Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Crossword Ends In Violence (5) – James Cary

Comic Thriller 4*'s
Comic Thriller

Do you like cryptic crosswords or are you like me and find them impossible to crack? Either way this quintessentially British comic thriller could be for you.

In a complex plot told with enormous humour with more than a dash of the Boys Own feeling about it. John Fellows is a cryptic crossword compiler who employs two other puzzle enthusiasts, Turner, who sets chess problems and the newest employee, Overend, who sets bridge problems at the Bookman Bureau.

The Bookman Bureau was set up by Fellows Grandfather, Carl Bookman with his brother Sydney in the 1920’s at that time producing the cryptic crosswords for the daily papers. On one of those days that just seem to keep getting worse, John Fellows is advised his rent is being hiked, the demand for puzzles is not what it was in their heyday and he learns that Great Uncle Sydney has died and it seems that he wants to tell the family that Carl had been arrested for being a spy, sending messages to the enemy in the solutions to the crosswords.

The story is well structured all the sections headed ‘down’ are set in the war, telling the Bookman brother’s story while those marked ‘across’ detail the present day efforts of John Fellows to answer the myriad of questions posed by the deathbed speech of his Great Uncle as well as those posed by the mysterious package sent by his neighbour. There are also headings marked with chess moves which detail the life of inmate 27142629 who is carry out forced labour for the Russians.

The humour is very British and lifted by the appearance of Amanda, the only female in the book, who worked in the accountants downstairs.

‘Oi! I bought this T-shirt in Madison Square Gardens!’
‘And I’m very proud of it,’ said Turner
‘I’m proud of my twenty-five metres freestyle-swimming badge, but I’m not going to sew it onto my dress,’ said Amanda walking towards the door.

Amanda deciding that the overgrown schoolboys are far more interesting company joins them on their quest to find out the truth of what Carl Bookman did during the war, did he crack codes at Bletchley Park as Carl had always fondly imagined or was he a spy for t. he Germans?

This fairly short book, about three hundred pages, is a delight to read, with the D-Day landings described in a way unlike many history books, but one that I couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t that far off reality. The three sections of writing all join together to create a proper ending and the comedy doesn’t squash the underlying story being told.

The author, James Cary is an award winning comedy BBC comedy radio and TV producer. Not far off Crossword Ends in Violence (5), his comedy series Hut 33 (Radio 4) about Bletchley Park boffins, starring Robert Bathurst and Olivia Colman, has run for three series and this comic thriller was a delight to read but despite some of the tricks used to solve cryptic crosswords are explained in the book, I’m still not convinced that I have much hope of ever completing one. If you like words, some historical humour or just fancy reading something a little bit different to the norm, you may well enjoy this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher Piqwiq in return for this honest review.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

10 thoughts on “Crossword Ends In Violence (5) – James Cary

  1. Cleo – This sounds like a great, quirky, fun story. I love the wit in the snippet you shared, too. And what an interesting premise there is in this one. I like crosswords, and although I’m not much good at other cryptic games, I always wonder at the minds that are clever enough to create them. Thanks for sharing this.


    1. This is a fun, and very clever, story which holds together a number of interesting elements with good solid writing. When I had finished and read the author’s background it all makes perfect sense. The protagonist John Fellows highlights his inspiration for clues as he went about discovering what truly happened to his grandfather which for a word lover added a delightful element.


  2. I’m such a mess at cryptic crosswords – can do the plain Jane ones, but the cryptic stump me completely! Sounds like an interesting, fun concept – do you think it might be difficult for non-Brits to read, though?


    1. I love the normal ones but I just don’t know where to start with the cryptic ones. I don’t think it would be difficult for non-Brits to read it is more the type of humour rather than directed at things peculiar to Britain. The characters are stereotypical British geeks (and not like anyone I’ve ever met) the sort that use their brains and get into ‘scrapes’


  3. This book sound very interesting. Thanks for the review! It’s definitely joining the long “to read” list!


  4. I can usually manage half a dozen in a cryptic, depending on the paper and setter. Most people I know were taught how to decipher the clues by an older crossword buff(I was taught a few by a pensioner friend), although I assume there are books you can buy. Also, the setter must stick to certain rules, I’ve been told. Real buffs can tell who’s set it just by reading the clues. The really confident, experienced solver will use a fountain pen (they are fountain pen-type people!) Anyway, I love the sound of this, the idea of “scrapes”, and, as Margot mentioned, the wit. Definitely for me, sounds a jolly jape!


Leave a Reply, I love hearing what you have to say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.