Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dumb

‘What did I tell you, Alex?’

‘Just leave it, will you. I need a beer.’

‘You need your head tested. 30K! Have you any idea what favours I had to pull to raise that.’

‘I’ll pay you back.’

‘The state will pay me back when you go to prison. It’s bail money, not a fine.’

‘I’m not going to prison.’

‘See, this is what I mean. Dumb. Of course you’re going. I’m sick of telling you: if you’re dumb about the crime, you’ll do the time.’

‘I’m not dumb, okay.’

‘Then why the hell are you going to prison then?’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review of Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan (2017, Vintage)

Corinne Sawyer is finally feeling good about her looks. The operations have gone well and she has a face and body that turns heads. But on an early morning run she is jumped from behind and strangled to death. It seems like a case for CID, especially as a rapist has been operating in the area, but DI Zigic and DS Ferreira of the Hate Crimes Unit are called in to take over: it seems that Corinne had been born Colin. There have been a series of trans-related violent attacks locally over the past year, though the victims have declined to take the cases forward. CID still think the murder is the work of the rapist, who perhaps didn’t realise he was attacking a trans woman. Zigic and Ferreira are not so sure. It might be part of a campaign against trans women. Moreover, Corinne was also going through a messy divorce and was partly estranged from her family. The case attracts national media coverage and a misstep by Ferreira raises hackles among the trans-community means that the police struggle to make progress in what’s proving to be a very sensitive case.

Watch Her Disappear is the fourth book in Eva Dolan’s Hate Crimes Unit series. The strength of the series hook is that Dolan can explore some controversial crimes, but to do so in a way sensitive to those communities they effect while exposing the discrimination and prejudice of society and tensions within the police as to how to handle crimes centred on sexuality, disability, gender and race. In this outing, Dolan focuses on violent attacks against trans women, while also developing the personal lives of the lead characters, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, and the institutional politics of their police station. She does a very nice job of exploring the often complex family situations of trans women, as well as the hateful ways they are often treated by society, whilst also detailing their friendships and support networks. She never loses sight, however, that she is telling a police procedural, keeping several possibilities open as to the murderer of Corinne Sawyer, a local trans woman, and violent attacks against others. Indeed, it’s difficult to determine who the guilty party is up to the denouement, despite the tale being replete with clues. Overall then a very good police procedural, with engaging characters and a compelling plot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review of Echobeat by Joe Joyce (Liberties Press, 2014)

Winter 1940. Like America, Ireland has so far managed to remain neutral in the war. It is coming under more pressure however from both Britain and Germany to declare sides. Britain is wanting use of Irish deep water ports for convoys, is building up troops in the North, and is threatening to minimize trade. The Germans want to increase the size of the legation, are agitating for pro-German stance, and are offering arms to fight the British if they try to sieve the ports. Despite the pro-German stance of the IRA, the Irish government is desperate to remain neutral and avoid Ireland becoming a battleground. To keep the Germans at bay they need to increase the strength of their diplomatic hand and decipher German intent from recent bombings. They turn to G2, Irish military intelligence, for answers, who in turn seek out Hermann Goertz, the chief German spy in Ireland, who has been on the run for almost a year. Captain Paul Duggan is charged with finding Goertz, as well as run an operation eavesdropping on German aviators who frequent a Dublin café. Under pressure from his political masters, Duggan turns to his uncle, a republican Fianna Fail TD, a friend in special branch, and a young German Jew refugee for help. The case takes a strange turn when it becomes clear that a British artist and conscientious objector is also using the café to try and pass important secrets onto the Germans. As well as falling in love with his new agent, Duggan finds himself in a high-stakes game that is explosive enough to change the course of the war.

Echobeat
is the second book in the Echoland series featuring Captain Paul Duggan of G2, the Irish military intelligence, during the Second World War. This outing is set over Christmas 1940 and into early 1941. German has conquered much of North West Europe, has lost the Battle of Britain, but is winning the Battle of the Atlantic. The United States, like Ireland, is neutral. Britain wants access to Ireland’s deep water ports and for the US to enter the war; Germany wants to prevent both. Ireland is being subject to diplomatic pressure and sabre rattling by both, including a few bombs being dropped by German planes. G2’s job is decipher both countries intentions and the games they are playing to bring pressure to bear on the Irish government, and to discover and track their spies. Duggan is given the task of locating Germany’s spymaster, who is on the run, as well pick up gossip from downed airmen. His job takes an unexpected turn when he stumbles across a plot to halt America entering the war. Joyce does a nice job of spinning this scenario into a compelling spy thriller that has plenty of intrigue, tension, and at times levity. Duggan and his special branch pal, Peter Gifford, form a nice double-act and the romance with a German Jew turned café spy is well spun. There’s a strong sense of place and time; the historical contextualisation is excellent with respect to the Irish position during the war, the pressure placed on the government, and its internal politics, without swamping the story. I wasn’t wholly convinced by one part of the denouement and the wrap-up seemed quite perfunctory, but overall an interesting and entertaining read.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

This week I found out that one of my books has been translated into Turkish, Key Thinkers on Space and Place, and another has been shortlisted for the Regional Studies Association Book Award, Data and the City. Delighted with both. I hadn't realised the Turkish rights had been sold and I'm now working on getting a copy.

My posts this week
Review of Lamentation by Joe Clifford
Review of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
He was asking for it

Saturday, August 11, 2018

He was asking for it

‘What the fuck, Ryan!’

Ben glanced over his shoulder and continued to hustle his friend away from the pub. A crowd had gathered around a prone figure.

‘He was asking for it.’

‘No, he wasn’t.’

‘He was. Fucking wanker.’ Ryan rolled his neck, his body still buzzing with adrenaline.

‘Even if he was … You could have killed him.’

‘Good.’

‘You didn’t have to keep kicking him!’

‘Just leave it, okay. He’ll live.’

‘As a cabbage.’

‘He was a cabbage already.’

‘Jesus, Ryan. You’ll get time this time.’

‘I said leave it.’

‘Fuck. We need to get our stories straight.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Review of Lamentation by Joe Clifford (Oceanview Publishing, 2014)

Jay Porter struggles to get by in the small town of Ashton in northern New Hampshire. His life is stuck in a rut, having separated from his girlfriend and young son, eking out a living clearing houses, and trying to keep an eye on his drug-addicted older brother. As winter closes in, his brother is once more in trouble after his business partner goes missing. Somehow, Chris had managed to start a business recycling old computers and something on a hard-drive has him riled up. Before Jay can find out what it is, Chris has disappeared into the night and snow. Shortly after, the business partner is dead and there is a major manhunt underway. To add to Jay’s woes his girlfriend announces that she’s leaving the area. As with when they split, Jay decides to prioritize finding his brother and straightening out the conspiracy he seems tangled-up in. But this is a problem that is not easily solved given how much is at stake.

Lamentation is the first book in the Jay Porter series. In this first outing, Jay is living in a small town that has seen better times, is struggling to get by, and is trying to maintain a relationship with his estranged girlfriend and two-year old son. He also periodically bails his drug-addicted older brother, Chris, out of trouble. This time, however, Chris seems to be in deeper trouble than normal being wanted for questioning in relation to a murder and being on-the-run. Along with his friend, Charlie, and an old school friend turned insurance investigator, Jay tries to find his brother before the police. Stubborn unwillingness to see what’s in front of his face and quick to dismiss his brother’s claims of possessing explosive information, Jay makes hesitant progress that actually works against his brother’s interests, and his poking draws the ire of a well-connected family and a biker gang. Clifford does a nice job of portraying life on the edge in a struggling small rural town and how it can unravel further when tangling with larger forces. The characterisation is nicely done, though Jay’s stubbornness in thought was a bit wearing. In terms of the plot, there’s a strong hook and Clifford maintains a steady high pace, with plenty of action and intrigue. While for much of the tale the story seems relatively straightforward and well-telegraphed, Clifford has a couple of nice twists near the end that effectively re-orients the outcome, though the story ends relatively abruptly after a dramatic denouement. Overall, a decent dark slice of rural noir.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer (Batham Press, 2016)

Eve Singer is a TV crime reporter for iWitness News, constantly seeking out scoops for her demanding boss that gives the station fresh angles and the edge over their rivals. She’s also a carer for her father who has dementia and there are plenty of other wannabe reporters waiting to take her place if she can’t handle the pressure. And lately Eve feels like she’s about to crack under the strain. Her life though is about to get a lot more complicated. A killer has started to murder seemingly random strangers in London and he’s singled out Eve to cover his ‘performances’. She’s as desperate for the exclusive inside track as he is for the media attention. Unwittingly, Eve is providing the stage that the killer craves, as well as being the leading lady in the performance. With the police desperately trying to stop the murders and the pressure mounting the question is whether the 'actor-director' and 'actress-reviewer' will survive the finale.

Belinda Bauer has carved out a niche for producing original, thoughtful crime fiction that skirts tropes and genre conventions. In this outing she gives a fresh spin on the serial killer tale, sold with the tag-line: ‘He might kill her. She might let him.’ Her investigator is Eve Singer, a TV news crime reporter who is struggling to balance caring for her ill father with the pressure of a 24 hour news cycle. The killer is a failed artist and transplant recipient who sees his victims’ deaths as both extending his own life and an exhibition displaying the beauty of death. Despite Eve’s revulsion and fear, she and the killer seem to form a symbiotic relationship – she makes her living seeking scoops on gory crimes and he craves attention for his performances. As much as Eve would like to drop the story and try and stop the murders, she is compelled to not only cover them but participate in the performances. The story then follows the twisted relationship between the killer and news reporter, operating at two levels: first, tracking the unfolding of the murders; second, providing social commentary on crime news reporting and the pressures on female reporters. In terms of the former, while it took me a little while to be fully hooked into the tale, Bauer nicely ratchets up the tension and provides plenty of twists and turns as the killer outwits Eve, the police, and the public, leading to a dramatic denouement. Overall, a compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking tale that would make a great thriller movie.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

During the week we collected four ex-battery rescue hens and introduced them to their new home. They seem to have settled in well and are curious and friendly and we've had a couple of eggs. Should hopefully start to re-feather in next few weeks. On the book front, I picked up copies of Lamentation by Joe Clifford and She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper.

My posts this week

Review of A Little White Death by John Lawton
July reviews
Review of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Turn the oven off

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Turn the oven off

Mrs Lomax brushed the flour from her hands and answered the phone.  ‘Hello, Jackie?’

‘Mom, I’ve … look, you need to sit down.’

‘I’m in the middle of baking, can you call me back in ten minutes?’

‘Mom, sit down. This is important.’

‘Okay, okay, I’m sitting.’

‘Tom has just been arrested for murder. They …’

‘Murder!’

‘They’re saying he stabbed a man outside a pub.’

‘Tom?’

‘Don’t open the door to anyone except the police. They’ll be reporters.’

‘Murder?’

‘I’m staying at the station. Jane is on her way.’

‘I …’

‘Turn the oven off and take deep breaths.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Review of A Little White Death by John Lawton (Grove Press, 2007)

1963. Frederick Troy has risen to be the Chief Detective of CID at Scotland Yard. His brother is shadow Home Secretary. Both move in elevated company and enjoy the legacy wealth and connections of their father’s media empire. And both have ties to brewing scandals as Britain transitions from conservative constraint to the swinging sixties – the unmasking and flight of a Soviet agent and a sex scandal involving, ministers, lords and a KGB agent. Troy, in particular, is neck deep in the trouble having been summoned by his friend, Charlie, to Beirut and following him on to Moscow, and being present at country house parties involving young women and special guests. As the Establishment closes ranks and puts the hedonistic doctor who ran the soirees on trial, Troy finds himself on long-term sick leave. He nonetheless follows the case and gets drawn into part of the conspiracy, and when two key actors are found dead he resumes his old career. The two victims supposedly died by their own hands, but Troy and his colleagues are not convinced, setting out to discover the killer’s identity, even if that means rocking the foundations of the state.

A Little White Death is the third book in the Inspector Troy series. While the first was set in 1944, near the start of Troy’s career, and the second in 1956, this outing takes place in 1963. Despite various career set-backs, Troy has risen to head of CID at Scotland Yard. He’s still as head-strong and reckless as ever, willing to take risks that others would think foolhardy. This includes continuing a friendship with a known Russian spy, even following him to Moscow, and attending retreats organized by a well-connected doctor where ministers, lords, and the head of KGB at the Soviet embassy party with young girls. With echoes of Kim Philby’s defection and the Profumo Affair, Lawton tells the tale of Troy’s entanglements with the various actors and his attempt to battle illness, police politics, and the Establishment to protect those being stitched-up in the aftermath of scandal and discover who murdered two key players. It’s an ambitious, sprawling story with a number of intersecting plot-lines, which Lawton weaves nicely together, and there is nice intertextual references to events and personalities of the time. As ever, his voice is a delight to read and there is plenty of interesting asides, intrigue, and twists and turns. Troy is an interesting lead with a devil-may-care attitude, though his actions when asked to protect his old boss’ granddaughter did feel somewhat out-of-character, and the other actors are well-penned. The tale only works if one suspends disbelief that Troy would be already personally embedded in all the various networks, with the power to pull strings with the Establishment and to lead an investigation he has a conflict of interest in running, but Lawton does a good job of executing those sleights of hand. The result is an engaging, thoughtful read about spies, sex, scandal and suicide in 1960s Britain.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

July reviews

July was a pretty good month of reading. My book of the month was Abir Mukherjee's A Necessary Evil set in India in 1920.

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee *****
The Confession by Jo Spain ***.5
A Book of Scars by William Shaw ****.5
Straight Man by Richard Russo ***
Spook Street by Mick Herron ****.5
Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid ****.5
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar ***.5

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (2009, Little Brown)

Dr Peter Brown is an intern at a busy public hospital working horrendous hours and under constant stress to manage all his cases. He’s somewhat older than the other interns, but has a talent and calling for medicine. Amongst his patients is Nicholas LoBrutto, who knows Brown from his former life – as Pietro "Bearclaw" Brwna, a hitman for the mob. Unable to reach his handler in Witness Protection, Brown tries to do a deal with LoBrutto – as long as he keeps him alive, LoBrutto will protect his identity. The problem being that LoBrutto is seriously ill and his first loyalty is to the mob, not Brown. Brown should be running for his life, but his Hippocratic oath keeps him tied to his patients, his hope resting on his deal and the skills from his former life. His past though seems intent on catching up with him.

Beat the Reaper is a comic crime caper set in a busy New York public hospital. The hook is Dr Peter Brown has used the witness protection programme to retrain as a doctor, but the mob is about to catch-up with him. His task is to keep himself and his patients alive as all hell descends on the hospital. Bazell tells the tale through two narrative lines: the first follows his activities in the hospital; the second sets out his back story from the time his grandparents were murdered, through becoming a hitman for the mob, to turning a witness for the state. The hook and the storytelling are compelling. Bazell has an engaging voice, with the pace kept high, plenty of hi-jinks action, lots of interesting medical and legal asides, and witty character exchanges. There is a strong streak of dark humour running throughout that often made me smile. The story arc worked well, though it did feel a couple of pages short in terms of the wrap-up. Overall, an entertaining and darkly amusing tale that zips along at a frenetic pace.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

The most frustrating thing about buying books online is the time one can wait until the order is mailed. I ordered ten books four weeks ago and they are still not shipped. I've plenty on the TBR so there's no panic, but it's still annoying. I guess it's time to email the seller to find out what the heck is going on. In the meantime, I've made a start on Belinda Bauer's The Beautiful Dead.

My posts this week
Review of A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
Unwilling do-gooder

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Unwilling do-gooder

Henry shuffled to the front door and tried to remember the last time he’d had visitors. There’d been some do-gooders at Christmas whom he’d sent packing.

There was a girl under the porch, her right eye blackened.

‘Are you okay, lass?’

‘I need help.’

‘I haven’t a phone.’

‘He’s looking for me.’

‘Steph!’ A man’s voice from across the Oak Field.

‘Please. Just keep me hidden. I’ll leave once he’s gone.’

‘You need a doctor.’

‘I need a new life.’

Henry hesitated.

‘Please.’

He let her in, an unwilling do-gooder. No doubt the visitors for the year would soon double.



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Review of A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage, 2017)

India, 1920. Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force are escorting Prince Adhir from a meeting with the Viceroy at Government House to the Grand Hotel when they are forced to stop and the Prince assassinated. The following day they corner the assassin, who takes his own life. As far as the Viceroy is concerned that is the end of the matter. Wyndham, however, wants to know who send the assassin, the answer to which he believes is in the kingdom of Sampalpore. The Viceroy expressly forbids Wyndham from pursuing the case as Sampalpore is a semi-autonomous state, run by a Maharajah and a local government. Since Banerjee knew the Prince he is sent to attend his funeral, with Wyndham taking holiday leave to accompany him. Their real aim is to continue the investigation and they soon become embroiled in the complex family and power struggles inside the Sampalpore court, which reveals many suspects. The question is can they untangle the conspiracy before they too fall victims to a killer intent on reshaping Sampalpore’s future.

A Necessary Evil is the second book in the Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee series set in 1920s India. In this outing, the two detectives travel from Calcutta to Sampalpore, an Indian state rich from trading diamonds and run by an aging Maharajah, to investigate the assassination of a Prince. While Banerjee is there as an official attendee at the funeral, Wyndham has travelled on holiday leave, having been told to drop the case which has seemingly been concluded with the suicide of the assassin. While the Maharajah asks Wyndham to find the power behind his son’s killer, few of the royal court and government are pleased with the outsider’s presence, and their investigation is actively hindered. The tale has all the hallmarks of a very good police procedural: an interesting puzzle, well-drawn and engaging characters, a balance of investigation with character development and back story, strong sense of place, nice pacing, plenty of intrigue and twists and turns, and interesting framing and contextualisation. With respect to the latter, Mukherjee does a very nice job in detailing the complexities of Indian society, politics, and pre- and colonial history without these ever swamping or distracting from the investigation at the heart of the story. The result is a thoughtful, entertaining and colourful tale. A series that I’ll certainly keep following.