Book Review: Mark Billingham ~ Love Like Blood

Detective Inspector (DI) thriller novels follow a predictable path. Firstly there is a hideous murder, then a maverick brilliant dysfunctional DI wades in, followed by a denouement. So far so predictable. So why are they so popular? Apart from the charm of baddies getting their due deserts and the police being flawed, but wonderful, what else is there?

Love Like Blood is the 14th iteration of the DI Tom Thorne series demonstrating Billingham’s stamina. Billingham’s genius is: everyone knows Thorne will triumph and the baddies (who are truly awful) will suffer. Ever since Crime and Punishment it’s well established that obviousness is more-or-less irrelevant, what matters is the writing. Billingham isn’t Dostoevsky but he writes very well without ambition.

If Billingham had gone into Dostoevsky mode he’d have moved the genre on. We’d have known immediately who out-sourced the honour killings. Billingham’s plotting could have deepened the debate about honour and consequential inter-generational tensions. The novel would then have a nuanced, subtle, approach. I’m entirely sure that Billingham could do this but instead he’s written a 14th very readable (sadistic?) thriller. If you like that sort of book you’ll love this.

Why you should buy this book: It’s an excellent example of a very popular genre.

Why you shouldn’t buy this book: It’s predictable and has missed an important opportunity.

Kindle is at paperback prices


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How Long is a piece of String?

A question that started
In Dar Es Salaam
Has puzzled us all
Since the world began.

The question is asked
And left dangling there…
No answer is offered,
It just isn’t fair.

If an answer isn’t wanted.
Well that’s just the thing,
How blooming long, is this…
Supposed piece of string?

Now everyone says it
From paupers to Kings –
Is it so crucial,
The length of a string?

I bet it was coined –
By the Emperor Ming…
The inscrutable question,
About daft lengths of string.

Wait a minute, I have it,
Wasn’t it Chow Le Wo Chan
Who said that string is…
“Twice half the height …

Of a small Chinaman”!


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The first winter snows in Aberdeenshire

The hills above Insch


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A School Teacher Joke

I hate it when people just use big words to make themselves sound perspicacious.

Richard M

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How the first Black Community was formed in London after 1772

The first British Empire included many slave-owning regions, which were ruled by British appointed Governors. The West Indies and America*, were the most important. Most slave-owners had direct connexions with Britain and there was a constant flow of returnees for both family and business reasons. The lengthy journey meant they usually stayed for extended periods of time. Naturally they brought slaves with them as part of their household. Prior to the Sommersett case no-one had considered the possibility that British law could effect the property rights of slave-owners but the Mansfield Judgement changed all that. From 1772, slave-owners who brought slaves to Britain could be more or less certain that that slave wouldn’t return. London became a centre for freed slaves and a black community was formed.

British slave owners routinely brought their slaves to Britain as part of their ‘household’. This was unchallenged. No-one believed British colonial slave owners couldn’t continue exercising property rights here**. British jurisdiction was applicable in the colonies as they were Britain ‘over-there’. Colonial slave owners often had family connexions as well as business relationships and stayed for considerable periods. Steuart, who provoked the seminal case, was here for two years prior to Sommersett’s escape. Black slaves sometimes became quasi-servants in Britain, especially when they were ‘cute’ children, though once they were became adults they sometimes had a rude awakening and were shipped out to be sold.

Slaves in British households in 1745

The case which created London’s free black community was Steuart vs. Sommersett. Stueart’s slave Somersett wasn’t treated brutally. By the standards of a slave he had an enviable lifestyle. Steuart was outraged when Somersett ran away and decided to punish him by sending him to Jamaica to be sold. Sommersett faced a brutal future. Steuart never imagined that he couldn’t do this but it transpired there were legal objections. An early abolitionist, Granville Sharp, took up Somersett’s case on the grounds that British law didn’t recognise slavery. The 1772 case of Steuart vs. Sommersett concluded with victory for Somersett who was released (see addendum). Somersett won because British law hadn’t positively legalised slavery. Foreign law identifying Sommersett as a slave was irrelevant in Britain. Sommersett walked free, becoming a catalyst for a free black community.

It’s been estimated that there were about 25,000 slaves living in London in 1750, predominantly men. After Mansfield’s Judgement they were effectively freed. They moved to London’s poorer areas to live, where they often began relationships with local, white, women. The biological process of assimilation naturally followed. London was used to diversity and ex-slaves were treated well. Those who needed welfare depended entirely on charity, which was a bit hit-and-miss. Black sailors in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars were probably second generation black-British.

An ex-slave as a trusted companion to Dr Samuel Johnson, 1780s

The Mansfield Judgement wrote an entirely new view of slavery. Mansfield’s Judgement was social dynamite. He was quite aware of the impact of his judgement as he says that slavery is odious. Mansfield drew a distinction between Britain and the legal framework of the colonies. In brief, he legally separated Britain from the colonies. More importantly it gave impetus to the abolitionist movement as it moved socially and politically mainstream. Fifty years later British colonies were slave free.

ADDENDUM The key part of Lord Mansfield’s Judgement

The cause returned is, the slave absented himself, and departed from his master’s service, and refused to return and serve him during his stay in England; whereupon, by his master’s orders, he was put on board the ship by force, and there detained in secure custody, to be carried out of the kingdom and sold. So high an act of dominion must derive its authority, if any such it has, from the law of the kingdom where executed. A foreigner cannot be imprisoned here on the authority of any law existing in his own country: the power of a master over his servant is different in all countries, more or less limited or extensive; the exercise of it therefore must always be regulated by the laws of the place where exercised.

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of now being introduced by Courts of Justice upon mere reasoning or inferences from any principles, natural or political; it must take its rise from positive law; the origin of it can in no country or age be traced back to any other source: immemorial usage preserves the memory of positive law long after all traces of the occasion; reason, authority, and time of its introduction are lost; and in a case so odious as the condition of slaves must be taken strictly, the power claimed by this return was never in use here; no master ever was allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted from his service, or for any other reason whatever; we cannot say the cause set forth by this return is allowed or approved of by the laws of this kingdom, therefore the black must be discharged.

*Pre 1776
**It wasn’t wishful thinking that their property right would continue in Britain as there were many instances of slaves being sold in London prior to 1772. So far as any could see the situation in London was legally identical to that in the colonies. See

Baptism and literacy also featured heavily in the changes that occurred see Equiano’s autobiography go to

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The Scream

A universal feeling

I screamed again and again
It surfed the noise of the city
No-one heard or cared



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Film Review ~ Call me by your name (Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet)

Call me by your name is an outstanding coming-of-age film of a gay adolescent. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a teenage high-flyer. Multi-lingual and with outstanding skills in music he has a hot-house life with exceptionally talented people. His American father (Michael Stuhbarg) is a professor of archaeology, who owns a very large house in Northern Italy, which they use during the summer vacation. Each year a favoured graduate student is invited to the house for the long vacation. On this occasion it’s Oliver (Armie Hammer).

Elio’s circle of teenage friends mirror his own wealth and talent. Especially important is Marzia (Esther Garrel), a French girl, who’s blatantly in love with Elio. He’s unnerved by this yet is prepared to discuss sexual possibilities with his father. Her love for him is consummated but there’s a noticeable lack of passion by Elio, who’s meeting peer group expectations rather than having a pasionate affair. This is quite unlike Elio’s passion for Oliver with whom he cannot spend enough time. Every opportunity is grasped and ultimately he has his reward. Oliver, as the older man living in Elio’s home, is reluctant and worried about breaching boundaries but they are breached and Elio’s love is consummated.

Timothee is exceptional in his role as Elio. The utter plausibility of his passion pours from the screen without a false step. His father, the professor, is less plausible. A stagey speech- soliloquy?- by Elio’s father endorses Elio’s love affair with Oliver whilst being tinged with regret that Elio was chosen rather than him. This speech underlines the homeoerotic analysis of Ancient sculpture the professor engages in with Oliver, which can now be seen as a failed seduction ploy. Oliver’s measured seduction is suitably tentative and captures the moment as to who is seducing whom.

A wonderful coming-of-age film which is well nigh faultless.

Why you should watch this film: Timothee Chalamet’s performance is outstanding

Why you shouldn’t watch this film: It’s very, 1950s, timid when it comes to gay sex.

For a grown-up review see


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