Lead book review

‘I am the master’

Whenever I find myself visiting some great historic house, I always like to break off from gawping at tapestries to ask the tour guide: ‘How did the family make its money in the first place?’ For some reason, this almost always astonishes and bewilders. It’s as if the devotion of capital to bricks and mortar,

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Squabbling over Kafka

Benjamin Balint’s Kafka’s Last Trial is a legal and philosophical black comedy of the first water, complete, like all the best adventure stories, with a physical treasure to be won or lost. Balint lays out with cool, collected passion the full absurdity of the 2011 court struggle which climaxed when a couple of boxes of

The night has a thousand eyes

Edward S. Curtis’s 1914 photograph, ‘Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon’, shows the Kwakiutl tribe of North American Indians circling a fire ‘to make a sky creature sneeze and disgorge the moon’. Raised arms are silhouetted against the sky, faces remain imperceptible, and bodies are shrouded in smoke. It is apt that such a mesmerising

A rake’s progress

This monumental unabridged audio production of Casanova’s memoir The Story of My Life in three volumes covers his first 49 years. He was born in 1725 into a struggling theatre family in Venice, the carnival centre of Europe, and masks, masquerades and music were so much in Casanova’s blood that a glorious, effervescent theatricality lights

Death at the top

Agatha Christie’s spirit must be loving this poisonous new historical entertainment. Eleanor Herman has already enjoyed the success of Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen, thoroughly researched, gossipy revelations of promiscuity among monarchs and their noble retainers during the Renaissance. She is an American author and broadcaster, born in Baltimore, now living in

Outpourings of love and loss

The deserved success of Shaun Usher’s marvellous anthology Letters of Note has inspired several imitators, and Caroline Atkins’s sparkling collection makes an ideal companion volume. Here are missives both literary and otherwise, all of them destined never to be read by their intended recipients. Some are grave, some are tender; some are funny, several are

A tainted paradise

Ian Fleming’s voodoo extravaganza Live and Let Die finds James Bond in rapt consultation of The Traveller’s Tree by Patrick Leigh Fermor. ‘This, one of the great travel books, is published by John Murray at 25s’, proclaims a footnote in the first edition. Fleming was a friend of Leigh Fermor, so this is to be