Nordic Noir – The Bridge

Nordic Noir seems perfectly suited to the darker months. There would be something truly perverse to watch drama so bleak  on a cheery summer evening. Not so when the nights draw in, and the temperature plummets. Outside the wind blows, howls, moans across a landscape of moonlight and skeletal tress .

Capture that image if you can, keep it in mind for it is the perfect backdrop as we lock the doors, close the windows and draw the curtains. There has never been a better time

to  sit before the fire, a single malt in hand and binge on some of the best crime television around. This is just what I did recently when I sat and watched the ten episodes that make up season one of The Bridge. Original language and subtitles, of course.

Saga Noren, played by Sofia Helin, is an excellent creation – she seems to be equal parts Sherlock Homes and Lisbeth Salander, with a dash of Mr Spock thrown in. Her Watson is Dutch police officer, Martin Rhodes (Kim Bodnia) who provides the heart of the story as well as being a useful counterpoint to Saga’s lack of emotion.

The story starts with a body left on the Øresund Bridge which connects Sweden to Denmark. The body has been placed along the border between the two countries which means that both the Swedish and Danish police authorities have an interest in the case. Things get complicated when it is discovered that this is actually two bodies – the top half belonging to a Swedish politician while the legs are from a Danish prostitute. It soon become clear that the killer, a man who calls himself the Truth Terrorist, is making a point. That point being – we are not all equal in the eyes of the law. The prostitute was killed many months back, her body kept in deep freeze until it was needed to join the upper half of the politician on the bridge. Her disappearance was briefly investigated and then forgotten.

The killer soon contacts the press and claims he is committing these crimes to highlight some very real social problems. He has other points to make –  which will lead to ever more audacious crimes – poisoning the homeless, abducting corrupt policemen and kidnapping a group of schoolchildren. However as the mismatched cops investigate it soon become clear that the killer may be one of their own and that his motives are actually much more personal and nothing to do with noble ideas of social justice.

It’s an intriguing plot that is paced well throughout the entire season and I found myself immediately hooked after the first episode – For a week I found myself watching a couple of episodes a night and I enjoyed every minute. The chemistry between the two loads is pitch perfect and provides for some great character moments. Martin is the warmer character, a man who has no problems with social interactions , whilst Saga is socially awkward and finds it difficult to form real friendships or relationships. She seems to favour casual, unemotional sex and although her lifestyle is odd it is at least well ordered. The same can’t be said for Martin who struggles to remain a good father and husband and soon finds everything falling down around him.

Compelling stuff then…I’ve still got two more seasons to watch and I’m eager to get into the second season. After that I think I’ll try the American re-make, also called the Bridge, and if that’s not enough I could always enter The Tunnel – which is of course the title of the French/British remake. Somehow though I doubt if any of the others will match the brilliance of Saga Noren as played here by Sofia Helin.

Dead Simple = Dead Good – Peter James book review

51uiwz3y0l-_sx327_bo1204203200_Dead Simple (2005) is the first in the hugely popular DS Roy Grace series from Peter James – when I picked up this book earlier this week I was coming to the series fresh. I had read Peter James before, I even interviewed the author for Samhain Magazine but that was back in the day when the author was known for his horror/supernatural novels.

Dead Simple then is the author’s first crime novel though he doesn’t leave his supernatural roots behind entirely, and there is some malarkey in this novel involving a psychic who Roy Grace consults in order to locate dead bodies, missing persons and his car keys. His acceptance in the supernatural often gets him into trouble with his superiors, the judiciary and the media. To be brutally honest I did find this element of the story to be slightly ridiculous but that’s a small gripe given how genuinely gripping this book is.

Dead Simple which has been adapted into a stage play, and is being mooted for possible TV adaptation, is structured more like a thriller than a standard crime novel. It doesn’t take the whodunnit route since the reader is drip fed information throughout the story and is always one step ahead of the police. Though the author manages at several key moments to twist the story in ways totally unexpected, which leaves the reader squirming in glorious anticipation of what happens next.

The plot goes: A stag night prank of burying the groom in a coffin by his mates. If this seems a pretty extreme prank, (I mean what’s wrong with stripping the groom naked and tying him to a lamppost in the town centre? Or shaving his bollocks and tattooing a smiley face on his manhood?) then it all makes sense when James explains the history that leads to this event. The macabre prank becomes plausible enough to stick with it. However the first of many twists comes when the perpetrators are killed in an horrific traffic accident – this leaves our man trapped in the coffin. We soon learn that one person knows of the coffin prank but it seems he has a lot to gain by leaving the man there. This is where the twists start but the plot does remain credible within the confines of the world here. And speaking of confines, some of the coffin scenes really are genuinely claustrophobic to read.

It’s a page turner, folks and although it often strays dangerously close to B-movie shenanigans it does manage to keep itself on track for an excellent climax. If there was a problem with the story it was the author’s decision to suddenly pull a key character out of nowhere towards the end of the book- a character who largely drives the book towards the breathtaking climax involving a car chase that could put Bullitt (a movie actually referenced by a film buff cop in the plot) to shame. The author is a skilled storyteller and skills learned when he was a scriptwriter serves him well in keeping the incredibly impressive pace of the narrative.

he book did leave some questions hanging for me – Why don’t the police ever check emails? At least five of the characters would have sent or received emails containing the exact details of where the coffin was. Why don’t the police make any real effort to work out where the coffin could be? Such as, maybe, an empty plot of land owned by the main characters, a plot of land that’s right by one of the pubs they went to. These questions were racing through my mind but the plotting is so incredibly well done, the pacing so exciting, that the story hooked me entirely and I couldn’t put the damn book down.

Of course a crime series such as this is largely dependent on creating an interesting main character – for it is this character who will carry the series from one book to another. So what of Roy Grace? Well Peter James gives as a cop who is not as dour as John Rebus, nor as earthy as Tom Thorne. There is a sadness surrounding Roy Grace, who comes across as a likeable and ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary situations. The reader learns that his wife went missing some years back, no one knows what has happened to her and no doubt this element of Roy Grace’s past will become important as the series progresses. The disappearance of his wife (their marriage is portrayed as having been idyllic) haunts the policeman and is largely responsible for his penchant to turn to psychics in order to help in solving crimes

I will be reading more in this series – in fact I’m going to start the second book, Looking Good Dead, today – I will be interested in seeing where the character goes and if psychic malarkey continues throughout the series.

All in all Dead Simple was an excellent, tighly plotted crime thriller….I bloody enjoyed that. Dead good, it was.

FREE IS GOOD

gary-m-dobbs-granny-smithGranny Smith: Murder Plot, the latest and fourth book in my successful Granny Smith series is free for download from Amazon for the next five days. That’s free – not costing a single penny, cent or Euro – now that’s got to be a good thing. So please take advantage of this offer and grab yourself a few hours of great entertainment in the company of that heavy metal loving senile delinquent, Granny Smith – all I ask if that you leave a review on Amazon – please, please do that. And maybe, just maybe you’ll buy one of the other books in the series. Hey, us writers have got to pay the bills too.

What the reviews say:

Brilliant! This Author has the ability make you you believe you are in the story actually visualizing what is going on! I simply love the character Granny Smith and her family ,
The setting is just right! I have bought all of Mr Dobbs books and can not put them down always thrilling and humorous at the same time.When is the next one out can’t wait!!!!! Mr Dobbs has written some really exciting books keep them coming. 


I loved this book, it made me laugh out loud a few times. The characters are believable. Anyone who likes funny, light hearted murder mysteries should read this. I can’t wait for the next one, I hope there are more to come.

She’s back! I have a soft spot for this pipe smoking granny. The police don’t like her, murderers don’t like her but the public and media
love her. Back in the spotlight Granny swings into action to solve the body in the water butt. ‘Murder Plot’ is a hugely entertaining read with Author Gary M Dobbs really getting to grips with his creation. In places I laughed out loud. Full of character and the odd famous name I thoroughly recommend this book. She’s back!

I downloaded this book and couldn’t put it down its brilliant granny smith is a no nonsense lady that has a way of getting to the truth which is sheer brilliance she really is miss marple on steroids cant wait for the next book in the series 

WHO IS GRANNY SMITH?

Imagine Miss Marple pumped full of steroids and you pretty much have Granny Smith. This pipe smoking, heavy metal loving pensioner sleuth certainly doesn’t fit in with the stereotypical amateur detective – she’s got more in common with Mike Hammer than she does with Jessica Fletcher. Granny is very much a product of her time…she came of age during the Sixties and her attitudes were forged during that decade of freedom. She claims to have once slept with Keef Richards and insists that Paul McCartney was thinking of her when he wrote the song, Famous Groupies.

On the Origins of Granny Smith

Of course Granny Smith’s real name wasn’t Granny but everyone called her Granny. It wasn’t because she was a grandmother, though she was three times over, but rather because as a child she had loved apples, would take one to school for her lunch each and every day. It seemed that wherever she went an apple went with her and so associated with the fruit had she become that eventually some bright spark had nicknamed her Granny Smith after that popular Australian variety of apple.

She was seventy one years old and her given name was Mary Alice Davies, which meant she had the rather unfortunate initials – M A D, but she had never let that bother her and besides, she had often reasoned; when I marry I will have a totally different surname. Eventually she had married a local man who went by the name of Arthur Smith, Smith of course, like Davies, being a common enough name, and she did indeed get a new surname, in fact her nickname became her surname. However because most people knew her by the nickname, Granny Smith, no one seemed to notice when she became a Smith for real, and, if truth be told, to many people she would remain forever mad.

The first Granny Smith book was very popular, scoring steady sales and even entering Amazon’s top ten for cozy mysteries during the week of publication – the three books that have followed in the series have also scored strong sales and many many glowing reviews. People seem to like Granny.
Granny Smith Investigates is also available as an audiobook from Audible with other books in the series to follow soon. TO GET THE AUDIOBOOK SIMPLY VISIT AUDIBLE AND DO A SEARCH FOR, ‘GRANNY SMITH INVETIGATES

The latest book in the series is Murder Plot and from 1st November 2016 the book will be free to download from Amazon worldwide – why not grab a free book and I hope this prompts you to buy the other three books in the series. There’ll be another full length, Granny Smith adventure next Spring and this Christmas will see a festive Granny Smith short story available as a Kindle Single.

So some on folks – what are you waiting for? Head on up the Amazon and grab a slice of Granny Smith…..you’ll be glad you did.

And remember please support the series by leaving a review on Amazon – nothing shifts books like good reviews. Also share this blog post with all your friends and tell them all about Granny Smith….she’s Miss Marple on Steroids, Batman with dentures and a whole lot of fun.

Good Sex in Fiction Award – The Stiffie?

The Erotic Review have announced that they are to introduce an award for writing good sex in fiction. The publishers state that they want to remove the seediness associated with erotic writing and the counter the infamous Bad Sex Award which is held each year by The Literary Review.

Lisa Moylett, publisher, told The Times newspaper: “We are throwing down the gauntlet. No more ‘bad sex’ writing. That is not something we should be celebrating.” The publisher was recently joined by Mariella Frostrup, editor of the recently released Desire: 100 of Literature’s Sexiest Stories,at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival and backed this point up.

Speaking of the award, Toby Lichtig recently wrote in, The Guardian Newspaper – ‘In a sense, my question is: what is good sex in fiction as opposed to mere pornography? (Which also leads me to ask: does good fiction suddenly stop becoming good if it’s arousing?) I suppose one problem is that sex is so often idealised in books, as it is in films. Earth-moving, transcendental, simultaneously-orgasmic sex is far more common in the history of the world’s storytelling than is an awkward, exhausted and querulous quickie between setting the alarm and getting up to calm the baby. But good bad sex (the embarrassment, the mutual misunderstanding) should be honoured in fiction no more nor less than the real fireworks.’

Personally I take all of the points listed above, and I suppose an award for good sex writing is no different to awards for writing in other genres, The Daggers, for instance given for good crime writing but there will always be an element of sniggering where sex is involved. Hey, it’s the British way and the award is not really going to be called A STIFFIE you know. Though, I can’t help thinking that maybe it should.

Strange Days

Cowboys and Aliens: Did Aliens visit the Old West?

In late March 1897, around seven years before the Wright Brothers undertook their first controlled flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, airships were in the news after several hundred residents of Missouri, Kansas claimed to witness a strange sight as a huge airship hovered over farms, ranches and small towns in a three state area. Reportedly it swept a huge searchlight along the ground and terrified residents who witnessed this strange event. The story made the local Kansas Newspapers but then went national and then worldwide.

The story would have died a death, many were sceptical but then on 1st April 1897 (April Fools day, don’t forget) Alexander Hamilton,a  farmer from LeRoy, Kansas claimed that the air machine had hovered over his farm and one of his cows had been sucked up into the machine. Later cow parts were discovered in a three mile radius.

That same night as many as 10,000 witnesses would give statements to the press about the airship. It was said to have flown over Kansas City, going through a series of erratic manoeuvres. Some witnesses even claimed that the airship was the planet, Venus…one man told the Kansas City Times that, ‘Venus does not dodge around, fly swiftly to the horizon, swoop rapidly towards the ground and then fly away to be lost in the Southern sky.’

From descriptions given to the newspapers the aircraft seemed to be – shaped like an Indian canoe with a basket some 25 to 30 feet in length. Four light wings extended from the basket and these wings were triangular with a giant bag, thought to be a gas balloon, above the basket. The craft had powerful lights that lit up the night sky  it was said that these lights were as bright as those of a locomotive.

This started the world’s first UFO scare and in the weeks following the aircraft was reported all over the United States. When it was spotted in Michigan, observers claimed to have heard human voices coming from the machine. On April 6th it was spotted over Omaha and more than six hundred people made statements to the press. The craft was also spotted in Iowa where a farmer claimed a drag rope had come from the craft, hooked his trousers and carried him several hundred feet before dropping him to the ground. Speculation in the press became widespread – one theory being that the craft was a new invention, piloted by American astronauts who were testing the commercial validity of the machine. Cattle rustling was, of course, denied.

There were yet more sightings of the strange craft – The Kansas City Free Press reported that, ‘the airship is not of this world, but it is likely operated by a party of scientists from the planet, Mars who are out on a tour of the universe for scientific study.’

Whatever the truth of the story it remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the Old West.

The Guns that won the west

The Sharps buffalo gun, known as the Big 50 but often nicknamed,’ the gun that shoots today and kills tomorrow.’ The .50-90 Sharps rifle cartridge is a black-powder cartridge that was introduced by Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in 1872 as a buffalo hunting round. Like other large black-powder rounds, it incorporates a heavy bullet and a large powder volume, leading to high muzzle energies.

In the hide-hunting years of the 1870s, the heavy Sharps rifle was the of choice with many mountain men. While they made most of their shots at around 200 yards or less, the savvy buffalo hunters realized that when hunting in Indian country, they should keep about 10 cartridges set aside for self-defence. With these few rounds, they were able to keep hostile tribesmen at a safe distance until they made it back to camp.

Once such event happened in 1874 in the Texas pan-handle in which sharpshooter Billy Dixon shot and killed a Comanche brave who was seated upon his horse more than a mile away. Now that single shot reportedly scared the Indians off and brought what could have been a costly battle to an end.

‘There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight. In after years I was glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the fighting men of the southwestern Plains tribes, mounted upon their finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind. Over all was splashed the rich colors of red, vermillion and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous war-bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, halfnaked bodies of the riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass. Behind this headlong charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge from this glowing background’ Billy Dixon. 

Dixon’s famous shot took place on the third day of the second Siege of Adobe Wells in which an Indian force, some 700 strong attacked Adobe Wells in which some 28 men, including a 20 year old Bat Masterton and Billy Dixon were present. It was on the third day after the initial attack that Dixon took his famous shot. Fifteen Indian warriors rode out on a bluff nearly a mile away to survey the situation. At the behest of one of the hunters, William “Billy” Dixon, already renowned as a crack shot, took aim with a “Big Fifty” Sharps  that he had borrowed from another man, and cleanly dropped a warrior from atop his horse. “I was admittedly a good marksman, yet this was what might be called a ‘scratch’ shot.” This shot apparently so discouraged the Indians that they decamped and gave up the fight. 

Billy Dixon

William “Billy” Dixon (September 25, 1850 – March 9, 1913) was an American scout and buffalo hunter active in the Texas Panhandle. He helped found Adobe Walls, fired a legendary buffalo rifle shot at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, and for his actions at the “Buffalo Wallow Fight” became one of eight civilians ever to receive the U.S. Medal of Honor. 

Now these days many people debunk Dixon’s famous shout, claiming that he couldn’t have made it as such a length but a group of ballistics experts and forensics scientists have recreated the shot and discovered that it was indeed possible.

Phil Spangenberger wrote in True West Magazine –  Among modern-day nonbelievers was a forensic scientist who claimed a .50-90 Sharps could not throw a bullet out that far. In response to this technician’s curiosity and disbelief, in the fall of 1992, fellow gun writer and long-time amigo Mike Venturino was invited, along with the folks from Shiloh Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company, to travel to the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, to use some then-newly declassified radar devices to test the performance of several types of ammunition.

Using a machine rest modified from a gun carrier from a Russian T-72 tank, they started firing away. For the first Sharps shot, with the gun carriage elevated to 35 degrees, a 675-grain bullet, pushed by 90 grains of FFg black powder, and with a muzzle velocity (mv) of only 1,216 feet per second (fps) launched the bullet over 3,600 yards distant. That’s 10,800 feet—over two miles! The scientists couldn’t believe it, so a second round was touched off. This time the lead projectile weighed 650 grains with a mv of 1,301 fps. Using the same 35-degree elevation, the bullet landed 3,245 yards away. When one of the mathematicians calculated some data he suggested they reduce the elevation to about 4½ to 5 degrees to duplicate Billy Dixon’s shot. When this was done using the same load, the lead slug landed 1,517 yards downrange—almost the exact range of Dixon’s controversial shot. A five-degree muzzle elevation can easily be achieved with only the rear barrel sight on a Shiloh Sharps. This writer has made similar long-range shots with his own .50-90 Shiloh Sharps, using 90 grains of FFg black powder and a 515-grain bullet, while testing firearms for Guns & Ammo magazine.
According to Venturino, with 35 degrees elevation, the bullet gained a maximum height just short of 4,000 feet and was airborne a full 30 seconds. In my own experimentation with my Big Fifty Shiloh Sharps at similar distances, I found that with the slight muzzle elevation of around five degrees, I counted three full seconds between firing the shot and seeing the bullet kick up dirt in the target area. So the next time some modern gun “expert” wagers that you can’t put a bullet a mile out with a Sharps buffalo gun—take the bet!
Phil Spangenberger has written for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor.