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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Coles

Reading List - 2024

Conspiracy: A history of bollocks theories and how not to fall for them - Tom Philips & John Elledge ***

I have always found conspiracy theories really interesting while not really believing any of them (not all of them anyway 😉). We seem to be living in a golden age of conspiracy theories and so it was interesting to learn about some of them and also about why people believe them. The authors were quite clear from the start that they’re all nonsense and can be easily explained if one is willing to listen. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for in the sense that I think I wanted an encyclopaedia of all the conspiracy theories known to man, what they are and where they came from. This book wasn’t that but rather a forensic analysis of some of them and why so many people are convinced by them. I did learn about some familiar ones and those I’d never heard of such as the belief Paul McCartney died in the sixties, the CIA murdered JFK, the earth is flat and Finland doesn’t exist. There was also a lot of emphasis on the all-powerful and ubiquitous illuminati. The authors obviously poke fun at the theories and those who believe them, but they make some serious points too. Sometimes belief in these things can be harmful and encourage a widespread abdication of responsibility. For example, it’s far easier to blame the ills of society on a malign cabal of sinister miscreants than it is to take a genuine look into the social problems that plague our societies. All in all, an interesting book and one for those who’d prefer to take a more sober look at conspiracy theories.

The Devil's Novice - Ellis Peters ***

I’m always up for a good murder mystery and if it’s set in a medieval monastery, even better! I have only recently heard of Cadfael and the long-running TV series that was apparently very popular. This was a good read but not a great one. I wasn’t wild about the plot but I liked the writing style though it took a few pages to get used to. It wasn’t a classic murder mystery but I loved the finale which left me feeling good about the book and want to read another one. Meriet is an unusual young man with an unfathomable desperation to take the monastic vows. His bizarre behaviour leads Cadfael to investigate why but he soon becomes embroiled in a mystery that involves murder and treason. If you like a medieval mystery, I think you’ll like it.

Jack Finney - The Body Snatchers ****

Now I know why the original film adaptation (1956) of this book is so good. It is one of my all-time favourite films and now I know it is very faithful to the novel. I was all set to give the book a five-star rating but then the ending isn’t quite what it could have been in my opinion. The film absolutely nailed the finale and so I was expecting the book to do the same but alas, not. Otherwise the book was a really fun and at times terrifying read. The author did a great job of helping me imagine what it would be like if this happened for real. In the small town of Santa Mira, California reports start coming in that people aren’t who they appear to be. They look, act and talk like them - but it’s not them. What follows is an unnerving adventure in which the small town doctor and his girlfriend try to figure out what the heck is going on. I haven’t read a lot of science-fiction but this was right up my street. I loved it.

Stephen King - Misery ***

A well-known author crashes his car in a snowstorm far away from the comfort and safety of the civilised world. Fortunately for him he is rescued and dragged to safety by a local woman. She feeds him, bathes him, treats him nurses his wounds and provides the medication he so desperately needs. Unfortunately for him, she’s a raving lunatic and manic psychopath. In his crippled state, with two shattered legs and broken body, he is bedridden and utterly at her mercy. This is something she has little of, as she unleashes a terrifying reign of terror upon him. It’s OK though because she’s his number one fan! I found this book better than the last few Stephen King books I’ve read but I didn’t love it. The suspense was there throughout; it was shocking and at times terrifying. More so than the film which I haven’t seen for years. I enjoyed it more than his classics It and The Shining but it’s nowhere near as good as my all-time favourite King novel: ‘Salem’s Lot.

Ian Fleming - Live and Let Die ***

Another heart-pounding adventure from Britain’s most famous spy. His investigation begins in Harlem where a man known as Mr. Big wields extraordinary power over the locals. In his command is the beautiful Solitaire whose prophetic gift he prizes highly. With her help he escapes the clutches of the sinister boss and his vile henchmen. Their train journey to Florida is fraught with danger but this is only the beginning of their troubles. What lies ahead in Jamaica is more dangerous still. We all know what to expect from Bond so if you’re a fan and haven’t read this one yet, you’re bound to enjoy it.

Heroes - Stephen Fry *****

This is the second instalment in Stephen Fry’s series on Greek mythology. I loved the first one (Mythos) so much I couldn’t wait to delve into this one too. It’s just as brilliant, full of fantastic stories, great characters and tonnes of good humour. I listen to the audiobooks and love Fry’s narration especially all the different accents. He really brings the stories to life and makes them accessible for people like me who don’t know a lot about the world of Greek myth. I loved hearing about the adventures of Heracles and Perseus, Theseus and Oedipus. The tales are just brilliant and Fry tells them with verve and flair. He’s brilliant and so is the book.

Colin Dexter - Last Seen Wearing *****

Detective Chief Inspector Morse and his faithful sidekick DS Lewis are asked to investigate the disappearance of schoolgirl Valerie Taylor. First of all they need to establish whether or not she’s still alive which proves a tricky task. Then, from a small ensemble of characters, they need to figure out why she’s vanished. When one of these is murdered, the investigation becomes more complex still. Morse gets it wrong sometimes too which I found refreshing. I love these detective stories and think Morse is such a fun and interesting character. His relationship with Lewis is endearing and the author writes with style, wit and good humour. A thoroughly enjoyable whodunnit.

Jeremy Bowen - The Making of the Modern Middle East ****

I have always been interested in the history of the Middle East because it is such a fascinating and hostile part of the world. The recent Israel-Palestine war is the latest in a long list of reminders that the area is a tinder box liable to blow up at any moment. The author has reported from across the Middle East for decades and has a good understanding of what makes the people there tick. The religious and cultural fault lines run deep and the leaders are often culpable for the misery that seems to constantly engulf the region. The interference of the west has exacerbated an already explosive collection of problems and challenges. From Israel across to Afghanistan and from Yemen up to Turkey, the author covers a lot of ground. I enjoyed learning about all the different leaders and their desperation to cling onto power. But the endless tragedy of millions across the region was sometimes hard to take in. It was often quite a depressing read but also entertaining and hugely informative.

Agatha Christie - N or M? *****

We’re all familiar with Miss. Marple and Hercule Poirot but perhaps not so much with Agatha Christie’s lesser-known protagonists. I find the adventures of Tommy & Tuppence a bit hit and miss but this was a definite big hit with me. I absolutely loved it and was thoroughly intrigued from the off. It had all the clever twists, turns and surprises you’d expect from the Queen of Crime but it’s not a murder mystery. Tommy & Tuppence are on the trail of German spies and so take up residence incognito in a guest house on the south coast. What follows is their exciting endeavours to uncover the dirty mole! Loved it and highly recommend.

James A. Michener - Journey ***

I bought this book for my Dad who was Canadian and loved hunting, fishing and exploring the great outdoors. He travelled across Canada too but not in the way the men in this story did, thankfully. Four English aristocrats and their Irish servant set out for the gold mines of northern Canada at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s a long, perilous and ultimately tragic journey through the arctic wilds and frozen tundra of North America. The men brave untamed rivers, freezing temperatures, psychotic mosquitoes, scurvy, starvation and incompetence. It is the latter that proves most depressing as one by one the brave men succumb to the elements. It was an interesting read though definitely not a jolly one. I think I prefer the adventures of H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne but I will read more from this author who I know is a legend of historical fiction.

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