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Thursday 31 May 2012

Under the Queen's Colours

Under the Queen’s Colours by Penny Legg

Over 270 pages of reminiscences from servicemen and women during the Queen’s sixty years’ reign. Editor Penny Legg has performed a sterling job of interviewing, collating and editing this great array of voices and images that cover the period 1952-2012. Profusely illustrated, in b&w and colour.

I’m honoured to appear in here with a fairly lengthy piece, ‘The Navy Lark up the Khyber’ which covers part of a weekend spent in then-West Pakistan in 1969 while serving in the Royal Navy’s frigate Zulu. There’s even a colour photo of me at the gateway to the Khyber Pass! The original had to be cut by about 2,000 words, but you can’t see the joins – thanks, Penny!

There are three fellow Torrevieja Writers’ Circle members featured in the book, also: Gerry Wright, a national service Military Policeman serving in Cyprus (1956-58); Douglas Sidwell, serving in the Army in Borneo (1963), and John McGregor, serving in the RAF (1967), whose full adventures can be read in Fairy Tales of an SAC.

There are stories about day-to-day life, hair-raising escapades and dangerous situations and battles. Sad, intriguing, informative, amusing – the book has something for everyone. For anyone who hasn’t been involved with the armed forces, this book provides a marvellous insight into the conditions, the comradeship and the fun. For those who have served, the book will ignite many memories from their past.

Final chapter, fittingly, is ‘In Memorium’, in memory of all the fallen personnel, given a personal dimension by the sister of a Royal Marine Robert Don Griffin who died with many others in the Falklands.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RN & RM Charity and ABF, the Soldiers’ Charity.

Friday 18 May 2012


This Friday Forgotten Book is by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor), published in 1992.

Now that I’ve completed this book, I only have two more Quiller adventures left to read (Meridian and Balalaika). Ever since Adam Hall’s death in 1995, I’ve been hoarding my unread Quiller novels. Through the seventeen books I’ve read, Hall has sustained his style and drive, maintaining tension and edge-of-seat action and suspense, never flagging. That can’t be said of many prolific authors.

Quiller is the spy’s codename. We never know his real name. He uses aliases – Gage, Locke, Longstreet, but there are others too. He’s a shadow executive working for the Bureau out of London. Officially, the Bureau doesn’t exist. It isn’t part of MI5 or MI6. Like Le CarrĂ©, Hall has devised believable spy-jargon for his secret service world. Quiller often refers to himself and others of his ilk as ferrets, ‘to be put down a hole’.

Quiller is a man alone – and that’s how he prefers to operate. His missions are given operational names which are then put up on the board at Control in London. Barracuda, Bamboo, Salamander, Meridian and so on. Solitaire draws Quiller for personal reasons – one of his fellow operatives was killed by a shadowy organization called Nemesis. He’s sent to Berlin to infiltrate Nemesis, a terrorist faction.

He refuses to carry a gun. He reasons, ‘If a man has to carry a gun it means he’s got no better resources. A gun can be more dangerous to you than to the other man, if you carry one. It gives you a false feeling of power, superiority, and you get the fatal idea that, with this thing in your hand, you don't have to make any effort because the conflict’s already been won. And … watch it if you find you’ve left the safety catch on or forgot to load or there’s a dud in the clip or the other man gets time to kick the thing out of your hand — then you've really had it. Better to use your brain because your brain won’t stop working for you till you’re dead. Anyway . . . I don’t like the bang they make.’

It matters not that the novels are narrated in first person. We know the narrator will survive to tell us of his latest mission, but what’s riveting is the cat-and-mouse games he plays with the villains, the psychology he employs to survive against the odds, and the sheer persistence of a man who will never accede to defeat.

If you’ve never read a Quiller novel, you’ve missed something quite special. Adam Hall knows the rules of writing but, when necessary, breaks some of them with verve. In one action paragraph that runs to nineteen lines, he uses only a single sentence – strung together by one ‘and’ after another, but the speed and action make the repetition of ‘and’ shadowy, hardly visible, as your eyes and mind race through the superb action scene. Any kind of punctuation would simply slow down the pace.

If you have read a Quiller novel, then you probably don’t need me to recommend this book – which I do, by the way, unreservedly.

Monday 14 May 2012


The latest issue of National Geographic – May 2012 – is of particular interest. (Almost all issues are of interest, I know! I’m not a subscriber but can obtain copies at our local newsagent, maybe a little later than many readers, here in Spain).

The cover feature – ‘Eyewitness to the Civil War’ is about the war artists, complete with examples of their remarkable sketches. There’s also a free poster, covering ‘The march to Gettysburg’ and ‘From Slavery to Freedom’. The second half of the main feature is ‘The Curious World of Re-enactors’. Those epics Gettysburg and North and South – and many others – couldn’t have been filmed without the active and unstinting support of the many Civil War re-enactors.

Coincidentally, Solstice has just published in e-book (print to follow soon) a mystery thriller entitled Re-enactment by Sheila Dunn

In Civil War re-enactments, it's expected that some of the participants will be “killed.” So when Union captain Bill Taylor is shot dead, everyone assumes it's part of the act. Only Bill wasn't acting, and homicide detectives Julie Harmon and Fran Thomas set out to find the killer.

During their investigation, the detectives are shocked to uncover evidence suggesting that Bill was involved in several unsolved murders in the area. Had one of the pretend soldiers discovered Bill's secret and taken the law into his own hands?

Further questioning of the participants raises a suspect the detectives hadn't considered. Spookily, many re-enactors insist a real Confederate soldier had shown up that day, and he was the one who'd fired the fatal shot.