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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Red Pill

Choosing Red Pill by Hari Kunzru was a big mistake on part. The reviews for his previous novel were outstanding, how could I not like it?

‘Exquisitely attuned’ 
‘Electrifying, subversive and wildly original’ 
‘A book that everyone should be reading right now’ 
 ‘Haunting, doom-drenched, genuinely and viscerally disturbing…’ 

The only one of those quotes that applies to Red Pill is “doom-drenched”

Red Pill is about an academic writer who has lost his motivation to write while experiencing an existential crisis. He is awarded a grant to spend 3 months residency at a cultural foundation in Wannsee near Berlin where things go from bad to worse. I don’t know where the story might have gone as I gave up after dragging myself through about a quarter of the book.

Maybe I missed out, but I found Red Pill to be a slow paced, overly wordy, self indulgent dirge. This is literary fiction at its absolute worst.


The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a slow burner, I nearly put it down after the first few chapters but I soldiered on and it improved a bit.

Four friends living in a retirement community meet once a week to discuss unsolved murder cases (one never quite finds out why or how). Then a brutal murder takes place on their doorsteps and they manage to insert themselves into the case gradually unpicking the threads which go back almost 50 years.

The narrator is one of the 4 pensioner detectives and her voice is droll rather than funny. There are a couple of twists as the plot draws to a close but you are left with the feeling of clumsily strewn red herrings rather than gasping in surprise.

Maybe if I you like the Miss Marple series or watch Midsomer Murders you will enjoy this, but I thought it was a bit meh!



There’s a lot of historical crime and spy fiction about at the moment – CJ Sansom, SG Maclean, CS Quinn and SJ Parris to name a few that I have enjoyed. I wonder why all of these authors choose to use both initials rather than their first names?

Chaos, the second novel by AD Swanston is a worthy addition to the list. Set in Elizabethan London, Dr Christopher Radcliffe (the Earl of Leicesters chief Intelligencer) is struggling to uncover the source of counterfeit coins that are causing panic and riot within the city. Strange messages start to appear on the walls of the city and then plague crosses are daubed on doors. Chaos is very close but Radcliffe and his informers are getting no closer to finding out who is responsible or why.

At the same time Radcliffe’s slightly unusual personal life is unravelling, his housekeeper is in Newgate accused of witchcraft and his paramour abandons him.

Chaos is very good, a pacy read with fascinating detail about Elizabethan London and politics.


Agent Running in the Field

Le Carre is back and he is as good as ever. Agent Running in the Field is a classic Le Carre spy novel but set in 2019 with sharply observed comment on Trump, Brexit and our government.

Nat is an end of career spy who has returned to England after a mid level career overseas. Nat is given one last assignment, to manage a small group of defectors in a run down department in London. As often happens in a Le Carre plot there is a cross over between Nat’s personal life and the intelligence services.

This is brilliant, I couldn’t put it down. It twists and turns and surprises without ever seeming contrived. Made me want to go back and reread the whole Smiley series again.