A Legacy of Spies – John Le Carré

Well, the critics really, really loved this.

They gushed and they gushed and they gushed. Then they gushed some more. I thought it was OK, but certainly didn’t mention a first gush, never mind the repetitions…

This is a spy novel where the author’s favorite (or most famous) character, George Smiley, is always in the background. But in the center of the stage is Peter Guillam, an ex spy, retired and living in France. One day, he is dragged back to the establishment by litigation from family members of some who died in the Cold War. Guillam and others are blamed, and the Secret Service is trying to cover its backside. Just what was going on between Guillam and Smiley, and the other spooks? All will be revealed.

The narrative flits from past to present, in nice flowing language which manages to glide over the death and tragedy unfolding in its pages. Then you realize what has happened, and you go back and read it again. Chilling.

The lead character is a good one: likeable, a bit of a rogue, and with his own (flawed) moral compass.

The atmosphere, especially when the book touches on the Cold War events, is terrific. The modern perspective is best when the author shows us the hard edge of the sneaky civil service, and a different type of dicing with death.

A Legacy of Spies is good, but not this author’s best work. Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, it is still absolutely worth reading. Just don’t let all that gushing get in your way.

Two from Stav Sherez

These two novels, starting with A Dark Redemption, are police murder mysteries featuring DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller.

The first book is about the dreadful slaying of a Ugandan student, the second about a horrific fire in which several nuns die. In both, the author does an excellent job of sprinkling a veritable shoal of (credible) red herring clues about the place to keep the reader off balance. However, as a seasoned crime fiction reader, I spotted the solution in Eleven Days as soon as a particular family relationship was exposed. Regardless, the plots are very well put together.

So far as the characters are concerned, A Dark Redemption is largely about Carrigan’s background, with Miller more up front in Eleven Days. They are both well rounded characters, but Miller could do with a bit more padding out, some of which may come to the fore in the third of the series.

The rest of the police squad are cardboard cut outs with a clear notion to tick the diversity box.

The backdrop that is consistent in both is London, and the author presents it well, with enough fresh perspective and nice language to make it more than just a familiar set of place names.

These books reflect a mountain of research and hard slog, which the author has put in so as to deliver fine examples of the crime writer’s craft. Not up with the best, but getting there. Recommended.

And now for a little good news

From Harry’s Place:

The PSC site has this in their commentary on the defeat:

Campaigners are concerned about threats to freedom of expression in the UK on Palestine as well as Westminster overreach in local democracy.

Yeah, right. BDS is all about freedom of expression. So long as you have the same views as BDS, that is.

I would be pleasantly surprised if the PSC went bust. Probably some crowdfunding campaign will ride to the rescue. Even if they do go bust, they will rise from the ashes, walk away from their debts, and reform as the Campaign for Palestinian Solidarity, or the People’s Campaign for Palestinian Solidarity, or something similar. Judean People’s Front, anybody?

Tomorrow’s Headlines

Source: WikiMedia

Exhibit One (from the Times of Israel):

Hamas threatens to launch 5,000 fire kites, balloons Friday

Terror group prepares for fresh protests on Gaza border, warns Israeli communities will ‘live under a siege of kites’

Hamas on Thursday threatened to send 5,000 fire kites and balloons deep into Israeli territory on Friday, when the Gaza border will see another of the weekly “March of Return” mass protests, Palestinian and Israeli media reported.

The Palestinian terror group, the de facto ruler in the Strip, said at a press conference that the incendiary devices will be launched from various locations in Gaza during the protest, which will also mark the first day of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday.

And here is Exhibit Two (also from the Times of Israel):

IDF fires warning shot at Gazans preparing ‘fire balloons’, launches airstrike

Palestinians say missile launched by Israeli drone caused no injuries, in second such incident in less than a day

The Israeli military fired a warning shot at a group of Palestinians who were preparing to launch an incendiary helium balloon toward Israel from the central Gaza Strip on Thursday afternoon, followed by another airstrike on “infrastructure” to prepare the arson devices.

“A short while ago, an aircraft fired a warning shot at a cell that was preparing to launch incendiary balloons in order to drive them away,” the military said in a statement.

A short while later, the Israel Defense Forces said it carried out an airstrike in the same area. The army identified the target as “infrastructure,” but would not elaborate.

According to media reports, the “infrastructure” was an outdoor facility that was being used by the cell to inflate the balloons and make the incendiary devices.

So tomorrow, the kite offensive will continue, and Israel will have to take serious military action.

I could be wrong, but I don’t see any meaningful outrage from the West about this naked terrorism. I don’t see so called pro-Palestinian supporters rising up in their masses, fessing up that this is an act of war, not to say counter productive, and denouncing it. The threat somewhat flies in the face of suggestions that these protests are peaceful. But never mind that. For now.

Anyway, I predict that tomorrow’s later headlines will include something along the following lines:

Gaza Kite Club Blown Up by Israeli Jets

Hamas Cultural Wing Youth Leader (Kite Section) Killed by Israeli Sniper

Innocent Kite Flyers Shot by IDF

Peaceful Kite Protesters Badly Wounded by

Palestinian Youth Burned by Petrol Set Alight by IDF

EU Criticizes Israel for Disproportionate Response to Kids’ Kites

I am sure you can come up with your own suggestions. Unfortunately, based on past events, the real headlines are bound to include some that are more offensive.

Hey BBC, the Independent and the Guardian, I am looking at you…

Quote of the week

“Beyond the opinion that each one may have in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the cancellation of this party [game] is a victory for hatred, fear and terrorism. The World Cup has not started yet, but the Argentine national team has already lost its first points.”

Argentinian journalist Gabriel Chocron, as quoted by the Elder of Ziyon, here.

Chelsea to Tel Aviv?

“I created one super successful football club. Maybe I should do it again. In Tel Aviv.” Picture source: WikiMedia

This may not be the most mature response to Roman Abramovich’s new status as an Israeli citizen, now that he has pulled the plug on the Chelsea stadium project, and there are rumors he is trying to sell the club and quit his commercial ties to the UK. However, I cannot help hoping that Israel’s richest citizen does sell Chelsea and then buys Maccabi Tel Aviv, turning it into a European giant of a club that puts Israeli soccer on the map, big time. Boy, would that seriously trouble the BDS activists in Europe!

I know it’s very unlikely, but it’s an intellectual and emotional pleasure playing with the possibilities. I mean, if deals could be done fast enough, the dream outcome would be the double signing of Gareth Bale and Cristian Ronaldo…

[Not so incidentally, if you look at the mainstream media discussion boards about this – for example, the Guardian – you will see that some of the comments are infused with what can only be called antisemitism. It seems that a certain group of people were glad to have Roman while he was their team’s benefactor. But when he is said to be departing, suddenly he is evil, corrupt, and Jewish. As I have said before, the ability of people posting on these boards to hide behind pseudonyms, gives them the ‘courage’ to post vile hate and naked antisemitism. If they were forced to give their true identities, I wonder how many of them would be so bold? Or, is it better that they vent their spleen? Not a short topic. But it needs dealt with.]

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

This is a science fiction story about a robot/android who hacks his way into sentient independence, but doesn’t reveal this to his human owners. Murderbot – as he calls himself – is a SecUnit, deployed as a security guard with a team of scientists working on a planet to see what is there and what might be the best way of developing it. There is another team working on a different part of the planet with their own SecUnits.

This is a universe of mega corporations, where everything must be approved and supplied by corporate masters. And, since contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, quality and safety are not high on the list of priorities. Meantime, Murderbot secretly watches soap operas, hoping the humans will leave him alone so he can work out what exactly he is.

Our hero has a bit of a black mark in his employment record: he slaughtered a team of miners he was working for. His memory of that is incomplete, but it lingers at the edge of his consciousness as he interacts with his current team members. Do they know? What do they think, if they do?

Events take a turn for the worse, and Murderbot becomes the only thing standing between the scientists and their demise. The action that follows is a mix of shoot-em-up and clever maneuvering, with a fairly relentless cranking up of the tension.

This novella is good fun, and it led to me looking for more of the same. I have refrained from buying any others because, although all of novella length, they are priced the same as full length novels, and there is that creeping sensation of ripoff. I’ll maintain a watching brief.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

This gets the prize for quirkiest murder mystery I have read in a while. As you will guess from the title, it is set primarily in a bookstore. Lydia Smith, the bookseller with a social conscience, tends to and is sympathetic to the homeless and the oddball characters who are regularly present there as a refuge from the outside world.

One such regular is Joey Molina. His death triggers an investigation into his life and the connections he had, all delivered by messages fashioned by him from books in the store. Lydia has to track down the books, decode the messages, and work on what these clues mean, and what part they play in explaining Joey’s life and death, and Lydia’s role in his world.

This is a touching, lovingly told tale, with some nice characterization, and a gentle style that eases you along despite the death and tragedy that underpin the investigation and search for the truth.

This is one to be savored, especially by book lovers.

The Toughest Challenge

“I think I’m being followed.”

Sovev Yerushalayim (“Around Jerusalem”) is a mountain biking event that was originally started as part of the celebrations to mark the opening of the Tachanah (“Station”) complex in Jerusalem, where the old Ottoman era train station was. It has continued each year since then, with a range of events – 8, 20, 40, and 50 km – to suit riders of all abilities.

Susan, Shosh and I have habitually done the 40 km event, starting and returning to the Tachanah, and feeling totally exhausted. Last year, Susan suggested we should aim to do the 50 km event in 2018. So, that’s what we decided to, though I was fearful that the extra 10 km was a bit too much.

Then real life interfered:

First, Susan had too many bouts of illness to properly train, so it was left to Shosh and me to live up to Susan’s suggestion!

Second, the event was postponed from 27 April (due to bad weather) to 11 May. It was bound to be hotter.

Third, they changed the route to keep us away from the Tachanah and the center of Jerusalem. Instead, we started and finished at the zoo. It was a much harder route even without the extra 10 km.

So, on the day, Shosh and I turned up ready for the 6.45 AM start we had in our welcome pack. Unbeknownst to us, the organizers had brought the start forward for the 50 km riders to 6.30 AM. As we were late, and ignorant of this, it meant we were caught in the much bigger mass of 40 km riders. The effect was to slow us down. Not that we would have been riding too much faster, but we would have avoided the stop-start delay at various choke points on the route, where the trails were not wide enough for everyone to pass at the same time.

The 50 km route included a circular 10 km add on to the 40 km route. When we eventually got to the start of that add on, many of the 50 km riders were finishing it. Needles to say, the add on was 10 km of hard, mostly uphill riding. And the sun was starting to make its presence felt.

Between gasps for breath and prayers for the pain to stop, I could admire the beautiful scenery: stunning views, fantastic panoramas, a glorious impossibly blue sky, and the buzz of a great biking event. Then back to the pain… Keep pedaling!

Shosh and I persevered, helping one another keep going until, eventually, we made it to the finish.

At the end, having long since drunk my water dry, I gladly accepted a bottle of water thrown to me by the staff at the finishing line. I took off the top and poured it over me. Unfortunately, the bottle had clearly been out in the heat too long, because it gave me a hot shower. Oh dear. Well, you cannot get everything you want, can you?

I was so exhausted, that I could not raise my bike enough to get it on the bike rack. I had to put it down and grab a five minute nap, to add a little charge to my drained batteries. I also drove home much more slowly than usual, conscious that I was not at my most alert.

“Five minutes rest, then I’ll put you on the rack.”

That 50 km event was the most physically demanding challenge I have ever faced. Immediately afterwards my feelings were along the lines of I’m never doing that again. In fact, I’m not doing the 50, the 40, the 20 or any part of the Sovev next year.

Of course, with the pain and effort slipping from my memory, I am not that sure what I will do. One thing is for sure though: next year, Susan is joining in, no matter what!