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Book reviews

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A date with death

2 June 2012
Midnight in Peking: The Murder that Haunted the Last Days of Old China Paul French

Viking, pp.260, £12.99

On 8 January 1937, an old man was taking his prize songbird for an early morning walk in the eastern section of Peking when he came across a woman’s body… Read more

Good queen, bad subject

2 June 2012

There is a paradox at the heart of all books about the Queen. The very thing which makes her such a successful constitutional monarch is what makes her an impossible… Read more

All the world’s a stage

2 June 2012
Shakespeare in Kabul Stephen Landrigan and Qais Akbar Omar

Haus, pp.280, £12.99

In Translations, Brian Friel’s play about English military and cultural imperialism, the frustrated teacher Manus explains how he uses ‘the wrong gesture in the wrong language’ to insult in Gaelic… Read more

Monarchy’s golden future

2 June 2012
Prince William: Born to be King Penny Junor

Hodder, pp.432, £19.99

In a recent issue of The Spectator Freddy Gray warned that some royal press officers now resemble celebrity publicists, spoon-feeding whole narratives to lapdog hacks, ultimately to the detriment of… Read more

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What did he see in her?

2 June 2012
The King’s Mistress: The True and Scandalous Story of the Woman Who Stole the Heart of George I Claudia Gold

Quercus, pp.353, £20

When King George I came over from Hanover in 1714 to claim the crown he had inherited from his distant cousin Queen Anne, he was accompanied by his mistress of… Read more

Love conquers all

2 June 2012
Just Send Me Word Orlando Figes

Allen Lane, pp.333, £20

Anyone who has ever written a history book will feel a twinge of envy on reading the preface to Just Send Me Word: We opened up the largest of the… Read more

Enter a Wodehousian world

26 May 2012
Dear Lupin: Letters to a Wayward Son Roger and Charlie Mortimer

Constable & Robinson, pp.172, £12.99

On 26 February 1969, Roger Mortimer wrote to his son, Charlie: ‘Your mother has had flu. Her little plan to give up spirits for Lent lasted three and a half… Read more

… while others fade

26 May 2012
Leak Max Holland

Kansas University Press, pp.285, £25.95

For Watergate junkies, another raking of the old coals is irresistible. For those underage younger persons who never understood what all the fuss was about, here is the chance to… Read more

Straying from the Way

26 May 2012
The Server Tim Parks

Harvill Secker, pp.278, £16.99

No sensible writer wastes good material. A couple of years ago Tim Parks published a memoir, Teach Us to Sit Still, a tale of chronic, debilitating back pain that appeared… Read more

Intrigue and foreboding

11 February 2012
A Small Circus by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann

Penguin Classics, pp.578, 20

In 2009, Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada’s masterpiece about civilian resistance to Nazism, appeared in English for the first time. Now A Small Circus, Fallada’s literary breakthrough, makes its English… Read more

A choice of first novels

4 February 2012
Mountains of the Moon I.J. Kay

Cape, pp.368, 16.99

Alys, Always Harriet Lane

Weidenfeld, pp.224, 12.99

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals Wendy Jones

Corsair, pp.208, 12.99

Mountains of the Moon is narrated by a woman just released after spending ten years in jail. The reason for her sentence and the details of her previous life are… Read more

Nothing on paper

10 December 2011

On the subject of e-readers, I suspect the world population divides neatly into two halves. On one side of the chasm, hell will freeze over and Accrington Stanley will win… Read more

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Books of the Year

5 November 2011

Our regular reviewers were asked to name the books they’d most enjoyed reading this year. More choices next week •  A.N. Wilson Rachel Campbell-Johnson’s Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work… Read more

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On His Majesty’s Silent Service

3 September 2011
Sea Wolves Tim Clayton

Little Brown, pp.448, 20

Sub Danny Danziger

Sphere, pp.304, 17.99

Of all the Allied fighting service branches in which you wouldn’t have wanted to spend the second world war, probably the grimmest was submarines. Of all the Allied fighting service… Read more

Heroes of the Ice Age

13 August 2011
An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science Edward J. Larson

Yale University Press, pp.326, £18.99

In Shackleton’s Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic Henry Worsley

Virgin Books (Random House), pp.260, £18.99

Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen Roland Huntford

Continuum, pp.330, £10.99

The Quest for Frank Wild Angie Butler

Jackleberry Press, pp.213, £25

In the early 20th century, explorers were goaded and galvanised by the blanks on the maps — the North and South Poles, and the mist-draped floes and glaciers around them.… Read more

What is it about Stieg Larsson?

13 August 2011
Stieg & Me: Memories of my life with Stieg Larsson Eva Gabrielsson (with Marie-Fran

Orion Books, pp.211, £12.99

Stieg Larsson was a rather unsuccessful left-wing Swedish journalist who lived off coffee, cigarettes, junk food and booze, and died aged 50 after climbing seven flights of stairs, having recently… Read more

Delightfully not cricket

13 August 2011
CrickiLeaks Alan Tyers and Beach

John Wisden & Co, pp.128, £9.99

Even brilliantly accurate satirists can become boring unless they have something to say. That is the triumph of CrickiLeaks. Purporting to be a series of spoof Ashes diaries that reveal… Read more

Deeper into Mervyn Peake

13 August 2011
The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy Mervyn Peake

Vintage Classics, pp.943, £25

Titus Awakes Maeve Gilmore, based on a fragment by Mervyn Peake

Vintage paperback, pp.265, £7.99

The first two volumes of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy were published in 1946 and 1950, but by 1954, when I was first alerted to them by a school-friend, Peake had… Read more

Low life and high style

13 August 2011
Raised on Skiffle Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.179, £10

In 1977, Roy Kerridge was a lavatory cleaner; in 1979 he was a well-known contributor to The Spectator. Yet this was no rags-to-riches discovery of a literary talent. Apart from… Read more

The country of criticism

13 August 2011
Tretower to Clyro Karl Miller

Quercus, pp.240, £20

Karl Miller wrote a book called Doubles, exploring the duality of human nature, Jekyll and Hyde, and such like. Duality fascinates him. Another book was Cockburn’s Millennium, a study of… Read more

A well-told lie

13 August 2011
The Cat’s Table Michael Ondaatje

Cape, pp.265, £16.99

Autobiography provides a sound foundation for a work mainly of fiction. A voyage in an ocean liner provides a sound framework of time and place. Michael Ondaatje was born in… Read more

The scandal that inspired La Dolce Vita

13 August 2011
Death and the Dolce Vita: The Dark Side of Rome in the 1950s Stephen Gundle

Canongate Books, pp.353, £14.99

At about 5.15 p.m. on 9 April 1953, Wilma Montesi, a 21-year-old woman of no account, leaves the three-room apartment in a northern suburb of Rome that she shares with… Read more

Recent crime fiction

23 July 2011

John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. A Lily of the Field (Grove Press, £16.99), the seventh novel, has a plot stretching from… Read more

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Bookends

16 July 2011

I like books with weather and there’s plenty in this one, all bad, which is even better. Set in London during a cold winter, Blue Monday (Penguin, £12.99) is the… Read more

Coolness under fire

25 June 2011
Tides of War Stella Tillyard

Chatto, pp.375, 12.99

On His Majesty’s Service Allan Mallinson

Bantam, pp.317, 18.99

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control. The dandy shunned displays of feeling. There is feeling a-plenty in both… Read more