READING FOR MAY - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand; Dissolution; Ordinary Thunderstorms


I finished reading this latest William Boyd novel about a week ago and just have not been able to figure out what to write about it. And I can't figure out why that is!! There is no deny it is an excellent read; I think the problem is that is so hard to define what type of novel it is. Is it a murder mystery, or a Bourne Identity theft type of thriller, or a modern day fable parable type thing? Whatever it is, it is a damn fine story, an action-packed, intricate plot with just enough rope to keep the reader dangling and wondering who will get who first.

In one of those being-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time moments, Adam Kendrick, in London from the US for a job interview, finds himself on the run, wanted by the police for murder, and a shady bunch for the information he may possess. Living on his wits and on the streets, he has to stay one step ahead of those who are looking for him.

Great plot, small number of well drawn characters, and tightly held together, this is compelling reading. All of William Boyd's books that I have read - 4 or 5 now - have fantastically complex and human characters, full of baggage and consequently very realistic and life like.

This would be a great book for a holiday or a curl up on a wet, winterly afternoon. Be grateful you have a cosy warm room to read in, and you are not sleeping under a hedge in London town with nasty people after you!


We just cannot seem to get enough of murder mysteries, especially from English writers, who are devilish experts at whipping up unlikely victims, and not just one at a time. These stories take place in slightly sinister, gloomy and ever so slightly scary settings. There are very odd people with very imaginative motives, any of whom could be the murderer, and red herrings galore, pouring out of every ancient crevice or thatched cottage or porcelain teapot. And best of all, superbly well written, edge of the seat stuff. And this book is another in that genre, replete with all of the above except the porcelain teapot.

Set in 1537, in Henry VIII's England, shortly after Anne Boleyn loses her head, Thomas Cromwell is Henry's right hand man. His major responsibility, at least as far as this story is concerned, is to bring the monasteries to their knees, close them down, strip them of all their wealth and consequently all the power of the Catholic Church. No easy task as we know from the fabulous The Tudors series on TV. Cromwell has a number of commissioners whose jobs it is to travel to the monasteries to achieve these tasks. One, Robin Singleton, is sent to a Benedictine monastery in Sussex, where he promptly loses his head. Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer, with his young assistant Mark Poer, are sent to the monastery to solve the murder and continue with the dissolution of the monastery. Sharldlake is a die-hard supporter of the reforms taking place but as events unfold finds himself questioning what is going on. But this is bye the bye.

In their quest to solve the murder, further deaths occur; corruption and avarice and lust run amok; not one single person appears to be innocent, and our two intrepid sleuths have a big task on their hands.

As you can imagine rural England in 1537 is not a pleasant place to be. The author evokes how ghastly, and cold, and damp and revolting it all is fabulously. His descriptions of the monastery buildings, the beautiful church, the misty and dangerous moors all contribute to the atmosphere of danger and fear that are part of every good murder mystery. Plus of course the mostly unsavoury and unappealing characters that make up the story.

Added to all of this is the historical factor. I don't know much about this period in English history, but I learnt an awful lot, even such things as the logistics of travel between Sussex and London. The all pervading influence of both Cromwell and Henry VIII is terrifying, even in the far reaches of the countryside. Both these people hang like a dark threatening cloud over the whole story.

This is very compelling reading, a great story extremely well told. Very measured in its pace, it does pick up towards the end as the element of danger increases. Highly recommended.


Major Pettigrew is 68 years old, a very proper, buttoned up widower who lives in a picture perfect English village. The book opens with him in the shock of grief on hearing the sudden death of his brother Bertie who lives nearby with his wife and daughter. He has a chance meeting with Mrs Ali, a Pakistani lady, coincidentally a widow, who runs a small convenience store in the village owned by her late husband's family. For them both it is love at first sight, although of course this realisation takes a while to occur! As their friendship develops they both have to deal with the prejudices that inevitably arise as the result of such a relationship in such a small conservative English rural community! And the behaviour is not pretty. But as the title says, Major Pettigrew makes his last stand, and he and Mrs Ali live happily ever after. I have given the ending away, but it is fairly obvious, like all good tales, that they will end up together!

This is a gentle story, that strolls along in a very controlled fashion as befitting Major Pettigrew and the fine, upstanding man he is. Bit by bit the prejudices and stereotypes of the community unfold. It is predictable in so many ways, but also very engaging, wryly humorous in that very English way. Even though I enjoyed it, I didn't quite feel that I am the target audience, perhaps being a bit young, not yet of the age of 50! But I could see my mother and her friends reading it and relating more to the characters than I did.