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 (