Book reviews

Quick list of book reviews:
Alphabetical by surname of author.

Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart [1958] Review

Christie, Agatha – Murder on the Orient Express [1934] Review

Christie, Agatha – 4.50 from Paddington [1957] Review

Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness [1899] Review

Dexter, Colin – The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn [1977] Review

Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Lost World [1912] Review

Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Poison Belt [1913] Review

Doyle, Arthur Conan – When the World Screamed [1928] Review

Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Disintegration Machine [1929] Review

Dumas, Alexandre – The Count of Monte Cristo [1844] Review

James, P.D. – Talking about Detective Fiction [2009] Review

Lennox, Suzie – Bodysnatchers [2016] Review

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr – The Gulag Archipelago [1974] Review

Stevenson, Robert Louis – Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1886] Review

Reviews (part only)in chronological order (most recent first), with link to full version:

Book review – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas [1844]

The Count of Monte Cristo is a 1250 page adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas (working with a collaborator), originally serialised in a French Journal between 1844 to 1846. I read the Penguin Classics edition with the Robin Buss translation.

There is a limit to how many books you can read in a lifetime, so why not read the best or the most fun first? This one is a thumping good read and the ultimate revenge story. It is a tale that can satisfy the fantasies of anyone that has ever dreamed of winning the lottery. It is also the story of an individual victorious in the face of gross injustice, an evergreen theme … Continue reading [August 20, 2020]

Book review – Bodysnatchers by Suzie Lennox [2016]. Digging up the untold stories of Britain’s Resurrection Men

This was my Christmas read, and one of the most enjoyable non fiction books I’ve read for some time. A bit surprising given the subject matter; corpses, the desecration of graves and dissection of cadavers in Georgian Britain.

At just 118 pages (plus admirable appendices) it’s a short book, but perhaps long enough as it is written so concisely. I think the reward for me was deep emersion into an entirely alien world; reading about the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of “bodysnatching”. There is enough technical detail here for the reader to establish a modern “sack ’em up” business – or set a novel in the 1700s. We are led convincingly through the origins, modus operandi, preventative efforts and the punishments, surrounding this unsavoury crime … Continue reading [January 23, 2019]

Book review – 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie [pub. 1957]

Sherlock Holmes was born about 1854, and by 1927 had retired to Sussex to take up beekeeping. As one great detective left the stage, another one entered. Jane Marple was born around 1860, and the first accounts of the super sleuth’s activities appear in The Royal Magazine in 1929, when she would have been about 69. It only goes to show that you’re never too old to take up a new activity. The book I am reviewing is 4.50 from Paddington (1957), by which time Miss Marple is grumbling about her infirmity and uses a proxy to do most of the leg work; not surprising really as she would have been 97. Yet her mind is as sharp as a winter’s morning in Yorkshire (minus 3 degrees as I type)Continue reading [March 6, 2018]

Book review – The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn by Colin Dexter [pub. 1977]

Colin Dexter draws heavily upon his own background in his third crime novel, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977), set in the claustrophobic world of the Oxford Foreign Examinations Syndicate. Though independent of the University, the Syndicate is overseen by dons. When one of the Syndicate dies it is assumed that it is suicide. Inspector Morse is called in and announces that it is a murder. Any one of a small group of Nicholas Quinn’s colleagues could be the killer, each has their own secrets to protect, all the secrets will come out, but not all of them will survive … Continue reading [February 20, 2018]

Book review – Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson [pub. 1886]

In an ideal world a person should know nothing about this book and come to it fresh, but it is far too late for most people, such is the fame of the story. If you want a quick, thrilling gothic read you can have that. Alternatively you read it more carefully (or reread it) and extract any number of fascinating subtexts and dream up your own interpretations; and that is exactly what I have done. I’m cataloguing this story under the category: “Mad scientists” (part of a series) … Continue reading [January 24, 2018]

Book review – Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James [pub. 2009]

Six months ago I might have casually told you that the only detective fiction that I was familiar with was Sherlock Holmes. When I thought about the genre I tended to think of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (mostly 1920s/1930s) – G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But I recently read a short and absorbing book by P.D. James, Talking about Detective Fiction and realised that I could claim to have clocked up many more writers and titles, it all depends on how you define mystery or detective fiction … Continue reading [January 15, 2018]

Book review – The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [pub. 1974]

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is an account of the Soviet Union’s forced labour camp system. Apart from the prominence of ice and snow you probably think that it wouldn’t make ideal Christmas reading. But let me give you three reasons why you might want to read it. Reason one: it will be one of the most memorable books that you’ve ever read. Reason two: it is told by a natural story teller. Yes, it’s a long journey, but it won’t be the unrelenting humourless grind that you imagine. Reason three: it may re-wire your brain; or at least you might not be the same person by the time you finish it. After reading this remarkable history it will be harder to take whatever blessings you have for granted, and you may worry over trivialities less frequently. Not a bad way to start 2018 … Continue reading [December 18, 2017]

Book review – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie [pub. 1934]

This is a rambling review of the first and only Agatha Christie that I have read, Murder on the Orient Express (1934). And like a train this review may be inclined to twist and turn, be shunted into a siding or diverted to Crewe. Indeed, the fact that I’m writing about this book at all is a diversion. I needed a light break from my main read The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review to follow). So I chose Christie’s fictional murder in the Yugoslavian snow as a relief from all too real murder in the Stalinist snow … Continue reading [November 21, 2017]

Book review – When the World Screamed by Arthur Conan Doyle [Pub. 1928]

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but did you know that he created a series of stories for another eccentric genius, Professor George Edward Challenger? … When the World Screamed fits into the category ‘speculative fiction’ and was written as an entertaining yarn featuring Conan Doyle’s popular characters Professor Challenger and Ed Malone. A science and engineering adventure, that today probably gives the reader a little more food for thought than it did when it was first published … Continue reading [November 6, 2017]

Book review Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe [pub. 1958]

I have just read a fascinating book, Things Fall Apart* by Chinua Achebe. It was published in 1958, but is set in the 1890s. The book was given to me by a friend: “I think you might enjoy this”. As usual on these occasions my heart sunk. Having a library/book trade background I’m often gifted books. I always appreciate the kind thought, but it’s a big responsibility to have to read something that you didn’t choose yourself and then give the inevitable feedback. “Well? Did you love Amish Vampires in Space? It changed my life!”.  Gulp. “Well, err … um”. It’s even more difficult when someone passes you something that they have written themselves. [Tip: Best warn them in advance, as they hand over their offering, if you intend giving your unvarnished thoughts.]

Things Fall Apart is a short read, fewer than 200 pages, but the economy of the writing is one of the book’s pleasures. Less is often more. I say that despite loving many a rambling Victorian novel. The first achievement of Achebe is that he manages to create a world so convincing that you forget it is a work of fiction – or indeed that you are reading at all. We are not outsiders looking in, nor are we students of anthropology, instead we are insiders, deeply immersed in the culture of the Igbo village of Umuofia in Nigeria … Continue review  [October 30, 2017]

Book review – The Disintegration Machine by Arthur Conan Doyle (Professor Challenger #5). [Pub. 1929]

Regular readers of The Long Victorian blog will have observed that I am an enthusiastic reader of thumping good yarns. Not only does this sort of writing bring happiness to many, they are much harder to write than many suppose. Try it yourself. Easy reading, is hard writing. Authors capable in this art form include: Daphne du Maurier, Roald Dahl, Anne Rice, Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, JK Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson – and many others. I’m sure you have your own list. And Arthur Conan Doyle was a master at it. Most people know of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales (56 short stories and 4 novels), but there are also five Professor Challenger stories. This is the third of five Challenger reviews that I’ll be doing. Continue review  [April 11, 2017]

Book review – The Poison Belt: Being An Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger by Arthur Conan Doyle. [Pub. 1913]

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930). So it seems fitting to post a review of one of his stories: The Poison Belt. One of my favourite genres is the “cosy catastrophe”. A chance to sit in a comfortable armchair with a dozing cat and a mug of hot tea and contemplate the world as it’s destroyed by nuclear war, floods, monstrous sea creatures, alien children, agricultural failure and homicidal vegetables. What’s not to like? The Poison Belt fits nicely into this category. The Earth is passing through a belt of poison gas and no living thing higher than an amoeba will survive – delightful! Continue review  [May 22, 2016]

Book review – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. [Pub. 1899]

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is an absorbing and seductive read. It was published in the late Victorian era*, but it’s flavour is closer to modern age writing with anti-heroes and lashings of ambiguity, disillusionment, uneasiness and cynicism.

At one level it is a fairly straight-forward, though harrowing, account of a trip up the Congo river and a meeting with a dying man told by a narrator to friends whilst on board a ship moored on the River Thames (London) at the heart of the British empire. Continue review  [May 5, 2016]

Book review – The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle. [Pub. 1912]

Long before I had heard of Sherlock Holmes I was an enthusiastic reader of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories. I grew up near Crystal Palace (London), which boasts a Victorian park full of wonderful 19th century dinosaur sculptures. So it should be no surprise that The Lost World was a favourite read.

The Lost World would once have been described as a “Boy’s Own Story” or a “a rollicking good yarn”. Today we might say it was a delightful adventure story, keeping the thrills coming and the improbable plot clipping along at a pleasingly manic pace. The story is that of a scientific expedition sent to examine the reported claims by the iconic Professor Challenger that prehistoric life still exists on an inaccessible plateau in Brazil. This expedition discovers a lost world where dinosaurs, ape-men and humans co-exist. Continue review  [April 26, 2016]