Blandings Castle by PG Wodehouse

This is a book of 12 short stories by P.G. Wodehouse. The first six are excellent as they involve the familiar characters of Blandings Castle such as Lord Emsworth, his son Freddie Threepwood, Beach the butler and the monumental Empress of Blandings who wins her first silver medal in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show in the classic short story PIG-HOO-O-O-O-EY. Hopefully, the publisher doesn’t feel the need to change this story in the future so that the Fat Pigs class becomes the Monumental Pigs class or something similar. The Empress consumes 58000 calories a day and so is rather overweight.

The seventh story is a Bobby Wickham story and the last five all relate to the Mulliners of Hollywood. I didn’t enjoy these stories as much.

In chronological terms, these Blandings Castle short stories come after “Leave It To PSmith” but before “Summer Lightning” so the Empress wins her first silver medal in this book but struggles to repeat her success in both “Summer Lightning” and “Heavy Weather”.

A Twist of Sand by Geoffrey Jenkins

The star of this book is the treacherous Skeleton Coast where the action takes place at two different periods in history, in the 1950s and during WWII.

Geoffrey Peace is the skipper of a large fishing boat called the Etosha who works in these unpredictable waters. When visiting a friend in Swakopmund, a strange incident with a German tourist leads the story to go back to WWII, where Peace is the commander of a submarine HMS Trout who is given an onerous, top secret assigment to destroy a brand new type of U-Boat in the waters off south-western Africa.

When the story returns to the 1950s, Peace and his crew on the Etosha are chartered by a sinister man who wants to be put ashore on the coast so he can find an onymacris beetle in the nearby mountains. The man brings along a female scientist and a sinister bodyguard who it turns out is the only survivor of the destroyed U-Boat.

Peace is kidnapped as he and a member of his crew take their three passengers ashore. The sunsets, the currents, the vicious tides, and the wrecked ships of this part of the world are described in great detail as the drama unfolds amongst the sand and bare rock of the unforgiving mountains. Giant lions, stampeding zebras, and stinking hyenas are just some of the dangers as only one of the five humans survives to tell their tale.

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

Graham Greene wrote The Tenth Man in 1944 when he was under a two-year contract with MGM. The manuscript lay forgotten in their archives until 1983 . It was published two years later.

This story starts with 30 men in a German prison cell in occupied France. As a reprisal for three murders by the local resistance, three of these 30 will be shot the following morning. They draw lots. One of the unlucky three is a rich lawyer called Lewis Chavel who has a failure of nerve and offers his worldly belongings if someone will take his place.

Someone does so they can pass on the money and property to their family.

After the war and in disguise, Chavel goes back to the place he called home to see what became of his property.

The Figure in the Dusk by John Creasey

John Creasey wrote more than six hundred novels using twenty-eight different pseudonyms during his career as a novelist.

This is one of the Chief Inspector Roger West books known alternatively as ‘A Case for Inspector West’ in the UK.

Members of an extended family are gradually being shot dead in their cars and houses in The Home Counties, Yorkshire, and the West Midlands. CI West has a suspect in mind but he seems more interested in having relationships with women and sponging money off them than killing their male relations. The plot is suspenseful, moves along quickly, and involves putting together a picture from various clues that makes a jarring, fractured image. Eventually another shooting results in the shooter being arrested, however the truth dawns that not all the victims were shot by the same person…

Neutrino by Frank Close

Frank Close is Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics, and Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College at Oxford University. He was formerly Head of Theoretical Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, vice President of the British Science Association and Head of Communications and Public Understanding at CERN.

He is the only professional physicist to have won a British Science Writers Prize on three occasions. He is one of the best writers in the English language regardless of the subject matter. I’ve read a number of science books and I know how easy it is to make scientific subjects complicated. Frank Close explains things really clearly and he’s the ideal writer to provide lay people such as myself with an explanation of the strangest particle in existence, the neutrino (and yes there are anti-neutrinos too).

The neutrino was first postulated by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli in 1930 and it was to be many decades before its existence was proven but along the way it was found there are three varieties of neutrino which can all oscillate that is change form, so although a certain flavour of neutrino may leave the sun or a supernova on its journey into the universe, this neutrino can change along the way depending on what it bumps into.

Neutrinos are without charge, almost without mass, and can pass through matter for billions of years before they interact with anything at all. Billions of neutrinos will have passed through you, your computer screen, and the keyboard while you’ve been reading this review. But now neutrino astronomy is giving humankind views deep into the hearts of distant galaxies and allowing us to see back into the past of the universe.

Small Things Like These

This novel is set in a small town in Ireland and follows the thoughts of Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant who is married with five daughters. He works hard but life is still a struggle and it seems to him that he is existing rather than living.

The essence of Bill Furlong is that he’s a good person, good in an unobtrusive way, in an elusive way, giving his loose change to people in need of a few pennies and providing them with some logs for the fire at Christmas. He does these deeds without a thought and without expecting something in return, it’s natural to him.

One day he delivers some coal to the local convent and without a nun to meet him, he goes looking for one and finds a young teenager locked in a coal shed. Everyone claims she’s the victim of a prank but Bill understand what’s going on when she asks him to take her to the river and that she’d like to see her baby.

The convent is a Magdalen laundry and the thought of the girl in the coal shed doesn’t leave Bill and at Christmas Eve he decides he has to do something to help her.

This is a superb book without the use of any flowery, descriptive language, there’s no waste of words and no hint that the author is pleased with themselves.

The last Magdalen laundry closed in Ireland in 1996 and it’s shocking to think that almost everyone knew what was going on but no one really tried to do anything about them as the laundries were really a collusion between The State and the Roman Catholic Church.

And Now the Shipping Forecast

The Shipping Forecast is a much-loved part of the British cultural landscape with an avid following of listeners, most of whom aren’t affected by the news it provides.

This book describes how the forecast came about along with the science behind the gathering of the information and the inside track on the delivery of the radio programme. The author presented the Shipping Forecast for over 40 years and so knows what it’s like to read the daily bulletins.

Details are given on each of the 31 shipping areas all the way from Viking down to Trafalgar and back up to South East Iceland plus the significant events that happened in the area ranging from the Battle of Jutland to the Goodwin Sands and from Dover Castle to Rockall.

Where on Earth?

These places will NOT be found an any map or in any atlas.

This book describes a large number of little-known tourist sights from around the world. A book for the discerning traveller who has been everywhere else.

Read about the earwax museum called Monsieur Tussauds in London and the unhappy beaches of The Maldives. Discover small islands in the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean. Read reviews of little-known museums in England and Canada.

East Uist, just to the West of South Uist, is a mysterious place. In amongst the peat bogs, crow-filled craggy peaks and lochans, archaeologists have found evidence of stone circles and cromlechs that were built on artificial platforms about two inches in height. The theory is that the people of East Uist were practising their skills gradually and learning from their mistakes on smaller projects, before heading off to the Orkney Islands where much larger and higher platforms were required.

This book is available at a discount between 17th – 24th April. 

Time Traveller’s Diary

The Greeks were going to use a real horse at Troy until…

This is the diary of a time-travelling health and safety executive who tries to stop accidents through history before they happen.

If Dr Who can travel in time then why can’t a Health and Safety Exec do the same? The Exec influences the Greek carpenter Epeius not to use a real horse to hide the soldiers in and to use an anatomically correct wooden horse instead as this will allow the free passage of air through the soldiers’ working environment.

When Wyatt Earp is shooting people “full of lead”, the Exec points out to Earp that lead is poisonous to people and that he should use silver instead.

In Arthurian England, The Lady of the Lake is chastised for not wearing a rubber diving suit for her watery job of distributing swords to passers-by.

Attila the Hun is warned to let women and children escape from the villages he is burning to the ground.

All of these stories will be available at a discount until 24th April.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Aldous should have toned down his inclination to use his wide vocabulary in favour of a more mantra-like style that would have been more in keeping with the ideas in the book.

This book describes a bland yet menacing society where spontaneous and creative ideas and thoughts are no longer tolerated due to the rearing of the population in factories, genetic engineering, and indoctrination. And yet in the minds of a few people such as the psychologist Bernard Marx, some sceptical thoughts do spring out. People with these ideas are normally sent to islands where their thoughts won’t spill over into the general population.

Everything is regimented and follows a pattern with no surprises. When someone is dying in the hospital no relatives come to visit because no one knows who their relatives are, as there’s no concept of families any longer – “everyone belongs to everyone else”.

After a trip to a reservation in New Mexico Bernard and his girlfriend-of-the-moment Lenina Crowne bring back a savage called John who of course is a human being as the reader would know it. Bernard envies him, Lenina loves him, and everyone else is fascinated by this person who doesn’t conform to their indoctrinated ideals. John finds it extremely difficult to cope with the attention he receives and wants to be alone in a tower. Of course, this is never going to happen and the sightseers begin to arrive and overwhelm him…