Friday, 11 April 2014

Book Post: Talking Of Books

English: Barter Books, Alnwick Inside the old ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm co-hosting Dubai Eye Radio's Talking of Books tomorrow and so 10am to 1pm will see me sitting in the studio and partaking of all sorts of booky shenanigans. It's on 103.8FM if you live in the UAE and the live stream is linked here if you don't. Don't forget the time zone thingy - it'll be 7am to 10am in the UK.

One part of the show, the first hour, is devoted to discussing the 'book of the week', to which end I am reading 'The Collected Works of AJ Fikry' by Gabrielle Zevin. Apparently an earlier incarnation was titled The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and went out as an ARC, so marketing has obviously been playing about with this one right up to the wire. It's a book about a book shop owner and a sales rep and I have to confess I approached the whole exercise thinking it a highly cynical gambit to get into the good book into reps' good books. But then that probably speaks more to my cynicism than Gabrielle's. How it turned out in the end is something you'll have to tune in to find out.

Having done lots of book clubby talky things, as well as having had a number of reviews one way or another, I know how it can feel to meet readers' and reviewers' opinions head on. It doesn't particularly bother me, I'm not one of those sensitive artistic souls who quiver as if struck by hammer-blows at every word that isn't fulsome praise. Once you put a work out there for review, you're gonna get it - informed, uninformed, insightful, drive-by - the whole gamut. And so it is with reviewing books for TOB - I feel the best thing to do is just get on with it and be honest about what I felt as a reviewer. That is, funnily enough, somewhat different to what you felt about it as a reader, because you don't normally read books with having to talk about them on radio for an hour in mind, so you end up looking for things you may not have been quite so cognisant of when you're reading purely for pleasure.

Or something like that.

We're also going to be talking poetry, specifically Lebanese poetess Zeina Hashem Beck being discussed with Frank Dullaghan. It's no secret I am much enamoured of the city Beirut and Zeina's poetry brings it to vibrant, visceral life.

Other than that, life's quiet on the book front and right now that's just how I want it...
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Monday, 7 April 2014

Kinder's 'Next Face' Gender Bender

That's not a girl - it's a boy with some badly Photoshopped hair extensions. What an odd thing to do to a chocolate packet! What an odd thing to do, indeed, to a child. If they're going to take those kinds of liberties, would you want your child to be the 'next face of Kinder chocolate'?

I'd never have noticed but for The Niece From Heaven and a visit to the Mirdif City Centre shopping mall, where we discovered a promo display in the central court being staged by Kinder. There were chocolate themed things to climb on and play with and TNFH was immediately drawn in, being something of a Kinder fangirl.

There was a photographer with a studio portrait flash setup - the promo was themed 'Do you want your kid to be the next face of Kinder chocolate?' - and he was listlessly snapping children, surrounded by screaming kids clambering on plastic chocolate shapes. We stood off, laughing cruelly at him and imagining the office all picking on Elie and volunteering him for the Kinder promo job.

Once your child has been snapped by Elie, you're sent to the collection point to pick up your very own Kinder chocolate box with your kid's face on it. A put-upon individual takes the snap from Elie and Photoshops it onto a packet background. He does this, incidentally, very badly. This is then printed out, guillotined, folded and glued to make a paper packet wrapper which is then handed to you. TNFH's face had been squished to fit - for some reason rather than scaled - so we eventually came away with a grainy, fat faced version of her on a light card wrapper. Her mum, who had braved the jostling queue of proud mums and dads and their little princes and princesses, looked like she had been hit by a hurricane. Apparently the enter your kid for the competition mechanism wasn't working, so the picture didn't matter anyway.

It was only the fact the display featured packets with a small boy in a blue shirt on it that made me pause when TNFH's chocolate stash was raided a couple of nights later. Lo and behold, on the packet was a small girl in a blue shirt.

The promo made much of Kinder's premise that more milk than chocolate is what made Kinder a good thing - "plus milk minus cocoa" is the line. My interest in Kinder much aroused by the photoshoppery, I took a look at the ingredients. Because plus milk means it's good for your child, right?

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dearie me.

Milk chocolate (40%) (Sugar, milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, emulsifiers: lecithin (soy), flavouring: vanillin), sugar, skimmed milk powder, vegetable fat (palm), anhydrous milkfat, emulsifiers: lecithin (soy), flavouring: vanillin, total milk constituents 33% total cocoa solids 13%, solids in milk chocolate: cocoa 32%, milk fat free 17%, milk fat 6%

Palm oil. Lovely. Plus milk minus cocoa plus cheap, egregious saturated fat...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Down Home On The Farm in Dubai


It reminded me of the scene in Terry Gilliam's brilliant 'Brazil' where our hapless hero and his heroine are driving into the sunset down a road lined with advertising hoardings. We had turned off the Emirates Road into the Al Barari development only to find ourselves surrounded by a wall of verdant greenery. The road all the way to The Farm café/restaurant is like a drive through a tropical paradise, albeit one only a few feet thick - on the other side lies desert strewn with rubbish and 'project on hold' construction sites. We continued down the paradise alley to the restaurant's car park and wandered in to the achingly chic white and wood of The Farm - itself surrounded by a veneer of lush gardens and water park, all fenced in from the outside - a sort of canvas backdrop you almost feel will tear if you put your hand out and push against it.

We were late to the party, for sure - everyone who's anyone has already 'discovered' The Farm, but we needed the Niece From Heaven and family coming out to give us the impetus to plan an eating out in Dubai, having previously forsworn the city's pricey dining pleasures. You need to book well ahead, the place is popular without a doubt - and for somewhere as out of the way as that to be popular says something, no?

We arrived on time for our booking - they had called the day before to confirm this and also SMSed confirmation. The table wasn't ready. There was a little confusion, we were a largish party of seven adults a baby and TNFH but soon sorted out. I handed back the stained napkin sitting under my cutlery to the waiter and we settled down to...

Oh horrors. It's only a bloody iPad menu. I won't repeat my previously stated views regarding this crime against commonsense. Actually, stuff it, I will. It's lunacy. In this case, it's made even worse by iPad stands that are too worn to stand up reliably. The application is better structured than the last one I came across, but still and all that. A bloody iPad. And yes, when the bill came, I did realise who was paying for the 'sledgehammer to crack a walnut' technology.

The menu is tempting, for all the iPaddery. There's a full-on Thai menu and a mixture of salad things and bigger offerings. I played with the idea of lamb shank and bailed at the last minute which turned out to be a mistake.

We had a baby. We had asked for a baby chair when we had booked. We asked again when we arrived. We asked when we got to the table. We asked twice more. Eventually an Ikea baby chair pitched up. We'd likely have been faster nipping out to buy it. Juggling a baby and an iPad menu that won't stand up is not, by the way, for the faint hearted.

Tomato tatin as a starter. Gorgeous, salty goaty cheesy tapenadey and tomatoey. It came before the drinks we'd ordered. Starter finished, the drinks turned up. My peach iced tea was precisely what it said on the box and much enjoyed. I'd have enjoyed it more, likely ordered a second, if it had come before the food. Others had the spiced jumbo prawns or had decided to share plates of bruschetta. All were making oo and aa sounds.

Yeah, clearly hated that one. Loathed it. Yuk. 
But we did have to look at the debris for an aching age...

Done, we looked at those plates for aeons. They were taken just as the main courses arrived - in fact, they waited for the table to be cleared before they could serve them. I had the beef papaya salad, very nice and appealing to the eye, if perhaps a little light on the protein. But that was my fault - I knew I was up for a solid chunk of lamb shank, so no salad was going to hit the spot. Others had the couscous halloumi salad, the corn-fed chicken, the salmon. Much pleasure was derived from this food. We had coffee, which was nice. We paid the stiffish bill (around Dhs140 per head, two couples having shared starters and most had salad mains), had a wander around the garden for obligatory tourist selfies and went for a drive to discover the other side of the green Reality Wall before heading for home.

I'd go back, for sure. The Farm has lovely food, a nice 'feel' to the place and a beautiful, if metaphorically loaded, setting - but the service was pretty shambolic. I broke my rule about never taking photos of my food for Instagram again. Which could be said to be a compliment.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Of Lacunae

English: Spring Cleaning on the River Teviot T...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think this is the longest I've ever left the blog unattended and it really shows - there are weeds growing in the cracks, a general feeling of shabbiness and disrepair and the guttering has come away from the side of the wall, leaving a green mossy trail in its wake. Sweeping up has taken quite a time, I can tell you.

I've been busy, particularly over the past week with the arrival of the Oirish contingent bearing with them The Niece From Heaven and her little sister, who's nine months old today. To say things have been hectic would be to understate matters considerably. It's amazing how much space and time a four year old and a baby occupy. We've been mucking around in the usual haunts, from feeding goats at Sharjah's Arabia's Wildlife Centre to discovering Dubai's unsung penguin colony, the little group in Dubai Mall's aquarium which make the Mall of the Emirates penguins look like a good idea.

We've also been doing 'pool days', reminding me I live somewhere people travel to when they go on holiday. You sort of forget that when you're living the day to day life or dashing off on leave back home or somewhere else.

I've also started a new book. There simply aren't enough hours to go around...

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Post: Of Writers And Storytellers

Homer Simpson
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was struck during the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature by the difference between writers and storytellers. The two aren't necessarily the same thing, you see. You can be a good writer and a bad storyteller and also a bad writer and a great storyteller. I moderated an enjoyable session with Deon Meyer and Simon Kernick and, reading their books in the run-up to the event, I was surprised at the difference in their styles of storytelling. Meyer's a writer, Kernick's not. He's a storyteller - and he wastes shockingly little time getting you from A to B. Not for Simon long lovingly chosen passages of descriptive prose or even careful word choices: in one scene two cars collide 'with a bang'. Characters aren't plagued by existential angst in the early hours (more Meyer's style: as I told him during our session, his Seven Days is crammed so full of skin-crawling addiction it actually had me wanting to smoke again).

It doesn't detract from the enjoyment of a Simon Kernick thriller - you get what you pay for, a hectic pell-mell dash through the twists and turns of the roller-coaster. And so Dan Brown, Lee Childs and others - storytellers who give enjoyment to millions, but who aren't, well, you know... literary. I do get bored with writers slagging off authors like these. They're selling millions and you're not which makes them right and you wrong.

I was mulling it all as I immersed myself in the finalists of the Canadian University in Dubai's short story writing contest last week (they were mad and misguided enough to invite me to be a judge). Writing hundred word shorts is a horror of a thing: that's so few words you're really forced to come right up against pretty much every word choice - more like poetry than prose. All of them were storytellers, but the writing contained all the mistakes so beloved of the Word Nazis. A few examples for your listening pleasure:

She screamed with her mouth.
She was hardly going to do it with her shoulder, was she? I've seen this used as an example time and again in articles by editors, but had never actually encountered it 'in the wild' before. Similarly, "He grabbed the door handle with his hand".

Suddenly there was an explosion
Have you ever seen a slow explosion?

She cast her eyes across the room
Boing boing went those bouncing eyeballs...

Turning, he opened the door
Using a strange Dervish-like whirling technique? Dangling participles often amuse: "Driving home, he cooked supper" - you can see the bloke, steering wheel in one hand, frying pan in the other.

Louella is a short woman, but as she’s your sister, I’m sure you know this…
When exposition gets clunky, it tends to get really clunky. Having characters who know something be told it always grates.

He was cruelly deceived by her.
Our old friend the passive voice. By all means use it, but know you're using it. She deceived him cruelly is not infrequently the way to go.

He walked carelessly along the corridor. 
Adverbs. Despite knowing this very well, my editors will still tell you I use too many of them. I'm by no means alone - it's the first symptom of lazy writing and we all do it. The trick is spotting it in the edit and getting rid. It's a word choice thing. He sauntered along the corridor.

He looked down and saw the snake coiled on the path in front of him. He knew it was ready to strike. 
Filters - we're in his point of view, so when he saw a snake (presumably not in mid-flight) we can assume he's looking down. And, again in his POV, we know what he knows. So this becomes "Coiled in front of him, the snake blocked his path, ready to strike" and we have a much clearer immediacy.

He saw the flares illuminate
Again, in his POV we know he sees the flares. And illuminating is sort of what flares do, no?

What happened next made her scream in terror.
Editor Robb calls these 'announcements' - it's very lazy indeed and almost invariably sets us up for an anti-climax. Also, screaming in terror is awful.

He creeps up to the door and puts his ear against it, listening for movement
You might be plagued by the image of a man holding an ear to the door at arm's length, but we can lose the creeping and assume movement to the door, listening gingerly perhaps as we can also assume he's not listening for a symphony orchestra.

All of these things (and the many more examples there are out there of poor style and grammar) are there to keep food on editors' tables. But they're about the process of writing, not the skill of storytelling. If that makes sense.

Anyway, I'm in no position to be holier-than-thou about this kind of thing. Reading the printed version of the short story I wrote for Time Out Dubai to run during the LitFest, and of course not before, I caught a repetition of the word 'little' in the second para. There's nothing seeing like your stupid errors in hard print to bring out the Homer Simpson 'Doh'.

It's almost as annoying as finding they've unilaterally removed - for some reason best known to themselves - the word 'God' from the piece, thereby mangling a carefully chosen sentence.

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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

April 8th Loometh For Windows XP Users...

Windows XP screenshot
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On April the 8th Microsoft will end support for Windows XP and Office 2013.

A lot of people are still using Windows XP and for good reason. And it's not just because they like the Teletubbies' home field on their desktop. The old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' applies in spades - Windows XP was perfectly functional and the iteration of Windows that followed it, the infamous Windows Vista was not terribly functional. Those of us who made the leap and upgraded slavishly to the new new thing almost immediately regretted rushing in where angels fear to tread.

Vista sucked. We were consigned to long, aching pauses as we watched that coruscating blue wheel rotating smugly on the screen we so desperately wanted to be Bill Gates' face. We learned to loathe the smug gits who'd held out and weren't going through our pain. And I'm not even going to talk about what happened next.

Nobody needs to be reminded of the Windows 7 Launch Party. Although if anyone can explain how this ultimate example of gibbering incompetence dressed up as a marketing stunt conceived by a four year old raccoon whose brain has been eaten by vampire slugs hasn't been deleted, I would be grateful.

Now The Ones We Left Behind are being told to upgrade to Windows 8 or face annihilation and exile to The Great Unsupported. I got a spammy mailer from Microsoft Saudi Arabia claiming if I don't upgrade I could face loss of data, lack of connectivity and limited access as well as lack of hardware and software support. It's all a bit of a scare tactic, but XP is now becoming long in the tooth and hasn't seen a service pack since April 2008. Which means XP's been effectively staked out and waiting to die for six years.

The person I feel sorry for in all of this is my mum. She's 87 and she's not about to learn Windows 8.0 so she can shop online (Tesco's online shopping has been a life saver for her) and Skype family and friends. Nice one, Microsoft. Thanks.

I'm buying her an iPad instead. One tiny user, a squillionth of that gargantuan user base. But yet another human story behind the migration away from MS' platform.
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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Book Post: When The Olives Weep

I've written a screenplay based on Olives - A Violent Romance. I have to tell you, it was a great deal of fun and a most fascinating exercise. And the first thing I did was give it the title I should have - if there were anything between my ears other than kapok - given the book in the first place - When The Olives Weep.

It all started when I gave a talk to the DIFC book club last year. They meet in that most hallowed of haunts for the city's self-proclaimed CIPs, the Capital Club. Apart from having a pleasant evening, I was struck by one of the members who reported on his experiences reading 'Screenwriting for dummies'. It sounded interesting and I made a mental note to get the book myself one of the days and see what it was all about.

This from a man who spent seven years refusing to read books on writing before he had to be bullied into it. You can see I've learned stuff, can't you?

I went one better. I bought and read Syd Field's (in)famous Screenplay: The Foundations Of Screenwriting. And I spent a lot of time on the Internet sucking up everything I could about writing screenplays.

There are some odd conventions to scripts. The first and most wonderful is that a page of 12 point Courier text laid out in the standard margins of screenplays equates to a minute on celluloid. Not that they use celluloid any more, but you know what I mean. It's an immutable rule of film and the rules and conventions of formatting are even more rigid than publishing. Indents need to be precisely standard, new scenes treated this way, dialogue that. Looking at a blank Word doc and all that convention, you'd be forgiven for throwing up your hands then and there. Which is where Celtx comes in. Celtx is screenwriting software and it's simply brilliant. Mind-numbingly, it's freeware - such a polished and useful piece of software being offered for nada is stunning.

Celtx does the formatting for you and lots of other useful things, leaving you to focus on the actual, you know, story.

The first thing you notice is how the two ways of telling the same narrative differ so monumentally. In a book, you're setting up the scene, building a sense of place and grounding the reader in the characters' Point Of View, carefully describing things and actions and pacing exposition, dialogue and action.

In screenplay, that's pretty much the job of the director and actors. You're straight in there, keeping it crisp and description down to a minimum. Most of what you have to get across is straight action or dialogue. Scenes keep the action moving, you move to a new room it's a new scene. Move out of the house to the garden, new scene. It's got to flow, dialogue is critical and much of the dialogue in your book doesn't matter. In fact, whole scenes don't matter. Loads of them. You're paring down the story to its bare minimum - if it doesn't move the story forward, it goes. Nuance and subtlety are kept, but they work in different ways - they're the actor's job to communicate through your dialogue. It's on screen - you really don't want to listen to characters pontificating about the meaning of life. Oh no, you want stuff actually, you know, happening.

Now you'd think you'd have done that anyway, writing a well-rounded novel, no? But there's so much description, scenes setting up characters that can go when you have visual cues to play with. Then there are different ways of telling the story - I told more of Lynch's 'backstory' in the screenplay, showed some of the 'behind the scenes' stuff Olives infers but doesn't actually tell. A couple of scenes equals a whole load of shortcuts that mean lumps of book stuff can go. Because the visual medium is in many ways more powerful, different ways it has to be said. I'm not putting one above the other. But Olives the book is 260 pages of full text and the screenplay is 120 pages of tightly formatted, mostly dialogue, 12 point Courier - for a nice, standard two-hour film.

It was a real eye-opener, in some ways a chance to rewrite Olives as a faster, more urgent story than the realistic, leisurely novel I set out to write - in some ways a way of testing how you write and what you can, despite your conviction you've gone as far as you're comfortable, still tear out of the bodywork and engine and leave a functioning vehicle that's faster and lighter.

Strangely, When The Olives Weep fits neatly into Field's structure (he's been blamed with creating a formula so powerful that all Hollywood films are cookie cut from the same convention) with no tweaking. It establishes in the right places, kicks off in the right places and resolves in the right places - all out of the box, I hadn't intended it to fit so neatly. It's just that Olives does that anyway.  It's all a bit pacier than the book - and I can see how authors get upset at how Hollywood mangles their books. At least I did all my own mangling!

I now have not the faintest clue to do with the resulting work and it's sitting in a desk drawer until I work out what the hell you do with a screenplay. But it's a rollicking read, I can tell you that much!
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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Trams Are Coming! Switch Off Your Mobiles!

tram op paaszaterdag
 (Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers le Midi-Carême))
According to Emirates 24x7 today, you will have to switch off your mobile when in the proximate area of a tram when the new Al Sufouh tramline opens for business.

Why? How are they going to make that work? Will the new trams explode near a mobile signal? Or perhaps it might affect their navigation systems in some way.

It all sounds very odd. But then, that's Emirates 24x7 for you...
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Sunday, 9 March 2014

The LitFest That Was

I suppose someone, somewhere will be expecting me to have something to say about the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

It was nice.

Deon Meyer and Simon Kernick were great company (as were their lovely 'others') and we chatted outside the 'Green Room' for a good while before our session, which ended up more like a conversation than a moderated grilling, involving the audience throughout, which was a bit bouncy to manage but I was more than pleased with the end result - an intimate and very funny session with two seriously talented best selling thriller writers and me.

The session on Spies, Conspiracy Theories and Censorship was enjoyable for me, at least: I don't think we broke any new ground or established any guiding principles of freedom, but it was diverting stuff. I hadn't expected us to be asked to give an 'Arab style' intro of 8 minutes each on our take on the topic and ended up coming out strongly in favour of the Emiratis in the whole censorship debate, which must have surprised a few people but certainly delighted the chaps from the National Media Council.

And then we nipped off to Vista for a few Martinis. Very well done, as always, but I did think Dhs50 for a Martini was a tad steep. Maybe I'm just old and out of date.

They blew my invite to the author's Welcome Dinner so I missed that - and was too busy at the Martinis to go to the Farewell Dinner. I forgot to sign the canvas they traditionally put up for various creative types to scrawl on. I chatted to some people and spent some productive and enjoyable time with various literary types. I sold some books and even signed some. I met a couple of 'fans' which was glorious.

And that's that, really. Bof, as they say in France, bin.
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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Gerald Lynch Short Story In Time Out Dubai Shock Horror

Would I like to write a 1,000 word short story for Time Out Dubai as part of their Emirates Airline Festival of Literature coverage? Sure, no problem. The story idea was in my head as I pressed 'end call'. 1,000 words (and a lot of slicing and dicing) later it was done and shared with the shadowy and feared 'Grey Havens Gang' of globally based writers I hang out with, for their comments. And a bunch of my favourite beta readers pitched in. And some Tagalog speakers were recruited from Twitter (I love Twitter) to help with one small, but important piece of dialogue. It's more like flash fiction than a 'short' - just 1,000 words to play with means you have to make pretty much every word count. Edited, polished and angsted over, 1,000 words of prose was popped off to the PRs to share with the TOD team.

And then word came back. It's 'too racy' to run in the magazine because it contains references to sex and adultery. Have they READ my books? Anyway, by now the magazine was at deadline and I had an hour to deliver that thousand words so I resorted to an old friend. If, by any chance, you've been living in the International Space Station over the past three years, Gerald Lynch is the evil Northern Irish spy in Olives - A Violent Romance and a slightly less evil spy in Beirut - An Explosive Thriller and the positively benign spy with a heart of gold who's nice to small furry animals in Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy.

Of course he just tumbled off the keyboard into Dubai. And of course he didn't approve of the place one jot... The story's below, or you can go here to Time Out Dubai to read it. Or you can hand over Dhs9 to any newsagent or Spinneys and have your very own 'curl up on the sofa' hardcopy!

                                  Death In Dubai                                   

Gerald Lynch strode through the Park Hyatt’s cool Arabesque reception, ignoring the ‘good morning’ offered up by the doorman, the girl in the long beige kandoura, the receptionist and the dark-uniformed staffer who passed him in the glass corridor. Blue-eyed, his dark hair a widow’s peak, Lynch hefted his leather jacket over his shoulder, his other hand in the pocket of his jeans.

He caught the glint of a camera, a tiny dome of smoked glass nestled up in the corner and added it to his mental audit of the devices he’d already encountered in his short stay in Dubai.

Brian Channing was spread out on a sofa in the coffee shop. He had a silver tray in front of him bearing coffee in a porcelain cup and a decorative little selection of Lebanese sweets in paper wrappers. He had chosen Wealthy Tourist In White Linen, his artfully rumpled two-piece offset by a pastel blue shirt.

Channing waved Lynch to a chair. ‘Gerald. Good to see you. Must be years since you last saw this place. Changed a bit, has it? Isn’t this an exquisite little hotel?’

‘If you like this sort of thing.’ Lynch took no pains to mask his distaste. ‘What’s the big emergency, Brian? The embassy people made so much fuss trying to pick me up the barman ended up smacking one of them because he thought they were trying to kidnap me. Half of Hamra nearly got involved.’

‘I heard. Unfortunate, but then you’re supposed to carry your secure bloody mobile at all times. Even out on the lash in Beirut.’ Channing bit off a chunk of nut brittle and finished his coffee with a flourish. ‘Come on. Walkies.’

A waitress rushed to push open the double doors out into the patio overlooking Dubai’s creek. Little boats bobbed. On the opposite shore was parkland, cable cars swinging against the vast blue sky, a creekside ride. Channing shouldered his jacket and led the way down the warm stone steps towards the decking and sounds of rope slapping against masts. Only when they were standing in the marina did Channing halt. Leaning on the railing, he addressed the creek.

‘In the hotel behind us, at noon, a high-ranking Russian intelligence official called Sergei Anasenko is going to hand you the complete technical specification and blueprint of a new technology they have developed for jamming ultra-fast, frequency-hopping radio signals. If it works, clearly it has the potential to render every drone programme NATO has redundant.’

‘I don’t get it. Why me?’

‘He asked for you by name. We have been very careful indeed with our Sergei and gone to great lengths to establish he’s as pure as snow. He checks out at every level. But we’re damned if we can work out why he’s so in love with you, to be honest Gerald. I rather thought you might have an idea.’

‘None at all. Anasenko? He ever work the Middle East? Come to Beirut?’

‘Never. No connection with Dmitri or Jaan Kallas, no relationship with The General and no time served in the region. Desk boy, Moscow-bound all his life. More a politician than a field man, an espiocrat. Technology is his thing. Hardly your type, is he? Yet after two years’ work bringing him in, we get to the end game and, right at the last minute, he insists on a handover in Dubai and to Lynch and nothing but the Lynch, so help him God.’

‘So a handover in the most surveillance rich city in the world to a man he doesn’t know from Adam. That makes no sense whatsoever, Brian.’

Channing squinted and rooted in his pockets for a pair of Ray Bans, which he settled onto his fleshy nose. ‘You can ask him why yourself, you’re due to knock on the door of room 211 in,’ Channing peered at his watch, ‘one hour, twenty minutes.’

* * * 

Lynch waited for the door to open, playing with the key card in his pocket. He’d taken a room himself, ensuring his camera tracks were linked to the fake ID he’d flown in on. He also took the precaution of waiting a while after checking in then returning to a different receptionist and having his key card re-swiped, claiming it wasn’t working properly. ‘No problem, it happens,’ he told her. ‘Room 211.’

He knocked again and then used the key card. Pulling the door closed behind him, Lynch swore softly. Anasenko was lying on the floor in a bathrobe. There were signs of a struggle, a chair pushed over, a table lamp on the floor beside the sprawled body. Lynch crossed the room and pulled a paper tissue from the box on the desk. He knelt, feeling for a pulse, pushed back the curly brown hair from the corpse’s ear, checking the pale skin for any needle marks. The lamp was close to Anasenko’s right hand. Lynch noted the hand was still wet, the switch on the wall set on but the lamp off.

He pulled the robe up from each wrist, but the cause of death looked obvious. Lynch scanned the room. On the bed was a manila envelope. Lynch untucked the flap and slid the documents out. Blueprints, a slide-bound sheaf of papers. A memory key. He tucked the envelope into the small of his back and left the room without a backward glance.

* * * 

Channing was peevish. ‘Electrocuted himself? Balderdash. Don’t believe it. A waste of bloody time. With Anasenko dead, we can’t tell if this was supposed to land in our hands or if it was just a stupid accident.’

‘Forensics, surely—’

‘You really think we’re going to declare an interest in this to the Emiratis? Come on, Gerald. No, we’ll just have to proceed on the assumption this is all bunkum until proven otherwise by the analysts. You can go home, Gerald. Go back to your bar in Hamra and drown yourself. Take your mobile.’

For which small mercy Lynch was, at least, profoundly grateful.


Meanwhile, I spent this morning horrifying everyone over at The American School of Dubai. Only they refused to be horrified and were very lovely indeed. Even when I started hurling myself at the walls, speaking in tongues, throwing things at the kids and generally terrorising the class. I love the LitFest. Love it.

Don't forget Saturday's session on Spies, Conspiracy and Censorship! We're going for Martinis at Vista afterwards and you're more than welcome to join us!!!

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