Sunday, 20 May 2012

More About Books May 2012

John J Eddlestone - Murderous Derbyshire .  A fairly workmanlike non-fiction crime collection. The author and his researcher/partner Yvonne (surname unknown) drew heavily on court records in compiling this collection and it can be a little dry. It is at it`s best where a case has some ambiguities and/or some unusual and intriguing aspect that makes it out of the ordinary. Occasionally, the author does let his own personality show through and in my view the book would have been better if he`d had the confidence to do so more often. Here and there, we catch glimpses of how people in Derbyshire used to live - their housing, their occupations, their general attitudes and values. It may be that this aspect could have been explored a little further. In the end, it did win me over and for that reason I`d say it is worth a read.

J B Priestley - The Carfitt Crisis and Two Other Stories  (The Carfitt Crisis/Underground/The Pavilion of Masks) 

  `Carfitt` and `Pavilion` were originally conceived by Priestley as plays and he regarded them as "entertainments embodying some serious ideas", whilst Underground is a short horror story. A tricky collection to review, so I shall content myself with a few general observations.

The character of Engram in The Carfitt Crisis may be seen as a descendant of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls, as, arguably, is the unnamed `tall man` who appears towards the end of Undergound.  The characters of Marion and Joyce in `Carfitt` are well-observed but the dialogue of some of the younger characters is unconvincing. `Pavilion` plays host to one character`s description of a new age that he believes  is just beginning;

"An age when appearance will defeat reality, when what is said is more important than what is done, when the shadow will be accepted for substance, and more and more people will stop living their own lives to dream of living somebody else`s life". 

Sounds a bit like the present day !

 I don`t want to get into too lengthy a discussion of this collection, so I`ll close by saying that as a whole it doesn`t really work for me, but others may get more out of it.  I have reviewed other Priestley works on this blog (and no doubt will review others in the future) and it`s fair to say those were more to my taste.

Stephen Hines (compiler), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others - The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A compilation of contemporary comment, including correspondence from the letters pages of the press of the time, on two cases of apparent wrongful conviction, cases in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle involved himself personally.

The first of these cases concerned a young solicitor named George Edalji and the second concerned a rather different character, a criminal named Oscar Slater.

For the most part Stephen Hines chooses to stay in the background, only occasionally interjecting his own observations. I can understand that, but at the same time the Edalji case generated a great deal of correspondence and in that part of the book I felt that certain exchanges could usefully have been summarized rather than being reproduced in full.

In the case of Slater, Conan Doyle`s The Case of Oscar Slater is reproduced without any additional material and I must admit I breathed a sigh of relief for that reason.

Nevertheless, this is an invaluable volume in many ways and I would recommend it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Vampires Visit Yorkshire Coast

Many photographers have taken pictures of the blue Bram Stoker plaque at Whitby, and I`m sure many of them have done it better than me.

That doesn`t matter as I wanted a picture of my own, even if, as happened on this occasion, I was slightly hampered by a sign directly in front of the plaque advertising a flat to let.

This is my third attempt to get a picture of the plaque. On each of the previous occcasions, something went wrong - once a camera went missing, on another the relevant image was missing from the camera on our return. Pretty spooky, yeah ? Well, no I suspect it had more to do with human error than undead forces.

Anyway, Dracula remains a personal favourite of mine. While Bram`s non-Dracula work contains one or two gems I`d have to admit that not everything he wrote was of a uniformly high standard.

But judge for yourself. For Bram completists, the site to visit has to be , but there are other online places of interest and here are just a couple ;

(Indulging in a little lateral thinking for a moment, if you`re keen on literary plaques etc, you might wish to visit Nottingham writer Tony Shaw`s blog at

Returing to vampires and other such matters, can I also take this opportunity to recommend this article ;

Matthew Coniam - Did a Vampire Really Haunt Highgate Cemetery ? No, of Course it Didn`t ! - posted Tues 17 April 2012 at , an article which outlines an odd and rather obscure series of events which took place in Highgate circa 1970 and which provided yours ruly with a great deal of amusement. 


African Art in Derby

Like a number of regional museums and art galleries, those run by Derby City Council hold a sizeable collection of African art and artefacts that, sadly, rarely see the light of day.

These collections were often donated during the early 20th century by the families of nineteenth century collectors who had shuffled off this mortal coil. Often the collections came with little or no supporting information, and the quality varies according to the intentions of the individual collector - some collected out of a genuine appreciation or intellectual curiosity, others saw themselves as collecting oddities and novelties. 

The Figures of Africa exhibition at Derby`s Pickford`s House museum (Friar Gate, Derby - a short walk from the city centre, near to Friar Gate Arches) gives us a welcome opportunity to see a selection from that collection. 

I had seen most of the items in the current exhibition when they were displayed at the same venue on an earlier occasion, but I was happy to make their acquaintance once again. The items on show included Nomoli stone figures carved by the Sapi people of Sierra Leone, Mende masks (also from Sierra Leone) originally used by the Sande women`s association and some Akan brass weights from Ghana (stylistically similar to Ashanti gold weights). I was also very taken with a Nigerian Ekpo mask with antelope-style horns and a representation of a small bird between them.

My only criticism would be that Figures of Africa is such a small exhibition. I personally would be happy to visit Pickford`s House any day of the week, but for anyone specifically wanting to pursue an interest in African art, the small selection on display hardly merits a journey of any distance. 

All was not lost, however, and your intrepid art lover took himself to nearby Derby Museum and Art Gallery where the Visual Poetry of 1001 Objects includes a number of African items, in particular a wooden Benin figure, a wooden Kenyan Policeman figure and an Ivory Coast bird mask.   

Additionally, there is also a small Ancient Egyptian section to the museum.

Here again though only a small proportion of the objects on display are of African origin.

For me, that doesn`t matter much. I had other reasons to be in  Derby and was basically combining business with pleasure. Additionally, there were other items of interest to me at both museums.

I can`t help wondering whether an opportunity is being missed here. Surely it wouldn`t be beyond the wit of man to exhibit a larger proportion of the 500 or so African items held at Derby ? I recall some years ago when the work of Sokari Douglas Camp was being exhibited at Nottingham Castle she also curated a small display from the Castle`s rarely-seen stock of African items that was well worth a look. I would have though something similar could be done in Derby.

Let`s hope something is done soon, as on this showing the selection held at Derby could be pretty remarkable.

Figures of Africa - at Pickford`s House until 30 Sept 2012

`1001 Objects` - at Derby City Museum and Art Gallery until January 2014

Further info at

Monday, 14 May 2012

Ramblin` Kate

I gather that Kate Ashbrook has become the new President of the Ramblers (, with outgoing President Julia Bradbury taking up a new position as Vice President.

Kate is a nationally known campaigner for countryside access and related issues, associated with both the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society.

The Ramblers has been going through a troubled patch in recent years as this blog has commented. That is hopefully history now, particularly since the departure of  Chief Exec Tom Franklin, who stood down late last year.

The appointment of Ms Ashbrook is likely to be popular with members. More than three quarters of paid-up Ramblers members are not connected with their local group, presumably implying that they join to support the campaigning side of the organisation.

The coming year is likely to be challenging for the organisation nationally in many ways, particularly on the campaigning side.

There are also less well-known internal issues that need to be addressed. Some local  groups are highly organised and take sensible measures to make themselves accessible, i.e. by making sensible arrangements for walkers to meet up and share transport, others appear to give little thought to either attracting or keeping new members.

It`s generally felt that Kate Ashbrook is unlikely to treat her Presidency as a purely honorary thing, so this is a good moment for me to plug her blog. Visit Kate at ; .



Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Crime Writer`s Conference Continues to be Convivial

If, like me, you have a fondness for murders, mysteries and other renegade activities (within the pages of a book, of course !), you may wish to know that the Crime Writer`s Association held it`s annual conference recently.

For an interesting account of the event, see Martin Edwards -  The Southampton Conference - Wed, 2 May 2012 at .

Founded by John Creasey in 1953, the Assoc can be found at .