Monthly Archives: November 2013

An extract from ‘Every Dark Place’

Every Dark PlaceWednesday 9:32 a.m., March 17

‘TRUEBLOOD,’ I said into my cell phone.


I had known Pat Garrat’s secretary nearly four years. Even on the phone I knew she had bad news. I could even guess how bad it was. ‘Yeah, Sandy,’ I answered, my left hand on the steering wheel of my big county-issue sedan, the right up by my ear.

‘Garrat wants to see you as soon as possible.’

‘I’ll be there in half-an-hour.’ I put my phone back in my pocket and pulled into a farmer’s driveway so I could turn around. I had been firming up a list of witnesses about a burglary spree the sheriff’s department had interrupted a few weeks earlier. We needed live bodies in the witness stand so a jury could understand the nature and extent of the damage these kids had done. Naturally folks were reluctant to help. About half of them wanted their stuff back without bothering to take a day or two off to see justice done. The others worried about retribution.

And why not? The thieves were juveniles; no matter what we did they were going to get another chance and sometimes second chances take the form of revenge. I was too old to marvel at such legal niceties, but for the past couple of days I had been telling people that when the prosecutor finished with these thieves, they weren’t going to remember who testified. All they would be thinking about was getting out of Shiloh County! It was a method that worked with a lot of people. Pat Garrat was new to office but as tough as tempered steel. Remind them who was running things, and they would get a private smile and tell me I was probably right.

Of course there were some of the older ones who told me Pat Garrat was not half the politician her daddy had been. I never disagreed with such sentiment, and I had been hearing it since Garrat had started campaigning for the prosecutor’s office over a year ago. I would answer instead that I had had the honour of working for Governor Pat Garrat and that in my opinion no one was ever going to be the equal of that Pat Garrat, but if anyone was going to get close to his sort of integrity his little girl had the best chance. More often than not people got a private smile on their faces and a look of hope that comes when something grand is stirring to life.

I took State Road 159 north into metropolitan Hegira, blinked, and hit the raw open countryside again. I passed through yellow fields in fallow, vast acreage of farmland ploughed and disked to a wet black and waiting seed, a smattering of woods, and small clumps of working class houses trying to be a suburb. The countryside was breaking out of wintertime, but a cold mist took away the pleasure of it.

I GOT BACK TO the office close to forty-five minutes after Sandy’s call and left the parking lot whistling contentedly. At the north door I passed through a security check, then ambled on until I came to the county prosecutor’s suite of offices. Garrat had seven prosecutors, a couple of them looking to be very decent lawyer-types if you could forgive them their green, but they were all young. In a particularly morose period of my life—as I recall it was a week or so after Will Booker’s appeal case broke over us like a canker sore—I had tried to decide if all the lawyers together, including Pat Garrat, had as much work experience as I did. When I finished the tally, I still had room for the three paralegals and Sandy Willis, who was huffing her way toward a reluctant early middle age. After that only my bartender could console me. She said if I was counting real work, there wasn’t a soul in Shiloh Springs with less experience than I had.

There was a smoked glass window from floor to ceiling next to the entrance of Garrat’s outer office. I usually checked myself in its pale reflection just to make sure I was not going to be mistaken for a lawyer. This morning there was no chance. With more than a bit of the barn about me, I actually looked like a conservation officer. Country folks have an unusual hierarchy, with conservation officers standing several rungs above investigators for the prosecutor’s office. A little straw stuck in your pants cuff will get you through a farmhouse door a lot faster than a badge, so I had purposely dressed the part.

I smiled at my reflection like an old friend, pretty much the only one I had—at least the only one I could trust. I stand an inch over six feet and weigh a few pounds beyond the two hundred ten mark. My chest is broader than my waist by a whisker, and I am as bald as a friar. Handsome as a sunrise, too, even if I do say so myself. Fifty-eight years can kill a lot of moral failings in a man but not his vanity. Vanity needs the grave to stop it cold.

I RAISED MY EYEBROWS when I opened the door. ‘How is she doing?’ I asked in a whisper.

Sandy was on the phone, but her saucer-sized eyes and wagging chin let me know things were not good. I went down a long hall to the last door on the left, my cubbyhole. There I dropped off my winter coat and slipped on a wrinkled wool sports jacket. It was a good cut of cloth but older than most of our lawyers. I got a tiny notebook that fit into my frayed jacket pocket, bummed a Bic pen from Sandy’s desk on the way back in exchange for a confidential wink, and then got some coffee.

I went through Garrat’s door without knocking. Garrat, Steve Massey and Linda Sutherlin, the paralegal, were at Garrat’s conference table just to the left of the entryway. Massey was in a trial lawyer’s uniform, a three-piece wool blend in midnight blue with a scarlet tie hanging under his square chin. He had dark brown hair that had a few nice waves and a rambunctious curl or two to finish the effect. He wore old horn rim glasses for reading, and loved nothing better in the courtroom than to take them off with a flourish, imagining, I suppose, a startling transformation. In my opinion it was wasted effort. With or without them, Massey had an expression that looked like wildlife caught in the headlights.

Linda Sutherlin sat between Massey and the chair I usually grabbed. Sutherlin wore a black slip and, as far as I could tell, nothing else but shoes. She was rail-thin and kept a spike through her nose and another at the bottom of her lower lip. It was my studied opinion that Sutherlin used the extra weight to keep from blowing away. She had a few miscellaneous rings on her fingers, a studded band about her neck, and one tattoo that I could see: the word MOM written in a shaky scrawl high up on her thigh.

‘You’re late, Rick,’ Garrat announced.

It wasn’t a tone I especially took to, even from Pat Garrat, but I didn’t answer it in kind. ‘Traffic,’ I lied. Knowing I had been down in Hegira, which doesn’t even make most maps, Garrat gave me a long, smouldering glare, and I braced myself for a weird ride.

© Craig Smith 2012

An extract from ‘Cold Rain’

Cold RainI WAS ON SABBATICAL and dropped by my department for no better reason than to rub it in. Making the rounds office by office I listened to the latest, inquired about projects and remembered to mention families. Asked what I was doing with my free time, I would confess to reading those books I never had time for when I was grading papers. There was envy among my colleagues naturally, but everyone I spoke to either had a sabbatical coming up or had just finished one, so we were all conspirators.

I ended the morning at Walt Beery’s office. Walt had been a medievalist of some reputation once upon a time. For the past decade or so he filled in as the department’s last bad boy. When I had arrived on campus eight years before, Walt had befriended me while others on the faculty were still considering it. I valued that about Walt.

‘I was thinking about getting out of here for some lunch,’ Walt announced after the surprise of seeing me in his doorway. ‘What do you think?’

Over the years Walt and I had stolen an afternoon or two in various taverns, and though I was not drinking at that time I suspect the very sight of me made Walt thirsty. That’s a bit egotistical, I suppose. Around noon, almost anything could make Walt thirsty. I had gotten all the news that was fit to broadcast. It was time for the good stuff, which Walt always had in abundance. Still the junior prof in the presence of an Olympian, I shrugged agreeably. Lunch sounded good.

We went to Caleb’s. A new menu, Walt assured me as we walked across the cindered lot to the back door. What he meant by that was they were now carrying Beck’s. I had been to Caleb’s too many times over the years to really see it anymore. It was hardly more than a big dark room with lots of tables and beer signs, eight ball at one end, a short order grill at the other. At night it catered to locals. By day Caleb’s was strictly hard-core: serious drinkers only. There was the inevitable stink of spilt beer and as usual our choice of tables, mute testimony to the quality of the new lunch menu.

I ate greasy fries and a leathery hamburger washed down with oily coffee. Walt drank longnecks, which came two-by-two, so as not to wear out the bartender. We talked about campus politics, the sexual intrigues of various campus perennials, recent scandals (a bit of plagiarism in Education, the miracle being that anyone noticed) and the latest charges brought against various profs, including a complaint against Walt himself. A wave of the hand at this. Purely a misunderstanding.

Having buried these issues and four Beck’s in rapid succession, Walt eventually turned to that subject dearest to his heart, his desperate need for a divorce. ‘Anytime you need a place,’ I told him without letting him see the worn tread on my smile, ‘you’re welcome to move in with Molly and me.’ This seemed to satisfy Walt, and I could see him working out the details, which mostly involved hiding from Barbara while he entertained swarms of nubile co-eds. ‘But you know,’ I added, as I always did when we had come to this juncture and Walt was looking a little too pleased with the fantasy, ‘neither one of us is going to stand up to Barbara when she comes out to the farm and shoots you like the rabid dog you are.’

His eyes going out of focus, Walt shook his bald head sorrowfully and patted his considerable paunch. That was the problem, he said. Barbara wasn’t going to handle it well. An open marriage would be the solution, he said at last, but that was out too. ‘She’s scared to death of disease. Thinks I’ll bring something home.’

‘You probably would,’ I told him.

After his fashion Walt began a Chaucerian exposition in the original on the joys of infidelity, or at least serial marriage, the Wife’s ruminations, I think, and from there he expounded Beery-style upon the siren call of youth and the golden time not too many years past when penicillin could cure everything but the bark of an angry husband’s handgun.

‘Why did AIDS have to come along anyway?’ he moaned.

‘I’m against it,’ I told him, ‘and always have been.’

‘It comes from monkeys,’ Walt said. ‘Did you know that, David? Monkeys!’ His laughter had a nervous bit of chatter to it.

‘I was reading in the Times it actually comes from a subspecies of chimpanzees,’ I answered.

‘A chimp?’

I nodded.

Walt shook his head. ‘I’m as liberal as the next guy, but I mean what kind of a man could do it with a monkey?’

‘Chimp,’ I corrected, ‘and I’m not at all sure it wasn’t the other way around.’

Walt’s laughter exploded, and I couldn’t help myself. I went into an impromptu routine about the good chimp gone bad, tossing quarters on the shower floor.

Walt howled. Another reason Caleb’s stayed mostly empty by day.

As a drunk I had discovered the world was forever young in the presence of Walt Beery in his cups. He had a hair-trigger laugh and an old man innocence that let him enjoy it unabashedly. Sober, I had to admit Walt had become the kind of friend best enjoyed without witnesses.

While he was still imagining the cunning of chimpanzees, I checked my watch. Hated to say it, I told him, but I needed to get back to the farm. I thought this might get a question or two about Molly and Lucy, but instead Walt pointed toward a young couple just then entering Caleb’s. ‘You’ve got to meet this guy,’ he said. ‘One of our new TAs.’

‘NAME IS BUDDY ELDER,’ Walt whispered as the couple stopped to let their eyes adjust to the bar’s light. ‘The girlfriend’s a stripper at The Slipper. Can you believe it? The guy is bedding a stripper on a teaching assistant’s salary!’ The woman had dark hair. She was trim, certainly, but to be honest almost plain. ‘I went out to see her dance last week,’ Walt confessed. ‘Gave me a free lap dance you wouldn’t believe. HEY!’ The teaching assistant and his girlfriend looked our way. ‘We don’t want any!’ Walt shouted, and that brought them across the shadows of the big room, grinning like old times.

Buddy Elder had the look of a flush graduate student: a bomber jacket, faded jeans, worn flannel shirt, slightly scuffed Wolverine boots. Neo-Bohemian, or as Molly would say, working-class without the work. He was in his late twenties, a bit old for the game, but still plenty game. About six feet and one-eighty-plus, Buddy was roughly my size, though a good ten pounds heavier. That spring I was down to my fighting weight, six-one, one-seventy. Buddy’s hair was his great pride. I knew this because he didn’t bother to comb it. It was a dirty blond, thick and naturally curly. According to the style, he kept it shaggy at the top, carefully trimmed along the neck. Having the beginnings of Walt’s disease, tonsured, as Walt put it, I kept my hair short over my entire skull. At Buddy’s age I had worn it longer, and I too had once nurtured the perpetual two-day beard.

Buddy had a nice smile, the kind that creates friendship in a moment. He appeared to be a man who enjoyed life, and I guessed that his sleepy brown eyes never quite came into focus unless a beautiful woman happened by. I might have liked Buddy Elder, maybe even have seen a bit of myself in him if he had bothered to recognize my existence. Instead, when Walt made a half-ass introduction Buddy let his eyes slip my way without bothering to pass along a smile. He gave a cursory nod, and that was it. I took an instant dislike to the guy.

Buddy pointed at the Beck’s lined up like bowling pins in front of Walt. ‘We’ve got class tonight, big guy.’

‘Have you read your assignment?’ Walt snapped. Even with the remnants of his grey hair standing on end Walt looked old-school, one of those profs who knows everything and enjoys the fact that the rest of us don’t.

Buddy’s grin told me he hadn’t. I guessed him to be a poet. Those of a certain age all have the same air about them. They will never be rich and are therefore convinced they will never compromise themselves. They are penniless and proud, rebels lingering under the mothering wings of the university. This one wrote the book on it. Or so I thought. It was only the first of several miscalculations I was to make about Mr Elder.

‘Buddy’s a novelist!’ Walt told me. ‘Right? You’ve got a novel you’re working on?’

A pump of the head, a wry grin that didn’t exactly spell big money but could if his genius got recognized by the right folks. I knew the feeling. I’d written the book on that one.’

‘The Great American Novel and pulling an A in Chaucer!’

Buddy Elder gave the woman with him a look I had no trouble reading. ‘Maybe an A,’ he said good-naturedly, ‘and maybe my prof turns into a hard ass.’

I looked at the woman steadily now. There was a bit of duty behind her flat brown eyes, and I decided Buddy Elder’s appearance at Caleb’s was not entirely an accident. A fleeting thought really, nothing more, but I was fairly sure of myself. Buddy was having a little trouble with the Middle English. Who didn’t? He could work at it or he could take care of it. Having an agreeable girlfriend sure beat cramming for a final exam, and after all what’s a free lap dance or two among friends?

Of course Walt Beery was a professor of the highest integrity when he thought about it. Trouble was Walt hadn’t thought about it in years. Payoff? Not as such. Walt would have been outraged at such a suggestion. No, he had just been to see the woman dance and took the gratis without thinking about it. And today drinks and some artless innuendo. But no bargains made, no exchange of favours. Any hint of quid pro quo would have killed the deal for Walt. No, this would play out with nothing more than a good ol’ boy’s wink.

As I was making these calculations, Walt pointed at me. ‘David is the guy you want to talk to!’ His wet lunch taking hold, Walt was talking about me as if I sat across the room.

Buddy Elder gave me a speculative glance, the first since he had sat down, and I realized he had mistaken me for a towny. ‘Why is that? You know Chaucer?’ This came with a smirk. I was definitely working-class, or maybe a grad who hadn’t left town. Failure to launch, as they called it. Certainly nobody worth taking seriously, at any rate.

‘Intimately,’ I lied.

‘David doesn’t know Jack about Chaucer!’ Walt shouted affectionately. Walt knew his Chaucer. It was life after 1400 that left him mystified. ‘He’s a novelist!’

Cautiously, the way of a dog meeting another at the junkyard social, ‘A novelist?’

‘Prof,’ I said. ‘Writing’s an avocation.’

Like the holy of holies, Walt added, ‘Published.’

A prof with a published novel that Buddy Elder didn’t know? He couldn’t imagine it. I could see the calculations sparking in his bloodshot eyes. Maybe I was something from Mathematics or one of the hard sciences writing sci-fi with my left hand or a guy from the school of business taking a turn as Sam Spade. Probably getting rich to boot. People in English hate writers who make money.

‘What department are you in?’

‘English,’ I answered.

‘Here?’ He was baffled, certain I was lying. I actually lie quite a bit, if only to keep my hand in, but as it happened this was one of those rare moments when truth was exquisitely more rewarding.

I nodded and got a don’t-mess-with-me look with just a bit of a grin to cut the edge. Buddy Elder was in English. He had been in English since August. What was I trying to pull? He knew all the writers in the English department. He gave a quick glance in Walt Beery’s direction, still green enough to be uncertain of his ground.

‘I’m David Albo,’ I said. ‘I’ve been on leave this year.’

Buddy Elder threw his head back like a man laughing, but all he did was smile. ‘I’ve got you for Advanced Fiction Writing next fall,’ he said.

‘Can’t wait,’ I said with an icy smile I’m sure he had no trouble reading.

I LEFT SHORTLY AFTER THAT. I even got a sweet smile from the dancer with no name. Now that I held Buddy’s fate in my hands, I was worth that much. Come autumn I expected I might even get offered a lap dance or two, if she was still in play.

I bought them a round as I was heading out. It is the only way to leave folks without getting the worst of your stories told right off. Outside, the daylight was something of a surprise, as was my sobriety. A good feeling, I decided. Clean. Like being fully alive for the first time in years.

I was not to see either Walt Beery or Buddy Elder again for several months. I did hear a few stories about Walt though. I had my sources. Seems he had begun telling some tasteless homosexual monkey jokes at the faculty club. There was talk of it being the last straw, but talk was all it would ever be. Walt Beery had a good lawyer and pockets deep enough to pay the fees.

I don’t recall so much as a fleeting thought about Buddy Elder or his girlfriend. Buddy belonged to that other world I had inhabited in that other lifetime. While my sabbatical continued I wrote each morning and spent my afternoons at Molly’s side turning the last rooms of an early nineteenth century plantation-style mansion into a showpiece. I fed and groomed my stepdaughter’s two racehorses. I baled hay twice and once a week or so mucked stalls solo like an old hand. I mowed the pasture a few times with a new John Deere tractor. I indulged in a midnight swim with Molly on one occasion with nothing but a full moon covering us, and even told a ghost story to Lucy and a gaggle of her girlfriends who were ‘camping out’ on our third floor one night in July. Well advanced into adolescence, they had imagined they were far too grown-up to get spooked by anything short of Stephen King, but I told the story as true with the indifference of a man relating an article from the newspaper. In the dark, far from the sounds they knew, I rose up devils those girls had never quite dreamed of. All in good fun, of course.

Lucy told me later they said I was cool, for an old man. I turned thirty-seven that summer, older than Dante when he toured Hell, but only by a couple of years.

© Craig Smith 2009

An extract from ‘Breaking Bamboo’

Breaking BambooNancheng, Central China. Summer 1266.

 Summer was seldom a pleasant time for Dr Shih. Monsoon and breathless heat encouraged all manner of disease, not least of the spirit. On humid nights the temporary oblivion of sleep often eluded him until dawn. So the persistent banging at his gate did not take him quite by surprise.

He lay awake beside his wife, Cao, who always slept well. Tiny beads of sweat prickled his forehead and upper lip. Thoughts far from the city, far from agreeable, made a midnight summons oddly welcome. Besides, he was used to night callers, generally fetching him to attend a difficult birth – or death.

He rose and hurried down a long, dark corridor to the medicine shop. From beneath a cheap woodcut print of the Yellow Emperor he took up a burning lamp and unbarred the door.

The man before him wore a high official’s vermilion silk robes and was accompanied by lantern-bearing servants, as well as several soldiers leaning on tasselled halberds. Such callers were unusual in any part of town, but especially here. Dr Shih’s shop stood in Water Basin Ward, one the city’s poorer districts. His wealthiest patients were artisans and their families. He bowed respectfully and waited for the official to speak.

‘Are you Yun Shih?’ demanded his visitor.

He sensed movement behind him and turned to see Cao entering the room, her long hair in disarray. Alarm crossed her soft, plump face as she recognised the man’s uniform. Shih motioned her out of sight.

‘I am Yun Shih, sir,’ he said, sounding confident for Cao’s sake. He could sense her apprehension and felt enough of his own.

Official eyes narrowed, looking him up and down.

‘You are a doctor?’

‘I believe so, sir.’

Still the official did not seem satisfied.

‘You are younger than I expected.’

Indeed Shih did appear younger than three decades deserved. There was something restless and youthful in the frank gaze of his gentle brown eyes. Yet his dark, straight eyebrows suggested an unusually determined nature.

The official wiped his moist brow with a trailing silk sleeve.

‘May I assume I am not in trouble?’ asked Shih.

The official shook his head.

‘His Excellency Wang Ting-bo requires you. Be ready soon.’

Dr Shih flinched slightly, then turned to where his wife hovered behind the tall maple counter of their shop.

‘Go back to bed. I shall be home before dawn.’

He knew she would sit up all night sipping cup after cup of tea, waiting for him to return to Apricot Corner Court.

Once the apprentice, Chung, was roused and dressed, Dr Shih joined the official in the street. It was cooler out here than indoors.

‘Who is sick, sir?’ he asked.

Raucous singing and clapping drifted across the canal from Ping’s Floating Oriole House. A group of neighbours, fanning themselves at a stall selling cordials, called out a polite greeting. The official silenced them with a haughty stare.

‘Your patient is Wang Ting-bo’s son,’ he said, quietly. ‘They say he is unlikely to outlive the dawn.’

Dr Shih was glad Cao had not heard that. It hardly boded well to be summoned to a sick dragon’s bedside. Or even the only son of a dragon.

Nancheng city stewed in its own amusements. Dense crowds slowed the small party hurrying through the night. On Vermilion Bird Way a night market was reaching its climax before the City Watchmen ordered all sober citizens to bed by beating the drum eight hundred times.

Many had no intention of heeding the command. They passed stalls where the scents of fish fried with Sichuan spices pricked one’s nostrils; tea stalls surrounded by chess players; taverns raucous with fragile fellowship. Beggars and quick-handed urchins melted into the crowd at the sight of the stern official and his armed escort. Chung, Dr Shih’s portly apprentice, puffed along behind.

They reached the foot of Peacock Hill, an ancient palace complex long ago converted into a warren of government bureaux and mansions for high officials. As Dr Shih climbed the hill he surveyed the Han River below, a full three li wide. A sickle moon illuminated the water. On the far shore lay Fouzhou, sister city to Nancheng, the two cities joined by a huge pontoon bridge constructed upon boats. Shih could see the lanterns of river-craft moving on the dark water like floating stars.

Soldiers guarded the gatehouse of the Prefectural compound. On seeing the official they saluted and stepped aside.

‘Sir, what is the nature of the boy’s malady?’ asked Shih, trotting after his guide up a steep flight of marble steps. The official shrugged.

‘That is for you to determine.’

Dr Shih wanted to ask why Wang Ting-bo had sent for him at all. He was a physician of low rank in the city, lacking even a degree from the Imperial Academy.

‘Are other doctors treating His Excellency’s son?’ he asked.

The official seemed not to hear. They hurried through another gatehouse and a series of small courtyards. Shih had no time to admire the splendid pillars and gilt carvings, marble fountains or miniature gardens. They entered a large courtyard guarded by more soldiers leaning on their halberds. Servants scurried past with buckets of water. Moths and night-flies fluttered round lanterns.

‘Quick!’ beckoned the official.

He opened a pair of bright red doors to reveal a well-lit chamber decorated with hunting scenes. A dozen men wearing fine silks muttered in small groups. Women could be heard weeping in a side chamber, their grief brittle and artificial. In his plain clothes, Dr Shih made an awkward addition to such company. Chung was visibly shaking.

‘Can these gentlemen really need your services, sir?’ he whispered, in wonder.

Then the youth flushed, aware of the question’s insolence. Dr Shih smiled and shook his head.

‘His Excellency has packed the room with doctors so that if the boy dies one may say everything was done,’ he murmured. ‘There is the great Dr Du Mau himself. And over there his shadow, Dr Fung. Let us make the best of it and consider ourselves honoured.’

Dr Du Mau, a small gentleman in violet silks, noticed the newcomers and frowned. He inclined his head stiffly. Shih bowed quite low but evidently not low enough for Dr Du Mau, who exclaimed irritably: ‘What? Is one of the servants sick as well?’

Several of his colleagues chuckled. It was well-known Dr Du Mau opposed allowing unqualified physicians into the guild as full members. Shih’s polite smile stiffened. An official clapped his hands and the room fell silent.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said. ‘You have all examined the patient, as well as the astrologer’s report. His Excellency wishes to confer with you. Please accompany me.’

‘Wait in the courtyard,’ Dr Shih instructed his apprentice.

He thought it prudent to take a place at the very rear of the solemn group. This was a moment of high significance for the guild. Wang Ting-bo was the Pacification Commissioner for hundreds of li around, appointed to his noble position by the Son of Heaven himself. Moreover, if his son and heir died early, many calculations and plans for the future would be affected. So Dr Shih hardly blamed the good doctors for ignoring his existence – lowliness was infectious as foul air.


The Hall of Obedient Rectitude had once been a throne room for the Kings of Chu. Dozens of fat candles illuminated the audience chamber; shadows floated across painted ceilings and walls. The assembly of doctors fell to their knees before two elegant wooden chairs. One contained the Pacification Commissioner wearing his most auspicious uniform, as though death was an ambassador he must over-awe. In the other sat his wife, a plain woman past what little beauty she had once possessed.

The lady immediately gained Dr Shih’s sympathy, for her thick white make-up was stained with tears. She had a double reason for grief: if the boy died, her status as First Wife would perish with him. Any concubine who gave the Pacification Commissioner a male heir might supplant her – and Dr Shih had heard rumours he preferred one of his concubines to his official wife.

Wang Ting-bo inspected the physicians. He seemed unsure what to say and blinked foolishly. Then he cleared his throat.

‘Lift your heads. I do not care to talk to your hats.’

The doctors exchanged glances.

‘You have all seen the boy. What is to be done? And who among you is to do it? Dr Du Mau, you are the most senior man present. Explain yourself!’

Shih became uncomfortably aware that the Pacification Commissioner’s wife was staring at him. Certainly he was out of place, though he could hardly be censured for it. Then he wondered if she was behind his absurd summons.

‘Your Excellency,’ said Dr Du Mau. ‘We are of one mind on the matter.’

His colleagues nodded regretfully. There was great authority in Dr Du Mau’s tone.

‘Your heir is beyond the help of earthly medicine. His essential breaths are putrid. Yin and yang fiercely oppose each other. His blood is a whirlpool of contagion. This is a sad report to make, Your Excellency, but only Heaven’s intervention may save him now. I have prepared a list of suitable magicians and holy men well-skilled in such cases.’

Wang Ting-bo sank back in his chair.

‘Beyond help,’ he muttered. ‘Dr Fung, surely you do not agree with Du Mau? And you, Dr Ku-ai? Surely something more may be attempted?’

However, these gentlemen sighed regretfully.

‘Very well,’ said Wang Ting-bo, tears glistening in his eyes.

Dr Shih rubbed his chin. The guild’s certainty that all was lost surprised him. But, of course, every physician encountered intractable cases. Then the Pacification Commissioner’s wife caught his eye. Her gaze was cold and fierce.

‘You at the back!’ she cried, shrilly. ‘You in blue robes! What do you say? You are Dr Yun Shih, are you not?’

He trembled slightly that she knew his name. There was a rustling of silks as heads turned.

‘My Lady must forgive my stupidity,’ he replied. ‘I have not examined your son and so cannot comment.’

The plain woman leaned sideways in her chair to address her husband.

‘Should not this one examine him as well?’

There was a long silence in the room. Dr Du Mau coughed delicately.

‘My Lady, with the utmost respect, although this man is generous with his remedies for the poor, he can hardly be expected to affect a cure when so many distinguished colleagues have spoken. Besides, Dr Shih is used to common people and their maladies. Your son’s noble blood would be quite beyond him.’

Shih lowered his gaze to the floor. Once, long ago, he had been addressed with respect as a lord’s son. This barely-retained memory, tinged with loss, coloured his cheeks.

‘Do not blame Dr Shih for being here, it is I who summoned him,’ said the Pacification Commissioner’s wife. ‘Husband, my maid told me this doctor cured her little brother of the dry coughing sickness – and many, many others in Water Basin Ward. She says he has a great way with sick children. I beg you, let him examine our son.’

Dr Shih knew it was prudent to agree with Dr Du Mau but the insult he had suffered kept him silent. He was also curious what would happen next. Wang Ting-bo shifted uncomfortably.

‘We will consult Dr Du Mau’s list of priests and magicians,’ he said in a peculiar, flat voice. ‘Only a fool opposes Heaven’s will.’

‘Husband, let Dr Shih see our son, at least!’

Dr Du Mau coughed again.

‘Any further disturbance would endanger the boy’s essential breaths,’ he warned. ‘I’m sure Dr Shih concurs. Is that not so?’

Du Mau fixed his junior colleague with a haughty stare. Perhaps Shih was tired of snubs, perhaps the heat made him irritable. Whatever the reason, he replied: ‘It never injured anyone to take their pulse.’

There were sharp intakes of breath from his colleagues. At once he realised the gravity of his mistake. The slow closing of Dr Du Mau’s hooded eyelids hinted at a lifetime’s enmity.

‘There!’ cried the Pacification Commissioner’s wife. ‘What injury can it do?’

His Excellency Wang Ting-bo nodded. Tears were back in his eyes. He brushed them away angrily.

‘Very well. But if harm befalls my son because of this . . . let Dr Shih beware! In the meantime Dr Du Mau must consult such magicians as he sees fit.’

The great people rose and left the ancient throne room. Shih realised hostile eyes were watching him. He blinked at the flickering candles. An official touched his arm.

‘I will take you to the boy.’

Shih walked through the assembled doctors and, one by one, they showed him their backs.

© Tim Murgatroyd 2011

An extract from ‘God Emperor of Didcot

God Emperor of DidcotIsambard Smith ran ten yards before the jungle burst open behind him and a mass of tentacles the size of a house threw a tree-trunk at his head. The tree flew past, throwing up earth like a bomb, and he swerved and headed east towards base camp. He glanced over his shoulder and shouted, ‘You didn’t give me an answer!’ A second Thorlian broke out of the greenery to his right, honking and bellowing, and Smith ran headlong for the bridge.

His boot caught on a protruding vine and he stumbled and lurched upright to hear the forest erupt in roars and the flapping of frightened birds as he raced on down the path.

His earpiece crackled. ‘Smith! What the devil is going on down there?’

‘Minor problem,’ he panted. ‘They seem to want to murder me.’

‘Hmm, that’s not good.’ A tentacle swept into view, glistening like an anaconda. Smith ducked as it whipped overhead, and he plunged off the path and weaved between the trees.

On the other end of the line, Hereward Khan struck a match and lit his pipe.

‘So I suppose they don’t want to join the Empire,’ Khan said.

‘Well, they didn’t actually say no,’ Smith replied. Fronds snagged his coat; branches and trunks splintered and fell behind him. ‘But to be honest, they don’t seem very keen.’

The ravine was in view. Smith broke from cover and sprinted to the rope bridge. The Thorlians howled. He bounded across, wood and hemp swaying under him, reached the other side and drew his sword. Smith cut once, twice, and the rope-bridge fell across the gorge to slap against the rock beneath the aliens.

As Smith dusted himself down Khan emerged from the undergrowth with a mug in either hand. ‘Hello Smith. Tea?’

‘Good idea, Sir.’

They drank, watching the Thorlians make threats across the gorge. ‘Typical aliens,’ said Khan. ‘Always making a fuss.’

‘It’s as though they think Space belongs to them by rights,’ said Smith. ‘Shame, really. They’d have made useful allies against the Ghast Empire. I suppose someone will have to civilise them now.’

‘I doubt the Navy can spare a destroyer. Besides,’ Khan added, and he smiled, ‘a message has come through from my contact in the Service. You’re to fly to the Proxima Orbiter at once. Top Secret stuff, apparently. Very dangerous.’

‘Excellent!’ Smith finished his tea and wiped his moustache. ‘My crew will be delighted, once she knows. She’s always saying how she needs to get more action.’

There was light: painful light. Dimly, voices seeped into Polly Carveth’s mind and she realised that she was still alive. Debris crackled under polished shoes. A man’s voice said, ‘My God. What a hell-hole.’

She muttered, rolled over and sat up in bed. She was still dressed, although her boots were gone. The stripes on her socks made her eyes hurt. ‘My skull,’ she moaned. ‘What did I pour into my skull?’

‘What didn’t you?’ He was young, dark haired, in a Royal Space Fleet uniform: very dapper and very handsome.

‘Hello,’ she said, and she frowned. ‘No, I don’t know your name. But you look nice.’

‘You look like you had a hard night,’ he said. He was holding one of the empty bottles he’d encountered beside the bed.

‘I’m sure you helped,’ she said coyly. Then she winced as she rubbed her face. ‘Oh my God, I’ve got boils!’

‘It’s all right,’ said the officer. ‘You fell asleep with your face in a box of Dairy Milk.’

Puzzled, Carveth prised off one of the boils. It was a blob of chocolate, slightly melted. ‘Gross,’ she said, looking at it. ‘Well, waste not want not. Mmm, praline.’

A second young officer stepped out of the bathroom and adjusted his hair. ‘Whoa,’ Carveth said. ‘There’s two of you?’

‘You’re not seeing double, no,’ said the first man.

‘Two. Bloody hell.’ She rose uncertainly to her feet. ‘Look, um, I’m not feeling too good. I’m sure you’re both really nice blokes, but two… I feel really bad. I honestly have never done this before. This isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally even dream of doing on a night out, even with one of you. I feel low, slutty and really ashamed of myself. Last night was not typical of me.’

One started to say something, but she raised her palm like a saint and trudged into the bathroom.

She closed the door, slid the bolt and did a dance. I scored twice, I scored twice, she mouthed at the mirror, look at me cos I scored twice. She did several pelvic thrusts, but stopped when her brain started aching. Grimacing, Carveth stepped into the shower, annoyed that her memories of the night were so dim.

When she came out, the nearest of the two said, ‘Fleet Command sent us with orders to collect you, Miss Carveth. You’re needed for a mission: Base wants the John Pym to travel to the Proxima Orbiter this morning, and you’re to go as ship’s simulant.’

‘You didn’t sleep with both of us last night, if you were wondering,’ said the other officer. ‘Or either.’

Carveth felt that it was only force of will that stopped her shrivelling up like a salted slug.

‘I don’t know where you got that idea,’ she replied, rising to her full height of five feet four. ‘I am a Class Four synthetic with precision piloting capacity, not some sort of cheap harlot. Now, I have work to do. A chance has arisen to serve the Empire, and I welcome it with open arms.’

‘And legs,’ one of the men muttered. She ignored him and proceeded to the door with haughty regal dignity. It would have been a perfect exit had she not tripped over a Bacardi bottle on the way out and nearly brained herself on the doorknob.

The car’s engine echoed off the walls of the huge, vault-like hall that held Valdane Shipping’s selection of spacecraft. The great nosecones jutted out of the dark like a row of missiles, shining and white. At the end, the John Pym stood, looking like a missile that had bounced off its target and come back for a second go.

Smith had flown in it several times now, but the emotion he felt on seeing it was always the same: a mixture of affection and disappointment, like someone coming home from the wars and discovering that his wife was actually quite plain. Under the left back leg (the one that sometimes only folded out halfway) two men in overalls were working beside a van. He drove closer, wondering who they were. Technicians, perhaps, fine-tuning the thrusters? No, Pest Control.

Smith got out of the car and took out his bag. He adjusted his collar and stepped over to one of the exterminators. ‘Hello. I’m Captain Smith.’

‘Alright mate.’ The older, squatter of the men pulled off a glove and shook Smith’s hand. ‘Mike Rudge, pleased to meet you. You had some vermin running around in the hold.’

‘The hold? You, ah, didn’t look in all the rooms, did you?’

‘All the ones that were unlocked. There was one we couldn’t get into.’

Smith breathed again. Suruk kept his favourite things in that room, which visitors unused to his lifestyle might have found unsettling.

The exterminator said, ‘Don’t worry, mate: it’s all sorted out now. We killed ’em – very quick and painless.’

‘What did you use? Traps?’

‘Submachine gun. Normally we’d just put some stuff down, landmines, say, but this is a small ship, and you’ve got to remember that it’s somebody’s home.’

‘Guns? What the hell was it?’

‘Procturan black ripper. It’s always a shame. Near-perfect organism, your Procturan ripper. Beautiful animal. A born predator, unencumbered by delusions of conscience or remorse. Its hostility is matched only by its physical perfection… we found him down the back of the fridge.’

‘I didn’t realise the fridge was that big,’ Smith said, looking into the back of the van. A corpse lay in there, a wiry, bulbous-headed thing slightly larger than a man. ‘Are you sure that’s not a motorcycle courier?’

‘Nope, genuine article. We’ll fax the costs over to your boss. Got to get off,’ the exterminator added. ‘Flying up to the polar regions to deal with a metamorph. Best get up there before it turns into the bloke what’s paying for our petrol.’

Smith opened his cabin and dumped his bag on the bed. The John Pym hadn’t changed: the same posters were there, the same model space-fighters hanging from the ceiling. He brushed his hands together and smiled, then stepped out into the corridor.

© Toby Frost 2008

An extract from ‘Space Captain Smith’

Space Captain SmithOne dull Tuesday morning, the door opened behind Isambard Smith and Mr Khan entered the room. Smith stopped typing and looked round.

‘I gather there’s a problem, Smith,’ said Khan. He was a big, slow-moving man whose mouth and chins all hung downwards, giving him a sad appearance. He looked like a walrus who had swapped his tusks for a desk job and was beginning to regret the deal.

‘I understand you’re not too happy.’

‘No, Mr Khan, I’m not. I want to complain.’

Khan closed the door behind him.

‘Sir, I’ve made six requests that I be given control of a starship and they’ve all been ignored. I’ve been with Valdane Shipping for nearly a year and all I’ve done is type data about asteroids into this computer. You know jolly well that I’d eat my own pants for a chance to get back into space, and yet here I am, still sitting here, wearing them.’

Khan nodded and leaned against the wall. ‘Well, we are rather busy, what with the political situation and all, and it hasn’t been easy to free up a ship–’

‘But that’s what I mean!’ Smith cried. ‘Sir, I want to do something. The Ghasts are out there rearming, and everyone knows they’re coming for the British Empire sooner or later. It makes me cross that I’m stuck here, personalising this swivel chair with my arse while Gertie is plotting evil against Earth. By God, sir, if I had my way I’d jump into a fighter, zip over to their dirty homeworld, stick a laser under their radar, have a damn good mettle at the Ghast and show him my crack.’ He paused, slightly out of breath. ‘Except the other way around.’

Khan said, ‘Well, then, I’ve got some good news for you. You’re getting a ship.’

‘A ship!’ Smith sprang up. ‘That’s excellent! Will there be action, and danger?’

‘There’ll be hippies. Will that do?’

‘Sir, I’ll take the risk.’

‘Good. You’re to head to the New Francisco orbiter and collect a woman called Rhianna Mitchell. New Fran is a free colony: we protect it, but we don’t own it, yet. It’s a rum place, Smith, I warn you: full of hop-potting spliff-tokers and all sorts that the Empire still has to rescue from idleness and free love. You’ll hate it. Takes a fellow with guts and a backbone to stomach a place like that. You know Midlight at all?’

‘Spaceport on Kane’s World, isn’t it?’

‘That’s the one. You’re to take her there as quickly as possible. You’ve got a ship and a pilot ready at the strip. Leave your car in the multi-storey. It’s open this afternoon.’

Smith blinked, shocked. ‘What, this afternoon today?’

‘Of course. Not likely to still be this afternoon in three weeks’ time, is it?’

Smith thought about it. ‘Golly,’ he said. Suddenly the empty tedium of the rest of the day had vanished, swept away in a whirl of rockets. He managed to put a thought together. ‘Won’t I need a crew?’

‘Crew?’ The walrus shook his head, and the chins followed. ‘No. There’s no crew, just an android pilot.

‘Oh, the John Pym’s a fine ship, fine. Very quick, you’ll find. You can take along a friend if you want, so long as he’s not a foreigner or into funny stuff. I know what it’s like on these long hauls. Fellow starts to forget that a handlebar moustache isn’t for hanging on to.’

‘May I take an alien?’

Khan grimaced. ‘You don’t mean that Morlock chap who runs round cutting people’s heads off? They’re savages, Smith.’

‘He’s a good sort, as it happens,’ said Smith, a little irked.

‘Very well then. I suppose it’s best you’re both in the same place.’ Khan glanced at his watch. ‘And you ought to think about leaving, if you’re planning to pack some things.’

‘Righto, sir!’ Smith stood up. ‘I’m on my way!’

Khan watched Smith go. He took his fob-phone out of his waistcoat pocket and dialled his superiors. ‘Well, the trap’s baited alright,’ he told the voice on the other end of the line. ‘There’s one launched every minute,’ he added under his breath.

Smith parked his car, collected the ticket and took his bag from the back. He wore his fleet uniform, the jacket open and his waistcoat fastened underneath. He was excited and slightly nervous at seeing his new ship, and had spent fifteen minutes in the toilet before setting out, waxing his moustache to a level of pertness carefully chosen to suggest to his men that he was both a waggish friend and someone whom they should never, ever cross.

The Valdane Shipping Company owned three spacecraft on New London and part-owned eight more with the East Empire Company. As with most companies governed by Imperial Law, its members owned shares in the corporate property. Consequentially, Smith had always regarded the company vessels as his own, and smiled proudly at thought of the shiny spacecraft waiting in the hangar, its brasswork polished and engines gleaming.

On his way down the slope that led into the hangar, Smith met Winston Parker, the master-engineer. Parker, a slight, dapper man, was a source of awe to Smith: not only did the engineer manage to sound like he knew a lot about spacecraft, he actually did, which was rare in the industry. He was the right person to get rather than his colleague, Bancroft, who was both very dour and bore a curious facial resemblance to a tree.

‘Isambard Smith. And how are you today?’

‘Fine, thank you. I’m just off. Have you seen the roster?’

Parker wiped his hands on a rag he wore in his belt like a badge of rank. ‘Yep. Your android pilot’s already on board – it’s a woman this time. You’ve got a Sheffield light freighter.’

‘I don’t think I’ve seen one of those before. Do they fly well?’

‘Not too bad. Of course, they can’t read maps or reverse properly.’

‘I meant the ship.’

‘Well, they got it second hand. It’s just come out of refit – new engines. Not exactly the company flagship, if you see what I mean.’

‘I see. By the way, you haven’t seen an alien around here, have you? About six foot eight with a face like a cross between a boar and an upturned crab. Probably carrying a spear and a bag full of severed heads.’

Parker shrugged. ‘I dunno. It gets busy here.’

‘He’s got quite an unusual laugh.’

‘Oh, that bloke? He’s down the bottom of the ramp. You know him, then?’

‘He’s my friend,’ Smith replied. ‘I’ll see you later then, shall I?’

‘Much later, from the route you’re taking. See you soon, Smith!’

As Smith approached the bottom of the slope, a figure hopped down from a stool, where it had been crouching. It was man-shaped – roughly – but stretched, taller and thinner than a human being. The creature loped towards Smith with the weight on the front of the feet and with a slow, lazy grace.

‘Suruk,’ said Smith.

A low, rattling sound came from the alien as he stepped into view. Smith saw the grey-green skin where it was not covered by his trousers, boots or armoured waistcoat, and he watched as Suruk the Slayer’s tusks slid apart and his mouth opened up.

‘Isambard Smith.’ He spoke as if through porridge. Suruk straightened his fingers to show Smith his empty hands.

Smith pulled his sleeves back and displayed his palms as if about to pull a bunch of flowers from the air. ‘Hail, Suruk, warrior of Clan Ametrin. I give you this much greeting.’

‘Hail, Isambard Smith, who is called Mazuran in the speech of the M’Lak. I give you greeting too.’

There was a little pause. Smith smiled awkwardly. ‘So,’ he ventured, ‘it’s been a while.’

‘Indeed. Moons have passed since last we met, battles fought and enemies fallen. At the bridge of Anrag I took fifteen heads. I overthrew the tyrant Dagrud War-Scythe and took his cattle as tribute to my skill. It was a glorious day.’

‘Sounds pretty wild. I’m having a new patio put down. You and me both, eh?’

‘Square slabs or crazy paving?’

‘Square slabs.’

‘The choice of a warrior.’ Suruk picked up his pack, from which several short-handled spears protruded, and slung it over his shoulder. With his spare hand he picked up the bar stool. His physique meant that he was more comfortable squatting high up than sitting down. Smith had seen his friend sleep that way, like a nesting hawk.

They walked through the vast, shadowed hall, their voices echoing up to the concrete roof. There was something cathedral-like about the hangar, almost sepulchral. The ships were housed in massive bays that stretched off to the sides like trancepts. Colossal arches closed over the bays, decorated with leafy swirls etched into the concrete in the New Gothic style of Britain and its colonies.

‘So now. Do we go to bring battle to our enemies, Isambard Smith?’

Suruk tended to treat any expedition off-world as a cross between a cheap package tour and the Roman conquest of Gaul, with Smith in the role of red coated compere to whatever bloody mayhem he decided to unleash. For the M’Lak, space travel was a ticket to sun, sand and severed heads, with the first two being highly optional. Smith decided to allay Suruk’s hopes.

‘Not precisely, no. We’re actually going to collect someone from a space station inhabited by pacifists.’

‘Fierce warrior pacifists?’


‘Edible pacifists?’

‘I would advise against it.’

‘Will we then deliver this coward into the sun?’


‘Is anything good going to happen on this holiday?’

‘Not by your standards, I’m afraid. Still, our ship’s apparently just been refitted, so we should be pretty safe. I should imagine it will have some decent weaponry to see off enemies.’

‘Ah yes. Like the mighty dreadnoughts of your British Empire. Still, I would rather fight with my blades than use a gun.’

‘Needs must, Suruk. We can’t civilise the galaxy without dreadnoughts, you know. Sometimes we have to use force to teach our enemies to behave like proper people. Now, we should be here – oh.’

The nose-cone of the John Pym poked out from one of the alcoves in a slightly furtive manner, as if it had crept in to receive an accolade that it did not deserve. The front end of the ship reminded Smith of the snout of a rat that has been in many fights with larger, more vicious rats: battered, dented, discoloured and scarred. At one point, a great slab of steel had been riveted on, sealed around the edges with foam from a can. There was no gun in the nose.

‘Interesting,’ Suruk said. ‘This vessel has clearly fought many battles. Is that camouflage on the upper part, or just mould?’

‘‘My God,’ said Smith, ‘I thought they said it had been refitted! It looks terrible!’

‘Maybe. But the orange warpaint will bring us luck.’

‘I bloody doubt it: that lucky orange warpaint happens to be rust. The sooner we launch the better. Let’s get going before the wings drop off.’

 © Toby Frost 2008

John Coast

John CoastJohn Coast was born in Kent, England on October 30, 1916. As Britain entered World War II,he left a comfortable post in the City to serve in the Coldstream Guards and then as an officer in the Norfolks. He was one of the few survivors of that regiment when it was trying to defend Singapore against the Japanese.

As a prisoner-of- war, Coast was sent into Siam (Thailand) to build railways for the Japanese and the story of that time, Railroad of Death, became a best seller and was later to form the subject of Return to the River Kwai, a documentary made in 1969 for the BBC.

During his internment, Coast got an inkling of his future profession: he drew together musicians among his fellow prisoners and put together concert parties, which he stage managed.

After the war, Coast joined the press department of the Foreign Office in Bangkok and then became press attaché to President Sukarno during the Indonesian struggle for independence.

Back in London in the mid 1950s, Coast became a manager and an impressario to such artists as Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, Jon Vickers and Montserrat Caballé. He was the first man to present Bob Dylan in London and take Ravi Shankar to the West.

For more information on John please visit his website here:

Railroad of Death

RailroadJohn Coast

A bestseller in 1946, Railroad of Death is the first and best account of forced labour on the Burma Railway. John Coast was a young officer in the Norfolk Regiment who was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. He took notes and concealed them from the Japanese for nearly three years, but he lost the lot when he was forced to bury them in Chungkai Camp to avoid repeated searches. Coast had to write the book all over again while on the voyage home. His book is moving, dramatic and chilling in the detail it gives of the cruelty inflicted by Japanese and Korean soldiers on the prisoners and Asian workers who died in even greater numbers working on the railway. Yet it is at the same time lyrical in its descriptions of the natural world surrounding the camps and the food and kindness shown by some Thais to the prisoners. Coast brings to life the camps and towns of the Burma Railway and the culture of Bali and Indonesia that so entranced Coast, allowing him to find some comfort and meaning amid the horror.

This new edition has an introduction and appendices which takes Coast’s legacy of dealing with his experiences in the camps forward through to his groundbreaking 1969 BBC programme Return to the River Kwai and beyond and includes transcriptions of his BBC interviews with his Japanese captors and Takashi Nagase. Nagase’s appearance, decades before his meeting with Eric Lomax, author of The Railway Man, is revelatory when he and the other Japanese are asked to comment on evidence of Japanese treatment of POWs on the Railway. Other appendices include never before published documents which help reveal details about secret radios and attempted escapes masterminded by the talented group of officers around Coast. The new edition includes an index and list of newly identified individuals mentioned in the book including the famous Lieutenant Railroad of Death: Colonel Toosey.


Railroad of Death by John Coast Reviews, 1946 publication

“I was never conscious of reading as I perused this book – only of seeing and feeling.” Stephen Potter, News Chronicle

“It is to be hoped that possible readers will not just say ‘Another POW book’ and fail to read Mr Coast… Mr Coast writes simply, almost in diary form, of what happened or failed to happen… the exchange of one horror for another; the varying barbarity of his captors… It seems incredible that men could have endured.” Time and Tide

“There are some war books that should be Required Reading… Such a book is Railroad of Death.” Sphere

“Mr Coast has wisely chosen to write of things as they seemed then and his memory is clear, detailed and undistorted.” Graham Hough, The New Statesman

“For one who only arrived in the East a few weeks before the fall of Singapore, Mr Coast shows a remarkable understanding of the peoples, their cultures and their problems.” Straits Times, Singapore


Trade Paperback 380 pages
ISBN 978-1-905802-93-7
Release Date 13th May 2014
Price £12.99
Ebook 978-1-905802-95-1

Successful Book Launch for Tim Murgatroyd

York-20131101-00062Friday 1st November saw the official book launch for Tim Murgatroyd’s latest book, The Mandate of Heaven. Over 70 people attended York Waterstones and all copies of The Mandate of Heaven were signed and sold.

The evening included a reading from actress Beth Pelleymounter and also translator, Dr Lily Chen, used the occasion to announce that The Mandate of Heaven was to be translated into Chinese. Both of Tim’s previous books set in medieval China, Taming Poison Dragons and Breaking Bamboo, have already been published in China – a fitting testament to the authenticity of Tim’s novels.

The Gift of Rain trail is here!

TanIn conjunction with George Town Literary Festival 2013, this tourist trail, commissioned by Penang Global Tourism, has been designed by Su Aziz as a way for you to experience The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng.

On this trail, you’ll get to know parts of Penang island mentioned in the book. From the moment you step onto the boat to absorb the sights, sounds and scents of Penang’s northern coast line – fringed by Weld Quay, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi – the book’s venues and plot will begin to come alive.

For more information on this wonderful and unique opportunity please visit the Timeout website here.