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Capos and Cardinals

Jonathan Steinberg

17 August 1989
Fascism and the Mafia 
by Christopher Duggan.
Yale, 322 pp., £19.95, January 1989, 0 300 04372 4
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A Thief in the Night: The Death of Pope John​ Paul I 
by John Cornwell.
Viking, 301 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 670 82387 2
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... easily into fantasies about criminal conspiracies. It expects the worst of every public act and statement. It looks for complicated explanations when simple and obvious ones will do. In a sense both JohnCornwell’s A Thief in the Night and Christopher Duggan’s Fascism and the Mafia are attempts by Italian-speaking Englishmen to debunk such ideas, to pour clear water into turbid, murky cisterns ...

Spiritual Rock Star

Terry Eagleton: The failings of Pope John​ Paul II

3 February 2005
The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John​ Paul II’s Papacy 
by John Cornwell.
Viking, 329 pp., £20, February 2005, 0 670 91572 6
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... world: ‘And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God said “Er – could I just see the darkness again?”’ If this is not Pope John Paul II’s kind of God, it’s as much because of the hesitancy as the gender. If he were ever in two minds on a subject, both of them would be infallible. Not for nothing was the priest who taught ...

Washed in Milk

Terry Eagleton: Cardinal Newman

5 August 2010
Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint 
by John Cornwell.
Continuum, 273 pp., £18.99, May 2010, 978 1 4411 5084 4
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... authoritarian young men for whom the priesthood represented social respectability as well as a pleasant opportunity to tell people twice their age what to do. At the time when the undergraduate John Henry Newman was delighting in the inexhaustible metaphorical riches of Aeschylus at Oxford, the students of Maynooth were being fed a philistine diet of papist apologetics and garbled chunks of ...

I’m all for it

R.W. Johnson

30 March 2000
Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII 
by John​ Cornwall.
Viking, 430 pp., £20, September 1999, 0 670 87620 8
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... changing room. The austere, ascetic Pius XII was the presiding spirit in this grim theocratic world. Later we had other Popes who, we were told, were also jolly good, but even the warm feeling about John XXIII never approached the devotional cult around Pius XII. There was a sense of real surprise that he wasn’t beatified and canonised as soon as he died. The nuns had told us that he couldn’t ...

Carré on spying

John​ Sutherland

3 April 1986
A Perfect Spy 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 463 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 9780340387849
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The Novels of John​ le Carré 
by David Monaghan.
Blackwell, 207 pp., £12.50, September 1985, 0 631 14283 5
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Taking sides: The Fiction of John​ le Carré 
by Tony Barley.
Open University, 175 pp., £20, March 1986, 0 335 15251 1
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John​ le Carré 
by Peter Lewis.
Ungar, 228 pp., £10.95, August 1985, 0 8044 2243 5
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A Servant’s Tale 
by Paula Fox.
Virago, 321 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 86068 702 3
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A State of Independence 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 158 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 571 13910 8
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... John le Carré has patiently established himself over the last twenty-five years as the discriminating reader’s favourite thriller writer. The BBC’s adaptations of the George Smiley trilogy in 1979 ...


John​ Sutherland

14 November 1996
From Potter’s Field 
by Patricia Cornwell.
Warner, 405 pp., £5.99, June 1996, 0 7515 1630 9
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Cause of Death 
by Patricia Cornwell.
Little, Brown, 342 pp., £9.99, October 1996, 0 316 87885 5
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... Earlier this year it was announced that Patricia Cornwell, America’s newest Queen of Crime, had defected from Scribner (the publisher who ‘discovered’ her) to Putnam. In defiance of trade courtesy, Cornwell bad-mouthed Scribner unmercifully on leaving ...

Happy Valleys

Dan Jacobson

18 November 1982
White Mischief 
by James Fox.
Cape, 293 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 224 01731 4
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Earth to Earth 
by John Cornwell.
Allen Lane, 174 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 7139 1045 3
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... names, and let the reader judge for himself whether he feels a prickling of interest in the case which it might not otherwise have roused. Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll (the murdered man). Sir John Henry (‘Jock’) Delves Broughton (the presumed murderer). Diana, Broughton’s second wife, who was later to become successively the wife of Gilbert de Préville Colvile and of Tom, the fourth ...

Born to Lying

Theo Tait: Le Carré

3 December 2015
John​ le Carré: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Bloomsbury, 652 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 2792 5
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... You​ don’t need the detective powers of George Smiley, or a conspiratorial mindset, to divine that something odd is going on behind the scenes of Adam Sisman’s new biography of John le Carré. In the past, would-be biographers have been discouraged from poking their noses into the business of David Cornwell, the former spy who has written under that curious pseudonym since 1961 ...

Come and Stay

Arnold Rattenbury

27 November 1997
England and the Octopus 
by Clough Williams-Ellis.
CPRE, 220 pp., £10.95, December 1996, 0 946044 50 3
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Clough Williams-Ellis: RIBA Drawings Monograph No 2 
by Richard Haslam.
Academy, 112 pp., £24.95, March 1996, 1 85490 430 2
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Clough Williams-Ellis: The Architect of Portmeirion 
by Jonah Jones.
Seren, 204 pp., £9.95, December 1996, 1 85411 166 3
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... sense of communities. It is at this point that Clough’s great village works develop – at Oare in Wiltshire, Cushendun and Bushmills in County Antrim, Portmeirion and, perhaps the best of them, Cornwell in Oxfordshire – as well as the lesser ‘tightening-ups’, pulling a village or suburb together around some central feature, as with his restoration of Maddocks’s Town Hall at Tremadoc or his ...

Making strange

John​ Sutherland

19 March 1981
Other people 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 223 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 224 01766 7
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The Magic Glass 
by Anne Smith.
Joseph, 174 pp., £6.50, March 1981, 9780718119867
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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page 
by Gerald Edwards.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £7.50, March 1981, 0 241 10477 7
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Sharpe’s Eagle 
by Bernard Cornwell.
Collins, 266 pp., £6.50, February 1981, 0 00 221997 2
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by Len Deighton.
Hutchinson, 397 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 09 144570 1
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... poverty than from an austerely Judaist upbringing). To take a topical example: what distinguishes A Sense of Freedom from the paid confessions of other latterday Newgate heroes like Alfie Hinds or John McVicar is the intensely narcissistic attention Boyle turns on his early days in the Gorbals. Whereas McVicar perfunctorily stereotypes himself as the grammar-school boy perverted by his ‘milieu ...

Great Internationalists

Rupert Cornwell

2 February 1989
Philby: The Life and Views of the KGB Masterspy 
by Phillip Knightley.
Deutsch, 291 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 233 98360 0
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Mask of Treachery: The First Documented Dossier on Blunt, MI5 and Soviet Subversion 
by John​ Costello.
Collins, 761 pp., £18, November 1988, 0 00 217536 3
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A Divided Life: A Biography of Donald Maclean 
by Robert Cecil.
Bodley Head, 212 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 370 31129 9
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The Storm Birds: Soviet Post-War Defectors 
by Gordon Brook-Shepherd.
Weidenfeld, 303 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 0 297 79464 7
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... Drawing on those conversations, Phillip Knightley has now published a revised version of the original Sunday Times book, Philby, the spy who betrayed a generation, which he co-authored in 1968. Mr John Costello has produced Mask of Treachery, dealing with Blunt, while Mr Robert Cecil has written a biography of his former Foreign Office colleague Donald Maclean. To round things out, we have The ...


Karl Miller: Smiley and Bingham

9 May 2013
A Delicate Truth 
by John​ le Carré.
Viking, 310 pp., £18.99, April 2013, 978 0 670 92279 6
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The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John​ Bingham 
by Michael Jago.
Biteback, 308 pp., £20, February 2013, 978 1 84954 513 6
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... John le Carré has now published 23 books, the Great Bear of that night sky being the series of novels lit by the round English gentleman, spymaster George Smiley, he who wipes his glasses with the thick ...

Stuck on the Flypaper

Frances Stonor Saunders: The Hobsbawm File

8 April 2015
... the distinct scent of archival matter, slightly sour, of mouldy particles of dust and time. Fugitive traces, like the whiff of cordite long after the gun has been fired. When I mention this to David Cornwell/John le Carré, he says: ‘I can still feel it in my nostrils now.’ Historians, like spooks, need a sensitive nose, Orwell’s ‘Sniff, sniff’ for the detection of ‘all the smelly little ...

Who was he?

Charles Nicholl: Joe the Ripper

7 February 2008
The Fox and the Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath 
by Charles van Onselen.
Cape, 672 pp., £20, April 2007, 978 0 224 07929 7
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... a ‘low-class Jew’. But this man, whom he does not name, was almost certainly Aaron Kosminski, who was incarcerated in an asylum though never charged with the murders. Other Jewish suspects were John Pizer, a shoemaker known as ‘Leather Apron’; Severin Klosowski alias George Chapman; Michael Ostrog, described by a police investigator as ‘a mad Russian doctor and convict, and unquestionably ...


John​ Lanchester: The Rise and Rise of Ian Rankin

27 April 2000
Set in Darkness 
by Ian Rankin.
Orion, 415 pp., £16.99, February 2000, 0 7528 2129 6
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... pictures, arrangement of letters etc, which suggest the syllables of which it is made up’. In 1987, Ian Rankin’s novel Knots & Crosses introduced us to a tough Edinburgh Detective Sergeant called John Rebus. A series of local girls had been kidnapped and strangled. Rebus – 41-year-old drinker, ex-soldier, failed husband, absentee father, Christian, annual rereader of Crime and Punishment – ...

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