This will be my last post before Christmas. It doesn’t take a genius to observe that this has been a strange, unsettling, challenging and heart-breaking year for many. Sometimes it has been quite difficult to find a little light relief. During the early part of the pandemic I threw myself into editing. To read simply for pleasure was fairly impossible and, initially, I confess that I spent more time viewing than reading. Inevitably, some films and series were more memorable than others. ‘Carnival Row’ enchanted me. Basically, it’s a noir fantasy with a social conscience, fairies, and a serial killer on the loose. Who thought fairies could be such a blast?! At times you felt as if you were in the ‘Great War’ and at others in Ripper Street, London. Orlando Bloom, an actor I’ve never quite gelled with, proved a revelation as a hard-nosed copper, and Cara Delevingne puts in a fabulous performance as an Irish speaking ‘Faerie.’ Definitely recommend this for a little escapism.

Starring Sophia Loren, in a role that demonstrates what a fine actor she is, and an astonishingly talented Ibrahima Gueye, ‘The Life Ahead’ was, perhaps, my most memorable film of the year. It tells the story of Rosa, a survivor of the Holocaust, who is mugged by an orphaned street kid. Two individuals at the opposite end of the age spectrum share one thing in common: each is pursued by demons from their pasts. The relationship between a spiky old lady and young boy, caught up in the drugs trade, is beautifully conveyed. Utterly realistic, it’s powerful and moving. Completed during the pandemic, it provides a masterclass on great storytelling. Directed by Sophia Loren’s son, Eduardo Ponti, the film is sub-titled. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Once I got cracking with reading, there was no stopping. (I’ve mentioned some books in previous posts.) ‘The Man Who Came Uptown’ by George Pelecanos ticked a big box. The story revolves around three characters: a mild-mannered librarian, Anna, an ex-con, Michael, who attends Anna’s book group, and a private investigator, Phil, who defends Michael. Pelecanos’s prose thrills with quiet tension. He makes the everyday details of a day in a life shine. Each of his characters is caught in a bind, and their problems are those with which we can identify at least on some level. Their worlds touch and collide and then… well, you’ll have to read it to find out what happens.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of spy fiction and, this week, the death of John le Carre (David Cornwell) was announced. When I think of his canon of work, I see it in monochrome. Stripped of glamour, le Carre’s world is grimly authentic. His characters are complex and sophisticated and his stories grown-up and unsparing. ‘Realpolitik’ runs through his work and it’s often not very pretty. Gerald Seymour shares similar attributes and I’m looking forward to his new novel, ‘The Crocodile Hunter,’ which is scheduled for release in February 2021. The shout line is a ‘stay at home’ spook decides to hunt a returning British jihadi. No doubt it will be written with Seymour’s trademark fire and passion. With glee, I spotted Mick Herron has a new novel, ‘Slough House’, to be published around a similar time. Herron is one of those few writers who makes me laugh out loud. And, let’s face it: we could all do with more of that.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading Raynor Winn’s ‘The Salt Path.’ This caught my eye when reading Shane Dunphy’s most recent post on his superb blog, Criminal Leanings. Days after Raynor Winn learns that her husband, Moth, is terminally ill, they lose their home and their livelihood. With extraordinary fortitude, they decide to walk the 630-mile South Coast Path, some of which I’m familiar with. A tale of love and endurance, it felt perfect for this time of year.

As for me, the trade paperback of my novel, ‘SIX,’ is released by Orion in March, with mass-market paperback to follow in August.

So, after a dire year, there is much to be grateful for. My profound hope is that we will all see more light, peace and calm in the world in 2021. Sending a virtual hug to you all in the meantime.