Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit (Non-fiction) by Craig Oliver

Hardback:  You could unleash demons of which ye know not. - David Cameron on being asked to sum up the argument against a referendum

Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following it. - The Fool, King Lear, Act II, Scene IV

So what was it about?  People's emotions matter even when they don't seem wholly rational...  There is, among a section of the population, a kind of hysteria, a contagious mourning of the kind that I remember in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales.  It is not about the EU, of course... - Boris Johnson, writing ten days after the referendum

As David Cameron's director of Politics and communications, Craig Oliver was in the room at every key moment during the EU referendum - the biggest political event in the UK since World War Two.

Craig Oliver worked with all the players, including David Cameron, George Osbourne, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May and Peter Mandelson.

Unleashing Demons (2016) is based on his extensive notes, detailing everything from the decision to call a referendum, to the subsequent civil war in the Conservative Party and the aftermath of the shocking result.

This is raw history at its very best, packed with enthralling detail and colourful anecdotes from behind the closed doors of the campaign that changed British history.

About the author:  Before entering 10 Downing Street in 2011 as Director of Politics and Communications, Craig Oliver was an award-winning journalist.  His roles included editing the BBC's News at Six and Ten, Controller of BBC World Service and Executive Editor of ITV's flagship news programmes.  He has three daughters, lives in London and was recently knighted.

Path To Freedom

Friday, 26 May 2017

Killing For Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen (True Crime) by Brian Masters

Paperback:  I have now a guilt and punishment complex.  I am convinced that I deserve everything that a court can throw at me. - D A Nilsen, 13 April 1983

On February 9th 1983 Dennis Nilsen was arrested at his Muswell Hill home, after human remains had been identified as the cause of blocked drains.

Within days he had confessed to fifteen gruesome murders over a period of four years.  His victims, all young homosexual men, had never been reported missing.

Brian Masters, with Nilsen's full cooperation, has produced a unique study of a serial killer's mind, revealing the disturbing psychology of a mass murderer in Killing for Company (1995).

"This has been in many ways a disturbing book to write, and some will no doubt find it an unpleasant one to read.  Dennis Andrew Nilsen, having started life unremarkably enough in a fishing community in Scotland, at the age of thirty-seven admitted to the wilful murder of fifteen men over a period of four years, thus becoming the biggest multiple killer in British criminal history.  This book attempts to show how such a calamity could occur.

The courts have already dealt with Nilsen by imprisoning him for life.  In this there can be but scant comfort for the families of his victims, who must forever wonder why their sons were cut down before they had time to grapple with life's problems in their own way, in order to satisfy the obsessive needs of a stranger who has been adjudged sane.  With this in mind, there can be no ambiguity about the moral response to his crimes.

By examining in detail Nilsen's life and attitudes, his emotions and reflexes, it might be possible to reach an understanding, albeit a scrappy one, of one dark and mysterious aspect of the human condition.  That, at least, is my purpose."  - Brian Masters, London, 1984

About the author:  Brian Masters' work is eclectic, to say the least.  Brian Masters (born 1939) is a British writer best known for his biographies of mass murderers.  He has also written about the British aristocracy and worked as a translator.  He was a contributor to the Spectator, the Standard and Book & Bookmen.

Masters grew up in a prefab on the Old Kent Road, Southwark to a hunchback mother with a weak chest and an illegitimate no hoper father.  During his adolescence, after he asked to interview television personality Gilbert Harding for the school magazine he had launched, Harding became close to him, and functioned as a mentor.  Masters was apparently quite unfazed when Harding asked to watch him bathe.

The family having moved to Wales in a vain hope of improving his mother's health, Masters read French Literature and Philosophy at University of Wales, Cardiff where he gained a first in 1961. Briefly a teacher in France (as part of his degree), he worked for a time as a travel guide organising educational tours for American students and then wrote books on French writers such as Molière (1970) and Camus, among others, without any pretence at them having any real originality.  The publisher Anthony Blond interested him in a book on the public's dreams about the Royal Family, which was the first of several books by Masters on the British aristocracy.

Masters is best known for his books about serial killers, written with the co-operation of the subjects or their families.  Masters corresponded with Dennis Nilsen from shortly after his arrest in February 1983, and met him in prison without having felt the slightest unease during their time together.  His book contains writings by Nilsen, and Masters considers various theories which attempt to explain Nilsen's actions.  Masters reaches no final conclusion on the essential unknowability of the human mind.  Masters was accused of being overly sympathetic to Nilsen at the time his book first appeared, a view he rejects in his memoir.

Following the book on Nilsen, Masters wrote The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer and She Must Have Known: The Trial of Rosemary West. (Source:  Wikipedia)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Deep South (Non-Fiction) by Paul Theroux with Photographs by Steve McCurry

Paperback:  That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South:  kindness, generosity, a welcome.  I had found it often in my travelling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here that I kept going, because the good will was like an embrace.  Yes, there is a haunted substratum of darkness in Southern life, and though it pulses through many interactions, it takes a long while to perceive it, and even longer to understand.

One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked.

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away.

Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America - the Deep South.  He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It is these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux’s keen traveller’s eye.

Tell about the South.  What's it like there.  What do they do there.  Why do they live there.  Why do they live at all.

On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, labourers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road “the plantation.”  He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families - the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without.

Deep South (2015) reminds us "that despite poverty, maybe because of it, everyone has a story to tell and it is the writer's job to bear such testimony" (Financial Times) and "casts an ever-sharp eye over life, history, community and hospitality below the Mason-Dixon line." (Wanderlust)

About the author:  Paul Edward Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1941.  He is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin.

Although perhaps best known as a travel writer with works such as The Last Train to Zona Verde, Dark Star Safari, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River, Theroux has also published numerous works of fiction such as Dr Slaughter, one of which were made into feature films.  He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast.

Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Kirtland Massacre: The True and Terrible Story of the Mormon Cult Murders (True Crime) by Cynthia Stalter Sassé and Peggy Murphy Widder

Hardback:  Neighbours in rural Kirtland, Ohio, welcomed Jeffrey Lundgren when he, his wife Alice and their four children rented a rundown farmhouse.  After a group of devout, often attractive, and college-educated young men and women, formerly from the Reorganized Church of the Latter-Day Saints, moved in, residents assumed they were starting some sort of commune.

But under Lundgren's warped leadership, these people nurtured an apocalyptic vision at odds with true Mormon beliefs that would ultimately lead to the kidnapping and murder of an entire family, including three small children.

Lundgren ruled his group with dictatorial powers.  He led the men through paramilitary exercises in preparation for the violent takeover of the Kirtland Temple, and the women through bizarre sexual rituals.

Nightly harangues focused on a "blood sacrifice" that had to occur before the cult members could gain the Promised Land.

Co-authored by a prosecutor of the case, The Kirtland Massacre (1991) is the shocking inside story of the forces that drove the Lundgrens and their followers to cold-blooded, ritualistic execution, as well as the minute-by-minute enactment of the crime itself, the pursuit, arrest, prosecution, and conviction.

About the authors:  Cynthia Stalter Sassé is the assistant prosecutor in Lake County, Ohio, who helped successfully prosecute the Lundgren group.  She makes her home in Painesville, Ohio.

Peggy Murphy Widder is an attorney and novelist who makes her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Long Way Home (DI Zigic and DS Ferreira Series) by Eva Dolan

Paperback:  Long Way Home (2014) is a major new detective series set in England from the publishers of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo and Fred Vargas.

A migrant worker is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed and it soon becomes clear that the owners of the shed have something to hide.  DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the underfunded Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder.

But while DS Ferreira thinks they have found their killers, her boss, DI Zigic, is not so sure.  It seems that some other people might have had good reason to see the victim dead:  Andrus Tombak, slum landlord - witnesses say the two had fought;  Clinton Renfrew, convicted arsonist, and EDL member; Fintan Maloney, landlord of Irish pub, Maloneys, where there is more on offer than just the beer;  and any number of local thugs who, as ’employers’, abuse cheap foreign labour.

Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.

About the author:  Eva Dolan is the alter ego of an Essex based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player.  She blogs, she writes, she talks about herself in the third person and feels vaguely uncomfortable about it.  Shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she was just a teenager, Long Way Home is her debut novel and the start of a major new crime series.

Rating:  5/5

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Paperback:  One man's search for his missing wife in a dystopian futuristic Helsinki that is struggling with ruthless climate change

It is two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe:  subway tunnels are flooded;  abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets;  the authorities have issued warnings about malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the plague.

People are fleeing to the far north of Finland and Norway where conditions are still tolerable.  Social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force.  Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still able and willing to live in the city.

When Tapani's beloved wife, Johanna, a newspaper journalist, goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her.  Johanna's disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a politically motivated serial killer known as "The Healer."  Desperate to find Johanna, Tapani's search leads him to uncover secrets from her past.  Secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating.

The Healer (2013) is set in desperate times, forcing Tapani to take desperate measures in order to find his true love.  Written in an engrossingly dense but minimal language, The Healer is a story of survival, loyalty, and determination.

Even when the world is coming to an end, love and hope endure.

The Healer is translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers.

About the author:  Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b 1971) was an award-winning copywriter in the advertising industry before he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author.  The critically acclaimed Veljeni vartija (My Brother's Keeper) was published two years later.

In 2011 Tuomainen's third novel, Parantaja (The Healer), was awarded the Clue Award for 'Best Finnish Crime Novel 2011'.  Thus emerged a bright new star in the field of crime and noir.  The Finnish press labeled Parantaja the story of a writer who is desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki as "unputdownable".  With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula.

Antti Tuomainen lives in Helsinki, Finland where he lives with his wife.  In addition to novels, he also writes short stories and magazine articles.  You can find him easily on Facebook and he will be happy to hear from you.

Rating:  5/5