Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – Paul Torday

Image result for Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – Paul Torday

Emotional, humorous and introspective, Paul Torday’s “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” is a book that leaves the reader feeling hopeful, light and philosophical as the covers come down upon it. Brilliantly humorous in its sweep and measurably satirical in its wake, Mr. Torday’s work represents an achievement of admirable proportions. This is exactly the book which one would need to carry to bed, especially considering the dystopian times we are experiencing, courtesy a rampaging Corona virus.

The book whose unique title symbolizes the synonym of impossibility, also possesses an abundance of unlikely hope within its confines. At the centre of Mr. Torday’s debut novel is a reticent, hen-pecked, humble but brilliant civil servant, Dr. Alfred Jones. When not at the receiving of his high flying banker wife Mary’s razor sharp sardonic tongue, he I busy penning esoteric works on caddis fly larvae and many other things relating to salmon. Employed by the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence (NCFE), he is an eminent scientist and a veritable repository of all things aquatic and pisciculture. His uneventful, prosaic and mundane existence is suddenly given a refreshing spurt of vigour, courtesy Sheikh Muhammud an affluent Yemeni potentate. Sheikh Muhammad’s flamboyant and almost fairy tale dreams of populating Yemen’s Wadi Aley with Salmon sends No.10 Downing Street in a PR tizzy and the Hon Rt Prime Minister Jay Vent, pounces on this opportunity to cement US-Yemen relationship that would nurture trust. Fish over fighter jets!

Dr. Jones is designate as the expert for the venture and he is initially skepticism personified. However, the combination of the Sheikh’s calm, unwavering confidence and measured optimism, coupled with the presence of Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the Sheikh’s ‘gofer’ on the project boosts his sagging spirits no end. Visits to Yemen, and Finland for procuring various equipment and sojourns to the Sheikh’s estate at Glen Tulloch in Scotland enthuses Dr. Fred’s life with a new purpose and meaning. The only blotch to the project come in the form of a daring but fortunately ill executed assassination attempt on the life of the Sheikh by a goatherd hired by the Al Qaeda network.

The Sheikh views this project more as a pre-ordained philosophical event than a commercial proposition. An avid fishing enthusiast himself, he ardently believes in the power to fishing to bring serenity and sufficiency to an otherwise frenetic world torn apart by, and riven with religious, political and social differences. As the Sheik in a moment of rumination tells Dr. Jones, “Without faith,” the sheikh tells him, “there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love.”

The resemblance of the cast of characters to some key personalities in the Blairite administration is unmissable. While the book would be lapped up by all inveterate anglers, even those who find the activity to be an exercise in unfathomability would love the book. The author clearly does not hold back on either his own perception of ideals or morals. However, the author reserves the most shocking bit of the book for the ending. The slobber-knocker of a climax will leave the reader utterly stupefied.

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – A story that rekindles hope and optimism.

Full Black – Brad Thor

Image result for Full Black – Brad Thor

460 pages of high octane, maniacal marauding stuff where someone is either getting killed or killing someone! Only the method of the murder varies. Cutting the carotid, detonating explosives, and at times even detonating themselves (after all its better to burn out than to fade away!), riddling foes with bullets while friends get sloughed away with shotguns, Full Black is where-Chuck Norris-meets-Salman Khan-meets-Phantom. After a point in time the reader is left exhausted and wondering who else is left to be picked away other than himself/herself.

Ok coming to the story itself – yes there is a story – a covert operation in Uppsala Sweden to infiltrate and expose a terrorist network goes sideways with the gruesome death of many US Secret Service Professionals. The master mind behind the Operation Scot Harvath is a former Navy Seals (of course he has to be a navy seal. The rate at which these novels are proliferating the appearance and disappearance of Navy seals would be enough to cause great affront to real seals) who is the very epitome of ruthlessness. His organisation which works from the very bowels of secrecy is unknown to even the FBI and the CIA. In fact, other than the reader and Harvath’s boss Carlton Reed a.k.a “The Old Man”, no one knows the existence of this elite killing machine. Their secrecy is taken to a different level, even surpassing Victoria’s when to avenge their brothers they go “FULL BLACK”.

Thrown in a megalomaniac multi billionaire who calls himself, “The Sheikh of Qatar”, a dwarf who is a technology wizard with two humongous Russian dogs for company, another Navy Seal – there are multiple seals in this vast pool – with a limp, love life gone awry and the latest killing techniques, a Hollywood film producer who other than working on movies, seems to be busy saving his life as he is chased across the United States by a bunch of ugly looking, ugly acting Russians, (yes there are Russian canines as well as Russian cartel), you have a pot boiler which keeps careening, plummeting and racing through paths made fertile by a roving, roaming imagination that puts even Kurt Cobain on steroids to utter shame!

Full Black – makes you go colour blind!

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythical Proportions – Daniel Wallace

Image result for Big Fish: A Novel of Mythical Proportions – Daniel Wallace

An extremely ingenious and engrossing debut novel, “Big Fish” is both an exercise in nostalgia and an attempt to unravel intricate human emotions. Edward Bloom is on his death bed, hooked to an assortment of beeping machines that monitor every breath he takes and keep track of the number of beats his weak heart clocks. His son William Bloom, who all along has been brought up on a mythical diet of his father’s accomplishments, now tries to dust away the cobwebs of fiction to get to the core of what his father was in reality. In order to do this, William needs to recreate a lifetime of fables that have acquired a mythical proportion. Time is not on William’s hands however as Edward might shed his mortal coil sooner than later.

The tales involving Edward Bloom at their frontispiece range from the banal to the bizarre. An inveterate traveler, Bloom traverses the globe in the capacity of the proprietor of an import/export business. During the process, the impossible jokester becomes a party to some spectacular and unbelievable adventures. He is served tea by a twin headed Geisha woman in Japan; whilst driving at a leisurely pace he comes across a quaint town which memerises him so much that he goes on to purchase the whole town complete with every shop, street, and swamp. Basically warts and all. He also tames a a wild and perpetually hungry giant who has taken to gobbling the crops and dogs of an anguished village.

After exhausting all these astounding adventures, and in the process exhausted himself, Edward Bloom arrives home to William and his mother. However, this time he has come to die. Diagnosed with a terminal condition, Edward Bloom is getting prepared to meet his Maker. Before which, William needs some answers. Answers that are frank, brutal and honest. But there is just one slight hitch. Every serious question of William is first met, before being nonchalantly swatted away by Edward with a joke. A repository of ‘bad jokes’, Edward keeps deflecting the questions raised by his son by responding with one pathetic joke after another. These are jokes which have been retold, recycled and repeated by Edward over many a year, until they have become stale. For example, to the question of whether Edward nurses a belief in either divinity or religion, William is regaled with a joke involving Pinocchio in heaven!

How much longer can William bear to put up with the obstinacy of a man who even when on the last legs of his existence puts up a wall of privacy and aloofness? Will his patience wear out thin or would be become successful in fathoming the real persona of his father, a persona which hitherto has been clouded and camouflaged by both myth and mystery?

Daniel Wallace impresses his reader with this compelling work that induces a range of contrasting emotions. The reader laughs, runs and fights alongside Edward in a carefree manner while becoming extremely frustrated at William’s predicament of not being able to penetrate the complex core of his deceptively simple father.

This entertaining book has also been made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, and Marion Cotillard. Not surprising since the plot makes perfect fodder for a cinematic experience!

Cry of The Hunter – Jack Higgins

Image result for Cry of The Hunter – Jack Higgins

When Jack Higgins wrote “Cry of The Hunter” in 1960, it was under the pseudonym, Harry Patterson. Unfortunately, however this brilliant novel went out of print before it was thankfully and fortuitously revived by both the author and his publishers. And by doing this what a yeoman service they have done to the reading community at large! Cry of the Hunter happened to be the first of the Martin Fallon series of books that took the entire literary world by storm.

“Cry Of The Hunter” has the revered (by the Irish) and reviled (by the Ulster Constabulary), Martin Fallon come back out of a self-imposed retirement to attempt what has to be the most dangerous mission, even by his dangerous and fearful standards. A standard that has seen Fallon occupy nine years in prison, before which he saw himself fighting in his teens and assume leadership north of the border in his twenties.

His mendicant existence writing cheap books and consuming generous portions of Whiskey is abruptly terminated when his old mate O’ Hara manifests himself in his tranquil cottage along with a raw acquaintance named Doolan. A key member of the ‘Organisation’, Patrick Rogan has been captured by the police and unless he can be extricated from the hands of the police the future of the organisation is itself under stake. The irascible Rogan has threatened to turn turncoat in exchange for being offered a reprieve from the gallows.

How Fallon goes about this dangerous mission and whether he triumphs or fails forms the rest of this nerve racking story. Higgins the master story teller weaves a dexterous pattern that has its own inimitable repertoire of dazzling designs. Anger, love, comradeship, treachery and inevitability all fuse together to culminate in a crescendo that will leave the reader reeling!

Fallon’s man Friday Johnny Murphy a twenty-year-old effervescent boy, who is rooted to the cause of the organisation, and because of which he idol worships Fallon, has go down as one of the most indelible, enduring and endearing support characters in any work of thriller fiction. Anne Murray, Fallon’s benefactor and support system is a woman of substance, displaying both strength and vulnerability in equal measure.

“Cry Of The Hunter” – a master at his visceral best!

The Overlook – Michael Connelly

Image result for The Overlook – Michael Connelly

Detective Hieronymus a.k.a Harry Bosch’s serene midnight tryst with Frank Morgan live at the Jazz Standard in New York, is abruptly interrupted by a call from Larry Gandle. Gandle, of the Homicide Special is also Bosch’s supervisor. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) finds a man killed execution style with two bullets to the back of his head at an overlook above the Mulholland Dam. The victim is found lying next to his silver Porsche Carrera with its front hood open. Detective Bosch is pleasantly surprised as well as slightly distressed to see Agent Racheal Walling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) join him at the spot. And when the investigators find out that the unfortunate victim named Stanley Kent, was an expert in handling lethal chemicals and that a whopping number of cesium capsules are missing from a hospital specializing in the treatment of gynecological cancer, the investigators have more than just a headache to come to terms with.

Michael Connelly’s book, “The Overlook”, is, well, typical Connelly. Taking off from where he left Bosch and Walling last – in an embarrassing situation – after the fiasco at Echo Park, the murder at the overlook is a godsend for Bosch to redeem himself. But in order to come out unscathed from this latest dilemma, Bosch needs to contend with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, both controllable as well as uncontrolled. The internecine squabbles and intransigent rifts between the Fed and the LAPD, an unsettled past that has at its centre Bosch and Walling, all topped up by a phalanx of shady characters ranging from radical Islamist fundamentalists to deceptive to hard-nosed police officers occupying the upper echelon of power.

The one distinctive feature that sets Connelly’s writing apart from the rest of his breed is a complete absence of over the top action sequences. But make no mistake, this lack does nothing to detract from either the pace or the plot of his books. There are still more twists and turns than hairpin bends on a mountain path. The narrative is crisp, easy on the eye and the pace is just non-stop. “The Overlook” is a one-sitting book that can and must be devoured in one go. Woe betide anyone who happens to commence a reading of the book on a Monday morning!

But for the reader look for airtight logic and rationale that has a surgical precision, be warned. There would be nothing of that sort in the book. People change colours and characters at a pace and level that would put chameleons to utter shame! The speed at which seemingly improbable mysteries are solved would make even the multiplication rates of rabbits seem like fundamental arithmetic!

Overall, “The Overlook” is a great read if one is looking to let one’s hair down and not be overly concerned about more complicated subjects such as the plummeting GDP of her country or the rabid and incomprehensible tweets of a man who looks, talks and acts like a President who is perpetually on steroids!

So put your feet up, adjust the light settings to a comfortable level and get on with the book. Oh, by the way, do not “Overlook” your favourite brand of Scotch while you are at it!

The Sixth Man – David Baldacci

Image result for The Sixth Man – David Baldacci

Former Secret Service Agents and current Private Investigators, and partners in life, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are led to Maine, courtesy a call from King’s friend and lawyer Ted Bergin. Bergin is appointed the lead attorney to represent Edgar Roy, the highest profile convict in the State of Maine. Convicted of murdering six individuals and burying them in his own barn, Ray is locked up behind the seemingly impenetrable walls of the high security criminal detention facility that is Cutter’s Rock. Bergin requests the duo to meet him for dinner at a quaint place called Martha’s Inn, where lodgings have also been arranged for the visitors. On the way to the rendezvous, King and Michelle are drawn to the blinking hazard lights of a Buick which is parked off the road. Stopping to provide assistance to the stranded driver, King and Michelle are presented with a sight that sends a shiver up their spine. Bearing a single shot to his forehead, courtesy a .32 slug, Ted Bergin lies lifeless behind the steering wheel. When an FBI team swoops down upon Maine led by the irascible Agent Brandon Murdock and Edgar Roy has a past that is inextricably linked to national security, all hell breaks loose as King and Maxwell realise that they might just have bitten more than what they could possibly chew.

David Baldacci is regarded as one of the most bankable thriller writers going about his business in the literary world. In “The Sixth Man”, he lives up to this expectation by delivering a slobber knocker. A book worthy of being produced into a Hollywood blockbuster (and starring Tom Cruise and Mila Jovovic – yes I am endorsing these two in addition to Mr. Baldacci), the book is a potent concoction of turmoil, tension and taut strings. Trigger happy hitmen blend together with backstabbing politicians as they go face to face with patriotic businessmen and mercenary assassins. In the process, logic and reality are thrown out the window. But as the producers of Mission Impossible would be wont to exclaim, “screw logic!”

King as a former Secret Service agent is surprisingly portrayed to be a subdued and calm personality, more of an analyst than an executioner. The star of the book is undoubtedly Michelle Maxwell. Bringing to her business a combination of punch words and lethal martial art punches, she punches beyond her weight. A repository of knowledge on hand held weapons, a gun is just an extension of her firing arm. Edgar Roy is an unsuspecting genius whose appreciable sense of patriotism gets lost in an unfortunate bout of curiosity.

While King and Maxwell are hot in pursuit of Bergin’s killer the body count begins to raise hard and fast. Quick and the Dead reenacted all over again. In the midst of falling bodies and failed missions, there is played out an existential capitalist struggle at the forefront of which are two protagonists. Peter Bunting, a genius and a technology wizard is steadfast in his mission to protect America from every possible external intrusion and aggression. Towards this end, he develops the Wall, an innovation so breathtaking that the Department of Homeland Security falls in love with it. Mason Quantrell, a former employer of Bunting is outpaced and outsmarted every step of the way by his former protégé as he also aspires to bag a chunk of Government largesse. But both men find a formidable obstacle in the form of Secretary of State Ellen Foster and her henchman James Harkes. Either man would be successful in his endeavor only if he can get the blessings of Ms. Foster.

A bit over-the-top in corny punch lines and action sequences, “The Sixth Man” is enervating in passages. However, this tedium is just interspersed amidst a high tension pace that keeps ratcheting the pages.

“The Sixth Man”, a Baldacci imprimatur.

Pipelines and Pipe Dreams

(Photo from Pixaba)

The protests entered their 43rd day. The protesting folks were fatigued, frustrated and fraught with disappointment. Their number had also slowly dwindled. As initial enthusiasm gave way to ultimate enervation, a majority of them slithered away with drooping shoulders and demoralised hopes. Yet a handful remained. A rag tag bunch of determined sons and daughters of the soil, steadfast in their purpose of preserving whatever remained of their heritage, philosophy and perhaps, legacy, even.

The war between capitalism and culture has made the front pages of every newspaper and adorned every broadcasting channel of repute, when it first erupted. The gigantic pipeline passing through four states and skirting preserved hunting terrains, frozen lakes and lush forests was touted as the frontispiece of twenty first century progress. Behemoths in the form of Multinational Oil companies had invested their stakes, literally and metaphorically in the venture. To hell with the bleak prospects for salmon fishing and seal hunting that would stare the indigenous people in their faces.

Except pride, passion and a sense of original place in history.  The oil barons grossly underestimated the inherent power of the lady with the beads and feathers.

She would win, as would Mother Nature.

(Word Count: 199)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Donna McNicol . For more details visit HERE

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, click HERE