An Officer and a Spy – Book Review

I’d heard of the Dreyfus Affair, but I’d never realised what a miscarriage of justice this was. After completing this book, I realised two things: how far the authorities can go in order to cover up their mistakes and how much difference one person can make when they can be bothered to pursue what they know to be right.

Major / Colonel / General Picquart is a hero, an example to everyone who knows when there’s been a miscarriage of justice and errors have been made.

This book applies the techniques of a novel to retell the story of the Dreyfus Affair between 1894 and 1906. None of the characters are wholly fictional and most of the events described in the book happened in real life. There are dramatisations and many ‘personal’ conversations are imagined, because this is a novel.

However, the central tenet that the French Army was anti-semetic and easily took to the idea that a particular person had to be the spy because of his religion rather than because he was the guilty party holds true. The lengths they went to cover up this miscarriage of justice are repellent and yet believable. This makes the book so readable, what would the authorities do next to deter Picquart? Whatever they threw at him, even potential suicide missions into the Tunisian Sahara, didn’t succeed.

Picquart is a shining example of what can be achieved by those who care and believe in the truth.

Maigret and the Ghost – Book Review

Maigret is my favourite detective because he’s depicted as an ordinary man but is extraordinarily good at what he does. He has the respect of his colleagues and is quite content to eat sandwiches and drink beer when pursuing a case into the night.

In this case, the shooting of a fellow inspector and the disappearance of the key witness lead Maigret to uncover the secrets of a famous art collector. That is it. Most of the story takes place in police stations, bars, and dwellings on the Avenue Junot.

There’s plenty of dialogue and it’s not always clear who is speaking, but that detracts little from the story. That’s the key ingredient – it’s a good story with characters who all have a clearly defined role in the story. Georges Simenon was a wonderful writer.

The Amazing Maurice and his educated rodents – Book Review

This is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels though don’t expect any of the usual characters to appear – there are no wizards – apart from Death and the Death of Rats, who make only a fleeting appearance. Yes, some animals do perish in this book, but don’t worry remember how many lives cats have.

This is a lovely story with a squad of rats to enjoy, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Do Maurice, the rats, and the piper succeed in their aims and fleece the residents of Bad Blintz as they have with so many other towns on Discworld? No. Do they reach a compromise with the citizens to achieve a mutually beneficial living environment for both sets of animals? Well, you will have to find out. There’s even a human love story running through the narrative as well as some life lessons for us all. What more could you want from a book?

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.

Robinson Crusoe – Book Review

Robinson Crusoe is a classic story inspired by the experience of Alexander Selkirk marooned for 4 years and 4 months on the largest of the Juan Fernandez Islands 400 miles off Valparaiso, Chile.

This is a story that builds up slowly and becomes more and more readable as the time passes. It is a testimony to how adaptable a man can become in order to survive and I marvel at Defoe’s research that makes this story so believable.

After 28 years, 2 months, and 19 days Crusoe leaves his island home, but will he return? Read the book and find out.

And there’s one line which surely must count as one of the greatest understatements in a novel:

It is true I had been very unfortunate by sea

Pilgrim’s Progress – Book Review

Another classic book that everyone ought to read at some point in their lives even if religion and / or Christianity holds no interest for you.

To give it its full title, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. Strictly speaking there are two parts to this book, but most people such as myself only read the first part. The book is a dream sequence that concentrates on the journey of the character Christian from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City” atop Mount Zion. Along the way we visit many places such as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle as well as encountering Mr Worldly-Wiseman, Apollyon, and Giant Despair.

Bunyan began his work while in Bedford prison for violations of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.

The Sign of Four – Book Review

One of the classic Sherlock Holmes’ books written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the one about India, missing treasure, a boat chase on The Thames, and Dr Watson meeting his wife.

The only thing I don’t appreciate about these tales is how weak the female characters are written, as though they’re just useful for creating plot lines. It’s very noticeable in this story. It makes me appreciate Agatha Christie even more.

But you should read this book, just to discover the powers of deduction of Sherlock – it seems obvious after he’s give his opinion. There’s no Mycroft and no Moriarty to distract from the story.

Treasure Island – Book Review

It’s a classic and rightly so. A tale of pirates, the high seas, and of course a treasure map created by the buccaneer Captain Flint. The many memorable characters include Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Ben Gunn, Billy Bones, and Blind Pew.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original title for this book was ‘The Sea Cook’ as that was Long John Silver’s occupation. The book was written in Braemar and Davos in 1881 and first serialised in the magazine Young Folks between October 1881 and January 1882 before being published in book form in 1883.

Essentially what happens is that Billy Bones – a member of the crew of The Walrus, the ship of Captain Flint – stays at The Admiral Benbow inn run by Jim Hawkins’s parents. When some of Billy Bones’s ex-crewmates come visiting to find the treasure map he has in his sea chest, Jim finds the treasure map first and informs Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney of this. They all proceed to Bristol, obtain a vessel called The Hispaniola, and set sail for Treasure Island. Of the crew who set out, only 5 return.

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.