic surgery to the rich and famous. The clinic belongs to a famous plastic surgeon by the name of George Chandler-Powell. And as the title of the book suggests, the names of the patients are strictly confidential. So when an investigative journalist by the name of Rhoda Gradwyn goes to get a scar removed, she is looking forward to a week of relaxation and recovery. However, two days into her surgery, she is murdered, by someone wearing the same kind of latex gloves that are available at Cheverell Manor.
Commander Dalgliesh and his team of detectives are called in to investigate. Where initially no suspects seem to exist, gradually Dalgliesh and his DI’s peel away secret after secret and probe into the past of the victim and the backgrounds of the Manor’s staff and doctors, to reveal an extremely large list of suspects. And as in most of her books, James also throws in a little journey back to a bygone era, where a lynching 350 years ago is somehow connected to present day events.




Suspects range from a deceased uncle, Peregrine; whose deposition would affect the members of the staff in the clinic, to an old lady, whose family had to sell the Manor to the wealthy doctor, as she continues to be a part of the household. While the investigation is underway, yet another murder takes place in the Manor, and Dalgliesh must act quickly to reveal the identity of the murderer. As always, James has put this horrible crime too in a beautiful setting, with vivid descriptions of the house, and all of Dalgliesh’s questioning being conducted in a stately library room in the manor.
If Dalgliesh is not at his intuitive best in this book, it may be because he has other things on his mind, like retirement and settling down with Emma. His relation with Emma grows in importance, which would not have been a problem had it not resulted in the plot losing track of its main victim.
While the book is not James’ best work, it is not a bad read either. However, unlike some of her older books, James does not seem to elaborate the mystery solving process being undertaken. Where in her previous books, the evidence and truth came out as a result of police procedures, the last book and this one seem to fold in on themselves. The only way Adam Dalgliesh unearths the identity of the murderer is through interviews and self-reflection at the end of the day. Maybe James does not know the present day procedures being followed, but as a result the story does not sound as convincing either.
As a James fan one would not mind the language and tone in general of her books. But, for a new reader to read about present day people and settings, in a language as flowery and old as Queen Victoria is totally out of place.  Plot wise the book is the usual James style writing, with a not-too-likable victim, suspects who are hostile and do not divulge much and the field trip back in time to unearth some secret which weighs in today. And let’s not forget a second murder. It is not a bad format, but one that is well known to all James fans.

The Private Patient (Published in 2008) - Authored by P D James - Murder in a plastic surgery clinic