Monday, October 13, 2014

Riotous Assembly (Published in 1971) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Satirical look at South Africa during apartheid

Published in 1971, Riotous Assembly is a novel by Tom Sharpe. A novel which showcases the Apartheid era of South Africa in a satirical and humorous way, Riotous Assembly is about a murder committed by a white woman of her Zulu cook. The murder that has taken place in South Africa at the time of apartheid and the local police who enforce it, is Tom Sharpe’s way of speaking out against the atrocities that were committed at the time. His knowledge on the subject was vast as a result of his staying in South Africa from 1951 until1961.
Tom Sharpe had shifted to South Africa and had worked as a social worker and teacher. The apartheid era inspired him to write 2 novels, and a play, one of the novels being Riotous Assembly. Like every phase of his life, this one too, resulted in the publication of a serious issue in the form of satire and mockery. However, it did not go down well, and he was arrested for sedition, and later deported to London in 1961.
The novel opens in a fictitious town by the name of Piemburg in South Africa. The police chief, Kommandant van Heerden, has risen to his current rank, only because of family connections. His work and merit leave much to be desired. So when this baboon of a Police Chief, who also happens to be pro-apartheid, is told to go an investigate a murder, involving a certain eccentric British lady by the name of Miss Hazlestone, there is bound to be some blow up.




It turns out that Miss Hazlestone has murdered or rather blown to smithereens her Zulu cook with an elephant gun. But since the murder was that of a Zulu and the one committing the crime was a British “white” woman, van Heerden seems it only fair to brush the entire matter under the carpet. However, when Miss Hazlestone divulges the fact that she and her cook were lovers, van Heerden panics. In his endeavors to try and contain the matter, he creates so much confusion that it all blows out of proportion on a nuclear scale.
He attempts to try and control the matter and also stop this news from spreading, by placing the lady, Miss Hazlestone under house arrest, and calls reinforcement to guard her, while he goes to try and make matters “better”. His assistants are stupider than him. When he posts the bloodthirsty but completely senseless Konstable Els as a guard outside Miss Hazlestone’s home with an elephant gun, Els manages to somehow kill over 20 police officers in his over exuberance to guard the house and its secret.
Not sure what to do, Els plants a wallet found nearby at the scene of the crime and then flees. The wallet turns out to be that of Bishop of Barotseland, Miss Hazlestone’s brother. He is then arrested and interrogated in a not so legal way, after which a trial is held and he is sentenced to death by hanging at the ancient gallows for a crime he did not commit.
Not a political novel, and a bit predictable, but yet, as always an entertaining read by Tom Sharpe. The book from the word go, puts light on everything that Sharpe found wrong in Apartheid South Africa. He uses all that and comes up with a story which is hilarious and yet a slap in the face of all racism, savagery, stupidities, juridical perversions and misunderstandings that took place in South Africa.

Riotous Assembly (Published in 1971) - Authored by Tom Sharpe - Satirical look at South Africa during apartheid

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grantchester Grind (Published in 1995) - At a college - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Also known as A Porterhouse Chronicle, Grantchester Grind is a sequel of Porterhouse Blue. Released in 1995, the book is written by Tom Sharpe, who has yet again created a hilariously absurd story, which seems to start out simple and blows out of proportion. Born in 1928, and having completed his education at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Tom Sharpe has a good idea of the workings of such institutions and thus how to create a novel which has a ring of authenticity to it.
This book, like its prequel, is also based in a fictitious college, called Porterhouse, which is shown to be not only one of the best colleges in Cambridge, but also one of the most conservative ones. While the first novel, Porterhouse Blue was a standalone book, this novel has used references from the previous one.
The book opens with a simple plot and mostly the same characters as its predecessor, with a few new entries. Skullion, previously, the Head Porter at the College, is now Master, due to a chain of seriously ridiculous events, which have led to him murdering the previous Master, Sir Godber Evans, accidentally of course! However, Skullion too is frail after a stroke. Knowing he might not last very long, the others start to look for someone to replace him, when the time comes, from among the alumni.




Also, the college is in dire financial straits. The solutions to this problem gradually reveal themselves. First solution (laced with complications) comes in the form of Lady Mary, the widow of Sir Evans. She believes her husband was murdered. Though her beliefs and what the staff at Porterhouse wants to believe are two very different things. When she realizes no one is willing to take her seriously, or else is turning a blind eye to her convictions, she decides to plant an agent of hers in the form of a Fellow, by anonymously sending 6 million pounds to the Sir Godber Evans Memorial Fellowship. Her agent has one task only, to find out who killed her husband.
Even though the book is not a mystery novel, all the characters definitely behave that way, what with their vested interests and half-truths. Another financial messiah comes in the form of Edgar Hartang, the leading head of a big American media company, by the name of Transworld Television Productions. But Hartang, like Lady Mary, has some other plans up his sleeve. He wants to create a front for his money laundering business. And unfortunately for the Porterhouse College, they seem to be his most preferred option.
The team of Transworld Television Productions convinces the college to let them shoot a documentary there. And in their over-zealous excitement they damage a part of the chapel, and Porterhouse, demands they pay for the damages, subsequently upsetting Hartang’s money laundering plans. Eventually, an alcoholic by the name of Lord Jeremy Pimpole is appointed as the Master of Porterhouse.
Like Porterhouse Blue, this book too lives up to its reputation. It is funny, witty and full of misunderstandings, drunken admissions, and sexual ideas. In typical Tom Sharpe style, he creates a plot so simple and characters so ordinary, that when he takes them and twists them up, he creates a novel so absurd and out-there that as a reader, it might be easier to assume the events to be true!

Grantchester Grind (Published in 1995) - At a college - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Porterhouse Blue (Published in 1974) - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Published in 1974, Porterhouse Blue is one of Tom Sharpe’s finest works. Tom Sharpe of the Wilt Series fame wrote an even more satirical and farcical book than Wilt, namely Porterhouse Blue. This book was made into a TV series, which was adapted by Malcolm Bradbury. The sequel to the novel is Grantchester Grind. However, Porterhouse Blue is a novel with a standalone plot.
Porterhouse Blue is based on a fictional college called Porterhouse in Cambridge. The novel’s central characters include the Porterhouse Head Porter called Skullion, the only research graduate student named Lionel Zipser and the object of his affections, Mrs Biggs, who is his bedder, Sir Godber Evans- the master and his wife, Lady Mary.
The book opens with the death of the present master. In what may be 500 years, for the first time the college faces what they call Porterhouse Blue, which is a situation where the previous master fails to announce the name of his successor before his death. As a result Sir Godber has been named the master of Porterhouse. However, for a college that has been traditionalist to its very core, there are now rumors that the new master and his wife plan to introduce changes.
This is a source of major concern for Skullion and the Fellows. They plan to counter attack the proposals for contraceptive machines, women students and canteen. Meanwhile, the only research graduate student-Lionel voices his fixation on the buxom Mrs Biggs on the megaphone for the hard of hearing Chaplain. Consequently, the whole college hears about it. Mrs Biggs who did not hear this realizes something is fishy when Lionel starts acting awkward around her.
So as to divert his fixations from Mrs Biggs, Lionel is suggested to pick up foreign students. And in his attempts to remove a few condoms from the vending machine, he lands up removing 2 boxes full. What follows is completely bizarre. Afraid he has stolen them, he tries to get rid of them, the best approach according to him being, inflating them with gas and floating them up the chimney!




If the already bizarre situation was not astounding enough for the reader, here’s more! Some of the inflated condoms get stuck in the chimney and the rest float down into the quadrangle! So as to uphold the values of the school, Skullion (who finds the floating condoms!) spends the night bursting each and every one. The same night, Mrs Biggs makes advances on Lionel and lands up in bed with him. Only in the process she lights the gas fire in the chimney, which leads to the stuck inflated condoms catching fire, which leads to an explosion in which they both are killed!
If the reader could stop laughing on such an inexplicable situation, Tom Sharpe then takes the story towards even more astounding heights. The fire brigade are called to put out the fire, but Skullion who was busy bursting inflated condoms, refuses to open the gates for the fire brigade until all the condoms are burst! As a result, he loses his job. After getting fired, he visits the bank and finds out that he has actually been left a large sum of money in the form of shares, by the previous master.
After, some revengeful tactics, he goes to Sir Godber and pleads with him to let him have his job back. But when Sir Godber refuses the two get into a fight, and Sir Godber is fatally injured. Skullion flees from the scene. 2 academics that happen to be in the vicinity see Sir Godber and rush to his aid. Close to dying, Sir Godber whispers just one word - Skullion. And of all the things!!! The 2 academics agree that Sir Godber meant to name Skullion as his successor.
They go to Skullion to tell him the good news. But, guilty conscience, Skullion feels that they are on to him and are going to turn him in. As he is being told the news he suffers from a paralytic stroke. But even so he is named the new master, and his vast fortune is utilized in rebuilding the Tower which was destroyed in the explosion.      
The novel if full of puns and wit, which do not seem superficial but rather integrated into the plot. In typical Tom Sharpe fashion, the book is one long string of hilarious situations which seem completely absurd. An extremely entertaining read, the book is a must for not only Sharpe loyalists but all who feel like having a good hearty laugh. It is to be taken lightly and as a brilliant piece of satire.

Porterhouse Blue (Published in 1974) - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Wilt Inheritance (Published in 2010) - More problems for Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe

Written when he was 82 years old, The Wilt Inheritance is author Tom Sharpe’s last book in the Wilt Series. Like its predecessors, this book too has Wilt entangling himself in mind blowing crazy scenarios from which it looks impossible to get out. Not his best work, but the book is quite a laugh, especially for Sharpe loyalists, who will feel a tad nostalgic towards the central character and his antics.
Tom Sharpe died 3 years after the publication of this book, due to complications resulting out of diabetes. He was 85 at the time, and said to be working on an autobiography. A witty and engaging writer, Sharpe did not necessarily move with the times in his books (they seems to be locked in an era of dial telephones and quiet Sundays), but he did attempt it never the less. This book has Wilt showcased in the 21st century.
In the Wilt Inheritance, Wilt is stuck as the nominal Head of the Communication Department at the Finland University. He is teaching students whom he does not want to teach. But, he can’t afford to lose this job. It’s the money from this uninteresting lack luster job, which is after all paying for the quadruplets private school fees and the maintenance of his wife Eva’s every demand. If all this had not already caused him a headache, his wife decides to sign him up for a summer job.




This summer job entails tutoring the step-son of a wealthy but lusty local aristocrat. His step father has hopes of sending him to Cambridge. However, once Wilt does start tutoring him, he realizes that the boy is not only a complete idiot who probably would not be able to find the bus to go to Cambridge, but also dangerously violent. Wilt learns that the boy owns a gun, which he shoots at any object which is moving, or sometimes not necessarily moving.          
Gradually the situation starts to unravel, and Wilt decides that it is time to use this now deteriorating state of affairs to his advantage. He finds a way in which the current scenario could not only put him at a financial advantage, but also give his snooty wife Eva, some tensions and headaches of her own.
While the book is not his best work, it is still worth a read and quite entertaining. It is amazing how effortlessly Tom Sharpe can develop a believable situation, and then push its boundaries to crazy extremes where it no longer seems believable. The entire scenario, with his amoral horrible little monsters for girls, a wife who seems to have perfected the snooty attitudes of high society, and wilt himself- a constant magnet for all things bad, is unimaginable, yet totally comical.
While the book may not be “hurt your stomach laughing” good, it is fast paced and sharp, with the typical Sharpe dark humor and story line which takes the viewers to place they did not known they wanted to or could visit. Even though the ideologies and prose is somewhat stuck in 1976, it does have a sense of authenticity to it, making its readers sentimental for the books they probably grew up on.

The Wilt Inheritance (Published in 2010) - More problems for Wilt - Authored by Tom Sharpe

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Lighthouse (published in 2005) - Authored by P D James - Death in a remote lighthouse

The Lighthouse is the thirteenth book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, written by P. D. James. Released in 2005, the book is about the murder of a famous novelist on a secluded island which is a recreational haven for the rich and powerful. Like her other books, in this book too James has taken the underlying theme of murder in a closed confined space with a set number of suspects. Along with her books, James is also making her protagonist grow and evolve. Dalgliesh has come a long way from the widower in the 80’s to a man who is now worried about commitment issues to the lovely Dr. Emma Lavenham.
The story takes off with famous novelist Oliver Nathan travelling to Combe Island, where he was born, to spend a few days with his daughter and copy editor Dennis Tremlett. However, when he finds out that the 2 are having an affair he explodes and tells them to get off the island. In the few short days that he does live alone, he manages to anger and agitate a lot of people including the local help, provided by the boatman – Jago and the handyman – Daniel, and a priest of the Anglican Church.
So it is not very surprising that such an obnoxious person was found hanged to death, over the Lighthouse situated on Combe Island. That’s when commander Dalgliesh is introduced to the story. His presence along with that of his team is requested on Combe Island, to help solve this case. However, Scotland Yard’s finest are not doing very well on the personal front. With Dalgliesh having problems in his love life and Miskin going through an emotional crisis, the book focuses on both, the mystery as well as the detective’s personal traumas.




Painstakingly and meticulously as always, Dalgliesh collects the clues, and in the process uncovers many secrets, one of which that dates back to Germany and World War 2. However, somewhere along the way he falls sick because of a gentleman who had come from Germany to visit the island. The man has SARS, and he transmits this disease to Dalgliesh. The whole island is quarantined with nobody allowed off the island. Just in time too, as yet another murder takes place. That of an Anglican priest who had strongly disliked the victim, Oliver Nathan.
So as to maintain a shroud of mystery, no evidence is allowed to be collected and the detectives are working on clues and good judgment alone. While Dalgliesh is in the quarantined sick room, Miskin and Francis-Benton Smith, his colleagues are left to solve the case. However, Dalgliesh gets feverish visions, which help him, piece together evidence that has been in his head all along and figure out who the perpetrator is. He immediately gets in touch with his colleagues and asks them to go find out if he is right.
The pace picks up, as the murderer knows that the detectives are on to him. And they finally catch the perpetrator trying to escape. With the case solved, and after he begins to recover and recoup, Dalgliesh and Emma realizes how stupid their fears about commitment are and the book ends with both of them deciding to get married.
Unlike her predecessors, James does not pose a problem of being completely out of touch with the real world, and even at 85, her books are eloquently written with perfect grammar and speech, even though this might feel a tad pretentious, and not realistic enough for the modern day setting. But, James is known as the Queen of crime, and rightly so. Even after decades of writing, James still keeps the suspense going in her books. She always keeps the reader speculating till the very end, and at the same time reminds them of the somber fact, that “you can’t get away with murder”.

The Lighthouse (published in 2005) - Authored by P D James - Death in a remote lighthouse

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Murder Room (Published in 2004) - Authored by P D James - Murder in a museum

A detective novel published in 2003, by P. D. James displaying the detective skills of her favourite Detective-Commander Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, The Murder Room is set in Dupayne Museum in London Borough of Camden. Like all her novels, James is partial to a murder in an enclosed space with elaborate setting even in this book.
While James is a crime novelist, this book highlights how James is essentially a War novelist, who speaks about the troubles and torments she had to face growing up and after marriage. The book with the story about a murder that takes place in the Dupayne Museum, which is described as a museum for relics collected in between World War I and II, is less a mystery and more an ode to that era.
The story begins with Commander Dalgliesh - he is already acquainted with the famous Dupayne Museum, which houses some of the most notorious murders that took place between the years of 1919 and 1939. The Dupayne Museum is owned by 3 siblings, who are in disagreement about selling the property and shutting down the museum. Upon the murder of Neville Dupayne, one of the three siblings, Commander Dalgliesh is called in to investigate especially when it is clear that the murderer has purposely replicated the murder scene to resemble one of the murders showcased in the Murder Room of the Dupayne Museum.




Commander Dalgliesh is however no longer alone in this novel. While fastidiously gathering evidence and interrogating suspects, his romantic relation with Dr. Emma Lavenham is also shown to be blossoming. With secrets unraveling and the truth coming to light, Dalgliesh learns that the victim had intended to shut down the Museum going against the wishes of it staff and his siblings. With meticulousness that can only be attributed to Dalgliesh, he painstakingly collects evidence and reveals the culprit.
Even though the topic broached by this book is a strong one, its projection through expressions does not make it realistic or believable. This is mainly because of P. D. James inherent dislike for slang language and wrong English. As a result, most of her characters, including thugs - who one would assume speak in slangs, speak impeccable English in the book.
Another important issue that comes to light in this book is James’ age and era. She tries to modernize the crime and the setting; however her characters speak in very Edwardian English. As a result the dialogue delivery is weak, even the speech in general is grammatically correct and impressive. And it is interesting to note that even though she has attempted to modernize the feel of the book, its essence is overall conservative, not just in the political sense, but also in the fact that most of the murders that take place are because James’ culprits do not want change.
A good read, but the settings and speech are a stark contrast to the attempted modern day plot and characters.

The Murder Room (Published in 2004) - Authored by P D James - Murder in a museum

Monday, September 1, 2014

Death in Holy Orders (Published in 2001) - Authored by P D James - 11th book of Adam Dalgliesh

P. D. James’ eleventh Adam Dalgliesh novel is set on the wind swept shores of East Anglia, in an Anglican theological college by the name of St. Anselm’s. The church is meant for priests and “ordinands” training in the religious career. James has once again seamlessly put together a novel which is not only a mystery but also James’ efforts in compelling the reader to contemplate about faith, love, loyalty and personal responsibilities.
The novel begins with the death of an ordinand by the name of Ronald Treeves at St. Anselm’s. The father of this student is however not convinced that his son’s death was accidental, and he arranges for Scotland Yard’s Commander Dalgliesh to investigate the murder. However, upon Dalgliesh’s arrival at St. Anselm’s, yet another death takes place, that of Archdeacon Crampton. Matthew Crampton was an ambitious cleric who was extremely hostile in his behavior towards others. Hence, there is no dearth of suspects.
Dalgliesh is retained and asked to investigate Archdeacon’s death as well. Especially since it is widely known that the archdeacon was interested in closing down the college. Dalgliesh calls for assistance and requests DI Miskin and DI Tarrant to join him at Anglia. In typical Dalgliesh style suspects are interviewed and forensic evidence is meticulously collected and organized.




He gradually unearths secrets which are interconnected to the lives of many in St. Anselm’s. Including the fact that one of the students at the college is an unknowing son of a lay lecturer in the college, and upon closure of the college he stands to inherit the place through his mother.
Careful investigation and interrogations reveal the identity of the suspect. Side by side, James has created a love angle for her protagonist who develops a romantic relationship with Dr. Emma Lavenham, a visiting faculty from Cambridge.
Death in Holy Orders is an engaging read which urges the reader to ponder on psychological and moral aspects of the book. Written in James’ Victorian style with beautiful prose, the book yet again displays P. D. James’ mastery over the genre. Where most writers stumble along book after book, once their creativity has run its course, P. D. James is still going strong at the ripe old age of 80. Like every book, she always decides to change her settings, but maintains descriptive narratives of the psychology and personality of her characters.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief, James does not restrict her descriptions to the thinking and mentality of the middle class but moves with ease through all social classes and ages. The book is an interesting and entertaining albeit relaxed read from the Queen of Crime Fiction, P. D. James.

Death in Holy Orders (Published in 2001) - Authored by P D James - 11th book of Adam Dalgliesh

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A certain justice (Published in 1997) - Authored by P D James - Murder of a lawyer

A Certain Justice is P. D. James’ 10th novel in her Adam Dalgliesh series. Published in 1997, the book is a clear example that James’ books have not lost their edge, but in fact showcase her penchant for developing an intricate plot, which draws on the complexities of the characters. James’ proves yet again that unlike any other author she has the talent to combine a good old detective story with the richness of good prose and fine writing skills.
In her 10th book, James’ has foraged into the world of London Law and the legal community. Her setting is as always dramatic – Middle Temple, the heart of London’s legal world. She begins the story with Venetia Aldridge, the Queen’s Counsel, who is a Barrister in London’s legal world, but from the onset, the reader knows what is coming for her, especially since James clearly states that Aldridge has only four odd weeks left.
In those four weeks, James describes everything there is to know about Aldridge and her life. About how she is disliked by many because she looks at every case as a means to further her own career and reputation, rather than as justice being served. And so, when she works hard and succeeds in getting a known psychopath by the name of Garry Ashe off the hook for killing his prostitute aunt, it is no surprise that in the short span of time following this victory, Aldridge is found dead, stabbed through the heart with a letter opener which is shaped like the scales of justice.




James expounds that every action has consequences. And when Garry Ashe takes up with Aldridge’s unhappy and unloved daughter, Aldridge begins to question her victories, more importantly the one where she got Ashe acquitted. The setting of the murder scene is through and through James. It is a traditional setting, mixed with the modern day and age. And in her typical style, there are at least a dozen suspects, ranging from Aldridge’s colleagues to the office cleaner and a sleazy Member of Parliament. But, where any other author would make this sound clich├ęd, P. D. James makes the reader feel like even though each story or character might be irrelevant to the case, they are all in their own aspect, real.
In A Certain Justice, James has beautifully woven together the exact precise world of forensics with well described characters who force the readers to question philosophical concepts of justice. However, her protagonist of ten novels – Dalgliesh, is only introduced into the story when it is three quarters underway. He seems to be oddly distant in the book, solving the murder of Miss Aldridge in a detached aloof sort of way. His presence seems to be more of a token than anything else. Maybe Baroness James is planning on retiring her protagonist in typical British fashion, and this is her way of introducing the concept. But, whatever the case be, Dalgliesh has not been as elaborately inserted into the story as James’ other novels.
Overall, the book is one of James’ finer works, with elegant descriptions of the Legal world in London. With well described characters that come to life, and scenes that add richness to the plot, James has once again shown her skills as the master of the macabre.

A certain justice (Published in 1997) - Authored by P D James - Murder of a lawyer

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Original Sin (Published in 1994) - Authored by PD James - Murder around a publishing house

The 9th book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, Original Sin is one of P. D. James’ lengthier reads. Published in 1994, the book is set in a London Publishing Company called Peverell Press. The story, in complete P. D. James style is set in a closely knit community, with a given set of people. It’s always amazing to see how people react in her novels, especially with constantly erupting tensions and violence. However, unlike her other books, P. D. James has evolved to spanning an entire generation through this book.
Even though the story is about the death of Gerard Etienne, the son of Jean-Philippe Etienne who is a partner at the Peverell Press, the book goes back to Nazi Germany and Jewish massacre. Gerard Etienne is shown to take over the company after the death of Henry Peverell, the Managing Director of Peverell Press. Gerard is however merciless and brutal with regards to his plans for revamping the Company. He fires many long term staff and plans to sell the Venetian style building which houses Peverell Press.
An employee commits suicide after he was to be dismissed by Gerard. Subsequently, when Gerard Etienne is found strangled to death by a garish toy snake wrapped around his neck, there seems to be not much empathy or sadness for his death amongst the staff. Enter Commander Dalgliesh and DI Kate Miskin and DI Daniel Aaron. While Commander Dalgliesh investigates the murder in his usual style it is DI Daniel Aaron who uncovers records from the 1940’s which lead to the discovery of information about Gerard’s father, who is a serving partner at Peverell Press.




Here’s where the plot starts getting lengthy. James moves back and forth a bit between the present day murder and suspects, and the crimes committed in Vichy, France by Jean-Philippe Etienne in the 1940s. As the truth starts unfolding, two more people are killed, an author and one more member of the Peverell staff. The end is quite an unexpected twist, because James keeps you focused on present day aspects of the case.
As a loyal reader, one would plough through the book so as to get to the end, however, if such a style of writing was adopted by a new writer, the reader might lose interest and fast. But, reading the entire book does have its merits, especially since P. D. James rewards us with an unexpected culprit and an intricately plotted story. The characterization of all the suspects and employees is as always exceptionally well done, and the character of DI Daniel Aaron especially has been well developed. Since Dalgliesh has been described a lot, James focuses on expanding the range of emotions and character given to DI Aaron.
He is a thematic character who is probably the only one who appreciates the ambiguity he faces when confronted by moral issues. Overall, characterization and descriptions are done brilliantly in James’ usual style. Her prose and style of writing makes the reader want to read page after page even if it gets a bit lengthy in parts. A must read for mystery fans. It is only towards the end that you realize, the title – Original Sin is apt for the story told in these pages.

Original Sin (Published in 1994) - Authored by PD James - Murder around a publishing house

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Devices and Desires (Published in 1989) - Authored by PD James - A mass murderer

Published in 1989, Devices and Desires, is P. D. James eighth installment in the Adam Dalgliesh series. James has like always done a wonderful job at presenting Dalgliesh’s cool analytical mind with her poetic prose style of writing. Through her books, she also gives the reader a chance to become the protagonist, by telling them things that Dalgliesh is unaware off. This book does not have much by way of a plot, and is rather slow paced, except for the very end where things suddenly pick up and take sharp unexpected turns in the story. But, that is all the more a reason to applaud James’ writing style, as she manages to enthrall the reader with her prose throughout the book.
The story of Devices and Desires opens with Commander Adam Dalgliesh having finished publication of his second volume of poetry. He takes a break and heads to Larksoken, a remote area in Norfolk, the location for a nuclear power plant. His recently deceased aunt Jane Dalgliesh has left behind a converted windmill out there. So he heads to the remote part of the countryside to tie up loose ends. While roaming about Larksoken, Dalgliesh literally stumbles upon a murder victim. The victim is the acting administrative officer of the Nuclear Power Plant, Hillary Roberts. However, there is no dearth of suspects, as most of her coworkers and neighbours strongly disliked her.
With the Norfolk Whistler, a serial killer who killed women in and around Larksoken, on the loose and Hillary being the least favourite person amongst her colleagues, Commander Dalgliesh is thrown into a strange web of secrecy and hatred. The only possible way out is if he solves the mystery of who killed Hillary.



But, since the local Police headed by Terry Rickards are conducting the search for the serial killer nicknamed – The Whistler, Dalgliesh tries to look into the lives of the other characters living in Larksoken, most of whom disliked Hillary as she antagonized and harassed them no end. However, Rickards turns out to be an old colleague of Dalgliesh and Rickards takes him into confidence, by sharing with him all they have found out about the serial killer. It is Rickards and not Dalgliesh who occupies a sizable portion of the book sleuthing and gathering clues on who the serial killer is.
Then the Whistler strikes again, this time a bit too close, one of the secretaries at the power plant is murdered and when Dalgliesh goes to investigate it, he finds that another death has also taken place. However, is this also the work of the whistler or someone else? Dalgliesh is led to believe that they may have a copycat in their midst.
It is noteworthy that the book does not have a lot of Dalgliesh’s crime solving skills in it. It is more about how different people get along with each other against the backdrop of a controversial nuclear power plant and a serial killer on the loose. And from there on it is about, how these people react and strike out at one another when one of their own is murdered. The book stands out because of James’ writing skills to elaborately depict how people are entwined in each other’s lives and how they try to live amidst chaotic circumstances.

Devices and Desires (Published in 1989) - Authored by PD James - A mass murderer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A taste for death (Published in 1986) - Authored by PD James - 2 different victims

Published in 1986, A Taste for Death is a book by P. D. James where she writes about murder and how it changes things on various levels. Baroness James has yet again created a novel with not only in-depth insight into the human psyche but also an understanding of the varying social levels and how they interact with each other. The book is not just about the plot, which albeit is brilliant, it is about a whole lot more, with far reaching repercussions of murder and how no one who is touched by it, remains unchanged.
Through her protagonist, Commander Adam Dalgliesh, we as readers are forced to ponder on more complicated questions which arise as a result of human interactions in society. Can we realistically believe that anyone is innocent? After all, every person is guilty of something. But, as professionals who have a duty towards the law, Dalgliesh and his fellow detectives, Kate Miskin and John Massingham, believe that some semblance of law is better than no law, however wrong that might be.
The book begins with the scene of a double murder having taken place in Little Vestry of Saint Matthew’s Church. Two very different individuals are found dead, with their throats slit from one side to the other. One of the victims is a local tramp by the name of Harry Mack. But what is confounding is the identity of the other victim. He is the Minister for the Crown, Sir Paul Berowne. Commander Dalgliesh and his Detectives, Miskin and Massingham must follow up every clue and figure out who the culprit is, but more importantly find out what ties a Minister and a local nobody together.




Their investigation leads them to the Berowne family. Here James introduces the minister’s mother, his wife, his daughter, his brother in law and the Berowne family help. As a reader, we get to see an underlying theme, portrayed in this part of the book. The varying social dynamics which exist between the family and the help are not the only class differences depicted. Even the difference between the detectives and their family backgrounds is brought into the spotlight, with Miskin coming from a working class family and resenting Massingham and Dalgliesh, who come from privileged backgrounds.
Another way the social structure is highlighted is through the murders themselves. While everyone is interested in finding out who killed the minister, almost no one, save the police and Mack’s family want to know what happened to Harry Mack, all because he wasn’t from a “good” family.
The detectives trundle along at a pace that aptly displays the harrowing job of the police force. There is no sudden insight or magical way in which the mystery is solved. It is solved because of the hard work of the detectives and the meticulous piecing together of clues. Even when Dalgliesh knows who the killer is, he has to wait for some physical evidence to tie the murderer to the crime, before actually confronting him.
The strong point of the book is the characters. Not only are the Berowne family characters well developed, but as a reader James gives us an opportunity to learn more about the detectives, especially Miskin who is shown to be not only capable but also vulnerable, and far from perfect. But, she is shown to be learning from the other two, despite her dislike for Massingham. Massingham is also shown to be prejudiced against Miskin, only because she is a woman in the police force.
The book is, as always, written in James’ poetic style, to allow the readers to lose themselves in a world of complicated plots and complex relationships. The book keeps you thinking well after the end, which is what a writer aspires to achieve. So, all in all, it is definitely a must read.

A taste for death (Published in 1986) - Authored by PD James - 2 different victims

Monday, August 25, 2014

Death of an Expert Witness (Published in 1977) - Authored by PD James - A series of deaths

Death of an Expert Witness is yet another P. D. James novel. Published in 1977, the book explores the world of forensics. James in her usual fashion has expertly involved the reader in trying to deduce the murder of an expert witness. In most of her books, James relies on her vast experience in the civil administrative field. And this book is no different.
The story takes place in Chevisham, England in the late twentieth century. However, the book doesn’t open with the murder of the expert witness, but that of a young girl, who is not the focus of the book. Her murder is only used as a means to introduce the readers to the world of forensics, and the forensic laboratory along with its staff. As the title suggests, the book is about the murder of Expert witness, Dr. Lorrimer.
Dr. Edwin Lorrimer is a well respected forensic expert. However, reputable and well-liked are two very different things. Dr. Lorrimer is shown to have been a petty, vindictive, bad tempered man, who has insulted many people over the years. As a result the list of suspects who wished him dead and hated his guts in general is quite long. What’s more, most of these suspects are either police officials or forensic scientists; most of whom know the inner workings of the system. As a result, there are hardly any clues to go by.
Commander Dalgliesh from Scotland Yard is called in to investigate the murder. Dalgliesh along with his associate, Detective Investigator John Massingham tries to deduce who could have killed the expert witness. Before that can be accomplished the killer strikes again and one of Dalgliesh’s suspects, Stella Mawson is found dead.




With not much by way of physical evidence and loads of suspects with strong motives, the book is a brilliant portrayal of James’ writing skills. Dalgliesh can only study all the suspects, each of whom are highly intelligent beings and make deductions through insightful observations of human behavior. He painstakingly gathers every clue and piece of evidence to try and put together the identity of the murderer. As always, he does so in typical Dalgliesh style.
Eventually, it is Dr. Lorrimer’s horrible and vindictive attitude mixed with the culprits need to save his dignity and family from the mistakes he has made, which Dr. Lorrimer threatened to expose, that led to Dr. Lorrimer’s death. James’ study of human nature is quite accurate and insightful. It makes the reader understand and ponder on why people do the things they do.
The story is memorable, and the plot complex. There are sub plots running through the story, but they don’t distract the reader from the original story. The characters are realistic and very believable. Each and every subplot adds a richness to the story, while the characters come together to create a suspenseful book. Death of an Expert Witness is yet another book with elegant prose that makes the reader enjoy not only the suspense but also the descriptions and overall feel of the book.

Death of an Expert Witness (Published in 1977) - Authored by PD James - A series of deaths

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Black Tower (Published in 1975) - Authored by PD James - Danger to Dalgliesh

Published in 1975, the Black Tower is the fifth in the series of Adam Dalgliesh books written by Phyllis Dorothy James, also known as P. D. James. The Black Tower, like its predecessors is not a thriller, but a slow mystery which starts creeping up on the reader, as the story builds, focusing on the setting and characters rather than the events that take place.
In The Black Tower, the Scotland Yard detective has shown to have risen through the ranks and is now Commander Dalgliesh. The book starts in a sober mood, with Commander Dalgliesh not being his usual robust and gentle self. This is because he was misdiagnosed with leukemia which turns out to be glandular fever. However, when an old friend, Father Baddeley, sends him a letter requesting him to stay at Toynton Grange care home in Dorset with him, Dalgliesh decides to visit.
Unfortunately, Father Baddeley seems to die of natural causes before Dalgliesh can make his trip. His body cremated and buried as well. But when the death of another patient, Mr. Victor Holroyd, takes place, Dalgliesh is on edge, as his training and gut instinct tells him that neither death was accidental or unplanned. Victor is said to have committed suicide, with 2 people having witnessed this. One was Julius Court and the other Dennis Lerner.




In spite of various clues which present themselves, the local police do not budge on its ruling that the deaths were not murder. After a few days, when yet another patient as well as the doctor’s wife are found dead, Dalgliesh can sit back no longer. Dalgliesh keeps poking around and connecting the sequence of invents, along with motives and soon comes to the conclusion that one of the suspects runs a heroin smuggling business, using the patients clinic and their biannual tour to get the products from outside the country.
When the culprit realizes that Dalgliesh has found out the truth about him, he tries to kill Dalgliesh, who leaves behind signs for the police to find and save him. James’ novels are not only about the ingenuity of the hero, in this case Dalgliesh, but also a strong villain or culprit, whose eventual defeat makes the protagonist look even stronger.
Better than the storyline is the atmosphere created in the book by P.D. James, which is unsettling to the extent that it’s borderline morbid. The entire story has an ominous feel to it. The setting is perfect, with broken locks, poison pen letters, secret lovers and the looming Black Tower. Overall the book is simple with exquisite James style prose. As a reader you are captivated by the writing and want to read more.
But writing in a manner which builds up to something, is not an easy task. It means that the end must subsequently have an even stronger climax. With James however, this is not a problem. The end is superbly chilling, and feels more so because of James’ impeccable calm and control of her characters, till the very end. All in all, yet another short, fast and brilliant read in the typical P. D. James style.

The Black Tower (Published in 1975) - Authored by PD James - Danger to Dalgliesh

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shroud for a Nightingale (Published in 1971) - Authored by PD James - Murders of nursing students

Published in 1971, Shroud for a Nightingale is the fourth in the Adam Dalgliesh Series written by the Mistress of Murder – P. D. James. This book portrays a new side to the crime writing skills of James; with her using her vast personal experience (as a nurse during the War) to accurately develop a setting which involves nursing. The book is almost a Horror story with the mystery being solved in the end by the famous Dalgliesh. James has a lovely style of mixing the usual with the unusual. She will describe to the tee every character in the book. But locales and their description are sparse leaving the reader to imagine the places where the crime takes place.
The book takes place in the Nightingale House, a place which instills fear in the heart of the reader right from the onset. The women in the Nightingale House learn to nurse and take care of the suffering. However, when Miss Muriel Beale, the General Nursing Council’s inspector of the Nurse Training school comes to inspect the Third year students’ teaching sessions for the day, she is instead confronted with the murder of a third year student by the name of Nurse Heather Pearce.
Before the faculty can decide whether the death is a result of a prank gone wrong, or a suicide, another death takes place, that of Josephine Fallon. The schools surgeon consultant, asks the police to look into these deaths. Enter Scotland Yard’s finest detective, Adam Dalgliesh. Along with everyone else’s character, we now have Dalgliesh’s point of view and very strong opinions about everyone. Dalgliesh follows up every clue and red herring thrown into the story. He creates a work space at the foreboding brick manor known as Nightingale House. He interviews suspects, listens to the lies spun by them and discovers relationships and discrepancies. The mystery of the murders is only revealed at the end by Dalgliesh, along with the murky side of all the suspects, doctors and nurses.




Once the culprit is revealed, we feel bad for her. But, James has a wonderful way of making the reader feel like they should have all along known who the culprit was, given the fact that there were inconsistencies in the story, and things that didn’t add up in the relationships formed by the perpetrator. From the start, the book has a thrilling feel to it. The setting, the suspects, everything says horror. Another plus point of each one of James’ novels is her wonderful use of words you do not come across every day, for instance, antiphonal (meaning to recite or sing alternately, by two groups). James’ writing is old fashioned that way, but soothing in the general sense. She wants you to focus on imaging the scene of the crime but gives you a complete description of suspects so that you can try guessing who the murderer is. In that way, as a reader we feel part of the story and Adam Dalgliesh’s sleuthing team.  
What makes P. D. James’ novels masterpieces in mystery and murder, is the fact that the crimes in her book are not that of a random psychopath but are almost always personally motivated. This makes the stories all the more dark and thrilling.

Shroud for a Nightingale (Published in 1971) - Authored by PD James - Murders of nursing students

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unnatural Causes (Published in 1967) - Authored by PD James - Killed by his own manuscript

Unnatural Causes, published in 1967 is the third installment in the Adam Dalgliesh series by P. D. James. The author, P. D. James acclaimed as the “Reigning Mistress of Murder” by Time magazine, uses the basic structure of a classic British mystery, and turns it into something more. Her writing style is not only civilized, but very perceptive. She has 15 crime novels and an autobiography – “Time to be in Earnest” to her name. In 1999, she received the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award for long-term achievements.
The story in this book, opens with Detective Adam Dalgliesh, enjoying a quiet retreat of sorts at his Aunt Jane’s cottage, at Monksmere Head, somewhere of the Suffolk coast. P. D. James does a wonderful job describing the stormy seas that surround England. With long walks on wind swept shores and tea by crackling wood fires, James’ description of Dalgliesh’s well-earned break leaves the reader wishing they were in his place. However, when the grotesque murder of a famous crime writer - Maurice Seaton takes place, the reader is immediately transfixed, wanting to know what happens next.
With all the crime novels written by Maurice Seaton, he as the victim would never have imagined what his death could be like. His body is found mutilated, chopped at the wrists and floating ashore in a dinghy. Ironically, the scene of his murder seems to be described by him in his latest manuscripts, for his new novel. Seaton’s death causes widespread horror among his friends and neighbors, which include a cynical drama critic, a celebrated recluse, a rakish young heir and a terrified woman waiting for the killer to turn up at her house. Local Inspector Reckless has been assigned the task of finding Seaton’s killer.




Contrary to his name, Inspector Reckless is described as a very methodical and cautious man. He requests the help of Dalgliesh, who now feels that his vacation has sadly been cut short thanks to this murder. He involves himself in the case but only as and when the Inspector consults him. What follows is a thrilling mystery with unusual suspects and a fact made clear by James, that evil is lurking everywhere, especially in small towns and villages amongst a closed group of people.
Through Detective Dalgliesh, James uses the premise that the motive behind any murder is usually one of the 4 L’s, namely Loathing, Lucre, Love or Lust. And in this story, with P. D. James’ typical fashion of writing, it takes the reader a very long time to figure out which one is the motivating factor.
Like her earlier books, Unnatural Causes is also a very quick read. It is direct and to the point. This means that the reader can enjoy a good murder mystery without having to keep track of sub-plots and sub sub-plots, which very often prove to be nothing but frustrating and irrelevant.
Overall, Unnatural Causes is yet another interesting and entertaining book by P. D. James, but at the same time it teaches the reader a lot about human nature and provides psychological insight into the human mind.

Unnatural Causes (Published in 1967) - Authored by PD James - Killed by his own manuscript