REVIEW: First World War Trials and Executions (2021)

A book by Simon Webb

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I haven’t read too many true crime books as of late, although I do listen to a ton of podcasts on it. And I mean a ton, its probably a red flag on Spotify, and I am likely on some list somewhere. Some of my favorite ones are historical accounts vs modern ones simply because the cases seem to always take wild turns that you aren’t expecting. You hear about these insane investigations and primitive forensics efforts that likely led to tons of false imprisonments, but its exciting none-the-less. This book chronicles 51 such historical cases in the UK between 1914-1918 – The era of World War I. Taking a small, specific era in history is interesting as one really gets into the time period when its all laid out like this.

Webb splits each case into its own small chapters which are then split into sub-headings such as cases all committed by straight razor, or all axe-murders etc. I liked this configuration a lot; it made this easy for me to read bit-by-bit before I went to bed this past week. This is an entertaining read insomuch as a book on murders can be simply because of the way it is written. That isn’t to say Simon Webb makes light of the cases, as they are all very tragic, but he keeps you wanting to read more and more, and the information is well-researched. This book also acts, in a way, as a chronicle as to why Britain eventually did away with Capital Punishment – many of these cases have terrible things happen during the execution, it you can tell it scarred the main executioner quite a bit.

Another Solid historical offering from Pen and Sword, I’ll have to see if they have anymore books by this author, as a continuation of this series (if it becomes one) into later or previous years would be interesting. If you want a quick read to keep your true crime interest satiated, I’d recommend this book. It’s definitely to die for.

REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.

REVIEW: Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998

A book by Kenneth Lesley-Dixon

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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Being a member of the Irish Diaspora, I try to occasionally learn something about my ancestral homeland’s history when I can. We’re talking usually ancient history, so I felt that I was severely lacking in my knowledge of more recent events. Its no secret that American schools usually don’t go over details about world events of recent memory, and corporate news largely ignores anything that is not politics anymore. So unless I decide that Cranberries and U2 song lyrics will be my only window into “The Troubles”, I figured a book would be in order! That’s why I was excited for my opportunity to read Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998. This appears to be the newest book in a series called History of Terror including books on Islamic State and Zulu Guerilla attacks.

It is, of course, no secret that undercover Special Forces and intelligence agencies operated in Northern Ireland and the Republic throughout the ‘troubles’, from 1969 to 2001 and beyond. What is less well known is how these units were recruited, how they operated, what their mandate was and what they actually did. This is the first account to reveal much of this hitherto unpublished information, providing a truly unique record of surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, collusion and undercover combat. An astonishing number of agencies were active to combat the IRA murder squads (‘the Provos’), among others the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (‘The Det’), as well as MI5, Special Branch, the RUC, the UDR and the Force Research Unit (FRU), later the Joint Support Group (JSG)). It deals with still contentious and challenging issues as shoot-to-kill, murder squads, the Disappeared, and collusion with loyalists. It examines the findings of the Stevens, Cassel and De Silva reports and looks at operations Loughgall, Andersonstown, Gibraltar and others.

Book description.

I will confess, my knowledge of “The Troubles”, prior to this book, boiled down to my assumption that the whole thing was a guerilla war between the IRA and the UK military, not realizing there were dozens of various paramilitary groups acting in their own self-interests, some nationalist, some loyalist, others seemingly agents of chaos, ever splintering into more groups and in-fighting the entire time. trying to sift through all of the allegiances, and goals for these various groups was hard, but I feel like I learned a lot more from it.

I will say that, perhaps, one flaw of the book is that it dumps a ton of information on you all at once assuming you have a passing knowledge of the topic – Since I was remedial at best, a lot of the beginning of the book just washed over me. I understand that I, an American far distanced from The Troubles, isn’t likely the author’s target audience, but maybe a more “training wheels” introduction would be in order if a second edition were to ever be made. Once the book took a step away from statistics and went more into a narrative history of the events, I was sold on it. Later sections went over prominent players in each “side” of the conflict, their origins, goals, and what sort of terror they caused. The information is in depth, and conveys the terror that everyone had to deal with for so long.

“Republicans and Nationalists were matched in their paramilitary activity during the troubles by loyalists intent on championing Unionism, protecting Protestant communities, and ruthlessly retaliating against Republican violence.”

Book quote

Most-jarring for me, but honestly not a big surprise, was the revelation that the British Military had a hand in basically supporting some of the loyalist murder squads. I mean, sure, everyone could assume that the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but it goes a bit far when that “friend” is killing civilians. This was revealed via documents that were recently de-classified that the author discussed in the book.

Care is made, by the author, to not take a side for the most part, any of the various paramilitary “murder squads” are all painted as ruthless and somewhat evil in their doings. I appreciated this, as most books on terrorism, and counter-insurgency that I’ve read are very one-sided and downplay the reasons behind the behavior. I wasn’t expecting a pro-Britain book or anything, but the honesty was refreshing.

I enjoyed this book a lot, It’s very dense with information and covers a lot of ground. I think its written a bit too much like a government analytical report meant to debrief a law enforcement agent or something, but it wasn’t hard to read or anything – its just VERY heavily with numbers and statistics. Having any prior knowledge of the events is also a plus. This is definitely a series that I plan to check out more of, I feel like I learned quite a bit.

The Code of the Woosters

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I’ve been a fan of the television show Jeeves and Wooster for quite some time, but I have never got around to actually reading any of the novels or short stories that the series was pulled from until now. I had heard they were hilarious, but for some reason, never had a chance or reason to snag one. I recognized the plot of this story as one of my favorite episodes from the aforementioned show and figured that I’d give it a try – my verdict: Wodehouse is a genius!

The story is as follows: “When Aunt Dahlia demands that Bertie Wooster help her dupe an antique dealer into selling her an 18th-century cow-creamer. Dahlia trumps Bertie’s objections by threatening to sever his standing invitation to her house for lunch, an unthinkable prospect given Bertie’s devotion to the cooking of her chef, Anatole. A web of complications grows as Bertie’s pal Gussie Fink-Nottle asks for counseling in the matter of his impending marriage to Madeline Bassett. It seems Madeline isn’t his only interest; Gussie also wants to study the effects of a full moon on the love life of newts. Added to the cast of eccentrics are Roderick Spode, leader of a fascist organization called the Saviors of Britain, who also wants that cow-creamer, and an unusual man of the cloth known as Rev. H. P. “Stinker” Pinker. As usual, butler Jeeves becomes a focal point for all the plots and ploys of these characters, and in the end only his cleverness can rescue Bertie from being arrested, lynched, and engaged by mistake!”

In pretty much any other book, Bertie Wooster would be seen as a ridiculous imbecile, but here he is somehow almost a “straight man” (well not so much compared to his Valet Jeeves) to all of the other colorful lunatics in British high society in the 1920’s-30’s. All Bertie wants to do is basically nothing – his dream is to be lazy and live off of his money. Even the prospect of traveling around the world on a cruise ship is too much effort for Bertie. This lifestyle is so ingrained in his very being that he even frequents a club for this very thing called the “Drones club”. By drone, I don’t mean our new robot overlords, I mean a male bee that does no work, living off the labor of others. His dream of a life of sloth and vice keeps getting interrupted by everyone else trying to use him as a pawn in various schemes, none of which make much sense and complicate things.

Wodehouse is amazing at coming up with Bertie’s internal monologues. You see, Bertie seems to think he’s somewhat of an intellectual himself, and some of the most hilarious moments involve him mis-quoting something that he heard Jeeves say, usually regarding a philosophical or literary term that Bertie obviously does not actually understand. One such occurrence involved Bertie trying to quote the parable of the sword of Damocles and fumbling it up something fierce.

all in all, I loved this book, and will get more Wodehouse classics.