Saturday, August 31, 2013


I’m ready to pass out cigars. The new baby arrives September 3rd.  Can’t believe it’s already the fifth in the series.  The mother is doing fine, but she was somewhat surprised when someone named Kirkus wrote to say he’d had an advance glimpse of the soon to be with us little package and it “reads more like an Elmore Leonard caper than a whodunit.”  Mom swears she knew “whodunit” and it wasn’t that Elmore Leonard fellow (God rest his brilliant soul).

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)
I think I’ll stop now and try to make sense.  Rather, I’ll let Publishers Weekly do it for me, “Siger’s satisfying fifth mystery featuring Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis… a complicated international plot that threatens to disrupt the easygoing, anything-goes life that Mykonos is famous for—keeps the reader engaged,” or maybe Chicago’s The Greek Star, “[Siger] has so profoundly captured the essence of Modern Greece and its people, you can’t believe he isn’t Greek.  The reader travels to Greece and is right in the center of the action… Siger is a gifted storyteller. His stories grab you and don’t let go.”

Blush, blush, blush. 

Honest, I am blushing, though you might not be able to tell as I’m still on Mykonos and won’t be back in the US on book tour for MYKONOS AFTER MIDNIGHT until November. 

However, I will be in Albany, New York to participate with some of my MIE mates in Bouchercon 2013 and announce MAM’s release with a little promotional surprise at the convention (our Murder is Everywhere Panel, “When in Rome,” kicks off the conference at 12 noon on Thursday, September 19th).  After all, we must keep our publishers at least thinking we care about doing more than just writing our books. J  And in my case I’ve got the absolute best, most supportive publisher in the mystery world, POISONED PEN PRESS, with a special shout out to my nonpareil editor, Barbara Peters.

So, here’s a quick sketch of the new book, the one in which I return to my home island of Mykonos, scene of my debut novel in the series, Murder in Mykonos—followed by Assassins of Athens, Prey on Patmos, and Target: Tinos (if you’re going to do a BSP piece once a year, you might as well go all the way!):

MYKONOS AFTER MIDNIGHT begins with a legendary nightclub owner found bludgeoned to death in his Mykonos home.  In his lifetime he’d helped transform Mykonos from an obscure, impoverished Aegean island into a world-renown summertime playground for the world’s rich and powerful, and the Mykonian people into some of the wealthiest in Greece. 

All evidence points to obvious killers, but the murder has put long hidden, politically explosive secrets in play and drawn a dangerous foreign investor to the island.  Andreas Kaldis, feared head of Greece’s special crimes division, is certain there’s a far more complex solution to the murder.  Andreas’ quest for answers amid the entrenched cultural contradictions that give Mykonos so much of its magic, soon has him battling ruthless opportunists preying on his country’s weakened financial condition and learning that there is a high, unexpected price to pay for his curiosity.

He finds himself locked in war with a powerful, clandestine international force willing to do whatever it takes to wrest control of Mykonos from its old guard, no matter what the cost, no matter who must die.  It is a struggle of the sort playing out across much of Greece during this time of dire economic crises overrunning a society rooted in the past trying to catch up with the present. 

I’m very proud of this book.  I consider it true to the gracious words on my Kaldis series expressed by Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times when, in selecting Target: Tinos as one of her five picks for the beach in 2012, wrote: “Another of Siger’s thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales.”

I hope you’ll agree, but more importantly, ENJOY!

Thanks.  Our regularly scheduled programming will return next Saturday.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Part Four: The Human Crocodile

The Human Crocodile

When a doctor goes wrong he is the first of criminals. He has the nerve and he has the knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession.’ – Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1892).   

'Trust me, I'm a doctor!'
'Not with that comb over I wouldn't !'

On Friday 28th July 1865, the last ever public execution to take place in Scotland was performed on Glasgow Green. Around one hundred thousand spectators were present to see Edward William Pritchard, an English doctor, dangle at the end of a hangman’s noose. Pritchard blamed a ‘terrible madness’ for his actions yet it was clear that the murders had been carefully planned.

Pritchard was born in Hamsphire in 1825, the son of a captain in the Royal Navy, became a naval surgeon who served on HMS Victory and in 1846 a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He and his wife had three daughters and two sons before they moved to Glasgow in 1860. Pritchard had left his previous job in Filey in Yorkshire, followed by questions of debt and impropriety towards female patients. There, he had been described as ‘fluent, plausible, amorous, politely impudent and singularly untruthful’.
In 1860, having moved to Glasgow, his applications to join the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow were rejected – perhaps because of doubt regarding his qualifications – it turns out  his diploma had been bought from the University of Erlangen in Germany. One of his many  detractors commented ,"He spoke the truth only by accident.” For example, it seems he used to claim to be a personal friend of great Italian liberator Garibaldi and carried a walking cane with the inscription: 'Presented by Gen. Garibaldi to Edward William Pritchard' as some kind of proof. He also gave lectures on his travels, describing how he hunted “the Nubian lion on the prairies of North America," which is a great feat of accuracy if you think about it geographically. Once he moved to Glasgow he had the strange habit of ‘walking down the street, handing postcards which contained his own picture to people he thought worthy’.
But in 1863, a servant girl died when fire broke out at the Pritchard home in Berkley Terrace which lies round the corner from Madeline Smith’s house.  The procurator fiscal held an enquiry; why did a young healthy girl stay in bed reading while her bedroom went on fire? The answer they failed to come up with was that she was dead already. Pritchard received the insurance money and used it, and a loan from his mother-in-law to move the family to a large house in Sauchiehall Street. The mother-in-law was a terrible judge of character and really admired her son-in-law.

The vacancy for a housemaid was filled by a 15 year old from Islay named Mary McLeod.  Pritchard immediately started an affair with her, later terminating her pregnancy and promising to marry her should his wife die before him.
                                                                        The unfortunate wife.

At the same time, Mrs Pritchard (Mary Jane) became ill in October 1864 in the Sauchiehall Street home. Her husband and physician declared it ‘gastric fever’ and another two doctors concurred. Mrs Pritchard briefly recovered while visiting her parents in Edinburgh only to fall ill again upon her return to Glasgow… and her husband. Her concerned mother, Mrs Taylor, came through from Edinburgh to help nurse her only to contract the same ‘illness’ on arrival and die on 25th February 1865. In her will she left £2500 to her daughter who promptly succumbed to her illness on the 17th March. A Dr Paterson refused to sign the death certificates because of his suspicions regarding the illnesses. So Pritchard signed them himself. 
Dr Paterson did not speak out re his suspicions, later testifying at Pritchard’s trial that he had no doubt that Mrs Pritchard was being poisoned by her husband but that medical etiquette meant that it was impossible for him to do anything about it. Instead there was an anonymous letter sent to the procurator fiscal asking for some attention to be brought to the case.
Edward Pritchard was devastated by the loss of his wife. While through in Edinburgh preparing for the funeral, he pleaded for the coffin lid to be removed one last time and with a display of fervent feeling, he tearfully kissed the lips of his beloved Mary Jane. It was an act that later gained him the name ‘the Human Crocodile,’ for his crocodile tears.
On his return to Glasgow Queen Street, he was met by a detective superintendent and accused of her murder.
The hearing took place over five days and it took the jury less than an hour to declare Pritchard guilty. The Taylors were still supportive of Pritchard until Mrs Taylor’s body was exhumed and post-mortem showed large quantities of antimony in both bodies. Records proved that Pritchard had bought large quantities of poison over the previous few months - more antimony than the rest of the doctors in Glasgow combined. His motive was clear – his obsession with the servant girl. One paper reported: "No one who saw the intelligent, thoughtful and mild-looking individual seated in the dock on the first morning, could be prepared for anything like the consummate villainy and diabolic cruelty which each day brought to light ... the whole murderous plot." His fondness for young ladies - especially household serving maids – earned him his other nickname; The Poisoning Philanderer.
His only defence was to try and shift the blame to the servant girl, Mary McLeod – a claim which he later withdrew. That did not stop him from calling two of his children to the witness stand, aged fifteen and eleven, to tell the court how much their father had loved their mother. Pritchard cried as the children stood in the witness box.
But it was the evidence of his affair with young Mary that ripped his credibility to shreds (not to mention the poison in the dead bodies). It was the beginning of the end for the devilish doctor and despite protestations of innocence, his appointment with death was just weeks away. He was convicted of the murders of both women, he was dispatched to the gallows.
He made several confessions, eventually saying: ‘The sentence is just, I am guilty of the deaths of my mother-in-law and wife. I can assign no motive beyond terrible madness. I alone – not Mary McLeod – poisoned my wife.’ Huge crowds gathered outside the court as he was taken away and Pritchard theatrically bowed to them.
Edward William Pritchard was hanged at 8am on 28th July 1865, his body buried in the South Prison’s Murderer’s Graveyard where plots are only identified by the initials of the dead. Many years later, during building work for the High Court, workmen found a pair of shoes under a stone marked 'EWP'. These were Pritchard's patent leather shoes, perfectly preserved, which he had worn to the scaffold. One of the workmen took the shoes and sold them in a nearby pub.

Caro GB 30th August 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is it any wonder why Africa is called the Dark Continent?

I want to start off today with a little quiz.  Nobody is going to see your answers, except yourself, so you can cheat.  Seriously, take a few minutes to write down your answers.

First, the difficult ones:

1.  How many countries are in Africa?

2.  What are they?  Which is the biggest; which is the smallest?

3.  What is the population of Africa?

4.  What is the predominant religion in Africa?

5.  Which country in Africa has a biggest industrial output?

Now some easy ones:

6.  If the southern tip of Africa has a latitude of X degrees south, what city on the west coast of north America (Mexico, USA, Canada) would be X degrees north?  What city in Europe is X degrees north?

7.  What city in south America is about X degrees south?

8.  How many miles (kms) is it from southern most point in Africa to the northern most point?

9.  How many miles (kms) is it from the western most point in Africa to the eastern most point?

And two interesting ones:

10.  What percentage of Africa is covered by desert?

11.  What animal kills the most people in Africa?

12.  Other than Wilbur Smith and Nelson Mandela, name 5 black African authors and 5 non-black African authors.

Of course I thought of giving you the answers next week, but I won’t.  Where appropriate, they are given below the photos from Africa.

Pyramids at Giza


Temple of Karnak

100-tonne obelisk at Karnak

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

Ruins of the Greater Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe

The Smoke that Thunders - Victoria Falls

Mozambique beach

Table Mountain - soon to be my backyard

African rainforest

Lanzerac Wine Estate near Cape Town
Wildebeest migration in Serengeti

Mongoose Lemur
Ring-tailed Lemur (National Geographic)

Baby Cheetah (Stan Trollip)

Giraffe (Stan Trollip)

Zebra  (Stan Trollip)

A Kubu  (Aron Frankental)

Another Kubu (Aron Frankental)

African Fish Eagle  (Stan Trollip)

Lilac Breasted Roller  (Stan Trollip)

Lion resting after sex  (Stan Trollip)

Leopard on Impala kill (Stan Trollip)

I'm keeping my eye on you
Elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana (Stan Trollip)

So here are the answers:

1.  There are 54 independent countries in Africa.

2.  It is easier for you to go to the following URL to see what the countries are:  The biggest is Algeria (barely beating out The Democratic Republic of the Congo) at 2,381,740 sq. kms.  The smallest are the island countries of the Seychelles at 451 sq. kms and the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe at 964 sq. kms.  The smallest country on the mainland of Africa is The Gambia at a little over 10,000 sq. kms. 

Note 1: 1 sq. mile = 2.6 sq. kms.

Note 2:  The USA is about 9,827,000 sq. kms.

3.  1.03 billion people live in Africa (2011)

4.  Islam is the largest religion with 47% of Africa’s population being believers.  Christianity is second.

5.  I couldn’t find convincing data as to which country has a biggest industrial output, but I think it is South Africa.

6.  Los Angeles is as far north as Cape Town is south ( 34 degrees).  The only European country that is 34 degrees north is Greece, and then only just.  The Island of Crete is about that far north, so Heraklion would have to be the answer.

7.  Buenos Aires is about 34 degrees south.  The tip of south America is about 55 degrees south, or about 1,500 miles (about 2,500 kms) south of the southern tip of Africa.

8.  Africa as about 5,000 miles (8,000 kms) north to south.

9. Africa is about 4,600 miles (7,400 kms) east to west.

10.  About a third of Africa is desert.  The Sahara is about the size of the USA.

11.  The mosquito is the most dangerous animal in Africa.  The hippo is the most dangerous mammal.  But be careful of the Nile crocodile.

12.  I am going to leave it to you to explore Africa’s rich literary talent.

Most westerners have little knowledge of Africa.  I hope this helped to lighten the Dark Continent a bit. 

Of course, I think that Africa is seen as dark because westerners try to look at it with their eyes shut.

Stan - Thursday

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Barbie Berserkur

During Viking times, before computer games became the release of choice for pent up male fighting hormones, men tended to get into battles or feuds where swords of steel were brandished and no pixel ever entered the picture. Sometimes, or so the story goes, they would eat „berserkjasveppir“ to get fully into the groove. Berserkjasveppir are mushrooms – berserkur means nearly rabid person prone to high levels of violence and not particular to wearing any protection or saftey gear while fighting, while sveppur simply means mushroom.

Having spent time on trying to explain what a berserkur means I now realise there is an English variant of this word: to go beserk. It has obviously come into the English language through the Vikings. Could have saved me some typing to think of that sooner.

Berkerkjasveppir look like the mushrooms children draw and Smurfs use for landscaping. These mushrooms are hallucinogenic and are the reason why people here have not picked or eaten wild mushrooms for centuries. Once we became civilised it was not considered suave to foam at the mouth during dinner and end up smashing the dining room furniture for desert.

Things constantly evolve and now it is considered the PC view that the Berserkir did not eat any mushrooms to get into a frenzy but were epileptic or crazy. I do not think it will take long for my countrymen to realize that this is the least possible PC view available as an explanation. I for one am sticking to the mushroom theory.

I have mentioned here previously that we get very happy here when famous people decide to visit the country. Thankfully we have the good sense to leave these people pretty much be – unless they venture into the bars.

The most recent visitor to Iceland is none other than Valeria Lukyanova, known as  the living Barbie. See photo – no words are really needed unless maybe to note that she has really got the look down pat. Living Barbie is supposedly not a young girl from the Ukraine as her passport would imply but a space alien from the Pleiades galaxy. Apparently everyone from the Pleiades galaxy is very deep and philosophical. Her comments to the photos she has published while here is proof of this – here are a few examples of the captions:

  • When you're in space, you see that black does not exist. All bursts consist of endless different colours. It's like a living, ever-changing canvas ... Consisting of living beings who create for human beings, the illusory appearance of black – Please note that the photo was of a blue sky, green grass and a silver river.
  • All of our lives, our world is not more than an illusion – This photo was of her standing in the middle of a quaint shopping street.
  • The more watched the people inhabiting this planet, the more I feel the inevitable desire to quickly get out of this strange game ....and this one showed her standing next to Gullfoss, a waterfall.

Makes me wonder if Barbie by any chance happened to find a red mushroom with white dots. Or two.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A village in Paris

The old village of Charonne lies off the beaten track. In 1860 it became part of Paris.

 The center of Charonne is the church of St Germain de Charonne dating back to 1460, which was built on a church founded in the 12th century then rebuilt in the 13th. Bits have been added over the centuries.
 Part of what's below comes from the 18th century hodgepodged over previous eras.
St Germain de Charonne's cemetary is the last one in Paris still attached to a church.  It sits atop a hill behind the Charonne reservoir and you reach it by a staircase as steep as those in Montmartre.
The wall plaque commemorates where people were shot during the uprising in the Commune.
 The guardian and the Priest of the Church live here.

The old Charonne train station, long out of use, has become a theatre and club.
 If you descend from the Church you enter what still feels like the old village of Charonne in the 20th arrondissement. Follow cobbled rue St Blaise and a few shops remain.
 Then you reach Place des Grés and it's as if time stopped somewhere in the 19th century.
Even the cats greet you.
Cara - Tuesday

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's all about the villa...

Last week I blogged a little background on the Bo Xilai case. Bo Xilai's trial is now on its fourth day, and it's been a pretty compelling show so far. While the ultimate outcome isn't really in doubt — Bo Xilai will be found guilty of something; the main question is what and how much time he will serve — the Chinese government has taken the unprecedented step of releasing updates, transcripts and photos on social media. And Bo himself is not going down without a fight. Although he apologized for "mistakes" related to the charges of abuse of office -- these have to do with accusations that he knew of and helped cover up his wife Gu Kailai's role in the murder of Neil Heywood — he's mounted a vigorous defense, denying allegations of corruption, calling his wife "crazy" for accusing him of it (though he admitted cheating on her), denied taking bribes from a Chinese millionaire and characterized the testimony of the chief witness against him as 'the ugly performance of a person selling his soul.' Bo claims that if Gu Kailai was taking money from millionaires, he himself knew nothing about it, and so far there's been little evidence submitted to prove that he did.

I've been mostly looking at the Shanghaiist's liveblog of the proceedings, which pulls together a lot of great tweets and commentary. Another great source is China Digital Times.

Here for example are Bo Xilai and his former ally, Wang Lijun, once the police chief of Chongqing:

One thing I learned about Wang that I did not know before—apparently he has the reputation of being a real fashionista
Wang designed police uniforms, boots, and raincoats. He personally oversaw the redesign, for "medical" purposes, of the uniforms worn by female police officers under his command. As well as fashion, Wang claimed to be an artist connoisseur and architectural expert. He took out over 150 patents for his various designs.
He also supposedly liked staging false gun busts to pump up his image; also, torturing prisoners. It's enough to kind of make you glad that Bo punched Wang (or slapped him, depending on who you believe) when Wang informed him of Gu Kailai's role in Neil Heywood's murder.

And about that murder...apparently the reason Neil Heywood was killed was that he threatened to reveal the Bo/Gu's ownership of a French villa, and when Gu wouldn't pony up £1.4 "in compensation," he then threatened their son, Guagua. And if there is one thing we've learned from this trial, you don't threaten Guagua.

Rather than my trying to summarize everything that's gone on over the last three days, I'll leave you with the links to the Shanghaiist and China Digital Times liveblogs.

The Chinese leadership is in a tough spot here. They have to find Bo guilty of something, but the charges that they have the easiest time proving (or at least selling) are kickbacks and bribes of a sort that are standard operation procedure for officials -- cynical Chinese netizens have been making remarks that if this is all they've got, Bo hardly rises to the level of corrupt village headman, especially when compared to the millions or billions that the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao made during his years in power. And looking too deeply at the "abuse of office" — at those anti-corruption campaigns in Chongqing conducted to the music of "Red Songs" praising Mao and Maoism — could mean looking too deeply at Mao's legacy and at Mao himself. And no one in the current Chinese leadership seems inclined to do that.