Mini review: “SS-GB” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

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This is an “alternative history” novel (think “Fatherland“), imagining what if Germany won the second World War.

This is a well crafted story that evokes a believable world where Britain is under direct German control.  We see the effect on the population, the smell of defeat and desperation.  But there is also a thriving black market and those who have become wealthy as a result of their collaboration with the Germans.

A determined resistance movement is planning an audacious plot.  The main character, a policeman at Scotland Yard, walks a fine line between his need to work for his German superiors and his relations with those he knows in the resistance.

Deighton does an excellent job examining the politics not only between the victors and the oppressed but also between the different factions of the German command – the intelligence services, army and police.

In relation specifically to the audiobook version, the quality of narration is first class – this is expected now from the narrator of most of the other Len Deghton audiobooks, such as the “Harry Palmer” books and the “Game, Set and Match” trilogy.

A final bit of good news is that the book is being adapted into a five-part series by the BBC.  Over the last few years they have done a good job with spy stories (for example “Spies of Warsaw” and “Restless“) so I am hopeful they’ll deliver something as good as the book.

Radio: The Grace of Jeff Buckley (BBC Radio 4)

This is an excellent programme on the early days of Jeff Buckley and his premature death.  It features an exquisite live version of Grace performed on his first UK radio appearance.

It brought back some memories:  at the end of 1994 I was studying in Lyon, France.  The music magazine I was reading kept mentioning Jeff Buckley and by the beginning of 1995 I finally checked out the album Grace.  It was sublime stuff.  I saw that he had a small tour in February and tried to get tickets only to be told that they sold out a long time ago.  No problem, I thought, I’ll catch him next time round.

Later in the year I went to the club where he had played to see another band.  It was a tiny venue and the stage literally was a platform raised a few feet off the ground.  You could stand right next to the stage, no barriers.  I thought it would have been amazing to see Jeff there.  For those people there, I’m sure it was astounding.

A couple of years later I heard he had died unexpectedly, having drowned whilst swimming in the Mississippi river.  Whenever I think back to this I wonder what it would have been like to have been at the concert – according to the radio programme we lost a live performer of great power and intensity.

• BBC Radio 4:  The Grace of Jeff Buckley

Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

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When I first read London Match – the final part of the “Game, Set and Match” trilogy by Len Deighton – about 13 years ago I thought it was the least exciting of the three books.  However, now I have had a chance to read (listen) to the book again I have changed my mind.  It is as strong as the others, but different.  There is a lot of detailed storytelling going on.

We are dealing now with the full-on repercussions of what has come before.  Bernard suspects there is a second mole in the London office and suspicion falls in particular on one member of staff, although Bernard himself is not out of the woods yet either.  There are also doubts about the Russian defector Eric Stinnes.  Could he still be working for Moscow?

Where originally I thought that the book got muddled in the middle section, I can now see that there is a lot of office politics going on.  Many people are jostling for position and are determined not to be held responsible for failures when the music stops.

In the early stages there is a lot of history thrown in as conversation which is well integrated and very interesting.  Also, having read all three trilogies featuring the main character Bernard Samson and knowing the ultimate outcome of the entire story it is fascinating to pick up on some of the actions of the characters.

This makes you appreciate the scale of Len Deighton’s ingenuity at telling a story at such length.  I would highly recommend this series to anyone.

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Review: London Match (original review of the book)

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books

• Harper Collins: Len Deighton audiobooks

Northumberland roadtrip time-lapse (December 2014)

Between Christmas and New Year (2014) we were driving from North Yorkshire to Scotland.  We heard that there had been bad weather but had seen nothing.  The further north we went, the more we saw some frost.  As we made our way through Northumberland (one of the English counties that borders Scotland) we saw the snow.  The weather was still and bright and the snow made the landscape into a real winter wonderland.

I thought I’d try out the time-lapse setting on my phone’s camera and this was the result.

A couple of notes:

1) by default the video resolution is quite low.  It can be set to HD via the YouTube settings icon

2) no speed limits were broken during the making of this video…

Len Deighton audiobooks coming in 2015…

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2014 was a good year for releases of Len Deighton audiobooks, with the arrival of several of the “Spy with no name”/”Harry Palmer” books and the “Game, Set and Match” trilogy.

The next books in the series form the “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogy and I’m really pleased to see that they will be released as audiobooks in 2015:

Sy Hook: January

Spy Line:  April

Spy Sinker:  June

The “Faith, Hope and Charity” trilogy also starts with Faith coming out in August 2015.  I’m not sure if I will listen to this trilogy as I don’t think it is as strong as the first two, but I may well be sucked in.

It looks like 2015 is going to be a brilliant year for Len Deighton fans who love to listen to their fiction.  The great SS-GB – although not part of the Bernard Samson story – is also coming in January 2015.  I get the impression that I’ll be keeping my Audible subscription active for a while to come…

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Review: London Match (original review of the book)

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books

• Harper Collins: Len Deighton audiobooks

Film: The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies (IMAX 3D 48 frames per second HFR version)

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I wasn’t convinced when they first announced that The Hobbit would be a trilogy – I thought that the size of the book warranted two films at most.  Then I saw the hugely impressive showdown with the dragon at the end of the second film “The Desolation of Smaug” and appreciated what could be achieved with the extra time.

The extra time also buys us this experience.  This film is basically a two hour battle – men and dwarves and elves and orcs and eagles in one massive military set-piece that never flags or lets up. It’s been a long time since I read the book but I don’t remember it being like this.

I went to see the “full fat” version of the film – the IMAX 3D 48 frames per second HFR version.  In my reviews of the previous films I commented on the visual effect of the 48 frames per second.  It ruined the first film for me and worked better in the second film.  I’m still not completely sold on the effect, and it stands out here on occasion, but I largely forgot about it this time round.  Having said that, there is a real feeling of being close to the action.

This is a worthy end to the trilogy and – along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy – a spectacular achievement for Peter Jackson, the director.  Those of us who have seen all the films as they have been released have been on a cinematic journey, one that has taken us (in the words of the original title for this film) “There and Back Again”.

• Spare Cycles: Film: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (3D 48 frames per second HFR version)

• Spare Cycles: Film: The Hobbit -The Desolation of Smaug (IMAX 3D 48 frames per second HFR version)