Thrills, chills aplenty this summer

Katherine Howell, former paramedic turned award-winning creator of Ella Marconi. Photo: Marco Del GrandeSunscreen, fly repellent and a good crime novel are all essential requirements for a holiday at the coast or for just lazing around the backyard. Every summer there is a flood of light, criminal fiction and this year is no different with plenty of action, suspense and mystery on offer. This summer it is particularly pleasing to see a strong contingent of Australian crime novels.
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Leading the way is Peter Corris’ 39th novel about Sydney private eye Cliff Hardy, Silent Kill (Allen & Unwin, $29.99). Hardy is hired to bodyguard a charismatic populist, Rory O’Hara, on a tour of regional Australia, but things quickly fall apart following a kidnapping and murder. Hired to investigate the murder, Hardy finds that there are powerful political and commercial forces that want O’Hara kept quiet for good. This is a professional and entertaining story that quickly gathers interest as Corris takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through the backstreets of Sydney and on a road trip to Wollongong and Darwin and eventually to Canberra, which gets a quick serve from Hardy: ”I wouldn’t say Canberra’s an advertisement for creativity and productivity.” The pacing is brisk and Corris smoothly mixes astute political observations with genuine thrills. The story is engaging and the book builds to a taut, exciting climax. One of the best in this long-running series.

The pacing is more subdued in Stephen Orr’s dark, literary crime novel One Boy Missing (Text, $29.99). Set in a small rural town it is an eloquently written story about a missing child, dark crimes and the chance of redemption. Powerful and thought-provoking.

Lighter reading fare is provided by Kathryn Ledson’s Monkey Business (Penguin, $29.99). This is the second in Ledson’s series about part-time Melbourne vigilante Erica Jewell and once more features a fast moving plot, engaging characters and a large dollop of romantic suspense. Easy reading for the beach or pool.

Later in the summer, readers can also look forward to the latest book by Katherine Howell in her series about Sydney Detective Ella Marconi, Deserving Death (Macmillan, $29.99), and Tony Cavanagh’s third novel, The Train Rider (Hachette, $29.99), about ex-homicide detective Darian Richards, who is once more chasing serial killers in Queensland.

Serial killers also dominate the summer reading from overseas. Patricia Cornwell provides yet another blood-soaked tale featuring Kay Scarpetta, Dust (Little Brown, $39.99), in which the chief medical adviser hunts a brutal killer against the backdrop of designer drugs and high level corruption.

Newcomer James Carol makes a solid entry into the serial killer stakes with his first novel, Broken Dolls (Faber, $19.99). The son of an infamous serial killer, former FBI profiler Jefferson Winter now works as a consultant to police forces around the world. Hired by Scotland Yard, he finds himself in London chasing a psychopath who likes abducting and lobotomising young women. A grisly read.

Brian McGilloway also takes the reader down some dark paths with Hurt (Corsair, $29.99). Set in the darkly realised Irish town of Derry, it follows the police investigation into the murder of a teenage girl and a possible paedophile ring. Packed with convincing characters and grittily described locations, it is a tense and suspenseful chiller that confirms McGilloway’s status as one of the best new British crime writers.

Admirers of good British crime fiction can look forward to the imminent release of Peter May’s Entry Island, (Quercus, $29.99). Following the success of his recent trilogy set on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, May moves the action in his latest book to the small and remote Entry Island in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada. A murder seems to have its origins in the dark history of the island and the forced clearances of the Scottish Outer Hebrides 200 years ago. Well written with vivid descriptions and a strong sense of history, this is superior crime fiction.

For those who prefer dark, suburban thrillers with unreliable narrators and old secrets, there are good examples from both sides of the Atlantic. During the past seven years, or so, Lisa Unger has steadily established herself as a rising star of the American thriller scene and In The Blood, (Simon & Schuster, $29.99) is probably her best novel to date. Lana Granger is trying to escape her past in a quiet college town in upstate New York. When a fellow student goes missing, Lana finds her past and her relationship with a troubled young boy under close examination as her careful web of lies unravels. This is a clever and tricky thriller that reveals its many surprises with clockwork precision. The story moves at a good pace and the suspense steadily but quickly mounts. Some matters are predictable, but the final twists will catch you out. Highly recommended.

Also quite good is Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met, (Bloomsbury, $27.99), due out this month. This domestic gothic thriller traverses similar territory to recent releases by Sophie Hannah and Sabine Durrant. After a whirlwind romance Hannah Reilly is settled in London with her wealthy new husband Mark. It seems perfect until Mark does not return from a business trip to America. Hannah makes a few simple inquiries and … he’s been lying. The more she digs the greater the deception appears and soon Hannah begins to fear for her life.

Whitehouse is good at gradually building the suspense and adding twist upon twist. The pace meanders at times, but overall this a solid psychological thriller with an engaging, if unstable, narrator.

There is also the customary selection of bulky thrillers about tough secret agents, grand conspiracies and international skulduggery.

Robert Ludlum contributes his usual fast-paced feast of action from beyond the grave, The Bourne Retribution (Orion, $32.99), with Eric Van Lustbader completing another entry in the Jason Bourne series for the long-deceased Ludlum.

Dean Crawford provides wild action with a science fiction tinge in The Eternity Project, (Simon & Schuster, $24.99), but the pick of the thrillers is John Lawton’s Then We Take Berlin, (Grove Press, $29.99). Moving seamlessly back and forth between 1963 and the 1940s, the story focuses on former MI6 agent and black market ring leader in occupied Berlin, John Holderness. Retired from the service and his thieving days, Holderness is enticed back into work by an old colleague who wants him to do one last scam and smuggle someone across the Berlin Wall on the eve of President Kennedy’s visit to the city.

This meticulously researched and richly detailed historical thriller is a gripping story of espionage and war and people caught up in the unfolding of dramatic events. As with his series about Inspector Troy, Lawton marvellously captures the atmosphere of the post-World War II period and the story rattles along at a good pace keeping the reader entertained from beginning to end.

Finally, for those who enjoy quirky crime novels there is Shane Kuhn’s appealingly titled Kill Your Boss, (Sphere, $29.99). John Lago works for Human Resources, Inc, a company which specialises in providing assassins disguised as interns. These rogue interns are infiltrated into companies where they get close to the selected target and kill them. As Lago notes early on: ”Interns are invisible. Ultimately, your target will trust you with his life and that is when you will take it.” At 25, Lago is becoming too old to be an intern and is about to perform his last job for the company, but he suspects that he will not be allowed to retire peacefully and sets out to ensure his survival.

Kill Your Boss is a highly entertaining thriller that mixes graphic violence and action with amusing asides and some very dark humour. The plot frequently veers out of control, and the cartoon nature of the violence could have been usefully toned down, but overall it is a memorable and thrilling tale. In all, enough good reading to last through the summer holidays.

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Young a challenge for carmakers, says Mazda boss

Young people are said to be falling out of love with cars.The global boss of Mazda has conceded young people are falling out of love with the car, presenting vehicle makers with their most difficult challenge for future relevance.
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What was once a rite of passage and a symbol of personal identity has seemingly become a hassle for younger generations. In industrialised countries around the world, including Australia, car ownership and licence possession among the young is falling.

In an interview with Fairfax Media this week, visiting Mazda global president Masamichi Kogai said younger people’s growing indifference about car ownership had become a serious challenge for vehicle makers.

“I have to admit that, in Japan in particular, young people don’t buy cars anymore,” Mr Kogai said through an interpreter.

“In the Japanese market, demand has been declining for many years so for the brands in Japan it has become a real dogfight to get sales from the other brands … unless you can develop and build products that young people really want, you’re never going to succeed.”

A University of Michigan study found the number of carless households in America grew from 8.7 per cent in 2007 to 9.2 per cent in 2012. By comparison, Australia’s love affair with the car remains steady. Last year, Australians bought a record 1.136 million new vehicles.

But a 2010 NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics study showed people under 35 were far less likely to hold a licence compared with previous eras.

Two decades ago, 79 per cent of the state’s 20- to 24-year-olds had their full licence. That fell to 51 per cent by 2009. In the same period, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds with a full licence dropped by 20 per cent.

Glen Fuller, an associate professor at the University of Canberra, said the car had lost its relevance with a significant number of young Australians as the internet and other technology increased communication.

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Limbang rebellion book review: Vivid account of jungle assault

LIMBANG REBELLION: 7 DAYS IN DECEMBER 1962Eileen ChaninNewSouth, 249pp, $34.99  
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The “sketch map” of Limbang in the opening section of this book evokes a long-vanished world made famous by Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. Isolated in the Borneo jungle, on a bend in the Limbang River, lies a small British colonial outpost, with its police station, hospital, district office, DO’s house, mosque and Chinese shop-houses.

The map depicts Limbang as it was in December, 1962. This was a pivotal year in South-East Asia. The United States, having shunned military commitment in Laos, was stepping up its involvement in South Vietnam. The British, on the other hand, were pulling out of the region as fast as was decently possible. As they prepared to wind down their commitment East of Suez, the British were promoting the idea of a new federation, to be called Malaysia.

This would bring together five territories: peninsular Malaya, which had been independent since 1957; Singapore, a self-governing entity and one of the world’s richest and busiest ports, and Britain’s three north Borneo dependencies – Sarawak, Brunei and British North Borneo (Sabah).

The prime minister of Malaya, the courtly, Cambridge-educated Tunku Abdul Rahman, liked the idea of Malaysia. There was considerable opposition to the plan, however, in other potential member states, not least in the Sultanate of Brunei, the shrivelled remnant of a once-great Malay Muslim trading state.

There, after decades of somnolence, political and social pressures were building to dangerous levels. Those pressures, which included a heady dose of Bruneian chauvinism and irredentism, would soon erupt in a sudden burst of violence.

A. M. Azahari, a charismatic Brunei politician who had spent his formative years in Indonesia, wanted no part of Malaysia. He was electrifying his followers in the Partai Ra’ayat (People’s Party), which had swept all before it in the 1962 polls, with a call for a restored Greater Brunei.

Azahari wanted a federation of the three Borneo states headed by the Sultan of Brunei as a constitutional monarch. The Sultan was sitting on the fence. Thwarted by the British, Azahari set up a clandestine armed wing, the North Borneo National Army, or TNKU, allegedly with help from Indonesia.

At 2am on December 8, 1962, Azahari’s men attacked police posts and other targets across Brunei, including Brunei Town (now Bandar Seri Begawan), the tiny capital. They also seized Limbang, which is in Sarawak, 19 kilometres upriver from the Brunei capital.

The British Resident in Limbang was Richard (Dick) Morris, an Australian. He and his wife Dorothy were taken hostage by about 350-400 agitated, angry men.

The British quickly recaptured Brunei Town: Gurkhas were flown in from Singapore the same day. But Limbang was to remain in rebel hands for five days. The hostages were only freed on December 12 when an 89-strong company of Royal Marines assaulted Limbang from the river, killing 15 rebels, losing five dead themselves and putting the insurgents to flight.

This book, written by Dick Morris’s daughter-in-law, paints a compelling picture of the fortitude, the stoicism, the sense of duty, the stiff-upper-lip good humour shown by Dick and Dorothy Morris in a time of tension and danger.

It also gives an engrossing account of the bold commando assault on Limbang. Chanin’s account of the improvised attack, the Marines travelling by night in two commandeered barges, will delight any military buff.

She has a great deal of material taken from interviews, memoirs, journal articles, unit war diaries, official reports, colonial-era newspapers, Dick Morris’s papers and Dorothy Morris’s engaging letters (the book is, in part, a reverential family history). This allows her to bring the story vividly to life.

The problem is that these voices are almost all British or Australian. There are no Brunei Malay or Kedayan opposition voices, save for Azahari’s public comments at the time.There is virtually nothing first-hand from the “other side”.

Another problem is that Chanin rather over-eggs the Limbang cake. Brunei, not Limbang, was always the centre of the action. Limbang was a sideshow, albeit a bloody one.

The Brunei Revolt had important consequences. Indonesia, struck by the degree of anti-Malaysia feeling in Brunei, then tried to stir up a revolt among left-leaning Chinese in Sarawak, hoping to convince the world the people of North Borneo were opposed to Malaysia.

That led in turn to Konfrontasi, a three-year (1963-66) conflict in which Indonesia sent soldiers, saboteurs and terrorists into Sarawak and Sabah, Malaya and Singapore. In response, Britain and Australia deployed troops up to 10 kilometres inside Indonesian Borneo. There, in jungle ambushes, they sometimes killed as many as 10-15 Indonesian soldiers at a time.

The Indonesians knew we were doing it. They did not complain, presumably because we were doing no more than they were doing themselves.

Unlike President Yudhoyono, president Sukarno did not withdraw his ambassador in Canberra when things did not go his way.

David Jenkins, a former Herald foreign editor, is writing a book about former president Suharto.

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A life well-lived on the B-list

Australian actor and author Trader Faulkner with Tom Bell and Susannah York in a scene from Promenade.INSIDE TRADER. By Trader Faulkner. Scribe. 354pp. $35.
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The title was inevitable of course. After auditioning successfully in 1950 for The Lady’s Not for Burning, the young aspirant was asked his name by director John Gielgud. Told ”Ronald Faulkner”, Gielgud replied, ”Ronald! Oh, God! What a dreary name!” and was elated to learn Faulkner’s ”down-under” nickname was Trader.

His autobiography puns on the idea of what goes on inside the author and the kinds of inside information we get about the great and the – well, not necessarily – good.

It’s hard to be sure how many people, in his native Australia at least, will remember who he is. Not that this need matter too much if the story he has to tell is an entertaining one, as he makes his way from a somewhat messy Sydney childhood to the periphery of the great world of international acting media.

He is probably best described as a jobbing actor. He never really came near the top on stage or screen but blessed, as he modestly puts it, with ”good looks and natural charm”, he managed to stay in work fairly steadily (give or take a stint at house-painting) over a surprisingly long time. Theatre was his chief goal from his time with the Independent Theatre in Sydney, under the directorial hand of legendary Doris Fitton, when the call of nature – the bladder to be exact – interfered with his scene as the messenger in Hamlet.

Luck seemed to be heading his way when he replaced Richard Burton in The Lady’s Not for Burning when it went to Broadway, but this glitter was soon dulled back in England.

He landed a couple of insignificant movie roles, one of them indeed with Merle Oberon, whom he dares to describe as ”aloof” when years later she doesn’t remember him at a dinner party given by Larry and Viv (that’s the Oliviers).

Fortunately he’d learnt how to do a posh English accent and radio work kept him solvent. The 1955 season at Stratford, which first brought him in touch with the Oliviers, taught him ”the theatre’s greatest lesson: if you want to succeed, keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told”, but it didn’t bring very rewarding roles.

Yet it is interesting enough to read about an actor who, without ever establishing a recognisable presence across the acting forums, still managed to have a career.

The book’s tone is essentially anecdotal and gossipy. It has a cast-list that seems almost too starry for the lightweight narrative that is the story of Faulkner’s life: not just those named already but also Paul Scofield, Judith Anderson, Diane Cilento – and Marlene Dietrich.

Nearly everyone becomes, and is described as, a ”close friend”.

So there is almost the relief of contrast when he falls out with producer Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford. Or with Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray when he invites them to dinner on his London houseboat, forgets and goes out, and they are quite displeased, as you would be, having driven from Stratford for the occasion.

He may well now be best remembered for his biography of Peter Finch, whom he had known in Sydney in the 1940s. He had joined acting classes with Finch who ”widened my artistic horizon, and became a mentor and an elder brother figure”.

I’m not sure that the gifted but not wholly reliable Finch was the best role model for a young man just embarking on life’s journey, but Faulkner repaid his early debts by writing a substantial account of his mentor’s rackety life and glamorous career.

He is less likely to be remembered for his dedicated work in bringing the Spanish playwright Lorca to English audiences, and for his acquired Hispanophile proficiency in dancing the flamenco.

So what sort of man emerges from the 300-odd pages here? His personal relationships – with his alcoholic father who died when Trader was a small boy, his possessive mother, his wife Bobo who divorced him to go off with Harry M. Miller – were probably more complex than his prose is equal to.

His approach seems to be a matter of ”It’s being cheerful keeps me going” and, apart from a few careless errors that could easily have been checked (you won’t find the encomium, ”a lass unparalleled”, in Twelfth Night), it’s lightly readable as it steers a path between self-deprecation and self-congratulation. On the whole, the latter wins.

Brian McFarlane is Adjunct Professor, Swinburne Institute of Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology.

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SPC Ardmona worker’s mother pleads to save family’s jobs

Contract workers leave the SPC Ardmona cannery in Shepparton. Photo: Justin McManusSome are in yellow, others in orange – a colour almost the same as the peaches produced by Shepparton’s SPC Ardmona cannery not far from the centre of town. As the cannery workers walk into or out of the cannery gate, high-vis vests are one of the dominant fashions. Shorts and singlets are another common work uniform.
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So the woman standing on the footpath in a blue and white summer dress stands out from the workers, although she has a close bond with them. Kath Robinson, 67, is a former long-term cannery worker at the Ardmona cannery on the other side of town. And one of her three sons now works for SPC Ardmona.

She has come to the gateway of the cannery to show her support for a business that she believes simply must be saved.

”I’ve got three sons. One of them works here and the others work in the area – and I don’t want to lose them to this town,” she says. ”I risk losing three sons” from the district, she says, if SPC Ardmona were to close the cannery.

The comments make clear that Mrs Robinson values keeping her family close by extremely highly. And then she mentions the tragedy that hit her family just a few short years ago. In May 2010, her two grandsons Chase, 8, and Tyler Robinson, 6, died after a faulty gas heater in their Mooroopna home emitted soaring levels of carbon monoxide, which poisoned them. The tragic incident shocked the community and the entire state.

Mrs Robinson says that if the state government can commit large sums of money on redevelopments at Melbourne Park, it should be able to find the required funds for SPC Ardmona.

”I still think Napthine could give the $50 million,” she says.

”I feel that all the money’s been spent in Melbourne. And governments, whatever they are, don’t worry about rural [communities], and they need rural communities to keep the country going,” she says.

”I don’t think $25 million is that much to give to Shepparton when it will save jobs. And as Jenny Houlihan said, $25 million will easily go on unemployment [payments],” she says, if the cannery were to close.

”Where do they expect people to work? People can’t go and work in Melbourne. Melbourne couldn’t cope with everybody, and we can’t afford to go down there,” she says.

One of the workers to walk the well-travelled path from the footpath to the car park is long-term worker Gordon Cross. He says the federal government needs to give locally produced goods more protection from imported competitors.

”I do believe that the government really needs to start putting import duties on everything that comes into this country,” he says.

Other countries were strongly protecting their own locally made goods via import duties. ”Why aren’t we doing the same?” he asks.

Another worker describes the federal government’s decision to knock back a request for $25 million as ”pretty disappointing”.

Yet another, wearing one of the ubiquitous fluoro vests, identifies a particular electoral reality that he says disadvantaged SPC Ardmona’s bid for federal assistance. ”It’s a safe seat, that’s the problem.”

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The road to Middlemarch book review: Love of Eliot lasts a lifetime

THE ROAD TO MIDDLEMARCHRebecca Mead Text Publishing, 320pp, $32.99 
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George Eliot is the literary equivalent to the Masonic handshake. ”You like George Eliot?” someone will say. ”Then I know who you are,” is the instant thought. It’s a recognition of being in love with the same person.

At 17, Rebecca Mead was given a novel featuring a 19-year-old heroine called Dorothea Brooke. The opening line is: ”Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” Miss Mead (non-fictional), born almost 150 years after Miss Brooke (fictional), and a century after the words were written, immediately needed to know more about the already remarkable Miss Brooke. She read on. In knowing Miss Brooke (Dorothea), Miss Mead (Rebecca) came to know herself. Middlemarch is accompanying her through life.

It’s a glorious thing for a writer to be able to formally acknowledge the love affair – often the deepest love affair of their lives – they have had with the work of another writer and to celebrate the sweet coincidences. The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot details how Middlemarch reflected, sustained, extended and disciplined Rebecca Mead’s life.

British-born Mead is an author and New Yorker journalist. Learned, candid and self-deprecating, she shares with Dorothea Brooke celestial humility and admirable discipline. She also has a useful practical charm – an ordered mind. Figuring a way to contain the complex magnificence of Middlemarch, reveal crucial biographical detail about George Eliot and sustain a delicate autobiographical harmony is a task fit to rattle a field marshal.

Rebecca Mead is steadfast and unrattled.

”I couldn’t believe how relevant and urgent it felt,” she writes about her provincial 17-year-old self in 1985, preparing for university exams, aiming to get into one of the ancient universities in Britain, and reading Middlemarch in the cumbersome Penguin edition, the cover featuring a perplexing picture of a Victorian woman out walking through sylvan countryside.

Victorian? ”The questions with which George Eliot made her characters wrestle would all be mine eventually. How is wisdom to be attained? What are the satisfactions of personal ambition and how might they be weighed against ties and duties to others? What does a good marriage consist of, and what makes a bad one? What do the young owe the old and vice versa? What is the proper foundation of morality?”

The 17-year-old missed many of the questions, but she knew that the point of reading is that even if we don’t think we understand, at some level we do, especially if the source of genius in an author is her acute psychological perception.

Virginia Woolf saw this, observing that Middlemarch is ”one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Woolf, snobbish and malicious, had reservations about Eliot (”the granddaughter of a carpenter,” she sniffs) but she recognised a genius superior to her own in her 1919 essay, when Eliot’s fame was at its nadir. ”As one comes back to the books after years of absence they pour out, even against our expectation, the same store of energy and heat …” Woolf also saw how loss of faith as a young woman was the source of her moral consciousness. There was, too, the alluring, mysteriously feminine aspect of Eliot that colours everything.

Eliot, when she was plain Mary Ann Evans from the Midlands, brilliant, religious, female and ugly, had a tormented young life. As she lost her faith, her beloved father rejected her and her abject letters to him make painful reading. Mead writes about these years with an unguarded and imaginative intimacy that comes as a shock. Then Eliot fell in love with Herbert Spencer, the greatest thinker of the day, only to be rejected because Spencer found it impossible to fall in love with a plain woman. Ivan Turgenev, on the other hand, said Eliot made him understand how it was possible to fall in love with a woman who wasn’t pretty. Turgenev is still read.

Eliot’s life was one long struggle against convention. The powerful men, and some women of her day, esteemed her radiant mind and clamoured for her friendship, but their ambivalent attitude to her as a female had as much to do with to do with her late blooming as a writer as did her loss of faith.

She was 37 when she began her first fiction, Scenes of Clerical Life, and wrote because she had met the man who gave her the love and affection to ballast her generous soul. Physically, George Henry Lewes might have been as unappealing as she was, but he was the model for the incandescent Will Ladislaw, Dorothea’s destiny after her false start with Casaubon. Ladislaw is the most enchanting incarnation of spring in fiction.

Mead suggests the way you have lived your life has the greatest effect on how you read books. It’s an arresting thought that, in her quiet way, she charts through the revealing (but not too revealing) comments about her emotional and moral progress in parallel with Dorothea’s. Like Dorothea, Mead had yearnings ”common to womanhood” and it is a revelation to see the fictional woman from the past integrate with the contemporary non-fictional woman. Mead’s capacity for directness, shared with Dorothea, brings freshness to her words and her own story is the perfect wire on which to hang talk about the infinite glories of Middlemarch; the tragic Lydgate and the terrible Rosamund, the luminous love between Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, the compassion Eliot has for the wicked Bulstrode and her admiration of his interestingly uninteresting wife.

Mead’s perception of Eliot’s use of childhood landscape – not as a site of sad nostalgia, but as restoration of the emotional intensity of childhood is bracing. In the landscape of our youth, Eliot says, there is nothing important – except that is where we learned to be human. Sensitivity to one’s childhood landscape is a sign of moral maturity.

There are deep – the deepest? – pleasures to be had here. All the devastating nuances of human behaviour in Middlemarch surface again, reminding us that Middlemarch, featuring ”a heroine of the ordinary”, is a step into a greater human consciousness, where sympathy for the human dilemma causes egotism to shrink.

Eliot and Lewes had famous ”Sunday afternoons” at their London house, where invitations were chased by the powerful and prestigious and much of their talk has echoed down the century. Rebecca Mead extends this talk. Perhaps this calm, thrilling book will do for George Eliot what Colin Firth did for Jane Austen.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Firepower `vital ingredient’

FIREPOWER is a crucial key to becoming the next tennis star, says Roger Rasheed.
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“As coaches, we’re looking for something different,” the former Australian tennis player turned coach said yesterday.

Rasheed, former coach of Lleyton Hewitt and Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, was the special guest at the McDonald’s Burnie International business luncheon.

He is the current coach of Bulgarian 22-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who won his first set against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open last week.

Bringing out the firepower

Known for his tell-it-as-it-is attitude, Rasheed admits his style of high performance training is “pretty extreme”.

Two hours before Dimitrov’s quarter final match against Nadal, the player and Rasheed went for a walk underneath the grandstands at Rod Laver Arena.

“I said to him, `It’s a good result reaching the quarter finals, but I need to know you’re going to beat him … if you’re feeling comfortable and happy that you’re making up the numbers I’ll pull you out of the match’,” Rasheed explained.

“He went for a walk for five minutes and came back and said to me `I’m going to beat him, now tell me what to do’.” Dimitrov went on to win the first set against the world No.1 6-3.

This is what Rasheed explained as having the firepower.

“It just showed him for the first time he can create his own environment against these players … now you’re living in their space,” Rasheed said.

Australia’s next tennis stars

Australian teens and Davis Cup players Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are the most exciting players since Hewitt, according to Rasheed.

“They have legitimate firepower and are comfortable playing against the bigger players,” he said.

Burnie a valuable stepping stone

Rasheed says tournaments like the Burnie International are the stepping stones young players need on the road to becoming a professional tennis player. “I must take my hat off to the sponsors and the support the club gives these kids playing here.”

Guest speaker Roger Rasheed recounts a story from his time coaching to those gathered at the Burnie Tennis Club for the luncheon. Pictures: Meg Windram.

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Silent kill book review: Beguiling and deceptively political action-man thriller

SILENT KILLPeter Corris Allen & Unwin, 255pp, $32.99 
Nanjing Night Net

PI Cliff Hardy can still duck a crafty punch. After all, he’s in pretty good shape for an older guy (as women so often tell him), given the heart bypass operation, the booze (he’s got it under control), the fact that he’s a grandfather, and Silent Kill constitutes his 39th case. And it’s a doozy.

An old acquaintance wants to employ Hardy as a bodyguard for Rory O’Hara, an ex-firebrand student agitator, ex-independent MP turned whistle-blower. Still recovering from a hit-and-run accident (probably not an accident), the partially crippled O’Hara is about to go on the road amassing support for his new political party. His mission? To address ”corruption at the heart of governments local, state and federal and the need for a new kind of person to bring honesty back into public life and corporate management”.

Hardy needs the money more than the rhetoric so joins the entourage on the tour bus taking them to O’Hara’s first gig. This is set (aptly) in Wollongong – the city that inspired a stage play in 2011, The Table of Knowledge, based on the transcripts of an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into the seedy transactions between developers and council officials in a local kebab shop.

Peter Corris has always had his finger on the political pulse but never more so than in this Hardy outing, which manages to resonate both with the political impulses of a whistleblower in the Assange mode, and the more recent ICAC inquiry into government corruption in New South Wales. This is the best kind of crime fiction, holding a mirror up to the muddled times in which we live to reveal a not altogether flattering reflection.

Sadly for O’Hara, the metaphorical wheels come off his election bus in Wollongong when his coke-sniffing, former-model girlfriend is abducted (someone wants O’Hara to pipe down). To make matters worse, his Korean nurse turns up brutally murdered. It’s the end of the road for O’Hara’s political crusade. Hardy, on the othetr hand, soon scores another gig when the well-to-do brother of the dead nurse engages him to find her killer and offers Hardy a six-figure account on which to draw his necessities.

And so Hardy takes to the road once again; first to Darwin, where he finds a terrified O’Hara in hiding; thence to Canberra where matters take an even more interesting turn in the heritage township of Gundaroo, and finally back to Sydney for a showdown in a Russian cafe where his quarry compulsively plays chess.

Along the way, Hardy’s emotional life hits a few road bumps. He loses one girlfriend (”There was an age gap and we had incompatible temperaments”) and finds another (”She wasn’t beautiful but something more and better”) but ends up wistfully alone (”I have a feeling I’ll meet up with her again”). Hardy, it would appear, is both an indefatigable romantic and an optimist.

There’s an ease about Corris’ writing that belies the complexity of the plot and the sharpness of the observations. As related from Hardy’s point of view, we see what Hardy sees, hear what he thinks, but mostly he’s a man of action telling us what he did next. You have to pay attention to pick up on what makes Hardy (and Corris) tick.

For example, on the trip to Wollongong Hardy packs his .38 Smith & Wesson and Thomas Dormandy’s book on the history of opium. The pay-off comes later on the plane to Darwin, where Hardy is still reading the Dormandy book about ”how the British created millions of Chinese addicts in the interest of trade”. The comment is barbed.

As Corris demonstrates once again, it’s not the demonic killer in the shadows we have to fear so much as the cupidity of the corporations that rule our lives. Silent kill indeed. Corris is as indefatigable as his hero.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Egypt’s siege mentality bad news for journalists

Cairo: Egypt’s government sees many enemies when it looks out of the bunker from which it says it is simultaneously fighting terrorism and installing democracy.
Nanjing Night Net

In the first months after the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of Mohamed Mursi was deposed and an interim, military-backed government was installed, it was Syrian refugees who felt the heat.

Those 133,000 Syrians who had fled their country’s brutal war and a lifetime of oppression by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and before him his father Hafez, were suddenly stopped at checkpoints across Cairo, deported, beaten and viewed with intense suspicion.

If they were not backing Assad’s Alawite-led government, the reasoning went, then they must be backing Syria’s Sunni-led resistance. And who is the largest organised Sunni group in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood.

Palestinian refugees faced the same assessment – they must be from neighbouring Gaza, Egyptian authorities assumed, which is led by the Islamist Hamas movement, known to all as the Palestinian franchise of the Brotherhood brand.

Underneath it all lies a deep, deep distrust of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members have been rounded up in their thousands since Mursi was deposed and imprisoned on July 3.

Most of the movement’s leadership is either behind bars and facing terrorism charges, like Mursi, or they have fled the country to avoid arrest. Thousands of supporters who took to the streets to protest what they believe was a coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president have been detained, many without charge, for months.

It has been an extraordinary political journey for a country that was ruled for nearly three decades by dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was swept aside in February 2011 to make way for what many revolutionaries hoped would be a more democratic Egypt.

Instead, the country remained deeply polarised. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces violently suppressed protest after protest until Egyptians, faced with a choice popularly described as between cancer (the Mubarak-linked candidate, Ahmed Shafiq) and death (Mursi), chose death.

It quickly became clear to many that they had made the wrong choice.

Egyptians had experimented with political Islam and they didn’t like what they saw, says Said Sadek, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo.

On June 30, almost year to the day since Mursi was elected, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians rose up again, disgusted with the actions of the Brotherhood-backed government and determined to see its downfall.

The Brotherhood went from political leaders to pariahs in a matter of days.

Caught up in the frenzy of anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is the Qatar-funded al-Jazeera television network, which has long been accused of a pro-Brotherhood editorial stance.

Once seen as the network that gave voice to the Arab revolutions, it is now viewed in Egypt quite literally as an enemy of the state.

Broadcasting via three main channels in Egypt – al-Jazeera English, al-Jazeera Arabic and al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Egypt Live) –  Sadek says some of its staff resigned from its Arabic-language channels over its perceived anti-Egypt bias.

Its Arabic channels were viewed as more compromised than its English-language outlet, and yet all have been tainted with the accusation of partiality.

“It is taking the side of the Muslim Brotherhood all the way, with totally unobjective, totally biased coverage,” says Sadek. “It declared war on the June 30 revolution and the Egyptian government and it began to promote incitement and negative coverage of Egypt.”

Al-Jazeera English and its journalists deny the charges of bias, and overnight the network released a compilation of news reports on Egypt to back its claims.

”Here are all of the packages our team produced from the field since July 2013. We make no apologies for telling all sides of the story and we stand by our journalism. Judge for yourself,” the network announced.

“This is a challenge to free speech, to the right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to the right of people to know what is going on,” a network spokesman said.

“We will continue to pursue all avenues to get our journalists back,” he said of the five journalists facing charges of producing false news and aiding terrorists, including Australian reporter Peter Greste and his two colleagues, dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed. They have been in jail since December 29 and have been given no prospect of  bail pending trial.

The Egyptian authorities’ campaign against al-Jazeera began the day President Mursi was deposed – an act the broadcaster declared was a “coup” and not the popular “people’s revolution” that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi insisted it was.

On July 3, authorities raided the offices of al-Jazeera Arabic and al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr and 28 staff were arrested, including the station director.

By July 15 al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr cameraman Mohamed Badr was arrested – he remains in prison. Correspondent Abdullah al-Shami was arrested on August 14 and also remains behind bars.

The same day a crew from al-Jazeera English was detained, including correspondent Wayne Hay and producers Russ Finn and Baher Mohamed. Mohamed was released after two days (but he was detained again with Greste), while the other two were deported to London after five days’ detention.

The crackdown continued, with crews arrested and beaten while covering security operations against a pro-Mursi protest camp – a story that all foreign correspondents and most local media in Egypt covered, at times daily.

In post-revolution Egypt, it seemed, if you covered the Brotherhood, you supported the Brotherhood.

But tied up with the campaign against al-Jazeera is a broader, regional struggle that pits Qatar, which openly backed the rise of the Brotherhood in Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who threw Egypt billions of dollars as a financial lifeline once Mursi was deposed.

Part of that struggle is also a battle for control – behind the scenes – of the political opposition to Assad’s rule in Syria.

In the meantime, international human rights and press freedom groups have spoken out against the treatment of al-Jazeera’s reporters, who on Wednesday were told they would stand trial on a series of serious terrorism-related charges – all of which they deny.

“The move sends the chilling message that only one narrative is acceptable in Egypt today – that which is sanctioned by the Egyptian authorities,” said Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International.

“Journalists cannot operate freely in a climate of fear. The latest development is a brazen attempt to stifle independent reporting in Egypt. In the lead-up to elections, a free press is essential,” said Mr Shetty.

The Committee to Protect Journalists described Egypt’s actions as an “attempt to criminalise legitimate journalistic work”.

“The government’s lack of tolerance shows that it is unable to handle criticism,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator.

In a census the CPJ conducted in December, Egypt ranked among the world’s worst offenders for jailing journalists after Turkey, Iran, China, Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan and Ethiopia.

It doesn’t look like slipping out of the top 10 any time soon.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Cycling day to assist ill man

BURNIE’S Dan House has travelling to do after finding out in September he has terminal bowel cancer at age 31.
Nanjing Night Net

A cycling relay organised by North-West-based Battlescars Foundation at Latrobe Recreation Ground next month will raise money to help him travel with his daughter Shakiya, 10, to the places he’s always wanted to see.

Mr House, a former North- West carnivals cyclist, will ride at the March 16 Ride to Recovery, a 12-hour relay starting at 7am.

“It’s certainly given me something to look forward to during my treatment cycles,” he said.

He is undergoing chemotherapy, but wants to travel to New York with Shakiya and see Madison Square Garden.

Mr House grew up cycling and won wheel races at carnivals in junior years.

Hearing he had terminal cancer focused him on making the most of his time.

“Bowel cancer in someone my age is not common,” he said.

Mr House said he is dealing with it well.

“I’m a pretty positive [person]. I’ve taken it on board.”

The cycling day would show other people in his condition there is support, he said.

Battlescars Foundation was formed to raise funds and awareness for people fighting illness.

It hopes to raise $10,000 at the relay, most of which will help Mr House cross items off his Bucket List as he fights cancer.

Teams of up to 10 are welcome to join, and entry is $100 per team.

Entry is open to anyone who can ride a bike, as long as they have a helmet and brakes.

North-West performers Gina Timms, Brett Boxhall and Dana Badcock will sing live at the fundraiser.

Battlescars Foundation president Mark Astell said he will take breaks throughout the event, but other entrants have signalled they will ride all day.To register for the event or for more information contact Mr Astell on 0400 450 611.

Battlescars Foundation Tasmania president Mark Astell and cancer patient Daniel House prepare for the foundation’s charity bike ride at Latrobe Recreation Ground. Picture: Katrina Dodd.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.