Black Coffee Review: A Tantalising Thriller That Doesn’t Really Reflect Christie’s Prowess

As a bored, Golden Age crime fiction fan looking for something to keep me entertained during the lockdown, I’ve been turning to re-reading old favourites over recent months. Among my most beloved books is my collection of Hercule Poirot novels from the renowned Queen Of Crime, whose novels were the epitome of Golden Age crime fiction, Agatha Christie.

Re-reading old favourites offers many benefits, including giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll definitely enjoy the book. That’s why I’ve been devouring Agatha Christie novels during the pandemic. While I’m not averse to reading the odd Miss Marple novel, or even one of her lesser-known Tommy And Tuppence books, my favourite series of all out of Christie’s extensive back catalogue is the Poirot novels, which feature the pernickety Belgium private detective and his various accomplices as they solve devious crimes.

There are several of these books that I love, including the gripping Dead Man’s Folly and the twisted Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case, as well as her short story collections such as Poirot Investigates and Poriot’s Early Cases. However, I’ve also been searching for new Poirot stories that I haven’t read yet, but which I know will give me a taste of one of my favourite fictional sleuths and a new tale to sink my teeth into.

My search for new Poirot novels, beyond the original ones by Christie, which I’ve already read, and the ones by Sophie Hannah, which I’ve also checked out and reviewed, led me to Black Coffee. The book is an adaptation of a stage play script written by Christie herself, and turned into a novel by Charles Osborne, with the permission of Christie’s family and estate.

Osborne has also adapted a couple of other plays by Christie, so I was interested to check out this book. As mentioned, the original script for the play was written by the Queen Of Crime herself, but Osborne has bought it back to life by turning it into a novel, so readers like me can enjoy it even during the lockdown.

The play was slightly less popular than the renowned Mousetrap, also written by Christie, and which is the longest running show on the West End. However, Black Coffee was still incredibly popular, and it was turned into a 1931 film, as well as being turned into a novel.

Before I begin giving my opinions, I just want to say that I’ve never seen the film or play, or read Christie’s original play script. As such, I don’t know how much of it can be attributed to Osborne and how much was Christie herself. While I enjoyed reading Black Coffee, I did find it lacked certain elements that make for the perfect Poirot novel.

The book tells the story of Sir Claud Amory, a reclusive scientist living outside London in a large, luxurious home with his family, servants, secretary and a mysterious Italian friend of his daughter-in-law. Amory is developing a revolutionary formula for a new explosive that could completely change the world of war and the global power landscape.

Worried that the formula is about to be stolen by someone in his house, Amory hire Hercule Poirot to come down and take the formula back to London, where it can be given to the Government. On the evening when the detective, with his old friend Captain Hastings in tow, is due to arrive at the house, the formula is stolen from Amory’s safe.

The head of the household offers the thief one last chance to redeem themselves by switching off the lights and allowing them to anonymously return the formula. When the lights go out, the envelope in which the formula was is returned, but it later turns out to be empty. At the same time, Amory, who had just complained that his coffee was bitter, is found dead.

Poirot and Hastings arrive on the scene in time to find the dead man and offer their services to the family. The great detective hopes to find both the formula and the murderer, who he believes might be one and the same.

The plot is certainly thrilling and engaging, and the outcome is definitely unexpected and inventive. However, one of the key plot twists is taken directly from another Poirot novel; I won’t say which, so there are no spoilers. It’s simply a little disappointing that the main plot device is lifted from another book, although it is understandable that Christie would do this, as she probably believed that the play audience wouldn’t notice as they were watching rather than reading the tale.

Poirot himself is slightly off in Black Coffee. He’s a bit of a caricature of himself: like someone has heard of Poirot and his quirks, and then written a version of him without actually ever reading a Christie novel. Again, I understand that, for a play, the depiction needs to be more intense, as theatre goers will be less engaged and have less time with the character than book readers.

It’s very clearly an adaptation of a play: you can see it in the way the book is written. Osborne doesn’t do much by way of novelisation: while the book clearly isn’t written in the style of a play script, it isn’t quite a novel either. There is a very clear idea of space in the book, meaning readers can clearly see where each person is in the room and how they interact with one another. Also, the book is dialogue heavy, as you would expect a play script to be.

None of this detracts from Black Coffee’s appeal, but it does make it understandable that Poirot wouldn’t exactly be what I was expecting. However, he feels very different from what I wanted from the Belgium super sleuth. He’s not as sharp or perceptive in this as he is in most other novels and stories.

I’ve also got an issue with the book’s depiction of Captain Hastings. Hastings is a renowned detective sidekick, mostly because of the TV and film adaptations of the Poirot novels and the amazing portrayal of the character by actor and author Hugh Fraser. The character is not actually in that many of Christie’s books; in fact, he makes it into just 8 of the author’s 33 novels about the Belgium private eye. He also narrates many of the writer’s short stories featuring Poirot. In Black Coffee, Hastings isn’t the narrator; unlike he is in the novels written by Christie, which shows that Osborne didn’t take too much trouble to change the play script.

Hastings is another caricature of the character; Christie portrays him as a conceited and slightly uptight man who doesn’t have the wit or ingenuity of Poirot, but who is still deeply brave and loyal. He’s loyal to both his friend Poirot and his wife, but Black Coffee portrays him as flippant, deeply unintelligent and disloyal. In Christie’s books, you can see why Poirot likes to have Hastings around, but in this adaptation it’s difficult to see any benefit in this conceited man.

Even Inspector Japp, who turns up towards the end of the book, isn’t remotely similar to Christie’s original. In The Mysterious Affair At Styles, the first Poirot novel by the Queen Of Crime, the character is described as:

“One was a little, sharp, dark, ferret-faced man, the other was tall and fair.

I questioned Poirot mutely. He put his lips to my ear.

‘Do you know who that little man is?’

I shook my head.

‘That is Detective-Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard-Jimmy Japp.’” (Page 82).

The character is, again, very different in Osborne’s version of Black Coffee. The book portrays him as:

Japp, a bluff, hearty, middle-aged man with a thick-set figure and a ruddy complexion” (Page 132).

The two portrayals differ greatly. As you can see, Black Coffee does not continue the traditions of Christie, as several of her long running characters are different from their usual descriptions and actions. So, while the plot is gripping and intriguing, and the dialogue is fascinating, the book doesn’t really feel like a real Christie, or an actual Poirot story.

As I’ve said before about Kenneth Branagh’s film depiction of Poirot, just because you give your character the name doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the same. The version of Poirot adapted by Osborne isn’t the real Poirot; he might have the same fastidiousness and speak partially in French, but he’s not as delightfully diligent in his investigations, nor as characteristically witty as Christie’s original, despite the book being based on a play the Queen Of Crime wrote herself.

So, if you’re a Poirot fan who’s looking for a way to satisfy your craving for Christie, then you’re better off re-reading her novels. If you want to read something new, then I’d suggest checking out the amazing Poirot adaptations by Sophie Hannah, which are a much more realistic and relatable version of the great Belgium detective. Start with The Monogram Murdersand go from there; that’s a truly great series of adaptations that will give avid Christie fans something else to get their teeth into once they’ve finished re-reading all the original novels.

5 Insightful Books About Famous Serial Killers For Documentary Fans

In lockdown, binge-watching Netflix documentaries has become the new normal, and the platform and other streaming services have stepped up.

Streaming sites are constantly creating new documentaries, so we can stay entertained.

One common topic for these shows is serial killers, which are a popular obsession for many.

Killing multiple people is deeply fascinating for many people, as it’s something that seems so abhorrent to us that we can’t understand how, and more importantly why, people do it.

That’s why we love to watch serial killer documentaries and get an insight into the motives behind the crimes and how murderers are able to get away with committing them for so long, in many cases.

After you’ve watched loads of documentaries, it’s easy to want to learn even more, which means reading up about serial killers and the psychology behind their crimes.

There are many true crime books out there, and many books focus on serial killers in particular and offer insight into their lives before and after they started their killing sprees.   

If you’re enjoying watching documentaries to learn more about serial killers, their victims and the crimes they committed, then here is a selection of five of the most interesting books about them.

I’ve chosen books about some of the most famed serial killers, as well as a couple on less renowned murderers who, nonetheless committed cruel crimes that deserve to be remembered and studied.

5. The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy: The inspiration behind the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, this book brings a unique perspective to the Ted Bundy murders. While many books about serial killers are written either from the perspective of relatives of the victims or criminology experts, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy is written by Elizabeth Kendall, who dated Bundy for six years. Later editions include additional information by Kendall’s daughter Molly, who Bundy spent a lot of time with while he was dating her mother. The book explores the relationship between the two and how Bundy’s façade of charm and wit hide a barbaric and depraved killer with a true contempt for his fellow human beings.

4. Killing For Company: The Case Of Dennis Nilsen: The inspiration behind the ITV drama starring David Tennant, this award-winning book from Brian Masters was created with the full corporation of Nilsen himself. He killed at least 15 people in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Muswell Hill area. By taking advantage of society’s ignorance and paranoia about homosexuality and the fact that young gay men were tragically overlooked at the time, he was able to ensnare his victims. As society at the time didn’t care about them, he was able to snatch them out of their lives and commit depraved acts. Masters uncovers a man who is obsessed with death and pain, and feels little remorse for his vile crimes. The book provides unique insight into the mind of a horrendous serial killer.

3. The Jolly Roger Social Club: A True Story of a Killer in Paradise: Investigative journalist Nick Foster explores the serial killer known as ‘Wild Bill’. Real name William Dathan Holbert, the American ex-pat and conman killed at least five other Americans living in the beautiful city in Panama called Bocas del Toro. The book explores Holbert’s history of lying and conning others out of money, as well as the nature of Bocas del Toro and why the region was the perfect place for Wild Bill and his wife to search for their victims. Their murders were purely for financial gain; the pair of them earned a lot of money and built up an impressive real estate portfolio thanks to their copious crimes, which included the slaying of the teenage son of one victim who was selling his home. Foster uses his storytelling skills to paint a picture of a beautiful but flawed paradise where criminals were able to easily entrap their victims and carry out their crimes with little notice for several years. If you want to learn more about this often overlooked serial killer, then this is the book for you.

2. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper: OK, so this isn’t strictly about a serial killer. Instead, it’s an exploration of the lives of the five women who were killed by famously uncaught serial killer known as Jack The Ripper. While the popular media is keen to focus its attention on who the Ripper was, it rarely provides any information about his victims. When it does, it’s often highly inaccurate: for example, only one of the women was actually a prostitute, as this insightful book shows. Popular culture might make them all seem like streetwalkers, but several of them were from very respectable backgrounds, and writer Hallie Rubenhold shares their story respectfully in this must-read for serial killer enthusiasts.

1. My Friend Dahmer: As a former friend of Jeffrey Dahmer, the renowned serial killer who butchered 17 men and boys and committed atrocious acts on their corpses, John Backderf, known as Derf, is in a unique position to shine a light on the early life of this vile killer. Backderf is a graphic artist, who shares his story of his time trying to connect with the teenage Dahmer in the form of a graphic novel. It’s an inventive way to learn more about the early life of a killer and the weird, uncanny actions he committed that foreshadowed his future murders. The images are creative and perfectly complement this tantalising true tale of a teenage friendship with a boy who later grew into a twisted killer.

Roderick O’Grady Interview: “I would like to write more books for young people”

Children’s author Roderick O’Grady talks to me about his debut novel and his future writing career.

Tell me about how your debut book Bigfoot Mountain. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

It’s about a young girl of 12, who recently lost her mum, living with her step dad in a remote cabin, at the foot of a mountain range, near the sea in the Pacific Northwest of North America. One day she and her friend Billy find four HUGE footprints in the woods… Her stepfather Dan thinks its hoaxers but Minnie thinks she knows better. She and Dan are struggling emotionally- he is withdrawn and grief-stricken, whilst she is very sad but feels compelled to keep busy.

The events that transpire in the woods and around their cabins help them become closer and help them deal with their grief. I think readers will enjoy that it alternates between what Minnie discovers- sometimes with Billy, sometimes with Dan, sometimes alone, and events from a young Sasquatch’s point of view. He’s been watching the humans. Their stories begin to intertwine. I’ve created a community of Sasquatches who have had to move over to this side of the mountain due to forest fires and as guardians of the forest have to manage the wildlife that has also fled the fire and is crowding the mountain slopes. The story is about seeking balance, understanding the rhythms of nature and, ultimately, it’s about love and connection.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing?

I used to be an actor when I lived in New York but gave it up on my return to London as I had children to support. After 18 years I returned to an acting career, at the age of 56. When I was ‘resting’ between acting jobs I decided to write a story revolving round a magically beautiful forest where large bipedal hominids roam… The only writing I had done before was having a go at writing film screenplays, none of which ever saw the light of day.  I wrote a road-movie, a time travel comedy, a New York based romantic drama, a thriller based in the world of building contractors and the Russian mafia, a period tale of an escaped female slave busting a people-trafficking and smuggling ring on the Devon coast in 1750. It was good practice in some ways though, as I learned about creating snappy dialogue, making it specific to the character in tone and rhythm and learned how to create a overall tone for a scene; the ‘exposition’ in screenwriting terms.

Also structure is hammered in to novice screenwriters as absolutely key if you’re writing a ‘commercial’ movie. So that practice all helped hugely. It also made me a very visual writer and I think served me well in writing the novel. I always doubted that I could write enough, that I could come up with enough story and was very pleasantly surprised when it came in at 47 thousand words.  I didn’t really plot the book, I just let it flow. The sequel has a more complicated plot though and that took a lot of work. But this first one, Bigfoot Mountain is a linear story told from two perspectives. It required much research- on Sasquatches (I’ve read many books by interested scientists and so-called researchers) but also on the flora and fauna of the area, which I loved doing.

As a new author who’s just got their debut published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

I was surprised and naïve on entering the profession-  there are SO many children’s’ novels being published every month! I had no idea how hard it is to make a living from writing. And I wasn’t expecting to have to engage on social media so much in order to make the book ‘discoverable’. It’s out on 29th of April so I am busy engaging on social media and actually I’m looking forward to visiting schools, and independent bookshops. I will be introducing myself and bribing the shop staff, with biscuits, to do a special Bigfoot Mountain window display! 

On the subject of the publishing industry, I’m encouraged that many literary agents allow submissions to be sent in, as finding an agent is so hard these days, but it takes a lot of digging and questioning to get the bottom of what a publisher will actually be doing for the author, with the work, in the process of getting the book to market. Children’s publishing is different from adult literature too and getting one’s head round it all requires a novice writer to find the right people of whom to ask the right questions. I don’t know any writers or anyone in the business so it’s been a long and interesting journey.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

To relax I dabble in thrillers and books about the environment- rarely do the two genres meet… perhaps that’s a gap in the market! I love children’s classics- Varjak Paw by SF Said and of course Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I finished and admired Overstory by Richard Powers recently, which is about trees, beautifully written and with engaging multiple story lines. These writers inspire me to try harder, and to take more time over my prose, in order to describe the natural world to the best of my ability.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I enjoy Patrick O’Brien for a rollicking sea-faring yarn and would love to plot a story with him though he is sadly no longer with us. His work reminds me how important well developed characters are. I enjoyed the charm and simplicity of AA Milne’s writing and I would have liked to maybe come up with more characters, in that series.  Again, Milne worked with well-developed characters.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I am planning to write a third book in the series. I finished the sequel, during Lockdown One but am not sure when that’s going to be published.

Where do you see your literary career going? What would you like to achieve over the coming years?

I would like to write more books for young people. And I would like to write for the screen- how that will manifest I’m not sure. But with children’s books which I really love writing now that I’ve had a go at it with Bigfoot Mountain, I try to make my characters fun to spend time with- it’s important that they be spirited, positive and funny, like children are inclined to be naturally. I think if characters in a story can be daring, kind, fun, and determined, it’s helpful to young readers. I try to write memorable scenes, and exciting profound moments that will hopefully stay with the reader.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I feel like I’m distinctly behind the curve with new writers and really just want to browse in some bookshops and talk to the staff about exciting new writers. Staff in independent book shops always have good advice and are usually up to speed on new works. That will happen hopefully from April 12th this year when ‘nonessential shops’ can reopen! Hoorah! Personally I think bookshops are essential retail…

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I really hope young people and their older siblings, their parents and teachers all enjoy Bigfoot Mountain and take on board the message about understanding the bigger picture; that we are all connected, through the earth, through the energy in the earth passing through plants, rivers, seas, and animals, and that we must learn to respect and love our natural world.

Thanks to Roderick for answering my questions: I love a good children’s book about nature so I’ll be interested to check out your debut!

Tech Might Sometimes Inhibit Learning But It Is Encouraging Reading

For many years people have been lamenting the advance of technology. Particularly, technology that is used by children is regularly under fire, and now, it seems like critics might have a point.

Studies have recently shown that e-Books have a negative effect on children who are learning to read, particularly younger kids.

That’s because the use of the technology, and extra bells and whistles such as games, distract them from reading itself. So, children who use this tech get bored by the reading part and want to get stuck straight into playing the games and enjoying the delights of cartoons or whatever else it is they usually do with their tablet.

Personally, I think that technology has its pros and its cons. As the article itself states, in some cases virtual books can help with learning. Therefore, I don’t believe that tech is always a bad guy when children are trying to learn to read.

For example, if virtual books have built-in dictionaries, then they can help children with their comprehension. Someone recently mentioned that this function was one of the main reasons they missed their Kindle, after giving it up to return to the allure of traditional paper books.

With a built-in dictionary, you can swipe your finger over a word and easily learn its meaning. Using this tech is particularly useful for those reading work from a bygone era. When I was at university, I read some medieval text, which I had to read alongside a primer, a separate book. Using the primer made the text understandable, but it was also an incredibly tedious and laborious task. If I’d have had access to an eBook with an inbuilt dictionary, I would’ve found the task much easier and, probably, much more enjoyable.

So, I don’t think that we can completely ditch it when we’re trying to educate children, especially in today’s technology-driven world. Tech is a key part of the world of work, so kids need to be taught to use it and interact with it from an early age.

For those who lament the onslaught of technology, remember that without progress we’d all still be beating our clothes on rocks and living in caves. We have to progress to get better, so we need to incorporate tech into every aspect of our lives and use it to enrich them.

In this day and age, where we are stuck at home and many kids have been remote learning for months, technology is bridging the schooling gap and helping children to learn in a safe space.

Embracing technology in reading, and particularly learning to read, means using a variety of different solutions. While eBooks with games on the end of them might inhibit children’s learning, but other literacy tech solutions, can benefit children and make learning to read both easier and more fun.

One example of this phenomenon is audiobooks. Although there’s a lot of snobbery around them, audiobooks can really help children to learn to read and make them more enthusiastic about stories. In this case, this solution could be ideal for kids, particularly those with learning issues such as dyslexia, who find reading challenging. With audiobooks, particularly if they’re used alongside actual books, kids can learn to read and enjoy books, giving them good habits for the rest of their lives.

Another example of using technology to improve children’s literacy is the recent push to encourage children to watch TV with subtitles, even when it’s in their first language. Personally, I think that this is a good idea, as it will do something very important; it will make children enjoy reading and make it fun, not a chore.

Many adults I speak to who don’t like reading as a hobby say that they got sick of it after school, college or university. After being made to read a lot of texts that they didn’t particularly enjoy, they’re now happy to avoid reading and spend their time watching TV, something we’re not very often made to do analytically.

Even if students are made to watch TV shows or films they don’t particularly like, it often feels less like a chore because it’s communal, whereas outside reading is often done in their own time. All of this can make people find reading boring and make it feel like work.

As a result, they find reading a boring chore, and they don’t do it as a hobby. If they feel like that as a kid, then they’ll give it up as soon as they become old enough. That’s a real shame; I personally know a lot of adults who don’t enjoy reading, and that sucks, when you consider the many benefits of reading for your mental wellbeing and vocabulary. In times of stress reading can be incredibly soothing and it can also help readers to broaden their minds.

During the pandemic, reading has become more popular than ever, with book sales booming. It’s a great way to escape from everyday life and go to other worlds in your imagination without leaving the comfort of your home. So, children who don’t enjoy reading and keep it on as a hobby in adulthood

Fundamentally, reading is an essential skill that everyone needs to learn. However, while schools teach kids to read, they don’t teach them to enjoy reading as a hobby. Reading recreationally has loads of benefits, including broadening your horizons and expanding your vocabulary. So, anything that helps children to enjoy stories and reading gets a thumbs up from me.

John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing thrillers?

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to publishing your work?

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

The Primary Objective Review: A Promising Political Thriller Missing A Few Teeth

Political thrillers, when done well, are the perfect escapist literary. As a far of political thrillers who’s in need of an escape, I was looking forward to checking out Martin Venning’s new novel The Primary Objective.

Primarily set in a small village on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the novel charts the work of Peace International, a fictional charity organisation dedicated to providing reconciliation and mediation support to governments and military factions around the world.

Led by London-based Operations Director Edwin Wilson and a mysterious insurgent named only as ‘Dave’, a small team is put together from international experts in warfare, local tour guides, scientists and communications experts. Together, they infiltrate the small town of Ibrahim Sami and work to understand how the region is becoming so prosperous and what the military base on the outskirts of town is doing.

During the initial reconnaissance, the team from Peace International find out that the base is being managed in tandem with the Chinese military. Slowly, the team uncovers a lot of information about skulduggery that could threaten to destabilise the region and cause untold harm to millions. There’s a lot at stake, and the team has to work hard to understand the issues they face and to work together to stop threats that are coming in from all sides.

The novel switches between the perspective of the team and other players in the drama that unfolds. These include a young shipping magnate who is being used to provide logistics support for an underground organisation and a local man who is supporting Peace International’s work but is deeply concerned about his father’s involvement with the military in his hometown.

By switching through a variety of different perspectives and by moving around the world, Venning keeps the reader interested. From the dismal streets of London to the wilds of small town Iran and the hustle and bustle of Tehran, the plot traverses the globe and means that there’s never any shortage of action and adventure. As such, the novel lives up to its name- everyone’s ‘Primary Objective’ is different, so we see a variety of perspectives.

While this does serve to keep the reader entertained and the plot moving forward, the author’s constant chopping and changing does make The Primary Objective harder to follow than it needs to be. Also, as each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, and in some cases, the perspective switches even within paragraphs, readers aren’t able to get attached to any one character or storyline.

Instead, we’re constantly seeing the action from a different point of view. This approach does serve to ensure that the reader is never bored when reading this book, but it also makes the action less engaging. With so many characters involved, and with the reader seeing the story from the perspective of almost all of them, it’s hard to get attached to anyone or to care about their fate.

Also, Venning uses a lot of info dumping in his novel; where loads of information is foisted on the reader through a lengthy explanation or piece of explanatory dialogue, rather than being integrated naturally throughout the story. Inserting long explanations makes the text feel very dense and less enjoyable to read, although Venning makes up for that issue with his fast-paced plot and by moving the action around a lot.

As for the characters, while there are too many, and the reader isn’t able to get too attached to them thanks to the almost constantly switching perspectives, they are still intriguing and well crafted. Each character is believable and relatable in some way, even the very unique military individuals that most people don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis.

The character backstories are often dumped on the reader haphazardly, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t slowly become invested in their fates as the novel progresses. Many of the characters give long, rambling depictions of their lives and what has happened to them, but as the action gets more exhilarating and the plot thickens we still get excited to see their fates.

Ultimately, I enjoyed The Primary Objective, but the novel is far from perfect. In the future, I’d be interested in reading some more from Martin Venning, and seeing if his coming works rectify some of the issues I found with this exciting yet somewhat confusing book.

Dr Seuss Isn’t Being Cancelled: This Is How Book Publishing Works

You gotta love the internet. Not long after Dr Seuss Enterprises, which published books by the renowned children’s author and preserves his legacy, announced it was pulling six books due to their portrayals of people, outrage ensued.

People started raving that the writer was being ‘cancelled’ –spoiler alert: he’s fucking not. They started bulk buying his books and hoarding them, or selling on old copies at silly prices, in a sad attempt to cash in on this ludicrous display of impotent, pointless outrage.

Frankly, the whole debacle and public outcry is ridiculous. For one, the idiots who are upset at the idea of Dr Seuss being ‘cancelled’ probably have never heard of half the books he wrote.

Aside from The Cat In The Hat and Green Eggs And Ham, they’ve probably not heard of anything the author put together, never mind the books that aren’t being published anymore. One of them is the first book he ever published, and most of the others are obscure parts of his back catalogue that already aren’t that popular because of their racist depictions and the poor values that they might teach to children.

Also, if the internet trolls are this upset that an author’s novels are being pulled by a publisher decades after they were written, then they should hear about all of the actually outrageous stuff that goes on in publishing, like the sexual harassment many women encounter, the lack of support for BAME writers, nepotism and more. That’s what they should actually get angry about, not the fact that a well-known writer, who is long dead and whose works still make millions for his estate, isn’t going to get 6 books published anymore.

The issue with these books is that they portray some pretty offensive depictions, which, in 2021, just aren’t acceptable. I mean, they’ve never been acceptable, but society has only just started to accept that racism isn’t OK.

For many years, other, less renowned authors have gone out of fashion and their books have been put out of print. The Bulldog Drummond series by Sapper were one series that has been out of the public eye, and out of print in many cases, because of its highly offensive depiction of Jewish people.

However, these books haven’t garnered as much attention for being out of print for being offensive, simply because when they went out of print, people didn’t automatically leap to this idea that it’s ‘cancellation’ or a freedom of speech issue to stop printing a book that’s deemed offensive. Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from the consequences of that speech; in other words, you’re more than welcome to write offensive books, but don’t expect publishers to keep printing them when readers start speaking out about the issues.

After all, readers are the backbone of any publishing house’s success. They protest with their purchases, and so publishers have to make sure that they’re printing works that reflect the values they want to portray.

That isn’t to say the Dr Seuss was necessarily an active racist; he was probably just ignorant and reflecting common prejudices from his time. However, today’s readers don’t want to see that sort of racist imagery, particularly not in children’s books, and rightly so. Racism is never acceptable, and the world needs to move on from outdated ways of thinking and embrace new literature.

It’s understandable that Dr Seuss’s publishers, particularly an organization dedicated to his work, and therefore unable to expand with new authors, should want to refresh its catalogue and remove writing that’s not in keeping with its values.

Many classic children’s authors, including the amazing Roald Dahl, created problematic portrayals of some races and types of people, and their books are constantly under scrutiny from publishers and agencies alike. If they’re found wanting and the publishers feel that they are too offensive to remain in print, then they will go out of it and new work will come onto the market.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t take away the good messages we take from these works; it just means that we’re acknowledging that, in 2021, people of different races and creeds shouldn’t be faced with humiliating and offensive portrayals of themselves in children’s literature or anywhere else.

One thing I would say about the ‘Dr Seuss is being cancelled’ argument is that it’s definitely disproportionate and that, honestly, this is what happens in book publishing. Work goes out of vogue, or it simply doesn’t sell very well, so it goes out of print. You can still buy second-hand copies, but they won’t make any more of them, for now anyway.

There are bigger fish to fry in 2021, with a global pandemic still raging and Donald Trump still roaming free despite trying to end democracy in the US and causing untold harm to millions of families through his family separation, poor treatment of refugees, and much more. There’s a lot going on in the world, and the fact that the Dr Seuss estate isn’t going to publish half a dozen long forgotten novels doesn’t really matter all that much.

At the end of the day, I think that some books need to make way for new ideas and that it’s not important when some older novels go out of print, for whatever reason. Books that are offensive to some groups deserve to be put out of print, but they’re hardly ‘cancelled’. There will always be somewhere to get them second-hand, and in the age of eBooks they’ll be an everlasting memento of almost every work of fiction. The only reason Dr Seuss’s work is getting so much notice is because some of his works have been made into popular movies. But racist imagery isn’t acceptable, and so we should remember the books we love by Dr Seuss, and accept that not all of them are worth preserving.

The Top Five Alex Delaware Novels To Get You Hooked On This Daring Psychiatrist/ Detective Duo

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve become a fan of John Kellerman’s writing, but now I am I’m hooked.

He’s a prolific writer who’s created books across a number of different genres, but my favourites are definitely his Alex Delaware/ Milo Sturgis novels.

This seemingly unlikely detective duo make for a great team. Kellerman breaks the mould with these two; unlike traditional detective double acts, the narrator and assistant is the cerebral one, while the Lieutenant and clear leader is the bullish everyman.

Together, the pair combine their skills to solve some of LA’s most brutal and disturbing crimes. While the novels are set in LA, Kellerman is quick to make witty retorts against the modern bullshit he sees around him and to turn potentially dreary lines of questioning into rapid, witty dialogue.

Personally, I hadn’t heard of the Alex Delaware novels until a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed several of the Alex Delaware series, although I’ve not yet read them all. I was surprised, when I started buying more of them, how many books are actually in the series.

If you want to know where to start, then check out my pick of five books in the series that are great for anyone who wants to test the waters and find a new favourite series to binge on.

5. Blood Test: In this gripping thriller, Alex Delaware is called in to negotiate when the parents of a young boy with cancer refuse his life-saving treatment because of the beliefs of their cult. The seemingly easy job quickly turns sinister when the five year old boy and his parents disappear from the hospital. A bloodied hotel room is found and Milo is drawn into the investigation. The cult turns out to be less wholesome than you might think, and Alex and Milo soon discover that the group is deadly dangerous and there’s more than one life at stake.

4. Serpentine: The most recent novel in the series, Serpentineis a cracking modern crime novel that is relatable and insightful, so it’s great for new readers just checking out these books. When Milo has a very old cold case thrust on him by his superiors, he asks his old friend Alex Delaware along to work out the psychology of the woman who is searching for answers about her mother’s murder more than thirty years previously. What initially seems like an impossible case, with little to no evidence, soon transforms into a

3. The Museum Of Desire: An unsettling staged murder scene in the back of a limo outside a rented mansion sets the scene for a gripping police procedural. The Museum Of Desireis both unique and enticing, as Kellerman draws you through the sordid and seedy underbelly of LA, dealing with everyone from rich, airheaded philanthropists through to washed up artists and beyond. Alex and Milo work hard to whittle down their cacophony of suspects down to a select few, then face a vicious fight to track down and capture the monster who staged the scene and committed more atrocities in the name of art and revenge.

2. Survival Of The Fittest: When the mentally disabled daughter of a rising diplomat is found murdered in a desolate corner of the mountains, Milo and Alex suspect a political motive. However, the girl’s father is adamant that there isn’t one, and wants to be in control of the investigation. Thanks to his power, he’s able to make the detective duo’s work difficult, and seems determined to either send the investigation on the wrong track or bury the investigation. When another body is discovered, things get difficult and Alex is forced to go undercover in what turns out to be a deeply sinister plot with far-reaching implications. This novel is chilling and the conclusion will stay with you long after you’ve finished the final chapter.  

1. When the Bough Breaks: As I keep saying, when you want to start a new series, start at the beginning. The first in the Alex Delaware novels isn’t the best in the series, but it is an ideal introduction to the psychiatrist and his friend in the LAPD, Milo Sturgis. In When The Bough Breaks, Alex is bought in on a case where a psychiatrist is found murdered, with one possible witness in the room; a traumatised seven year old girl. Alex must help her to tell the police what she knows, but he quickly realises that the murdered man wasn’t a decent human being, and that there are links to his own past trauma that he has to face before he and Milo can uncover the truth. This book is good for anyone who wants an introduction to Kellerman’s characters and story-telling style, but there are more engaging plots in the later novels.