Category Archives: Detective fiction

B(r)ought to book

There is a special joy in discovering a new (at least, new to me) novel sequence.

I will have fingered the piles in the local Waterstone’s serially, before taking the plunge. Sometimes it works (those “get second book half-price” offers help). Too often it doesn’t; and a couple of years later I might be, plucking at the shelf, having a second bite.

Then the bitterest gall of all is to find the paperback the tables, while at home lurks the tasted-but-unfinished hardback.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, I would go for James Runcie’s Grantchester teccies. I’d caught a couple in their TV adaptations.

Finally I took the plunge, making sure I had the sequence in proper order.

So here I am, setting out with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The next month, with luck, is going to be booked.

Stout, but not Cortez, here I am willing and wishing to be dazzled by this new planet swimming into my ken.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Detective fiction, James Runcie, Literature, Quotations, reading

Another op’nin

The 2001 London revival: It was superb. I had already been treated to the production on Broadway. It was already transferring to London, even before 9/11 had devastated New York theatre-attendances. So I paid real money to revisit it at the Victoria Palace

Few musicals beat that opening. But there are only half-a-dozen musicals worthy to start alongside Kiss Me, Kate —and at least one more has Cole Porter’s name over the title.

I can get something of the same thrill opening a new book for the first time.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend…

… Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Thank you, Groucho: don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Buying, on spec, a new book by a  previously-untried, even unknown writer is itself a venture.

I pluck the book from the pile or the shelf — perhaps because the cover or the title means something to me. I flick a few pages. I either return the book whence it came, rejected, or reach for the wallet and the plastic.

I did that last Friday.

iuMy two acquisitions were Ian Sansom’s Westmorland Alone and Tom Blass, The Naked Shore.

There is a tangential connection between those two.

The first in Sansom’s series was The Norfolk Mystery. Obviously a Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred type would be weak in the head not to snap at that. So I did, and found it wholesome — but not really much more — enough to go for the second in the series, Death in Devon.  Which I found harder going: the arch references to Arthur Mee and all those 1930s “cosy” teccies seemed to be wearing, and wearing a bit thin. Still, I went for this third one; and it went down quite nicely. If nothing else, it overcame the imminent reading-block that was sub-symptom of a winter chill.

So that was a re-visit. The “new” one was —

9781408815496Blass

The connexion with the Tom Blass is also Norfolk (which features very slightly) and East Anglia more generally.

Ir reads very well, rather disconnectedly — but this isn’t a straight narrative. Blass shifts, idiosyncratically, from space to place, topic to topic, encounter to encounter. And then will return whence he came, a hundred pages of more later. The book tends, obviously, to the gossipy. I find little wrong or objectionable about that.

Above all, The Naked Shore is delightfully filled with small and informative detail. Here’s a very early one:

In Whitby once, among the stones of the ‘Dracula’ abbey, I was struck by the starkness of the difference between the accents of a visiting family from Newcastle and those of the natives. Geordie’s origins lies with the Teutonic Angles, hence ‘gan’ — as in ‘gan down toon’, from the German gehen for ‘go’, while their Yorkshire hosts’ linguistic ancestry lay further north (arse, bairn, dollop and flit all have Norse heritage). Some fifteen hundred years after their arrival, fifty miles of English coast still reflect ancient ethnic differences, the origins of which lie on the far side of the North Sea.

Blass returns another half-dozen times to Whitby, at one stage as part of the strange  class-divides between seaside resorts, even (as page 108):

Today the middle classes that seek out the evocative beaches of North Norfolk at Holkham and Blakeney studiously avoid not-dissimilar shorelines close by.

I’ll go with that: Wells is neatly sandwiched between those two “evocative beaches” — indeed, I challenge any in-comer to know where Holkham beach ends and Wells begins. I’d put it around where the old Coastguard look-out was. By the time, heading east, one reaches the beach-huts, one definitively is in Wells. And the reason for the “social” difference (consider, too house prices)? Wells had — before blasted Beaching — a train line. And a bit further back, GER/LNER ‘tripper’ specials all the way from London’s Liverpool Street. That, and the whiff of whelks being loaded into the guard’s van lowered the tone.

Note from the above, that although may dot from topic to topic, the book comes with a useful index for playing dot-to-dot.

A comparator

61ieuy24gfl-_uy250_Yes, we’ve been in these parts quite recently.

Only a couple of years ago, Michael Pye did nicely by, and nicely out of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We AreThat’s an equally subjective account, but organised on more orthodox — even “historical” lines. It’s a “deeper” book, in many respects a “better” book; but one more concerned with — as the title suggests — the anthropology, even sociology, of the North Sea coasts and peoples. So it is more rooted in what we used to be able to term, without apology or explanation, “the Dark Ages”.

I shall be keeping both on my shelves: not as rivals, but as complements.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Detective fiction, East Anglia, fiction, History, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

Conundrum of the day.

This was all kicked off by Steve Baker accusing Europe Minister, David Lidlington (who always strikes me as a bit herbivorous):

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): This in-at-all-costs deal looks and smells funny. It might be superficially shiny on the outside, but poke it and it is soft in the middle. Will my right hon. Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?

Mr Lidington: No, and I rather suspect that, whatever kind of statement or response to a question that I or any of my colleagues delivered from the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend was polishing that particular question many days ago.

Baker must have refined his cloacal knowledge in the RAF training scheme, in Lehman Brothers, or in the St Cross College for unattached mature students. One suspects, though, the expression was sweated to fly as close to Erskine May as possible.

Yet, “poo” is just so naff.

So I approved Paul Waugh, this morning:

Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ — the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ — isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.

Waugh managed to pack “manure to be lobbed” and “the poo won’t stick” into proximity.

Where I differ is I’m not convinced “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter” is “the original line”. It certainly appears here:

I reckon the conceit goes far further back, in the Glaswegian expression “a polished jobbie”.

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200Look what just happened there!

This opinionated Mac predictive-spellcheck “corrected” to bobbie.

Which is instructive, in a way, because I was reckoning to find “polished jobbie” (did it again! and again!) in the works of Christopher Brookmyre. I thought I remembered it from the first chapter of his Quite Ugly One Morning, which I rate as one of the best, and funniest openers in any ‘teccie.

Wrong, Malcolm!

boiling_frog_UK_hb_200You’ll find it in Boiling a Frog (at least three times, including):

there was only so much that news management could achieve, and brainwashing wasn’t part of it. People had to be receptive to a certain point of view in the first place: otherwise you weren’t so much spinning as polishing a jobbie.

Your memory misled you from the back end of Chapter 1 of Quite Ugly One Morning.

Inspector McGregor has arrived at the puke-skating scene of the crime:

There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn’t be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
Too late.
‘Heh, there’s a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,’ announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn’t complain about policing the Huns’ next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
‘Jesus, it’s some size of loaf right enough,’ remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
‘Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,’ she said acidly.
‘I suppose we’ll need a sample,’ Callaghan observed. ‘There’s a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.’
‘Maybe we should send Skinner there then,’ muttered Dalziel. ‘See what they can tell from him.’
‘I heard that.’
‘Naw, seriously,’ Callaghan went on. ‘They could even tell you what he had to eat.’
‘We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,’ Skinner observed.
‘But we don’t know which one’s sick this is,’ Callaghan retorted.
‘We don’t know which one’s keech it is either.’
‘Well I’d hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.’
‘That’s enough,’ said McGregor, holding a hand up. ‘We will need to get it examined. And the sick.’
‘Bags not breaking this one to forensics,’ said Dalziel.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else’s day ruined as well.
‘Forensics can lift the sample then,’ said Callaghan.
‘No, no,’ said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. ‘I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,’ he barked, turning round. ‘This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.’

To conclude:

Frans Boas is the source for the (arguable) belief that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. From my (excessive?) study of modern Scottish fiction, I begin to feel Glaswegians can manage similar  for “taking a dump”.

Mr Steve Baker needs to up his game.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Christopher Brookmyre, Conservative family values, Detective fiction, EU referendum, politics, Quotations, reading, Scotland, Tories.

Local rivalries

Not at all sure about this one. It’s Marilyn Stasio doing the regular Crime column for the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

Retirement isn’t for everyone, least of all John Rebus, the hero of Ian Rankin’s mordant police procedurals set in the shadowy underworld of Edinburgh. In EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD (Little, Brown, $26),Rebus’s unorthodox friendship with the aging crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty allows this retired detective to attach himself to a police investigation into the murder of a former lord advocate and death threats against other high-profile citizens, including Cafferty.

“Sometimes there’s such a thing as a responsible criminal,” according to Rebus, who believes powerful men on both sides of the law are duty-bound to control the crazies in their ranks. Smart players in this tricky game know that “the world of the gangster was the world of the capitalist.” And the markets for their respective professional services must be protected against competitors like Joe Stark and his son, Dennis.

The presence in Edinburgh of these hard men from Glasgow attracts a special task force of fierce Glaswegian cops who are scarier and less principled than the gangsters. The culture clash felt by cops and crooks alike drolly illustrates the tensions between Scotland’s two major cities. One Edinburgh mobster’s impression of Glasgow — “the people spoke differently here, and had a garrulousness to them that spilled over into physical swagger” — is among the more polite comments.

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. But the characters’ relationships prove oddly moving, especially the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty, as well as that between the crime boss Joe Stark and his ambitious son. Acknowledging his conflicted feelings, “Joe wished he could feel something other than an echoing emptiness” when Dennis is killed. Rankin sets up a parallel relationship between Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox and his dying father, but it fails to click because Rebus’s nemesis (in previous books, he worked for internal affairs) is still being reborn as a decent cop. But he’s got a long way to go before he can be free of the impression he gives, of “a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet.”

Apologies due and freely offered for quoting that bit in full.

I’m “not sure” for a couple of quibbles

I had my copy of Even Dogs in the Wild on pre-order, and on 5th November. Rankin is an important novelist — a bigger field than just crime fiction — and this, after a two-year lay-off, is an important book. Does it really take two months to come onto the American market?

I see that Rankin is doing one of those coast-to-coast book-signings from the end of this month. Was that a factor in any delay? If so, it seems a strange one, because the chain book-sellers must have sold shed-loads of this title in the pre-Christmas furore.

Stasio  is quite correct in those first two paragraphs. In life, as in art, the crook and the copper are to some extent in cahoots. The one keeps the other in business. The other keeps the one under some constraints. Without each other, there is no literary or social tension. Sociologists have serially noted that the characteristics needed for either match those of the opponent. Rebus is a decent sociologist, and his creator has access to and, doubtless, advice from some of the better sociological brains in Britain.

Under the Antonine Wall

Last autumn the Lady in My Life and I undertook a small pilgrimage to a modern marvel: the Falkirk Wheel. And took the short boat (that blue job entering the caisson) up the wheel, through the Rough Castle tunnel and back. The tunnel is there is avoid disturbing one of the best remaining sections of the second-century Roman earthwork that originally stretched from the Forth to the Clyde.

So I ruminate on the links and antipathies, as Stasio does, between Scotland’s two great cities. Today Edinburgh is “white-collar” (banking, insurance, government) while Glasgow retains a more “blue-collar” grittiness. Even now Edinburgh (thanks to Rankin himself, Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, the late Iain Banks) has a literary connection which outshines Glasgow (despite Bernard MacLaverty, Louise Welsh, et al.)

A Malcolmian aside

That said, I’ll defend the opening of Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning as my personal best for any policier:

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200‘Jesus fuck.’

Inspector McGregor wished there was some kind of official crime scenario checklist, just so that he could have a quick glance and confirm that he had seen it all now. He hadn’t sworn at a discovery for ages, perfecting instead a resigned, fatigued expression that said, ‘Of course. How could I have possibly expected anything less?’

The kids had both moved out now. He was at college in Bristol and she was somewhere between Bombay and Bangkok, with a backpack, a dose of the runs and some nose‐ringed English poof of a boyfriend. Amidst the unaccustomed calm and quiet, himself and the wife had remembered that they once actually used to like each other, and work had changed from being somewhere to escape to, to something he hurried home from.

He had done his bit for the force – worked hard, been dutiful, been honest, been dutifully dishonest when it was required of him; he was due his reward and very soon he would be getting it.

Islay. Quiet wee island, quiet wee polis station. No more of the junkie undead, no more teenage jellyhead stabbings, no more pissed‐up rugby fans impaling themselves on the Scott Monument, no more tweed riots in Jenners, and, best of all, no more fucking Festival. Nothing more serious to contend with than illicit stills and the odd fight over cheating with someone else’s sheep.

Bliss.

Christ. Who was he kidding? He just had to look at what was before him to realise that the day after he arrived, Islay would declare itself the latest independent state in the new Europe and take over Ulster’s mantle as the UK’s number one terrorist blackspot.

The varied bouquet of smells was a delightful courtesy detail. From the overture of fresh vomit whiff that greeted you at the foot of the close stairs, through the mustique of barely cold urine on the landing, to the tear‐gas, fist‐in‐face guard‐dog of guff that savaged anyone entering the flat, it just told you how much fun this case would be.

McGregor looked grimly down at his shoes and the ends of his trousers. The postman’s voluminous spew had covered the wooden floor of the doorway from wall to wall, and extended too far down the hall for him to clear it with a jump. His two‐footed splash had streaked his Docs, his ankles and the yellowing skirting board. Another six inches and he’d have made it, but he hadn’t been able to get a run at it because of the piss, which had flooded the floor on the close side of the doorway, diked off from the tide of gastric refugees by a draught excluder.

My offering in evidence that Glaswegian-spawned noir darkens anything from Auld Reekie. Corroborative evidence: try Denise Mina.

Where I differ from Stasio

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. Really? I thought some loose ends were there to remind the reader that not all fiction is a neat fairy tale, and are in any case often pursued by Rankin and Rebus in a subsequent episode.

the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty: huh? The major characters each refer consciously to the parent-child relationship. That is established, as fore-shadowing, with Malcolm Fox in Chapter One:

Standing under the shower, he considered his options. The bungalow in Oxgangs that he called home would fetch a fair price, enough to allow him to relocate. But then there was his dad to consider – Fox couldn’t move too far away, not while Mitch still had breath in his body.

Similarly Fox and Cafferty note the father/son relationships in their problems with the Starks:

Joe Stark’s wife had died young, leaving him to bring up their only child, Dennis. Fox reckoned Joe had lacked any but the most basic parenting skills. He’d been too busy extending his empire and consolidating his reputation as one of the most ruthless thugs in Glasgow gangland – which was no mean feat, considering the competition. Dennis had been trouble from his earliest days in primary school. Bullied (and maybe worse, ignored) by his father, he’d become a bully himself. It helped that he’d grown up fast, building muscle to go with his threats. In his early teens, only a wily lawyer had stopped him doing time for an attack outside a football ground.

He had used an open razor – similar to Joe’s weapon of choice in the 1970s. That interested Fox – the son imitating the father, hoping to gain his approbation. In his twenties, Dennis had served two stretches in HMP Barlinnie, which did little to curb his excesses while at the same time making him new allies.

and:

[Cafferty] was willing to pay top dollar for up-to-date information on the Starks, father and son, plus their associates, close or otherwise. He’d already learned that they had visited certain businesses in Aberdeen and Dundee in the previous week, which backed up his theory that Dennis was being introduced to people prior to taking over from his old man.

This is the fulcrum of the novel, and where it ends:

Opening the Saab and getting in, Rebus gave Brillo’s coat a rub before starting the engine. He watched as Cafferty’s figure receded, then lifted a CD from the passenger seat and slotted it home. It had arrived first thing, mail order. The album was called The Affectionate Punch. He skipped through it to track seven and listened as Billy Mackenzie started to sing about a boy, a boy frightened, neglected, abandoned. Sons and fathers, he thought: Malcolm and Mitch Fox, Dennis and Joe Stark, Jordan Foyle and Bryan Holroyd. His phone alerted him to a text. It was from Samantha. She had sent the photo he’d asked for, the one of him and Carrie. He studied it for a moment before showing it to a quizzical Brillo; then, having turned up the volume on the stereo, he reversed out of the parking space and headed back into the city.

a soulless, spunkless middle manager: this is pulled from near the end of the story. I suggest a fuller reference changes the context:

Buttoning up his coat, Fox started walking, sticking to the paved route so as to save his shoes getting muddied. A cheap souped-up saloon car passed him, its occupants barely out of their teens. Both front windows were down so the world outside could share their taste in what they presumably thought was music. They paid Fox no heed though. He wasn’t like Rebus – he didn’t  look  like a cop. A detective he’d once investigated when in Complaints had described him as resembling ‘a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet’. Which was fine – he’d been called worse. It usually meant he was closing in on a result. And the fact that he didn’t stand out from the crowd could be useful. As far as the kids in the car were concerned, he barely existed – if they’d thought him a threat, the car would have stopped and a scene of sorts would have ensued. Instead of which, he arrived at the lock-ups without incident.

A final dither

Quite whither Rankin from here is a topic of some speculation. He has “retired” Rebus repeatedly, but keeps returning to some unfinished business — now we have Rebus and the dog Brillo as an unfinished strand.

contentCraig Cabell has considered this in Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus — The Official Story of the Bestselling Author and his Ruthless Detective. “Official” in the sense that much of the book is taken from interviews (and now five years and at least three novels out-of-date). Rankin’s answer:

“You asked me right at the beginning of this interview: how many more books are left? Well, the time to finish the series realistically is when I haven’t got anything new to find out about Rebus, when he’s got nothing new to show me, or he becomes tedious to write about and I’ve got nothing new to say about Edinburgh through his eyes.”

Rankin told me this during my Fleshmarket Close interview. At the time I thought he was cranking himself up for a Rebus in retirement set of books but he kept assuring me that he didn’t know – never knew in fact – what the next book was going to be about until he started it. In August 2009, shortly after the proofs of The Complaints had gone off and the hardback was awaiting release, he told me that he still didn’t know what the next book would be. He was determined to have a year off: he wasn’t going to write another graphic novel (because he didn’t enjoy the experience much), he still didn’t know if he was going to continue with Siobhan, but the new character – Inspector Malcolm Fox – intrigued him and as Rankin told me in July 2009, there were enough skeletons in Rebus’s closet to warrant investigation…

Good enough prospect for me.

1 Comment

Filed under Detective fiction, Ian Rankin, New York Times, Scotland

Attack on the guilt pile, and Execution Dock

Electioneering over, back to normal political abuse, what else to do?

It’s here between the desk and the settee, growing and threatening.

Time and leisure to set about the Great Unread.

Straight off the top comes the latest Christopher Fowler.

The Bryant and May series is not only a thrill, and a delight (Fowler is a stylist of distinction), but gloriously informative. Poked into the narrative are numerous anecdotes of old London.

Then there is the tub-thumper:

Fowler quote

Pastiche

London. The protracted summer lately over, and the bankers sitting in Threadneedle Street, returned from their villas in Provence and Tuscany. Relentless October weather. As much water in the streets as if the tide had newly swelled from the Thames, and it would not be wonderful to find a whale beached beneath Holborn Viaduct, the traffic parting around it like an ocean current. Umbrellas up in the soft grey drizzle, and insurrection in the air.

Riots everywhere. Riots outside the Bank of England and around St Paul’s Cathedral. Protestors swelling on Cheapside and Poultry and Lombard Street. Marchers roaring on Cornhill and Eastcheap and Fenchurch Street. Barricades on Cannon Street and across London Bridge. Police armoured and battened down in black and yellow like phalanxes of tensed wasps. Chants and megaphones and the drone of choppers overhead.

Hurled fire, catapulted bricks, shattering glass and the blast of water hoses. It was as if, after a drowsy, sluggish summer, the streets had undergone spontaneous combustion.

Recognise it? On his delicious blog page, Fowler takes his homage a stage further with the allusive metaphoric image borrowed from the Dickensian simile:

Fowler

London

It’s Fowler’s persistent, even obsessive, knowledge of the city that gets me every time.

I’ve never quite forgiven him for rubbishing (yes, Noddy Boffin: you are part of the story) the myth about Boudica’s burial under the platforms (Platform 9¾?) of King’s Cross Station. That was a good tale to spin the daughters (despite their engrained cynicism, even then), and then the grandchildren (who currently remain a bit more susceptible, or politely so to one so aged as myself). Now the Young Idea is far more taken by the Harry Potter staircase in the Midland Grand St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

For Boudica alone, Fowler needs a pay-back. So here’s one:

I could have brought Augustine to Wapping, Bryant thought, at the drop of the Thames and just a spit from Tower Bridge, where Captain Kidd was hanged twice before being chained and left for three tides.

Nothing remained of this piratical past except an ancient set of oxidized green steps leading to the muddy foreshore. The flooded ginnels and mildewed alleyways of Bryant’s childhood, once so dauntingly forbidden and mysterious, had been paved over, filled in and floodlit as London homogenized its riverside in the rush to build bankers’ apartments.

The streets were unrecognizable now, colonnaded with blank suburban properties of orange brick. Between them stood a few emasculated warehouses for those seduced by the notion of a loft lifestyle. The wealthy were never there and the rest stayed in. The dead new streets of the Thames shoreline horrified Bryant.

Fowler is bang-to-rights about the soul-less bourgeoisified Wapping: another strike against David Owen, who began the process. I’m less convinced that he has properly identified Execution Dock.

execution-dockExecution Dock

Those same grandchildren, taken on the hydrofoil to Greenwich, needed explanations of what they were seeing. For convenience, I pointed to the E of Sun Wharf as a marker for Execution Dock.

That needed explanation. Piracy and mutiny were tried by the Admiralty Court. Those found guilty (which means virtually all) were consigned to the Marshalsea, before being carted across London Bridge to Wapping. There the offenders would be hanged from a short rope (which meant slow strangulation), and the bodies left until three tides had washed over them. For extra effect, in cases which had attracted particular media attention, the corpse would be tarred and hung in irons at the entry to the Port of London.

Go to the Prospect of Whitby pub (if you must: it’s largely tourists, and there are better joints locally), and you will be assured that the replica gallows and noose is the site:

executiondock

That’s not my Dear Old Dad’s version.

He was a Thames Division copper only a year or two before the picture below. The River Thames police is (it claims) the oldest official police force in the world. Therefore Wapping Police Station is also the oldest in the world. It’s also another possible site for Execution Dock.

john-harriott-launch-2

A third site is under the Wapping Overground Station.

Great minds meet alike

There is a confluence of Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and Christopher Fowler about Wapping.

On Saturday, April 12 [1783], I visited him, in company with Mr. Windham, of Norfolk, whom, though a Whig, he highly valued. One of the best things he ever said was to this gentleman; who, before he set out for Ireland as Secretary to Lord Northington, when Lord Lieutenant, expressed to the Sage some modest and virtuous doubts, whether he could bring himself to practise those arts which it is supposed a person in that situation has occasion to employ. ‘Don’t be afraid, Sir, (said Johnson, with a pleasant smile,) you will soon make a very pretty rascal.

He talked to-day a good deal of the wonderful extent and variety of London, and observed, that men of curious enquiry might see in it such modes of life as very few could even imagine. He in particular recommended to us to explore Wapping, which we resolved to do.

It took nine years before Boswell and William Windham fulfilled Johnson’s recommendation; and both were disappointed. Wyndham lamented he had missed a prize fight for the trip:

I let myself foolishly be drawn by Boswell to explore, as he called it, Wapping, instead of going when everything was prepared, to see the battle between Ward and Stanyard, which turned out to be a good one.

Boswell seems to have the same impression as Fowler (and even myself):

Whether from the uniformity which has in a great degree spread through every part of the metropolis, or our want of sufficient exertion, we were disappointed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Charles Dickens, Christopher Fowler, fiction, London, Metropolitan Police, pubs, reading

An oaf short of an oeuvre?

— We get it, Malcolm: that’s a crude pun on “an omelette short of an oeuf”.

Last night was too betaken by Thwaites’s Wainwright‘s. So the brain is trying to catch up with Wednesday. One of the many joys of life in “old” York is the variety of pubs. Even in what, I’d reckon, is the best appointed boozer in town, the Wainwright’s runs at £3.50 a pint. Just too tempting.

The case of the missing book(s)

To be subtitled: the book of the missing case.

But, once at the keyboard — an honour and a delight, wrapped in a conundrum. Refer, instantly, to the comment appended to that previous post. It’s from the Great and the Good Christopher Fowler, and every word is worth a guinea a box (and I reckon my tin ear has been well boxed therein).

I was wrongly calculating, at first sight, that the one I am missing is The Casebook of Bryant and May, Keith Page’s comic-book version of a Fowler script. That approaches as stellar a team as Humphrey Lyttelton/George Melly/Compton Mackenzie/Barry Norman writing the Flook story-lines for Wally Fawkes to illustrate. And many of those have a lingering relevance (though the Mosley reference may pass by unnoticed):

FlookBSomething will have to be done to remedy the omission (which I now see is Brant & May 5: The White Corridor).

Officia praetermissa atque relicta

[Acts of omission: that’s yer axshul snobby Latin. Not to be deployed in Rochester or places where White Vans park.]

In the mid-summer of 2013,  Redfellow Hovel, in Norf Lunnun, decamped to Redfellow Cottage, in North Yorkshire. Over five dozen boxes (and Tesco vegetable pallets) of books were part of the shift. Another dozen were diverted to the Pert Young Piece’s flat in “edgy” Crouch End.

By the nature of these things, not every book arrived where it should have done. Hence I find I am two Le Carrés short of the full set, and I know that a couple of the Fowlers are in N8. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

The accretion of books

Out of that came another thought.

How do book accumulate?

Obviously, it’s because certain people should never, ever be set loose in a book-shop armed with cash or card. The result is always a bag-full. I am one such person.

Beyond that, there is an “osmosis of genre”.

While I read the usual crime-review columns (the New York Times is far more regular and observant than any of the UK press), news-and-views are most easily found through one or other of the crime-fiction blogs. On the other hand, life is too short …

There are obvious “essentials”: the regular springtime with Donna Leon, a new Carl Hiaasen (not excluding the kid lit), Andrew Martin, Martin Cruz Smith, Rankin but of course, Philip Kerr (especially if Bernie Gunther is at the heart of another pickle), Alan Furst, a Jasper Fforde (if only) — and that promised Bryant & May by Fowler (due next March).

That’s marked out a fair bit of the yearly round. Yet it doesn’t fit the time available. So it’s the casual buys, often whipped off the two-for-one-and-a-half Waterstones tables that fill the gaps. That, for an example, is how I caught up with and spent a happy few days knocking off the Kyril Bonfigioli sequence.

Follow that notion through

It means that I am likely to encounter a new-to-me writer through a paperback. That ought to cause the chain reaction: hunt out the other books, keep up by buying hard-backs when published, and replacing the paperbacks if and when a second-hand hardback percolates through Oxfam.

Yes, there are drop-outs in the process: I gave up on Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series around L is for Lawless. Michael Dibdin died on me. I still trying to get on with Anne Cleeves. I started well with David Downing’s John Russell, but the last couple glare at me from the Guilt Pile. Robert Harris became a bit of a chore: An Officer and a Spy is in the Guilt Pile, unfinished. I have a habit of losing Christopher Brookmyre, half-read, in pubs — though the opening of Quite Ugly One Morning (the first Parlabane) is the teccie equivalent of Wodehouse’s Jeeves Specialrather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince.

Which is what I needed this grey morning.

1 Comment

Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Chris Brookmyre, Christopher Fowler, Detective fiction, Donna Leon, fiction, Ian Rankin, John le Carré, Philip Kerr

Timor mortis conturbat me?

dunbar

Scottish Chaucerians didn’t loom large, if at all, on Malcolm’s High School reading. So he came late to William Dunbar:

I that in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmity: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory, 
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary, 
Now dansand mirry, now like to die: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world’s vanity: — 
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

lament copy

Dunbar then goes on, ticking off all his dead fellow poets, from Chaucer through to Henrysoun (with others, including himself, queuing at the exit door). The consolation is the creative artist leaves a legacy.

Consolatio Philosophiae

Yes, those who know their Great Detective stories of former years will recognise Michael Innes’s 1938 Appleby novel Lament for a Maker

Death, its imminence and its consequence play long in the late Medieval period — especially among the dour Scots.

A century later, and southwards things get more cheerfully sanguine:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; 
The valiant never taste of death but once. 
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard
It seems to me most strange that men should fear; 
Seeing that death, a necessary end, 
Will come when it will come.

Even then [Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii], the eponymous central character self-revealingly follows with:

[Re-enterosses every social and denominational divide for one of theswr Servant] 
What say the augurers?

Now to Heaney

They didn’t hang about getting the ol’ soul under six feet of Derry earth. Anyway, all Four Provinces of Ireland know how to do a good funeral. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook got two bites of the cherry: the Removal on Sunday and the obsequies proper on the following day. Then it was the home-coming. Rural Ireland crosses every social and denominational divide for one of these:

Spade. Rake. Shovel. They stood under the ash and sycamore trees, beside the plot Heaney had chosen for himself. These were the kind of tools Heaney celebrated in his poems, particularly in Digging, the first poem in his first book, Death of a Naturalist.

“They dug it deep enough anyway,” one Bellaghy man observed in the early afternoon of yesterday, looking down into the open grave with an approving, critical eye. It was the remark of one who recognised the skill in the most basic and yet most meaningful job of digging a man ever has to do.

Solitary piper

At 5pm exactly, a solitary piper stepped out on to the main street of Bellaghy village, leading the funeral cortege of three cars – and the hundreds of people who followed. They were of every age. They came on foot, in buggies and on crutches. As the cortege came to the corner of Castle Street, the PSNI officer controlling traffic saluted sharply.

It was the most public of burials for the most private of men. Even in death, Seamus Heaney chose to be generous; his burial in St Mary’s Church was shared by his family with the thousands of others who lined the route from the village and silently filled the churchyard.

When Heaney won the Nobel Prize in 1995, the Farmers’ Journalheadline was a marvel of understatement: “Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s son wins top literary award.” Yesterday, Bellaghy was in mourning for its famous farmer’s son: the Nobel laureate who chose to come home to be buried with his people. In months and years and generations to come, people not yet born will seek out this small village to the east of Lough Neagh, with the sole purpose of visiting Heaney’s grave.

Rosita Boland giving due measure for the Irish Times.

Meanwhile, in the shrubbery something rustles …

There has been, inevitably, an extended thread on Slugger O’Toole. We’d all said our bits, and the thing was Petering out (thus: it had been instigated by Pete Baker) until the matter of Heaney’s final cyber-utterance emerged, and the usually-reliable and politically-admirable Rory Carr intervened with:

I read today that Séamus Heaney’s final message to his wife was a ‘phone text that read simply, “Nolle timere“. I suspect that Heaney, who was pretty familiar with his Latin is more likely to have written, “Noli timere” which correctly translates as, “Be not afraid,” when addressing a single person, as he was in this instance, (or “Nolite timere when addressing more than one person) and that the reporters got it wrong. In Latin poetry we sometimes find the construction, “Ne Time (singular) or Ne timete” (plural”).

Sound enough, but bound to cause the like of Malcolm to niggle. Sure enough, he did. And this is a version of what ensued:

Nolle timere!

This is going to smell of the lamp, for indeed it took a bit of midnight study. It is, possibly relevant to nolle timere. Eventually.

HumphreyLet us start with the curious character, Laurence Humphrey (c.1525-1589) — Elizabethan scholar, divine and university administrator (as seen, right, on his memorial at Magdalen College, Oxford). He was a protagonist in the evolving nature of the reformed Church of England — particularly over such matters as the wearing of ecclesiastical robes.

By 1561 Humphrey was president of Magdalen and the leading theological doctor of the university. Magdalen was a hotbed of religious controversy, with the robing issue being the hot topic. Humphrey had already been arraigned before Archbishop Parker at Lambeth Palace, and obliged to conform to Parker’s demand that vestments were of no consequence, and could be a matter of official edict — Humphrey (along with Dean Thomas Sampson of Christchurch, Oxford, the main dissenters) cryptically agreed to sign Parker’s agreement, both adding that, if “all things were lawful, all things were not expedient”.

Queen Elizabeth (25 Jan 1565) then ordered that the rites and dignities of her church (including vestments) be maintained. Parker, properly suspicious, sent a commission to Magdalen to be assured of the proper wearing of vestments. On 26 February 1565 we find most of the fellows of Magdalen in full revolt, complaining that only the Bishop of Winchester had jurisdiction, and refusing to wear vestments. The dispute rumbled on for the next year or so — Sampson was removed from his position at Christchurch, and Humphrey survived, but only through the support of Dudley, the newly-coined Earl of Leicester, and the Duke of Norfolk.

Elizabeth herself took enough interest in the doings to make a royal progress to Oxford in August 1566. She pointedly commended Humphrey on how he was suited by his doctoral gown. More to the point, since Humphrey was now a family man, he needed the income and slithered into line — becoming vice-chancellor (again through the Leicester’s intervention) of the University in 1571.

So on 11 Sep 1575, Vice-chancellor Humphrey is preaching before the Queen at Woodstock, and in honour of the occasion, knocks off a few lines of verse, happily preserved by Google books. See page 585 for this:

Hactenus afflavit Zephyrus, fuit aura secunda,
Spes est: mox portum, qui bene solvit, habet.
At mare fluctisonum est, Syrtes, Pirata, Charybdis,
Saxa latent, scopulos nolle timere, furor.

How all that might (or more likely might not) be a relevant analogy for the Big-enders and Little-enders of Irish politics and religious disputation, Malcolm would hesitate to pursue.

However, allow him an essay at rendering into English:

So far the West Wind has blown, and a breeze followed, there is hope: then there’s a port (to enter), which suits well [that bit seems arsy-versy]. Yet the sea roars with waves — sandbanks, corsairs, Charybdis, rocks lurk, fear not the reefs, the storm.

4poetsAt which ‘Hold on’, cries he!

This is going right back to Heaney’s beginning, and Hobsbaum’s Belfast Group.

Try Storm on the Island, and its enigmatic final line:

But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

1 Comment

Filed under Detective fiction, Dublin, fiction, High School, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, Literature, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Scotland, Seamus Heaney, Shakespeare, Slugger O'Toole