Thursday, 22 December 2011

2011 Travels and Legal Thrillers

Looking back over 2011, my trip of the year has to be the USA Deep South.

The original reason for taking the flydrive there, to head from Nashville to New Orleans via Memphis and sample US music history of all kinds - jazz, blues, Elvis, country & western - was well satisfied. Especially with the hidden bonuses such as Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, a side trip just as worthy as Graceland.

But there was so much more to it. A wealth of US civil war history in places such as Franklin and Vicksburg. To say nothing of the classic period houses in Natchez and on the drive from Lafayette to New Orleans which made it worthwhile to have sat through the whole of Gone With The Wind (!) in anticipation. Not forgetting the lifestyle of the "Swamp People" in the Louisiana marshes, and the Al Capone trail and architectural history of Chicago on the way back.

Interestingly too, having been inspired to finalise Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt on returning to the UK after reading about the e-publishing boom and John Locke's success on the day before the outbound flight, there was something of a John Grisham trail about this journey too. Leaving aside the setting of Memphis for The Firm (with Mitch fleeing De Vasher's goons through the Peabody Hotel - good job he didn't tread on a duck) and New Orleans and the marshlands for The Pelican Brief, one small town side trip stood out. Just before Vicksburg, there was a signpost to Historic Canton. Where the town square and indeed many areas of the town generally were used for the filming of A Time To Kill.

Now, I'm sure that in the real world it's far more likely that if scenes for a legal thriller were to be shot in Birmingham, we'd be talking of Alabama and not the West Midlands. After all, Alabama is virtually John Grisham's backyard. But there's no harm in a touch of wishful thinking once in a while, especially not at this time of year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Litigators: new John Grisham legal thriller review

I almost wondered if the undoubted master of the legal thriller genre had made a conscious decision, via The Litigators, to move into slapstick and parody when, quite early on in the book, I reached the scene where two US street lawyers and their prospective new associate heard the unmistakeable sound of a traffic accident and went charging out of their office to the crash scene. And joined a near pitched battle with other like minded souls from the local legal profession who were equally desperate to sign up the victims. (Perhaps this really happens…)

But it’s not all like that. The central plot – a battle against Big Pharma involving the keen new associate who has not long abandoned the world of corporate finance law in bizarre circumstances, and the reprobate partner who may have picked too big an ambulance to chase as he battles his personal demons – works very well. As long as you’re not hoping for the same murder and skulduggery episodes as appear throughout The Firm and other vintage Grisham, you’ll like this one. I certainly did, so it’s five stars from me.

Which only leaves me to ask this light hearted question. Pound for pound, or dollar for dollar, is The Litigators really four times better than Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt? Of course not. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Euro Crash? Bring It On

Bruce Springsteen's version of "Bring 'Em Home" came up on the iPod a few days ago. Interesting to think that the original dates back to the Vietnam era and that the original composer - Pete Seeger, a definite NMFT by all accounts - still had the ingenuity to make it clear in the lyrics that he was no pacifist and that he would be on the front line if ever the USA was invaded.

The sentiment of the song and its title, of course, is a perfect illustration of how the political classes are so often out of touch with reason and common sense. Notably shown here and now by UK orthodoxy on the Euro, where official policy - regardless of the praise heaped upon David Cameron simply for refraining from doing wrong at the recent EU summit - is that the stricken single currency must be kept alive at all cost. Which leads me to my own tribute to Seeger and Springsteen: -

If the Euro's doomed to crash
Bring it on, bring it on
Let's waste no more bailout cash
Bring it on, bring it on

It'll make Merkozy mad, we know
Bring it on, bring it on
They treat the British as their foe
Bring it on, bring it on

They wanna test their grand theories
Bring it on, bring it on
With the wealth of you and me
Bring it on, bring it on

So let's stop blighting British lives
Bring it on, bring it on
For the gleam in Brussels' eyes
Bring it on, bring it on

The men will cheer, the boys will shout
Bring it on, bring it on
The rally call - it's Better Off Out
Bring it on, bring it on

We will lift their voice and sound
Bring it on, bring it on
When that star ring hits the ground
Bring it on, bring it on

We'll shrug off the short term pain
Bring it on, bring it on
For the greater long term gain
Bring it on, bring it on

Westminster bells will ring with glee
Bring it on, bring it on
From the EU - gladly free
Bring it on, bring it on.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Smoking Gun by Nigel Hastilow

A couple of years ago I had some passing involvement in and first hand knowledge of a selection process for a safe Tory seat where the vacancy unexpectedly arose barely six months before the last General Election. Indeed I wrote about it on Conservative Home. Two thoughts that ran through my mind at various stages were "you couldn't make this up" and "if only I'd had a chance to go behind the scenes".

Someone else wrote about this process too. He was an approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidate whom the locals knew and wanted to shortlist. The hierarchy evidently did not concur with the locals' wishes. The enforced outcome was a contest between six individuals whom none of the locals would have known from Adam (or Eve) otherwise.

I therefore had little doubt that the PPC's new political satire The Smoking Gun - for it was indeed Nigel Hastilow whom those locals wished to shortlist - was going to be a thoroughly worthy read, given its central plot of an unexpected by-election and the lengths to which the party machine would go to ensure that their preferred candidate won through. And I was not disappointed. The book is excellent. Let's just invoke two further reasons from the plot.

The first, the suggestion that a notionally right of centre government - you know, the kind who profess themselves to favour low tax and personal freedom when seeking votes - would ban a previously legal activity (smoking), drastically raise taxation on another (flying) to compensate for the lost revenue, and then propose a further shock tax on another (sorry, no spoilers) for reasons not entirely unconnected with the by-election. We can only hope that today's satire is not tomorrow's reality.

The second, the NMFT principles of the central character, Acton Trussell MP, when assessing the browbeating, bullying and betrayal that evidently left him with no alternative other than to resign his seat. Does he take it lying down? You must, of course, read the book to find out. But let's just say that he wouldn't have been out of place as a character in Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt.

The Smoking Gun. 5 out of 5 from me.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Pigs, Dogs and Sheep

John Redwood, an eminent NMFT, has coined the acronym DOGS - democratic overspending government sovereigns - to describe another regrettable feature of how we are governed today, by political classes who have traditionally believed that borrowing will always cover the gap between revenue and expenditure. Or, may I suggest, will cover that gap long enough to see their time out.

Thus we see the second element of a potential common thread, the first being the PIGS as comprise the overspending and effectively bankrupt governments of Portugal, Italy Greece and Spain.

Now, for the third element, let us look to "Animals" by Pink Floyd, noting in passing that the lyrics of "Dogs" are remarkably cogent: "Then after a while/You can work on points for style/Like a club tie, a firm handshake/A certain look in the eye and an easy smile/You've got to be trusted/By the people that you lie to/So that when they turn their back on you/You'll get the chance to put the knife in..."

Which leads us to the Subservient Helpless European Electorate Populations - the SHEEP, who are roundly ignored by the political classes whose lifestyles they support and subsidise. But looking at the Eurozone crisis, we may well ask: for how much longer? And isn't there a triumphant passage in "Animals" where the sheep finally rise up, fall on their oppressors' necks with a scream, and celebrate the overthrow of the dogs? Food for thought...