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Hard boiled: Chandler, Spillane and Hammett

All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.  

My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*

The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting.  So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.  

When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism.   (more…)

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Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: review and quotes

Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest.  No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.

So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.

In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”

To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour.  I feel it has less of a  (more…)

Making fun of the English? The great George Mikes 10/10

If you have not read How to be an Alien by George Mikes, please go and buy a copy instantly.  You will not regret it.

George Mikes was a Hungarian who came to England in 1938 (as he said: When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles – but never England).  He wrote dozens of books but is remembered mainly for his seminal 1946 How to be an Alien.  He described the genesis of the book thus:

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English.  Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her.  ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not.  My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’  She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner?  What a silly thing to say.  I am English.  You are the foreigner.  And your mother, too…’  I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple.  I was startled and upset.  Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected.  Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.’ (more…)

Lady Anna: cruelty, feminism and power 7/10

How much cruelty can you squeeze into a 150,000 word novel?

A huge amount, if that book is Lady Anna, written by Anthony Trollope at the astonishing rate of 16,500 words a week on a voyage from England to Australia between 25 May and 19 July 1871.

The plot (no spoilers follow) revolves around a conflict: should the eponymous heroine marry a low-born tailor; or a young earl, of her own class?  She loves the tailor – or does she?  Almost every other character in the book, especially her mother, believes she should marry the earl; and subject her to extraordinary pressure to bring about this result.

This is heavy stuff.  As so often with Trollope, his female characters are often more attractive than his men, some of whom, like Anna’s father the earl, are vile:

It must be told that the Earl was a man who had never yet spared a woman in his lust.  It had been the rule, almost the creed of his life, that woman was made to gratify the appetite of man, and that the man is but a poor creature who does not lay hold of the sweetness that is offered to him… The life which he had led no doubt had had its allurements, but it is one which hardly admits of a hale and happy evening.  Men who make women a prey, prey also on themselves. (more…)

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels – 8/10

Burly, yet brilliant.  Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women.  Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.

Meet Jack Reacher, U.S. hero of British writer Lee Child’s thriller series about an ex military policeman who drifts around, usually finding himself in small town America with a woman to save, an injustice to right, a mystery to solve or, often, all three.

I much enjoyed “The Affair”

I have been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire”, over a decade ago.  That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence, some directed against wholly innocent people; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.

Child has published 22 Jack Reacher novels in total, exactly one a year since 1997.  They are hugely successful: “Make Me” (no.20 in the series, published in 2015), for example, has over 2,800 reviews on Amazon.co.uk and over 7,800 on Amazon.com.

But super-successful novelists have a problem.  From Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent to J K Rowling’s Harry Potter, publishers’ deadlines and the fact that readers who enjoy one book will be keen to buy the next in the series make it hard for writers to maintain a consistently high standard.  Even my favourite thriller-writer, Michael Connelly, has one or two books which are weaker than the rest.

How about Lee Child?  I see good news, bad news and good news.  The first good news (more…)

Trollope vs Black Panther: life lessons

I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul.  On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.

Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages, interrupting the movie.  So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting?  No-one knows).

On the subsequent three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video.  So I still haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”.  Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes?  What do you think?  No spoilers please!

But good news is coming.  On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings.  This is  (more…)

“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”: 20 delicious quotations

I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.

Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves.  Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device.  The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”

That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly.  From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings.  The subsequent flight is sublime.  The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest (more…)

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