The poet Robert Penn Warren wrote ‘The Legacy of the Civil War’ (1961). In it Warren asks readers to imagine General Robert E. Lee shaking hands and congratulating the strutting Southern governors of the 1950s and 1960s barring children from schools, encouraging baying crowds of Bible-grasping gorgons to shout abuse at children, licensing hissing mobs to burn churches, sanctioning lynch parties, raping and pillaging for sport, and praising masked men hiding in the dark. Would Lee approve such deeds done under that flag he served? No, he would regard such acts as the desecrations that they are, and he would have said so.

The old remains new.

A close examination of pictures from the March on Washington in 1963 will show Warren there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial come to give his own thanks. He received three Pulitzer Prizes for his work, living most of his latter years in New England, no longer welcome in his homeland, and it shows in the poetry.

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A callow undergraduate, I heard him recite some of his poems and the memory has since remained bright. There are some short excerpts on You_Tube.

A krimi set in wartime Reykjavik Iceland in 1944. The island is awash with soldiers and sailors of the Allied forces: Brits, Canadians, French, and mostly Americans. Harbours are dredged, piers built, fuel tanks dug into hillsides, pipelines laid, barracks built everywhere, landing fields levelled, hangers erected, roads paved, concrete bunkers made, ammunition dumps created, and on and on, from 1940. There has been more money spent on the island in those five years than in the previous five hundred years.

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With so much money comes loose morals, it would seem, despite the language barriers. While Icelandic men are not off at the war, they are off on construction jobs all over the island, leaving wives, sisters, cousins, and daughters to their own (de)vices.

The setting and the set-up are good. On the plus side is some detail about the impact of this intrusion on Iceland, and not just the sex, but also on nationalism, though that is merely mentioned and not in any way developed. The weather is there, too, but it does not figure in the story, as it did in ‘Trapped.’ There is also a little more about Iceland legends, the hidden people, but again it is a sidebar that is not cemented into the plot.

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The execution is not equal to the set-up. First, the story is split between then in 1944 and now in 2000, say. This is a technique I cannot abide because it makes the reader responsible for integration. Second much of both stories, the then and the now, is padding, e.g,

‘I walked up the the three plank steps to the door. I took off my left glove and knocked on the door, and waited, while I put the glove back on. I heard faint sounds insider but the door did not open.

I took my glove off again and knocked on the door again. I put the glove on and waited. And waited.

The door opened. I introduced myself and asked to come in for a word. She said, no. I asked gain very politely. she said no and turned away. I asked once more for a word inside. She said alright.’

Snappy, uh? He then asks her what she saw. She says she saw nothing. He asks her three times and three times she says she saw nothing. Bold, he asks a fourth time, again no result. He leaves, descending the plank steps.

That took about five pages for nothing. He then repeats most of this verbatim to his partner over the next two pages.

While this book is slow, it is not detailed, but rather superficial. Two examples suffice. (1) The Icelandic nationalism is mentioned more than once but never articulated. (2) While there are many soldiers around there is never anything about their role in the war effort or how Icelanders feel about being occupied. Is this war their war? They are, after all, eddas or not, Danes by blood and the German heel is on Denmark, yet that is never even referred to as an issue in the story.

The text, perhaps thanks to the translator, is replete with banalities. If there was a clichéd way to say something, that was the way it was said.

Inridson.jpg Arnaldur Indridason

This is one industrious writer who has three series, the one that includes this title is Reykjavik during World War II, including ‘Silence of the Grave’ (2007), which was adequate, and another series that follows the investigators of Inspector Erlendur, e.g., ‘Jar City’ (2007) which I liked a lot for its meticulous attention to detail, especially in thinking things through. Erlendur as I recall does a lot of thinking. In contrast is the author’s third series ‘Reykjavik Thrillers.’ On the strength of Erlendur I read his ‘Operation Napoleon’ (2012) and regretted it and did not bother to finish it. The list of his titles on Amazon translated into English is long,

While my recollection of Erlendur is strong enough for me to try another, from now on I will pass on the other two serieses.

One of the great westerns.  It combines a young director with two of the wisest hands on the ranch. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea between them must have been in more than a hundred and fifty oaters. McCrea made it a point only to accept roles in Westerns and Scott did virtually the same thing though less explicitly. I would like to think that they did so for the same reasons that Justin Playfair gives in ‘They Might be Giants’ for only watching western movies. See the review of this latter film elsewhere on this blog for further explanation.

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The gossip is that McCrea and Scott flipped a coin to see who played the good guy and the not so good guy.  What a tour de force for the young director, Sam Peckinpah, and what a swan song for Scott and McCrea who both retired after this film, Scott at 64 and McCrea at 58.  

Scoot=McCrea.jpg A publicity photograph.

Two ageing lawmen find the west has changed and so have they.  It is no longer in need of them. One has become a sideshow barker and the other a bar-room bouncer.  Then a job comes up, one with a modest reward but it smacks of the old days and the old ways, off they go once again a team. One is losing his sight and other has arthritis but this is too good an opportunity to miss….for one of them it offers vindication and for the other one it offers something more venal.  

In 1962 audiences were also changing and the Western was on the way out. Nor was there any further need in Hollywood for these two old actors in particular. The screenplay reflects their own situation, too.  It becomes a story about the actors as well as the characters they embody.  

The tattered McCrea remains steadfast, but the flamboyant Scott has heard a different drum, after countless brawls, wounds, ambushes, shoot outs, injuries, chases, beatings, falls, and betrayals it is time to taste the honey. With what he thinks is subtlety Scott tries to suborn McCrea who seems not to realise what is going on. Subplots add depth and as in every Peckinpah film, each character however minor has a name.  Edgar Buchanan’s brief speech at the wedding, Federico Fellini could not have done better, gave me pause for thought.

Peckinpah.jpg Sam Peckinpah

The Biblical reference to ‘entering the house justified’ is another gem.*  Any close observer of Peckinpah’s films will realise, he was student of the Bible and studded his films with imagery and lines from parables, hymns, letters, psalms, and words of the prophets. 

The landscape of the high country is an elegy to a cleaner, better world made foul by humanity at its worst.  

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Then the denouement comes. Perfect. The exchange of looks between McCrea and Scott constitute a master class in acting in a few seconds. Each man sums up his own celluloid career in a single glance.

Ride High End.jpg The end.

Then there is that last line of dialogue delivered by McCrea as his sun sets.  Moving and marvellous.  Redemption is even sweeter than honey.  

*Luke, 18:14

Love this series of krimis set in the Athens of Pericles. Nico and Diotima set sail for Delos for she has been chosen to represent her temple at a ceremony on Delos. Indeed it seems the goddess Artemis has chosen her, for her name was picked twice out of an urn. Twice?

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The first time her name emerged on a pottery shard from an urn it was rejected and replaced. Why? Because it is not suitable for her to go, being so heavily pregnant. Huh? It is forbidden by Zeus for anyone to die or to be born on the sacred island of Delos. Why did Zeus lay down this law? Because the island was the birth place of Apollo and Artemis, the golden twins, and there shall be no further births there, and a death would desecrate the place.

But when her name came our once again, after a great deal of urn shaking, the priestesses recognised the divine will and off she went, taking husband Nico in tow. All in all a two week jaunt to the Greek islands in high summer seemed like a good idea to escape the heat, humidity, dust, and pressures of Athens, and while Diotima is pregnant there is plenty of time because the ceremony on Delos is but one day and then they can move on to Mykonos for a vacation, and perhaps even the birth of the next generation. What can go wrong?

Ah huh.

While they sail in a gold encrusted ship with a polyglot crew devoted to such ceremonial voyages it is, strangely, accompanied by a fleet of fifty, count ‘em, Athenian navy triremes in war paint, i.e., black.

Delos map.gif Delos is marked by the red star.

Just before sailing the hapless Nico was summoned to the great man’s presence and given the word. The great man is Pericles who has made Nico his catspaw for discreet work here and there, often involving the detection of whodunit. Nico can hardly say ‘No!’ to the first man of Athens, as much as he would like to do so, especially this time.

Pericles tells Nico that he -- Pericles -- will be coming along in those warships, because even then Athens was outspending its Euros and needed some more readies. Readers of ancient history know this sad story, and in Thucydides’s ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’ it stands as an early sign of Athenian corruption. The Athenians have come to steal the treasury of the Delian League (147 members) kept on the sacred island, held in trust by the highest of high priests and priestesses of Apollo and Artemis. The Athenians come armed and ready to take it, if it is not given by the religious guardians. Though what a few hundred clerics and another few hundreds shepherds could do in the face of an onslaught of Athenian marines is not much.

But will the marines risk their immortal souls at the order of Pericles to seize the treasure? He would rather not find out, and so — as always — he tried to talk the highest of the high priests out of the treasure. Pericles is at his glib best and has a smooth and convincing reply to every protest, he thinks. While the formally designated highest most high priest wavers in the face of Pericles’s sophistry, one old curmudgeon does not. Gero is his name and he knows right from wrong whatever Squid Head says, as the irreverent called Pericles for the elongated shape of his head. (Being sensitive to this indication of his alien origin, Pericles almost always wore some kind of hat.)

A standoff ensues. It is for such occasions that Pericles has a confidential agent at hand, one Nico. Gulp! Diotima is firmly on the side of the gods on this one, and she and Nico have words, while he fusses around her with fans and water to keep her and her passenger comfortable.

1024px-Terrace_of_the_Lions_03.jpg There were once twelve of these lions protecting the temple.

These are charming stories, this being the seventh, in a series that remains fresh and vivid. Corby continues to mine the historical record for frying pans and fires into to which to sauté Nico and Diotima so that readers can watch them squirm, and squirm they do. While Pericles appoints Nico to suborn Gero, the Highest Priest appoints Diotima to see that no suborning occurs! Well, not quite but close enough.

The plot gets thicker when Gero is found dead with a sacrificial knife in his heart! Whodunit, indeed? A thorough investigation of the treasures and treasuries on Delos reveals….. [Think Enron, think Lehman Bros, think…]

Hardened readers of police procedurals know what is coming next, and it does.

GaryColorSquare.jpg Gary Corby

I ordered this for the Kindle before it was published and awaited its appearance, then one night after finishing a heavy-duty krimi it appeared in my Kindle Library as if by magic. It was a magic powered by American Express and Amazon in combination. I was delighted and devoured the first chapter that night, despite the alarm set for 6 a.m. the next morning to welcome the builders come to rip out the kitchen and rebuild a Star Trek galley complete with replicator. Power tools at 7 a.m. get the day off to a good start.

All is revealed about the Delian League on Wikipedia. When Pericles came calling in 451 BC the heavy handed Athenian treatment of the League had made it into the Athenian Empire. Previously independent member states like Naxos and Thasos had been coerced, and the tax levy was set to fund the building program on the Acropolis, not to intimidate the Persians. That Pericles might prefer an empire to a committee meeting of 147 members does make a lot of sense.

A very cold Cold War film noir set in the Berlin of 1953, just after the Korean War. Everyone is on edge. The military presence — USA, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and France — in Berlin is considerable. Is there going to be a European encore for the Korean War there in Berlin?

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Gregory Peck is in US counter-intelligence, trying to extract a Soviet defector when he is lumbered with the kidnapping of an American soldier, a private, with a very influential and noisy father, played to a T by Broderick Crawford. It is taken as obvious that the Soviets have nabbed the son, but why?

Crawford flies to Berlin to show the paper-pushing bureaucrats how to get results in the real world! This he tells to newsmen whose circumspect replies tip off viewers to what will follow.

In this Berlin human beings are trafficked in all kinds of ways and this incident is another example of that. Nothing happens by chance. Everything connects, somehow, but how?

Crawford discovers a world where insistent bluster and big bucks do not matter one whit. No one wants his money and his bellows fall on deaf ears. Peck gives him a marvelous dressing down but Peter van Eyck does even better in an earlier and lower key scene in breaking the news that his big money and many friends mean nothing in this time and place.

Before he became Jed Clampett, Buddy Ebsen is a perfect chorus to Peck who is effortlessly glamorous and briskly decisive, while Ebsen is an ‘ah shucks a good ole boy,’ but one who knows how to get things done even in this dark and menacing place.

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Much of the screen play is cryptic by today’s standards. It takes awhile to realise that the extraction is afoot, and the importance of that briefcase Peck constantly carries around slowly dawns. He carries it around, I inferred, because in it he has the most top secret confidential documents that he does not trust, even to a safe at HQ. It is always in his hand or always in his sight. Almost.

Since he is there, Peck insists that Crawford witness the proceedings. He does and it is an eye-opener for him, and a growth experience, though Crawford’s change of heart is a little too quick but the clock ticks relentlessly in this film, and if the final result is just a little too easy, it does wrap everything up with a mighty twist.

There is a lot of talk and virtually no action. In Hollywood terms that makes it cerebral and it would probably not be made today in this way. Most of it occurs in offices or rooms, with one scene in a bar and another at the loading dock of a hospital. One punch is thrown when Peck strikes a woman!

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) wrote the screenplay and it is a corker for its overall plot, its humanity, and dialogue.

Nunnally Johnson.jpg If only.....

Among his many other credits are ‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1939), ‘Tobacco Road’ (1941), ’The Moon is Down’ (1943), ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953), and ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956). The themes in these films include that depression, corruption, oppression, anti-semitism, and racism, and then there is the delightful comedy of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire.’

The military parade at the beginning does drag on but to original audiences in 1954 it would have been reassuring, and it segues nicely into the plot. Original audiences would also have seen that both Peck and Ebsen wear uniforms with shoulder patches indicating combat service in World War II and both uniforms sport impressive ribbons betokening Silver and Bronze Stars. They have been in the shooting war.

I watched it on a DVD acquired from Amazon.

Performances until 5 August. Recommended.

A one act play of 90 minutes, this is a family drama. Three years ago Henry died in the garden and his widow-wife, Sue, soldiers on with her three adult children, Erin, Naomi, and Daniel. Sandy Gore as Sue carries the burden, and does so marvellously. The others are fine, but she is the centre around which they turn, albeit reluctantly.

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Much is told in flashbacks to fill in the gaps.

Erin, Naomi, and Daniel have lives of their own and are too busy for more than brief and ritual visits to Sue, hastening in and out. Erin is the leader of the pack on some measures. She is married with two children, and a budding career as a literary agent. (Some knowing in jokes there from the playwright.) She has the least time for anyone else, the mobile phone constantly ringing, the off stage children demanding, the husband to be placated. Naomi, the youngest, is a drifting dreamer with pot smoking interfering with her work at the call center. Boy, does that explain a lot. While she is not pressed for time, well pot smoking keeps her busy. Daniel is on an upward trajectory at school, now department head. Poor sod. Daniel under constant pressure to mark papers, attend meetings, complete budget spreadsheets. He is in a relationship with Kim or is it Tim, I could not tell. Whatever the name, it is a man. They whirl individually in and out of Sue’s house.

She has found that she cannot communicate with them. Talk, yes, but communicate, no. It is partly their preoccupations that block the signal, but Sue also has trouble putting her thoughts and feelings into words. She is not quite sure what she wants to say, and that uncertainty together with their noise discourages her.

By chance she starts talking to a plant, as in the title, 'The Plant,' as a lonely person might talk to a pet, a dog. She finds that helps. As Georg Hegel would say, she objectifies her thoughts by speaking them into the world, and that is relaxing. It also helps her come to terms with the situation. Then she takes in a border, Clare, who takes the place of The Plant. See it to believe it.

This intruder rings alarm bells with the children who find enough time to chasten Sue, to warn her, to threaten the border, to spy on Sue.

By the end all three children are back at home. Erin was so successful that did not notice her husband’s departure until it was too late. Naomi has lost yet another job and spent all her dosh on dope when the rent is due. Tim/Kim splits from Daniel who is lost.

The play is the thing, and now that I know the name Kit Brookman, I want to see more. Though he looks like a child in the publicity photographs, the script has insights to go with the wit and zest.

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The players live up to the words, and we loved Clare’s shoes.

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The staging is minimal. A few cardboard boxes and one chair. When there is something to be said, few props are needed. Though there is Clare's gear.

We drove to Kirribilli over the Bridge and parked on the street to see the play, and then had lunch there on a fine winter’s day, bright, clear, and 18C with views of the Harbour while we talked about what we had just seen.

Inspector Cetin Ikmen and his team are back at it once more in the bazaar of Istanbul, awash with Syrian refugees and militant Islamic zealots under the watchful eyes of the security services.

A perfectly unremarkable and pleasant young man staggers to his death on the steps of a church, the victims of a heart attack. Case closed. Wait! Not quite, the routine autopsy accorded such an unexpected death produces a disturbing result.

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The heart attack killed him, yes, but his last meal contained human flesh. Whoa! Some plot twist.

There are tension aplenty already on the streets of Istanbul and so it is decided to keep this fact as quiet as possible, but also to investigate it at full speed. How to do that: Investigate thoroughly but deny that there is anything to investigate. That is an interesting conundrum for Ikmen and his crew. No one dares say the word, 'cannibalism.' Yes I know about 'Silence of the Lambs.'

Where to start? The deadman’s family includes an angry father once already victimised by the regime, who will not cooperate with its minions. Friends who are suspicious of police no matter what they do or say. Then there are the gastronomic worlds that have blossomed along the Bosporous. Beneath all those essences and foams of chemical gastronomy does the oldest taboo lurk? The celebrity chef at the Grand Imperial Hotel certainly acts as if he has something to hide. Are the friends more than bohemian artists? Does the father’s anger shield a darker secret? Who are the quiet men who pick at food each night at the celebrity chef’s restaurant?

The chef reminds me of one egregious member of that species and I rather think the author intended to invoke that persona. Loud, foul, proud, and like all bullies, cowardly at the first pushback. I name no names.

Istanbul -1.jpg Istanbul in full swing.

Back and forth across Istanbul go Ikmen’s minions and the man himself. Getting nowhere, Ikmen, reluctantly recruits, a one-time criminal computer hacker to find wanna be cannibals on the dark web, fearing that he is giving matches to an arsonist.

Did the dead man knowingly and willingly eat human flesh? If so when, where, and how? If not knowingly or not willingly, what happened? In either case his dead body is itself a crime scene, and this causes the first difficulty because a good muslim is to be buried before the sun goes down. But in the circumstances no higher authority wants to rule on the technicality of what is a crime scene. Instead low level functionaries are left to their own devices.

Ah, how that reminds some of life in large, complex organisations full of self-styled leaders at the top who stay there, in part, by not leading. Does Max Weber cover this somewhere?

Ikmen’s efforts to get one of his superiors to declare the cadaver a crime scene bring out the worst in everyone. They go through the stages of bureaucratic grief when confronted with a career-threatening problem: first, denial. The pathologist must be wrong. But no, the tests are conclusive. Second, anger. Why bring this to me! It is someone else’s responsibility. Go away! But it is your problem as per the organisational chart. Third, bargaining. Let’s find a middle way. Keep the stomach and contents and release the rest of the body, but say nothing. Fourth, depression. One higher authority takes sick leave to avoid further involvement. Only Ikmen accepts the reality and the responsibility that comes with it, because he has no other choice. After all the human flesh consumed came from a victim, and he has to identify that victim and ascertain what happened.

Minor plots go swirling by. On street corners congregate idle young men who dream of martyrdom for Allah. Syrian refugees who cannot speak Turkish struggle to survive out of trash cans. Churches are bombed. Jewish cemeteries vandalised. Russian tourists are buying up property. Public works projects have stopped in mid-stride with the vicissitudes of the regime.

In distant Ankara members of the government seem more preoccupied with in-fighting than with governing. Another verity.

All the further testing done to discredit the finding of human flesh throws up another clue. The flesh has the genetic markers of a very rare disease that almost exclusively afflicts Jews. If the victim was Jewish the narrows the field of inquiry but strews it with social landmines when Ikmen has to seek out Jews. Is he insulting Turks by asking if they are Jewish or have Jewish ancestors? Is his a witch hunt for Jews on behalf of the regime? In the volatile world of contemporary Istanbul who wants to admit to being Jewish if it is an option not to do so.

barbara_nadel.jpg Barbara Nadel

While I found reading this novel uncomfortable, the ISIS martyrs in the making, the cannibalism, the clash of the Russian mafia with the local rivals, and all the innocents caught in the several crossfires, there is no doubting the author’s skill in putting it all together. The greater is the admiration when one realises this is the eighteenth Ikmen krimi. What an achievement to keep such a long running series fresh. Chapeaux!

When I entered this title onto the software I use to catalogue books the program fetched the metadata and the author came out as Brian Nadel! Wrong!

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