Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm presently reading Parker Bilal's The Golden Scales, a mystery novel set in Cairo.  I was intrigued by this short passage - that the inventor of writing was accused of undermining learning.

Long before that, of course, this was the site of the Temple of the Sun, said to be the place where the god Thoth had invented writing, an act so controversial that he was accused of undermining learning since writing would allow people to appear to know things of which they had no real understanding.

On reading student essays I can see how such a perception arises - it's relatively straightforward to lift the ideas of others in a written form, much more tricky to convincingly articulate them verbally.  That said, writing revolutionised learning as it allows knowledge to be portable across time and space.

My posts this week:
Review of Spies in the Sky by Taylor Downing
Evidence-informed policy and the siting of primary care centres
Review of Brenner and God by Wolf Haas
Review of A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis
Due process

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Due process

The two men stared over at the dilapidated house, it’s lawn two feet high.

McHenry pushed open the car door.

Lowry grabbed his jacket, held him in place.  ‘Where the fuck are you going?’

‘The fucker’s guilty.  I know it.  You know it.  The whole fucking community knows it.’

‘Gut instinct and rumour is not the same as knowing.’

‘The fucker did it.  And he’ll do it again if we don’t stop him.’

‘And we will, but we’re cops not a lynch mob.’

‘So we just wait until he kills again?’

‘No.  We find some evidence, then we lynch him.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review of A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis (Arrow, 2006)

1902 in Vienna and a beautiful and alluring spiritualist, Charlotte Löwenstein, is found dead in her home.  The room has been locked from the inside and, although shot, there’s no bullet.  Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt is assigned to the case, but he’s quickly floundering given the apparent supernatural nature of the murder.  He turns for help to his friend Dr. Max Liebermann, a follower of Sigmund Freud, who has his own troubles fighting against his superiors who prefer electrotherapy over psychoanalysis.  Between them they start to investigate the spiritualist’s death, focusing on the group that attend her weekly séances, including a stage magician, a locksmith, a wealthy banker and his wife, a seamstress, a Hungarian count fallen on hard times, and a politically ambitious seller of surgical instruments who dates a rich but unattractive heiress.  Slowly they start to piece together what happened that night, with Oskar Rheinhardt playing Watson to Liebermann’s Holmes.  They are aided by the talented scientist, Amelia Lydgate, an English woman in Vienna hoping to study medicine that Liebermann has been treating for hysteria bought on by a traumatic event.  Then a second murder occurs.

There’s lots to like about A Death in Vienna (also published as Mortal Mischief).  The plot is cleverly conceived and well executed, with a couple of substantial subplots that add, rather than detract, from the story.  The locked room element of the story is well realised and Tallis does a good job of keeping various suspects in the frame.  The characterisation is nicely executed with respect to all the principle and secondary characters, with Rheinhardt and Liebermann being nice, complementary foils.  There is also a strong sense of place and attention to historical detail.  The story is very much set in Vienna, with its streets, shops and galleries, and is rooted in its culture, politics and science at the turn the twentieth century.  Despite all these qualities, the storytelling was a little flat and wooden at the start, but it soon livened up to become an engaging and engrossing read.  I’ll be checking out the next book in the series.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review of Brenner and God by Wolf Haas (Melville International Crime, 2012; German 2009)

A former cop, Brenner now works as a chauffeur, shuttling two year old Helena between her mother, an abortion clinic doctor living in Vienna, and her developer father who spends most of his time in Munich.  When Brenner forgets to fill the car with gas the night before a trip he has to stop at a petrol station.  When he goes inside the shop to pay and get some chocolate for Helene he returns to find her gone, seemingly kidnapped.  A short while later, Brenner has lost his job and has decided to find Helena himself, starting his investigation with the leader of the pro-life group that campaigns outside the clinic of the young girl’s mother.  In so doing, he unwittingly starts a murderous spree.

Brenner and God is a curious book.  The story is told through an anonymous narrator who both tells the story and 'talks to' the reader, sometimes telling them what to do ('My dear Swan, pay attention, this is important').  It’s a style that I found increasingly irritating, partly because it comes across as somewhat patronising.  There are also a number of what are meant to be profound digressions, providing insights into modern society, but most fall flat.  As for the story, it’s a kidnapping story with a twist, based on two unrelated but coincidental threads.  The plot is interesting enough, but its telling felt a little underdeveloped in terms of its realisation, characterisation and sense of place.  I never felt as if I got to know any of the characters in any substantive way and some barely played a role or were under-used (for example, the cop to whom the reader is given a relatively substantial introduction near the beginning then disappears until the end when he very briefly re-appears).  This should have been a book I that I thoroughly enjoyed given the theme and supposed dark humour, but it just didn’t click into place for me, mainly due to its voice and underdeveloped narrative.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review of Spies in the Sky by Taylor Downing (Little Brown, 2011)

Whilst intelligence gleamed from spies on the ground in the form of resistance, double and SOE agents, and spies in the ether in the form of signal intercepts and their decryption, has received quite a bit of attention in recent years, the role of aerial photography and its interpretation during the Second World War has been relatively understudied.  Downing’s book goes some way towards to filling the gap by providing an overview of British and American air photo reconnaissance and interpretation, focusing in particular on the RAF Medmenham at Danesfield House, sited to the west of London on the Thames.  The book provides an initial, sketchy overview of the early development of aerial photography and its uses during the First World War, before detailing a more in-depth history of aerial photography in the immediate run-up to the Second World War (very underdeveloped and promoted by private interests not the military) and during the war itself.  Within a year of the war starting aerial photography was being routinely used by the British, with over a million photos a month being processed and analysed in Medmenham.  Every port in Europe was being photographed at least once a week, and aerial photography and physical models developed from them were used to brief troops ahead of every major battle and campaign.  The photographic programme led to many important success stories, such as the neutralisation of the Italian navy in the Mediterranean and the starving of resources to Axis troops in North Africa, the sinking of key German battleships, the identification and destruction of German secret weapon development and launch sites, and the Normandy landings.  The techniques and processes developed in Medmenham were replicated in other locations, notably in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South Asia.

Spies in the Sky provides a popular history overview, written in a breezy, accessible and engaging style.  The narrative does suffer from some over-generalisations and assertions, for example, that a new science was developed at Medmenham, that of photogrammatery and military photo interpretation, which is not the case (though some new technical developments were achieved), and sometimes the pace is a little too fast.  It would have been nice to have a bit more technical detail at times, also some more biographical details of some of the key players and the political machinations they were caught up in, and more information of aerial intelligence in other arenas.  That said, this book is aimed at wide, generalist audience, rather than the specialist.  And in fulfilling that brief, the book succeeds admirably.  It certainly makes a strong case that aerial intelligence played a very important, but unappreciated role, in the Allies strategising and execution of war plans.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've just got back from Vienna.  A fairly hectic trip, though I did get a chance to wander round the city on Saturday afternoon and see some of the sights and architecture.  All three evening dinners were memorable.  Thursday was in the Palmenhaus, Friday at the Semperdepot (right), and last night in Saigon Restaurant.  In the latter I sat a table next to a grandmother and her granddaughter who spent the evening talking to each other in German, French and English, swapping language every two or three sentences, sometimes mid-sentence.  It was kind of odd, but also seemed completely natural.  I also had chance to finish both Brenner and God and A Death in Vienna on the trip, reviews in due course.

My posts this week
The crisis in Ireland in graphs and maps
All Due Respect
Review of Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter
Vienna reads
Review of Homicide by David Simon

Saturday, September 22, 2012


‘Selfish bastard.’

‘I’d say desperate, rather than selfish.’

‘He’s left two kids, both under the age of five.’

‘You think he was thinking rationally?  That he simply decided to suit himself?’

‘He knew what he was doing.  It didn’t just happen.  It was planned.  He thought it all through and decided to take the easy option.’

‘Easy option?  He’s dead!’

‘Yeah and the hard option would have been to face and tackle his problems.  Instead he ran away from them.  Left his wife and kids to face them instead.’

‘Sir?’ a third man asked.

‘Yeah, cut the selfish bastard down.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review of Homicide by David Simon (1991, Canongate)

From January 1st until December 31st 1998 David Simon took a year’s sabbatical from his job as a journalist with the Baltimore Sun and hung out in the Homicide unit of the Baltimore Police.  He went to work every day, just like the detectives, he visited the crime scenes, accompanied them on searches and stakeouts, eavesdropped on interrogations, sat in on criminal trials, and drank with them in bars until the early hours, all the while keeping his eyes and ears open and taking copious notes.  The result is a Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a detailed 650 page, small print, book that tells the story of that year - a year in which there were 236 murders in the city of Baltimore.  Simon uses real names, he details the often fraught relationships between officers, documents the sometimes convoluted and vicious office politics, exposes the tremendous pressures that the cops are under from their bosses, the media, politicians and public, and reveals the sordid and dangerous lives of victims, perpetrators and those caught up in investigations.  It’s a warts and all expose that shows the cops in both a good and negative light.  It’s a brilliant piece of ethnographic research and an excellent read.  Although organised by time, rather than simply write the book as a detailed diary, Simon used particular cases and officers to explore in detail various aspects of the job, crimes and judicial service, and moreover he mixes up the writing style and perspective to keep the narrative fresh.  At times it reads like a novel, one that tries to capture the full complexity of police departments and cases.  And even though it involves a large cast, it is easy to follow the dozens of threads and personalities.  Which suggests that there’s scope for crime fiction that manages to be more realistic in its scope, cast, politics and drama.  The book also provided a launch pad for Simon’s move into television, most recently as the writer and executive producer of The Wire.  A fascinating, disturbing and excellent read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vienna reads

I'm off to Vienna very early tomorrow morning.  After all the recommendations I received, I've bought two novels to accompany me on the trip - Brenner and God by Wolf Haas and A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis.  Hopefully, they'll both be great reads.  Reviews in due course.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review of Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter (Pan, 1976)

Whilst following up on a cold case involving the disappearance of teenage school girl, Chief Inspector Ainley has died in a traffic accident.  The case is passed to Morse, who is less than enamoured to be given a two year old missing persons file where all the leads seem to have gone dead.  Two days after Ainley’s death, however, a two sentence letter arrives stating that she is alive and well.  Morse doesn’t believe it.  In his head, the letter is a hoax because Valerie Taylor is dead.  She must be after all this time.  Forced to pursue the case, he starts to delve into the live of Valerie, a girl who seemingly liked the company of older men, trying to discover what happened to her.

There are two elements that raise Last Seen Wearing above usual police procedural fare.  The first is the plotting and the second the characterization.  Dexter maps out a wonderfully constructed story of feints and blind alleys as Morse stumbles from one line of reasoning to another, his theories constantly dashed on the rocks of empirical evidence.  Every time it appears he has found a path forward, it turns into a cul-de-sac.  This is not a tale of a genius cop who always finds his quarry, but is rather more Clouseau in his bumbling, much to Lewis’ delight.  Morse and Lewis are both well drawn, somewhat complex and paradoxical characters.  Morse, for example, is both cultured and coarse, buying the Sunday Times and the News of the World as his Sunday papers and dragging Lewis into a strip club on a visit to London.  The support cast of suspects were also nicely realised.  As always, Oxford and its surrounds provide a scenic backdrop. Overall, a very enjoyable read.

Monday, September 17, 2012

All due respect

My short story - Nearly Extinct - has just been published in Vol 36 of All Due Respect.  Freddie Carlingworth is 83 and the last of his line, waiting in a nursing home for the great heave-ho.  Terry Watson is his 48 year old care assistant, stuck in a dead-end job clearing up after incontinent old men.  Two lives going nowhere fast, but Freddie has a plan for them to make a mark on the world - to rob a bank.  An old man in a wheelchair wearing a Mr Bean mask and carrying a sawn-off shotgun being pushed by a professional nobody disguised as Elvis in his bloated phase.  Click over to All Due Respect to find out how they got on.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I spent part of yesterday afternoon wandering round a couple of Oxford bookshops.  I picked up two history books, but once again left without any fiction.  For some reason, pretty much every time I've visited a bookshop recently I've left empty-handed, except when I am picking up something I have ordered.  It's a strange feeling.  Like going into a cake shop and leaving without a cake.  Nothing quite seems tasty enough.  Oh well, I have a few books on the TBR to keep me going, including one of the book's I picked up yesterday which is set halfway between Oxford and London in the small village of Mednemham.

My posts this week
Review of No Sale by Patrick Conrad
Oxford jaunt
The prince and me
Review of Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson
Man on a mission

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Man on a Mission

‘Harry?  Hey, Harry, where you going?’

The man didn’t reply.  Just bustled his way past a cop standing guard at the door.

Landers glanced down at the body again.  She was barely beyond her school years, naked except for a blue-green silk scarf wrapped round her neck.

‘Fuck.’ He hurried from the house. 

Harry had almost reached their car, a clapped-out Ford that looked at home the neighbourhood.

‘Harry!  Wait.’

The big man yanked open the driver’s door.  ‘He’s a fucking dead man.’

‘Take it easy, will you.’

‘A dead man,’ Harry repeated, dropped into the car and sped off.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review of Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson (Cassell, 1971)

At 23, Stanley Woolley is old beyond his years, a major in the Royal Flying Corps in charge of a squadron of SE5a biplanes.  Unlike the young pilots he commands, most of whom are from privileged backgrounds, he understands the air war to be as a brutal, squalid and wasteful as the trenches, not a chivalrous, dignified joust between gentlemen.  Through a tough regime of training he tries to equip the pilots with the skills and ruthlessness to survive and to shoot the enemy quite literally in the back.  In turn, they hate him for his seeming lack of ethics, general callousness, and absence of respect.  But Woolley doesn’t care.  He knows that they’ll all be dead within weeks despite his efforts and that their deeds will have had barely a negligible impact on the war.  The only thing they can do is to keep trying to shoot down the Germans before they themselves are killed.  Something that Woolley excels at.

Goshawk Squadron was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1971.  It was criticised by some former RFC pilots who felt it denigrated the memories of those who fought the air war.  Others praised it for showing the true nature of a war that was brutal mass slaughter and it was no different in the air to other services.  Pilots were flying planes made of principally of wood, canvas and wire, and the engines were treated with castor oil to keep them lubricated, the fumes of which acted as a laxative that was countered by alcohol.  Pilots often flew several missions a day traversing two sets of trenches where they were liable to be shot at from both sides, plus sustained anti-air barrages, to face superior planes.  Tensions and fears were high amongst pilots, most of whom had only recently finished school, and they often let off steam in local villages.  Robinson captures the true dark nature of war; it’s brutal realities.  The tale is relatively straightforward, following the men’s exploits and relationships over a few months.  The action sequences are excellent and the opening couple of chapters are amongst the best I’ve read in a while; the writing really alive on the page, laced with dark humour.  It then settles down, becoming a little more mundane.  Whilst some of the men are well drawn and distinctive, others are pretty indistinguishable and under-realised.  And in Woolley he pushes the callous leader, who really believes he is doing the right thing by his men by trying to harden them to be ruthless, to its limits.  Overall, an engaging, well written novel that shows war for what it really is.

The Prince and me

Last night I collected the Cantemir Prize from Prince Radu of Romania on behalf of the Berendel Foundation for The Map Reader.  It was a small, but very nice event in Trinity College, Oxford University.  Lots of very nice things were said about the book.  I had a quick skim of it myself on the train down from Birmingham.  I think I'm going to have to re-read it, as it contains a heap of interesting essays.  Strange how you forget work you wrote and put together!  Wiley-Blackwell really did an excellent job with the production - it has the look and feel of a nice book.  After a couple of speeches I received a handcrafted diploma (based on a 1920s royal design) in a beautiful leather bound folder, both made in Bucharest.  If you click on the diploma photo, you should get a better view of it.  Off to the conference now, which should be interesting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oxford jaunt

Off to Oxford today to collect the Cantemir Prize for The Map Reader this evening from Prince Radu of Romania on behalf of the Berendel Foundation.  Seems it will be relatively informal, but I need to say a few words of thanks which I'll jot down on the plane over.  Not really sure of dress code, but I've packed a tie, so that should cover things off.  Hopefully I've not left things too tight on the timing.  I couldn't face a 6am flight to arrive seven hours early, so I've an early afternoon flight.  Train is due into Oxford at 5.15 and we're meeting at 6pm for a 6.30 start.  I can trust British trains, right?   Should be interesting evening and conference, which follows tomorrow and Saturday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of No Sale by Patrick Conrad (Bitter Lemon Press, 2012, in Dutch 2007)

Victor Cox is a professor of film history and a keen collector of movie paraphernalia and trivia with a soft spot for black and white noir movies.  Coming up to retirement he’s spent so much time watching and studying movies that he sometimes finds it difficult to distinguish between reality and the imaginary.  Seemingly every person or situation bears an uncanny resemblance to a film star or a movie scene.  When his wife is murdered, he becomes a suspect.  And the police become even more intrigued when he can be directly linked to two earlier murders, both of which are based on movie scenes.  Chief Superintendent Fons Luyckx doesn’t believe that Cox had anything to do with the murders, but when two more happen over the next couple of years the evidence seems difficult to refute.  More worryingly, Cox himself becomes increasingly convinced he might be living a double, Jekyll and Hyde, life.

No Sale is a clever, literary crime novel.  It is written and plotted in the style of a noir crime movie, using its stock of characters, sensibilities and tropes, and it is thoroughly intertextual in its make-up, blending together elements of dozens of movies without ever becoming a mere pastiche.  Victor Cox is a wonderful character, drifting somewhere between reality and the imaginary, caught in a plot that Alfred Hitchcock would have delighted in committing to film.  Whilst the resolution had no real surprise, the killer was a choice of three and it was telegraphed from a pretty long way out, and there’s some obvious gaps, such as the lack of any media interest in the cases, especially given how they all link to one person, neither really seemed to matter.  This book was more about the journey, the interconnections, the trivia, the little puzzles, and above all the set of well drawn characters - the lush wife, the wise-guy police officer in love with a prostitute, his by-the-numbers partner who takes everything at face-value, the femme fatale, the innocent victims, the larger-than-life and salt-of-the-earth lowlifes - and how they swirl around Cox.  An enjoyable read, which I’m sure would have been even better if I were a film history buff.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

In between the bouts of sweating and shivering courtesy of a dose of flu I've been reading Derek Robinson's book Goshawk Squadron, shortlisted for the Booker Prize back in 1971.  It certainly dispells a load of myths about chivalry in the skies in the First World War and is a very frank tale of young men whose life expectancy was days and weeks once they got to the front.  Should have a review up in the next few days.

My posts this week

August reviews
Review of The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollack
Writing in the dark
Online television programmes and videos about the crisis in Ireland
Review of We Are the Hanged Men by Douglas Lindsay
Fall-guy witness

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fall-guy witness

‘I saw nothing, man.  Nothing.’

‘You were here when it happened.  You must have seen it.’

‘I never saw nothing.  I was minding my own business.  When I heard the shots I hit the floor.’

‘Well, who else did you see when you was minding your own business?’

‘Nobody.  I saw nobody.’

‘A man’s been shot dead.  We need to find who killed him.’

The young man shrugged.

‘We can protect you them from them.’

‘You couldn’t protect anyone from those guys.’

‘Which guys?’

‘Any guys. I ain’t no fall-guy witness and I ain’t dying for no dead man.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of We are the Hanged Man by Douglas Lindsay (Blasted Heath, 2012)

DCI Robert Jericho used to be the most famous detective in Britain having solved a series of high profile cases.  Then his wife, the love of his life, vanished.  Ten years later he’s a sullen, morose copper working in the small cathedral city of Wells, drifting through a stream of meaningless relationships.  Then a tarot card of the hanged man arrives in the post, quickly followed by his boss agreeing to him being a judge and mentor on Britain’s Got Justice, the latest reality television show by uber-TV mogul Steven Washington.  Jericho doesn’t have the right disposition for reality television.  He’s silent and broody and he doesn’t give a damn about the show and its vacuous contestants.  All he wants to do is find out who is sending him tarot cards and why, and he certainly doesn’t want the contestants actively involved in his cases.  But since the police force has signed an all-access contract with the TV company, he doesn’t have a choice.  Then one of the contestants disappears.  Jericho thinks it’s a stunt by the producers, but he’s wrong.  His old nemesis is back at work and he’s definitely someone you don’t amateurs trying to tackle, even if it does make good TV and headlines.

In We are the Hanged Man Lindsay mercilessly satirises reality television to great effect.  At points the story appears to hang on a comic flight of fantasy, but as unlikely as parts of the premise seemed somewhat paradoxically they also felt wholly plausible given the pervasive and intrusive nature of reality television and how society is presently governed.  Indeed, the story is very nicely plotted, thickly laced with dark humour, with a little bit of everything thrown in - drama, intrigue, humour, mystery, tension, romance.  It has some wonderful observational touches, played out through some excellent dialogue and scenes.  The characterisation is very well done, especially the reluctant and gloomy Jericho, his bitchy and resentful boss, the ambitious and morally bankrupt television producers, and the celebrity-seeking contestants of dubious character and abilities.  There are a number of feints and twists and turns, and the story builds to a dramatic climax that has a satisfying resolution whilst also leaving the way open for a follow-on book.  A sign of a great book is that the reader is always looking to create time to read a few more pages and as they near the end there’s a palpable sense of disappointment that the story will soon end.  We are the Hanged Man was one of those books and it’s my read of the year so far.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing in the dark

I've taken the plunge and started a new academic book on Monday.  I now have a draft of the preface, so all I have to do now is write the rest of it.  The plan is to have a working draft by January/February time.  I'm not sure how realistic that will be as I'm still the head of two departments and all my teaching is this semester, but I'm going to give it a go.  I'm experimenting a little with this book.  I've no real base material to work off, I've no idea what the argument will be (just the focus), I'm not doing any planning, and I've not sought a book contract in advance.  Instead, I'm just going to write and let it self-organize into a structure, then pitch an entire draft to a publisher once I've finished.  Hopefully it'll all come together.  If nothing else, I'll learn a lot.     

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review of The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollack (Harvill Secker, 2011)

1945 and Willard Russell returns home from the terror of combat in the Pacific islands a changed man.  En-route to West Virginia he stops at the Wooden Spoon cafe in Meade, southern Ohio, falling for the charms of Charlotte, the waitress.  After a few days with his mother and her attempts to match-make him with a local orphan girl, Helen, he returns to the cafe for a new life.  Helen, a religious girl falls for Roy, a charlatan, hustling preacher always accompanied by Theodore, a guitar-playing cripple confined to a wheelchair.  Both Willard and Helen start families at the same time, Charlotte giving birth to Arvin, Helen to Lenora.  Disaster strikes both families.  Helen is murdered a few months after Lenora’s birth, Roy and Theodore vanishing at the same time.  Eight years later, Charlotte dies of cancer despite Willard’s prayers and sacrifices to keep her alive and Arvin is sent to his grandmother, to grow up with Lenora.  In Meade, Lee Bodecker plots to become the sheriff and his younger sister hooks up with Carl, a photographer, their strange romance leading down a path of murder.  In the meantime, Roy and Theodore eke out a living, Roy dreaming of seeing his daughter once again.  The paths of the main characters seem to barely intersect as they swirl around each other, but fate is set to draw them back together just as Arvin and Lenora reach their mid-teenage years, with darkness and violence never far away.

The Devil All the Time is noir to its core, relentless dark and bleak with hardly a thin crack of light of hope and redemption on the horizon.  The book has many positives.  It is beautifully written in well crafted and evocative prose, delivered in an even, rhythmic cadence.  The story is well rooted in time and place, capturing the rural mid-West in the post-war period, and the murky social relations, petty crime and more that shaped communities and the bonds between family members.  The characters are well realised, their weaknesses, vices, foibles and back story nicely penned.  The whole book had the feel of craft to it, both the story and the physical artefact - the book is beautifully produced.  And yet, for all this, I wasn’t fully captured by and immersed in the story.  And I should have been: The Devil All the Time is carefully sculpted, literary, crime fiction.  Don’t get me wrong, this was a very good and engaging read, but it could have been stellar.  On reflection, I think the issue was that for most of the book the narrative seemed liked a set of well written, interlinked vignettes stretched out over a fifteen year span, so the arc of the story felt like loose connections rather than being tight, taut web.  Pollack does pull all of the threads together, but there’s no change in tempo as it nears the end; more a quiet, understated but violent resolution and an opening for the tale to continue.  Overall, a polished and evocative slice of country noir that portrays starkly the dark underbelly of rural America.

Monday, September 3, 2012

August reviews

I managed quite a bit of reading in August, aided by taking a two week break at the start of the month.  A lot of solid, enjoyable reads.  The Last Policeman, The Man on the Balcony and The Science of Paul were the pick of the bunch, with the latter my book of the month.

Ghost Money by Andrew Nette ***.5
The Last Sunrise by Robert Ryan ***
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters ****
The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark ****
The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman ***
The Man on the Balcony by Majs Sowall and Pers Wahloo ****
A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady ***.5
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith ***
Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli ***.5
Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen *** 
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig ***.5
A Long Silence by Nicolas Freeling **

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I do enjoy a good pun.  I don't use them that often, but here's two in quick succession from a piece 'that what I wrote', as Ernie Wise would have put it.  Re-reading it the other day made me chuckle.  Funny what small pleasures makes you smile.

‘Siobhán is … well, Siobhán is Siobhán.  She has the pick of the bunch.  She’s Snow White, I’m one of the dwarves ― Dopey or Grumpy or … what the hell were the names of the other dwarves anyway?’ he asked bashfully. 

‘I think you might be selling yourself a bit short, Grant.' 

My posts this week
Review of The Last Sunrise by Robert Ryan
Vienna crime fiction?
Odd, random echoes
Residential property prices 2006-2012
Review of Ghost Money by Andrew Nette
Both too old for this

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Both too old for this

‘Oh, god.’

‘It lives.’

‘What time is it?’  He rolled over onto his side.

‘Almost midday.’  She was sitting on an armchair reading a book.

‘What time did I get back?’

‘I’m sure next door can tell you, you tried to let yourself into their house.’

‘Feck.  I’m never touching whiskey again.’

‘You gave them the remains of your kebab.’

‘Or kebabs.’  He sat up on the sofa, holding his head.

‘It’s time you looked for your own place, Tom.’

‘What?  Ah, come-on, Sis.  It won’t happen again.’

‘It will and I’ve had enough.  We’re both too old for this.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.