The Character: ‘Naomi’

Naomi plays an important role in my novel Efraim’s Eye.  When we first meet her she comes into the lounge of the Riad el Norj (a small hotel) in Marrakech, introduces herself to Paul, and “settled herself on the sofa opposite him, her legs folded under her and her brown leather sandals on the floor.  She was wearing a long, Laura Ashley, flower-print dress with short sleeves and a high neckline.  Her purse – a small brown leather sack with red, silk rope ties – lay by her sandals.”

The charity for which Paul was to complete the crucial auditing assignment had already briefed him (superficially) on Naomi, who, as Operations Director of the charity would join him in Marrakech to assist him with the language and the audit.  The chief executive of the charity had told Paul, “Naomi grew up in Jerusalem.  Her mother is Jewish and her father is a Swedish musician.  As a child, she learned Hebrew, Arabic, Swedish and some English.  She has a degree in languages from City University in London, so her English is polished, and she’s picked up German, French and Spanish as well. . . . Naomi has great language skills, is very good with people, and she fully understands what GYE is about.  What you bring to the team is business experience and financial skills. . . . If she didn’t work for GYE, Naomi would probably be a musician.  Don’t get me wrong, she does a great job for us, but she doesn’t particularly like confrontations.”

What the chief executive knew, at the time, was that Paul would have to confront the CEO of the small Moroccan subsidiary of GYE.  What he didn’t know was that the assignment would also involve a confrontation with the CEO’s half brother: Efraim, the terrorist.

In listening to Naomi tell her life history (she was in her mid-thirties), he understood that Naomi had an unsettled relationship with her father, who abandoned his wife and small daughter to return to Sweden.  And Paul, reliable, steady Paul, in his mid-fifties, became, for Naomi, a surrogate father as the pressure of the confrontations increased.

Paul could see that Naomi was beautiful and desirable.  What he didn’t see – until they became lovers – was her child-like naivete.  Their passionate love affair forced her to confront her own assumptions about what she wanted out of life.

She experienced another transformation when she was abducted and severely beaten by Efraim: her culturally ingrained thirst for retaliation burst forth.  Naomi turns the tables on Efraim when Paul captures Efraim and sets her  free: she beats Efraim with his whip.  Paul asked, “He didn’t . . . I mean I know he whipped you. but did he . . .” Paul was unable to utter the words.”
“No, if he had, I would have shot him in the balls, and then after a while – probably quite a while – I would have shot him in the head.”

Paul looked at her searchingly.  She gave him a slight smile and turned away.  “You don’t understand,” she began, “how your sweet little charity nomad could turn into such an unmerciful fury.”  Paul nodded.

She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  The hate and anger just boiled up overwhelmingly inside me.  Something snapped.  I couldn’t whimper and plead.  I felt powerfully defiant.  I was God’s chained angel, and he was the devil incarnate!  Besides, Israelis believe absolutely in the power of retribution.”

In the aftermath of Efraim’s attack on the eye, Naomi makes another transformation which effects not only her, Paul and Paul’s children, but also Sarah, Paul’s former lover.

Review: Perfume

Perfume by Patrick Súskind attracted my attention on our bookshelf in Sicily.  On the cover was the face of a beautiful, red-haired girl, and the announcement that it was now a major film.  (The novel was first published in German in 1985; it was translated and published in English in 1986; it appeared as a Penguin paperback in 1987.)

One of the teasers inside the front cover, attributed to the Daily Mail said, “Horrid it may be, but Mr. Súskind’s tale is well written and most unusual.”  That convinced me.

Perfume is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who was born in Paris in 1738.  His mother worked at a fish stall in the slums, where she had given birth on four previous occasions, and like those four births, she shovelled Grenouille under her table to be discarded with the fish offal.  However, she was arrested, found guilty of infanticide, and executed.  He was assigned to a wet nurse and passed from orphanage to orphanage.  As a young child he developed an extraordinary sense of smell, and he memorised thousands of individual scents.  As a boy, he became an apprentice to a tanner.  Then he had the opportunity to become the apprentice to a perfumer whose creative energies had deserted him.  With Grenouille working for him, though, he began to produce the most exquisite, expensive and in-demand perfumes.

At one point, Grenouille discovered a perfectly captivating and magical scent.  He traces it through the streets of Paris and found that it was coming from a young and beautiful girl.  He killed her, striped her naked and gorged himself on her scent.

As an apprentice perfumer in Paris he learned most of the skills necessary to capture particular scents, but later, he went to Grasse, where he learned how to capture the most elusive scents.  Once again he discovers a magical scent and he traces it to the young daughter of an important official.  He kills her, too, and extracts her scent to make the most magnificent scent.  He is arrested, found guilty and sentenced to death, but he manages to escape death in Grasse, only to be murdered in Paris.

This is, as the Daily Mail suggests, a pretty horrid tale, but it is delivered in good, solid literary style.  Moreover, Herr Súskind knows enough about the perfume business to make almost credible the extraordinary skill of his main character.  Almost credible, but sometimes my mind boggled at some of Grenouille’s concoctions, and the distances over which he could trace the particular scent of one human being.  There is no accounting for Grenouille’s extraordinary skill: no medical, or evolutionary theory or precedent is put forward.

Grenouille, himself, is a despicable character in whom one cannot find even the least redemptive feature.  This is a weakness in the novel: a reader needs a motivation beyond lucid prose and a desire to know what’s next to keep on reading.

There is an interlude where Grenouille sequesters himself as a hermit in a mountain.  It is not clear to me why he did this or how this interlude contributes to the development of the character or the plot.

At the end of the novel, the author allows some inconsistency in the reaction of crowds of people to Grenouille’s ultimate perfume: in one case, they love him, in the other, they kill him.

This is a well-written, unique fantasy.  I did not find it gruesome. I would have liked it better if it were allegorical, or if it stretched my credibility a little less.

DIY Book Festival Awards

The Iranian Scorpion received an Honorable Mention in the DIY Book Festival:

LOS ANGELES_The intense poetry of Dr. Neal Hall is the grand prize winner in the 11th annual DIY Book Festival, which honors independent and self-published books.

Hall’s “Nigger for Life” is a critically acclaimed anthology of verse that reflects his painful, later life discovery that in “unspoken America,” race is the one thing on which he is “first” judged, by which he is “first” measured, against which his life and accomplishments are metered, diminished in value, dignity and equality.

“Nigger For Life” reveals Dr. Hall’s deep sense of betrayal combined with his fervent passion for life and equality for “all.” His passion, power and independent spirit won over the competition’s judges.

Dr. Hall will be among those honored at a private reception on July 20 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

Other winners in the competition:


WINNER: Twelve Months – Steven Manchester

RUNNER-UP: A Small Perfect Place – Arnold Gordenstein


  • The Concubine Saga – Lloyd Lofthouse
  • Shattered Triangle – William Messenger
  • In His Stead: A Father’s War – Judith Sanders-Malinoski
  • Revealed – Mary Ballard
  • A Beautiful Glittering Lie – Julie Hawkins
  • Squinting Over Water – Mary Eastham Kennedy
  • The Silver Spoon – K.T. Archer
  • Wiggle Room – Dennis Winstead
  • The Iranian Scorpion – William Peace
  • In the Shadow of the Oaks – Frank Settineri
  • Terrorist and the Terchova Treasure – George Banas
  • The Ponzi – P.T. Dawkins

– See more at:

The Character: ‘Rustam’

I thought I would tell you about some of the characters in my novels: how they came to ‘life’, and something about their personality and the role they play in the book.  I’m going to start with the character ‘Rustam’ in The Iranian Scorpion. 

Rustam appears for the first time as the boy who lays out a carpet for his father, Wahab, and Azizullah to sit on while they negotiate the price Wahab will pay for the cakes of opium which Azizullah has brought with him to Wahab’s opium-to-heroin conversion ‘factory’.  I hadn’t planned that an Afghan boy would have an important role in the novel: he just grew into it.  At first, it seemed logical that Wahab would have his two sons working with him at the ‘factory’.  It is an important element in the story that Robert, the Drug Enforcement Agency operative, understands how opium is converted to heroin in rural Afghanistan.  I had planned that Azizullah, the opium grower, would have a falling out with Wahab and would capture the ‘factory’.  But what adult male Afghan would be willing to leave Wahab’s village, relocate to Azizullah’s village, and manufacture heroin there?  The solution: the boy Rustam is taken prisoner when the adult males are killed in the fire fight during the capture of the ‘factory’.  Rustam is saved from execution by Robert (in disguise as Abdullah, an Afghan field hand).  Robert questions Rustam and finds that he knows the conversion precess, which is unknown to Azizullah and his field hands.  So Rustam is taken prisoner, and to prevent him from fleeing back to his village, he is chained to Robert, who has every incentive to treat Rustam well.  The boy begins to trust the disguised DEA agent, and a psychological bond begins to form between them.  Rustam tells Robert about the girls of his village and discloses his sexual longings.

Robert wants to enter Iran, illegally, to trace the flow of heroin.  Once again, Rustam has the knowledge: he has entered Iran several times with his late father, and knows that someone called The Scorpion is the principal buyer.  But how can a chained boy be brought into Iran illegally?  Robert decides to persuade Azizullah to unchain the boy and give him a powerful incentive to stay with Azizullah’s team: a wage and a wife.  Rustam becomes engaged to a 23 year-old war widow.  He is overjoyed, but he lacks the mahr, the mandatory gift from husband to wife in an Islamic wedding.  Robert provides a ruby ring, and the wedding takes place between Padida, the 23 year-old widow, and Rustam, the very eager young man.

Rustam accompanies Robert into Iran, and having learned his true identity, travels with him to meet The Scorpion, to attend a celebratory orgy arranged by the Scorpion, to travel secretly to Kerman (where the heroin is packaged for shipment) and on to Bandar Abbas (where the shipment leaves for New York).

Rustam grows from an insecure and frustrated boy to a knowledgeable family ‘man’ whose wife is expecting a child, and who is facing important decisions about his future.  His relationship with Robert is vital in the story.  It is Rustam who discovers the method of packaging the heroin for shipment to the US, and it is he who saves Robert’s life.  He can be naive, as when he asks Robert, at a fast food restaurant in Bandar Abbas: “What kind of animal is a ‘burger’?”  He can be deadly serious as when he foils a robbery attempt by slashing a thief with a concealed knife.  And he can be whimsical as when he jokes with Robert about working with him “on the Rio Grande”.

I hope you like Rustam as much as I do!

Publishing Results for 2012

The Daily Telegraph ran a story about a month ago on a report by the British Publishers Association on their sales for 2012.  Sales were up 4% to £3.3 billion.  What was particularly interesting was the split between hard copy books and ebooks.  Hard copy books accounted for the vast majority of the sales at £2.9 billion.  This represented a decline of just 1% over the year.  Ebook sales were up 66% to £441 million.  Of these total ebook sales, £216 million represented the digital market for fiction and non fiction, and while this figure represented an increase of 134% over 2011, the increase in 2011 over 2010 was 366%!  This very significant decrease in the rate of growth of fictional and non-fiction ebooks suggests that there is a resilience of printed books.

Comparisons were made with the music industry where 70-80% of sales are digital.  Benedict Evans, an industry analyst at Enders said: “We’ve had this first surge of e-reader ownership, but they are not a direct substitution like digital music.  With digital music, you were replacing one piece of consumer electronics with a better piece of consumer electronics. . . . An e-reader or tablet is not better than a book.  It is better in some ways, but it is different.  There are genres such as romance, sci-fi and business it really works for, where people  are often impatient to get new titles or have no physical attachment to the book as an object.

The article was accompanied by comments by Gaby Wood, Head of Books at the Telegraph.  He said: “First, digital books are a compliment to, not a replacement for, physical books.  Some publishers  now offer a hardback with an ebook as a package, since an ebook is easier to carry around, but a hardback is what you want to own, and have on your shelf.  What has suffered is the middle ground affordable paperbacks, especially fiction, since this is easiest to read digitally.  Second, children’s books are doing very well – physically and digitally – and garnering well-deserved attention.  Third, publishers who have a popular cookery book writer on their lists will continue to sell hardbacks for a good while to come”  (See Nigella Lawson’s latest book cover, below). . . . “Book jacket designers recognise the need to make their physical products covetable objects.”


Review: “The Deceit”

I’ve been on holiday this week, so I have been a little negligent in keeping my blog current, but please rest assured that I will catch up.  While on holiday, I’ve been reading The Deceit.  I decided to buy Tom Knox’s thriller, The Deceit, because I wanted to see how another author writes a thriller, and because it is sited, at least in part, in Egypt, which is the main setting of my sixth novel.

The Deceit is a complex tale of the occult.  It begins with a prominent, old Egyptologist who is searching for the Sokar Hoard, a collection of ancient documents, which, rumour has it, will alter our concepts of religion.  Meanwhile, in Cornwall, England, there is someone practicing very sinister witchcraft, which involves the burning of dozens of live cats.  A detective inspector gets involved when a body is found – in mysterious circumstances – at the bottom of an abandoned tin mine.  The young protégée of the famous Egyptologist sets out to find the Sokar Hoard, on the basis of rumours that his mentor actually found the Hoard, but is now dead.  The young protégée is joined by a freelance movie maker and they discover part of the Hoard, but are – at first – unable to translate it.  Back in Cornwall, the detective inspector begins to home in on the practitioner of the deadly black magic.  The protégée, the movie maker and the detective inspector are threatened by various sinister forces, but they decipher the key message of the Hoard, and understand the nature of the black magic, respectively.  They also learn the connections between the message of the Hoard and the black magic.   If it were true, it would surely make your hair stand on end!

There are many twists and turns in this story.  Some of the twists seem more like diversionary devices, than essential elements  The characters seem two-dimensional; their purpose is mainly to facilitate the story.  The language is story-telling language; it does not aspire to literature.

What contributes substantially to its believability is the author’s compelling knowledge of ancient Egypt.  The places, the ancient culture and beliefs are all very real, and form the platform from which the occult tale can be launched.  Unfortunately for me, it’s a leap too far.  Too much of my religious understanding and my knowledge of science is called into question, but for those who do not suffer from credibility blockages, this novel may be just your cup of tea.