Monthly Archives: April 2016


by Michael Frayn

HeadlongThe title Headlong gives the impression of speed and a certain casual indifference to the consequences. And in some ways, the title as an apt description of the books central character, Martin Clay. However, it is a long way short of describing the book itself, which I found slow and frustrating.

The story begins when Martin and his wife, Kate and baby daughter, Tilda, are invited to dinner with their neighbours. When asked to look at some paintings by his host, Martin thinks he has discovered a long lost Bruegel. And that is the point at which the writer and myself part company somewhat. Not only did I not know who Bruegel was, but had no real interest in finding out. But find out I did!

In-between Michael’s farcical attempts to see the painting without raising suspicion in his reckless and almost disastrous foray into the art world, there are some amusing comic moments, but not enough to counter balance the infuriating meanderings into the history of art and religion in 16th century Netherlands.

I have nothing against the mixing of fact and fiction in a book. I have ready many books that have taught me new ideas and opened up interesting avenues for my own research, but in this case, it became far too distracting. I actually found myself skipping whole pages just to try to get back to the central story.

There is an interesting and witty farce in there somewhere, but there is just far too much padding for my liking. If Frayn had wanted to write a book about Bruegel then he should have done so, and not tried to disguise it as comic fiction!

Frayn is a good writer, and anyone who hasn’t seen his play “Noises Off” really needs to add it to their bucket list, but for me “Headlong” was a disappointment. This plot in the hands of someone like Tom Sharpe could have been a masterpiece, but here it just didn’t work.

The Jonah

by James Herbert

The JonahJames Herbert has been a permanent feature of the bestsellers lists since “The rats” was first published in 1974. Often considered, mainly by those who haven’t read his books, to be a horror writer, his books and actually generally thrillers, all-be-it often with a supernatural twist. In facrt, his most famous series – Rats, Lair and Domain – are closer to science fiction.

“The Jonah” is a detective story with a touch of the supernatural. Jim Kelso is a detective with the Drugs Squad in London. He is good at his job but he has the unenviable reputation for bringing bad luck to those around him. The death of a fellow officer on a drugs bust is the last straw for his boss and Kelps finds himself working undercover in a remote Sussex fishing village.

Playing the part of an ornithologist undertaking research for a bird charity, Kelso is alone so he can’t hurt anyone, or so it seems at first. With frequent flashbacks we begin to uncover the dark secret behind the inexplicable events in Kelso’s life.  

Investigating the mysterious events that led to an otherwise unassuming family falling foul of the effect of LSD. The police are baffled as to how a quiet family like the Preeces have come into contact with illegal drugs. And is there any connection with the death of a USAF pilot, also under the influence of LSD?

On the verge of giving up the investigation he is joined by HM Customs investigator Ellie Sheppard. Despite his reservations about working with her, the pair soon begin to uncover the truth the lies beneath the surface of the small community. But for Kelso, it is the revelation of the secrets of his own past that bring the greatest danger.

James Herbert is a great story teller, whatever the genre. One of the things I love about his books is the care he takes with his characters, even those who barely live longer than two pages. As disaster strikes the village, we are introduced to a number of locals and, in Herbert’s trademark style, we get to know a lot more about them than is necessary. That is not a negative by the way, I love the way he builds up his incidental characters. “The Jonah” is typical James Herbert. Not necessarily one of his best (that would be “Magic Cottage”), but well worth the read and a reminder for me of why I got hooked on his books in the first place. I began reading his books when I was a teenager, but the Jonah is one of several I missed at the time. I think now that I need to catch up a bit.