Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"But who is to guard the guards themselves?" is the translation, but I think the modern interpretation is "Who is watching Big Brother?"


Every year in June or July, the Books sections of our newspapers publish lists of books that various literary pundits have recommended for summer reading. Well this year I have stolen a march on them and am going to suggest you add Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid to your personal holiday reading list.

Val McDermid is one of the best known British crime writers; indeed it was from her books that the very popular TV series Wire in The Blood was created. When you pick up anything by her you know you are in for a gripping tale, you can hardly bear to put the book down as you just HAVE to see what will happen next. Beneath the Bleeding delivers all that and more. The main characters are Dr Tony Hill, a psychological profiler who works closely with DCI Carol Jordan of the Bradfield Police. This duo have featured in many of McDermid’s books, and their complex relationship is always part of the story. Having said that, it is not necessary to have read any of the previous books in which they feature in order to enjoy this one, as it does stand on its own.

The book opens with an incident which results in Dr Hill being confined to hospital for the greater part of the tale, in the same hospital an internationally famous footballer, star of the local team is gravely ill. It turns out that the footballer has been poisoned. DCI Jordan has to find out who would poison him, how, and why. Hill takes his mind off his physical problems by trying to work with what little information they have in order to get a picture of the likely poisoner. When others start being poisoned too, it becomes a major investigation and time is of the essence.

Then, if that weren’t enough to be going on with, there is an explosion at the city’s football stadium, and dozens of people are killed and injured. Carol and her team are first on the scene and immediately begin the investigation, until the Counter Terrorism Command people arrive and take over. The twists and turns of what may be a terrorist attack, or may be something else, are intricately plotted, and McDermid uses the tensions between the local police force and the CTC to good effect, she has obviously drawn on the information divulged at various recent terrorist trials to describe bomb making techniques. The book also highlights just how fast racial tensions can be exposed when an incident like this occurs.

As always the police procedural aspect of the book is fascinating – McDermid emphasises just how much IT specialists are used within the police force to search hard drives and other nooks and crannies of the computer world in the solving of crime.

The ending left me slightly sceptical, but a friend who also enjoyed the book thought it was very plausible – I wonder what you would make of it.

A great beach read, a great anytime read.

Rated 4.5*


Since 1997 we have been at the mercy of the most controlling, power hungry bunch of politicians we have ever had the misfortune to be governed by. I thought the last Tory lot were bad, but they were merely sleazy, the Blair/Brown regime are far worse and far more dangerous.

Britain is being turned into a nightmarish totalitarian state, and we are so supine we are letting it happen. We are to be spied on in every aspect of our lives. We already have more CCTV cameras than ANY other country in the world – we are watched on just about every road, every street, in every railway station, every shopping centre, public swimming bath – the list seems endless. This, say the police, government and local councils is for our own good, to prevent crime and to solve crimes. Does it do that? Does it hell. Has crime been prevented – no, it has risen, but never mind, the cameras have enabled jobsworths to snoop on us from dawn to dusk.

Then, when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was placed on the statute book, the Government said it was for the prevention of terrorism. They use that as the reason for everything they do these days. And what has RIPA done to save us all from terrorism so far? Not a sausage, but the borough council in Poole used it to permit the surveillance of a family who they suspected (wrongly) of applying to send their four year old daughter to a school in another cachement area. Scary stuff eh? lucky they watched them don't you think? On the other hand Gosport District Council used RIPA to justify their surveillance of people who were under suspicion of committing serious crime (this is a necessary criteria under the regulation of the Act) – and this REALLY serious crime was…..dog fouling in a local park. Wow - you really need to have a specially draconian Act of Parliament to put a stop to that.

This misuse of legislation is what is known as Function Creep. A piece of legislation intended for one thing ends up being used for another thing entirely. And so, bit by bit, our liberty and our privacy is whittled away.

The latest lunacy proposed by the Government, is that the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) should supply them with ALL our emails, plus all our mobile phone calls and text messages. The Government would keep all this information on a huge database for 12 months so they can access any email, call or text sent or received by anyone in the UK. Whaaat! Are we to be allowed no privacy at all? Why not steam open my birthday card from Aunty Marise as well, just to check she isn’t planning the destruction of the western world as we know it?

Apart from the fact that the Home Office’s track record of keeping data secure is laughable (don’t get me started on that…), function creep would soon set in, and who knows who would end up reading our emails. It is a nauseating thought.

I'm off to join a protest group - want to come too?


Its a pity that when most people think of Guacamole, what they think of is the bland, preservative packed, artificially green mush sold in a plastic tub in a supermarket, when the real thing is easy peasy lemon squeezy to make, and tastes so fresh and delicious. I will confess that I am not an avocado fan in the normal way of things, but I do enjoy a dollop of guacamole on a crispbread. This is a dish which originated in Mexico, and the name comes from a corruption of the Mayan words 'ahuactl' which means avocado, and 'malli' which means sauce. But I suppose all you clever clogs knew that already.


3 ripe avocados
½ red onion, very finely chopped
2 large ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, cored and de-seeded
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 large red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves/stalks, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Halve the avocados, remove the stones, and scoop the flesh into a bowl (make sure you get all the very green flesh which is just under the skin).

Use a fork to roughly mash the avocado, don’t turn it into a pulp, some texture is good.

Add the finely chopped onion and chilli, the finely diced tomato, the chopped coriander and the lime/lemon juice. Gently mix everything together and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store in the fridge with a piece of clingfilm pressed down on the surface of the Guacamole to prevent air getting to it and making it go brown.

Serve with pita bread, savoury crackers, grissini or spread it on dry toasted slices of baguette as a crostini.


Bybee said...

My Welsh co-worker told me today that Obama is the new American Tony Blair. Shudder.

Nick said...

I went off Val McDermid some time ago. Can't remember why now, I think I just found her books a bit samey. Must give her another try.

Well, H, we've discussed surveillance before! I think the threat to any particular individual is vastly exaggerated, though if you happen to be the one fingered on some ludicrous pretext, it's no joke. My real grouse is the expense of all this nonsense - mammoth databases, database-watchers, new offices etc - when public services like the NHS are starved of cash. And you're right, terrorism is now the bogus excuse for all these sinister new laws, and the MPs mindlessly swallow it and vote everything through.

MaryContrary said...

I have read a few of Val McDermid novels. I found them enjoyable but uneven. Some work better than others. I would recommend her to anyone who likes the harder edged mysteries.

I live outside Chicago and that city has been beefing up its system of security cameras. I think many of the large cities in the U.S. are not far behind the U.K. I agree with Nick about the expense and your comments about the effectiveness. Chicago is on track for a record number of teen murders most of which will not be solved by the cameras because the gunmen knew where the cameras were and remained outside the viewing area. But the news media over here constantly touts the high tech capabilities of the system. I would add another caveat to the ones you listed--security of the files the government keeps. Has anyone heard of lost laptops and disks??

Jeanne said...

Don't get me started on surveillance. Step over here, let us scan your eyeballs and store that together with your credit card details on a database. If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear! Yeah right. Forget it. The other lunatic scheme is the idea that I want an Oyster card, a cash card and a credit card all linked and rolled into one. Are you people crazy?? I'll be right behind you at that protest group...

herschelian said...

bybee - Obama the new Tony Blair? be afraid, be very afraid!

nick - I guess you and I will never really see eye to eye about the dangers of state surveillance. I suspect part of my disquiet (and Jeanne's) stems from living in South Africa during the apartheid years and seeing how easily and frequently such surveillance could be used to control the population.

marycontrary - maybe the powers that be in Chicago could learn from the British experience with CCTV, many studies have been done, and its benefits are dubious to say the least.