This month's selection of leisure reading from the Journal's Book Review Editor

Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories

John Mortimer
Penguin: £25 (e-book: £14.99)

This selection of Rumpole stories has the deep joy of a perfectly aged claret, opened at its peak, shared in the company of best friends. Just as enjoyed by Rumpole or Mortimer in Pomeroy’s Wine Bar. Sheer delight!

The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell

Birlinn: £25

Within a very short time of entering Parliament, Tam Dalyell found himself described as “the Squadron Sergeant Major of the Awkward Squad”. Whether or not that was a title he relished, it was one that stuck over half a century at Westminster, ending with his retirement as Father of the House in 2005. And what a half century! The tale is told in a straightforward, readable way, avoiding the vain self-justification so common in political memoirs. He will be remembered most recently for his opposition to war in the Middle East; in the 1980s, his persistence over the sinking of the Belgrano did Mrs Thatcher’s cause no good whatever; and on the topic of devolution he will forever be remembered for the West Lothian Question (the title being coined by Enoch Powell). But there is so much more in this book, including a vast and fascinating fund of knowledge of international affairs. This is a story of principle and persistence from a politician whose like we shall surely not see again, at least in the ranks of any of the mainstream parties.


Martin Sixsmith
BBC Books: £25; e-book: £12.99

This brilliant book develops the narrative provided by Sixsmith in the equally brilliant Radio 4 series. Sixsmith was the Russian correspondent for the BBC from 1980 until 1997. Crucially, he was there in December 1991 when the old guard moved against Gorbachev, the forces of the old state being held at bay by Yeltsin as he occupied the Russian White House, waiting for the troops to attack. The image of Yeltin atop the tank is now iconic, but as this readable, accessible history of Russia shows, there is and perhaps, in light of events since 2000, remains, a part of the Russian makeup that believes Russia is at her best with a single set of hands at the helm. With Putin set for a return to President, this book is a must for anyone who wishes a deeper understanding of a state described by Churchill as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, that sits on the edge of Europe but has gained much from its previous Asiatic outlook.

The Impossible Dead

Ian Rankin
Orion: £18.99 (e-book: £9.99)

This second outing for Rankin’s recent incarnation, Malcolm Fox of Professional Standards, opens with an investigation into alleged perjury by detectives at the trial of a fellow officer. However, two sudden deaths lead Fox to investigate the death of a nationalist lawyer in 1985 causing the old and new worlds of Scottish nationalism to collide dangerously. The narrative is well paced, the story developing in unexpected turns with equally unexpected individuals coming under Fox’s forensic focus.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

Neil McGregor
Penguin: £20 (e-book: £9.99)

This book is drawn from the engrossing Radio 4 series of the same name. There are gorgeous templates with equally delightful and brief narratives describing the intrinsic historical role played by the object. These objects are held at the British Museum, and the expanse and range of objects has much to say on the history of museum collections. The range is enormous, from the wooden mummy case from 240 BC, through the Lewis Chessmen to the credit card. The ingenuity of the book is to show history, the evolution and ingenuity of man through the objects they left behind.

To Prussia with Love: Misadventures in Rural East Germany

Roger Boyes
Summersdale: £7.99

Boyes took a sabbatical as German correspondent for The Times and set off to refurbish his girlfriend’s inherited Juncker family home in Brandenburg, seeking to enhance the Anglo-German alliance while trying to put that overlooked part of Germany on the tourist map: a seemingly forlorn task. Humorous but strange happenings disclose an enmity towards the incomers, overcome through inclusiveness of the villagers and a motley, diverse band of friends, in the restoration project. The book builds to a hilarious conclusion, with the British Ambassador (under instruction from the PM) attending the inaugural cricket match between a team drawn from Brits and the locals.

The Sickness

Alberto Barrera Tyszka
Quercus: £7.99

This absorbing short novel examines modern man’s preoccupation with his own mortality, and whether being economical with the truth can ever be justified. For the best of motives, a doctor decides to lie to his father about the nature and extent of his condition. At the same time, his secretary carries on a secret correspondence with one of his patients, rather than upset him with the news that his illness is psychosomatic. Although the author is not a doctor, he offers convincing insights into the world of hospital medicine, and conveys intense emotion without becoming sentimental in the process.

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