Category Archives: Good read



Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Sphere, Little Brown Book Group, 2015)

Hiding in plain sight. Hiding in plain sight”.

An amputated leg is delivered by motorcycle courier to private detective Cormoran Strike’s assistant, Robin. It’s no mistake, but a sadistic message to one legged war vet Strike that someone is out to destroy him, piece by piece. Robin and Strike are consequently catapulted into a race to derail a deranged serial killer with a penchant for keeping body parts as souvenirs before he claims another victim.

The reader capers around with the duo as they delve into the salubrious worlds of Strike’s (numerous) enemies in an endeavour to put a stop to the gruesome and disturbing killing and mutilation. A strong, satisfying and clever plot emerges from the maelstrom of characters, suspects, wannabes and decoys thrown up along the way.

Though several of the themes are uncomfortable and dark (paedophilia, sexual abuse, Body Integrity Identity Disorder – the mental disorder that makes sufferers want to amputate their healthy limbs – to name a few), it is the book’s characters which dominate and drive the story and as a consequence, Career of Evil manages simultaneously to be repugnant and thrilling, yet also engaging and droll. It would be difficult not to give in to the irresistible combination of a gripping murder mystery and the latent romance between the two principal characters. It’s sometimes a bit silly but mostly a very entertaining and diverting  read – I felt resentful whenever I was forced to put it down.




Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (Gollancz, 1954)

What wouldn’t he give for a fierce purging draught of fury or contempt, a really efficient worming from the sense of responsibility.”

Lucky Jim centres around the misanthropic protagonist Jim Dixon, a lecturer in medieval history at an unnamed university in the UK. Trapped by his own apathy and consumed by enraged perceptions of all that surrounds him, Jim consoles himself with the thought that “…the one indispensable answer to an environment bristling with people and things one thought were bad was to go on finding new ways in which one could think they were bad.’”

I appreciate that the next bit of this sentence won’t be news to anyone but, on the off chance you haven’t read it, this book is very, very, very funny. Though Jim is a contemptible character, his elaborate attempts to dig himself out of trouble, to hold on to his cushy academic perch at the university and to win the girl of his fancy are A HOOT.

Even funnier than the comic series of misunderstandings, mismatches and manipulations, or the gallery of cranks, frauds, and neurotics (Jim included) who pepper the story, is Jim’s withering inner monologue (and indeed the external projection of the same merciless mutterings in his mimicry and face pulling antics). It’s a hoot I tell you, a hoot.



Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Hachette, 2004)

Astonishingly in one so old, his curly hair was not yet grey. His eyes and mind alert, he was a delightful man. He had always been thought so.”

Old Filth tells of the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a sartorially magnificent, highly esteemed retired judge. Starting with his unpromising beginnings in Malaysia, the story flashes through his wanderings and struggles as a child of the British Empire.

On the face of it Eddie “Old Filth” is an old fashioned, emotionally stunted relic, who strides about town flashing his elegant ankles in yellow silk socks. But Old Filth is not by any means a comic caricature of a posh old lawyer, or a vehicle through which to poke fun at the trappings of the British Empire and British institutions. The story unfurls to describe a life full of unexpected turns – some humorous, some decidedly sad – and reveals the frailties and losses which lurk beneath the still and polished surface of this funny old man in a manner so poignant I was on the verge of tears at some point in nearly every chapter. It was a good thing that I couldn’t put it down (and as a consequence, got through it very quickly indeed) as I read a lot on the train to work and I was in danger of getting a reputation as a cry baby on the 08:07.

*New-ish. Bit tenuous, but a new edition was published in 2013.



The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (first published in Great Britain by Collins, 1988).

I met her in Muir and Merrilees, at the handkerchief counter. Yes, she is in charge of the gentleman’s handkerchiefs. I told you that she could manage a responsible position.”

The Beginning of Spring tells the tale of Frank Reid, an English printer living in Moscow. In March 1913, Frank’s wife Nellie ups and leaves him and their three children for her native England without a word of explanation.

In spite of being set against the fascinating backdrop of politically turbulent, frozen Russia, the private story and the private worlds of Frank and the characters by whom he is surrounded as they adjust to life without Nellie form the real story.

Character, humour and quite an astonishing level of detail are conveyed in such a compact, exact manner, you almost don’t notice they’re there. Until you do, and then you are left somewhat awestruck at how it was done. It’s a bit like going to dinner with a truly gracious and sensitive host, you don’t notice that you are being fussed over, but you never have to look around for the gravy.

This is a gentle, funny, low-key story which made me not only care for  and want to know even more about the characters, but also about the author who managed to create them so beautifully.



This is the Way by Gavin Corbett (First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2013)

‘They was fish says my mother. The Sonaghans and the Gillaroos all was once fish. And you heard of this place Melvin where the families is from. All that’s there now is a pond but it was all once a lake where the Sonaghan fish and the Gillaroo fish did live.”

This is the Way is narrated by Anthony Sonaghan, an Irish traveller who is lying low in a crumbling tenement house in Dublin. Anthony, living fearfully in the shadow of an ancient family feud, is joined by his roguish uncle Arthur, apparently on the run himself, who appears in Dublin with a toe set into his hand in lieu of a missing thumb.

The story is told in Anthony’s voice as he and Arthur range the streets of Dublin.  Anthony’s perspective is that of an outsider living on the periphery of society. His observations are a blend of naïve, perceptive and melancholic, couched in unsentimental language but shot through with a certain spirit of myth and romance, conjuring a vision of Anthony, his family and Ireland in which an ancient spirits interweave with contemporary life.

I thought it was beautiful. There’s a moment in the book where Anthony talks about a conversation he had with Conchita, a Spanish exchange student staying at his father’s house. Conchita had described how she believed the true test of whether you love someone is how you react if you imagine you are strangling that person to death:

She says if you see in their eyes [in your imagination] as they look at you for one last time  a look of being confused and suddenly sadness and if then what you feel then outside your imagination is sadness and you want to go to that person you imagined murdering and hold them and they do not know where this feeling in you of wanting to hold them close to you came from, but they are happy it is happening and the sense of this comes to you and you want to hold them tighter and with more love then that means you truly love them.”

According to that test, I truly loved this book. I can’t write anything horrible about the story. Some people might not fall for Anthony’s naivety or be able to forget the fact his very distinctive voice, dialect and state of estrangement are the bogus creation of an author but I did, what can I say, I’m a real sucker. Maybe, if I was a bit less of a romantic and a bit less taken in by an Irish accent and a star-crossed under-dog, I may not have found it so magical, but it made me feel glad it to have an hour long morning commute when I could read this, and helped me find a twinkle in some seriously bleak January days.



Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (First published in Great Britain by W.H. Allen and Co. Ltd, 1958)

“If you went through life refusing all the bait dangled before you, that would be no life at all. No changes would be made and you would have nothing to fight against. Life would be dull as ditch water.”

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning sounds a bit grim if you read the blurb. It’s set in Nottingham in the 1950s and based around the day to day life and capers of young Arthur Seaton, a lanky, cock-sure guy who lives at home and who spends his time working in a bicycle factory in order that he might have enough money to get off his face at weekends. When you couple this with the fact that the dialogue is written in Midlands dialect it doesn’t sound like suitable reading for someone struggling with post-Christmas blues and a chocolate coin addiction, but it was, it was! Amidst the binge drinking, adultery and anti-authoritarian man against the machine muttering (in the book I mean), there is a gentle, often poignant story, which I enjoyed very much indeed.

I imagine it is the sort of book which I’d have resented had I been forced to read it at school and obliged to pick over sociological and historical themes and context in which it was written (the emergence of youth culture following the end of post war austerity, the burgeoning of consumer culture etc. etc. etc.) but, as it happens,  I allowed myself to consume the story at the same pace as I was troughing left over Christmas cake and, in such a self-indulgent mode, felt totally free to ignore all and any such references.

It’s an unexpectedly poetic piece of writing – no mean feat given that all the dialogue is written in a coarse Nottingham accent and it’s set in a bike factory. The only thing that irritated me about my reading experience was when, feeling really smug about discovering such a great book, I told my Dad about it and he pointed out that I hadn’t stumbled across some latent genius – loads of people realised how brilliant Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was, gave it awards and made a film out of it over half a century before I’d even read it.