All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

In the acknowledgements for All the Old Knives Steinhauer reveals that the seed for this story was planted by the desire to see if it was possible to write a spy novel that takes place entirely around a restaurant table.

He admits that he doesn’t quite succeed, most of the novel actually takes place in flashback form tales told by the two people sitting around the table, and the beginning of the novel has Henry travelling to the restaurant, but it’s an interesting concept.

It’s a format that television drama does quite well and has done so for many years. Off the top of my head I can think of one or two examples from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 where shared histories, but differing viewpoints are discussed between two characters over the course of forty minutes.

Monologues, things like Alan Bennett – or even the episode of EastEnders that solely focused on Dot Branning – are other examples that show you can tell fascinating stories with a simple set-up.

But those all work in a visual format with a (hopefully) talented actor bringing them to life. Does the same work in a book?

To be honest, once I got to the acknowledgements and discovered that this was what he was trying to do, the novel made more sense.

The chapters are all told in the first person, so although the parts that aren’t around the restaurant table are technically Henry or Celia’s retelling of certain events, they don’t feel it. They feel like a novel told in the first person.

Any book from the first person viewpoint could be said to take place in the one location, the one time, an old man in front of a fire (yes I’m thinking of John Hurt in the Storyteller) delving into the past to tell a tale. What I’m trying to say is that the ‘flashbacks’ don’t make feel like I’m on the other side of the table to Henry listening to him telling me something. They just feel like any other book.

Perhaps it would have worked slightly better if the ‘present day’ sections around the table were told in the third person, so that the shift from third to first did feel more like a dialogue, however, it still doesn’t get past the fact that the flashbacks feel like the reader is being transported away from the conversation around the table.

I’m being picky, because I actually liked the story, however, one other constraint of the format is that in a tale of two protagonists at a table, one of them investigating the possibility of a spy amongst their ranks, there isn’t going to be much of a twist. One of them has to be the good guy, the other has to be the bad guy.

 

If All the Old Knives was a rollercoaster, it would be like one of the rickety wooden ones at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Still exciting, still fun, lots of ups and downs, but no twists – just a rather large turn at the end.

Speaking of the end… it felt to me fairly signposted, from around the time the waitress brings the two characters their main course.

It could be that the reason for this is because I’ve been on so many rollercoasters, I’ve become a bit of an expert in their rhythms and surprises.

There will be people who read this and don’t see what’s coming, but if you’re a seasoned veteran of thrillers, this will be just something to pass the time while you wait for the queue at the Big Dipper to die down.

Who Killed Lucy? EE Live Week – Part 2

Another tense episode done and another classic live duff-duff – BUT FIRST, we need to deal with last night’s cliffhanger…

As predicted (by me) – Abi almost immediately turned round and said “What the Wellard are you on about, dad?”

There is more to explore with Abi – she’s becoming quite sinister – but also with Max, who seems to have spent the last ten months believing his youngest killed Lucy.

I’m going to park Jane and the card to one side for a moment, and just think about a few of the other elements of tonight’s episode.

First up Phil… what on Earth is going on there? What has he discovered that he needs to tell Ian about on his wedding day? For fear of things being thrown at me… are we going to find something out about Kathy?

Could it be that she’s not really dead? I could fill a whole blog post on this, so I’m going to resist, and just ask – what else do Ian and Phil have in common that would be that urgent?

Secondly Stacey and Kat – part of me wants to believe that Jessie Wallace has been taking the method acting too far and isn’t actually supposed to be that drunk.

The production team just said “Well, we’ll have to make Kat drunk for the week – Jessie’ll never get through it otherwise.”

I think I missed a bit, but why is Stacey suddenly gathering the troops – other than to set up the remake of the opening of the very first episode tomorrow?

And Martin’s “I’ve pulled.” – the whiff of Stacey Fowler is getting stronger.

Thirdly, Jo Joyner. Poor Jo Joyner. Meme’s going round the internet already of the moment she realised she said Adam and not Ian. Bless, her, she is a touch out of practice – especially as she only seems to be appearing in the live scenes.

Which leads to my new theory that the only reason for the live episodes in the first place was because Jo Joyner couldn’t commit to the weeks spent filming it and insisted they did live episodes. (And quite right too, she did miss out on the last live episode).

Fourthly (I don’t know how high these numbers are going to get) – It seems that while Jo Joyner is merrily messing up lines, the production team didn’t trust Eliot Carrington (Bobby Beale) or June Brown (Dot Branning) to go live, with all of their scenes being pre-recorded.

And while we’re on Dot – and partly to save going up another number – why is she telling everyone she killed Nick? Not exactly, she didn’t ring an ambulance, and instead let Jesus choose. Jesus killed Nick – now there’s a storyline that’s never been done in a soap before.

If insurance companies can use ‘act of god’ in a legal context, why can’t Dot?

And lastly (unless I think of anything else) – that cliffhanger. Peter accusing Ian and Jane – completely forgetting that Jane wasn’t living in the house at the time.

Let’s explore Jane’s actions. They can be interpreted one of two ways – either she thinks Ian did it and she wants to escape, or she’s scared of being rumbled and wants to escape.

Either way, Jane wants to escape – and with Bobby.

Once she got to the altar, the first thing she said to Ian was “Where’s Peter?” – This fits in with my theory that Peter did it and she’s covering for him. It also fits in with Jane wanting to talk to Peter to tell him what his dad did.

She then gets cold feet mid-way during her vows – gets a bit of water – and then continues on and looked genuinely ecstatic that she’d married him. If she thought he murdered Lucy, but was stalling for time, she wouldn’t look that happy.

No, I’m ruling Jane suspecting Ian out.

Jane scarpers the Vic during the speeches – the lights on the train flicker in the same way they did the last time we saw Lucy alive – and Dot’s wonderful monologue on murder begins.

Dot talks about two things – one a wicked thing does not a wicked person make, and two, if someone we love does something wicked what do we do? If Jane had discovered Peter had done something, what would she do?

Jane spirits Bobby away with Masood’s help, and gets him to get his stuff. He’s going to Masood’s. Why would they go to Masood’s if she’s running away from a murderer? Why not leave town completely?

Are they going to stay there for a night before fleeing – or is she just sending Bobby, because she fears that she might be taken somewhere else? Walked away in cuffs? Or, perhaps, is she covering… for Bobby, and wants to get him out of harm’s way?

Then there’s that last scene – Peter drags Cindy over to the house just as Jane is about to tell Ian something.

So… it wasn’t Peter. Or at least if it was him, he’s not aware that it was his actions that caused Lucy’s death (my original theory).

Tomorrow’s episode will begin with a lot of flustering and dithering while they all try to work out what’s going on – then there’ll be the distraction of the discovery of Nick’s body.

We’ll get even more distractions, it will be one of the most agonizing hours of television before finally at the end of the episode we – and Ian – learn the truth.

The truth being that Peter or Cindy or Bobby killed Lucy and that Jane OR Denise – don’t forget she was living there at the time – covered it up.

I still believe that Peter inadvertently caused her death, that Jane has covered it up for him, and that Peter will elope with Lauren, none the wiser of Ian and Jane’s decision to protect him.

A full hour and a half of it tomorrow – but at least you won’t have to put up with any more wild speculation from me.

Oh, and one final thing “Everywhere I go is Pooh.” Brilliant.

Who Killed Lucy? EE Live Week – Part 1

EastEnders’ live week kicked off with Sharon tottering down Bridge Street, and frankly the fact that she didn’t fall over was one of the most impressive bits of the episode – and that’s saying something!

The episode rocketed along, with most of the audience just waiting for the next live scene (cue lots of explaining on Twitter to the uninitiated that it wasn’t all live)

I did think our second live scene had come when Peggy burst into Dot’s, but no, that’s just Barbara Windsor’s normal acting style.

After 25 minutes of pre-recorded material, we got two more live scenes. Jane discovering the card that Lauren wrote. And Max telling Abi that Lauren knows that Abi killed Lucy.

Although, Jake Wood mumbled slightly so it almost could have been anyone he was putting in the frame – but no, subtitles say that his last line was ‘That you killed Lucy.’

So did she?

This is a big week for EastEnders – there’s five episodes and six hours worth of material to get through, this is just the bread roll to get us interested before the main meal, they ain’t going to have shot their load this early in the week.

(That’s a disturbing mix of metaphors)

No, I think this is an early red herring, designed to get anyone who wasn’t watching interested enough to tune in tomorrow night.

What we do know is that Max is under the impression that Abi killed Lucy. Why does he think that? Did he see her attack her? Did someone else tell him? Did he check out the latest odds at William Hill?

More importantly – did Max know that Lucy was dead before Ian found out?

That I’m unsure of – but I do think we’re in for an “I’m Spartacus kind of a week” with various false endings before we really find out who – and why.

Other things to note:

Lauren’s card revealed to Jane (not to Ian and Jane) that she knows Lucy died at home. Why just tell Jane that and nothing more? If she’s revealing what happened, then she’s only some of it. It feels more like a threat. So why did Lauren run?

Jane looked confused at first, then as if she’d realised something when she read the card. Might I have been wrong, and it’s actually Jane who rumbled the whole damn thing? I still don’t think Ian did it…

Phil is back to confess something to Ian – but what? There’s something he needs to know. Is this to do with Lucy – or is it something else? And just what was Phil ransacking the house looking for? His passport, presumably. Is he scapering the country with Peggy – and will they take Dot with them?

Peggy and Mick in the pub was delicious self-indulgent. A good job that scene wasn’t live or else Danny Dyer may have just cracked up laughing it.

CGI was used in the episode twice – the production team are really going all out.

A couple of new storylines starting to appear as well:

Richard Blackwood has turned up, looking for Ronnie. He knows Phil, but not Billy. What’s going on there?

Martin Fowler and Stacey Branning had an interesting, brief scene. Watch this space.

One final thought: I quite liked Peggy being back. I ADORED Christian being back.

Someone call the waiter, I’m ready for the main meal now.