Saturday, May 31, 2008

MORE MEDIEVAL MYSTERY TO READ





I really enjoyed reading Mistress of the Art of Death which was engrossing to the end and full of memorable well drawn characters. 

I would issue a warning that on the website there is a mild spoiler in the book  group discussion section, and that some of the explicit sexual violence made this in my opinion a book for adults. 

I have now moved on to read the sequel The Death Maze [UK] or The Serpent's Tale [USA] and my review of this will appear in due course on Euro Crime.

'We are among barbarians, Simon.'............
Kindly barbarians, Simon said to her now. Fighting their own barbarity.'

I am not completely in agreement with the concept that Europe in the 12th century was totally  barbarian and that the only worthwhile knowledge was retained in the Kingdom of Sicily, the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim lands. 
We do owe our universities at Paris, Bologna and Oxford to the so called 'Dark Ages' and there were great scholars and thinkers in Europe such as the Venerable Bede 673-735, Alcuin 735-804 and Peter Abelard 1079-1143. 

The Medieval world was a complicated dangerous place whether you were Christian, Jew or Muslim.........hmm a bit like today. 

'Saladin had the same immediate successor as all the great Muslim leaders of his time : civil war. ...........
It took nine years of combat with innumerable alliances, betrayals and assassinations before the Ayyubid empire once again obeyed a single master.' 
from The Crusades Through Arab Eyes: Aamin Maalouf  

Thursday, May 29, 2008

GETTING MEDIEVAL: THE WISDOM OF THE YOUNG


I realised I was getting older when I discussed my choice of Early Music to accompany my reading of the medieval mysteries Mistress of the Art of Death, and The Death Maze, by Ariana Franklin with my 10 year old granddaughter.


"Early music?? Oh you mean UB40!" 

Monday, May 26, 2008

INTO THE MEDIEVAL AGE: MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH




Ariana Franklin won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award 2007 for Mistress of the Art of Death.

It is Cambridge in 1171 and a child, Peter of Trumpington, has been murdered and the local Jews blamed for his alleged crucifixion. Chaim, the most prominent Jew in the city and his wife have been slaughtered by the mob and the remaining Jews have taken refuge in the castle. Now two more children are missing, and Henry II is not pleased.

'Am I not good to my Jews, Aaron?'
'You are, my lord. Indeed you are.'

'......The real point is that one-seventh  of my annual revenue comes from taxing you Jews. And the church wants me to get rid of you.'

From the Kingdom of  Sicily and Southern Italy, Simon Menahem of Naples, a renowned investigator, Adelia a woman doctor from the great school of Medicine in Salerno, her speciality the study of corpses, and Mansur, a Marsh Arab are sent 'to deal with some trouble the Jews are having there.'

The missing children are found dead, horribly mutilated, and the trio of investigators are faced with multiple suspects and great personal danger in a cold wet land where Adelia finds it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, and find a salad.

One has only to look at excellent web sites such as 
Crime Thru Time and a recent review on Euro Crime of Bernard Knight's The Manor of Death by crimficreader to realise the fascination the Medieval period has for crime fiction writers.
I have only a smattering of knowledge about the period and approached reading Mistress of the Art of Death with considerable interest but some reservations. 
Review quotes such as 'CSI meets Canterbury Tales' don't encourage me to read a book, and the thought of a Medieval Kay Scarpetta was intimidating.

But I was pleasantly surprised and after reading the first 200 pages I am deeply engrossed in this alien world of the 12th century. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, the 'Mistress' of the title, is a likeable as well as intelligent character and as a woman in a foreign country surrounded by ignorance and bigotry she cries out for recognition. 

'I am a doctor of Salerno. You will show me respect.'

And because of the considerable amount of research that has gone into the book the situation Adelia finds herself in is very believable.

While the book is set in 1171 some things never change, the presence of serial killers and blaming the Jews for anything and everything seem to be consistent theme whether you are in 12th century Cambridge, or 20th century Berlin.
One thing the book could do with is a glossary of medieval terms as not everyone has a medieval scholar [Mrs Crime Scraps] in the house to explain 'catafalques', 'Montanists', 'Tertullian' and to provide a library of music of the period. 
There is however an excellent web site explaining a lot of the background of the book here.

This book has interesting characters, great atmosphere, lots of historical information and an intriguing mystery. It is one of those books I like to read slowly to enjoy a story that the author has obviously spent a lot of time creating. 
When I finish this book I will move on to the sequel, The Death Maze. 
 

CRIME SCRAPS COMPETITION:THE BROKEN SHORE WON


To win a copy of Peter Temples's novel The Broken Shore set in Australia the question was: 

Who was the commander of the largest Allied army corps on the Western Front in 1918, and what is his connection with a university and $100? 

The winner by a few hours "Ah now I see" over a runner up who stated:

" I can't believe how obvious the answer is....." 

That greatly pleased me as I was beginning to think my questions were too difficult.

Of course the answer was Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps in 1918, whose picture is on the Australian $100 bill, and for whom Monash University is named.

Prize courtesy of Picador USA.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

CRIME SCRAPS COMPETITION UPDATE: NOT BLACK JACK



More than one entrant to the 'Win The Broken Shore' competition has given the answer John 'Black Jack' Pershing  the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War 1.

Unfortunately that is not the answer because I had not thought of Pershing because he was not an Allied army corps commander.

The USA was not officially an 'Ally' in the Great War but an 'Associated Power'. 

It was the largest Allied Army corps of 166,000 men commanded by........

Here are a couple of clues:

The prize is The Broken Shore [location] and the USA is not the only country that uses the dollar as its currency. 

Answers to thbear08@googlemail.com  

Thursday, May 22, 2008

NO SANCTUARY



It seems a bomb exploded in Exeter this lunchtime in the new £230 million Princeshay development.



Exeter was pounded by the Luftwaffe during the war so the residents have a tradition of defiance, so whatever was the motive for this incident the bustling cathedral city will continue to grow and prosper.
[photos from the BBC website]

CRIME SCRAPS COMPETITION: WIN THE BROKEN SHORE


Those very kind people at  Picador USA have sent me a copy of The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.
Not only did this novel win the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award but was also one of Crime Scraps best books of 2007. 

You can read my review here, and win this brilliant example of Australian crime fiction by answering just one question.

Who commanded the largest Allied army corps on the Western Front in 1918, and what is his connection with $100 and a university?

It is a little easier than my usual questions so the first correct answer gets the book.

Answers to thbear08@googlemail.com  by 30 June 2008.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

HISTORY LESSONS


As I am reading Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, the first Medieval winner of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award, and will follow that with the sequel The Death Maze.
I thought I had better do a bit of research to be able to comment on the authenticity of the books. Therefore as well as watching BBC 4 's excellent Medieval season I have been looking up some maps of Europe in the 12th century.

What a treasure chest of information is available on the internet!
This map looked rather nice and is taken from the library of the University of Texas.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

NEW REVIEWS ON EUROCRIME: THE SNAKE STONE


My review of the historical mystery The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin is posted on Euro Crime

This book features Yashim the eunuch detective while among the other books reviewed this week, and also set in Turkey, is The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer which has as the narrator possibly the world's first transvestite detective.


Definitely the mysterious east.

Friday, May 16, 2008

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: FORGETFUL FRIDAY


Over at Patti Abbott's pattinasse there is a series on forgotten books every Friday.

With my convoluted thought processes bumbling into action I remembered a complete series of forgotten books, several of which I read a very long time ago, set in occupied France during the Second World War.

This J. Robert Janes series featured Surete detective Jean Louis St-Cyr and former Munich policeman Hermann Kohler and was very strong on the wartime atmosphere of distrust and barely concealed hatred between the various authorities during the Occupation.

The detectives have to solve murders while under constant surveillance by the SS Secret police, Wehrmacht, Gestapo, collaborators in the French police system and Resistance fighters.

The De Luca Trilogy set in Italy during and just after the collapse of Mussolini's Republic of Salo had a similar theme of who to trust in the constantly shifting quicksands of occupation and liberation.


The BBC drama series Secret Army about a Belgian resistance movement broadcast between 1977-1979 covered the theme of the struggle between occupier and occupied in a thoughtful and serious manner. I am afraid I could not watch the ludicrous parody that was later made of this excellent series, entitled Allo Allo.


I have not read the highly praised Matt Beynon Rees Omar Yussef Mystery series set in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, but it is on my to be purchased list.

I shall be interested to see how the author deals with the sensitive subject of politics and murder in such a lawless land.

The two books so far published in the series have very different titles in the UK and USA, which is fairly significant of the difference in attitudes between the two countries to this controversial situation.

The American, The Collaborator of Bethlehem and A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees, become for British readers The Bethlehem Murders and The Saladin Murders by Matt Rees?


I found it interesting when in Donna Leon's The Girl of His Dreams Count Orazio Falier, Guido Brunetti's father in law, goes on a trip the "occupied territories". Count Falier has taken to calling Sicily and Calabria by that evocative name because they are beyond government control and occupied by organised crime factions.


What other 'occupied territories' feature in crime fiction?


I first thought of Eliot Pattison's series featuring a former investigator for the Chinese government, Shan Tao Yun, in Tibet. It has taken the Beijing Olympics to bring this long standing occupation to Western sensibilities.


And then I recollected our neighbour about twenty years ago speaking about the 'occupied territories'. She was not a Palestinian or a Tibetan, but from the vast former German territories in the east now part of Poland.


That reminded me of the Eberhard Mock Quartet witten by Polish writer Marek Krajewski, a crime series with a difference, flowing back and forth in time and set in the Silesian German city of Breslau, which became after the Second World War the Polish city of Wroclaw.


What a wonderful educational facility we have with the varied library of crime fiction available today; it is all there entangled in the story, history, politics, sociology, religion and geography. And usually they are more fun to read than dry non fiction books?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

HUNTING THE KING: A CRIME SCRAPS INTERVIEW




video


Peter Clenott has two good marketing ploys which are bound to get his intelligent thriller Hunting The King noticed and out 'there'.


Firstly there is an exciting video on 'You Tube' that got me interested, and secondly he has named his heroine Molly O'Dwyer, which qualified her for an Irish Crime Fiction blog post this week by Princess Lillyput's daddy here.


Peter very kindly consented to answer a few questions. You notice I am being very polite just in case this novel makes it big and is the new Da Vinci Code, although I think it is probably much more intelligently written than Dan Brown's book.

Over to you Peter.

How did I come to write the book?


HUNTING THE KING is actually the sequel. The original Molly O'Dwyer book was written way back in the 1990s. I had read an article in the Boston Globe in which a leading figure in the Church claimed that he could deny people access to God if they belonged to any organization he disapproved of. So, I wanted to write a novel whose theme was faith vs reason. The main character became a scientist, in this case an archaeologist with strong roots to the Catholic Church. Molly is both a passionate scholar and an observant Catholic, so she is often conflicted between the academic in her and the religionist.


What other crime thriller writers do you read?


Actually, I don't do a lot of reading at the moment. I have three young kids and work two jobs to support them (hence the desperation to do well in sales with my book). I am currently writing my next book, so I have little time to do pleasure reading. The last thriller I read was Angels & Demons by Dan Brown and the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum.


Have you been inspired by any particular book?


No, I think I'm inspired by the joy of writing and, as I said, by pure unbridled desperation. I enjoy a lot of writers but emulate none.


Who would play Molly O'Dwyer if the book was ever filmed?


I'm not sure, but I damn well want the casting couch. Molly's a red head. Keira Knightly is too young. Lucille Ball's too old. (And dead) How about Scarlet Johanson? Cate Blanchette could probably hold her own in the role, too. Renee Zellweger?


Having taken 34 years of writing to get published, what in your opinion makes a best seller?


Sleeping with the right agent. I have no idea. Writing a very good book means creating characters that resonate with people or creating a plot that somehow captures readers' imaginations. I am all over the place. I have written about chimpanzees who know sign language, the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, the life of Jesus's illegitimate daughter, comedy, drama, you name it. Ultimately, in the real world, in order to get published let alone to get a best seller, you have to have contacts.


What other plans do you have for Molly O'Dwyer?


There is a prequel with Molly digging on an island in Boston harbor and uncovering her own mysterious past. Beyond that, if the books generate enough interest, I would write more archaeological mysteries. But I don't want to be caught doing one series or stuck in a particular genre.

For example, my last book revolved around the last survivors of World War I (There are about 12 worldwide including 111 Henry Allingham who is England's oldest man). My next book COMRADE LOLITA will focus on the Puerto Rican nationalists who tried to assassinate President Harry Truman. But Molly will always be there if people want to see more of her. (By the way, she can kick Harry Potter's ass).


You can read a review of Hunting The King here and it can be purchased here or here.

QUIRKY QUIZ: ANSWERS PART TWO


6) How was an author of a Roman epic unaffected when a detective changed his name?


Paul Newman starred in the 1966 film The Moving Target as Ross Macdonald's detective Lew Archer. But because of Newman's lucky-H superstition the name Archer was changed to Harper.

Lew remained as the first name and this was derived from Lew Wallace, Civil War general and author of Ben Hur.


7) Who was requested to go to the Court of the Pope, and what was the connection with Lebanon?


I am a bit embarrassed by this one as in trying to make the question more difficult I perhaps made it impossible unless you knew the exact part of the story it refers to.


Court of the Pope=Pope's Court and Lebanon is Lebanon, Pennsylvania.


I took the paper from him and read as follows:


TO THE RED HEADED LEAGUE

On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins of Lebanon Penn., U.S.A.....

All red headed men.........Apply in person on Monday , at eleven o'clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope's Court, Fleet Street.


The Red Headed League, Strand Magazine 1891, Arthur Conan Doyle

8) Who in the world of crime fiction worked as a:

Professor of Forensic Pathology:
Bernard Knight [Crowner John mysteries]
Professor of Medical Law:
Alexander McCall Smith [No 1 Ladies Detective Agency]
Professor of Mathematics:
Professor James Moriarty
Professor of French:
Sian Reynolds [translator for Fred Vargas]
Professor of Anthropology:
Kathy Reichs [Temperance Brennan]

9) How are a system of metal pipes, hounds crossing a river, and a saintly Milanese bishop connected?


I am surprised this one gave trouble; Milan's patron saint is Ambrose, and the Italian Banco Ambrosiano famously collapsed in 1982.

The Domenicans known as Blackfriars are also referred to as domini canes, the Hounds of the Lord.

In 1982 banker Roberto Calvi was found hanging from scaffolding [a system of metal pipes] underneath Blackfriars Bridge.

10) Guns play a big part in crime fiction but in real life who said:

You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.

Chicago gangster and tax dodger Alphonse Capone.

And When I hear the word ***** I reach for my Browning. What is the missing word and who said it.

The word was 'culture' and it was said by Hermann Goering.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

THE MAN IN THE WINDOW AND SJOWALL AND WAHLOO


My review of another fine Norwegian police procedural The Man in The Window by K.O.Dahl has been posted on Euro Crime.


Also on a Scandinavian theme Maxine at Petrona informs us about Pattinase's forgotten books which this week featured Roseanna the first Martin Beck novel.

Maxine very kindly links into some of my posts about the ten great books in the series by Swedish married couple Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, here , here and here.


There is also a review of The Locked Room, one of my favourites in the series available here.


Monday, May 12, 2008

QUIRKY QUIZ ANSWERS PART ONE












1) Slang for an English florin, an imitative bird, and No 3 in Paris what is the cinematic connection?
The small photo next to Albert Einstein of the riverfront was a clue. I should have used a photo of the other river bank, the battleship North Carolina might have made it easier.
An English florin was known as "Two Bob"


An imitative bird or a mocking bird; in the film of Harper Lee's great novel To Kill a Mocking Bird, Gregory Peck starred as Atticus Finch.


No 3 in Paris was Thomas Jefferson America's Third President played in the film, Jefferson in Paris by Nick Nolte.


Gregory Peck and Nick Nolte both starred as Sam Bowden and Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro [two bobs] starred as Max Cady in the 1962 and 1991 versions of the film Cape Fear [based on a John D.MacDonald book].
The photo is of the waterfront at Wilmington NC on the Cape Fear River.
Convoluted and cruel!

2) What is the link between a Maltese Jew, an African Queen and James T. Kirk?



The Jew of Malta was written by Christopher Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart played the definitive Marlowe in the 1946 film The Big Sleep and also starred in the film The African Queen.

Both the authors of The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, and The African Queen, C.S. Forester were educated at Dulwich College.

C.S. Forester also wrote a series of naval stories featuring Horatio Hornblower, the inspiration for Gene Rodenberry's starship captain James T. Kirk.

3) Who works or worked with, Kollberg, Elinborg, Frank Frolich, Gunvald Larsson, and Jacob Skaare?

Some superb Nordic police partnerships:

Martin Beck worked with Kollberg.

Sigurdur Oli and Erlendur Sveinsson with Elinborg.

DCI Gunnarstranda with Frank Frolich.

Martin Beck and company again with Gunvald Larsson.

Konrad Sejer with Jacob Skaare.


4) By what names are the following better known:
Gordon Daviot, Mary Patricia Plangman, Grigory Chkhartishviti, Tobias Leo Pevsner, Edith Pargeter, Elizabeth MacKintosh, Frank Morrison, and J.I.M.Stewart?

Josephine Tey wrote plays as Gordon Daviot.

Plangman is Patricia Highsmith.

Chkhartishviti is Boris Akunin.

Pevsner is Toby Peters [the PI in Stuart Kaminsky's novels].

Edith Pargeter is Ellis Peters.

Elizabeth Mackintosh is the birth name of Josephine Tey.

Frank Morrison is Mickey Spillane

J.I.M. Stewart is Michael Innes.

5) What is the link between a German prize, a sinister Trinidadian, and ten priestly commandments?

Msgr. Ronald A. Knox an ordained Roman Catholic priest wrote in 1929 a set of ten commandments for the Detection Club.

No 5 was 'no Chinaman must be allowed to figure into the story.'

Germany’s most prestigious crime fiction award is called the Glauser prize. Friedrich Glauser wrote a novel entitled 'The Chinaman'.

Ellis Achong was a West Indian test cricketer from Trinidad and Tobago, sinister referred to his left handedness, and he was the first test cricketer of Chinese origin. Left-arm wrist spin is sometimes known as "slow left-arm chinamen" (SLC) in his honour.

There was a bonus prize for anyone who got that question correct, a bottle of Tsingtao beer.

The rest of the answers will be posted in a few days, and yes you do have to have listened on the radio to Round Britain Quiz, and Brain of Britain in order to set questions of this complexity; and it helps to be a bit crazy as well.

Friday, May 09, 2008

INTERMISSION...BACK SOON

A few days off from blogging but those Quiz Answers, and a few thoughts on crime fiction in "Occupied Territories" will be posted next week.

Monday, May 05, 2008

REVIEWS AT EUROCRIME: THE LATEST KEN BRUEN




There are more reviews posted today at Euro Crime including my own review of Cross yet another brilliant novel by Ken Bruen.


His previous book Priest was nominated for an Edgar, and the sequel Cross is just as gripping.


Mike Ripley's April Crime File reviews a varied batch of books including A Killing Frost which he states 'is a fitting tribute because sadly, it will be the last, following the death of author Rodney Wingfield last year.'


And of special interest to Devon residents is a 'Crowner John' story by Bernard Knight.


'The undisputed Lord of the Manor when it comes to medieval murder is former Home Office pathologist Professor Bernard Knight and he shows why in his new novel The Manor of Death (Simon & Schuster, £18.99). Not only does he demonstrate a detailed knowledge of 12th century Devon, but he is also quite an expert on dead bodies, as you might expect from someone who has conducted several thousand autopsies for real.'


Terry Halligan reviews The Death Maze which sits at number 2 on my TBR shelf so I will refrain from reading the review at the moment.


Eve Olsen had to wade through The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro and advises us not to bother.


Maxine Clarke of Petrona goes north to Scandinavia and reviews Black Seconds by Karin Fossum, an author who I have not read for some time.


Maxine writes that 'The writing and the translation (by Charlotte Barslund) are excellent. Karin Fossum's last book, CALLING OUT FOR YOU, was shortlisted for the CWA dagger in 2006. If possible, BLACK SECONDS is even better.'


This recommendation is good enough for me and as Karin Fossum is appearing at Crime Fest in Bristol I had better catch up with the better read reviewers.


Maxine also reviews Unspoken by Mari Jungstedt and introduces to me a new Scandinavian crime writer. Those dark frozen Swedish winters certainly produce some good stories and wonderful atmospheric writing.

Maxine writes that 'UNSPOKEN is a great read, particularly strong in conveying the frailties of human emotion and in the juxtapositions of the police investigation with the media's reporting as well as the domestic lives of the characters.' Although she thinks the solution was a 'bit of a cheat' she will 'look forward to reading more about Gotland in Mari Jungstedt's next book.'

BROKEN PROMISES SHATTERED DREAMS AND A MOUNTAIN OF DEBT: THE BROWN LEGACY


I try and avoid posting on politics because there are so many blogs that deal with this subject in a far calmer and more measured way than I would.

I don't count making comments about Silvio Berlusconi as politics, the antics of the three time Italian Prime Minister go beyond politics into the realm of farce.


But I feel I must say something about the recent local elections in England and Wales.

Last year we had what amounted to a coup d'etat within the ruling Labour party, because that in essence what it was, and now the electorate have given their verdict on that seizure of power in no uncertain terms.


As Chancellor Gordon Brown managed the economy by burdening the British people with stealth taxes and dipping into our pension funds. At the same time he encouraged profligate state and personal borrowing on an unsustainable level and now not surprisingly the chickens have come home to roost.


He gloried in the will he won't he call an election game last year like he was on some kind of power trip, and abolished the 10p tax rate in order to grin his way through a ten second sound bite in his last budget speech.

His unwillingness to allow a referendum on the European Constitution rehashed under another guise is absolutely disgraceful, especially in view of the promise made in the election manifesto. He does not appear to be up to the job he craved for so long, and because he destroyed all his rivals from the security of the treasury his cabinet is the weakest in memory.
The British people deserve better.
We will obviously have to endure two more years of this travesty of democracy with memories of Jim Callaghan's 1979 "what crisis " ringing in our ears.


I always get worried when politicians like Brown talk about change because sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something stupid.


Well I feel a lot better after getting that off my hairy chest.


'German Chancellors made. German Chancellors overthrown. And all the while the number of unemployed kept on rising. Meanwhile Hitler raced around the country in his Mercedes-Benz telling people he had the solution to everyone's problems. I didn't blame those who believed him.'
Bernie Gunther in A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr

Sunday, May 04, 2008

QUIRKY QUIZ: SPRING EDITION: REMINDER


Just a reminder that entry to the Quirky Quiz closes on Tuesday 6 May. I must have made the questions harder this time as so far the leading entry has only scored 5/10.

I must admit going over the questions again that was a very creditable performance.


The answers will be posted over the next two weeks therefore you can still test yourself even after Tuesday.


The questions can be found here.

WHAT I AM READING




Thanks to Kind Karen of Euro Crime I am reading [just started] The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri.




Next up will be Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death which was the first novel with a medieval setting to win the Crime Writer's Association Ellis Peters Historical Award.
'Started in 1999 as the Historical Dagger, in memory of Ellis Peters, author of the medieval Brother Cadfael series, this award is sponsored by the Estate of Ellis Peters and her publishers - Headline and Little Brown. The award, £3,000 (about $5,900/€4,000) and an ornamental dagger is presented to a novel with a crime theme and a historical background of any period up to the 1960s. The judging panel is made up out of the most recent winner, as well as reviewers and historians. In 2006 this was renamed the Ellis Peters Award, and is now awarded in the autumn.' [From the CWA website]
I do find it rather depressing that the period up to the 1960s now count as historical but I suppose the outside lavatories and miniscule TV screens of my childhood seem almost as far away to young people as the age of Brother Cadfael.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

DANCING FOR ENGLAND

video

Chagford, a small village on Dartmoor, is one of those places where you see the real England, which many people thought had disappeared for ever. The Tinner's Fair was a charming event with various stalls selling ice cream, pictures, tee shirts, pasties, drinks and home made cakes for charity and the whole thing was so typically English that it was almost a statement of defiance to our political rulers.

Friday, May 02, 2008

MANHATTAN NOCTURNE: A CRIME SCRAPS REVIEW


'Love to flit about the Manhattan candle!'

Porter Wren is a Manhattan tabloid columnist who writes about murder, tragedy, scandal, and chaos. He sells the highs and lows of a thrilling New York to its people, and above all sells newspapers. He is a dedicated family man with two lovely children and Lisa his wife is both attractive and a talented hand surgeon. He has it all and then at a reception he meets the beautiful Caroline Crowley, and his life is thrown into turmoil.
Caroline, a very disturbed young woman, asks him to investigate the unsolved murder of her husband successful filmmaker Simon Crowley, a weird guy with a penchant for making strange videotapes.
Porter begins an affair with Caroline and then his boss Sebastian Hobbs, the enormously fat billionaire newspaper owner, threatens him with dismissal and worse if he does not obtain a videotape which he says Caroline is repeatedly sending him.

' Talent is cheap Mr Wren, yours included…… I can
throw a bone in the street and get a newspaper staff.’

‘Now then, you are my employee and you are fucking Caroline Crowley, and that means you are in her life.’

Porter goes through the Simon Crowley videotape collection, stored in a deposit box in the branch of a Malaysian bank, and finds one that shows the murder of a New York cop. He tries to turn that in to the police and then his problems really start as the videotapes are confused and Porter’s family and marriage are threatened.

‘When does disaster become inevitable? Only in retrospect, of course is the moment apparent.’

Colin Harrison has given us a picture of New York with all the excitement, glitz and glamour of a vibrant but menacing city. This book is a combination of Fatal Attraction with a touch of Wall Street and an intriguing mystery thrown in for good measure.
Manhattan Nocturne thrives on the anecdotes and the larger than life character pictures drawn with tremendous verve by an author who is master of his subject.
Alongside Hobbs, a William Randolph Hearst clone, the beautiful amoral Caroline and the dead Simon Crowley the narrator Porter Wren seems almost bland drawn along into danger by more powerful personalities. Perhaps that is the nature of the reporter.

Just when you think the story is running out of steam Harrison produces a new little twist to keep you interested until the climax. You can guess the denouement but you have that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind about how it will eventually all turn out.

I do have reservations about some of the very explicit descriptions of sex acts when those details don’t seem to be that relevant to the plot, or character development.
But this was a very gripping read with some memorable characters and a well thought out plot which is entirely believable knowing the foibles of human nature.

This book was supplied by Picador USA