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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.