Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Master Executioner by Loren D. Estleman, 2001

There are many reasons why we return to an author we have read before. What compels me to read the same writer again is the writing itself. For this reason I read Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography twice. Even now I flip through the book and marvel at the lucidity of prose. George Bernard Shaw’s writing had a similar heady effect on me.

Several modern writers do that as well. Loren D. Estleman, author of detective and western fiction, is one. I was impressed by his narrative flair in Gun Man (1985) and Bloody Season (1987). It was simple and yet stylistic.

I have been meaning to read more by Estleman and an opportunity presented itself this evening, when I came across The Master Executioner on a book website. I read the synopsis and liked it instantly. He has written about a part of the Old West I'm not familiar with—hangman and hanging—a form of capital punishment that still prevails in countries like India.

Here is what the American Library Association had to say about the book:

“Oscar Stone accepts a temporary position building a gallows in Topeka, Kansas, where he meets Fabian Timothy Rudd, a hangman of some repute. Rudd is impressed with Stone's carpentry skills and pride in his work and so takes on the role of mentor as Stone becomes a kind of apprentice hangman. But no one loves a hangman, including his wife, who can't live with her young husband's career choice. Stone travels through the West with Rudd from execution to execution, drinking to dull the isolation and refining his skills. Miscalculations can lead to strangulation or worse: a beheading. Decades pass, and Stone has a final meeting with the wife who left him and learns a terrible truth. Estleman has created an unforgettable character in Stone. Swept up by circumstance and an unwanted gift for dispensing death, he's unable to break away from his life's fated path despite the loss of all he holds close. A dark, compelling journey into a previously unexplored facet of the Old West.”

I downloaded the 272-page Kindle edition for Rs.64 ($0.91) and plan to read it next month. It has a nice biographical sketch of the author and this opening line—“It occurred to Anders Nilsen that if it weren't for having to wait at the train station he would be quite contented to remain both a deputy sheriff and a Methodist.”

On the face of it, the opening sounds innocuous but it was enough to make me curious. I want to read further and see where Estleman is taking me. I'm sure he won’t disappoint.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Writing for public relations

“Writing good English must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world,” says the foreword to Effective Writing Skills for Public Relations by John Foster, a journalist and public relations veteran. This is one of two books on public relations I'm reading. The other is Public Relations Writing: Form & Style by Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes. Both are university professors with experience in PR industry.

This is outside my comfort zone though I'm not unfamiliar with reference and how-to books. I'm reading these books as a self-motivating exercise, to learn how to write clearly, cleverly, and effectively for clients of the public relations firm I now work for.

Three decades of serious news writing is no qualification for a wannabe PR writer. It’s a new ballgame and I'm a rookie who has just stepped on the field to play my first game. I'm going 
to have plenty of misses before I hit anything. While journalistic writing can teach you to write good English, it doesn’t necessarily prepare you to write good public relations copy. It merely puts you on the other side of the Media-PR fence, where I find myself today.

In spite of my initial apprehension and writer’s block, I'm keen to acquire new writing skills that will eventually help me in my other writing cause. I'm hoping my experience in both styles of writing and editing will push me along the way.

Writing is not just difficult, it can be a real struggle. Sometimes the thoughts, words, and lines are all there in my head, but they refuse to come out and leave their narrative impressions on paper, denying me the chance to tell my story. It’s frustrating when you lose the plot. Fortunately, writing gives you plenty of opportunity and room to improve. It is this exciting and word-splitting challenge that makes you want to keep writing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chef, 2014

A review of a not so entertaining foodie movie for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Film promos can be deceptive. What you see on the menu is not what you're always served. For more than two weeks, a movie channel tantalised viewers with the aroma of Chef (2014) before plating it up and laying it in front of us Sunday night. 

Day after day we watched star chef Jon Favreau spit out the words, “You sit and you eat and you vomit those words back! It hurts!” We knew they were aimed at someone, probably an unhappy diner who’d tasted his food and actually spit it out. Was it Scarlett Johansson or Robert Downey Jr.?

Finally, when we sat down to watch the film at dinner time, last weekend, it turned out to be food critic Oliver Platt who’d panned Jon’s food on his popular blog and hurt his gastronomical pride.

Less than an hour into the film, we'd a mild case of indigestion as the foodie movie failed to home deliver what its much-hyped trailer had promised. Writer-director Jon Favreau took us through the gastric motions, and his own emotions, as he desperately tried to get his cooking mojo and his divorced life out of the freezer and back on the burner. An unpalatable war of words with Platt on social media and a falling out with his boss Dustin Hoffman saw Jon unexpectedly in a rolling food truck, with his young son, Emjay Anthony, and best friend, John Leguizamo—cooking food on his own terms, reconnecting with his family, and regaining his precious chef’s reputation.

Sorry, but no tips.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blackskull’s Captive by Tom Doolan, 2012

The first time I read about orcs, the hideous and beastly human-like creatures, was in Harvest of War by blog friend Charles Gramlich. I reviewed his fantasy short story last month. Some days later he mentioned that writer Tom Doolan of Wisconsin, USA, was offering his story about orcs free on Amazon. I did not need a second invitation. I downloaded Blackskull’s Captive immediately, read it in one sitting, and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

© Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Having never read about orcs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus, I was delighted to have read two very fine orc tales back to back. The stories widened my horizon. I was also pleasantly surprised to read that Tom had dedicated his story to Charles Gramlich, author of fantasy, horror, and sf, and Scott Oden, writer of historical novels.

Young Jack Monro is the sole human survivor of a brutal assault by bloodthirsty orcs who destroy his spaceship, HMS Mandrake, and take him captive aboard their own, the Grishnaak. Jack doesn’t go down without a fight and even kills an orc to prove he is made of sterner stuff. Blackskull, the captain of the enemy ship, a particularly huge and brutish orc, takes a fancy to Jack and makes him his cabin boy.

Jack is frightened beyond imagination, as he spends the first few days locked up in the orc captain’s closet. But he is also a brave and spirited lad who overcomes his fear of the repulsive humanoids and plots his escape from the foul-smelling orc ship.

The 32-page story is narrated in first person by Jack, who soon wins the trust of the captain and is allowed to move freely on the ship. The orc crew leave him alone though many eye him with “suspicion and amusement.” 
As Captain Blackskull and his orc crew stalk the space lanes and ambush and plunder more human ships, Jack quietly explores the bowels of the Grishnaak from whence he must escape.

Blackskull’s Captive is a combination of fantasy and science fiction, and an adventure of high order. It has several twists and turns, and there is not a dull moment in the clean narrative. I liked the writer’s description of the orcs and their predatory nature, the terrifying battle between the horrid creatures and courageous humans, and the inventive mechanism of the Grishnaak. But what I liked most about the story is the skilful manner in which Tom Doolan lightens up the air despite throwing Jack Monro into a very frightening and mind-numbing situation. A fine blend of fear and fun.

I will be reading more orc stories by Tom Doolan. Recommended.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Run Girl by Eva Hudson, 2014

Run Girl by British writer Eva Hudson is the first of five novels in the Ingrid Skyberg FBI thriller series. I downloaded it from Amazon partly because I liked the plot and partly because it was free. As a rule I don’t purchase ebooks by new writers, at least not right away. But now that I have read the first adventure of special agent Skyberg, I'm curious to read the other four and see how her character develops and what she gets up to.

© Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Although Run Girl has been marked as a “thriller,” I thought it read more like young adult fiction and Ingrid Skyberg could have been Nancy Drew, only stronger and more sophisticated.

The young and attractive special agent is in London, for a dreary FBI training programme at Scotland Yard, when she is whisked away to the American embassy in a black sedan. Ingrid soon learns why. She must find an 18-year old missing girl before news of her disappearance leaks out and all hell breaks loose.

Rachel Whiiticker was accompanying her grandmother, US Secretary of State Jayne Whitticker, on a diplomatic trip to Paris when she decided to give her bodyguard the slip and run off to London, to meet secretly with her boyfriend and have a little adventure of her own.

The mandarins at the American embassy want to keep the crisis under wraps lest the political and diplomatic fallout of Rachel’s disappearance jeopardises a peace deal being brokered by her grandmother between warring African countries. 

There’s just one problem: the Secretary of State doesn’t know her favourite grandchild is missing.

Run Girl is a well-written story though it meanders through a series of false leads and hot pursuits as Ingrid Skyberg and Nicholas Angelis, a private security agent hired by the US embassy, race against time to track down Rachel and bring her back. The narrative is fast paced but it lacks the suspense and solidity that I expect in an FBI thriller. Still, I enjoyed the story. I thought it was inventive.


You can check out the book at Amazon and learn more about Eva Hudson and her books at her website.

Friday, July 3, 2015


I have not been frequent on blogs, my own as well as visits to yours, because of the transition from my old job to a new one which, incidentally, happens to be in the same group I have been associated with for the past fifteen years. Only my line of work has changed, from that of a full-time journalist to a content specialist in one of Asia’s leading public relations agencies. I started out on July 2 and I'm looking forward to my new career in this challenging and exciting field.

© Faber & Faber
I hope to make up for my absence from blogging this weekend, by visiting my friends’ blogs rather than posting anything on my own. That may take a while. However, I owe my friend Sarah Ward an honest apology. I still have to review her brilliant debut, In Bitter Chill, that she so kindly sent me by post a month ago. I'm halfway through Sarah’s gripping mystery novel and I'm excited about reviewing it next week.

My new job falls midway between my home in a northern suburb and my old job in South Mumbai, or downtown, which means I will have less time to read during my train commute. I'm going to have to make up for it by reading whenever time permits, and time doesn’t permit a lot. You know, we readers have as little time to read our books as sleuths have to solve their cases.

Among other things, it’s nearly three months since I bought a paper book, and I don’t intend to buy any till I have read at least two dozen paperbacks from my existing lot. This is a promise and I aim to keep it. The only exception would be Sudden novels, the western series by British writer Oliver Strange that I'm so fond of. Nothing, absolutely nothing on earth, can prevent me from grabbing his priceless books. To hell with TBR and all that.

That’s all for now.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

2014 films: Noah, Maleficent, and The Legend of Hercules

Made in 2014 and probably overlooked in 2015—here are three entries for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

I spent last weekend watching the concluding parts of three mythological and adventure films on cable and decided I'd wasted my time, as it so happens when you’re too lazy to do anything else and sit down and watch all sorts of films on television.

The first of these was Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan). Russell Crowe plays Noah and lives with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), their three boys, and an adopted girl (Emma Watson). As the eponymous title suggests, Noah is chosen by the creator to build an ark for his family and the animal kingdom before god unleashes a terrifying flood and wipes out all civilisation on earth. The film is mildly entertaining. But it has a lot of special effects, like the Watchers, fallen angels who have assumed the form of the many-armed giant stone creatures who protect Noah and his ark from humans led by a villainous king. 

Russell Crowe's Noah is an intense and a more serious version of Steve Carell's Evan Almighty (2007). Both build an ark and that's pretty much it. However, I will say this much—Crowe can pull off any role.

I think Angelina Jolie is one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood and I found her no more inspiring in Maleficent than I did in her other films. Robert Stromberg directs this adventure film that is little more than a twist in the tale of Sleeping Beauty. The last half-hour I saw was unexciting, though I like the way the word ‘maleficent’ rolls off the tongue.

The Legend of Hercules, made by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), retells the origins of Hercules (Kellan Lutz), the mythical Greek warrior. The half god-half man is forced into exile and slavery by King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), his stepfather, and Prince Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), his stepbrother. In scenes reminiscent of Gladiator (2000), Hercules must fight his way through the arena before he can avenge his mother’s death and regain his kingdom from the evil king. In his quest Hercules receives divine help from his father, Zeus, the supreme Greek god. I didn’t find Kellan Lutz (Twilight series) very convincing as Hercules but the film has plenty of sword-and-spear action.

Have you seen any of these films? If yes, what did you think of them?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Concrete Angel: Guest Post by Patricia Abbott

© Polis Books
Today, I'm delighted to welcome Patricia Abbott to the 3Cs where she voices her thoughts on her debut novel Concrete Angel [Polis Books, June 2015]. Patti, as she is affectionately known, is no stranger to the world of fiction. She has written more than a hundred short stories online and in various print journals and anthologies. Her story ‘My Hero’ won the Derringer award. She has authored two ebooks, Monkey Justice and Home Invasion, and co-edited Discount Noir. Patti, who lives in Michigan, USA, is also a seasoned blogger and spearheads the Forgotten Books meme every Friday on her popular blog Pattinase.

When I requested Patti if she’d write a guest post on Concrete Angel, as part of her blog tour, she agreed readily, and also answered the two questions I asked her—“What did you feel when you held Concrete Angel in your hands for the first time? After your debut novel do you see fiction writing in a new light?” I found her response forthright and refreshing.

Without further ado, I hand over this space to Patti Abbott. I'm happy to say that hers is the first guest post on this blog. Thank you, Patti.

The other side of the coin

© Patricia Abbott

I know the expectation is that someone who has been writing stories for as long as I have would feel tremendous elation on seeing that box of copies of books on my front porch one day. Unmitigated joy. And part of me did feel that. Part of me jumped for joy that at long last I would not be seen as someone striving for a seemingly unattainable goal. That all my work had finally seen fruition.

But another part of me saw that box of books an harbinger of possible failure. As a long time sufferer from dysthymia, it is far more likely I will see the cloud and not the silver lining in any situation. Here are the thoughts that chased that immediate elation away: what if I let down my publisher and fail to sell any copies, what if no one likes the book, how can I ask people to write reviews for it, to post on Amazon and good reads, what if this book proves an embarrassment to my family. How often will my hand have to be out for favors and such?

Now I am sure all authors feel this to some degree but they are more able than I am to push those negative thoughts away. I have never learned to do this. Yes, I can feel pure joy for the success of my family and friends because I have no responsibility there except to help them. But in the case of my own novel, it feels like a responsibility I may not be ready for. I am so grateful that I have been given this chance but so worried that I will disappoint everyone involved with it.

Do I see fiction writing in a new light?

As I look at the pages of my second manuscript, I feel more hopeful than in the past that it might be published. And I am beginning to explore ideas for what might possibly be a third novel. I miss writing short stories though but at the moment, those ideas—ones that came to me almost weekly for most of my life—have disappeared. I miss that.

© Patricia Abbott

Back of the book

Evil doesn’t always live next door. Sometimes it lives right in your own home.

Eve Moran has always wanted “things,” her powers of seduction impossible to resist for those who come in contact with her toxic allure. And over the course of her life, she has proven both inventive and tenacious in getting and keeping whatever such things catch her eye, whether they are jewelry, money, or men. Eve lies, steals, cheats, swindles, and is even willing to take a life, paying little heed to the cost of her actions on those who love her and depend on her. Her daughter, Christine, compelled by love, dependency, and circumstance, is caught up in her mother’s deceptions, unwilling to accept the viciousness that runs in her family’s blood. It’s only when Christine’s three-year old brother, Ryan, begins to prove useful to her mother, and Christine sees a horrific pattern repeating itself, that she finds the courage and means to bring an end to Eve’s tyranny.

An atmospheric, eagerly awaited debut novel, Concrete Angel centers around a family torn apart by a mother straight out of “Mommie Dearest”, and her resilient young daughter who discovers that survival can mean fighting the closest evil imaginable.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvest of War by Charles Gramlich, 2012

"Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes. And is met." — opening line

© Razored Zen Press
I'm not very familiar with fantasy fiction or science fiction and it takes me some time to understand stories in the two intricate styles. I often find the plot and the narrative complex. Still, I enjoy reading fantasy and sf stories a lot and I read them regardless of my incomprehension.

But every so often comes along a story that makes reading fantasy or sf a satisfying and delightful experience. Such as Harvest of War, a fantasy short story by noted author Charles Gramlich.

In this story Charles blends rich prose and poetry to narrate a riveting tale of creatures and beasts who clash in the land of startling imagination that is both fascinating and terrifying.

It begins with a gory war between the vicious Orcs and their Human foes, a fight to the death where only one race may survive, or maybe none.

But there is a victor. The Human cavalry led by their leader, Lord Aaron, manages to slay the Orc army. Except for one of their kind who is taken captive and caged and treated so horribly, that his fate in the human settlement is probably worse than in hell.

"Victory rewards the most brutal."

In spite of being grievously wounded and tormented by his oppressors, Khales, the captured Orc, knows no pain or fear. He is a proud warrior of his humanoid race.

As time passes and the Orc begins to accept his barbaric fate, he receives compassion from an unexpected quarter—a small human girl with "red hair and grayish-blue eyes." She is Ehma, daughter of Lord Aaron, who rises above her father's blood-thirsty and vengeful tribe to befriend one of their worst enemies and treat him with kindness. She helps the Orc escape but not before arousing something inside him.

There is hope and redemption in each bloody war, every brutal conflict. The Orc gets a chance to redeem himself, and his own villainous race, when in the absence of the human soldiers, he returns to defend his little friend and her colony against the mighty underground beasts called Reapers, foe to both the Orcs and the Humans.

I may sound clichéd when I say this but, Charles Gramlich, author of several fantasy, horror, and sf novels and short stories, has written a cracker of a fantasy story. It is lucid in style and relentless in pace and action. I liked it very much, partly because I understood the story. I only wish the poetic-prose narrative of Harvest of War was longer than the twenty-odd pages of my Kindle edition. I thank Charles for a free copy of the short story available for $0.99 at Amazon.

Highly recommended.

Notes:  Previously, I reviewed Charles' Killing Trail and also interviewed him. You can learn more about the author and his work on his blog Razored Zen and his Amazon page.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Proof of Life, 2000

Todd Mason has the links for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at his blog Sweet Freedom.

Proof of Life, directed by Taylor Hackford (Against All Odds, Devil's Advocate, and An Officer and a Gentleman), is an archetypal thriller with a time-tested formula that can be assumed to be a safe bet for a filmmaker—a man is kidnapped and held ransom and his frantic wife turns to a former special ops soldier to bring him back. Predictably, sparks fly between the wife and her husband’s rescuer.

I might not have liked this film much if the cast had been any one of less repute than David Morse, the victim, Meg Ryan, his wife, and Russell Crowe, the saviour. The three seasoned actors put in a fine performance—Morse as the tortured prey, and Ryan and Crowe who are wracked by a mixture of emotion and guilt.

When US oil company engineer Peter Bowman (Morse) is kidnapped by Leftist guerillas in South America and held ransom, his wife Alice (Ryan), already unsettled by a miscarriage and the transition to an unknown and hostile place, struggles to deal with the crisis. She has little faith in the local negotiator who is eyeing a share of the ransom pie. In desperation, she turns to Terry Thorne (Crowe), a professional mediator appointed by the oil company, to look for her husband. Reluctant at first, Thorne agrees to negotiate with the kidnappers and soon finds himself attracted to Alice, who, in spite of her professed love for her husband, feels likewise. But there is not much they can do about it.

The chemistry between Crowe and Ryan is handled very well; their mutual attraction never crossing ethical limits even as the pain of separation is written on their faces. I like David Morse who I think is a terrific supporting actor, and versatile too, as evident from his roles in The Rock (1996), The Green Mile (1999), and The Hurt Locker (2008), at least among such films that I have seen.

Recommended, if you like action films or the actors.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Do you still read the newspaper?

During my 45-minute one-way train journey to work, I still see a few commuters reading newspapers or solving Sudoku (crosswords are out). It is a reassuring sight for until a little over a decade ago, it was the only thing we did. Most others are either dozing off or thumbing away on their smartphones or listening to music on their iPods. I seldom find anyone reading books these days. This morning, as the mastheads of familiar newspapers caught my eye and touched a sentimental chord, I recalled my own association with the once ubiquitous newspaper long before I entered journalism and ruined my career. 

I grew up with newspapers, thanks to my father and his elder brother who were seasoned journalists in their time. We used to get four papers delivered at home on weekdays and a few more on Sundays, not counting tabloid-size eveningers. I was keen on current affairs, particularly the Cold War standoffs, and there was a time when I knew the names of heads of countries and their foreign ministers by heart. I was also familiar with intelligence agencies and took pride in memorising, and occasionally showing off, the full form of KGB—Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti—or State Security for the Supreme Soviet Society. I can rattle it off even now in the dead of night. Clearly, back then I was idling.

It is possible that reading about KGB and CIA and Mossad and Stasi in the newspapers triggered my interest in spy fiction and one of the first espionage novels I read was The Red Gods (1981) by Donald Lindquist. It was about a Soviet conspiracy to nuke America. I remember the novel as being gripping and well-written. I think I have recommended it to my (blog) friends.

In 1986, I got my first newspaper job and there was no turning back, though how I wish I’d right away. In those days I read an awful lot of newspapers and magazines including foreign periodicals. The Economist, The Times, London, and its literary supplement, The Guardian, Time and Newsweek, and International Herald Tribune were a favourite. I’d enthusiastically stack a variety of Sunday newspapers at home, date wise, so I could read them during the week. That never happened. The newspapers gathered dust. After a while I outgrew the habit and made better use of the trunk space. I got rid of the trunk.

At the time I read all kinds of novels, as I do now. I was particularly fond of Tom Shapre (whose books I’m collecting again), Frank G. Slaughter, Nevil Shute, A.J. Cronin, Lloyd C. Douglas, Charles Dickens, and Malcolm Bradbury. I also read a lot of popular bestselling authors from Harold Robbins to Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum to Frederick Forsyth. Cult writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Ray Bradbury came later. And then I took to blogging which changed my reading completely, and for the better. For this I have all of you to thank.

Favourite Cronin
Today, I glance at the headlines on the only morning newspaper I get at home, The Times of India, and barely go through the dozen papers I get in office. Instead, I follow news online a couple of times a day and read analysis and essays on credible political and history websites. I stopped watching television news, because it's all about anchoring and loudmouths and ratings and little else. While I regret getting into journalism at nineteen, as I did, I admit it had a formative influence on my reading, whether it was newspapers and magazines or books and comic books.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When life meddles with your reading

There is little to write about my reading in May because I read very little. Only a handful of short stories as part of my grand but futile effort to read thirty-one stories during the month. I read less than half and I also didn't make it through any of the unfinished novels. I'm also behind my other challenge to read the ‘first novels’ of various authors.

To be frank, April and May were trying months starting with a month-long home renovation followed by an unexpected health scare in the family and, more recently, my loss of job. Then my laptop crashed beyond repair but my children surprised me with a brand new one. They said they were going to the theatre to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film they’d both seen. My wife and I didn't suspect a thing. They came back in less than an hour with an HP tucked under their arms. What can I say!

I'm relieved the health crisis has passed and all is well. The family is what comes first, nothing else matters. I can always find another job. No one stays jobless for very long. 

I don’t want this to be a sob story any more than it already is, so I’ll tell you about the short stories I read last month. Most of the stories came from Masters of Noir: Volume One which I picked up from Amazon. It's a fine collection of hardboiled stories.

Out of the nine stories in this anthology, I read 
Carrera's Woman by Richard Marsten (Ed McBain) and Look Death in the Eye by Lawrence Block in April, hence they don’t count.

The other seven were…

Identity Unknown by Jonathan Craig

The Girl behind the Hedge by Mickey Spillane

Butcher by Richard S. Prather

On a Sunday Afternoon by Gil Brewer

Frame by Frank Kane

Double by Bruno Fischer

As I lie dead by Fletcher Flora

Besides these, I also read three stories from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, namely ‘Up in Michigan,’ ‘Black Ass at the Cross Roads,’ and ‘The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.’ I also read and reviewed The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers.

I liked nearly every one of the eleven short stories. They were full of twists and turns. But two stories—‘On a Sunday Afternoon’ by Gil Brewer and ‘Up in Michigan’ by Ernest Hemingway—stood out for their sexual undercurrent.

In Brewer’s story, housewife Julia is trapped in an unhappy marriage. On a day picnic with her husband Dell and their little daughter, Julia is raped by a gang of unruly boys. Her husband is beaten up and tied to a tree. When the boys leave, Julia tells Dell, “I said, I'm glad you didn't do anything, Dell. Because I liked it, Dell. I liked every minute of it. Every God damned minute of it!”

In Hemingway’s story, Liz Coates is crazy about Jim Gilmore, a blacksmith described as short and dark with big moustaches and big hands. He doesn't seem to notice her much. Until one night when he reveals that he has, in fact, been noticing her. During a walk on the dock by the bay, Jim forces himself on Liz. She wants him too but not quite that way. “A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay.”

Both the stories were suggestive and they kind of left me squirming. I have never read anything like this by Ernest Hemingway though I have read his hardboiled stories like The Killers. Mild as it was it took me by surprise.

I think I'm going to stop putting a number to my reading though I know I’ll be back next month, hopefully, with better figures than in recent months.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Passenger 57

Review of a tolerable action film for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Passenger 57 (1992) should be the silliest hijack film I have seen till now.

Wesley Snipes plays John Cutter, the mysterious Passenger 57 in this namesake action flick directed by Kevin Hooks (known more for television than films, I think). But he doesn’t stay mysterious for long. His cover as a seasoned airline security expert is blown less than half hour into the movie by Sabrina Ritchie (Elizabeth Hurley), the lone woman hijacker disguised as a stewardess.

Half-crazed international terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) is on the same passenger jet, handcuffed and seated between two FBI agents who are taking him to LA. As soon as the plane takes off, Sabrina makes her move and shoots the Feds. Rane and Sabrina and two other accomplices then take over the jet.

Conveniently, John Cutter is in the loo when Rane shoots a few people including the pilot. The anti-terrorist specialist manages to discharge fuel with the help of Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher), a genuine stewardess and Cutter’s love interest, forcing Rane to land the plane in a small town. However, it’s not long before his cover is blown again and Cutter finds himself licking the runway, and Rane escapes, as was his intention.

From here on much of the action takes place on land, in a crowded amusement park where Cutter and Rane play hide and seek and shoot, first on a rollercoaster and then on a merry-go-round. Unusual for such hijack capers, Cutter manages to nab Rane and hand him over to the FBI.

This is where it gets silly. Rane blackmails Cutter and the FBI into letting him back on board the plane where his accomplices are holding the remaining passengers hostage. Whatever happened to commandos and midair boarding? And it gets sillier when Cutter follows Rane into the airborne jet for a final showdown, in a stunt reversal of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leap off a midair plane in Commando (1985).

Passenger 57 is passable. Wesley Snipes doesn’t say much, but he kicks butt every now and then. Tom Sizemore, a fine actor, is wasted as airline representative Sly Delvecchio. He and Hurley look like extras. Bruce Payne, who I don’t recall seeing anywhere, appears stiff and stone faced rather than deranged as he is meant to be. I have seen better hijack films, notably Airport ’77 (1977), The Delta Force (1986), Executive Decision, (1996), Air Force One (1997), and Con Air (1997). I watched Passenger 57 on a lazy Saturday afternoon. You can, too, if there’s nothing else on.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1915

Review of a short horror story by the German actor, poet, philosopher, and writer for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

When the student of medicine, Richard Bracquemont, decided to move into room #7 of the small Hotel Stevens, Rue Alfred Stevens (Paris 6), three persons had already hanged themselves from the cross-bar of the window in that room on three successive Fridays.

I read The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers as part of my self-styled challenge to read thirty-one short stories in May and I’m about half way there. I’d be happy if I read even twenty stories this month.

The Spider is an unusual story, illusional and spooky and surreal as a dream, or a nightmare. Three men—a Swiss travelling salesman, a high wire cyclist, and a police officer—are found dead in the hotel room on consecutive Fridays, hanging by the cross-bar of the window and their legs dragging on the floor. A large black spider crawls from each dead man’s mouth.

A hotel porter flicked it away, exclaiming, “Ugh, another of those damned creatures.”

Fearing for the consequences to her business, Madame Dubonnet, the owner of the cheap guesthouse, summons the police inspector of the ninth precinct who reluctantly allows Richard Bracquemont, a student of medicine, to hole up in Room No.7 till he gets to the bottom of the mysterious deaths, or suicides.

The days and weeks pass without incident until, one day, Bracquemont notices the young woman in the small dark flat across the narrow street. Clarimonda, as the student believes her name to be, is sitting by a window and spinning on an old-fashioned spindle. Bracquemont finds her irresistible.

What does Clarimonda look like? I'm not quite sure. Her hair is black and wavy; her face pale. Her nose is short and finely shaped with delicate nostrils that seem to quiver. Her lips, too, are pale: and when she smiles, it seems that her small teeth are as keen as those of some beast of prey.

From across the street, Clarimonda begins to draw Bracquemont towards him, like a moth to a flame, like a fly into a spider’s web. But is Clarimonda real? And does Bracquemont solve the three mystery deaths?

Clarimonda is a metaphor for the spider in the story which reads like a mild tale of horror. Although The Spider is well-written, the length could've been cut short. It drags a bit halfway when Bracquemont and Clarimonda communicate with each other through smiles, signs, and gestures. This story might not be to everyone’s liking but you might want to read it if you’re a fan of strange fiction.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

An extract from my novella

“Hari? What kind of a name is that?”
“It’s a proper name.”
“As in Harry Potter or hairy legs?” 

“No, as in hurry up, please!”

Last December, I started writing a novella set in Mumbai. It is a crime story, though, let me warn you that it has a leisurely pace and is more atmospheric than hardboiled. The protagonist is Hari Hemmady, a mild-mannered detective in the crime branch with a nose for homicide cases. I meant to finish the story by Christmas but couldn’t due to various reasons. So far I have written upwards of 6,000 words and I hope to complete it in coming weeks. Alongside, I’m also working on a collection of fast-paced short stories that I intend finishing by Diwali this November. I don’t want to rush into either as I don’t write every day and, in fact, I write only when I have the time and the mood suits me.

For now, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into a portion of the first draft of my novella which I have gone through a couple of times. It requires editing and probably revision too which I’ll undertake after I complete the entire story. I haven’t figured out a title yet. Read on…

*     *     *     *     *

“So you’re not going to use third degree on me, are you?”

Hari Hemmady backed away as Trisha switched off the kitchen light and swept past him into the living room. His 6'3" broad-shouldered frame trailed after her and almost knocked her down when she stopped abruptly and turned around to face him. He steadied her and stepped back.

He liked the way she looked at that moment, standing in front of him, her arms folded and her head cocked to one side, lips compressed, gazing up at him through shining dark eyes. God, she was beautiful, he thought. He experienced a familiar sensation but he knew better than to tell her what he was thinking.

“Hemmady, all I asked you was a simple question and all I wanted was a straight answer. Don’t give it to me if you don’t want to. I’m not going to beat it out of you, okay?” She whirled around and walked towards their study.

That did it. He’d have to stick to his side of the bed tonight. She used his last name only when she was upset with him which was rare. He decided not to mess with her.

“Look, Trish,” he began. “For whatever it’s worth…”

She turned once again and gave him a look that said, “I dare you to say the truth, mister.”

“…I think she still has her looks,” he finished.

“You think?”

He almost raised his voice in exasperation. “Well, I didn’t get a good look at her. I was there only a couple of minutes. Besides, it was dark on the landing and there were these potted plants all over the place. Anyway, how the hell does it matter? Dina was in my past. I love you and I’m married to you now and that’s how I want it for the rest of my life, and you know I do.”

And then he did mess with her. “You are jealous, aren’t you, Trish?” He said mischievously and regretted it instantly.

She gave him a fiery look. “Don’t even think of it tonight, Hemmady,” she said and walked away.

He stared after her. She did it every time! That’s what you get for marrying a psychologist. He started to say something but decided against it. He was contemplating whether to follow her and make up or spend the night in the living room when his cell phone rang. It was ACP Dhond calling to inform him that the last suspect, the building watchman, was clean. The man had a sound alibi. He had been on leave when the crime took place and was, in fact, in his native village attending a wedding the day Mrs. Seth was poisoned to death. Dhond said he had checked out the alibi and found no reason to detain the guard.

“All right, Dhond, if you’re sure then let him go. But did he say anything that might give us a paan to chew on?”

“Saab, he did mention a stranger who visited Mrs. Seth on at least two occasions.”

“Male or female?”


“How old?”

“Late thirties.”

“When was this?”

“About a week before the murder.”

“Did he say who he was?”

“The man didn't give a name but our man thinks he was a lawyer.”

“How come?” Hemmady wanted to know.

“The watchman said he thought the man was a vakil because he was carrying papers the way lawyers usually do. A bunch of them tied loosely together on an open cardboard file and held close to the chest.”

“Yes, I know the kind. Did he leave a number in the visitors’ book?”

“Mrs. Seth’s housing complex doesn’t keep one. People walk in and walk out, even at nights.”

And kill innocent people, Hemmady muttered under his breath. “All right, Dhond. First thing tomorrow we track down this lawyer. We might be on to something.”

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Yes, ask Rana to prepare a sketch of our new suspect.”

“He’s already working on it, saab. Anything else?

“No, Dhond, go on home," Hemmady told his deputy. 
I’ll see you in the morning.”

Hemmady put the phone down and glanced at the study. Trisha was probably busy with a case paper. She often sat up late writing patient reports. He decided to let things cool down. He plopped in his favourite chair, picked up In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, opened the bookmarked page, and was soon engrossed in reading about the real life murders of a Kansas-based farmer named Herbert Clutter and his wife and children. He lost track of time. He must have been reading for quite some time because once or twice his head dropped on his chest and the book slid from his hands. He glanced at his watch. It showed 11.15 pm.

“Hari,” a soft voice called from the bedroom. “Come to bed. You have a long day tomorrow.” Trisha was leaning against the door with her arms crossed. She had tied up her hair and had changed into a white shirt and shorts.

Hemmady got up, switched off the table lamp, and came to her. He enveloped her in his arms and held her close to him. She didn’t resist. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. They rocked on their feet, slowly. She loved this moment. And then, she lifted her head and they kissed gently on the lips.

Copyright: Prashant C. Trikannad