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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz (FP: 2002)

If there was still any doubt that the process of Globalisation was in trouble it became starkly clear during the Battle of Seattle. Opposition to the seemingly inexorable progress of globalisation – seen by many in the West as an unqualified good – had been growing (inexplicably according to some) for years. Here is was, naked before the world’s cameras, for all to see. But why was such a thing even possible never mind so deep and so widespread? Didn’t the underdeveloped world want to join in the world’s economy to drive wealth generation, along with technological and cultural progress?
Of course the reality of globalisation on the ground hardly ever met the expectations of so many economists and others in the lofty offices inside the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and along Wall Street. The IMF in particular seemed wedded, indeed welded, to what became known as the ‘Washington Consensus’ which included fiscal policy discipline (dealing with deficits), redirection of public spending from any subsidies, market determined interest rates, liberalisation of trade, foreign investment and money markets and radical deregulation to free up market forces. In other words moving, as quickly as possible, from the original economic conditions on ‘first contact’ to as free a market situation as possible. It was very much a one size fits all model and was fully aware of the pain it caused (in the short term) to produce a vibrant western style economy with all the benefits that go with it.

Unfortunately, time and again, in South East Asia, South America and, most obviously, in Russia the application of the Washington Consensus often produced the exact opposite of what was intended with hikes in interest rates, destruction of local businesses, asset stripping by foreign short-term investors, widespread, deep and lasting unemployment, political upheaval and, almost as a side effect a few people becoming increasingly very rich whilst many were pushed ever deeper into lasting poverty. Looked at cynically it almost looked like that was the intention and that the beneficiaries where those lucky enough to be friends of the west in the guise of smart Wall Street investment banks. But this is not an outsider’s story. The author, a Nobel Prize winning economist, was at the heart of things as an advisor to President Clinton and as Chief Economist at the World Bank. This is VERY much an insider’s story.

Much of the book is dedicated to a criticism of the IMF (although the US Treasury and even the World Bank itself comes in for criticism too) which did, at times, become a bit wearing. The author writes well and certainly gets his points across but the impression is definitely of axe grinding with little love lost between him and the IMF in particular. However, even with that taken into consideration (I’m pretty convinced that this almost personal aspect of the book made me DNF it the first time when I tried to read it over a decade ago) this is still an interesting insight into the very top levels of economic planning on a global scale. To get a full appreciation though I’ll need to read more about the subject – both economics and globalisation – in future. Fortunately economics has become a recent topic of interest for me and I have about another 10 books on the subject yet to be read. So much more to come! A reasonable (very) high level view of later 20th century global economics.   

Monday, January 28, 2019

To sleep…. Or not (as the case may be).

I’m tired. It’s not that late though – only 21:23 here as I type this sentence. It hasn’t been a particularly long day, or a stressful one, but I’m certainly starting to flag. That’s because last night I barely slept. I woke up around 90 minutes after I put the light out and from then on lightly dozed until the alarm clock ‘woke’ me just over 5 hours later. Unfortunately this is not exactly an unusual occurrence.

I’ve been having bouts of insomnia for the last 20-30 years and possibly longer. Usually there’s a cause that seems to be a tailor made explanation for my inability to sleep: I’m ill, too stimulated, in unfamiliar surroundings, emotional or stressed from work. This I can understand and at least try to do something about. If I’m ill, say with a cold that restricts my breathing (which I hate at bedtime) I can take time off work to recover and, if required, sleep in the daytime to recover from my overnight sleep deprivation. I’ve learnt not to drink caffeine drinks after 6pm unless mixed with alcohol at the weekend (or if I’m actually planning to stay up all night watching an election – sad I know!). For the rest I try relaxation techniques, a nice smelling moisturiser designed for sleepless babies and various herbal remedies containing Valerian. So far at least I have managed to resist the pull of sleeping tablets and the danger of relying on them to get me under only to find I need a different kind of drug to get me going again in the morning. Personally I’d rather avoid that particular pharmacological roller-coaster if possible!

Most of my ‘episodes’ last 2-3 days (or rather nights) at the end of which I simply collapse into bed and sleep – deep. A few times it might drag on for 3-4 days/night. Very occasionally longer still. The worse times is when there is no obvious reason. It’s just that my brain refuses to sleep. During those, thankfully rare, instances I can be in bed WIDE awake where moments before I was barely keeping conscious. But the second my head hits the pillow – bam I’m awake. I know from experience that little I do after that will have any effect. I have often just considered getting up and continuing my day into the early hours but instead ‘pretended’ to sleep on the off chance that I could fool my body/brain the follow suit. Unfortunately my body has proven itself more than once to be smarter than I am.

Whilst not often actually debilitating my lack of sleep is, especially when it drags on for more than a few days, more than a little annoying. I suppose it might have something to do with my age. I do feel that it’s getting worse as the years progress. I wonder if, subconsciously, I’m realising that each hour awake is becoming progressively more precious. That’s probably a little too romantic for my taste. I think this might call for some research. I have a book on sleep coming up fairly soon. Maybe it’ll give me some pointers towards getting, more often than not, a decent night’s sleep. At least I can hope so [yawn]. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

We've been here before.......

Amazon Scout robots take to pavements in Washington State

From The BBC

24 January 2019

Amazon is experimenting with delivery robots, starting with a little truck called Scout which is taking to the pavements in Washington State. Six of the autonomous electric trucks will deliver parcels "at walking pace" round Snohomish County. The robots will only operate during the day and will be accompanied by an Amazon employee initially. It is the latest in a series of trials of pavement robots, seen as being a good alternative to road deliveries. "We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path," said Amazon vice-president Sean Scott on the company's blog. The truck is shown in a promotional video delivering a parcel, with a lid automatically lifting when the customer comes out of their house to retrieve the package. Details of how exactly this will work are not given. Neither is there any explanation for what happens if the customer is not in at the time of delivery.

Amazon will not be alone in making such deliveries. Robotics firm Starship Technologies has also just announced a fleet of two dozen autonomous robots that will deliver coffee and pizza to college students in Virginia. The robots can be requested via an app to deliver goods across the campus of George Mason University. San Francisco has had delivery robots on its streets for several years, with tech start-ups, including Marble and Starship, leading the way. But there has been something of a backlash, with some living there describing the robots as a menace and questioning how safe it was to share the pavements with them. In 2017, city supervisor Norman Yee introduced legislation to restrict their use, including capping the number of permits issued at three per company and requiring the delivery bots to only operate within certain neighbourhoods. They must also be accompanied by a human at all times.

[Now I can see something like this being useful in a University campus style environment. But out there on the street? Once they ditch the human supervisor (which I guess they will eventually) the Scouts and their cousins will probably be easy meat for opportunist thieves and a nightmare for law enforcement. I suppose that they could be restricted to safer (more wealthy) areas of any city but I doubt if it’ll be long before the first one is robbed, ‘kidnapped’ or hacked to deliver its cargo to another location where the hackers can empty it and drive off before anyone arrives – and then there’s the terrorist angle. Imagine one of those suckers filled with explosives rather than books….. ]

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Just Finished Reading: Spies & Commissars – Bolshevik Russia and the West by Robert Service (FP: 2011)

Once the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia burst upon the world like a bombshell a question reverberated across the West in the capitals of both Russia’s enemies as well as her existing allies. The question was: What do we do about it? The Central Powers response was easy – encourage the chaos, break Russia away from her western partners, knock Russia out of the war and, if necessary, deal with her later. To this end they allowed Lenin to cross their territory whilst pushing the remnants of the Russian army to collapse and ultimate revolt.

The response of the Western Allies was, inevitably, more complex. They wanted Russia to do her part and hold down dozens of German divisions in the East. Indeed they went so far to at least talk of assassinating Stalin (in 1918!) because he was such a strong advocate of a separate peace with Germany. But with German units flooding west in ever greater numbers there was little they could do to crush, or even influence, the Revolution as it survived day by day and, at its most perilous, hour by hour. Individual spies (and potential assassins) were in place but there was only so much that they could do in those very chaotic and highly dangerous times. But with the ultimate defeat of Germany and her allies things changed – just not as much as the west had hoped. After 5 years of bloody war it was a rash military man indeed who ordered, or contemplated ordering, his men to board ship to fight another war against what many soldiers saw as the birth of a working class utopia. Some still tried and the resulting strikes and practical mutinies in both British and French units sent shockwaves through London and Paris. Not only would troops not be sent to fight in Russia but they would be demobilised at speed and scattered across their home countries before revolution could spread outside Russia’s borders.

Knowing what was, at least potentially, ranged against them the Russian radicals knew that their ultimate salvation was spreading the revolution abroad as quickly as possible. The English were considered too far from revolution to aim at directly, the French showed promise, but the jewel in the crown of European revolution was Germany which seemed, to many observers, to be on the verge of revolution itself in the wake of military defeat and economic collapse. Much of the Russian effort to spread the October Revolution was spent on their old adversaries. In a time of great adventure and even greater risk on all sides revolutionary Russia became a magnet for revolutionaries from across the world, journalists in search of the story of a lifetime, businessmen in search of opportunity, political agents trying to destabilise the new regime or to spread its message far and wide as well as a whole host of thrill seekers and hangers on. It was the new Wild West were reputations were made and lives bought, sold and often lost.

I’ve got a pretty good handle on the momentous events of 1917. But here I learnt, down at street level, things were far from being neat or orderly even in a revolutionary manner. From day to day the chaos boiled over, winds changed direction, power and reputation flowered and died and no one, not matter who they were or how well connected they thought themselves, knew what was going to happen tomorrow. Anyone who tells you that things could not have happened differently (anywhere not just in St Petersburg in 1917) is simply showing their ignorance of detail. If Stalin has been assassinated by the British Secret Service the history of the world might have been very different. If the assassin’s bullet that struck Lenin had been a killing stroke and not just an incapacitating one the revolution itself might have failed. If the British financed coup had succeeded the revolution would have most definitely been crushed at birth. So many possibilities, so few certainties – this is the overall message of this book. Russia was in chaos for over 5 years after the revolution swept the Bolsheviks to power. At any moment the whole thing could have come crashing down. It was certainly not for want of wishing or planning from the British, French and Japanese forces. This is their story. Recommended for anyone interested in these world shattering events.

Monday, January 21, 2019

They're predicting snow.... 

My Favourite (US) TV New Anchors – Part 1.

I’m finding myself watching far too much YouTube at the moment – everything from history documentaries, TED talks, book vlogs, game walkthroughs, and, of course News. I’ve been a newshound for decades. Even as a teen I always made room for the 6 o’clock news and, just to be sure probably at least the 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock news later that night. At Uni I was in a group of news addicts who would channel hop between news shows. We must have been amongst the best informed students there. So it’s no surprise that I zeroed in on news shows on YouTube. The surprising bit is that I got hooked on US News shows so easily.

First was the shock. US News, it seemed to me, was frantic, shouty, argumentative, full of what we see as a bad thing – editorialising. Our news readers are dignified, reserved, and neutral. US news anchors seem to be, and indeed are, the polar opposite: involved, opinionated, and loud. I don’t think I’d seen a news reader laugh out loud so much and so often before I saw Nicole Wallace in full flow. But you know what? After the shock faded and I got used to the frantic pace and the noise levels I really started to like it. So much so that I get an actual thrill whenever my favourite anchors have a new upload. So, who are they?

My top favourite, at least for now, has to be Nicolle Wallace who hosts Deadline: White House on MSNBC. Not only is she great fun to watch (I just love her energy and enthusiasm to say nothing of her laugh) but I think she really knows her stuff and has great guests (listed maybe for a future post). Whenever she pops up on my YouTube feed I always end up watching this ‘lapsed Republican’ do her thing. Personally I think she’s brilliant.

Brilliant in another way, indeed I honestly find her riveting, is Rachel Maddow who hosts her own show again on MSNBC. I find that I’m learning reams of things about the American political system (something I’m really only just coming to grips with) every time I watch her show. Not only does she delve into seemingly obscure details in order to reveal a larger reality she does it in a way that reminds me of a classic detective story. It’s just so well done and has, more than once, kept me on the edge of my seat waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Finally, for now, is the double act of Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle (yet again on MSNBC!). Velshi is definitely the straight man to Ruhle’s intensity and emotion (and so much fun to watch compared to the rather staid UK version) which makes them such an entertaining team to watch together. I love the way that Ruhle leans into a conversation when she’s interested in the topic at hand. It’s very visually arresting.

As you can tell this things I like about all of the above anchors and shows is the intensity, the energy and the obvious enthusiasm (and deep knowledge) that each brings to the subject under discussion. That’s something missing from UK TV news which honestly could do with a bit more pep!     

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturn's spectacular rings are 'very young'

By Jonathan Amos for BBC Science

17 January 2019

We're looking at Saturn at a very special time in the history of the Solar System, according to scientists. They've confirmed the planet's iconic rings are very young - no more than 100 million years old, when dinosaurs still walked the Earth. The insight comes from the final measurements acquired by the American Cassini probe. The satellite sent back its last data just before diving to destruction in the giant world's atmosphere in 2017. "Previous estimates of the age of Saturn's rings required a lot of modelling and were far more uncertain. But we now have direct measurements that allows us to constrain the age very well," Luciano Iess from Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, told BBC News. The professor's team has published an account of its work with Cassini in Science magazine.

There has long been a debate about the age of Saturn's rings. Some had argued these gorgeous loops of icy particles most likely formed along with the planet itself, some 4.5 billion years ago. Others had suggested they were a recent phenomenon - perhaps the crushed up remains of a moon or a passing comet that was involved in a collision. The US-European Cassini mission promised to resolve the argument in its last months at the gas giant. The satellite's end days saw it fly repeatedly through the gap between the rings and the planet's cloudtops. These manoeuvres made possible unprecedented gravity measurements. Cassini essentially weighed the rings, and found their mass to be 20 times smaller than previous estimates: something on the order of 15,400,000,000,000,000 tonnes, or about two-fifths the mass of Mimas - the Saturn moon that looks like the "Death Star" weapon in the Star Wars movies.

Knowing the mass was a key piece in the puzzle for researchers. From Cassini's other instruments, they already knew the proportion of dust in the rings and the rate at which this dust was being added. Having a definitive mass for the rings then made it possible to work out an age. Prof Iess's team says this could be as young as 10 million years but is no older than 100 million years. In terms of the full age of the Solar System, this is "yesterday". The calculation agrees with one made by a different group which last month examined how fast the ring particles were falling on to Saturn - a rate that was described as being equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool every half-hour. This flow, when all factors were considered, would probably see the rings disappear altogether in "at most 100 million years", said Dr Tom Stallard from Leicester University, UK. "The rings we see today are actually not that impressive compared with how they would have looked 50-100 million years ago," he told BBC News. "Back then they would have been even bigger and even brighter. So, whatever produced them must have made for an incredible display if you'd been an astronomer 100 million years ago." Cassini's investigations cannot shed much light on the nature of the event that gave rise to the rings, but it would have been cataclysmic in scale. It was conceivable, said Dr Stallard, that the geology of the moons around Saturn could hold important clues. Just as rock and ice cores drilled on Earth reveal debris from ancient meteorite and comet impacts, so it's possible the moons of Saturn could record evidence of the ring-forming event in their deeper layers. Maybe we'll get to drill into the likes of Mimas and Enceladus... one day.

[How intriguing. It’s actually hard to imagine Saturn *without* rings. What a much duller Solar System it was over 100 million years ago!]

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Britain in the Nineteen Thirties by Noreen Branson and Margot Heinemann (FP: 1971)

It was called the ‘Hungry Thirties’ for a good reason. After the effects of the Crash of ’29 reverberating around the world governments, including in Britain, cut back on essential services and all aspects of government spending. Building projects were cancelled or postponed, pensions curtailed, civil service pay cut, teachers pay cut, unemployment pay cut. As the ripples spread and unemployment bloomed the primitive social security system strained, buckled and cracked. As working class destitution spread so did strikes, protest marches and civil disobedience. The police responded with a heavy hand and tensions grew. More and more people moved to political extremes, not just in the working class but throughout the whole structure of society. What was happening in Europe was clear to anyone who read the newspapers. With Communists and Fascists fighting on the streets throughout the Continent it was only a matter of time before it happened here – in England. So it did, with the rise of Moseley’s Blackshirt’s and widespread talk of the failure of democracy to solve the economic problems evident throughout the western world.

A good chunk, at least half if not more, of this detailed and often fascinating book covers the plight of the working class and the growing army of unemployed in this period of economic stagnation and political upheaval. Complete with charts, graphs and statistics is shows just how badly those on the lower end of the social scale suffered disproportionally to pay for the government’s clear inability to cope with the Great Depression (despite admittedly radical advice from JM Keynes). Although definitely dry in places and very clearly coming from a Left wing perspective (not at all subtle and hard to miss) this section laid the foundations for the rest of the book dealing with Unionisation, the spread of left wing and often Communist ideas amongst the working class, the structural changes in the class system during the period with a growing technological able middle class gaining strength year on year, the growth of education and educationally opportunity, the change in house ownership, the rise of mass media and much else besides.

Several things really jumped out at me in the second half of the book. One of which was the beginnings of public opinion survey’s which, for the first time actually gauged the thoughts of all classes of people to events of the day. One of the most important of the time were questions around the government’s policy of Appeasement. It actually really surprised me that most of the public were against appeasing Germany and Italy despite wanting peace – just not at any price. I had always thought that the government was essentially doing what the people wanted – avoiding war. But apparently a large percentage of people thought that the government’s behaviour was deeply troubling and that our throwing the Czechs to the wolves was particularly bad. The final thing that jumped out was the fact that a significant number of the establishment either actively or passively supported, or at worst turned a blind eye to, the rise of Fascism in England until the ‘bully tactics’ became so blatant that they could no longer be ignored. Oddly (or maybe not) the Labour Party didn’t want to seem to aggravate those on the far-right and left it to local trade unionists and other activists to show that such forces can be overturned by violent street protests. Because of this Fascism never rose to prominence here.

Despite being a rather old volume, which I’ve had on my shelves for many years, this was an excellent foundation and introduction to my delving into the early years of the war (1939-41) and the rise of Churchill. I now have a pretty good handle on the situation which placed us in the position to oppose Germany so effectively in 1940. Much more to come on this theme. Recommended if you can get a copy.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Tuesday Vote

Well, it looks like Parliament will actually get their vote this time. I think the whole place would go into meltdown if they didn’t. However, it looks like very little has changed before the last vote was cancelled and most political pundits agree that the vote on Tuesday will not go Teresa May’s way. The only real question is by how many votes she will lose by. If it’s by a handful it might just about be recoverable from. If it is, as some expect, by 100 or more it’s pretty much game over for the whole deal. If that number transpires (which honestly I doubt) she’ll need to go ASAP even if Labour don’t table a motion of no confidence which, if the results are that bad, they undoubtedly will. Of course who can replace her and if the Tories really want a leadership contest inside the ensuing chaos is anyone’s guess. My guess for the vote is that she’ll lose by about 40 votes – probably no more than 45. Of course this will be bad but not bad enough for Labour to go nuclear – probably. It all depends who much blood is in the water – to mix my metaphors somewhat!

So, what happens then? I’m assuming that May loses the vote (it’s possible that her fear tactics might persuade enough people for her to just squeeze by but I doubt it) and that either Labour doesn’t table the no confidence motion or they do and she wins in (which she most probably would). Well, without an agreed deal there aren’t many options left considering we’re due to leave the EU, almost no matter what, in about 11 weeks. We could of course simply carry on and crash out on that date with a no-deal Brexit. Most people think this is a bad idea but there are some that view this as a real Brexit and something to be aimed for. We could ‘pause’ Article 50 until we get our act together and then leave in a more orderly manner – though this would require EU approval. The government/parliament could cancel Article 50 and we’d go on as before. With both sides of the debate already throwing toxic missiles at each other I doubt if that would end well either within the Tory party or the general population. As they say – I predict a riot (or three). Likewise if there’s a second referendum to let the people decide – because Parliament can’t – it would get very nasty very quickly and all hell would break lose if Remain won this time. Another possibility is a General Election to decide but with less than 3 months to go this is a very risky option and results, as they say, are far from certain. I would not be surprised by yet another hung parliament with no one in overall control and weeks to go before we crash out. So it’s hardly any kind of solution.

Essentially the Government have made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. Because of their poor handling of the vote and the resultant negotiations (if they warrant the word) we are presented with no good options here. Even in the unlikely event that May wins the vote on Tuesday the agreement placed before parliament pleases no one. It is simply the worse of all worlds and the political fallout from the agreement if signed into law will not be pretty. Either way I can see the Tory party ripping itself apart. Their only saving grace is that support for Labour is, seemingly, far from universal. Whatever happens on Tuesday, no vote, lost vote or won vote, the next 3 months are going to be very interesting over here – and that’s before people start panic buying and stocking up on bottled water and baked beans….     

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I think I have 1 pair of shoes (for work), 2 pairs of pumps/sneakers (both falling apart) and 2 pairs of hiking boots (that I haven't worn in years)..... and that's actually a lot for me at any one time.
Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected

By Helen Briggs for BBC News

9 January 2019

Astronomers have revealed details of mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy, picked up by a telescope in Canada. The precise nature and origin of the blasts of radio waves is unknown. Among the 13 fast radio bursts, known as FRBs, was a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away. Such an event has only been reported once before, by a different telescope. "Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there," said Ingrid Stairs, an astrophysicist from the University of British Columbia (UBC). "And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles - where they're from and what causes them." The CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, consists of four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas, which scan the entire northern sky each day. The telescope only got up and running last year, detecting 13 of the radio bursts almost immediately, including the repeater.

The research has now been published in the journal Nature. "We have discovered a second repeater and its properties are very similar to the first repeater," said Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University, Canada. "This tells us more about the properties of repeaters as a population." FRBs are short, bright flashes of radio waves, which appear to be coming from almost halfway across the Universe. So far, scientists have detected about 60 single fast radio bursts and two that repeat. They believe there could be as many as a thousand FRBs in the sky every day. There are a number of theories about what could be causing them. They include a neutron star with a very strong magnetic field that is spinning very rapidly, two neutron stars merging together, and, among a minority of observers, some form of alien spaceship.

[There is much we still don’t know about our Universe. So it’s highly likely that these ‘signals’ are of completely natural origin. However, it’s fun to speculate that they could be ‘warp signatures’ as alien spaceships jump to FTL flight or they are the results of a space battle over a billion light years away! But in the end it’s probably just an odd Neutron star effect of a Black Hole collapsing or something equally ‘mundane’….. No doubt we will find out soon enough.]

Thursday, January 10, 2019

So.... Many..... Books.....

Just Finished Reading: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (FP: 1942)

It was a dream, it had to be. How else could you explain that the maid, who usually delivered the morning tea, was saying that there was a body, an actual dead body, in the library of all places? After mulling it over Mrs Bantry told her husband to go and find out. After all such things didn’t happen in the village. At least they never had before. But when Colonel Bantry returned there was no alternative to the fact that the body existed and it was definitely in the library just as the maid had said. How strange, how vexing and how exciting! Of course there would be problems – the police will need to be involved, questions would be asked and, worst of all, tongues would wag. No smoke without fire the village gossips would say. Old Bantry has knocked off his mistress they’d say and they’d pity poor Mrs Bantry. They would start getting odd looks and whispered comments in the Post Office or at the Butchers. Slowly dinner invitations would become less frequent until they stopped all together. It would be intolerable until the police caught who was responsible – if they caught them that is. What if they didn’t? What if gossip turned into suspicion and suspicion turned into conviction that the Colonel was somehow actually involved. They’d have to move. But who would buy the house of a suspected murderer? What could they do? Partially from worry but mixed with excitement Mrs Bantry picked up the telephone and dialled her friend – someone who would understand, someone who would join in an investigation to clear their name, someone who could help and, maybe, someone who could solve the mystery of the body in the library – Miss Jane Marple.

I have a deep and abiding love for the Miss Marple stories. Jane, if I may call her that, is the quintessential English detective. A little plodding, coming at things side on, always knowing more than she reveals, understated, modest about her capacities and achievements and nearly always dead right. This story is a great example of her work. There are plenty of suspects with decent motives and various alibies to contend with. Much hinges on timings, witnesses and hidden relationships. Most of the clues are there if you can tease them out. At the end I was gratified to find out that I has suspected at least one of the main protagonists – although not for the actual murder. I had part of the solution but by no means all of it. I probably suspected 5-6 people all together throughout the book but it kept me guessing right up until the final big reveal. I really liked it. As with these things there was a few laugh out loud moments – especially when a young (aged 8 I think) detective proudly told the Chief Inspector that he had several famous detective author’s signatures…. Including that of Agatha Christie! I also enjoyed what I like the call the historical/cultural aspects of the novel that probably didn’t mean much to the author or the original readership – where relationships between people and their behaviours naturally considered normal at the time seem strange today including the fact that practically everyone smoked, almost everyone seemed to have at least on servant and no comment was made in the least about characters driving whilst intoxicated (and without seatbelts). If you like a very English detective story, or just a pleasant few hours in the company of a brilliant mature woman that you’d do a lot worse than picking up this delightful book. Recommended and more Agatha (and Miss Marple) to come.