Friday, January 29, 2010

White Dog

Way back in August last year I posted about a pre-order splurge. One of the books I excitedly ordered was a copy of White Dog by Peter Temple, the fourth Jack Irish novel. The fact that the publication date was delayed meant the other books I'd ordered were delayed, so instead of getting Philip Kerr's 'If The Dead Rise Not' in early Sept, it arrived in October. Amazon have just emailed to tell me that it has been indefinitely delayed and to ask whether I want my money back. What the heck is going on here? Why did the publisher inform Amazon of a publication date if it can't deliver with a six month timeframe? It was published in Australia in Sept 2006, so it's not as if there are writing/production issues. In fact, it is even been sold in Australia as an omnibus edition! A message to Quercus the UK publisher - please get this book out soon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Classic crime fiction curriculum challenge

Just a remindered that there's only a couple of days left to get your suggestions in for the Classic Crime Fiction Curriculum Challenge.

The challenge is to imagine a reader new to crime fiction who wants an education in the classics. A curriculum is needed - a list of ten must-read crime fiction classics, published pre-1970. Either post the list on your own blog and send me the link (, or post the list in a comment to this post by January 31st. I’ll then compile a curriculum based on the most popular choices (and provide link-backs to posts). Ideally, the selection of books needs to try and capture different crime fiction sub-genres and styles.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

And on it goes ...

Some of my work was in the national broadsheets (here and here) and tabloids this morning and the phone has been hopping all day. Just about every local radio station has been after an interview. We had to put a media strategy in place, redirecting everything to the university press office. It's a while since I read less than 10 pages a day of a novel, but I haven't for the past two days. Expect a delay in the next review as I'm also busy trying to edit The White Gallows. I'm hoping things will calm down a little tomorrow and I can get back to catching up on other work and blogging about more crime novel related stuff. Normal service will resume, at some point ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rollercoaster ride ...

Well Frontline went so-so. A fascinating experience just seeing how the whole thing works. The people working on the show were very well prepped and informed about the debate, although the show itself was probably a bit to bitty, touching on things but not delving enough into them. I was moved off the panel and into the centre of the front row. I was a little disappointed about that, but was happy to live with it. Apparently it was for two reasons. First, the presenter wanted to come to me early on and he doesn't go to the panel until a few minutes into the programme, and second to try and get some debate between the audience and the panel. It took me an age to get the make-up off that they insisted I wear. I'm back in the broadsheets and on national radio tomorrow. A strange little rollercoaster that's absorbing a phenomenal amount of time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review of Dead Set by Kel Robertson (Text Publishing, 2009)

Chinese-Australian Inspector, Brad Chen, has seen better times. The one time Rugby League star has been crippled by a hit and run accident that’s left him on crutches, addicted to drink and painkillers, and on the sick list. When Tracey Dale, the immigration minister, is found dead in her house, strangled with a coat hanger and a plastic bag tied over her head, he's called back to help his former protégé. The minister was seeking to implement a new immigration bill that would open the door for a wave of non-white immigrants, and there seems to be no shortage of people who would be happy that she was no longer in office. Into the bargain comes a new recruit, the beautiful Kate Malone. Her job is to shepherd Chen, his to mentor her first few days on the job. Tasked with following one particular strand of the murder investigation, Chen and Malone have a knack for discovering new bodies, all with some kind of link to Dale, and various kinds of trouble as they ruffle various feathers.

I thought the first half of Dead Set was a terrific read. The characters are well introduced, the police procedural elements are well handled, and the story just flies along. Robertson’s writing has a nice balance between dialogue and description, and whilst quite functional in style, it’s engaging to read. Chen is intriguing character with his sardonic wit, selective approach to procedure and various vulnerabilities. The second half of the book tails away a little and I increasingly found myself asking why questions as holes in the plot started to appear. And the end was a bit of a letdown, despite the blockbuster climax. Overall, Dead Set is a good, solid, entertaining read and it’s certainly whetted the appetite for the second Chen book, Smoke and Mirrors, which recently won the Ned Kelly Best Fiction Award in his native Australia.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

Quite a strange week all-round, with one of my blog posts going a bit viral leading to a slot on the national tv news, interviews on the radio, and coverage in all the major papers. Tomorrow night I'll be appearing as one of four panelists on Frontline, a topical debate programme on the national tv channel. I also spent a couple of days in Enniskillen at a conference, I got the green light on the publication of the second McEvoy novel, The White Gallows, and I received my first invite to a Reader's Festival. I'm sure life will return to normal after the 15 minutes has passed.

My posts this week:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lost books

After a ten minute search it's become apparent that I've managed to leave Kel Robertson's first novel, Dead Set, on a bedside locker in a hotel room in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. I was going to post a Saturday snippet from it today. I'm really annoyed with myself for not checking the room properly before running out the door. At least I'd finished reading it during the two days I was staying there whilst attending a conference. I'll write the review tomorrow and post on Monday. If I'd been halfway through I'd be really cheesed off right now as the book had been specially posted to me from Australia. I'm sure you've experienced a similar experience or worse ...

Friday, January 22, 2010

McEvoy rides again …

Apart from all the craziness caused by the viral post, on Tuesday I also received notice that The White Gallows (the second McEvoy novel) will be published by a different imprint of the press who put out The Rule Book. They want advance copies published by April for the London Book Fair which means a tight set of editing, design, copyediting, and proofing deadlines. I’m up for that, but it’ll probably lead to a lull in my reading/reviews as I deal with things. I also have another deadline for an academic book coming up for April/May just to complicate things.

On the viral post front, I’m not sure how many papers have ended up covering the story but a fair few and I’ve also done a couple of radio interviews. I’ve also been asked to appear on the Frontline tv programme on Monday night on the national broadcaster. It’s a political/topical concerns programme that is broadcast live. The format is a small panel who are interviewed by the presenter, field questions with an audience and engage in a debate with them. I suspect the fact that it’s live will greatly increase the probability that I will put my foot right in it. However it goes, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting experience.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review of Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (William Morris, 2007)

Honey Deal is every red-blooded American man’s dream – a very attractive blond with a strong wit and a passion for bed. For some inexplicable reason at the start of the Second World War she marries Walter Schoen, born in Germany but raised in Detroit, who bears a striking resemblance to Heinrich Himmler. Walter thinks the Nazis are the future and is part of a spy ring sending data on US war production back to the Fatherland. After a year, Honey sees the error of her ways and leaves Walter, but as the war nears its end Deputy Marshall Carl Webster enters her life hoping that she can help him re-capture two Germany POWs that Walter’s spy ring are harbouring. There’s an immediate chemistry between Honey and Carl, but Carl is married and he’s a man of his word – he hopes.

I’ve read a number of Elmore Leonard books and enjoyed them, which is why Up in Honey’s Room skipped to the top of my to read pile. Unfortunately I found it a disappointing read. The characters are too clichéd and stereotypical, with little depth to them, and the story lacked a strong plotline, meandering around without purpose and credibility. Leonard specializes in kooky characters and a fun narrative, and the reader expects to give a bit of latitude to implausible action, but too many times I found myself thinking, ‘this makes no sense’. What partially saves the book is Leonard’s undoubted writing ability – his prose and ability to express dialogue. I’ll still pick up and read other Leonard offerings, but this one felt like it was weakly treading water.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A viral post

I mentioned on Sunday that one of my posts on the other blog I contribute to - Ireland After NAMA - got coverage in the Sunday Times. The post I co-wrote with a colleague on Monday has gone a bit viral. I was out of the university at a meeting yesterday afternoon. I returned to find half a dozen messages from journalists who wanted to speak to me. The evening ended with an interview that ran as the third item on the national TV news at 9pm after coverage of Haiti and the banking inquiry. The post was covered in all the broadsheet papers this morning (Irish Times, Independent, Examiner), and I've spent part of today dealing with queries and doing interviews. I'm back on national radio this evening. An interesting experience, especially when you're not expecting it. I do have a couple of book reviews to post, but I haven't had time to write them yet. They'll follow in the next day or so once normal service resumes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First festival invite

I got a nice letter over the weekend inviting me to sit on a panel at the Kildare Readers Festival in May. It's the first time I've been asked to go and talk about my fiction writing - in fact the first time I'll have been to any kind of fiction festival - and I'm looking forward to it. Also nice to know was that a few of the book clubs attached to the libraries around the county have read The Rule Book. It'll be interesting to hear what they have to say about it and also have the chance to interact with some of its readers. Nearer the time I might ask for some top tips for being on a panel.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Old Dogs and the adjusting of underwear

Donna Moore has very kindly sent me an advance, uncorrected proof of her soon to be published novel, Old Dogs (Busted Flush Press). It arrived in the post this morning and it looks great. I've only read the first paragraph so far, but I'm looking forward to reading it post haste.

Barry Sheenan looked at the diamonds sparkling around the wrinkled throat of the woman in front of him and surreptitiously adjusted his y-fronts. Wealth gave him a hard-on and these two old bags were dripping with it. It wasn't so much the wealth itself, as the idea of separating it from its owners. In this case, La Contessa Letitzia di Ponzo and her sister Signora Teodora Grisiola, according to the gold-embossed card the Contessa has pressed into hand. He held it between his thumb and index finger and transferred it easily from finger to finger and back again. It even felt luxurious and rich, passing through his fingers like silk.

I would make some crack along the lines of, 'I'm so excited to be sent this book, I've had to surreptiously adjust my y-fronts', but those kind of gags are much better left to those that can actually deliver a line. If Old Dogs follows in the footsteps of Ms Moore's last outing, Go To Helena Handbasket, it'll be full of puns, double entendres, silly gags, comic mayhem and a joy to read.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

If you want to write a bestselling crime novel forget about artisitic merit?

I read the following in yesterday's Irish Times.

"Three years ago a novel 'written' by Katie Price outsold the entire Man Booker prize shortlist. This year's X Factor winner has sold a gargantuan amount of singles compared with the paltry amount of albums sold by Speech Debelle, last year's Mercury Prize winner. ... There is an enormous chasm between music of 'artistic merit' and stuff that actually sells by the truckload."

I'm wondering to what extent do people think this is the same with contemporary crime fiction - are there on the one hand a set of novels of relatively poor quality that sell by the truckload (along with a couple of very good books that sell in large quantities) and on the other books of great 'artistic merit' that are appreciated by a small group of aficionados but sell by the wheelbarrow load? Glen Harper over at International Noir, posting this week, seems to think there is some merits in the argument. He stated, "but then it seems that bad writing (see Dan Brown and many others) is a requirement of bestsellerdon." What do you think? If you want to write a bestselling crime novel forget about artisitic merit?

Also in the Irish Times was a review that made me wince. "If the Americans are to be believed, All About Steve is the cinematic equivalent of genital sandblasting". Ouch!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Forgotten Friday: Review of The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake (Mysterious Press, 1965)

Charlie Poole is a bum. First living off his mother, he’s now tending a bar in Canarsie, Brooklyn, for his Uncle Al who’s a minor mafia figure. All Charlie has to do is operate the bar as a going concern and look after and pass on any packages given to him. The fact that the business is losing money hand over fist is of little concern. Then two hit men turn up and hand Charlie a business card with a black mark on it. Just as they’re about to send him to meet his maker a local cop calls in for his daily nightcap. The invention provides enough time for Charlie to make his escape, but nobody can hide from the mafia forever, and given that he’s no idea why they would want him dead he decides the logical approach is to track down the local godfather and correct whatever mistake has been made. The only problem is that when he does gain access to the boss, he’s a knife in his back and everybody thinks Charlie put it there. Now he’s got two charges to try and refute, to people who don’t want to listen and want him dead.

The Fugitive Pigeon is a comic crime caper. Written in a very assured, confident manner, it trots along a nice, quick pace, with a gentle humour. The plotting is well worked, although relatively predictable, the characters are quite thin and stereotypical, and the story lacks any depth. In a sense, the narrative is all surface and style, with little substance. As such, it provides a mildly entertaining diversion but little more. Which I suspect is precisely what it was intended to do. So on that level, the book works fine. I just wanted a little more – an unpredictable twist, a surprising character, some emotional depth, a bit of backstory and contextualisation. Overall, a nice piece of entertaining fluff.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shelf Life?

I have a colleague who lives in Boston but works for 10 days a month in Ireland and we regularly swap books. Yesterday he gave me a hardback copy of Elmore Leonard's 'Up in Honey's Room', first published May 2007, that he'd picked up for 50 cent at a sale in his local library. It's in very good condition and is a long way from it's last legs. I know libraries have fixed space and they need to sell on old books to create space for new ones, but I'm wondering as to how they make decisions about which stock to push off out into the wider world? I would have thought that a recently published Elmore Leonard book would have merited more than an 18 month shelf life? Or is this the standard library shelf life of a novel these days, with only the most popular books having a protracted period of lending? Or would this have been sold on because the library has a policy of replacing popular fiction books every 18 months regardless of wear and tear? I'm just curious as to what a typical library shelf life is and how libraries make decisions about which books to sell on? Can anyone enlighten me?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review of Via Delle Oche by Carlo Lucarelli, translated by Michael Reynolds, Europa Editions (2008, in Italian in 1990)

Via Delle Oche is the third part of Lucarelli’s Commissario De Luca trilogy. The three books cover the period 1945 to 1948 in post-war Italy (the other books being Carte Blanche and The Damned Season) and follow the De Luca’s attempts to survive as a policeman in the transition from a fascist regime to a fledgling democracy. A few days before the crucial election that will decide whether Italy turns to social democracy or communism, De Luca has been demoted to Sub Commissario and reassigned to the vice squad in Bologna. On his first day he is dragged away from the station by Pugliese, a former colleague, to a supposed suicide in a brothel on the via della Oche. The death has been ruled as a suicide, but it’s clear to De Luca that there’s been foul play. As he starts to investigate he is repeatedly warned off, but despite his own vulnerability he continues to put his nose where it’s not desired. Soon other deaths occur and the evidence points to a cover-up between politicians and members of the police, and De Luca realises he might have pushed too far.

As with the previous two books, Via Delle Oche is a short book (133 pages), but unlike the previous two, I didn’t feel the story was so under-developed, although it could have benefited from some fleshing out in places. De Luca is a complex, conflicted character and the story captures the atmosphere, politics and corruption of a country in turmoil. I am particularly taken with Lucarelli’s storytelling which focuses on what the characters say and do, with little thick description or the use of metaphors or similes. Rather than being dull and lifeless, Lucarelli’s prose is rich and the story races along. I’m not sure if Lucarelli has plans for any other De Luca novels, but I’d certainly welcome them and I’ll be checking out his other translated fiction. The production values on the books is excellent and I love the covers. A fine piece of writing and a satisfying end to the trilogy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two short of a full set

Last year my father gave me 252 issues (10 volumes) of The War Illustrated which my grandparents faithfully had delivered from the 16th September 1939 to 11th April 1947. The series actually consisted of 255 issues, but three seemed to be missing. Just before Christmas he found one more issue, meaning that we are now just missing numbers 246 and 247 of volume 10. Another task for this year is to see if I can get hold of the missing issues to complete the set.

The magazines are much richer in detail than I imagined they would be, with detailed maps and commentary along with dozens of photos and war artist pictures in each issue. Exactly 70 years this week, Issue 19 (right) concentrated on the Soviet attacks on the Finnish (the Soviets are the enemy, a situation reversed later in the war, and in the final stages the Finns swapped to the allies side), the pace of British shipbuilding, pictures of the Graf Spee sinking off of Montevideo's harbour, the terrible things the Nazis were doing in Czechoslovakia and Poland, the value of horses to the war effort, and a dozen other small stories. Collectively the issues are a fantastic resource and one day I hope to put them to use. For the time being I'm just content to browse and learn and try and locate those two missing issues.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review of Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa, translated by Andrew Clare (Vertical, 2007 [1990])

Detective Samejima is a maverick and the outcast of the Shinjuku police department. Acknowledged as a brilliant investigator, Samejima is unwilling to play by the rigid rules and institutional hierarchies to progress as a career officer. The fact that he survives at all is because he knows too much about the role of the higher echelons of the force in the death of a colleague. He is known as ‘the shark’ to the local yakuza gangsters because he refuses to play by the unofficial rules that govern how the police interact with them. Working alone, he is pursuing Kizu, the maker of customized weapons. Then policemen start to be murdered. It seems to Samejima that the two cases might be related, but not to the rest of the force. He thus has two battles on his hands – tracking down a cold-blooded killer and to persuade his colleagues of the validity of his line of investigation.

Shinjuku Shark is the first novel in the bestselling Japanese crime series and winner of the Japan Mystery Writers Association Award. Over his career Arimasa Osawa has won numerous prizes and his writing has been adapted for the big and small screen. The back of the book blurb states, “Prepare for a relentless journey of suspenseful twists and turns that will leave you breathless.” Given all the plaudits I was expecting a terrific read. Unfortunately the book did not leave me in a state of suspense or breathless. The story is relatively straightforward, Samejima is a simulacrum of every maverick cop on the planet, and the writing is mostly flat and lifeless. Clearly there is something going on here. My suspicion is that Japanese probably has a different narrative and sentence structure, as well as diction, which makes translation that captures the subtleties and sophistication of writing quite difficult. As a result, perhaps the work is not necessarily shown in its best light and it’s a passable read at best.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

Earlier in the week I posted a request for a classic crime fiction curriculum aimed at someone who wants to gain an education in the crime fiction canon. The post has attracted a few responses. So far I have 4 lists via the comments, and a number of people have put up their own posts, see:

Crime Scraps
Reactions to Reading
El juego está en marcha
DJ's Krimiblog
Mike Dennis
At the Villa Rose

Thanks to all those who have taken part. Please keep them coming!

My other posts this week were:
My reviews of 2009
Review of The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
International comparison of unemployment data
Most popular posts of 2009
Review of Isle of Joy by Don Winslow
Export the model, export the solution?
Book Bonanza
Northern Ireland entering the 'twilight zone'
Saturday snippet: The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday Snippet: The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

The Wheelman was one of my top reads of 2009, a ferociously paced heist caper, with snappy dialogue and a gazillion twists. Here's a snippet where a former ex-cop quizzes the mute, anti-hero, Lennon.

'Okay, you're officially sprung. You can cut the shit and start talking.'

Oh Jesus. Here we go again.

'Look, you mick bastard, I know you can speak. I heard you. Right before you blew up my fucking house. You said something about arseholes. Which I really fucking love. The extra 'r' in the there. Why not just say asshole? No fucking idea.'

Lennon, of course, said nothing. He couldn't. Not that this cop would understand that. Just let him keep flapping his gums. It was more time to figure out a next move.

'Still the tough guy, eh? Look, really, cut it the fuck out. We need each other, otherwise you wouldn't even be here. Here's the deal. I'm taking us to my hotel room. Now don't get that look on your face. I'm not a fag. You're not my type, anyway. I like men who can moan when I fuck them up the ass. Most you could do is scratch the mattress. And frankly, that wouldn't do it for me. It's all about the audio.'

The white lane markers whizzed by at seventy miles an hour.

'Christ, your a humorless fuck.'

Lennon saw the city receding behind him and realized they were headed north. Or northeast. To the northeast. Where this ex-cop used to live.

Great stuff. My review is here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Bonanza

Sadly one of my colleague's sister died just before christmas. She left a collection of over 2500 novels, the vast majority of which are crime fiction. I've been a given a donation of four boxes containing 139 novels and a few collections (right). In light of my classic crime fiction curriculum challenge, I was delighted to find a number of the novels recommended so far in the boxes (starred below). Beyond the classics, I'd be interested to hear which authors you think I should tackle first? The novels include those by:

Loren Estleman (14), Bill Pronzini (10), Donald Westlake* (8), Raymond Chandler* (5), James Cain* (5), Sapper (5), Cornell Woodrich* (4), Patricia Highsmith* (4), Lawrence Block (4), Parnell Hall (4), Howard Browne (3), Max Byrd (3), Joe Gores (3), Ngaio Marsh* (3), Richard Stark (3), G.M. Ford (3), Arthur Lyons (3), Ian Sansom (3), Mickey Spillane* (3), K.C. Constantine (3), Edna Buchanan (3), Dashiell Hammett* (2), Bill Ballinger (2), Peter Robinson (2), Jim Butcher (2), Roy Hart (2), Dominick Dunne (2), John Le Carre (2), Tucker Coe (2), Kinky Friedman (2), Sarah Shankman (2), James Swain (2), Christopher Newman (2), Ed Gorman, Helen Chappell, Martin Short, Dorothy Hughes*, Paula Gosling, T. Jefferson Parker, Anthony Bruno, Sparkle Hayter, John Lutz, Dorothy Sayers*, Wilkie Collins*, Kenneth Fearing, Ellery Queen*, Josephine Tey*, Alfred Hitchcock.

Well that lot, plus the 30 plus books I already have in TBR pile, should keep me going for a while!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review of Isle of Joy by Don Winslow (Arrow, 1996)

After a number of years working for the CIA, smooth, unflappable, Walter Withers – The Great Scandinavian Pimp and Deadly Recruiter – has decided that he needs to return to his beloved New York. Resigning his post, he's accompanied back to the Big Apple with his partner, the diminutive and feisty jazz singer, Anne Blanchard, to take a suit and tie job with Forbes and Forbes as a personnel investigator. By day he snoops into the personal lives of corporate men for a hint of potential scandal or industry infidelity that might jeopardise their promotion prospects. At night he trails round the jazz haunts and bohemian joints of Greenwich. Then on Christmas Eve, 1958, he’s asked to be the bodyguard for Madeline Keneally, wife of presidential hopeful, Senator Joe Keneally. Both Keneallys have secrets to hide and both take Walter into their confidence. Then Joe Keneally’s secret, minor movie star Marta Marlund, dies in mysterious circumstances in a hotel room registered in Walter’s name. In short order, New York homicide, the FBI and the CIA are all hounding Withers, anxious for a scandal that will give them control of a senator on the rise.

Winslow is one of those rare writers that is relatively sparse with prose and yet fully visualises a scene in the mind of the reader. His characters are fully formed, complex, engaging, and have emotional depth. The dialogue is realistic and pitch perfect. The balance between story and back story is just right. And the historical context of McCarthy/Hoover era 1958 is well judged. The Keneallys – the womanising Joe, the protective Jimmy, and the beautiful Madeline, are well realised mimics of the Jack, Bob and Jackie Kennedy, which gives most of the story its seeming authenticity. I loved everything about this book except for the end, which spiralled to the farcical. Winslow tries to take every character in the book and weave them into a sequence which was largely unnecessary except as a narrative device and became more and more improbable. For me this was a shame, as Winslow is undoubtedly a very fine writer and the Isle of Joy was for the main a great read.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Classic crime fiction curriculum challenge

The results of this challenge can be found here.

Imagine a reader new to crime fiction and wanting an education in the classics. Or consider a seasoned crime fiction reader who’s barely read a crime novel published prior to 1970. Well I’m that latter reader. I’ve read several hundred crime novels but nearly all of them are from the contemporary period. This is the year I intend to right that by reading some of the crime fiction canon. What I need though is a curriculum - a list of ten must-read crime fiction classics.

And this is where I need some help. So to that end I’m setting up a relatively straightforward challenge, one that doesn't even require any reading. The challenge is to set a ten book, pre-1970, crime fiction curriculum and to either post the list on your own blog and send me the link (, or post the list in a comment to this post by January 31st. I’ll then compile a curriculum based on the most popular choices (and provide link-backs to posts). Ideally, the selection of books needs to try and capture different crime fiction sub-genres and styles.

I hope you can help out, as I could do with the education. And please pass this challenge on to whoever you think might be able to advise. And if you do read any golden oldies this year, then Patti's Forgotten Friday series is the place to link your reviews to.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Most popular posts of 2009

I thought I'd take a look at the blog's traffic since its inception in July until the end of 2009 and find out which posts were the most popular (beyond the top level; and I don't have a clue how many people are reading in a reader). Overall visitor traffic is remarkably flat, with a few spikes.

The spike towards the end is my recent Blogs of the Year post which, thanks to a plug on The Rap Sheet, attracted quite a few visitors. Up until then, my most popular post on any single day had been my review of Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore. The most popular individual posts of the year across the whole period were:

Review posts
1. The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin
2. Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore
3. The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo
4. Black Out by John Lawton
5. The Killing of Strangers by Jerry Holt
6. The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin
7. The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
8. The Builders by frank McDonald and Kathy Sheridan
9. Harold Shipman: Prescription for Murder by Brian Whittle and Jean Ritchie
10. Inspector Mallon by Donal McCracken

General posts
1. Blogs of the Year
2. The monster arrives
3. Pre-order splurge
4. Necessary evil?
5. Putting cartography back on the map
6. Back to square one
7. I don't remember
8. Ohio-Kentucky crime fiction
9. The lazy Sunday service (6th Sept)
10. Rethinking maps

Overall, the general posts received more visits than the reviews, which surprises me. And of the reviews, only Go to Helena Handbasket is one of my books of the year. Having kept an eye on traffic I am still completely clueless as to what posts will and won't attract interest, which is probably no bad thing. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by in 2009 and became a tiny bit of the blue line above.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review of The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (Vintage Crime, 1978)

The well-known poet and literary writer Abraham Trahearne has disappeared on one of his bender’s, working his way through the classier bars of the western states. His ex-wife, Catherine, who lives with Trahearne’s mother, has hired Private Investigator C.W. Sughrue to track him down and bring him home to his new wife, Melinda, who lives across the creek. Sughrue is no stranger to an alcoholic haze and it takes him a couple of weeks to catch up with Trahearne in a Sonoma bar owned by Rosie Flowers, a wistful woman who’s husband is long gone, her two sons dead, and her daughter missing for over ten years. When Trahearne is hospitalised after a bar room scrape, Rosie persuades Sughrue to search for Betty Sue whilst he waits for him to recover. Trahearne though has other ideas, checking himself out of hospital to accompany Sughrue on the hopeless adventure, which quickly turns into another bender in the company of Fireball Roberts, Rosie’s alcoholic bulldog. Sughrue knows finding enigmatic Betty Sue is a hopeless task, but he won’t stop until he’s discovered the truth, whatever the consequences.

For almost two thirds of The Last Good Kiss I wondered if the story was going to go anywhere. It was a pleasant enough read - the characters were well drawn and engaging, the dialogue snappy and authentic, and the prose taut and lyrical, but the story meandered around, seemingly without purpose. Then the subtle interweaving of the various strands started to become apparent and the narrative shifted gear as the clever plotting worked its way out. And the ending was from the top drawer with a sucker punch to die for. Whilst Crumley uses the wide vistas of the western states as the backdrop, the story focuses on just a handful of characters and their inter-relationships, and this is what he’s particularly good at exploring – the foibles, weaknesses, and machinations of people and how they seek to play each other. And although Sughrue is cookie-cut from Chandler’s cloth - the typical alcohol fuelled, wise-ass, philosopher, a hopeless romantic that’s unable to commit to any woman – he’s nonetheless a character worth sharing time with. The Last Good Kiss is the best kind of subtle storytelling; the kind of book that lingers in the mind after its read.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My reviews of 2009

2009 was a great year of reading. I read a number of books by favourite authors and discovered the work of many others. Here are links to all my reviews since starting the blog on July 12th. Overall I'm happy with the balance of the review ratings - ten 5*, twenty two 4*, twenty four 3*, four 2*. There were two or three 3*s that were probably on the balance of things 2*s, but otherwise I think the ratings are a fair reflection of the books and my tastes. There is a good chance that I'll read other works of any author scoring 3* or above, though I'll undoubtedly tend towards the 4* and 5* authors. For my best crime reads of 2009 see here.

Five star
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty
Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore
Harold Shipman: Prescription for Murder by Brian Whittle and Jean Ritchie
The Foreign Correspondence by Alan Furst
The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees
The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski
Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Four star
The Twelve by Stuart Neville
The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce
Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli
M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker
Winter Frost by R.D. Wingfield
Black Out by John Lawton
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
The Price of Darkness by Graham Hurley
'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?' by Spike Milligan
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill
The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
The Devil Met a Lady by Stuart Kaminsky
The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp
The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin
If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
Dirty Sweet by John McFetridge
Calumet City by Charlie Newton
Ship of Fools by Fintan O'Toole
Frost at Christmas by R.D. Wingfield

Three star
The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo
Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri
Black Delta Night by Jessica Speart
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Inspector Mallon by Donal McCracken
Stop Me by Richard Jay Parker
Bombs over Dublin by Sean McMahon
The Last Llanelli Train by Robert Lewis
Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski
Zoo Station by David Downing
The Reapers by John Connolly
The Damned Season by Carlo Lucarelli
A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney
Satan's Lambs by Lynn Hightower
The Irish Sports Pages by Les Roberts
Mrs D'Silva Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta by Glen Peters
Death of a Red Heroine by Qui Xiaolong
The Builders by Frank McDonald and Kathy Sheridan
Banksters by David Murphy and Martina Devlin
The Build Up by Philip Gwynne
Stiff by Shane Maloney
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Two star
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
The Killing of Strangers by Jerry Holt
Rubble by Jeff Byles
The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L.C. Tyler

Saturday, January 2, 2010

December reviews

December proved to be another entertaining month of reading with a couple of books that made my top five reads of the year - Diamond Dove and The Wheelman. Here's a full listing of December reviews:

Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland *****
Banksters by David Murphy and Martina Devlin ***
The Build Up by Philip Gwynne ***
The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski *****
Calumet City by Charlie Newton ****
Ship of Fools by Fintan O'Toole ****
Stiff by Shane Maloney ***
The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L.C. Tyler **
Frost at Christmas by R.D. Wingfield ****

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best crime novel reads, 2009

A great year of reading. Since starting to blog my reading has had a fresh burst of life as I've discovered loads of new authors and their work (all but one of the books below were authors new to me this year). I'd like to thank all my fellow crime fiction bloggers who have done so much to diversify and enliven my reading over the past few months, especially those who gave me specific recommendations.

Here are my top ten reads of 2009 (from when I started my blog reviews in July), only three of which were published in 2009.

1. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1947 in German, translated 2009)

2. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)

3. Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland (2006)

4. The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees (2007)

5. The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski (2005)

6. The Foreign Correspondence by Alan Furst (2006)

7. Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty (2009)

8. Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman (2002)

9. Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore (2006)

10. The Twelve by Stuart Neville (2009)

I'll be submitting these to Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise who is running her annual collection of best crime reads, 2009 (nominated books do not have to be published in 2009). To participate click here.

Alone in Berlin was the stand out book for me; an astonishing novel first published in German in 1947. A book I've recommended to many people.