Friday, 7 May 2021

The Ransom Commando

AuthorJames Grant
Publisher: Hamlyn Paperbacks
Date: 1978
Pages: 184
Not currently available in eBook format

It's always a thrill to find an undiscovered gem of a book and unearth a wealth of material by an author that has gone unnoticed since their heyday in the 20th century. It gives me great pleasure to tell you I've just finished the best book that I have read so far in 2021. The book is titled The Ransom Commando and the author is listed as James Grant.

Now, before you get too excited, this is not the James Grant that became the publishing titan that is known as Lee Childs. Grant's work appeared in the late 1970's to early 1980's - long before Childs turned to writing. However, Grant is an exceptional writer if this book is anything to go by. Bloody fantastic in fact. A faultless thriller in the vein of the best work by British authors such as Bagley, Kyle, Lyall and Higgins. 

The story of The Ransom Commando takes place in and around a quiet village in the English countryside. Dave Lorrimar is enjoying a dirty weekend away from London with his young female partner. They are staying in the Fenton Oak public house owned by ex-soldier Simon Arne. There is something threatening about Lorrimar, the way he treats his women and the way he speaks to the locals, its clear he isn't the usual sort of visitor they get. Also, he has been paying special attention to the manor house that overlooks the small village, Fenton Hall. The house is owned by the multi-millionaire businessman Sir James Garroway.

Before long Lorrimar is back in London, and it becomes clear that he is a career criminal of some renown. He tends to keep his nose clean when it comes to outright violence or murder - but when the circumstances call for it, he is willing to shoot his way out of trouble without batting an eyelid. He gathers his team together to discuss plans to invade Fenton Hall and take the Garroway family, father, mother and two daughters, hostage in order to extract money out of the businessman in exchange for their safe release.

Lorrimar is accompanied by McKendrick, a steady and reliable crook with a terminally ill mother; Hart, an openly gay member of the team who has many talents up his sleeve, the most important being the ability to pilot small aircraft; and lastly Ken Mannion, someone who normally stays in the background by bankrolling their jobs, but who has unexpectedly insisted upon joining the trio on this job. All of them are planning on making this one big - enough to leave England and live abroad for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

DIECAST

AuthorJohn Michael Brett (aka Miles Barton Tripp)
Publisher: Pan Books
Date: 1964
Pages: 155
Not currently available in eBook format

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I didn't think I would, but Diecast by (John) Michael Brett is certainly a title that I lurched from loving to absolutely hating on a regular basis while I read it.

Diecast is the first book in a short-lived spy series by Brett (real name Miles Tripp), that stars his protagonist Hugo Baron, man about danger. This is not the series of books that lead to the TV Series "The Baron", which originated from books by John Creasey. Brett's run of titles only lasted for three books over consecutive years; Diecast (1964), A Plague Of Dragons (1965) and A Cargo Of Spent Evil (1966).

Better known as Miles Tripp (1923 - 2000), an English author of Crime and Thriller novels from Hertfordshire, England. He is probably best known for his alomost yearly run of books starring the private detective John Samson throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties (all of which are currently available as eBooks, and are worth trying out if you have Kindle Unlimited). After serving in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War, he studied Law and trained as a solicitor before becoming a writer.

Tripp uses his experience in the law industry for this book. And there are more similarities between the hero of the story and its author. For a start Hugo's surname is but a single letter away from being the writers' middle name (Barton). Baron is an unmarried 37-year old solicitor who is bored of the humdrum lifestyle he has developed and is eager to become a writer/journalist. He has already been submitting stories to a national paper run by maverick multi-millionaire Paul Lorenz, who has a fascination with Julius Cesear and is referred to as "J.C." by his employees.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

The Way of the Samurai

AuthorEiji Yoshikawa (Hidetsugu Yoshikawa)
First Published: In serialised form between 1935 - 1939
Pages: 301 (984 in total)
Ebook Publisher: Kodansha International
Ebook Date: Aug. 2012

Musashi is the title of a Japanese historical epic novel written by Eiji Yoshikawa that relates the tale of the life of legendary 17th century swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. In real life, Musashi himself was the author of the famous book on swordsmanship, The Book of Five Rings as well as The Path of Loneliness. He is regarded as a Sword-Saint (Kensei) in Japan, and was the survivor of sixty-one duels. His is renown for adopting the style of simultaneously wielding both a katana and the wakizashi, something unheard of in the 17th century. 

Musashi the novel, was originally published in serialised form between 1935 and 1939 in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Since then it has been translated and appears in both a single volume edition as well as being divided into separate paperback titles. It is commonly advertised as the "Japanese Gone with the Wind". For my review, although it is now available in single volume in eBook format, I have decided to read the paperback editions (purely because they have been sitting on my bookshelf for over twenty years waiting for the right time to be read). Although the tale of Musashi in it single volume form, is split into seven "books", the paperback titles do not confirm to the precise same structure. for instance, Book One in the single volume version consists of Chapters 1 to 12 - but my paperback copy published by Corgi in the UK in 1990 ends with Chapter 15 "Hannya Plain"; all of Book One "Earth" and half of Book Two "Water". Books One and Two are quite short in comparison to later Books, so these feels in keeping with the rest of the Corgi editions which consist of seven titles.

Eiji Yoshikawa was born in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan in 1892. The collapse of his fathers business, meant that he had to abandon his own education before completing Primary schooling ad start working as boy at the tender age of only eleven years old. Following various degrees of success at different jobs, Yoshikawa eventually found himself winning first prize in a novel-writing competition at the age of 22. By the time he was 29 he had joined the staff of a newspaper, and soon began to contribute serialised stories for publication. This success led to him to begin work on the life of Musashi.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Poirot Investigates

AuthorAgatha Christie
First Published1924
Pages: 123
Ebook Publisher: HarperCollins
Ebook Date: Oct. 2010

Mention the name "Agatha Christie" to anyone, and even if they are not books fans, there is a good chance they will have heard of her creation, the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot or one of the novels that he takes part in, such as Murder on the Orient Express, or Death on the Nile. Such is power and success of Christies books that she is still regarded as the Queen of Crime or the Mistress of Mystery. Critically speaking she is bullet-proof. As recently as the year 2000 (nearly 25 years after her death) she was crowned "Best Writer of the Century" and the Hercule Poirot books "Best Series of the Century" at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention.

Thirteen years later, a staggering six hundred members of the Crime Writers' Association chose her novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as "the best whodunit ... ever written", and again voted her the "best crime writer"; considering this is coming from an assocaition of professional novelists it is difficult to ignore. And it's no surprise that all of this praise is accompanied by massive commercial success, her books are hot property, not least when it comes to movie and television adaptations. Christie has been lauded as the second most financially successful crime writer of all time in the United Kingdom, sitting firmly behind James Bond author Ian Fleming. Estimated earnings are considered somewhere in the region of £100 million. The Christie estate continues to prosper into the 2020's with projects almost unhindered by the passage of time and tastes. Many of her stories manage to maintain such a grip that they are often produced as period pieces, retaining the settings and historical trappings of their original publication dates.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Licence Renewed

Author: John Gardner
First Published1981
File size/Pages: 270
Ebook Publisher: Orion
Ebook Date: June 2011

John Gardner was approached by the Gildrose Publication company to take on the writing of a new range of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in 1979. The first of these to see the light of day was Licence Renewed in 1981. Gardner had been set the task of updating the franchise. It was his idea to bring Bond into the modern age of spying, accompanied by the techniques and gadgetry of the time. Garnder ended up writing fourteen original Bond titles as well as two novelisations (Goldeneye and Licence to Kill).

Although Bond is described as having aged (a slight peppering of grey hair around the temples for example) there is no other indication that he is physically feeling the strain of his previous literary history of the 50's and 60's. He brings with him, minor changes to staffing at MI6 and a car that is, shock-horror, not British. M is still Bond's head of the Secret Intelligence Service; Bill Tanner still the Chief of Staff and Miss Moneypenny still acts as M's personal assistant.

Gardner was born in Northumberland, England in 1926 and passed away aged 80, in 2007. As well as writing James Bond novels, Gardner is also well-known for his series of books starring 'Boysie Oakes' (beginning with The Liquidator in 1964) and a number of books about Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty (The Return of Moriarty, 1974). During the Second World War, Gardner served with the Royal Navy and then the Royal Marines. So keen was he to do his bit that before joining the armed services he had even served in the Home Guard at the age of thirteen.

Following the war he was ordained as an Anglican priest, but realised he had made a terrible mistake and left in 1958 to become a drama critic. After reaching rock bottom due to alcoholism he turned to writing and eventually turned out the first of the Boysie Oakes novels in the early sixties. 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Red Thumb Mark

AuthorR. Austin Freeman
First Published1907
Pages199
Ebook Publisher: Various
Ebook Date: Various

When it comes to forensic investigation there is one literary character that stands head and shoulders above all others. The undisputed original template for television shows such as Bones, Waking the Dead and Crime Scene Investigation, with all of its spin-offs, CSI: Miami/Vegas/etc. 

The character is Dr. John Thorndyke, created by English writer Richard Austin Freeman in the early years of the twentieth century.

Thorndyke made his debut in the 1907 story The Red Thumb Mark. In it, he is ably assisted by his university friend Dr. Christopher Jervis, and his 'man' - the highly talented laboratory assistant Polton. The medico-legal expert resides at 5A King's Bench Walk located in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in the City of London, England. The area has been well-known for many years as the center of London legal offices.

Freeman was open about Thorndyke being influenced by Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character - but added that he wanted to infuse him with his own medical and legal experiences to embellish his consulting detective with an air of the (then) modern forensic methods, in order to separate him from the crowd.

In his own words from later introductions of his collected stories, Freeman says,
...I asked myself whether it might not be possible to devise a detective story of a slightly different kind - one based on the science of Medical Jurisprudence, in which, by the sacrifice of a certain amount of dramatic effect, one could keep entirely within the facts of real life, with nothing fictitious excepting the persons and the events.
Richard Austin Freeman lived between 1862 and 1943. Born in Britain, he went to medical school at the Middlesex Hospital where he qualified at the age of 24. After marriage, he and his family moved to Ghana, where he was a surgeon for the Colonial Services. Following many travels around the African continent he became ill and was sent home in 1891.