Force of Nature by Jane Harper

This is the follow-up to Jane Harper’s excellent first novel, The Dry, and features detective Aaron Falk. 

I found this one more like an Agatha Christie mystery set in the Australian rain forest. Five women go walkabout, four come back. Whodunnit? In alternating chapters, we follow the story from the point of view of the police investigation and of the five women involved in a team building trek through the bush.

Jane Harper has thrown the lot at this one, I had trouble keeping up with who was doing what to whom and why. Five women who work together in a firm of accountants, one of them a whistle blower who is being pressured by Falk to get the dirt on the company, another a member of the family that owns the company, set off into the Australian rain forest for no really satisfactory reason. Their male colleagues do the same but in a separate group of which we then hear little. The relationships between the women are tested to the limit as a series of disasters befalls them – they get lost, one gets bitten by a snake, they run out of food and water and one of them dies.

A few red herrings are knocking about.

I found it lightweight compared to The Dry and, although all fiction is contrived, I found this tried a bit too hard to fit some square pegs in round holes. An unsatisfactory follow up to an excellent debut novel.

Irony

I was browsing in a tee shirt shop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when I found a shirt that had SAIL NAKED printed on the front. I held it up to the checkout guy and said:

“Is this irony?”

“No, you can just let it drip dry,” he replied.

Birthday

Here’s a very rare venture into dystopian fiction:

Birthday

The shadows of the headstones creep across the ground as the sun sets and I pull my jacket tighter against the evening chill.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. That birthday.

We don’t celebrate birthdays the way we used to. When I was young we had birthday parties, a cake with candles to blow out, joyful friends singing your name and clapping, faces smiling, happy. That all ended by the time I reached, what, sixty? Twenty years ago. Fucking revolution.

The others will be at the house now. Bert and Emily and Joe. That’s all. It’s enough, though. I told everyone I didn’t want them here when it was time but I knew those three wouldn’t listen. They’re good friends from the old days.

I’d once hoped to be buried here in this cemetery, the old-fashioned way. It’s so pretty with the wild flowers and the ancient oaks. A lovely place for that eternal sleep. The headstones are interesting: They all died at different ages. That’s how it used to be, pre-revolution. Now we have CoMo.

I get it. I really do. How can you provide health care, pensions, housing, food and water if people are dying untidily at all ages, some getting to a hundred or more? Controlled Mortality. I get it. The Revolutionary Council wants a tidy, controlled society. No surprises. Eighty years is enough they decided after takeover. That was when we had the cull. When my parents went. That was tough to take, I must say.

Things are going well now, apparently, so RevCo are putting it up another two years starting next year. Just my luck, eh?

Oh well, best stop these silly thoughts, wander back to the house and get cracking with the last supper. They’re coming for me at midnight.

Happy fucking birthday.

The Revolving Door Incident

My short stay in Bahrain was immensely improved by this incident which I witnessed from the hotel coffee lounge on the mezzanine level, overlooking the lobby. Whilst one group of Japanese tourists filed out through the magnificent plate-glass revolving door another group started filing in. For Japanese people to fail to bow to each other is unthinkable and so they did; the sound of foreheads hitting glass was like a crate of apples being poured onto a wooden floor. The door was jammed with concussed Japanese and the lobby was littered with others stumbling and falling, unable to avoid crashing into the people ahead when the line abruptly halted. Some guests thought it a terrorist attack and screamed and ran for cover. O Joy.

Farewell to Texas

Back in England after a couple of weeks in Texas, shared between Clear Lake, south of Houston, and Gruene, in the hill country to the west of Houston.

It was all good. Here are a few pictures:

If you’re looking for a second-hand pair of cowboy boots, I know just the place. Here’s a small section of their stock.

Weathered board and corrugated tin seems to be the decor of choice for a hill country town trying to maintain authenticity:

 

Here’s one of the wineries:

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m sure you all know what this is. No? It is, of course, a Letz 350D feed grinder. Having spent a lifetime in cereal processing it was of some vague interest.

That’s all for now folks.

Gruene, Texas

The sun blazed down from a Texas sky the colour of faded Levis as we strolled through the streets of the quaint little town of Gruene, Texas. We sought temporary refuge from the sweltering heat in air-conditioned shops selling tee-shirts, antiques, fishing tackle, candy and ice-cream, olive derivatives (really) and souvenirs. There were several inviting bars and restaurants – we had fish tacos and a couple of ice cold beers in a Mexican tavern nestled in a grove of oak trees where a red squirrel sat nearby and scoffed a few nachos. A couple of local wineries are crying out to be tried before we leave town.

The Gruene River Hotel and Retreat is a splendid establishment in the style of a southern mansion sitting in mature grounds on the banks of the Guadalupe River. From the balcony of the Hemingway Room, our home for three nights, we watched a wild red deer munching industriously on the succulent vegetation aware of but unconcerned by our presence. The Hemingway Room was what it says on the tin – large, airy, high-ceilinged and fitted out with manly furniture and paraphernalia reminiscent of the great writer and hell-raiser. A log fire occupied one corner and animal hide rugs were scattered here and there. It was the best of rooms, it was the worst of rooms; sadly it didn’t provide me with any great measure of literary inspiration. One obvious omission was a table or desk on which to work. I’m sure Ernest didn’t sit on the leather sofa with his Smith-Corona plonked on his lap bashing out The Old Man and the Sea.

Gruene Hall is the oldest dancehall in Texas, built about 1878. It’s a barn-like building with a pitched tin roof and open sides and long benches and tables and a stage where most nights a band plays. They get some big names from time to time and you have to buy tickets but this week was all free. Up front is a scruffy bar with a few battered tables and chairs and a plank floor where we had a few beers and listened to a local trio belting it out whilst couples twirled around the dance  floor doing the Texas two-step and variations of it.

More on Gruene and the area in my next post. Take care, y’all.

Go west, young man! (OK, maybe not so young man)

For most of the day tomorrow I’ll be hurtling westward towards Texas locked inside a metal tube bashing its way through the lower stratosphere pushed by a gazillion horsepower. Thousands of components and miles of tubing and wiring will be doing their bit to keep the missile flying straight and true through the hostile vastness. Inside, though, all will be tranquil, calm, comforting. Meals will be served, wine poured, blankets handed round, movies flickering on little screens.

Just four hours by the clock will have elapsed when ten hours later I’m released into the hands of Homeland Security and then, bags retrieved, the Customs service. Groggy and disoriented I’ll finally reach the welcoming embrace of family. The holiday will begin.

Compressed Humanity

It’s 1992 and we’re on our sailboat, Adriana, anchored in the small port of Luperon on the north coast of Dominican Republic. Choice of provisions was sparse in Luperon so Carol and I decided we’d take the gua-gua to the much larger Puerto Plata in search of more interesting items, perhaps with sell-by dates still in the future:

Early morning, pleasantly cool, the sun still only a splash of lilac on the eastern horizon as we make our way to the bus stop where the gua-gua for Puerto Plata is boarded. We sit on the back seat of the Mitsubishi mini-van watching in growing wonder as a steady flow of passengers file down the bus and take their seats. Carol and I scrunch closer together as we’re joined by four others on the rear bench. As each subsequent row is filled short planks are deployed to span the passageway so extra passengers can be seated and before long the capacity of the bus as contemplated by its manufacturer is impressively exceeded. In fact, fourteen passengers and a driver are aboard the eight-seater as the journey begins.

On the outskirts of Luperon we stop to pick up a policeman and his wife, a youth with a broken arm, a woman towing a small child, and a cock-fight enthusiast with his prize bantam held aloft, presumably to avoid injury.

With a mind-boggling twenty-one souls (not counting the chicken) squashed within, the gua-gua bounces its way over hill and dale, weaving an erratic course around pot-holes and ruts, toward Puerto Plata. Julio Inglasias at 50 watts per channel tries vainly to drown out the happy chattering of this compressed humanity.

Ah, the memories.