THE NIGHTMARE DANCE by David Gilbertson

27 09 2014

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

Nightmare DanceThis is not a work of fiction; nor is it strictly speaking history. It is an examination of the Holocaust, focusing in particular on Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz and Treblinka.

The author starts by noting and condemning young people’s – and not only young people’s – ignorance of history in general, (“they don’t know what they they don’t know and therefore confidently believe they have a clear understanding of what went before”) and in particular of World War II and the Holocaust. He claims – and I believe him – that almost nobody knows – or cares! – what happened in Poland during WWII.

Let me quote: The torment of Poland and the Poles defies adequate description. There is a strong argument that popular historiography in the West, influenced as it was by Cold War prejudice, failed to properly inform generations of students born after 1945 about the true extent of Polish suffering. In the five and a half years between the German invasion in September 1939 and the liberation of Poland by Soviet forces in February 1945, 5,820,000 Poles and Polish Jews, almost all non-combatants, were murdered, worked to death, starved or consigned to the flames. The grisly total represented almost 25% of Poland’s 1939 population and far outstrips the sacrifice of any other nation on Earth during the war. [...] The relationship between Poles and Jews during the German occupation, at community level, presents a picture of stark paradox. In Poland as a whole, less than one-tenth of the pre-war Jewish population survived – far less than in any other country in Europe – yet more ethnic Poles risked their lives to save Jews and were subsequently honoured for their sacrifice than in all the occupied territories together.

Why was this? It was because Hitler seriously believed that he was going to be able to incorporate Poland into the Third Reich. Indeed, that he already had. This was ethnic cleansing on the grand scale. The vast new territory was to be racially pure. The extermination camp at Treblinka, of which we hear almost nothing because there were almost no survivors to bear witness, processed (gassed and incinerated the bodies of) 10,000 people a day. 10,000 people a day, month after month, year after year. And that was just one camp! Auschwitz, Majdanek, Chelmno and others, were not far away.

Here is a map, to put you in the picture. (It is not from the book.)


Just look at that border …

David Gilbertson has put an enormous amount of work into this book. It is a book that everyone should read, but what with those who already “know it all” and those – the vast majority – who do not care, very few will. And so, inevitably, at some point in the not so distant future, history will repeat itself …

Film Adaptations

21 09 2014




I have to admit that in one or two cases – this one, forinstance – Blade Runner – I do actually prefer the film! And I haven’t seen Under the Skin yet …



20 09 2014

Sister Beneath the SheetI have a second-hand copy of the hardback first edition here (published in 1991) and on the back of the dustcover are the usual adulatory snippets from The Guardian, The TLS, etc. One from the Daily Express caught my eye before I ever bought the book.

Excellent … a witty and original story set in the fashionable London of 1874.

Now I had already read and reviewed Dead Man Riding which is chronologically the first Nell Bray story and is set in the year 1900, so while reading I kept an eye open for internal evidence, and in fact it is set in 1909, not 1874. And in Biarritz, not London.

However, to give the Daily Express critic his due, the story is “excellent … witty and original.”

When it opens, Nell, a suffragette, has just been released from Holloway (a notorious prison for women in central London) after serving three months for hurling a brick through a window at Number Ten. (The Prime Minister’s residence. These days the whole of Downing Street is sealed off!) But there is no peace for the wicked. Emmeline Pankhurst, the grande dame of the wonderful suffragette movement, informs Nell that a prostitute (whisper the word!) has left the suffragettes £50,000 in her will. Should they refuse it on principle? Of course not! is Nell’s response. So because she doesn’t find it shocking, and because she speaks French, Nell is the one chosen to go off to Biarritz, where the “highly successful prostitute” Topaz Brown lived, worked and finally committed suicide, and organise everything.

Only it soon becomes evident that Topaz would never have committed suicide, she enjoyed life too much. That in fact she was murdered.

And so begins what was, at least until Dead Man Riding was written, Nell’s first investigation, and our introduction to one of my favourite characters from crime fiction.

LOST CAUSE by J. L. Simpson

15 09 2014

Lost Cause coverI found Lost Cause quite hard to get into – might even have given up had I not agreed to write a review. I’ll come back to why I found the earlier part of the book somewhat off-putting in a moment.

First, let me say that the book is professionally produced in every way. The writing and the editing are both impeccable. Not even one of those peculiar errors we seem to be becoming inured to like the meaningless “I could care less”. No, here the narrator says she “couldn’t care less”. Bingo.

But how to classify this story? It is called a “mystery” – Daisy Dunlop Mystery Book 1. There are several mysteries, but which one is the mystery I really couldn’t say. It is certainly not a thriller, and though it is a crime story, the rather complex crime and the various bit-part criminals are not really what the book is about. Nor is it a romance, a love-story. The protagonist, Daisy Dunlop, is the mother of a teenage son and almost absurdly happily married to her husband Paul. There is no way she would ever be unfaithful to him. Yet she does flirt, often outrageously, with almost every male she meets. Especially the “Irish git” (her words) that her husband has arranged for her to work alongside as a trainee P.I. and heir-hunter. Both the husband and his friend “Solomon” (the Irish git) assume that after a few days she will abandon this ridiculous idea.

Really, the story is about the relationship between Daisy and Solomon. It is this flirting that you remember when you finish the book on another outrageous line from Daisy. A flirtation story, then. But beautifully done.

Which brings me back to my problem with the opening chapters. Daisy’s husband, Paul, and his mate Solomon are both big, hard, rich, clever, arrogant men. Alpha males. And Daisy is the obedient strawberry-blonde. Well, not always obedient. Far from it. But when she disobeys one of them she invariably feels guilty, and frequently lands herself in a load of trouble from which Solomon must ride in on his white charger (actually an Aston Martin) and rescue her.

Me, I like strong female leads. The stronger the better. And yet I liked Daisy more and more as the book went on and she began to find her feet (not easy on those heels) till by the end she was saving Solomon (all right, causing some typical dumb-blonde chaos in doing so) and I had quite made up my mind that I would definitely read Daisy Dunlop Mysteries Book 2. I also very much liked the gradual focus on homeless people, whom Daisy decides really are “the secret eyes and ears of the world”.

Final verdict? If you are in the mood for a light-hearted crime story featuring an irresistible would-be sleuth, this is the book for you.

THE ROSE OF HARLOW by M. B. Gilbride

3 09 2014

The Rose of Harlow coverApparently M.B. Gilbride first wrote The Rose of Harlow as a play. Then one day found it and read it and decided to rewrite it.

The rewrite has produced, instead of a play, a very original dramatic novella.

The reader identifies completely with Gerda (I always love losing myself in a character) as she is carried helplessly from a Teacher Training College (she is expelled) to a Realignment Office (she is glamourised) to a Ministry (she is fired after offending the Prime Minister) to the Inner City (and hanging about, unemployed) to the Forest (and living out) to Glastonbury (and a group of feminist New-Agers) to Prison, to a Research Lab (where we see her as a mermaid – yes!) to a Doggy Club (like a nasty Bunny Club) to a cheap brothel (Upstairs at the Doggy Club), from where she – she … read it and see.

But I must mention some of the characters! Her friend Penny (the political activist), Professor Mandril (the baboon on a white charger, her first and only verray parfait gentil knyght), Father Figure (who regrets the passing of the Inquisition), Billy (the ageing SF writer for whom she models), Homo mensuralis and Homo sensibilis (both of whom wish to change her), Woolly-hat, Bowler, Skinhead (who takes her to the Harlow Rose Show, and absconds with the prize-money when she wins), Estelle de Miel, Dicky (the bird-watcher who spots her in the Forest), the Bag-lady, the Faw-Paw-String-Man, the Curate (the world is a curate’s egg), and many others.

It is a weird masterpiece. Gilbride’s slant-eyed view of the eighties and his unique way of seeing all things through the eye of the mermaid – literary impressionism – what more can you ask? You need a brain to read The Rose of Harlow – don’t get it if you’re just looking for another shot of soft porn – but if you’ve got a brain and a sense of humour, then give it a go. As I say, weird, but totally unforgettable.

“Accessorize”, watch out!

21 08 2014

Fashion Accessory


20 08 2014

Murderers Prefer BlondesIn the 1950s, when Tiffany Cage (see my review of Diamonds are Forever) was working in New York, you weren’t a woman, you were a “broad”, a “doll”, a “skirt” – or if your father or your husband was rich, a “lady”. Life for the single working girl and widows (lots of those after WW2 and Korea) and unmarried mums (but were they allowed to keep the kid?) was no fun at all unless you were some kind of blonde bombshell, and even then the party was soon over.

This though? “How could one nice, single, pretty, polite, young blonde have had so many male acquaintances with so many possible motives to murder her?

Murderers Prefer Blondes is the story of an overworked and underpaid Girl Friday in an office full of underworked, overpaid and arrogant men. The office of Daring Detective magazine. Paige Turner – yes, that’s her name, and she wants to be a writer, and in fact this is it, her first book …It’s well written, you enjoy it and you can’t help loving her. She’s twenty-seven, a widow whose husband was killed in the war in Korea, and she’s busy looking for the right crime for her story. The crime she comes across? The rape and murder of a blonde waitress and part-time photographic model and call-girl whom she met when she came to Daring Detective once about being the model for a front cover.

Paige is clever, sexy and streetwise. She is also sensitive and kind. Most of the “dolls” seem to have been sensitive and kind in those days. Perhaps it came from the way they were treated: the “Cinderella syndrome”. Anyway, she needs all these different qualities and more as she meets and mixes with the bar owners and waitresses, pimps and photographers, models and prostitutes that the victim herself used to mix with, and who, Paige hopes, will have information leading to the murderer. Then the murderer (another very arrogant and very spoilt man) decides he wants her dead, too, before her investigation goes any further …


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