Books: Gibraltar reading (part 2)

(Part one is here.)

The book: Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

The edition: Penguin paperback, 288 pages

About the book: a fictional account of ape history in Gibraltar during World War Two, of the people who cared for them, and of the efforts made to safeguard them. Includes an extremely misbehaved ape, a love story, two births, several deaths, a drunken pilot and a very big firework. (Can’t say more without spoilers, but hope it’s enough to pick your interest.)

My thoughts: hilarious. Probably the funniest book I read this year. No, really, you may think “it’s just an ape story, nothing much”, but it is a jewel! And it does something strange: it has characters that are at once stock figures, and very lively. I cannot explain it, because they are all mostly stereotypes, but still they really come to life through the page. Recommended? Definitely yes, go check it out this minute!

The covers you can find online are less pretty than the ones I have. Too bad the picture quality here is so bad 😦

The book: The Rock, by John Masters

The edition: Sphere paperback, 383 pages, including bibliography

About the book: this book is strange in format and hard to define: half history, half fiction. Each chapter includes historical information about a period of Gibraltarian history, followed by a fictional episode set in that period. The narrative is not continuous, although there are elements (especially families and their histories) that return again and again.

My thoughts: such a peculiar format is hard to make right. I don’t think the level is the same throughout the book, there are some parts that stick better than the rest, and I do have a small doubt about the accuracy of the non-fiction part. Still, as a whole it works very well, the author is a good narrator and history makes sense in his stories. Recommended.


Bottom line: two authors I want to read more from. If you know them, can you recommend any titles?

Books: Gibraltar reading and more


The book: Fall of a Sparrow, by Sam Benady and Mary Chiappe

The edition: HKB Press paperback, 285 pages, with an hilarious cast of characters

The story: at the beginning of the Great Siege, Giovanni Bresciano is the second of only two Gibraltarian to join the army to defend their country. On his second day in the army, his first friend among soldiers falls from a precipice. Is it an accident, or is it something sinister? Is there a murderer or a spy on the loose? As the siege goes on and the city suffers from hunger and smallpox, Bresciano tries to uncover the truth.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I was suspicious of this book, because I had read another one by Sam Benady (see below) and it had failed to impress me. But I was wrong. It may be little known, but this book is as good a crime novel as you can get. Not only it has an extremely well-developed and puzzling plot, it also has well-rounded characters (down to Bresciano’s own teenager weaknesses, which I didn’t have patience for but still rang very true). And it pairs it all off with an accurate period setting and plenty of very well-written descriptions.

Language & writing: the authors are quite good at rendering the multilingualism of the place. Also, it’s too bad that I didn’t take notes while reading, because this book is full of good words; I don’t know for sure, but some of them may be Gibraltar-speech too — one is for sure:

Monday morning brought with it a damp easterly wind that rapidly swathed the Rock in a heavy levanter cloud.

(The levanter cloud is a weather effect happening in Gibraltar, as explained here. Below is a picture of it.)

Image credits: Wikipedia

Links to better understand this book:

Read this if: if you like period detective stories

Counts as: Travel with books project – Gibraltar; Bloggiesta, my goals; Bloggiesta, Jessica’s mini challenge


I’ll add here my very short thoughts about two more Gibraltar-related (and one non-related) books I read recently, I really don’t have enough to say about them to justify a separate post, sorry.

Sherlock Holmes in Gibraltar by Sam Benady, published by Gibraltar Books, 48 pages
This is one of those books written only to make use of a given setting. It includes two novellas featuring, guess that, Sherlock Holmes in Gibraltar. I am not an expert, but this Holmes was in no way similar to the original character, and the book was nothing comparable to Conan Doyle’s works. It features a nice line drawing, though.

Gil Braltar, by Jules Verne, as published online here
This short novella is intended as a satire against the British, but I only found it cruel and unnecessarily so.

In Honor to Cain, by Francesca Raffaella Guerra, as published by Ubi Minor, 134 pages
This one has nothing to do with Gibraltar and I only mention it here because, like the Sherlock Holmes’ one, it’s only excuse for existing is that it is set in a particular town (namely, in my home region). I’m sorry but I can say absolutely nothing good about this one, so I won’t.