Monday, October 18, 2021

Female Spanish thriller writer Carmen Mola revealed to be three men

A million euro literary prize has lured three Spanish men out of anonymity, to reveal that they are behind ultra-violent Spanish crime thrillers marketed as the work of “Spain’s Elena Ferrante”

The men had published under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, which roughly translates as “Carmen’s cool”.

When one of their books won the lucrative Planeta prize, the trio went public to pick up the cheque at a glitzy ceremony attended by the Spanish king.

Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero had published novels and worked as scriptwriters under their real names before coming together to write as Mola. Credits include work on TV series “Central Hospital” and “Blind Date”.

Their lead character in the Carmen Mola novels is detective Elena Blanco, a “peculiar and solitary woman, who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs”, according to publisher Penguin Random House.

The men, all in their 40s and 50s, denied choosing a female pseudonym to help sell the books. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, we hid behind a name,” Antonio Mercero told Spanish newspaper El País. “I don’t know if a female pseudonym would sell more than a male one, I don’t have the faintest idea, but I doubt it.”

read more here @ The Guardian

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review: The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo

Synopsis: The third title in Japan’s most popular murder mystery series — after The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse — fiendish classics featuring investigator Kosuke Kindaichi.

Nestled deep in the mist-shrouded mountains, The Village of Eight Graves takes its name from a bloody legend: in the Sixteenth Century eight samurais, who had taken refuge there along with a secret treasure, were murdered by the inhabitants, bringing a terrible curse down upon their village.

Centuries later a mysterious young man named Tatsuya arrives in town, bringing a spate of deadly poisonings in his wake. The inimitably scruffy and brilliant Kosuke Kindaichi investigates.

I cannot begin to say how much I am loving this series featuring the stuttering, dishevelled, shaggy-haired Japanese detective, Kosuke Kindaichi.  A long-time hit in Japan, but barely discovered here in the West until now, thanks to Pushkin Vertigo.  This is my third Kindaichi novel, having previously read The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse, so I literally jumped at the chance to read this one.

It is a slightly familiar format, and one the author Seishi Yolomizo explores well - deep, dark family secrets, which when brought into open, give birth to jealousy, greed and ultimately ... murder.  And here we have all those elements: a family saga of love and hate, revenge and redemption; many suspects but always one whom you are least likely to suspect; a suspenseful mystery, tied together by a long narrative that conveys the essence of the story, location and characters to perfection.

However, in this particular novel, the story begins much earlier - in the 1560s - with the murder of a group of samurai, a missing treasure and a curse.  Events rear their ugly head in the 1920s with the descendants of the village succumbing to the ancient curse.  By the time our story takes place (ie: 1940s), the village has become incredibly insular, and its villagers both suspicious and superstitious of everyone and everything. When events start to unravel along historic lines with the arrival of Tatsuya, the villagers can not but look to the past for an explanation.

In an interview published in The Guardian, Yokomizo's grandson On Nomoto, said: “Kindaichi tries to find out not just how someone has been killed but why it happened. And behind the story, it’s always connected to Japanese history.”

In the same article, Daniel Seton from Pushkin says of Yokomizo's novels: “It has all the ingredients that thrill fans of golden-age British and American mysteries ...... an old country house, a feuding family, mysterious noises in the night, a macabre murder and a brilliant sleuth with an ingenious solution. It’s also steeped in a distinctively Japanese atmosphere, and is packed full of playful references to the classics and traditions of crime writing.”

I love the character of Kosuke Kindaichi - a Japanese Columbo if you are wanting a comparison.  Kindaichi is portrayed as being slightly eccentric, wearing a robe and trousers that have seen better days, as well as having bad dandruff. He also gets easily stressed and excitable, which brings on his stuttering. And yet beneath all of the yokel-like exterior, is an exceedingly clever detective.  It goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover (though Yokomizo's are fabulous!).

From what I can find, the next Kindaichi novel to be released is the fiendishly clever "Gokumon Island" said to be loosely inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.  Perhaps the most highly regarded of all the great Seishi Yokomizo's classic Japanese mysteries, this novel is due for release in June 2022.  This particular novel was translated by  .

Pushkin Vertigo have release 35 mysteries from various international writers - and I have read 25 of them!  You can find the list HERE. Yokomizo is featured among many incredible writers - I cannot but suggest the reader delve into these mysteries for themselves.

More on Kindaichi here 

Review: The Sleeping Car Murders by Sébastien Japrisot

Synopsis: A beautiful young woman lies sprawled on her berth in the sleeping car of the night train from Marseilles to Paris. She is not in the embrace of sleep, or even in the arms of one of her many lovers. She is dead. And the unpleasant task of finding her killer is handed to an overworked, crime-weary police detective named Pierre Emile Grazziano, nicknamed Grazzi, who would rather play hide-and-seek with his little son than cat and mouse with a diabolically cunning, savage murderer. 

My first by this particular author and I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this French mystery.

Having expanded my reading to authors scattered far and wide, writing about their own countries, and all with their own distinctive style, I was able to quite easily adapt to this author's style of writing. It would be imprudent of the reader to assume that all author's write the same - and much also comes down to the quality of the translation.

I was initially drawn to this particular tome as it put me in mind of Agatha Christie - which is no bad thing. The premise is quite simple - a woman is murdered on an overnight train travelling from Marseille to Paris; the suspects are narrowed down to those who shared the sleeping coach with her; the police investigate; a motive and killer are eventually revealed and the mystery is solved. Simple - maybe; interestingly formatted - very much so (see below).

This could fall under the auspices of a "police procedural" novel - as we follow Detective Pierre Grazziano (or "Grazzi" to use the nickname he is often referred by) and his offsider, Gaubert.  I really enjoyed the narrative and the format - each chapter heading was the berth number of each of the passengers. 

And the passengers themselves are a motley bunch: a salesman, a struggling actress, a truck driver, a typist, a housewife.  As each of the passengers is duly investigated to check for a connection to the victim, to pry out that piece of the puzzle or secret they are withholding, or establish a motive - one by one they are .... eliminated.  It seems that Grazzi is always that one step behind but eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As I mentioned, I really did enjoy this and love expanding my reading beyond the standard UK and US offerings, exploring how other writers present similar mysteries on their own patch!


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Review: The Dangerous Kingdom of Love by Neil Blackmore

Synopsis: The kingdom of love is a frightening place. A dangerous place. What kind of fool wants to live there? How have I, Francis Bacon, well-known as the cleverest man in England, been caught in this trap? For years I survived the brutal games of the English court, driven by the whims of the idiot King James I - and finally, I was winning. Forget what my friends Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare say about love. I had that which men truly crave above all else: power.

But now, at the moment of my greatest success, a deadly alliance of my enemies has begun closing in on me. Led by the King's beautiful and poisonous lover Carr, this new alliance threatens to turn our foolish King against me, so that I may rot in the Tower.

I refuse to go down without a fight. I have concocted a brilliant new plan: I will find my own beguiling young man and supplant Carr in the King's bed, and take power for myself. All I need to do is find him, my beautiful and mysterious creature, my perfect chess move.

In the dangerous kingdom of love, those who understand desire win. And I intend to win, at all costs.

"I am the cleverest man in England, and its biggest moron"

Sir Francis Bacon - philosopher and statesman, attorney general, lawyer, lord chancellor, literary patron and humanist. A man who has been celebrated as the father of empiricism and the father of the scientific method; and one who was known - in his own time - as a "pederast" and "ganimed" .  

Our novel opens at the court King James VI & I - the year 1613.  Bacon is our narrator. He is at times, crude, rude, self centered, avaricious, always focusing on how he can further advance himself in the eyes of the king and attain wealth and position. He constantly muses that he is surrounding by enemies, and should they (not him) attain the upper hand, then he would be "... the midwife at the birth of my own execution .."

And Bacon's enemies themselves have the potential power over his advancement - there is Edward Coke - barrister, judge & politician - his long-time nemesis; Robert Carr - the King's current favourite; and the Howard family, headed by Thomas, 1st Earl of Suffolk, a rather well connected peer whose family were not averse to a bit of scheming and plotting and self-aggrandisement.

In order for Bacon to succeed, he must remove the obstacles in his path - first and foremost is the favourite Robert Carr. However, it is not that simple - more of a case of one step forward, two steps back, as Bacon's enemies seem to be just that little bit ahead of him.

Then the grand plan - replace the current favourite with a creature of his own making and whose loyalty will be to Bacon. Again - nothing is as straight forward - the search finally turns up one George Villiers, whereupon Bacon enters that "dangerous kingdom of love". Finally installing his favourite, Bacon finds that his triumph is shortlived. However, "Bacon lives to plot another day".

As our narrator, Bacon speaks directly to the the reader in language that is far from courtly; it is full of wit and satire, self-deprecating humor, crude observations and commentary, gossip and inuendo. It is a bawdy, sexually explicit tale that some will find refreshingly comical with a dash of Pythonesque tongue-in-cheek whilst others may find themselves tut-tutting and being personally offended whilst yet reading ever onward.

The author has taken some liberties with history when crafting this tale - Bacon's wife is conveniently forgotten whilethe court resembles something more akin to the set of a Carry On film (and strangely, I kept picturing King James as "Fat Bastard" from Austin Powers franchise).  Finally, like many other readers, I felt that the ending was a little rushed - but then again, the aim of the tale was documenting Bacon's role as royal pimp not documenting Bacon's life as a whole.

This is a fascinating period in history, full of salacious scandal, and inhouse politicking, so well worth a little side trip of exploration.

Further reading:

Review: Royal Mysteries: The Medieval Period by Timothy Venning

Synopsis: Royal murder mysteries never fail to intrigue readers and TV viewers. Here are some of the most haunting and even horrific episodes from the middle ages, based on latest historical research and historiography, and authentic and rare sources, including archaeology and DNA evidence, uncovering wonderful tales of pathos, tragedy, suffering and romance. This is history for specialists and general readers - and sceptics - given the intense media coverage, including TV, and interest in exciting and accessible popular history. The famous and also less well-known mysteries, which may be new to readers, surrounding British Royalty, are included from around the 11th to the 15th centuries.

The murder mysteries show personal and individual tragedy but are also a vehicle for historical analysis. William II - William Rufus - was he murdered or killed accidentally by a 'stray arrow', allowing brother Henry to seize the throne, or was it God's punishment for William's irreligious living and persecution of the church? Or was Edward II murdered at the instigation of Queen Isabella - 'she-wolf of France' - and her lover, Roger Mortimer. who assumed the throne? Did he survive to live peaceably in Italy? Richard II resembled Edward II, as a rather inadequate figure, and was deposed by his rival, Henry IV. Did he die, and if so, was it murder or suicide? Was Edward IV a bigamist? Mystery, if not murder, but wrapped in dynastic rivalry and sex scandal, and usurpation of the throne. The 'Princes in the Tower' and who who killed them if anyone? A beguiling mystery for over 500 years with their usurping uncle Richard III's guilt contested by 'Ricardians'.

I was eager to read this one as I have a number of Tim's books already on my library shelf - and who doesn't love a good mystery. 

The mysteries being explored were not unknown to me - in fact I explored one of these mysteries myself in greater depth (death of William II) and the controversy surrounding the "Princes" still captures my imagination even today, after much reading on the matter.

Venning takes each mystery, provides some historical background and context, examines the contemporary accounts, looks at all the players before asking the age old question - cui bono? Who stands, or stood, to gain, and so might have been responsible for it or precipitated the actions of a third party?

Venning directs the readers attention to the existence of "fake news" in medieval times wherein the writer or chronicler is playing to their own agenda and contemporary audience, and as such must be viewed as a potential unreliable source.  In fact, as the reader and student of history will know, no source is completely without bias - just because it was written at the time does not necessarily mean it is the most accurate account.  Venning even comments that history is but "... a hall of mirrors with distorted reflections .."

Moving on to the mysteries themselves and what we have learned.  Well not much really.  I was rather disappointed to find that there was no real conclusion one way or the other - no definitive proofs. Venning does not take any particular stance - he explores all aspects of each mystery and just presents us with all the information, evidence and accounts, and leaves it up to the reader to discern what they will from it.

Whilst I will assume (whether rightly or wrongly) that this book is for the consumption of popularist history, I did find the narrative to be rather long-winded, repetitive, and definitely non-linear. I would suggest some fore-knowledge of the subject matter at hand would be appropriate. Overall, I liked it and would probably pick this up again - at a later date.

Also By Author:
- Royal Mysteries: The Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain
- The King Arthur Mysteries: Arthur's Britain and Early Medieval World

Review: The Two Isabellas of King John by Kristen McQuinn

Synopsis: King John of England was married to two women: Isabella of Gloucester and Isabelle of Angouleme. The two women were central to shaping John and his reign, each in her own way molding the king and each other over their lives. Little is known about Isabella of Gloucester and she has largely become an historical footnote; Isabelle of Angouleme has a reputation as a witch and poisoner. However, both were products of their time, victims and pawns of the powerful men whose voices overwrote the experiences of women. By examining these two very different women through a modern feminist lens, The Two Isabellas offers new insight into one of England's lesser-known queens and a different interpretation of one of its least popular kings.

In The Two Isabellas of King John, Kristen McQuinn offers new and intriguing insights into two of England's important yet little understood queen-consorts, the wives of King John. Taking a feminist light, McQuinn brightly shines it on both England's least well-known consort, Isabella of Gloucester, his first wife, and one of its least popular, Isabelle of Angouleme, his child bride.

Firstly I am troubled by the use of phrases such as "feminist light" and "feminist lens" - quite frankly what does this mean. I grew up in the era where "women's lib" and "feminism" were concepts and movements that touched on every area of a woman's experiences — politics, work, family, equality and sexuality. These hard won victories are currently being enjoyed by latter generations, so to bandy such phrases about today, puts me a little on edge. Don't get me wrong, I am all for looking at historical characters and events in a new light, but why does the work of a female author looking at a female character need to be labelled "feminist". And what is a "modern feminist lens" - how is it different from the views of the numerous female authors who blazed a trail beforehand.

Secondly, I really take umbrage at the following phrase: " ... offers new insight into one of England's lesser-known queens and a different interpretation of one of its least popular kings .." Quite frankly what does this actually mean - what new insight because - for me - there was no new insight, no shining light on two lesser known queens, no new interpretation on the view of John's reign.  Lately the number of history books using the phrases "new information" and "new insights" that have actually delivered on this I could count on one hand (excluding my thumb).

And so, sixty-five pages down, there was nothing remotely resembling anything close to a biography or life story for either women - just a lot of "academic" twaddle, assumptions and educated guesses with the occasional mention of either or both. A lot of "concepts" being explored but not a lot substance on either woman so far. In fact, I was ready to chuck the whole thing in there and then. But I persevered through dry and boring monotone, page after page, on the role of women, queens and mothers, childhood and childbirth, fashion, trade, architecture and education, with little to endear this reader and nothing this reader had not discovered in other tomes previously written, many of which stand as the pre-eminent works not only of their own times but even now.

A couple of phrases I did pick up on - but again I have said them so often myself - is that the lives of medieval women - regardless of social status - was typically viewed through the agency of the men in their lives - their fathers and other male kin, their husbands, and finally their sons. McQuinn does acknowledge that "... the roles of women, even queens, most often fell with the private family-orientated realm, and thus outside the purview of most chroniclers .."  Hence, with very little information on either woman to use and turn into a singular biography, we are left looking at both their lives in relation to their marriage to the same man - King John of England. Darren Baker in his work "The Two Eleanors of Henry III" (read my review here) presented something similar and managed to pull it off slightly better than McQuinn has done.

The only time we really get a sense of the presence of either woman is from about page 80 to about 120 - a mere forty pages - the bulk of which is dedicated to Isabella of Angouleme, John's second wife - his first wife, Isabella of Gloucester hardly features at all. And here, the same information can be found in any number of tomes already published on both John and the era in question.

And yet, again, accordingly to the blurb: "The two women were central to shaping John and his reign, each in her own way molding the king and each other over their lives." I am sorry, but I must have been reading a completely different book. Based upon the fact the McQuinn constantly tells us that there is a distinct lack of knowledge on either woman, that they themselves left no personal accounts, and that contemporary accounts show neither woman in a positive light, how can one make the sweeping statement that they were "central to shaping John and his reign".  In fact, the underlying message I got from all of this was the laying of blame for John's behaviour firmly at the feet of both women, which is more in line with a misogynist viewpoint than a feminist one. 

Overall, I came away from this less than impressed.  I skimmed through the final chapter (on the portrayal of both in fiction) and headed straight for the sources - no surprises there for me - and some of those listed I found myself questioning the usage of but that's just my humble opinion.

For me, this was just another in a long line of tomes being churned out by this publisher that all promise the same thing - and funnily enough, deliver it - and that thing being delivered is not much at all.  Would I recommend this - no I wouldn't - not for the generalist reader nor the specialist reader.

I can hear the tut-tutting already. Am I being too harsh, surely there were some redeeming features.  Well, the only redeeming feature is that the author is to be applauded for taking on this task in the first place.  I do know how hard it is to craft a decent tome around a subject matter where there is little or no information - but please don't provide me with something that you can't deliver on.  If there is nothing on your chosen subject - acknowledge and move on!  I personally would much prefer a smaller volume than pages of padding.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Charles Dickens & Superintendent Sam Jones Series by JC Briggs

Charles Dickens had a fascination with detectives. He would accompany police detective Charles Frederick Field and a few of his men on an all-night visitations of the most squalid and dangerous haunts of London’s underclass, later writing about his experiences in his magazine, Household Words in 1852. Could this real life detective have formed the basis for Dickens' own fictional detective, Inspector Bucket, in Bleak House, which was published in serialised form in 1852 - 1853.?  

But what if Dickens' interest in detectives started earlier, and he himself took on the role of detective, leading up to his plotting out of his novel Bleak House.? The Bow Street Runners had been in existence for about 100 years, and the Metropolitan Police (or Peelers) were established in 1829, with its detective branch active from 1842.

Author JC Briggs has taken up the character of Charles Dickens and created a new role for him - that of detective, and he features in the following series of books.

The Murder of Patience Brooke
A brutal murder in Victorian London forces a famous writer to solve the mystery…

London, 1849 - Charles Dickens has set up Urania Cottage as a sanctuary for fallen women. But he is shocked when the matron’s assistant – Patience Brooke – is found hanging outside the property, covered in blood.

Desperate to protect the reputation of the Home and to stop a scandal from spreading, Dickens takes the investigation into his own hands. With the help of his good friend, Superintendent Sam Jones of Bow Street, and a description of the suspect as ‘a man with a crooked face’, Dickens's search takes him deep into the filthy slums of Victorian London.

Can Dickens save his reputation? Will he find out the secrets of Patience Brooke’s troubled past?  Or will the killer strike again …?

Death at Hungerford Stairs
A serial killer is on the loose in Victorian London .... Boys are going missing from London’s slums…

London, 1849 - When a boy is found drowned in the River Thames at Hungerford Stairs, novelist Charles Dickens and Superintendent Jones of Bow Street are mystified to discover that the child is not the missing youngster for whom they have been searching.

As Dickens and Jones delve deeper into London’s poverty-stricken backstreets, they stumble across two more bodies.  A serial killer is on the loose. And Charles is terrified that someone close to him may be one of the victims.

With a strange image of a mask sketched next to the corpses, could the murderer be leaving a trail for the detectives to follow…?  Or will the Death at Hungerford Stairs remain unsolved…?

Murder by Ghostlight
Dickens has gone from private investigator to prime suspect…

London, 1850 - Charles Dickens is in Manchester, performing at the Queen’s Theatre with his acting group. But his career on the stage is cut short when a man is shot dead – on set. With Dickens himself caught with the gun in his hands, he is immediately arrested.

Along with the help of his good friend Superintendent Sam Jones, Dickens must do all he can to find the real killer, before he is locked up for a crime he didn’t commit. 

Can Dickens convince the authorities of his innocence? Will he unmask the true assassin?  Or will there be another Murder by Ghostlight…?

The Quickening and the Dead 
Three girls, three deaths — but what connects them…?

London, 1850  - Lavinia Gray vanishes on the eve of her wedding and is found drowned. Evie Finch dies of septicaemia in a filthy lodging house. Annie Deverall, a fifteen-year-old milliner’s apprentice is on remand in Newgate, accused of murdering the Doctor Lancelot Plume.  Three young girls' lives have been ruined, but could they be connected somehow?

Charles Dickens visits Annie and is immediately convinced of her innocence. He enlists the help of Superintendent Sam Jones to find the real murderer before Annie goes to trial. How are the three girls linked to Plume? And if Annie didn’t kill him, who did?  What Charles Dickens uncovers will shock him to his very core…

At Midnight In Venice 
Two cities, two skeletons, linked by a mysterious vision…

London, 1850 -  An Italian music master and an English governess disappear from the house of Sir Neptune Fane, a prominent Member of Parliament.

A female skeleton is found in a disused water tank behind a house which has been empty for five years. Her neck had been broken and found with a jewelled chain around it.

Charles Dickens is reminded of his time in Venice a few years earlier, when he thought he saw a monk with his hands on a girl’s neck, the glimpse of jewels in fleeting torchlight, a cry of fear. And later he read that a girl was found drowned at the spot where he had his vision.

Are the two corpses connected? And what is the link to Sir Neptune Fane?  Charles Dickens and Superintendent Sam Jones must find the link between the backstreets of London and the mysterious canals of Venice…

The Redemption Murders 
The sea gave up its dead, and each one was judged according to his deeds.…

London, 1851 - The Thames River Police are called to The Redemption, a ship docked at London’s Blackwall Reach. Louis Valentine, the ship’s captain, has been stabbed to death. With no murder weapon on site, and no signs of a robbery, the only clue is a copy of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. The book is not inscribed to Valentine but to someone called Kit.

When Charles Dickens realises his good friend Kit Penney is now a murder suspect, he is determined to clear his name. But Kit has gone missing.  With the help of Superintendent Sam Jones, Dickens starts to investigate the troubled last journey of The Redemption. It seems there was more than one suspicious death on board. But were they murders? And did the same person attack Captain Valentine?

Dickens and Jones begin a desperate search for Kit – and for the key to the dark secrets bound up in The Redemption…

The Mystery of the Hawke Sapphires
Dickens faces a decades-old disappearance, a brutal murder and a missing link…

London, 1851 - On his deathbed, the sinister Sir Gerald Hawke asks a distant cousin — Reverend Meredith Case — to find Sapphire, his long-lost ward and heir to the Hawke family jewels.  Concerned for her welfare, Meredith vows to discover where Sapphire disappeared to.

Meanwhile, Felix Gresham — a young man with literary ambitions — is found murdered on the steps of a bookshop. As an acquaintance of the Gresham family, novelist Charles Dickens once again teams up with Superintendent Sam Jones to investigate the murder.

But in his quest for the truth, Dickens finds that those associated with Felix are reluctant to talk.  And when he is called on to assist with the search for the Hawke heir, he begins to wonder whether the two cases could be connected…

What became of Sapphire Hawke? What secrets did Felix take to his grave?  And can Dickens find the link between the two mysteries…?

The Chinese Puzzle
Are unsolved murders in London linked to the opium trade - Charles Dickens must unravel a mystery that stretches from the streets of London to the shores of Canton…

London, 1851 - The Great Exhibition has opened, and everyone is flocking to see the wonders on display. But when a potential Chinese assassin manages to get up close to Queen Victoria, and then vanishes without a trace, the Prime Minister orders an urgent investigation.

Superintendent Sam Jones from Bow Street is put on the case to find the whereabouts of the missing man. And he discovers that Cornelius Mornay — a wealthy retired banker from Canton — also went missing on the same day.

As a former opium merchant, it seems that Cornelius had some powerful — and dangerous — connections. The British government order Jones to keep his enquiries under wraps, so he enlists the help of his good friend Charles Dickens to infiltrate the seedier streets of London.  And when the body of Mornay is found washed up in Wapping, poisoned with opium, the plot starts to thicken.

Mornay is deeply connected to the Opium trade and the suspects are many. And when more murders occur, it seems this mystery could be connected to something larger than Dickens and Jones had ever imagined…

read more here

Andrea Camilleri: A Crime Reader’s Guide to the Classics ‹ CrimeReads

Neil Nyren provides Crimereads and devoted readers with the essential guide to Andrea Camilleri's "Inspector Montalbano" series of books.

“Are you trying to bust my balls?”

The speaker is Inspector Salvo Montalbano, head of the fictional municipality of Vigàta, Sicily’s, police department, and in the 28 novels and two short story collections written by Andrea Camilleri and published in Italian and English…someone always is.

The criminals, from petty to monstrous, who occupy his frustrating days (and sometimes alarming nightmares); the Mafia thugs who spread their tentacles into every Sicilian institution; the corrupt politicians who march hand in hand with them; the witless press that blindly supports whatever government is in charge at the moment; the colleagues who, for all their police skills, can’t help but complicate his life at times; the suspicious Commissioner who seems intent on complicating his life at all times; the lady friend in Genoa with whom he can’t seem to get through a phone conversation without squabbling; the succession of beautiful women he meets during his cases who offer serious temptations and, all too often, deceptions – all these people light his fuse, but do not deter him. 

With a mix of sardonic humor, cynicism, stubbornness, compassion, a nose for crime, and a very personal sense of justice, Montalbano dyspeptically perseveres through all the tragicomedy that imbues his beloved island, reminding us that incidents – and people – are often not what they seem, and that sometimes refusing to obey an order is a virtue, not a sin.

read more here 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review: Dear Arlo by Tom Kreffer

Synopsis: It begins immediately.

There’s no transition period, no trial run, no supervised training, no e-learning module and no simulation that you can f**k up as many times as you need to until you get it right.

As soon as the midwife hands you your newborn baby, you are responsible for keeping it alive.

Picking up moments after Dear Dory ends, Dear Arlo: Adventures in Dadding continues the story of one dad and his journal as he strives to survive the first year of parenthood, blundering his way through bottle-sterilising, night feeds and some cataclysmic nappy changes – all while a pandemic sweeps across the planet.


Right from the very start Tom asks: " ... we don't just jump into this parenthood gig .. do we? Isn't there some sort of transition phase for new parents? ..."

This self-effacing edition to the "adventures in dadding" series, will put the fear of God into first time dads, whilst bringing tears of laughter to those with their own brood of ankle-biters.

From day one, Tom questions whether or not he should be "... allowed to operate a few minutes old baby ..." , especially given the choice of baby-soothing lullabies (Yogi Bear Song).

Again, we are treated (though I question if that is the right choice of word?) to the daily rituals of feeding, napping changing (including details of the ‘cheeky, up-the-back, explosive shart’), with visits to family, friends, and healthcare professionals that all new parents go through, to first words and first steps unaided.

From Wednesday 12th February 2020:
"Today was great; I was wearing a black T-shirt when you projectile-vomited all over me. Mummy took one look, laughed and told me I looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.".

Kreffer also deals with first-time-parent issues such as leaving baby at home to spend some time together as a couple (code for out on the piss), going on a short holiday, and returning to work. Amid all of this new parent chaos, the dreaded covid is looming on the horizon and we encounter the issues of working from home with an infant under one.

Tom takes us through bed time etiquette:
"He tries to resist, like a victim in a horror movie scraping his nails on the wooden floorboards, but instead of screaming in terror, he giggles and shrieks in delight."

To little accidents:
"... you fell over .... I was holding a hot cup of tea at the time, and when I launched myself to save you from injury, the tea departed the cup and arced perfectly, before swan diving right down my .... " - read on to find out exactly where the tea landed but let us say that men will cringe and shed a small tear.

To the arrival of the first birthday, a father's reflection and a parent's realization that: MEANINGFULNESS + CONTENTMENT = HAPPINESS!