Nadifa Mohamed ‘The Fortune Men’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“The Fortune Men”: In order of reading book number 2.


Mahmood Mattan pushes through the crowd at the bar.
« I said get me another coffee. ». Berlin catches his Trinidadian wife’s waist and steers her towards Mahmood.
« Lou sort this trouble maker another coffee».Image1
Ranged along the bar are many of Tiger Bay’s Somali sailors. They look somewhere between gangsters and dandies in their cravates, pocket chains and trilby hats. Only Mahmood wears a homburg pulled down low over his gaunt face and sad eyes. He is a quiet man always appearing and disappearing silently at the fringes of the sailors or the gamblers or the thieves. Men pull their possessions closer when he is around and keep their eyes on his long elegant fingers.


Nadifa Mohamed takes us on a trip back in time, to Tiger Bay in the early fifties where she draws us a vibrant picture of this area around the docks in Cardiff, and in particular to the Somali sailors washed up on these shores in between ships, or in the case of Mahmood Mattan with wife and children. At the beginning of the book we meet Mattan in Berlin’s milk bar, with a short description which nonetheless gives us a detailed sketch of him as illustrated in the opening quote.

Why were the Somali sailors there in Tiger Bay? Why were sailors of all nationalities there in the early fifties? The answer is obvious but who were these people? It may be difficult to give them names but Nadifa Mohamed brings to life the vibrancy by naming the jobs they filled:


Passing the shops on Bute Street, he finds a few lights still on: at Zussen’s pawnbroker’s where many of his clothes are on hock, at the Cypriot barbershop where he has his hair trimmed and at Volacki’s where he used to buy seafaring kits but now just bags the occasional dress for Laura. The tall grand windows of Cory’s Rest are steamed up, with figures laughing and dancing behind the leaded glass. He peeks his head through the door to check if some of his regulars are there, but the West Indian faces around the snooker table are unfamiliar. He had once belonged to this army of workers pulled in from all over the world, dredged in to replace the thousands of mariners lost in the war: dockers, tallymen, kickers, stevedores, winch men, hatch men, samplers, grain porters, timber porters, tackle men, yard masters, teamers, dock watchmen, needle men, ferrymen, shunters, pilots, tugboatmen, foyboatmen, freshwater men, blacksmiths, jetty clerks, warehousemen, measurers, weighers, dredgermen, lumpers, launch men, lightermen, crane drivers, coal trimmers, and his own battalion, the stokers.


Then to help us understand that immigration isn’t a new thing but is age old, Berlin tells us stories of his own from the beginning of the century, working on the skyscrapers in New York or as an exhibit in the world fair in Germany.

But the story is about a sordid crime, the murder by blade of Violet Volacki the daughter of an Eastern European Jewish father, she runs a shop on Bute street, and also cashes seaman’s cheques. Violet lives with her sister and niece, and one night opens late for a person described as black and is found dead with her throat cut 20 minutes later.

Then begins the search for the killer, a Somali had been seen in Bute street by one witness, Mattan is known to the police for petty larceny and is questioned. Nadifa Mohamed gives us a very credible insight into Mattan’s life, his way of thinking and a possible reason for his not necessarily wanting to tell where he had been.

The story is based on a true life case and the language of his defense lawyer is an eye opener to the level of casual racism at the time.

Yet another excellent choice, a must for the short list!

First Published in English as “The Fortune Men” in 2021 by Viking.

Dolores Redondo ‘The North Face of the Heart’


Alvord Texas
The field in front of the Allen’s house showed little or no signs of the hurricane’s passage.For an observer, the farm seemed to give, at first sight, an impression of absolute normality……Only when you looked at the first floor,the windows, you noticed that the house didn’t have a roof.***


The wheel has turned another year and the Roman de Rochefort is upon us again, this year their are several thrillers in the short list, and as I was away on hols I’ve begun with one of these, The North Face of the Heart. Move over Star Wars, Dolores Redondo has written a prequel to her Baztan trilogy featuring Amaia Salazar which are available on Netflix. In this then her fourth book, Salazar is a young assistent detective sent on a course for international police forces at Quantico, to learn about profiling serial killers, but she is not just another student. The renown, somewhat maverick team leader, Aloisius Dupree, has noticed her before she arrives. We should mention here that she has already, at the age of 25, single handedly caught her first serial killer in her native Basque country at Baztan.

Early on in her training, Dupree seconds Amaia onto his team to look for an active serial killer dubbed “the Composer” who has passed under the radar by killing whole families during natural disasters, he then composes the family members with their heads facing north, to make it seem as if the father has killed the whole family, his wife and three children as well as the children’s grandmother before ending his own life. By profiling the victims, Amaia closes in on the composer, for instance as in the opening quote when she visits the Allen’s farm it seems her profiling may not be right as only the parents and the three children are initially found, but she is sure of herself and finally finds the grandmother who had tried to escape, shot and dragged under the houses missing roof.

Amaia closes in on the “Composer”, sure that it is a Martin Lenx, whose 5 family members had been found dead 18 years earlier, she talks to the photographer who had taken his family picture just before the massacre all those years before and who had recognised the frustration in him that his family were not what he had planned:


Look at Lenx’s mouth. It looks like a notch carved out by an axe. She agreed. It was exactly whhat she had thought on seeing it.
In fourty years of trade, I’ve often seen it, it’s what I call the “syndrome of the bride and the rain”.***


In this story, with team rivalry and loyalty put in question and explored, Dupree leads the down to New Orleans in 2005 ahead of Hurricane Katrina, ostensibly to get ahead of “the Composer”, but Dupree has unfinished business following the previous Hurricane to hit New Orleans, Betsy. From here on in I’m divided, the descriptions of Katrina and what happened are excellent historical reading, for instance that after hurricane Betsy the then mayor had encouraged everyone to have an axe in their attic ready for the next hurricane (to get out of course). However the story of the abductions and the voodoo with Dupree carrying a gris gris left me exasperated.

There is also the story of Amaia’s childhood played in flashback, explaining her sensitivity to evil.

The main story of the search for the serial killer, including the hunt for him in New Orleans was a page turner, Amaias own story in flashback was of interest but the third story of the abductions and voodoo could have been left out shrinking a near 700 page book back to a more reasonable 500 pages.

First Published in Spanish as “La cara norte del corazón” in 2021, in Spain by Booket.
Translated into french by Anne Plantagenet and published as “La face nord du coeur” by Gallimard in 2021.
Translated into english by Michael Meigs and published as “The North Face of the Heart” by Amazon Crossing in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Alvord Texas
Le champ devant la maison des Allen trahissait à peine le passage de l’Ouragan. Pour un obserateur, la ferme pouvait donner, dans un premier temps une impression de normalité absolue…..Seulement quand on regardait l’étage, les fenêtres, on s’apercevait que la maison n’avait pas de toit.

Regardez la bouche de Lenx. On dirait une entaille fait à la hache.
Elle acquiesça. C’était exactement ce qu’elle avait pensé en la voyant.
En quarante ans de Métier, je l’ai souvent observé, c’est ce que j’appelle le “syndrome de la mariée et la pluie”

And The Official winner IS

Quai du Polar 2021: You’ll maybe remember my  Last Post giving the winner of the reader’s prize, (well this reader anyway), so lets see how close the official Jury got:  

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Let’ see then, my winner was … Joseph Incardona “La soustraction des possibles” (Éditions Finitude). This complex story, its construction, and the slightly sarcastic style combine to make this a most enjoyable book.

So How did the “Official Jury” do…….Well they chose:

Patrice Gain “Le Sourire du scorpion“(MOT ET LE RESTE). This uncomfortable story is based on the true life events of a genocidal criminal arrested in Lyon in 2011.

 

Well This was still a very good choice, it would have been my number 2 ……………………but who am I after all?….. Congrats to Patrice Gain.

The Booker international special confinement review

And the Winner is:

Blocked at home thanks to the COVID, I thought: make this an opportunity .

So I’ve read the six shortlisted novels, written articles and debated extensively with myself and here are the conclusions.


The two South American books, very different in style, the poetic self discovery of China Iron contrasts with the crude realism of Hurricane Season but they share themes, poverty, cruelty, escapism through alcohol and drugs and the contrast of machism with homosexuality.


Tyll shares with China Iron taking their sources, the characters of Tyll and China from historical sources and using their stories to tell of the histories of Europe and Argentina.


The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, through a story told, steeped in magic and ghosts , the influence of the Zoastrians, tells us the recent history of Iran and the terrible impact of the revolution and its oppressive regime on the people.


The memory police, is a stripped back yet allegorical story of a future and its past, about an oppressive regime and the faint hope that remains in the people.


And finally, The Discomfort of evening, a painful and disturbing book about the investigation and non acceptance of death in a young adolescent living in a hard line Reform community.


For the strength and depth of the story, re-visiting La Vuelta de Martin Fierro and the birth of Argentina from a new angle, the cruelty of the Hispanics, the instrumentalisation of the Gouchos and the poetic style, The adventures of China Iron is for me a clear winner.

Nancy Huston ‘Fault Lines’


One thing my parents agree on is that no one should hit me, smack me or give me any type of corporal punishment. It’s because they’ve read a lot of books where beaten children become violent parents, abused children become paedophiles and children who have been raped become whores and pimps. So they say that it’s always important to talk and talk and talk, to ask a child why he’s behaving badly and to let him explain before showing him gently how to choose to act in a more appropriate manner next time. Never hit him.***


We met Nancy Huston at a book event in Massy back in 2012 along with Mohamed Kacimi. It only took me two years to read the Kacimi but despite the fact that she had dedicated her book it took me eight years to get around to reading this powerful work. A couple of words on Nancy Huston, she is Canadian and writes in French and English, she also translates her own books, a not so common feat.

Onto the book, Huston tells us the story of a family spanning four generations, it couldn’t span five, and the impact the previous generations have on the next generations, the sudden shifts in the tectonic plates of their family’s history that shakes their life. She tells the story backwards as we see the effects before we learn of the causes. In the four generations there are four narrators, with each narrator being six years old at the time of the events he relates, the story begins then with Sol, a child of the twenty first century living in California who tells us in the opening quotes about his education. The two seismic events in his six year old life are the operation he has to remove a benign birth mark from the temple region of his head and the visit to Munich with his parents, his grand mother and his great grandmother to visit this latest’s sister.

His father Randall’s life is up ended in 1982 when his mother Sadie, a converted Jew insists on taking her family from Manhattan to Haïfa as she pursues her doctorate studies concerning the second world war. His father Aron, did not want to leave Manhattan. Randall  quickly picks up Hebrew and befriends a Palestinian girl at his school, but this is the time of the war in Lebenon and the Sabra and Shatila massacre where the Israeli Defense force at best stood by and did not intevene. These were confusing times for this intelligent six year old who wanted to show his mother, Sadie, that he understood what was happening around him:


I really liked the moment where Samson is so angry with Delilah for her treachery the he pushes apart the columns of the temple until the building colapses killing everybody. “It’s just like the human bombs in Israel at the moment!” I say, proud to show granny that I know a little bit about her country, but she shakes her head as she says: ” No, not at all, it’s really not the same thing at all!”***


We then follow Sadie in 1962, the year she leaves her strict grand parents in Toronto to live with her mother, Kristina, who is on the brink of becoming a famous singer, singing with sounds but not words, In Manhattan. Sadie is a very insecure child partly due to her grandparents who’s favourite dish is “culpability” as Kristina tells her, and Sadie also has a birthmark but on her bottom. Sadie’s life begins to settle into normalness, as she tells us of her sunday mornings spent with her stepfather, Peter, a Jew, in delicatessens. And then one sunday when Peter is away a stranger turns up speaking with a heavy accent and she hears her mother speaking in a foreign language. Her life is blown apart by what happens.

And finally back to Kristina’s story and the sounds without words.

A book about violence barbary and the energy of the narrators despite this, at the age of 6 and after. If you can find it, read it!

First Published in French as “Lignes de Faille” in 2006, in France by Actes Sud
Translated into english by Nancy Huston and published as “Fault Lines” by Black Cat in 2008
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Une chose sur laquelle mes parents sont d’accord, c’est que personne ne doit me taper, me fesser ou m’infliger toute autre forme de châtiment corporel. C’est parce qu’ils ont lu beaucoup de livres où on voit les enfants battus se transformer en parents violents, les enfants abusés en pédophiles et les enfants violés en putes et macs. Alors ils disent que c’est important de toujours parler, parler, parler, demander à l’enfant quelles sont les motivations pour sa mauvaises conduite et le laisser s’expliquer avant de lui montrer, gentiment, comment faire un choix plus approprié la prochaine fois. Ne jamais le frapper.

J’apprécie surtout le moment où Samson est tellement furieux contre Dalila pour sa trahison qu’il pousse les colonnes du temple jusqu’à ce que l’édifice s’écroule sur lui en tuant tout le monde. “C’est comme les bombes humaines en Israël en ce moment!” Je dis, fier de montrer à mamie que je connais un peu son pays, mais elle secoue la tête en disant: “Pas du tout! Ce n’est pas du tout la même chose!”

Juli Zeh ‘Empty Hearts’


“Let me talk to Babak for a minute,” says Britta. “It’s about business.” “No talking, not now. I’m calling to tell you to stay calm. This probably has nothing at all to do with us.” “Didn’t you see that—” “Of course, it’s possible I saw a suicide belt, but I’m not certain. The news reports aren’t clear. Stay calm, spend your evening with your family, don’t log on to the Internet. Everything the same as usual. Okay? We’ll talk tomorrow.” “Okay.” “Until morning, then.”


Juli Zeh enjoys taking quirks or faults in our society, in the relationships between people and pushing them that little bit further such as in my recently reviewed Unterleuten where she takes the suppressed feelings in a village and pushes the people over the edge. Here in Empty Hearts, set in the near future her main idea is at once simple and twisted, as the book begins, Britta is at home with her family and some friends when a foiled terrorist attack takes place at the airport cargo terminal live on TV and Britta has an emotional response that her husband tries to reduce by explanation:


Is it one of your patients?” Richard and the others know that occasionally one of The Bridge’s clients “does something stupid,” as Britta puts it. When that happens, she acts devastated for a couple of days, while the other three strive to console her, assuring her that she bears no guilt, reminding her that her therapeutic success rate is higher than ninety percent. “They’re just people,” Richard usually says in such cases. “You can try to help them, but there’s only so much you can do.”


This is where we understand that Britta has some sort of involvement with people at risk. Her immediate reaction when she then telephones her work partner Babak lets us understand that her involvement in what has happened is far from straightforward as illustrated in the opening quote. We soon understand the basic premise of the book, which is then developed into the story. The Bridge, Britta’s company, has developed software to trace people who are suicide risks and then puts them through a twelve point psychological program to help them back into society, these people are often thankful and make the donations they live from. The Bridge has a near 90% success rate, but what happens to the 10%? These are the Bridges real business as we learn that they are in fact a service company supplying these people to terrorist organisations from which they make considerably more money, the immerged part of the iceberg.

From the initial terrorist action at the start of the book, whose perpetrators were not from the Bridge, Britta’s life begins to spin out of control in this fascinating thriller.

First Published in German as “Leere Herzen” in 2017 by Luchterhand Literaturverlag.
Translated into English by John Cullen and published as “Empty Hearts” in 2017 by Nan A. Talese

Caryl Férey ‘Paz’


“She had begun with the classic sites such as Meetic,and had only met fools. blokes that turned up late or others full of talk that wanted to skip the niceties and get down to business, blowhards, emotionless, husbands paying in cash, machos pretending to be messed up, it was all too weird. img_1978Gradually Diana had gone for Tinder. At least things were clear: a flick of the finger to the right you stay, to the left you’re gone. A straightforward relationship instead of love and a near guarantee to get laid. In her forties she didn’t have time to hang around in bars, her friends were hooked up, or she’d already slept with them, she knew all of their friends and had sworn never to go out with a journalist again.”


Paz is Ferey’s latest Roman noir, set in modern Columbia, and as he explins, scratch anything set in modern day Columbia and you’ll find the past is waiting to erupt. The book begins with mutilated bodies turning up in cities before an election and the police trying to keep the lid on events. The story centres around the Bagader family. Quiet, intense, secret Lautaro the head of the police, his father Saul, the interior minister and his brother Angel, who dissapeared years ago. As the first bodies appear, so badly mutilated, resembling some of the worst events of the terror known as the “Violencia” years earlier as with American money and support, the year’s long “Plan for Colubia” pitched the army against the FARC and also against the drug lords and their militias.

Lautaro, whose wife had died in a FARC bombing and who had then headed up one of the groups fighting the FARC on the ground, and is now head of the police is emotionally damaged goods, one night as usual he brings back a woman chosen from Tinder, “wearing the number 12 shirt” as he refers to her, Diana, from the opening quote. They know nothing about each other, he the head of police and she a commited investigative journalist.

Pressure builds up on Lautaro to end the violence, he doesn’t know if the drug lords or the FARC soldiers who refuse the negotiated peace are responsible for the wave of killings, with some of the bodies appearing to have injuries that suggest that they have been thrown live from planes. He can investigate the drug lords but is unable to appear in the FARC areas of Columbia.

Lautaro decides, without telling his father, to recontact his brother, who we learn had originally dissappeared to fight against the government and had been captured by the special forces. But at the same time Diana manages to track down Angel…….

Setting this intriguing story in Columbia required a great deal of work on the recent history of this country and once again after “Mapucho” or “Zulu”, previous books by Férey this was gripping from start to end and the 500 pages allows a deep dive into the recent history of this country.

First Published in French as “Paz” in 2019 by Gallimard (Série noir)
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Elle avait commencé par les sites classiques, genre Meetic, et n’avait rencontré que des cons. Les types arrivaient en retard, d’aures baratinaient pour passer directement au dessert, des vantards, des pisse-froid, des mariés qui payaient en liquide, des machos masqués qui jouaient aux esquintés, c’en devenaient tordant. Avec le temps, Diana avait opté pour Tinder. au moins les choses étaient claires: un mouvement d’index à droite, tu restes, à gauche tu disparais. Un rapport simple à défaut d’amour, et un maximum de coups assurés. Les quadras comme elle n’avaient pas le loisir de traîner dans les bars, ses amis étaient en couple, ou elle avait déjà couché avec, elle connaissait tous leurs proches et s’était juré de ne plus sortir avec un journaliste.

 

Jonathan Coe ‘Middle England’


‘She couldn’t stand politicians,’ Colin said, bringing some subterranean train of thought to the surface, and not needing to specify who he meant by ‘she’. He spoke in a low voice, thick with regret and repressed emotion. ‘Thought they were all as bad as each other. All on the fiddle, every one of them. Fiddling their expenses, not declaring their interests, holding down half a dozen jobs on the side …’ Benjamin nodded, while remembering that in fact it was Colin himself, not his late wife, who was obsessed with the venality of politicians.


Jonathan Coe has chosen the Trotter Family and their Birmingham base from his previous books, The Rotters Club and The Closed Circle, as the medium to study Pre and early Post Brexit Britain, the latent differences between the Leavers and the Remainers, that were waiting to be cleaved open. The opening quote from Colin Trotter, Benjamin Trotters father, maybe in his eighties, is of course something you can hear in any democracy in the world, squeaky clean is rare and of course this sort of resentment is like dry tinder.

Basically the fifty somethings in this book were not too interested or informed, typified by Benjamin who was too interested in his own navel and too timid to even have an opinion or his friend Doug, a freelance journalist who writes articles under severe time pressure, even his 16 year old daughter Coriander can see he is out of touch with what is happening in the country. But amongst all of the strands in this book, The Brexit story and its strife is carried by Sophie Trotter, Benjamin’s niece, in her early thirties and the man she chooses to marry, Ian who she meets on a driving training course after being caught speeding. This was never going to be a straightforward marriage. After Ian is injured in the Birmingham riots and Sophie drives his mother to the hospital, the tooothpaste is let out of the tube. Yes there is rascism, and resentment but maybe only that:


“Where will it end Sophie where will it all end this dreadful business end”?
Of course Sophie knew what she meant by this dreadful business but it was the middle of a quiet Saturday afternoon in august they were driving along the A435 not far from the Wivel roundabout and the sun shone placidly on the roofs of cars, the traffic signs, the petrol stations, the hedgerows, the pubs, the garden centres, the convenience stores, all the familiar landmarks of modern England. It was hard at that moment to see the world as a dreadful place or a very inspiring one for that matter, she was about to formulate some bland response, oh you know, life goes on , these things blow over after a while, when Helena added
“He was quite tight you know rivers of blood, he was the only one brave enough to say it”.
Sophie froze when she heard these words and the platitudes died on her lips. The silence that opened up between her and Helena was fathomless now, here it was after all the subject that wouldn’t, couldn’t be discussed the subject that provided people more than any other, mortified people more than any other, because to bring it up was to strip off your own clothes, and tear off the other persons clothes and to be forced to stare at each other naked, unprotected with no way of averting your eyes any reply she made to Helena at this moment, any reply that showed her own differing views would immediately mean confronting the unspeakable truth that sophie and everyone like her, and Helena and everyone like her, might be living cheek by jowl in the same country but they also lived in different universes and these universies were separated by a wall infinitely high, impermeable, a wall built out of fear and suspicion and even perhaps those most English of all qualities shame and embarrassment. Impossible to face this, the only practical thing to do was to ignore it, but for how long was that practical in fact?


Both Sophie and Ian suffer career setbacks, Ian, an alpha male loses out on a promotion to a woman, an Asian woman and he fosters resentment, a feeling of having had something that should have been his taken away by the PC crowd. Sophie is called out on Twitter by Coriander for something seemingly innocent telling a transgender student who had dithered on an essay between two choices, that she couldn’t make her mind up. Sophie was suspended pending an investigation, as Ian says Guilty until proven innocent. Ian and his mother cannot understand that Sophie is not bitter about this. And the added pressure of The Brexit debate tears their marriage apart, or was it always going to end this way:


Their relationship councillor Lorna told them that many of the couples she was seeing at the moment had mentioned Brexit as a key factor in their growing estrangement. Now I usually start by asking each of you the same question. Sophie, why are you so angry that Ian voted leave and Ian why are you so angry that Sophie voted remain? Sophie had thought for a long time before answering, I suppose because it makes me think that as a person he’s not as open as I thought he was, that his basic model for a relationship comes down to antagonism and competition not cooperation. Lorna had nodded and turned to Ian who said it makes me think that she’s very naive that she lives in a bubble and can’t see how other people around her might have a different opinion to hers and this gives a certain attitude an attitude of moral superiority. To which Lorna had said, what’s interesting about both those answers is that neither of you mentioned politics.


A long and relatively verbiose book, but you know what you’re getting when you buy a Coe. This book is maybe the analysis needed to begin the slow process of being able to live together, having different opinions and who knows, respecting opposite points of view. But don’t hold your breath.

First Published in English as “Middle England” in 2019 by Penguin Books Ltd.

Peter Hannington ‘A Single Source’


Nawal tried to remember when she’d stopped being scared. A few weeks ago she would have turned tail at the sight of a police van–the smallest hint of trouble. 2B6816D8-026B-40D9-B167-8AC87892C425Now, when she heard sirens and the swell of noise coming from the other side of Tahrir, from close to the governing party headquarters, she shouldered her rucksack and practically ran in that direction.


In this story centred around the Arab spring in Tahrir Square, the second book by Peter Hannington, with the reporter William Carver at the centre, Hannington, an ex-BBC reporter himself tells us how big stories and scoops come together in the modern age where anyone with a smartphone can monitor events or report them. There are four themes  to this story, firstly the events in Tahrir Square where Carver, arriving ahead of the field, makes contact through a young girl on the hotel staff who helps him unofficially with translations with Nawal, an active participant in the events unfolding in the square, see the opening quote, but also a Twitter source:


@tsquarelawan New Cairo Hospital needs help. Anyone with blood type O please go. Big shortage of type O!


The second theme playing out in parallel is the story of Gabriel and Gebre, two Eritreans trying to join Europe where we meet them as they are talking with the first link in the chain of human smugglers who will cheat them along the way:


I told old Gabriel that I would treat you well; that the price he has paid will be the total price. I promised him this.’ Gebre studied Mr Adam. He wondered what this man’s promise was worth. ‘So, you two will not get the normal trip … you will get the VIP trip, you understand?


The third theme plays out in London between the permanent secretary to the defence minister and his press officer, Robert Mariscal, an ex-journalist and colleague of Carvers gone over to the dark side, payed to put spin on information for the press. And finally the fourth theme is Carver himself, the newshound, known for losing interest in any story that becomes mainstream.

When Nawal inadvertently tips off Carver to a story within the story concerning supplying the regime with a capability to fight the demonstrators, how much danger will this place her in? Just how far will The permanent secretary back the wealthy and influential  defence contractors through his press officer? Is Robert Mariscal now totally engaged in his role as a press officer despite his journalistic background.

In the modern day version of the slave trade that is people smuggling, some things don’t change and when the brothers learn that the smugglers are making money on more than one leg of their triangular trade, from Eritrea to Libya, from Libya to Egypt and from Egypt to Eritrea, what would it take for them to want to tell anyone?

And finally, how far is Carver prepared to go for a story risking not only his life but the lives of those associated to his scoop?

This story kept a realistic feel to it throughout, a readable thriller.

First Published in English as “A Single Source” in 2019 by Two Roads.
*** my translation

Jeniffer Egan ‘Manhattan Beach’


He eyed Kerrigan, searching for the weakness. Money wasn’t his object, or he’d have demanded it before singing. What, then? In a mick it was usually booze,but Kerrigan hadn’t the look of a lush. Nor was there much propensity for violence in those scrappy limbs, though he’d likely fight hard in self-defense. Women? Micks were famously prudish, faithful to their blowsy wives—perhaps recalling the bonny colleens they’d been before the assembly line of children, or from fear of their drunken, bellicose priests.


Anna’s Father, Eddie Kerrigan was a trusted bag carrier for Irish organised crime around Manhattan beach, he could be trusted not to be noticed as he carried money from one place to the next. The book opens at a pivotal moment in his life as, on a Sunday, he meets up with Dexter Styles, looking to make the next step up and work for the Italians proposing, as we learn later in the book, to watch Styles’ different operations, not being noticed, and spot the people that were cheating him. Styles eyed up Kerrigan to try to understand his motives as illustrated in the opening quote. Kerrigan had gone to Styles’ house with his daughter Anna who was only eight years old at the time and we see what is happening in this adult world through Anna’s eyes.

In early 1930’s America Anna was living at home with her parents and her seriously crippled sister, where their only fun in life was the occasional visits from her aunt, Brianne whose stories only Anna believed:


“And the trumpeter?” he asked. “Oh, he’s a real lover boy. Curls like Rudy Vallee.” She would need money again soon enough. Brianne was long past her dancing days, and even then her chief resource had always been her beaus. But fewer men were flush now, and a girl with bags under her eyes and a boozy roll at the waist was less likely to land one. Eddie found a way to give his sister money whenever she asked, even if it meant borrowing from the shylock. He dreaded what she might become otherwise.


And then one day Eddie disappears for good. Fast forward and Anna is working for the war effort at Manhattan beach where she dreams of becoming a diver working on war ships and when she finally gets to meet Lieutenant Axel who could make her wishes come true she comes up full against anti female prejudice:


“You’re interested,” Lieutenant Axel said, gazing up at Anna as she stood before his desk. He’d not risen when the marine had shown her into his office. “Yes, sir,” she said. “Extremely interested.” “And what gave you the impression that diving would be interesting?” She hesitated, not entirely sure. “I’ve watched divers on the barge,” she said. “From Pier C. At lunchtime. And after my shift.” She followed each utterance with a pause, awaiting some indication that he had understood. “You’ve watched the divers at lunchtime,” he finally said. As this was not a question, and as her words, reverberated through Lieutenant Axel, had a way of sounding ridiculous,


Anna, whilst working at the docks was one of the few women who were not married, not being trusted entirely by the ‘marrieds’, she meets up with Nell, another single woman who the one day disappears and Anna the finds her at a night club where she finds that single women working on the docks can find other ways easier ways to get by:


“I haven’t any job at all,” Nell said. “Unless you count trying to look smashing all the time so Hammond doesn’t toss me out.” They seated themselves among a group who occupied several tables near the dance floor. Anna noticed Marco and reddened when he looked in her direction. But he was watching Nell. “Would he really throw you out?” Anna whispered. “Hammond is a pig,” Nell said, which dumbfounded Anna, Hammond himself being inches away, his arm around Nell’s shoulders. Anna averted her gaze as if she’d been guilty of an indiscretion. “Then why do you—” “Money,” Nell said brightly. “He’s loaded with money, and he pays for everything. He lives in an eight-bedroom mansion in Rye, New York, with his wife and four children. He’ll never leave them—I was nuts to think he would. Isn’t that right, darling,” she called to Hammond. “Anna worked with me at the Naval Yard. Hammond doesn’t like to hear about that. He thinks girls shouldn’t work at all; they should just dream up new ways to entrance him.”


It is then at this club that she meets Dexter Styles, for the first time since that day at his house on Manhattan beach, using a false name so that he doesn’t link her to Eddie. As she better gets to know Styles, her knew life diving and her quest for her disappeared father lead her and Styles to the truth about her father. In parallel Styles is asked to take Badger from Chicago under his wing and is amazed at his naivety:


Dexter marveled at his insolence. It made him grasp something that had eluded him until that instant: Badger thought he was protected. He’d mistaken Mr. Q.’ s helping hand for immunity of some kind—apparently unaware that Mr. Q.’ s own brother had vanished in the course of his ascent, along with at least two cousins. This misapprehension explained Badger’s exaggerated deference toward Dexter, the twist of mockery inside it.


But then the wheel turns full circle and called late at night to a boathouse by one of Mr. Q.’s sons, Dexter finds himself in the same position with Badger as Eddie had with him all those years ago.

There are twists in this story and so I don’t think there was a spoiler yet here in Jennifer piece of historical fiction. An interesting and well researched story.

First Published in English as “Manhattan Beach” in 2017 by Scribner.