Saturday, August 31, 2013

A coming storm?

A soft pattern of knocks on a solid oak door.  A few moments later it’s opened a fraction, then pulled wide.  The young woman tumbles in, her dark hair tangled.

‘They’ve arrested Paul,’ she says.  ‘This morning.’

‘You were there?’

‘I visited later.  I was to collect the leaflets.  We need to warn the others.’

‘Were you followed?’

‘No.  I ... I made sure.’

‘You need to go home, Agáta, and act as if you know nothing.   It’s the only way.’

‘And the others?’

‘Paul is strong and stubborn.  We’ll do our best and hopefully it won’t be too late.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Review of The Third Rail by Michael Harvey (Bloomsbury, 2010)

Michael Kelly is a former Chicago cop who now works as a PI.  Whilst waiting for a train he witnesses a woman being shot and gives chase.  Lured into an alley he's knocked unconscious.  In the meantime, a second woman is shot at another station.  A city taskforce is established to track down the gunman, with Kelly given a peripheral place on the team due to the killer contacting him.  He’s hardly a team player, however, and sets about trying to catch the murderer, who quite clearly is playing a game with him related to a past event.  With the whole city on edge, the killer strikes again, ratcheting up the pressure and stakes.

The Third Rail is the third instalment of the Michael Kelly series and the first I’ve read.  The story is told at a quick pace using short chapters each with a tension point designed to keep the pages turning.  This keeps the story moving along, but sacrifices character development and limits contextualisation.  Kelly is a typical tough guy PI, is incredibly well connected, and just happens to find himself at the centre of a major incident which only he and his techie buddy can solve.  Thrillers often teeter at the edge of credibility and The Third Rail wanders this line throughout, tipping over it at the end with a twist that was neither needed nor made much sense.  Moreover, the task force investigation seemed overly amateur and divisive, and, interestingly, Chicago seems to have no surveillance cameras or useful witnesses.  The result was a workmanlike thriller that lacked depth and resonance, with a plot and characters with whom I failed to connect.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Anansi, 2011)

1851 and in the pioneer west Eli and Charlie Sisters are henchmen for the Commodore, a rich and powerful businessman with many interests.  Their latest task is to travel from Oregon City to the gold mining claims near to Sacramento to locate Hermann Kermit Warm, a prospector that has allegedly stolen something from the Commodore.  Whilst Charlie seemingly enjoys his infamous status as a hired killer, Eli is more circumspect until he’s provoked into a rage.  Journeying south to find Warm, the brothers engage in a series of encounters with a range of colourful characters, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.  Increasingly, Eli questions how their lives are unfolding, the consequences of their actions, and their prospective future.  As they close in on their target, it’s clear that relationship between the brothers is changing and things will not be the same once Warm is dispatched. 

The Sister Brothers reads like a Greek tragedy transported to the lawless, pioneer territories of west coast America in 1851.  Eli and Charlie Sisters set off on a rites of passage trek in order to fulfil their quest to murder a prospector at the behest of their boss, the Commodore.  As they journey south they drink, steal, kill, meet a diverse set of characters, become tangled in a set of odd situations, and bicker.  Both brothers have known little other than the murderous trade they peddle, but Eli has taken to imagining another kind of life, aided by their journey.  deWitt tells the brother's story in a dead pan, melancholic voice that does not romanticize or glamorize the pioneer west and has a nice sense of place and time.  The plot unfolds a steady pace, providing a detailed character study of the brothers and the gradual transformation of their relationship.  Both brothers are savage characters, yet by adding a smidgeon of emerging compassion and self-reflection to Eli, deWitt provides a connection through which the reader can empathise with them.  Nevertheless, it took me a while to get into the story, which matures as it progresses.  It was only in the last fifth of the tale, however, that the arc of the plot all dropped into place to become more than the sum of its parts.  As such, the story had much greater resonance on completion than when I was reading it, and the more I reflect on it, the more satisfied I am with the tale.  Overall, an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review of The Signal in the Noise by Nate Silver (2012, Allen Lane)

Nate Silver is best known for his website FiveThirtyEight and his predictions concerning US presidential elections, and for general media punditry concerning statistical inference.  The Signal in the Noise is his first book and provides a critical appraisal of the art and science of predictive analytics.  The strengths of the book are: very clear explanation as to how prediction is calculated, a wide selection of interesting examples, and good balance in detailing the relative strengths and weaknesses in predictions and the work of statisticians.  The book is pitched at an interested lay-reader audience and rarely deviates from that level with Silver managing to convey relatively complex material in an accessible way.  That’s not to say that the book is non-partisan.  A central argument is the promotion of Bayesian statistics to improve predictive analytics, and he rightly takes to task many industries that use extensively prediction, such as finance, but do such a poor job of calculating what might happen in the future.  The weaknesses of the book are that it is overly long and starts to become repetitious with too many examples that little add to the argument being made, and sometimes it fails to take account of factors outside of analytics as to why models and businesses fail (in the case of finance, cultural and structural issues as to how the industry is organized and run).  Overall, a good introductory overview of making sense of information for the purposes of calculating predictions.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I picked up Joe Joyce's Echoland and Arnaldur Indridason's Strange Shores on Friday afternoon.  I've had them on order for a while and I'm looking forward to reading both. Irish historical crime fiction set in the early to mid-twentieth century seems to be flourishing at present, with Echoland taking place in June 1940 (other examples include Kevin McCarthy's O'Keefe series, Brendan John Sweeney's Once in Another World, Michael Russell's The City of Shadows, Benjamin Black's Quirke books, Stuart Neville's Ratlines).  I suspect that Strange Shores will be a bittersweet read given it is the final book in the excellent Reykjavik series.  I'm still behind in posting reviews so expect a flurry in the next few days, including Nate Silver's The Signal in the Noise, Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers, Michael Harvey's The Third Rail, and Colin Coterill's Love Songs from a Shallow Grave.

On Tuesday I was interviewed for RTE tv news, with another clip being used on the radio.  I still prefer doing the live interviews as you never quite know how you are going to be edited, but this turned out okay, I think.

My posts this week:
Review of The Reckoning by Jane Casey
Winters Bone by Daniel Woodrell on Petrona Remembered
Review of Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
Marching to Inishglora

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Marching toward Inishglora

A fine spray from the Atlantic rollers pounding to the shore drifted over the long strand.  JJ Lavelle stared at the horizon and the low, black isle of Inishglora.  He slowly removed his jacket dropping it to the wet sand, followed by his shirt.  He slipped his feet from worn, brown brogues, tugged off two odd socks, then undid his belt and let his trousers drop.  Standing in a vest and underpants he walked towards the sea and into the shallows.  The rush of a breaker surged over his thighs and he marched on undeterred into the freezing, churning water.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Review of Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (2012, Bloomsbury)

Lysander Rief, a young actor, has travelled to Vienna - the birthplace of his mother - to attend a psychiatrist in order to tackle a neurosis.  In the waiting room he meets the beautiful and precocious artist, Hettie Ball.  They start an affair which endangers them both, Rief eventually fleeing the city in early 1914.  A few months later, the Great War starts and Rief leaves the London stage to sign up for the army.  From there he is recruited into wartime intelligence due to his time in Vienna and sent to Switzerland via the trenches, tasked with discovering the identity of a spy in the war office.  Listless and unsure who to trust, Rief sets about the task, aware that his personal and work life have become horribly enmeshed.

Waiting for Sunrise is a detailed character study of Lysander Rief -- an actor from a wealthy background who holds a dark secret that casts a neurotic shadow over his life.  In seeking to rid himself of the shadow he gets drawn into an affair and pulled into the orbit of the intelligence services.  Both provide replacement shadows that haunt him and need resolution, and the story is essentially his journey to come to terms with his neuroses and find a steady and secure path.  That journey, however, is complex and dangerous, both in Vienna prior to the Great War and during the war itself.  Boyd fills Rief’s world with an interesting set of characters and social situations, and there is a strong sense of social history and place.  The prose is evocative and the plot unfolds in a steady, unhurried pace, and is nicely balanced with a subtle sense of intrigue.  And yet, for some reason, I wasn’t entirely convinced or captivated by the story; it seemed to lack something that left it a bit hollow -- a mix of direction, tension, urgency, a lead character one identified with or rooted for as opposed to simply viewing, I think.  Overall, then, an enjoyable, atmospheric read that lacked an edge.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Reckoning by Jane Casey (Ebury Press, 2011)

DC Maeve Kerrigan has been paired with the abrasive DI Derwent to investigate the murders of two men previously convicted for sex offences who were killed within a few hours of each other.  It appears that someone is targeting paedophiles and torturing them mercilessly before killing them.  In both cases, the men claimed to be innocent and they had managed to maintain the support of others, and since leaving prison had kept a low profile.  When a third body turns up it’s clear that someone has access to highly restricted records and that they’re moving quickly.  The challenge is not only catching the killer, but protecting his future potential victims.  Kerrigan and Derwent are determined to achieve both, but they have an awkward and fractious relationship.  Moreover, Kerrigan has a messy love life with another member of the squad that’s proving to be a distraction.  Just as they seem to crack the case it veers off on a perpendicular trajectory, with the stakes and pressure raised to another level.

I found The Reckoning to be somewhat of a curious read.  At one level, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  The writing was engaging, the procedural elements are well done, there’s a nice mix of characters, and the plot has a nice puzzle.  The twist halfway through was well executed and worked to elevate the plot above usual police procedural fare.  That said, the story was a little uneven in pacing, was a little clichéd in terms of character traits (the world weary superintendent, over-bearing, misogynist DI, headstrong DC, etc), though this is becoming difficult to avoid in a saturated genre, and there were a couple of clunky plot devices.  Kerrigan’s romance with her colleague, Rob, was often drawn out and worked to slow the storytelling at times (e.g., pages 90-123 is basically a set of conversations between them that could have been 8-10 pages and still have conveyed the same sentiments).  Moreover, her inability to commit to a relationship with him seemed contrived and a little ridiculous -- it made her appear as a serious, committed copper with a Bridget Jones complex that I just didn’t fully buy.  As the story neared its conclusion it relies on two elements that I always find somewhat annoying (a highly unlikely coincidence and a critical piece of evidence being delivered on a platter for no discernible reason).  Finally, towards the end, the narrative swaps from Maeve’s perspective to Rob’s, but whereas Maeve’s voice is strong and compelling, Rob’s felt flat and lifeless.  I realise that sounds quite negative, but as noted, The Reckoning is enjoyable, compelling and clever; with a little editing it would have been a real standout.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

Back on June 30th I was bemoaning the slow progress I'd been making on drafting an academic book I'm writing.  I had only managed to put together three and half chapters.  Since then I've made reasonably good progress, writing another four and half chapters plus the preface, and also a chapter for an edited book.  That leaves three chapters left to write by the end of the year, which is manageable.  I'm glad I've got this project back on track as I was starting to get worried about meeting the deadline.  Back to research and note taking again now.  I'm certainly learning a lot writing this book as I'm reading across the humanities, social sciences, sciences, industry, and the popular press and media.  Always a good thing.

My posts this week

Review of Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith
Sensationalist taglines and blurbs
Review of A Nail Through the Heart by Tim Hallinan
Is the housing market really picking up in Dublin?
Battle of wits
More negative evidence re. supposed pick up in the housing market

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Battle of wits

‘It’s a battle of wits.’  Charlie set the trap down.

‘It’s a man trying to murder a mouse.’

‘A mouse who’s a crafty bugger.’



‘It’s empty.  Give it time.  That’s only the first night.’


‘The cheese didn’t work?’

‘Not yet.’

‘That’s five days now.’

‘Don’t worry, we’re luring him into a false sense of security.’



Charlie looked up.  ‘Did you hear that?  We got the bugger.’


‘Does the trap make them vanish?’

‘Little sod managed to steal it.’

‘He has you outwitted, Charlie.  He’ll die a natural death before you catch him.’

‘He’s on borrowed time.’

‘Yes, yours.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review of A Nail Through the Heart by Tim Hallinan (Harper, 2007)

Poke Rafferty is a writer of ‘off-the-beaten-track’ travel guides to South East Asia.  He’s settled in Bangkok, taken in a young street girl, Miaow, who he’s trying to adopt, has an ex go-go dancer as a girlfriend, Rose, who has set up her own cleaning business, and is friends with, Arthit, an honest cop serving in a largely corrupt police force.  Not long after agreeing to help Superman, Miaow’s friend from the street who has a reputation for being difficult and violent, Raffrety is asked by an Australian woman to find her missing uncle, a long time resident in the city.  He reluctantly agrees as a favour to Arthit.  His investigation soon leads him to the unsettling and dangerous Madame Wing, who wants him to find the person trying to blackmail her.  Given the money on offer, Rafferty agrees.  His two cases are seemingly disconnected, but both lead to very dark places.  Unable to disentangle himself, he needs to find a solution that administers justice but does not threaten his new family, a task that seems all but impossible.

The strength of A Nail Through the Heart is the sense of place and contextualisation; Poke Rafferty is a travel writer in Bangkok and, likewise, Hallinan gives a good Western perspective and explanation of the city and culture.  The story, however, suffers from a couple of shortcomings: I did not sufficiently believe in the main character, nor in the plot.  Poke Rafferty came across as somewhat schizophrenic – hyper-sensitive and caring to the point of being sappy with his adopted family and certain others, yet hardnosed, threatening, and at times violent with others.  He’s either tiptoeing over eggshells or creating them and the two halves felt disconnected.  The main two plotlines are interesting and unfold at a good pace, but too many elements are over-contrived and clunky, and there were too many subplots.  It was if Hallinan decided to try cram as much action and emotive darkness into one story as possible.  Sometimes less is more.  This was a shame as it’s clear he’s a good writer and the set-up and setting have a lot of promise.  Overall, a reasonably entertaining read, and I’d try the next in the series, but this felt over-written.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sensationalist taglines and blurbs

I finished reading Jane Casey's The Reckoning last night.  I enjoyed it and will publish a review early next week.  When I finished the book, I re-read the cover tagline and back cover blurb.  They've been written to give a certain impression of the book, but are really quite misleading.

Cover tagline: The police call it murder.  He calls it justice.
Back cover blurb:
To the public, he's a hero: a killer who targets convicted paedophiles.

Two men are dead already - tortured to death.

Even the police don't regard the cases as a priority. Most feel that two dead paedophiles is a step in the right direction.

But to DC Maeve Kerrigan, no one should be allowed to take the law into their own hands. Young and inexperienced, Kerrigan wants to believe that murder is murder no matter what the sins of the victim. Only, as the killer's violence begins to escalate, she is forced to confront exactly how far she's prepared to go to ensure justice is served...

He does not call it justice.  He's not a hero to the public; the public do not know about him because the police do not tell them.  In fact the public and media are entirely absent from the book.  The police do regard it as a priority and they throw more resources at the case, not less, as it escalates.  Kerrigan does not have to confront exactly how far she's prepared to go to ensure justice is served, she already knows and she never waivers from the task at hand.

Usually this kind of blurb writing, which bares a superficial resemblence to the story, wouldn't really bother me, but for some reason it tweaked a nerve very late last night.  Oh well.  The book's still worth a read.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith (Tin Town, 2012)

Ishmael Toffee has just been released from Pollsmoor prison after serving twenty years for multiple murders, both outside and inside its walls.  Having lost the urge to kill and discovered gardening it’s felt that he no longer poses a threat to society, but is at high risk of being murdered if he continues to serve time.  Paroled, he returns The Flats, the massive ramshackle shanty at the edge of Cape Town and starts work a gardener in a rich, white household.  The father is standoffish and the maid has no time for him.  The young daughter though is fascinated by his gang tattoos.  They quickly form an awkward friendship, then the child asks for help.  She is being sexually abused by the father, hence the suicide of her mother a few months previously.  Ishmael knows that by helping her is asking for serious trouble, but he also can’t leave her to fend for herself.

Roger Smith’s stories always pack a powerful punch and so it is with Ishmael Toffee, a novella set in Cape Town, South Africa.  The plot is quite linear and has a certain inevitability of outcome, but that matters little.  Smith writes with a visceral urgency, every sentence propelling the story forward.  The story immediately hooks the reader in and drags them on an emotive ride as Ishmael, with his bloody, remorseless past, is re-cast as an anti-hero, who for the first time in his life is looking out for more than just himself.  The characterisation and contextualisation is excellent and the story harrowing but compelling.  Overall, a quick but gripping read.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

A very quiet week with my head down writing on ethics and big data and trying not to become too paranoid about the dark undertones of dataveillance.  To keep the dark theme going, in the evenings I've read Tim Hallinan's A Nail Through the Heart and Roger Smith's Ishmael Toffee, and I'm now halfway through The Reckoning by Jane Casey.  All of which highlight what a messed up and often sick world with live in.  I think I might need to read something fluffy, light and funny next, though I don't see much of that in the TBR pile.

My posts this week:
Review of The Barber Surgeon's Hairshirt by Douglas Lindsay
Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Launch of The Doll's House by Louise Phillips
Review of The Lost by Claire McGowan
We're not losing any more

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We’re not losing any more

‘There’s four dead in the corner field.  One ewe and three lambs.’

‘The O’Connor dogs.’


‘That’s that then.  I’m getting the gun.’  He headed for the farmhouse. 

‘Tom.  You can’t just go and shoot them.’  Mary trotted after him.

‘I damn well can!  They have a taste for it now; they’ll be back for more.’

‘We’ve no proof it was them.’

‘It was them.’

‘It could have been a fox.’

‘Foxes kill for food, not for fun.  They’ve been loose in the field before.’

‘It could ...’

‘We’re not losing any more.’  He lifted the shotgun from its case.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review of The Lost by Claire McGowan (Headline, 2013)

Paula Maguire fled to London from Ballyterrin in Northern Ireland, close to the border with the South, in her late teens.  There she trained as a forensic psychologists specialising in finding missing persons.  Twelve years after leaving, her help is requested from the local force, seeking to locate two missing teenage girls, plus her father has broken his leg.  Having fallen out with her boss yet again, Paula reluctantly accepts the secondment.  But going back to the small border town that is still carrying the scars of The Troubles is as every bit as unsettling as Paula feared.  As are the cases of the two missing girls, one the eldest daughter of a local developer and politician, the other a Traveller.  She is meant to be reviewing the files, getting a sense of the two girls, and seeing if the cases matched any previous disappearances, but headstrong and authority adverse she starts to take a more active role in the investigation, focusing on the role of a local mission group.  And when she is told to desist, she continues on regardless, throwing fresh light on the cases, but also jeopardising them and herself.  But as with most things in Ballyterrin and its recent history, nothing is quite what it seems.

There’s a lot to like about The Lost.  Paula Maguire is an engaging character with a strong personality and interesting personal history, and Ballyterrin, a fictional Irish border town, has its fill of sectarian ghosts and secrets.  The support characters are a little clichéd, but generally well realised, and the story has a nice swirl of main plot and subplots.  In particular, the contextualisation with respect to the role of the mission and the history of the treatment of young women by families and the Church is well done.  That said, the story is a little overwrought at times, veering towards melodrama (especially in the last quarter), and it’s hard to believe that Paula wouldn’t have been reined in more tightly by her police colleagues given her propensity to stray (she’s not a police officer and she’s in Northern Ireland, the most officious and rule bound police force in the UK).  Nevertheless, it’s an engaging read that I sense might be the first in a series; if so, I look forward to the next instalment.  Both Paula Maguire and the storytelling reminded me quite a bit of Elly Griffiths ‘Ruth Galloway’ series and I suspect if you like those books you’ll enjoy The Lost

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Launch of The Doll's House by Louise Phillips

Yesterday saw the launch of The Doll's House by Irish crime fiction writer, Louise Phillips.  Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the launch in Dublin as I was on the other side of the country, but it seems to have gone well according to the comments on Twitter/Facebook.  The book is the second to feature Dr Kate Pearson, a criminal psychologist, and is the sequel to Red Ribbons.  You can read the blurb and find out more on Louise's website.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011, Arrow Books)

It’s 2044 and the excesses of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries have taken their toll -- oil has all but run out, climate change has led to famine, and the economy and public services have gone to hell in a hand basket.  Folk have fled suburban sprawl and commuter towns and have moved into the cities, crammed into buildings or occupying trailers stacked into skyscrapers.  In order to escape the drudgery of their lives they escape into the OASIS, an enormous virtual reality made up of thousands of worlds.  Five years previously, James Halliday, a pioneer inventor of video games and the creator of OASIS, announced in his will that hidden in the system are three keys that open three gates leading to Halliday’s Easter egg and control of his business empire and fortune.  The only clue to the location of the first key is a riddle, which proves difficult to decipher.  Wade Watts is a poor teenager living in the stacks of Oklahoma City obsessed with Halliday’s quest.  Like millions of others he spends his free time trying to crack the riddle, immersing himself in the folklore surrounding Halliday and the culture of his favourite decade, the 1980s.  Also in the hunt is Innovative Online Industries, a massive conglomerate that uses indentured labour and wants to own and monetize the OASIS, and they don’t care how they achieve their goal.  People are starting to tire of game, but then Watts manages to solve the first riddle, his character, Parzival, suddenly gaining worldwide fame and unwittingly putting himself in real life danger.  The race is now on to pass through the other two gates and claim the prize.

The front cover blurb states that Ready Player One is Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.  In my view it’s more Willy Wonka meets Ender’s Game and Virtual Light.  Wade Watts is the poor kid living in a post-apocalyptic, gerry-built, bricolage landscape, escaping into the virtual worlds of the OASIS with the dream of solving an eccentric inventor’s challenge and inheriting the company and associated fortune.  There’s very little to fault in Cline’s storytelling or the detailed world he creates, which has a strong sense of plausibility and realism.  Wade is on a dungeons and dragons style adventure through an enormous set of virtual worlds, where the quest is steeped in references to 1980s culture - the music, video games, movies and fashions.  On his journey he undertakes challenges, collects artefacts, builds the powers of his character, makes friends, falls in love, and battles an evil empire to save the future of humanity.  And just like an addictive game, the story hooks the reader in and the pages keep turning.  The characterisation is nicely done, the plot is excellent, and the contextualisation is very well realised.  Indeed, it’s clear that Cline spent a lot of time on the details and it shows -- it’s a tale about a bunch of geeks doing geeky stuff that is geeky in its creation.  At times it’s a little too linear, and once Wade has found a path he tends to travel down it relatively easily, and the real world tends to fade into the background, but this is all very minor stuff.  Overall it was a joy to read and given its strong plotting and intertextuality, I can envisage the story being made into a TV series or a movie.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt by Douglas Lindsay (2001; reissued 2011, Blasted Heath)

After his exploits in The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, Barney is on the run accused of being one of Scotland’s worst serial killers.  Heading north from Glasgow he has made his way deep into the highlands using his barbering skills to leave a trail of neatly trimmed heads in his wake and nobody with a bad word to say about him.  Running out of money and places to hide he enrols in an isolated monastery cut off from the rest of the world.  Shortly after his arrival the brothers start to drop dead.  It seems like Barney is a natural catalyst and fall guy for serial killers.  With bodies piling up and the snow coming down the only solution to his predicament is to catch the real killer, a task he’s wholly unsuited to.  Meanwhile, DI Joel Mulholland and DC Erin Proudfoot are hot on his trail, and hot for each other, their unconsummated flirting preceding them as they systematically visit every hotel and B&B in northern Scotland.  The question is whether they’ll find Thomson before all thirty monks are murdered and whether they’ll be able to keep acting like monks during their search.

The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt (originally published as The Cutting Edge) is an outrageous farce from start to finish.  The tale is divided into two parallel storylines that eventually collide: DI Joel Mulholland and DS Erin Proudfoot journey across northern Scotland hunting the notorious barber Barney Thomson who’s wanted in connection to multiple murders; and Thomson’s refuge in a remote monastery full of men hiding from the world, amongst whom lurks two serial killers, one accused, one real.  Lindsay amplifies all the elements of the plot -- the brooding romance between Mulholland and Proudfoot, the trail of local residents who didn’t feel the need to tell the police when they gave Thomson lodging, the tabloid headlines that accuse Thomson of every crime and missed goal in Scotland’s history, the murders in the monastery, and the bleak winter weather -- and liberally doses the narrative with humour.  For the first half of the novel this works really well.  The story is a funny spoof on crime fiction, told through an engaging voice.  In the second half the telling becomes a bit tedious, repetitive and trying as Lindsay demonstrates his cleverness by spewing a dictionary and quotes, and the plot gets stretched to breaking point as it becomes more and more ridiculous.  Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable ride overall, especially Mulholland and Proudfoot’s journey, and the next book in the series is queued up on my kindle.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

Had a lovely morning so far trying to deal with a 'blue screen of death'.  I'm reasonably technically literate, but trying to follow the advice on help forums is still bewildering.  Could be a malware issue, a driver issue, a hardware issue.  The joys of living a life over-determined by code.  I think I'll just go back to reading Claire McGowan's The Lost and hope that it goes away on its own.  At least the title sums up my predicament

My posts this week
Review of The Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler
Fiddling with Rome burns: Housing in Ireland
Review of Cripple Creek by James Sallis
July reviews
Review of Black Seconds by Karin Fossum
All sins require justice

Saturday, August 3, 2013

All sins require justice

‘You must have done something?’

Paulsen kept his gaze on a spider wrapping a trapped fly.  ‘What?’

‘Even if you are innocent, you must have done something that demands penance.’

‘A few minor infractions doesn’t deserve life imprisonment.’

‘So you did do bad things.  All sins require justice.’

‘There’s a difference between bad and illegal and they're irrelevant anyway.  I didn’t kill that girl.’

‘So you say.  But nobody believes you, man: the police, her family, the jury.  You need to bow down before the lord and pray for forgiveness.’

‘I need a better lawyer.  And a different cell mate.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review of Black Seconds by Karin Fossum (Harvill Secker, 2007; Norwegian 2002)

Nine year old Ida Joner lives with her mother in a small neighbourhood some way from the nearest town.  Early one evening she gets on her new yellow bike and heads to the local shop to buy some sweets.  A short while later and she has not returned and her mother, Helga, has grown anxious.  When she calls the shop the owner says Ida never arrived.  Helga calls her daughter’s friends, then her sister, Ruth.  With her panic rising the sisters search the local area to no avail and then call the police. Inspector Konrad Sejer tries to reassure the mother and sets about organising a search.  Two days later and Ida’s disappearance is front page news, her mother is distraught, and Sejer’s investigation appears to be going nowhere.  He has few clues, but is methodological and patient.  Time, however,  is not on his side; Sejer knows that the longer Ida is missing, the less likely it is she’ll be found alive. 

Black Seconds is the sixth book in the Inspector Sejer series and the first I’ve read.  I found it somewhat of a curious read as there was not much mystery to the case, yet it was oddly compelling.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  First, the storytelling is quite understated, simply focused on the unfolding of the events and its consequences to those involved.  The characterisation and social interactions are keenly observed, providing a high degree of social realism and emotional sensitivity.  The hook is the exploration of how crime and life are rarely black and white; through mishap and misadventure people can find themselves on the wrong side of the law and bound up in situations that are difficult to resolve.  Second, the telling had a nice cadence and descriptive prose.  The combination produced an engaging style that kept the pages turning, despite there being few moments of high drama and the plot being relatively transparent.  Overall, a story where style and telling elevated a somewhat average story to into a captivating read. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

July reviews

A good month of reading, with three standout reads from Alan Glynn, William McIlvanney and Gene Kerrigan, with Kevin McCarthy not far behind.  Difficult to pick a book of the month from those three but I'm going for Little Criminals.  A wonderful, dark tale set in Ireland just prior to the crash.

Cripple Creek by James Sallis ***.5
The Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler ***
The Maze of Cadiz by Aly Monroe ***.5
Laidlaw by William McIlvanney *****
Graveland by Alan Glynn *****
Dead Man's Time by Peter James ***
Irregulars by Kevin McCarthy ****.5
The Deal by Michael Clifford ***
Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett ***
Little Criminals by Gene Kerrigan *****