Child Heist by Richard Stark

Westlake_Jimmy_the_Kid_UK-400x618When the guard came to open the cell door, Parker said to the big man named Krauss, “Come see me next week when you get out. I think I’ll have something on.” [Child Heist, Richard Stark]

Richard Stark wrote 24 novels about a tough and remorseless American criminal called Parker. Child Heist isn’t one of them.

The first Parker novel hit the shelves in 1962 and opens with our anti-hero striding angrily across the George Washington bridge into Manhattan. The mob has taken his money and the veteran stick-up man wants it back. Parker’s last appearance was 2008’s Dirty Money. He’s in Massachusetts, lady friend at his side, hunting down the cash from a botched robbery that nearly put him in jail.

In between are armoured car heists, double-crosses, bank jobs, casino robberies, payroll snatches, and an attempt to rob an entire town. They’re good reads if you don’t mind rooting for the bad guy.

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The King of France Invades His Own Country, 1944

Henri_VI_,_comte_de_ParisIn early November 1944 French soldiers got into a firefight somewhere near Toulouse. They rounded up a gang of armed men. One of them, apparently the leader, had been hit in the shoulder. The French soldiers suspected the men had come over the border from Spain.

There was a lot of traffic through the mountains: Nazis on the run, escaping collaborators, smugglers, members of far-right Maquis Blanc bands trying to reconquer France for the Germans. The soldiers dragged their prisoners up to the nearest provisional government outpost and let the politicians sort it out.

The wounded man had slicked-back hair and a thin moustache. He spoke elegant French. The interrogators soon discovered he was Henri, Comte de Paris and heir presumptive to the throne. Royalists regarded him as the King of France.

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Louis-Ferdinand Céline Romances Mata Hari in London

Celine 1915Louis-Ferdinand Céline is one of France’s most controversial writers. He took both literature and politics to the extremes.

His novels are corrosively cynical, rage-fuelled attacks on modern life that portray humanity as selfish, violent, lustful beasts who commit horrible crimes for trivial reasons. Céline himself wasn’t much better.

“When the grave lies open before us, let’s not try to be witty,” he said. “But on the other hand, let’s not forget, but make it our business to record the worst of human viciousness we’ve seen without changing one word. When that’s done, we can curl up our toes and sink into the pit.”  [Why Henry Miller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline Deserve Success as well as Scandal, The Guardian]

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Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

SydIn the autumn of 1967 Syd Barrett was falling apart. Too much LSD, a pre-existing mental illness, and the pressures of being in a chart-topping band had mashed up his psyche. He wrote unplayable songs, missed gigs, and stood there playing one chord all night when he did turn up. Even worse, from his band mates’ point of view, Syd didn’t seem to understand he was sick.

Pink Floyd were a big band. They had underground credibility from their druggy, voyaging live performances and mainstream popularity thanks to Barrett hit singles like Arnold Layne. Now all that was in danger of slipping away.

In December 1967 the band hired their guitarist friend Dave Gilmour for live performances. They had the idea that Barrett could stay home like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and compose.

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Welcome to the Scriptatron 5000

AIHere’s the future. A programme which can write endless variations of any article in any possible style. Feed in the information. Click the button. A few seconds later you’ll have 300 variations of the same piece.

Need something about a terror attack in Ankara? Turn on Scriptatron 5000 and get a straight objective news piece, an angry opinion piece that blames American foreign policy, a snarky piece about how this will lead to holiday bargains, various conspiracy theory pieces, a straight news piece with a old school left twist, a straight news piece with a middle-class left twist, a straight news piece with a paleoconservative twist, a piece about someone’s reactions after reading one of the straight news pieces, a how-this-fits-into-history piece, a piece made up of photographs with a few lines of text, a wall of text with a few photographs. Etc. Et cetera.

All done by the Scriptatron 5000 in seconds.

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Just the Worst Book Ever, Literally

zhxjonesAndre Marceau is an industrialist with a special hatred of midgets. He ends up strangled in the middle of an otherwise immaculate croquet lawn, a halo of baby-sized footprints around the body. He chokes out some last words.

“The Babe from Hell!”

And dies. Inspector X. Jones of Scotland Yard decides the killer must be a strangler baby with the ability to fly. Perhaps in some kind of experimental aircraft.

Welcome to Harry Stephen Keeler’s 1936 novel X. Jones of Scotland Yard. It’s terrible.

The majority opinion is that Keeler wrote some of the worst mystery thrillers ever. A stubborn minority insist his books are so-bad-they’re-good and occasionally cross into full blown art.

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In Search of Dominique Borella

Borella1The soldier in the photograph was blond as a wheat field. He had a bandage wrapped around his face and an AK-47 in his hand.

“Dominique Borella, photographié sur la rive-est du Mékong au moment de l’offensive ‘rouge’ du 3 février 1975. Bléssé depuis plusieurs jours par éclats de grenades à la jambe gauche, il vient alors d’être touché au visage …”

Dominique Borella, photographed on the east bank of the Mekong during the 3 February 1975 ‘Red’ offensive. Injured in the left leg by grenade shrapnel a few days earlier, he has just been hit in the face … .

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