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New Book Wednesday: 17th June 2020  

Hello! Summer starts on Saturday and we’ve got some fantastic books for you to escape into this week. From a post-war classic, to King Arthur’s supposed grave in Glastonbury plus a few crime thrillers and historical non-fictions in between. Happy New Book Wednesday!

The Glittering Prizes by Frederic Raphael 

With a new foreword from Frederic Raphael, this international bestseller follows a group of Cambridge students from the 1950s as they go out into the world and enter the British establishment. Miranda Seymour in The Guardian has called it ‘near to being required reading’ with the ‘power to intrigue and entertain’.

‘The prizes which glittered most attractively to the lucky post-war generation were to be found in the public arts, the theatre, the BBC, politics, the law and academe’ – Frederic Raphael (from the 2020 foreword)

Frederic Raphael’s witty, brilliant novel, written alongside the hit TV series first broadcast in 1976 to huge acclaim, is a classic of post-war British fiction. Following the fortunes of an elite group of students at Cambridge University in the 1950s, and then out into the world, the story perfectly captures the zeitgeist of an era. A gifted, grammar school/scholarship generation sweeps away the old rules of class and empire and make their careers in the media, law, politics and academe, forming the meritocracy that would come to govern the British establishment.

Adam Morris is a clever scholarship boy who finds friends and lovers in a tight knit circle that includes Alan Parks, Mike Clode, Anna Cunningham, Barbara Ransome, and Bill Bourne. They are all brilliantly clever, but on leaving the gilded world of Cambridge only some win the glittering prizes of real life.

To Raphael, however, worldly success is not the only measure of happiness. A vein of disillusion and sadness runs through the narrative, beneath all the sparkling badinage. And through Adam, Raphael explores unresolved issues of anti-Semitism buried deep in British society, while the sad fate of his roommate and friend Donald hints at the unravelling grip of the old aristocracy.

King Arthur’s Avalon: The Story of Glastonbury by Geoffrey Ashe

This fascinating piece of non-fiction from Geoffrey Ashe is over sixty years old but has retained its huge influence over Arthurian study and our understanding of the British legend. Ashe looks at the magical reputation of Glastonbury and examines whether it was the final resting place of King Arthur himself. 

Glastonbury is a place of strong magic, which one day will revive…

In King Arthur’s Avalon, leading Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe explores the idea that King Arthur and his wife Guinevere are buried at Glastonbury, a town which also has legendary links to Camelot and the iconic Holy Grail. 

Ashe suggests that the Somerset town, which is also linked to Joseph of Arimathea, was in fact Avalon, the legendary island at the heart of Arthurian legend where the sword Excalibur was forged. 

In this detailed historical and literary discussion of Britain’s ‘New Jerusalem’ Ashe moves from Malory to Blake to Tennyson to show that Glastonbury’s magic is at the heart of British history, as well as British legend. 

King Arthur’s Avalon has sold more than 100,000 copies in over sixty years and has been widely credited with reviving interest in both Glastonbury and the Arthurian legends.

Crow’s Landing by Brad Smith

Following on from Red Means Run released earlier this year, we’re reunited with Virgil Cain in this racy crime thriller. 

Jack-of-all-trades Virgil Cain gets tangled up in an old crime surfacing from the waters of the Hudson River.

For Virgil Cain, a day of fishing on the Hudson River yields more than he bargained for when, while pulling up anchor, he hooks on to a mysterious steel cylinder. 

As word of Virgil’s strange catch spreads around the local marina, it draws the attention of a crooked city cop, who seizes both the cylinder and Virgil’s boat. Soon, an old drug deal gone sour resurfaces, and to get to the bottom of it—and to get his boat back—Virgil teams up with a captivating single mom, Dusty, who knows far too much about the cylinder and the pure cocaine it contains. 

The landscape is soon cluttered with the dealer who claims ownership of the cylinder, his murderous sidekick, and a wild card in the form of a crazy Russian cowboy. Virgil and Dusty find themselves trapped in the middle and desperate for a way out…

Shoot the Dog by Brad Smith 

After Crow’s Landing  comes the third novel in the Virgil Cain series – a riveting mystery revolving around the discovery of a movie star’s body near the Hudson River.

In upstate New York, Virgil Cain is drawing hay behind his team of massive Percherons when two movie scouts show up and offer $500 a day to use the horses in a film to be shot in the area. Virgil, in need of cash, reluctantly pockets the money, but he soon finds the chaotic set of Frontier Woman to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Savvy producer Sam Sawchuk is in over her head; when she’s not propping up her talent-challenged husband-cum-director, she’s trying to keep tabs on a new investor, the Native American casino owner Ronnie Red Hawk, a rambling egomaniac with designs on an infamous starlet. 

When the film’s leading lady turns up dead, Virgil discovers that more is at stake than the carnal interests of a casino magnate and the production of a major motion picture. And although he’d rather leave the whole bunch to stew in their own juices, he realizes he needs to step in before a charming ten-year-old actress named Georgia becomes the next victim.

Extreme Justice: The True Story of Murder in an American POW Camp by Vincent S. Green

Based on a true story, Extreme Justice is a morally intricate and fascinating look at what happened to many German Prisoners of War in the final years and aftermath of the Second World War.

Nazi Germany has surrendered, and the Second World War is over. Thousands of Nazi Soldiers have surrendered themselves to the British and the American forces. One former Luftwaffe unit is transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Oklahoma. Despite their defeat, the POWs remain hopeful in different ways.

Some like Sergeant Koch naïvely believe that the surrender is only temporary and Germany will triumph once more. Others like Hans Schomer just hope to get back home and reunite with their wives and children. And they all follow the words of their First Sergeant Walter Beyer: ‘You are a German, a soldier. Do not forget who you are.’ All except Corporal Johannes Kunze.

Kunze’s hope is to immigrate his family to California. He never much believed in the ‘Great Fuhrer’ and Nazi Germany is clearly over – for good. To Beyer, a proud German national, a soldier who has fought on the African front, Kunze’s attitude is both repellent and disrespectful. And when Beyer gets wind that there’s a spy – a rat leaking information to the Americans – he knows just who it is.

When he gets proof it’s Kunze, he feels he has no choice but to reveal, to his men, the traitor in their midst. But somehow, what was meant to be a confrontation – a bad licking to set Kunze in his place – ends in a brutal and savage murder. 

When Beyer and his fellow officers get arrested, he and the officers aren’t about to betray their men by offering them up to the Americans. After all, Kunze was a traitor – as far as they’re concerned, his death was tragic but warranted. Why can’t the Americans see that? Isn’t that exactly what they would do if the positions were reversed? 

What follows for them is a historic trial, where justice is dealt in the most extreme measures…

The Opium War by Brian Inglis 

Discover the true story of the Opium War, a conflict focused on addiction to money and the drug itself in this detailed and thrilling account by Brian Inglis. 

1839. Trade is the stalwart of the British Empire. China threatens Britain’s Opium trade. Britain and China go to war.

When Britain sent troops to compel the Chinese to accept imports of opium, they opened what is argued to be one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of the Empire.

How did the situation arise? How did opium exports become so crucial to the British economy? How did the British come to be as addicted to opium revenue as the Chinese were to the drug itself? 

Brian Inglis gives the answers to these and other questions in this meticulously researched study of The Opium War. Shocking, shaming, but fascinating throughout.

SBS: The Invisible Raiders by James D. Ladd

Shrouded in secrecy, the Special Boats Squadron, the SBS, has always been the subject of much conjecture and speculation. In this account James D Ladd highlights the successes of one of the least known parts of the British military. 

An elite, semi-clandestine military establishment, the reputation of the SBS is as formidable as that of their Army counterpart, the SAS. 

They can infiltrate enemy harbours, marine installations and coastlines held by hostile troops. Armed with the most sophisticated weapons and communications systems, their objectives are as carefully defined as a surgeon’s blade: sabotage, kidnap, reconnaissance or, that vital but rarely-recognised contribution to warfare, intelligence gathering.

Following the format of the bestselling Who Dares Wins, James Ladd has succeeded in penetrating beyond the mythology to reveal hitherto little-known aspects of Britain’s premier seaborne ‘special force’. He outlines its activity during the Second World War and traces its impact on conflicts throughout the rest of the 20th century.

We’ll be back next week with more new books! See you then and stay safe, wherever you are. Happy reading! 

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