Author and writer living in London. Six non-fiction books, one of which (published by WIley) has been in the best-seller lists for three years since publication. Various works of fiction including two additions to the immortal "Mapp and Lucia" stories. Currently seeking a publisher for my narrative history of the Plantagenets, which was nominated for a Royal Society of Literature prize.
I don't normally post about business books here but felt I would break the rule in respect of Going South, which paints a very sobering view of the British economy and political system. The authors are both economic journalists, so it has the ring of true expertise about it.
It's message is that we are being unduly complacent about "our place in the world" and allowing our past glories (which were in many cases largely imagined) to blind us to out present competitive position, which is rapidly falling behind countries such as Brazil, which we still fondly like to think of as an emerging market. It is Britain, the authors argue, which will shortly have a third world economy, at least in relative terms.
I liked the comments on politicians past and present. One comment resonated in particular: that in the present soundbite-driven political system, leaving things well alone is not an option, because politicians have to demonstrate that they have "vision". I was reminded of Milton Friedman's comment that consumers do not need the government to protect them - on the contrary, it is the government from whom they need protection.
This is a very well written book by two authors who clearly know what they are talking about. Their message is unlikely to prove popular in political circles, but it is a very necessary one.
I remember enjoying The Necropolis Railway very much when I read it a few years back, and my current search for new detective writers led me back to his creation, Jim Stringer in this, the second of what has already become quite a lengthy series.
While I do enjoy the books very much, I do quibble a little about whether they truly qualify as "detective" fiction, at least the two which I have read to date. They are really just well-written narratives featuring a railway fireman who fancies himself to be also a detective. Whether he really is must remains a matter of conjecture. He takes part in no structured investigations, frequently leaps to wild conclusions, and is almost always wrong.
However, none of this seems to matter. He and his wife are likable and well-drawn characters, and the narrative is strong and well paced.
The author obviously has a love for steam trains and all the period and technical detail is spot-on. What is even more impressive is that the books are written in the first person, and reveal a narrator who is instantly credible, with period dialogue and perceptive inner thoughts.
I think what makes these books so endearing is that both the central protagonists are so essentially decent that it is impossible not to like them, and to care about what happens to them, which is more than one can say for Never Apologise, Never Explain, which I also read recently.
By coincidence, I happen to be following The Blackpool Highflyer with The Railway Detective by Edward Marston, of which more shortly.
I have recently read the first book in various detective series, and comparing and contrasting them is an interesting exercise.
I must admit to never having read anything by Susan Hill before save for Howard's End Is On The Landing at the recommendation of Simon Thomas. I had however read a lot about her, and knew that she was rated as a fine writer. Having now read this book, I would agree with this, but with qualifications.
The Various Haunts of Men follows the fortunes of the detective who will feature as the central character of the series, Simon Serailleur, and a thoroughly dissatisfying character he is too. We learn almost nothing about what makes him tick. On the contrary, we see him almost exclusively through the eyes of others, and then only to hear them telling each other what a puzzling person he is, who does not seem able to offer commitment to a relationship, or allow himself any feelings. I am sure this is a deliberate ploy on Hill's part, but it seems an odd approach to take. Perhaps things change in the later books. It is difficult to say more about the plot or characters without giving away what is meant to be a savage twist at the end, but I have to say that I guessed the ending (all of it) about half way through the book.
I think I read somewhere that she claims not to write detective fiction, but rather novels which feature a detective. In the light of that, I was expecting a Wallender-type experience, but this falls a long way short. When Mankell describes someone moving around their home talking things off shelves it somehow enriches our understanding of their character. Here it just feels like padding.
This is a good story and I am sure it will somehow end up on television, but it left me feeling slightly disappointed. It felt almost more like a women's romantic novel than a detective story.