Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I am reading The Night Manager by John Le Carre, and after watching the excellent first episode on Tv have decided to postpone watching further episodes till I have finished the book. 

Viewers of Happy Valley, the award winning TV series, have already seen a promotion when James Norton went from playing psychopathic rapist and murderer Tommy Lee Voyce to playing the dashing Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in War and Peace. With Happy Valley series two now on our screens Norton is demoted back to Tommy Lee Voyce. Happy Valley is a brilliant  program that has kept the excitement and high standards of series 0ne.

The Night Manager also involved a considerable change of status as glamourous French actress Aure Akita played Sophie, the mistress of crook Freddy Hamid, only to move on to play Gabrielle Tackichieff, Madame Secretary General at the Elysee Palace, in the second series of Spin [Les homme de l’ombre].  

nate nashThanks for the good wishes I have received for a continued recovery.

Palace of Treason is the sequel to Red Sparrow and features the return of those memorable characters Domenika Egorova and Nate Nash. The book’s author Jason Matthews was for 33 years an operations officer for the CIA, and the story is packed with details of espionage trade craft. Various aspects of the work of the CIA are covered. Nate is running a “walk in” disaffected Russian General given the code name LYRIC. While Domenika, a Captain in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service the SVR, is deep undercover attempting to turn an Iranian nuclear scientist, and sabotage their program to create a bomb. The story is incredibly complex with treachery from a passed over American official likely to expose Domenika as a double agent, despite her past successes and closeness to one of the major characters in the book, Vladimir Putin.

There are some very interesting features in this novel, some make it an easy interesting read, for instance the recipes at the end of the chapters that refer to food eaten or mentioned in the preceding section. Others become irritating and detract from the progress of the narrative.

Firstly there is too much descriptive violence and sex, which probably means I am not the target demographic for the novel.

Secondly there is an enormous amount of detail which results in the book coming in at 533 pages. It almost seems as if Jason Matthews has so much information and has done so much research he doesn’t want to waste it. Everything is described at great length, frequently when it refers to violence at too great a length. 

Thirdly the book does feel like soemthing from the past with a Cold War antagonism to the Russians going beyond that period back to the time of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond novels, where racism and xenophobia were normal. In Sapper’s novels the bad guys began at the Channel, or sometimes even Goldaming, and the villains were always nasty looking foreigners. Matthews’s  Russian bad guys are uniformly ugly, the short vicious dwarf like Zyuganov, the hairy ape Yevgeny, and the repulsive brutal female assassin Eva Buchina, while Domenika, Nate and young agent Hannah are attractive and sexy. Perhaps it is this immature attitude that makes the story so readable? 

But more important than the ridiculous fictional uglies is the very unflattering use of a real life character Tsar Vladimir Putin. Legal Eagle Bill Selnes of that intelligent blog Mysteries  and More in Saskatchewan discusses the legal ramification of using real life characters here

In Palace of Treason the Tsar is venal, corrupt and only interested in his persoanl wealth and power. I suspect in real life all is not as black and white as in the novel. He and his crew do enrich themselves at the expense of the Russian people, but Putin does seem to care for Russia and her interests. British politicians might learn something about putting their own country first.

And of course some of our British politicians have allegedly greatly enriched themselves after leaving office, and others seem to conduct their affairs with one eye on future jobs in the United States. 

Despite my criticisms I did enjoy Palace of Treason especially the Russian humour, and the food. It may not be subtle and not reach the standards of maturity set by John Le Carre, or Joseph Kanon, but it is a fine espionage story.

The Cold War never ended. Rebuild Russia’s former power and majesty. Putin himself liked to tell the story:

It is discovered that Stalin is alive and living in a cabin in Siberia. A delegation is sent to convince him to return to Moscow, assume power and restore Russia to greatness. After some reluctance, Stalin agrees to come back. 

‘Okay, ‘ he says, ‘but no Mr Nice Guy this time.’

leaving berlindefencelessHummzagrebricciardiYou can read about my selection of the best European set crime fiction books I read during 2015 over at Euro Crime.

As you can see from my choices I would much rather read books with a relevant political message than crime fiction novels that are merely variations on the theme of the serial killer. 


OT: The Summit: Ed Conway

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Off Topic, Uncategorized

The SummitFrom the back cover: The idea of world leaders gathering in the midst of economic crisis has become all too familiar. But the meeting at Bretton Woods in 1944 was the only time countries from around the world have agreed to overhaul the structure of the international monetary system. And, what’s more they were successful-it was the closest to perfection the world’s economy has ever been. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished accounts, diaries and oral histories, this gripping book describes the conference in stunning colour and clarity.

Author Ed Conway is the economics editor of Sky News, and was previously economics editor of the Daily Telegraph. He has written a fine book that is in fact more than an account of the Bretton Woods Conference, it is an economic history of Europe between the end of the Great War to our current situation. I did not understand most of the economics in the book as I am a believer in the simple Wilkins Micawber school of fiscal responsibility. 

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

I sometimes think that many British Chancellors of the Exchequer hope that David Copperfield, the magician, will conjure some money for them rather than obeying Dicken’s mantra. 

The history and economics are interesting, but it is the larger than life characters in the book that make this book so gripping. The two dominant economists at Bretton Woods were the British John Maynard Keynes and the American Harry Dexter White. Two very different people Keynes, from an early age outshone his intellectual parents, father a Cambridge lecturer, mother a social reformer and politician, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. A member of the Bloomsbury set he was a conscientious objector. White, a First Lieutenant during the war, was the son of a Boston Hardware merchant, who had changed his name from Weit, after arriving in America from Lithuania. It is the contrast in backgrounds between the main protagonists that is part of the fascination of the story of Bretton Woods.

The book is full of historical vignettes about the period and the characters, some not flattering to the Bloomsbury set as they partied while men died in the trenches, and some vital to understand the very different standards of the period. The Bretton Woods conference was held in the slightly run down Mount Washington Hotel, one reason being that its owner Bostonian David Stoneman was Jewish. Both Henry Morgenthau Jr, US Treasury Secretary and Harry White, the US chief negotiator, had been turned away from other New England hotels in the past because they were Jewish. 

But some things never change:

Among the latter category was the Greek delegate Varvaressos, who seemed, to judge from his interjections, not to have absorbed the fact that the Fund was to be used only in emergencies rather than providing a steady stream of cash for his country……..He is a decorative creature and an entertaining companion, but I am convinced that, despite the high esteem in which he is held by the Treasury, he is fundamentally a bit of a fraud.

And in recent times we have seen a leftist finance minister with a millionaire lifestyle represent Greece, and achieve more self publicity than concrete help for the Greek people, who I might say deserved far better.  

We shouldn’t be too hard on any of the people of that time after all only twenty one years after the end of the Great War the world had been plunged into another catastrophe of mind blowing proportions.

one in five of the entire Polish population was killed; one in eleven of the Russian population; one in fourteen Greeks; one in fifteen Germans; one in seventy-seven French; one in 125 Britons. In those countries occupied by the Nazis, the fatalities were disproportionately among the educated population.

The Summit was one of the best non fiction books I have read for some time, highly recommended.  


NWUnforgottenHappy New Year. Let us hope that 2016 is a more peaceful year for our world, and that our political masters and mistresses start to act in a more sensible fashion. 

You can read about my 2015 discovery, Nicola Walker, and some excellent choices by the other Euro Crime reviewers at Karen’s encyclopaedic website Euro Crime


OT: The rugged terrain of England

Posted: November 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

Jose Ignacio posted some wonderful photos of the mountains outside Madrid.

Inspired by his post I had to show that England is not all big cities and green fields with my own photos taken in September. I have to admit no hiking or climbing was involved just a gentle stroll along the base of the cliffs in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset.


OT: More Summer Distractions

Posted: September 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Crime Scraps is now nine years old so to mark that milestone I have posted some more photos I took this wonderful summer. 

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OT: Summer Distractions

Posted: July 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Falling Freely, As If In A Dream by Leif GW Persson (tr Paul Norlen) – published by Transworld.
Camille by Pierre Lemaitre (tr Frank Wynne) – published by Quercus.
Cobra** by Deon Meyer (tr K.L Seegers) – published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (tr Sam Gordon) – published by MacLehose Press.
The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo (tr Isabelle Kaufeler) – published by HarperCollins.
Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman (tr Ian Giles) – published by Quercus. 

I have read two books from this shortlist. The link above is to my review of the last book in Leif G.W.Persson’s trilogy about the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the world to have read the complete three volume “story of a crime”, and the only person to have enjoyed it? I needed the exercise, both mental and physical, involved in tackling these hefty books.

I have extracted below my comments about Cobra made in a review of my summer reading last September 13. I do have Camille by Pierre LeMaitre translator Frank Wynne ready to read after my current door stop read, but I probably won’t read the others unless one of them wins. 

Cobra** by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers is a fast moving thriller set in Cape Town. Benny Griessel is called to a bloodbath when trained bodyguards have been executed at a luxury guesthouse by a professional killer, or killers, leaving behind distinctive shell casings marked with a cobra. A mysterious Briton Paul Morris, a man seemingly with no past, is missing presumed kidnapped.

Meanwhile charming young pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is plying his trade in order to help pay for his sister Nadia’s university fees. But when he is picked up by security guards for stealing a beautiful foreigner’s purse, a figure intervenes killing the guards but allowing Tyrone to escape leaving behind his mobile phone.

Tyrone still has the disk wanted by the killers, and when Paul Morris is identified a race develops to save him and Nadia who has been seized by the Cobra killers. Yes it is all very complicated, and exciting. Although Cobra is marketed as a Benny Griessel novel, my favourite police person in the novel is:

Captain Mbali Kaleni was the only woman in the DPCI’s Violent Crimes Team. For six long months now. She was short and very fat. She was never to be seen without her SAPS identity card on a ribbon around her neck, and her service pistol on her plump hip. When she left her office, there was a huge handbag of shiny black leather over her shoulder.

She is my favourite character because doesn’t fit the stereotype of women cops in crime fiction, and above all she is honest.

‘State security eavesdropping on us, taking over a criminal case. Just like in apartheid times. We are destroying our democracy, and I will not stand by and let it happen. And it will, if we let it. I owe it to my parents’ struggle, and I owe it to my country.’

Another fine book that should be a contender for the International Dagger. 

51khW2gvs-L._SL110_THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)


The winner was announced tonight at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol. The award was presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series. 

I haven’t read this one yet, but it must be a very good novel to beat out the four novels that I did read from a strong shortlist.