Friday, February 16, 2018

Peter Ackroyd's novel THREE BROTHERS has a lot to recommend it, particularly to admirers of the author. However, like his earlier book THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, one might be inclined, on reaching the last page, to wonder why he bothered. Both books, in my opinion, end with a whimper. On the plus side fans will find Ackroyd indulging in a lot of his obsessions such as London, the literati, suggestions of the supernatural (here in the shape of nuns that appear and disappear) and mysticism (at least two encounters with the Virgin Mary). But to what end? True, some of the incidents in the novel are superbly described and it is impossible not to be carried along by the narrative but, hopefully, towards some end. For me that end never came. Perhaps the fault lies with me. Did I miss something?

Three brothers are born on the same day in successive years in Camden Town. One becomes a reporter, one has an academic career, and one drifts aimlessly. Their mother mysteriously leaves home when they are young but unexpectedly re-emerges into their respective lives as they encounter crooked newspaper tycoons, a Rackman like slum landlord, corrupt politicians, murder, an Artful Dodger-like rent boy and South London gangsters. The lives of all the characters begin to interweave in fascinating twists and turns and then, it seemed to me, Ackroyd couldn't find an ending. I say "as it seemed" to me as I'm pretty sure that Ackroyd ended the book just as he wanted and had a point to make. I didn't see it. I can't say I didn't enjoy the novel but I wish I understood it.

Peter Ackroyd is one of my favourite modern authors. I have a lot of his books, although it is far from being a complete collection as he is remarkably prolific. I'm not sure how I first encountered his work but am content to believe it was on the recommendation of Iain Sinclair, whose poem LUD HEAT was the inspiration for Ackroyd's premier novel HAWKSMOOR. The two writers share a fascination/obsession with London which runs through both their careers. I find both quite fascinating although Ackroyd is the more accessible to me (and, I suspect, many others.) His novels have (just) a recognisable narrative flow and are packed full of challenging idea. If I had to pick favourites among his fiction, my top five would be. HAWKSMOOR, FIRST LIGHT (imagine Thomas Hardy rewritten by Nigel Kneale - or vice versa!), DAN LENO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (recently filmed), THE HOUSE OF DR.DEE and CHATTERTON.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Arthur Sarsfield Ward (alias Sax Rohmer)

I don't think of myself as a book collector, although I probably am by any sane definition. Rather, I see myself as someone who acquires a lot of books. The author who takes up most space on my shelves is Arthur Sarsfield Ward, better known as Sax Rohmer. Back in the early Seventies a girlfriend gave me a paperback copy of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU which she found unreadable.I, on the other hand, loved it for a couple of  reasons. First was probably it evokes the Boris Karloff film which was based on it (a film I had not seen at the time), secondly I loved the no nonsense pulpy style. I wanted more. Over the next couple of years I read as much Rohmer as I could find. Luckily, at that time, they were easily available in nice English and American paperbacks. Fu Manchu, Sumuru, Gaston Max, the Si-Fan, Egyptian witch queens, sacred slippers - I encountered them all in the pages of Rohmer's pages. Inevitably my interest waned as I turned my attention to other writers and interests. In a moment of madness I sold all my Rohmer papersbacks to my bookseller friend, Alan Austin. Little did I know at the time but neither Rohmer or Alan Austin were finished with me or with my bookshelves.

Years later I received a phone call  from a friend asking me if I would like her late mother's collrction of Sax Rohmer books. Yes, of course I would happily give them a home. I was also intrigued as I was aware that most, if not all, these books were purchased from my friend, Alan. My Rohmer's were all paperbacks and I expected some of my own books would be returned to me. Nothing was further than the truth for when the box of books eventually arrived they were all hardbacks. I had been warned that some of the books were, due to circumstance, not in very good condition but that was an understatement. These books had been sadly neglected and mistreated. Physically many were so poor that there was little to do but dispose of them and these were joined by those badly stained with and smelling strongly of cat's urine. The rest, after a lengthy period of well ventilated quarantine, were acceptable. Despite my ability to talk myself into keeping any book I like, however poor the condition, in the hope that a better copy will present itself, I had to say goodbye to about a third of the Rohmers. What remained was fascinating.

I now own forty-six Sax Rohmer hardbacks, easily the most books by any one author on my shelves. These date from the teens of the Twentieth Century right up until the 1950's. They include editions published by the regular Rohmer publishers, Methuen, Cassell and Herbert Jenkins. While condition is not of the finest they are tight copies. Best of all are the first editions which include two copies of TALES OF EAST AND WEST and singles of QUEST FOR THE SACRED SLIPPER, THE BAT FLIES LOW, SHADOW OF FU MANCHU, THE GREEN EYE OF BAST etc and a couple of the later SUMURU books.  I really do not actively seek out Sax Rohmer any more but I would certainly pick up any I came across and I'm more than pleased that these books that made the journey from Essex to Devon and back again via a small chain of friends now live with me.

Illustrations are not from my collection.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Michael Moorcock

Back in the 1960's I was a big science-fiction/fantasy fan, well, to be honest, I leaned more towards fantasy. I first encountered the work of Michael Moorcock through his Elric of Melnibone tales in the pages of Science Fantasy Magazine. I loved them and read everything I could by the writer. Of course Elric, the albino with the mighty sword Stormbringer was one of many heroes that Moorcock created : Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon, von Bek, Oswald Bastable etc - although, actually, as his many readers will know, they are actually all the same person - Moorcock was probably ahead of his time in using the multiverse theory which allowed his characters to sometimes encounter alternative versions of themselves. While I enjoyed all these books I eventually moved on to other writers and fictional genres and my Michael Moorcock collection, or most of it, was sold. I did keep, however the books feature my favourite incarnation of the writer's "Eternal Champion" - the English Assassin : Jerry Cornelius (THE FINAL PROGRAMME, the first Cornelius novel was an alternative of the first Elric story, THE DREAMING CITY - or vice versa, I can't remember which) who swaggered through a warzone that bore a remarkable resemblance to swinging pop culture London. I always suspected that Moorcock took the name Cornelius from a Notting Hill greengrocer shop called "Cornelius O'London" which was near to his London home. I used to pass his house, then in Ladbroke Grove, on a regular basis and once peered down through the basement window to see a large model rocket-ship (tin plate, I believe) on a table top.. Over the years I've had three encounters with Moorcock. The first was a brief meeting at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1965. The second was a book signing at the Dark They Were and Golden Eyed bookshop in Soho when, presenting a book to be signed, Moorcock asked me if I wouldn't have much rather had one of the rarer unsigned ones!

The third meeting was the most memorable as far as I an concerned. During a break from work my friend Colin and I visited The Fantasy Centre at 157 Holloway Road. As we browsed the door opened and in walked Michael Moorcock and a man who I recognised as American fantasy author Karl Edward Wagner. I knew the owners of the shop and before long we were all chatting away happily. My friend, Colin, was most impressed to meet Moorcock but, as an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, more impressed to be meeting Edward P. Bradbury (one of Moorcock's pseudonyms), author of a trio of Martian pastiches in the style of Burroughs. I actually grabbed a book by Wagner of the shelves to get it autographed. Both writers were extremely friendly and happy to talk to a couple of fans.

Karl Edward Wagner

Michael Moorcock's work has brought me great pleasure in the past and although my taste for science fantasy or speculative fiction has waned over the years I still occasionally read his books and have tremendous affection for his back catalogue. A career which encompasses Tarzan comics, Sexton Blake, editing the ground-breaking magazine NEW WORDS, writing novels, literary criticism and being a rock musician is pretty impressive.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Thank you so much, for your review of FATHER OF LIES. It is so difficult for Indie authors - and those with small publishers, as in my case - to get known. Sometimes positive reviews are all that keep us from giving up. Yes, I am currently working on SET IN TIME, the sequel to FATHER OF LIES. I hope it won't disappoint.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Deep in the crypt of an old Norfolk church something very ancient and very nasty is stirring. A young Anglican priest finds herself being drawn inexorably into a world of dark, eldritch secrets hidden from the world by organised religion, testing both her own faith and, indeed, the faith of millions of believers. Yes, with Serena Cairns' first novel, FATHER OF LIES, we are, once again, in the field of religious conspiracy. It is a field well ploughed in recent years thanks to Dan Brown. But whereas Brown simply recycled the exposed hoax of HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL, Cairns goes for something more original and creepier. Brown's DA VINCI CODE had conspiracy but FATHER OF LIES has conspiracy, supernatural horror and sex. Serena Cairns is a good writer whose stories have been anthologised. She lives in the West Country and is currently working on a sequel to FATHER OF LIES.

Serena Cairns

It is at this time I must declare an interest in FATHER OF LIES. Serena Cairns has been a friend for more years that either of us care to remember. I have watched her novel grow from an idea into what it is today. I gave some background information in the early stages of writing and was privileged to read an early draft of the book.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Daniel Stashower with the Anthony Award he received for his book HOUR OF PERIL.
After writing my previous post about writer Daniel Stashower I was delighted to receive the following comments from him:

"This is very kind of you -- thank you! And all the more flattering when I see that your previous subject was the great Irwin Shaw! I came to him late, long after he was gone, and I thought The Troubled Air -- about an era in which I take a particular interest -- was outstanding. Hope you're well, and thank you for the kind words -- you've made my day." - Daniel Stashower.

Always good to pass on recommendations so :  Irwin Shaw's novel about the McCarthy era is definitely worth a read.