I’ve been reading - for the first time since it was new - Dave Laing’s fine little book Buddy Holly, published by Rock Books/November Books in the UK in 1971.

Its atmosphere is, savoured today, soaked in the modesty of the pre-Google age: when we knew we had access to limited knowledge and that finding things out meant taking pains to explore around a subject. Laing’s personal style tends to the beguilingly tentative in any case, but this sense of limitation, of there being room for doubt, of learning being something demanding care and time, is also a symptom of the era.

Perhaps too there was a special compatibility between subject and book because back then there were only a very small number of books about rock music, a subject still regarded with disdain by broadsheet newspapers and the vast majority of publishers. The rock writing of the early 1970s was as far from mainstream as rock’n’roll when The Crickets cut ‘That’ll Be The Day’.

So we may know more about Buddy Holly’s life and work now - and of course we have easy access to hearing every aspirated glottal stop he ever put on tape; but the spirit of the book gets us closer to Holly’s own. It was published only 12 years after that plane crash, and when Dave Laing was only 24: hardly older than Buddy had been. Book and subject occupy a more similar world than ours can do, and comparable niches within it.

One of Laing’s observations, which I’ve not encountered elsewhere, is that Holly differed from the other major rock’n’roll stars in having a long, slow route to success whereas the others found stardom more or less from the start. He failed to get anywhere with the ‘Buddy and Bob’ Nesman Studio sessions at Wichita Falls, and again with the 1956 sessions for Decca in Nashville, returning to Lubbock still an unknown both times:
            “In this Holly is unique, for the first records of most of the young white rock’n’roll singers were their first hits.”
            He could have omitted the word “white”, since the same virtually instant success happened for rock’n’roll’s biggest black stars too, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

It may be an obvious thing to say, too, as Laing does, that “in most rock’n’roll records...sound dominates meaning” - and that typically a Holly record exemplifies this: “the themes of the words on the page need not necessarily relate to the way the words are sung on the record.” But if this seems obvious, it is at least usefully specific. To say “sound dominates meaning” is a brilliantly economical statement of a truth that applies not just to 1950s rock’n’roll but throughout the whole of pop. I’m drawn towards words, and always have been, and find them infinitely easier to write about than music, yet when I listen back now to 1959-1963 records I bought and thought were great, not only do the words make me cringe but they show me that I never absorbed the verbal import of the words at all then.

I heard them as sounds, and as a kind of expressive colouring for the singer. Only by doing so could I not have found them risible. The last thing the teenage me would have said to my girlfriend was “Bless you - bless every breath that you take”, and yet it splashed through me cheerily enough on the hit single by Tony Orlando, himself only sixteen when he made the record.

(It’s a charming quirk of this book, then, that having insisted on the secondary importance of Holly’s lyrics on his records, Laing pays quite close attention to those lyrics.)

The exception was Elvis, whose records before he came out of the army tended to have lyrics that were either so striking as to break through the sound (‘Heartbreak Hotel’ - and what a sound the lyric had to break through!) or they had meaning that impinged because it augmented and played upon his smouldering image of the dangerous, rebellious sexpot.

Which was, of course, the last thing you could say of Buddy Holly. What he and the Crickets did instead, more significantly, was, as Dave Laing summed up long before most, to open up “new possibilities for guitar-based rock’n’roll groups, and directly [foreshadow] the way many groups of the mid-’60s came to function as self-contained composing and performing units.”

That’s one hell of a prototype to have offered the music, in the early years of rock’n’roll and ever since.


To declare an interest - I've known Dave Laing off and on since about the same time this book was published. He was editor of Let It Rock  when we were members of the Let It Rock Writers' Co-operative; he took me in, and we ate toast together a lot, to save me being homeless in London at some point in the 1980s, and in the late 1990s he organised the first Robert Shelton Memorial Conference at Liverpool University at which I was a speaker.


Here's a neat little video created by The Forum Tunbridge Wells to promote my BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL gig there on Sunday Sept 20 at 8pm.

But just a reminder that I'll also be giving this 1-man-show-type talk with loud audio and rare footage at...

An Lanntair, Stornoway, Sept 9
Halifax Square Chapel, Sept 11
Civic Theatre, Barnsley, Sept 12
Artrix Studio, Bromsgrove, Sept 13
Kitchen Garden Cafe, B'ham, Sept 15
Swindon Arts Centre, Sept 16
The Flavel, Dartmouth, Sept 19
Stamford Arts Centre, Sept 22
Colchester Arts Centre, Sept 23
Norwich Arts Centre, Sept 24 and
Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal Sept 25...


Yes, after being urged by so many people that an author "needs" a Facebook page, I've succumbed:


and hope you'll have a look at it from time to time, for news & pictures.


Due to circumstances beyond my control, one of my September UK dates (the one in Dorset) has been cancelled. I believe it's the first time in 15 years that any of my gigs ever has been. So here's the updated tour poster, kindly revised by its brilliant designer, Jon Wainwright:


I don't know why I can't an official video to go with the single of The Staves' 'Teeth White' - it's a pity, because I think it's better than this live version - but here they are on French TV. I like them because they remind me of that early Kate & Anna McGarrigle sound:


FRI SEPT 11 - Square Chapel Arts Centre, HALIFAX
TUE SEPT 15 - Kitchen Garden Cafe, BIRMINGHAM
WED SEPT 16 - Arts Centre, SWINDON
TUE SEPT 22 - Arts Centre, STAMFORD
THU SEPT 24 - Arts Centre, NORWICH
FRI SEPT 25 - The Brewery, KENDAL.

Details of times, tickets etc here on my website

[NB: The WIMBORNE event shown on the map has been cancelled.]


There was a Birmingham (UK) based band at the start of the 1970s, Hard Meat, that released two albums on Warner Brothers Records, though being on that major label did them no good at all so far as sales were concerned. The core of the band was the Dolan Brothers, Mike (or Mick: people chose which to call him and he took no offence either way) and Steve.

In their post-Hard Meat days I knew the Dolans very well. Mike Dolan died last year, on August 2nd, from brain cancer, having survived the throat cancer he had fought against a few years earlier. Steve, the younger brother, died 15 years ago today - May 22, 2000.

I met the Dolans in 1973 when we all lived around Malvern, Worcestershire. They played a few local gigs with a changing assortment of other local musicians; I met them by going to one or two of these gigs.

At some point in 1974 they became Big Front Yard (another bad name? – anyway, taken from a sci-fi short story Mike admired) and I became their manager. They got nowhere.

When exactly they became Big Front Yard I’m not sure, but it was fixed only after Mike & his wife Sue (whose sister lived in the Napa Valley in California) went to London, supposedly for a week, so that he could rehearse with, and join, a group named Forsyth... but they came home a few days later, Forsyth having broken up. They paid Mike off with £30. This was in March 1974.

Mike Dolan in my West Malvern garden, June 1973
© Michael Gray, 2015

£30 was about the amount Big Front Yard were being paid for most of their gigs: £30 to be shared between the band, roadie Phil, me and the petrol for one gas-guzzling old van after another. They played all around the Birmingham area, on average once a week. It was that weary period punk soon abolished, when groups had to be fine musicians with loads of heavy-maintenance equipment just to be able to play in a pub for next to nothing. The best-paying gig was the one we promoted ourselves every couple of weeks at the Foley Arms Hotel in Malvern.

Mike was the leader of the group, lead guitarist and lead vocalist. He and Sue lived down a winding hill just outside West Malvern, in a cottage that had once been a country pub and was still called The Bell, with Jesse, their very Just-William little boy. (Sue and Jesse both live in California now.)

The first drummer, I believe, was Alan Mennie, always known as Min, and he was older. If he’s still alive, he’ll be 74 now. My then-wife and I had a house on a hill, with two storeys at the front but four at the back, and these extra layers were flats we rented out. In 1974 Min and girlfriend Dot had one of them. Min and I played chess together from time to time. I can’t remember when he quit the group, but it must have been at some point soon after February 1975, when he was playing (and speaking) on the recording session they did at Birmingham’s commercial radio station BRMB.

Min gets credits on albums by King Crimson and Pete Sinfield, and was always somewhat jazz-oriented. Many years later – in the early 1990s – he and Dot co-owned a house in a little village in Turkey with Mike Dolan and his girlfriend Glenn, and I remember calling in there once on a family holiday and seeing Mike emerging from the sea with his surfboard, looking far healthier than he’d ever looked in the 1970s of his youth.

Min seems to have disappeared without trace now, along with Dot and the son they had called Jamie. We’ve googled till we’re blue in the face but cannot find them.

There were a couple of drummers after Min – the dark, handsome one whose name I’ve forgotten: Rob Mason? - in the "official" photo from mid-1975 (below)  - and then Keith Baker, a local postman who in 1976 also became a tenant of a flat at our house.

Keith had known the Dolans forever, and had played music with them in earlier incarnations; he's here at the back in a photo from 1965 (which I've no idea how I acquired):

Front: Mike Dolan; Back, left to right: unknown; Keith Baker; Steve Dolan

At one point, early on, the band had also included an organ player, and he’s to be heard to good effect on ‘Mad John’s Dream’, the B-side of their one single. The A-side was ‘Money-Go-Round’. It was recorded in a nearby barn, and issued on Rampant Records, a label formed by my then-wife and I specially to release their record.

Around the end of 1974, BFY lost the organist and added a second guitarist, Sam Sun (Keith Sampson), who is on the BRMB sessions and the A-side and was a long-time stalwart of their gigs. He was a likeable, sensitive man, full of pain, who drank far too much horrible Barley Wine. He’s dead now too. I believe he killed himself.

Mike Dolan, Sam Sun, Rob Mason (?) & Steve Dolan, early 1976

Live and on record, Big Front Yard sounded pretty much like Hard Meat – which, impressively, the Dolans rarely mentioned afterwards. Big Front Yard played a couple of London gigs (eg Newlands Tavern, Peckham, Feb 19, 1975: fee £20) which we hoped A&R men would come to, but none did. We sent a demo cassette to John Peel. Nothing.

Mike also had a little home studio at The Bell, and there produced, and played guitar on, a couple of tracks by a childhood friend of mine, Peter Harrison – whose splendidly politically incorrect stage name was Huge Black Gussie Watson – which I still have on a home-made CD. (Peter died in 2007.) Steve played bass on an unissued track I wrote and produced in 1981 and have yet to give up on... Mike went on to achieve a great deal in the latter half of his life. Steve died too young for us to know what he might have done.

I last spoke to Mike on the telephone when he was living in Cornwall in another relationship that broke up subsequently. In his last two or three years he spent half his time in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, with his final partner Jackie, and half his time, also with her, in another little village house in Turkey, having quarrelled irretrievably with Min & Dot over their previous shared Turkey house. I was able to get to Steve's funeral but not to Mike's, nor to Sam Sun's.

Here's another picture of the late-75-and-76 line-up, all posed with their dilapidated Renault 4s outside The Bell in summer 1975:

It's disturbing to me that of these four, all younger than me, only one is still alive (Keith Baker, on the left of the picture).

Lastly, here are the Dolans onstage at the Foley Arms, Great Malvern in 1976:

 It's a long time ago (so any corrections will be welcomed), but it was a distinct part of my life in that pre-Thatcher world, in which I'd not long given up my dayjob (teaching English in schools) on the strength of signing my first book's US deal (1972) and had moved to the Malvern hills with wife, young son and high hopes. By the end of the long hot summer of 1976 I was on social security and by the start of 1977 I'd taken a job as Head of Press at UA Records in London, where self-styled punk artistes were telling 30-year-old Old Hippies like me that we ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. Mike Dolan's response would have been to turn the other cheek. Steve's would have been to throw a punch.

Footnote: I'm pleased to say I shall be revisiting Big Front Yard's general area on my own September tour of gigs: I'll be at Artrix in Bromsgrove on the 13th and then at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath, Birmingham, on the 15th. I'm hoping Keith Baker might come along...



What a shame none of these widely-admired people were well enough to face the courts...

1974: Richard Nixon, Watergate cover-up

1987: Janet F. McKinzie, forgery & fraud charged re collapse of North America Savings & Loan Assn

1989: President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Philippines, corruption charges

1992: Newport Beach Police Chief Arb Campbell, rape and sexual discrimination charges

1993: Erich Honecker, treason, corruption and abuse of power charges

2000: Margaret Thatcher’s friend General Pinochet, “too ill to stand trial” (Jack Straw)

2000: Former Indonesian President Suharto, corruption enquiry

2005: Former taoiseach Charles Haughey, to the Moriarty tribunal into dodgy deals re property and tax

2005: Dr James Lennox Kane, accused of maiming women in bungled operations

2006: Convicted racketeer Rick Rizzolo, tax evasion & racketeering, Las Vegas

2008: gangster Charles (Charlie Moose) Panarella, labour racketeering, NYC

2008: Pakistan President Zardari, corruption charges

2009: Colin Cope, independent school head accused of sexually abusing five boys

2011: Jacques Chirac too ill to stand trial for embezzlement

2011: Khmer Rouge social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, too “aged” - ie 69

2011 & 2012: Hilary Clinton, twice avoiding giving congressional testimony re murder of US ambassador & three others by Islamists in Benghazi

2013: Marcus Schlosser, head of an international investment scam

2013: Henry Assumang, in trial re his deliberate HIV infection of 2 women UK

2014: Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic trial

2014: Former Chicago Mayor Daley, police torture & his 30-year cover-up of it

2015: Leo Barnes, accused of double murder in UK

April 2015: Lord Janner, child sex abuse (9 days after signing letter wanting to continue to be in the House of Lords)

May 2015: Oskar Groening, Auschwitz bookkeeper in murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews trial



Pleased to say I'm making two live appearances next month - one in Dorset and one in Suffolk. Details:

Friday May 15, 7.30pm 
Coade Hall, Bryanston School

Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0PX
tel: 01258 484623 or boxoffice@bryanston.co.uk
admission free but please book

Sunday May 17, 7.30pm

The Hunter Club Main Hall
6 St Andrews Street South
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 3PH

tel: 01284 758000 or
£12 but only £5 for under-25s; Festival Friends get discount


Here's a terrific live version of her fine current single Pedestrian At Best', performed in what a listener to BBC Radio 6 Music called her racing commentator's delivery":

This is the video of the studio-version single:

And she has such a great band. Her CD The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas  -  which combined two earlier EPs, I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris  (2012) and How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose  (2013)  -  is often played in our house (and car), even though I can only catch a lot of the words if I listen on headphones. They're always worth catching, but I love it just blazing away in the room, because the band is so tremendous - as good as any grunge band that's ever existed, and the freshest around right now.

The single is from her new album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit


He may be a minor figure in the story of the blues, but he's an interesting one, and one the very young Bob Dylan met, and their repertoires connect in several ways.

Here's my entry on him in  The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Lipscomb, Mance [1895 - 1976]
In his 1965 book Conversation With the Blues, Paul Oliver makes the point that ‘if the blues, like any folk art or indeed almost any art form, is illuminating in terms of a whole group it is still sung and played by individuals...  the individual tends to become submerged...  and even when the assessment of the major figures is made, the minor blues singer is forgotten.’
To listen to much of Dylan’s work  -  which at least between his break with ‘protest’ and his conversion to Christianity in every sense put a consistent emphasis on the importance of the individual rather than the mass  -  is to feel that Dylan has not forgotten the minor blues singer at all. He has listened to the minor figures wherever the somewhat random process of recording folk artists has allowed. We know it from listening to his work.
(Where Dylan heard what; the influence of ‘minor figures’ and unknown ones; the communal nature of much blues composition and how this gells with post-structuralist ideas of the unfixed text and the death of the author: all these are big questions, much discussed throughout this book. They are also central preoccupations of Michael Gray’s Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, Chapter 9, ‘Even Post-Structuralists Oughta Have The Pre-War Blues’.)
Dylan learnt and assimilated experience from the older songs and the older singers  -  singers who, in some cases, were ‘discovered’ or ‘re-discovered’ in the 1960s. Mississippi John Hurt is one example, the stylish and dapper Mance Lipscomb another.
Lipscomb was born 9 April, 1895, in Navasota, Texas  -  and eventually died there (on 30 January, 1976). He was ‘discovered’ in July 1960 by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz and recorded  -  for the first time  -  a few weeks later in his two-room cabin, by which time he was in his sixties, though still with a strikingly youthful way of moving around in performance. He had almost a thousand songs he could perform.
Dylan met Lipscomb, and we can get an idea of the aura of the man, and thus a hint of the insights he could have given Dylan, from the description of him, and a transcribed conversational fragment, in Paul Oliver’s book. He was a ‘Texas sharecropper and songster with a reputation that extends widely in Grimes, Washington and Brazos counties...  A man of great dignity and natural culture...  a veritable storehouse of blues, ballads and songs of more than half a century... ’
This is Lipscomb talking (the spelling is as in Oliver’s transcript):
‘I been playin’ the git-tar now ’bout forty-nine years, and then I started out by myself, just heard it and learned it. Ear music...  My pa was a fiddler; he was an old perfessional fiddler. All my people can play some kind of music. Well, my daddy...  he played way back in olden days. You know, he played at breakdowns, waltzes, shottishes and all like that and music just come from me...  Papa were playing for dances out, for white folks and coloured. He played Missouri Waltz, Casey Jones, just anything you name he played it like I’m playin’ . He was just a self player until I was big enough to play behind him, then we played together...  ‘Sugar Babe’ was the first piece I learned, when I was a li’l boy about thirteen years old. Reason I know this so good, I got a whippin’ about it. Come out of the cotton-patch to get some water and I was up at the house playin’ the git-tar and my mother came in; whopped me n’cause I didn’t come back  -  I was playin’ the git-tar: “Sugar babe I’m tired of you, / Ain’t your honey but the way you do, / Sugar babe, it’s all over now...”’
            In Glen Alyn’s I Say Me For A Parable: The Oral Autobiography Of Mance Lipscomb, 1993, Lipscomb talks of encountering Dylan (and of Rambling Jack Elliott first hearing of Lipscomb when Dylan played him a Lipscomb record) but specifies no dates. Lipscomb says Dylan followed him to ‘Berkeley University’ and then ‘from Berkeley to the UCLA… And when I went off a duty he was settin round me, an hear what I was sayin, an pick up a lot of songs. He could imitate. But he wadna playin no gittah. Then. Takin you know, learnin from his head.’ On 18 May 1963, Dylan appeared on the same bill as Lipscomb at the first Monterey Folk Festival.
Lipscomb must have been an invaluable contact for Dylan  -  the one a black Texan with a personal repertoire stretching back to 1908 and incorporating songs a generation or two older than that, the other a white Minnesotan would-be artist of the whole American people born in 1941. Not only could Dylan have gained a knowledge ready to work for him but also, in a specific and personalised testimony, a feeling for the intimacy of connection of words and music in the expression of a spirit and a theme.
            Lipscomb’s repertoire included ‘Jack O’Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Play’ (he was field-recorded performing it in his home-town area the first time he ever recorded), which is a title-phrase picked up wholesale and retailed by Bob Dylan inside a piece of his own work that is not a blues. It is, in fact, from one of those poems he calls Some Other Kinds Of Songs . . ., published on the back sleeve of the album Another Side Of Bob Dylan. This long and generally inferior poem repeats several times, and then ends with,  ‘jack o’ diamonds / is a hard card t’ play.’
            Other songs Lipscomb recorded include ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘You Gonna Quit Me’ (the Blind Blake song on Dylan’s Good As I Been To You, re-titled ‘You Ain’t Gonna Quit Me’ by Lipscomb), ‘Corrina Corrina’, ‘Mama, Let Me Lay It On You’, a song called ‘When Death Comes Creeping In Your Room’ - a title that strongly suggests it may prefigure Dylan’s ‘Watcha Gonna Do’  -  and ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’. In the section called ‘Playing For The White Folks’ in the Glen Alyn book, Lipscomb claims that Dylan took ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’ from ‘his’ ‘Mama, Let Me Lay It On You’.

 [Mance Lipscomb: ‘Jack O’ Diamonds Is A Hard Card To Play’, Navasota TX, summer 1960; Mance Lipscomb Texas Sharecropper & Songster, Arhoolie LP 1001, El Cerrito, CA, 1960. ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’, nia.; Mance Lipscomb Vol. 4, Arhoolie LP 1033, El Cerrito CA, nia.]


I'm delighted to say that last month the University of York conferred the higher doctorate of D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters) on me for the "substantial and original contribution to learning" achieved by Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan. The ceremony, which included the conferral of a good many MAs, MScs and Ph.Ds on people very much younger than me, was on Friday January 23.
For anybody interested, I've put a few more photos on my website.
Meanwhile I'm also pleased to say that I have been asked to write the Introduction to a forthcoming book about how and why Dylan is being taught in academia; Professing Dylan is to be published in the US in May and there'll be a launch event at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro AR. The book's contributors include Gordon Ball, James Cody, Nina Goss and Louis Renza.


I don't normally write end-of-year summaries but this time - it's December 31st 2014 as I write - I decided I'd list the books I've read this year, with brief comments. I log them as I go, so I know the list is accurate, though it's nothing special:

CARRY ME DOWN, M.J. Hyland, 2006 a compelling, darkening account of a mentally sick boy
THE SHADOW LINE, Joseph Conrad, 1917 one of his seafaring novels; it's short but, like the sea, it deepens as you head through it
SAVE ME THE WALTZ, Zelda Fitzgerald, 1932 I thought the first half was awful, but found the second half taut and affecting; its descriptions of a dancer's milieu of hard practicing were intense, almost harrowing, and fully convincing
TENDER IS THE NIGHT [revised version], F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1948 read for the first time since the 1960s, and read this time to compare to the Zelda novel; it seemed pallid after hers
A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRAINIAN, Marina Lewycka, 2005 highly enjoyable, warm and shrewdly done
THE PLEASURES OF MEN, Kate Williams, 2012 incompetent, clumsy, shabby
GREAT HOUSE, Nicole Krauss, 2010 a terrific writer, but it has a disappointing non-ending
NARROW DOG TO CARCASSONNE, Terry Darlington, 2005 it starts out being irritating, by straining for chumminess, but it converted me and I soon found it funny, quirky and clever
NORTHANGER ABBEY, Jane Austen, 1803?, a sparky, funny start, but it fizzles out
FINISHING TOUCHES, Augustus John, 1964 the last dregs of memoir; cheery pompous windbaggery from an age long over by the time it was published; it claims a rebel's no-nonsense briskness but reeks of the sententious establishment that Mandy Rice-Davies had punctured at the Stephen Ward trial the previous year
ONE STEP TOO FAR, Tina Seskis, 2013 unputdownable phony crap
COLD EYE OF HEAVEN, Christine Dwyer Hickey, 2011 an absolutely wonderful novel: find it and read it
SENSE & SENSIBILITY, Jane Austen, 1811 a pleasure to re-rea but unsatisfying afterwards
PROPERTY, Valerie Martin, 2003 dodgy Deep South gothic, with plot and a surprise angle but oddly blank writing
THE ROAD HOME, Rose Tremain, 2007 substantial, styleless, humane
A DELICATE TRUTH, John le Carré, 2013 a curate’s egg but highly page-turnable
A DEBATABLE LAND, Candia McWilliam, 1994 poetic soup; pointless in the end
PLAINSONG, Kent Haruf, 1999 a touching, modest novel of American small-town elegaic simplicity
ANNA KARENINA, Leo Tolstoy, 1877 another re-read; absorbing as story, as history and as novelcraft, but much of the last 25% is weighed down by his dodgy philosophising
THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD, Agatha Christie, 1951 one long, silly special-plead
THE CHILD IN TIME, Ian McEwan, 1987 beautifully, skilfully written; absorbing
A MAN FROM THE NORTH, Arnold Bennett, 1898 admirable novel from much-underrated author; desolate ending
THE DRIVER’S SEAT, Muriel Spark, 1970 apparently her own favourite novel; I found it the daftest fiction possible, as if written by an alien
THE BIG KILL, Mickey Spillane, 1951 crass, moralistic, riddled with coyness pretending to be bluntness, and a predictable villain’s identity; but it evokes a highly atmospheric noir city and is an uncanny period piece
THE HOTEL, Elizabeth Bowen, 1927 thrilled to have found her: a great writer
THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS, Erskine Childers, 1903 compellingly written if detail-clogged; highly distinctive; with a curiously bathetic climax
RESENTMENT, Gary Indiana, 1997 unique (though at first it reminded me of Last Exit to Brooklyn), beautifully written, huge, sustained, vivid, sordid, humane: a really extraordinary novel
THE PRIVATE PATIENT, P.D. James, 2008 badly written, tiresome, dull, inept.