3.5★ “‘Don’t you want to know what happened? she asks.
‘Of course, he says. ‘But I’m not sure how you can help.’
She takes a breath. This is the first t3.5★ “‘Don’t you want to know what happened? she asks.
‘Of course, he says. ‘But I’m not sure how you can help.’
She takes a breath. This is the first times she’s told anyone, trusted anyone.”
There are a lot of first times for trust in this complex story and almost as many times when that trust has been misplaced, particularly for Mandy, who is about to open up to Martin about her past.
We know she’s had what might politely be called a colourful youth, but we (and Martin) have never been privy to a lot of the details. As it turns out, people from her past who have been haunting her are connected to the recent murder of someone in Martin’s life.
The book opens on the beach below their home in Port Silver with Martin playing on the beach with toddler, Liam, Mandy’s son. Martin has been ignoring his phone, but when he finally checks his messages, he hears a horrifying scream from Mandy.
Between these cliffside houses and the beach is a long series of stairs from top to bottom, or in Martin’s frantic state, from bottom to top. By the time he gets up there, hauling Liam, of course, Mandy is gone, kidnapped, taken to Sydney, and there’s a body on the floor.
Mandy is in Sydney, and that’s where the action takes place (after Martin parks Liam with loving rellies and deals with the authorities about the body). He has also had a call from his old Sydney Morning Herald editor and mentor asking him to meet with him urgently about a great scoop he wants Martin to handle. So it’s back to the Big Smoke.
He has been a foreign correspondent (as has the author), so it’s interesting to see his flat, his pad, and some of the ‘trophies’ he’s collected.
“... a carving of Christ, from deep in the Amazon, a declaration of rebellion from the Arab Spring, a bullet-holed road sign from Africa. ... He’d once been proud of them, impressed by his own achievements, curating an exhibition in his own honour, but now they seemed try-hard and sad. Who else decorates walls of their living room with work-related memorabilia? Dentists with X-rays of recalcitrant mandibles? Accountants with challenging spreadsheets? Politicians with high-denomination brown paper bags? ... The Museum of Martin ...”
I suspect the author may speak from personal experience. But who doesn’t like to be reminded of the old adage, “The older I get, the better I used to be”?
The cast of characters grows, with so many people apparently not who Mandy or Martin thought they were. Journalists, judges, reporters, cops, investigators, friends, colleagues. They didn’t know who was trustworthy, and they occasionally had doubts about each other. Not surprising, considering the secrets Mandy reveals.
Turns out, she was engaged to someone before. Turns out ‘he’might have been a crook, might not, might have been an investigator, might not, might . . . it’s a story full of ‘what-ifs’and ‘why-didn’t-I-know-betters’ and all those soul-seeking questions that we ask in hindsight.
I think what I actually like best was the Sydney of Martin’s cadetship that he describes. I lived near Kings Cross in the late 60s and used to wait with friends for the truck to come to deliver the Saturday Morning Herald, an enormous paper, that had all the most recent classified ads for jobs and places to rent. You had to be quick to get the plum offerings!
“Of how after an evening of drinking and carousing they’d stagger up to Taylor Square at midnight to buy the papers fresh off the truck. The big, fat Saturday papers, still warm from the presses. Still smelling of printer’s ink, like fresh-baked bread to the young tribe of reporters, leavened by classified ads and supplements. And waking the next day to find the paper there to greet him, among the cigarette butts and empty bottles and the hangovers, left open at the page where he’d found his newly-minted byline.”
I remember those warm bundles and elbowing each other to grab a copy. (I didn't know anyone with a byline thought!)
I listened to the audio, because that’s what was handy, but I think I should have waited for a print version. There were too many people to keep track of, and it’s too hard to skip back to check the who’s who when a character pops up again later in the story.
Dorje Swallow is a good narrator with a pleasant voice and manner. There were times that I wasn’t sure who was speaking, although that can happen in printed material as well. If I have to wind back in the audio or flip pages back and start counting who the alternating voices are, I lose my place inside the story and move outside. Not satisfactory.
So for that reason, that the complexity made it hard for me to keep track of people (and I stress “me”), I am downgrading my overall rating. Others have loved this, and I do like Hammer’s writing, so I’ll be looking for more. ...more
3.5★ “Most people don’t drink gin in the morning. But old men, dressed impeccably, sitting together on plush sofas and chairs, can certainly drink gin 3.5★ “Most people don’t drink gin in the morning. But old men, dressed impeccably, sitting together on plush sofas and chairs, can certainly drink gin in the morning.”
THE GIN CLUB is one of the fourteen stories in this enjoyable collection of short stories, a number of which have been published elsewhere. This particular story is about a group of old Spaniards who meet every Monday morning to sit in their particular spot in the club and drink whatever they like, as long as it contains gin.
The author gives a bit of back story on each of the men and how they happened to arrive at this point in their lives. Not a lot – just enough to get a feel for them. Part of the appeal of this story for me is that I know of an informal coffee group in Wyoming where the old cowboys used to meet up every (?) morning to drink coffee and talk about whatever old cowboys talk about.
We tend to think of men drinking at the other end of the day, so it was interesting to think of these old fellows starting their day with gin. They all reminisced about the people they had loved and lost, except for one man who had steadfastly held on to his bachelorhood and remained unattached to anyone. He has had the girlfriends, and he explain his position to his latest lady.
“‘Each Monday, as you know, I meet my friends at The Gin Club. We have known each other for many years, and it is my favorite day of the week. We never talk about anything painful or serious. The conversation is purposefully light, and we might discuss ‘fútbol or travel or gin or our favorite movies or the best flamenco guitarists. Of course, we reminisce about some of the times we shared in the past. We sit and laugh and tell lies like all old men, about the good old days when we were young men, capable of doing the things that young men do. But the weight is always there, down deep, and I can feel it each time we meet, almost as if it is gaining ground.’
‘The weight?’ said Anne. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The weight of their experiences. The richness. The weight of life’s loves and life’s losses. As I said, we have an unspoken rule never to talk about these things, and they wouldn’t dare. But they don’t have to talk about them in public in order for the weight to be felt. We aren’t the poker players we once were, and the spectacular pressure builds each week.’”
So the fellows turn to him for their light relief, you might say, his tales of romantic conquests and adventure. His is the story we follow a bit further as he begins to consider his choices.
All of these stories are based in Spain and Portugal, some told in the third person, as the one above, and some in the first person, by a father traveling with his family or living somewhere as an ex-pat American.
I liked THE JEWELER, about a mother and daughter who go on an outing to a shop to try on bracelets. The mother dresses them both up and takes her daughter to lunch where they behave with extremely proper manners.
“It was entirely different than the manner in which they led the rest of their lives, and it was almost as if they were setting out on a great adventure, away from the mundane quality of their daily lives, just the two of them, mother and daughter, inhabiting personas that didn’t really belong to them but were on loan for the day.”
At the end of the story, we see them many years later, in a similar shop, where the mother has dementia but still likes to try on bracelets. Lovely story.
The writing varies. Some of it flows smoothly and some sounds to me as if I’m reading a translation. I’m not sure why, but perhaps because some sentences are short or seem a little unnatural. I really liked the stories and kept wishing there had been one more good editor who had taken a crack at them to tighten up a few places or make suggestions.
There is so much in them, that it wouldn’t take a lot to bring these stories up to a higher standard, which is easy for me to say, since they aren’t mine! I did enjoy them all and thank BookSirens for the copy for review and the author for creating some memorable characters. ...more