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Friday 30 September 2016

Book review - Bad Luck and Trouble

Bad Luck and Trouble (2007) is the eleventh Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child, a publishing phenomenon. Night School, his twenty-first in the series is published this November.

Lee Child is one of the few modern authors to hit the best-seller list on each new release. His style and pace are geared to keep the reader turning the pages. A number of valid criticisms – lack of in-depth characterisation, over-use of clipped sentences, phrase repetition – have no effect on his legions of readers. He has tapped into the psyche of the modern readership – both female and male. He entertains. No mean feat, writing about the same guy year in year out.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock or in a cave for almost twenty years, I’ll explain that ex-Army Military Policeman Jack Reacher is a wanderer, walking the streets and roadsides of North America, working when he needs money, but otherwise simply drifting. Under the radar. Off the grid. Helping unfortunates who need help. He’s tall, ‘two metres tall, a hundred and ten kilos, maybe a hundred and twenty’, a lot taller than Tom Cruise who plays him in two films, and all muscle, with ‘wrists as wide and hard as two-by-fours, hands like shovels’, and a shaved head. (The reference to metres instead of feet is from the point of view of a Middle Eastern villain).

Sometimes the Reacher books skip to the man’s past. Useful, that. Let’s be honest, the past has a habit of coming back to bite. At the wrong moment. This latest escapade begins when Frances Neagley, a member of his old Army unit, gets in touch in a rather outlandish way, and he answers the call. There may be a need to put the old unit back together again. Unfortunately, one of their number won’t be joining them, since his corpse was found in the desert. Tortured. Murdered. Dropped from a great height. And the rest are not answering the call. Something’s amiss. Badly awry.

One thing Reacher advocates – and respects – is loyalty. He’s loyal to his people. If they’re in trouble, he’ll plough through anything to get them out of it.

I’m not a great fan of Child’s choice of titles, and this book is no exception. ‘Because, second rule, learned from a lifetime of bad luck and trouble: maintain a little dignity.’ (p143) But I get it.

As a Brit author, Child is immersed in Americana, it seems. ‘… Huntington Drive, which Reacher was pretty sure had been a part of the old Route 66… Reacher started singing to himself, about getting his kicks…’ (It’s a while since I last read a Reacher book – One Shot, 2006 – but I don’t recall him singing to himself. Could be wrong. Reacher is rarely wrong.)

Neagley doesn’t much like physical contact, unless it’s to demolish an opponent.  She’s also not keen on the LAPD – ‘There are always scandals. It’s statistically difficult to quit the LAPD any other way.’ (p312) That won’t endear her to LAPD and ex-LAPD readers, I suspect. But her dislikes go further: ‘She’s human resources. It’s what they do.’ (Tell lies). (p322) Of course in this politically correct age, such generalisations can alienate; though doubtless draw cheers from those who have grievances! Incidentally, Neagley features in Night School, which is a flashback novel to their army days.

Much is made of Reacher’s skill with maths – square roots and all. Yes, the plot hinges on this aspect to a minor degree, but I found this tedious. The first two-thirds of the book present puzzles and a lengthy search for clues, but it’s the final third that delivers the pace and excitement we’ve come to expect. Delivered with aplomb. Spectacular. Lethal. Bad luck for the bad guys.

Not surprisingly, it’s reported that Transworld have announced a new contract with Lee Child for three more thrillers plus a volume of short stories and a novella, all featuring Jack Reacher. That’ll make it two dozen. Not bad. Clearly, he hasn’t over-reached himself yet.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Writing - For crying out loud!

In a recent book column ‘A Passion for Books’ novelist Pat Barker was interviewed. One of the set questions asked was, ‘(The book) that made me cry’.  Her answer was ‘I don’t cry over books…’ She went on to say she cried with laughter over a Helen Simpson book.

Barker is an award-winning author of over a dozen books, including the Regeneration Trilogy about the trauma of the First World War.

What I can’t fathom is that no book has affected this novelist’s tear ducts.

Authors write to entertain, but they also strive (not always successfully) to engage the reader’s emotions, to walk inside someone else’s head, to evince an emotional response – whether that’s amusement, anger, compassion, or even hate. It's a fine balance to tread between mawkishness, sentimentality and the shared human condition.

I couldn’t begin to list all the books that have brought a tear or two to my eyes. Not the entire book, you understand, but certain scenes.

I’ve shed a tear while reading Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, Jane Eyre, An Old Captivity, Call of the Wild, Clan of the Cave Bear, David Copperfield, Forever Amber, Frankenstein, I Love Galesburg in the Springtime, O Henry short stories, Shane, Sophie’s Choice, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, The Grass is Singing, The Magic Toyshop, The Rainbow, The Raj Quartet, The Time Traveller’s Wife, This Thing of Darkness, White Fang, To Kill a Mockingbird, Mead’s Quest, The Snake Den, Lonesome Dove, Strummin’ the Banjo Moon, Fluke, Playing on Cotton Clouds, Schindler’s Ark, and Truth Lies Buried, to name a few… 

Can you name a book that has brought tears to your eyes? (I don’t mean tears of anguish or annoyance at the quality of the writing!)

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Book review - Undercurrents

Written by Ridley Pearson in 1988, Undercurrents is his first Detective Lou Boldt novel.

Sergeant Boldt is investigating the ‘Cross Killer’ – a serial murderer who cuts a crucifix into the victim’s chest. Boldt is assisted by police psychologist Daphne Matthews.  

Slowly, painstakingly, their tenacity builds up a criminal profile. Yet this is more than a police procedural novel. Pearson provides poignant observation of people’s flaws, including Boldt’s, not least the disintegration of his marriage. ‘Being a cop is like a terminal disease: it consumes you, entirely, slowly but surely. I’ve allowed it to take everything out of my life. And I’ve suddenly reached the stage where I resent that.’ (p260).

There’s wit aplenty too. Boldt is being hounded by the press, notably because an earlier suspect, who proved to be innocent, was murdered before he could go to trial: ‘You’re getting more press than a pair of cotton slacks.’ (p131)

However, there seems to be more than one killer; there appears to be a copycat, too. Throughout their investigation, the killer (or killers) seem to be at least one step ahead.

Beneath the surface there’s a deep-seated anger at the perpetrator, who denies the innocents of life.  If you’ve never read a Lou Boldt book, this is the place to start. You won’t regret making the guy’s acquaintance. I’ve also read the tense suspenseful sequel, The Angel Maker, which I can also recommend. There are nine books in the Boldt series.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

'...wry and witty, well observed, and fast paced.'

A big thank you to Rowena Hoseason of for her review of Catalyst. It's interesting that both she and Jack Owen (see yesterday's blog) refer in their reviews to Emma Peel from The Avengers TV series. Maybe there was some subconscious tribute working there when I created the character, since I was in my formative years when I watched that highly original ground-breaking series in the 1960s!

Here is the Amazon review; a slightly longer review can be found at Rowena's site (above):

Catherine is a talented woman. Smart enough to be a biochemist. Beautiful enough to be a top-class catwalk model. Physically skilled and strong enough to free-climb a sleek city office block. Determined enough to avenge the financial ruin and deaths of her parents. Yup, she’s a thoroughly modern girl.

But Cat is also a wonderful throwback to Emma Peel of The Avengers TV series. Indeed, the whole atmosphere of Catalyst is resoundingly retro and it shares a lot of style with The Avengers and The Saint, and even the early Bond movies.  

Catalyst is not a pastiche nor a parody but feels instead like a loving tribute to the sensibilities and sly humour of those 1960s spy series. Yet it’s most definitely set in the 21st century and it doesn’t lampoon its influences so much as cherish them.

There’s a coherent plot to push the action along, one which touches on animal rights, science running amok, corporate abuses of the environment and human trafficking alongside good old-fashioned love, jealously, betrayal, intrigue and, of course, murder. The writing is straightforward and easy to follow, although occasionally it gets bogged down a little bit in everyday minutiae.

Author Nik Morton can deliver a gripping action set piece; the opening sequence involving Cat’s incredible climb is outright excellent and skilfully pulls the reader straight into the fray.

I particularly enjoyed: the role reversal which gleefully subverts gender stereotypes and sees the leading man tied helpless to railway track (yes, really), relying on the all-action heroine to come to his aid.

I was also intrigued by the police officers who follow Cat's path as it zigzags across the UK and onwards to Spain. One of them is known as ‘Inspector Mushroom’ because he only comes out after dark – can’t wait for that back-story to be explained in a future episode. In fact, he’s such an interesting character that he probably deserves a spin-off story all of his own.

Catalyst made for an enjoyable afternoon’s light-hearted entertainment. It’s wry and witty, well observed, and fast paced. The violence and intimate action all leans towards the delicate end of the scale so there’s nothing here to shock or horrify. Good, old fashioned fun, in fact. Steed would certainly approve.

Note: I was very pleased that Rowena picked up on the two NCA characters, Pointer and Basset, 'the dogs of law'. Yes, Pointer's strange origin is explained in the prologue of Catacomb!

Catalyst can be obtained from Amazon sites worldwide.

Monday 26 September 2016

'It's one of those most wicked of things...'

A big thank you to Jack Owen across the Pond, writing an Amazon review of Catalyst:

A nice nostalgic drop of mayhem, sex and fashion with an avenging poster-child for haute couture fighting murderous conglomerates. It is a welcome escape from insoluble world affairs.

Nik Morton's fashionably correct antagonist 'Cat' (Catherine Vibrissae) is the smartest avenger since Emma Peel was teamed with John Steed.

I enjoyed dipping into Morton's smorgasbord of tidbits which reintroduced me to southern England, Wales, Spain and a splash in the Med. All the while following the scent of blackguards tormenting caged furry pets; then sadistic scientists using refugees to test-drive a sex cocktail which would shame Viagra's prowess.

Not sure if my Granny would approve, but its a great read for frequent flyers stuck at airport terminal, bathers at the beach or coffee shop habituates. It might also rock the chairs of 'Enquiring Minds' readers of a certain vintage.

I should caution you it's one of those most wicked of things – a series.

And this is just Cat's first recorded adventure.

Catalyst - obtained at these Amazon sites worldwide.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Notes from Spain – Fraudster found

In news reports here in Spain, it’s often the case that apprehended criminals are not identified by name, though sometimes we’re given his or her initials in a newspaper article. I imagine it was particularly difficult for the authorities to name a fraudster they caught since they might be wondering which alias is actually his real name!

Wikipedia commons

The fraudster in question has more than 100 previous convictions and 20 warrants for arrest, but for the last six years the police couldn’t locate him!  The litany of his crimes: fraud, domestic abuse, slander, libel, assaulting an officer of the law, making threats, causing injuries, violating a sentence, electricity fraud, identity theft, harassment, falsifying public documents and failure to turn himself in to prison. (I’m puzzled by that last one, I must admit! Shouldn’t he be under arrest and taken to prison?)

A lengthy investigation and a stakeout finally located his house, which was surrounded with security cameras. When the police raided the place, it seemed empty – but there was a secret hideaway, a control centre for scanning the grounds. He was found hiding behind a sofa – nobody knows if he might have been watching an early Dr Who DVD.

His crimes also involve the internet, with numerous fake profiles on social networks. Some of his profiles stated he was the president of a computing multinational, a UN inspector and a politician. He had more than 40,000 followers.

He set up web pages that provided cover for his scams. The fake company websites contained plaudits from other businesses and national press, also of dubious authenticity.

A certain number of his violent and threatening behaviour are related to victims who discovered his fraud.

He was rarely seen in public, for obvious reasons.

He’s now in custody.

There’s probably potential for a story in there!

Friday 23 September 2016

Massive e-book sale - last day today!

Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Crooked Cat Publishing sale today until 23 September

Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Wednesday 21 September 2016


Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Notes from Spain – appalling ‘tradition’

You’d think that most Spanish municipalities in Spain would like to feature strongly in Wikipedia. That’s not the case for the town of Valmojado.   

This is their entry:

'Valmojado is a municipality located in the province of Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. According to the 2012 census (INE), it had a population of 4216 inhabitants. They kill young bulls in becerradas:'

If you’re wondering about that last sentence, the colon points to a distressing video which was taken by the animal rights group Pacma. It was taken at a local fair in Castilla-La Mancha. It shows a young calf, between one and two years old, being repeatedly stabbed in the bullring of Valmojado.

Wikipedia commons
The squealing of the dying calf can be heard despite the cheers and clapping from the crowd.

It’s an annual event. The participants must be really proud of themselves, indulging in this sickening cruelty.

Apparently, the town hall issued a statement in response, defending its residents against the insults levied since the video was shown, insisting that the calves form part of a ‘serious tradition’. Seriously?

On 10 September, thousands of Spaniards congregated in Madrid to protest about this cruelty and also bullfighting.

Surveys show public support for bullfighting has waned. An Ipsos Mori poll from January carried out for animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection found that only 19 percent of adults in Spain supported bullfighting, while 58 percent opposed it.

While certain regions have banned bullfighting, it isn’t going to go away quite yet. Spain's first pro-bullfight lobbying group, the Bull Foundation, made up of breeders, matadors and aficionados, was set up last year.