Dear Santa, I’ll have mine black, hardboiled, with a yellow iris please.


Dear Santa
Dear Santa

Today’s blog gets passionate about three great 21st century Private Eyes to add to your holiday reading list.

In the beginning there was Sam Spade. The blond, yellow-eyed Satan. Then Philip Marlowe, the solitary knight pursing his own brand of justice. Hammet and Chandler begat the private investigator of the 1930s and 40s and the model for the hard-boiled noir post-pulp PI was stamped out in silhouette, wearing a trench coat and hat, smoking a cigarette in front of a pebbled glass door. The door led to the office, a desk with ashtray and a bottle-shaped drawer. Often the clients were pouty-lipped and misty-eyed, wearing silk stockings and tiny hats, clutching tinier handkerchiefs. Sometimes there was a secretary, sweet, feminine, loyal. When the chips were down and the tough guy got walloped by an angst-attack, she provided the back rub. She was the one who saw through the veils on the tiny hats, and knew that the lace-edged hankies were wet with crocodile tears.
We were hooked.

Private Eye
Private Eye

Other famous investigators followed, heirs to the originals, each with his own style: Lew Archer, Mike Hammer, Spenser, Travis McGee, Elvis Cole.

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, here are my three favourite newbies. Stick the ice cubes in the whisky, drop the needle on a scratched Billie Holiday LP and take a nibble at the following goodies…

In 2014 John Dolan created David Braddock.  Ex-pat PI sans licence, therapist sans diploma, student of Buddhist philosophy and ‘marginal manic depressive’.

We meet him in the Mosquito Bar.

‘Oh, bugger. I had been hoping for a quiet evening.’
But trouble has a way of finding Braddock and his quiet evening turns into a bar brawl. There’s the familiar whiff of cheap booze, sweat, cigarette smoke, the usual fight over some dame in a red dress, the usual broken billiard cues and flying bottles. But this is noir à la Thailandaise. The dame in the dress is a guy; we are on Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand. Here, in Chaweng, the narrow crowded streets ‘overflow with the invisible and innumerable longings of the human heart’, keeping our investigator busy following unfaithful spouses. Events take a nasty turn when he is called in by the police to help investigate a series of horrific burnt bodies; he will soon discover, as the opening quotation from Lord Buddha warns us, that ‘the whole world is burning’, including himself.
Aided by a supply of Bell’s, the collected works of Sherlock Holmes, the adventures of Alice in Wonderland and the cryptic utterances of his mentor, a cigarette-smoking Buddhist monk prone to speaking in riddles, Braddock struggles to connect the clues and ‘pierce the veil of reality’ in a world in which reality is fast unravelling. His different cases collide and rebound like billiard balls against a background of smoke, flames and tropical steam; he is haunted by erotic fantasies of his Balinese housekeeper, his flame-haired wife and his enigmatic married mistress, Kat; he becomes increasingly paranoid with the appearance of anonymous letters threatening to expose the affair to Kat’s husband.
“Kat and I are both such good liars, we really should be married. Either that or in politics.”
Things reach hysteria point when he is summoned before sinister Police Chief Charoenkul, the island’s Papa Doc. The Chief is worried; he suspects his wife is having an affair–will Braddock investigate? And so, shaken and guilty, Braddock embarks on his strangest case yet-‘the unreal experience of following Kat to Bangkok to try and catch myself sleeping with her’.
As with Hammett and Chandler, there’s all the action, suspense, sex and violence to make Everyone Burns a page-turner. But the main attraction is the characterisation. Standing out among a cast of compelling secondary characters is the lonely, Marlowesque figure of Braddock himself, peering into the fiery abyss of the human soul, fighting off karmic demons and keeping reality at bay with the help of various masks, his favourite being that of the smart-mouthed cynic. But occasionally the mask slips. Wandering the deserted beach he reflects on how much he loves Samui ‘in the wee small hours’, when ‘the broom of sleep has swept the revellers to their beds’. Then, he tells us, when ‘the moon-dusted sea murmurs in some long-forgotten tongue of the divine…my mind’s cynical crust cracks open a little…’
But reality kicks in.‘Fortunately I catch myself just in time before I dissolve completely into this schmaltz.’ There are cases to work, murders to solve, and justice to dispense, Braddock-style, as the story reaches its dramatic climax.
From Koh Samui to futuristic Gold Coast City, home to cognitives, repellers, snoops and telekenetics. Forget the flip-flopped inhabitants of Chaweng, the creatures walking these mean streets have cybernetic noses, red eyes and icicles sticking out of their bodies.
Helping to render justice unto the unjust is Matt Abraham’s PI, hard-boiled, soft-centred Dane Curse, who sprang into being in February 2015, tipping his hat to Hammet and Spillane, leaping off the pages with enough Ka-pows! Pops! and Whams! to make a tree sloth spring to attention. Dane has the hat, the coat and the bottle of whisky plus 21st C add-ons such as Special Powers that allow him to be thrown from tall buildings and bounce to his feet without a scratch, a shape-shifting car called Jane and a four-armed secretary with an unbeatable WPM rate. He’s been in the game for years, his clients the shadowy beings who can’t ask the cops for help, the dreaded Black Capes. Because Dane (a reformed Black Cape) believes that they’re people too, with mothers who love them and children who’ll miss them.
As in Playback, the story begins with an early-morning phone call and an unwelcome summons for our PI. In Dane’s case, it’s about a murder. But not just any old murder. The victim is Pinnacle, head of the City’s good guys, Leader of Team Supreme, Protector of the city, and Hero di Tutti SuperHeroes. Never again will Pinnacle worshippers admire his heavenly body shooting through the skies in its red and silver Wonderweave suit looking for wrongs to right and people to save.
And who’s the lucky guy chosen to solve the most difficult case of the century? You’ve got it.
Lined up against Dane is a team of formidable baddies: Apex predator Lynchpin, head of the Black Cape mafia, and his team of Super-Gorillas, crazy Director Humphries dreaming of paramilitary expansion, and new White Cape leader Glory Anna, out for..well, more glory.
In this race against the clock where the rhythm is thumpingly fast and classic retro meets sci-fi high tech we zoom through a city full of evocative echoes. Henchman’s, where ‘there are peanuts on the bar, hot tunes on the juke and somebody getting walloped every time the big hand hits twelve;’ swanky mansions where the guests wear tuxedos ‘as precise as Hong Kong math,’ places where ‘the smell of warm wood rot hung in the air thick like an old whore’s perfume’. When the saxo starts up and the femme fatale sashays in, she’s wearing ‘a long, tight black dress that pushed her fun parts up like a vanilla soufflé.’
We’re reminded of other places-‘the hallway had the same dirty spittoon and frayed mat, the same mustard walls, the same memories of low tide…’, and other dolls and dames-‘she was in oyster-white lounging pyjamas trimmed with white fur, cut as flowingly as a summer sea frothing on the beach of some small and exclusive island.’ (The Big Sleep)
But the ultimate question is–will Dane be able to solve a case with more twists and turns than a spiral staircase? This exhilarating, white-knuckle ride keeps readers guessing till the end. We find Dane in his office, indulging in a little morose philosophising and polishing off a bottle of whisky.
‘Outside my window the city, my city, was waking up.”
Once again his phone rings. And the staircase takes its final twist…

where is it?
where is it?

A wise gardener once advised me to plant one yellow iris in a bed of deep purple blooms. ‘That will make them all stand out’ he said. Maybe he was a former Buddhist monk.
Meet the yellow iris. Mike Faricy’s PI Dev Haskell is the oldest kid on the block, first on the scene in 2011. He’s a rule breaker. A Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby with psychedelic highlights. The soundtrack to his life is jarring heavy metal, gunshots, screeching tyres and orgasmic moans. He inspires the nail-biting reader with the same panicked impulse learnt as a kid yelling fruitless warning to Batman and Co: ‘Don’t do it! Look behind you!! Run!!! Noooo!’ He’s the one-man answer to the multiple neuroses of Everywoman. Mum wants to take him home, bathe him and feed him chicken soup. Minxy Mistress wants him to rip off her micro-thong and beat her on the bottom with a copy of Hustler. Feminatrix wants to plant her Birkenstocks between his shoulder blades and beat him on the bottom with a copy of Sisters Unite.
We meet him in Russian Roulette, striking a familiar note:
‘I was sitting in the Spot bar minding my own damn business.’
Delete ‘the Spot bar,’ replace it with ‘my office’ and you get the picture: the Spot is where you can usually find Dev and somebody usually does.
‘I saw her come in the side door. Her perfume wafted over me like a plastic dry-cleaning bag.’
This particular 38DD bombshell is called Kerri, but it could be Nikki Kiki Patti Heidi or Lola depending on what page of what book you’re on. Poor Dev never stands a chance. These dames sink their teeth into him like Russians weightlifters biting into a Beluga caviar buttie. If he’s not in the Spot, the bedroom’s another option, his or somebody else’s, a fair number of the action scenes taking place on or around a mattress and involving two or more players, though he is sometimes found in solitary recumbence:
‘I was awake, but in lounging mode.’
When not in a bar or bed, Dev is somewhere in TwinCity, St Pauls, wearing a Saints cap. Frequently he’s at the police station, wearing handcuffs, or at the hospital wearing bandages and splints. He also investigates, an activity which sees him wandering around razor-wire enclosed car lots, graffiti-covered offices and desolate car parks, getting ‘up to (his) ass in alligators’ and tripping over mangled corpses that breed and decompose exponentially as the plot thickens. And thicken it does. Dev gets stood up, locked up, beaten up, chewed up, tied up, banged up, stitched up, set up, held up and blown up. This often results in a self-pitying whine: ‘What’s new? How about I’ve been shot, chased, arrested, poisoned and still got whisker burn on my inner thighs?’
Cheer up Dev. Nothing a glass of Jameson’s won’t cure. Remember Phil Marlowe when Captain Gregory asks him how he feels?
‘Swell,’ I said. ‘I was standing on various pieces of carpet most of the night, being bawled out. Before that I got soaked to the skin and beaten up. I’m in perfect condition.’
But that doesn’t prevent him-or Dev, or Dave, or Dane-from ultimately getting his man. Or woman.
Phil sums it up:‘I needed a drink…life insurance…a vacation. What I had was a coat a hat and a gun.’ (Farewell My Lovely) and Sam, a liver-coloured bruise on his head, tells it like it is:‘I know what I’m talking about…This is my city and my game…I’m in business here.’(The Maltese Falcon)

Discover the new cities, the new games and the new guys with the coat, the hat and the gun:
Dave, Dane and Dev. Simply unmissable.

Joyeux Noël to one and all!

PS Just put Biarritz Passion and Hot Basque on special Xmas offer – 99 cents/centimes/pence each! Forget the turkey, kick off your stilettos and escape to the wild Atlantic surf of the pays basque….


Euskal Herria

‘the green steep slopes of the Basque countryside’ Mark Kurlansky
‘the green steep slopes of the Basque countryside’ Mark Kurlansky

When I started out on the idea of writing a romantic novel with a French setting I hesitated between the Côte d’Azur/Riviera, so naturally beautiful in spite of hordes of tourists and too many fishing-net-draped restaurants, and the ‘other’ coast, the Atlantic.

Having spent many holidays there with friends who had Basque branches in their family tree I was lucky enough to get an insider’s view of this fascinating part of the world. I went to local festivals, listened to Basques singing a capella, went  up into the wild mountain region between France and Spain, was introduced to the local cuisine at small village inns.  It was there I was rendered speechless by my first hot Basque, the famous fiery red pepper from the town of Espelette. (Advice to culinary novices – proceed with caution.)

A village 'fronton' with 'pelote basque' players
A village ‘fronton’ with ‘pelote basque’ players

Many summer evenings were spent gripped by the drama of pelote basque,   invented here and exported under the name of jai alai. Pelote, in French, originally meant a ball (of string, rope etc) and today is used mainly to refer to a ball of wool. But the pelote used in the game is a far cry from the fluffy little objects nestling Granny’s knitting bag. Propelled against walls (frontons) by rackets, ‘baskets’ (chisteras) or simply  bare-handed (main nue), they get up to truly impressive speeds. They are especially impressive when glimpsed heading in your direction at 150 mph. (Spectators are protected by nets and partitions, but that doesn’t stop the ducking and gasping). Other evenings we’d join in the fun and thrills at a course de vaches landaises, the local ‘corridas’ where the bull gets to chase would-be matadors, and spectacular ‘bull-leaping’  is a key feature of the entertainment. (Also, the bull-a cow actually-doesn’t die, but lives to torment other hopefuls.)

So I made my choice. The ‘other’ coast it was.

In the first book of the French Summer Novels, ‘Biarritz Passion’, I was so enthused by the setting and culture that occasionally they threatened to take over the story (as one reviewer remarked). But how can anyone spend time in the Basque country and not be stirred by passion? What I learned about the Basques from friends was anecdotal and personal, but looking more closely into their history, it’s hard not be moved by the story of this ancient and mysterious people.

In  ‘The Basque History of The World’, a dramatic, encyclopaedic 400-page must-read, Mark Kurlansky dives into their origins and culture. The Basques, he reminds us, are very  probably the original Europeans, with evidence pointing to their direct descent from Cro-Magnon man, who lived 40 000 years ago. Their language, Euskera, which has no linguistic relative and is probably the oldest European language still spoken, is a defining element in their identity. Their land is called Euskal Herria, the land of Euskera speakers.

A set of laws, fueros, governed the way society worked. They were handed down through oral tradition until the 12th century, then written into a legal code in Spanish and regularly debated and amended . They were the cornerstone of Basque freedoms, remarkably liberal and progressive for their time, banning the use of torture, for example, and allowing property to be handed down the female line. As in other contemporary societies, the discussions and assemblies took place beneath a meeting oak.

The story of the Basque oak tree is a moving one. The original, planted in the fourteenth century, is said to have lived for three, maybe four hundred years (accounts vary). Part of the trunk of its ‘son’ can still be seen in the nearby gardens, and the third tree was a miracle. The oak under which the Basques had debated their  fueros for centuries was situated at the edge of the town of Guernica.  Somehow, this third tree survived the horrific destruction when the German Condor legion, helping dictator Francisco Franco, carpet-bombed the town on on April 26th 1937. It was market day. Hundreds of civilians were mowed down and the town reduced to rubble. But the fueros oak, symbol of Basque autonomy, still stood.

‘Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders…The whole of Guernica was soon in flames except the historic Casa de Jontas with its rich archives of the Basque race, where the ancient Basque Parliament used to sit. The famous oak of Guernica, the dried old stump of 600 years and the young new shoots of this century, was also untouched. Here the kings of Spain used to take the oath to respect the democratic rights (fueros) of Vizcaya…’

Article by George Speer, The Times, April 27th 1937

The French Summer Novels are contemporary romances. When writing Book 2, ‘Hot Basque’, I wanted to keep the romantic element to the fore but felt that it was also important to touch on this other, darker, aspect,  the sufferings and adversity endured by the Basques during those decades of the 1930s and 40s. So when Antoine (our ‘hot Basque’) takes Jill to visit his native village, she learns that his grandfather was killed in the bombing of Guernica.

The sense of horror in the aftermath of the attack on the town was presumably felt even by the perpetrators, as every attempt was made to hush it up. But there were witnesses, the survivors, and the press, notably the British correspondent for ‘The Times’, George Speer, quoted above. When his account of this new weapon of terror reached the outside world, the revulsion was unanimous:

‘At 2 am today when I visited the town the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end. The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away. Throughout the night houses were falling until the streets became long heaps of red impenetrable debris.’

Pablo Picasso, hearing what had happened, took up his brush to create one of the most famous paintings in art history, ‘Guernica’. Its powerful monochromatic depictions of suffering with the enigmatic central symbol of the wounded horse have made the work a universally recognized expression of the horrors of war.*

Back to the written page. Having introduced the Guernica connection for Antoine, the question then became how to move on from that sombre period of history, how to get back to Jill and Antoine’s story and the more upbeat, romantic theme of the novel? The problem gave me a lot of sleepless nights. I almost changed the whole chapter, giving Antoine some whaling ancestors instead. They would have tied in nicely with the family restaurant and its seabream a la plancha.

But Guernica still niggled. 

Finally, one small detail  in Picasso’s painting  gave the answer and provided the perfect transition.

Later, as they lay together, hands entwined, he asked her if she had seen something in the painting of ‘Guernica’, a little flower.

‘A flower?’ She turned to him, eyes widening.

‘At the bottom. In the middle, by the sword. Just a small flower. It is a symbol. A symbol of hope, that life conquers death. And Picasso told us to remember the law of the corrida, a law which says it is the bull that must die, and the horse who lives.’

(Hot Basque)

*There are many interpretations of Picasso’s painting, but the one I chose for the novel comes from  brilliant art historian Robert Hughes. In ‘The Shock of the New’ he writes: ‘…it is a general meditation on suffering…the gored and speared horse (the Spanish Republic), the bull (Franco) louring over the bereaved, shrieking woman…’

A final word before signing off.

I’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Caroline for doing a promo post on ‘Hot Basque’ at AReadersReviewblog (run by Caroline Barker and Tina Williams, booklovers check it out; when do those two devoted ladies ever sleep??)

And another beaming smile to indie author extraordinaire, Matt Abraham, who re-blogged the post. Yey! All Private Investigator fans (oh how we love ’em) check out his site and meet The Great Dane  at:

Welcome to Gold Coast City…