Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review of Fletch by Gregory McDonald (1974, Avon)

Fletch is a twenty seven year old, twice divorced, former marine turned investigative journalist. His present assignment has him living undercover among a strung-out beach community trying to discover the source of the local drug supply. There he’s approached by a multi-millionaire, Alan Stanwyk, who wants him to commit a murder in a few days time then flee with fifty thousand dollars to Buenos Aires. The victim is to be Stanwyk himself. Intrigued, Fletch agrees to the job hoping to close the beach case and quickly get to the bottom of Stanwyk’s proposition.

Fletch is the first in a series of nine books featuring the investigative journalist. In this outing he’s trying to uncover the source of the drugs blighting a beach community and get to the bottom of why Alan Stanwyk wants to be murdered for a fee. It’s a tightly written story, mainly driven by dialogue-heavy encounters, with Fletch working away at both stories through on-the-ground digging and impersonation. While the character might work for some, and is no doubt a fair reflection of a certain kind of man, I found him tiresome and annoying: Fletch is a lying, cheating, conniving, arrogant, self-centred, know-it-all misogynist with dubious morals (he’s sleeping with a fifteen year old drug-addict while working undercover, he’s giving both his ex-wives the run-around, and he’s killed the cat belonging to one of them) – qualities that make him a good journalist but a fairly shitty person. While crime fiction is littered with anti-heroes, they usually have a quality that endears them in some way to the reader. In this case, it's dark humour, but that didn't do sufficient work for me. The result was a kind of lighter-hearted PI tale that had two main strands which work their way to a somewhat inevitable but nicely wrapped up denouement, but had a lead character for whom I couldn’t care less.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review of The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Random House, 2016)

New York, 1888. The economic war to light up America with electricity is raging. Thomas Edison is promoting DC networks and is aggressively protecting his light bulb patent. George Westinghouse has improved the bulb and is rolling out AC networks devised by Nikola Tesla. Edison is suing Westinghouse for a billion dollars and is running a dirty campaign through the media to discredit his rival and using the financial muscle of J.P. Morgan to squeeze his company. Westinghouse turns to a young, untested lawyer, Paul Cravath, a recent graduate of Columbia Law School to represent him. Cravath is ambitious and cunning and he’s willing to fight the hundreds of separate cases Edison has bombarded Westinghouse with. Cravath is playing David to Edison, Westinghouse and Morgan, but he’s tenacious and he’s willing to pursue every avenue in order to win at all costs, including the love of his life, Agnes Huntington, a celebrated opera singer.

The Last Days of Night is a fictionalised story of the battle for control of electricity and lighting supply in America is the late 1880s. There are a number of published factual accounts of the events, as well as biographies of the main actors, but very little about the lawyer at the heart of legal cases, Paul Cravath. Moore sets out to fill this hole through a story centred on the young man, who subsequently invented the present labour structure of law firms and held a number of important society roles. To do so he populates the book with real people and events, speculating as to what was said and done, though in so doing he somewhat alters the timeline for the purposes of the novel and also inserts events that never happened. He’s done this to compress the timeline and create dramatic effect. This is fine in terms of the storytelling, but less so for conveying the historical record, though the broad sweep of the battle and outcome remains. I find this recasting of history a bit unsettling, but parking that feeling Moore does a nice job of bring the characters and events to life and creating a compelling tale of corporate and personal rivalry, with a dash of romance thrown-in. The result is an entertaining and interesting read.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

I spent a couple of days last week in Siegen in South Westphalia, Germany at workshop. A nice small city which apparently is the setting for a series of crime novels, though they are only available in German. For once I didn't have a book set in the country of destination and instead worked my way through Defectors by Joseph Kanon.

My posts this week

Review of The City in Darkness by Michael Russell
Something I did

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Something I did

‘Something you ate?’

‘Something I did.’

‘Bad enough to get you running to the toilet every five minutes?’

‘Bad enough I regret it.’


‘So, what?’

‘So, what are you regretting?’

‘Something stupid. It doesn’t matter.’

‘It clearly does.’

‘It really doesn’t.’

‘A problem shared is a problem halved. Maybe I can help?’

‘A problem shared is one that quickly becomes gossip. Especially a problem shared with you.’

‘Ach, that’s not fair, Barry. I’m your best friend.’

‘That’s why I know.’

‘Must be a hell of a regret.’

‘I told you, something stupid. Oh, God, I need to go again.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of The City in Darkness by Michael Russell (2016, Constable)

The tail end of 1939. The IRA have raided a military arsenal in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. A postman has gone missing in Wicklow. Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie of the Dublin Special Branch finds himself involved in both cases. In the former, he’s hunting down the perpetrators and the missing weapons, all the while suspecting his boss might have a hand in the raid. In the latter, he’s sent to help with the investigation given the local police are suspects in the disappearance and suspected murder. The postman had a side line in gossip and blackmail and in his possessions is a hint that the tragic accident that led to the death of Gillespie’s wife several years earlier was actually part of a series of four murders. He starts to investigate, with the evidence suggesting a man in Spain might be able to shed some light on the matter. As it happens, the Irish ambassador to Spain requires an escort back to the country, where he is hoping via connections with German intelligence to free Frank Ryan, an Irish man on the wrong side in the Spanish Civil War, and Gillespie sets off as his chaperone.

The City in Darkness is the third book in the Stefan Gillespie series set in 1930s/40s Ireland, with jaunts to other locations. In this book, Gillespie suspects his boss of involvement in an IRA raid on a military arsenal and investigates the disappearance of a postman, which segues into an investigation into the death of his wife. The trail leads him to Spain and the old Irish college at Salamanca and to efforts by the Irish ambassador to free Frank Ryan from one of Franco’s prisons. As usual, Russell uses Gillespie’s cases as a way to explore the wider politics and international incidents at the time. In this case, the involvement of Irish forces on both sides in the Spanish civil war, the role of German military intelligence in freeing IRA leader, internal politics between agencies in Ireland, the actions of the IRA during the war, and Ireland’s neutrality. Even the disappearance of the postman was a real event, though Russell spins it into a whole other story line. The result is an murder mystery with an interesting context, a nice sense of place and time, and an engaging plot. It did feel a little contrived in places, with the story shoehorned around real events, though this little detracted from the read. Overall, another good addition to a very good series.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

Back to endless drizzle and autumn showers. Graham Moore's The Last Days of Night are helping me while away the hours. The patent war over the light bulb really was a war, conducted between Edison and Westinghouse, with Tesla in the thick of the action. Interesting novelization of true(ish) history.

My posts this week
Review of This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham
Review of Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle
It's not your fault

Saturday, September 8, 2018

It's not your fault

‘What did we do to deserve this?’ Maeve looked up for the first time in ten minutes. She brushed away a tear. ‘We always treated him right.’

‘Some are just born bad; that’s all there is to it,’ her sister replied. ‘There’s nothing you could have done.’

‘They were children.’

‘It’s not your fault, Maeve.’

‘He was an awkward child; always getting in trouble. Always falling out with others. And now this. We’ll be blamed. How am I meant …’

‘People will know it’s not your fault.’

‘No, they won’t. We’re his parents. How could it not be our fault?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review of This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham (Orion, 2015)

Fiona Griffiths is recovering from a long-term stint of undercover work and studying for her sergeant’s exam while browsing through cold cases. Two cases take her interest: a seemingly impossible burglary and the death of a security guard ruled as accidental. Just as she starts to poke around she’s pulled back into active service and given the tedious job processing evidence on a rape case. Her bosses, however, allow her to snoop around her cold cases as long as she keeps on top of her main duties. From slight pieces of evidence she manages to pry open chinks that suggest foul play in both cases. Then she discovers another body in a different jurisdiction, a seeming suicide but there are links to the other cases: impossible access and deep-sea cables. Seizing on tenuous links and skirting on or over the edges of police procedure she stitches together a conspiracy worth millions. But who’s going to listen to a lowly detective constable that often seems away with the fairies?

This Thing of Darkness is the fourth book in the Fiona Griffiths series set in Cardiff and South Wales. In this outing, Fiona is back to negotiating life without Buzz, and still struggling with her mental health and with following police procedure and the law. The larger criminal conspiracy that she’s been piecing together across the series comes to the fore, while her family and personal life recede. While working on a rape case, she spends any free time focusing attention on two deaths – one ruled accidental, the other suicide – and a handful of seemingly impossible burglaries. Other officers struggle to see the crimes for what they are, let alone the connections between them, but Fiona has a mind that works laterally and relentlessly. What Fiona sees is a play for millions; a scheme worth killing for. As with the previous books, Bingham does an excellent job at continuing to spin Fiona’s character development and advancing the longer arcs of the series with respect to her personal life (her adoption, her condition, and her criminal father) and her tangle with a set of dodgy Welsh businessmen. The plot is a little convoluted, unspooling and interlinking a handful of plotlines and subplots, and it’s sometimes tricky to see quite how Fiona made her deductions (for me, in solving the rape case), but narrative is so seductively readable and the story highly compelling and entertaining that it barely matters. Another excellent addition to the series.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Review of Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle (Cassava Republic Press, 2016)

Former solicitor turned journalist, Guy Collins, is on assignment in Nigeria to cover the forthcoming elections for a small TV news agency. His first night in Lagos he decides to go to a local club. There’s a commotion outside when a woman’s mutilated body is dumped on the roadside; when Collins goes to investigate he’s arrested along with anyone else near the scene. Rather than being released the local inspector throws him in a cell. Several hours later he’s rescued by Amaka, a woman on a mission to try and protect the lives of prostitutes working in the city. Collins had claimed to be working for the BBC and Amaka can see an opportunity to use him to gain publicity for her cause. Avoiding the police, Amaka and Collins try to discover the identity of the powerful men who use and exploit the city’s prostitutes. Meanwhile some of those forces are involved in a deadly power game, along with an on-going feud with corrupt police who also want to stop Collins reporting anything negative about the country.

Set in Lagos in Nigeria, Adenle’s tale focuses on the plight of a visiting journalist who finds himself out-of-place in the seedy and dangerous underbelly of the city, tangling with corrupt police and politicians and vicious gangs who are involved in prostitution and trading body parts. His journey is guided by a beautiful, well-connected lawyer who is on a mission to improve the safety and lives of the city’s prostitutes and expose corrupt senior figures. Part of the tale concerns trying to protect the country’s reputation by silencing the journalist; no doubt the Nigerian tourist board would similarly like Adenle’s book to disappear given it pulls no punches. Indeed, the tale is fully of violent encounters, sexual exploitation and corruption. The story is a little uneven but engaging and compelling and there’s a strong sense of place. The plot works fine until the latter quarter where it seems to drift a little off-kilter, especially the role of the police in the denouement. As an aside, the title and cover of the French translation Lagos Lady seems more apt than Easy Motion Tourist, which is based on a song title. Overall, an interesting, dark tale of fighting corruption and crime in a city pervaded with both.

Monday, September 3, 2018

August reads

A bumper month of reading and reviews, a couple of which were July reads that slipped over. Also a very good month in terms of enjoyment, with nine being four or more star reads. My standout read though was Eva Dolan's Watch Her Disappear.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes ****
Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard ***
The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts ****.5
Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson ****
The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman ****.5
Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan *****
Echobeat by Joe Joyce ****.5
Lamentation by Joe Clifford ***.5
The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer ****.5
A Little White Death by John Lawton ****
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell ****.5

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

Always good to read fiction set where I'm visiting. I spent Tuesday to Friday in Cardiff, so read Harry Bingham's This Thing of Darkness, much of which was set in the police headquarters, which was the building next door to where I was attending a conference. Nice to match up the geography of the book with the city.

My posts this week
Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Review of Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard
Home truths

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Home truths

Hardy heard a voice he recognized on the other side of a partition.

He was about to join them when a new voice said: ‘Fucking Hardluck is driving me crazy. What the hell’s wrong with him?’

‘He’s always been like that: geek-meets-prat.’

Another added: ‘He’s fucking clueless. And creepy.’

Hardy knew that no boss was beyond critique, but the hostility was a surprise; felt his face flush and a hollowness yawn inside.

No-one said anything in his favour.

‘Hey, guess who’s in the next booth?’

Hardy hurried from the pub; no way he could face them now. Perhaps not ever.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland, 2013)

1931, Chicago. Harper Curtis tumbles into a house in Chicago to find a dead man. The house seems in tune with Harper’s penchant for violence and has set him a task: to travel back and forth through time to kill the shining girls, leaving and collecting objects. 1974 and Harper steps out of the house, finds Kirby Mazrachi and gifts her a plastic toy pony. 1989 he returns to murder her. But against the odds Kirby survives the savage attack. While Harper continues his temporal journey to collect his shining girls, Kirby starts her journey to track down her would-be killer. She enrols as a journalist student and gets a post as an intern at the Sun-Times. Unable to work the crime desk, she asks to be partnered with Dan Velasquez, an ex-crime reporter who also covered her case. She searches the archives to try and find similar cases and also places classified ads looking for clues that’ll point her in the right direction. But the clues she finds don’t seem to make sense.

In The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes takes the serial killer story and gives it a double twist – the killer travels back and forth over a sixty year period to visit and murder his victims, and one of his victims survives his savage attack and turns hunter. The story is told through two main narrative lines: one following Harper Curtis, the killer who has stumbled across a house that seems to direct him to the shining girls and lets him step out into different times to give them gifts as children, then revisit them later to murder them; the other mapping Kirby Mazrachi’s encounters with Harper and her attempts to track him down given that the police have failed to identify and apprehend him. Occasionally a section focuses on another character, such as Kirby’s mother or Dan Velasquez, her mentor at the Sun-Times newspaper where she’s an intern. While Kirby has some depth, Harper is somewhat one-dimensional and lacks back story. The time-shifting plotline works well and Beukes does a good job of it seeming natural rather than a gimmick and blending it into the historical timeline. The story meanders its way temporally through a number of horrific murders to an inevitable denouement, but then ends at the climax with little in the way of wrap-up and closure. Overall, an interesting take on the serial killer trope.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard (1991, Harper)

Florida judge Bob Gibbs wears his two nicknames – ‘Big’ and ‘Maximum’ – with pride. One is self-proclaimed, the other is what the media have labelled him for his over-zealous use of the longest prison sentence possible. He’s also not averse to using his position to do a little skirt-chasing and pulling favours. One of those favours is to try and scare his wife into leaving using a dead alligator that proves to be alive. He’s also become the target of a former recipient of his harsh sentencing, who happens to be in the charge of probation officer, Kathy Diaz Baker, who is also the subject of Maximum Bob’s lecherous attention. Unwittingly Kathy has found herself trying to stave off the amorous advances of a judge whilst trying to keep him alive, though it does bring her into contact with a handsome cop.

Maximum Bob is part of the Elmore Leonard’s Florida-set screwball noir crime novels, noted for their colourful characters, slightly wacky plots, and snappy dialogue. This outing focuses on a set of related escapades surrounding Judge Bob Gibbs, also known as ‘Maximum Bob’ for his typical sentencing. Gibbs has had enough of his wife, who is possessed by a black girl killed a hundred years before, and decides to get her to leave by playing on her fear of alligators. He’s also chasing after probation officer, Kathy Diaz Baker, and is the target of two criminals who want him dead. Gibbs is not quite as in control as he would like, Diaz has her sights set on someone else, and the criminals are not as smart as they think. As a set-up it’s okay without being compelling. Indeed, my sense was this was a paint-by-numbers Leonard story that was a passable read without having a strong enough hook or characters the reader really reviles or cares for beyond Kathy Diaz Baker. As usual the prose and dialogue was very easy on the eye, but the story is a little flat and never really captured the imagination.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

There should be a list of books that you definitely don't read before travelling to the place it's set, or which the local tourist board would like to ban. I've made a start on Easy Motion Tourist and it fits that bill being concerned with the dark criminal underbelly of Lagos in Nigeria. Not a read for the fainthearted or squeamish. Review in due course.

My posts this week
Review of The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts
Review of Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson
Review of The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman

Saturday, August 25, 2018


‘How do you make them stop, Mummy?’

‘Make what stop, Sweetie.’

‘The voices.’

‘What voices?’ Karen turned away from the television.

Sadie was clutching a raggedy doll. ‘The ones in my head.’

‘Everybody has a voice in their head. It’s your inner voice.’

‘But there’s lots of them. And they won’t let me sleep. They say horrible things.’

Karen muted the programme.

‘What kinds of things?’

‘They want me to kill someone.’

‘They want you to what?’

‘They want me to kill you.’

There was a snicker in the hallway. Sadie giggled.

‘That’s not funny!’ Karen yelled, throwing a cushion.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review of The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2017)

Alma is a private detective in the near-future in R!-town, the re-branded name for Reading, just outside of London. Because her bed-bound partner, Marguerite, needs essential care every four hours or she’ll perish Alma only works real-world crimes, shunning those that take place in the Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. Her new case though is going to test her time keeping abilities. She’s hired to solve an impossible locked-room mystery. A man’s body is found in an automated factory in the trunk of a car that is never out of sight of three cameras. It doesn’t matter how many times she views the footage the body simply appears. Before she can make much headway the person who hires her is also dead and she’s wanted for questioning. But Alma can’t afford to miss her four hour deadline and nothing is going to stop her meeting it: the police, warring government departments, rogue drones, other murders, or various injuries.

The Real-Town Murders mashes together SF and PI crime fiction, along with some social and political commentary on where digital technology is taking us. Set in a near-future England, most people spend all their waking hours in the Shine, an immersive VR internet, their bodies kept in shape by mesh-suits that exercise them while their online. Alma and her partner Marguerite, however, only live in the real-world due to the latter’s medical condition, which requires attention every four hours. The pair work as private investigators, the perfect combination of intuition and logic, although Marguerite never leaves their apartment. Their present case is a locked-room mystery that seemingly only has one answer and that defies the laws of physics. Adams takes that premise and then spins out an action-packed, thoughtful and humorous yarn that revolves around a high-level political coup. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the realisation of Britain in the near-future, where many jobs are automated and the towns are largely devoid of life. And the locked-room puzzle is a conundrum wrapped in a conspiracy. I found the story highly entertaining and hope that it's the first of a new series.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review of Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson (Faber & Faber 1994)

The director of a top-secret research lab in the far north of Siberia has information he’d like to share with the outside world. Confined permanently to the lab he manages to sneak a message out to a professor in Oxford he’d met years previously before he’d taken up his present position. The professor gives it to an ex-student turned spy. The director wants Dr Johnny Porter, a Gitxsan Indian who majored in biology and is now a Canadian professor of Anthropology, who he’d also met on trip to the West, to journey to Siberia and find a way into the lab. Porter specializes in the languages of native tribes of the arctic, has the field skills to survive in the harsh environment, and is somewhat of an adventurer. The first task is to persuade Porter to make the trip. Then the challenge is to quickly provide orientation and training and to slip him into a highly restricted zone in Siberia. After that it’s up to Porter to work out how to get into a base guarded by military intelligence, where research staff only ever enter and never leave, and try and recover the director’s information.

Kolymsky Heights is a spy-adventure tale written by three-times CWA gold dagger winner, Lionel Davidson. In the edition I read, Philip Pullman had written a short essay in which he pronounced that the book is the best thriller he's ever read. While there’s much to admire about the story, I’m not convinced it’s as good as Pullman declares. What Davidson does well is the patient build-up. Porter doesn’t zip-in and out of Russia leaving a trail of carnage like a double-zero agent. He’s slipped in via a Japanese trading ship and he establishes himself as part of the local community. It takes weeks to find a viable way into the secret lab and several more to set up an attempt to breach the security. The timespan and pace enables some nice characterisation and a strong sense of place. It took a little while for the story to get going and at times there is an over-elaboration or description that has little plot relevance. I also wasn’t convinced by some of the plot elements, and Porter is a little too extraordinary in terms of his language and acting ability, though every leading man in a thriller usually has some super-human abilities. That said, the plot hook was interesting and by halfway through it’s a real page-turner. In particular, the extended denouement was very nicely done from both Porter’s and a Russian general’s perspective. Overall, an entertaining adventure-spy tale.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review of The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman (1974, Hutchinson)

Jack Levine is 38, bald, Jewish and divorced. He hustles by as a cynical, wise-cracking private investigator in New York. When a tall, good-looking blonde actress asks him to solve a case of blackmail regarding some stag films he agrees to take the case. When he finds the first blackmailer murdered and is asked to track down his partner by a theatre producer who has also been threatened with blackmail the case takes an unexpected twist. Soon some goons are taking shots at him, politically-connected elites are offering him large sums of money to walk away or switch sides, and Jack has found himself at the heart of the forthcoming presidential election, which if the Roosevelt looses might shift how America approaches the war. Jack is way over his head and is only interested in one thing – fulfilling his original contract with the actress and finding and returning the offending films.

The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 is the first book in the Jack Levine trilogy written by Andrew Bergman, probably best known as a scriptwriter of comic movies, including being a co-author of Blazing Saddles. Here, Bergman trains his comic eye on the hardboiled private investigator, with Levine being a wise-cracking PI in the mould of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, taking a case for a leggy blonde who’s being blackmailed. Rather than simply playing the trope for laughs, Bergman writes a very nicely plotted tale of blackmail/murder meets high stakes/low morals politics that has a series of well-judged turns as Levine finds himself progressive out of his depth but determined to stay true to his original quest. The characters are nicely penned and their interchanges are well observed and there’s a nice sense of time and place. Overall, an engaging and compelling hardboiled PI tale with plenty of dark humour.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

It's been a busy week with various books this past week - proofs of one, copyedits for another, and development editing of two others. Doing four edited books at the same time, while also editing a journal, was not the smartest move. I think the worst of it might be over. I also worked my way through the excellent, The Real Town Murders by Robert Adams

My posts this week
Review of Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan
Review of Echobeat by Joe Joyce

Saturday, August 18, 2018


‘What did I tell you, Alex?’

‘Just leave it, will you. I need a beer.’

‘You need your head tested. 30K! Have you any idea what favours I had to pull to raise that.’

‘I’ll pay you back.’

‘The state will pay me back when you go to prison. It’s bail money, not a fine.’

‘I’m not going to prison.’

‘See, this is what I mean. Dumb. Of course you’re going. I’m sick of telling you: if you’re dumb about the crime, you’ll do the time.’

‘I’m not dumb, okay.’

‘Then why the hell are you going to prison then?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review of Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan (2017, Vintage)

Corinne Sawyer is finally feeling good about her looks. The operations have gone well and she has a face and body that turns heads. But on an early morning run she is jumped from behind and strangled to death. It seems like a case for CID, especially as a rapist has been operating in the area, but DI Zigic and DS Ferreira of the Hate Crimes Unit are called in to take over: it seems that Corinne had been born Colin. There have been a series of trans-related violent attacks locally over the past year, though the victims have declined to take the cases forward. CID still think the murder is the work of the rapist, who perhaps didn’t realise he was attacking a trans woman. Zigic and Ferreira are not so sure. It might be part of a campaign against trans women. Moreover, Corinne was also going through a messy divorce and was partly estranged from her family. The case attracts national media coverage and a misstep by Ferreira raises hackles among the trans-community means that the police struggle to make progress in what’s proving to be a very sensitive case.

Watch Her Disappear is the fourth book in Eva Dolan’s Hate Crimes Unit series. The strength of the series hook is that Dolan can explore some controversial crimes, but to do so in a way sensitive to those communities they effect while exposing the discrimination and prejudice of society and tensions within the police as to how to handle crimes centred on sexuality, disability, gender and race. In this outing, Dolan focuses on violent attacks against trans women, while also developing the personal lives of the lead characters, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, and the institutional politics of their police station. She does a very nice job of exploring the often complex family situations of trans women, as well as the hateful ways they are often treated by society, whilst also detailing their friendships and support networks. She never loses sight, however, that she is telling a police procedural, keeping several possibilities open as to the murderer of Corinne Sawyer, a local trans woman, and violent attacks against others. Indeed, it’s difficult to determine who the guilty party is up to the denouement, despite the tale being replete with clues. Overall then a very good police procedural, with engaging characters and a compelling plot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review of Echobeat by Joe Joyce (Liberties Press, 2014)

Winter 1940. Like America, Ireland has so far managed to remain neutral in the war. It is coming under more pressure however from both Britain and Germany to declare sides. Britain is wanting use of Irish deep water ports for convoys, is building up troops in the North, and is threatening to minimize trade. The Germans want to increase the size of the legation, are agitating for pro-German stance, and are offering arms to fight the British if they try to sieve the ports. Despite the pro-German stance of the IRA, the Irish government is desperate to remain neutral and avoid Ireland becoming a battleground. To keep the Germans at bay they need to increase the strength of their diplomatic hand and decipher German intent from recent bombings. They turn to G2, Irish military intelligence, for answers, who in turn seek out Hermann Goertz, the chief German spy in Ireland, who has been on the run for almost a year. Captain Paul Duggan is charged with finding Goertz, as well as run an operation eavesdropping on German aviators who frequent a Dublin café. Under pressure from his political masters, Duggan turns to his uncle, a republican Fianna Fail TD, a friend in special branch, and a young German Jew refugee for help. The case takes a strange turn when it becomes clear that a British artist and conscientious objector is also using the café to try and pass important secrets onto the Germans. As well as falling in love with his new agent, Duggan finds himself in a high-stakes game that is explosive enough to change the course of the war.

is the second book in the Echoland series featuring Captain Paul Duggan of G2, the Irish military intelligence, during the Second World War. This outing is set over Christmas 1940 and into early 1941. German has conquered much of North West Europe, has lost the Battle of Britain, but is winning the Battle of the Atlantic. The United States, like Ireland, is neutral. Britain wants access to Ireland’s deep water ports and for the US to enter the war; Germany wants to prevent both. Ireland is being subject to diplomatic pressure and sabre rattling by both, including a few bombs being dropped by German planes. G2’s job is decipher both countries intentions and the games they are playing to bring pressure to bear on the Irish government, and to discover and track their spies. Duggan is given the task of locating Germany’s spymaster, who is on the run, as well pick up gossip from downed airmen. His job takes an unexpected turn when he stumbles across a plot to halt America entering the war. Joyce does a nice job of spinning this scenario into a compelling spy thriller that has plenty of intrigue, tension, and at times levity. Duggan and his special branch pal, Peter Gifford, form a nice double-act and the romance with a German Jew turned café spy is well spun. There’s a strong sense of place and time; the historical contextualisation is excellent with respect to the Irish position during the war, the pressure placed on the government, and its internal politics, without swamping the story. I wasn’t wholly convinced by one part of the denouement and the wrap-up seemed quite perfunctory, but overall an interesting and entertaining read.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

This week I found out that one of my books has been translated into Turkish, Key Thinkers on Space and Place, and another has been shortlisted for the Regional Studies Association Book Award, Data and the City. Delighted with both. I hadn't realised the Turkish rights had been sold and I'm now working on getting a copy.

My posts this week
Review of Lamentation by Joe Clifford
Review of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
He was asking for it

Saturday, August 11, 2018

He was asking for it

‘What the fuck, Ryan!’

Ben glanced over his shoulder and continued to hustle his friend away from the pub. A crowd had gathered around a prone figure.

‘He was asking for it.’

‘No, he wasn’t.’

‘He was. Fucking wanker.’ Ryan rolled his neck, his body still buzzing with adrenaline.

‘Even if he was … You could have killed him.’


‘You didn’t have to keep kicking him!’

‘Just leave it, okay. He’ll live.’

‘As a cabbage.’

‘He was a cabbage already.’

‘Jesus, Ryan. You’ll get time this time.’

‘I said leave it.’

‘Fuck. We need to get our stories straight.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Review of Lamentation by Joe Clifford (Oceanview Publishing, 2014)

Jay Porter struggles to get by in the small town of Ashton in northern New Hampshire. His life is stuck in a rut, having separated from his girlfriend and young son, eking out a living clearing houses, and trying to keep an eye on his drug-addicted older brother. As winter closes in, his brother is once more in trouble after his business partner goes missing. Somehow, Chris had managed to start a business recycling old computers and something on a hard-drive has him riled up. Before Jay can find out what it is, Chris has disappeared into the night and snow. Shortly after, the business partner is dead and there is a major manhunt underway. To add to Jay’s woes his girlfriend announces that she’s leaving the area. As with when they split, Jay decides to prioritize finding his brother and straightening out the conspiracy he seems tangled-up in. But this is a problem that is not easily solved given how much is at stake.

Lamentation is the first book in the Jay Porter series. In this first outing, Jay is living in a small town that has seen better times, is struggling to get by, and is trying to maintain a relationship with his estranged girlfriend and two-year old son. He also periodically bails his drug-addicted older brother, Chris, out of trouble. This time, however, Chris seems to be in deeper trouble than normal being wanted for questioning in relation to a murder and being on-the-run. Along with his friend, Charlie, and an old school friend turned insurance investigator, Jay tries to find his brother before the police. Stubborn unwillingness to see what’s in front of his face and quick to dismiss his brother’s claims of possessing explosive information, Jay makes hesitant progress that actually works against his brother’s interests, and his poking draws the ire of a well-connected family and a biker gang. Clifford does a nice job of portraying life on the edge in a struggling small rural town and how it can unravel further when tangling with larger forces. The characterisation is nicely done, though Jay’s stubbornness in thought was a bit wearing. In terms of the plot, there’s a strong hook and Clifford maintains a steady high pace, with plenty of action and intrigue. While for much of the tale the story seems relatively straightforward and well-telegraphed, Clifford has a couple of nice twists near the end that effectively re-orients the outcome, though the story ends relatively abruptly after a dramatic denouement. Overall, a decent dark slice of rural noir.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer (Batham Press, 2016)

Eve Singer is a TV crime reporter for iWitness News, constantly seeking out scoops for her demanding boss that gives the station fresh angles and the edge over their rivals. She’s also a carer for her father who has dementia and there are plenty of other wannabe reporters waiting to take her place if she can’t handle the pressure. And lately Eve feels like she’s about to crack under the strain. Her life though is about to get a lot more complicated. A killer has started to murder seemingly random strangers in London and he’s singled out Eve to cover his ‘performances’. She’s as desperate for the exclusive inside track as he is for the media attention. Unwittingly, Eve is providing the stage that the killer craves, as well as being the leading lady in the performance. With the police desperately trying to stop the murders and the pressure mounting the question is whether the 'actor-director' and 'actress-reviewer' will survive the finale.

Belinda Bauer has carved out a niche for producing original, thoughtful crime fiction that skirts tropes and genre conventions. In this outing she gives a fresh spin on the serial killer tale, sold with the tag-line: ‘He might kill her. She might let him.’ Her investigator is Eve Singer, a TV news crime reporter who is struggling to balance caring for her ill father with the pressure of a 24 hour news cycle. The killer is a failed artist and transplant recipient who sees his victims’ deaths as both extending his own life and an exhibition displaying the beauty of death. Despite Eve’s revulsion and fear, she and the killer seem to form a symbiotic relationship – she makes her living seeking scoops on gory crimes and he craves attention for his performances. As much as Eve would like to drop the story and try and stop the murders, she is compelled to not only cover them but participate in the performances. The story then follows the twisted relationship between the killer and news reporter, operating at two levels: first, tracking the unfolding of the murders; second, providing social commentary on crime news reporting and the pressures on female reporters. In terms of the former, while it took me a little while to be fully hooked into the tale, Bauer nicely ratchets up the tension and provides plenty of twists and turns as the killer outwits Eve, the police, and the public, leading to a dramatic denouement. Overall, a compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking tale that would make a great thriller movie.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

During the week we collected four ex-battery rescue hens and introduced them to their new home. They seem to have settled in well and are curious and friendly and we've had a couple of eggs. Should hopefully start to re-feather in next few weeks. On the book front, I picked up copies of Lamentation by Joe Clifford and She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper.

My posts this week

Review of A Little White Death by John Lawton
July reviews
Review of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Turn the oven off

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Turn the oven off

Mrs Lomax brushed the flour from her hands and answered the phone.  ‘Hello, Jackie?’

‘Mom, I’ve … look, you need to sit down.’

‘I’m in the middle of baking, can you call me back in ten minutes?’

‘Mom, sit down. This is important.’

‘Okay, okay, I’m sitting.’

‘Tom has just been arrested for murder. They …’


‘They’re saying he stabbed a man outside a pub.’


‘Don’t open the door to anyone except the police. They’ll be reporters.’


‘I’m staying at the station. Jane is on her way.’

‘I …’

‘Turn the oven off and take deep breaths.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Review of A Little White Death by John Lawton (Grove Press, 2007)

1963. Frederick Troy has risen to be the Chief Detective of CID at Scotland Yard. His brother is shadow Home Secretary. Both move in elevated company and enjoy the legacy wealth and connections of their father’s media empire. And both have ties to brewing scandals as Britain transitions from conservative constraint to the swinging sixties – the unmasking and flight of a Soviet agent and a sex scandal involving, ministers, lords and a KGB agent. Troy, in particular, is neck deep in the trouble having been summoned by his friend, Charlie, to Beirut and following him on to Moscow, and being present at country house parties involving young women and special guests. As the Establishment closes ranks and puts the hedonistic doctor who ran the soirees on trial, Troy finds himself on long-term sick leave. He nonetheless follows the case and gets drawn into part of the conspiracy, and when two key actors are found dead he resumes his old career. The two victims supposedly died by their own hands, but Troy and his colleagues are not convinced, setting out to discover the killer’s identity, even if that means rocking the foundations of the state.

A Little White Death is the third book in the Inspector Troy series. While the first was set in 1944, near the start of Troy’s career, and the second in 1956, this outing takes place in 1963. Despite various career set-backs, Troy has risen to head of CID at Scotland Yard. He’s still as head-strong and reckless as ever, willing to take risks that others would think foolhardy. This includes continuing a friendship with a known Russian spy, even following him to Moscow, and attending retreats organized by a well-connected doctor where ministers, lords, and the head of KGB at the Soviet embassy party with young girls. With echoes of Kim Philby’s defection and the Profumo Affair, Lawton tells the tale of Troy’s entanglements with the various actors and his attempt to battle illness, police politics, and the Establishment to protect those being stitched-up in the aftermath of scandal and discover who murdered two key players. It’s an ambitious, sprawling story with a number of intersecting plot-lines, which Lawton weaves nicely together, and there is nice intertextual references to events and personalities of the time. As ever, his voice is a delight to read and there is plenty of interesting asides, intrigue, and twists and turns. Troy is an interesting lead with a devil-may-care attitude, though his actions when asked to protect his old boss’ granddaughter did feel somewhat out-of-character, and the other actors are well-penned. The tale only works if one suspends disbelief that Troy would be already personally embedded in all the various networks, with the power to pull strings with the Establishment and to lead an investigation he has a conflict of interest in running, but Lawton does a good job of executing those sleights of hand. The result is an engaging, thoughtful read about spies, sex, scandal and suicide in 1960s Britain.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

July reviews

July was a pretty good month of reading. My book of the month was Abir Mukherjee's A Necessary Evil set in India in 1920.

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee *****
The Confession by Jo Spain ***.5
A Book of Scars by William Shaw ****.5
Straight Man by Richard Russo ***
Spook Street by Mick Herron ****.5
Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid ****.5
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar ***.5

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (2009, Little Brown)

Dr Peter Brown is an intern at a busy public hospital working horrendous hours and under constant stress to manage all his cases. He’s somewhat older than the other interns, but has a talent and calling for medicine. Amongst his patients is Nicholas LoBrutto, who knows Brown from his former life – as Pietro "Bearclaw" Brwna, a hitman for the mob. Unable to reach his handler in Witness Protection, Brown tries to do a deal with LoBrutto – as long as he keeps him alive, LoBrutto will protect his identity. The problem being that LoBrutto is seriously ill and his first loyalty is to the mob, not Brown. Brown should be running for his life, but his Hippocratic oath keeps him tied to his patients, his hope resting on his deal and the skills from his former life. His past though seems intent on catching up with him.

Beat the Reaper is a comic crime caper set in a busy New York public hospital. The hook is Dr Peter Brown has used the witness protection programme to retrain as a doctor, but the mob is about to catch-up with him. His task is to keep himself and his patients alive as all hell descends on the hospital. Bazell tells the tale through two narrative lines: the first follows his activities in the hospital; the second sets out his back story from the time his grandparents were murdered, through becoming a hitman for the mob, to turning a witness for the state. The hook and the storytelling are compelling. Bazell has an engaging voice, with the pace kept high, plenty of hi-jinks action, lots of interesting medical and legal asides, and witty character exchanges. There is a strong streak of dark humour running throughout that often made me smile. The story arc worked well, though it did feel a couple of pages short in terms of the wrap-up. Overall, an entertaining and darkly amusing tale that zips along at a frenetic pace.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

The most frustrating thing about buying books online is the time one can wait until the order is mailed. I ordered ten books four weeks ago and they are still not shipped. I've plenty on the TBR so there's no panic, but it's still annoying. I guess it's time to email the seller to find out what the heck is going on. In the meantime, I've made a start on Belinda Bauer's The Beautiful Dead.

My posts this week
Review of A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
Unwilling do-gooder

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Unwilling do-gooder

Henry shuffled to the front door and tried to remember the last time he’d had visitors. There’d been some do-gooders at Christmas whom he’d sent packing.

There was a girl under the porch, her right eye blackened.

‘Are you okay, lass?’

‘I need help.’

‘I haven’t a phone.’

‘He’s looking for me.’

‘Steph!’ A man’s voice from across the Oak Field.

‘Please. Just keep me hidden. I’ll leave once he’s gone.’

‘You need a doctor.’

‘I need a new life.’

Henry hesitated.


He let her in, an unwilling do-gooder. No doubt the visitors for the year would soon double.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Review of A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage, 2017)

India, 1920. Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force are escorting Prince Adhir from a meeting with the Viceroy at Government House to the Grand Hotel when they are forced to stop and the Prince assassinated. The following day they corner the assassin, who takes his own life. As far as the Viceroy is concerned that is the end of the matter. Wyndham, however, wants to know who send the assassin, the answer to which he believes is in the kingdom of Sampalpore. The Viceroy expressly forbids Wyndham from pursuing the case as Sampalpore is a semi-autonomous state, run by a Maharajah and a local government. Since Banerjee knew the Prince he is sent to attend his funeral, with Wyndham taking holiday leave to accompany him. Their real aim is to continue the investigation and they soon become embroiled in the complex family and power struggles inside the Sampalpore court, which reveals many suspects. The question is can they untangle the conspiracy before they too fall victims to a killer intent on reshaping Sampalpore’s future.

A Necessary Evil is the second book in the Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee series set in 1920s India. In this outing, the two detectives travel from Calcutta to Sampalpore, an Indian state rich from trading diamonds and run by an aging Maharajah, to investigate the assassination of a Prince. While Banerjee is there as an official attendee at the funeral, Wyndham has travelled on holiday leave, having been told to drop the case which has seemingly been concluded with the suicide of the assassin. While the Maharajah asks Wyndham to find the power behind his son’s killer, few of the royal court and government are pleased with the outsider’s presence, and their investigation is actively hindered. The tale has all the hallmarks of a very good police procedural: an interesting puzzle, well-drawn and engaging characters, a balance of investigation with character development and back story, strong sense of place, nice pacing, plenty of intrigue and twists and turns, and interesting framing and contextualisation. With respect to the latter, Mukherjee does a very nice job in detailing the complexities of Indian society, politics, and pre- and colonial history without these ever swamping or distracting from the investigation at the heart of the story. The result is a thoughtful, entertaining and colourful tale. A series that I’ll certainly keep following.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

A day of flies and flying ants, reading Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, and generally just fecking about in the humid heat. Not sure what I fancy reading next. Maybe a some popular science.

My posts this week
Review of The Confession by Jo Spain
Review of A Book of Scars by William Shaw
Somewhere safe

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Somewhere safe

‘And you’ve no idea where you put it?’ Carol asked.

‘I put it somewhere safe.’

‘And that’s?’

‘I’ve no idea.’ Tom scratched his head. ‘I just know I put it where it wouldn’t get damaged or stolen.’

‘Great. So it could be anywhere!’

‘Not anywhere. Somewhere hidden.’

‘Well, we have all the time in the world given we can’t sell the house without the building regs cert.’

‘Calm down. We know it’s here somewhere. Look, I’ll take the attic; you take the bedroom.’

‘How about I strangle you instead?’

‘You’d still have no cert.’

‘But I’d feel better about it.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review of The Confession by Jo Spain (Quercus, 2018)

Harry and Julie McNamara are watching television when a man walks into the front room of their luxurious mansion and beats Harry into a coma with a golf club then leaves. An hour later JP Carney hands himself into a local police station and confesses to the crime. He claims he does not know the McNamaras, selected the house at random, and cannot rationally explain his actions. This seems somewhat dubious given that McNamara is a notorious Irish figure, famous for running the bank that collapsed the country. Recently McNamara was acquitted in the case being taken against him by the state for financial malpractice. Carney, however, is insistent he has no connection or axe to grind against McNamara. While Julie tries to come to terms with the attack, JP is moved to a mental illness clinic for assessment, and Detective Sergeant Alice Moody investigates the case, convinced there is more to the assault than a random explosion of violence.

The Confession is an in-depth character study of two people involved in a violent incident. JP Carney walks into the home of Julie McNamara and beats her husband, Harry, into a coma then hands himself into the police. JP grew up in a dysfunctional family, moving from London to Cork, then Dublin, as a kid. Julie met Harry - already the owner of a bank in his twenties - while a student and married him shortly after. They seemingly have little in common and their paths have not crossed. Detective Sergeant Alice Moody is convinced that there must be a reason for JP’s actions, while everyone else is happy for the case to be mothballed – Harry McNamara was famous for precipitating the crash of the Irish economy and JP seems to be suffering from mental illness. Jo Spain tells the story from the perspective of Julie and JP, giving a detailed back story of each, and also narrates Alice’s investigation. In this sense, the story provides the confessions of Julie and JP, revealing the context and fallout from the attack. The three narratives are all nicely told, creating a rich sense of the character and lives of Julie and JP. The hook is whether there is a reason for the attack. While the character narratives work well, the thread following Moody’s investigation is more problematic. Portrayed as a talented detective, the investigation strategy was sloppy and had one fatal flaw that nagged away at me for most of the novel and was acknowledged in the story right near the end when one of the characters exclaimed “how the fuck did we miss that?” Which had been my thought for quite some time. Overall, an engaging, character-driven read that suffers a little from a shaky investigative thread.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review of A Book of Scars by William Shaw (Quercus, 2015)

1969. Helen Tozer has quit the police force and moved from London back to her parent’s farm in Devon. She is trailed there by Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen, who is on sick leave after being shot. The Tozer farm has been a miserable place since the murder of Alexandra Tozer five years previously, though the presence of Hibou, a young, former drug addict rescued by Helen has started to lift the grief. Helen though is unhappy working on the farm again, jealous of Hibou’s relationship with her father, and unsure whether she wants a relationship with Breen. Breen to pass the time starts to investigate Alexandra, opening old wounds as he finds fresh leads. His actions also unsettle some who questioned in the original case and not long after a police sergeant disappears. It seems that the case involves a lot more than the death of a young girl and has its roots in the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. As Breen and Tozer dig they uncover a shameful history of violence and revenge, one that is still being played out several years later.

A Book of Scars is the third book in the Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer series set in the 1960s. In this outing, it’s 1969: Tozer has left the police and Breen is recovering from being shot. While recuperating Breen starts to secretly investigate the violent murder of Tozer’s sister five years previously. A carefree teenager, Alexandra had been conducting an affair with a local Lord when she was snatched, tortured and killed. Breen’s sniffing about has unsettled some of those questioned in the original case. But the investigation takes a turn neither he or Tozer was expecting, leading them back to London and the disappearance of a sergeant in the drug’s squad and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. Shaw has really hit his stride with this outing. Although a little slow and ponderous at the start, layers are added to the uneasy, complex relationship between Breen and Tozer, the mystery of Alexandra’s death is laid bare, and the story is politically-charged, uncovering the history of the Mau Mau crisis in Kenya and the politics of colonial rule and the violence and torture used to tackle resistance movements. The characterisation is nicely developed and the plot is compelling. The result is an engaging story that works on different levels – personal, institutional, political – moving all the elements of a good police procedural series forward.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

Just got confirmation that an order of books is working its way through the post. I've swapped some time ago to using Kennys, and buying from an Irish online store (and owned by an old independent book store in Galway), rather than Amazon. They're somewhat slower at assembling the order, but I'm usually in no rush given there's always something on the TBR. This batch and those from the local book store should keep me going until the autumn.

My posts this week

Review of Straight Man by Richard Russo
Review of Spook Street by Mick Herron