World crime fiction #4

The retirement project to read one crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.


Needle in a Haystack, by Ernesto Mallo.

The plot: A policeman investigating how a body came to be dumped alongside the river Riachuelo becomes the target of an Army major who runs a military execution squad.

Where and when: the book is set in Buenos Aires during the Junta’s “war against subversives”. It was a time when thousands of people ‘disappeared’ because they opposed the military’s reign of terror.

The detectives: Superintendent ‘Perro’ (the Dog) Lascano. A widower, Lascano seems to be a man alone; an honest detective trying to do his job in a world of cops and judges who have been intimidated and corrupted by the dictatorship.

Sense of Place: The book is sprinkled with the names of Buenos Aires’ boulevards, monuments and grand buildings. Mallo (a former anti-Junta activist who was pursued by the dictatorship), however, is sparing with physical descriptions of the city. We are told the Riachuelo is a stinking, stagnant river; perhaps a metaphor for the whole city, a place of evil where things are breaking down literally and figuratively. I couldn’t form a mental picture of what the city looks like, but I got a strong sense of what it must feel like to live in a place where soldiers cruise the streets in their olive-green trucks and Falcon cars, dragging away people to be interrogated (and usually murdered) in secret locations around the city; and where the background sound of the city is the rattle of distant machine-guns. Perhaps tellingly, one descriptive passage focuses on the issue of ‘the disappeared.’ “A group of mothers-of-the-disappeared are congregated in Playa de Mayo, doing circuits around the pyramid-shaped monument, wearing white handkerchiefs on their heads.” The action, however, is very much conducted indoors, and inside the heads of the protagonists.

Worth reading? Yes, for an example of a good man swimming against the tide of evil. But don’t expect a neat and happy ending.


Retired Bloke Quote

“The danger to the country, to Europe, to her vast Empire, which is involved in having all these great interests entrusted to the shaking hand of an old, wild, and incomprehensible man of 82, is very great!”

Queen Victoria, 1819-1901, Queen of the United Kingdom from 1837

(On Gladstone’s last appointment as Prime Minister, in letter to Lord Lansdowne, 1892)

The Wine List #10

The retirement project to sample the product of every major grape variety listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.

Chenin Blanc

IMGP5027Tresors De Loire Cuvee 845, Anjou, Loire, France. 11.5% alc. vol.

Hugh Johnson says: “Wonderful white grape of the middle Loire. Wine dry or sweet but with plenty of acidity. Taken very seriously (alias Steen) in South Africa.”

What it says on the label: “Chenin Blanc’s roots are undoubtedly in the Loire Valley and can be traced back to the year 845. .. pays homage to those historical roots. With notes of citrus, pineapple and grapefruit on the nose, zesty and lightly honeyed on the palate.”

I say: This example isn’t so wonderful. It was sharp and tangy, but with no great structure or complexity. Not much fruit. It did get better as it lost the chill from the fridge, but it did not blow me away, and Jacqui didn’t finish her first glass.

Food combination: “This wine will complement Mediterranean food, hearty white meat, and sweet-and-sour dishes.” We drank it with a dish of roasted vegetables with chicken and chorizo, and finished it the next night with bowls of Jacqui’s chicken broth. The second tasting was nicer than the first, but I couldn’t say it was one of my favourites.

One for the wine rack? No.

It’s not about the wine: Henry “Curtmantle”, count of Anjou (present-day department of Maine-et-Loire) inherited the kingdom of England in 1154, becoming Henry II. The resulting Angevin empire would, at its peak, spread from Ulster to the Pyrenees.

Retired Bloke and the Supermoon

BACK in the swimming pool this morning. An impressive 18 minutes 50 seconds for the regular 800 metres front crawl. That’s 40 seconds faster than Friday. I’m expecting a call from the Retired Blokes Swimming Club’s doping committee at any moment.

I shall have to confess to taking a stimulant – two glasses of Chenin Blanc with The Current Mrs Feeney’s roasted vegetables with chicken and chorizo last night.

Mrs F being of the school of thought that when you cook, you cook for the unexpected, such as six hungry strangers turning up on the threshold, I’ll be repeating the dose with what remains of Mrs F’s r.v. with c. and c. tonight.

After our swim, the members of the RBSC gather in the showers to discuss the hot topics of the day. John The Boarder, so-called on account of him having gone to one of those posh, fee-paying schools where they deprive you of your childhood (“Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy” – William Wordsworth unless I’m very much mistaken) and relieve your parents of a sizeable amount of folding money for the privilege. Nice work, if you can get it.

I digress. I meant to say that J The B made the startling assertion that Scotland are the current world champions at Elephant Polo. I could tell there was scepticism among the assembled, but none of us felt sufficiently informed about such an esoteric pastime to suggest he was talking out of his soap-filled ear.

Though Geoff did venture to suggest there were surprisingly few elephants roaming the Scottish highlands.

Chat moved on, as it is wont to do, to last night’s supermoon eclipse. Nobody had managed to stay awake to see the full orange spectacular. J The B got as far as an interesting shade of lemon, but none of us thought that really counted.

I wondered why the moon had appeared so much larger than usual. J The B said it was to do with radius and area. Increase the radius of a thing by so much, and you increase the area of same thing by so much times two. Pi R Squared explained all, he said.

Geometry never having revealed its coy charms to me as a boy (algebra ditto) I restricted my response to a sage nod or two and continued with the shampoo and conditioner.

Experience has taught me that no good comes of debating with the product of an expensively acquired education. It’s not the knowledge imparted in same; it’s the confident assertion that It Is So.

Sometimes, I think that’s all somebody would need to run a country.

The Wine List #9

The retirement project to sample the product of every major grape variety listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.

Tempranillo (with Grenacha)

IMGP5019Faustino Rivero Ulecia Crianza 2011, Rioja, Spain. 13% Alc. Vol.

Hugh Johnson says: “Aromatic, fine Rioja grape. Now Australia, too. V. fashionable; elegant in cool climates, beefy in warm.”

What it says on the label: “Smooth, fruity and elegant with hints of fine oak. A well-balanced velvety structure lingering on the finish.”

I say: There’s nothing outlandish about any of that. It sums up most Rioja I’ve drunk – and being from Swansea, I’ve drunk my share. A local chef once got himself into hot water by indiscreetly telling a magazine interviewer that Swansea was “Riojaville” because its unsophisticated diners tended to order Rioja with everything.

Food combination: “Great with lamb, beef and strong flavoured cheeses.” We started the bottle with a lamb and apricot tagine; the wine complemented it very well. The next night we drank the rest of the bottle with fried steak, when I thought it was a bit too ‘elegant’. But the last glass, just on its own, was very enjoyable.

One for the wine rack? Need you ask? I am a ‘Swansea Jack,’ after all.

It’s not about the wine: The town of Haro in north western La Rioja province holds an annual Batalla de Vino wine fight.

Fancy A Pint? #10

The retirement project to sample a pint of beer or cider brewed or fermented in each county in the United Kingdom.

IMGP5021County: Rhondda Cynon Taff

What is it called? Otley 09 Blonde

Who made it? Otley Brewing Company Limited, Pontypridd.

What is it? A pale ale.

Alc Vol: 4.8%

What it says on the label: “Beer evolution is the mantra at Otley – a synergy of passion, innovation and fresh attitude that results in non-conformist, progressive brews for independently-minded free thinkers and drinkers.”

I say: It’s not every day you read a beer bottle blurb with references to Protestant Christians and atheists. The list of ingredients reinforces the claims to a non-traditional approach; as well as the usual (malted barley, hops, yeast, wheat) it includes orange peel, coriander and cloves.

Food combination: none suggested on the bottle. We drank it with salmon on pad thai noodles, which should be non-traditional enough.

Fancy another? Yes. An unusual and very refreshing pint.

It’s not about the beer: The Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) was composed in Pontypridd by local poets/musicians Evan and James Jones.