Token, Present

Reacher Lies Sleeping

Twelfth night was Saturday. The dust has settled, the decorations are down, the cards put away; I’ve read my Christmas books.

As I’d hoped, these books were Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch, the most recent of his Rivers of London series, and Past Tense by Lee Child; his latest Reacher novel. I wrote about these two rather good series before Christmas, here.

Of course, then I had to be patient, and see if the fat bloke with the white beard and the red outfit did the right thing. He did.

Well worth the wait for both these books, I reckon. So here’s a couple of excerpts, first from Lies Sleeping:

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The Deep Blue Goodbye

The Deep blue Goodbye

The business card reads: “Travis McGee: Salvage Consultant. But he doesn’t do the sort of salvaging you expect.

If your property or money has been wrongfully taken from you, McGee will do all he can to get it back to you and he charges a flat fee of half of its value. Fair enough; it’s a hazardous trade McGee practises.

But he will only do it if he likes you, and if he isn’t successful you pay nothing. He takes his retirement in instalments, when he’s young enough to enjoy it, and only usually works when the money is running low.

This serious of  books, by John D. Macdonald, are all written in the first person, (at least the ones I’ve read are) and in them McGee often goes off on a tangent on the messed up world he lives in.


He is part idealist and part cynic but he knows how the world works, especially when dealing with the thieves, sharks, and con men, and their victims. Even back then in the ‘60s, he has concerns about the environment and what mankind was doing to it.

The Deep Blue Goodbye is the first book in the series, first published in 1964. Catherine Kerr’s father, a soldier, smuggled home a great deal of money after World War 2 and buried it somewhere on the family farm.

Just before his discharge he drunkenly killed an officer and went on the run. But the army caught him and went to jail for life, where he meets the psychotic Junior Allen, who finds out about the money.

When he finishes his sentence, Allen goes out to the Kerr farm and oils his way into Catherine’s affections, while he searches for the money. He finds it one day, and he’s away. Now he has expensive clothes and a nice new boat.


Catherine tells McGee this aboard his houseboat Busted Flush, which he keeps moored at Fort Lauderdale, a few miles up the coast from Miami Beach:

        “She looked at me with soft apologetic brown eyes, all dressed in her best to come talk to me. The world had done its best to subdue and humble her, but the edge of her good tough spirit showed through. I found I had taken an irrational dislike to Junior Allen, that smiling man. And I do not function too well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them.
And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, green stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.
I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.
Reality is in the enduring eyes, the unspoken dreadful accusation in the enduring eyes of a worn young woman who looks at you, and hopes for nothing.”


Junior Allen turns out to be a very nasty piece of work and McGee has taken on a very dangerous job. Of course, I’m not going to tell you how it ends up; I don’t do spoilers.

If you like the Reacher books by Lee Child, you will like these. Indeed, in this YouTube video Lee Child cites the Travis McGee books as a great influence. You will notice that all the books in the series have a colour in the title; One Fearful Yellow Eye, The Green Ripper, and Nightmare in Pink, the second book, are just three of them.

The Deep Blue Goodbye is a good place to start reading about Travis McGee's adventures; unlike many characters, he ages as time goes by and changes over time like we all do.

Robert Heinlein on Friday

Friday Heinlein cover

I bought my copy of Robert Heinlein’s book Friday in 1985, and I’ve read it at least once every year since then. Heinlein is one of my favourite authors. Let me show you why.

From the start of chapter 1:
“As I left the Kenya Beanstalk capsule he was right on my heels. He followed me through the door leading to Customs, Health, and Immigration. As the door contracted behind him I killed him”

“I have never liked riding the Beanstalk. My distaste was fullblown even before the disaster to the Quito Skyhook. A cable that goes up into the sky with nothing to hold it up smells too much of magic. But the only other way to reach Ell-five takes too long and costs too much; my orders and expense account did not cover it.

“So I had been edgy even before I left the shuttle from Ell-Five at Stationary Station to board the Beanstalk capsule… but, damn it, being edgy isn’t a reason to kill a man. I had intended only to put him out for a few hours.

(But) “the subconscious has its own logic…”

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James Bond, the woman, and the Club


The Spy Who Loved Me spine

“Vivienne Michel writes: the spy who loved me was called James Bond, and the night on which he loved me was a night of screaming terror in the Dreamy Pines Motor Court in the Adirondacks in the north of New York State.

“It’s all true-absolutely.”

Of course, Vivienne Michel only exists in this book.

When Ian Fleming sold the film rights to The Spy Who Loved Me, it was to the title only. The plot of the film has nothing in common with the book, but that doesn’t matter.

In the book we get a couple of grotesque second rate but nevertheless deadly Bond villains. One’s a “frightening lizard of a man”, and the other is a completely hairless man who “looked a young monster”, but our heroine show herself to be a tough cookie too, in this tale that Vivienne writes in the first person.

The Spy Who Loved Me title page

This edition was published in 1962 by The Book Club, who were based in Charing Cross Road, London.

My mum was in another book club in the 1960s; I think it was The Companion Book Club. Once a month the club would send her a book that they had chosen, and she could also buy other books if she wished.

I remember the dust jackets, all the same pattern but each in a different colour, on the bookcase shelves in our front room.

Mum told me that book after book was aimed just at men, so she cancelled her membership.

The books were more my sort of thing, so I read quite a few of them. I remember prison escape books, including As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me by Josef M. Bauer.

Bauer was a German army lieutenant who walked 8,000 miles home from a Siberian labour camp after being imprisoned at the end of the Second World War. There were a lot of books published about men’s wartime experiences then.

Some of the other books from the club I just didn’t understand, like the crime thriller The D.A. Breaks an Egg (by Erle Stanley Gardener) but I was just a schoolboy in the sixties.

The Spy Who Loved Me back page

Deborah Gayton owned this book in the 1980s; she’s put her name on it in four different places in the front pages. Inside the back cover she has written that she read it on Saturday 29th September 84 to… (it doesn’t say who to…)

From all this I would guess that she was a teenager then. I wonder what happened to her.

The Spy who loved me by Ian Fleming (and, allegedly, Vivienne Michel)