Book Review: Estimated Time of Arrest (ETA)

The abbreviation ETA reflects the fate of one of the main characters,  Lorenzo Lartaun Izcoa. However, ETA of course, also stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna. The author, Delphine Pontvieux, gives us an overview of the Basque Nationalist and Separatist Organization in this book.

After he took part in a pro-separatist march that turned violent in January 1992, Lorenzo Lartaun Izcoa (21) is wrongfully charged with the fatal bombing of a police station in his home town, Irun. It is a small city located in the heart of Basque country between France and Spain. It struggles for independence. Lartaun is now on the Spanish Secret Service’s most wanted list labelled an active member of the Basque terrorist group ETA. He has no choice but to flee.

Delphine Pontvieux takes you on a breathtaking tour through Southern France and Spain. It is obvious that she knows the areas. The little details in clothes, culture, architecture, and especially rock climbing and rock formations show that she knows her trade.

She gives you insight in a family ripped apart by violence and forced to take a stand. The book explains how people became part of ETA, how people grew up powerless to stop the violence and one day, when the opportunity presented itself… 

The book makes no excuses for violence but explains the characters and the motivations from the people behind the campaigns. We see a human side in all of them. They care for family and friends and we see their strength when their loyalty is tested with torture.

We meet a variety of people who all stand for, protest, and strive for a better tomorrow. Each has their own way, their own method, definition, and through forces beyond themselves, they collide. Again, not condoning violence but describing the book. 

The book is well written, keeps a good pace, and has in-depth characters. The one moment where the author lost my attention was near the end. The book’s ending would have been stronger by simply displaying the note and then have Faustine call Haizea. Read it and let me know what you think. 

Book Review: Curtain

After I read Poirot by Mark Aldridge, I mentioned a few Christie books that I needed to either read again or buy. Curtain was one that I had never read so, I bought it, read it, and am now disappointed. Disappointed by Christi, not Aldridge, just to be clear.

Aldridge explained in his book that Curtain was going to be the final word on Poirot so that he would not live on indefinitely like James Bond.

And, Curtain confirms one last time that Poirot indeed used to be with the Belgium Police, something that is kept uncertain in the ABC murders series from Amazon.

We are back at Styles where Hercule Poirot is trying to strengthen. He had been to Egypt in hopes that his health would improve but alas.

Captain Arthur Hastings describes that Poirot is now wheelchair-bound, crippled by arthritis, has lost a lot of weight, hints that his heart is failing, but that his eyes are as sharp as ever.

Poirot is not accompanied by his trusted valet George. We are told that George left to care for his family as his father fell ill. Curtiss, we never learn his full name, is now caring for Poirot. A big, tall, strong man as he is described to carry Poirot in his arms around Styles.

Poirot quickly tells Hastings to not let his medical condition taint anything as there is work to be done. As he himself cannot move at will, Hastings will have to do all the legwork and then report back. Poirot gives his old friend a case file with clippings about five old criminal cases.

  1. Leonard Etherington, drugs and drink were his life, arsenic poisoning, his wife acquitted. Depressed by the stigma, she took her own life two years later.
  2. Miss Sharples, single, disabled, morphine overdose. Her niece Freda Clay cared for her, admitted an accidental overdose to stop the suffering. Insufficient evidence to prosecute.
  3. Edward Riggs, suspected his wife and lodger of having an affair. The pair was found murdered. Riggs turned himself in but he claimed to have no recollections. He was sentenced to death but it was commuted to life imprisonment.
  4. Derek Bradley, had an affair, his wife threatened to kill him. Bradley died drinking a potassium cyanide-laced beer. Mrs. Bradley was sentenced to death and hung.
  5. Matthew Litchfield, a tyrant father to four daughters, was attacked, suffered blunt force trauma to the head. The oldest daughter Margaret, confessed as she wished for her three younger sisters to be free. She was found insane and committed to Broadmore where she died shortly after being admitted.

In all cases, there was no doubt about who was responsible for the crime. That it could not always go to trial, is another matter. However, there was never an investigation for an alternative suspect in either of these five cases.

Poirot then blows Hastings’ socks off by stating that a person he calls X is responsible in all these five cases. The hunt for a serial killer begins as he/she is about to strike again, right here, at Styles. If Poirot is right, Hastings has a few things to hold on to:

  • the killer can be either male or female
  • in the above-mentioned five cases, the method to kill is not novel meaning that the killer can be from any social and educational background and age, widening the pool of suspects to basically everyone in or near Styles
  • as the killer is experienced, time is of the essence to search for patterns, inconsistencies, etc.
  • the killer’s exact motive is unclear as it ranges from revenge for betrayal to being an angel of death, and most importantly,
  • in the above-mentioned cases five people were held responsible. So, how does X connect to them or the victims? There has to be a common demeanor as to place, person, incident, etc. that attracts the serial killer’s attention. Which bring us to the last point
  • how did X communicate with all the five people who were held responsible for the previously mentioned five crimes and how could that communication have gone undetected?

The premise of the book is fantastic. My issues lies with the execution and the characters.

I didn’t warm up to or bond with any of the characters. I found them all superficial. Poirot was condescending, arrogant, and aloof. Hastings was the only one whose thoughts and feelings were well described.

As this was the last book with Poirot, in which he actually dies, I had expected a more well-rounded character portrayal with glimpses of him as a younger detective and maybe a reflection here and there about his life, his train of thought, his regrets, and maybe even some humanity with doubts and wishes for what his life could be like had he not been weakened and in failing health.

The plot is convoluted with too many small clues that nobody picks up on. This causes the reader to place their trust completely in Hastings as he is Poirot’s extension. As he tries to figure out X’s identity, he also has to deal with family issues regarding his daughter, who is also at Styles. It muddies the pool.

Hasting’s butterfly brain finds no rest in the book, not even at the end. There is no rest at the end for the reader either. For in the end, we only have Poirot’s high-and-mighty word for what really happened.

If you read Curtain, let me know what you think about it and especially about the postscript.

Book Review: Murder at the Farm

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Murder at the Farm; who killed Carl Bridgewater? is a phenomenal book by journalist Paul Foot. We may never know what happened but after reading Foot‘s excellent analysis of the police interrogations, I am sure that none of the Bridgewater Four were involved.

Even though the case dates back to 1978, I consider this book to be a classic to study how cases can go wrong fast. It reminded me of the Guildford Four and of course, the long hours of interrogation without a lawyer or help reminded me of the case of Richard Lapointe.

Foot painstakingly details how the case developed in tunnel vision instead of though a multi-pronged approach. His writing style appeals to me. He immediately shows where the case went wrong. He doesn’t flip back and forth between what happened and then indicate mistakes.

From the BBC: “Police have launched a massive manhunt for the killers of a young paperboy. Carl Bridgewater, 13, was shot in the head at close range yesterday afternoon at an isolated farmhouse near Stourbridge in Staffordshire. The farmhouse was one of the last calls on the paper-round the 13-year-old had done for only two months. The owners of Yew Tree Farm – cousins Mary Poole and Fred Jones – were disabled so Carl used to let himself into the house through the back door and leave their newspaper on a chair. It was then he disturbed the burglars who dragged him into the sitting room and shot him.”

Carl did not just interrupt the burglars or burglar, he knew them. The position in which the body was found indicates to me that someone asked or made Carl sit down. Then, he approached the boy and shot him at close range.

Also very disturbing in this case, is to read how clues were not acted on promptly and how some were disregarded. In this story, you can read how a bouquet of flowers confirmed an alibi and how a cardboard note did not reach the proper people.

If you love to dig into unsolved homicides this book is for you. Of course, it is dated but what happened to these four men involved, still happens to this day.