Many thanks to Walter C, Christopher W, David H, Alan K and Hamish C for contributions to this page.
Voyage. By Stephen Baxter. After the moon, mars… What if John F. Kennedy survived the assassination attempt and developed the space programme? Voyage spans from 1963 to 1986 interweaving real history with his alternate timeline. In this alternate history John F. Kennedy survives the assassin’s bullet in 1963 (although Jackie was killed) and steps down from office. Vice president Lyndon B. Johnson serves out the rest of Kennedy’s term of office and wins the 1964 presidential election and remains in office until 1968. On the day of the Apollo 11 Moon landing former president Kennedy sets into motion a series of events that will culminate with humans setting foot on Mars on March 28th, 1986.
The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) is usually thought of as a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1874, when he was 42 years old. It describes “with infinite humour the impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature”. The poem borrows occasionally from Carroll’s short poem “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking-Glass (especially the poem’s creatures and portmanteau words), but it is a stand-alone work, first published in 1876 by Macmillan.
Wanted: Someone Innocent. By Margery Allingham, dramatised by Yvonne Antrobus. Set in the 1920s. Pretty, impoverished Gillian Brayton is offered a well paid job as a social secretary by an old school friend, the painter and socialite Rita Fayre. The household is lively and bohemian, but the servants imply Gillian is there for mysterious reasons. When Gillian befriends Rita’s ailing husband Julian, a handsome young man who was injured in the First World War, the atmosphere below stairs becomes strange and disturbing. Margery Allingham also wrote the Albert Campion detective stories here.
The Children of Green Knowe. By Lucy M. Boston. Tolly’s great-grandmother wasn’t a witch but both she and her old house, Green Knowe, were full of a very special kind of magic. And Green Knowe turned out not to be the lonely place Tolly had imagined it to be. There were other children living in the house – children who had been happy there centuries before. This is the first title in the well-loved Green Knowe series from Carnegie Medal winner Lucy M. Boston.
The Tenderness of Wolves. By Stef Penney. The Tenderness of Wolves is set in Canada in the 1860s, it starts with the discovery of the murder of a trapper, and then follows various events that occur as the murderer is sought.
The Sleepers of Fallow’s Cross. By Rod Beacham. An Intelligence thriller set at a high-level clinic for mental disorders. The potential for abuse of the clinical procedures forms the spring for the action, which twists and turns most gratifyingly. But who are the sleepers? Mr. Beacham lets us know that only when he is ready to tell us.
Forsyte Chronicles. By John Galsworthy. The blockbuster adaptation of John Galsworthy’s classic family drama, featuring a star cast including Dirk Bogarde, Sir Michael Hordern, Diana Quick, Michael Williams and Amanda Redman. Galsworthy’s epic story chronicles the decline and fall of the Forsytes through almost fifty years of material triumph, emotional disaster and a terrible feud that splits them asunder. Beginning in 1886, ‘The Man of Property’ starts with the family wealthy, successful and united. But the actions of the arrogant Soames Forsyte and his beautiful wife Irene are to have disastrous consequences… ‘In Chancery’ has marital discord as its theme, as various members of the family find themselves dealing with domestic dramas, affairs and divorce. ‘To Let’ sees the second generation experiencing both the pain and the promise of love, as the sins of the father are visited on the Forsyte children. With an all-star cast of over thirty experienced actors, and enacted over the course of 23 episodes, this thrilling tale of sex, power and money will enthral you from beginning to end. ‘…hallmarked with elegance and craftsmanship… Gripping stuff’ – Evening Standard.
The Dark Island. By Robert Barr. The plot involves the discovery of a mysterious torpedo found on the shore of Benbecula. A Naval team descends on the area to deal with the torpedo accompanied by Nicolson, an intrigued security officer. Further investigation of the torpedo reveals an international spy kit, the contents of which include a Finnish passport, British and Swedish currency, and most intriguing of all, a fragment of sheet music.
On the Beach. By Nevil Shute. Australia is one of the last places where life still exists after nuclear war starts in the Northern Hemisphere. A year on, an invisible cloak of radiation has spread almost completely around the world. Darwin is a ghost town, and radiation levels at Ayres Rock are increasing. An American nuclear-powered submarine has found its way to Australia where its captain has placed the boat under the command of the Australian Navy. Commander Dwight Towers and his Australian liaison officer are sent to the coast of North America to discover whether a stray radio signal originating from near Seattle is a sign of life.
The Riddle of the Sands. By Erskine Childers.The Riddle of the Sands is one of the first spy novels ever written, and some even speculate that its publication better prepared Great Britain for entry into World War I eleven years later. The author Erskine Childers published only this one piece of fiction, but he led quite an adventurous life, which ended in a controversial execution by firing squad in 1922. The plot of the novel concerns the yachting adventures of two Englishmen circa 1901 among the Frisian Islands of Germany. Expert yachtsman Arthur Davies has invited his friend Charles Carruthers for a sailing vacation, but some clues Davies has already discovered and further investigation lead them both to believe a sinister plot is afoot. Davies is the nautical expert, but not very good at dealing with people, while Carruthers is just the reverse, so these two characters exemplify the notion of “the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.”
The published book uses some maps and charts and are included with some further interesting background to the novel.
The Drowned Village. By Berlie Doherty. A powerful and haunting based around the real events of the flooding of the small villages of Derwent and Ashopton in north-west Derbyshire. The flooding of the villages made way for the building of the Ladybower reservoir supplying water to Sheffield, Leicester, Derby and Nottingham. In 1934 the villagers and farmers of Derwent and Ashopton were informed that their land was to be flooded and work commenced on the reservoir. The huge project which involved the building of the Ladybower dam and two viaducts was completed in 1945. The villagers were rehoused, but two close-knit communities were lost forever. This was a thirty minute play directed by Kay Patrick, and is a fantasy based on the drowned village of Derwent under Ladybower reservoir in Derbyshire.
The Shooting Party. By Isobel Colegate. It is the autumn of 1913. Sir Randolph Nettleby has assembled a brilliant array of guests at his Oxfordshire estate for the biggest hunt of the season. An army of gamekeepers, beaters, and servants has rehearsed the intricate age-old ritual, the gentlemen are falling into the prescribed mode of fellowship and sporting rivalry, the ladies intrigued by the latest gossip and fashion. Everything about this splendid weekend would seem a perfect consummation of the pleasures afforded the privileged in Edwardian England. And yet it is not: the moral and social code of this group is not so secure as it appears. Competition beyond the bounds of sportsmanship, revulsion at the slaughter of the animals, anger at the inequities of class –these forces are about to rise up and engulf the assured social peace, a peace that can last only a brief while longer. In imagining Sir Randolph’s shooting party, wrote The Spectator, “Miss Colegate has found a perfect metaphor for the passing of a way of life.”
Room At The Top. By John Braine. Room At The Top is a triangular love story about a young man who does damage to himself and to those closest to him in pursuit of his ambition. Set in Forties Yorkshire, John Braine’s novel tells the story of Joe Lampton, a man fighting to shake off his working class origins and enter the bright world of money and influence. It instantly caught the public’s imagination when it was published in 1957 and turned Joe Lampton into an icon of post-war Britain.
A Town Like Alice. The Radio dramatization is based on a novel by the British author Nevil Shute about a young Englishwoman in Malaya during World War II and in outback Australia post-war. Written from the perspective of her Scottish solicitor and trustee, he tells her story of being a prisoner of war and her post-war life where she makes a discovery that leads her on the search for romance and to a small outback community in Australia, where she sets out to turn it into ‘a town like Alice’. It was first published in 1950 when Shute had newly settled in Australia. The “Alice” in the title refers to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Mutiny on the Bounty. Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the greatest novels of the sea, of the 18th century sailing ships and the men who sailed them. But it is far more than a sea story or an adventure story. It is a splendid examination of the abuse of power and of the necessity for society to maintain support for authority, no matter how greatly that authority may at times by misused.
Double Jeopardy. By Stephen Wyatt. Patrick Stewart stars as Raymond Chandler and Adrian Scarborough is Billy Wilder in this entertaining glimpse inside the Hollywood film industry. In 1944 the two men came together to work on a screen adaptation of James M Cain’s novel Double Indemnity. Billy Wilder is a 36 year old German Jewish immigrant just making his name as a director and Raymond Chandler is a reformed alcoholic with a developing reputation as a novelist but absolutely no experience of writing for movies. Paramount studios put Chandler and Wilder together because none of the big names would touch James M Cain’s novel. With its adulterous lovers, and a crime that could be copied, it was judged too controversial to adapt because of the censorious Production Code guidelines. Chandler and Wilder famously hated each other but in a space of some four months locked in an office together they created an outstanding screenplay for a ground-breaking classic film.
Passport to Pimlico. By T.E.B. Clark. Set just after the Second World War the inhabitants of a London street discover buried treasure and documents proving they are really citizens of Burgundy. When the government tries to claim the treasure for the Crown, the Burgundians declare their independence. This exploration of the British (or specifically English) character is at the heart of Passport to Pimlico. For all their dogged resistance, the Burgundians never lose sight of their true national identity, as the most memorable line wittily makes clear: “We always were English and we always will be English, and it’s just because we are English that we’re sticking up for our right to be Burgundian!” Running through the play is a yearning nostalgia for the social unity of the war years, remembered fondly as Britain’s ‘finest hour’.
The Brothers Karamazov. By Fyodor Dostoyevsky. When brutal landowner Fyodor Karamazov is murdered, the lives of his sons are changed irrevocably: Mitya, the sensualist, whose bitter rivalry with his father immediately places him under suspicion for parricide; Ivan, the intellectual, whose mental tortures drive him to breakdown; the spiritual Alyosha, who tries to heal the family’s rifts; and the shadowy figure of their bastard half-brother Smerdyakov. As the ensuing investigation and trial reveal the true identity of the murderer, Dostoyevsky’s dark masterpiece evokes a world where the lines between innocence and corruption, good and evil, blur and everyone’s faith in humanity is tested.
The Snow Goose. By Paul Gallico. Set in the years running up to the remarkable evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War. On the desolate Essex marshes, a young girl, Fritha, comes to seek help from Phillip Rhayader, a recluse who lives in an abandoned lighthouse. She carries in her arms a wounded snow goose. Fritha is frightened of Rhayader, but he is gentler than his appearance suggests and nurses the goose back to health. Over the following months and years, Fritha only visits the lighthouse when the snow goose is there. And every summer, when it flies away, Rhayader is left alone once more.
Theremin. By Melissa Murray. Leon Theremin, gifted inventor and reluctant spy, is forced to find a way to bug the US Embassy in London. Now he has to save himself and his former lover from both the CIA and the KGB.