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The lower end of the higher good

This superb novel takes place in the remote settlement of Yazyk, at the end of a 100-mile spur off the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is 1919. Most of the inhabitants belong to a bizarre Christian sect who desire no part in the political upheavals further west. But events have intruded upon them in the form of

Staying with the old firm

There have been many books over the years with titles that approximate to Why I Am Still a Catholic. In the Fifties a dream team would have included, I suppose, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene with Alec Guinness, received into the Church in 1956, as a promising newcomer. In 1955 my mother Elizabeth Pakenham, later

A fantasist of the first order

Many years ago, in one of those precious moments of seren- dipity, I came across a novel called Ali and Nino, set in the Azerbaijani city of Baku. This seductive, life-enhancing story tells of a love affair between a Muslim and a Christian at the city’s pivotal moment, just as the oil begins to flow

The barbarians within the gates

Spectator readers have known of Dr Dalrymple for many years through his regular column in this magazine. Every week we muddled our way through, unreflectively finding life all right and other people not so bad. Then, on Fridays we took Dr Dalrymple’s little magic pill and suddenly saw that we were knee-high in a rising

From dumb to singing pictures

Patrick Caulfield’s paintings look specific while giving us tantalisingly little to go on. Where are we? Seemingly, a spotlight moves, the disc of dislocated brightness slithering over tablecloth, tankard, swirly-plastered wall and simulated half-timber. Could this be a Vermeer-themed hostelry for the discriminating guest? Details punctuate the ambience. Take a pew, why don’t we, and

In search of fresh villains

More than any other literary form, perhaps, the thriller is at the mercy of history — especially that branch of the genre that deals with the rise and fall of empires, the clash of ideologies and the dirty secrets of nations. In the past, most thriller writers, from Buchan to Fleming and beyond, dealt with

The man we love to love

The life and death of Nelson grip the imagination, not just because of the bicentenary of Trafalgar but because more is known about him than any other major figure in British history. He was a tireless correspondent, writing for hours with his left hand letters that would be kept in their hundreds because he was

The gospel according to Lukes

From: ChristopherBland@bt.comTo: Lit Book Review Dear Mark, Delighted to review Martin’s book; I seem to remember meeting him with Rupert, Conrad and Bill at the Allen and Co. Sun Valley media bash two years ago. He’s clearly put his learning about my rebranding achievements at BBC and BT into practice at a-b global. Now