Monday, 30 April 2012

Books I Read In April

‘Skin Tight’ by Carl Hiaasen
This was the last of the three books in the Hiaasen anthology I have been reading.  It features a former public attorney’s investigator, Stranahan being drawn into attempts to stop the uncovering of the true story of a 4-year old disappearance of a young woman following a visit to a cosmetic surgeon.  As with Hiaasen’s other novels it features a whole host of, at times grotesque, characters running around southern Florida.  There is an assassin who has a strimmer installed in place of his hand when it is eaten by a barracuda.  In some ways, by this stage in his writing, Hiaasen was coming to spoof his own work.  In this story Stranahan has, not one, but five former wives all bent on doing harm to him. Yet again a new woman on the scene becomes the hero’s love interest.  The novel drags on far too long and could have been 100 pages shorter.  Too many of the characters are caricatures and this one lacks the redeeming features of the other two Hiaasen novels I read.  It is not helped by me presumably missing the satirical elements about Florida/US society of the late 1980s.  Overall, an annoying book. 

‘Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Decisions of World War II’ ed. by Peter G. Tsouras
As it suggests in the title, this is a collection of counter-factual essays.  Some, such as ‘May Day the Premiership of Lord Halifax’ by Nigel Jones are quite expected, seeing Churchill’s replacement leading to a peace treaty with Hitler.  Charles Vasey’s ‘Peace in Our Time’ seeing Hitler dying in 1943 and replaced by victorious Goering is a story rather than an essay and not bad.

There is an interesting focus in the book on the Mediterranean theatre with John Prados looking at Operation Felix to capture Gibraltar from the British; Wade G. Dudley considering more effective use of the Italian Navy and David C. Isby seeing Italy being bought off by the USA from participating in the war.

Some of the essays fall victim to the over-detail which is an issue with some of Tsouras’s own books.  It can be bewildering trying to follow descriptions of individual units going different places on the battlefield to in our world.   After all the detail it is difficult to appreciate the differences of ‘To the Last Drop of Blood: The Fall of Moscow’ by Kim H. Campbell until Stalin is assassinated.  This is only a little less of a problem with ‘The Stalingrad Breakout’ by Tsouras himself.  John D. Burt’s minor alteration of the loss of Malta after one convoy fails to reach it, illustrates minimal changes leading simply to a different emphasis in the war.  It is followed by ‘Ike’s Cockade’ envisaging an Allied invasion of the Cotentin Peninsula in 1943, and proposes some similar developments to Birt's chapter.  In contrast, more fantastical are David D. Keithly’s ‘Black Cross, Green Crescent, Black Gold: The Drive to the Indus’ which has interesting stuff on Hitler’s view of Islam and ‘Wings over the Caucasus’ which sees German paratroop raids far behind Soviet lines in order to secure oil supplies. 

As so many reviewers note with books these days, especially e-books, but also printed ones like this, there are grammar errors in the book. I guess we simply have to swallow that, even in a book written as far back as 2006.  They jar with the reader, though, given how common they are in published writing, perhaps not as much as two glaring geographical errors which Tsouras, if he was genuinely editing, should have noticed.  The Cotentin Peninsula, the area of northern France which is the hinterland of Cherbourg is not in the Bay of Biscay; it extends into the English Channel. the Dodecanese Islands are in the Aegean Sea rather than the Adriatic Sea as stated in this book, the former being between Greece and Turkey; the latter between Italy and Slovenia/Croatia/Albania. 

‘The Faber Book of Espionage’ ed. by Nigel West
This book was a disappointment.  It is an anthology of extracts of books of all kinds written by men and a few women who happened to be spies for the UK in the 20th century.  Some of what is included is fictional, a lot of it autobiographical, some of it having no relevance to spying, simply written by a spy as if that made it important.  Falling into that third category, the piece from Kim Philby is particularly weak.  Some of the extracts are exciting and some informative, though of the latter there are simply too many about the original C of MI6 and his labyrinthine headquarters.  The one thing the book shows is how inter-tangled all the British espionage operatives of the 20th century were.  They drew from a small circle and all seem to have known or even been related to each other.  In many ways this is really a book that gives a flavour of a kind of British social class sub-set.  It shows their rather debased attitudes even when they were supposed to be guarding the UK’s security at home and overseas.  Perhaps, in many ways this was what made the deception by traitors to that cause so easy for them to pull off.  A book simply including biographies of the various characters and even family trees might have been better than this collection of extracts that only occasionally are of genuine interest.

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