Toby Litt – Lifelike

Click here to buy the bookIf your taste runs to the dead-pan, you could do worse than read Toby Litt. By turns funny, scabrous, touching, serious, playful and obsessive, his twelfth book, Life-like is presented with an absolutely straight face. How are you supposed to take this? Are you intended to laugh? Is it OK to be aroused? Does that passage really belong in this book? Toby never blinks.

Toby’s interest in form and experimentation is well-established, and so this book is neither properly a novel nor a simple story collection, with the focus flying apart from the starting point of the marriage of Agatha and Paddy, with whom we are familiar from Toby’s eighth book, Ghost Stories. Tim loved that novel, so he was very happy to come back to these characters, and, when it turned out that Toby wanted to play games in the new book, Tim was delighted to join in.

 

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Alwyn W turner – The Last Post

alwynturner-thelastpostNo Man’s Land is already littered with books on the Great War, and there will be many more hurled into the fray, but not many of them will be as original as this thoughtful and engaging treatment by the historian Alwyn W Turner. Ostensibly a history of the bugle call that came to symbolise the honour of a military death, it ranges very much more widely, taking in all the main symbols of remembrance (all associated with the First War rather than the Second) and serves also as a history of the development of social attitudes towards the soldier, and of public opinion in locating the significance of war.

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Christopher Fowler – Nyctophobia

Callie is Click here to buy the booka young woman with a bit of a past (and a mild case of nyctophobia), an adoring husband and a home filled with light … but where there is light there must also be darkness…

Christopher Fowler made his name with chiller fiction, and Nyctophobia is a splendid return to the genre. It takes a gleeful inventory of the elements of the ghost story, and finds new ways to creep up on you, and most importantly of all – it is scary. Tim spent the night he read it nervously going round his house turning all the lights on.

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Anne McCaffrey from the archive – Renegades of Pern

annemccaffreyrenegadesofpernAnne McCaffrey was the first woman to win the prestigious Hugo award for science fiction, and also the first woman to win a Nebula award. In her Dragonriders of Pern series she created one of the great fantasy novels sequence. It comprises more than thirty novels, most of which include dragons, and is notable for pioneering the inclusion of strong and effective women in science fiction.

Anne McCaffrey died in 2011 at the age of 85, but back in 1990 Tim had the great pleasure of meeting her to discuss the  fourteenth book in the series, Renegades of Pern. They got on like a house on fire.

 

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Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion’s Farewell: the Return of Albert Campion Completed by Mike Ripley

Click here to buy the bookIn Albert Campion, Margery Allingham created one of the timeless golden age detectives, often spoken of in the same breath as Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Alleyn. When she died in 1963 her husband and collaborator Philip Youngman Carter continued the series for two more books. A third was left incomplete. Well, we say incomplete. There was merely a fragment, four chapters kicking off a new Campion novel, but with no plot outline or notes for how it was supposed to continue.

Mike Ripley made his name with the brilliant comedy thriller ‘Angel’ series. In 2012 the Margery Allingham Society asked him to finish the incomplete Campion book, which he called Mr Campion’s Farewell.

Tim is a long-standing fan of Angel, and is easily persuaded to become a fan of Campion as well. For Tim, it was time to meet Campion in person, and also Ripley, believe it or not.

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George Cooper – Money, Blood and Revolution

Click here to buy the bookWho would you turn to if the discipline of economics was in a crisis and you were looking for a solution: Mr Spock or Captain Kirk? Mr Spock would work through the existing data with methodical rigour and implacable logic, while Captain Kirk would make an intuitive leap in the manner of Copernicus or Darwin, and show us an entirely new way of looking at the problem. In his book, Money, Blood and Revolution, George Cooper contends that what economics needs right now is a Captain Kirk, to provide a paradigm shift by simply taking a different perspective on the existing picture. Tim comes blundering in with all the insight and acuity of Nurse Chappell, but minus the miniskirt, to explore George’s vision of a simplified model of economic systems and the engine of prosperity.

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Humaira Shahid – Devotion and Defiance

Humaira Shahid might have had a gilded life, and no-one would have blamed her. She was born into the privileged classes of Pakistan, enjoyed a happy and liberal childhood, and married well into a newspaper dynasty. The important men in her life adored her and admired her and encouraged her to fulfil herself rather than take the subservient role imposed on many Pakistani women. She became an academic, teaching literature, and that might have been that. But Humaira’s personal life contained a series of heartbreaking tragedies, and as she participated in her husband’s journalistic activities, she gained a first-hand knowledge of dreadful injustice and suffering in Pakistan. Driven by a fiery passion she became, first a campaigning editor, and then a vocal member of the Assembly in Punjab Province.

Devotion And Defiance is Humaira’s account of the course of her career. It is a fascinating insight into the workings of Pakistani politics, a rallying call to arms on behalf of the oppressed and brutalised women of Pakistan, and also a touching memoir of her own life.

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Lawrence Block – The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

Bernie Rhodenbarr is the owner of an antiquarian bookshop in New York City. He is best friends with a lesbian who owns the nearby dog grooming parlour, and they eat lunch together every day. He is nearly friends with the local cop, Ray Kirshman, who regards him as an unofficial consultant. But most of all, Bernie is a burglar. When a man named Smith comes into the store and asks him to steal an original manuscript of an F Scott Fitzgerald story, Bernie finds himself embroiled in a couple of tangled webs, which he is uniquely qualified to untangle.

Lawrence Block is a past master at this kind of thing, weaving in to his fabric obsessive collectors, early American siversmithing, literary backstories, and, naturally, a juicy murder. Half the fun is seeing how he brings all these elements together for the finale, but the other half is the fluent writing that gets you there.

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Larry Watson – Let Him Go

“I’d follow you anywhere. If you don’t know that, what do you know?”. So says George to his wife Margaret as they journey, at her behest, to try and get back their grandson. In a beautiful and utterly memorable novel, Larry Watson takes us to the bleak
and unforgiving landscape of the Badlands of North Dakota in 1951 and into the lives of complex and vivid characters.

The book is the road trip and the confrontation at the end of it. It is a journey that Tim was thrilled to follow every step of the way.

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Iain Banks from the Archives

Click here to buy the booktimiainbanksYesterday, we heard the sad news of the death of Iain Banks at the unacceptably young age of 59. Iain was never the darling of the literary establishment, but he was the favourite author of hundreds of thousands of passionate readers, and Tim had rated him one of the best of his generation since his stunning debut with The Wasp Factory in 1984.

In 1995 Tim interviewed Iain on the occasion of the publication of his fourteenth novel, Whit. Iain was unfailingly friendly and forthcoming whenever we asked for access to him. With grateful thanks to Iain for his kindness to this site, we present this slightly edited version of that interview.

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