Mammon Episode 4: Time we pact it in?

Mammon Episode 4: The Pact

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Found it a bit hard going this week, so apologies if this blog isn’t up to my usual (terrible) standards.

I’m pleased to see this week’s episode did pick up where it left off last week, with the man who had phoned Peter at the end of episode 3 (who is Gisle Eie) checking on his daughters, who are both fine. He did look at something on daughter number one’s bedside table, but I couldn’t make out what it was.

Peter is recovering from being beaten up and Tom Lied appears in the kitchen at the party and looks at his head and tells him he needs stitches, but is fine.

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Our mysterious Minister for Justice continues to be mysterious, with a summons to see the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. He’s told that he can’t let his friendship with Age blow up and must not go to the funeral. He tells the Chief of Staff that there is nothing else to come out. They’re all liars! He tells his wife he doesn’t think he can stop things from spiralling.

Andreas turns up at his mum, Eva’s house. This follows his Granddad Tore being on the phone to Peter saying that he took all of Daniel’s things so couldn’t have been kidnapped. I have no idea when a kidnapping was suggested. He continues to worry his mother and Peter by not being at Eva’s in the morning when she gets up.

Peter is at Vibeke’s place again and they have looked into what happened 25 years ago, as mentioned by Gisle on the phone call he had with Peter. It seems Age, Daniel and Tom were all at NHH School of Economics. Vibeke says she will go to Bergen to the NHH and completely out of the blue, takes her jumper off (and for the first time, her lamb necklace and starts to seduce Peter. I thought we’d been spared this with us being told they used to go out, but it did lead to the marvellous exchange below:

Peter:  “It’s been a while”

Vibeke: “It’s just like riding a bike”

Peter: “Well it will be a short ride”

And she didn’t look anywhere near as cold as she had in episode 1.

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Vibeke is still having issues, but no sign of agoraphobia now as she sets off for Bergen on a plane. Andreas is also on the plane! She recognises him despite having only seen him 5 years before, although admittedly, it is only his hair that is different and they go together to the NHH which looks, from the outside at least , as if it has had better days.

Andreas manages to bypass data protection rules by saying he is the son of Helge Lund which seems to open a lot of doors for him. I can only assume this is some relation of the excellent Sarah Lund from The Killing. They look through records in the School’s vault and find a picture of Daniel, Age and Gisle together, before a senior Professor insists on meeting Lund’s son. He immediately tells them he knows he isn’t Lund’s son (no Nordic jumper), but that he is Daniel’s son and also recognises Vibeke from when she investigated there 6 years ago. He tells them that it isn’t who is in the picture, it is who isn’t in the picture, then says he won’t help them.

Peter finds out the address of Gisle from the car he had escaped in last week and goes to his house where a children’s party is in full swing and we are treated to game of musical chairs in the background as Peter tries to quiz him. Gisle says he “can’t talk now” and agrees to meet Peter later.

Inger confronts the Minister as he uses a treadmill and says she has an appointment and he tells her he is busy and to phone his secretary to make an appointment. Since that worked so well, Inger shows him the photos she has of him and Age’s wife Yvonne in various compromising poses. She also tells him she has evidence of his involvement with Age and Tom.

Inger’s editor is sacked by his boss after making a fool of him in front of the staff and his help for Peter is no more.

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Peter goes to see Yvonne who tells him that her husband’s study has been ransacked. He tells her to get out of the country and as they leave we see Thomas Buch from the Killing outside. Although he still isn’t scary.

Gisle arranges a time with Peter and he is clearly worried about meeting him as he asks Peter what he knows. He tells Peter it is about vast amounts of money and not sacrificing children. He then says that the approaching train is his and jumps in front of it. Rival newspaper VG are on the scene and take photographs of a shocked Peter who is shouting at them how they knew to be there. That’s 3 suicides he’s been at now!

VG publish their pictures along with pictures of Eva at the scene of Age’s suicide and the Criminal Investigation Service (CIS) turns up at Eva’s where Peter is, to arrest him. They interview him and ask him how he has so much money in a Swiss Bank Account. He doesn’t seem to know either. His newspaper says they will give the CIS all they have on Peter if they hold him for 24 hours. Given he has been at 3 “suicides” now, I wouldn’t have thought they’d struggle to pin something on him.

Tore takes down Daniel’s terrible painting of the child sacrifice at the church and sees that it says on the back ‘God forgive us – 22:10.’ He goes to Eva and gives her it, who freaks out when she sees what is written on the back.

Tom Lied turns up at the Financial Crime Unit and tells them that Age was guilty of forging the Minister’s signature in some of their company’s documents. The Minister is now all over the papers and is told by the Chief of Staff he must resign and to say it is due to family reasons. At his press conference he says he has been set up and has been told to resign for family reasons, but he will not until found guilty of links to Tom Lied and Age Haugen’s businesses. He says he will not resign until proven guilty.

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As Vibeke and Andreas prepare to fly back, Andreas is snatched and Vibeke finds his bloodied scarf in the car park.

Ending from The Killing again as we jump from character to character as the theme tune plays.

Still following it? I’m not sure I am. Will Peter Varas get to the bottom of it all? Will we know if he does? Two episodes to go.

Issues:

  • Beaten up Peter seems to consist of having one side of his shirt untucked at the front and his tie loosened.
  • If Peter needed stitches, when did he get them?
  • Should Vibeke not have thought that she might be recognised at the NHH given she’d been there before?
  • The pictures Inger showed the Minister of him and Yvonne seemed to consist of him hugging her and them walking down some stairs. Not hugely compromising I’d have thought.
  • The Minister told Inger that she didn’t work for “fucking Hello magazine”. When did Hello magazine print scandals?
  • How did the Criminal Investigation Service know Peter was at Eva’s house?
  • I can’t say I’m an expert on Norwegian law, but do you not have to charge someone to detain them for 24 hours?
  • The Chief of Staff’s pointer may be my new favourite character.
  • I’ve no idea who has taken Andreas, or why. I expect Daniel killed himself to prevent him from dying, but that doesn’t seem to have worked. Is Eva in on it all?
  • Isn’t it amazing that I’m not mentioning Cain and Abel?
  • In case you didn’t know, Mammon is a New Testament term referring to greed.
  • New this week was shots of the city from above. Like the other Scandi dramas.
  • How did the Professor know that Andreas was Daniel’s son? He said he looked just like him. (He didn’t).
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A Wolf in a sheep’s waistcoat: John Connolly in Edinburgh

John Connolly

Blackwells Bookshop, Edinburgh, Tuesday 15 April 2014

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It’s fair to say (and if you are a regular visitor to this blog you will know this) that I have been to a fair number of book readings/signings these last few years. Most are quite interesting and, whilst lots of the questions asked (including mine!) tend to be similar from one to another, it’s always nice to hear the different ways in which authors craft their writings and how they come up with the stories. So, having never been to see John Connolly before, I thought his appearance promoting his new novel, The Wolf In Winter, this would be more of the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

By way of background, John is an Irish writer who is best known for his Charlie Parker series about a former New York City police officer who has turned private detective. The first book in the series Every Dead Thing is about Parker investigating the murder of his wife and daughter. The book went on to win the 2000 Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel – and John was the first author outside of the US to have won the award.

John opened his chat by telling us that he had changed his look, having decided that waistcoats can hide a multitude of sins! However, this nearly backfired on him when someone told him he was reminded of Uncle Monty from Withnail and I – apparent John was going for a slightly more cooler look than that…

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He talked about why he had decided to write crime based in America, saying that the Irish weren’t actually that good at committing crimes (they had become quite good at blowing things up though!) He entertained the audience with a few stories to prove this. One was about how two of the gang involved in the Great Brink’s Robbery in Boston in 1950 had been caught when a “neighbourhood watch” type reported them for stealing a lawnmower. When the police stopped the car they discovered guns and masks in the boot. Another example was a report from the Irish Times in 2007 where a man had been arrested and charged with the murder of a love rival at a party. When told by the police that he had been identified at the scene, he replied, “That’s bullshit. Nobody saw me. I had a balaclava and gloves on.” Pure Genius, right enough.

John moved on to talk about how readers come back to series to hear more about the characters and explore their depths, it’s not really about the plots. He referred to The Da Vinci Code, adding that when he had mentioned he wasn’t the biggest fan of this book to a bookshop owner in New Hampshire, he was told by the owner that Dan Brown was actually a friend of the store. Oops. This was somewhat smoothed over however, when the owner went on to say that Dan had once told him that if he had known how successful that book was going to be, he’d have put in more effort!

So, as a writer, you need to be careful that when you are trading on the goodwill of your readers you don’t fall into the trap of just producing the same type of thing, but to a lower quality. I won’t mention the writer John referred to here (that would be breaking the Code of Omerta) but he had the audience in fits of laughter when he said he often referred to it as like visiting a relation in a coma – you keep coming back, hoping to glimpse an improvement during the next visit/next read.

John has also gone off and written other things including books for young adults – although he appreciates that this can, sometimes, upset those readers who are hungry for the next Parker novel. He talked about this being like going to the gym, where you have to exercise different muscles instead of concentrating on the same one every time. He also said that this meant when he sat down to write the next Parker, it is the book he wants to write rather than one he feels obliged to write to keep the reader happy, but also to not waste the reader’s time. I completely related to his comment about how difficult it is to just stop reading a book half way through, even if it is something you’re not really enjoying – there’s just something about taking that commitment right the way to the end.

We were treated to a charming story about a young girl who had written to John (e-mail was entitled “somewhat urgant”) with a plea that, having read The Gates for a summer assignment, she needed him to tell her what the message was that he had been trying to get over in the book – and that if he couldn’t tell her by Monday, could he make it up anyway.

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He offered to answer questions after that – here’s a selection of the topics covered:

  • Did he reply to the young girl’s e-mail? Yes, he did, and actually wrote her a long essay, adding that it was quite nice to find out how they had been marked – and that he wished he could phone up a teacher and argue “his” marking with them;
  • Why was he influenced by the supernatural? The two genres he had grown up with were crime and the supernatural and he referred to the “rules in crime fiction” which had been pulled together a number of years ago, where the supernatural had been considered a big no-no. His view is that genres only expand when people experiment in the margins and that this was what he was doing. He also thought it might have something to do with his upbringing as a Catholic – referencing morality, justice, passion and empathy and using characters who were in search of redemption.
  • Parker is ageing in real time, so how long has he got? John’s response to this was “how long have I got?” His idea for this was going back again to not short changing his audience and by allowing the ageing process to take place, you could also change your characters and thus change the way in which the books go (ominously he added in response to another question that he had an ending in mind and now knew where the books concluded);
  • He also talked about never being afraid to ask for advice and help around things like American police procedure; and that the reason he chose to base his books in and around Maine was because of the fantastic landscape and the scope and variety of the changing seasons there.

And all too soon, we were at the end of the hour and we were invited to stay behind to buy books and have them signed by the man himself. I had bought Every Dead Thing before the start of the event, having been advised that it would save queuing twice if I wanted John to sign it. He was so thoroughly charming with everyone who stayed to get things signed, that it took a while to get to the front of the queue, but when it was your turn, you certainly didn’t feel rushed or that he had any less time for you because you weren’t as avid a fan as the rest. As a thank you, he was giving out a CD with each book, which contains pieces of music he listens to, to help set the mood when he is writing and, even though I wasn’t buying the latest book, he gave me a CD too. I asked him what he thought about the Nordic Noir “movement” and if he had read any of those books. He had, and had enjoyed them, but also said that he thought we had probably seen the best of those now. He is loving the TV series True Detective and, having so far got through 3 episodes, I was able to have a discussion with him about how that has been filmed and what we both thought of it.

John could make it as a stand up comedian with stories he tells and his fantastic Irish lilt of a delivery. He was certainly funnier than a few of them I’ve seen over the years! I’d also love to see him on the same bill as Mark Billingham and Christopher Brookmyre – that, for me, would be an event well worth going to.

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Going Downhill?: Mammon Episode 3

Mammon Episode 3 The Descent

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Just as we got used to them having a quote after the name of the episode, they decided not to bother this week.

I’ve mentioned previously that there are some continuity errors, but unless I’ve missed something, they had completely forgotten how they ended the previous episode. Episode 2 ended with Peter and Eva leaving Andreas with Peter’s dad, at his church, and driving off, with someone following them. This week started with them arriving at the church, and Peter asking his dad, Tore if Eva and Andreas could stay. Then driving off alone.

I think I sat with a puzzled expression on my face for at least the next 5 minutes after that beginning, as Peter went to former newspaper colleague Inger Marie’s house and asked her to come with him as he had something to show her. Despite her partner’s unhappiness and it being night time (not to mention her being heavily pregnant) she goes with him to Vibeke’s, and it turns out that he just wanted Vibeke to look at her laptop, to try and find out who had sent Inger Marie the message tipping her off about Age.

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It doesn’t take the computer whizz kid long to find out that it was Age himself who had sent the email, just as Daniel had previously. There was also a video attached to the email, but Vibeke said that the file was corrupted. The ever chivalrous Peter sends Inger Marie home in a taxi and asks Vibeke if she had copied the video. She had copied the whole hard drive. And of course it takes her about 2 seconds to get it to work. It shows a video of a small boy standing at the window of his bedroom shouting on his “daddy” (who seemed to be on the other side of the window) as the room fills with smoke then catches fire.

Andreas, despite already having been told off for it, is snooping around his grandfather’s church manse, and comes across a box in Daniel’s old room which contains several framed photos of his dead father in his younger days, which are not on display like Peter’s are around the house. He also finds several other documents and eventually runs off.

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Inger Marie and Peter, who now seem to be best friends, go to Paragon to meet Tom Lied, who clearly hasn’t been watching previous episodes as he offers tea or coffee. Peter says “coffee” as though he can’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to offer anything else. They ask several questions about his involvement with Government officials, which he denies.

Our mysterious Government Minister doesn’t appear much this week, but his wife is telling him not to feel bad as he couldn’t have known Age would shoot himself, and we also see him being photographed kissing Age’s widow. One of the researchers at the newspaper also finds a document signed by Tom Lied and the Minister. Lied lied!

Peter is questioned by the police about his involvement in Age’s suicide. They know that Age couldn’t have phoned him like he had said, and also have been sent the photograph of him and Eva at the scene. I said in last week’s blog that I’d have thought the police would have been treating him as a suspect before all of this information, but they seem happy to let him go again.

Peter now knows that Age also couldn’t have been the one to send the email tipping off the newspaper, and although Vibeke can’t find out who did send it, she finds out that the same person accepted an invite to a party. In true James Bond style, Peter manages to get there with Eva as his partner.

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Peter is handed a note at the party which says “meet me in the kitchen in 10 minutes” and it turns out not to be Jona Lewie, but instead someone who is there to warn him not to continue his investigations. Peter manages to fight him off.

Peter then receives a call from someone at the party on a land line who tells him not to go public and that he will have to go back 25 years to find the truth. Peter manages to get to the point where the phone call is coming from, but the man runs off and escapes in a car. Vibeke appears to say she has managed to get a photo of the car that he sped off in.

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We then have a man tell Peter that someone wants to speak to him, and his friend from the kitchen has returned with 3 friends, who give him a proper warning this time. I guess he must have went and watched a TV show or film to see what usually happened.

The man who made the call from the land line goes back to his room to find a big bloke sitting in the room in the dark who asks him “Don’t you have children to take care of?”

We end episode 3 with a montage in the style of The Killing, jumping to each character and showing what they are doing as the theme music plays.

The episode seemed a bit slower this week and not an awful lot was done to progress the story. And I’m still trying to come to terms with the start.

Issues:

  • Given the importance of the email about Age, you’d think Inger Marie would have turned to an expert to see if they could open the video attached in the email. Investigative journalist? Pah.
  • I’m sure Inger Marie said “Iggy Pop” at one stage.
  • The timing of the ad breaks continue to be very odd. I’m assuming there weren’t ads in its original format.
  • Very powerful scene with the sight of the boy in the bedroom as it became engulfed in flames.
  • Although we saw Peter being fitted for his suit he wore to the party, it didn’t look as if it fit him. Maybe he just doesn’t look right in a suit.
  • Who sends one person to give someone a warning. Have these people never watched anything before? If it is to be one person doing it, they would be some fighting machine or have a weapon.
  • Have Inger Marie’s eyes got bigger?
  • “Come in” in Norwegian appears to be “come in”.
  • Jensen who works in the newspaper office is like a young Elvis Costello.
  • Is the whole thing a revenge story for the child that appeared on the video?
  • What was with the flashmob dancers at the party?
  • Was that really Nicolas Bro at the end? Last seen in season 2 of The Killing as Justice Minister Thomas Buch. Least scary scary man ever.
  • “One thing about money is you can buy a lot of violence” said our kitchen man after coming back with his 3 henchmen. Yes, that’s why Vinnie Jones played for so many football teams.
  • Why was the kitchen empty? Surely some form of food would be provided for party guests?
  • What on earth was going on with the subtitles when they ended a sentence with “it’s”?
  • Were so many people keen to give Peter a bit of a kicking because of that suit?
  • I thought Vibeke had agoraphobia?
  • How, in the widest of wide worlds, would Vibeke have been in the street at just that moment as the car sped off. And how did she know it was important to take a photo of it as Peter hadn’t emerged when it drove off?
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Ain’t Nothing Like A Dame: Dame Stella Rimington

Dame Stella Rimington’s Public Lecture

Friday 11 April 2014

Playfair Library Hall, Old College, University of Edinburgh

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Edinburgh Spy Week is a series of events exploring the fascinating world of espionage fiction in literature and film, organised by members of the Department of English at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Edinburgh Filmhouse, the National Library of Scotland, and Blackwell’s Bookshop. All week there have been screenings of classic spy films introduced by authors and academics, a discussion of ‘John Buchan and the Scottish Spy Story’ at the National Library of Scotland, talks on the history of the genre by members of the English Department, and a spy-themed quiz at Blackwell’s. Tomorrow (Saturday 12 April) there is to be round-table discussion with spy fiction writers including Charles Cumming, Jeremy Duns and Tim Stevens, who were all in attendance for tonight’s (and the week’s) main event – a keynote lecture from the author and former director of MI5 Dame Stella Rimington on espionage in fact and fiction.

Dame Stella Rimington was born in 1935 and is a British author. She was the first female Director General of MI5 between 1992 and 1996. She was also the first DG whose name was publicised on appointment. And in 1993, she was the first DG of MI5 to pose openly for the cameras at a launch event for a brochure outlining MI5’s activities. Dame Stella studied English at the University of Edinburgh in the 1950s (we are told this by the Vice Principal of the University, Professor Dorothy Miell, who is introducing Dame Stella to us). Completing her degree in 1958, she studied archive administration in Liverpool before beginning work as an archivist at the County Record Office in Worcester. In 1963, she married John Rimington and moved to London, successfully securing a job at the India Office Library. She moved with her husband in 1965 to India when he was offered the post of First Secretary (Economic) for the British High Commission in New Delhi. In 1969, they returned to London where Dame Stella decided to apply for a permanent position with MI5. During her career, Dame Stella worked for all three branches of the Security Service. She oversaw MI5’s move to Thames House in 1990 and the following year she was promoted to Director General of MI5.

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Dame Stella began her lecture by encouraging us all to read A Spy’s Bedside Book which had been republished last year (and in which she has written a new introduction). On its first appearance in 1957, the book, written by Hugh and Graham Greene, provoked a storm of interest, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, 100 copies were bought by East German Intelligence.   This book includes stories by some of the great writers on spying and many practitioners, including Ian Fleming and John Buchan, Sir Robert Baden-Powell and Belle Boyd, Walter Schellenberg and Major André, Sir Paul Dukes and Vladimir Petrov, and from the golden age of mystery and suspense, William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Dame Stella tells us that William Le Queux wrote more than 50 books in the early 20th Century about a “spy” called Duckworth Drue. She tells us that his boss was one Marquis of Macclesfield – surely it can’t be a coincidence that James Bond’s boss is M and that Q is the person who gives him all the technical equipment….

Also prior to the First World War, in 1903 in fact, Erskine Childers wrote Riddle of the Sands, a spy book where Germany is plotting an invasion. This book prompted lots of concern around whether the country would be ready for a German invasion should it ever happen – the answer being we were drastically unprepared. The following year, Germany starting placing “illegals” into the country to find out key strategic information and they were placed near the dockyards. The Government, clearly concerned about the book and the feedback they were getting that the country was not ready for such an attack, two officers – one from the army and one from the navy – were tasked with setting up a security service bureau. They decided to divide the job into two – counter-espionage at home would be MI5 and away from home (including the spies) would be MI6. This model is pretty much in place to this day.

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Dame Stella tells us about how her husband was “tapped up” for a job with the Russian KGB when working in India – she knew who the operative was because of the typing work she was doing with the Embassy. When she returned to London and became a permanent member of MI5, she recalled that it was a disappointment – the organisation was being run by a group of men – and not the gentlemen who John Buchan talks about in his stories (adding however that those gentlemen probably work for MI6) and that some of the information found in the Thirty-Nine Steps would definitely have involved MI5.

She also told us a bit about Baden-Powell, who travelled on pretence that he was interested in butterflies – what no-one seemed to pick up on was that within each drawing of a butterfly, he would use the veins within the body as the structure of a building and that any spots on the “wings” were actually for the number of guns or guards to be found in and around the property.

After WWII is was Russia that became the main source for concern – this was also at a time of the famous Cambridge Five – a ring of spies recruited in part by the Soviet Union to pass information to Russia. She also tells us that with Litvinenko being murdered in London, the Russians have pulled away from discussions with the British Government in this case.

Dame Stella blows out of the water the myth that all spies are licensed to kill – they’re not. She also remarks on how Bond seems to have a brief discussion with Moneypenny, followed by a short brief from M and then he is ready to go. Not like the real thing in the slightest.  (She considers that John Le Carre came closest with the Smiley stories).

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Dame Stella adds that when she first started in MI5, it was run by men who were assisted by well-bred, not-necessarily well-educated, women, but it was staring to change slowly. She adds that the everyone had to learn how to work with intelligence files and records and that the people in charge of those were know as Registry Queens (however, Dame Stella, adds, she has never met anyone quite like Connie from Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy). Women have certainly become more to the fore of the service and are working at the sharp end – with Liz Carlyle (Dame Stella’s character) one of those women. She talked about her first assignment where she was to go into a pub, identify a source and chat them up to see what she could find out. She did this, and was just getting into a situation where the mark clearly didn’t think she was there as a spy, but was perhaps a certain type of “sales” person when her handler came in and blew her cover.

She tells us that whilst the licensed to kill order might not be correct, there was a time when in order to communicate, spies would leave marks on particular telegraph poles or wooden seats.

Then from 1980 onwards the type of espionage and “terrorism” experienced changed , with the IRA becoming a more prominent force, which resulted in analysis and decisions needed to made quickly – which meant that balance with risks had to be made. MI5 members now appear in court to give evidence and talk about terrorist incidents to Ministers. She tells us that on one occasion she had to brief John Major about a large lorry bomb which was being brought into the UK – but that the service didn’t know where or when. The Prime Minister replied, “oh well, Stella, do your best.”

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This change to terrorism also blew the bottom out of the way in which writers wrote spy fiction and even in the real world people were starting to wonder whether we needed spies any more – when in fact this type of terrorism requires even more spies. She also debunked the myth that money would be no object when it came to spies requiring working capital and that things could just be cleared with Treasury – not the case at all. And she talked about the “breathless excitement” in the media around her appointment. The newspapers struggled with headlines, so came up with things like “housewife superspy” and “mother of two takes on the terrorists”. The Bond franchise also gave her a nod by ensconcing a female into the role of M (something which I think Dame Stella is proud of and the fact that it’s Dame Judy makes it even better). She also talks about how the media made comments that the British women in the public eye were not as pretty as the French, referring to a rather attractive French politician at the time (Dame Stella tells us that she came to hate that woman!) And during the Dimbleby Lecture which she gave in 1994, she says that whilst there was good debate about the balance between security and democracy, it was remarked that it must be beneficial to have such big ears!

She concludes her lecture by saying that the world has radically changed since the early 1900s when spy fiction began, and that it was difficult to keep up with the motives, loyalties and treacheries that could happen. She added that Edward Snoden has emerged too adding in another dimension to this information coming into the public domain. She questions whether he is a hero or villain, or naïve or arrogant and whether he had been exploited by the Russians (or perhaps the Chinese). Either way, it’s provided writers with much more material.

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Questions are invited from the floor and these included:

  • What would be the status of “spookery” in Scotland, if we were to vote for independence, and would Dame Stella be available to help us set up our organisations (Dame Stella reckons it would be a challenge to have separate organisations, and no, she wouldn’t be available)
  • What does Dame Stella think about foreign governments sending spies in the form of post-graduate students to universities (Dame Stella declined to comment as she didn’t know enough about the topic)
  • Is it time to amalgamate the 3 services (MI5, MI6 and the technical GCHQ) and is the friction we often see on screen between these organisations real (everyone works together and as they all have different jobs/cultures/ethos and management structures it would not be the right time to merge)
  • Status of women spies – this lady had just found out that her grandmother had been a spy in India and that she had complained of the wage structure as she was getting less than her male counterparts (Dame Stella comments that during WWII women were right at the front end being parachuted into enemy lines, but after the war they returned to supporting the male spies. In the 70s when she joined the women began to put pressure on the system to break through and to ensure equality in pay and there’s no distinction now)
  • Are there any other spy agencies out there other than the three that we know about (no others, but the police also do intelligence work against crime and Special Branches have always been very valuable to the security services as they have their own informants)

Professor Penny Field gave the vote of thanks, commenting that Dame Stella’s lecture had been interesting and entertaining and that it was an honour to have her back in Edinburgh. That’s something it would be hard to disagree with.

Dame Stella had clearly attracted quite a bit of attention and one of the questions came from a Lord, while I spotted authors Sara Sheridan and Ian Rankin in the audience. A quick word also has to go to the salubrious surroundings. The Playfair Library was a fabulous room. Very fitting for the occasion.

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A Korea in writing?: Karen Campbell, Kim Insuk and Han Kang

Karen Campbell and Korean writers Kim Insuk and Han Kang

Thursday 10 April 2014, Central Library, Edinburgh

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In partnership with the British Council as part of the Korea Market Focus Cultural Programme at the London Book Festival 2014, Edinburgh Libraries and the Edinburgh Reads programme (#edinburghreads) organised this event with Korean writers Kim Insuk and Han Kang and Scottish writer Karen Campbell. The event was chaired by Serena Field, Arts producer at BBC Radio 3 and BBC Scotland and our Korean interpreter was Una Cho.

Kim Insuk was born in Seoul in 1963 and is an author from the Korean 368 generation (writers born in the 1960s, attended university in the 1980s and were entering their 30s in the 1990s when the term was coined). She is one of a new wave of female writers from that group. She began her writing career early, making her literary debut when she had just entered university. She has won all three of Korea’s major literary awards, the Yi Sang Literary Award, the Dong-in Literary Award and the Daesan, and she has had more than 30 books published. Kim is unique amongst Korean writers as her works tend to cover Korean families and individuals who live outside of Korea.   She also writes about Korea’s fast developing contemporary society and in 1995 wrote The Long Roadwhich focuses on the life of immigrants.

A couple of friends from The Istanbul Review were also in attendance which we managed to sit beside.

Han Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won and she was born in Kwangju in 1970. When she was 10, she moved to Suyuri, a place which she refers a lot to in her work Greek Lessons. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University and began her writing career when one of her poems was featured in the winter issue of the quarterly Literature and Society. She made her official literary debut in the following year when her short story “The Scarlet Anchor” was the winning entry in the daily Seoul Shinmun spring literary contest. Since then, she has gone on to win the Yi Sang Literary Prize (2005), Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award.  Han Kang’swriting also explores the rapid changes to modern society and how individuals and relationships respond to these.

Karen Campbell is a former police officer who lives in Glasgow. She began writing in earnest during the Glasgow University Creative Writing course, and had several short stories published before publishing the critically acclaimed The Twilight Time and After The Fire.  Normally a crime fiction writer, Karen has recently written This Is Where I Am – the story of a friendship between a Somali Refugee and his mentor Glaswegian Deborah Maxwell.

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After the introductions Serena asked Kim to explain the 386 generation term and once she had done that, Kim also told us about the painful memories she still has from the 1980s (when she was in her 20s), recounting the night her friend set fire to himself and how she was at the hospital when he died. It was a slow and painful death and made it difficult to think about what she could do – she didn’t know what, only that she had to do something and that was when she decided that literature would give her the vehicle she needed. Now, 30 years on, she says she is less clear now about what she should be writing about. Han Kang tells us that she was just outside of that 368 generation and for her the questions were all around how people could be so cruel to other human beings, and what was it to be human. When democracy came, it came really quickly and it was her generation that was involved in voting in a new government.

Kim Insuk then read from her book The Long Road which is about a man who is part of the 368 generation but who becomes disillusioned with the situation and eventually becomes an illegal immigrant in Australia. The themes of immigration and alienation run through this book and there was a discussion about whether these were Korean traditional themes. Kim agreed that alienation was something that was recognised in Korea, as with modernisation happening so quickly poverty and other social challenges became more apparent.

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This ties into Han Kang’s book where characters suffer to find their role and meaning in society. She read from The Vegetarian where the main character eventually believes she is a plant – her sister tries to rescue her as she is starving to death.

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Han also talks about how she started writing as a teenager, but that she felt she was asking a lot of questions without necessarily getting the answers. She adds that to write is to ask questions, for example is it possible for a human being to be totally innocent all through life? The next book will be asking if we can exist like that, what other aspects can or do we concentrate on. What she has realised she tells us, is that most writers are just as lost as she is and that they had just as many (if not more) questions that she did.

Time was getting on by this stage – generally taken up because we had an extra step in the process with the interpreter having to interpret questions into Korean and then the writers answering before the interpreter could put things back into English for us. But, eventually we got to Karen Campbell who read from her book This Is Where I Am. Her male character is an immigrant from Somali who befriends his mentor. The piece that

Karen reads is about Abdi’s experience of going into a supermarket with his child on their first night in this new strange country. She drew this experience from a real life example of what happened to a new refugee (having asked for permission to use the story).

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Unfortunately, there is only time for a couple of questions from the audience which are about how Karen’s “normal” readership followers and their reaction to her completely different type of book (it’s been very positive) to a question about whether there’s any friction between the traditional Korean ways and the new high-tech world that they have adopted at such a pace. Kim talks about how the Koreans have completely embraced the new high-tech world and that within the next few years for example, they are looking to replace all paper and books with tablets for all the students. She adds that the Koreans have a term which encompasses the spirit which helped them to climb to their economic status – (that’s ppalli, ppalli, which translates to quickly quickly) but she wasn’t sure if literature should go at the same speed.

And in a very short time, it was all over. Whilst I enjoyed the event very much and the translator did an excellent job, sometimes the translations took a little too long and it all resulted in curtailing the discussions at the end. It wasn’t clear why Karen Campbell was on the same bill and I had to feel sorry for her, that the event only had 15 minutes left before she got to speak for the first time. Although Karen’s book undoubtedly sounded interesting, I’m not sure how well it fit in with the others.

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It is always interesting to hear views from authors in different parts of the world and it was really nice to meet both Kim and Han afterwards who very kindly signed my information books. (And incidentally, both spoke to me in English).

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Mammon Episode 2 – Did you stay awake?

Mammon Episode 2 The Awakening

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Well the Salamander similarities continue to appear as our lead character seems increasingly isolated this week and seems to be very much ploughing a lone furrow.

Peter and Eva were being photographed during the suicide at the end of last week’s episode, which I’m sure will come back to haunt them when Peter told Eva to run when the police were coming. He told them that Age had phoned him and they had driven there in Age’s car. He then dropped Peter off and drove over the cliff. Peter dragged him out of the car and then shot himself. Yeah, really believable. Would the police not be arresting him for suspected murder?

Peter gets a lift back with the police and looked to go straight to his editor, Frank Mathiessen’s house, although he didn’t have the same jacket on then. The editor’s wife welcomes him in and says to her husband to “light a candle to make it more cosy”. Even though all the lights in the house are on. It must be an absolutely massive candle if it’s going to warm them up. When Peter leaves, the editor phones an unknown person and says that Peter “knows quite a bit”. Bad editor!

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A reporter turns up at Peter’s house looking for the story on Age and Peter tells him that he was forced to kill himself. The reporter seems content with this one line and the paper prints the story the next day. Wow, the reporters aren’t very thorough in Norway.

Peter visits his dad’s church where his father shows him CCTV footage of Daniel screaming at a painting of Abraham about to sacrifice his son with god looking over him, on the church wall. His dad informs him that the painting was donated by Daniel himself.

We are introduced to the Minister for Justice who was a good friend and best man of Age, who has a secret meeting with Age’s wife Yvonne, and tells her that she must not mention him.

Vibeke, still wearing the lamb necklace, has now left her job and we learn that she and Peter had gone out with each other for 3 years. He was punching well above his weight there! She seems to now be agoraphobic. No wonder they stopped going out. She also seems to be spying on what Peter is up to as we see her speaking with her boss about it after she has phoned him.

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Yvonne invites Peter to her house and tells him that her dead husband’s son was now living abroad and showed him a painting of her son on the wall which her husband called Abraham. She also shows him fake passports and money Age had left for her to use if anything happened to him. She also offers Peter a coffee, which I wasn’t sure he was going to take, as it wasn’t in a take-away cup. She doesn’t seem in the slightest bit concerned about her husband’s death.

Peter’s former news desk colleague goes with 2 other newspaper staff to Paragon, a brokerage company where Age used to work with Tom Lied. Tom had left the company, and then 5 years later had billions, with nobody knowing where it came from. I’m guessing he Lied about something.

Daniel’s son Andreas sees the rival newspaper’s story and somehow recognises that Peter is wearing his dad’s jacket. He confronts his mum at work and asks what is going on and we find out at this point that Peter kissed Eva at a party once, before she had met Daniel.

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The everyone against Peter continues as we see Inger Marie on the phone saying “he knows about the Minister”.

Peter’s flat is broken into and he finds a bloodied picture of Andreas in his fridge. As he closes the fridge, an intruder hits him and runs. He goes to Eva and Andreas’ house to tell them about the danger Andreas may be in and Andreas admits that it was he who ransacked the flat, but not him who left the photo and hit him. Peter takes them to his father’s church and shows them the painting Daniel had been screaming at. Andreas shows a mark on his body that is also shown on the body in the painting. The painting also has 22:10 on, which Peter’s dad says refers to Genesis. Peter says that 22:10 was also the date on which Daniel and Age killed themselves.

'Let me just grab a Bible' … Mammon.

Now for the religious catch up bit:

Well the religious theme is growing and we seem to be relying heavily on the book of Genesis and the story of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. He travelled three days until he came to the mount that God told him of. He commanded the servants to remain while he and Isaac proceeded alone into the mount. Isaac carried the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. Along the way, Isaac asked his father where the animal for the burnt offering was, to which Abraham replied “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Refer here back to Vibeke’s necklace). Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, he was interrupted by “the angel of the Lord”, and he saw behind him a ram which he sacrificed instead of his son. 22:10, in Genesis states “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.”

Hope this helps!

We end with Peter and Eva leaving Andreas with Peter’s dad, Tore, and see someone follow them….

Issues:

  • Andreas looks as if he should be in a film about the Nazi Youth.
  • “Now Go!” appears to be “Stick” in Norwegian.
  • Is it all getting a bit Dan Brown?
  • How bad was that painting in the church? Did Andreas paint it in primary school?
  • The characters are coming thick and fast. A bit more sex and we have another Game of Thrones on our hands.
  • Vibeke offered Peter a tea. Has she not been watching? It’s coffee that has to appear in every second scene!
  • Does the internet not work in Norway? All news seems to come from newspapers.
  • Judging from the painting in his house, Age’s son is almost as creepy as Victor in The Returned/Les Revenants.
  • I expect that Peter was actually secretly pleased the bloody photo of Andreas was in his fridge, as there never seems to be anything in it.
  • Did Peter really check the breadbin for the intruder?
  • How fast did Peter write down Vibeke’s number? He must have a bionic hand.
  • Inger Marie seems to be very mobile for a heavily pregnant woman.
  • Inger Marie also seems to pull more faces than speak.
  • Was that Yootha Joyce from George and Mildred who showed Inger Marie and co into the vault?
  • Very odd in the editor’s house when he and Peter were in the toilet.
  • The toilet meetings continued in the office with Peter and his editor.
  • When Peter was taking Andreas and Eva to the church in his car, he was picking his nose!
  • To continue the comparisons, I find the acting reminiscent of the excellent French Spiral. They seem like real people.
  • Most of the cast have barely changed over the 5 year gap, but Andreas has only changed his haircut, which shows how ridiculous it was passing him off as 16.
  • I know he said there had been burglaries, but how many churches have CCTV?
  • Continuity errors all over the place. I think they think it’s ok because we are too busy reading the subtitles.
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Mammon Episode 1 – Worth sacrificing Friday night for?

Mammon Episode 1 The Sacrifice

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So More 4 are the next to realise that Scandinavian TV is the way forward with their new Friday night slot being taken up by the Norwegian Mammon. They’ve even followed the BBC blueprint by pitching it at 9pm.

This time, we seem to be following the life of a reporter, although there are a lot of other things going on, in a change from traditional Scandic fare, most of them seem connected already.

Created by brothers Vegard & Gjermund Stenberg Eriksen, all the usual ingredients for fans of the genre are there. In the first episode we are treated to woods, deaths, knitwear, excellent interior design and mysterious goings on.

I have to check that I am watching the right episode 5 minutes in, as I can’t help feeling that I have joined the middle of the story, but no, there is just no gentle start.

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The Borgen staple of quotes at the start makes me wonder if this is a regular feature in this part of Europe, but we are soon transported to the newspaper office of Aftenvisen, where the editor is saying that they are going to sit on a story that the journalists think is ready to go about the financial misdeeds of one Daniel Veras. He tells them that they will wait for the Financial Crime Unit’s (FCU) Report.

We see FCU employee Vibeke Haglund out jogging and that there is a man who starts running after her. Impossible not to see the similarities with Lisbeth Salander from the Dragon Tattoo films here. Vibeke manages to make it to her car, which in classic thriller mode, will not start, but she escapes the car to phone for help. It turns out this is the 3rd time she has phoned for back up in the course of her duties, and the boss isn’t pleased with her. Stating that she better have been shot at if she does it again. (I expect we will see this happen in future episodes).

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The FCU’s report is leaked and states that there was no wrongdoing. We discover that Peter, the man who has done all the groundwork on the story, as well as looking like DI Arnott from Line of Duty, is in fact the brother of Daniel when he goes to see him and tells him that it wasn’t personal that the story is about to break about his embezzling. As Peter leaves, we hear a gunshot and Daniel appears to have shot himself in the head. (He’s dead).

The FCU is quick to find out that Peter has been behind the story, although the paper were keeping his name out of it, and they are soon in his office going through his computer. His editor is horrified to discover that his source wasn’t in fact someone he knew and he had no idea who it was.

Vibeke takes the external hard drive home and thinks she hears noises while having a shower. When she comes out, the necklace she placed on top of the laptop has moved. Rather than being scared, she cries.

The TV news companies are chasing Peter asking him questions and Vibeke contacts him and when they meet, she tells him that his source was actually his brother. So he was grassing himself up?

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We then see the ominous “Five years later” on screen, and Peter, now working on sport for the paper, tips off Age Haugen who he discovers is about to be named by the paper as another embezzler. His boss comes to get him after Age phones him and calls Peter ‘a moralistic old biddy’ a common Norwegian phrase I’m sure.

A lawyer comes to Daniel’s house and informs his widow, Eva, that the big metallic case she brings with her, has been delivered to her 5 years to the day of her husband’s death on his instructions. She may only open it if Peter is there too. Eva and son blame Peter for Daniel’s death, but she eventually agrees.

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The case contains a wetsuit and flippers and a map to where they should go, but “don’t tell the police”. They are to be there at 3pm. We see Peter in the water the map has led them to (he hates water) and after a few fruitless attempts to find anything he comes out. Almost immediately, a car comes over the cliff and lands pretty much where he was moments ago. He pulls the driver out to discover that it is Age Haugen, and shouts at him about what he knew about his brother. Age pulls a gun out and shoots himself in the head. But not before half shouting “Abraham” twice. What can it all mean?

An intriguing first episode, with a lot of twists and turns and this may be the next excellent import to grace our screens. I just need to remember not to watch it with all the ads.

Issues:

  • Is it just me, or are they speaking very quickly? Difficult to keep up with subtitles while taking notes!
  • Has a coffee company sponsored this show? Every second scene someone was holding a take-away coffee cup.
  • When Daniel was telling his brother about his intellect, he tapped his head and said “shuper shmart”.
  • Very glad I watched this on demand, as there seemed to be a lot of adverts.
  • Would you really still be wearing the same maroon jacket 5 years later?
  • Peter’s dad is a vicar. Let’s hope it’s not going to lead us down teh god bothering path.
  • When Vibeke handed Peter a coffee cup in the train station, there was no way there was anything in it.
  • Vibeke’s apartment must have been very cold. Or being scared shitless excites her.
  • Did Daniel shoot himself?
  • In homage to Salamander, if Daniel’s son is 16, he must have had the same paper round as Gerardi’s daughter.
  • How big was that telly?!
  • Although I’m not sure I’d tune in to the live fish tank channel.
  • Cucumber is the food of the devil, and you ruined whatever that was (a hot dog?) by putting it on it.
  • I think I have found another reason not to go jogging.
  • To the untrained ear (i.e. mine) Norwegian, Danish and Swedish sound very similar.
  • The opulent surroundings of Daniel’s house couldn’t have been just due to his embezzling as 4.5 million krone is about £450k.
  • How on earth could Daniel know the exact timing of Age’s crash into the water?
  • I can see Vibeke’s hat being a common talking point.
  • There seems to be a lot of biblical references (including the title) to not have something to do with that.
  • Did anyone else duck when the car came over the cliff?
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