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Wednesday 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins, R.I.P.

We are by the whole creatures shaped by our culture. Cultural influences are broad, these days, and often all-pervasive. That culture is shaped by all manner of individuals. There are many artists, writers, performers, actors who quit this mortal coil every day, some unsung, others perhaps over-praised, so it’s impossible to do them all justice at their passing.

The eulogies are already in for Bob Hoskins, so I won’t add to them.

Here, I’d like to offer a film review I wrote for a local magazine in 2006. The film is a little gem and earned Hoskins three award nominations. In his career from 1972, he won over a dozen awards; he was one of a kind.

Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
The Windmill Theatre was known for never closing, notably during the Blitz of the Second World War, and for putting on the first performances featuring nudity in British theatre.  This engaging but never prurient film tells us how that came about.

Rich new widow Mrs Henderson (Judi Dench) is urged by her friend Lady Conway (superb Thelma Barlow) to ‘buy things’ to make her widowhood bearable. So Mrs Henderson buys a theatre, the Windmill.  As she has no experience with theatres, she hires the abrasive perfectionist Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins).  The partnership, surprisingly, is a success and when they put on non-stop shows, they do very well indeed. That is, until other theatres copy the idea and then their takings plummet. 

Not willing to be beaten by the competition, Mrs Henderson then suggests they put on nude shows, like the Moulin Rouge.  However, theatres are the province of the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) and he would never countenance nudity on stage. As Lord Cromer is a family friend, Mrs Henderson corners him and gets a grudging agreement that the unclothed ladies would be permissible if they did not move, as if they were works of art in a museum. A tall order and there are several amusing moments over this, not least when Van Damm and everyone else in the theatre is coaxed by the actresses to take off their clothes.  The ‘life tableaux’ actually work, however, drawing the crowds.  Singers and dancers perform in front of the still nude ladies who are artistically lit. Nothing salacious – it’s just the celebration of the female body. 

Will Young is the lead male singer and he was a revelation as an actor too.  We also learn about some of the girls, such as Maureen (Kelly Reilly) who seems ill-fated where romance is concerned. The camaraderie of the time shines through, especially during the air-raids. The Windmill was below street level so served as a shelter.  The performers were brave, carrying on as the building shook to the detonation of nearby bombs. The poignant reason for Mrs Henderson’s insistence about continuing her nude production is revealed in a climactic scene. Dench was nominated for an Oscar. An entertaining light comedy and a great tribute to these true characters of theatre-land.
A companion article/blog about windmills can be found here

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins.



Tuesday 29 April 2014

A writer’s research – cat-burglar

One useful avenue to tread when writing about crime in a novel is the confessional book. Eye-witness accounts (America’s Master Detective magazines spring to mind), memoires of detectives and prisoners can provide that additional glimmer of realism. It’s not a case of plagiarising, but of absorbing the details and translating them in your own fiction as appropriate.

Nine Lives by Bill Mason was published in 2003 with the subtitle, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. Mason was born in 1940; both his parents were teachers in West Virginia. But the family moved so his father could get a better job and they ended up in Shaker Heights, Cleveland. He was fascinated with how things worked – engines, machines, locks… It fell apart from him when his father died. He got caught robbing a gas station with a pal and afterwards vowed he’d never use a partner again. He was self-taught, though kept his eyes and ears open when mixing with other criminals. Many a heist he performed was put down to a gang, rather than an individual. He was able to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and robbed them; victims such as Robert Goulet, Johnny Weissmuller, Truman Capote and Phyllis Diller (twice!)… He broke into Bob Hope’s hotel room but there was nothing worth stealing. He only stole high-end quality jewels. He planned his robberies meticulously and wasn’t an opportunist. He didn’t need the money from the fenced jewels, though it clearly came in handy when he wasn’t on a payroll. He confesses to suffering from a personality defect: he enjoyed the buzz, the adrenaline rush of the score.

Anyone who writes about cat-burglars will find this book instructive. Indeed, I would hope that security firms have taken note about some of his comments. It is not a handbook on how to crack a safe – those details are left out. But in every other respect it offers an insight into the mind of a professional thief. He admits he wasn’t a Robin Hood, either.

Mason’s marriage suffered and eventually died; he was imprisoned after a ‘five-year manhunt’, though he got off lightly in terms of years behind bars. He never used violence, attempting always to burglarise when the owners were out. He offers some interesting details about the quality of gems, too: the four Cs – carat, clarity, cut, colour.

Told in the first person (aided by Lee Gruenfeld), it reads in places like a suspense novel. At the time of his scores, he didn’t feel anything about the people he robbed. If he had, he probably wouldn’t have done it. Towards the end of his criminal career, as intimations of mortality hit home, he did regret what he’d done, even if it was of little consolation to his victims. He admits that often the owners of the jewels were hurt not at the loss of the monetary value of certain precious items; many were without price, being heirlooms or personal mementos from loved ones, valued for sentimental reasons.

Urged to write this book by friends and family, he is donating a portion of the royalties to victim compensation organisations in Ohio and Florida, his hunting ground when active. A film option was taken up in 2010 but a movie has not materialised.

He also admits, late in the day, that he never appreciated the ‘depressing and disturbing feeling of violation on the part of the victims’. He saw them as puzzles to solve, scores to resolve, a challenge.

Having been burgled, I know what it’s like and have conveyed this feeling in my novel Sudden Vengeance. Truth is, the majority of criminals don’t possess anything that resembles a conscience.  They’re self-centred, self-obsessed, thoughtless and don’t give a damn for their loved ones who will suffer if they’re ever caught and imprisoned. And of course there’s always keeping an eye out for ‘the big one’, the final score that will set them up for life.
It’s just possible that Mason’s book (notably the final pages of contrition and remorse) would deter potential burglars; if they have a conscience, of course. Well, we can dream…

Though a little out of date, this page may be of interest, too; Bill Mason is #7 in the top ten infamous cat-burglars:
Other blogs to come will look at some of my non-fiction reference books on crime, espionage and police.

Monday 28 April 2014

The Shakespeare Investigation

Sounds like something out of Dan Brown. In fact, it’s an idea that has been around a long time. Recent news tells us that, apparently, the Duke of Edinburgh believes Shakespeare didn’t write everything attributed to him – in opposition to Prince Charles, who is a staunch supporter of the Bard. Prince Philip reckons it’s more likely that some plays were written by diplomat Sir Henry Neville, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1601 over a rebellion. Other theories have suggested Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe.

For years I was fascinated by this and eventually wrote a science fiction tale set in 2093 about a Time-door Committee who sends back in time an investigator to resolve the puzzle once and for all…

This is an excerpt of a much longer piece.


Zeigler folded the expensive vellum paper, his heart still throbbing excitedly. After years of procrastination, they had finally got round to his request and approved it! For no apparent reason, a line surfaced from Henry VI Part 1: ‘Delays have dangerous ends.’

            He smiled at his great ancestor’s photograph. In 1895 WG Zeigler, a Californian lawyer, had been the first to suggest that Christopher Marlowe's death on 30 May 1593 was staged and that the poet actually went underground to write the plays using Shakespeare’s name.

            Now, at last, he would be able to prove once and for all whether or not Shakespeare had written everything attributed to him.


… Finding himself in another room devoid of furniture or machinery, he was startled to hear a metallic female voice issuing from a grille.

            ‘The parcel you dispatched separately in accordance with instructions has been examined and you may now put on the clothes. You have chosen a particularly smart set of garments, sir.’

            The tannoy clicked off and a tray levered out from the wall with his pile of Elizabethan clothes lying on its shiny surface.

            Irrationally, he felt self-conscious as he undressed; simply because the metallic voice sounded female?

            He took a while to slip into the clothes, all the while conscious of the presence of the black box.

            ‘Now step back into the shaft,’ the voice returned. ‘Don’t look down, don’t worry -- the ag’s still on!’

            Zeigler was not amused. But he didn’t look down; his ruff made that action awkward anyway.

            Up again. To the 140ft mark.

            ‘Alight, please.’ A flesh-and-blood woman’s voice.

            This room was roofless and possessed a central dais on which rested a conical transparent pod. The pod was aimed upwards, pointing at the black hole. Even from this close, the true edges of the Time Hole were not readily discernible. The shimmering effect made him dizzy.

            ‘Step this way, please, Mr Zeigler,’ said an attractive brunette attendant also dressed in white. She possessed angelic features, which he thought somehow appropriate up here.

            She eyed his prominent codpiece, arched her eyebrows suggestively and smiled.

            He blushed; another first-impression destroyed: I thought her as chaste as unsunn'd snow -- Cymbeline. He sighed.

            Gently the woman placed Zeigler inside the pod. Although the pod was designed for bigger men than him, it was still a tight squeeze, mainly due to his doublet bulging with the bombast stuffing of the period.

            ‘Everything all right? You require any paper of the period for notes, or a recorder can be fitted to the “eye” if you like?’

            Zeigler shook his head. ‘No, thanks. I’m only after one fact. Have you been able to pinpoint -- select the right -- ?’

            ‘Yes. May 30th, 1593. Almost 500 years ago to the day, Mr Zeigler. We’ll put you down just outside the town. There’s ample room to conceal the pod in a neglected grove nearby.’

            He craned his neck. ‘Are those the screens that you view me on -- through the eye, I mean?’

            She nodded, then said in a serious tone, ‘Take care, Mr Zeigler -- we can’t help you once you leave the pod.’

            ‘I know,’ he said solemnly, his stomach performing somersaults. ‘I know all the risks. But our faculty must find out if -- well, you know my theories, anyway...’

            ‘Yes. Now I’m going to lower the cowling and secure you inside. You’re liable to feel excessively giddy and you may even lose consciousness for a short while. Our scanners show you obeyed instructions and didn’t eat today -- so your ride should be an untroubled one. I trust it will also be successful, sir.’

            ‘Thanks.’ He smiled.

            And she shut him inside.

            It was most peculiar, how he suddenly felt trapped, though he could see all round. He closed his eyes, calmed himself. Mustn’t get excited. Be rational, logical. Simply observe.


            ‘Yes.’ His voice came out as a strangled croak.

            He felt as though his whole face was suddenly being squeezed off his skull as the pod fired up, the G-forces ramming him hard into the ergonomically-shaped cushioned seat.

            Contrary to his original conception, he was not immersed in absolute blackness on entering the Time Hole.

            It was like a velvety blue-black, with pinpoints all around, like stars that had forgotten how to twinkle. The sensation of movement had stopped -- how long ago? He had no way of knowing, there were no instruments or clocks in here; and his wristwatch had been removed, together with every other personal possession.

            Another quotation, from As you like it, reared its head for him to muse upon: ‘Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.’

            Dizziness gnawed at the edges of his consciousness but never posed a serious threat. Elation kept him awake. He would succeed where so many before him had failed!

            Over the years, anti-Stratfordiana had grown to a flood.

            Professor Thomas C Mendenhall counted the letters in 400,000 Shakespearean words, discovering that for both Shakespeare and Marlowe the ‘word of greatest frequency was the four-letter word’, a fact that left the world of letters decidedly unshaken.

            Then in 1955 Calvin Hoffman sought documentary proof for his case in the tomb of Sir Francis Walsingham, Marlowe’s reputed homosexual lover. But nothing was found in the tomb. Not even Sir Francis.

            Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Zeigler reasoned.

            Walsingham had contrived a most corrupt system of espionage at home and abroad, enabling him to reveal the Babington plot which implicated Mary Queen of Scots in treason, and to obtain in 1587 details of some plans for the Spanish armada. Queen Elizabeth I acknowledged his genius and important services, yet she kept him poor and without honours, and he died in poverty and debt.

            The twenty-nine-year-old son of a shoemaker, Marlowe had died with a dagger in his brain, the precise circumstances quite obscure.

            Marlowe had from time to time been engaged in government employ, a euphemism for secret service work, and had become embroiled in the theatre of conspiracy and intrigue, the tumultuous, often dangerous life of London’s underworld.

            At the age of twenty-one, Marlowe was employed as an agent provocateur, posing as a Catholic to spy on other Catholics, and acted as a renegade to trap other such people.

            He did it for the money, insinuating himself into the households of Earl of Northumberland and Lord Strange. As a projector he actively fostered treason in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham and later of Sir William Cecil Burghley.

            Wily young Marlowe’s apparent atheism was just a ruse for trapping free thinkers into indiscretion. Finally, he was set up as a conspirator by the Earl of Essex as a way of striking at Sir Walter Raleigh.

            On that fateful night, Marlowe was knifed over his right eye in a drunken brawl at a tavern in Deptford, but the swift pardon of his murderer, Friser, twenty-seven days after the poet’s burial, suggested to Zeigler that the death had other, possibly political, undertones.

            Hoffman had believed the whole affair was staged by Sir Francis Walsingham to remove his lover from the threat of imminent arrest for alleged blasphemy and atheism. Hoffman argued that the coroner was bribed to accept a plea of self-defence on behalf of Marlowe’s alleged killer and docilely accepted the stated identity of the body.

            Hoffman believed Marlowe settled on the Continent and continued to write and sent his manuscripts to Walsingham, who had found a reliable if dull-witted actor fellow, William Shakespeare, ready -- for a stipend -- to lend his name as the author of Marlowe’s works.

            As Walsingham had apparently died two years earlier than the Deptford incident, Hoffman’s theory was far from acceptable, but it suggested other similar possibilities to Zeigler.

            Since most of Shakespeare’s plays were written after the recorded death of Marlowe, Marlovian theorists must prove Marlowe lived after the Deptford incident in order to write the plays.

            Marlowe had been deeply influenced by the writings of Machiavelli, so any intrigue along these lines would most certainly appeal to him.

            Other contenders over the years for the mantle of “greatest writer in the English language” included Sir Francis Bacon (died 1626), Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (died 1604), Sir Walter Raleigh (died 1618), Michel Angelo Florio (died 1605), Anne Whateley (died 1600) and even Queen Elizabeth herself (died 1603). As Shakespeare’s last known work The Tempest was attributed to 1611, the literary prowess of some of these contenders can be marvelled at, Zeigler thought, capable of even writing beyond the grave.

            In the latter part of last century, computers had been used to join in the academic fray.

            Shakespeare databases were built as early as 1969 on an ICL machine, the KDF-9. Since then, ICL’s Content Addressable File Store -- Information Search Processing and Oxford’s Concordance Program, written in Ansi Fortran had been used to word-count and create concordances, ostensibly to facilitate research. The DEC VAX 11/70 computer research gave credit to Shakespeare for Acts Four and Five of Pericles but not Acts One and Two; the researcher or computer never mentioned Act Three...

            Certainly in the world of letters it was a controversial theory and Zeigler had some sympathy with Shakespeare. Lines from his Venus and Adonis seemed apt:

            ‘By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,

             Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,

             To hearken if his foes pursue him still.’

            Zeigler wondered if Shakespeare waited still, far off on some heavenly hill, wondering if his detractors would ever cease pursuing him. Even claims of homosexuality had been levied against him, citing various tenuous reasons, not least his Sonnets:

            ‘My nature is subdu’d

             To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand;

             Pity me, then, and wish I were renew’d.’

            Poor Will, thought Zeigler. Well, the Time-door Committee evidently felt the Zeigler theory had sufficient merit for them to accept his research request. And now he was almost there!

The full story (5,000 words) is as yet unpublished. I’ve used a 1,000-word portion for a competition [none of the above text is included]. If that doesn’t succeed, maybe it will find another home eventually.

Anyway, if you’re interested in short stories, you could download for very little outlay two Crooked Cat publications.

Spanish Eye by Nik Morton
22 stories in the words of Leon Cazador, private eye

Amazon UK here

Amazon COM here

Crooked Cats’ Tales by 20 Crooked Cat authors –
also featuring a new Leon Cazador private eye story


Amazon UK here

Amazon COM here

Or this Solstice Publishing collection, which goes out of print on 4 May, 2014

When the Flowers are in Bloom by Nik Morton


Amazon UK here

Amazon COM here


Sunday 27 April 2014

The Magnificent Mendozas - the book, not the film

This weekend I've been reading through Robert Hale, my publisher's final pdf for the western The Magnificent Mendozas. Using my penname Ross Morton.

Even after serious self-edit, a publisher's edit, another read-through, niggling style hiccups still wriggle their way in there. [I've pointed out this annoying axiom (p145) in my guide Write a Western in 30 Days!] Too late to correct style imperfections, alas. This final read is merely to identify any glaring errors that have slipped under the wire.

As the story for the book was inspired by the film The Magnificent Seven, it does tend to read like a movie: plenty of visuals, lots of scene shifts, movement, action and character interplay, which is as I intended.

I like the cover Robert Hale have used, too.

I'll blog more about the book when it's published at the end of this coming July.

The Magnificent Mendozas
Ross Morton

When the Mexican circus ships out of the gringo town of Conejos Blancos, Hart and his ruthless desperadoes are quick off the mark to take over the town, and the adjacent silver mine.
With the sheriff slaughtered, and many of the citizens held hostage, two local boys escape, and recruit seven Mexican circus performers to help penetrate the cordon of sentries and free the townspeople.
Only the ‘Magnificent Mendozas’ – a family of weapons experts, escapologists and gymnasts – stand a chance against the Hart gang, but there will be betrayal, bravery and plenty of action, on both sides of the divide before the day is through.
Other Robert Hale westerns by Ross Morton
Death at Bethesda Falls
Last Chance Saloon
The $300 Man
Blind Justice at Wedlock
Old Guns

Saturday 26 April 2014

Saturday story - 'Hoverjack'

This was my first published story, written under the penname Platen Syder, which appeared in Parade on February 6, 1971. I was very pleased with the illustration that accompanied it, too. Naturally, in hindsight I would tighten up certain bits. Still, its 2,000 words possess a fast pace and reflect the Cold War period.


Keith Segal boarded the hovercraft at 8.15pm sharp. There were only six other passengers: the last trip to the Isle of Wight. As he edged up the aisle, his gun-harness felt tight across his broad shoulders.

Then he spotted his quarry. The little fat man sitting near the rear emergency exit window. Avery.

The hatch lowered. The revs mounted. Amidst the banshee wail of the props, the cushion lifted them and swung the craft round onto water.

As the first waves were buffeted by the air-cushion, Segal rose, withdrawing his automatic. Ignoring the gasps of dismay from his fellow-passengers, he pressed the gun to the pilot’s temple. “Out to sea – between those two Palmerston forts!”

In the rear-view mirror he espied Avery raise his fist to smash out the emergency window.

Pivoting round, Segal fired. The shot puffed deep into Avery’s seat. Cold-bloodedly eyeing him, Segal yelled above the din. “The next one’ll hit, Avery!”

By now the coastguard up ahead would be alerted. He glimpsed their wave-crests nearing. An MTB with them.

“Radio the coastguard!” he ordered the pilot. “Tell them it’s a hijack and these passengers are hostages. Any sign of pursuit and they die…”

Tremulously, the pilot obeyed. Cackling back, the radio acknowledged their message. Segal watched as the boats veered off, heading back inland. Being ex-Navy himself, he knew the Senior Service better than that. They’d now be a little orange blip on the radar screens.

Fifteen minutes later they sidled up to a dirty old tanker commandeered for this operation only, its fuel pipes dangling. Two swarthy sailors speedily refuelled the hovercraft.

As they headed out into the Channel, a slightly built passenger dived at Segal. Viciously chopping the bridge of the balding man’s hooked nose, he saw that two others had also found courage. He was thankful the narrow aisle prevented them both attacking at once. He ducked a ham-fisted blow and elbowed the stocky attacker’s stomach, following up with a knee to his groin.

He didn’t want to shoot if he could help it – the Bossman wouldn’t approve. As the first assailant slumped to the deck, the second, shorter one kicked out. The suede shoe winded him. Ruthlessly he clamped onto the short man’s leg and jerked it high up, unbalancing him.

In control now, he turned to notice the pilot serving the craft inland. The coastguard and MTB were visible ahead on the hazy horizon. They were following all right.
Clubbing the pilot’s chin with his automatic, he urged a course-correction. Then, steadying himself against an upright, Segal surveyed the passengers. Avery hadn’t moved – resigned to his fate, probably.
The meeting place had better be near, he thought, as I’m not likely to hold this lot at bay for long, unless I start shooting.
Heavy thunderclouds hovered, darkening the dusk. In the greyness he discerned a hulk rising. The submarine! Seconds later, the phosphorous wake – a gemini motoring across. The hovercraft. The hovercraft spluttered to a halt. The fuel had just lasted.
Warily studying the others, Segal pushed Avery up outside and down into the bobbing gemini. In a way, Segal felt sorry for Avery. He’d lost his wife in a confrontation with the Special Branch eight years ago. For three years they’d kept the grave under surveillance, but he never showed, so they gave it up as a bad job.
But Segal didn’t – and it paid off. He soon learned that Avery had moved his Southern Spynet to the Isle of Wight. And wisely, Segal kept the knowledge to himself.
Now, Avery’s reports were suspect; he was due for recall. The Kremlin reckoned his work was below acceptable efficiency. So they asked Segal – their Northern operator – to bring Avery out as they guessed he wouldn’t leave of his own accord.
As they approached the black fin, he wondered what they would do to Avery. Thank God they don’t know I’m doubling for MI6, he thought.
Avery’s enforced return would at least help him to dispel any doubts the Kremlin may have had about his loyalty to the cause.
The metal surface of the submarine’s casing clanged hollowly underfoot as they boarded. A pattern of barnacles twinkled wetly in the moonlight. The skipper called down to his two ratings dressed in black. They used English – unnecessarily for his sake – he observed, since he could speak fluent Russian.
Hastily, they were urged through a door in the front of the fin. Segal followed Avery into the dark confines of its skeletal framework. From above, an officer clambered down through the network of steel girders.
The short rotund Russian shook his hand heartily. Grinning a broad, golden-toothed  smile. “Welcome aboard my vessel, Mr Segal. I am Captain Karistavok.”
“Thanks, Captain, nice to be here.” He looked pointedly at Avery flanked by the Executive Officer and a rating. Both held machine carbines. “He’s in safe hands I see.”

Karistavok arched a picaresque eyebrow. He said, “Yes. But now we are about to dive, Mr Segal. Shall we go below?”
“I’d appreciate it. Wouldn’t like to get caught up top as she goes under,” he joked.
“Ah, yes, your sense of humour, no?”
Suddenly he heard the tannoy bawl: “Dive the submarine!” And, alarmingly, he was pushed in the dark, down into the black gap. His feet touched nothing the first six feet, then bruisingly hit into a metal ladder in the dark.

He felt the wind-blast hammering at his face. With the hatch open the turret was like a wind-tunnel. Grabbing hold, he cast a quick glance down at the red lights under him as a rubber-soled boot almost landed on his windswept head.
“Get down, man. Do y ou want yhoiur MTB to discover us?”
Obediently, Segal lowered himself, hand over hand, down the control tower. Again his hands slipped on the greasy rungs. The raucous wind forced him back, pummelling him. Slitting his eyes against the gale, he heard the hatch echo shut.
Above him, the Executive Officer cried, “One clip secured, two clip secured, three clip…” The dive-klaxon ground out its harsh music.
Clumsily, Segal landed at the foot of the ladder, in the centre of the control room. On either side of him rose the shafts of two periscopes, the for’ard one with a smaller snout, used for attack.
He heard the high-pressure air being released from the tanks as they sank under the waves. Now he whiffed the clinging odour of diesel oil and grease.
Instinctively, he surveyed his surroundings. Behind the attack ‘scope sat their Coxswain, gently raising and lowering the steering lever. Above him he saw the course indicator.
They were sinuating between 120 and 160 degrees – a wide zigzag. The magnetic compass showed them heading SSE. The telegraph dials read Full Ahead, both in Russian.
As the others joined him, he realised he was glad to see them. Somehow he believed the ratings already down here – especially those two bearded fellows on the hydroplanes – were hostile towards  him.
“I think you deserve a rest, Mr Segal,” suggested Karistavok.
He nodded wearily. “Yes, I am rather tired now. Thanks for taking Avery off my hands, anyway. I imagine you’ll be landing him off Algiers?”
“Perhaps…” Karistavok replied evasively.
The steward showed him to a spare bunk up for’ard in the fore-ends. “We don’t bother to undress,” he was told. All of the eight fold-up bunks ranged along the bulkheads. Alongside his own bunk two huge gunmetal-blue torpedoes were stacked on top of each other, resembling two young whales mating.
For the length and breadth of the boat’s bulkheads and deck-heads, bare wire circuits snaked and coursed, valve wheels protruded; dizzying, claustrophobic.

Fully clothed, Segal dozed fitfully for about three hours. An incessant p-e-e-e-nnng invaded his subconscious. He surmised they were being searched for on active sonar.
Eventually, unable even to doze, he rose cautiously from his bunk. Silently he passed tightly packed, musty smelling messes on the port side, and stowage lockers on the starboard. In the twilight of red-lighting, he likened the messes to a squashed London tube train.

Eyes unaccustomed to the red light, he accidentally kneed the pantry hatch-door, bruising himself from a row of extinguisher-refills let into the door-rack. A wheel-spanner clattered to the metal deck. Groping and finding it, he replaced it on the door’s ledge.

Karistavok was pacing the control room, hands clasped behind him. Avery lounged near the underwater telephone, unsupervised. “I don’t–” Karistavok began when he noticed Segal. “Hallo, Mr Segal! Sleep well?”
“Reasonably, Captain.”
Reaching for the microphone that hung above him, Karistavok said, “Excuse me – duty, you know…” He flicked the handset’s switch. “XO to control room, please.”

Studying the actin plot, Segal estimated they were well into the Bay of Biscay. A shadow crossed over the plot. He looked up.

Illuminated in the ruddy glow, he saw Avery flanked by Karistavok and his XO. The XO raised his machine carbine.

So they did know! All that about Avery was a ruse!

“I was bait, Segal,” Avery murmured, grinning.

They wanted him, not Avery.

Levelling his carbine on Segal, the XO twisted his moist lips, sneered, “Your gun – throw it over – slowly…”

He did as he was told, watching them through narrowed eyes. As the gun clanged on the deck, he edged backwards, into the gangway, near the pantry’s hatch.
Oblivious to what was happening, a young radio operator stepped from the state board. Unhesitatingly, Segal pushed him into the XO. The gun clattered to the deck, loosening a spurt of lead. Sparks splattered the ultra-violet gloom. The after-hydroplanes operator screamed, his thigh reddening.
Segal slammed the hatch door shut, shot the clips. The wheel-spanner fell again, but this time he kept it.
At that instant the steward emerged from the senior ratings’ mess. “Hey!” Without compunction, Segal rammed the sharp spanner in the steward’s ashen face. As the blood poured he dashed through the corridor leading for’ard. It was narrow and cramped. His shoulders buffeted against wheels, dials, pipes and cupboards.
A crew-cut mechanic wearing overalls moved out from his mess, barred Segal’s path. Without slowing, Segal thrust his knee into the Russian’s stomach and sprawled over as the man fell backwards. Landing catlike on all fours, Segal saw a red padlocked box labelled in Russian: Sten guns.
Loaded, he hoped, bashing his steel heel down on the lock. As the wood splintered open, he heard the others emerging from the pantry hatch. Wrenching the sten from its bracket, he trained it and fired. The nearest was a matter of five yards off; he jack-knifed head over heels with lead puncturing his chest.
Suddenly the noise was ear-shattering. Bullets ricocheted off pipes and metal boxes, severed cables and holed ducts. Water and high-pressure air gushed everywhere.
Taking advantage of the confusion, Segal backed through the hatchway leading into the fore-ends. As he slammed the hatch shut and wrenched the pins down, clamped tight, he turned to face three seamen rising sleepy-eyed from their bunks.
At that instant the tannoy addressed him: “You can’t escape, Segal…”
The three sailors must have realised what was happening. They rose and hit the deck and advanced on him. He had no choice. The sten barked its staccato message and they received the jerk from life to death. A few bullets rebounded and he felt a burning sensation in his left arm.
But his naval training had been thorough. He knew only too well Karistavok would seal off the fore-ends and increase the pressure, blacking him out within seconds. He had to work fast!
“Give yourself up, Segal, you can’t escape. You have one minute!”
Eyeing the depth-gauge nearby, he realised they were already down to four hundred feet: Karistavok was right.
Spotting the fore-ends fuel-dip to the right of the torpedo-stowage compartment, he used up the remainder of his ammunition blasting off the lock and unscrewed the short chain of the dip itself.
Fully aware of the precious seconds ticking by, he withdrew his false pen filled with high-explosive – standard equipment which he’d often shunned – and gently lowered it into the dip’s half-inch hole.

Then the pressure mounted in the compartment. He could feel his head reeling, everything going black…
“A Soviet submarine with fifty-eight men on board mysteriously exploded and sank in the Bay of Biscay during naval manoeuvres yesterday” – Reuter.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

Friday 25 April 2014

FFB - Wild Fire

My Friday's forgotten book is Wild Fire by Nelson Demille is the fourth Detective John Corey thriller, following on from Night Fall (2004). I’ve read and enjoyed all Demille’s John Corey thrillers up to his 5th (see breakdown below; I've got his 7th on order now). They’re great because Corey’s wisecracking persona is so believable. Yes, he’s a bit coarse, big-headed and pig-headed, but he also laughs at himself and the human condition. He has immense courage and is a friend for life. When he got married to FBI agent Kate Mayfield, they became a match made in heaven. This pair just bounce off each other and are clearly in love, despite Corey’s many faults. Sometimes, Kate is a stabilising influence on John; but not nearly so much since 9/11.

‘Wild Fire’ appears to be a secret codename for a government response to a terrorist nuclear attack. That’s devastating enough. Yet somebody outside government knows about it…

When Corey’s pal is sent on a routine task to investigate the Custer Hill Club – a secret society of powerful men, the guy ends up dead: an unfortunate shooting accident. But Corey takes the death personally. As he should, since he was the first choice for the job. Why did his pal die? Taking along his wife, Corey starts his own investigation. As it’s in the first person, we’re pretty sure Corey will survive, but we can’t help but be fearful for his wife, brave as she is. The ending is very tense indeed.

Along the way there are many laugh-aloud moments, which I’ve come to expect of a Corey book; however, there are plenty of chilling scenes, with the odd dose of pathos and compassion thrown in. If you haven’t read a John Corey book, the best place to start is with Plum Island, where he first meets Kate. But any of them are worth the price – and become addictive reading if you can get past the ripe language.

The John Corey thrillers in sequence:

  1. Plum Island (1997)
  2. The Lion's Game (2000)
  3. Night Fall (2004)
  4. Wild Fire (2006)
  5. The Lion (2010), direct sequel to The Lion's Game
  6. The Book Case (2011) – Kindle Single, 54pp short story
  7. The Panther (2012)


Thursday 24 April 2014

Historic House short story competition!

To celebrate the publication of the e-book of The Property of a Gentleman, here is a unique opportunity for short story writers. Enter the historic house short story competition to win a cash prize, membership to the Historic Houses Association and a private tour of Levens Hall in Cumbria!

Corazon Books
Catherine Gaskin's historical and romantic fiction novels have entertained generations of readers. Her books have sold over 40 million copies worldwide, leading her to be called "The Queen of Storytellers" and "The Girl With the Golden Pen."

Always meticulously researched, Catherine Gaskin's books take her readers on journeys to fascinating times and places. Her stories draw you into a world of characters and events that stay with you long after you have read the final page. See her website

The competition is free to enter and is open to both published and unpublished writers.

The winner (and a guest) will be treated to a private tour of Levens Hall in Cumbria, followed by afternoon tea with the owners. The winner will also receive £150 and a year's free Double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association.
Two runners up will each receive a year's free Double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association.

The story must take place in, or be inspired by, a historic house (real or fictional).

The submissions deadline is Friday 26th September 2014
and the winner will be announced on Monday 17th November 2014.
Only one entry per writer is allowed.
The story must be a minimum of 1,500 and a maximum of 2,500 words in length.
The story must be previously unpublished and not have appeared in print, online or in any other format.
The winner and their guest must make their own travel arrangements to and from Levens Hall, at their own expense. No expenses will be paid for any aspect of the trip (including, but not limited to, travel and accommodation).
Entrants must submit their story between 9am on Monday 10th March 2014 and 4pm on Friday 26th September 2014.
There is no fee for entry to the competition.

See the website for full rules and conditions.


Wednesday 23 April 2014

Crooked Cats' Tales - 20 stories right up your alley

As a publisher of predominantly full-length fiction, Crooked Cat Publishing always wanted to create a collection of short stories by their authors – so here it is, a sampler of their work.

Twenty tantalising tasters from Crooked Cats from the UK, Spain, France and the US, all keen to showcase their writing skills with glimpses into their existing releases, or with something new altogether.

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!
 Tonight at 8pm UTV+1. Crooked Cat Publishing is launching something very special. CROOKED CATS’ TALES - a collection of 20 tantalising tasters from a selection of Crooked Cat authors.

on AmazonUK here

on Amazon COM here

and on Smashwords here

Crooked Cat short stories and their authors:

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


The authors, in brief:

Pamela Kelt worked in journalism in the 1980s and is now author of six novels and a smattering of stories. She lives in Kenilworth. Her novel Tomorrow’s Anecdote is published by Crooked Cat.

Maggie Secara’s poetry and stories have appeared in a variety of little magazines both on- and off-line. Her latest novel, The Mermaid Stair, the third adventure in the Harper Errant fantasy series from Crooked Cat, is released on May 23, 2014. As for the story in this volume, last year’s King’s Raven featured a pair of supporting characters in mid-Victorian London… and this is about them.

KB Walker revisits some of the characters and Castlegate, the scene of her novel, Once Removed. Originally from Michigan, Kimm Walker moved to Yorkshire and took up a career in teaching. 

Kathy Sharp lives on the Jurassic Coast at Weymouth, Dorset. The years she spent living on the Isle of Portland, in particular, provided her with wonderful ideas for quirky and amusing tales as well as being the model for her first novel, the fantasy Isle of Larus.

Ailsa Abraham lives in France. Working under two pen-names she has published six books. As Ailsa Abraham published by Crooked Cat, she has written Alchemy and Shaman's Drum. She is presently writing the third book in this series which will continue the adventures of Iamo, Riga, The Gaia Foundation and the other characters from the first two books.
Carol Hedges is the author of eleven books for teenagers and adults. Her novel Jigsaw (now an ebook: Jigsaw Pieces) was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Crooked Cat recently published her Victorian murder mystery, Diamonds & Dust. Carol lives in Hertfordshire.

Catriona King is a doctor and has trained as a police Forensic Medical Examiner. Her best-selling Craig Crime series of novels are set in the streets of modern Belfast and Northern Ireland. The Craig Crime series comprise: A Limited Justice The Grass Tattoo The Visitor The Waiting Room The Broken Shore. Books six and seven, The Slowest Cut and The Coercion Key will be released in June and August 2014 respectively. Catriona's latest release, The Carbon Trail, is a standalone thriller set in New York City.
Adele Elliott is a New Orleans native, exiled in Columbus, Mississippi. She is a 1995 graduate of the University of New Orleans with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. She minored in English and was the fiction editor of Ellipsis, the literary magazine of UNO. Her novel Friendship Cemetery is published by Crooked Cat.

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Nancy has four novels published by Crooked Cat: Topaz Eyes – an ancestral/dynasty based mystery thriller. The Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures: The Beltane Choice (book 1); After Whorl: Bran Reborn (book 2); After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks (book 3).

Sue Barnard was born in North Wales but spent most of her life in and around Manchester. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (Crooked Cat, 2014) is a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet. Her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t, is due for publication by Crooked Cat later in 2014.
Tim Taylor was born in Stoke-on-Trent and now lives in Meltham, near Huddersfield. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford, and some years later did a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry, which he often performs on local radio. His historical novel Zeus of Ithome was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013.

Trevor Ripley works full time for the NHS and is studying for a Master’s Degree. Lily Lovebug and the Unconquered Planet, a 30,000 word novel for readers aged 8 upwards, is the first of Trevor’s works to be published. Sheffield Steel – Aisha’s Story presents a sample of his 80.000 word crime thriller Sheffield Steel, set in the city close to his heart.
Carol Maginn currently lives in Liverpool, her home city. She has published a number of short stories and non-fiction. Ruin, her first novel, was published by Crooked Cat in December 2013. Her second, Daniel Taylor, is a thriller set in Rome, which will be published later in 2014.
Nik Morton is me, so you probably know too much already... This story is my 23rd Leon Cazador case; the others can be found in Crooked Cat’s Spanish Eye. At least three books are due out in 2014: a co-written fantasy quest novel Wings of the Overlord, a sixth western The Magnificent Mendozas and, from Crooked Cat, Sudden Vengeance, a vigilante crime novel. I live in Spain, but you probably know that...

Michela O’Brien was born in Milan, Italy. She moved to England in 1994. Crooked Cat has published her novels Playing on Cotton Clouds and A Summer Of Love, both of which have received much praise.
Jeff Gardiner is the author of two Crooked Cat novels: Myopia explores bullying and prejudice, following the stories of Jerry and Mindy, who also appear in ‘Young Loves’. Igboland is a novel of passion and conflict set in war-torn West Africa. Treading On Dreams is a tale of obsession and unrequited love from Tirgearr Publishing. His collection of short stories, A Glimpse of the Numinous, contains horror, romance and humour. His work of non- fiction, The Law of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock is due out later in 2014.
Jane Bwye, a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist, lived for over half a century in Kenya. Her first novel, from Crooked Cat, Breath of Africa, was written to feed her nostalgia when she and her husband left for the UK at the turn of the century. Other publications include a cookbook in aid of the Kenya Museum Society and a History of her local church.
Frances di Plino is the pen name of Lorraine Mace, children’s author, humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She also runs a private critique and mentoring service for writers. Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring D.I. Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending. The fourth novel in the series, Looking for a Reason, is due out in the autumn 2014.

Mark Patton was born and brought up on the island of Jersey, studied archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge, and completed his PhD at University College London. He has taught at several universities in the Netherlands, France and the UK, and now teaches with The Open University. He writes historical fiction for Crooked Cat: Undreamed Shores and An Accidental King.

David Robinson is a Yorkshireman living in Manchester; he is a prolific freelance writer, novelist and humourist. To date eleven of his Amazon best-selling STAC Mysteries and three stand-alone thrillers have been published by Crooked Cat. The first of his new series of supernatural mysteries, Spookies, will be published by Crooked Cat in the summer, 2014.
Links to the authors and their blogs/websites and books can be found at the end of each story...


The above twenty are only a few of the many talented Crooked Cat authors. These stepped up to the plate in record time. Why not browse Crooked Cat Publishing online? You’re bound to find books of interest!

Crooked Cat at Amazon UK here

Crooked Cat at Amazon COM here

Note that the next open window for submissions
for Crooked Cat is 25-27 April, 2014. The clock is ticking!