The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

“Oh, here we go again,” says Chris.
“I want to organise a meeting with the mafia. In Fairhaven.”
“Of course you do,” says Chris. “Any reason? Or was bridge cancelled and you had a slot in your diary?”

Set one week after the eventful happenings recounted in The Thursday Murder Club came to a conclusion, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron are back and the game is afoot once more in everyone’s favourite retirement community. It involves a whole new intriguing cast of shady characters, diamonds, cups of tea, robberies, bus and train trips and a lot of heart, humour and humanity.
This time, an old flame turns up most unexpectedly in Coopers Chase with an unlikely proposition for one of our formidable pensioners, while something else dramatic happens to another of our favourite characters. One thing leads to another and soon our four veteran vigilantes are helping the authorities once again, whether they like it or not.
As in the first book, the story in this sequel comes with some subtle, insightful and wry observations on life, relationships, ageing, hopes and dreams and the whole gamut of human experience. The pace never slows and the plot is as inventive and fun as ever, with some fiendish red herrings and inventive twists, all told in a tone that is entertaining and compassionate but which also never ducks the reality that bad things do happen to good people.
It all goes to produce a charming, touching, hugely enjoyable and engrossing page-turner of a sequel that I flew through in three days and that is as good, if not better, than the original tale.

Our Man in New York


Our Man in New York Book Cover
Our Man in New York

In May 1941, Ian Fleming went to New York and met James Bond.

Or, rather, Fleming met William – Bill – Stephenson. Stephenson worked with the creator of Bond in the dark world of espionage during WWII and may well have been the inspiration for that quintessential dashing British spy who has now been serving Queen and Country for nearly 70 years.

Stephenson was not a career MI6 spy. In fact, he had made a fortune in Canada after WWI and then created his own private intelligence network. One of his most eager consumers of information was Winston Churchill, still a backbench MP seemingly destined for ever greater obscurity if Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler succeeded in keeping Europe at peace. It didn’t of course, and a small part of the reason for Churchill becoming Britain’s new war-time Prime Minister in 1940 was the valuable and unique information on Nazi rearmament supplied to him by Stephenson.

Impressed by freelance spy’s ability and dynamism, when the MI6 station chief left his post in New York Churchill tapped Stephenson for the role – and then greatly expanded it.  Stephenson became head of Britsh Security Coordination, BSC, in the Americas, a powerful role  overseeing MI6, MI5, and SOE.

A Canadian millionaire was an unusual addition to what had been a small and modest intelligence operation, dabbling in a relatively small-time influence work, propaganda and refugee affairs. Stephenson transformed the British intelligence operation in New York and North America and achieved feats of espionage that would – and perhaps should – have seen impossible.

Using his own money, the new station chief began much more ambitious, dangerous and potentially disasterous operations with an ultra-secret goal – get the United States into WWII as Britain’s ally as soon as possible. Stephenson was entrusted with this crucial task by Churchill himself and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the fate of Britain depended on his success. Stephenson had no scruples about using any means necessary to fulfill his mission.

Reorientating the entire security policy of a foreign nation when the mass of its population was opposed to war was a Herculean task in itself. Stephenson, however, was not unopposed in his difficult endeavours. One of the great strengths and wonderful achievements of Henry Hemmings in Our Man in New York is that he opens our eyes to how very different a world the 1930s were and how our assumptions can be turned on their heads by the reality of that very different time.

For example, the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States did not exist in the 1930s- and indeed Britain was seen in mostly a negative light by most Americans and as an outright enemy by many. Opinion polls in the 1930s regularly found more public support for Germany than Britain, as strange as that might seem to us today.

This is what made Stephenson’s endeavour so intriguing. The wealth and power of the US was evident to Stephenson and Churchill but finding a way to inveigle those resources into supporting the British side would prove a difficult if not impossible task. Not the least of the problems were German agents of influence active in the highest levels of government- as well as undercover spies from the German Embassy – who had the help of many other ordinary Americans sympathetic to the Nazis cause.

It would be a shame to ruin such a marvelous book by giving away any more. Reviews of history books often refer to such works ‘breaking new ground’ and ‘shedding new light’ and this can come to seem a little overused. In this case, though, Henry Hemmings genuinely has done wonders to trace, analyse and synthesise a treasure trove of new material.

The result is a rollicking good read that achieves what is almost impossible – Our Man in New York entices in readers and then regales them with an exciting and significant story of WWII that has almost gone completely untold before now.

Do read it, you won’t be disappointed – it makes the average James Bond plotline seem humdrum in comparison!!!

The gates of history

gate of historyYou can pass something for days or weeks on end and it doesn’t stimulate much thought – and then one day it does.

I catch a train to work every morning and on the way to the station I pass a car park.  Nothing very remarkable about that.  But I also pass the remains of a gate.  It stands on the perimeter of the car park boundary like an alien intrusion.

It’s a little bit incongruous, in the middle of a fairly barren expanse of tarmacadam splattered with a few lonely looking cares.  It seems like someone started and then forgot about building something.  That is until you realise that someone did build something and this is all that remains – not a beginning (although once it was that too) but an end.

It’s not that long ago that there was a house here.  I have vague memories of it.  As far as I can recall it was two stories, cosy looking, maybe ivy clad, with a garden that was bit overgrown but all the more authenic and slightly fitting for being that way.  If I remember correctly, it was a fairly large house and rather appealing.

People even wanted to buy it and that it would make a nice home.  It was a quaint old building with the certain something that give some houses a character and an appeal all of their own, it was in a good location, with a generous amount of green space.

And then one day it was gone.  Bulldozed for some ambitious development scheme during the Celtic Tiger.  At this stage, I have no idea what the plans were.  I had no interest in the at the time.  I thought the house and garden was a perfect little oasis as it was, a bit of a haven of greenery and scenary for eyes and the mind.  Then the Great Recession came and the house was gone, the garden was gone and the plans for the wonders to some fell through.

Now there’s  nothing but a windswept car park, a smattering of cars and the lonely gate.  And the odd thought and memory of the morning passer-by………..

[Tom Clancy’s] Jack Ryan


I didn’t hold out much hope for this series.  I’d read some of the original books by Tom Clancy on which the series is based and they were not most subtle.  The Hunt for Red October was the first and perhaps the best known of Clancy’s books.  It came out way back in 1984 with the Soviet Union still in being and the Cold War with the US looking like it might never end. They were books very much of their time.

In Red October the Americans are almost always the virtuous good guys and the Russians, and everybody else, children of a lesser deity.  Black and white were the theme colours and little was complicated by shades of grey.  Square jaws, red, white and blue and the Star Spangled Banner… get the picture.  They were good stories and massive bestsellers but could be hard to take for non-Americans. In the age of Trump, they would come across as a parody or a tasteless joke.

The TV series however is entirely different.  It takes the basic skeleton from the novels but thankfully adds far more meaty substance to the plots and characters.  It isn’t cynical or negative but it is realistic.  The characters are less black and white, there is more than one view and no one has all of the answers or an easy life.

It’s less gung-ho but most definitely does have action sequences and moments of tension.  The story has its focus in the Middle East but, like real life news, it makes connections and roams the globe.  The main opponent is Muslim but so is the head of the CIA unit that Jack Ryan works for.  All of the characters have histories that explain, to some extent, their outlook on the world and their motivations in doing what they do.

To say anything more would be give away some of the pleasure in watching and learning as the series develops.  Do give it a watch if you like an well crafted, soundly written and entertaining action drama.

To Fix Something, You Must First Break It



Only one remained. An awkward holdout delaying the project and with it the new future they had all worked so hard for. Or rather the new past that heralded a new future.


Others had had doubts but they had been convinced, or at least brought onside after the proper encouragement.


Jane Silver wouldn’t be quite so easy to bring around. She was well known for being fearless. More awkwardly, she was richer than all of them put together and had no weaknesses anyone knew of – the best researchers and investigators had found nothing in her life, nowhere and no one where pressure could be brought to bear, no fissures, no soft spots, no cracks in her armour of any kind.


A tough nut to crack without a doubt. Apparently, she cared about nothing – but if that was really true, why was she so motivated? So driven?


Silas prided himself on his ability to understand people, to hone in on their core essence and prime movers – grasp those essentials and people could be manipulated rather easily he found in a great many cases, not all of course, but surprisingly many. That was a fact that saddened him. He valued a challenge. He looked forward to grappling with Jane Silver to an extent he hadn’t for a long long time.


And so to work.


Attention to detail was Silas’ watchword, and so first he needed to check in on his other partners, to be sure that none of them had developed a case of wavering convictions.


There were thirteen in all, including himself and Jane. One by one the other eleven reconfirmed their loyalty and conviction. Let the real game begin.


Silas called in his two most trusted operatives. Bernard Craion was no one’s idea of a quintessential goon – the man had degrees from Oxford and the Sorbonne and three books to his name – but this organization was as much about the ability to use one’s brain as wield a weapon. Rodrigo Cassus, on the other hand, looked precisely like the movie depiction of a violent heavy, and yet he too was more than he appeared, with a top-notch intellect and a surprisingly delicate sensibility he could express in five languages.


‘Gentlemen, you already know we have a problem. Jane Silver. Time is running out for this project to succeed, she must either be finally convinced or neutralized for all our sakes.’


Silas looked both men in the eyes, just before both their heads exploded.


Brain matter and fragments of bone splattered Silas full in the face. He stumbled backwards in shock, tripped over a chair leg, cracked his head on the side of his desk as he fell and faded into unconsciousness.


How long he was out he couldn’t tell. When he came around he found his hands and feet were tightly trussed up, his eyes blindfolded and his mouth gagged. From the steady vibration he could feel through the hard surface beneath his body, interspersed with a slight roll sideways every so often, Silas guessed he was in a moving vehicle of some sort. Other than that, all he was aware of was the astonishingly vicious pain in his head and a sense of utter bewilderment at the turn of events that had just unfolded.


Since he had nothing else to do, he tried to figure out what had gone wrong, how he had been taken so badly unawares – and most importantly, by whom. Up until some hours ago, he had been the mastermind of a scheme so audacious he was still taken aback at his own nerve and ambition. He remembered the moment when the idea had first come to him. A junior researcher in one of his labs had come fresh from a phenomenal discovery: cold fusion. Unlimited inexpensive power. He had had teams working on the holy grail of energy research for years, the only way he could see of keeping his failing nuclear plant corporation in business.


His real stroke of genius though had come next. Instead of sitting back and reaping the laurels of his (well his employee’s) discovery, he had seen a far far more wondrous possibility. Initially, it was merely theoretical, no more really than personal whimsy founded on a long-time fascination with books on futurology. Ever since he began reading them, one seemingly impossible but oft-mentioned invention had fascinated him – time travel. Author after author had raised the notional possibility of going back and forward in time according to the latest and best brains in physics, but then each writer had decisively dashed any realistic prospect of such an immense achievement by pointing out the vast quantities of raw energy required to power such a process.


Impossible to ever bring about they said. But Silas had brought it about. Very nearly anyway. Even his own vast fortune couldn’t underwrite such a project, so he had needed co-investors, other people as rich as he was. Twelve billionaires had eventually signed on after careful and discrete approaches. Each had seemed as eager and as enthusiastic as he was, so what had gone wrong? Why was he hogtied in the back of this vehicle?


Shortly after, the vibration underneath him stopped. He heard the crunch of tyres on gravel. The hiss of air brakes. And finally the drawing back of bolts. A loud clang and cold air enveloped him. Without warning, he was picked up bodily, hefted on a shoulder and then surprisingly gently deposited on a cold hard level surface. He felt his wrists and ankles strapped down efficiently but not brutally, which gave him hope of surviving whatever this was. Maybe it was just a garden variety kidnap? A coincidence? Nothing at all to do with his project? Ever the realist, Silas couldn’t bring himself to give that comforting flight of fancy serious consideration.


His blindfold was whipped off. His eyes were dazzled, taking time to readjust to light again. The gag was removed and he felt the rim of a glass brought to his lips. The cool water was welcome. Little by little his eyes began to make out blurred shapes. Then more distinct images began to emerge. And finally, unbelievably, but he supposed logically, Jane Silver’s face moved into view inches from his own. He wasn’t sure whether to be worried or not. After all, she knew nothing of what he had been planning for her, or did she? Time would tell he supposed.


‘Silas, you’re looking almost revived already. Excellent. I do hope we won’t have to play any games here. We have a lot to do in a short time.’


Silas glanced around him. He was in what looked like a large aircraft hangar. In each corner stood an armed guard, shouldering a type of weapon he had never seen before. The guards’ faces looked odd, like they were coated in plastic. So were their hands he suddenly realized. Slowly it dawned on him that what was seeing were machines not men. He wondered if he might be concussed.


‘I won’t cooperate Jane. I wouldn’t be a part of your schemes, and you need me, I’m the core of this organization – there’s nothing you can do to me. Except try to intimidate me, and that won’t work. You should have known that.’


‘I do know that Silas, I really do. You see it just doesn’t matter at this stage. I can see from your eyes that you’re confused and uncertain. How often have you been told you don’t matter Silas, rarely I’d say, maybe even never? Is that right, never? You’ve always thought yourself integral to everything around you, eh? This must be hard to come to terms with? Being strapped to a table, powerless and utterly irrelevant?’


‘Tell me what’s going on Jane. Tell me what you want – you must want something, or want me to do something?’


‘Only one thing Silas. Say cheese’.




Before Silas could finish the word, a particle beam generator above the table angled into position. An instant later it fired. Silas’ face bloomed momentarily, glowed and bubbled, and then reconfigured itself into a plasticized mask, devoid of life and expression. The beam moved over the rest of his body. A few short minutes later, what had been Silas and whatever he was now rose and stood to attention beside the stainless steel table. He saluted Jane, who gave a curt nod, and then he, or maybe it, marched toward a corner of the building and took up station, for all the world indistinguishable from the other sentinels.


Jane activated a device on her arm. ‘Problem fixed your Lordship’.


And several millennia in the far distant future, Silas smiled.

The Dry

The Dry

The dramatic cover of this book caught my eye several times over a few weeks, online and in the real world.

Eventually it seemed that it was virtually stalking me, so I gave in and acquired a copy. I’m glad to say that in this case at least nothing is lost by judging a book by its cover.

The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a tiny South Australian farming community beset by drought. Rain has been absent for years, the countryside is parched, times are hard, tempers are frayed and tensions are high all round.

Aaron Falk is a Federal Police detective based in Melbourne, specialising in financial crime. Originally from Kiewarra, one day he gets a phone call telling him his best friend  from his school days in the town, Luke Hadler, is dead – along with his wife and young son. All of them shot with the family’s own shotgun, apparently by Luke.

However, Falk’s own past ties to Kiewarra are far from straightforward – as is the reason why he left the town so many years before.

When he returns ‘home’ for the funeral, his own unfinished business comes back to haunt him in unexpected ways.

Can Falk unravel the intensely personal and intricately intertwined mysteries of the past and the present?

And stay alive while he does it?



The Hat is back!

Man in hat
Hats are back!

Only fools make predictions – which is why Historians leave such risky ventures to economists.


Breaking with established wisdom and any modicum of good sense I might have, I’m going to make a prediction, right here, right now.

Hats for men are back!

From being an exceptionally rare sight on our streets, and worn only by men of a certain age shall we say, hats are back on male heads of all ages.

Hipsters have adopted/usurped the Irish farmers go-to statement fascinator – the cloth cap beloved of generations of mountain men everywhere. Grafton Street sometimes looks like a band of Richard Harris lookalikes are trying to recreate ‘The Field’ – without the muck and soggy sandwiches.

Hipsters? I’ll give you hipsters…


Slightly more stately/less hairy men have taken to the old classic – a Panama hat, as well as slightly wider brimmed variations. These gentlemen are generally rather well-heeled, blazer or suit wearing, and invariably for some reason carrying a bag.

A hard-working civil servant takes a break in St Stephens Green (reconstruction with some Scottish dude).

Further along the spectrum are those brave souls who try to rock a pork pie hat – the type made famous, depending on your age and viewing habits, by either Gene Hackman in The French Connection or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad – or indeed both, if you’re having none of this categorisation and stratification nonsense. Wanna-be wearers of this crown-topper bear in mind that things didn’t work out all that well for either of the two fictional aficionados….

Heisnebergpopeye doyle

And then last but not least, well actually it probably is least – the choice of those whose heads seem afflicted by a cold that even the hottest summer sun cannot effect: beanie hats. What’s there to say really? Only that, honestly, those successful musicians and singers you’re trying to ape are successful in spite of the silly headgear and not because of it. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how long you wear it, even if you never take it off between now and Doomsday, success will not come tripping from inside the murky confines of a mystical beanie, fleas yes, outlandish world fame, no – you’d be better off actually practicing. Or washing. Or both.



Like or loathe hats on men, keep a weather eye open in the next wee while and I think you’ll see that the trend is evident – and growing.

Mark my words, you heard it here first – hats for men are back!

A web of woe: this could be London or could it?


Manchester and then London. And London before. And Paris and Brussels. And Stockholm. And Berlin. And Damascus. And Kabul and Mosul. And Istanbul.

Terrible tragedies and awful, senseless loss of life.

No one place is more worthy of expressions of sorrow and condolence than any other, none is more human, nowhere is life less valuable.

That being said, when something dreadful happens in London or Manchester I think it’s understandable that it resonates and reverberates more in Ireland. It’s close, only a few hundred miles away in London’s case, while Manchester is closer to Dublin than Killarney. Many of us have been to both cities, many of us too have family and friends there. And, sooner or later, many things that happen in the UK happen in Ireland. We’re entangled, whether we like it or not.

So, should we be afraid on this side of the Irish Sea?

Maybe that’s the wrong question. The geography that matters today is that of the internet cable and broadband access, the satellite signal and mobile phone reception. Physical remoteness may not save us.

Our creaky infrastructure just might slow things down. However, it would be too easy to dismiss the possibility entirely.

Many of the people who carry out these attacks are broken and disillusioned, with nothing to lose. They seek easy targets, presenting as little a challenge as possible. Almost anywhere can be chosen to be a ‘legitimate target’ when logic and reason are entirely absent – and anybody: it is well to remember that vast majority of the victims of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the many other loosely affiliated groups plying these mass slaughters are Muslims going about their everyday lives in Damascus or Kabul or Istanbul – though we hear far less about those killings.

The grim fact is that the people who carry out these attacks can be ‘radicalised’ anywhere and can decide to attack anywhere – willing to shed their own (often, in their own eyes, burdensome and worthless) lives for their cause, they have no compunction about who else or where else they kill.

Realistically, the next attack could be anywhere; it’s not possible to protect everywhere.

The best response would be to try to understand why these attacks happen – it’s a far from simple task. The reasons are complex and many – and different in each specific case, though with commonalities. A matrix of rage, and despair, and arrogance, and resentment, and hatred, and hopelessness, and dreams, and longed for meaning – the gospel of the lost and the lonely, determined to draw others into their nightmare with one final dreadful act to give their existence purpose.

How to combat that? You can’t bomb, shoot or imprison a sentiment.

Perhaps a starting point might be a book by anthropologist Scott Atran – Talking to the Enemy: Sacred Values, Violent Extremism, and What it Means to be Human Penguin, 2011.

No easy solutions, but maybe somewhere to start grappling with the web of woe ensnaring us all.

When is a train not a train?

Navan view railway station

Have you ever been truely bamboozled by something? Brought up short by an incongruity your senses just cannot reconcile?

Let me give you an example and see if you know what I mean.

Navan in Co Meath is the fifth largest town in Ireland (according to Wikipedia anyways). 25,000 people live there.

It’s an hour or so from Dublin by road. Thousands of commuters travel everyday to work in the city.

Now, you might be thinking that such a large sized town would have a rail link with the capital. But no – you can’t get from Navan to Dublin by train.

Here’s the astounding thing though. Navan does actually have a railway station. And train tracks. And level crossings. All working and operational. Everything you need for trains to run. And trains do run from the town.

The rub though is that they don’t carry people. Only lead/zinc ore from Tara mines to Drogheda port.

So here’s the situation that flummoxes me.

One of the largest towns in Ireland and main dormitory centres for Dublin has a working railway line. But it doesn’t transport passengers. And the situation has been like this for over twenty years. Yet all the way through the Celtic Tiger years very little was done.

Is there a context where this makes sense? Is there a logic I’m missing?

Surely the investment would have been worth it to remove cars from the road?

And still is?

Yours in befuddlement.