We review Robert Westerby and Matthew D'Ancona plus other new reads. Do you agree with our thoughts, tell us more?
Book of the week
Wide Boys Never Work Robert Westerby 6/7 Just as you are about to toss this book across the room because its main character is so damned unlikeable, the author steps in and says, ‘Well, all right, so you don’t like Jim Bankley’ – and dares you to read on. A reissued novel from 1937, it tells the tale of a likely lad who leaves his job in a car factory in northern England and falls in with a gang of London swindlers. Westerby, like Clarence Rook in Hooligan Nights, has no problem painting a picture of his young criminal ‘hero’ as callous, brutish and ignorant. But strangely, you end up with a sneaking affection for him. He is misguided, is all. London Books Dhs78 available to order from Magrudy’s Nothing To Fear Matthew d’Ancona 4/7 Seeking to make a fresh start after a bitter divorce, 36-year-old Ginny Clark buys a ramshackle house with an overgrown garden where she hopes to write her book on the interpretation of fairy tales. All goes well at first, but one thing threatens to disturb her newfound equilibrium: her neighbour, Sean, a reclusive youth who comes and goes at all hours of the night and keeps three locks on his door.
Ginny’s curiosity develops into attraction, but the closer she gets to Sean the more secretive he becomes. Most intriguingly, he keeps one of his rooms permanently locked and implores Ginny never to open it. Which, of course, she does. What she discovers there horrifies her, and before long she finds herself up to her neck in a long-running mystery, the roots of which lie in a chilling series of child murders committed a decade ago on the UK’s Kentish coast.
Britain’s Spectator editor Matthew d’Ancona’s new novel is admirably unpretentious in its ambition to spin an entertaining yarn. It contains plenty of narrative treats, with a good dollop of suspense, a sprinkling of surprises and some enjoyable Da Vinci Code-esque musings on the origin of fairy tales. It’s also an advert for the strength and elasticity of his descriptive powers. But this is overplayed, and too often the story grinds to a halt under the weight of banal details, such as Ginny’s thoughts on her cat and which wine would best accompany fish stew. This is fatal to the underlying suspense structure and does nothing to animate the rather clichéd characters. Although a worthy read in parts, Nothing To Fear leaves you wishing it had a brisker step, like the fairy tales so beloved of its protagonist. Beau Hopkins Hodder & Stoughton Dhs111 available to order from Magrudy’s
A Biography Of Led Zeppelin: When Giants Walked The Earth Mick Wall 5/7 What, you might wonder, could there possibly be left to reveal about the band who, between their (unarguably brilliant) 1969-75 peak, bestrode the earth like an eight-legged, disturbingly priapic colossus? As the former editor-in-chief of Classic Rock and biographer of such models of restraint as Ozzy Osbourne and Guns N’ Roses sees it, a great deal. Wall clearly intends his hefty tome to be the definitive story of Led Zeppelin, but it sags under the weight of its infinitesimal detail. His long-standing access to both main players – Jimmy Page, in particular – and more peripheral yet revealing characters like notorious groupie and writer Pamela Des Barres is impressive, and his research exhaustive. But rather than providing depth and colour, the minutiae make for a trudge. Detail is crucial to any biography, but here it renders what should be a punchy and compulsive read almost immobile, while Wall’s italicised longueurs – which take the form of fictional soliloquies – are a real test of patience.
The pace picks up appreciably with the chapter ‘The Devil in His Hole’ (on the souring of the dream) and the author is strong on the band’s early days, Page’s long-standing prick- liness regarding unproven hints about plagiarism, and the methods of Led Zep’s notorious manager, Peter Grant.
But the chapter-long digression on occultist Aleister Crowley’s life is tedious and misplaced. There’s also one shameful error – Wall’s regurgitation of the myth that Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed at Altamont while the Rolling Stones played ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. It happened, as any true rocker will tell you, during ‘Under My Thumb’. Sharon O’Connell Orion Dhs130 available to order from Magrudy’s