The Art of Murder

Michael White, who now lives in Sydney, is a man of many parts, that’s for sure.

Michael White has been a science editor of British GQ, a columnist for the Sunday Express in London and, in a previous incarnation, he was a member of the ’80s pop band, The Thompson Twins (1982).

Between 1984 and 1991 he was a science lecturer at d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford before becoming a full-time writer…

Former Thompson Twin Michael White is now a globally bestselling author of 38 books. He has the unique distinction of being the only person in the world who has appeared in three Top 10 charts – as a novelist, as a non-fiction writer and as a pop star…


In all his years on the force, DCI Pendragon has never seen a murder quite like this one.

It isn’t the bizarre arrangement of the body found in a London art gallery that has Pendragon and his team reeling, it’s the meticulous arrangement of an apple in the hole where the corpse’s face used to be. The reference to surrealist painter Magritte is horrifyingly clear.

Twenty-four hours later, the police have a second grotesque killing on their hands. This time, the crime scene emulates a famous Dali painting, The Persistence of Memory. Someone is turning murder into an art form…

And it’s not for the first time. More than a century earlier, the citizens of Whitechapel in London’s East End lived in fear of another artist with a knife. Though Jack the Ripper was never caught, his teaching lives on.

Now, in the twenty-first century, Jack has a gifted and bloodthirsty apprentice…

This painting also features:


OK, it’s a three star read. bugs0abugs0abugs0a

The murders are ingenious though rather straining credibility. The writing is quite adequate but not the greatest in a genre so packed with talented writers in the past century or so. The connection with Jack the Ripper I found was forced, and maybe not even all that necessary.  And a quibble. White has his Jack studying English at Oxford in the 1880s. This would have been exceedingly difficult as “The Oxford English School was established in 1894.” See also History of English as a Discipline. People really do forget what a comparative newcomer English Studies is.  In case you wondered, as I did after drafting this, about Matthew Arnold being Professor of Poetry at Oxford long before 1894, see Oxford Professor of Poetry.

Similarly Fine Arts, despite John Ruskin’s time as Slade Professor of Fine Art in 1870.

Since the nineteenth century, the University of Oxford has played a significant role in the visual arts.  Although during this time it was not a subject in its own right, the history of art was promoted in Oxford for its value within the type of general education the University aimed to provide for students…

History of Art was previously pursued as strands within history, languages, archaeology, continuing education and practical art, rather than through a dedicated undergraduate or postgraduate curriculum. The Department of the History of Art, with its own slide library, was established in 1955…

What I have been reading lately

Thanks to the University of Adelaide I now have a very clear eBook version of George Orwell’s “Looking Back on the Spanish War”.

…But the laws of nature are not suspended for a ‘red’ army any more than for a ‘white’ one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just.

Why is it worth while to point out anything so obvious? Because the bulk of the British and American intelligentsia were manifestly unaware of it then, and are now. Our memories are short nowadays, but look back a bit, dig out the files of New Masses or the Daily Worker, and just have a look at the romantic warmongering muck that our left-wingers were spilling at that time. All the stale old phrases! And the unimaginative callousness of it! The sang-froid with which London faced the bombing of Madrid! Here I am not bothering about the counter-propagandists of the Right, the Lunns, Garvins et hoc genus; they go without saying. But here were the very people who for twenty years had hooted and jeered at the ‘glory’ of war, at atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted into the Daily Mail of 1918. If there was one thing that the British intelligentsia were committed to, it was the debunking version of war, the theory that war is all corpses and latrines and never leads to any good result. Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back into the fighting might be exaggerated. And the Left intelligentsia made their swing-over from ‘War is hell’ to ‘War is glorious’ not only with no sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage. Later the bulk of them were to make other transitions equally violent. There must be a quite large number of people, a sort of central core of the intelligentsia, who approved the ‘King and Country’ declaration in 1935, shouted for a’ firm line against Germany’ in 1937, supported the People’s Convention in 1940, and are demanding a Second Front now.

As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the intelligentsia I should say they result rather from money and mere physical safety. At a given moment they may be ‘pro-war’ or ‘anti-war’, but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds. When they enthused over the Spanish war they knew, of course, that people were being killed and that to be killed is unpleasant, but they did feel that for a soldier in the Spanish Republican army the experience of war was somehow not degrading. Somehow the latrines stank less, discipline was less irksome. You have only to glance at the New Statesman to see that they believed that; exactly similar blah is being written about the Red Army at this moment. We have become too civilized to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don’t take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of rentier capitalism have done to us…

Robust as ever.

It so happens I just finished Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes. It is a slightly fictionalised account of photojournalists Robert Capa and Gerda Taro with the emphasis on events leading to Taro’s death in Spain in 1937.

Until Gerda Taro’s death, and the onset of the Hemingway-Gellhorn legend pushed them from the public gaze, she and her lover, Robert Capo, were the  ‘glamour couple’ associated with reporting on the Spanish Civil War. The pair were supporters of the anti-fascist republicans before that stance became fashionable amongst American and British literary elites. They arrived in Spain before Hemingway and Gellhorn, spent more time on the front lines than the two Americans,  constantly exposed themselves to battlefield dangers (which eventually ended in Taro’s death) and provide more extensively documented coverage of the war in words and photos than any other journalists. Capa since became legendary for his photo-journalism yet Gerda Taro is now an obscure figure. Yet her written and photographic accounts of the conflict, especially her moving portrayals of the innocent and suffering civilian victims of war, provided a model which Gellman copied in her journalistic contributions.

Gerda Pohorylle was born  in 1910 into a Polish-Jewish family in Germany. When her family later moved to Leipzig she became involved in left-wing politics and shortly after the Nazis came to power to power in 1933 was arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest. After that she left for Paris and met a Hungarian photographer Andre Friedmann. The pair became lovers. Gerda developed her own photographic skills and helped organise Friedmann’s business.They then reinvented themselves, constructing for Andre the fictional identity of  ‘Robert Capa’ and for her ‘Gerda Taro’, names mimicking the Hollywood director Robert Capra and the star Greta Garbo.

The pair left immediately for Spain when civil war broke out there in July, 1936. Both wanted to document the conflict and support the republican cause. They arrived weeks before the influx of foreign correspondents such as Hemingway and Gellhorn. They went to the front lines and besieged cities, accompanying the Republican forces and reporting, sometimes together, sometimes separately, sending in their photographic and written despatches.Their written and photographic work became increasingly sought after and the couple became for a time the heroic and glamorous face of reporting on the conflict. Gerda was an increasingly skilled photographer. In crucial ways she was a template for Gellhorn. She made full use of her good looks -Gerda was nicknamed La Pequena Rubia, “the little blonde”- and wore fashionable shoes and clothing to the frontlines. She and Capa were both well aware of the publicity and commercial value of  a two lovers working  together in war zones. She visited scenes of intense fighting, disregarded journalistic objectivity with her fervent support for the anti-fascist forces, and concentrated on documenting the war’s impact on the most vulnerable. All these features were quickly taken up by Gellhorn when she arrived. Interestingly, while Tara’s reporting made much of the role of Spanish women as republican militia, Gellhorn had little to say about this feminist aspect of the conflict.

In July, 1937 Taro went to Brunete, near Madrid, to report on the bitter fighting there. She was accompanied by her new lover, a Canadian journalist, Ted Allen. On 25 July the pair joined troops retreating from an air raid by jumping on the running board of a car. An out of control  Republican tank hit  the car, flinging Taro and Allen to the ground. She died the next day. Taro received a spectacular funeral in Paris, attended by thousands and where she was proclaimed an “anti-Fascist martyr”.

The novel sticks quite close to that historical account. (Interestingly, while Hemingway briefly appears in the novel Gellhorn does not.)


Gerda Taro, Republican woman training in Barcelona at the beach, Spain, August 1936

the falling soldier

Robert Capa, “The Falling Soldier”. The novel has a rather convincing if speculative back-story on this classic photo.

See also Robert Capa and Gerda Taro: love in a time of war.

I greatly enjoyed The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi.

Mohammadi’s vivid narrative brings the sound and taste of Iran to the reader, she brings the history of Iran to life in a way that at least I have not seen, read or heard before and provides a first-hand insight to the experiences of the revolution and Iran’s development to a near Middle Eastern superpower. Even to those like myself who are widely read on Iran, Kamin brings something new to the fore. She writes from a personal perspective, of what she felt, heard and experienced around her, with the Iranian culture illuminating from every page. You find an understanding of Iran and Iranians through each sector of society from upper to lower classes, which for a half Iranian herself was enlightening. The exiled second generation Iranians all know what happened in 1979 but rarely do we get an articulate first hand insight as this…

Then, very different, I also enjoyed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, even if I had not read the middle volume in the trilogy – which I must now do.

If you’re a latecomer to the Stieg Larsson phenomenon, here, briefly, is the deal: Larsson was a Swedish journalist who edited a magazine called Expo, which was devoted to exposing racist and extremist organizations in his nativeland. In his spare time, he worked on a trilogy of crime thrillers, delivering them to his Swedish publisher in 2004. In November of that year, a few months before the first of these novels came out, he died of a heart attack. He was only 50, and he never got to see his books become enormous best sellers — first in Sweden and then, in translation, all over the globe…

Finally, my considered opinion after rereading (forty years on!) Patrick White’s The Vivisector is that the man was a genius. See also My walk to the shops… and Treasure from Wollongong Library.

Few writers so deeply capture what it is to grow old, just to name one of the motifs in this very rich novel. And White does have a sense of humour, as in this rather Hitchcockian moment on page 563: “If you want me to tell you why you’re a misfit, Patrick, it’s because you hate everybody.”

Food and TV

And why not?




This hotpot really was hot! See the steam in the centre pic? Yes, lunch yesterday at Steelers.

And on Sunday on NITV 34 at 9.30 the movie is Vincent  Ward’s  Map of the Human Heart (1993).

The film, set mostly before and during World War II, centres on the life of a Canadian Inuit boy, Avik (played as a child by Robert Joamie and as an adult by Jason Scott Lee), who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force and eventually, as a crewmember of a Lancaster bomber, participates in the notorious firebombing of Dresden. Throughout his life, Avik is haunted by love for a Métis girl, Albertine (played by Anne Parillaud), and by a belief that he brings misfortune to those around him.

The film also stars Patrick Bergin, who plays a pivotal role as both surrogate father to Avik and his primary rival in Albertine’s love. Jeanne Moreau has a minor role as a Québécois nun. John Cusack also has a small but important role as the mapmaker to whom Avik relates his incredible tale.

The film’s re-creation of the firebombing of Dresden is one of the most graphic and powerful sequences in the film. On the day Ward finished shooting those scenes, he received word that his father, who had actually participated in the historical firebombing of Dresden, had died. This is why Ward chose to dedicate the film to him.

There are two other scenes in the movie which received much attention. The first one is a pivotal love scene that takes place on top of an English military blimp (not in a cabin or gondola but actually on top of the blimp), the other is the final scene of the film which has a twist ending.

The scenes in “Nunatuk”, the region of Northern Canada where Avik’s people are from, were filmed on location in what is now Nunavut, using local Inuit as extras.

The script was written by Australian author Louis Nowra, using a 10-page treatment Ward had written a year earlier as his guide.


What a cultural mix! I haven’t seen it but am looking forward to it.

Last night on ABC a very good episode of The Doctor Blake Mysteries, set in Ballarat in 1959. Only jarring note is that no-one smokes. 1959 and no-one smokes? See also 1959 revisited.

And on Thursday on ABC2 I caught up at last with Please Like Me. Love it!

1959 revisited

My final year as a pupil at Sydney Boys High, so I remember quite a bit about that time. See also 1959 on Neil’s Final Decade.


Not that anyone really called two bob a florin. And then down at Sans Souci where Uncle Bob and Aunty Beth lived…

Ritchie Street Depot - 21.08.1959

Yes, trolley buses. Spookily quiet, but funny to see when they occasionally went down the wrong street.

And then there were aerogrammes. Do they still exist?  I used up quite a few in 59-61 keeping up with my classmate/friend Ashok, who had at the end of 1958 had gone to London and St Paul’s School.


So I can tell you, even if I didn’t know Ballarat at the time, that they’ve done a very good job on recreating the era in ABC-TV’s Doctor Blake Mysteries – and Craig McLachlan is pretty good too.

But good as that is, The Hour, the final episode of the second season on ABC1 tonight, really is much better.

Not 1959 but between two and three years earlier, and set in Britain, The Hour is a fictionalised version of the rise of current affairs TV in the UK. Inevitably one wonders how close to fact it is. That Independent review of the first episode of series one gives some clues.

The year is 1956, with the Suez Crisis boiling up nicely in the background but getting very little coverage on television news, a bland and reassuring affair modelled on cinema newsreels and easily distracted by society weddings and debutante balls. “Four o’clock. No Eden. No Cairo!” snaps George, the editor, making it clear that his bulletin has no room for international crisis. The person he’s snapping at is Freddie Lyon, a self-opinionated Young Turk who is desperate to shake things up. “We are calcifying in television news!” he howls at one point. “We are the nightly reassurance that all is right with the world.”

Fortunately for Freddie there is a prospect of a way out – a new current-affairs programme called “The Hour”. Unfortunately for Freddie, his friend Bel Rowley has been given the job of producing it, and although she’s keen for Freddie to join her on the new team she fears his lack of diplomacy may prevent it. Freddie only has to see a senior BBC executive to explode in a terrifying spume of idealism, ranting wildly about “the mechanics of how we bear witness”. He’s not even diplomatic with Bel, openly scorning the notion that a woman could be up to the job.

Bel (modelled on the pioneering television journalist Grace Wyndham Goldie) gets this kind of thing a lot. “Such maternal instincts,” murmurs Eden’s press attaché condescendingly when she makes an inquiry about the prime minister’s rumoured ill-health. “I do think you’re wasted in news.” And the gorgeous Hector Madden (Dominic West at his most lounge-lizardly) clearly believes that his role as the on-screen face of the new programme entitles him to have a crack at an after-hours debriefing of the producer. But, played by Romola Garai as a woman with a core of steely self-regard, Bel looks up to the challenge.

The shabbiness of the surroundings (paint looks as if it’s still a luxury) and the sturdily uningratiating nature of the characters are deeply reassuring. As is the casting. Even the smaller roles get fine performances, most notably Jason Watkins as the stultified idiot in charge of making the news as anodyne as possible, Anna Chancellor as a hard-drinking foreign editor and Anton Lesser as a sympathetic BBC news man. A little less certain – so far at least – is whether the thriller component of the drama can match the office politics for texture, or be plausibly integrated into it…

Well, I enjoyed Series One and Series Two has just got better and better. So I won’t be missing tonight’s episode.

And Grace Wyndham Goldie? According to Wikipedia:

..Wyndham Goldie pioneered television coverage of general elections. In February 1950 came the first general election of the television era. The BBC engaged in no reporting of the campaign whatsoever because of a cautious reading of the Representation of the People Act 1948. However, producer Grace Wyndham Goldie managed to persuade the BBC to transmit a programme on election night to report the results only – there was to be absolutely no prediction of what was to come.

By 1955, the existence of television on election nights was having a significant effect. It prompted returning officers to hold their counts immediately after the close of polls, so that the results were declared during the early hours of the morning, rather than the following day. In 1955, for the first time, a majority of constituencies declared on the night (357 of the 630 constituencies).

In 1953 Wyndham Goldie started a new programme, Press Conference, which was based on a format imported from US television. Each week four journalists interviewed a leading politician. The first politician to appear was R. A. Butler, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Subsequent guests included the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, and the mayor of Berlin. Her boss, Cecil McGivern, wrote to her after the first programme: “You did not invent the idea, my dear, of press people questioning politicians; this has already been done in the States. So you have not changed the nature of television, but by God you have changed the whole future of politics in Britain.”

Wyndham Goldie relaunched the ailing Panorama in 1955, with Richard Dimbleby as the main presenter. She was instrumental in recruiting Robin Day from ITN to present the programme at the end of the 1950s.

…Among her team of producers and reporters, the so-called ‘Goldie Boys’, were Alasdair Milne, Huw Wheldon, John Freeman, Christopher Mayhew,Cliff Michelmore, Richard Dimbleby, Donald Baverstock and Michael Peacock.

Wyndham Goldie had a low opinion of journalists whom she described as “the dirty mac brigade”. She did not like the idea of “the story” and thought that scoops were boys’ games. However, she respected the serious journalism that was embodied in such publications as The Times, The Manchester Guardian, The Economist and The New Statesman

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature

The joy of spam. A comment on a random post on the old blog.

I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This article posted at this web page is truly fastidious.

I trust this will also be “truly fastidious”.

But then there is this:

Hurrah! In the end I got a blog from where I can genuinely take helpful data concerning my study and knowledge.

No guarantees there, but if it works for you…  Right now this is fascinating me:

scientists-confirm-a-500-year-old-skeleton-is-of-king-richard-iii Apparently that really is, or was, Richard III. Note the crooked spine.

But I-that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass-
I-that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph-
I-that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them-
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

Great stuff!

But not by any means necessarily true, in fact more than likely Shakespeare is just repeating – brilliantly and dramatically – Tudor propaganda.


One very entertaining exponent of that view was crime fiction writer Josephine Tey in The Daughter of Time.

Maria’s James, having been dragged from his ‘cubby-hole’, had evidently enjoyed himself, and a fine selection of offenders, or their victims. kept Grant entertained until The Midget brought his tea. As he tidied the sheets together to put them away in his locker his hand came in contact with one that had slipped off his chest and had lain all the afternoon unnoticed on the counterpane. He picked it up and looked at it.

It was the portrait of a man dressed in the velvet cap and slashed doublet of the late fifteenth century. A man about thirty-five or thirty-six years old, lean and clean shaven. He wore a rich jewelled collar, and was in the act of putting a ring on the little finger of his right hand. But he was not looking at the ring. He was looking off into space.

Of all the portraits Grant had seen this afternoon this was the most individual. It was as if the artist had striven to put on canvas something that his talent was not sufficient to translate into paint. The expression in the eyes — that most arresting and individual expression — had defeated him. So had the mouth: he had not known how to make lips so thin and so wide look mobile, so the mouth was wooden and a failure. What he had best succeeded in was in the bone structure of the face: the strong cheekbones, the hollows below them, the chin too large for strength.

Grant paused in the act of turning the thing over, to consider the face a moment longer. A judge? A soldier? A prince? Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. Someone too-conscientious. A worrier; perhaps a perfectionist. A man at ease in a large design, but anxious over details. A candidate for gastric ulcer. Someone, too, who had suffered ill-health as a child…


But see also Bones of contention: why Richard III’s skeleton won’t change history.

What these bones cannot tell us is anything decisive about the issues that radically divide Richard’s modern public between those who see him as a martyr to Tudor black-washing, and those who place him on the shady side even of the robust politics of his day.

There’s no DNA test to prove either these bones belong to a man who unjustly disinherited, and then assassinated, his nephews – or the reverse. The scholarly consensus nowadays is that Richard III almost certainly did order the killing of his brother’s sons Edward and Richard, aged twelve and ten, sometime between late June and November 1483. No texts record their appearance after October 1483 at latest; their household servants were apparently dispersed; the fact of their murder was taken for granted, in January 1484, by the French Chancellor, who had no particular axe to grind.


Love this though.


Michael Ibsen, a 17th generation nephew of King Richard III, poses with a facial reconstruction of the former king