This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

Sons of the Fathers

Ian C Simpson (J M D Media: £14.99; e-book £8.39)

The Old Course at St Andrews provides the setting for Ian Simpson's latest book, set during the 1927 Open Championship, won by lawyer and amateur golfer Bobby Jones. I suspect Ian Simpson and Bobby Jones have much in common – successful lawyers, a love of St Andrews and being verry decent amateur golfers, the author being brought up in the royal burgh and securing a handicap of three.

Ian Simpson's previous three books have focused, with a light touch, on modern policing. In this thoroughly enjoyable book, he has moved into new territory. It is a very welcome move.

This book is set in 1927 during the Open Championship. The author writes assuredly of the period, whether it be the sheriff's noble car, no doubt one of few, to the rather rudimentary and certainly narrow minded approach to investigation and detection undertaken by the police. It is also set in the year the law changed to bring into existence the structure of the current Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service with the Lord Advocate at the apex.

A boy, the son of the sheriff's gardener, is murdered and two homosexual academics are immediately arrested, solely on the basis of then prevailing attitudes. The sheriff's brief observations on their lifestyle is within the context of the criminal law of the time. It is at odds with his character, which is one of utter fairness, and sees him set out to undermine the police theory on those responsible for the murders which take place.

The book opens with the sheriff sentencing young Tommy Addison to a period of detention for housebreaking. However, his bar officer, a court official who runs after the sheriff, and helps in court, is a retired police officer who tells the sheriff the boy's tragic back story. The sheriff calls the boy back and releases him.

The murder of young Jim Tindall is swiftly followed by another two: a golf club maker in Auchterlonie's workshop, and an American, former gangster, in town for the Open, with his wife, sons and daughter in law, en route from a business deal in Germany to the USA.

Another man from the badlands of New York is also in St Andrews with his protégé, who is to play in the Open.

The sheriff enlists Tommy's help and together they unravel the truth behind the murders, culminating in a dramatic scene on the Old Course.

There is a large cast of characters but, in the author's hands, they are tightly corralled – the marginally dysfunctional Murnian family, the deceitful Sabbatini, the hardworking and family conscious Tommy Addison, together with the gentle, honourable Sheriff Hector Drummond and his wife Lavender. There's even a brief appearance by the wonderfully named Sheriff Principal Crichton "Fatty" Fairweather KC.

The "star of the show" is the way by which Mr Simpson weaves the story and pace of the 1927 Open. Thoroughly researched but deftly intertwined with the plot, we learn not only about the beauty and challenges of the Old Course, but equally, of the rivalry and competition amongst the players, as the field plays to make the cut into the final rounds. Bobby Jones is triumphant, but it was a close match.

Subtly underpinning the plotting around murders and golf, is the theme of father-son relationships, the good, the bad, the indifferent, the then less common.

If you want more recent crime around St Andrews by Ian Simpson, pick up a copy of his highly enjoyable Murder on the Second Tee, where bankers drop like 15 yard putts into the cup.

St Andrews sits proudly centre stage in both books, but in this latest offering, the Old Course, like the double eagle Bobby Jones secured there in 1930, soars.

101 Detectives

Ivan Vladislavić (And Other Stories: £10)

When you survey the majesty of the Crown jewels, you tend not to appreciate what you are seeing. Each individual piece seems too magnificent, too perfect, to be real. If you read this book of short stories too quickly, the same fate may befall you.

There is no weakness in this collection of 10, nor is there any theme or obvious pattern. We are treated to a spectacular flight with Vladislavić’s soaring imagination, taking us subtly into complex places and the internal workings of many minds. We begin with a Hemingwayesque “The Fugu Fighters”. In “Hair Shirt” we have a meeting of South Africa and the Deep South. In the eponymous “101 Detectives”, Walter Mitty combines with Raymond Chandler and, I suspect, quite a bit more. Humour is mixed with fantasy. I enjoyed the satire of big business in which the Corporate Storyteller, who is not permitted to have a notebook, is upstaged by the Corporate Poet.

Some of the writing is exquisite. There may be better opening descriptions than “Her reading voice was a soft-grained monotone that sifted through the open minds of the audience like sand from a clenched fist”, but I haven’t read many this year. We re-encounter photographer Neville Lister from an earlier novel, Double Negative. In that book he came into possession of a huge cache of “dead letters”, letters which could not be delivered. In the story of the same name he opens a few which are “reproduced” here. In these six short pages Vladislavić provides more mental stimulation and speculation than one might find in an entire collection.

Whether you read these as stories or as metaphors for our time and our society, you will want to return to them again and again. Mr Vladislavić is one of the writers plying his trade today.

Trigger Mortis

Anthony Horowitz (Orion: £18.99; e-book £9.99)

There is a vogue for established authors either picking up where someone else left off: PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley homage to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. Ian Fleming's iconic James Bond novels were one of the first to undergo this treatment, beginning with John Gardiner and including Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd.

Anthony Horowitz was approached by the Fleming estate last year and invited to place his moniker on the series. It seems an almost impossible task. If the author writes afresh there can be criticism. If the author writes in the style of Fleming, seeking to evoke the style and comfort of the genuine article, it may be claimed a pastiche. The Bond films bear, at times, only a passing reference to the books of the same name, and the later films have barely a sliver of a basis in a book.

Horowitz has placed Bond in the 1950s and evokes the Fleming style. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book with a story and style of the original Bond books. Pussy Galore makes a brief appearance, Jeopardy Lane makes an appearance, and we have Bond facing his old adversary SMERSH, which has the aim of knocking the USA out of the space race for more than a generation. We have a motor race, Bond fighting his way out of many a difficult situation and looking to get the better of an almost impossible scenario. It is all reminiscent of Fleming and is almost filmatic. Read and soak up the atmosphere of the good old days.


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