The Goshawk: Review

The Goshawk

T H White’s The Goshawk is renowned as a classic of the English pastoral genre- a terrifying tale of man’s eternal struggle to tame nature, interspersed with White’s account of his own personal struggles at the time.

Much like Helen Macdonald’s stunning memoir H is for Hawk (you can read my review of that excellent book HERE), which draws inspiration from The Goshawk, White’s book is about more than just the training of a bird. Filled with historical titbits, hawking trivia as well as passages of great personal sentiment, the book is an excellent reminder tha toyu are not alone in the struggle to find your place in the world.

White’s hawk, whom he names Gos in an uninspired attempt to distance the animal from becoming a pet, is lively and spirited, and White, who at the time was struggling through a quagmire of personal suffering, was completely inexperienced in hawk training, having gained much of his knowledge from books on the subject.

The result is as catastrophic as you would expect, and documented beautifully in White’s terse prose. The book is a triumph of writing versus subject- whilst it may sound dull to read 150 odd pages of a man trying (and failing) to tame a goshawk, the books depiction of this battle is what makes it so readable.

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The Girl On The Train Trailer: My Thoughts

The Girl on The Train is a captivating and frankly terrifying read (you can check out my full review of the book HERE).

Despite the book having been one of my personal favourites for a long time, I have always been sceptical about Hollywood getting hold of it and turning it into some awful drudge. Setting the film in America (despite casting Emily Blunt as Rachel) is a real issue in my opinion- much of the book’s strength comes from Paula Hawkins’ strong knowledge of London and the boredom many commuters feel being packed onto crowded and often delayed trains.

The America setting gives the trailer a sterile vibe- there is a shot of trees in an unknown forest covered in yellow crime scene tape which offers the viewer little beyond a feeling of idle curiosity.

Luke Evans (who will always be the guy in the Hobbit films who hides dwarves in barrels of fish) has the exact combination of creepy and desperate that his character, Scott, husband of the missing Megan needs.

Despite my doubts I am looking forward to seeing the film, and hope for an invigorating and jaw dropping cinematic experience which mirrors that of the book.

John Rigbey Interview

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This week the Dorset Book Detective speaks to a former real life detective, as I speak to John Rigbey, a retired London CID Officer and recognised authority on London’s gangland of the sixties and seventies. He talks me through his writing style and why he would never consider a collaborative writing project. 

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime fiction?

John: How can anyone write about things they know nothing about? Many authors make friends with some old copper and pick his brains but I insist on authenticity and would never, ever, attempt to write a store about today’s policing because I do not know much about it – having left the police in 1972 after 18 years – and that is why much of my stuff is based in the era I knew.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?


John: I like John Grisham but don’t read much fiction at all. I read autobiographies and a lot of true crime (not modern) and the causes celebres of the past interest me. I think Harper Lee was overrated and personally believe that much of Mockingbird was written by Truman Capote and in exchange she did a lot of “In Cold Blood”. “Go tell a Whatever it is” is consummate crap – my opinion! In Cold Blood is totally and utterly brilliant and stands alone in UK and US crime writing.

Would you ever collaborate with any writer, living or dead, on a writing project and if so who would it be and why?

John: Absolutely not. I am sure that we would fight like bloody cats (no matter if it was Dickens or JP Rowling) as I am a most disagreeable man, they say. I tried it once, many year ago, and it was a disaster. Comedy scripts and stuff like that are one thing – see the great duos who did the two Ronnies, Eric and Ernie, Dad’s Army etc, but books are very different.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me? 


John: I am in my eightieth year and the future is limited. I find non-crime is more enjoyable, see my “A Week on the Island” and “Of Paradise and Pigs.” At the moment I am doing the second draft of a book (working title “Arsenic and Mercy Quint” based on true events in Cornwall in 1930. This will be back with publishers please God in a week or two for final decision as to what they want to do. I am half way through a sort of sequel to “Pigs” – “Of Paradise and Miss Jane Pollitt” and all I need to do is to live long enough.

Thanks very much to John for taking the time to talk to me. To learn more about Jon check out his website HERE

The Top Five Best Raymond Chandler Novels to Get You Hooked on Philip Marlowe

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For the uninitiated, Raymond Chandler, whose birthday falls at the end of this month, was a spectacular novelist and founder of the hardboiled genre. His signature creation, the legendary Philip Marlowe, a hard drinking womanising wise cracker, has been portrayed on the silver screen by some of the greatest actors in the world, including the iconic Humphrey Bogart. If you’re not familiar with these stories then here is a selection of the best books to start you off on your journey through the Los Angeles underworld.

  1. The High Window: Called to investigate the theft of a rare coin, a Brasher Doubloon, from the collection belonging to the late husband of a wealthy woman, Marlowe is swiftly entrenched in a fiendish murder case. What makes this novel a great place to start is the true ingenious nature of the plot, the fast pace of the narrative and the witty dialogue, all of which are key characteristics of the best of Chandler’s work.
  1. The Lady in The Lake: A great example of Chandler’s ability to take the reader’s mind off his convoluted plots, The Lady in the Lake has an example of every one of the classic genre traits: from a strained relationship with the authorities to an eye for the ladies and a taste for drink, the Marlowe we see here is a hardboiled detective at his very best.
  1. The Long Goodbye: One of Chandler’s more successful attempts to use his crime fiction as an outlet for his criticism of the 50s Hollywood lifestyle, with a particular venom reserved for the wealthy, this deeply personal novel (written whilst his wife was dying) is highly engaging and fascinating, offering a scathing glimpse into the murky world of a highly believable society populated by those who believe the rules do not apply to them. Such a scathing class critique is not to be missed.
  1. The Big Sleep: The book that inspired the now cult film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is a great place to start your love affair with the roughish Philip Marlowe. Employed by the arachnid esq. General Sternwood to stop the blackmail of his wild younger daughter, Marlowe quickly becomes embroiled in a much larger case of deception, sex and murder.
  1. Farewell, My Lovely: It might seem unusual to start with the second book, but Farewell, My Lovely is the pinnacle of hardboiled detective fiction; with its ludicrous, fast paced plotting, dastardly villains and eclectic cast of characters, this is the ideal novel to get you hooked. I rattled through this terrific read and was desperate for more by the end, and I am in no doubt that you will feel the same.

My Kind of Food: Review

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I don’t usually review cookbooks, mainly because I don’t really read a lot of cookbooks. In the age of the internet, where a few strokes of keypad will provide you with a recipe for pretty much anything, is there any point in wasting valuable shelf space with bulky cookbooks?

Despite holding this opinion, I am also a Masterchef obsessive, and when I spotted the latest tome by presenter John Torode (is that the name of a sex toy? It sounds like the name of a sex toy), I knew I just had to have a look.

Another key draw was the name. My Kind of Food has that annoyingly wholesome ring to it that’s so easy to immediately distrust as an irritating branding exercise, but I totally fell for it. His kind of food must be my kind of food: I too share the same scornful but slightly fond feelings towards the oafish Greg Wallace, and I am equally keen on flavour and texture in my food. So why not? I bit the bullet and bought the book.

Surprisingly, this is a remarkably easy read for a cookbook. John doesn’t go in for overlong explanations as to the history of his recipes; introductions to each are brief, sometimes comprising of just a short sentence, with the bulk of the book being dedicated to gorgeous, Instagram worthy pictures of everything from fancy desserts through to homely pasta dishes. There’s even some snaps of someone’s (possibly John’s) house, and some cheesy photos of the man himself merrily cooking away, as if to prove that he actually does, occasionally, crack an egg himself.

Unlike a lot of modern cookbooks most of the ingredients are household staples, making this book ideal for a quick loaf through on a weeknight. There are some recipes which clearly follow food trends (anyone over 50 actually heard of polenta? No, that’s cos cornmeal was renamed that in the past ten years), and some which use very obscure ingredients (honestly, who on earth has edible rice paper to hand?!), but many recipes are easy to amend. The emphasis here is on recipes that are accessible and appeal to the masses. As a father of four John must be used to cooking for a hungry mob, and these dishes are designed to be relatively quick and crowd pleasing.

Overall this aim is achieved, and the clear, concise writing combined with the multitude of pictures and handy guides to when things are done make this a cookbook which is both useful for when you’re in a rush and actually enjoyable to flick through when you have some spare time.

Top Ten Sherlock Holmes Stories

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As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the renowned author of the riveting Sherlock Holmes stories, who was also a revered sportsman, skilled Doctor and a politician, died on 7th July and recent news stories show filming is underway for the next series of the brilliant BBC adaptation, I thought I would take the opportunity to put together a list of my all time favourite stories. The short tales of Sherlock Holmes are the best cure for all known ills, in my opinion, and I have collated here a selection of the most interesting and devious.

  1. Silver Blaze: This great story that delves into the deepest realms of human greed. It gave the world the expression (regularly misquoted) expression about the curious incident of the dog in the night time. Also, the outcome is truly ingenious, and I would challenge anyone to guess it.
  1. A Scandal in Bohemia: The tale which bought Irene Adler into the world deserves much more recognition than it receives, as this story contains one of the most richly crafted and resonating characters in crime fiction history. Despite only appearing in this one story she is one of the most reproduced characters in the subsequent media based around the stories (besides Holmes and Watson). Every aspect of this story, from its riveting plot to the feisty dialogue is exhilarating, and it is well worth a read.
  1. The Dying Detective: As I am sure everyone is now well aware, this is not in fact the end of the great Sherlock Holmes, but rather a ruse designed to fool both the public and the stories’ characters. Such a scheme could only be necessitated by a genuinely devilish crime, and this is uncovered during the course of the tale as Holmes, using Watson as a puppet, lures the murderer to his confessional.
  1. The Red-Headed League: A fine example of Doyle’s cunning and humorous attitude to crime fiction, greed is once again the primary propellant in the plot of this clever story, which focuses around the client’s bright shock of red hair.
  1. The Five Orange Pips: A real mystery, this tale is both compelling and infuriating, with a plot so twisted it borders on convoluted. Despite this, the execution is excellent, with Doyle skilfully navigating the reader across continents and through duplicitous schemes with ease.
  1. The Three Garridebs: One of the strangest stories Doyle ever wrote about his famous detective, The Three Garridebs hides a simple motivation behind a confusing and frankly genius plot, centred around an unusual name. The shooting of Watson during the stories’ climax shows Homles’ affection for his friend and this combination of emotion and deft plotting is what makes this story unforgettable.
  1. His Last Bow: Although not the final Holmes story to be published, this text has a definitive feel to it, as Doyle skilfully arranges a fond farewell to quite possibly the greatest fictional detective ever created. Brimming with affection, this third person story is witty and intelligently plotted; blending spy fiction with the detective story genre which Doyle had helped to create.
  1. The Copper Beeches: Centred around the peculiar terms of the role of nanny, offered to a young woman who consults Sherlock Holmes, this story turns sinister quickly, with even more curious events eventually culminating in a horrifying discovery. This is the ultimate mystery, and one that shows Doyle’s skills as a writer to their full extent.
  1. The Final Problem: Doyle’s attempt to kill off his protagonist was, naturally, well written and perfectly plotted, as the inventor sought to provide his much maligned creation with a fitting ending. Despite this Sherlock was bought back by popular demand a decade later, as public perseverance eventually wore the writer down.
  1. The Empty House: The amazing return of Sherlock Holmes, killed off by his creator out of frustration and resurrected by public demand, is the very pinnacle of detective stories. Highlighting the truly remarkable bond between Holmes and Watson, this story, which marks the beginning of The Return of Sherlock Holmes and is the birthplace of several of one of the most revered killers in the Sherlock cannon, is one to be devoured in one sitting.

Chella from Honeybee Books Interview

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For anyone with the mid-week blues I have got a real treat for you. I interviewed the fabulous Chella from Honeybee Books in Dorset, who, once upon a time, took me under her wing and introduced me to the world of publishing. I caught up with her to find out all about how her business is going and her personal favourites books. 

Tell me all about Honeybee Books. How did you come to start a self-publishing business?

I started the business as an amateur writer and keen reader myself, and I knew that seeing your work in print was a fantastic motivation, whether you wanted public recognition or just a personal keepsake. I could see that digital technology meant that this could suddenly be achieved really affordably and there was no need to be like the old ‘vanity’ publishers, many of whom just took advantage of clients for financial gain.

Why shouldn’t people self publish and share their artistic endeavours? Musicians who play in pubs are not called ‘vanity’ musicians just because they don’t have a record deal, so why are we so snooty with books? I didn’t think it should be that way, everyone deserves a change to share their creativity with the world.

Working within the self-publishing market, what trends are you seeing?

It’s certainly become much more acceptable, even admired, for authors to start out as self published. There are a growing number of authors who find real success this way, but even for those who aren’t after fame, it’s such an achievement to hold a book you wrote in your hands. I think mainstream publishers have been slow to see the potential of helping people self publish – there really are very few businesses out there doing what Honeybee Books does unless they’re charging a small fortune.

What is your favourite book that you have published and why?

My favourite book is probably a children’s book called ‘Do You Dream of Dinosaurs?’. Living on the Jurassic coast it was nice to work with a local artist and author on a really challenging project – Sally is such an amazing artist and the finished product was something I’m really proud of.

Also who was your favourite client and for what reason?

Now that’s a hard one. I don’t know if I could say a specific person. I think it’s probably the clients who I feel I get to collaborate with, those who realise that book design is a skill and value my creative content.

What’s the most famous book you have published? Are there any of note that deserve notoriety?

I don’t think any Honeybee Books are very famous, though many have had moderate acclaim. Personally I think the comic “Dogalogue’ by the journalist Gill Capper is a fabulous read, and the fascinating history of the Serpentine river by historian Louise Foxcroft, who has several commercially successful books published conventionally. ‘Serpentine’ was a pet project of hers, but really deserves a read.

If you were going to publish a book about any topic in the world what would it be?

The need for change to be built on new ideas and not just tacking things onto old one…

What does the future have in store for yourself and Honeybee Books? Are there any upcoming titles you’d like to shout about?

I’ve published some great local history books this year about WW1 because of the centenary. Brilliantly researched and well-written, they are truly a credit to the authors and community groups who put them together. New and coming soon books are usually found on the ‘Our Books’ page of our website, so have a browse and see what takes your fancy!

Drawing on your own experience, what would you say are the current trends in the self-publishing market, and what advise would you give to those looking to put their work out there?

Now is the time to self-publish! There really hasn’t been a better time to start out as an author on your own. I would advise people to think carefully before going down the ebook route, it may be cheap but it takes serious know how to sell yourself online, and I find people usually make more from good local sales of a print book which they can promote in person.

Many thanks to Chella for taking the time to answer my questions! Check out Honeybee’s website HERE to learn more.