The Moving Toyshop


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‘Let’s go left,’ Cadogan suggested. ‘After all, Gollancz is publishing this book.’

the moving toyshopI knew about this novel long before I read it, or indeed anything by Edmund Crispin. Maureen kept quoting the line about turning left at a junction because Gollancz was publishing the book. It was a knowingness that amused me. But not enough to make me pick up any of his novels and read them.

Then Maureen re-read this book, and said it might amuse me. So I read it, and there was the famous scene. But by then the self-referentiality of the book was well established. Not long before, when Fen and Cadogan had been locked inside a cupboard, Fen spends the time loudly proposing titles that Crispin might use for his next novel. Indeed, before the story even starts, there’s a note:

None but the most blindly credulous will imagine the characters and events in this story to be anything but fictitious.

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Reprint: (Mis)Representing Wells


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A few years ago, McFarland republished, in a uniform edition, The Annotated H.G. Wells, nine of Wells’s novels with extensive annotations by Wells expert Leon Stover, books that had crept out piecemeal over the preceding several years. I was asked to review the set for Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. The review appeared in Volume 24, Issue 1, 2013. As you can see, I wasn’t overly impressed. Continue reading

Reprint: Europe at Midnight


Personally I think that Europe in Autumn should have picked up at least a few awards last year, and Europe at Midnight should be doing the same this year. Dave Hutchinson has done good steady work for some time, but all at once he has stepped up a gear and is producing really powerful, beautifully crafted work. My review of Europe at Midnight was first published in Vector 282, Winter 2015/16. Continue reading

Gaudy Night


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I said some time ago that Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries were at their worst when they concentrated on the mechanics of the crime, and at their best when the crime was an incidental way of focussing upon some social or cultural issue. Gaudy Night, which now completes my reading of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, is the exception that proves the rule. Continue reading

Swift’s Atonement


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Of that generation of mainstream writers who were brought to prominence by the first of Granta‘s Best Young Writers promotions, I steadily lost interest in most of them over the years. Amis fils fell away after just a couple of books, I managed four by Pat Barker before losing interest, it was pretty much the same with Julian Barnes, and the last few novels by Ian McEwan were so dull that the most recent has been sitting on my to-be-read pile for a couple of years without me ever feeling like opening it. Only William Boyd and Graham Swift have, for rather different reasons, stayed the course: I enjoy the historical sweep of Boyd’s novels at his best, and the narrow focus of Swift’s at his best. Continue reading

The Innocence of Museums


I have a somewhat ambiguous relationship to the work of Orhan Pamuk. I have read only two of his novels: My Name is Red, which I loved, and Snow, which I really struggled with. But we have all of his books because Maureen loves them.

Which is a way of saying that I have not read The Museum of Innocence. Nor have I been to Istanbul (much as I would love to do so), and so I have not visited the Museum of Innocence that Pamuk set up with the money from his Nobel Prize, though I have flicked through the book about the museum that Pamuk produced a few years back. (As I write this, an exhibition related to the Museum of Innocence is on in London; we are intending to go, but have not done so yet.) I therefore approached Innocence of Memories in a state of, yes, innocence. Continue reading

Would it help?


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There’s a running joke in Bridge of Spies. James Donovan (Tom Hanks) will ask his client, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), if he is worried. He has plenty to be worried about, after all, his liberty, possibly even his life, is in danger. But Abel always replies, placidly: “Would it help?”

These are men who do not show emotion, because emotion is not helpful. Which is why Donovan, who does show emotion, and who does not understand the ice in the veins of those with whom he now finds himself associated, is out of his depth in this company. And it is precisely because he is out of his depth, because he does show emotion, that Donovan turns out to be the right man in the right place at the right time. Continue reading