Malcolm Redfellow's reading diary

"I guess there never can be enough books" (John Steinbeck)

Month: August, 2011

13 Beauty in the hands of the beholder

There are still a few well-produced books which are covetable in their own right.

This is one of them.

The dustcover alone is a major work of art (front above, rear below).

In 200 pages Rice takes us patiently through the whole spectrum of Norfolk buildings and types — from the Great Houses at Holkham, Blickling, Houghton, down to the humblest cottage and barn, old and new.

Malcolm reached it down when he found himself wondering about the Dutch connection. Rice sees it at Blickling:

Rice discounts detailed Dutch influence in an important chapter, Going Dutch:

How Dutch is Norfolk building? Many of its characteristics are attributed to Dutch influence: the early use of brick, pantiles that began to usurp thatch as the roofing material in Norfolk in the eighteenth century, the ubiquitous Dutch and stepped gables, Dutch master builders and architects, and buildings specifically influenced by models in Holland like the customs house in King’s Lynn [as right].

But a trip to the Netherlands rather refutes some of the strength of these links. Vernacular building types in the equivalent towns in the Netherlands are very clearly different from any found in Norfolk or in any other English county. For example, the large pyramidal roofed farmhouses, the strange combination of pantile and thatch in one roof, and the frequent use of a large central dormer in the roof of a single-storey house are all building types that are absent in Britain. Brick sizes and bonds, church types, the high-necked gable that so characterises the short façade town houses of Amsterdam, Haarlem or Hoorn are all so different from their English counterparts.

He then rattles through the circumstances:

  • brick types (why did Malcolm not previously appreciate the Brick Tax was the reason for the size of English bricks?);
  • the Hanseatic League and relationships [which] existed between the merchants of the Hanse and the conveniently eastward-looking towns of Lynn, Yarmouth and Norwich;
  • the immigrants from the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, hard-working Protestant refugees from the unbending Catholic rule of Spanish regents who became at one time nearly 30 per cent of Norwich’s population;

and so on. Even so:

Norfolk’s buildings are not Dutch. Different street plans, narrower façades and different brick sizes and bonds all make them distinctive.

Rice borrows a humorous touch, which could come from the slighter efforts by Osbert Lancaster. Lancaster tended to the satiric while conveying a remarkable quantum of information (and prejudice).

With Rice it is the little touches in the near-asides which add enchantment as well as conveying proportion: there’s that Fougasse-like lady with her pooch before Blickling (above), the hoodies propping up Westwick Old Hall, the pheasant on the ridge of a barn, a peacock at Beeston St Lawrence, sheep at Gunton Park, the occasional bit of doggy business.

For reasons close to home there are two of these vignettes which particularly endear themselves to Malcolm: the beshorted summer visitors outside the grocers at the top of Staithe Street, Wells; and this one:

Wells has its chavettes, lurking with a fag at the entry to that alley, which leads down to Church Plain.

It’s filled cover-to-cover with remarkable information and painstaking detail. It is finely-produced by Francis Lincoln to a quality rather than to a price. It is fun. So —

Malcolm cannot praise this book too highly. 

 

Old deaths and dispatchings

The Spectator kept it safely out of the back-half books ghetto, but Peter Hitchens did a stimulating essay on the thrillers of yesteryear.

His point-of-departure was to suggest:

Ignore the log-rolling, the favours to friends and publishers, the favouritism of the bookshop display tables. As an occasional author, I long ago realised that at least half the book reviews in Britain are written by people who haven’t read the book they are writing about, and don’t much care. If you want something to read in the summer months, plunge instead into a secondhand bookshop (there are still some there) and seek out the intelligent thrillers and detective stories of the recent past.

He then suggests

  • Eric Ambler for Uncommon Danger and Cause for Alarm;
  • Nevil Shute for No Highway, In the Wet, The Chequer Board, What Happened to the Corbetts;
  • Josephine Tey for The Daughter of Time; The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar;

and

  • Constantine FitzGibbon for When the Kissing Had to Stop.

Malcolm reckons, without heavy reconsideration, he has six of those under his belt. Others may have been lost to memory in the mists of time.

St Columba’s College school library had a decent run of Shute. Perhaps that was when the addiction was acquired.
He knows precisely when and why he went through The Daughter of Time in a single day. Aged sixteen, it involved a rugby injury and a screw inserted in an elbow. Dublin hospitals in those days, thanks to the benefice of Arthur Guinness, prescribed a half-pint bottle of stout per diem. Malcolm’s hospital bed was between two total abstainers, with whom he traded ice-cream and fruit-juice. The novel, which involves Tey’s tec, Alan Grant, also confined to a hospital bed, seemed appropriate, too. Perhaps that was the origin of contrariness.

Eric Ambler came on the walk back to the cold-water Ballsbridge flat, out of Back Gate of Trinity College, Dublin, past the sixpenny troughs of Greene’s bookshop (Malcolm recalls the troughs were appropriately painted green).

FitzGibbon was a feature around Dublin, and his lighter stuff considered to be … a bit on the saucy side. Which, in those days of censorship made him essential reading.

Augmentations

Malcolm has and will read anything by Eric Ambler. He would suggest, ahead of those suggestions, and in some kind of precedence:

  • Epitaph for a Spy;
  • The Mask of Demetrios; and
  • Journey into Fear.

All of those were published in the febrile period of 1938-40. As is usual for Ambler, the central character is an ordinary bloke who finds himself in extra-ordinary circumstances — in Journey into Fear he is only identified by his surname, “Graham”. He is too “normal” to be a spy, and the tension is mainly one of survival against the odds. The significance of Journey into Fear is underlined by its continuance in print  most recently in Penguin Classics, with an introduction by Professor Norman Stone, no less.

Childers

What Malcolm could never accept is such a list which excluded the Daddy of them All, all the way from 1903: Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands, his only attempt at a novel. Few books have been so potent in their consequences: the Royal Navy redeployed its Home Fleet on its presumptions. It even turns up as one of the finest novels of all time.

This represents the moment when the sensational novel (as developed by — for an obvious example — Rider Haggard) gained a political edge. It inhabits a curious half-world between fiction and reality. Childers was the civil servant who had sailed the Frisian coast in 1897. there was something of a hysteria about German invasion plans, to the extent that two navy men, Captain Trench of the Marines and Lieutenant Vivian Brandon, retraced Childers’s route in 1910 — just in case.

Every subsequent writer in the genre owes a debt to Childers.

Buchan

Childers died for Ireland. The epitome of Englishness was defined by the Scotsman, John Buchan. Irony alert.

Any, or all of the Richard Hannay novels should be in such a list. The main problem with The Thirty-Nine Steps is that nobody of a certain age can dissociate the text from (depending on one’s vintage) Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll ( Hitchcock, 1935),  Kenneth More and Taina Elg (Ralph Thomas, 1959) or Robert Powell and Karen Dotrice (Don Sharp, 1978).

So, were Malcolm combing the shelves after Peter Hitchens’s example he would certainly be looking for Buchan: perhaps the all-in-one Complete Richard Hannay, or the others off the same production line: The Power House or Huntingtower or John McNab or Prester John. Even so, Malcolm’s guess is that, all all of that, the one that most would stick in the mind is Buchan’s effort of 1916 (and in that Hannay anthology): Greenmantle.

Greenmantle is the cancer-ridden, dying prophet of Islam, being manipulated by:

that damned German propaganda. His unworldliness has been used for a cunning political move, and his creed of space and simplicity for the furtherance of the last word in human degeneracy.

The manipulator is “a Superwoman, and her name’s Hilda von Einem.” No subsequent shocker is complete without its seductive, but evil Hilda.
[as hyperlinked above, some Buchan — and lots of other great stuff —  is available for downloading, in various e-formats, through gutenberg.org]

Graham Greene

Years gone, when teachers had some say in what they presented to their students, Malcolm had one of those “difficult” classes (i.e. male, lower-stream, seen it, done it, got the ripped tee-shirt to prove it) to get though 16+ exams.

In an inspired moment he plucked The Third Man out of a catalogue. Everyone thinks they know the Carol Reed movie (arguably the best Britpic ever made), so the “entertainment”/novella that Greene fashioned as a way into his script goes less well noticed. Mistake.

If one were to identify characteristics that made the English novel of the last half-century or so, most are here. There is the cynical and elusive Harry Lime, the simplistic anti-hero Rollo Martins (who never wholly gets a grip on what’s going on), the underlying political satire (Cold War politics implicit in Martins’ Wild West novels), and — the strongest character of the lot — Anna.

Look long around Peter Hitchens’ second-hand bookshop: there are still first editions cropping up.

Et cetera

Malcolm had intended to conclude with a quick run-through of recent unmissables: Cold War stuff such as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold would be leading that little bunch. Le Carré matched that later, with the Smiley novels — he had set his bar too high to beat it. Len Deighton’s first, The Ipcress File (another one better known through the decent film adaptation)  and — a quarter of a century later — Winter deserve to be in there as well.

Once we get into that stuff, then ….

More later, perhaps.

12 Walk the line

Not Johnny Cash, on this occasion.

This one is about a marathon slog. For some unfathomable reason (except it’s going to sell a lot of bog books —they’re the ones that hang around in the downstairs toilet of Redfellow Hovel), Mark Mason walked 403 miles, 912,384 paces, along the routes of every one of the London underground lines. The result is a rather tasty effort: Walk the Lines, the Underground Overground.

It would be easy to dismiss this as an exercise in trivia, and Mason has a track record in that line of work. This is something more. For a London resident (as Malcolm remains) it is a rewarding learning experience. For examples of Malcolm’s now repaired ignorance, he did not know that:

  • Tim Bentinck (“David Archer” from the BBC Radio soap) was the hectoring voice telling us to Mind the Gap!
  • Mark Twain, no less, was a passenger on the Central Line’s first outing to Shepherd’s Bush.
  • The Russian word for “railway” was based on misunderstanding that Vauxhall was a station, rather than a whole system.

There’s also a lot of stuff which is incidental, throw-away lines, frequently only a footnote:

  • Albert Speer, while incarcerated in Spandau prison, walked from Berlin to Heidelberg. He achieved this by completing 2,000-odd (very odd) laps of the prison garden. After this he sought a new destination. Fellow prisoner Rudolf Hess suggested Asia, but Speer rejected this as it would mean walking through several Communist countries.
  • Harrods went apostrophe-less a full nineteen years before Selfridges followed.
  • The “Square Mile” of the City of London is actually 1.16 square miles.
  • Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four were commissioned at the same dinner party. There was an astute publisher.

The pick of the bunch here are:

What this book does very well is to amuse: it could be an exemplar of the best kind of “info-entertainment”.

Beyond that is the purpose of the London Underground system. Its primary function to to deliver commuters to and from their places of work. In the central core its is less efficacious: it is generally believed that Leicester Square to Covent Garden (over-used by tourists misled  by Harry Beck‘s magic map) is the shortest distance between stations: it’s not — think Charing Cross to Embankment.

Above all Mason imposes humanity on the abstraction and device that is a public transport system. The contrast between the strict schematics of the tinplate map and the “drunkard’s walk” that is its transcription onto the real geography of our city is the whole matter here.

So,  let’s start with Baker Street: cue Gerry Rafferty.

11 Glesca belongs to …

… a horse of a different colour, one Christopher Brookmyre, now being marketed as “Chris”, and doubtless on his way to the unadorned block-print surname that is the likes of “Bateman“.

Bear in mind that every other Scottish crime writer has that problem called Ian Rankin. So, on one level, you know where you are with Brookmyre — except (and this is the point) you don’t.  With Brookmyre, by choice the locale is definitely not the Athens of the North:

There was a six‐foot iguana swaying purposefully into Parlabane’s path as he walked down High St. It had spotted him a few yards back and instinctively homed in on its prey, recognising that look in his eye and reacting without mercy. Some kind of sixth sense told cats which person in any given room most detested or was allergic to their species, so that they knew precisely whose lap to leap upon. A similar prescience had been visited upon spoilt Oxbridge undergrad hoorays in stupid costumes dispensing fliers for their dismal plays and revues. It was for this reason that a phenomenon such as the Fringe could never have thrived in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, most locals were stoically, if wearily, tolerant of such impositions; through in the west, dressing up as a giant lizard and deliberately getting in people’s way would constitute reckless endangerment of the self.

“There’s no getting past me, I’m afraid!” the iguana chirped brightly in a stagey, let’s‐be‐friends, happy‐cheery, go on, please stab me, you know it’ll make you feel better tone of voice. “Not without taking one of these!” it continued, thrusting a handful of leaflets at him.

Parlabane had put on the wrong t‐shirt that morning, forgetting that his errands would unavoidably take him through places residents knew well to avoid during the Festival (or to give it its full name in the native tongue, the Fucking Festival). He was wearing a plain white one, which was nice enough but vitally lacked the legend “FUCK OFF – I LIVE HERE”, as was borne on several others at home. His August wardrobe, he liked to call it.

That’s from Bampot Central, a short-story in the anthology Fresh Blood 2: definitely worth the search.

Malcolm attic has a shelf with half-a-metre occupied by Brookmyre’s previous stuff. As Malcolm has said elsewhere, he found the admixture of black comedy and well-crafted noir very palatable indeed. The character of Parlabane was a remarkable one, and had unexploited lengths to go before Brookmyre despatched him. Lately there came some very weird stuff indeed: Brookmyre’s immediate last, Pandaemonium, was damned hard work — quite literally (and Malcolm chooses his word well) approaching the gates of hell. Malcolm’s assumption was Brookmyre was making an ill-intended fist at the post-teenage schlocker market

Perhaps an editor has had a quiet word with Brookmyre, because the new one, Where the Bodies are Buried, is a return to old ground (pun intended). It is billed as the first in a brand new crime series.

This is a good straightforward police procedural.

We have the conflicted detective, Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod (she has issues with her marital sex-life, but wouldn’t normally allow anyone to smoke in the car), and the requisite sick-kick, Detective Inspector Laura Geddes (who has little more than a stroll-by part). Across the gangway is Jasmine Sharp, theatre-school drop-out and recovering twenty-year-old orphan, finding herself in sole charge of her Uncle Jim’s private detective agency and looking for Uncle Jim.

Is Brookmyre showing Rankin how to do the gear-shift to writing female central characters? For a while there we thought Rebus would be succeeded by Siobhan Clarke.

The Parlabane substitute is “Tron Ingrams”, a.k.a. Glen Fallan. We obviously have not finished our business with Mr Fallan in this brand new crime series, nor have DS McLeod nor Miss Sharp.

Inevitably almost nobody is how they are first presented. The essential matter to grasp is this is Brookmyre. Take nothing on trust, especially not the basic assertion:

‘This is Glesca … Any time you’re confused, take a wee minute to remind yourself of that inescapable fact: this is Glesca. We don’t do subtle, we don’t do nuanced, we don’t do conspiracy. We do pish-heid bampot bludgeoning his girlfriend to death in a fit of paranoid rage induced by forty-eight hours on the batter. We do coked-up neds jumping on a guy’s heid outside a nightclub because he looked at them funny. We do drug-dealing gangster rockets shooting other drug-dealing rockets as comeback for something almost identical a fortnight ago. We do bam-on-bam. We do tit-for-tat, score-settling, feuds, jealousy, petty revenge. We do straightforward. We do obvious. We do cannaemisswhodunit. When you hear hoofbeats on Suchiehall Street, it’s gaunny be a horse, no’ a zebra, because?”

“This is Glesca”.

For a couple of days this one threatened to gather dust and top the guilt pile. For good reason, on a second reading of the opening chapter, it didn’t persist there. All that is to be hoped now is:

  • the series continues in the same vein;
  • the paperback, when it comes along, has better production values than the over-priced hard-back.

10 Plumbing the depths

… a final assault on the secrets of that underwater tomb. The Dei Gloria‘s tomb was now definitively situated two miles off the coast, at 37°33.3,N and 0°46.8,W. with her stern at eighty-five feet and her bow at ninety-two.

Tomb

There are thirteen usages of that word in the narrative: those are the final two.

On the surface

In the same parallels, but stylistically a world away from Eric NewbyArturo Perez-Reverte’s The Nautical Chart hove into view. To be truthful, it had to be hauled off the rocks of the guilt pile, where it had been stranded a long, long time.

The no-nos

There are all kinds of reasons why Malcolm should take an instinctive dislike to this novel:

  • It is in translation (and — boy! — has he had to endure some bad ones there).
  • He never has been a great enthusiast for Spanish fiction, having toiled through a (weak) translation of Cervantes many years gone.
  • It is heavily referential: a reader is lost who arrives here without a fairly comprehensive grounding in Herman Melville (if only courtesy of Gregory Peck), RLS, Conrad, Forester, Patrick O’Brian and much, much more.
  • Chapter 1 begins with an attenuated sentence that might, at full extension, be a contender for the Bulwer-Lytton award:

We could call him Ishmael, but in truth his name is Coy.

  • To get to that first chapter, there is a turgid (only much later do we recognise deliberately so) four-paragraph intro:

LET US observe the night. It is nearly perfect, with Polaris visible in its prescribed location, to the right and five times the distance of the line formed between Merak and Dubhe. Polaris will remain in that exact place for the next twenty thousand years, and any sailor watching it will be comforted by seeing it overhead. It is, after all, reassuring to know that something somewhere is immutable, as precise people set a course on a nautical chart or on the blurred landscape of a life. If we continue perusing the stars, we will have no difficulty finding Orion, and then Perseus and the Pleiades. That will be easy because the night is so clear, not a cloud in the sky, not a hint of a breeze. The wind from the southwest eased at sunset, and the dock is a black mirror reflecting the lights of the cranes in the port, the lighted castles high on the mountains, and the flashes—green on one side and red on the other—from the lighthouses of San Pedro and Navidad.

A novel: not just a story

It is a classic narrative:

  • At the simplest level it is the Quest meme, a hunt for the MacGuffin. In this case we do not learn precisely what is the object until page 220 (of 465 in this edition):

As Coy walked out the door, the treasure hunter’s last words echoed in his ears.

“You still don’t believe me, do you? Well, ask her about the emeralds on the Dei Gloria. Asshole.”

  • A step above that is the sexual quest, the emotional voyage: “Boy meets girl. Boy eventually gets girl. Boy loses girl” , and, in this case, boy goes looking for his real mate, ships and the sea —

Women who looked at him because they weren’t happy, as if they wanted to pass their unhappiness on to him.

He wept silently behind closed eyes. To console himself he rested his head against the wooden side of the ship, listening to the sea on the other side of the thin planking separating him from Eternity.

  • Because this has elements of the thriller, there has to be what Aristotle perceived as “the overcoming of the monster”. Inevitably, since this is the age of anti-heroes, the monsters is not always what, or who, it seems.
  • It is also circular, almost riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s. In that prologue, just after the disquisition on Merak and Dubhe,we meet Coy:

Now let us turn to the man. He stands motionless, leaning against the coping of the wall. He is looking at the sky, which appears darker in the east, and thinking that in the morning the easterly will be blowing, raising a swell out beyond the harbor. He also seems to be smiling a strange smile.

Two pages from the end we reach precisely, in time and place, a commodius vicus of recirculation:

So this was when Coy walked out. It was a perfect night, with Polaris visible in its prescribed location, to the right and five times the distance of the line formed between Merak and Dubhe. He walked to the balustrade of the wall, and stood there, pressing his hand against the wound in his side. He had felt beneath his shirt and found that the rip in his flesh was superficial, and that he wasn’t going to die this time. He counted five weak beats of his heart as he contemplated the dark port, the lights on the docks, and the reflection of the castles high on the mountains.

That, though, isn’t the key — for this is a novel — and therefore far more profound than mere “story”. The “moment of incitement’ suggests what Coy is all about:

“Thank you,” said a woman’s voice from behind him…

… Welcome aboard. For thousands of years, even before Homer’s hollow ships set sail for Troy, there were men with wrinkles around their mouths and rainy November hearts, men whose nature leads them sooner or later to look with interest into the black hole of a pistol barrel, men for whom the sea was a solution and who always sensed when it was time to make an exit. Even before he knew it, Coy was one of them, by vocation and by instinct.

  • So this is also a journey of self-discovery. And the Homeric overtones run through the whole text.

O son of Neleus! awful Nestor

Therein lies a clue: the unobservant re ader may not “get it” until the first-person narrator finally reveals himself (although he has been mentioned a couple of times previously):

Although for personal reasons I sign my articles and my books with the same name and modest title I use on my calling card— below the anagram, common in my profession, of a T inside an O: Nestor Perona, Master Cartographer—I have held the chair of cartography at the Universidad de Murcia for a long time. My publications mean something in the scientific world, and I must often respond to questions and problems posed by institutions and individuals.
Those, like Malcolm, who have traversed the Iliad, know well of Nestor:
… the lucid speaker of Pylos,
from whose lips the streams of words ran sweeter than honey.
In his time two generations of mortal men had perished,
those who had grown up with him and they who had been born to
these in sacred Pylos, and he was king in the third age.
Bedell the bard-commentator
Malcolm, having touched the robe of Professor William Bedell Stanford, knows too that Nestor in the Odyssey is so prone to garrulous chat and feasting that Telemachos avoids a second visit. Sure enough, in this tale, his extended dinner and prevarications (he alone possesses the information that locates the MacGuffin) provoke this:

Again I paused and looked at them, smiling. “Do you see where I’m going?”

“Goddammit!” said Coy. “Just spit it out, will you?”

I gifted him with a look of affection. I believe I have told you that I liked this individual more by the minute.

By now any reader must have sussed there is a nominative code here:

Coy, the beached sea-man, the main personality of the story, into whose though processes we are allowed a privileged and unauthorised perspective, has a name which (if Malcolm’s Spanish-English dictionary is reliable) means “hammock”, “berth”.

His antagonist is the seductive Tánger Soto. “Soto” suggests thicket, then this:

“My father, though, was in the service,” she added.

There was a note of defiance, or perhaps of pride, in her words. That confirmed a number of things Coy had noticed: a certain way she had of moving, a gesture here and there, and the serene, slightly haughty self-discipline that seemed to take over at times.

“Career Navy?”

“Army. He retired as a colonel, after spending most of his life in Africa.”

“Is he still alive?” “No.”

She spoke without a trace of emotion. It was impossible to know if it upset her to talk about it. Coy studied the navy-blue irises, and she bore his scrutiny with no expression.

“Which is why your name is Tánger. For Tangier.”

“Which is why my name is Tánger.”

Why did the combination of “Colonel” “North Africa” and “Tangiers” prompt Malcolm that in July 1936  a certain Francisco Franco was able to transport his shock-troops of the Spanish Army of Africa from Tangiers to Seville, courtesy of the Italian Air Force’s Junkers? Seville_ eight references, including:

They intended to make an all-out effort at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, where they calculated some eighty ships had gone down on their way to unload in Seville with more gold aboard than the Banco de Espana has. But this isn’t Florida; they couldn’t get official authorization.

El Piloto is Coy’s help-mate, who provides the boat from which the underwater exploration is done. Coy has known him since youth:

“Do you have much experience as a diver?”

“I have some. I took a course at the naval diving center, and a couple of summers I worked cleaning ships’ hulls with a wire brush, blind to anything farther away than my nose. During vacations, I also dived for Roman amphoras with Pedro el Piloto.”

‘And who is Pedro el Piloto?”

“The owner of the Carpanta. A friend.”

“That’s prohibited now.”

“Having friends?”

“Bringing up amphoras.”

We never have any other name for Piloto. Were this commedia dell’arte (and, in some ways, it is), we have encountered El Capitano — but more subdued, less bombastic, more restrained. He is, though, in at the death, fulfilling the rôle that Coy had repeatedly promised:

He heard El Piloto’s footsteps behind him, and felt him lean beside him against the balustrade.

“She’s dead.”

Coy said nothing …

“I held her hand,” said El Piloto. “She thought it was you.”

The apparent villains, Horacio Kiskoros, the dwarf Argentinian ex-torturer, and his employer, Nino Palermo of the two-tone eyes, are the obvious “monsters”.

Conclusion

This is, to Malcolm’s bestaggerment, a fine novel.

It has a Homeric central character (only one —all except Coy are seen in reflection) who is credible, deep, contorted, satisfied and unsatisfied, torn, and unfulfilled. It has a “mission” which isn’t the search for the emeralds (at the end they are overlooked). It takes us from a moment of incitement to a dénouement and a reasonably satisfactory conclusion.

Then there is Tánger:

“What you are,” he said, “is a witch. A goddamn scheming witch.”

She is also the Siren encountered by Odysseus:

“Sirens,” he said suddenly.

She looked at him with surprise.

“What about sirens?”

Coy lifted his hands and let them drop.

“I don’t know. They sang, Homer said. They called to the sailors, isn’t that right? And the sailors couldn’t help themselves.”

“Because they were idiots. They ran right onto the reefs, destroying their ships.”

“I’ve been there.” Coy’s expression had darkened. “I’ve been on the reefs, and I don’t have a ship. It will be some time before I have one again, and now I don’t have anything better to do.”

An epic voyage
… but not one to be undertaken lightly.