The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, Harper Collins, 1942

C. S. Lewis’ genius apologetic novel, dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, constructed through a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his junior and nephew, Wormwood, regarding how to tempt or ensnare a Christian. It’s an elegantly written argument written in the syntax of a frustrated civil servant and portrays devilry about as far as you can get from the cartoon red bon vivant. It’s always on point but never more so now I’m older and, unfortunately, some of the more theoretical aspects have a more profound meaning.  It’s so easy to imagine letters of advice to the nephew from a fifty year old carpet-slippered withered old devil, and how they aim to make the human as miserable and as damned as they are: ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

‘Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.’

I can’t say a bumpy ride is any more wholesome but it’s good to know Mr. Safe-and-Boring is as damned as the out-and-out rebel.


Killshot by Elmore Leonard Phoenix Fiction, 1988

I’ve been an admirer of Elmore Leonard for over two decades.  Reading him is like drinking a great cup of coffee after years of sludge; you can suddenly think, see, and feel everything about life is worth living – even the bad bits.  Especially the bad bits.  Killshot is Home Alone for grown-ups.  It’s just brilliant, hilarious yet so gritty and real.  The characterisation of Wayne and Carmen must be the best crime duo I’ve read yet.  Carmen is the ultimate babe; decades before a MeToo hashtag raised her head above the parapets, Carmen was loading a cannon. I read this novel in a weekend.  You want to live or travel with them forever.  I can’t believe Leonard wrote it thirty four years ago as it still scorches the earth.  When he writes like this, no one can touch him.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847

Wuthering Heights is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it.  I’m the former but only if it’s not read as a romantic gothic tale.  I cannot find anything remotely romantic in there – unless you are a necrophiliac or have some toxic ideas about romantic love.  If you leave out the mawkish descriptions of Catherine/Cathy and focus on the ‘purchase’ of a mixed race child as entertainment for Earnshaw’s own offspring and all the land/property shenanigans, it becomes a novel about the dysfunction of heredity and heritage.  I love Nellie Dean’s voice and am sure it’s buried deep in my subconscious.  I love this book even more than when I first read it at eleven, second read it and third read it last year.  It just gets better.  You can keep your Jane Eyre – unless you’re writing it from Bertha’s point of view.  Give me Emily over Charlotte any day.