Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lesvos, an Island Not to Forget


I have a new book coming out in January, but this post is not about that book.  It’s about the issue that led me to write it.  I’m still in Greece—at least until next weekend, when I head back to North America to ready myself for interrogation by Caro at Bouchercon Toronto. 

When friends visiting from outside Greece ask me about “the new book,” I tell them it takes place on Lesvos (aka Lesbos or Mytilini) and focuses on the plight of refugees. In response, I far too often catch an "I thought that was over with" blank stare, followed by questions about Lesvos, and the underlying elements of the refugee crisis that spurred me to write An Aegean April.

So, as a public service, I thought I’d give a bit of background on both Lesvos and the still extant refugee crisis.  Here goes:

The northeastern Aegean island of Lesvos, a place of quiet beauty, storied history, and sacred shrines, has long drawn the attention of tourists, though never quite the hordes of off-islanders that descend each summer onto some of its much smaller, but far more notorious, Cycladic island neighbors to the southwest.  Its reputation as the bird-watching capital of Europe, possessing the greatest array of wildflowers in Greece and one of the world’s largest petrified forests, draws a different sort of tourist.

Lesvos ranks as the third largest of Greece’s islands, behind Crete and Evia, with roughly one-third of its 86,000 inhabitants living in its capital city of Mytilini, an alternative name used by many Greeks for the island. Most Greeks, though, know very little about modern Lesvos and think of it, if at all, as little more than the serene agrarian home of Greece’s ouzo and sardine industries.

That abruptly changed in 2015.

Virtually overnight, thousands of men, women, and children fleeing the terrors of their homelands flooded daily out of Turkey across the three-and-a-half to ten-mile-wide Mytilini Strait onto Lesvos. Tourists, who’d come to holiday on the island’s northern shores, found themselves sitting on the verandas of their beachfront hotels, drinking their morning coffee, watching in horror as an armada of dangerously overloaded boats desperately struggled to reach land. 

Inevitably, tourists stopped coming.

But not the refugees, for they saw no choice but to come, no matter the predators waiting for them along the way: profiteers poised to make billions of euros off the fears and aspirations of desperate souls willing to pay, do, or risk whatever they must for the promise of a better, safer existence.  In 2015, more than a half million asylum-seeking migrants and refugees passed through Lesvos, looking to make their way to other destinations in the European Union (EU). 

The chaos of the modern world had spun out a rushing storm of profit for human traffickers of every stripe, and Lesvos sat dead center in its path.  Greece had not experienced immigration of the current magnitude since the early 1920s, when 1.2 million Greek Orthodox Christians were expelled from Turkey, an event to which most residents of Lesvos traced their ancestors.

What had triggered this nation’s modern migration deluge? Under Greece’s prior government, the Greek Coast Guard intercepted and turned refugee boats back to Turkey, but in early 2015, Greece’s new government ordered its Coast Guard to allow refugee boats to pass into Greece.  Germany’s later announcement that it would accept one million Syrian refugees that year made what followed inevitable.  From that moment on, it would have been irrational for those caught up in war, Syrian or otherwise, to remain in danger rather than risk a journey toward the promised peace and security of a new life in northern Europe.

Many Lesvos residents joined in doing what they could to help lessen the suffering of the refugees, as did many tourists and off-islanders, but the onslaught soon overwhelmed them.  With the arrival of the international media and their cameras, a world outcry arose, bringing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in to fill the void left by the confluence of EU political paralysis, and Greece’s obvious inability to bear the financial burden of caring for hundreds of thousands of new arrivals while so many of its own eleven million citizens struggled in the depths of a Great Depression-like economic crisis. 

Many saw the NGOs’ efforts as admirable but severely wanting in both coordination and execution.  What troubled them most was the utter absence of an organized plan for addressing the chronic problem of processing and humanely caring for the masses fleeing to safety in Europe.

Threatened bureaucrats entrenched in doing things their own way feared such change. Worried elected officials concerned with playing to their voters wanted no such plan.  And, for sure, human traffickers and their allies, who profited from the status quo, didn’t want one.

But that was then.  Wrong.

Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos.  Petros Tsakmakis/AP

Today, the rhetoric may be different, and the focus (for now) on different parts of the world, but the attitude of our allegedly civilized world toward refugees brings to mind the words of Lesvos iconic poet, Sappho (630-570 BCE).  Words that might sadly prove to be the refugees’ epitaphic message to us all:

“You may forget but let me tell you this: someone in some future time will think of us.”


Jeffrey’s October Events

Bouchercon 2017, Sheraton Center Toronto, Ontario

October 12 (Thursday), 8:30AM-9:30AM, Grand Centre Room
“Bouchercon 101: An Introduction to all that is Bouchercon.”

            October 14 (Saturday), 4:00PM-5:00PM, Sheraton C Room

                        “The Blue Detectives,” moderated by Caro Ramsay.

Friday, September 29, 2017


What do these songs have in common…

 I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
 We are the Champions - Queen
 Livin' On A Prayer - Bon Jovi
 9 to 5 - Dolly Parton
 YMCA - Village People
 Final Countdown - Europe
Uptown Funk - Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson
 Can't Get You Out of My Head - Kylie Minogue
 Hey Jude - The Beatles
Jingle Bells
 Friends - theme tune
 Wonderwall - Oasis
 Barbie Girl – Aqua
 The Time Warp - The Rocky Horror Picture Show
 Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
The Monkees - theme tune

Rehab - Amy Winehouse
Happy Days - theme tune
 Wannabe - Spice Girls
 Thriller - Michael Jackson
 Eastenders - theme tune
 Kung Fu Fighting
 Mmm Bop - Hanson
 Benny Hill theme
The Great Escape - Main Soundtrack
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - Mary Poppins
pink Panther - theme tune

They have all made the top 50 of….earworms!

Those tunes that go round and round in your head, annoying, catchy and then just annoying.

Technical, intelligent people use phrases like "musical imagery repetition", "involuntary musical imagery", and "stuck song syndrome".   

But I will stick with annoying.

I thought it was just me until I read Desmond Bagley’s Flyaway where our hero is traipsing over the desert, up one side of the dune, down the other for days on end. He repeats to himself  “ One bloody foot before the next bloody foot."    "I fell into a blind, mindless rhythm and a chant was created in my mind what the Germans call an 'earworm' something that goes round and round in your head and you can't get rid of it."

Researcher Vicky Williamson at Goldsmiths, University of London suggests that earworms are affected by frequency ( having heard the song a lot) or timing ( having heard it recently). They can also be triggered by an experience that then triggered the memory of that song – and that song sticks and worms its way in.

According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of us experience earworms. The female gender * suffers from longer and more irritable earworms about both * genders suffer them equally often.
Kellaris produced statistics that suggest instrumentals only make up less than 8% of earworms, the rest are ‘lyrical.’  But who hums the Pink Panther theme tune without singing Da rum, Da rum, Da rum da rum da ram.

Or is that just me? Again?

British Journal of Psychology directly addressed the subject around 2010. Earworms are usually 15 to 30 seconds in length ( why do they seem to be there ALL day)  and, as you would expect, they are more common in those of us who are interested in, and who listen to music.

If you are stuck with an annoying earworm do a difficult task and the brain engages its memory to help out, setting the earworm free.

Music with an endless repetition of a single rhythmic beat makes an attractive earworm, as does a tune that is slightly discordant. I  suppose that’s because the brain hones in and waits for the slight 'off' note coming.

While reading around this subject I found this little snippet of interest.
“Jean Harris, who murdered Herman Tarnower, was obsessed by the song "Put the Blame on Mame", which she first heard in the film Gilda. She would recall this regularly for over 33 years and could hold a conversation while playing it in her mind.”

I mean who does that surprise? All women multitask.

And Alan reminded me of the case of Joe Simpson in the book  Touching the Void. He survived against all the odds after a mountaineering incident  in some very remote spot in  South America.
As he tries to stagger to safety, in his state of confusion, he suffered from an earworm so strong he thought he really could hear it. The song? Brown Girl in the Ring.
As if the poor guy hadn’t suffered enough.

I am away now with my pet earworm. Da Rum, da rum, da rum da rum da rum…

*Two genders. Two. Not 52. Case rests milord.

Anybody want to confess their own little earworm?

Caro Ramsay 29 09 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017


One of my little pleasures is to be asked to moderate at a conference. I enjoy the moderating, but more so I enjoy being introduced to books I may never otherwise read.  Crimefest this year was no exception, and one of the authors on my panel was Johana Gustawsson, whose book Block 46 was one of my outstanding reads over the past year.

Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in Political science, she has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over seven million viewers in June 2015. 

Block 46, her first thriller, features two protagonists, Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, and Alexis Castells, a French true-crime writer.  The book has now been sold to fourteen countries and is published in the UK by Orenda Books. In 2016, she won the Nouvelle Plume d’Argent.  It will be published in the USA on October 1.

Johana is working on the third book in the Roy and Castells series.

Please welcome Johana Gustawsson to Murder is Everywhere.

It’s amazing how holding hands with Death can change you. Or maybe change your path.

It happened in February 2009, on the 13th.  I was a fresh and proud Londoner since a few weeks only. The morning was glorious, and I finally managed to convince myself to go for a run, when I received a phone call from my mother. With a weak but calm voice, she told me that my father had not woken up after the routine test he had undergone in the morning. Doctors were at that same moment trying to resuscitate him. I hung up, booked the first flight available to Marseille, packed quickly and rushed to the airport.

The journey felt so painfully long, with the unbearable feeling that the Grim Reaper had already spat in my mouth. Sadness was drowning me when I realised that I could not send that kind of message to my dad. I needed to be hopeful and to think of those moments we will have when he would come back to us. Because he had to be saved; my dad would be saved. 

So I decided to list mentally all the discussions we will have when I will see him. And, surprisingly, what came first to my mind was my grandfather’s deportation to Buchenwald. I felt immediately that I stepped on a broken bridge: my grandfather was never a caring one, nor was he a loving father, but whoever I was meeting in my hometown, celebrated him with passion: Simon Lagunas, war hero, resistant, one of the courageous men who liberated Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp.

Avenue Simon Lagunas à Aubagne, France
Simon Lagunas (left) with colonel  Rol Tanguy, WW2 Resistance leader
When I landed, I had a message from my mother: after forty-five minutes of cardiac massage, a nurse miraculously revived my father. We were warned that the damages could be severe and that we needed to be ready to welcome a very handicapped man. His torso was badly burned by the cardiac defibrillator, his skin seemed to have been death-kissed, but his mind was intact.

Months later, as we were seated in my parents' lounge, I told him about the thought that crossed my mind when I was flying down to see him. It took him a while to answer: “Buchenwald broke your grandfather," he finally said. "In 1945, he came back as a broken man. So… he could just be a hero… the hero who would fight against the demons that had devoured the man he once was.” 

At that moment, I felt the urge to meet my granddad. To get to know the man who died when I was 15 and who barely spoke to me. I felt the urge to fix this broken bridge.

“Would you let me write about him? About Buchenwald?” I suddenly asked.

“Sure," my father said.  "It might even mend me a bit.”

I started by reading the testimonies of the Nuremberg trials, and I immediately felt that I was entering Buchenwald side by side with my grandfather. I was dragged into the crematoriums where he worked for a while, and passed by Block 46, with its white-washed windows. And there, not only did I understand my grandfather, the man broken by the war, but I also got to meet Erich Ebner, the hero of Block 46.


Michael Stanley upcoming events:

October 12 – October 15
Bouchercon Mystery Conference
Toronto, Canada
For details see

Michael and Stanley will be on 2 panels each.
October 24
Dying to Live launch
Once Upon A Crime
604 W 26th St
Minneapolis MN 55405
(612) 870-3785
7:00pm.  Discussion and refreshments

October 25
Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour
The Dock Café
425 Nelson St E, Stillwater, MN 55082
Admission by ticket only – contact Valley Bookseller at (651) 430-3385

October 26
Mystery to Me bookstore
1863 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711
(608) 283-9332
Free registration at Eventbright or by calling the store.

October 27
Aunt Agatha’s
213 S 4th Ave # 1A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 769-1114
Dinner and discussion.
Please contact the store beforehand for details.

October 30
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
7419 W. Madison Street
Forest Park, IL  60130
(708) 771-7243
7:00pm.  Discussion and refreshments

November 1
Barnes and Noble
2100 Snelling Ave, St Paul, MN 55113
(651) 639-9256
7:00pm.  Discussion
November 4
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
514 Allegheny River Blvd, Oakmont, PA 15139
(412) 828-4877
10:30am. Coffee and Crime