Thursday, February 27, 2020

Clive Cussler: Dirk Pitt novels author dies aged 88

From BBC News
The author Clive Cussler with one of his best-known books in 1977. He had a second career scouring the oceans for shipwrecks.Clive Cussler, the US author of the popular Dirk Pitt novels, has died at the age of 88.

He wrote 25 books in the adventure series, including Sahara and Raise the Titanic, and sold more than 100 million copies of his novels in total.

Writing on Twitter, Cussler's wife said: "It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that my husband Clive passed away [on] Monday.

"It has been a privilege to share in his life."

She added: "I want to thank you, his fans and friends, for all the support. He was the kindest most gentle man I ever met. I know, his adventures will continue."

The cause of his death has not been confirmed.

read more here @ BBC News

My own introduction to Cussler was when I did a book report (way back when) on "Raise the Titanic!" - I was looking to read something different to what everyone else was reading and just happened upon this title. It has remained with me ever since. Vale Clive.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

How two women pulled off a medieval manuscript heist in post-war Germany

Two precious manuscripts hidden in a bank vault survived the Allied bombing of Dresden, but one wound up in Soviet hands — until it was smuggled home.

Seventy-five years ago, in February 1945, during the Second World War, Allied forces bombed the magnificent baroque city of Dresden, Germany, destroying most of it and killing thousands of civilians.

In central Dresden, however, a bank vault holding two precious medieval manuscripts survived the resulting inferno unscathed. The manuscripts were the works of the prolific 12th-century composer, writer and visionary, St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), who had established a convent on the Rhine River, near Wiesbaden and 500 kilometres west of Dresden.

After the Dresden bombings, the Soviet Army seized and inspected the surviving vault. The first bank official to enter the vault afterwards found it pillaged, with only one manuscript remaining. The bank could never confirm if the vault was emptied in an official capacity or if it was plundered.

The missing manuscript has not been seen in the West since. The other made its way back to its original home of Wiesbaden, on the other side of Germany, through the extraordinary efforts of two women.

read more here @ The Conversation

Face It by Debbie Harry

Face It - Debbie Harry
As a musician, an actor, a muse, an icon, the breadth of Debbie Harry’s impact on our culture has been matched by her almost Sphinx-like reticence about her inner life. Through it all – while being acclaimed as one of the most beautiful women in the world, prized by a galaxy of leading photographers and fashion designers, beloved by legions of fans for her relentless, high-octane performances, selling 50 million albums or being painted by Andy Warhol – Debbie Harry has infused her perennial Blondie persona with a heady mix of raw sexuality and sophisticated punk cool.

In Face It, Debbie Harry invites us into the complexity of who she is and how her life and career have played out over the last seven decades. Upending the standard music memoir, with a cutting-edge style keeping with the distinctive qualities of her multi-disciplined artistry, Face It includes a thoughtful introduction by Chris Stein, rare personal photos, original illustrations, fan artwork installations and more.

Peppered with colourful characters, Face It features everyone from bands Blondie came up with on the 1970s music scene – The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and David Bowie – to artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marina Abramovi and H.R. Giger of Alien fame. It explores her successful acting career (she has starred in over 30 film roles, including David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and John Waters’s Hairspray), her weekends with William S. Burroughs and her attempted abduction by serial killer Ted Bundy. 

Ranging from the hardscrabble grit and grime of the early New York City years to times of glorious commercial success, interrupted by a plunge into heroin addiction, the near-death of partner Chris Stein, a heart-wrenching bankruptcy and Blondie’s break-up as a band, an amazing solo career and then a stunning return with Blondie, this is a cinematic story of an artist who has always set her own path.

Manors and Markets by Bas van Bavel

The Low Countries — an area roughly embracing the present-day Netherlands and Belgium — formed a patchwork of varied economic and social development in the Middle Ages, with some regions displaying a remarkable dynamism. 

Manors and Markets charts the history of these vibrant economies and societies, and contrasts them with alternative paths of development, from the early medieval period to the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Providing a concise overview of social and economic changes over more than a thousand years, Bas van Bavel assesses the impact of the social and institutional organization that saw the Low Countries become the most urbanized and densely populated part of Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. By delving into the early and high medieval history of society, van Bavel uncovers the foundations of the flourishing of the medieval Flemish towns and the forces that propelled Holland towards its Golden Age.

Exploring the Low Countries at a regional level, van Bavel highlights the importance of localized structures for determining the nature of social transitions and economic growth. He assesses the role of manorial organization, the emergence of markets, the rise of towns, the quest for self-determination by ordinary people, and the sharp regional differences in development that can be observed in the very long run. In doing so, the book offers a significant contribution to the debate about the causes of economic and social change, both past and present.

City and Society in the Low Countries 1100-1600

City and Society in the Low Countries, 1100–1600The Low Countries was collectively one of the earliest and most heavily urbanised societies in European history. Present-day Belgium and the Netherlands still share important common features, such as comparatively low income inequalities, high levels of per capita income, a balanced political structure, and a strong 'civil society'. 

This book (edited by Bruno Blondé, Marc Boone and Anne-Laure Van Bruaene) traces the origins of this specific social model in medieval patterns of urbanisation, while also searching for explanations for the historical reproduction of social inequalities. Access to cheap inland river navigation and to the sea generated a 'river delta' urbanisation that explains the persistence of a decentralised urban economic network, marked by intensive cooperation and competition and by the absence of real metropolises. Internally as well, powerful checks and balances prevented money and power from being concentrated. Ultimately, however, the utmost defining characteristic of the Low Countries' urban cultures was located in their resilient middle classes.

This multi-authored and accessible volume, that resulted from a collaborative inter-university project on the social history of the city, offers a balanced and up-to-date view on relevant debates, and explicitly deals with the spatial and material dimensions of urban history.

Prince Felix Yusupov: The Man Who Killed Rasputin by Christopher Dobson

Prince Felix Yusupov: The Man Who Killed Rasputin by [Dobson, Christopher]This powerful biography tells the compelling story of Prince Felix Yusupov — the man who murdered Rasputin.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, Grigori Rasputin’s influence over Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra meant he was effectively ruling the country. In a time of great unrest in Russia, his controversial involvement with the imperial family made him a target for many – including the notorious Prince Yusupov and his associates, who would eventually murder the ‘Mad Monk’ with poisoned cream cakes and a bullet to the head.

One of the richest men in Russia, Prince Yusupov was married to the Tsar’s niece, Irina – thought by many to be a sham marriage designed to hide his homosexuality. From his flamboyant lifestyle and friendships to his commitment to a cause so great he’d kill for it, his life story makes for a fascinating read. 

Based on personal interviews and meticulous research, this enthralling biography captures the flavour of the bizarre, eventful and extraordinary life of the man who assassinated Rasputin and unintentionally helped to precipitate the Russian Revolution.

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel - Excerpt

From The Guardian
The first chapter of the final volume of Mantel’s award-winning Thomas Cromwell trilogy opens at the execution of Anne Boleyn.

London, May 1536
Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away. A sharp pang of appetite reminds him that it is time for a second breakfast, or perhaps an early dinner. The morning’s circumstances are new and there are no rules to guide us. The witnesses, who have knelt for the passing of the soul, stand up and put on their hats. Under the hats, their faces are stunned.

But then he turns back, to say a word of thanks to the executioner. The man has performed his office with style; and though the king is paying him well, it is important to reward good service with encouragement, as well as a purse. Having once been a poor man, he knows this from experience.

The small body lies on the scaffold where it has fallen: belly down, hands outstretched, it swims in a pool of crimson, the blood seeping between the planks. The Frenchman – they had sent for the Calais executioner – had picked up the head, swaddled it in linen, then handed it to one of the veiled women who had attended Anne in her last moments. He saw how, as she received the bundle, the woman shuddered from the nape of her neck to her feet. She held it fast though, and a head is heavier than you expect. Having been on a battlefield, he knows this from experience too.

read more here @ The Guardian

'The most boring part': why the killer didn't matter to Georges Simenon

Image result for georges simenonFrom The Guardian
Identifying the murderer in Maigret and the Man on the Bench is of scant concern to a writer preoccupied with deeper secrets.

It isn’t normal to begin reviews of detective novels by discussing their last chapter. But Maigret and the Man on the Bench is not a normal detective novel – and its conclusion is so striking that it demands immediate attention.

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that in just 10 pages in David Watson’s (excellent) translation, Maigret discovers the identity of the murderer of Louis Thouret, the eponymous man on the bench. This murderer has barely been mentioned before in the novel, and Maigret doesn’t care about his identity. “This was the most boring part,” he reflects as he is writing up the case. Just six lines later, the book ends.

It’s possible to view this dashed-off ending as evidence that Simenon didn’t care either. The book was written in the early 1950s, when the author was allotting himself just 11 days to complete a Maigret novel. His heart – as he revealed in a 1955 interview with the Paris Review – was not with his beloved Parisian detective, but in the more serious romans durs he was writing concurrently.

read more @ The Guardian

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review: Indigo by Loren D Estleman

Synopsis: Film detective Valentino is summoned to the estate of Ignacio Bozel to collect a prized donation to the university’s movie library: Bleak Street, a film from the classic noir period, thought lost for more than sixty years. Bleak Street was never released. Its star, Van Oliver, a gifted and charismatic actor with alleged ties to the mob, disappeared while the project was in post-production, presumably murdered by gangland rivals: another one of Hollywood’s unsolved mysteries. Studio bosses elected to shelve the film rather than risk box-office failure. UCLA’s PR Department is excited about the acquisition, but only if Valentino can find a way to sell it in the mainstream media by way of a sensational discovery to coincide with its release: “We want to know what happened to Oliver.”

Valentino searches for and restores lost films, and in between has restored his own movie theatre. An opportunity to showcase a film thought long lost comes at a price - find out what happened to its star. The more Valentino digs, the more he realises someone doesn't want this film to see light of day.

This was a nice little noir outing with the twist at the end slowly revealing itself in the final chapters. You sort of get a hint that something is not quite what it should be. I hadn't read any of the previous books in this series, though had no real issues with picking up the threads as I read along. Loved the bibliograghy and filmography at the end.

An afternoon's escapism for those that get the chance to read it one sitting.