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Wednesday 26 July 2023




[Bethesda Falls: 1 of 4]

“… is it open season on women all of a sudden?” 

Jim Thorp had killed plenty of men. They deserved to die. Thorp was a hard man, made so by a bloody Civil War. But he didn’t relish this visit to Bethesda Falls. His old sweetheart Anna worked there as a school-teacher and he was hunting her brother, Clyde, for armed robbery and other more terrible crimes. He didn’t want to hurt Anna but it looked like he would anyway. Clyde, the foreman of the M-bar-W ranch, is due to wed Ellen, the rancher’s daughter. He’s also poisoning the old man to hasten the inheritance. Thorp’s presence in town starts the downward slide to violence, when not only is Ellen’s life in danger, but also that of Anna and Thorp himself. It is destined to end in bloodshed and death.

Amazon UK: 

Amazon US:


Other books in the Bethesda Falls series (all self-contained stories):

Last Chance Saloon

Blind Justice at Wedlock

Old Guns


She flushed again but now steel had entered her eyes and the tone in her voice chilled his bones. “I am a fool. You didn’t come to see me, did you? It’s Clyde you want, is that it?”

Again he nodded and this time he sipped at the coffee; it scalded his throat, but he ignored the sharp discomfort as he really thought that he deserved that little amount of pain at least. Because that was nothing compared to the pain he was going to inflict on Anna.

Sure, she had a right to know, but how do you tell the only woman your heart had room for that you’re here to kill her brother?


Suddenly, a lariat looped over Anna’s head and it tightened round her chest and the wind was pulled out of her as it was tautened. Roughly, the rope dragged her backwards and she almost lost her balance. She staggered, trying not to fall to the ground.

“Nice ropin’, Ed!” Abe ran up to her.


But the rocks beneath the sorrel’s hooves were slimy and slippery and before she could control the critter they tipped over the edge of this pool and plummeted amidst a down-soaring stream of spray that soaked her. Worse, she found it difficult to breathe, taking in chilly water that made her cough and spasm.

Their descent seemed to last an age but must have been mere seconds.

Shockingly cold and hard, the roiling base of the waterfalls engulfed them. Here, it was very deep, where the water had pounded into the rock base for aeons. Even as she kicked herself free of the stirrups, her clothing threatened to drag her down. She was short of breath and terribly frightened because no matter how hard she tried to move her arms to pull herself up to the surface and blessed fresh air, she couldn’t muster the strength. Her corset and bodice were tight, constricting, and her lungs were bursting.

Originally published by Robert Hale 2007 - my first book sale - under the pen-name Ross Morton! Now re-published as a paperback.

Tuesday 25 July 2023



Muriel Spark’s novel The Mandelbaum Gate was published in 1965; my copy was dated 1985, following five other paperback reprints.

‘The Mandelbaum Gate was hardly a gate at all but a piece of street between Jerusalem and Jerusalem’ – at the time of the story, 1961, it was a crossing point from Jordan to Israel. This was also the first year of the Eichmann trial. 

Freddy Hamilton is a diplomat for the Foreign Office: ‘he hated wearing sunglasses. which made one look so much like a rotten gigolo or spy’ (p54). He is friends with the Ramdez family (father, son and daughter) who work both sides of the border. Abdul Ramdez is a fascinating character: Freddy had asked Abdul about his English schoolmistress (when he was fifteen) who was the daughter of a colonel in the British Army. And asked, did she plant wild-flower seeds in the countryside, (a trait endorsed by some of Freddy’s friends)? Abdul replied: ‘I don’t know. But I planted Arab wild-flower seeds in her. She was my first woman’ (p85).

Abdul knew of the Palestinian refugees massed along the border; ‘he discerned then what a foreigner could not so accurately foresee, that there was a living to be made out of the world by preserving a refugee problem’ (p100).

Freddy made friends with Barbara Vaughan, a tourist. ‘They took her home to lunch, treating her as rather more than a new acquaintance, not only because she was Freddy’s friend, but because one always did, in foreign parts, become friendly with one’s fellow-countrymen more quickly than one did at home’ (p75).

Barbara was visiting the Holy Places and often used a guide, but not always: ‘she was tired of the travel agency guides. They had plenty of good information to offer, but they offered it incessantly. Through the length and breadth of the country the Israelis treated facts like antibiotic shots, injecting them into the visitor like diligent medical officers’ (p22). She’d had a love affair with Harry Clegg who is now on a dig in Jordan: ‘It is impossible to repent of love. The sin of love does not exist. Over at the Dead Sea, she thought, just over there, he is ferreting about in the sand or maybe he has discovered an inkwell used by the Essene scribes or something’ (p48). She intends to interrupt her pilgrimage to cross the border to join him.

There is more than one mystery. A main character suffers memory loss – a blank space for a few days only. The doctor is not happy about resorting to a psychiatrist:  ‘In fact, I haven’t got a great deal of time for them, myself. They all hold different theories. There’s hardly two who would treat a patient in the same way… They’re a lot of bloody robbers…’ (p123). [Having previously read a novel about Jung (The World is Made of Glass), I can see where the doctor – or the author – was coming from!]

To complicate matters, Barbara goes missing! Her pilgrimage becomes a flight, because she is half-Jewish (though converted to Catholicism) and would therefore be persona non grata in Jordan. The Ramdez family is involved, including Abdul’s sexy sister Suzi, and to complicate matters spies are discovered working for the Arabs… And there will be blood spilled – from a surprising angle, too!

The author seems to have captured the febrile times perfectly, treating all nationalities with empathy and humour. Perhaps there is a little too much religion thrown in (Muriel Spark became a Roman Catholic in 1954). Even so, sometimes tongue-in-cheek and droll, there’s a serious aspect to the whole adventure.

Editorial comment:

This is omniscient narrative. Frequently, the thoughts of more than one character are shown in the same scene, and speech of more than one person will be within the same paragraph. Past and present are interwoven – as in real life – through thoughts, yet the reader is never lost or confused.

Monday 24 July 2023



Morris West’s novel The World is Made of Glass was published in 1983. I was studying psychology in the early 1980s (Open University) and bought this since it was a fictional account of one of Carl Gustav Jung’s case histories. I’ve only now got round to reading it!

West was inspired by a very brief and incomplete record of a case in Jung’s autobiographical work Memories, Dreams , Reflections. As West states in his Note: ‘every novelist is a myth-maker. He quotes Jung: ‘I can only make direct statements, only “tell stories”, whether or not the stories are “true” is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth”.’ [Maybe Meghan Markle has read this…!]

The story is told from two viewpoints: Magda Liliane Kardross von Gamsfeld, a beautiful, rich and intelligent woman of dubious morals, and Jung, her psychiatrist.

Jung is married to Emma who is thirty at this time and carrying their fifth child. Jung met her when she was sixteen and wanted to marry her. ‘I loved her then; I love her now; but love is a chameleon word and we humans change colour more quickly than the words we speak’ (p70). These guilt-ridden thoughts relate to his attractive assistant, Antonia Wolff (Toni), who happens to be his mistress.

One of Jung’s beliefs was that synchronicity has psychic foundations. ‘… coincidence, synchronicity, things happening at the same moment in time, without causal connection, but still closely related in nature… in the context of psychic experience’ (p90).

Jung is aware that what he practices is not scientific, ‘Because this sciences of ours, this medicine of the mind, is still in its infancy. The methods are tentative. The procedures are incomplete’ (p127). He’s quite honest with himself some of the time: ‘I lie, too, when it serves my purposes; but then we all lie in one fashion or another because we are not scientists always; we are soothsayers – dealing with arcane symbols and the stuff of dreams’ (p104). ‘My real exploration will be in the undiscovered country of the mind’ (p154).

At this time, 1913, Jung and Freud were at loggerheads and quarrelled professionally, notoriously. It is also when Jung was approaching the beginning of a protracted breakdown. ‘I’m like a leaf tossed in the wind. So, I have no choice but to let myself be swept along by these storms of the subconscious and see where, finally, they drive me’ (p127).

Most of the book is reported speech, either Magda or Jung reminiscing on their troubled past: Jung was raped as a young boy by a family friend; Magda was initiated into sex at an early age, notably incestuously with her father.

There is a battle of wills between the pair – and collateral damage is felt by both Emma and Toni. Symbolism of dreams is paramount to much of Jung’s exploration. Gradually, he learns about a terrible truth that Magda had concealed. This Magda is a figment of West’s imagination and conveyed with great empathy and skill. Inevitably, there are revelations of a sexual nature and sexual obsession and also murder and guilt.

The author’s ability to get into the minds of two disparate yet complementary individuals is a remarkable feat.

West first wrote a play about this relationship, and then followed it with this novel.

The book title is from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays: ‘Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Some damning circumstance always transpires.’

Tuesday 4 July 2023

THE WANTING SEED - Book review - Adult content


Anthony Burgess’s future fictional dystopia The Wanting Seed was published in 1962, the same year as his famous A Clockwork Orange.

In his 1982 Foreword Burgess states: ‘The Wanting Seed tries to show … that the response to the prospect of overcrowding and starvation might well be a culture which favoured sterility by promoting homosexuality and rewarding self-castration. But, my instinct argued, nature might respond to human sterility with sterile patterns of its own, and the solution to the population problem could be more ruthless and more logical… I cannot foresee the highly schematic world of (the book) as ever coming to birth, but I think some aspects of it – the glorification of the homosexual, for instance – are already with us.’

No date is given for the world we enter. Certainly, overpopulation has become a global problem in this world of Burgess’s future. Harry Harrison’s novel Make room! Make room! on the same subject (and filmed as Soylent Green) was published in 1966. Interestingly, Burgess uses a similar phrase on p164: ‘ “No room, no room” fluted a thin donnish person…’

‘…planetary survival dependent on the balance of population and a scientifically calculated minimal food supply; tighten belts; win through; evil things they would be fighting; long live the King’ (p53).

It was ‘a near-vegetarian world, non-smoking, teetotal except for ale’ (p38). Later, there is a revolt against this restrictive life-style: ‘Man is a carnivore, just as man is a breeder. The two are cognate and the two have been suppressed’ (p165).

Religion is side-lined, taboo, even, the Pope’s ‘an old, old man on St Helena’ (p40): ‘We were right to throw God out and install Mr Livedog in his place. God’s a tragic conception’ (p42). They use odd phrases, such as Dognose for ‘God knows’… [This is a darkly comic novel, after all!]

Great Britain as we know it has altered radically: ‘Greater London had eaten further into Northern Province and Western Province; the new northern limit was a line running from Lowestoft to Birmingham… the old designations of Wales and Scotland no longer had any precise significance’ (p8). Their trains are nuclear-propelled (p95) – another reason to stop HS2?

The culinary arts are grim: ‘served him with a cutlet of reconstituted vegetable dehydrate cold… A nut was a ‘nutrition-unit, creation of the Ministry of Synthetic Food’ (p51). Tristram was trying to ‘eat a sort of paper cereal moistened with synthelac and… he found it very difficult to spoon down the wet fibrous horror: it was somehow like having to eat one’s words’ (p57). It isn’t just food that is compliant with the dictates of the authorities: ‘Bless their little cotton-substitute socks, the darlings…’ (p153).

The main protagonists are Beatrice-Joanna, her husband Tristram Foxe and his brother Derek. Recently the State Health Service had sent her dead child to the agriculture department for decomposition – ‘useful to the State as phosphorous’ (p4).

Derek is Beatrice’s secret lover, even though he pretends to be homosexual. Homos get priority for all the prime jobs in the Establishment. Tristram is informed that his expected promotion has been blocked in favour of ‘a castrato, a pretty strong candidate’ (p32). ‘… being homo, do you see, wipes out all other sins…’ (p77).

‘For generations people had lain on their backs in the darkness of their bedrooms, their eyes on  the blue watery square on the ceiling: mechanical stories about good people not having children and bad people having them, homos in love with each other, Origen-like heroes castrating themselves for the sake of global stability’ (p184).

And a new corps has been formed: Population Police; Peppol. Dressed in a black uniform, cap with shiny peak, badge and collar-dogs ashine with bursting bomb, which proved on closer inspection, to be a breaking egg’ (p60). And its first Metropolitan Commissioner is Derek – ‘brother, betrayer, lover’.

Assisting the Peppol were the auxiliaries, greys. There are certain telling scenes that send a chill, bearing in mind the prevalent gender activist issues: ‘ “Mind your own business. Woman,”’ (the grey) added with scorn… Very much a woman, mind her own business, socially and biologically, she shrugged…’ (p65).

Beatrice’s sister is married to Sonny, an outspoken God-fearing man living in the countryside, well away from the Peppol patrols. His wife says of him: ‘He may be sane, but sanity’s a handicap and a disability if you’re living in a mad world’ (p151).

By Part Four, things are not going well. ‘Electricity, like other public utilities seemed to have failed’ (p163). Maybe there is hope, however, as someone observes: ‘When the State withers, humanity flowers’ (p167).

Towards the end of the novel, Tristram is conscripted into the army. Annexe Island B6 was a ‘limited area anchored in the East Atlantic, intended originally to accommodate population overflow, now compactly holding a brigade’ (p227). Burgess’s time in the army seems reflected in many observations here. ‘Nobody sang, though. The fixed bayonets looked like a Birnam Wood of spikes’ (p251).

In conclusion, stating nothing that can’t be found in the book blurb: ‘We in Aylesbury are at least civilised cannibals. It makes all the difference if you get it out of a tin’ (172).  Even if the tins are supplied by China…

In this world there is no social media and no smartphones; they use wrist micro-radios (p44). ‘The new books were full of sex and death, perhaps the only materials for a writer’ (p270). Indeed, there is sex and death in this book – but, despite all, there is hope also.

The book’s title is a play on The Wanton Seed, a refrain from the folk-song of that name; Burgess states that the ambiguity is appropriate.

Editorial comment:

Burgess has a tendency to name-drop, possibly by scanning his book-shelves: there’s Linklater, Wilson (his real surname), Adler, Westcott, Asimov, Heinlein, Evans, Ross, Meldrum – and the playful Ann Onymous! A good number of them were science fiction writers: ‘what the old SF writers called a time-warp’ (p241). He was using the then accepted abbreviation, rather than the trendy sci-fi which superseded ‘SF’.

Leslie Thomas called Burgess a ‘writer’s writer’ and I can see why. Certainly, his vocabulary is vast – and dotted with four or five words I’d never before encountered!

Monday 3 July 2023

GREEK FIRE - Book review


Winston Graham’s Greek Fire was published in1957 and was one of several of his early suspense novels re-issued in the 1970s in response to his success with the Poldark series (my copy is dated 1974).

American Gene Vanbrugh is a post-war publisher visiting Athens, Greece. He has a history of fighting with the partisans during the war. ‘You have sad eyes, M. Vanbrugh – as if they have sen many things they would like to forget. But I think you are a man of honour’ (p58).

In the cellar night club The Little Jockey he is watching several people at their tables, including Anya Stonaris who is accompanied by the politician Manos. Anya is the mistress of politician Georg Lascou. There is an election due soon. Politics is dangerous, and there is the post-war grievances and pressure from Communist outfits.

The cabaret is Spanish: ‘Here was some inner truth from Spain stated in terms of the dance, an allegorical picture of the relationship of the sexes, spiritual more than physical but partly both, a statement of a racial anomaly which had existed for two thousand years’ (p11).

One of Vanbrugh’s contacts is a woman he knew during the war, Mme Lindos: ‘There are certain architectures of forehead and nose and cheek-bone which defy the erosions of age. She had them’ (p20). She will prove useful to Gene as things go awry.

One of the Spanish troupe is the victim of a hit-and-run. The police consider it is an accident but the man’s wife Maria thinks differently and enlists Gene’s help. These Spanish performers seem to be linked in some manner with Lascou.

Gene is not a fan of Lascou. ‘I’ve seen Communism at work. I’ve seen the cold mass slaughter, the children dying, the brutality to women, the absolute ruthless callousness in gaining one set objective. Above all, I’ve seen the lies – so that no words have any meaning any more. Nothing that’s worth living for has any meaning any more…  That’s what I want. Just to stop you.’ (p119).

Strange, how times haven’t changed – the lies and double-speak are still with us, though not merely spouted by avowed communists.

There’s quite a lot of Greek politics of the period, not particularly pertinent now, but that does not detract from a page-turning suspense novel with strong characterisation, a hint of romance and a haunting manhunt:

‘A hunted man is like a man at the centre of a cyclone; there are periods of calm when it’s impossible for him to assess the strength of the storm around him’ (p190).


Sunday 2 July 2023



Leslie Thomas’s fourth Dangerous Davies title Dangerous Davies and the Lonely Heart was published 1999.

Davies is still living in the same boarding house, his estranged wife in a separate room, his lugubrious pal Mod in another. Davies has been retired from the police force and has decided to try his hand at private investigating. His attention is drawn to the multiple murders of women who have answered lonely hearts advertisements. He has also taken on the case of a missing young girl student (Anna Beauchamp) and a psychologist (Carl Swanee) that might involve a secret worth millions of pounds.

Yet again Thomas has peopled his book with droll, witty, outrageous and mysterious characters, including a gypsy, an overweight hairdresser, and a policeman who gets nosebleeds if he goes upstairs. He also displays his gift for short visual description:

‘He always found tombs interesting… It was like walking through a small shut town. There were angels, too, standing more in hope than in help, their wings white with bird droppings, their mouths half-open, everlastingly lost for words’ (p113). And: ‘… her flowered summer dress like a moving rockery’ (p118).

One of the murdered women left a very bright young child, who they called Harold; Davies meets him with a social worker. ‘They sat on some bleak chairs. Harold’s feet did not reach the ground’ (p132). The scenes with young Harold are heartfelt and one wonders if Thomas thought back to his time as a Barnardo’s boy, when he was motherless, when writing these poignant scenes. Confusingly, one of the owners of the lonely hearts agency (Happy Life Bureau) employing him is also called Harold!

Thomas even imbues inanimate things with character: ‘He had always been reluctant to trust, or risk, the old car on a motorway, but now he quickly found himself on the M4, heading west. The Rover seemed to revel in the new responsibility, snorting like a horse which had not had the luxury of a gallop in a long time’ (p189)

His enquiries take him to the coast of Wales. ‘I was the wildest place that Davies had ever seen. Even the sunshine seemed threatening’ (p217)

One of Davies’s contacts is Sestrina, a beautiful woman who happens to have a painting of a ship – The Lonely Heart – on her wall. In typical private eye fashion, there is a rapport between this pair. ‘She crooked her fingertip and beckoned him. He felt himself groan inwardly, the groan of a man who knew he was in trouble, a groan of pleasure’ (p243). There follows a quite erotic seduction scene with an icy edge to it…

This is perhaps the bloodiest Dangerous Davies outing, and none the worse for that. It was a pleasure from beginning to end.

Editorial comment:

‘feet did not reach the ground’ – I think it should be floor, not ground, but it’s a common mistake to make, perhaps: I feel that ground is ‘outside’ while floor is ‘inside’. Maybe I’m being pedantic!

Two characters called Harold?

Two character names beginning with the same letter: Sophia and Sestrina.

Some writers get fixated on numbers (me included; in years gone by I over-used 17 for some unknown reason!). Thomas here has a thing for forties – ‘The door of number forty-three’ (p126); ‘number forty’ (p162) and ‘Top flat, forty-one’ (p181).