Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review of Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan (Ebury Press, 2009)

David Loogan has moved to Ann Arbor to start a new life.  After writing a short story and submitting it to a local crime fiction magazine, Gray Streets, then re-writing it and resubmitting it twice, he is hired as an editor by its owner, Tom Kristoll.  Over the course of a summer, Loogan gets absorbed into Kristoll’s circle, and within a month or so he is sleeping with his wife.  By the end of the summer he is answering Kristoll’s call to bring a shovel to help dispose the body of a young man, killed in Kristoll’s study, and he’s agreeing to keep the death a secret.  However, a couple of weeks later, Kristoll is also dead, pushed out of a sixth storey window.  Elizabeth Waishkey, a single mother of a 15 year old daughter, is assigned to the case.  A loose bond forms between Waishkey and Loogan, but in very short order two more men are dead and Loogan is on the run, but determined to solve the crimes and clear his name.  Waishkey’s job is to solve the murders and bring Loogan in, but it soon becomes clear that Loogan is a man seemingly without a past.

Bad Things Happen, for the most part, is a fairly clever book that draws liberally from across the crime fiction cannon to use various mystery tropes to construct the plot.  The writing is workmanlike but very readable and there are some nice touches and humour.  And yet, whilst I enjoyed it, I wasn’t bowled over by the story.  On reflection I think there are two things that hinder Bad Things Happen from being a stellar book, which it’s easy to imagine it could have been.  First, I felt the book was all plot, with fairly weak character development; for me, the principle characters were either very thinly fleshed out or verging on caricatures.  I just never felt I got to really know any of them, with the possible exception of the cop’s daughter, who although she has a minor role had a roundness and believability to her.  Second, whilst Dolan has constructed a convoluted plot that doesn’t suffer from the ‘done-well, but done before’ syndrome, it does have three problems.  It feels too knowing, rather than being more subtle and letting the crime aficionados spot things for themselves.  Although all the multiple twists are meant to be surprises, none of them really are as its clear that there is going to be a twist every few pages, even if its not clear what they will be; the result is that one is never really left gasping with wonder.  And perhaps most importantly, certain parts of the plot really lacked credibility.  For example, I simply couldn’t buy that David Loogan covered up a murder for someone he barely knew given how his character is portrayed.  The credibility issue was stretched because of the need for an endless succession of plot devices.  If the story was going to be as clever as it aimed to be then these plot devices would, I think, have seemed more credible.  This all sounds like a lot of griping, which it undoubtedly is, born of a frustration that, although enjoyable, this could have been a really brilliant book.  Looking at other reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, a lot of people think it already is.  Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This is the second run out for Harry and Pete, two politically incorrect, long-in-the-tooth cops who spend most of their day telling bad jokes, sparring verbally, making a hames of the job, and trying to avoid the consequences.  The first story was Stakeout, shortlisted for the Jason Duke Writing Competition.  This one is a couple of weeks later and has them sitting in their car on speed camera duty.

‘Does that thing work when you just hold it out the window like that?’

‘Why the fuck wouldn’t it?’

‘Because you’re meant to hold it steady and sight your eye along it.’

‘If you want to stand out there and do it, be my guest.’  Harry pulled the speed camera in through the window, out of the lashing rain, and offered it to Pete, his arm covered in a plastic shopping bag.

‘For fuck’s sake, you’re dripping everywhere.  Get that fuckin’ thing away from me.’

Harry thrust the camera back out the window.  ‘I thought not, you fucking sap.’

‘What’re we doing this shit for in any case?  This is Traffics’ job.’

‘You know why.  To try and stop the bank holiday carnage.  A show of strength.  The usual bullshit.  Look at this little bollix,’ Harry said, pointing through the window screen with his free hand, the heartbeat swish of the wipers barely keeping their vision clear.  ‘What’s the point of putting a spoiler on a Corsa?’

‘What’s the point of a fuckin’ Corsa?  It’s a car for old women.’

‘Doesn’t your Niamh drive one?’

‘Yeah, need I say more?  Shops in Marks and Sparks and drives a fuckin’ Corsa.  You’d never believe she used to be a nymphette with a wardrobe of cheap, slutty threads and rode a fuckin’ motorbike.  Racing leathers an all.  Hot as feckin’ chilli.’

‘She probably never thought you’d be buying cheap suits from Aldi and rolling round in a ten year old Saab either.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with a Saab,’ Pete muttered, watching the Corsa reverse into a parking space fifty metres down on the far side of the road.

‘And you think a Corsa’s a car for the nearly dead?  I’m surprised you’re not wearing a cardigan and smoking a fuckin’ pipe.  Must be a laugh a minute in your house every night – you there in your flannel pyjamas and sad slippers, drinking cocoa whilst you read the Indo, and Niamh in her ankle length dressing gown, clattering away with her knitting whilst listening to John Creedon on the radio.’

‘Nothing wrong with John Creedon.  Besides, the only laughing in your house is by your kids ripping the piss out of their sad fuck of a father.’

‘Little fuckers,’ Harry agreed.  ‘A couple more years and Gary’ll be boosting cars.  He’s already been caught shoplifting twice and the odd note keeps disappearing from my wallet.’

‘And what are you going to do about it?  Can hardly go to the guards,’ Pete chuckled.

‘That’s half the problem.  Little shit thinks he’s immune – that I’m going to cover his ass all the time.  Next time he’s caught I’m just going to let justice take its course.  Teach the fucker a lesson.’

‘Talking of ass, look at that.’  Pete pointed to the Corsa, where a woman had eased herself out onto the pavement, a mini denim skirt over opaque, black tights, shrugging herself into a short coat.

‘I thought you’d stopped fancying women?’

‘What?’ Pete said, watching the woman hurrying down the street, her hood up, the rain gusting at her back.

‘Two weeks ago you were telling me you’d given up on women.  We could have had Chloe Gaines naked in the back of the car and you wouldn’t have been interested.’

‘Who says I’m interested?’

‘You’ve just spent the last thirty seconds with your tongue hanging out staring at her arse.’

‘And so have you apparently.  According to that thing, she was doing 5.2 miles an hour.’

‘Well, she’s got a nice little motor on her.  I bet she rides like a fuckin’ dream.’

‘Yeah, in your dreams.  Jesus, this is ridiculous – fuckin’ rain.’

* * *


‘Well, what?’

‘That Passat had to be doing over fifty.’

‘What Passat?’

‘What do you mean, what Passat?  That gold one that just whizzed past.  No point having that thing on if you’re not in the land of the living.’

‘Just fuck off, will you.  I’m pointing it, aren’t I?’

‘You need to point it at the moving vehicles.’

‘Really?  And I thought you pointed it at the sky.’

‘Well, that’s where you were feckin’ pointing it.  Measuring fuckin’ rain.  Twenty miles an hour.  If we don’t get at least ten collars, Traffics’ gonna chew our heads off.’

‘Let them, it’s their fuckin’ job we’re doing.  If you’re so concerned, you do it.’

‘I’m driving.’

‘You’re sitting there staring at tits and ass, you lazy fucker.  It isn’t your arm that’s getting soaked.’

‘That’s the deal: I drive, you point.  I stare at tits and ass, you stare at cars.  What’s wrong, Mary got you sleeping on the couch again?’

‘She wants it five times a night.  I can only manage four as I need to save some for Niamh, you know.’

‘With that kind of aim, the mattress must be getting a workout, but I doubt Mary is.  You can’t even hit a car from twenty yards.’

‘At least I’ve got something to aim.’

‘Yeah, a speed gun.  Talk about compensation.  What the fuck!’


Pete gestured out the window to where a white van was overtaking a Mini, forcing an oncoming Mercedes into the kerb.

‘Come-on then, Schumacher, get your foot down.’

Pete gunned the engine and set off in pursuit, blue lights flashing, siren wailing.

Harry dropped the plastic bag into the foot well and raised the window, tugging at his seatbelt.  ‘You’re losing him.’

‘Give it a second, will you.  He had a running start.  Jesus, he’s a fuckin’ lunatic,’ Pete said, as the van overtook a couple of cars, ducking back in narrowly ahead of an oncoming lorry.  ‘Call it in.’

‘I’m getting there.  Fuck, stupid fucker,’ Harry said, watching the van trying to pass a Fiesta on its inside, clipping the wing mirror of a parked car.  ‘And you think I’ve got a dodgy aim.’

* * *

‘So, this cop, he finds this drunk staggering about outside of a pub, holding a key in front of him.  The cop stops him and asks him what he’s doing.  “I think someone’s stolen my car,” the drunk slurs.  The cop then notices that the guy’s cock is hanging out of his trousers.  “And how do you explain that then?”  The drunk looks down and cries, “Shit, my girlfriend’s disappeared as well!”

‘Yeah, and what’s your point?’

‘You’ve managed to lose a feckin’ great van.’

We’ve managed to lose a feckin’ great van.’

‘You’re the one driving with his flies down, cock out.’

‘And you’re the one navigating with his eyes shut.’

‘How the hell am I meant to track him, Pete, if you’re not driving fast enough?  I’ve seen old women zipping around more quickly on their shopmobility trollies.’

‘And you think you’d have done any better?  The guy was a mad man.  Fuck, I want to catch the bad guys, but I don’t want to be pancaked by a forty ton truck carrying concrete slabs.  Be peeled off the tarmac like road kill.’

‘Try down here,’ Harry said, pointing to a laneway.

‘What are we gonna tell Control?’

‘The truth.  You drive like an old woman.’

‘I’m serious.’

‘So am I.’

‘Harry, stop fucking around.  They think we’re in a high speed pursuit.  Did you get the licence?’

‘How could I, with you doing your tortoise impression?  It was just a speck in the distance.’

Pete bounced his hand off the steering wheel in frustration.  ‘Fuck!  You’d better call it in.’

‘Just give it a minute, will you.  He had to have disappeared somewhere.’

‘He’s long gone.’

‘And we’re left looking like eijets, with our pricks hanging out.’

* * *

‘We’re going to have the piss ripped out of us by Traffic for months.’

‘Give it rest, will you.’

‘All you had to do was keep up with it.’

‘I’m starting to sympathise with Michael Sykes.  Just shut the fuck up, will you, you’re giving me a headache.’

‘Who the fuck is Michael Sykes?’

‘He was just sent down in the North for killing his wife.  She nagged him until he snapped.  In his face constantly; wouldn’t give it a rest.  Everything was his fault, didn’t matter what it was.  Apparently he was a nice guy, was really patient, just took it on the chin, even when she was embarrassing the hell out of him in public, needling and belittling him.  Then he snapped,’ Pete clicked his fingers, ‘and strangled her to death.  Just couldn’t take it any longer.  You’re pretty close to being Syked.’

‘I’m quaking in my boots.  There’s a reason why you never get to play bad cop – nobody believes you, you’re such a pansy.’

‘Harry, I’m warning you.  I’ve had enough.’

‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Touchy bastard.’  Harry scratched at his inflated belly, his shirt buttons straining, and stared out the passenger window.  ‘There’s a Macca D’s ahead.  I need a piss and a Big Mac.’

‘As if comfort food is going to solve anything.’

‘Just drive there, will you.  If you can’t find it, I’ll give you a clue – it has a fuckin’ great big M outside in red and gold.’

Pete stayed silent.

‘Oh great, you’re going to sulk now are you?  Take the piss out of you and you act like a child.’

‘Just fuck off, Harry.’

‘We’ll get you a happy meal, you miserable bastard.’

‘I’ll take a happy meal, if you take a salad, you fat fuck.  That shirt is about to explode; you’re like a walking advert for Michelin tyres.’

‘Now who’s looking to get Syked?’

* * *

‘Two elephants fall off a cliff.’

‘Boom, boom!  You’ve told that joke about fifty fuckin’ times.  Elephants are never meant to forget; one must have stamped on your head.’

‘Okay, okay, Jesus.  Grumpy bastard.’  Harry reached forward to a litter-strewn dashboard and grabbed a paper cup, then slurped noisily through the straw.  ‘Look at the tits on her,’ he gestured out the window screen at an overweight woman with an enormous chest waddling up to the entrance to the fast food restaurant.  ‘Doesn’t need a bra so much as a forklift truck.  Every time she takes a step it must be like Dr Evil and Mini-Me fighting in a sack.’

‘Your dream date – two bald headed men wrestling.’

‘I’d sooner wrestle with her than some skinny stick insect that’s all skin and bones; tits like fried eggs.  She falls over a cliff,’ he nodded toward the woman.

Pete cast him a withering look.

‘Boom, boom, BOOM!’


‘Get it?  Boom, boom, boom!’

‘I wish you’d jump off a fuckin’ cliff.  Boom!’  Pete smacked the steering wheel.

Harry put his drink back and grabbed the remaining half of his burger.  ‘You really are a sour bastard, you know that?’

‘I do my best.  Oh, fuck, there’s that fuckin’ van.’  He pointed across Harry, out the passenger window to where a white van was cruising along the road.

‘How’d you know?  Could be any feckin’ van.  Must be thousands of the damn things.’

‘It’s the right size and shape.  It’s the same van.  I know it is.’  He went to turn the ignition to find the keys missing.  ‘Fuck!’  He patted his pockets, then started to hunt frantically amongst the packaging on the dashboard.

‘Looking for these?’  Harry said, holding them out.  ‘You left them in the middle, you fuckin’ sap.’

Pete grabbed them, slotted them home and started the car.  He dropped the handbrake and shot out, promptly stalling with a heavy jolt, the litter, food and drink bouncing off the window screen and hitting them as they jerked forward, unencumbered by the lack of seatbelts.

‘Fuck!’ Harry snapped, easing himself back into his seat, brushing at his coke and ketchup stained shirt, flicking off lecture and fries.  ‘What the fuck, Pete!  Jesus, look at the state of me, you fuckin’ barmpot.’


* * *

‘For fuck’s sake, look at the state of my shirt,’ Harry said.

‘Stop fuckin’ moaning.  It looks like it always does.  You’re always spilling shit down your shirt – coffee and ketchup, gravy, whatever other crap misses your mouth.  You should wear a bib every time you eat or drink.’

‘And you should re-sit your feckin’ driving test.  Fuckin’ stalling.  You bleedin’ amateur.’

‘Look, just stop messing at your shirt and point that damn thing out the window, will you.  We’ve been at this for three feckin’ hours and we haven’t caught a single petrol-head.’

‘I’m never going to get this shirt clean.  You know that, don’t you?  Its feckin’ ruined.’

‘All your shirts are ruined.  If it wasn’t for the uniform, most people would think you were homeless.’

‘You cheeky fucker.  Mary washes and presses all my shirts.  They’re feckin’ spotless.’

‘Yeah, before you put them on and then five minutes later spill coffee on them.  Here we go, Corsa woman’s returning.  Do you think that tail fin’s penis envy?’

The woman half-walked, half-ran up the street, her head down, hood up, trying to protect herself from the driving rain.

‘Well, not of yours.  Not unless she envies a feckin’ maggot.  Look at those legs.  Fuckin’ works of art.  I wonder if she needs a hand drying off?’

‘I doubt she’d appreciate some sad fuck, her father’s age, offering to towel her down.’

They watched her clamber into her car.

‘You can’t beat experience.’

‘I bet she’d disagree with you.  Especially since you look like a mental patient; half your dinner over your chest.’

‘Fuckin’ tail fin on a Corsa.  She’s probably a lesbo in any case; got to be compensating for something.’

They watched the car ease out of the parking space and then shoot off down the road.

‘Jesus, she thinks she’s Lewis Hamilton!’

Pete shot forward and set off in pursuit, blue lights flashing.

‘Just don’t fuckin’ lose her, okay,’ Harry instructed.  ‘We’ll see what the little minx has to say for herself.  If it comes to it, I’ll frisk and cuff.’

‘You fuckin’ letch.’

‘Somebody has to do it, and you’re off women, remember.’

‘She’s pulling over.  I’m going to park in front of her; block her off.’

Pete overtook the Corsa and pulled to a stop.  Both men eased themselves out into the rain, pulling luminous jackets from the backseat and tugging them on, then headed back to the Corsa, Harry hurrying to get to the driver’s door first.

The window slid down.

‘Hiya, Harry.  You still having trouble finding your mouth?’

‘Niamh!  You been out partying?’


‘Hardly Marks and Sparks.’


‘Ignore him,’ Pete said.  ‘He’s acting the bollix.’

‘You fuckin’ sap, you didn’t even recognise your own wife or her car!  Penis envy, my eye.’

‘Penis envy?’ Niamh repeated.

‘You’ll get a black eye if you don’t shut the fuck up,’ Pete warned Harry.

‘Well, Niamh, if it’s any consolation, the feckin’ sap still fancies you.’

‘And this old letch wants to frisk and cuff you.’

‘What the fuck are you two idiots going on about?’

‘Nothing.  We’re going on about nothing.  How come you’re down here?’

‘You know why I’m down here.  I told you I was meeting Julie after her treatment.  That’s your feckin’ problem, Pete.  You don’t listen.  You’ve never listened.  You live in your own feckin’ world.  How could you not know that this is our car?  You’ve driven it hundreds of times.’

‘He didn’t recognise the spoiler on the back,’ Harry said helpfully.

‘That damn thing’s always been there.  That’s why you wanted this model; the sporty version.  It had a spoiler, low trim and spot lights; the usual boy racer crap.  Every time you go over a speed bump it scrapes along the ground.  Personally, I was happy with the bog standard version, but he insisted.  Said it would help with the cornering, or some such rubbish.  Jesus, Pete, I can’t believe you’ve just pulled me over; that you can’t even recognise your own feckin’ car.  Can I go now?’

‘What?’ Pete muttered.

‘That’s what I’m talking about.  Not feckin’ listening.  I said, can I go now?’

‘Yeah.  Look, I’m sorry.  I’ll see you later, okay.’

Niamh rolled her eyes and the window glided up.

The two guards stepped to one side and the Corsa pulled out and roared away.

‘Hot as feckin’ chilli,’ Harry muttered.  ‘I’d say, you’ve just been Syked, boy racer.’

‘Fuck-off, Harry.’

‘If I’d had her driving, we’d have caught that van and I’d still have a clean shirt.’

Pete headed back to the car.

‘By the way, your flies are undone.’

Pete looked down.

‘You fuckin’ sap,’ Harry said, and laughed.  ‘Your feckin’ prick would be hanging out, if you had one.’

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review of GUBU Nation by Damian Corless (Merlin, 2004)

GUBU is short for ‘Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented’, an acronym coined by the journalist Conor Cruise O'Brien in reference to a phrase by Charles Haughey, the then Taoiseach, in 1982 when describing the situation in which a double-murderer was found hiding in the house of Irish Attorney General: ‘It was a bizarre happening, an unprecedented situation, a grotesque situation, an almost unbelievable mischance.’  The phrase entered the Irish lexicon to describe other such situations.  Strangely, GUBU Nation doesn’t bother to tell the reader the origins of this phrase or to set out the rationale for the book or provide any contextual material as to why the book was written and the extent to which Ireland is any more of a GUBU Nation than anywhere else.  Instead the book simply starts with the first of fifty or so Irish GUBU stories, some of which are GUBU stories, in that they are grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, and some of which are simply ‘silly season’ stories.  Each story is a few pages long and sets out the basic context and facts.  The book itself constitutes what I would refer to as bathroom reading – relatively interesting and entertaining stories that each take a couple of minutes to read.  The stories themselves are well written and engaging and cover a broad spectrum of Irish life since independence.  Its hardly essential reading for those that want to understand Ireland and its people, but it’s informative and amusing and passes a few hours.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

I've been very slowly making my way through Cogan's Trade this week.  No reflection on George V. Higgins 1974 novel of low-life crime in Boston, more the fact that I was running a summer school all week, out early and back late, falling asleep within thirty seconds of hitting the bed.  One things for certain, the man can certainly write dialogue.

My posts this week
Review of Then Came The Evening by Brian Hart
Opening lines
Crime Fails to Pay or why past performance isn't an indicator of future results
Review of Blood Moon by Gary Disher
Well-done but already done
Low risk reading

Rejoinders to my posts
The fallacy of millions; or how ledgers have become the publishing industries preferred choice of reading - Crime Always Pays
Risky reading - Reactions to Reading

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Low risk reading?

I've just returned from a trip into town to pick up four books I'd ordered a couple of weeks ago.  Following on from Bernadette's post yesterday over at Reactions to Reading concerning risky reading, these are titles I probably wouldn't have bought a couple of years ago (or even heard of) - which included more than a fair share of 'well-done but already done' books.  Most of my purchases were picked up in airports, train stations and high street bookstores.  I read some pretty good stuff, but the choice always felt limited and samey.  I've never read books by Tonino Benacouista, Phillipe Claudel, Domingo Villar or Zymunt Miloszewski before.  These should be considered risky purchases - bought sight unseen and highly unlikely to be 'well-done but already done' given they're translated fiction.- but I actually consider them low risk buys.  Why?  Because I've come to trust the reviews written on other crime fiction blogs.  These are four books that received positive reviews over at Crime Scraps, Petrona, and International Noir. And even if they are not as stellar as I hope they will be, they'll be a welcome change to some of the fare that clogs the three for two stands on the high street.  And yes, they are often a little more pricey, given that such books are rarely included in price discounting, but for sheer improvement in reading experience, they are worth it.  'Well-done but already done' seems like the low risk strategy for reading pleasure, but I've come to appreciate that notion as something of a false view.  Rather, it is the path to mundanity and tedium.  Better to take the slightly more risky path, laying off the bet by following some top blogs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Well-done but already done

Patti left an interesting comment on yesterday's post:

'Craig McDonald, who read ms. for the Hammett Prize this year, commented on how many books were indiscernible from each other. ... Well-done but already done.'

Following on from Wednesday's post about the struggles of authors to become established and how the publishing industry seeks to de-risk their investment, I'm wondering to what extent agents and commissioning editors are fostering the 'well-done but already done' sense amongst readers? 

Certainly in my own attempts to land an agent and get fiction published, the feedback I have received makes it clear that publishers are looking for material that is very like existing material with some small quirk that gives it a slight edge.  There is less risk in this for publishers and agents as the market is established and known.  Anything that breaks boundaries and rules is inherently more risky and will involve more work to attract and convince readers to pick-up, purchase and spend time with a book. 

I'm aware in my own case that I wrote The Rule Book as a tactical move to produce a 'safe book', that would fit into established markets and present trends (straight-up police procedural with serial killer, although I consciously tried to find a fresh angle and challenge, in a limited way, some of the established rules of crime writing).  This was after a couple of years of receiving 'I really like this, but I not sure there's a ready market' rejection letters for Saving Siobhan (a still unpublished book). Of course, The Rule Book got 'well-done but already done' rejections and it was strongly suggested that I redraft to make it 'safer' (which I basically did, though I dug my heals in on some things)!  Sometimes you just can't win, but that's not my point.  Rather, I think the way that the publishing industry seems to be operating at the minute, always seeking to find a sure fire bet that limits risk, stifles creativity and limits the possibilities of new markets being generated.  There are always exceptions - I've reviewed some great books over the past year and, although not exclusively so, the one's I've enjoyed the most are the ones that have pushed boundaries and don't sit so easily in a straight category; they are well-done, but not already done. They aren't necessarily 'safe-bets'. 

There's a place for 'well-done but already done' (some people want more of the same), but one would like to hope that a better balance can be created, although the pressure of for-profit and market logics will be extremely difficult to re-configure.  Thank heavens there are some presses and commissioning editors willing to take risks and to think beyond the status quo (and the same re. independent film makers).  May they multiple and prosper.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review of Blood Moon by Garry Disher (Soho Crime, 2009)

It’s the time of the year when hordes of high school seniors descend on Waterloo to have a blow out and the local police swap into community mode to manage them.  To add to their caseload is a violent assault that leaves a chaplain from a local boarding school in a coma and the death of a planning enforcement officer who has been making a nuisance of herself by actually trying to regulate planning laws.  The chaplain has political connections that bring added pressure and it’s clear that the planning officer was being stalked by her own husband.  Whilst one case looks relatively straightforward, the other has seemingly few clues.  In addition, a local girl seems intent on taking revenge on a schoolie that raped her the previous year.  Inside the police team there are also issues – Inspector Hal Challis is sleeping with his sergeant, Ellen Destry; Pam Murphy has been transferred to CIU and separated from her former partner, Tank, and now has her eye on his new sidekick, Andy Cree; and Scobie Sutton is aware that he’s losing his wife to the fundamental church headed by the assaulted chaplain.  Dealing with external pressure and internal politics, Challis and this team work to resolve the cases and their various personal entanglements.

I started Blood Moon three times and on the third go I still put it to one side twice to read other books.  I tend to read fiction exclusively, so this is a clear sign of ambivalence.  I did, however, eventually get to the end.  It’s a book that I should have liked – a relatively big cast of actors, multiple story lines, police procedural bleeding through into everyday lives of coppers – but I just never really connected with the story.  I’m not really sure why – the writing was competent although not sparkling, the plotting was process-driven without loose ends or snags and kept the various strands sufficiently knotted, and the characterisation was well developed.  I just never warmed to the various, intertwining stories or the lives of the characters; I felt there was a general lack of pace and tension; and the ending felt contrived, closing with two melodramas, at least one of which it could have done without.  The result was, for me at least, a competent police procedural that lacked enough bite to get me hooked and to care about the characters.  Having scouted around a little and read other reviews (such as at Amazon, Goodreads, and International Noir) it seems that’s a minority view.  Sometimes perfectly good books just don’t click at a personal level.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crime Fails to Pay or why past performance isn’t an indicator of future results

I’ve been swapping a couple of emails with Declan Burke, author of The Big O and Eight Ball Boogie.  I was trying to get hold of a copy of Crime Always Pays, the sequel of sorts to The Big O.  He’s ended up distributing it via Kindle having had all kinds of troubles with editors (e.g., leaving a company) and publishers (e.g., being taken over and slashing authors from the list; doing little to no marketing).  The result, not unsurprisingly, has been relatively modest sales driven principally by word of mouth.  Word of mouth can get you so far, but a bit of marketing rarely hurts a product and nor does a champion inside a company.  The sense is that those modest sales are now a bit of a millstone as they are viewed as an indicator of potential future sales on new works.   Having received loads of critical acclaim from reviewers and readers (see Declan’s must-read blog for examples), here is a very talented author seemingly marginalised by an industry that is increasingly seeking to de-risk their investment by judging authors and their works against a narrow set of criteria, rather than nurturing and supporting them.  There are plenty of authors and bands who have worked away producing acclaimed work for years, perhaps not making mega-bucks but nonetheless not losing anyone money, before going stratospheric.  If a condition of a writing career is immediate success then there is every danger of producing an entire generation of one book authors, killed off and demoralised before they’ve had chance to blossom into mature, successful writers with an established reader base.  It’ll also work to reproduce a certain kind of formulaic writing and stifle creativity and risk-taking – think of Hollywood film making at the minute.  I find it astonishing that I’ve had to write to Declan to ask for a copy of his book because I don’t own a Kindle and there is no way to purchase a paper copy.  This is a guy producing quality stuff, with a demonstrated track record of acclaim, if not mega-sales.  If I had the cash, I’d set up my own non-for-profit press with the express aim of giving talented authors an outlet as they build a readership and prepare to go stratospheric (or at least mid list).  My review of Crime Always Pays will appear in a couple of weeks.  Now I’ve managed to get my mitts on it, it’s slotted in near the top of the TBR.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Opening lines

I posted some opening lines by Joe Lansdale a little while ago.  Here are some more by another of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett.  I'll probably make this a semi-regular spot.

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part …
The Colour of Magic (1983)

Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before doing anything about it.
Night Watch (2002)

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.
Hogfather (1996)

Against the stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell.  Both turtle and elephants are bigger than people might expect, but out between the stars the difference between huge and tiny is, comparatively speaking, very small.
The Last Continent (1998)

The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and sombre, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles.  The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.
Eric (1990)

Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead.
Johnny and the Dead (1993)

This is where the gods play games with the lives of men, on a board which is at one and the same time a simple playing area and the whole world.
Interesting Times (1994)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review of Then Came The Evening by Brian Hart (Bloomsbury, 2010)

Bandy Dorner returns to Idaho and his girlfriend Iona a changed man after a stint in Vietnam.  He drinks and womanises, and is quick into a fight.  Then the morning after his cabin is burnt to the ground, he’s woken by police officers who discover him crashed into a canal.  After a dip in the water, one police man has a broken nose, the other has been shot twice.  As Bandy heads for prison, Iona leaves Idaho with Bill, a more dependable sort.  Eighteen years later, Bandy is visited in prison by Tracy, the son he never knew existed.  With Bill dead and Iona scraping a living, sharing a house with her wayward sister and her bed with deadbeats, Tracy has walked out on his mother.  He wants to take up residence in his grandparent’s property, abandoned after their death.  Bandy consents and starts the process of seeking release.  Two years later and both Iona and Bandy are back in Idaho, three damaged souls circling round each other, seeking some kind of forgiveness and redemption but finding themselves socially ill-equipped and with too much baggage for an easy resolution.

Then Came The Evening has a measured rhythm, ticking along at a sedate, reflective pace.  In terms of sense of place, themes and characters it reminded me of the writing of Daniel Woodrell.  And like Woodrell, Hart is a fine wordsmith.  The characterisation is well observed and I particularly liked the awkward, stilted conversations between the three main characters; the way scenes unfolded in ways shaped by conflicting emotions and unexplained irrationalities.  Hart also does a fine job of capturing the landscape of Idaho and the fine web of relationships in small communities.  The only thing stopping this book from being a knockout is some of the plotting.  I got the sense that so much time had been spent on the prose and characterisation that this ended up being a little neglected.  A fraction ragged throughout, about two thirds of the way in the story started to unravel a little (I won’t give spoilers), particularly the thread following Bandy.  That said, the story comes to a satisfactory resolution that isn’t clichéd.  Overall, a book worth spending time with and enough promise to suggest that Hart might join Woodrell as a great writer of country noir.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

The last two days have been crackers, so I've spent nearly all weekend outside building a wood store.  I'm sure you can buy these things as kits, but I ended up buying all the materials and making it myself to my own design.  There's something very gratifying about working with wood.

My posts this week:

Review of The Big O by Declan Burke
One hundred reviews
Redlining apartments 2
Two book giveaway
Review of Fury by G.M. Ford
Extra reading
Red hot?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Red Hot?

There are a handful of blogs that if I've only got a couple of minutes to browse, I always click through to and one of them is Paul Brazill's excellent, You Would Say That, Wouldn't You.  There were two surprises waiting for me there this afternoon.  First, there is a review of The White Gallows - not the usual blog fare given that TWG is a straight-up police procedural rather than the more usual noir and hardboiled YWSTWY covers.  Second, my short story, Stakeout, has been shortlisted for the Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest, which has made my day.  I'm chuffed to make the last eight, and thrilled for Harry and Pete, the stars of the story.  I've been meaning to write another installment of Harry and Pete's politically incorrect observations of life and bad jokes and this is a spur to get my act together and get on with it.  A good review of The White Gallows and making the Red Hot shortlist - a double whammy.  Red hot?  Well I'm certainly flushed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Extra reading

Yesterday I received the proofs for the second edition of Key Thinkers on Space and Place, which I’ve edited with Phil Hubbard.  Great to get, but now I’ve 500, double column, pages to proof and index by mid-July, which is going to mess up other plans.  Apparently the first edition has just become a bestseller, which in the academic Geography world means it’s sold more copies than there are pages in the book and a lot less copies than there are words.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fury by G.M. Ford (Pan, 2001)

Walter Leroy Himes is due to be executed for the Trashman killings – eight young women slain over an eighty day period in Seattle, their bodies left in garbage dumpsters.  The crucial witness, Leanne Samples, a naïve, cloistered woman who claimed to have been attacked by the Trashman now says she lied at the trial.  The police don’t want to know; they’ve got their man and he’s going to pay the ultimate price.  Samples turns to investigative journalist, Frank Corso.  Once a high flying reporter, Corso has fallen from grace, now making a living writing true crime books and filing a column for the Seattle Sun.  Persuaded to follow-up on Samples story, Corso starts to reinvestigate the Trashman killings, and what he finds is deeply unsettling.  If Himes is innocent then he has six days to prove it and then the hunt for the real killer must begin.

Fury is a perfectly competent crime thriller, well written and structured, and it passes a pleasant few hours.  The plot is tight, the characters well drawn, and the dialogue and relationships realistic.  But there is little to make it stand out from the pack.  The story did carry a certain amount of tension, but is fairly predictable and the characters familiar.  And, for the most part, the investigative and police procedures seem credible, though there were a few points at which I had to suspend belief (I won’t give spoilers).  In a crowded market I guess it’s difficult to find a niche and produce something truly original (and I'm as guilty of that in my own writing as anyone).  That said, Corso is a fairly interesting lead character, as the tired, jaded, cynical former journalist who lives a loner life on a boat.  Overall, an enjoyable read that runs with the pack. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Two book giveaway

I have two copies of The White Gallows to give away. If this was a TV show the question would be something like, what colour house do I live in? I thought I'd make it a bit more challenging than that, but not much more so. To win a copy of the book email me the answers to the following questions:

* What was my favourite book of 2009?
* How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Winners to be drawn from a hat.  I'm happy to post the book anywhere in the world.  Closing date: Thursday 1st July.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One Hundred Reviews

My review of The Big O posted yesterday was meant to be my 100th book review since I started the blog last July. It seems that at least three of my reviews are not labelled as such because it turns out I've done 103 reviews.  It's quite a diverse list including books from 94 different authors.  The list is mainly crime fiction, with only 14 of the books being non-fiction.  The stories are set in 25 different countries.  The views are skewed slightly towards the higher ratings, but this shouldn't be a complete surprise as my reading has been shaped to a certain extent by positive reviews on other blogs.  In total 17 books were rated as 5*, 42 as 4*, 37 as 3* and 7 as 2*.  It's also skewed by the fact that there were a number of books I started but didn't get past the first 50 pages or so, and so never wrote a review.  In some cases I might give them another go, but it's unlikely.  Here's the list of reviews:

The Big O by Declan Burke ****
Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton ***
Killer by Dave Zeltserman *****
The Day of the Jack Russell by Colin Bateman ****
A Deadly Trade by Michael Stanley ***
The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto ****
Leather Maiden by Joe Lansdale ****
Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Pers Wahloo ****
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston *****
The People's Manifesto by Mark Thomas ****
The Devil's Garden by Ace Atkins ***
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason ****
Trail of Blood by S.J. Rozan ***
The American Envoy by Garbhan Downey ***
The Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees *****
Old Dogs by Donna Moore ****
Motor City Blue by Loren Estleman ***
Truth by Peter Temple ****
Paying For It by Tony Black ***
Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi ***
A Firing Offense by George Pelecanos ****
Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas ***
Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski *****
The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza ****
The Good Thief's Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan ****
Devil's Food by Anthony Bruno ****
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre ****
The Complaints by Ian Rankin ****
Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie **
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain *****
The Song is You by Megan Abbott ****
Kamikazi by Raymond Lamont-Brown ***
Grift Sense by James Swain ****
Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura ***
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett *****
The Ones You Do by Daniel Woodrell *****
Old Flames by John Lawton ***
Dead Set by Kel Robertson ****
Up in Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard **
The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake ***
Via Delle Oche by Carlo Lucarelli ****
Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa **
Isle of Joy by Don Winslow ****
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley ****
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 ****
If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr ****
Rubble by Jeff Byles **
Death of a Red Heroine by Qui Xiaolong ***
The Builders by Frank McDonald and Kathy Sheridan ***
Dirty Sweet by John McFetridge ****
Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman *****
The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin ****
Satan's Lambs by Lynn Hightower ***
The Killing of Strangers by Jerry Holt **
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett ****
The Irish Sports Pages by Les Roberts ***
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell *****
The Devil Met a Lady by Stuart Kaminsky ****
The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp ****
Mrs D'Silva Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta by Glen Peters ***
The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin ****
The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Benyon Rees *****
Zoo Station by David Downing ***
The Reapers by John Connolly ***
Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore *****
The Damned Season by Carlo Lucarelli ***
The Price of Darkness by Graham Hurley ****
A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell ***
'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?' by Spike Milligan ****
The Foreign Correspondence by Alan Furst *****
Queenpin by Megan Abbott ****
Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill ****
All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney ***
Black Delta Night by Jessica Speart ***
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke **
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty *****
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir ***
Inspector Mallon by Donal McCracken ***
Winter Frost by R.D. Wingfield ****
Stop Me by Richard Jay Parker ***
Black Out by John Lawton ****
Bombs over Dublin by Sean McMahon ***
Harold Shipman: Prescription for Murder by Brian Whittle and Jean Ritchie *****
The Last Llanelli Train by Robert Lewis ***
Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski ***
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri ****
The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce ****
Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich ****
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada *****
Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli ****
M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker ****
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri ***
The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo ***
Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan ***
The Twelve by Stuart Neville ****

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review of The Big O by Declan Burke (Harcourt, 2007)

Karen meets Ray when he accidentally intervenes in an armed robbery she’s committing. Her plan is to use the money she liberates to help buy a cottage in the mountains with three acres for her rescue pet, a barely tame Siberian wolf. Ray is no angel, painting bedroom murals between kidnapping rich folk for ransom, but he wants to leave the underworld and start a new life. Something clicks and they start dating. But the course to true love is not going to be easy. Karen used to date Rossi, a slightly psychotic, serial offender, who is getting out of prison after a five year stretch. Rossi wants his Ducati, his .44 and the sixty grand he had hidden in his lock-up. Karen’s day job is working as a receptionist for Frank, a plastic surgery consultant who can’t perform surgery any longer do to a malpractice suit. Frank is divorced from Madge, with whom he has twin daughters, who are bleeding him dry of cash. Frank wants Madge, who is also Karen’s best friend, kidnapped so he can collect the insurance money and start a new life in Haiti. Ray is the guy hired to snatch Madge. Doyle is a detective who wants as many scalps as she can get. All Karen and Ray have to do is trust each other enough to pull off the kidnap job, and avoid Rossi, Frank, Doyle or Ray’s new bosses from thwarting their plans.

The Big O is a comic crime caper – think of Carl Hiasson strained though a noir filter. The story is broken into a succession of short scenes each written from the perspective of one of the six principle characters. The structure works to provide a nice, quick pace and enables Burke to flesh out the characterisation, where each person is slightly larger than life with certain foibles. The plot is driven by multiple coincidences, each binding the actors into ever-more overlapping and mutually dependent or conflicting relationships. The prose is well honed and expressive, and there are plenty of comic asides and some astute observation. The only thing that grated after a while was the use of coincidence, which was clearly deliberate but edged towards excessive. I also couldn’t figure out Doyle, the detective, and her relationship with Ray, which seemed tenuous, or her motives. And there was one scene near the end that made little sense to me. But that probably says more about me than the novel. I’ve been saving The Big O for a little while so that it marks my 100th review since starting the blog last July. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. The Big O is a very enjoyable read and a comic crime caper that is genuinely comic. I now need to track down the sequel, Crime Always Pays. It’s available for download for Kindle, but I don’t possess a Kindle. A publisher needs to do the right thing and step in put it out in paperback!  For those looking for an excellent crime fiction blog, Burke's Crime Always Pays blog is excellent and always worth a read.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

It's been a listless but productive week.  I managed to convert my blogging post of last week into a full paper and have just about got our housing report complete - we're fiddling with graphics and data permissions.  And The White Gallows was officially published yesterday.  On the flip side, I went to a symposium on the state of the Irish economy and strategies to improve it on Thursday, which whilst very informative was depressing as it's clear to me that the deflationary cycle we're in is making things worse not better.  Plus there's nothing positive in our housing report - we've used 20+ different datasets, and whichever way you look at it the property bubble and crash is spectacular and housing, banking and planning policy in Ireland has been poorly formulated and badly implemented.  It's going to be a long, slow road to recovery both for the wider economy and the housing market. 

My posts this week:

Review of The Day of the Jack Russell by Colin Bateman
Redlining apartments
Review of Killer by Dave Zeltersman
New town for Cork
Not sure if this bodes well
Opening first lines
Review of Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton
Off out into the world

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Off out into the world

Today is the official publication date for The White Gallows. It would have passed me by except for two reviews appearing this morning. So far I've discovered four reviews, which can be found at:

Reactions to Reading
Kittling Books
International Noir
Mack Captures Crime

Thankfully, they all say positive things, which is a relief!

There is a YouTube video/promo thingy, which can be found here.

The back cover blurb is:
In post-Celtic Tiger Ireland the murder rate is soaring and the gardai are struggling to cope with gangland wars, domestic disputes, and drunken brawls that spiral into fatal violence. To add to Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy’s workload are the deaths of two immigrants – an anonymous Lithuanian youth and an elderly German billionaire. While one remains an enigma, the murky history of the other is slowly revealed. But where there is money there is power and, as McEvoy soon learns, if you swim amongst sharks, you’d better act like a shark.

I doubt the book can be found in many bookshops given the limited marketing resources of the press and their emphasis on online sales through Amazon, Book Depository and others. Bookshops can order it through the book distributors - Gardners (UK/Ireland) and Argosy (Ireland). For those outside of UK/Ireland, then Book Depository (UK or US) do free shipping to anywhere in the world. Publication details: published by Indepenpress. ISBN 978-1-907499-37-1 £8.99, €10.99

Anyway, the book is now officially published, and hopefully anyone interested can get hold of a copy either online or through their local bookshop. Thanks to all the support I've received through the blog as The White Gallows has meandered its way into the world. It has been very much appreciated.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review of Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton (Fourth Estate, 2010)

Vid Cosic has moved to Ireland from Serbia to make a new life, first working as a night security guard and then on building sites. A few months after arriving he finds a mobile phone on the street and contacts the owner, Kevin Concannon, a lawyer of low morals, to let him know he’s found it. So starts an intense and dysfunctional friendship. Not long after meeting for the first time, Cosic is confronted by a drunken work colleague and Concannon violently attacks him leaving him for dead. Only it is Cosic who is arrested and prosecuted, feeling obliged to stay silent to protect Concannon. Awaiting trial, Cosic starts to undertake repair work on the house of Concannon’s mother, getting to know his wider family and its troubled stories. Two, in particular, fascinate him – the death of a young, pregnant women washed up on the Aran Islands and the disappearance of Kevin’s father. Bound together through acts of violence, betrayal and family secrets, their tenuous friendship is placed under more and more pressure. The opening lines can be found here.

The title of the book refers to Concannon’s definition of a friend – someone who will put their hand in the fire to protect someone regardless of the consequences. And this is the sentiment at the heart of the book, which explores the nature of friendship, family and the immigrant experience. It’s a well written story, with some nice observations and insights. I’m not sure to what extent it was an Irish story though, which the opening lines strongly suggest it will be. Ireland is there, but more as a backdrop rather than as contextual arena. The plot is relatively straightforward and clearly telegraphed, though one suspects it was never meant to have a twist, being an in-depth study of relationship than a mystery, despite the hauntings of the violent attack and the drowned woman that surfaces throughout. The characterisation of Cosic is well developed, though he seemed overly naïve, pliant and childlike at times, to the point of lacking credibility, but Concannon remains something of an enigma. The reader is repeatedly told he is charming, but there is precious little evidence that that’s the case, and one is left wondering why his long suffering girlfriend or Cosic tolerate his selfish and confrontational behaviour. It’s not that he’s not a believable character, but rather that the character that the reader engages with is not the same one that the other characters seemingly interact with, producing a strange dischord. Overall, I found it an interesting read, with some nice writing and observations, but the central relationship never seemed fully credible and the plot failed to really excite.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opening lines

This post was prompted by a piece yesterday by Jose over at The Game's Afoot about opening first lines. I thought I'd post some opening lines by one of my favourite authors, Joe Lansdale, who always has strong openings to his novels.

It was July and hot and I was putting out sticks and not thinking one whit about murder.
Mucho Mojo (1994)

When I got over to Leonard's Christmas Eve night, he had the Kentucky Headhunters turned way up over at his place, and they were singing "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," and Leonard, in a kind of Christmas celebration, was once again setting fire to the house next door.
The Two-Bear Mambo (1995)

When you grow up in a place, especially if your childhood is a good one, you fail to notice a lot of the nasty things that creep beneath the surface and wriggle about like hungry worms in rotten flesh.
Leather Maiden (2008)

On the afternoon it rained frogs, sun perch, and minnows, Sunset discovered she could take a beating good as Three-Fingered Jack.
Sunset and Sawdust (2004)

It was mid-April when I got home from the offshore rig and discovered my good friend Leonard Pine had lost his job bouncing drunks at the Hot Cat Club because, in a moment of anger, when he had a bad ass on the ground out back of the place, he'd flopped his tool and pissed on the rowdy's head.
Bad Chilli (1997)

Bill Roberts decided to rob the firecracker stand on account he didn't have a job and not a nickel's worth of money and his mother was dead and kind of freeze-dried in her bedroom.
Freezer Burn (1999)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not sure if this bodes well ...

The White Gallows is set in west Meath, in and around the towns of Athboy and Trim. There isn't a huge amount of action in the town of Athboy itself, but I give a plug to a couple of businesses, including McElhinney Fashions, a department store that runs down one side of the main street. Opening in 1937, it became something on an institution, with people travelling from all over Ireland to buy outfits for special occasions such as marriages, communions and confirmations. Yesterday it announced that it is closing with the loss of 56 full and part-time jobs, one of hundreds of businesses that have closed in Ireland during this recession. McElhinneys for Men will continue to trade as it is not part of the same company (and comes recommended - I bought a couple of good shirts there), but even so, it doesn't seem to bode to well when one of the places mentioned in the book shuts before the book is even officially published!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review of Killer by Dave Zeltserman (Serpent’s Tail, 2010)

Leonard March knows he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, so he does a deal with the DA to turn state witness against mafia boss Salvatore Lombard in return for immunity for undisclosed crimes. The DA agrees to a fourteen year sentence and immunity for the chance to bring down a godfather. Once the paperwork is signed, March admits to the murder of twenty eight people; murders he’ll never serve time for. Fourteen year’s later and he’s released from prison to public and media fury. Unable to leave the state due to a pending civil action for damages, all March wants to do is keep a low profile, do his time working as a night janitor in an office block, try and catch up with his adult kids, and avoid a revenge attack by Lombard’s men. It’s hard to live anonymously though when your face is plastered across every newspaper, you’re the topic of conversation on late night radio shows, and ghost writers are lining up to capture your life story and sell on the book and movie rights. But when the mysterious and beautiful Sophie enters his life and he acts the good Samaritan, stopping a liquor store robbery, things start to look up.

is a relatively short book at 214 pages, but there isn’t a single wasted word. Told in a straightforward, matter of fact way, the story is utterly captivating, hooking the reader in from the first line and not letting go. I was totally mesmerised, but it’s difficult to explain why. There’s nothing particular special about the prose and the plot is pretty uncomplicated, though there’s a sting in the tail. But there’s something about the story and the way that it’s told that’s compelling. I think it’s because it genuinely does feel like it is Leonard March’s story; that you are listening to his voice. And it’s a voice that tugs at the reader’s emotions in subtle, contradictory ways, which makes it seem convincing and credible. In addition, the structure of the book, with chapters alternating between the present and past events, enables the reader to get a rounded grasp of March’s persona and his history of violence. Overall, a great read and I’m now on the hunt for his earlier books, Pariah and Small Crimes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review of The Day of the Jack Russell by Bateman (Headline, 2009)

The owner of the No Alibis bookshop in Belfast uses his vast knowledge of crime fiction to run a sideline private investigation service, as long as it doesn’t involve any danger or straying to far from the city. He’s hired by Billy Randall, the owner of a no-frills airline, to track down two vandals who have videoed themselves painting an enormous cock onto his forehead on a giant billboard, and then posted it up on YouTube. Accompanied by Jeff, his student worker, and Alison, his occasional girlfriend, and somewhat encumbered by his battleaxe mother, the nameless shopkeeper soon discovers who the culprits are, but shortly afterwards they are murdered. In order to prove his innocence he sets out to discover who the real murderer is, but the only clue is the disappearance of a stuffed Jack Russell dog which had a very important owner. It seems though that he is not the only person with an interest in the dog, with the police, MI5 and a Belfast gangster also in the hunt. What’s so important about this dog? And why were the two vandals killed?

It’s quite some time since I read a Bateman novel. In fact, the last time was when he hadn’t dropped Colin from his name. I think I read the first seven or eight of his books, stopping around Mohammad Maguire and Shooting Sean, which seemed a bit thin and tired compared with his earlier work. Divorcing Jack is, however, still in my top ten reads, a brilliant debut novel. So, it was a good to tuck into The Day of the Jack Russell to resample his work. As with his other novels, TDJR is a comic crime caper, laced throughout with humour, gags, and oddball characters, and I found myself laughing out loud on a fair few occasions. Bateman’s writing is witty and engaging and the pages fly by. He has a natural gift for crafting dialogue, which crackles off the page. The only thing that riled was the main character, who to put it bluntly is a bit of a wanker – a condescending, anally-retentive, know-it-all megalomaniac and hypochondriac. Heaven knows what Alison, his supposed girlfriend, sees in him. I know that’s how he’s meant to be, but as a narrator I found him all but impossible to warm to. The plot just about holds together given the madcap action and an investigation style that specialises in leaps of faith based on the plot devices of various classic crime novels. Overall, an entertaining read, and worth checking out if you like comic crime capers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

This bank holiday has take up a predictable pattern - read, throw ball for dogs, rebuild wall, check internet, repeat. Bliss. This is to be the week of trying to catch up on reviews. I've five books finished that need their review written. I hope to get three of them done today and the other two tomorrow, by which time I should have finished another book. I'm a reading roll!

My posts this week:
Some Like It Hot
Eurovision hangover
Review of A Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotta
Ireland's housing market undervalued
May reviews
Review of A Deadly Trade by Michael Stanley
Retrospective commercial rent reductions
Academic blogging: issues and challenges
Saturday snippet: Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday Snippet: Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton

Hand in the Fire tells the story of Vid Cosic, a Serbian immigrant to Ireland, and his relationship with the dysfunctional Concannon family who befriend him. Binding them together in a strange and strained embrace are four violent incidents - the death of Cosic's parents in a car crash in Serbia, the drowning of a pregnant, unmarried young woman off the Conemara coast, a drunken brawl that leaves a man with a broken jaw and hip, and fists thrown in the break-up of a troubled marriage. I bought it as in impulse buy in The Reading Room in Carrick-on-Shannon based on the strength of the opening few lines. And here they are:

You have a funny way of doing things here.

Like friendship, for example.

Nobody does friendship like you do in this country. It comes out of nowhere. Full on. All or nothing. I've been to places where friendship is cultivated with great care over a longer period of time, like a balcony garden. Here it seems to grow wild.

You could say that I did him a small favour. I found his mobile phone lying in the street and contacted his girlfriend. Her name was Helen and there was a picture of her on the phone, laughing into the camera. I could have read through all her messages, but I didn't want to be intrusive. I contacted her and arranged for him to pick it up that same evening. It was nothing more than that. Anyone else would have done the same.
I waited outside a late-night shop and saw him walking towards me with a big smile as though we already knew each other. He thanked me and stood there, refusing to let me go. Before I knew it, he was returning the favour, shaking hands and leading me away to a bar for a drink.

I read the story in several sittings over one day and I'll post my review sometime this week.