Blackout Murders reveals a tale of terror in wartime shelters

From dark doings in wartime London to Nobel winners and the Khasi of Kalabar – a mixed bag of non-fiction high and lowlights is coming soon to a bookshop near you, writes DAVID CROZIER Those born after the end of the Second World War (well after in my ca

From dark doings in wartime London to Nobel winners and the Khasi of Kalabar - a mixed bag of non-fiction high and lowlights is coming soon to a bookshop near you, writes DAVID CROZIER

Those born after the end of the Second World War (well after in my case) often have a somewhat romantic view of what life in the capital was like then.

I mean, let's be honest: it was all jolly japes down in the Underground, wasn't it? - singing 'White Cliffs of Dover' while the Luftwaffe set fire to empty warehouses in the East End, enraging the Queen Mother.

Well, no - of course it wasn't. And The Blackout Murders by Simon Read (JR Books, £14.99) portrays the city much more accurately with a true story - that of the Blackout Ripper.


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It was in February 1942 that a woman was found strangled in an air raid shelter in the West End of London. Under cover of darkness the killer had been able to move about at will - and over the next week, four more women were killed and two others attacked. Strangulation was followed by increasingly brutal mutilation and nobody knew where or when the killer, described by a pathologist as a 'savage sexual maniac' would strike again.

But, as is often the case, the killer made a mistake. He left a gas mask at the scene of one of the attempted murders and it was traced back to a seemingly charming 27-year-old airman called Gordon Cummins.

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It's a gruesome but fascinating story and those who enjoy Laura Wilson's excellent (fictional) wartime crime thrillers will find that real life crime can sometimes be just as extraordinary.

When it comes to true stories set in London, there are few characters larger than Ken Livingstone.

Red Ken, as he used to be known (and still is in some places) is, of course, two-times Mayor and going for his third term next month so a new biography is timely. Ken: The Ups and Downs of Ken Livingstone by Andrew Hosken (Arcadia, £15.99) takes us through the life and times of this extraordinary character and while you may not agree with his politics, his life is far from uneventful.

Although unauthorised, Hosken interviewed Livingstone seven times for the book and the author says his subject was happy to go on the record. Certainly as Hosken's previously book was Nothing Like a Dame - the demolition of Tory fraudster Dame Shirley Porter - there can be no accusations of political bias.

If you want to find out more about the Man Who Would Be Mayor (Again), this is the place to come.

Some information about the Mayor's private life was made public to pre-empt revelations in this book so we now know that Ken has 121 children by 4,000 different women (or somesuch ).

Anyway, however many it is, he shouldn't bother buying Things To Do With Dad by Chris Stevens (Michael O'Mara, £10). Yet another shameless rip-off of the significantly better Dangerous Book for Boys, this isn't published for a while - it's coming out to cash in on Father's Day - but I mention it now so that you don't accidentally buy it when it appears, thinking it might be worth your cash. It isn't.

According to the publishers, the Things To Do With Mum version (by Alison Maloney) was a 'Top 20 Bestseller' earlier in the year, suggesting that making a dancing puppet, growing your name in cress and building a teepee (all in the Dad one) are things Mums aren't capable of. Presumably, women are only good for embroidery and baking biscuits. No, no and again no. Please don't encourage this tripe by buying it and hopefully this will be the last ever. But I doubt it.

The same can ALMOST be said for Nobel Wisdom by David Pratt (JR Books, £9.99). It's subtitled The 1,000 Wisest Things Ever Said and I say ALMOST because although it's a pointless exercise (do we really need a quotations book based purely on the notion that if you won the Nobel Prize you must be worth listening to?) it happens to be, at times, quite interesting and the short biographies of those quoted are wonderful. I would dispute the claim that these are the 1,000 Wisest Things Ever Said but they certainly make for a more interesting collection than many quotations collections I've seen.

"A sword is needed to conquer a sword," wrote Albert Camus in 1944 (quote 938 in the above book) and if the next book is anything to go by, it seems you need bishops, knights and a few pawns to conquer nuclear weapons and bring the superpowers to peace.

White King and Red Queen by Daniel Johnson (Atlantic, £9.99) is another paperback that's not out until next month but it'll be well worth seeking out when it appears.

Subtitled How the Cold War was Fought on the Chessboard, it tells the story of the Cold War through the medium of chess. It's a story which can be enjoyed by those with little knowledge of the game, although I think it probably helps to know a little. Whatever, Johnson's enthusiasm shines through and makes it a far easier read than you might think.

Out on the same day, is The Khyber Pass by Paddy Docherty (Faber and Faber £9.99) which tells the story of that famed frontier, the main route between India and Central Asia.

It's a serious book, a history of empire and invasion, taking us from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan right up to the terrorists and drug barons who inhabit the Pass today. However it's nice to see there's room for a brief mention of the splendidly daft Carry On... Up the Khyber, for my money the finest in the Carry On... canon.

If you want to know more about the real history of the Pass than the tale of the Khasi of Kalabar and Bungdit Din, you could do a lot worse than devour this.

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