The Plot Against Heaven

Mark Kirkbride

The question going through my mind is…. Well why shouldn’t one do God and the Devil as opposing tin-pot dictators, being driven around in limos and buying up arms, each ruling over their own little territory?  Why should I be feeling (though I was feeling it!) that it’s not very plausible to do them in quite this way?  Plausible? God? The Devil?  Would I really be happier with one of them wearing a toga and sitting on a cloud, and the other sporting horns and a tail?  Would that make the whole scenario more plausible to me? Really?

I was reminded, in a backwards way, of the terribly disappointing scene in Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in which God gets killed in a battle that somehow doesn’t quite engage the imagination.  Pullman’s is a work of staggering ambition which begins magnificently, captivates for several hundred pages, but fizzles out as the trilogy grinds on, so by the time God appears, the author seems to have run out of ideas. Kirkbride is happily more modest in his plans, and his brief novella (no, that’s not a tautology, I mean it’s brief even for a novella!) uses God and the Devil and a hapless Pilgrim to tell an engaging little story that one likes more and more as one dances through it in the course of an afternoon – which to my mind is a better progress than investing weeks in a celebrated trilogy and feeling disappointed at the end…   Kirkbride’s is a slight little tale about love and loss, but in the telling it offers plenty of wry humour and a wistful romance, so I couldn’t complain.

More substantially it offers a witty  challenge to that clichéd staple of western fiction ‘the battle of good versus  evil’. 

I thought for a while he was going to do that cliché – just reversing the polarity for amusing effect: God as an oppressive authoritarian and the devil as a laid-back right-on liberal, defending the oppressed. But he didn’t.  He presented the battle of Heaven and Hell as exactly that: a battle in the conventional sense with warplanes and propaganda and people getting killed. Perhaps that’s the point: the absurdity of approaching morality as a battle ground, the way warmongers like to do, as something we can impose on the basis of ‘might is right’.  I remembered the pacifist slogan, daubed on toilet walls in the university of my adolescence “fighting for peace is like fornicating for virginity”. 

I dare say religious Americans will find this story sacrilegious  and they’ll complain about it, like they did with Harry Potter.  That’s fine by me.  I’ve been right off religion ever since the pious Governor of Mississippi decided to veto prison reforms, despite my scrupulously argued appeal to New Testament instructions about humility and forgiveness, which I sent to him personally from this blog.  So if there has to be a battle, though I have to hope there won’t be, I may as well get in the bumpy lift, and join the other side.


Review by De Gevallene

The Plot Against Heaven, Mark Kirkbride

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This review was undertaken as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. I bought the book myself.

Scarred

Damien Linnane

“Can you imagine a world without men? No crime, and lots of fat happy women.”

Nicole Hollander

Here is a chilling book about male violence.  It is written by a man, though it offers as grim a depiction of the male psyche as any I have read from the most radical end of feminist rhetoric. Beware. There’s an awful lot of men in the world and they’re not at all nice.  

Oh come on! I hear you say.  It’s a book about two serial killers – meat and bread of crime fiction, nothing more: what did you expect?

OK – let’s gets that pair over with. No doubt they will be the focus for most reviewers, so let me be perverse and treat them briskly, the better to focus on the world behind them.  There’s Jason.  He kills because he’s damaged, he’s autistic, and killing helps him to feel better. Especially when people annoy him. He’s a helpful lad. He thinks he’s making the world a better place.  And there’s Howard.  He kills because he’s a psychopath.  He enjoys the power of cruelty, the more brutal the better. He finds it sexually arousing to torture a woman to death. He’s a nasty piece of work.

But who else does this author give us?  Who else populates the world that he creates? Who is there to deal with this double dose of serial homicide?

There’s a weary, middle aged policeman, with a macabre humour and at most a residual interest in justice. Some other policemen, less well defined, but generally unsympathetic – smirking and cracking sick jokes in the midst of tragedy.  A drug dealer. A paedophile ex-headmaster. A violent abusive boyfriend. A prostitute’s bullying customer.  Boys at school who teased our hero… I could go on. It’s unremitting. 

And behind them all there are fathers.  Jason generally thinks of his father as he kills people: it is clear who he is killing in his head.  Jason’s father was a brutal, sadistic criminal – perhaps a bit like Howard. Then there’s Howard’s father – drunk, uncaring and violent.  The bullying father of Jason’s ephemeral girlfriend. The abandoning, brutal father of one of Howards victims. The murdering father of a little boy found dead in a swimming pool.  Even Ames, the policeman, stands in the shadow of a cold indifferent father incapable of connecting with his son.  By the end of this book, I felt I was being carried along in an unending tide of damaged, brutal, disconnected men, and their damaged, brutal disconnected sons.

Women barely figure in this story. There is a brief encounter with a kindly mothering volunteer; a fleeting tenderness with a one night stand; a few  harassed mothers doing their inadequate best; a wife left alone at home while the policeman works late; a middle aged teacher’s  impulsive, futile attempt to protect a young pupil; Jason’s momentary connection to a little girl he rescues – before she too disappears back into a world of abuse.  There is a kind of yearning here, a disbelieving glimpse of a possibility of a different, kinder way of being human.  But mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters: in this novel they are all washed away in the inexorable tide of damaged, damaging men.

A friend of mine, a doctor, is fond of referring to the Y chromosome as “the broken one” – the fault at the heart of the human condition. She also refers to autism,  from which one of our protagonists clearly suffers,  as “maleness on steroids”, and psychopathy, the problem of the other, as “maleness with vindaloo”. At the heart of both conditions there is an absence of connection, of empathy, a desperate, grandiose, self absorbed aloneness from which all of the men in this grim book seem to suffer.  So perhaps this author agrees with her.

What a bleak world he has summoned up!

He has done it expertly. The book is fantastically well-written, compelling, absorbing, immersive.   By the end I felt myself sinking into his toxic confection as if there were nothing outside it, as if the world were, indeed, as bleak as he depicts it. He nearly persuaded me.

Thank god for the many men in my life, as diverse and as fine and as tender and as funny as the women. Thank god for the women too. Thank god for the pestering cat even – by the end of this book I was ready to take connection wherever I could find it.

I will give this book 4 stars because it is consummately written and so nearly achieves its goal. But then I will put it away and be pleased not to open it again or to look for a sequel.  Perhaps I have stayed too long in this world of dark books that has intrigued me so much.  Perhaps it’s a boy’s world really.  I may join the Women’s Institute and start making jam.


Review by De Gevallene

Scarred, by Damien Linnane,  Tenth Street Press

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Everyone is a Moon

Sawney Hatton

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everyone is a Moon – Strange Stories: Sawney Hatton, Dark Park Publishing

Oh yes indeed, what very strange stories!

So what can I say?

  1. The man can write.  (As my friends know, I am inclined to forgive the devil as long as he punctuates correctly, knows the exact moment to finish a sentence and generally has a fetching turn of phrase; this capacity for forgiveness was often called upon as I read this interesting work.  )
  2.  He is sometimes very funny.  I laughed out loud in a couple of the stories – though the devil does generally get the funniest lines in life, so the man has an unfair advantage. 
  3. This isn’t a book to give your Aunty Mary or the children.  Personally I would caution against giving it to anyone. (I’m sorry Mr Hatton – I dare say you arranged your book tour at this time in the hope that people would then buy your book for their friends at Christmas.) Please think twice, dear reader.  It’s all very well to enjoy this book yourself, but would you really want you friends to know you enjoyed it? Or would you like to be friends with anyone who did? Seriously?
  4. It’s not the most revolting, distasteful, shocking and shamefully dehumanising thing I’ve reviewed this year. (That would be the Mississippi Department of Health Annual Report into conditions in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. At least Mr Hatton’s book is fiction.)
  5. Oh yes, and it has a gorgeous cover.

Look folks, you’ve got to understand I’m scraping the barrel here, because some of you reading this might be my friends, and I really don’t (see point 3 above) want you to think ill of me for having rather liked this book.

Some of these stories really are pretty vile, and I wish I hadn’t read them.  Other reviewers picked out the one about the fluffy thing.  (OK that was grim, but hey, the creature came out OK in the end, and at least the story ensured that everyone looked up Marie Provost on Wikipedia, so it was, at least, educational.  If you liked this story – but of course I’m sure you didn’t – you could google ‘Post mortem injuries inflicted by golden hamster’ and please have a nice evening.)  No. The one that got to me most was the tasteful evocation of a misspent adolescence, complete with a fantasy that I really wish this author had kept to himself. It didn’t help that this piece was written as a perfectly judged facsimile of one of those meandering memoirs of old friends and youthful exploits that so many people like to put together to impress their younger relatives. Which meant that I really did (actually I still do – there is bluff and double bluff involved here) believe that he was writing the treasured moments of his own adolescence. A bit tough, therefore, when I saw in the preface (shouldn’t have left that till last, I guess) that this story is a reflection on the adolescent development of a serial killer – which leaves some questions unanswered in my mind. (I’m certainly not inviting Mr Hatton for Christmas.)

Oh! I know what I can say!  This is a very intelligent book of horror stories.  And despite a few lapses, it’s not, actually, particularly gory. (Excuse me, don’t raise your eyebrows like that. Unless you’re Bob van Laerhoven, it’s not attractive. Yes, I do dark and difficult: I have quite a high threshold).  It’s certainly not one of those tedious books that thinks it can invoke horror simply by piling on more and more blood, more and more dismemberment. Whatever.  The shocking thing about those sorts of books is that the horror of gore is transient; as any surgeon or butcher’s assistant can tell you, after the first few (I-think-I-might-faint) encounters, they develop a bit of a ‘seen one seen them all’ air to them.  There is nothing ‘seen one seen them all’ about this book.  Each of the stories is entirely unique, and each of them weaves its magic in a different way, disturbs in a different way.  This author understands that less is more: the unsaid is louder than the said. So he writes with a delicious economy and finishes his stories before you are ready. (Yessssss! That’s the art of it.)  There are two very different depictions of marital loss and loneliness – poignant, both of them, if you really think about  them.  There are a couple of explorations of religious conviction, both of which made me laugh, but also made me question some previously unconsidered truths. There are two stories about the creation of art, one cynical the other chillingly innocent.  (Does this author do everything in pairs?)

So I’m not inviting Mr Hatton for Christmas, but I’m glad I’ve met him again. (OK, it’s confession time: it’s better to own up than have some overzealous reader call me out for not declaring).  Yes, I’ve read something by this author before, and I’ve even reviewed it. So I can’t pretend that I didn’t know what was coming.  OK. Hands up. I admit it. I rather like this author.

But I’m only saying this once, and if you think ill of me for this, well you’d better put your Christmas present in the bin unopened.

Everyone is a Moon – Strange Stories: Sawney Hatton, Dark Park Publishing

Review by De Gevallene

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The Speed of Life

James Victor Jordan

“OK, so you’re a rocket scientist. That don’t impress me much” (Shania Twain)

“OK, so you’re a rocket scientist, a shaman, and a future Booker Winner. I guess I’m a little impressed” (De Gevallene)

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The Speed of Life, James Victor Jordan, Turning Leaf Books

I’m glad that I’m sufficiently bloody minded that having got such a bargain (paying just .99c for a kindle of this beautiful book!) I was determined to finish it even though it annoyed me quite a lot from the start.

It’s an impressively good book.

True, it seems rather too anxious to let you know this.  The substance of the book is sandwiched between an introduction comprising several pages of adulation from important admirers and closing acknowledgments name-checking a raft of similar luminaries. Winners of literary awards.  A nobel prize winning scientist.  A whole slew of professors.  OK. OK. Got it. 

And the story itself pressed quite a few of my “irritation” buttons. Descriptions of fancy clothes : fictitious people in expensively branded textiles. (I don’t care). New-age metaphysics : native American mysticism portentously mashed up with quantum mechanics. (Very on trend. Still annoying). Books where the handful of working class characters are mainly criminals and everyone else has a fancy job title.  (Well!)

But I glossed over that lot (yep, I’m the brave kind of woman who can cope with the squeak of chalk on blackboard and not even leave the room screaming).  I did try for a while to skim the book, but I can’t pretend that worked.  (If you skip two sentences you find that you’ve moved to a different point of view, in a scene happening decades earlier or later, with an entirely different set of people, and possibly in a different dimension, and it might or might not be critical to the plot.)  So I got a grip and read it to the end, through a couple of days and a couple of nights.

What I found when I did so was an exquisite exploration of the interconnectedness of human experience, beneath the invisible surface of everything – our lives endlessly bound up with those of strangers. And a thoughtful, open-minded writer, intelligently exploring questions about free will, about the possibility of relationship if there is no free will, about consciousness, about where we have come from, where we are going.  All the while building a clever crime story to a deeply satisfying denouement.

Throughout this is a project of elusive fragility – through the beautiful, mystifyingly connected illustrations that punctuate each part of the book, through snatches of dialogue, through scenes that seem out of place, out of time.  It is a book written as dreams are written – tangential, familiar, strange.  A question from the book, that I copied down as I read it: “After all, what is consciousness if not a dialog between the past, the present, and the future?  What are memories and dreams if not an expression of the speed of life?”

At that moment I was awe struck.  I knew I loved this book.

It was a tough weekend though, with this guy pinning me down and making me read every word. Later I might decide that I had Stockholm Syndrome.  In that case I’ll have to make do with being happy that I read the book before my friends did, since I rather predict that it’s heading for a Booker Prize. (Even if it’s only short listed, I’ll be one up on anyone who tries to bluff about it from the gush on Twitter. I hope my friends will be impressed.)

Everyone likes to impress occasionally.

Review by De Gevallene

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Review: Crackle and Fire, Russ Colchamiro

Crackle and Fire, Russ Colchamiro, Crazy 8 Press

This very readable little book is billed as a science fiction detective story.  Ha!

OK. Here’s the scenario.  For a long time the world (OK, the universe) has been reasonably led and controlled by a broadly benign oligarchy of rich and powerful beings, “The Minders”. These beings live in their very own dimension (“Eternity”) which looks (to judge by the descriptions) more or less like California, by which I mean rather richer than here in Europe and with lots more weapons, classier technology, and more colourful skies, but otherwise pretty familiar.  

OK, so it seems that the Minders haven’t been managing quite perfectly and some unfortunate infighting and corruption have been leading to some governance glitches, but they’re doing OK.  Really. Yes, they’re the good guys. True, they do interfere pretty cynically in the rest of the universe, (mostly from a distance, with a great deal of secrecy and abuse of superpowers), but anyway, they feel entitled to, because really they own the universe (don’t they?) and from their perspective the rest of the universe is pretty backward and lame, so it ought to be grateful.  (Hmm. Feeling like I know this scenario.) 

Well, where the story picks up, this off-world paradise is unfortunately going pretty pear-shaped and it seems likely that the rest of the universe is going to feel the aftershocks.  Or get destroyed as collateral. There’s a conspicuous amount of climate degradation going on (represented in this case by disorderly planets and moons and galaxies, and the sky changing colour, and unexpected blackouts… you get the idea).  And the population of paradise is definitely going astray. Not realizing that the established and well intentioned people who’ve always been in charge before are really the good guys and were doing their best, the misguided populace is letting a load of crazy conspiracy theorists persuade them that they really don’t need the nanny state (sorry, “the Minders”) at all, and that they’d be better off without it. 

Just then – well blow me down! – along comes a deranged, narcissistic, power-crazy demagogue who hates the Minders with a vengeance because they’re better than him, and he’s more than ready to commit whatever crimes it takes in order to get control, whip up the crowd, channel the conspiracy theories and throw away the old world order for his own self-aggrandisement. (Oh what a thing to happen!)

All this leads to a lot of adventures for those (including our trusty heroine, Angela) who would really rather the world went back to how it was.  However flakey the old order was, the alternative now unfolding is very much worse.  And with the Narcissist setting light to most of the oil that there is in the universe and paradise going up in flames, (the writing must be pretty vivid you know, because I could swear I’d seen this on the TV recently…) they certainly aren’t wrong.

Let’s just be glad that it’s just a novel, eh?  How we love science fiction in difficult times: all so far away and fanciful. And this story reads well, carries you along. It’s kinda neat. Ends on a bit of cliffhanger though. Wonder how it’s all going to turn out….

(Good luck with the election, Mr Colchamiro.  All of us down here on Earth, by which I mean Europe, are seriously rooting for the Minders.)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Russ Colchamiro




Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the zany SF/F backpacking comedy series Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the SF anthology Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.
 
Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two ninjas, and crazy dog Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson Keep, Pangaea, Altered States of the Union, Camelot 13, TV Gods 2, They Keep Killing Glenn, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, Camelot 13, and Brave New Girls.
 
He is now working on the first novel in a new series featuring his hardboiled private eye Angela Hardwicke, and the first of three collaborative novella projects.

Review: A Dying Wish (Razor, book 1)

A Dying Wish – Razor book one, by Henry Roi, paperback, e-book, audiobook (narrated by: Jamal West)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You may in these pages have seen me refer to “boys’ books”, invariably, I have to confess, in a righteously dismissive tone.  I mean to refer to books whose gratification comes from fighting and motor vehicles and weapons and sex, generally mixed unhealthily together, and without much concern for any moral or psychological or political context.  Bam bam bam, I’m the winner.  Vroom vroom, you can’t catch me.  And a certain amount of ah ah aaaah…. Well, enough said.  I’m a literary woman, I tell you, I have no time for such nonsense.

It was pretty clear from the start that this was going to be a “boys’ book”. After all, it starts with a fist-fight so gratuitously unrelated to the plot that I have to conclude that the author just likes writing fist fights.  Outrageous.  Next we get the motorbike, whose indulgently sensuous depiction leaves no doubt that the author very much likes these too.  Followed by a girl-on-girl fight scene so shamelessly relished that I can offer no commentary, and thence to a predictable moment of ah-ah-aaah involving one of these pugilistic young ladies….  A boys’ book in pure culture, so if I had any backbone I’d have switched off the audio straight away, and focused my mind on something worthy.  

I didn’t.

The seduction here was the audiobook format.  An audiobook is so wonderfully free of guilt, since it’s quite compatible with simultaneous creditable endeavours.  I could switch it on without committing myself to indolence.  I could have weeded the garden while listening to it.  Or hung out the washing.  Or painted the hall.  I didn’t actually do any of those things of course, but hey, I could have done.  At any moment I could have got off the sofa and I swear I was about to several times. 

It was the author’s fault that I didn’t. I got distracted by the minor characters.  I had been warned in advance, and on excellent authority, that the eponymous hero of this work was ‘a bit of an asshole’ (excuse this vulgar quotation, but the vulgarity rather ‘nails it’, as I believe young people say these days) whereas the other characters were worth a second look.  And so it was. 

There is Blondie, Razor’s girlfriend – an excellent amateur boxer and an engineer to boot (not to mention an author and a slightly-retired criminal) who I feel should have done a bit more to keep her asshole Romeo in order, but who none the less acquits herself rather well throughout the book.  Playing opposite her there’s Anastasia, aka the “Girl Beast”, a professional boxer, career woman and prisoner-on-the-run, towards whom I felt a most curious affection, almost as if I’d met her somewhere else, in some other life, though my memory is short, particularly when I’m embarrassed.  And there’s her geeky boyfriend, Julian, all skinny limbs and muscular brain, and their powerful minder Bobby and lurking in the shadows behind them, the gentle spectre of a honorable trainer, now sadly departed, whose dying wish is the pretext for all the shenanigans.

They seemed to be good people.  I liked them.  I liked the dynamics between them and (I hesitate to say this) I even liked the romp of a story whereby they tackle the local bad-guy gang, whose overweening ambitions are disrupting the local criminal economy.  Oh it’s a bad story, true, and politically incorrect in ways I can’t begin to reflect upon, but it made me smile and (in the increasingly frequent moments when I wasn’t thinking that I really should turn on Radio Four and calm myself with Women’s Hour or the Moral Maze) I found myself getting quite carried away by the cut and thrust of the conflict and the exuberance of the narrative.  Could it be that I felt my own biceps twitching for a bit of Bam bam bam?  That I found myself revving that bike a bit myself for a bit of vroom vroom vroom? That I even… no I won’t go there. That wouldn’t be seemly.

Yes, it was fun.  And even the hero, who I was quite determined to dislike, seemed a little less of a discredited bodypart by the end.  After all, he really does respect his clever girlfriend, and he’s faithful to her too, despite a number of temptations.  And he concedes without rancor that Anastasia – a girl for heavens sake! – is actually a better boxer than him, and possibly, just possibly, that Julian is smarter.  He even (and I’m not talking about any of his many fistfights) has a moment of heroism. Self-sacrifice almost.  Perhaps – oh reader, I’m sorry to say this, and I fear the author may hate me for it – perhaps he’s really, underneath all that asshole stuff, a bit of a sweetie.

 I can claim no moral virtue in this book, but after it I felt much amused and decidedly invigorated.  And these are dark times, and they certainly call for a bit of that.  And it’s an audiobook, remember.  You can still take a stab at the washing up or at deadheading the roses – but at least switch off Woman’s Hour and forget the Moral Maze. Maybe even you deserve a boys’ book sometimes.  (Or maybe you don’t, but your secret’s safe with me).


A Dying Wish – Razor book one, Henry Roi, published by Next Chapter with audiobook by Audible , narrated by: Jamal West

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry Roi

Henry Roi is an author, publicist, and teacher.  He has been writing crime and horror since he was a teenager and worked for several publishing houses as an editor and publicist before setting up Henry Roi PR in 2018 and Blackthorn Book Tours in 2019. He has also worked with many independent authors as an editor and mentor.

As well as A Dying Wish, his published works include the other two volumes of the Razor Trilogy, A Long Ride and Criminals, and also With Her Fists.

Henry was born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and still finds his inspiration in its places and people. As a GED tutor and fitness instructor, working both face to face and online, he is an advocate of adult education in all its forms. His many campaigning and personal interests include tattoo art, prison reform and automotive mechanics. If you’re not lucky enough to catch him fishing round the Biloxi Lighthouse or teaching martial arts in your local gym, he can usually be found on Twitter or Facebook, under Henry Roi PR.

Matthew Cox – Of Myth and Shadow

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Matthew Cox – Of Myth and Shadow, Zero Press

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Look, readers, I’m not reviewing this for myself, I’m reviewing it for a friend, OK?  Blackthorn Book Tours gave me a copy in exchange for an honest review, so what could I do? 

Elves?  Dragons? Talking animals?  Grand sweeps of quasi-politics in a faux-mediaeval world, where characters wih strange names and no laptops talk portentously about swords and magic?  Really?  I haven’t done these things since I read Tolkein and CS Lewis as a kid, and I wasn’t planning to restart. Let alone on a book that is 1500 pages long, dammit!  And to compromise me further, this is a book that includes girls with green eyes, and at least one sexy bloke with a finely chiselled jaw, and if you read this blog’s mission statement you’ll know that I Don’t Do Those Sorts of Books

So to bring you this review I’ve had to dig deep for my IED (I mean Inner Elf-Daughter, not that other thing) who I eventually unearthed from some fantasy about a Rolls Royce motorbike, where I’d repurposed her as a figurine. I think she may have been quite grateful for the rescue, because when I told her to read this book for me, she set about it immediately, even though she’s a bit flakey now and needs glasses.  She did remark that it would have been nice to have an audio book. (I wished that too – this  is a tale that would have worked rather well in that medium and then she could have shelled my entire season’s bean-crop or done something else productive whilst preparing this review. As it was she was no use to anyone for best part of a week.)

 So this is the IED’s review.  I have to report, sheepishly, that she rather loved this book.

This is a book which pretty much achieves its towering ambitions.  It takes you on a journey through a world that it builds in meticulous detail, through peoples and troubles and dreams and impossibilities, and makes you actually mind about them.  It carries you high and low through immense landscapes and immense breadth of story, giving a sense of space and vaster possibilities than you previously knew. But it also  takes you into the tiny, jewelled detail of individual hearts, making you laugh and cry and hold your breath.

Throughout, the book is driven by the author’s skills at making characters – there were many stand-out figures in this book, young and old, elvish, part-elvish and human, good and bad – and all of them came fully realised, with lives and motivations that seemed solid and real, even in this world of smoke and mirrors.  As each of them appeared, I felt I came to know them, absorb them, understand them – even when I didn’t like them.  Sadly, for my fading abilities, there were rather too many of these very real characters – from chapter to chapter I forgot their foreign names, confused their faces sometimes, (oh dear, all elves look the same to me once my eyelids start to droop, so you should probably no-platform me as species-ist)  so I couldn’t always remember where I met them before or whether I could trust them.  But forgive me.  I’m old now. This happens to me in the real world too these days, so I can’t blame the author.

There is a plot to this book, which drives it on through its many pages, but a lot of the time one is lost in the detail of the moment and the bigger journey of the book gets obscured by more immediate challenges and details and all those interesting characters. Actually I would have liked a bit more plot to hold onto – perhaps, a tighter, cleverer structure, with more mind-bending twists, and possibly (dare I say it?) a little bit shorter and less all encompassing…  But this is an epic quest-book so I shouldn’t complain – it is Myth and Shadow after all, not Mulder and Scully.  And compared to the endless rambling of The Lord of the Rings (never mind the pointless broken-back quest of The Hobbit) this novel was as tight and well woven as a Gordian knot. 

Thinking of genre, the least appealing aspect of this book was its counter-genre deployment of sex, which generally left me pretty queasy.  Now I don’t mean sensuality – there could hardly be a more sensuous genre than this one. No, I mean the mechanics of bulging erections and grunting and crotches and entering her. The author of course is writing for a modern audience and perhaps he feels he has to add this sort of stuff or nobody will bother to read it.  But this makes me suspect that he might have missed the point.  There are lots of genres where some thrilling crotch-action provides a welcome break, but this isn’t one of them.  Doesn’t he see that at its very core, this genre is about symbolism and sublimination?  What does he suppose all those journeys are about? All that yearning? All those alien creatures? Even those swords for heaven’s sake!  Who needs the vulgar spelling out of it?  Would a Georgia O’Keefe lily or skyscraper be more alluring with some porno-genitals pasted at that place where imagination kicks in?  I don’t think so.

Georgia O’Keeffe, flowers and skyscrapers

But I’ll forgive him that error. Matthew Cox is a terrific writer and to judge by the number of books with his name on, he must have been writing teenage fiction since his cradle.  One can see this long apprenticeship in the deftness of his characters and the fluidity of his world-building. But this book is a knight’s move away from that previous writing.  He is finding his place in a rather new terrtory, and later books will tell us if he makes a go of it.

Meanwhile readers – and I say this from my heart – a spirit who has lived for a long time shelling beans in the dark may be refreshed by this book.

Matthew Cox – Of Myth and Shadow, Zero Press

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Book Blurb:

Aegaan is a vast and righteous kingdom, yet darkness gathers in the distant corners of the realm. Elven raids on small towns have inflamed racial tensions with humans, pushing distrust to hatred and the brink of war.

Anrael wanders the woods alone until a chance meeting tempts him to set aside his contempt for those who scorn his half-elven blood.

When Kylie, a naive elf terrified of humans, is thrust among them against her will, she begins to question her mother’s tales of dread.

Having lost everything dear to him, the bandit king Jhelan lives only to seek challenge in battle… until he finds himself willing to die protecting that which he hates the most.

The diabolical mystique of the dark elves cloaks L’an Thal’Sara in protection, but the cruelest lie she tells is to herself.

Thaelwyn, a virtuous knight, sets out to discover the source of the Elves’ aggression, but faces a much greater test within his mind.

Beneath the chaos, minions of the Destroyer search for their promised leader, a child possessing power beyond their years. If the innocent falls to darkness, a kingdom rife with hatred will surely crumble.

Purchase links: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WNYMDCQ  https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Shadow-Cox-S-Matthew/dp/1950738116/  (let me know if you need non-US links)

 Author Bio

Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Since 1996, he has developed the “Divergent Fates” world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, The Awakened Series, The Harmony Paradox, the Prophet of the Badlands series, and the Daughter of Mars series take place.

His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.

Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of two custom tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.

He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.

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Lex H Jones comes to call…

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Lex H Jones is an exceptional writer, whose published works – spannning crime, horror, literary fiction and children’s literature – always surprise and perplex. I was quite overwhelmed by his very fine crime novel The Other Side of the Mirror (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and I found it a great honor to have this author come to tea.

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Mr Jones, do come in. Welcome to my building site.  Yes, please leave any guns on the hall-stand and put on this hard hat. Things are always falling here, including me.

I wasn’t sure where you would feel most comfortable – thinking of your book, I considered the chapel, though it’s only half built…  Or the dungeon might be dark enough for you.  If you would be so kind as to suggest your comfort zone, I will do my best to accommodate you.  (Nothing is too much trouble when I have a distinguished visitor – if you ask for a river of blood I will make the arrangements).  So where would you prefer me to interview you?  The choice is yours.

As long as I can have a cup of tea, I don’t really mind. I’m still British.

British! I thought you were American! Forgive me! A fellow European. Almost a neighbour. I will have one of my builders make you a brew. We can take out on the terrace … Yes – you see that pile of breeze-blocks? That will do. So where exactly in Britain are you from, Mr Jones? Windsor? The Home Counties?

From Sheffield, actually…

Good heavens! You’re the second visitor I’ve had from there. That troublesome Jason Beech is still in my dungeon. (Unless my boys have done him in by now – I must check sometime.) I gather Sheffield is a rough sort of place… Grim is it? Like The City?

From my childhood in the late 80s I remember it being very grey and grim, though now it’s not like that at all. I think it made a smart move by deciding to start becoming a business home of banking and tech, rather than constantly clinging to the past of a steel and mining industry that just isn’t here anymore.

But there must be something about the place! 100% of my British visitors come from there. (Well, that’s you and Mr Beech). But two crime writers, both brilliant, both marvellously dark. Is there soot in the air?

You mean, does it give one an inclination towards noir? I think it could, if you’re the right sort of age to remember its industrial past and still cling to that. But it’s a post-industrial city that’s actually modernized a lot over the past few decades. It’s very vibrant and artistic and green.

Green eh? Vibrant and artistic? Not the inspiration for The City then. That seemed to be a place without a blade of grass, or anything really living.  Did you have any real city in your mind as you wrote it? Or does it come from somewhere dark inside your head?

I can’t say as I had a specific city in mind, but I did draw on my thoughts and feelings about cities in general from my youth. I grew up outside Sheffield, where it’s green and quiet, and being a child who was somewhat timid (I wasn’t actually diagnosed with High Functioning Anxiety until my thirties), I found big cities that we would visit to be somewhat intimidating. Everything was big and loud and dirty, people were unfriendly and always seemed to think what they were doing mattered more than what anybody else was doing. There was something very imposing about them.

As an adult, I went to work in cities, forcing me to spend a lot of time there, so much of that negative feeling went away. The bad stuff about cities didn’t change…they’re still loud and dirty compared to the countryside, and full of arseholes…..but I was no longer a timid little child who was easily put off by these things. I was an adult, able to see the nuance and vibrancy of such places, and find things I loved about them. Each City has its own character, and when you find it then you can see the sun through the grey clouds. For The City, it was a case of remembering that childhood fear of them, and just amplifying it. I wanted to make a fictional city that didn’t have a sun behind the clouds, that didn’t have any character beyond the superficial greyness. Just the worst place you can imagine yourself being stuck. That’s what The City is.

Well that certainly came through when I read it. It felt it was swallowing me up. I hate to think what is was like, living with it in your head all the time it took to write it… You seem a pretty phlegmatic writer, but you tell me you suffer from anxiety.  Whatever were you feeling as you created that world? 

The book actually came much easier than I expected, to be honest. I’d never written crime before, so I thought I’d struggle with the tone of this one. But it all seemed to come quite naturally. I think I drew on some of the old mental remnants of being a teenage Goth kid, and dug up all the “the world is crap, everything is crap” feelings that were still buried in there somewhere. The actual writing of it, getting lost in The City did actually leave me feeling pretty bleak at times, so as much as I enjoyed it, I was glad to see the back of it.

It’s certainly powerful stuff. There seems to be a religious subtext to it.  And I’ve seen that focus on the supernatural in other things you’ve written.  Your first novel about God and the Devil.  Your children’s book.  In this book, the glorious Pope. And I felt that Duggan was at times a Christ-like figure, albeit in a decidedly troubling way…

I do find religion fascinating and it’s a strong part of our history, so there’s a lot to dig into whether you’re a believer or not. Which is, I suspect, why it plays such a strong part in my stories.

So do you have a religious background? Did you go, dare I ask, to a catholic school?

Not in the slightest. I was raised in a family where religion just wasn’t, and still isn’t, a thing. My parents were typical Middle-Class English in that, if pushed, they’d probably say they were Christian, but they never once spoke about Jesus outside of Christmas time, never once attended church, and certainly never read the Bible. Personally I’m an outright atheist, but not the annoying kind who is militant about it.

This feels like a book that is searching for redemption. Duggan can see the soul in every prostitute and vagabond, and he longs to rescue them before its too late. But he doesn’t have much compassion for the bad guys. So it’s also a book full of vengeance, and the roughest of justice.  Do you find a conflict there?  Couldn’t any the bad guys ever have made good?  Is it really, underneath, a matter of black and white?

I don’t believe in black and white, goodies and baddies, good vs evil. They’re childish concepts. There’s just people. And people do good stuff and bad stuff, the culmination of which defines how people see them. But whatever their sum adds up to (more good or more bad), they’re not seen the same by everyone. You’re a different character in everybody’s story. That dickhead manager you had at work whom you hated? In your story he’s a villain. To the wife and child he has at home, to whom he brings home a good wage for doing a difficult job, and shows a completely different side of himself, then he’s a beloved father figure and caregiver. Nobody is just one thing. Twitter could do with learning that lesson. Everyone is nuanced and layered.

So as for the characters in the book? They’re complex. Are they good or bad people? There’s no such thing. It depends who you ask and through which lens they’re being viewed.

I love that ambiguity in your characters! Pope: a man of God, of scrupulous integrity, driven by noble motives and yet utterly ruthless and deadly. Duggan too – such a dedicated, selfless cop! He’s almost like Jesus. So I was rather disturbed when he shot off the balls of an unarmed guy he could easily have arrested.  Given all the recent attention to this matter, what are your views about police brutality?

In the real world, police brutality, or corruption in any way, is the worst kind of crime. Because they should be better than that. They HAVE to be better than that. Any officer who allows their aggression or their personal prejudices to influence their actions, has no place wearing a badge. They are not supposed to be the enforcement agents of a hostile government. They are meant to be protectors, they are meant to make people feel safe. All people, of every creed, who reside within the country they operate in. If they’re not doing that, then something is deeply wrong with the system.

It’s easy to watch TV shows or films, or read books of course, and root for the cop who plays by his own rules. Because that’s fiction, as much so as a superhero movie. But in real life, the view of such officers should be very, very different. The moment a police officer decides the law doesn’t apply to them, they’ve forgotten the point of their job. Because it should apply to them more than anyone.

Well spoken there! You have dodged my bullet! Which brings me neatly to one of the questions that I ask all my visitors. (It’s a matter of personal research – one day I might write a scholarly article).  Do you box, Mr Jones?  Martial arts of any kind? Guns? Swords? Do you like to fight?

Nope. I’m a physical person, I go to the gym a lot and enjoy physical challenges like hikes or assault courses and the like. But I don’t do competitive sport, and certainly not combative. I have no moral issue with it, it’s just not in my nature. I don’t care enough about winning. I do things because I enjoy them, not because I want to ‘win’, whatever the parameters of such a thing might be.

Ha! Neither a catholic nor a pugilist. You are bucking two trends that I have noticed amongst crime writers. I will make a note: this young man is a maverick.

I appreciate the “young man”, I don’t hear that much anymore at 35…

A mere strippling! (As I am myself – the Brontës have turned 200 now, and they’re quite modern… And I’ve recently been reviewing the New Testament – that seemed pretty topical). But you’re alive of course – one can’t get much younger than that. So now to my final question – a brief improving trip to the moral high ground.  (I’m looking for redemption myself in fact, sooner or later some visitor will show me the way.) We’re a flawed sort of creature, we humans.  If you could tweak the human DNA to insert one drive or principle to modify the human psyche – something that humans would instinctively feel obliged to follow – what would that be?

I think something which forces empathy kick in, before you do anything negative towards another individual. Imagine being forced to feel how your victim feels before you try to mug them? Imagine a bully feeling every bit of shame and terror that their chosen target in the schoolyard felt. They wouldn’t still be able to do it. Now of course, some forms of negativity are necessary, so we’d have to learn to cope with that. If you tell someone they’re an alcoholic, that’s going to make them feel bad, but it’s a necessary evil. If you tell your child that no they can’t eat chocolate all day, then they’ll be upset, but again, it’s necessary. But for the more serious stuff, like assault both verbal and physical, racially insensitive language, all that kind of thing, being forced to feel how it made the person on the other end of it feel, would drastically alter how the human race behaved.

I like your thinking Mr Jones. You parry well. I suspect that thinking might be your martial art. I thank you for paying me the honor of a visit.  I wish you well on your journey home. It isn’t so very far – turn left as you leave the site (all right thinking people veer to the left), then walk towards the evening sun till you come to water, and then you’re almost there.

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More about Lex H Jones

Lex H Jones is a British author, horror fan and rock music enthusiast who lives in Sheffield, North England.

He has written articles for premier horror websites the Gingernuts of Horror and the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog on various subjects covering books, films, videogames and music.

Lex’s noir crime novel The Other Side of the Mirror (reviewed in parallel with this interview) was published in 2019, with his first published novel Nick and Abe, a literary fantasy about God and the Devil spending a year on earth as mortal men, published in 2016. His latest release is The Old One and The Sea, released 1st November 2019, which is a children’s weird fiction book centred around the reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. Lex also has a growing number of short horror stories published in collections alongside such authors as Graham Masterton, Clive Barker and Adam Neville. He is due to release his first solo collection of short ghost stories, titled Whistling Past The Graveyard and an occult detective novel titled The Final Casebook of Mortimer Grimm in 2021.

When not working on his own writing Lex also contributes to the proofing and editing process for other authors.

Lex H Jones – The Other Side of the Mirror

Hell is a city much like London --
  A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done;
 Small justice shown, and still less pity.
 
Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Lex H Jones, The Other Side of the Mirror, Published by Hellbound Books (or an excellent audio version, with C. Andrew Little, narrating) Lex H Jones kindly visited this site for an interview, which is on record here.

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You might suppose from my reading behavior in the last few weeks that some unfortunate accident of Covid had locked me down in a basement with only one book.   I have read the same book three times. I have read nothing else. (I admit it, not even those friendly emails that my creditors might have sent me: I am rather hoping they will be blaming Covid, too…)

But no.  I have been, as always, surrounded by books, many of which I am supposed to be reading and yes, I really want to read them but…  first I must go back to the beginning with this one. And again.  Distantly at least, I have heard my inbox going ping-ping-ping, but the usually-sweet prospect of deleting my emails has been insufficiently compelling.  Nothing has competed with this one exceptional, intricate, deeply satisfying bit of noir.  (OK, OK. It gets worse. I got the audiobook too. Wonderful. We won’t talk about that.)

Even as I write this I am banging myself on the head.  In the mirror of my mind another narrative is forming.   This is a tawdry, derivative piece, filled with every cliché in the crime writer’s canon. There is the hard bitten hero, a cop married to his job, (you know the one – curiously incorruptible though breaking all the rules). There’s the mystery of a beautiful dead blonde pulled out of a river.  The bad cops, corrupt and cynical, in the pay of Mr Big. The beautiful sad prostitute with a heart of gold. Some bad pimps.  A serial killer on the loose. A hitman.  Some fights in which the good guys – much outnumbered and outgunned – do implausibly well.  An inevitable one night stand with aforesaid prostitute. Men are strong and do a lot of fighting.  Women are vampish, vulnerable or victims. 

Pah! What use have I of such hackneyed material?  Even if I were locked in a basement with nothing else to read, wouldn’t I have more self respect?

Evidently not.

I was entirely seduced by this book. 

Partly it was all the other reflections that rippled through this author’s beautiful writing – the classical and religious echoes particularly, though we usually dignify such ancestry with politer terms than ‘derivative’ or ‘clichéd’. This is a novel about Hell, a depiction whose roots trace back through Bunyan, Milton, Dante, Vergil, Homer…  It is even (dare I say it?) a novel with echoes of the New Testament.

No, on second thoughts I dare not say that.  How could I hold up a mirror to this grumpy, foulmouthed, sharp-shooting cop, who does, eventually, get it briefly together with his Mary Magdalene, and in his reflection see even for a second the chaste hero of that other book?  What sane person would trace a line of descent from St Peter, that fallible mortal sidekick, the first pontiff of a church that dreamt up the inquisition, all the way to the Pope in this story:  a devout, reflective, unforgiving hitman? And yet, and yet…. I found myself wondering: if Jesus had really been a man, if he had not escaped at 32, with all that razmataz, but was forced to remain, unredeemed, mortal, abandoned to grow old in the hell of some dark American city, never able to leave, still trying without hope to rescue hobos and prostitutes, might he not also have become such a figure? Not saintly any more, not glowing with righteousness, now infected by everything around him, yet still, somehow, a martyr, taking on the sins of the world?

Don’t hold up that mirror. Perhaps there are moments when the author invites you to do so, but unlike me, I suggest you resist.  If you ignore my advice, well don’t blame me. You may go mad.

So let this be simply a wonderfully written book about a hard bitten cop in pursuit of a serial killer. That’s more comfortable.  And it works very well as such.  It’s a great crime story. Its plotting is rich and clever. All of its characters are precisely and engagingly drawn.  Its dense depictions of place, culture, atmosphere – utterly mesmerizing.  And at the end, if you manage to dodge the metaphysical question that heaves from the denouement to punch you between the eyes, you will at least find a kind of closure: you can be pretty damn sure that there won’t be a sequel. 

If the metaphysical question gets you, on the other hand, you may never leave The City.  But don’t worry.  You were probably already lost. 

Lex H Jones, The Other Side of the Mirror, Published by Hellbound Books (or an excellent audio version, with C. Andrew Little, narrating)

Lex Jones has kindly agreed to be interviewed on this site. Read his interview here.


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Heddy Frosell da Ponte: The Frosell Affair

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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This brave, delicately written book is an unexpected counterpoint to the recent celebrations of Victory in Europe, 75 years ago. It recounts the downfall – and the fightback – of an affluent family whose wealth was unlawfully plundered by the victorious French resistance around the time of the liberation of France.  It is a book about money and privilege and entitlement, and about the loss of these.  At its heart, driving the narrative from start to finish, is the protagonist’s outrage at a terrible injustice: his immense wealth has been stolen from him. 

As a general rule, the financial misfortunes of the fabulously rich don’t trigger much sympathy in me. Since there is rarely anything very “just” about wealth, and the wealthy are overwhelmingly the ones who dispense injustice, my default reaction to such circumstances (may God forgive me, I am a bad person) is a little flash of schadenfreude.  To compound matters, the ultimate villains in this story are more familiar as heroes: the great Charles De Gaulle, leader of the French resistance, and the Swedish humanitarian and peacemaker, Raoul Nordling.  (What? They are to blame? These are the good guys, dammit!)

The author of this story does not want me to respond in this way.  Although the book reads like a thriller, it is in fact a family memoire, recounted in old age by the protagonist’s daughter.  She plays a bit-part in her own narrative: the quiet, solitary, watchful child, whose presence weaves through the story, a little face peering from behind her mother’s skirt.  I loved this little girl – at once feisty and fragile, full of imagination and yet clear sighted, secure in being loved though oddly neglected in her parents’ stern world.  At the start of the story she is five – just old enough to remember some of the scenes.  And she loves her father.  What happens to him – and by extension to her mother and herself, though she makes little of this – is utterly terrible.  She wants us to know this from the start.

The book opens in 1948, with the clanking of doors as a guard in a French concentration camp escorts her father through the night to his execution as a collaborator and a traitor. 

He is not, of course, a collaborator or a traitor. 

After its grim introduction, the book swings back a few years, to happier times. A society party in the family’s opulent Paris home: her parents holding court, fine wine, fine food, palatial surroundings and a little girl who wants to stay up late amongst the pretty dresses.  This is a dazzling bubble of privilege – the more so since this is 1944, when outside, the French resistance is at war with Germany and the population of Paris is suffering.   And before this first chapter is over, all the fault-lines which are soon to fracture around our protagonist are already in evidence. 

Frosell’s exceptional wealth makes him a target not only for envious “friends” but also for high ranking officials who see opportunities for gain.  His complex background (by nationality Swedish, but born in Canada to an Italian mother, raised in Greece, educated in Britain and Germany) marks  him out as “other” and leaves him vulnerable and unprotected.  A thin sliver of tangential connection with the hated Vichy regime provides enough of a foothold for whispers of collaboration which escalate into a succession of increasingly absurd accusations and charges. 

And so the world changes.  The family home is commandeered, and their possessions are seized. Refusing to confess to trumped up charges, the protagonist is repeatedly imprisoned, and ultimately tortured.  His health fails and the last of the family assets are lost.  In his stinking prison cell he is reduced to the vile undeserved tags – “sous-merde”, “collaborateur”, “connard”.

This book well deserves its place in this blog, whose mission is “to celebrate dangerous writing in any genre: writing that challenges, that goes to dark or unexpected places, that doesn’t repeat the familiar platitudes”. Of course this book is heavy with the treachery of so-called friends, with cynical decisions by self-serving officials, with complicity by public authorities. These bitter, painful ingredients are common in stories about war-crimes, even though the victims of such stories are usually rather different from the wealthy businessman, Oscar Frosell. 

But there are also other shadows in this story.  It is such a gentle, lovingly impassioned narrative that one could almost miss this other darkness. One feels that the author only reluctantly lets it in.  She is loyal. She presents her father, always, as a man of absolute integrity.  I was reminded of the rigidly incorruptible father in Wild Swans, Jung Chang’s memoire of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  That father also refuses to collude with the lies of a “liberator” and his family suffers for it, as Frosell’s family does.  But the darkness in Frosell comes from somewhere more uncomfortable.

What cannot be escaped in the narrative – though the author presents it without evident rancor – is that it is the loss of his personal wealth that obsesses Frosell.  His sense of entitlement is absolute and unwavering, as is his belief in a constitutional legal system that should protect him. He has access to the best lawyers. His appetite for litigation is relentless and corrosive.  (Does not the law exist, after all, to protect the interests and entitlements of the wealthy?) At intervals throughout the story he has the option of cutting a deal: he can split his wealth with the French authorities, and all his troubles will go away.  These are desperate times after all, and even half of his stupendous fortune would be wealth beyond the imagining of most French citizens –certainly enough for a comfortable life with his wife and daughter.  But he refuses.  He wants it all, and he knows he is entitled to it all.  Against better advice, he keeps returning to the legal system, action after action. There are courtroom victories – yes, there are several.  But pyrrhic, all of them. 

The result is material hardship : for Frosell in prison, certainly, but also for his wife and his daughter.  By the time she is six, they are living in one room, barely scraping by.  Yet reading between the lines – perhaps I do this too much, but his wife and daughter are innocent characters and I am angry on their behalf – there is the deeper huft of dereliction. Frosell’s wife is devoted to him, as is his daughter. Yet from the moment Frosell loses his wealth, his life is progressively consumed by the desire to recover it. Both wife and child are sacrificed to this obsession.  In his rhetoric there is a certain amount of “I’m doing this for Heddy, for her future”, and the author almost never writes as if she doubts it, but for me it soon wears thin.  In the intervals when he is out of prison, all his hours are devoted to his legal battles, while his wife exhausts herself in menial work and his daughter tags after in clothes donated by charity.  (I could not help noting, meanwhile, that throughout these passages Frosell always has a cigarette in his mouth…) He has no time for his daughter, who is always there, present at the edge of the room.  Her childhood drains away as she watches him, in awe, compliant, respectful, until eventually she is old enough to be useful in court as his unthanked amanuensis.

No. I did not like him.  I felt in the writing that I was asked to see the heroism of a courageous fighter against a corrupted system, a bastion of integrity in even the most dehumanizing of places.  I did see some of this.  But in the reading I also found darker things, which stick in the mind and don’t let go.  Beside the corruption of the system – and that was there certainly – I could also see the corrupting forces of wealth and entitlement.  Beside the dehumanizing impact of prison, I saw also the dehumanizing impact of arrogant obsession.  And through it all, I found the loss – and yes we all have this, all of us – of precious unreturnable years, sacrificed to things that ultimately don’t matter. 

This is a slender volume, so well written that it carries one through a day of reading with deceptive ease.  It lingers though. With each day thinking of it, its message seems less easy.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Heddy Frosell da Ponte: The Frosell Affair

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