Tuesday, September 15, 2015


     I nearly always have a book in progress.  For the last week and a half, it's been the Jo Walton "Small Change" series: Farthing, Ha'Penny and Half A Crown.  I stumbled onto it quite by happenstance, having first stumbled across the stranger-than-fiction Mitford sisters, the six highly assorted daughters of a titled British family, who have fictional parallels in the second book.  The first book was written as a standalone and in a little bit of a hurry, and its character model -- indeed, they loom over the entire series -- is the Clivenden set, a group of aristocratic Britons who (allegedly) favored making peace with Hitler's Germany.

     The setting is Great Britain in 1949 -- but not our 1949: The UK negotiated with the Third Reich after Dunkirk, the U.S. never entered the war (or even did much Lend-Leasing), Pearl Harbor (presumably) remains intact and Continental Europe is a fascist hell, locked in a slow struggle with the Soviet Union.  Against this setting, there's a murder at Clivede-- whups, Farthing Castle and Scotland Yard springs into action in the form of Inspector Carmichael.  Everyone, it seems, has something to hide and him no less than any of his suspects.*

     As the series goes on, things in the UK go from bad to worse -- the government is, after all, buddy-buddy with Hitler -- and each book gives the reader a kind of binocular view, with Carmichael solving a crime and alternate chapters following someone else involved in it.  I found the books engrossing.

     What helped illuminate them was watching the second series of BBC's The Hour at the same time.  It takes place in the very real Britain of 1956 - 57 and uses the Suez Crisis and government/police corruption to tell spy/mystery stories what is ostensibly a TV show about a weekly newsmagazine roughly similar to 60 Minutes. It's a little bit of a soap opera at the same time.  If you liked The Man Who Would Be Bond, you might like The Hour.

     I've been watching and reading other things, including A Blink Of The Screen, a collection of Terry Pratchett's short fiction that is not to be missed, and a wonderful biopic, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles but I'm out of time to write about them this morning.
* Fair warning to those who want Hollywood's 1949: Carmichael is gay and extremely closeted.  In every other respect, his is a role that could be played by Bogart with some coaching for accent.  Indeed, Walton tells us elsewhere, he'd like nothing so much as to be a very conventional fictional detective, who wraps up everything in the last chapter.  But if discreet hints of same-sex domestictity bother you, read some other books instead.

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