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Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Book review - Quiller: A profile and Bury Him Among Kings


Chaille Trevor’s part memoire and part appraisal of her late husband Elleston Trevor’s books is subtitled ‘intimate glimpses into his life and work’ (e-book, 2012).  The profile on Quiller, his shadowy secret agent, is written by Elleston Trevor (Adam Hall) and is only three pages, though enlightening.

Elleston Trevor was a prolific author, first published in 1943 under his own name of Trevor Dudley Smith; he used at least eight other pen-names. A good number of his books were re-issued either as by Elleston Trevor or by Adam Hall. He wrote in several genres – mainstream, children’s, thrillers, espionage, mysteries and plays – until his death in 1995.

The recent sad death of author Philip Kerr brings Elleston Trevor to mind. Kerr bravely fought cancer, determined to deliver his last manuscript, Metropolis (his fourteenth Bernie Gunther novel) to his publisher.

Elleston Trevor had shown similar determination when working on his nineteenth Quiller novel, Balalaika. He dictated the final paragraphs to his son, Jean Pierre. As Chaille says, ‘Inside Quiller’s head we live the close of a novel, and of a master’s life, with a breath of poetry.’ When the inevitability of death sank in, he had chosen not to fight it but to go forward to meet it. ‘Elleston moved on with Quiller-like mettle toward his last challenges: finishing Balalaika, dying gracefully, and beginning a new life. As he saw it, consciousness continues; an ending is a beginning.’

Chaille and Jean Pierre took Elleston’s ashes to the top a mountain that overlooks the family ranch in Show Low, Arizona…

Throughout, Chaille uses quotes and references from many of his twenty-one children’s books, where he could employ his poetic muse. His Hugo Bishop mysteries, each with a chess title (published in the 1950s) were re-issued under his Adam Hall name when the Quiller books became best-sellers.  There’s a lengthy appraisal of his 1970 novel Bury Him Among Kings, which is about a family in the First World War and a lot besides.

Elleston Trevor had a great thirst for knowledge and believed that life was to be lived, yet surprisingly managed to write so many books! 

Chaille Trevor has produced a moving memoire.

Monday, 2 April 2018

A Dance to the Music of Time (3 of 12)

Third in Anthony Powell’s 12-volume novel, The Acceptance World was published in 1955, three years after his previous book in the series. I’m finding it fascinating that he kept his readership despite the long periods between books. It’s as if the characters he wrote about lingered in the memory like real people, as if the reader knew them. The special intimacy of first person narrative would help in this regard.
 
This book covers the period 1931-1933. Nick Jenkins begins with a visit to his Uncle Giles who is ensconced in a private hotel in Bayswater. The place is ‘tarnished by the years and reduced to ignoble uses like traffic in tourists, pilgrims, or even illegal immigrants; pervaded – to borrow an appropriately Conradian mannerism – with uneasy memories of the strife of men. That was the feeling the Ufford gave, riding at anchor on the sluggish Bayswater tides.’ (p7)

Here, we also meet Mrs Myra Erdleigh, another resident, who ‘seemed to glide rather than walk across the carpet, giving the impression almost of a phantom, a being from another world…’ (p12) Great description in these scenes, notably when she uses playing cards to look into Nick’s and his uncle’s future. And perhaps she has it right when she tells Nick, ‘You are thought cold, but you possess deep affections, sometimes for people worthless in themselves… You must try to understand life.’ (p21)

One acquaintance of Nick’s is the novelist St. John Clarke. Unlike we struggling authors, it appears that his ‘sales did not depend on favourable reviews, although, in spite of this, he was said to be – like so many financially successful writers – painfully sensitive to hostile criticism.’ (p29) Nick’s old school friend Manners was the novelist’s secretary.

Widmerpool, another school friend, crops up again; he’s changing jobs, becoming a bill-broker – joining the ‘Acceptance World’, possibly an early version of futures dealing. There’s talk of goods to sell to a firm in Bolivia, for example, but don’t touch the money until the goods arrive, yet certain houses will ‘accept’ the debt and ‘advance the money on the strength of your reputation’… Of course it might be shaky business, what with a vacillating exchange rate or even a revolution…! Thus, Nick can see that some old friends and acquaintances are moving on, while he isn’t…

Nick meets Jean again, having both been invited to the Templers’ house. Now, she’s married. ‘There was still a curious fascination about her grey-blue eyes, slanting a little, as it were caught tightly between soft, lazy lids and dark, luxurious lashes.’ (p64)  He kids himself he no longer felt he would lose his head over her, as he had in the past; his observation and reignited memory give the lie to that belief. And when they’re pushed against each other in the back seat of the car on their way, he ‘took Jean in my arms.’ On arrival, they arrange a secret assignation in her room…

Mrs Erdleigh’s observation seems amiss: certainly, we’re not privy to any strong emotions from Nick: ‘… my own violent feelings about Jean which had to be reduced inwardly to some manageable order.’ Later, he observes, ‘There is always an element of unreality, perhaps even of slight absurdity, about someone you love.’ (p94)  And he’s rather critical of the fair sex in general: ‘all that unreasoning bitterness and mortification to which women are so subject.’ (p108) And: ‘A measure of capriciousness is, after all, natural in women; perhaps fulfils some physiological need for both sexes.’ (p111)

On the other hand, when Jean opens the door to welcome Nick, she is naked: ‘There is, after all, no pleasure like that given by a woman who really wants to see you.’ (p145)

He is aware of a strange possessiveness. ‘When you are in love with someone, their life, past, present and future becomes in a curious way part of your life…’ (p150) And then he opines, ‘In love, however, there is no rationality.’ (p151)

Their group at the Templers’ is increased with the arrival of Quiggin, making up an ‘oddly assorted company’ (p91). After dinner, they indulge in an Ouija session, which turns awkward when Marxist sentiment intrudes in the esoteric messages!

Some days later Nick and Jean witness a ‘hunger march’ joined by St. John Clarke in a wheelchair accompanied by Quiggin and Mona Templer, the harbinger of a collapsed marriage. Nick learns of a number of marriages disintegrate and there’s a strong whiff of betrayal and dissatisfaction with women.

Powell’s descriptions of characters always amuse: ‘(Sir Gavin Walpole-Wilson) looked no older; perhaps a shade less sane.’ (p114)

At an old boys’ reunion Nick meets Maiden who ‘was in the margarine business.’ A short while later, Maiden ‘screwed up his yellowish, worried face, which seemed to have taken on sympathetic colouring from the commodity he marketed.’ (p189)

The reunion throws in the fact that one old boy had given a maiden speech in parliament, ‘tearing Ramsay MacDonald into shreds’, while another talked of India’s eventual independence, and another talked of Tanganyika. In short, the orbit these old boys covered encompassed the world painted pink.

The passion and ardour Nick experiences with Jean are muted; left to the imagination: ‘There was no sound except her sharp intake of breath… because passion in its transcendence cannot be shared with any other element, I could not speak of what had happened…’ (p146)

And yet he can capture an emotion sometimes. ‘I was myself overcome with a horrible feeling of nausea, as if one had suddenly woken from sleep and found oneself chained to a corpse.’ (p149)

Throughout, Powell exhibits gentle humour. ‘Coronets on the table napkins, but no kind hearts between the sheets.’ (p208) He could be alluding to the 1949 film or the Tennyson poem. In a closing scene where Nick is coping with a drunken Stringham, there’s an amusing interchange:
‘For your own good.’
‘I haven’t got my own good at heart,’ says Stringham.
‘We will get you anything you want.’
‘Curse your charity.’

The presumed forward planning of the series is worthy of note. Here, he writes, ‘Duport (who, as I was to discover years later, had a deep respect for “intelligence”)…’ (p149)

Towards the end he neatly links to the beginning, as he viewed a postcard of a hotel room: ‘Indeed, the style of furnishing was reminiscent of the Ufford.’

Despite the mention of the abandonment of the Gold Standard, the formation of the National Government, and the other references above, there was in my view little feeling for the period. Certainly, Marxism was raising its head – no doubt in the background, recruiting spies in the University cities. But I’ve still to perceive ‘a remarkable picture of the history of our times’ as espoused by the Sunday Times blurb. Maybe that will come after a few more books. This is not a criticism of the books, naturally, but of the blurb writers!

The cover sketch by Mark Boxer shows Mrs Erdleigh.

Next: 4 – At Lady Molly’s

Editorial comment
When Nick witnesses a demonstration, he merely states: ‘a banner upon which was inscribed the purpose and location of the gathering.’ Why didn’t Powell write what the banner said? This is not good visual narrative.

Again: ‘Still only partly dressed, she took up the telephone and lay on the sofa.’ (p147) A moment prior to this she’d pulled on the other stocking; so we don’t quite get any visuals about how she appears on that sofa, yet if Nick was in love with her, it might be a cherished memory…

He describes the Italian Foppa with his ‘tiny feet encased in excruciatingly tight shoes…’ (p153) They might look tight, but Nick couldn’t know they were excruciating.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Floreskand - a very cultivated creation


Morton Faulkner's FLORESKAND Fantasy novels – REVIEWS


1: WINGSfour new reviews; now totalling 7 x 5-stars

This book took a few chapters to get in to but in the end provided a gripping read with a lot of interesting twists. Well worth reading and certainly the next series to be added to my bookshelf.

A great fantasy adventure with an amazing imagination. You get totally involved in the story from beginning to end. Highly recommend. I have also bought Volume 2 King.

A great fantasy/adventure read and a real page turner. You get so involved with the characters I caught myself holding my breath more than once!

Brilliant read, looking forward to more in this series!

 

2: KINGthree new reviews; now totalling 4 x 5-stars and 1 x 4-star

A great read again getting you more involved in the story of Floreskand with many more interesting characters. Another page turner full of anticipation and adventure. Can't wait for the next volume. Well done to the authors for creating a wonderful story.

Great follow up to volume one. Fantastic adventure with myriad twists and turns to the plot. I am eagerly awaiting the next volume of this gripping series.

Excellent follow up to "Wings", thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.
***
Our thanks to all our reviewers! - Morton Faulkner

In its final phases prior to publication in April: 

3: MADURAVA

Coming later this year:

4: PROPHECY 

and

5: TARAKANDA


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Guest interview

Author Jane Risdon has very generously asked me to be her guest on her blog - all this week.

Here

Thank you, Jane! 




Monday, 26 March 2018

Book review - The Song is You


Megan Abbott’s second noir novel, The Song is You (2007), though set in 1950s Hollywood, is topical in light of the #MeToo furore. 


Based on the real-life disappearance of actress Jean Spangler, this novel peels off some of the gloss from Tinseltown. Spin doctor Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, former reporter, is tasked with running interference for the movie stars, ensuring that no mud sticks, that scandal stays buried. He’s pretty good at what he does, turning a blind eye to debauchery and traumatised starlets.

There are a number of appropriate name-drops from that period.

On the night when Jean went missing, Hop had been among the crowd she was with, and now he has to retrace the steps of a male double act in order to muddy the water and inter memories. Drugs, sex, and violence – it’s all here, though not too graphic. The few clues from the real case are inserted in the story, with convincing explanations. The real mobster Dave Ogul of the time also features.

While covering tracks, Hop becomes entangled with girl reporter Frannie Adair who’s also on the case. ‘She had been easy for Hop to spot, the sole pair of heels and the only ass worth a glance in the sweeping room full of sweat-stained unshaven ginks. … all ginger curls and round cheeks, like three months off the farm, until she spoke. Twitching her freckled nose, she shot back at him, “What’s it like going over to enemy lines, turning stooge for the plastic factory?”

She didn’t take prisoners, it seems: “I hear you’ve done more white-washing than Tom Sawyer.” (p47)

Besides wit and one-liners, Abbott delivers an atmospheric hard-boiled tale. Despite his less than savoury character, you’re drawn to Hop, a flawed man who wanted to be good, but that didn’t pay enough. We’re with him as he turns over stones and sees what crawls out from under; even when he stumbles upon a corpse, ‘Hop felt his body rise out of his skin, hover there a second, and then thud back down to earth.’

If noir fiction is your thing, then The Song is You is worth your while.

In the real world, the case of Jean Spangler remained unsolved; in the novel Hop gets to a solution.

Editorial comment

The sparse number of chapter headings seems odd.

Over-use of the word ‘something’. On pages 190-191 it appears 7 times; it crops up a lot elsewhere, too. Something to think about, anyway.