Monday, June 30, 2014

Review of Gently Floating by Alan Hunter (Cassell & Co, 1963)

Boatyard owner Harry French is not well liked; he’s cranky, hard-headed and vindictive.  After confronting neighbours about their interaction with his son, a young man about to inherit some money from his dead mother’s estate, French is hit on the back of the head, falling into a Norfolk broad.  The next day his body is found and the local police draft in the help of Superintendent George Gently to help conduct a murder enquiry.  Whilst the pool of suspects is small, each seemingly has a reason to kill French and none are inclined to help the police, leaving Gently to slowly make headway towards identifying the killer.

I read Gently Floating as part of Rich Westwood’s challenge on Past Offences to read a book published in 1963.  The tale is a quite traditional police procedural, with the thoughtful, even-tempered Superintendent George Gently interviewing and prodding a handful of suspects, whilst the local inspector jumps to conclusions and wants to resort to more forceful methods.  There’s little in the way of melodrama, high tension, violence or action.  Rather the story focuses on the investigation and the puzzle concerning the killer’s identity.  Hunter makes sure that all the suspect have a plausible reason to want Harry French dead and keeps them all in the frame until the last few pages, though the puzzle is not too challenging.  There’s a nice evocation of the Norfolk broads and the close knit community around the boatyard, though the characterisation is fairly light, with the focus more on plot and sense of place.  Overall, an enjoyable enough tale, but lacks bite and intrigue.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm back to acquiring books at a rate faster than I'm reading them.  I've read/reviewed ten books in June, but I've bought/ordered eleven novels in the past week, including books by Dana King, Eva Dolan, Christopher Brookmyre, Spencer Quinn, Charlie Williams, Lisa Lutz, Bill Fitzhugh, Mark Haskell Smith, John McFetridge, Todd Robinson, and James McClure.  That takes me up to about twenty books bought during June, not including academic ones.  At least it means I'm spoilt for choice!  I'm already most of the way through Dog On It by Spencer Quinn, which is proving a fun read.

My posts this week
Review of The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger: Liberalism, Boom and Bust by Sean O’Riain
New paper: Big data, new epistemologies and paradigm shiftsReview of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy
Post in ‘Big Data, Big Questions’ series on LSE Impact blog
Review of To Die in Beverly Hills by Gerald Petievich
LR is better than A

Saturday, June 28, 2014

LR is better than A

Harry was just about to knock on Kenny’s door when it opened and Janice danced out.

‘See’ya, LR,’ she cooed, ignoring Harry.

‘LR?’ Harry said.

‘Last resort.’

‘Are you and her, y’know ...?’

‘Kinda ... not really.  We just drink and chat.  It’s better than being A.’

‘A what?’


‘How?  She drinks your drink, cries on your shoulder, then flounces off to bed someone else.’

‘It’s not like that.’

‘She calls you LR!’

‘I call myself LR.’

‘That’s even worse.  Jesus, Kenny, join a dating agency, get a proper date.’

‘But what about Janice?’

‘She can be your LR!’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review of To Die in Beverly Hills by Gerald Petievich (Arbor House, 1983)

Detective Travis Bailey knows that he has a plumb gig working in Beverly Hills.  The police department are well resourced and the violent crime rate is low.  As a crooked cop running a team of burglars he also has access to some very rich homes.  US Treasury Agents Charlie Carr and Jack Kelly run a different kind of beat.  When Travis tips them off that a state witness in one of their cases against a senior mafia figure is the target of a hired hitman the three of them stake out the banker’s home.  However, the afterhours visitor is one of Travis’s team of thieves and he’s soon dead and Kelly seriously wounded.  Carr senses that Travis set them up for an unknown reason and he’s determined to get justice for his partner.  Travis is equally committed to continuing to live a good but crooked life.  The two men are soon locked in a high stakes game of cat and mouse.

To Die in Beverly Hills charts the battle of wills between a laconic US Treasury Agent and a vain, corrupt cop.  Charlie Carr isn’t interested in career progression or conforming to social expectations, he just wants to catch the bad guys.  It’s an attitude that has got him regularly shifted between offices and frustrates his long-term girlfriend.  Travis Bailey is a sociopath and social climber who lives beyond his means, uses his job to spot potential targets for his crew of burglars and fences, and treats women as sex objects.  Petievich provides an in-depth characterisation of both men as they circle round each other, the former looking to bring the latter to justice.  They are each surrounded by a band of engaging secondary characters who are each flawed in some way.  Beverly Hills provides an interesting back drop and the plot nicely unfolds as Carr slowly unpicks Bailey’s scheming, scams and crimes, but the key strength of the book is the characterization.  Overall, an engaging read about a cop who’ll go to any lengths to  protect his position and another whose prepared to match and catch him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy (1948, Signet)

Ralph Cotter, a college graduate and and self-centred, scheming psychopath, has been recruited by femme fatale, Holiday, to spring her brother from prison.  The plan is to recover a gun hidden in a ditch on the prison farm then make a dash for a waiting vehicle.  Everything goes to plan, Holiday providing covering fire with a machine gun, except Ralph kills Holiday’s brother, frustrated at his hesitation.  Having driven to a large town, Ralph and Holiday start a fractious relationship, with Ralph already planning his return to crime after a couple of years behind bars.  With little compunction about taking a life to further his ambitions, he’s soon committed another fatal armed robbery and has entered into a dangerous game with local, crooked cops.  And shortly after he’s got himself mixed up with a rich woman.  The sensible thing to do would be leave town, but Ralph believes he can outwit the police and play his accomplices and two women at the same time.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is considered to be a noir classic, first published in 1948 and made into a movie starring James Cagney in 1950.  The story charts the scheming, amoral life of ‘Ralph Cotter’ (one of a set of aliases), who compulsively lies, cheats, steals and, with little prompting, kills or commits violence.  The strength of the book is the characterisation and the interplay between the main protagonists, especially Ralph and femme fatale, Holiday, who uses her sexuality to twist men round her little finger.  The plot is pure hardboiled noir.  Indeed, the tagline of the tale is: 'Love as hot as a blow torch ... crime as vicious as the jungle'.  The start of the story is excellent, quickly hooking the reader in.  However, after about a third of the way in the style and pace noticeably changes, the action dissipating and the narrative becoming more psychological in orientation.  Scenes get a little drawn out, there’s needless repetition of thoughts/dialogue, and the plot loses drive and direction.  To my mind it would have been preferable to keep the pace a bit higher and narrative tighter.  Nevertheless, the tale is a fascinating account of a man obsessed with being as equally ruthless as Dillinger, but being much cleverer and successful in his criminal pursuits.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review of The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger: Liberalism, Boom and Bust by Sean O’Riain (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

There have been a series of books that have sought to chart the rise and bust of the Irish economy.  Most of them have been aimed at a mass market and provide descriptive overview accounts, often focusing on specific issues such as property, banking or politics.  In the case of academic treatises, they tend to be quite disciplinary focused and concentrate on Ireland in isolation from wider European and global politics and economy.  Sean O’Riain’s account is holistic, nuanced, interdisciplinary and comparative (over time and space).  As a result, it is the best account to date of the Celtic Tiger phenomena and its demise. 

O’Riain’s lens is a combination of political economy and economic sociology, allied with a detailed reading of political science and economics.  Crucially, he keeps the lens broad and catholic, providing a focus on the political and economic processes and policies operating in Ireland over the past four decades, and situating and contextualising those developments with respect to: the wider Western European political economy (which he details is divided into four blocks, each with different perspectives on the relationship between state and market: Social democrat, Christian democrat, Mediterranean, Liberal); the project of the European Union; and the global rise of financialisation and drift to (neo)liberalism.  O’Riain makes the case that during the Celtic Tiger era Ireland reinvented itself as a liberal, small open economy, but one that had different characteristics - such as social partnership, strong labour market supports, embedded clientelism - to other liberal states.  The state, aided by a flexible and tightly knit political culture, put in place a set of policies and support that transformed the Irish economy, but crucially also left it highly vulnerable to shock.

The book is divided into 6 chapters.  After a broad contextual introduction, Chapter 2 traces the development of Irish political economy from the 1950s onwards, concentrating on the period from 1987 to 2008.  The next three chapters concentrate on the period 2001-2008, when Ireland’s economy swapped from productive growth to bubble growth fuelled by property development.  Chapter 3 examines the patterns, politics and policies of finance and investment in Ireland, Chapter 4 details how Ireland interfaced with the broader project of Europeanisation, and Chapter 5 explores how the Irish political system was challenged by and reacted to financialisation and Europeanisation whilst also trying to chart its own path.   The final chapter focuses on post-2008 and how Ireland tried to manage the crash in the context of internal pressure caused by collapsing banks, a plummeting property market, rising unemployment, and household indebtedness, and external pressures of ‘saving’ the global financial system and the European project.  In each chapter the Irish experience is compared to that of other Western European countries and is richly illustrated with tables and graphs of pertinent data. 

Collectively, the chapters illustrate why the Irish economic and social experience, whilst having echoes of other European countries, differed in many respects and why the crash was so severe.  The argument is persuasive in conceptual terms and is based on decent empirics.  This is not to say that story told is perfect.  I, like many others no doubt, will quibble over particular interpretations of how to make sense of Ireland’s economy and society.  Moreover, in covering so much ground in terms of scope and time period, the analysis is a little sketchy at times tending to stay at a broad stroke macro-level rather than delving down into the nitty gritty of specific policies, political decisions, and the detailed workings of politics and capitalism in action, or the spatially and socially uneven effects of development and bust.  There was clearly no easy way to resolve this without significantly lengthening the book, but at times a little more specific detail would have been useful.  And whilst the book is good at diagnosing the problems, issues and processes at work in Ireland, it is relatively weak in the concluding chapter in terms of prescribing an alternative development path that the Irish state should seek to follow to put the country on a more sustainable and socially footing.

Despite these quibbles, The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger is a must read for anyone who wants to understand Ireland’s development path and its boom and bust or those that have an interest in the political economy and viability of the wider European project.  Indeed, it would be a shame if the book’s principal audience was limited to those interested in Ireland as it also tells a much larger story about markets, states, political projects and economic development.  Overall, an important book and one that I’ll no doubt return to many times in the future as a guide and source of ideas and analysis.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

Last week I was in Izmir and Paris giving talks.  I thought Turkey was interesting and would happily travel back for a bit more of a look around.  I only had two days to wander about as I was working the other two days, but found the bazaars, ancient sites, and museums fascinating.  Paris was a bit of a nightmare, mostly because I was pressed for time and the train drivers seemed to be on semi-strike, going at half-speed or simply stopping for extended periods, and everything was packed.  C'est la vie.

My posts this week
Review of Raylan by Elmore Leonard
Review of Istanbul Puzzle by Laurence O'Bryan

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Jimmy did a double-take and moved to the wall.  On the other side, Gerry Dolan was sitting on a deck chair, wearing striped pyjamas and holding an empty mug.

‘You’re up early, Gerry.’

‘I was watching the sunrise,’ Gerry said, his eyes not leaving the horizon.

‘Was it good?’

‘Not bad.  I’ve never seen it before.’

‘A sunrise?’

‘The start of the solstice.  The longest day.  I’d thought it would be spiritual.’



‘You okay, Gerry?’

‘Not like the Northern lights.  I sat out half the night.’

‘So you’re training to become a druid then?’

‘Sarcasm’s very unspiritual, Jimmy.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review of The Istanbul Puzzle by Laurence O’Bryan (Avon, 2012)

Sean Ryan is the co-founder of a private cultural heritage research institute.  One of his projects is to examine the mosaics in Hagia Sophia, the ancient mosque in the centre of Istanbul, with the fieldwork being conducted by his assistant, Alex.  The project comes to a sudden halt, however, when Alex’s beheaded body is found.  Ryan heads to Istanbul determined to discover what happened to his friend, but on arrival it’s clear that the Turkish police do not want him there, the British consulate is lukewarm about his presence, and a couple of thugs seem to want him dead.  Ryan is saved from the latter by Isabel, a member of the consulate staff.  They form an uneasy alliance, which Ryan continually tests by determinedly pushing for answers and action.  He most certainly gets action and intrigue through a series of chases, violent encounters, and puzzles concerning cultural and religious artefacts and a wider political conspiracy.  Having failed to get answers over the loss of his wife to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, one way or another Ryan is going to get justice for his friend.

The Istanbul Puzzle is a political/religious conspiracy thriller set mostly in the Turkish capital but with excursions into Iraq and London.  I usually shy away from such thrillers because I have difficulty buying into the plausibility of the plots and gaining a belief in the characters.  However, since I was travelling to Turkey I thought I’d give it go.  O’Bryan writes in short, workmanlike sentences, keeping the story moving at quick clip.  The story is told in the first person perspective of Sean Ryan, a half-British/half-American scientist who works for a research institute.  He’s still grieving over the death of his wife and his career is somewhat on the skids and he approaches his investigation into the death of his research assistant with a cavalier, devil-may-care attitude.  It took me quite a while to get into the story, for two reasons: I didn’t connect with the first person perspective of Ryan (my sense was that a third person perspective might have suited the story better), nor the staccato style; and I didn’t buy into the plot which has a conspiracy whose logic is not fully elaborated.  As the story progressed, the style improves and I managed to suspend my sense of belief as I got a little more hooked into the story.  As it nears its end the story builds to a climax, however, there are a few too many dangling ends with respect to the fate of a number of secondary characters and the conspiracy.  Overall, a thriller that will appeal to Dan Brown readers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review of Raylan by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, 2012)

Marshall Raylan Givens has returned to his Kentucky roots after some time in Florida.  He’s a cop who always gets his man, usually with a bullet, and has no trouble getting the ladies either.  On raiding a motel room Raylan finds a known drug dealer in the bath, both of his kidneys removed.  A short while later the victim is offered the chance to buy the kidneys back for a substantial fee.  Raylan is soon on the trail of the thieves, but they also have their eye on him and his body parts.  To keep him busy, he’s also dealing with the death of an elderly miner shot by coal mining executives in supposed self-defence, a group of women bank robbers, and a young, pretty poker gambler who has skipped detention after a raid on an illegal game.

Rather than consisting of a single extended storyline with a couple of minor subplots, as with most novels, Raylan is made up of four interconnected stories told as three relatively distinct episodes.  The effect is the story has the feel of a television series, rather than a movie (and it might well have been written with TV in mind given the series Justified is based around the lead character).  The result is, however, that each story is too linear and underdeveloped.  Leonard could have done much more with the kidney theft episode, for example, with a more challenging investigation and chase.  Instead, everything falls into place quite quickly, though the resolution is elevated by a nice concluding scene.  The same applies to the other two episodes.  Despite the truncated stories, what makes the book worth reading is Leonard’s storytelling and prose.  He paints memorable characters, quickly conveys a sense of place and context, and is very good at depicting scenes, with a good ear for dialogue.  As a consequence, despite the shortcomings of the plot, Raylan is an engaging and entertaining read.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm most of the way through Sean O'Riain's The Rise and Fall of Ireland's Celtic Tiger.  If you want to know the reasons behind Ireland's economic miracle and why it fared so badly in the crash then this is the most comprehensive and contextual account to date.  Not the cheeriest of reads, but a compelling one.  I'll post a full review in due course.

My posts this week
A full set?
Review of Heartbreak and Vine by Woody Haut
Hardboiled noir classics
Review of Briarpatch by Ross Thomas
Soldiering on

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Soldiering on

‘I’m just tired.  A horse can be flogged for so long then it just keels over.  I’m now swaying and tottering ...’

‘Look, Tom, you just need a rest.   A good night’s sleep and ...’

‘What I need is a fresh start.’

‘But how will we ...’

‘Don’t worry, no-one our age gets a fresh start.  You keep going or you stop.  And if I stop we lose everything we’ve worked for.  It’s not like I have a choice, is it?  The only option is to keep soldiering on and hope that it gets better.’

‘It will.’

‘No, it won’t.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review of Briarpatch by Ross Thomas (Orion, 1984)

Benjamin Dill works in Washington DC as a consultant to a Senate subcommittee chaired by Joseph Ramirez, a fast rising political star.  On the morning of his birthday he receives a phone call telling him that his sister, a homicide detective has been murdered in their hometown.  He packs a bag and heads home, to an unnamed city to the south and west of the capitol, where Ramirez asks him to take advantage of the trip to record the disposition of his former best friend, Jake Spivey, who made his fortune selling excess military stock at the end of the Vietnam war.  The local police seem baffled by his sister’s murder, but it appears as if she’d been on the take for more than a year.  As Dill prepares for the funeral it’s clear that whatever his sister had got herself wrapped up in had led to her death and one way or another he intends to clear her name even if it means putting his own life at risk.

Briarpatch won an Edgar Award and was re-printed as part of the Orion Crime Masterworks series.  It’s certainly a well crafted book with a strong sense of place (despite the city name never being revealed) and a nicely worked plot.  Thomas’ style is one of relatively thick description providing detailed portraits of each character and the geography and history of the place.  Usually it’s pretty wearisome to know the precise looks and fashions of each character, or the vista of each street, but Thomas manages to make the narrative informative rather than dull.  That said, the characterisation is a little skin deep, and throughout I had the sense that the dead sister would have been a more interesting lead character than her barely grieving brother.  The twin plots of the death of the sister and obtaining the disposition of his former best friend also lull a little in the middle before picking back up again with some nice twists.  Overall, this is an entertaining read that blends crime, corruption and politics into an intriguing mix.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hardboiled noir classics

After reading Woody Haut's Heartbreak and Vine I decided to try and track down novels by some of the writers.  Many of the books are out of print, but I've managed to get hold of the following:

Horace McCoy - Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
WR Burnett - Little Caeser
Paul Cain - Fast One
Jonathan Lattime - Headed for a Hearse
Edward Bunker - No Beast So Fierce
Gerald Petievich - To Die in Beverly Hills

I'm looking forward to tucking into these in the coming weeks.  In the meantime I'll try and track down some of the others.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review of Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood by Woody Haut (280 Steps, 2013, original 2002)

In Heartbreak and Vine Woody Haut charts the screenwriting careers of a number of noir crime novelists from the 1930s through to the end of the twentieth century, including a number interview transcripts.  Collectively, what the individual stories reveals is the precarious nature of working in Hollywood, the lowly status of screenwriters in the pecking order of making movies, and the marked differences in the writing process and experience between screen and novel writing.  Whilst each writer had a different experience, with some thriving in the competitive, money-driven, collaborative environment, others were chewed up and spat out by a system that cares little for the integrity or art of the story or the fate of the writer. 

The book is structured by telling the tale of each of 29 writers, concentrating for the most part on those writing in the early golden age of both novel and film noir from the 1930s to 1950s -- Dashiell Hammnet, Raymond Chandler, Horace McCoy, WR Burnett, Paul Cain, James Cain, Cornell Woodrich, David Goodis, and Jim Thompson, A.I. Bezzerides, Daniel Mainwaring, Jonathan Lattimer, and Leigh Brackett -- before fast-forwarding to the 1980s and 90s to chart more briefly the experiences and careers of Edward Bunker, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Gerald Petievich, James Crumley, James Lee Burke, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Tony Hillerman, James Hall, Joseph Wambaugh, Donald Westlake, Barry Gifford, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos. 

The strength of the book is its range, in terms of authors and time period and the shift from a tightly controlled studio system to many more independent production companies, and that Haut manages to impart a wealth of biographical information succinctly and in an engaging way.  The tales are quite fascinating.  Where the book is let down a little is with the wider analysis of Hollywood movie industry and exploring cross-cutting themes.  This is difficult to achieve with the structure organised around individual writers, even when they have been grouped, but a little more could have been done to explore and explain structures, trends and experiences, and the book could have certainly benefitted from a final chapter that pulled insights together and drew some conclusions.  Nevertheless, the book is an engaging and absorbing read about a set of some well and lesser known writers who also sought to translate their skill to big screen.  It’s a must read for any novelist who fancies a crack at screenwriting and wants to know what to expect.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A full set?

I’ve been trying to work out how to write this post so it doesn’t seem like a boast and is what it is, an observation and a bit of amazement on my part.  This is the best I could manage.

One of the consequences of having to do daily timesheets and six monthly output and impact audits (which is what austerity and neoliberalism does to university institutes) is that it turns your working life into a kind of academic quantified self.  The result is that I have a detailed knowledge of my forms of dissemination, citation rates, etc.  It also means that with the publication of the Handbook of Human Geography I’m aware that I have pretty much completed a clean sweep of forms of communicating my research.  Or at least I must be quite close: I’m sure there’s probably something I’ve not thought of or done.  This is not something I set to achieve when I started my doctorate in 1992, nor has it been contrived, it all just seemed to happen.  Here’s what I have at least one of, which I suspect is a relatively rare set. 

Academic texts
Theses, research monograph, university textbook, edited research book, edited textbook, school textbook, dictionary, encyclopaedia, handbook, reader, coffee table book, self-help book, editor of a journal, editor of special issue of a journal, editor of a book series, books translated, reports and policy documents, journal articles, chapters for edited books, entries for dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopaedias, working papers, newsletters, book reviews/review forum.

Academic verbal

Keynotes/invited papers at events, papers at a workshops, symposia, conferences, conference poster, departmental seminars, panel sessions.

Popular Media
Articles for popular magazines, editorials, opinion pieces and letters for newspapers, interviews/citations in newspapers, TV/radio interviews/panels, TV/radio documentaries, promo videos, training programmes, creative writing, blogs, mailing lists, social media.

Other forms of participation in dissemination
Organising sessions, workshops, symposia, conferences, seminar series
Membership of boards, panels, committees, etc.

School, undergraduate, Masters, PhD, summer schools, etc.

I anticipate that the variety from here to retirement is probably going to follow an inverse pattern.  Or at least it probably should.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

June is a reasonably busy month of invited talks.  I've gigs in Izmir, Paris, Copenhagen and Dublin.  Three of them are one day, fly in do my routine and fly out, but I have four days in Turkey, for which I've two books lined up, Laurence O'Bryan's Istanbul Puzzle and Memet Murat Somer's The Gigolo Murder.  Both, I think, are somewhat different to my usual fare, so I'm looking forward to giving them a go.

My posts this week:
May reviews
Handbook of Human Geography published
Review of Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
Review of The Secrets of Rue St Roch by Janet Morgan
A good death

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Good Death

‘Mrs Bailey?’

‘What’s he done now?  Steal a car?  Mug a pensioner?’

‘Can I come in?  It’s probably best if I did.’

‘If you must, but I don’t care what he’s done,’ she said over her shoulder.  ‘Just that he goes away for a long time.’

‘I’m afraid he’ll be gone for a very long time,’ the policeman said, once she was seated.  ‘He died an hour ago.  Hit by a truck.  He ran out into the road to save a child.’

She stared silently into space.

‘He died a good death.’

‘He deserved a slow, painful one,’ she muttered.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review of The Secrets of Rue St Roch by Janet Morgan (Penguin, 2004)

In 1995 Robert Bruce and his wife Janet Morgan opened a chest belonging to Robert’s father.  In it they discovered all the files belonging to a First World War spy ring run by Major George Bruce from a house on the Rue St Roch in Paris.  Rather than following protocol and filing or destroying the papers, Bruce had decided to maintain a personal archive of all the letters and coded newspaper stories concerning a successful train-spotting cell in Luxembourg.  The volume and scope of the material, along with subsequent interviews with the ring’s descendents, enabled Janet Morgan to construct a fascinating account of how the ring was created, how it operated, the personalities involved and their trials and tribulations, the politics of intra- and inter-service rivalries, and what the ring communicated to British intelligence. 

The lynch-pin to the operation was Madame Rischard, an upper-class house-wife to a Luxembourg doctor, who manages to travel from Luxembourg, through Germany and Switzerland to Paris to see her son, who is fighting for the French.  There she becomes stranded, having left Switzerland illegally, and is persuaded after many attempts by Major Bruce to become a secret agent and to set up a spy ring in her native country.  The aim of the ring was to collect information on all of the German supply and troop trains crossing the country and their destination, thus giving an indication of where future attacks might occur.  Whilst Madame Rischard, after intensive training in codes and espionage, was to travel back to her country by train via Switzerland, her fellow spymaster was to be flown in via a balloon drifting over enemy lines.  Baschwitz Meau, a Belgian soldier, was captured by the Germans, but escaped five times from prisoner of war camps before finally make it back to Allied territory.  An adventurer by nature, he volunteers to be infiltrated into Luxembourg to aid Madame Rischard in setting up the ring and collecting information.  There they are aided by Madame Rischard’s husband who tends to railway workers, a local teacher who writes newspaper stories that include a secret code, a local newspaper who publishes the stories, and a handful of railway workers.  The newspaper is sent to a priest in Switzerland, who then passed it on to British intelligence.  For the last nine months of the war the ring supplied detailed information that helped the allies determine the German’s battle plans.  After the war they were all decorated by British and French authorities.

The book is nicely written and constructed, and is full of detail about the whole operation -- perhaps too much detail in places, slowing the narrative a little.  Moreover, the personalities involved and their complex interplay are brought to life. Overall, an insightful and interesting read.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review of Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage (Text Publishing, 2006)

Thirty-something Jayne Keeney is an Australian who has somehow drifted into working as a PI in Bangkok.  Mostly she spends her time tracking unfaithful partners, but when one of them attacks her she ends up heading north to Chiang Mai to visit her closest friend, Didier.  He’s a Canadian academic and safe sex advocate who works amongst the gay community, lives with his Thai boyfriend, and shares Jayne’s passion for crime fiction.  Shortly after she arrives Didier is accused of murdering his boyfriend and is then shot whilst ‘trying to escape’ the police.  Grief-stricken Jayne employs her investigative talents to try and determine who the real killer and clear her friend’s name.  Lieutenant Colonel Ratratarn of the Chiang Mai police has a very different script however, and one thing Jayne has learnt living in the country is that it’s never wise to tackle the police unless you’re prepared to risk everything for truth.   

It took me a little bit of time to get into Behind the Night Bazaar, but once I did the pages kept turning.  Jayne Keeney is a little bit lost, somewhat restless, a tad confused about her feelings towards her gay friend, Didier, and occupies a kind of insider-outsider position in her adopted country, able to speak the language fluently and act in culturally appropriate ways but nevertheless a farang (foreigner).  She’s also head strong, resourceful and happy to take risks.  Her counterpart, the corrupt and scheming Lieutenant Colonel Ratratarn has the same latter qualities, making for an interesting battle of wits.  The plot is nicely constructed, with a good build up of tension  and a very nice twist towards the end.  Savage nicely conveys the culture and place, the everyday life and corruption, and the interplay between locals and foreigners.  A tale that gets progressively more engaging as it unfolds and an enjoyable sojourn into a different culture.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Handbook of Human Geography published

I've had an email from the publisher, Sage, to say that the Handbook of Human Geography, for which I'm a co-editor, has been published.  It's a bit of a tome, consisting of two volumes and stretching to 840 pages set out in double column, and has a couple of accompanying video conversations.  It's also not cheap at £295, which definitely cries out 'library purchase'.  The nice thing about the project was the publisher allowed us to adopt a fairly unconventional format that didn't shoehorn the chapters into a rigid domain-based structure, but allowed the authors to explore concepts and practices operating across the discipline.  The result is some innovative and engaging content, rather than very dry encyclopedia style entries.  There's also a really great line up of authors.

Place Tim Cresswell
Mobilities Johanna Waters
Spatialities Jacques Lévy
Difference Katharyne Mitchell
More-than-Human Geographies Beth Greenough
Society-Nature Andrea Nightingale
Transformations Dan Clayton
Critique Alastair Bonnett
Geo-historiographies Trevor Barnes
Capturing (GIS) Matt Wilson and Sarah Elwood
Noticing Eric Laurier
Representing Anna Barford
Writing (somewhere) Juliet Fall
Researching Meghan Cope
Producing Mia Gray
Engaging Jane Wills
Educating Avril Maddrell and Jenny Hill
Advocacy Audrey Kobayashi
Ethics Elizabeth Olson
Economy Marianna Pavlovskaya and Kevin St Martin
Society Jamie Winders
Culture Patricia Price
Politics David Featherstone
Words Christopher Philo and Cheryl McGeachan
Power Louise Amoore
Development Kate Wills
Bodies Rachel Silvey and Jean-Francois Bissonnette
Identities Robyn Dowling and Katherine McKinnon
Demographies Elspeth Graham
Health Matt Sparke
Resistance Sarah Wright
Why Human Geography?: an editorial conversation Roger Lee, Noel Castree, Sarah Elwood, Rob Kitchin and Susan Roberts
Geography and geographical thought David Livingstone and Doreen Massey
Nature and Society Susan Owens and Sarah Whatmore
Geography and geographical practice Katherine Gibson and Susan J Smith

Monday, June 2, 2014

May reviews

May turned out to be a very good month of reading, with three books receiving five star reviews.  My standout read of the month was Adrian McKinty's In The Morning I'll Be Gone, an excellent conclusion to the Sean Duffy trilogy.

In The Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty *****
A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill ****
Another Case in Cowtown by Mel Healy ***
Keep Away From Those Ferraris by Pat Fitzpatrick *****
Salt River by James Sallis *****
Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis ****
A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbanenco ****
Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst ****.5
A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell ***

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

A couple of weeks ago I asked for help in deciding on a new name for a novel.  In the end we decided on 'Stumped', which works on a number of levels: the protagonists are stumped in terms of working out what to do and one of them is missing their legs, the victim is stumped in terms of having her fingers chopped off, and one of the villians is having trouble working the political stump.  Thanks to Cian O'Callaghan for the idea and everyone who gave suggestions.  Since signing the contract I've been undertaking revisions on the story, which have consisted of chopping out nearly 9,000 words in two phases (c. 10% of the text).  It always feels a little odd to be slashing through words that took quite a long time to write, but there's no doubt it's improved the telling of the story. I'm hoping I'm done now except for picking up stray typos.  Fingers crossed.

My posts this week
Review of A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill
Big and open data bibliography
Review of In The Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty
Dealing with time
Purls of wisdom