How not to be Wrong

“How not to be Wrong” is James O’Brien’s latest book following on from “How to be Right”

O’Brien is the Marmite of radio chat show presenters, I am a fan but a critical one. His technique of persistent questioning and focus enables him to ridicule people he doesn’t agree with in a seemingly reasonable way. It’s entertainment but sometimes it feels cruel.

How to be Right was quite a self righteous book using sequences from the chat show to illustrate how questioning can puncture firmly held beliefs that are not backed up by evidence and fact.

How not to be Wrong is much more self reflective, O’Brien writes about his own personal crisis, going through therapy and how that process lead him to re-evaluate some of his own firmly held beliefs and to regret some of his past evisceration of callers to his chat show.

How not to be Wrong is thought provoking for all of us who are equally convinced about the rightness of our views on politics, social issues and life. O’Brien’s key lesson is that if you are convinced that you are right and are trying to persuade others of the folly of their opinions then you have to be able to change your own mind and reconsider your own beliefs as well. Seems like a good message to me and well worth a read.

4/5

The Survivors

The Survivors by Jane Harper has been described as “Outback Noir”. It’s set in a small beachside resort in Tasmania which is haunted by the impact of a massive storm that hit over a decade previously in which 3 locals lost their lives.

Kieran who lost his brother in the storm returns home with his wife and young baby to visit his parents carrying a lot of guilt. On his first night a young waitress is found murdered on the beach with some similarities to a young girl who died in the storm. As the murder enquiry progresses Kieran starts to discover more about the fateful day when his brother died in the storm and that inevitably is intertwined with the more recent murder.

This is dark, quite readable and has a good finish but it didn’t blow me away and I won’t be eagerly anticipating Harper’s next book.

3/5

Fragile Monsters

Fragile Monsters by Catherine Menon is an impressive debut. This multi-generational family drama is set in Malaysia between WW2 and the present day.

Durga returns to Malaysia from Canada to restart her life as an academic. While visiting her grouchy grandmother a series of events trigger the unwinding of the mystery surrounding Durga’s mother, the war years and family secrets. The plot switches between pre-war Malaya under British rule and the war years, the post-war reconstruction and modern day denial.

I enjoyed Fragile Monsters, I knew nothing about the process of Malaya becoming Malaysia so I can’t vouch for it’s historical accuracy. The intergenerational interplay between Durga and her grandmother is handled very well and there s a compelling pace to the novel that builds to an effective ending.

Well worth a read

4/5

Sixteen Horses

Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan is dark, very dark.

Set in a windswept isolated English coastal town, 16 horses heads are found buried in a field. As the police investigate dark secrets about the local community start to emerge. The rain keeps falling.

I don’t know where this went as I found it so depressing that I could not bring myself to finish it!

The Roots of Evil

The Roots of Evil by Quintin Jardine is an Edinburgh based crime novel that inevitably brings to mind Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. But Jardine’s hero, Bob Skinner, is a very different character, a retired Chief Constable who is still highly respected in the new integrated Scottish police force.

It’s new year’s morning and a former police officer with a slightly tainted past is found shot dead in his car alongside an active officer who was also one of Skinner’s officers who also had an affair with Skinner’s daughter. Add in a complex and barely credible relationship with Skinner’s ex-wife now married to the head of one of Edinburgh’s leading crime families who has disappeared as a gang war may be breaking out and you have a plot full of twists and turns.

Roots of Evil is an easy read and quite enjoyable but somehow the plot didn’t hang together and I was eft a little disappointed.

3.5/5

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