Friday, October 27, 2017

The use of dark humour to cope with the tragedy of existence

I was fortunate to chat with Peter Capaldi last night at the 2017 CWA Dagger Awards in London; but not about Dr Who, but about his portrayal of the Spin Doctor from Hell - Mr Malcolm Tucker, a character created by writer Armando Iannucci.
Malcolm Tucker follows the British Tradition of making comedy from the grotesque, the very odd and pompous, like Captain Mainwaring [Dad's Army], David Brent [The Office], Alan Partridge, Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby, Frank Thornton's Captain Peacock, John Cleese's Basil Fawlty - to name some of the most outrageous exaggerations of the Eccentric British Bloke.
Though for me, Malcolm Tucker as played by Peter Capaldi is seated at the apex of the absurd - sheer genius.
I thanked Peter last night for making me laugh so loudly, so deeply, when i watched the BBC "THE THICK OF IT", and the feature length film version IN THE LOOP, which satirized the British / American special relationship, and the commencement of the Iraq War.
Sometimes comedy is how we cope with tragedy, and someone has put IN THE LOOP onto Youtube, in HD - and the link is below [so if you want a deep belly laugh, as well as understand how weird our world is, see link below]
IN THE LOOP is probably one of the greatest political satires, so brilliantly written by Armando Iannucci, but how Peter Capaldi crafted Malcolm Tucker......sheer absurd genius.
Pater Capaldi was amused when I told him, that my own vernacular and use of colorful Anglo-Saxon expletives was heavily influenced by his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker.

And as Brexit [UK leaving the EU] is in the opinion of many people [me included], the supreme folly, a self-inflicted wound, economic & bureaucratic hell - an example of how some people can be manipulated with miss-information, lies and pandering to base emotion, not logic - then in this very British tragedy I turn to Armando Iannucci and to Malcolm Tucker as he debates Brexit with an equally absurd creation of Iannucci - Mr Alan Partridge.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Remembering The Duomo, Florence

Some people comment and query upon how come I have such a good memory. The older I get the more important an active memory becomes, for memory is a critical aspect of thinking, cognition, and therefore how we see the world. It also helps manage (for me) the Anxiety of Existence; the randomness of 'Being' and combatting negative, depressive and dangerous thinking.

The process of cultivating a sharp and extensive memory is not easy, it requires effort and an organisation of the thought processes. This effort, this cultivation, & activation of 'Memory' not only requires the managed and lucid recall of 'good & insightful' past events, but also the management of bad ones too. It also requires constant maintenance, as well as an awareness of how the memories we keep, morph and distort as we reflect, re-interpret as well as rationalise what we construct as reality, our existence, and who we share it with.

Ultimately memory also helps explain 'who we are' - by the context of our existence from our memories.

I smiled many years ago when I stumbled upon a book by Jonathan Spence, about Matteo Ricci. At the risk of emitting a loud clanging name-drop; I came across this work from my correspondence with Thomas Harris many years ago, when I asked him about Dr Hannibal Lecter's ability in drawing (with charcoal) The Duomo [The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore], from Florence (from Memory as he didn't have a window in his cell) while incarcerated in Baltimore. Harris told me that Dr Lecter's Memory sprang from this book on Ricci, which he would later name check in the footnotes of 1999's much misunderstood (and from some quarters much maligned) HANNIBAL.

This Sunday morning the house is silent. My wife Muriel is at the Gym. Our eldest daughter Sophia has gone into work of her own volition, as like all the Karims' - we work hard. Our Son Alexander is in Malaysia to view the upcoming Grand Prix with friends and our youngest daughter Miriam spends her first day at University, in Hall.
I am alone in bed, with my thoughts.

Last night we hit traffic (Sophia, Muriel and I) returning back from moving our youngest daughter to University. There were road closures, diversions, it was bad biff. We argued in the car as we were tired and after a long and emotional day, we were stressed leaving the youngest Karim to fend for herself in this weird reality we share.

At one point while bypassing the Sat-Nav (which had gone rogue) Sophia said 'Dad you are weird, you think weirdly' it made me silent as that observation made me ponder.

Yesterday our youngest daughter Miriam presented me with a gift from her recent travels in San Francisco - as we ate a meal, part of the ritual families do when they part, she passed me over a gift, a small square piece of plastic, with a microchip embedded beneath the surface.

The gift was a device called ‘Tile’ that links your keys, IPhone to a computer. It attaches to your key-ring and has a button that makes your phone ring if you've misplaced it, so you can find it. Miriam said 'so it will help you, if your memory fails'

I smiled at the word memory.

Sure, I touch my bulky key ring (which also acts as a defence tool) many times in the day, feeling its comfort in my trouser leg (during the day) and now (thanks to Miriam's gift) it can help me locate my IPhone, if I misplace it.

The 'Tile device' is small and attached to my key chain, so i feel the white plastic gift from my Daughter all the time, and I mean all the time. So several times of the day, I will think lucidly about our youngest Daughter Miriam Karim, because of this 'Tile', now part of my defensive key ring - something I see and feel throughout my 'conscious' day, as it comforts and is a tangible part of my realty; and makes me think about Miriam when I see or feel it.
Though Miriam thought that she gave me a practical gift (from her vacation in San Francisco) to ensure I always remembered my Iphone, but in reality it will be my way of thinking about her every day, and several times, having the comfort that there is in what we remember; in our Memory.
I also have items on my person, that remind me of my Wife, my Eldest Daughter, my Son as well as my Mother, Father and two Brothers.
This memory technique, the solidification of memory (the recall of days now passed) by physical touch / association to provoke thought - (among other techniques) was noted in the book that Jonathan Spence wrote, based on the life of Matteo Ricci; the same book that Thomas Harris told me about; the same book that helped him flesh out the character of Dr Hannibal Lecter - his remarkable memory.
So as I pondered upon the comment my eldest daughter Sophia said last night as we battled traffic adversity 'Dad, you're 'Weird' and which my Wife added 'Yes, you do think in a weird way' - I now smile, as I'm glad I think the way I do, for with our thoughts, we make the world as Buddha once conjectured and Rene Descartes confirmed, for 'I think, therefore I am'
I like weird; enjoy your Sunday, and perhaps some of us may purchase a charcoal stick and draw an image, something that resonates, something from what we term a memory, of a day now passed, perhaps of that Duomo, that Dr Fell would later view after fleeing Baltimore - and perhaps we'll fold it and place in our wallets, to remind us of the beauty contained in this world; to protect our thoughts and distract them roaming over all that scares us in this random and weird place.
"Typhoid and Swans, Officer Starling, they come from the same place"
Dr Hannibal Lecter, Baltimore, Maryland
More information about THE MEMORY PALACE OF MATTEO RICCI by Jonathan D Spence available Here

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gone Baby Gone

“There are so many more important things to worry about than how you're perceived by strangers.” 
Dennis Lehane

I have some sad news, due to a personal decision I had to take [several weeks ago] and one that makes me very sad - but first let me share something that made me very happy this weekend, during this year’s Theakston’s Crime-Writing Festival [hosted in the wonderful city of Harrogate in England].

Some know of my early championing of the writing of Dennis Lehane back in the 1990s. I recall vividly the attention his 1994 debut A Drink Before the War gathered including winning the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA] Shamus Award for best PI Debut. But it wouldn’t be until his second novel landed on my desk Darkness Take My Hand that I realised that a writer of considerable power had arrived.

Incidentally his British Publishers at the time Bantam / Transworld used the ‘as good as Thomas Harris or your money back’ line as a marketing tool which first attracted my attention to Darkness Take My Hand.

Incidentally, I spoke to Lehane about this remarkable sophomore work, as well as the significance of titles in general a few years ago –

Ali        I heard one of your earlier novels Darkness, Take My Hand was originally titled Cold, Cold Heart but you changed it because of a novel with the same title by James Elliott [a pen name of J.C. Pollock]. Have you had other changes of title? 

Dennis       Yes, well spotted. I’ve had a few title changes, for instance Shutter Island I was originally going to title The Barrens, then I found out that Joyce Carol Oates had a book out with the same title. The Given Day was originally going to be A Country at Dawn, but I decided that title sounded a little pretentious, however I discovered that The Given Day has been published in several countries under that title, such as France; my French publishers liked that title.  

Read More Here

During that time, I devoured his work finding merit especially in Gone, Baby, Gone; Prayers for Rain and Mystic River; Shutter Island -  for they provoked deep thought, as they told their exciting stories examining morality and acting as mirrors to view our own thinking; our own value systems. My enthusiasm for Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro PI series was very high so I used to write to Dennis via his wonderful literary agent Ann Rittenberg who kindly passed my letters to him [as did Morton Janklow earlier when I used to correspond with Thomas Harris]. Dennis kindly signed bookplates for me as I would buy many paperbacks of his work, and glue the signed bookplates inside [to motivate reading] and pass them to friends, family and colleagues as gifts – as I love sharing work that moved me, and wanted to spread the word, supporting the best of the best.

Dennis Lehane was a writer that helped me get through some interesting periods of my life. The Irish Catholic backdrop of Boston mirrored my own experiences in Dublin, as my family has links to Southern Ireland, so I felt some resonance in his work.

Years later, work such as Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Given Day would spark my cognition and that of many other literary commentators, with the moral dilemmas that their denouements presented the reader as part of the narrative journey unfolding and challenging the reader’s value system.

I felt the same feelings toward his latest work Since We Fell when I read this interesting novel, for it promoted deep thinking and it also challenged my own liberal value system -

There are sections of writing in Since We Fell that stop you in your tracks; make you contemplate your own life and situation and that of others, for Lehane’s narrative is peppered with insight and questions. There is humour but it is cloaked over the veils that cover the characters.

Read my full review HERE

Dennis was over as one of the Guests of Theakstons Crime-Writing Festival, during which he was in conversation with Mark Lawson. Though it would be the opening comments that Dennis made to the packed audience that made me realise that not only is he one of my favourite writers of literary thrillers, but also that he is a very decent human being, and one brave enough to speak his mind, articulate what some of us feel about the new American political regime, under Donald Trump.

Mark Lawson after introducing Dennis Lehane to the Harrogate crowd, opened his questioning with “so as an American, let’s get the obligatory Donald Trump question out of the way – so Dennis, what are your thoughts about Donald Trump as US President?”

Dennis laughed, and made his feelings clear about Trump and his cabal who reside in Washington. He added that he feels most sadness [and I quote] at what the people with Brown Skins are currently experiencing thanks to what Trump and his people are doing.  There was much clapping by the audience at Lehane’s candid response, which later would touch upon many aspects of what Trump, Bannon and the so-called ‘alt-right’ have whipped up in terms of making some feel free to be unpleasant to others - who do not have white skin.

He said though he knows that America will survive this period, as he believes in the principles that the country stands for, and despite all the flaws – America will survive Trump.

Later that night I chatted with Dennis privately, and thanked him deeply for being a brave man, and standing up for some of us who feel anxiety with Trump and his supporters feeling they have been issued a mandate to be hateful to others. I know many writers who avoid mentioning their feelings about Trump publically, for fear of alienating their readership, as many people voted for Trump, and may secretly agree with some parts of what he stands up for.

“Bring Back Coal” – yeah, right. We are indeed in a strange time.

But not Dennis Lehane – he is fearless for in a packed room, he spoke up for the underdog. In a crowd that looked close to a Thousand [or maybe more] there were less than a handful who wore Brown Skin, like me, but he spoke up for us. There are other writers who share via social media the propaganda from Breitbart, FOX and other right wing ‘news’ outlets, throwing in epithets to stir up fear and hate - and I know some privately share the same views as Trump [….I’m not a racist, but……].

In a democracy, freedom of speech is something I applaud; but enjoy it while you can for Trump is an Oligarch, not one who celebrates the democratic process and will attempt to dismantle it, like he is trying to destroy healthcare for millions.

I realised after Harrogate, that not only is Dennis Lehane one of my favourite writers, but he’s also a very good man – for as Anglo-Irishman Edmund Burke once said –

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

So I come full circle.

Following the magnificent Theakstons Crime-Writing Festival, many were asking me in person [as well as on social media] “so excited for Bouchercon Toronto and planning to meet-up” – for which I smiled, though I have told only a few people that I will not be attending. It took a long time to make this difficult decision – namely to not traverse the North Atlantic for the foreseeable future.

I know a great number of people, so am sad at missing Toronto Bouchercon and this decision was one that I did not take lightly.

This is very sad for me, as I studied in North America and loved the country despite all its imperfections as it struggles to live up to its ideals; but now my love affair with North America is on hold. My decision is not related to religious issues as I am a fervent atheist, but it is all to do with the issues I have endured over the years at American Airports which my various friends and travel companions have witnessed. I have always remained good natured, laughed off indignity with the people who have jobs to do, but knowing that some appear to enjoy some aspects of their roles a little too avidly.

I totally understand the serious need for enhanced security at places of mass transit, especially commercial passenger aircraft, but when enhanced background checks are available, each and every time I wish to cross the Atlantic Ocean, I get additional attention and experience unpleasantness.

I have put up with the casual as well as not so casual racism [including physical violence] since childhood, and usually get over unpleasantness retaining my dignity and moving on and not dwelling on the hatred in the eyes of some.

But no longer, because some people who share this reality feel that now we’re in the era of Trump and Brexit [“we got our country back”; yeah, right], there are some that feel they have a mandate to be hateful to people who are not White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. There have been cases at Airports, words and actions I have witnessed that have made me come to this difficult decision. I’ve seen people pulled off flights, detained or held for questioning because of something ‘others’ may have said.

During the flight, when you have brown-skin you feel self-conscious going to the toilet, or when you need to get another book from the overhead locker – you see people’s faces, and their eyes tell you much, and then there’s the overt unpleasantness, spoken just loud enough so that the speaker ensures you’re within earshot to hear the comment.

I used to laugh it off, and smile ignoring the hostiles and ignorant among the crowd.

At my age now, I am not prepared to put myself in a position where the opinion of a random stranger can embarrass or hurt me, or result in me missing a flight or result in detention while ‘we check things out’ - because as Dennis Lehane once said “There are so many more important things to worry about than how you're perceived by strangers.”

The level of ignorance I see around me is baffling as the ranks of the under-educated and manipulated grows. I don’t wish to embarrass or put my travel companions in an awkward position – when they see what’s going on as I get pulled from the queue, or what to say when they hear an unpleasant epithet uttered with the brown skinned bloke within earshot.  Many times my travel companions have waited for me at the airport, as I have been detained, my luggage swabbed and much else on both entry to the US, as well as returning to the UK, or overheard the unkind words from some, as well as feeling self-conscious on the flights.

The most unpleasant was an episode at Baltimore Airport in 2008 on my return to London that was witnessed by my travel companion at the time Roger Ellory; and which I wish not to detail here as dignity is a keyword to me. Some close friends know the tale, which I highlighted the absurd and amusing aspects – to hide the fear of what could have resulted.

I totally understand today’s need for robust security, and as I am no longer prepared to go through this again; it posed a huge dilemma for me. I am a Board Member of Bouchercon, and have been since election in Long Beach in 2014 and I enjoy the relationship with my colleagues on the Board who are all very decent, hardworking people, all supporting the genre on a pro-bono basis as Bouchercon is a non-profit fan organization.  

We all pay our own way.

So I have decided to cease transatlantic travel for the foreseeable future, despite the video-conference calls – I do not feel I could fulfill my obligations to the Board by not attending annual Bouchercons as I have done for some time now.

So last month with a sad heart I composed my letter of resignation to David Magayna, Chair of the Bouchercon Board, as well asking him to share my letter with the wider Board. I passed personal apologies to Janet Costello and Helen Nelson the co-chairs for Bouchercon Toronto 2017 as I had paid my registration [and I know this year the event is being held in Canada not America] – however I have decided for the foreseeable future I would not be taking North-Atlantic journeys.

The personal messages I have received from my colleagues on the Bouchercon Board since my resignation have moved me; including some that brought me to tears as I feel sorrow at not being with the team – But they all know where I am, and my helpful nature should any of them need any help from me in the future.

Please understand, I am not being a prima-donna ballerina; I totally get the need for robust security at Airports - but at my age, I am not prepared to put myself though the hell of mass-transit when as a brown-skinned person, I’m open to be vilified by the ignorant around me – as there is an agenda out there, and some of us do not feel welcome; because I do not require validation by strangers, as I like to ensure my own dignity is maintained.

So from now on my travel will be restricted to Europe, for when it comes to visiting North America, I’m “Gone, Baby, Gone” to quote Dennis Lehane, an insightful and elegant writer, but also a very decent person.

And I have a family who worry about me, then a deadline on a current novel project to complete by October, books to read and evaluate from other writers & publishers, as well as comment upon; because for every Dickie Greenleaf, there is a Tom Ripley in the shadow.

I only wrote this as I know so many folk who attend Bouchercon annually, and who I enjoy meeting up with, and I wished to explain why I won’t be coming to Canada this fall / autumn.  

Ali Karim
27 / 7 [July] / 2017

Gone, Baby, Gone

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shock and Awe: The Horror of our Situation

It has been reported in both psychological as well as medical research that a feeling of awe; a sensation of wonder helps our immune systems. It also promotes a sense of well-being [physical as well as mental]; it also increases our empathy toward others – as it makes us think about our place in this reality, and question our existence and that of others.

“That sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” They point out that people commonly experience awe in nature, but also feel a sense of awe in response to religion, art, music, etc.”

Read More Here

Though, as life is a cognitive sine-wave for we have to manage the ups and downs in our lives – the highs and lows of our experience of reality – there is an opposite to our sense [or feeling] of Awe – namely the feeling of dissatisfaction. This has to be managed too, as it also has an effect upon our immune systems, as well as empathy toward others, but negatively.  

Having a once-in-a-lifetime peak experience can lead to an unexpected blasé feeling of dissatisfaction. Peggy Lee sums up the malaise you can feel in the aftermath of a peak experience in her song, "Is that All There Is?" The song was inspired by the existential story Disillusionment by Thomas Mann

Read More Here

Managing the sine-wave of our feelings can at times be tricky, for after an intense period, or after a feeling of Awe, it can be hard to manage cognitively – for often we feel a vacuum within or a feeling of disillusionment in consequence.   

Recently I have been awed [in fact stunned would be a better word] by three films though marketed as Horror; the real horror within these movies comes from what I term, the Horror of our situation in this reality; and the fear of what we don’t understand. These three films are examinations, reflections of being human in a scary reality, where the horror comes from our situation, and is often cloaked in the shadows and within our imaginations. They also provoke deep, deep thought and contemplation.

The test of how deeply a piece of film has affected me is usually how long I remain in the cinema, or when the DVD finishes how long I sit immobile and lost in my thoughts - as the credits roll.

The following three films held me, lost in deep-thought as the credits rolled as I contemplated the significance of what I just experienced – bathing in the sense of awe with my thoughts swirling. 

The effect of these films [like last year’s Midnight Special by Jeff Nichols] remain within me; that feeling of awe with no sensation of disillusionment – for they are food for the mind.


Get Out is a 2017 American horror film written, co-produced and directed by Jordan Peele, in his directorial debut. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, LaKeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener, and follows a young interracial couple who visit the mysterious estate of the woman's parents.


It Comes at Night is a 2017 American psychological horror film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It stars Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Riley Keough. This claustrophobic tales centers on a highly contagious disease that has ravaged the outside world. Paul, his wife Sarah, and their teenage son Travis have secluded themselves in a country home. One night they are awoken by the sound of someone [or something] trying to break into their fortified home in the dark forest.


Personal Shopper is a 2016 French psychological thriller film written and directed by Olivier Assayas. It stars Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet and Pascal Rambert. It tells the story of Maureen [Kristen Stewart] a personal shopper in Paris for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), a celebrity. She travels to European capitals to shop for her, buying clothes, accessories and jewels. Her twin brother Lewis recently died from a heart attack; they shared the same genetic heart problem. They were both interested in spiritualism and believed they had connections to the spirit world.

With an honourable mention to a film from last year that I still think about from time to time.


Midnight Special is a 2016 American science fiction film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. The film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher and Sam Shepard. The story revolves around Roy Tomlin and his biological son, Alton Meyer, escaping from both the government and a cult, after discovering that Alton has special powers.

These films are like lucid dreams, they remain within my mind and I think of them and their significance from time to time – for they gave me a sense of awe, one that that made me think deeply as well as reflect upon something Stephen King once postulated in his book “On Writing” -

“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Doppelgänger : Peter Rozovsky & Ali Karim discuss Donald Westlake & Richard Stark

Doppelgänger from the German [literally "double-goer"] is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and is usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck.
Ever since I witnessed some mysterious and frightening incidents as a child; something I still cannot explain, something that I still think of from time to time – the role of the Doppelgänger has always fascinated me, as well as acting as a warning to me, about personality, and the dangers of existence.

Like many writers, I use pen names and enjoy traversing the edges of personality, be it my own or that of others. The reasoning is that most people are not who they present themselves as; for we have facets of character that remain hidden - often to survive.
As the 1980s were closing Stephen King's pen name Richard Bachman was exposed as he battled the last stages of his alcohol and pharmaceutical misuse.

The novel THE DARK HALF is from that time though rarely mentioned; with its surreal story of Author Thad Beaumont a writer of literary fiction battling his Pen Name George Stark's creation the disfigured and dangerously malevolent Alexis Machine. George Stark wrote two ultra-violent and renowned pulp thrillers MACHINE'S WAY and STEEL MACHINE that were far more popular commercially than Thad Beaumont’s literary output.
This underrated King novel THE DARK HALF is a thinly disguised homage to Donald Westlake and it would be filmed later by George A Romero starring Timothy Hutton.
I recall King’s THE DARK HALF because like Donald Westlake, some of us have a little Richard Stark in us, to help traverse the dangers in this world; but like Nietzsche's abyss, when the inner Parker is revealed to others, the abyss that is Parker looks back into you. The dark side of human nature is an evolutionary necessity; but also a danger - one we keep locked away.
“The office women looked at him and shivered. They knew he was a bastard; his big hands were born to slap with, they knew his face would never break into a smile when he looked at a woman. They knew what he was, they thanked God for their husbands, and still they shivered. Because they knew how he would fall on a woman in the night. Like a tree".” ― Richard Stark, The Hunter
Here's a few words I wrote for Jeff Pierce's THE RAP SHEET when Quercus Publishing brought back Parker to the UK in 2007. Jeff featured a staggering outpouring in 2009 when Donald Westlake passed away, and here's some thoughts from the Crime / Thriller Community from The Rap Sheet Part One and Part Two
I wrote at the time in 2009 when hearing of the passing of Donald Westlake -
"I first discovered Donald Westlake thanks to the movie version of The Hot Rock with Robert Redford, which led me to explore more of the Dortmunder books, as well as muttering “Afghanistan, Bananistan” to strangers from time to time. But my true love was the Richard Stark series featuring Parker. I loved the spartan style of Stark, and was overjoyed when I read Stephen King’s tribute to Stark in his brilliant novel about split personalities, The Dark Half. (“Anyway, for reasons you’d have to ask Westlake about, he eventually stopped writing novels about Parker, but I never forgot something Westlake said after the pen name was blown. He said he wrote books on sunny days and Stark took over on the rainy ones ...”) It was an apt tribute to a great man.
I only met Westlake once when we came to the CrimeScene convention in London in 2005. I was humbled in his presence, despite his modesty and gentle nature. I find it surreal that when I heard of the awful news [of Westlake’s death], the first words that came into my head were “Afghanistan, Bananistan,” which echoed as a lament for our loss. I miss his words already, as the world just darkened a tad, knowing that he is no longer with us.
Watch Detectives Beyond Borders Peter Rozovsky and I discuss Donald Westlake and Richard Stark in an amusing and unscripted post-Crimefest 2017 Sunday afternoon.

In memory of the late Donald Westlake and Darwyn Cooke

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Doppelgänger Tales

Some of my friends and colleagues know of my interest in the “Doppelgänger” [a ghostly duplicate of a living person, derived from the German term Doppelgänger, literally: double-goer].

My interest is both of times that I have been mistaken for someone else; as well as encountering Doppelgängers of other people that I know.

My current interest in the Doppelgänger stems from something I am writing, something that takes over much of my current thinking.

I have a few Doppelgänger tales, some that are seriously disconcerting [as anyone who has shared a late evening in a bar with me will attest to]. I will share one of my Doppelgänger tales here; but this one is an amusing anecdote from my recollections of days now passed.

It was early/mid 1980s, England. I’d just returned back from the American Midwest where I had been studying for a Doctorate in Chemistry. On my return, my Father had been livid with me [as I had given up a good job at ICI, Runcorn to further my studies in America]. He told me in strong terms that I had to get a job after ‘fucking around academia’ and messing up a career in Imperial Chemicals Industries [ICI].

The first job I applied for I got an interview straightway and headed to London, as they needed me to start immediately. I worked as a young Industrial Chemist, for a Chemicals Storage and Logistics company on the Thames [London and Coastal Oil Wharves Ltd], which I helped get into chemical processing with Automotive Antifreeze manufacture as well as Chemical blending.

The company had taken a stand at The European Chemical Trade Fair, hosted at Heathrow’s Penta Hotel. The Managing Director asked me to ‘man the stand’ over the three-day trade fair [as I was cheap, and he wanted to show off his young Chemist to his customers as well as attract new customers].

I enjoyed the few days having a superb room in the Penta; and as I was single it meant I got all my meals and drinks on account. Various managers from the company drifted in and out of the Chemical Trade Fair, helping me man our company stand.

On the final night Martin Wells, our MD had organised a celebratory dinner in the Penta, with three of our managers and a dozen or so of his top customers. The affair was a long and enjoyable evening. I drank rather a lot of wine, followed by generous quantities of Gin. I needed very little encouragement as our long table was in celebratory mode after the Chemical trade fair. So after a few hours in the bar, it was time to say goodnight and farewell to my colleagues and our guests. I stumbled up to my room which was a feat in itself, due to the amount of Gin I consumed.

On entering my room, I was way too drunk to function correctly, so I just fell asleep on the bed in my suit, only loosening my tie. I noted that the red LED on the bedside clock-radio said it was past three AM. The next thing I recall was that I was dreaming about a ringing phone; or so I thought. The dream woke me up, and I realised that I was not dreaming at all, but the phone by my bedside was ringing, and ringing and ringing. I grabbed the receiver and as I pushed it to my ear, the clock-radio informed me it was coming to five thirty in the morning.

It’s reception. Mr Karim, your taxi is here” said the voice on the line.
“I’ll be right down” I replied in my drunken fugue. Looking back, I don’t know why I hadn’t queried the call about an early morning cab. I knew Martin Wells and the other managers were staying in the Penta too; and we were leaving in the morning, but not at this fucking early hour.

Somehow I managed to navigate myself down to reception, where a perplexed Night Porter and Cab Driver [who was leaning on the reception counter] stared back at me; this dishevelled young Asian bloke staggering in a crumpled suit obviously as drunk as a skunk.
The Night Porter quickly swivelled his chair back to his computer and looked back at me and said “You are Abdul Karim of Egyptian Airlines?”

“No, I’m Ali Karim of London and Coastal Oil Wharves” I replied hiccuping and then running to the nearby toilet, as I felt my stomach heave in my drunken state as reality started to spin around me.

As I ran, I remember hearing the Cab Driver laughing “thank fuck for that, as I thought that cunt is flying the 0700 hrs to Cairo.”

Though strictly not a true Doppelgänger Tale; I have two more about a person, persons or thing that may be a true Doppelgänger of mine; but that’s for when I am in a bar late at night and someone wants me to follow Peter Straub’s gathering of old men, when one asks “tell us all the scariest thing that has ever happened to you.”

Until then, back to my writing, and the issue of coming face to face with your Doppelgänger.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anyone know the way to Shell Beach?

I was recently reading that there are plans to remake the Wachowski brother’s 1999 movie THE MATRIX, and then I learned that Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island is being adapted into a TV series. The recent HBO reboot / reworking of the Michael Crichton 1973 directorial debut Westworld was a remarkable piece of work, and proved hugely popular commercially despite its immense cost. What these works share in common is their interpretation of what we perceive as our reality; something that most of us ponder upon from time to time, as well as the purpose and reason for our ‘being’ here on the third rock from our power source, our Sun.

My favourite sub-genre of film and books are those that questions what we perceive as reality, of which I have read many work as well as viewed many mind-bending films. Though The Matrix and its two sequels are probably the most commented upon; I still have very warm feelings toward three films that were released around the same time [before the Millennium], and mined similar themes - David Cronenberg’s 1999 eXistenz Josef Rusnak 1999’s The Thirteen Floor and of course my favourite Alex Proyas’ 1998 Dark City.

Though there are many, many others; but particular mention should be made of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris which was first filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade / reworked in 2002 by James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh.

Though the earliest recorded thoughts that question what we perceive as reality can be traced to Plato’s Republic in his “Allegory of the Cave”

In the allegory, Plato likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire.  Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see. 

Read More Here and view a short Ted-Ed video on the nature of reality as seen via Plato’s Cave

Anyone with a basic understanding of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics will tell you that the world we perceive with our sensory apparatus is a mere fraction of what is actually around us. Advancement in technology is making us realise that there are many other aspects / forms within the reality that surrounds us; and which we cannot detect from our sensory apparatus - in the narrow bands of light, sound, taste, touch and smell that we use to navigate reality. In fact we also know that we are now creating our own realities virtually. In David Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenz, we see that the rabbit holes of interconnected realities is deep, for in each of our artificially created realities, the occupants create or engineer their own, and to quote Kurt Vonnegut ‘and so it goes’; layer upon layer of artificially created virtual realities.

As the relentless march of technology and science marches on headlong, there are many reports coming that the reality we are experiencing is far from what we see around ourselves, for perhaps Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is correct. Reports that our reality is indeed a construct or a form of artifice is coming from credible sources, including these. There were interesting ripples in the scientific community when Dr. James Gates Jr explained that in his experiments in particle physics and string theory, he found a form of computer code; strings of One and Zeros called error correcting codes, embedded within, or resulting from, the equations of supersymmetry that describe fundamental particles.

When one works through Lord Martin Rees work, and that of Professor Nick Bostrom we see that the simulation argument has indeed merit, and that the chances are close to 100% that we are indeed trapped in a ‘construct’ akin to Plato’s Cave; in a simulation or reality that is a form of artifice. As troubling as this sounds; the reality of our situation has a paradoxical twist, for it matters little if we are in the Cave with much hidden from our senses, or to quote Peggy Lee’s question ‘Is that all there is?’ from the song penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller [which in turm was derived from the 1896 story Disillusionment [Enttäuschung] by Thomas Mann – used to great effect in John August’s 2007 film that also questioned the nature of our reality The Nines.

The march of technology may well further prove or disprove the veracity of our reality, as primitive man came from Caves, and we may soon discover that we are still cave dwellers, pursuing our lives with artificial meaning in the allegorical Cave that Plato proposed.

The scary downside is that the sheer scale of the weapons we are capable of manufacturing [with the march of technology] in these times, can appeal dangerously to the dark-side of human nature. We must also remember that the dark-side of our natures helped us evolve in the competitive games we term evolution, for without our dark-side we would never have survived predation – but today, in so-called civilised society, that dark-side has dangers when the scale of our weapons are now unspeakable.

So “reality is, what it is” and we have to navigate it as well as we can, but from time to time we see things that we cannot explain, things we put down to the randomness of our reality; coincidences as well as the vagaries of our skills in pattern recognition [another tool that is necessary for our evolution as a species]. 

Last year, when my editor and close friend Mike Stotter and I went to New Orleans for Bouchercon 2016, The World Crime and Mystery Convention, we had a wonderful time, shared with our friends from the genre we support. Though New Orleans has its own mysteries in its own right, and sure we drank a lot and partied however some things remain with me, things that made me think, made me ponder like seeing pixilation of reality, of glitches. I know many of us are cynical however, like that sensation of Déjà vu, it can also be unsettling.

One memory that makes me smile is related to a favourite film of mine. I often make reference to Alex Proyas’ 1998 Dark City as it a firm favourite. During Bouchercon 2016, Mike and I spent a wonderful evening with our friends Chris Whiteside and Martina Cole. Martina is one Great Britain’s most popular crime-writers and has been a very dear friend of Mike and I for many years. She is celebrating her 25th year in publishing and during Bouchercon, she generously treated Chris, Mike and I to a wonderful dinner and drinks at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orlean’s French Quarter. I know we consumed a great deal of Gin, but after a fabulous dinner I felt a little strange which I put down to the drinking but the feeling was more akin to Déjà vu, and I kept thinking of the film Dark City and the significance of this reality. I noticed that the bar-singer start a song that made me smile. It was the renowned Mexican song “Sway” and I quickly grabbed my Iphone to record it for the coincidental line with my thinking was perplexing.

The song ‘Sway’ features in Dark City, with Jennifer Connelly, though the vocal recording was actually with Anita Kelsey. I know it was coincidence that I was thinking about the Alex Proyas film while seated in the hotel bar in New Orleans, and maybe the ambience reminded me of that scene with William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly. Though coupled to a few other events / coincidences, the memory still makes me smile; as does the understanding that if we are indeed inside Plato’s Cave then there are some rules to make the experience worthwhile.

For those who have seen Dark City, may follow the significance of why Rufus Sewell’s character is searching for Shell Beach. It would not be until I returned to England that I discovered that Shell Beach is actually located not far from New Orleans, in Louisiana.

This line of thinking will of course narrow itself to whether we take the Blue or Red Pill, because as Grace Slick once said with Jefferson Airplane, “one Pill makes you larger and one Pill makes you small”.

Perhaps next time I will find myself in New Orleans, I will indeed seek out Shell Beach, because I heard it's the end of the line.