Archive for January, 2008

Spence at the Blue Bazaar by Michael Allen and Counter-Coup

January 21, 2008

This is another Spence mystery, which we have thoroughly enjoyed.  Detective Chief Superintendent Ben Spence is one of those gentlemen detectives, quite unlike the modern type that needs to swig bottles of whisky, speak and act rough, and be unable to keep up a relationship with a woman.  No, Spence is a good old fashioned detective and it is a mysterious, but very nasty murder that he is solving.  The dialogue is well-written, and believable.  The settings are well-described and the descriptive material, putting the reader right on the spot, brings a reality to each scene that carries the story along towards the final shocking revelation.  A brutal torture and murder of an exotic dancer, two unsolved nasty murders — one of a young boy — a quiet English village, a surprisingly  smart nightclub, blackmail and guilty secrets, all add up to a fast-moving drama.  We look forward to our next Michael Allen’s Spence mystery.                                                                                                                        

And Now: Counter-Coup by Michael Bradford (Michael Allen) An old title maybe (1980) but relevant today.  This book has everything — suspense, thrills, horror and even good dollops of sex to liven up the most jaded of appetites. What a page turner! Not much work done these past few days, I can tell you. Of course, reading aloud is much slower and that simply heightens tension.  Bradford (aka Allen) brings mere words to life and the descriptive material is such that I can close my eyes and see it all happening before me — scary stuff too! A peaceful African State suddenly slides into chaos with intense savagery as a bloody coup threatens to wipe out democratic rule.  Fortunately, The State of Balembi is blessed with a newly recruited Security Advisor — Philip Morgan — who, with acts of derring do and hard-earned skills, fights for the restoration of the legitimate government with its elected President.  A beautiful and brave woman doctor provides the inevitable sexual tension, and savage baddies add to nail-biting drama.  Odd niggles —unnecessary  repetition of names and rather small print — do not deflect from Counter-Coup being a jolly good story.  An old title maybe, but well worth seeking out.   

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Payment for a sin — another short story by Gladys Hobson

January 20, 2008

“Anyone there?”

            No answer, so what the ’ell were the chancel lights doing on?

            “Huh!” she said, locking the door of the west porch behind her and waddling up the centre aisle. “If I’d left them on there’d be the Devil to pay.”

            Chuntering to herself, Doris made her way to the vestry, switched on the nave lights and took the vacuum cleaner and dusters from a corner cupboard.

            “They’ve ‘ad the kids in again,” she grumbled when she saw the state of the floor near the outside door. “Blooming mud and rubbish all over the place. What the ’ell are these nails doin’ ’ere?” She looked around the floor. “Whackin’ big hammer, and what’s this? Looks like a stapler. God knows what’s been goin’ on.”

            She tossed the offending equipment inside the cupboard. “Vicar can sort it out. Must be somethin’ to do with Lent… God knows what.”

            There was a tap on a window. Something shaped like a head draped with a sheet was being waved about outside.

            “Flippin’ kids; always tryin’ to scare me.”

            She raised her fist in the direction of the vestry window.

            “Bugger off!”

            She took off her coat and was about to hang it over the vicar’s surplice on a hook near the door: “Huh, that could do with a wash. And what’s ’is clothes doin’ dumped on the floor? Vicar’s wives aren’t what they used to be: too busy doin’ their own thing. Mind you, Vicar’s no better. I don’t know… church’s goin’ to the dogs.”

            Putting the offending clothes over a chair, she threw her coat inside the cupboard and took out a broom. Pulling on a wrap-around pinny, she swept the mud into a pile and left it until she could sweep it outside. Then she noticed the vestry key was in the lock.

            “Good ’eavens, the door’s unlocked. Must ’ave been open all night. Huh! No wonder the place is in a mess.”

            Opening the vestry door wide, she swept the mud outside. In the churchyard, the kids were playing with their skateboards — footing them along the steep paths, leaping on and off the fallen gravestones.

            “No respect for the dead. They need their ’ides tanning,” she muttered, waving her broom at them. Sighing and shaking her head in disbelief at the antics of modern youth she hurried back inside, locking the door behind her.

            She dragged the vacuum cleaner out of the vestry into the nave.

            “Funeral in less than an hour, Lent service this afternoon… what the ’ell do we need that for? Vicar’s a right killjoy. Can’t even eat a bit of chocolate without feeling guilty. Oh well, got to get cracking.”

            Muffled noises echoed around the church. The hairs on her arms stiffened and her heart rate zoomed. “Don’t be stupid,” she told herself, “It’s that coffin sitting in the side chapel that’s spooking you. Get the job done and get out.”

            A thought struck her. Suppose the coffin’s occupant is still alive?

            “Huh! Imagination running riot again, Doris. Time you gave this job up, you’ll be seeing ghosts next!”

            Starting from the back of the church, she plugged in the cleaner and began her work… another half hour and the vicar would be arriving. She began singing “Abide with me.”

            Just outside the side chapel she found empty beer bottles strewn around.

            “My goodness! No respect for the dead these days. Mourners drinking beer last night? Celebrating their in’eritance? Huh! No business comin’ in the church and leavin’ the vestry door unlocked. I don’t know, whatever next?”

            She trotted off to the vestry for a black plastic sack.

            “More work to do. The vicar will be here any minute. Better not be in one of ’is moods.”

            She started picking up the bottles. Muffled moans sounded from the side chapel just behind her. Fear immobilised her body. Bottles dropped from her hands with a crash. Icy fingers gripped her heart, stiff pimples covered her flesh, her hair uncurled and stood on end.

            She forced herself to move. She was being stupid again: it was just kids messing about, the central heating playing tricks, timbers shrinking, or….

            Slowly she turned to face the coffin.

            “Is there anyone there?” she croaked, unable to think what else to say.

            The coffin lay still and silent on its trestle in front of her. The only movement coming from the single spray of red roses resting on the lid — petals were dropping like tears of blood to the floor below. Her heart began to slow its rapid pace. She sighed with relief. “Silly woman, Doris.”

            Suddenly the sound came again… much louder this time.

            Her eyes darted to her left. Her mouth opened in a scream, but nothing came out. Paralysed to the spot her gaze was held captive by the vision before her.

            Sitting naked in front of the chapel altar, his hands nailed cruciform to the altar frame, and his feet nailed to the floor below the step on which he sat was the Reverend Donald Charles Geoffrey Bloom — Father Don, as he preferred to be called. His bloodshot eyes were wild with fear and pain. Muffled grunts were vibrating the plastic tape sealing his mouth.

            Grey ash of penitence was drifting over his head, down his face, over his body and onto the sanctuary carpet. On a board resting on a piece of sacking stapled between his legs, was written:

“I AM A SINNER”

            Even through the haze of her shocked brain, Doris remembered the village gossip about the vicar and the treasurer’s wife. Her eyes turned towards the coffin. Elizabeth Jones had died — or so it was rumoured — of a self-administered abortion. She looked again at her suffering vicar and nodded her head in understanding.

            She turned and picked up the broken glass. How silly of her to think the body in the coffin was alive. Mrs Jones was dead all right: there’d been a post-mortem. Poor old Mr Jones was a very distraught man. Well, no man likes to be cuckolded — it’s against ’is dignity. And to end up a widower as well. “Dear, oh, dear…

            “Change and decay…” she sang to no one in particular.

            She stopped and picked up a small card.

            “Now what’s this?”

THOMAS DREADNOUGHT JONES.

DEBT COLLECTOR.

PERSONAL ATTENTION

SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.

           

She dropped the card into the sack. “What’s ’is card doin’ ’ere?”

            She dragged the sack to the vestry. “Better get on, the funeral will start soon… ’ope Vicar’s ready in time.”

            She took a last look at the side chapel.

            “I don’t know, the lengths folk go to at Lent — ash on ’eads, fasting, flagellation and now… this! Why can’t Vicar give up sweets like the rest of us? Well, I’m not cleaning that lot up.”

            “’Elp of the ’elpless……………….” 

 

James Patterson’s Black Market

January 15, 2008

We have just finished reading the above book. Patterson has done some very impressive research which, along with his writing to keep up thrills and tension right to the end,  adds up to a jolly good book. His ability to change style for us to get into the mind of a child in a most believable manner, I thought was brilliant, especially near the end when a crucial scene on which a satisfactory denouement evolved, was played out.  Tough, cruel guys, and beautiful women all play their part. Intrigue, betrayal and deception on an unimaginable scale, is made believable through clever writing.  We thought perhaps there was a bit of unnecessary detail in places, which added up to ‘padding’ and lengthened the book unnecessarily. It took a long time to read it (aloud) otherwise we were highly satisfied. You want to know what it is about? Well read it, or look it up on the Internet.

The Joys of Teaching

January 14, 2008

The joys of teaching

 

They come in the night, and daytime too —

Dreams and nightmares of many a hue.

We shake them off with laughter jolly

But most of the time we’re off our trolley!

In confident voice we teach what we know

And try to hide what we don’t want to show.

 

We stand at the front and spout the lesson

And hope to be able to last the session.

Some kids are angels and want to learn,

But there’s also those who are ready to spurn —

All that is taught, but still is our hope

That none of the kids will end up a dope.

 

We sit in our chair and read out the names

Of all our pupils ready for games —

Not the sort you play with bat and ball

But who’s to win and who’s to fall

In the battle of wits they play with their teacher —

Jim’s taunting of Miss is a favourite feature.

 

At least terms are short and holidays long,

And sometimes surprises come rolling along.

Young Jimmy is offered a place at Oxford

And Marlene is nursing in USA Botsford.

Some are employed, most are at college,

And not one is inside — eating their porridge!

Short story — Sweet Samantha

January 14, 2008

Sweet Samantha

 

 

‘Of course, it’s an old debate. Environment obviously makes a difference to any child, but I believe evil is in the genes. There is a beast in every man. “Nature red in tooth and claw”. Primitive man had to fight for survival; some of our kids can’t kick the habit. No use appealing to their better nature — they don’t have one!’

            ‘Nonsense!’ I snapped; my flagrant disregard of courtesy towards my superior surprising even me. No-one, but no-one, argues with the headmaster Justin Rudge, especially a probationary teacher.

             Mrs Jones, sitting in the only comfortable chair in the staff room, looked up from marking books to register wide-eyed astonishment. Woodbasher Biggs, sniggering with amusement, flicked cigarette ash over his stained jeans. Jean Lowden, about to switch on the electric fire, paused — her bum comically raised — to stare in shocked disbelief. Brad Little, sipping his coffee, suddenly choked and ignominiously dribbled liquid over his smart designer shirt.

            The hiatus was broken by a tap on the door.

            ‘Damn!’ the headmaster barked. ‘That will be Johnson. I have to go now.’ He looked me in the eye. ‘We will continue this conversation some other time. Be warned, young lady, you have that renegade class 4Z tomorrow morning for biology. Start off soft and you’ll soon regret it.’

            The teachers stared at me with pity written on their faces. No one wanted 4Z for any lesson. I smiled confidently. ‘As long as you keep them interested, they’re all right. Well, they never give me any trouble.’

            Of course, it was all bravado. My greatest fear was to have a class beyond control. So far, so good. But then I usually had 4Z for art. Tomorrow I was filling in for Justine Rudge. I had been instructed to teach 4Z the facts of life!

 

 

‘They’re out of control. I must not panic — keep calm — keep calm,’ I told myself.

            I tried to sound authoritative:

            ‘Samantha, sit down this minute!’

            Samantha ignored me and continued dancing on the table. The girls started singing a strippers tune: ‘Lah-lah lah, lah. De-de dah, dah, dah…’

            ‘Silence!’ I yelled.

             Wild-eyed boys began clapping and shouting in rhythmic chorus: ‘Take them off! Take them off!’

            Effecting coolness, I walked from my desk to the table.

            ‘Get down at once!’ I bellowed above the noise.

            In response, Samantha flung off her jumper and started unbuttoning her blouse. The boys whooped and chanted even louder; ‘Take them off! Take them off!’

            Heart thumping in my chest; sweat beading my brow, I looked around the room for a sensible child. I grabbed hold of Jeffrey Green.

            ‘Jeffrey, fetch Mr Smith at once.’ Smith was the deputy head.

            Jeffrey bit his lip and looked at the boys nervously. Half a dozen of them were glaring at him. ‘I’d rather not, Miss Langton.’

            The little terrorists mimicked him; ‘I’d rather not, Miss Pangy-Langy!’

            Emma Brown grabbed Jeffrey’s arm.

            ‘Frightened of missing something, Jeff? Come on, Fresh Jeff, get on the table with Sam.’

            The whoops, clapping and singing grew louder. Jeffrey, against his will, was hoisted on to the table. Samantha, now down to her bra, began undressing the poor boy. Jeffrey struggled but the boys held him down as Samantha removed his trousers. Whistles and shouts filled the air. Jeffrey’s pants and Samantha’s bra flew across the room.

            I tried to pull the kids away from their table platform.

             ‘Stop! Stop!’ I yelled.

            Jeffrey’s screams could be heard above the shouting and whooping — what were they doing to him?

            ‘Sit down at once,’ I shrieked, pain gripping my chest.

            I dragged away one of the girls but another took her place. I kept pulling and dragging but I could not get to Jeffrey. They had sniffed the scent of fear and were out for a killing. Nature red in tooth and claw, they were dancing and dodging, yelling and whooping. Above it all, Jeffrey’s screams and moans told me that devilish things were being done to him. I was impotent and useless. I tried to reach the door to get help but clawing hands held me back.

            The pain in my chest grew unbearable. I couldn’t breath. Panic seized me. ‘Got to get out, got to get out, got to…’

 

 

As usual, I woke up trembling and sweating — wet through, pain in my head, heart racing — my mind trying to make sense of my dream and work out a successful conclusion. But why worry? It could never happen; I’m always in control of my class — always.

            ‘Ah, awake at last. Good. You have a young visitor, Miss Langton.’

            I opened my eyes. A nurse was standing by my bed. A nurse? Where was I? A hospital? Why on earth was I…

             A familiar voice sounded the other side of my bed.

            ‘Hello, Miss Langton, I’ve come to see you.’

            I turned my head. A hand, fingers tipped blood-red, was placing a spray of wild flowers on my chest: forget-me-nots, foxgloves and a profusion of deadly nightshade.

            Samantha, her violet eyes big and innocent, her white teeth smudged with red lipstick, smiled tenderly.

            ‘I picked them specially for you, Miss Langton. Flowers speak more than words, don’t you think?’

            ‘What pretty flowers,’ the nurse said. ‘I’ll get a vase. My goodness, what a sweet-natured child.’

            Samantha watched her go and then bent over the bed to whisper in my ear:

            ‘We told Mr Rudge you had allowed us to demonstrate the facts of life. He wasn’t very pleased.’

            ‘You did what!’

            My head started swimming again. I was caught in a whirlpool and it was dragging me under…under…under…

 

 

Something cold was being placed to my lips. I opened my eyes. Emma Brown was holding a glass of water for me to drink. A man’s voice was speaking:

            ‘Good job Emma came for me, you’ve had a right turn.’

            It was Woodbasher Biggs standing over me, his silly grin belying his sympathetic stance.

            ‘Don’t know what you were teaching them but they seemed to enjoy it. Facts of life was it?’ His grin grew bigger. ‘I could hear them from the woodwork room — don’t worry, we had a lot of banging going on too!’

 

Spence in Petal Park by Michael Allen

January 2, 2008

This is the first of Michael Allen’s Mystery/Crime stories we have read. After reading Colin Forbes book “Blood Storm” Allen’s book was sheer delight. Murder, blackmail, seduction build up an intriguing crime for Det. Sup. Spence to solve. There are plenty of suspects, after all, the victim is a rich young man with a shady life-style. He’s involved in dubious business practices and has too much interest in the pupils at the local private school for girls. Love and hate for the dead man, are woven into an intriguing picture of how the victim lived before meeting his brutal death.All the characters are believable and not OTT, which is what I like. Any of the suspects had good reason to kill the man but I have to admit, I failed to guess the culprit.My husband’s comment,  “A good mystery, and reads well.” As an afterthought, he added, “In a few places, repetition of names within paragraphs was annoying.” (You notice this more when reading aloud.)Well, we are both looking forward to another Spence novel by Michael Allen. (And we have two more to read.)   

Short story — Sting in the Tale

January 2, 2008

A Sting In The Tale.

 

‘I’m sorry, he’s gone.’

What the hell does he mean ‘He’s gone?’

            ‘I’m right here, mate. Can’t you see me?’

            My wife is wailing. ‘Oh Tom, Tom, why have you left me?’

            ‘Shut up, woman. I haven’t left anyone. I only left my bed for a pee.’

            Can’t she hear or see me either? Damn it, I’m standing next to the bloody doctor! Wait a minute. Who is that in my hospital bed? Good heavens, he’s a pale faced impostor as dead as a doornail.

            ‘It’s okay, Judy. He’s not me. Don’t know what that devil’s doing in my bed. You can’t even go to the loo without someone leaping under your sheets and playing the fool.

            ‘Get out! Do you hear me? Get out of my bed. I was here first — find your own bloody plot to die in.’

            Wait a minute. Why are they ignoring me? Why can’t they see me?

            ‘He was an old devil but I loved him.’

            What’s that? My Judy loved that old geyser occupying my bed? Huh! Wait till I get her home. She’ll be sorry, don’t you fret.

            ‘Mrs Lincoln, there is something I need to ask you?’

            ‘I know what you are going to say, doctor. You want my husband’s body for experiments. Not much good for anything else. You take him with pleasure. Save me funeral expenses.’

            Wait a minute, who is that in my bed? I think I’m getting the bloody picture.

            ‘Hey, you lot, I might be having a bit of a wander from my body, but I’m still here, you know. Don’t you dare start chopping me up. I’ll sue the bloody lot of you. Hey, don’t wheel me off, I’ve got to get back inside before you get your knives out.’

            Hell, I sure do feel odd. Must stay with it. Must…

 

‘We pulled that off nicely.’

            ‘You’re great, Harry. Better get Mr Lincoln’s heart beating again before his condition becomes permanent.’

            ‘Syringe ready?’

            ‘Ready and waiting. Do you think they will want to see the body again before we commence operations?’

            ‘Push it in just here. What was that, Mary? Oh, I doubt it. We’ll have to knock him out again if that old biddy comes back.’

            What are they saying? Hell, I feel ill. What’s bloody going on?

            ‘How long do you think you can keep him alive, Harry? I mean, once we start rejuvenating his bits and pieces before we remove them? You’ve got that heart operation next week, but his kidneys are needed in a couple of days. His liver will have to be removed same day as his heart. At least his corneas can be frozen if there’s no call for them now. I was hoping to get his scalp. Golly what a mop of hair… make me a lovely wig.’

            What’s going on? Hell, what’s all those bottles hanging up there? They’re going to put all that lot in my arm.

            ‘Help! Help!’ They can’t bloody hear me. No noise coming out of my mouth. Hell, I can’t move either. I must be paralysed. What’s that stuff going into me? I’m bloody scared. Judy! Judy! Judy!’

            ‘Right, Mary. Stay with him while I get the instruments ready in theatre — we can take his scrotum today, I’ve a patient waiting in ward ten. I think we’d better both scrub up. We don’t want infections at this stage of the proceedings.’

            ‘Do you think he’s aware of what’s happening?’

            ‘Maybe, but can’t knock him out a second time or he’ll die on us proper. But don’t worry, Mary, he won’t feel a thing when we cut into him. Right, I’ll just have a word with Mrs Lincoln before we go any further — she’s waiting in Reception — then I’ll get ready with the scalpel.’

            ‘Help! Help! Judy, come and help me. They’re going to bloody cut me up. Where are you, you stupid cow? Get me out of here!’

 

 ‘Mrs Lincoln, you can pick your cheque up at the information desk.’

            ‘Thank you, Dr Harry. I’m getting married again next month. Usual arrangement?’

 

Short stories — Laura’s story

January 2, 2008

Laura’s story.

A healing of the heart

 

It was now the Sunday before Christmas and I still had to prepare for a funeral the following day — Christmas Eve — and organise a Christmas morning service at a daughter church. I had no idea what I was going to preach. All my church activity was mingled with domestic duties associated with the season of goodwill. To make matters worse, because of a stupid dispute with my vicar he was giving orders but refusing to discuss anything that really mattered to me. I was feeling so alone. Was it time to pack it in?

Hurrying home after a busy morning in the church, I looked up at the sky and saw a ray of sunlight pierce the dark clouds to illuminate my path by its radiance. A line from psalm 119 entered my head.

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

I knew that, although I felt so very alone in my ministry, I was not alone — He was with me. All would be well.

One-thirty of the following day I had a very special funeral to conduct at the local crematorium. The deceased was a lady from a residential home where I took services and offered pastoral care. It was special because I had been asked by the bereaved daughter to somehow bring her dead father into the service too. Evidently, a year previously her dad had died and the funeral, as far as the bereaved were concerned, had been a disaster. The family had not recognised the man the minister had spoken about; what’s more, strong words were said about those not keeping the faith. There had been no healing — only more grief. Although the elderly couple had been separated in their last years, they had retained their first-love. Even if there was only one body in the coffin, I was determined that the couple would come together both in the address and in the prayer-with-thanksgiving part of the service.

The following day at 7.45am, I arrived for Morning Prayer as usual. We went through the motions and then drifted off, some home for breakfast, me to the office to get on with odd jobs. The bereaved family was on my mind: I was worried I would let them down. I knew I must have faith that the Holy Spirit would be strong in my weakness, but it seemed I had been wrong about many things. Who was I to promise healing at a funeral service? Who was I to be conducting a funeral in the first place? But all others had gone so very well, wasn’t that proof of my calling to minister to others? I was well prepared, I must simply trust.

Arriving at the crematorium where all the services I had conducted had been appreciated without question, I began feeling better about myself. Soon I was robed and waiting by the door for the mourners to arrive. As the first car pulled up I walked forward to smile in greeting and warmly offer my hand. Within minutes, I was leading the flower-bedecked coffin, followed by mourners, through the open doors and into the chapel.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection, and I am the life…”

And so, forgetting doubts and personal sorrows I assumed the role granted to me by the bishop, and in which I felt so much at home. As we went through the service, I sensed the Spirit’s presence illuminating minds and comforting sad hearts. Then came the last hymn. “Abide with me” is a deeply moving hymn and it is important not to let it drag. I took the lead and sang up; this was not the time for sadness and weeping:

“Where is death’s sting? Where grave thy victory?

I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”

We finally arrived at the Committal. Here, with the following prayers, the much-loved husband of the deceased was again included.

The organ played and I led the adults and children out. Smiles greeted me by the door. The only wet eyes were those of the daughter’s husband.

“Thank you, Mrs Smith. That was truly beautiful, all is now healed.”

 

I too had found an inner healing, an assurance that I was where God wanted me to be.