Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Geneva Trap

An agent's car is run off the road in Switzerland. In Geneva a Russian spy approaches MI6 officers about a planned cyber attack. He only wants to speak to Liz Carlyle who works for MI5 in London. Thus begins a sequence of events that occur in Switzerland, England and France as attempts are made to uncover the threat to a British - American joint project and also to foil an attempt to disrupt a G20 meeting in France. Stella Rimington worked for MI5 and was appointed Director General in 1992. This is the seventh book in her Liz Carlyle series. The plot is fast moving with plenty of suspense as the reader follows the work of Liz and her colleagues as they locate the source of the invasion of a supposedly secure computer network resulting in a threat to a major defence initiative. Liz's resources are also involved in helping the daughter of a friend who is in danger. A great read.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Aethelstan: the first King of England

Aethelstan ruled from 924 to 939 but during that time he completed the task begun by his grandfather, Alfred, and his father, Edward, to remove the Danes from England and so become the first ruler of a united country. During the time of Alfred only part of Wessex remained in control of the Anglo Saxons but his army managed to gain control of the country south of London. When Alfred's daughter married the king of Mercia this strengthened Anglo Saxon control of the southern region of England. Edward and his armies continued to gain land under the control of the Danelaw, a task completed by Aethelstan in 927. Unfortunately not many records remain recounting the rule of Aethelstan but Sarah Foot has made a detailed investigation  of the sources that still exist to produce an insight into the life of this leader and of England during his reign.

Under suspicion

Scottish identical twin sisters, the Mulgray Twins, have written a series of books about D J Smith (an under cover customs officer) and her cat, Gorgonzola. In this second book in the series D J (Deborah) and Gorgonzola are working in Tenerife to discover how Ambrose Vanheussen runs his money-laundering operation. When in her collar and harness Gorgonzola has the ability to discover drugs missed by trained sniffer dogs. D J works undercover in Vanheussen's organisation where her role is to entertain prospective purchasers of luxury houses. The operation turns out to be a dangerous one not just for DJ and the other customs officers but also for Gorgonzola. This quirky crime novel is an entertaining read and you can imagine the two sisters having fun working out the next plot installment.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Flying the Southern Cross

Based on logbook entries, memoirs of the airmen, newspaper articles covering the event, official documents and photographs, Michael Molketin recounts the first flight across the Pacific Ocean by aviators Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith plus Harry Lyon (navigator) and Jim Warner (radio operator). 1928 was a time of exploration in Australia with the testing of the possibilities of new developments in transport. Motor vehicles, both cars and trucks, were being tested in outback conditions and the possibilities of long distance travel in aeroplanes had captured the imagination of many. The Southern Cross  left San Francisco on 31 May 1928 and arrived in Hawaii on 1 June. The flight from Hawaii to Fiji took place from June 3 to June 5 with the final leg from Fiji to Brisbane on June 8 and 9. Moltekin describes the long preparations required for such a flight, the flight itself and the effect of this pioneering flight on the lives of Ulm and Kingsford Smith. Images, plus transcriptions, of the pages from the log kept by Ulm as well as numerous photographs help record the story of this landmark in Australian aviation history.

Friday, November 16, 2012


On November 4, 1910 an explosion occurred in an engine of Qantas flight QF32 on route from Singapore to Sydney. Despite the Airbus 380 experiencing multiple malfunctions, the experienced crew managed to land the plane safely at Changi Airport, Singapore. The captain of that flight, Captain Richard de Crespigny, provides a vivid account of the events on that day explaining how the crew functioned as a team to fly and land the aircraft safely as well as the challenge of looking after the passengers and keeping them informed as what was occurring. The first half of the book provides information about the pilot's extensive experience in aviation, at first in the RAAF and then as a commercial pilot.  A great deal of detail about aeroplanes and flying them is provided in this book which will interest those who are aeroplane enthusiasts. I skim read much of this detail but found the account of the actual disaster and how it was handled interesting to read.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The beautiful mystery

The latest novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Canadian writer, Louise Penny, is set in a monastery in a Quebec forest. Garmache and Beauvoir visit the monastery when a body is discovered in the abbot's garden. Only 24 monks live in the monastery so one of them must be the murderer. The brothers in the monastery normally live under a vow of silence but they are famous for their singing of Gregorian chants. In this novel Louise Penny explores the power of music and the power of silence. Music, particularly the Gregorian chants - the beautiful mystery - forms an important thread throughout the novel. The use and impact of light throughout the building is also a feature.   On the surface the monastery appears to be a place of peace and harmony, until the murder, but as Gamache and Beauvoir discover this is really a divided house with undercurrents of fear and mistrust amongst the inhabitants.

Corruption in the upper levels of the Surete du Quebec continues as a theme in this book. Parallel with the life in the monastery Gamache and Beauvoir are still recovering from wounds, both physical and mental, received in an incident some months earlier. They respond to the quiet and routine of monastic life in different ways and were both making a slow recovery until Superindent Francoeur arrived at the monastery with his own agenda.

Once again Louise Penny presents the reader with a memorable plot, great descriptions of the location and the further development of the characters of Amand Gamarche and Jean-Guy Beauvoir along with the other participants in the story. The ending makes it clear that the story has not ended and I look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy is the first book for adults written by the popular children's author, J K Rowling. The story is set in the small English town of Pagford with the main plot revolving around the consequences of the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Parish Council, particularly the need for an election to fill the casual vacancy caused by his death. Gradually we meet members of a number of  families living in the town as well as in the neighbouring community of The Fields. The adults are mainly unpleasant people with secrets that are gradually revealed. Their offspring are also a troubled group trying to survive in this dysfunctional community. Barry's death provides the opportunity for the Council to attempt to enforce the closure of the Bellchapel Clinic, a service assisting drug addicts. Barry Fairweather had been a great supporter of the Fields community and some of his friends initially attempt to carry on his work adding to the tensions among community members. This is a book about the disintegration of relationships and trust leading ultimately to disaster. It is hard to like many of the characters though some, such as the social worker, are trying to understand what is happening and try to improve what appears to be an impossible situation. It is only after tragedy that there is a glimmer of hope. Although few of the characters are likeable, I enjoyed reading this account of life and conflict in a small town.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A trick of the light

The opening of Clara's art show at the Musee d'Art Contemporain in Montreal is a focal point of this book. Finally she is recognised as an artist but not everyone is happy about this including Peter, her husband, who for many years has been jealous of the talent of his wife. When on the day after the opening a body is found in Clara and Peter's back garden Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir once again visit Three Pines to identify the body and solve the murder. They are both still recovering from being seriously wounded six months previously and although the physical healing is progressing there are still mental scars not helped by a video of the event being made available online by a person unknown. Louise Penny's novels concentrate not only on the solving of a crime but also allow the reader to learn more about the main characters with each book published. This book also explores aspects of the world of contemporary art focusing on the artists, effects of reviews, art dealers and managers. What I particularly like is the continuation of threads relating to the characters which are unveiled as the series progresses. To really enjoy the books they should be read in order though they could be read as stand alone stories.

Doctor Who - the Dalek and Tardis handbooks

The first episode of the television show, Dr Who, went to air on 23 November 1963. Eleven doctors later the show continues to entertain viewers throughout the world. Designed originally as a children's show the later episodes of the program are shown in prime viewing time to be watched by the whole family, particularly those who watched Dr Who as children.

The TARDIS Handbook and The Dalek Handbook published in 2010 and 2011 provide background information about the machine used by the doctor to travel through time and probably his most popular adversaries, the daleks. Earlier this year we went to a concert where the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra played music form recent series of Dr Who. Clips from the shows were projected on large screens and some of the characters, including daleks, made an appearance. It is a little unnerving to look up and make 'eye' contact with a dalek.

The books include copious illustrations from the shows and trace history of the tardis and daleks in the shows. The TARDIS, on the outside a Police Box which for many years were to be found on corners of London streets, is a time machine. TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. Inside the TARDIS is large with the control room being the main feature plus other spaces that may sometimes make an appearance. The second book covers the evolution of the daleks in the programs. They have been described as human sized salt and pepper pots and their cry 'Exterminate, exterminate' is the immediate reaction provided, usually with pointed arms, when people talk about the daleks. In early series the BBC could only afford to make three daleks but now with computer graphic imaging masses of daleks can appear at one time.

For the many fans of Dr Who, these books will bring back memories of series and doctors seen many years ago as well as filling in the back story for these two important features of the show.