John Wisniewski interviews Dominic Adler

41+WWTnmZPL._SY346_How did your career of being a law enforcement officer aid you in your writing, Dominic?

We all have a hinterland, and mine was 25 years in the Metropolitan Police. London’s a genuine metropolis and I rubbed shoulders with some incredible characters, a gift for any writer. For example, my first novel, ‘The Ninth Circle’ was partly-inspired by a stint working on the Alexander Litvinenko murder investigation. One of the lines in the book comes from a Russian I came across (“where’s the only place you find free cheese? In a mousetrap”). As a thriller writer, it’s not a bad primer; the police taught me how to handle firearms, drive fast cars, follow someone without them knowing – sexy stuff which I wasn’t remotely gifted at. I was happier talking to people, which I like to think is a more important skill for a detective.

I think my old job had a technical impact on how I approach my writing too – I would prepare intelligence reports, statements and requests for stuff like surveillance or financial investigations or forensic support. It helped develop an eye for detail, structure and working to deadlines. And the UK police five-part statement model is a solid way of presenting a story. I’ve used it to clarify scenes, writing the same incident from different points-of-view. As a writing exercise, it’s solid.

Lastly, after a quarter of a century in that world I developed a decent contacts book. It’s full of weird and wonderful people to ask questions if I need to.

When did you begin writing? 

When I was nine or ten. I’d hammer out adventures for role-playing games on my dad’s typewriter (Gary Gygax, co-author of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ was my earliest literary influence). As a teenager I started my own twisted humour magazine called ‘Swamp’ (circulation – about six of my friends). At college I was a student journalist, writing a scabrous gossip column and movie reviews. Eventually the itch to write my own novel really, really needed to be scratched. I started one on an A4 pad, scribbling in biro, when I was a young patrol officer. I remember trying to describe what it was like to work night-shifts, about what a special place London became after dark. Of course, it was awful, but you have to start somewhere.

Any favourite suspense/crime authors?

I’ll give you two of my favourite crime writers. The first is Philip Kerr (for his Bernie Gunther detective thrillers, set in Nazi Germany). Bernie is probably my favourite character in fiction – a decent man in a fucked-up world, someone who can’t help but end up with blood on his hands, but prepared to pay the price for his sins. The second is Mark Timlin, whose late 80s / early 90s Nick Sharman books are hard-boiled gems set in south London: Cocaine. Threesomes with strippers. Sharp suits. Gun porn. Car chases in souped-up Sierra Cosworths. Rock stars. And did I mention LONDON! Read them now, especially if you like a walk on the wild side – Timlin was a roadie for rock bands before he became a writer. I’ll admit to being heavily influenced by Timlin when writing the Cal Winter thrillers. If he ever reads this, I hope he gets in touch and I’ll buy him a disgracefully boozy lunch (you choose where, Mark). Maybe with bang-bang chicken, one of Sharman’s favourites.

How does your interest in military history and technology in warfare affect your writing?

I did a History degree and was an army reservist. I think my obsession with military history helps when writing military characters – you quickly realise soldiers are very tribal. Cal Winter’s an ex-army officer and even though he’s cashiered in disgrace, he needs the balm of camaraderie as much as the buzz of action. To give another example of how real-world history inspires me, my latest book (Timberwolf), is a crazy science-fantasy set in a world analogous to the 1940s. One of the key scenes is based on the German airborne assault on Eben-Emael. If I wasn’t a history geek, I would never have heard of it.

As for technology, I love gadgets and toys. Oh, and tanks. I love tanks. Personally I blame watching too many Bond movies as a kid (except for tanks, unless we’re talking about Pierce Brosnan driving a T-55 in Goldeneye). Then, towards the end of my career, I became an online investigator. I was exposed to social engineering methodologies and what the military would call ‘information warfare’. I got completely hooked on how the Internet was becoming a battlefield domain. That led to me writing ‘The Saint Jude Rules’, which I didn’t realise was actually me, oracle-like, partially shadowing the world of shit that is 2020. See? I was an information warfare hipster, back before it was cool.

41TnZ5v0saL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Could you tell us about writing “The Devil’s Work“? What inspired this novel?

‘The Devil’s Work’ is the second Cal Winter novel. I wanted to write an over-the-top action thriller based on movies like ‘The Wild Geese’ and ‘Where Eagles Dare’, but set in the 21st Century. A story with impossible commando raids and double-crosses. I’d also read about how China was buying up vast chunks of Africa, which I thought made for an interesting back-story.

I spoke to a couple of friends who know Africa well about world-building, then spoke with an ex-SBS guy over a pint about how you’d drop a RIB from a helicopter… and the rest fell into place from there. The scene where Cal meets a journalist in a flyblown African bar was more or less pilfered from a bloke I know who was a warzone news cameraman. Then I needed to create a bunch of gnarly mercenaries to join Cal and his sidekick Oz. They were inspired by tough-guy movies like ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Con Air’ (you’ve got no heart if you don’t love that movie) – I ended up with a dread-locked Scottish ex-paratrooper, gangster twins from East London who served in the Foreign Legion and a Russian-American sniper who comes along for the ride.

Funny story: I was working in a Criminal Intelligence unit when I wrote the book, so was required to submit the script for vetting. As the book features a troubled SIS (MI6) team, my bosses decided to send it over to Vauxhall Cross for the spooks to take a look. As it happens, SIS wanted me to change one tiny thing – and this is the most British thing ever – they just asked politelyThere was no suggestion of an order, just a “would you mind awfully, old chap?” Who was I to disobey Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service? I’m not allowed to say what it was, so I won’t, except it had nothing to do with their reputation. I thought, all things being equal, they were cool about it.

What will your next novel be about?

I wear two writing hats (I’m such a rebel) – Thrillers and Speculative Fiction. On the thriller front I’m toying with a fourth Cal Winter story and I’ve also got 40,000 words down on a story about police corruption. It’s set on the Thames Estuary where London meets Kent – smuggling country. An ex-anti-corruption cop joins forces with a gangster’s widow to take down a criminal gang, who themselves are in the shit with the Albanian mafia (the Amazon-meets-Uber of European organised crime). Think ‘The Departed’ meets ‘The Long Good Friday’, with counter-espionage and the Isle of Sheppey. I do love glamorous locations. On the speculative fiction front, I’m also writing a sequel to ‘Timberwolf’. It’s got some good reviews and I really enjoyed writing it.

Any suspense/foreign intrigue movies that you like?

Okay you asked… Heat, Ronin, The Dirty Dozen, LA Confidential, Hanna, all of the ‘Bourne’ movies (even the dodgy one with Jeremy Renner), John Wick 1-400, Man on Fire (of course Chris Walken gets the best line: a man can be an artist… in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece), Nikita, Reservoir Dogs, Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout, Way of the Gun, Snatch, In Bruges, Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Layer Cake, No Country for Old Men, virtually any Bond movie, Leon, The Long Kiss Goodnight. I could go on, I devour this stuff whenever I can. And some great TV? Altered Carbon (first series), The Man in the High Castle, Babylon Berlin, The Boys, The Punisher, Fauda and The Bureau.

How do you create your characters?

They pop into my head semi-formed, then I start writing detailed profiles in my trusty notebook. Eventually, if I’m lucky, a character emerges. For others I open my mental rolodex of people I met at work, there are thousands of ‘em. Obviously, they’re heavily disguised, or composites. I think writing is a privilege and I hate bullying or betraying confidences – even for people I don’t like.

Link to Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/ Dominic-Adler/e/B00EYKGN26? ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid= 1572852445&sr=1-1

Link to Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/ Dominic-Adler/e/B00EYKGN26% 3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Link to website www.dominicadler.net

Link to Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ dominic.adler.90

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BECAUSE THE NIGHT BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

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Charles Crockford ’s footsteps echoed as he walked across the rusty, metal railway bridge. A steely fog had spread itself across Seatown and he could no longer see the trains creeping slowly below him although he could hear them. They seemed to rasp and groan. He walked carefully down the steps and paused at the bottom to get his bearings. Smudges of streetlamps trailed off into the distance along Lothian Road.

Crockford headed off down the cobbled street, past the rows of partially demolished terraced houses that looked like broken teeth in the wan light.  He could just about make out a radio playing the latest episode of ‘Hello Cheeky.’ It was his wife’s favourite comedy programme and just the thought of that woman made his blood boil. Crockford ground his teeth and upped his pace.

He had been drinking cider with a few of the old boys in one of the bus shelters near the cemetery. One of them – Barky – was an ex-POW who they said suffered from shellshock. When he mixed the mother’s little helpers that the quack had given him with Old English cider Barky could be quite an entertaining old soak but sometimes he got stuck into singing the songs from his childhood over and over again. Tonight’s performance of ‘There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover’ had certainly left a lot to be desired. It had been like fingers down a blackboard so, when the free drink had run out, Crockford had buggered off sharpish.

As he headed down Merry Street, Crockford could hear growling. Although he couldn’t see her in the darkness, he knew that Gertie Lark would be stood on her doorstep dressed in her stained flowered apron, a pair of rusty scissors in her hands, her dog beside her. His wife’s aunt had become a barber during the war, since all of the local barbers had been called up to fight, and she’d even kept it up for a while after peace had been declared. Still, each night, come rain or shine, Gertie stood on her step waiting for her husband Wally to come home even though it was more than 25 years after the war had ended and there was still no sign of him.  Boudica, her rottweiler, was always at her side and the dog hated Crockford. The whole family despised him, he was sure. They never appreciated his talent.

Crockford muttered to himself. She was a mad old bird, that Gertie, but then the whole Lark family were off their rocker as far as he was concerned. Some blamed the Seatown bombardment during the Second World War but he didn’t know about that. He just regretted marrying into that batty brood. When thought about Marjorie, the acid in his stomach gurgled. She had never appreciated his writing, his dreams. His hopes. She never saw how his job at the Siemens factory was crushing him. He’d tried to make her understand but the bloody woman just didn’t listen no matter how loud he screamed. His novel would be big, he was sure of that. But all Marjorie cared about was playing bloody bills and popping a stupid bloody sprog.

It started to rain just as Crockford opened the door to The Shaggy Dog. The stuffy pub was warm and welcoming. It smelt of meat pies, beer and pipe smoke. Its brown and red colours were soothing. The pub was almost empty, probably due to the combination of the fog and the impending blackout, which would happen without warning like every other night. The bloody miners’ strike was taking its toll, that was for sure. Crockford thought the useless bastards should get another job if they don’t like the one they already have, but he usually kept that opinion to himself.  Most of the idiots around Seatown didn’t share his view.

He took off his cap and muffler. Alice, the pub’s massive landlady, was stood behind the bar with her hands on her hips. She had her hair in a pink beehive and wore a glittery pink dress.

‘Alright Alice, are you off down The Rialto later?’ said Crockford.

‘Aye,’ said Alice. ‘As per usual. I’ve got me dancin’ shoes on, like.’

She lifted a sparkly pink leg to show a sparkly pink shoe.

‘Very glam,’ said Crockford with a sneer that was lost on Alice.

He checked out his reflection in the frosted mirror that hung behind the bar. He straightened his quiff as Cormac, Alice’s husband, came out of the snug with a tray full of empty shot glasses. His thinning hair was plastered down with Brylcreem and his white shirt stuck to his skin with sweat. He was breathing heavily.

‘The usual?’ panted Cormac.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘No change there.’

Cormac poured a pint of bitter and Crockford licked his lips.

‘Can I have it on tick?’ said Crockford, grinning. ‘I’ll pay you when I win the football pools.’

‘That will be right,’ said Cormac, grimacing. He held out an open palm.

Crockford paid for his beer and took it into the snug.

There were two old men sat in there. They were both smoking pipes and playing dominoes. Eric Ruby was a painter and decorator who always looked on the verge of a heart attack and Big Bill Lark, Crockford ’s father in law, was a retired copper. His bushy eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead and made him look permanently confused but he was as sharp as a razor and always made Crockford uneasy.

‘How’s tricks?’ said Crockford.

He sat down.

‘Not too bad. Mustn’t grumble. Eric here’s been down that London,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye, said Crockford.  ‘How lovely. See the Queen, did you?

‘Near, as dammit,’ said Eric, grinning. ‘You can’t tell the lads from the lasses down there. They say all that glam rock fashion’s going to catch on up here sooner than later but I bloody hope not! The wife spends enough on mascara as it is without me chipping in!’

They all chuckled.

‘Things change, eh?’ said Bill, shrugging.

Crockford scowled.

‘Yeah, but not always for the better, though,’ said Crockford.

‘Maybe. But I wouldn’t turn the bloody clock back, I can tell you. Those were real hard times I’ve lived through. Two world wars and the depression weren’t a barrel of bloody laughs, I can tell you.’

He was lost in thought for a moment.

‘How’s our Marjorie, by the way?’ said Bill. ‘I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her for weeks.’

Crockford ’s stomach gurgled.

‘Er, she’s not been well,’ he said. ‘Woman’s troubles, again, you know what they’re like?’

Bill glared at Crockford.

‘It that right?’ said Bill.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘There’s always something wrong with that woman these days.’

And then everything turned black.

*

The Reverend Harry Bones said a final prayer and emptied the collection box. He stuffed the money in his coat pockets and picked up his suitcase just as the church’s lights went out.

‘Oh, bugger,’ he said, as he hit a leg on one of the pews.

He furtively edged his way to the front of the church, opened the front door and stepped out onto Lothian Road. It was the darkest he’d ever seen it. He could hear a fog horn roaring over the Headland and just about make out the beams from the lighthouse. There seemed to be not a soul about. Harry locked up The Church of The Nazarene, sighed and walked down the street. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders but an even greater one had been placed on them. He looked at his watch and upped his pace. The train would be at the station at midnight and he hoped Marjorie would be there, too.

*

‘Oh, off I trot to the little boys’ room, then,’ said Eric. ‘Hope I don’t get caught short again.’ He chuckled and followed a path of flickering candles that led the way to the pub’s toilets.

There was only one lit candle in the snug. Crockford took the dregs of Eric’s rum and poured it into his beer. He hoped that his father-in-law hadn’t seen him.

Bill coughed.

‘Did you hear that Benny Trout’s looking for a butcher’s assistant,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye,’ said Crockford.

His stomach gurgled.

‘Do you not fancy it, then?’ said Bill. ‘Work’s work, you know? It might be a golden opportunity.’

‘I’m still on the sick, aren’t I,’ said Crockford. ‘And anyway, I’m too busy working on my novel.’

Bill tutted and Crockford could feel his anger brewing, ready to boil. He finished his drink and staggered to his feet.

‘Well, I’m off to the snake pit,’ said Crockford.

‘Say hello to our Marjorie from me,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, I most certainly will,’ said Crockford, pushing past Eric as he left.

*

Marjorie Crockford was glad she’d finished dying her hair before the blackout as she only had one candle left, and she didn’t want to waste it. She’d ran out of them the day before, and all the shops on Lothian Road had sold out because of the power cuts. She’d been lucky to get that last bottle of peroxide from the chemist’s shop, too. A new look was just the thing for this new chapter in her life. He husband would hate the new hairstyle, she was sure. He’d tell her that she looked like Myra Hindley or something equally as unflattering. Not that he’d get the chance to see it.

Marjorie had been listening to ‘Hello Cheeky’ on Radio 2 when, as luck would have it, her transistor radio’s batteries had died. Now all she could hear was the grandfather clock’s ticking. She poured herself another glass of sweet sherry, sat on the settee and waited for her husband to come back from the pub.

*

Crockford ’s front door jammed as he tried to open it but he slammed a shoulder into it and pushed it open. His bladder was ready to burst so he rushed into the living room, through the kitchen and then out into the back yard where the toilet was. He swore as he banged against the coalhouse door. Then Marjorie heard the toilet door creak open.  She smiled. Crockford hadn’t noticed her sat on the sofa. He probably expected her to be in bed, waiting for him, as usual. But tonight was going to be anything but usual.

The clock struck eleven and Marjorie heard the knock at the door. She stood up and let her aunt Gertie in.

‘All set, petal?’ said Gertie.

‘Aye,’ said Marjorie. ‘It’s now or never.’

She tied the cashmere scarf that The Reverend Bones had given her around her bruised neck and walked into the kitchen. Gertie followed her.

Gertie stood behind the kitchen door holding her cutthroat razor. Marjorie held her breath as she heard the toilet flush. Crockford staggered into the kitchen at the exact same moment that the blackout ended and the kitchen lights flashed back on.

He shielded his eyes from the blinding glare.

‘Bollocks,’ he said. ‘What the bloody hell …’

Marjorie slammed a frying pan against the side of Crockford ’s head and he fell to his knees, groaning. She hit him again and Gertie moved quickly, grabbing his hair and reaching around and slicing Crockford ’s throat. She pushed him forward onto the tarpaulin covered floor.

Marjorie took off her blood splattered overall and pushed it into her suitcase.  She put on her overcoat and fastened it but she still shivered.

‘Are you okay to sort this mess out?’ said Marjorie.

‘Aye,’ said Gertie. ‘It’s nothing I haven’t done before, eh? I’ve got enough chicken wire to tie him up nicely. Once I throw him in the sea the wire will slice him up and then the fish will finish him off. You know the score, eh?’

Marjorie ’s stomach turned.

‘I’d best be off then,’ she said.

*

The London bound train’s headlights cut through the fog as it pulled into the railway station. Marjorie could see The Reverend Bones smiling as she walked toward him. She could never get used to calling him Harry – she’d know him since she’d been a nipper, after all – but she expected that would probably change after the twins were born. A foghorn sounded and Marjorie shivered. Harry closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

‘A fresh start, eh?’ he said, as he took Marjorie ’s suitcase from her.

‘I really hope so, Reverend,’ said Marjorie, relieved that she’d brought her aunt’s cutthroat razor with her, just in case.

 

PAUL D. BRAZILL CAN BE FOUND LURKING HERE.

 

Despair in a time of plague – Pandemic Journal Fragments by E F Fluff

 

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Despair in a time of plague
Pandemic Journal Fragments

April 2nd 2020:

Outside happened.

Far more homeless around than normal, in medium to large groups.
Social distancing still a problem if people are queueing for the
till. Had one guy breathing on the back of my neck because he
tried to skip the queue because social distancing spots. Fuck it
all.

One of the main places where the homeless have been gathering,
looks like they’ve had a party. Not like normal. Sticky ground.
Smashed vodka bottles. It is also where people queue to get into
the shops.

Early closing does not seem to be a wise idea due to panics and
rushes.

There are more clusters of homeless in the area than normal, and
there is no distancing. Wandered into a builder looking fellow,
well enough dressed, with a well enough dressed wife, walking
around asking anyone who looked local for crack.

“Zero craic at the moment”.

He didn’t get the joke.

“What?”

“There’s minus craic.”

“Rock? You’ve got rock?”

“No…sorry…”

I’m probably lucky I didn’t get punched in the face for that. But
how or never. The whole three blocks in the area is busy, and
still hopping until about close to 9:30/10pm.

Sometime after ten, the Gards will swing by a few times, if
they’re bothered, and sound the siren.

The homeless drift back into the hostels, and the shadows.

They’ll often drift back at other times of night, and impromptu
sessions can start under my window.

If someone phones it in, maybe you’ll hear the siren.

The teenagers still roam. But a bit quieter.
Sometimes they can’t help themselves and fall into that loud
boyish honking and megaphone voice.
Sometimes a siren, sometimes self-awareness, and they too scatter
and fade.

My friend in the Lidl is confused by the shifts. 10-12 hours. But
due to distancing, they’re not as busy, or busy in spurts.

I keep meaning to ask him if they’ve been told they can’t wear
masks. As that fad seems to have passed abruptly.

The South Asian owned and run stores reacted fast. Plastic shields
went up at most cash registers. 5 at a time only.

Lidl seems permanently sold out of eggs, but otherwise remains
well stocked.
Tesco too, except for runs on alcohol.
Spar remains well stocked, but gouging still

I still see people walking in groups, and socialising.
A woman petting a stranger’s dog through a fence.
Sorta squinting watching her maybe rub Covid all over their puppy.
People spitting in the open streets. Coughing into the air.
The drunks seem more drunk
They’re getting bolder too…
Making beds in places they didn’t normally, earlier.
No quarter asked, no fucks given.

Masks are predominantly on Irish-Asians, Irish-South-Asians,
Irish-Latin Americans I don’t know nationalities exactly, but
they’re ours, so it’s Irish.

There is a healthy state of paranoia in the building.
Sometimes people jump out of your way or walking into walls to
avoid being close to you.

Nearby, addicts on a ragged tip are trying to sell half-finished
bottles of methadone to people queueing for food without masks.

Homeless swarm at their feet to sit, like ducks, waiting for
bread, which they can they turn into cans and vodka. The odd
suspicious cough here or there.

(Photos by Colin Cowdrey)

 

 

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New from All Due Respect: Man of the World by Paul D. Brazill

Buy the trade paperback from the Down & Out Bookstore and receive a FREE digital download of the book!

Also available from the following retailers …
Print: AmazonAmazon UKBarnes & NobleIndieBound
eBook: KindleKindle UKNookiTunesKoboPlay

Synopsis … Ageing hit-man Tommy Bennett left London and returned to his hometown of Seatown, hoping for respite from the ghosts of the violent past that haunted him. However, things don’t go to plan and trouble and violence soon follow Tommy to Seatown. Tommy is soon embroiled in Seatown’s underworld and his hopes of a peaceful retirement are dashed. Tommy deliberates whether or not to leave Seatown and return to London. Or even leave Great Britain altogether. So, he heads back to London where violence and mayhem await him.

Man of the World is a violent and darkly comic slice of Brit Grit noir.

Praise for the Books by Paul D. Brazill:

“If you took Ken Bruen’s candor, the best of Elmore Leonard’s dialogues, sprinkled in some Irvine Welsh, and dragged it all through the dirtiest ditch in South London, the result will be something akin to Brazill’s writing.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints and Gutmouth, for The Last Laugh

“A broad range of cultural strands come together in the melting pot and form a delicious stew of criminal adventure… The observations are sharp and the characters create small nuclear explosions as they collide with each other.” —Nigel Bird, author of Southsiders, for The Last Laugh

“Brazill offers a series of amusing episodes filled with breezy banter in this offbeat slice of British noir.” —Publishers Weekly, for Last Year’s Man

“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy, for Last Year’s Man

“Paul D. Brazill is the Crown Prince of Noir. That’s my opinion, granted, but I stand by it. For those who require proof, just pick up his latest novel, Last Year’s Man, and it will be clear why I make that statement. All hail the crown prince!” —Les Edgerton, author of The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, Just Like That and others

“Brazill is brilliant, a unique voice which stands out from the crowd.” —Keith Nixon, author of the Solomon Gray books, for Last Year’s Man.

man of the world final

Contraband by Liz Davinci

The song “Contraband” was originally called “Emergency”.

One of the songs originally planned for the EP “Contraband” stopped breathing about 85% of the way to being done and I needed to write a new one – an “emergency” song.

At first I didn’t want to give up on the originally intended song and it was a sad thing to eliminate it, but we did it.

I’m so glad I was honest with myself because “Contraband” was born and it’s a unique song that I really like.

It’s the only one of my songs that I completely made the beat for (and I am proud of the beat, but I prefer tapping Underhatchet’s expertise in this area).

“Contraband” is vocally/pianistically pretty much as close to an improvisation as it gets for me.  I just let the ideas flow linearly and used abstract lyrics to try to create a mood.  It went smoothly and I preserved almost all of the initial ideas in the final version.

I composed the bass line last and Underhatchet liked it so much on the demo that he wanted to play it on the final version.  In the video he is playing it on a bass guitar, though in the recording it is played on a keyboard.

liz davinci

 

Noir Classics: Those Who Walk Away – Patricia Highsmith by K. A. Laity

those who walk away

Don’t let the pull quote form Slavoj Zizek put you off. This too-little read classic by Highsmith is a cracking read. It’s suffused with an existential dread so thick you could cut it with a Derwatt paint knife. It starts in Rome and quickly moves to Venice, currently repopulated with swans and dolphins, which is no less bizarre than this book.

Adding to the head-jerking oddness, it’s dedicated to Lil Picard, ‘painter and writer, one of my more inspiring friends’ in Highsmith’s words. The Jewish artist was once part of the Dadaists scene in Berlin, hanging out with Brecht and Dix, then fled to New York where she hung out at Andy’s Factory and made performance art with Caroline Schneeman and Yoko. It’s a surprising choice for the notoriously anti-Semitic writer (they’d not spoken in a decade) but it speaks volumes to her yearning for art and artistry.

Art permeates the story: Ray Garrett is thinking of starting a gallery as he grieves for his wife’s suicide, fearing that he might have been able to save her if only he’d seen the clues (Highsmith dealt with the same when her lover, the artist Allela Cornell, committed suicide). This is the least of his problems, however.

The book opens with Garrett walking through Rome with his passive-aggressive father-in-law who, quiet suddenly, takes out a gun and shoots him, and then runs off. More shocked than injured, Garrett panics and runs back to his hotel to put a Band-Aid on the graze and clean the blood from his shirt. And to think: how did Colemon get a gun? What would he do when he discovered Ray was not dead?

This begins a weird tale of cat and mouse that quickly moves to Venice. ‘If he saw Coleman alone again just once, he could say it all plainly in words—say the plain fact that he didn’t know why Peggy had killed herself, that he honestly couldn’t explain it.’ But her father won’t accept the truth. So much so that Ray begins to wonder if he does bear some guilt. When Coleman shoves him off a boat into the wintery canal, Ray goes into hiding to let him believe he’s been killed. It may, in part, be fueled by the fever he catches from his soaking. But it becomes quite surreal.

He begins to think like a criminal, inventing lies sometimes for cover and sometimes just for a kind of romanticised desire to disappear from himself. Ray tells himself he’s not trying to change his appearance with the beard at the same time he’s cautioning himself to invent a ‘decent’ story: ‘The nearest to the truth was best, or so he had always heard.’ I love how Highsmith tips her hand here about her own easy story-making. Ray looks at himself (oh the cliché but this is 1967) and sees a lot more than he wants to:

It was an American face, slightly on the handsome side, hopelessly marred by vagueness, discretion, the second thought, if not downright indecision.

As gruesome as this all sounds, there is actually a lot of humour in the novel. Ray and his partner consider opening the Gallery of Bad Art in NYC, if they can’t find enough good painters to share. ‘Call it Gallery Zero, for instance. The public’ll soon get the idea.’ Highsmith obsesses over art and its quality in a very different way from Ripley’s blithe assurance that forgery is better than ‘good’ art. The humour pops out quite unexpectedly (like Highsmith’s own ‘jokes’ apparently) and so do the astute observations, like a sharp knife in the dark. I think Camus and Sartre would approve of this one which seems to sum up so much of her work:

Perhaps identity, like hell, was merely other people.

Kiss Like a Fist by Graham Wynd

She had a mouth that could raise the dead. It had raised me plenty over the years, but I’d never been close enough to Rosaline’s orbit to do anything about it.

Until tonight.

I brought her a third martini and her tongue had loosened enough to share some sage advice with me as she leaned back in the little snug. “Never fuck anyone crazier than yourself,” she said, sucking an olive between those rose red lips.

I would have done well to listen to that advice, but it was already too late. I was hooked like a flopping pollock, mouth agape and eyes glassy. Guess I even forgot to breathe. Like the day you find a tenner in the street and you know have to gamble on it because if you stick it in your pocket it will just be spent on mundane things and go too quick, but if you risk that windfall on the ponies or the dogs or even the feckin’ hurling, the fey folk will grace you with gold and all will be well.

That’s how it had been with Rosaline today. A thousand times I had watched her pass by, inhaled her perfume and wondered what it was like to slip your hand down those silken curves and feel her purr like a Jaguar. A thousand and one I expected it to be, but she stopped and crooked a red-taloned finger at me. “Seamus,” she cooed. “You busy?”

What passed through my head? A cloud of smoke fumes, a raging fire, a sea of lover’s tears, a madness—a farewell to the old life. The goddess had smiled upon me. She let me buy her a drink. Rosaline even let me speak. All I managed to stammer out was, “Can I get you another?”

“I got a problem, Seamus,” she confided when I brought that third cold stem to the table, making sure not to spill the tiniest drop. I had belted a measure of Jamie at the bar so I sipped my Carlsberg slow enough, although nerves tempted me to inhale its bubbly gold. “It’s a problem what needs fixin’.”

I nodded a little too quickly, until I suddenly imagined I might look like one of those dolls they sell with the spring in the neck so all they do is nod and nod. “Maybe I could help you out, Rosaline.” Smooth like, you know? She would never have guessed that a guy like me could come to the rescue, but  suppose I could prove myself—I’d be in like Flint.

“I had a feeling you might be the guy who could come through for me.” Rosaline got one of those long long cigarettes she always smoked and I fumbled through my pockets to find a lighter for her. Here’s a gal not keen on the forthcoming smoking ban. I held the blue plastic thingummybob up to light her coffin nail and allowed myself the opportunity of perusing her features. Up close—closer than I had ever been—her dark eyes drew me in like a bottomless pit, but one that I figured might have a soft landing at the end of it.

“What can I do for you, Rosaline?” My mouth wanted to go on talking but my brain had enough sense to shut up. I tried to keep my eyes from sliding down to the generous orbs of her chest that looked as if they would just fit the shape of my fingers. It might have been easier if her dress didn’t plunge down halfway to her navel. Rosaline probably never thought about the effect she had on men.

“It’s that bastard Reynard.” She leaned forward and laid her hand on my sleeve. I didn’t mind the better view it offered.

“Reynard, eh? He’s a foxy one.” A drop of sweat trickled down the side of my neck from behind my ear. It tickled something awful, but I didn’t want to wipe it away.

“He’s bugshit insane, is what he is.” Rosaline blew out a big lungful of smoke. “I ought to have known better.”

“But you’re shot of him now, right?” Things were looking up for me. Rosaline on her own, a good thing and no mistake. If I could help her out in some way, I bet she’d be grateful. Oh yeah, I could picture the ways she might show her gratitude, not all of them involving her being on her knees. “So much to the good.”

“Except for one thing.” A look crossed her face that froze me. The tasty pictures in my head evaporated, too. I never wanted to be the cause of a look like that; it sent a shudder through me. For such a lovely young thing she could look awful hard.

“What’s that?” I finally managed to croak.

“He took MacGuffin.” The icy hatred in her voice cut the air. Her eyes flashed as if an errant flame had been caught in them and burned hot. A woman full of fire.

“MacGuffin?”

“My Scottie!” She stubbed out her cigarette with vehemence. “He’s got my little boy.”

The dog, you eejit. I nodded, comprehending at last. “What he do that for?”

“Because he’s an evil, heartless bastard.” Rosaline leaned forward again, her hand on my arm. It made my pulse race again, but for a different reason now. “I want you to get him back.”

My idea of problem solving for Rosaline had extended about as far as cleaning the spark plugs in that tetchy little Mini she had or maybe tinkering with her plumbing. I was handy like that. “So you want me to go over there?” I had hoped the words would sound more self-assured than they did.

“I want you to get your arse over there and get my dog back.” Rosaline’s grip on my arm tightened. “And if he’s hurt a hair on his shaggy hide, I want you to kill him.”

I swallowed. “You think he’s…hurt him?”

“I’m just sayin’—he might not be that stupid, but I wouldn’t put it past him.” She sat back and threw the last of the martini down her red throat. “You go get my baby and I’ll be properly grateful, I can tell you, Seamus.” Rosaline smiled again, dazzling this time, her hand unconsciously raised to her heart to show me how much she cared. My eyes didn’t mind the location one bit. I felt like one of those cartoon wolves though I don’t think my eyeballs actually popped out of my head.

“Right, I’ll set out directly,” I said, getting to my feet with the soft curve of those cling peaches settling down in the back of my head to inspire me. “Be seein’ you.”

“I’ll be in my flat. Drop him by.”

As I walked along the canal, I did my best to weigh the image of Rosaline’s fine breasts against the rather daunting picture of Reynard MaConner. Everyone around here knew Reynard, whose name was never, ever shortened to Rey.

Not that he was terribly violent on the whole, I must say. Well, not as  rule. Rumour had it he had been the one to shoot Declan but nobody could tell if that was bluster, rumour or fact. There were guys who were all talk and there were guys who were all action; I guess Reynard had enough of the latter to make you take the words as gospel.

I could never figure out what exactly he did, but I knew where I’d find him. I turned off the canal onto Henry Street and there was the Den. I hadn’t been inside it for a couple of years, but it looked the same on the outside as ever—which is to say it looked like a place better off condemned. I took a deep breath and went im.

I regretted that deep breath immediately. There’s funky and then there’s funk-key. The Den definitely would not be winning any Guinness Best Pub awards that year or any other. The gloom of the fusty corners found its match in the sullen landlord who presided over the unpolished bar. There’s an art in catching a barman’s eye, a game most pub owners know well. The Den’s pint-puller assiduously ignored my presence. I would have to earn the right to a bevvie.

A murmur of conversation at the back led me to my target: Reynard occupied himself in conversation with a familiar figure. If I hadn’t known he was years in the grave I might have mistaken him for John Peel. He certainly looked like Peel, but he sounded just like Frank Carson. This was not advantageous. But it gave me an opening.

“English Bob, long time no see.” I clapped him on the back as if welcoming a long lost friend. English Bob of course was Irish and lived in America, but if you don’t get the joke, I’m not sure I could explain it.

Reynard regarded me with a cool gaze, but Bob glared at the interruption. “What is it you’re wanting, Seamus? I’m busy.”

“Not a thing, not a thing.” I spread my hands as if abashed by this hostility. “Actually I wanted to have a word with Reynard.”

There was something lupine in Reynard’s smile. “With me? Do I know you?”

I decided to stick with the glad-hand, friendly feller approach. “Not at all, not at all.” Repetition, repetition, repetition echoed in my head. “I’m just doing a favour for a friend.”

“Is this person of interest any friend of mine?” Reynard sipped his Guinness and his black eyes bored a hole through my forehead.

I tried to ignore the trickle of sweat meandering down between my shoulder blades. “That’s a tricky question, Reynard.” I kept hoping they’d ask me to sit down with them, but there was no offer.

Reynard exchanged a smile with English Bob. “Seems like a simple yes or no to me, is that not right, Bob?”

“Sure enough.”

I laughed. I meant it to sound all matey and friendly but it seemed to get a little strangled in my throat. “Well, not being privvy to the details of your life and friendships, I hesitate to make a reckoning of where you two stand.”

“You’re an eejit, Seamus,” Bob said with a grimace.

“Oh, I dunno,” Reynard said with a smile, one that would not have looked out of place on the fox who just broke into the henhouse, “I think he’s just being polite and careful like. Take the weight off your legs, why don’t you—er, Seamus, was it?”

I sat down with grateful speed. “It’s a delicate matter,” I admitted.

Reynard leaned over. “So who’s your friend then?”

I swallowed. “Rosaline.”

Reynard didn’t blink. “She send you?”

I chose not to consider the other possible meaning to that phrasing and simply answered, “Yes.”

Reynard smiled. It broke across his face like a rising sun. “Was she tearful?”

“No, not tearful exactly.”

“Was she drinking?”

“That she was.”

“Ah, well,” Reynard said with a sideways glance at Bob. “She’s missing me for sure.”

I coughed.

“Is it not the truth?”

“Well, ah.” How to explain? “That may be, sure enough.”

Reynard looked interested now. “But not why you’re here then?”

“Ah no, not quite.”

“Get to the feckin’ point then,” English Bob broke in.

“Patience, man,” Reynard said with a smile that suggested anything but.

I felt myself nodding a little too fast again. “It’s the dog, don’t you know.”

“What dog?” English Bob asked with genuine curiosity.

“The dog?” Reynard asked, clearly surprised.

“She wants the dog,” I said as quickly as possible, finding myself out of breath at the end. Nonetheless, uttering the words allowed me a sense of peace restored, like an overdue piss when your bladder’s bursting.

Bob and Reynard both stared at me for a moment with blank looks, then Reynard started laughing. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and real tears fell from his eyes before he was through.

It was not the reaction I had been expecting.

Given Rosaline’s anger and her fear that her ex might hurt her wee doggie, I had thought I would be stepping into the middle of a hard fought custody case. I envisioned the little dog stretched thin, me a-hold of one leg and Reynard to another. It now appeared I had miscalculated.

“She can have the mangy mutt,” Reynard said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t know why she didn’t take him with her in the first place.”

Relief flooded my veins. This was going to be a lot easier than I thought! I could almost feel the curve of those cling peaches in my palms already. “I can take him off your hands right now, if you like.”

Reynard gave it a thought for about it a minute then nodded. “No time like the present. Back in a few, Bob, my old friend.”

He lived just around the corner, over on the canal. I followed him up a flight of stairs to the red door of his flat. I could hear a barking within. “Sounds like he’s been missing you.”

Reynard gave a kind of laugh as he unlocked the door. “It’s not me he’s been missing.” As we stepped into the entry the shaggy ebony beast ran over barking like a banshee’s best friend. The sound deafened in the small space, punctuated by the tappity tap of his nails on the wood floor as he circled around us. His wee tail wagged like a windscreen wiper.

“Nice doggie,” I shouted.

“Feckin’ moron,” Reynard said, aiming a swift kick at the dog’s hindquarters as he pressed on into the sitting room. Clearly the Scottie had grown accustomed to this habit, for he moved just enought to elude the steel toe of Reynard’s boot and continued his deafening yapping. Reynard gestured for me to take a seat on the floral sofa that seemed strangely out of place next to the black leather easy chair and the big oak coffee table.

As soon as I sat down, MacGuffin leapt up into my lap and stared into my face as if memorising my features. I found it unsettling but at least he had shut up.

“He likes you,” Reynard said with sneer.

“More of a cat person really,” I said, nonplussed by the intense stare of the shaggy dog. I patted him gingerly, afraid he might start yammering again or worse, bite me.

“So why did Rosaline send you?” Reynard said, a hand casually resting on his crossed knee.

I blinked at him over the dog’s head. “To get the dog.”

Reynard smiled. Something in it gave me a chill. “Why did Rosaline send you?”

I shrugged. The terrier’s fetid breath huffed in my face as he continued to stare at me like I was a raw chop. “I was handy.”

“So, you’re not looking to make time with her because you know she’s thinking she’s free of me?”

I tore my gaze away from the pup to look at Reynard. His bared teeth no longer looked like a smile. I swallowed. “I’m just doing a favour for her. Old mates in the neighbourhood, like.”

“I don’t remember you from the neighbourhood.”

When did he pick up that gun? I could feel the sweat pop out on my forehead. I petted the dog trying to think what I ought to say. “I guess we moved in different circles.”

Reynard laughed: a short bark not too different from the Scottie’s yap. “Different circles, that must be it.”

“I just happened to be passing, bought her a drink, she asked me.” I ruffled the dog’s fur hoping I looked more calm than I felt. “Didn’t think it would be much of an ordeal, on my way really. Bit of shopping then.” Shut up, you’re babbling, you eejit!

He got up slowly, the hand with the gun slipping down casually as if it were just a natural part of his arm. “She might think she’s shot of me, but Rosaline hasn’t copped on to my persistent nature.”

“You don’t say,” I said, patting the dog now as if he were on fire.

“And that includes giving the wind to the hounds sniffing in her wake.” The gun no longer hung lazily by his side. “What are you after, Seamus?”

“Just this dog, that’s all, for sure, Reynard. No ideas above my station.” If I’d had them before, they had evaporated with what was left of the whisky. I looked up at the gun pointing at me. “Perhaps I should be on my way now.” I couldn’t really move though with the dog on my lap. For a small pooch he weighed a load.

“Why in such a hurry?”

“You’re a busy man. I know you’ll be wanting to get back to your business with English Bob.” I tried to shift the dog but he stuck to me like a burr. “I’ll just be on my way.”

“I don’t think so,” Reynard said, raising the gun.

I couldn’t actually say how it happened exactly. My mouth still hung open when MacGuffin lunged toward Reynard and snapped his teeth around his arm. He swore an oath—Reynard not the dog—but it got drowned out by the Scottie’s growls.

The two of them struggled, the dog making gutteral sounds and Reynard matching him snarl for snarl. I sat on the edge of the sofa uncertain what to do.

And then the gun went off.

Reynard fell hard. MacGuffin ran off across the room with the gun in his mouth, tail wagging to beat the band like a bodhrán player with St. Vitus, as he loped in circles around the room.

“Here boy, here boy.” I clapped my hands. I didn’t really want to look too closely at Reynard who lay very still. “We need to go.” My head filled up with a pounding that seemed audible.

The pooch paused by the doorway to the kitchen, the gun still clutched in his mouth. His look suggested mischief; we had no time for that. “C’mon, laddie. We’ll get you pies and bones and everything you want, just let’s go now!

He barked, tail vibrating a mile a minute, the shiny gun in his mouth.

Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, I lunged for him and he dropped down, forelegs on the floor, wiggly arse in the air. Thinks I wanna play! He darted past me, the gun tight in his teeth. I launched myself on him and we rolled across the floor until I heard another explosion and a fire seared through my gut.

But I got the gun when it dropped from his mouth and slid across the wood floor. The Scottie barked at me, hoping I would play some more. I hazarded a glance at Reynard, but he lay where he had fallen. A pool of blood had grown from the hole in his head.

I staggered up to my feet. Not so bad, not so bad. I limped into the bedroom and found a belt in Reynard’s drawer. I coaxed the doggie over and looped it through his collar. The two of us exited the flat with all due speed, which at that point wasn’t nearly enough.

It wasn’t so far back to the flat where she waited. I passed the usual crowd of students from the uni, knocking back a few naggins and looking for amusement. I saw a pair of Gardai but they were occupied with some Spanish tourists. I finally climbed the steps to her flat and rang the bell, feeling a bit faint. The ache in my side now shouted  louder than the blood in my ears.

“Rosaline!” I called out her name and rang the bell again. The dog hopped up and down with delight, glad to be home I supposed.

At last she answered. Her sleepy look quickly evaporated as she saw her little babe. “Macca! My baby!” She scooped up the dog and swirled him around, cooing.

“Bit of trouble—” I said, then fell back against the entry way wall. I found it hard to breathe.

“That’s all right, my baby’s back!” Rosaline murmured baby talk to the dog who licked her face vigorously.

Something about it seemed wrong, but I couldn’t think what. I slipped down the wall until I was sitting on the floor.

Rosalind finally noticed me and set the Scottie on the parquet. He trotted over to lick my face for good measure. “So who got the worst of the deal: you or Reynard?”

I coughed. “Him. I’m still mobile, right?”

“Is he dead?”

“You sorry if he is?”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll have a mass said for him, but I can’t say I’ll cry.” Rosaline looked down at me from the doorway. “You all right there, Seamus?”

“I will be, soon as I can share a little time with you.” I coughed again and something wet filled my throat.

“Maybe in the next life,” Rosaline said as she blew me a kiss and stepped over me, closing the door to the flat. “C’mon, Macca. Let’s get you a steak and kidney pie, baby.”

The dog gave a quick, sharp bark in my face then turned and trotted after the seductive sway of his mistress. I noticed his arse had the same little wiggle to it just before I slipped into the forgiving arms of oblivion.

“Kiss Like a Fist” originally appeared in Noir Nation 3 (October 2013).
GRAHAMWYND NOIR

Neglected Noir: Bedelia (1946) by K A Laity

bedeliaI finally got around to watching this because I am still (again, always) obsessing about Hannibal and the presentation I’ll be giving on it in April. What’s the connection? Show runner Bryan Fuller named a new character after her, Bedelia du Maurier (obviously the Rebecca author for the other half of her name). The novel should be showing up later this week: I’m looking forward to it. 

It’s hard to top Vera Caspary’s Laura – novel or film, though the author wasn’t entirely happy with choices in the film, like turning proto-incel Waldo Lydecker into a swanning Svengali. It’s hard to avoid that when you cast Clifton Webb. He certainly revels in it: who can forget him typing in the bath? And the rest of the supporting cast fills out the story well. When is Vincent Price bad? And Judith Anderson! Dana Andrews hits the right grumpy note for the reluctant detective who falls for a painting.

Despite making a late entrance to the starring role Gene Tierney is at her most magnetic – which is why it’s hard to avoid wishing she had taken the role of Bedelia, too. It’s a great story but the pieces aren’t as good as you could imagine them being, which is a pity because it is good. Margaret Lockwood is fine as the titular character: impulsive and mercurial, flashes of anger alternating with wheedling sweetness. Ian Hunter ably embodies the hapless husband who doesn’t realise his wife may actually be dangerous.

Barry K. Barnes is the detective in disguise as a painter who is convincing as neither. He’s sort of the poor man’s Leslie Howard; he even played the Scarlet Pimpernel in one of the later film sequels. Things get better when the action moves from (a very unconvincing) Monte Carlo to Yorkshire. Things crack on a little faster as the pressure gets applied. Is Bedelia having second thoughts? Or simply choosing a different victim?

Conclusions: dolls are always creepy. Cats vs dogs tells you a lot about a person, apparently. Murderers deserve better outfits. Worth a watch; well worth a remake, too.

If you have to say anything, say nothing at all by E F Fluff

if you have to1On a little island on the edge of the world.

That you’ll be tortured, degraded, humiliated, and ultimately, hardened to a strange faraway horizon point no one else will really understand; was something, we all, ultimately, later, laughed about.

There was a time, where if these childhood experiences fractured you, to a point of inability to move, continue, or handle. You, or the damaged person, was referenced with a sort of strange creased wrinkle frown shrug of half-remorse and half-ah well, they failed the hazing, but don’t talk about it too much, ‘lest there we ourselves go ah,ha-hahaa…

A very real, palpable sense of the dangers of abyss gazing, and names that should not be spoken.

The weak, the wounded; were relegated to the streets and halfway houses, alcoholism, derelicts and heroin.

We often knew why, but we rarely grazed on it in any depth.

Maybe if they died, or killed themselves; it might come up in graveyard passing, a rueful-faced aunt drag-twisted around a Superking as she threw away a comment before being hushed by another.

Our little island was never suited to the desolate rigors of Christianity.

We were a barbaric people who had found the time to give each wind its own colour.

Wrapped in hallucinogenics, our DNA hints of nomadic seafaring and other questions.

Vicious, unforgiving if crossed, midlander; there can only be one – don’t take the rivers, you’ll wake the old folk… and yet capable of drawing down a very intricate, expansive and forgiving legal system that intermingled with our fading knowledge of the power and source of Cunt.

Orthodox might have suited us.

Yet a swing of the calendar and Christendom being given open season on us, a little island on the edge of the world, unless we toed the line.

It’s no wonder the downers of knowing it is there but being gifted the ability to not give a fuck would become so intravenously attractive.

if you have to 2We used to paint ourselves blue, and dance howling into battle in baggy cloaks with sleeves for blade catching. The dye so astringent that a single cut and mingle of sweat and blood, and the wound would burn itself closed. And the only way you’re dealing with that is tripping balls, half cut.

It’s no wonder the Queen’s advisor said the only thing that would break the Irish was famine. Shortly before we entered a hundred or so years period of famines, great, large and small.

Island life is small, harsh, and unforgiving.

A revolving room of curtains you may never get to look behind.

If you have to say anything, say nothing at all.

That you’ll be raped is inevitable.

You weren’t? Maybe you don’t remember.

It’s not all buggery.

That you’ll be beaten is a given.

Each person’s view of a “beating” being relative, some more shocking than others.

We’re, maybe, hopefully, the last generation.

To get our teeth into it, to bend over, and grit.

The others gloss over the horror a little bit, preferring to focus on the biting poverty that they’ll reference as so desolate that their memories of youth are so grim; they only come in black and white.

The surreal commonplace of physical, and sexual misconduct so common, so rife, many of us don’t even know we were subjected to a wrong. Somewhere there, in the bleak hazing that is the foundry that casts the Jolly Irish Person the rest of the world has, mostly, sung the praises of for the last thirty or fifty years.

We made good soldiers; that’s a millennia old solid – no bullshit, just do, forward, like the sacred hare, always through the fire, the Paddy Mayne genetic imperative for a people so used to encroachment, one of our oldest tomes is called “The Book of Invasions”.

We’re not fucking about now.

The airport banner says a thousand million welcomes where it should say “How are ye, what’s in your pockets?” – not that we could accurately get the accompanying vaguely friendly squint down into text.

if you have to 3Father Ted was a documentary filmed in real time, written by a man who would later become trapped in the negative zone of his own past. Though he left, the old horrors would spin cycle him again and again like some dreary forgotten Lovecraftian temporal nightmare.

Little realising the rest of us had finally been able to move on.

In part due to the silver bullet he took for the rest of us.

It was all so rife, in memory it now plays out like some sort of blend of Brass Eye and Are You Being Served?

“There’s a paedophile disguised as a school/a church/a country…”

Out near the dual carriageway, a sodden alcoholic gym teacher, somewhere hitting fifty, in small tight red shorts that crush and swell his genitals to exaggerated proportions, that when the vodka makes sure he minces around in over-gesticulation. It’s hard to know whether to laugh, or feel disgust.

It seems so surreal now.

With his little closest by the boys changing room with the two-way mirror so he could watch us.

That, we discovered, and used to bait him out with ever wild and bizarre behaviour; including flamethrower fights with our lighters and deodorants.

Knowing he could never reveal what he’d seen because he could never reveal he was standing, steamed, huffing behind a one way mirror.

“What is this powder in the air!” “This powder!” “Who put this powder in the air!”

Knowing, knowing he could not reveal too much of the ruse ‘lest red-faced questions were asked.

The fanatic religion teacher with ligature scars around her neck. So fervent she thought nothing of inciting frenzied heathen dog piles on students who questioned her dogma.

The Christian Brothers who forced the fresh graduate to teach a class of thirty boys the horrors of abortion. Ghoulish teens needling a clearly emotional young woman trying hard to hold the line.

It was all so rife

We don’t even know until a foreigner puts their hand over their mouth in a strangled squeal of horror.

if you have to 4It was all so rife

We don’t even remember, and if we do, we don’t talk about it, because we’re not one of them, one of the weak ones. Sure, didn’t it toughen us up.

It was all so rife

I haven’t even had time to talk about the people who’d make you disappear. The cause, and all that. “Is Daniel there? It’s time for his tea.”

Maybe that’s why we do death so well, if you have to say anything, say nothing at all, and how better to do that, than over seven days drinking around the reminder corpse of a spirit that is finally free.

“Who can beat us? Nobody!”

Who’s like us? Nobody!

Who’s better than us? Nobody!

Island life.

If you have to say anything, say nothing at all.

E.F. Bio
E.F Fluff is still trying to escape a Kafka-esque nightmare of corruption, death threats, violence, white collar crime, and bigotry in Finland, and Ireland. Seriously. The photos above are all theirs.

Classics Reconsidered: George Simenon — The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By K. A. Laity

I’ll admit up front that I’ve never really managed to get into Simenon. I have read some Maigret novels and a couple of the romans durs. His own life was fascinating if macabre. I kind of enjoyed Maigret in New York, but I’m largely unmoved by the Belgian’s endless fascination with bourgeois Paris and the countryside. Maybe it’s my lack of Gallic blood. But then I came across The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (1938) in a pub and I was hooked almost at once.
Like Dorothy Hughes’ In a Lonely Place it offers a relatively early insight into a deeply disturbed mind, long before profiling existed. Kees Popinga seems like the ultimate bourgeois shipping clerk, living the dull life but master of all he surveys i.e. his little house and family. Then he accidentally discovers his boss has bankrupted the company on foolish speculation and is having an affair with the pretty woman Popinga lusted after. His career is ruined and his comfortable life overturned.
He spends the next day in bed to the mystification of his family, until he makes a decision. Popinga gets up and heads to Amsterdam, planning to have sex with Pamela, whom his boss has set up in a swanky hotel. She’s not onboard with this plan and laughs at his foolishness so, one thing leading to another, he kills her.
Then instead of watching the trains, he gets on one and heads to Paris where he has always wanted to go and things get wilder. He has all the anger and resentment typical of the serial killer without actually having the skills necessary to negotiate that life. The gradual revelations that he has always been a bitter man who resents everyone and everything, burying his tiny passive-aggressive moments of vengeance from the front of his consciousness. The slow spiral down to oblivion is fascinating. I read it in a day after starting in the pub the night before. I’ll probably read it again. It’s a fascinating psychological study.
There’s a film starring Claude Rains from 1952. It has that peculiar misogyny of the post-war period — all men are poor hen-pecked schlubs who can’t catch a break. It plays on the pathos of Popinga, as if he were a harmless Walter Mitty character instead of the black heart of suburbia that Simenon saw. Even Rains can’t give it much life. It’s kind of fascinating as an example of how adapting a story can go wrong.
simenon trains