WRITING my recent Greek travelogue reminded me that in 1982 my first bride and I booked a last-minute holiday to the island of Poros. It was so cheap and basic that you were not allocated specific accommodation until you reached your destination.
So a gaggle of Brits disembarked from the ferry to be met by a tour rep with a list. I don’t mean he was leaning over; he had a closely typed piece of paper in his hand.
He started going through the names, allocating them their rooms and describing how to get there. Slowly but surely he reached almost the end, leaving the wife and me standing beside a small, bearded, bespectacled man and his partner, a magnificent 6ft black woman in highly coloured raiment.
‘We are the Ashworths,’ I told him helpfully. He replied: ‘Villa Maria, just up the road and to the left. Can’t miss it, there’s a big sign. Here’s the key.’
Turning to the dark goddess, he added: ‘And you must be the Savages.’
It happened. I swear it. We managed to keep a straight face for a few seconds before rounding a corner and dissolving into helpless laughter.
We never saw the couple again, mainly because we spent most of our time boozing in a bar called the Dolphin which provided freshly cooked chips, and retsina straight from the barrel. Both were divine. The waiter informed us that he drank eight pint carafes of retsina per night and never had a hangover. Sadly, we couldn’t claim the same.
Time and again you see stories of people who fall in love with a dog while on holiday and spend a fortune on quarantine to take it home. I came to understand why when sitting at an outside restaurant table. A soulful-eyed grey mongrel came up and licked my hand. I gave her some of my kebab and that was it. For the next few days she followed us everywhere, sleeping by the apartment door and greeting us rapturously when we emerged in the morning.
We were sorely tempted to give her a permanent home but realised this would not go down well with our dog Kevin, about whom I wrote here. We left her howling on the quayside, and we howled too.
In praise of John Sandford
IT always upsets me to see the great John Sandford described as a ‘thriller’ writer. The word thriller implies to me those cheap Fifties paperbacks with sensational titles and garish covers usually featuring a floozie showing lots of cleavage. In fact Sandford, pen-name of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American author John Camp, is a master of suspense whose books in my opinion stand comparison with the work of any more highbrow rivals.
Chief among his output is the Prey series, 31 books to date featuring the law enforcer Lucas Davenport. He starts out as a detective with the Minneapolis police department but his maverick methods and use of excessive force lead to his reassignment, first running his own intelligence unit and later acting as a troubleshooter for the state governor. He is a multi-millionaire thanks to his talent as a computer game developer.
The series chronicles Davenport’s journey into middle age and fatherhood while killing the bad guys and getting injured in the process. In the fifth book, Winter Prey, he meets a doctor named Weather Karkinnen who eventually becomes his wife.
I love this passage from Masked Prey, number 30 in the series, published in 2020.
Weather, a surgeon, was an unabashed liberal. She had freed herself from the usual routine of plastic and micro surgeries. She no longer looked for clients but spent much of her time going from one hospital to the next, doing necessary surgical repairs on indigent cases.
Lucas was not so liberal. He believed that no matter how much money or time you spent on the poor, there’d always be people at the bottom unable to care for themselves and that was simply a fact to be lived with. Also, some people really needed to be shot, and, if only wounded, shot again.
Davenport has his flaws and that is what makes his character so fascinating. But what I like most about the books apart from the gripping plots is the humour. Every story contains some good jokes and the conversations between Lucas and his sidekicks are often priceless. I can recommend the entire collection with the possible exception of books three and four, Eyes of Prey and Silent Prey, which venture into the horror genre and will be too violent for many readers.
Another of Sandford’s heroes is Virgil Flowers, who often works alongside Davenport but features in 12 of his own books plus 2021’s outstanding Ocean Prey, in which he and Lucas get more or less equal billing. Virgil is a long-haired, outdoors-loving detective invariably referred to by colleagues as ‘that f***ing Flowers’.
A further character is Kidd, a Tarot-consulting artist who appears in a couple of Prey novels plus four of his own.
John Sandford is now 78 but still going from strength to strength. The missus and I agree that the aforementioned Ocean Prey is one of his very best, and that’s saying something.
Our own introduction to Sandford came via one of those book clubs where you get half a dozen titles by a specific author for a few quid. To those tempted to give him a try, I would suggest starting with the tenth Davenport, Certain Prey, which introduces the female assassin Clara Rinker, and if you like it go back to the very first, 1989’s Rules of Prey.
I am having a great time going through them all again.
Old jokes’ home
Why should you never date tennis players? Because love means nothing to them.
A PS from PG
There was a sound in the background like a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside. Jeeves sailing into action.
PG Wodehouse: Joy in the Morning