Picture gallery: Fading traces of the Soviet era

Aeroflot ticket, 1974. Lost aesthetic or Communist kitsch? (author’s collection)

When I was studying  Russian in Moscow in 1974, it was unthinkable that in  less that twenty years, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would be no more.

For my literary invention Ivan Zlotnik, the flawed Soviet diplomat in Cairo Mon Amour, the USSR was there to stay. Zlotnik gambled his freedom on the date of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war. Did he win or lose? That’s for the reader to judge.

Forty-three years later, tourists buy up Communist kitsch in nostalgic homage to regimes whose harsh outlines soften over the decades. But more permanent traces of the Soviet era remain, as this small gallery shows:

Remnant plaque, Berlin (photo: Stuart Campbell)
Symbols of communist industry and military power, Prague (photo: Stuart Campbell)
Vintage URAL motorcycle spotted in a Budapest street (photo: Stuart Campbell)
Soviet Memorial, Budapest. The Russian reads ‘In honour of the liberating Soviet heroes’. (photo: Stuart Campbell)

Australian murder mystery with a perfect sense of place

Western Australian author Steve Rogers’ novel An Artifact* of Interest is so filmic in character that you’ll excuse me for referencing some Australian movies in this review. It’s a murder mystery set in the Kimberleys with the little-known Bradshaw cave paintings at the heart of the plot – but no spoilers here.  As a thoroughly urban Australian who rarely ventures fifty clicks from the coast, I relish the novels and films that transport me to the bush: The terrifying petty brutality of Ted Kotcheff’s film Wake in Fright; Ellen Roxburgh’s ordeal in Patrick White’s novel A Fringe of Leaves; the mystical film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Rogers’ novel is another retelling of the bush: A young city man on a rural adventure; a mysterious death; an anthropological mystery; an unlikely romance. It’s the style that conveys the mood, with Rogers employing present tense and a relaxed regard for point of view, which results in a feel of spontaneity and authenticity of place. Short chapters, suggestions rather than conclusions – these yield a laconic and fluent narrative that leads us through the plot rather than shoving and dragging us. You can almost spot the dissolve between chapters. I loved the imagery of the bush, and my mind kept returning to Margaret Preston’s painting of Western Australian gum blossoms

*Yes, it’s spelt with i for a good reason: Check out the definitions of artefact and artifact.

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Find out about Stuart Campbell’s latest novel here.

Anthony Carilla’s ‘Convergence’: Audacious and compelling tilt at the future

Anthony Carilla’s debut novel Convergence takes on the core question of our existence. This audaciously ambitious book builds on physics, biology, pharmacology, brain science and theology to create a complex thriller that goes way beyond the mundane. That’s not to say that that the conventional elements are missing: There are dashes of romance and action to balance the slow-burn plot, and the settings are seductive – the jungles of Cambodia, high-tech laboratories in Europe, and the super-luxury playgrounds of a billionaire businessman.

Carilla takes some big risks with this book: A large cast of characters, attention to detail that can sometimes overwhelm, and a lot of science. But the gamble pays off, with compelling portraits of the main protagonists, and a sense of inexorable progress towards an ending that promises to blow the reader’s spiritual socks off. I confess I didn’t see the simple one-sentence conclusion coming, even though the hints – in retrospect – were there along.

Convergence is a book that will provoke a plethora of questions across the spectrum of readers from the faithful to the faithless. Some will question the science, especially the claims for quantum mechanics (but then it is set in 2038), and some will have reservations about the beneficence of big business and the US government in these days of the Trump ascendancy. But the sublime central message of the book will have universal resonance.

Convergence will be published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. in the very near future.

I was given an ARC by the author and asked to provide an honest review.

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Thriller writers Peter Ralph and Dave Stanton do it again

 

 

 

 

 

Two of my favourite thriller novelists snuck into my Kindle last month with Dying for the Highlife and Blood Gold in the Congo . I’m a fan of both US author Dave Stanton and Australian Peter Ralph, and I’ve watched their work develop over the last few years.

Peter Ralph’s forte is financial/political thrillers ranging from riches-to-rags story The CEO to the almost epic environmental saga Dirty Fracking Business. When you read a Peter Ralph thriller, there’s always the suspicion that the plot is over the top. Could the corporate world be quite as poisonous as Ralph portrays it? Well, have a look at his background on his author profile; this is a guy with a serious knowledge of the seamier side of business.

Blood Gold in the Congo take us into literally new territory – Africa – and again the plot feels eerily authentic. Joseph Muamba , illegally adopted as a child, becomes a top US athlete and returns to the Congo to smash the international corruption rackets that are robbing the Congolese of their mineral wealth. The hallmark Ralph denouement is there, with the chief villain meeting his just desserts. With Blood Gold in the Congo Peter Ralph’s writing is getting tighter and more economical, with the story allowed to flow unimpeded. I raced through it.

Stateline was my last Dave Stanton novel. I loved the winter setting of this Dan Reno story, but in Dying For The Highlife, things hot up as private eye Reno (‘as in no problemo’) hooks up again with his buddy Cody Gibbons. This time, Dan’s South Lake Tahoe PI business is on its knees until the ‘nearly beautiful’ Sheila Marjorie propositions him in a casino. Her stepson has won $43 million in a lottery, and now the jackals are circling.

I’m not a great fan of book series, but the Dave Reno formula works so well that I go back for more. Dave Stanton achieves a consistent mix of complex plotting, characters that grow with each new book, and  – number one for  me – California-Nevada setting. Keep it up, Dave!

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Stuart Campbell’s new novel Cairo Mon Amour will be published in July 2017.

Dark and challenging novel that delivers with the deliberation of a cannula.

frontonlylo-res-arbutus-copy2-1Bill East’s The Arbutus is a dark and challenging novel that delivers a potent dose of madness, violence and erotic tension with the deliberation of a cannula. Maddie, a woman approaching middle age, returns from England to Peter, the Australian lover she fled many years before. Apparently unhinged and obsessive, Peter confesses to a series of murders at his wooded estate on the outskirts of Sydney. An intricate psychological game of revenge follows: The characters’ psyches are built layer by contorted layer; truths are offered and then undermined; the reader teeters on the edge of resolution, only to be pulled back into the game. Plausibility is often stretched to the limit (if the bizarre plot can be called plausible in any way): Is Maddie’s androgyny credible? Would Peter really have planned such a spooky endgame? On both counts, the author builds a convincing case for Maddie’s weird erotomania and Peter’s convoluted creepiness, and in the end, both their fates were easy to believe in. I rummaged in my reading history to find some novels that The Arbutus might echo. For the blending of the macabre and the world of nature (Peter has a thing about trees), I came up with Patrick Süsskind’s Perfume. For the exploration of twisted emotions, John Fowles’ The Collector and Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby came to mind. For gore, Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector resonated. In the end, though, Bill East has created his own monsters. Crime thriller? Black comedy? Erotic mystery? Homage to trees? I didn’t care as I raced at top speed through The Arbutus.

You can find Bill East’s website here and buy The Arbutus here.