Friday, November 24, 2017

Review of Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley (2015, Ebury Press)

Codebreakers tells the story of codebreaking by the British in the First World War and how it impacted on the course of the war and specific actions. The book covers a number of themes, such as the art of codebreaking, which often relied as much on dare-doing elsewhere to recover code books; the institutional politics in and between government agencies, and specifically Room 40 and other units; international politics and especially tackling German spying in America, and attempts to bring the US into the war. The tale is told in a loose chronological order and mainly focuses on particular key individuals, their personalities and stories. The strength and the weakness of the book is that it tends towards the large picture and spying in general, rather than specifically on codebreaking. Clearly, codebreaking is a key aspect of spy work and how it functions and used fits into a larger set of practices. At the same time it would have been interesting to get more insight into the actual day-to-day work of the codebreakers and their strategies and work. As the authors note, this was limited by a lack of written archival sources. Nonetheless, Codebreakers is an interesting and informative read, detailing a number of now little-known but important events and the intersection of codebreaking, politics and military action in the First World War.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review of Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente (Quirk Books, 2017)

Nine US comedians, who each perform a different form of comedy and are at varying stages of career fortunes, are invited by legendary Hollywood funnyman, Dustin Walker, to spend a week on a Caribbean island. They are accompanied by a naïve event organizer and wannabe comedian, Meredith. The ten arrive on the island to find it deserted, with their host dead. There is no mode of communication with the outside world, food and drink is in short supply, and soon they are being murdered through a variety of means. As the group shrinks, paranoia and strained alliances form. Will any of them be left alive at the end?

Ten Dead Comedians is a modern day take on Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’. Ten comedians and almost strangers (a number know or have met each other) are seduced to a remote Caribbean island to meet Dustin Walker, a legendary funnyman whose career has hit the skids after several flops. The island is deserted and in turn each is killed as they search to identify the murderer and a means to leave the island. Van Lente’s main twist is to make each character a different type of comedian, who’re at varying stages of their career, to infuse the tale with dark humour. The story unfolds in a linear fashion, punctuated by comedy routines by each of the comedians in which their supposed crime takes place. The concept of the story is a nice one and some of the set pieces are nicely inventive; the issue is the execution. While the tale is full of comedians it is not full of comedy, or at least I didn’t find myself laughing out loud. And the characters are all quite shallow and hollow and do not invite any emotional investment. Also, the perpetrator is kind of obvious, though not necessarily how the murders are being orchestrated. The result was an interesting without being spellbinding or side-splitting tale.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service



Maggie's at Clatterbridge have made a video about the support they provide for those with cancer starring my Mum and Dad available through their facebook page. They've both found the Maggie's centre a wonderful resource and wanted to help promote their work.

My posts this week

Review of Real Tigers by Mick Herron
Review of Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann
All he wanted was a Tahini steak and falafel

Saturday, November 18, 2017

All he wanted was a Tahini steak and falafel

Flashing red and blue lights lit up the ceiling.

Kathy risked a glimpse over the counter. The store was a mess. Display stands and fridges were toppled over; food, drink and packaging covered every surface.

The man was pounding a fridge with a shelf.

‘Drop the board! Raise your hands and kneel on the floor!’

The man twirled towards the megaphone.

A single loud retort and his head exploded.

Kathy screamed.

‘Mam, put your hands on your head.’

‘All he wanted was a Tahini steak and falafel,’ Kathy blubbered.

‘Mam!’

‘But we don’t sell them.’ She thrust her hands up.




A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review of Real Tigers by Mick Herron (Soho Crime, 2016)

Slough House is where disgraced British spies are put out to pasture; whiling away their hours doing pointless and soul-destroying admin in the hope that they will call it quits and leave the service. Each resident, however, hopes that they might put their career back on track and make it back to Regent’s Park. Catherine Standish, secretary and recovering alcoholic, doesn’t seem a likely candidate to be kidnapped, but when she’s snatched from the street by an ex-soldier, her colleague River Cartwright impetuously leaps into action, which is the reason he’s no longer trusted with operations any longer, and tries to steal a secret file to ensure Standish’s release. Slough House’s misfits play into the ambitions and scheming of the kidnappers, but also into a three-way power play between the home secretary, head of MI5, and one of her deputies. But there’s life in the slow horses yet and their boss, arrogant, bullying Jackson Lamb, is an old hand at department politics and scheming himself.

Real Tigers is the third book in the Slough series that follows the exploits of the slow horses – spies who’ve been put out to grass because of some major blemish in their careers. While the first two books in the series are good, Herron really hits it out of the park with this outing. The two key elements – plot and characterisation – are excellent. The slow horses are pawns in a much larger game between a vengeful ex-army senior officer, a clownish but ruthless politician, the head of MI5 and her internal rival. There’s plenty of scheming, backstabbing, action, and twists and turns, and Herron ratchets up the tension with the slow horses stumbling and fumbling towards a resolution, led by Jackson Lamb, who respects his charges just as little as the rest of the organization but believes the only person who should make their lives a misery is himself. Rather than being a simple linear tale, Herron creates a multi-threaded and layered story with the strands being drawn to a climatic showdown and intriguing fallout. Along with the insufferable, abrasive Lamb, the slow horses are a delight – Catherine is a recovering alcoholic, Shirley has a coke habit, Marcus has a problem with gambling, River acts before thinking, and Roddy is a delusional geek with zero social skills. Added into the mix is a home secretary clearly modelled on Boris Johnson, and two scheming, hard-headed spymasters in the Stella Remington mould. The dialogue and social relations between characters is nicely done as is the storytelling in general. There is also a delicious streak of dark humour running throughout and I laughed out loud at several points. Overall, a wonderful read.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Review of Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann (Short Books, 2012)

Birds in a Cage tells the story of four keen birdwatchers - Peter Conder, John Buxton, George Waterston and John Barrett - who met in a German prisoner of war camp and spend their days undertaking scientific research on bird migrations and behaviour.  Post-war the four men each became part of Britain’s wildlife conservation movement, maintaining professional and personal relationships for the rest of their lives.  As is often the case with popular history books the subtitle is somewhat misleading – “Four secret birdwatchers, the unlikely beginning of British wildlife conservation”: (1) their birdwatching was not secret either from other prisoners or guards, many of whom helped, (2) nor was it the unlikely beginning of British wildlife conservation, which was already underway pre-war, including by the protagonists, and was driven by many more actors than just these four.

Nonetheless, the book is an interesting account of both life as a British prisoner of war in Germany and the practices and comradery of birdwatching. Although isolating, demoralising and full of hardship and danger, prisoners regularly exchanged correspondence and parcels with family and friends at home, meaning that food and books made their way to the camp and poems, drawings, scientific papers went the other way. In addition, the men corresponded with the head of avian zoology at Berlin zoo, receiving homing tags and books from him. Given the long hours with little to do, the four men made pioneering, in-depth studies of certain birds and general counts and migrations. They often enrolled the help of other men, treating the whole enterprise as scientific study. Studying birds also gave them cover to act as lookouts for escape attempts, including participating in the wooden horse scheme. All four endured five years as a prisoner, overlapping in different camps, but often were alone from the others as they were moved about.

Niemann tells the tale with a sympathetic voice, drawing on diaries, letters, drawings and other secondary sources, to tell each man’s story as well as how they intertwine. The result is an engaging tale of how birdwatching suffused each man’s life, particularly during the war.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

Having only read/reviewed four books during October, I suddenly find myself with three reviews to write and another book nearly finished. Expect reviews of Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann, Real Tigers by Mick Herron, Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente, and Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley shortly. A slight review spoiler - Real Tigers was a cracking read.


My posts this week

The moon is extra bright today
Review of A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Slow computing: A workshop on resistance in the algorithmic age
October reads

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The moon is extra bright today

‘Here he comes!’

‘He’s cheating! He’s using fans.’

‘And shoes.’

The lumbering, naked figure of John Carter danced around startled shoppers, tracked by several smartphone cameras.

Someone shouted, ‘Go-on Boy!’

He didn’t notice Jane’s presence until the fan was snatched free.

Instinctively he moved the fan covering his arse to his shield his cock.

‘You’re meant to be naked! That was the forfeit.’

‘I am fecking naked!’ He was caught between wanting to argue and flee.

‘Cheat!’ Jane grabbed for the other fan.

John leapt sideways and resumed his run.

‘The moon is extra bright today,’ Jane yelled after him.



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review of A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage)

1919, Calcutta. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, has arrived in India after surviving the trenches of the Great War to return to an empty home, his wife dead from influenza. Only a week in the city and he is asked to investigate the death of a senior British civil servant found stabbed in an alley behind a brothel. He’s partnered by Inspector Digby, a long-time police officer in India, and Sergeant ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee, a Cambridge graduate who has defied his family wishes to join the police. While trying to orientate himself to colonial rule and policing, and local, national and cultural politics, Wyndham makes slow progress, made more difficult by the interference of the military police. To add to his load he’s also asked to investigate a train robbery. The evidence suggests that the murder and robbery are related, the work of Indian separatists, but Wyndham is not convinced.

A Rising Man is the first book in the Captain Wyndham series set in Calcutta just after the First World War. A historical murder mystery, there are a couple of compelling strengths to the story. First, the story is a nicely told crime tale, with the perpetrator and reason for the crime reasonably well covered until the reveal. Second, there is a good sense of place, culture and political context. Mukherjee details the segregated geography of the city, the power-laden architecture of the British Raj, and streetscape of Indian neighbourhoods. He also does a nice job of detailing the inherent racism and expressions of colonial British power, and forms of violent and non-violent resistance of Indians, as well as the complex social relations between British, Indian and Anglo-Indians. Where I struggled a little was with the character of Wyndham, who I couldn’t quite pin down – somehow he seemed both worldly and naïve, resolute but uncertain. This was perhaps personified by being a drug-addict-cum-recreational user – he lost control to the cravings, yet was still in control of his habit. He should have had depth, but somehow seemed a little hollow. The ending was also reliant on a plot device I’m never really comfortable with, which I won't discuss as it'll provide a spoiler. Nonetheless, the positives really outshone my nitpicking and I look forward to reading the next book in the series, A Necessary Evil.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

October reads

Another slow month of reading. My read of the month was Moth by James Sallis, the second Lew Griffin book set in New Orleans.

Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser ***.5
A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston ****
Moth by James Sallis ****.5
Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich**.5

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

On my way to Brighton to present at a workshop and to launch a new centre at the University of Brighton. Haven't been visited Brighton for a few years, so looking forward to having a stroll around the town. I didn't have a novel set in the town on my TBR so I've bought Mick Herron's Real Tigers instead.

My posts this week
Review of Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt
Collecting failed dates

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Collecting failed dates

‘Seriously, you go bird watching?’ Tanya said, glancing at her watch.

‘You think it’s a waste of time?’

‘It just seems so …’

‘Boring.’ David said, sensing the change of mood.

‘Well, I wasn’t going to put it like that.’

‘Though that’s what you’d mean. And yes, it can be a bit tedious, but it has its moments.’

‘Such as?’

‘Seeing a rare species, or a bird behaving unusually. Many of them are really quite beautiful.’

‘And would you expect … a partner to watch as well?’

‘Not really. Do you have a hobby?’

‘Does going on failed dates count?’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review of Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt (2010, Granta)

In Map of a Nation, Rachel Hewitt tells the story of the formation of the Ordnance Survey. The book should really have a title that frames the time period of the content since it almost exclusive covers the period 1745 to 1870, with practically no discussion of the history of the organization in the twentieth century. The use of the term biography in the title is, I suppose, a nod to the biographical approach to history telling, with Hewitt plotting the history of the organisation principally by tracing the lives of its key actors – David Watson, William Roy, William Mudge, Thomas Colby and others. Throughout the narrative there are a series of asides, with some context relating to politics, military conflict, scientific advances, philosophy, popular culture, and social relations, some of which aid the tale, some a bit of a distraction. Hewitt’s starting point is the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and the inability of English soldiers to navigate the Highlands, which led to a government-led mapping survey. Additional surveys were undertaken throughout the late eighteenth century, with the British collaborating with the French to create an accurate triangulation survey to document the precise location of key sites. These trig points became the basis for a national survey starting in 1791, under the office of the Master-General of the Ordnance, to underpin new, accurate maps. The survey first covered South East England leading to the first OS map in 1801 of Kent, and then continued across England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland during the first half of the nineteenth century.

While it is evident that there is a substantial body of research underpinning the narrative, and there is a richness of detail, for my liking the account is somewhat an uncritical in charting Ordnance Survey’s history. There are very brief references to a more critical reading of how OS was a political body doing important work to maintain the Union and certainly no attempt at a postcolonial reading of OS’s work, particularly with respect to Ireland and Scotland. Instead the OS is framed as a somewhat neutral, yet civilising and Enlightenment endeavour, with some fairly weak defence of its colonial work. The result is an account that presents people, events and endeavours in a straightforward, face-value way but largely skims over the wider subtext. Overall, an interesting history of the formation of Britain’s national mapping agency, but lacking a critical edge.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

It would have been nice to attend the Noireland, An International Crime Fiction Festival in Belfast this weekend, but family commitments prevented me from making it. From social media it seems to have been a success, so hopefully it will continue and I'll make it next year.


My posts this week:
Review of Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser
New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores
Forgotten in his own life time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Forgotten in his own life time

‘This is it?’ Turner put the photograph of a young woman back on a shelf and picked up a folder.

‘Yes,’ the duty manager replied. ‘He arrived with a suitcase and one box.’

‘And he’d no relatives?’

‘Not that we know about. No-one’s visited since he arrived three years ago.’

Turner pulled a sheet of paper free. ‘It says here he won a Gairnder Award.’

The manager shrugged.

‘It’s a major international award for medical science. A stepping stone to a Nobel prize.’

‘He never talked about himself.’

‘Jesus. Forgotten in his own life time.’

‘Even by himself. Alzheimers. Poor bastard.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review of Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (1977, HarperCollins)

Harry Flashman is back in London and has been asked to reprise his cricketing prowess at Lords. Unwittingly he’s dragged into a gambling racket and into the orbit of Don Solomon, a man with great wealth but an unclear past rooted in the Far East, who has taken a shine to Elspeth, Flashman’s beautiful but ditzy wife.  Solomon wants to take Elspeth and her doddery, scheming father on a cruise to the far-side of the world. For once, Flashman acts with chivalry towards his wife and when Solomon gets his way he tags along to keep an eye on her. The journey takes them down the African coast, round the Cape of Good Hope, into the Indian Ocean and to Singapore. There, Flashman is set upon and Elspeth kidnapped. Flashman hooks up with James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak, to pursue his wife into the wilds of Borneo and a battle with pirates, ending his adventure on the island of Madagascar where he’s enslaved by despot, Queen Ranavalona.

Flashman’s Lady is the sixth book in the Harry Flashman series, but the second in chronological order, set in 1843-45. As usual, Fraser interweaves Flashman into real-world events and places from the time – in this case, cricket in London, James Brooke’s battles with pirates in Borneo, and the tyrannical reign of Queen Ranavalona in Madagascar, a deadly place for Europeans to visit. To a large degree these are three separate adventures just about held together by Flashman’s global chaperoning and pursuit of his air-headed wife, Elspeth. Moreover, Flashman almost slips out of character, for although he is his usual bawdy-self for once he is chivalrous to Elspeth, seeking to make sure she is safe rather than simply looking after himself as normal.  Of course, that doesn’t stop him getting up to high-jinks with other women. And Flashman continues in his misogynist, racist, imperialist ways – very much reflecting a certain British, nineteenth century mentality that feels somewhat uncomfortable in today’s politically correct times. Fraser plays the bawdiness and humour to good effect to deliver a swashbuckling adventure with plenty of social and historical commentary. Overall, an enjoyable if a little uneven addition to the series.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I've not travelled that much in the last six months; just to the UK a couple of times.  Heck, do they need to sort out their rail system. It's a mess. Whatever the timetable says double the time. I might write a short story at some point about a man who loses the plot on a train - but actually externalizes it rather than it unfolding only in my head. The only thing keeping me sane was first 'Flashman's Lady', then 'Map of a Nation', a biography of the Ordnance Survey.

My posts this week
Review of A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston
Wanting to scream

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wanting to scream

The two shopping bags hit the floor. A yoghurt pot jumped free, landed and split.

Tom was hanging naked above the stairs.

She wanted to scream – inside her head and body that’s all she could hear and feel – but couldn’t externalise it.

Instead her legs collapsed under her, though she fell still gazing up, unable to avert her stare.

‘Mummy! Rachel won’t let me play.’

Some primordial instinct broke the spell.

‘Stay outside’: Said as she landed.

‘But mummy …’

‘Just stay there.’ She tried to scramble up and towards the door, slipped on the yoghurt.

Then the screaming started.



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review of A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston (2006 by Ballantine Books)

Having moved from a man on the run in Mexico to reluctant hitman for the Russian Mob in Las Vegas, Hank Thompson only seems to function if he’s swallowed a cocktail of drugs. Other than the drugs, all that is keeping him going is the need to serve his debt to keep his parents alive, but he knows that his boss’s patient is running thin. He’s somewhat surprised then when he’s asked to babysit a rising baseball star and gambling addict who's visiting the city to blow some of his signing-on-fee from the New York Mets. Hank’s task is to keep the player partying and out of trouble. It’s a bitter pill for the ailing hitman to take given that he was also a hot baseball prospect before events overtook him. Nonetheless despite his resentment he can’t help liking Miguel Arenas. When Miguel heads to his new life, Hank is sent as his chaperone; back to the city where he’s still a wanted man.

A Dangerous Man is the final instalment of the Hank Thompson trilogy. After the trials and tribulations leading up to his present predicament, it’s no surprise to find him struggling as a conscience-wracked, drug-adled hitman for David Dolokhov, a Russian mobster. Dolokhov specialises in fleecing gambling addicts and running rackets, taking the ultimate sanction as a warning to others when they fail him. He keeps Hank on a short tether with a threat to murder his parents. At a low ebb and waiting to find himself in the firing line Hank’s surprised to be asked to mind a rising baseball star with a gambling problem. Huston uses the introduction of Miguel Arenas to inject some hope into Hank’s life, but also more danger as he’s sent back to New York where his descent started. Told in the first person the narrative is pretty bleak throughout with Hank stumbling from one incident to another, constantly shifting from paranoia to scheming for a way out. It’s a little uneven in the telling, but still a solid piece of contemporary hardboiled pulp and it has a very apt noir ending.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

Hurricane Orphelia should be a tropical storm by the time it hits Ireland in the early hours of Monday. It's predicted to be the biggest storm in 50 years with winds gusting 90-130 km an hour. Hopefully our nearly complete house and garage will survive. Fingers crossed the storm loses energy very quickly and veers west into the Atlantic.

My posts this week:
Review of Moth by James Sallis
Pharmakon

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pharmakon

Grogan opened the front door. ‘It’s yourself.’

‘I thought you’d appreciate a personal visit. You don’t look so well.’

‘No thanks to you.’

‘You seem to think I’m the poison, Grogan, but I’m the remedy.’ Phelan held up a bag containing an off-white powder.

‘Ha! A pharmakon.’

‘Pharmakon?’

‘It’s Greek. It means poison and remedy. Both you and the H.’

‘Nobody made you take drugs, professor.’

‘Nobody tried to stop me either.’

Phelan shrugged. ‘You’re an adult, and I’m a businessman. Now, you want a fix, I want my money.’

‘I’m broke.’

‘Then you need remedy that situation. And mine.’



A drabble is a story of 100 words.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review of Moth by James Sallis (1993, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin has lived a meandering life of unfulfilled relationships, sorrow and regrets. After years of working as a private detective, scouring the underbelly of New Orleans, he has become a novelist and university professor, transforming his past into fiction. Shortly after the death of one of his past loves her current partner asks Griffin to locate her missing daughter.  She has dropped out of school and seemingly gone on a drugs-filled bender. Griffin agrees to try and track her down, returning to his old crafts and haunts, and occasional violence he thought he’d left behind. The trail takes him out of the city and to memories of his parents and his own long-lost son.

Moth is the second book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing Griffin comes out of retirement as a private detective to track down the missing daughter of an old flame who has recently died. His journey threads him through the underbelly of the city and out into rural Louisiana. There are three real strengths to Moth. The first is the central character of Griffin, who is cloaked in a world weariness, worn down by years of operating as a PI and dealing with oppressors and victims, everyday racism, successive failed relationships sabotaged by his own unwillingness to commit, and his inability to find his missing son, yet remains compassionate and resolute. The second is philosophical observations and asides about human nature and society, as well as some nice intertextuality concerning the authorship and narrative form. The third is the prose and voice; Sallis also writes poetry and it tells in the lyrical nature of his writing.  The plot is engaging enough, tracking Griffin’s progress in locating the wayward daughter, with a second thread added near the end, though the resolution of both are rather flat. However, Moth is really a tale about Griffin himself rather than telling the story of a compelling mystery. And that focus worked fine for me as he’s an interesting character to spend time with, as is Sallis’ prose and reflections on life and society.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm finally getting round to reading the final installment of Charlie Huston's 'Hank Thompson' trilogy, A Dangerous Man. It's hardly cheery stuff, but it's rattling along.

My posts this week

The time I wrestled with a tiger
Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich
September reads

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The time I wrestled with a tiger

Tom paused and stared at the fire.  He’d told the story so many times he was no longer sure as to what was truth or embellishment. Perhaps his memory had become so corrupted that it was all just a mutant narrative. Maybe it wasn’t a memory at all, but simply a story about himself; an expression of who he wanted to be.

‘Granddad? What happened next?’

‘I don’t know, son. I’m not sure if any of it happened.’

‘But you have the scar!  There on your hand.’

Tom rang a finger along the pale line.

‘The tiger leapt forward. Roar!’


 


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich (Polygon, 2012)

The body of a young woman is washed up on a Scottish beach in the West of Scotland. Detective Inspector Jim Daley is sent from Glasgow to the remote, close-knit town of Kinloch to investigate. There he discovers that the woman was infamous for performing sexual favours for drink and drugs and that her friend and a local club owner have disappeared. Daley and his team start a search while also hunting for other clues, though their task is not aided by the lukewarm reception of the local sub-divisional commander. Also acting as a distraction is the presence of Daley’s wife. She has followed him to the seaside town with her brother-in-law in tow hoping to try and patch things up despite her infidelity and Daley's hair-trigger temper. When the body count rises further pressure is applied by Daley’s ambitious boss. Soon there is much more at stake than Daley’s job and his rocky marriage.

Whisky in Small Glasses is the first in the DCI Daley series set in the West of Scotland. Daley is for the most part calm, collected and reasonable but he also has anger management issues that flair up when stressed. Given the state of his marriage, the pressure from his boss, and a difficult case, he’s never far from snapping. His sidekick is DS Brian Scott, a no-nonsense cop who’s reached his career ceiling. Together they make an interesting pair. Where the story suffers though is with respect to the plotting and telling. Meyrich uses a succession of plot devices to keep the story moving forward, some of which are seem barely credible, such as the backstory and unfolding drama involving the local chief cop, and Daley’s wife following him to the murder location. Moreover, the identity of the killer is strongly telegraphed from about halfway through in what is meant to be a whodunit. This is not helped by the lifeless, workmanlike prose. The result is a fairly weakly told police procedural anchored by a couple of intriguing lead characters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September reads

September proved to be quite possibly the slowest reading month of the last eight years of the blog. I managed one book a week. At least they were good reads! My book of the month was Eva Dolan's After You Die.

Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr ****
After You Die by Eva Dolan *****
Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding ***.5

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fireflies

Hannah took a sip of red wine.

‘Do you think this is going anywhere?’

‘What?’ Tom looked up from his meal. ‘Us?’

‘Yes.’

‘I … I thought we were getting on okay?’

‘But is okay enough?’

‘You want more?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect any more.’

‘You were hoping for fireworks?’

‘Maybe.’ Hannah shrugged.

‘They’re sparking all around us, but they’re fireflies rather than lightning bolts.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘This is what, our sixth date? I’m sixty three, and I’m too polite to ask your age, and I’m not sure of anything anymore. But I see fireflies.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review of Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2017)

1956. Bernie Gunther, former Berlin Kripo detective, is working as a concierge on the French Riviera. Gunther has a colourful past including working as a private investigator and for the upper echelons of the SD and SS; the latter under duress as he’s no Nazi. He’s also a wanted man for war crimes he didn’t commit. Ernst Mielke, the deputy head of the East German Stasi, wants Gunther to travel to Britain to murder a female agent that’s fallen out of favour. To make him compliant, Mielke’s brought along a small team led by Friedrich Korsch, an old Kripo colleague. Despite making the penalty for failing the mission clear, Bernie is reluctant to participate and loses his chaperones, making a break for West Germany. As he heads for the border, pursued by the Stasi and the French police who suspect him of a double murder, he recollects the last case he worked with his former Kripo colleague. That took place in early 1939 when he was asked by Martin Bormann and Reinhard Heydrich to investigate the shooting of a SS officer on the terrace of Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg. Heydrich considers Gunther the best detective in Germany, and one not driven by political ideology. It’s unthinkable that a man can be killed on the Fuhrer’s terrace, especially a week before the leader’s fiftieth birthday, and Bormann gives Bernie one week to catch the killer or face dire consequences. Bernie soon discovers there are no shortage of suspects given the widespread corruption linked to the development in the area. The problem is identifying which snake in the grass is the murderer and to tread carefully enough that he doesn’t end up dead as well. However, full of methamphetamines to keep him at work night and day, Bernie has big feet and the drugs make him emboldened. 

Prussian Blue is the twelfth instalment of the Bernie Gunther series. As with the last few outings the story is split into related threads, one set in 1956, the other in 1939. In 1956 Bernie is on the run from the East Germany Stasi who want him to murder a rogue agent and the French police who want him for murder. While fleeing from the French Riviera towards West Germany, Bernie remembers the last case he worked with the man now in pursuit of him. That involved him searching for the murderer of a high-ranking SS officer serving at Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, conducting the investigation while trying to deal with several senior Nazis and widespread local corruption. As with the other tales, the undoubted draw of Prussian Blue is the acerbic, world weary lead character whose principles have slowly been eroded over the years, and the historical contextualisation. A bit like Forrest Gump, Bernie has a habit of rubbing shoulders with a range of high profile historical characters and real-world events. Both threads are engaging, but there’s an unevenness in the telling. The 1956 thread is quite linear and operates as a short story interleaved between episodes of the more developed, complex 1939 thread. In many ways the 1956 thread more acts as a framing for the 1939 story and a bridge to the next episode in Bernie’s tale, moving him back to Germany. While the 1939 tale is engaging and rich in historical detail it’s also somewhat drawn out, with quite a bit of unnecessary explication, and in my view would have benefitted from quite a bit of pruning. Overall, despite my quibbles, another enjoyable addition to the series.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

This might possibly be the leanest period of reading and posting I've had on the blog. Too many things going on offline. I'm presently working my way slowly through 'Whisky from small glasses by Denzil Meyrich, one of the spate of Scottish-set police procedurals published in the last few years.


My posts the last two weeks
We still need better property data
Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan
Easy, girl 
Poor cat

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Poor cat

John yanked the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes but still felt a dull thud.

‘What the hell was that?’ Carrie said.

‘I dunno; some kind of animal.’

‘Jesus, John. Did we kill it?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘We should check.’

Carrie was crouching over a small black body when John joined her.

‘It’s a cat. We need to put it out of its misery.’

‘How about taking it to a vet?’

‘It’s too late for that; you need to kill it.’

‘Me? With what?’

‘A rock?’

‘No way.’

‘John, show some compassion. ’

‘You kill it then.’

‘Poor cat.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Easy, girl

Three SOCOs were huddled near the house.

‘What the hell’s that noise?’ Carter asked, approaching the shed.

‘His dog.’

‘Why hasn’t she been removed?’

‘No-one was brave enough to tackle her.’ Halligan eased open the door. ‘Dog warden’s on his way.’

The white bull terrier lifted her head, stopped mewing and rumbled a low growl.

‘Easy, girl,’ Carter said, showing his palms.

The dog eased itself up, it’s left flank covered in blood.

‘Are you going to remove it, Sir?’

‘I’d prefer not to look like our friend here. The question is, how did his attacker get past the dog?’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan (2016, Random House)

A gas leak explosion leads to the discovery of a mother and her paraplegic daughter in the house next door. Dawn Prentice has been stabbed multiple times, her daughter left to fend for herself, dying from a stroke bought on by neglect. The Prentices were already known to DS Mel Ferreira of Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit after a number of harassment incidents, including ‘Cripple’ being written on their car. That places the murder investigation into the hands of DI Zigic rather than CID and he, Ferreira, and their small team try to solve the case. Hampering their progress is the absence of a key witness who is being protected by another police force, too many potential suspects given Dawn’s promiscuous love life, and a lack of resources, but they doggedly stick to their task.

After You Die is the third book in the Ferreira and Zigic procedural series focusing on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. In this outing, the pair and their small team are investigating the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. The murder has the feel of a domestic crime and Dawn Prentice almost certainly knew her attacker, but there are plenty of potential candidates and some complicating factors, including the absence of a key witness and the murder weapon. In my view it’s the strongest book in what is an excellent series. There are several aspects that make it standout, not least its realism – this is no fantasist thriller, nor does it rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. Instead, it is a tightly plotted tale of a tragic double murder and its investigation that rings true. And for the first time in a while I hadn’t identified the killer a fair way before the reveal; well, I had, but then I had a fair few characters pegged as the suspect throughout the read. Indeed, Dolan does an excellent job of keeping various possible suspects in the frame and shifting potential guilt between them. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the peeling back of the victims’ lives and their relationships to others as the investigation unfolds. The tale also nicely deals with issues around disability, harassment, and fostering. And Ferreira and Zigic’s personal lives unfold with their own everyday domestic dramas. Overall, a captivating read and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I know we're not getting hurricanes like elsewhere, but it's rained every day for seven weeks and it really is time for it to stop. I'm fed up with being constantly damp! I've finally got round to starting Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr - it's a big book and I might have to get a little stand for it as its fair weighty; I suspect the content is going to be as well.

My posts this week
Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham
Behind the water tank
August reads

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Behind the water tank

‘Sir.’ Hannigan tried smiling at the petrified face. ‘Sir.’

‘What?’

‘There’s a child up here. A girl.’

‘Alive?’ Carter asked, surprised, turning his attention from the bloodstained walls.

‘Yes. She’s hiding behind the water tank.’

Carter climbed the ladder and the white-suited forensics officer turned her torch towards him.

‘Is she okay?’

‘I can’t get her to respond.  She looks scared out of her wits.’

‘Are you okay, missy?’ Carter asked.

The girl tried to shuffle back further out of reach.

‘She’s afraid of your voice.’

‘I would be too. I’ll get family liaison; she’d be better with a psychologist.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham (Hachette, 2013)

When a human leg is discovered in the garage freezer of a house being cleared after the death of its elderly occupant DC Fiona Griffiths is first on the scene. Soon carefully packaged body parts are being found in gardens, sheds and houses all over the surrounding neighbourhood. Then human remains from another body are discovered scattered by a nearby reservoir.  While the first victim, a young woman, seems to have been killed a few years beforehand, the second, a Moroccan-born engineer from the local university, is much more recent. Cardiff’s CID rapidly mobilises, but they have hundreds of persons of interest and no clear link between the victims. Griffiths is determined to remain a part of the investigation to the point where she’ll bend the rules to make sure she’s involved. Her antics place her in grave danger, though Griffiths is no stranger to peril or death given that she’s recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome and her psychotic episodes give her a unique perspective on life and cases.

Love Story, With Murders is the second instalment of the Fiona Griffiths series set in Cardiff, Wales. There are two key strengths to story. The first is the lead character, a complex, unconventional, socially awkward, risk-taking, young woman with an interesting back story. When she’s not creating or rushing headlong into a situation, she’s highly reflective, aware that she lacks emotional intelligence and needs to act how she thinks a ‘normal’ person might do.  The second is the voice; Bingham tells the tale through a highly engaging first person narrative.  In terms of plot, Bingham weaves together three main strands: the murders of a young woman and a Moroccan-born engineer, a suicide at a local prison, and Griffiths’ investigation of her father (a high profile criminal in the city) and her unconventional adoption when she was two. It’s an interesting mix, leading to a story that zips along and is bursting with intrigue, though some it seems to rely a little too much on coincidence and is somewhat far-fetched at times. Nonetheless, it’s a gripping read and it’s a real pleasure to spent time with Fiona Griffiths, a unique character in a genre full of stereotypes and tropes.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

August reads

On the whole, August proved a good month of reading. My book of the month is Riptide by John Lawton.

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5
Riptide by John Lawton *****
Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5
The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5
The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5
The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

For all crime fiction aficionados, Noireland: An International Crime Fiction Festival, Oct 27-29, Belfast. Join Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sophie Hannah, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl, Robert Crais, Liz Nugent and many more. Looks like it'll be a couple of interesting days of conversations.

My posts this week
Visiting positions, Maynooth University
Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding
Workshop: The Right to the Smart City
Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson
Spilt coffee

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spilt coffee

‘He did it.’ Clarke said, watching a police car depart.

‘The world and her mother knows he did it, but why?’

‘He said she’d spilt his coffee.’

‘You don’t cave your wife’s head in over spilt coffee.’ Jones rolled his neck.  Over his shoulder one of the SOCOs laughed.

‘What’s so fucking funny?’ Clarke bellowed.

 ‘Meakins’ just ripped the arse out of his white suit,’ a voice answered, ignoring Clarke’s ire.

‘Jesus,’ Clarke muttered. ‘Thirty three. Two kids.’

‘He’ll get life.’

‘And be out in fifteen.’

‘Must have been some cup of coffee.’

‘It’s got fuck-all to do with coffee.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding (Windmill Books, 2013)

Born in 1901 Rudolf Höss served as an under-age soldier in the German Army in the Middle East during the First World War, fell in with the National Socialist Party in the early 1920s, serving time in prison for manslaughter, and tried his hand at farming before joining the SS and becoming an early employee of the first concentration camp. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming the founding commandant of Auschwitz, putting in place the architecture and practices of mass murder in the archipelago of related camps and refining the process to make it more efficient, and joining the senior management team in charge of running all concentration camps. He was thus a key player in the holocaust. Born in 1917, Hanns Alexander was the son of a rich Jewish doctor in Berlin (and great-uncle of the writer). As the National Socialists grew in power and Jews became more persecuted, along with his fellow family members he fled to England in 1936. Along with his twin brother he signed up with the Pioneer Corps, being sent to France and evacuated through Dunkirk, returning to France in 1944. As the war drew to a close he was transferred to the British war crimes unit to work as a translator, but later was made an investigator in his own right. Determined to prove himself, he tracked down the Gauleiter of Luxembourg and Rudolf Höss.

Hanns and Rudolf tells two intertwined biographies until their eventual convergence, telling the life stories of two German men who ended up on opposing sides, swapping roles of hunter and hunted.  The structure of the book thus consists of paired chapters focusing on a particular time period (in a very similar fashion to ‘Dietrich and Riefenstahl’, published in the same year and I reviewed a couple of months ago). While the focus is very much on the two men’s lives and their individual journeys, the narrative is also used to reflect in part on German society between the wars and how people became enrolled into the holocaust or were affected by virulent anti-semitism. The strength of the book is the contrasting biographies and the story of how they eventually came to intersect and the focus on their personalities and the everydayness of each man’s home life. While it is clear that Höss invented and performed monstrous acts, to his loved ones he was considered a dedicated and considerate family man. Hanns, while driven to seek justice, is a prankster and a little bit of a rogue.  They are poles apart, but are presented as stark black and white but as very dark and very light grey. Höss broke the dam of denial in the Nuremberg trials by admitting his crimes, and those of his fellow defendants, and detailing how the system worked, especially in his memoirs written in a Polish prison before his trial and execution.  The weakness of the book, however, is a reliance on those memoirs as personal testimony and a lack of critical engagement with them and deep reflection on the psychology and actions of Höss. The complexity of the man, who seemed to lead a double life or expressed a dual personality, is somehow lost and he’s presented somewhat at face value (rather than as someone trying to post-event justify their actions). The result was the narrative lacked a critical edge, failing to ask and answer difficult and penetrating questions about Höss life. Nonetheless, an interesting account of two contrasting men whose lives intersected in a dramatic way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson (2015, Orenda Books; 2010 Icelandic)

Ari Thór Arason has dropped out of studying theology and philosophy and enrolled in police college. Living with his girlfriend in Reykjavik he accepts a post as a rookie police officer in the small, isolated town of Siglufjörður, 400 km away in northern Iceland. Nestled alongside a fjord, surrounded by mountains and accessible only via a single tunnel, it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everybody else and the crime rate is so low that doors are left unlocked. Ari Thór is very much the outsider and his girlfriend is unhappy with his move, but it’s a first job and step on the career ladder. When a famous author and chair of the local dramatics society is found dead at the foot of the stairs, it’s assumed by everyone that he’d fallen accidentally. Ari Thór thinks his colleagues should at least entertain the possibility of foul play.  Shortly afterwards a woman is found stabbed and half-naked in the snow. The most logical culprit – her abusive partner – has an alibi. With the town cut off through heavy snow and an avalanche, Ari Thór investigates both cases, ignoring the guidance from his boss.

Snow Blind has a touch of the golden age of crime meets Scandinavian police procedurals, which is perhaps reflective of the fact that Jónasson has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s tales into Icelandic. The tale focuses on the efforts of a rookie cop to solve two suspicious deaths, one of which appears to be an accident, the other murder. At the same time, he’s trying to deal with being isolated in a small town in northern Iceland, separated from his girlfriend, and treated as an outsider. Both deaths have classic setups. The first concerns the death of a famous author during a break in rehearsals at the dramatic society, found at the foot of the theatre stairs, with everyone claiming to be elsewhere at the time. The second is the stabbing of a local woman, the prime suspect with a cast-iron alibi. Jónasson spins the tale out at a sedate pace, concentrating as much on the character development of Ari Thór, the personalities of the theatre group, and the social relations and sense of place of the town as it does on the cases. The solution to one case is a little telegraphed, but the other has a nice twist to it. Overall, an engaging but not gripping story that’s the first in the Dark Iceland quartet of books.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

My new academic book – Data and the City – edited by myself, Tracey Lauriault and Gavin McArdle was published by Routledge during the week. It's available in both paperback and hardback and is a companion volume to Code and the City published last year.


My posts this week
Review of Riptide by John Lawton
Review of Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
Swat!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Swat!

There’s definitely something tasty round here. Something sweet and fruity. Something juicy. There it is. And I have it all to myself. Hmmm, this stuff is delicious. Sticky, but lovely. Whoa! Emergency takeoff. That was some bang! Here it comes again! Dive right, duck left. And again. Bad turbulence; double roll. Time to make a run for it. Ouch! My head! What the heck, there’s nothing there. It’s like an invisible barrier. Thwack! How the heck do you escape? Thwack. If I’m going to die, so are you.

‘Jesus, the little sod stung me!’

That’ll keep the monster distracted. Tally-ho!



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review of Riptide by John Lawton (Orion, 2001)

1941. Wolfgang Stahl, a senior Nazi and American spy has fled Berlin and made his way to London, going underground in the city. Stahl’s handler, Calvin Cormack has been flown in from Zurich, and paired up with special branch inspector, Walter Stilton, to track down the missing agent. Stahl’s old boss, Heydrich has also activated a couple of agents to deal with him before he can talk to the allies about Germany’s plans. Sergeant Troy of Scotland Yard’s murder squad takes an interest when the body of a supposed Dutchman is discovered, but is quickly moved to one side. Troy though likes resolution and when the killer strikes again and Cormack is in the frame for murder, the young policemen decides to set his own trap.

Riptide (released as 'Bluffing Mr Churchill' in the US) is the fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, though it is a prequel to the other books in the series, set in 1941 when Troy is a young, up-and-coming sergeant.  The plot centres on the hunt for a senior Nazi and American agent who has fled to London and is hiding in the city, unsure who to trust.  Trying to track him down are an American Army officer and special branch detective, with Troy on sidelines waiting to enter to save the day. This is typical Lawton fare, blending strong historicisation and sense of place with a ripping yarn peopled with interesting and engaging characters, ranging from everyday folk to senior diplomats and politicians to real-life players at the time. Cormack and Troy are at the core of the tale, but it is the Stilton family who steal the show. The result is a wonderfully evocative sense of London at war and a gripping tale of espionage, politics, murder and pathos (Lawton is not afraid to bump off some of his most endearing characters) that has a nice side line in dark humour and a lovely slapstick scene in a tailor’s shop.  I was gripped from the start and picked up the book every time I had a spare moment, thoroughly enjoying the read.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review of Present Darkness by Malla Nunn (Emily Bestler Books, 2013)

1953, Johannesburg, South Africa. As with other cops, Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is hoping that no-one is murdered in the days leading up to Christmas. While his colleagues are looking forward to a holiday away from the city, Cooper is hoping to spend time with his coloured partner and child, a strictly illegal relationship in the apartheid country. Their hopes looked dashed after a white couple are assaulted, the man dying in the hours afterwards, but the positive identification of a black boy and his friend as the assailants by their daughter appears to lead to a quick result. For Cooper it creates a major headache as the boy is the son of Cooper’s friend, Zulu detective, Samuel Shabalala. Cooper is certain the boy is innocent, however the daughter is sticking to her story, the lead detective Lieutenant Mason is determined to wrap things up quickly – planting evidence as required – and the boy refuses to provide an alibi for himself. To make things more difficult, the hard-headed Mason has made it clear he will not tolerate anyone disrupting the case and he’s prepared to shatter Cooper’s home life if necessary. Cooper, however, is made of stern stuff, as are his friends Shabalala, and Dr Daniel Zweigman, a survivor of German concentration camps, and he knows the terrain, having been raised in the Sophiatown ghetto.

Present Darkness is the fourth book in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series set in South Africa in the 1950s. In this outing, Cooper has returned to Johannesburg, the city in which he was raised, and is living in secret with Davina, his coloured partner, and their child. The plot concerns the assault and murder of a white couple and the framing of a teenage black boy for the crime. The sting in the tail is the boy is the son of Cooper’s friend, Zulu detective Samuel Shabalala.  Cooper wants justice, his boss Lieutenant Mason wants to see the boy hang and is quite prepared to not only ignore evidence but to fabricate it. Mason is a bully and full of dirty tricks, though it’s not clear why he’s so keen to close the case so quickly and to push Cooper to one side. Nunn once again does a nice job of detailing the lived realities of apartheid South Africa, with its marked prejudices and oppression, corrupt policing, its dangerous ghettos, and illicit relations and friendships across the race divide. And it has a strong sense of place – both in the city and the countryside – and historical contextualisation. The three friends at the heart of this, and the other books – Cooper, Shabalala, and Dr Zweigman – again shine, forming an interesting and engaging trio. While the other books take a slightly more expansive view, this tale focuses very much on personal danger – the framing of an innocent boy and the fraught attempt to see justice served, and the threat to Cooper’s new family. Nunn nicely builds the tale up to a dramatic denouement, though the resolution seemed a little contrived and held together with plot devices. Overall, another entertaining addition to an excellent series.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I've made a start on 'Riptide' by John Lawton, though I'm reading the American version titled 'Bluffing Mr Churchill'. The book is a very good read so far, but the title change and cover design are not so wonderful in my view. Thankfully, I'd not already this fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, so did not end up with an unwanted second copy (having not realised Riptide and Bluffing Mr Churchill were the same book); I've done this a couple of times and it's bloody annoying.

My posts this week
Review of The Dust of Death by Paul Charles
Review of The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor
Why teach history if you’re going to ignore it?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why teach history if you’re going to ignore it?

‘Look at these shitheads with their torches and guns shouting blood and soil!’ Harry waved at the television. ‘Why is this allowed? In America! Why teach history if you’re going to ignore it?’

‘They’ve a right to free expression,’ Fred said, yawning.

‘But not to incite hate and violence. To take the law into their own hands!’

‘Calm down. They’re just a few losers.’

‘Hitler started with a few losers. Look how that turned out! I was two when I was rescued from Buchenwald; I know the world these morons want. Believe me, you don’t want to live in it.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review of The Dust of Death by Paul Charles (Brandon Press, 2008)

A man is found crucified in the non-denominational Second Federation Church in the small village of Ramelton in North Donegal. The victim is a local master carpenter and he was having an affair with the Minister’s wife, who has disappeared. Inspector Starrett and his team are soon tracking down clues, interviewing locals as they try to determine who was responsible. All the evidence points to the Minister, but he is adamant that he was ignorant of the affair and innocent of the murder.

The Dust of Death is the first book in a pair of Inspector Starrett mysteries set in northern Donegal. This one focuses on solving the murder by crucifixion of a local carpenter. Starrett is a genial though lovelorn copper who had a career as a classic car dealer in London before returning to Ireland and becoming a policeman. Despite the gruesome murder, the tale is somewhat of a cosie-style police procedural – a kind of Ballykissangel meets Midsomer Murders mystery set in a small village full of characters and gossips. The tale is pleasant enough, but suffers from a weakness in detail with regards to characters (one policeman is a champion hurler from Galway but plays for Donegal; another is 72 years old and a former major in the British Army – both highly unlikely) and police procedure, which seems to lack structure and process but rather meanders along. Indeed, a logical and critical question is not asked by the police at the start of the investigation that would have led to it being solved very quickly. The result is a light-hearted tale that lacks depth and substance.