Tintin: The Calculus Affair by Hergé (Methuen, 1960) The first quarter is mystery but the remainder of The Calculus Affair sees a return to the improbable, death-defying adventuring of the earlier Tintin serials, thankfully with an intensity and mastery of physical humour sufficient to make this album an easy page-turner.
Crash Landing and Other Stories by Gillian Cross; ill. Maureen Bradley (Puffin, 1998) Three very short stories, two of which feature the Demon Headmaster and plucky schoolkids who think up ways to counter his hypnotic influence. Slightly rare but unremarkable, this collection is a 10-minute read, perhaps best used as a palate cleanser between novels.
Star Wars: Thrawn – Alliances by Timothy Zahn (Century, 2018) Zahn’s big picture storytelling doesn’t amount to much but Thrawn remains good value in the moment – a military virtuoso with Sherlockian powers of observation and deduction. Here the chronologically removed but intertwined narratives pair him with both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Macmillan, 1977); audiobook read by Tony Robinson (AudioGO, 2011) Jones deftly establishes a parallel world in which magic is commonplace, and a cast of characters where the identity of the villain—and even that of the protagonist!—remains convincingly ambiguous. Tony Robinson’s audiobook reading elevates the story to a new level.
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers (Gollancz, 1934); audiobook read by Ian Carmichael (Playaway, 2011) As a period piece this is passably interesting. As a mystery it is nothing but a disappointment (and could easily have been edited down to half the length). Lord Peter Wimsey is a minimal presence at best, listening to other characters’ ramblings.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick; stories read by Tanya Eby, Luke Daniels, Peter Berkrot, Jeff Cummings, and Patrick Lawlor (Brilliance Audio, 2017) Dick was an ideas man and a prolific writer. He may have outshone his pulp era contemporaries, yet the end product smacks of an imagination employed piecemeal, in lieu of craft. The stories in…
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (William Collins, 1971) Nine-year-old Anna and her family are refugees from Nazi Germany. The child’s perspective is uplifting and uncomplicated but—as with many mostly autobiographical accounts—the authenticity that is so valuable precludes the story from having the (manipulative) clout of a straight-out novel.
Peanuts Dell Archive ed. Whitney Leopard & Chris Rosa (Kaboom!, 2018) A collection of lamentable (though Schulz-endorsed) Peanuts knock-offs that appeared in comic books during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These are of curiosity value but the artwork, format, stories and characterisations serve only to highlight the superlativeness of the genuine article.
A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape, 1989); audiobook read by Melissa Exelberth (Bolinda, 2015) These supernatural stories breeze along, effortlessly conjuring character and mood; yet their conclusions invariably fail to shock, spook or satisfy. The let-downs are palpable! Aiken is like a pole-vaulter who runs in beautifully, soars to great heights but always clips the bar.…
Inspector Morse: The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter (Macmillan, 1983); audiobook read by Samuel West (Macmillan, 2017) The writing has an air of literature to it and some wonderfully poetic flourishes. Morse himself is a great character. Yet the mystery itself—key elements of which are artfully, rather capriciously concealed by omissions in Dexter’s omniscient narrative—doesn’t bear scrutiny.…