Presenting the last post of 2014



Title: The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery

Author: Kyril Bonfiglioli (finished by Craig Brown)

Why did I chose this book? I got this book as a Christmas present after being in hysterics – which led to many an embarrassing bus commute – over the Mortdecai trilogy that I had discovered myself earlier this year.



The Hon. Charlie Mortdecai (and his intrepid moustache) is invited to Oxford to investigate the cruel and most definitely unusual death of a don who collided with an omnibus. Though her death appears accidental, one or two things don’t add up – such as two pairs of thugs who’d been following her just before her death. With more spies than you could shoe horn into a stretch limo and the solving of the odd murder along the way, The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery is a criminally comic delight.

Review: The fourth of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s books that feature Charlie Mortdecai does not disappoint it is gut-bustingly funny, outrageous and the crime at the centre is entirely ridiculous. In a word splendid. I want more but unfortunately there is only one left at my finger tips and that features an ancestral Mortdecai – watch this space.


3084081Title: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death

Author:Gyles Brandreth 

Why I chose this book? I am a huge fan of the author’s radio and broadcast work so I thought I’d dip a toe into his writing.



‘I see murder in this unhappy hand…’ When Mrs Robinson, palmist to the Prince of Wales, reads Oscar Wilde’s palm she cannot know what she has predicted. Nor can Oscar know what he has set in motion when, that same evening, he proposes a game of ‘Murder’ in which each of his Sunday Supper Club guests must write down those whom they would like to kill. For the fourteen ‘victims’ begin to die mysteriously, one by one, and in the order in which their names were drawn from the bag… With growing horror, Wilde and his confidantes Robert Sherard and Arthur Conan Doyle, realise that one of their guests that evening must be the murderer. In a race against time, Wilde will need all his powers of deduction and knowledge of human behaviour before he himself – the thirteenth name on the list – becomes the killer’s next victim.

Current thoughts: Only on chapter 2 but already showing signs of being a very satisfying and satirical read. Although I would prefer less full-naming of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle during the narrative as it gets slightly tiring



Title: The Churchill Factor

Author: Boris Johnson (this makes me slightly sceptical)

Why did I chose this book: Just look at the front cover.

Synopsis: Not sure we really need one but here goes….


Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death, Boris Johnson explores what makes up the ‘Churchill Factor’ – the singular brilliance of one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century. Taking on the myths and misconceptions along with the outsized reality, he portrays – with characteristic wit and passion-a man of multiple contradictions, contagious bravery, breath-taking eloquence, matchless strategizing, and deep humanity.

 And there we have it – happy new year fellow readers and see you for more literary and foodie delights in 2015!


Vermilion Sands by J G Ballard

VermillionSandsTitle: Vermilion Sands

Author: J G. Ballard

Publisher: Vintage, Penguin Random House

Pages: 208 pages

Why did I chose to read this book? I have enjoyed previous Ballard titles and this one’s descriptive blurb piqued my interest and hinted at a completely unique reading experience.

Where to read this book: Zetta Townhouse, the grandiose design of the cocktail lounge makes the perfect reading room.

Refreshments: Cocktails, potent and strong to suit the surreal mental images that are about to be evoked – as I was reading this I became quite friendly with the Zetta’s Flintock cocktail which is gin-based and includes gunpowder tea, which involves a small explosion before you can start drinking it… naturally.


Vermilion Sands is a fully automated desert-resort designed to fulfil the most exotic whims of the idle rich, but now languishes in uneasy decay, populated only by forgotten movie queens, solitary impresarios and the remittance men of the artistic and literary world. It is a lair for beachcombers, hangers-on and malignant obsessions – a place where sensitive pigments paint portraits of their mistresses in a grotesque parody of art; where prima donna plants are programmed to sing operatic arias; where dial-a-poem computers have replaced poets; where psychosensitive houses are driven to murder by their owners’ neuroses; and where love and lust, in the hands of jewel-eyed Jezebels, pall before the stronger pull of evil.

Unexpectedly this is set out as sequence of short stories all based in the fictitious Vermilion Sands and it’s environs. Ballard’s surrealist style is at a peak as he weaves such unique and imaginative settings around fantastical characters. Mixing allegories with his archetypal mind-bending smilies you, as the reader, are dragged straight into his stunning Dali-esque worlds.

Juxtaposing familiar human beings with the outrageous, usually the deadly beautiful and alluring women of Ballard’s mind, you become familiar with extreme character traits and appearances; ‘her white hair lay in a coil over one shoulder like a nacreous serpent’ and ‘her white face, like a devious adolescent’s, more than ever resembled a surgical mask.’ The male characters are usually rather humble affairs, save for a couple, and are notoriously bewitched by these bejewelled dramatic females that slip in and out of their lives like the very sand they walk across.

Ballard’s genre is science fiction, a genre I am often quick to dismiss – as a result of not being overly fanatic about travelling by hovercraft or inhabiting Mars, stereotypical I know – however his wonderous prose and completely absurd reflections on mankind’s nature which, to a degree, offers us a cautionary tale about our descent into the future, is a force to be reckoned with and hard to dismiss.

Supporting Ballard as the godfather of sci-fi,and also perhaps conveniently, was the sales assistant at Waterstones whom I overheard, whilst I was buying my copy, say to another shopper who was perusing the science fiction that – ‘Ballard didn’t grace those shelves as he was too good for them,’ – a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Vermilion Sands won’t be for everyone, it is bizarre and confusing, but if you stick with it you’ll be transported away from your current life for a few hours to inhabit another fantastical world.

Rating: 9 out of 10

The Taxidermist Daughter by Kate Mosse

Title: The Taxidermist’s Daughter

Author: Kate Mosse

Publisher: Orion 

Hardback: 432 pages

Why did I chose to read this book: Love her Labyrinth, Sepulchre & Citadel books so thought I would investigate her further as an author.

Where to read this book: To fit the book’s dark and let’s say rather creepy storyline I would chose somewhere like the catacoombs in Paris but to be more realistic I would suggest The Horniman Museum in London which is, unsurprisingly where the author had her book launch.

Refreshments: The subject matter doesn’t really lend itself eating…at all. I instead supped on a full-bodied red wine my tipple, influence by my recent sojourn to Chile, was a bottle of La Postolle’s Carmenère – highly recommended!


In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum’s closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead. While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible – and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Mosse’s descriptions are sublimely atmospheric and gothic creating a realistic and dramatic scene to the psychological thriller that is about to be laid out to the reader. Unfortunately, Constantia isn’t my favourite of female characters she is too strong to the extent that she becomes quite irritating – her useless alcoholic father is probably a reason for this extreme self-reliance. However, her journey back into her memory and the ardent need for the truth is heartening and eminently translates into a fascinating storyline.

In between the chapters there is diary-style entries from an unidentified women which starts to unravel the story and the sinister event that triggered her actions and dark retribution on those culpable. It is this character that hooks the reader and drags them into the uneasy history. Her narrative is often shocking and on a par with scenes that are more common in scene of the TV series Hannibal.

The love story that develops through the story between Constantia and Harry is a little slapdash and hurried one glance and there is infatuation. Their lives are intrinsically linked so it is obvious that their relationship will develop in this manner I just wish it was done in a more subtle style.

Not on a par with Labyrinth – one of my favourite books especially as I was living in Toulouse at the time – but still entertaining in a dark and extremely disturbed way.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Chile Reads in Winter

Road tripping around Chile for a couple of weeks from Santiago to Pucón via the Atacama Desert entailed both reading and being read to during the longer stretches of driving.


First leg of the trip 

Reading: Another Massimo Carlotto book called Bandit Love published by Europa editions.

Closing the door on a crime-ridden past, Marco Buratti plans to spend the rest of his days in the darkness of seedy nightclub, sipping Calvados and listening to the blues. But things don’t quite go as planned and when his gangster friend’s girlfriend is kidnapped, Buratti is once again thrown head first into the criminal underworld he has been struggling to escape.

This is the third Buratti book of Carolotto I have read and although it was still highly addictive with a strong narrative and vivid characters it didn’t hit the same mark as the first two. This was largely down to the fact that the plot jumps around in time quite often, without a clear signal, so realisation only comes after a couple of pages and then you – or maybe just me – have to reverse and take stock of the situation.

Location: Alto Atacama, Atacama Desert – absolutely stunning, otherworldly location with numerous heated pools and delectable food for both lunch and dinner a first class hotel & service.

Second leg

IMG_6615Reading: Graham Greene’s ‘The Captain and the Enemy’ which I secured from my travelling partner’s Uncle.

Victor Baxter is a young boy when a secretive stranger known simply as “the Captain” takes him from his boarding school to live in London. Victor becomes the surrogate son and companion of a woman named Liza, who renames him “Jim” and depends on him for any news about the world outside their door. Raised in these odd yet touching circumstances, Jim is never quite sure of Liza’s relationship to the Captain, who is often away on mysterious errands. It is not until Jim reaches manhood that he confronts the Captain and learns the shocking truth about the man, his allegiances, and the nature of love.

This was part read and part read to me which could explain much of the confusion that was felt during the duration of the story. The characters were classic Greene curious with an edge of eccentric mystique but the plot was slightly baffling. Bizarrely enjoyable but I was left dumfounded.


Location: Hacienda Vira Vira, Lake District of Southern Chile, Pucon. A newly opened hotel and extremely unique with a working farm including a cheeserie. The service was impeccable and the excursions offered ranged from a short hike to a stunning waterfall, helping make cheese with their on-site swiss genius, horse riding with a fascinating and overly experienced fellow and a relaxed wine tasting which ended up with bottles rather than sips drunk. The food and wines paired were exceptional and I rolled contentedly rather than walked out of the front entrance.


In addition to these two books that I read in their entirety I also had the pleasure of a few snippets from Travels in a Thin Country by Sara Wheeler which is about quite obviously her travels in Chile. If you can get past the first 50 pages of guff you are in for a treat. Bang on point and wickedly entertaining Sara Wheeler’s account of the country is absolutely brilliant to the point that no other travel writer has come close to tackling the subject with the same flair.

And that was it in a reading nutshell. I was saIMG_6768d to leave Chile especially as we were coming back to winter rather than spring however, Christmas wouldn’t be the same if we were sat in thirty-degree heat and I needed some new books!