This Land

I like Owen Jones’ writing even if I usually don’t agree with him! I’m sure if he knew me he would feel equally strongly opposed to my views but then that is what happens in a “broad church”, he might think Labour would be better off if it was less broad and I would argue for more breadth (I’d call it electability). Enough about my politics.

This Land: The Story of a Movement is more than just the story of the Corbyn era, it sets Corbyn in the long struggle between the different poles of the Labour Party going back to the 60s. This Land is not a simple tale of how Corbyn was betrayed by the right wing of the party, although Jones does rely very heavily on the leaked report that was prepared by some of the leadership for the EHRC investigation but never submitted. Despite my expectation This Land is quite balanced and ends up being highly critical of the inner circle who “managed” Jeremy Corbyn and of the appalling incompetence and lack of strategic planning that lead to the disastrous 2019 election.

The part on Brexit was revealing and well argued, as a determined remainer I was struck by the tactical errors that the remain campaign made both before and after the referendum. Corbyn could have done more but the rift between the party’s leavers and retainers was there before the referendum and remained irreconcilable.

The section on the antisemitism scandal was perhaps the bit I was most eager to read (I had been in the audience for the launch of the Chakrabarti Report and wrote about my experience of that day). Jones is uncompromising in his acknowledgement of the problem of antisemitism within a small part of the party membership (and fellow travellers) although he does accept some of the explanations or blame shifting of the internal leaked report (time will tell). Overall I was relieved that I did not find myself screaming “No, no, no, it wasn’t like that”

Jones shines a light on Corbyn’s indecisiveness, avoidance of conflict and lack of organisation. He is surprisingly critical of someone that he clearly admires and you sense how difficult it is for him to acknowledge Corbyn’s responsibility for the failure of “the project”.

This Land is a fascinating and unflinching read about the history of the Labour Party over the last 5 years, the mistakes, the villains and the heroes. Despite everything that went wrong in the Corbyn period, Jones remained committed to the “project”, I am not so sure.

If you think of yourself as of the left, regardless of which wing, you should read This Land

4.5/5

The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water is Stuart Turton’s second novel, it follows the widely acclaimed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Turton really does have a different take on historical crime fiction, combining gothic and fantasy in an intriguing fashion.

The Devil and the Dark water is set aboard a cargo ship in the 17th century travelling from the Batavia (Jakarta) to Amsterdam. Think Conan Doyle meets Agatha Christie. The hero, Arent, is a Watson-like character while his Holmes is locked in the belly of the ship, an apparently dead leper (not a rock band) is roaming the ship, murdering people and terrorising the passengers and crew. The heroine, Sara, has of course fallen for Arent but how will she escape from her bullying husband? It’s a complex crime mystery, none of the characters are what they appear to be and every time you think you can see where it is going there is another elegant twist.

I enjoyed this very much, Stuart Turton has now written two very original novels and has definitely got me hooked. More please.

4/5

V2

I like Robert Harris’ historical novels, they are well researched, bring the characters to life and are an easy read. V2 is set at the end of WW2 as the SS step up the launches of V2 rockets at London in a last endeavour to turn the tide of the war.

Rudi Graf is a rocket scientist and engineer working at the missile launch site in occupied Holland. The narrative flashes back to his youth and his friendship with Wernher von Braun and their shared passion for rockets and space travel.

Kay Caton-Walsh is a WAAF officer posted to Belgium as part of desperate attempt to find the launch sites and destroy them by reverse calculating the path of the V2s as they launch and subsequently land in London.

While Graf is increasingly doubting the morality and sanity of his masters, the British realise that their operation in Belgium may be compromised.

V2 is not Harris’ best novel (my favourites are the Cicero trilogy) but if you like the minutiae of WW2 military stuff then you will enjoy this.

3/5

Total Blackout

Total Blackout by Alex Shaw is a page turner that grabs you in the first couple of pages.

Jack Tate is an MI6 agent and former SAS officer on vacation in Maine when a rogue Russian and Chinese taskforce triggers an electro-magnetic pulse device that wipes out all electrical and electronic equipment in the US (apparently this is also a side effect of a nuclear explosion). In the chaos that follows the leader of the Russian team is determined to settle several scores with those who he believes have insulted the Russian state and ultimately with Tate and his brother.

Total Blackout feels like it has been written to make into a Netflix type production and you can see further adventures for Tate and his brother. It’s not deep and it’s not that believable but it is fun and would make a good holiday read.

3/5

The SS Officer’s Armchair

The SS Officer’s Armchair by Daniel Lee is a historical investigation uncovering the life of a mid level Nazi administrator.

Lee is set on the trail of Robert Greisinger by a bundle of documents that had been concealed in the seat of an armchair for 70 years. His searches trace Greisinger’s ancestry, his family, his career as a lawyer and his progression as an SS officer from Stuttgart to the Ukraine to Prague. Lee’s conversations with Greisinger’s daughters shed some light on the way the post war generations adopted collective amnesia in coming to terms with their parents’ actions during the Nazi era.

Despite his own personal connection to the history he is investigating, Lee manages to remain an objective chronicler of his subject and is surprisingly sympathetic to the two daughters. However he convincingly disproves the idea that Greisinger (or indeed any of the mid level officials) were not active and enthusiastic participants in the crimes of the Nazis. I was left shuddering at Greisinger’s pursuit of advancement and a comfortable life for his family at the expense of the thousands that he condemned to misery and death at the stroke of a pen. Throughout I had Hannah Arendt’s description of Eichmann’s trial “The Banality of Evil” in mind.

This is not pleasant reading but it is compelling.

5/5

A Little London Scandal

A Little London Scandal by Miranda Emmerson is set in London in 1967. A young “rent boy” is found murdered close to an exclusive gentleman’s club in St James while Nik another “rent boy” wakes up near to the scene of the murder after a battering from a famous client in denial. The police are looking for a quick solution that will avoid any scandal and Nik is the perfect candidate. Fortunately he has a friend and a rebellious police officer who not so sure that Nik is guilty party.

A Little London Scandal evokes the awakening hip culture of 60’s London very well. It is a novel about class and power which portrays the secrecy and denial imposed on gay men at that time. It is atmospheric, pacy and quite thought provoking, particularly if like me you grew up in London in the 60’s – I was surprised how little of this I recognised.

Pretty good, well worth a read, I am going to explore Emmerson’s previous novel soon.

4/5