Tag Archives: reviews

Netflix spy drama tackles Yom Kippur War mystery

Netflix’s new drama The Angel tackles the story of the enigmatic Ashraf Marwan, who is claimed by both Egypt and Israel as a master spy.

In October 1973, Egypt was planning a secret attack to recover Sinai,  occupied by Israel in 1967. Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of Nasser and close confidant of President Anwar Sadat, was privy to the date of the attack. The Angel is based on the theory that Marwan warned the Israelis the day before  in an altruistic bid to prevent war. Did Israel receive the tip-off? If they did, they failed to mobilise and as a result  suffered the ignominy of an Arab army retaking occupied territory.

But Sadat had previously set other secret dates, which Marwan had passed on, leading the Israelis to mobilise uselessly. After these false alarms, they dismissed the real date of Yom Kippur 1973. The Angel uses this ‘boy who cried wolf’ theory to explain why the spy was ignored.

Controversy has swirled around Ashraf Marwan for decades. Unfortunately, he’s saying nothing, having mysteriously fallen to his death in 2008 from the balcony of his posh flat in London.

I was enthralled by The Angel, an Israeli-US production running 1 hr and 54 minutes without a moment to catch breath. Ashraf Marwan, played by Marwan Kenzari, a Dutch actor of Tunisian background, is portrayed as an idealist who struggles to earn the trust of his Israeli controllers, although his idealism is tempered by the need to pay for his expensive lifestyle with the wads of cash he received for information. Was I convinced by this characterisation? I’m not certain. My viewing companion thought the plot needed more depth. But we were still talking about it the next day, which sets this movie apart from 90% of what is dished up the TV.

I have a special interest in The Angel. While I was writing my novel Cairo Mon Amour, Ashraf Marwan hovered in the back of my mind as I combed the literature on the Yom Kippur War. Cairo Mon Amour is an espionage romance that covers the same period as the movie. I happened to be studying Arabic at Cairo University during the Yom Kippur War, and it is not implausible that I  passed Ashraf Marwan in the street or sat near to him in the Groppi café.

But the real bonus for me was the handling of the bilingual dialogue. As a PhD in Linguistics and a fiction writer, I’m a serial bore on the topic of foreign languages in English-language movies. If you hear me at a cocktail party complaining about Nicholas Cage’s Italian accent in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, just move away – it’s not pretty. If you insist on knowing my views, look here.

The Angel did the job beautifully, with the Arab characters moving seamlessly between subtitled Arabic to English and back again. Sometimes, the switch was triggered: In one scene, Egyptian officials are reminded that there is a non-Arabic speaker at the conference table, so they politely switch to English; in another, Marwan and his wife switch to English to hide their words from their small children. When there is no explicit trigger, speakers seem to switch from English to Arabic when the emotional temperature of the conversation rises. OK, so some of the language behaviour was not entirely plausible, but the writers of The Angel produced the best solution I’ve seen in a long time for what I call Chermans in ze movies spik like zis syndrome.

Big ticks from me for The Angel.

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Five stars for Kerry Donovan’s ‘The Transition of Johnny Swift’

512plzra3dlI’m a fan of Kerry Donovan’s DCI Jones English police procedurals, and I particularly enjoyed his US debut On Lucky Shores.

The Transition of Johnny Swift is completely different. This time, the author throws us into a jangling world of motor racing, dire injury, psychological stress, simmering romance, and family loyalty. The spiralling plot has the reader on edge until a clever resolution in the last few pages. I was unclear about what genre I was in until the ending, but this added to the pleasure! The technical stuff – medicine, neuroscience and some weird physics – was convincing enought to keep me engaged. The style – an urgent, present tense meld of introspection, narrative and economic dialogue – pushes the pace.

Well done, Mr Donovan. More like this please!

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Read about Stuart Campbell’s books here.

‘An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity’ hits Amazon bestseller ranks in UK, Oz and Canada

canada sales 19:8:16A huge thank-you to my  readers and reviewers for helping to catapult An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity up the Amazon UK, Australia and Canada charts. I couldn’t have done it without you!

I hope I can reward your enthusiasm with my next novel Cairo Mon Amour, which will be released on 31 August. There’s a swish website here where you can read about it and even pre-order a copy for the promotional price of 99c.UK sales 19:8:16

Great read from Kerry J Donovan even with the American coffee

On Lucky Shores - Cover

What does a Sydneysider do when they get back from the US? Get a cup of decent coffee, what else? No, I shouldn’t be so cruel – I’ve had espresso in New York and San Francisco that approaches the refined drop we enjoy in Sydney, city of a million coffee snobs. But spare me the  warmed-up filtered stuff they serve in US diners! Kerry J Donovan serves gallons of it in this lively novel about Chet Walker, a young itinerant musician whose past is tantalisingly hinted at. Finding himself in the lakeside town of Lucky Shores, he is quickly embroiled in a festering scandal and instantly attracted to Josie, the minx in the diner with the coffee pot and an interesting past of her own. I loved the whole thing, even the sweet ending (I would have preferred a bit of angst, but that’s the kind of writer I am). Chet’s music and lyrics  are woven into the plot, but because they are original I couldn’t play them in my head: Hey, Kerry, what’s the chance of getting them recorded on Youtube and embedding the links in the e-book?

I had some questions for Kerry:

Q – I think that On Lucky Shores was your first novel set in the US. What sort of reaction have you had, especially from American readers? After all, you’re an Irishman living in France!

Kerry_J_Donovan
Kerry J Donovan

A – Agreed, OLS is my first US-set novel and will come as a bit of a change of pace for my readers. I mostly write UK-based police procedurals, although in one of my books, I did send my hero, DCI David Jones to France to catch a paedophile killer.

Setting OLS in the Colorado Rockies was a bit of a gamble for me and required a heck of a lot of research. Although the resort town of Lucky Shores is totally fictitious, I did want the setting to feel authentic. As for dialogue, narration, and ‘feel’, that was equally as tricky. I considered making my leading man, traveling musician Chet Walker, a British ex-pat, a sort of Crocodile Dundee character, but that would have been a bit of a cheat and I didn’t want to write a ‘fish out of water’ comedy. Instead, I tried hard to find a realistic American voice for the narrator and the characters, and hired an editor from Colorado, PC Zick, to help me with the settings, US grammar, and colloquialisms. She did a wonderful job and so far, reader responses have been incredibly supportive.

Basically, no one’s called me out on my misuse of the lingo. Not yet, anyway.

Q – If you found yourself in the diner in Lucky Shores, who would you most want to have lunch with?

A – Great question and a difficult one. The easy answer would be Chet, or Josephine (the diner’s owner and female lead character), but they’d be pretty much lost in each other and I wouldn’t have much of a chance in the conversation. Young love, eh?

Apart from the two leads, my favourite character is ‘The Ghost’, Sheriff Casper Boyd. He has his own agenda and, like Chet, is a recent addition to the Lucky Shores community. As an outsider, he has a different perspective from Lucky Shores’ other residents. Apart from everything else, he’s more my age than the youngsters, and we’d have slightly more in common. One question I’d like to ask him is why he’s being so tough on Chet. After all, the poor guy only wants to find a gig, earn some money, and move on with his life. Yeah. “What’s your game, Sheriff? Why are you being such a hard-ass?”

Q – People drink an awful lot of coffee in Lucky Shores. Are you willing to share your true feelings about the coffee they serve in US diners?

A – Couldn’t possibly comment. I don’t drink coffee. Never have, never will. I’m old school, a tea drinker through and through. I’m sure all US diners serve delicious coffee all the time, but I’m not an expert and will leave that discussion to others. And by the way, in Chet’s defense, he’d been out in the cold and the rain most of the night and needed the coffee as much for its warmth as its caffeine.  And anyway, he’s a big guy and the coffee cups are small. Give the guy a break, will ya?

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Find out about Stuart Campbell’s novels here.

S.C. Harker’s ‘Binnacle Bay’: Hard cop, soft cop.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.57.45 AMConfession #1: I’m a big city boy, and I’m generally sympathetic to the view – expressed to me by a drunken philosopher many years ago – that the countryside should be closed down and left to the fauna.

Confession #2: I’m obsessed by the USA and its vast kaleidoscope of landscapes. My imagination is gripped by its splendours and its ugliness, its coziness and its brutality. There is a standing joke in my house that one day we will visit New Iberia in Louisiana, where Tabasco Sauce is made. ‘Over my dead body’ is the punchline. Of course New Iberia is the home of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robichaux, the archetype southern deputy sheriff and hardboiled ex-alcoholic. How different can S.C. Harker’s Pat Fitzlaff be from Robichaux? The landscape is part of the explanation: Harker’s Binnacle Bay is in the coastal NorthWest; setting shapes a character, and there’s a whole continent between sweaty Lousiana and the bracing winds of coastal Oregon.

But Fitzlaff fascinated me from the outset; under the tough guy is an almost feminine sensibility. Harker’s competence as a writer gives him the requisite three dimensions, but I kept coming back to the small touches – his orderly house, his courtesy, his eye for detail in jewelry and clothing; there’s an extra dimension to this guy.

And of course there’s the immersive experience of Binnacle Bay: Nautical, cosy and small-town, with a cast of eccentrics you’d expect and some you wouldn’t. I said I was a big city boy: I feel more comfortable in Sydney or Paris or Manhattan, but there’s nothing like a vicarious vacation in Binnacle Bay or even New Iberia! You can find more details of Binnacle Bay and S.C. Harker’s other novels here.

My colleague Lesley Latte happened to be in Seattle recently and offered to track down the elusive S.C. Harker to pose a few searching questions. Here’s what Lesley learned:

Latte.  I felt that Pat Fitzlaff had a softer side than the standard hard-bitten cop. How did he get this way?

Harker.  That’s easy.  A violent death in the family.  Pat was born in a small town in central Nevada and spent much of his young life there.   As the only boy, he was particularly close to his father, an avid sportsman who loved hunting and fishing and never failed to take Pat with him on his rambles through the remote desert landscape. Pat was an expert in survival at an early age.

His two younger sisters idolized their brother, and their sibling relationships were normal for an average, small-town family.  In other words, the older brother mostly ignored the two girls, considering himself above what he considered their silly, juvenile behavior.

Then, when he was fifteen, Pat’s world was turned upside down.  The older of Pat’s sisters was brutally murdered, and the case was never solved.  This tragic incident was devastating to the family and had a profound impact on Pat, ultimately leading to his passion to become a homicide detective.  Conversely, rather than becoming bitter and hard-bitten, Pat is rather more sympathetic than most, especially toward the victims of crime.  It is one of his strengths.

Latte.  You create a great sense of place in the Binnacle Bay community. How did you invent this setting?

Harker.  I lived for a prolonged period of time on the Oregon coast in a house overlooking the sea.  We had a boat and fished the ocean for Salmon, Albacore, Halibut—you name it.  We had close encounters with whales and dolphin, and more than once had to rely on our GPS to find our way home in the fog.  Many times at low tide we walked down our hill and dug for clams.  We also crabbed whenever we got the chance and bought fresh oysters from the local farm.

Almost every day we took long walks on the beach with our two Brittany Spaniels.  By the way, though Murphy is a giant hound*, he is simply a dog at heart, and I learned about the true heart of a dog from my Spaniels.  Everything I write about Binnacle Bay is from experience and colored by my love of the ocean, dogs, small towns, and the people who inhabit them.

Latte.   Stuart Campbell tells me he likes to imagine having a drink with his characters, but is there anybody in Binnacle Bay who you’d avoid if they walked into a bar?

Harker.  There are always a couple of pains in the neck in every town.  Alba Enstadt is definitely someone I would avoid.  She appears in “The Bloody Lighthouse,” as does Beezer Arthur.  To have a drink with them I would have to go to Pirate’s Cove.  It’s not that I object to a low-class saloon every now and then, but Alba is a mean drunk who gets more and more combative as the night goes on.  And Beezer has the kind of unrelenting, smart-ass attitude that, as time goes on, makes you want to either get up and leave or, depending on how many drinks, to smash his face.

One person with whom I would never share a drink is the cold-hearted being who appears in “The Bloody Lighthouse” and again in “An Echo of Murder” (to be released later this year).

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*Murphy is a canine character in the book – SC

Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity  here. Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity and The Play’s the Thing . Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .

Pamela Crane looks inside a murder victim’s heart.

Pamela Crane with Tinkerbell_author picIndie novelist Pamela Crane’s A Secondhand Life found its way into my Kindle this year. I needed a rest in my project to re-read all of William Faulkner’s main works, and Pamela’s book fell between As I Lay Dying and Soldier’s Pay. Did I need a rest! Did I need a crisp, refreshing read!

A Secondhand Life is based on a clever plot premise: Could the recipient of a transplanted organ experience the thoughts and feelings of the donor? Pamela Crane delves into the implications of the premise:  How would a donor recipient reconcile her own and the donor’s mind? Would it be possible to explore the details of memories evoked by the donor organ?

On top of this foundation, the author erects a thriller plot that makes for some highly original characterisations and twists. By the time I got to the ending, I had sticky fingers from counting red herrings. My five star review can be found here.

It has to be said, however, that the plot premise does have an antecedent. I did some checking and found that a 1971 UK comedy movie Percy runs a similar line; you don’t even need to click the link to guess which organ seventies comic actor Hywell Bennett received. The Kinks did the soundtrack, by the way.

My protégé Lesley Latte was unavailable to interview Crane, so I popped these questions over the email:

Q- What compels you to write?

A- Four little kids clambering for my focus all day, combined with no adult time, compels me to write. Writing is my break from reality…and it’s scary to say that living in the mind of a serial killer is much more exciting than changing diapers and housekeeping!

A- What would you (as author, not narrator) say to Brad if you met him in a bar?

Q- R.U.N. Run away from Mia Germaine as fast as you possibly can, Brad. A chick who chases serial killers–you don’t need that drama. Romantic relationships are tough enough without your significant other bringing a murderer into the mix.

A- When I write, my characters often take over the plot, and I am sometimes surprised at where they take the book. Does that happen to you?

Q- Even though I believe I create my characters, you’re right–they somehow live outside of my imagination and evolve independent of my will. As my characters develop through the story-writing phase, the plot needs to stay in line with who they are. In my thriller A Secondhand Life, Mia Germaine is stubborn (uh, nothing like me…but don’t ask my husband about this!), which causes her to nearly lose the love of her life, Brad. I hadn’t planned for that relationship tension, but it happened because of who she is (certainly not based on myself–did I say that already?).

 

Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity  here. Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity and The Play’s the Thing . Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .

“The writing is smooth and delicious”

It was terrific to see this blog post by Canadian author Fran Guenette about An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity today. I can’t disagree with her view that “the writing is smooth and delicious”!

 

Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity  here.

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .