In times when everybody had a pen and pencil and using a computer or chatting online seemed unthinkable or only possible in the mind of some people living way ahead of their time or writing science fiction, letters were the only way to stay in touch with the people your care about. Letters which took days or weeks to reach their recipient, especially during the Second World War, when people struggled to find out if their relatives or loved ones were okay.
„I could hug you till you dropped!“
Chris to Bessie, 21 February 1944
The letters in „My dear Bessie“ compiled by Simon Garfield tell a love story no author could possible imagine in a more touching way that never gets kitschy. A love story which unfolds between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore only because Chris, who stationed at the Libyan coast, decided to write a letter to Bessie who worked at the Post office and attended the same training course as Chris. During the war, Bessie worked as a morse interpreter and despite the fact that she was dating another man (till the relationship ended), kept up the correspondence with Chris – a very platonic one.
„You are as precious to me as life itself, for it goes on and on.“
Bessie to Chris, 14 December 1944
Chris‘ letter from September 1943 changed not only their way of writing but in the end their whole lives. As time went by, they wrote more and more letters of which 500 survived. The book contains the most heartwarming ones as Simon Garfield writes in his introduction. Together with the afterword by Bernard Baker, their son, and Irena Barker, their granddaughter, the wonderful letters are understandable within their historical context and tell the whole story of this love of a lifetime.
Simon Garfield: My dear Bessie, Canongate Books, about 7 £.
If you stumbled across Alan Turing because of the film „The Imitation Game“ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, you may be aware of Andrew Hodges‘ biography „The Enigma“ – the basis of Graham Moore’s Oscar awarded screenplay.
A much deeper inside look at Alan Turing’s work which helped breaking the German enigma code, shortened the Second World War by at least two years and saved millions of lives, you should read the huge book „Alan Turing – His work and impact“ by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leewen. Yes, there are lots of mathematical theories, even formulas (something very awful for people like me unable to cope with numbers) but the more than 870 pages, accompanied by indexes and bibliographies are worth reading, browsing through essays about and from Alan.
„He was a genius: he was ‚a Wonder of the world‘.
Bernards Richards about Alan Turing
One essay that strikes me most – besides the ones by Alan himself which offer a look inside the brain of a man a colleague described as „a Wonder of the world“ – is the piece „Why Turing cracked the Enigma code and the Germans did not“ by Klaus Schmeh. The German computer scientist explains that Germans were unable to bring their cryptographers together to find a possible weakness in the Enigma code itself. Despite the fact that German experts were aware of a possible breach, Britain’s success in breaking Enigma was only revealed in the 1970s when details about the codebreaker’s work at Bletchley Park became public.
„Alan Turing – His work and impact“ may not be an easy read. But it is worth every try.
S.Barry Cooper, Jan van Leeuwen: Alan Turing – His work an impact, Elsevier, £ 53 can be ordered here.
It’s all about diaries. At least the missing one (or a collection of papers) of Arthur Conan Doyle’s that inspired many Sherlockians for years. And it obviously inspired Graham Moore, the script author of the film „The Imitation Game“ to write the lovely novel „The Sherlockian“. As you may guess from the title: it really is a story that only true Sherlock Holmes-fans will appreciate.
Harold White is a brand new member of the Baker Street Irregulars in New York and bursting with pride and excitement when he joins other members for a meeting. While he suddenly finds himself dealing with the murder of the leading Holmes scholar, he is sure to find the answers to that case in London.
In the London of the 1890/1900s, Arthur Conan Doyle has to deal with fans who wouldn’t accept that the author has killed Sherlock Holmes by throwing him into the Reichenbach Falls.
Arthur Conan Doyle curled his brow tightly and thought only of murder. „I’m going to kill him,“ her muttered.
The story switches with every new chapter between modern times and the past and while you sometimes are about to either throw away the book or go straight to the next chapter because you just want to know what Doyle or Harold will do next. But of course you just go on reading simply because this book has hooked you from the beginning. At least if you are a Sherlockian.
Cover of „The Sherlockian“ Foto: pb
Graham Moore: The Sherlockian, Hachette, 6,10€/ £8,40
Given the fact that Sherlock Holmes is one of best known fictional character not only in Britain where he is part of the national heritage but worldwide, it is not astonishing that there are whole libraries filled with all sort of books about the only consulting detective. So you have to look very carefully on any new one, if you don’t want to be disappointed.
The book cover Foto: pb
„The man who never lived and who will never die“ isn’t just another book about Sherlock Holmes. Although it is accompanying the exhibition in the Museum of London which is still open till April 12th, it totally stands on its own feet. Alex Werner who compiled the book, throws a very different light on Arthur Conan Doyle’s figure, setting him in his surroundings while explaing that he only can exist within London. The city as some critics say is besides Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson the third main figure in all stories. And so the book pays tribute to that by showing lots of historic pictures of London while explaining the historical background not only of the original Conan canon but of all adaptions throughout the years – no matter if you are watching a film situated in Victorian or contemporary London.
The articles are well written and stuffed with all information a Sherlock Holmes fan needs to know. And he will also need this book which will be a treat long after the exhibition is gone.
Alex Werner, Sherlock Holmes – The man who never lived and will never die, Ebury Press, about 20£/ 20€.
Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb
You think you do know everything about BBC’s Sherlock? Think twice, dive into the wonderful book „Sherlock Chronicles“ written by Steve Tribe and take a stroll from the very beginning (or even before the beginning itself) to the latest episode so far.
The book is stuffed with all kind of information any Sherlockian needs to know. There are deleted scenes-scripts, behind the scenes pictures and interviews with cast and crew members. But was makes this book outstanding compared to other Sherlock fan books is the reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. „Holmes from Holmes“, as the writer names it, shows quotes from the canon and how and where Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat used them in one of the episodes. You will always find it baffling to read and realise again how modern Sherlock Holmes is and always has been – and how brilliant all episodes of „Sherlock“ are, how carefully they are arranged and how deep their connection to Doyle is.
„Sherlock Chronicles“ is a must have book for every fan and a wonderful gift for a Sherlockian dear to your heart.
Steve Tribe: Sherlock Chronicles. BBC books, Penguin Random House, about 16 £/ 22 €.
If you finish a book and you feel empty inside, the same feeling you have when you leave good friends, knowing you will not see them again for quite a while, if ever. If you have this feeling, the book touched you, simply because it is a good book. Ian McEwan’s new novel „The Children Act“ is a good book, not because you get a look inside British society – maybe not as deep if your are not British – but because the story is so intense and well written, that you have to force yourself to interrupt your reading session from time to time. And get things done in real life.
The problems the main character Fiona Maye is facing are situated between her work and her private life as many middle aged woman do. As a leading High Court in London judge Fiona is used to long working days on a regular bases, dealing with heartbreaking family affairs but her most demanding case is different. The 17-year-old Adam is about to refuse medical treatment that would help him with his leukaemia because of his religious believes. In her private life she has to face the problems of her marriage that after 30 years is about to fall into its biggest crises she and her husband – Jack, a professor of ancient history – ever had to cope with.
All these topics are neither new nor thrilling and could be boring, kitschy and simply trash. But only a master writer and narrator can unfold this story in a totally different and fascinating way. Ian McEwan is a brilliant master, he takes the reader by his hand and won’t let him go till the final page. The only problem is: the novel is unfortunately a too short one.
Ian McEwan: The Children Act, Vintage Books, £ 16,99/14,95€