Choosing excerpts from a book you have written is not easy. With luck it should give a flavour of the book and capture some of its appeal without giving away too much plot. I think the passages are quite a good reflection of each book. You will find excerpts at the end of the page for the relevant book as well as below.
Excerpt from Coffee,Castanets and Don Quixote
I was enjoying the sights of Ramblas on my first morning when my attention was captured by an opening on the south side of the street. It led to the renowned Boqueria market. Markets have been held on this site since around 1200 A.D. but the construction of an enclosed and covered area was agreed in the nineteenth century and completed in 1914. For anyone interested in food, especially fresh food, this is one of the unmissable sights of the city. Other cities have great buildings, artists, history etc., but I don`t know of another with a market as extraordinary as this one. The range of fruit, vegetables, cheeses and spices is wonderful, but to me the most captivating display was the seafood. My home country is quite conservative about which products of the oceans it will eat. Spaniards do not seem to share this hesitation. Around me in La Boqueria I saw vendors in the middle of circular stalls which displayed an abundance of sea life, much of it still alive, twitching and planning escape. A langoustine was making an impressive if rather slow run for it across the tender bodies of other captives. Others, like barnacles, were not so tender. I was surprised to see them. I once tried to scrape a barnacle from a rock on the island of Barra and found it very hard work. I know that the islanders in the Hebrides would harvest barnacles when nothing else was on offer but I`m not sure they`d have bothered if the rest of La Boqueria had surrounded them. I find it difficult to believe the nutrition from a barnacle could ever replace the energy spent harvesting it, let alone cleaning and cooking it. The langoustine continued to pick his careful, determined way down the stall, bravely passing a fish which seemed to be all mouth with a tiny body attached as an afterthought. It looked depressed but I felt this might not simply be homesickness as it lay on the slab. It was easy to imagine he was a reincarnated glutton, punished in some Hindu universe by giving him a mouth large enough to seize huge portions but only the body to digest tiny ones. A couple of small octopi waved despairing arms as if hoping for attention from the stall owner, no doubt hoping to explain that there had been a ghastly mistake and they would be much more satisfying meals in a year`s time if allowed to swim the oceans a little longer.
Excerpt from Coffee in Cuba
Another idea which turned out not to be so good was hiring a car. We had booked hotels in Havana, Trinidad de Cuba, across the island from Havana on the Caribbean side, Santiago in the south, Cuba`s second city, and the tobacco growing area in the north, Pinar del Rio. We were not driving to Santiago. Cuba is almost 900 miles long and the drive from Havana, judging by our Trinidad experience, would have taken the rest of our lives. We were doing that one by plane but car for the others. It seemed quite reassuring at first. The cars were quite modern. The staff were helpful. They provided us with a 24 hour helpline number. This was before the days when mobile phones were common and it did not occur to us that a 24 hour helpline is not much use on an island with almost no telephones. The next challenge was that Havana is quite a large city without many road signs. It also proved impossible to find a map other than a very sketchy tourist one. We had no idea how to get out of Havana to reach the six lane highway which, we knew, crossed the island to Trinidad. I had an inspiration. I would ask a taxi driver. Mary thought this an excellent idea. I chose one parked outside our hotel and, in typically Cuban style, he took the time to give me considerable detail about the road to follow.
We set off merrily at nine in the morning. The journey, we knew, should take about four hours. Mary navigated carefully, and after just over half an hour we reached the edge of the city. Unfortunately, as we soon discovered, it was the wrong edge. We were in the northern not the western edge which was the one we needed. The directions were rubbish. We decided we could do it if we just drove back in to the centre and then took the first big road on the right. This plan took us through a remarkable part of Havana with sumptuous high rise buildings. This evidently was the area built by the Mafia to house their casinos, dance halls and night clubs. Interesting as that was, it didn`t help us to find our road. After wasting two hours like this we decided the only hope was to head south on the highway to Varadero and then find a connection to the motorway. I was amazed at how calmly Mary accepted this gamble.
We headed inland and were soon driving past sugar cane fields on either side. We had escaped from the city and felt we deserved a coffee to restore us. However, this was not Europe or America and service stations were not on offer. Our problems multiplied when we encountered one of the dangers of Cuban roads: potholes. We had a puncture. In itself that was a delay, not a disaster. It occurred to us, however, to wonder what we would do if we had another puncture. We had now used the spare and in our hours of travelling we had not seen a single garage. We drove on in a thoughtful mood and came to a village. I suggested we stop for coffee but Mary was hesitant. We saw very large black men at bars and cafes. There was no sign of tourists or any facilities for tourists. The men were presumably workers in the sugar plantations. Frankly, the scene looked so alien and foreign that Mary did not want to stop and I felt a little the same way. We were a little ashamed of this but things had not gone well that day so we continued.
A little further on we decided we should stop and rest our legs. There was a pleasant little green space by the side of the road with a bench and some trees for shade. We had a couple of mangoes with us and decided we deserved them. We sat down and enjoyed the delicious fruit, but were somewhat surprised a couple of minutes later when three musicians appeared and sang `Dos Gardenias,` `Guantanamera` and `Chissa, chissa, chissa`. We bought the CD. Where they had sprung from and where they disappeared to we didn`t know. “Are mangoes hallucinogenic?” Asked Mary
Excerpt from The Women from Crete
“Well, let me explain, Professor. I need some translation both from Greek and German. I have some idea of what the German text is about. I have none about the Greek. They may be of little importance . They may be vital, shocking, intimate. I really don`t know. So, I really want as few people involved as possible at least until I know what they contain. I appreciate that you are an expert. As such I imagine some fee can be negotiated.”
“No, no. That shouldn`t be necessary. Happy to help. Of course if we`re translating volumes….”
Esposito pulled a large envelope out of his briefcase.
“I`d be grateful if you would look at the Greek one first since I have no idea what`s in it. You will understand that anything you read must be held in the strictest confidence. If you have no objection I`ll record it. I can have a transcript made back at the station. I may have to come back and ask for a more formal translation”
Quadling nodded. His lean elegant fingers swept back his abundant hair and he took the two page typewritten letter.
“Well it`s modern Greek,” he mumbled. He raised his eyebrows and glanced at the police officer.
“This is quite an intimate letter.”
“I need to know what it says.”
“Well it comes from a lady named Athanasia. Typically beautiful Greek name. It means `immortal`. ”
Esposito looked a little impatient.
“Yes, well here we go. “ My dearest Alistair, of course I remember well that wonderful, wonderful day. ”
He looked up again
“This is really quite touching.”
“Yes, of course. “ Like you I was astonished to find that you had thought of me as I had of you, intimately, warmly, erotically. I had thought you so far out of my reach and when I worked for you you were so restrained, kind, courteous.”
The Professor paused again, his long face, tanned by Mediterranean sun was serious, moved. He reached forward and took a sip of his wine. He wiped a drop of water from his grey denim shirt.
“ Of course I had someone else. That had begun before I ever met you, but it was never fulfilling love. I was lonely. I was desperate. He seemed like someone I could live with but of course I had no suspicion of how low he would sink. When I looked at him and then at you I could see such a gulf. But you were married. I supposed you were happy. It was only later that I learned how much you had hidden in your restrained, well-mannered way. Then there were the years when I didn`t see you, but I still thought of you and, it seems, you of me. It touched me so much that you were so hesitant about what you wanted from a woman and it moved me so much when you saw I was not shocked, not outraged as you seemed to expect. That you were such a volcanic, sensual, passionate man was a delight to me .
Then I met Joe who has been kind and caring. He loves me and does so much to help my insecurities. I would so much hate to hurt him, but how can I give up the opportunity finally to be with you.
What you tell me about the house is astonishing. I had given up all hope. I`m not sure I ever believed there was hope. Now that I know it seems that all sorts of possibilities open up, my dearest one. How do I spend the time till I hear from you once more?
Your dearest loving Athanasia.”
Quadling gazed silently at the pages for a moment and then looked up.
“What a letter. What a lucky man to receive something like this.”
“Not so lucky. He”s dead now. ”
“Good God. Poor devil. What happened?”
Excerpt from Masks of Venice
She was relieved when she came back in front of the Accademia and,since she knew she was not far from the hotel felt brave enough to explore further so she turned right , away from the Grand Canal. Another narrow alley and then she found a square with a patch of grass. Near the Peggy Guggenheim museum a man sat in the sunshine. He was perhaps fifty something but looked vigorous and healthy. He wore the casual clothes of a tourist but they were of some quality and well chosen. He sat with a sketch pad on his lap glancing up occasionally at a flaking palazzo across the narrow canal. Lucy who could sketch quite well herself when she had time felt an unaccountable envy for his tranquillity. The excitement of Carnival did not seem to have reached him. All his concentration was on the delapidated structure, the decayed grandeur of a more graceful age. Lucy edged nearer and peeped at the paper. She felt a little pang of sympathy. He was clearly not very good, but there was something loveable about his being so devoted. He looked up, a humorous look in his eyes and said something in Italian. `I`m sorry, I don`t speak Italian ,` she replied He laughed `I was asking you not to laugh at my attempt. If I take enough time I can do something respectable, Of course in Venice at Carnival respectable is not what we want is it?` He was obviously Scottish with an easy manner, a little playful. `I wouldn`t know,` she said evasively with a smile. ` This is my first Carnival. What should I expect?` He raised his eyebrows and nodded as if a first Carnival was an event and should be acknowledged. The reply needed some thought. `Well, first of all, expect to be invited to join an incompetent artist in a cup of coffee. Time for coffee I think.` It was only two o` clock, but perhaps that could be seen as `time for coffee` He began to gather his things as if no one could dispute that it was time for coffee. `There`s a café in the Guggenheim,` he continued,` but we`d be surrounded by tourists.` I like one just through the archway . Will you join me?` Of course she would. Chance encounters were the highlight of trips abroad. This had been quite unexpected. He stood up. He was a little taller than she was, slim but sturdy, clean-shaven, blue eyes, a friendly manner. They settled at a small table of solid wood. The clientele looked more like locals than tourists. A couple of elderly men sat by the window playing draughts, chattering in strong voices and sipping red wine. One was thin, stubble-chinned and slow to speak. His companion was plump, more impulsive, quick to laugh. A woman of around sixty sat patiently and affectionately with a schoolgirl, probably grandaughter watching her dismantle a medley of ice creams. Tempting patisseries filled a glass cabinet on the counter. The smell of coffee was rich and strong. Some Italian singer, not Pavarotti, was caressing an Italian song, not `Nessun Dorma` from a CD. The dapper, slim waiter brought coffee. `So you want to know what else to expect ? But you must have come with expectations, some notion of what might happen` said Rolf, the artist.. As Lucy replied she noticed his hands. They were surprisingly small, although the fingers looked strong. The skin was smooth and tanned. He had broad, ridged fingernails. The hands looked warm and sensitive. ` Maybe I came in search of the unexpected.` `Perhaps you came in search of escape,` came the reply. He settled his blue eyes on her. What was he thinking? What did she want him to be thinking?
Excerpt from The Celebrity of Anders Hecht
Hatchard shambled off, the brandy having brought some colour back to the waxen cheeks. Rojas, perennial insomniac, returned to the deck. At first he didn`t notice the large figure seated almost where Hatchard had slumped. It was motionless and made no sound. As Rojas padded closer a pair of eyes glinted and a head turned. Then a throaty voice rapped an introduction.
`Inspector, we should talk.` The voice in the darkness was uncanny, eerie. Coming from the large motionless frame only dimly visible by the distant harbour lights it evoked strange feelings. Rojas mentally surveyed the guests on the boat and dismissed all of them easily as the owners either of that sizeable frame or that unnatural voice. The only comparable physique was that of Hatchard whom he had just left and whose quivering, traumatised voice did not at all resemble the dark, languid, guttural, east European sounds that he now heard. This was the voice of a man who was not anxious, not haunted or traumatised. Perhaps the voice of one more accustomed to threatening than to being threatened. A thrill of excitement went through the impassive Inspector, not quite a shudder but a frisson.
`Who are you?`asked Rojas steadily. There was no immediate response. The figure made no apparent movement. Rojas heard the sound of a glass being filled . Whoever this was did not feel the anxiety of the others he had interviewed that day. The Inspector could have gone closer but he was already certain this was no one he had ever met, no one he would recognize.
`I am not on your list of suspects, Inspector. I would not expect to be because people do not really know me. I have good Polish vodka here, Inspector. Will you join me?` The visit interpreted the silence as refusal. ` Yes, perhaps it is too warm a night for vodka.`
Rojas was intrigued to be in such a position. He normally assumed a level of anxiety in those he met professionally. He normally assumed control of the conversation was his. Suddenly he was guessing with no clue where this strange encounter would lead.
`I am Gregor Kryzskowiak. I am the cook on this boat, ` came the strange voice after a further pause. Perhaps he had wanted more of a reaction from Rojas, more fear and bewilderment.
The Inspector settled in front of the tall muscular shape. He was less prepared for interrogation with this man than with any other guest. His knowledge of the man was as shadowy as his frame now appeared to him. Immediately he wondered at the peculiar voice, the east European accent, the appearance now at night.
`Delighted, where should we begin?`
Gregor put a small cigar in his mouth and lit it.
`I have been ashore. I have made friends before on your island. Up in the north. In Santa Cruz and in El Puerto. I like these towns, Inspector. The people are very nice. The food is very good. I sat in the sun this afternoon, in a Spanish courtyard near El Botanico in El Puerto. I sat with my old friend and a bottle of good wine. There were some ladies who joined us. And I looked out at the blue sea and the big sun shone down and it was very nice.`
`I`m glad you like our island.`
`Well, there are too many foreigners here, but you know that already.`
`We need their money.`
`Well, maybe you do and maybe you don`t. Who needs money in a place like this? If you have no house you do not freeze at night. You can sleep on the beach. If you cannot buy food there`s fruit everywhere and fish in the sea. It is not like my home. My home is Gdansk in Poland. There if you are too poor to find a roof then you freeze or you die of pneumonia. Even with money it is hard to find food. And your women! Your women know what it is to be a woman. No, it is very beautiful up there on the hill beside El Botanico looking down at the sea.`
Rojas sat listening to the eerie voice. It came out as if distorted by some filtering process. Perhaps too much smoking or too much alcohol had damaged the vocal chords, but the sound was unnatural. As ever, Rojas was patient, letting the man speak as he wanted to.
`I have been here before, Inspector. It was fifteen years ago
I first came. It was not so busy then with the Germans and the British. They have changed your island a lot have they not?`
`Perhaps some change was needed.`
`Maybe. They`ve cultivated the south now. That is miraculous. I see these gardens now where there was only volcanic ash. And what gardens they are. If you come from the north like me , Inspector, it awakens something in your heart. Here in the heart, to see all this light and the colour of your flowers and the huge butterflies. I love the big butterflies, the mariposas. That is not like Poland. In Poland the sea is cold and we do not sit outside with bottles of wine. But we have imaginations, Inspector. We are romantics. That is why we travel. And you cannot sit outside at night in Poland like this and feel the warm air around you. You could make love to a woman on the beach here at night and you would be warmer than in a Polish bed.`
He stopped and looked back at the lights of Las Americas, drawing at his cigar. Rojas said nothing. He thought of Gregor`s words and wondered why he was saying them. The voice began again.
`I am Gregor Kryzskowiak, `he repeated. `I come from Gdansk in Poland. I cook for Professor Hecht.`
`You mean you stay with the Hechts and prepare all their meals?`
The response was a dry laugh, almost more strange than the voice.
`No, no. That would drive me mad. No, I cook when he holds
special events like this one.`
`You seem an unlikely cook.`
`Just one of my uses.`
`The other ones?`
Again the strange laugh.
`I have different uses for different people.`
Rojas pondered this for a time.
`For which of your uses did Professor Hecht first employ you?`
`Ah. Then I was very young man. I had escaped from Poland when I was fifteen. That was my second attempt. The first time a German bullet stopped me or I stopped it. In my neck.`
`Ah, ` thought Rojas.
`But when I recovered I went again and this time I got through. Though I was captured first in East Germany and I escaped from there. So I knew about escape.`
`So you helped Professor Hecht to leave France?`
`Exactly. You`re a clever man.`
`Was he in such danger that he needed your kind of help?`
`Maybe he was not. But Mrs. Hecht was.`
`She had been threatened?`
Gregor grunted assent.
`Powerful men in France wanted to silence Professor Hecht. Such a dangerous man to them. They were not nice people.`
`Right wing groups?`
`Gregor drew at his cigar and looked out at the dark waves.`
`I am not a politician, Inspector, but I have the impression that there were business men and politicians and there were trade union men too. I think some of the men became quite famous later. Ruthless men. They had done these things before. Professor Hecht seemed to frighten many people.`
`Would it have been dangerous for them to leave France in the normal way?`
`They would not have been allowed to leave. Something would have happened to them.`
`You mean they would have been arrested?`
`No, oh no. Professor Hecht was too powerful. The government could not come out of the cupboard and say:" arrest this man." No, there would have been an accident.`
`You knew this?`
`Professor Hecht had a lot of friends in a lot of organisations. We heard what was to be secret.`
`And they were both happy to leave?`
`No, no they were not happy. They were not at all happy. Mrs. Hecht was very angry. Very angry.`
`But did she not recognize the danger?`
`No, I believe she thought such things could not happen to her. She had not grown up knowing dangerous people. Or maybe she just believed you should not try to escape them. She was a very brave woman, Mrs. Hecht. She told Professor Hecht that she would gladly have died for their cause. And you see, she thought he should have been the same.`
`You mean, she thought the Professor should have been prepared to die if necessary, but not run from his Destiny. And Professor Hecht disagreed.`
Gregor laughed throatily.
`They had such clever arguments with each other. He always replied that if it was his Destiny there would be no way he could escape it.`
Rojas pondered this for a time and Gregor continued.
`You know, Inspector, my father was in the Polish resistance. he saw a lot. He saw too much. A man can see too much, Inspector. And he told me some of what he`d seen. Hell exists, Inspector. Hell exists and it walks about inside people. Sometimes these people are good people, but they have the devil inside them. Well my father saw all that. But he used to say to me, Inspector, that some heroic people he knew just needed to die. They were looking for a reason to die. Not for a reason to live.`
`And you think Cornelia Hecht was a person like that.`
`Yes, sir, that is what I think about Mrs. Hecht.`
`So was she looking for a reason to die last night?`
Gregor drew deeply on his cigar.
`You are quiet, Mr. Kryzskowiak. Are you silent because you have nothing to say or because you know too much?`