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Genre: Thriller. Goodreads meta-data: 3.84 / 5 by 4852 litizens.

Verdict: 5, a classic of its kind.


MI5 agent Cartwright fails a training exercise and is exiled to the outer darkness of Slough House, which like all that follows is not what it seems. It is neither in Slough nor is it a house. In this world nothing is as it seems. Nothing and no one.

Cartwright, a grandson of Callan who is an MI5 legend, and much of that organisation’s propose now is terrorism of one kind of another, but when all the hedges are said and done, the Islamic kind. Though the office politics uses the dead language of McKinsey speak that is but a screen for a far more primitive and brutal kind of competition for status, turf, and career, which is waged more seriously than that against terrorism.

Spoiler alert. It is beyond me to describe the book without giving away the plot. Read no further if apt to read the book. STOP.

Cartwright finds there at the remote station in the outer darkness of London other MI5 rejects who are assigned meaningless work to keep them busy and to encourage them to resign from the Service. They number about a dozen under the sleepy gaze of Lamb upstairs. Unkept, unshaven, unwashed, untidy Lamb dozes the day away and drinks the night away. HIs supervision seems to be part of the punishment. This set-up does sound like the McKinsey seminar on managing-out the KPI failures, by sending them to the circles of Dante’s Hell otherwise known as training seminars and workshops until they crack. This method is necessary since it is no longer possible to dismiss someone for incompetence. Discrimination against the incompetent is verboten. Incompetence is a syndrome for which the society is responsible, not the individual, their barristers will argue. Amen.

The twist in the tale is that whitebread anti-terrorist vigilantes decide to up the ante by kidnapping a London schoolboy of Pakistani derivation and decapitate him on an internet feed. The three villains are as nasty and stupid as the target demographic of 7Mate. In hindsight there are several false notes. The kidnapping is too smooth for these bumblers to have managed. Moreover, the internet feed is technologically several miles above their ability with light switches. Still it gets things rolling.

In reaction there are wheels within wheels within wheels where some of the senior people in the Service use this event for career purposes, and worse. When things go wrong, as inevitably they must to make it a thriller, the best way to conceal those careerist manipulations is to blame the whole mess on the expendable denizens of Slough House. This turn of events rouses the sleeping lion that is Lamb to action and he motivates (most of) his crew to defend themselves from their own. This brief transformation occurs when he points out their likely fate if they wait for the blame bat to splatter them across the floor of a secret and illegal prison in Bulgaria which does not exist, officially.

‘Most’ not all, because three of the crew are only too ready to perjure and prostitute themselves to sell out Lamb and the others for the promise of a promotion. That corporate immorality certainly sounds plausible in any large organisation where backstabbing is the way ahead and scruples are not quantified among the KPIs. It is comforting to know that this is a general phenomenon.

Motivated by survival, the remainder of the crew takes action. Most of it is an internal conflict among factions in MI5 which has burgeoned with a budget swollen to match the anti-terrorism rhetoric of the age. And with a political class that does not want to know unpleasant things but wants them to go away. On the penchant for 'smooth things' see Isaiah 30:10.

Other characters include a rabid journalist whose extremism has gone even beyond the Fox News pale, if that is possible. That seemed another false note. There is no line of decency that Faux News will not cross, lemmings in tow. In turn, this journo has contacts in the respectable right of the Conservative Party in the person of an aspiring Leader who has verisimilitude.

It is a thriller and there is an axe, a ticking package, and a pistol, and the body count is three, but most of the decisive events occur in offices, albeit once after a beating, and the files do yield the ore of truth. Well, the body count comes to four, because by the sheerest of coincidences after the journo threatens the leadership aspirant he meets an untimely end a few days later on a zebra crossing. That problem went away.

The kidnap victim proves equal to the circumstance in unexpected ways that are yet plausible. Ditto the other characters.

That is the achievement of Herron to vivify a gallery of diverse and credible characters. The telling is that truncated and cross-cut style of the thriller that I dislike but in this instance it works, and I swallowed my objection as I turned the pages. At the start my aim to satisfy the recommendation of a friend, but soon I was reading under my own power.

It sounds like John Le Carré’s Cold War spy novels and it is. When the Cold War ended Le Carré tried other settings and the ones I read did not hit the mark for me. Without Smiley and Karla, well it all seemed like dog paddling in the shallow end.

Herron brings that grey world of spy and counterspy to the War on Terror with great panache and insight. Alec Leamas would fit in at Slough House. Indeed he might be the model for Lamb. However, reflection on the Cold War versions, not forgetting Len Deighton, brings to light a new element and that is the pathological dysfunction of the organisation. In Smiley’s world there were traitors like Bill Hayden, and hellbent careerists like Saul Enderby, too, but they were not yet ready to eat their own for new office furniture. They were many things but not the vampires, cannibals, and zombies that comprise MI5 in these pages.

The book offers a primer in the tradecraft of MI5, London Rules, joes, achievers, dogs, suits, black files, street walkers, grey books, and the like. I am sucker for that stuff and ate it with a spoon.

Herron M.jpg Mick Herron

‘The List’ is a novella that I read it about an hour and a half. It is cut from the same cloth as above, but the ambit is much smaller. My reading was slowed by guffaws and snorts at the characterisations and descriptions. Herron can turn a phrase, pin a butterfly to a board, nail a metaphor, all with the mordant wit of a bored viper.

In this brief tale, Five outsmarts itself in an exercise of double and triple duplicity. Lamb smells it but keeps silent for his own reasons, letting fools (who think they are so smart and so cynical) rush in. They do.

This is the first in a series of nine book-length titles (and one short story) recounting the many adventures of Flavia de Luce, aged eleven and a half, in Bishop’s Lacey of rural England of 1950-1951. ‘Flavia’ is pronounced, she has more than one occasion to say, to rhyme with bravia as in bravo.


With pigtails flying, aside her faithful bicycle Gladys, Flavia goes where no plod ventures, under beds, into holes in the ground, inside ovens, over roof tops, through holes in the wall, diving in to muddy ponds, all the while musing on the wonders of chemistry.

It all began early one morning, very early, about 4 am, while she was waiting for an experiment to mature, Flavia discovers in the cucumber patch a dying man. ‘How interesting!’ is her reaction, as he breathes his last.

When plod, duly summoned, shows little interest in her or her observations (which are many) she resolves to get to the bottom of things before plod does. The race is on, but only one of the runners knows it: Flavia.

First stop, the local library, then the local gossips, as she mobilises village resources to identify the deceased and infer his purpose then to find his killer while plod follows police procedure, i.e., drinks tea, calls London, fills in forms, drinks tea, scratches ear, fills up tank of police car with petrol, rests, and goes home.

The cast of characters includes a largely silent Father, who occupies himself most hours behind closed doors with stamp albums. There is a bounded retainer, Dogger, whose emotional frailty is debilitating. Father and Dogger spent long years in Japanese prison camps, and in different ways have never recovered from it. Harriet, wife and mother, died just before the war, leaving a very large gap. Though gone for a decade she remains a presence in Buckshaw, the decaying family pile. At the mere mention of Harriet’s name, Father faints. Meanwhile, Dogger cowers in the greenhouse with his demons. Mrs Mullen does for them and provides a pipeline to the village and sanity.

Older sisters Ophelia, the narcissistic musician, and Daphne, the bespectacled reader, round out the ensemble cast. Rivalry among the three sisters has become Total Sibling War.

The Molochs of Inland Revenue undermine Buckshaw with questions, writs, and invoices. Harriet died without a will, leaving questions of property much vexed. Four years in a Japanese prison camp did not break Father, but Inland Revenue seems about to do so. He could satisfy these meat eaters by selling her jewels (valuable), books (rare), and automobile (handmade) but this he resolutely refuses to do, as if by keeping them he keeps her.

That Flavia is the very image of Harriet explains why Father can hardly look at her, though she does not understand this and feels slighted. Father and Harriet were cousin and he knew her at Flavia’s age.

I gulped down the nine books of the sequence, one-after-another, each a delight. Flavia does not always understand what she sees or hears or is said to her, and she makes mistakes. Nevertheless she has the optimism, audacity, energy, and determinism to overcome all obstacles, including those of her own making. When all else fails, when she is totally desperate, when there is no alternative, she will even tell the truth!

The plotting is neat, details play into the larger picture in due course. There are no superfluous asides and backstories. The characters are delightful, most of all the star of the show, Flavia, but also Dogger, Mrs Mullen, the Vicar, and the Weird Sisters, and more. While Flavia makes the snap judgements of youth, time and experience cause her to change her mind more than once. Call that growing up.

There is much chemistry. Like many a prepubescent girl, Flavia keeps scrap books. In her case they consist of newspaper and magazine cuttings of homicides by poisoning. She got kicked out of the Girl Guides when for a home science project she distilled arsenic from house cleaning products. On the wall of her room are autographed pictures of many chemists, particularly those whose work expanded knowledge of poisons. She has longterm plans for the Weird Sisters.

There are some false notes now and again, and the one book set in Canada at boarding school seemed somehow lesser, though it has some great moments, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Neither Amazon, Wikipedia, nor the author’s web page offers a simple chronological list of the titles in the series. Below is my effort to supply that list.

‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ (2009).
'The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag’ (2010).
‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ (2011).
‘I Am Half-Sick of Shadows’ (2011).
‘Speaking from Among the Bones’ (2013).
‘The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches’ (2014).
‘The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse’ (2014) (a short story).
‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust’ (2015).
‘Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d’ (2016).
‘A Grave's a Fine and Private Place’ (2018).

alan-bradley.jpg Alan Bradley. Chapeux!

I first espied one of these titles (‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust’) in the English-Language section of a bookstore in Helsinki in 2016 and when I got back to it, I found it had predecessors so I started with the first, reading on the Kindle, and the banquet began. Now sad to say I have read them all, but fear not for I have returned to this, volume one, and started over. ‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust,’ by the way, was the one I saw in Helsinki and I am glad that I did not start there as I might have then stopped, this being the one set in Canada as referred to above.

Dare we readers hope Flavia will continue her chemical ways in adolescence and adulthood?

Meta-data from GoodReads is 3.13/5 from 114 litizens.

Verdict: First in a series and last for me.

In these pages our heroine

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- Learns conversational Portuguese in ten days
- Has hormone attacks at the appearance of any man with hair and teeth
- Starts with USD 2000 and all expenses paid and yet is broke on every page thereafter
- Trusts known criminals 
- Is too naive to have made it to 29 years of age
- Flies from SFO to Lisbon in 3 hours
- Repeats the same dialogue far too often
- Cracks a long established Lisbon crime syndicate in one afternoon
- Out muscles experienced villains
- Whose legendary knowledge of gemmology is never revealed or relevant
- Who talks her way past alert criminals
- Leaves her handbag in the villains lair and has to go back for it
- Passes off an offsider as blind on a guided tour
- Does IKEA in each room
- Does Vogue with the dress of each woman and GQ for most men
- Almost none of the detail that plumps out the pages adds to plot or character
- Characters who are emphasised disappear like the police sergeant who did not collect

And so on.

Rom-krimi or Krimi-Rom is this genre bender. One in a series of many titles. First and last for me.

I came across it looking for novels set in Portugal before travelling there. No more for this reader. Though it is claimed to be a best seller in a heavily qualified attribution, among self published mysteries on Tuesday.

The prose is fluent and confident but absent either plot or character. There is some travelogue in Portugal but it is obscured by the features listed above.

A krimi with energy, wit, chemistry, zest, and pigtails. It starts and ends with our heroine Flavia de Luce bound and gagged. As if that could stop this dynamo.

Sweetness pie.jpg

It is rural England of 1950. Flavia with her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne lives with Father in the crumbling estate of Buckshaw. Ophelia and her co-conspirator Daphne delight in tormenting Flavia who reciprocates with chemistry.

Unwisely stepping into this combat zone of sibling rivalry are a pair of villains who seek postage stamps. Yes, they want to send cards home to mum with Penny Blacks!

Father came back from the war a colonel with Dogger, the handy man, and both are largely silent. Dogger had been a POW on the Burma Railroad, and he goes blank now and again. The Colonel spent four years in Changi.

Father’s wife, mother of the girls, Harriet disappeared and then died. As the story opens Father spends most of his time with stamp albums.

Flavia does chemistry upstairs in a laboratory fitted out and left by a remote forbear. Daphne reads, often aloud, from the English classics lining the decrepit shelves, and Ophelia, the oldest at 17, preens constantly in the reflections of tea spoons, mirrors, water glasses, windows. She knows who is the fairest of them all and wants to know it constantly.

Then at 4 am one morning, while waiting for an experiment to percolate, Flavia comes across a dead man in the cucumber patch! Zounds! What to do? There are many house rules against ever intruding on Father and they would likely involve capital punishment at 4 am. Dogger, then. Yes, and for a man more of less comatose he proves very practiced at dealing with the dead. Flavia reflects on the fragments she has heard about him.

Plod arrives and dismisses the ‘little girl’ Flavia with a wave. Big mistake. That sets her off on her own mission. She tries to figure it out like a problem in chemistry: identify the interactions, resolve the components, assess the intensity, and so on. She interviews neighbours ever so subtly, researches in the county library, examines parish church tombstones, walks the woods for time and distances, talks to the old school tie, climbs on roofs, and more, all with the obsessiveness only a tweenager can muster. Meanwhile Dogger confesses to shield Father who confesses to shield Dogger, and Flavia, what else is a chemist to do to buy time for maturation, confesses to shield them both.

Then there is the itinerant architectural researcher tramping about. Is he really what he seems? Or did he come from Norway? Who ate the slice of cream pie? Why was the dead bird left on the back door step? Why is the county library closed just when essential information has to be found?

This title is the first in a series, and it is a delight. The erudition spills off the page with vitality. The learning is immense but the load is light as air. Flavia’s constant resort to chemistry provides the pole star. The plotting is meticulous and integrates everything. There is nothing superfluous. Every detail dovetails into the plot like Shaker furniture joined without a nail.

The denouement does drag on, but it works a delight when comes salvation in white. Loved the convoluted chain of reasoning that Flavia developed to arrive at Norway, matched to that of Plod who found it on a clothing tag.

Alan Bradley.jpg

Alan Bradley is a Canadian with many writing credits. There seem to be nine in this series to date.

Dublin in the early 1950s is a world unto itself turned inward. Dr Quirke is a pathologist who observes much and suspects more. When a road accident victim’s corpse is examined he finds a contusion on the temple that is inconsistent with the car crash. Musing follows. In time, he mentions his doubts to the Inspector Hackett of the Serious Crimes Squad who noses around and finds unpleasant emanations. This is the seventh entry in a series and it is tired, but perhaps complacent is the right word: 'If I write it, the reviewers will praise it.' He did and they did.

Even the Dead.jpg

Though the spring weather is benign, the choking conformity of Maxima Catholic Dublin is inescapable. All in Dublin is more Catholic than the Pope. It is certainly more Catholic than the Rome of the time. The Bishop’s Palace is the seat of power in Dublin, not Tithe an Rialtais, the large Edwardian building enclosing a quadrangle on Merrion Street wherein dwells the Taoiseach by which we once walked.

There is only one escape permitted from this suffocating pall and that is alcohol. Frequently in Quirke stories, and no doubt in 1950s Dublin life, the pregnancy of unmarried women is paramount. Moreover, every thread, however long and ravelled, eventually traces back to the Catholic Church and its baleful tentacles.

These books are very well written and the picture of Irish life seen through Quirke’s eyes is to travel back in time. Yet in these books there is precious little detection, no police procedure despite Hackett’s occasional plod, and no mystery. Much is also predictable, as Quirke’s sexual conquests. As soon as a women is introduced into the story, we know she will soon succumb to his charms.

Instead we have Quirke, holder of a prestigious and authoritative position, a highly trained and accomplished medical doctor, a widower, father of a bright grown daughter, comfortable of income, handsome and attractive to women, who spends nearly every minute feeling sorry for himself in a self-imposed melancholia where he wallows for pages and pages, smoking cigarette after cigarette, drinking drink after drink. Evidently his pathologies did not involve lungs or livers.

Instead of detection we have meals, drinks, cigarettes, meals, drinks, cigarettes, meals….. On it goes. Yes, the prose is polished and the observations of life’s details exact, but repetitive and inert. There seems to be neither point nor purpose to the the prose. Some of the characterisations are profound, like Quirke’s terminally ill brother but have no place in the plot.

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There is no doubt John Banville, Benjamin Black’s after ego, can write. The portrait of the victim’s father is striking and sympathetic. The contrast, however, is the government official whom Hackett interviews, who is little more than a cartoon character, flustered by the simplest question. Banville has respect for the father and none for government officials and it shows as he makes up the reader’s mind. Take that all those who work for the government, including those who uphold the intellectual property and copyright laws that secure Banville’s income. all those who regulate and maintain the internet services that provide a platform for his novels, all those who police crime and who had to deal with IRA on the border for a generation, all those who make difficult decisions about troop deployments on UN Peace Keeping missions, these are all clots!

I also found the reference to the Spanish Civil War confusing. The International Brigades were certainly there but the specifics mentioned in the story did not compute.

Our hero is a homicide detective in Budapest, being of Romani extraction makes him both a curiosity and an asset. He is an asset because some major criminals are likewise Romani. Adolf Eichmann did not get them all.

Danube 1.jpg

Budapest is awash with Middle East refugees making their way west to Utopia. Reluctantly, the Hungarian government slows the migration to retain good relations with Western nations, while most people in the government try to profit from human trafficking. There are many wheels within wheels. So many I lost count and interest. Focus is not a word that applies in this book. Suffice it to say that everyone but our hero is corrupt to the core.

There is precious little detecting, and no police procedure to be found. Instead there is a thinly disguised critique of the corruption of Hungarian society and politics. It is laid on with a sledgehammer. The fittings and furnishings of every room are detailed. The attire of each actor spelled out. In this combination of Vogue and IKEA, motivation, character, and plot dissolve. Then their situation is traced back to the dire situation of Hungary trapped between Communism and Capitalism. The level of analysis is that of the ‘National Inquirer.’

There is some Gypsy lore and that was interesting to this reader, but it was not integrated into the plot for the simple reason that there was no plot. Just a pastiche of attacks on Hungarian society and politics. Everyone is either corrupt or incompetent. Fortunately some are both and that leads to their downfall.

In its eagerness to peach the book reminded me of the latter volumes of the Martin Beck series from Sweden. This series started out as low key police procedurals through which a reader learned much of Sweden but the books slowly became sermons on the evils of Swedish capitalism, as if the genocide of the 1930s Socialist eugenics program was somehow the good old days.

A novel that exudes the grim time and place of the divided and contested ruin of 1948 Berlin.


‘La Guerre est finie,’ as they say. Gregor Reinhardt is no longer a Wehrmacht investigator, but rather a police officer amid the divided rubble of Berlin, 1948. The police service is awash with returned German communist exiles inserted by the Soviets during the months immediately after Der Untergang before the Western Allies made it to Berlin. Like their Nazi predecessors, the Reds suppose crime is a product of the attributes of individuals. Whereas for Nazis it was race, for the Communists it is class. In neither case is investigation or evidence necessary. Nazi justice was to find the nearest üntermensch, beat them to death and the crime is solved. Communist justice is to find the nearest bourgeoisie and do likewise. Case closed.

In this Red Sea are some honest officers but they survive by keeping their heads down, and of course the opportunists who are always with us and they follow the Red wind as long as it blows.

Gregor is assigned to homicide which is housed in the American sector and that gives him a little leverage, thanks to a deftly inserted backstory. My usual irritation at backstories is because they do not develop either plot or character, but in this instance the backstory develops plot nicely.

When the murders occur, Gregor’s superiors obstruct the investigation as required by the krimi playbook. But, strangely the Soviets seem to want an investigation as Gregor learns through a back channel, but they do not wish to broadcast that. Strangely, the Americans are reluctant but have no wish to advertise this fact.

There are some well realised scenes when a Soviet officer talks to Gregor who also debates conditions with the American angel who got him out of a POW camp and into the Berlin police. Within each monolith are many fissures.

The victims killed in the same manner pile up and the link among them seems to have been service in a special command of the Luftwaffe. Thin ice ahead! Gregor has to tread lightly.

He does much back and forth through the rubble that is Berlin, and I followed some of it on an old online map. He meets disconsolate war widows, bitter Luftwaffe veterans, cynical street orphans, callous local police officers, an enthusiastic archivist from Paris, deals with the indomitable Frau Dommes in his office, marvels at the resilience of Frau Meissiner, his landlady, and many other characters, like the thug Fischer.

Berlin_en_1947_(6328971517).jpg Berlin, 1947

That the trail was going to lead to some Nazi evil was a foregone conclusion. But that was moderated by the plot complication mentioned below, though it diluted the focus on the evil.

I particularly liked the time Gregor spent in the archives, using that mountain of paper to ruminate on the war and the place of individuals in it.

A couple of quibbles, first Nemesis is just too omniscient. He is a near übermensch. Moreover, Nemesis’s amalgamation of two groups of victims made no sense, but it was a means to complicate the plot.

Finally, could a unit of maximum Aryan Brandenburgeren really pass themselves off as Arabs? Really! I would have liked some coda with the unseen Lena. This is the second in the series I have read.

LMcallin.jpg Luke McCallin

A police procedural set in London during the Little Blitz of early 1944 when V rockets rained down.

The murder of one and then two resident aliens, with a third suspected, is well out of the ordinary.  Our hero becomes obsessed by it to the neglect of other duties but his superior, though vexed, is indulgent, and even supportive.  

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There is a large and intrusive US military establishment in London and it somehow seems involved In the mysterious deaths, so Plod noses around there, too.

There is much to’ing and fro’ing down mean nocturnal blacked out streets, many low lifes taking advantages of the circumstances, some patriots, and a lot of stoics hanging on.  

I never did understand what the villain was doing and there is no wrap up at the end.  What motivated him in targeting those three men remains unknown to this reader.  Still less could I tell if his motivation was  offical business, entrepreneurship, or just sadism.

Likewise I could not fathom his living doll who dutifully seduces Plod and then tries to kill him.  

The author has more success with some of the supporting players like the wooden top who deals with the first murder, and the US army sergeant, though she is shallow, at least she has some vitality but her backstory was superfluous and she would not have worn battle dress in an office.  I also like the brief role of an army guard who holds up Plod while Ike gets into a car.

That Plod is too dumb to realise the two women he has his way with are using him, is nicely done but in the end I am not sure that was intentional on the part of the author.

Plod’s own backstory which is parcelled out throughout the story is tedious and irrelevant, though it could have connected to that of the sergeant with some thought.  Missed opportunity there.

The coda in Berlin was just too long a stretch.  This reader was through long before that but kept reading hoping for enlightenment about the plot but none came.

John-Lawton.jpg John Lawton

I liked the setting and set up enough to read another.    

‘The Nine-Tailed Fox’ (2017) and ‘Pong Pong Heart’ (2015) by Martin Limón

Entries in this reliable series following the (mis)adventures of George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, Criminal Investigators, 8th Army Headquarters, Seoul, South Korea circa 1972. In earlier reviews descriptions of the two protagonists and their world have been outlined elsewhere on this blog. Go there for background.

Suffice to say here, that these entries maintains the standard of the earlier titles.

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Ping Pong Korea.jpg

There are many things to like about these books. First is that there is always a mystery that requires detective work. Sounds simple but so many books in the genre lack both mystery and detection. The common substitutes are sex and violence.

In addition, here as in several others, Korean lore and myth are integral to the plot. That is, it is rooted in the time and place culturally, as well as materially.

Moreover, Limón treats the Koreans, be they business girls, file clerk Miss Kim, innkeepers, or the redoubtable Mr Kil of the National Police, with respect, even deference. It is, after all, their country.

There is much about how an elaborate organisation like the Eighth Army operates and a recurring cast of characters around headquarters, e.g,, Sergeant Riley who knows everyone and if asked very nicely can secure even top secret documents when official channels are closed, Lifer Harvey, called Strange for good reason, who knows where many bodies are buried, the blustering provost who has been counting off the days until retirement for a decade, the motor pool chief who sees a lot more than he tells, and so on.

There are also martinets, bullies, thugs, many of them field grade officers. There is a rich black market in PX goods and conflict among the army wives, too.

In short, there are many crossfires in which to get caught, and these two often do get caught. Conflicting orders are after all common in any organisation but never mentioned in KPIs.

George is moody and introspective, planning to stay in Korea when he hits twenty years and maximises the army pension. He is learning the language and tries to immerse himself in the culture in food, drink, music, arts, and so on. The ever resourceful Ernie always has his lock-pick with him, namely a size twelve boot with which he kicks in doors that for some reason will not open. Ernie plans to drink himself to death by retirement age.

Sometimes the bow is long but the arrow continues to fly true.

Anne Hillerman, ‘The Lion’s Song’ (2017)

Inheriting the mantle from père Tony must have been difficult in every way. Yet I have read to the end each of her three novels and found things in them to like. I do not bother to finish books that do not engage my interest. Best to stop beating one’s head as soon as possible.

Lion song.jpg

Chee, Bernie, and Leaphorn each play a part in this one. But always the dominant character is the place, in this instance the Grand Canyon. To see it is to know why it is called that.

A proposal for a tourist development near the south rim of the Grand Canyon is on the table. There is a great deal of money at stake, and some of it is already wafting around. There are so many overlapping, competing, and conflicting jurisdictions that no one is quite sure who has the last word. In addition there is the St Bartholomew parade of activists, interest groups, holier than thou greenies, each and all of whom want a say, not just a say, but THE say. Then there are the native Indians, who are divided among themselves, first by tribes, but also by generation, and by more venal interests, too.

The stew is rich and to sort through it a mediator is employed, a very seasoned lawyer from Phoenix, who has done this kind of thing before. He works methodically and with superhuman patience.

Is it just coincidence that his car was blown up? Why do the lights in the town hall where the host is gathered keep going out? Why does the mediator seem to disappear at times?

In a game of hot potato Chee is assigned as the mediator’s bodyguard and he comes to learn a great deal about his backstory and that might explain current events.

The variety of characters is good and they are given individuality. The complexities of the mediation are well realised. The elderly grandmother is arresting. The fog in the Grand Canyon during which the title is explained is marvellous.

Yet the balancing act with three foci — Bernie, Jim, and Joe — is just too much. Also there are far too many pointless descriptions of the pockets from which keys are extracted, the winding down of car windows, the aroma of tea, and so on and on and on. Some readers, perhaps this very reader, were shouting at the book to move on. This a lot of this padding.

Cowboy Dashee appears in this one and I thought he met his end a long time ago in another book. I mean him no ill will but I was surprised to read of him. I think it was ‘Dark Wind’ (2010) and I will check on that for my own satisfaction.

John D MacDonald. ‘The Deep Blue Good-bye’ (1964)

Graeme Blundell recently recommended JD. Long ago I tried to read one, this one I think, and put it aside. I have done so again.

This is the first in a very long running and successful series — twenty-one titles according to Wikipedia — and perhaps some things changed with confidence and success, and perhaps they change for the better but I will never know. This is the one Blundell, whom I find a reliable cicerone, recommended so I tried it.

Deep blue.jpg

Outer Florida in the 1970s was a frontier where a loner could go to escape and that is what Travis McGee does on his cruiser in the Keys. MacDonald does the regional accents and the class syntax well, but it just goes on, and on and on and on. The characters are differentiated. The locale is brought to life. All that is true.

But it proceeds by endless exposition, like a textbook. There are pages and pages of exposition. Page and page. It is exhausting without forward progress, like listening to a non-stop motor-mouth. One does nothing but grows tired.

I gave up at the twenty percent mark according to the Kindle. If I have not suspended disbelief by that time with a book and entered into its world, I do not press on. There is no honour in the hollow achievement of finishing something I would rather not have started.

A screenwriter would be needed to pull it apart and give it some life. Even the scenes where Travis is questioning witnesses read like depositions rather than dialogue.

John D MacDonald has an interesting backstory himself, but knowing it does not make the book any more engaging. He was a Harvard MBA who gave up a corporate career for the typewriter when he had a young family and worked hard at being writer. I admire that, but, well, see above.

Chuck Restic is a human relations manager in a large firm in La La Land. HIs career peaked years ago and while his star descends that of his wife, a property lawyer, ascends and they part company without acrimony.

Restic cover.jpg

Now Chuck has time on his hands and the hum-dum of the office offers little distraction. In response to a complaint from a employee he talks to Ed about his cologne. Yes, about his cologne. An explanation is below. Chuck finds Ed a nice fellow.

A few weeks later quite by accident Chuck learns that Ed disappeared shortly after that interview. Time passes and Ed does not return. After four weeks AWOL the corporate policy is to clear Ed’s cubicle, box the contents, and mail it collect to the listed address. He is sent down the Corporate Memory Hole.

Chuck decides to pass some time by taking the box to the address by hand. In so doing he is gradually drawn into a real estate swindle in which Ed himself was somehow involved. But when Ed’s body is found, it gets worse.

There are some very tough guys around who fancy themselves to be the Armenian Mafia, Lincoln Heights Branch. They may be tough but the smart money is played by a zillionaire who is pulling all the strings.

Along the way, Chuck finds solace with a police officer who throws herself at him, a fact he accepts as his lot. Too bad he had not seen ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966) where Harry Palmer realises immediately that Eva Renzi is up to no good when she throws herself at him. Poor Chuck.

Chuck is bored at work and idle at home so he starts nosing around and gets in deeper and deeper. Then one of his buddies is murdered and the plot gets thicker quicker. While I remembered Harry Palmer’s self-deprecating cynicism and saw the punch coming, it is played out very well.

There are technical details about Lost Angeles real estate that provide much of the mystery, and while the Armenians are much in evidence, they know there are bigger fish in this sea. Chuck doesn't and keeps stumbling around.

But after a thirty year career of insufferable Power Point presentations, unending off-site retreats, excruciating 360 degree reviews, maniacal KPIs, and nightmarish McKinsey-speak, being beaten up by Armenians comes as something of a relief to Chuck. Still all those years in HR gives him access to a lot of personal information about personnel past and present and even applicants that he puts to use. Futhermore, it has taught him how to read between the lines in files to find out more. He also has contacts among freelance journalists who in the past have dug out information for him; in short, there is a solid base for his investigations.

As to the cologne, this is the story. An employee lodged a formal complaint against Ed for wearing so much cologne that she became ill. Mind, Ed did not work near her cell, er cubicle, but only walked by it once or twice a day. Still she filed the paperwork, and once filed it fell to Chuck to deal with it. It all seemed so realistic.

The complaint was vexatious. The complainer had been with the firm less than two years, during which time seven formal complaints about comparable matters had been filed, while the complained did little productive work. But the complainer, once hired, was untouchable, being a forty plus, pregnant, black woman who ticked all the demographic boxes for a huge personal injury suit from giant uncaring oppressive corporation that had made mistaken of hiring her. She had to be placated at all costs. Ed, on the other hand, had been with the firm for more than a decade, was extremely productive, corporate loyal, but as a white, middle-aged man he would never win a lawsuit. Such is the corporate logic in these pages.

Adams Phillips.jpg Adam Phillips

While the plot is straight out of Raymond Chandler with updates and located in the world of real estate, the corporate backdrop strikes a cord with this reader. The author produces an interesting variety of characters and gives each a distinctive voice. There is much travelogue of the Lost Angeles where people live and work well away from the Tinsel Town stereotypes. The corporate world and the real estate context are refreshing. This is the first of a series and I look forward to reading another.

The Salamander is an arsonist in Occupied Lyons in 1943. A fire in a cinema immolated nearly two hundred patrons on a freezing winter’s night.

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Screening was ‘La Bête Humaine’ (1938) from the novel by Émile Zola and realised by Jean Renoir. Many of the victims of the fire were railway workers and their families.

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The central characters in the celluloid story were railway workers led by the peerless Jean Gabin before his face was scarred by German shrapnel in 1943 in North Africa. Many rail lines converge on Lyons, giving it a large resident population of the chemin de fer.

The freezing weather, absence of materials and expertise, and infighting among the responsibles in the civic administration combine to preclude any forensic investigation. There is a very great deal of duck and cover. Then by chance a German fire chief just happens to show up and throws his weight around, seemingly determined in all but word to misdirect and confuse. Yet he must be there for a reason.

The Nazi commandant is one Klaus Barbie, young, educated, debonair, sophisticated, handsome, bilingual, and blood thirsty, a soft-spoken vampire.

Klaus_Barbie.jpg Called the Butcher of Lyons for good reason.

Was the fire an act of the Résistance that somehow went wrong, or internecine conflict among factions of the Résistance? Either is possible. Was it Klaus Barbie’s way of attacking the Résistance? This is certainly within the bounds of possibility. And if he did, he might prefer not to publicise it, just to trade on the doubt. Or is a murderous arsonist at large threatening one and all?

A large gathering of hundreds of nasty Nazis is scheduled for Lyons very soon, and to allow for the histrionics of their conclave it will be convened in a huge, old opera house full of dry timber, a catacomb of rooms, with a maze of gantries and catwalks that have never been mapped, side entrances, underground loading docks, concealed exits for divas to elude adoring fans, and other mysteries. In short, an arsonist’s delight and a nightmare to police.

Barbie will not delay the meeting of the coven. To do so would damage his prestige and be an admission that he cannot control Lyons. Uh huh. Is that because the first fire was his and he feels safe, or is it just arrogance? Not even his superiors in Paris are sure and so they send St Cyr and Kohler in case there is a firebug at work. Of course, if a Nazi barbecue occurred the retaliation is unthinkable and that knowledge motivates St Cyr and Kohler to superhuman efforts, and writer Janes spares them nothing.

Kohler is a good German but not a good Nazi. St Cyr is a good cop and patriot, but crime is crime.

There are the usual plot twists. In this outing St Cyr seems unstable, accusing nearly everyone he mets of the crimes. Kohler, for once, has cut back on benzedrine and is calm by comparison, though he is caught with pants down and survives.

There is a great deal of description that goes beyond setting the scene. This is an early entry in the series and the writing is uneven. But the portrayal of Barbie is ambitious and measured. Mad and bad, yes, but controlled and calculating, too, and well aware of the fact that his own superiors could cut his throat at anytime for reasons of their own. As always the stifling and exhausting atmosphere of the Occupation is the principal character.

But the greatest fault is the presentation on the Kindle. The text is continuous even when it cuts back and for the between Kohler and St Cyr. Kohler is in one part of the city creeping through cellars looking for phosphorous and St Cyr is at a hotel checking on guests and luggage. When the scene changes from one paragraph to another there is no signpost of any kind, no blank line, no asterisk, no signal in the text. Ergo I was taxed to re-read many paragraphs when I realised it had switched from one to another. The publisher bears responsibility for this needless levy on my time and patience. Tsk, tsk, and tsk.

When reading Marc Bloch’s memoir ‘Strange Defeat’ (1940) for the first time years ago, I had a conversation with a very intelligent philosopher who found my curiosity about Occupied France odd. His line was that the defeat in 1940 was the cleansing failure of a corrupt capitalist regime. And after all, as Bloch notes, life went on the day after pretty much as always, hence Bloch’s title. I did protest to this intellect that changes came, but these, I was told, I had got our of proportion. Ah but I continued to protest, Bloch himself joined the Résistance and was captured, tortured, and killed by the Nazis. This fact was a mere bagatelle to my interlocutor. Bloch brought it on himself that was his line. Really nothing had changed from one day to the next with the change of the flag. That philosopher ascended to the professorship confident in his judgement. All very like those academic apologists for Pol Pot, Mao, and all the other mass murders.

St Cyr and Kohler know what this great intellect did not, does not, know, reality comes through the skin.

It is Occupied Paris 1943, and a series of robberies demand the attention of the luckless duo of Louis St Cyr and Hermann Kohler. The robberies are bold, vast, and deft. But this is no mere thief because fatal booby traps have been left behind to discourage police investigation. Stealing millions of francs from a metro safe is of little consequence, but the theft of industrial diamonds bound for the Reich's war machine is a red alarm, and our exhausted heroes are called in. Much has been said about them in earlier posts and will not be repeated here.


As usual no one will tell the the truth. As usual there are threats. As usual there are misleading clues. What is unusual is the audacity of the crimes, even high ranking Nazis in occupied Paris are been relieved of valuables they had just stolen from Jews! Audacious also in that three crimes were perpetrated in one night alone! Worse the booby traps have claimed victims, a chamber maid come to clean a room, a flic who opened a door, and a bomb disposal squad whose members should have known better. The villain also tries to eliminate St Cyr and Kohler; this a joker who plays for keeps.  

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The perpetrator, it emerges, is called The Gypsy, because part of his childhood was spent with some Romani people. Though he himself is tall, Aryan in appearance with the blond hair, and piercing blue eyes of a film star combined with multilingual charm and confidence. The irony is that his appearance and the Nazi uniform he wears, supplied by his would-be control, put him above suspension. His gypsy heritage ostensibly explains his preternatural skills as a thief.

Spoiler alert.  

If I have grasped the plot, the Gypsy was in the slammer when the Nazis occupied Oslo. Then some bright Nazi spark had the idea of using him to infiltrate a Resistance network in France by inserting him as though he were an English agent. The connection would be made through a one-time girlfriend. What can go wrong? In return for exposing the Resistance network the Gypsy would be allowed to keep any loot he collected and sent on to Spain. (As if.) The members of the Resistance group he reveals would of course be tortured and murdered. The assumption was that the loot would come from the French, not Nazis themselves. So much for assumptions.

Once released, equipped, briefed, financed, and in France, however, the Gypsy pursues his own agenda. He slips his watchers, he manipulates the girlfriend into the frame and disappears. Then the robberies occur in rapid succession.

Now I may have gotten muddled because Janes’s elliptic style shows no mercy to slow wits. There is never a summation at the end in the Agatha Christie manner. But it seems the Gypsy had an earlier career of theft in Berlin where he stole from Nazis with great success until the Norwegians nabbed him. So far so good.

Meanwhile, the bright Nazi spark who loosened the Gypsy now tries to blame the crime wave onto (1) the Resistance and/or (2) St Cyr and Kohler. To that end this Nazi takes hostages, beats witnesses, and generally shrieks at one and all. If he cannot shift the blame, the axe will fall on him, no metaphor intended. Again I follow.

But what I do not follow is this. The Resistance network targeted was inactive, inert, and consisted of three well-meaning women who had done nothing and were never likely to do so. Nor did they have contact with others in the Resistance. They hardly seem a high profile target for such a far fetched and elaborate effort. That part I do not get.

Nor does the denouement make much sense to this reader. That these three women contrive and execute such a plan once the Gypsy shows himself is beyond my suspension of disbelief. That they nearly spontaneously concocted and implemented the plan is just not credible. They managed to out manoeuvre the Gypsy, the Nazis and the allied goons, and our heroes. If they were able to do that, well, why did they not do more for the Resistance?

Nor did I ever fathom what the Gypsy's agenda was, apart form thieving for its own sake. He is simply a plot device in this outing and denied personality apart from one brief scene in the Metro.

On the other hand, the siege of the hideout is marvellously told as is the evocation of Paris in 1943 when a Nazi victory seemed on the horizon.

As usual our heroes are full of angst! But as usual the reader knows they will somehow square the circle. These two will survive to the next volume in this long running series.

The German has long since retired from the Ministry of the Interior where he was am off-budget fixer. That is, he was a trouble-shooter who dealt mainly with criminal matters. If a baffling case was raising media hysteria, the German would be despatched to see what he could do to put a blanket on the fire.


Born Ludwig in Alsace, his few friends know him as Louis but his mother always called him Ludwig and he thinks of himself that way. In retirement he retains his network of contacts socially but they, too, are retiring. A man without family, a man without friends, a man without anything but a vocation - investigation - coupled with persistence and ingenuity, that is the German. Retirement offers him little reason to get up in the morning. He passes the time as a translator, currently working on a biography of the Iron Chancellor, which regrettably does not play into the story, as I had hoped.

Then an old friend, Marthe, brings him a problem. Her simple-minded ward seems to be embroiled in two murders. There is backstory of how he became her ward and then they later drifted apart. The ward was hired over the telephone to deliver pot plants to two women, each of whom was soon thereafter murdered with his finger prints on the door, on some furniture, on the pot plant....

While Ludwig is not convinced the dolt is innocent he owes Marthe a lot, which is not specified, and he is obliged to act on the assumption of dolt innocence. Hmmm. He trades on his past as an agent of the Ministry and first digs into the simple-minded youth's past. There are ambiguities and gaps but by and large the lad seems within his mental limits an honest toiler, first as a gardener, but one who needs a lot of supervision, and as a busker with an accordion. That latter vocation supplies the title but again it does not play into the story.

The ward was set up to take the fall, as per the krimi manual. Yes, but why him? Is it all being done to get at this young man, or is it by chance that he was selected to serve as a scape goat, along with the murder victims. What could one so simple have done to earn such multiple, mortal enmity?

Following a parallel train of thought Ludwig ponders the two victims, who seem to have no mutual connection as far as he can determine from his police contacts.

He has the assistance of The Three Evangelists who recur in Vargas's krimis, Mark, Luke, and Mathew. These three perennial graduate students share a house with the uncle of one, himself a retired plod. The three students are men and are students of history, one prehistorian, one a medievalist, the other who speaks only in the language of World War I trench warfare with which he is obsessed.

As the pages turn, each of them adds interpretations, facts, and insights into the mystery. Van Doosler, the uncle upstairs, does the cooking when he feels up to it but is otherwise aloof. Tant pis. I had rather hoped he would figure in the story as more than window dressing.

F Vargas.jpg Fred Vargas, whose books have been purged from ideologically pure women's libraries because of the name Fred. Amusing, n'est pas?

The title in translation places the focus on the simpleton, but the French is 'Quand sort la recluse' which refers to Ludwig stirring, I assume. He certainly is the core of the story. While I gulped it down, as always with a Vargas krimi, I felt it was underdone.

It had to happen sooner or later. Lord Peter Wimsey has become the Duke of Denver, upon the death of his older brother Gerald. That dukes are higher than lords is news to me.

With the title Duke comes ducal responsibilities, most of which were new to Peter Wimsey. There are vexatious relatives, disputatious tenants, ravenous charities, clogged drains in the strangest places, a crumbling pile that is crumble still, elderly retainers to retain, so that when he is called to Oxford, off he goes! What a relief!

When he was but a lord, to him the relatives were polite, the tenants deferential, the charities distant, the drains unknown, the ancestral pile was for holidays, and the retainers retained. As duke, it all changed.

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Called to Oxford? One of the Duke of Denver’s entailments is to be The Visitor to a not very distinguished college at Oxford. While every other Oxford college Visitor is a royal of one magnitude of another, this college has the Duke of Denver. Investigation in the muniments room of the aforementioned crumbling pile reveals that generations ago a Duke of Denver handed over some dosh to replace a roof or two at the college and in return for that largesse the title The Visitor was bestowed upon him for his lifetime, but in a subsequent change of the college constitution the limitations ‘his lifetime’ was omitted, perhaps by error.

Well, no matter, an escape to Oxford is most welcome for the poetry quoting, incunabula collecting, Saxon speaking Wimsey. It is a return to lost youth for this old soldier.

Peter is now married to Harriet (née Vane) and it seems to be after World War II and in the early 1950s. The stately home is crumbling in part because of a fire caused by an errant German bomb and taxation is vexing.

Together they descend on the college to find themselves in the middle of an acrimonious and bitter conflict among the twenty of so fellows of the college over the status of a tenth century book in its library. The conflict is so vitriolic that no one speaks of it! Immediately I found this scenario easy to believe.

These scholars seem to do little else but plot one against another, while seldom is heard a discouraging word from their lips. Backstabbing, undermining, poisonous rumours, slanderous gossip, attribution of venal motives, all communicated by innuendo and sotto voce, these are the weapons of choice. Meanwhile, at high table meals the weather is much discussed. This is brutal realism at its best.

Even the engineers and economists among the brethren have taken sides over this book. On the one hand, the goal is to sell the book to raise money for yet another roof and on the other hand is the over-our-dead-bodies group! Yep, prophecy there.

Each fellow votes in a time honoured, and otherwise incomprehensible, arcane ritual and each poll results in a tie. After three such votes, some of the parties invoke the right to summon The Visitor to adjudicate. Enter the Duke!

While the vote remained tied in those three rounds, the constituency shrank. The senior most fellow, the Warden, went missing and another died falling down stairs. Two others had unlikely accidents, which while damaging, were not fatal, but which precluded participation in the voting ritual. In the best tradition of krimis the ritual does not admit of absentee or proxy voting. Is someone mowing down the voters? Are there two mowers, one on each side of the question, the keepers and the sellers? Are there only two sides to the issue?

Before any Solomonic adjudication can occur there must be sleuthing to find out what is going on.

Harriet takes no convincing to join in, and engages her own distaff Oxford network, and the ever reliable Bunter mines the college servants with his usual dexterity.

Nothing is what it seems to be.

As in C.P. Snow’s Cambridge novels, all of which I have read [Groan!], the scholars do little scholarship but make an enormous fuss over the rituals and prerogatives that fall to them, like passing the port. It is all too credible.

Dorothy Sayers created Wimsey in the 1920s.


While Ian Carmichael brought him to life on the small screen in the 1970s.

Casrmichael.jpg Ian Carmichael as Peter Wimsey

Bunter was an older man, and he and Wimsey had been through trench warfare in Flanders together and had survived, thereafter bonded for life, and with a considerable amount of unspoken communication.

Despite the dreadful experience of Flanders, Wimsey (and for that matter, Bunter, too) remains Edwardian in manner and morēs. Wimsey is an enthusiastic and effete dilettante, who quotes obscure poems in dead languages and playwrights unknown all the day long while playing the piano and sporting a monocle. His private collection of incunabula is the envy of museums. His flow of witty banter is without end and without purpose. Noel Coward could not have bettered him as a caricature.

Bunter unfailingly addresses him by his title and always stands in his presence. Always and always. Bunter out butlers even that fellow James Stevens in ‘Remains of the Day’ (1989).

Harriet, mindful of her own modest origins, tries after a fashion to loosen them both up, with little success. Nor does she seem aware of the changing times of the 1950s.

The unalloyed Edwardians Wimsey and Bunter are an odd couple in world of a Labour government and many new social attitudes. Still that is part of the fun.

Like Sherlock Holmes and more recently Hercule Poirot, Wimsey has his re-animators. This is the fourth title by Paton and I have liked it enough to read another. Though I did find it wordy, but Peter is like that. There is much talk, often about nothing much, and too little detection. It must be struggle to be arch and witty when talking about staircases and fence posts, but Wimsey is made to do it. Poor fellow.

Jill Paton Walsh.jpg Jill Paton Walsh

He even indulges in the future subjunctive interrogative at times, such is his mastery of all things Fowler. (Mortimer, skip it. It would take too long to explain.)

Even in the sleepy village I know well, the absence of the senior scholar for three months would be noticed and some effort made to figure how what happened to the missing savant lest the key performance indicators be spoiled.

Our hero, Eddie Grant, he of the chiseled jaw, martial arts belts, multi-lingual talents, and accomplished lady killer …. [Is there nothing beyond him?]

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The set up is this. Ed (I refuse to call a grown man with such a cv as above Eddie) is the son of World War II veteran whose assignment in 1944-1946 was tracking down art looted by Nazis. His father died earlier, in suspicious circumstances that Ed mentions but apparently was not motivated to do anything about at the time. Then the father’s assistant from the wartime assignment dies, again in suspicious circumstances. This assistant left a letter to Ed's father, not knowing he had predeceased him, and asked that his executor deliver it by hand.

Since the dad is dead the messenger, a daughter, delivers it to Ed. She is of course a beautiful woman who falls under Ed's spell, taking her place in the queue.

It just so happens that Ed has many contacts in the worlds of policing and art, and these he now mobilises. Why he did not mobilise them when his father died is unknown. Even more mysterious is why he did not mobilise them when his wife and child were murdered after his father's mysterious death. All of this death is supposed to awaken sympathy I suppose but it just makes Ed seem a jinx and jerk. Four dead before he goes into action.

Then the big black Mercedes limousine appears bearing -- as it must -- Germans.

So much for subtlety. The plot is by the numbers and the characterisation are connect the dots.

I quit at about 25% on the Kindle. I was reading topic sentences only and flipping on; it was time to move on.

At the start there is much too much backstory forced into the opening pages so that we may appreciate Ed, followed later by extensive and pointless descriptions of hairstyles. clothing, drinks, furnishings, cars, and so on and on. This later I guess is the Paris part. If this superfluous detail were cut to the standard say of Georges Simenon the text would reduce by more than two-thirds. Good grief. Amid all the bland descriptions there is very little story. With John Stuart Mill, I suppose that we know a person by deeds not by the recitation of a backstory. What do I care about the backstory until there is a front story?

Nor is it possible to warm to Ed for whom everything seems to come easily though he moans and groans about it.

This is described as 'a novel of Paris' and I wanted to test that proposition. There is much Paris in the early going and I consulted by Michelin map, but then we head off to Orlando in Florida and…. I supposed it gets back to Paris but without me. The Florida trip seems mostly to be an occasion for more pointless description.

After re-reading all of Iain Pears krimis with Jonathan Argyll and Flavia di Stefano chasing lost paintings the reference to a lost Raphael was intriguing, but this treatment is not arresting for this reader.

I had a look at the comments on Good Reads to see what I was missing. I looked at the effusive ones, further confirmation that this source is not credible.

Pearce J.jpg John Pearce

Speaking of sources without credibility, one of the local rags has a weekend feature called something like ‘Books that made me’ in which minor celebrities, well I guess they are but they are unknown to me, list and comment, briefly, on five books that had a formative impact of their being. Nice idea, but the execution is kindergarten.

These celebrities seem not to do much reading and certainly not of, say, a novel of consequence or a historical study of insight. Instead we have excited drivel over self-help manuals, diet plans, children's books - see I said kindergarten - and Mills and Boon stories, Alice’s adventures. In some cases it is pretty clear it was a stretch for the subject to think of five books. When one of these pieces refers to ‘Death in Venice,’ ‘Swann’s Way,’ ‘Absalom, Absalom,’ 'The Iliad,' 'Crime and Punishment,' 'Hotel Baltimore' and their kind, let me know.

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.


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.

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?

Delos death.jpg

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.

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!

Martin Bora is a police officer now in the Wehrmacht, assigned to the German embassy in Moscow in 1940 from whence he is dispatched to Crete on the whim of a superior to fetch some Cretan wine. The early scenes in Moscow are interesting period pieces as the allies of convenience dance around each other.

Ithasca cover.jpg

Equally fine are the descriptions of the heat and light in Crete, after the chilly gloom of Moscow. While the weather is different, the social atmosphere in Crete under German occupation is as tense as that in Moscow.

The simple errand of finding the wine and escorting it back balloons out as readers knew it would.

The Germans have only just secured the island.

Crete invasion map.jpg The German airborne invasion.

The Greeks have surrendered and the British have once again been driven into the sea, but there are still many British soldiers at large in the hills and dales, and some Cretan armed resistance has begun. It is much more dangerous than Moscow.

In the midst of this volatile situation a British prisoner claims a war crime has occurred and produces photographic evidence of the murder of a household of civilians. Hmm. Best to investigate this ourselves is the German conclusion, and do so before the International Red Cross takes an interest. It would have been a refreshing change from the stereotypes, if one of the Wehrmacht generals wanted the truth to root out indiscipline among his men. Instead it seems one of the victims was an acquaintance of the egregious Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and the quickens the pace.

But with Crete largely subdued and the demands of the next offensive now in train, combat troops and field officers are being transferred and reassigned in rapid succession. Ergo the only Wehrmacht officer of sufficient rank with relevant experience who is not subject to a movement order is …Martin Bora.

It is a good set-up. Bora does what all good plods do and interviews the accuser and at the end of one of their discussions when they have sparred is a nice touch. Both are highly educated men and Bora speaks perfect English so has no translator, though there are guards present and many other prisoners milling about. The Brit decides to reveal a secret to Bore to help in the investigation but swears him to secrecy. Then just to make sure the word does not leak out he switches to Latin to provide the clue. Bravo.

Bora meets a local police officer who is resigned to German hegemony and an American archaeologist, a woman, becomes his unwilling guide. Both of these characters are rounded individuals.

To find an eye witness to the events shown in the photographs in the battered camera, Bora takes to mountains of the interior to find a British soldier who allegedly fled that way. In the course of this trek the descriptions of the flora and fauna, the heat and the light are excellent but they become repetitive and thereby frayed.

Crete hills.jpg It is a long way from the tourist resorts now on the coasts.

Less palatable to this reader is Bora’s incessant need to feel sorry for himself, and bore the reader with his back story. How a solider who went through Poland and then France can be so inward looking is the mystery here. This is no Odysseus!

That he and the woman guide are at odds is well done, and unusual in this genre when the femme is usually either a fatale or a conquest. This one is not very femme though she does try to be fatale.

Bora’s meetings with those who have fled to the mountains and those who live there are uneven. The Catalonians he finds there are a cardboard plot device, period. Ditto the distant maidens in the field. Hardly more credible are the Cretan guerrilla band members. More convincing is another archeologist whom Bora finds at a dig in the mountains. Major Busch, Bora’s immediate superior, is also credible.

That Bora begins to think he is on an Homeric odyssey just seems silly. Likewise the resolution of the plot coiling back on itself is so far fetched it would take Apollo astronauts to bring it home. It is not what Aristotle would call a coherent plot.

By the way, the description on the Amazon web site, from which I acquired this book, errs on two counts. It is a not Red Cross representative who is murdered. Nor is Bora sent to investigate the murder, rather he is there when an investigation is needed and he is put to work.

Ben Pastor.jpg Ben Pastor

This title is part of series. Ben Pastor is a woman, one who writes about soldiers, she proclaims on her website.

Captain Gregor Reinhardt continues to struggle with his conscience in this entry to a police procedural series set in the German Wehrmacht in 1943.  He is Abwehr officer, that is, Wehrmacht intelligence service, whose usual task is interrogating prisoners of war.  He talks to them rather than beating them, and his makes him odd, but he gets enough results to be insulated from critics, though they circle. A successful detective in Berlin he entered the army to escape the thugs that the new regime of 1935 promoted, and its racial approach to identifying villains.  Some escape.  

Man from Berlin cover.jpg

He is in Sarajevo going about his business, trying to focus on the main things and ignore.... [much].
But he is despondent and depressed, his wife has died and he is estranged from his only son who has become a super Nazi.  Is life worth living in this Dantesque universe, he might have asked, for he is learned, but he did not.


Then he is assigned a case to investigate and the old policing instincts are aroused, and he has a purpose each day.  He meets the usual obstacles and obfuscations readers expect though they are heightened in this Balkan inferno.  He presses on, though there are doubts.   He meets some truly despicable people, including one of the late victims, a beautiful young woman film-maker who enjoyed torturing Jewish women in front of their children before filming their murders by her Ustaše comrades. If the supply of Jews was low, she would turn to Serbs for such fun.

The book offers a socio-politico topography of war time Yugoslavia, the Chetniks, the Red Partisans, the Ustaše, the Croat Army, the Italian occupation force, and the German, within whose ranks are many deep divides. Only the Italians seem to be civilised and they are a minor player. These groups make shifting formal and informal alliances. In the brew come some British advisors so the plot thickens.

It is a murder that Reinhardt must investigate. One of the victims was the woman film maker and that would be left to the civil police in the puppet state of Croatia, but also murdered a few steps from her was a German army lieutenant. It becomes a joint investigation with the Croat police for whom all acts of villainy, apart from their own, are done by Jews, Gypsies, Serbs, or Reds. Ergo find the nearest Jew and that is the culprit.

This plot is very thick and it just gets thicker. There is much about the city of Sarajevo, its Ottoman and Austrian pasts, its troubled present, and its byways. The divides among the Germans are many and varied. Their are personal animosities, unit competitions, status consciousness to an insane degree, service rivalries, venal as well as moral corruption and incompetence, and the usual assortment of thugs and bullies assembled by krimi writers, most of them wearing uniforms in this instance.

The comeuppance of the primary bully was a delight. (Where do I get one of those Reinhardt specials?) There is also a captivating portrait of a German general with something of Erwin Rommel in him, a war lover. He is in a word, charismatic. Even the jaded and cynical Reinhardt feels the urge to follow where this man leads but tries to resist it, and then realises all is not as it seems. The blue herrings are piled up and neither of the short-priced favourites was the perpetrator. That is enough of a spoiler.

The story Reinhardt tells of one of his famous cases in Berlin is nicely done. He tells the story but suppresses much of the truth, which will sound familiar to anyone who has worked in a large organisation, the backsliding, the backstabbing, the blinding incompetence, the stubborn resistance to the obvious, the incapacity to act in a coordinated fashion. The usual. Then add to that the racial elements and the brew goes from noxious to toxic.

Luke McCallin.png

This is the third novel I have read of late featuring such a military police office. Perhaps inspired long ago by ‘The Night of the Generals.’ That is not counting Bernie Gunther whose career I have not followed.

The third entry in this perfectly charming series set in contemporary Mumbai, a world rich with colour and incident.

Bollywood cover.jpg

The plot? A spoiled brat of a Bollywood star is kidnapped, and the stops are pulled out to get him back, to save the blockbuster movie he is starring in, to satisfy his doting mother, to avert a massive insurance payout. There is only one man for the job in all of India, of course.


Chief Inspector Chopra (Ret.), enemy of all crime, and his sidekick, Ganesha, the little elephant, get the call. Everyone knows about police dogs, well Ganesha is a police elephant!

Elephant.jpg The Asian elephant.

In Bollywood, nothing is as it seems, and Chopra swims through many blue herrings to end up back where it all started. Reality is even more unlikely than the cinema!

Along the way there is much to’ing and fro’ing in Mumbai and a cast of many. Holy days upset the schedule, and Ganesha finds the vital clue and also saves Chopra’s life again. Once more Ganesha proves to be no ordinary elephant.

Meanwhile, Chopra’s trusty assistant settles his own case among the lowest of the low in the Indian caste system, the eunuchs, and learns some things about himself in so doing.

indian_eunuchs_10.jpg The lowest of the low.

In addition, Poppy, Chopra’s wife, rises to the occasion by staging a daring jailbreak, aided by the ever reliable Ganesha, and the chef’s number two curry! Poppy runs a restaurant and she recruits the chef for the heist. Chopra refuses to take money from friends, so when he needs help, they turn out in force.

Poppy, earlier, made an alliance with the officer who replaced Chopra at the nick, a very belligerent woman, but once she is on your side…. Get a flak jacket!

Then ...... That is a spoiler. Delete that.

It works out in the end, though Chopra’s nemesis Deputy Commissioner Rao is not done yet. That is clear. This is a tale of redemption, and ends with Ganesha doing a star turn.

Vaseem Khan.jpg Vaseem Khan, away from the keyboard.

Inspector Hermann Kohler and Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr, an odd couple of Occupied France, get no rest. No sooner have they nailed a culprit than a telegram arrives ordering them on an all night dash across blacked out France to another crime scene. This time it is Lorient near Saint-Nazaire. These two ports were the principle bases for German U-Boats from 1940 to 1944.


The fateful telegram came directly from Admiral Karl Dönitz, nicknamed the Lion for his mighty bellows, commander in chief of the U-Boat fleet. Dönitz became head of the government for about three weeks after the death of Adolf Hitler. The telegram was odd in that he ordered them to investigate the allegations against the Dollmaker, per the title.

It is literal, the chief suspect is a dollmaker, who is also a very successful, and still living, U-Boat commander. Toy-making was a major German business for a long time and grew especially during the Weimar period to earn export income, because there were so many restrictions of German industries and shortages of material, wooden and clay toys were made. This captain has discovered deposits of very fine clay around Lorient and dreams of reinvigorating the family business when on leave between voyages.

A very unpleasant shopkeeper has been murdered on a cold and wet winter night along a railway embankment. Left it situ, Kohler and St Cyr arrive to investigate to the great annoyance of the local gendarme commander.

The nearby stones of Carnac provide the brooding presence of eternity for the nocturnal wanderers during the long black-out nights of winter. There are thousands of stones, some to rival Stonehenge.

With the death of the shopkeeper a great deal of money also seems to be missing, the money the dollmaker raised, mostly from his crew, to invest in a dollmaking enterprise with the deceased shopkeeper. Strangely though, as Kohler and St Cyr note, no one seems now to be worried about the money.

The suspects are many. It is surprising how many people were out and about on the railway embankment at the time of the murder. There is the shopkeeper’s daughter, who was probably spying on him for her crippled mother. There is a woman married to a musician who has gone silent. She may have been looking for her husband who roams the stones at all hour to listen to their music in the wind or for a lovers’ tryst. Their daughter was probably also out there, either to spy on her hated step-mother or to find her father. Then there is that gendarme commander who seems to have left footprints in the oddest places. The U-Boat captain was certainly there and readily admits it while denying the murder. Members of the U-Boat crew may also have been on the lookout to safeguard their investment.

As usual, claims to the Resistance are made both by the Germans to explain away the murder and exonerate the captain and by suspects to hide their guilt. Kohler is indifferent to these claims and St Cyr positively bristles because he has heard this plaint often used to cloak evil. To add to the brew there is at least one Jew hiding in plain sight and a young boy may have stolen the money to bribe passage to England to join De Gaulle. Or he may be dead. The Jew has no chance. The fatalism is endemic.

Around and around Kohler and St Cyr go questioning everyone, being told repeatedly not to question anyone least the morale of the U-Boat crew be undermined or the Resistance revealed. They are threatened, harassed, misled, and lied to. All typical. The U-Boat campaign is interrupted on every clear night by RAF bombing attacks, one of which nearly kills St Cyr, while members of the Resistance are preoccupied with setting differences among themselves with weapons dropped by the British during the distractions of the bombing raids.

U Boat bunker.jpg The submarine bunkers remain in tact despite the RAF bombings.

The well known fatality rate of U-Boats is sufficient to erode morale, and the Resistance is conspicuous by its absence in the tightly controlled area around the ports. Submarine connoisseurs will realise this is the area where ‘Das Boot’ opens.

Hardened kriminologist will have no trouble spotting the villain early on, but the interest in these stories is the trip, not the arrival. Lorient is a closed military zone rather like an island and its denizens know each other well, German and French. Kohler and St Cyr peel away the layers of lies, deceptions, half-truths to arrive at a conclusion or sorts. On the one hand it is a formulaic police procedure but on the other it is a study of humanity in such inhuman circumstances. The atmosphere that Janes draws is the chief interest to this reader.

Food is scarce, fuel nonexistent, warmth but a memory, tobacco beyond price, exhaustion general, rather than fear most people, German sailors or French civilians, are numb and weary. Yet the nightmare goes on and on.

The crew of the captain’s U-Boat have no desire to return to the depths, fearing they cannot beat the odds again, but if they must to back to sea, they certainly want the dollmaker at the helm and not a new officer, ergo he cannot go the slammer even if he killed the shopkeeper.


Before becoming a full-time writer, Janes taught high school mathematics.

A tragedy might be a better genre for this novel. It turns on the accidental death of an owl on a lane in the English countryside. The vehicle that struck the owl had four occupants and their reactions to the death are the centre of the book.

There is the usual backstory about the two male principals in the car; they were acquainted in their university days. The women are accorded less space though one is developed into a formidable character who has a more clear insight that either of the men. Much of the early part of the book reminded me of ‘Brideshead.’

Deathof an owl cover.jpg

The tragedy is that the accident leads to the downfall of the putative leader of the British Conservative Party, poised to become Prime Minister. When a character’s demise is the result of his own personality, it is tragedy, and that applies here.

Though what we readers are to make of Andrew Landford never became clear to me, and maybe it was not clear to the author either. In word and deed, until Landford became desperate beyond reason, he never put a foot wrong, yet there are hints, mostly from his one-time girlfriend that he has a dark side, the reader only sees that at the brief minutes of the death of the owl. As we see him he is sincere, forward-looking, open-minded, and the best man for the job, a Tory Tony Blair.

The story is told by one of his campaign advisors who gets caught up in first in the cover up and then the exposure. It is well written and is credible about the political machinations at Westminster as far as this reader could tell. There are some very nice portraits of other characters in this strange world.

There are some creaks in the plotting. while much is made of the police investigation into the death of the owl, it being a member of a protected species, the two women in the car at the time of the accident are not interviewed by the police. That oversight would never happen in Midsomer!

When I hesitated about the genre for this novel, one of the reasons is because the owls have mystical presence throughout. But there is a crime and a police investigation, slipshod, though it is and so I put in the krimi class.

Finally, I found the denouement with the caretakers to be deus ex machina.

P Yorday.jpg Paul Torday

Perhaps the simple explanation for most of my quibbles is that the novel was unfinished at the author’s death and he did not complete it, that was done by another.

I read this book more than a month ago but time and tide have kept me from writing up my thoughts until now. I chose it because of the intriguing summary on Amazon and the reference to Minerva.

The book is a police procedural set in Pharaoh’s Egypt. There are several krimis of this ilk but ‘The Eloquent Scribe’ has a twist in the tail, namely, that the odd couple of investigators includes a cat. It may sound contrived, well it is, but in this case it works.

Eloquent cover.jpg

Sitehuti is a junior scribe still learning his cartouches. A mishap precludes a senior scribe from attending to the dictation of a High Priest. Because he is a lazy sod, Sitehuti is sent in his place to get him off his backside. Reluctantly, he goes…into another world, one of riches, dazzling scents, blinding reflections from gold and silver and mirrored bronze, a stillness that is both solemn and eerie after the cacophony of the market place that Sitehuti is accustomed to hearing, and … cats. His sense are overwhelmed by the temple.

scribe seated.jpg The scribe is seated in this group from a pyramid.

While the priests run the temple there is one very large, very leonine cat in attendance, one Nefer-Djenou-Bastet This sacred beast instantly takes a liking to Sitehuti, and this marks him out. It is an omen that sets tongues to wagging far and wide. Given this omen, Sitehutie becomes the scribe of choice for the highest of high priests in the innermost of inner sancta.

Cat spotted.jpg The Egyptian Mau cat.

That name Nefer-Djenou-Bastet is a mouthful and it quickly become Neffi.

When a messenger bearing a most secret letter disappears along with the letter, who better to find him and the letter than a man-child favoured by the gods, well, by Neffi the chief cat of the temple of Bastet? Indeed.

Sitehuti is none to sure about any of this but it beats smearing cartouches, pounding shells into ink, or scraping papyri clean for reuse, so he sets out. Slowly it dawns on him that he might have been chosen for mundane rather than divine reasons, (1) because he is an outsider and perhaps this was an inside job — so who can he trust and (2) as a lowly junior scribe he is expendable despite the favour of Neffi for who knows how long that favour will last. What Neffi gives, Neffi can take away.

What a colourful world it is in Memphis, the one in Egypt not Tennessee, and Thebes, the one in Egypt not Greece. There are Nubians, Syrians, Hittites, Caldeans, Gauvians, Babylonians, Ethiopians, and even a Phoenician or two among the Egyptians. Dancing girls, jugglers, strong men, freakish dwarfs, bear baiters, snake charmers, and…. did I mention dancing girls? Sitehuti is a normal young man.

The other pharaonic krimis I have read were, by comparison, laboured with stilted speech which I guess was meant to reflect the formalities of the time and place and packed with equally stiff social conventions which again I guess was to reflect this ancient and foreign world. They also made tedious reading.

This novel is much more salty. There are nicknames, slang, greasy food, dusty roads, sour wine, and grumbling in the ranks, with an incipient tax payers revolt against those priests who keep collecting tribute in the name of gods but those gods who never seem to deliver for the common people. The result is a lively journey.

It is a police procedural in that Sitehuti goes hither and thither asking questions and looking around gathering information, impressions, and even physical evidence while Neffi guards his back clawing off more than one thug and generally putting an aura about Sitehuti, who while grateful for the help, is not sure he likes being so special that the dancing girls venerate him at a distance rather than coming closer!

Lee Harris.jpg T. Lee Harris and friend

This is the first is a series with several other novels and short stories. By the way I cannot connect the title to anything in the story.

The third in the series that I have been gulping down, one after another, ‘A Study in Murder’ once again plunges the hapless Dr John Watson, late of 221B Baker Street, into the thick of a villainous plot. Mrs Gregson is there to throw a lifeline, and the decrepit Sherlock Holmes has resources of his own to apply. The redoubtable Sie Wölfe, Ilse Brandt, continues her savage rampage. Her bodycount must have reached double figures by the end of this page-turner.

Study in Murder cover.jpg

At the end of the previous volume, Watson was injured in the explosion of a tank along the Somme. He awakens to discover he has become a prisoner of war deep in the Harz Mountains. The lager is one that is hidden from the Red Cross and all manner of unsavoury things occur there. While the German regime is harsh, Watson comes to suspect the prisoners themselves are worse than the warders, English gentlemen though they may be.

Harz mountains.jpg The Harz Mountains

How Watson, a geriatric, finds himself in such pickles is due to the ingenuity of the author who shows him no mercy.

Mrs (Georgina) Gregson contrives a fantastic plan to free Watson. Meanwhile, his life is made even worse by the machinations of an old enemy with a long memory who now works in German counter-intelligence. The plot is very thick. Gregson makes a tenuous alliance with Ilse, Mycroft Holmes, an MI5 man who lusts after her body, a music-hall magician, the pilot of a barrage balloon, and a cadaver. Yep. The dead can help, maybe that should have been the title here.

Holmes, they suppose, is too far gone to know or care what is happening. (Ha!)

In addition, another squad makes use of a German sniper to clinch the deal. There are many chefs in this kitchen, none with a recipe.

Meanwhile, the detective in Watson keeps following clues in the lager through cold, snow, drafts, coffins, tunnels, and hunger of the prison camp to discover…. Wheels within wheels within wheels.

german-soldiers-as-prisoners-in-wwi-1914-1918-cpm5j1.jpg POWs in world War I

For a man of his years, Watson has remarkable recuperative powers given all the stresses and strains the author deals out to him. He is struck with a rifle butt, hit over the head with timber, pushed down holes, punched in the gut, and shot, all while living on 1200 calories a day in winter, and he keeps on keeping on. What is his secret?

With each turn of the page the brew is deeper and darker, the mix is richer and more varied. There are so many incidents and characters that sometimes the book is hard to follow. It seems to be two (or more) novels plaited together.

To this reader loose ends remained, chiefly whether Captain Brevette did indeed make contact.

Ryan is a prolific writer and has turned out a nineteen novels, four in this Watson set, as listed in the Wikipedia entry. I hope he sticks with Watson for a while longer.

When I read these, the Watson that comes to my mind is that played by David Burke in the series featuring Jeremy Brett. Note that this series was split, and two actors played Watson. Burke played him as young and more physical than most do.

The quintessential Dr John H Watson of Baker Street is, of course, Nigel Bruce. His Watson is avuncular, warm, fun-loving, roly-poly, friendly as a puppy, dopey, stalwart, bluff, predictable, banal, talkative, superficial and he went a long way to restoring Watson to the Holmes cinematic canon. That is, earlier film adaptations of Holmes stories had diminished and sometimes omitted Watson. By the way the ‘H’ stands for Hamish.

Nigel Bruce.jpg Nigel Bruce

Moreover, Bruce’s Watson also represented the perfect foil for the quintessential Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone. This Holmes is mercurial, incisive, cloaked, impatient, spare even sour, mince, cryptic uncommunicative, mysterious, and razor sharp. They partnered in fourteen films, ending only when the executive producer died, leaving no one else to champion the franchise, which in truth was tiring. The directing and acting had remained pitch perfect, but the stories, despite the oeuvre available, had became hackneyed in the effort to give them contemporary settings in the 1940s.

Nigel Bruce was the second son of a baron. But he was stage-struck as a youth and foreswore the life of the landed gentry for the theatre. He was an infantry officer in the Great War and suffered eleven gunshot wounds at Cambrai (Northern France) in November 1917. Those wounds ended any later army career. By the way, British tanks were deployed in this battle but in dribs and drabs as mobile block houses, not as a strike force.

I met Basil Rathbone at a poetry reading and I was an undergraduate in 1966.

Once again Dr John Watson, a serving major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, is thrust, unwillingly, into action. This time the setting is London, a London that is under siege in 1917.

Everything is in short supply — food, medicine, clothes, manpower — as the U-Boat stranglehold tightens, cutting off supplies of everything.

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Moreover, the city is being bombed, first by Zeppelins, but when they proved too fragile and hard to handle, there was a technology leap to the long range bomber, Gothas and Giants. These aircraft operated from Belgium. They flew higher than the rudimentary anti-aircraft guns could reach, and higher than the Royal Flying Corps pursuit planes could climb, and so the bombers came day and night when the weather permitted.

The Zeppelin were so unreliable that at least one raid bombed Hull in the belief it was London. Consult a map to see the magnitude of the navigational error.

Zeeplin over london.jpg A Zeppelin over London.

Meanwhile, the privations killed the weak and vulnerable, sapped the energy of all, and depressed many. The bombs were few by subsequent standards, but they terrified one and all and paralysed the populace far beyond their destructive power. Per Wikipedia there were eighty air raids and add to that the false alarms.

It was the world of war that H. G. Wells had imagined, waged by machine. This bombing experience goes a good way to explaining the focus on airpower in the inter-war period.

In such a brew there were rumours of still other weapons to come, like canisters to drop poison gas or diseases, like giant cannons to bombard England from the continent, like …. As always these wild speculations were promoted by the press.

Amid all of this hysteria, Dr Watson finds himself drawn into a terrible nexus. There are anti-conscription plotters, the incipient Irish Republican Army, and German spies and saboteurs, along with criminals, each hard and work and perhaps in some kind of alliance. Added to that are the machinations of MI5, as the counter-intelligence agency, which seems even more sinister, if polite and civil in person. The defence of the realm (DORA) seems to justify anything and everything.

Then it gets worse. All members of an important war committee go missing in one night! Watson, as his luck would have it, is the last person to have seen one of them…alive.

Once again Watson is battered and bruised, and barely able to walk, but walk he does: into another trap. He even takes to the air in more than one way.

Ryan’s evocation of 1917 London under siege is very well done, and much of it an eye-opener to this reader, leading me to consult many Wikipedia entries for a start I had always thought that the bombing in the Great War was a few explosives dropped by wandering Zeppelins. There was much more to it.

There are many loose ends in this title, as with the earlier ones. It is by no means clear to this reader that the plotters were working alone or in tandem, the death of Ilse Brandt is muddled, why was the captain arrested at the end, did Watson land safely or not… While the opening haste is explained at the end, it begs one principal question, why did that captain allow the nurse on board if he knew what was to happen, and if he did not, why was he culpable.

It ends abruptly as though time was called not because resolution had been achieved.

In 1917 with its own resources, including civilian morale, wearing down, despite the closure of the Eastern Front, the German war cabinet gambled on a throw of the dice to drive England to the table before the United States entered the war.* The conclusion had been reached in Berlin that the United States would sooner rather than later enter the war on the British side. To preempt that entrance, the decision was to do everything possible to drive Britain to terms, if not surrender. Seeing no way to break the stalemate on the Western Front, other fronts had to be enhanced: espionage, and the sea and the air.

The chief result of this decision was the official declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare. No ship would be safe, neutral, unarmed, far away, or bearing Red Cross markings, all would be targets. The calculus was that a denial of supplies would starve England into submission before the Yanks arrived.

This much can be found in most detailed histories of the conflict. As often is the case the direction of casual arrows is by no means clear, because the advent of explicit and authorised unrestricted submarine attacks is the very matter that prompted President Woodrow Wilson’s reluctant move to war and convinced and the even more reluctant Congress to concur. One could say that the German decision produced the very result it had been intended to avert.

What was new to me was the accompanying bombing campaign which was partly aimed at the shipping infrastructure on the docklands, but since the accuracy of the attacks was, well, there was no accuracy, and so the effective target was the city of London, though other ports like Southampton were also hit, sometimes by accident or mistake as Hull above.

In both submarines and bombers, the Germans had for a time technical superiority over the counter-measures.

Giant bombeer.jpg One of about eighty Giant bombers that operated from Belgium against England.

England was the target of the bombers rather than France because the Berlin assessment was that aiding the French would not motivate public or political opinion in the United States, and if Britain could be subdued, France would follow, one way or another. Also France was much less dependent on shipping for food.

*The Eastern Front did close with the Communist coup d’état in Russia and the peace with the Soviet Union, but the turmoil there was great and continued, many, many German and Austrian troops remained engaged there in Poland, Finland, and Rumania, in particular, as warring elements battled for spoils.

They are at it again, Inspector Hermann Kohler and Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr, an odd couple of Occupied France, in another atmospheric outing.

These two are routinely dispatched where angels fear to tread, each with the scars to prove it.

It is a very cold winter in January 1943 and the screws are tightening.

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While Kohler carries a card that says Gestapo on it, he is on the lowest rung of that feared and fearsome organisation in Kripo. The Gestapo has many other branches including the feared Sipo, Sicherheitspolizei, or security police which are much more important. Kripo is short for Kriminalpolizei and Gestapo is short for Geheime Staatspolizei, Kripo investigates crimes, period.

In a criminal world, we might say Kripo is devoted to civilian crimes, rape, murder, larceny, and other felonies.

State run genocide, slaughter, torture, slavery, systematic theft on a national scale, these are the norm in this world.

St.-Cyr outranks Kohler as a chief inspector of the Sûreté National from Paris. However, in the arrangement of the Occupation Kohler has charge of weapons and much else.

These two were thrown together in the first title in the series, which now runs to seventeen volumes. The first was ‘Mayhem’ (1992) and this is the tenth. They are now well acquainted.

The niceties of Occupied, Forbidden Zone, and Unoccupied — Vichy — France have collapsed with the Allied landings in North Africa. The pretence that Vichy was a sovereign neutral is exploded.

A young woman associated with a cathedral choir has been murdered and this duo, who have learned a lot about each other over their collaboration, is sent to clear it up.

As always there are wheels within wheels within wheels within wheels. While Kohler and St Cyr trust each other, they do not trust their superiors who send them here and there, sometimes in the hope that they will fail. They meet obstruction at every turn.

Anticipating an Allied invasion in southern France, the Wehrmacht has no use for outsiders while it prepares for an invasion. The local Vichy authorities want to run the show, if no other reason than to prove their loyalty to the regime and its sponsor, and they attribute the murder to terrorists of the resistance to justify further arrests to bump up their key performance indicators. Other branches of the Gestapo would be rid of these two busybodies but for the protection of the chief in Paris. Louis’s superior offers no protection whatever. Most of this obstruction is reflex, ‘Non’ is the easiest word.

But some, or all, of the obstruction in this case might be material. Who can say without investigation?

They are down south in Avignon where the winter Mistral seems to come straight from the Russian front. Between 1309 and 1377 Avignon was the centre of the Christian world because a succession of popes resided there, and it remained under the control of the Papacy as a papal state until 1791 long after the Holy See returned to Rome. Only the French Revolution made it French, again.

map_of_avignon.jpg The line of the wall is visible in this contemporary map.

Added to the murder is the ambition of the sitting Bishop in Avignon to see the return of the Pope to Avignon. Crazy? Maybe, but it is a crazy world where genocide is normal and purse-snatching is a crime. With the slow collapse of Mussolini’s regime, perhaps the Pope might leave Rome or be evacuated by the Germans as a prize for ransom or some such. Is it a coincidence that the music master of the cathedral is an Italian from Nice? Before Napoleon, Nice was Nizza, an Italian city and it was claimed as such in 1940 by the Italian ally of Germany.

If the Pope leaves Rome where better to go than the Palais des Papes to drink Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Avignon.

Palais d papes.jpg Le Palais des Papes as it is today.

The scandal of this murder in the cathedral could likely spoil this hope. Better to keep it all quiet.

Then as now Avignon is a world to itself, preserving to this day its medieval ramparts that cut off the ancient core of the city from the rest of the world. The cathedral sits at the very centre of this rock world. And within it the madrigal singers are a protected species who want no intrusions. Non!

Around and around Kohler and St Cyr go questioning everyone, being told repeatedly not to question anyone least the superficial tranquility be disturbed. Yet head office in Paris demands resolution. They are threatened, harassed, misled, and lied to. All typical.

Tranquility indeed, as the Milice scours the town for Jews, the Germans rake the hills for Maques, Vichy officials steal hidden food, the Churchmen flagellate themselves and each other, and the Nuns get up to their own worship. What a concoction this is.

It is a nice touch that in this crazy world, the sanest man they meet in Avignon is the German commandant.

Janes conveys the exhaustion, the dreariness, the hunger, the bitter cold of unheated rooms, the fatigue, the gnawing suspicion, the darkness of a world where the German vampire has sucked everything out of France and the French to fed the maw of the Russian Front. (And also Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and more.)

As a prisoner of war St Cyr learned German. His wounds precluded further military service in 1939, as did Kohler’s wounds. He, too, had been a prisoner of war and learned French in captivity. Both in the Great War, the war to end all wars, World War I.

St Cyr’s wife and only child were killed by a booby trap; it might have been set by either the Maques or by the Milice. It may have been intended for him. Kohler’s two sons died on the Steppes. His wife long ago gave up life as a policeman’s frau.

Their only loyalty is to each other, and that has been forged in the pursuit of the guilty no matter who or what. They will find out who done it, no matter what. What happens then is up to higher powers at headquarters.

There are times when the reader must be patient. Dialogue marked with quotation marks is often preceded or succeeded by thoughts, and it is not always clear to this reader whose thoughts they are since only rarely does Janes honour the convention of adding ‘Kohler said’ or ‘St Cyr thought.’

Nor are these signposts always used when they speak to others, there are strings of dialogue without an indication of who is the speaker of which lines. Sometimes it is clear which voice is whose, but not always, and that is when the guesswork and errors set in. I write as a maker of guesses and the errors.

While quibbling over minutiae I add that the word choice is at times numbingly repetitive. People speak softly a lot and close doors softly. Softly, softly, softly. Get a thesaurus and try quietly, low, delicately, smoothly, tenderly, faintly, gradually, gently, and more.

Generally, the characters are distinguished in their manner of speech. That is an uncommon achievement. All hail.

j-robert-janes-photo-by-charles-bellamy.jpg J. Robert Janes

Each title in the series is one word and I like the clarity and audacity of that, e.g., ‘Gypsy’ (1997), ‘Salamander’ I1994), or ‘Tapestry’ (2013). There is a complete list of his novels on Wikipedia.

The second entry in the series featuring Dr John Watson, once of 221B Baker Street, and now serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during World War I. Watson is over fifty but in the crisis the RAMC welcomes his service. Even older and more infirm, Homes is left to keeping bees on the South Downs.

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Watson’s celebrity as Holmes’s amanuensis opens many doors for Watson, ironically, sometimes he would prefer that it did not. Winston Churchill is one of his admirers and he soon makes Watson a pawn in a deadly game. Churchill recruits Watson for a mission in the heart of darkest Norfolk to find out what is bedevilling a weapons development project located there. The title refers to the soldiers killed there in an inexplicable accident.

Churchill’s method of recruitment is coercive, both physically and morally. Special Branch muscles Watson and there are none too subtle threats made against the decrepit Holmes. When Churchill wants something, nothing is left to chance. ‘No’ is not an alternative.

It is 1916 and trench warfare is a reality. The death tolls on the Western Front are astronomical. In the first title in the series Watson spent some time at Ypres, and knows all too well of the mud, the lice, the stench, the shelling, the rot, the dread, the pointless slaughter, the disease, the maimed, the gas…. While the physician within him wants no part of weapons, new or old, the man within wants the blood orgy to end. Reluctantly and with bad grace he agrees to investigate.

Dilbert could tell him the truth, incompetence, empire-building, blind corporate rhetoric, can-do mentality unchecked by reality, these all too often combine in a cocktail that doom all the most robust of projects. However, this is a krimi and villains there must be and they are aplenty.

To explain by a comparison, in the 1970s we now know that there were more police informers and double agents in the Front de libération du Québec than firebrand radicals, that most of the money the FLQ used for guns and explosives came through these agentsfrom the Sûreté du Québec, that that these provocateurs expressed the most enthusiasm for blood, and so on. Different sections of the Sûreté infiltrated and kept it secret from other sections so they worked at cross purposes. Much is the same here. There are so many spies in and around the weapons development project that they crowd out the technicians.

Watson does not have to play a lone hand. Mrs Gregson of the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) whom he met in the first book, ‘Dead Man’s Land,’ is there with her flaming red hair, suffragette attitudes, and her extensive knowledge of motorcycles learned with her three brothers as a girl. She also knows how to defend herself thanks to those brothers. Most of the members of VAD worked as medics or nurses but did not have the formal qualifications of those professions. Mrs. Gregson, whose first name has not yet been revealed, drove ambulances in addition to clinical duties. She is a long way from the Edwardian norm for a lady of her social class. Smart, ambitions, opinionated, vocal, mechanical, uninhibited, and since she is a suffragette she is also a threat to the realm as men know it, altogether a tonic.

Watson and Gregson are united by the threat of DORA. When that name is spoken, a dark mist descends. There is no appeal from DORA. There is no higher authority than DORA. Once engaged DORA grinds all into dust.

DORA is a what, not a whom: the Defence of the Realm Act. When invoked this act enables search and seizure without warrant, incarceration without habeas corpus, no due process, or anything else. No test of rationality is applied. When Churchill invokes DORA… The likes of Watson and Gregson have no choice, or do they?

Against his will, Watson finds himself on the Western Front again and there is no safe place there.

Read the book to find out. As homework, consult Max Weber on bounded rationality.

Primo Levi.jpg

I came across this passage from Primo Levi when looking for graphics. It is not referred to in this text but perhaps it should be.

It is true that Churchill was instrumental in the development of the tank, along with many other weapons and the Royal Flying Corps. As minister of munitions he sponsored a multitude of experiments to find the means to break the deadlock on the Western Front, keep Russia in the war, and defeat Germany. One such project involved ‘mobile water tanks for the Russian army.’ Hence the heavy gauge sheet metal, the welding, the reinforced plates, all were ostensibly for water tanks. That was the code name for project.

It is also true that Churchill spent months at Ypres in the trenches and went on more than one night reconnaissance across no man’s land to find German snipers and take prisoners. He knew trench warfare through his skin, nose, eyes, ears, and taste.

Robert Ryan has complete command of the period detail and the subject matter. Moreover, he breathes life into both the time and the place. When I compare this novel to a couple of others I have read recently by the celebrated authors, Umberto Eco (‘Número Zero’) and Yann Martel (‘The High Mountains of Portugal’), well, there is no comparison. Ryan’s book is full of life and colour whereas the two by these literary festival luminaries are dreary recitations that read like pastiches of Wikipedia entries.

Ryan’s novel also has a plot which distinguishes it from the novels of Eco and Martel named above.

There is a ‘but’ or two. The dish is too rich. There are so many side dishes, that the main course is lost at times when we delve into Zeppelin navigators, she-wolf training, rations for hostelries, Edwardian dental techniques, and so on. There is a very great of cutting back and forth which this reader never likes, still less when it is not signalled and there are so many ephemeral characters who are introduced, fleshed out, animated, and then dispatched. I plead for more economy and focus, though that always exposes the plot-holes all the more and there are a few here.

There are also a surprising number of typographical errors. The most jarring are the times when Watson things to himself about something and the text has it as ‘Holmes.’ For example, Watson picks up an object and thinks to himself, now ‘Holmes what the blazes is this doing here.’ Huh. No I do not think it is intentional to show the merging of the one, Watson, into the other ‘Holmes’ since it is not sustained. There are a few ‘form’ for ‘from’ and some errant prepositions.

My guess is that Ryan has spent a lot of thought and effort at imbibing the Edwardian Era, the Holmes Canon, the horrors of the Western Front, England in the war, and the war in general from armies to zeppelins and all the letters between. He wears the knowledge lightly, for there are no forced recitations of material, but rather he uses it deftly to enrich the action.

The Holmes Canon is a crowded field with all manner of — what should they be called — continuators? contributors? canonistas? There are those writers who simply re-animate Holmes and continue the stories. Some go to the young Holmes or to his mentor(s) or his brother Mycroft. Others with an orthogonal rotation, place other figures in the centre, like Mrs. Hudson, or who give Holmes a wife, the marvellous Mary Russell in Laurie B. King’s series, or the Baker Street irregulars. There are others that centre on Watson apart the series at hand. Even Professor Moriarty has been rehabilitated in the imagination of at least one author. Of those which I have read, some succeed in their own terms, like Graham More’s ‘The Sherlockian’ (2012), but more often than not they do not. Most try too hard to compensate with period detail, plot twists, or adolescent humour for the twin lack of insight and imagination. These are the canon fodder.

The outstanding example of failure is the BBC television series with Benedict Cumberbatch which started brilliantly in the first three episodes and, then, gradually descended into itself. The writers ran out of ideas and let the Computer Generated Images take over to milk the success of the first tranche. Being incomprehensible became its style without substance. Adolescent, indeed. Very successful it has been, I believe, but we lost interest long ago.

This is the first title in a series of ‘gritty crime novels,’ as proclaimed the blurb on Amazon Kindle. Heidelberg, that is the city where Georg Hegel once held forth. No nerd could resist that.

The set up is this. The Chief Inspector Alexander Gerlach is moving to a new more senior position in Heidelberg from Karlsruhe on the Rhine with his two teenage daughters. The move is a promotion with an accompanying increase in pay, but more importantly it also leaves behind the sad memories of the death of the wife and mother in Karlsruhe.


The book opens with a reception in the town hall where the new Chief of Detectives is introduced to the community leaders and the local media with whom he will be working, meeting, lobbying, and interacting. Our hero has some qualms about the whole business for while he needs the money and wants a new start, he is aware that his experience and aptitude for the new job are ….. not outstanding.

No sooner does he enter the office the next day than the corpses start appearing. There follows some travelogue in the city, but it reads like a guidebook by the numbers without texture. Heidelberg could be Anywheresville. Red herrings are pursued and more than once our hero is sure he has his man. Only to be proven wrong. Mistakes do not deter him and he repeats them several times. When subordinates urge caution, he rebukes them.

The Police Commissioner is pretty cross with him, because the protagonist insists on doing the field work himself rather than assigning and supervising others. Indeed.

The Police Commissioner is right. The job is to manage, organise, and lead, not peer through keyholes but peer through them he does. The Commissioner is also right in a second way. This protagonist is naive beyond credibility. He takes everything at face value.

When a drug user acts guilty, that’s it; he’s guilty; bang him up. When a woman throws herself at him, he accepts it as his due. When his daughters say they will be home by 10 pm, he is satisfied.

It does not occur to him that the drug user has much to be guilty of apart from the murder(s). That the woman is up to something. That his daughters say that to get him off the telephone, not as a commitment.

His conduct of office violates most ethic codes. He uses uniformed police in patrol cars to ferry his daughters around. He has his secretary look after relations with the new school for the daughters when she is not fetching him coffee. He uses police resources to get himself settled in the new digs. In fact, his abuse of office, though small potatoes, mirrors that of one of the suspects who seems to be defrauding a charity by using its resources for his own entertainment.

His inattention to his thirteen year old twin girls is also hard to swallow. There are many scenes with them, yes. But more often then than not, he sends them on their way, forgets to pick them up, lets them stay out all hours…

The plot does tie up the loose ends, though it is mostly off-camera since the villain is not in sight for most of the book. His pursuit though takes the bulk of the book but most of it is not described. In fact, there is little policing in this police procedural. However, the invisible man was well done. The janitor is someone no one notices, either when he is there or when he is not. That was a nice touch.

The only interesting character is his disappointed rival for the job, who is clearly far more qualified, both as an investigator and as a manager. She did not get the job, as she says, because she is a woman; and that seems to be so. Having a Greek name is also a second strike against her.

The protagonist is indeed in well over his head. He got the job over more qualified candidates because the Commissioner’s wife insisted on his appointment because she liked the naiveté of his application! She thought it was so open, so natural, so…

Is this how senior appointments are made in Germany! Too silly to believe. Angela Merkel, get on to that!

‘Gritty,’ I hesitated when I quoted that word at the outset. When a thriller is trumpeted as ‘gritty’ I usually pass, having found that this word often signals an anatomical detail of violence. Not so here. The only grit I noticed was the squalor of some of the drug users.


That Chief Inspector Gerlach misuses the resources of his public office for private needs does not seem to be noted. Still less the parallels it offers to the charity thefts. Nor is it clear that his off-again on-gain parenting is any concern to the Office of Child Protection, but it probably should be. Finally, there no resolution to his role as supervisor rather than keyhole snooper.

Now perhaps some of the oddities mentioned above will be smoothed over in subsequent titles, but I will likely never know.

Against the advice of his dear friend and mentor Sherlock Holmes, Dr John Watson volunteers for the British Army in 1915. Though he is over fifty, the Royal Medical Corps needs every qualified physician it can get, and he is soon in uniform and posted to Belgium.

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That is the premiss.

Watson is assigned the task of teaching field surgeons a new technique of blood transfusion, and this mission takes him here and there near the front lines because it is there that blood transfusion can do the most good.

Amid the squalor, death, and destruction of trench warfare at Ypres, he notices a death that seems odd. At first the suspicion is that the new method of transfusion is to blame, but that conclusion is soon dispelled. Then there is another murder.


The army medics are so swamped and exhausted by the maimed, wounded, and dying that they have no time, energy, or wit left over for anything else. Moreover, they are assigned to one place. By contrast, Watson has some freedom of movement and some repose to think about what he has seen.

He starts to make inquiries and …. He forms a shaky alliance with an outspoken suffragette nurse’s aid, and bluffs his way here and there with his rank of major, with his fame at Holmes’s chronicler, and with his assured manner. His suffragette ally also plays some cards of her own and from their investigations a pattern begins to emerge.

Among the thousands and thousands of deaths that go through Clearing Station Five in the sector, five or six have not been the result of warfare. accident, or disease. They have been murdered. There is a murderer at work within the ranks!

Whatever for amid such a charnel house, Watson asks? Why bother when every man at the front will probably die soon enough? Yet the murderer pursues his victims even in extremis. What is the pattern and who might be next!

The set-up is a fresh take on the Holmes canon, and Holmes himself figures in the story with an apprentice. This Watson is persistent, insistent, and nobody’s fool but neither is he Holmes, as he realises.

But the Military Policemen are solely preoccupied with deserters and infiltrators and place no faith in the story he tells. He is after all a teller of stories, is he not? An over-active imagination set off by the shock of the front, they conclude. He is shown the door.

He will have to do it all himself.

There is an array of characters and a volume of detail about trench warfare. A counterpoint is offered in the role of German sniper who proves…. Winston Churchill is there in the trenches and gives Watson a hand.

Winston-Churchill-World-War-One.gif Churchill at Ypres

Altogether a compelling story well told, though the gruesome reality of the Ypres salient was taxing to read. There is even some gallows humour.

robert-ryan.jpg Robert Ryan

This is part of series and I intend to read other titles in it.

Honolulu in 1934 is the setting. The British Museum lends a rare Hawaiian painting to the Bishop Museum and a curator accompanies it, himself part Samoan. There he meets a feisty woman reporter and they team-up.

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Because the painting is stolen from the Bishop Museum during the gala reception on New Year's Eve. But wait! There is more. The very unpleasant and unpopular director of the museum has been murdered.

Are the two crime connected? Apparently not, yet the coincidence is unlikely.

And later a third, historic crime comes to light which is related to the stolen portrait.

There is some to'ing and fro'ing in pre-war Honolulu and Waikiki along Ala Moana, the Pink Palace, and Lei'Ahi (Diamond Head to Haoles).

In the small world of 1934 Honolulu nearly all of the persons of interest are taking part in an amateur play and the curator and his gal-pal are, too. Just by chance the curator, in his spare time, is the playwright.

The time is right but there is no Charlie Chan in sight. Nor is there any mention of the sizeable military population at Pearl Ridge, Pearl Town, and Pearl Harbor. For the cognoscenti, Doris Duke began to build Shangri-la in 1936.

The dialog distinguishes the characters and the comments on the tropical flora and fauna are measured, enough to evoke but not so much as to labor. However, the pace is slow and the family's relations are hard for this reader to grasp. But there is much description for its own sake, neither deepening the context nor integrated with the plot, i.e., clothes, room furnishings, store fronts, and food. As a result the pace is s l o w.

There is a satisfying array of suspects and much back-and-forth. Every scene is wordy. The author is a playwright and there is much, too much, dialogue from ordering coffee to the weather. I was hoping for more of the Bishop Museum, but despite its importance in the plot there was little compared to all the other description. Too bad, Bishop is one of our favourite places while on Oahu.

While philately provides a material incentive for a villain there is little about why the stamps in question are so valuable, compared to the many descriptions of decor. Note, a philatelist does not cut stamps off envelopes. Too crude.

Kneubuhl.jpg Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl

First in a series but not sure I want to press on.

I have been stockpiling Hawaiian krimis since our last visit in 2010. There are many set in Hawaii and my collection is modest.

A police procedural set in Lima, the one in Peru, in 1970. The protagonist smokes opium and snorts cocaine amid the rubble left by an earthquake.  Somewhere the Peruvian socccor team is winning and that alleviates a little of the pain of the destruction for some.

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Detective Captain Simòn Weiss is Jewish and makes sure everyone knows it, accompanied by a half-Japanese Lieutenant Kato, like the Green Hornet's off-sider.  

The narcotic haze lifts a little and there are two murders.  One isa Japanese crucified on a pool table.  The other is the faked suicide of a Jew.

Many shades of World War II haunt Lima. Jews fleeing Naziism found their way to Peru, and after 1945 so did some Nazis fleeing nemesis. Then there are some Japanese war criminals hiding among the local Japanese community, some of whom were deported to camps Stateside, it says in these pages, during WWII. Whew! This plot is thick.  

Weiss spends a lot of time worrying about his love life, his mother, his step-father, his mystical dreams about a scorpion, his long-term girlfriend, until he is swept off his feet by a pretty face who promptly dumps him. He is as smitten as the heroine in any bodice ripper at the sight of manly pecs.  

Meanwhile, he and Kato tote up a multicultural body count of villains, Japanese and German, and Peruvian or two for good measure. 

In part the story is high romance as Weiss meets the girl of his dreams. Remember the opium?

There is no policing to speak of.  Everyone knows everyone else and the coppers follow their noses to blast the villains.  The formulaic confrontation with kowtowing superiors are only half-hearted.  

After slaying the dragons and losing the damsel, Weiss rides off into the sunset leaving Kato to take the credit.  That would seem to mean that there will be no future adventures of gunslinger Weiss.  West from Peru is a wet ride.

That the hanged man somehow managed to slip a note into the ceiling beam to identify his murders might seem a little far fetched to some.  

That Weiss thinks mainly about himself might bore some readers.

That there is little about either Peru in general or Lima particular may disappoint some readers. Though some of the references like to the military school with its yellow walls reminded me of a Mario Vargas Llosa novel, 'The Time of the Hero.' Llosa is The Peruvian writer, despite his longtime residence in London, to me. I also read his 'War at the End of the World' and found the descriptions of Gaugin's painting in 'The Way to Paradise' to be more compelling than any other of his work I read.

Goldemberg-20pic.jpg Isaac Goldemberg

The book has a forward in which a friend lauds the genius of the author and an afterward lauding the genius of the translator.  Never a good sign when someone else has to try to convince the reader to read the book.

I first encountered this book with its exotic locale in a bookstore in Helsinki Finland in September 2016 and it was only later that I read it on the Kindle.


The adventures of Chief Inspector Pel of the many names continue.  

Pel goes missing between home and office.  Madame Pel, used to his erratic hours, patiently waits, while at the office the ever loyal Darcy is so preoccupied with his love life, for this Lothario is madly in love with a woman who is out of reach geographically and perhaps socially, that he cannot think of anything else, so he does not notice Pel's absence for several hours.

Pel Perfect.jpg

Then Madame Pel telephones Darcy and the alarm bells rings. Pel has a long list of enemies, krims he has banged up, and the worst is feared. Meanwhile all leave is cancelled, Sergeant Misset whinges on cue, and no stone is left unturned.  Until....

In a strange phone call Pel tells Madame Pel to instruct Darcy to stop the search.  

Odder still.

Two days later Pel reappears none the worse for wear with a strange story to tell.  The gist of it is that an old nemesis wants Pel to find his missing granddaughter and in return the nemesis will go quietly.

It takes Pel far too long to find the girl whom he keeps tripping over without recognition but there are compensations in the old, garlic eating baron who is much quicker on the uptake than his dithering manner suggests, in de Troq's capacity nearly to read Pel's mind in a crisis, and in the balanced portrayal of the gung-ho special team brought from Paris. Nice for once to find a fictional police officer who is a person not a stereotype.

While the situations in these books are stereotypical, the handling of them is not.  The baron has ability that belies his appearance.  The head of the SWAT from Paris listens to reason and has no desire to go in shooting if it can possibly be avoided.  In a TV cop show these two would be reduced to cardboard.

Much to Pel's surprise it all works out, for he the eternal pessimist expected the worst, and his nemesis even keeps his word, which Pel did not expect.  But not quite in the way he was supposed to do.  Yes, he surrendered but he did not give up.

Cannot figure it out?  Read the book.

juliet-hebden.jpg Juliet Hebden

This was my reading on QF3 Sydney to Honolulu in March 2017.  

I was intrigued by the cover that referred to the escape of Mussolini. Francis Deakin in ‘The Brutal Friendship,’ a study of the relationship of Mussolini and Hitler, made him seem, in part, an Italian patriot. What would Eco make of him, I wondered. The blurb emphasised the thriller of Mussolini’s escape.

Eco and cover.jpg

But....it takes forever to get to Mussolini, a quarter to the book or more, and then that part disappears.

This is the conceit. A nameless millionaire wants to start a newspaper.   He hires a team of surplus journalists to do a proof of concept.  They are to prepare dummy, uncirculated editions for a year.  These specimens will be used to solicit other investors.  Who knows, maybe that is the usual practice.  None of the team, all writers and editors, know anything about the business side of publishing.  

But some of the team are cynical enough to suppose that the dirt they put into the dummy editions might be used for blackmail.  

There follows page after page about the media, its evils and manipulation. This lecture is relieved only by a travelogue through the streets of Milan.  Oh hum.  Not what it says on the back cover. Not why I bought it.

Then one of the journalists comes up with the story of a body double for Mussolini who was substituted for the real man. This is a discovery that is unrelated to the foregoing.  It just pops out.  

For this reader the book I bought starts there. Knowing nothing about these final days of the Fascist Regime, I found it a plausible speculation.  The nub is this.  While Mussolini's face was known to millions through ubiquitous photographs, films, statues, postage stamps, coins, and more, few ever saw him up close in the flesh for more than a second or two apart from the inner circle.  

Now add that he had a body double to foil assassinations and to do the boring duty of watching parades.  This man might have a considerable resemblance and been at it so long that he came to think of himself as a Mussolini.  He would be known to the inner circle.  


Add the wear and tear of the last months and years, weight loss, ulcers, narrow escapes, worry, stress and Mussolini’s physical appearance and mental balance would have been altered as well as that of his doppelgänger.

Finally much confusion as the last Fascists flee from the Italian partisans, hoping either to surrender to the Allies, but then they did not go south where the Allies were, or to make it north either to Switzerland or Germany. 

Why escape?  One, to save his life and perhaps to fight again another day.  If Mussolini survived perhaps he could help others in the inner circle and their families.  Perhaps a living Mussolini could negotiate for Italy.  Perhaps a living Mussolini could be used against the prospect of a communist insurrection in Italy.  Once the speculation starts, it has no end.  All of this is interesting but there is very little of it, and it is only just that, speculation. None of it is fleshed out.

Much more interesting than another media diatribe or a streetscape of a corner of Milan. Though there are more lectures on the corruption of the media sprinkled throughout.  Oh hum. 

Deakin brutal.jpg

The Mussolini part disappears from the last third of the book in favour of more recitation of media evils and Italian corruption.  Old news not particularly well told.  Along the way are some obligatory sex scenes which the author is very poor at rendering.  Must have been included to please an editor.

The Número Zero of the title has nothing to do with Mussolini, but is the first edition of the mock newspaper.

In sum: a major disappointment. 

I once drove Signor Eco across the Harbour Bridge when he visited Sydney.

Having been reading about Portugal, I tried this title.


It opens with a nice walk through 1903 Lisbon.  I followed some of it on Google maps.


However this book is SO contrived.  Our protagonist walks through the city backward, yes like a defensive safety or like Ginger Rodgers!  He is sad and in mourning and expresses it in this way and has been doing this for a year or more. Oh hum. Thus making others responsible for not colliding with him. How egotistical. Out of my way! Coming through, backward!  Yes I know walking backward can be a form of contrition but there is none of the spiritual depth of that implied in these pages, where it reads like what it is, a gimmick.

The backward walker reaches his rich uncle's house and uncle is a lively character who wants to move with the times, in particular with the automobile.  Many pages are consumed as the uncle tries to explain to the protagonist how to drive. He makes no effort to learn but some how does manage to do it. Backward, indeed.

He then drives off to the high mountains on a quest.  To find an altar piece carved in Angola and which is in a little out-of-the-way church there. He read about the altar piece in a priest’s diary from the 16th century, which no one else has read, it having been buried in an uncatalogued box in the national archives, and then traced it through shipping, archival, and ecclesiastical records.  That part was interesting but sped through.  

Nothing compelling here.  He manages to drive the car through villages to the amazement of locals and the boredom of this reader.  It is a short book so I will flip more, but...

I did keep flipping.  It is three stories connected only by the author's assertion that they connect.  After the motorist who does find the altar piece, which portrays Jesus on the cross as an ape.  Better if it were an African slave after the harrowing descriptions of that.  

Then a doctor and his wife in 1938 without any reference to the Salazar regime or the wider world that I noted in my FF, Fast Flipping.

Then in the 1980s a Canadian senator who retires there.  Odd that. The author does seem to know anything about the Canadian Senate which is largely ceremonial.  While the senator’s ancestors were Portuguese he hasn't the language but moves there anyway in retirement with his recently acquired pet ape. Yep! The first scene of recognition with Odo, the ape, is very good, but then it is repeated with dogs, with birds, Odo can relate to anything.

Once again it seems to me that all this creativity is to impress other writers, awards panel members, and jaded reviewers and not to entertain, educate, or stimulate readers.  Moreover, most of it seems to have been researched in manuals and reads like it, the car, the mountains, the apes; it reads like digests from Wikipedia interspersed with some dialogue and a few quite good scenes.  

Even more depressing than reading the book is reading the high praise heaped on it by professional reviewers.

Pascha the unwanted ghost is still about, annoying the only human that he can contact, Dr Martin; the Goose, as Pascha calls him.  Martin has taken extreme measures to control, if not rid himself, of this apparition by installing all manner of electronic gear in his home, offering feeble explanations to his long suffering girl friend about why he has an electronic net over the bed.  Martin goes to endless lengths to conceal the fact that he is haunted by Pascha, though his one and only friend Gregor knows.  Gregor is a man who can keep a secret.

Morgue 4.jpg

Gregor is Herr Detective Inspector Kreidler whom Pascha rather grudgingly admires.  Gregor is an action man and that appeals to Pascha, the one time car thief.

But then then two police officers appear with a warrant and arrest Gregor, who lapses into an uncharacteristic passivity.  Pascha is outraged and is determined to spring him.


He needs Martin for that but Martin is completely preoccupied with his girlfriend who is pregnant.  Martin spends hours supervising her, arranging her diet, instructing her in exercises, telling her when and how to sleep, to rest by sitting such-and-such a posture.  Martin is a health fanatic and this he imposes on her, well, he tries to do so but Brigit has a mind of own and the appetite of more than two. She may eat as he asserts when he is there but when he is not let the chocolate cookies, fruit bars, potato chips, anything and everything roll.

The only way Pascha can mobilize Martin is by claiming to be in contact with the soon to be born child.  A lie but Pascha is a much-practised liar. 

For her part Brigit is bored by Martin's Regime and she wants to help Gregor, not sit quietly inn a dark room listening to soporific music eating lettuce leaves for six more months. (By the way, this sounds pretty much Martin's idea of heaven.)

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Martin, of course, does too but not at the expense of leaving Brigit's side. He ends up towed along in her wake. 

Loved the deal Brigit makes with the sleazy night club owner. How will she explain it later to Martin?


This title is fifth in the series. What a hoot they are. Keep it up Jutta!

This is the ninth title in the tales of Commissar Adamsberg, the vague, unkempt, inquisitive detective, played in a film adaptation superbly by Juan Garcia.

Garcia.jpg Juan Garcia as Adamsberg.

There are also television episodes that have all-star guests like Charlotte Rampling. In the following picture from the television production we have Adamsberg, Danglard, and Retancourt.

VArgas trio.jpg

The characters are varied and amusing; the dialogue is human and humane; the situations stretch from the mundane to …. Iceland and back.

Climate of fear cover.jpg

How does she do it, Fred Vargas, one time professor, now full time writer? Well, I hope she is at it full time because it is a big world and more of it needs Adamsberg, Danglard, and company to resolve its mysteries.

The setup in this title?

An elderly woman is found dead in her bath with slashed wrists. She had terminal cancer and the gendarmes call it suicide, and following procedure they photograph the scene and present it to the station chief to sign off and close the file. Bored, he reads the file and looks at the pictures.

Odd that symbol drawn in lipstick on the side of basin.

He calls Danglard, Adamsberg’s number two, famed in the small world of plod for his vast knowledge, retentive memory, and capacity to solve puzzles. Danglard has to see it for himself in situ, and being bored, Adamsberg rides along with Danglard for an outing. The symbol baffles even Danglard and once baffled he cannot quit. Adamsberg is indifferent as they return to their desks.

Then, by chance, a woman comes to the front counter of the nick to make report, but she finds the cop shop all rather distressing and turns to leave, her mission unspoken, but Danglard passes through the lobby and he, of unfailing courtesy, addresses her with great civility. She responds to his politesse, and in short order she reports…. It ties in with the ostensible suicide.

Now Adamsberg reads the file and the plot thickens. Terminally ill or not, why would such a formidable woman lay down fully clothed, hair done, perfumed, nails polished in the tub full of water and cut her wrists? Why would a woman described as determined and self-sufficient, give way? Why is there no suicide note? Why did she struggle in her Zimmer Frame to mail a letter that afternoon?

It all does not add up to zero. There is something more to do it and it meets the eye in the symbol that even Danglard cannot decode.

As ever there are tensions among the officers, numbering about twenty, in this unit. Adamsberg’s loyal number two is Danglard, and there are others who also suspend disbelief in order to be loyal to him, too. It takes suspension because he does go off on tangents, and some do not work, but others do. The tangents come from his intuition which he seldom can explain. Adamsberg is not articulate or learned.

Against this are the positivists in the squad who want facts, finger prints, DNA samples, eye-witnesses before making a move. The metaphysical cloud shovelers who follow Adamsberg are tested in this title, and even Danglard wavers. That phrase ‘cloud shovelers’ was hung on Adamsberg and his deputy in Quebec in an earlier title, but it sticks.

Characterisations are one of Vargas’s strong points. She differentiates her characters and gives them each space, in the way Frank Capra gave character actors camera time, believing it enriches the story, rather than detracting from the protagonist. It sure does. (There days most of the diminishing breed of character actors could be, and sometimes are, replaced by CGI. [Computer Generated Images, Mortimer!])

In this tale there is a thuggish stable man with a police record, who dotes on his horses while imposing discipline on them with whistles and words of kindness that abash both Danglard and Adamsberg. There is a retired nurse who dithers, but is incisive when it counts. There is a spoiled and petulant young man of twenty who has depths none anticipated. Then there are the history re-enactors, some of whom are even odder than Adamsberg.

Most of all there are the regulars, starting with Adamsberg wearing clothes that looked slept-in and probably were, again. Danglard who will never be promoted because he is an alcoholic, a single parent with a brood that takes up a lot of time and energy, and a walking encyclopaedia as far as colleagues can tell. There are many others on the team, like the Amazon Retancourt, who are all watched over the in the office from atop the photocopier by Snowball who figured decisively in one of the earlier tales.

In this title the plot is, as always, complicated, convoluted, and obscure. Yet when it is nailed, it all hangs together. Of course, it is far fetched and some of the touches of the bizarre are, well, bizarre, and probably unnecessary but they have become the decoration on Vargas stories. The bizarre touches, the boar, the mysterious island, are well judged, if distractions.

Vargas mug.jpg Fred Vargas

Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau (1957-), archaeologist by day and krimiest by night. At the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and then the Institut Pasteur she specialises in epidemiology, particularly the Black Death in Europe. Her authoritative study is 'Les chemins de la peste' (2003). Some dinner table conversation there I expect.

A new locale, a new investigator, a new approach for this jaded reader of police procedurals.

The protagonist, Owen Irvine, was once in policing and then spent a decade investigating social benefits fraud for the local council in Cumbria.


His past in policing is murky, and no doubt more of his backstory will emerge. Ho, hum. Backstories do not a front story make.

Invasive cover_.jpg

Tracing penny-ante fraudsters is not much fun for Owen but there are challenges. Mostly though his prey are single mothers trying to squeeze a few more quid from the system for their kiddies, or so they say despite the new car in front, the satellite dish on the roof, and the ashtray full of St Tropez cigarette stubs on the table.

Owen is numb, having heard all the lamebrain excuses before, each told as if unique.

Not only does the council squeeze the pounds it pays to claimants, it also squeezes those it pays to the investigators, and the chopping block has Owen’s name on it. While his record is the best, it is too good, because he has banged up more than one relative of a councillor. In this and several other ways, the plot is leaden.

Then he meets one fraudulent claimant who is different. It is another woman, but one without excuses to offer, who seems educated, and smart, and who admits her crime, and yet …. she was desperate enough to pull a stupid stroke for a few hundred quid.

Owen breaks his own rule and asks why? He has never had to ask before. Always before he is told an avalanche of reasons he does not want to hear, because he is only serving the injunction, not making the decision. This one, Clare, tells him reluctantly a story about a man who deceived her, took advantage of her, and drained her bank account.

He passes the story onto a comrade in arms at his old nick, and, by the legerdemain of crime fiction another similar case arises, and the chase is on. Well sort of.

There a reality check in this book. Time is budgeted and for a crime without violence, for a crime where there is no evidence of a crime apart from the drained bank accounts, the time allocated is half a day. Imagine what a Star Trek film would be like if there were a Star Fleet budget. No more warp engines, Captain, we are out of dilithium crystals and do not have the gold-pressed latinum to pay for more until the end of the space-year.

Ah but the recently sacked Owen, who is more or less financially independent (because he owns his home, has a vegetable patch, a trout stream, an eternal Land Rover, and few needs), has plenty of experience in finding people who do not want to be found and time on his hands.

That is the set up. A pretty good one, if only it had been told with some élan or wit.

This reader felt the boxes being ticked. Perhaps that is inevitable in the first title of the series. Owen’s backstory is forced into the foreground. To do so makes it very wordy and slow. Though Owen is supposed to be laconic and reserved, but he talks about himself incessantly to get that backstory out. To enhance Owen he is made a victim in the dismissal by the council and by implication in his earlier dismissal from the plod. A poor put-upon hero, yet again, martyr to his virtue. All of this background interferes with any interest in the foreground. The time and place are described but they take a distant second place, and that is a shame, because the regional setting is what I found attractive at the outset.

Among the compensations are some lively scenes. The puzzling interview with Clare is one. Another is with a fraudster who seems to have done it just for fun and enjoys discussing it with Owen. Then there is the police officer who is uninterested in the information Owen passes on. They have a pissing contest, as they say on Channel 7Mate. Predictable but well done.

Regrettably, but perhaps inevitably in this kind of context, all the characters sound alike, use the same speech mannerisms, idioms, and vocabulary. All the police officers sound alike, even the educated Asian woman. Indeed, Clare is only distinctive voice in the early going, and that is a plot device, to be sure, and a good one, but it emphasises how monotonic the rest are, including Owen.

Salkeld.jpg J. J. Salkeld, a very industrious writer to judge from the array of titles on Amazon. Strength to his arm.

It is the first in a lengthy series and perhaps things come together. Time will tell, if I get back to it. I found it easy to put aside.

A noir krimi with quantum physics!

I selected it for the Kindle because I smiled at the title on the cover. Wait! There is more. It is a krimi based on quantum physics. Yep! (It also represented light relief from reading Nietzsche.)

Schordiner Gat cover_.jpg


That is how our protagonist reacts. ‘Huh?’ He is Paul, one very depressed loser in San Francisco whose path crosses that of Tali, who saves his life but she runs away when he tries to thank her.

A chartered loser, he is used to people avoiding him, but not quite like this. He pursues her, and, without breaking stride, she promises to explain all, but first he has to grasp some quantum physics.

Huh? Well, all right.

But before she can explain much, she first has to do a few things, and, well, seeing is believing, and Paul sees enough to … believe, a little. She arranges to met him for a further explanation but she is a no-show.

Huh? (Paul has a small vocabulary.)

What is a fellow to do but Google it; he reads up on quantum physics, advising readers in direct address to skip that part of the book. I should have, but I didn’t. Had I, that would have been in total about three-quarters of the book. Of course the cat comes up.


During this ersatz research he comes across the name of a Stanford scientist, the summaries of whose work on websites sound like Tali’s interrupted exposition. While the scientist seemed to have had a fine career strewn with publications and accolades until a few years ago when he, too, seems to have disappeared. Huh. (See!)

But even a loser can use the telephone book and Paul finds a street address that might be that of the professor. Hey, presto!

Well, that’s a lead. What would Philip Marlow do? Doh! He would go see the professor.

It is a mile-a-minute, except for the asides on matters quantum physics, and is it droll. dry as dust. Regrettably the asides on QP increase, and go on and on. The mile-a-minute stretch like a Salvador Dali watch.

Oh, and the cat. Did I mention the cat? Well, there is neither a cat nor a gat. Which word I always assumed was derived from Gattling gun, the rapid fire weapon developed in the Nineteenth Century, precursor to the machine gun. Another weapon so deadly that its inventor thought it would end war.

The set-up sounds better than it reads. It takes a quarter of the book to get the characters lined up around all the lectures on QP. There is so much preliminary fussing that it reminded of those dreadful Sunday lunches where the fussing over nothing is continuous so that the food does not appear until 4 pm by which everyone has had too much alcohol and a headache either from the drink or lack of food.

Then Paul inadvertently, if you can believe it, drops a homemade bomb into the fountain at a shopping mall and it kills a great many people. The cops arrest him and in his cell he reads Kant on metaphysics and shares it with the reader. Which is harder to swallow the bomb at the mall or Kant in the clangour? What is worse is reading it.

By this stage three-quarters of book has elapsed without any further sighting of Tali, and no explanation of events that this reader can follow. Where is that damn gat? Where is Schrödinger? Or even the cat?

Schord cat.jpg

Eventually this mass murderer is sprung on bail. What! Fire that DA and get one keeps capital criminals in the slammer.

There is a final confrontation of sorts but mostly it is like one of those post-modern conference presentations where the words flow but the meaning does not. The characters talk each other to death, or something. Hard to tell through my glazed eyes. Since this is San Francisco there is an ever handy earthquake to settle matters.

There is a long afterword with more QP. Enough, already!

Kroese.jpg Robert Kroese, who has many other titles on Amazon.

Following the afterword is a biography in which we read that the author wrote his first novel in second grade. Is this it?

I did make it to the end, but only with quick thumb work flipping the pages with very little reading and less pleasure.

I break my rule and write about a book I disliked, doing so in part to crystallise what it is that I did not like about, and why I tried so hard to read it.

I tried to read this book years ago, and was recently moved to try again since my interest in Portugal was kindled again a few months ago by reading about the Carnation Revolution of 1974 but my efforts to find Portuguese novels that I might like have failed.

Yes, I have read some by that Nobel Prize winner, José Saramago, but found them desiccated, didactic, and dull. In short, lifeless. They told me nothing about Portugal or any Portuguese.

Reviews of lists of Portuguese novels on websites did not help either where even the krimis were described by the deadly term ‘surreal’ that is code for incomprehensible and self-indulgent which some mistake for creativity. On such lists I found ‘Ballad of Dog’s Beach’ by José Cardoso Pires which I read and reviewed elsewhere on this blog. It did not inspire me to choose another title from such lists. As an indicator of nonsense the term ‘surreal’ is as reliable as the label ‘post-modern.’

Robert Wilson is routinely accorded the accolade of a best selling author on the covers of his many novels from major publishers. All hail. The reviews in credible sources are respectful, if not enthusiastic. Knowing that I know nothing, I tried again.

Lisbon cover.jpg

It has a split story line, then and now with some in-between, and the reader, I guess, is supposed to be puzzled about how they come together. Me, I just assumed some hocus-pocus would bring them together. I cannot abide this approach to story-telling because it puts responsibility on the reader to make sense of what is written. This joke is not for this folk.

The respectful reviewers say it offers a travelogue of Lisbon and that is what enticed me to read the book both times. So on I went, screen-by-screen on the Kindle. My dentist does not approve, all that gnashing, grittimg, and grinding of my teeth which will undo his good work. With the iron discipline for which I am famed, I quit — again — at 61%, according to the Kindle.

Here is what I found as I made my way to that 61%.

We have Klaus Felsen a German businessman forced to go to Portugal in 1941 to buy rare industrial metals for the Nazi regime and to try to prevent the British from getting them, too. It seems he is the only man for the job since he speaks Portuguese, learned from a few weeks with a Brazilian woman. Ah huh. Fluent no doubt. It is February 1941, and there is one reference to the Eastern Front, though there was not one until 22 June 1941. The hindsight is all to evident throughout.

Sometime in the 1990s we have world weary inspector Zé Coelho, who mouths gratuitous criticisms of the society he serves, and despises those who cooperated with the late and unlamented Salazar regime, a group that would have included most of the country. He wears his alienation on his sleeve. Everyone he meets is awful. Especially those with money. So it goes. When figures in police procedurals engage in this kind of cheap cynicism, my supposition is that the reader is to take it as social criticism. Ever the rebel, I take is as cheap cynicism.

There is a lot of coming and going in Lisbon of the 1990s, and I liked that. I used a Google map to follow some of it on the iPad. That kept me going as long as I did.

Lisbon map.png Lisbon street-1.jpg Lisbon stret-2.jpg

The book also features much sex. Both of the protagonists, Felsen and Coelho, are irresistible to every woman they pass. There is enough detail to satisfy a gynaecologist.

Felsen, the good German, also goes in for murder and torture, and these deeds are also lovingly described from anatomy textbooks: wires to the genitals of the helpless victim. No electricity, just wires. The thugs, these he kills with rocks.

Time passes in the back story from 1941 and Felsen remained in Portugal when the war ended. He gets even with all his enemies, in part, because of the love of Eva. Who? [Sound of violins over the screams of his victims,]

The Portuguese peasants Felsen enslaves to his smuggling operation are described in bestial terms that must give some armchair readers a frisson. Me, I thought how simple-minded such characterisation is. For a dose of reality read the nature poems of John Clare (1793–1864) a day-labouring peasant just like those in this story. If people do not live in cities and read books, they cannot be as fully human as … the author, the reader, the editor. Thugs live and work on Bond Street, too, and even in some universities, I am told.

The preoccupations with sex and money can be readily interpreted in two ways. The first is ‘give them what they want.’ If it sells, write it. Here we may see the hand of the publisher pushing the author along. The other is the projection of the author’s own fantasies onto his characters. Pick one.

There are no compensations in the prose. Much of it is workmanlike and gets us from A to A1. However, there is far too much that is overwritten. ‘Overwritten?’ one might ask. ‘What does that mean?’ Here are a few examples;

‘her knees looked tired’

‘an in articulate shriek’ from a closing door

‘an enclosed man’ who was waiting in the alley

his ‘breath was cigar streaked’

she rose on ‘strong legs’

the ‘walls drank in the evening light’

the school girls began an ‘elephantine dancing’

There are many, many more examples of this overwrought and meaningless prose. I just stopped highlighting them on the Kindle. Each time, this slow wit, had to read the sentence twice in the forlorn hope that there was a point to the prolix prose. Nope.

Wilson pix.jpg

When I gave up I did take a look at the comments on GoodReads and was once again confirmed in the conclusion that it is pointless using that as a reference. The narcissism (look it up. Mortimer) of many comments allows me quickly to skip most entries, and the others read like support of relatives.

Nota Bene. We watched two episodes of the ‘Falcone’ krimi television series derived from another series by this same Robert Wilson set in Seville and found them gratuitously anatomical in the violence for no other reason than to get a restricted rating to make naive viewers think they were getting something hot. While we liked the travelogue of Seville, it was not enough to put up with the plucked eyeballs and roasted human flesh. The effort to shock is so adolescent.

I hesitated a long term before publishing this, but decided to get it out the door. Reading the imbecilic reviews on GoodReads stimulated me to add my two cents.

What I would like would be a krimi set in 1974 as the Carnation Revolution unfolded and in the heady-ing and confusing days that followed, catapulting Field Marshall Antonio de Spinola to the head of a committee of national salvation and driving the eternal Salazar regime into exile.

Perhaps such a book exists but I have not yet located it. The dictatorship in the person of President Marcello Caetano refused to abdicate to the upstart captains who led the uprising, and insisted on entrusting the government to a high ranking officer who, of course, had also to be acceptable to the upstarts. There was only one candidate, Spinola, whose public and private criticisms of the regime were known even if uttered sotto voce and published abroad. He did not want the job, the captains did not choose him, and Caetano did not want to concede, but the hour called the man.

Enter Spinola, pulled from one side and pushed from another. The captains wanted a quick result before their tissue thin conspiracy unravelled so they accepted Spinola as the only senior figure they could tolerate. He took on the thankless task as a last service to the country. No biography of him is available in English, or I would turn to that.

If a prospective writer wants the job, here are a few tips.

Make it linear. Have a protagonist who is not the centre of attention but a prism of others.

Also please emphasise Lisbon as a character in the story, not just a backdrop, its hills, it redolent history, the balcony flowers, the worn steps, its narrow streets, the ubiquitous churches, the funicular, the prayer apses on the twisted streets, the allure of the Azores, the stifling shroud of an ancient Catholicism, and the repression that hung over everything, the secret police, mysterious disappearances, political prisoners, the nearby Spanish border and the sclerosis-ridden dictator still crouched behind it, and the exiles in Brazil broadcasting back to Portugal.

Remember also that there were Portuguese military officers, serving and retired, in 1974 who had been volunteers in the Spanish Blue Division with the Nazis at Leningrad, including Spinola himself. Most of all, remember the three colonial wars Portugal was engaged in at the time in which Spinola alone had secured victories and made peace. Add the pirate attack by Portuguese exiles on the cruise liner the Santa Maria a few years earlier. In the larger environment there is the Cold War and the developing European Union. Rich pickings.

In the foreground perhaps the tension might spring from bringing together an odd couple, say an enemy of the regime with a defender, and each discovers something of value in the other. The stiff devout old guard police investigator who had done military service in Africa teamed with a youthful critic, maybe a journalist. The journalist discovers the police officer is serious and just what he seems to be, simple and honest, not a perverted pederast hypocrite. The officer discovers the journalist is a patriot who wants to elevate Portugal not a slavering communist set on destroying the country and raping nuns.

There are plenty of incidents to choose from, even before the radio music signalling the rebellion, and then later the military counter-coup, the subsequent communist effort to seize power as Lenin did in October 1917, the democratic descent into confusion. All this was in the cities, while in the countryside life continued to follow the rhythm of nature. Or did it? Maybe not on the Spanish border. Maybe not on secluded coastlines where small boats might land unobserved, perhaps from Brazil.

Add to this the reaction of Big Brother in Spain. Franco was still a factor, catatonic though he was.

I have watched some of 'Capitães de Abril' (2000) on You Tube without the benefit of English subtitles. Earnest, this I could see, but lacking in tension to this distant viewer.

It is time that Chief Inspector Evariste Clovis Désiré Pel had a Wikipedia biography along with Jules Maigret, John Steed, James Bond, Lois Lane, and Xena.

He appeared full grown like Athena in 1979 (‘Death Set to Music’), Pel has had a long career in crime, crime-fighting, that is. the last outing was in 2002. His biographers have been John Harris, writing as Mark Hebden, succeeded by Juliet Hebden. Pel was a child during the German occupation, ten or less.

We shall start with that name. It is a cross to bear for Monsieur L’inspecteur Pel, who cringes whenever he is asked for his full name, say when renewing the driver’s license. In reply he hunches and mumbles to limit the number who hear. Three forenames is too many and none of them is particularly masculine, but the worst part is the third, Desired One — Désiré — a name usually reserved for girls.

His second most important characteristic is that he is in, for, and of Burgundy, and if possible never leaves it. Ever. Beyond Burgundy is, well, France (with the cesspit that is Paris) which is a foreign country to Pel, and beyond France lies darkness. In his moments of calm, few as they are, Pel savours Burgundy as Eden on earth. The trees, the patchwork fields, the stone farms houses, the blue tiles on roofs in the capital, the Palais de Ducs, the mellow yellow sun, the cuisine, the wine, all is perfection. He positively sings its praises, in his mind.

He is to the core a flic, and nothing but. ‘You’re nicked, you slag,’ snarled by Inspector Jack Regan would warm Pel’s heart. He would not understand the idiom but he would grasp the music of it immediately. Pel has risen through the ranks from the uniform service, where he stood in police lines while students from rich families threw rocks at him personally; and these students are now lawyers and doctors who fiddle their income tax, he is sure. Here is another Pel characteristic. He takes everything personally. From thence to Detective Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector. In the later role he has ten detectives to direct.

We meet Pel in his forties, he is short, slight, nearly bald with a few wisps of mousey hair, near-sighted with reading glasses pushed up on this head. Whatever clothing he dons at home, by time he arrives at the nick he looks like a hobo just off the rails. Even his best blue suit, the one he bought against the day, which day has not yet to come, when he receives a Légion d'Honneur from the President of France, becomes stained, creased, begrimed, and baggy as soon he takes it out of the dry cleaner’s paper. By the time he gets to the office, it looks like a sleeping bag gone wrong.

He is completely and totally addicted to Gauloise cigarettes, of which he smokes at least a pack of twenty a day, living in constant dread of running out, while promising that each one will be the last. Blind panic the strikes him when the prospect of running out arises.

Pel is an Olympic worrier. He mostly worries about his health. Those cigarettes! If he passes a person in the street who coughs, Pel is instantly paralysed with the fear that he is about to catch a mysterious mortal disease. Dr. Minit has long grown tired of his panics and laughs at him while offering a drink, thus confirming to Pel’s mind that he has little time left since the quacks never say if it is bad news.

If he is out of the office for long, he worries that the Police Judiciare will collapse without him, and so he is a frequent nocturnal visitor to the office. He is a lousy driver because he is always thinking about his cases or his health.

Despite squirrelling away in the bank nearly every franc that has come into his possession, he fears a life of penury, the more so when he retires on a police pension. This worry is despite the bank manager’s comment that Pel has a fortune in his account. He also fears he will be forced to retire all too soon since he is neither liked nor respected, and he does not understand the computer system that is coming online.

By some dark Faustian bargain, he has a live-in house keeper, one Madame Routy who exercises a domestic tyranny. In all of Burgundy she is the only person who cannot cook. She serves up sludge, called stew every night, which more often than not it is his only meal of the day. Worse, she watches television all day and all night with the volume at thunderous plus. Will his shabby house vibrate itself into destruction? He abides because he dares not rebuke her. She might quit and where else could he find a house keeper to live in his dilapidated house and work for the meagre pay he can offer. Moreover, her nephew Didier comes to visit sometimes and Pel likes Didier. When the boy grows up and enters the police service, Pel swells with pride before breaking into a sweat at the thought of all the dangers that will afflict Didier as a constable.

At the PJ he runs a tight ship. Few words of praise escape his lips. Requests for time off are met with ‘Non.’ He is bitterly jealous of his senior sergeant Darcy’s easy way with women, and positively livid that Darcy always appears to have just stepped out of fashion magazine, even when Darcy has been up all night on surveillance. So livid is Pel that to make himself feel better he searches for some fault to criticise in Darcy. He is even more angry because nothing he says phases Darcy who shrugs it off.

Pel loathes Sergeant Misset who combines being lazy with being stupid to a high order, but Pel can find no way to shed him from the squad where he spoils everything he touches. Pel bears a lifelong grudge against the traffic division which arranged for Misset to be transferred to his squad.

Then there is young Nosjean, the impoverished Baron de Troq, Lagé, the soon to retire Krauss, Claudie Darel whom he is sure will take his job away from him because she is terrifyingly smart, and then there is the Lion of Belfort who leaps into action at light speed: Annie Saxe, who is called La Lionne de Belfort for her mane of red hair and her origins in Belfort where there is gigantic statue in red sandstone of …. [Go on, guess.] Yes, a lion!)

Pel is a very effective officer, calm, decisive, and confident. In a crisis he knows what to do and how to do it. He rattles off brisk orders that give each officer a task and knits them together into a concerted action. While bemoaning his ill health, he works younger men and women into the ground.

Often he prefers to watch and wait, withstanding bureaucratic, political, and media pressure to act. His steely resolve in such circumstances inspires the members of his team, while he assumes they despise him.

He speaks a passable English. His father insisted that the children, Pel and his two older sisters, learn English on the assumption they would go into the wine business. Though he overflows with all the prejudiced stereotypes about the Les Rosbifs, he sits in a ‘comfort anglais,’ drinks scotch, and savours Yorkshire pudding on occasion. His one effort to prepare Yorkshire pudding bore a passing a resemblance to the Battle of Somme, such destruction did it leave in the kitchen for Madame Routy’s return!

His solitary life is lightened by the interest of the widow Madame Geneviève Faivre-Perret who seems to enjoy his company. Darcy was instrumental in their liaison and occasionally has been known to observe their affair with an bemused smile. While Pel is desperate for Madame, he is also terrified that he cannot afford to marry, to go out to dinner at a good restaurant, to buy a new car, to move house, and he cannot possibly change, much as he would like to do so. He worries himself sick about telling her his whole name!

He tries many things to please her, most of which backfire. He is as tongue-tied and confused as a teenage boy where she is concerned. All of this seems to amuse her still more. His daily resolve to quit smoking takes on an added urgency because he is sure she disapproves, and the fact that she has never said so, that being the final proof! His efforts to quit smoking are many and useless.

Pel has no interest beyond policing and so Darcy speculates on what Pel could find to talk about with Madame Faivre-Perret. By the way, Darcy lets Pel’s frequent bouts of bad temper slide off without reaction, which often infuriates Pel all the more. Pel is indeed irascible.

Pel sometimes dreams of being a Maigret, stolid, implacable, all-knowing, infinitely patient, imperturbable with a Madame Maigret to give him coffee on 3 a.m. call-outs and fill him with delectable home cooking. Ah… He entertains this fiction most often when swaddled in all the wool clothing he has, looking like the Michelin man, standing a midnight watch on a windswept hilltop in a January winter where the temperature is sub-zero and the gale is Siberian, or perhaps Arctic. Worse, the wind makes it impossible to smoke! Another of Darcy’s annoying characteristics is that he does seem to mind the weather — hot or cold, wet or dry — as he waits it out next to Pel.

Back in Burgundy with the irascible Evariste Clovis Desirée Pel, Inspector, Police Judiciaire. There are a score of these titles. He is short, with a few of remaining strands of mousy hair stuck to his bald pate, like sparse seaweed on a rock at ebb tide, chronically addicted to smoking two packs of unfiltered Gauloises a day, morbidly afraid of penury, socially inept, near sighted, a hypochondriac, and bad tempered for these and many other reasons. He takes out his bile on criminals who upset the idyll of Burgundy, from which he never willingly departs.


A dead girl who washed up on the distant Breton shore seems to have come from god’s country, Burgundy, and Pel makes routine inquiries that soon prove to be anything but routine. He reluctantly leaves Burgundy to travel to Breton to be briefed. When there, he felt he was standing at the edge of the world. Beyond Breton, beyond France, there is only blackness. His interview with the local detective, Bihan, is priceless. This Bretonnais is an imaginative type who has speculative backstories for everything and this elaboration drives Pel to his cigarettes and beyond. Eventually the point is made.

Back in Burgundy two teenagers exploring each other and a cave find another unidentified body, long buried there, and Pel has to identify it, too. In time these two strands come together, as readers know they must. The two dead women have something in common, though not what one might think. No spoiler.

These titles are police procedurals and there is much plod, and Pel has a team of officers, now enlarged because he has been promoted to Chief Inspector, which elates him, briefly, before he starts thinking about the greater responsibility, and then realises the promotion does not carry a pay raise, then the gloom and doom takes over. Some of the officers are bright, others are hardworking, and a few are lazy and stupid, and Misset is both, but somehow Pel has to work with them all, despite his recurrent urge to hit detective Misset with anything to hand if only to see if he stirs when struck. Pel is sure that Claudie Darel will one day push him out of his job. She is so smart, and knows how to use computers! He has learned to listen to her interpretations of facts.

Pel is some character. Somehow he has entered into a Faustian bargain with Madame Routy as his housekeeper and cook. He does not remember hiring her but there she is and he cannot fire her, since she seems to come with the house. In Burgundy she is the only person who cannot cook. After serving up indigestible stews each night, she plonks on the sofa and watches television at full volume. Ever the worrier, Pel suppose the vibrations from the telly will destroy his house all too soon, leaving him homeless as well as destitute. Meanwhile, he is sure he has some wasting disease.

Hebden1.jpg Mark Hebden

Into his miserable existence, lightened all too seldom by the chance to bang up a crime, comes the widowed Madame Faivre-Perret, a very successful businesswoman, who seems to have picked him for her next husband, or so Pel fervently hopes when not terrified by the changes marriage would bring to his (dis)ordered existence, and how much it will all cost! Pel is an Olympic worrier. But when he is with her, at lunch, in the cinema, strolling the avenue, he feels ten feet tall and light as air! He even manages not to smoke for periods of ten minutes or more, though she has never said anything, he is sure she disapproves. When he is with her he even smiles! A Pel smile is a rare thing, indeed.

The only other light in his life is the Madame Routy's nephew, Didier, with whom Pel sneaks out of Madame Routy's baleful sphere to have snacks at the bistro rather than eat her sludge. How Pel’s shrivelled little black heart sings when Didier, now a teenager, says he wants to be a policeman, and then Pel starts to worry about all the bad things that can and do happen to flics. Can that man worry!

This is the third instalment in this mile-a-minute series that combines science and ectoplasm. Herr Coroner Dr Martin Gänsewein remains saddled with Pascha, late car thief extraordinaire and murder victim. Of all the cadavers in all the pathology labs in all of the world Martin had the bad luck to slice into this one cadaver, complete with a ghost, who can communicate only with him, and who does, often.

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They are the odd couple to end odd couples. Pascha, phantasm though he be, retains his lowlife interests and four-letter word vocabulary, while Martin is a round-shouldered, mumbling, introverted, shy, rumpled, near-sighted, hyper-conscientious scientist who eats lettuce leaves, flosses between his toes, and does not drink alcohol. ‘He calls that life,’ says Pascha with a snort.

In between solving crimes in the first two books, Martin spends much time, effort, and money in the vain attempt to screen out Pascha. Microwave transmissions disrupt Pascha’s atoms, he discovers, but harnessing those at home proves to be challenging and impossible at work. Having a ghost shouting in his mind has disrupted Martin’s slow and uncertain love-life with Birgit, and the fallout has confused his colleagues and friends. At times Martin oscillates between the hysterical and the comatose, caused as we and he know by Pascha’s hectoring.

Pascha can also interact with the voice recognition software of Martin’s computer which he uses to write an account of his adventures that he submits by email to a publisher, without Martin being the wiser. Pascha’s career as a writer is one theme in this romp. He is delighted to be published but angry that the work is called fiction!

Another theme is the new manager of the Forensic Institute of Cologne who is an MBA, charged to increase efficiency and cut costs to the bone. That he knows nothing of the legal environment in which the Institute works, that he cares nothing at all about pathology, that he knows nothing about preserving police evidence, these facts do not cause him to miss a beat. He simply delegates responsibilities to others while undercutting and undermining them. Ah, corporate life! The key performance indicators click over. At least he is no hypocrite, he does not mouth platitudes about the staff, he simply shafts them, belittles them, and shows open contempt for them. A refreshing honesty in that.

All of that is credible and the author must have worked in a large organisation where she observed this kind of McKinsey-speak management.

In no time at all the new boss, whom one of Martin’s colleagues nicknames Piggy Bank, is renting out the morgue’s facilities to funeral directors, who come and go at all hours of the day and night. Soon enough, things go missing, like the body of a murder victim. In the subsequent search for a scapegoat, Piggy Bank's eyes land on the inoffensive, compliant, and meek Martin. He accepts his fate with resignation, while Pascha is outraged!

Meanwhile, Herr Piggy Bank is completely without scruple or shame. See, I said realistic.

Another of his innovations is to charge the police for consultations with the pathologists. In no time at all Martin has violated Piggy Bank’s many new rules and is dismissed. That frees him to probe more and he does but only because Pascha drives him to it.

Meanwhile, Pascha has stumbled onto the reason for the body snatching, and alerts Martin. It is more complicated than that, of course, because Pascha has fallen in love with Irina, a doctor, and Birgit has laid down the law to Martin about his strange lapses (when Pascha is yelling at him). On top of the that Cologne is hit by a relentless heatwave that makes everyone’s life a misery.

Pascha’s efforts to communicate his feeling to Irina are … extreme. The incorporeal and corporeal just do not mix. As always, his efforts backfire on Martin.

Piggy Bank is a marvellous character, the very model of modern major manager. He is tanned, even in winter we are sure, taut of skin, brisk of manner, clear of eye, devoid of conscience, free of knowledge, completely teflon, seen only when he wants something, totally indifferent to the staff who are only costs, obsequious to his superiors, haughty to underlings, tasseled of shoes, blazer-wearing, and he speaks but key performance indicators, single-mindedly pursuing his own advancement. Sound familiar?

It all comes together, and it all comes out in the wash. The plot is ingenious and kept me guessing until the author produced the rabbit. Then, 'Voila!' It all made sense. Several blue herrings added to the misdirection.

Jutta.jpg Jutta Profijt

Not all the loose ends were tied. When Martin, on Piggy Bank’s orders, refused to talk to police officer Jenny, she storms off to have it out with Piggy Bank, and….. I don’t know.

The self-deprecating joke the book ends with is delicious. Toilet brush indeed!

To coincide with a state visit by Queen Elizabeth II the British Crown jewels go on display in Mumbai. The wing of the museum where this display will sit is specifically built for the purpose to make it thief-proof but attractive for visitors. Any reader can infer the rest.


Detective Inspector Chopra, retired, sworn enemy to all crime, is an early visitor with his wife Poppy. But twenty visitors at a time are admitted to the inner sanctum where the crowns, orbs, tiaras, maces, and the Koh-i-Noor diamond are displayed. By the way, ‘Koh-i-Noor’ means ‘mountain of light.’

As Chopra inclines his head to read the card with one display his gaze travels past a face on the other side of the glass case, one that seems familiar, then the lights go out, both in the room and in Chopra’s head, while in the darkened room a gas immobilised everyone even as loud noises faintly registered on those losing consciousness.

Yes, the Koh-i-Noor diamond was taken, and nothing else, in the raid. The back wall of the room blown in (or was it out?) and the unbreakable glass in the case was broken. How could this happen?

When dusted off, Chopra ponders all of this in the back of his restaurant that caters to police officers (who are enemies of crime, and that criterion excludes quite a few) with Ganesha, his pet elephant. Poppy manages the restaurant and she and Chopra have all but adopted the one armed bus boy Irfan, who in turn dotes on Ganesha. Only Chopra’s mother-in-law remains a blue-bottle fly in the ointment, a very conspicuous one since she runs the front of the house at the restaurant, intimating the hardened officers who arrive and infuriating the chef with her interference.

The response to the embarrassing theft of the crown jewel is to slam-up a scapegoat immediately. The key performance indicator is thus satisfied. Who better than the hapless police officer who was responsible for security, an old comrade-in-arms of Chopra who is drawn into the case.

Chopra's detective agency has prospered for there are many straying husbands to watch and young daughters who may be keeping the wrong company, but while profitable these matters are dead boring, though Ganesha has proven to be an ace at surveillance. He never tires, never blinks, never loses concentration. While Chopra naps in the specially designed baby-elephant transporting van, Ganesha keeps watch and nudges Chopra into consciousness when the target moves. Only in the streets of Mumbai would passers-by not notice an elephant.

To handle the routine cases, Chopra recruits his one-time senior sergeant who has dismissed from the police force by a jealous superior for no reason at all. While the sergeant has no education or training, he knows the streets and people of Mumbai better than anyone else, and his loyalty and dedication are unalloyed. He makes light work of even some tricky cases with Poppy’s help, while Chopra is drawn more deeply into the matter of the crown jewel.

His conversations with the Scots forensic officer that the Brits dispatched post-haste to the scene are amusing examples of culture clash, each lapses in the professional patois and linguistic idioms of their countries to the incomprehension of the other. When the Scot is describing the one-two-three boom of the explosive used, he caps the story with ‘and Bob’s your uncle!’ Chopra's looks around for Bob. Then he hesitates and says he has no uncle Bob. The Scot thinks this might be a snide remark, but …. We should have heard more from this Scot later in the book but we do not.

Instead we get the red-faced, gigantic, humourless Inspector of Scotland Yard who shadows the investigating Indian officer, whom Chopra knows to be as incompetent as he is corrupt. The Yard Inspector seems to accept that Indian officer’s lead in arresting the security manager, i.e., until circumstances, involving an elephant, throw them together and he tells Chopra that the investigating officer is nutter who ought to be in the slammer himself instead of trying to beat a confession out of a fellow officer. They make an odd couple sort of alliance, pool their evidence and suspicions, and cooperate in an elaborate charade that reveals all. It involves a very large cake, but that is only the beginning. No spoiler.

V Khan.jpg Vaseem Khan

The touch is light though some of the material is dark, indeed, and Poppy has her own investigation among the cut-throat world of private high schools. She is ably assisted by the sergeant who has seen through many lies and sees through those told in the hallowed halls of learning.

A krimi set in the world of British soccer. Our principal is Duffy, onetime fourth-string goal keeper and retired police officer. His retirement from the force was involuntary. Ahem. This is the second or third title in a long-running series.

Boot In.jpg

There is quite a bit about the beautiful game, which passed over my head. I liked the ambiguous attitude and behaviour of the owner of the third division team at the centre of the mystery. If the team is relegated, well, he will sell the ground for a commercial development and, perhaps, break up the team. If the team has a few wins and hangs on, well, then he will stick with it long enough to sell it to another punter at a good price. Win-win for him. Not so for the fans whose team may disappear. Not so for the manger who will be blamed for relegation. Not so for most of the players whose fortunes are tied up with this team; there is not a lively market for fourth division players. A few of the better players will get other offers.

Beautiful game.jpg

Some of the players are involved, along with the desperate coach for whom relegation of this team would be the end of his credibility and career in the Old Dart. He is so desperate he hires Duffy and pays him out of his own salary, which amuses both the owner and Duffy.

Duffy, per the back matter, is AC/Dc on sex. But here his battery is flat.

Someone has been nobbling the players. One has his leg broken in a choreographed mugging, while another is set up on a sexual assault charge. Duffy to the rescue. Well, sorta. In the end the leg will heal and the sex charge lapses when the complainant decamps, perhaps, because of Duffy’s pressure, or perhaps because the punter who paid her in the first place lost interest. Like life, it is unclear.

Duffy lives with Carol but that seems to be all. She has access to some police computers and that comes in handy when he can talk her into using that access for his purposes. Not often that.

Trouble is, I found the characters monotonous. They all blended. It seemed like a very long episode of ‘Minder.’ Neither much plot, tension, nor momentum, but some good one-liners.

Kavanagh.jpg Dan Kavanagh

I came across this title on the shelf in the Academic Bookstore across from Stockmann’s in Helsinki, and snapped the cover. Later I said hey presto and got it on the Kindle. I had no wish to carry the paperback around.

A light weight krimi set in Singapore. ‘Light weight’ is the kind of krimi I like. Not too serious, not too violent, not too graphic, and not too demanding on the little grey cells. I will admit of exceptions like Ross Macdonald and Georges Simenon, but they are few.

This is the first in a series focused on Aunty Lee’s home cooking restaurant in the island city-state of Singapore. Madame Lee is a woman of substance but she loves cooking and running her small restaurant for a crew of regulars since it is far off the beaten tracks in Singapore. She also has a long established and island-wide network of cronies and contacts, some of them from her late husband's business empire. The final ingredient is her nose for news, i.e., gossip.

Aunty Lee cover.jpg

The fire is lit when the plastic wrapped dead body of a young woman washes up on one of Sentosa’s beaches. ‘Sentosa' means peace and tranquility and tidal corpses do not fit the tourist board image. Sentosa also generates enormous income from the twenty million visitors a year who go to this Asian values Disney-like land.

Aunty Lee gets along well with her stepson Mark, who is unable to emulate his father’s business success, but not with his insufferable wife, Selina. She was so insufferable in the early pages I thought, applying years of viewing episodes of ‘Midsomer Murders,’ that she would be the first victim. Alas, no. Though she does largely pass out of the story, or my reflexes have improved and I managed to flip the pages upon which she appeared so quickly I did not notice. I did enjoy a smile when she reappeared toward the end, and the villain slipped her knockout drop so that we readers did have to endure more of her endless verbal and sub-verbal tirades. What’s her problem? She is rich, but not rich enough. And never will be.

Madame Lee’s crime-busting irregulars include Nina, her Filipino maid, and Sergeant Salim, a Malay Muslim, in a city of Chinese Christians and a few others as she pursues the Sentosa murderer. When the victim is identified it is someone she knew. Then there is a second…. Also known to Aunty Lee. This is too much! It's personal!

I learned quite a bit about the legal status of guest worker maids in Singapore. Sergeant Salim’s outsider status has advantages and disadvantages, as he well knows, and he is learning to capitalise on the former, and gets a few tips from Aunty Lee about managing the latter. That maid, Nina, has her own network to bring to the table.

There is some to'ing and fro’ing in the miasma that is Singapore. A major plot concerns gay couples, and coupling, in Singapore, where it is ILLEGAL! That seemed an odd foundation for the series, though it is well handled, and by the smoke and mirrors of authorship Sergeant Salim is never directly confronted with this crime.

The villain was not hard to spot for us hardened krimi readers but how he came into contact with the two women and dispatched them was neither convincing nor interesting. It also seems to me that early on we had far too much of the egregious Selina for no other purpose than the relief at her subsequent absence. She played no part in the plot. Yes, I now about the false text message but the egregious Selina was not essential to that.

Ovidia Yu.jpg Ovidia Yu

These quibbles aside, I shall certainly read the second in the series.

In my many business trips to Singapore I never made it to Sentosa. I did walk through the Raffles lobby once and shopped for underwear at the Marks and Spencer, and have since stuck to the M&S house brand via email order. I rode around on the red bus once. Loved the Aladdin’s Cave of the Mustafa Centre, especially before it got all cleaned up. Battle Box in Channing Hill was a grim reminder of the War, as was the replica Changi Chapel. [Moment of silence.]

I had a memorable Thai meal in Singapore in which I made a fool of myself. Long story. Short version: having traveled in Thailand I thought I knew Thai food. Wrong. On all my visits in Thailand the hosts always knew I was coming and all the places I stayed catered, I later realised, for the western palate. The meals in university restaurants and hotels are not the real thing. But place we went in Singapore was! I was hors de combat quick smart.

Siri Paiboun is a retired medical doctor in the Laos of 1970s when it had plunged deep in the red water of communism. During the long struggle to reach that water, Dr Siri was with the patriots in the red alliance, saving many lives in battles with the French, the Americans, the Thais, and the Vietnamese. Many survivors of those wars are grateful to him.

Buddha cover.jpg

In the red dawn, elderly and banged up from his years of hardship in the jungles, Siri became the national coroner. There are many bodies buried throughout Laos and Dr Siri unearths more than one, not all of whom were killed in the line of duty much to the chagrin of great and (not so) good of Vientiane.

This latter career is the spine of this series, now in its eighth title.

The time machine of these pages offers a travelogue to Laos of the 1970s, an impoverished, depopulated, ideologically-driven polity surviving with broken-down Soviet equipment, dealing with American sexual diseases, living off smuggling across the river to Thailand, and coping with the ancient spirits of the land.

The books have the form of a murder mystery which is salted with more and more elements of fantasy as the series has continued.

Dr Siri is a medium for the spirits of Laotian myth and the undead of those killed in the many wars of the land. Not only does he see ghosts now and again, he also negotiates with them.

Ghosts are not part of the Five-Year Plan, the Comrade Doctor is repeatedly told. But what choice does he have, when the ghosts appear. He has to answer before the spirits makes things worse.

There are many caustic comments on the corruption and stupidity of the stultified regime, consisting many of the dregs of the society jumped up to the top without either ability or experience but a manual of communist clichés that fit no occasions. This is no accident because the fraternal very big brother, Vietnam, prefers a crippled and compliant regime on its border.

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During the course of the previous novels, Siri has gathered around him a group of associates. First and foremost is Madam Daeng, an entrepreneur of noodles, Phosy a frustrated police officer, nurse Dtui whose talents exceed the imagination of her formal superiors, and Mr. Geung, the Mongoloid janitor who simplicity cuts through subtrefuge more than once.

That is the inner party. They are also joined from time to time by others like the mad Indian, Ravi, who stands in the river for days at a time, and others who idle around the noodle bar in the hope of alms. Since Siri married Daeng and moved in with her, he has turned his house into a homeless shelter with all manner of residents.

One resident was a Buddhist monk who then disappears after leaving Siri a cyptic message about a new Buddha. Why did he leave and where did he go? To find out, read the book.

Cotterill-x.jpg Colin Cotterill

The early titles in this series had zest and clever plots along with all those colourful characters and travelogue. The eighth entry at hand has neither zest nor wit. The energy level is so-so and the plot … what plot? Whenever a plot thread dissipates, a ghostly spirit steps in and re-sets. Each such episode serves only to allow the author to take some very cheap, Bill Bryson-like shots at any one and every one, from Thai army officers, to monastery abbots, bus drivers, Laotian officials, rice farmers… This adolescent humour at the expense of defenceless others does not long sustain this reader’s interest. It reads like it was grind to write; it is to read.

The overweight, crotchety, curry gobbling, beer swilling, stained necktie wearing, disheveled, immaculate tennis shoe wearing Sikh inspector of police is on the job again. Hooray! This is the seventh title in the series.

Singh cover.jpg

Singh is a Singaporean, though many there deny it, most of all his superiors in the police force, who repeatedly send him on foreign assignments, like the one in this story, to get him our of mind and sight. He is indeed an ambulatory eyesore, a fact that he is quite comfortable with.

Singh goes to London on an exchange program where he is assigned to review community policing! Those who know Singh, know what he thinks of that. Sitting at a desk reviewing case files is not what he does.

The sojourn is made all the more difficult because Mrs. Singh, she of the curries, has come along, too, over his prostrate body for he tripped over her suitcases. Her unnumbered family has many colonies in London which she plans to visit bearing gifts.

While he finds plenty of good curry in London, and that is crucial, he also finds….. While the formal assignment is a report no one will read, he soon becomes aware of a hidden agenda. Someone wants an investigation of one cold case, and preferably done by someone who is not as rule-bound as the Bobbies have to be for fear of offending anyone in a community. For that kind of job Singh is just the man!

In between enormous curry meals that leave him nearly comatose, Singh barges around asking the questions the ever so polite Bobbies dare not ask, least they give offence to some member of the community. It is quickly apparent that many lies have been told and that further piques his interest.

shamini flint.jpg Shamini Flint

The mix of the serious and the comic in these krimis is disconcerting to this reader. Much of this krimi is pretty grim. Not to my taste. But much is jocular and light.

A police procedural set in contemporary Helsinki, where we spent a week in 2016.  


The violin proves to be a dangerous instrument when three young women carrying violins are murdered one after another, the first found at the Sibelius monument.  Been there.  

Sibelius monument.jpg

The police investigation seems to involve only three officers, and they issue no public warning about those nasty violins.  

There are many red herrings, some very satisfying. 

There is also quite a lot about music, particularly Jean Sibelius's music. While it is rather technical, it is informative.

The author tries hard to relate the music to the plot but it does not work for me.

While much of the policing is interesting and engaging, I did find the principal officer, Miranda, very immature. Her hormones are more decisive than her grey matter.

However the profile of the culprit, that part was intellectually interesting.

The victims and their murderers are described in more detail than suits me.

The denouement left me cold. The villain was obvious for a long time to the reader, if not to Miranda. The complication of the religious zealot made little sense to this reader.


The author has other musical titles.

The genre is thriller but not the breathless, cross-cut, cryptic kind that conceals its lack of substance with smoke and mirrors.  

Kolchak Gold.jpg

In this case a historian comes across some undiscovered archival material.  From this premise a mystery and a quest unfold.  It is a reasonable premise since in its many convulsions Russian records have often been boxed up and sent off to the warehouses in the countryside and forgotten, because those who sent them died without time to leave records of the distribution.  In the Kremlin treasury we were told many Tsarist gold bars were found buried in barn a few years ago in unopened boxes, stashed at least since the Civil War, each bearing the double eagle.

The exposition of the revolution, the communist coup d'état, and the Civil War was of especial interest to me as I read it while in Moscow, traversing museums and galleries rich in the detail of that period, having just done the same in St Petersburg.  The factions, divisions, and differences among the White Russians goes a long way to explaining why they lost the Civil War. While they outnumbered and outgunned the Bolsheviks, they could never agree among themselves nor could they compromise with each other. As a result the Bolsheviks picked them off one-by-one.

The abdication of Nicholas II, accession of his younger brother Michael for one day and his replacement by Prince Lvov, then the liberal Alexander Kerensky, the ill fated Duma election that favoured the liberals and not the communists, the effort to continue the war which failed, and the coup at 2:10 a.m. in the White Dining room, which we visited where the clock stopped at that time.  

IMG_3152.jpg My snap of the White Dining Room.

IMG_3151.jpg The clock stopped at the time the door burst open.

The Romanov dynasty came full circle starting and ending with a Tsar Michael.

But the story is crowded and chops back-and-forth in time and place from those who stashed the gold, the Nazi effort to retrieve it, and our hero's effort to track it down plus far too much of his back story, boring as usual.  

Garfield.jpg Brian Garfield

We do get rather too much of our hero's many other publications, offered no doubt to credential him.  While his description of the Israeli femme fatale is nicely done, it does go on and on. It was clear to this reader from the beginning that she was a honey trap but the protagonist was much slower to realise that it was not his lengthy cv or other charms alone that kept her coming back for more. Oh hum. There is one born every minute, per the sage.

Another intricate krimi from this master, Ross Macdonald, he of California sunshine noir.

This is Macdonald's take on the generation gap of the 1960s. Young Davy and even younger Sandy seem bound for mutually assured self-destruction while taking a few others with them.

Instant enemy.jpg

Sebastian, Sandy's father calls in Lew Archer to find them and return Sandy home. While Sebastian offers a good front, it does not take Archer long to realise there is no back to this front. Sebastian failed to make the transition from a promising young businessman to a successful one. Behind the trophy wife, model home, and new car Archer finds a loveless marriage, a silent house, and many unpaid bills, while Sebastian dances attendance on his wealthy boss, Stephen Hackett, in the hope of....something.

Then Hackett is kidnapped at gunpoint by none other than the two teenagers, Davy and Sandy. Unbelievable but true. Why?

It is a tangled skein and by the end I needed a genealogical chart because this one spans three generations. It is a cocktail of Macdonald's themes, an unloved child, a misused child, illicit drugs, denied kinship, a surly subordinate, a very nice woman who knows too much, a venal older woman with a toy boy husband, and assorted police officers including a bent one.

The body count reaches Midsomer proportions while Archer develops. applies, tests, and rejects alternative hypotheses until at last one fits.

While the principle cast seems to consist of disparate people with nothing in common, in fact, on that family tree, they are entwined by marriage and murder, the latter seeming to be the stronger bond.

In addition to the rebels with a cause in the teenagers, Macdonald also adds some Cain and Abel. And as frequently the case in his novels, there is a black widow who has consumed two husbands.

Against the array of vipers and the lost teenagers, Archer meets some very solid citizens. Alma in the nursing home, a school guidance counsellor who goes beyond the call of duty, a security guard who keeps his word come what may, many others who lend a land, like truck driver who finds Archer on the highway, Al at the sandwich bar, and gas pump jockey with a caliber on his leg, each of whom reminds the reader of all the decent people out there.

The imagery at times transcends the story as when Archer admits to himself that he likes the work, late at night, driving from one place to another like an antigen connecting cells in the great body of Southern California.

This title reads like short stories woven together, one of which concerns the Trans-Siberian Express. Only half-way through the book does our protagonist get on the train.  The details of the train and Siberia read like excerpts from Wikipedia.  


Though it is presented as a police procedural with the three teams of detectives working separate cases, pace Ed McBain's 87th precinct, the ominous villain on the train and the plot that leads to the train is more of the thriller.   Credulity replaces credibility.

The three stories are told back to front in alternative chunks of prose, which this reader finds confusing and distracting.  

Though Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov is the central, continuing character in this series, endowed with an artificial leg to give him some distinction, I found him to be hallow.  Tap, tap there is nothing inside.  He is very polite, very patient, very clever....  he has a family....  our hero is motivated by justice but the boss is ambitious for political power and is more interested in accumulating files on those he can manipulate than banging up crims. So far, so carbon copy.

The three cases.
1. The subway stabber who is a nutter of no interest. This one is a procedural.  Much plod and a trap that almost backfires.  
2. The mysterious object on the train which turns out to be very little as far as I could tell. The thriller.
3. The kidnapping of the heavy metal musician whose kidnapping was arranged by his father to teach the prick a lesson. I identified with the father on this one.

IMG_3564.jpg The Trans-Siberian railroad in October 2016 when we crossed it.

This is one of dozens of titles by this author, and to this reader it has the same narrative structure of the one other one of his I tried to read.  All done by the numbers.  Yet the cover proclaims it to be a best seller and it was published by a reputable firm. Go figure.

Kaminsky.jpg Stuart Kaminsky

There are some soppy comments on the blanket of white snow in Moscow. Anyone who have lived in a big city will realise snow is usually grey like the sky until it turns brown from the pollution and churned up by cars and pedistrians into brown sludge.   There is nothing nice about it after thirty-six hours.

An exotic setting for this krimi in the heart of Africa. It opens in a tourist camp at the Okavango Delta, at the confluence of the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers where Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana meet with Angola not far away.

okavango-delaa.jpg The red dots are tourist camps on higher and drier ground.

The nearest town, for those consulting a map, is Kasane near Victoria Falls. The waters are replete with crocodiles, water snakes, and hippopotami.

Delta boat.jpg 'Don't fed the crocs. Keep your hands and feet in the boat!'

There are many descriptions of sunsets and sunrises in workman-like prose. Our hero is Detective David Bengu, known as Kubu because of his resemblance of his manly figure to a hippopotamus.

It is a small tourist camp; one that is decidedly downmarket: Basic, no luxuries to attract high-paying guests. It represents the inheritance of the owner, and it is run by Dupie who has spent his life in the bush. The area is a swamp more than anything else and boats are essential and even more essential is someone who knows how to handle them in the rivers, the current with those crocodiles and hippos have to be avoided.

The dozen or so guests are a combination of Europeans and Africans, white and black, local and foreign. That is the norm in these camps, we are given to understand.

The abnormal is that one of the guests, an African black name Goodluck Tinubu, according to his driver’s license, is found dead in his tent one morning. He was very clearly murdered, his throat cut. The local plod from Kasane arrives and deploys the usual conventions of the police procedural.

No sooner do the police investigate the camp staff and the remaining guests than another of them is found dead, with his head smashed by our old friend, blunt instrument. Two murderers in quick succession within a few meters of each other is too much for the local plod and a call goes to distant Gaborone for help. The Number One Detective Agency is not available so our protagonist takes the case.

It gets worse when fingerprint identification shows that the the titular first victim died thirty years earlier during the Rhodesian War! This is his second death.

The conventions then go into overdrive. We learn Kubu’s backstory, his likes and dislikes, his capacity for beer, his vexed relationship with his boss, his family life… His constant preoccupation with food and drink to the exclusion of much else. In a word, boring. The only part of this backstory that I found amusing was the report of the schoolboy experiences with the game of cricket, and even that was a distracting digression.

Much more interesting are the legalities, political niceties, and social morēs of that part of the world. Though it is far away, South Africa looms large. While the Rhodesians War ended thirty years before, its baleful influence remains palpable. Many of the people we meet in the story were displaced first by the war or then later by the malignant regime that now rules, one set of chains having replaced another. Underlying all that recent history, the ancient tribal differences remain the bedrock of relations among the locals.

The camp is not owned but rather is a concession, one about to expire. The owner of the concession is not at sure she wants to retain it, and even if she did, she is not sure she has the means to do so.

Each of the guests is limned, revealing that each has a story related to this part of the world. The wars for independence and civil wars there left scars, physical and psychic on both the participants and their progeny. And no krimi is complete today without a reference to the drug trade with vast amounts of money that entrails.

The detail of the camp, the tourist trade, the relationship among the actors are all very well done. There is also some insights into the plight of Zimbabwe that remain with the reader. I would prefer much more of that and much less of Kubu's diet.

The authors are a pair, who seem to work together seamlessly. Well done!
Stanleys.jpg Michael Sears and Stanley Trollop

This is the second title in the series. In the way that publishers have of confusing the international market, this book has another title in the United States, ‘A Deadly Trade.’ A reference, no doubt, to alert readers to the drug trade. Strikes the sledge hammer of subtlety again.

I see there is a third and I will get to it one day. I find the exotic setting very interesting but Kubu himself is a bore. He is always far more interested in himself than anything else.

A charming krimi from Mumbai in India, full of colour and movement like the city itself. Inspector Ashwin Chopra has been forced to retire at fifty because of a heart attack.  The upright Chopra has long tried single-handedly to rid India of crime and corruption. He is a man with a mission who has been side-lined! But for how long?  

Ganesh cover.jpg

Coincidentally, Copra's much loved uncle, a father figure, leaves him....a very young elephant!  Huh?  Chopra lives in a gated community on the fifteenth floor of a modern condominium.  While there is plenty of storage in the basement, there is no room for an elephant, large or small, young or old.  Still Copra must accept the elephant, Ganesha, named for the god, out of respect for his departed uncle.  

Poppy, Chopra's wife, is taken aback, nonplused, and...., but before she can lay down the law, the egregious Mrs Supramanium, a neighbour, barges in and demands removal of 'that creature!'  

That’s it!  Under no circumstances will Poppy concur or agree with 'that woman!' The elephant stays!  He is tethered in the courtyard, minded by the doorman as a temporary measure.

However, the elephant is depressed, head down, wobbly on his feet, saggy tail, trunk deflated, and — worst of all — will not eat. Chopra does not know what do, so he buys books and consults a zoo keeper and later a one-time circus trainer. Strangely, he does not turn to Dr Google. 

Of course, the book-writing scholars disagree with each other since that is how careers are made, leaving him little wiser. These books by scientists are desiccated and abrupt without any practical information for the urban elephant owner. But he also finds a memoir by an Anglo-Indian woman who reared an elephant, more or less as a pet, and it does inform him on some practical points. That is a start. More importantly, it heartens him to make the effort.

Then there is the uncle's letter entrusting the elephant to Chopra, which in part said 'This is no ordinary elephant.'  Uncle was not one for exaggeration or superfluous remarks.  Thus Chopra proceeds with care.

Into the mix comes a crime that Chopra, retired or not, cannot ignore.  An innocent young boy has been murdered and no one cares, least of all the police at his old nick now with a new supervisor. In addition, a one-time nemesis reappears.  The thread unwinds with some of the usual twist and turns, but then there is the elephant in the room. Literally in one instance.

While walking Ganesha to a veterinarian for yet another consultation, Chopra sees a lowlife who used to consort with the nemesis and the old impulses take over; off he goes on the trail with Ganesha in tow!  Into the colossal glass-and-steel Mall of India he goes, brushing past security guards who suppose no elephants are allowed.  Too little, too late are their efforts to impede entry. Then there is the escalator ride!  What a tribute to German engineering. What a show for the shoppers!

A Cadbury chocolate bar gives Ganesha a powerful incentive to lumber along.  When obstructed, Chopra declares Ganesha a police elephant.  Police dog. Police elephant.  Out of the way!

Ganesha lives up to the appellation more than once. In turn when the monsoon hits, Chopra rescues the tethered Ganesha from a torrent.  They have bonded.

Along the way there is much elephant lore.  Meanwhile, Poppy thwarts Mrs Supramanium, while coping with her crotchety mother who is not keen on either the elephant or the husband.

V_Khan.jpg Vaseem Khan

Quite a trip and also a fine arrival, leading to the next title in the series. Loved it.

At least some researchers into African elephants, much larger than Indian ones, have declared them free of Machiavellianism. All will be explained upon request.

Now that Bernie has moved to centre stage, this long running series has changed somewhat. In this outing, her husband Jim Chee goes to Monument Valley, while she minds the store in New Mexico. Whoopee! Monument Valley! A place like no other.

Rock wings.jpg

That made it must-reading for me, and indeed Hillerman does well in conjuring up that marvellous, unique, in this telling — mysterious, and, when the sun goes down, frightening place. The indian cosmology of those rocks added depth and complexity to the other-worldly visuals. The monuments were left behind by the creator gods to show the Navajo that they are not alone in the cosmos.

Mounment Valley Ford.jpg Ford Point in the foreground where the horse is. I have stood right there and looked for the stagecoach with John Wayne in it.

Jim meets several tourists and they are well drawn, the lost and exhausted Germans, the thrilled Norwegians, the awe stuck New Englanders. As always in Monument Valley, there is a film crew, whose producer has no interest in film and that explains a lot about movies these days. Although the resolution seemed too complicated.

I wondered in vain why the automatic assumption was that the grave was not real. No one moved one handful of sand to find out what lay beneath, if anything.

All the bases are touched from Elephant Feet, the Mittens, Standing Rock, Balance, Gould’s Trading Post, ‘Stage Coach,’ Ford Point… and each time I shouted out I’ve been there!

Ship rock NM.jpg Ship Rock in New Mexico near where Bernie and Joe live and work.

The mad Greenie was a nice touch. Anything to install those solar panels!

The explanation of the dirt boxes was weak after all the build-up. Though I liked the change of heart of the driver.

anne_fogelberg.jpg Anne Hillerman

Bernie spends far too much time worrying, worrying about her frail and elderly mother, her wayward sister, and then meta-worrying about whether she is worrying too much or too little. Worry. Worry. Worry. Boring! There are pages and pages of it. She then turns to worrying about the absent Jim. Much worrying followed by meta-worrying. Is this Chick Lit? I don’t know, sheltered as I am from the genre. Does that makes this a cross over, Krimi-Chick Lit or Chick-Krimi Lit? Or is it Worry-lit?

Paul Johnston devised and wrote a krimi series set in a near-future Edinburgh, after the United Kingdom disintegrated into warring city-states following a singular concatenation of disasters, fiscal, climatic, and social. They ran out of money, the drugs and their lords took over, and climate change came with a vengeance. Ripped from today’s headlines, the cliché-writing publicist would say.

Water Johnston.jpg

Not quite, because Johnston added a delightful twist. The independent, impoverished people of Edinburgh turned to the ages for salvation. Huh?

They established a Platonic society, ruled by philosopher-monarchs whose directives are executed by guardians, who in turn are aided by auxiliaries. There on the rock, in Edinburgh Castle, the philosophers meet and decree.


In the first generation they were idealists suckled on the book, ‘The Republic,’ but as new members joined and founders died, pragmatism became the order of the day. The reality combines Platonic forms with KGB surveillance.

The books are, however, not expositions of Plato, nor critiques, but rather krimis. The exposition comes out as parts of it are relevant to the narrative at hand.

The protagonist is Quintiliian Dalrymple, a demoted auxiliary, who is called in when needed as an investigator since he combines the training of an auxiliary with the freedom of a citizen, i.e., he does not wear a uniform that frightens other citizens. He has been needed eight times. I have read them all, and this is the last in my reading though not chronologically last. I missed it earlier. Demoted? Read on.

Edinburgh ekes out a living by selling gambling, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution to wealthy visiting Arabs and Asians. They seem to love those red heads. These treats are denied the locals but dished up to the the foreigners who come and pay.

Of course, no Scot can be denied whiskey so they have their version, but not the good stuff reserved for those who pay with hard currency rather than with worthless philosophical scrip. Yes, of course, there is black market. Among the Edinburghers sex is done on a rota as though physical exercise. The men and women live in barracks's and have barracks names and numbers, not names. There is neither privacy nor intimacy. All of this is to reduce egotism, the intrusion of private family, and so on…..

Then some fiend puts poison in a tourist whisky bottle, which is stolen and drunk by a citizen, or so it seems. That is bad enough for morale, but if a tourist dies, Edinburgh will, too. When all else fails, Quint is called in to prevent such a catastrophe.

The unique set-up is spoiled by Quint’s constant churlishness, I am afraid. He has to make a smart-ass comment every time, on everything, and to everyone. Where does he get the energy from on the 2000 calories-a-day diet? His auditors in turn have to frown and scold him each time. He is adolescent in his desire to shock and offend as though he were a schoolboy. If this by-play, let us call it that, were cut from this title, it would reduce the book a lot. Really, Quint. Grow up! Quint also spends a lot of the reader’s time worrying about his sex life. That can be diverting in some writers but here it is a mantra repeated for its own sake, again, and again, to pad out the pages.

There is no compensation in the plot, which veers from one pillar to another post without much rhyme or reason, except insofar as it allows Quint to fire off more from his endless supply of bon(ring) mots.

The labor in maintaining a series must be very difficult and it shows in this book, where everything is laboured, laboured again, and then laboured once more anew. That it is a hot summer is said a hundred times. if it is said once. Got it.

The larger point is that Enlightenment (that is how the regime characterises itself) Edinburgh is as destitute as say Seoul in 1949. Point taken, but I doubt that anyone living in those dire circumstances spends as much time as Quint does whining about it. It takes all their time and energy to struggle on in such poverty. Somehow Quint has the luxury to take the time and energy constantly to complain, carp, and criticise. That it the writer’s conceit.

Johnston mug.jpg

I see that there is another one out this year. Maybe, maybe not.

This krimi could serve as an object lesson in a workshop on plotting a crime novel. Every word, every gesture, every line of dialogue, every character plays into the plot in the end.

Galton cover.jpg

I grew restive at some of the to-ing and fro-ing and dialogue, only to realise later that it all added up. It is such jewell that Jacques Barzun can only say of it ‘One of the best Lew Archer stories.’ Yes it is and that is saying a lot.

It combines the ingredients to be found in most of his krimis. A wayward child of privilege, an emotional void, a lonely woman who clutches at a phantom, an unbalanced beauty, a too-good to be true husband, an impulsive doctor, along with some lowlifes from Lost Wages and some small town cops trying to do right with meagre resources.

Is the beautiful wife really unbalanced? Does the other lonely woman sense something beyond the paperwork? Is the husband long-suffering or something else? Read the book to find out.

There are also some scenes in Mcdonald’s native Canada, in Ontario, as Archer digs deep into the past of the missing man and the found boy. (It makes sense in the story.)

The problem with reading about Archer is that it sets an impossible standard for any other writers. Not only are the plots perfect, but the prose is crystalline.

Albeit there were some false notes, as when Archer plays the smart-aleck with the local plod on first-meeting. It is out of character for the Lew Archer I have known all these years, and it seems contrived. Was McDonald experimenting?

Newman as Archer.jpg

Pretty Boy Paul Newman played Archer in two films, but as per Hollywood logic the name was changed to Lew Harper to follow Newman's 'H' movies, Hud and Hombre. Thus ensuring few Mcdonald readers saw it. First invest money in buying the property and then dilute it. No doubt the executive who did that gave himself a big bonus. Genius.

The Newman films were about ten years apart: 'The Moving Target' and 'The Drowning Pool.' Each is fine with some superb performances from the whole cast.

An innovative novel that has mystery in it. An oddball nicknamed Shadow is released from prison and bumps into a strange man who offers him a job as a gofer; with no other prospects Shadow agrees, and slowly finds the man even odder than he first thought.

Gods cover.jpg

The genre is mixed, combing fantasy, krimi, satire, mystery, and horror, to paraphrase one of the many laudatory reviews. Others describe it as masterpiece of innovative fiction. Ho hum. It seems to have been written for jaded reviewers and awards panel members, not for readers in search of diversion, enlightenment, engagement, and pleasure. It is indeed very well written and the author is a story teller at heart. that much is clear.

To this reader it suffers from the complaint of much self-consciously modern, genre-bending literature in that it tries too hard to be different. We have multiple perspectives, most of which are unreliable, combined with non sequitur narrative lines that fizzle out, intercut with stories from times past with no discernible connection to the foreground story of Shadow.

Spoiler alert. The thesis is that the gods are among us, and that is cleverly done. There is rough division between the old gods and the new gods. The old ones are two kinds: native, e.g., Indian, and immigrant. The waves of immigrants to North America in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries brought their gods with them in their minds and hearts - which vivify the gods. But life and times changed for the Indians and for immigrants and the Old Gods have worn down, no longer worshipped, no longer the object of sacrifice, no longer venerated, or embodied in effigies as tokens, no longer…. Without worship and offerings, the powers of the Old Gods diminish. Now these gods are reduced to driving taxi cabs (for generations) in one case), repairing refrigerators, living in self-imposed exile isolated in the north woods for near eternity. Yet most of them still hold on and out. Though some want to make the best of their reduced circumstances and have no wish to reclaim their former powers, others cannot endure a forever of cab driving or repairing refrigerators and propose a war with the new gods. Clever that.

Rising are the new gods, and this is the satire. They are media, represented by the Barbie Doll who reads the weather on every local television channel in the world. This one struck a chord of recognition in me. Another new god to be placated is television and the scenes involving ‘I Love Lucy’ gave me a cackle. If only!

The New Gods are moving decisively to eradicate the Old Gods, who have squabbled among themselves for centuries, and now find it hard to put aside these old enmities to pull together in defence. Shadow is drawn into this no (hu)man’s land between these two forces, and his gradual realisation of it, reaction to it, and acceptance of it, are very well handled. All in all, this clash of the gods makes as much sense as reality does, and this is before Trump Donald became president.

The end of the final negotiations between the old gods and the upstart new gods occur in a place I know well: the geographic centre of the continental forty-eight states. And where is that class?

Lebanon, Kansas.

It is very well described in these pages on a wintery night, long after the tourist season has finished, in a dilapidated motel nearby with swirling wind coming off the Great Plans carrying the scent of petrichor combined with the portent of much worse to come. It is brooding, and though vast, somehow confined. The author really makes it seem more like a gothic haunted house rather than the wide open and flat space of northern Kansas.

Reader, 'petrichor?' Look it up (in a big dictionary).

I know Lebanon KS from several visits and because it loomed large in my adolescent cosmology because it is only a few miles dues south of Hastings near the Platte.

The Old Gods are Norse, and mythological like an embodiment of Easter (but not Santa Claus).

The mix is too rich. Many story lines are started and few are finished. I grew weary of thumbing pages on the Kindle when the digressions set it. No doubt my loss but I like following a path, not stumbling through the underbrush in a zig-zags. This sort of reading reminds of defences against U-Boats, treating the reader as an adversary to be fooled, tricked, and deluded: Modernism is thy name.

In my reading, albeit incomplete and superficial, there is no divinity from the great religions, like Jesus, Allah, Buddha, or such. And no reference to Shinto.

There are however long sections on coin tricks, which Shadow learnt in prison to pass the time. Perhaps the emphasis on this skill is explained somewhere later but my Kindle flipping speed passed it by.

Gaiman.jpg Neil Gaiman

Talking to a friend a few weeks ago, he said he had read and liked it. It seemed an odd choice for him and later when thinking about starting another book, I turned on the Kindle and decided to try it as a change of pace. Not to my taste.

The further adventures of Ruso, medical officer late of the 20th Legion, and his British wife Tilla, and their adopted daughter Mara.

Vita brevis.jpg

A turn of fortune brought them to the capital of the world, Rome. Tilla resisted leaving Britannia, but needs must and off they went.

She found Rome even more awful than she expected and her expectations were very bad. For his part, once there, Ruso cannot quite remember why it seemed a good idea to go to Rome. Tilla heroically resists saying ‘I told you so’ for as long as she can. Not long that.

Ancient rome.jpg

The disorder, noise, smells, expense, rudeness, violence, are just some of the vita Romana. Little has changed since then, to be sure.

The patron who sponsored their migration, luring Ruso away from his army sinecure, where he had long since worn out his welcome, is likewise not sure now that it was a good idea. There seems to be nothing for Ruso to do, and Rome is full of doctors, snake-oil salesmen and, for that matter, saleswomen, faith healers.

However when Doctor Kleitos is called away to the country, Ruso is nominated by his patron as the locum. Excellent, thinks Ruso, because the quarters will get them out of the overpriced hovel they are renting and the surgery will generate some sesterices.

Odd though that Kleitos seems to have taken everything not bolted down, tables, chairs, crockery, and all his medical records for a temporary leave. Even odder that a dead body is delivered to the front door in barrel.

Thus does the plot thicken.

Ruso is so wonderfully vague and easily distracted, so painfully well meaning and imperceptive, technically adept at medicine and foolishly brave that he charms the reader. TIlla is so determined, impetuous, and resourceful it makes the reader wonder how the Romans ever conquered her tribe.

She sings Mara to sleep with British songs of triumph, while Ruso worries about the dosh he does not have, and puzzles over the fool’s errands his patron dishes up. What is going on? Then there is that dead body….. It has nothing to do with them but it has put a curse on the medical practice, compromised the patron, and generally gummed up the works. Like it or not, they are going to have to figure it out.

Apart from the historical setting the most amusing elements in these novels is the by-play between Ruso and Tilla, man and wife. At one point, amid the confusion, she agrees with him, calls him wise, and meekly defers to him on some point. He puffs up and as he leaves, he starts wondering if she is ill. What else could explain this submission.

Ruso has his own moments. When an accident causes injuries on a building site there is the competent legion doctor performing triage, applying tourniquets, snapping dislocated bones back into place while the dust is still flying. When quiet returns so does the self-doubt, regret, and weakness that dog his steps.

Tilla may be small and foreign, but she has learned to survive, as some heavies come to extort money discover to their regret. As she seems to drop to her knees to beg mercy, she is achieves the angle of attack!

ruthdownie-2014-cropped1.jpg Ruth Downie

This is the latest in a long running series. The learning is worn lightly but there is a mountain of historical research in each book that is made intelligible to the reader. It must difficult to maintain the momentum and to reiterate the freshness and vitality of the two principals each time, but so far, so excellent.

The author starts with a blank screen and the silent expectations of readers. The days and months pass and finally there is a plot, a story, and a manuscript. Then the real work begins of whacking it into a novel.

After all that work, one reviewer on Good Reads has this to say:
‘A non-offensive and not super engaging story about the Medicus and his family in Rome. It was a fine time passing book, but not one I would recommend.’

I would give that remark one star (*) and say it is lazy, inept, and self-indulgent. To sum it up in English: ‘An inoffensive story that did not engage my attention but I did read it.’ This reader’s recommendation is something I can live without.

This is the first title in series 'The Misadventures of the Laundry Hag.’

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Maggie Phillips, a Georgia peach transplanted to Taxachusetts, is a domestic engineer to her retired Navy-man husband and two growing boys. Neal, the Husband was a SEAL, and knows a thing or two. He works IT three twelve hours shifts a week, leaving him plenty of time to pitch in when Maggie needs help.

Boredom with the duties of domestic engineer and the need for more cash than the navy pension provides, these together lead Maggie into business of house cleaning for the rich and fatuous around Boston. There she finds a closet…..

They moved to Boston because Neal’s parents practice law there: His father with patrician indifference and his mother with furious determination. When these two invite themselves, and their own guests, to Thanksgiving dinner with Neal and Maggie, the pressure cooker goes on. The parental guests are important clients of the mother-in-law and she demands that all be perfect. The father-in-law just likes to watch the mayhem.

It is a nice set up and despite the context, mercifully free of catalogue descriptions of all clothes and furnishings except where they figure in the plot or distinguish a character. There is plenty of repartee, and some of it is clever.

Hart mug shot.jpg Jennifer Hart

Maybe the mix is too rich with the wayward brother bobbing up and the boys; schoolwork. Yes, life is like that but fiction needs focus.

I listened to it in an Audible production. The accents sounded authentic to me.

Another entry in this long-running series. Gordianus is caught up the revolt of Mithridates VI of Pontus against the Romans in Anatolia.


His one-time tutor Antipater is in trouble in Ephesus and Gordinaus betakes himself to find out the situation.

But Mithridates has just driven the Romans off the mainland of Asia Minor and occupied Ephesus in triumph, and is secretly preparing for his really big barbecue. [Anyone who knows the history, knows what is coming, and those who are ignorant can remain that way.]

Goridnus hatches a hare-brained scheme to enter Ephesus disguised as a Greek and rescue Antipater. The whole scheme turns on Gordianus keeping his mouth shut, since his Latin accent says R - O - M - A - N! And all Romans are persona non grata in Anatolia. Gordianus is usually a motor-mouth, and will most assuredly blurt out something, sooner or later.

Even before he gets there the plan unravels. It seems just about everyone he meets en route from Alexandria, to Rhodes, to Ephesus knows his plan. In short order, he is suborned into acting as a Roman spy.

Meanwhile, he worries about his ailing old dad back home in Rome, which is embarking on another round of elite circulation via murder and mayhem in a civil war. Elections might not be cheaper but they are marginally less destructive.

The to’ing and fro’ing in the eastern Mediterranean from Alexandria to Rhodes to Ephesus is amusing, but Gordianus is just too serious for me. Worry, worry, worry, he is always worrying and in the brief moments when he is not worrying, he is lusting after his wife to be, Betheseda. He is not the life of the party is Gordianus. There is always a dark cloud over his head. He takes himself and everything about him far too seriously. I pined for Decius when I read these. Where is that wastrel with a bad word for everyone? (He is the protagonist in John Maddox Roberts’s SPQR series.)

This entry in the series seems laboured, a short-story bulked up with long passages from Antipater that do not advance the plot, deepen characterization, or lend much colour, though they show the author’s ingenuity to be sure.

saylorSteven_0.jpg Steve Saylor

And the denouement with the Furies is likewise ingenious. The Furies are a bad crew with plenty of wrath to go around.

We spent a day in Ephesus in 2016 and so I had to read this title.

Eff-1.jpg The library.

Eff-3.jpg The sacred way.

Eff-4.jpg The amphitheatre.

Ephesus is a remarkable site for the preservation of so much of an ancient city on such a grand scale. Sooner or later some mad men will no doubt blow it up to prove their manhood to….themselves, since no one else cares.

A rollicking krimi with a pair of mismatched buddies, one an extroverted sleek lowlife car-thief with a four letter-word vocabulary and the other an introverted roly-poly PhD scientist in Cologne Germany.

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Pascha is a rev head who loves cars, and stealing them is great fun, the more so getting paid to do so. Then one night after stealing a particularly desirable rocket car, on order from the Russian mafia, he finds in it…. Something he should not have.

He pays for his discovery and that brings him into contact with Martin, the super nerd. Their efforts to communicate and, reluctantly, to cooperate are a hoot. One is street wise to the Nth degree and the other equally book wise.

With false starts, snits, and pouts they slowly combine to find a killer, and find both more and less than they bargained for. Along the way they come to respect the assets each brings to the mission. The setting of Cologne, that cathedral city in Germany, offers much to'ing and fro'ing around town. There is some travelogue as each shows the other his haunts.

It is hard to say more without a very large spoiler.

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This is the first in a series and I hope the author can keep up the joie de vie.

A gritty tale of unrequited love(s), madness, and sacrifice from the stylist of noir krimis. Raymond Chandler had a ear for dialogue, while Ross Macdonald has a jeweller's eye for descriptive metaphors and images.  Lewis Archer is his avatar. 

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While the novels obey all the conventions of the genre in its time and place, it also turns them inside out.  The PI's boredom counting flies on his office windrow is interrupted by a femine fatale, as required, but this one, despite the diamonds and furs is barely a femme at all.  A very mannish woman is she.  Archer's emphasis on her lack of feminine qualities is partly the everyday sexism of the era but it also turns out to be a pivot in the plot.  

As always with Macdonald, everything from the color of the sunset to the hats impart texture, reveal character, and unwind the plot. Nothing is ever wasted in his novels.

This is a triangle of three families, locked together by one of the offspring. Bess is literal when she says she loved him to death.  Lucy, the loyal nurse, sees more than she ought and cannot get out of the vortex. That manly woman is normal compared to her brother, who has a gun.  Assorted other lowlifes pass by, but the worst of the lot is the quiet suburban doctor.  

LA map.png Archer country

There are some innocent bystanders along the way, Alex the love-sick boy who pines for nurse Lucy and the love-sick girl Sylvia, who pines for playboy Carl, and who becomes in a convolution of the plot Archer's client.

I still have the paperback copy of this I read In the 1970s but I re-read it on the Kindle.  I turned to it to find something to read after a series of misfires with annoying, self-indulgent, padded, and pointless krimis.  If only Jane Austen knew what she had spawned when she told would-be writers to to write about what they know. Far too many only know the IKEA catalogue. Why continue the search for quality when I know right where it is.  

Sometimes Macdonald's metaphors and images come so thick and fast that they create a traffic jam in the reader. Sometimes the psychologizing gets in the way of the momentum of the story. But these are the prices of admission.

Archer is named for Sam Spade's deceased partner, Miles Archer, who believed in fifty dollar bills.  

Macdonald's krimis are hard boiled in that they are unsparing In word and deed. The villains are villainous with little of no veneer.  Often the mystery is less who dun it than why dun it.  That is the psychological depth that distinguish his works.  

Ross Macdonald.jpg Ross Macdonald, who spelled his name with a lower case 'd' though the spellchecker disagrees.

This one is the fourth of eighteen Archer novels over a thirty year period.  

At least one of his krimis had a rave review on the front page of the ‘New York Times.’ The book was 'The Underground Man' in 1971 and the reviewer was that southern novelist of note Eudora Welty.  

Yet none of his novels was ever awarded a paramount krimi prize like the Edgar.  Figure that out, Mortimer.  

Had I to pick one, it would be 'The Blue Hammer' in 1976, his last completed novel. I recall still how eager I was to get it and to read it, taking it with me when I went jogging to read a few pages while catching my breadth.  

A mature work. in it he is not trying so hard to crowd in metaphors and there is less speculative psychologizing by Archer, while retaining the descriptive richness, the psychological depth, the ambiguity of motivations, and the equilibrium of the moral balance.  In his books, unlike life, the world bends towards justice of a kind.

Perhaps Macdonald wrote one book eighteen times, as has been said, the same story of twisted love, divided loyalties, wayward offspring, mental imbalance, irresponsible parents, each magnified by a the glare of money in the prism of California sunshine that blinded the individuals to their own deeds.  

By volume eighteen the biggest mystery is Lewis Archer himself about whom the reader learns almost nothing.  He is a lens that reveals the story of those around him.  By his actions we can see he is an inveterate loner, but one who warms readily to some women he meets for their physical and intellectual charms and vulnerability; he is dogged, and hard working.  He wears a hat which he sometimes takes off. In one story we note he drives a light blue car, in contrast to his dark blue mood. At least he has a name, unlike Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op.

There is less about Archer in the eighteen titles than there is about Philip Marlowe in one of Chandler's books.  Archer has no backstory. The reader is not manipulated into feeling sorry for him.  Why should I, he certainly does not feel sorry for himself.

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Archer reports on the dirt under the carpet of the American Dream in the golden sunshine of Southern California, and it is very dirty.  Yet he meets honest people whom he likes, and some he even admires.  Say in contrast to the BBC's Christopher Foyle whose world is populated entirely by liars, cheats, and murderers, often dressed in gold braid with aristocratic titles and important government jobs, Foyle's is a world without hope, but Archer's world has hope, and that is what keeps him going.

The title alone was irresistible, and my resistance is futile, quite often.

Strange cover.jpg

It opens with the destruction of Earth and then it gets worse!

Fortunately, Earth had an All-Catastrophe policy, no exemptions and no deductible, with Stranger and Stranger Insurance, and Tom Stranger appeared in time to put things right, dragging in his wake one very reluctant intern. (President John Wayne took out the policy and arranged for eternal payment of the premiums.)

Tom offers the best customer service in the universe, and he means that literally. Anything less than a ten our of ten is failure, and Tom does not fail, not even when confronted with dinosaurs sporting Nazi insignia. (Part of a Trump delegation.)

The intern thought a six-month stint in insurance would be, like you know, easy. As a Gender Studies major he had not actually bothered to read any of the print, fine or actually otherwise, but, like, was waiting for the movie, actually, like, so he had no idea, like, actually what he had signed on for actually. Well ‘no idea’ might be a generalisation. ’Thought’ is not the right word. No thinking occurred. The intern is a thought-free zone.

Moreover, this Gender Studies intern was from…yes, it gets worse, Chico State, where beer stains on tee-shirts are, well, like, cool, way cool actually.

Tom would like to return his intern from whence he came, but duty calls and redeeming a Gender Studies major from Chico State, now that would be a challenge of inter-dimensional magnitude.

But first, Tom and the intern find themselves in Nebraska where they must battle the ultimate evil. Gulp!

Tom is rated at 104.3 Bear Grylls while the intern is a puny, 0.4 BG. The Bear Grylls rating refers to what it would take to kill BG. It is an inter-dimensional standard. [Love it!] Tom can man-up, or rather Bear-up, to the ultimate evil there among the corn fields, but he will have to shelter that puny intern who is less than half a Bear Grylls.

Correia.jpg Larry Correia


It is two hours of spoof, like a long skit from SNL in its heyday, read by Adam Baldwin who manages all the inter-dimensional voices, including Muffie back head office. Discerning readers may remember Adam Baldwin as Animal in 'Full Metal Jacket.' It is high octane all the way.

The corporate speak, the obsession with the customer experience ratings while ignoring customers, the constitutional inability of an insurance company to pay a claim, the CVs of the policy-holding political leaders encountered along the way, the numb brain of the intern, all of it rings true. How can this be fiction in a world where Donald Trump is reality? Go figure that out.

It has been a while since I used Audible so I had another look and found this corker. I listened to it while pumping iron and pushing pedals at the gym. I call it a krimi because there are plenty of crimes, but in a boring old book store it would be sci-fi.

The fourth in a series set in Sixth Century in the Constantinople of Justine and Justinian, emperors of Nova Roma. Our principal is John, whose mercenary background has brought him to Constantinople … a slave. He bristles at his status but makes the best of it.

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Amid much palace intrigue John, as the Emperor Justin is passing the rule, reluctantly, to his nephew Justinian, is assigned to an excubitor. Felix, he from the Teutonic woods, to investigate the blatant murder of a rich citizen in a church. The Emperor Justine designates them, perhaps more to slow, than speed the investigation for John is after all a slave, and no citizen is required to speak to him. Felix has only a middle rank, poor Latin, and is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The city’s Prefect resents their intrusion and fobs them off with other duties.

Byzantium mosaic.jpg Justinian.

On their fools’ errand, they go here and there in Constantinople from the Hippodrome to the Golden Horn, to the Bosphorus, to Constantine’s column, to the Great Palace. Each time I shout out, ‘I’ve been there!’

Constantine column-1.png Constantine's column as it was and and it is today.

Two such low level functionaries have little access to the great and good, and the few they meet are quick to tell them that. But they do have more access to the panoply of slaves and servants of the great and good, from door men, to kitchen hands, to fishermen who supply the food, to prostitutes. While many of these humble folk are too careful not to say much, sometimes what they do not say, is itself noteworthy. That is the conceit of the work.

I have read two other entries in this series. Each is packed with period detail which is salted throughout the work. There are no long expositions, just everyday asides and comments. Felix is an excubitor and we learn as we go that means he is a palace guard. We are spared an exposition of the nature, organisation, and origin of excubitors that would be inserted by some other writers to discharge their learning. Here the hand is light and the exposition is slight; the emphasis is always on the matters at hand.

However, John’s backstory lingers more than it should for this reader. We would be better off to find out what kind of man he is through his actions, pace John Stuart Mill, than be prompted by his unfortunate biography. My empathy for such contrivances is zero these days.

The title makes sense in the end, though the villain springs from no-where. But it does tie up all the loose ends.

Eric Mayer.jpg Eric Mayer

MAry Reed.jpg Mary Reed

While this is a foreign and, in many ways, a repellant world, the authors do not attempt to explain or justify it, they just present it in its own terms. There are the fantastically rich and the poor who live on the streets, just as in Reagan’s America, and in Obama’s too. Indeed we have such dwellers in Sydney these days. All in all, the authors bring to life a cast of characters from mute beggars, clever scientists, vain artists, working stiffs, court intriguers, wealthy fops, as well as Emperor Justine and soon-to-be Emperor Justinian and she who will be obeyed, Theodora.

Many unusual terms like excutor are used and there is a eight-page glossary at the end for those who must know before turning the page.

An exotic krimi set in Mongolia as it emerged from the Red World in the 1990s.

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Where is Mongolia? Having seen so many episodes of Eggheads with contestants who do know where their elbows are, this map is included.

Mongolia map.jpg

A series of murders, each more terrible than the previous one, in Ulaan Bataar galvanises attention at the highest level, the more so when a British technician is one of the victims in a five star tourist hotel, and then a senior police officer.

Ulan-1.jpg Genghis Khan, a landmark mentioned several times in the novel.

The minister of justice dispatches the one man he can trust to co-ordinate the police efforts, Nergui, he of one name. Into this brew steps a British police officer, Drew MacLeish, sent, as a sop to the slain technician's family back home, to contribute to the investigation.

Ulan-2.jpg Ulaan Baatar

It is a nice context and premise. There is some travelogue in and around Ulaan Bataar, and the Gobi desert. The centrifugal and centripetal forces of the ancient traditions and new opportunities for wealth are portrayed. All of this was interesting reading.

Ulan-3.jpg Ulaan Baatar

The exposition is far too wordy for this reader. Too many long speeches about either the perils of modernity in Mongolia or the backstories of the principals, which always bores me to tears. In this case Nergui’s backstory is laid on with a trowel; he a man among men, a gentleman and a scholar, a preternatural athlete…. Oh hum. Sainthood can only be a matter of time.

Gobi.jpg The Gobi Desert

Let’s get to the plot and as it unwinds we better learn of the characters. I almost wished for Mike Hammer, so appropriately named. You always know where you stand with Mike, under his heel. He spent no time talking about anything but the beating he was giving you.

The author cleverly turns the language barrier into an opportunity. When Nergui speaks to natives in Mongolian, Drew studies the expressions and body language and makes inferences from those observations. The conceit is that body language and face expressions cross the cultural barrier. Perhaps they do not. Likewise, Nergui uses the presence of the British chief inspector Drew as a lever to secure cooperation from officialdom, both Mongolian (in the ministry) and British (in the embassy).

mike-walters.jpg Michael Walters

Much of the tension springs from some tired clichés about politics and politicians. The unscrupulous behaviour attributed to politicians in general in these pages can be found in any middle to large organization. There is, surprise, nothing unique about politics, except its ready exposure to such clichés. I did not find any explanation of the title.

The denouement is deus ex machina. [Look it up, Mortimer!]

An adult and thought-provoking sci-fi krimi.  Recommended for adults.

Disappeared cover.jpg

I found myself squirming several times when reading it, tempted to put it aside, but then I realised it was getting under my skin and that was the point. Chapeaux!

Moreover the characterisations of the human protagonists are credible and the plot twists and turns follow the two rules of Sherlock Holmes: there is a logical explanation to everything and nothing is as it seems.  That all adds up to a four-star review.

In a future universe there are many species who trade and cohabit the same planets with multi-cultural laws to regulate dealings and to settle disputes. The distant Multi-Cultural Tribunal issues absolute and binding rulings and warrants and it falls to the local police to enforce them, no questions asked.

Many misunderstandings arise in business transactions and in cohabitation, and there are many active warrants, which never expire. The punishments the other species apply are, well, inhuman.  For several of the species apprehension of a violator is a matter of honor and no effort or expense is spared in pursuit.   In some alien legal codes, ignorance is no defence. A guilty mind is not necessary.

One generation of entrepreneurs sees in this situation a market gap.  Secret companies emerge to help those targeted by a warrant to disappear (and start a new life elsewhere), a relocation service for the guilty, not for witnesses.  

There are many sources of tension in the setup. There are several mysteries for the police to unravel. Negotiations with two separate sets of aliens each sensitive to the least cultural slight. There is the Earth Alliance government, remote and inaccessible, for which keeping the peace by adhering to the strict letter of the Multi-Cultural Tribunal warrant is paramount.  The fate that awaits those apprehended does not bear thought.  

The more so because several of the species in the Tribunal act on inter-generational justice. Like Chinese emperors of old and North Korean dictators of today, they have justice to the third, fourth, fifth degree, or more.  Huh? That means the punishment often falls on relatives of the culprit, relatives who themselves did nothing and may not even know the culprit.  For those who shelter from the news, it is common in North Korea for the sins of the father to fall alike on daughters and grandsons.  When the father is executed so are his children and grandchildren to eradicate the line.  Now imagine being an officer who rounds up the babes in arms for execution. 

In this novel one of the felons to be surrendered is a baby.  Another is a woman who cut down a tree, only later to be told it was a sacred relic.  In the law of that alien world ignorance is no defence. Still others did in fact kill a member of another species in a drunken fight over money.  And so on. All of the felons in this novel are guilty but that does not make any of it easier.

All of this comes to a head because a second generation of entrepreneurs has emerged and decided to increase value for shareholders by selling-out the disappeared ones to their pursuers.

While it is illegal to help felons disappear, it is perfectly legal to sell them out.  

What a beautiful scheme. The credits flow in drowning out the screams of those who disappeared and now are found.  Disembowelment, babies surgically modified to become alien, condemnation to mortal slave labor, or shot on the spot are among the punishments for the humans apprehended, all compliant with the ruling of the Tribunal.  The job of the local police is to hand over the felons.

Those who had successfully disappeared for decades are now sought and arrested. The human police execute the warrants of several alien species on a Moonbase.  So many that they cannot keep up. One asks why low level police officer negotiate with aliens, but the answer is perfectly sensible bureaucratic logic. No more senior official wants to get involved in such distasteful and explosive business, so it is shoved down the line. That will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a large organisation.

This is the first is a long-running series.  

KK Rusch.jpg K. K. Rusch.

It is well written though I flipped some pages quickly as there is nothing special in much of it, and too much musing by some of the characters for my taste, but mercifully shorn of mindless descriptions that bedevil so much of the krimi genre these days. The dialogue is functional. The author does not try to describe the aliens apart from some vague outlines, the Rev, the Disty, and the Wynin. Just enough to make clear that they are alien, not humans with heavy make-up. That is altogether an intelligent decision.

I particularly liked the senior investigating officer DeRicci and her one-way ticket approach, and the Retrieval Artist in the last pages. The last scene was a surprise and a nice coda to much that went before.

When I read the title 'The Disappeared' my first thought was all those who have disappeared from military regimes in Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and.....


A sobering reminder that there are worse governments than the local mob.

Put aside suppositions and watch Rowan Atkinson as Maigret.

My membership in the Maigret Fan Club began way back in high school French class, and has continued through irritated readings of Penguin translations which take many liberties with the original text, compounding the sin by boldly proclaiming that they are faithful when it is plain that they are not. I have read all the stories, including ‘Maigret’s Memoirs’ in which Jules Maigret recounts his association with one Georges Simenon.

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While I enjoyed MIchael Gambon’s turn at Jules Maigret some years ago, and recently watched them again, they made many of the characters into cardboard to accentuate Gambon’s Maigret. Gambon was a perfect fit for Maigret physically. Rowan Atkinson is not the doppelgänger of Maigret but his performance is compelling for its simplicity, its inwardness, its intensity, its prism for the emotions of others, its humanity.


‘Maigret Sets a Trap’ is a gem. It is quiet and slow, qualities that are sure to bore some viewers, but for those with an attention span, it repays attention. The crimes are terrible, the press is irresponsible, the politicians are desperate, and through it all plods Jules Maigret. He has nothing to say to the representatives of the press who joyfully blacken his name. When assailed at a dinner party about the incompetence of the police, he says nothing. Indeed, this Maigret says even less than Simenon’s, and the silence is itself a message. When threatened with censure by his superior, Maigret persists in doing things his way. He says nothing, no theatrics, just more plod.

Margret chooses, as he knows he must, to tell the family of victim, and it is agonising. Almost nothing is said, but the weight of responsibility on Maigret is palpable.

The trap fails, and the minister has to have a scape goat. But the trap did produce a button, and from that button a mighty Niagara eventually flows. (A reference to an aside of Sherlock Holmes on the volumes that can be found in scraps of evidence.) It is ground pounding, endless interviews, triple cross-checking, meticulous examination that finally locates the culprit. No flash of semi-divine insight, no laboratory magic, no table pounding or shouting. Just more plod.

We all know Maigret will prevail, yet there is tension, mainly produced by the silences. Maigret’s techniques of interrogation consists largely of silence, patiently waiting to be told. The desire to tell someone, that is a theme in many of the Simenon’s Maigret novels, sometimes it is boasting, and at other times it is confession.

The team of Lucas, Maigret’s alter ego, muscle man Janvier, and the boyish La Pointe are established.

Gabin Maigret.jpg As Sean Connery IS James Bond, so Jean Gabin IS Jules Maigret with that weathered face, scarred by combat service with the Free French.

simenon.jpg Georges Simenon, one of Belgium's most successful exports.

A Portuguese krimi set in the 1960s during the dictatorship of Prime Minister Antonio Salazar who ruled from 1928 to 1968 with both velvet glove and iron fist.  A body washed up on a beach and the police arrive.  The corpse is that of a man, slightly disfigured by the water but clearly murdered, who is identified as army Major Luis Dantas Castro, a soldier with a distinguished record in Portugal’s many African wars.

Dog Beach.jpg

The homicide squad opens a dossier, but then it seems PIDE is involved. PIDE?  Policia Internacional e de Defensa do Estado, the secret political police.  Some months before Dantas had escaped from confinement for plotting the overthrow of the regime. Much of the novel is almost documentary as Inspector Elias Santana studies the dossier. Footnotes add to the verisimilitude.

The inspector is an introspective, methodical, and repressed fellow who speculates, even fantasises about might have happened. Was Dantas killed by government agents? By his own comrades in conspiracy? Or because of sexual jealousy? Elias tries to reconstruct Dantas's last few weeks of life, working from scanty evidence. Elias uses his imagination to create the scenes at the conspirators' hide-out that led up to the murder.

Sad to say that the novel is cryptic, hard to follow at times, and of most interest to those curious about Portugal of the time. And they were interesting times.

Cardoso.jpg José Cardoso Pires

In the 1960s the Portuguese Army chaffed at the isolated and insular dictatorship, in part because it was under-equipped and under-funded for the ambitions of its officers and also in part because the regime neglected its restive colonies which the army had to secure.  At the time the Portuguese Empire included Goa and two other smaller enclaves in India, East Timor, Macau, Angola, Mozambique, Sao Thomas, Cape Verde, the Azores, and Guinea Bisseau and.... The one that got away, Brazil.  

Africa map-1.png Portuguese Africa

Between 1960 and 1974 Portugal was engaged in three colonial wars in Africa in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau.

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While other European powers had been, often reluctantly, withdrawing from colonial empires, Portugal, neutral during World War II, had not. By 1974 it had 220,00 soldiers in combat in Africa. The financial, social, and political impacts in Portugal were extensive. The combined populations of Sydney and Melbourne come to about eight millions, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Imagine them together sustaining three wars in northern Asia without allies.

Salazar was an intellectual, an economist by education, who conceived of Portugal as a pluri-continental, multi-cultural nation. The colonies were provinces which were at a distance from Portugal, but represented in the parliament.  Salazar wrote papers and gave speeches on these themes which taken together with Portugal's undiluted Roman Catholicism, largely untouched by the Enlightenment, made it the New Jerusalem for the entire world. He termed it the Estado Novo, or the New State, a model for all others to follow. This backward, repressed, impoverished, and inward looking country, according to Salazar, was the only pure expression of the West!  (Compare to Albania for its communist purity at the same time.) Like many intellectuals, he apparently mistook words for deeds, and was content to talk, not act.

Salazar desk.jpg Antonio Salazar

During the two generations that he dominated Portugal, it was sealed off from the world. Border control was stricter than in Berlin before the Wall. The PIDE had a reputation like that of the Statsi though not the same kind of massive budget.  

Travel was restricted and all travellers had their baggage searched. not for drugs, but for books that might be illicit.  Karl Marx was at the top of that list but also on it were Thomas Paine, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and William Shakespeare.  

A special literature evolved, cut down to Portuguese size. Huh? All the great works were translated and edited to remove the big ideas of autonomy, liberty, human rights, majority rule, women who were not barefoot and pregnant, judicial review, the rule of law, equality, these were all removed. For example, Marie Curie was excised from science texts.  The Beatles’ music was banned. Foreign movies were cut for screening to remove ideas as well as sex.  

Even Spain, ever a frenemy, was viewed as lax and kept at arm's length.

Brazil was a problem. The regime wanted trade and cultural relations with it because it was and remains the largest Portuguese-speaking country but though it had its own dictatorship, it accepted Portuguese exiles who set up opposition groups there. Because Portugal allowed first the Allies and then NATO to use the Azores it was tolerated and left to its own devices during the Cold War. Perhaps Salazar even hoped that one day Brazil would return to the Portuguese embrace.

There were incidents including the high-jacking of the Portuguese cruise ship the Santa Maria in 1961 by some army officers in mufti. They captured the ship with the aim of going to Angola, amid much publicity to attract supporters, to set up a government in exile.  They were soon apprehended as pirates, and instead went into exile in Brazil.

When the African colonies rebelled with some encouragement and very little support from the USSR, the overstretched Portuguese army lost. Betrayed by the regime, now presided over by Salazar's heir Marcello Caetano, another economist, junior officers (captains, even lower in rank rather than the Greek colonels) effected a coup d'état, and into the breech stepped the flamboyant General Antonio de Spinola (1910-1996), who had had combat successes in Africa yet was known to oppose the wars. The coup was set in motion by a signal, namely a certain fado ballad in which a carnation was a token between two lovers was played on national radio at a specified time. Thus began the Carnation Revolution.


The regime, seemingly eternal the day before, fell in one stagger. The result morphed into democracy in Lisbon. Spinola wore a monocle, ergo flamboyant. There are a few parallels to De Gaulle’s return during the Algerian crisis in France, but with this difference, Spinola was committed to ending the wars and he did. It was said then and now, that only he could have done this. He had served among Portuguese volunteers in the Spanish legion with the Germans at Leningrad, and had led successful military operations in the Portuguese African colonies. His family was connected to Salazar. As a result, he had credibility and prestige with the old guard, but at the same time he was a hero to the captains and earlier he had made clear in writing his opposition to the wars at the expense of his own career.

'The Murmuring Coast' both the novel and the 2004 film comment on Portugal's African war(s) in a restrained way. The film screens on SBS now and again.  

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True his word, General Spinola ended the colonial wars from one day to the next and negotiated settlements with the African colonies, made contact with China about the future of Macau, and left Timor. Thereafter as Portuguese democratic politics went left in the heady days, now largely forgotten, of Euro-Communism, Spinola went into exile himself to Brazil, where he plotted against the democratic regime with a small group of acolytes in a pathetic coda for a larger than life figure. He did return to Portugal and lived the rest of his days in quiet retirement.  

There seems to be no biography of him in English.

Another entry is a brilliantly conceived and executed series featuring an ageing Sherlock Holmes and his bride, many years his junior, but nonetheless his equal. She had to be to displace ‘The Woman’ from Holmes’s mind. Baker Street Irregulars know who the ‘The Woman’ is. I am not sure that Mary Russell has yet learned about her in this series.

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There is a lot to like about these krimis. There is energy, movement, period detail, and most of all the characterisations of Russell and Holmes but also others whose path they cross from the cantankerous Mycroft, to ingenious Billy Mudd, to the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson who has much up-stage time in this entry.

Much of this title concerns Mrs. Hudson’s past live(s) and even that of her parents (we are spared the grandparents) told in a novella within this novel on the order of a Charles Dickens novel of the dark, noisome, and sinister Victorian London, with a long side trip to sunny Sydney. All of this is well done but of no interest to this reader, and probably not to many others, who like this reader, follow the series for Holmes and Russell. I thumbed those pages quickly on the Kindle and there were a lot of them, a lot. Holmes does eventually make an appearance there, too little and too later for this reader.

However the action returns to Russell and Holmes and crackles when it does. I found Russell’s message to Holmes unfathomable. Nor did I follow the reasoning about the flight. But who cares, that is like quibbling about the colours on a racing bicycle as the rider drives it up L’Alpe d’Huez.

laurie_king_0.jpg Laurie King

Mrs. Hudson has had her due in an another series, e.g., Martin Davies ‘Mrs Hudson and Spirits’ Curse’ (2005) and many others.

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The conceit in this series is that she solves most of Holmes’s cases with her below stairs contacts but lets Holmes upstairs think he has done it on his own.

A krimi from the industrial city of Tampere (population 364,000) in the forests of Finland.  

Tampere winter.jpg Winter in Tampere

Detective Saraki Koskinen probes and pries, in between outbursts of temper.  He is wound up as tight as the clichéd spring. Divorced, he combines workaholism with fitness fanaticism to fill in the hours.   He jogs, well, races, at midnight or later and rides a bicycle everywhere, as fast as he can.  Consequently, he sweats a lot and needs showers and clothes to change into, and these he carries.  He is organised, but some things always go wrong and he is caught in embarrassing situations, which occasion outbursts of temper as compensation.   

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There is a murder victim,  a paraplegic.  Who would want to murder a cripple? Perhaps anyone who knew this bad tempered man, whose affliction just made him more aggressive and violent, having perfected ways to use his mechanised wheelchair as a battering ram, especially against people who underestimated him in that chair.  In the assisted living home everyone has a bad word to say about him: Loud, noisy, drunk, violent, rude, inconsiderate at all hours, starting to sound like a teenager.  

Then there is an a second victim, an elderly man who lives near the home but not in it, and who was near death from cancer.   Then a third, another resident of the assisted living home, a woman whose paralysis was so great she could barely speak.  

Are the three murders related?  Are the three victims connected somehow?  Are these perverted mercy killings?  What does the perpetrator gain from the first, the second, and the third death?  Is the second murder part of the sequence or a coincidence?

The novel is a police procedural and the squad interviews and re-interviews all the residents at the home, the visitors, the staff, the suppliers, and neighbours without getting traction. In the course of this members of Koskinen’s squad argue with each other about overtime, office supplies, and the assignment of duties. It is by no means a happy crew. Seldom can anyone say more than two words without interruption, or someone stomping out of the room in anger. Koskinen is not the only one wound up tight. As the leader he seems unable to calm them down.

Koskinen has yet another new intern as a temporary secretary-receptionist who cannot stifle the urge to rearrange his papers neatly. Her well-meaning but misjudged intrusions lead him to one burst of temper after another, which seem to wash over and off her. Just as well because there are more to come.

In addition, his team members bully one junior detective, and though Koskinen is dimly aware of it, he cannot figure out what to do about it, and being a man he cannot ask for advice.  Bullying in this case seems to be an outlet for the frustration of the others vented on the weakest member of the group.  The frustrations are about the case, about the malaise of the police service, about personal irritations, about anything and everything. 

When some uniformed patrol officers forget to report the discovery of an abandoned wheel-chair, there follows another outburst of the well-known Koskinen temper.  That the patrol officers forgot because they were involved in a particularly gruesome traffic death only slightly reduces his outrage.  

After each outburst, he realises he is not in control of himself, wishes he had not done it, and cannot apologize.  See, life-like.  


Meanwhile, there is much about Finnish manners and morēs that I found interesting.  But even more about the paraplegics and quadriplegics at the assisted living home, their ways of coping with life after paralysis, of finding satisfaction (food, drink, drugs, sex), and the relationships among them.  

In the hope of a speedy resolution before the media hysteria leads to an intervention from Helsinki, the police chief points to an intruder as the likely culprit, but Koskinen, in the best tradition of the genre, is sure the villain is in the home or closely associated with it.  Indeed.

Though that conviction is undermined by a close study of who had access and who has keys to the building.  There is an official list for each, both short, and a real list, both much longer.  On the real list are taxi drivers, prostitutes, delivery drivers, close relatives, medical specialists who hand the keys to locums, and more.  

As is compulsory in the contemporary genre, there is much about budget cuts in the police but also in the assisted living home. There is no staff member in the home overnight but rather an elaborate electronic security system to monitor the residents and the building.  The latest in IT. But in a crisis it signals a security agent who has a twenty-minute drive to get there, if the weather is good, more if there is rain, wind, or snow, as there is nine months a year.   According this agent arrives too late each time.

Meanwhile, when not pedalling or racing, Koskinen sees television interviews with the national Police Minister talking about further budget cuts in policing, and outsourcing more and more police duties to contractors with such IT setups. This lifts his morale, not.   

As always I find keeping track of such unfamiliar names a challenge, but the author very clearly distinguishes and delineates the characters and that helps a lot.   

Seppo Jokinen.jpg Seppo Jokinen

There are many other titles in this series featuring Saraki Koskinen in Finnish, but this seems to be the only one translated into English as yet. I do hope more are on the way.

When the teenage presidents of Elvis Presley fan clubs start dying, the King notices, and the more he looks into these deaths, the darker they become. Looking is one thing, acting is another, and for that he mobilises his posse and makes an alliance with an unlicensed doctor, an African princess (well, that is how Elvis sees her), and himself in the person of an Elvis impersonator, and also the five-year old brother of one of the victims.

What a treat!

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This Elvis is polite, considerate, compassionate, colour-blind, and tenacious. He has to be because he comes across some very rough customers in this tale. While he is used to being demonised for the evils of rock-and-roll, in this case it is literal!

His music is a bridge that spans some of the racial and social divides laid bare in his inquiries. Though he finds more in common with the poor blacks he meets than with the uptight whites. They both have Bibles to hand, but in the former case it is a comfort, while in the latter it is weapon.

When Elvis sings a hymn, well, who cannot listen, who is not transported, who does not believe the sincerity of his tears? Many, many, do believe, but not all starting with the very angry father of one of dead teens, who blames Elvis twice over, once for being white, and second for that satanic rock-and-roll. The first victim that comes to Elvis’s notice is black.

The upright, uptight whites are even more difficult to fathom behind a facade of Calvinist politeness. While they accept their daughter’s death as God’s will, they do not accept Elvis intruding into the matter. But he cannot stop himself. These children had somehow connected to him and now they were dying. Was it because of him?

As for the local law, as much as they suck up to the King, there is no interest in stirring. Well, except for one sheriff who sees big headlines in arresting Elvis for these very crimes. The plot thickens.

Into heady brew comes a criminal psychologist. Elvis has thumbed through her book without much comprehension but he then telephoned her. That conversation in itself is worth reading the book. ‘Hello, this is Elvis Presley….’ Then there is Elvis’s huge, tattooed, menacing cell mate when the aforementioned sheriff arrests him who styles himself ‘The One.’ He seems to have more insights than even the glamorous New York psychologist who arrives (book contract in her brief case, suspects Elvis) to lend the King a hand.

When the going got tough, Elvis’s posse was more trouble than help, and he finds strangers more help than those on the payroll, including some of the jailbirds.

Elvis was a class act and this book vindicates that in spades.


The book offers a very sobering and painful account of the life of a celebrity like the King. He is a prisoner of his frame. He cannot walk down the street, drive his car to a park, visit a cemetery, book an airplane ticket in his name, or go to church. If he does, he is mobbed by fans and the media. HIs every move in public is splashed across the headlines and talking heads start yakking.

Klein_Daniel-big.png Daniel Klein, author a number of other books and novels.

Warning! Musings follow.

This Elvis reading got me thinking about the impersonators. Why Elvis? Why Elvis and not … [fill in the blank]. Why are there hundreds, thousands of Elvis impersonators from Malta, to Tallinn, to Montgomery? Why are they still at it now, thirty-five years after his death?

Of course there are impressionists who imitate Madonna or Brad Pitt on a TV skit. But none of those idols have the army of global impersonators that Elvis had and has. And that is the point, anyone can be imitated and many are. But why is it only the King with such an army of autogenetic impersonators? (Well, maybe not Brad Pitt since he has no personality to mimic.)

A few years ago we saw an exhibit of photographs from the early years of Elvis. The overall impression was a modest boy struggling with the demands the world was just beginning to make on him. Particularly arresting was a photograph of him walking home from the train station after his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, a young man in blue jeans and shirt sleeves, like every other one, waving goodbye to those still on the train.

On my pilgrimage to Graceland, three things impressed me.

One was the music. It was everywhere.

The second was a video that included Elvis backstage in Los Vegas toward the end, saying ‘I am so tired’ in a voice that left no doubt that he was very tired, but the show had to go on, and off he went, in that grotesque white jump suit.

The last thing was the line of people, men and women in the shop, European and Asian, who queued up to have a photograph taken with a holograph of Elvis. Ghoulish. The King still has no rest from the rapacious appetite of the fans.

A very unusual locale and set-up for a krimi. Bravo!

The action centers on a research station in the forests along the Congo River where a multinational group of scientists observe chimpanzees sometime in the 1960s. The narrator is a recently-minted PhD who muses on what led her to this place when she is not watching the monkeys. (I do so detest backstories because they are distracting.)

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The book offers intriguing soupçons about the primatological research into the social customs, practices, and habits of a clan of chimpanzees, along with a study of their diet, and movements, including bowels.

In the distance, on the far side of a mountain range there is a four-way civil (tribal) war going on, and that spectre cannot be ignored, since it might influence the funding agencies to withdraw support. Of course, there are twists and turns among the scientist, though our protagonist is so junior, she seldom sees the professional rivalries firsthand. That is, she is out in the field observing, while back in the base camp the more senior members of the party wrangle over precedence. What she sees there in the field is remarkable and in time upsets the established order.

Spoiler alert.

The book recounts three intersecting conflicts: there is war among the chimpanzees, there is conflict among the scientists over the data and its interpretation, and the tribal war mentioned above. In time, the three come together. It is all very ambitious. The first two provided more than enough material, and this reader found the intrusion of the third inevitable and unnecessary.

The most interesting aspect is the primatology. The manners and morēs of the chimpanzees in the wild, the relations among them, including the conflict that is a war in all but name. But also of interest is the relationships of the primatology observers with the chimpanzees. The scientists personify the chimpanzees with nicknames, though technically they have specimen numbers, these latter are only used in the final write-ups. Nor is there any doubt that the chimpanzees recognise and distinguish the observers from themselves and that they know one observer from another, and there is one harrowing moment when that recognition is crucial.

Years ago as a prospective text for the Power course, I read Frans de Waal’s ‘Chimpanzee Politics’ (1985), a study of chimpanzees in the Arnham Zoo in the Netherlands, a book that is written with panache and insight, along with a few gratuitous reference to Machiavelli that I logged in my collection of inanities about him. While de Waal’s book has much technical detail about quasi-experimental tests done in captivity, it is easy enough for a general reader, and leaves one in no doubt of the intelligence and capacity to learn of chimpanzees.

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Our heroine survives it all but some others (including some of the chimpanzees) do not. She finds that among the tribal warriors are some decent folks, that the mercenaries attracted to the conflict are a varied lot, that some of the scientists on the project are unscrupulous and mercenary themselves (really?), that the chimpanzees are capable of moral acts, that her husband’s suicide which more or less drove her to Africa remains a mystery, and that…. the most important lesson, life goes on even in Brazzaville Beach.

Boyd.jpg William Boyd

The writing is assured; the touch is light; the themes are serious as they slowly emerge. The context is richly detailed. Altogether a good book. William Boyd has others and I might read another one day but I will not make it a priority, because I thought this one had too many themes and circumstances competing for my thin attention. Once again, I seem to be in a minority because the back cover is plastered with testimonials from the highest sources like the ’New York Times.’

The title caught my eye because Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo was where Charles De Gaulle made his second radio broadcast, this one to the French colonies. There was a large transmitter in Brazzaville, built in the 1930s to reach the African colonies and even some air and naval traffic. De Gaulle traveled there in 1940 to win supporters, and met with some success.

The setting in 17th Century Amsterdam shows assiduous research and the differentiation of characters is good, as far as I can tell. On that qualification there will be more later.

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Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) repays effort. The first is with his name. He was born Benedito de Espinosa of Portuguese parents who had moved overnight to Amsterdam to avoid the convert-or-die (later) Iberian Inquisition. (Why does Ted Cruz come to mind?) The parenthetical reference ‘later’ applies because even Jews who willingly converted to Catholicism were subjected to subsequent persecution. In Holland he was sometimes styled Benedict. In all those permutations his first name means ‘Blessed.’


That qualification ‘as far I can tell’ means I stopped reading the book very early. I violate my rule of the positive in this case because I wanted to express my admiration for Spinoza the thinker. In addition his reputation as a man has come down the ages as a simple, unpretentious person, whose life was a model of rectitude, in contrast to the wastrel Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the gloom-and-doom merchant Thomas Hobbes, the obnoxious self-promoter John Locke, or the nutter John Stuart Mill.

Spinoza's two tracts, the ‘Politics’ and the ‘Ethics’ are fine books, though arid. He much admired the method of geometric reasoning. Yet somehow he is not on the starting team in the Tour of Political Theory, so I only ever managed to slip the ‘Politics' onto the syllabus once many years ago. Ditto his fellow Dutchman Hugo de Grotius.

‘The Spinoza Problem: a Novel’ is described as a thriller, and I should have stopped there. The lure of Spinoza was, however, too much; I bought it and started to read. The book has two characteristics that I dislike so much that I gave up on Spinoza.

First, everything is written in the present tense, including flashbacks. Ergo everything is happening at once.

Second, this simultaneous action occurs across the centuries because every other chapter alternates from Spinoza’s time in the 17th Century and the 20th Century. I like my krimis linear and literal.

The early scene with the schoolboy Alfred Rosenberg (look him up, if he is unknown) getting a lesson in life at his Estonia high school is certainly interesting, and sheds some light on anti-Semitism. I wish I had been able to persist,,,, (However, there are so many other, good books that do not set my teeth on edge.)

The use of the present tense is so common I suspect it is advised by agents and perhaps required by publishers, at least, of certain genres. That is, the thriller. Why do I react to it?

When everything is happening at once, it is left to the reader to sort out sequence, to distinguish past from present, and to supply the emphasis and the pace of events, and even to supply the viewpoint. It is like looking at two-dimensional flat world without topography and without time. See, it is lazy writing making the reader do the work that the writer should have done. Stephen King would have a zinger on this. Verb tenses are tools, and should be put to work. That is why they exist.

Not everyone is bothered by ahistorical simultaneity, it seems, because the book is published by a major New York publisher and has a good rating on Good Reads, for whatever that is worth. (I never cease to marvel at the illiterate accolades heaped on some dreadful specimens. Why did Donald Trump come to mind?)

Irvin Yalom.jpg Irvin Yalom

Confession: I was also irked by a lengthy introduction from the author about his many and deep interests. If that has to be present, put it at the back. In any event, I skipped it, something I was taught to do in college literature classes so as to make up my own mind. That I did.

This in a police procedural in a series following the investigations of Polish State Prosecutor Teo Szacki. In Poland, according to this novel, the prosecutor does the investigating, and not the police whose domain includes the heavy lifting and car chasing. The locale is Warsaw with its nouveau riche and old communists side by side. It is part of series.


A middle aged man in mid-career is found dead in a church, a shish-kabob skewer stuck through his eye. He was participating in a role-playing therapy group using rooms in the church. Between sessions he was murdered. Did someone take the role playing too seriously! Was there an intruder? Did the victim have an enemy who followed him there? Did he — somehow — commit suicide with that skewer?

Most of the role-playing was videoed and much of the early going is Szacki watching it with the therapist who explains the proceedings, while more than once, Szacki thinks about his own life and his own need for…something, perhaps even therapy. The theoretical explanation of the procedure seems incredible [no spoiler] but it hangs together (and adds to the mystery, which is often lacking in krimis.) In addition, the victim also recorded some of his musings on a pocket recorder, and these, when discovered, add to the incredibility of it all, because he seems at one point to be talking to a ghost.

The more Szacki digs, the more confusing and paranormal it seems to become. This mystery is not welcome to a man who lives on and for facts.

Warsaw is new to me and I enjoyed the to’ing and fro’ing around the city in the summer rain. The banter between colleagues in the prosecutor’s office, the lack of a budget for even basic tests, the vulture journalists looking for blood, the boom-and-bust all at once nature of contemporary Poland while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the role-playing therapy, these are all well handled and add layers to the narrative texture.

Zygmunt Miloszewski.jpg Zygmunt Miloszewski

There is a plot wobble for this reader. Szacki seeks a second professional opinion on the therapy session and that confirms the procedure, but later…. Well, no spoiler but the curve disappointed this reader.

While the author distinguishes the characters, as always with such unfamiliar names, I found keeping the names and the individuals straight difficult. Though I consumed those dark, depressing, and dispiriting Russian novels that were de rigueur in college, I could never keep the names straight then either.

The translation and presentation on the Kindle are good. The production is far better than for the other Polish krimi I recently discussed, ‘Polychrome.’

This is an Arctic krimi set in Sápmi in the far north where Finland, Sweden, and Norway converge along with Russia.


Once this area was called Lappland after its inhabitants, Lapps. It is bounded by the Barents Sea, White Sea, and Norwegian Sea. The land border is not so clear.

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In winter there are forty days without sun, and this novel opens just as the sun is about to show itself again, starting with a scant glimpse of six degrees over the horizon, like a 10-watt light in the back of a freezer hidden behind something. Just the top arc shows. But when it reappears after forty days, everyone stops to watch for it.

The Sami are nomadic herders who follow and live off reindeer, borders mean nothing to either the reindeer or the Sami. The Reindeer Police Administration is, according to this novel, a response to this situation. It has multi-national jurisdiction in the Sami areas of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, but not Russia.

Our protagonists are Reindeer Police Patrol 9, consisting of a senior officer, Klemet, who is Sami and who seems to have a Swedish birth certificate, and a younger Norwegian woman, Nina. They ride around on snowmobiles keeping an eye on the herds and the herders to prevent disputes among the herders and between them and other locals, though there are few of these. Klemet broods a lot.

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A very exotic location with lots about the place, the weather, the aurora borealis, different kinds of ice, the past, the tensions, including some left over from the Cold War with the biggest home to Sami, Russia.

A pathetic Sami reindeer herder is murdered and at the same time a Sami artefact at a local museum is stolen. Are the two events connected. and if so how? Some of the locals think the only good Sami is a dead one, and say so. Moreover, the local police have little interest in Reindeer Police Patrol 9. Nor do the real Norwegians, real Swedes, or real Finns care about the murder of a Sami alcoholic out on the tundra, nor about any useless artefact, viewing the Sami as a nuisance or hinderance.

But in the course of sorting out the aftermath concerning the victim's reindeer our protagonists see connections between the murder and the theft. The plot is clever and the place is compelling. Klemet is rather too self-absorbed for me, but he does snap out of it occasionally. The most arresting character is the firecracker who is head of the Nordic Geological Institute who becomes involved. The most formidable is the Sami herder Aslak who lives the old way and seems almost to be a part of land itself. The author distinguishes effectively amongst quite a cast of characters.

I liked the way the Sami culture plays into the mystery with the artefact but also in other ways. Klemet’s uncle with his girlfriend prove what a small world it is.

I wondered about language barriers. Kelmet speaks Swedish. Nina is Norwegian. According to Wikipedia the Sami peoples have many languages. The locals are mostly Norwegians, but there are some Finns and even a Russian or two.

Truc Olivier © Philippe Matsas.jpg Olivier Truc

It is translated from French, which surprised me given the intensity and variety of local knowledge on display I had assumed the author would be of that place and write in one of the languages of that place.

An elderly man in Pozan Poland is found murdered. The more closely the investigating officer, Mariej Bartol, examines the scene the odder it looks. The victim is posed, naked, and almost seems to be smiling despite the strangulation.  Then there are the Latin mottoes found on the flower vase, inside the bow of a pair of glasses.  Enough to set one to thinking.

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Then a second man is found, also posed, also with a few Latin mottoes discretely tucked around the scene.  

We get quite a bit of the personal life of our hero, and his mother is some character.  But it is laid on with a sledge hammer.

Our hero seems to have been born dumb and misses the obvious a few times.  

On the other hand the officers he works with are well drawn, and there is much to'ing and fro'ing in and around Poznan in a wet spring.  It has some sense of place.  

Then there is the Latin scholar he recruits through his mother's contacts to make sense of the tags.  She is a firecracker from go to whoa, and our hero suffers a rush to blood to his first friend, making him even more slow-witted than usual.  

I read it on the Kindle and it was not easy.  There were odd font characters, broken lines, run-on paragraphs, spelling errors, and more. The translator into English seems to be a Pole, and I guess that explains the syntax errors and the unfathomable idioms which may make sense in Polish but do not in English. Maybe the translator once worked for Jimmie Carter. (Either you get it, or you don't.)

Jodelka.jpg Joanna Jodelka

Before trying another one of these I would want some reassurance that editorial improvements had been made. On Amazon the paperback is $0.08 which is less than the Kindle version. Not sure what to make of that.

It is a double whammy, a lousy presentation and badly translated.  It was too much like reading student essays. There were students of my acquaintance who thought that if the work they submitted was incomprehensible, then the instructor — moi — could not fail it. WRONG! They would then challenge me on the ground that their paper was…, yes, incomprehensible, and since I did not therefore comprehend it, I could not honestly fail it. Imagine the time I spend in such conversations. Now it is easy to see why retirement has its attractions.

For what is worth and to balance the books, I had more than one similar conversation with a Ph.D.-bearing lecturers who asserted, no evidence required, that their lousy teaching stimulated students to learn for themselves. This was no argument about the meaning of lousy teaching, they admitted it and celebrated it. Needless to say these individuals all prospered. What did I say about retirement?

Or, Margo's adventures through the money glass.  Reluctantly, Margo goes to the wedding of her niece, and the fun begins in Hollywood.  The spoiled bride bolts, and the vampire mother of the bride makes Margo an offer she of near bankruptcy cannot refuse and a black AMEX card!  She throws in the keys to a red MG and the groom!   Who knew such cards existed? Not us plebs.

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Off they go down Route 66 meeting all kinds of people, some of the most memorable at the Lesbian dance contest in Palm Springs, others with whom they exchange insults over breakfast, a kindly woman who presses a marriage manual on Margo, and Boone who seems destined to be in recovery from head injuries. He should have stuck to football.

Cary Grant even puts in a cameo appearance,. This book has it all, and more!

Finding the bride, after all this, is anti-climatic.  She is a brat.

Margo's confession at the meeting set a new standard.  Indeed.  No spoiler here. Find out for yourself.

Along the way the imbecilic nature both of Hollywood and its audiences are noted.  

Margo is wrong about almost everything but soldiers on. She may be broke but it is not from a lack of effort.

It shifts gears from silly to serious and back several times but the mix is well judged.  

Jane-Lotter.jpg Jane Lotter

I was very disappointed to learn it is a once-off.

This krimi is a light-hearted romp through distant Devon. This book is second in series not first. My mistake.

Our hero, Sefton, is amanuensis to Morley, an H. G. Wells-type, in 1938. The know-it-all Morley is author of endless titles including a series on English counties.  Nice set up.

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They fetch up at a school where Morley has been invited by an old friend to give a lecture, and there they find strange doings.  Alex, the handsome and confident head teacher, has a plausible explanation for everything, but, still, Sefton has doubts.  He also is jealous of Alex's designs on Miriam, Morley's daughter, who drives the Lagonda on these excursions. She, for her part, seems to welcome these designs.

There is a death, claimed to be an accident, of one of the school boys. Animals disappear from a nearby farm. Strange noises in the night are reported.

Sefton is, of course, right, and for all his blather Morley is quick thinking and acting in the crisis.

That makes it sound better than it reads, I confess.  Many, very many, altogether too many of the pages of the first two-thirds of the book are given over to Morley expatiating on endless, irrelevant subjects. Exhausting.  Pointless. Did I say, tiresome. Morely is an expert on everything and has to prove it minute-by-minute.

At the outset I compared him to H.G. Wells because of that know-it-allness, and the endless list of his book titles, but he is not as pompous and self-important as I suppose Wells was. I say that because I suppose some of Wells's book have an autobiographical element, e.g., 'The New Machiavelli.'

The three principals are likeable, the set up is clever, and the place, Devon is different.  There is some mis-direction about those caves that keeps the suspense alive.  But Morley droning on, while Sefton mentally footnotes the drone to his list of publications, is deadening.

Samson Ian.jpg Ian Sansom

Loved his bad books library series set in Northern Ireland.  

This is the eighth title in the adventures of George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, Crime Investigators, Military Police, United States Eighth Army, South Korea in the 1970s when the Cold War was often very hot. Sueño is the thinker of the two, while Bascom resolves most problems with his fists and sometimes with an illegal hand gun.

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Having read the previous seven titles over a number of years, I had noticed that North Korea never figures in the books. The villains are inevitably Americans and South Koreans in some combination. Not so in this title. The setting is North Korea.

Sueño has agreed, for reasons of his own but as always involving his first friend, to go into North Korea undercover. Whoa! How can this 6’ 2” American G.I. go undercover in North Korea! Limón contrives some pretty clever ways and means to explain that. They hinge on (1) the isolation of North Korea and North Koreans from the wider world and (2) the tyrannical nature of the regime.

Because North Korea is so isolated, North Koreans, even North Korean police, reason from the propaganda stereotypes the regime has drummed into them for thirty years at the time of the story. Americans are blond-haired and blue eyed with enormous noses. Sueño is a Latino, big, yes, but dark with a cute little nose.

In this tyranny every mistake and failure is greeted by maximum punishment. Not only will the erring official be executed but so will be two generations of his family, his parents and likely his in-laws as well as his own children. This terrible possibility is around the corner for anyone. Just read the news today to realise that is still the practice. Consequently, no one reports anything if it can be avoided, because there might be a mistake. The best way to avoid mistakes is to do nothing. Sueño trades on this reluctance to admit trouble.

He has some tenuous contacts in the North who, also for reasons of their own, cooperate. That standard trope is vividly realised in the case of Kang, but credulity is stretched. Kang gets away with too much and is too conspicuous for the suspension of disbelief. He leaves a trail behind him even Dr. Watson as played by Nigel Bruce could follow but no one is able to follow it. Go figure.

Now inaction may be the safest course, but safety is not guaranteed so the North Korean black market offers a service to officials who realise something is wrong but do not wish to report it through channels. They can hire unofficial fixers who will solve the problem for them without leaving a trail. These fixers are often police officers moonlighting, and in these unofficial investigations they are even less constrained than they would ordinarily be though they, too, have to be careful to cover their tracks from their own superiors, usually by splitting the profits and glory.

The portrayal of North Korea in the book is, to say the least, Orwellian. There is the chanting of slogans of praise to the Dear Leader. There is the robotic obedience to imbecilic commands. There is the starvation of most people amid the lavish luxury of the elite. It is enough to satisfy even Ted Cruz.

Dear Leader.jpg Kim Il-sung

Sueño’s cover is that he is a Peruvian sailor with the papers to prove it working on an Albanian ship distributing and collecting cargo along the west coast of North Korea.

That he understands and speaks Korean from long study during his many years in South Korea gives him a double advantage. The first advantage is that he understands what he hears and reads. This advantage is multiplied by the second advantage which is that no North Korea can believe a foreigner understands, still less, speaks Korean. They have been told for so long how unique and special North Korea is, and how barbaric and backward the rest of the world is, that a foreigner is barely human in the eyes of most. In his private moments Sueño compares that attitude to the disdain Anglos showed him when he grew up Latino in East Los Angeles in the late 1960s. It is the same at bottom but it is magnified a thousand times in North Korean.

The plot is, well, fictional. Spoiler alert! The conceit is that a division the North Korean army wants to overthrow the Government of Dear Leader but needs the help of the US 8th Army to do so. Sueño is supposed to convince the 8th Army to hand over fuel, medicines, food, ammunition, and weapons to this division to enable it to do so. Huh! A sergeant is going to convince the 8th Army Command to risk starting a war by violating the DMZ, and in so doing will tell the South Koreans what? Pointless from the get-go.

I have not mentioned the action man Bascom because he did not figure in this book, and I find that is something of relief. In the last title or two I have read in this series I found Bascom’s adolescent temper and libido getting on my nerves.

As always with these books, the place and period are superbly rendered. There are no jarring anachronisms or cultural slips. The characters are each distinguished by speech and attitude, as well as appearance. There is no pointless description of clothes, rooms, or food that pad out so many tedious krimis.

M L.jpg Martin Limón

When I taught a semester at Korea University in 2004 the director of the Korean Studies Department told me that a reunification of the Koreas was inevitable and would be catastrophic for all concerned. He meant that it would happen one day, and when that day came no one would be able to moderate, slow, temper, channel. or resist it. He also meant that the regime in the North was fragile and could shatter at any time, probably due to starvation. Finally, he meant that the people in the North were creatures of the regime in a way that East Germans were never creatures of the DDR. This last is the most interesting and telling point.

The isolation of North Korea has been much more complete and effective than that of East Germany. East Germans were exposed to radio and television, first from other Warsaw Pact countries and through them to even more sources. In East Berlin they could literally look into the Western World. There was also exposure at a personal level in East Germany through visiting tourists from the West as well as other Soviet Allies. Most East Germans could get West German television programs at home if they dared to adjust their sets. And so on. There were many cracks in the walls around East Germany. Not so North Korea.

The jamming of radio and television and the language barrier to Chinese and Japanese precludes the taint of the airwaves. The kind of punishments dished out routinely in North Korea would discourage anyone from adjusting a television set, not that anyone in North Korea owns one. That is the most important insulator, the poverty and ignorance that the population is kept in. Foreign languages are not taught in part to block contact with foreign ideas and practices. They know nothing of the rest of the world but what the regime says.

Integrating the two Koreas would be far more difficult than integrating the two Germanies. The North Korean regime would have many diehard loyalists, and not just from the elite, who would not readily forsake it. There would be no comparable flood of North Koreans willingly leaving North Korea for the South as East Germans flooded from East Germany to West Germany overnight.

The North Korean regime might collapse due to starvation or a palace coup but then nothing might happen, no one would move. The pressure on South Korea to act would be great, largely from its own population but if South Korea entered the North, even bearing food, there might be armed, if disorganised resistance…. a grim picture, the more so when nuclear weapons are available.

This title is a krimi set in contemporary rural Georgia in the borderlands with South Carolina and Florida in a small town whose chief denizens are the Chandler family.  Belay those stereotypes! 

The Chandler sons are an actor of great ambition and little talent, and a physicist who is proud member of the nerd fraternity.  Captain Grandfather spend forty years at sea in the navy. Aunt Amanda, had she been available, would surely have repulsed General Sherman at Atlanta with her wit, skill, forceful personality, and the endless supply of contacts in the right places.  

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Returning to this fold is niece Elizabeth MacPherson, a forensic anthropologist, to be married in the ancestral home.  Her unreconstructed hippie parents continue to smoke dope in Hawaii, trusting all arrangements to the Chandlers in residence.  

Her beau is a Scots marine biologist; they pass the time with discussions of decomposition rates of flesh.

The plot thickens when local Emmett Martin dies...for a second time.  I will say no more to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say it is clever, rIght down to the Biblical nomenclature. 

McCrumb is a dab hand at delineating a cast of characters as individuals from all those named above to the several sheriffs and deputies, the scientific colleagues of each of the principals, and the townspeople, including the whole-earth tree-hugging tofu-eating caterers for the wedding whom Amanda suborns into serving flesh.  Even the Queen of England and a princess make an appearance!

Sharyn M.jpeg Sharyn McCrumb

This is the second in the series centring on Elizabeth MacPherson, and I will lay in the first.  However not sure about continuing thereafter.  With neither zombies nor bimbos, it does not reach the heights of the other books of hers I have read.  Being a one-woman industry she also has several other lines of fiction.

Agatha Christie said the secret to finishing was to start. McCrumb got the message.  

A krimi set in coldest, darkest Helsinki in February. It is part of a set of titles called ‘Ice Cold Crimes’ with a set of authors from Finland.

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It is a police procedural with much about the to’ing and fro’ing of the members of the Homicide Squad, set into motion when a convicted murderer escapes from custody. Intersecting with this low key pursuit is a traffic accident in which Lieutenant Kari Takamäki’s son is slightly injured, and he cannot help but intervene in this routine matter. There are also glimpses into the private lives of a couple of other officers, but the focus is mainly on the fugitive and his past. That is all to the good for this reader.

There is quite a lot of Helsinki in it, the streets, squares, buildings, residential high rises, the weather along with the organisation of policing, intelligence, SWAT,etc. The touch is light but definitive.

While most of the team is out questioning the one-time associates of the fugitive, one officer is assigned the homework of reading through all the files on the murder that led to his conviction and sentencing. In time, she begins to wonder if Timo Repo, the fugitive, was guilty, unpleasant, yes, but guilty, not so sure. To say more would be a spoiler.

Suffice it to say that the plot is well done and it ties together all the pieces of the story nicely, while delivering a few well deserved lashes to the unscrupulous news media and the perfunctory way unpleasant people like Repo are treated by lawyers and judges once they lay hands on them.

The book cover with that soft toy rabbit and the bloody hand have nothing to do with the story, as far as I could tell, but I did read it in bed as I was falling asleep….

While reading it I compared it to the latter volumes in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series as they descended into hysteria, mistaking their own ever greater self-righteousness for social criticism. By contrast, this volume is much more straightforward. All to the good. The police officers do their best, and in some cases that is not much, but in others it is more than enough. At the end when the SWAT team is set to go in hard and fast, its members would much prefer not to have to go. Too many guns and too much shooting is not the best or only way, they above all, know this.

Sipila_458x600-by-CrimeTime.jpg Jarkko Siplia

Sipila has at least three other titles and in time I will get to them.

This krimi is the first of three involving Professor Maureen ‘Red’ Solaris in a college’s school of journalism. The dean of the school has died in a fall down some stairs over the weekend, Did he stumble or was he pushed?

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There are many tensions within the school. The Old Guard is mortally jealous of its ancient privileges and prerogatives which the dead dean was eroding in reorganisations. Disappointed and disaffected candidates for tenure seem to be bent on destruction. Meanwhile, among the students, blackmail might be the route to an A+ result. Then there are the sexual assaults, divorces, and alcoholism. All and all, it sounds like a typical department. The only things missing, I thought, were embezzlement and extortion.

In fact, I found it all so real that flipped the pages, it being too much like being back at work: The special pleading from junior faculty, the one-eyed demands from senior professors, the requests of students for yet more concessions. If I wanted that, I could go back to work. It all seemed plausible, but that did not make it any more diverting to read. The only unrealistic element was the consideration and support offered by the corporate management at the top of the college to the beleaguered acting dean.

Professor Solaris is designated acting dean, and becomes involved in the snail-like police investigation. She then confronts the many psychopaths among the faculty and sociopaths among the students. At some point, I said a plague on all their houses.

Flipping the pages was made easier by the rather self-centred telling. The author identifies completely with Red and it shows. Her thoughts are cherished. Her love life sends quivers through the pages. Her fastidious habits are detailed. Oh hum. To this reader all of this was self-indulgent padding that advanced neither character or plot.

Bourne Morris.jpg Bourne Morris

Not rushing to try volumes two and three, I am afraid.

After reading her 'Bimbos of the Death Star' it was only a matter of time until I got around to 'Zombies of the Gene Pool.' When my Amazon Wish List came true on Christmas the time was right. It is an amusing and diverting lark as literati Marion and engineer Jay combine forces once again to get to the bottom of a mystery.


When frail Professor Erik Giles asks Assistant Professor Marion Farley to accompany him to a private reunion the fun begins. Jay Mega goes along to ride shotgun.  

It is a very special reunion of a select group who were nutcase sci-fi fans in the distant 1950s. In the ensuing forty years some have made it big in books, in movies, in life and others have remained adolescent into old age.

The lore of fandom and tales of conferences past, the parade of sci-fi names, this book has it all.

Then one of the reunionist dies and the plot thickens. The old tensions and rivalries in the merry band emerge perfectly preserved in the amber of time. Secrets, long held and forgotten by some, seep out.  Not good.  The death was murder.  Who done it? That is the question, Mr Spock, and the duo get to work on it tout suite.

With the schizophrenic Mistral leading the pack, along with the semi-comatose Surn, and the one-man avalanche Woodard, the phlegmatic Angela, the absent Earlene, lawyer Jim, the author has assembled a mix of folks and stirred the pot.  The plotting is simple but clever, the dialogue sharp, and the setting vivid.  Would that I could say even one of those things about most books.  

The major theme is the disjunction between the expectation of fans and the reality of writers.  

McCrumb.jpg Sharyn McCrumb, who has many more titles to her credit.

There is one glitch: when the hotel manager thinks of the death as murder long before that has been established on page 175.  He of all people would certainly has assumed that the old coot died of natural, old-coot causes.  

The book has pace, place, and plot.  Four stars.  

Spoiler Alert! There are no zombies. There were not any bimbos either.

This is an early title in a long running series.

It is model of composition and structure, covering a vast amount of territory in few words.

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A body is discovered in far Dingle at the southwest tip of Ireland, trussed, drugged, and shot in the head like an execution. McGarr travels from Dublin Castle to investigate. Only two days later, while the usual inquiries are underway, a second body is found in the same place, the police tape and seal having been ripped off to dump a second dead man, likewise trussed and shot.

McGarr takes this second murder as a personal affront.

The victims were both English and that takes McGarr to London. The prime suspects are involved in oil expiation off the Scots coast, both Italians with ENI, and that takes McGarr to Italy, and eventually to Siena.

The characterisations are vivid, the travelogue nicely done, and the dialogue credible.

To this reader there is too much of McGarr musing on the English and the Italians. Too much description of clothes and food in both places as well as Ireland. All padding which does little, if anything, to establish either place or character. Too much to’ing and fro’ing. And it is beyond credibility that police in England and Italy defer to McGarr like a demigod.

I would have much preferred more of Ireland. For Italy I can read plenty of Italian krimis which will be mercifully shorn of musing on Italians.

The denouement was pretty obvious and so contrived as to be boring. The involvement of Foster, the Jamaican, seems gratuitous. The helicopter flying woman is another red herring too far. Just by coincidence she flew nearly the same route on the same days with one of the same passengers, who seemed to be two places at once.

Gill.jpg Bartholomew Gill

McGarr also muses about several women, and this, too. I found a distraction, all rather adolescent. One of these women, later in the book, is called not once but two or three times by the first name Graham. It is a typographical error, that being her husband's name. Talk about distracting. I thought at first he had come back to life. A sentence that contains 'she Graham' should have alerted any proof reader.

A Japanese krimi set in Tokyo. It offers a window on the manners and mōres of Japan in the 1960s. The obedience to parents of marriage age women and also men is part of the plot as is corporate loyalty. There is some by-play between the investigating police office and the prosecutors that reveals their differing agendas.

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A few of the stereotypes are punctured, because there is corporate disloyalty, resistance to parental wishes, tax avoidance and these features must have made the book unorthodox at the time.

The description on Amazon made me think it was a police procedural, but the first 40% (I read it as an e-book so I noticed the percentage) is about the girl, her betrothal, and marriage and then her husband is murdered the night of their wedding. Before we get to the murder we learn much of her life, previous boyfriends, the effort of her parents to steer her to a suitable match, the one boyfriend who will not let go, and the courtship of her husband. Oh hum.

Even with the dead body, there is far too little action for it to be procedural. Mostly the police officer and prosecutor sit around speculating on what might have happened without a shred of evidence to guide their thinking. When evidence kills one line of speculation, rather than pursue more evidence they retire to speculate more. Oh hum. Wordy.

The plot is well developed and wraps everything up, but I am not sure how many readers will persist. I did, and that is a tribute to the ingenuity of the plot, not to the action or to the vividness of the characters, whom I had trouble keeping straight.

Takagi_Akimitsu.jpg Akimitsu Takagi

The author has several other krimis in print.

An intriguing set up for our very weary duo.

Before the war, the luxury spa hotels of Vittel hosted the wealthiest members of French and international society. Now, in the winter of 1943, two of these hotels hold British and American women, the former since 1939 and the later since December 1941. The prisoners had lived quietly, surviving on Red Cross aid packages, but now they are beginning to die.

One American woman died in a fall down an elevator shaft, and it was assumed to be an accident, then an unknown assailant stabbed another to death with a pitchfork in the stables. With the second death the commandant calls for help, and inspectors Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté and Hermann Kohler of the Gestapo arrive. In the pockets of the second victim they find Cracker Jacks and Hershey bars — presumed to be bribes for the guards. St-Cyr and Kohler have to unravel a conspiracy that is at the heart of this odd arrangement.

Above is an edited version of the blurb on the Amazon web site which seemed to me to be both inaccurate and overblown. No Germans stormed into Vichy. The two groups of women are in separate hotels and that is part of the plot, and they have been incarcerated for different periods of time. Whatever the past of the hotels, there is no luxury to be found there. Nor does it make sense to call a hotel a camp. The garbled blurb is very like Janes’s prose. I have read many of the titles in this series but the prose is leaden.

Janes does a good job of distinguishing among the women. There are many different stories among them, and in fact, some of the inmates are French married to Brits or Yanks but with the wrong passports when their papers were inspected. Their individual hopes, aspirations, methods of dealing with the privations and boredom are well brought out, like clutching at occult straws. Confined and controlled for years, there are endless frictions, grievances, and complaints which, powerless to affect the casual agents, the Germans, they take out on each other. There are tensions between the two nationalities, and even more within each.

Papers bitte.jpg 'These papers are not in order!'

By the same token there are tensions among the German guards, who would rather be there than in Russia. The commandant who called in the investigators has been undermined and replaced by a subordinate who wants no investigation.

Most of the investigation falls on the American hotel, many of the occupants of which are students who were doing courses in France when the curtain fell.

The grey prose, the cryptic descriptions, the gnomic interpretations, the ambiguity of voices, they all combine to obscure the denouement. But then I read these for the atmosphere, not the arrival. Once again the pair prevail despite all the impediments.

‘Atmosphere’ I said. For example, the privations of the Occupation. Everyone is hungry, and have lived for so long on a poor diet that their senses are diminished, they have no stamina, and cannot concentrate. Nor are the German jailers much better off.

‘A very smooth and entertaining tale of adventure and intrigue in Florence shortly after the great flood. Art objects form the centre of the crookedness, and the social and political entanglements are done with a sure hand, together with a few persuasive characters. The suspense is light.’ From ‘A Catalogue of Crime’, eds. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Taylor.

Occasionally I select a title recommended by Jack and Wendy and this was one. It was readily available in 2004 reprint. Everything in the comments above is true. Alas, it is also true that I tired of it about half-way through. My failing, no doubt.

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I liked the characters, the retired British naval man whose instincts help navigate the troubled waters, the indifferent victim, the forthright housemaid, Mercurio the odd ball adoptee, they all livened up the pages. The method of implicating the victim with his car was new to me. I also read with interest the soupçon of Etruscan art mentioned, and wished for more. How the Etruscans related to ancient Romans is one of those recurrent questions when I read about either, the more so having once seen some Etruscan ruins and art while resident in Firenze at the European Universities Institute. I also know that Decius never trusted any Etruscan, real or imagined. alive or dead.

But the plot quickly descended into yet another rendition of the total corruption of Italian society, from the building janitor, who for a few lira will let the Mafia killers into the apartment, to the traffic warden who for a few lira will wheel clamp any car, to the tax collector who for a few lira will raid the office and impound books….. no questions asked. Our heroes are up against a total conspiracy of a kind to make Stalin envious.

Yet somehow our heroes do prevail but by then I was turning the pages so fast that the detail of how escaped me. There were several villains involved and perhaps they came into collision for there is no honour among thieves, I suppose.

GilbertMichael.jpg Lawyer by day and writer by night,

The author is very accomplished and industrious for there are many other titles. I might try one of the series because I like continuing characters.

The first in the series.

Alex Delaware is a psychologist who is gradually drawn into police work when a child abuser commits suicide in his office during the night. Delaware had been working with the victims of this perpetrator. That event jarred Delaware loose from his profession, his clients, his positions, his habits and much else. At the same time it also opened the door to helping the police with inquiries, in that quaint British expression.

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In this case, a fellow psychologist has been murdered along with his girlfriend, and while Delaware did not know the man personally, there is a professional interest and then a police officer asks for his assistance in questioning a seven-year old child who is the only witness to event in an apartment complex in Los Angeles. ‘Questioning,’ as we learn, is not the right word, but rather finding out what the child, now very frightened, saw and then interpreting that. The child arouses his sympathies and he is hooked. If it sounds rather contrived, it is not in the reading.

I particularly liked his long interview with the curmudgeonly emeritus professor who enjoys dishing the dirt. If only…. The description of the rainstorm charged by lightning was very fine, though by then I was impatient to get to the point.

The killing of the dog was too much. Every woman Alex meets is attractive and attracted to him, but he manfully remains loyal to Robin. Tedious.

All of the pieces do fit together in the plot, though it is far-fetched, but then again maybe not. Reality is sometimes hard to believe, too.


There are thirty or so Alex Delaware krimies that I have never read, despite my taste for police procedurals. It came to mind when I recently heard a Garrison Keillor ‘The Writer’s Almanac’ podcast in which he mentioned Kellerman’s long road to publication. Ten years of typing away three hours a night in an unheated garage in New York and stacks of rejections before the first publication.

By the way, this is my third Kindle book reading.

The first in a series of self-styled noir mysteries set in January 1951 in the Big Apple. A very easy read with many short chapters and some interesting characters, and then there is that closet which, like Henry, I thought was going to be explained and wasn’t. I kind of liked that. There was also plenty of woodworking.

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It is at once very conventional and somewhat unconventional. The tough cop. The honourable criminal. The femmes fatales, who turn out to be OK. But mostly it is connect the dots. There are some bons mots but it does not crackle.

There is no tension and the characterisation is left to the woodwork. Too many chapters started with a new character who proved to be ephemeral anyway.

The rapprochement between the food critique who has an office nearby (and not at the newspaper for some reason) and the tough cop is not convincing, not interesting, and not relevant. They will probably appear in later titles in the series.

The mystery is that closet where occasionally Henry finds gifts from the future for both his hobby of woodworking and his job of detecting. That and Bobbie the motor-mouth estate agent who seems to know Henry’s business better than he should.

meeks.jpg Brian D. Meeks

Left me unsure if I want to read another one in the series.

I read it as a Kindle book. My second.

The fifth in the series and better than ever. Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends, and the premise of this series is that Wilde is the model and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, with his encyclopaedic knowledge, instant perception of facts, computer like processing of information, grasp of new languages in minutes, bolt holes here there and everywhere, mastery of disguise…

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In this entry, Wilde and Doyle travel to Europe, each to escape his adoring fans, for some R and R. But no sooner do they check into a hotel than the game is afoot.

Doyle receives some strange mail, forwarded by his publisher, addressed to Sherlock Holmes. That has happened before, but not like this! Doyle shows and tells Wilde, and Oscar insists that they follow-up.

Toute Suite the trail leads to Rome and to the heart of Rome in the Vatican. Once in the eternal city, Doyle takes things as a they seem to be, but not Oscar who sees mystery and deceit in the very air. Some of the scenes occur under the dome of St. Peter in the dead of night.

gyles-biography.jpg Gyles Brandreth

The period details, the travelogue, the dialogues, but most of all the stolid Doyle as Waston to Wilde’s mercurial Holmes is a great fun.

‘An Istanbul Mystery’ says the subtitle, the fourth in a series, but the only one readily available to me.

A nice set-up with the young girl exploring the island while the dog takes charge. There is a mystery in a cave and an array of characters, Cousin Evangeline and Uncle Orville added to the mayhem. The séance was a laugh. The running joke about the talking dog was deft. The plaintiff ney lessons were part of the local color.

Goodman cover.jpg

It is amusing, and the children are fun, and the final denouement surprised me.

On the other hand the French diplomat was not even cardboard, and after he was inflicted upon the reader, he was then dropped. Likewise the two French police officers, who were portrayed more kindly, were introduced and then dropped.

Goodman mug.jpeg Laurence Goodman, from the back cover

Having said that, I am not motivated to seek out the other titles in the series.

After seeing ‘Duck Soup’ (1933) I had Groucho on the brain. Then I remembered this book which I had started to read years ago, but it had gotten bumped by…a deadline, another book, a failure of concentration, the winds of time, or something. My flawless shelving system allowed me to retrieve in a the twirl of a moustache end.

It is simple and diverting, though Groucho wears, erodes, irks, and bores. Julius Henry Marx just does not have an off-switch. Even when sleuthing, he is wisecracking and pratfalling much to the irritation of his straight-man Watson, Frank Denby, a gagwriter for radio when not sleuthing.

Groucho book cover.jpg

In 1937 a girl’s suicide in Hollywood irks Julius who is quite sure that she was not the suicide-type, and Denby finds the police stonewall suspicious. Off they go…. A midnight visit to a funeral home/office/parlour is straight out of a Marx Brothers picture with an unexpected touch that I will not spoil here.

They come up with nothing but then, true to the scriptwriter’s formula, someone takes a shot at them, convincing them that there is a conspiracy afoot. The plot twist toward the end was visible for miles.

There are a number of other titles in this series from the industrious Mr. Goulart.

Ron Goulart.jpg Ron Goulart

But if the trash-talk of Groucho was cut from this book, the remainder would be a short story of 60 pages or so. Too bad because the writer can write. The romance between Jane and Frank is charming, and some of the minor characters like the aged bellboy are well drawn, and the plot brings in the usual suspects, crooked cops from Bay City (where else), gamblers, starlets who will do anything with anybody for shot at fame and fortune, and even a bloodhound.

Wikipedia is full of information about the Marxes. The short version is five brothers, one of whom never acted, Gummo, another, Zeppo, who only did a little before moving on, and the three core brothers of stage, radio, and screen: Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. Stage names, yes, all ending in ‘o’ as was some fashion in their early years. Even Gummo who never took to the stage had an ‘o’ nickname to be consistent.

Marx_brothers_Tonight_Show.jpg From left to right: [do it yourself]

Chico because he chased women (chicks), Harpo because…. [figure it out]. Zeppo after the airship. Gummo because he crept around like a gumshoe. And Grocho because…. He preserved his mystique by giving numerous explanations over the years. Their parents immigrated to New York from Alsace, ethnic German Jews. No relation to Karl, the one without any sense of humour.

I came across this title in March 2015 on a list of krimies set in Nebraska provided by the Omaha Public Library. When my eye fell on it, I knew I had to read it. Amazon came to the rescue with a copy. Carhenge! Been there, see that! Once you’ve seen Carhenge, it stays. We have tried for years to work Carhenge into conversations with the globetrotters we meet. Paris, Rio, Shanghai, Cairo, New York, these have little to offer in comparison. [Applause!]

Carhenge cover.jpg

The setting is college summer school offered in Alliance (named by French trappers having taken a wrong turn from the Platte River, they were a long way from anything to trap)— class lists (inaccurate), class rooms (unready), dean (officious), photocopying machine (broken down), internet (off line), textbooks (not arrived), desk top computer for the visitor (inoperative), one pushy student (give me the syllabus now, four months before the session starts!), and more slack students (going through the motions for career or social purposes). In short, a typical summer school. The only thing I found hard to believe was a full professor from the University of Colorado had a modest mien and accepted this assignment and seemed to like students and teaching. That is not a creature I have caught sight of in our local zoo.

These students are largely elementary school teachers accumulating credits either for another degree or to comply with a continuing education requirement. That, too, is familiar. Inevitably one student comes late to the course and another to each class and both demand to know what has been missed (i.e., private tuition). Another underlines every word in the reading but cannot answer any question about it (trees without a forest in sight). Par for any course.

One of the students disappears from class. Yes, that happens. But a few days later her boyfriend is found with a very big knife stuck in his very dead body…. Everything indicates she did it. Now that is not par for any course.

Moreover, she was a thoughtful and bright student who had befriended (advised and counselled, he discovers) several of the other women students. Could she be the culprit?

David McIntyre, our hero, wonders about this and he meets a few local people who, knowing her better than he does, also wonder. The pace is deliberate, and the passing parade of small town characters is given its due. The freelance mechanic, a weedy, bony, twenty year old with tattoos and studs, who longs to be a tough guy but keeps tripping over things, he is a hoot. The denizens of the burger joint act as a Greek chorus. Then there is the heat in the panhandle - open spaces are no-go zones after 10.30 on a July morning. The canopy of elm trees captures and holds a stifling, albeit shady, heat beneath, dark and hot like an oven. Most of all, there is: Carhenge.

car-henge-4.jpg Carhenge-1.jpg carhenge-2.jpg carhenge-4.jpg carhenge-7.jpg carhemge=8.jpg

The book gives instructions on the best method of viewing the site. To find that out, read the book for I shall not reveal it here. I hope to visit Carhenge again myself next year and make use of the instructions I found here.

James Work.jpg James Work

That the plot turns on several novels is great fun and very well realised. There are other literary krimies but none quite like this where life is art is life. Readers of the book will follow. Readers of ‘Tess of the d'Urbervilles’ will put 2 and 2 together and get Carhenge.

If Carhenge is unknown, add a brick to the wall of knowledge by reading about it on Wikipedia, or see the film! [Yes, Mr. Spock, there is a film.] Best of all, pay it a visit.

An early entry in the long running series of the cases of sergeants Ernie Bascom and George Sueño, two investigators in the United States 8th Army in South Korea in the middle 1970s.  The Cold War is intense and no where more intense than along the Military Demarcation Line within the Demilitarized Zone. South Korea has a military government that justifies its crimes as necessary for security. American conscripts discover that money can be made in the black market, selling U.S. army equipment and supplies to Koreans.  There is plenty to go around, unless someone gets greedy. Well, yes, that does happen.

Wandering ghost.jpg

The time and place are richly detailed. including the ways of Korean National Police and the interstices of the U.S. Army. The 8th Army wants no trouble, preferring to ignore corruption and even murder within its ranks rather than face bad publicity. The investigation of the death PFC Marvin Druwood was superficial and the subsequent disappearance of MP Jill Matthewson is even less thorough. No sooner is the carpet replaced on these two events, then Bascom and Sueño arrive.

Jill's mother had written to her congressman who in turn has insisted on answers. To go through the motions Bascon and Sueño are sent to the Second Division near the DMZ with a very limited remit. The Second is a field unit while our protagonists are Rear Echelon M.... F.....s; they are not welcome and the veneer of cooperation drops quickly. No one is happy about the assignment. But of course, once engaged Bascom and Sueño just will not let go.

Bascom is the action man. Show him a door and he kicks it in. A roomful of thugs delights him and only Sueño can hold him back, most of the time.  Volatile! He has a self-destructive fearlessness that frightens Sueño at times. For his part Sueño is the strong silent type who spends all his spare time learning the Korean language and culture. Life is a puzzle to him and tries to figure it out.  Bascom is on a one-way ticket and determined to enjoy the ride, while Sueño cannot quit an unfinished job. Bascom is often impatient with Sueño’s efforts to figure things out, and he neither understands nor cares about the explanations Sueño produces.

They are both cast-iron in these pages. They drink enough alcohol to kill a normal man and seldom sleep more than four (4) hours a night on the case, while travelling the length and breadth of South Korea in an open jeep in the winter! After several beatings, it takes each of then a few pages to recover. Ironmen, indeed.

Limón draws his Korean characters with respect, none are plot devices. The prostitutes are business girls, proprietors of their own small business. The bars and brothels supply the American demand which has created much that is ugly in Korea, but nonetheless the Northern threat is very real. There are martinets among the army men they encounter but there are also some very wise owls who have survived a long time in troubled waters from whom a nod or a hint goes a long way. Sueño has learned to read these signs, which largely escape Bascom.

Martin-Limon-1024x724.jpg Martin Limón, whose affection for Korea shines through.

The books are more violent than my usual fare but the compensations are in the travelogue and the puzzles in the plot. In this title I also warmed to the idea that the ultimate prize was a celadon crane vase, perhaps like some we saw at the national museum in Seoul in 2004, and not money or drugs. I do find Bascom’s hormones repetitive.

In a world of misnomers, the Demilitarised Zone must take some prize. It is completely militarised. I visited the DMZ twice in 2004 and found it scary. A million or more men armed to teeth are each side of a line down the middle of a meandering river. Yikes!

Vish Puri, India’s greatest private eye, as he finds occasion to remark several times in these pages, is on the case with his redoubtable team: Doorstop, Facecream, Tubelight, and Grunt. With such an ensemble cast, what could go wrong? There is a lot of trip and some arrival, too. The trip includes a selection of Indian cuisine became Puri is always hungry, and always eating. The back-matter of the book includes several recipes and a glossary of Indian terms, many of them are food.

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In addition to Puri’s team of operatives there is his arch rival Hari Kumar and Mummy, Puri’s inquisitive. intrepid, and tenacious mother-in-law. And then there are the Love Commandos.

When Romeo met Juliet neither set of parents was happy and between the loving couple placed many barriers, yes? We all know how that story came to a sad end. They needed the Love Commandos to extract them from their parental restraints and spirit them away to a new life together. In an India with arranged marriages there are many Romeos and Juliets and the Love Commandos fill a market niche by offering elopement services for just such couples.

Puri is a traditionalist in every way including arranged marriage which has worked out fine for him. But his number one operative, Facecream, it turns out, moonlights as a Love Commando. Disapprove though he might, she has always been a loyal and adept agent and he can only return her loyalty by assisting in one of her commando operations when it turns bad.

From Dehli to Lucknow with a side trip to Agra, the adventure unfolds, while Puri eats his way through some of the regional cuisines of India but one step ahead of his rival Hari Kumar, who for reasons to be revealed later, seems to be working the same case. Corrupt politicians, unscrupulous Swedish medical researchers, retired Gurkhas hired out as muscle, an unholy holy man, some miserable Dalits (Untouchables) are among the parade of characters.

Tarquin hall.jpg Tarquin Hall

The touch is light and the book is replete with slices of India but the plot is deadly serious.

I have read two earlier titles in this series with equal amusement and enlightenment.

Genre? Novel. Style? Northern Gothic, certainly. Magic Realism, maybe. Rating? * * * *

What happens in it? It is a circus of characters and incident. Part satire and part hyperrealism.

Black Bird cover.jpg

In her one-woman struggle to free Québec from the evil Anglos young Marie inadvertently blows up her maternal grandfather who becomes a spectral observer thereafter.

leja_sn635.jpg The Francophone police officer shown is trying to defuse an FLQ bomb. It blew up and left him maimed and crippled.

Her feckless twin brother Jean-Baptiste is irritated that with his own name in Montréal he cannot read French. The crow that Aline keeps in the kitchen attacks Grandfather. Tabernac! The FLQ consists mostly of spies in the pay of the Gendarmarie Royal.

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Grandfather before and after losing the eye pursues his profession with father. They are grave robbers and Mont Royal is their hunting, well, digging, ground. They are accustomed to finding others, living there and work around them. But once the ground freezes in November, they have to wait…or do they?

In a ramshackle, decaying house three or is it four generations of Desouches live. Grandfather, father, and uncle, as our narrator terms them, shun the company of neighbours. This is another uncle apart from the one who was passing the letter box when Marie’s bomb went off, heralding a new era of freedom for Québecois. Then there is mother and Aline. I found it hard to keep the family straight. I started to make a score card, but that slowed down the reading, so I stopped. Pace is everything in these pages.

Father does not join the grave robbers, preferring instead to do nothing at all. He is surprisingly energetic in this pursuit.

Basilières includes the FLQ Crisis and the War Measures Act with René Lévesque’s manslaughter, the murder of Pierre La Porte with his own crucifix. Salutary reminders for those who find Canadian politics boring that boring is good compared to the alternative. The Montréal Basilières’s conjures from his keyboard lacks only voodoo and Spanish moss to be a cold version of mysterious and eerie New Orleans found so often in the popular culture in Southern gothic novels.

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The Christmas gifts Jean Bapiste and Marie exchange in their mutual incomprehension are treasures. He only knows and relates to books but he is dimly aware of Marie’s activities. Ergo he gives her a copy of Carlos Marighella’s 1969 ‘Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla.’ She supposes he means it as a condemnation of her feeble efforts, and flies into a rage. But not before she gives him a blank book to show her contempt for his reading and writing, and he takes it to mean she wants him to write in the book and he immediately sets to to work to do it and indeed does. (It is a blank note book bound to look like a book. Their misunderstanding is complete and to the core.)

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The subsequent account of the performance of the play that emerges from the blank book is a wonderful satire on everything it touches from the producer-director to the audiences. Nothing is sacred. Calice!

Fact is one thing and fiction is another and this is fiction: This is a Montréal populated by grave robbers who siphon off the neighbour’s natural gas to heat their ark but cannot control it so that house is an oven during the coldest winter, a Montréal where Felquiste and Pequiste hate each other and no one but them cares one whit and that drives each of them to new heights of frustration, a Montréal where a glass eye offers better sight that the real thing, a Montréal where the timeline of history bends….

It is no accident that the family physician is named Dr. Hyde who is a famous surgeon and yet is ready and willing to make house-calls to the Desouches (because they supply what he demands - see above). The good doctor does his most important work alone at night, and has some unexpected success.

BasilieresMichel.jpg Michel Basilieres

Marie becomes an avenging angel and single-handedly kidnaps the British Trade Commissioner and later she strangles him to death with his own rosary chain. It is Rated-R and rather gruesome, and she, of course, finds it difficult to do and to live with, but…. Then there is that lousy gas connections, and boom, many problems are obliterated. Marie, in another time and place, would have been a postulant in a convent such as imagined in Ron Hansen’s fine novel ‘Mariette in Ecstasy’ (1991), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

One of the most exhilarating novels I have read. I came across it in a Montréal bookstore while walking some of the streets described in it and that added a frisson the first time I read it in in 2009. It came to mind recently as I read a few things about Canada and Québec so I sat down with it again. Great fun. Gabrielle Roy chronicled Montréal life in a series of wonderful novels in the 1940s and 1950s. Wry, gentle, bemused and serious, they are. In this book, by contrast, nothing is serious nor sacred. Though it is deeply ‘de vieille souche’ as they used to say on that island in the fleuve St Laurent, it was written in English. Those among the Québeceratti who take themselves ever so seriously avoided any mention of the book. The contemporary reviews I found were all in English in English-language publications. One of which chides the author for mashing together the FLQ crisis and the PQ government and confusing Pierre LaPorte with James Cross. Not everyone gets the point, it seems.

After reading Benjamin Black’s continuation of this title in ‘The Black-eyed Blonde’ this old favourite was on my mind when I saw it on the shelf of the Megalong Bookstore in Leura.

This is Chandler’s last complete novel and it is twice as long as any of his previous ones. Indeed it was very long for the genre when it was published. I thought I would read a chapter or two before bed the other night and found myself on page 100 at midnight, such was the flow of characters and events. Another four nights and I was done. Of course, I had read it before and then Black’s book had refreshed some of the characters for me.

Beginners can start here. Philipp Marlowe meets an odd character, one Terry Lennox, whom he gets to like and sees now and then over several months. Very early one morning Lennox appears and asks Marlowe to drive him to Mexico, no questions asked. Marlowe agrees, opening the can of worms that wriggle out over the next 400+ pages.

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Once again Chandler proves expert at pace and development. It moves but the reader can follow, and as it moves the characters and situations are fleshed out. If he describes the clothing a character wears it is because it reveals a social situation, an attitude, the money, something about the person that comes into the story. No description is an end-in-itself in Chandler; it serves a larger purpose, or it is omitted. Scores of contemporary writers should learn that lesson.

And he differentiates characters one from the other, even if the appearance is fleeting. The jailer who opens the door to the cell where Marlowe will sit and ponder friendship for three nights says nothing, but he is etched in his posture, his walk, his silent appraisal of Marlowe. Nothing is said between them but they understand one another: Marlowe will make no trouble and the jailer will leave him alone. The tough talking newspaper man is a stock character, yes, but this one is just a little bit different, an individual, neither a stereotype nor a plot device. The cab driver who declines the tip has his reasons. The several police officers are each individuals, some very unpleasant, some vacuous, and some well-meaning but exhausted, all different one from the others. Then there is the New York publisher who tries to do the right thing but cannot quite see what that is.

Another lesson for today. Too many, far too many krimies that I try to read now present a parade of characters who all effect the same speech patterns even when they ostensibly represent a variety of backgrounds because, I guess, the authors cannot control the language, or worse, do not perceive the similarities. Neither is a recommendation.

Bogie reading Chandler.jpg Bogart reading Chandler on the set of The Big Sleep, as a publicity shot.

Then of course there is Eillen Wade, or as Marlowe calls her: The Dream. The page crackles when she walks in. That one man in the room does not look at her is a sure sign to Marlowe that he is up to something.

In the six Marlowe titles we learn almost nothing about Marlowe but here, when quizzed, he says a few things about himself: born Santa Rosa, parents dead, only child, played football once…to explain some crooked teeth. So much for the backstory in a half a dozen lines. Chandler’s focus is always on the here and now. This focus keeps the story moving and also preserves Marlowe’s mystique. Contrast this spare account with the verbose backstories that derail the action, if there is any, in so many contemporary krimies. I read one recently that interrupted the action with a 100-page backstory about the protagonist, at which point I quit reading it. (No this back story did not tie into the story, of that I am sure.) It was like listening to the drunk in a bar who wants to tell whoever is there his own fascinating life story. No thanks.

If Chandler’s prose is economical, decisive, and penetrating, the dialogue is even better. Chandler had an ear for the spoken word. If the descriptions single out individuals, their talk clinches it. Superb.

Chandler obit.jpg One obituary of Raymond Chandler.

I have read this novel at least once, perhaps twice before, and I had a very strong recollection of one of the minor characters, Earl Wild, at the ranch. I anticipated his appearance and he did not let me down, but I was surprised, given the memory I had of him, how brief is his appearance on the page. Very brief. Likewise, I remembered though not as vividly the T. S. Eliot quoting chauffeur Amos in the last few pages, Chandler’s riff on pretentious literature.

The central character in the book is Chandler’s alter ego Roger Wade who, like Chandler, is a genre writer whose work sells, for reasons he cannot fathom, but that wins him no respect as an author. When Wade hits the bottom of the bottle, a frequent occurrence, he spouts self-indulgent nonsense and feels sorry for himself with great eloquence and energy. Wade is Chandler in all respects.

When Chandler wrote this book, we now know, his own wife was dying of cancer and he spent many nights and days with her at the hospital, and turned to the typewriter to escape that reality. One biographer speculates that the book is as long as it is because its composition coincided with her agonising death. A morbid thought, but it explains the mood swings and oscillating character of Roger who is also bearing a different kind of burden from his wife, she being The Dream, as above, or as Linda Loring calls her, ‘the Golden Icicle.’

No review is complete without a barb. Chandler does not manage quite as well with the rich and obnoxious characters, like Harlan Potter or Dr. Edward Loring in this book. Both are at the cardboard end of the continuum. There to be hissed at and booed. Nor is Linda Loring quite right, either, though for different reasons. I never did form a clear impression of her. The backstory of Lennox, Mendy Menendez, and Randy Starr just does not compute.

The book has a foreword, well I guess it is that, but the publisher coyly does not call it that, instead titling it ‘Jeffrey Deaver on “The Long Good-bye”.’ The real mystery is why the publisher bothered to include it. Is the hope that Deaver’s readers will, Pavlov-like, follow him to purchase and read Chandler, or simply to squeeze some more work out of Deaver’s contract? If the former, it is a well-kept secret since it is not trumpeted on the cover (see above) to lure in those Pavlovian readers. If it is the latter, it is a wash-out. Deaver’s remarks are few, banal, and trivial, as well as factually incorrect when he writes that the story takes Marlowe to Mexico. Not so. Marlowe goes no further than Dr Verringer’s ranch in Los Angeles county. Deaver’s main reference to the text is the opening lines, perhaps he got no further. He also says Chandler’s prose is like Hemingway’s. Yes, he does! Staccato. That is Hemingway. Short and sharp. To the point. One point is one sentence. Subject, verb, and object. End. If it has to be said, Chandler’s prose is not like Hemingway’s. Really, Jeffrey!

In 1954 the ‘New York Times’ reviewer, Anthony Boucher, said it was the best of the best, and Chandler’s peers voted it an Edgar award. Boucher also remarks that this novel has a strong theme of social criticism about the society and situation that produces these crimes with less of the sardonic resignation of some of the earlier Marlowe novels.

It took Hollywood twenty years to get around to it, and then to make a hash of it. Nuf said on that subject.

This publisher changed Chandler’s ‘tires’ to ‘tyres’ but stuck with ‘z’ in ‘organize’ and ‘finalize.‘ At least once a ‘he’ appears where it should be a ‘she’ and elsewhere we have ‘ice’ for ‘eyes.’

One question I always ask the inner Elmore Leonard at the end of a novel is, ‘Could I edit it down in length?’ In this case, if I worked at it I would cut and shorten a few scenes and reduce by, say, half-a-page. It all adds up, even Roger’s drunken ravings, tedious though they are to read.

I came across Jacques Barzun's 'Catalogue of Crime' (1989) and spent several evenings flipping through it, reading the 50-100 word reviews, each a model of composition, trenchant, clear, and definitive. I searched for reviews praising unfamiliar writers to broaden my horizons,  but also came across golden oldies like Raymond Chandler. Of Chandler's 'The Lady in the Lake,' Barzun wrote…..

‘The exposition of the situation and character is done with remarkable pace and skill, even for Chandler. This superb  tale moves through a maze of puzzles and disclosures to its perfect conclusion. Marlowe makes a greater use of physical clues and ratiocination in this exploit than in any other. It is Chandler's masterpiece.’

High praise indeed, the more so considering the source. If you don’t know Jack, it is time you did. Try Wikipedia for a start.

After reading the ‘Black-Eyed Blonde,' reviewed elsewhere on this blog, I recalled this praise and decided to re-new acquaintance with it. I tried to find it as an audio book while travelling, but that did not work out, and that, too, is explained in another post. When I got back to the Ack-Comedy, while shelving the 18 kilograms of travel reading I came across the very book: 'The Lady in the Lake' in a 1971 printing from Canada which I must have purchased for .95 cents in graduate school penury. The back cover is long gone and the front cover is torn, but all the pages are still there with all the words.


Wow! What a trip. What an arrival. I was pretty sure I remembered the plot, and who done it, but even so there were twists and turns that surprised me. In fact, at one point toward the end I began to doubt my recollection. It did not seem to be developing as I remembered.... But then it did, after another turn and twist or two.

And what a cast of characters: Almore, the needle doctor; the icy Miss Fromsett; laconic Jim Patton who saves Marlowe's bacon; Lavary, the oily lady's man one time too many; huffing and puffing Kingsley; and Lieutenant Degarmo, who, in the end, was a cop; demoralized Captain Webber; malevolent Mildred; the hollowed out Graysons; the illusive Mrs Fallbrook; Bill Chess, the crippled war veteran; and more.

The strength of this title is that cast of characters. As in a Frank Capra movie, all the supporting actors are given their due. Each gets camera time; none is reduced to plot device, not even the very dim Bay City patrolmen. No two sound alike. The voices are all distinct. Although there are descriptive passages, they are largely just that without the sardonic metaphors, similes, and comparisons that Chandler could do like no one else.

I stress that 'no two sounded alike' because in more than one krimie an ostensibly diverse set of characters all use the same speech mannerisms, idioms, and syntax. When this happens the characters blend and I suspect that the author is unaware that these are distinctive mannerisms, idioms, and syntax. I refrain from mentioning the names of offenders. It is on par with those very tired clichės about 'climbing' into bed. The last bed I climbed into was a upper bunk bed on a sleepover as a child. No bed since then has needed climbing either into or out of. Yes, this is another pet peeve.

AP-FRAME-1142-lady-in-the-lake-raymond-chandler-movie-poster-1940s.jpg There is a 1947 film, starring Robert Montgomery as Marlowe. It takes far too many liberties with the novel, but evidently with Chandler's approval.

Back to the 'The Lady in the Lake,' I have to admit that there were some dead spots. The most significant is the motivation of Mildred in the first murder of Mrs. Florence Almore. I never did quite get that. Moreover, it made no sense to me that Talley was there at the time to steal the shoe. But once done that set the ball rolling. There were a few passages that fell flat and some references that went over my head, e.g., 'cheese glasses' (p. 30), as in drinking glasses; 'This is dum if I know whether I could or not' (p.61); 'those moustaches that get stuck under your fingernail' (p. 187); and, the decor was 'ashes of roses' (p. 192). What colour is that? Cheese glasses? A moustache under a fingernail? Dum? You lost me, Ray.

Brilliant, in a word. * * * * More, please!

Never thought I would say that a Chandler imitator bettered the master, but here it is. This is Philip Marlowe in the California sunshine of 1947 and he is in top form! This novel might as well be a lost manuscript of Chandler's come to light, such a ring of the master does it have.


Every page crackles with sharp asides, deadpan dialogue, and show stopping imagery. Here is a sampler.

'The telephone on the desk has the air of something that knows it is being watched.'

'I was about to use my special deep-toned, you-can-trust-me, I’m-a-private-detective voice' but she didn't wait for it.

'...there was someone else, and now I knew who it was. I'd known for some time, I suppose, but you can know something and at the same time, not know it. It's one of the things that help us put up with our lot life...'

'That's a possibility I'd rather not have entertained. But once you think a thing, it stays thought.'

He had such an easy charm 'you'd find yourself inquiring if he was all right and saying you hoped he hadn't strained his wrist by having to keep that heavy-looking gun trained on you...'

'The mist clung to my face like a wet scarf.'

'My eyes felt like they had been lightly roasted in front of an open fire.'

'I saw him walking down the street the other day and he didn't look dead at all.'

'I'm the hired help, but you're talking to me like someone you've known all your life, or someone you'd like to know for the rest it. What gives?'

'I stand at the window a lot contemplating the world and its ways.'

'I don't know your name,' I said. 'No you don't...do you,' she replied.

'I was thinking about this and that, this being Clare Cavendish, and that being Clare Cavendish too.'

'Of course I'd come. I would have gone to her if she had been calling from the dark side of the moon.' [Amen!]

In context, each of these passages hits the mark! Marlowe smokes too much, drinks too much, pays too little attention to money, and hangs on like a bulldog. It just does not add up, so he keeps going until it does, add up.

The ride includes a coshing or two, a pistol whipping, rape, torture, four murders, and a suicide. Though most of the mayhem occurs off camera, Midsomer's got nothing on this body count.

The femme fatale is very femme and very fatale, spy beautiful, as Chandler wrote of another of her kind. But also, at times, blushing and shy. Marlowe has a hard time squaring that circle. At the end, so does the reader.

Her mother steals the show at one point, she a self-made woman in the perfume business and mother of this Aphrodite is not at all what Marlowe expected when summoned. No airs, no graces, no manners, and no nonsense!

Though Marlowe is unaccountably slow witted about finding the missing man's sister. In fact she finds him. He asked doormen, gardeners, and drivers about the missing man but not the sister. Go figure. Maybe it is a ploy; play hard to get she'll come to you.

The gimlet was a give away to the cognoscenti.

Black ben.jpg Benjamin Black (John Banville)

Not at all sure why anything would be called Liberace in 1947. The man took that name in 1950 and was by no means well known at the time. The casual reference to a Rolex watch jarred in 1947, long before it became a status symbol for the idle rich. Marlowe is surprisingly incurious about the femme fatale's brother. Ditto a reference to Air Canada flying direct LA to Toronto, Wikipedia says Trans-Canada Airlines took the name Air Canada only in 1965. That part was easy to check. More than 2,000 miles for a 1947 aircraft. OK the date is not specified.

By the way that title has been used before with a different meaning.

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A Canadian krimie from the Sunshine coast of British Columbia on the eastern shore of the Strait of Georgia and just northwest of Vancouver, though populous and favoured by tourists, it can only be reached by ferry. Ergo it is somewhat remote.


Because of the mild climate, it is also favoured by retirees. In this story two brothers-in-law figure, both in their 80s. After a lifetime of putting up with each other, one kills the other. Ah, all those family Thanksgivings and Christmases are enough to drive anyone to extremes. Though here the palette is darker still. The deed is done.

The perpetrator prepares to face the police, but when the Mounties come to get their man, they ignore this frail old man in favour of suspicious types who may have been seen around. That is a nice set up. Once he has been passed over, the perpetrator decides to let it be. He does not blurt out the confession he had rehearsed but goes coy and vague. That of course, in time, makes the Mountie, Karl Alberg, who sticks with the case, suspicious.

Alberg finds the time to romance the local librarian, Cassandra, but neither of them seems very good at romance. The villain is a library user and their paths cross.

Along the way we find out more about the Mountie, who never wears the uniform, and the librarian, and Gibsons, the town. There is much gardening, I suppose because it rains so much there, as in Rain City, Vancouver.

I am not whether this is part of series. Nothing is said on the cover.

Wright L R.jpg L. R. Wright

L.R. Wright has a number of titles, and perhaps I will try another.

While travelling I went looking for Chandler’s 'The Lady in the Lake’ on Audible to test Jacques Barzun contention that it is the best of Chandler's many good novels, but all I could find was a cut down dramatised version. I did listen to that and it had the essence of the plot but not enough of the prose. I also noticed 'The Killer in the Rain' and took it, too. This was a reading not an enactment.

'The Killer in the Rain' is a collection of early short stories by Chandler which, in this version, includes:
‘Killer in the Rain’
‘Finger Man’
‘The Curtain’

Having read the complete Chandler oeuvre, I have read these stories but have not thought of them for years. Time to re-new our acquaintance.

Killer in the rain.jpg
Two things emerged. First, I heard characters, incidents, events, situations that Chandler re-worked later in his novels. It was interesting to realise that good as the stories were, they were improved when he re-worked them into the novels. Though there also people and events in the stories that did not make it to the novels, some pretty arresting ones, especially those goldfish and the small woman with the big gun.

Second, Elliot Gould was all wrong for this assignment. He just does not sound like California. He lacks the laconic sunshine in his voice of, say, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, James Garner, or Powers Boothe, all of whom have had a turn at Marlowe. Yes, I know Humphrey Bogart was also a New Yorker but he did not sound it the way Gould does.  Now perhaps it is because I know who Gould is that I say that.  But while I am saying it I will add that he sounds like a New Yorker.  

His diction is perfect; he does well in distinguishing the voices of all the characters, yet I quibble.  

There is more, perhaps I was also distracted because I know why he got the assignment.  He played Marlow in a Robert Altman film ‘The Long Goodbye’ in 1973 derived from Chandler's novel of the same name. And that is my point, because that film was a parody of Marlowe. Its expressed purpose was to show how inept and unsuited such a figure as Marlowe was in the real word of crime and corruption.

To return to my theme. Gould's claim to the job is that he was the anti-Marlowe. That niggled me, too. That made two strikes against it. I cringed at his New York voice and I just knew he had no sympathy for the character he was projecting. Had he any sympathy he would never have done the Altman film!

There are dozens of alternatives to listen to on my iPhone but I stuck out 'The Killer in the Rain' to the end. Why? Chandler's prose.

Raymond-Chandler.jpg Raymond Chandler

That man could turn a phrase, spin a metaphor, bite off a line, all in the warm California sunshine he could present a very dark, very black world.

The bad news is that Gould is the reader for most of the Chandler titles on Audible.

I discovered Audible Books with my first smartphone, a Samsung, and liked the idea. At that time I walked the honourable dog several mornings a week and sometimes in the afternoon, too. Kate and I were both working and we took turns.  When on dog walking duty I listened to talking books.

I was familiar with talking books on CDs and had listened to many on drives in the States, including much Marcel Proust. Those titles were all books that had been produced for voice. With Audible I also discovered books that were only Voice Books, just as there are books that are only Electronic books, v-books and e-books.  The first v-book I heard was a freebie from Audible, that must have been the business model to lure in customers, about letters to Sherlock Holmes's address. It was a nice idea for a set up. I joined Audible and continue to subscribe.

A Swedish krimie in a series featuring the insightful Inspector Irene Huss. These are police procedurals of a high order. This is the second Huss novel I have read. Evidence is compiled and interpreted, witnesses are questioned repeatedly, and finally Huss sees something in it. The locale is well realised, as are the manners and morēs of contemporary Sweden in Göteborg, along with the weather.


This story revolves around arson and spans 15 years. Huss makes several mistakes but admits it and continues. She has grit, that is for sure. The Fire Dance of the title is very nicely done and makes sense. 

Huss, when not pursing murderers, copes with two teenage daughters who are fast outgrowing her influence. Her husband works as many nights as she does and that makes things difficult, despite the abundant good will of all parties. He is a chef in a restaurant.

That is the molasses, and here is the vinegar. 

There are far too many distractions, most of which do not develop either plot or character. There are repeated descriptions of rooms and clothes that contribute zero to the story. Yet in contrast, Angelika, a principal character, is left practically a cartoon figure there to be stupid, vain, and just get in the way, not a human being at all, but an annoying plot device.

In reality police work on many cases at once, true, but in this novel there is a second plot that occupies a quarter of the book and contributes nothing to the main story line. Art must reflect life, yes, but it need not repeat it word-for-word. 

If the superfluous description were substantially reduced and the secondary plot truncated to an aside the book would shed 100 pages, and increase the likelihood that a reader will finish it.  When an author spends so much space on descriptions and the secondary plot, readers begin to think that they somehow will play into the resolution.  That is the contract between krimie writers and krimie readers: If it is there, then it is relevant in the end.  Not so here. This contract goes double for procedurals which this title certainly is.

Huss's home life is well handled but there is just too much of it. The husband's collapse seems contrived and is wholly irrelevant. Yes, I know, life is like that, but this book is not life, it is art.

Finally, I just did not get the motivation of the villain.  It did not register, just voilà, he did it. Why? 

I felt very early that Huss jumped to the conclusion without any evidence that the victim had been held prisoner, when, especially given how strange the victim was, she just might have gone off on her own. Of course that is what happened but it seemed like Huss had read the book and knew the future! Equally, the initial description of the victim as icy and remote does not payoff. It is there, it seems significant, it is well written, and, it is irrelevant.


Commissario Guido Brunetti remains in top form. Age has not wearied Donna Leon. The prose is crisp, the place evoked, the people differentiated, the ear for dialogue is pitch perfect, including that all important element of many conversations -- what is not said. 


This adventure takes Brunetti into the world of rare books when thefts from a specialist library come to light. To understand better this strange new world he seeks advice from friends of friends and others among the many strata and castes of contemporary Venice. Though the impact of tourism is mentioned Leon does not, in this book, dwell on it, perhaps remembering that those tourist dollars keep Venice afloat on its lagoon, much more so that any support from the government in distant Rome. 

Brunetti's home life is evident but treated with a light and sure touch. Though we learn about some of his meals, the pitiless descriptions that populate some, many tiresome krimies is avoided. Likewise she seldom if ever describes clothing or even people. The exceptions to this lack of description are well judged to bring out a person's character, not an automatic gurgitation to fill space that is so common in lesser works.

Once again, as often the case, Signorina Elettra finds out anything and everything about others, and gives nothing away about herself. Her private networks are more extensive and efficient than the police files. In addition, her hobby seems to be computer hacking. Some receptionist, she. 

That is the molasses, now for a touch of vinegar. The book suffers from the Foyle Syndrome, though not so pronounced as in some of her other titles in the series. The Foyle Syndrome? It is so named for Christopher Foyle of the eponymous television series. Over the years the lazy script writers for Foyle relied on plots in which Foyle alone is virtuous, unsullied, uncompromised, the only, the last just man in a completely corrupt world. Regular as commercials on television and just as repetitive, Foyle would show in each episode that his superiors and associates were all villains themselves, along with the target villain. His superiors and associates lied, cheated, stole, blackmailed, murdered as much as the target villains. Whew! 

Lacking in imagination, the writers evidently could think of no other way to emphasise Foyle than to contrast his white purity with the black hearts of ALL those around him.  One day, no doubt the writers will turn on Sam, his loyal driver, and reveal....   Well, something bad.  

I stopped watching Foyle, as I do not find saints quite as interesting to watch as the scriptwriters find it easy to write them.  Foyle’s sermons at the end were just too much. Agatha Christie novels are much more subtle than this.

There is a touch of this syndrome in all of Leon's books, but it does not distract here. Comments on the general greed, corruption, and incompetence of Italy and Italians are matter of fact, like comments on the weather. The proximate embodiments of all that are his superior Patta and Patta's attack dog, Lieutenant Scarpa. These two are ciphers at best, more plot devices to inject some tension into the proceedings.

DonnaLeoncRegineMosimann,DiogenesVerlagAGZurich.jpg Donna Leon

The novel offers very good sense of place in India, namely Goa and some of Bombay, too, evidently before it became again Mumbai. The two protagonists are an Anglo-Indian lawyer and his de facto wife. an American working for the 'Times of India.' I found neither of interest on any level but not ciphers.


The novel is an unremitting tale of corruption. All India and all Indians are corrupt, and the foreigners who come to India are either fools or even bigger villains than the Indians. All rather one-note, repeated on nearly every second of the 400 pages.

Having said that, the characterisations are vivid and the plot is ingenious, if disgusting. Against impossible odds our heroes prevail by turning the villains against each other. 

goa_in_india.jpg Goa is circled in red.

That the molasses here is the vinegar.There is 100 pages too much description of what every character wore each time he or she is seen, what is eaten for each meal by our heroes. There are rich descriptions of street scenes, one after another, till they all blend. No doubt life is like that but reading about it should not be. A reader will suppose at the start that somehow it all contributes to the plot but quickly tires of following it all, and then one, well, this one, realised it is window dressing, like sprigs of curly parsley on the plate. Conclusion? Best to skim and turn the pages quickly.  

Second in a series but I see no reason to persevere. Too many other good books to read.

Inside this fat book of 400 pages an editor like Elmore Leonard or Stephem King could cut out a good 200 page book that would read itself.  

Machiavelli is mentioned. 'As the philosopher Chanakya, adviser to Mauryan Kings, had declared two thousand years before Machiavelli, the exercise of morality and the exercise of statecraft were separate arts.'   This is a reminder of Richard Christie's account of the development of MACH IV personality scale which has preoccupied me for some time.

Mann_Paul.jpg Paul Mann

Set in that wine capital in the period May - September 1940 when the world fell in on France.


In April 1940 in far away Bordeaux everyone laughed at the Phoney War and by September 1940 Jews went into hiding, tobacco went into the black market, jackboots were heard everyday and night, and an air of foreboding enveloped one and all. The night creatures emerged, thugs, hooligans, bullies, chancers, and their ilk. Decent people hid away as much as possible.

Death in Bordeaux.jpg

Bordeaux was in Occupied France and as a sea port it was especially occupied to keep people in as much as out, but it was administered by the French government that took up residence in Vichy.

The longstanding practice of posting newly promoted police officers away from home, the better to ensure their impartiality, meant that the Police Judiciare in Bordeaux had Alsatians who are half-German and half-French. Aside: The movement of the border in Alsace meant that in World War I Robert Schumann, later a French foreign minister, was conscripted into the German army and in World War II the French army, experiences that made him a life long proponent of European union. Back to the story.

The Gendarmes find a mutilated body and Inspector Jean Lannes arrives to investigate. There are too few threads to follow, and then too many. Political interference adds to the complications. Those problems fade into insignificance with the Defeat and the Capitulation in June 1940 and the subsequent arrival of the Germans. Yet Lannes continues to probe and push. His offsider Moncerre is a pit-bull on a chain, and Lannes has to restrain him at time. 'Not now, Mon Brave. Our time will come. Be patient.’

This is the first of a trilogy and the case remains open at the end. The book is well written and includes Lannes's home life, his fears for his children, his wife’s perseverance in the face of the unknown, the mixed attitudes of the Alsatians, the plight of Jews, the Stoicism of many, and the naked opportunism of others .…. All rendered in clear prose.

Massie.jpeg Allan Massie

Though it perhaps lacks the stifling atmosphere, and mastery of period detail, that Robert Janes conjures in the same period, it is much easier to read and follow than Janes’s cryptic prose, fractured syntax, and loose grammar.

I particularly liked Lannes instinctive response when on an official visit to Vichy he saw Maréchal Pétain walking in a public garden: Verdun. Respect. Salute. One old soldier pays tribute to another. Lannes has no taste for collaboration and sees no honour in defeat, but Pétain has more claim to respect than so many others.

Pedant’s note. The Vichy regime had administrative responsibility for the whole of France including the Occupied Zone and Paris. The reality of that attenuated with time and tide, but in the first days it was real.

Hitler’s New Order of Europe and in parallel Pétain’s National Revolution seemed credible in that time and place. The war was all but over. England would either succumb or make peace to save itself now that it no longer had French allies to die for it. The Third Republic and the French Revolution that it embodied had failed miserably. Time to turn from the past to the future. The young men and women in Lannes’s social, family, and professional circles are confused, dazzled, repelled, and attracted by it all. Will they do something stupid? Dangerous? Almost certainly. But which is more stupid and more dangerous defying the new reality or complying with it?

While there is much to’ing and fro’ing in Bordeaux, street names, cafés, hotels, Spanish Republican refuges, French refuges who arrive just before the Wehrmacht, the two most noteworthy events to happen in Bordeaux in the period the book covers are passed in silence. The first is the Dunkirk evacuation and the second is the arrival of the French government of Paul Reynaud from Paris. Let me explain.

Though distant Dunkirk is mentioned nothing more is said. Yet of the 350,000 soldiers evacuated from the Pas de Calais more than 100,000 were French. The war was still on and upon arrival in England they were put on trains and transported to Bristol, Swansea, and other ports where they were shipped to Bordeaux, on the assumption that the war would go on. All of this was done in a few days. They had no gear or weapons and the chain of command was gone, but they were able-bodied young men with military discipline and combat experience. I am not sure what happened to them in Bordeaux. I expect the malaise of defeat made it impossible for anything constructive to be done. Still the influx of 100,000 men with no shelter, food, etc. would surely have been remarkable.

Second, the Reynaud government declared Paris an open city in the hope that the Germans would not then bomb or shell it. That worked. It went on the road and stopped once or twice along the way before arriving in Bordeaux where it held its last meetings before it dissipated.

First things first, Agatha Christie is the Nile River of murder mysteries. Her flood of stories has enriched the soil for others, imitators, rivals, critics, competitors, parodists, and those who try their own hand. Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and most of all, the one and the only Hercule Poirot.

12918-004-85BA5361.jpg Agatha Christie, who said the secret to getting ahead is getting started. Amen!

Poirot revivus! He died in ‘Curtin’ published in 1975 but written thirty (30) years earlier and cached.

The Christie family has guarded her heritage with care. No cheap knock-offs, no tee-shirts, or coffee mugs, no theme tours of St Mary Mead.

Only occasionally have the Christies permitted films based on the novels, and according to the scuttlebutt amongst us krimieologists, the family has not been pleased by some of the movies. Ergo the exacting standards the Christies asserted for the Davis Suchet television series, and we viewers are grateful for the meticulous attention to every last detail, which is just what Poirot himself would do. As he says in this tribute volume, no detail is too small to be important. Only when seen in the proper context can the importance of a detail be determined. Order and method, that is the Poirot way.

This title is a Christie-inheritors approved work that is set in the London of 1928. There is neither war nor depression, yet. Money flow freely.


This Poirot is certainly Poirot. He is meticulous, scrupulous, fastidious, observant, perspecatious, easily irked and rather irksome himself. The little mustachios seem to twitch at times. The grey cells are evoked. But more important is the inner man who is compassionate and who detests the evil we do to each other without quite detesting the evildoer, or at least not in all cases.

Each character is well etched and distinguished, though I missed Captain Hastings, here replaced by a fledging police officer name Catchpool. Fee in the coffee shop is a winner and I am sure most readers want to hear more from her. Even Poirot is moved to remark on both her powers of observation and grasp of context, if lacking his unrivalled mastery, as he avers.

There is much to like in the book. If I have to make a criticism I would say that I found the repetitive dialogue as each character tells the story, and some of them tell it twice, and Poirot re-tells it again and again, tedious. We need more movement and activity. The author seems, however, to prefer talk, talk, talk, and more talk. All too much like a David Mamet play where the characters talk each other to distraction and the audience to sleep.

The plot, of course, is convoluted but that is to be expected, though why anyone would try to outsmart Hercule defies belief. Does not everyone know by now that he is world’s greatest detective and is never ever wrong! He certainly does his part to spread the word. However, the plot did not quite deliver the goods. There was a lot more trip than arrival, despite the many repetitions. Perhaps that is a quibble. But the monogram seems to have been there just to confuse things at the beginning, and some of Poirot’s revelations would have been trumped by police post-mortems if the wet-behind-the-ears Catchpool had followed procedure as per many other Agatha Christie stories.

Blue herrings there were a few, and some were never resolved on my reading. Rafal and that laundry cart in the front lobby is made much of when it occurs and referred to again at least once as a lead, and then never mentioned again though Rafal reappears. What did I miss? The hotel manager is such a larger than life character for the first half of the book and then all but disappears. When a character is given so much attention, the reader concludes that the character figures in the plot and is not just wallpaper.

There is an accompanying web site with some mini-videos of the books characters and episodes. Although the ones I watched did not jibe with the novel, so I stopped.

Overall, it is very good to see that Hercule Poirot is back among the crimefighters. Thanks to all involved in the resuscitation.

sophie-hannah.jpg Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah has a long list of titles and I will certainly make a note to try one of them.

Maigret did not leap full grown from Simenon’s brow, as Athena did from Zeus. No, he developed overtime. This is one of the early titles.

It is high summer and Maigret wanders around, seemingly with few responsibilities. Madame (Louise) Maigret has gone away for the summer to visit her sister in Alsace, and in her absence he haunts restaurants and bars, and falls in with the crowd at the ‘Two-Penny Bar’ along the Seine in the Ile de France. When a crime occurs under his nose, he muses quite a bit and asks a few questions, but keeps drinking with the crowd, whose members do not seem to mind having a police officer in their midst.

His rapport with the English ex-patriot James is engaging. James keeps popping up and it is evident that he is part of the plot, despite his detached manner.

The sketches of summer heat and blinding light along the Seine make a reader feel warm.

Madame Maigret is, as ever, patient, and long-suffering in silence.

The published title in 1932 as ‘La Guinguette à deux sous’, it was translated into an English edition years ago as ‘The Bar on the Seine.’ A ‘guinguette’ is a small, rustic bar with music and dancing, often to be found in the countryside. Perhaps the equivalent English term is a tavern - nothing fancy and not much in the way of food. ‘Roadhouse’ might also apply.

Two-penny bar.jpg

In the French ‘deux sous’: one ‘sou’ + one ‘sou’ = two sous.’ There were 100 ‘sous’ in a franc in those days. A ‘sou’ bought very little, even in 1932. Hence the idiom, not worth a sou (‘ne vault pas un sou’).

For reasons best known to the translator, and I suspect even better known to the publisher, it has been rendered as ‘two-penny.’ Yet later we read of francs. How many pennies to a franc, one wonders.

‘Two-penny’ is not an English idiom, per my web investigation. It seems to be idiosyncratic, fabricated for this title. That is bound to communicate to the reader, eh!

Why do I emphasise this usage by devoting space to it? Because the justification proudly displayed on the Penguin web site for these new translations of the Maigret books that it is marketing is to offer more literal, more authentic translations closer to the original. We can be pretty sure no one along the Seine in 1932 was paying with pennies. One may also wonder about the business sense of deprecating one’s own previous products, too, because after all Penguin editors commissioned and published those earlier translations. If they were as bad as now claimed, does that not undermine confidence in the present crop? Well it does when pennies go into francs. What will future editors at Penguin say about these translations?

I am equally dubious about the woman’s bathing suit that graces the cover of the copy I have. I rather doubt it was worn in 1932. Most swim-ware at the time would have been made of wool, I suspect, and have likely been more modest than the red number on the cover. 'Fuzzylizzie swimwear' confirms my hunch.

A krimie set in the heart of Vichy administration in February 1943, a bitter winter in a France without coal, food, oil, wool, or much else. Having just read Robert Paxton’s study ‘Vichy France 1940-1944’ I thought to re-read this title which features some of the historical characters mixed with imagination.


This is the an entry in a long running series featuring Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté Nationale and Hermann Köhler of the Geheime Staatspolizei, Gestapo. This odd couple are assigned the most sensitive investigations by either German Occupation or Vichy authorities throughout France after the Defeat (16 June 1940).

It was a France dismembered and divided. Germany annexed Alsace and made Lorraine a special administrative unit an inch short of annexation. The coal and steel producing Nord around Lille was administered from Brussels by Germans. Italians occupied Nice, Corsica, and the Savoy. Finally there was Zone Occupée, the north and west coasts defined as operational areas. Each one of these divisions and dismemberments produced a boundary with checkpoints and rules of exclusion.

That occupation broke the chain of command that had held previously in nearly all of its far-flung colonies and throughout much of the French armed forces, but when the Germans disarmed and dismissed Vichy’s Armistice Army in November 1942, the chain of command broke for military men, too. Many of them now felt free to follow their personal convictions and joined France Libre, especially those in North Africa who had ready access.

To illustrate the internal border controls mentioned above, only 250 letters a day were allowed to pass from the Zone Libre (Vichy) to the Zone Occupée. That is a post of 250 between 40 million people! So strictly was the border between Vichy and Occupied France imposed that even Maréchel Pétain was not permitted to cross it to enter Paris for years. No mail at all was allowed to some amputated parts like Alsace.

By February 1943 the Vichy Regime no longer had a purpose, at least not a French purpose. The Germans continued the fiction because even this hand-puppet government retained enough legitimacy to keep some of the population quiet.

The Vichy establishment had until that November been a Ruritania amid the luxury hotels, the Majestic, Palais, Grand, Prince, and d’Enghien. School desks were set up in the hallways for clerks. Ministerial offices were in suites. Down stairs the thugs from the Garde Mobile provided security, many of them released from pre-war penal sentences.

Prime Minister Laval, the dark prince of Vichy, and President Phillipe Pétain, the figurehead, hated one another. Laval thought Pétain a relic, paralysed by the past, and more interested in breakfast than high politics. Pétain called Laval a peasant, one who blew cigar smoke in his face time and again, preferring as prime minister the austere Darlan or toadying Flandin. Pétain and Laval each plotted the other’s downfall. Laval had traversed the Third Republic, from a Socialist, to a Radical, had been foreign minister, had been prime minister, and came from the Auvergne (Vichy) where he owned a newspaper and radio station. Laval’s powers of self-delusion were so great that he continued to believe in the final victory of German even late in 1944 when most of France had been liberated by the Allies.

It is this same Laval who asks for the service of St-Cyr and Köhler when a young woman is found stabbed to death in the foyer of the long-closed Hall des Sources, the hot springs. This sybarite kingdom was closed in June 1940 and stayed closed since. When St-Cy and Köhler arrive, at 2 a.m., having been summoned from elsewhere, the heat has been off in the Hall for two years and it is freezing outside, yet the hot springs beneath impart warmth to parts of the building, steam vents from pipes broken and not repaired, wherein there is no electricity. As they move about with lanterns, the building seems to breath and even move when images are reflected in the many mirrors , frosted windows, and dull but polished surfaces. Very nicely done.

Vichy.jpg One such spa

St-Cyr has an empathy that allows him nearly to communicate with the dead. He studies the corpse, ear rings, clothing, shoes, feet, hands trying to infer the events the that brought the victim through the snow outside to her death in the locked and abandoned building. Köhler takes a more empirical approach, looking for a lost earring, a boot mark on the base of a counter, recent chip in a beveled edge. The two detectives combine the metaphysical and physical worlds.

Each man served in World War I at Verdun where each was wounded. Both now in the 50s both are too old for military service. Each has been a policing since 1919, and they first met at a police congress in Vienna twenty plus years before. When Köhler was made a one-man flying squad for France, he asked for a French offsider and asked for St-Cyr by name. St-Cyr learned German with his Alsatian relatives, while Köhler learned French in a prisoner of war camp.

Köhler is not a loyal Nazi, still less now that both his sons were killed on the Russian front and his wife left him in the aftermath. St-Cyr sees in Vichy elite many of the embezzlers, opportunists, thugs, and chancers he used to jail. That he works with the Germans, makes him a collabo to many Frenchmen. His wife and child were killed in a bomb blast perhaps meant for him by one of the many factions of the Resistance. ‘Collabo’ is collaborator.

The most venomous French collaborators were the intellectuals in Paris, not the officials and bureaucrats in Vichy, apart from the very top ranks. The collabo Parisienne intellectuals, journalists, academics poured venom on Vichy for its trepidation, its hesitations, its half-hearted pursuit of Jews, its failure to seek out spies in its midst, and so on and on. No exaggeration was enough. No cause too trivial to unleash a torrent of bile. Whoops! Starting to sound like Fox News or The Australian newspaper.

What does the title ‘Flykiller’ mean? Good question! Go to the head of the class. That very question is asked in the book, but not answered. ‘Tue-mouches’ is a code name used by Prime Minister Pierre Laval. In an end note it seems ‘Tue-mouches’ was the code name for Jean Schellnenberger, arrested, tortured, and shot by the Milice in Dijon in 1942.

It is a complicated story with wheels within wheels and more, but finally satisfying. Many blue herrings are followed. A gallery of innocent and guilty ones are reviewed to find the culprit, the Flykiller. The period and place details is credible as is the language. But having said that Jane taxes the reader a lot by seldom clearly signaling who is speaking. Worse since much is thought and not said, in this time when words killed, it is sometimes not clear whose thoughts are on the page. I do wish he learned it write ‘St-Cyr thought’ or ‘Hermann said.’ It would speed my reading and comprehension.

Unknown-2 J. Robert Janes

There are a dozen more titles in the series.

Warning! Tangent ahead:
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s (1907-1977) film ‘Le Corbeau’ (1942) is a subtle critique of life in Vichy France made for the German film company Continental in France, and passed by both the German and Vichy censors for national distribution.

Corbeau02bTXT.jpg Lobby card when the film was re-discovered

The ironies of life are these. In the early 1930s Clouzot worked in Germany for Continental making French version of German films. He was dismissed because he mixed with Jews and spoke against their exclusion from the film industry. He went back to France where he found getting work hard because he was perceived to be a friend of Germany. During the Occupation he found work again with the French branch of Continental making ‘Le Corbeau’ which caused him to be banned from film work from 1945-1947 because the film vilified the French. Upon release the film had been denounced by Vichy reviewers, by reviewers in Resistance newspapers, and by German reviewers, who had it withdrawn.

Henri-Georges Clouzot

He managed to offend everyone in this simple story. Doh! Clouzot’s had tuberculous and, perhaps, had not the strength to explain or defend himself, nor perhaps the inclination. When the ban was lifted he made some memorable films like ‘Quai des Orfèvres’ (1947), ‘Le salaire de peur’ (1953), ‘Les Diaboliques’ (1955). and ‘La Vérité (1960). None of these films fits neatly into a category and so he again irritated reviewers one and all. ‘Quai des Orfèvres’ is a police procedural which is also a study of life in a broken and impoverished France. It does not glorify the police officer nor condemn the villains but treats each as a fact of nature like a thunderstorm. ‘Le salaire de peur’ is an exposition of the nihilism of existential philosophy at a time when most film reviewers were in love with it. ‘Les Diaboliques’, well, these were liberated women without the rhetoric. ‘La Vérité’ is a critique of social hypocrisy among the very people who attend such films. Then there was 'L'Enfer', unfinished, a study of obsession though there is a documentary film about it called 'Henri-Georges Clouzot's "l'Enfer."' Another Vichy film is 'L'assassin habit au 21' (1942) which reduces Vichy to a single rooming house in which one resident is a murderer but which one? It is played as a parody of the murder mystery and so was passed by censors but it irritated reviewers for its failure to conform to stereotypes.

A fine krimie by an Australian writer, this and his other books too long out of print.  This one was originally published in London as ‘Gently dust the corpse.’ Why it was changed from 'Gently' to 'Softly' is anyone's guess.


It offers the classic setup of an group people isolated from the outside world with tensions among them, in this case at Tyson's Bend on the Old(est) Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney near Mildura in the 1950s. The tensions spring from a missing lottery ticket worth £100,000. So far so ordinary.  

Tyson’s Bend has a petrol pump, a general store, a pub, a school, and perhaps a population of 200.

What sets this work apart is the additional character of the dust storm that cuts cuts off Tyson’s Bend from the outside world, making driving impossible and bringing down telephone wires. While most of the townfolk shelter at home about a dozen take refuge in the pub where, thanks to a generator, the beer remains cold. These people are the syndicate that bought the lottery ticket which has won, but before they can collect the dust storm hits, hits hard, and keeps hitting.

The wind howls and cracks, the dust is invidious and insidious, getting through every crack, slit, hole, and into everything from eyes to drinks.  It just goes on and on, shaking the roof, ripping doors open, cracking windows, overturning cars, blowing detritus with force, making a walk from one house to another as dangerous and difficult as such a walk in an Antarctic winter. Even in the pub, dust swirls in the air and coats and re-coats every surface. Makeshift face masks and dark glasses are essential to venturing outside and they add to the mystery.

dust-storm-002.jpg The dust of the Red Centre

The dust clogs and carpets everything from eye brows to clothing.  There is no escape and no relief from it. It is like a bombardment without end. The setting is marvellous and far more dramatic than comparable efforts by the dean of Australian krimie writers, Arthur Upfield. The storm is a malevolent force even greater than the murderer within the ranks, and far more destructive.

qPCUm.jpeg A dust storms envelops Melbourne

The characters are well defined; The nervous school teacher, the bullying policeman and his subdued wife, the simple store owner whose clever wife runs most things in town, the barman who plays the clown, the jackaroo who keeps to himself, and the two city lawyers who are trapped there.  It seems one member of the syndicate is determined to murder the other members to get the lottery ticket!

I learned a new word 'bombilation' (p. 180) which is very old and means to buzz. Here it refers to the incessant noise of the storm.

sh-courtier.jpg S. H. Courtier, school teacher by day

I read several other of Sidney Courtier's books in the 1970s and liked them.  There a great many others, though out of print, and so not easy to come by. There is a good entry for Sidney Hobson COURTIER at AustcrimeFiction.org

This is the third entry in this long running krimie series set in contemporary Turkey. The title refers to a style of popular music that seems to parallel country and western music, and not the elaborate decorative style known as arabesque. There are fifteen novels in all and I have read four or five others.


The protagonist is Inspector Çetin Ikman and his homicide team in Istanbul. In this entry the earth moves, more than once, but only in slight tremors as Europe and Asia once again collide at the Bosporous, as one of the characters observes.

Some of the cleavages of Turkish society are mirrored in the story, West (urban, rich, and European) vs. East (rural, poor, Asian), religious (Muslim, Jew, Yezidi, Christian), social (wealthy and servant), and ethnic, too, Turks, Ottomans, Kurds, and an expatriate. The distinction between Turk and Ottoman has to do with social status but their is also an ethnic patina to it, it seems, the Ottomans are taller, lighter of skin, etc. than the Turks. The expatriate is a half-Irish doctor who likes the life in Turkey but not the way women are treated, and that is another cleavage in the story. Men go out and about, and women stay home in the kitchen.


Nadel’s krimies are guide books to Turkish society with a plot that brings together the individuals who embody these lines of demarcation. To say it that way makes them sound didactic and that is not the case. The books are lively and walks through the streets are vibrant, exotic, and sometimes frightening.

Always in the background for young men of draft age is Turkey’s continuous conflicts along the Iraq and Syrian borders and in Cyprus. These conflicts may be low level but conscripts get killed in them every day. Everyone knows this happens but the Turkish news media seldom reports these events.


In this entry Ikman is on sick leave but sitting at home doing nothing is depressing so he gradually insinuates himself into an investigation led by his subordinate, the tall, urbane, handsome, Ottoman, Mehmet Süleyman. In contrast, Ikman is short and dark, and very Turkish. Worse, Ikman is half-Albanian, a cross that he never escapes.

494.jpg Barbara Nadel

Sometimes the stew is too rich for this reader. No doubt the names are all authentic but, as in those 19th Century Russian novels where everyone has three names, I found it hard to distinguish and remember all the names that come up in the early chapters. The references to the different quarters of Istanbul mean nothing to me, but I should have the wit to find a map to follow the action. Everyone smokes, more or less continuously.

Arabesque evolved, says fount Wikipedia, to interest the eye while not depicting human or animal forms, respecting Allah’s power of creation and destruction of these beings.

Baton Rouge, 1935. More Huey Long. And when he fades from the scene the lightbulb dims considerably.

When I read Wiliam Hair’s biography of Huey, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, I came across other titles related to Huey including this work of fiction. The premiss is that Huey, well aware of the Neanderthal character of many around him, and venality of others, wanted an outsider he can trust next to him. This is Nathan Heller, Chicago P.I. whom Huey earlier met on tour. The money takes Nathan to NOLA where he discovers it is NOT the Big Easy.

Collins does a good job in bringing to life an array of distinctive characters, of course, most of all Huey P. Long at the height of his ambitions and national acclaim with eyes firmly set on the 1940 presidential election. Note that year, 1935; it is the year Huey was murdered. When that happens about halfway through the novel, the energy on the page dissipates.


The first half is a ride on the Huey Long circus, as one of the bit players terms it, and the second half is Nate Heller’s succession of interviews with witnesses and retainers, which are in comparison lifeless, repetitive, and -- sin for a krimie writer -- boring.

By the way, there is a lot to like about the Huey shown here. His energy. His wit. His absolute rejection of anti-semitism. His spurning of the appurtenances of fascism. There is also a lot to dislike, to be sure. Domineering. Crude. Tyrannical. Careless.

There has never been a satisfactory explanation of what happened when Long was murdered, still less why it happened. The hangers-on were quick to bury him and blame the lone assassin, Dr Weiss. END OF STORY. No Warren Commission here to air everything twice over and give the conspiracy theorists fuel. But then they spontaneously combust without need of fuel. The speculation has since been continuous. Something of the range is indicated in this list.

1.Sic semper tyrannis. Dr Weiss was a public spirited citizen who had had enough.
2.Weiss had a personal motive because his father-in-law was about to be made victim by Long,
3.Weiss had a personal motive because Long was about smear the whole family with the greatest Southern curse, Negro blood somewhere up the family tree.
4.Weiss had a personal motive because Long had violated Weiss’s wife.
5.Weiss missed when he shot but the fusillade fired by Long's simian bodyguards hit and killed Huey either directly or by ricochet.
6.There was a second gunman in the crowd who took advantage of the ruckus that Weiss made when he confronted Long to kill Huey. See (2)-(4) above.
7.Huey had crossed organised crime once too often, in his quest to finance a national campaign, and he was hit.
8.Huey had infuriated Standard Oil once too often and it acted.

The list goes on. Most accept Weiss as the agent, if not firing the fatal bullet. What Aristotle called the 'proximate cause; but not necessarily the 'final cause.' (Now I know why I wrote that paper on Aristotle's Four Causes in graduate school!)

Collins’s imagination puts a new spin on this well trodden list. Hooray!

SPOILER ALERT. Despite Long's ambitions, there were those about him who supposed he would never make it to the White House in D.C. and his ambitions for it were undermining the flow of graft in Louisiana. The Long Machine, now well established, would work better without Long. Ergo, one of his closest, and most venal, lieutenants did it to take over the Machine and keep it focussed on graft, not on an empty national, political ambition.

This is one of a long series of krimies featuring Nathan Heller. I will read more in due course.

It is well researched to be sure, but I still wondered if car radios were as common in 1935 as implied in the text, and I wondered how one went about renting a car in New Orleans in that year.


Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa as the back notes proudly proclaim. Take that Bill ‘Cheap-Shot’ Bryson. Muscatine is near Davenport on the Father of Waters for those who know Iowa. Collins must be chained to a keyboard there, given the long list of titles on Amazon.

This is the first Maigret story published in book-form as ‘Monsieur Gallet, décédé,’ or 'Monsieur Gallet, deceased.' It has been published in an English translation as ‘Maigret Stonewalled,’ no doubt a marketing decision to make clear it is a Maigret title, and there is a stonewall of importance in the story.


Simenon published eleven (11), yes eleven Maigret titles in 1931! Quite extraordinary was his prolific output. He had been publishing Maigret stories for some time and some of these novels had already been published as serials in magazines and newspapers, which came together into this first tranche of Maigret novels. It did not stop there. In all there were seventy (70) plus novels and still other short stories, and there were also some Maigret novels that he published anonymously or under other names, which, by the way, have never been translated into English. Point made. He was fecund.

2-simenon.jpg Georges Simenon in 1931 without a pipe!

In this story Maigret wears a bowler hat and is overweight and generally so unfit that a short run leaves him breathless and sweating for the rest of the day. His age is 45, and half of his life has been in policing. In the later novels very little is said about Maigret himself. It takes a lot of reading to find his first name. Madame Maigret appears in this title only at the end to welcome him home. It takes even more reading to unearth her first name.

He travels to Nevers and elsewhere, making several train trips back and forth, because he is a member of the Flying Squad, based in Paris, which deals with serious crimes throughout the provinces of France. It is high summer with oppressive heat. The setting is contemporary and in this 1931 France there is casual anti-Semitism, when someone is characterized as a Jew by racial qualities. The reference is casual and transitory but nonetheless there.

The novel shows Maigret’s compassion in his stubborn determination to understand Gallet. When Maigret meets Gallet he is already dead hence the title 'Monsieur Gallet, Décédé' as one might introduce a person,’ Mr. Smith, plumber’ or ‘Ms. Jones, judge.’ The title I thought was a play on that convention of introductions that seems to have escaped most publishers.

Maigret then sets out to find out about Gallet. What kind of man was he? What did he do? Why did he do it? How did that lead to his death? Maigret plods along, first interviewing the widow and son. If the heat is oppressive, the atmosphere created by Madame Gallet and the son is even more suffocating. They represent, in their own minds, a bygone nobility that ought not to have to speak to the likes of Maigret, and only do so to be rid of him. This is an attitude, Maigret suspects, that they extended to the deceased husband and father, who was, after all, a lowly door-to-door salesman, ... or was he? That is the mystery that is slowing unwound.

Who was Émile Gallet? That proves to be the decisive question. There is a great irony in the answer that, to my mind, Simenon does not quite nail.

The provincial hotels that Maigret visits while retracing Gallet’s last days are well drawn, with their staff, attendants, and the inevitable bar and tabac, and the blinding sunshine and stifling weather of high summer. If these are the agreeable features of the novel, there are some that are less agreeable.

I found the plot contrived and unbelievable. The explanation of Monsieur Gallet’s death is so complicated and incredible as to be irrelevant to the story. Equally, boring is the convoluted explanation in the last chapters of the swap of identities. At the end the blackmail angle was left hanging, yet it had driven much of the earlier action. I was never sure if I had it right about who was doing it and why. It, too, it is not nailed. Then there is that whiff of anti-semitism.


At the outset I referred, carefully, to this as the first published book length Maigret. In the order of publication by Fayard that is clear. But other Maigret titles were written earlier, and were published in serials earlier, notably ‘Pietr-le-Letton’ or ‘Peter the Lett,’ as in from Lithuania. It all gets confusing and rests of definitions of ‘first.’

Penguin has commissioned new translation of the Maigret stories, as a means to reinvigorate the brand for a new generation of readers. So be it.

The man with no name owns a failing bookstore called 'No Alibis' in contemporary Belfast of Northern Ireland.


He happily buries himself in 1940 film noir, lines from which pepper the little conversation he has, and the murder mystery books that line the shelves. He is introverted, self-obsessed, hypochondriac who has every kind of phobia. He lives at home with his mother. He has no friends, never been kissed, completely inept, and frightening intense. Altogether a total loser who is going no where, very slowly. In other words, it is easy to identify with him.


Then Alison starts working in the jewellery store across the street. Using a large pair of binoculars he perves at her from this shop with what he thinks is great subtlety. In this surveillance he identifies with all those detectives on the shelves around him. 

The inquiry agent next door disappears, leaving many clients who come to the bookstore looking for him. The man with no name is drawn into some of their cases. He is a whiz at finding things through the internet and rather persuasive on the telephone where he almost seems normal.  Moreover, he has a network of subscribers to his 'No Alibis' e-newsletter with an array of talents, resources, and access that they can contribute to his quests. He picks some low-hanging fruit, and is quite proud of himself. Alison comes into the store, and they get acquainted. He brags to her of his detection.

It starts out as harmless fun, that is, until the first murder, then the second....  The bodies keep falling. The plot thickens. He goes into hysterical overdrive, flying off in many wrong directions at once. Alison wants to be his sidekick but he wants to quit! Murder, no way! 

A great setup and wonderful execution.  It is high octane once the action starts. The energy and irreverence rattles along with great pace.  I hope the others in the series keep it up.

This title looks self-published and it proves that such books can be very good indeed.

Colin_Bateman.jpg Colin Bateman

Bateman seems to write a book a week. He has several other serieses and stand-alone titles. I shall read on.

The sixth adventure of Ruso and Tilla, he a Roman soldier and she a native; man and wife are they. Ruso is a medical doctor with the Roman Legion in Britain, and she a midwife. Ruso continues to be puzzled by the success of his friend Valens, who is bone-idle, no better medic than Ruso, and yet always gets the best posting, the fattest contract, the richest private patients. Tilla longs to reconnect with her family, most of whom died in when she was a baby. In truth, they were killed in an uprising against the Romans.


Tilla tries, not very hard, to fit in as an army wife. Ruso tries, very hard, to accept her distant relatives. Despite all good intentions, each fails and the confusion, chaos, mayhem, ensues.

ilfracombe-library-7-march-2013-small.jpg Ruth Downie

The setting is the far north east of England along Hadrian’s Wall, the construction of which occupies every waking minute of the garrison that Ruso attends north of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Rumors that a murder victim’s corpse has been put into the wall spook everyone, Britons and Romans. The commanding officer’s only hope of promotion out of the bog - it rains sideways and every other way for months on end - is to meet the quota for his section of wall. He will not delay the work one hour, still less tear down what has been built to look for a body that may not be there. However, one legionnaire is missing, presumed AWOL.

Hadrians_Wall_map.png-800×995-Opera-01122011-222604.jpg Map of Hadrian's Wall

It gets worse. A native child goes missing. The only way to quell the rumors is to find the child and account for every man woman and child in the area. Moved to action, the Roman garrison searches in the way it knows how, with whip and torch.


The locals, including Tilla’s relatives, retaliate. The spiral begins anew. Wiser heads pause to find common ground, after all it is one each: a Roman soldier and a British boy.

Though Ruso is terrified of becoming involved, because of the boy, the Britons will skin him alive or because of the body in the wall, the Legate of the garrison will crucify him, forbidding as these prospects are, he fears more Tilla’s reaction if he refuses to help her relatives, find the boy, trace the AWOL soldier or capture his murderer, and not disrupt the wall-building schedule in the rain, rain, rain. Neither the Legate, nor the mob of Britons can match Tilla for inducing action in Ruso.


At the end, the Legate is impressed by Ruso, both as a medicus and a soldier, and offers him a private contract to accompany him to Rome. A private contract is real money, not the army wage! Rome! Where the sun shines. Where the food is...not British. Where the wine is not made from... Rome where there are galleries, theatres, ... Tilla hates the idea for those reasons. She prefers the rain, singing to trees, eating roots, all of which she avers are good for Ruso. Somewhere along the way they seem to have lost a horse and acquired a new born baby. We will see.

This is a superb series. Everything works. The setting is distinctive and brought to life. The characters are differentiated and substantial, none is a one-dimensional plot device. Though most of them live up to expectations, among them are some who can be surprising, as when the ramrod stiff Legate strips off his armor and kneels to talk to a decrepit old Briton man-to-man, not Roman conqueror to beaten subject. It takes Ruso longer than usual to realize what he has just seen, and even longer to figure why it happened.

There is enough medical detail to satisfy those interested but not too much to lose the momentum of the plot. A surfeit of 'blue herrings' (per Hercule Poirot) keeps the action going.

Best of all, though, is the marriage of Ruso and Tilla, so different and so complementary. She is quick and impetuous, he is slow and immobile. He plans ahead and she ricochets from one thing to another. She quivers with sympathy for slaves, waifs, suffering animals, trees, pregnant women, and he tries very hard not to get involved unless it is in the contract. He follows the Stoic way slowly and often silently; she laughs, cries, sings dances to the phases of the moon and whenever else the mood takes her.

She seldom lives up to her own high standards, because she cannot do everything. He seldom manages to stick to the contract. In those gaps, that is where the fun is.

This is a krimie set in Prague during the last days of the Nazi occupation in the spring of 1945. A terrible time in a terrible place, to be sure, but handled with dexterity by Pavel Kohout, a terrible time because of the death throes of the Nazi regime, and terrible place because of the coming Armageddon between that Nazi army of occupation in Czechoslovakia and the Red Army just over the hill. In addition, everyone assumes that when the Nazi grip further loosens there will be a Czech uprising.


In the midst of this Dantesque inferno a Czech police officer and a German homicide detective are assigned to apprehend a serial killer of widows. The Czech is very junior and gets the job because he speaks German, while the German is attached to the feared Gestapo though he never thinks of himself as ‘one of those beasts,’ but he finds it helpful to let others think he is. The German underestimates the Czech and the Czech misjudges the German.

There is a lot of Prague in it, and I got out our well-worn tourist map to follow some of the fro’ing-and-to’ing.

It runs to nearly 400 pages and I confess skipping yet another scene of chaos and confusion that did not seem to be moving the story along. The human dimension was of far greater interest as the two reluctant colleagues, each aware that in a few days they may be at war with each other, work together, come to trust one another, and guardedly confide in their common fears and hopes. While there are paeans to Czech nationalism, the Germans are not reduced to cardboard ‘beasts’ though some certainly were, as were some of the Czechs, including the perpetrator.

1374983.jpeg Pavel Kohout

It all makes sense in the story, and the odd couple reminded me Robert Janes's mis-matched pair Jean-Louis St. Cyr and Hermann Kohler, the former a master of Cartesian rationality and the latter a mystic of sorts, who together police occupied Paris at about the same time but in less apocalyptic circumstances. Kohout has several other titles but I think I will move on to something else, namely a krimie set in the Belgium Congo and published in 1950.

My short lesson in Czech history while we were there in 2014 included this observation. When Woodrow Wilson created Czechoslovakia, the Czechs and Slovaks banded together to drive the Germans and Hungarians out of THEIR country. Then the Germans came back and drove out Jews, gypsies, and more, and in poured even more Germans. Then the Communists took over and drove out Germans again, along with 200,000 Czechs. Then the Red Regime decayed and the communists were driven out, though they had few places to go by then, some did go to Russia. Then the Slovaks and Czechs drove each other out of THEIR country, this, for the first time, was done peacefully. One can only wonder what the future will bring. Who next will be expelled, and how it will be done.

I have a few complaints about the translation that often renders 'Reich' as 'Empire' and refers to German military vehicles as jeeps (General Purpose, or GP, vehicles made by General Motors in Detroit) and now a closely guarded brand-name. 'Reich' refers to the nation, its people, its realm, its regime. The French speak of the Republic in the same way. But the curse of Naziism has rendered the ordinary use of the term 'reich' impossible today. Reich does not imply or entail an empire, however that is defined, any more than the French Republic does. Ergo it is mistaken hang the adjective 'imperial' on German functionaries in Prague, though that is done more than once. And no, the Germans did not have American jeeps nor did BMW or Mercedes make something comparable. If this is the writer's error, it should nonetheless be corrected. This is a fine book, and such errors distract the attention of a reader.

My guess is that Picador, the English publisher, no longer employs sub-editors who might notice these things, preferring computer power to brain power.

Another fine instalment in this long-running series that has a little bit of everything, including the start of Pel's devotion to Yorkshire Pudding. Pel is mainly puzzled by smoking a pipe, something he hoped would impress the widow Madame Geneviève Faivre-Perret, since he thinks it very English to smoke a pipe, and she, he is told, likes things English and smoking a pipe will not only impress her, it will cut down on the killer cigerettes he smokes. That is the theory; the practice is quite something else à la Monsieur Hulot.


What starts out as a traffic accident soon embroils Pel in art theft, murder, fraud, and espionage. He is shaken to realize Frenchmen are willing and able to sellout the country and, consequently, all the more determined to bang them into the slammer très vite, too, Mon Brave!

De Troq, not yet on the team, puts in a brief appearance. Misset as usual blows it. Judge Polovari saves Pel's hide, while Judge Brisard nearly drives him bats.

The plot involves the Tour de France, and offers Pel many chances to comment on the idiocy of riding bicycles up mountains in the rain! It is an ingenious idea, by the way. Only Pel sees the bigger picture while each of his detectives, apart from Misset, sees only a portion. Misset sees nothing, par for the course.

Pel's courtship of Madame Faivre-Perret remains in abeyance. She is away and he is uncertain. In fact, he almost approaches another women only to discover, well Sergeant Nosjean discovers it.... and not a moment too soon!

The first is a long running series set in the fictitious Wind River Reservation of Arapahos in Wyoming today, that is, the middle 1990s. The protagnoist is Father John O'Malley with able assistance from lawyer Vicky Holden as they discover an oil scandal which in turn is dwarfed by a corrupt land grab from the 19th century with contemporay implications.

eagle catcher.jpg

The description of the Great Plains in high summer is on the money, as are the currents among the Indians and between them and the Europeans, red and white get along but apart. The idea that this isolated and unappealing post works for Father John because he is an alcoholic sort of makes sense, though as a member of the Red Sox Nation he is a long way from Fenway in voluntary exile. On the reservation among largely dry Indians he has not the temptations of a bar on every corner and the privacy of getting drunk in anonymity that Boston affords the Irish.

The secret lies, as it so often does, in the files, archives, records if one only knows where to look and what to look for there. I always like that idea but here it is blindingly obvious.

The characters are individual though the bad guys are on the cardboard end of the continuum, more plot devices than personalities. Ditto the star crossed young lovers is a well worn (out) motif. And the FBI agent is the old tired stereotype of a blundering, lazy fool, who evidently does nothing but interfere.

I also find the descriptions of chases and fights tedious. I want more detecting of the brain work type. By the way, the idea that Father John could do all he does with a separated shoulder - well it is not possible.

Still I will read another to see how the series develops.

Set in contemporary Amsterdam, on streets we walked along in our 2014 visit. Plenty of local colour, canals, bicycles, New Market stalls, the new city hall, Amstel River.

Lonely graves.jpg

Told in four parts, (1) the protagonist, Peter Posthumous (yes, some name), (2) the Moroccans, some of whom are up to no good, (3) the security agents monitoring the Moroccans (some of whom are up to no good), and (4) the security boss who seems to be playing his own game. It switches back and forth frequently and at other times stays in one part/ voice for a while to develop a point.

Apart from the local colour, I also got a recipe which I will try out on the lab rats at home in due course. I found several recipes for the dish on Serious Eats.

This is the first of a trilogy so the story telling is attenuated, recipes, coffees, etc which slows the tempo.

As said, local colour, it starts with details about flushing the canals over night between midnight and 4 am and how that circulates the water.

Peter Posthumous is a city official who looks after the funerals of unclaimed bodies. He is an obsessive and can never let anything go and so makes mountains (or is it dragons, Don?) where there are none. As a result he has been moved from one job to another and may yet be moved again. That is a nice set-up and his concern to treat the unclaimed dead with respect is touching, though it seems more about him than them.

I bought at Waterstone in the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam in June 2014.

This title is sixth in the series of Dr. Quirke, Dublin police pathologist, and his associate Inspector Hackett.  I bought it in Dublin in 2014 on Grafton Street.  "Benjamin Black" is the pen name of the reputed novelist John Banville, a fact trumpeted on the book!

Holy Orders, Benjamin Black.jpg

It is easy to read and full of local colour in 1950s Ireland when the Roman Catholic Church ruled all.  The streets, the rain, the repressed atmosphere are all there drawn with a light hand.  I said 'repressed atmosphere' but none of the characters seems particularly to feel that, but much is forbidden but so well forbidden for so long perhaps people don't even think about it. And yet Quirke has a sinful, sexual relation with an actress, his wife having died earlier.

The plot concerns the news today from that time, the sexual use and abuse of children, and to add the exotic, some Tinkers (travellers, gypsies) and their argot.  That latter seemed a strain to me.

There is nicely done scene where Phoebe, Quirke's daughter feels some lesbian impulse, no doubt a thread to be picked up in the next novel in the series.  I also liked Quike's hallucinations and that, too, would seem to be a thread for the future.  He is last seen in this having a head X-Rayed to see what, if anything, is causing his blackouts.

Like the heroes of many krimies Quirke spends far too much time feeling sorry for himself, and yet is irresistibly attractive to every woman he meets.  

The resolution of the weak plot was cheap and nasty.  Yet I will certainly read on, by starting with the first in the series.

Krimie, recommended.

A police procedural set in the United States Postal Service at its pinnacle in 1990s before email took over.  Though even at that time, the premium couriers like FedEx are cutting into its monopoly thanks to President Reagan. (I sent my first email in 1990 from Utah.)  I will certainly read more in this series concerning the adventures of Eamon Wearie.

Among the strong points of the novel are the details of how post works, particularly the legal responsibility for improperly addressed items, i.e., dead letters. I doubt FedEx and UPS are bound by the same code. Then there is the ridiculous military organization at the mail depot into color-coded teams with military ranks.

dead letters.jpg

There are many personalities but the absolute standout is The Famous Barry, the medium to whom the dead speak. He surprised Eamon and he surprised me. This chapter alone makes the book worth reading. Likewise the FBI response to the medium surprised Eamon and it surprised me. Eamon’s partner Bunko is quite a guy, a good man to have at your back in a tough spot.

The contrast between the letter writer Netti, and Netti in person was another corker. It all made sense but nonetheless it took Eamon aback, and me, too. His need to find the writer of such beautiful letters was personal, but it intersected with the plot in an off-hand remark she made. Nice.

The description of small town Western Pennsylvania and inhabitants rang true, as did the descriptions of the inner harbour in Baltimore (where I went to a conference once).

On the other hand, Eamon’s capacity for feeling sorry for himself while fighting off the babes annoyed me as did the loving descriptions of Eamon’s numerous drunks.

The mystery of his boarder, Pinkus, is not resolved and seems to have been forgotten by the end.

Finally, the resolution is too quick as though the word count clicked, but I was dazed from a head cold at the time so may have missed some exposition to be sure.

Dublin Chief Inspector Peter McGarr of An Garda Síochána (Guardians of the Peace) features in a series of krimies set in contemporary Ireland. They are rich in local detail and meticulously plotted with a variety of characters from lowlifes to highlifes. At times the inner compulsion to finish a job sees McGarr venture into Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

This installment in the series rests on James Joyce’s 'Ulysses.' Say no more. I had to read it. A scholar from Trinity College who lectures in the thriving business of Bloom’s Day is murdered. The suspects include academic rivals, jealous lesbians, a much put upon wife, a street gang, and ... well that is enough.


While members of his team interview and re-interview these prospects, and walk over the Bloom’s Day tour time and again retracing both Leopold Bloom’s and Stephen Dedalus’s footsteps along with the victim's, McGarr sits in the warm June sun in the garden at home on his annual leave reading 'Ulysses' in search of a context for all these people and their interactions, connections, meetings, conflicts, and associations. No Dubliner can admit to not having read 'Ulysses' so McGarr says he is re-reading it.

It is a clever premise and it is well executed.

Recommeded for Crime-travellers.

Inspector Singh Investigates is a series of six novels following the adventures of an overweight, lazy, down trodden Sikh, depressed Singapore police officer.

Singh beijing.jpg

He is very unSingapore with his curry stained neck ties, his grubby white tennis shoes, slovenly appearance, not to mentioned the five yards of sweat-stained turban he sports. In fact, he is so unSinagporean that in nearly every novel his superiors (and they include all ethnic Chinese in Singapore, he thinks) send him as far away as possible. He has been sent to Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Cambodia, New Dehli, and now Beijing.

His assets are that he does not scare easily (thanks to the training of his wife and her many, many relatives) and can always find a supply of beer.

While Singh never takes anything too seriously, these stories are darker than I usually like. The compensation is the exotic locales, and an appreciation for Asian English in these places.

In 'A Calamitous Chinese Killing' Singh, assigned at the request of the Vice-Counsel at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing, finds himself caught between the merciless Chinese security apparatus and equally merciless Chinese corruption. Along the way he grows to respect the steel in the Vice-Counsel, a woman by the way, and befriends a penniless, retired, honest Beijing detective who introduces him to Szechuan cooking which Singh finds an acceptable accompaniment to beer.

His bacon is saved when he manages to bring these two behemoths -- the forces of security and the forces of corruption -- into conflict. While they slug it out, justice of a kind is done. Though many innocents are killed and psychologically scared. As I said, dark.

Singh has company among Singapore sleuths in the person of Mr Wong and his associates written by Nury Vittachi. Wong is in the private sector.

He has his footwear in common with Hermes Diaktoros penned by Anne Zouroudi who wanders the by-ways of Greek islands.

After reading a few rather taxing books I gave myself a treat by turning once again to Evariste Clovis Desire Pel. Amusing, implacable, exasperating, coughing, and determined as usual is Pel. Even Madame Pel calls him Pel.
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Death on the Greasy Grass (2013) by C. M. Wendelboe. Recommended.

This title is part of a series called ‘Spirit Road’ set in Montana among the contemporary Lakota, Cheyenne, and Crow peoples and the Europeans and Asians who now populate that part of the world. The protagonists are an FBI Agent Emmanual Tanno a Lakota by birth and his long time friend and fishing buddy Police Chief Willie Deer Slayer, a Crow. It is a police procedural set among rolling pastures of a thousand acres, cowboy bunk houses, horse auctions, and the Big Sky of Montana. Once seen there is nothing else to call it but Big Sky.

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When an artifacts dealer is killed by accident in a re-enactment of Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn which the victorious Sioux called the Battle on the Greasy Grass, there is more to it than at first meets the eye. Manny comes from an ancient line of Sioux Spirit Walkers, but as a modern and educated man he rejects all that tribal mumbo-jumbo, and yet ... he sometimes sees things that others, not even Willie standing right there with him, do not see.

The plot is convoluted enough to retain interest, and the drunken sot Sam Star Dancer is full of surprises. Aspiring senator Wilson Eagle Cloud is too good to be true, or is he? As beautiful as Cheona Star Dancer is, the closer Manny gets to her the more he senses the glacial, calculating cold in her being. Jim Hawkins is a world class bully, and the elusive Carson Degas is a murderous thug. All in all a nice cast of prospects and suspects to keep any investigator investigating.

Willie’s shooting is an appealing human drama as is the vexation of his fiancée and Manny’s wife with all those damn guns these crazy Indians have.

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The spirit mysticism fades from the story in the last one hundred pages and the final shoot out seems by-the-numbers.

I found the first fifty pages tedious before the action started, and I was annoyed that so many of the characters had the same mannerisms, dutifully described, like chin-pointing or sucking chewing tobacco in the same way. That seemed to me to be the padding of an insecure author. But once the characters were in place and events began to move, these annoyances were less distracting. I never did quite understand what the early interspersed chapters from June 1876 had to do with the story. Nonetheless, I will certainly read another in this series.

Krimienologists take note. Mark Hebden, Pel among the Pueblos (1987). Recommended.

I read some Pel books in the 1980s and then moved on. It is a pleasure now to renew acquaintance with the irascible Chief Inspector Pel, the scourge of wrong doers on his patch of Burgundy. Clapping villains in irons was the greatest pleasure of his miserable life, that is, until he met the subsequent Madame Pel....

Hebden wrote a score of these titles and his daughter took over when he passed away.

In this entry Pel is in full flight, literally, since a particularly complicated murder takes him our of Burgundy. Shudder. But at least not to the sink of iniquity, Paris. But rather to Mexico City! For a man who had never left Burgundy it was a terrible experience. It got worse when he tried to eat!

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Worse still when the inquiry stretched on and he feared he had not brought enough cigarettes. Though ever dutiful to Madame Pel’s injunctions, he did try to quit, several times a day.

I loved the Mexican detective Barribal who knew what to do and how to do it, though not the way Per would. Certainly not!

Meanwhile back in God’s country, Burgundy, the team gets on with nabbing some pretty tricky villains.

Along the way I found out a little about the Emperor Maximillan’s ill-fated time in Mexico, and the intricacies of auto insurance in France.

Recommended for Krimieologists.

A rattling story that reaches top speed by page two.

The irascible, clumsy, crude Inspector Trompe Kramer sets off in all directions at once with Sergeant Mickey Zondi in tow to find out who killed the Republic of South Africa’s most famous resident, dissident novelist, loosely based on Nadine Godimer I suppose. There is a passing reference to André Brink for good measure.

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The manners and morés of apartheid society are there, and Kramer and Zondi comply just enough to get by. There is never any moralizing about it, though the English liberals who surround the novelist have plenty to say.

There are marvelous moments as when Kramer, who has never read a book, discusses Shakespeare’s Hamlet with an English-speaking professor of English, who delights in all of Kramer’s stupid remarks as deep insights into the Bard. The reader is not quite sure which one is the clown. Nice. Kramer's grasp of English is schoolboy standard.

There are some nice moments with both Zondi and Kramer realize the polite, shy, and reserved Vicki is more than she seems. It is just a flicker at first, and neither of them dwells on it. Nice.

As usual in this series the typical Boer police officer is portrayed as several levels below a Mack Sennett Keystone Kop. But given that it is slapstick some of it is hilarious.

The society is rigidly structured by race in everything. There is virtually no interaction between the Boer white majority and the English white minority. Kramer speaks English but not as well as his mission-educate Bantu sergeant Zondi.

I found the subplot involving the Indian postman a tiresome distraction when I realized it was not contributing anything to the plot but is evidently supposed to be comic relief. Had I been the editor I would have cut it after the letter is delivered in Chapter One.

Recommended for krimieologists.

This title is the first in a continuing series featuring Chief Inspector David Brock and Sergeant Kathy Kolla. It is assured and has a light touch though the subject is murder.

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The sisters are indeed distant relatives of Eleanor Marx (wife of Karl) and that figures in the plot in several ways.

There are many blue herrings, as Hercule Poirot says when the English idiom fails him, from a son eager for an inheritance, a developer who wants to build a giant building, an angry neighbor. Perhaps the dominant character is a place, Jerusalem Lane where the sisters live. It is marvelously invoked, though my London A to Z does not list it, more’s the pity.

The police make mistakes and pursue some of those blue herrings. Even the inscrutable Brock sometimes blunders. Fallibility appeals to me.

There is a delicious portrait of a solipsistic and unscrupulous scholar who reminded me of some I have known.

This first volume in the series is mercifully free of Kolla’s endless capacity for self-pity that I find distasteful in the latter volumes, though the seeds are there. Too often Kolla’s main interest is Kolla. No doubt some readers find her incessant self-doubts and uncertainties attractive but they are too narcissistic for this reader.

For more information go to:

Personal note. Like many others, when I first used the Reading Room at the British Museum I sat in the seat Karl Marx habitually used.

I enjoyed the portrayal and factions, bureaucratic turf wars, national animosities, divisions within divisions within the micro-state of Vatican City, only made sovereign by the Lateran Treaty with Italy (Mussolini) in 1929. The Vatican police force is divided into three, the neutral, the fascist, and the anti-fascist. The Swiss Guards have real uniforms and weapons. The Vatican police and Vatican's Swiss Guards are two separate groups and not friends. Most of the Swiss are Sweizcher Deutsch who look down on the Italians in the police. The police are called gendarmes for some reason. Our hero interacts with the gendarmes inside the Vatican, while the Swiss Guards patrol the line of demarcation.


The book offers an explanation of Pope Pius XII’s quiescence in 1943 anyway. By then there were 5000 Jews, downed Allied airmen, anti-fascist Italians, salted away in Vatican City and in Vatican properties (part the Vatican's sovereign soil by the Treaty) elsewhere in Rome. The Pope's vast summer palace in the hills outside Rome was home to another 15,000 refugees. Silence might be the best way to avoid interesting the Germans in them.

Moreover, with Mussolini reduced to a puppet up North and only the most extreme Italian fascist left in Rome along with the occupying Germans, there was the danger that the Germans might decide to take the Pope north for his own safety on the pretext of Allied bombing, exposing not only the refugees in the Vatican but also its many treasures and destroying its studied neutrality. A low profile might be best so as not to give a pretext. Hmm, but if the Germans had a mind to do that, a pretext could be conjured as it was many times before.

Also liked the tension on the white painted line of demarcation in the square in front of the Vatican that still marks off the sovereignty of the Vatican, but in these days it was patrolled by the Swiss Guards on one side and the German army on the other. I liked the geography of the buildings and gardens in the Vatican, including the Vatican radio.

The evils of the Gestapo and SS were old news. Our intrepid hero was cardboard as were most of the other characters. Though there were a variety of characters and they did differ, I admit. I liked the way some of them reacted to being trapped in the gilded cage of the Vatican when the war cut them off, like the American diplomat who disappeared into the brandy bottle.

Some interesting characters appeared but not enough was made of the artful scrounger, the butler John May, Detective Cipriano of the Vatican police, or Abe the pilot lock-picker.

Not sure what to make of the good German, Remke and his team. Doomed, of course. The Italian OVRA sadist was a drooling stereotype as was the evil Croatian bishop.

The villain was hard to credit.

Billy tried too hard to be a reverse snob. Most of his wisecracks were tired sixty years ago. As is usually the case his backstory was simply a distracting filler.

Many of the events take place in the German College in the Vatican but no ever connects this with the Germans outside and there seem to be no Germans in the Vatican. No German cardinal or archbishops or bishop.

Nothing about the Italian day workers who come to work every day.

The prose is workmanlike.

The Billy Boyle books each have different setting so that is goodbye to the Vatican. But I will try searching for Vatican krimies.

Recommended for the Melbournoisie out there. But they have all probably read it. Not a krimie, worse luck.

A two-hour diversion into the drug addled mind of ole whashisname, Cookie, Carl the cook, or is that Charles. Sometimes not even he is sure.

Cruel but insightful and amusing caricatures of the feminist wife, the Irish mother, the Greek club owner.....and Carl himself.


His movie review fits most of the trash on the wide screen today: deafening, gory, brain deadening, blinding... Get the result same from a finger in a power outlet!

'They went into the theatre. it was a maelstrom of noise. The film had started….. The screen was awash with meaningless images and the soundtrack was a … frightening roar…. Creatures from his worst alcoholic nightmare, groped and slithered across the screen.' That's entertainment! That describes 'Star Trek: Into the Darkness' very well.

Quite fitting that Shane Mahoney wrote the intro. They have the same ink in their veins. Though Mahoney's effort to compare this book to Thomas Mann's 'Death in Venice' falls flat.

A google search does not return any other novels from Oxlade. A one book writer and even that book is now overshadowed by the movie in the publisher's blurb on the back of the book has more enthusiasm for the film than the book.

We went to see ‘A Murder is Announced’: A Miss Marple Mystery’ at the Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay last night. Most enjoyable. Kate did everything after I very obliquely hinted that this play would be a fine birthday present for moi! **** Four Stars from me!

The set and cast evoked a bygone time from the 1950s. I was impressed with the way the actors looked like all those other actors in BBC dramas. The RAF mo’s, the flounced dresses, the side saddle sitting, the inspector inevitably in an raincoat... This play was so much fun, in part, because everyone in the audience knew the story, and I am sure everyone in the production assumed that. In that way it is like Swan Lake or the Iliad. There will be no surprises. Well, no big surprises, but quite a few little ones. Mitzi just about stole the show! Jane’s dead pan reply to the Inspector when rhetorically asked “Do you want my job?’ Of course, the main elements are deceits, layer after layer.

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Perhaps the most curious thing in the staging was the cigarette smoking. It is in the text and was honoured here, but, as far as I could tell, only one of the actors with a cigarette puffed it like Bill Clinton. Most of the other cigarettes, after the ritual of lighting, were neither lit nor smoked. A production decision, it seems, delegated to the actors.

I have come back to Christie through the Poirot and Marple films. So meticulous, so analytic, so dogged and yet with a certain gentility of the time and place that is now relief from the too loud, too noisy, too garish, too simple, too fast, too dumb, too abrasive varieties of television policiers, most of which have the subtlety of a finger in a power point! I once read a lot of Agatha Christie but went off her in favor of the Mean Streets Noir books from Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and so on. The mature conclusion is both styles have a place in the pantheon.

By the way, Christie fans might like to know that she is a character in Max Collins’s The London Blitz Murders (2004).

Recommended with qualifications as below.

It has an exotic setting, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The Canadian Prairies in January and February no less. Dry frozen.


The protagonist is a part-lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan who seems to find plenty of trouble and whose work at the University does not seem to figure largely in her day. Might be the University of Sydney that. She is a widow with two adolescent children. But we do not get bogged down in domesticity.

The good: the provincial art world is a good context, there is none of the padded descriptions I find in many alleged krimies, the characters are differentiated though not always credible (like Nina the villain). For the most part the weather is presented realistically. Sally, the artist, is well drawn, way too smart and a very charming and talented user, but first last and always a user of other people. She reminded of some people I have known.

At one point a character says: 'In art men look for statements and women look for relations.' Nice.

The bad: it takes 60 pages of background to get going and the reader has no clue about why to read this and what to take from it. Yes some relevant things from this opening stretch are there at the end but not 60 pages worth. While the weather is there, it does not stop people from hanging clothes on the line and our protagonist gets by for a month without a car which is impossible in such a city because there is no public transport to speak of and few taxis. I also found the dirty secret not to be so dirty though perhaps in Saskatchewan it would be hard to live down. Stuart is also less than believable and after centring on him he then disappears toward the end. A blue herring. The fresco of penises was adolescent.

Recommended for Krimieologists (readers of crime novels). Set in the Soviet Union of 1936.

A lot of period details are easily integrated into the plot. Though it reads like 'Nineteen Eighty-Four.' I don't know whether that is because 'Nineteen Eight-Four' was very accurate to the Soviet Union or because the author has been influenced by it and so 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' has shaped the telling, or is it that I am superimposing 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' onto it?

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Korolov, the protagonist, is a loyal Soviet citizen yet he remains a believer (religious in secret) so there is a gap in his commitment to communism. 1936 is a tough year. Food is scarce, the rhetoric of paranoia is high, the winter is biting in Moscow, the zealots are zealous, and most people are struggling to survive while mouthing the requIred slogans. Only the great helmsman is above suspicion. For everyone else the goal posts constantly change and the marbles underfoot are ever-present. Not for everyone but for those in the police, the army, the party, the government, the collectives, there is a premium on denouncing someone, quotas for subversives to be jailed, disappearances, changes of portraits on the wall signal another wave of purges. But wait, there is more.

The person who is the least suspicious is suspect because a spy would not seem suspicious goes the prevailing logic. That and large measures of guilt by association, objective guilt, nets nearly everyone. No one is safe in this world.

No doubt there are parallels with North Korea today, yet I also thought there are also parallels with the green dream of telling everyone else what to do, when to do it, and how to do it on the grounds of the peril at the gate. Priests do like preaching even to a captive audience. The permanent crisis and the unscrupulousness of many supposed enemies of the Soviet Union requires endless vigilance. What reminded me most of green dreaming was the constant emphasis on the right nomenclature, and the least slip of the tongue, like gasping out 'oh my God' in surprise, is evidence of religious backsliding.

Now to the cavils, I thought Korolov got two tickets to the big game but he took four people in all without any trouble. Plus at a time of famine there were meat pies aplenty for sale at the game. Though Jack looked askance at the meat pie we never find out why. For a guy who is hard up Korolov takes a readily available taxi from the game. And he also has money for bribes, for smokes, and for meat pies for four.

This novel compares favorably to Sam Eastland, 'The Eye of the Red Tsar' which is set in 1924 in the Soviet Union. For this reader 'The Holy Thief' was better. This novel has less clutter, more insights into events, and complexity without confusion. Much less of an overblown backstory for our protagonist to interfere with the momentum. We learn about Korolov through his acts, words, and thoughts, and not by the exposition of a punctuated recitation of a contrived backstory in a curriculum vitae to make him sympathetic.

Another Eleanor Jones krimie set in 1923 Melbourne during a police strike: Carolyn Morwood, Cyanide and Poppies (2012).


Eleanor is now a reviewer for 'The Argus.' Nicholas is still there; his wife is not. Andrew has returned from, of all places, Dimboola, but is as fragile as cracked crystal and less stable.

Slow and thoughtful. Eleanor is introspective but it never feels like superfluous padding as it so often does in many of the Chick-Krimies that I sample and reject. Morwood brings Melbourne of the age alive with gravity in contrast, say to Miss Fisher with her bold and brassy and superficial appurtenances like cars, clothes, etc. If Miss Fisher, god love her, is nearly a cartoon, Eleanor is nearly a tragic heroine the 19th Century. They are both treasures.

Eleanor is a very serious person who served as a nurse during World War I in Palestine and France. She has seen much death and more suffering and been unable to do anything much about either. Her fiancée and her older brother were both killed in France, and the younger brother Andrew, who also served in France, returned psyched out. Not much fun there.

Her childhood sweetheart Nicholas is married but his wife seems to be permanently away, perhaps never to return. No one knows, perhaps not even Nicholas. He helped Eleanor get the job at the newspapers and they spend time together wondering no doubt how what might have been or what might be....

Meanwhile the hoons feel licensed by absence of police, most of whom are on strike. Vigilantes organise in turn. Libertarian hoon versus self-righteous thug is the result.

Within this context it is an engrossing study of relationships distorted by the gravity of a murder. The victim is a nosy, unpleasant journalist, who was perhaps given to blackmail. Andrew's girlfriend, not quite girlfriend but might be, is the suspect. It is Sister Jones to the rescue.

There is much about Eleanor managing Andrew, trying to do it without his awareness. Their rapprochement and cooperation is well done. Inspector Pearce is well meaning and competent but under much pressure because of the Police Strike. The tension between Eleanor and Nicholas Bird is unrelenting. His daughter Kate is instrumental in the denouement, at first reluctantly but then willingly. 'Reluctantly' because Kate sees Eleanor as a threat to her absent mother or Kate's own monopoly of Nicholas. But Kate, too, wants to help the innocent Nadine, Andrew's deuce girlfriend, so she joins the plot.

There is to'ing and fro'ing in Melbourne and out, namely a train ride to and from Dimboola.

Nice touches, how the same facts can be construed in different ways. I also liked the ambiguity of Nadine's (the maybe girlfriend) claim to be a medium, though it was dropped completely after being such a big part of the buildup. Some kind of recognition, if not resolution, is needed on that, not just omission. Likewise the unresolved tension with the maid is magnified, and then not mentioned again.

Rachel, Nicholas's absent wife, writes to ask for a divorce! I foresee much consternation ahead. Divorce might ruin him socially in Melbourne. Kate would react how? Would he then be free for Eleanor or would he be too injured and want to avoid contaminating her?

It was not hard to figure out the villain before Eleanor. The most sanctimonious ones are always at it in krimies, as often in life.

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