CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

23 07 2014

Casino Royale coverI read Casino Royale that night I said I was going to (after reviewing James Bond: The Authorised Biography) but never got round to commenting on it. However, now that I am about to embark on Live and Let Die, and have some time free, here goes.

I won’t tell you the story. You may have read the book once, no doubt long ago, or perhaps seen the film – not Sean Connery, this one was more recent and starred Daniel Craig along with Eva Green, a great favourite of mine since I first saw her as Sibylla in Kingdom of Heaven.

Eva Green in Kingdom of Heaven

And here she is with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale:

Casino Royale

But back to the book! All I want to do in this “review”  is draw attention to a few points that strike me as interesting,

Firstly, we meet “M” and get the whole set-up and a two-page Top Secret document on SMERSH at once. I somehow found this surprising. I’d always imagined that Fleming introduced these things, built up this alternative universe, gradually, but no, he had it all there ready in his head before he ever started.

Secondly, there is a reference at the beginning of the book to one of James Bond’s earlier cases. (remember this is the first Bond book Fleming wrote, and chronologically the first Bond adventure.) I’ll quote the passage. “Head of S” has just emerged from M’s room and is telling “Number Two” who has been chosen for this special mission:

‘One of the Double Os – I guess 007. He’s tough and M thinks there may be trouble with those gunmen of Le Chiffre’s. He must be pretty good with the cards or he wouldn’t have sat in the Casino in Monte Carlo for two months before the war watching that Roumanian team work their stuff with the invisible ink and the dark glasses. He and the Deuxième bowled them out in the end and 007 turned in a million francs he had won at shemmy. Good money in those days.’

Now I already knew all about that case in Monte Carlo, from the Authorised Biography. You can’t imagine how at home that made me feel in Bond’s universe!

Thirdly, his (Bond’s? Fleming’s?) misogyny, sexism, call it what you will. When Bond first hears that his sidekick on this job is to be a woman, he is furious. This pest of a girl … Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them. When she turns out to be the stunning Vesper Lind (think Eva Green) that makes his attitude worse, not better. Then she is abducted by the villain, Le Chiffre, and as Bond races after her in his Bentley, it is just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men … For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched … But we have to remember that this is a man, and surrounded as we are by psychologically emasculated 20th century males, we may need to suspend our modern prejudices along with our disbelief as we read these books. And to be honest about who we would want racing to our rescue in similar circumstances. And in Fleming’s defence (SPOILER COMING) it turns out, ironically, that it is not Vesper who has “fallen for an old trick like that” but Bond himself. The abduction had been a trap Bond raced right into.

Finally, there follow two chapters that constitute perhaps the most horrifying and haunting torture scene in modern literature. It is there in the film but it is toned down. In the book he spends weeks in hospital recovering before he can return to the arms of Vesper. (Yes, she emerged unscathed.) This business of the reader / cinema-goer as voyeur, watching James Bond endure agonies  that only he could, is another key feature of the James Bond product. Perhaps the film world did it best in the very first one when he fell into the hands of the sinister and sadistic Dr No – once again while attempting to save a beautiful girl. James Bond as Knight Errant then. The man you pray will come along when you are chained to a rock and the dragon is approaching – even if he does believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. (As you will have guessed by now, I have a feeling he is right.)

Anyway, this evening I have another date with him: Live and Let Die.





Two more good ones from Kindle …

16 12 2013

I love these free downloads from Amazon Kindle!

The Muse of Violence by Bruce Hartman

Muse of Violence cover

The narrator is the leader of a writers’ group who tells a tale reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (“And Then There Were None”). It all begins with Jackie, a young woman who collects married men. They have to be married. The only married man Jackie is not interested in is her husband, who, according to a story she reads to the group, is a pathetic little wimp called Larry.

The following week, Eleanor, an older woman, reads a story she has written in which a wife follows the young blonde seducer of her husband and … Only Jackie is not there to hear it. Why not? It turns out that she has already been murdered, and the story Eleanor told is remarkably similar to what actually happened to Jackie.

Could Eleanor have murdered her? She seems to have a foolproof alibi, but the narrator is not convinced.

And so it continues. Read your story, meet your maker.

Excellent and gripping. And there is someone in the writers’ group for every reader to identify with – always important to me. I identified in this case not with the narrator, who would be most people’s choice, I imagine, but with Caroline, whose viewpoint we also get from time to time. The extracts from her diary make her in effect a second narrator, and I have to say I would have preferred rather more of her and rather less of him.

Nomad by J L Bryan

NOMAD-by-JL-Bryan

 

A teenage child soldier from a future dystopia finds herself inexplicably in this world dressed in the ragged remains of what she had obviously been wearing there/then, and clutching a backpack containing wads of dollars and strange clothes clearly intended for a large man.

And a gun. A gun from the future that she knows how to assemble and operate, though she has no idea how she knows.

She lost her memory in the time-jump, but gradually comes to the realisation that she is here to asassinate the young man, at present a student at Yale, who is destined to become the tyrant responsible for creating the hellish world in which she grew up.

Without him that will never happen.

Or will it?

And another thing. What will happen to her if the world she comes from no longer exists? Will she become a time-nomad, with no world of her own to return to?

That question, so well handled in this book, led me to another question. Isn’t that what happens to all of us? The world we grew up in no longer exists. As James Munro puts it in his poem Fin de Millennium:

You take the high road,
you take the low road,
you take the bloody motorway:
but I was in Scotland ‘afore ye …

And in Ireland. And England. Roads were narrow then,
the high with low stone walls, the low with hedges,
blossom, finches, trains were grimy,
dog-end-filled and stopped at every village station,
bells ringing, whistles blowing, steam and
hats and skirts all blowing; time:
the whistles and the bells fell silent, cigarettes
were antisocial, steam and stations uncommercial,
girls wore jeans, wore strings, wore …

Then was another world. You’d be an alien there.

In Andalusia I sat down and wept;
in Casablanca I remembered then, remembered
cold, grey seas and grassy dunes, the grey-green marshes
and the silence of the north
(a far-off bird, a summer insect,
breaking waves upon a distant beach: a lamb calling).

Catch a plane! Go home! they said. A plane?
I’d need a time machine.





The JET Series by Russell Blake

11 10 2013

I happened on this the other day and I must say that it seems to me the most arrogant piece of nonsense I have ever come across. It is Sue Grafton speaking:

To me, it seems disrespectful… that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

You can find the article I read HERE – do read it, it’s great stuff.

Sue Grafton is the author of the “A is for Alibi”, “B is for Burglar” series of murder mysteries featuring Kinsey Millhone. I read a couple of them years ago but was not moved to seek out any of the other twenty-four. (Are there twenty-four yet?)

JET-Header

By contrast, Russell Blake’s series featuring the ex-Mossad agent known as Jet is self-published, and downloadable from Amazon as an ebook. Exactly the kind of thing Grafton is sneering at. It is faultlessly edited (anyone who is a regular reader of this blog will know that I can be hypercritical!) and so gripping that I read all five stories straight off within a week.

How did that happen? It’s quite simple, and in itself proof that the Amazon Kindle sytem of Free Book Days works.

I saw that Jet was on offer free that day and, curious, I downloaded and read it. And immediately ordered Jet II and Jet III, and read them during the next three nights. Each book stops with unanswered questions – you want to read on. You need to read on. I downloaded Jet IV and Jet V. And would have ordered Jet VI had there been one. (I’m waiting, Russell!)

And that’s how I come to be writing a review of (or at least an introduction to) not just one but five books here today.

Jet is, as I say, ex-Mossad. Well, not exactly ex-Mossad, because the group she was once a key member of are ultra-secret super-specialists whose very existence is apparently unknown to the Mossad.

Jet1When the first book, Jet, opens, Jet is living a quiet life in Trinidad, running a small internet-café. Only tonight is not quiet because it is Carnival Night. And because as she is shutting up shop, a little early as that evening with all the excitement there will be no more customers, a garotte is looped over her head. In less time than it takes to tell, her attacker is dead, and within minutes so is the back-up. Jet, we see, is deadly – and virtually indestructible. And a woman with whom I for one, and I am sure thousands of others, identify immediately.

But who had sent the hit team? No one knew about her new identity. No one?

She cannot stay on the island – too many dead bodies around for a start, and anyway her cover is blown – so she sets off on a journey of revenge, a quest which inevitably leads straight on to another, and then another, in Russia, Miramar (Burma), Thailand, Argentina, and various parts of Europe and the US.

What can I say? Don’t read the first book of this series – or even the first couple of chapters of the first book – unless you want to be up all night for a week.

And please don’t, anybody, generalise about self-published books. Many of them are as good as or better than anything the big publishers are bringing out these days. And don’t generalise about “published” novels either: some of them are so carelessly written and edited that one simply does not know who to blame.  (You want an example? I don’t review crappily produced books here, but have a look at my previous post, The Begotten, and – this one is far worse and only here because it is by one of my very favourite authors – Paul Doherty’s Bloodstone . What happened, Paul?)

Jet5





Half-a-Dozen from among the Kindle Frees

21 08 2013

Half a Dozen recommended ebooks selected from among the many I have downloaded FREE from Amazon Kindle.

I often download free books from Amazon these days. (I am sent a list every day of books which are on offer.) However, I read very few of them right through to the end. What I think of as the illiterate ones I delete from my Kindle Reader after the first few lines. (I say illiterate rather than unedited because I know many of these books have come straight from the hands of the author to the Kindle download lists, but anyone claiming to be an author should be literate, should be able to edit his or her own work.) If I get past those first few lines, the story has to grab me. Then it has to hold me. Many of these writers start well, then become careless or boring. However, there are always a few gems. Here are some I really enjoyed and that you can safely download.

Kindle11. BY UNKNOWN MEANS

Doug Giacobbe

High adventure around Nassau, fast moving with great characterisation. James Bond country, but here only the bad guy is British.

The good guys are US Customs officers and officers of the US Navy. The bad guys, drug-smugglers. And the hero himself, fired from the Customs Service for being over-zealous in the pursuit of his duty, and not being one to give up, continues that pursuit in his own boat until he gets both the bad guy and the beautiful undercover agent who is posing as the bad guy’s amazon bodyguard. Great stuff.

Kindle22. OMEGA DOG

James Rush

Another fast-moving adventure set in the States. A hitman is targeting a group of apparently unrelated people, among them Beth, a conscientious young doctor. And the only person she trusts to protect her is ex-marine, ex-cop, Joseph Venn, the very man the police believe to be the hired assassin.

But Venn is working secretly for someone in the highest echelons of the American government …

Kindle4Kindle33. TIME OF DEATH

and

4. THE PEEPER

both by Ellis Vidler

Time of Death features the McGuire Women, a family of psychics. Alex, the youngest of them, is being targeted by a killer, either because of something she saw, or because of something she didn’t see except with her mind’s eye, for Alex is an artist and sometimes she finds herself producing automatic drawing (like automatic writing) depicting scenes of pain and death.

The other book, The Peeper, you simply must read. The Peeping Tom turns out to be – no, I’m not going to tell you. Let’s just say that in this book Ellis Vidler turns all our prejudices on their head.

Kindle55. THE FERAL SPY

Joyce Weaver

Very British, this one. A dotty old lady is arrested for shop-lifting. It transpires that she and her companion are living in dire poverty – and I mean starvation and exposure – in the derelict ruin of what was once the stately home belonging to her family. But how did they come to be in this state? And who – and what – were they, once, before most of these patronising young people were born?

Kindle66. THE MIST ON BRONTË MOOR

Aviva Orr

A time-slip story which turns into a truly fascinating glimpse of life at Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors when the Brontës were teenagers. You really feel you are there with Heather Jane Bell, the unhappy 21st-century girl who suddenly finds herself in a weird other world.  And the two she gets on best with are Emily, who befriends her, and Patrick Branwell, with whom she falls in love.

She had never heard of the Brontës, so it is not a form of wish-fulfilment.

(Look at that name, and don’t tell me time-travellers can’t affect the time they visit! But she doesn’t manage to save poor Patrick from himself …)





THE DEAD WON’T SLEEP and TO TELL THE TRUTH by Anna Smith

9 05 2013

Dead Won't Sleep coverOne of my favourite books of the last year or two is Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill, the easy prey being Glasgow’s multitudinous, but totally unprotected, prostitutes. (Unprotected in comparison with those of say Amsterdam or Paris.) And so I slipped easily into The Dead Won’t Sleep with the feeling of being back on familiar territory.

There is no “who-dun-it” here. When the body of a fourteen-year-old prostitute and drug-addict named Tracy is washed up on the river shore, we already know who did it: a trio of corrupt and brutal senior police officers. The drama lies in the fight to the death – literally – between them and investigative journalist Rosie Gilmour, who is determined not to let Tracy’s death be covered up by the establishment. Or the subsequent death of another prostitute, the only witness.

But then her investigations into Tracy’s background reveal that other powerful establishment figures have access to the children at the orphange Tacy had fled, and are using them for their sickening paedophile games.

A great start to a new series. Rosie is tough – but not that tough; she too had a horrifying childhood. Let’s say courageous rather than tough. And she has two very attractive male friends: Adrian, a ruthless Bosnian hardman who would give his life for her; and TJ, a wandering minstrel – a busker with itchy feet whom she is slowly falling for in a big way.

ToTellTheTruth cover

TJ doesn’t appear in the sequel, To Tell the Truth, but Adrian does – in the nick of time, and saves Rosie’s life yet again.

This time the setting is the south of Spain, the Costa del Sol, the whole place seemingly owned and run by crime bosses from Russia, Albania and – yes, you guessed – an old enemy from Glasgow who had to leave the UK in a hurry after Rosie flashed his face on the front page of her newspaper.

A little girl, the daughter of two ‘Brits’ on holiday, has been kidnapped, just picked up and carried away while playing on the beach. Again, Rosie’s investigations spread out ever further like the ripples when a stone is dropped into a pond. Like the Moroccan rent-boy who, at the time of the kidnapping, was giving the British Home Secretary a blow-job on a balcony overlooking the beach, said Home Secretary being all-too-chummy with a Russian billionaire whose manifold business interests include trafficking girls in from eastern Europe for the straight sex trade and small children for the paedophile industry.

One of the great things about these books is that the large supporting cast are all rounded and memorable characters. I does not make me want to go rushing off to the Costa del Sol, I would have too good an idea now of what is going on all around me. I am still planning to visit Glasgow, though!





THE CASE OF THE MISSING SERVANT by Tarquin Hall

25 04 2013

Vish Puri coverTarquin Hall and The Case of the Missing Servant have been floating around on the edge of my awareness for a couple of years. Somehow, though, it never happened. Then finally, hey presto – what a lovely surprise!

But let’s begin with a typical example of the book – and the author – in action (and modern Delhi in action!) to get a feel of the book, the author and the place. Not to mention the protagonist, one Vish Puri, “India’s most private investigator”.

Here he is off to meet a contact at the Golden Greens Gold course, of which Puri was not a member although he would have liked to be [...] Not for the sake of playing (secretly he couldn’t stand the game – the ball was always ending up in those bloody ponds), but for making contacts among India’s new money, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing)-cum-MNC (Multi-National Corporation) crowd. [...] In Delhi, all big deals were now being done on the putting greens. Playing golf had become as vital a skill for an Indian detective as picking a lock. In the past few years, he had had to invest in private lessons, a set of Titleist clubs and appropriate apparel, including Argyll socks.

His chauffeur, who rejoices in the name of Handbrake, needs to ask the way.

Soon after turning off the NOIDA expressway, Handbrake spotted a Vespa moped with a Domino’s box on the back and pulled up next to it at a red light.

‘Brother, where is Galden Geens Galfing?’ he shouted in Hindi to the delivery boy over the sound of a noisy, diesel-belching Bedford truck.

His question was met with an abrupt upward motion of the hand and a questioning squint of the eyes.

‘Galden Geens Galfing, Galden Geens Galfing,’ repeated Handbrake.

The delivery boy’s puzzlement suddenly gave way to comprehension: ‘Aaah! Golden greens Galf Carse!’

Ji!’

‘Sectorrr forty-tooo!’

‘Brother! Where is forty-toooo sectorrr?’

‘Near Tulip High School.’

‘Where is Tulip High School?’

‘Near Om Garden!’

‘Brother, where is Om Garden?’

The delivery boy scowled and shouted in an amalgam of English and Hindi: ‘Past Eros Cinema, sectorrr ninteen! Turn right at traffic light to BPO Phase three! Enter farty-too through backside!’

I don’t usually quote so much, but I love this. Suddenly I miss India and Delhi.

Rinku, the contact Puri is to meet, is a childhood friend who had followed his father into the building business and, during the boom of the past ten years, made a fortune putting up low-cost multi-storey apartment blocks in Gurgaon and Dwarka.

Few industries are as dirty as the Delhi construction business and Rinku had broken every rule and then some. There was hardly a politician in north India he had not done a shady deal with; not a District Collector or senior police-wallah to whom he hadn’t passed a plastic bag full of cash.

At home in Punjabi Bagh where he still lived in his father’s house with his mother, wife and four children, Rinku was the devoted father and larger than life character who gave generously to the community, intervened in disputes and held the biggest Diwali party in the neighbourhood. But he also owned a secret second home, bought in his son’s name, a ten-acre ‘farmhouse’ in Mehrauli. It was here that he entertained politicians and bureaucrats with gori prostitutes.

Oh, yes. And the case, in this book?

A wealthy lawyer in Jaipur stands accused of murdering a young woman who worked as a maid in his family home. That is to say she worked for his wife (a prize bitch) and not for him. Because this lawyer has been crusading against corruption among the police and judiciary he is unpopular, to say the least, in many quarters. It transpires that there is actually no evidence whatever against him (the girl simply disappeared) but this will not save him. Only her reappearance can do that.

Vish Puri is charged with bringing the reappearance about. But how? All they know of her is her first name – Mary – and that, as the lawyer’s wife, Mrs Kasliwal, puts it, she is a “Bihari-type”.

When Puri asks her to elaborate, she tells him ‘So many servants these days are coming from Bihar and other such backward places. Naturally I assumed she was from there, also, being so dark.’

‘She was very dark, is it?’

‘Like kohl, Mr Puri,’ she said with disdain. ‘Like kohl.’

Wonderful. And after reading it you are left with a picture of modern Delhi comparable to the Victorian London conjured up by reading Sherlock Holmes.





THE SHEKINAH LEGACY by Gary Lindberg

27 03 2013

Shekinah Legacy coverCharlotte is a world-famous CNN news journalist. Her face is known everywhere. She is accustomed to being in dangerous situations – and likes to seem to be in control of them. Like when, at the beginning of the story, she and her cameraman, Curt, are kidnapped by a group of terrorists in Iraq – then rescued in the nick of time  (the torture was about to begin) by another group of terrorists and dropped off at their hotel. She could only wonder what was going on.

Back home in the States, she is again the target of a terrorist attack, this time with her family – her husband, Mike, and her son, Greg. Greg has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes him unemotional and uncommunicative, but when he does take an interest in a problem his brain works faster and better than anyone else’s.

Again they are rescued. But this second attack has Charlotte so worried that she decides to disappear, taking the boy Greg with her, but not her husband. She and Mike seem to be on little more than speaking terms.

The place she chooses to disappear to is Delhi! I was grabbed! I love Delhi. And it is true, anyone could disappear in Delhi. Well, almost anyone. Not Charlotte, though, her face is too well known, she is just too much of a celebrity. And someone is there in Delhi with her, not hunting her, stalking her. But so is her mysterious protector …

I finished the book without any trouble, enjoyed it, in fact, and would recommend it to anyone. However, I did have a problem with it. At first, of course, I identified with Charlotte, but she turns out to be in many ways a very childish and stupid woman. More and more I found I was viewing the action through the eyes of her protector. And this is the first of a series. I don’t think I could bear another whole book filled with Charlotte’s egotistical nonsense. But another book featuring the real heroes of this book – her son, and of course, that mysterious protector? That I would jump at.

There is a sequel, “Sons of Zadok”, but it is labelled, as is this one, “A Charlotte Ansari Thriller”, so I don’t think I’ll risk it. But if there is anyone out there who has read it and can assure me that a large part is played in it by Charlotte’s protector (whose name, by the way, is Gideon, and he is of the Sicarii – why have I been pussy-footing around this, it’s not exactly a spoiler?) then do, please, let me now.





DEVICES AND DESIRES by P. D. James

8 01 2013

Devices and Desires coverSearching my grandmother’s bookshelves the other night for something to read, I picked a out a hefty tome (600-odd pages) by P. D. James, an Adam Dalgliesh novel with a picture of a windmill on the front that rang no bells. Nor did the blurb on the back cover, except that I remembered East Anglia was a haunt of his.  It seemed I was in luck. I am a lover of murder mysteries, medieval, modern, I don’t mind what period they are set in, just so long as they are well written, so I clutched it to my bosom and hopped onto the sofa. This would keep me busy for a couple of nights.

With P. D. James and Adam Dalgliesh, as with, for instance, Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, you know more or less exactly what you are going to get, and you know it will be faultlessly crafted and beautifully written.

The great difference between Agatha Christie and P. D. James, or so it seems to me, is that whereas Agatha Christie merely introduces us to the population of the village or ship or train or whatever (This is Dr Jenkins, he’s new to the village, young wife, baby; this is Daisy Williams, she’s Miss Myers’ maid – Miss Myers? The elderly lady who lives in that big house – alone now, her sister died four months ago), P. D. James provides us with the sort of detail we have grown accustomed to and perhaps even come to crave from watching soap-operas. By the time we finish a P. D. James book such as this one, we know the characters (in this case those living on the Headland) better than we know our neighbours, better even than all but the very closest members of our family. Dalgleish can return to London, we don’t need him. The drama is over, but we want the play to go on.

Dalgliesh’s elderly aunt has died, leaving him a fortune. He could now give up police work and concentrate on his poetry if he so wished – if. She has also left him a small house and a large windmill on the Headland, a remote – well, headland, yes – on the north coast of Norfolk, not far from Cromer, once famous for its natural beauty but now famous for Larksoken Nuclear Power Station. Infamous, in the opinion of many, including several of the characters in the book.

It is not the power station that concerns us here, at least at the outset, it is the presence on the Headland of a serial killer knows as the Whistler.

Not Dalgliesh’s concern, of course. It is not his patch and he is not on duty. The task of identifying the Whistler before any more women are killed falls to Chief Inspector Terry Rickards, who is naturally wary of Dalgliesh (Dalgliesh upset him once in London years ago) but turns out to be a very intelligent and sympathetic man.

And Dalgliesh does get mixed up in the investigation, of course. He gets to know everyone and we see them through his eyes, but we get to know them better, because the point of view shifts and shifts and shifts again and we know what most of the characters are privately thinking and feeling most of the time.

Which is why, perhaps, we identify not just with the protagonist but with almost everyone in turn. And we don’t, as I say, want to be “cast out” of their lives (perhaps I should say of them) at the end of the book.

Anything else? Yes, two things.

First, an unforgettable moment when one of the characters, Meg, experiences some sort of time-slip. It starts with what seems to be a straightforward “timeless moment” as described by so many mystics and poets, but then she becomes aware of “the sound of horses’ hoofs and tramping feet, of rough male voices, of an incoherent babble as if the tide were sucking back the shingle on all the beaches of the world. And then there was a hiss and crackling of faggots, an explosion of fire, and then a second of dreadful silence broken by the high, long-drawn-out scream of a woman.” When this happens, she is in the house known as Martyr’s Cottage. On the wall outside the cottage is a plaque reading:

In a cottage on this site lived Agnes Poley, Protestant martyr, burned at Ipswich, 15th August, 1557, aged 32 years.

Unexpected, I don’t know why, in a P. D. James novel.

The other is about poetry. Two of the characters are discussing Adam Dalgliesh. She is telling her brother that she has invited Adam to dinner.

‘Am I expected to talk about his poetry?’

‘I imagine he’s come to Larksoken to get away from people who want to talk about his poetry. But it wouldn’t hurt you to take a look at it. I’ve got the most recent volume. And it is poetry, not prose rearranged on the page.’

‘With modern verse, can one tell the difference?’

‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘If it can be read as prose, then it is prose. It’s an infallible test.’

Very true. They should certainly have this rule up on the wall in the English faculties at all universities. and in the Creative Writing Departments.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as poetic prose, prose poetry, and P. D. James very frequently writes it. There are scores of examples in this one book. I won’t start quoting again, but take a second look at that description of the time-slip …





DYING TO TELL by Robert Goddard

1 12 2012

Dying to TellThis is the first Robert Goddard book I have read. I was both surprised and I was impressed. I was expecting the usual divorced and hard-drinking tough guy at home on the mean streets of New York or Los Angeles, London, Glasgow or Paris, Amsterdam or Marseilles – or the cosmopolitan version at home everywhere, be it any of the above or Cairo or Rio, Casablana, Madras or Hong-Kong.

But no. I got an unmarried, unemployed resident of Glastonbury who was perfectly content with his life just the way it was. The only thing he had in common with the aforementioned tough guys was that he enjoyed a drink or three. And when the going got tough (and the tough guys got going) he enjoyed a drink even more – preferably with his mates in the local after signing on for the dole.

But, as you will have guessed, our hero (for he is certainly not an anti-hero) gets going to, when needs must. Under protest, of course.

At one point he describes himself (to a woman who has become involved through no fault of her own) as a natural quitter. Later, when she tells him it’s time to quit, it’s getting much too dangerous, he surprises himself – and us! – by saying “The time to quit has come and gone.”

I won’t tell you about the plot. Surely it is enough to know that here you have a local lad without a penny in his pocket taking on highly organised crime (think Great Train Robbery and John F. Kennedy Assassination) in places as far apart as Berlin, Tokyo, San Francisco and – yes – Somerset, and winning!

 





RAVEN BLACK by Ann Cleves

24 09 2012

Winter on Shetland. Everything blanketed in snow. It is customary, apparently, on New Year’s Eve, to call on one’s neighbours, have a drink with them, wish them well.

No one has ever called on Magnus Tait, at least not since his old mother died. Not on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, or on any other day of the year. Not since a little girl called Catriona disappeared right after visiting him and his mother, making him the obvious suspect. After all, he was simple and strange and just the kind of person who would kill little girls. But her body was never found and there was no evidence that she had even been killed, let alone that he killed her, so he was released after some rather brutal questioning by police who “knew” (as did everyone else on the island) that he had murdered the child. His mother died, and he lived alone, year after year.

On this New Year’s Eve, as always, he had the whisky and the cake ready just as his mother had taught him. And suddenly, as he was about to give up and go to bed, he heard voices. Girls’ voices. Two girls of sixteen, seventeen, knocked at the door. They had been drinking, were on their way home, had been dropped off at the end of the lane to walk the rest of the way, and saw his light on.

One was Catherine Ross, an English girl who had only recently come to live in the area with her widowed and inconsolable father, a teacher at the local secondary school. The other was Sally, her friend, the daughter of the headmistress of the primary school. Perhaps they didn’t have much in common but were driven together by the loneliness that teachers’ children always experience.

It was Catherine, of course, who knew nothing of Magnus Tait’s sinister reputation, who wanted to drop in on him. Though perhaps she would have anyway, even if she had known. She was that kind of girl. Beautiful, confident, and – as it turned out – making a film about the people of the island as a 6th Form English project, a brutally truthful film, in which she would certainly have wanted Magnus to appear.

They leave after a drink and some cake and go home. No problem.

But the next day, Catherine’s body is found in the snow not far from Magnus’s house.

What chance has he? The only person who even considers the remote possibility that it might not have been Magnus who killed Catherine is the local Inspector Perez (proud descendant of a ship-wrecked Spanish sailor at the time of the Armada!) but then a team of detectives is despatched from Inverness and it  is taken out of his hands.

Gradually, we learn more about various people who live on the island and realise that Magnus is far from being the only weird one. However – no, I mustn’t tell you any more, it will spoil it for you.

I loved it. Loved the story and the people, and especially the fascinating setting. I must go to Shetland one day. Perhaps even in the winter for New Year and “Up Helly Aa”!








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