Posts Tagged Iran

The First Stone

First Stone cover

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It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to envisage the dystopian American society of Elliott Hunter’s debut novel. The First Stone. It’s all too plausible. Set in the not-too-distant future, (or perhaps an alternative present), this America has become an intolerant place dominated by The Council of Elders, a fundamentalist group that has become the real rulers of the new America in the years after Houston had been vaporised by a terrorist nuclear device.

America had lashed out in retaliation of course. Despite protestations of innocence the Iranians had been blamed and Tehran had been razed. Egged on by zealots from hundreds of fundamentalist preachers who provided the willing cannon fodder for a new Great Patriotic Crusade against terror, American soldiers occupied large parts of the Middle East. Thousands of soldiers had died there and many more had come home, seriously wounded, traumatised or damaged by chemicals and radiation. One such former soldier was Felix Strange, a private eye who suffers from a debilitating illness picked up in Iran that has neither a name nor a cure.

Strange doesn’t normally deal with homicide cases, but when the body of America’s most loved preacher, Brother Isaiah, is found strangled to death in his New York hotel room, he is called in to investigate. He’d rather not get involved in this case, but Ezekiel White who leads the morality police, the ‘Committee for Child Protection’ has ways and means of forcing him to comply.

White’s CCP goons, known as the Holy Rollers, are outflanked by Brother Isaiah’s Crusade of Love; an independent body of religious zealots who send their spies into different towns and cities in advance of a visit by the influential preacher. Pretty-boy ‘ex-gay’ activists entrap closet gays. Attractive young ladies do the same for amorous men in positions of authority. The unfortunate victims then find themselves denounced for their perversity by Brother Isaiah at one of his huge evangelistic rallies. Brother Isaiah may have had the US President and the Congress in his pocket, and Jesus on his side, but he had surely annoyed somebody enough to kill him. Strange has a week to find out who killed Brother Isaiah and why, if he lives that long…

This modern noir reflects the grim humour and terse prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for the twenty-first century. All the ingredients are there; a mystery death, a race against time to meet a deadline, people out to stop our protagonist and one of the finest examples of a femme fatale to appear in crime fiction for decades. This is an outstanding book, both in terms of characterisation and sharp dialogue and most notably in its author’s scarily plausible portrayal of a society dominated by an intolerant fundamentalist version of Christianity.

Reviewed by David Kerr

The First Stone (the first in the Strange Trilogy). Elliott Hall



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Middle Eastern Film Festival at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh

The Filmhouse are running a Middle Eastern Film Festival between Thursday, 7 February and Thursday, 21 February, 291. This year the Festival looks at Palestine through the lenses of Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers and also celebrates modern Iranian film-making. There are six Iranian films featured.

One of the opening films is A Cube of Sugar an Iranian film which is based around a gathering of an Iranian family for the wedding of their youngest daughter.

There are so many films of interest here that it is difficult to pick-out what you want to see! I  will be making a point of seeing Salma and the Apple and the classic film about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict Wedding in Galille.

From Sunday 3 February to Sunday24 February, 2013 there is also photography exhibition: Building a Legacy of Hope: Children of the Gaza Strip which consists of 17 photographs and accompanying artwork by the children of Gaza. It’s at the Filmhouse cafe (88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH3 9BZ) and admission is free.

From Patrick Harrington

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Argo (2012)

Argo posterDirector:
Ben Affleck
Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman|

Argo tells the story of the CIA operation to get six US diplomats out of revolutionary Iran.

Argo starts well by giving a ‘potted history’ of US involvement with Iran. It tells how the CIA helped organise a coup d’état against the elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who  nationalised the oil industry. The US put the hated Shah on a throne and helped train his secret police.

Set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis the film conveys the real danger to the six in hiding. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 day from November 4, 1979 and they were in real fear for their lives. The hostages have described mock executions and being paraded before angry crowds among other ill-treatment and psychological torture.

The story is a gripping one with many tense moments as the diplomats hide-out at the Canadian embassy and a rescue is attempted. It is a very watchable movie which doesn’t rely on firing guns or extreme violence to entertain. Argo keeps you in suspense throughout because of the peril of the diplomats as they risk being found and detained (or worse). Argo also is humourous in parts despite the very serious subject.

I am not, however, an uncritical fan of Argo. I was struck by three things. First, the Iranian people are generally portrayed as continually angry. The only sympathetic Iranian character is a maid who helps the US and leaves the country! All other Iranians are pretty one-dimensional and clearly the ‘bad guys’. This does not fulfil the promise of the opening statements which do give a glimpse of why the Iranian/American relationship is so bad. Second, the role of the Canadians, Swedish and Italians in getting the diplomats out is very underplayed and the CIA role exaggerated. Third, there is no mention of the failed rescue mission of April 24, 1980 where eight American airmen and one Iranian civilian sadly died. Perhaps this was left-out of the narrative so as not to spoil the feel-good nature of the successful rescue that the film centres on?

Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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