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Mary Carnegie

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Broader than Cambridge ring

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-08-20

The author expands greatly on the predominant contemporary accounts of spy rings, amplified by popular fiction and unreliable memoirs, and, of course, journalists, especially but not confined, to the right-wing mass market tabloids.
He has something of a mission to exculpate class as a major factor in espionage for USSR from within security services, not entirely convincingly. OK, Cairncross wasn’t “posh”, but it’s stretching it to claim Burgess, Blunt, Philby and Maclean were well down the pecking order of the complex English class system.

The incomprehension between UK & USA culture, and its consequences for cooperation in matters of security and diplomacy are well explained.

The witch-hunt which followed the first discoveries of Soviet spies in UK/USA, especially the latter, was tragic. It is no absolution to claim other countries behaved more cruelly.

Abdication = lucky escape

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-08-20

I thought throughout the book the author was from USA, as he kept referring to “the King of England”, with a single exception, when quoting Edward VIII’s abdication speech, which used the proper title!
It does undermine a writer’s credibility when such an obvious mistake is made, but would have been more forgivable in an American writer.
However, it is an interesting story of the crisis in UK which preceded the big much more nasty one of the ‘39-45 war.
Edward VIII would not have been up to the challenge of being head of state throughout WWII and decolonisation. His younger brother Bertie -George VI - & niece Elizabeth maintained a dignified presence in the world.
Churchill was a malign influence in the intense negotiations which threatened the UK constitution as the result of Edward’s determination to marry, willy-nilly, a twice-divorced American adventuress.
The rôle of newspaper barons (unelected, unaccountable, mephistophelian) was already established. The reticence of the UK press was conditional, political, quid pro quo, but abroad royal shenanigans were cash in the bank. It is difficult now to imagine an era when news (and rumour) did not travel instantly.
The reputation of Stanley Baldwin should be re-evaluated in light of his management of the abdication crisis.
Great romance? No. 1936 had far more important issues to deal with than a spoilt playboy king and his obsession with one of his married mistresses.

Epidemic and human nature

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-07-20

I would probably have rated this book less highly before Covid-19 arrived., though I have read about the Black Death and “Spanish” flu before this pandemic.
Defoe was but a wee boy when this plague epidemic occurred but it seems believable that he had an account by an older relative on which to draw, and has obviously done considerable research, far more than expected of a historical novelist then, and even now.

The plague is a far more deadly, infectious, and ghastly disease than the present pandemic, but nevertheless many of the measures taken to contain it and the behaviour of the population are now familiar to us. The destruction of the economy of London, and consequently of England was severe. All non-essential businesses collapsed. European trade was impossible.
Of course, as usual, the wealthy fled at the first hint of threat, the affluent stockpiled the necessities of life, and the poor tried to stay alive.
The authorities in London, however, did not flinch, and stayed to mitigate as best they could the disaster that had overwhelmed their city.
The reactions of the citizens weren’t very different from those we’ve seen this year, from panic to complacency, from denial to pseudoscience, from evasion of regulation to altruism.
Rumours and misinformation managed to spread even without newspapers and social media.
I don’t usually have much time for Defoe, English spy and agent provocateur in pre-1707 Scotland, but his analysis of the Plague Year reveals intelligence and a wisdom I have to concede, grudgingly.

Scots humour of pre-virus times - very welcome

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 15-07-20

An everyday story of small shopowners in the wee town of Lenzie (near Glasgow). Ramesh, Indian by birth, has run his confectionery/newsagent/convenience shop for 30y, assisted by his best pal, Dave, and hindered by his 2 Scots-Asian sons in different ways. Naturally locals drop in regularly, with their foibles, including the local priest, a blether with a weak grasp of theology but a commitment to inter-faith friendship.
There are a few jarring concessions to English listeners (Lenzie would have a provost, not a mayor, a minister not a vicar) but generally I found the craic therapeutic after months in lockdown. I hope small businesses like Ramesh’s will not be lost in the pandemic.

Forgotten history

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-06-20

The German Occupation of the Channel Islands (or Anglo-Norman Islands) is more or less a footnote in the history of WWII. It was even a minor detail at the time, except for those involved. Churchill left the islands pretty much to their fate, except for a few ill planned sorties which made life worse for the islanders, and liberating the islands was low priority.
This book is well worth a go.

Rumpole revived

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-06-20

The immortal Rumpole, created as a TV series, transformed into books, now renewed as radio drama with an impressive cast, adapted to 21st century - not by transposing the stories to the present, but by sharpening up their settings in time. John Mortimer wasn’t terribly good on continuity (names/dates often inconsistent) as he himself admitted, and this series is more coherent. Timothy West is great as the older Rumpole and Benedict Cumberbatch as his younger self.

Dr Fauci, on the side of the angels

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 22-04-20

To my shame I didn’t recognise Dr Fauci’s name when he became to grownup in the White House as the true threat of Covid-19 was finally, if partially, in some quarters recognised in USA.
I must have read some of his papers in the literature but hadn’t realised what an enormous part he’d played in identifying HIV & developing effective treatments.
He is a clear communicator, dedicated to public service and groundbreaking research.
Heaven forbid that his voice does not continue to be heard. It’s impossible that the touchy grandiose greedy Trump will like what Fauci has to say, and it’s probable Trump will sack him sometime soon, but the USA will suffer when that happens.

The other royal dynasty

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 28-02-20

Tudors are overdone. Stuarts aren’t just Mary, Queen of Scots and Charles I!
Unfortunately the early Stuarts (up to James V) aren’t included, as their lives and times were just as turbulent and contradictory.
This series of plays, though all written by the same author, have varying formats. I see a few instances of dramatic licence and naturally there is selection of the events covered - no reign could be fully recounted in a play of one hour. Good acting as expected from BBC Radio drama.

Excellent collection

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-02-20

Forster’s best known bills presented in BBC dramatisations plus some of his shorter works narrated from BBC archives. Whether you’ve read the books, seen the distractingly sumptuous cinema adaptations, or both, or neither, it’s good value.

1 person found this helpful

Anthology of colourful Anglican clerics

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 20-02-20

Don’t expect Trollopian gentle eccentrics. These clergymen are the crème de la crème, entertainingly and often affectionately portrayed in short chapters, from curates to Archbishops, academics and headmasters, some well known others obscure.