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Sunday, 18 March 2018

'A must read for all mystery/thriller readers...'


A 5-star review on Amazon UK from Eileen M. Thornton:
Sister Rose runs a hostel for the homeless in London. One day, returning from an engagement, she is horrified to find the body of Angela, someone she had helped in the past, outside the hostel. The girl had been murdered; the sign of the cross carved into her chest. Inside the hostel she finds two other bodies, both brutally murdered. The police are called and an investigation into the deaths begins.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Sister Rose had been a policewoman in Newcastle upon Tyne, where she had been attacked while working on a case...  So traumatized by the events, she spent some time in a convent to help her forget the horror she had been through. It was during her stay at the convent that she turned to God.

... Sister Rose soon begins to help the DCI investigate the murders. But, she also finds herself being drawn to the man himself.

I really enjoyed this novel. There are several twists and turns as it slowly leads the reader to a nail-biting climax. 

A must read for all mystery/thriller readers.

Thank you, Eileen! 

Available as a paperback and e-book here

Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day - strong females!

It's International Women's Day today. 

Why they have to have a special day for it is beyond me. 

We should be celebrating women every day.

A number of my published novels feature strong female protagonists; all of which are available on Amazon.

Chill of the Shadow
Tagline: In her search for truth she found love – with a vampire!
Paperback and e-book available here

A modern romantic thriller set in present-day Malta, involving black magic, vampirism, Knights of Malta and, perhaps topically, corrupt Maltese politicians. Malta and Gozo are colourful photogenic islands, steeped in history... 

The Bread of Tears
Tagline: When she was a cop, she made their life hell. Now she’s a nun, God help them!
Paperback and e-book available here

The Tana Standish psychic spy series (Cold War faction)
Before Salt. Before Atomic Blonde. Before Red Sparrow. There was Tana Standish, psychic spy! Although ‘historical’, these adventures will still resonate as the Cold War has definitely returned.

Mission: Prague
Czechoslovakia, 1975.
Tagline: Orphaned in the Warsaw ghetto, she became a spy. And she’s psychic, which gives her an edge!
 Paperback and e-book available here

Mission: Tehran
Iran, 1978.
Tagline: She’s an assassin and has no regrets about killing evil men.
 Paperback and e-book available here

Mission: Khyber
Afghanistan, 1979.
Tagline: Psychic against psychic as the Soviets invade Afghanistan!
  Paperback and e-book available here

The Avenging Cat crime series
Tagline: Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan. Chemist. Model. Avenging Cat.
Catalyst – set in England and Spain

Paperback and e-book available here

Catacomb – set in France and Morocco

Paperback and e-book available here
Cataclysm – set in Tenerife and China 

Paperback and e-book available here

A Dance to the Music of Time (1 of 12)

I blame Anthony Burgess. In 1984 he produced a book (written in two weeks) titled Ninety-Nine Novels: The best in English since 1939. He chose 99, allowing the reader to choose one of their own to make up the hundred. There seemed a paucity of female authors listed and, of course, as with any list of ‘the best’ it was bound to be controversial. He declared it was his personal choice, which he was entitled to make (in the days before a growing phalanx of people feel obliged to be offended by any statement of personal viewpoint).

I’ve read a good number of books from his selection; others are still on my bookshelves, waiting for me to read eventually. Only now, some thirty-four years later am I tackling the sequence A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell, a 12-book novel, dauntingly amounting to just under 3,000 pages! All in the first person viewpoint narrated by the character Nick Jenkins.

The back covers don’t provide a blurb telling the prospective reader about the book; instead, they’re filled with reviewers’ comments:

‘I would rather read Mr Powell than any English novelist now writing.’ – Kingsley Amis.

‘One of the fictional landmarks of our time.’ – Times Literary Supplement.

A Question of Upbringing is a witty and shapely account of conventional English education.’ – Francis Wyndham, Observer.

Powell’s first book, A Question of Upbringing (1951) in the sequence is set in the period 1921-1924. It starts, however, with our narrator Nick viewing men at work gathered round a bucket of coke in winter. This two paragraph passage is highly visual and conjures up a distant memory – a Proustian madeleine moment in time – of winter at school in 1921 when Nick first takes much notice of fellow student Kenneth Widmerpool. And so the long novel begins…  

At the time Widmerpool was ‘fairly heavily built, thick lips and metal rimmed spectacles.’ Widmerpool was not highly thought of at school and was the butt of jokes, yet he seemed to possess a thick skin.

Nick shares a room with Charles Stringham and Peter Templer.

The fact that Templer had declared ‘he had never read a book for pleasure in his life did not predispose me in his favour: though he knew far more than I of the things about which books are written. He was also an adept at breaking rules, or diverting them to ends not intended by those who had framed them.’ 

Stringham was ‘tall and dark, and looked a little like one of those stiff, sad young men in ruffs, whose long legs take up so much room in sixteenth-century portraits…’ (p12) He was an excellent mimic, and used this to good effect to get their housemaster Le Bas arrested! (pp 48-52) As you will gather from this, the novel is at times comical – never laugh-out-loud, but it possesses amusing scenes and dialogue. For example, Stringham’s attractive mother observes, ‘Still, you weren’t expelled, darling. That was clever of you.’ And Stringham replied, ‘It took some doing.’

Sillery is a manipulative Oxford don who hosts students with tea and cake, and while he inclined ‘to the Right socially, politically he veered increasingly to the Left’ (p165). He is a name-dropper and maintains contact with ex-students who might prove useful. ‘Sillery was a keen propagandist for the League of Nations, Czechoslovakia, and Mr Gandhi... and had been somewhat diverted from earlier Gladstonian enthusiasms by the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917.’ (164)

Nick spends a summer in France, where he stays at a large house, La Grenadiere, run by a Madame Leroy. The time-worn taxi ride from the train station has its moments: ‘Even when stationary, his taxi was afflicted with a kind of vehicular counterpart of St Vitus’ dance, and its quaverings and seismic disturbances must have threatened nausea to its occupants at the best of times.’ (p108)  On arrival, Madame Leroy ‘led the way through the door in the wall in the manner of a sorceress introducing a neophyte into the land of faerie…’ (p109)

Throughout there are apt references to classical paintings, which isn’t surprising since Powell studied art in the early 1920s. What appears impressive is the forward planning in the early novels: ‘He piled his luggage, bit by bit, on to a taxi; and passed out of my life for some twenty years.’ And ‘This was the last I should see of Stringham for a long time. The path had suddenly forked. With regret, I accepted the inevitability of circumstance. Human relationships flourish and decay, quickly and silently, so that those concerned scarcely know how brittle, or how inflexible, the ties that bind them have become.’ (p222)

Clearly, much of the book has an autobiographical feel about it, reinforced by the first person narration. The writing is measured, considered, and coldly precise. There is much to admire in that regard. Yet, not a lot happens. The colours and hedonism of the 1920s do not seem in much evidence; the depiction, despite the paintings, appears colourless. There is no depth of feeling, only good observation. It’s a book of quite engaging characters; a slice of life and manners, perhaps, in a moment in time long gone by.

The cover features a quote from the Sunday Times: ‘A remarkable picture of the history of our times.’ This must relate to the entire sequence rather than this single book.

I’m determined to read all twelve books to see what happens to Stringham, Templer and Widmerpool.

Editorial comment
My copy was published in 1983 (after 14 prior impressions) and yet there were two glaring typographical errors at the outset; ‘street had made a a kind of camp…’ (p5) and ‘he was found to posses an overcoat…’ (p10).

There are only four chapters.

There’s a tendency to write long paragraphs – sometimes only one or two per page.

An over-indulgence with colons in these lengthy paragraphs gives the impression that the pages have succumbed to a contagion of sorts.

Sentences should certainly vary in length, to provide diversity and change pace; however, Powell employs too many complex and lengthy sentences for the modern taste.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Book review - Leviathan

This is not an original title for a book (see my review of 26 January). The first usage of the title was probably Thomas Hobbes’ tome of 1651, which had nothing to do with ships or sea monsters. However, as the word ‘leviathan’ is conjured up to be a sea monster and the blue whale has always been regarded as such, it must have been inevitable that John Gordon Davis would settle on this title for his novel about an attempt to stop the slaughter of these magnificent creatures before they became extinct. This Leviathan was published in 1977 and my paperback copy was issued in 1978.

For much of the 1970s, like so many, I’d been affected by the plight of the whales. I’d bought and listened to Roger Payne’s LP Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970) and I’d read Farley Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing (1972), I gave a lecture on the whales and their grisly fate at the hands of the whalers, and also wrote a lengthy magazine article ‘Whales for the Killing’. When Leviathan came out, I was intent on reading it, but alas have only now got round to doing that. I cannot account for my reluctance to read it; I’d been amassing material for a planned science fiction story featuring whales and a post-apocalyptic earth and probably felt it wasn’t time to write it. Anyway, in due course along came Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) which caused me to reconsider that notion! (I’m still doing that…). And the commercial whaling moratorium suggested that the whales would be saved, which meant there was little urgency to read the book (How wrong could I be? See the footnote below).

Leviathan is an understandably angry book. It concerns Justin Magnus, the new head of Magnus Oceanics, a successful film and communications company that concentrated on the conservation of the oceans of the world. Following his father’s death he considered himself free now to put into motion his daring plans. He was outraged about the continued slaughter of the whales – ‘butchered for lipstick and pet-food’. Propaganda and persuasion hadn’t worked, the IWC seemed toothless. Fortunately, assembled around him were believers in his cause. His crew would set out for the Antarctic and locate the Russian factory ship Slava and blow it out of the water!

He sets out on the Jubilee with a loyal crew, including his younger brother Craig and the woman who becomes the love of his life, Katie. She’s also Justin’s editor; he has written a number of best-sellers, his purpose being the readers ‘must understand! They must see and understand the terrible peril that nature is in.’ (p28)

Their plan is complicated because they have no intention of harming any of the whalers themselves. They will board the factory ship and evacuate the crew in the lifeboats; the other outlying catcher boats can retrieve them.

What could go wrong?

Relationships become strained, especially when an associate and friend Max turns up out of the blue and threatens to expose their scheme. Loyalty is tested. The details are believable; and particularly harrowing when we witness the factory ship’s processing of the dead whales.

Interspersed between the chapters are sections from the perspective of three whales, mother, young son and father, and how their fate becomes entwined with a whaling fleet. There is nothing humane about their methods of killing; a harpooned whale will take at least two hours to die, in excruciating agony, while its family swim close by, pining, soon to be next to be harpooned.

Justin lectures about the decimation of the whales, and for good reason. But his concern is not only for the whales. ‘If the oceans should die, as they will unless we stop polluting the continental shelves with sewerage and industrial waste, unless we stop oil pollution coating the sea and preventing oxygenation…’ (pp99-100) The carbon dioxide content will rise and then the polar ice caps will melt… You get the picture. And he – or his research sources – didn’t even consider the threat from plastic!

The whale sequences are glorious – and heart-breaking.

Since the book was written we know that massive public outrage and the efforts of many groups, including Greenpeace, have managed to bring these enormous graceful giants back from extinction. But now many of us have seen dead whales – and other sea creatures and birds – literally choking on the plastic detritus of our civilisations. Common sense tells us we cannot eradicate plastic, but the world’s response to coping with it requires international resolve. Before it’s too late.

According to Greenpeace, by1970, there were only about 6,000 blue whales left in the oceans, and the numbers of humpback and sperm whales had halved. The methods of killing certainly were not humane, using exploding harpoons, ultimately feeding the carcases into the efficient factory ships.

A so-called moratorium on commercial whaling was established in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. The only countries still conducting whaling are Iceland and Norway, who objected, pleading exemption from the moratorium on the flimsy grounds of national diet, while Japan was permitted to continue killing for ‘scientific purposes’. According to the WWF, since the moratorium (that admittedly saved the whales from extinction), there have been about 19,000 whales killed (objection and scientific); and not surprisingly there’s been a continuous increase in the number of scientific kills. How many corpses do you have to study, really?

However you sugar-coat it, these whales take a long time to die in excruciating agony.

Monday, 26 February 2018

'Recommended for fans of The Saint ...'

My sixth collection of short stories, Leon Cazador, P.I. has a most helpful (to potential readers) long review on Goodreads, where each of the 23 short stories is covered, and it begins like this: 

'A likable protagonist in Leon Cazador, a colorful international flavor, and some terrific writing make these stories about a PI who likes bringing the ungodly to justice a very enjoyable read. Leon has a heart, yet uses common sense in his assessment of problems in Spain and Europe, often in refreshing contrast to political correctness.

'Some stories involve criminal cases, others are more adventure oriented. Some are just stories about Spain’s people Leon has known and helped...'

There then follows a detailed review of the stories, ending:

'...I liked the old-fashioned Saint vibe blended with modern day Spain and with an interesting half-English half-Spanish protagonist in Leon Cazador. The colorful flavor of Spain and an international vibe give these stories some spice...

'Recommended for fans of The Saint and other such knights who come to the aid of those in need. I’m giving it four solid stars as it makes a nice little bedside read when you need something short.'

Thank you Bobby Underwood, avid reader and reviewer!

  Leon Cazador, P.I. - e-book and paperback from Amazon here