Thursday, 12 December 2013

Diplomatic and Consular Yearbook: opportunity or scam?

Early one Wednesday morning, the office phone rang. The displayer indicated a withheld number. An exceptionally plummy voice came on with one of those first name greetings that is always so irritating coming from a complete stranger, and a “how are you today” type of enquiry that would have been more appropriate for a long lost friend rather than a cold caller salesman.

The caller made out that my law firm (which is, let’s be honest, a minor business and employment law practice in south Birmingham) had been specially selected and placed on a preferred shortlist for advertising space, via editorial content, in the special Legal and Business section of the next edition of the Diplomatic & Consular Yearbook. The marble mouthed caller, “Ben Parker”, dropped a few supposed backers’ names into the pitch, including Chris Grayling (Lord Chancellor), Shailesh Vara (evidently a junior at the Ministry of Justice since October 2013) and Lord McNally (a Lib Dem Minister of State for Justice) and asked if we might be interested.

I made an excuse relating to urgent client work at that particular moment, but asked for a phone number out of a nagging sense of curiosity. This was duly provided: 0208 956 4035.
In a spare moment, I decided to search against the number. It led to the discovery of some notably interesting entries on the “WhoCallsMe” boards for the parallel 4065 number (I have added some links below), all of which suggested that the call might have been an elaborate scam, where the commercial theme – in my case Legal and Business - is simply varied to match who is being called, with different names from the political class dropped in as applicable.

I decided to play along. I put in a return call to Mr Parker. Unfortunately he was not available, but his PA Simon Barker fielded the call. (Who else might be in the team, I wondered? Tarquin Harker? Marcus Larker? Crispin Marker? Otto Tarka? Rufus Farquhar?) The camp voiced Mr Barker went into effusive detail, explaining that an advertiser from the specially selected shortlist could choose either a single page at the bargain price of £2,750, or a double at £4,950. Ten minutes of sales pitch later, I asked him to send me an email, which he enthusiastically agreed, saying that all I needed to do was cut and paste a standard form agreement to take up the advertising space – just a couple of lines - into a reply email.
The email duly arrived, confirming that the Yearbook had been “appearing for 40 years, as an annual showcase of excellence”. It was accompanied by a page of testimonials, full of effusive praise as to how useful and valuable the Diplomatic and Consular Yearbook was. The UK embassies of Cuba, Myanmar and Mozambique stood out (anyone feel the urge to cross-check with them?) as indeed did the names of three eminent politicians. Two of them, unfortunately – Michael Howard and Kenneth Baker – were described as MPs even though they had both been elevated to the House of Lords some time ago, Lord Baker in 1997, Lord Howard in 2010.

There was a useful link to what was held out as their website, which looked plausible at first sight but to my mind full of hot air upon closer inspection. Their business address was evidently a serviced office centre in Finchley, London.

As for the cut and paste, it comprised the single sentence, helpfully in bold type: “Confirm booking of a full page (including corporate profile and a 500 word editorial) in the Diplomatic Yearbook under the section ‘Excellence in Legal Services’ at a sponsorship cost of £2,750.00 & VAT.”  
I sent a reply email and asked for confirmation of their registered office address and company number; their partners’ identities and home addresses, if they were not in fact a limited company; and their bank details. I explained that this was all a matter of due diligence checks on a prospective new supplier. It was not long before Mr Barker phoned, promising the information I had requested, and enthusiastically asking once again which of the two options I was most interested in, the £2,750 or the £4,950. I hedged my bets.

When his inane drivel came to an end, I looked more closely at the WhoCallsMe contributions. They contained an entry on 22 September 2013 described as an ex employee’s spilling of the beans upon how this operation worked. The idea, so it was reported, for this and a number of other such yearbooks, was to extract the commitment to take out advertising, then to let however many months go by, and then render an invoice as the prelude to some ever increasing nasty threats if the invoice was not paid. Evidently the bold type commitment has some force.
My due diligence email, perhaps not surprisingly, was not answered despite a reminder.

Now, you might think that anyone who was na├»ve enough to commit to such a hefty fee, in the hope that an advertising page or two would lead to a solid investment return from the diplomatic and consular community, was a fool who deserved to be parted from his money. Well, maybe. But let’s think back to the original phone call, with all the top people’s names being dropped in, and the promotional material with all of those supposed testimonials from the embassies and the senior politicians. Along with the supposed quality and reputation of the Handbook itself. Does the term “misrepresentation” begin to ring a bell? And that’s only civil law. Trade descriptions misdemeanours, should there be any, would bring in the criminal law.
Not that this would be much comfort to anyone who had actually paid the money and then wanted to try to get it back, on the basis that the end product, if it ever emerged, was not remotely near what had been promised. There is no sign of any limited company details, or anything to suggest who owns the business, just that serviced office address in Finchley.

Some of the correspondence on WhoCallsMe suggests that there are two disqualified directors behind it all, whose names I will withhold. Well, fancy that. The parallel websites that a determined searcher might encounter, if looking to get to the bottom of it all, do refer to a named business entity, and anyone minded to look at to find out who owns the domain name may find some further enlightenment.
So is it a scam? Well, it’s not for me to say. People can make their own minds up. But let’s just finish by saying that the initial calls were rather unfortunate one for “Ben Parker” and “Simon Barker” to have made. Of course they were not to know that one of the two parallel plots in my legal/political suspense novel Sackcloth Ashes & Penance was all about how someone tried to pull off an elaborate scam on a solicitors’ firm. So may I suggest that if anyone has read this blogpost and thereby saved themselves from making a commitment they might regret, the very least they owe me is to buy my book. A screaming bargain as a Kindle or other e-reader download, and an ideal Christmas gift, especially as I remain convinced that the parallel political plot is still the first and possibly only novel to have the 2010 UK General Election as a factual backdrop.

Links: -
The Diplomat Business Office:
Sackcloth Ashes & Penance (Smashwords):

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The US Government Shutdown revisited: Neil Peart and the Dilligafs

Last month, recalling a recent holiday in the USA, I described two narrow escapes resulting from the National Parks being briefly closed down when the government ran out of money, and the forces of officialdom in Washington Dulles International Airport reacting with bovine indifference and then sadistic obstruction to our need to catch a connecting internal flight to Atlanta.

How coincidental it was, a few weeks later, to be reading Neil Peart’s account of his latest USA road trip, not long after Rush had finished their Clockwork Angels tour, through Zion Park and Bryce Canyon with a touch of Route 66 thrown in. That certainly brought back some happy memories for me from previous trips to the West. (Neil – hope the Aston Martin’s bumper has recovered from the deer hoof.)
Over to the man himself. Having evidently avoided the effects of the shutdown thanks to Utah undertaking to reopen its parks, he speaks robustly for every foreign tourist who has experienced the US National Parks or hopes to do so: -
“But what did these foreigners think of a country in which a few mean-spirited creeps could hold the entire country hostage—all for the principle of denying mercy to the suffering (because it might be “their own fault”—hardly a Christian objection), while also denying its citizens (and “resident aliens,” as this Canadian is classified) access to their property? (A flashing sign inside Bryce Canyon National Park put it nicely: “Welcome to Bryce. Enjoy Your Park.”) These foreign visitors, like the American seniors who also visit the national parks outside the summer months, might have waited all their lives for this one opportunity. And there are tens of thousands of Americans, especially in the West, whose livelihoods are tied to the national parks.”
Expanding his theme, NP goes on to suggest that those “few, miserable damaged egos” who caused the Parks shutdown and displayed such disregard for its consequential effect on intending visitors ought to wear T-shirts bearing a slogan otherwise only fit for renegade bikers and surly rednecks, namely “Do I Look Like I Give A Fornication?” How neat to see this “expression of pure evil” producing the eminently pronounceable acronym “DILLIGAF”.
So as I think back to how my own recent USA trip was almost ruined, and then reflect in turn on the way that we are governed here in the UK by a political class and an administrative machine that all too often appears to have little regard to the practical impact of its conduct on those who have to pay for it, may I suggest that the acronym is upgraded to a noun?
“Dilligaf”: a politician or official who, having acted quite unreasonably, reacts with deliberate indifference or hostility to the plight of someone suffering materially as a result of that act.
In passing, that would sit neatly alongside “snollygoster”, but that’s another story.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

RIP Tom Clancy

How sad to hear of the shockingly early death of one of my all time favourite authors. How ironic too that the news of his passing broke when I was just over half way through Locked On (Jack Ryan Jr 3), a novel that arguably stands alongside some of Clancy’s all time military and political classics from his pre-collaboration era – think Clear & Present Danger, The Sum Of All Fears – with Threat Vector (Jack Ryan Jr 4) waiting in the Kindle for back to back reading. Both of them stand out as a welcome return to old times, following some years of drift after Executive Orders. Here’s hoping that Command Authority, with the promised return of Jack Ryan Sr to centre stage, will be a worthy posthumous memory.

So what led me to follow Clancy in the first place, thinking back to The Hunt For Red October over 20 years ago? Not just the action and suspense. There was always a sharp sense of moral right and shrewd insight lurking beneath the surface. Along with telling portrayals of many a real villain, whether a terrorist, drug baron or ayatollah. Or indeed a home grown politician or bureaucrat. The awful Ed Kealty, with all too recognisable traits here in the UK as well as the US, is one shining example.
So let’s turn to a passage from Executive Orders, when President Ryan is faced with the need to rebuild the US government from scratch (no spoilers): -
“Therefore to you and the fifty governors, I have a request. Please do not send me politicians. We do not have the time to do the things that must be done through that process. I need people who do real things in the real world. I need people who will not try to work the system. I need people who will come here at great personal sacrifice to do an important job, and then return home to their normal lives. I want people who know they’re working for you and not themselves. That’s what I want. That’s what I need. I think that’s what a lot of you want too…..These are the people who decide how much of your money the government takes, and then how it’s spent. It’s your money, not mine. It’s your country. We all work for you.” And a later gem: “The idea the Founding Fathers had was for citizen legislators, not for a permanent ruling class.”
In the context of what has now been inflicted upon the UK by politicians for the last 16 years or so, and their apparent desire merely to manage decline until they have seen their time out, further comment is probably superfluous.

Friday, 18 October 2013

West Sussex CC v Pierce: robust common sense from the Court of Appeal

Not far behind the long awaited reserved judgment in Coppage & Anor v SafetyNet Security [2013] EWCA Civ 1176, one little victory of my own in my first trip there in 20 years, we see another outbreak of robust common sense in West Sussex CC v Pierce [2013] EWCA Civ 1230.

The decision at trial involved an award of just over £3,000 to a 12 year old boy, after he had hurt his thumb by punching a stainless steel drinking fountain in a school playground while trying to punch his brother who was hiding beneath. The incident evidently happened on 9 June 2010 and the litigation against the school, alleging breach of duty of care, only began in 2012. Infer what you will...

We must, of course, focus above all on the legal analysis of Sharp LJ and her view that the law "would part company with common sense" if schools had to take steps to safeguard children against harm under all circumstances involving edges, corners or surfaces. As she concluded: "It is of course unfortunate that this little boy hurt his thumb in what might be described as a freak accident, but such things happen..."

But one particularly heartwarming passage elsewhere was her explanation of why the trial judge's reasoning was flawed. His legal error was to find that once there was a possibility that an accident might occur because the underside of the fountain was sharp, the school would be liable unless they had conducted "a properly considered risk assessment".

How joyful to see this reasoning slapped down. "Risk assessment" - one more bane of our lives. Over and above the sheer irritation of the term itself, ranking closely alongside Christmas shopping, carbon footprint and Labour government as one of the most irritating and soul destroying two word phrases in the English language, it reminds us at once of the nanny state, cowardly insurers, greedy chancers, compensation lawyers chanting their mantra "where there's blame, there's a claim", and the need to be seen to be doing something regardless of the futile waste of time and resources involved. 

There is many a tale of how the insistence upon risk assessment has blighted school trips. Far better to deprive the pupils of a museum visit than spend time filling in a needless, pointless form with every instance of what could go wrong and how to avoid it. Well, in the light of the Pierce judgment there might be scope to hit back with ridicule. 

The museum might of course be struck by an asteroid while the group is busily examining an ancient relic. Or there might be a paedophile lurking behind a display cabinet. So of course the teacher should fill in the appropriate box with a risk avoidance suggestion to the effect that the pupils are issued with mandatory Hi-Viz fluorescent jackets, red flags and whistles, and instructed to jump up and down, wave their flags vigorously and shout "Paedo!", in the event that someone who looks like a dirty old man is spotted at a distance... Endless scope. Hopefully reason will overwhelmingly prevail one day.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The USA government shutdown: a foreign tourist's view

In the second week of our recent USA trip, the Government shut down. Difficult to notice the difference, really, save on one occasion when turning up at a minor National Monument (Ocmulgee) near Macon, Georgia and finding it barred by a solid locked gate. Lucky not to have been pursuing a Parks based trip. Still, with many of the main parks having lodges right in the centre, there would not have been a problem gaining access to them for prebooked accommodation…

Or so I thought. If the contents of these two links about Yellowstone are to be believed, from the Eagle Tribune and the Daily Caller, the Park Service not only barred out anyone with prearranged reservations, but also sought to stop anyone already in the Park from “recreating” – not only preventing a group of seniors from taking pictures of a bison herd, but also putting barricades round Old Faithful and locking the group in the hotel until they could be escorted out. With all due allowance for exaggeration and the existence of two sides to the story, there is a certain ring of truth in the thought that petty officialdom chose box ticking compliance and control freakery rather than humanity and common sense.

Which reminds me of the experience in entering the country at Washington Dulles airport. With touchdown scheduled for 14.30, a connecting flight at 16.55 ought to have posed no problems after the international flight landed on time. Think again. After the transfer from gate to arrivals hall, a winding queue ten rows deep that penned non-US arrivals in like cattle. Movement through the queue at a snail’s pace, with only the decency of fellow passengers to thank for allowing us through to the immigration desks. In marked contrast with three airport officials whose attitude to the threat of missing the connecting flight was bovine indifference at best and sadistic obstruction at worst. Thankfully we made it, but only just.

It pains me to say this as a regular holiday visitor to the USA, but what happened on that day would have shamed a third world dictatorship. President Obama, this is no way to treat people who have chosen to visit your country and to boost your economy by spending their time and money there.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Snollygoster: a word due for revival?

Not long back from the USA, and time to reflect on a few issues.

The Government shutdown, the sad death of author Tom Clancy and the essential elements of country music can wait for now. Let’s start with a long forgotten American English noun, flagged up in a newspaper quiz with three alternative meanings: “snollygoster”.

OK, suspend your disbelief. Evidently derived from “schnell” (quick) and “geeschter” (spirit), and originally a description of a mythical beast said to prey on poultry and children – no, let’s not go down that route - “snollygoster” was used as recently as 1952 by President Harry Truman in describing politicians making a show of public prayer: “I wish some of these snollygosters would read the New Testament and perform accordingly.”

Which no doubt explains its more modern definitions: “one, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles”; and “someone who will go to any lengths to achieve public office, regardless of party affiliation or platform”.

What scope would there be to promote use of the word here in the UK? Cue General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth, with a slight amendment. “And Darling, take a note of the word snollygoster. I like it. I want to use it more often in conversation.” Fat chance, sadly. Just look at the definitions again. We don’t have anyone of that kind in British politics, do we?

(Martin Darby, an aspiring Parliamentary candidate in my political/legal suspense Sackcloth Ashes and Penance, might just fit the definition, but that’s another story…)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Professional Diversity and Mission Creep

One of our long established professions is asserting that “the case for diversity is simple”, and promoting forums to its members, to enable them better to understand equality and diversity, in the following terms. “Society is changing fast and with it our clients, from hard done by citizens who walk into a high street firm, to multinationals with multiple Magic Circle firms on their roster. We must understand our clients. We also need to ensure we’ve got the best team to serve them. To do this, we need a diverse workforce.”

Hang on a minute. If this was supposed to be referring to the need for a diversity of skill and expertise across a wide variety of professional specialist areas, few would dissent. But that’s clearly not what they’re promoting. It is plain in context here that “a diverse workforce” is meant as one that deliberately and overtly includes individuals with differing personal characteristics, notably those protected under the Equality Act regime.

Now consider the word “need” in the italicised sentence. Might it not be considered patronising and insulting to clients to assume that their professional needs can only be fully met by someone sharing their personal characteristics, as opposed to holding the necessary knowledge to provide accurate and cost effective advice?

The mission creep that the profession’s model diversity questionnaire displays in turn may be a taste of things to come. Over and above the range of questions that an employer is invited to put to its employees, many of which we would not dream of asking our best friends, we find a section covering “socio-economic background (education) and caring responsibilities”. No, it’s not yet a prohibition under the Equality Act to discriminate against the differently educated. But how long before it is suggested that it should be?

And why stop there, they might ask. Not long ago, there were suggestions that the visibly tattooed community might be facing difficulties in obtaining and holding employment, because interviewers and bosses found their corporal decorations offensive, or thought that customers might be similarly inclined. Well, there’s the next big thing, you equality zealots. Take no notice of the fact that these downtrodden individuals may have been the authors (almost literally) of their own misfortune. Here’s the next milestone in your crusade - the Body Art Discrimination Act. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Where Do You Go To My Lovely revisited: Peter Sarstedt meets an Essex Girl

How fascinating it was to watch a recent Top of the Pops nostalgia journey back to the 60s and 70s. No, not to find out how the Beeb would manage to airbrush Jimmy Savile out of history, but to see some of our best known musical performers in their innocent (?) youthful days, before indulgences took their toll and the cosmetic surgeons stepped in. Not forgetting some memorable performances of long forgotten songs.

One notable example, Peter Sarstedt. What a haircut. Bouffant does not do it justice. More like a crash helmet, or a bearskin from Royal Guardsmen's Surplus. Not that this should be taken in any way as a denigration of his performance of Where Do You Go to My Lovely, that immortal tale of a sophisticated continental jet setter who rose to the heights from humble origins.

Now just suppose that our performer had been transported forty years into the future, and found himself contemplating an entirely different subject for his lyrical tribute - an Essex Girl, one of the UK's finest. The song might have turned out something like this.

You talk like Denise Van Outen
And you dance nothing like Fred Astaire
Your clothes are all made by Primark
And there’s bling and fake pearls in your hair, yes there are

You live in a run down apartment
On a Brentwood council estate
Where you keep your R&B records
And you play them full blast when it’s late, yes you do

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

I see you’ve no qualifications
From the bog standard school down the street
And the picture you knocked off from Poundland
Your lack of taste stands out a treat, yes it does

When you go on your summer vacation
You go to Club Med for the booze
With your carefully designed string bikini
You show off your frightful tattoos, on your back and on your legs.

And when the snow falls you'll party in Essex
With the others of the chav set
And you neck down your Bacardi Breezers
You spill them and get your tits wet, yes you do

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

Your name is heard in low places
You know a baron from Tilbury Dock
He gave you a vajazzle for Christmas
And you keep it just for a shock, for a laugh, ha-ha-ha

They say that when you get married
It'll be on reality TV
And they’ll certainly know where you came from
So OK! will fund it for free, yes they will

But where do you go to my chavling
When you've thrown up in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I won’t find much inside your head, no I won’t

I remember the back streets of Harlow
Two teenagers dressed in fake tat
Both touched with a burning ambition
To get pregnant and a new council flat, yes they were

So look into my face, Chardonnay
And remember just who you are
Then go live your mad life forever
But I know you still bear the scars, deep inside, from your tattoos

I know where you go to my chavling
When you’ve thrown up in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
`Cause I can’t find much inside your head.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

RIP Sir David Frost: yesterday TW3, today HS2

The sad news that Sir David Frost is no longer with us has reminded me of an MP in the early 80s who sought to attribute the UK’s moral decline, at least in part, to the ground breaking TV show from 1962/63 That Was The Week That Was, otherwise known as TW3.

Presented by Frost, TW3 was said to have broken ground in lampooning the establishment and political figures of the time, notably those involved in the Profumo scandal. As they put it, every hypocrisy was highlighted and no target was deemed out of bounds.

With that in mind, the MP in question was surely mistaken. Respect for moral standards was hardly to be equated with unthinking deference and loyalty to those supposedly responsible for their upkeep, especially when they let themselves and their electors down in the process.

And TW3 led in turn to its successors, Not The Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image, two TV classics from an era where its politicians had some distinct character to them. We would have been poorer without them.

Which leads to the present day. With the honourable exception of Have I Got News For You, where is our flagship political satire? Could it be that the current crew of ministers and opposition spokesmen have unintentionally rendered themselves beyond parody? Just look at their enthusiasm for the great white elephant of HS2, their worship of the green energy delusion, their impatience to get involved in foreign wars that are none of our business (thank God for backbench independence) and their loyalty to the dismal millstone of EU membership.

So let’s leave the last word to Sir David from his TW3 days. This is how he would end many a satirical attack on a political or establishment figure, a quotation which may be well overdue for resurrection. “But seriously, he’s doing a grand job.”

Monday, 26 August 2013

First Chapters: read the first chapters of great books for free!

A big thank you to another great site for readers and writers, First Chapters, for publishing the first chapters (yes, it does what it says on the tin) of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt here.

To express my gratitude, here is their "About" entry in full: -

"First Chapters is a book discovery site where readers can sample the first three to four chapters of great books free of charge. First Chapters promotes books in all categories and genres, including poetry and short stories. It includes works of both fiction and non-fiction. There are biographies of contributing authors and recommendations for similar books. First Chapters uses ‘crowd power’ techniques to publicise the site. Authors and readers are encouraged to promote First Chapters on their own blogs, and on social networking sites."

They are warmly welcomed to my blogroll too.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Joan Edwards' Will: Ross v Caunters negligence?

One of the many ways of introducing law students to the joys of tort law and negligence is to make them read two offbeat cases featuring solicitors. The first, Ross v Caunters, involved a legacy under a will being rendered void because the beneficiary’s husband had been allowed to witness the will, contrary to the Wills Act. The second, White v Jones, saw the solicitors failing to draw up a testator’s intended new will before he died, and as a result his daughters – not named as beneficiaries under the old will – inherited nothing.

Why are they offbeat? Because in each case, the solicitors’ client – the testator – had died. The aggrieved beneficiaries were not the solicitors’ clients. But they succeeded in negligence claims against the solicitors because of the clear link between their interests and the solicitors’ responsibility towards their clients.

This makes today’s political storm (in a teacup?) over Joan Edwards’ will all the more interesting. As the Conservatives and Lib Dems take steps to hand back their shares of the legacies that the deceased left to “whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use at they think fit” – no mention of political parties there – out comes a press release from Davis Wood, the solicitors who drafted the will: -

“…it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death.”

OK then, Dave and Nick. It looks as if your parties may have just lost out on a whopping great inheritance, all because a firm of solicitors made a bit of a cock up. Where there’s blame, there’s a claim. What have you got to lose by suing the pants off them and indirectly recouping the legacy that is now all set to disappear into the gigantic morass of government waste (that both of you are still perpetuating)? It might even be cast iron, to coin a phrase.

Well, if you did, you might make your respective parties look just as shifty and underhand as your troughing members in the last Parliament when the Telegraph exposed their house flipping, dry rot claims, moat cleaning, duck house purchasing and all the rest of their dodgy expenses claims. But that’s surely only a minor detail. Go for it!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Socrates and UKIP: Impious Gadflies?

Having just finished watching “The Greeks: Crucible of Civilisation”, which brought back memories of long forgotten ancient history studies from schooldays, two points of interest stood out.

The first was how the city state of Athens, the forerunner of modern Greece, once dominated the world and saw off an unprovoked attack from the mighty Persian empire, before sowing the seeds of its own decline and fall by picking a needless fight with its local rival Sparta and losing the resulting Peloponnesian War. Modern lessons, anyone?

The second, the life and times of the philosopher Socrates, which neatly tied in with the Athenians’ pursuit of their futile war, their loyalty to theological doctrine and their fixation on their past glories. True to form as a nonconformist free thinker, Socrates championed an ethical system based on human reason, and set out to inspire his audiences to think through problems to their logical conclusion. Charged with impiety and corrupting the minds of youth, Socrates relished being described as “a gadfly” and was untroubled by the death sentence that followed the guilty verdict. With supreme irony, it was not then long before Athens welcomed the great philosophical age that lives on to this day.

Let’s take that “gadfly” description, possibly the earliest historical usage of the comparison. Socrates was delighted to be depicted as someone stinging into action the tired old horse that the Athenian city state had become. Could this have been in Michael Howard’s mind when he tied the word in with “crank” before the 2004 European elections to describe UKIP supporters? Unlikely. Probably just “confounded nuisance”. In marked contrast with the subtle “provocative stimulus” paraphrase that UKIP gladly adopted, no doubt mindful of the UK’s apathy in the face of ever encroaching EU powers.

And “impiety”? Well, in Socrates’ times this would have comprised absence of proper respect for the gods of the state, hardly a surprising charge to be levelled against an advocate of reason. Here and now in the UK, we can see all three major parties supporting a modern day god of the state, EU membership, while paying lip service to the cause of reform (pie in the sky as this may be). So if and when the referendum comes, it would not be at all surprising to hear them describing opposition to EU membership as impiety. And indeed lack of propriety, and quite a variety of unpleasant names, as Tom Lehrer would put it.

But while Socrates was only vindicated after he had taken the hemlock, this is surely the last fate we would wish upon the impious gadfly in the form of Nigel Farage. Far better that he and his kind are given free range to sting the UK horse into action and save it from an undeserved fate in the EU knackers’ yard. And indeed to follow Lehrer's rallying call and use the hemlock to poison the pigeons in the Brussels park.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sir Humphrey and the Energy Swindle

Those awfully nice Taxpayers’ Alliance people make it so easy nowadays to let your Member of Parliament know what you feel about crucially important political issues. Forget the Parker fountain pen and the green ink, the Olivetti typewriter and the carbon paper, the Word document and the laserjet printer. Just call up the TPA’s online template, complete your details, enter your postcode to locate your honourable member, hit Send, and your view has been expressed. All you need is a burning issue.

And what issue more burning than the Energy Swindle, when consumers’ bills are hitting the roof, security of supply is on a knife edge, and billions of pounds are being squandered on expensive and unreliable renewables, all because the political class is devoted to decarbonising, emissions targets, and fighting climate change?
There’s just one problem. Easy as it may now be to express a view, it is just as simple to bat one away via a standard form response combining platitudes, spin and downright lack of candour in a hideous amalgam of civilservicese. A few extracts from the one I have just received: -

Para 2: “I understand your concern about this issue which is why I welcomed the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to help get energy bills down. Helping households with the cost of living and their energy bills is a priority of this Government.” [Fancy that. I’d never have guessed.]
Para 3: “However, it is important to note that recent increases in energy bills have mainly been as a result of rising international prices for fossil fuels and not climate change policies…” [What about the dramatic fall in USA gas prices thanks to shale?] “…The calculations used in the ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ campaign are incorrect and the Secretary of State, Ed Davey, has written to the Taxpayers’ Alliance setting this out.” [The TPA disagrees – link here.]

Para 5: “Policies which help decarbonise the UK’s energy supplies will reduce the vulnerability of UK energy prices to movements in fossil fuel prices. Were the UK not to act, the country’s energy supplies would become much more dependent on imports, more vulnerable to volatility in global fossil fuel prices, and there would be a far higher chance of disruptive blackouts.” [So how do you explain the plans to import French electricity through the Channel Tunnel? The need to back up wind turbines with conventional fossil fuel stations when the wind does not blow? The recently disclosed plans for the fleet of backup diesel generators – why decarbonise in the first place?]
Para 6: “The carbon price floor brings certainty and support for low-carbon investment…” [I’ve had enough. Whenever you see a politician using the I-word, just remember the proverbial “I invest. You subsidise. He squanders” and run for a mile.]

You may think it would be vicious, vindictive and cruel to name the MP who obtained this missive from Sir Humphrey’s word processor and top & tailed it in the name of constituency duty, even though there's a fair bet that this won't be the only instance. I agree entirely. So I will refer to the honourable member as G…. No, on second thoughts, I’ll just end up with a gratuitous reference to my political/legal suspense Sackcloth Ashes & Penance, set against the background of the UK 2010 General Election, and ask out loud whether the PM’s once stated determination to see ordinary people break the grip of the political class on Westminster has been borne out in practice, when we see an attitude like this to an issue as important as the astronomical cost of energy and the reasons for it.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Hatred Ridicule & Contempt - on Smashwords

I have now published my debut novel Hatred Ridicule & Contempt on Smashwords too. The link is here, and on the right hand sidebar too alongside the existing alternatives, and it coincides with a purchase price discount that Smashwords are running until the end of July.

I very much doubt that the specialist nature of the Kindle - a devoted e-book reader - is ever going to be threatened by the multifunctional approach of the iPad and iPhone. But it clearly makes sense to look for the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Reforming the EU: Denning-Canute Syndrome

It seems increasingly fashionable for well meaning members of the political class to speak of reforming the European Union. There are a couple of examples here (Andrea Leadsom MP) and here (George Freeman MP). In marked contrast to those who have nailed their colours to the Better Off Out mast, the reformers appear to back an older Conservative mantra, namely “In Europe But Not Run By Europe”.

This leads me to the eminent English judge Lord Denning, whose 38 year career on the bench was noted above all for his 20 years as Master of the Rolls (in common parlance, head of the Court of Appeal). European law first caught his attention in 1974 in Bulmer v Bollinger, a case about the legitimacy of the “Champagne Perry” label. He noted: -

“But when we come to matters with a European element, the treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute…”

Interestingly, this sentence in the judgment was preceded by four of equal note: -

“The first and fundamental point is that the Treaty concerns only those matters which have a European element, that is to say, matters which affect people or property in the nine countries of the Common Market besides ourselves. The Treaty does not touch any of the matters which concern solely the mainland of England and the people in it. These are still governed by English law. They are not affected by the Treaty.”

Well, that might have been the position in 1974, when the public at large could hardly have foreseen where the UK’s decision to join the then six strong European Economic Community might lead. So let's head onward to 1990. In a preface to a Bruges Group publication, with 16 more years’ worth of EEC/EC membership served, Denning went further: -

“No longer is European law an incoming tide flowing up the estuaries of England. It is now like a tidal wave bringing down our sea walls and flowing inland over our fields and houses - to the dismay of all."

Great wisdom and perception for a 91 year old. Here and now, had he still been alive at the age of 113, he might have said: -

“To describe EU law today as a tidal wave inundating the UK would be wrong. It would be a gross understatement. The tidal wave has been supplanted by a burning oil slick. It destroys everything it touches. It engulfs our majestic rivers and unleashes toxic smoke across our green fields. And it feeds upon itself thanks to the malign efforts of the pyromaniacs of Brussels.”

So are the aspiring luminaries of our political class sending for a modern day Red Adair? Well, no. They appear to be ostentatiously placing their thrones on the shore and commanding the fiery waves to advance no further. I am going to coin a description for this, namely “Denning-Canute syndrome”.

We can only hope that before it is too late, Adair’s successor is called upon by the UK to put out the fire, and that works are then set in hand with all due alacrity to erect an impenetrable flood barrier and then drain and reclaim the inundated land.

Better Off Out.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Tax: avoidance vs evasion, bad luck vs reprehensible conduct

I find it hard to work up any sense of displeasure at the reports of multinational companies doing their utmost to avoid tax liability in the UK. The likes of Apple, Google, Amazon and Starbucks bring employment opportunities for the British and sell products that we wish to buy. Their primary duty is to maximise their shareholders’ dividends and capital gains. They would all be missed if they closed down their UK operations and left as a result of the tax regime becoming more hostile.

And that’s before we get started on the myriad ways in which our beloved government still squanders revenue receipts. To say nothing of the fact that tax avoidance is openly and legitimately promoted to the public at large via products such as ISAs, assuming of course we had any money to save after our net earnings have been bled dry by council tax and astronomical fuel and energy bills.

But I digress. Not long ago, in a professional setting, I encountered a telling illustration of the difference between tax avoidance (lawful) and tax evasion (unlawful) that clearly transgressed mere bad luck or poor judgment.

Let’s set the scene further. Suppose that a small company has just received its six monthly tax bill. The business is struggling. The boss takes a chance that he won’t be brought to book for not paying it on time, and “borrows” from the tax reserve to buy in new stocks in the hope of trading through the short term difficulties. Alternatively, as is all too often the case, he looks in turn at his overdrawn bank account and his list of overdue debtors, sees nothing there to pay the taxman, and again decides to carry on trading in the hope of better times ahead. In either case, he works every hour God sends and draws only a pittance for himself and his family, or nothing at all. If the company then goes bust, and HM Revenue & Customs is a major creditor, it may be correct to conclude that although tax has been evaded, prosecution of the boss would be unduly harsh.

Now go to a scenario where the insolvent corporate failure is well into six figures. Where the percentage owed to the taxman is far in excess of anything owed to trade creditors. And where the outflow from the substantial turnover in the last year’s trading evidently shows a deliberate decision not to pay tax when it had fallen due, but instead to favour trade creditors and the sole director himself, in his case involving sums equivalent to a Supreme Court judge’s gross salary (and way in excess of a Prime Minister’s). Reprehensible conduct.

You and I, the ordinary taxpayers of the UK, have to make up this shortfall – it’s not as if the government is going to squander a little less because tax evasion has had unforeseen impact on anticipated receipts. Would it be fair in this scenario to let the tax evader off with a mere disqualification, rather than prosecution? One would sincerely hope not.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

"Anti-Establishment": now a virtue?

Longer ago than I care to remember, I explained in a milk round interview (which I failed dismally) that the student magazine I was then involved in editing was the local equivalent of Private Eye. “So you’re anti-establishment?”, snapped the formidable figure on the other side of the table.

Now there’s a term that has surely developed beyond recognition. Reaching for the dictionary, we find a definition that runs “standing in opposition to the conventional social, political and economic principles of a society”. The traditional pillars of the establishment once indeed included the Church of England, the monarchy, the aristocracy and the House of Lords. And they probably still do.

But what about the modern establishment? Look at a recent highly topical Conservative Home article by Mark Wallace on institutions taking a battering. The NHS, for a rotten culture that put cover up ahead of care. The Metropolitan Police, for an extraordinary attitude towards the Lawrences. The justice system, for double standards over phone hacking. The BBC and the Ministry of Defence, for turning a blind eye to reckless squandering and waste.

The list could have been expanded. How about the Met Office, for their woeful forecasting and the AGW obsession that drove it? In parallel with the Department of Energy, for driving fuel bills up and failing to ensure long term continuity of supply? And let’s not start on the EU and the political class.

In the face of all of this, looking at present day social, political and economic principles and where they have brought us, have we already reached the point where “anti-establishment” no longer carries stigma but has become a compliment?

Monday, 27 May 2013

Rush: Clockwork Angels Tour 2013, live at the LG Arena Birmingham

What, by way of a live show, can a rock band offer a dedicated follower of 33 years’ standing (and probably 10 previous occasions in the audience) that will still make a reaction such as “well impressed” a massive understatement? Here goes.

Beginning the show with Subdivisions, definitely one from my all time Top 10.
Moving on to play a collection of songs from the 80s and 90s – notably from Power Windows – that were classics of their time but would probably never have been expected in a live set again.

Showcasing three short but sweet drum solos from Neil Peart – no single multimedia epic this time – that reflect a true master of his art who is not afraid of learning new tricks.
Launching into the second half of the show with a bold innovation, wholly unpredictable – the first ever appearance of guest backing musicians, a string quintet no less. And it worked.

Playing nine songs from Clockwork Angels, one of their most ground breaking and original albums for years. For choice: Halo Effect, Headlong Flight and The Garden.
Jumping back in time for Red Sector A, another resurrected classic, before finishing off with two songs in the main set and two in the encore (guess) that would ensure everyone went away feeling elated.

Not forgetting flawless musicianship throughout, entertaining special effects and gimmicks, a completely new animated backdrop, and a genuine sense of pleasure to be before a UK audience again. And how many other bands would be offering their drummer’s books alongside the T-shirts and programmes?
Thank you for the music, Rush, once more. For me, 33 years and still counting.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

AUTHORSdB - here's a great site

Take a look - pretty much self explanatory. In their own words, "as of May 17 2013 we have over 2150 registered members and growing daily". Home page is here: -

and my own listing is here: -

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Infernal Coalition: UKIP - what fatal flaw?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Alex broke off from reading the evening newspaper and passed it over to Susie, holding it open at the seventh page. 

“Looks like competition.”

The article was headed ‘Former Tory Councillor to contest East Worcs for UKIP’. Alex and Susie both knew of the individual concerned, Fred Donnington, who had briefly been one of their own local councillors shortly after they had moved into the constituency, before he retired. Donnington had served in the RAF before setting up a small engineering business, specialising in agricultural machinery, and after many years’ dedicated service as a councillor he was now devoting his remaining energies to the British Legion. And now, evidently, to the United Kingdom Independence Party.

“I wonder why UKIP picked him?”

“This might explain it.” Alex retrieved the paper and read an extract from the article beneath Donnington’s prominent photograph. “‘I cannot tolerate the thought of such a distinguished figure as Sir Walter Hough being succeeded by a man like his heir apparent….. It should be significant to everyone in East Worcestershire, in marked contrast, that unlike this man I openly repudiated my former political allegiance a number of months ago, and that my candidacy will provide a clear opportunity to protest against the In Europe But Not Run By Europe mantra that so foolishly sums up the modernised Conservative Party of the present day.’”

He put the paper down. “UKIP obviously wanted an ex-Tory. They’ve got one. That’s pretty strong stuff, what he’s said there, but it still doesn’t get over the fatal flaw.”

“What’s that?” Susie asked……

Well, who knows what that fatal flaw was, in the eyes of two fictional conservatives* thinking about the forthcoming General Election three years ago in 2010, at a time when the mainstream party most identified with traditional British values was riding high in the polls against a Prime Minister who displayed the charisma of a speak your weight machine and the economic acumen of a bull in a china shop, many weeks before the phrase “I agree with Nick” entered the English language.

But if a week is a long time in politics, what to make of three years, during which time barely a dent has been made in the size of the state; fuel and energy bills have rocketed; and the UK finds itself impotent in the face of foreign courts prohibiting the deportation of undesirable aliens? To say nothing of how the destructive might of the EU has escalated – just ask a PIGSIC nation trapped in Euroland – when the PM kicks the can down the road by reluctantly offering a referendum at some point in the next Parliament?

Maybe those fictional conservatives* contemplating this week’s elections would by now have concluded that there was no fatal flaw in what UKIP were standing for after all…..

*Deliberate avoidance of the capital C. From the back cover of Infernal Coalition: “Nor was Alex Harris’ wife Susie any more disposed to a quiet life after her new found political ambitions were treacherously derailed. Shaking off her own disappointment, she calmly struck back at the party machine that had once seemed so eager to welcome her…..”

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Rush - Clockwork Angels and a Literary Trilogy

Well, that might be pushing the description of the three books in question too far. But it was still part of a worthwhile holiday reading experience from the not too distant past, mainly inspired by the aim of digging more deeply into the background story behind Clockwork Angels, the best Rush album in many years.

First up, Dead Barchetta (aka Rock Deadly), a mystery thriller by Kathryn Lively, starring a guitar teacher and tribute band guitarist called Lerxst Johnson who has the misfortune narrowly to escape being murdered – the misfortune of course being his attempted murder and not his escape – only to discover the body of his would be killer in his music studio the next day. It triggers off his ever more complicated chase for reasons and explanations, with a wholly unpredictable conclusion. Would this have been any less enjoyable a beach read if Rush had not been the recipient of Lerxst’s tribute? Not at all.

Onto the Clockwork Angels novel, where Kevin J.Anderson collaborates with Neil Peart to put a considerable amount of flesh on the bones of the album track links and of course the lyrics. Let’s say straight away that it helped make an already first class album truly outstanding. Let’s also not forget to add that “steampunk”, a word that might sound notably jarring in any sense associated with Rush, is evidently a brand of science fiction featuring steam powered machinery – introduced early on here in the form of the steamliners from “Caravan” that ferry passengers and much needed commodities to the land of Crown City, far from the mundane orchards of Barrel Arbor where undermanager Owen Hardy dreams of adventure, never knowing he is about to find it.

What about this mysterious Watchmaker, then? Evidently an all powerful dictator reaching out to oversee the whole of Albion from his headquarters in Crown City, but an apparently benevolent one, who proves to his subjects that he “loves them all to death” by bestowing Stability (with a capital S), tranquillity, a reliable way of life where even the rainstorms happen on time, an apparently prosperous economy founded on alchemy (sounds like debauching the currency with a real long term crash inevitable, but that’s another story), and of course the regular Clockwork Angels shows in Chronos Square. And who, in parallel, cracks down ruthlessly on dissent via the all powerful Regulators.

Any real world comparison? Brunei, maybe, a nation of vast wealth where the population will in all probability lack nothing, but where dissent against the Sultan’s rule will meet with zero tolerance? Possibly. It’s perhaps not surprising that Crown City proves not to Owen Hardy’s liking, even if the manner of his leaving was not voluntary, and that he goes on to seek adventure of a more rewarding nature. No spoilers, save to confirm the majestic closure of the album with “The Garden” is cleverly echoed.

So what about the third book in the trilogy? Stepping back to the seventies, we find that two Rush songs – to be exact, “Anthem” from Fly By Night and the entire first side of 2112 – owe their inspiration to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the story of another man on a mission.

But this is no tale of an Owen Hardy, bored of contentment and finding that he can’t stop thinking big. This is the horrific diary of a street sweeper called Equality 7-2521, trapped in a bleak, oppressive nightmare world of the future where its wretched inhabitants are allocated lifelong mundane jobs upon reaching adulthood regardless of their intellect, where every waking moment of their lives is strictly controlled for the sake of the supposed common good, and where the greatest source of power and light is the candle, electricity being long forgotten. Not forgetting the fact that a powerful elite lords it over the brainwashed masses. Echoes of Cambodia under Pol Pot. Or modern day North Korea. Or the kind of nation that the most extreme climate change zealots would have us inhabit once the entire world has been decarbonised.

So Equality 7-2521 goes on an illicit voyage of discovery, first winning the affection of farm worker Liberty 5-3000 and vowing to save her from the compulsion of the Palace of Mating. Then he rediscovers a mysterious force, in a long neglected underground chamber where brick surrounds metal rails, that can make a wire glow in a glass box – only to face no option other than headlong flight when the World Council of Scholars denounce his invention as a curse. But his greatest discovery, having fled his oppressors for once and for all, is a word…

Any Rush fan will enjoy all of these. And they all stand up in their own right. Five stars for each of them.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Infernal Coalition - on Smashwords

I have made Infernal Coalition available via Smashwords. The link is above and will soon be on the side too.

My motivation for going beyond Kindle and Lulu was down to one factor above all, namely how impressed I have been with the iPad since recently receiving one as an unexpected gift. While it is clear in my mind that the iPad will never replace the desktop or laptop PC, and will probably not challenge the Kindle in VHS v Betamax fashion - let's face it, if you drop your Kindle on the beach, you just brush the sand off the cover and carry on - its versatility is a real eye opener. And I haven't even had to mention Angry Birds yet...

Next stop, the Smashwords Premium Catalogue and the obstacle course that this may involve. And in due course, similar treatment for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Greek Tragedy and a trip to the Court of Appeal

No, not the tragedy of a once proud and mighty nation being suffocated with ignominy as a result of its ongoing membership of the Eurozone. I’m thinking of the ancient works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the three common stages of most (if not all) of their works. Let’s use the Sophoclean masterpiece Oedipus Tyrannus to illustrate them.

Hubris: unwittingly, Oedipus kills his father King Laius of Thebes and marries his mother Jocasta, fulfilling an ancient prophecy in the process. Years later, with Thebes stricken by plague, which the Delphic oracle attributes to the stigma of King Laius’ murderer having never been caught, he embarks on an investigation.

Nemesis: Oedipus is confronted by the inescapable truth, having questioned an eyewitness to the murder, a shepherd who once gave away an unwanted child of Laius and Jocasta rather than leaving it to die of exposure on a mountainside, the child then being raised by King Polybus of Corinth and Queen Merope as if it was their own.

Catharsis: Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile.

We could sum these stages up as a wrongful act of brazen arrogance, retribution for that act, and transformation through cleaning or purging. In Greek tragedy, the last of these could apply to the audience as much as the main character.

Back to the present day and the Court of Appeal, for a winning decision on 5th March in a case involving allegations of wrongful post-termination solicitation of customers, and breach of directors’ fiduciary duties. Sparing chapter and verse on the parties for now, but with a promise to put up a link to the judgment once it’s published, the case may have been a modern day Greek tragedy. The hubris of soliciting the customers and breaching the duties. The nemesis of the appeal judgment, following on from the initial nemesis of the trial judgment, defied via the appeal. Leaving the catharsis, the precise nature of which is perhaps best left unaddressed for the moment.

Hubris, Nemesis and Catharsis. Now, there’s a possible book title. Let’s get to work.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Guest Interview: Emma Gray, author of "Party Games" (as E.J. Greenway)

Today I am pleased to be featuring an interview with Emma Gray, the author of the political suspense thriller “Party Games” as E.J. Greenway. Emma is kindly returning the favour for me.

What first inspired you to write novels?

I was 11, and watching the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, when I first realised I was interested in what was going on in politics. I always loved writing from a young age, and when I realised I could combine writing with my other new love – politics – I was in heaven! I thought the whole drama surrounding an outgoing Prime Minister of Mrs Thatcher’s stature was fascinating, and so I wrote my first ‘novel’ in 1990 called ‘The Plan to Assassinate the Prime Minister’. After that, I wrote a number of political stories (all involving real-life politicians, inspired by publications such as Private Eye) until I began my first ‘serious’ novel, Party Games, ten years ago now! The rest, as they say, is history.

Which novelist most inspires you?

I would have to say Michael Dobbs. He is a marvellous man, with a big passion for politics and writing about it.

Why choose politics as a subject?

As I said above, it’s my life-long passion, as well as my degree, as well as my job, and they say ‘write what you know’, so I did!

What led to the Conservative angle?

I am a natural Tory and have learnt a lot about the Conservative Party over the years!

Tell me more about Party Games.

It is a tale of skulduggery, passion and back-stabbing in the heart of Westminster, but also a tale about friendship and human flaws and failings. I always say that it could be based anywhere where there is hierarchy and rivalry i.e. in any company, school, council etc. I don’t wish to use the politics itself to sell any kind of political message, it is simply there as a vehicle for the characters and the story (hence me not going into policy detail about Cornish devolution, for example, which would obviously be dull as dishwater and make the story fragmented). Although it is in a political setting, I hope that the reader could sympathise and empathise with some of the characters – although not all!

Any more books on the horizon?

Yes – two, in fact. Party Games is first in a trilogy, so I’m currently on book 2, Power Play, which I hope to release later this year.

Most rewarding aspect of independent writing and e-publishing?

Being able to be my own boss and time everything to my own deadlines, not someone else’s.

And most frustrating?

Not being able to get my book out to a wider audience, as would be possible with a traditional publisher. E-books, although brilliant, do have their limitations!

As an independent author, how useful do you find social media?

It’s not just useful, but essential. Twitter has been my biggest source of publicity, and I’m grateful to all those who re-tweet and tweet on my behalf (including @DavidCooperBks !).

What would you most like to achieve from writing?

A book deal, through a traditional publisher. I think any independent author who pretends otherwise is kidding themselves!

Emma’s blogsite is and she can be found on Twitter as @emsie1979.

“Party Games” is in the Kindle bookstore at From my own 5 star review: -

“Anyone following the current political scene will be well familiar with the tales of treachery, double dealing and backbiting that are all too often reported about the Westminster playground, and it often leaves us wishing we could look even further behind the scenes. This tale of the tribulations of opposition leader Rodney Richmond takes a further step into that murky world - and it's all too credible. Rather than spoil the surprise beyond the author's own preview, I'll just say that if you like political suspense (from Dobbs to Archer), you'll love this one - all the more so for the promised sequels as this is just the first part of an intended trilogy.”