Thursday, 29 July 2021

What I'm reading: Echoes of Le Carré

Charles Cumming: BOX 88

BOX 88 is an ultra-secret Anglo-American spy agency that operates beyond the remit of MI6 and the CIA. In 1989 at the age of 18 Lachlan Kite was recruited because his best friend’s father was hosting an Iranian power-broker suspected of links to those behind the Lockerbie bombing. Kite and his pal were guests at the villa in France where the Iranian would be staying. BOX 88 gave the teenager a crash course in espionage tradecraft: dead-letter boxes and hidden microphones.

In 2020 Kite is kidnapped and his pregnant wife taken hostage by another group of Iranians who want to know the truth about the events of that summer in France. Kite and Isobel’s lives will depend on his ability to dissimulate.

Not for the first time Charles Cumming sets his sights on John Le Carré territory: the “nitty-gritty” of intelligence work that relies on deception more than on Jason Bourne heroics. The bulk of this 480-page novel consists of conversations in which Kite pretends to be just a horny schoolboy (1989) and an outraged ordinary citizen (2020). Only towards the end do a few bullets fly.

This is surely much closer to the real secret world than a James Bond caper or a Mission Impossible. BOX 88 is a tense read, very well crafted. Mr Cumming is definitely going places!

Thursday, 15 July 2021

What I'm reading: Texting and sexting

 Soulla Christodoulou: ALEXANDER AND MARIA

Alexander, a care worker in Inverness whose twenty-year marriage has gone sour, starts a relationship on Twitter with Maria, a divorcee in London who works in PR and writes so-far-unpublished novels. They both bring ‘baggage’ with them: Alexander suffers from cerebral palsy; Maria has a troubled-teen daughter. They share a love of poetry which elevates their tweets above the mundane and makes them feel they are made for each other. Texting escalates to ‘sexting’ and the two plan a rendezvous in London.

This is very much a love story for the times we live in. Aside from Alexander’s disability these are two very ordinary people whose online romance may or may not be the start of something bigger and better than they’ve experienced before. Soulla Christodoulou writes a well-paced story in a lean contemporary prose that brings her characters vividly and appealingly to life. There are scenes that teeter on the edge of Fifty Shades-style raunchiness, but the author stays – just – below the crossover line between erotica and porn. A fine and intense romance. 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

David at the movies: Noises that kill


Two years after Part One, the sequel begins with a flashback to the day the aliens arrived, with stormclouds like those that heralded invasion in Independence Day. So we see Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) fleeing the creatures with all her family. Then we resume where Part One ended, with the survivors – Evelyn and the two teenagers, plus the baby – looking for a new place to stay. They shelter in a derelict factory with Emmett (Cillian Murphy), an ex-cop. A radio station signal suggests that there may be others still alive, but finding them in a world terrorized by the killer critters is not going to be easy. Any loud sound – and especially a scream – brings predatory monsters.

Obviously, the inspired nerve-shredding originality of the original movie is no longer fresh, but the script and the direction are just as tight. The cast are in fine form, especially Regan (Millicent Simmonds), the deaf daughter with superhero bravado. Not quite as many jumpy moments as Part One, but there's enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

David (finally) at the movies: Love in the time of dementia


My first visit to the cinema in 18 months, and what a magnificent movie to return to. Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), partners for twenty years, take their RV to the English Lake District for a reunion with Sam’s family and to revisit the place where they first declared their love for each other. Tusker has been diagnosed with dementia and has already lost chunks of his memory; neither of them looks forward to what the future holds.

This is a movie in a minor key (Sam is a concert pianist) that makes a major impact. Within its brief timeframe we are shown everything that these two middle-aged guys mean to each other and the relentless cruelty of the illness that will destroy their quiet companionable life together. The script is delicately underwritten, the direction and cinematography are ace, the performances perfectly spot on. If dementia hadn’t won an Oscar this year, Firth and Tucci would surely be a shoo-in next year – hopefully they will.

This is not the first movie to deal with the heartache of dementia; it will not be the last. I cannot recall that any of them has been a dud, but this one is outstanding. I had tears in my eyes all through it.