“The Alan Rickman Diaries left me feeling bereft” – A review by Douglas Jackson for The Good Books

Estimated read time 4 min read

The former journalist on being encouraged to preserve by the late John Le Carre and why he always recommends the Aubrey-Maturin Napoleonic naval adventures.


The first book I remember reading:

My dad took me to the library before I was old enough to get a ticket and I’ve been an avid reader ever since. The first book I read would undoubtedly have been the Famous Five or something similar by Enid Blyton, but the first that sticks in the memory is a collection of Just William stories by Richmal Crompton. William’s middle class Home Counties life was a world away from my council house upbringing in Jedburgh, but I shared his enduring search for adventure, his scruffiness, his love of the outdoors and his frequent unrequited passions.

A book I recommend to everyone:

Not one book, but a series, the Aubrey-Maturin Napoleonic naval adventures of Patrick O’Brien. I must have read them twenty times and never tire of the wonderful combination of historical background, beautifully realised characterisation, and epic sea battles in the age of sail. Stephen Maturin’s gimlet-eyed naval surgeon, naturalist and spy is the perfect foil for Jack Aubrey, the brilliant sea captain who is utterly feckless and naïve away from his natural environment, the perfect mark for any land-based bloodsucker when in funds. Together they sail the world’s oceans hunting down the King’s enemies and toasting damnation to the despotic Boney.

The best three books I have read in the last year:

The one that surprised me was Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries. It very gradually draws you in, and the superb daily vignettes he creates open a window into the true nature of this charismatic, enormously professional, sometimes infuriating, but always caring man. I was bereft at the end. I enjoyed City of Vengeance, by DV Bishop, set in Renaissance Florence where his hero, Cesare Aldo, must solve a complicated murder with enemies on every hand. Devil Dogs by Saul David, follows the men of K Company 3/5 Marines through the horrors of the Pacific War and is a military memoir at its best.

A book I didn’t finish:

Sadly it was V2, a Second World War novel by one of my favourite authors, Robert Harris. It places its two main characters on a collision course as the aforesaid rockets rain down death and destruction on London in 1944. It should be a rip-roaring adventure, but I found it ponderous, with great slabs of unnecessary technical detail and the two heroes wafer-thin caricatures who indulge in moments of unbelievable – in the literal sense – stupidity. I’ve loved Mr Harris’s books since Fatherland, but I gave up on this one halfway through.

An author who has inspired me:

John Le Carre was an absolute master storyteller who made genius look easy. His multi-layered, beautifully-written Cold War novels should be the benchmark for any author, however unlikely they are to reach those giddy heights. I worked beside his son, Tim Cornwell, at The Scotsman, and he very kindly helped me get a copy of my debut novel, Caligula, to his dad. Unsurprisingly, Mr Le Carre declined to provide a cover quote, but I will always treasure the four page hand-written letter he sent back praising my writing and encouraging me to persevere.

Blood Roses is the first in a new series for Douglas Jackson.

My favourite place to read:

We have a playroom for the grandchildren which gets lots of sun and has a very comfortable Parker Knoll wingback chair. When they’re not visiting it’s the most wonderful place to sit back and drift away into a book and lose track of time. If my wife, Alison, isn’t already settled there with her nose in a novel and I’m not clattering away at the keyboard of creativity in my tiny upstairs study, that’s where you’ll find me.

Douglas Jackson’s latest novel, Blood Roses, the first book in the Warsaw Quartet, is published by Canelo and can be purchased here. Born in Jedburgh, Doug now lives in Stirling. Author of seventeen books, Blood Roses is his debut crime novel.

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