Thursday, February 28, 2013

February reads

This month of reading has been probably been the best since I started the blog.  I hit a streak of very good books, all of which I'd recommend.  It's difficult picking a book of the month with three five star reads in the mix (and thankfully I'm still a few pages from the end of White Dog by Peter Temple, otherwise I'd have more of a headache).  I'm going to give it as a tie between Hard Bite and The Sea Detective.  Beyond being excellent reads, they both also managed to be fresh and original.

Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston ****
Too Big to Know by David Weinberger ***.5
In Search of Klingsor by Jorgi Volpi ****
Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi ****
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home *****
Piggyback by Tom Pitts ****.5
Ratlines by Stuart Neville *****
Hard Bite by Anonymous-9 *****
Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne ****

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review of Too Big to Know by David Weinberger (2011, Basic Books)

In Too Big to Know, David Weinberger (2011) develops a materialist argument with regards to the relationship between the medium and nature of communication, arguing: ‘[t]ransform the medium by which we develop, preserve, and communicate knowledge, and we transform knowledge.’  Such arguments have been made by others, such as Kittler in his book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, where he sets out how each of these technologies transformed knowledge production and changed how people relate to and interact with knowledge.  Of course, it’s not just technologies that shape the creation of knowledge, but social and cultural milieu with, for example, the notion of authorship and readership shifting over time in response to political transformations such as the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Weinberger is no doubt right that the formulation, communication and nature of knowledge is presently being transformed by the internet through the radical ‘networking of knowledge’.  Knowledge, he argues, ‘is now a property of the network’, altering its shape and nature, wherein ‘[t]he smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it.’ Knowledge is framed not as ‘a library but a playlist’.  In an engaging narrative, he contends that the networking of knowledge leads inevitably to knowledge without a firm foundation (networks do not have bases); an elimination of gatekeeping and filtering; and an erosion of the value of tokens of credibility, authority and reputation; thus leading to a flattening and democratisation of knowledge production and sharing.

His arguments with regards to filtering forward and credibility, however, overstate the case that there is a flattening and democratisation of information.  Yes, search engines do provide links to all relevant pages rather than filtering out, but in filtering forward they order and weight the material.  That ordering pushes those searching towards certain kinds of sites; often ones owned by corporations and institutions.  Indeed, the internet is inhabited by the bastions of traditional media, such as publishers, newspapers, radio and television, and they are still dominant sources of news and analysis which continue to work by filtering out.  And whilst there is a move to open access, much valuable knowledge still exists behind pay walls - whether that is on the internet or in traditional media, such as the Weinberger’s book.  Indeed, data and data analytics are massive, multi-billion dollar industries, and that is unlikely to change any time soon, even with the opening up of some data and information.  The push towards open access has been accompanied by attempts to extend and tighten intellectual property regimes, and there is an on-going tussle between public good and private profit (though both are increasingly networked).  Moreover, hierarchies of credibility, authority and reputation are re-established on the internet, not erased; most often on along the usual institutional lines.  As a result without some form of credibility and authority, individuals can post material on their own pages, but readership will be much smaller than on institutional sites where it is penned by authors who have forms of cultural capital established through the usual institutional channels.  Further, the means of sharing maybe more democratic (assuming you have the resources, literacy and time to be online and post material), but the distribution of attraction, influence and power have not been made even and equal.  This suggests that far from the traditional pyramid of knowledge being reconfigured into a network, the situation is more complex. 

This is not to say that the internet is not changing how knowledge is produced, shared and debated, it most certainly is.  Rather, knowledge will continue to display a certain lumpiness rather than flattening.  To a degree this is illustrated by the self-acknowledged irony and hypocrisy evident in the medium Weinberger uses to communicate his thesis - a traditionally published book that has closed, paid access, is protected by copyright as opposed to having a creative commons license (he strongly advocates open access and open licensing), is not interlinked beyond tradition references, and seeks to claim authority and credibility through the gatekeeping and investment of a publisher and his institutional affiliation at Harvard.  We might be entering a new phase in the nature of knowledge, and Weinberger undoubtedly raises some important questions to ponder, but he undermines his own argument through the very choice of medium it is made through.

Nevertheless this is an interesting and thought-provoking book, written in an engaging and easy-to-follow style.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books, 2005)

After being in the wrong place at the wrong time and barely surviving murder and mayhem in New York, Hank Thompson has been hiding out in Mexico in a beach hut, keeping his head low and living a life that doesn’t suggest he has four and half million dollars buried in the sand.  The Russian mafia though has long memories and tentacles and when a nosy backpacker turns up, Hank knows it’s time to move out.  He also knows he needs to try and protect his parents who, now the mafia know he’s alive, have become a potential leverage point.  Getting out of Mexico and into the US, however, is not straightforward when you’ve corrupt policemen on your trail and you’re on the ten most wanted fugitives list for crimes you mostly didn’t commit.  After four years of relative calm, a vicious tornado has been released and its tracking Hank from Mexico to California to Las Vegas, attracting head cases and spitting out dead bodies.  Hank is not about to roll over though and accept defeat, even if it just leads him further into trouble.

Six Bad Things is the second in the Hank Thompson trilogy, though it can be read as a standalone (though I’d recommend reading the excellent Caught Stealing first).  It starts relatively sedately with a wonderful scene about how Hank has become addicted to cigarettes, gains a little pace and then opens out full throttle.  Huston excels at writing fast paced action sequences and riffing dialogue (the conversations between Hank and Sally are exceptionally good), and he strings these together into an endless succession of scrapes, highs and lows, and twists and turns.  Hank is an engaging lead character, teetering on an anti-hero tightrope between goody and baddy, and the other characters are well penned, providing interesting foils.  Whilst the story is an enjoyable romp, it’s not quite as engaging as Caught Stealing, a couple of bits seemed a little over-contrived, and the end was a wee bit flat, working more to set up the third instalment rather than closing this one off.  Nevertheless, it is superior stuff, and anyone who enjoys fast-action noir with wise-cracking dialogue, will gallop through it wearing a wry smile.  Bring on A Dangerous Man, the final instalment in the series.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stiffed cover

I've been working with the cover designer, Eric Beetner, on the cover for Stiffed.  I had a few mocks, which I might post sometime, but we've gone for one that Eric concocted.  Simple, bold and evocative.  What do you think?

Also check out Eric's own fiction.  Here's my review of Dig Two Graves and I've The Devil Doesn't Want Me on my kindle.

I'm not sure of the release date for Stiffed, but once I know I'll pass it on.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

Nearly all of the books I read are paperbacks.  I do have a kindle, but I've tended to only use it when I'm travelling.  I'm aware, however, that I have a few e-books building up (though nothing like the paper to-be-read pile).  Here's what's waiting to be read.  I hope to get to them over the next few months.  The first one - The Polka Dot Girl - has an quirky angle: it's a noir in which every single character is female.  It'll be interesting to see how successfully that works. 

The Polka Dot Girl by Darragh McManus
Missing in Rangoon by Christopher G. Moore
Big Maria by Johnny Shaw
Karma Backlash by Chad Rohrbacher
The Devil Doesn't Want Me by Eric Beetner
A Healthy Fear of Man by Aaron Philip Clark
All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards
The Perfect Crime by Les Edgerton
The Barbershop Seven by Douglas Lindsay (books 1-7, Barney Thomson series)

My posts this week
Vacancy at individual property and town level
Review of In Search of Klingsor by Jorgi Volpi
Crime fiction from around the world
Review of Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi
Review of The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home
Playing by the river

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Playing by the river

‘There.  It’s a body.’

Kevin prodded the black plastic bag with a long stick and it bobbed between the reeds.

‘It’s not a body, it’s just some rubbish.’

‘I’m telling you, I saw fingers sticking out.’

‘You’ve been watching too much Lewis and Midsomer Murders.  They always have nutters finding bodies in bags.  It’s just some crap that a litterbug has dumped.’

He speared the bag, piercing the thin plastic and dragged it to the bank, the stick creating a tear, exposing an arm.

‘Shit,’ Kevin exclaimed, jumping back.

‘Told you!'

‘You think it’s real?’

‘I think we’re nutters.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review of The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home (2011, Sandstone Press)

Cal McGill is a part-time PhD oceanography student charting how the currents move free-floating objects, supplementing his studies by running Flotsam and Jetsam Investigations, which seeks to track and source particular items such as nets and oil spills for a variety of agencies.  He has a particular interest in charting the movement of bodies, seeking the location where his grandfather may have been washed ashore on the Norwegian coast in the Second World War.  He’s also a part-time eco-warrior, highlighting the issue of climate change by planting a particular, symbolic plant in the gardens of senior Scottish government figures.  Only on his latest escapade he’s been caught on camera.  DI David Ryan, a misogynist and careerist cop, would like to throw the book at Cal, but nobody else wants to press charges, least of all the politicians, wary of how it will play out in the media.  Nonetheless Cal and photographs of his work and his grandfather appear in several newspapers.  The story is seen by an Indian girl on the run from her pimps, who recognises a photo of her friend who’d disappeared three years earlier pinned to his map, and also prompts Cal’s ex-wife to make contact to tell him she’s making a documentary about the remote island where his grandfather used to inhabit and that she’s met an old woman who’d like to talk to him.  The first sees him drawn into the dark world of sex trafficking, the latter prompts him to confront his grandfather’s past and the rumours surrounding his death.  Meanwhile, Ryan and his put-upon, overweight colleague, Helen Jamieson, has been assigned to investigate the appearance of three feet that have been washed up onto different beaches.  Ryan sees it as a path to promotion, but refuses to use Cal’s expertise and wants Jamieson to do all the work whilst he builds his media profile.  Jamieson is fed-up of being bullied by her obnoxious boss and wants to claim the credit of solving the case, and has no issues with using Cal on the quiet.  Drawn into these various strands, the sea detective will either drown or steer a path through stormy currents. 

The Sea Detective is a hugely enjoyable read, told in an engaging and compelling voice.  An awful lot happens in its 280 pages, with its three main intersecting plot lines, but at no point does the story feel overcomplicated or underdeveloped or overly contrived.  Packing so much in, in terms of historical, social and scientific contextualisation and the back stories of the various characters, whilst keep the story front and centre without the text becoming bloated or preachy is a remarkable feat.  The characterisation is excellent, especially the lead characters of Cal McGill, DC Helen Jamieson, Basanti, and DI Ryan, who all are complex and three-dimensional (I especially liked Jamieson as the intelligent but overweight cop who craves recognition and acceptance, but is misjudged and mocked by her colleagues).  Douglas-Home is particularly good at framing and playing out a scene and the interactions between characters.  There is a strong sense of place throughout, especially with respect to rural, coastal Scotland.  The plotting is, in my view is exceptional, creating a story that hooks the story in and incessantly tugs them along on a gripping, emotional journey.  Overall, an excellent first novel that I’d thoroughly recommend.  I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi (2010, Oxford University Press)

A short review of a short book.  Writing a concise, but quite thorough and balanced overview of a concept is no easy task.  Floridi largely succeeds.  To do so he is necessarily selective in his approach, focusing on information from a largely information theory perspective, whilst framing that within wider understandings, the development of the information society, and the era of big data.  The narrative is clear and straightforward to follow, with plenty of examples, and lots of signposting.  Chapters cover mathematical, semantic, physical, biological and economic information, as well as a brief discussion of some ethical issues.  A handy, introductory guide to one of the defining concepts of our age.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finding crime fiction from around the world

I do a fair bit of travelling and I always try to read fiction set wherever I'm visiting.  As a result, I'm often looking for recommendations for suitable books.  I've been pointed in the direction of a useful resource - the Stop You’re Killing Me database.  It allows you to browse its database of crime fiction from around the world, listing authors and series for each locale.  I'll no doubt make use of it, but whilst it is a useful resource, I'll probably still put up posts asking for suggestions as I find personal recommendations about particular authors and series valuable in choosing a particular title (and also the database is less extensive outside of the US).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review of In Search of Klingsor by Jorgi Volpi (1999 Spanish, 2004 Fourth Estate)

Francis X Bacon is a promising physicist in pre-war America.  After a stellar undergraduate degree he’s taken on at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, working alongside such greats as Einstein and von Neumann.  After a couple of indiscretions it’s suggested that he transfer to the US Army to work on science-related research.  The war is now well underway and Bacon’s job is to help compile dossiers on Germany’s leading scientists.  After the D-Day landings in Normandy he is shipped to the continent, working in a team hunting down physicists working on the German atomic programme.  In the immediate post-war period he’s given the task of identifying ‘Klingsor’, the codename for supposedly the most senior scientist in the Nazi regime, responsible for allocating funds and resources to different programmes.  To aid him in his task he recruits Professor Gustav Links, a mathematician and conspirator in the attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944.  Through a twist of fate, Links had survived the purges that followed.  Together, Bacon and Links try to uncover the identity of Klingsor travelling to interview such luminaries as Planck, Heisenberg, Bohr and Schrodinger, but each time they seem to draw close they are cast into smoke and mirrors.

In Search of Klingsor is, in many ways, a remarkable book.  It is full of science, philosophy, metaphysics and the great personalities of early twentieth century physics.  It not only binds together the story arc with historical episodes and explanations of atomic science and game theory, it uses the principles of the latter as narrative devices.  For example, the entire tale is an illustration of game theory and uncertainty.  The telling of Bacon’s life story and his encounters with the various scientists is well executed, with the personalities and histories of the latter vividly bought to life.  Indeed, the story is rich in detail and for the most part cleverly and engagingly constructed, and the book is clearly based on extensive research.  There is, however, a weakness in the structure.  The telling is divided into three parts.  If Volpi had found a way to conclude the story after the second part I have little doubt this would be one of my reads of the year.  It really was a masterpiece up until this point.  The third part, however, shifted focus to concentrate on Gustav Links, with the style and pace altering, and more problematically, it little advanced the story with regards to the search for Klingsor.  It worked to take the wind out of the sails of what had been a thoroughly compelling yarn and also led to some loose ends, not least with respect to Bacon, creating somewhat of a weak conclusion.  Nonetheless, the first 300 pages of this book were excellent; it was just a shame that the final 100 pages didn’t quite match them.  Overall, if you’re interested in twentieth century physics and the German atomic programme, this is a fascinating and entertaining read.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I have bought at least one book a week since the start of the new year.  In fact, most weeks I have bought three or more.  This week I bought five and had one kindly sent to me by an author (Missing in Rangoon by Christopher G Moore).  The only plus side to this is I consistently read at least two books a week; nonetheless the pile of to-be-read is growing.  Up until now I've been pretty good at keeping the pile low by reading just about everything I've bought.  And I intend to read everything I've recently purchased.  The solution is to stop buying books for a while.  Or to up the read rate.  Which might be a possibility if all the books on the pile are as good as The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home.  I bought it yesterday and started to read it whilst waiting in a car park.  I had it finished by this morning.  Review to follow, but it's fair to say I thought it was an exceptional read.  The other books I bought were:

White Dog by Peter Temple
Death in Bordeaux by Allan Massie
Stettin Station by David Downing (for a trip to Berlin in August)
The Dividing Line by Richard Parrish (for a trip to Tucson in April)

My posts this week:
Review of Piggyback by Tom Pitts
Scrapping of the National Spatial Strategy
Review of Ratlines by Stuart Neville
Tucson crime fiction?
Ireland's house prices in comparison to EU27, 2007-12
Number one at the end of the bar

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Number one at the end of the bar

‘I think you’ve had enough, Sean.’

‘Enough?  I’ve, ’ve barely got started.’

‘Well, I think it’s time to stop already.’

‘Mike, Michael, how often do I ... I come in here?’

‘Every feckin’ day.’

‘And how much money do I spend?’

‘A small fortune.’

‘And you’re throwing out ... your best customer?’

‘I’m suggesting a coffee or a soft drink or water.’

‘Water?  I not a feckin’ goat!  Whiskey, Michael, that’s what men drink.’

‘Coffee or a Seven Up?  What’s it to be?’

‘How about we ... compromise on an Irish coffee?’


‘With chocolate sprinkles?’

‘Don’t push it, Sean.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tucson crime fiction?

I'm travelling to LA and Tucson in April.  I have a small pile of books on the to-be-read pile set in LA, however, I'm looking for recommendations for crime fiction set in Tucson.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review of Ratlines by Stuart Neville (Harvill Secker, 2013)

It’s 1963 and Otto Skorzeny, the legendary leader of the German commando raid to liberate Mussolini from an Italian mountain top in the Second World War, is living in Ireland, using it as a base to coordinate a series of ratlines to aid his former Nazi colleagues escape to new lives.  About hundred or so ex-Nazis or their collaborators are thought to reside on the island and someone has started to pick them off, one-by-one, leaving messages for Skorzeny.  The German, however, is very well connected politically and he convinces Charles Haughey, the Justice Minister, to investigate the cases and protect him.  With President Kennedy about to arrive in the country, the last thing Haughey wants is Ireland’s sheltering of war criminals becoming public.  Haughey orders Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence to undertake the task.  Ryan is a former commando himself, having served with the British army.  He reluctantly takes the case, seeking to protect a man he has little empathy for and as the case unfolds he finds himself not only battling the forces ranged against Skorzeny but his own conscience and government.

The strengths of Ratlines are the characterisation, plot, contextualisation, and pacing and prose.  Neville revels in tales of conflicted, outsider characters placed in difficult circumstances.  The lead character in Ratlines is Albert Ryan, an Irishman, but also protestant who has served in the British army fighting the Germans, who has some sympathies with those administering justice to Nazis on the run.  He thoroughly dislikes his mission of protecting Skorzeny and the politics underpinning it, but he’s prepared to do his duty.  However, when all around are using you as a pawn with little regard for your well-being or justice, fulfilling that duty stretches resolve and loyalties, and Neville very nicely explores such tensions.  Moreover, by using real events and characters, such as Haughey and Skorzeny, and capturing some of the social constrictors of 1960s Ireland, Neville firmly embeds Ryan and the story in the political landscape of Ireland of the time.  The result is a thriller that is not simply framed as good versus evil, but is much more textured, nuanced and ambiguous.  The prose is tight and expressive, and the story rattles along at a fair clip.  Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review of Piggyback by Tom Pitts (Snubnose Press, 2012)

Jimmy prides himself on being a pro in a business full of fools and fuck-ups who can’t keep their hands off the merchandise.  Paul is such a fuck-up.  He’s recruited two college girls to courier a shipment of weed to Utah, failing to tell them that they’re piggybacking five kilos of cocaine.  Only the girls have disappeared and so have the drugs.  Paul’s ruthless boss, Jose, doesn’t like fuck-ups, and he likes losing his drugs even less.  Desperate to recover the haul before Jose notices, Paul turns up at Jimmy’s apartment seeking help.  Jimmy agrees on condition of receiving a slice of the recovered goods and the pair set off from San Francisco on a road trip across northern California on the trail of the girls.  It should be a straightforward exercise - find the girls, recover the drugs - but things rarely go to plan when Paul is involved.

Piggyback is a short, sharp blast of a read; a noir novella with snappy dialogue, a relentless pace, cinematic visuals, and strongly etched characters.  The whole story has the feel of a movie narrative; indeed it would make a good film given its Tarrantinoesque qualities.  Jimmy and Paul make for an interesting double act: strong and thoughtful paired with weak, skittish and easily distracted; and the small cast of other characters are well penned.  The plotting is tight with a strong story arc, fashioned through a series of minor twists of fate leading to a very noir ending.  I was gripped from the first page and tore through it in one entertaining sitting.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

A week of contrasting reading with respect to endings.  Earlier in the week I reviewed Bed of Nails, a book that was significantly enhanced by a powerful ending.  Last night I finished reading The Search for Klingsor by Jorgi Volpi, a book that in my view was shaping up to be something of a masterpiece before being let down somewhat by a weak ending.  Interestingly, both books had strong philosophical and metaphysical undertones and slightly ambiguous conclusions, and both were thought provoking.  However, whilst Bed of Nails left me conflicted and reflective, The Search for Klingsor made me frustrated for what could have been, especially since the first three quarters of the book had been so exceptionally good.  Funny how an ending can colour a whole book.

My posts this week:

Review of Hard Bite by Anonymous-9
Reading conversations
Review of Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne
330-up of new to me authors
Venice crime fiction
A ship without a rudder

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A ship without a rudder

‘Well? How do you explain that?’

The boy shrugged.

‘You’re like a ship without a rudder, Danny; you just go wherever the tide and wind take you!  Or in your case, Kevin and Jamie.  They’re pirates in training.  On the fast track to a life of crime on the high seas.  And you, you’re on track to become cannon fodder.’

‘I’m not a rudderless ship?’

‘Ships are sunk by cannons and rudderless ones are sitting targets.  They spend eternity on the ocean floor.  Do you understand what I’m saying?’

‘Yeah, whatever.’ 

‘Start using a rudder, Danny.  Before it’s too late.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, February 8, 2013

Venice crime fiction?

I'm travelling to Venice at the end of March to attend a meeting.  I'm looking for some crime fiction set in the city, preferably translated Italian fiction, but happy to take a read of any written by Anglo writers.  Any recommendations? 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

300 up of new-to-me authors

Last week I posted the 300th review of a new-to-me author.  I only know this because at the end of each year I list such authors (all my reviews are listed here).  The great joy of reading other crime fiction blogs is I get to learn about hundreds of books a year and I track down many of them.  It has led to me reading much more widely across the genre and fiction from dozens of countries.  It has been incredibly rewarding and I've discovered many wonderful books and authors.  My plan over the next couple of years is to continue to discover new authors, but also to shift my reading more to catching up with books by authors I've read previously.  This is reflected in my present to-be-read pile where over fifty percent of the book are by authors I'm already familiar with.  Many thanks to all those blogs and review sites through which I've discovered new authors.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review of Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne (MacLehose, 2012, French 2009)

Shunned by his colleagues for investigating a fellow police officer who seemingly committed suicide, Lieutenant Guérin has somewhat ironically been reassigned to deal with suicides in Paris.  His sidekick is the naive and jumpy, Lambert, who slides in and out of daydreams.  The socially awkward and intelligent Guérin was on the fast track before it took a sharp turn into a dead-end.  Now he lives in his dead mother’s apartment, accompanied by her aging parrot who heckles him, and quietly continues to investigate his colleague’s death, convinced he was murdered.  In fact, his over-active brain is constantly searching for connections and patterns in the city’s suicides, convinced that there is more going on.  One of those cases is Alan Musgrave, an American ex-soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress and expresses his conflicted emotions through drugs and his fakir show (piercing himself with needles and hooks).  Like Guérin, Musgrave’s reclusive friend and former therapist, John Nichols, thinks that there might have been foul play and starts to investigate, aware that the US authorities would prefer if he did nothing.  Guérin and Nichols start to work the case from different ends, both seeing it as part of a larger but different conspiracy.

Bed of Nails is somewhat of a curious book - a police procedural that doesn’t easily fit the genre, with a misfit, and at times almost cartoonish, lead character.  The plot is quite complex, weaving together different strands, which veers towards being opaque on occasion; it not always clear quite how Guérin is fitting his clues together or what exactly is going on.  As a result, the first half of the book was interesting, but was not compelling.  In the second half, the narrative becomes more engaging, and in the last quarter shifted gear into a different register which recast the whole story.  The closing pages in particular were an emotional rollercoaster as Varenne provides a thoroughly noir ending to the story; one that opened up a number of questions about morality and just rewards.  Overall, a dark, quirky tale that progressively became more gripping, noirish and philosophical. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reading conversations ...

I tend to be a solo kind of reader.  It's just me and the book.  Sure, I write a review when I've finished and pass on my views, but I feel no great need to discuss the story with others, either while reading the book or afterwards, as might happen with a reading group or a literary event.  Every now and then though I read something that I wouldn't mind a good chat about.  The book I've just finished that fits in this category is Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne.  For most of the book the story was engaging enough, but not particularly extraordinary.  In the last quarter, however, it shifts register and the ending is a powerful sucker punch to the gut that recasts the rest of the tale.  And this is what I'd be interested to explore some more as it completely drained me emotionally at the time and I've been mulling it over since Saturday night.  However, it's almost impossible to discuss the theme and twist here without giving spoilers.  I'll post my review tomorrow, but if you want a story that sends you off into a bit of reflective tailspin then Bed of Nails is worth a read.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review of Hard Bite by Anonymous-9 (Blasted Heath, 2012)

Three years after his daughter was killed in a hit-and-run accident in LA, Dean Drayhart has turned vigilante, hunting and entrapping rogue drivers using some creative internet scams, then killing his victims.  This is no mean feat, as in the same accident, Dean lost the use of his legs, most of his colon, one of his hands, and in time his wife.  He’s aided in his quest by his new girlfriend, Cinda, an escort, and Sid, his wayward helper Monkey who he’s trained to administer a hard bite to the jugular.  His latest victim is the son of a widow who has inherited her husband's 'godfather' status in the Mexican mafia.  Suddenly the tables are turned and Dean and Sid become the hunted.  The only thing that might save them is LA cop, Detective Doug Coltson, who knows he’s investigating a strange case, but has little idea how bizarre it’s going to get. 

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with Hard Bite on my kindle as I don’t remember reading any reviews.  Someone must have pointed me towards the book.  Whoever it was, I’d like to thank them.  Hard Bite was a joy to read.  Original, witty, smart, dark, and hard with a soft-centre.  Elaine Ash (Anonymous-9) writes in very assured and sparkling prose that is all show and no tell, and which swaps between the first person narrative of Dean and the third person of the other characters, including Sid.  I was hooked from the first sentence (see here).  The plot is very nicely put together, and whilst it could have twirled off into a screwball noir, it manages to be darkly comic without descending into farce, and wheels an interesting path through a morally fraught landscape.  Dean is a remarkable lead character, strong in vision and drive but weak in body, and Ash doesn’t fall into the trap of portraying him in an ableist light.  Sid is great fun as a helper monkey who was dropped from his training programme for attitude problems, and the other characters are all nicely realised.  Along with good contextualisation, there is also a decent sense of place in both LA and Mexico.  One of the most original crime and enjoyable novels I’ve read in a good while and thoroughly recommended. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I finished reading Hard Bite by Anonymous-9 last Thursday and it's been rattling around my head ever since.  Just when you think there's no more angles left to explore in crime fiction, along comes a book with a fresh perspective.  Here's the opening page:

"I like to kill people. 

It's important to admit the truth to yourself even if you lie to others, and I do a lot of lying in my business. Inside my head I try to keep the truth black and white, no grey area: I like to kill. I love to kill people. Certain people. 

Sid knows we're going somewhere tonight because my eyes keep flicking to the clock, and it usually means we've got a job to do. 

I found my latest target online at a news site. A national story local to Los Angeles. Killing locally is a necessity since I'm not really mobile. A Mac with assistive technologies enables me to work the keyboard. 

Assistive technology is a code word for "stuff that helps cripples use a computer." Easy to understand, right? Because it's the truth. People have a hard time with truth when it comes bent and deformed, crushed, or hideous—so they invent terms like assistive technologies to sidestep the one word that makes it crystal clear: cripple. 



I went from noun to action verb riding a year-long bed of pain. After flirting with suicide, which lost its appeal contemplated deeply, a fresh start in rough justice sounded right. Why settle for cripple when you can be crippling, ha ha. 

I admit, I don't look very imposing. It's my motorized wheelchair, the steel hand, my pencil neck that looks like it could flop over and crack from the weight of my head. I look useless, you think. You think wrong. And fuck you, by the way, for your perception. I bring righteous vengeance to evil people."

You've got to keep reading, right?  Well, I did as I was already hooked at this point.  I'll post my review tomorrow, but needless to say, Hard Bite was one of my favourite reads of the last couple of years. 

My posts this week:

Review of The Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin
Social media etc
New EU university ranking exercise - U-Multirank
Review of City of Heretics by Heath Lowrance
January reading
The signal in the noise

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The signal in the noise

‘This is Needle.’



Meyer cocked his head.

‘He’s a data analyst.’

‘A geek?’

‘I am here, you know,’ Needle said.

‘He thinks he’s found your man,’ the lieutenant continued.

‘Yeah?  I’ve got half the cops in the city out on the street and there’s no trace of him.’

‘He’s in an apartment block on Kings,’ Needle said.  ‘Jellicoe House.’

‘Let me guess, someone on Twitter told you?’

‘The data and my algorithms told me.  They isolate the signal in the noise.’

‘You believe this shit?’

‘Sounds better than your shit,’ the lieutenant said.  ‘Go and get him, Meyer.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, February 1, 2013

January reading

My sense of January was that it was a very good month of reading.  I'd happily read other books by all of the authors listed below.  My pick of the month is Aly Monroe's Icelight (in a close run race with Diggers Rest Hotel).  I usually don't start in the middle of a series, but I'm glad I did in this case and I've every intention of catching up with the first two books.  It was definitely a January kind of book, set in London in the winter of 1947.

City of Heretics by Heath Lowrance ***.5
Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin ****.5
Liar Moon by Ben Pastor ****
Icelight by Aly Monroe ****.5
Go With Me by Castle Freeman ****.5
The Devil I know by Claire Kilroy ****
Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill ***
The Silver Stain by Paul Johnston ****
I Hear Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty ****