Saturday, July 4, 2015

Because ...

‘Jess?’  The man shook the young girl’s shoulder.  ‘Time to go home.’

Her head rolled to one side revealing a halter top stained with vomit.

‘Jess?  Come-on, we need to get you cleaned up.’

‘Go away.’

‘You can’t stay here.’  The squalid room was littered with fast food wrappers, cans and bottles.  In one corner a couple were asleep on a filthy mattress.

‘I like it.’

‘You don’t like anything, including yourself.  You’re a beautiful person, Jess.  Why do you do this to yourself?’


‘That’s not a reason.’

‘Why do you care?’

‘Because someone has to until you do.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 3, 2015

An aside about talks

On Wednesday I presented my 27th talk of the year, 24 of which were invited presentations. My three talks this week takes the grand total of invited talks to 151 (since 1995) and being a bit of a data geek I thought I’d take a look at their breakdown (I have all this data because for the last 13 years I have had to do detailed six monthly submissions on just about everything you think an academic might get up to). They’re split into 102 at conferences, workshops, symposia; 49 at departmental seminars. They’ve been delivered in 19 countries to events organised by 31 disciplines, plus general interdisciplinary and general public events. In addition, I’ve also been an invited discussant 38 times.

Interestingly, to me at least, is that my work seems to have more traction/impact outside of Geography (my discipline) than inside. 28% (42/151) of my invited talks are in Geography, only one of which is a keynote/plenary talk delivered at this year’s Digital Geographies conference at the Open University. Somewhat oddly then I’m much more likely to be asked to give keynote/plenary outside of my discipline than within. The remainder of the invited Geography talks are at symposium where all/most papers are invited or departmental seminars (28/42).

Here’s how the talks breakdown by country and discipline.

Ireland (71), England (31), USA (14), Germany (6), Canada (5), N. Ireland (5), Scotland (4), Belgium (2), Slovenia (2), Switzerland (2), Denmark (1), Turkey (1), Italy (1), Armenia (1), Netherlands (1), Japan (1), New Zealand (1), Australia (1), Spain (1)

Geography (42), General public (22), Interdis academic (14), Planning (13), Sociology (6), Architecture (5), Cartography (4), Computer Sci (3), Communications (3), Regional studies (3), Education (3), Politics (3), Law (2), English (2), Economics (2), Philosophy (2), Statistics (2), Digital Humanities (2), Engineering (2), Health Studies (2), Psychology (2), Information Sci (1), International Studies (1), Media Studies (1), Disability Studies (1), Cultural Studies (1), Business studies (1), Public Policy (1), Art (1), Area Studies (1), Equality Studies (1)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review of Dunbar Case by Peter Corris (Allen & Unwin, 2013)

Cliff Hardy, a Sydney based P.I. and tough guy, is hired by a university professor to look into the possibility that more than one person survived the Dunbar shipwreck in the mid-nineteenth century, taking ashore a fortune in diamonds.  The trail leads to a prisoner who knows the whereabouts of another treasure.  All Hardy is after is old family history, what he gets is more complex, involving the notorious Tanner crime family, an undercover cop, and an ambitious journalist.  Then someone he talks to is found dead and the case takes a more sinister turn.

The Dunbar Case is the thirty eighth book in the Cliff Hardy series set in Australia.  It’s a fairly standard independent, headstrong, tough guy PI tale, where the lead character takes a bit of punishment, has a romantic fling, and somehow manages to survive the shenanigans in which he finds himself involved.  The tale is more than a paint-by-numbers case, with Corris blending a historical and contemporary plotlines to good effect, but it did feel a little paint-by-numbers in style, lacking a certain edginess to the writing and relying on a few plot devices to tie things together.  Overall, a competently told, entertaining PI tale from down under.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June reviews

A variable, interesting month of reading.  My read of the month was Joe Lansdale's wonderful coming of age tale, A Fine Dark Line.

Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto ****.5
The Long Home by William Gay ***
The Interrogator by Andrew Williams ***
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie ***.5
The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager ****
Stone Cold by CJ Box ***
A Fine Dark Line by Joe Lansdale *****
Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves ****

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review of Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto (Bitter Lemon Press, 2014)

On returning back to his room in the Hotel Brasil, a run-down boarding house, Candido discovers the headless body of one of the other guests, a gemstone trader.  While the odd assortment of other residents - including the owner, the janitor, a journalist, a political aide, a cross-dressing transformista, a prostitute-turned-pimp, and a cleaner who dreams of becoming a soap opera star - insist that the killer must have snuck into the hotel, the police are of the view that one of them must have committed the crime.  Nobody, however, will admit to the deed and the police have no convincing evidence.  Under pressure to solve the case, the detective arrests one of them, but then another guest is slain in an identical manner.  In the meantime, Candido, an editor for a publishing house and a friend of homeless children, has discovered love but also been drawn into protecting a child from rogue cops who has escaped from a brutal orphanage.

For me, Hotel Brasil was as much an allegorical tale about the state of Brasil as a country as it was a murder mystery.  As with Alone in Berlin, where each floor of the house represented a different social group in wartime Germany, each resident in the Hotel Brasil represents a different constituency and varying social ills, and the murder case and travails of Candido, the central character, reveal the ways in which Brazilian society is structured and run.  When taken in that context, it’s a fascinating literary tale of social inequalities and divides, corruption, and morality, with a glimmer of hope running throughout.  In this sense, it is not a conventional murder mystery and those readers expecting such might find the tale not quite to their taste.  I thought the structuring of the text was cleverly done and the prose was engaging and often witty in subtle ways. And despite its literary sensibilities, Betto does keep the reader guessing as to the identity of the murderer until the very end.  A book I’ve been thinking about a fair bit since finishing.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

Friday proved more stressful than it needed to be.  Submitting a grant application came right down to the wire and was finally accepted by the online system with two minutes to spare.  The solution, as advised by the grant agency, was to upload some blank pdfs to complete a section not relevant to the application.  A bit of a daft workaround but thankfully it did the job and my blood pressure subsided.  I'm falling behind with reviews, but the following should appear shortly: Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto, The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris, and Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal.

My posts this week
Review of The Long Home by William Gay
Review of The Interrogator by Andrew Williams

Proof of absence

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Proof of absence

‘He couldn’t have done it,’ Miller said, staring at the blood-stained floor.  ‘There’s no evidence he was here.  No fingerprints, footprints, fibres, DNA, nada.  And we found nothing on him or at his place.’

‘The absence of evidence is evidence of absence, not proof of absence,’ Carter replied, opening a kitchen cabinet.

‘What, you’re Sherlock Holmes now?  Without evidence we have no proof; no conviction.’

‘You’re missing the point.’

‘Which is?’

‘He wasn’t here.’

‘That’s what I’ve been telling you.’

‘But that doesn’t mean he’s not responsible.’

‘You’re clutching at straws, Carter.’

‘But are they metaphorical straws or absent straws?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review of The Interrogator by Andrew Williams (2009, John Murray)

After surviving his ship being sunk mid-Atlantic, Lieutenant Douglas Lindsay is redeployed in Naval Intelligence as a interrogator charged with mining captured U-boat crews for information.  It’s a somewhat unusual appointment given that Lindsay is half-German and his cousin is a U-boat commander.  Headstrong and with a creative, ruthless streak, Lindsay is convinced that the Germans have cracked the British navy’s codes.  His bosses, however, do not share his concerns.  Finding an ally and lover in Mary Henderson, who works in the tracking room at the heart of naval intelligence, Lindsay pursues his suspicions, grappling with Jurgen Mohr, the most senior U-boat commander in British captivity, despite warnings to tow the party line or face disciplinary action.

The Interrogator is a run of the mill wartime thriller in which the main protagonist, Lieutenant Douglas Lindsay of British Naval Intelligence, seeks to crack a senior U-boat commander to determine if the British naval codes have been broken.  Williams’ hook is to make Lindsay half-German, bullish and reckless, and therefore not entirely trustworthy, and to add in a romance to the academic Mary Henderson who has been recruited into the naval tracking room and whose brother works with Lindsay (and needless to say doesn’t like him).  The plot consists principally of two, intertwined battle of wits between Lindsay and Jurgen Mohr, the U-boot commander, and Lindsay and his bosses.  The ending is pretty well telegraphed and the last part fizzles out and was somewhat unnecessary.  Overall, an interesting enough tale, but lacked twists and tension. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of The Long Home by William Gay (Faber, 1999)

Raised by his bitter mother in a small rural Tennessee community, Nathan Winer grew up listening to complaints about his father deserting them.  The truth is far more sinister and over the course of a long, hot summer in the 1940s, as Nathan reaches his late teens, it threatens to be revealed.  First he works in a chicken farm, then he takes up his father’s old carpentry tools to work on the small holding of Hardin, a mean spirited, ruthless man who runs the local illegal liquor trade.  There he falls for Amber Rose, the daughter of the woman Hardin is living with.  Despite warnings from Hardin and the elderly William Tell Oliver, Nathan pursues Amber Rose, regardless of the potential consequences.

The Long Home is a literary crime tale set in rural Tennessee in the 1940s that is driven forward mainly through its character development and its sense of foreboding rather than a central hook.  Gay creates a somewhat claustrophobic, menacing atmosphere amongst a poor, backwoods community, producing a strong sense of place and time.  At times it seems that Gay is more interested in constructing beautiful prose than the story, with many passages feeling overwritten.  Nonetheless, as the tale progresses it becomes quite gripping as the young Nathan Winer, advised by the elderly William Tell Oliver, comes of age as he tangles with Hardin, a dangerous racketeer, in pursuit of Amber Rose.  The result is a thoughtful, dark, sombre read that just about manages to balance style with substance.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

I reached 22 talks for the year on Friday.  The 21st was at an international crime fiction conference in Belfast, where a bunch of academics talked about crime fiction and rurality.  I've studiously avoided crossing my professional life with my personal interest, so wasn't sure about the wisdom of presenting, but I thoroughly enjoyed the event.  Some interesting papers and great company always make a good combination, and thankfully my paper managed to avoid being a car crash in slow motion.  Plus I came away with a list of books to track down, including those of Leigh Redhead, who'd made the trip from Australia to present.  Off to Sheffield this afternoon to give another talk, then have another in Dublin on Thursday.  Then three more next week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.  It's all go at the minute! 

My posts this week
Review of The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
No Alibis for McGilloway and Quinn
Wandering the streets

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Wandering the streets

‘This is your fault!’

‘My fault?  What did I do?’

‘Mrs Jenkins, there’s no point ...’ the policeman interjected.

‘You left the door unlocked, you irresponsible moron!’ She shouted.

‘I was working. Normally she just sits there and stares at the bloody TV.’

‘Mrs Jenkins, if we could just ...’

‘And now she’s wandering the streets!  Eighty three years old and as batty as a belfry!’

‘Are you okay, dear?’ An old lady asked, entering the house, a golden retriever in tow.

‘Mother!  Thank god.  Where have ... Whose dog is that?’

‘My next case, I believe,’ the policeman muttered.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

No Alibis for McGilloway and Quinn

Monday evening I finally got to No Alibis bookshop in Belfast where I listened to readings and a conversation between Brian McGilloway and Anthony Quinn, with Andrew Pepper asking the questions.  It was an excellent event in a wonderful venue and I had the bonus of going to dinner with them afterwards.  The next day I went back and bought a bag of books.  Definitely a place I'll be visiting each time I go back to Belfast.

Frei Betto, Hotel Brasil
Parker Bilal, Dogstar Rising
Peter Coris, The Dunbar Case 
Didier Daeninckx, Nazis on the Metro
Bill James, Easy Streets
Brian McGilloway, Little Girl Lost
Andrew Pepper, The Detective Branch
Anthony Quinn, Border Angels

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review of The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1931)

It has snowed heavily in the village of Sittaford, located on the edge of Dartmoor, but that doesn’t deter from six people meeting in Sittaford House to socialise.  To pass the time they decide to hold a séance.  However, when the spirits spell out ‘Captain Trevelyan ... dead ... murder’, it leaves them perplexed.  Major Burnaby is so disturbed that he sets out into the darkening evening to tramp the six miles to Exhampton, six miles away, to check on the health of his long time friend.  When he arrives he finds the Captain dead, as foretold.  But who would have murdered him and why?  Inspector Narracott is given the job of investigating the case, but he’s soon joined by an amateur sleuth who has a lot more to lose.

The Sittaford Mystery is a classic Agatha Christie puzzle.  Isolated by a snow storm a small group of people hold a séance in which the death of Captain Trevelyan is announced.  At approximately the same time, the Captain meets his demise.  So barring the spirits being real, how could someone at the table know this?  As Inspector Narracott investigates it becomes clear the residents of Sittaford are not all quite who they seem, but none seem to have a motive to murder the Captain.  The pleasure in the story is the rum mix of characters - especially her amateur sleuth Emily Trefusis, most of whom Christie manages to move into the suspect’s frame, and the plotting wherein all the clues are present, but the reveal is still a surprise.  The story is told in a light breezy manner and is entertaining fare.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

The next three weeks are going to be a little hectic.  This coming week I'm presenting talks in Belfast (crime fiction) and Dublin (housing crisis), then the following week in Sheffield (city dashboards) and Dublin (funding open access repositories), and the week after in Limerick (smart cities) and Dublin twice (housing crisis and data brokers and privacy).  We'll also be launching the Digital Repository of Ireland for which I'm a principal investigator. A pretty diverse set of engagements.  I'm going to have to find a way to narrow my interests so I can recycle talks!  The first stop is Belfast tomorrow, in preparation for which I've been reading rural crime fiction.  I finished William Gay's The Long Home yesterday, so expect a review this week coming.

My posts this week
Review of The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager
Review of Stone Cold by CJ Box
From the ground

Saturday, June 13, 2015

From the ground

Magill stared at the open tin box.  Inside were an assortment of jewellery, a dozen bank notes, some faded photographs, and a note.

‘Read it,’ Hancock said.

‘If he can’t possess me, then he’ll kill me.  If William Nolan succeeds then pass this box to my sister, Clara, the note to the guards.  Bridget Farrell.’   

‘Bridget Farrell disappeared without a trace 52 years ago.’

‘And William Nolan?’

‘Lives down the road. Married to Clara. Seven children, thirteen grandkids.’

‘Jesus.  You’re opening an investigation?’

‘Murder is murder.’

‘Perhaps she fled?’

‘And perhaps she’s in the ground, just like that box was.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.