The Queen of Crime Drama?

My latest visit to the public library netted me the 2 books I have already blogged about recently (both of them in the Zombie genre), plus Lynda La Plante’s Widows – written almost 40 years ago.

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I haven’t read any of La Plante’s work before and probably wouldn’t have chosen this book at all (since there isn’t a single Zombie in it – I say only half jokingly), had it not been for bumping into an old work colleague in the library who enthusiastically recommended it. Funnily enough, he had never been much of a reader himself, until the Covid lockdowns started…..and now he’s a book addict. Thank goodness something positive has come out of this whole Covid mess.

Anyhow, back to the book. The cover proclaims La Plante as the “Queen of Crime Drama”. Frankly I had my doubts, but having just finished the book, for a story that is now a little dated, having been written in the early 1980’s, it is rather good.

I won’t be rushing out in search of another of her books straight away, but I will probably read another one or two at some point down the line.

The story has been made into a TV series on British TV back in the 80’s and remade as a feature film in 2018. I remember watching the original series but couldn’t recall the various twists and turns of the story in detail until reading the book this week.

It’s a good story with strong female characters but somewhat stereotypical male crime gang members and the usual hard working but under appreciated London copper (police detective) out to prove his bosses and fellow officers wrong.

The general outline of the story is that 3 women are widowed when a security van robbery goes terribly wrong and their husbands – the would be robbers – are blown up and burned badly in the botched heist. One of the would be robbers is gangland boss Harry Rawlins. After having to identify what’s left of his burned body – his distraught wife Dolly identifies him based on his very expensive gold watch that he never takes off – she then discovers Harry’s bank deposit box containing a gun, money, business (that’s crime business) ledgers which names names and gives details of some very shady crime-land business, and detailed plans for the botched robbery.

Dolly has several options available to her. She could hand Harry’s ledgers to the police, in the form of under appreciated and rather slovenly looking D.I. Resnick and shut down half of the crime gangs in London; she could sell them to the underworld thugs who are eager to take over Harry’s turf; or she could bring in the other widows, of the failed raid, into the fold and form her own gang to finish the job that their husbands had failed to do.

It’s no real surprise and therefore not really a spoiler to tell you that Dolly decides on the last option and pulls together her gang of misfit widows to attempt to pull off a physically demanding robbery that their well built, criminally hardened and street wise husbands had failed to do. What could possibly go wrong?

Part way through their planning to replicate the robbery – less, of course, the explosion and fire carnage – they realise that the original plan that Harry devised would need 4 men, not 3……so who was the 4th man and where is he now? AND who should they draft in as the 4th woman for their team?

La Plante writes a very good story. I’m happy to report that she doesn’t spare the splattering of blood along the way either. Let’s face it gangland crime stories demand their ample share of blood and gore. There are several bone crunching, blood splattering moments strewn liberally throughout the story. We also experience the full spectrum of emotions felt by the widows as they firstly cope with the loss of their husbands and then deal with the stomach churning angst and thrills of plotting the robbery of a security van….involving stolen vehicles, disguises, shotguns, chainsaws and sledge hammers….and a gas mask. We are taken along for the ride and see the women slowly coming together as a team, even if personal differences will mean that it’s unlikely that they will ever be friends….or will they?

La Plante asks many questions of the plot and characters and gives us all the answers, including a couple of rather unexpected ones that I won’t mention here. But what we want to know as avid readers is…….Will they be successful where their menfolk failed? If they do pull off the robbery, will they get away from both the police and the underworld criminal fraternity? Who will they choose as their 4th team member? Will we find out who the 4th man in Harry’s team is? And will he be detrimental to the widows plans? I’ll say no more for fear of slipping up and giving a big spoiler away. Needless to say that not everything is as it seems to be.

All in all it’s a bloody good story – and I mean that both literally and figuratively speaking. Definitely worth a read. So, is Lynda La Plante the Queen of Crime Drama? Actually….she could well be.

As usual, many thanks for reading this blog. Comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.

My Top 10 – Travel Books.

world map

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am a big fan of travel books. Travel guides, travelogues and books relating to TV travel shows.

This is my Top 10 list of travelogues currently on my bookshelves. All have been read and some are starting to get pretty old, but remain favourites.

My absolute favourite of all time…..and I’m going to cheat a little on this one. Is Bill Bryson’s “The Complete Notes” – It’s actually two books in one, comprising Notes from a Small Island (about travel in the UK) and Notes from a Big Country (about re-visiting the land of his birth – the USA, after 17 years of living in the UK). I simply love Bryson’s style of writing. He’ll give a half a dozen rather dry facts about a place and then pitch in a one-liner that reduces me to fits of giggles. He’s the sort of person who can get lost anywhere and wears the mantle of the “confused traveler” extremely well.  His travel books are always informative….and humorous ( amusing, funny, entertaining, comic, comical, chucklesome, witty, jocular, light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, wry, waggish, whimsical, playful – and other such synonyms). If you’ve never read Bryson – give him a go – you don’t know what you’re missing. BUT – word to the wise – stick with his travelogues, some of his other books, I feel, can be a little lacking.

I’m a huge fan of Michael Palin (former member of the Monty Python team) for his many TV travel series and accompanying travel books. Starting with “Around the World in 80 Days” – where he set off on a quest to replicate Phileas Fogg’s journey to travel right around the globe in only 80 days….not using planes. After that he went “Pole to Pole”  and “Full Circle”, before starting to specialize more in specific areas such as “Himalaya” and “Sahara”. The books of the series have all been worthy of space on my “Travel Bookcase”. Again, like Bryson, Palin delivers facts accompanied by wit. He writes well and is a really nice guy….coming from Sheffield (my place of birth) gains him extra points. The books are also well illustrated with beautiful photos – mostly taken by photographer Basil Pao. Actually Basil’s own book “Inside Sahara” is also well worth a look and has extra photos from Palin’s Sahara trip which were deemed worthy of their own book.

Next is a book given to me in 1986 when I backpacked coast to coast across the USA…and back again. Tina Winn who gave us a roof over our heads at Newport Beach, California, was the lady in question and she gave a book to me and a different one to my travel companion Chris. Mine was “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon, about a journey by van along the blue highways (back roads) that link up all the little towns and settlements across the USA. It was his curiousity to see “the Real America” that took him on the trip of a lifetime….where he meets and mostly brings out the best in people along the way. I don’t have the original copy given to me by Tina (I had to buy a new one) because I swapped it with Chris so I could read his book…..which comes in as my fourth pick.

John Steinbeck – “Travels with Charley” – subtitled “In Search of America”. At the age of sixty, John Steinbeck and his French Poodle “Charley” climbed in to a camper van and took off on a coast to coast and back again adventure. I have read some of Steinbecks novels, but this true story of his travels – giving not only details of the trip and what they saw and did, but also wry observations about what it is to be an American – I think is his best work. And having gone coast to coast and back myself I could relate to much of what’s in the book.

A purchase from a second hand book shop….Pete McCarthy’s hilarious “The Road To McCarthy” – should probably be higher on my list if I’m honest about it. This man is a very funny guy – or i should say WAS, as he died in 2004 after a struggle against cancer. The book takes Pete and us around the world in search of McCarthy – or to be more exact in search of quirky places around the world with odd links to Ireland, the Irish and the McCarthy name. It’s a follow up book to his highly successful “McCarthy’s Bar” – in which Pete McCarthy makes a simple rule – never pass a bar with your name on it. He was an incredibly talented writer and humorist and having only recently discovered his books I was devastated to learn that he’d died. Such a waste of talent – a sad loss……but great books.

Kevin McCloud’s “Grand Tour of Europe” – another book of a TV series (this one on the UK’s Channel 4). The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for the Nobles, minor nobility and upper class wealthy young men which began in the 17th and 18th century. These hedonists cut a swathe across europe, visiting all the fashionable great cities, ruins and architectural marvels…..and partaking in the delights offered by bath houses, bars and brothels along the way. It was an oportunity for these wealthy young men to educate themselves in the world of european art and literature…..and if they didn’t take precautions – to also contract syphilis. McCloud takes us along for the ride and shares snippets of knowledge with us – the audience and readership….some of it carnal – as we visit the culture and history of Europe.

Paul Theroux – “The GreatRailway Bazaar” is my next choice. Unfortunately I only have the Penguin paperback edition, I believe that there is also a large format hard cover book complete with accompanying photos…..quite magnificent photos I hasten to add…by Magnum photographer Steve McCurry. Having said that, Theroux’s text is extremely entertaining, amusing (in places) and informative. He takes us on a four month journey, on a series of trains from London, across Europe, the middle east and Asia, eloquently describing the people and places along the journey. It’s a well crafted book which as well as being a travelogue also discusses subjects such as poverty, ignorance, colonialism and (being an American writer) American Imperialism. It certainly inspires this reader to hop on board and “slow travel” across the continents.

Rolf Potts book “Vagabonding” is a book that I wished I had discovered years ago rather than more recently. It’s a “how to” guide to the art of long-term world travel. Most people, for some reason, see the idea of long-term travel to exotic out of the way lands as being either the thing of dreams, or as requiring oodles of money squirreled away in the bank. Potts shows us that neither of these are true. With common sense advice he walks us through the steps we need to take to make living the dream a reality. And it’s not rocket science!

Hap Cameron’s – “Hap Working the World” – is a book that show’s us just how far a simple thought can take us. In 2003 New Zealander Hap Cameron had an idea that he’d like to live and work on every continent before he turned thirty. Eight years later with all seven continents ticked off, he’s experienced more than most of us will in a lifetime  -including being locked in a jail cell in the USA and almost killed by gangsters in Africa. Of course it’s a “coming of age book” – a book that not only takes us on Hap’s journey of discovery of the seven continents, but also his journey of self discovery and of meeting the girl of his dreams. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and by the end I really did care what happened to Hap. It’s fun and it’s an adventure.

For my final choice – it’s more of a choice of writer rather than of a specific book. I’ve read a few of Christina Dodwell‘s books….starting with “An Explorer’s Handbook”. She is one impressive woman. I first came to know of her on a TV series called River Journeys where she tackled the white water of Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River….and allowed tribesmen to cut the diamond shaped pattern of the skin of the crocodile into her arm – to bring her good luck and protection. She puts the intrepid into Intrepid Explorer. She spent 3 years, traveling twenty thousand miles in Africa – by any means including horse, elephant and camel plus 7 weeks in a dug out canoe on the Congo river. Any of her books are a thrill to read. Maybe her first book “Travels with Fortune” about that African adventure would be the one to start with.

That complete’s my Top Ten. It was a difficult choice and I’ve tried to pick a cross section of the books that I hold dear. There were a few others that could easily have replaced others listed above…..like I said, it was a hard choice.

Just as a P.S. and because I feel bad about missing him off my list…..If you’re a Francophile, I recommend any of John Baxter’s books about Paris. Look him up on line.