Hot Blood And Pies

Sunday, March 9, 2008 1:01 | Filed in Books, Reviews

I spent about six and a half hours travelling by train last week, and obviously I had some important decisions that I needed to make.

Like which books am I taking?

It’s a tricky question. I’ll need more than one book for six hours travelling time, but what books I’ll actually want to read will depend somewhat on the mood I’m in. So I decide to take four books.

Obviously I wasn’t going to have time to read them all, but as I’ve mentioned before I do read quickly, and I had time to read two of ‘em: one on the way down and one on the way back.

On the way there, I read Stephen Leather’s Hot Blood. This features undercover cop — and more importantly in this novel — ex-SAS member — Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd.

I’d not claim that the book is a modern classic, but it is an entertaining thriller which shifts up and down the gears successfully at different stages, as Dan and his mates attempt to rescue one of their old SAS buddies who had been kidnapped while working as a contractor in Iraq.

As a (mostly) fast-action thriller, it works very well. It’s perfect “travel” or “holiday” reading material, but possibly more for those who want to read about guns, explosions and the like than someone considering all of the political and social nuances of the situation. Fortunately, I was in precisely the right mood for a guns and explosions sort of a story, so it did the job perfectly.

The book’s climax is delivered in a beautifully brutal manner; no need for mawkish sentimentality here…

…whereas Maconie’s Pies And Prejudice was altogether a fish of a different feather. Stuart Maconie is apparently well known for a radio show, for a previous book — and, presumably from some of the anecdotes, from a long association with the music industry, but for me this was the first time I’d ever encountered him as anything other than his guise of “bloke they wheel out to be a talking head on yet another one of those top 100 clips programmes”.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it was no effort whatsoever to slip into Stuart’s love affair with the North of England, even if as a resident of Stuart’s ‘Great North’, I still find it somewhat surprising how far south you can go and have people still think they are in “the North”.

Given that England is around 380 miles (approx) from the Northern-most point to the Southern-most point, I’d assume that if you’re going to have a section called “the Midlands”, you’d be dividing the thing into three sections each about 125m North-South. Which would mean anything to the South of Leeds (and I’m really being generous there), would be in the Midlands. Yet apparently places like Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool want to still consider themselves “North”, so we’ll let them join too…

The book is very much a counterblast to those Southerners — epitomised in my head by Brian Sewell — who appear to believe that the North is some kind of desolate industrial wasteland where the inhabitants have no culture, wear blue woad, regularly drink ourselves unconscious, are seemingly proud of our lack of education, and only eat pies.

This is plainly nonsense. You just can’t get proper blue woad any more…

By its very nature, this book is more likely to appeal to people from the North, although no doubt even every Northerner will find something to gripe about — he generally paints an interesting (and so far as I can tell, fairly accurate) picture of each city, which makes it more difficult for me to continue to hold vague grudges against certain other Northern cities which I’ve managed to hold for years without ever needing a good reason before

So if you’re sick to the back teeth of “England” being seen as a leafy little village in the South-East, and already know that there’s a hell of a lot more to England than the South, then this is the book for you. Buy it. Ideally using one of my amazon affiliate links :-)

If you’re from the South (particularly the South-East) however, then I’m not convinced you’d take the time to read it, as you’d no doubt have a rather blinkered view and see it as ‘regional’ or ‘parochial’. Which is rather odd, given that by its very nature the attitude of seeing everything outside the South-East as ‘regional’ or ‘parochial’ is, well, a rather parochial attitude to take.

But if you are interested in what goes on outside the South, then you should buy it as well.

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3 Comments to Hot Blood And Pies

  1. Steve says:

    March 9th, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    I like Maconie’s radio shows, especially the one he does on Radio 2 with Mark Radcliffe (and the weird programme on 6 music is good too). It’s a shame he’s probably best known for talking-head ness.

    I’ve thought about reading this. It reminds me of a book by the brilliant Simon Armitage called _All Points North_ from about ten years ago which is excellent and wwell worth reading.

    But I’m from London, so what would I know? :-)

  2. Mike says:

    March 14th, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I started reading Maconie’s Pies in the airport on the way to Berlin last month. Very entertaining it was too, until I had to leave the bookshop and board my flight…

  3. Andy Mabbett says:

    March 23rd, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Maconie interviewed me once. For Q. He even visited me at home to do so.

    Since you’re on Facebook, you might want to use the “iRead” application to list your current, past and intended reading:

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