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Friday, 17 April 2015

FFB - The Testament of Caspar Schultz

Real name, Harry Patterson, Jack Higgins' early novels were written under his own name as well as under the pseudonyms James Graham, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlowe. One of the reasons for several names is that he was prolific and publishers are reluctant to bring out too many books by a single author. His early books were thrillers that typically featured hardened, cynical heroes, ruthless villains, and dangerous locales. He published thirty-five novels of this type (sometimes three or four a year) between 1959 and 1974, ‘learning his craft’. Then he wrote The Eagle Has Landed

A number of his books feature several recurring characters – Nick Miller, Sean Rogan, Martin Fallon (no less!), Liam Devlin, Sean Dillon and Paul Chavasse.
The Testament of Caspar Schultz was first published as by Martin Fallon in 1962. It was republished in 1979 under the name Jack Higgins; my copy is the 2011 edition. The book was originally entitled The Bormann Testament but, for various reasons and at the publisher’s behest, the character of Martin Bormann vanished from the book and Patterson created a fictional Nazi leader, Caspar Schultz.  As with some of his other books, Higgins re-released an early version with updates, and so in 2006 this book was republished as The Bormann Testament (thereby restoring much of the earlier version, and adding more too.) I have not read this updated version.

Reading this, you have to bear in mind that it was set in 1960 – only fifteen years after the end of the Second World War. There were plenty of Nazis hiding in the woodwork, succulent meat for thriller writers’ plots. And some ex-Nazis were in reality in positions of authority and trust in the world of commerce and politics.

This is Higgins’ first Paul Chavasse novel. Half-French, half English, Chavasse works for a branch of British Secret Intelligence, the Bureau. The book begins very much like many of that period, the super-spy being called in by the nameless Chief to undertake an assignment.

Chavasse is tasked with tracking down a former Nazi, Schultz, and the man’s recently completed manuscript that explosively names ex-Nazi people currently in high places. Certain neo-Nazis are reluctant to see that manuscript published and are willing to kill to ensure its destruction.

This is early Higgins, with its attendant word-repetition, and yet the seeds of his subsequent thrillers can be glimpsed – pace, humour, a brave heroine, dastardly loquacious villains, not too graphic violence (but enough of it), a McGuffin (the manuscript), suspense, swift scene-change, betrayal and morality.

If you want a fast-paced read, then this will satisfy.
The other five Chavasse thrillers are:

Year of the Tiger (1963), The Keys of Hell (1965), Midnight Never Comes (1966), Dark Side of the Street (1967) and finally A Fine Night for Dying (1969).

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Writing - Now, hold on!

‘Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.’ – Jeanette Winterson

This is sound advice – up to a point. It may be poor in the quality of the writing, but the ideas written down, the concept, the actual plot may be workable after a suitable gestation period.

The title of this blog is taken from an article I had published in The Writer magazine in the 1970s.  In that piece I stated, ‘Never desert a story!’ I was referring to rejected stories, and advocated putting them on ice; keep them, don’t discard them.

I’ll quote from the piece here: ‘Seven years ago I wrote an unusual quite uncommercial story. It didn’t have a hope. But I liked the style, even though none of the editors I tried seemed to share my view. Last year I slanted it at a particular magazine and it was swept up eagerly. All in all, I probably altered one-tenth of the story – and, more important, the layout and style remained unchanged.’

Another story was rejected by the same magazine twice; I let it lie, gathering dust for a couple of years, then dusted it off and revised it with greater hindsight and experience and it was accepted.

Moral: Contradict Jeanette Winterson, if you feel like it.

Jeanette Winterson is the author of the phenomenally successful book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) which was filmed for TV in 1990. Her latest book is The Daylight Gate (2012).

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Writing – new review

My book Write a Western in 30 Days has picked up seven 5-star and one 4-star reviews on Amazon UK.  The latest reads, in part:

Good advice for all types of writing. Although this book focuses on writing westerns it is useful for all types of novel writing. Whether I could write a novel in such a short time remains to be seen, but the tools to do it are there in the book.’

So, thank you ‘Big A’ from England.

There are nine 5-star and two 4-star reviews for the book on Amazon COM.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Writing - As long as it gets (2)

Yesterday, we looked at the problem of not having ‘enough’ words for a given novel, and how to rectify this without simply inserting padding.

Some writers have the opposite problem, however – they write, write and write until their tome is well beyond the usually accepted 100,000 words. There’s nothing wrong with this – a good number of debut novels have exceeded this word-count. But you’re bucking against the standard requirement of publishers and agents by writing such a thick novel, thereby lessening your chance of acceptance.

If you see your book growing to huge proportions, then you might like to take a look at this blog I posted in 2014:


Good luck!
My book Write a Western in 30 Days has picked up a good selection of reviews, and many of the reviewers on Amazon sites state that it's useful for writers of any genre, not only westerns.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Writing - As long as it gets (1)

There’s an axiom that goes: a novel is as long as it takes for the story to be told. And that’s very true.

Naturally, there are a few conditionals attached: has the story been told adequately, so that the reader doesn’t get lost anywhere along the way? Have the characters justified their existence in the story? Is there a beginning, a middle and an end?

Sometimes, the writer needs to write sufficient words to meet the criteria of a publisher – or even the expectations of their readership. Too short, and they all feel robbed; too long, and there’s the risk of creating a soggy middle that bogs down the reader.

No easy choices.
If you’re getting to the stage in your manuscript when you feel it doesn’t have enough words; and you'll know this, instinctively, then you need to ask yourself some searching questions. Here are a few, not exclusive:

Can the reader 'see' the scene?

Is there scope for the odd red herring or misdirection?

Is there scope to add a minor sub-plot?

Are all the characters adequately described, doing enough, justifying their existence in the story?

The temptation is to add padding – this temptation should be resisted. Don't go in for padding with dialogue that doesn't move the story forward.

Don't make scenes longer per se; give them more depth, more drama, more description, perhaps.

I’ve discussed this dilemma in an earlier blog, here:

‘Dr, my death is greatly exaggerated…’ – Bond

I’m sure I won’t be alone in criticising the latest piece of so-called journalism from experts regarding the unbelievable escapes from death in Skyfall (2012), Die Hard (1988) and Home Alone (1990), and Halloween (1978).

No doubt to engender response, Total Film magazine featured an article where several medical experts explain why our heroes would have died if their antics had been in real life.

Setting aside the fact that the movie James Bond is fantasy (even if they go to great pains to appear in our reality), unlike, say, Le Clarré’s Smiley outings, which can be considered drama. Die Hard and Halloween fall into that category, too. As for Home Alone, it’s a cartoon with live actors.

What annoys me is when experts watch a film but don’t listen or don’t see correctly.

I’ll paraphrase one of the findings: In the spectacular pre-credit sequence, according to the report, Bond is hit in the chest by a bullet laced with radioactive uranium. The good doctor states that Bond wouldn’t have survived. ‘A depleted uranium shell going at any kind of speed would’ve passed straight through him, turned his lungs inside out and killed him.’

Dr, no! The doctor clearly didn’t watch any more of the film. About half an hour into the story, Bond digs out the shell casing splinter from his upper chest, just below his clavicle and obtains a report on it from Tanner: it was lucky it was only a ricochet; ‘if the bullet had hit you it would have torn you in half.’ So much for the observant doctor…

Yes, there’s the question of that bit of radioactive metal sitting in his subcutaneous tissue for about three months… but if years of smoking haven’t killed him, perhaps this wouldn’t either – or at least not for a few years yet.

The act of digging out the shrapnel from his wound comes in for a bit of criticism too. Apparently, such a clumsy technique would have led to infection, unconsciousness, blood loss and severe muscle and nerve damage. Over-egging it again, I suspect. Sadly, in so-called clean operations performed in hospitals, infection finds a way in, doesn’t it? As for self-operating – there are many cases of individuals performing serious operations, from amputation to digging out foreign bodies from the flesh – and surviving. There are countless instances of people being wounded in battle yet not even realising it at the time, due to the heightened adrenalin rush of the moment; the trauma is real, but the mind can go into denial in order to cope and save the body from further damage.

There are further comments relating to the end of the film, but I wouldn’t want to write any spoiler here. Suffice it to say that, individually, all the escapades Bond survives have been achieved by people in real life; granted, not all by the same person within such a short space of time: that’s the fiction, the fantasy; and you'd think that doctors could differentiate. 

In short, the criticisms are mischievous fun; a bit like a fantasy film in the Bond franchise, really.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Saturday Story - 'Talent Quest'

… she’d possessed something miraculous,
and now she was deprived of its use…




Nik Morton

Whitley Bay, winter - Wikipedia commons
Charis Driscoll stood quite alone in the small graveyard, hazel eyes staring at the shallow mound of freshly dug earth. The white carnations were already wilting. It was a bleak day, ponderous clouds overshadowing the whole area, the inland wind blowing gustily. 'Fresh,' he used to call it, she thought, but the smile wouldn't come at the recollection. The sun had long since been vanquished. Even the wind-whipped air seemed oppressive.

            No longer would she know his nearness, feel his tender mind, experience his gentle banter, and share the magic. What they had dreaded most had finally happened: he was dead and she a 28-year-old spinster.

            Dabbing her eyes, she turned away and stumbled towards the creaking churchyard gate.

            Alone. So terribly alone. Not like normal people. This was different, more profound: her very soul had been deprived. There was no-one else. She was a freak, a sport, like him, like her father. 'Alone' is such a telling word.

            Fumbling at the lych gate, she was startled by a man's voice.

            'Please accept my commiserations, Miss Driscoll.'

            Charis had to look up at him, a good six inches taller than her, with a rather weather-beaten complexion. Wisps of sandy hair blew about his eyes, crinkled-up because of the wind. His wide mouth opened in a sympathetic wan smile, teeth the white of a non-smoker. Stubbornly, he restricted the flapping of his raincoat about his knees with one hand while the other clamped doggedly onto his brown trilby. 'My name's Paul Napier,' he said.

            Tying a black scarf beneath her chin, she replied, 'Are you one of Lach - one of father's associates, Mr Napier?' Her brow creased, though not with curiosity: the headaches were back, with renewed force. Her father's only legacy.

            'Oh, no, Miss Driscoll!' He laughed nervously. 'I'm from The Courier.'

            Furious that her moments of mourning were not private, her pallor abruptly changed to crimson. 'You've filled your obituary columns, Mr Napier!'

            He stepped back, stung. 'It was my editor's idea!' he called to her. But she only half-heard, swerving away from him into the deserted street.
Since she had been old enough to speak, he had insisted she called him Lachlan. He often admonished her when she thought of him as Daddy. Yet they shared so much more than daughter and father; there was no incest between them, though many, if they knew, would regard this deep relationship as incestuous, mentally if not physically.

            When she first realized he could walk in her mind, she backed off, terrified. Yet, once he had invited her to explore his mind with her own, she was not slow to accept the genetic gift. Within a short time they had prepared codes of conduct: in effect, each would knock and await an invitation. Of course, the exquisite temptation was always there, particularly strong at times of high emotion. Fortuitously, their talent was accompanied by an unusually strong will. So, as she passed puberty and had a few brief sexual encounters, Lachlan never pried. And she reciprocated, respecting her parents' privacy. Over the ensuing years, try as they would, neither could look into anyone else's mind; the knowledge was quite daunting but they gradually resigned themselves to being the only possessors of the talent. But now even that had altered irrevocably.

            She had been by herself for five days; the funeral was merely the culmination, the final image-set to haunt her. And she would hold those images for all time: his corpse, embalmed and serene, but now only a husk, without feeling, without love pulsing through, without life. Why do people revere the husk so much. Is it merely a graven image of a loved one? She mourned the loss of his mind, not his body. After all these days, as if finally sank in that he wouldn't be coming home from his Seaside Show, beaming at the audience's adulation, she felt at her lowest ebb and found, strangely, there were no more tears left to shed.

            The telephone shrilled.

            For a second her heart stopped, as she thought absurdly that it was all a mistake and Lachlan was ringing to tell her so. He had merely performed the greatest prestidigitation ever, escaping from the Spirit World, a feat that even the great Houdini could not achieve... Chiding herself, she lifted the receiver.

            Before she could crash the phone down, the reporter said in a breathless rush, 'I'd like to apologize for this morning, Miss Driscoll. My editor shouldn't have asked me to interview you at such an unhappy time. I felt a terrible heel after you left...'

            'Thank you for ringing, Mr Napier,' she replied calmly. He seemed so anxious to make amends, to be friendly, and she could do with some companionship, even desultory - no, she was being unkind. But no-one could take away her feeling of abandonment, of isolation. No-one. 'And thank you for the thought. I do understand. I shouldn't have snapped. You have a job to do...'

            'Will you let me atone for it by asking you out for lunch?' Perhaps he detected her hesitation, for he added hastily, 'Nothing too grand - if it's not too sudden and you haven't already eaten, and - but perhaps you'd rather be left alone?'

            Utterance of that word decided her. She said, 'How about the Sea View on the front?'

            'Y-yes...' He sounded nonplussed, the initiative snatched from him.

            'In thirty minutes. I don't live far - oh, but you'll know that, won't you, Mr Napier?'

            'Er, yes. Fine, I'll see you then - and I promise not to ply you with too many questions.'

            ''Bye for now, Mr Napier.' Replacing the phone, she wondered why she had arranged to meet this man, a reporter of all people.

            Then the idea struck her. He could help her locate any of Lachlan's relations: a kind of gene-trace. Newspapermen had access to places and documents she and Lachlan hadn't, she supposed. Their search had been compounded by the fact that he did not appear on the Register of Adopted Children; in fact, the details of his adoption were decidedly cloudy. If only he had been promiscuous! Then other progeny might share the psychic gift. But he'd always been the devoted husband; even after her mother died, he remained faithful to her memory. And yet he had known that one day this terrible emptiness would engulf her mind. If she married it was possible that her child would inherit the talent and be of one mind with her. If... But her few boyfriends had always shied away when they perceived the father-daughter bond - the sexual attachment was no match for something they couldn't comprehend. She was no prude and enjoyed her infrequent affairs, but her family's influence was too strong: she would not - could not - conceive except when in love.

And such an intense feeling had eluded her. She hadn’t met any man with whom she would want to create a new life within her. Now, despite an all-pervading loneliness, she found herself stubbornly clinging to these same principles. Perhaps Lachlan was to blame but she was being selfish, she told herself. He’d suffered years of loneliness before she was born. She tried to imagine how he must have felt, discovering the gift they shared: for until that moment his talent had lain buried. There was a difference, though: she’d possessed something miraculous, and now she was deprived of its use; what he never experienced in those thirty years, he never missed.
Charis spotted Paul Napier sitting at a corner-table; the others were vacant: the tail-end of summer. On seeing her enter, he stood up. Well-mannered, at least.

            'Hello, Miss Driscoll.'

            His eyes were brown all right, possessing a sad lack-lustre as he talked. He wasn't as overpoweringly tall as she had first thought. She wondered if today's faux pas attributed to his brown study.

            Sherry half-filled his glass. 'You haven't been waiting long, I hope?'

            'No. You're dead on time.' Freudian slip - ignored.

            Outside, gulls reeled and screeched above the deserted promenade. Dull grey clouds had risen and darkened.

            Having removed her black Ottoman weave coat, Paul brought two Sherries over, which he managed to spill in carrying.

            'You seem nervous, Mr Napier,' Charis said, warming her observation with a smile. 'Shouldn't it be me who's on edge?'

            'Possibly...' Contemplatively, his finger caressed the lip of the glass and the smile abandoned his face.

            'Well, you are going to ask me questions, aren't you?'

            He nodded, apologetically.

            She leaned forward. 'Before you start, will you do me a favour, please?'

            'Not to ask questions?'

            Charis released a brief throaty laugh - the first since when? 'No, I'm not that ungracious, you know, despite my outburst earlier. After I've told you all I know about Daddy, will you investigate the circumstances surrounding his adoption?'

            A flash of surprise in his face revealed that her exposal of Lachlan's adoption was news to Paul Napier. He considered his reply, alert eyes penetrating hers. 'When was he born, Miss Driscoll?'


            'Sixty-two. That's no age to die... And he was adopted soon after his birth?'

            'Yes, so he tells - so he told me.'

            He sighed, rested his elbows on the small table-mat. 'It's a tall order, Miss Driscoll.' That wan smile again. 'But yes I'll help.'

            She sat back, relaxed for the first time in a week; the dull pounding in her head receded - thank God. 'We might as well stop all this formality. Paul - call me Charis, will you?' He nodded, seemingly amused. 'What can I tell you about The Great Lachlan that the Sunday supplements haven't already covered?'

            Paul smiled thinly. 'I'll leave out the remarkable news about his being adopted, Charis. What about the man behind the magician? Our town would like to know about him. We've few enough celebrities to boast of, so naturally we're interested.'

            As she talked about her father she so wanted to reveal their well-kept secret. No, she was not keen on meeting men in white coats carrying a straitjacket... The Great Lachlan began to emerge as an honest cheerful family man involved in charity work and sensational escapologist tricks. Charis had even appeared for a full season as his ostrich-plumed assistant and learned many of his highly original tricks. (Strange, she thought, how they never capitalized on their shared talent: he never touched upon mind-reading in his act).

            Paul touched her hand. 'You seemed distant just then. Do you want to go on?'

            Eyes lowered, she watched her fingers tremble on the table-top. 'Yes, it's past history now. Lovely memories. Oddly, I feel detached from everything.' She raised her head, looked about her, seeing only Lachlan. 'I don't think I can be hurt any deeper, if that's what you mean.' Just a lingering horrible emptiness: are all lonely people this desolate? And her eyes stung, tearless.
Hands deep in her coat's pockets, she said, 'Lovely here, isn't it, in autumn?' Though sincere, she was only too aware of the cliché.

            'Yes. No tourists!' His laughter seemed forced, but well-intentioned.

            Miserably she gazed out across the curving mile-wide bay and the empty sea beyond. The stench of wrack startled and pleased her, momentarily clearing the shadows from her mind. 'Gran used to talk of being brought down here, being rolled in seaweed to cure her sleeping-sickness,' she mused, but he didn't hear. Damp leaves clustered against the sea-wall, life-tokens discarded.

            They began to walk along the beach.

            'I'm sorry it's bad news, Charis,' he said, and stopped to pick up a smooth oval pebble.

            She shrugged, casting the thought of disappointment aside. 'Dad - Lachlan and I tried, too, to no avail. I only thought you'd have more luck, with contacts and so on...'

            Paul threw the stone low and it bounced three times then plopped out of sight. 'The Great Lachlan book's coming along, you know,' he said, attempting to change the mood of their conversation. 'Thanks to you.'

            Silence fell between them, yet it differed from the previous times. It was almost companionable... 'What were you thinking then - skimming that stone?' If only she didn't need to ask!

            'A bit trite, I'm afraid.' He lifted his shoulders. 'Oh, how little romance is left, I suppose... Now, in your father's day...'

            Sadness was still in his gaze. She probed tentatively: nothing, a complete blank. Instead, she guessed: 'You've lost your girlfriend?'

            He nodded. 'Fiancée, actually...'

            All thought of her father and the now-unused talent atrophying scurried away as she looked into his eyes. No self-pity there, unlike herself. Resignation, perhaps, as if being jilted had become too frequent an occurrence for him, the loser.

            'The article went well, didn't it?' she offered to lighten his burden.


            'There's always another time, Paul, another girl...'

            'So they say.'

            She kicked sand, some pebbles skittered. 'Other pebbles, Paul, to use a cliché again.'

            'No.' He shook his head. 'It's no good saying that next time, next girl, would be different. I've said it before, Charis. Too often.' A half-choked sigh. 'I get too wrapped up in my writing, my research - the book on your father's a case in point...'

            'There's plenty of romance around, Paul. You've just got to look harder and not give in, ever.'

            'How strange for you to say that,' he murmured softly.

            Charis froze, only a moment. She, who had no-one, whose life revolved around a talent she could no longer use and enjoy, who indulged in a selfish quest...

            He added, 'I only wish I could find some clues to his parentage, family. Doing my research, I often picture him closeted with a large, happy family, by the hearth, watching his father do party-tricks...'

            'You're a hopeless romantic.'

            He smiled. 'Two of a kind.'

            Not quite, she thought. I'm one of a kind... 'Paul, have you tried tracking down all possible blood-relations?' She could not voice the hidden implication.

            Paul stopped. Sand scrunched. 'You never mentioned the possibility...'

            'No,' she said, a little peeved, 'but I have now.'

            'That might put a different slant on the investigation, Charis.' He seemed to hold himself back, undecided. 'I can't say more right now.'

            The walk across the wet sand tended to take on a dreamlike quality: in their wake a trail of sodden footprints quietly shrinking into themselves. Crossing onto dry sand he led her up stone steps that were gritty underfoot.
'I'm sorry, Charis. I'd rather not have told you - but you insisted.'

            She leaned against the front door frame. 'Go on, Paul. Please.' Her voice was barely above a whisper.

            'It's as if my idol had toppled...'

            'Please, Paul - I need to know!' Hands reached up to her temple but couldn't assuage the insistent ache, the pounding.

            'Her name's Lena Beaumont. She's fifty-two now, was his assistant before you were born.'

            Charis listened to his every word and memorized the woman's address. It was still a slender hope. 'I'm going to see her.'

            'But - ?'

            'I have to.' Even now she could not bring herself to explain the purpose of her quest. Fond of Paul as she now was, she doubted if he'd believe her. Especially as at present there was no proof.

            'You're a very stubborn woman.'

            She met his unashamedly admiring gaze. 'Another of Lachlan's traits, probably,' she said cryptically.

            'Do you want me to go with you?'

            'No, thank you. This must be done alone. I still find it incredible to think that -'

            'Mrs Beaumont assured me he knew nothing of the child's existence.' He hesitated, then began, 'About her boy, Charis...'

            Gently she shoved him out of the doorway. 'You'd better be getting back. I'll come and see you - afterwards - and reveal all!'
A two-up two-down red-brick building, with dilapidated wooden fencing, the garden unkempt, the front door and each window-frame flaking through years of neglect. She was a peroxide blonde, wearing too much make-up, thick-set and shorter than Charis. 'Mrs Beaumont?'

            'Yes. You'll be the lady the reporter was on about, I suppose?'

            'Yes, I'm The Great Lachlan's daughter.'

            'That's what he said...' Squinting, she mused, 'There is a resemblance, now I look...' Her eyes were sad, so sad: withdrawn. 'Sorry, you'd better come in, love.' She stepped aside. The shadowy hall was cluttered with toy soldiers. 'Excuse the mess, won't you, my Michael's not very tidy.'


            'My son.'


            Charis stepped across the threshold. Wood-panelled wallpaper seemed to suffer from worms, for small bits were pocked, baring pink plaster.

            'It's good of you to see me, Mrs Beaumont. Really. May I see the boy - I believe he still stays with you?'

            Mrs Beaumont nodded, led her into the lounge. Here, on the walls were framed posters advertising The Great Lachlan and Lena. Then, Lena had possessed an attractive shape and eye.

            'Michael!' Mrs Beaumont called and the first glimmerings of foreboding began burning at the edges of Charis's mind. 'Michael, come on, now, there's a lady to see you!' She pulled a face, smiled. 'He's awfully slow, I'm afraid...'

            Two people entered. A man and a woman.

            'We've a friend visiting, haven't we, Michael?' In an aside, she added, 'They go to the same school, you see.'

            Charis stared, though one look was enough. There was no mistaking their features - snub noses, high cheekbones, unusually flattened faces, Mongolian eyelids and dark childlike trusting eyes. Disconcertingly, they were as tall as her. She stepped forward, said, 'Hello, Michael. My name is Charis. Who is this with you?'

            His large tongue lolling momentarily, he smiled with heart-rending affection. 'Barbra,' he managed. 'My friend.'

            Such dark eyes, as though their souls peered through a long tunnel.

            'They've both got mental ages of 5-year-olds,' Mrs Beaumont's voice reached her but dimly as Charis held Michael's broad, soft hand and probed. 'He's thirty-four next week...' Charis grasped incredibly articulate expressions that conveyed frustration and puzzlement, as though a dormant part of his mind was slowly awakening, trying to counteract the devastating effects of an extra chromosome. But there was sadness, too, an indefinable awareness that time was running out. 'He's living on borrowed time now,' came his mother's whisper. 'The doctors all say they don't live much beyond thirty...' Yet death held no terror to his mind; this existence ceased and happiness was elevated to another plane, that was all. Barbra thought so too.

            As though slapped, Charis stepped back, stunned.


            'No,' Charis whispered, 'I'm all right. Please, Mrs Beaumont, leave me with them for a few more minutes, will you?'

            'Well, if you're sure. You look so pale... Well, all right, then. I'll put the kettle on, love.'

            'Thank you.' She watched Mrs Beaumont slip out.

            There was no error. She had snatched thoughts from Barbra.

            Tentatively, as sweat budded on her brow and made her spine cold, her moist palms gently pressed their foreheads. With the utmost care, she drew Michael's mind out of himself, shepherded him into her own. Once assured that he was at ease, she lifted Barbra's mind free too.

            Before this momentous act of liberation, she had believed her quest had ended in failure, that she was doomed to loneliness, unable to walk into another mind. Yet now she could commune with Michael and someone else totally unrelated. Give them spiritual uplift, enable them to communicate without the damning constraints of mutation. They could experience her feelings and each other's whilst in her and of her, and even vicariously experience travel and entertainment from her memories. These minds that were a part of hers were quite unlike her father's for they lacked his humour, his culture, his literary anecdotes and the magic. But they were far from barren. The sheer joy at being thus freed was almost overpowering. There was an enchanting humbling sense of wonder in both of them, and this was transmitted to Charis most forcefully. Concern for her own psychic loneliness paled beside the spiritual desolation Michael and Barbra endured. And despite their entrapped minds being unable - until now! - to attain freedom, they were nearly always smiling and, as the text-books said, were very affectionate.

            Any residue of elitism crumbled away. For the first time in all these years, she could put her talent to some worthwhile use. Outward-looking, instead of inward. To use her talent on minds trapped within bodies. As she tenderly guided them back, she promised, 'I will return soon.'

            'Don't worry, we're no longer so alone,' they replied in unison, without speaking.

            Mrs Beaumont came in with a tray of coffee.
Afterwards, she had no idea where she was running to.

            A solitary figure stood on the shoreline, gazing out to the horizon.

            Paul needed her too.

            Now, she realized, she was not unlike other people, experiencing a normal human feeling. Even if she had a child - yes, perhaps Paul's - whose genetic make-up endowed the gift, she would not emulate Lachlan: that belonged to the past, was fantasy, a selfish dream. Her gift now belonged to the Michaels and Barbras of this world.


 Previously published in Auguries magazine #1, 1983.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2015
If you enjoyed this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):

Floreskand, where myth, mystery and magic reign. The sky above the city of Lornwater darkens as thousands of red tellars, the magnificent birds of the Overlord, wing their way towards dark Arisa. Inexplicably drawn to discover why, the innman Ulran sets out on a quest. Although he prefers to travel alone, he accedes to being accompanied by the ascetic Cobrora Fhord, who seems to harbour a secret or two. Before long, they realise that it's a race against time: they must get to Arisa within seventy days and unlock the secret of the scheduled magical rites. On their way, they stay at the ghostly inn on the shores of dreaded Lake and meet up with the mighty warrior Courdour Alomar. Alomar has his own reasons for going to Arisa and thus is forged an unlikely alliance. Gradually, the trio learn more about each other -- whether it's the strange link Ulran has with the red tellar Scalrin, the lost love of Alomar, or the superstitious heart of Cobrora. Plagued by assassins, forces of nature and magic, the ill-matched threesome must follow their fate across the plains of Floreskand, combat the Baronculer hordes, scale the snow-clad Sonalume Mountains and penetrate the dark heart of Arisa. Only here will they uncover the truth. Here too they will find pain and death in their struggle against the evil Yip-nef Dom.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

FFB - The Strange Land

Hammond Innes enjoyed huge popularity in the 1950s through to the 1970s, though his output began in 1937 and continued up to his death in 1998. He travelled with his wife to out-of-the-way places and wrote about them with authority. His protagonist was narrator, usually an honourable ordinary man thrust into extraordinary situations or places. His style makes the reader believe that the narrator was there, and The Strange Land (1954) is no exception.

This was Innes’ seventeenth book, based on his travels in Morocco in 1952. It’s set at that time, just before Morocco gained independence from France and Spain in 1956 and Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef became King Mohammed V.

One aspect from these older books is the legend on the copyright page – ‘First issued in Fontana Paperbacks 1964, Twentieth impression July 1988.’ That shows how popular this book was, in its day. Now, we have no idea how many times a book has been published or re-issued. This is one of several uniform re-issues with matching wrap-around covers, attractive and collectible in their own right (see a few below).

Innes is always strong on atmosphere and character interaction. Philip Latham, ex-smuggler turned missionary is waiting in Tangier for the arrival of a doctor to join his mission in the Atlas Mountains. While waiting, he encounters the secretive woman Karen and the unpleasant Greek, Kostos, both having their own agenda relating to the same boat the doctor is sailing on. The weather is bad, and the storm claims the life of one of the two men on the boat. Latham saves the second man and is immediately plunged into a world of mystery, intrigue and deceit.

The mission is important to Latham; he needs a doctor to help the poor who fall prey to disease. Yet the survivor from the sunken craft is intent on first going to Kasbah Foum, deep in the desert country of the Berbers, where there’s believed to be an ancient silver mine.  On the way, they meet up with the brave and honourable Frenchman, Legard, an officer of the Affairs Indigenes, and American Ed White who has his reasons for seeking out Kasbah Foum too. Added to the mix, the brother and sister team of Julie and George, and Ali, the wily son of the local chieftain, Caid Hassan, which provides all the ingredients for a satisfying adventure.



Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Book review - No Time for Goodbye

Linwood Barclay seemed to explode onto the thriller writing scene in 2008 when this book (published in 2007)was selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Read.  Its premise is an intriguing one – fourteen-year-old Cynthia wakes up in a silent house and her family – mother, father and brother – have disappeared. No sign of them – and no trace for the next twenty-five years.

But now, Cynthia is contacted anonymously, and the suggestion that her family might be alive…

This revelation puts a strain on her marriage to Terry and has a serious effect on their daughter Grace. The narrator is Terry, in the first person – though there are a few intermittent chapters in the third person regarding two individuals whose identity remains mysterious for most of the book.
Barclay’s writing style sucks the reader in (some critics think it just sucks). I don’t think it matters too much regarding the limited description, the word repetition, the occasional logic issue – could the police be so derelict in their duty twenty-five years ago? – because the pace never seems to let up.

I like a book with humour, and both Terry and his family display this trait from time to time. There are poignant and suspenseful moments, too – as you’d expect. The pace is helped by sinister hints, some valid, some not, and misdirection. The story does have an emotional pull, too, though sometimes the writing neglects this as the narrator tells us rather than shows us – for example, Grace goes missing in the mall, every parents’ nightmare – yet we’re not privy to any physiological response, just simply ‘Where the hell…’ from him and ‘Oh my God,’ from Cynthia. No mention of that numb feeling, that crushing ache in the pit of the stomach, the dryness of mouth, the absolute fear that threatens to paralyse. There’s also the questionable over-use of swearing – some was character- or emotionally-driven, some not necessary.

The story was beginning to flag until Vince the criminal was introduced. This lent a lighter dimension, even if he was a stereotype:

‘Don’t spill anything,’ said Vince, who kept the truck pretty tidy. It didn’t look as though he’d ever killed anyone in here, or would want to, and I chose to take that as a good sign.

These flippant asides lighten the mood at certain points.

The puzzle concerning the disappearance is a neat jigsaw, and some of the clues are there early on, in phrasing. The ending, though rushed, was satisfying. I was entertained and moved.

Travis McGee - Book Chronology

If you've read this blog

or have an interest in John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee crime series, then you should enjoy this illuminating article which involves quite a bit of detective work too:

Below are the first 8 covers from my collection of 19 books in the series. I like the uniform approach (though the man shooting is a bit naff, perhaps, and was dropped by #8). The spines also reflected the colour of the title up to and including #6.