Sunday, October 28, 2012

JD's Review of 'The Kommandant's Mistress' by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman


Human, Frighteningly Human

Many books have been written about the Holocaust and there is a danger that at some point desensitisation sets in. But not with this work.

The structure of the novel is unconventional and the narrative flows back and forward over time without any break in the stream of consciousness of the two central characters.

The writing has a ‘European’ feel to it, and stylistically the book read to me like a concatenation of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom and Camus’ The Fall.

At the heart of The Kommandant’s Mistress is the relationship between Maximilian Ernst von Walther, the officer in charge of a World War II extermination camp and Rachel, a young Jewish woman selected by the German to gratify his baser instincts. Along the way Alexandria Szeman explores the hysteria of Nazism and peels back the layers of the phenomenon that turned ordinary people into murderous and inhuman fanatics.

The writing is brutal and unsentimental. Rachel’s humiliations and abuses are described with forensic objectivity, but so is the Kommandant’s moral disintegration and self-delusion. Even the most evil acts are balanced with an underlying sense of human anguish. Scenes of domesticity are set alongside horrific portrayals of degeneracy. In places, Szeman’s detachment is both terrifying and moving at the same time.

A sense of moral ambiguity permeates the book so thoroughly that even the ending is ambivalent, and the reader is left with choosing for himself what is ‘true’ from the different viewpoints presented. Von Walther is monstrous, certainly, but he is not an alien monster, and it says much for Szeman’s skill that there are times when one feels genuine sympathy for him.

The Kommandant’s Mistress is not an easy book, but it most certainly a worthwhile one. For this reason, it gets my vote as the best work of fiction I have read this year.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Madrid


Madrid in mid-October.

The first thing I notice is not the landscape or the architecture. The first thing I notice is that I’m shivering.

I’ve not spent much time in Europe during autumn and winter in recent years, and I think my blood must have thinned. It can’t be that I’m getting older; that just can’t be the explanation.

However, like all of life’s drawbacks, cold weather has its consolations. In this case, the consolation comes in the form of women’s boots. Having spent almost five years seeing females clad almost exclusively in flip-flops, the sight of fashionable ladies in black knee-length boots evokes feelings not unlike those of listening to the music that so enthralled me as a teenager.

I digress.

Old and Impressive
Despite the Euro crisis and Spain’s unenviable position at the cliff edge of socio-economic disaster, Madrid still feels (at least to the short-term visitor) like a city that’s still got it. And by it, I mean style. By the bucketload. The city yet throngs with fashionistas, the buildings – old or modern – still look cool – and the parks remain immaculately groomed. The ambience of good food and expensive wine and the tactile atmosphere of the pavement cafes feel intact.

I have recently read alarmist reports on the internet of rising crime in the Spanish capital. I can’t say I felt particularly threatened or apprehensive during my time there. No more so than anytime I’m in any large Western city, anyway.

Modern and Surreal
Although Madrid is a major city it is also, in some ways, a small one. It is entirely feasible to walk to many of its major attractions without the need to resort to expensive taxis. So grab yourself a tourist map and see the magnificence of the Royal Palace, the Sabatini Gardens and the bustling Plaza de Cibeles overlooked by the colossal Palacio de Comunicaciones (Communications Palace). Take in the enormous Puerta de Alcalá, an ancient city gateway sculpted from granite. And of course you must catch the Prado Museum and the botanical gardens next door.

Just don’t catch what I did.

A cold.

If you’re going this time of the year, wrap up warm. And ladies, wear boots. If you don’t mind.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Life Epigrams


There must be something to reincarnation. I can’t have got this depraved in a single lifetime.

Most people are so concerned about life after death that they don’t notice they have no life before death.

I have a picture in the attic like Dorian Gray. The only difference is my portrait gets younger while I get older.

One of the hallmarks of a wasted life is excessive virginity.

Sadness is happiness without the good bits.

If I live to be a hundred will I know it?

I think I will still want women when I’m eighty, but I’ll have forgotten why.

Death is Nature’s way of saying, “I’ve had enough of you.”

One of the consolations of being older is that people mistake you for a grown-up.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Portrait of an OCD Sufferer


If you want to know how I feel, most of the time I just feel irritated.

Like time is being wasted, like things are not happening quickly enough. The minute hand on my watch drives me, not the hour hand, certainly not the day of the week or the month. I count seconds in my head in the lift, going up staircases, on walking journeys from one building to another. I want people to be more brief, to get to the point. I just want them to shut up, stop elaborating, give me a 'yes' or a 'no'. I want to finish their sentences for them. I have urges to answer my own questions, then say to them, “Is that right? Just nod or shake your head. No need to open your mouth.”

If I drank instant coffee, or took sugar I would, like Prufrock, measure out my life in coffee spoons.

When I read a book, I take note of the page numbers and compute the percentage I have covered. My brain is a jumble of geometry and mathematics, angles, perspectives, decimals. Equations and chaotic fractals bubble up constantly into my consciousness. Nothing is ever still. Everything erodes, cascades, reforms, reinvents itself under the ceaseless assaults of mutating arithmetic forms. My world comprises circles, arcs, lines, squares, arrows, Mandelbrot sets and intersections. I see the structure below the surface, the skull beneath the skin. My fingernails and surrounding epidermis are chewed down, ceaselessly ripped by computing teeth. My fingertips tap out multiples of even numbers, countdowns, primes. People appear to me as transparent ciphers, puppets of passions and beliefs – and in consequence I cannot take anyone seriously, not even myself.

I am plagued by many 'whys', but no longer with the big whys. These days I am more interested in the questions that philosophers would find trivial. Put simply, philosophy no longer interests me, seems to me no more than an exercise in self-indulgence. In truth, some residues of ideas and attitude remain, but these ruined, decayed pillars can no longer support a superstructure of positive belief.

I am like the driver of a runaway train who realises he has lost control, but no longer cares. I observe the screaming passengers impassively, feel the rushing air on my face and raise my arms to the sky. The event horizon approaches, the ultimate quadratic equation, and the numbers finally resolve themselves into an oblivion of zero; substituting life for death.

At last, it will all make sense.


JD's Review of 'Perfection Unleashed' (The Double Helix Series) by Jade Kerrion


Frankenstein Meets Richard Dawkins, With Guns

Jade Kerrion’s dystopian Science Fiction series ‘Double Helix’ gets off to a cracking start with ‘Perfection Unleashed’. The book fizzes with ideas and reads like the draft of a movie script (which I guess is what Kerrion is aiming for).

Set in the not-too-distant future – and quite when is not made clear – the author portrays an Earth where both natural and man-made mutations compete for supremacy with humans. Humans don’t necessarily come out of this terribly well, and realizing they are about to lose their perch at the top of the food chain, some of them organize the Purest Humanity cult whose first goal is to destroy the artificially-created ‘perfect being’, known as Galahad.

Without getting into spoiler territory here, there are interconnections of family and friendship which straddle the human-mutant-clone-invitrio fault lines of hatred and prejudice.

Kerrion has crammed a whole host of assorted characters into her novel, creating multiple story-lines and setting up the appropriate hooks for future books in the series. The practical effect of this is that the characters are of necessity somewhat sketchily drawn, with a couple hovering on the edge of caricature, defined solely by a single emotion or intention. But putting this aside – along with a couple of slightly dodgy bits of motivating psychology – this is a compelling broth of action and science, lightly flavoured with some cross-species love interests.

‘Perfection Unleashed’ is a pacey read, with chase scenes, battles, Mexican stand-offs, and a fair amount of death, destruction and chaos along the way. Kerrion doesn’t waste much time on descriptive passages, and in the midst of the rapidly-unfolding plot(s), some of the dialogue sections felt a bit forced and overly-reflective to this reader.

I suspect, however, the author is only just getting into her stride.

I’ll be interested to see where Ms Kerrion takes things in her next books, two of which are scheduled for release in December 2012.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dubai

The Road Less Travelled does not go through Dubai.

Dubai? Do buy.

This is a place for making money and for spending it excessively. Go into a shop in one of the gigantic air-conditioned malls and the first thing the Filipina assistant will ask you is, "Which brand are you looking for, sir?"

"Well, actually I was looking for a good quality linen shirt. Preferably one that doesn't have some damn logo on the front."

Blank look.

"But which brand, sir?"

If you're like me and retail therapy does nothing for you, don't expect your jaded spirit to be revived here. This is a city for consumers.

As it is now
It is also a city with a huge immigrant workforce. Ninety per cent of the people who live here are ex pats, and over seventy per cent of those are from the Indian sub-continent - mainly working in the construction industry or driving taxis. For the Western ex pats, life is generally good, with high income-tax-free salaries. But there is a definite racial pecking-order. Remuneration policies reflect this, and if you have dark skin you might have trouble getting into some of the more upmarket nightclubs.

Conditions for some workers here are grim. Over the last few years the statistics show around 900 Indians a year die on construction sites building the Dubai Dream. It has been estimated recently that perhaps 20% of the world's cranes are in Dubai: in spite of the hiccup in 2007-8, the building madness has hardly paused. The epitome of this is the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest man-made structure on the planet. This place fosters excess and the flouting of achievement.

Coming soon to a shopping mall near you
Glass, concrete and steel dominate the landscape. Huge SUVs and sports cars cruise the busy highways. On the vacant lots and at the city's perimeters the desert encroaches stealthily; but saving its main assault for the day when the economics of energy and globalisation move their focus away from the Middle East.

When that time comes, the non-indigenous population will evaporate like oil fumes in a cracking tower. The huge skyscapers will empty, the malls will assume a less imposing and more post-apocalyptic look; and carried by the heated desert winds the sand will finally reclaim its own.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Talk to the Hat

Watch this space. Over the coming months I'll be conducting a series of interviews with some of the planet's finest Indie writers and seeing how much embarrassing personal stuff I can get out of them.

Scheduled victims already include:-

George Angus, author of Talkeetna Trouble

Charles E Wells, author of the Whispering Pines series

Travis Luedke, author of The Nightlife: New York


I am hoping to add some lady authors to this list shortly. I don't want to be spending my whole time talking to ugly blokes. That wouldn't be much fun.

STOP PRESS: Diane Strong, author of The Running Suspense series, has agreed to drop by for a chat. Better get some wine in. Maybe even some scented candles.


John Dolan in Print


EVERYONE BURNS (TIME, BLOOD AND KARMA, BOOK ONE)
Published by Tention Books

He opens a drawer of his desk, casually takes out a revolver, flicks off the safety catch and points it at my head.
He says almost sorrowfully, 'Do you believe me to be a gangster, Mr Braddock?'

It is January 2005 and the charred remains of two Europeans have been discovered on the Thai island of Samui.
Local Police Chief Charoenkul, sidelined by his superiors, enlists the reluctant David Braddock, a burnt-out private detective, to assist in an 'unofficial' investigation.
But Braddock has problems of his own, including an affair with the same Police Chief's wife ...

Peppered with irreverent humour and some pithy comments on everyday life in the Land of Smiles, 'Everyone Burns' is much more than a crime novel. It is also a carefully-crafted psychological study of an anti-hero for our time.

Available in paperback and as an ebook from Amazon.com from Amazon.co.uk and from other Internet retailers worldwide.



HUNGRY GHOSTS (TIME, BLOOD AND KARMA, BOOK TWO)
Published by Tention Books

For the last half-hour my mind has been playing games with me. I keep thinking I see Claire at the periphery of my vision, But when I turn my head she vanishes.
But then of course she would.
She is a ghost, after all.

It is the spring of 2005 and the macabre 'burning murders' have ended. Life has apparently returned to normal on the Thai island of Samui.
For private investigator David Braddock 'normal' means finding a missing drug smuggler, sleeping with the Police Chief's wife and ensuring his office manager's latest moneymaking scheme doesn't bankrupt him.
For Police Chief Charoenkul it means resuming his seemingly-endless wait for that elusive promotion to Bangkok.

However, the peace is destined to be short-lived. Unbeknown to both men, karmic storm clouds are gathering and murderous forces are about to be unleashed which could destroy them both ...

Available in paperback and as an ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and from other Internet retailers worldwide.



A POISON TREE (TIME, BLOOD AND KARMA, BOOK THREE)
Published by Tention Books

“You kill my wife and I’ll kill yours.” You must admit, as a proposition, it has an alluring symmetry to it. 

It is 1999, and as the Millennium approaches, old certainties wither. For family man, David Braddock, his hitherto predictable world is undergoing a slow collapse. The people closest to him seem suddenly different. As desires and aspirations tangle around each other like parasite stems, betrayal is in the air. 
And so is murder. 

Fans of Braddock will finally learn the sequence of events that drove him into exile in Asia, while for new readers, ‘A Poison Tree’ is the perfect introduction to the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series. 


Available in paperback and as an ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and from other Internet retailers worldwide.



JIM FOSSE'S EXPENSE CLAIM
Published by Tention Books

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” - Albert Einstein

A darkly humorous short story of obsession and red tape. Once you've met Jim Fosse, you'll never feel quite the same about opening your e-mails ...

WARNING: Contains sexual references and some really bad grammar.

Available as an ebook from Amazon.com from Amazon.co.uk and from other Internet retailers worldwide.




CHAOS IS COME AGAIN
Published by Tention Books

"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not
Chaos is come again." ~ William Shakespeare, 'Othello'

Sean hears voices in his head.
Travis snorts cocaine.
Teagan thinks she's the next Lady Gaga.
Avery has the boss from Hell, and a mother with dementia.
And Goose wants to catch a serial killer.

'Chaos Is Come Again' is a psychological suspense, a mystery, and a love story - loaded with irreverent humour and viewed through the lens of obsession.

WARNING: Contains references to Judas Iscariot, a dwarf, and a performing monkey.

Available in paperback and as an ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and from other Internet retailers worldwide.


JD's Review of 'The Beginning' (Whispering Pines Book 1) by Charles E Wells


Psychic Powers, Rattling Skeletons and Thrilling Action!

'The Beginning' opens with one of the best first chapters I have read in a long while. I found myself thinking: first five minutes of James Bond movie.

The story itself is very visual and evocative, and the characters deftly drawn. There is a dizzy mix of action, mystery, murder and psychic voodoo playing out against the background noise of family skeletons rattling loudly in the closet. You root for the good guys and hiss loudly at the bad guys. The action comes thick and fast and I found myself staying up until 1.30am to finish the book. Impossible to leave it alone for long once you’ve reached the mid-point - wife, kids or work notwithstanding.

I did find some formatting/typing issues in the text which a little more time in editing could have smoothed out, and (being a cynical Brit) would have liked to cut out some of the more homespun American dialogue. I found myself just wanting to get back to the action – of which there is a lot!

'The Beginning' is the first in Charles Wells’ mystery/thriller series 'Whispering Pines'. Will I be reading the next in the series? As you US-types might say, “You betcha!”

You can download a free copy of 'The Beginning' from Smashwords. Click here


More Nonsense


This is an experimental blog to see precisely how much internet nonsense my brain can deal with before it explodes and pebbledashes the walls.

If you're an American reading this, howdy. I'm afraid all my spellings are in proper English. You might need a dictionary.

In case you haven't already gathered, I'm John Dolan, galericulate author of 'Everyone Burns', tweeter extraordinaire. If you're expecting insight and enlightenment you are in all likelihood going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you would like to treat your facial muscles to some smiling exercises, then you've probably come to the right place. We might even get your brow wrinkling at something interesting. I have shares in the company that makes botox, so this is a win-win for all of us.

If you're wondering what 'galericulate' means, it means 'hidden by a hat'. None the wiser? Me neither.

This blog will comprise observations on travel and places, life, the universe and knitting. The real purpose of this exercise, of course, is to try to con you into buying my books*. So you can also expect book reviews, interviews with other writers and sneaky subliminal advertising posing as objective commentary. It's highly unlikely that anything you read here will be true and most of it will be barely credible. But if you've spent any serious time on the internet you'll be used to that anyway.

If you'd like to get all my blog stuff delivered free to your email account use the Follow by Email box on the right of this article.

If my blog articles get a bit long and tedious or I use too many long words, you might want to go and see what I'm burbling about on Twitter @JohnDolanAuthor. At least there the madness is restricted to 140 characters.

Have a good day. Or as good a day as is practical.

*like this one