A Few Books I’ve Been Reading

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William Boyd has rapidly become one of my favourite contemporary writers. Reading Any Human Heart a few years ago really made me feel he was one of our best writers. Since then I have hugely enjoyed Brazzaville Beach, Restless and Perfect Storm. Waiting for Sunrise, his latest, combines a number of themes. Like Restless this is an espionage story in an unfamiliar setting – this time, the early years of the First World War. Unlike Restless, however, the plot is hardly the point. In fact, this is a very good novel even if you ignore the skulduggery. It is a classic British novel, a character study of a man engaging with life in all its various forms with differing degrees of success. We meet (the rather absurdly named) Lysander Rief, in Vienna, seeking psychological help for his sexual problem. In the end a fervent affair cures him as much as the ‘parallelism’ recommended by his doctor, but it is an affair that ends ridiculously badly and forces him into having to furtively escape the country. This involves collusion with the British Government, and with the outbreak of war he has to pay his dues to his country with some espionage. I describe it as a novel not a spy story because what he finds out during his investigations tell him more about himself than anyone else. Beautifully written, perfectly paced and always interesting, Waiting for Sunrise was simply a joy to read.

My reading is greatly broadened by the books Matthew passes on to me to read. These are carefully selected and generally very good.  Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is quite light fare, the sort of book you can just devour. It is a police story with added magic. Not an encouraging concept I agree, but done with great humour and resourcefulness. Peter Grant has just completed his training a policeman for the Met. He is of African origin, almost an intellectual (but his A levels weren’t good enough for Uni) interested in far too much to be a copper (you are too easily distracted, says his colleague and potential girlfriend). Then he sees a ghost, who gives him far better evidence than can be found anywhere else and life changes. Thankfully, the plot isn’t quite everything. The writing is sharp and knowledgeable, both about policing and London. Every location is simply but evocatively described and this scamper through London history is far better than it could have been. If you can suppress your cynicism and accept the Gods and (highly fanciable) Goddesses of London’s rivers playing an active part in the way the City runs today, then you should find this an excellent Sunday Afternoon read.

A rather slower read has been The Medieval History of Surrey, Ian Blair’s classic account of pre-Conquest Surrey. Interesting, if slightly dated in places, it was essential reading for me before our next Medieval Studies Forum meeting.

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Pip Kings

Not Ian Blair the ex police commissioner?!!

Nice idea, but sadly not!


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