evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Drama

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

January proved to be such a brutal month for many and, with continued restrictions, I wasn’t much in the mood for writing a blog post, but time moves on and I thought I’d share a few reasons to be cheerful in February.

Obtaining agent representation is harder than ever but three authors, who I worked with on their stories, have defied the odds and done just that. In no particular order, Daniel Scanlan is now represented by Ian Drury at Sheil Land Associates, Rob Burnett is represented by Jemima Forrester at David Higham Associates and Charlotte Owen is represented by Nicola Barr at The Bent Agency. Congratulations to all and best of luck with their books and careers.  

Over Christmas – seems so long ago – I finally read ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. As I’ve often said I tend to read best sellers long after the hype has died down. In this instance I wished I hadn’t waited so long. A true story, utterly inspirational, and a massive testament to fortitude in adversity, it proved the perfect read for our time. It’s grounding. It recognises the fragility of life. It also makes you realise that bad things do indeed happen to anyone and it isn’t wise to take what we have for granted.  And yet, this is no misery memoir. It’s uplifting and life-affirming and one of those rare books I might well return to.  But not before I plough through my ‘TBR’ pile, which has spectacularly increased after I took receipt of hardback versions of ‘The Burning Girls’ by CJ Tudor and ‘Slough House’ by Mick Herron a few days ago. Don Winslow’s, ‘The Force’ has also joined the ranks after my other half raved about it. An epic tale of corruption in the New York Police Department, with a highly morally ambiguous main protagonist, sounds just my bag. Can’t wait to dip in once I’ve finished Bill Bryson’s extraordinary ‘At Home.’ To describe and do it justice, I’m going to quote from the blurb: ‘What does history really consist of? Centuries of people quietly going about their daily business… And where do all these normal activities take place? At home.’  It’s a history of private life, of invention, of habit and convention. While it’s not so laugh out loud funny as his other works, it’s no less entertaining. The sheer volume of information and fascinating detail is astonishing. Bryson’s true talent is his ability to unearth and flag up the endeavours of the ‘little people,’ those inventive souls who failed to be recognised for their achievements in the age in which they lived, often through some quirk of history or humanity.  His love of language is a joy for a wordsmith. Who knew that, for example, that the word ‘bedroom’ was first used by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ or that the word ‘Buttery,’ a room in a grand house, has nothing to do with ‘butter’ but ‘butts’ as in butts of ale? I love this kind of minutiae.  

On the literary front, ‘SIX’ will be published on March 4th as trade paperback and digital, the mass-market paperback released in August.  The story begins when successful criminal defence lawyer, Jon Shaw, comes face to face with, Danny Hallam, the man he tried to murder twenty-five years ago.  To find out why, how and what, you’ll need to grab a copy!

Meanwhile, Apple audio has released ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ with Ben Onwukwe’s deliciously deadly voice capturing Hex perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Hex, he’s a hitman turned good guy who, in ‘A Deadly Trade’ becomes embroiled in uncovering a criminal conspiracy involving biological weapons. In short, it’s a tale of espionage meets action adventure. In ‘Final Target,’ Hex discovers that the past is not so easily left behind and is quickly pulled back into the game by glamorous, MI5 intelligence officer, Inger McCallen, with an operation in Berlin. It contains all the typical Hex trademarks: high body count, intrigue, and highly intelligent women.  

I need no excuse to binge-watch, but the pandemic has made my love affair with the small screen more respectable. How I missed ‘The Americans’ when it first came out, I have absolutely no idea. A spy thriller set in 1980’s America, it follows the story of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB deep cover intelligence officers, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who pose as an all American couple. Both sides of the spy divide are brilliantly explored when an FBI agent, Stan Beeman, specialising in counter-terrorism, moves in opposite (played by Noah Emmerich). Characterisation is superb, surpassed only by the acting. Frank Langella puts in a compelling performance as ‘Gabriel’, the Jennings’s handler. Plot lines are authentic and dramatic. Again, it’s a series I may well return to at a later date. 

I have a small number of CD’s bought from buskers around the country. A few years ago we were passing through Chester. Walking down the main drag, the haunting sounds of  a violinst playing ‘Schindler’s List’ stopped us dead.  We were not alone. Quite a number of people had stopped to listen to what turned out to be a sublime set of film scores. The man playing was none other than Phillip Chidell, a highly regarded musician and one time child prodigy, although we didn’t know it at the time. For some reason our CD was added to our collection but never opened until this Christmas when we were hunting around for something a little different to play. And what a treat. Production values are superb – not something that can always be said when you buy work  ‘off the pavement’. If you love film music or you simply love to hear a musician playing at the top of his game, go out and buy. Shakespeare had a point when he said that ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’  

Lastly, and continuing with a music theme, remember Conchita Wurst – and her Eurovision Song Entry, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix?’  Well, I was given the sheet piano music for the song at Christmas. For those who don’t know it it’s a big gutsy power piece about hope and optimism.  If I’m feeling glum, I take to the keys and belt it out.  If not cheerful before, I certainly am after.   

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

January proved to be such a brutal month for many and, with continued restrictions, I wasn’t much in the mood for writing a blog post, but time moves on and I thought I’d share a few reasons to be cheerful in February.

Obtaining agent representation is harder than ever but three authors, who I worked with on their stories, have defied the odds and done just that. In no particular order, Daniel Scanlan is now represented by Ian Drury at Sheil Land Associates, Rob Burnett is represented by Jemima Forrester at David Higham Associates and Charlotte Owen is represented by Nicola Barr at The Bent Agency. Congratulations to all and best of luck with their books and careers.

Over Christmas – seems so long ago – I finally read ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. As I’ve often said I tend to read best sellers long after the hype has died down. In this instance I wished I hadn’t waited so long. A true story, utterly inspirational, and a massive testament to fortitude in adversity, it proved the perfect read for our time. It’s grounding. It recognises the fragility of life. It also makes you realise that bad things do indeed happen to anyone and it isn’t wise to take what we have for granted. And yet, this is no misery memoir. It’s uplifting and life-affirming and one of those rare books I might well return to. But not before I plough through my ‘TBR’ pile, which has spectacularly increased after I took receipt of hardback versions of ‘The Burning Girls’ by CJ Tudor and ‘Slough House’ by Mick Herron a few days ago. Don Winslow’s, ‘The Force’ has also joined the ranks after my other half raved about it. An epic tale of corruption in the New York Police Department, with a highly morally ambiguous main protagonist, sounds just my bag. Can’t wait to dip in once I’ve finished Bill Bryson’s extraordinary ‘At Home.’ To describe and do it justice, I’m going to quote from the blurb: ‘What does history really consist of? Centuries of people quietly going about their daily business… And where do all these normal activities take place? At home.’ It’s a history of private life, of invention, of habit and convention. While it’s not so laugh out loud funny as his other works, it’s no less entertaining. The sheer volume of information and fascinating detail is astonishing. Bryson’s true talent is his ability to unearth and flag up the endeavours of the ‘little people,’ those inventive souls who failed to be recognised for their achievements in the age in which they lived, often through some quirk of history or humanity. His love of language is a joy for a wordsmith. Who knew that, for example, that the word ‘bedroom’ was first used by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ or that the word ‘Buttery,’ a room in a grand house, has nothing to do with ‘butter’ but ‘butts’ as in butts of ale? I love this kind of minutiae.

On the literary front, ‘SIX’ will be published on March 4th as trade paperback and digital, the mass-market paperback released in August. The story begins when successful criminal defence lawyer, Jon Shaw, comes face to face with, Danny Hallam, the man he tried to murder twenty-five years ago. To find out why, how and what, you’ll need to grab a copy!

Meanwhile, Apple audio has released ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ with Ben Onwukwe’s deliciously deadly voice capturing Hex perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Hex, he’s a hitman turned good guy who, in ‘A Deadly Trade’ becomes embroiled in uncovering a criminal conspiracy involving biological weapons. In short, it’s a tale of espionage meets action adventure. In ‘Final Target,’ Hex discovers that the past is not so easily left behind and is quickly pulled back into the game by glamorous, MI5 intelligence officer, Inger McCallen, with an operation in Berlin. It contains all the typical Hex trademarks: high body count, intrigue, and highly intelligent women.

I need no excuse to binge-watch, but the pandemic has made my love affair with the small screen more respectable. How I missed ‘The Americans’ when it first came out, I have absolutely no idea. A spy thriller set in 1980’s America, it follows the story of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB deep cover intelligence officers, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who pose as an all American couple. Both sides of the spy divide are brilliantly explored when an FBI agent, Stan Beeman, specialising in counter-terrorism, moves in opposite (played by Noah Emmerich). Characterisation is superb, surpassed only by the acting. Frank Langella puts in a compelling performance as ‘Gabriel’, the Jennings’s handler. Plot lines are authentic and dramatic. Again, it’s a series I may well return to at a later date.

I have a small number of CD’s bought from buskers around the country. A few years ago we were passing through Chester. Walking down the main drag, the haunting sounds of a violinst playing ‘Schindler’s List’ stopped us dead. We were not alone. Quite a number of people had stopped to listen to what turned out to be a sublime set of film scores. The man playing was none other than Phillip Chidell, a highly regarded musician and one time child prodigy, although we didn’t know it at the time. For some reason our CD was added to our collection but never opened until this Christmas when we were hunting around for something a little different to play. And what a treat. Production values are superb – not something that can always be said when you buy work ‘off the pavement’. If you love film music or you simply love to hear a musician playing at the top of his game, go out and buy. Shakespeare had a point when he said that ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

Lastly, and continuing with a music theme, remember Conchita Wurst – and her Eurovision Song Entry, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix?’ Well, I was given the sheet piano music for the song at Christmas. For those who don’t know it it’s a big gutsy power piece about hope and optimism. If I’m feeling glum, I take to the keys and belt it out. If not cheerful before, I certainly am after.

DARK AND DIRTY

‘Dark and dirty’ appears to sum up my viewing and reading over the past couple of months. A huge fan of Gerald Seymour’s work, (as I’ve said many times before) ‘Beyond Recall’ was utterly outstanding for its brilliant characterisation, hard-hitting storyline – a massacre in Syria instigated and carried out under the watchful eye of a senior Russian soldier – and its unusually poignant, upbeat ending. (Not something Seymour is particularly noted for). This time, Seymour’s main protagonist, Gaz Baldwin, is a ‘watcher’.  Witnessing an atrocity breaks Gaz mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Scratching out a life of sorts on the Orkney Isles, Gaz is recalled to service when the Russian officer responsible is spotted in Murmansk. It’s down to Gaz to identify him. Seems simple enough? But, of course, things do not go according to plan. It’s crammed with all Seymour’s trademark literary attributes, but, for me, this went beyond. Not only is it a story about love and loyalty, it reveals the price paid by those invested in protecting us. When old ways are abandoned by the ‘higher-ups’ in pursuit of the narrow and new, the heavy stench of betrayal clings to every page.

Similarly, in the first season of ‘Deep State,’ former MI6 field officer, Max Easton (played by Mark Strong) is reluctantly lured back into service.  This isn’t simply a story about an intelligence operation gone wrong; it’s about the difficulty of leading a lonely double life and the price paid by a spy’s nearest and dearest. Things turn very sour and quickly when everyone Max knows and loves, specifically his new wife and young family, is threatened.

Having got the ‘Strong bug,’ I was delighted to come across ‘Low Winter Sun.’ With a fabulous cast, including a mesmerising Lenny James, this is a ‘grab you by the throat’ thriller of police corruption and utter mayhem. Set in Minnesota against a backdrop of hard drinking, prostitution and drug dealing, there are definite shades of ‘The Wire’ to be found. As for the ending, it’s all too horribly real and credible. Loved it.

I thrill when discovering new writers and Michael Farris Smith is no exception. I read ‘Desperation Road,’ long listed for a CWA Gold Dagger Award, in a couple of days. The clue to the story is in the title. Farris Smith writes about individuals caught up in the grimmest circumstances, often through no fault of their own, with heart breaking honesty. At first, I wondered how his disparate cast of characters were going to connect and then, with some deft plotting, their roads cross and wonderfully collide to create the most dramatic and emotionally literate of storylines. Writing is to die for and, at times, I was reminded of John Hart and Dennis Lehane. You can literally feel the heat of the deep South enveloping you as you read. Revenge and redemption are my favourite themes. They don’t disappoint here. 

FABULOUS BOOKS AND FILM

With coronavirus and floods, (and locusts plaguing Pakistan and parts of Africa), February has been a dismal month. But, on the reading and dramatic front, there has been no shortage of talent to shout about.

‘The Split’ led me to four straight hours of binge watching. Written by the brilliant Abi Morgan, it features a family of sisters who are divorce lawyers. The narrative follows them through the trials and tribulations of their professional and personal lives. For anyone who has had the misfortune to go through divorce, it will ring true; the script never puts a foot wrong. Acting is superb, with a strong cast that includes Nicola Morgan, Stephen Mangan and Deborah Findlay. Watch out for the genius scene in which a warring couple bellow at each other, but with the sound turned off. No need for words when their faces say it all. Be advised to have a box of tissues ready for the finale.

Late to the party, I read M.W. Craven’s rather brilliant ‘The Puppet Show.’ I loved this on so many levels. It’s dark. It’s brutal. But Craven’s original characters, in Poe and Tilly, lighten the load. It’s a totally worthy and deserving winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award 2019. Published by Constable.

Next up, another author, Gerard O’ Donovan’s ‘The Doom List.’ Old style Hollywood glamour combined with blackmail and historical, larger than life characters, what’s not to like? I loved Tom Collins, a former cop turned PI and, naturally, of Irish descent. He’s the perfect fixer to the stars and those in a tight spot. If you want to disappear into the 1920’s, without mobiles or computers, this comes highly recommended. Published by Severn House.

Former Chief Superintendent, Graham Bartlett, has written a first-hand account of the investigation into the murders of two little girls in 1986, with best selling author, Peter James. Providing dramatic insight into the mechanics of a murder investigation, it also highlights the dogged pursuit of the police to bring a killer to justice. Published by Pan.

I had the pleasure of working with James Ellson on his novel, ‘The Trail,’ although he needed absolutely no help when it came to police procedure, as he’s a former serving police officer with Greater Manchester. Featuring beekeeper DCI Rick Castle, a missing person enquiry leads him to Nepal. What seems straightforward is anything but and Castle is faced with an unenviable moral decision. Published by Unbound Digital.

On the film front, check out ‘Hostiles’. Hands up, apart from some stunning exceptions, I’m not a massive fan of Westerns. (Perversely, I rather enjoy Western novels, notably stunners like ‘Nunslinger’ by Stark Holborn). Anyway, my other half strong-armed me to give it a go. I’m so glad he did. Cinematography is sensational, creating a picture of beautiful landscape at odds with the raw savagery that takes place within it. If you can get past the deeply upsetting inciting incident, brilliantly conveyed by Rosamund Pike when her entire family is wiped out by Rattlesnake Indians (a psychotic tribe despised by other tribes) then you are in for a powerful and thought-provoking piece of drama. There are no good guys versus bad guys. Through Christian Bale’s character, (he plays a captain tasked to take an old dying chief back to his homeland in Montana) we witness a dramatic and emotional change in his once deeply held beliefs about the enemy. It’s the kind of story that stays with you long after the credits have rolled, and comes very highly recommended.

Finally, Orion released the e-book and audio of Neon by G S Locke, the paperback to follow in July. The cover alone is enough to whet a reader’s appetite. If you’re looking for a serial killer thriller set in Birmingham, with an antagonist who writes his signature in lights, this could be just the story for you.

DISPATCHES FROM THE WRITING SHED

This blog post should really be called ‘Vive la France’ because there’s a whole French thing going on, starting with the French cop drama ‘Spiral,’ which returned to our screens with a seventh season this month. It seemed grittier and more gripping (not easy to say) than ever. If you haven’t already caught it, I urge you to do so. The characters leap off the screen and the plot lines are always varied, twisty and compelling.

As mentioned last time, ‘The Nazi Hunters’ by Damien Lewis was next on my reading list. As the title suggests the story is about a secret SAS unit and the quest to track down Hitler’s war criminals, many of which had flouted the Geneva Convention and executed captured SAS soldiers. But this is not simply a tale of ‘derring-do’. The extraordinary courage and heroism shown by the French who did so much to protect the British during the invasion and occupation of their country is astonishing – and for which they paid an extraordinarily heavy price. Of some 1,000 villagers in Moussey and its surrounding valley, who were seized and shipped off to concentration camps, 661 would never return. It’s a sobering tale but it’s also one that leaves you with the conviction that, whatever madness and cruelty is inflicted, good people will always triumph.

In my last blog post, I promised to give you a little more information about my brief (very brief) foray into TV. In November, I’m appearing in ‘Everything is Connected – George Eliot’s life,’ a new Arena documentary directed by artist Gillian Wearing on BBC 4. Transmission time has yet to be revealed so my lips are sealed, especially as I have absolutely no idea how much of my participation will actually translate to screen. More anon.

Other than this, I’ve been flat out writing, which is why this post is so brief. However, attending an art exhibition in a church some weeks ago, we glanced up and spotted the order of hymns. 007, huh? Surprising ‘The Saint’ didn’t put in an appearance!

CLIMB ABOARD THE MAGIC CARPET

Most writers feel a bit odd after writing the last page of a novel before sending the finished draft to an agent. Yes, there will be edits and revisions but, essentially, the story crafted over many months is down ‘on paper’. I’m no exception. Last Friday, I felt strangely lost, vaguely unwell and tired. So the perfect antidote was to climb on board the magic carpet and lose myself in a good book.  ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories by Sarah Vincent was my magical destination.

One reviewer described the collection as magic-realism. It’s apt because each story, although set in domestic reality; definitely has a touch of the fairy tale about it. Take ‘Esmerelda’ and a husband ‘who knew what he wanted’ – in a new wife, to be specific. Never has the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ proved more apposite. Sexual politics is also at play in ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ and ‘Manipura’ for Vincent is the mistress of describing the lot of unfulfilled (usually middle-aged) women. Her stories give these hard done-by, aspirational individuals a voice and usually an escape route to freedom. Written with great humour and incredibly stylish prose, in which animal imagery abounds, these stories are little gems of characterisation and insight. ‘Think Big’, is a poignant portrait of gruesomely overweight Effie Fisher looking for love. The creep factor is high in ‘The Centipede’ and ‘The Last To Leave’. Linda, the psychic waitress in ‘The Perambulator’ is cursed by her ‘gift’ so that she sees things most of us would run a mile from.

And yes, there’s mention of astral cortex’s, reincarnation, difficult energies, Tarot, wishing wells, and spiritual worlds that might seem strange and foreign to some. Therein lies the charm of these tales.  However cynical or ‘grounded’ you might be, I guarantee you will not fail to be entranced by Vincent’s literary sorcery.

These are not stories with closed happy endings. Rather, they leave you thinking crikey, what happens next? If I have one big criticism, eight stories are not enough.

Available from Amazon.co.uk it’s a steal at £3.99

PROMISES, PROMISES…

I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…

 

 

 

 

SING SOPRANO

I have absolutely no idea how or why I missed ‘The Sopranos’ first time around, although a second marriage and five kids (my stock excuse) might have had a bearing.   As the saying goes, ‘better late than never’ and all the more poignant because James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano so convincingly, is very sadly no longer with us.

So it was with a sense of fevered anticipation that we prepared to devour 4,567 minutes or seventy-seven hours worth of viewing. And, my goodness, was it worth it. I can now see how ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’ were spawned, both fabulously addictive series.

But back to David Chase’s ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s not easy to encapsulate six seasons, except to say that, as complex and credible characterisation goes, it doesn’t get much better. At various times, I hated Tony Soprano, top-dog crime lord. I hated his nephew Christopher, played fabulously by Michael Imperioli, I wanted to scream at the screen when ‘Sill’ dispatched Christopher’s girlfriend, Adriana. I loathed Pauli, one of Tony’s henchmen for his racism and mindless ruthlessness, and yet, at other times, I warmed to them, pitied them, found them endlessly amusing. If you could chart my emotions running through the entire series, the graph would dip deep, climb a bit, drop a bit, and soar, only to return to the bottom when character after character, to my mind, got their own kind of karma in spades. In many ways, my emotional journey with Tony Soprano mimicked that of his shrink, played with great style and class by Lorraine Bracco. Even she, in the end, realised that she was dealing with a self-serving sociopath as adept at manipulating her as his enemies and cronies.

Through it all, family was the glue that held it together, and I’m not just talking about ‘our thing’.   This is where the wives, girlfriends and widows played their greatest role. They saw the kids through school and advised on career choices, cooked huge dinners, ensured the refrigerator, (which had a minor part all its own in the Soprano household) was full, took care of their husbands’ every need while, on a personal level knowing said husband was banging some broad.  They did it all, while also knowing on an unpalatable, secondary level that the only reason they were able to live in style, eat out, holiday as and when, receive expensive gifts of jewellery and clothing, was because it came from ill-gotten gains and murder.   In spite of it, I found it hard not to feel respect for Carmella Soprano, played superbly by Edie Falco, for treading a fine path through the mayhem.

And the final climactic scene in the diner about which there has been much debate? Yes, I was reminded of The Godfather when Michael Corleone heads for ‘the john’ to pick up a gun. The man who casually glances across at the Soprano family definitely pricked my foe-detector. From a visual perspective, Hopper’s famous painting ‘Nighthawks’ sprang to mind. The final moment was not so much fade out as pitch black, indicating, for me, that Tony Soprano died as he lived. But what do I know?

A strong test of a series is the length of time it stays with you afterwards. I reckon this will take a long while to fade. In a lighter aside, I’m now in danger of asking any visitor to the house: ‘Do you want corfee?’ in that wonderful Noo Joirsey accent.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

I am a huge fan of John Hart’s novels. If my house were burning down, ‘The King of Lies’ would be snatched from the flames. As we’re in Oscar winning mode, I’d definitely hand Hart a trophy.   Yes, I admire his work that much, which is why I picked up ‘Down River’.

‘Down River’ features Adam Chase, a young man exiled for a murder he didn’t commit. His stepmother, who originally testified against him, has very different ideas, and when Chase returns home, predictably, he isn’t made to feel that welcome. Especially as, no sooner than he touches base, the body count coincidentally rises.

These are the bare bones of the novel and you’ll have to get hold of a copy to find out what transpires but suffice to say, that, in common with much of Hart’s work, this is a story about family, betrayal, human frailty and unrequited love.

As Hart himself says, family provides a rich hunting ground for the writer. For it’s within the close confines of family that the greatest pain is inflicted and received, and the scope for treachery and double-cross boundless. In this regard, I was reminded of Phillip Larkin’s famous quote about what your mum and dad do to you: ‘They f***k you up…’ Hart’s complex characterisation and his portrayal of destructive family dynamics is observed with such acuity and depth of psychological insight, I was pretty convinced that he must have endured a troubled childhood. However, after reading Acknowledgements, I’m glad to flag up that Hart’s mum and dad, to whom he pays tribute, are wonderful, as are his in-laws, wife and children. It exemplifies even more strongly, if that’s possible, what a fine writer he is.

And it’s not just about the compelling nature of his storytelling. Hart is one of those rare writers whose sentences I’ll often read at least twice. Beautifully constructed, sometimes spare, his prose conveys how someone really feels about a situation, how someone would genuinely react. There is no artifice, no false emotion to suit the requirements of plot. Master of the complex up/down ending, there is nothing cosy or false about his final scenes.   Apart from encouraging any reader to buy John Hart’s books, I have one final word on the subject: Sublime.

‘Down River’ is published by John Murray

HUSH MY MOUTH!

First off, apologies for my spelling malfunction yesterday when referring to Ben Whishaw – what was I thinking?!  Clearly, not thinking at all.

Moving swiftly on, you may remember I gabbed on about the pure brilliance of London Spy and stand by my comments about superb acting and Ben Whishaw’s outstanding performance.  Masterful storytelling was a hallmark of the series until midway through the finale in which I skidded to a dirty great halt.

It’s common knowledge that, if the big climactic scene, the one the audience has waited hours for doesn’t deliver, the preceding story is screwed.  I wouldn’t go this far because it would be grossly unfair.  There were plenty of big revelations to sustain attention, and the way in which Danny’s every effort to reveal the truth was thwarted with chilling ease ratcheted tension to fever pitch, but the fact that, in the final analysis, there were more questions than answers says a lot.

Who were all those people holed up in Alex’s attic with listening devices and cameras?  I assumed that they were intelligence officers carrying out a dastardly form of torture that would give the most deranged terrorist a run for his or her money.  (As a claustrophobe, there was one point when I almost ran out of the room screaming).  Why, instead, wasn’t Alex offered a deal from the lonely bowels of an interrogation room in SIS HQ?  If he refused, why wasn’t he let go and left to the tender mercies of a ‘Wet’ team?  Why was Charlotte Rampling, Alex’s alleged mother, dragged in to reason with Alex in his dying moments when the intelligence service thought so little of her?  Why on earth did she throw her hand in with Danny in a doomed endeavour in the final seconds of the episode when previously she had so stoutly defended her position?

If I were Tom Rob Smith, I’d be tempted to respond with the ultimate put-down:  his novels have sold in millions and been made into a film.  Precisely, but that’s why I expected so much more.