That word again

I was taught in school that the most commonly used letter in the English language is "e" and the word most often spoken or written is "the". However, from what I learned in the real world I must disagree. Actually, "eff" is the most basic, essential, keyword _ employed as noun, verb, adverb, adjective.

The Life by Martina Cole, 502 pp, 2012 Headline paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading book shops, 450 baht.

A paragraph is certain to contain several, a sentence at least one. More than a few words are broken in half, "eff" inserted in between. Cultured people aren't expected to use it, but they do. Its primacy as an epithet is curious because all living things mate to reproduce and/or to enjoy it.

Men and women implying that they want to mate with you is flattering rather than otherwise. And the impossibility of mating with yourself makes it worth a laugh. I'd say "Go pick your nose!" comes closer to the meaning intended, but I don't think it will catch on. It looks like "eff" will be around for some time to come.

Taking a leaf from Mario Puzo's classic The Godfather, Britain's Martina Cole has found her literary niche penning stories about one or another of London's crime families. Not the Mafia, but fictitious, combining her imagination with known facts. Her emphasis is the women of the families.

There is a sameness to her 25 novels to date. The women, generally Irish and innocent when wed, learn that their husbands are hard men and watch with sinking hearts as their sons follow in their father's footsteps. That is once again the theme of The Life.

The gimmick here is that the grandmother was seduced by a black man and her offspring as well as theirs are dark-skinned, and some are marginally lighter-skinned. As usual with the author's previous works, through violence they take over the underworld of The Smoke. The women's feelings ignored, members of the Bailey family are killed by their own when they "eff up".

This reviewer lost track of the number of times Cole uses "eff" in its variations here. Remove them and the length of the story would be reduced from 500 pages to little more than 300. Not that the author overdoes it.

The censors have long since abandoned the field. It's "eff" this and "eff" that in the arts _ books, films, plays, songs. There are an estimated 600,000 words in the English language _ ever tried to lift a Webster's Unabridged or Oxford dictionary? _ and most of us know hardly 1% of them. "Eff" users reduce even this number. At least they spell it correctly.

The Tombs by Clive Cussler, 374 pp, 2012 Michael Joseph paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading book shops, 695 baht.

In search of Attila

There are treasure hunters and there are artefact hunters, different objectives that tend to overlap. Yank Clive Cussler hunts ships sunk in bygone times _ millennia, centuries, decades ago. Occasionally he searches on land for burial places of historical personages and lost cities.

Any treasure found is not kept, but handed over to the appropriate authorities. (Presumably, he doesn't turn down a finder's fee.) Then he writes a book about it, on his own or with a co-author, non-fiction or a novel. He's been at it a while, there are 50 books to date. All are top-grade adventure thrillers.

The author's literary creations include various protagonists, and Dirk Pitt is the most popular. Each hero is different, yet somewhat the same _ intrepid, resourceful, ready to punch or shoot if need be. The villains either die or slink away twirling their moustache: "Curses. Foiled again!"

In The Tombs the search is for Attila's tomb. Attila. Remember him? 406CE-453CE (Cussler replaces AD _ Anno Domini _ with CE _ Christian Era. Same difference). The King of the Huns, he led them from beyond the Urals into eastern France and northern Italy.

Overrun tribes and kingdoms were given the choice of joining him or being massacred. To those who resisted, he showed no mercy. Those who opted to be absorbed had their cities looted. Byzantium paid substantial annual tribute to defer his wrath. Why he didn't sack Rome and the cause of his death at 47 are matters of conjecture.

Sea and land hunters Sam and Remi Fargo are asked by their friend, a German professor of archaeology, to assist in locating Attila's tomb. If Cussler is to be believed, the scourge of civilisation needed five tombs to hold his immense wealth in gold, silver, jewels et al. Every tomb has a coded message about the others.

As in Raiders Of The Lost Ark there are villainous anthropologists after the treasure out of greed, at one point kidnapping Remi. Their competition takes them to France, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Kazakhstan. The penultimate climax is in La Jolla, California. The Hungarian, French and Russian culprits storm the Fargo fortress-like home as Attila would have done it if he had modern weapons.

Best about The Tombs are the many historical facts about the Huns. I read elsewhere Attila choked to death in his sleep after a feast. Cussler has it he was poisoned by a Roman scribe. It leaves me wondering. As for not invading Rome, there was famine and a malaria epidemic he wanted no part of.

About the author

Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer