Dispatches from the dark heart of Capitalism

Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord

Get ready to learn what really happens behind closed doors. 

Landlords have become one of the most hated groups in society. Parasites, they’re often called. And there’s a lot of them. The Treasury estimates there are almost 2.6 million landlords in the UK with around 5.45 million rental properties.

But the real life of a professional landlord is very different to what most people think. From burglaries and break-ins to drug raids, police warrants, crazy tenant antics, bailiffs, squatters, lawsuits, wrecked properties, interfering council officers, game-playing freeholders to moments of heartfelt joy and happiness, the life of a landlord is never dull. Especially when the government keeps moving the goalposts.

This explosive front line exposé blows the lid off what it’s really like to be a landlord and the shocking reality of renting out a property. Hovering close to a nervous breakdown and likely suffering PTSD, The Secret Landlord exposes truths rarely shared. Stories that will grip you, move you and smack you in the face. 

This is the truth, the other side of the door. 

This is as difficult a book to review as I’m sure it was to write. And, in all honesty, I think a reader’s degree of satisfaction with their purchase is going to be directly linked to their politics and their experiences (isn’t everything?)

There’s a lot to like

The good things – the Secret Landlord is clearly a well-intentioned landlord. She writes fluidly and is as engaging a guide through the trials and tribulations of this lifestyle that you could wish for. Material which could be very dry is handled with aplomb. 

So, it is clearly well written and its diary format allows these dispatches from capitalisms front line to romp along.

The cover of ‘Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord’

The Hustle

I think it is fair to say that this is a landlord who’s heart in the right place and is well intentioned. She wants to make a living – fair enough – and her ethos is clearly well meaning.

She says, ““My tenants tend to stay with me for years – I like that. I like the fact we can have a long relationship and get to know each other. Truth is, I don’t really like change. I really like it when people come to stay and they don’t leave. I like them growing and changing and hearing about their lives.”

That’s positively heart warming. As is how responsible this attitude is:

“I don’t understand, I truly don’t, the landlords who don’t do repairs. I have no understanding, morally or commercially, why you wouldn’t fix a problem.”

Here’s the thing though: the system is awful. 

The System

And, frankly, her justifications for her role within it are very poor. Take a scenario from early on in the book when she needs to sell two properties to ensure she has enough capital on hand to survive.

“My phone rings and I see it’s the long-term tenant at the flat where I’ve just sent his eviction notice. I brace myself. 
‘I’ve just got this notice, what’s going on? What have I done?’ ‘I’m so sorry, you haven’t done anything, but the problem is the government has made lots of tax changes and so I have no choice but to sell.’ 
‘But, this is my home!’ 
‘I know and I’m really sorry, I don’t want it to be like this, but I hope you can understand I have to sell because I need to raise some money.’
 ‘So how long have I got?’ 
‘The date’s there on the notice, you have over two months. I’m really sorry about this.’

Right, so a tenant who has done nothing wrong is to be made homeless because you over extended yourself? 

By the way, in Scotland the tenant would get 6 months notice which would help a little bit, but what makes this galling is the weakness of the arguments in need to make herself feel better.

At various points she asks, “Is it my fault?” and, later when the tenant about to bounced out in the street is not pleased we get this reported exchange:

“He’s still majorly unimpressed as the rental market has risen loads and he’s unhappy about how much more he’s going to have to shell out to rent somewhere else. I bite my tongue. I’d like to point out he could’ve been saving some money from his reduced rent with me.”

Yeah, except that’s not how it works is it? We aren’t given this particular tenant’s occupation but there is every chance that his wages won’t have kept pace with rent levels so he almost certainly won’t have been pocketing the difference, oh-so-financially-prudent Secret Landlord. 

“Is it my fault?” she asks? 

“No,” unsurprisingly answers friend who is also a landlord. 

“Yes,” say everyone else. You are literally part of the problem.

This particular paradox is writ large when she outlines how the system has changed since the financial crash. She has repeatedly said that she is a responsible landlord.

“The hoops you have to jump through and the paperwork you have to complete is something else nowadays. But, back in the day, and obviously that was before the financial crash, getting a mortgage, a re-mortgage or any sort of money was easy. Hell, you could even do same-day re-mortgages back then!… I should have borrowed more!”

No! No, you shouldn’t. People investing in sub-prime mortgages is the literal – literal – reason the world’s financial system had a cardiac arrest which nearly sent us back to the Dark Ages. This is not an exactly reflective guide.

“The thing that gets me about all of this is the way the government has created these housing problems and blamed landlords for everything. The government sold off the council housing and hasn’t built enough since. Private individuals then bought properties to rent out to fill the housing need. Then everybody and his dead grandmother went crazy about landlords owning property and renting them out and making a profit.”

Now, in her defence, it is also clear that the tax system is a mess, tenants are – well, arseholes – and this is not an easy profession. Actually it sounds like a dreadful profession and this is a lady doing the best she can. Maybe calling landlords parasites is harsh.

But, if you lay with pigs, you end up bacon and I’m afraid that this well-written, slick journey through the dark lowlands of the realities of capitalism’s foothills does not make me feel sorry for the choices this category of people have made.

Purchase Links
UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

Author Bio – 
The Secret Landlord has been renting, refurbishing and selling properties across the UK for almost two decades. An award-winning landlord, as judged by the National Landlords Association, The Secret Landlord has provided accommodation for hundreds of tenants from all walks of life. 

Social Media Links – 

www.thesecretlandlord.com

@landlord_secret

‘The Lie She Told’. And He Told. And She Told. And We Told…

‘The Lie She Told’ by Catherine Yaffe: Encouraging debut from a clearly talented writer takes us to the misty, murky motivations in the world of Scotland’s West Coast.

You can read an exclusive extract of the novel here:

All Kate wanted was a peaceful life.

All Ryan wanted to do was destroy it.

Living in the remote Scottish Highlands under Witness Protection, life is finally happy for Kate Ward and her young son Joe, until someone from Kate’s past appears. Ryan Albright is the only person that knows all of Kate’s secrets, and what she had to do to escape her previous abusive relationship. Ryan is determined to complete the mission set for him by Kate’s ex-husband. Systematically and violently, he pulls Kate’s new world apart with devasting consequences for everyone around him, including Kate who must face up to the lie she told.

There’s been quite the West Coast Scottish crime theme developing on this blog over the last few weeks. Recently we had Alex Coombs and his Argyll-based Private Investigator Hanlon taking on drug lords and layabouts and this week we have a murky crime drama set a touch further north in Gairloch.

Catherine Yaffe’s debut The Lie She Told is a very different type of novel to Coombs’ offering, however. Instead of a teak hard heroine able to take blows to the face and bounce back to care for her dog, here we have Kate, a mother of a young son, relocated as part of the witness protection scheme to the village of Gairloch.

As a resident of the Highlands, I can tell you: this sort of thing does happen. What this novel, perhaps, does not really capture, is that most of the Highland communities know about it before the people even arrive, but that might have spoilt the broiling tension somewhat.

Instead, we have Kate meeting up – coincidentally – with Ryan: a local no-gooder who Kate knew well in her days in Leeds and who was, in fact, best friends with her abusive ex-husband.

Tensions rise for the reader as the dastardly, manipulative Ryan ensnares the too-trusting Kate in a web of deceit.

 However, few people in this novel are quite what they seem and motivations are as grey and murky as an autumn day in Gairloch. 

This is a psychological thriller which manages the powerful balance of nipping along at pace but also lingering in the reader’s minds. There’s little wham bam here – action often occurs off screen (as it were) – and wounds physical and emotional, fester and turn sour.

It is a very competent debut by Catherine Yaffe. It is true that some of the dialogue can be occasionally laboured but this is a small niggle in such a psychologically complicated novel which doesn’t shy away from the pain that violence and it’s consequences causes.

I look forward to watching Yaffe’s career with interest with interest.

Purchase Links 

UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

Author Bio – 

Catherine Yaffe is a former freelance journalist, magazine editor and digital marketing agency owner. Catherine has previously written non-fiction books on Digital Marketing before following her passion for writing crime novels full time.

‘The Lie She Told’ is the first in a series of books that challenge the status quo of relationships and makes the reader question how well you know those around you.

Catherine lives in West Yorkshire with her husband Mark and their 2 cats Jenson & Button (she’s also a F1 fan!)

Social Media Links – 

@catherineyaffe (Twitter)

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Instagram cat_yaffe_author

www.catherineyaffe.co.uk  

Rude Awakenings…

The Awakening Of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

‘It got better, in time, though to be truthful it always felt more of a duty than a pleasure: a little like homework, satisfying when over, and done well, but never exactly enjoyable. But then nobody had ever suggested it could be otherwise.’

This was the view of Claudia Faraday, 1920s respectable wife and mother of three, on the subject of sex. That is until an unexpected turn of events shakes her out of her torpor and propels her back into the world revitalised and reawakened, where she discovers, as Marie Stopes might have said: Approached in the right way, even homework can be fun.

The cover of The Awakening of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a delightful little novel which consistently confounds expectations. The cover, with its silhouetted protagonist could be for a new spy series, the pink writing could signal traditional “chick lit” (urgh – what a bind of a brand that is), the “Roaring Twenties” strap line makes it sound like a PG Wodehouse romp and the blurb description could be anything from a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster to a serious and measured study of the sexual awakening of upper middle class women in the early part of last century.

And, in the end, this rather sad, rather charming novel is a little of all of these things, (although spy thriller is a stretch. The only revelations here are of the human heart and mind, it is a little lacking in unmasked super villains to be fair.

Penetrating Pathos

It is sad. This is a quite and understated sadness of withering dreams and slipping youth. Claudia is a lovely protagonist. A gentle and well intentioned woman who, in her sixth decade, is only beginning to question her wants and desires.

Trench writes with such a penetrating pathos of the boredom of a newly empty nest that the reader’s heart aches for our heroine, so used is she to being of service to others that she is not even the lead character in her own story.

“And so the weeks passed, September into October, and no omnipotent author stepped in to liven up the shapeless plot that was Claudia’s life. She was back to counting the creaks as she ascended the stairs on her way to her bedroom.”

I spent a huge amount of time in the novel feeling desperately sad for Claudia. The Twenties were in distinct danger of not only failing to roar for her but also to go out with barely so much as a whimper.

It was clear that not only sex, but also any agency had been ground out of the character: by society; by men; by her friends; by her mother. This fundamentally sweet woman hadn’t noticed the hypocrisy of everyone else and so was facing the outgoing sands of time in baffled and barely articulated sorrow.

Charming Oddities

This gentle gloom is alleviated by the light touch, page turning writing skill and the assortment of charming oddities which surround her.

The loyal housemaid Lily – fairly consistently having to let her hand fly to her mouth after yet another misplaced observation of her mistress – is a cutie, old friend and occasional sparring partner Prue, seems to be made up of equal parts scandalous affairs in hot climates and terrible driving.

The absentee husband Gerald sounds what used to be called a perfect pill. Having ruined sex for her, then impregnated her three times scooting off overseas for archaeological digs, he could only make it to one of their children’s weddings.

The children themselves add colour and charm to the rather drab world of their mother. Jessica has a horsey laugh, a disordered house and is a flapper with a jolly husband with an alliterative name; Harriet is a Bohemian with a penchant for interior design and a wayward husband while the youngest daughter, Flora is all horse breeding and country air.

It is not a difficulty to spend time in the world of these delightful characters. It is especially easy when Claudia is making her slightly waspish observations such as:

“It was invariably the revolutionaries who managed to consume most of other people’s wine, and their food, while looking down on them from some lofty moral plinth upon which they had placed themselves.”

In conclusion, The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a nice little novel filled with excellent characters, charming locations and the quiet desperation of some of our fellow citizens. I can’t wait to meet up with them again.

Purchase Link – https://mybook.to/ClaudiaF

Author Bio –

Author Patsy Trench

Patsy Trench lives a quiet and largely respectable life in north London. Claudia’s story shows a side of her normally shy and reserved nature that is little known, even to her friends and acquaintances. Her previous books, about her family’s history in Australia, are entertaining and informative accounts of that country’s early colonial beginnings. She began writing late, and in a previous life she was an actress, scriptwriter, playscout, founder of The Children’s Musical Theatre of London and lyricist. When not writing books she emerges from her shell to teach theatre and organise theatre trips for overseas students. She is the grateful mother of two clever and grown-up children, and she is addicted to rag rugging and, when current circumstances permit, fossicking on the Thames foreshore for ancient treasure.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.patsytrench.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatsyTrenchWriting/

Twitter:  @PatsyTrench

Instagram: claudiafaraday1920

Charming Crime and Supernatural Guinea Pigs

Who Killed Patrick? By Syl Waters

Confession

The cover of Syl Waters' book Who Killed Patrick? is shown.

Okay, full disclosure – I thought this book was going to give me a dilemma. I like to keep things positive (there’s enough bad stuff in the real world, without moaning online.) 

And I wasn’t absolutely certain I was going to like Who Killed Patrick by Syl Waters.

So, why review it?

Well, it was marketed to me as being about Tarah, a young woman with a life is going nowhere. Not disinteresting.

At the drop of a hat, she decides to junk the UK and head to Fuerteventura to start a new adventure. 

She soon starts a job managing a hotel complex. However, a dead guest threatens to pull apart her hoped-for dream life.

So: I like a bit of a crime, I like of bit of sun and it sounded OK. 

There was some bit about Tarah’s pet guinea pig, Mr Bob, who apparently has a knack for sniffing out trouble and suspects foul play. 

Not really keen on supernatural talking animals but I thought, what’s to lose?

Rapture!

I am pleased to say my misgivings were dispelled on the second page. 

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book.

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book

Who Killed Patrick? continues in the same vein. It is a charming read with a delightful, well-intentioned central character wholly and realistically out of her depth.

Who among us can’t relate to a lead character who feels like there is, ‘Always too much month and not enough money’? 

I also like the dashes of crudity which make Tarah a realistic heroine. When she meets one character she says, ‘‘Coochi cooo, who are yoooooo?’ He says in a I’m-talking-to-a-little-baby-in-a-very-silly-but-very-cute-voice-which-makes-women’s-hearts-melt-and-them-feel-slightly-moist-between-their-legs,’ which is just splendid. 

Unconventional Detective

Likewise, one tires of amateur detectives wandering thorugh murder mysteries blithely immune to the stress and strains it would take on you. Not our Tarah.

I struggle to imagine Hercule Poirot in his climactic final get together of the suspects saying, ‘If I wasn’t going to have to go out and be the ring leader, I’d be laughing at this crazy scene. But as I have to be a part of this, I’m not. I’m shitting it. My stomach curls and I feel like my insides are about to explode into my pants. My intestines are twisting and cramping like they’re trying to perform a Trucker’s Hitch knot.’

I also appreciate Waters’ description of Fuerteventura, a place she makes sound like a sun soaked volcanic paradise – dead holiday maker and permanently sozzled ex-pat “locals” aside.

Mr Bob

I was prepared to dislike a talking guinea pig with a nose for trouble. But, again, I had misjudged the quality of the writing and the story telling.

For those who are concerned – worry not. 

Mr Bob is a charmer and I look forward to encountering him again in future adventures. Or so I hope!

Pleasingly, you can see Mr Bob here: @mrbob.guineapig

Conclusion

Rarely have I been more pleased to be wrong about a book. Who Killed Patrick? by Syl Waters is a delightful read which zips by with charm and highly skilled writing. I can not wait for a sequel (please, please, please) and to read more of Waters’ work.

Highly recommended!

Purchase Links 
UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/
US –  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/

Sign up to Syl Waters newsletter receive a free copy of The Little Book Of Curiously Fascinating Facts about Guinea Pigs – http://www.sylwaters.com/

Author Bio – Most people know crazy cat ladies are a ‘thing’, but I’m a proud crazy guinea pig lady! I love fun in the sun and plenty of cocktails. My happy place is flip flops. I write stories to keep me company – my characters ensure I’m never lonely and always smiling (when I’m not tearing my hair out!)

Social Media Links – 

www.sylwaters.com

Twitter: @waters_syl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/syl.waters.54

A Chat with Simon Conway

Recently, I wrote a review of Simon Conway’s latest novel, ‘The Stranger‘. I was so impressed with the book, I tracked Mr Conway down and asked him for some further information. He graciously agreed.

The Stranger

PAJNewman (PAJ): Jude Lyon is a brilliant character. I notice from my research that there might be some similarity between yourself and Jude in terms of military history and well-travelled childhood. Was this biographical echoing the starting point for the book or was it the themes and issues which drew you to this particular story?

Simon Conway (SC): I’m glad you like Jude. I’m fond of him too. I wouldn’t say he was the starting point though. My characters tend to grow and morph in the telling. They definitely get more autonomous with every draft. Both main characters have a military background and I think that neither of them was an easy fit in the army just as I wasn’t. In Jude I have channelled my principled side but in Guy Fowle I’ve unleashed my inner psychopath. 

PAJ: How do you feel that this novel stacks up against your previous work? Are you pleased with it?

SC: I’m satisfied and I’ve been gratified by the very positive response from early readers. I’d say that there has been a gradual improvement in my writing with more show and less tell. I’ve been trying to adhere to George Orwell’s six tips for writing from his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” – never use a long word where a short one will do; if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print, etc. That’s a good discipline for writing.

PAJ: How long did the book take from beginning to end to write?

SC: It was about eighteen months from beginning to end and then some tinkering at the copy edit stage. And then a delay in publication die to the pandemic. I’m glad to have reached this moment…

PAJ: The Iraq invasion obviously casts a long shadow over this novel, do you feel this is going to be an issue which we ever resolve as a democracy? Do you feel it still plays into our relationship with terrorism in the UK today?

SC: I think that if we are going to occupy countries in the name of protecting their populace or delivering democracy and freedom, we need to get a hell of a lot better at it and we need to recognise that it is a long-term commitment that lasts for decades.

There is no easy exit strategy. The shadow of the Iraq war is a long one: the chaos that it created fatally poisoned the New Labour project and it has a de-stabilising effect across the region, spurring the growth of Islamic State and allowing Iran to extend its influence.

The images from Abu Ghraib and the illegal rendition programme radicalised a generation of young Muslims. The collapse of Syria has led to one of the largest refugee crises ever. We bear some responsibility and we have to own up to that. 

PAJ: At the moment, do you think The Stranger is going to be a standalone or do you envisage this as the beginning of a new series?

SC: You’ll definitely be reading more about Jude Lyon. There’s plenty still to be revealed.

Personal

PAJ: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

SC: I read widely and across genres. I’ve certainly been influenced by some of the big beasts of modern American literature – Norman Mailer, Robert Stone, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Pynchon. Contemporary writers that I enjoy include Nick Harkaway, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Chris Beckett, Paul McAulay and Louise Welsh. 

In my own genre, John Le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith and Graham Greene are heroes. For the Stranger, I wanted to write a classic thriller and Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was a significant influence in that in that it builds towards a single attack and you have the juxtaposition of the increasingly desperate manhunt and the villain’s methodical preparations. 

PAJ: What inspired your move into the military after you finished your degree at Edinburgh?

SC: After I left university, I was working in a night club in New York and trying to write a novel.  I wrote 28 pages in a year which is pretty poor. I needed discipline. Many of the writers that I respected had served in the military or seen conflict. So, on a whim, I shaved my head and joined the army. One thing that surprised me was the number of other soldiers I met who also had a problem with authority. 

I was living in Lebanon as a child a particularly formative experience that resonates through this novel? I can’t help feeling like the Middle East is represented in an affectionate and nuanced way in the novel.

I am very fond of the Middle East. It has so many intelligent and articulate people let down by bad government and lousy politicians. Some of my earliest memories are of Syria and Lebanon and it is a tragedy what has happened to those places. In 1976 I was on holiday with my parents in Syria. I persuaded them to buy me a Syrian army uniform and I wore it as we crossed back into Lebanon. The Syrian army invaded Lebanon a few hours later. I was the first across the line! 

I’ve been back to both countries, to Lebanon in 2006 after the south was pummelled with several million cluster munitions and to Syria in 2015 after Islamic State left behind huge quantities of improvised explosive devices across the north east. 

PAJ: Was the war in Syria at the forefront of your move into working with Article 36?


SC: My position on the board of the weapons control organisation Article 36 grew out of my part in the campaign to ban cluster munitions. Article 36 of the Geneva conventions, which the organisation was named for, require states to consider the impact on civilians of their weapons before they use them. When you look at the devastated cities of a country like Syria you can see that its rulers either don’t care about the effect of their weapons on ordinary people or are deliberately, maliciously targeting them. 

PAJ: Would you like to speak about your work with HALO? Where are we as a nation with regard to refugees and the fall out from the conflict in Syria in your opinion? What can people who want to help do? What is the best link or course of action which people could access?

SC: My role within The HALO Trust is to start projects in new countries which means I am usually the first person on the ground, getting to know the power brokers on the ground and negotiating access. Since 2015, the focus of my efforts has been clearing the debris of war in the Middle East and I have established new projects in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The devastation in urban areas and the industrial-scale use of improvised explosive devices by Islamic State and other armed groups pose particular risks to clearance operators.

Once the projects are set up and running, I hand them off to my colleagues to run. Currently I still retain command of our Libya programme, where we have an in-country team who are having to deal with an ongoing conflict with rapidly shifting front lines and multiple outside actors including Turkey, Russia, UAE and Egypt. The team are currently surveying booby-trapped front lines in the south of the capital Tripoli which were abandoned by Russian mercenaries from the private military company Wagner Group. 

We are doing a lot to help. The taxpayers of western nations are incredibly generous through the aid and assistance that they provide. The UK is world leader in the delivery of aid and we should be proud of that. People need to recognise that helping to create stability abroad is a vital investment that helps keeps us safe at home.

Keeping pressure on the politicians to use our aid money wisely and strategically is of course vital and I think we should be directing more of it towards resolving conflict. I also think we need to do close the tax havens which allow corrupt rulers to steal and stash away the wealth of developing nations. There’s no point giving with one hand if we’re accepting dirty money with the other. 

PAJ: What is the question you wish interviewers and readers would ask but never do?

SC: Is it possible to both entertain and inform? I think so, if it’s deftly done without ramming the information down the reader’s throat. I hope that readers enjoy The Stranger but also come away with a greater understanding of some of the more lawless corners of the world.

Thanks so much to Simon for speaking to me. ‘The Stranger’ is available here and at all good bookshops (and, presumably, some average ones too). Simon’s website is here. Simon can be found on Twitter here and you can hear more from the man himself from our friends over at Spybrary here.

Agent Running Through Fields of Wheat?

“You know what Trump is?’

‘Tell me.’

‘He’s Putin’s shithouse cleaner.’

Which is as good a place as any to begin with John Le Carrè’s latest work, Agent Running in the Field. Rumoured to have angered his former employers, (according to one very put out spook at the Cliveden Literary Festival at least)

Mr Le Carrè’s somewhat classy retort in The Times was enough to generate some publicity for what is certainly a lower key release than 2018’s Legacy of Spies (which even got a session at the London’s Royal Festival Hall beamed to cinemas over the UK).

This was supposed to be his Brexit rant – his anti-Trump, reactionary wail of despair at UK national suicide, the world gone mad, manipulated by the kleptocratic, Tsarist spook-in-chief in Moscow. This was supposed to be his deconstruction of the British state and it’s Cambridge Analytica-altered, Putin fiddled with, Big Red Bus of Deceitful Propaganda opus. Hell, even the title sounds like a riff on our former Prime Minister’s childhood agricultural misdemeanours. And, at least in the character of Ed, the novel does reflect those emotions.

“It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the Us is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

This, in fairness, is hardly an equivocal position. But, nor is it a radical stance so far out with the opinions of many of the people watching Brexit unfold and, in comparison to – say 2003’s Absolute Friends – this is a quiet and measured response.

And, really, that is my take away from the novel. It is a small story in a way that the absolute first rate Le Carrè pieces aren’t. The character of Ed is a graceless and, as a narrator in one of his novels might say, seems to have elevated gracelessness to an art form. Nat is an unreliable narrator, the seemingly happy marriage undermined by what everyone else sees in him apparently, although the influence of this on the plot seems slim.

Overall, it’s always better to read Le Carrè than others. There are the usual damning characterisations, the usual pithy descriptions and he does physical nuance just about better than anyone but, here, the plotting lacks surprises and the ending fails to pack the sort of punch that even a relatively minor novel of his latter period, Our Kind of Traitor or A Most Wanted Man for example, manage to produceAgent Running.

A Law Firm in the Way Dr Pepper is a Doctor

“For Brutus is an honourable man” Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc II
As most of you know, I like to keep things positive online but recently I’ve encountered a company which makes that impossible. Welcome then to Nero Legal.
Interesting choice of branding, that. Naming your business after a man for whom family relations were on the Russian roulette side of stability and who specialised in running roughshod over common decency and justice all the while claiming it was acceptable because Nero wrote the laws. Not your usual corporate role model.
And Nero Legal appear not to have a conventional set up either. There appears to be one lawyer, he is also a director, and an army of paralegals.
There was another director, but he’s resigned and now seems to spend his days enjoying the attractions of Andorra so is, presumably, not much involved in day to day affairs.
So, in the good old spirit of the ancient Romans their name invokes there’s one man at the top.
Now, to be clear, I am not calling Nero Legal negligent. Negligence is a very specific legal term which implies “conduct which falls below the standard required to protect others against unreasonable risk of harm” and, god knows, I am no lawyer – which interestingly puts me in the same category as most of Nero Legal’s staff.
To cap a long story, we are selling a house. The buyer is using Nero Legal. To see what this poor couple are going through has alerted us to the fact that I would rather entrust my medical care to Dr Pepper than my legal affairs to Nero Legal.
Did I enjoy filling out the endless forms which make up modern house selling in Scotland? I did not but it’s standard. Did I enjoy then having to answer the same questions – or a sizeable chunk of them anyway – 6 weeks later in a clearly pro-forma letter? I *really* did not. Now, I’m not saying that this negligence or even gross unprofessionalism because I’m not a lawyer. Which, lest we forget, puts me in the same category as most of Nero Legal’s staff.
Did I enjoy the same paralegal who was doling out non-sensical pro-forma letters not responding to calls and emails from our solicitors? I did not. When they asked for a completion date which was very soon we were thrilled – when they discovered it was on a bank holiday (a bank holiday only in Glasgow incidentally, where they are based) it was mildly irritating. But surely not negligent or gross misconduct. Although, I can’t really say that because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When this same paralegal told us that the buyers couldn’t complete on the next date, this was vexing – but these things happen and Nero Legal has actually answered an email so we were feeling positive. When the new completion date was a full month later that rang alarm bells but, you know what, what do I know? I’m not a lawyer- it turns out, exactly like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When neither we, nor our solicitors, had heard anything – other than another set of questions we’d already answered, naturally – I think we were becoming pretty close to as downheartened as understatement will allow.
When Nero Legal only deign to let your solicitors know at 11.30 on the morning of your new, month later completion date that they still can not complete – as you are moving furniture Out. Of. Your. House, it may feel like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, remember I’m not saying that, because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When it then turns out that the buyers can’t complete because Nero Legal are not approved receivers of funds from the mortgage company, one might be positively alarmed and feel like this is information any real company should have been in possession of before the third completion date.
In fact, to not let their clients know that might well feel exactly like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, I’m couldn’t possibly say that, because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
What I do know is that filling your social media feeds with paralegals channeling the Robert Palmer girls from the “Addicted to Love” video, claiming to support good mental health is not as efficient to generating actual good mental health as doing the tasks you are being paid for.
I’m sure that having that army of paralegals be jaw-droppingly slack at responding to emails and telephone calls is sharply contrasted to the public projections of these social media channels which begs the question: what are they doing all day? Oh yeah, it appears the answer is cutting cakes and dressing up as giant bananas for “charity”.
When your solicitor phones them four times and, in the end, has to refuse to get off the line before he can talk to a solicitor who, by extension, must be their one and only director, who promises to get back by the end of the day and doesn’t, it will probably feel like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, it probably isn’t because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
It seems, at least to the untrained eye, that having only one lawyer, who is also sole director might make for a lean and efficient enterprise but, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like that.
However, perhaps he’s stretched too thin, the poor lamb, what with the other previous director, also of Aaen Peach, a legal firm based in the same offices of the same building with really some of the worst reviews, having now resigned. No wonder it works better to out source your legal work to unqualified paralegals with hit and miss spelling and a predilection for asking questions which have already been answered. Twice. But what do I know? I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use Nero Legal. I’m saying that you shouldn’t and you should also make sure that you’re buyers aren’t either: it might be the only way to protect your sale.

‘Nobody Move’ by Philip Elliott

If you like… (takes deep breath) Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Baby DriverNo Country for Old Men, Get Shorty, Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2, The Getaway, Silence of the Lambs, Out of Sight and Point Break, then this may just be the book for you.

Nobody Move by Toronto-based debutant Philip Elliott is a love letter to the crime thriller movies of the 90s and is packed with enough sleazy motels, 80s punk rock and characters making questionable life choices to make you want to ask, “Whose chopper iz dis?’

Philip Elliott author photo

Philip Elliott, debutant author of crime thriller, Nobody Move, out in September 2019

Clearly, the man knows his Tarantino, his Elmore Leonard and his Jim Thomson.

However, although this may sound like pastiche, it is so cleverly done, the novel ripping along in 315 pages, and Elliott managing to make you enjoy spending time with these monstrous characters, that you don’t feel oppressed by the references. The fact that the characters are self referentially referring to them acting like they’re in a movie, only adds to the fun.

Nobody Move opens with the character of Eddie, a small time hoodlum beginning to tire of the life, making a catastrophic mistake which only escalates as variously his pretentious, restaurant owning mobster boss, Saul Benedict, and his men (and Eddie’s ex-partners), Floyd and Sawyer, all enter the fray hunting the want-away Eddie. Fate twists further as the beautiful Dakota, a Native American woman fresh in the City of Angels searching for her missing friend and psychotic, Texan assassin Rufus, seeking vengeance for his murdered brother, takes up his beloved daggers one final time and begins the long drive to L.A. Meanwhile, put-upon vegetarian LAPD detective Alison Lockley’s hunts for the killers becomes increasingly urgent as the bodies pile up.

The novel, published by small press Into the Void, has rather too many uses of “the N word” for my liking and appears to have an unfortunate relationship to violence against women – but persevere for all is not what it seems.

This is to be the first of a series of novels, known as the Angel City series. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Nobody Move (Angel City #1) is out from Into the Void press on September 10th.

ISBN: 978-1-7753813-5-8

Opening the Span of Our Horizons

Brian Lamb and the Loss to Democracy

May 19th will see the retirement of a man who might well be able to lay claim to being the most important media figure of the last 50 years. C-Span founder Brian Lamb is retiring.

Here in the UK, C-Span is not often watched – perhaps unsurprisingly. My impression is that ex-pats, politico geeks and ‘The West Wing’ affectionados form its core audience.

My introduction came via this last category and I stumbled across a show called ‘C-Span Q&A‘ around 2009. It was a simple show: an old guy talks to a person, usually a writer but not always, for an hour.

Just that. No adverts, no razzmatazz, no hectoring or screaming: just a person being allowed to articulate their point of view in their own words.  It is the sort of television which doesn’t get made any more and a lesson to any one with an interest in media about what can be done.

Over the last decade, I have listened to the show pretty consistently – or consistently inconsistently as I have a tendency to binge listen to them. Lamb is a revelation. Unfailingly polite, thoroughly prepared, he never pretends to know anything he does not and he asks questions in a simple way, drawing out implications for viewers in case they don’t have the depth of knowledge he does – which few of us could possibly have but he’d never be so mean as to highlight this!

And now I discover that midway through the month, he is stepping down. The former naval lieutenant who once attended press briefings with Robert MacNamara and walked LadyBird Johnson down the aisle, who persuaded Congress to let cameras in and established public service political broadcasting in the most cut throat media market in the world – and kept it free and on the air – is off.

Brian Lamb is a self-effacing one off. He will be sadly missed by people who think that politics, its coverage and how people access it, matters for the good of all – no matter where they are on the globe.

It seemed somehow tragically appropriate that the news of his retirement came via an interview in the Rupert Murdoch owned ‘Wall Street Journal’.

An interview which couldn’t read as it is behind a pay wall. Another institution which forms part of the key narrative of 20th century American media, The Washington Post, recently changed its slogan to “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. The retirement of Brian Lamb represents an unparalleled dimming of democracy.

He will be truly missed.

Reposting: The Politics of Poldark

poldark

The smouldering cast of 2015’s BBC adaptation of ‘Poldark’

This post about the Politics of Poldark has proved consistently popular. Please note, this was originally written and posted in May 2015 after Season One and doesn’t deal with any later events in the show 

As with a great many of these sorts of things, I came to the 2015 adaptation of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ novels late (i.e. after they had finished airing and we got them on DVD). I was not keen at first. “Oh good – another BBC costume drama about poncey aristos doing their best Colin Firth-impression” is not a phrase I’m likely to utter. However, I was delighted to be proved wrong. From early in the first episode, I was entranced. Not – in the way that apparently the middle aged cohort of Sunday night fantasists obsessed with Aidan Turner’s pecs are – but by the choice of subject at this particular juncture in political history. Brave does not begin to cover it. We’ve all heard the BBC criticised for bias – in Scotland for a pro-union stance, in England for its slavish adherence to Tory policy or for being the ‘Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation’. I’ve always taken a neutral stance on this alleged bias – firstly, I’m sceptical that an organisation as Byzantine and disparate as the BBC is capable of maintaining a coherent party line (I struggle with believing in organisations to be that organised.) And, also, because I think if you’re being attacked for bias from all sides, then you’re probably on the right lines. But make no mistake – ‘Poldark’ is brave. In an age of austerity, with food bank usage topping 1 million people, (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/22/food-bank-users-uk-low-paid-workers-poverty) for the nation’s broadcaster to produce an adaptation centred on a man of noble birth concerned with the survival of his workers to the extent that he will take on starving miners as farm hands and use his societal position to raise capital to put his people back to work is pretty ballsy.

Ross Poldark and serving wench Demelza

Ross Poldark and serving wench Demelza

The point of business is not just to make money is like a refrain for Ross Poldark and he outrages his contemporaries with this standpoint. He stands up for poachers and petitions not only the court for clemency, but also the owner of the pheasants, because of the context of the boy poacher’s circumstances. He is acutely aware of the hardships of subsistence living in his period for normal people. Poldark even tries to form what amounts to a Fairtrade workers’ collective to gain a fair price for the tin mined in the region. “I’m disgusted by my class,” he tells the lovely Demelza (another waif saved from a poor home life by Poldark at a time he can ill-afford to pay for another mouth to feed), “not all of them, but most.” In short, the character of Poldark is like a socialist hero of another age – one who actually believes that by working together we can all get richer. At a time when the top 1% are stretching away from the other 99% across the developed world, I can scarcely think of a more suitable hero than a man who is willing to see poverty and hardship as the result of circumstance rather than sloth and ingratitude and well done to the BBC (and Mammoth Screen who have undertaken the lavish production) for daring to offer the nation a compassionate hero – even if he does spends too long topless scything and staring out of the window in moody contemplation.

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark - a socialist hero?

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark – a socialist hero?