Rope Enough – A Review.

Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files) by Oliver Tidy.  Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Thoroughly modern murder and mayhem.

Tidy has created a modern Detective Inspector who jogs and collects books – Romney – and his female side-kick named Sergeant Marsh. They solve crimes. Did she jump? Or was she pushed?

Tidy calls himself a “South Coast Crime Writer” “celebrating channel noir and other crime writing of the South Coast of England” (see his blog for further details). Rope Enough is also described as a “police procedural.”

Rope Enough is the first of its kind this reviewer has read. After one recovers from the reprehensible nature of the crimes, one discovers that the writing is very good, a pleasant surprise. This novel moves along at a brisk pace, with a few red herrings and unexpected twists and turns of plot. True to his pen name, the author has “tidied” most of the loose ends by the last page.

Romney manages to solve three crimes, kindle a romance with a younger woman, and trap a psychopath by trickery, tile a shower and that’s just before breakfast. We jest. This Detective is human, interesting and has some depth.

“Run, bath, fix of coffee, dress in his weekend town clothes and head into Dover for a good breakfast before scouring the charity shops and the few second hand bookshops for some delight waiting to be discovered.”

Of jogging, the author tells us: “He felt sometimes that the activity created a state of mind and equilibrium in which he could think more deeply and more creatively than at any other time.”

“He took a lungful of clean bracing sea air, stepped carefully over the stile in the fence and began jogging after them, all traces of his earlier limp gone.”

The “bad guys” are really bad and the cops polite. They take time for tea and biscuits, discuss crime novels, and seem to have compassion for the victims and their families. DS Marsh reads crime novels, too. There is an interesting variety of developed characters.

‘Not at all. You know what they say about coppers who read detective novels?’ Marsh didn’t, but didn’t like to say so, so she sipped her drink. ‘Don’t tell anyone down the nick, but I’m a big fan of the genre myself.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Absolutely. Doyle, Christie, Dibdin, Hill, James, Rendell, Wingfield, Harvey. There are some fine American practitioners. Chandler, MacDonald, and Elmore Leonard takes some beating. Some of the continental crime writers are worth getting to know, too, although I’m not so keen on the rash of Scandinavian stuff that seems so popular at the moment. But that might be as much to do with the translations as the original writing. And then you’ve got the older classics on both sides of the pond, of course.’

Despite the fact that I usually review literary fiction, I enjoyed this book very much.
The structure is good, the writing smart, the atmosphere wonderfully dreary, and there is social commentary about the status of the Kosovans and immigrants in the modern UK.

“In a town that had seen better days economically, for local residents who were struggling with the expense of life and lack of work, it was widely viewed as adding insult to injury as they had watched a steady stream of eastern European refugees trickle into their town…”

This book has social fabric and substance.

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Jake Miller’s Wheel – A Review.

Jake Miller’s Wheel by James Ostby.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

The land held great promise. The promise of Elysian Plain, the ancient Greek paradise.

“I’m here about Jake Miller.”

Montana is a vast state (4th largest in the U.S.), dependent upon farming, ranching and hard rock mining. It has over 100 mountain ranges, hence its name. The summers are hot and the winters extremely cold. It is prairie country, It is Continental Divide country. In the 1930s it was Dust Bowl country, with barns, houses and souls literally buried by the howling winds.

Into this inhospitable environment, Ostby’s protagonist, Jake Miller, trekked in 1913, only 24 years after Montana became a State. He planted himself 1,200 miles from his native Iowa. Why he left Iowa remains a question. But whatever the reason, it shadowed him for the rest of his life. The novel starts and ends in a grave yard.

‘Jake crawled to the head of the grave, leaned against the stone marker, and pulled his knees under his chin. It was dark and cold, but the inscription on the headstone seared his back: “And know that I will wait for you.”‘

“As the light enveloped him, and lifted him, Jake looked down and caught one last glimpse of his mortal form.”

Jake Miller’s Wheel is one of those rare nuggets we stumble across very occasionally while chipping away at our personal rock piles. Ostby’s writing is rich, philosophical, sometimes a bit “preachy” but always intensely interesting. How many novels can we find in the modern era that ask us to consider: “The capacity of humans to reason, and where he disagreed with Kant, on realism vs. idealism.”

“Are madmen aware of their madness? Most probably aren’t, so, Jake concluded–though somewhat uncertainly–that he was not crazy. But he wouldn’t bet the farm on it. “

Ostby and Jake tackle “the big questions” of life and death, as well as schizophrenia, guilt, grief, searing loneliness and human strength and frailty, with intelligence and compassion in a wholly readable way.

“For as long as [Jake] could remember, even as a young child, he had felt the burden of some vague, weighty, hovering, moving, unseen part of him. Like a wheel, or–at it’s worst–a grindstone, that he could neither cast off nor control.”

Was it the Hindu Mandala representing the universe? Was Jake’s the square within the circle or the circle within the square? We shall leave that to the reader’s discretion.

Ostby takes us through the 1930s affording us a glimpse into the spare lives of the Norwegian and German farmers, the Farm Labor Party and its attendant political struggles, the prairie Lutherans and their box socials.

The characters are many and varied, some well-developed, some less so representing points of view. Ostby has peopled his novel with farmers, a sheriff, a prairie psychiatrist, a fortune teller, a medium, a doctor, alcoholics, pool players, disembodied prophetic voices and Lights.

‘The wind picked up again, and this time it stayed steady from the west. There would be no rain. The chickens kept eating, and Chaucer nuzzled Lars. “But I’m fighting it,” Jake said. “I don’t expect you to understand. People like you don’t have a firm grip on reality.”‘

“I’m here about Jake Miller.” “Jake?
What about him?” “What kind of a guy was he?”

Waiting for rain. Waiting for Fate. Waiting for Ostby’s next novel.

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World – A Review.

Brain by Dermot Davis. Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Charles Spectrum, writing under the nom de plume of “Daniel Waterstone” who in turn writes under the pen name of “Dermot Davis” has produced the self-help book to end all self-help books.

The romp (in the Merriam Webster sense of the word) begins with personna Daniel Waterstone, “the recipient of the prestigious Marcus and Imelda Rogerspoon award for the student showing the brightest promise for a future literary career.” Then, instead of having the decorum to sit down and shut up, Daniel demonstrates his oratory acumen to tell the audience that:
“We are living in dangerous times,” he then said, pausing, for dramatic effect. “Having progressed through the age of reason and enlightenment, civilization is now poised to enter the age of insanity. I tell you, in no uncertain terms that what we are currently witnessing, at least here, in the West, is the decline of culture itself.”

Aside from a few typographical errors (which may be intentional for all we know), this book successfully entertains in all environs from a noisy city bus to the quiet contemplation of a reading room.

We were reminded of Charlotte Bronte “Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonised as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”

Should you, Gentle Reader, have the misfortune to know well a genuine novelist, then you will instantly recognize the wellspring of angst penned by Daniel Waterstone.

“Do I write what the market wants? Do I write something… that will sell? What is the market buying these days?” he asked, desperation making him look unattractive and pathetic. [as his avaricious and duplicitous agent Suzanne roars off in her late-model convertible, leaving Daniel in the dust]

Waterstone has by now authored several novels of quality, containing truth, light and beauty which have been soundly and roundly rejected by publishers. Bereft of electricity and phone, Daniel muses about Eric Blair a/k/a George Orwell who could not sell “animal stories” to his publisher; Samuel Clemens, Charles Dodgson, Currer Bell and others.

‘”Besides, he didn’t want to pimp out his genuine talents and become a hack, just to sell books and become “popular.” ‘

So, what is a serious novelist to do?

Davis tells us: “Having the least bit of stress in his life had a tendency to throw off his sleeping patterns and prevent his body and mind from achieving that basic health requirement of all humans: deep, restorative sleep.”

The answer comes to Daniel: re-read George Orwell, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Dickens, Poe, Laurence Stern, Cervantes, Voltaire, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Gradually he undergoes metamorphosis and becomes alter ego “Charles Spectrum.” (or was it Dermot Davis?) And then the fun begins.

Waterstone: “Some would say that the true use of satire is to provoke controversy, to stir up the populace from their torpid slumber and sound a wake-up call, challenging the status quo.”

Waterstone was completely out of touch with “the market” and that ignorance extended to music: “content to listen to his favorite composers, varying his choice dependent upon his mood: Mozart, Haydn or perhaps Sibelius when he was feeling cheerful; Mahler, Bach, Shostakovich or quite likely Rachmaninoff when he was feeling sad. As far back as he could remember he had always harbored a deep-seated feeling – almost a certainty – that he was born into the wrong age.”

(Parenthetically, we are surprised that Waterstone did not listen to Schumann, Mahler, Brahms and Wagner “when he was feeling cheerful.”)

Waterstone again: “It’s not like I could easily get a job or something. All I’ve done for the past ten years is write literary novels… a very slim resume, you must agree.” “Do you want to get a job?” “Of course not. I’m a writer. I want to write.”

So, as Charles Spectrum he sets out to write the ultimate “self-help” send-up because as Mavis the librarian observes “There are really only three genres that everyone wants to read and then everything else is a subset or a combination, thereof….”

Unable to sleep, malnourished, suffering from “exceedingly high stress levels” Specturm produces a monster best-seller.

This book caused this reviewer’s spirit to leave the body; she can levitate; she can channel Suzanne “listening to creative types” and she can fix her toaster by the laying on of hands. Waterstone/Spectrum/Davis (almost predictably Irish) has produced a sly and very funny look at the world of authors, agents, publishing, tabloid journalism and the modern reading public.

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon. (Because authors sometimes have difficulty following instructions and solicit reviews from two different KBR reviewers, this one cannot be entered by KBR.)

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A Winsome FiveSome: Joni Rodgers, Roz Morris, Barb Taylor Sissel, John A.A. Logan & Linda Gillard

Joni’s Blog for May 29, 2014

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Tea Toast and Thriller event with John A – A Logan

Tea Toast and Thriller event with John A – A Logan.

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Agency Woman – A Review.

Agency Woman by John A. A. Logan Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Notes from the overground: watching him watching her.

Agency Woman is an Absurdist novel,  featuring a quote from Soren Kierkegaard twice in its text. Despair is at its center.

Absurdist spies who live in interior worlds people this story. Fyodor Dostoyevsky meets Franz Kafka on the way to a Woody Allen film, or Foinaven Mountain in the Highlands of Scotland in this novel.

Jim, the antihero or perhaps Byronic hero suffers from, among other maladies, an inability to find meaning in life or work, but leads us to believe he still seeks inherent value, despite his history with “The Agency” and his tortured (literal and figurative) past.

Kierkegaard developed his existentialism to meet these conflicts head on:  commit suicide to escape absurd ineffable choices;  choose a non-rational transcendent “leap of faith”; or finally accept the Absurd and achieve freedom from moral constraint. Freedom or lack of freedom figures prominently in Logan’s newest work.

Most of the male characters in this novel (Munroe, Tim, Samuel) seem not to have any meaning or purpose and the first-person narrator leaves it to the reader to figure out what they are doing and why.  Their situation is absurd and they appear to have chosen to accept The Absurd. There are two exceptions: the German tourist and Lachlan.

Only the two female characters have been given a purpose: Lucy, the Agency Woman and Elsie, Lachlan’s aunt. Interestingly, they both claim to be or have been nurses, healers, real or imagined.

As Kafka used Gregor’s transformation into a giant insect, to tell us of an oppressive and inescapable system, trapping his subjects in bizarre situations,  Logan uses a dream of transformation into scorpions to reveal the interior landscape faced by Jim; to tell of his self-loathing and despair. Kafka never told us why Gregor woke up an insect one morning. Logan’s narrator does not tell us nor speculate either. Jim is also a narcissist, looking at his own reflection in a mirror while a man lies dying in the same room, Lucy serving as a kind of accessory with red shoes, to mirror his existence. The absurdity of pop culture even makes several jarring appearances, in similes and metaphors.

There is in Agency Woman, however, a more traditional structure than we would expect from Kafka. But we find the same alienation, physical and psychological brutality, somehow not terrifying in this novel.

Dostoyevsky’s narrator of Notes from Underground does not even have a name.  But like Logan’s Jim Balkergan, he is isolated, misanthropic, and fearful of attaining his goal. He is a veteran of the Russian civil service; Jim is a veteran of “The Agency.”  Both are intensely attached to suffering. Both see themselves as unattractive. Both have a sense of the absurdity of their existences.

“But this menu of sea and sand and peace, it’s a foreign language to me. I need a translator. No , no, that’s wrong. I’m doing fine. Just lying here. I won’t need a translator, at least I wouldn’t need one, if I was just left alone here and not expected to talk about anything. But she will be here soon. For me. For the rucksack and its contents. For her Agency job. Her career. God, if they could just have left me in peace.”

About freedom, Jim says: “I’ve been asleep, dreaming, thinking who knows what. And now the dream is over. The nightmare of freedom, over at last. Now I’m a turtle that’s been flipped over on its back, left helpless, for later.”

“I had wanted the freedom, craved it, but once it arrived it had made no sense to me. Life, without the context of the Agency, I hadn’t been able to work out what to do with it.”

 Some readers will be pulled in by the physical interaction between Jim and Lucy; some will be drawn to the beauty of the Highlands (Logan’s mastery of descriptive detail is wonderful); some will like the Peckinpah-like violence; but some,  like this reader will respect the quality of the writing and the intellectual orgy of absurdism.

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Butcher’s Broom – A Review.

Butcher’s Broom by Neil Gunn available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

A people and their history swept away in four parts and fifty years. Horo, Mhairi Dubh.

“Ruscus aculeatus (butcher’s broom) is a member of the Liliaceae family. It has tough, green, erect, striated stems that send out numerous short branches and very rigid leaves that are actually extensions of the stem and terminate in a single sharp spine.” http://www.thorne.com

Butcher’s Broom, as an herb, appears in Gunn’s magnificent novel but also serves as a metaphor for the treatment of the Highlanders after the Battle of  Culloden in 1746 through the early 1800s by their English factors and landlords (sometimes Clan chiefs).

Neil M. Gunn was born in the Highlands county of Caithness, and so had a personal interest in the brutal interruption of the Clan way of life, an abrupt end to agriculture and a forced reliance on fish and seaweed collection along the coast.

In fact, a factor, Mr. Elder discusses some of Gunn’s ancestors, the MacHamish family: “There’s only one bad nest of them and they’re up on the Heights—MacHamishes, a sept of the Gunns, thoroughly godless dangerous ruffians. There are some Gunns, too, but they’ll be evicted first of all, because they know enough to organise the Strath—and they would. All that lot live by breaking the law.”

These are the Gaelic speakers of Scotland, so not only a way of life was desecrated but also a language was largely obliterated. Their story is much like that of the Native Americans in the United States. They were literally burned out of their homes, the sick and elderly left to die of smoke inhalation in their thatched cottages. The people who were not initially butchered later suffered from previously unknown diseases introduced by the large-scale sheep farmers, replacing humans with sheep.

Gunn writes in some of the most beautiful and lyrical prose you are ever likely to find in a book about these incidents but makes them personal in the characters of Dark Mairi, Elidh, Davie, Colin, Colin’s son, Kirsteen and their neighbors.

Of Dark Mairi of the shore, he writes: “The fire danced in tiny spots on her black irises. Yet she did not seem to see the sky so much as listen to it; or listen to nothing, so still did she become for a time. Then a small sighing wind came down the hillside and from her mouth, and vague concern for her cow touched her. She got up, put her basket over by the meal chest, and went out.”  Her name comes from an old Highland song: 

The stars are shining cheerily, cheerily
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.
The sea mew’s moaning drearily, drearily
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.
Cold is the stormwind that ruffles the breast
But warm are the downy plumes lining its nest
Cold blows the storm there
Soft falls the snow there
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me. (Dark Mary, turn ye to me.)

Dark Mairi and Murach had “the second sight.” “Usually persons with second sight are normal enough in every other way. But Seumas was a strange being, and when the others forgot him, Davie and Kirsteen remained sensitive to his alien presence.”  Dark Mairi is a healer who knows the plants, lichens, mosses of the glens as well as she knows the back of her hand. “Indeed, in her steady unthinking darkness, she might have walked out of a mountain and might walk into it again, leaving no sign. The sick man had looked at her with expectation. She asked him questions quietly. She smiled her small weak smile. She put her hand on his forehead. Her hand was very cold. Her smile did not touch her eyes at all. She was not concerned. She would soon put him all right.”

She could not, however, heal the great dislocation about to befall her people.  I did not want to reach the sea again, at the end of this novel, not only because I knew what would happen, but also because the language was so wonderful.

Lady Elizabeth Gordon, her factor Mr. Sellar, and the organized church are the villains in this novel, although their names have been changed to protect the guilty, all while the young able men of the Highlands had gone off to fight on behalf of this corrupt aristocracy. Patrick Sellar was tried for his role in the atrocities and found not guilty in 1816.

From a people thus described: “peat on limbs and faces, the bodies leaping and spinning in the circles of music, under a sky with stars paling to the east where a waning moon was thinking of rising upon her kingdom; here was more than the joy of the dance, something added to the mystery of the rhythm, a beat in the blood; freedom from walls, freedom from rules; escape caught in its own delirious toils between fire and music. The music put its frenzy in the boys so that they could not leave the fire alone. Out of the dark they came running with peats from the nearest stacks with the guitt of half-theft stinging their mirth. They would make a fire as big as the world and blind the moon and stars !”

To a defeated people thus described: “But Mr. Heller glanced at Mr James and smiled also. ‘What a handful of half-starved savages in the lost glens of the north may say is nowhere. Yet that is our business, and when talking to us he will make it his.’”

This is a story which will take your imagination captive, and especially if you have roots in the Gaelic North of Scotland or in Ireland, you owe it to yourself to read this novel.  Neil M. Gunn is one of the few authors I have read to note the irony of  the Gaelic Highlanders sent to Ireland to quash dissent and the Gaelic Irish sent to Scotland to quash dissent – all among their ethnic cousins. “It proved an interesting reflection that the soldiers from these glens who some dozen years before had marched away to the wars had seen their first service in Ireland, where a rebellion against His Majesty’s kingdom was being ruthlessly stamped out. And now here was a regiment of Irish being marched into the Northern Highlands to even the balance of immortal justice. So naturally these Irish were more eager for the fray than Mr. Heller or any of his prompters, for they came muttering of their own defeats and wrongs, of Tarrahill and Ballynamuck. The bloody Highlanders! The bloody Irish!”

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Out Of The Mouths of Babes – A Review.

By Dennis Hamley        Available on Amazon US and  Amazon UK
This review is from: Out of the Mouths of Babes (Kindle Edition)
“For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

“Out Of The Mouths of Babes” is a work of urban sociology first published in 1997 and revisited in 2013, reminding us a bit of Max Weber. It is also a character study. Hamley understands his fictional characters in their early lives more cogently than most authors, maybe better than most of us understand our friends and relatives. Hence, the reader takes a deep dive into the psychology of three people, all born on the same day, September 15: Julian, Grizelda and Gary.
“A little wooden building sat quiet in the dark and a small figure sat equally quiet , watching it. It was as if they argued silently together in the night, reasoning with each other, daring each other.”
The novel begins with a blaze at Mockbeggar House, home of Julian. son of Bentley-driving parents, who plan and provide well.
Shortly thereafter we meet the other two: Grizelda, daughter of artsy hippies and Gary, son of a single mother who scrapes by in a maisonette (for the American readers, a very small apartment).
Grizelda evokes Chaucer’s ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ in which a peasant girl (named Griselda) marries a Marquis and accedes to his every wish, and in which her patience is tested by his cruelty.
Hamley’s Grizelda professes feminist sentiments (at least to herself), but nonetheless lives with Julian, sacrificing principle for the advantages of having a rich man.
‘Then she kissed him. “You’re on the wrong side tonight and I could never vote for you, my love. But what’s a vote beside everything else we’ve got?”‘
The motion was: ‘”This House holds dear the principle of independent education”. The main speakers were from Westminster: a member of the then Conservative Government, not quite Cabinet yet but give him time, and a member of the Labour Opposition who was definitely Shadow Cabinet.’
Of The Apsley Club, Grizelda says: “I can’t believe you’re in that High Tory crap,….”
Gary carries the surname of “Lugg,” almost too heavy to bear. Gary was the most fascinating character for this reader, and in him Hamley’s insight shines brilliantly. Gary speaks sparingly. In response to what is your name, he says: “It might be Darren. It might be Kevin. What do people like you think people like me are usually called?”
We also meet Wanda Gates, “the live-in nanny from Ilford, cooked solid English meals and the successive au pair girls proudly and sometimes inedibly reproduced their own national specialities.”
Wanda plays a pivotal role in introducing Gary to Julian, and in shaping both their futures. So, these three from wildly disparate origins converge in Hamley’s 296-page novel.
“Wanda had always known that knowledge is power in this world. Wanda’s world had been the Realm of Nannyhood. At her peak, she saw herself as at its centre, receiver of news, information , secrets, which would help her to fight the perpetual war between the nannies and the Ladies of the House. She was, one might say, Queen of the Realm. Or she aspired to be.”
This novel is the story of women, perhaps as much as the story of their progeny. Julian’s mother, Georgina lives a life of leisure, with servants and cleaners. Grizelda’s mother Wendy can afford to pursue her hobbies: painting and drawing. Chrissy, Gary’s mother, works long hours, smokes cigarettes and drinks “Tesco gin.” Just as their circumstances differ so too their ends.
This novel does not really ask the question: nature or nuture? Instead it asks what happens when the starting line for some is miles behind the starting line for others? Hamley also asks us to consider if personality traits are fixed in early childhood; is a personality malleable; can one really evolve ?
This is a well-written serious book for serious readers.
“Angels guard its strength and grace. In the palace, cottage, hovel, Oh, no matter where the place; Would that never storms assailed it, Rainbows ever gently curled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.” –William Ross Wallace 1819 – 1881
Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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The Bare Knuckle Fighter – A Review.

by Daniel Kenyon. Available from  Amazon US and Amazon UK.

See also Karl Wiggins quotation in his review of this book.

This book is one of those marvelous stories we might have missed were it not for
the magic of twitter. Daniel Kenyon has spun a yarn of the Roma and the Irish
Travellers that will wrap itself around you and hold you tight.

Jack Powers wakes up in Yorkshire, but sure it could have been rural Ireland or
Scotland, having had a strange and unexplainable dream. Thus opens ‘The Bare
Knuckle Fighter’ with a bang and a whimper. In short order he loses his mam and
is taken away by “Paddy Powers and his band of outlaw Tinkers.”

‘The Bare Knuckle Fighter’ marries, literally and figuratively the Romany and the Irish
Traveller families, giving us a revealing peek into their lives and customs.
This reviewer especially appreciated the linguistic insights. Kenyon (an
Anglicized version of Keenan) peppers his text with the words and syntax of his
characters. We hear the word omadhan and potcheen variations of the Gaelic words
“amadán” which means idiot or fool and “potín” a 90-proof Irish moonshine. And
we hear lots of Romany words, too, like “gorgio” or “giorgio” – a non Roma
person. Or “chavie,” a Roma boy.

“Then, slowly and clearly he asked Jack to repeat, after him, the first few words of the ancient Romany oath. I chatksi tsinuda de tehara, vai de haino, khal tut. Jack closed his eyes.”

The family and given names in this book are true to their owners, meaning a
Traveller can tell by a surname a person’s origin and ethnicity: Connors,
O’Houlihans, Kellys.

Jack is a special case. He is an artistic sort with one foot in the spirit world and one foot in the English world. Jack paints and sketches scenes from his dreams and others’ – often places and people he could not have known except by way of the spirit world. He does his best initially to escape or sublimate his Traveller roots.

“His favourite game was to pretend that he had a loving sister called Mary. He would talk to her as though she were really there. This went on for years, until he felt he no longer needed an imaginary sister, or his imagination was no longer pure enough to keep her
alive and so he set her free.” Eventually, though, he finds his Mary, a Chovihani, and finds himself again.

The big impending bare-knuckle boxing
match is the backdrop for the story – ever present and inexorable, we just don’t
know exactly when or where it will happen. When the big men box, the
consequences are surprising and the blows reverberate for
generations.

Kenyon’s language is powerful, understated and rich. His characters are truly memorable and some of them truly menacing. The reader can see them in her/his mind’s eye.

‘The Bare Knuckle Fighter’ is a knock out and this reader is very happy to have met the characters in this very unusual book.

Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review has offered and independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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The God Gene – A Review.

The God Gene by Jaymie Simmon. Available on Amazon US and  Amazon UK

“Since Claire’s death, Rosalind Evans was, like Jacob Marley, doomed to wander.” 

The author describes her debut novel as “satire.” So we expect ridicule or irony to expose folly or evil. And we get it by the “Shovel” ful. 

Let me preface my review by saying that it takes some doing to spin the protein sequences of a single gene (the Claire gene) of a single double helix of a chromosome, in which the genes are arranged in linear order, into a 408-page novel, but Ms. Simmon has done it with élan and considerable humor. 

We live in an era where a Florida resident puts a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich, purportedly containing the image of the Virgin Mary, on eBay for $22,000; a country where the image of Jesus in a frying pan makes money for Texans; the “end?” times when multiple images of Jesus and Mary are found in pancakes in – you guessed it – Florida. 

So, why not non-textured non-extruded protein sequences which spell out The Ten Commandments in a gene? 

This reviewer says the “good” characters are beautiful, rich and brilliant (and live in wonderful apartments and have boats). The “bad” characters also have bags of money, though possessed of  complexity and back stories, scheming and detestable as they are. Big Pharma, the Catholic hierarchy, the Jesus-TV stars, self-involved politicians, know-it-all IT guys, talking heads whose main qualification is reading TelePrompTers find themselves at the point of Simmon’s pen, skewered appropriately. 

Lest we forget the “new age” (pronounced ahhhge) non-denominational churches, the reader will find one of those, too, complete with holograms and hot tubs. No dogmas, no problems. 

Simmon is an expert at creating suspense, even in such an unlikely context. This skeptical reviewer kept turning the electronic page to find out what happened next, sometimes skipping two kindle pages in her haste. Your thumb will get a thorough workout! 

There are many passages which seem more than a little “preachy” but they are counter-balanced by the poke at our willingness to believe any crackpot with a mission who surfaces on the internet or on a ticker tape. Enter “Starry Messenger.” (Siderius Nuncius by Galileo Galilei) 

“We get four million viewers a night; Starry Messenger gets twenty times that. He’s more popular than God. Have you ever had a meaningful conversation where Starry’s name didn’t come up?” 

David, husband of the protagonist Dr. Rosalind Evans, says: ““You talk about the genome with reverence and longing, the way some people talk about God.” 

The [VERY] “Reverend Joseph Steele, televangelist, rabble-rouser, arbiter of all things moral” says  ‘“Amen?”’  repeatedly. ‘The crowd cheered. “Amen!” Steele pulled the microphone close until it touched his lips. “I said AMEN?”’ 

Disgraced Governor Willard Hitchcock says : “You can’t prove a negative. It’s up to them to provide evidence.” 

The “Shovel” Ron Vaniere says: “This is why I’m a legend… as he waited for the photo to download. He glanced at his watch: he would be ready for air with time to spare.” 

The Archbishop of Chicago says to himself: “Does the end justify any means to silence her?”And the “Cardinal Duffy’s face twisted into a snarl that sent a chill down O’Roarke’s spine. “That’s how the enemy works. Subtle at first, disguised as something harmless, until it rears up and bites your head off.” 

Mick “The Tech” Morrison (who slurps protein shakes) says: “Everybody wants me,” … a smile spreading across his chiseled face. “I can resuscitate a crashed hard drive just by breathing on it, and I can tell a Trojan from a worm by smell. I am the magical, mystical wizard of tech.” 

Senator Bosch [always] said: “You had to keep it subtle, he always said, so that the pork would be hard to find in case anyone decided to read the bill.” 

Are you getting the picture, Dear Reader?  These are characters we can love to hate.

We can feel smugly that we would never fall for such malarkey. Simmon creates suspense, humor, irony and does a good job of spelling out the ABCs of DNA and the potential for its abuse posed by patenting genes and pharmaceutical chicanery.

The writing is excellent and the editing is good. Simmon makes cogent observations about the state of human understanding in the 21st Century, too: “No guile whatsoever. The fact that she was scared made it golden. Emotional appeal was the nut of any good story, and the king of all emotions was fear. The trick would be to dig through the layers, all the way down to the fear. What if this woman actually did find the Ten Commandments written in the genetic code? What if it isn’t sabotage?” 

What’s not to like?  I enjoyed reading The God Gene. 

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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