Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Drop by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow 2014)




Bob found the dog two days after Christmas, the neighbourhood gone quiet in the cold, hungover and gas-bloated. He was coming off his regular four-to-two shift at Cousin Marv's in the Flats, Bob having worked behind the bar for the better part of two decades now. That night, the bar had been quiet. Millie took up her usual corner stool, nursing a Tom Collins and occasionally whispering to herself or pretending to watch the TV, anything to keep from going back to the seniors home on Edison Green. Cousin Marv, himself, made an appearance and hung around. He claimed to be reconciling the receipts, but mostly he sat in a corner booth in the rear, reading his racing form and texting his sister, Dottie.

Friday, September 26, 2014

32 Programmes by Dave Roberts (Bantam Press 2011)





Then suddenly, midway through the first half and after several hours of watching cars whizz past us, a Terry lookalike in a beaten-up VW slowed down and came to a halt. Seeing the red brakelights got my heart beating rapidly with excitement. Kevin, the driver, just nodded at us knowingly, and uttered the word 'karma'. We got in and Terry sat in the front, taking care of the conversation, while Dave and I took the back seat where we sat in a cloud of Brut. The driver didn't know where the ground was, which I saw as conclusive proof that most hippies don't like football, but said he'd drop us off in the city centre.

He was as good as his word, and half an hour later we were in the middle of Southampton, frantically looking around. Dave asked a woman where the football ground was and she gave us detailed directions. It was within walking distance, but we ran. It was now 3.55 by my watch so we were still in with a chance of watching the last half hour or so, as long as we could get there quickly. Eventually the floodlights came into view, and not long after that I saw a road sign saying THE DELL and heard the sound of the crowd. We arrived at the turnstiles dripping with sweat, but we'd made it. In a rare piece of good luck we didn't have to pay to get in, having missed about three quarters of the game.

Exhausted from all the physical exertion, we wearily clambered up the step terracing just as a chorus of boos was ringing out. What was going on? We arrived at the top just in time to see a lone figure in a white shirt trudging off the pitch, head bowed. The referee, Lester Shapter (Paignton), was brandishing a red card and pointing towards the tunnel. I didn't need to see the number 7 on his back to know that the dismissed player was George Best.

According to the jubilant Saints fans standing next to us, George had taken exception to the awarding of a free kick and had made his displeasure known to Mr. Shapter with an extensive rant. The only  consolation was the possibility of George being the first player ever to get a red card (the card system was in operation for the first time that day), but he was narrowly beaten to that honour by Dave Wagstaffe of Blackburn.

We had hitched all the way to Southampton to see our hero walk sulkily off the pitch. We had major hangovers, we hadn't slept, and we would now have to stand in the rain and watch an irrelevant Second Division game that, without its main attraction, none of us would have watched even if it had been played in our back garden.
(From Chapter/Programme 12 - Southampton v. Fulham, 2 October 1976)

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Mavericks by Rob Steen (Mainstream Publishing 1994)




Three days later, Rodney was still floating when he took the roadshow back to Loftus Road to face Bournemouth, scoring twice in a 4-0 romp: "It was the only time in my life I've ever played drunk.' If Stock was aware of his condition, it evidently didn't bother him. 'He played so-oo well that night. I sat on the touchline and at one point I asked the referee to keep the game going for another half an hour, just to see what the big fella could do. After the game, the Bournemouth chairman, who also happened to be an FA councillor, comes up to me and says, "That Marsh, he ain't half a lucky player." "That's funny," I said, "but he's just scored his 39th goal of the season and that's more than your lot have scored this season." People can be very bitchy in football. If someone has a good player we are inclined to say "he's not very good but we could do something with him if we had him".'

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon (Penguin Classics 1949)




When the detectives had passed the yacht, Mr Pyke spoke again, slowly, with his habitual precision.

'He's the sort of son good families hate to have. Actually you can't have many specimens in France.'

Maigret was quite taken aback, for it was the first time, since he had known him, that his colleague had expressed general ideas. Mr Pyke seemed a little embarrassed himself, as though overcome with shame.

'What makes you think we have hardly any in France?'

'I mean not of that type, exactly.'

He picked his words with great care, standing still at the end of the jetty, facing the mountains which could be seen on the mainland.

'I rather think that in your country, a boy from a good family can commit some bêtises, as you say, so as to have a good time, to enjoy himself with women or cars, or to gamble in the casino. Do your bad boys play chess? I doubt it. Do they read Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard? It's unlikely, isn't it? They only want to live their life without waiting for their inheritance.'

They leant against the wall which ran along one side of the jetty, and the calm surface of the water was occasionally troubled by a fish jumping.

'De Greef does not belong to that category of bad characters, I don't think he even wants to have money. He's almost a pure anarchist. He has revolted against everything he has known, against everything he's been taught, against his magistrate of a father and his bourgeois mother, against his home town, against the customs of his own country.'

He broke off, half-blushing.

'I beg your pardon . . . '

'Go on, please.'

'We only exchanged a few words, the two of us, but I think I have understood him, because there are a lot of young people like that in my country, in all countries, probably, where morals are very strict. That's why I said just now that one probably doesn't come across a vast number of that type in France. Here there isn't any hypocrisy. Perhaps there isn't enough.'

Was he alluding to the surroundings, the world the two of them had been plunged in since their arrival, to the Monsieur Émiles, the Charlots, the Ginettes, who lived among the others without being singled out for opprobrium?

Maigret felt a little anxious, a little piqued. Without being attacked, he was sung by an urge to defend himself.


A shopping basket of rogue prices

On this day of days, if you spot a 500ml bottle of Irn Bru in a supermarket in Manhattan you just have to buy it . . . even if it was at the eye-popping rip off price off $2.49 (plus tax).

And it wasn't even cold.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Iron Staircase by Georges Simenon (A Helen & Kurt Wolff Book 1953)




The first note was written in pencil, on a sheet of writing paper the size of a postcard. He did not think it necessary to put the date in full.

"Tuesday: Attack at 2:50. Duration, 35 minutes. Colic. Ate mashed potatoes at lunch."

After the word "lunch," he drew a minus sign and circled it. This meant that his wife had not eaten any of the mashed potatoes. For years she had avoided starch, for fear of putting on weight.



Friday, August 22, 2014

On Leave by Daniel Anselme (Faber and Faber Inc 1957)





"Well?" Jean Valette asked in a drawl. "Well, so when's it going to happen, then, the end of the war? When will it come?"

"Soon," Luc Giraud said slowly. "A war like this can't last long."

"Why not?" Jean Valette asked.

"Because five hundred thousand young men," Luc Giraud said, syllable by syllable, "five hundred thousand . . . well, that gets about in the country. Because half a million young men over there means a whole mass of French families are affected by the war. Ask your sister."

"Yes," Colette chipped in. "Five hundred thousand young men over there means hundreds of thousands of mothers and wives and sisters and girlfriends fearing for their sons, husbands, brothers, and lovers. And that gets around in the country."

"Well then," Jean Valette said, "you mean that the more we are over there, the more it gets around over here?"

"In one sense you are right," Luc Giraud said. "It's dialectical. The more the war affects the masses, the nearer we are to peace."

"So tell me, then," Jean Valette said in a louder voice, "how many million soldiers do we need over there to make the masses move?"

"Jean!" Madame Valette said.

"No," Luc Giraud responded calmly, "that is not what I said."

"He's doing it on purpose," Colette said.

"What am I supposed to be doing on purpose?"

"Contradicting. Contradicting just for the sake of it."

"I'm just asking a question."

"An anti-Party question!"

"Colette, cool down," Luc Giraud ordered. "Let him speak for himself."

There was a pause, and then Jean Valette asked in an uncharacteristically tentative voice, "Luc, explain what you meant . . . You have to explain . . . you have to . . . "

You could feel he was trying hard to hold something back, but you couldn't tell, as his face was hidden by shadow, if he was on the brink of tears or of an angry outburst.

Another pause. For the first time Luc Giraud seemed uncertain.

"It's for you to explain yourself," he said at last, gravely, almost solemnly.

"I think what Jean meant to say . . . " M. Valette broke in softly.

"No," Luc Giraud cut him off. "It's for him to speak, if he wants to."

Jean Valette said nothing. He had his head in his hands and was looking down.

"But what is this all about?" Lachaume asked eventually. He did not understand what was going on.

Luc Giraud, to whom the question was addressed, raised his hand as if calling a meeting to order. Then, after allowing Jean Valette another moment for his last chance, he shrugged his arms as if to say, "I give up," and smiled at Lachaume. In fact, he looked relieved, and Lachaume guessed he had as much to do with Giraud's relief as did tongue-tied Jean Valette. In his mind all these little puzzles were somehow connected to the "proposal" that Luc Giraud was going to make to him. Lachaume was still thinking, seeing and listening to everything exclusively in the light of that "proposal." All through the long and frequent pauses in that tense and awkward conversation, and when nothing had caught his eye through the window, the thought of the coming "proposal" had made his heart beat faster.