December Books | Gifts

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

All of my presents this year were books. This is a very good thing.

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone – it’s a house with a flawed and, let’s face it, potentially evil and certainly dangerous artificial intelligence which controls all of the stuff.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – subtitled Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, speaks to my interests.

Occult Paris by Tobias Churton – The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque, according to the blurb this features Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars.

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion – does what it says on the cover; this book is beautiful and has me wanting to watch the TV series all over again.

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott – The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America; more true crime in the 1920s.

The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly – all about HMQ and the work that goes into dressing her for the wide range of events she attends, written (with permission, no scandal here) by her long-time adviser and curator. Irresistible.

The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth – a selection of articles from the 20s and 30s when Roth travelled around central Europe living in hotels and writing about the places he visited.

Twilight of Empire by Greg King & Penny Wilson – all about Mayerling and the suicide pact (or was it?) between Crown Prince Rudolf and his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera; this tragic event has led to an excellent ballet and a lot of conspiracy theories.

Scottish Queens 1034-1714 by Rosalind K Marshall – the lives of Scottish Queens, whether reigning in their own right or as consorts, aren’t often discussed in the way that they should be, so this will be interesting. Will Lady MacBeth feature I wonder…..

The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair – using the story of varieties of cloth to illuminate history; I’ve already dipped into this and it is going to be fascinating.

All of the above were from the Book God, and from my Brother Who Is Not on Social Media I received

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – an oral history of a fictional 1970s rock band, this has been on my list for ages and glad I have it in my hands at last.

What books did you get for Christmas?

The Ka of Gifford Hillary | Dennis Wheatley

Dennis Wheatley is one of those authors that I feel I have to apologise for enjoying because he is definitely problematic. Born in 1897 he was as conservative as it is possible to be. I first came across him when I saw the (now very dated) Devil Rides Out adaptation starring Christopher Lee and released in 1968. I’m pretty sure I read the book afterwards and loved the pacing and development in terms of plot, even if the characters were very Wheatleyan.

The man himself was a staunch supporter of imperialism and the class system all of his life, and his views permeate his novels and can’t be ignored even as the reader (OK, me) enjoys the story. And reading this one had me rolling my eyes so hard it gave me a headache, even as I read on to find out what was going to happen.

First published in 1956, the Ka of Gifford Hillary is listed in the recent set of reprints as Black Magic Book 5, though I won’t be giving anything away by pointing out that this is more of a science fiction thriller with a bit of the occult thrown in rather than a full-blown book about magic.

Gifford Hillary runs a company which builds boats and has several contracts with HM Government, and it appears that the book is going to be all about that as Wheatley takes the opportunity to air his views on the future of the British Armed Services. To be fair this is something he knows quite a bit about, given that he served in various capacities during WW2 devising strategic military deceptions to fool the enemy.

But really this is a book about a man (Gifford) killed by someone who wants to be his wife’s lover by ingenious means which leads to his soul leaving his body and floating around invisibly trying to communicate as he is (a) buried alive, (b) unable to help his wife falsely accused of his murder, (c) unable to help his young relative accused of treason because of his (Gifford’s) loose lips and (d) did I mention he was buried alive? Oh, and when he reconnects with his body he is then charged with murdering the man lusting after his wife, who was actually killed by someone else.

If you can put aside all the racism, imperialism, sexism (evidence below)
and the huge sense of entitlement based on class and wealth (evidence also below), this is actually a very interesting story. The only thing that lets it down in terms of plot is the ending, which was a little too reliant on one of the few female characters finding the one piece of evidence that will resolve the situation given that the truth, which Gifford spells out, or at least up to a point, is too fantastic to believe.

And with a single bound he was free; far too rushed given the build-up that had gone before.

Evidence for the prosecution:

On the charge of sexism:

Women cannot be judged by the same standards as men. They are much more apt to become dominated by their emotions than is the case with our sex.

On the charge of entitlement:

By it I could enter houses unseen and listen to the most intimate conversations. That at least offered a prospect of taking my mind off my own worries.

I know I’m going to read more of his books and but not for a while I think.