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Gangsters in Hats

Richard Mayne, 17 May 1984

Essays on Detective Fiction 
edited by Bernard Benstock.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £20, February 1984, 0 333 32195 2
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Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge 
by William Nolan.
Arthur Barker, 276 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 213 16886 3
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The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 344 pp., £12.95, January 1984, 9780701127664
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Hellman in Hollywood 
by Bernard Dick.
Associated University Presses, 183 pp., £14.95, September 1983, 0 8386 3140 1
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... mean ceasing to discriminate between literature and yarns? Professor James Naremore, in Professor Bernard Benstock’s symposium, seems to imply that it does. Dashiell Hammett, he writes, ‘challenges the easy distinctions between popular and high art, and the critical language that normally sustains those distinctions’. Implicitly, perhaps he did ...

Letting it get out

Bernard Williams, 18 October 1984

Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation 
by Sissela Bok.
Oxford, 332 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 19 217733 8
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The Secrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today 
edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel.
Heinemann, 166 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 9780435839390
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... to know, but it mostly neglected the point that as a source of knowledge about political events, Dick Crossman’s testimony – even his testimony to himself – needed, to put it mildly, a good deal of interpretation. His individual and sometimes malign preoccupations provided no surrogate for a Cabinet Hansard. It can rightly be said that more ...

Quiet Sinners

Bernard Porter: Imperial Spooks, 21 March 2013

Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire 
by Calder Walton.
Harper, 411 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 0 00 745796 0
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... It may also have helped Ian Smith’s Rhodesia; though, again, Walton has no proof. MI5’s Dick White claimed that SIS had collected ‘evidence’ of homosexuality with which to blackmail Cyprus’s Archbishop Makarios, but the papers aren’t yet available to back this up (or otherwise). We know SIS was involved in the ousting of Mossadeq in Iran in ...

Shakespeare’s Sister

Elaine Showalter, 25 April 1991

Kate Chopin: A Life of the Author of ‘The Awakening’ 
by Emily Toth.
Century, 528 pp., £20, March 1991, 0 7126 4621 3
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... Chopin’s contemporaries have made it popular with professors today. In fact, according to Bernard Koloski, the editor of Approaches to Teaching Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ (MLA, 1988), it is ‘something of a teacher’s dream – a classic though topical novel that students respond well to after a first reading, yet an exceptionally rich literary ...

Opera Mundi

Michael Neve, 1 December 1983

Out of Order 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 86051 190 1
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Frank Johnson’s Election Year 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 192 pp., £6.95, October 1983, 0 86051 254 1
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by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 264 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 224 02114 1
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Poem of the Year 
by Clive James.
Cape, 79 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 224 02961 4
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The Original Michael Frayn 
by Michael Frayn.
Salamander, 203 pp., £8.50, October 1983, 0 907540 32 5
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... about it, and an orgiastic one, where one is cosmically-life-affirmingly-overwhelmed by it, as Bernard Levin is. What we are talking about when we talk about opera becomes an intriguing moral moment. People who talk about it well seem to do it very well, to be able to be large-minded and yet sceptical at the same time. (True Wagnerians do not think that ...

Thank God for Traitors

Bernard Porter: GCHQ, 18 November 2010

GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency 
by Richard Aldrich.
Harper, 666 pp., £30, June 2010, 978 0 00 727847 3
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... been right. In the 1970s journalistic suspicion and criticism of the ‘secret state’ mounted. Dick White, a head of SIS, told a colleague that even his own children had complained about his ‘shady business’. He had replied: ‘Do you consider me to be any less good a husband and father and good citizen?’ Aldrich thinks that rejoinder was ‘a good ...

All Too Firmly Planted

Bernard Bailyn, 10 November 1994

Mobility and Migration: East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629-1640 
by Roger Thompson.
Massachusetts, 305 pp., £39.50, April 1994, 0 87023 893 0
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Adapting to a New World: English Society in the 17th-century Chesapeake 
by James Horn.
North Carolina, 461 pp., $65, September 1994, 0 8078 2137 3
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... artisans and farmers, Thompson has clear sailing. These were no ambitious, enterprising, wandering Dick Whittingtons (apparently his base-line point of comparison), whatever their ‘restless, youthful mobility’; they neither wanted nor achieved much betterment. They were ‘resolutely rooted’ people whose families had scarcely budged for generations and ...

Earl Grey Moments

Tobias Jones, 2 October 1997

Grace Notes 
by Bernard Mac Laverty.
Cape, 277 pp., £14.99, July 1997, 9780224044295
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... borrowing the sonorous qualities of one art-form to make up for the artistic failings of another. Bernard Mac Laverty’s strength has always been his linguistic focus on minutiae, his depiction of the parochial through luminescent language. Lines from his short stories fizzle in the memory years after we read them. There’s the Grandmaster in his collection ...

Think Tiny

Mark Ford: Nancification, 17 July 2008

The Nancy Book 
by Joe Brainard.
Siglio, 144 pp., $39.50, April 2008, 978 0 9799562 0 1
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... or a person instead of a work. My work’s never become ‘a Brainard’. Or even a Jainard or a Bernard or a Joe. Here are the last six ‘I remember’s from his sparklingly original and ‘totally great’ (to use one of his own favourite locutions) memoir, I Remember, issued in four instalments between 1970 and 1973, and then collected in a single ...

A Life of Its Own

Jonathan Coe, 24 February 1994

The Kenneth Williams Diaries 
edited by Russell Davies.
HarperCollins, 827 pp., £20, June 1993, 0 00 255023 7
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... sexual freedom when the reality for most punters must have been closer to Carry On Camping, with Bernard Bresslaw and Sid James making a pathetic pilgrimage to a nudist camp in order to gaze longingly at the ‘birds’ – pop-eyed, helpless and fundamentally out of the running. What Williams and the leering, pickle-nosed James had in common, then, was ...

Georgian eyes are smiling

Frank Kermode, 15 September 1988

Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: The Search for Love, 1856-1898 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 486 pp., £16, September 1988, 0 7011 3332 5
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Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. Vol. IV 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 946 pp., £30, June 1988, 0 370 31130 2
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Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. VIII 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 175 pp., $25, April 1988, 0 271 00613 7
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Shaw’s Sense of History 
by J.L. Wisenthal.
Oxford, 186 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812892 4
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Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. III: 1903-1907 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 532 pp., £35, April 1988, 0 521 32387 8
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Joseph Conrad: ‘Nostromo’ 
by Ian Watt.
Cambridge, 98 pp., £12.50, April 1988, 0 521 32821 7
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... this debacle, he later took a strong line about feminine demands on him, somewhat in the manner of Dick in The Devil’s Disciple. Among those he tormented were Edith Bland, whose husband Hubert was unfaithful. Failing to get Shaw into bed, she made her famous complaint: ‘You had no right to write the Preface if you were not going to write the book.’ Then ...

Gaslight and Fog

John Pemble: Sherlock Holmes, 26 January 2012

The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Haia Shpayer-Makov.
Oxford, 429 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 19 957740 8
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... In fiction, however, they were paramount. Here they eclipsed outlaw heroes of folk tradition – Dick Turpin, Jonathan Wild, Dick Sheppard – and usurped the leadership of the police in the fight against delinquency and disorder. The prolific Stephen Knight has calculated that Sherlock Holmes had at least 13 ...

Oedipal Wrecks

Michael Mason, 26 March 1992

Fates Worse than Death 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 240 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 224 02918 5
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... of characters, supposedly abandoned, such as Norman Mushari and Winston Niles Rumfoord. In Deadeye Dick (1982) the setting is Midland City, where Breakfast of Champions was set, with many of its inhabitants revived also. The narrator and hero of Bluebeard (1985) is another character from that novel, Rabo Karabekian, while Galapagos is narrated by the son of ...

The it’s your whole life

Iain Bamforth: Jean-Claude Romand, 22 March 2001

The Adversary: A True Story of Murder and Deception 
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Bloomsbury, 183 pp., £14.99, January 2001, 0 7475 5189 8
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... the family had been killed in the morning): they were supposed to be dining at Fontainebleu with Bernard Kouchner, who Romand claimed was a friend; on the way there he had attacked and tried to strangle her. All she had wanted was the return of her savings – 900,000 francs she thought she had invested through him in a Swiss account. Hers was the last in a ...


Tam Dalyell: The Belgrano Affair, 7 February 1985

... about the Belgrano. I have no difficulty in imagining this scene. From 1964-70, I was the late Dick Crossman’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, and had a ringside seat which enabled me to witness how berserk Harold Wilson, as Prime Minister, would go about leaks. I suspect this is in the nature of prime ministers, particularly those who live in Number ...

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