I didn’t vote.
I’m a British citizen, but I’ve lived in Italy for the last 36 years.
I don’t feel sufficiently informed to vote regarding the British dilemma: Stay or Leave?
That’s why I have waited until this moment before expressing an opinion.
Everyone who has the right and the desire to vote will have done so.
Now the votes are being counted, and we’re all on the edge of our seats awaiting the outcome.
I would have voted to leave the European Community.
The murder of Jo Cox brought emotions into play which ought not to have influenced the way a nation approaches such an important referendum.
On such a serious and complex matter?
A referendum represents a failure of government, an avoidance of responsibility. Jo Cox may have fuelled some of the violent emotions which contributed to her death while canvassing for people to vote as she would have liked them to vote. Certainly, she fuelled the emotions of millions of people by her untimely death. But while her murder is tragic, its impact on the core question adds nothing to what we did, or didn’t know.
The vote is not for or against Jo Cox and the opinions she held dear.
The question is Europe, the future of Europe, the unity of Europe.
Does Europe exist as a community, as a union of confederate nations?
I believe that it does not.
Walls and barricades are going up all over Europe in defence of borders, and in defiance of the Schengen agreement. The lack of a unified European response to the question of immigration, an incapacity to assist genuine refugees, is a major political and social failure which will impact on the nature of every country inside the European ‘curtain’ in the coming years.
The abandonment of Greece, the heartless destruction of the Greek people, would have seemed appalling to Lord Byron, but now it’s the norm. The payment of Turkey to accommodate Syrian war refugees is cowardly and unsatisfactory.
The German government encouraged the flow – remember Merkel’s decision to ‘welcome a million (well-educated) Syrian refugees’ without consulting her European partners? Then, she changed her mind. That shift of policy pushed France, Austria, the Balkan states, and Britain to turn their backs on misery.
Is this political unity? Is this a caring community? Is this Europe?
Refugees won’t disappear. They have to go somewhere.
Indeed, the Mediterranean basin seems destined to become a dumping ground for the unloved and the unwanted. A two-tier European system? It exists already. Italy is overrun with so-called ‘boat people’ from Africa – the ‘rejects’ no European country wants – whose only resource is to beg, or labour under the burning sun picking plums or tomatoes for €1 a day.
Europe has created slavery, and turned its back on the problem.
At a political level, Europe has also failed to guarantee democracy.
Millions of lives were lost in the fight against totalitarianism seventy years ago, yet right-wing extremism is growing fast in Europe – in France, Poland, Austria, Germany and Britain. Italy – once a Fascist state – has been ruled by a Europe-approved oligarchy since 2011, when elected premier, Silvio Berlusconi, was rejected by the European Commission. It all began with The Economist (July 30th, 2003 – Is This Man Fit To Rule Italy?), and ended with a complicit smile for the tv camera between Merkel and Nicolas Sarkosy.
Five years later, there is still no sign of an Italian election on the horizon.
Europe doesn’t need elections.
A council of experts – non-elected yes-men – dictates the financial and political ‘road map’ (God save us from these mumbo-jumbo Anglicisms!) which the chosen representatives of each country must follow if they wish to keep their seats in Berlaymont, the home of the European Commission...
I could go on for hours, but will stop here.
I hope that Britain votes to leave the EC.
I hope that other countries will hasten to follow the British example.
Some books are big, thick, and heavy...
The problem is that big, thick books can become heavy in a negative sense.
It isn’t just a question of the physical weight you’re holding in your hand, the book spine bending and breaking as you leaf through the pages. It’s more a matter of information overload, the risk of growing bored as the reader struggles with too many names, too many scenes and more plot twists than he/she can remember with ease.
There used to be a wonderful book show on Italian tv called The Art of Not Reading. Two Italian crime writers, Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentino, talked about literature and books, the great classics especially, pulling volumes from their bookshelves in an informal and light-hearted way that was truly entertaining. One of the things they used to do – I remember Don Quixote getting this treatment – was to weigh the book on a pair of scales before going on to discuss whether the book was too long, too big, too heavy, and so on.
Cervantes got a drubbing, I recall.
The Cartel by Don Winslow is a big, thick, heavy novel.
I haven’t placed it on the scales, but it would weigh in as one of the heaviest books I have read in quite some time. And yet, it isn’t heavy in the negative sense. Not at all! Indeed, I would say that it is one of the finest books that I have read recently. Okay, there are too many characters, too many awkward Mexican names and nicknames. There are twists and counter-twists galore, and the story rages on and on for over 6oo pages, but... it isn’t heavy.
So, what’s the secret?
Well, it seems to me, quite simply, that Don Winslow set out to write a big book in every sense – a sprawling tale of drugs and crime, senseless murder and senseless revenge, and it all ties together in the end, because the story is so big, and its core is so personal, as one man sets out to wreak his just revenge on all those who have done harm to those whom the hero loves, respects, and has lost in the war against drugs. Indeed, there is hardly a wasted word.
How much does The Cartel weigh?
That’s what Fruttero and Lucentini would have asked as they pulled out the scales.
The answer is simple.
It’s worth its weight in gold.
We started blogging on 15th May, 2008.
Since then we have published over 600 articles on many topics.
The current count stands at 475 articles online, others having been removed and published as Kindle e-books, “Inside Italy” and Fifty Shades Deeper Inside Italy.”
But this it!
After 8 years, it’s time to stop, time for a change.
We are planning to update the website in the autumn – without or without a blog.
In the meantime, you might be interested in reading all or any of the following:
The Hanno Stiffeniis novels
CRITIQUE OF CRIMINAL REASON
DAYS OF ATONEMENT
A VISIBLE DARKNESS
The Seb Cangio novels
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE
THE RIVER KILLERS
Recent short stories
THE ADVENTURES OF MORIARTY
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER STORIES
IL CUORE NERO DELLE DONNE (Italian only, published by Guanda)
We would like to thank regular followers of the blog pages.
We’ve had a lot of fun!
Last weekend I went to the local flea market.
I didn’t find much. Indeed, I didn’t find a thing, except for a washed out English-language paperback which cost 2/6 when it was published back in 1956 by Penguin Books. Entitled “Death To The French,” it had originally been published in 1933 by the author, C.S. Forester, for The Bodley Head.
I remember reading Forester’s Hornblower novels when I was a boy in the 1950s, and reading them over and over again, but “Death To The French,” (or “Rifleman Dodd” as it was titled in America) was a novel that I had never come across at the time.
Some years ago, I enjoyed reading Mark Urban’s “Rifles – Six Years with Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters” (Faber, 2003), a vivid history of the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles), and I remember thinking that there was plenty of material for historical fiction there. In his introduction, Mark Urban mentions Forester in a one-line throwaway, saying that “Forester often used riflemen in his books,” but he made no mention of “Death To The French” or any other novel by C. S. Forester.
It’s a classic story of one man’s fight against the might of the French during the Peninsular Wars in Portugal as sharpshooter Matthew Dodd gets cut off from his regiment – the 95th – and attempts to make his way back to safety through the French defences.
While the story has its ups and downs – Forester needed to introduce secondary figures in the form of a French sergeant and his men who try to capture the English rifleman, and Portuguese peasants who fight a guerrilla war against the French longside Dodd – the solitary figure of Matthew Dodd, who speaks no Portuguese and communicates by signs and a mere few shared words with his new comrades, is especially interesting.
He might have come straight out of Mark Urban’s “Rifles.”
Urban’s introduction mentions the difficulty of researching the history of the 95th Rifles, particularly regarding the riflemen themselves. While officers left memoirs, and regimental records provide information regarding troop movements and engagements with the enemy, most of the men, like Dodd, were ordinary fellows with little education. Equally, like Rifleman Dodd, they appear to have had a strong sense of duty and of belonging to an honourable regiment. Indeed, it seems that the US Navy made the book obligatory reading for new recruits to give them an overview of what it means to be a fighting man and belong to a company of warriors!
Forester’s descriptions of the Peninsula War and his use of history and real events as the basis for his novel are an object lesson in writing historical fiction, faithfully respecting the first rule of the genre. Matthew Dodd does only what was possible (and probable) within that precise historical context.
If there is only dead horse or putrid mule to eat, then that is what he eats!
Clearly, Forester had done his homework.
Given the invariable attention paid to the usual ‘bestsellers,’ there is a real danger of missing something special when it comes along. Ralph Spurrier’s debut novel, A Coin For the Hangman, won’t be pushed in your face by Amazon. Not yet, perhaps. But that may soon change.
This is a book that deserves to be noticed.
I came across it by picking up on an editor’s Twitter invitation to read it before it was published. I was intrigued by the title, immediately drawn into the dark and secretive professional world of Reg Manley, described by the author as ‘the last British executioner.’ As Spurrier notes in an Afterword, Reg Manley, the hangman at the centre of the tale, is a fictional character, though he owes a great deal to the real-life British executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, and his published “Autobiography” (2005), especially in the chilling descriptions of how the hangman went about his peculiar trade. More intriguing, perhaps, are the psychological insights into the sort of man who carried out such an unusual job, and his relationships with his wife, his assistant, and the prison authorities who had delegated the ghastly task to him. This where Ralph Spurrier excels, and nowhere better than in his portrayal of the ties that bind the hangman and the man he hangs.
The murder around which the story unfolds has its peculiarity – which I will not mention in any detail for fear of spoiling the reader’s pleasure in a novel which is both well-constructed and well-written – though it is certainly not gruesome. Indeed, the ambiguous nature of the crime calls into question the central problem relating to capital punishment, i.e., the possibility that the hanged man may be innocent of the crime for which he has been condemned to death. Indeed, the story of the hanged man, Henry Eastman, is told with intricate care and leads to the core of the mystery which unfolds in the closing chapters of the book.
Set in an historical context, the detailed description of post-war Britain, the prevailing social conditions, and the difficulties faced by servicemen returning to civilian life after having witnessed some of the most appalling crimes in human history, are treated with great skill.
I read all two hundred and fifty-two pages of the story in a couple of sittings, and was spellbound.
If I have any reservation at all, it regards the four-page Afterword, as it adds nothing to the story, and contains the sort of information relating to what inspired the author which might have been used to greater effect in post-publication interviews.
A stunning read!