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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Writing - For crying out loud!

In a recent book column ‘A Passion for Books’ novelist Pat Barker was interviewed. One of the set questions asked was, ‘(The book) that made me cry’.  Her answer was ‘I don’t cry over books…’ She went on to say she cried with laughter over a Helen Simpson book.

Barker is an award-winning author of over a dozen books, including the Regeneration Trilogy about the trauma of the First World War.

What I can’t fathom is that no book has affected this novelist’s tear ducts.

Authors write to entertain, but they also strive (not always successfully) to engage the reader’s emotions, to walk inside someone else’s head, to evince an emotional response – whether that’s amusement, anger, compassion, or even hate. It's a fine balance to tread between mawkishness, sentimentality and the shared human condition.

I couldn’t begin to list all the books that have brought a tear or two to my eyes. Not the entire book, you understand, but certain scenes.

I’ve shed a tear while reading Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, Jane Eyre, An Old Captivity, Call of the Wild, Clan of the Cave Bear, David Copperfield, Forever Amber, Frankenstein, I Love Galesburg in the Springtime, O Henry short stories, Shane, Sophie’s Choice, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, The Grass is Singing, The Magic Toyshop, The Rainbow, The Raj Quartet, The Time Traveller’s Wife, This Thing of Darkness, White Fang, To Kill a Mockingbird, Mead’s Quest, The Snake Den, Lonesome Dove, Strummin’ the Banjo Moon, Fluke, Playing on Cotton Clouds, Schindler’s Ark, and Truth Lies Buried, to name a few… 

Can you name a book that has brought tears to your eyes? (I don’t mean tears of anguish or annoyance at the quality of the writing!)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Book review - Undercurrents

Written by Ridley Pearson in 1988, Undercurrents is his first Detective Lou Boldt novel.

Sergeant Boldt is investigating the ‘Cross Killer’ – a serial murderer who cuts a crucifix into the victim’s chest. Boldt is assisted by police psychologist Daphne Matthews.  

Slowly, painstakingly, their tenacity builds up a criminal profile. Yet this is more than a police procedural novel. Pearson provides poignant observation of people’s flaws, including Boldt’s, not least the disintegration of his marriage. ‘Being a cop is like a terminal disease: it consumes you, entirely, slowly but surely. I’ve allowed it to take everything out of my life. And I’ve suddenly reached the stage where I resent that.’ (p260).

There’s wit aplenty too. Boldt is being hounded by the press, notably because an earlier suspect, who proved to be innocent, was murdered before he could go to trial: ‘You’re getting more press than a pair of cotton slacks.’ (p131)

However, there seems to be more than one killer; there appears to be a copycat, too. Throughout their investigation, the killer (or killers) seem to be at least one step ahead.

Beneath the surface there’s a deep-seated anger at the perpetrator, who denies the innocents of life.  If you’ve never read a Lou Boldt book, this is the place to start. You won’t regret making the guy’s acquaintance. I’ve also read the tense suspenseful sequel, The Angel Maker, which I can also recommend. There are nine books in the Boldt series.

Monday, 26 September 2016

'...wry and witty, well observed, and fast paced.'

A big thank you to Rowena Hoseason of for her review of Catalyst. It's interesting that both she and Jack Owen (see yesterday's blog) refer in their reviews to Emma Peel from The Avengers TV series. Maybe there was some subconscious tribute working there when I created the character, since I was in my formative years when I watched that highly original ground-breaking series in the 1960s!

Here is the Amazon review; a slightly longer review can be found at Rowena's site (above):

Catherine is a talented woman. Smart enough to be a biochemist. Beautiful enough to be a top-class catwalk model. Physically skilled and strong enough to free-climb a sleek city office block. Determined enough to avenge the financial ruin and deaths of her parents. Yup, she’s a thoroughly modern girl.

But Cat is also a wonderful throwback to Emma Peel of The Avengers TV series. Indeed, the whole atmosphere of Catalyst is resoundingly retro and it shares a lot of style with The Avengers and The Saint, and even the early Bond movies.  

Catalyst is not a pastiche nor a parody but feels instead like a loving tribute to the sensibilities and sly humour of those 1960s spy series. Yet it’s most definitely set in the 21st century and it doesn’t lampoon its influences so much as cherish them.

There’s a coherent plot to push the action along, one which touches on animal rights, science running amok, corporate abuses of the environment and human trafficking alongside good old-fashioned love, jealously, betrayal, intrigue and, of course, murder. The writing is straightforward and easy to follow, although occasionally it gets bogged down a little bit in everyday minutiae.

Author Nik Morton can deliver a gripping action set piece; the opening sequence involving Cat’s incredible climb is outright excellent and skilfully pulls the reader straight into the fray.

I particularly enjoyed: the role reversal which gleefully subverts gender stereotypes and sees the leading man tied helpless to railway track (yes, really), relying on the all-action heroine to come to his aid.

I was also intrigued by the police officers who follow Cat's path as it zigzags across the UK and onwards to Spain. One of them is known as ‘Inspector Mushroom’ because he only comes out after dark – can’t wait for that back-story to be explained in a future episode. In fact, he’s such an interesting character that he probably deserves a spin-off story all of his own.

Catalyst made for an enjoyable afternoon’s light-hearted entertainment. It’s wry and witty, well observed, and fast paced. The violence and intimate action all leans towards the delicate end of the scale so there’s nothing here to shock or horrify. Good, old fashioned fun, in fact. Steed would certainly approve.

Note: I was very pleased that Rowena picked up on the two NCA characters, Pointer and Basset, 'the dogs of law'. Yes, Pointer's strange origin is explained in the prologue of Catacomb!

Catalyst can be obtained from Amazon sites worldwide.

'It's one of those most wicked of things...'

A big thank you to Jack Owen across the Pond, writing an Amazon review of Catalyst:

A nice nostalgic drop of mayhem, sex and fashion with an avenging poster-child for haute couture fighting murderous conglomerates. It is a welcome escape from insoluble world affairs.

Nik Morton's fashionably correct antagonist 'Cat' (Catherine Vibrissae) is the smartest avenger since Emma Peel was teamed with John Steed.

I enjoyed dipping into Morton's smorgasbord of tidbits which reintroduced me to southern England, Wales, Spain and a splash in the Med. All the while following the scent of blackguards tormenting caged furry pets; then sadistic scientists using refugees to test-drive a sex cocktail which would shame Viagra's prowess.

Not sure if my Granny would approve, but its a great read for frequent flyers stuck at airport terminal, bathers at the beach or coffee shop habituates. It might also rock the chairs of 'Enquiring Minds' readers of a certain vintage.

I should caution you it's one of those most wicked of things – a series.

And this is just Cat's first recorded adventure.

Catalyst - obtained at these Amazon sites worldwide.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Notes from Spain – Fraudster found

In news reports here in Spain, it’s often the case that apprehended criminals are not identified by name, though sometimes we’re given his or her initials in a newspaper article. I imagine it was particularly difficult for the authorities to name a fraudster they caught since they might be wondering which alias is actually his real name!

Wikipedia commons

The fraudster in question has more than 100 previous convictions and 20 warrants for arrest, but for the last six years the police couldn’t locate him!  The litany of his crimes: fraud, domestic abuse, slander, libel, assaulting an officer of the law, making threats, causing injuries, violating a sentence, electricity fraud, identity theft, harassment, falsifying public documents and failure to turn himself in to prison. (I’m puzzled by that last one, I must admit! Shouldn’t he be under arrest and taken to prison?)

A lengthy investigation and a stakeout finally located his house, which was surrounded with security cameras. When the police raided the place, it seemed empty – but there was a secret hideaway, a control centre for scanning the grounds. He was found hiding behind a sofa – nobody knows if he might have been watching an early Dr Who DVD.

His crimes also involve the internet, with numerous fake profiles on social networks. Some of his profiles stated he was the president of a computing multinational, a UN inspector and a politician. He had more than 40,000 followers.

He set up web pages that provided cover for his scams. The fake company websites contained plaudits from other businesses and national press, also of dubious authenticity.

A certain number of his violent and threatening behaviour are related to victims who discovered his fraud.

He was rarely seen in public, for obvious reasons.

He’s now in custody.

There’s probably potential for a story in there!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Massive e-book sale - last day today!

Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Crooked Cat Publishing sale today until 23 September

Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


Your chance to bag some good value e-books from Crooked Cat Publishing!

Their autumn sale is on - books across all Amazon sites - for 99c/99p

This is the UK site;

For others, just search for 'Crooked Cat Publishing' and be spoilt for choice.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Notes from Spain – appalling ‘tradition’

You’d think that most Spanish municipalities in Spain would like to feature strongly in Wikipedia. That’s not the case for the town of Valmojado.   

This is their entry:

'Valmojado is a municipality located in the province of Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. According to the 2012 census (INE), it had a population of 4216 inhabitants. They kill young bulls in becerradas:'

If you’re wondering about that last sentence, the colon points to a distressing video which was taken by the animal rights group Pacma. It was taken at a local fair in Castilla-La Mancha. It shows a young calf, between one and two years old, being repeatedly stabbed in the bullring of Valmojado.

Wikipedia commons
The squealing of the dying calf can be heard despite the cheers and clapping from the crowd.

It’s an annual event. The participants must be really proud of themselves, indulging in this sickening cruelty.

Apparently, the town hall issued a statement in response, defending its residents against the insults levied since the video was shown, insisting that the calves form part of a ‘serious tradition’. Seriously?

On 10 September, thousands of Spaniards congregated in Madrid to protest about this cruelty and also bullfighting.

Surveys show public support for bullfighting has waned. An Ipsos Mori poll from January carried out for animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection found that only 19 percent of adults in Spain supported bullfighting, while 58 percent opposed it.

While certain regions have banned bullfighting, it isn’t going to go away quite yet. Spain's first pro-bullfight lobbying group, the Bull Foundation, made up of breeders, matadors and aficionados, was set up last year.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Despicable people

It seems incredible that despite the worldwide abhorrence of the trade in ivory, that the slaughter of these noble beasts still continues. Last week conservation groups from around the world called for a global ban on the domestic trade in ivory.

Eh? Thought the trade was already banned? No. International trade was banned in 1989 – 27 years ago, but internal markets could still trade… Who thought of that stupidity? May have been pressure from South Africa... Yes, there probably has been the need to cull a certain number of elephants in a particular region due to destruction of the habitat, encroachment on human communities; so their ivory is fair game, no pun intended.

Well, it comes as no surprise that the internal markets in countries such as South Africa to some extent serve as a cover for illicit ivory sales for the international market, and inevitably they encourage poaching.

Some 10,000 delegates from 192 countries met in Hawaii for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I hadn’t heard of the IUCN, yet it was founded in France in 1948 by Julian Huxley with laudable aims; though considering the decimation of so many animal species one has to question its effectiveness.  They do supply a ‘red list’ of endangered species – see here.

The first continent wide aerial survey of Africa revealed that 30% of elephants living in savannah grasslands – 144,000 – were lost to poachers between 2007 and 2014.

Estimates by Charity Elephants Without Borders suggest the remaining 352,000 elephants is being slashed by 8% per year. Smaller elephants dwelling in jungles have declined even faster, by 60%; easier prey, harder to find the poachers.

‘The shutting down of domestic ivory markets,’  the president of the Wildlife Conservation Society said,  ‘will send a clear signal to traffickers and organised criminal syndicates that ivory will no longer support their criminal activities.

We should also pause for a moment and give thanks to the many rangers, anti-poachers and conservationists who have died in their efforts to thwart the poachers. Money is one of the issues when protection of the species is concerned. The cynic in me has to ask how much of the cost of flights to Hawaii could have been diverted to funding more rangers, more protection?

Last month, eco-investigators TRAFFIC stated that while thousands of antique ivory items were still on sale in London, it found no new ivory there. That has to be good news, surely?

Towards the end of this month, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will gather in Johannesburg.


CITES also figures in my novel Blood of theDragon Trees, published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

What’s it about? The blurb runs like this: Laura Reid likes her new job on Tenerife, teaching the Spanish twins Maria and Ricardo Ch├ívez. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved with Andrew Kirby and his pal, Jalbala Emcheta, who work for CITES, tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. Yet she’s undeniably drawn to Andrew, which is complicated, as she’s also attracted to Felipe, the brother of her widower host, Don Alonso.

Felipe’s girlfriend Lola is jealous and Laura is forced to take sides – risking her own life – as she and Andrew uncover the criminal network that not only deals in the products from endangered species, but also thrives on people trafficking. The pair are aided by two Spanish lawmen, Lieutenant Vargas of the Guardia Civil and Ruben Salazar, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de las Canarias.

Very soon betrayal and mortal danger lurk in the shadows, along with the dark deeds of kidnappers and clandestine scuba divers…

Partial Amazon review: Visitors to Tenerife will recognise the beauty of the island in Nik Morton's evocative descriptions of what the island has to offer to the tourist, but few, if any, will recognise the darker side so vividly portrayed in this novel… Nik Morton takes the story along at a fine pace, and readers of his past novels will not be disappointed in his narrative, his characterisation and careful plotting. – Michael Parker, author of The Boy from Berlin and other thrillers.

The reviewer also stated: ‘No doubt the fiction is inspired by Morton's ability as a thriller writer, and not something that he has uncovered by stealth.’ True enough, but I did do a great deal of research, some of it distressing, to comprehend the background of this filthy trade.

As it happens, I was so captivated by some of the characters in this romantic thriller that I used them in the third adventure of ‘The Avenging Cat’, Cataclysm, which is mainly set in China, where the ill-gotten products from the endangered species end up.