Tag Archives: Tom Rob Smith

Miscellany #47: 10 August 2015

10 Aug

One of the few reasons to watch the Red Sox

I am in the small camp of people who think its a waste of verbiage and pixels to attend to short fingered vulgarian. John Oliver sums it up brilliantly:

Now, if you want to hear more on the Trump/Kelly showdown, you can basically tune in to any news network because it is all they’re fucking talking about,” Oliver continued. “But we are going to move on, and I’ll tell you why: This whole debacle was meaningless. The 2016 election will not depend on this because it’s 457 days away. There will be actual babies born on Election Day 2016 whose parents haven’t even met yet. So everyone pace yourselves

Child 44

Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent Six set in the Soviet Union (Stalin era and post Stalin)in addition to being a page turning crime story is a skillful survey of life under in a dreary and fear-fraught so called socialist regime with an addition patina of paranoia provided by genocidal megalomania of our late WWII ally Uncle Joe.

Secret Speech

Agent 6

Now comes a Ridley Scott produced, Richard Price scripted film iteration of Child 44 with a well cast ensemble of actors lead by the increasingly visible Tom Hardy* (my favorite of his roles is Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons, in the oddly inexplicably-underappreciated BBC seriesPeaky Blinders). Had I not been aware of the books it would have been some time before I came to this film as there was virtually no press attached to it—though its good enough that it will find its audience and credence sooner rather than later

Apparently the Ruskies are aware of Child 44 and reverted to a Soviet era response.

A few years ago I conversed with Nigerian novelist Uzodinma Iweala about his debut novel, Beasts of No Nation. It’s a harrowing story set in an unnamed West African nation beset by a civil war and being waged by child soldiers, a tragedy in and of itself. It’s cinematic version is coming soon with the redoubtable Idris Alba as the very scary military leader.

Some NY Times person thought this was clever? Useful? Amusing? Maybe the question should have been, “Name the Supreme Court Justices” Or “Who won the Battle of Mukden?”

Aerial photo of Nagasaki after Atom Bombing [Library of Congress]

Aerial photo of Nagasaki after Atom Bombing [Library of Congress]

images-1

No doubt there is a strong predisposition to forget about US deployment of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki but here’s a piece from Lapham’s Quarterly that talks about efforts to add to the dustbin of history:

Contradicting the new constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression, and its explicit wording that “no censorship shall be maintained,” the occupation’s Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) carried out broad media restrictions…Across the country, movie theaters could only show films approved after stringent review by the CCD; among other criteria, any challenges to the terms of Japanese surrender,…

No specific censorship rules referred directly to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombings, but the CCD nonetheless eliminated most statements about the nuclear attacks in print and broadcast journalism, literature, films, and textbooks. Public comments that either justified the United States’ use of the bombs or argued for their inevitability were sometimes permitted, but subjects that continued to be censored included the extent of physical destruction in the two cities; technical details about the bombs’ blasts, heat, and radiation; death and casualty counts; personal testimonies from atomic bomb survivors; and any reportage, photographs, or film footage of survivors suffering from atomic bomb injuries or radiation effects. Even phrases such as “Many innocent people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki” were banned. Nagasaki named its annual commemoration of the bombing “The Memorial Day for the Restoration of Peace,” calling it a “culture festival” to appease U.S. officials

Artist José Luis Vargas, in his Santurce studio [Christopher Gregory for Al Jazeera America0

Artist José Luis Vargas, in his Santurce studio [Christopher Gregory for Al Jazeera America0

I love Puerto Rico especially the strip of coast in the west, from Aguadilla to Mayaguez. It hasn’t escaped me that the poor benighted island (which was added to the US empire after the Spanish American Cuban War)has been under greater strains and burdens of late. It was encouraging to read

Baffler Issue #23

Baffler Issue #23


Frankly I don’t understood what LinkedIn is. In Baffler #23 Ann Friedman does a fine job of explicating what it isn’t.It seems I haven’t missed anything:

LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work—but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They’re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.

* Hardy’s role as Bob Saginowski in The Drop is also compelling:

Bob: There are some sins that you commit that you can’t come back from, you know, no matter how hard you try. You just can’t. It’s like the devil is waiting for your body to quit. Because he knows, he knows that he already owns your soul. And then I think maybe there’s no devil. You die… and God, he says, Nah, nah you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.

Dumb-De-Dumb-Dumb

22 Sep
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya

Literary journalism must, I suppose by definition, appeal to a marginal and as it is often claimed, shrinking audience. Thus it apparently behooves its practitioners to offer up a variety ofarguable and contestable theories so as to attract an audience and whatever follows from that. Recently, I came across a reference to an article by Salon senior editor and literary eminence gris’ Laura Miller claiming that “today’s most exciting crime novelists are women.” A stance, it can not go unsaid, I found so silly that I had to try to read the offending column for both its reasoning and to double check that a critic as eminent as MS Miller actually claimed its byline.

Firstly, the writers she singles out are certainly a talented gaggle (she did leave out at least two very talented women (Laura McHugh and Attica Locke, who are at least the peers of Miller’s anointed.)On the other hand, perhaps Miller felt that naming four writers made her case.

Secondly, MS Miller is a savvy and experienced and no doubt intelligent commentator who one would expect would understand the dangers of using superlatives like ‘best’, ‘greatest’, ‘hottest’ in literary conversations (except when preceded by a personal possessive). What then is one to make of the phrase ‘most exciting crime novelists are women’? It is the case that women writers of all stripes are given short shrift in the main organs of the literary arena (every once in a while a diligent and enterprising writer will spend time breaking down the percentage of reviews by gender at the The New York Times and the New Yorker>.So if MS Miller is trying to level the playing fields in some way I suppose one ought to commend her. On the other hand her claim does do a disservice to the other writers who are doing fine work in the disrespected category of genre literature (genre seems to be synonym for ‘non literary’).Now I will stipulate that often the crime series like John D MacDonald’s Travis Magee, Robert Parker’s Spenser novels or even Micheal Connelly’s Harry Bosch’s novels (Parker is among the deceased writers now undergoing a kind of reductio ad absurdum by being written by living writers)are seem formulaic and predictable. It should be noted that Baltimore’s gift to story telling Laura Lippman, does her best work not with her series but with her stand alone novels

Attica Locke [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Attica Locke [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

So in the name of all that is fair and decent in the world, here’s a short list of fine crime story writers: John Lawton(Sweet Sunday, Then We Take Berlin),George Pelacanos, Benjamin Black, Edward Delaney(Broken Irish), Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, James Lee Burke,Tom ROB SMITH, Elmore Leonard(Out of Sight),Charlie Huston(The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, Sleepless), Thomas Perry(Butcher’s Boy, Sleeping Dogs), Philip Kerr
(A Philosophical Investigation), Olen Stenhauser, Ace Atkins, Charles McCarry (The Miernik Dossier Shelley’s Heart), Attica Locke (Black Water Rising), Charles Smith(Men in Miami Hotels), James Ellroy (Underworld USA trilogy), Tom Bouman(Dry Bones in the Valley), John Fusco(Dog Beach),Robert Stone(Death of the Black-Haired Girl)and Don Winslow(The Power of the Dog).

Robert Stone circa 2013 [photo Robert Birnbaum]

Robert Stone circa 2013 [photo Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)

Better Dead Than Red or Better Red Than Dead

20 Jan

Tom Rob Smith’s new novel Agent 6 (Grand Central) completes his so-called Child 44 trilogy (Child 44,The Secret Speech) and features hero of the Great Patriotic War and disenchanted ex KGB Leo Demidov who fails prey to a old and tired war horse plot line (which I will not spoil by revealing here) and ends up in on a fool’s mission in Afghanistan and New York some 30 years after we first meet him in Stalin’s Moscow.

While having the weakest plot line of the trilogy that does not greatly detract from the great strength of Smith’s narrative. Which is the solid verisimilitude (reviewers like to call this feature being, “highly atmospheric”)he presents of life under the dreariness of Soviet oppression.

For example, Demidov’s teenage daughter, Zoya is on a cultural exchange trip to New York and she is watching with great wonder, television, in what is to her, an opulent hotel room:

…Even better than the cartoons or the music were the programs that ran in between shows. These shorts were no more than thirty seconds each. Sometimes they featured men and women speaking directly into the camera. They spoke about cars, silverware, tools and gadgets. This one featured a busy restaurant in which children laughed while being served wide glasses willed with ice cream, chocolates sauce and fruit. It was followed by a second short, this one with images of house, impossibly large for a single family,more like dachas than houses.except unlike dachas, which were situated in the countryside, many of these large houses stood side by side, with m=neat lawns and children playing. And every house had an automobile. There was a program featuring devices to chop carrots and potatoes and leeks and turn those vegetables into soup. There were face creams for women. There were suits for men. There were objects for every chore, machines for every task and they were all for sale—propaganda, except not fora political regime but for a product. She had never seen anything like them before…(pg 78)

Mikael, one of her minders, scolds her for her fascination,

Do not underestimate the power of their programs. They serve to numb t he mind of their citizens. It is not mere entertainment. It is a key weapon in maintaing their authority. The citizens of this country are given idiotic escapism in order to prevent them asking deeper questions. (pg 80)

Of course, we continue to have the same view of “idiotic escapism”, so what does that make us?

Currently reading Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (Harper)