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Thursday 31 December 2015

Book review - Wrath of the Lion

This thriller was first published by Jack Higgins under the penname Harry Patterson in 1964. This copy published by Signet in 1996.

Set in the early 1960s, it features Neil Mallory, once known as the Butcher of Perak. It begins with a French submarine surfacing near a freighter. The submariners board the ship and murder a passenger. The motive is ‘death to all who oppose the OAS’. The Organisation armée secrète was composed of French dissident far-right paramilitaries who began an armed opposition to the independence of Algeria (the Algerian War spanned 1954-1962) from French colonial rule. OAS was formed in Spain in 1961 and assassination attempts were made on French politicians and even General de Gaulle. Algeria became independent in 1962.

Mallory teams up with French Deuxieme Bureau agent Guyon to track the submarine to the Channel Islands. They have to contend with the OAS commander Phillippe de Beumont. In the process, Mallory finds love. The best part of the book is a lengthy flashback to the Malayan conflict, where Mallory earned his nasty sobriquet.

Not one of his best, but it is a fast read, delivering plenty of pace and action; and of course there is the occasional betrayal. The ending was rushed, I felt, but satisfactory.  

Monday 28 December 2015

'...stunning mix of sharp blades and blunt instruments...'

This week's JJ Stoner giveaway ...


FOUR CORNERED, a five-star quick thriller which starts with great sex, and ends in sudden death.

‘Phenomenal storytelling, hit me right between the eyes.’

‘A stunning mix of sharp blades and blunt instruments.’

Free until 31 Dec at:…/…/B00N6VCLS4…/…/B00N6VCLS4/

Friday 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Wishing you all a happy and stress-free Christmas.

Nik Morton


Ross Morton

aka half of Morton Faulkner!

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Book review - Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

This is the first Jane Austen mystery penned by Stephanie Barron (1996). In the manner of other ‘recently found manuscripts’ – stretching from Watson MD, to Flashman and plenty in between, this is a detective adventure penned in the famous author’s ‘own words’ in diary format.

Francine Stephanie Barron Matthews had published two cop mysteries before embarking on this book. Since then she has been quite prolific, also writing a spy series based on the CIA.

There are at present twelve novels in the Jane Austen series, the most recent being Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas (2014), so she has doubled the output of the erstwhile author she emulates!

It is December 1802 and Jane Austen is staying with her recently married friend Isobel, the Countess of Scargrave. Unfortunately, the Earl of Scargrave is taken gravely ill and dies, purportedly from overindulgence. Yet Jane observed that ‘It was not an excess of claret that plagued the Earl, but a surfeit of family; and of this, no one was likely to cure him.’ (p35) Poor Isobel’s misfortune is compounded when she receives an anonymous letter accusing her of the murder of her husband.

I’m no expert on Austen, though I’ve read her books, but it seems to me that Barron exquisitely captures the voice: ‘The living ever feel unease, when the dead are in residence… The Earl is to be buried tomorrow. These two days past, he has lain in state in the hall, a vast and draughty place peopled by his ancestors, as though all the dead of Scargrave have assembled for this dreary wake…’ (p37)

Throughout, apparently aided by study of Austen’s letters, Barron invests her heroine with wit and acute observation: ‘The lot of woman is indeed a cruel one – either die an old maid, reviled and unprovided for, or die of hard work and childbed, both too liberally bestowed.’

The Earl is not the only one to die, either. On discovering a body amidst the hay, Austen recoiled, but was still made of stern stuff: ‘… and something very like terror held me in its grip for the space of several heartbeats. But I recoiled at the knowledge of my faint head, and determined to go on rather than back. I reached a gloved hand to the hay and pulled it aside.’ (p147)

And she is not averse to playfully throwing in an aside: ‘Fanny and the Lieutenant. So little sense, allied with so much sensibility.’ (p162)

Towards the end, Jane visits a friend in prison and again we’re exposed to her feelings and her keen sense of observation: ‘London’s afternoon fog curls now beyond Scargrave House’s many windows, blotting out the forms of carriage and horse as they pass in the street below. There is a like obscurity in my soul, a darkness bred of too much sadness; I have spent the better part of the morning enshrouded in perpetual night, in the depths of Newgate prison. That I rejoice in my deliverance from that place, I need hardly add… but I carry something of Newgate with me still, in the grime and odour of the interior, which sits heavily upon my person.’ (p253)

To sum up, Jane proves herself a firm friend and a persistent detective. As one character observes, ‘Friends, in my experience, are like ladies’ fashions, Miss Austen. They come and go with the seasons, and are rarely of such stout stuff as bears repeated wearing. I am glad to find you formed of better material.’ (p316)

I found two infelicities, no doubt due to Barron being American: I doubt if Jane Austen would refer to the Christmas season as the ‘holiday season’ (p158) and an English Lord would not refer to the ‘British Navy’ but rather the ‘Royal Navy’ (P363). In every other sense, she has captured the idiom and voice of the period, and she is a joy to read.

And there are at least eleven more diary entries to savour: wonderful news, indeed! Stephanie Barron’s website is here

If, after reading this book and its sequels, you still want more Austen style reading matter, you could try Pride and Regicide by Cathy Bryant (‘the first Mary Bennet mystery’) here
as it has to date 5 good reviews on Amazon.

Monday 21 December 2015

Blog guest - Elf yourself!

Welcome, Ailsa. I believe you have a special offer going on over the festive season?

Yes, I have, Nik. And it’s for two days only!

If I didn’t know better, I’d say to any readers, Yule love this idea!

Very punny, Nik. As you know, we’re about to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Yule so for my gift to your readers I would like to present - for the two days of 22nd and 23rd December only - both books in the ‘Alchemy’ series at 99p or cents each for an e-book.

Sounds like a bargain, Ailsa.

It is, Nik. Now, come on, please, folks, for less than a cup of coffee, you get to delve into a strange future! And it lasts a lot longer and is even better at keeping you awake!

You’ve sold it to me, Ailsa. I urge anyone who is intrigued by the storylines to click on the link below to see these e-books on Amazon in your country.

And, I notice that there an enviable number of five star reviews. Well done, Ailsa!

Thanks, Nik. And the third book in the series is on the way!

This might be a good time to get into the story now and grab the e-books while they're at this very attractive price!

So, Ailsa, what do you get for the price of a coffee?

Book 1: ALCHEMY  

A world without war? Professor Sawhele Fielding stumbles across an invention that would change the world; something so monumental, it could spell the end of environmental disaster and conflict. With the help of her father, a shadowy figure in the world of international banking, she begins to set into motion the biggest upheaval the planet has seen.

But in a changed world, dark forces are threatening the fragile peace. Where modern technology is proving useless, old magic from a bygone era might just save the day. Adrian Oliver, expert in ancient religions is skeptical until faced with incontrovertible proof that ancient evil is abroad once again. How could a Utopian dream of free fuel and peaceful co-existence turn into a nightmare?

Iamo, a priest of the Mother Goddess and Riga, a Black Shaman assassin captain, are thrown together - reluctantly at first - to face a threat that nobody could have imagined before "The Changes".

Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum which features the adventures of Iamo and Riga through their world in the near future, where the established religions of our own days have been banned.


England in the near future. Mainstream religions have been outlawed, and the old gods rule again. Iamo has been a priest of the Great Mother and is sworn to celibacy, but his love for Riga, a Black Shaman, a magical assassin, caused him to break his vows. After being imprisoned apart from each other for three years, Iamo accepts an offer to earn them both a pardon and the possibility of marriage. If they survive.

Iamo and Riga must discover why demons are breaking through from the other side. Which of the cults are renegades who allow the demons through? Who can they trust? Combining their powers, they face the ordeal with the help of a band of eclectic pagans, spirit creatures, Riga's Black Shaman brothers, an undercover Christian granny, and three unusually energetic Goths. It's a tough assignment, but the hope of a life together keeps them fighting.

Thanks, Ailsa! And good luck with these fantastic books.

And thank you for letting me visit, Nik!

Here below you’ll find Ailsa's other links:

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Cataclysm - China and surveillance

During my research for Cataclysm, I learned that, like Britain and the United States, China has one of the most pervasive citizen surveillance operations in the world. Besides some of the strictest internet access controls by any government, the country also boasts an expensive and sophisticated CCTV network (over 30 million cameras), on highways, in public parks, on balconies, in elevators, in taxis, and at sporting stadiums – a constant eye on the streets, searching for anything that could suggest criminal activity or a looming terror attack. They’re also intended to maintain ‘social stability’ – which could be construed as shutting up critics.

That fact posed a few issues for me. How could Cat hope to conspire against the Cerberus factory plants in China if everywhere is under surveillance?

Surveillance cameras - Wikipedia commons

Well, monitoring such an immense system has to be a gargantuan task for any administration. So there must be many blind spots. And I’m assured by someone who has been to China frequently that the CCTV cameras do not intrude on normal day-to-day living. Just don’t openly plot the government’s overthrow…

There’s another aspect that affects the efficiency of the system.

Smog is now such a problem in China’s cities that its surveillance cameras can no longer see through the thick layers of pollution that choke the streets on an almost daily basis. The authorities believe that there is a real fear that terrorists could take advantage of these increasingly frequent hazes to carry out attacks and flee unseen.

Existing technology, such as the infrared cameras used by firefighters as they move through smoke-filled buildings, can help see through smog at a certain density, but when it reaches the concentration found on some Chinese streets, even that is shown to be useless.

Some experts have claimed that in many Chinese cities the pollution particles are so compressed that they block light almost as effectively as a brick wall. [Cat encounters thick fog, too.]

Killers have been identified, shoplifters have been deterred, and criminal suspects have been apprehended thanks to such surveillance.

Naturally, there are human rights issues here, too. Even modest freedoms may be curtailed by such monitoring. Certainly facial recognition technology is being refined – and indeed is used in my novel Cataclysm. As yet, such technology is not effective in streets, due to the lighting variety – shadows, shade from buildings, passing vehicles etc. And there is no sci-fi style all-seeing eye … yet.

Cataclysm – e-book now available, published by Crooked Cat


Today, 15 December we see the launch into space of the Soyuz TMA-19M spaceship, destined to rendezvous with the International Space Station that has been in operation fifteen years.

Onboard are veteran cosmonaut (six spaceflights) Yuri Malenchenko, NASA’s astronaut Tim Kopra and British Major Tim Peake. [What are the odds on two Tims being crammed into the space module!]

The blast off was perfect from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. [Of interest to me, at least, Kazakhstan is where the psychic facility is situated, as featured in my 1970s spy e-books The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text, published by Crooked Cat!]
Soyuz rocket blast-off - Wikipedia commons

Coincidentally, and of much less moment, today sees the launch of the third ‘Avenging Cat’ adventure, Cataclysm.

The e-book can be ordered through this single link (that covers all countries’ sites):

The first two novels in the series are:

#1 – Catalyst

#2 – Catacomb

Interesting, that the first Briton in space was Helen Sharman, who trained as a chemist. That was way back in 1991, and she spent about eight days in the Mir space-station. Why interesting? Well, Cat Vibrissae, the heroine of the ‘Avenging Cat’ series also trained as a chemist – but then went into modelling, as it paid better, thereby funding her vendetta against Cerberus and its owner, Loup Malefice. She also happens to be pretty good at free climbing and taekwondo.


Monday 14 December 2015

Lucky Cat

Chapter 7 of Cataclysm is entitled ‘Lucky cat’. There is a reason, and it has nothing to do with the good fortune of Catherine, our avenging Cat in this third adventure in the series..

Fortune cats or lucky cats seem to be commonplace these days and are strongly associated with the Chinese. They even cropped up in an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ on BBC TV last year. These cats were not originally Chinese, however, but Japanese. They call them Maneki Neko, which means ‘beckoning cat’.

Solar-powered lucky cat - Wikipedia commons

The cat has its paw raised as if it’s waving in good fortune for its owners.

You may see them in Chinese restaurants. They are conspicuous in Chinese emporiums here in Spain.

The superstition goes that if the cat is holding up the left paw, this is supposed to attract customers. An ideal for shop or restaurant, I suppose.

If the right paw is lifted, this invites good fortune and money. Then enter the lottery, perhaps?

A wave that doesn’t say ‘goodbye’ but ‘hello, happiness’…

Sometimes you can find a fortune cat with both of its paws in the air; this can also represent protection.

A white cat promises happiness, purity, and positive things to come, while a gold one signifies wealth and prosperity. Black wards off evil spirits, red suggests success in love and relationships and a green cat promises good health for the owner.

You can find out a little more about lucky cats – and Cat’s luck – in Cataclysm.

Cataclysm – most appropriately published tomorrow by Crooked Cat Publishing.

 You can pre-order/order on Amazon from here:

Sunday 13 December 2015

Cataclysm countdown - 2 days to go!

All three books in the 'Avenging Cat' series are on offer as e-books at present - even Cataclysm which is published on Tuesday 15 December.

Cataclysm can be found on your country's Amazon site here wherever in the world you are.

Saturday 12 December 2015

Writing – research - goji berries

While doing research for the third ‘Avenging Cat’ crime novel Cataclysm, I decided to include goji berries in the storyline; I’d actually come across them in a crossword puzzle and looked them up, and found that they could very nicely fit into the plot!

Goji berries are exported to more than twenty countries, such as the USA, Japan, Australia, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and the EU. [There are quite a few instances of the word ‘may’, so maybe the jury’s still out on the efficacy of the berries, but it still makes interesting reading!]

The Ningxia Hui region of Northern China, where goji berries are grown and eaten on a daily basis, has sixteen times as many centenarians as the rest of the country. Apparently, as residents of the region age, they are much more active, healthy and vibrant than their peers in Western cultures. The small, red goji berry, traditionally regarded as the "longevity fruit," is a key ingredient in their healthy diet. Researchers who study medicinal plants have identified a variety of nutrients in the goji berry that may help people enjoy longer and healthier lives. Claims of anti-aging properties for these small berries include:

Protecting DNA with Antioxidants

As we go through life, our DNA is damaged by free radicals generated as a byproduct of normal metabolism and by exposure to toxins. Although our bodies are equipped to continually repair themselves, they can become overwhelmed by too many free radicals, especially as we age. This results in the premature death of healthy cells, which may contribute to a variety of degenerative diseases and mutated cells that can lead to cancer -- unless antioxidants counter the onslaught. Vitamins, minerals and amino acids may have antioxidant properties. Here are some of the key antioxidant nutrients found in goji berries and vital body functions they purportedly support, in addition to fighting free radicals:

Vitamin C
Heart health
Immunity, healthy stomach lining
B2 (riboflavin)
Conversion of carbohydrates into fuel
Healthy skin, bone, cartilage
Wound healing, fertility, vision, immunity
Energy, hormonal function, healthy skin
Healthy liver, thyroid, immunity, cancer protection

Promoting Human Growth Hormone Production

Levels of human growth hormone decline as we age. It seems that a 70-year-old produces only one-tenth of the amount generated by a 20-year-old. As Oscar Wilde said, Youth is wasted on the Young! This decline parallels physical deterioration, such as lower levels of energy, muscle wasting and a tendency to store more body fat. The belief is that boosting the natural production of growth hormone helps us feel, look and function like a more youthful person. But it doesn’t turn back time! They say that goji berries help our bodies aid the growth hormone in two ways:

  • Potassium: Goji is a rich source of the mineral, vital for health and longevity. Too little potassium interferes with the normal function of the pituitary gland, which produces the growth hormone.
  • Amino acids: Certain amino acids promote the production of growth hormone. Goji is a rich source of l-glutamine and l-arginine, two amino acids which may work together to boost growth hormone levels and revitalize youthful appearance and function.

Increasing Energy

The goji berry is an "adaptogen," a term used in the world of medicinal plants to describe a substance with a combination of therapeutic actions. An adaptogen invigorates and strengthens the system while helping the body to deal with stress without collapsing. It also supports healthy function of the adrenal glands, which tend to get overworked in times of stress.

Improving Vision

The goji berry contains two key nutrients for healthy vision: zeaxanthin and lutein. These are concentrated at the center of the retina and protect the eye from the most common causes of age-related loss of sight, including macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Free radicals also attack the eyes, and zeaxanthin and lutein protect against such damage.

Controlling Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Super Potassium. A 3-ounce serving of dried goji berries contains 1,600 mg of potassium -- four times the potassium in three ounces of banana.

Goji berries have the ability to combat two key factors that promote heart disease: oxidized cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. Cholesterol becomes especially dangerous when it oxidizes as a result of free radicals, and the oxidized blood fats then attach to artery walls as plaques. Our bodies have a built-in defense system, an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD produces antioxidants to prevent cholesterol from oxidizing, but levels of SOD decline as we age. Chinese research shows that goji berries can increase our production of SOD, reducing oxidization of cholesterol.

Keeping Vital Organs Healthy

In addition to helping keep the heart healthy, goji berries help balance blood sugar and enhance the liver, digestive system and skin:

  • Blood sugar: Goji berries have been used in Asia for the treatment of diabetes and to help regulate high blood sugar, which is a precursor to both diabetes and heart disease.
  • Liver: Several types of phytonutrients in the fruit enhance the ability of the liver to detoxify and guard against the organ being damaged by carcinogens and the hepatitis virus.
  • Digestion: Goji berries are helpful for all types of digestive problems and can aid in recovery from digestive illnesses, such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Skin: Goji berries contain fatty acids, which can stimulate collagen production and retain moisture, resulting in younger-looking skin.

Improving Sleep

Goji berries are a rich source of two nutrients that are necessary for healthful sleep:

  • Thiamin (B1): The vitamin is found in the hulls of grains, but it is missing from diets that mostly contain refined grains. Thiamin improves mood, alleviates depression and increases energy levels.
  • Magnesium: The mineral reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep.


The above is a slightly edited version of an article on the goji berries; there are other claims, too. The western world is chary of much Chinese medicines – the rapacious slaughter of endangered species doesn’t help; rhino horn doesn’t possess any beneficial properties, for example, but is still prized, sadly. Yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bath-water – many Chinese remedies and techniques are highly efficacious.

The goji berry plotline is an intriguing one; I hope any readers of Cataclysm will appreciate it!

Friday 11 December 2015

Writing – research – argan oil

When I was researching Morocco for my second novel in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, Catacomb, I came across argan oil. I was aware of this anyway, as it has become a popular ingredient in shampoos, shower gels and skin creams.

The Argan (Argania Espinosa) is a tree native to Morocco and the tree can live up to 200 years. Morocco is the only place where this tree grows.

They call it "the giver of life". The tree is resistant to dry and arid conditions, actually tolerating temperatures ranging from 3-50 ° C.

The Argan grows in the arid and semi-arid South-west of Morocco. Twisted and prickly, it sends its roots deep into the earth in search of water.

The tree’s fruit is green, like a giant olive and tastes sweet but quite unpalatable. But it contains a treasure: a tough nut with small oil-rich seeds. The oil is very nutritous, and - even more important – it’s rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants.

The walnut shells are burned as fuel. The argan wood - known as "Moroccan ironwood" - is highly valued, and used for marquetry inlaid boxes. Nothing is wasted.

Argan oil production supports about two million people in the main argan oil-producing region, and much of the oil is made by a number of women's co-operatives. ‘Co-sponsored by the Social Development Agency with the support of the European Union, the Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie is the largest union of argan oil co-operatives in Morocco. Employment in the co-operatives provides women with an income, which many have used to fund education for themselves or their children. It has also provided them with a degree of autonomy in a traditionally male-dominated society and has helped many become more aware of their rights.’ – Wikipedia.

You may have seen photos of goats up trees, eating the firm argan fruit, which has a thick peel and pulp surrounding an almond-shaped nut. The fruit naturally passes through the goat’s digestive system whole and is eventually excreted. Traditionally, members of the indigenous Berber population gathered the nuts from the goat droppings, cracked them open with stones, then roasted and ground the seeds inside. The argan oil extracted from this process is high in essential fatty acids and vitamin E, and has long been used locally as a skin treatment and cooking ingredient, and for dips for bread and salad dressing. Now, the modern world has adopted the oil in diet and cosmetics.

Alas, the storyline in Catacomb never allowed me to introduce this fascinating subject, so this was one piece of research that got away.  The moral of this is – don’t use research information just because it’s interesting; only use it if you can make it relevant.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Writing – research - China

In much of my fiction set abroad, I tend to use places I’ve visited; not exclusively, simply because of course I haven’t earned enough royalties from my writing to afford it; besides, the world’s a big place.

The closest I’ve been to China is Hong Kong, visiting there while in the Royal Navy in 1968, long before it was handed over by the UK in 1997. It’s a fascinating country, with a rich history. Yes, there are human rights issues and a whole lot besides, but we in the West would be foolish to ignore this powerhouse.

Foolishly – or bravely – it depends on your point of view, I decided that in my third book in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, Cataclysm, Catherine Vibrissae would go to Shanghai to face down her arch foe, Loup Malefice, since that’s where he was at the end of the second book, Catacomb.
Shanghai skyline - Wikipedia commons

Now, if you’re familiar with Cat, as opposed to having a familiar that is a cat, then you’ll know that she tends to bend the law in her obsessive vendetta against Malefice and his company Cerberus. However, her law ‘bending’ could land her in very hot water in China, I found. The list of capital offences (death penalty imposed) is quite lengthy, and probably has a serious deterrent effect on villainous goings-on.

In the extensive list of capital crimes, seven figure in Cataclysm – not all perpetrated by Cat, I might add!

For interest, here’s the list (thanks to Wikipedia), with the Cataclysm offences in bold:

Crimes against National Security

  1. Treason
  2. Separatism
  3. Armed rebellion, rioting
  4. Collaborating with the enemy
  5. Spying or espionage
  6. Selling state secrets
  7. Providing material support to the enemy

Crimes against Public Security

  1. Arson
  2. Flooding (e.g., breaching dams, dikes or waterways)
  3. Bombing
  4. Spreading poisons
  5. Spreading hazardous substances (e.g., radioactive, toxic, pathogenic)
  6. Seriously endangering public safety, broadly construed
  7. Sabotaging electricity
  8. Sabotaging gas, fuel, petroleum, or other flammables or explosives
  9. Hijacking aircraft
  10. Illegal possession, transport, smuggling, or selling of explosives or firearms
  11. Trafficking or smuggling nuclear materials
  12. Illegally manufacturing, selling, transporting or storing hazardous materials
  13. Theft of explosives or other dangerous material
  14. Theft of firearms, ammunition or other dangerous material

Economic crimes

  1. Production or sale of counterfeit medicine
  2. Production or sale of hazardous food products
  3. Smuggling weapons or ammunition
  4. Smuggling nuclear material
  5. Smuggling counterfeit money
  6. Producing counterfeit money
  7. Fraud

Crimes against the person

  1. Intentional homicide
  2. Intentional assault
  3. Rape
  4. Kidnapping
  5. Human trafficking

Crimes against property

  1. Robbery

Crimes against public order

  1. Prison escape, jailbreaking
  2. Raiding a prison
  3. Smuggling, dealing, transporting or manufacturing drugs
  4. Organized prostitution
  5. Forced prostitution

Crimes against national defense

  1. Sabotaging weapons, military installations, or military communications
  2. Providing substandard weapons or military installations

Corruption and bribery

  1. Embezzlement

Breach of duty by soldiers

  1. Insubordination
  2. Concealment or false reporting of military intelligence
  3. Refusing to pass or falsely passing orders
  4. Surrender
  5. Hindering commanding officers or personnel on duty from performing their duty
  6. Defection with aircraft or ships
  7. Selling military secrets
  8. Spreading false information reducing morale
  9. Theft of military weaponry or supplies
  10. Illegally selling or transferring military weaponry or supplies
  11. Killing innocent inhabitants of war zones or plundering their property
  12. Cowardice