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Saturday 6 April 2024

Dan Dare #2 - Book review


This is the second deluxe collector’s edition of The Red Moon Mystery and Marooned on Mercury featured in the Eagle comic from October 1951 to February 1953.

I first bought the Eagle in February 1958 (featuring the Dan Dare story The Ship that Lived). Thereafter, I was hooked – not only by the colourful artwork in Dan Dare but also the other features inside. The comic exuded an almost intoxicating smell, either the ink or the paper, or a combination of both. Subsequently, I managed to obtain a good number of the preceding issues, but never had an entire set. So the publication of these deluxe editions published by Hawk Books (1988) in full size and full colour were must-haves!

The story of The Red Moon Mystery is about a mysterious red moon that has appeared. It is threatening the space stations of Mars and, inevitably, it is likely to move against Earth. The other characters are Dare’s batman Digby, Sir Hubert Guest, Professor Jocelyn Peabody, the Yank, Henry Hogan, Sondar, the good Treen and Dr Ivor Dare, an eccentric scientist. It seems only Dan Dare and his pals can avert disaster! This adventure is written and drawn by the legendary Frank Hampson (though also see the reference below). This adventure takes place in 1999 - some 48 years in the future...

Marooned on Mercury. At the end of the previous adventure a massive explosion thrusts Dare’s spaceship towards Mercury, where they crash-land. Little do Dare and his crew know, but the evil Mekon has set up a base on the far side of Mercury; from here he intends to attack Earth, as space-born despots tend to do from time to time. On Mercury the team encounter strange beings, Mercurians, and enlist their help to combat the Mekon and his Treens. This adventure was drawn by Harold Johns as Hampson was ill.

Naturally, the tales are somewhat dated in their speech patterns and unscientific appreciation of planets like Mercury. And yet, they are fast-paced, inventive, even exciting, as well as amusing. There is a tendency to put too many words in the speech balloons – seemingly necessary to explain many of the ‘technological’ goings-on. And, for the time, it was probably ground-breaking to have a female professor as a significant character.

For more insight into the production of the weekly two-page full-colour strip, see WRITEALOT: FFB - The Man Who Drew Tomorrow (

Tuesday 2 April 2024



Craig Thomas’s ninth Patrick Hyde thriller (of ten) Playing with Cobras was published in 1993.

MI6 agent-in-place Phillip Cass is having an affair with Sereena, one of India’s screen goddesses who also happens to be the wife of Mr V.K. Sharmar, the prospective new Prime Minister. V.K. has a powerful brother Prakesh who is a dangerous ‘Mr Fixit’.  Cass discovers that the Sharmars have only been able to finance their rise to prominence by smuggling drugs on a grand scale. Instead of merely killing Cass, the Sharmars frame him for the murder of Sereena with the intention of embarrassing Britain. Peter Shelley has taken over from Aubrey as DG and recruits Hyde to return to the fold to investigate Cass’s case. Cass was planning on taking a holiday in Australia with his girlfriend Ros but feels compelled to intervene on Cass’s behalf since Cass has previously saved his life! Hyde soon appreciates that Cass is innocent but before he can further put further questions to his fellow agent, Cass disappears.

The thriller is predominantly about Hyde and Ros getting involved in locating Cass and getting him out of the country, while in the process acquiring evidence about Cass’s innocence and the Sharmars’ drug activities.

Throughout, Thomas provides a great deal of colour and visual descriptions to put you in the scene.

He has a knack with detailed observation, too: ‘The flight deck lay on its side – like the broken egg in the Bosch painting, he thought: his imagination affected as if by some nervous tic rather than horror at the scene (of the terrorist-caused airplane crash). It was hundreds of yards away, cordoned off, surrounded by the ants of the accident investigators and the police’ (p48).

There’s plenty of tension and close shaves and the pace never lets up.

This thriller has more than enough thrills to please fans of the genre.

Tuesday 26 March 2024


A.J. Aberford’s debut novel Bodies in the Water (2022) is very impressive and can stand up against many accomplished best-sellers such as Gerald Seymour and Ken Follett.

For me, he’s covering a lot of familiar ground, setting his story primarily in Malta, where I lived for almost two years.

Neatly structured, it has a prologue and epilogue which features two Nigerian youths, Abeao and Mobo. The tale begins when a body is found floating in the Grand Harbour of Valletta. Police inspector George Zammit is tasked with investigating the death – which is soon established to be murder.

Several scene changes take us to Libya where a certain people smuggler Abdullah Belkacem is intent on expanding his business, notably with links to Malta.

Another protagonist is Englishman Nick Walker who is working for a Sicilian company, the business being a front for money laundering. ‘By the time he began to suspect what he was really involved in, he also knew that walking away was no longer an option’ (p25).

George’s nemesis is Assistant Commissioner Gerald Camilleri, an influential unprincipled man who has little respect for Inspector Zammit.

Added to the mix are Marco Bonnici and his daughter Natasha, both involved with the Sicilian Family and not averse to law-breaking.

All of these different characters are linked. The threads draw together as we experience militia fighting in Libya, the treacherous illegal crossings of the Mediterranean, and the political blackmailing by powerful people in both Italy and Malta.

Aberford has clearly done his research, and this gives us an insight into the conditions in the different lands. There is humour, especially with George’s domestic existence, and also friendships are established. The book and characters cry out for another outing – which is all right, since there are now five Zammit books in the series!


Tuesday 19 March 2024

THE GLORY BOYS - Book review

Gerald Seymour’s
The Glory Boys, published in 1976, was his second novel and is sadly still topical today. The Palestine Liberation Organisation has despatched three men to London to kill David Sokarev, an Israeli nuclear scientist who is visiting to give a lecture. The PLO’s purpose is to make a statement and instil fear. Two of the men are intercepted by Israeli Intelligence; only one, Abd-El-Famy, escapes.

Famy is untried but determined to continue with the assassination attempt: ‘... his enemy, tired now, outdated, unable to compete in the new and modern world that he was seeking, unable to comprehend the hitting power of the Palestinian movement, unable to defend itself against the new philosophy of revolution and attack’ (p67).

As planned, Famy obtains the assistance of McCoy, a Provisional IRA killer, who is to supply the weapons.

Alerted that there was a third PLO man hell-bent on assassination, the Security Service attempts to locate the Arab before he can fulfil his mission, and surprisingly they use an old drunk, Jimmy, as the trigger-man; indeed, he may like his tipple too much, but he was a damned good shot and a cold-blooded experienced killer.

A tense man-hunt is under way, involving several innocent women as well.


Even though the world has moved on since this book was written, becoming more hi-tech, there’s no denying the narrative power of Seymour’s story. As ever, he gets into the skin of the protagonists and it reads like it really happened and it still grips the reader.

Friday 8 March 2024

MAYDAY - Book review

Nelson DeMille and Thomas Block’s air-disaster thriller Mayday is a fast-paced page-turning relentless story of suspense.

It was first published in 1979, updated in 1997 and reprinted at least ten times.

Block had assisted DeMille with aviation scenes in his debut novel By the Rivers of Babylon (1977). They were old friends and, after that collaboration, they jointly decided to write a definitive novel about the sudden decompression of a supersonic aircraft, such as Concord, travelling effectively in subspace, and Mayday was the result.

The blurb says it all: ‘Twelve miles above the Pacific Ocean, a missile strikes the Trans Flight 52, a supersonic passenger jet bound for Japan. The flight crew is crippled or dead. Now, defying both nature and man, three survivors must achieve the impossible. Land the plane.’

The missile strike is a US navy test that went wrong. Fortunately, there was no warhead. But it blasted a hole into and out of the airliner, causing the massive decompression.

The disaster is complicated by the loss of radio contact, the arrogant naval Commander Sloan who is desperate to cover up the incident, and the chicanery of the boss of Trans-United Airlines. This has the potential to ruin the airline – just as PanAm was effectively ruined by the financial fallout of the Lockerbie bombing (1988) (it filed for bankruptcy in 1991).

If you’re afraid of flying, it’s probably best to give this book a miss. If you like a high-tension edge-of-seat read, then this will satisfy.

I’ve deliberately avoided giving much in the way of character names and events as the blurb suffices as a spoiler.

DeMille never disappoints. Block has written several aviation-oriented bestsellers.

A TV-film was released in 2005. 

Friday 1 March 2024



This is the fourth – and final – book in Robert Wilson’s Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón detective series set primarily in Seville. The Ignorance of Blood was published in 2009.

It takes place in 2006 when a Russian mafia man is involved in a fatal traffic accident. In his car the police find a bag bulging with euros and video discs – stolen from a mafia gang, apparently.

Falcón is still trying to get to the bottom of a bomb explosion – was it terrorists or some other cause?  He is advised not to obsess about it. There are other cases to investigate: ‘Personal crusades, Javier, are not advisable in police work. Every old people’s home in Spain probably has a retired detective gaping from the windows, his mind still twisted around a missing girl, or a poor bludgeoned boy. Don’t go there. Nobody expects it of you’ (p41).

The Russian villains are particularly unpleasant – and seem to be competing gangs. ‘The veneer, though, was only an expensive suit thick, as Viktor Belenki was a violent brute with access to a rage so incandescent that even Revnik’s most psychopathic henchmen were afraid of him’ (p45).

The video discs implicate a number of very important individuals in the city and elsewhere; there are connections to shady constructors and financiers. Two mafia gangs want those discs.

Falcón covers a lot of familiar ground, including Atocha rail station, where three bombs were exploded on March 11, 2004; other bombs exploded on four trains; those responsible were members of al-Qaeda; over 190 people were killed and over 2,000 injured. (I recall it well; we were living in Spain at the time). However, the bomb explosion Falcón is investigating is not believed to be connected to that atrocity.

Still topical now, Falcón is faced with individuals being radicalised by Islamists. ‘Radical Islam was not something you changed your mind about. Once admitted to the close fraternity and their secrets there was no walking away. They wouldn’t let you’ (p81). Indeed, anyone joining becomes a ‘lost soul, walking a world of death, destruction and martyrdom’ (p86).

Falcón is drawn into the turf war between Russian factions when Dario, the son of Consuelo, his lover, is kidnapped. Are the kidnappers Russian or Islamists?

Along the way, he is faced with an imprisoned judge, a female sculptor in a bikini, and a Moroccan friend engaged in spying on an Islamist group for the Spanish security service. There are violent deaths, gruesome deaths, and a convoluted mystery that must be solved in Morocco.

Falcón has previously suffered from a breakdown, but now he is stressed and stretched to the point where not only is his job at risk, but also his life. Some chapters end with a nail-biting cliff-hanger.

The descriptions of Seville, the characters and the emotions are well delineated with powerful writing.

Although there are references to previous Falcón novels, the book can be read as a standalone. However, the Falcón books in order are: The Hidden Assassins, The Blind Man of Seville, The Silent and the Damned and The Ignorance of Blood.

Thursday 29 February 2024

ABANDONATI - Book review

Garry Kilworth’s 1988 dystopian novel Abandonati is a slim volume but it packs a powerful punch.

The abandonati are the street people, homeless or mentally ill, with no place to go – the abandoned ones, unwanted castaways from our society.

The blurb inside describes it as a funny and moving fable. And it is that.

Some unspecified apocalypse has left groups of people, mostly dazed and without purpose, save scavenging for food – and hopefully, booze – in a deserted and seriously damaged vast city.

Guppy is one of the scavengers and he is not particularly bright – he didn’t even know he was named after a fish – and he is an alcoholic. ‘You just forgot things. You been boozin’ so long it’s made your brain soft. That don’t mean you’re stupid, do it? Stupid is when you pretend to know everything, and don’t...’ (p32)

He soon encounters a little but cocky guy called Rupert and a big yet docile black fellow Trader.

Rupert is convinced that the rich people have escaped to another planet, leaving the ‘dregs’ behind. He is determined to construct a space ship to follow them.

There are two short italicised sequences. One shows two spacemen landing on a planet with breathable air. They walk on purple springy grass – which is spooky for me, as many years ago when our daughter was small I made up a bedtime story about a boy called Jack who had many adventures, among them walking on purple springy grass! The other sequence again features two men, army officers in a bunker, who appear to be still fighting a war... I’m not sure whether these inserts explain the apocalypse, or are flashback vignettes; to my mind they seemed out-of-place, interrupting the flow of the trio’s journey. A minor quibble.

Before long, the reader is wrapped up with trio’s quest through the devastated city, confronting violent gangs and also a friendly bunch of folk who have found a secret cache of wine in the crypt of a church. Another group they meet are travellers – and one of their women takes a shine to Guppy with amusing consequences.

All three are endearing in their own way.

Rupert has a tendency to swear – not a lot – but it is remarked upon by the gentle giant Trader: ‘You do too much swearing. It doesn’t mean anything if you do too much’ (p67) – which is so true!

However, Guppy is the core of the book, which, among other things, is about humanity surviving despite adversity. ‘Guppy was illiterate, but he could read people like books’ (p106). ‘Guppy couldn’t hold something in his mind for very long. Other thoughts kept coming in, day by day, and evicting the current owners. Guppy’s mind was not inhospitable to thoughts, but there was limited space and only one or two could remain in residence at any set time’ (p130). ‘You can’t help loving someone who makes you think you’re special’ (p131).

There are instances of gentle humour, distress, and even a poignant death – but Guppy manages to swim through it all. This is a very moving book whose characters tend to live on after the last page. Indeed, they are not abandoned. 

PS - The cover features artwork by Dave McKean. He came to prominence with covers for DC comics. My failing, but his artwork - and this cover - do not appeal to me.

Thursday 15 February 2024

THE ENGLISH LADY - book review

William Harrington’s Second World War espionage novel
The English Lady was published in 1982. It comprises three parts: 1931-1934; 1938-1940; and 1941-1942 (though the final pages are 1981).

Lady Nancy Brookeford has grown up knowing the rich and famous movers and shakers of Great Britain and the United States, including the Prince of Wales, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt! ‘Her face was faultless, clear, smooth skin; a small nose, a small mouth with full mobile lips; large, deep-blue eyes; straight, unplucked brows... She had a reputation for being pretty and intelligent’ (p5). The family had relations in Germany, one of whom was Helmut Bittrich, a cousin, who taught her to fly when she visited that country.

Her skill as a pilot combined with her looks gained the attention of Germans, especially Nazis, not least Von Ribbentrop and Hindenburg, and in the early 1930s Göring and Goebbels. By 1934 she found herself being employed as a pilot for Lufthansa. Before long she was brought to the notice of Hitler, who seemed enraptured by her...

However, Hitler was not the only one under her spell: Reinhard Heydrich was intensely interested in her: ‘He was a sensual man – his narrow eyes wandered over her like exploring fingertips... He liked to fly, to fence, to play the violin, and to make love to beautiful women. This was the positive side of his personality. He showed a dark negative in the performance of his official duties, she supposed. Maybe she need not see that side’ (p132).

And then, when returning to England for a funeral, she is faced with a proposition she cannot refuse: to become a spy because war was imminent.

Haydrich observed ‘We have to prepare for war. To save the peace, you prepare for war’ (p183).

A phrase handed down from the fourth century Romans, perhaps: si vis pacem, para bellum. Interestingly, part of this was used as a motto by a German arms maker – parabellum guns and cartridges.

There is plenty of intrigue among the Nazi hierarchy, several of them intent on ridding the country of Hitler and then suing for peace – among these was Admiral Canaris. Nancy is often in the thick of it, all the while getting closer to Heydrich.

Two aspects of the novel create suspense and verisimilitude. The detailed behind-the-scenes behaviour of the Nazi hierarchy and the quite exhilarating flying sequences.

Certain events are touched upon, notably Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass, and Hitler’s detestation of the Soviets. Both monsters, Hitler and Heydrich, are given human faces, no mean feat, though I doubt that this will endear some readers to the book.

Any student of the Second World War will be aware where the book is leading when Heydrich is transferred to Czechoslovakia. While Nancy frequently uses the airfield at Lidice, the book does not mention this town’s awful fate.

William Harrington was a lawyer turned prolific novelist, writing a half-dozen Columbo books and over 17 standalone novels. He died in 2000, having committed suicide aged 68. 

Wednesday 14 February 2024

EXOCET - Book review


Jack Higgins’s 1983 thriller Exocet was fresh off the press roughly a year after the Falklands War and presciently deals with Argentina’s search for additional Exocet missiles, as at the outset of hostilities Argentina only possessed very few.

Brigadier Charles Ferguson is head of an adjunct to the British Secret Intelligence Service, Group Four, directly responsible to the PM. Ferguson’s top man is Major Tony Villiers in the Grenadier Guards, attached to the SAS.

Villiers is divorced; his wife was Gabrielle Legrand. They used to work together undercover. She is tasked by Ferguson with getting to know Colonel Raul Carlos Montera, Special Air Attaché at the Argentinian Embassy in London. She must find out what the Argentine intentions were regarding the Falkland Islands.

Galtieri and Dozo figure in the story, as you’d expect.

Businessman Felix Donner is successful – and an illegal arms dealer. He has links with Russia. And he is hired by the Argentinians to obtain a ship-load of Exocets, weapons that could win the war. As the weapons are manufactured in France, that seems a likely place to make a deal...

Villiers is pulled out of the Falklands – he’s part of a four-man reconnaissance team and sent to France to thwart Donner.

The story is non-stop, switching scenes and countries at a fair lick, and never lets up, in the usual Higgins manner. The relationship between the pilot Raul and Gabrielle is handled well and creates tension. Of course history tells us that the additional Exocets were never obtained.

The manipulative General Ferguson appears in other books by Higgins. Interestingly, in Port Stanley, FI, there’s a Villiers Street. Having recently read The Falklands War by the Sunday Times Insight Team (1982), it is quite evident that Higgins read this account for background verisimilitude, and uses the facts convincingly.

Editorial note:

Higgins mentions a Smith and Wesson Magnum revolver with a Carswell silencer (p3). I could be wrong, but I thought it was very rare for a revolver to have a silencer fitted. A Magnum pistol, fine.

His character Dillon’s favourite handgun is a Walther PPK with Carswell silencer...

Tuesday 13 February 2024


The Sunday Times Insight Team produced this paperback in 1982, not long after the end of the war, which was quite an achievement. The writing team consisted of Paul Eddy, Magnus Linklater and Peter Gillman, though they were assisted several reporters and researchers; participants from both sides of the conflict were interviewed.

The book contains black-and-white photographs, diagrams and maps.

On the night of April 1, 1982 the first Argentine troops landed – variously called the Amphibious Commando Company or the Buzo Tactico - two distinct military groups; depends on whose report is true. According to this book the Argentines attacked Moody Brook barracks with indiscriminate bursts of automatic fire, using phosphorus grenades and riddling each room with bullets. Fortunately, the barracks had already been abandoned by the Royal Marines. ‘The Argentine government made much of the claim that its troops had gone to great lengths to ensure that the invasion was bloodless. That was largely the result but what happened at Moody Brook suggests it was not the intention’ (p15).

According to an Argentine officer, they only used tear gas and intended to take prisoners, and only fired their weapons to alert other troops converging on Government House. (The Argentine Fight for the Falklands by Martin Middlebrook (1989)).

Mid-morning on April 2 the Union flag was lowered, to be replaced by the blue and white flag of Argentina.

Chapter 2 covers some of the diplomatic events taking place at the UN building in February. Talks had been going on for about five years or more, with no headway being made. Talk was that if negotiations got nowhere there would be an invasion in July. Also ongoing was a dispute between Argentina and Chile regarding the Beagle Channel.

Chapter 3 relates the history of the Falkland Islands and the assorted occupiers, going back to the 1500s. In 1690 English Captain Strong stepped ashore and named the islands after Lord Falkland, the commissioner of the admiralty. Frenchmen came in his wake... The poet Byron’s grandfather  sailed into a bay off West Falkland in 1765 and established Port Egmont. As it happened the French had set up a settlement on East Falkland in 1764, Port Louis. In 1767 the French sold Port Louis to Spain for £250,000. ‘Spain formally restored Port Egmont to the British – on September 16, 1771’ (p38).

In 1816 the United Provinces of the River Plate split from Spain and Argentina was born. In 1820 an Argentinian frigate took formal possession of the islands. Some argy-bargy ensued over the years, including the razing of Port Louis by the American corvette Lexington, and the establishment of a penal colony whose prisoners promptly murdered the colony’s new governor. At that point the British sloop Clio hove into sight and was mostly welcomed by the Port Louis settlers. The British raised their flag on January 2, 1833 and stayed. Argentina protested for almost 150 years thereafter, ultimately appealing to the UN whose resolution 1514 of 1960 ‘pledged to bring an end everywhere colonialism in all its forms’ (p41). The UN’s 1965 resolution pressed Britain and Argentina ‘to find a quick and peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the UN charter and the interests of the population of the said islands’ (p41).

In January 1982 scrap merchant Constantino Sergio Davidoff visited the British embassy in Buenos Aires to report his intentions: the scrap metal merchant had a contract to dismantle South Georgia’s four old whaling stations (which were closed in the early 1960s); they belonged to the Christian Salvesen shipping firm in Edinburgh. The Argentinians saw an opportunity to bring forward their intended invasion, using the scrap metal issue as both an excuse and a cover.

On March 19 four British Antarctic Survey scientists were on a field trip to Leith from their base in Grytviken (comprising about 30 BAS people).  They spotted the Argentinian naval fleet auxiliary Bahia Buen Suceso anchored in the harbour. Onboard were a contingent of marines, arms, ammunition, radio equipment, field surgical kit and food supplies. The troops were led by a slim, boyish-looking man whose shock of fair hair earned him the nickname ‘el Rubio’: Captain Alfredo Astiz. (p68). Astiz was a particularly nasty character, responsible for torture and death. He landed about 50 men, some in paramilitary uniform, and raised the Argentinian flag. The BAS scientists reported this to the governor at Stanley.

On March 20 HMS Endurance, with a contingent of Royal Marines was directed from Stanley to South Georgia and authorised to use force if necessary. Three days later Endurance was redirected to Grytviken; however, two marines were landed surreptitiously to an observation post on a bluff overlooking Leith harbour and, on March 25, they noted the Bahia Paraiso arrive and disembark many troops and their equipment. They reported by radio to London via a satellite link; but it was kept a closely guarded secret – why?

MI6 had a base in Buenos Aires. ‘Every Wednesday a meeting is held after lunch time, attended by, among others, the naval and military attachés at the British embassy’ (p78). On March 24 their assessment was that something was up – naval exercises with the Uruguayan navy were not plausible, judging by first-hand intelligence from the naval bases. Their opposite numbers in the American embassy concluded that an invasion was due on April 1.

The machinations in the UN make for interesting reading as certain countries take sides. ‘Guyana, worried about the claims on her territory made by neighbouring Venezuela, was on the British side’ (p114). [And this situation is still contentious today!] Interestingly, the Russians abstained – the issue did not affect their interests. America sat on the fence initially, for Argentina supported the fight against Communism that was spreading in Latin America: ‘We’re friends on both sides,’ Reagan announced. (p115). Ultimately, the British ambassador Sir Nicholas Henderson, with the help of General Haig, brought the Americans on-side. ‘On April 30... America would be allying herself publicly with the UK. “Armed aggression of that kind must not be allowed to succeed” said the president’ (p137).

Chapter 12 – ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – relates the travails and recovery of South Georgia and the surrender of the Argentinians based there.

The recapture of Port Stanley signalled the end of the conflict with the surrender of the Argentine forces on June 14.

There are chapters and sections on the air-battles and aircraft, the terrible loss of life, the sinkings, and the bravery on both sides. As a piece of ‘instant reportage’ it is an impressive book. Granted, after all this time, as many more facts (and books) have surfaced some of this account will have been expanded upon and even corrected. Still, it’s a worthwhile read for an overview of the conflict.

It concludes: ‘At least the war has guaranteed one thing for the Falklanders on their remote rocks in the South Atlantic. No one will ever again underestimate the dangers they face’ (p265). [Famous last words?]




Monday 22 January 2024

DEADLY GAME - Book review


Michael Caine’s debut novel Deadly Game (2023) is a good solid thriller.

DCI Harry Turner is a tough nut who doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. ‘Harry hated the phrase “old-school copper” – especially when applied to him, as it often was round the Met. Yes, he liked to get the job done. Yes, he could throw a punch as well as take one. And no, he didn’t think police officers were social workers or local politicians. Their job was law enforcement: pure and simple. Not therapy’ (p26). He was ex-Army, ex-SAS and served in Helmand, Columbia, Georgia and Myanmar – until a sports knee injury got him – ‘It was a tackle that got me, not the Taliban’ (p28). After that, he joined the Met.

Harry joined an elite team in department SO22, headed up by DCS Robinson – a team created because the ‘Met had lost its balls, lost its focus and was too busy covering its arse to make the calls that get proper bad guys behind bars’ (p34).

Then, one day, on Harry’s doorstep, so to speak, a metal box of radioactive material is found at a dump in Stepney, East London. Unfortunately, before the police can arrive, it goes missing. Harry and his team (DI John Williams, Inspector Carol Walker, and Sergeant Iris Davies) are tasked with finding the missing uranium before it gets into the wrong hands.

It seems that an unsavoury criminal gang is involved, and far-right skinheads, and also an aristocratic art Dealer, Julian Smythe and oligarch Vladimir Voldrev; these latter two are quite creepy, each confronted in their own personal fiefdom/lair.

Throughout, whenever Harry is speaking – or thinking – I tend to hear Michael Caine’s voice; the writing and characterisation is that consistent. ‘I think it’s time to prick this prick’s bubble... I don’t believe in ghosts myself. Personally, I believe in crooks and the way they terrorise people. It’s not magic. It’s the oldest trick in history, and it’s always the poorest that get ripped off most’ (p145).

There are deaths along the way, and a shocking explosion, as the team seems to be getting close to their goal. The pace rarely lets up, the pages keep turning, and the denouement contains a neat twist.

Perhaps the swearing could have been reduced by a third - most is apt, in character, but sometimes it seems gratuitous.

I’d be happy to make the acquaintance of Harry Turner again.

Saturday 20 January 2024


Jacobo Timerman’s autobiographical book Prisoner without a name, Cell without a Number was published in 1980, its English translation released in 1981.

Timerman was the editor of La Opinión, Argentina’s leading liberal newspaper. The paper was not popular with the military government because he was not averse to castigate both the Left and the Right for human rights abuses. Inevitably, it came to a head one dawn in ‘April 1977 some twenty civilians besieged my apartment in midtown Buenos Aires. They said they were obeying orders from the Tenth Infantry Brigade of the First Army Corps’ (p9). He was covered with a blanket and bundled in a car and taken away. Eventually, blindfolded and handcuffed, he discovered he was kidnapped ‘by the extremist sector of the army’ (p29) ...which was at the heart of Nazi operations in Argentina...  In effect, they mistakenly believed he was part of a Jewish anti-Argentine conspiracy!

He was held for two and a half years – tortured, abused and humiliated – without charges ever being brought against him.

It was probably because he was internationally known and his wife continued to raise awareness of his plight that he was not murdered – or ‘disappeared’. Certainly, he believed that his only crime was to be born Jewish.

‘Entire families disappeared. The bodies were covered in cement and thrown to the bottom of the Plata or Paraná rivers. Sometimes the cement was badly applied and corpses were washed up along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay... (others were) thrown into old cemeteries under existing graves... (and some) heaved into the middle of the ocean from helicopters... (while others were) dismembered and burned... Small children were turned over to grandparents or more commonly presented to childless couples in Chile, Paraguay, and Brazil ...’ (p50/51).

Then in late 1979, his citizenship of Argentina was revoked and he was expelled from the country, and then resided in Israel.

Timerman was born in Bar, Ukraine, to Jewish parents. To escape the Russian persecution of Jews and pogroms there, the family emigrated to Argentina in 1928, when he was five years old.

This is a searing account of a brave man. He died in November, 1999, aged 76.

Friday 19 January 2024


Doris Lessing’s second book in her semi-biographical ‘Children of Violence’ series, A Proper Marriage (1954) is her sequel to Martha Quest (1952). Certain observations made below are not spoilers – they are mentioned briefly in the book blurb.

The point-of-view is omniscient, so we get inside the heads of several characters, often in the same scene. The story is set in the fictional African country of Zambesia (not a million miles away from Southern Rhodesia where Lessing lived most of her formative years (1925-1949)): ‘The small colonial town was at a crossroads in its growth: half a modern city, half a pioneers’ achievement; a large block of flats might stand next to a shanty of wood and corrugated iron, and most streets petered out suddenly in a waste of scrub and grass’ (p10).

Martha is now nineteen and married to a clerk, Douglas Knowell. She is strong-willed, restless and not particularly enamoured of boring married life – though at the beginning of the book she has only been married five days... ‘Until two weeks ago, her body had been free and her own, something to be taken for granted...’ (p37).

It’s the start of the Second World War, though at the outset this does not seem to affect the township. The townsfolk are conscious that there is a ‘big issue’ with the black population, however: ‘any expression of a desire for improvement on the part of the natives was immediately described as impertinence, or sedition, or even worse’ (p62). The parson’s wife observes: ‘If they learn to use arms, they can use them on us... this business of sending black troops overseas is extremely short-sighted. They are treated as equals in Britain, even by the women’ (p66).

When Douglas and his pals sign up to fight, Martha is taken aback; she is not enough for him, he prefers to ‘rush off to war’... (Douglas) ‘had not known how intolerably boring and empty his life was until there was a chance of escaping from it’ (p80).

When Martha learns that she is pregnant and the illegality of an abortion crops up, she ‘flew into an angry tirade against governments who presumed to tell women what they should do with their own bodies; it was the final insult to personal liberty’ (p106).

Throughout the book there are fine examples of Lessing’s eye for description: ‘The jacaranda were holding up jaded yellow arms. This drying, yellowing, fading month, this time when the year tensed and tightened towards the coming rains, always gave her a feeling of perverted autumn, and now filled her with an exquisite cold apprehension. The sky, above the haze of dust, was a glitter of hot blue light’ (p113). Another brief example: ‘Soon the wings of her joy had folded’ (p124). ‘Martha drifted to the divan, where she sat, with listening hands, so extraordinarily compelling was the presence of the stranger in her flesh’ (p129).

The actual scenes running up to and encompassing the birth are very well done. ‘Every particle of her flesh shrieked out, while the wave spurted like an electric current from somewhere in her backbone and went through her in shock after shock...’ (pp163-167). [Lessing gave birth to her first child in 1940].

One observation is certainly no longer true in the age of social media: ‘... one of the minor pleasures of power is to exchange in private views which would ruin you if your followers ever had a suspicion you held them’ (p188)! Also relevant, perhaps: ‘Unfortunately nine-tenths of the time of any political leader must be spent not on defeating his opponents, but on manipulating the stupidities of his own side’ (p365).

Martha gets involved with a group expounding Communism which appeals to her disenchantment with the rich crowd she has been with; and while Douglas is away training, she also flirts with RAF pilots stationed nearby. This is a depiction of a disintegration of a marriage – a marriage perhaps she should never have embarked upon.

There is very little feeling that there is a war ‘in the north’. No wounded, limbless survivors of conflict appear; food and material shortages are not evident.

Martha will appear next in A Ripple in the Storm.