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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Book review - Forever and a Day


Anthony Horowitz’s prequel to Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Forever and a Day (2018) starts with M making the observation, ‘So, 007 is dead.’ Of course it isn’t James Bond who is deceased but the unnamed previous incumbent with that Double-O number.  A neat touch, that.

This is Horowitz’s second foray into the James Bond universe, having earlier treated us to Trigger Mortis (2015) – reviewed here


Where the earlier book took place in 1957, shortly after Goldfinger, this one takes us to early 1950s, the beginning of Bond’s career as the new 007; there are only three Double-O men – 008, 0011 and 007, it seems; M deplored using sequential numbers (p4). M’s Chief of Staff reveals that 007 was murdered in the south of France, in Marseille. He’d been investigating the Corsican underworld in the area. ‘It seems that there was a woman involved.’ To which M replies, ‘There always is.’ Dry humour, just the right note. The woman is called Madame 16 or Sixtine, a one-time worker at Bletchley Park and subsequently an agent in SOE. As 008 was still out of action (hospitalised) and 0011 was in Miami, it was deemed necessary to send the new 007 to dig around – James Bond.

Eventually, Bond finds himself in Monte Carlo, playing Vingt-et-un against Sixtine. An amusing aside when a croupier mutters, among other appropriate phrases, Carré, doubtless Horowitz’s nod to John Le Carré. (p59) This scene is also an homage to Fleming’s lengthy discourse in Casino Royale.

We’re made privy to the origin of Bond’s vodka martini being shaken, not stirred (p70); another nice touch. As for his cigarettes, he was introduced to Morlands’ coffin nails in preference to his Du Maurier ‘named after a minor British actor.’ (p122) Finally, we see how Bond acquires his trade-mark gunmetal cigarette case, which also masterfully explains the book title. (p169)

There are two villains, Scipio a grossly overweight Corsican and rich industrialist Irwin Wolfe. Scipio delivers Bond a trenchant speech via a translator: ‘… the arrogance of the British. You are a tiny island with bad weather and bad food also but you still think you rule the world… you are becoming irrelevant…’ (104) Maybe he was an early scriptwriter for the EU negotiators?

Inevitably, Bond is faced with grim ‘torture’, which is only to be expected. However, more than once he seems to escape through no guile of his own; I won’t say more. This didn’t spoil the book for me; I perhaps was hoping for more, which may be my failing.

Horowitz also adopts the Fleming style of chapter headings, often playing with words, among them Killing by Numbers, Russian Roulette, Not So Joliette, Shame Lady, Love in a Warm Climate, Pleasure… or Pain? and Death at Sunset.

Yet again he has captured the flavour and tone of Fleming while adding his own stamp to the proceedings. Initially,

I wasn’t impressed by the title, Forever and a Day, but it makes complete sense now that I’ve read the book. It’s also the title of a 1943 film.

The cover is excellent, the luxury yacht resembling a deadly bullet!

I ended my review of Trigger Mortis with the hope of seeing another Horowitz 007 novel, and despite a few caveats he has not disappointed. I look forward to the next.

Editorial comment

Repetition. On page 33 we’re told ‘Bill Tanner, M’s chief of staff and a man Bond knew well.’
Then on p35 we read: ‘The two men knew each other well.’ The editor should have spotted this, and a few other minor points below…

Clumsy wording: ‘Bond was holding the envelope that he had found in his right hand.’ (p49) At the bottom of p48 we know Bond is holding an envelope which he’d just found. Had he just found it in his right hand?

‘Then he slumped to the ground.’  (p49) This is in an apartment, so it should be ‘floor’ not ‘ground’.

‘… punctuated by a slither of silver moonlight.’ (p144) I’d reckon that should be ‘sliver’.

Consistency. At one point we have eyeglasses (p103), and at another spectacles (p54).

‘His ankles were also secured to the legs of the solid wooden chair…’ And yet further down the same page, ‘Bond hadn’t moved or opened his eyes. (p100) But he knows it’s a solid wooden chair…? Okay, just maybe…

As Bond is ex-Royal Navy, and it’s mostly his point of view, when he’s aboard Wolfe’s luxurious vessel, he wouldn’t note ‘submarine-style hatches’ but simply hatches. (p140). Again, ‘the letter R was printed on the wall one floor down.’ (243) But these are bulkheads and decks, even if in a luxury ship!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

A Dance to the Music of Time (5 of 12)


The first four volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time are reviewed in earlier blogs.
***

Anthony Powell’s 1960 novel Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant begins in the late 1920s and is again narrated by Nick Jenkins, and reveals in flashback his first meetings with Mr Deacon (deceased in the previous book), Maclintick, Gossage, Carolo and Moreland. As before, there is little emotion in the narrative: ‘I listened to what was being said without feeling…’ (p29) – which could apply to the story so far, really. 

His friends Maclintick, Moreland and Barnby are intent on going to Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant. Apparently, ‘there used to the New Casanova, where the cooking was Italian and the decoration French eighteenth century. Further up the street was the Amoy, called by some Sam’s Chinese Restaurant. The New Casanova went into liquidation. Sam’s bought it up and moved over their pots and pans and chopsticks, so now you can eat treasure rice, or bamboo shoots fried with pork ribbons, under panels depicting scenes from the career of the Great Lover.’ (p32)

Powell’s narrator doesn’t involve the reader greatly in the scenes: ‘Maclintick and Barnby ordered something unadventurous from the dishes available; under Moreland’s guidance, I embarked upon one of the specialities of the house.’ (p34) You have to wonder if Powell could actually name any Chinese dishes; and the phrase ‘from the dishes available’ seems superfluous, as would ‘from the menu’.

Following from these reminiscences, we move to the 1930s and Nick reveals he has been married to Isobel, ‘perhaps a year’. (p58) The scandal about Mrs Simpson and, ultimately, The Abdication, is the talk of the town.

Lady Warminster is quite a character. She was ‘prone to fortune-tellers and those connected with divination. She was fond of retailing their startling predictions.’ (p74) Echoes of Nick’s Uncle Giles’s friend Mrs Erdleigh! One of her statements about the novelist St John Clarke: 'I always think one ought to be grateful to an author if one has liked even a small bit of a book’ (p75) is damning with faint praise indeed! By now, Clarke was ‘forgotten by the critics but remembered fairly faithfully by the circulating libraries…’ (p80)

Nick had lost touch with Widmerpool, primarily because his wife Isobel didn’t care for the man. ‘In any case I should never have gone out of my way to seek him, knowing, as one does with certain people, that the rhythm of life would sooner or later be bound to bring us together again.’ (p101)

When we do meet Widmerpool, he is more pompous than ever: ‘I regret to say that few, if any, of my school contemporaries struck me sufficiently favourably for me to go out of my way to employ their services… It is one of my principles in life to surround myself with persons whose conduct has satisfied me.’ (p122) And clearly he is not prescient: ‘Setting aside a European war, which I do not consider a strong probability in spite of certain disturbing features, I favour a reasoned optimism.’ (p123)

Maclintick is a sad figure, with a marriage that doesn’t work, he and his wife constantly arguing: ‘… for a moment I thought he was going to strike her; just as I had thought she might stick a dinner knife into him when I had been to their house…’ (p148)

There is a rare stab of emotion, however: ‘I suddenly felt horribly uncomfortable, as if ice-cold waer were dripping very gently, very slowly down my spine…’ (p151) when reminded of his old love Priscilla.

The narrator excuses his lack of emotional commitment in part: ‘... it is doubtful whether an existing marriage can ever be described directly in the first person and convey a sense of reality… if one has cast objectivity aside, the difficulties of presenting marriage are inordinate… I thought of some of these things on the way to the nursing home.’ (p96)

At the nursing home he meets Moreland and, of all people, Widmerpool. Here, Nick reveals to Moreland, an expectant father, that Isobel has just had a miscarriage. Moreland is not particularly sympathetic, bemoaning the fact that his wife Matilda’s constant false alarms were likely to make him bankrupt. (p98) These were the days before the National Health Service.

There’s a preponderance of names beginning with the letter ‘M’ – Moreland, Maclintick, Mona, Members, Milly, Magnus, Mildred (dumped girlfriend of Widmerpool), Mortimer, Matilda ( wife of Moreland)… Reminds me of the story ‘The Empty House’ in The Return of Sherlock Holmes: ‘My collection of M’s is a fine one…’ (p20) Though perhaps in this book’s case there’s an overabundance of names beginning with that letter.

Next: 6 – The Kindly Ones.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

'Going to rival Eddings and Feist...'

Two Amazon (UK) reviews for the latest book in the Floreskand series: 3 - Madurava

1) This is the third in the series. Love how the characters are developing. The storyline is becoming more intriguing and you get a sense of being very much a part of the adventure. The complexity of every aspect of this land, from the calendar to the religions, shows the authors' dedication to ensuring that the tale is unique and fresh.

2) The third book in the series and the best so far. The saga continues to grow following the aftermath of the civil war. Old favourites reappear on a new adventure with all groups heading in the same direction hinting at a grand climax that doesn't disappoint. As always with these stories there is an unexpected twist ... The book ends hinting at an even more epic adventure to come in book 4 Prophecy. If this series continues to develop in the way it has so far I think it is going to rival Eddings and Feist.


Many thanks to both reviewers!


Thursday, 31 May 2018

The saga continues...

Just out this month, third in the ongoing fantasy series FLORESKAND. This one is titled MADURAVA.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Writing market - Mystery Weekly Magazine


Here’s a paying market for writers of mysteries: Mystery Weekly Magazine.


The magazine is a labour of love for the husband and wife team of Publisher Charles F. Carter and Editor Kerry. The magazine website is http://www.mysteryweekly.com/ You can download a copy to your Kindle or get the paperback version from Amazon. You can submit stories via email.

In March Mystery Weekly Magazine was spotlighted in the American periodical, The Writer

Here’s an excerpt of that article, which just happens to mention my story due to appear later this year:

‘The Carters read submissions all year long, making detailed notes for writers who request feedback. They promote their authors widely, publishing excerpts and links to Mystery Weekly’s stories via email, the journal’s website, and social media.

‘One such author is writer and illustrator Nik Morton, whose story “The Very First Detective: The Killing Stone” will be published in the magazine’s Sherlock Holmes special issue, October 2018.

‘“It’s a prehistoric Holmes and Watson pastiche featuring Olmes and Otsun (Otsun is Olmes’s sidekick as well as being the clan’s medicine man),” Kerry explains. “Aside from being well-written, it has a unique setting, which makes it especially entertaining. We don’t get many submissions that cross genres, so any mysteries with fantasy, western, or speculative treatments definitely earn extra points.”’

Go for it!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

'... feels absolutely real.'


"When I picked up this novel about psychic British spy, Tana Standish, and her adventures in 1970s Czechoslovakia, the spy template I thought it would adhere to is the James Bond one. After all, that is already an outsized world and surely a beautiful spy with precognitive abilities could be dropped in fairly seamlessly.

But Nik Morton actually foxed me, by instead opting for the John Le Carré model. This is a gritty and realistic feeling world, with dirt under its fingernails. And it’s beautifully realised. You can almost smell the Turkish coffee and cheap cigarettes in the cafes... But is there any way to make a psychic spy fit seamlessly into this world?

You have your doubts, don’t you?

And yet Morton manages it.

Such is the level of detail and ambition, that Morton soon sweeps the reader up in the narrative and creates such a convincing canvas that we can easily accept the central conceit. Bouncing between different times and locations, he has created a book which feels big in scope, an adventure story with a supernaturally gifted protagonist that still feels absolutely real.

I was expecting a light throwaway read with Mission: Prague, but was glad I got something far more ambitious."

Thank you, F.R. Jameson for commenting on Goodreads.

The full review can be read there. 

Mission: Prague


Available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book here


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

An exorcism...


There follows a small scene from CHILL OF THE SHADOW. An exorcism.
 ***
The church clock chimed eleven, each tolling of the hour resonating in the room.
            “Oh, God, it’s time?” Father Joseph said.
            “Yes, Father. Your hour is here.”
            Father Joseph nodded, his holy stole draped round his neck. The Bible in one hand, he recited the Credo aloud three times. He carried around the room a censer containing a small amount of the burning Frankincense.
            Maria’s eyes suddenly opened wide, staring, alarmed. But Michael didn’t recognize Maria in them.
            The priest whispered, “Poor soul–”
            “Now, Father, the water,” Michael said, his tone firm and commanding.
            Putting down the censer, the priest picked up a large glass jug of holy water which he had consecrated in his church next door. He dipped a hyssop in the purifying liquid and sprinkled it over Maria, intoning, “I exorcise thee, O unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
            The response was immediate and startling. Maria’s body arched up from the bedsprings, and her flesh started to bead with a sickly green sweat.
            “Stand firm, Father,” Michael commanded as an eldritch shriek erupted from Maria’s mouth. Then she slumped down, the bedsprings rattling, and was still again.
            Father Joseph was trembling. “Dear God, will she survive this ordeal?”
            Michael whispered, “The strain has been known to be so great that limbs have been dislocated. But I believe she isn’t fully possessed yet. The demons are not comfortable in her shell.” He waved a hand. “Again, Father.”
            Father Joseph nodded and swallowed. Steeling himself, he stepped forward again. This time he was too quick, accidentally splashing Michael’s outstretched hand in the process. Three globules of water settled for a moment on the back of his hand, and then sizzled. Unconcerned, Michael shook the liquid off his hand; blisters, as if from an acid burn, appeared.
            “My God, what manner of man are you?” Father Joseph said, almost dropping the jug of holy water.
            “Just one of the good guys, Father.” He took a pair of black leather gloves from his jacket on the back of a chair and put them on. “Please continue. Maria’s life and soul are at stake.”
            Father Joseph made the sign of the cross, and then sprinkled more holy water on Maria. “I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ. Tremble, O Satan, enemy of the faith, thou foe of mankind who hast brought death to the world, and hast rebelled against justice, thou seducer of mankind, thou root of evil, source of avarice, discord and envy.”
            “Stand back, it’s my turn,” Michael ordered, lighting the Paschal candle.
            Very carefully, he lowered the flame to Maria’s naked flesh that still glistened with an unwholesome green sheen. “Get ready!”
            There was a disconcerting flash of yellow and suddenly Maria was surrounded by a blazing transparent flame. It lasted for mere seconds and her body levitated this time, prevented from rising more than twelve inches by the ropes.
            “May God break your teeth, vile spirit, and cut the veins of your neck and the sinews thereof. I bind you in the name of Gabriel and Michael, I bind you by these Angels!” wailed the priest. “May you vanish as smoke from before the wind for ever and ever, Amen!”
            Maria shrieked horribly, and out of her mouth leapt a gout of thick bile, speckled with green and yellow and red. In its gross suddenness it resembled projectile vomit, but it was unlike it in colour, consistency and smell.
            As the vile streamer left Maria’s mouth, Father Joseph leapt forward and thrust the crucifix he was holding over her mouth and held it there, while his eyes followed the terrifying manifestation across the room.
            Defying gravity, the sliver of bile appeared sentient, moving toward the balcony door; it baulked inches from the array of crosses; it tried the window and door, and retreated. Wherever it travelled, it left a putrefying stench in its wake.
            “Unbind the curse!” Father Joseph cried out and prayed again, louder, bellowing, commanding the evil spirit to leave in the name of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Trinity.
            The horrible thing made a beeline for Michael, as if divining that he carried no protective cross. In one swift motion Zondadari’s fingers hooked up the censer and swung it, catching the thing as if he were playing pelota. As the evil spirit sizzled and emitted a stomach-churning smell, Father Joseph left Maria’s side and poured the remainder of the holy water onto the mixture of cooking bile and Frankincense. The steam quickly dissipated, to leave a burned, brittle husk.
            “And what the hell do you think you’re doing?” shrieked Maria from the bed, trying to tug her arms and legs free.
            Michael crossed the room, picked up the sheet and draped it over her. He gazed into her eyes and after a long moment of study he smiled thinly, satisfied. “As it happens,” he said, “Hell has a lot to do with it.” He pulled out the Knife of Astarte and cut the rope securing her right wrist. “You’ve had quite an ordeal, Maria – but now you’re free.”
***
CHILL OF THE SHADOW
Available as an e-book and paperback here