Saturday, September 27, 2008

Legal Thrillers

I used to read legal thrillers insatiably, mostly from John Grisham and Clifford Irving.

My favourite Grisham thriller must be The Chamber, perhaps because I saw Anthony Hopkins' masterful depiction of Sam Crayhall before I read the novel. This, even though movies normally spoil the novel for me. I prefer reading the novel first, working out the screenplay in my mind, then watching the movie. Also, being a bookworm, I generally enjoy reading the book more than I do watching the movie. Anyway, as squeamish as I am, I enjoyed reading Chamber right down to the chilling, nay nauseating, description of Sam's last moments in the Chamber. Nothing personal against Sam, it's just Grisham's hypnotic style.

Clifford writes about the same subject matter; dirty lawyers, dirty politicians, crazy amounts of money to be made by both, and what not, but he just does not weild the same kind of power as John. I do read them still but somehow the craze has worn itself out.

But there is another John (whose middle name, incidentally, is Clifford) that still has a grip on me. It's John Mortimer, the creator of Horace Rumpole. Never heard of Rumpole? So then you might never have heard of She Who Must Be Obeyed. And you wouldn't have heard of the Mad Bull either. How unlucky for you.

Rumpole is one of those geniuses overlooked by history, perhaps because he does not wear the distinguished, handsome lawyer look (of Grisham fame), and perhaps because he works in the shadow of the Mad Bull (Judge Roger Bullingham) whose intellect is not as formidable as his own. Perhaps Rumpole's less than stellar career is his resistance to the grand ambitions of She Who Must Be Obeyed. I don't know. But following Rumpole as he wins (and loses) various cases is a lot of fun and very educational.

Actually, the only Rumpole book I've read is the The Second Rumpole Omnibus, it has 667 pages of 20 different cases. I imagine that the First is similar in the way it is published. I gather from Amazon that there are other Rumpole books, including Rumpole Misbehaves, Rumpole Rests His Case and there is even a Third Rumpole Omnibus.

John Mortimer writes about Rumpole in the same way that A.C. Doyle writes about Sherlock Holmes. Real dectectives read Conan Doyle and real lawyers read Mortimer for the same reason; they go on a virtual field trip. So while his writing does not fit neatly into the genre of legal thriller, John Mortimer does write about the legal profession, and I do find his writing thrilling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is too cool!

My sugar plum, five year old daughter created her own poem. She was standing on a wall about four feet high, trying to figure out how to get down without falling. This is what she said:

Bird, bird sitting on a wall,
afraid to fly, afraid to fall.

What title would you give it?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How do you preserve 'you'?

This post by Geoffery Philp, which was inspired by this post at Jahworld, helped make the poem below resound in my mind this week. Geoffery lists a set of criteria for evaluating a poem and the one that jumps out at me is; "The economic, connotative language seduces me into thinking and feeling about the subject in a new way".

Ad. for a Housing Scheme

Packed tightly like
sums. Their sheer
geometrical lines oppress
architecturally, appearing
disinterested, loveless, same.

People who drive past these houses
see them as stacked
ros to be quickly got through;
accelerate, almost
by instinct, to have them
behind their tail pipes
like bad dreams or carcases.

Mine, positioned
in from the highway, assails
few sensitive motorists, but I,
walking towards its box-
shape this twilight,
see it as part
of a grotesque tenement: my house
is ugly for being anonymous.

And now suddenly
the gray uniform buildings
intersect like years. Poised
only for home, I cross
into a harsh, formularized future
where houses and people flash smally and strictly alike.

by Anthony NcNeil

Thanks to Anthony Macneil, a whole class of thirty four students are now contemptuous of housing schemes. One boy said "Me, I will never buy a scheme house!" (Little does he know that there is often a huge gap between the house one wants and the house one can afford!) This poem is successful (at least to these students) because it made them think and feel about housing schemes in a new way.

It was successful by another of criteria suggested by one of Geoffery's readers: it made me think beyond the literal meaning of how houses in a 'scheme' all look alike, to the possible effect this has on the psyche of their inhabitants. It made me think of the anonymity of city life in particular and modern life in general. Are we less human, somehow?

Tell me about you- do your surroundings and way of life support, or do they erode your identity? What do you do to keep your face, your name, your thought processes, your self, distinct?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Calvin and Hobbes Co-star Jamaican News

I am an unapologetic fan of Calvin and Hobbes, the comic strip created by Bill Watterson and one published by The Jamaica Observer. Whenever I happen to take a copy of The Observer in hand, if I read nothing else, I must read Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a six year old going on sixty and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who goes on these amazing adventures with him as well as helps him with his home work. Calvin and Hobbes never fail to tickle me and set me green with envy that I wasn’t the creative genius that invented them.

I take Calvin and Hobbes more seriously than I do the current and the most recent former Prime Ministers. The current Prime Minister just gave the police (and is about to give teachers) a 15% raise in the first year and 7% raise in the second, after a 57% rise in the cost of living. Yes, I admit, this is a personal grudge, for I am a teacher. Also, among his other foul-ups, while claiming to be tough on crime, the PM recently held a welcome home ceremony for Usain Bolt, at which a dancehall artiste who is a known gunslinger and a glib promoter of violence was a performer. The former Prime Minister pronounces the word ‘athlete’ as ‘aflete’, is rather cantankerous, and she believes that God voted her Prime Minister and will soon ‘restore’ her to that position, so how can I take her seriously? I prefer Calvin's version of reality.

Calvin and Hobbes are also more interesting than the news and commentaries. The news invariably goes something like this; “The murder toll has risen by four”, “The road toll is to be raised” or “Corruption is taking a toll on Government”. The news commentaries basically add up to this “tut-tut, things are really getting from bad to worse”. The Observer is not worse off than its competitor The Gleaner, but it does have the distinct advantage of carrying Calvin and Hobbes.

Therefore when I take up The Observer, if I have plenty of time, I browse, stopping to peruse an article of interest here or there, and I top it off with a leisurely read of Calvin and Hobbes. If I do not have plenty of time I simply head toward the back and read my favourite comic strip, yep you guessed it; Calvin and Hobbes.

It rained yesterday and as our roof leaks, I got me an old copy of The Observer to place at the spot where the water is dripping before placing a basin there to collect the drops. Of Course I flipped through to see, if nothing else, what my friends Calvin and Hobbes are up to. Are they getting into that transmorgrifyer of theirs to be launched into outer space or back in time? Are they pulling some prank on the babysitter, or subjecting Dad to a gruelling interview?

This time Calvin is telling Hobbes about a report he did in class that day:

Calvin: Boy you should’ve seen the sparks fly when I gave my half of the report. I’ve never seen Susie so mad. She accused me of not doing any research and claimed I made up the whole thing.

Hobbes: Did you?

Calvin: Heck no. I took a few creative liberties.

Hobbes: And they called your mom over for a few creative liberties?

Calvin: You think Susie was mad...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"She's Gone" Writes Kwame Dawes

Reggae Virgin
could fly
over the cottage
over the beach
over Dorothy.

With Dorothy
Nothing was free of complication.

full of purpose
the prancing prophet,
a preacher
with a nice
mellow tone.

Keisha couldn't reduce him to a moment.

a messiah, Joseph,
knows what it feels like
to die.
He wants to tell the secret of
his fear
his fantasy
but grows silent in the darkness.

Nothing is free of complication;
sex, dorothy, keisha, music, the medication,
Jamaica (I thought all they had was beaches and that).

Reggae Virgin
could fly
leaving this place
the darkness
the burning sensation
into the brilliant
light of a new day.

Above is a poem I "found" in the 2007 novel by Kwame Dawes. You can find your own poems in novels or short excerpts too. Here is how: handpick words or phrases relating to a character or theme, lay them out carefully, line by line in (usually in the order they appear in the text) and you have "found" yourself a poem. My poem gives a silhouette of the protaganist, Kofi.

Contrary to what you might believe from the ending of my poem Kofi doesn't commit suicide, but it seemed to me that suicide would have been the logical end for him, not the unlikely reunion with Keisha. The contrived ending and the sex scenes that were a tad more than I needed to picture, especially the one with Leonara, are the biggest turn-offs. Also, he took a couple of jibes at a particular segment of the African Diaspora that were a little below the belt.

But I enjoyed the the vivid evocation of Jamaica and parts of North America. It was easy to follow the characters around the island, I nodded at some of the social commentary, my mouth actually watered at the description of some of the foods, especially, tamarinds. I also enjoyed trying to puzzle out with Dawes the universal question of "what do men and women really want from each other?" In addition, I like novels that try to get inside the head of people who are mentally ill and I thought Dawes did a good job in his rendering of Kofi's depression.

Overall, I think She's" Gone reveals talent that some honing will make distinct. I'm looking forward to his second novel.