Saturday 4 September 2021


My obituary of Joe Galloway, one of America's foremost reporters of the Vietnam War, is in today's Guardian, for those of us who prefer a paper paper. It has been online for a few days; you can link to it here. It's pretty much as I wrote it, as I was given a hard word count, and there is not much lost, though there is a difference between the Marine Corps and the Marine I Corps. I was also slightly surprised that they added a qualifier to Clausewitz (the military theorist) but not to LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson, the US President).

I found the link to his father, gone during the war, and his war journalism telling, as was the link to Ernie Pyle, whose work in World War II I described in a little more detail.

With more space, I might have talked about the traditionalism of his reporting, as opposed to the more impressionistic work by the likes of Michael Herr, who caught tragedy on a grand scale rather than the individual, but that I think was a difference of style. Galloway was already legendary when I worked for UPITN, the news agency's TV agency, and when I was in Moscow in 1980 a number of people told me Galloway stories. I would have liked to talk a little more about the Reiner movie Shock and Awe, which is held back by its smug sense of self-righteousness: Tommy Lee Jones' version of Galloway seems aimed specifically at buffering the film from criticism for being anti-military--when in reality it is the questioning of illegal or unwinnable wars before the politicians commit to them that is the foundation of what journalists ought to, and usually aren't, doing. Knight Ridder and McClatchey were the noble exceptions.

They also left out a few details from his survivors: his second wife was actually the daughter of an officer killed at Ia Drang, whom he had known since she was young. His third wife was a woman with whom he had been friends for some 40 years before they married. I found that somehow hopeful.

Tuesday 13 July 2021


I've published my review of Norwegian novelist Helene Flood's engrossing first crime novel, The Therapist, you can link to that at my Medium page here...

No need to register, but it's nice if you do...

Thursday 8 July 2021


 My obit of Mike Gravel, the Alaska senator who read the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor, is online at the Guardian now; it should be in the paper paper soon. You can link to the online version here.

The piece has a few small, but I think significant cuts...and I was interested as I knew Assumption Prep well, and AIC somewhat, having grown up in that sports area (I played at AP in both football and basketball in high school.) I mentioned Gravel's enlistment in the Army specifically to note that by enlisting he was allowed to choose his area of service, and he chose intelligence. The point is made by his activities in France and Germany, which were, in effect, spying on allies, but the real significance is that he was able to read the Pentagon Papers with the necessary insider grain of salt.

There is also the argument over where exactly he got his copy of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg denied giving anything to Gravel; it seems likely it was Washington Post Ben Bagdikian, who like Ellsberg had worked at Rand and with whom he was friendly. 

I did try to describe Alaskan politics, which is sui generis. Gravel fell afoul of the major Democrat fund-raisers, by being too much of a loose cannon, and perhaps because of rumours about his personal life. Alaska could, in those days, live with some individuality in attitudes toward government, but not to development within the state. That's where the money comes from. His voting record shows his votes against expanding National Parks in Alaska (protecting them against development) and his voting with the racist Southern Dixiecrats to preserve the filibuster.  I also mentioned his first wife, Rita Martin, who worked in the office of the city manager of Anchorage, and had once been named Miss Fur Rendezvous. For some reason that seemed important.

Alaska politics is also hereditary. I mentioned he lost the Democratic Senate primary to Ernest Gruening's grandson, but what was cut was that this divisiveness meant the Senate seat was actually run by the Republican Frank Murkowski, whose daughter Lisa is currently a Senator for Alaska having won her father's seat after he faced corruption charges.

Gravel's later career is problematic. His stand against the US government's military policy put him in another awkward place when the Afghan and Iraq invasions became this generation's Vietnam. But his other positions landed him firmly in the Libertarian camp. I ignored the similarities with John McAfee, whose obit I had written previously for the Guardian, which were only superficial in the sense that the Libertarians were wide open as a springboard to some national publicity, but I wonder if I should have mentioned my own thought that, as with recurring Libertarian candidate Pat Buchanan, the left fork of Nixon's tongue in the Vietnam era, Gravel might have been happy to get Federal matching funds for his campaign. And of course, his "gadfly" image was not exclusively a product of his own positions, but also, as is the case with those on the fringes, the positions of people associated with parties or publishers or positions that can be used as evidence by association. Criticising the basic tenets of US foreign policy can often bring such attacks down on you. And for someone like Gravel, whose politics, going back to his Alaska days, could be all flaws to all people, that was a dangerous row to hoe.

Monday 14 June 2021



In 1994, a brutal quadruple-murder shook the seaside resort town of Orphea, in the tony Hamptons on Long Island. The body of a jogger was found in the road outside a house; inside the house the mayor, his wife and young son all lay dead. Two young state troopers cracked the case, and in a car chase drove the killer off a bridge into a river, where he died, a presumed suicide.

Twenty-five years later, one of the those troopers, Jesse Rosenberg, is about to retire. He's now a captain, known as Captain 100%, for his perfect record in solving cases. But his retirement reception gets crashed by journalist Stephanie Mailer, who tells Jesse that he is, in fact, Captain 99%. He did not solve the biggest case, the one that made his career, and enigmatically, she says he failed to see what was right in front of his eyes. She leaves and tells him she will see him later. But she doesn't. That night, she disappears.

The Swiss writer Joel Dicker's follow-up to The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair is, at first glance, a complex locked-room (or locked village) mystery, in which the stories of twenty years past are revisited and opened up to new examination. But in reality, it is a digging into character: a series of character sketches whose interaction centers on the crime, and whose changes come about as information is discovered and revealed. In a sense, this creates a story-telling dilemma, in terms of what information to release to the reader, and when to it. From the point of view of the classic locked-village mystery, this can be a fault, as sometimes that which is withheld would seem normal to have appeared much earlier by the process of natural selection.

But Dicker has avoided that trampling over the basic whodunit puzzle, with the aim of revealing more about the characters, through the nifty way the novel is structured, with multiple flashbacks and multiple points of view. These intertwine: Jesse's own very unusual upbringing, and his first love Natasha, for whom he pines, have their own impact on the tale, while the former police chief, Kirk Hayward who has moved out to Hollywood and written a play which supposedly will reveal the name of the true killer—a situation which does create more mystery but also makes one wonder about the sense of realistic policing (and indeed realistic murdering!) once the play becomes the focus of the town's theatre festival, the high point of its tourist season.

“I wanted to try something different,” Dicker said during his virtual UK book launch. “I wanted a challenge, to write a choral book with lots of characters and sub-plots. But this is Orphea—and Orpheus was, of course, all about not looking back, which is a great irony. Before Chief Hayward's play, the festival's production was going to be Uncle Vanya; despite Jesse and Natasha's backgrounds in Russian it's hard to see parallels between Vanya and the situation in Orphea except for one, perhaps: in Vanya happiness seems to be something that eludes us in this life. It's interesting that Dicker's characters all seem to be chasing some kinds of unachievable happiness, but in his ending Dicker plays further with that. His approach to the book echoes some of this: “it can work like a crime novel,” he said, “investigation becomes like a guide, a path you follow to the characters.”

Dicker said he chose the name Stephanie Mailer partly out of connection with Norman Mailer. “I create a character before I give the name,” he explained, and when I thinking of the town I wanted to have a lake called Deer Lake, which reminded me of Mailer's novel, The Deer Park. It was that simple. Or not quite, because in the translation, from the French, Deer Lake becomes Stag Lake, so the Mailer connection disappears!

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is a big book, with a deep cast of characters and a plot woven through two decades. There are multiple twists before the end, but the real pleasure may come from the construction itself, like a play (perhaps Chekhov's The Wood Demon?) with a big cast, an expansive set, and a sea of revelations. Talking with Dicker, I mentioned my favourite Swiss writers, Jacques Chessex and Friedrich Durrenmatt, both of whom used the framework of the crime novel to investigate issues of both character and society. Both, however, worked primarily in shorter books. “Yes,” he said, “a book is what we see before we read; a big book may scare the reader but give a very good feeling to have finished. A short book is a strong feeling.” What Dicker has produced is a big book, but with a strong feeling.

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer by Joel Dicker

translated by Howard Curtis; MacLehose Press £20.00 ISBN9780857059208

this review will also appear at Crime Time (

Thursday 10 June 2021


 My review of TJ Newman's highest of high concept thrillers, Falling, has just been published at Medium. You can link to it avoiding the paywall with this friends link here. It's a great read: make the click to find out why....

Tuesday 8 June 2021


My obit of F Lee Bailey is in today's Guardian; it went online yesterday and you can link to that here.

The paper had hoped for a somewhat shorter piece, of course highlighting the OJ trial, but as it was I tried to hold myself down to just his more famous/important trials, and each time felt it was necessary to explain them at least briefly for an audience who probably don't even recognise the name Patty Hearst, much less Sam Sheppard or Albert DeSalvo.

I mentioned that, in light of the Medina court martial, William Calley was the only officer convicted in the My Lai massacre. I didn't mention that the major who didn't find anything unusual in the action that day, nor when questioned by someone from the Inspector General's office the following year, was Colin Powell, whose recollection of that questioning in his own memoirs doesn't jibe with the IG's tape of it.

It would have been nice to delve further into a couple of the stories: Sam Sheppard became a professional wrestler after finally winning his release from prison, and died young not long after. Efforts to win him compensation for false imprisonment have failed. Hearst (and William and Emily Harris) were not with the rest of the SLA when six died as the LAPD trapped them in a house, but Patty had shot during an earlier robbery to protect them. Bill, aka General Teko, Emily and two other SLA members lived second lives until arrested in 2002. There's a Robert Redford movie, The Company You Keep, which, while based on the life underground of ex-Weathermen members, covers similar ground.   

There was one interesting thread that did get lost; his marriages. Because Bailey and his first wife, Florence Gott, married in 1960 and divorced in 1961, but had two sons. I could not find anywhere a date for his second marriage, to his secretary, Froma Portney, with whom he had a third son. I was constructing a scenario to explain these circumstances, but there was no way of my proving any of it true. However the idea he divorced Froma in 1972 and immediately married his third wife, Lynda Hart (who didn't make the paper, sadly) would be what lawyers might call evidence of a pattern of behaviour. He divorced Hart in 1980 but didn't marry Patricia Shires until 1985, and they stayed married until her death in 1999. I probably should have mentioned, as well as his failure to win admission to the Maine bar, and before his later bankruptcy and finally move into a hospice near one of his sons in Atlanta, he ran a consulting business from an office above his girlfriend, Debbie Elliott's hair salon in Portland.


Wednesday 2 June 2021


I've written a review at Medium, nominally about an Arne Dahl Intercrime novel, but more about the place of Scandinavian crime fiction and the label of "Nordic Noir". You can link to it here, without having to sign up to Medium, though that would not be a bad thing.

Monday 31 May 2021


I am in the process of assembling a collection of poems, and going through some which I hadn't really looked at in some time. In some cases they were in files with other poems for other possible groupings, or were simply in a file with other previous published poems. In any case, Threshold is a qualifier on both counts, and it may well make the cut for the new collection. I wrote it originally in February 1983, inspired by a photograph, the cover of Mary Kinzie's book The Threshold Of The Year, which brought back some memories. It was published in 1990 in the Azya Free Collection, from Tokyo, and as it is a work in progress, I have reworked it somewhat this year. 


In a cloak of new snow the trees look

Darker, more imposing. It's getting colder.

I take comfort seeing a new sawn stump,

Coming upon it by surprise, as if someone

Else, not me, had chopped it down, as if

Each snowflake were indeed unique, and in

The shadow of these woods I were not alone.

Monday 17 May 2021


No, it's not a book about golf. Instead, it's early on a sunny Tuesday morning when Erin Kennedy wakes up next to her husband Danny. She's Irish, and a book editor, who moved to New York after a family tragedy; he's a former NYPD cop now working homicide in a sleepy shore town in Suffolk County, Long Island. Then, at 7:15, there's an insistent knock at the door: Danny's partner Ben, and two uniforms, are there to arrest Danny. He walks to the balcony, and with a look back at Erin, jumps to his death.

Eighteen months later, Erin is in court, charged with murder.

Jo Spain's thriller is a finely designed construction, jumping about in time between the period of the trial, the time of Danny's death, and the sexual assault of a Harvard co-ed, told from the point of view of her house proctor, four years earlier. This is not an easy trick to manage, but movement between stories is deft and what helps is the setting, especially as the story moves between Harvard of the past and Suffolk County in the present. They are backgrounded sharply: the insular, almost claustrophobic world of Harvard increase a sense of danger about the campus; the Suffolk community is put into stark contrast by one of Erin's allies, Cal, who comes from the Gatsbyish side of Long Island, an uneasy fit into her world.

Of course the need to find the resolution of each bit of story creates a web of interwoven cliff-hangers which make The Perfect Lie compulsive reading. But there is a problem, in order to maintain the recurring doses of suspense, you have to withhold a lot of information from the reader: from the Harvard backstory and its other protagonists, or the location of its assault, right up to details Erin's trial taking place in the present. This is an easily disturbed structure, and it also requires a certain amount of expository prose once the revelations begin, in order to answer some of the questions readers are going to need resolved. The artificiality of withholding can be irritating at times, but the positive side is that it keeps the reader guessing, and the resolutions are, in the main, satisfying. Spain builds Erin's character well, and Dave's by reflection, but to some extent the other characters are limited by their function to the plot: learning too much might uncover too much revelation. And the moment of that revelation was, if anything, underplayed—perhaps the need to explain how we got there overpowered the actual menace of the situation itself. Cold blood needs to be presented as a dish served quickly.

There is also the danger of bending modern reality: given the amount of investigation Erin and her friends undertake, it seems improbable that aspects of one person's identity could be kept secret by their missing it. The pedant in me also wishes that the American characters didn't occasionally use Anglicisms, which Erin in narration can say to her heart's content. But an American lawyer would never say “inland revenue” meaning the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Freshmen in America are never called “freshers”, things like that. Small irritations for a natural born Yank, but like the larger question mark, not enough to slow down the suspense train which barrels ahead on its Long Island Railroad (or railway?) tracks.

The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain Quercus £14.99 ISBN 9781529407242

NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Saturday 10 April 2021


My obituary of G Gordon Liddy, the Nixon plumber of Watergate renown, who after getting out of prison turned into a right-wing showman with considerable success, appeared in the Guardian on April 8th; it had already gone up online, and you can link to that here.

For once, this appeared almost exactly as I wrote it: I had not been given a word count, but after over-writing Larry McMurtry I set one for myself and tried to stick to the facts, ma'am, and hope the readers were adept at reading between the lines. I hit my own word count almost precisely, and everything went smoothly.

Looking at other obits, I was amazed at how often he was billed as the "Watergate mastermind". Let's face it, Watergate was not exactly a brains operation, and when I looked at much of Liddy's career, I saw a similar pattern, by which a certain amount of macho bluster and spotlight chasing overpowered his responsibility for a series of, shall we say, mess-ups. In a way, E. Howard Hunt (that first initial thing has been a right-wing pseudo-upper class trope for a long time) was similar: remember Hunt was a long-time spy novelist, and many of his CIA operations seemed planned as if they were fictions. The two of them paired was trouble in a clandestine specimen jar. 

Watergate was one thing I would have liked to go into in more detail, but that would be opening a pandora's box. You could look at my obit of James McCord, of the CIA's Special Research Staff (at the Guardian here --also my Last Words interview about him here) for a sense of some of  my feeling about the nature of the burglary itself...and also the idea that both Hunt and McCord were accused of being in Dallas the day of JFK's assassination. Jim Hougan, who at the time was the DC editor of Harpers, wrote a seminal book on Watergate, Secret Agenda, part of which surmised that the bungled burglary was a deliberate act by the CIA to weaken Nixon (there was virtually no chance he would lose the '72 election to McGovern), perhaps because of "the Bay of Pigs thing" as Nixon referred to it in the infamous White House tapes. It wasn't until after Liddy's obit had been published that I discovered he had been one of the people associated with Norman Mailer, Edward Jay Epstein and other "deep politics" researchers who called themselves "The Dynamite Club". The easiest way to discredit those who believe in conspiracies is to send them down rabbit holes which distract them from the real prize and also eventually may discredit them: I can just see Liddy doing that to the guys in this club.

I didn't see the need to expound further on Liddy as right-wing shock-jock, pitch man, and huckster: who knows? he may have believed his own shtick, at least superficially. He certainly believed his uber-mensch persona, which was probably as close to the real GLL as we will get. I take his autobiography Will with a grain of salt, but it still might have been interesting to go deeper into those "bund" roots in Hoboken, and the way he celebrated this in his later years. However, the idea of Nixon as the leader whose own will could power America "back" to greatness (in the face of hippies, anti-war and civil rights protesters and the like) was so demonstrably false that when it was resurrected in Reagan's kinder gentler return to the Disneyland 1950s or Donald Trump's much more visibly Teutonic MAGA mode, it was no surprise many Americans bought it both times, and Liddy was there to cheerlead every authoritarian moment,and like a vulture profit from it. 

Thursday 1 April 2021


My obituary of Larry McMurtry is online now at the Guardian, you can link to it here. It should be in the paper paper soon. It has been cut considerably, because I over-wrote it, and it was a good edit: keeping the most relevant information and the spirit of what I wrote. So this is not a complaint, but an addition.

Because I knew McMurtry's work well, especially his early novels, which I believe are his best and I think, for example, the praise (with some caveats) Jim Harrison gave them was justified; this was in his review of All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers, which is my other favourite of his books (I'd like to re-read it and see if my older sentimental self still enjoys what my younger romantic self did). It seemed to me that the caveats Harrison mentioned were what drove much of his later work, which I found less interesting: his proclivity for writing too much, for extending ideas into series, came from his ability to create characters, and I would use the word picaresque to describe it. In many ways he was like an 18th century novelist; he would take characters he liked, and introduce them to other unusual characters he created (and understood) and let that all fly. But this is not part of what was trimmed from the piece; it is the spirit underlying what I wrote.

There remain a couple of small points that needed explaining, but because of 'reorganisation' weren't. Thalia, the Texas town that is the setting of his first three novels, is a fictionalised version of Archer City; I thought that really needed to be clear right from the start, because, like the Houston-set books which followed, it showed how he transformed his own experience (for example: his father's running his grandfather's ranch echoes the set-up of Horseman Pass-By (Hud). 

And when he held his Last Booksale, it was from his four remaining Booked Up stores in Archer City. For some reason the Guardian said only one was in his hometown: but I'd actually clarified the point to them. This was important because, in another line excised from the copy, I explained his purpose in putting his stores, which grew into six at their peak, in his hometown was his effort to turn Archer City into a Texas version of Hay-on-Wye. I thought the English reference would have kept it in the piece, but what do I know?

One small loss, which I also couldn't understand, was the name Peter S Beagle from the short list of his Stegner colleagues and friends. Beagle, who is still alive, was a major success at a young age, already a success while he was at Stanford with the would-be novelists. He's published the fantasy novels A Fine And Private Place and The Last Unicorn (which is always in best-of lists still) and I See By My Outfit, his tale of a cross-country journey on a motor scooter, well ahead of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintence. Maybe I should have dropped his middle initial to save space.

The biggest excision was one I expected, because I included a lot of material about Ken Kesey; on the surface very different from McMurtry, but a close friend whose career had some strong parallels with his until Kesey diverged. If this weren't enough reason, however, the idea that McMurtry then married Kesey's widow, on whom he appears to have maintained a crush for 50 years (he said that at the time Kesey would never let the two of them even talk together!) made it important. Anyway, here is what I wrote: 

... Stanford University’s Creative Writing programme, where his classmates included Peter S Beagle, Wendell Berry and Ken Kesey. Kesey attended the Stegner seminars taught by Frank O’Connor (The Last Hurrah) and Malcolm Cowley (Exile’s Return) only because Stegner, who disliked him intensely, was abroad.

...It may not be a coincidence that in Kesey’s first novel, the best-selling One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), the main character, played by Jack Nicholson in the Oscar-winning film, is named Randall McMurphy, or that Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes I Get A Great Notion (1964) revolved around a father/son feud within a family logging firm in Oregon; when it was filmed in 1970, Newman again played the rebellious son.

Let me repeat: I was not surprised these bits got cut: it's an obituary, not a literary analysis. But the idea Kesey simply snuck into the Stegner Fellowship seminars is intriguing, if not crucial to understanding McMurtry. But to me the teaching by O'Connor, whose novels tend toward the sentimental family saga format McMurtry used, and Cowley, chronicler of the Lost Generation, seemed a fascinating influence.And the parallels I mentioned are delineated here, and I found them convincing. And then there was the Merry Pranksters.

After Stanford, McMurtry taught creative writing for a year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, then back at Rice. In 1964 Kesey and his Merry Pranksters got in their San Francisco school bus driven by Beat icon Neal Cassady, with the Grateful Dead on board for music, and began a cross-country journey to New York. Tom Wolfe’s chronicle of the trip, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, became a best-seller, including the Pranksters’ arrival to visit McMurtry in Houston. As the bus pulled into his driveway, a tripping Cathy Casamo, also known as “Stark Naked”, spotted McMurtry’s son playing on the lawn. Unclothed, she jumped off the bus to hold him. McMurtry recalled "James, in diapers, had no objection to naked people, and the neighbours, most of them staid Republicans, took this event in stride; it was the Pranksters who were shocked". Far from being harmed, James McMurtry grew up to become a country music star.

McMurtry stayed off the bus. He won a Guggenheim fellowship and produced a seminal book of essays about Texas, In A Narrow Grave (1968), whose themes included some of those reflected in his fiction: cowboys “finding it bitter to leave the the strange and godless heirs they had bred.” 

Again, you can understand, as I did, why that basically had to go, but I did suggest re-inserting one sentence about Kesey's visit, if only because Wolfe made such a thing of it. But I loved McMurtry's own later response to it: it clarified difference between him and Kesey, and I thought the early mention of his son's later career fit well right there. I also love the quote about the bitter leaving of the land, because that theme starts in Horseman Pass By and continues through Lonesome Dove.

But the quote from Leaving Cheyenne stayed in.“Nobody gets enough chances at the wild and sweet”, Johnny McCloud says. They aren't quite the story's last words, though. He then wishes he'd had a Kodak, so he could've captured Molly sitting on the steps in her blue and white dress. So memory stays with us all. 

NOTE: I wrote an essay on Leaving Cheyenne/Lovin Molly a couple of years ago. You can link to that here on this blog 

Tuesday 30 March 2021


My obituary of one of my favourite actors, Yaphet Kotto, was online at the Guardian last Friday, 26 March; you can link to it here. It should appear in the paper paper soon. 

It is pretty much as I wrote it, but there was of course A lot more to say. The most curious thing was how difficult it was to be sure of the information about his biographical details; various sources had his name two different ways; the stories about his father's name and origins changed when he told them; was his mother's maiden name Marie or was that her middle name; more details about his maternal grandparents, who raised him, and how they (Roman Catholics) managed to raise him Jewish were all, in the end, left for supposition. I couldn't find much about the Mobile Theatre Project in the Bronx, which is where he first trained, or where he played Othello aged 19; I assumed it was for them and not professional, but I couldn't find details.

Besides Judy Holliday, he claimed a couple of other actresses as mentors, including Mary Astor--how he got into that position is an interview question I didn't see posed in the ones I found.

There were, of course, other black actors of note besides Sidney Poitier, though he was only real 'star': Ivan Dixon, Ossie Davis, Abby Lincoln, Ruby Dee and the like; Bill Cosby in the first starring role on TV.  But Kotto was a different story, and I believe he helped open the door for great "character" actors like Forest Whittaker or Lawrence Fishburne --the preference for matinee idols continues to this day, particularly on TV: think of any number of very attractive black actors whose careers have stalled in TV, or of the ones who have made successes, from Denzel to Halle Berry.

And of course nowadays, black British actors might be taking those roles, which may be because many of them come up the traditional way, and get judged by their acting, rather than their faces, though no one's going to compare Idris Elba's looks with Kotto's.

Bone is a film that should be seen again. First because it really is Larry Cohen's take on Boudu Saved From Drowning (though he would have probably denied it) and second because it would probably offend most of its audience. It was Cohen's first feature and if you know his work you will understand why, but Kotto's character is not the problem in the film, it really is, like Jean Renoir's film, a satire of the bourgoise; something its big budget Hollywood remake, Down And Out In Beverley Hills found it difficult to be,

Similarly, I can't emphasize strongly enough how important a movie Blue Collar is, not least for the way race divides working people against their own interests, but at the same time because race is not understood as the same kind of problem on both sides of the colour line. And Schrader's casting of Kotto, Keitel and Pryor, none of them pretty boy Hollywood types, escaped the swamp of what the Firesign Theatre once called portrayals of  "tales of ordinary working people as played by rich Hollywood stars".

And it would have been nice to discuss Homicide, where Kotto in a way was the star, and also the comic centre. There is a famous episode of the show, "Subway", in which Vincent D'Onfrio plays a commuter pushed in front of a train, and trapped between the carriage and the platform. Andre Braugher plays Frank Pembleton, the detective on the scene, who is aware that D'Onfrio's spine has been severed and he will die as soon as the trains are separated. Thinking of Kotto's career brought it to my mind; two tremendous actors, neither a matinee idol, who act the hell out of the two-man show which is at the episode's core. Yes, there is space for them, but how much? How well will Jamie Hector do? As Al Giardello tells Pembleton: "Come on Frank, it's a new age. The world's becoming a perfect place." RIP Yaphet Kotto