The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Review by Basil Ransome-Davies, 3 October 2019 In his indispensable primer What Is History? E. H. Carr underlines the point that ‘History’ has a double meaning: both the events, or facts, of the past, and the record of those events (‘Prehistory’ describes the time before written records were kept). Facts are facts. Writing is a…

Sanctuary by Luca D’Andrea

Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor Review by Basil Ransome-Davies, 5 September 2019 Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em/And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum. Organised crime is an institution, and like almost all major institutions   – banks, for example – it is…

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Review by Basil Ransome-Davies, 13 August 2019 I’m no great fan of fiction written exclusively in the present tense, for all its reputed ‘immediacy’; I generally fancy novels with a past. But that’s not to say it can never work. I more than once laid aside The Chain to do something else, only to be…

Picture by Lillian Ross

Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies Picture is Lillian Ross’s 1951 account of the making and unmaking of a John Huston project, The Red Badge of Courage, a film adaption of Stephen Crane’s 1895 novel. It was originally serialised in the New Yorker. Among Ross’s numerous antipathies, according to a piece by Andrew O’Hagan (LRB 41, 13),…

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies The day my review copy of Cari Mora arrived I spent the afternoon strolling on Morecambe’s splendid promenade. The view across the Bay from the Naples of the North is elevating even in dull weather. Hitting Morrisons for a light shop, as you do, I was overwhelmed at the entrance by…

A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle

 Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies Some novels strike such an authentic note in the beginning that they give you the immediate assurance — the eagerness — to read on. You can’t help being hooked by the individual quality of the writing and the distinctive angle of insight. This is Mo Phelan, a retired porn actress stranded…

The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies At times crime fiction seems a genre so powerful that it sucks in and revitalises other forms. At others, literary fiction appears to piggyback expediently on the thriller or whodunit to expand its popularity – that is to say, its market. It must be a good few years now since…

Only To Sleep by Lawrence Osborne

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies A short walk from my ergonomic study chair is my Chandler bookshelf. It includes some Philip Marlowe fiction not by Chandler: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, A Celebration, a story anthology put out by Bloomsbury in 1989, and Robert B. Parker’s hypothetical completion job on an abortive Chandler fragment, its working…

The Hazards Of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland

Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies The title of Seth Greenland’s book harks back to William Dean Howells’ 1889 New York novel of business and politics A Hazard of New Fortunes. The fortune of Greenland’s title harnesses both its meanings in a classically American equation, both luck and riches. Jay Goldstone, the novel’s lead character, was born…

Vernon Subutex 2 by Virginie Despentes

Translated by Frank Wynne Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies Almost two decades ago I saw a French movie called Baise-moi. It contained, besides much simulated violence, what Wikipedia fastidiously calls ‘several unsimulated sex scenes’. Yes, actual fucking and sucking, the two principals being played, necessarily, by porn actresses. Filth at the arthouse? Sort of, along with…

House of Beauty by Melba Escobar de Nogales

Translated by Elizabeth Bryer Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies Each time I walk into town from my house I pass at least one nail/beauty salon/spa/bar/studio (the titles variously inflect the appeal). Spread around the town are up to a dozen. Such places are not for elderly geezers, but I do occasionally reflect on the roaring…

The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton

Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies At the close of James Joyce’s moving and magisterial story ‘The Dead’ the reader learns that ‘snow was general all over Ireland… falling faintly through the universe … on all the living and the dead’, and the settling, drifting whiteness is given its full emotional force in a tale of imprisoned…

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies    This novel borrows its title from Fritz Lang’s canonical film noir (which is also a teasing, ironic comedy of the repressed returning) and Finn’s first-person narrator, Dr Anna Fox, is a woman with a camera looking out of her window into her neighbour’s. A voyeuse, in short, as if…

A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies However deeply the irony may have entered his soul, John le Carré has no reputation as a jester. An element of satire typifies his work, always. But mainly he’s an angry, scornful author, whose anger is played back at him by those who feel he has let the side down…

Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa

Translated by Howard Curtis Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies I found a molten quality in this novel (if it is a novel). It burns off the page, as they say. It is very much a demonstration of the melting-down and intermingling of styles, genres, discourses, fact and fiction, dream and distanced analysis etc., that in South…

Testimony by Scott Turow

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies The ‘international theme’ – Old World/New World – was a foreground concern of Henry James. It typically featured the experience in Europe of an American innocent abroad, tasting the established, superior culture but also confronting the worldlier, more devious mindset of the host nationality. Posh transatlantic marriages could be made…

The Zoo by Christopher Wilson

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies Christopher Wilson’s new novel takes us back in time while signalling contemporary concerns. It recalls the Cold War epoch, focusing on the ‘court’ of Josef Stalin, iron man of the Soviet Union and bogeyman of the capitalist powers, at a time in the early 1950s when he was ailing and…

Belladonna by Daša Drndić

Translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawksworth Reviewed by Basil Ransome-Davies There can be no quick digest of this book, marketed as a novel though in fact much more, and no doubt of its relevance. In its sweep of concerns one pronounced focal point is what the author calls, via a fictional proxy, ‘pathological patriotism’…

All the Places I’ve Ever Lived by David Gaffney

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies David Gaffney has earned himself a distinctive reputation as a writer of ‘flash fictions’ – micro-stories, variable in tone and topic but springing from a gonzo imagination – in the collections Sawn-off Tales and More Sawn-off Tales. Anything can happen in 150 words or so. Some of them playfully unpick language.…