Book Review: Carter Beats the Devil (Glen David Gold)

And as if by magic, I finished this at about half 12 last night. What an excellent book! Thanks to the last-minute vote on my experiment and to James for recommending it in the first place.

Where to start?

I suppose I should say (as I should have said for Hudson’s The Dazzle) that Charles Carter and various other characters were real live people. There’s even a cameo by Houdini. Houdini! I have to say I find magicians much more interesting than the interwar fast set, if just because of the sheer brio you must have to spend a life on stage deceiving people. As usual, in these cases, I wonder how much of the story was true and how much a fabrication. Certainly, you can perform more outrageous magic tricks on paper than you can on stage, except that, I read in the notes that the tricks were all based on those that were performed at the time. Well…

I like this book because I was fooled into forgetting that Carter was a real person. The story has so many twists and turns that fit so incredibly well together, I was never bored (the book is over 500 pages long). In fact, I did something I haven’t done for a long time, I actually savoured reading it. It’s a romance, a who-dun-it, a coming of age story, a comedy, a tragedy but mainly an adventure. And it’s a debut book!

I had to wait until near the end to find my favourite line though, then two came along at once (discounting “Paddock’s Storage House” for obvious reasons), oh, and I learned a new word: Horripilation (Goose bumps!).

In short, I loved it and was, quite frankly, impressed. It gave me horripilations (see!).

Read it. Don’t delay. Read it now.

I’ve been waiting to read the next book since my A Level Physics teacher mentioned it 12 years ago…

Celestial Matters (Rickard Garfinkle).


Spin The Wheel (Flash Fiction)

For – Chuck Wendig’s awesome blog. Roll a D10 and get your plot triggers. Write 1000(ish) words. Post. Here goes:

10 – Locked room mystery

6 – Heist gone wrong!

4 – A bottle of rare whiskey

“The man had a yellow handkerchief around his face and a hat on. I remember thick dark rimmed glasses too because I thought he looked a little silly, what with the green suit and fez. I don’t remember much of what he said. It was just shouting. I’m afraid I was quite frightened. I hid behind the table in the hallway. But I could see that he had a gun, strangely, it was covered by a red cloth. He must have pointed it at the safe door and it was Mr Perkins, the butler, that went to open the door but by the time he did the man had scarpered. Then Roger, one of the staff, noticed that the secret door was open, it’s an old house, and that the painting was missing. I don’t know where he went to after, that door leads to the rooms in the celler.” The secretarial looking young lady explained before she began to weep again, she was still in shock. She was aided by a policewoman with thick red, curly hair and a comforting smile whilst another weedy looking policeman was furiously writing down every word ahe said in his little black notebook.

Noone noticed the looming figure of a man step out of the shadows at the back of the room. “Yes, ingenius,” the figure said, “hiding in full view. Everyone remembers the strangely dressed man arriving but no one will see the normal Clark Kent leaving through the back door. Thank you, Miss Rogers, you may go now. PC Meadows here will see that you get a cup of tea whilst PC Rodney here will continue to write in his notebook. You do not need to write what I say in there, you know.”

“No, Sir, sorry. But did he leave through the back door, Sir?”

“No, Rodney. He did not because the back door is still locked. Please write that in your book.”

“Yes, Mr Randall”

“Inspector Randall, Rodney. I think you better write that down too.”

Another imposing figure appeared at the front door. “What’s going on in my house?” Lord Downing demanded “we were out on a walk of the grounds. My wife and daughter are still in the summer house.”

“Sir,” the Inspector explained, “I’m afraid there appears to have been a robbery.”

“My God, what did he take?”

“The Picasso, Sir.”

“Really? How did he open the safe?”

“Mr Perkins was threatened at gun point to do it. He is still very shaken.”

“Oh,” Lord Downing looked a little annoyed, “well, I don’t blame the man. I would have done the same thing.”

“Sir, will you tell me how the perpetrator would have left the building through the secret door?”

“What? There’s no way. It leads to the cellars. There’s no back way out.”

“From what you’re saying, Sir, he should still be on the premises?”


“He’s been there hours. Rodney, with me. PC Meadows fetch PC Stock and follow us down. Sir, I suggest that…”

“I’m not missing this for the world. I’m coming with you.”

Lord Downing barged passed the Inspector through the lounge and down the passageway. The Inspector and Rodney followed quickly behind leaving Roger and Mr Perkins, both a little bewildered, in the lounge.

They arrived at the cellar door. There was ample room for the three of them, it was not a small cellar. The Inspector bent to look at the scuff marks round the bottom of the door. He touched the mark with a gloved hand and rubbed some dust between finger and thumb. Then he tried the handle gently. It was locked. The Inspector stooped to look through the keyhole but it was blocked. The burgler had locked the door from the inside.

“Stand aside,” he said to Lord Downing, “Rodney, break down the door!”

“I beg your pardon, Sir?”

“Oh,” the Inspector sighed and then shouted, “PC Stock?” A large, muscular policeman entered the corridor. “Would you mind awfully breaking down the door?”

“No, sir.”

“Stand back!” the Inspector said, in a dramatic tone. PC Stock broke the door down on the fourth attempt, he was a large man and the door was very old.

Inside the cellar the onlookers were greated by the sight of a young man wearing a green suit, his head was rested on a fez and the yellow handkerchief was lose about his face and moving slightly as he snored loudly. Next to him lay an empty bottle of whiskey, a red cloth and a banana, and Lilian’s painting.

“Don’t worry, Sir.” said Rodney, “It doesn’t look like he is going anywhere fast.”

Roger and Lillian, Lord Downing’s daughter, appeared behind the crowd. “I said she could come down but only if I came with her and at the first sign of danger she was to get behind me. You know how stubborn she is.” said Roger.

Lilian said, “He took a painting from the lounge, didn’t he Daddy, but he didn’t take an expensive one. It was my painting of Mummy. Which I think is worse to take but Mr Perkins said it isn’t. It was my birthday party the other day so we moved the silly Picasso into the safe and put my painting up for the party. I didn’t like the old frame much so that is OK. Is that him?”

Lord Downing addressed the Inspector “I thought you said Perkins opened the safe?”

“Mr Perkins did open the safe, Sir, but this man had left before he finished. Didn’t he Rodney, check your notebook. If he had only waited until the safe had been opened… Well, Rodney,” said the Inspector, “There’s your gun. A banana covered by a cloth.”

“Just like that, eh, Inspector.”


“Nevermind, I’ll write that in my book.”

“See that you do. Looks like he’s had a whole bottle of whiskey too.”

“My 18 year old Talisker! I’ve been robbed.” Lord Downing exclaimed and fainted clean away.

The noise of Lord Downing’s body hitting the floor  woke the colourful burgler, “Hic!” he said just before vomiting all over the painting of Lady Downing.

“Ewwwww,” said Lilian.


Happy New Year! And the first book review of 2013!

I hope 2013 it is a good year for all.

As I sit here surrounded by all the mod-cons, a new TV, a Nexus 7, iPhone and full house insurance, I have cracked out the old laptop to write my first post in 2013. I can think of no better way to start the year than by reviewing a new book. By deft combination of espionage and extortion I managed to get my hands on a review copy from the excellent and very astute people at Jonathan Cape.

The chances of my return to the audience at Tall Tales are, for various reasons, remote so I think I am safe to be honest…


The Dazzle (Robert Hudson)

“Sex, drugs and tuna” is The Dazzle’s tagline and it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin, which for a delicate wallflower like myself was a little off-putting at the start, however, the prologue had already hooked me in (and it is inevitable that, without even trying, every other word written in this review will now have fishing connotations) so I wasn’t going to give up on the book.

It took me a little while to work out who all the characters  were and what their relationship to other characters might be. Being honest, I had to go back and check that the character involved in the reveal at the end was actually mentioned earlier in the book, which, of course, they were at great length. Weirdly, having looked back, it all suddenly made sense as the excellently organised story that it was.

Some of The Dazzle was written in letter format (which shouldn’t have surprised me). Personally, I find it takes a special sort of book written in that style to keep my interest (Warhorses of Letters, picking a completely random example) and I have to admit I lost the plot somewhere near the centre. In contrast though, when nearing the end, the style of plot reveal changes and it is bloody clever. I enjoyed that the most.

The book uses some words even Google itself won’t shed any light on. I liked that and am, in a strange way, kind of happy that I still have no idea what the words mean because I can guess and my wallflower is already wilting.  That was not an intentional euphemism. The author obviously had fun with boat names as well which was enjoyable. Having finished the book, I found myself hoping that the little team of characters might be written in to a sequel.

Anyway, I maintain that any book that mentions giant squid has to be a good book by default and this doesn’t buck the trend.

The Dazzle by Robert Hudson is released next month and I really do think you should give it try.

52 Books (ish – don’t judge me) A Year

And so, after nearly a whole year, I have finally completed my resolution to read and review 52 novels. That is what I did.

Sort of.

The real (main) idea was simply to read more because for the last couple of years I’ve only read a handful of books and I love reading. The secondary idea was to have a go at a review or two because I enjoy that as well. How did I really do? Here come the stats!

I read a grand total of 26 novels, 1 play, 3 loo books, 4 (officially) kids books, my first e-book, a science book, a CV, a biography on Shakespeare, 2 autobiographies, some letters written by horses, at least 3 really bad books, a good few short stories, a Pratchett, a practical guide for wartime American soldiers, a social reading project book (mammoth count of 5 books because it was huge) and 1 non-finisher. And I reviewed them all! Even if some reviews were very short. I’ve tried some new genres and re-discovered my love of Science Fiction. More importantly I have read more! I think the most I read in a week was 4 books. Unheard of.

I have also found a plethora of weird photos online.

So, that’s that. I will continue to make more time to read. I collected a good number of book recommendations and will enjoy reading them at my leisure. I hope to continue to review the ones I like too.

Which brings me to my 2013 resolution…

Read and review 20 books AND write 13 short (or long) stories.


We’ll see how it goes. And, oh yes, next year… no cheating!