Posted by: billpurdue | April 2, 2009

49 Vote for your favourite

Galaxy British Book Awards

The evening of Friday 3rd April is when the winners of the several categories of the Galaxy British Book Awards  will be revealed at the Grosvenor House in London’s Park Lane – these publishers certainly know how to celebrate. For all the nominations in the different categories, including the Richard and Judy best read of the year, visit the Waterstones website, or you can pick up a “Shortlist magazine” free at WHSmiths and other outlets. You can vote for your books of the year at

A book with “no literary merit whatsoever”….

… at least that is the claim in the blurb of this book. It is a crime novel, but not as we know it; it is a murder investigation, a fantasy and in parts a horror novel. The Somnambulist [ Gollancz £7.99 9780575082144], by Jonathan Barnes, is the strange story of a Victorian illusionist, Edward Moon, whose chief claim to fame is to be able to thrust several large swords through the body of his accomplice, known only as The Somnambulist, without causing any loss of blood or discomfort as the main attraction of his nightly performances. Moon does have a sort of “sideline” – that of solving murder cases and when he is called in by Inspector Merryweather of the Yard to help with a couple of murders, it seems at first to be an open and shut case. But the mystery soon deepens, when it appears that some strange religious sect is involved – I use the term “sect” very loosely – and is trying to take over Victorian London to introduce a completely new way of living.

Apart from The Somnambulist himself, who is unable to speak and is addicted to milk (!), the novel is peopled with a host of very strange characters. There is very ugly Thomas Cribb who claims to have lived in the future as well as in the past, a man covered in fish-like scales who is found to have committed the first two murders and the body of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which has been preserved in a semi conscious state by the religious sect, since it was apparently Coleridge’s original idea to set up the religious colony. Perhaps the cleverest and most surprising turn of events is about three quarters of the way through the novel, when the identity of the narrator is revealed. If you don’t mind a few grotesque and gory descriptions and you enjoy a bizarre, ridiculous and sometimes implausible plot, this is for you. I was sorry when I got to the end, as I was enjoying it so much.

Jonathan Barnes now has a sort of sequel to “The Somnambulist”. The Domino Men [Gollancz £7.99 978-0575082311] is set in present day London, but some of the characters in the previous novel seem to have survived into the 21st Century. I haven’t read this one, but I’ll put in a request for it at  my local library.

By the way, don’t confuse Jonathan Barnes with Julian Barnes,(whose new novel Nothing to be Frightened of [Vintage £8.99 9780099523741] is just out in paperback).

Peeking at the Peak District

I believe I’ve mentioned already Peeks at the Peak by Ann Beedham. Well if you enjoyed that , there’s a second volume now available [ Youbooks £12.99 9781905278244] Both books look at a random selection of historical sites in the Peak District and east Derbyshire as well as famous people connected with the area. Each topic is covered by two to four pages of information and photographs, many in colour. Volume 2 includes the spa town of Buxton, Fanshawe Gate Hall, near Holmesfield, and William Gell, the man from whom the Via Gellia road takes its name. Printed on A4 size art paper, both volumes would make an ideal present for anyone interested in the Peak District, but they are more than just gift books.


See this weeks’ Chad- page 33 –  for a chance to win a copy of a new book “The Death Ray: the secret life of Harry Grindell Matthews”. This is the man who invented what was in effect the very first mobile phone ( – in 1909!) and whose most famous invention was the “death ray machine”.



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