Saturday, November 30, 2013

To the death

As a startled looking Peter slipped out Cassie as she grimaced and squeezed the bones in my hand to dust, I knew I’d be prepared to fight to the death to protect them.  Little did I realise that I’d be doing just that six weeks later, struggling through forest undergrowth towards the border, pursued by the retort of pistols and drunken shouting.  We were targets in a game beyond our comprehension which was fast approaching its endpoint.  When we finally reached the river Cassie plunged in, swimming with Peter held above the water, as I fired shots into the dark.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Review of The Thicket by Joe Lansdale (Mulholland Books, 2013)

Jack Parker has just turned sixteen when his mother and father die from small pox on their East Texas farm.  His grandfather arrives to take him and his younger sister, Lula, to an aunt in Kansas.  Not long after setting off they run into Cut Throat Bill and his gang, who have just robbed a bank.  The gang murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his younger sister.  Jack makes his way to the nearest town to find the sheriff, who killed when the bank was robbed.  Determined to rescue his sister he turns to two bounty hunters, the charismatic dwarf, Shorty, and his partner, Eustace, the son of a slave, offering them the deeds to his parent’s and grandfather’s land in return for help.  The three of them set off in pursuit, picking up Jimmie-Sue, a young prostitute seeking to leave the profession, and Winton, another sheriff interested in the bounty on capturing Cut Throat Bill’s gang, dead or alive.  Tracking, Fatty, one of Bill’s gang, they home in on their quarry, hoping that Lula is still alive and they can rescue her whilst maintaining their own health.

Set just as oil is being discovered in Texas and the first cars are bumping along unpaved roads, The Thicket is an adventure yarn that is a mix of Tom Sawyer, Stand by Me and True Grit, with a solid dose of the comic, dark humour that populates Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books.  The strengths of the tale is its voice, characterisation, sense of place and time, and plot.  The story is told as a form of a reminiscence through a very engaging narrator’s voice that makes it feel as if it’s the transcript of porch-told tale.  Jack Parker is a wonderful character, just on the cusp of becoming an adult, but still naive and unworldly, though brave and determined.  And Lansdale puts in his company a colourful band of bounty hunters, who are ranged against an equally colourful band of dispicable villians.  The plot is a boys own adventure with a large dose of spice and grit, that is perfectly paced with the right balance of action and reflection, and the reader is placed into the landscape of East Texas in the early twentieth century and its social relations and rhythms.  Overall, Lansdale is on fine form and The Thicket is a thoroughly enjoyable escapist yarn.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting lost in The Thicket

In The Thicket Joe Lansdale continues his coming of age crime-filled adventures in East Texas some time in the early twentieth century - as with The Bottoms and Edge of Dark Water - told in the form of a reminiscence.  It's great stuff.  Here's how it starts.

I didn't suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I'd soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I'd take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that's exactly how it was.
    It was the pox that got it all started.  It had run through the country like a runaway mule and been especially unkind to the close-by town of Hinge Gate. ...

The pages just kept turning after that.  Review shortly.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review of The Low Road by Chris Womersley (Quercus, 2007)

After leaving prison, Lee is recruited by Josef into the criminal underworld.  Sent on a job to collect eight thousand dollars from a gambler, Lee is shot in the stomach.  He awakens in a grubby motel on the edge of the city.  The motel manager calls on Wild, a disgraced junkie doctor on the run to tend to the wound.  Wild reluctantly agrees but feels Lee needs the attention of a better physician.  Together they set off across country to visit Wild’s former mentor, taking with them a suitcase containing the gambler’s debt money.  Given Josef recruited Lee, he is responsible for debt is paid to his boss and he sets off in pursuit.

The Low Road is a bleak, dark, literary noir tale.  It is somewhat of a curious story as it feels both timeless and placeless: it could be set anywhere from the mid-1930s through to the 1990s and in any reasonable sized city with a large rural hinterland.  The story is all about the three main characters, especially Lee, a young petty criminal, and Wild, a doctor addicted to morphine, and their journey to try and escape their past and their developing, uneasy friendship.  It is not a cheery plot, but it well crafted and paced, told through stark and engaging prose.  Overall, this is not a story that will inspire hope and joy, but is an evocative and engaging tale that has the feel of a stage play with its small cast and handful of settings.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I attended the Irish Crime Fiction Festival event in Trinity College Dublin yesterday.  It was very well attended, especially the evening session with Michael Connelly and John Connolly, which had about 400 people crammed into the examination hall.  It was an interesting day and the three panels and evening discussion all had some engaging and enlightening discussion.  I even managed to slip out of lurk mode and introduce myself to a couple of folk, including Michael Russell who kindly signed a copy of his newly purchased latest book, The City of Strangers.  It doesn't matter how many events I attend as a speaker or an audience member, I always feel like I'm out of place, somehow trespassing in someone else's world.  And I'm quite happy to spend the time isolated in a crowd; a voyeur rather than a participant.  So it was good step out of that bubble a couple of times, but also to sink back into it.

Here are photos are of the three panels.  Sorry for the poor quality - taken on my phone without a flash.

Panel 1: Eoin McNamee, Conor Brady, Stuart Neville, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Russell

Panel 2: John Connolly, Jane Casey, Arlene Hunt, Alan Glynn, Conor Fitzgerald, Declan Burke

Panel 3: Brian McGilloway, Paul Charles, Declan Hughes, Louise Phillips, Gene Kerrigan, Niamh O'Connor

My posts this week:
Chiselling away at open data blockages
Irish crime fiction festival, this week coming
Smart cities, big data and their consequences
Review of Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb
Some media coverage of AIRO-based work
An honest man?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An honest man?


‘They were hidden behind his water tank.’

‘Someone’s in trouble.  Did you take a peek?’

‘How could you be sure I’d bring them to you?’

‘Always send an honest man to do a scoundrel’s work.’

Dillon nodded and recalled the photographs.  Mackey meeting a suspected foreign agent; counting a stack of banknotes; looking furtive.

‘And how do I know you’re an honest man?’

‘You’ll just have to trust me.’  Mackey held out his hand.

Dillon paused, then handed over the envelope.

Mackey folded it in half and slipped it into his pocket, his mouth twisting into a crooked smile.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review of Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb (Quercus, 2009)

Adolf Eichmann was the operational manager in charge of the logistics of making the ‘Final Solution’ happen.  His job was to plan and coordinate the rounding up of Jews from across Europe, to strip them of their assets, and ship them to ghettos and death camps.  At the end of the Second World War he took on another identity and went underground.  In 1950 he used a ratline to escape Germany, travelling to Argentina, where his wife and three children joined him.  Unlike other Nazis, he had not looted for his own ends and his life in Argentina was very modest.  Initially omitted from the most wanted list, as the extent of his war crimes became clear, Eichmann soon rose to become one of the most sought after Nazis.  By the end of the 1950s, however, the appetite to hunt down war criminals had waned, except amongst a dedicated group determined to see justice administered.  When they received the news that Eichmann was living in a Buenos Aires suburb they agitated for action and in May 1960 a team of Mossad agents snatched Eichmann and smuggled him out of Argentina to Israel.  There he was put on trial for crimes against humanity.  Eichmann did not resist his capture, nor deny his crimes, but rather sought to argue that he had simply been carrying out his orders and duty.  He was hanged in June 1962.

Hunting Eichmann focuses on the hunt for and capture of Eichmann, concentrating on the period from the end of the Second World War up until his arrival in Israel.  As such, it sketches over Eichmann’s career within National Socialism and his activities during the war, and also his trial in Israel.  In this sense, the book is very much about the search for him by various people and groups and the planning and execution of his capture by an Israeli Mossad team.  Through extensive research, Bascomb produces a compelling narrative of how various events unfolded and all of the key personnel and their relationships and interactions.  The result is a telling that has the feel of a novel, rather than a dry and detached history.  In particular, the reader gets a sense of the personalities and politics at play, and the wider resonance of Eichmann for Holocaust survivors.  Personally, I would have liked a little more detail on Eichmann’s career and also the trial, but this is nonetheless a fascinating and well told read of how one of the most notorious war criminals of the twentieth century was brought to justice.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Irish crime fiction festival, this weekend coming

I attend a couple of dozen of events a year.  I'm usually pretty ambivalent about most of them.  Whereas I'm genuinely excited about attending the Irish crime fiction festival to hear the views of a great bunch of Irish crime writers.  Tickets can be sought through the website.  Here's the programme.

Friday 22 November
Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College

7.00pm-8.30pm: 'A Short Introduction to Crime Fiction: Why We Write It, How We Write It, and Why We Read It', featuring Trinity College alumni.
Introduction: Corman Ó Cuilleanáin a.k.a. Cormac Millar
Panelists: Jane Casey, John Connolly, Alan Glynn, Declan Hughes, and Eoin McNamee.

Saturday 23 November
J.M. Synge Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College

10.00am-11.15am: 'Historical Crime Fiction'.
Panelists: Conor Brady, Kevin McCarthy, Eoin McNamee (chair), Stuart Neville, and Michael Russell.

11.30am-12.45am: 'Irish Crime Fiction Abroad'.
Panelists: Declan Burke (chair), Jane Casey, John Connolly, Conor Fitzgerald, Alan Glynn, Arlene Hunt.

1.30-3.30pm: Surprise Film Screening

3.45pm-5pm: 'Crime Fiction and Contemporary Ireland'.
Panelists: Paul Charles, Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, Brian McGilloway (chair), Niamh O'Connor, Louise Phillips.

Saturday 23 November, Closing Event
6pm (doors open 5.30), Public Theatre, Trinity College (€6 tickets)
'An Evening With Michael Connelly'.

I tend to be a lurker at these kinds of things, but I might get up the courage to go and introduce myself to a few of the speakers.  There's only one that I've not yet read at least one of their books.   

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I've made a start on The Low Road by Chris Womersley.  What I've found interesting about the first sixty pages or so is that the story is kind of placeless and timeless.  It could be set just about anywhere where there's a city with a large, sparse hinterland, and might be set any time from the 1930s to present.  It kind of feels 1970s, somehow, but I suspect it might be more recent.  And yet, it has a sense of place and a nice noirish atmosphere, which is kind of disconcerting and unsettling.  It'll be interesting to see how it develops.  Expect a review shortly. 

My posts this week:
A road map for planning, development, construction and related job creation in Ireland
Review of The Master Switch by Tim Wu
Review of Outerborough Blues by Andrew Cotto
Stranded behind enemy lines

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stranded behind enemy lines

Kiley stared out from the undergrowth at the soldiers and vehicles making their way across the fields.  In the distance smoke rose from a small village. 

‘There must be thousands of them.’

‘Now what?’ Smith asked, tending to Billy’s wounds.

‘We wait until dark, then sneak back to our lines.’

‘Or we could just surrender,’ Liddle said.  ‘Spend the rest of war behind barbed wire.’

‘Not without a fight.’

‘We’ve had a fight,’ Smith said.  ‘Ask Billy.’

‘We’re sneaking back.’

‘And if we’re spotted?’

‘We run.’

‘What about Billy?’

‘We leave him behind and hope the Jerries patch him up.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review of Outerborough Blues by Andrew Cotto (Ig Publishing, 2012)

Caesar Stiles grew up in a New Jersey town, playing on the railway tracks, protected from his violent father and combustible elder brother by his mother and Angie, the middle son.  When Angie was sucked under a train, Caesar, aged fifteen, ran away to drift across the country.  Eventually he returned to take care of his dying mother, his father long gone, his elder brother in prison.  After she’d passed away he boards up the house and moves to Brooklyn, buying a house in a poor, African-American neighbourhood restoring the property and working as a chef in a local bar.  His life seems to be finding a balance, then a young French girl asks him to find her missing brother, his own brother is released from prison and shows up wanting to settle an old family score, and two local developers start to tussle over his street and its gentrified potential.  Whilst he hunts for the French man, his life starts to unwind, threatening to spin out of control as his past finally seems to catch up with him.

The strength of Outerborough Blues is its strong sense of place, deeply fleshed out characterisation, social realism, and its poetic narrative.  It’s a kind of literary urban noir, full of subtext and allusion. Caesar Stiles is a compelling character with a colourful back story that is metered out over the course of the tale, and is surrounded by other well penned and distinctive characters.  Cotto vividly places the reader in Stiles world, especially the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn, and its oddities, rhythms and gatherings.  The prose is wonderfully rich and engaging. The plot, for the most part works well, though it becomes a little complex and confusing at points as Cotto intertwines a number of different threads.  This does not though detract the pleasure in reading the book, however.  Overall an evocative and thoughtful story about trauma, home and finding oneself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu (Knopf, 2010)

In The Master Switch, Tim Wu draws on Schumpeterian theory of creative destruction and Christensen's notion of disruptive innovations to examine the rise and fall of information empires.  He makes the argument that various forms of information industries - the telegraph, the telephone, movie-making, radio, and television have been subject to what he terms the ‘Cycle’, wherein a disruptive new technology challenges an established hegemonic order, as with telephone confronting the wireless, slowly replacing it and itself becoming hegemonic.  Over time, dozens or hundreds of new disruptive players jostle for market position moving quite rapidly to a single monopoly player or cartel that dominates the landscape.  Eventually this monopoly player or cartel is challenged by a new disruption and is toppled, or resists by using the power of the state to stifle what is an inevitable change.  Providing a detailed genealogy of the industries already listed, and how they were initiated and developed through various power struggles and were eventually toppled or mutated, Wu asks whether the present period of disruption through internet technologies will follow the same Cycle pattern and become dominated by a handful of players who control the ‘master switch’, or will it be different given net neutrality and the global rather than national scale of operations?  He discusses this by counter-posing Apple with Google, who have very different business models, with the former seeking to replicate the Cycle.  The analysis is compellingly presented through a very engaging and accessible narrative.  I have two critiques.  The first is that the story told is highly American-centric and whilst his model of the ‘Cycle’ works in the US, it is not clear how applicable it is with respect to different contexts.  The second is that, the conclusion is a little ambiguous as to whether the Cycle will be repeated or resisted in the present age.  Otherwise, this is an excellent read.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

Last week was hectic, with a trip to Lisbon, meetings in Dublin, and a visit to Galway.  It was also a week of leaving items in my wake: a washbag, a power cable, a book, and no doubt other items I've not yet realised are elsewhere.  It was also a week of limited reading.  I completed reading Timothy Wu's The Master Switch and made it most of the way through the draft of my own work in progress, but did not manage a page of Andrew Cotto's Outerborough Blues, despite it being in my bag at all times.  I suspect my fiction reading might also be curtailed next week as I need to referee a bunch of academic papers and read a doctoral thesis.  If that pattern continues on for a while I'll soon be going cold turkey!

My posts this week:
Review of Severance Package by Duane Swiercynski
Lisboa rendezvous
Four critiques of open data initiatives
Why we need a housing strategy ASAP

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lisboa rendezvous

Robinson ambled down the hill towards the shouts and laughter drifting up from the brothels near to the Cais do Sodré.  He still found the streetlights of Lisboa a novelty after the blackout of the blitz.  He turned onto the Rua do Arsenal and stepped into the doorway of a bar.  A few moments later his shadow appeared at the intersection, an attaché from the German embassy.  Robinson ducked into the smoke-filled taberna, jostling his way through a crowd of sailors and exited into a tatty courtyard.  Rafaela, his contact in the city office, waved hesitantly from a window opposite.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review of Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski (Minotaur Books, 2008)

With a new born son, Jamie DeBroux, is not happy to be having to go into work on a Saturday morning.  He’s even less happy when the boss announces that he is terminating everybody’s contract forthwith, with the termination involving a fatal drink, the doors exiting the 36th floor rigged with lethal sarin gas.  A moment later and the boss is on his back, a bullet lodged in his brain and all hell has broken loose.  DeBroux thought he was working as a press officer for a financial company; it turns out that it was a top secret organisation targeting terrorist bank accounts.  Everyone else on the floor seems to be equipped with specialist operative skills and it appears that it’s every person for themselves.  All DeBroux wants is to make it back home to his wife and son, but the least well equipped he’ll be lucky to survive at all given the rising body count.

Severance Package starts at a quick clip and never lets up in pace.  Taking the form of a locked room escape drama, with a small number of operatives trapped on the 36th floor of a Philadelphia skyscraper pitted against each other, the story is laced with black humour and is full of twists and turns.  And over the course of a few hours Swierczynski cranks up the tension through a continuous conveyor belt of engaging action sequences.  Indeed, the strength of the story is the plot, with the characters having just enough back story to give them substance.  I thought it was a blast.  If I was a movie producer, I’d snap the options on Severance Package as it’s a ready-made action movie script, one that has three very strong female lead roles.  Overall, great fun with a lovely sucker punch ending.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm heading to Lisbon in Portugal tomorrow for two nights to attend a meeting.  I'd normally have a book set there to accompany me, but I've failed to source one this time.  Along with the present novel I'm reading, Andrew Cotto's Outerborough Blues, I'll be taking a full first draft of the academic book I'm writing at present.  Thankfully it's finally all come together.  Now onto edits and revisions.

My posts this week:
Review of Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton
Review of The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
October reads
Snap inspection

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Snap inspection

‘Hi!’ Colin looked up from the laptop.  ‘What are you doing back here?’

‘Why shouldn’t I be here?’ Claire snapped.

‘Because you should be at work?  Is everything okay?’

‘Where is she?’ Claire left the kitchen, moving to the living room.

‘Where’s who?’

‘That bitch from your office.  Sally.’

Colin trailed after her, blocking the doorway.  ‘There’s nobody here but me.  Why would Sally be here?’

‘You know why!  I saw the way you were flirting at Geoff’s party.’

‘We were just chatting.  Nothing more.  Look, Claire ...’

Behind him he heard the back door closing with a faint click.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October reads

A pretty good month of reading.  The standout book for me was Nate Southard's Pale Horses.  The plotline following a sheriff trying to hide he's developing Alzheimers was very well done and was a great hook.

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcom Mackay ***
Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton ***.5
Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limon ****
Hour of the Cat by Peter Quinn ****
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye ****
A Private Business by Barbara Nadel ****
Black Wattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin ***.5
Pale Horses by Nate Southard *****