Tom Cruise has done some pretty dumb things in my opinion. Dumping Nicole Kidman. What the hell was that? The whole Scientology thing, but I mustn’t mention religion. Reacher is completely unforgivable. Yet I can’t help loving the little guy. Top Gun’s the best. The Mission Impossible movies are close behind – except for one thing.

There’s that episode where he’s fighting on top of a London tube train, or maybe the New York subway. I’ve done my usual level of research here, folks. Tom jumps from train to hurtling train, rides the lead carriage at about 150 km/h shooting bad guys right, left and centre. Then he leaps onto a platform, runs to the payphone and makes a call.


As if he’d find a working pay phone on a subway platform. Get real.

This comes from a bruised heart.

As an eager young radio reporter, I had a pocketful of 20 cent pieces and a mental map of every pay phone in the Perth metropolitan area. Do you know how many of them could be relied upon to work?

I may be showing my age. How many of you were born BMP – Before Mobile Phones?

Put your hands down. That’s scary.

Anyway, the Payphone Improbability hasn’t stopped me watching the rest of Tom’s movies. I have no problem with the idea that he can shimmy down the Burj Khalifa with nothing but rubber sucky things on his shoes to stop him plummeting 500 metres into the kids’ paddling pool, or riding in the wheel well of a Russian transport plane.

It’s only the payphone I can’t forgive.

I’m also more than happy to believe good guys have guns that never run out of bullets. Of course, the bad guys spray thousands of high-velocity machine gun rounds and hit nothing. Then our hero snaps a pistol shot over his shoulder and hits the hoodlum right between the eyes – from three hundred metres. Why not?

Sure, Indiana Jones’ fedora is clamped to his head as he jumps off a horse, rolls in the dirt and pulls himself into a moving truck. They didn’t have superglue in the 1930s, so I imagine he has press studs surgically fixed in the side of this head, or maybe a bolt through his skull like Herman Munster. And, of course, every nasty Nazi he knocks unconscious wears a uniform exactly his size. Those Germans were geniuses. They had jet fighters and planes with propellers at each end, why not those automatically fitting clothes from Back to the Future a few years early?

What stretches my belief one lacky-band too far – apart from working pay phones – is the hacker.

Everybody’s got one these days. Fortunately, villains store their incriminating data on their computers and every amateur detective has a mate who can dive into the NSA uber-secret database in the blink of an eye.

I came across a classic of the genre recently. I quite liked the book by the way. It was about horsey people on a dude ranch. I like horses.

The story had another slight problem if I’m being honest. Spanking. The clean-living ranch owner and her hot, hunky, horse-whisperer stablehand were really into spanking.

I mean, really into it.

I may not have this exactly right, but, from memory, an actual excerpt of dialogue went something like this.

“Morning, love, how ya going?”

“Not the best, I’m afraid. I’m a bit down in the mouth after my fiancee stole the inheritance I need to save the farm and shifted the dosh into shonky accounts in the Cayman Islands. Of course, I’m also in denial that I’m going to bonk you in Chapter 23.”

“Righty-ho then. Drop your dacks and bend over that saddle-holder-upper thing while I grab a convenient paddle.”   

“Ooo, thanks. Shall I get the reins?”

Great stuff.

But when her bottom needed a rest and they turned to the bank accounts, the hot horse whisperer suddenly remembered his hacker buddy. It turned out to be a fat boy with gang colours, tats, a Harley Davidson and a lifelong dream to learn to ride ponies. Come on!

What’s that you say? You have a raft of besties who regularly slip through the digital backdoor to nick a few bucks out of Donald Trump’s bank accounts. Of course, you do. You probably have a friendly ghost who appears, only to you, at the vital moment, with exactly the nugget of information you need.

I read that one because it won half a dozen book prizes. I can’t remember the name of the heroine. Let’s call her Miss Couldn’t-organise-a-sewing-circle-in-a-Singer-factory. Whenever she ran out of ideas – which was often – the ghost popped up to tell her where to find the next clue. For goodness sakes, why would the ghost tell her one clue at a time? And only where the clue is? You don’t think she’d mention what the clue might be or, maybe, you know, whodunnit?

If you haven’t got a ghost, or a hacker mate with B.O. and a muscle-bike, rest assured, when you’re really stumped, the master-criminal will give himself away by beating you up and thus give new meaning to ‘hasn’t got a clue’.

This was a favourite plot device of Dick Francis in his early days. Dick’s books are crackers. They’re about horses too.

I particularly love the way everything happens in class specific, post-war English.

“I say old chap, you’ve bloodied my nose, you bounder.”

“Sorry, guv. Basher insisted we make it really obvious it were ‘im wot dunnit. Beggin’ your pardon, but the readers is getting bored and Mary wants to duck off to the betting shop and get two bob on the 3:30 at Towcester.”

Another direct quote, I think you’ll find. Did you pick up the subtle reference to the conspiracy theory that Dick’s wife Mary actually wrote the books?

She and all the other writers slandered here have sold rather more books than me.

So, maybe they’ve got it right.

And I’m a bit stuck in my latest plot.

I know! My plucky crimefighter can get kidnapped and bashed by a ghost who rides a Harley and hacks into computers to find out where they’ll get the next clue. Then she can call the cops on a pay phone.

The phone won’t work, of course, I don’t want to look ridiculous.