The marks of a thief-in-law

Brought to popular western culture in the contemporary film Eastern Promises directed by David Cronenberg, and now on display at the Saatchi Gallery in the post-Soviet portraits of Sergei Vasiliev, the tattoo code language of criminals in the USSR had its roots far earlier, in Stalin’s Russia, amongst the thieves-in-law (vory v zakonye) – the […]

Why I wrote The Distinguished Assassin

As a postgraduate student of Russian literature at the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies in 1995, I will never forget my first encounter with Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, a staggering work that powerfully, and methodically, documents the vast network of forced labour camps that existed throughout the former Soviet Union. What […]

Maxima Mea Culpa

Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Maxima Mea Culpa, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, casts a critical eye on the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and most striking is the film’s expose of how this abuse was, and still is, covered up not by low and middle ranking priests […]

What constitutes a really great work of fiction?

We have all done it, set down eagerly to read a new book and come away disappointed after the first few pages. It is not easy to create a gripping tale, but when an author gets it right, the result is priceless. This got me thinking about the characteristics that are actually found in a […]

The “Evil” of Daniel Bartlam

To label the teenager Daniel Bartlam “evil”, as the Daily Mirror does this morning, is a gross oversimplification, not least because implicit in this label is the idea that he is somehow not human, something other, an abomination. He is none of these. Rather he is all too human – an isolated, troubled and destructive […]

The Tragedy and Delusion of KONY 2012’s Jason Russell

Jason Russell’s KONY 2012 film is indeed very powerful, playing perfectly to an idealistic youth with its simplistic, gung-ho Hollywood sentiment: that human evil can be eradicated and the world finally made good if only Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord, is at last captured and punished. And this youth, by virtue of their youth – […]

Hirst and Emin: Artists of Deceit

I have a dear friend – an immensely gifted writer and artist – who not only produces wonderful work of real craft and quality but is faithful to it also. He is his art; his art him. What he creates reflects his character, no more than this, provides a window to his soul, and the […]

The Ugly and Awkward Truth of “Occupy London”

One of the protester’s banners at Occupy London declares, “The 99% needs a safety net more than the 1% needs a security blanket.” Many mainstream commentators argue that the protesters are nothing but a bunch of demented anarchists and hateful Marxists in search of either chaos or utopia, presenting no viable alternative to the Capitalism […]

Putin’s Third Term

It appears that Putin will be President once more, despite the protestations of the Russian people who cry not only foul play but also that they’ve had enough of Vladimir Vladimirovich – the leader who refuses to relinquish power in the vein of the many despots before him. Democracy in Russia is nothing but a […]

God and Melanie Phillips Will Cure ‘Sick’ Britain!

David Cameron, returning from his holiday in Tuscany earlier this week, declared a “fightback” against the rioters in England, vowing he’d do “whatever it takes” to restore order to the streets after four days of rioting and looting. He had to respond decisively – for there were significant questions over his leadership after he seemed […]