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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Saturday Story - 'Meet the wife'

MEET THE WIFE

 
Nik Morton

Wikipedia commons
 

Martin Jessop scrut­inised his pallid feat­ures and receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. ‘I look at least six years older than thirty!’ he called out to his wife.

‘I’m not surprised,’ Angela replied. ‘Leading a dual life’s bound to affect you . . .’

‘I suppose so.’ Once abed, he instantly felt her warmth, smelled her freshly-bathed body.

He turned, cupped a breast. ‘Does Robert know yet?’ Her heartbeat faltered beneath his touch.

            She moved closer, wide brown eyes fixing him. ‘No,’ she whispered. ‘But he’s going to find out soon, Martin. We can’t keep pretending Christmas falls on the twenty-third . . . He’s nearly four already . . .’

Gently stroking her flat stomach, he moistened his lips. ‘We’ll just have to tell him.’

            Angela rose, on all fours, the bedsprings creaked. ‘What? Tell him his father’s a bigamist?’

‘Before our affair started, you knew I was married. I agreed to marrying you to give Robert my name - and because I love you, Ange...’

            ‘I know, we’ve been through all this before . . .’ She pressed herself against him. ‘I guess I could end up loving two people at once - just like you . . .’

‘Hence my grey hair,’ he chuckled.

‘I never believed it’d work out. I mean the police actually do turn a blind eye . . .’

Martin rolled over, pinned her down. ‘Happens all the time.’ He grinned. ‘And so does this...’


‘Daddy! Daddy!’ His son’s pummelling almost gave him a heart-attack. Squint­ing in the glaring light, his water­ing eyes stared: ‘Three o’clock!’

Angela was just entering with a tray of tea and biscuits. Robert had subsided a little, busy heaping his Christmas presents at the foot of the bed.

After his cup of tea, he felt much better and they both delighted in watching their son.

It really was like Christmas Day, he thought.

As the day wore on, and the daunting meal was eventually tucked away, they both sat back, replete, and watched Robert play.

For the last hour Angela had been subdued. Only one more night left together.

Kissing her tenderly, he whisp­ered, ‘Perk up, love, I’ll think of something. Don’t worry...’

Then, in the early hours, it was time to say goodbye again.

On the porch, he briefly hugged her. ‘I’ll be back in about a fort­night, love.’ He intercepted a plea in her eyes, shook his head adam­antly. ‘No, I can’t possibly make New Year’s Eve...’

Motoring his sports car on the way home to Ellen, he struggled with the dilemma he’d landed him­self with. Something must be done. One of them had to go!

Since Ellen had lost the only baby she’d ever be able to have,

she’d become neurotic. He couldn’t possibly leave her. Be­sides, he still loved her.

Damn it, he loved them both! Leave the area with Ellen? No forwarding address . . . Send a regular untraceable payment to Angela and Robert? She’d under­stand . . . wouldn’t she?

The road-works ahead were almost on top of him before he realised. The seven-hour drive had dulled his reactions. He narrowly missed the red lanterns by the cliff edge.

Famished now, he finally arrived outside their cliff-top cottage. The lighthouse flashed distantly.

Ellen was in the lighted door­way to greet him.

He embraced her, inhaled the distinctive perfume. She was the complete opposite to Angela. Blonde, with a fuller figure. A little more sophisticated, too.

‘Just in time!’ she shouted, leading him through the hallway into the lounge.

The log-fire blazed. Shadows flickered over balloons and cards. In one corner sprouted a small spruce tree, a few needles already littering the carpet. Some bulky parcels surrounded the holly-­daubed tub.

Removing his car-coat, he sigh­ed. ‘It’s good to be home!’ And he meant it. Yes, he’d decided. Ellen needed him, needed his love now that a child was out of the question. Leave the area. Adoption – maybe that was the only solution.

‘Dinner’s almost ready,’ Ellen yelled from the kitchen.

He sat at his place, sniffed the turkey. ‘I’m starving!’

Presently, she entered, carrying a huge oval dish filled with steam­ing fowl and garnishing.

Martin rose. ‘Here let me cut it...’

‘No it’s all right, I’ve got the knack now.’ Ellen leaned over, forked a succulent looking slice onto his plate. She paused. ‘Your, wife phoned...’

He jerked upright in his seat,  eyes level with the two dripping tines of the meat-fork. ‘Angela?’ he blurted.

Ellen nodded, left eye slightly twitching. ‘Yes - your other wife! Don’t bat an eyelid, Martin - or the turkey’ll have some grisly trimmings!’


He wanted to shout, to roar, don’t be so damned silly! But fear soaked into every fibre.    

‘Put your hands behind the chair. ‘

He obeyed unflinchingly.

‘Right. Angela...’

He almost leapt up at mention of her name, but the carving fork dissuaded him. His heart’s pounding quickened.

‘Angela thought you might kill me, get me out of the way. And she didn’t want any part of that, darling.’

‘But - I wouldn’t - not -’ Angela’s perfume wafted from behind. He felt her slender fingers bind his wrists with coarse rope.

            ‘I caught a plane after you left,’ Angela explained. ‘I must think of Robert, darling,’ she added, stroking his sweat-streaked cheek.

            His stomach squirmed. ‘I - what are you doing? Please!’ he cried, sensing his bowels weakening.

            ‘Watch him,’ Ellen instructed, handing Angela the fork. She reached for the brandy bottle. ‘Martin, you’re going to become a Yuletide accident statistic.’ Ellen tilted the bottle to his quivering lips, forcing its contents down until he was gasping, chok­ing, as if on fire!

‘Those road-works on the cliff - they should be better lit-up, you know . . .’

As his vision blurred, everything started spinning.

‘Yes, Angela, I’d like to see Robert - afterwards . . .’

Multi-coloured decorations gy­rated. The tree swayed as if in a storm. His wives’ faces seemed like grotesque party masks.

‘Agreed. We’ll go halves on the insurance. . .’

Before the black curtain descended he glimpsed the flashing fairy-lights spelling out MERRY XMAS...

 

Previously published in Parade in 1972.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

 ***
 
If you enjoyed this, you might like Spanish Eye,
my short story collection featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases,
published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Friday, 30 May 2014

FFB - Another Day, Another Jackal

You’ve probably guessed it from the title. Yes, this is a thriller in the mould of Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal. Fiction told as fact – or is it the other way around? That’s just one of many questions that arise in this slick pacey, racy thriller, Another Day, Another Jackal by Lex Lander.

It’s 1996 and another French president is marked for assassination. The novel is written in a documentary style, coldly methodical, often an omniscient point of view, ostensibly its facts gleaned from a number of sources after the events.

This works very well, and provides a strong sense of verisimilitude, thanks to the vast amount of precise detail, which clearly shows that Lander knows France, his weapons, his European cities, cars and boats.

The assassin is Lux, an American who prides himself on doing things right. As you’d expect, he’s an expert in weaponry and the varied methods of dealing in death. He’s hired – albeit through middle-men – by a dying New Zealander who has a final agenda, to start a green war. There’s plenty of verbal fencing between him and his new lieutenant, which is fun to read.

Naturally, nothing is straight-forward and there are double-crosses and deception, with the odd twist thrown in. There are plenty of characters involved, from the president’s office, through the police, to the co-conspirators, and they’re all delineated with skill.

As with Forsyth’s Jackal, we know the attempt fails, but thanks to the tightly plotted, fast-moving narrative, we really want to know what happens next, and whether Lux can get away, even if it isn’t murder. Yes, when you reach the end you do tend to ask, was this entirely fiction?

If you liked Day of the Jackal, you’ll love this. Lex Lander is a name to watch.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Mystery of Murdoch

My wife and I are following the series Murdoch Mysteries. We’re on the fourth series – there have been seven and an eighth is being produced. The TV episodes are based on the books of Maureen Jennings, who was born in Birmingham, England in 1939 and emigrated to Canada when seventeen. The stories centre round police station No.4 in Toronto in the 1890s. The main characters are Detective William Murdoch, Inspector Brackenreid and Constable Crabtree.


Jennings has written seven Murdoch books. The first is Except the Dying (1997), which was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis and Anthony first novel awards. This book plus the next two, Under the Dragon’s Tail and Poor Tom is Cold were made into TV movies in 2004. This is where the mystery comes in. These three movies starred Peter Outerbridge as Murdoch, Colm Meaney as Brackenreid, and Matthew MacFadzean as Crabtree. The pathologist is male in the first book and underwent a scriptwriter sex-change and became Dr Julia Ogden for the movie, in the guise of Keeley Hawes.

The plot of Except the Dying is followed by the TV movie, judging by the synopsis. I have not been able to see the three TV movies; they don’t seem to be on DVD, though they were released in Canada as Murdoch Mysteries: Movie Collection. The book’s story goes: Detective Murdoch investigates the murder of a young girl found drugged and strangled in an alley. The autopsy reveals the girl was pregnant. Murdoch finds himself investigating prominent members of Toronto society when the girl is identified as Therese Laporte, a chambermaid working for a wealthy family. When a possible witness to the murder is also killed, Murdoch learns that Therese was seen voluntarily getting into a carriage, as if she knew the occupant. Before long, another witness seems to be in danger…

Jennings captures the period well and uses her research subtly, scattering the underworld vernacular judiciously; ‘… you had connections with Therese Laporte?’ Connections is a euphemism for sex.. Brackenreid in the book is Irish, so Colm Meaney was a good fit, I imagine: ‘… He had rigorously tried to expunge his native brogue but it slipped out now and again…’

Murdoch is a devout Roman Catholic. ‘Brackenreid was perfectly aware of his detective’s faith but always tried to get in a jibe or two at Murdoch’s expense...’

Murdoch rents shared accommodation with Arthur and Beatrice Kitchen, who seem to be his sounding board.

Now, the mystery is why the original cast didn’t continue for the series. The Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries first aired in 2008 and stars Yannick Bisson as Murdoch, Thomas Craig as Brackenreid, Hélène Joy as Dr Ogden and Jonny Harris as Crabtree. Interestingly, Australian actress Hélène Joy featured in Under the Dragon’s Tail as the wife of a judge. There’s no sign of the Kitchens. Murdoch’s sounding board is Julia – a creation of the screenwriters.
Hélène Joy as Dr Ogden
 

 
Yannick Bisson                                                       Thomas Craig
 
The series scriptwriters – and actors – seem to have nailed the characters. Granted, Brackenreid is now a bluff Yorkshireman, but his mannerisms and speech leap from the book:

            He nodded over at the wall, which the detective was using as a blackboard. ‘What’ve       you got there?’

            ‘It’s a map of the area pertinent to the scene of the crime, sir.’

            ‘I hope that chalk will rub off.’

            ‘If it doesn’t I’ll personally whitewash the wall.’

            Brackenreid went closer. ‘Explain it to me, Murdoch.’

Murdoch’s hesitation and careful, precise manner are from the book, merely enlarged upon by the actor; in the book, he has a moustache, but these days it seems quite rare for a hero to wear one (Tom Selleck excepted, of course!) so Bisson is clean-shaven.

One of the attractions for the books was the period atmosphere. The attraction of the TV series is the main leads, their on-off romance, and the introduction of virtually anachronistic crime detecting inventions. Real history and people from history often figure in the plots – Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, H.G. Wells, Nikola Tesla, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, for example. There is plenty of humour as well as gore. The TV series has a big fan base. In 2011, Rogers Media dropped the show after the fifth series, but CBC picked it up.

Reviews of the books have been good, though a few reviewers have complained that the books aren’t like the TV series – which isn’t surprising since the books came first! Then again, the publisher doesn’t really help by putting the series cast on the cover; before the series, the TV movie cast was on the cover, which was fine (even if Dr Ogden wasn’t in the book!) The fact is, the TV series helps to sell the books. It’s a business, after all.

If you like Victorian murder mysteries, you’ll find plenty to appreciate with Murdoch, in either book or TV series.
 
The other books in the series are:

Let Loose the Dogs

Night’s Child

Vices of My Blood

A Journeyman to Grief.
 

 

Get to know different writers and genres perhaps not visited before!



That heading’s the comment from one of three 5-star reviews for the anthology Crooked Cats’ Tales, 20 short stories from some of the publisher’s authors. 

Anthologies like this are ideal for reading in waiting rooms, while travelling or in between reading novels. And they have the happy knack of introducing new authors without huge commitment on the part of the reader. Yes, very much like a sampler in old record parlance (that dates me!)

Please give these tales a try. It’s possible you might not like all of them. But I guarantee that there’s something for every taste here, and it’s a bargain for such little outlay.

The blurb goes like this: You will find twenty tantalising tasters from Crooked Cats from the UK and the US, all keen to showcase their writing skills with glimpses into their existing releases, or with something new altogether.

Twenty stories of historical and contemporary fiction, crime and drama, fantasy, humour and ghostly shenanigans. Murder. Love. Adventure. Gossip. Growing up. Scheming. Friendship – Crooked Cats’ Tales has it all:
 
Cocktail Hour by Pamela Kelt
A Rescue in Graphite by Maggie Secara
Once Again by KB Walker
The Pied Piper of Larus by Kathy Sharp
Her Visitors by Ailsa Abraham
White Rose by Carol Hedges
A Bright New Copper by Catriona King
Altared by Adele Elliott
Misgivings by Nancy Jardine
Saturday Fever by Sue Barnard
The Wanderer by T.E. Taylor
Sheffield Steel by Trevor Ripley
The Blue House by Carol Maginn
Processionary Penitents by Nik Morton
The Second Summer of Love by Michela O’Brien Young Loves by Jeff Gardiner
Cradle of Man by J.L. Bwye
Silken Knots by Frances di Plino
The Thread that Binds by Mark Patton
Boo! by David W Robinson


Amazon UK Reviews

Twenty authors from one publisher (Crooked Cat Publishing) have created an anthology of twenty short stories that vary in genre and style. It's a book for dipping into when you want to enjoy a twenty minute or so break and need to be entertained by a new narrative voice that comes with each story. I cannot say I disliked any of the stories since each covered a cross section of themes that were enjoyable in their own way and I found I was moved, unsettled, and definitely entertained as I was taken on journeys around the world: UK, US, France, Holland, ancient Greece, Spain (where one of the characters mistakes the Spanish ancient religious ceremony garb for Klu Klux Klan!), Kenya (a very atmospheric story). Since I love quirky stories, my favourite was The Pied Piper of Larus by Kathy Sharp and I laughed aloud at David Robinson's Boo. From this anthology I've found new authors whose books I want to read and that can never be a bad thing.

This is an eclectic collection of short stories from every genre and a brilliant read. I found crime, romance, suspense, historical fiction just for starters. Some stories are shorter, some longer, and all are well written. Definitely recommended.

20 fine reads 26 May 2014 - By J Gundlack
A great collection of murder, mystery, humour, and different cultures. A perfect travelling companion on the train or a late night read. Anthologies are a great place to get to know different writers and genres perhaps not visited before.
 
Amazon UK - £not-a-lot - here

Amazon COM - $1.22, a bargain - here

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Leap of Faith - Book review

Richard Hardie’s YA novel, Leap of Faith, the first in the Temporal Detective Agency series, is great fun. Narrated by Tertia, it brings to mind Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, as the same kind of wry and dry humour is in evidence.


Teenage Tersh and her cousin Unita (Neets) are apprentices of Merlin. The famous wizard is actually a woman, wouldn’t you know? Well, now you do. Keep up. These nearly-wizards are Merl’s Girls (hoping that the BBC doesn’t ban this term!), members of the Temporal Detective Agency (along with Marlene, the sister of the more famous Merlin), that is time travellers who happen to have the odd handy nifty time portal. Beats commuting. Zzzzzzzp.

When the duo investigate the missing statue of Nelson, having vanished off his column, they end up on the Welsh coast in the past; Port Eynon, 1734. They meet up with Bryn; as Tertia muses,  ‘… he wasn’t all that bad looking for a boy. If he played his cards right he stood a chance of a date, I reckoned, even if I was a thousand years older than him. Maybe he liked older women.’

Hardie never lets up with the pace, thrusting Neets into one predicament after another. There is quite a bit of history behind her, obviously! And it now, perhaps predictably, turns up to haunt them in the guise of the Black Knight, who escaped his due comeuppance at Camelot. Problem is that Sir Galahad isn’t interested in chasing bad knights, he’d rather attend to his new restaurant, the Olé Grill, not to be confused with the Holy Grail, which he purportedly found...

Zzzzzzp.

Thrown into the mix is police inspector Smollett, with his illegal truncheon; he was snatched into the time portal and his life was never the same again: ‘water poured from his shoes onto the carpet and added to the pool I’d created earlier. Of course his feet were several times larger than mine so he dripped longer and more thoroughly.’
 
The most calming thing is a cup of Merl Grey, apparently. And we need bucketsful as the pace quickens. We soon learn that Bryn’s father isn’t quite who he seems… Mystery and plot thicken, though the Merl Grey remains digestible and drinkable. There are a few likeable characters to meet too, notably Mrs Jones, a fantastic cook and marvellous eater. Not to be confused with Miss Jones, the head teacher, who employs Tersh briefly to mesmerise the children with her tales of derring-don’t do this at home stuff. There’s romance in the air, too, but not too soppy – this is a YA book, after all, and there are more serious things to write about, like swordfights and betrayal and hidden ill-gotten treasure…
 
Temporal paradoxes are acknowledged too – ‘One of Neets’s temporal anemones…’ Tersh observed knowingly.

Zzzzzzp.
 
The title relates to the cliff-top – from where people can make a leap of faith… and die… Very significant, that. Won’t say more on the subject, save that the ending is moving and the imagery works very well. I liked the sentence and sentiment – ‘Time for a group smile, then.’
 
I felt that maybe some of the chapter headings gave away too much about what was to happen; or perhaps they were intended to reassure the reader. Minor quibble.
 
Recommended. Please zzzzzzzzp it into your e-reader  or buy the book and enjoy.
 
[A shorter version of this review will appear on Amazon…]
 

 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Mum’s the word

My mother was born Florence Lillian Ross on this day in 1918. Harking from the north-east, I called her Mam. At some point I probably changed from using Mummy or Mammy, but don’t know when that happens. When self-consciousness sets in? Who knows. My mother-in-law came from the north-west, so I called her Mum. Americans use Mom. It all means the same, really.

I was adopted as a baby. She was and always will be my Mam. One day in the 1950s, sitting in Junior School class, I felt my face glow red when my Mam walked in to have a brief chat with our teacher. She looked really elegant, in a summer frock similar to that pictured below. A friend sitting next to me noticed my embarrassment and said, ‘Who’s that – your sister?’ When I got home, I told Mam about that and it made her day.
 
Mam and me in Carlisle forest

Mam in our garden
 
She was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks after Jen and I were married and we were on our way to Malta for eighteen months; she held our daughter once, when she was three months old, and the cancer claimed her on 7 June 1976, aged 58.

I was at sea on HMS Mermaid at the time, the ship’s Petty Officer Writer, and received the signal about her death. Because my Mam was dead, Family Welfare couldn’t finance the flight on compassionate grounds, so I’d have to; however, before I could make arrangements, an extraordinary meeting was held by the ship’s welfare committee and they voted to pay the funds for my flight. I’d barely been on the ship three months and was humbled by this generous gesture. I flew from Gibraltar to UK and thence northwards to attend the funeral. My return to Gibraltar a few days later was uneventful, save that the ship was no longer there, it had been called out on a Subsunk exercise in the Med. By their very nature, these exercises are unplanned. The ship has to set sail at once, allowing very little time to recall crew legitimately ashore, so often a handful of crew might not be found by patrols and announcements before the warship casts off. The ship’s next port of call was Malta, so I had to fly back to UK and then on to Malta, since there were no direct flights.

Later, a rose was planted in the garden of remembrance and Dad regularly painted its plaque. By the time it was his turn to shuffle off this mortal coil in 2000, it was no longer permitted to plant anything in remembrance; maintenance cutbacks, perhaps...
 
Rest in peace, Mam.

Duke it out

He learned to ride as a boy and in his early and mid-career, he was obviously expert. At an early age—while his father cleared the land, he was expected to follow, ready with a rifle to shoot any rabbits or rattlesnakes that came into view. His family moved to a community of farms and ranches, where he continued to lead an outdoor life.

In high school, he was an honour student, class president, sportswriter on the student paper, president of the Latin society, member of the drama club, and orator in the Southern California Shakespeare contest, among numerous other scholastic activities. He was also a skilled chess and bridge player. These youthful achievements are all the more impressive when one realizes that he accomplished them between delivering newspapers before school and working at a part-time job after school. He might have been successful in higher education, perhaps becoming a lawyer, if he hadn't been exceedingly fond of athletics, alcohol, and the movies.

After a football scholarship allowed him to attend the University of Southern California, a torn shoulder interfered with his game so much that he eventually lost the scholarship. Simultaneously, his love of alcohol distracted him from his studies.

Dropping out of college, in search of a way to earn a living, he gravitated toward film sets as he had when he was a boy watching westerns being made in the countryside near his home. Movies weren't merely entertainment for him. They were an escape from reality. Like many obsessively ambitious people, he was haunted by harsh memories of severe poverty and constant arguments between his parents. To escape from his depressing home life, he went to the movies as often as he could, four and five times a week. Playing with other children, he pretended that he was in a movie, as star, director, and writer.

 
 
The above is a mildly tampered-with minor extract from a moving appreciation: John Wayne - The Westerns by David Morrell, which I recommend. The quotes below are also taken from the short book, or rather lengthy essay.

Wayne’s birthday is May 26. He was born in 1907.

He didn’t start out as a film star. He worked hard at his apprenticeship. Throughout the thirties he made 56 formula pictures, ‘acquiring the elements that would combine to produce the persona of John Wayne.’ With his stuntman friend Yakima Canutt he developed the fistfight technique subsequently seen in movies, creating realistic punches thanks to the canny camera position; when they duke it out, it appears as if the fist connects....

As Morrell states, ‘he doesn’t act as much as he reacts. He lets his eyes communicate as much as his dialogue…’ Michael Caine’s acting master-class was all about the eyes, too.

He was a big man, and a determined one. That determination saw him ride out many setbacks that would have floored lesser individuals. When his long-time studio Republic refused to finance The Alamo, Wayne ‘angrily severed relations with it. He raised the money on his own and … elicited good performances from Lawrence Harvey as Colonel Travis and Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie. Wayne’s control of the ambitious production would have been a credit to an experienced director, let alone to a novice.’

In 1964 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He announced that surgeons removed his left lung so that other people might seek regular check-ups; he didn’t mention that he also lost four ribs. He made 19 films after that, among them El Dorado, True Grit, The Undefeated, Chisum, Rio Lobo, The Cowboys, McQ, Rooster Cogburn, and The Shootist; during the latter he required oxygen between takes.

He died three years after The Shootist, in 1979, aged 72. ‘Given his excessive smoking and drinking as well as his cholesterol-thick diet (all of those steak-and-eggs breakfasts), it’s a wonder that he survived as long as he did.’

Morrell believes what epitomised Wayne was a ‘sense of integrity, hard work, and self-reliance, a belief in fighting for the values that one holds dear, a willingness to help, a refusal to be pushed, a readiness to take a stand, a championship of the individual in tandem with the understanding that we are all in this together.’ John Wayne was a complex individual, not simply the reactionary espouser of right-wing gun-toting politics portrayed by his detractors. 

On Wayne’s grave can be found his own words:
 
‘Tomorrow is the most important thing in life.
Comes into us at midnight very clean.
It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands.
It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.’
 
***
 

***
David Morrell is a best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood. He has written 28 novels.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Between Rock and a hard place

Viewing again the series Band of Brothers, about the men in 101st Airborne’s Easy Company, had me reminiscing about another group of American soldiers with whom I grew up.

In the 1950s, like most kids, I read comics – Comet, Topper, Eagle, and Lion. Some of the stories featured soldiers, sailors or airmen – and two that spring to mind are Battler Britton and Luck of the Legion. (Battler was black and white, Luck in colour, an exception then). UK weekly black and white comics were War Picture Library, Commando and Battle; [Commando survives to this day, and is still seeking new stories to illustrate]. Then in the 1960s I got hold of American comics in full colour and there were a good number of them being published then – The Haunted Tank, War Cry, Battle, Star Spangled War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, and Our Army at War, to recall a few.

The comic that grabbed me most in this genre was Our Army at War. It was a combination of the superb artwork of Joe Kubert and the powerful human tales, many of them penned by Robert Kanigher. These comics didn’t glorify war – they showed the devastation, the waste and presented moral and human stories, reinforcing integrity and friendship, tightly told within a limited structure of between 8 and 14 or so pages. This comic became Sgt Rock in 1977 with issue #302; the numbering was maintained until the final issue #422 (1988). Reprints and one-off comics have appeared since.
 

The sergeant of the comic’s Easy Company was Rock (Franklin ‘Frank’ John). He first appeared in April 1959, in the story ‘Rock of Easy Company’ in Our Army at War #81. (The comic started in 1952, as did many others in the genre). This first tale was written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito. The editor was Robert Kanigher, who provided Bob with the precise specs for the story (gleaned from Sgt Rock Special #5, 1989). By the time Joe Kubert joined the creative team, Kanigher was writing the stories – and these two are most associated with the Sergeant Rock tales. Of course there are plenty of other talented artists and writers who have contributed over the years, including Russ Heath and Joe’s son Andy.
 
 
Easy Company had a core of regular combat soldiers in the comic – among them Bulldozer (Corporal, large and strong), Wildman (bearded history professor), Jackie Johnson (an African-American), Little Sure Shot (an Apache), and Ice Cream Soldier (small, but cool in battle).
 
Studying comics is useful for genre writers, teaching economy in words. The pacing has to be tight and fast, the scene-changes are sharp and have to help the story along, and of course the characters have to come across with very few brush-strokes. Many of the techniques employed in screenplays and the resultant movies can be learned from comics.

***

In the US, tomorrow is Memorial Day, a holiday during which the men and women who served in the US Armed forces are remembered. (Previously known as Decoration Day, originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the soldiers who died in that conflict.) So, here, a Limey living in Spain, I’d like to offer this brief reminiscence to honour those who have fallen.
 
***
Of particular interest during this 100th anniversary of the start of WWI is the comic series Charley’s War – please see the website here


 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Saturday Story - 'Lucky with cars'


This is a humorous short story for the anthology. The idea was to write a short story featuring a ladder, a key, a park bench and a petrol station, as well as an emergency exit. It was fun in the writing, hope you have fun reading it!

 
LUCKY WITH CARS

 
Nik Morton

 
Twenty miles after I’d left home, the petrol gauge needle was hovering over the red. My green Ford Escort was just running on the fumes in the tank when I breasted the hill. Yes! My luck was still holding. At the bottom of the slope was a garage. I coasted down and turned in to the forecourt, a smug grin on my face. My wife Maureen was forever telling me off for letting the tank get too low. ‘One of these days, you’ll get stranded! And I don’t want to be sitting here with you when it happens!’

            She wasn’t, fortunately, or else I’d have received an ear-pounding for the last five miles or so.  Still, I got to the petrol station, didn’t I?  I had never cut it so fine, though.

            I recalled that time when my old Austin’s accelerator pedal jammed. That was scary!  I’d take it out of gear and brake but the engine continued to rev. Deafening.  As I was driving through country lanes, I didn’t want to risk switching off the engine.  So I revved on till I found a garage. I received a few weird looks as I pulled in. The owner lifted the bonnet and used his air hose to clean the gubbins inside. ‘Clogged with dirt,’ he said. Sorted. Nice bloke.

            I ignored the knocking near the rear axle.

            And one Saturday, when my exhaust fell off, I kept going. The Noise Abatement Society didn’t exist then. Maybe I was the reason they started up.  Anyway, I found one of the few garages open and they had a suitable exhaust. Lucky with cars, that’s me.

            But not this time.

            As I braked alongside the pumps, I realised that the garage was closed.

My heart sank. 

I wasn’t a member of any motoring organisation; I thought that with my good luck, I didn’t need one. My mate Alan said they didn’t take too kindly to people running out of petrol, anyway.

            Nothing for it, then. I would have to telephone Alan.   

            But the telephone kiosk had been vandalised. It was times like this when I wished I could afford a mobile phone.  Maureen said we should both get one. Keep in touch. I’d probably let the battery run down and it would cut out at a vital part of a conversation.

            I left a note in the car’s windscreen to explain that there was no need to worry, I wasn’t a terrorist or anything. Then I started walking back towards town.

            At least it was a summer evening. As dusk fell, I could see clearly where I was going. I tried thumbing a lift a couple of times, but nobody stopped. I wouldn’t have, either. Not these days. You don’t know who you’ll pick up.

            According to the road-signs and my aching feet, I must have walked twelve miles. Here, on the outskirts of town was a park named after some Marxist African, complete with benches and roses and trees.  The roses reminded me of Maureen – not their scent but the thorn in my side. The park bench was most welcome as I sat down to rest my feet.  Only a minute or two then I would get going again, crack the final eight miles.

            I must have slept and woke an hour later, shivering with dew on my face. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been walking the streets at such an unsocial hour.  Maureen would have been livid, if she’d known.

            Two hours later I got to our street and quickened my pace and opened the front gate. It creaked. Maureen was always on to me to get it oiled. As I stood in the porch and fished in my pockets, I realised that I had dropped my keys somewhere. Probably in the park when I was asleep. 

            What a night this was turning out to be!

            Walking round the side of our house, I scuffled past the wheely-bin and reached up over the edge of the wood-panelled gate. Hanging on a piece of string was the key. I opened the gate. I hadn’t fancied climbing over. The way things had been going tonight, I’d probably have slipped and broken my neck. Serves you right, Maureen would have said.

            At the bottom of the garden was my shed, my final refuge from Maureen, and screwed above the door was an old sign I had pinched from a demolished building: EMERGENCY EXIT. Maureen never got the joke.  My ladder hung on the side of the shed; I never bothered to padlock it though Maureen reckoned I should have, otherwise I was making it easy for burglars.  Now, I was glad I hadn’t listened to her.

            Lifting the ladder to the back of our house, I rested it against the wall.

            Our bathroom window was always left open. Maureen liked the fresh air. Even in the height of winter. I just shivered and kept quiet.

            As I struggled to get my thin body through the window, I swore a few times. I’d wanted to leave a spare key under the gnome but Maureen had vetoed that.

            Finally, after jamming my left foot in the lavatory pan and barking my shin on the bidet - Maureen again, she wanted it to match our Jacuzzi – I was inside my home at last.

            Limping downstairs, I left a wet footprint as I went.  My spare car keys were in the lounge bureau and I found Maureen’s keys in the kitchen drawers, suitably labelled: ‘My keys. Do not use!’

            Sorry, old girl, I thought, needs must.

            Our lockup was at the end of the street and her Morris 1000 was in pristine condition, a collector’s item. It should be, she got me to polish it twice a week. She drove it only on Sundays, to visit her sister.

            I quite enjoyed driving it. Devilment almost tempted me to nudge the odd bollard here and there.

            By now I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open. Mustn’t wander across the road. Have an accident. Not now. 

It was amazing how quickly I got back to the garage. 

            As I pulled in behind my car I popped the boot of the Morris.

            I got out and unlocked my Escort’s boot.  I’d transfer Maureen to the Morris. Quicker. I lifted the boot and stared.

It was empty.

            ‘Having a problem, sir?’

            I swung round and two policemen were standing on the forecourt. One of them switched on a torch and shone the beam in my eyes.

            ‘No, officer,’ I said, which was quite untrue.

            When did she get out?  I’d heard her knocking as I reached the brow of the hill...

            ‘If you’re looking for your wife, sir, she’s quite safe in the hospital,’ said the policeman with the torch.  ‘While on patrol we saw your car stranded here and stopped to investigate.’

I listened, quite numb.

He went on, ‘We read your note and were about to leave when your wife’s knocking against the boot alerted us.’ He shrugged. ‘I think you can help us with our enquiries, sir.’

If only I had listened to Maureen and made sure that I’d had a full tank!

***

Previously published in 39 Emergency Exits, published by Fygleaves, 2006.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

***
My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye. He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the anthology, Crooked Cats’ Tales.


Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.

Paperback - Amazon UK
 
Paperback - Amazon COM
 
E-book - Amazon UK
 
E-book - Amazon COM
 
Crooked Cats' Tales - UK  and COM
 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

FFB - Rachel's Shoe

Peter Lihou’s debut novel Rachel's Shoe (first published in 2008) is a marvellous tale of love, heroism and greed that spans over thirty years, and it has universal appeal. This is not a story about the Holocaust, but it is about the ramifications of that terrible atrocity.


Fifteen-year-old Tom is sailing his boat in the dark to avoid German patrols. He’s only fishing, but the invaders of his island of Guernsey have proclaimed such pursuits illegal. He’s a competent seaman, fortunately, and can avoid the occasional patrol boat. Then one night he meets a young Jewish girl, Rachel, who has run away from the labour camp on Alderney. She’s distressed and he helps her go into hiding. There are tense moments when discovery seems imminent. Woven into the adventure are true events. While the beginning revolves around the children, Tom and Rachel, the story will appeal to all ages, particularly when financial chicanery, murder and assault are thrown into the mix.

Early on, we learn how Rachel’s mother selflessly made a great sacrifice to offer succour for her daughter and how decent people surmounted terrifying odds. The heel of the jackboot did not crush hope on the only British soil to fall to the Nazi menace.

Without a doubt, this story would make a wonderful movie.

It is clear that Peter Lihou knows his Channel Islands and the coastline, because the descriptions at sea are very real. He was born in 1950 and post-war his father, a wartime pilot, tried building a career on mainland England as opportunities in his island home of Guernsey were limited. His parents, sister and Peter returned to the ancestral homeland of Guernsey in the 1960s. Then for many years Peter and his wife and four children lived in the Cotswolds; however, they moved to Guernsey in 2005, where he now indulges his passion for sailing and writing.

 Revised and re-published in 2010, the book is currently in development as a TV serial.

There was a sequel published, The Causeway, in 2010. Both books have since been combined in the book with the uninspiring title Guernsey (Rachel’s Story) 2012, 2014, but don't let that put you off.