Adwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.
The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.
A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight. Here’s a selection from my book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com].
In earlier posts we looked at foreign volunteers who found their way into the separatist militias of Eastern Ukraine. Most popular was a five-part interview with a well-informed Serbian contact who took us on a deep dive into the activities of his fellow countrymen.
He got back in touch recently with information about a extremist French organisation that supplied volunteers to the separatists for its own political ends. Some were hardened soldiers, others green recruits.
There’s a Serbian connection and a lot of infighting, so buckle up for backstabbing and paranoia in the ranks of Unité Continentale. As always, my interviewee’s opinions are his own. If you have any information about the situation in Novorossiya then please get in touch.
The house at rue Defacqz 71 is thin as a bread stick and pretty as that girl you used to love. Planted four storeys high on a wide side street branching off Brussels’ prestigious avenue Louise, it has a red brick frontage and decorative graphic panels by Adolphe Crespin.
This tall drink of art nouveau was designed by famed Belgian architect Paul Hankar back in 1893 and served as his private home until he passed through the veil of death at the turn of the twentieth century. These days number 71 looks shabbier than in its prime, but is still a fine example of what a Belgian architect can do with money and imagination to spare.
In the morning of 1 September 1944 the locals found two Russian men dead on the pavement outside. They’d been shot with a submachine gun. We’re still not sure who killed them.
I‘ve had a few requests for advice on which of the nearly 100 posts on this blog to read first. So here, in no particular order, are six stories which remain memorable for one reason or another.
The Almighty Gaylords of Chicago is by far the most popular piece I’ve written on the blog. This brief summary of a white Chicago street gang was prompted by running across its unusual name on some website and digging deeper. It’s subsequently garnered a whole lot of views and spawned two sequels. I don’t think many who come here to read it go on to buy my books or look at posts about Raymond Chandler, but I’m glad of their company.
Neuromancer is the foundation stone of cyberpunk. William Gibson’s novel came out in 1984 before the genre even had a name, and won a lot of awards. The judges could tell this neo-noir about hackers in cyberspace was something special.
Gibson had been working in this direction for a while, finally perfecting the prototype with his 1982 story Burning Chrome. Contracted for a novel, he lashed his cyberpunk world to a heist plot. Neuromancer’s protagonist is the burnt out hacker Case, hustling through the nightlife of Japan in a suicidal spiral until a girl called Molly with mirror shades and blades in her fingers scoops him up for her ex-military boss.
They want him to take on some top level defences in cyberspace. The rest of the team is assembled, the heist set up, and then everything goes wrong when the team breaks into a rambling family mansion up in an orbital Las Vegas and the real mastermind behind it all is revealed.
It’s done. The manuscript of Soldiers of a Different God[or amazon.com] went off to the publisher this weekend. Should be in print around autumn 2018. I’ll keep you posted.
This thing nearly killed me but I finally got it on the page. The untold story of how an unlikely anti-Islamic alliance of gay activists, feminists, fascists, evangelical Christians, populist politicians, and surfing rabbis from California fuelled the rise of the hard right across Europe and gave us President Donald J Trump.
Right now there’s champagne to be drunk and a 1,000 yard stare to shake off. While I work on that, here’s a deep dive into what the book’s about. Salut!
Groovy baby. The swinging sixties meant nothing to most people in Britain. They had jobs and mortgages and marriages and kids and gas bills. Only a select few got to hang out with dope smoking aristocrats in Chelsea or peacock around town in an outfit from Granny Takes a Trip. The class barriers may have come down for a few talented working-class photographers and musicians but they remained firmly in place for everyone else.
The closest the great British public got to joining the psychedelic generation was through the vicarious second-hand thrill of popular entertainment. The Beatles and Rolling Stones sold the sixties dream on vinyl, and movies like What’s New Pussycat? pushed the big screen version. In 1967 the written word got in on the act. Adverts were all over the Sunday supplements and double-decker buses for a new face in town. He had a blond Brian Jones-style cut and fashionable neo-Victorian clothes.
‘You Don’t Listen to Adam Diment,’ said the slogan. ‘You Read Him.’
He was the first psychedelic spy novelist. And he burnt out quick.