Posts Tagged ‘corruption’


The Blurb

The landscape is flawless, the trees majestic, the flora and the fauna are right and proper. All is picturesquely typical of rural England at its best. Sir Giles, an MP of few principles and curious tastes, plots to destroy all this by building a motorway smack through it, to line his own pocket and at the same time to dispose of his wife, the capacious Lady Maude. But Lady Maude enlists a surprising ally in her enigmatic gardener Blott, a naturalised Englishman in whom adopted patriotism burns bright. Lady Maude’s dynamism and Blott’s concealed talents enable them to meet pressure with mimicry, loaded tribunals with publicity and chilli powder, and requisition orders with wickedly spiked beer. This explosively comic novel will gladden the heart of everyone who has ever confronted a bureaucrat, and spells out in riotous detail how the forces of virtue play an exceedingly dirty game when the issue is close to home.


My thoughts

If I had read a physical copy of this book, I would probably think it was pretty good. However, I listened to the audiobook narrated by David Suchet, and his narration thrust this into the realms of hilarity. The story is nothing if not convoluted, and the levels of ridiculousness grow with each chapter – but it’s all written so well and with such wit that you can’t help but laugh out loud.

The synopsis above only scratches the surface of double dealings and dirty deeds committed by most of the characters, it does sometimes require concentration to keep up with who is doing what to who. However, it never sags or bores, and I really enjoyed this. I remember my Mom really enjoying the tv adaptation of this in the 1980s – David Suchet starred as the titular Blott in that series – and I can certainly see the attraction.

I would definitely recommend this book – but do yourself a favour and listen to the audio version.


Year of first publication: 1975

Genre: Comedy, satire


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This is an epistolary novel, told by the main character Balram (who calls himself the White Tiger) to the prime minister of China, who is coming to India for a visit. Balram was born in an extremely poor part of India and was destined to live a life of labour or servitude, but as we find out at the beginning of the story he is a successful business. We also find out right at the beginning that he also murdered his killed his former master Ashok. The book tells Balram’s story and explains why he did what he did.

I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I definitely enjoyed it, in that it was written well and I liked it’s very descriptive chronicle of life in India. (Note: this book does not romanticise India in ANY way, shape or form). It was often witty, and the writing flowed well. I found it an undemanding read that kept me interested – but for all that, I never felt fully engaged with the characters and always felt a slight detachment from Balram.

Nonetheless if this is a genre you like, I would recommend this book and if it is different kind of novel to what you would normally choose, you might like this change of scene.

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An undercover cop and a Police mole have to try and work out each other’s identity before either of them is caught. And when the undercover cop is working for infamous gangster Frank Costello, getting caught could be fatal.

An exciting and fast paced thriller with a stellar cast – Leonardo Dicaprio as undercover Billy Costigan, Matt Damon as policeman Colin Sullivan, Jack Nicholason as Frank Costello, plus other famous faces including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone.

There is a simmering tension throughout and the ending is fantastic. I highly recommend this film.


Year of release: 2006

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: William Monahan, Alan Mak*, Felix Chong*

*2002 screenplay Mou gaan dou

Main cast: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon


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Set in Snow Hill, London, in 1936, this books tells the story of newspaper reporter Johnny Steadman, who gets an anonymous tip-off that a policeman at Snow Hill Station has been killed. However, when he asks other police officers about it – including his best friend PC Matt Turner – nobody will corroborate the story, and Johnny is told to leave well alone.

Wanting to get to the truth of the matter, he keeps digging and the discovery of a gruesome murder scene makes him only more determined. But soon it becomes apparent that there is a web of corruption being spun to cover up a number of horrific violations, and Johnny ends up fighting not only for his own life, but also to save the lives of those closest to him…

My thoughts

This book was certainly not what I was expecting. What I had thought it would be was a psychological thriller with a scrappy but good-hearted protagonist. I was half-right…Johnny did make for a fairly likeable main character. He is certainly the most well drawn character of the plot – the rest are drawn with fairly broad strokes and more than a little stereotyping.

The story itself was considerably more gruesome than I had expected. The murder scene which Johnny stumbles upon as described above, was particularly unpleasant, and the plot revolves heavily around male sexual assault and violation (no spoilers here; this part is made apparent fairly early on) and subsequent cover-up.

However, for all that the story flowed pretty well and I found myself reading large chunks at a time.

Overall, I would have liked a bit more characterisation – I never felt that we got to know Matt’s wife Lizzie, or Johnny’s colleague Bill as well as we could have done and it might have drawn me in a bit more if I had been able to invest more in the characters. Nonetheless, based on this book I would probably try more by this author.

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Richard Gere heads up the cast in this thriller – he plays Robert Miller, a successful hedge fund magnate. Miller is desperate to try and sell his company before his dodgy financial dealings come to light, but is soon faced with an even bigger problem on a more personal scale. Desperate to cover up his involvement in a young lady’s death, he tries to out manoeuvre the tenacious Detectiver Bryer (Tim Roth), who knows Miller’s guilt (no spoilers here) and is prepared to go to any lengths to prove it. Throughout all of this, Miller’s family life with wife Ellen and daughter Brooke (Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling respectively) starts to crumble. Can Miller outrun the truth – and how long will his power and influence be able to protect him?

This was another film which exceeded my expectations. I watched it because of Tim Roth and from the description was not sure that it would be something that I would really enjoy. However, it held my attention from the moment it started and I thoroughly liked the whole story. The cast were excellent – Richard Gere was great as the powerful businessman who could feel everything he had achieved slipping through his fingers. He moved seamlessly from a loving father to a ruthless businessman and although I did not really like the character (and I don’t think we were meant to like him) I still found him interesting. Tim Roth was – of course – excellent in the type of role that he plays so well; determined and persistent. Although his character was essentially on the side of the good, Bryer’s own morals were somewhat ambiguous. I do feel that Susan Sarandon was somewhat underused, appearing in only really a handful of scenes, although there was one very relevant one towards the end – I won’t say more about that because the ending was excellent and I don’t think anyone watching this film should have it spoiled for them.

Also brilliant was Nate Parker as Jimmy Grant – a young man with a criminal past, who is  now trying to rebuild his life, but whose connections with Miller and a favour which he does for Miller threaten to ruin his future.

Overall, an enjoyable and absorbing thriller, which is well worth a watch.


Year of release: 2012

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Writer: Nicholas Jarecki

Main cast: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Nate Parker, Brit Marling


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This book artfully blurs fact and fiction to create an interesting novel. It is narrated in part by Martin Strauss, a man who in the present day, has just learned that he has a medical condition which will cause him to eventually lose his mind; he will be unable to distinguish between memory and imagination, or to put it another way, he won’t know what is fact and what is fiction.

Martin introduces himself to the reader as the man who killed Harry Houdini, not once, but twice. In telling his story, the reader also learns the story of Houdini (although be warned…while some parts of this are absolutely truthful, other parts are fictionalised). The chapters alternate between Martin in the current day, Martin in 1926/27 and Houdini’s life.

What is true – and what forms a large part of Houdini’s story here – is that Houdini was intent on debunking so-called mediums and psychics. He was concerned that a lot of powerful people were reliant on the advice they received from psychics, and was determined to reveal spiritualism as being fake and the people that practiced it as fraudulent. Unsurprisingly, this made him a lot of enemies, and that thread is a strong feature throughout this book.

I enjoyed the parts about Houdini, which are told in the third person, but I think I actually preferred the parts about Martin Strauss. In this book, Strauss is the man who famously punched Houdini in the stomach, shortly after which Houdini died (although it is now known that he actually died as the result of appendicitis, which  may or may not have been aggravated by an unprepared for punch). Strauss is an entirely fictional character 0 in real life, the man who threw the punch was named J Gordon Whitehead.

For me, the real theme of the book is memory – what is real, what we construct for ourselves, and how we separate fact from fiction. We know from the beginning that Strauss is an unreliable narrator, but he also knows this and is desperate to impart the truth to Houdini’s daughter Alice (the result of an illicit liaison; it turns out the famous escapologist was also a rampant womaniser) before it is too late.

The ending does contain a twist which I certainly did not see coming, and I’m still not sure how I actually feel about it. Much the same as I feel when watching a magic trick, I know that I have had somehow had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I’m still trying to go back through events in my mind, working out where exactly the trick was pulled off.

Overall, this is an interesting story and well written. I think I would like to read more by Steven Galloway.

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John Briley’s novel was adapted from his own screenplay for the film of the same name, which in turn was adapted from two books by Donald Woods (‘Biko’ and ‘Asking for Trouble’).

It tells the true story of the friendship between white Journalist Donald Woods, and black anti-Apartheid activist Stephen Biko, in South Africa in the 1970s.  Initially suspicious of each other’s motives, Woods and Biko become united, driven by their desire for equality in South Africa.  When Biko dies in Police Custody – the Police’s story is that he died of a self-imposed hunger strike, while Biko’s body, and the routine practices of certain Police at the time make it clear that he was beaten and tortured to death – Woods is determined to tell Biko’s story to the rest of the world.  However, the South African government and Police are determined to stop him, and place a banning order on him, effectively placing him under house arrest, and not allowing him to be in the company of more than one person at a time, save for immediate family.  However, Woods is determined that Biko’s story should be told.

I enjoyed the book a lot – it made me gasp in horror at times, but was very compelling.  The injustices committed against people in this book made my eyes pop, even though I already knew something about them.

The story is told in two parts – the first covers the friendship between the two men, while the second, after Biko’s death, describes Woods’ determination to see some justice for his friend, by telling the story of Biko and what he was striving for in South Africa.  My only criticism of it would be that it doesn’t go into some areas in much depth, and I would have liked to have known more.  It does read like a novel (and is described as such by the author), and so even though it is a true story, it flows well, and is hard to put down.  I would have liked to have learned more about Biko’s life leading up to the events in the story, but as it is adapted from the screenplay, it only really describes what was happening in the film, which focused on just that time in Biko’s life.  However, I would still recommend this book highly.

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Animal Farm is George Orwell’s famous allegorical tale; a satirical tale about communism and the Russian Revolution.

After the animals on Manor Farm revolt and chase away their tyrannical master, Jones, they decide that from  now on, they will work for themselves, and won’t serve any human master.  All animals are deemed equal, and each will work according to his capacity, for a just reward.  The animals are led by the pig Napoleon (who represents Joseph Stalin), and all are initially happy with their new lives.  However, it is not long before the power goes to Napoleon’s head, and things go awry.

It’s a classic for good reason – this book is just brilliant.  It’s funny, but carries a stark message about how power can corrupt.  It can be read simply as a story about a group of animals who try to take control of their lives, but Orwell’s intent and meaning is very clear for all to read.  It also warns of the danger of a lack of education and understanding, and the inability to perceive what is happening.

This book comes in at less than 100 pages, and only takes a couple of hours to read. And it is definitely worth a couple of hours of anyone’s life.  Just brilliant, and one of those rare books which I would recommend to everybody.


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This book is the first in a series featuring Dr Siri Paiboun.  It is set in 1976, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, which has just been taken over by the communist party.  Dr Siri would dearly love to retire, but instead he finds himself reluctantly given the post of coroner, despite having no experience in that job at all.  Along with his two assistants, the feisty and eager Dtui and the nervous Geung, who suffers from Down Syndrome, Siri has to learn the job while he’s doing it.  When the wife of a prominent party member dies suddenly, Siri suspects that there is more to it than the husband’s claim that a bad diet killed her.  Things get really complicated when three Vietnamese men turn up dead, and appearing to have been tortured.  As Siri investigates it becomes clear that some people don’t want him to discover the truth.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book, but overall I would say I enjoyed it.  The writing is wry and amusing, and for such a macabre subject, the book is fairly light-hearted.  For me, the character made the story.  I really liked Siri, and his two assistants, and also his friend Civilai, whose connections prove useful to Siri.

However, the plot seemed to be unnecessarily complicated.  The murder of the party member’s wife, and the mystery surrounding the three Vietnamese men would both have made interesting subjects for novels in their own right, but to have them both feature in one novel, made the storyline convoluted.  There was also a third storyline wher Siri travels to the Hmong region, in order to discover the truth behind some more mysterious deaths, and here the novel takes a supernatural turn, which did not personally appeal to me.

Overall, I would say the book was enjoyable, due to the very likeable main characters; the mysteries which Siri tries to solve are of secondary importance.  I probably would read more books in this series.

(Author’s rather lovely website can be found here.)

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In 1994, Michael Moore (subsequently best known for Fahrenheit 911, Bowling for Columbine, and being a general pain in the butt to the Republican Party) produced, with others, a television show called TV Nation.  The idea behind the show was to raise awareness of injustice and corruption in America, and to do so in a humorous style.  Less than 20 episodes were made (although Moore went on to do another similar show called The Awful Truth), but durng its short run, it was highly acclaimed.

This books covers just some of the pieces which the show did –  including Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, the CEO challenge (can the highly paid CEO’s of various companies, actually do the lesser paid jobs which their employees do?),  and finding work for former KGB operatives (to name just a few).

The book, like the TV show, is all done in Moore’s familiar irreverent style, and does set out to achieve it’s aim, in that it provides laughs, but also deals with serious subjects.  It also shows the compromises that had to be made in order to get certain segments on air, and the sometimes dangerous situations that Moore and his crew found themselves in.  (There were actually some segments that never made it to air, or were severely edited before they were shown.)

I do tend to agree with Michael Moore on many issues, but don’t always agree with the way he reports them, as his reporting can be heavily biased and edited to make things look the way he wants them to watch.  Nevertheless, he highlights the hypocrisy of the media and the people that run it, as well as certain politicians, and he manages to make serious issues watchable and interesting to read about.

Overall, this is an easy and enjoyable read, and I would recommend it.  It’s also worth mentioning that you do not need to have seen any episodes of TV Nation – or indeed any other of Moore’s work – to fully enjoy this book.

(Michael Moore’s website can be found here.)

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