Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

Fifty pages from the end of Deep Waters by Barbara Nadel and I leave the book on the other side of the country! Hopefully, I'll track it down this week and get to finish it off as I firmly hooked on the story set in Istanbul. Instead I am now reading Paul Thomas' Death on Demand set in New Zealand. Reviews of both in the coming week - fingers crossed.


My posts this week:
Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Rules of thumb for making decisions on requests for academic work
Around the world in 365 days
Queering code/space: special section of GPC
Review of The Sugar House by Laura Lippman
A greater good?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A greater good?

‘I don’t know how you do it, man; just shoot them dead.’

McManus and Smith were sheltering in a bomb crater.

‘Self-preservation. Pre-emptive strike. The way I look at it, if he’s dead he can’t kill me.’

‘But it’s so cold-blooded.’

‘And firing artillery and charging positions isn’t?  What difference does it make – random shell, a ricochet, a sniper’s shot? It’s war.’

‘Which we all hope we’ll survive.’

‘And I’m increasing the odds. Take out the officers the others will surrender. It’s for the greater good.’

‘For us or them?’

‘For all of us.’

‘Except the poor bastards who’re dead.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Windmill, 2016)

While most aristocrats are seeking to leave Russia as it falls to the Bolsheviks, Count Alexander Rostov heads from Paris to his ancestral home, then to Moscow. There he is arrested and put on trial. He is spared the firing squad given his contributions to poetry and instead placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel near to the Kremlin and the finest in the city. There is he is forced to give up a number of his possessions and to occupy a small room in the attic. Rostov draws on his well of being a gentleman and his good nature and wit to make friends with all classes staying and working in the hotel. As the years pass by his life passes through a number of phases and several escapades, but there is little sign he is to gain his freedom, something he wishes for his adopted daughter.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an expansive and endearing story of the life of Count Alexander Rostov, placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel in Central Moscow in 1922. It is somewhat of an allegorical tale exploring the nature of being confined within borders and hope, friendship, dignity and making-do under political tyranny driven by political ideology; while Count Rostov is restricted to the hotel and compartmentalises his different roles and relationships, all Soviets are denied freedom of passage, suffer numerous hardships, and work out strategies to survive. There are also a number of political philosophical asides comparing the plight of the proletariat in collectivised, socialist Russia with individualised, capitalist United States. While Rostov moves through different phases, much as the unfolding of the revolution and its leaders, a selection of characters intersect with him, some on a more permanent basis, such as the hotel’s chef, concierge, barman, seamstress and manager, others more periodically, such as a film star, an old university friend, and a young girl who loses her innocence and faith in the system as she ages. The characterisation and character development is excellent, as are the social interactions between them. There is a real sense of place as to the Metropole Hotel and all the goings on within its walls. The prose is lovely and the storytelling compelling, full of wonderful little side stories, musings, and reflections on life. And the long arc of the plot, with its somewhat meandering path, is very nicely executed.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Around the world in 365 days

2017 turned out to be a bit of a slow year of fictional travel, visiting twenty six countries, with the bulk of reads set in the UK, US and Ireland. It would be nice to extend this a bit in 2018, I think, especially to Africa, South America and Central America, places I've barely travelled to fictionally (and not all in real-life).


Australia
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic ****
The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong *****

Canada
One or The Other by John McFetridge ***.5

China
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5

Cuba
The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich ***.5

Eygpt
The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5

England
Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5
Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler ****
Real Tigers by Mick Herron *****
After You Die by Eva Dolan *****
Riptide by John Lawton *****
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch *****
After the Fire by Jane Casey ****
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor ***.5
The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth ***
A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward ***.5
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott ****
Bulldog Drummond by Sapper **
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner ****
The Intrusions by Shav Sherez ****.5

Germany
Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus **
Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher ***
The Divided City by Luke McCallin ****.5
Stasi Wolf by David Young **.5

Greece
The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5

Iceland
Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5

India
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee ****

Ireland
Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5
The Trespasser by Tana French *****
A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan ***
There’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty ***** 
Silence by Anthony Quinn ****
The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell *****

Italy
The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax ****

Laos
Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Coterill ****.5

Netherlands
The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey ***

Russia
A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith ***
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko ****

Scotland
Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich**.5
Dead Water by Ann Cleeves ****
Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris ****
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid ****
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***
The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home ****

South Africa
Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****
 
Sweden
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5
The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson ****

USA
A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****
A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5
Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****
The Sellout by Paul Beatty *****
Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente ***
A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston ****
Moth by James Sallis ****.5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen ***
Whiskey River by Loren Estleman ****.5
Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker ****
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat ***.5
Dead Skip by Joe Gores ****
Redemption Road by John Hart *****
Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb***

Wales
Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5
Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham ****.5

More than one country
Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser ***.5 (England, Madagascar, Singapore, Indonesia)
Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr **** (France, Germany)
City of Lies by Michael Russell **** (Ireland, Portugal, France, Germany)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen **** (Vietnam, United States)
Flight from Berlin by David John *** (Germany, Britain)


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review of The Sugar House by Laura Lippman (Orion, 2000)

A former newspaper reporter, Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore. When her father asks her investigate the death in prison of a friend’s brother, she feels obliged to take the case. The man had been convicted of killing a young woman while high on glue. Unusually, the woman was a ‘Jane Doe’, so Tess’ first task is to try to identify her based on a smattering of unearthed clues. The trail leads to a bar called Domenick’s, that is less than friendly, and ‘The Sugar House’, an exclusive private clinic for eating disorders. As she digs further she starts to identify political connections and skulduggery, and soon her father is asking her to drop the case. Tess though is bloody-minded and tenacious, determined to unravel the mystery, but at what cost to her family?

The Sugar House is the fifth instalment of the Tess Monaghan series set in Baltimore. In this outing, Tess investigates what turns out to be a testing and dangerous case involving the death of an anonymous woman and her killer, organized crime, and politics. The mystery and its investigation are the strengths of the story, with Lippman weaving together a number of plot strands, with plenty of social and political intrigue. There’s also a good sense of place, especially with regards to the social geography of the Baltimore area, and strong characterisation. Where the story suffers a little is with respect to the pacing and telling. The book, in many ways, is as much about Tess’s life and friendships, as it is about solving a mystery, and the first sixty pages is more like a soap opera than a crime fiction tale. It is only once Tess starts to investigate the crime that the book takes on more shape. Once it does find its centre, it’s an engaging and entertaining read.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

This week I've been slowly working my way through A Gentleman in Moscow by Amos Towles. It's a long read that's quite engrossing, charting the life of a count put under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel after the Russian revolution. A nice way to start the reading new year. A review soon.

My posts this week:

New to me authors in 2017
December reviews
A year's worth of requests
2017 books read
Best reads of 2017
Repeat with variation

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Repeat with variation

The truck had pumped the concrete over the hard core and departed, leaving George to push the setting mass up to the edging and rake it level.

He hummed a lament as he worked. Push, push, drag, tamper, smooth; repeat with variation.

Another twenty-four hours and he’d be able to park his car on the new driveway.

He stepped back to admire his work.

Jane’s head poked out from the front door. ‘Looks good. Shep, no!’

The dog bolted along the length of the concrete, barking wildly.

‘Bloody dog,’ George muttered, extending the rake, quickly re-finding his rhythm and tune.




A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New to me authors in 2017

Of the 85 books I read this year 45 were by authors new to me. I hope to pick up by books by a number of them in the future.

A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy
Solo Hand by Bill Moody
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic 
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout
The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy 
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley
Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente
Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt
Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding 
 Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee
The Dry by Jane Harper 
The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich
Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus
The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler
Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson
Dietrich and Riefenstahl by Karin Wieland
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott
Bulldog Drummond by Sapper
Dead Skip by Joe Gores
Redemption Road by John Hart
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner
Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
Flight from Berlin by David John
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat
Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk 
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey
Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham
Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Invasion Rabaul by Bruce Gamble


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

December reviews

December was a bumper month of reading after the drought of October and November. And it was a very good month as well. Difficult to pick a stand out, but I'll go with A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****
A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5
Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic ****
Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5
A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5
Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5
Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler ****
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****
The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy ****.5


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A year's worth of requests

Back at the beginning of July I posted about requests to do academic labour outside of the normal day job. I had 194 requests in the first 26 weeks of the year. The trend continued in the second half of the year with 188 requests (it probably would have been the identical except for Christmas week, which was the only week during the year I received no requests). The full list is below and excludes requests relating to existing commitments (e.g., related to an advisory board or project), follow-on requests to re-review, spam requests/calls from vulture publishers/conference organisers, requests to review novels.

Paper review                                 75
Grant review                                 27
Book endorsement                          5
Reference/tenure review                27
Book review                                   3
Book proposal review                     8
Review book manuscript                3
PhD external examining                 6
Speak at workshop/conference     74
Invite contribute paper/chapter      27
Request to write book                   10
Work on project                            13
Request interview/advice/survey    84
Appoint to advisory board              18
Visiting prof                                    1
Request to be journal editor            1
                                                     382

In total, I was asked to do 154 reviews (of papers, grants, books, people, etc). I try and do my share of reviewing and disciplinary work, and certainly exceed my 'exchange economy of peer review' quota (Elden 2008) as in I review three times what I submit, but it's fair to say that the requests I'm receiving have got out of control and I'm still working out how best to manage my own and other's expectations. I expect I'll be saying 'no' a lot in 2018!


Elden, S. (2008) The exchange economy of peer review. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26: 951-953. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1068/d2606eda


2017 books read

I read and reviewed 85 books this year. A somewhat slower reading year than the last eight, but a good year with a lot of enjoyable reads. In fact, fifty of the books I rated were four star and above (in large part from getting recommendations from other book review blogs). Here's the full list of the books I read.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty *****
Real Tigers by Mick Herron *****
After You Die by Eva Dolan *****  
Riptide by John Lawton *****
The Trespasser by Tana French *****
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch *****
There’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty *****
Redemption Road by John Hart *****
The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell *****
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong *****

A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5
Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5
A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5
The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy ****.5
Moth by James Sallis ****.5
Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5  
The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5
The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5
The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5
Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Coterill ****.5
The Divided City by Luke McCallin ****.5
Whiskey River by Loren Estleman ****.5
The Intrusions by Shav Sherez ****.5
Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham ****.5
 
A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic **** 
Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler ****
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****
Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann ****
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee ****
A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston ****
Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr ****  
Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****
City of Lies by Michael Russell ****
Dead Water by Ann Cleeves ****
Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris ****
The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman ****
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid ****
After the Fire by Jane Casey ****
The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson ****
Silence by Anthony Quinn ****
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott ****
Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker ****
Dead Skip by Joe Gores ****
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner ****
The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax ****
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko ****
The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home ****
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen ****
 
Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5
Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley ***.5
Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser ***.5
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding ***.5
Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5
The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich ***.5
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler ***.5
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor ***.5
One or The Other by John McFetridge ***.5
A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward ***.5
Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith ***.5
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat ***.5
Invasion Rabaul by Bruce Gamble ***.5  

Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente ***
Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt ***
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen ***
A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan ***
Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher ***
The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth ***
Dietrich and Riefenstahl by Karin Wieland ***
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith ***
Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea ***
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***
Flight from Berlin by David John ***
Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk ***
The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey ***
Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb***
 
Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5
Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich**.5
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5
Stasi Wolf by David Young **.5
 
Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus **
Bulldog Drummond by Sapper **
 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Best reads of 2017

I read a lot of good books in 2017, though I completed fewer books than in the last few years - 85. Selecting the top ten was relatively easy given I'd only given ten books 5 stars. I'd rated another fifteen as 4.5 stars. Thirty percent of reads hitting the top two categories is a pretty good strike rate, I think. Here's my best reads selection.


The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong

A brilliant slice of literary Australian noir told through twin narratives. The first details the attempt by Darren Keefe – a bad-boy of Australian cricket – to free himself from the confines of a car boot. The second charts the childhood and careers of Darren and Wally, his elder brother who secures a place in the Australian national team and eventually becomes captain. The plotting, pacing and prose is superb, with Serong creating a convincing story of two brothers who seem to have it all but are always slightly out of their depth and attract tragedy as much as success. The characterisation and character development is excellent and the denouement packs a powerful and surprising punch.  




The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout is the story of how an unnamed narrator becomes infamous through his efforts to place Dickens, a town in South Central Los Angeles, back onto the map and to challenge ideas of race and racism within the black community. The story is smart, sassy, outrageous, knowledgeable, and laugh-out loud funny. It is highly entertaining tale, with a great set of characters and an engaging storyline, yet also makes one reflect and think on a whole bunch of social issues and the history of race relations and places.


Real Tigers by Mick Herron

Real Tigers is the third book following the exploits of the slow horses – spies who’ve been put out to grass because of some major blemish in their careers. 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. Herron creates a multi-threaded and layered story with the strands being drawn to a climatic showdown and intriguing fallout. The dialogue and social relations between characters is nicely done, as is the storytelling in general, and there's a delicious streak of dark humour running throughout.

The Trespasser by Tana French

The sixth book in the Murder Squad series set in Ireland charts an investigation into the death of a young woman in Dublin. The story provides a microscopic account of the case, including every sentence in every interview, all of Detective Antoinette Conway’s thoughts, rich descriptions of context and scenes, detailed explanations of procedural elements, etc. It could have been overly descriptive, but is actually fully absorbing with the detail adding to the tension. This is aided by close attention to office politics and psychology and strong characterisation and character development. A wonderfully written, multilayered and intense tale. 

After You Die by Eva Dolan 

The third book in the Ferreira and Zigic series set in Peterborough. In this outing, the pair and their small team investigate the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. It's strong point is its realism and tight plot that doesn't rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. 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. The tale also deals well with issues around disability, harassment, and fostering. Overall, a captivating read.


There’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty 

The sixth book in the Sean Duffy series set in Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. Duffy seeks the killer of a local drug-dealer which brings him into the orbit of paramilitaries who ‘police’ local areas. As usual he manages to rub his colleagues and powerful people up the wrong way, with potentially deadly consequences. The characterisation, sense of place and time, intertextuality, and prose are excellent, and the dialogue throughout the story sparkles. In addition, the pacing and plotting is very nicely done, with tale working its way to a tense denouement without obvious plot devices. 


Riptide by John Lawton

The fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, though a prequel to the other books in the series, set in 1941. 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. The story blends to 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. The result is a wonderfully evocative sense of London at war and a gripping tale of espionage, politics, murder and pathos, that has a nice side line in dark humour.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

The second book in the Peter Grant series set in modern day London, which slots into the genre of urban fantasy police procedural. The tale has all the elements of a good story – plot, voice, sense of place, context, characterisation. I was particularly taken with the voice, the little asides about London’s history and jazz, and observations about modern policy. The trick with good urban fantasy is to make it seem completely natural so the reader suspends disbelief without effort and the magical elements don’t jar or throw the reader from the story and Aaronovitch executes this very well. There’s also a nice streak of humour running throughout.

Redemption Road by John Hart

Elizabeth Black is a tough cop living with a dark secret. Ex-cop Adrian Wall has served 13 years for the death of a local woman. The day after he’s released, another woman is found dead in the same place and laid out in the same way as Adrian's first victim. Elizabeth seems to be the only person who doesn't believe Adrian is guilty. There's a lot going on in the story with two prime story lines and their various subplots. The pacing is at a quick tempo and there are multiple mini-cliffhanger moments. Indeed, the story is full of tension, though it's also relentlessly grim. The result is a kind of literary redemption, serial killer tale with a hell of a lot more going on than the average literary tale.

The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell

The second book in a trilogy. The hapless Paul Mulchrone has started a new private investigation company with Nurse Conroy and former Detective Sergeant Bunny McGarry. Mulchrone's task is to trail a property developer involved in large-scale corruption, embezzlement and building control violations. It should be straightforward but someone is murdering the developer’s colleagues. The tale is great fun; witty throughout and with a number of laugh out loud moments, plus it has all the elements of a decent crime tale. The characterisation is excellent, the plot is well constructed building to a nice denouement, and there's a strong sense of place and context.