Archive for the ‘Indian sub continent’ Category

51FLkOS0cLL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_David Downing is the author of six John Russell spy thrillers set in World War II Berlin one of which, Stettin Station, I read and reviewed for Euro Crime back in 2009. That series is now completed so I was interested to get an ARC from publishers Soho Crime of the first book in what promised to be a fine new spy series set around the Great War. Jack McColl, a luxury car salesman, is also working  for British spymaster Cumming and hoping to obtain a full time post in the fledgling intelligence service.

Cumming is based on George Mansfield Smith- Cumming, the original C, first director of the Secret Intelligence Service SIS whose top agent during the Great War was the “Ace of Spies” Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, the man Ian Fleming probably based his creation James Bond. It has always amused me that the quintessential British secret agent was based on a  man going by the name Sidney Reilly, who was actually Georgi Rosenblum from Odessa.

The story starts with McColl in Tsingtao, a German colony on the Chinese mainland, where along with his younger brother Jed and his friend Mac he is marketing the Maia luxury automobile. McColl, the spy, uses local prostitutes to obtain pillow talk information from German officials and naval officers about their East Asian Squadron. Tsingtao fell to our Japanese allies early in the war, but this German colony left the legacy of a beer sold widely in our supermarkets. When one of his young Chinese information gatherers asks too many questions and the German officer becomes suspicious, McColl has to flee Tsingtao travelling by rail to Shanghai. 

McColl himself was thirty-two years old, and had been born into a world without automobiles or flying machines, phonographs or telephones, the wireless or moving pictures. Who in his right  mind would exchange this thrilling new world for battle fields soaked in blood? 

Well that question was answered earlier in the chapter by a supposed German water engineer, talking about the Kaiser.

He grew up playing soldiers and can’t seem to stop.

Simplistic but probably not too far from the truth.

McColl begins an involvement with the beautiful  suffragette journalist Caitlin Hanley, and the story moves rapidly on as he journeys from Shanghai across the Pacific to San Francisco; enjoying Caitlin’s company at every opportunity despite worries about her family’s affiliations and her antagonism to British colonialism. There is much more to McColl’s journey, and the reader learns about  working conditions in American factories, India’s struggle for independence, the Irish problem, and the Mexican revolution.  

This book was an easy read and there was tension and excitement in places, but I could not get over the feeling that there was more than enough international incidents packed into the 338 pages to fill another couple of books. I wondered if some of the plot, that occurring at Tampico and Vera Cruz, was added later with thoughts of an American readership. Unfortunately the frenetic action meant the characters were a bit predictable and somewhat naive, with McColl’s ability to sustain punishment and get out of impossible situations a bit more James Bond than Richard Hannay. A good, but slightly disappointing read, and I will be very interested to see how the rest of the series develops.  

I love history therefore in October along with two crime fiction books I read two non fiction books, and also started a third. 

They may seem depressing alternative choices to dark Scandinavian crime fiction but in fact one of them, Into The Silence, The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis was an inspiring tribute to the men who survived the trenches to risk their lives climbing Everest in the 1920s. Into The Silence has been nominated for the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize and must be a strong contender as despite its length, 578 tightly packed pages, it is a wonderfully interesting read. Within its covers are an English social history of the Edwardian upper class, a demolition of the Great War generals, tales about the Raj, information on Tibetan culture, and an exciting story of mountaineering on the highest point on the planet.  

Europe’s Last Summer by David Fromkin goes into great detail about the path by which Europe went down the path to war in 1914 lead by leaders who did not really understand what they were doing. The Great War was the tragedy from which all the other tragedies over the last century have flowed. 

As late as 1926, as the nation mourned the death of nearly 1 million men, Haig would write on the future of war. ” I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity of the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse-the well bred horse-as you have ever done in the past.”     Into The Silence: Wade Davis    

[Update 13 November: Into The Silence by Wade Davis did win the Samuel Johnson Prize]

There is at least one well known crime fiction columnist who refers to those of us who read Scandinavian crime fiction as the “chattering classes”.  What does he make of the new fashion for watching foreign crime TV series, and eating herrings on rye bread. Are we exhibiting some kind of middle class snobbery, or do we just like a good story well told?

I have recently watched one episode of the promising American series Homeland, and two episodes of Montalbano, which had all the charm and comedy of the books. The start of the Danish series Those Who Kill awaits me on the recorder. To provide some balance I decided to watch the new series of Kidnap and Ransom starring Trevor Eve, who I remember from his days as private investigator Eddie Shoestring in 1979-1980. I had not seen the first series and had no idea what to expect.

I had hoped for something of the standard of Foyle’s War, or Scott and Bailey,  and was even prepared to put up with the incessant adverts on ITV. Unfortunately despite a large travel budget and a star cast, Kidnap and Ransom will send this viewer rushing back to Borgen, The Killing, Spiral, and Braquo begging for subtitles.

Writer Michael Crompton stated in The Guardian that “he wanted to make sure the drama wasn’t like those Hollywood films where there are standoff and guns. I wanted to look at the psychology and give it a sense of veracity.”

I don’t like being critical, but almost all the viewer got in episode one was “standoff and guns”.

The setting is Srinigar in Kashmir where the handover of the money for the release of a wealthy British Asian family goes disastrously wrong, and negotiator Dominic King [Trevor Eve] is faced with a situation in which one of his hostages is held hostage again on a bus with a tour group, which just happens to include the daughter of an important foreign office official.

We assume that Dominic King [Eve] is a clever expert because he calmly plays a strange game of chess with an elderly local before the first handover. That was apparently the veracity. We know King is high tech because he rambles around with several mobile phones all apparently taking advantage of the excellent mobile reception you get in Kashmir. Luckily he does not have to operate in the Exe Valley or on Dartmoor.

We know he is a smooth operator because his assistant, the attractive Amara Karan, does all the work; and back in London he has the gorgeous women Helen Baxendale and Natasha Little fighting over him. Not content with this array of female beauty the daughter of one of the hostages on the bus is played by Sharon Small.  I admit it was the presence of the fragrant Sharon Small on the cast list that made me watch this program rather than any determined search for balance in my television viewing.

The action in episode one strained one’s credulity to the limit. One of the hostages is shot attempting to escape, and with incredible speed, an autopsy, and ballistic analysis prove it was the black clad trigger happy Indian security police that shot him. Then Dominic King is allowed by the Indian police to saunter round the tour bus containing the frightened hostages and terrified kidnappers, writing messages on the side of it, while telephoning all and sundry. 

I lost interest at that point, but will probably be back for episode two to see Sharon Small travel out to Kashmir; and to find out whose body Trevor Eve dumped in a lake in the start of the episode before we flashed back to action two weeks previously.

I have my theories, the script writer…the director….his agent……..