Crime Round-Up

I was listening last night to an edition of Radio 4’s Front Row about the positive influence of immersing yourself in reading fiction if you are plagued by forms of mental ill health.  Well, the same holds true for me when I am physically unwell and so this past week, when I have had a really bad flare-up of a chronic complaint, I have simply buried myself in three recently published crime novels and spent time in their fictional worlds as a way of escaping my own.

The first was Helen Fields most recent instalment in her Edinburgh based series featuring DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner, Perfect Silence.  It is a particularly gruesome tale in which successive murder victims, all young women whose lives have, in one way or another, fallen apart, are found with the silhouette of a doll carved into their skin.  If this isn’t stomach churning enough, the skin thus harvested then begins to turn up formed into the shape of a doll and left in a location relevant to the next victim.

Previous novels in this series have tended to focus more on Luc, but I felt that this was Ava’s story, which somehow seemed the right progression.  Luc, who has come to Edinburgh after a tortuous personal history while serving with Interpol, has finally begun to find his feet in the Scottish force and it seemed appropriate in this, the fourth novel in the series, that he and his colleagues have become comfortable enough with his presence that the author could turn the main focus of her attention elsewhere.  I also felt that Fields toned down the sharper edges of some of her other recurring characters who might occasionally have stepped a little near the line of caricature, and made them more realistic.  Even DS Lively and the dreaded Detective Superintendent Overbeck seem more believable as serving police officers.

I discovered Sarah Ward’s Derbyshire based DC Connie Childs books three Christmases ago and have read each successive novel pretty much as soon as it was available.  She has a remarkable skill of being able to convey the psychological truth of what is happening to each of her characters, often at the expense of the stereotypical expectations of the world in general.  In The Shrouded Path, also the fourth in the series, she skilfully juxtaposes two time periods, the present day and November 1957, as Connie and her boss, DI Francis Sadler, are forced to open an investigation into a number of apparently natural deaths when a seriously ill woman, who has never before mentioned her childhood, feverishly asks her daughter to find a particular friend.  What comes to light is a story of teenage spitefulness, only too readily believable, which culminated in the mental scarring of more than one young mind and then ultimately leads to cunningly concealed murder more than five decades on.

I think Ward just gets better with each book.  There is nothing salacious or outstandingly gory about her work and I find her depiction of the police force as a working unit more believable than almost any other writer in the genre.  As I say, it is her ability to portray the psychological truth of whoever and whatever she is writing about which makes her novels stand out in the memory.  If you haven’t read her then you have four remarkable books to look forward to.

And then there was the latest Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling) publication, Lethal White. My goodness can that woman tell a story.  600+ pages, it kept me completely engrossed for almost two days solid. I have seen various press reviews which have likened it in scope to a great Victorian novel and I would have to agree as characters of all strata of society are brought together in a plot which encompasses murder, blackmail and political intrigue, not to mention the tortured personal complications for the two main protagonists, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, brought about by Robin’s failure to act on her impulse, three or four days into her marriage to the creepy little Matthew, to tell her new husband precisely where he can put himself.  Like many a Victorian heroine, Robin can be just too nice for her own good.

One of the things I like most about these novels is the glimpses we get of Strike’s peculiar childhood and the families it brought him into contact with.  One such family, the Chiswells, (pronounced Chizzle, about as Dickensian as you can get) is at the heart of this particular story.  Long standing members of the Tory upper classes, they are now reduced to penury (i.e, they can no longer afford the upkeep of the London home, the country estate, the nine horses etc) and further disaster threatens in the shape of the Socialist Worker son of the old family retainer who knows their deepest and most shameful secrets.  Cormoran and Robin are dragged into this both by the appearance of the mentally troubled Billy, who turns up in the office one day asking for help in investigating a killing he believes he witnessed as a child and by the Chizzle Pater Familias, who wants his blackmailers caught before his political career goes completely to pot.   Murder mystery though it is, it is all great fun and just the thing to help you get through a couple of days when life is getting you down, even if only because the descriptions of the pain Strike undergoes as a result of his ill-fitting prosthesis make anything you are suffering seem slight by comparison.

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The Comforts of Home ~ Susan Hill

Writing about Patrick Gale‘s new novel, Take Nothing With You, I mentioned that I had originally come to his work through the recommendation of one of my reading groups. The same is true of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler books, the first of which, The Various Haunts of Men, was an immediate hit with everyone in the group who read it. While very much a police procedural, it was a success even with group members who would never normally choose to read that genre I think for two reasons: firstly, it was, as you might expect, extremely well written, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it was as much concerned with the psychological effect that the revelation of the murderer had on the close- knit community of Lafferton as on the reveal itself.  Unfortunately, to my way of thinking at least, none of the subsequent books (and this is the ninth in the series) has ever quite lived up to that opening episode in the life of DCI (as he was then, DS now) Simon Serrailler and the rest of his rather dysfunctional family and while The Comforts of Home is as well written as the first instalment it really doesn’t hang together as a coherent whole.

There are several different narrative strands at play in the novel.  Chief among these, I suppose, is the storyline relating to Serrailler himself.  Seriously injured at the end of the eighth book, and still on extended sick leave, Simon takes himself off to a small Scottish island where he is well-known to a community that will give him the space he needs to continue his recovery.  Joined there by his nephew, Sam, they are both shocked when the body of relative newcomer, Sandy Murdoch, is found, the more so when it becomes apparent that the death is not accidental.

However, pretty much equal narrative weight is given to the ongoing events in Lafferton, where Serrailler’s widowed sister, Cat, has married her brother’s boss, Kieron Bright, the local Chief Constable.  Bright is faced with a series of apparently random arson attacks fortunately on derelict properties, but worrying nonetheless, so when the mother of a young woman who went missing five years earlier turns up demanding that her daughter’s case be reopened even though everyone is fairly certain that the man who abducted her is already behind bars, he sends the files north to Simon and asks him to look into it.

Then we have the French strand centred around Simon and Cat’s father, as nasty a piece of work as you are ever likely to meet.  Saving face by leaving England after escaping a rape charge on a technicality, and now involved with a young waitress, Delphine, he sets up as part of the ex-pat community only to turn tail and hot foot it back to England when things go wrong, becoming ill in the process and forcing Cat into a position where she has to take him into her home, thus threatening her new relationship.  After all, who could possibly be more important than him.  (As you might have gathered, personally I would have swung for Richard Serrailler; ill or not, he would never have set foot over the doorstep. Cat is much nicer than I am.)

Add to this the question of what Sam, Cat’s eldest, is going to do with his life and the issue of how Cat herself is going to cope with the life balance of going back to work as a GP at the same time as bringing up her family and establishing a new relationship and you have more storylines than you can shake a stick at.

Writing about this mishmash of plots it suddenly strikes me that what it most resembles is an episode of a soap opera, specifically, I think, The Archers, for which Hill once wrote.  Firstyou follow this character’s storyline, then you focus on someone else, before switching back to catch up on events that started out in a previous instalment. Reaching the conclusion of this particular segment there are several strands left open-ended but that’s all right because it will bring you back at the same time tomorrow night.  Except it isn’t all right, because there probably won’t be another episode for a couple of years and at no point do I feel that there is one driving narrative line that pushes this particular instalment forward; that gives it a focal point.  What it seemed to me that I was left with when I reached the end of The Comforts of Home, was the need to search for some sort of theme that would at least link the disparate parts of the book together, as you occasionally find in an episode of say Casualty, where several incidents will all have the same underlying message. If there is such a message then I suppose it is to do with not trying to rush things but to give life the time it needs to work things out, a sensible enough pronouncement, but no substitute for a good plot.  When the next episode is finally available I’m not sure that I will be tuning in.

With thanks to NetGalley and Random House U.K. for a review copy.

Rounding Up and Looking Forward: September~ October 2018

Having been in education one way or another ever since the age of four, for me September always signals the start of a new year.  I can wipe out all the mistakes I made over the last twelve months (and what teacher doesn’t finish every year with the fervent intention to get it right next time round) and start afresh with renewed purpose. Of course, I never manage to live up to my aspirations and so when I look back on the reading I had planned for September I’m not surprised that I didn’t hit quite all of my goals. I did manage to read the new crime novels by Val McDermid and Abir Mukherjee and I am halfway through Helen Field’s latest, so not too bad there.  I will almost certainly finish the Field (Perfect Silence) this evening because I am completely gripped.  She is a writer who gets better with each book.  Not so, unfortunately, McDermid whose characters’ actions are moving progressively into the realms of the absurd. I have already given up on her Tony Hill series and I’m not sure I shall go back for another dose of the Karen Pirie books, Broken Ground being the fifth in that particular sequence.

I read three other crime novels this month. Jo Spain’s The Darkest Place, I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  I think her work gets stronger by the book, and I can readily believe in the situations she presents and her characters’ reactions to them.  Kate Rhodes’ Ruin Beach is the second in her Ben Kitto series set in the Isles of Scilly. Like the earlier novel, Hell Bay, it provides a wonderful evocation of the physical setting and I find Kitto as engaging a character as Alice Quentin, Rhodes’ other protagonist, proved to be.  I’ve just picked up a copy of Fatal Harmony, the latest Quentin novel, and that will be on the list for next month.  The third crime story was not such a success.  Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler has his ninth outing published later this week and as you will see if you read my forthcoming review, I wasn’t enamoured.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.

My Reading Group books for September were Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire – not a favourite – and J G Ballard’s The Empire of the Sun – a much better book.  I also read two other, what I would call, contemporary novels, the intended Prague Spring by Simon Mawer and Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You.  I blogged about both of these and thought they were excellent.  This month’s disaster was the book I read for the Years of My Life project, Lorna Hill’s A Dream of Sadlers Wells.  My childhood memories were shattered and I can only be grateful that I didn’t go mad and order half a dozen others from the series. I was tempted.  The book I didn’t get round to was my back catalogue choice, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grown Up but only because there wasn’t time for everything and when I checked I found I could renew this at the library whereas some of the other books I had out had waiting lists on them.  I shall try and read it during October, although it might get pushed to the bottom of the pile again for the very same reason.

So, what is to come? Well, this month’s Reading Group picks are Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which in fact I’ve almost completed because I need it for this afternoon, and Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer winning All the Light We Cannot See.  I think it would be fair to say that I am appreciating the Ryan, rather than enjoying it; it is not a book in which you can find much to enjoy apart, of course, from the sheer brilliance of the writing.  Where crime fiction is concerned, as predicted last month, the new Sarah Ward The Shrouded Path and the latest Robert Galbraith, Lethal White, turned up from the library and will have to be read quickly because of reservation lists. As well as the most recent Kate Rhodes, mentioned above, I also have a review copy of Shell Game, Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, which is published mid-month.  I think very highly of Paretsky’s work which, as the best crime fiction always does, inevitably shines a light on an aspect of current social concern.  This isn’t surprising when you know something of the writer’s own background and if you haven’t read her collection of autobiographical essays Writing in an Age of Silence then I strongly recommend it.  I note from my library reservation list that there are new Ian Rankin and Frances Brody novels due out in a matter of days.  They too will have long waiting lists so I may have to add them to the pile as well.  I’m afraid I never have to seek an excuse to pick up a new crime novel.

But, the month isn’t going to be totally dominated by Reading Group requirements and crime fiction.  Also needing to be returned to the library in the next couple of weeks are Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, either of which will fit nicely into my contemporary fiction slot and both of which I am determined to read.  Then there is this month’s selection for The Years of My Life project, Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle. I have several friends, both blogging and other, who will have sharp words to say if I don’t get round to that soon.  Add to that the neglected Back When We Were Grown Up and there is more than enough to keep me busy for another month.

Take Nothing With You ~ Patrick Gale

Having begun to settle into my new market town life I have been casting around for ways of getting to know like-minded people.  Because of my U3A connections I already have a number of good friends here but they are all of a certain age and I would like to widen my scope of acquaintance.  So, I trotted down to the local library last week and suggested that they might want to host a new book group, not one where we all read the same book (I already belong to two of those) but one like my first ever group where we came together once a month to talk about whatever we had read since the last meeting and swap ideas for future reads.  It’s a format that works well because no one is under pressure to have read a particular text and it is possible to come along even if you’ve had a nightmare month and read nothing yet still get something out of the evening.

I was reminded of that earlier group as I began Patrick Gale’s latest novel, Take Nothing With You, because it was there that I was first introduced to Gale’s work and because of them that I became a devoted reader.  I thought his last book, A Place Called Winter, was his best yet and so came to the new work with some trepidation.  I should not have worried. Every now and again you come across a book that absorbs you in the way that butter absorbs a hot knife.  The reading act is no effort at all, engagement is complete and ultimately the only sorrow is that the book is over.  Take Nothing With You is such a book.

When we first meet Eustace he is battling both with his health and with his conscience: his health because he has been diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid and his conscience because he hasn’t told Theo, his new long distance partner, about his condition.  As a final element of his treatment Eustace must swallow a radioactive capsule and then spend a couple of days, first in a lead-lined room and then avoiding anyone who might be vulnerable to his still radioactive self.  Told to bring nothing with him that he won’t mind leaving behind, he is given a cheap MP3 player by his close friend, Naomi, of music for the cello, the instrument that brought them together in the first place.  Incarcerated in his hospital ‘cell’ Eustace goes back in his mind to the time when he was first introduced to the cello, to his sensitive teacher, Carla Gold, and through her and her friends to an understanding of his own ‘otherness’.

As a study of a teenage boy coming to terms with his sexuality and finding his place in the often treacherous world of school and burgeoning adulthood this is pitch perfect.  In part this is because much of what Eustace experiences is based on Gale’s own background.  Although the setting of 1970s Weston-Super-Mare is different, Gale, like Eustace, was brought up in close proximity to what might be called an institution, in the author’s case his father was a prison governor, while Eustace’s parents run a home for old people.  Like Eustace, Gale took up the cello and also studied with one of the foremost teachers of the day only to discover that a career as a professional musician was not going to materialise.  (I am giving nothing away here; it is apparent from the beginning that this isn’t the route that Eustace has followed.)  In fact, Eustace’s path through adolescence and to his eventual acceptance of his sexuality is, with one horrendous exception, relatively easy, given that no teenager’s journey to adulthood is ever a bed of roses.  For the adults in his life, however, brought up in a far less permissive age, their enforced exploration of their own sexual identity is more tortuous and ultimately disastrous.  If I wept for anyone in this novel it wasn’t for Eustace and his generation but for that of his parents, bound by the mores of a society that still condemned anything other than the sexual ‘norm’ and compelled not only to deny their true identity but to see themselves as somehow defective.

Is this as good a novel as A Place called Winter? It perhaps doesn’t raise as many issues, cover as much ground.  However, as a piece of writing it is, for me, almost perfection.  I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed in a book and so invested in the characters.  Interestingly, I don’t think I would propose it as a book group read.  I’m not sure it is a book that would benefit from close dissection.  But, if the new recommendation based group gets going then it will be the first suggestion I shall offer in the hope that I can introduce other readers to Gale’s work in the same way that I was introduced twenty or so years ago.

 

The Years of My Life ~ 1950: A Dream of Sadlers Wells ~ Lorna Hill

Ah, yes, well!  Let this be a lesson to me in the follies of revisiting books I loved as a child.    For my children’s literature 1949 pick I re-read Enid Blyton’s The Rockingdown Mystery and I would have predicted that that would have irritated me far more than anything I was likely to chose later on.  However, I was wrong. The Blyton at least had a fairly decent plot to it and I found it interesting, reading it as an adult, to see how the author was trying to extend her range of possible adventures by introducing a character (Barney) who came from a troubled enough background to be allowed to have the sort of experiences the Famous Five would always have to be denied.   Not so Miss Hill.

A Dream of Sadlers Wells is the first in a series of books about young women who have some sort of struggle to be allowed to make their way in the world of dance.  For the most part this is not because they lack talent but because, like Veronica Weston, the dreamer in question, their personal circumstances are such that they are denied the opportunity.  Forced by the death of her mother to move from London to live with relatives in Northumberland, Veronica is prevented from even mentioning, let alone pursuing, her ambitions by the swift realisation that as far as her aunt is concerned people like ‘us’ simply don’t go on the stage.  I suppose I should be pleased that it is clear from the start that Hill has no time for such an attitude and that Veronica’s Northern relatives, with the exception of her cousin Caroline and sort-of-cousin Sebastian, are roundly condemned, but they are such stereotypes, especially cousin Fiona, that it is hard to take that condemnation seriously.  And, faced with one such obvious stereotype, I couldn’t help casting around and realising that everyone else, Veronica included, was completely stereotypical too.

But, you will say, that is true of Blyton as well, and that is hard to deny.  However at least Blyton’s characters have adventures. Barney got kidnapped and locked in a ruined castle, for goodness sake.  The most that happens to Veronica is that she sets up a wayside stall to raise money to hire a pony so that a year later she will have something to ride across the moors on a foggy night in order to catch a train to the audition.  (She isn’t clairvoyant, but the reader is.  That pony is clearly there for a purpose right from the start.)  I’m sorry but the book is just downright dull.

What was I thinking, setting myself up to destroy my childhood memories this way?  At least I am no longer wondering whether or not I can afford to buy the rest of the series. (None of my three local library authorities have kept copies – it’s good to know that some sense prevails in the library system.) I shall be much warier about future picks in this category. And yet some of the children’s books coming out in the not too distant future, certainly by the 1960s, were tackling really important issues, albeit often through the means of fantasy.  Were the fifties really such a dearth?  I notice that the list I had for 1950 didn’t offer me a Chalet School novel.  I’m sure there must have been one.  Now that was an interesting series which, although it was packed with stereotypes and some very dubious attitudes towards married women, had some quite remarkable things to say about international cooperation.  Maybe I can dig out one of them for 1951.

The Darkest Place ~ Jo Spain

Jo Spain’s Chief Inspector Tom Reynolds has had a bad year, harassed by his immediate boss, Joe Kennedy (a portentous name if ever there was one) and blamed by the press for problems that are not of his making, things only get worse when he is contacted by Kennedy on Christmas Day and told that he is to prepare to travel to the West Coast Island of Oileán na Coilte to investigate a forty year old cold case. The island housed St Christina’s an asylum long ago closed down and now the subject of archeological investigation as a precursor to modern development.  Forty years previously, however, it had been the centre of an investigation into the disappearance of one of its senior doctors, Conrad Howe.  Howe’s wife, Miriam, has never given up hope that he will return home and each Christmas, on the anniversary of his disappearance, she dresses the Christmas tree in exactly the way he liked it in anticipation of his homecoming.  Now, concealed in one of the mass graves dug for the patients, Howe’s body has been found, little more than a skeleton, but still wearing his distinctive jacket which also contains his wallet.

Horrified by the details he reads in a diary, secreted by Howe in his attic, of the treatments inflicted on the asylum’s patients, Tom finds himself searching not just for a murderer, but also for the identity of the doctor at the centre of this abuse.  His efforts and those of his team are thwarted at every turn, however, by the presence on the island of Dr Lawrence Boylan, former head of the asylum and now a seriously ill man.  It is clear that he and the ex-nurse, Carla Crowley, who now takes care of him, are hiding something but whether it is to do with Conrad Howe’s disappearance or with more recent occurrences isn’t immediately apparent.

There have been several novels over the past decade that have dealt with the aftermath of the closing of asylums, many of which housed people who should never have been classified as insane in the first place.  One of the most interesting questions that Spain poses in The Darkest Place is to do with the effect that living and working in such an institution had on the people employed there.  No doubt many of the patients wrongly incarcerated did eventually become mentally unstable, but what about the staff?  How many of them managed to retain their sanity and what were the consequences for all concerned if they did become ill?

Because of its subject matter, this is not an easy book to read but it is a good crime novel. I did suddenly click what had happened, what the truth was behind Conrad’s disappearance but not until about eighty-five percent of the way through, which I think is about the right time for the light bulb to go on.  Jo Spain is a writer I am becoming increasingly impressed by and I warmly recommend this, her latest offering.

With thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

Prague Spring ~ Simon Mawer

F9F2A25A-543F-4899-9866-D8DF120D57ECWay back in the early 1990s, just before Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the College at which I worked entertained three Czech secondary teachers for a month and I was given the pleasurable task of showing them round the country and taking them to various music and theatre events.  Their English was perfect (I took them to an Oscar Wilde play and they laughed in all the right places – a lot of native English speakers don’t get Wilde’s humour) so we were able to have really interesting conversations about the different ways in which we had been brought up and educated.  One evening we were talking over coffee in the foyer of Symphony Hall and the subject of the Prague Spring and its aftermath came up. “I remember that,” I said. “I remember I had just bought a rucksack made in Czechoslovakia and wondering if we would be getting any more imports from your country.”  “Yes,” said one of our visitors.  “I remember it too. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing the Russian tanks rolling through our village”.  There is remembering and remembering.

Simon Mawer’s new novel, Prague Spring, memorialises the weeks immediately before the Russian invasion from several different points of view. The book opens in Oxford where two students, Ellie and James, having both been let down over holiday plans, join forces to hitchhike across Europe during that summer of 1968.  Ellie, from a seriously middle-class background, has already been involved in student politics including the ‘riots’ in Paris the previous year.  James is a northern working-class lad who is nowhere near as politically inclined. Making decisions pretty much on the toss of a coin, they bumble their way across Europe, ending up in a Prague heady from the new freedoms that the Czech people have been demanding for themselves.

Once in the capital they encounter both politically involved Czech citizens and Sam  Wareham, a first secretary at the British Embassy who is observing developments from a professional and personal point of view.  Professionally he ought to be maintaining a level of detachment, but personally he is involved with a young activist, Lenka  Konecková, who isn’t the slightest bit backwards at coming forwards whenever she gets the opportunity of challenging those who are meant to be leading her country towards increased independence from Soviet interference. Through Lenka we learn something of the depredations that the Czech people have suffered over the two decades since the take-over by the Communist Party in 1948 and of the humiliations they have been forced to endure in order to forge any sort of life for themselves at all.

The reader meets Sam and Lenka long before the young British couple arrive in Prague, theirs is the second point of view we encounter.  There is, however, a third commentator,  what I would have to call ‘an intrusive narrator’ although I didn’t find him/her worryingly so.  This is a voice that clearly comes from the future and knows what is about to happen to these people who are so desperately fighting for their independence.  I did wonder at first if it was going to turn out to be one of the characters looking back with hindsight, but in fact it is more abstract than that.  It is the voice of each one of us, inevitably reading this book knowing what is about to happen, experiencing the vitality of these young people while aware of what the outcome is going to be and powerless to anything to prevent it.

It is this sense of inevitability which drives the novel and the reader forward.  There is no real suspense involved, because we know what brought that Prague Spring to an end.  We worry about certain characters, but nothing the writer nor the reader can do will stop those Russian tanks rolling into Wenceslas Square.  What it seems to me that Mawer is most concerned about is the way in which the outcomes for ordinary, everyday people are so randomly decided; how little say they have in their own destiny. We come across this in several ways.  There is, of course, the tossing of the coin that I have already mentioned.  Ellie and James abnegate their decision as to where they are going to travel and hand their future over to fate. They are lucky they have the option to renounce personal choice of their own free will.  Those under Soviet domination will not be so lucky. Unless, of course, they happen to have money and influence.  If you are a world renown conductor then don’t worry, someone will get you out to the West.  An ordinary citizen, like Lenka, however is going to have to stay and, if you will excuse the pun, face the music.  Most telling however, are the constant reminders of how James and Ellie met, taking part in what is described as a sub-Beckett play in which their two characters, Fando and Lis, are searching (fruitlessly) for the city of Tar.  Reading about the Czechs’ attempts to exert free will, knowing that they are not going to make it, is very like watching the characters in a Beckett play delude themselves that they are in charge of their destinies when all the time the world is conspiring to reduce them to ashes.

This is not the first time that Simon Mawer has written about Czechoslovakia’s troubled history.  His 2009 Booker shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, explored the years between 1930 and the country’s annexation by the Nazis in 1938 through into the post-war period.  Perhaps there is some family connection, I don’t know.  What I do know is that he appears to have a real sense of empathy with the Czech people and the turbulent times through which they have lived and I strongly recommend this book.