Saturday 8 July 2023

Reading/Time No. 2 | March/April 2023 - The Book/s I Read, The Watches I Wore, Etc.

Okay, thrill-seekers, no time to waste. I just put up the February post and then got started on this one. Not writing about the issues with my feet. That was covered a couple of posts ago. This post - and maybe all future posts - will be a little more frivolous in nature. Not sure, just an idea I'm toying with at the moment. 

Anyway, as said in recent posts, I thought I'd try doing a little more reading this year in an effort to get back into the habit. I used to read a lot, but life got busier and I got more tired. 

Okay, so...

 - What I Read In March -

British novelist Frederick Forsyth began a career in journalism in the early 1960s and wrote a book called The Biafra Story in 1969, which covered his time reporting on the Nigerian Civil War. He shot to international fame a few years later with his second book, a fictional account of a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle, entitled The Day of The Jackal. 

My brother had a paperback copy of this book. It was in pristine condition, which led me to think that he most likely never read it. Once I started reading more grown-up/adult literature in the early 1980s, and after having seen the 1971 film adaptation of the book, a British-French co-production starring Edward Fox as the titular Jackal, I felt I was ready to read the book. I found it slow, but then, I was barely into my teens. 

Since then, I've read seven other books by Forsyth over the years. And I'm probably due for a re-read of Jackal.

However, I began the month of March with The Afghan, a Forsyth novel from 2006, which features a previous character of his, former SAS-man Mike Martin, a seasoned veteran of tours in the Middle East, who is recruited to impersonate a high-level al Qaeda commander who is currently being held in Guantanamo Bay. There is chatter throughout intercepted intelligence throughout the Middle East that the Taliban are plotting a major terrorist attack on Western interests. 

I wont give away any more of the plot. I'd rather comment on the writing. I once read an article that described Forsyth's writing style as clichéd. I'll have to read more of his works to see if I can pick up on that, but I will go so far as to say that his writing can be a little bland in some ways. There are no flourishes, and this makes it quite workman-like. 

However, his technical knowledge and levels of research are unsurpassed.This is where his journalistic background elevates his writing in terms of the information one learns while reading his books. 
For example, there are over 19,000 blank Belgian passports that have been stolen over the last three decades from various embassies, consulates, diplomatic satchels, etc and, to date, only a small number of them have been used, notably by Islamic State members, gun-runners, sex traffickers and drug dealers. 
The book moved at a good pace for the most part, but I felt the ending was a little rushed, something that I began to suspect when I was about fifteen or twenty pages away from finishing it.  
It almost felt like A) Forsyth was working to a tight deadline set by his publishers, a practice that has become quite common in the last couple of decades, if one recalls the amount of control that George R.R. Martin's publishers had over his Game of Thrones output, or B) Forsyth didn't have a clear idea of how to end the book.  Also in the frame is the 1982 Submariner 5513, which saw some time on the wrist early in the month. This is the watch that I've wanted since I was a kid, as some of you may recall from one of my posts back in 2015, when I finally acquired the watch.
However, I have found in recent years that this watch requires a little more care than a more modern equivalent. The crystal (glass) is plexi, which is a kind of acrylic and therefore more prone to scuffs and scratches, and a good knock will crack it. This alone gives me a little pause whenever I think about wearing it for any particular activity. 
Sure, if I crack the glass, I can simply get it replaced, but this would more than likely be something that I'd be doing every couple of years. That kind'a takes some of the fun out of ownership. 
That said, I've thought about replacing this one with a later model. Not sure. Need to give it a little more thought, as this watch carries a tonne of mystique and cachét, built up over the last seventy years since its inception. 
The association that this watch has with Bond, scuba diving, Cousteau and his crew, McQueen, Redford, foreign correspondents of the 1970s and '80s is something that's not to be trifled with or underestimated. This is the most famous dive watch design ever made. Both a blessing and a curse in some ways. 
The Longines Spirit also got a bit of time on the wrist in March.
This watch punches above its weight. Super comfy and super legible, probably the two main things you want from a wristwatch. Of course, 100 metre water-resistance and very accurate timekeeping also help. 
Regarding the Bombay Gin, I haven't seen this on the market here in my neck of the woods since sometime in the 1980s. So when I saw it in a nearby bottle shop (liquor store), I just had to stumble down memory lane and buy a bottle. It's a little weaker in alcohol by volume when compared to my go-to gin, Bombay Sapphire, but this was a pleasant drop nonetheless. 

- What I Read in April -

I quickly ran through another Mick Herron novella called Standing By The Wall. This is a small story centering on a pre-Christmas moment in Slough House, a forgotten division of MI6 where agency failures are sent to finish out their time with the Service or are driven to the point of resigning. I wrote a little more about this series of books in my previous post. 
Tell ya what, it must've been a cold night in April if I busted out that bottle of Laphroag Islay Single Malt. 
This book was written last year and I get the impression that some characters from Mick Herron's earlier books are no longer around. 
From what I've read and heard from Herron in interviews, his intention with this series was to have characters come and go. 
I've read his first three books and I think I'll get back into his Slough House series. I've got them all at the moment.
First, though, I thought I'd get into the latest Bond continuation novel, titled Double Or Nothing, written by Kim Sherwood. This book is, apparently, part of a proposed trilogy. The premise was intriguing. James Bond has been missing for the past 17 months. Three other Double-O operatives are searching for his whereabouts while also engaged in keeping tabs on a private military organisation and looking into the affairs of a billionaire who claims he can reverse global warming. 
I'm currently (July 5th) about half-way through this book and I have to say that it has greatly hampered the momentum that I had built up at the beginning of the year. Three full-length novels and four novellas. I was doing nicely, thanks for asking, and then I landed on this book. 
My gripes;
- One Double-O is named Johanna Harwood, which also happens to be the name of one of the screenwriters of the first Bond film, Dr No, back in 1962.
- Another character is named Bob Simmons, which is the name of the stunt coordinator of the Bond films in the '60s and '70s. 
- Miss Moneypenny is fairly high up in the Secret Service now, I'm not sure if she's running things or is very close to being top dog. She drives a vintage 1960s Jaguar E-Type that she had converted to an electric vehicle by Q Branch. 
- Q Branch. Nowadays, it is basically an AI, which works on all manner of things, including a hearing implant that is worn by agent 004, Joseph Dryden. When Dryden talks, every word is heard by Q Branch back at HQ. And they can also send him messages and intel via this implant.

So far, there have been no major highs or tension in the story, in my view. The completist in me wants to finish it, but man, it's a bit of a slog. 
Saturday, July 8th
                                   I was reading this book during my morning commute in to work a couple of days ago and there's a scene where Johanna Harwood is sitting at an outside table at a cafe in Berlin. She places her order with the waiter and shortly afterwards, 'out of the corner of her eye', she notices the waiter approaching, holding a small tray with her order on it. The 'waiter' turns out to be another character in the book and yes, he is holding the tray, but he also has a tan-coloured overcoat draped over his shoulders as he approaches.
So, you can notice an arm holding a tray out of the corner of your eye, but you fail to take in the tan overcoat? Which is not part of your standard waiter's uniform. 
I was about to start the next chapter and I saw the words 'Kina Lillet' on the page, and my heart sank a little further.*
The Tudor Black Bay 58 got some wear throughout April. This watch is part of my permanent collection. I've given some serious thought to my watches over the last year or two. Some more thinking to be done, as I notice some watches being worn much more than others. 
*Okay, another gripe of mine regarding this book - So here we are in Berlin with Double-O agent Johanna Harwood and another character who is mixing up a couple of Vesper Martinis, the recipe of which was created by James Bond in Casino Royale. 
If you need a refresher;
3 measures of Gordon's Gin
       1 measure of Vodka (brand unspecified)
              Half a measure of Kina Lillet vermouth
                     Pour these into a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake it until it's very cold
                            Strain it into a martini glass and add a twist of lemon peel.
Personally, I'm not a fan of this drink. Fleming had a cast-iron stomach (like everybody of past generations) and this drink is basically four shots of spirits. Which is why I always called BS on that scene in Quantum of Solace (Dir: Marc Forster, 2008) where Bond is on a plane and he's polished off SIX of these and only looks slightly punch-drunk. 
Daniel Craig or not, that's twenty-four shots of alcohol, not including 12 shots of  Lillet vermouth.
Now, this book is set in today's world.
Any Bond fan worth his Double-O licence would know that Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1985. It was replaced with an altered blend of ingredients and renamed Lillet Blanc. Its the little details that bug me when they are stuffed up. 
Poor research? Bad editing? I wouldn't know. All I know is that I paid $32.95AUD for a book written by somebody who was commissioned to write it by the Ian Fleming Estate Publishers.
Okay, I might just wrap things up here for now. I'll start on the next post sometime in the next week or two. We'll see how this book is faring by then. 
I bought the Charlie Higson Bond novella, titled On His Majesty's Secret Service,  which was released to tie in with the coronation of King Charles a couple of months ago. 
Higson wrote the very well regarded series of Young Bond teen-fic novels earlier this century, so it will be interesting to read his take on a modern Bond. 

I hope you've been well, and thank-you for reading!