Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Monday, 20 November 2017

Watching The Detectives 2

Well, I've been reading them, crime fiction novels that is. I have read James Lee Burke, Henning Mankell, Agatha Christie, Edward Marston, James Patterson, Steig Larsson, Fred Vargas, Raymond Chandler, Susan Hill, Robert B. Parker, Malcolm Pryce, Minette Walters, Martina Cole, Robert Crais and L.C. Tyler. Maybe not a large enough spectrum of talented writers to form an opinion but enough to tell me what I guess I already knew. As a genre it's okay. I find I am drawn, as one would suspect I might, toward the left-of-field, slightly off-wack fictions that appeal to me rather than the more grim, so-called realistic ones. I enjoyed the film 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' but simply couldn't get into the book at all. Far too long and bit gruesome in places. Sure, murder is gruesome enough but unless you have a serious deficit of imagination you know that already and by ladling on the violence doesn't make the story anymore 'real.' No disrespect to the deceased author intended. Millions enjoyed his work so I guess the fact I am not that impressed means I simply don't get it.

More recently I have read Susan Hill's "The Soul of Discretion" and Robert B. Parker's "Trouble in Paradise." Two very enjoyable books but still not the fictions I am after. So what's wrong with them? Well, nothing really they both are well written, especially Susan Hill's "The Soul of Discretion" which tends toward literary fiction rather than the mucky poodle, the half-breed mongrel that is commercial fiction, you know, the kind of stuff I write.  Yes, Ms Hill strikes all the right notes with her novel in those terms. The characterizations are impeccable, so real, so lifelike. They are fleshed out in ways other writers, not all I hasten to add, seldom achieve.

The Soul of Discretion cover photoSimon Serrailler, as fatally flawed a central protagonist as you could wish to meet, has a satellite set of family members who orbit his sphere. From sister Cat, who, like their chilling father, is a doctor working out of a hospice which is failing to make ends meet. Then there is Simon's lover, Rachel who finds the obstacles Serrailer puts in the way of them having a truly intimate relationship insurmountable. Father to Cat and Simon, Richard Serrailler, is as dark a character as is possible to imagine. Even Ripley would find it hard to displace this unpleasant man as king of psychopaths.

DCI Serrailler is given a task to covertly investigate a certain Will Fernley, a man serving time for his criminal paedophilia. Habits that involve one extremely large yet hidden ring of paedophiles who source children for sexual pleasure, training them to perform acts that they, the paedophiles, enjoy. Numbered among this group are suspected to be high ranking members of the judiciary, members of parliament, members of the House of Lords plus a host of very wealthy leaders of business. This is unpleasant stuff but incredibly well handled by the supremely adept Susan Hill.  Yet it is not the central story that holds one's attention, or rather it is but also and in spite of that, the additional story arcs featuring the detectives family that really grabs you by the buttons. 

Family Serrailler are a flawed bunch. Rape follows as a younger offspring gives cause for concern with his interest in guns. Rachel's thoughts for Simon, her does he love me does he not, riddles her mind with doubts whilst Cat's life, her work, her concerns for her father's relationship with her stepmother and her son, the gun-loving one, drags her down into a welter of paranoid depression. I didn't warm to Detective Inspector Simon Serrailler either as an apparently incredible policeman nor as a man, as a central character. I feel that I should for isn't the point of having characters with faults is for the reader to empathize in some way with them? I didn't.

The ending, without giving it away, is not typical of how detective fiction concludes. This book is probably better read in chronological order. By that, I mean having first read book one in the series and so on. I imagine if I had I would be a massive fan. As it is, and this is a very good novel, all the same, I am not. Why? Well, it has nothing to do with Susan Hill's writing. Superlatives fail. No, it is all to do with me; me and my own warped desires in what this particular author, or what I most like about Susan Hill, desires to read. Simon Serrailler does not do it for me as a character. I do not warm to the man. What I would have loved to have read instead is a Simon Serrailler who, much like Algernon Blackwood's, John Silence, would detect ghosts. A ghost detective, not a criminal detective series.

Wishful thinking eh?

Robert B. Parker's "Trouble in Paradise" is far more typical of crime fiction but no less good for that fact. Anyone who has seen Tom Selleck's portrayal of the American Chief of Paradise, Massachusets, Police Department, Jesse Stone will appreciate how good a character he is. Selleck plays him as the author wrote him. A sort of Gary Cooper cum Clint Eastwood monosyllabic tough-talking, no-nonsense man's man. 

I gave up reading James Patterson as I found his work formulaic even if I did like his creation, Alex Cross. His short, racy chapters kept the reader captivated long enough for them to turn another page only to find another chapter which raced along long enough for you to turn another page. And so on. Mister Parker, nowhere near as successful in terms of sales, delivers a character-driven crime fiction that follows a similar style if a little more complex, a little more involved, far more credible and all the better, as far as I am concerned, to read.

Jimmy Macklin, having spent time inside, is out and looking for a fast way to make big bucks. He targets Paradise. Big mistake. After all, we know Chief Stone is the cop who, clipped of verbal response he might be, is not a man to mess with.

There is a lot of fucking going on. Jesse, now parted from his wife, Jenn, is not only fucking her but is also fucking Marcy Campbell, a real estate seller. He is also fucking Abby Taylor. Yes, there is a lot of fucking. Fucking seems to be not only the preeminent activity in the novel as villain Jimmy Macklin is also fucking long time lover Faye but also ends up fucking Marcy Campbell the real estate lady Jesse Stone was fucking only a chapter or so ago, but also a regressive literary term used to presumably show street cred yet somehow brings to mind ye olde English Anglo-Saxon adjective used in the 16 and 17 hundreds. Still, it is cool to fuck even when the fucking is fucking gratuitous.  

Macklin pulls together a band of crims all with specific roles to enable them to pull off a heist that will haul in a cool ten million bucks. But of course, there is Jesse Stone. And we all know what that means don't we? The baddie, Crow, is as bad and as mad as a villain should be. His character remains with you long after you have read the final page. 

All in all, a thoroughly good read. Captivating and engaging and very well conceived, written and executed. I shall read more but still prefer the TV films.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Gandhi or Trump?

Truth is a pathless land, as Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said. The path to the truth is not so easy to find even when you listen hard, observing all relevant detail. The truth, or perhaps its opposite, can, however, shed an objective revealing light on matters. This light, having been lit by the subject itself, can cast as many shadows, as many shapes and shades which in themselves pinpoint obfuscation or indeed lies by which the truth stands exhibited.

Donald Trump claims his net worth is over $10 billion. Forbes suggests it is $3 billion. Unquestionably a lot of money either way. Donald Trump has had six companies go bankrupt. Donald Trump first registered as a Republican in 1987. He then changed his mind when standing as an Independent in 1999. In 2001 he registered as a Democrat. In 2009 Donald Trump returned to the Republican Party only to state in 2011 “I do not wish to enrol in a party.”

Donald Trump has often spoken about walls. "One hundred percent. They [Mexico] don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for it. And they're great people and great leaders but they're going to pay for the wall. On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall." He then said "I want a strong border. I do want a wall. Walls do work, you just have to speak to the folks in Israel. Walls work if they're properly constructed. I know how to build, believe me, I know how to build." He then said, "The president of Mexico, or the ex-president, or whatever, whoever, who cares, he said, we will not even consider paying for the wall." He then said "Let me list to you some of the things that we've done in just a short period of time. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people. We've withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans-Pacific Partnership." He also said " Mexico is not going to build it [a wall], we're going to build it. And it's going to be a serious wall. It's not going to be a toy wall like we have right now where cars and trucks drive over it loaded up with drugs and they sell the drugs in our country and then they go back and, you know, we get the drugs, they get the cash, okay, and that's not going to happen."

Now, you either believe in television, telephones, satellite dishes, computers, mobile phones, stereo players, videos, hearing aids, the control of diabetes, winning the battle against cancer, space labs, rockets to the moon, submarines, aeroplanes, hovercraft, heart surgery, WiFi, the cure for smallpox, in other words, science as it is science has gifted us all these things and many more and even though science is merely a tool by which we understand ourselves and our place within the eternal, it still is a powerful friend when we need it . You cannot cherry pick. You either trust science, when it tells you a hurricane, is about to hit your homeland or you don't. Donald Trump has this to say about climate change - "We need global warming." "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make manufacturing non-competitive."

Donald Trump has also said, "When someone hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can." I cannot help but wonder if Donald Trump has all the prerequisite skills required for the role of President. He has a great many errors yet, in balance, has made some genuinely positive acts. Two that spring to mind are the aforementioned dumping of the TPP. As undemocratic an idea as any I can think of designed only to cement the USA's global hegemony. The second is the way in which he has made a peace with Russia. Some would say he has other reasons rather than this obvious one. That may be so. I'd still rather the two mightiest military nations in the world be on good terms rather than the reverse. Yet does Donald Trump strike me a leader who sets good examples, who is strong within himself? Strong enough to lead the world to a peaceful accord?

Gandhi was flawed. He made mistakes. Yet history remembers him as a great leader. The doomsday clock has recently been set at two and a half minutes to midnight. The first time since the 80's. The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon. Who would you want as a leader at this time Gandi or Trump?

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Monday, 13 November 2017

'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' - David Mitchell

When his potential father in law suggests to Dutch clerk, Jacob de Zoet, that to have his daughters hand in marriage he must first journey to Japan the young man jumps at the chance. The father feels that Jacob needs to gain his own fortune if he is to wed his beloved daughter. The only other stipulation is he, and his true love must be parted for five years. 

8720194The year is 1799. Europeans have been trading with the oriental islands for two centuries. The Japanese have long tolerated the unclean, uncivilised westerners and have come to find them mildly amusing. There are still certain cultural differences between these two nations where courtesans are not whores yet still women are subservient, even more than they are in Europe.The code of the samurai still holds sway and then Jacob meets the scarred daughter of a powerful samurai, Aibagawa Orito, and his perspective takes a quantum shift.

A wonderfully inventive story that manages to mix in its cocktail of delights romance, political intrigue, thriller and odd splashes of humour.

David Mitchell's star is the ascent following the 'Cloud Atlas' novel and subsequent film and rightly so. He deserves all the accolades afforded him. His imagination is quite incredible and his prose masterful. I especially like some of the sentence structure which manages to draw influence from master poet Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho). These minimal one-liners evoke a Japan that had that strange, otherworldly beauty so alien and at odds with the West. "The night-soil man's buckets, swinging on his pole, stain the air" is a fine example of what I mean.

Within all David Mitchell's work is a connecting thread. His previous fictions and his wonderful semi-biography 'Black Swan Green' contain phrases, characters or events that tie into the overlying arc. It is almost as though the author is weaving his own universal fabric. I find this intriguing bearing in mind that each novel sits within different genres. I like the fact David Mitchell seems to be defying convenient labelling focusing instead on writing fiction of the highest quality. 

This is a novel that really should be read. And read again.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

'The War Poems- Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon was so much more than the work he is best remembered for even though that work, this collection of near genius poetry, is the sort most aspiring poets would love to claim as theirs. 

The Great War, the war to end all wars, was one of the most singularly stupid wars my country ever fought. It was a war that destroyed an empire so perhaps that is a positive but it also laid waste to a nation's prosperity but worse than that a generation of men: English, Welsh, Scott's, Irish, French, German, Australian and gods know how many millions more. It was an Imperial war; a family row begun in exalted Royal circles; a despicable, wanton stupid act that brought England to its knees. But the sad truth is, for all this poetic perfection, it has had little impact on the governments and generations that followed.

This poetry though has lasted with the fact wars are still fought often for reasons other than self-defence. The words which are written here, the sentiments committed, remain as true today as they did one hundred years ago.


October's bellowing anger breaks and cleaves
The Bronzed battalions of the stricken wood
In whose lament I hear a voice that grieves
For battle's fruitless harvest, and the feud
Of outraged men. Their lives are like the leaves
Scattered in flocks of ruin, tossed and blown
Along the westering furnace flaring red.
O martyred youth and manhood overthrown,
The burden of your wrongs is on my head. 

War is on the increase. A desensitised war glossed over so as to be fit for public consumption so not to alarm the electorate. We live now in a world where war is an everyday occurrence. Perpetual war being raged against civilians, not armies. Cities are being obliterated, genocide committed yet the news bulletins are being censored so that the truth of these hideous crimes are whitewashed. 

If ever Siegfried Sassoon's poetry was relevant it is now in 2017 even though much of it was composed in 1917.

Let this day, every remembrance day be forever remembered. War is the ugliest, vilest of humankind's creations. Let us condemn all wars by remembering those that died in this.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.