Stories and your Brain (from ‘How To Forget’)

“Stop or I’ll Shoot”

 The next time you hear this shouted, perhaps you will pause for a moment; if only to appreciate what a beautiful, well rounded and articulate phrase it is.  It is a warning honed to perfection, it is how all warnings should be: clear, concise and terrifying enough to scare the bejezus out of a bejesuit.

This book is a warning. I wish it could be as unambiguous as, “Watch Out” or “Duck” or “I’m going to have to work late at the office again dear.”  I wish it could be as brief as “Stop,” “Danger,” or that road sign which simply says “!” and waits to accrue its meaning after the event.  But at 437 pages, it is a little more complicated – and not the sort of warning that requires the same speedy attention as ones made by a weak bladder.

Unfortunately the same blinding ambition which propelled humanity forward in the exploration and domination of the planet, sprinting ahead in the race to evolve when other species couldn’t be bothered, inclines us to ignore most warnings in favour of learning from experience. Despite having developed our primitive guttural belching in to speech, despite having created the most fantastically complex warning system the planet has ever seen, today eighty percent of communication is still non-verbal and though you know when your boss, parents or teachers are talking, it’s almost impossible to listen to what they’re saying.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” is more than a warning though.  It’s a whole story in just 4½ words; with a clear beginning, middle and end, conflict, drama, life, death, action, resolution. Stories are warnings but somehow we’re more amenable to them, more willing to go along with them.  We don’t just listen to a narrative; we ‘suspend our disbelief’, we put our natural scepticism on hold and experience it.  We allow ourselves to learn because we’re not being told.

Since long before Aesop, stories have been used as warnings when the clear threat is simply not enough.  And we love stories because with each one, we can forget everything for a while and be born again as wide eyed children unwittingly ready to learn life’s important lessons: not to talk to strange wolves in transvestite’s clothing; how true toffs will know if you have a pea in the bed; or how you can sell beef for beans, thieve your way out of poverty, murder the victim of your robbery and still live happily ever after.

But the true power of stories, and why this warning comes as one, lies in your brain.  More precisely in a part of your frontal lobes which it took a hungry capuchin monkey to discover.  He lived in a lab where, in a doomed attempt to bring a lighter side to vivisection, all the capuchins were given coffee related names. Starbuck had teeth the colour of earwax and halitosis like mustard gas and on the day of his discovery he had been grabbing at snacks all morning.  He’d been wired up to brain activity sensors, studying the components that register hunger before, and pleasure in receiving, food.  Valuable research for the hunger-inhibiting diet pill trade.  After all, we certainly don’t want an epidemic of obese monkeys.

At lunch time, Starbuck’s lab technician stopped for her break and happened to be absently watching the monitors as she reached for her sandwich.  Which is when she noticed an amazing thing.  As Starbuck watched her, she saw the same brain patterning light up on his monitors as when he had been reaching for food himself.  She quickly realised that he was empathising and she could see exactly the parts of the brain where this happened.

From that one sandwich, we not only found that monkeys were capable of empathy, so just how far men have evolved away from monkeys, but also that the brain’s ‘mirror neurons’ extend into the premotor cortex, where we weigh intentions, and our parietal lobe where we register sensation.

Now we know why we wince when we see another person punched.  Empathy is hard wired into our brains.  We experience just by watching others’ experiences.  We tell stories to stimulate the mirror neurons.  We watch a film and become the characters, we read someone’s story and for the time we’re in it, the connections within our own brains actually reshape, they begin to mirror the connections in the character’s brain.

So this book, like every story you’ve ever read, heard or watched, will alter the shape of your brain.  Whatever you think, this book is guarenteed to change your mind.

Put your phone down now, before Digital Dementia sets in

If you’ve ever witnessed the under-the-table fumbling that breaks out during pub quizzes you’ll know how smartphones are affecting our ability to remember information. Who bothers to remember things like the make of James Bond’s car in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ or the name of the flower-devourers in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ anymore? And why should we? What use could information like that be anyway? 

According to a recent study though, our Google enhanced memory may have more serious long term consequences in a condition known as ‘Digital Dementia’. Doctors have found that persistent smartphone use can result in the sort of deterioration in cognitive ability that’s more often associated with patients suffering from head injury or psychiatric illness.

South Korea, epicentre of last year’s plague of Gangnam Style, is one of the most networked nations on Earth where 64.5 percent of teenagers own a smartphone. This year the country has seen a surge in cases of cognitive deficiency among young people. Apparently, many have become so reliant on digital technology they are no longer able to remember simple information such as their phone numbers.

Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper, ‘over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain.  Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped’.

The left side of the brain is generally associated with rational thought, numerical computation and fact finding, but the right side of the brain is the centre of creativity and concentration. Its underdevelopment can affect attention and memory span as well as emotional development, especially in children whose brains are still growing.

If the right brain remains under developed in the long term, it may lead to the early onset of dementia. ‘Ten to 15 percent of those with the mild cognitive disorders develop dementia,’ said psychiatrist Park Ki-Jeong.

These findings follow a UCLA study, published last month, which revealed that young people were increasingly suffering from memory problems. They found 14 per cent of people between 18 and 39 complained that their memory was poor.

The study pointed the finger at our modern lifestyle. Our ever increasing screen time leaves us unable to practice focussing on, or memorising, information. Our stress-filled hectic lifestyles prevent concentration or information retention.

Experiments at Columbia University by Psychologist Betsy Sparrow suggest a more pernicious cause. In her 2011 paper, ‘Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips,’ she found that Google and other search engines are changing the very structures of our brains and their ability to process and retain information. According to Sparrow, rather than remembering things, we now simply retain the knowledge of how to find the information we need when we need it. The internet has become our own ‘transactive memory’.

With every development of new or better tools, humans have changed and evolved as they used them.  Perhaps we are witnessing the first tentative steps of Homo Digitalis Bionicus and can only look on with the same trepidation that the Neanderthals felt witnessing the coming of Cro-Magnon Man.

When parchment and ink became accessible enough to write down the massive memorised, and verbally passed down, works of the epic poets like Homer, did they fear what would happen to the memorisation abilities of the next generation of poets and writers? If they did, maybe they were right. Like everybody else today, they struggle to remember where they put their keys.

Now, just as then, we are sensing that something is happening to us. We, connected, humans are changing but we have no idea if these changes are permanent, or dangerous, or hereditary; we simply fear the unknown as we always have. And, by the time we know the answers to these questions, I suspect  we will care as much about them as would the lotus-eaters, from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, who revelled in forgetfulness produced by the flowers they ate. Now how did I remember that?

Marius Brill lectures on the uses of forgetfulness. His book, ‘How To Forget’ (£6.99) is on sale in all good book shops now.

via Put your phone down now, before Digital Dementia sets in – KensingtonChelseaToday.

Medicine Unboxed Magic Show in Tweets

My Medicine Unboxed Magic Show described in Tweets (start at the bottom) – a challenge to rational minds.

The Best of 2011! « virginbooks

The Best of 2011!

December 8, 2011

Whenever you walk into any bookshop, it’s always overwhelming just how many new books there are. So many hundreds of titles are published each year that it can be a hopeless, thankless, even soul-destroying job trying to keep on top of which ones are worth reading.Luckily for you, we’re here to pick out the best, so you can make sure you know what to ask Santa for, or indeed so you know what to buy for the book-lover in your life. After all, Christmas is only thirteen days away and-Thirteen days? OMG.

Anyway, where was I? Presented for your delectation, and in no particular order, here are the ten books we’ve really, honestly loved in 2012.Today’s book is How To Forget, by Marius Brill.Brill’s second novel arrives almost ten years after his amazing debut Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart, and the good news is that How To Forget is just as funny, just as clever, and just as enjoyable.

Brill is as clever as Douglas Adams, as intrusive and humourous a narrator as Terry Pratchett, but writes convoluted thrillers which are dunked in a vat of jet-black comedy.

As with Making Love, another book about romance, spies and international pursuit, this is a novel which will delight men and women equally, even if it looks to be aimed more squarely at the male reader.

Magicov the Magnificent, once a great illusionist, earns his living entertaining the geriatrics of Lotus House Care-home. But Mr Magicov also known as Peter envies them – they’ve mastered a trick that eludes him. They can forget. There are so many things Peter yearns to forget: the shameful moment an eight-year-old wrecked his life; the FBI agent who hunted him like a dog; that suitcase stuffed with a million pounds. More than anything Peter wants to forget Kate, the expert con woman. The one he loved and left. For renowned brain-scientist Dr Chris Tavasligh, Peter’s craving to escape makes him the perfect candidate for his bold experiment in changing minds – forever. Faced with such an opportunity, will Peter go through with it? And if he does, who will he become?

Magic meets crime, while love meets psychology. It’s one of those rare novels that feels too full of great ideas and subjects, and what’s satisfying is the way each is fleshed out and pursued. In a nutshell, it’s big and clever, extremely funny, very romantic, and the laughter goes to some very dark places along the way, so adults only please!

Available at selected Virgin Megastores for 84 AED

via The Best of 2011! « virginbooks.

Derren Brown, Hallowed Be Thy Name

Derren Brown, Hallowed Be Thy Name – openDemocracy

The success of TV conjuror Derren Brown tells of our vulnerability to the magic of pseudo-scientific explanation. While researching the brilliant comic novel, How to Forget, the author joined the ranks of the conjurors and came away with a degree of healthy dis-illusion

‘How did you do that?’

Let me tell you.

In these straitened times I’ve found myself occasionally exploiting an extra revenue stream: extracting coins from youngster’s ears. I also read their tiny minds, vanish hankies and offer myself up for trial-by-toddler, fairy cakes and cash. You find work where you can these days.

It all started when I set out to write a book about magicians. It quickly became clear that the only way I’d get any conjurers to open up to me was to join their ranks.

A hastily researched performance for my son’s fourth birthday and some parents at his school looking for a cheap party entertainer, launched my alternative career in deceiving, at first the young, and then older, easier, far more compliant and surprisable adult audiences. So this is just to assure you that I talk here from experience; even if some of it is bitter.

There is a phrase more commonly encountered by conjurers than, ‘Abracadabra,’ ‘Alakazam,’ or ‘Bugger off we’re talking.’ Whenever I produce a lost card, or levitate a borrowed bank note, the first utterance, after the look of astonishment, is almost inevitably, ‘How did you do that?’

Despite the Daily Mail’s regular warnings about encroaching fundamentalism, we still, apparently, live in a rational age. The response to one of my magic effects is never a terror filled scream or falling to the floor or ‘Get thee behind me,’ histrionics. Americans occasionally predicate it with ‘No Fucking Way,’ but even they then ask the question every magician both yearns and fears to answer: ‘How did you do that?’

Everyone recognises that, somewhere along the line, I ‘did’ something that they missed; something a rational mind, through a process of logic, would eventually be able to work out. It has just been, for the moment, obscured by some nefarious sleight or misdirection.

Almost universally, even for the most gullible or prone to dodgy belief systems, the first response to my magical mysteries is to challenge it through the prism of rationalism. Even the most fervent of religious believers will choose a sceptical route and never simply blindly believe that I am the agent of a higher power. (I will resist the ‘of course my wife knows otherwise’ quip I’m dying to make at this point.)

From my time at the coalface of astonishment I can happily, anecdotally, report that, for the overwhelming majority of us, without a plausible explanation, reason is our default mystery solver. Like Scooby Doo.

The trouble only comes when conjurers start giving their tricks plausible explanations as part of their misdirection.

No magician alive today does this better than Derren Brown. Having just concluded a series of ‘Experiments’ on Channel 4 based on classic psychological and sociological investigations and concepts, he performs a precarious balancing act in explaining his own effects.

On one side, through his activities blogs and writing, Brown promotes scepticism: he challenges mediums and spiritualists, just as Houdini did; he promotes a scientific approach; he embraces Dawkins and writes about his own lapsed Christian beliefs. He encourages the asking of questions and disapproves of blind belief.

On the other hand, the Derren Brown that countless TV viewers and theatre audiences encounter does not simply create mystifying effects, his explicatory rhetoric in performance is steeped in a belief; not in a god or an afterlife but in a fuzzy set of behavioural dynamics that we non-experts call ‘psychology’. Something which, we may need to remember; just because it is an ‘ology’, doesn’t make it any more scientific than ‘astr’, ‘graph’ or ‘crani’.


Brown often explains his ability to predict words or behaviours, to duplicate drawings or influence people to act in certain ways, as achieved through a mastery of the understanding and exploitation of ‘psychological techniques’[1].

I must here state my own belief that, though some of his effects may have a loose psychological component, these explanations, as you might expect of any conjurer, are mainly bogus; misdirecting attention from his real methodology.

The truth is, no matter how hard you studied psychology, no matter how expert you became in understanding human motivations and frailties you still could not possibly repeat Brown’s effects without the use of age-old conjuring smoke and mirrors.

Brown recognises this tightrope he walks between promoting sceptical disbelief and exploiting his audience’s belief in ‘psychology’. In the conclusion to his book Tricks of the Mind Brown writes, ‘For a while now I have concerned myself with engaging people’s beliefs. A large part of me wishes to have people retain a scepticism about what I do and apply that to other areas in life where our beliefs are manipulated in ugly ways. Meanwhile, the ‘performer’ part of me that enjoys the dramatic and the mysterious needs to balance that scepticism in the audience with a belief in my skills…’[2]

Robert Houdin, the 19th century magician whom Houdini named himself after is considered by most magicians as the father of modern magic. He defined a conjurer as, ‘an actor playing the part of a magician.’ In Brown’s case he is closer to, ‘an actor playing the part of a… master of psychology’ or even more recently, ‘…a scientist.’

Oh, I realise that Brown preambles his performances with his, ‘achieved through a combination of illusion, magic, psychology…’ so more fool anyone who believes otherwise but tumbling out in to the night air in front of the Shaftsbury Theatre, where Brown’s latest stage show ‘Svengali’ enjoyed an extended run, his still entranced audience seem only to have believed that last word.

Steven, a young professional web designer, tech savvy, stripy Jack Will’s boxer-shorts peeping out above his baggy hipfallen jeans, is convinced, “Well, obviously it’s not magic,’ he says, ‘it’s psychology, he’s just very very good at it, it’s amazing.”

‘You can see he picks people who are more likely to do what he’s asking,’ says Mi-Li, an app developer and Steven’s girlfriend. She is equally enraptured, ‘I mean some people are easier to read aren’t they. But then he just does incredible things. Really clever. I wish I could read people like he does.’

What has made Brown such a paragon for modern magicians is not his effects which, from a conjurer’s point of view, are certainly no more extraordinary than an Annemann or Thurston, but the way he dresses them in the irresistibly credible and contemporary beliefs that we hold to be self-evident.

It seems a shame that ‘psychology’ remains a rather catch-all idea about human behaviour which, without substantial evidential proof, remains in a limbo no closer to science than it is to pure belief.

It seems to have materialized amongst some other, more dubious, beliefs that emerged in the late 19th century in the wake of Darwin and the mechanisation of the industrial revolution; ideas like phrenology, eugenics, fascism and communism, the sort of human reductionism that helped set the tone[3] for the following ‘century of war’[4]. Within these concepts, man was no longer that central almost divine creature of Humanism but increasingly a part of the mass, an automaton to be wound up, studied, controlled and, if necessary, destroyed.

To my mind one of the more pernicious of those new mechanistic ‘beliefs’ was the flowering of the ‘science of psychology’ spear-headed by German physician Wilhelm Wundt who founded the first psychological laboratory, at Leipzig University, in 1879. It was a theory of the mind and mental health that seduced the twentieth century, creating amongst other things today’s world-wide therapy industry worth billions.

All this despite the fact that, in all this time, no actual psychological experiment has been found to be scientifically 100 per cent repeatable. When working with populations on a sociological scale, psychological experiments can repeatedly find figures that are close – ie most people do X not Y under Z circumstances – but there is no individual psychological response or action which is universally repeatable. Psychology remains a numbers game.

Derren Brown’s psychological rationalization for his extraordinary effects is his masterstroke. It very cleverly buys into and perpetuates a belief that so many of us maintain to this day, that we are, beneath it all, a mechanism, we are machines just waiting to discover what makes us tick. Dehumanised in this way, it would logically follow that it must be possible to reduce anybody to a set of behaviours and reactions; theoretically we are all potentially predictable and malleable in the hands of someone who has a thorough enough understanding of ‘psychology’. It’s the same reason we thrill to Sherlock Holmes, with his instant in-depth profiling, or even feel awkwardly attracted to the inevitability of Dawkins selfish gene. It is man as unwitting reductionist victim rather than master of his own destiny. Man as programmable machine. Drone to democracy. An automanton.

To me, the belief that anyone, even Derren Brown, could influence or predict anyone with pinpoint accuracy, considering how the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association puts the entire population somewhere on its scale, is almost as barkingly misleading and misguided as the belief in pixies and ghosts of the Victorian era.

Because, of course, it was also in the 19th century when modern spiritualism began, a belief that there is not only an afterlife but those who are in it can be communicated with and be summoned at the command of the living.

All civilisations seem to create their own death cults, from the ancient Egyptians to the Third Reich, but the Victorians appear to have taken it to another level entirely. In their time, in their way, they were the master race, bequeathed the wealth and dominance of the globe by industrialisation and the legacy of the East India Trading company. They ran an empire that spanned the earth; only one last frontier remained beyond their control, escaped their dominion: death.

Spiritualism chimed with a need of the times just as ‘Psychology’ has chimed so clearly with ours. A walk around any British cemetery bears witness to what necromaniacs the Victorians were, centuries of simple gravestones suddenly surpassed by vast mausoleums and elaborate angel-laden tombs. They even created their own Necropolis railway to usher the dead from Waterloo to the enormous Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Over a century later and still with no scientifically confirmed evidence of an afterlife, mediums continue to thrive today. Despite having had all their tricks, their cold, warm and hot readings, exposed by a succession of magicians and sceptics from Houdini, through James Randi and even Derren Brown himself, mediums still draw crowds of believers looking to make sense of that last horror, the indisputable finality of death.

So Derren Brown walks this tightrope between being a hero of scepticism, exposing old ‘ugly’ beliefs like spiritualism, and actively seeking to encourage belief in his skills and in a system that he knows he cannot prove, just pretend to.

Brown has recently started distancing himself from his earlier shows, ‘I have largely moved on from performing those sorts of tricks,’[5] he blogged the other day. He sees his recent work in the ‘Experiments’ as more indicative of his present career.

Every jobbing magician knows that when an effect is just too baffling, you introduce it with the words, ‘I want to try a little experiment.’ This phrase is both pseudo-scientific and very ‘old school’ in conjuring terms and it’s interesting to see Brown returning to it.

Though he appears to sometimes be blurring the edges between science and his own pseudo-science Derren Brown is neither ‘psychologist’ nor ‘scientist’. Nor does he claim to be despite the language he uses in his shows. Sadly, each of his latest ‘Experiments’ seem to have been more interested in faking the successful outcome of famous concepts, like Milgram’s notorious dehumanised cruelty investigation[6] or the Manchurian Candidate’s question as to whether a hypnotised subject can be made to act against his will.

Witness Browns ‘Experiment’, ‘The Guilt Trip’ in which he attempts to drive a man, through guilt, to admit to a murder he did not do. Somehow one feels he missed the point, we never find out anything about why people really admit to crimes they didn’t commit. This may be because science asks questions wheras magic uses answers to create questions. The scenario Brown produced carefully controlled what the audience witnessed and only gave enough to encourage them to believe he had succeeded. Closer analysis: a man is paralytically drunk and wakes the next day to find someone has been killed, he then confesses to the police that it ‘could’ have been him as far as he knows, is far from conclusive. Of course it might have been, just as much as it might not have. Derren Brown produced a very watchable program about someone more willing to just tell the truth than be caught in some horrible lie further down the line.

Brown creates a belief in his successes from very partial revelations of the facts. Something I suspect a real scientist would find frustratingly pointless unless the real experiment was an investigation of the gullibility of TV audiences. But there seems to be no attempt to gather statistical evidence on that.

In the end, even if Brown parenthesises his performances with protestations of ‘illusion and magic,’ we all know that many in his audience will believe these things simply because his ‘psychological’ dressing is such a plausible answer.

There is no doubt that Brown is aware that his success is based on generating belief, ‘we must seek to absorb the model of real magic at the level of belief,’ he writes in Absolute Magic, ‘then allow it to leak through in the way in which we approach our audience and the thought behind the structure of our routines.’ Much like the TV evangelists he has exposed probably do. It is no more honest to say it is a magic trick before you start, only to foster a counter belief during the show than it is to claim that Christ was a man, oh but also God. As a lapsed Christian perhaps Brown ought to know how damaging it can be to monkey around with what people believe. Sometimes I wonder if all this could just be some huge revenge for the hurt to his own beliefs? I couldn’t possibly say. You, on the other hand…

So in the same way that I fear for the people who still take mediums and spiritualists seriously, I fear for those who take Derren Brown seriously, and they do, like Steven and Mi-Li.

‘Psychology’ is a brilliant cover for his illusions, it is the apparently rational belief of our day and age, but I do wonder if there, a hundred years from now, there will be people who have to be disabused of this belief. I fear that some twenty-second century HoloTV magician with a goatee will be declaring, ‘In the twenty-first century people really believed that you could predict what someone would draw on a piece of paper just from knowing their job and where in Indonesia they went on holiday, it was called “psychology”. And there are some deluded fools even now who believe it. But I can show you it was just tricks, the same good old fashioned gimmicks and forces, cups and balls that have been going for millennia. Can you believe their gullibility? Weren’t they ridiculous? But now let me show you something which will really blow your mind…’

And what do I believe? I have faith that, after that magician’s mind blowing effect, there will be someone shouting out, ‘How did you do that?’

[1] Frequently in his treatise on the effective performance of magic, Absolute Magic, Derren Brown, London, 2001 (OOP)

[2] Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown, London, 2006

[3] John Carey suggests these were a direct response to the emergence of an educated middle class created by the 1870 and 1876 Education Acts and fears amongst the intellectual elite of population explosion. The intellectuals and the masses: pride and prejudice among the literary intelligentsia, 1880-1939, London, 1992

[4] The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred. Niall Ferguson, London. 2006





Astonishing Diversity

An extraordinary and delightful five star review just popped up on Amazon which must be worth sharing as it is probably better than the blurb on the cover of the book…. read on…
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing Diversity, 5 Nov 2011

Your Christmas shopping this year has just been made easy. Imagine a guy in a black tee-shirt working in a bookshop trying to puzzle out which section to place a book in. Should he put it in Comedy? Or Science Fiction? It could go in Romance, but then again it would fit just as neatly in Action Thriller. At the same time, he knows it transcends all these genres and could happily settle in Literary Fiction. Marius Brill’s second novel, ‘How to Forget’ is that book – an astonishing combination of several genres – a crossover book which gives a whole new meaning to the term. It’s not surprising, then, that the cast of characters is equally as diverse. A magician, a doctor of neurology, a collection of six-year-olds, an Australian widow with a sheep farm and an Hispanic maid revolve around the main characters, who themselves – a timid hero with a failed career and an Amazonian heroine with the instincts of a crack SAS officer – are thrown together in an unlikely, yet engaging, romance.
Hounded by an evil genius and a lumbering American cop and crippled by their own emotional make-up, the pair animates what is a thoroughly researched and fascinating study of the nature of emotional memories and how they affect happiness. Kate, a heroine without soft spots, suffers an internal crisis on finding herself on the brink of love and her predicament is recorded with a delicacy that puts one in mind of the best of Jane Austen’s heroines. Touching, intellectually challenging, magical, hilarious, serious, fast-paced and gripping, but above all witty, ‘How to Forget’ really is the book with something in it for everyone. This novel deserves a place in just about every section of the bookshop – with the exception of cookery. There is nothing in ‘How to Forget’ about cookery.

Order How To Forget - Now

Cocaine dealer avoids jail using a scam straight from the pages of How To Forget

When I wrote this particular scam in How To Forget I wondered why we didn’t hear of this kind of law evasion ever happening… and now it does… did he read the book?  Am I going to be implicated?  Read on…

Cocaine dealer avoids jail by pretending he is illegal Mexican  immigrant and gets DEPORTED instead



Liar: Jaime Alvarado claimed he was an illegal Mexican immigrant to avoid jail

An American avoided going to prison for drug dealing by lying to police he was an illegal immigrant so he could be deported to Mexico.

Jaime Alvarado claimed he was Mexican Saul Quiroz when he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and heroin with the intent to distribute.

He lied about his birth date and claimed he was an illegal immigrant TWICE in front of judges.

Alvarado was facing a sentence of up to 15 years but instead was deported, according to court records.

The 27-year-old exploited a system in which law enforcement officials sometimes prefer to send offenders back to their own countries instead of adding to an already overcrowded prison system.

But Alvarado, from Salt Lake City, Utah, returned to the U.S. a month later using his genuine American passport. Instead of lying low he got arrested again in his home city – in connection with the previous case.

Last February he acknowledged during a court hearing that he had lied about his true identity. In a follow-up letter to the judge, he said he regretted his actions and asked for leniency because his family depended on him.

He wrote: ‘I have a good job right now, a lot of little girls waiting for me and a family that will support me. It’s my first offence and my last. I want to spend the rest of my life with my kids!’

He was released by the court, but this week Alvarado was charged in Utah’s 3rd District Court with giving false material statements and giving false personal information to a peace officer.

A $50,000 warrant had been issued for his arrest since he failed to report to state authorities in June after U.S. immigration officers determined he was legally present in the country.

Rishi Oza, an immigration attorney, said Alvarado’s plan is ‘not a risk I’d ever want to take because you’re creating a bigger hole for yourself.

‘More often than not,  a person claims to be legal to avoid detection.I have never seen an American citizen try to get deported.’

via Cocaine dealer avoids jail by pretending he is illegal Mexican immigrant and gets DEPORTED instead | Mail Online.

A magical book


How to Forget

Marius Brill (Author)

A magical book; or rather a book about magic, confidence trickery, illusions, prestidigitation, conjuring, mind reading and more, all interwoven with the long quest for catharsis of an unmanned magician and his emergent relationship with a lifelong female hustler. As if that weren’t enough, the book is written in the style of a literary humoresque, seasoned with amusing asides and adroit wordplay. (It was often punny, sometimes funny. One example, describing over-long sunbathing: “Is ‘lobsterized a word? Take it as red…”).

This is a polished second-book performance from an accomplished author. He manages a clever and convoluted plot extremely well, and his characters are vividly portrayed. He employs a neat technique of interspersing narrative with clinical notes from the consultant psychiatrist purporting to be the author, and background material into brain function and research. All of which, in the context of this book, may or not be illusory. Either way, a very worthwhile diversion.

Reviewed by: John Oakley – Stourbridge

Personal read: *****

Group read: *****

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 9780385605243

Published Date: Thu 18th Aug 2011

Format: Hardback

via How to Forget




The perfect partner to a day on a sunlounger.

This may sound a bit over enthusiastic – but I’m going to say it anyway. Marius Brill needs to add an extra ‘iant’ to the end of his surname. Once you’ve read How To Forget you’ll understand why.

Brill’s second novel is a ‘fictual book’, meaning it mixes up fiction with facts. The fictional side of the story revolves around the grand illusionist, Magicov the Magnificent, AKA Peter, who earns a living performing tricks in a nursing home. Peter is jealous of the geriatrics he entertains, particularly the old people who have lost their memories. This is because there are painful events in his life that he wishes to forget.

During the novel, Peter is approached by brain scientist, Dr Chris Tavasligh, who offers to help Peter forget for good. The facts, which are woven throughout the book, are all about the processes involved in human memory. And they’re there to make us think twice about what we believe we know.

If you’re worried that the book sounds a bit too heavy, don’t be. The novel is written so that you can sail through the pages. Chapters are split into bite-size portions and the prose is broken up by pages of fictional magazine articles, handwritten letters and emails.

Brill’s writing is top-dollar, too. Here is a writer who has taken up arms against clichés, and the result is page after page of refreshingly unique prose.

Overall, this book is an ideal holiday read. Once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down, which makes it the perfect partner to a day on a sunlounger.

If you like this, try this… The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

via How To Forget Marius Brill | FirstChoice blog.

Flip-flop rating for this book:

5 / 5

About Reviewer

  • Name: Sarah Holt
  • Favourite Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  • Guilty Pleasure: The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
  • Favourite Holiday: Rio Carnival, Brazil
  • Sarah Holt


Clever, funny and highly entertaining – a must for fans of “Hustle”

With a great cast of eccentric characters, this is a very funny and very clever story of grifts, cons and magicians. Brill asks how much of our character is governed by our memories and what if we could forget the most painful ones?

If you are a fan of the BBC’s ‘Hustle’ series, you will absolutely love Marius Brill’s ‘How to Forget’. It’s a funny, clever and twisted tale of grifters and con tricks with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. Brill gives us a cast of strange characters: there’s an ethically dubious brain scientist, a dodgy Derren Brown-type TV celebrity whose interests are guarded by two violent but somewhat hapless Hasidic Jewish thugs, an equally violent FBI agent and a female British copper. At the heart of the story though is an apparently naïve British magician, Peter, and a supreme grifter, Kate, in whose life Peter finds himself entangled.

At first, it can take a while to get into the book as the breadth of the characters and their stories take a while to unfold. This is compounded by the meta-concept that Brill adopts that the book itself is a compilation of the basic manuscript and the scientist’s own papers, so just when the story appears to get going, there are pseudo-academic papers on the science of the mind. Thankfully this abates somewhat later in the book and the annoyance factor is minimized by the fact that Dr Tavasligh is unlike any academic you’ve ever read in that his papers are often very funny in themselves. At first though, partly because the two main characters, Peter and Kate, are so interesting it can be a little frustrating not to get on with their story.

While on the subject of the main characters, I’m still a little bemused by the choice of names. Kate’s full name is Catherine Minola while Peter’s is Peter Ruchio. Obviously this is a reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ (Pete Ruchio – Petruchio) which could be seen to be an indicator or what appears to be Kate’s situation – a strong, independent woman who may or may not conform to society – but it’s a bit of a stretch and that was a feeling that I had about much of the, very funny, humour throughout the book. The similes in particular are a bit off the wall but often hilarious, but it seems at times as if the story gets stretched to make the joke rather than the jokes flowing naturally out of the story. It’s a minor point but I did find it a little irritating and a bit ‘show-off-ish’. And to return to the names issue, Peter is as far removed from Shakespeare’s Petruchio as it is possible to be. It seems to me a strange choice of names when a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

What Brill does, well Brilliantly is to keep the reader guessing about what is real and what is illusion. There’s plenty of good old magician-style misdirection but you don’t feel that you are being deliberately led astray. Much like a good magician really. Once you get into the meat of the second part of the book in particular the story rattles along without interruption and takes you from the US, to the English south coast, via Paris and New Zealand.

The bottom line is that it’s a joy to read and each time I picked it up I found myself smiling at the prospect and when I put it down, smiling at the story, which is not a bad recommendation. It’s clearly well researched, both in terms of the magician aspects and the workings of the brain, but this seldom gets in the way of the story. If you are looking for a funny, but intelligent and highly original story, this is a great choice.

Our thanks to the kind folk at Doubleday who didn’t forget to send a copy to The Bookbag.

For more clever playing with the reader’s mind, then look no further than The Afterparty by Leo Benedictus while for a more serious look at the workings of forgetfulness then remember to also read the remarkable Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.

You can read more book reviews and buy How to Forget by Marius Brill at Amazon and Waterstones

via How to Forget by Marius Brill – book review.