Friday, 16 March 2018

Military History Photo Friday: The L3/35 Tankette

I was digging through some old photos the other day and came across this one of yours truly at a military museum in Rome. I'm standing beside an Italian L3/35 tankette. Tankettes were a popular idea for some nations in the Interwar period. As the name implies, they were miniature tanks, smaller and faster than the behemoths of the First World War.

The L3/35 was first mass produced in 1936 and measured 3.17 x 1.4 x 1.3 m (10.4 × 4.59 × 4.27 ft). It had a top speed of 42 km/h (26 mph), weighed 3.2 tons, and had a crew of two--a driver and gunner. Armament was a pair of machine guns. At its thickest, the armor was only 12 mm (.47 inches).
The tankette served in the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and large numbers of them were sent to help the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Their thin armor made them vulnerable, and having the guns fixed to the front meant the tankette had to be turned to bring the weapons to bear. Abyssinian warriors would rush up behind the tank and stuck their swords into the tracks, which was often enough to disable them! In the Spanish Civil War they had to face tanks sent to the Republican army by the Soviet Union like the BT-5 and T-26. These were real tanks with cannons and turrets and everything. You can guess how well the little Italian models fared.

By World War Two, the L3/35 was obsolete, but that didn't stop the Italians from fielding large numbers of them in North Africa. The British made short work of them. It's amazing any survived to end up in this museum!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

My Second Cairo Mystery Novel is in the Editing Stage!

The Case of the Shifting Sarcophagus, the second in my historical mystery series The Masked Man of Cairo, is now in the editing stage. I finished the rough draft a couple of days ago, finally squeezing out some time from my busy ghostwriting schedule.

The sequel to The Case of the Purloined Pyramid sees Augustus, Moustafa, and Faisal teaming up again to solve another murder. This time an Old Kingdom sarcophagus appears in Augustus' house while he is asleep. He opens it to find the former chief of Paris police dead inside! How did such a huge sarcophagus get into his house unnoticed, and why did the murderers deliver the body to Augustus? You'll find out when it's released.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Book Review: Look and Move on by Mohammed Mrabet

Look and Move OnLook and Move On by Mohammed Mrabet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mohammed Mrabet is a Moroccan writer and artist who has lived most of his life in Tangier. This is his memoir of the days when it was an international haven for writers, artists, thieves, con men, homosexuals, pederasts, and the idle rich. Like For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri, it shows the flip side of this foreigner's paradise, the life of poor Moroccans struggling to survive and often having to serve the newcomers in various unpleasant ways.
Mrabet didn't escape this. At the age of sixteen, he got taken up by an American couple who vied with each other for his sexual favors. They take him to the U.S., where he has more fun with the local Puerto Ricans and blacks than he does with the staid middle class whites. There are some hilarious scenes of culture clashes in these passages. Later he meets Paul and Jane Bowles, who launch his career as a writer. They, too, take him to the States with similarly numerous results. We also get to follow Mrabet's adventures with European swingers, falling into matrimony, and his rather Zen philosophy of life.
While I found this slim volume fascinating because I've spent a lot of time in Tangier and read a great deal about its history, someone who isn't a fan of the place will miss a lot of the references. For example, Marguerite McBey is mentioned but nothing is said about her important place in Tangier society. I hope this work is republished with a long introduction to explain the context to those readers who have not learned about it from other sources.

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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Cats of Cairo

Snoozing in the garden of the National Museum

Anyone who travels in the Muslim world will notice something--there are an awful lot of cats around. There's a big tradition of loving cats in Muslim society, especially Arab society. The Hadith even has a story about how Mohammad was sitting with some of his followers preaching when a cat curled up on the corner of his robe and went to sleep. When Mohammad finished his sermon the cat was still asleep, and rather than disturb it he cut off the corner of his robe.

In my last two writing retreats in Cairo, I met plenty of Egyptian cats. Here are a few.

Begging for food at a restaurant at Saqqara
Admiring the sunset along the Corniche on the banks of the Nile
The disused back staircase in my building has been taken over by cats
Admiring some historic Muslim architecture

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Join the Write1Sub1 Challenge

In my post on this year's writing goals, I mentioned that I am planning to write a short story every month this year. To help make sure I do this, I've revived an old Facebook group I used to be a member of. Write1Sub1 takes its inspiration from Ray Bradbury, who one year wrote and submitted a short story every week.

So this year we are going to write a short story and submit a short story every week. They don't have to be the same short story, because you probably want to let a story sit for a while before going back and editing it with a fresh set of eyes.

Many of us (including yours truly) are more novelists at heart, so if you don't think you can face a weekly challenge, you can write and submit once a month.

When I did this challenge back in 2014, I tried the weekly challenge. I burned out after four months, but got 16 stories written, many of which got published in magazines and anthologies and the rest assembled into a collection I indie published. It really does work!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Book review: Baby Moll by John Farris

Baby Moll (Hard Case Crime #46)Baby Moll by John Farris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first of the Hard Case Crime series I've read. The series has made a name for itself by republishing lots of great but nearly forgotten noir gems. In this book, Peter Mallory, our antihero, has left the mob behind to start a new law-abiding life. He's got it all--a shop by the beach in California, a house, a rich and beautiful fiancee. But then the mob pulls him back, as the mob always does in these books, and he has to help his old boss solve a series of murders--someone is picking off the mob boss's subordinates ones by one and he's convinced the list will end with him. Because the boss is Peter's father figure, he reluctantly agrees to help.
At this point the narrative slows. Much time is spent in the mob headquarters, a beachside bungalow filled with a variety of lost souls. They all have their hangups and madness and they all drink way too much. They also don't seem to do much of anything else. Everyone knows the boss is losing his grip on the territory and is terrified of the mysterious murderer, giving the place a sort of Hitler's bunker feel. While this is effective, there's such a large cast of misfits we don't get to know any of them terribly well, and entire chapters go by without Peter doing anything to solve the murders.
The final third of the novel speeds up considerably as Peter gets out into the world more. He writes about he seamy side of the 1950s brilliantly, showing the poverty, ignorance, and brutality that Hollywood films of the era tended to ignore. There's also an epic fight scene that's handled very effectively.
While I enjoyed this novel and will definitely pick up more from Hard Case Crime, the pacing on this one was too uneven to give it four stars.

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Friday, 19 January 2018

Military History Photo Friday: The Pharaoh Ramesses II Smiting the Enemies of Egypt

This carving is from the National Museum in Cairo and shows Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279-1212 BC) smiting the traditional enemies of Egypt. Shown from left to right are a Nubian, a Libyan, and an Asiatic (perhaps a Hittite). The "smiting pose" was a popular one for pharaonic imagery. Ramesses has an axe in his hand.

Ramesses II campaigned against all three of these peoples, but is most famous for his long war with the Hittites, an empire based in what is now Turkey that had spread into the Levant and threatened Egypt. His victory at the Battle of Kadesh was recorded in a long and bombastic text that was copied onto many later buildings.

Sorry for the grubby picture and the light reflection. The National Museum needs to clean its display cases!

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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