Category Archives: Thriller

Revisiting “The Maltese Falcon”

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 They really do not make movies like this any more!  I watched it again on Saturday night.


— You aren’t exactly the sort of a person you pretend to be, are you?

— Why, I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean.

— The schoolgirl manner. You know, blushing, stammering and all that.

— I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad. Worse than you could know.

— Good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be…we’d never get anywhere.

— I won’t be innocent.

— Good. By the way, I saw Joel Cairo tonight. Do you know him?

— Only slightly.

— You’re good. You’re very good.

Cracker of a script. Great direction. Great acting.


June review catch-up 2

Some quickies.

star30 star30star30  1. Ed Gaffney, Enemy Combatant (2008)

A good courtroom drama with a strong post 9/11 twist. It may be improbable, but not so improbable as to not make you wonder “What if?” See also Thoughts On "Enemy Combatant" by Ed Gaffney.

star30star30star30star30  2. Susanna Gregory, To Kill or Cure (2007)

I haven’t read many in the Medieval Whodunnit genre. This one is sufficiently entertaining and informative. See also Euro Crime.

star30star30star30star30star30 3. 1945: The Year That Changed the World (DVD 2008)

This series (2 DVDs) is excellent. There are contributions from first-rate historians, one of whom, Ian Nish, taught me Japanese and Chinese history in 1962! Yes he is rather older now. If you check YouTube you will find it well represented.

star30star30star30star30 4. Frontier: Worse than Slavery Itself (DVD 1997)

Famous so-called “Black Armband” presentation of Indigenous Australia and European settlement 1830 – 1860, based on the work of Henry Reynolds. I was particularly struck, of course, by the NSW material which focussed on the Dangar family of the Hunter/New England areas, and on some of the better documented massacres of those years. The series still stands up well despite the reaction to aspects of it from the likes of Keith Windschuttle. It really is good on the role of evangelical thought as a conscience of the times.

It is interesting to compare the more recent SBS series First Australians (2008). Its episode dealing with NSW in the early to mid 19th century drew attention to another settler family, the Suttors of Brucedale, whose relations with the Aboriginal people were comparatively enlightened.

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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in best viewing 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, History, Indigenous Australians, reading, Thriller


Four from Surry Hills Library 4 – nasty doings in Iraq and the USA

star30 star30star30 Scott Frost, Point of No Return, Headline 2008.

It starts with a chilling phone call to Pasadena homicide detective Alex Delillo from a former Los Angeles cop, Jack Salem, who tells her: "I saw a boy on a bicycle vanish in a flash of light" before hanging up. The call becomes more ominous when it turns out that Salem was working for a private security firm in Iraq and has since disappeared. The more Alex looks into the case, the more she puts herself in danger; she is treading on the very sensitive toes of people involved in atrocities in Iraq, including the use of children as weapons. Other words of Salem’s ring in her ears: "Everyone dies. The children. You. Me. Every bastard son of a bitch, and all the grey men in suits." What emerges is an unnerving conspiracy that is another indictment of the war in Iraq and the incompetence and corruption of the so-called "nation building" going on there. Exhilarating stuff.

Clearly no fan of the Republicans or George W, Scott Frost extrapolates from the undoubted darkest side of the shadowy world of what we used to call mercenaries a thriller which does strain credibility rather. It’s quite good in its way, but I don’t think I would say “exhilarating”. For more see Point Of No Return by Scott Frost.

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Posted by on April 9, 2009 in America, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, reading, Thriller, USA, writers


Denise Mina and “Tartan Noir”

I have just finished, and greatly enjoyed, Denise Mina The Last Breath (Bantam 2007), set in Glasgow in 1990.

Paddy Meehan has it all: flash car, flat, job as Scotland’s leading columnist, and giant packet of biscuits all to herself, but the groggy bliss of a Saturday night in front of the TV is shattered when the police knock politely on her door, smiling sadly when she answers it. Someone close to her has died, but she’s staggered when they tell her who it is.

Terry Patterson has been found in a ditch, stripped naked and executed with a shot through his temple. He was her first ever lover and her hero, the sort of journalist she always aspired to be.

Paddy chucked him months ago but she’s down on his passport as his next of kin. Not only that but he has left everything to her in his will, a house in Ayrshire, boxes of notes, a folder.

Beginning the investigation into his murder she realises all too late that if the secret he was about to expose is worth killing for then she – and the people closest to her – are in terrible danger.

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Fascinating stuff

I am currently reading a thriller by a Spanish journalist: Juan Gomez-Jurado, God’s Spy (Orion 2007):

God’s Spy has a lot of attention-grabbing ingredients. There’s a cast of characters that includes a brutal serial killer (of cardinals !), a (female) Italian police inspector who was trained at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, and a priest who was an American intelligence officer — not to mention cameos by popes John Paul II and Benedict. Set in the Vatican, it offers numerous conspiracies, from the Catholic Church sex-scandals to sinister and secretive Vatican organisations to the crimes John Negroponte was willing to overlook in Honduras. With all this set in the Vatican as the cardinals gather to elect a new pope in April of 2005 … well, you can understand how the pitch would appeal to editors…

In outline it doesn’t sound half bad. Someone is offing cardinals — in a phenomenally gruesome manner. More or less in charge of the case, Paola Dicanti, from the Department for the Analysis of Violent Crime, has to contend with both attention and contempt from her male colleagues. The American priest-cum-spy, Anthony Fowler, has a tortured history of his own. The Vatican wants to keep everything hushed-up, so information about the dead cardinals is kept from the public. A journalist stumbles on the truth — putting herself in grave danger. And then there’s the Santa Alianza:

“It’s the Vatican’s Secret Service. Or so they say. A network of spies and secret agents who don’t hesitate to kill. Old wives’ tales, used to scare rookie cops who just joined the force. Nobody takes it seriously.”

In this book, it’s hard to take anyone or thing seriously, but even the most outlandish idea isn’t too ridiculous for Gómez-Jurado.

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Posted by on April 8, 2008 in America, book reviews, current affairs, Fiction, globalisation/corporations, Middle East, politics, reading, terrorism, Thriller


Review catch-up: things read


Tony Parsons, Valley of the White Gold (Penguin 2006) reminded me of the old radio serial Blue Hills, a comparison the author probably wouldn’t mind, but I couldn’t finish it. I was interested in the history of Mudgee that it offered, but I’m afraid I found the writing very flat indeed. It is the only OzLit in the current batch.


Will Napier, Summer of the Cicada (Jonathan Cape 2005) is American Gothic written in Scotland, but by an American. It is very good on atmospherics, and at times very powerful and disturbing. I have to admit I found the open ending a touch forced though.

Napier triumphs on two counts. His portrait of Joe is supremely well imagined and he uses the anger and desolation of Joe and his father to drive the novel along with irresistible force. Frequently brilliant and consistently unsettling, Summer of the Cicada will remain with you for quite a while.

Peter James, Dead Simple (Macmillan 2005) really is very good, even if at times just a bit far-fetched. The writing is not quite up to P D James or Ian Rankin, just to name two, but is good enough. I will certainly look out for other books by this author.

Just brilliant — a best read of 2008

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Posted by on February 7, 2008 in Best read of 2008, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, OzLit, reading, Scottish, Thriller


Gerald Seymour, Traitor’s Kiss (2003)

There is a review by Patrick Anderson in The Washington Post.

Gerald Seymour’s powerful new spy novel is based on the premise that the Cold War is not over; it has simply gone underground. This is the fiercely held view of Rupert Mowbray, recently retired from British intelligence, who warns that East-West friendship and cooperation are an illusion and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has resumed nuclear testing even as he builds a police state to rival that of Stalin. Mowbray is a proud old Cold Warrior whose career peaked in 1998 when a Russian naval officer, Viktor Archenko, began sending the British valuable military secrets. But four years later, Russian counterintelligence agents are closing in on Archenko, and a defiant Mowbray organizes a rescue mission to save the spy whom he considers a hero.

His mission is controversial from the first. A young intelligence officer, Gabriel Locke, argues that Archenko is a spy who deserves no sympathy. But Mowbray convinces his superiors that honor and loyalty demand that they make every effort to rescue the Russian, who has risked his life for them. Mowbray assembles a ragtag team of over-the-hill commandos to carry out the assignment. Unfortunately, Archenko serves in the highly fortified, seemingly impregnable naval base at Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

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Posted by on October 1, 2006 in book reviews, British, Political, Thriller, Top read


The Writing Show : The View from Ireland, with author Kevin Stevens

This is a great interview, ranging through many books and authors. But who, some may be asking, is Kevin Stevens? The short answer is that he is an ex-pat Boston writer who now lives in Ireland. I have recently read his first novel, The Rizzoli Contract (2003). Even if I had worked out who was at the bottom of the mess a bit soonish, I still loved it. The blurb:
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Book Reviews – The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason


People will always want, as the publishers do, to compare The Rule of Four with The Da Vinci Code, because both have as central the decoding of alleged ancient codes, cyphers and symbols. But The Rule of Four is much more a real novel, in fact it is as a rites of passage story and as an expose of the dark side of academia that it works best, in my view. It was written by its two young authors over a six year period, so I very much doubt they set out initially to compete with the then little-known Dan Brown. Check the reviews linked above. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on March 12, 2006 in America, book reviews, Fiction, Thriller, writers


Three in crime or noir mode

Let me quickly dismiss the first of the three as for people who have not quite grown up, though there is some better than average writing and atmospherics in it. Mind you, there are those, like this reader, who will love November Mourns by Tom Piccirilli (2005), but I think Americans have a big enough image problem as it is without works like this confirming everyone’s worst suspicions. But maybe it is just the genre I find annoying.*

So I turned with relief to Blood Redemption by Alex Palmer (2003), a very local product set in Surry Hills, Camperdown, Newtown and other points familiar to me; in fact I passed the “crime scene” several times this week as I went to and from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I found the book a bit slow-moving at first, but once I became involved I could not let go. Palmer rates a very positive mention in Jeff Popple’s overview “Australian Crime Fiction”, Mystery Readers Journal, Volume 20, No. 4, Winter 2004-05:

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Lines from a Floating Life: RUMFITT Jeremy, First Strike, Cambridge, Vanguard Press 2004

I wrote the above entry back in November 2005, and now the author has struck back 😉

Hi there – enjoyed your comments on my book. Didn’t know First Strike had reached Down Under. How did you hear about the book? Did you get it from your local Library?

All the best.

Jeremy Rumfitt

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Posted by on December 28, 2005 in blogging, book reviews, British, personal, Surry Hills, Thriller, writers


Saving Fish From Drowning – Book Reviews – Books – Entertainment –

tan.gifLook again at what Amy Tan has to say about writing in The Opposite of Fate (2003). There are many wonderful essays in that collection. My Hong Kong Australian coachees very much enjoyed “Arrival Banquet”, which I shared with them as a possible supplementary text for the HSC “Journeys” unit. Ben said it was SO Chinese! And Tan is indeed a great mediator between cultures, with a humorous but empathic eye.

She also has a sharp pen when needed. Irony is implicit in the quasi-magical narrative method of Saving Fish from Dying (2005) with its multifaceted examination of cultural (mis)understandings and questioning of tourism — among other things. “Writing with stinging irony about oppression, genocide, culture clashes, religion, media spin, and corruption, [Tan] slyly considers the unintended consequences of everything from a thwarted seduction to a war based on lies.” (Donna Seaman in Booklist 1 Sep 2005.)

A couple of quotes:
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Posted by on December 26, 2005 in America, Asian, Chinese and China, Fiction, immigration, Multicultural, Thriller, Top read, writers


RUMFITT Jeremy, First Strike, Cambridge, Vanguard Press 2004


Talk about romans-a-clef!

In the aftermath of 9th September and the run up to the Iraq war, US President Mike Santos rides high in the polls. But to stay there he needs Saddam Hussein’s scrotum, hanging from his gun belt. When Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service uncovers a terrorist plot to detonate a dirty Bomb in Washington DC, Alex Bowman is dispatched to the States to help the US authorities deal with the problem. The leading hawk in the US cabinet, Secretary of Defence, Karl Herzfeld, pressures the CIA to conjure up the missing evidence of WMDs he needs to justify the war. When the CIA fails to produce the necessary data Herzfeld resolves to facilitate the detonation of the Dirty Bomb, pin the blame on Saddam Hussein and justify the war…

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Posted by on November 18, 2005 in America, book reviews, British, Fiction, Iraq, terrorism, Thriller, Top read, writers


Dream of Darkness by Reginald Hill

First published in 1989 under the pseudonym Patrick Ruell, Dream of Darkness is a mature, intelligent thriller with a background in interesting times. Oddly, it segues well from my reading of Niall Ferguson’s American Colossus. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on September 20, 2005 in Africa, book reviews, British, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, History, Thriller, Top read, writers