Friday, 6 January 2017


This is an odd Books of the Year list, because it basically includes only those books I wrote about on Irresistible Targets, or reviewed on The Crime Vault Live, and the books I read and wrote about were not necessarily written in 2016. And of course, some I haven't yet written about, which means a number of my favourite books of 2016 will, I hope, get mentioned here soon, including Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat, Reza Aslan's Zealot, Henning Mankell's Quicksand and David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard. 

I admit I probably should have written about the books I reviewed on The Crime Vault, but once I'd done the podcast, reviewing them in some detail, I had pretty much said what I wanted to say. You can find links to all five of the the CVL podcasts here at IT, just use the search engine.  All the other books I mention you can similarly find in the past year.

My favourite 2016 crime novels were James Sallis' Willnot and Alex Marwood's Darkest Secret (CVL). Runners up to Michael Connelly's Wrong Side Of Goodbye, Robert Crais' The Promise (CVL), Graham Hurley's The Order Of Things, Stephen King's story collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams (CVL) and Johan Theorin's Made In Sweden (CVL).

I was also a judge for the CWA Short Story Dagger award, and John Connolly's Night Music, from which two stories made the judges' (and my) short list, was exceptional. The runner-up story came from another fine collection, Crimes, by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, from Venezuela.

But my favourite crime novel of the year was Sara Gran's Dope, which for some reason I came to late. Read my review; it really is as good as I say.

The other two non-crime books that stand out from the year's reading were Kevin Jackson's study of modernism and 1922, Constellation of Genius, and Joe Abercrombie's hugely entertaining story collection, Sharp Ends, which proves not only that the whole sword and sorcery genre is not dead, but that a good writer can do wonderful things with it.  Serious writing in a not always very serious genre. But then you probably watch Game Of Thrones, right?


Picking every game every week is an adventure. This was the introduction to my column this week, which wasn't included with the predictions on the nfluk website.


I never thought I would say this, but I actually miss the 'expert' Pick Em game on which my picks (allowing for my luddite inability to move the sliders properly) appeared for the past four years. I finished second the first year, and first each of the next three, even last season when I (and almost everyone else) had a off year (just 62.5 per cent right). Doing this for a period of years teaches you that margins are small: I improved this year to 66.1 per cent, but that's just eight games better in a 17 week season, or one every other week. This year I also finished with a rush: from week 11 onward I was 82-29, which is a 74 per cent pace. I'd like to say it was because I'd figured things out better after half the season, but who knows, that would sound like Outcome Bias, which I am always criticising.  I am pretty consistent: in 12 seasons picking weekly with Friday Morning Tight End, I've finished between 165 and 176 games right ten times.

But without the Pick Em game to measure against, I looked around this week to see how I'd compare. Turns out 168 correct would put me atop Pete Prisco & Co at CBS Sportsline (Dave Richard was best with 167) and fuve games up on ESPN's experts (KC Joyner with 165 was best, but they also gave their guessers this season's two ties as wins). I'd run away with's Gameday Morning, won by Kurt Warner with 154. The best I found were Sam Farmer of the LA Times and Elliott Harrison on, both with 170 right, so they get the championship. And here's a hint: it won't get much easier in the playoffs, even though it looks like it ought to. There is a very strong pull to pick all four home teams in this Wild Card round, but that means means you'd have two nine win teams favoured against teams that won 12 and 11. Go figure....


You may have noticed a lull in the postings on this site, and read my post last month about finding a new direction, if any, in which to take this blog. I had a modest boom in my paid writing during the election, but as that cooled off again I found my motivation for writing just for myself, and you, somewhat lessened.

In the meantime, however, I have a huge backlog of things I need to get written, books and films to review, essays I want to write, and I've decided that while I investigate other options for my output, I will continue to post them here. I have figured out how to make the site look a bit better; though the new controls which 'simplify' things also don't let me return the logo to its original, balanced and readable state. I have resurrected the lost 'Bullseyes' sidebar, and am restoring those story links manually. I've also added a sidebar with links direct to my poetry.

I have the feeling this would all be better served with a website, which is one of the things I will consider as I try to catch up this space, as they say.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


My obituary of Henry Heimlich, inventor of the eponymous manoeuvre to deal with choking, is up at the Guardian online, you can link to it here. It is pretty much as filed; the biggest cut was some information about his wife Jane. I found it fascinating that she wrote a book called Things Your Doctor Won't Tell You, and co-authored another about Homeopathy. Given Heimlich's sometime shaky status with the medical establishment, that seemed somehow telling. I'm not sure the ubiquitous nature of her father, Arthur Murray, and his self-promoting dance empire, would be clear in Britain; I debated trying to make a connection with his son-in-law and his self-promotion, and later learned (but from only one source) that Arthur Murray  Heimlich's medical school.  But the connection seemed interesting, particularly in light of all the celebrity endorsements his technique received in its early days (including New York mayor Ed Koch, see photo).

They also cut my mention that Heimlich's father moved to New Rochelle to work as a prison social-worker, which also seemed interesting to me: those two influences seemed to combine to define his own personality. And the antipathy shown by his son Peter, whose campaign against his father was virulent and lasted for decades, is something worth its own story, if not novel.

Monday, 19 December 2016


You may have noticed a lack of posts in the month of December. I wish I could say it's because I have been too busy, but really it is because I have again come to question the utility of this blog. Partly because I am encouraged by writing I have done elsewhere, in commercial markets, and partly because Blogger, which is a free tool and thus much appreciated, has for some reason decided to simplify its controls, and in the process of this simplification managed to mangle this blogs logo (I did not intend the title of the blog to be laid out as an e.e.cummings rough draft) and lose two of the sidebar 'gadgets': the Bullseyes list of 'greatest hits' and the list of links to other blogs and websites. Having failed to recapture them, I tried to re-enter those gadgets, and though they sit on the formatted template, blogger refuses steadfastly to publish the new layout.

This should not be as discouraging to me as it has been, and I may well start a Christmas push to help clear the backlog of pieces I have, in most cases, started but then abandoned. Anyone who can suggest a viable alternative to make this blog look at least as good as it did, or a way of expanding its reach would be more than welcomed. In the meantime, a New Year's resolution seems in the offing....

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


I wrote Orlando Bosch's obituary for the Independent five years ago, and I thought it might be worth posting it here to widen the perspective of reflection on the death of Castro, and American attitudes toward terrorism. The death toll from Operation Condor alone is constructive. You can look at my original posting here at IT which I wrote when I linked to the Indy piece: it includes the Dealey Plaza photo. I've posted my original copy here; it was edited slightly in the Indy, and I've added a couple of notes.


It is said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter. If so, Orlando Bosch, who has died aged 84, was all things to all men. A dedicated anti-Castro Cuban, Bosch was implicated in dozens of terrorist acts, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana Air flight 455, which killed 73 people, and the assassination in Washington, DC the same year of the Chilean exile Orlando Letelier. Hailed as a hero by America's Cuban exile community, Bosch was a prime example of the double-standards of the Bush administration's so-called 'Global War on Terror' and the long-standing policy of the US toward Cuba, especially considering the electoral importance of Florida's Cuban vote. Despite his terrorist record, Bosch was personally championed by Jeb Bush, and released from US custody by his father, President George HW Bush.

Orlando Bosch Avila was born 18 August 1926, five days after Fidel Castro, in Poterillo, Cuba. His father, a former policeman, ran a restaurant; his mother was a teacher. While studying medicine at the University of Havana he became friends with Castro, a law student; both were in the student government. He completed his medical internship in Toledo, Ohio and his residency in Memphis before returning to Cuba, where he was the first doctor to provide the new polio vaccine. At the same time he began organising underground support for Castro's campaign against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, for which he was forced to flee to Miami with his wife Myriam and their children. He returned after Batista fell, but quickly became disenchanted with his old friend, and after launching a failed counter-revolution, returned to Miami in 1960.

He became general coordinator of the Insurectional Movement of Revolutionary Recovery (MIRR), and joined Operation 40, a CIA-backed effort to arrange Castro's assassination, whose membership included future Watergate burglars E.Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, and a former Cuban intelligence officer named Luis Posada Carilles. Meanwhile, he lost his medical job for using the hospital to store explosives, and was arrested numerous times for violating the Neutrality Act, once for towing a home-made torpedo through Miami's streets. According to a later Justice Department report, between 1961 and 1968 Bosch was involved in some 30 terrorist operations, often organised with Posada, most notoriously the phosphorus bombing of Cuban sugar factories.

Some researchers claim to have spotted Bosch in Dealey Plaza, sitting next to the 'umbrella man' in the aftermath of John Kennedy's assassination; the photographs are more convincing than the so-called 'tramp' photos which purported to include Hunt or Sturgis, but still the figure looks more like an older Bosch than how he might have appeared in 1963. In 1985, when Hunt lost a libel suit against a magazine which claimed he was in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Marita Lorenz, once Castro's mistress and later Sturgis' girlfriend, testified under oath linking Bosch to, among others, Sturgis, Jack Ruby, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Later witnesses placing Bosch in Dealey Plaza are generally considered less reliable, and investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations 'failed to support that claim'.

In 1968, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for firing a bazooka at a Havana-bound Polish freighter docked in Miami. While he was in prison his wife divorced him. Released in 1974, he immediately broke parole and travelled around Latin America, often overstaying his welcome by being caught in terrorist activity. He was arrested in Venezuela for planning to bomb the Cuban embassy; the US declined extradition, and thanks to the intervention of President Carlos Andres Perez he was released quickly. He moved to Chile, where he met his second wife, Adrian, and in the next two years, according to the US government, attempted postal bombings of Cuban embassies in four countries. After another arrest, in Costa Rica, Bosch went to the Dominican Republic, where the CIA, now headed by George HW Bush, attempted to unify and control the various Cuban exile groups by forming the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organisations (CORU).

The scale of Bosch's operations increased, including the failed assassination of the Cuban ambassador to Argentina and the bombing of the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City. In September 1976, Bosch and Posada met with Michael Townley, a CIA agent assigned to DINA, the Chilean secret police, and the architect of Operation Condor, which killed or 'disappeared' at least 60,000 people around Latin America, to plan Letelier's killing.

Flight 455 was brought down the following month, while en route from Barbados to Jamaica; Cuba's entire national fencing team was killed. Barbadian police arrested two Venezuelans, who confessed and named Bosch and Posada as the men who gave them their instructions. When Venezuelan authorities arrested them, Posada was still carrying a map of Letelier's route to work. The two were acquitted of planning the bombing by a military court in 1980, but eventually civilian authorities struck down the verdict and ordered a new trial. But by then, coincidentally, key evidence had gone missing in police custody, and the confession of the two bombers was ruled inadmissible because it was in English. While in prison Bosch allegedly told the journalist Alicia Herrerra, 'we planted the bombs—so what?' With judges wary of Bosch's connections with President Lopez, the Venezuelan bombers were sentenced to 20 years each, but Bosch and Posada were finally acquitted in 1987, by which time Posada had already bribed his jailers and escaped. Since then, freedom of information requests have revealed documents noting both foreknowledge of the attack by the CIA and confirmation by an FBI informant that Bosch received a phone call from the bombers saying 'a bus with 73 dogs went off a cliff and all got killed'.

US ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich arranged for Bosch to return to Miami, where he was greeted as a hero by the Cuban community, but almost immediately arrested for absconding while on parole. He served three months in prison, and the US Justice Department called for him to be deported; Associate US Attorney General Joe Whitely said Bosch was 'resolute and unswerving in his advocacy of terrorist violence.' The only country willing to accept Bosch was Cuba, where he would have been tried again as a terrorist, but by then Jeb Bush, at the time head of the Dade County Republican Party and with close financial ties to the exile community, took the forefront of a campaign to have Bosch allowed to remain in the USA. In 1990 Jeb's father, by now president, overturned Bosch's deportation order by presidential fiat, in effect pardoning him. As part of the deal, Bosch promised to renounce the use of violence. In a later interview, he called his promise 'a farce', saying 'they purchased the chain but they don't have the monkey'.

While in prison Bosch had taken up painting, and his work commanded high prices in Miami's Little Havana. He set up 'Mortar for Masons' to fund resistance to Castro, and acknowledged the money raised was not for 'flowers or hot meat pies'. When he was linked to a 1997 series of bombings in Cuban hotels, which killed an Italian tourist, he denied it with a wink, saying 'we have nothing to do with these attacks. Besides, if we did, we'd still be denying it, since that's illegal in this country.' Earlier this month, Posada received a hero's welcome in Miami, after being acquitted by a Texas jury of lying on his immigration forms, but by then Bosch was already ill. Bosch died 27 April in Miami and is survived by his second wife, and six children, five from his first marriage. In Miami, there were public demonstrations of mourning the man who said, 'you have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people.'

Monday, 28 November 2016


The stories of Fidel Castro being scouted by major league baseball teams, or even offered a contract in some tellings, are apocryphal; Castro could pitch a little, and apparently did for the law school at University of Havana, which would qualify as something like intramurals as best I've been able to figure. But Cuba was then and is now baseball-obsessed; there's a nice photo of Castro pitching with the revolutionaries wearing an Oriente cap.

Cubans shared that passion for baseball with Americans, along with a parallel passion for boxing. You have read  The Old Man And The Sea, right? But where the mutual love of music also survives (see Buena Vista Social Club), baseball is no longer America's national pastime, that's now television, and the new national sport is the more violent and uniquely American football. Even MMA fighting seems to have replaced boxing for Americans.

Metaphorically it marks a change for the worse in modern America that Cuba, cut off in many ways, has been unable to follow. And note that when Cuban baseball players defect to the major leagues, they inevitably establish their residencies in the Dominican Republic, trying to escape MLB's cartel monopoly on amateur talent.  Viva la revolucion! Actually, much like Ho Chi Minh, Castro, while holding no illusions, originally seemed to think he could reason with the Americans. So imagine what might have happened had John Foster Dulles not snubbed Castro to golf when the Cuban came to Washington in 1959 and taken him to ballgame instead.

In 1959 the Havana Sugar Kings reached the final of the 'Little World Series', and as champions of the International League took on the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Theres's a nice photo of Fidel with a group of Millers including Gene Mauch, the future Phillies and Angels manager. It was also during that season Fidel formed a pick-up team, called Los Barbudos ('the Bearded Ones') and he actually pitched a couple of innings against a team from the Havana police before a Sugar Kings' game. Of course a minor league franchise in Havana couldn't survive the embargo on Cuba, and Cuban baseball became a strictly amateur (in the Eastern European sense of 'state-sponsored') sport which Cuba dominated for many decades.

When I worked for Major League Baseball I was told this story, by a long time baseball coach. Two scouts are talking during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. One mentions that he scouted Castro for the Washington Senators, who in that era boasted two Cuban pitching sensations, Camilio Pascual and Pedro Ramos. 'Imagine if we'd signed Castro,' he muses to his friend. 'How different history might have been.' 'Bull,' says his friend, spitting tobacco juice on the ground. 'The Senators were crap and one more Cuban pitcher wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference.'

Monday, 21 November 2016


A new Harry Bosch novel is always an event (see photo). In The Wrong Side Of Goodbye Harry has found himself a bolthole. Having sued LAPD over his dismissal, and won, he's now working cold cases part-time and unpaid for the tiny San Fernando department, an arrangement that allows him the freedom to take private assignments as well. So when he's approached by a former LAPD colleague now working a lucrative security gig, he accepts $10,000 to visit the reclusive aircraft billionaire Whitney Vance in his Pasadena mansion. It's a scene redolent of the opening of The Big Sleep, with almost as much sad nostalgia. Vance had a young love while he was at university, breaking away from his family and studying film, shades of Howard Hughes. She was a Mexican named Vibiana who worked in the school cafeteria. When she got pregnant, Vance's father sent people to take care of her; she disappeared from his life. Vance transferred to Cal Tech and took over the family business. Sixty-five years later, Vance is dying and wants to know if he has actually left an heir.

Meanwhile Harry and his partner, Bella Lourdes, are investigating the Screen Cutter, a serial rapist who cuts screen doors to enter houses and rape Latina-looking women who happen to be ovulating. Harry's concerned that such attacks tend to escalate in ferocity as well as frequency.

What's particularly interesting here is the way the cases create echoes of each other but never actually intersect in the way readers so often might expect them to do. They also echo much of the Bosch history as well: the novel opens with a scene recalling Bosch's own time in Vietnam, as a helicopter built by Vance crashes there on a rescue mission; a dying soldier's last word is 'Vibiana'. His relationship with his daughter Maddie, who's lost her mother, reflects the issues of parenting and motherhood in both cases. And Harry's still facing antipathy from LAPD over his lawsuit; he is viewed as a traitor by many cops. And when Vance dies, the search for an heir becomes one with multi-billion dollar stakes, and Harry can trust no one, least of all the man who put the job his way. There are even echoes of Raynard Waits from Echo Park, and the clever merging of that novel with City of Bones in the Bosch TV series.

This isn't as intense as the very best of the Bosch novels, rather it's more diffuse and layered. Early on I noticed something slightly different in the narrative, the way Harry's perceptions were revealing so much depth, observations of the unseen as well as the seen. Connelly has always been an excellent reporter in his writing, here I was struck by the way he'd seemed to move beyond that somewhat. Which is necessary, because the stories, both of which are complex, move with a relentless drive which could easily allow readers to miss crucial details. Not plot points, necessarily, but those of character, of nuance, which keep you involved even as you get caught up in the stories. In fact, as the pace increases, the depth of detail slows down, so the finish almost seems rushed. It is a long novel, nearly 400 pages, and in an afterword Connelly thanks his editors, implying the original ms was even longer.

In a positive way, I thought this might be considered his first post-Bosch TV novel. It's almost as if Connelly has melded two separate novels into one, in the same way the series combined elements of multiple novels together. Usually, people drawn to series novels from TV are advised to start at the beginning; although this is an older Bosch, in a different setting, with different supporting cast, this would be a novel viewers of the series would recognise immediately. I would have been happy to see it run longer; there was room not only in the plot elements but also for reflection, and as I suggested above, this is a reflective book behind its narrative drive. And beyond musings on the excellence of the LA Dodgers' baseball announcer Vin Scully, who is retiring as this story takes place; even Scully's name-check mirrors part of Bosch's story-- would he could continue as long as Scully did!

The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
Orion £19.99 ISBN 9781409145530

NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Friday, 18 November 2016


I don't often post my sports writing here, the previous post notwithstanding, but I think this piece for Newstalk Ireland is worth it, because Tony Romo's press conference earlier in this week said a lot that is true for any of us who've played in team sports, and says a lot about the reasons so many of us, whether we played or not, love can link to it here at Newstalk Ireland.

Sunday, 13 November 2016


I wrote what follows as the introduction to my Friday Morning Tight End column at, except the column is now actually christened simply picks of the week's upcoming games, and accordingly the intro wasn't a part of it. So I offer it here, wondering what kind of juju the The Donald connection will have on Bill and the Pats...



The one thing Bill Belichick's letter to Donald Trump proved was that Bill can make a winner out of just about anyone. The bizarre thing about it was that it read as if it had been written (well, dictated) by The Donald himself. I doubt it was intended to be read out at a press conference, as Bill explained it well enough, the two are friends, and it was a friend's congratulations on his campaign, not intended as a public endorsement. With friends like these, a neutral might think. Trump also claimed Tom Brady had voted for him, when Brady at that point hadn't voted at all, and Giselle then said no they wouldn't vote for Trump and told TB to shut up about it! As a model she would probably know a side of Trump that Bill and Brady didn't.

This puts Bill and Rex Ryan on the same team for the first time, and raises an interesting dilemma. Football coaches tend to be very conservative, small c, and so do players. It's an authoritarian sport, everybody is wealthy to an extent, and although most players have natural advantages in terms of size, speed or ability, they also work very hard and feel they have earned what they have, and everyone else should work as hard to do the same. America is a relatively conservative country; its liberals are far less left than in most western countries. But as we saw with the reaction to Rex when he appeared at a Trump rally, Trump's positions on minorities in particular transcend some of the usual definitions. Will there be fallout? There was much talk about that with Rex earlier in the season, but as far as I've seen, nothing really came of it.

In the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin's show The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels talks about how America isn't the greatest country in the world. But it sure used to be, he says (Sorkin might've given Trump his campaign slogan right there). Among the reasons, he says, was that 'we didn't define ourselves by who we voted for'. That might be a good lesson to learn this week..


The morning after the election, bleary after two and a half hours sleep, I wrote the following for the Times Literary Supplement's blog reacting to the result. If you want to read it in situ, along with the other responses, you can link to it here (there's also a link in my piece to the article I wrote for TLS the previous week on Trump as the reductio ad absurdam of the Republican party's 50 year descent into madness. It's a few entries before this one on this blog. Anyway, here's the view from the aquavit, my morning after with Trump:

The aquavit came out around 2:30 in the morning, when I realised Trump would win. By 5 I'd surrendered, went to bed considering how we journalists had failed. I'd written on election day for Newstalk Ireland about the 'imperfect storm' of ten ways in which Trump 'swift-boated' America, projecting his weaknesses as a candidate onto the voters themselves. It reads like a template for his victory, yet I did not take it seriously enough, not even as I watched America's sensationalist media chase Trump's theatrical grand guignol ahead of issues to the bitter end.
There is no one explanation for Trump's triumph. Not media, not gender, not race, not the anger of white men in the rust belt's industrial wastelands. Not crookedness, not Russia, not collusion between James Comey and Rudy Giuliani. Dislike for Hillary may have polled lower, but it proved stronger than dislike for Trump.
We misread people who took Trump's vision seriously, as they had Ronald Reagan's in 1980. They didn't really care if he built a wall or not, abused Miss Universe or not. I thought he aspired to become America's Berlusconi, with his own TV network. Many fear he'd prefer being America's Mussolini. Can he deal with Putin, May, or Merkel as he did the contractors building a casino? Can the job of being 'Leader Of The Free World' really be that simple?

Friday, 11 November 2016

WHY TRUMP WILL WIN: A Guest Post by Julia Carter

Forget electoral math, demographics and polls. Julia Carter laid out the reasons why Trump would win both the Republican nomination and the election, back on 29 February this year. She was spot on, and reading this in conjunction with my piece about the tactics of his campaign, I wish I'd kept this post as a template for that. In the interests of full disclosure, Julia Carter is my niece, and ever since she was a kid we have rarely agreed on politics. But she was right this time, and it's the best piece of analysis I've seen--especially given how long before the election she saw what would happen.

by Julia Carter

It is really incredible how Donald Trump is completely outsmarting and manipulating the mainstream media with its nonstop coverage and dissection of every intentionally ridiculous comment he makes. His strategy is totally winning and he is most certainly a more dangerous threat to Hillary Clinton than Rubio or Cruz. How anyone does not understand this is beyond me. 

1. Rubio would do no better than Romney did on an electoral level. There is no state he could win that Romney didn't.

2. The Latino vote will ultimately not affect Trump. California and Texas will vote blue and red respectively regardless, and his turnout affect in Florida among whites will offset any uptick in Latino voting, which is always low. Only the Cubans vote in high numbers and they don't associate themselves with Trump's wall comments. And even blacks like Trump more than Romney...ouch!

3. Trump galvanizes a base and appeals to independents. He can win swing states. He can win northern states. The votes of the Republicans who say they'll refuse to vote for him will ultimately not matter in die-hard red states. Again, it's all about the swing states.

4. And Trump's biggest advantage is that just as many people who will refuse to vote for him will also refuse to vote for Hillary. She is totally divisive for Independents and non-inspirational for Democrats. You cannot count on people voting for her just to vote against Trump.

Conclusion? Bernie Sanders would be a much more formidable opponent. But he won't be and that gives Trump very favorable chances in November. And guess what? Sadly enough, Trump is more qualified than the other two Republican front runners. He is the least full of shit and the best player in the game of thrones. He has outsmarted the system. Nations get the governments they deserve.

-Miami, 29 February 2016