Wednesday, January 31, 2018

why did the halibut cross the ocean? to see his flatmates

In a shocking and shameful dereliction of duty and a betrayal of everything that this blog stands for, I note that we have only done one halibut-related post in the last FIVE FREAKIN' YEARS, and that one was really just a passing mention before my attention wandered onto the subject of Katy Perry's tits. Oh sure, there's been Halibut Towers this and The Curse Of Electric Halibut that, but that butters no parsnips compared to raw unadorned data about large flatfish of the genus Hippoglossus.

The previous proper halibut post from October 2012 was mainly concerned with the catching of a whopping 186-kilogram specimen off the coast of Norway (as you'll see from the following stories, Norway is pretty much Halibutsville Central when it comes to big ones). In similar vein, today's Daily Mail carries a story about a British fisherman landing the "world's biggest ever halibut" while on a fishing trip to, you've guessed it, Norway. So what you'll be thinking is: wow, I wonder how big that was - the 2012 one made no claim to be a record-breaker but this one must be bigger than that, at the very least. So you'd perhaps be surprised to learn that this one weighed in at a mere 153 pounds, which is a fraction under 70 kilograms. It turns out that this is one of those records where you have to read the small print carefully - it's the biggest "shore-caught" halibut on record, the other monster ones being presumably landed onto boats.

Undeterred by this the fisherman carried out one of the primary obligations of the halibut-wrangler, which is to lie down next to the fish and pose for the photo. The canonical measure of halibut size (in contrast to giant squid size, where the standard London bus is used) from the selection of things deemed to be understandable by Joe Public, who has literally no idea how much a kilogram weighs, is some hand-wavey estimate of how many human-meal-sized portions it would yield. You'll recall my scepticism about the number quoted for the 186kg specimen - the claim made here is as follows:
The fish made 160 fillets, which would be worth around £4,000 to a high end fish restaurant
Two obvious thoughts: firstly that is under a sixth of the number of portions claimed for the 186kg halibut, a fish a little over two-and-a-half times as large. Since I found the original estimate implausible, maybe that's OK, though. But, secondly, if you do the price calculation, 160 portions fetching £4000 works out at 25 quid a portion. Can that be right? Well, Waitrose charge £28.99 a kilo for halibut, which works out at between £5 and £7 for a fairly normal-sized portion. Maybe "high end" restaurants (whose suppliers won't be charging as much as Waitrose, don't forget) really do apply that much of a mark-up.

Anyway, the proper world record for catching a halibut, no ifs, buts, maybes or nonsense about having to be standing on the shore, on a Tuesday, wearing a woolly hat and blue underpants, is a gargantuan 233kg specimen (although the Daily Mail, as is their wont, stick bloody-mindedly to various forms of imperial measurement throughout) caught by German fisherman Marco Liebenow back in 2013. "Heavier than a wild gorilla", apparently. A wild one, mind. Wild? I was absolutely livid, etc.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

the last book I read

Matter by Iain M Banks.

Here on Earth we take the whole planet occupation thing for granted. Simply evolve over a series of aeons from single-celled amoebae floating around in the primordial soup and over time progress in a leisurely manner to the current pinnacle of development occupying a comfy wing-backed chair puffing ruminatively on a pipe-stem perusing the paperwork for some complex hire-purchase agreement, all without ever really considering whether we're entitled to be here or not.

On a Shellworld, however, things are a bit more complex: these are artificially constructed worlds (the exact construction methods and the identity of the architects being a bit of a mystery) with various species (depending which Shellworld you choose) acting as custodians and getting to pick and choose who occupies each of the many concentric levels. So you might have humanoids on one level, beating the shit out of each other as humanoids do, and then some giant whale-creatures on the water-filled next level, and some freaky-ass motherfuckers resembling sentient hot-air balloons floating about on the next level, with the whole thing overseen by some gigantic blue lobsters. A bit more like renting a room in a shared house than just casually inheriting an entire planet.

Anyway, this particular Shellworld, Sursamen, has the usual motley selection of occupants, but our main concern is with the Sarl, basically humanoid types who occupy one of the levels, and conform very precisely to humanoid cliché by being bloodthirsty slaughtering warlike types. As we join the action there's a battle going on, during the course of which the current king, Hausk, is mortally wounded and is unexpectedly ushered into the netherworld by his supposed right-hand man, tyl Loesp. Unknown to any of the regicidal mob, the king's son, and the rightful next king, Ferbin, witnesses the whole thing and flees for his life with his comedy manservant, Holse.

Ferbin was never especially keen to be king, although pretty keen on cashing in on the whole playboy prince thing with the drinking and the whoring and the like. But that doesn't mean he'll be happy to hand the throne over to the man who murdered his father. As it happens, though, Ferbin has some other family contacts: his sister, Djan Seriy Anaplian, left home many years previously to join a shadowy organisation called The Culture (ahaaaa, etc. etc.). So he and Holse set off to find her.

It turns out that not only is Djan Seriy Anaplian a citizen of The Culture (I can't improve on "AI-moderated anarcho-utopia" from here so I'm just going to re-use it), she is an operative with Special Circumstances, the super-exclusive ultra-badass black-ops division who can kill you just by looking at you. Furthermore, she was on her way to Sursamen anyway in an unofficial capacity to pay her respects to her dead father, and is happy to turn it into something a bit more official. The added complicating factor is that Djan and Ferbin's half-brother Oramen remains on Sursamen, theoretically as Prince Regent, awaiting the occasion of his eighteenth birthday whereupon he will inherit the throne from tyl Loesp, who's been appointed some sort of Lord Protector. The trouble is, as everyone but Oramen knows, tyl Loesp isn't going to let that happen and is going to ensure that Oramen meets with an "accident", probably of the furiously stabby variety, some time before his birthday.

In the meantime Oramen is being kept out of trouble by being sent to oversee the excavations of an ancient city gradually being exposed by the retreat of a gigantic waterfall. This process is exposing some seriously strange shit, and when winter arrives and the whole falls area freezes over this allows excavations to continue behind the falls, whereupon some seriously strange shit is revealed, of the planet-endangering variety. Luckily, Djan, Ferbin, Holse and a small army of Culture drones and sentient missiles arrive at this point and embark on a furious pursuit to the planet's core to try and avert disaster.

Seasoned Banks readers will detect more than a whiff of Inversions here - vaguely mediaeval civilisation, with access to some relatively advanced weaponry (e.g. basic firearms) thanks to some judicious (or foolhardy or meddling, depending on your point of view) nudging by previous Culture involvement, and a badass female Special Circumstances agent. Obviously there is a raft of hard sci-fi stuff that Inversions didn't have - the Shellworlds, all the various alien ships that Ferbin and Djan hitch lifts on, the apocalyptic battle at the end in which (SPOILER ALERT) pretty much everyone dies.

The usual points about the morality of super-advanced civilisations intervening in the development of less-advanced ones are chewed over here (just as they were in Inversions). There's an obvious parallel between the actual physical hierarchy of levels on Sursamen and the implicit multi-level hierarchy of civilisations that runs from the Sarl up through the Oct who administer the day-to-day running of the Shellworlds, the Nariscene who supervise them, the Morthanveld who oversee them and the Culture who in turn consider themselves above all of the others.

Like all Banks' books this is not without flaws: it drags a bit in the middle between Ferbin leaving Sursamen and returning in the company of Djan, in particular during the interlude where they encounter former Special Circumstances agent Xide Hyrlis, whose function seems mainly to be tedious about multiverse theory for a number of pages and then refuse to be of any help whatsoever. And as thrilling as the bit at the end where they blast around the giant turbines and gears at the planet's core is, it all seems a bit compressed (60-odd pages out of 600) and a jarring change of pace given the leisurely unfolding of what's gone before, and the flashing and banging distracts you from the fact that precious few of the Big Questions raised are actually answered. Like, for instance: why do the Iln have such an implacable thing for destroying Shellworlds? And why, if you have such an implacable thing on the go, choose to achieve it by getting yourself buried in silt for several millennia and revived by a suitably advanced civilisation, rather than just, you know, popping off and doing the job straight away?

In the implicit league table of Culture novels that everyone who's read more than one of them keeps in their heads I would say this is in the mid-range along with The Player Of Games and Use Of Weapons - better then Excession which I found a bit tedious, but not as good as Consider Phlebas, Look To Windward or Inversions. It's all good fun and never less than compulsively readable, though, so no complaints.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

dry January? more like DIE January

Another day, another gratifyingly early fulfilment of a New Year's resolution, this one being to really step up the brutal and relentless culling of authors who have previously featured on this blog. It's still January and we've already clocked up one, that one being sci-fi/fantasy author Ursula Le Guin, whose book The Dispossessed featured here just over two years ago and who died yesterday aged 88. That's actually fairly quick work by the usual standards of the Curse of Electric Halibut - only Dibdin, Hoban, Matheson and Salter were knocked off more quickly.

I also need to fill in a missing entry from 2017, since JP Donleavy died on 11th September and I seem to have missed it. Unless I've missed anyone else (which is quite possible) that takes the current count to nineteen.

As it happens January 22nd isn't the earliest start to a year of authorial slaughter; 2017 started as early as January 2nd with the demise of John Berger. The belated inclusion of Donleavy means that 2017 is now the joint-deadliest year on record with four deaths, a record it shares with 2013.

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d
JP Donleavy 21st May 2015 11th September 2017 91 2y 114d
Ursula Le Guin 6th December 2015 22nd January 2018 88 2y 49d

Monday, January 15, 2018

valley of the dulls

Sorry to do a follow-up to a follow-up, but I remember how I happened across the Spurn story now: I was fiddling with an Ordnance Survey map (probably my ancient copy of OL13 that I took on last weekend's walk, and which is now extremely crispy and held together with a substantial amount of tape after repeated soakings) and had a recollection of the QI segment about Britain's dullest (i.e. most featureless) map square, which turns out to be in the vicinity of Ousefleet in north Lincolnshire. A few other contenders are linked here: this one just north of the Solway Firth must have been a strong contender in terms of actual on-the-ground features, but contains quite a bit of writing which any map-trawling algorithm would need to know to ignore.

The convention seems to be to look at the 1:50000 Landranger series; even in Ousefleet if you zoom in to 1:25000 there's all sorts of fascinating drainage ditches and the like to be seen. As marvellous as this is from a nerdy academic perspective these places are all phenomenally dull by their very nature on the ground, and by virtue of their physical geography probably boggily nightmarish to traverse. Dull as ditchwater, in fact, quite literally.

Ousefleet is in the vicinity of Scunthorpe, which in addition to being a canonical example of the difficulty of writing sensible text-parsing profanity filters is a sort of marginal entry on the list of amusing UK place names, a subject I addressed at greater length (and with more sniggering) here. Note that photographer Dominic Greyer has made a career (and very nice too) out of spotting and documenting this sort of stuff, and in addition to books now offers all sorts of merchandise if you would like to buy your loved one a mug with, for instance, BELL END emblazoned on it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

a low spurn count

Here's a bit of a round-up of some bits and bobs that probably don't merit a blog post of their own:

I was going to make the point (but forgot) in the account of my Black Mountains walk that this is a particularly good time of year to be up on these hills - not just because a glorious crisp sunny winter's day is a good time to be up a hill pretty much anywhere, but specifically because these hills have a reputation (entirely deserved) for being boggy, even on top of the ridge. This is partly geography - they're big whale-backed ridges with flat tops, rather than the more exciting rocky arêtes that you get in, say, Snowdonia - but partly just a reflection of how relatively un-scary and easily accessible and therefore highly-populated they are, and therefore the amount of erosion that takes place. In some places they've laid some flat stones to form a path and prevent you disappearing up to the knees in peat.

Anyway, the point is that good times to be up there and avoid excessive boggy squelchiness are high summer, when there's been a chance to bake off some of the water (though it's never completely dry) or in sub-zero winter temperatures when everything's frozen solid. You do have to address a few different problems then, though, like not slipping over and shattering a hip, especially at my age.

Other walk-related news: I've uploaded some pictures to the photo gallery, something I mean to get round to doing more often. New Year's resolutions, again.

Speaking of New Year's resolutions, another was to get the old blogging frequency up a bit, as 2017 was the least bloggy year on record with a pitiful 44 posts. Now there are obviously some mitigating factors here, not least being preoccupied with The Boy, but since he's now trundling round the house in his walker shouting the odds and ripping telephone directories in half I'm very much hoping that I'll have a little more time to think about other things in 2018. There is also the Twitter factor, i.e. the increased likelihood that if I see some amusing link or have some throwaway comment to make on current affairs I'll do it on Twitter rather than here. I suspect I will never regain the dizzy heights of 2007 when I cranked out 282 posts, and I'm fine with that, but my limited aspiration is to arrest the decline whereby every year since 2010 has seen fewer posts than the year before. Given the paltry output I managed in 2017 that should be a lowish bar to clear. 

Here's a couple of graphs:

Every cloud has a silver lining, and in the case of 2017 you can see that while my reading habits were affected a bit, the total number of books I read didn't see the same steep drop-off as the general blog posting did. As a consequence the "book posts as a percentage of overall posts" number is at an all-time high of 29.55%. 

As it happens this seemingly small drop-off (13 books against 15 in 2016) masks the extent of the fall a bit, as it turns out that 2017 also holds the record for shortest average book length (253 pages) and therefore fewest overall pages read (3292 compared with 4404 in 2016). Here's some more graphs:

Lastly, and completely unconnected to blogging or statistical nerdery, I can't remember exactly what series of link-following led me to this article about the Spurn peninsula in East Yorkshire, but you'll (possibly) recall that Hazel and I visited it way back in August 2007 (so this is one of those 282 posts). We drove on the excitingly rough and evidently frequently repaired and re-routed track down to the car park by the old lighthouses and had a bit of a walk around (it is, as you can imagine, rather exposed and windy). Well, it turns out that back in December 2013 there was a particularly vicious storm which washed away a section of the road, as well as most of the vegetation and sand dunes which hold the peninsula together, and you haven't been able to drive down there since.

You'll recall that the general (though not completely uncontroversial) consensus is that the spit has been destroyed and re-formed (slightly further west each time) many times in the past, typically every 250 years or so, and that it's overdue for such an occurrence to happen again but that it's been held at bay by a series of shoring-up measures dating back to the 1850s. Well, it sounds like nature has finally found a way through. You can see the damage pretty clearly on Google's latest satellite photo - pre-2013 (have a look here, for instance) there was a narrow green strip running all the way along. So it'll be interesting to see what happens now, given that the authorities seem to have plumped (probably rightly) for a policy of managed retreat, i.e. letting nature take its course. What you would expect to happen is for future storms to eventually carve a permanent channel through the breach and then gradually eat away the spit all the way down to the end, and then for the longshore drift and silt deposition process to start to build a new spit from the mainland end. Note that we're talking geological timescales here, though - none of us is going to see it.

Monday, January 08, 2018

a mountain sense of excitement

It's always nice to at least make a start on fulfilling a New Year's resolution early doors, less than a week after New Year's Day in this particular case. The resolution was the pretty bland one made by approximately a gazillion people across the country: get a bit more exercise. In my own case one of the ways I wanted to do this was by getting back into some regular mountain expeditions, and as it happened I had a free day yesterday (Hazel and her sister Paula having cooked up some childcare activities not specifically requiring my assistance) and, moreover, the weather forecast was for it to be cold, but clear and sunny.

That sounded like perfect walking weather, so I quickly came up with a route incorporating some terrain I'd walked before (and some I hadn't) and which involved not too long a drive to get to the start point. What I ended up with was parking in the free car park at Llanthony Priory and setting off up the steep path up the side of Loxidge Tump that eventually brings you out on the top of the ridge which carries a section of the Offa's Dyke Path. Once I'd joined that it was a long and fairly flat ridge walk all the way to the trig point at the top of Hay Bluff. Then (replicating a section of this walk from March 2011 in slightly different weather conditions) I dropped down across the Gospel Pass road, up onto Lord Hereford's Knob (fnarr, etc) and then down the Daren Lwyd ridge back into the Vale of Ewyas and back along the road to the car park.

Route map (created here) and altitude profile (via GPS Visualizer) are below; as always do the right-click/open in new tab thing for a better view (same goes for the photos above).

Since physical geography doesn't arrange itself expressly for the convenience of the walker there are always ways in which a walk could be improved (see this one for instance). Here's a few thoughts on this one:
  • as you can see from the altitude profile, the initial mile-and-a-half or so involves quite a steep ascent. It's nowhere near as steep as the graph makes it look, as the vertical scale is exaggerated somewhat, but it certainly gets the lungs going early doors. This is pretty much inevitable when you want to join a ridge halfway along; the only way to avoid this would be to do the whole ridge in a giant horseshoe walk (a bit like this one) starting somewhere near Pandy, but that would be a long walk and in January there probably wouldn't be enough daylight to do it;
  • it would be nice if there were a definite summit to attain, ideally at the highest point of the day. The highest point of the day was actually the top of the Black Mountain at 703 metres, but this is almost impossible to pinpoint as it's only fractionally higher than the ridge on either side and isn't marked by anything useful like a trig point or even a cairn;
  • once you come off the Daren Lwyd ridge at Capel-y-ffin the walk back along the road is longer than you'd ideally like - you don't mind a mile or so just to warm down and loosen up the legs, but this is around three miles, which gets to be a bit of a slog by the end;
  • given the amount of exercise I've had in the past year or so (very little, mainly owing to being preoccupied with a baby boy with some medical and feeding challenges) I probably should have eased back into hill-walking with something about half the length (the track log says it was 15.3 miles) and not attacked it at quite the berserk speed that I'm inclined to adopt when I'm off the leash and out on my own. 24 hours later I'm in the early stages of what I expect to be a fairly crippling bout of DOMS; all my own fault of course.
Nonetheless it was great to be out for the day, and the weather was about as perfect as you could expect in early January: crisp, cold and sunny, no cloud on the tops at all (but plenty of snow), pretty much exactly as forecast. It did start to get rather windy once I got to Hay Bluff and continued to blow until I dropped off the steep end of the Daren Lwyd ridge and got out of it. A ridge walk in the Black Mountains? Hey, more like a FRIDGE walk in the WHITE Mountains, amirite?

Friday, January 05, 2018

mounds of love, by Kate's bush

Here's a couple of recent news (or, more accurately, "news") stories which revisit some stuff featured a few years back right here on this very blog.

Firstly, here's a disturbing tale of dismemberment featuring a faulty elevator which may have just been badly maintained or could have been, like, possessed by Satan in some way. I mean, it's possible, right? It's disturbing partly because of the basic detail of the story as related in the text, but also because of the graphic video of the incident embedded in the Daily Mail story which auto-plays as soon as you open the page. So, for that reason, please observe this prominent TRIGGER WARNING before you click through to the story.

You'll recall a couple of previous lift-related posts wherein I describe my wholly rational suspicion of them as a vertical transportation device, even though we're told they are Perfectly Safe and accidents Hardly Ever Happen, just like planes. That's all precious little comfort to the Chinese lady involved in the leg incident, assuming they managed to get her to hospital before she bled to death, and still less to the unfortunate Russian lady involved in this incident in 2014. No point rushing her to hospital, sadly. Oddly, that Daily Mail story is dated exactly one day after my more recent lift-related blog post (if you look at the comments you'll see I noted this at the time). Coincidence? OR IS IT?!!?!? Well, yes. And then there's this Spanish lady, messily dispatched by a lift (ironically, literally in a hospital this time) shortly after giving birth to a daughter. The angry and vengeful lift gods clearly have it in for the ladies at the moment.

Secondly, while I don't pay much attention to my blog stats any more - partly out of laziness, and partly because there are some suspicious patterns in the visit activity which I suspect are bot-related and render the stats a bit meaningless - I can tell you that my most-visited blog post of all time is still this one from 2010 about the lovely Alice Roberts and her televised skinny-dipping activities. Just to save you the trouble, I can reveal that it's not nearly as exciting as you (and everyone else visiting the page) were probably hoping. But seven years on in these days of Naked Attraction you've got to give the viewers at least a little bit of what they want, so when Kate Humble stripped off for similar reasons for her new series Kate Humble: Off The Beaten Track it was obviously felt obligatory to flash a bit of arse on camera. And while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and - just to be clear - I'm certainly not uninterested in Kate Humble's bottom, I was a bit vexed that the various furiously masturbating tabloid journalists embedding the video clip in their stories couldn't muster the one-handed keyboard skills to type the exact location of the lake Kate and her companion were frolicking in. Somewhere in Snowdonia was the best they could do, though I accept it's probably only me that cares. Anyone hoping for a furtive glimpse of, hem hem, "humble pie" will be disappointed, though.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

the last book I read

Stick by Elmore Leonard.

Ernest Stickley jr. is a little bit whooaaahh, a little bit wheeeyyy, a bit tasty, a bit dodgy. He's a geezer. Leave your car lying around, he will nick it. As a consequence, as we meet him he's just finished a seven-year stretch for armed robbery and is in the market for something to do.

Something to do, in the short term, turns out to be hanging out in Miami and tagging along as assistant bagman to his old friend Rainy while Rainy does a delivery for Chucky Buck, a local drug dealer. What Rainy and Stick don't realise is that this particular payment is to one of Chucky's key suppliers, Cuban gangster Nestor Soto, in compensation for Chucky accidentally involving some of Nestor's men with some undercover cops at the cost of some money, product and inconvenience to Nestor. Moreover, the compensation deal comes with a little extra spice: Chucky's agreed, as part of his penance, that Nestor's men get to kill the bagman.

As it turns out, it's Rainy who actually carries the bag, and promptly gets his ass ventilated for his trouble. But a second bagman wasn't part of the plan, and Nestor's boys see him as just an added bonus, so Stick has to make a sharp exit, pursued by a hail of bullets. So now Chucky's boys and Nestor's boys are looking for Stick. So he should probably leave town, right? Well, the thing is, Chucky had promised Rainy five grand for making the delivery, and, since the delivery was made, Stick reckons that money is now owed to him. Also, Stick's ex-wife lives nearby and Stick hasn't seen his now-fourteen-year-old daughter since she was seven and is keen to reconnect. And, in any case, he's not the sort to be scared off by some Cuban heavies with big guns.

So after a chance encounter with local wheeler-dealer Barry Stam in a car park - during the course of which Stick helps Barry out by breaking into his Rolls-Royce - Stick gets a job as Barry's chauffeur, a job which comes with free accommodation in the servants' quarters of Barry's massive mansion in Bal Harbour. Barry has many connections in the local area, including foxy investment advisor Kyle McLaren (who, it turns out, is a bit susceptible to the rakish charms of slightly shady types like Stick), but also to Chucky and Nestor, whom he occasionally has over to the house for business and social meetings, occasions at which Stick is expected to be in attendance as barman and general dogsbody. Awkward.

One of Barry's latest schemes is to try and get his local contacts (Chucky and Nestor included) to invest in a new film project that a producer friend is trying to get off the ground. The initial version of the project gets a pretty dim reception, mainly due to the concept being a bit shit and the financing arrangements technically illegal, but Stick starts to see a way whereby he might be able to cook up a scam to persuade Chucky to invest in a (completely fictitious) re-jigged version of the film project, thereby relieving him of the five grand he owes Stick plus a substantial extra wedge for good measure. The trouble is he needs to find a way to do this without either torpedoing his burgeoning relationship with Kyle (who, while susceptible to Stick's personal charms, is a bit dubious about being involved in actual lawbreaking) or getting himself killed by Chucky or Nestor's goons, who are already looking for an opportunity to discreetly waste him anyway.

As I said back at the time of reading Riding The Rap in 2009, you know what you're going to get with an Elmore Leonard book, and Stick ticks most of the boxes - sly characterisation, snappy dialogue, twisty plot, a bit of humour, a bit of sex and violence, 300 pages tops, bish bosh, sorted. This one (published in 1983) is a pretty good one. The main reason it's not as good as the really good ones (Killshot is probably my absolute favourite) is partly related to the thing I mentioned in the Riding The Rap review about re-use of old characters. This is an early example (possibly the first, I haven't checked) of this, Ernest Stickley having previously appeared in 1976's Swag. There's just a suspicion that Leonard likes the Stick character a bit too much - having him, for instance, bone Barry's bimbo girlfriend Aurora, Barry's 'luded-up wife Diane and Kyle (though the last encounter is a bit unsatisfactory, presumably because he's knackered and/or dehydrated by then) all in the same night is just a bit implausible and doesn't really serve to advance the plot very much. Stick is also generally just a little bit too cool and on top of every situation, though the same criticism could be levelled at Raylan Givens (from Riding The Rap) and probably a few other Leonard protagonists as well.

Stick was filmed in 1985, starring Burt Reynolds in the title role. Not a bad bit of casting, I'd say, though I already knew about the film before I'd read the book, so maybe it was inevitable that I pictured Stick as looking a bit like Burt Reynolds anyway. I've never seen it, but it seems to follow the disappointing pattern of a lot of Leonard adaptations by not being very good. This seems to have been caused by a bit of monkeying with the script including the tacking-on of a climactic bit involving Stick rescuing his daughter from some kidnappers (nothing of the sort happens in the book), but also by Reynolds having a director (one Burt Reynolds) unwilling to rein him in and get him to conform to the character in the book a bit more. As Siskel and Ebert say, the film (as it is with all Leonard's books) is right there on the page, you don't need to tart it up or change it.

Speaking of films, one thing that struck me here is that Stick is a bit of a prototype for the character of Chili Palmer from Get Shorty, one Leonard book which was filmed pretty successfully. Both have the same real first name (Ernest), both are shady types who drift into involvement with the movie business and bring their real-life experiences to bear on bringing some realism to movie scripts written by soft Hollywood fat-cat types with ponytails. The action in both books also starts off in Miami, though Get Shorty swiftly relocates to Los Angeles. There's even a bit where a principal villain gets pushed off a balcony.

As I've said before, if you read the late-1980s sequence that goes Glitz, Bandits, Freaky Deaky, Killshot, that could be all the Leonard you'll need. There really aren't any bad ones, though.