Monday, February 20, 2017

Touring Around Cape Town

Annamaria on Monday

When Stan wrote a couple of weeks ago about the noon cannon
on Signal  Hill, I told him I expected a one-gun salute when I arrived.
  Here is my photographic proof, taken from a boat during our
 harbor cruise, that he kept his promise.  

My peerless hosts silhouetted against the equally peerless view of
Table Mountain from the harbor.

The view from Stan and Mette's terrace.

If you don't find the terrace view impressive enough, here
is the view from their driveway.

The entrance to the inner harbour

Nobel Square, dedicated to South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize
Winners.  The work of these four courageous men's has more to
 teach the world about  waging peace than any other four people
 in history.  If only today's leaders could absorb their depth of wisdom and humanity. 

With apologies of Albert Luthuli, but the gull would not fly away.
Talk about a determined photo bomber!
Desmond Tutu

Frederik de Klerk

Nelson Mandela
Sights around the Waterfront

A scenic drive along Victoria Road:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A True Ghost Story From Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

All my life, I've professed to believing in ghosts ... primarily to prevent them feeling the need to actually prove their existence to me.

In other words - I believed by choice, so I didn't have believe by experience.

That worked out pretty well for me until last November, when I went to Japan to research my sixth Hiro Hattori mystery - and encountered one of Japan's most famous yūrei (ghosts).

Although I write fiction, the following story is absolutely true.

I spent November 3 and 4 doing research on Mount Kōya, one of Japan's most sacred mountains and the heart of Shingon (esoteric) Buddhism in Japan.

Kongobuji - one of Mount Koya's leading temples.

The mountain is home to over 100 Shingon temples (many of which host overnight guests, both secular and religious) and Okunoin ("the temple at the end") - an enormous cemetery that houses not only the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi, the priest who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan, but more than 250,000 other graves and monuments to the dead.

The entrance to Okunoin.

I spent five hours at Okunoin on the morning and afternoon of November 4. The scale of the cemetery is overwhelming, but it's also one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.

Foliage at Okunoin. A truly peaceful resting place.

That night, I stayed at Ekoin, a Shingon Buddhist monastery.

My guest room at Ekoin.

After dinner (and after dark) one of the priests from Ekoin offered an English-language tour of Okunoin. I went, and spent a delightful hour listening to him explain the history of the cemetery--and asking him research questions, which he answered at length and in depth.

The tour ended on the far end of the cemetery, near Kōbō Daishi's mausoleum, where the priest released us to walk back to the temple on our own.

I stayed near the mausoleum to take some photographs of statues I needed to document for my novel, and when I finished, I discovered that everyone other than our guide and two other visitors had already disappeared back down the path, most likely to escape the cold.

A statue of Jizō, the "excuse Buddha" - and my excuse for ending up alone in a cemetery after dark.

Which, of course, meant that I was an hour's walk from the temple. Essentially alone.

In the dark.

Buddhas and tombstones at night.

The guide was showing the remaining visitors some other statues, which I'd seen that morning, so I started back along the path on my own.

I wasn't scared. I'd seen the cemetery in daylight, and knew it was a peaceful, sacred place.

Okunoin in daylight.

About halfway through the cemetery, I stopped to snap some photos of the monuments in the light of the lanterns beside the path.

Tombstones after dark, illuminated by traditional lanterns.

While taking photos, I heard the click of traditional Japanese wooden sandals--the type many priests on Koya still wear--approaching from behind me. Wanting to be polite, I waited, taking photos and listening as the geta came closer. When the priest was right behind me, I turned, bowed, and said good evening . . .

. . . but there was no one there.

The sound of the sandals ceased the instant I turned and bowed. The path was completely empty in both directions, as far as the eye could see - and given that the path is straight at that place, and lit at regular intervals, I could see quite a distance in either direction.

Needless to say, I did what any self-respecting, curious historian would do.

I ran like hell.

I ran until I caught up to a couple strolling along the path ahead of me - far enough that I was completely out of breath, legs burning, and struggling to look like I was merely out for a pleasant jog. Only then did I slow down.

Not creepy at all. Until the ghosts show up.

I followed the couple back to Ekoin, returned to my room, and went to bed - but didn't sleep for quite some time.

After thinking through the experience, reviewing my photos and memories, and considering what I know of Japan, the world, and science, I believe the spirit I met in the graveyard was real, and that it was betobeto-san, a well-known Japanese ghost.

According to legend (which I now interpret as factual, too), betobeto-san is a harmless trickster. The spirit follows people along deserted streets or pathways, making a sound like wooden geta that get closer and closer to you until you panic and run. Even then, betobeto-san supposedly follows you until you turn and greet him by saying, "After you, betobeto-san," at which point the spirit goes away.

Based on my own experience, bowing and saying "Good evening," will also suffice - because, although I remained in Japan for another two weeks, I didn't hear or see anything similar again.

A Buddha monument at Okunoin. 

Some people don't believe in ghosts, and that's okay--I only half believed in them myself until November.

Now, though, I know beto-beto.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What's Been Happening in Greece


For those of you who’ve wondered what’s been going on in Greece since November 8, 2016—or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world outside of 725 Fifth Avenue (NYC), 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (WDC), and Mar-a-Lago (FL)—here’s where things stand.

The Grand Kabuki play of bailout back and forth is well into its third run, featuring Greece’s left wing SYRIZA Prime Minister again railing at his country’s EU and IMF creditors over additional austerity measures they insist Greece follow as a condition for the disbursement of more funds in July. And they want an answer by Monday.

The smart money is on Greece’s Prime Minister capitulating once more, after an encore performance of Sturm und Drang. At least that’s been the modus operandi so far, what with SYRIZA having raised the nation’s VAT to 24%, cut pensions by 40%, dramatically increased taxes on land, cars, gasoline, cigarettes, etcetera, and cut close to six billion euros from public wages (though recently announcing 40,000 new public sector hires—widely seen as an effort to counter their party’s sinking poll numbers).

Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

The Prime Minister has little choice but to go along with Greece’s lenders’ demands if he wishes to cling to his position, for anything leading to snap elections would likely send SYRIZA and its far-right coalition partner out of power.

A new poll shows 8 of 10 Greeks holding a negative view of SYRIZA’s achievements in its two years in power, and has SYRIZA trailing its center-right opposition party, New Democracy, by 16.5 percentage points.

Nine of ten respondents believe things are headed in the wrong direction, and their responses to other questions on what they see as their country’s fortunes are equivalently dire. More than three quarters of respondents see things getting worse.

And they appear to be correct. “Experts” had predicted that fourth-quarter 2016 growth in Greece’s economy would exceed its third quarter growth of 0.9%, but instead it fell by 0.4%, with unemployment remaining at 25%, manufacturing activity recording its largest decline in 15 months, and import prices reaching their highest level in 70 months.

As one reporter (Mediapart’s Martine Orange) observed:

Martine Orange

“European officials may argue that their bailout is working, they welcome the recovery of Greece and the budget surpluses, but the situation is quite different: passively we are witnessing the low-noise collapse of a whole country….

“In seven years Greece's GDP decreased by a third. Unemployment affects 25% of the population and 40% of young people between 15 and 25 years. One third of companies have disappeared in five years. Successive cuts imposed everywhere in the name of austerity now bite in all regions. There are no more trains, no more buses in whole parts of the country. No more schools, sometimes. Many secondary schools had to close in the most remote corners because of lack of funding. Per capita spending on health has declined by a third since 2009, according to the OECD. More than 25,000 doctors were dismissed. Hospitals lack personnel, medicines, everything....

“One fifth of the population lives without heating or telephone. 15% of the population has now fallen into extreme poverty compared to 2% in 2009

“The Bank of Greece, which cannot be suspected of complacency, has drawn up a report on the health of the Greek population, published in June 2016. The figures it gives are overwhelming: 13% of the population are excluded medical care; 11.5% cannot buy prescription drugs; People with chronic health problems are up to 24.2%. Suicides, depression, mental illness show exponential increases. Worse: while the birth rate has fallen by 22% since the beginning of the crisis, the infant mortality rate almost doubled in a few years to reach 3.75% in 2014.”

Ms. Martine’s bottom line to all of this is simple: “After seven years of crisis, austerity and European plans, the country is exhausted, financially, economically and physically.”

As she sees it, the entrenched unwillingness of Greece’s creditors to accept debt relief—instead insisting on further punishing austerity measures—as the only way out of this eternal quagmire, seems motivated by a desire to force Greece into Grexit…at least from the euro.

Putting it succinctly, she writes, “Pushing Greece out instead of granting it the necessary restructuring of its debt, at a time when geopolitical tensions have never been so strong, where Donald Trump explicitly attacks the construction of Europe and bets on its breakup, seems incomprehensible.”

How apt.

With so much in play—SYRIZA driven to stay in power at seemingly any cost, Greece looking for a shining knight with a magic wand to salvage it from financial extremis, and the attention span of the world driven by 140-character tweets—what happens there next may be just that.  Incomprehensible.

Let us pray.


Friday, February 17, 2017

The Roar Of the Teenage Butterflies

One of my favourite audio books is Reginald Hill’s The Roar of the Butterflies, it is a slyly funny little book ( gruesome in parts as all good crime fiction should be) but overall it’s a gentle poke at those who find hitting a wee ball into a small hole that is so far away you can’t see it, entirely fascinating.

Let me state my case for the prosecution. Golf is a game not a sport, it’s a game of great skill as is darts and snooker but to me the definition of a sport is high level of personal fitness plays a very large part. Colin Montgomery makes my point.

And I believe the phrase ‘The Roar of the Butterflies’ was a quote from one of the golfing greats. When he was asked why a long putt went slightly awry, he said ‘the roar of the butterflies put me off’. When I suggested it might be Lee Travino, I am told that it sounds like him. Throughout the book Hill refers to his hero as the YFG, the young fair God. The young fair god in question is an upper class, beautiful young blond man who is terribly British and believes in fair play to all. That is in stark contrast to Hill’s character Joe Sixmith or as he is known in our house Joe Sexysmith the short, black, overweight, balding ex welder from Luton – but what a PI !
                                                     Rupert Penry Jones, A YFG!

 So I would like to introduce you to our own young fair God. He appears in our house at times, a kind of blonde fuzzy haired long limbed creature who lounges about on the setee and does not move for hours on end. Occasionally he forages in the kitchen with the sensitivity of a plague of locusts. He leaves a trail of gentle destruction behind him. And if you speak to him the response is rarely a precise sentence- more like, a grunt.

He has a lot in common with a golden retriever.
             Taken in South Africa. It looks like a Scottish teenager eating a bagel.

He is a teenager.

But strange things happens to this disconnected lump of bones and attitude when he has a stick in his hand and a ball to hit. He is as Johnny Tillitson  once said ‘poetry in motion’ when he hits a ball. When our YFG hits a golf ball, people stand and watch.
                                        They seem to treat their golfers rough in SA.
                            Is this the penalty for not getting the ball in the hole quick enough!

I suppose if you had to design a sportsman, you don’t go far from the blueprint of the YFG. He is  tall broad shouldered and has a beautiful ergonomic balance of arm length and leg length. As a young child, he was good at all sports and then something happened and he recognised his talent for hitting a small ball into a small hole and to my mind the deeper and rarer talent of practice /practice/ practice. He has the discipline to do the same thing 100 times until he gets it right 99 times.

When he was 14, his parents were approached by an American University, impressed by his excellence on the golf course. They were a bit shocked to find out his age. That was Missouri University, the FYG calls it Mizzou. They have always been polite and gentlemanly in their approach to the parents, never pressuring the FYG but always supportive. As the FYG rocketed through the ranks in what seemed like a fortnight – soon he was Captaining the Scottish Boys team and leading them to victory all over Europe - some other Universities came on board dangling their winnebagoes  and a fistful of dollars. But once the FYG found out there was compulsory attendance at Church, he said ‘stuff that for a game of soldiers’ in a very Scottish type of way and he is off to  Mizzou.
Any more of that language young Jamie Me lad and you will be dunked again!

As some of you may know the FYG is Alan’s youngest son, and as I write this the Scottish Men’s Team have taken him to South Africa and I enclose some of his photographs for the enjoyment of Messers Trollop and Sears. That’s just before Stan hits himself in the forehead when I tell him that the FYG now has a handicap of plus 4 or more or less ... I’m never quite sure how that works. But the good side of zero.
                                              One of these is good at golf.

Again the best thing about him is that his feet are firmly on the ground (apart from being a stroppy teenager) he is an intensely charismatic young man -one minute being interviewed on Sky Sports, the next minute on the hunt for Haribos. When asked  in an interview  ‘And what are you doing next?’ (  meaning, what’s next on the tour for you.’) He looked at his team mate and said, ‘I think we are going for a MacDonalds ).

I asked him once, if he would rather play badly and win, or play really well and lose. He answered the latter, which I thought was very mature for one who mistakes Doh for eloquence. During one big competition there was a delay, Jamie was playing with his friend and they decided just to swing from some trees. His coach said,  at the end of the day no matter how many millions of pounds those ankles might be worth,  at the moment they belong to a  15 year old boy, and 15 year old boys will do what they will do; swing from trees.

In the summer he was asked to play the Dunhill open at St Andrews. I think some big guys had dropped out and as a ‘novelty’ they asked the best two young Scots to get a bit of experience. He played with Robert Carlson who was lovely, gracious in his skill and knowledge to a 16 year old in front of ‘that crowd.’ But the YFG was not phased at all,  not by the crowd, the superstars, the free stuff. He was not intimidated by the huge security guards, with their  walkie talkies- by day two he was high fiving them. The organisers arranged for the FYG to stay at the Fairmont, then realised he was too young to stay there on his own. Leading to a daily cross country commute for Alan.   

So in Autumn he is off to Mizzou, who already have a strong representation of Scottish boys pretending that they are academic by doing courses on Harry Potter Studies and the History of Jazz. Jamie has already been informed that his accent will make him a ‘pure hit with the girls’.

The latest news from South Africa where he is  playing (at 17) in men’s competitions is that he has, so far, always made the cut and is currently skimming along under par. He’s in with the big boys but he’s holding his nerve and for those who are interested in such things I have been told on good authority that he is better than Rory McIlroy was at that age.

So far, so good and why we know we know deep down inside that it could all go wrong with one bad ankle injury, one sore wrist, young fair Gods do not allow such negativity to interrupt their dreams and ambitions. 

They just hit that ball and watch it soar for miles …. And miles …. And miles…

Caro 17 02 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Cost of Free Speech

Michael - Thursday

EFF members in red being ejected from parliament
I’ve been brooding about free speech. Why everyone is in favor of it, but no one really seems to like it. I suppose this was motivated by the State of the Nation address that our president – the redoubtable Jacob Zuma – presented to parliament this week. It’s an annual event that gives the president an opportunity to present highs and lows of the last year, and enunciate policy for the coming one. In the event, the speech was long on rhetoric and short on new ideas or realizable plans. Not many people actually noticed the speech because it was drowned out by protests from the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, led by the colorful Julius Malema. In advance of the speech, the parliament chamber was occupied by the army to keep order. (Yes, the army. Not the police. There’s a message there.) Julius and his followers were forcibly expelled from the chamber to join the demonstrators outside, and the official opposition – the Democratic Alliance – walked out in protest. The whole thing was good television, and did well on Facebook and Twitter.

Julius has his say outside
Zuma is held in such low esteem that his address was regarded as an insult, not worth listening to. More so, he shouldn’t even be allowed to say it. In this case, the speech was freely available afterwards, and so the opposition parties could read all the details after the event in time to start objecting to them in the debate the next day. Was the speech worth hearing? Probably not. Was it appropriate that people be allowed to hear it? Despite my feelings about the president and his failings, I would argue that it was.

The press on the other hand – supposedly the bastions of free speech - face more and more regulation. Everywhere – South Africa is no exception – governments are developing more laws and rules, sometimes with harsh penalties, to prevent the press from reporting ‘certain matters’ or misreporting (in the government’s view). As the New York Times pointed out today, Trump embraced the leaks of Clinton’s emails and called for more openness in ‘the swamp’ that he intended to drain when elected, but he was horrified by the pardon of the ‘traitorous’ Chelsea Manning, and is now very negative about leaks concerning his own administration.

Perhaps free speech is only an issue when it’s not the powerful who are doing the talking? How about the case of Helen Suzman – who spent her life opposing the apartheid government here as the sole true opposition representative in parliament – being refused permission to speak at Wits University? There were reasons why this might have inflamed radical students or perhaps infringed the University’s careful impartiality in the elections, but was it not worth hearing what she had to say? Shouldn’t her liberal and consistently honest views have been heard?

UC Berkeley demonstartion
Recently, President Trump threatened federal funds allocated to the University of California-Berkeley in the aftermath of a riot that forced the cancellation of a speech by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos. I don’t know that gentleman from a bar of soap and  I suspect I would have rejected his views and hated his speech, but I won’t know now, will I?

On the other hand, we have ‘fake news’ – even the Russians are complaining about it – where people announce events, usually on social media, that they know actually never happened. Is this also free speech? Surely not. It’s a somewhat weaker form of shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. No one seems concerned about this, however. Much of what’s coming out of the White House these days seems to fall into this category, and readily believed.

I know that the boundaries of free speech and what it means in terms of context is a vexed subject, and it can be argued strongly from several points of view. It does seem to me, however, that for free speech to be meaningful, you have to be allowed to listen and make up your own mind.


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


Won the 2016 Prix Marianne for the Lagos Lady, the French translation of Easy Motion Tourist:

Easy Motion Tourist / Lagos Lady, was number 2 on Le Monde's list of best thrillers of 2016:

Easy Motion Tourist featured in the Guardian's Best Recent Crime Novel Review Roundup:

Upcoming Event:

March 7 to 16: South African Word Festival, Stellenbosch.


Strange Gods: Paperback, Felony and Mayhem, Feb 2016
Idol of Mombasa: Paperback, Felony and Mayhem, Oct 2016
Sunshine Noir: Editor, White Sun Press, Oct 2016


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, comes out June 6, 2017.
Just signed the contract for the next two Aimée Leduc investigations in Paris with Soho Press.


In two panels at Left Coast Crime in Honolulu, March 16-19


Signed two-book contract with Severn House.


2016 Barry Award Finalist for Best Novel.

"The Olive Growers,” appears in BOUND BY MYSTERY, an anthology edited by Diane DiBiasi celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, out in March.


Sunshine Noir: Editor, White Sun Press, Oct 2016

Dying to Live (Kubu #6) to be released in May in UK and in October in USA

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gochujang Glory

I've had a little too much Thai, Indian and Vietnamese restaurant food lately. Even good food can become boring. Looking for another Asian taste, I decided to go after the obvious: Korean food.

Fortunately, there are a lot of Korean immigrants around Baltimor. I've dined at places ranging from multi-starred restaurants in the suburbs to the casual Korean take-out counter at R House, the great new food hall in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood. This has been a fun project.

I've noticed that in almost every dish, a special flavor tickled my tastebuds. That is the taste of gochujang.

BeBim at R House does fast casual Korean

I first tasted gochujang in the delicious marinated grilled meat dish called bulgogi. It gives the robust red color and flavor to Korean stew dishes known as jigae and is also stirred up and served as a condiment  

The elevator pitch for gochujang is "a cross between miso paste and Asian chili sauce." But this paste is not nosebud-clearing spiky-hot like Sriracha sauce, another favorite condiment of mine. Gochujang has a good, deep kind of hot and a complex, almost-meaty dimension foodies call  umami.

Watch a short video of how to make gorgeous gochujang at

Gochujang ha become buzzy in the West for the last five years, although it dates back to at least the sixteenth century in Korea. Someone clever took the mellow Korean chili known as gochu, dried it, and crushed it. This was mixed with powdered rice, powdered fermented dried soybeans, sprouted barley and salt. Fresh gochujang paste is stored in a ceramic crock outdoors for six months before eating. The fermentation creates the healthy lactobacillus to support healthy digestion; and the chili element within the food inhibits spoilage. Chilies contain capsicum, which some say helps fight obesity.  In any case, gochujang has some other great nutrients: Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, protein and carotene. It tastes like heaven, but it isn’t junk food.

Korean purists still make gochujang by hand, just as people in Japan still make tofu and miso. Fortunately, there are a few potters interested in making the proper jars, which must be screened at the top to allow ventilation. It's almost like the composting I'm trying to do in an old trashcan in my yard. 

I wanted to get a gochujang fix the easy way. That meant shopping. I found many tubs of it on the shelf of the Asian supermarket a few miles from my house. After the gochujang tub opened, it needs to go into the refrigerator. I put it there while I pondered what to do next.

There were many choices. I can’t count the ways I’ve seen gochujang as an ingredient in non-Korean recipe, particularly as a drizzling sauce or mixed in with mayonnaise. One of the first things i did was make gochujang mayonnaise that was used for many purposes.

I also decided to put a spoonful of gochujang in the soy-stock mixture I use for vegetable stir-fry. A dish with Chinese origins was changed--and not for the worse!

While I was taking baby spoonfuls out of my pepper paste tub, the food people have crafted grand new recipes. 
British cooking author and TV host Nigella Lawson blended Italy and Korea in her original recipe for Korean Calimari and then she blended India and Korea in Korean Keema

Nigella's Korean Calimari

Turkey and gochujang are a popular combination. I like the ingredients in Blogger Lemon Lime Lisa’s gochujang turkey meatballs which would be a great party hors d'oeuvre.

Here’s a great slideshow roundup of gochujang-flavored dishes from  Bon Appetit   

Without realizing it, I used up my whole gochujang tub on silly little ideas. I wanted to do something big. One Saturday, I went shopping for a new container of gochujang and decided to lavish it on a small pork loin.

First, I browned the 3 lb hunk of pork in a little oil. Then I added in 1/3 cup gochujang paste,1/8 cup soy sauce, 1/8 cup of honey and ½ cup of chicken stock. I let the loin braise in the spicy potion for 8 hours, until cooked through and very soft. I took out the loin to rest and boiled down the remaining red-brown cooking liquid to make a velvety brown sauce. Okay, I apologize for the lack of photograph; when the pork was ready, I had no impulse control.

The pork loin was a bit too much for just my husband and me to eat. Still, it was excellent, from the first night, when it was presented like a roast with polenta on the side; to the next day’s lunch, when it went inside a tortilla wrap along with lettuce and radishes; to the grand finale two days later, soft tacos with fresh chopped vegetables.

By the end of my gochujang experiment, I wasn't bored. I was filled by another of capsicum's supposed benefits: euphoria.