Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review of Bone Island Mambo by Tom Corcoran (2001, Minotaur Press)

Alex Rutledge is a freelance photographer who occasionally does crime scene photos for the Key West police authorities. On a January afternoon he’s called to a construction site at which he was snapping photos of in the morning and had an altercation with a couple of thugs. The detective in charge is hostile and sloppy and Rutledge is quickly dismissed. An hour later and the sheriff’s office has him photographing another victim on a nearby island. Rutledge recognizes that the incidents are related and connected to his early morning encounter. So begins a strange week of murder and mayhem as Rutledge seeks to stay alive, stay out of jail, and catch a killer as his friends are threatened and others are murdered in copycat fashion to recent unsolved crimes.

Bone Island Mambo is the third book in the Alex Rutledge series set in Key West. Like many Florida set crime tales there is a fair amount of mayhem in the plot and colourful characters, but Corcoran shies away from flat-out craziness and crazies, telling the story more as a straight action-packed amateur detective tale. The plotting is complex but excellent, with lots of moving parts, plenty of twists and turns, and several suspects being in the frame coming to the denouement. There’s a lot going on and lots of characters, but the narrative is clear enough that the reader doesn’t get lost. What renders the tale a little flat is the telling, which lacks a bit of verve, and the characterisation, which often felt a little one dimensional, especially Rutledge who I never really connected with. I think this was partly because of the first voice narration, which sometimes seemed a little wooden. Nonetheless, the story carries the reader along for what’s an enjoyable whodunit.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

The world cup has become the moving wallpaper in the background at home. I'm not sure I'm going to win the fantasy football league at work. My six teams are France, Argentina, Portugal, Iceland, Serbia and South Korea. The points system works on wins and goals scored equals points, losses and goals conceded losing points. So far, two wins, three draws, and one still to play. Main thing is I need all of them to get out of the groups to stand any chance. Come-on Iceland!

My posts this week

Review of Traitors by Josh Ireland
Own goal

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Own goal

‘I guess we’ve a month of this nonsense?’ Emma said, entering the living room. ‘Ten hours a day of twenty men chasing a ball.’

‘Twenty two,’ Tom said, not looking up.

‘The goalkeepers are not chasing anything.’

‘Still …’

‘Still, nothing. Ninety minutes of tedium, diving, fouling, grown men throwing tantrums, dodgy refereeing, then a panel talking shite.’

‘And a few goals.’

‘What else is on?’

‘Ah, come-on, it’s the world cup!’

‘And Ireland’s not there.’

‘So?’

‘Seriously, you expect me to watch wall-to-wall football for the next four weeks?’

‘And fetch me beer.’

‘Talk about scoring an own goal.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review of Traitors by Josh Ireland (John Murray, 2017)

During the Second World War a number of British subjects betrayed their country by working for the Germans (a number of others do the same for Russia). In Traitors, Josh Ireland provides mini-biographies of four men who worked for the Nazis, providing a nuanced account of their actions, reasoning and fate.

William Joyce, a fascist in Britain before the war, broadcasts as Lord Haw-Haw. John Amery is the wayward son of one of Churchill’s cabinet members, who sets up a scheme to try and recruit prisoners of war to fight on the German side against the Russians. Harold Cole is a conman and thief who finds himself left behind in France after Dunkirk and sets up escape lines only to betray all its members to the Gestapo, who he subsequently serves. Eric Pleasants starts the war as a pacifist, who is captured in Jersey and spends time as a prisoner of war before he’s recruited to join a British unit of the SS. Joyce and Amery are ideologues who maintain that they are patriots who wish to see Britain join Germany to fight the Bolsheviks. Cole is an opportunist petty criminal who’ll do anything to save his own skin. Pleasants does not believe in nationalism and principally looks after himself. While they each can self-justify their actions, the British authorities, press and public take a different view, and all of them pay a heavy price for their actions.

Ireland’s account is well researched, yet he doesn’t get bogged down in minutia, keeping the tale moving. Unusually for a historical account, Ireland tells the four men’s stories in the present tense. Along with an engaging voice, this works to give the material some immediacy and verve. It would have been nice to reflect a bit more in the conclusion about the nature of treachery in concept versus the messy lived reality, but overall an interesting, thought-provoking read.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

It's been a few weeks since I last visited the local bookshop. I popped in yesterday and picked up some reading for the next few weeks: Black Water by Cormac O'Keeffe, The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, The Confession by Joe Spain, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, Lightening Men by Thomas Mullen, and Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin.

My posts this week:

Review of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr
Review of Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth
May reads
Defending home

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Defending home

The orangutan ran along the downed trunk and slammed his fists into the digger’s scoop. Paused, thumped again and retreated.

A handful of loggers watched, looking bemused.

‘We need to get closer, Miguel,’ Cassie said. ‘One of them might shoot him.’

‘More likely capture and sell him.’

The orangutan stood in front of the treetop defiantly.

The scoop started to move. The great ape advanced, raising its arms.

‘Hey!’ Cassie yelled. ‘Stop that machine!’

‘Cass!’

‘They’re logging illegally. Stealing his home. Now there’s three of us defending it.’

‘With fists and cameras.’

‘I came here to help them, Miguel. Hey!’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2018)

1957, Munich. Bernie Gunther is working as an assistant in a hospital mortuary when an old acquaintance recognizes him and strong-arms him into helping to steal money destined for a politician. Expecting a double-cross, Bernie plays his own version and his reward from the politician is a job as an investigator in an insurance company. For an ex-cop, the job is perfect, with Bernie’s detective instincts enabling him to spot frauds and quickly gain the attention of his bosses. When the company’s usual shipping investigator reports ill, they decide to reward Bernie’s work by sending him to Athens to verify the claim for a sunken ship. The ship has a dirty history, having been taken from a Jew sent to Auschwitz, and was on a trip to search for sunken treasure. Bernie takes an instant dislike to the German owner and is suspicious of the circumstances related to the claim. When the claimant turns up dead, shot through both eyes, a Greek cop likes Bernie for the murder. Holding his passport and threatening jail, the cop strong-arms Bernie into discovering the murderer and tracking down old Nazis who seem to have returned to Greece to collect what they stole from the Jews of Salonika.

Greeks Bearing Gifts is the thirteenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. In this outing it is 1957. Bernie is living in Munich under an assumed identity and is trying to keep a low profile. However, his peace is broken by an old Berlin colleague and very quickly Bernie’s life first starts to unravel, then takes a turn for the better. In his new role as an insurance claims assessor he is sent to Greece to investigate the legitimacy of a claim relating to a sunken ship. There his luck seems to flip-flop: on the one hand he is placed in the frame for murder and is embroiled in a conspiracy that dates back to the Nazi occupation of the country; on the other hand, he meets and falls for a beautiful Greek woman. As usual, Bernie’s task is to stay alive and extricate himself from the mess he now finds himself in. And also as usual, Kerr does a very nice job of creating an intriguing plot that places his anti-hero into the midst of real-life characters and historical events. There is a strong sense of place and time, the characterisation is excellent, there’s nice references to Greek mythology and noir films, and story for the most part is compelling. The only fly in the ointment was the troublesome coincidence that some of the people in Munich are the same as he's dealing with in Greece, creating what felt like an over-extended plot device. Nonetheless, this is Kerr and Gunther in fine form, with Greeks Bearing Gifts being an entertaining and engaging read.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review of Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth (Serpents Tail, 2015)

London, 1942. A killer is preying on women in the blacked out streets of London. As women fear for their lives, DCI Ted Greenaway investigates, seeking to quickly capture the murderer. The killer, however, is moving swiftly, selecting new victims in rapid succession. To add to Greenaway’s woes as soon as he apprehends the suspected killer another women is murdered in the same area, raising the question as to whether he has arrested the right person, or whether a second killer is at work.

Without the Moon is a relatively straightforward police procedural, although with fewer twists and turns, and less focus on the personal life of the lead police officer. The story is rather linear and the two denouements (one mid-book) anti-climaxes, which is somewhat to do with it being the fictionalised account of two real cases that took place, the first named ‘the blackout ripper.’ The tale is also somewhat thin, with Unsworth fleshing out the story with subplots relating to London gangsters and lives of working women. The characters are largely one-dimensional lacking backstory and personality. In addition, there were a number of small elements that didn’t ring true, for example, a sergeant calling his boss ‘Ted’, as opposed to ‘Sir’ or ‘DCI Greenaway’. The result was a story that had an interesting setting and premise, but felt a bit anaemic with respect to characters, plot and storytelling.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

May reads

A fairly mixed month of reading in terms of setting, themes and styles. Two historical crime fiction tales, told in a hardboiled style were the standout books. I think Night Life just shades it as my read of the month.


Night Life by David C Taylor ****.5
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter ***
Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell ****
Paris Trout by Pete Dexter ***.5
The Bombers and The Bombed by Richard Overy ***.5
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan ***
White Butterfly by Walter Mosley ****.5

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

A beautiful day. Ten hours of gardening. Digging French drains, creating a gravel patio, and raking flat top soil and sowing with grass seed. Same again tomorrow. Now sitting outside watching the swallows acrobatics over the meadow. Very little reading, though I did finish Philip Kerr's Greeks Bearing Gifts early this morning.

My posts this week
Review of Night Life by David C Taylor
Final ‘official’ day of Progcity project and thanks
Where's my money?


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Where's my money?

It took him a couple of moments to realise he wasn’t alone. Even then Steve’s reaction was slow. A fist sent him back onto the sofa.

‘You had the whole world to hide in and you chose Donegal!’

Steve made it halfway across the room before his legs were kicked from under him.

‘Where’s my money, you little prick?’

He scuttled backwards until he hit the wall.

‘Fifty thousand euros. I trusted you to collect and deliver, Stevie. Instead you collected and ran.’

‘I, I …’

‘Fifty thousand, plus interest, plus broken bones. That’s the deal. Now, where’s my money?’




A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Review of Night Life by David C Taylor (2015, Forge)


New York, 1954. Michael Cassidy has returned from the war and become a cop. He has a strong sense of justice and doesn’t mind taking on other corrupt cops, infamously throwing a vice cop beating a prostitute from a third floor window. He’s also independently wealthy through his Broadway producer father, connected via his ‘uncle’ Frank Costello, a mafia boss, and occasionally has second sight, dreaming of events before they happen. On new year’s eve he arrests a thief, but crosses swords with a lawyer from Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt team, who threatens to make his life hell. The following day he’s assigned to the murder case of Alexander Ingram, a Broadway dancer found dead in his bathroom having been tortured. It seems whoever killed Ingram was after something specific. The FBI want Cassidy and his partner to act on their behalf and as dictated. The pair have no intention of following such orders, however, and try to track down Ingram’s secret and the men he associated with. Those men are murdered in turn and Cassidy is being placed under pressure from the CIA, FBI, the mafia, and another shadowy group . In the meanwhile, McCarthy’s lawyer has decided to target Cassidy’s father for Un-American activities.

Night Life is the first book in the Michael Cassidy series set in 1950s New York. Told in a noir-style, the story has two interwoven threads. The first concerns a murder centring on a blackmail case involving photos of a very senior figure that many organisations would like to get their hands on – FBI, CIA, mafia, and communists. The second relates to a McCarthy witch-hunt against Cassidy’s father, a Broadway producer and Russian immigrant with a murky past. Cassidy has to solve the former to resolve the latter, but it’s far from straightforward when there are so many actors wanting to get their hands on the blackmailer’s damaging snaps and he’s finally found and fallen for the woman of his dreams. Taylor does a good job of introducing a new character and fleshing out his personality and backstory while keeping the tale moving along, and making sure a fairly complex plot is clear to follow. There’s a strong sense of place and time, some good contextual historicisation with respect to McCarthy’s investigations and trials, and the characterisation is well done, including the use of some real-life people from the time. The result is an absorbing and entertaining read.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

A busy week just passed, with a trip to Cardiff and a load of meetings, capped off with the welcome news that the repeal the 8th referendum was passed. Somewhere along the way I put down William Shaw's The Book of Scars to find at the end of the day I no longer possessed it. After four visits to bookshops in Cardiff and Dublin I've not managed to find a replacement, so I'll have to order another copy from the local bookshop. A little frustrating as I was halfway through.

My posts this week

Review of The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
Review of Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell
It's already tomorrow

Saturday, May 26, 2018

It's already tomorrow

‘I’m not sure I can do this,’ Ciara said.

‘She’s the reason I’m here,’ Joanna replied, tugging her friends arm. ‘Her and the tens of thousands who had to travel. For me. For you.’

‘I know, but … it’s too ...’

‘You’ve already cried for Ireland, what’s a few more tears?’

At the foot of Savita’s mural were candles and a mound of flowers.

An old man was stood to one side crying, clutching his grand-daughter’s hand.

‘It still breaks my heart,’ Ciara sobbed.

‘All our hearts.’

The young girl pulled the old man’s arm. ‘Come-on, grandpa, it’s already tomorrow.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review of The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter (William Morrow, 2016)

An ex-cop is found murdered at an abandoned construction site. The site is owned by Marcus Rippy, a star basketball player, and has been mothballed during his trial for rape. Now that the case is over and Rippy has been acquitted the development of the complex is about to restart. The ex-cop was linked to Rippy’s sports agency. In the same room as he’s discovered in there is a large quantity of somebody else’s blood. That person appears to be Angie Polaski, another ex-cop with a troubled history. Attending the scene is Detective Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Trent was in charge of the Rippy rape case and Polaski was his ex-wife. He should be nowhere near the case, but despite his new relationship, he has a pathological need to find out what’s happened to his wife.

The Kept Woman is a police procedural thriller set in Atlanta and is the eighth book in the Will Trent series. Trent is a detective with a very troubled history and in this outing that history come to the fore. Trent has just lost a rape trial case against a star basketball player, his marriage to Angie Polaski is over, and he’s now dating Sara Linton, a medical examiner. Polaski though still haunts Will’s life, especially when it turns out that she was present at a murder site – an under-construction nightclub owned by the acquitted basketball player – that contains a dead cop and copious amounts of her blood. Trent is determined to find out what happened, even if it means placing his present relationship under immense strain. Slaughter tells the story in two halves. It starts with the brutal attack at an abandoned night club development and the police and GBI being called to the scene and the start of the investigation. Then at a key reveal it shifts back to a week before the attack and details that lead up to it. The pace and tension is kept high throughout as the case quickly unfolds. While the story is tense and gripping, it is a mess of coincidence and plot devices, with every character being related or previously intimately connected to each other, and the tale itself relies on the reader suspending disbelief and just riding along on the melodrama and action. And there is a lot of melodrama. The result is a story that is entertaining in a police action movie kind of way, but fails to ring true.