Tuesday 30 October 2012

Ten Paintings for Halloween...

The 10 best scary paintings
From Bosch to Warhol, the world of fine art is rich in horror. Happy Halloween!

Laura Cumming
The Observer
Sunday 28 October 2012

1. Hell: Hans Memling, c1485
Man as well as woman, devil as well as dragon, dog and bird, this vicious critter is dancing on the damned as they burn in eternal hell fire. Memling heaps up the horror, so that the inferno broils within the jaws of a colossal fish and the demon holds a banner emphatically denying the possibility of hope: "In hell there is no redemption'. The scene is part of a larger altarpiece intended to frighten 15th-century churchgoers into far better behaviour. But the notion of a torso that can talk was catnip to those modern shock merchants, the surrealists.

2. The Nightmare: Henry Fuseli, 1781
It is the worst dream in art and by far the most famous, an archetype to outclass Sigmund Freud. The sleeper in her virginal nightgown lies readied on the bed like a sacrificial victim, throat stretched bare as if for the blade. On her stomach squats an excremental troll. His pricked ears cast horn-like shadows on the curtains behind her, which are, in turn, thrust apart by the head of a wild-eyed stallion. Even those blind to the intimations of rape, bestiality, voyeurism and murder can feel the power of Fuseli's metaphor: the nightmare as nocturnal violation. The Nightmare was meant to cause nightmares.

3. Electric Chair: Andy Warhol, 1964
The dreadful injunction "silence" glows in the gloom of Andy Warhol's Electric Chair, as if describing the future for whoever has been slaughtered in that seat. The restraints lie slack on the ground after the corpse has been removed and the darkness speaks of some shadowy no-man's-land. The silkscreen print takes the original photograph to the verge of dissolution with its blurry overlays, so that one can hardly grasp what is going on in this desolate scene. "Everything I do is connected with death," remarked Warhol, and it seems particularly true of his silkscreen images – widowed Jackie, the skulls, the car crash sequences and, above all, the electric chairs.

4. The Ghost of a Flea: William Blake, c1819-20 
The flea is reincarnated as an irreducibly eerie hominid, haunting the night corridors with the bowl in which he collects human blood. Hunched and scaly, tongue whisking between his lips, he carries his knife and cup of gore with horrible purposefulness, a far more substantial creature than his insect counterpart. According to his friend John Varley, Blake saw the ghost in a vision. "The flea told him that fleas were inhabited by the souls of such men, as were by nature bloodthirsty to excess." Blake may have been teasing the credulous Varley with this flea talk, but the vision is beyond mundane imagining.

5. Saturn Devouring His Son Peter: Paul Rubens
According to some versions of the Greek myth, Saturn (or Cronos) believed he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, so he devoured each of them as newborns to defeat the prophecy. Rubens painted this horror story quite differently from Goya, who shows a monster biting the head off a grown man. In this painting, Saturn is a ruthless murderer intent on the programmatic consumption of his own baby, starting with the infant's tender chest as if it were the succulent flesh of a chicken. Rubens evokes cannibalism inch by tiny inch.

6. The Flaying of Marsyas: Titian, c1570-75
This frightening picture shows the satyr Marsyas receiving his punishment for losing a musical contest with Apollo: strung upside down, his skin flayed inch by inch, while a spaniel laps the blood and another musician – excruciatingly – accompanies on the violin. The surface of the canvas itself appears flayed, an incoherent mass, almost monochrome except for bloody streaks of crimson. Close up, every stroke blurs softly into the next, as if Titian couldn't paint such a vision of horror without lending it a sorrowful grace. He puts himself into the painting, too (seated on the right) pondering the torture with sadness.

7. Medusa: Caravaggio, 1596-98
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, monstrous beauties with snakes for hair who turned people to stone with their gaze. They were supposedly invincible, until the Greek hero Perseus came up with the brilliant ruse of fending off Medusa's lethal look with a mirror. Perseus gave her decapitated head to the goddess Athena to carry on her shield in the Trojan war. Caravaggio's painting also takes the form of a shield, his Medusa axed but still conscious, still momentarily alive and as horrified as she is horrifying. Legend has it that Caravaggio used his own reflection for the model.

8. The Drowning Dog: Francisco Goya, c1819-23
The dog is one of Goya's so-called "black paintings", worked directly on to the walls of his house outside Madrid in the years after the artist had suffered the illness that left him stone deaf. The starkest, sparest, most timeless of these nightmarish visions, it shows the head of a dog struggling between the great volume of empty space above and its equivalent below, each a kind of depthless oblivion. It is a proverbial image – the dog trying to keep its head above water, not so much swimming as sinking – and the more horrifying for the poor creature's speechlessness.

9. The Temptation of St Anthony: Hieronymus Bosch c1495-1515
Bosch's teeming allegories with their proliferating figures receding off into the distance, each crazily preoccupied with some infernal business of their own, have a hellish culmination in this great triptych. We can show only a fraction, which is apt because the work is entirely composed of tiny vignettes, one monstrous scenario after the next building up to an inescapable hell with fireworks on the horizon – except that St Anthony manages to sidestep it with his serene smile. We know little about Bosch, except that he may have trained as a priest.

10. Severed Heads: Théodore Géricault, 1818
An intimate relationship, like two heads in a bed, these poor lopped polls have been arranged by the artist as if they were still alive, an effect that is both tragic and parodic. She looks fast asleep on the pillow, while he is loudly snoring – except that his eyes are wide open, and transfixed with horror at the moment of death. For these two souls, or heads, or objects (they have the status of all three in this picture), are the relics of an execution. Géricault gives them a shocking half-life in these anatomical studies for his masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa.


Monday 29 October 2012

Tonight's setlist

At the Yorkshire Terrier, Stonegate, York: -

Is It Only The Moonlight?
Love Song
I'm Just A Loser
One More Time
So Close

This was the first 'original songs only' event at the Terrier. The four attendees had a fun night - hope the next one is better attended. Excellent songs from Richard Searle, Dave Ward MacLean and Tony McCormack.

Mark Lawson on the Euro-Detectives...

Luca Zingaretti (right) as Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano

Crime's grand tour: European detective fiction
Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that reveals the fingerprints of history. From Holmes and Poirot to Montalbano and the rise of Scandi-noir, Mark Lawson investigates the long tradition of European super-sleuths and their role in turbulent times

Mark Lawson
26 October 2012

One of the functions of fiction is to serve as a kind of tourism, either showing us places, situations and people that we might not otherwise reach or scrolling through snapshots of events or sensations that we remember. Crime stories rarely serve the latter purpose – most admirers of homicide novels will, thankfully, never become or even know a murder victim – but are a perfect illustration of the former.

Throughout its history, crime literature has operated as a sort of imaginative travel agency, taking customers across borders and introducing them to unknown cultures. The story commonly considered the birth of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) – was written by an American and set in Paris. Since then, the genre has regularly been a ticket for a Grand Tour.

Agatha Christie, an enthusiastic globe-trotter through her wealth and marriage to an archaeologist, sent Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express, Nile cruises and aeroplane journeys, depicting trips that the majority of her audience was unlikely ever to experience for real. Later in the 20th century, readers, listeners and viewers of detective tales learned about France from Simenon's Maigret and the Netherlands through Nicolas Freeling's Commissaris Van der Valk, who achieved the rare double of topping both the TV ratings lists (in the ITV series starring Barry Foster) and the pop charts, with the Simon Park Orchestra's recording of the theme tune, "Eye Level".

And, these days, Britons have a greater understanding of Scandinavian culture than ever before: not from exports such as Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo or Ikea, but through what was – at least until the recent apothesois of sado-masochistic soft porn – the biggest publishing phenomenon of the 21st century: the super-selling mystery stories of writers from Sweden (Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell) and Norway (Jo Nesbø).

Retracing these journeys, I have made a 15-part series for BBC Radio 4, Foreign Bodies, which uses celebrated fictional detectives – from Christie's Poirot to Nesbø's Harry Hole – to explore the history of modern Europe. Cop novels are a useful tool for such a survey because the police procedural turns on detail. Novelists working in crime-free narratives have no need (and often no wish) to specify a character's job, clothes, income or family background. But because observation and evidence are crucial to the investigation of a crime – the motive for which will often rest on who someone was or what they possessed or desired – crime writers routinely provide a mass of social detail: menus, train timetables, fashion labels, shops, newspaper stories. As a result, good crime novels become a case-file of their times. The introduction of the welfare system and unemployment benefit, for example, can be traced through the comments of posh employers in Christie's mysteries. And reporters preparing to cover the impending referendum on Scottish independence would be well advised to read Ian Rankin's DCI Rebus books, which systematically depict the country's re-examination of its identity over the last 25 years, with one book – Set in Darkness (2000) – even involving the discovery of a corpse in the foundations of the Scottish parliament building.

In the same way, future historians considering why Sweden holds the improbable distinction of being the only western democracy to have both its prime minister and foreign minister assassinated in modern times – or why a racist gunman killed 77 people in Norway in 2011 – will find clues to the forces behind those events in crime novels written at least a decade earlier.

Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that frequently reveals the fingerprints of history before they become visible to politicans or journalists. And – as in a forensic investigation – separate pieces of evidence can begin to reveal patterns.

On Crimewatch UK, during the update section just after the news in which the detectives discuss calls that have come in from the public, lead investigators will often comment, with a note of satisfaction, that "certain names have come up several times already". Weight of recognition, cross-referencing of mentions, is frequently a crucial clue in detection. And, in a more benevolent sense, it was striking how, while following the trail of crime novels written from before the second world war to the present day, the same names – of influential authors and characters – kept cropping up.

As keen readers in the field might guess, the undisputed godfathers of the genre remain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and Sherlock Holmes, who lived in print from 1887 to 1923, although he carries on immortally in all entertainment forms. So long and so strong is the shadow of Holmes that anyone subsequently creating a detective in any culture has had to make a deliberate gesture of homage or avoidance to the resident of 221B Baker Street.

For example, it is my strong suspicion that the reason Hercule Poirot (print-dates 1920-75) is Belgian is that, if Christie (1890-1976) had made him English, the detective's characteristics – intuitive, aloof, fastidious about couture and cuisine – would have made him too transparently a Holmes clone. The most dramatised detective after Holmes and Poirot, Commissaire Jules Maigret (1931-72), is again distanced from the template by his Parisian location, but he too has certain Holmesian aspects (hyper-intelligence, a pipe) that feel like deliberate nods from his creator, the officially Belgian but temperamentally French Georges Simenon (1903-89).

With remarkable consistency across generations and nations, Holmes is the genre's homepage. The tendency of fictional detectives to be more cerebral and sensitive than their real-life counterparts – PD James's Adam Dalgliesh writes poetry, Ruth Rendell's Reg Wexford was a probably rare Guardian-reading liberal in the 1960s force – follows Conan Doyle's model of the reflective detective, as does the latest top British cop: Peter James's thoughtful, haunted DCI Roy Grace.

The Czechoslovakian writer Josef Škvorecký (1924-2012) created, in Inspector Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau, a policeman profoundly indebted to Holmes in both hyper-intelligent rationalisation of crimes and near-clinical melancholy. And the newest super-sleuth in publishing – Nesbø's Norwegian private eye, Harry Hole – also allusively combines addiction with an almost supernatural ability to see into the minds of criminals.

So pervasive is the post-Holmes type that only significant distinctions of background or gender can avoid the influence. Rankin's impulsive, earthy, working-class Scottish DCI Rebus seems deliberately to depart from the looming English examples. And Lynda La Plante's DCI Jane Tennison, who solved seven murder cases on television between 1991 and 2006, was almost as revolutionary as Sherlock in offering an alternative female model, which has been continued and extended in print by writers including Val McDermid and Denise Mina. However, because Conan Doyle is to some extent an invisible author – most of the Holmes stories employ the voice of Dr Watson and take the form of his report on the case – he is not the author with most influence on prose tone and structure. In that respect, my inquiries revealed, the biggest influence in European crime fiction is Simenon.

In Rome, Andrea Camilleri – creator of the Sicilian policeman Inspector Montalbano – pointed out to me the complete set of Maigret books on his shelves. In Berlin, one of the leading German crime-writers, Jakob Arjouni, also kept a complete Simenon close to his desk. PD James cites Simenon as a master as well, confirming a literary afterlife that perhaps validates the view of André Gide that the Belgian writer should have won the Nobel prize for literature.

This strong sense of tradition and succession in crime fiction was underlined by the almost universal tendency of leading crime novelists to acknowledge predecessors as inspirations. For example, Mankell admitted that his Kurt Wallander – a melancholy Swedish policeman whose cases expose changes in Scandinavian society – could never have existed without the example of Martin Beck, a depressive, historically sensitive cop who featured in the novels of a married couple of former journalists, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, whose 10 Beck books published between 1965 and 1975 are being dramatised by Radio 4 as part of this exploration of European crime fiction. Nesbø argues that Beck is the source of the now dominant wave of Scandinavian crime stories: a Nordic Holmes.

In describing the main remit of my inquiry as postwar crime fiction, I meant the second world war. And the conflict of 1939-45 has an understandably large presence in books written from the differing perspectives of Britain, France, Holland, Germany and Italy. More surprising, though, was the dawning realisation that even books set beyond the reach of that period seemed to have a significant relation with some other military standoff, as if postwar wounds were a natural driving force of the murder novel.

The Vietnam war stalks the Martin Beck sequence: his creators met at a protest march against US involvement in south-east Asia. There are long echoes of that radicalising issue in Nesbø's novels as well. Meanwhile, through his books about the best man in the Prague Homicide Bureau, Škvorecký animates two key eastern European experiences of the cold war: occupation and exile. The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka, written in 1966 in Prague under censorship from the Russian-backed puppet government, can only express dissidence through code and nudges. But, after the author gained asylum in Canada following the Soviet invasion of 1968, The End of Lieutenant Boruvka (1975) and The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka (1980) provide a compelling account of the moral horror and bureaucratic comedy of life under communism.

In a similar way, Arjouni's character of Kemal Kayankaya – a private eye born in Germany to a Turkish immigrant family – explores the consequences for Europe of the collapse of the Soviet empire, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the reunification of Germany. From Happy Birthday, Turk! (1980) to Brother Kemal (to be published in English in 2013), in which Kayankaya is hired to protect a writer who has offended Islamist groups, Arjouni uses crimes to explore issues – of immigration, nationalism and religious sensitivity – that dominate contemporary European politics.

In the work of Spain's foremost author in the form – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) – the conflict that underlies the writing is the Spanish civil war, or, at least, the dictatorship of General Franco that followed and the subsequent transition to a constitutional monarchy, with King Juan Carlos I as a rare example of a monarch as a post-revolutionary figure. Montalbán (after whom Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano is named in homage) employs his Barcelona private eye, Pepe Carvalho, to interrogate this complex political situation. Montalbán's work is an exemplar of how crime novels can be used to analyse shifts in society: An Olympic Death, published just after the 1992 Barcelona games, makes fascinating reading in a London also struggling with the cost and legacy of hosting the event.

Inevitably, though, it is scar tissue from the great global battles of the 20th century that runs through European crime fiction. Both Maigret and Poirot are war veterans: David Suchet laments that the limp from the Belgian's wound is the only characteristic he has failed to incorporate in his ITV portrayal. In the Van der Valk stories, on both page and screen, it was common for the solution to lie in whether victims or suspects had been collaborators or resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

And, even though Nesbø was not born until 1960, his books fascinatingly illuminate a specifically Scandinavian experience of the second world war. This is partly because of the writer's own personal legacy – his mother was in the resistance, while his father was among the Norwegians who fought with the Germans – but also because Norway has a literal inheritance from the period. As Scandinavians embodied the physical ideal of Nazi eugenicists, citizens were enlisted, during the occupation, in a breeding programme involving German officers, whose descendants remain in the population today. This dark history is threaded through the Harry Hole novels, particularly The Devil's Star (2005). In retrospect, we can see that the books also chart the rise of modern Norwegian neo-Nazism, a psychopathic disciple of which, Anders Behring Breivik, murdered 77 people in Oslo and on Utøya island last year. While journalism explored these tensions after the event, Scandinavian crime fiction – as the genre often does – sensed the undercurrents before the massacre happened.

Admittedly, there is one large and frustrating gap in the form's record of the causes and consequences of the second world war. Bernhard Schlink, who wrote a number of detective novels in the 1980s before becoming better known for literary fiction such as The Reader, acknowledges that for decades German authors were reluctant to engage with their nation's past. My suspicion is that mystery stories were a particular victim of this self-censorship because the classic structure of the murder puzzle – in which the guilt of the past is exposed and secrets are revealed - was always likely to lead, in Germany, to the villains of the Hitler era. The continuing sensitivity of the subject was shown this year when Ferdinand von Schirach – whose grandfather was head of the Hitler Youth – achieved a bestseller but also triggered controversy with The Collini Case, a legal thriller that deals with the continuing taboo of the infiltration of the postwar German political and judicial systems by former Nazis.

Because of the belated and apprehensive literary response to the war in the defeated aggressor, the greatest German-language crime stories of the 20th century were written by a non-German. Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-90) was a Swiss polymath who worked as a playwright (The Visit, The Physicists), artist and essayist, but also wrote brilliant cop novels that explore the postwar guilt of Germany and Switzerland, whose official stance of political neutrality Dürrenmatt regarded as a lie.

Through the character of Inspector Bärlach, a Bern-based policeman who was seconded to Germany in the early 1930s but left after a row with a Hitler official, Dürrenmatt, in The Judge and His Hangman (1950) and Suspicion (1951), deals with such subjects as Swiss complicity in harbouring former Nazis. It is in the work of Dürrenmatt that the crime story most fulfils its potential as an instrument for moral exploration. In The Pledge (1958), provocatively subtitled "Requiem for the Detective Novel", a retired homicide detective shockingly uses a young girl as bait in the hope of catching a sex-killer who has eluded him. In an Americanised but still properly disturbing version, The Pledge was impresssively filmed by Sean Penn in 2001, with Jack Nicholson as the compromised cop.

During months of interviews, one comment affected my thinking about the genre more than any other. The Spanish writer Antonio Hill – who has just started a Barcelona-based series with The Summer of Dead Toys – told me that, on a recent trip to Mexico, his hosts had expressed astonishment at his profession. "Why the hell," they asked, "would you want to write books about policemen?" Mexicans could not envisage a cop as a hero.

The implication of this anecdote – that crime fiction depends on readers' respect for the investigator – poses a challenge to mainstream British crime fiction, in which there is an overwhelming assumption that justice will ultimately be done. With very rare exceptions – in one of PD James's novels, Dalgliesh is forced to accept that the real villain has evaded blame – the crime is correctly and satisfyingly solved. And yet, from the Birmingham Six to Hillsborough, via recent allegations of police complicity with tabloid journalists and earlier failures to investigate the paedophilia of Jimmy Savile, there are frequent worrying suggestions that the British police have been less reliably straight than their counterparts in fiction.

Mexicans sceptical about this kind of literature, though, should note Italian crime fiction, which pointedly accommodates ambiguity about the possibility of resolution and the role of the investigator. Leonardo Sciascia (1921-89), identified as a past master by contemporary authors almost as often as Simenon, openly showed an Italian society in which the power of the Mafia is so great that the judicial system judges it unwise to identify the true culprits. In Equal Danger (1971), Inspector Rogas, a rural 'tec looking into murders in the legal profession, soon realises that his police and political bosses do not want him to uncover the truth. That novel, and The Day of the Owl (1961), were landmark books in making Cosa Nostra a legitimate subject for fiction.

Andrea Camilleri – who, like Sciascia, comes from the Mafia heartland of Sicily – has continued his predecessor's project of dramatising the overlap between the political and gangster establishments. Inspector Montalbano directly addresses, in anguished inner monologue, the question of what it means to be a good policeman in a culture where it can be unwelcome – or even dangerous – to crack a case. The fine British writer Michael Dibdin (1947-2007), in his 11 books about the Venetian-born Inspector Zen, borrowed from Sciascia a very non-English scepticism about the good faith of police operations.

The pressure to ignore the real perpetrator, or to pin the crime on a false suspect, is even greater for characters who serve as police officers in a police state. The Russian writer Boris Akunin addresses this dilemma – albeit through the distancing device of historical parallel – in his series about a 19th-century police officer, Erast Fandorin. But it was Škvorecký who, from his North American exile, most eloquently expressed the dilemma of the investigator encouraged to turn a blind eye. Inspector Boruvka's problem in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, he wrote, was that "the whole country was a crime scene" in which mass murders were regularly carried out by the government. From his reading of Conan Doyle and others, Škvorecký understood that the classic homicide puzzle depends on violent death being an exceptional event. That is why the English genre – from Christie to James and Rendell – has often involved bodies being stumbled on in rural communities, guaranteeing a dissonance between order and disorder.

Certainly, another place that was a permanent crime scene for decades – Northern Ireland – has been slow to embrace the tradition. Only now, after years of ceasefire and peace process, is Northern Irish crime fiction flourishing through such writers as Stuart Neville and Tom Bradby. Jason Webster points out that Spain's equivalent of the IRA, the Basque separatist terrorists ETA, who agreed a ceasefire only very recently, has yet to make a significant appearance in Spanish crime fiction. The cop novel seems to require chaos recollected from relative stability.

It's notable, though, that even in settings where a redemptive ending is unlikely, the central investigator is invariably on the side of right. However pressured or frightened Boruvka, Rogas, Montalbano or Zen may be, they at least attempt to do the right thing. Even at its most sophisticated, the genre seems to reflect a belief that order will be restored.

Among Sherlock Holmes's many profound influences on the genre is his status as a dire warning to authors of the risks of killing off a sleuth beloved by the public. Conan Doyle's medically unrealistic and narratively ridiculous resurrection of Holmes after killing him at the Reichenbach Falls has become a cautionary tale for crime novelists in much the way that makers of popular television are haunted by two notorious series-weakening links that also, curiously, involved water: Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower alive a year after dying in Dallas (his wife had dreamed his death!) and the Fonz raising his surfboard over a killer fish in Happy Days, leading to "jumping the shark" becoming the expression for a show that jettisons credibility.

True to his cussed literary sensitivity, Nicolas Freeling believed that he could jump the Reichenbach Falls. In A Long Silence (1972), Van der Valk goes for an evening stroll on a rainy Dutch street and is killed in a hit-and-run related to the case he is working on. A shocking passage even when read in the knowledge of its outcome, it is one of Freeling's best pieces of writing (the critic Grey Gowrie describes Freeling as one of the finest writers of atmospheric weather) but it had a calamitous effect on his career. His readership, like the crazed fan in Stephen King's Misery, rebelled and refused to warm to his replacement franchise: a series featuring a French investigator, Henri Castang. In an emergency manoeuvre, Freeling was persuaded to turn to his dead detective's widow, Arlette, as a central character in a new Van der Valk series, but the audience would not be appeased.

Conan Doyle and Freeling have the effect of a siren blaring in the head of any crime writer who, bored with a hero, considers sending them to Switzerland either literally (the Reichenbach Falls) or metaphorically, now that Zurich is code for euthanasia. Although, strangely enough, it is a Swiss detective who dies most decisively and irretrievably: almost the first thing we learn about Inspector Barlach of the Bern Police is that he has terminal cancer, which is why there are only two books about him. Killing a cerebral investigator in a Swiss canton may be another of Dürrenmatt's dark jokes.

In the modern publishing world, with marketing managers craving a new title in a bestselling series every Christmas for as many years as possible, authors have to make a formal decision about the longevity of their cops. PD James told me that she could not bear to kill off Dalgliesh, because it would feel like writing her own death, although she declared the end of the series with The Private Patient (2006). That same year, Rankin retired DCI John Rebus, but has brought him back to investigate a cold case (in line with realistic police procedure) in this autumn's Standing in Another Man's Grave, having admitted to missing him.

Mankell gave Wallander Alzheimer's disease in a book published three years ago, which means the detective could theoretically return but not practically, thereby reducing Mankell's risk of suffering the misery of having his ankles broken by a furious enthusiast holding him hostage in a snowy cabin. Camilleri told me that a final Montalbano novel was written out of sequence and locked in a safe at his publishers (as Christie did with the Poirot coda, Curtain). Miming a waterfall with his hands, he joked that he has made it impossible for his detective to be resurrected.

At the Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate this year, Jo Nesbø, currently the world's bestselling crime writer, admitted that he knows exactly how many Harry Hole novels there will be. The front row, containing staff from his publisher, leaned forward nervously, but Nesbø refused to disclose the number. A keen crime-reader I know believes that it will be 10: the number of career cases investigated by the godfather of Scandinavian detective fiction, Martin Beck, and the number of books to which Stieg Larsson intended his Millennium sequence to stretch until his early death confined Lisbeth Salander to a trilogy.

Another Stockholm phenomenon – the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prize for literature – ignored Gide's suggestion that the honour should go to Simenon. And such is the continuing snobbery against the genre that the Belgian's employment of crime fiction may have been held against him, as it may also have hobbled Dürrenmatt and Škvorecký, equally worthy candidates for the range of their writing. But, though sniffed at by literary history, crime writing, from Christie to Nesbø, has an enviable record of capturing the history of our times.


Saturday 27 October 2012

Listening to the Detectives...

Foreign Bodies: A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives
Crime fiction reflects society's tensions. Helped by famous literary detectives including Maigret, Montalbano, Dalgliesh and Wallander, Mark Lawson shows how crimes reflect Europe's times from the world wars of the 20th century to the Eurozone crisis and nationalist tensions of the 21st.
Beginning with the template set by Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Georges Simenon's Jules Maigret. Mark Lawson hears from Val McDermid, Lord Grey Gowrie, Andrea Camilleri, PD James and David Suchet.
We move to a Swiss view of Germany in the novels of Friedrich Dürrenmatt which explore guilt, responsibility and justice after World War II. Contributions come from Ferdinand von Schirach, Simon McBurney, Josie Rourke, Hollywood scriptwriters Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski; and Professor Katharina Hall (aka Mrs Peabody Investigates)
Josef Skvorecký's depiction of Czech history is discussed by translator (and former member of the Plastic People of the Universe) Paul Wilson. After his novel The Cowards was banned by the Communist authorities, Skvorecký began the Lieutenant Boruvka series.
Inspector Van Der Valk brought an image of Holland to '70s viewers of the TV dramatisations starring Barry Foster. Mark Lawson finds out the Dutch view of Nicholas Freeling's cop from best seller Saskia Voort
The Martin Beck crime novels written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö deliberately traced changes in Swedish society between 1965 and 1975. Their influence is discussed by Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell, Åsa Larsson, Camilla Lackberg, Jens Lapidus and Gunnar Staalesen.
BBC Radio 4 is dramatising all 10 Martin Beck novels starring Steven Mackintosh as Beck and Neil Pearson as Kollberg.
Listen to it on BBC iPlayer - available for another five days at http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b01ngrxg/

Friday 26 October 2012

Donald Fagen's Sunken Condos reviewed...

Donald Fagen
Sunken Condos
(Reprise Records)

THE sometime lead singer with Steely Dan produces a typically smooth jazz-rock concoction for his fourth solo album.

But there are, as usual with the sardonic Dan man, some dark themes under the apparently faultless playing.

Opening with Slinky Thing, the album repeatedly explores the tensions of love between an older man and a younger woman.

After too much jazz funkery on his last solo outing, Morph the Cat, the new album thankfully marries strong melody with sharp lyrics on Weather In My Head, Memorabilia and I'm Not the Same Without You.

All in all, Sunken Condos is a strong late-career effort.



Thursday 25 October 2012

Tintin meets H. P. Lovecraft VII

Artist- Murray Groat: http://muzski.darkfolio.com/

The Radgie Gadgie...

Calling Northside 777...

Do you do Perrier Water with that?

Ian at the Diogenes Club

Under the portrait of founder, Diogenes Jones, older brother of the renowned outlaw, Thaddeus.

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron solo: -
He'll Have To Go

Da solo: -
Harvest Moon

"The Elderly Brothers": -
Let It Be Me
Crying In The Rain
Love Hurts
Bye Bye Love

Another crackin' night of open mic mischief. And a late one too - at Bar 1331 again!!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Last night's songs

At the Waggon & Horses, York included: -

Tell Me (You're Coming Back To Me)
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Bullfrog Blues
(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea
I'll See You In My Dreams
Roll Another Number (For The Road)
Oliver's Army
Here, There And Everywhere
Sweet Virginia
Till There Was You
The House Of The Rising Sun
Dock Of The Bay
Love Letters In The Sand
Sexy Sadie
Mother's Lament
Bad Moon Rising

A rather knock-about evening of musical fun with some new players/singers. At closing time there was a rather shambolic segue from Bad Moon Rising via I'm A Believer and into the Blues Brothers' Everybody Needs Somebody To Love - crazy man!

Monday 22 October 2012

Paul Buchanan - Mid Air revisited...

Due to the forthcoming US, Canadian & Japanese debut release of a 2 x CD version of Mid Air on October 29th, Newsroom Records has decided to make the release available to the UK & European market. The new 2 CD title will consist of the the original 14 track CD plus an additional disc featuring 10 songs, which includes three previously unreleased songs. Also the songs from the extra disc will be available digitally for the first time. We would also like to point out that the limited edition deluxe box set has not, and will not be re pressed.


1. Mid Air
2. Half The World
3. Cars In The Garden
4. Newsroom
5. I Remember You
6. Buy A Motor Car
7. Wedding Party
8. Two Children
9. Summers’s On Its Way
10. My True Country
11. A Movie Magazine
12. Tuesday
13. Fin De Siècle
14. After Dark


1. Have You Ever Been Lonely?
2. My True Country (Piano Version)
3. After Dark (Instrumental)
4. Lost, Duty
5. Lost
6. Tuesday (Instrumental)
7. Half The World (Live at Liss Ard Festival 2012, Eire)
8. A Movie Magazine (Instrumental)
9. Buy A Motor Car (Robert Bell Elegance remix)
10. God Is Laughing

I hate this sort of thing. No doubt the Japanese version will include extra tracks...


Sunday 21 October 2012

Cezanne: A Life - reviewed

Cézanne: A Life by Alex Danchev – review
Paul Cézanne, more than any other artist, set 20th-century painting on its course. Julian Bell on an original and persuasive new biography

Julian Bell
Friday 19 September 2012

Cézanne demands of us. Like no one else's, his paintings push and pull at our vision. His mountains seen through trees and his tabletops of apples upset our notions of "here" and of "there", of light, matter and distance: what constitutes a feeling and what an object get radically spun about. Cézanne's art is giddying and heady, a charge of magnetic energy sent through shapes and colours to regroup them in strange new harmonies: the world looks different as you walk away. Allen Ginsberg, quoted in Alex Danchev's new biography, Cezanne: A Life (Profile, £30), described its effects as "eyeball kicks". Although this painter was a school of one, resembling no one else, few painters could work the same way again after taking in what he had been doing. Here is the man who more than any other set 20th-century painting on its course.

And yet this messiah of modernism has always – from his youth in the 1860s, down to the present – appeared a misfit. If his way of representing things is strong, on certain levels it also seems wrong. This is not the world we normally move about in, it's some alternative plane of experience made solely possible by paint. To reach for it, so people have thought, Cézanne must have been in the grip of an obsession – some disturbance, some malfunction. Such reactions came not only from casual observers confused by his boorish manners and dismayed that he didn't draw "straight". It was Cézanne that Zola, his old school friend from Aix-en-Provence, had largely in mind when he wrote a novel about an artist doomed to failure by "heroic madness" and defective vision. In fact the cues for this could have come from Cézanne himself. "I am a primitive, I have a lazy eye," he would protest in his later years. He was afflicted by "brain trouble" and was "no longer my own master".

Danchev's new life – original, engaging and highly persuasive – brushes aside that line in pathos, likewise refusing the "profitless psychoanalysis" that many a distinguished interpreter has applied to the artist. The problems of Cézanne, Danchev argues, were of his own conscious choosing. An ambitious and well read young Provençal, coming to Paris just as a new art scene was coalescing around Manet, began pretty early to stake out his own independent path. "In the mid-1860s, at the age of about 25, Cézanne set about becoming Cézanne." Socially, that involved developing a sardonic, forbidding crust, posing as a querulous hick from the sticks. (On being introduced to the dapper maestro of modern painting: "I won't offer you my hand, Monsieur Manet, I haven't washed for a week.")

Intellectually, it meant taking seriously France's leading philosopher of the day, Hippolyte Taine, who wrote that real art came about through "sensation" driving the brain "to rethink and transform the object, sometimes to illuminate and elevate, sometimes to twist and distort." What was this "sensation"? Perhaps it meant the impulses of lust and violence Cézanne's early paintings often featured; perhaps it was the rhythmic intuition about two dimensional relationships that literally distorts the dinner-plates and the Monts-Sainte-Victoire in his later work. "I have very strong sensations," Cézanne would remark. In Danchev's account, that becomes a boast that the painter requires himself to live up to, a persona to inhabit: "Performing Cézanne became one of his best turns." The tale is largely of how the role expanded and deepened, spurring him on to prod at strange new faultlines in the field of vision and, in the decade before his death in 1906, to act as guru to a select few listeners come to seek him out in his Provençal lair. Also, of how he "immatured with age", as Danchev puts it, letting his self-appointed wildness take over the reins. We hear of a neighbour covertly watching him as he puzzled over a Mont-Sainte-Victoire: "He seemed to be all out of sorts ... Do you know what he did? He picked up a big rock and threw it right through the middle of the canvas!"

The tale largely turns on these considerations because, outwardly, it is far from incident-packed. Cézanne pursuing his 19th-century research project more resembles a gentleman scientist such as Darwin than struggling contemporaries such as Monet, in that his father, a leading banker in Aix, ensured he was never dependent on sales. He could thus could face down a critical indifference that lasted until his late 50s. Old Louis Cézanne, it is true, halved the allowance when he found out that up in Paris, the nearly 40-year-old Paul had long been keeping a common-law wife and their child. But this Hortense Fiquet is almost the only amatory interest in the artist's career, and although Danchev valiantly tries to see her in three dimensions, the evidence is just too slight to gain purchase – especially as she never looks the same from one depiction by her husband to the next. (As Danchev nicely puts it, "A Cézanne portrait is more a thereness than a likeness.")

During Cézanne's financial contretemps with his father, it was Zola, the schoolfellow turned literary celeb, who stepped in with loans. It's long been assumed that this friendship of Cézanne's – surely "the main axis of his emotional life" – was betrayed and decisively broken when Zola published his melodrama about an artist doomed by "heroic madness". But again Danchev is intent to read the evidence more subtly. He portrays a more gradual divergence, ending with in one corner a political loudmouth, hosting suppers in his flash mansion outside Paris, while in the other a no less proud recluse shunts canvases in and out of a self-designed studio on the outskirts of Aix, keeping his distance even from his own wife and son.

With relatively little to work with dramatically, Danchev creates his Cézanne by a method that in less capable hands would seem outrageous. He assembles him out of emotions gathered from other people's lives. How did Cézanne feel about his father? Let's read what Kafka had to say about his own. For Cézanne's sense of self-worth, go to Valéry writing about Stendhal. A Beckett short story gives us an angle on the eventual marriage to Hortense; while Flaubert can voice whatever disdain the artist felt for critics, the bourgeois and his fellow Provençals. Equally, the paintings come to life as they have lived in others' eyes. Ginsberg's poetic witness is joined by Heaney, Walcott and Rilke, whose letters about a 1907 Cézanne retrospective remain more vivid than anything written about the paintings since. Stan Brakhage, Giacometti and Heidegger all put in a word. In fact, Danchev seems to report back from some cultural meta-space in which high artistic achievements in every medium and from every era interconnect.

Why should we trust him to do so? First, because his own prose is so witty, mobile and sensitive: second, because to a lay reader it seems grounded in long and thoughtful study of the primary sources; third, because that study brings out how committed a reader Cézanne himself was, a devotee of poetry from Virgil to Baudelaire. This feeds Danchev's argument that the imagination of this alleged obsessive was "richer than is generally realised, and rather less strange". Confident of his material, Danchev paces around the chronology fairly freely, pursuing whatever line of thought engages him, genially holding the stage.

Trying to close in on Cézanne's landscapes and still lives from the years before his death at 67, the approach does hit a limit. In the face of those uniquely momentous arguments between eyesight and the world, one instinct tells Danchev to pile up appreciations and circumstantial data – his peroration expires in a scattershot of lists – and another, more wisely, to submit to silence. Seeing beyond the outward man, the supposed fractured sociopath, he would like to relay the substance of the painter who undertook to deliver "truth" in his art: "Cézanne's truth may be more important than Cézanne's doubt." But that truth is for showing, not telling. These pages reach their highpoint with a photo of an old man in a hat and tatty jacket, standing between a country wall and a tripod easel, brush poised before the canvas, eyes staring out. Transfixed, Danchev's happy eloquence for once stutters to a stop. "He is painting. This is it.".


Saturday 20 October 2012

Susan Hill's new ghost story - Dolly

Dolly by Susan Hill – review
Sadie Jones is disturbed by Susan Hill's latest ghost story

Sadie Jones
19 September 2012

Dolls hold a fascination for us, symbols both of innocence and corruption, death-like miniature people, as likely to inspire revulsion as love. The title of Susan Hill's short novel, Dolly, clearly signals horror, and the path of this deceptively familiar narrative is littered with landmarks of the ghost story. There is a bleak and isolated house, storms, a dreary churchyard abandoned by God, and, as in the earlier Mist in the Mirror, warped reflections in mirrors as a symbol of the darker self. For this is also a morality tale, and what better visual metaphor for the soul than the revelation of reflection?

Dolly is set in the past and has something of a 19th-century sensibility, although cars, electric light and, towards the end of the book, the 1970s are referred to. Much of the narrative is a flashback to a childhood summer, as cousins Edward and Leonora, arriving in the Fens by steam train, meet for the first time to spend the summer at Iyot House with their evocatively named Aunt Kestrel. We are told that Kestrel's sisters, the children's mothers, had "a life-long feud"; one drab and brown-haired and jealous of the other, "an extremely pretty child with blonde bubble-curls", who grew up to have "a succession of lovers" before having Leonora with an older, rich husband. We are not told who brings Edward up, or where he spends the time when not at Iyot, only that Leonora's mother, Violet, travels the globe restlessly, indulging and neglecting her daughter by turns.

As in other of her novels, Hill has created a blameless, sensitive male protagonist, not subject to the sins of the female characters yet suffering their disturbing consequences. The book opens with the adult Edward as he revisits Iyot House, now empty, finding himself driven by unseen forces to the graveyard and a certain dusty, dark cupboard in the house. He is disturbed by strange rustling sounds but time has frozen over his disturbing childhood experience. The place acts "like a pick stabbing through the ice of memory" and we are transported back to discover it.

Anticipating the arrival of her nephew and niece, Aunt Kestrel, unused to children, yearns to please them; but she finds Edward unsettling – "opaque and polite" – and the unpleasant Leonora more unsettling still. Kestrel observes that Leonora is like her mother, which "boded ill", but Mrs Mullen, the housekeeper, has no such delicacy. She represents a more superstitious, but, we sense, more accurate view: Edward is "namby pamby" and "the devil is in Leonora".

Leonora is "a white-faced child with a halo of red hair". When crossed she is prey to violent rages, stabbing tea-tables with silver forks, screaming "without apparently needing to pause for breath". She is without empathy, bored by Edward's orphaned state, despising of kindness. On Leonora's birthday, her mother sends packages from abroad, which she opens with impatience. She longs desperately for the one thing her mother has never given her – a doll. Both Edward and Aunt Kestrel, assuming innocence in this desire, try in their own ways to make up to Leonora for her lack of love, but their efforts have horrible consequences. A doll, when it arrives, instead of softening the girl, comes to grotesquely embody the damage of Leonora's soul.

While parallels with The Turn of the Screw might be assumed, it is not the psychology of the perception of evil that is considered in Dolly but evil itself. The narrative is conventional but an examination of love and the lack of it is the substance of the book. Is evil caused by psychological damage, or is it inherent? It's true that Leonora's mother rejects her, but Edward's situation is at least as tragic; he has no parents at all, and yet he is not "possessed by a demon", as even Leonora herself believes – "I am, I am." The daughter of a selfish, pleasure-seeking woman, she cannot look on her own reflection. Glimpsing her face murkily next to Edward's in a black pool, and later in the church, in a shiny silver plate, she runs away in fearful horror.

An assuredly chilling ghost story, Dolly doesn't leave its questions unanswered. Damage is assumed, noted, but not forgiven, and as the story develops evil is passed through the generations like a stain – in dark places, dank graves, dolls, and ultimately even human flesh.



  • Imprint: Profile Books
  • Published: 05/10/2012
  • Price: £9.99
  • Format: Hardback
  • Extent: 192pp
  • ISBN: 9781846685743

Friday 19 October 2012

Sylvia Kristel RIP

There can be few film actors so closely associated with one role as was Sylvia Kristel, who has died of cancer aged 60. The title role of the sexually adventurous housewife in Emmanuelle (1974) became a reference for every part she played subsequently. This was not surprising, as the Dutch star did play a character called Emmanuelle, with few variations, many times over.

In the original film, Kristel portrayed the bored wife of a French embassy official in Bangkok, urged by her libertine husband to explore all the possibilities of sex. Thereupon, she finds herself in bed with, among others, a lesbian archaeologist and an elderly roué. Directed with some grace by Just Jaeckin, this glossy soft-porn package, dressed up as art-house erotica, was a huge international hit, becoming the first X-rated film to be released in the US. Lushly photographed and with a certain level of character development, its appeal went beyond the raincoat brigade. The success was also put down to Kristel's underestimated performance.

According to the critic Roger Ebert: "She projects a certain vulnerability that makes several of the scenes work. The performers in most skin-flicks seem so impervious to ordinary mortal failings, so blasé in the face of the most outrageous sexual invention, that finally they just become cartoon characters. Kristel actually seems to be present in the film, and as absorbed in its revelations as we are." Her performances in several other films, with directors including Walerian Borowczyk, Claude Chabrol, Roger Vadim and Alain Robbe-Grillet, proved that she was worthy of better than most of the quickie tosh in which she appeared.

Raymond Chandler Biography - Tom Williams interview...

Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something in the Light: A Life ...
Mark Coggins talks to Tom Williams (born in Newcastle, it turns out...) about his new biography: Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something in the Light.

Mark Coggins: What first drew you to Raymond Chandler and the idea of writing his biography?

Tom Williams: I think Chandler is endlessly fascinating. I mean the books themselves are some of the best in the canon and his use of language is stunning. But he also lived a compelling life. Brought up in Chicago, then London; failing to make it as a poet in Bloomsbury; coming to L.A. in 1913 just as it was beginning to morph into a city; fighting in World War I; living and working in the heart of L.A. as an oil executive, witnessing the city’s corruption firsthand ... and all this before he wrote his novels. His was a life of drama, of love and loss too. He could almost have been the subject of a novel himself, and it’s been a real privilege to spend time with his papers.

MC: I know you spent a great many hours in Los Angeles and elsewhere doing research and conducting interviews. Did you uncover any new material or previously unknown facts about Chandler during the course of your work? If so, how did they influence your portrayal of him?

TW: Yes I did find quite a bit of new material over the course of my research. I was lucky to find some new letters dating back to 1932 in the UCLA library. It meant that I could add a lot of detail about what happened after Chandler was sacked from Dabney’s [the oil company for which he worked in the 1920s and early ’30s] and explore how he came to write the stories he did. There were also new letters from the end of his life, which helped me understand his last years and how he interacted with the women around him. But there was also material in the archives that I thought deserved to be mentioned: the poetry, for example. Though the early stuff was very poor indeed, the lines he wrote for Cissy in the early ’20s and, indeed, throughout his life, showed a different side to Chandler and I’ve tried to incorporate this throughout the book.

MC: Chandler’s wife, the former Cissy Pascal, was 18 years older than him. Some authors have suggested that he didn’t know her true age at the time of their marriage in February 1924. Do you think that’s right? Can we assume that he eventually knew?

TW: I’m not sure we’ll ever really know one way or the other. He knocked 10 years off her age when he filled out her death certificate. Perhaps this suggests he didn’t know. Or perhaps it was a noble choice, which would be in character of course. My feeling, for what it is worth, is that he didn’t know how old she was when they married and that, had he known, it wouldn’t have mattered at all.

MC: Before finally turning to crime fiction in the 1930s, Chandler spent a lot of time as an executive in the oil industry. From what I understand of the man--and what I understand of corporate life--he didn’t seem like the sort who would thrive in that environment. Was he a good businessman?

TW: I think he might have been. He certainly thought he was. But, either way, he seems to have enjoyed what he did. Throughout his life Chandler was an assiduous filer of things. I wonder if the corporate life actually suited him, though he may have resented his taking pleasure in the work. That said, some of his pleasure derived from the people he worked with and, after he was sacked, they seem to have disappeared. It’s not clear if that was a result of bad behavior or just that they no longer had anything in common. He tried to do some tax work in the early ’30s but preferred writing by a long chalk, possibly because [tax work] was dull and boring in comparison, and possibly because he no longer got to work with friends.

MC: When you look at the “topology” of Chandler’s life before he began writing seriously, there are a lot of unusual features that stand out: being born in the U.S., but reared in the UK after his parents divorced; British public school education; moving back to the States as a young man; seeing action in the First World War; marrying a much older woman; losing his job due to drinking and womanizing, and all the rest. Do you think any of these experiences were critical in forging his abilities as a writer? For example, could he have been as successful if he stayed in Britain or married a different woman?

TW: To a certain extent we’ll never know, but I think it’s fair to say that without the unique combination of experiences, Chandler would not have written the books he did write. Perhaps, had he worked as a civil servant in London he would have produced a Georgian novel. But hundreds did and very few lasted. Chandler needed to become a modern to write his fiction and L.A. pushed him to change. His love for Cissy was undoubtedly a motivation too. Another woman may not have tolerated his drinking, his occasional dalliances, and he could have easily become something other than a writer in 1932. Then again, Chandler had a drive to write, a compulsion that predated L.A. and Cissy, so perhaps he would have written something, though I suspect it would not have been crime fiction.

MC: Other biographers have suggested that Chandler stopped drinking completely for periods of time. You report that he reduced consumption of alcohol during those periods, rather than quitting outright. How did you reach that view?

TW: Oh, from Chandler’s letters. I found a cache in UCLA dating from 1932, and he is quite open about drinking through the period after his sacking [from Dabney’s], and later letters follow this theme.

MC: The Chandlers’ restlessness--their habit of moving frequently--has been emphasized by other biographers. Do you think too much has been made of it? Is it reflective of some facet of Chandler’s or Cissy’s personality?

(Right) Author Tom Williams

TW: Yes and no. The reason they moved so much was because they liked to spend summers in the mountains--where the air was cooler--and winters in the sun. This may have been to do with Cissy’s lungs, though that is a supposition. In the 1930s they alternated like this every six months pretty much. They continued this pattern into the early ’40s, but settled more once Chandler was working in Hollywood.

MC: Which of Chandler’s novels do you think is the best, and why?

TW: Ha--it depends when you ask me! That’s like asking who is your favorite [James] Bond or what is your favorite Shakespeare play. I think if The Rap Sheet exiled me to a desert island with only one, I’d take Farewell, My Lovely [1940]. I think that is Chandler at his very, very best. But please don’t exile me, not yet anyway.

MC: You surprised me a bit by saying that you felt The Big Sleep was better than The Maltese Falcon (1930). I think a lot of Chandler fans would concede that Falcon is an excellent novel, and even if Chandler’s oeuvre is better than Hammett’s, Falcon might beat Sleep. Can you give us some insight into your thinking?

TW: Perhaps this is controversial but I don’t think Sam Spade has the depth of Marlowe. He is an alien--he looks like Satan after all, and how many can identify with that?--and so I don’t think the reader connects with him in the same way as they do with Marlowe. Or at least I didn’t. But I am sure plenty would disagree.

MC: Jean Fracasse, a woman Chandler hired as a personal secretary near the end of his life, is not portrayed well by other biographers. In particular, Chandler’s first biographer, Frank MacShane, makes it clear that he thought she was a gold-digger who hastened the author’s demise. You seem to have a more balanced view. How would you characterize their relationship?

TW: It’s an interesting one. I think Jean Fracasse’s motives will always remain opaque for the simple reason that we can’t ask her. Any younger, attractive woman involving herself with a wealthy older man is going to come under suspicion but that doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve it.

To be blunt, I don’t know what motivated Jean Fracasse any more than Frank McShane or Tom Hiney [Chandler’s second biographer] did, and so I tried to be balanced in my view, using the evidence I found to construct the events of the late ’50s. I think one thing is sure, though, Ray valued her contribution: he dedicated Playback [1958] to “Jean and Helga.” [Helga Greene was his literary agent.]

MC: Arguably, the reception for Chandler’s work has always been stronger in the UK than in the U.S., and now that your book has been published, two of the four Chandler biographers have come from Britain. What is it about Chandler that makes him particularly appealing to the UK audience?

TW: I think Marlowe is a strangely European hero. His willingness to take on the rich and powerful tied neatly with some British unease about American influence after the war. Marlowe’s mantle was taken up by Bond (a hero who made Britain feel powerful, even when British power was fading). We Brits like that. We’ve always love an underdog and Marlowe is the ultimate underdog.

MC: What surprised you most about Chandler during your research?

TW: Without doubt, the richness and variety of the letters. Chandler was one the great letter writers and the more time I spent with his missives the more I was in awe.

MC: Now, 53 years after his death, do you think Chandler would be satisfied with his literary legacy?

TW: I do wonder about that. But I also wonder, were we to ask him somehow, whether he would point us to the penultimate paragraph of The Big Sleep. [See image below.]

MC: Could Chandler have written a “straight” literary novel?

TW: I think he wanted to. At one point, he started a third-person novel, with hardly any murder in it and without Marlowe at all. He couldn’t get it to work and set about rewriting it. That novel became The Long Goodbye. Had he not tried to keep writing a great book, he would never have achieved everything that he did. In the end I’m not sure it matters whether his books are straight or not. They’re damn fine books and that is that.

MC: How do you feel about John Banville being commissioned to compose a new Philip Marlowe tale?

TW: I’m cautiously optimistic. You can read more about my views in the blog post I did for The Guardian.

MC: Finally, what question would you ask Chandler if you could?

TW: Who killed [chauffeur] Owen Taylor, really?

Thursday 18 October 2012

Bob Dylan - Soon..

Young Bob Dylan...

You can't make a monkey...

Last Night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron solo: -
Make You Feel My Love
My Hometown

Da solo: -
Love Song
Tell Me Why*

The 'Elderly Brothers': -
You Are My Sunshine
Needles And Pins-a
You Got It

Another crackin' night of open mic mayhem featuring the wonderful Mark Wynn, Dave Ward Maclean, Colin Rowntree and the awesome Buffalo Skinners.

* played after a request for "a miserable song".

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Tintin meets H. P. Lovecraft VI

Artist- Murray Groat: http://muzski.darkfolio.com/

Elvis Presley - Hard Luck...

Last night's songs

At the Waggon & Horses, York included: -

Let The Light From The Lighthouse Shine On Me
After The Gold Rush
Just The Way You Look Tonight
For No One
Malted Milk
Goodnight Irene
Unknown Legend
Sweet Home Alabama
Till There Was You
Wild Horses
Make You Feel My Love
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Southern Man
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight
Down By The Riverside

Another romp through folks' back catalogues on a well attended jam night.