Book Group 4 – Books Read 4: T-Z

About the book and a review

Fiction:  Authors A-G   |  Authors  H-L  |  Authors  M-S   |  Authors T-Z : listed by author  |  Nonfiction

The Man who fell to Earth  by  Walter Tevis

The story of an alien, who comes to earth disguised as a human, to try and save the people of his own planet – Anthea – which has been devastated by nuclear wars.   Newton, as he calls himself, is twice as intelligent as human beings.   He patents some very advanced Anthean technology, which he uses to amass a fortune, and begins to build a spaceship to help the last 300 Antheans migrate to Earth.  But – he is suspected of being an alien and the FBI close in …..

One of the best Sci-fi books I’ve read.   Written in the sixties but it didn’t seem dated.  It’s a great exploration of humanity seen from the perspective of the alien.  I found it very thought provoking and I found myself liking the main character and being very moved by what trying to be part of humanity had done to him.

The Winds of Gath; Derai (and about 31 other books) by E C Tubb

Edwin Charles Tubb (1919 – 2010) was a British Science fiction writer (he also wrote some westerns and a detective novel).

He wrote a series of books about Earl Dumarest, which I have been re-reading for at least the third time.  They are adventure stories, and usually have a good twist at the end.

They are set in the far future, humans having moved out into the galaxy and forgotten their origins.

Dumarest is a traveller (between planets), he left Earth as boy (stowed away on a ship) and for some reason (never explained) is trying to return.  But no one has heard of it or believes in its existence. The future is not an easy place for a traveller, it is easy to travel to a planet and find that is almost impossible to leave.  Dumarest is a survivor, in a fight he is decisive and very fast.

The books are short, around 160 pages.

River of shadows by Valerio Varesi.   (A Commissario Soneri mystery)

Historical note:  Following the armistice between the Italian government and the Allies in September 1943, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Italy.  Italian resistance fighters, known as partisans, fought against the occupation forces and Italian Fascists until the end of the war.

River of Shadows is set on the river Po (the longest river in Italy).  The river is rising, people are being evacuated from the nearby areas, a barge mysteriously breaks free of its moorings and starts moving down the river.  Nobody is sure if the owner, a man in his eighties, is on board.  At the same time another elderly man apparently commits suicide in a local hospital.  Commissario Soneri is called in to investigate.

It transpires that the missing man and the dead man were brothers and were ardent fascists during WWII.  Soneri investigates the local boatmen (mostly communists and partisans). A  story emerges of bitter rivalry and revenge stretching back 50 years.

I enjoyed the book, it is full of atmosphere – the wet, foggy terrain and the taciturn boatmen really come alive.  The story has been filmed for Italian TV under the title Fog and Crimes (I have the DVDs).

Death in August by Marco Vichi

Death in August is a much more gentle affair.  Set in 1963 Inspector Bordelli is a policeman in Florence; he is 55, unmarried, trying to quit smoking, and a very pleasant man.  Although honest, he is often lenient with petty criminals, who only do what they have to to survive.  He fought with the partisans in the war and there are many reminiscences of those times scattered throughout the book.  (The author has used the stories his father used to tell him as authentic source material for these.)

Although the book is about solving a murder, it describes Bordelli’s daily life – giving a dinner party for his friends, (the chef is crook who has served time in many local countries and learned to cook many different dishes there!)  So I ended up enjoying Bordelli’s company.

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

A 1959 novel that was later adapted into a play, a film, a musical, and a TV series.   William Fisher, a working-class 19-year-old living with his parents, spends his time indulging in fantasies and dreams of life in the big city   Billy lies compulsively to everyone he comes across, especially to his three girlfriends. Trapped by his boring job and working-class parents, Billy finds that his only happiness lies in grand plans for his future and fantastical day-dreams of the fictional country Ambrosia.

It’s something I never saw, as it’s a 1960s play but I have to say I really enjoyed it.  I loved the pure fantasy of it and in some ways it made me think about lockdown and how people might adapt Billy’s way to cope with it all.

Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield
A Touch of Frost by R D Wingfield
Night Frost by R D Wingfield
Hard Frost by R D Wingfield
Winter Frost by R D Wingfield
A Killing Frost by R D Wingfield

Last month I read all six books in the Frost series, as dramatised on TV and played by David Jason.  They were published between 1984 and 2007.  If you’ve seen the TV series (which I enjoyed) you will know what to expect.

Reading the books you can visualise David Jason, the character is shambolic but dogged, often wrong about the case, doesn’t get any paperwork done, and shows empathy, even with some of the villains.  I found the series very readable, although the books are quite long (over 400 pages), but ultimately unsatisfying.

All the books are much the same plot and the characterisation thin.  However, if you look at any of the books on Amazon and look at the reviews you will see that the biggest complaint is about the rampant sexism.  The first book was apparently written in 1972 although not published until 1984, and the author seems stuck in the seventies.  The characters smoke constantly, and all women (and girls over the age of 12) are constantly leered at, even the dead ones.

Those Who Disappeared  by  Kevin Wignall

A hiker in Switzerland narrowly escapes an avalanche and finds a body in a nearby glacier.  The dead man has been missing for 32 years and his son who was born 7 months after he disappeared begins to piece together the events around the disappearance. 

He begins to suspect they are lying to him.  This is gripping and fascinating and tells interesting things about the life of a successful artist.  I enjoy mysteries and this is a good read.  The truth comes out eventually but not as you might expect.  I like the gradual shifts in attitude as the novel progresses, by several characters but also the protagonist.

A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

On the day of the historic 1945 Jewel Voice Broadcast (in which Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces, bringing an end to World War II) three men, flush with jubilation, made a pact.  After their deaths, each year on the anniversary of the broadcast, their souls would return to the Chinese village of their younger days.  It’s where they had fought—and survived—a war that shook the world and changed their own lives in unimaginable ways.  Now, seventy years later, the pledge is being fulfilled by American missionary, Pastor Billy, brash gunner’s mate, Ian Ferguson, and local soldier, Liu Zhaohu.  All that’s missing is Ah Yan, also known as Swallow, and Wende.

As they unravel their personal stories of the war, and of the woman who touched them so deeply during that unforgiving time, the story of Ah Yan’s life begins to take shape, woven into view by their memories.  A woman who had suffered unspeakable atrocities, and yet found the grace and dignity to survive, she had been the one to bring them together.  And it is her spark of humanity, still burning brightly, that gives these ghosts of the past the courage to look back on their friendship and how they treated her.  And how she treated them.