Saturday, April 10, 2021

Swansong

Amy hit the high note and held it.

Opening her eyes, three of the chairs had turned.

‘Wow! That was amazing!’

‘Who are you?’

She tried to compose herself. ‘I’m Amy. I’m 52.’

The next couple of minutes passed in a blur.

‘So, who are you going to pick?’

‘Nobody. I just wanted to sing; to see if a chair turned.’

‘You’re not …’

‘Thank-you.’ She strode from the stage.

‘Amy, wait.’

The presenter caught her in the wings.

‘I’m sorry; I’ll be gone by the time the series ends.’

‘Gone?’

Amy tugged the wig free. ‘That was my swansong.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Review of The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt (2003, Harper Collins)

During a false spring, pieces of a body are discovered in woods outside of Algonquin Bay in Northern Ontario. Detective John Cardinal is assigned the case, but struggles to find leads. His efforts are not helped by the interference of the Mounties and secret service, neither of whom seem keen on solving the mystery. A few days later the body of a young doctor is found naked, seemingly raped. Cardinal’s partner Lisa Delorme picks up that case, but also makes little progress. Once Cardinal’s victim is identified there’s a lead to grasp onto which points back to events in Montreal thirty years before and an act of terrorism that derailed the Quebec independence movement and had lasting repercussions for policing and security. The only people who seem interested in revisiting what happened were the victim and Cardinal and Delorme and someone has done a reasonable job of evading evidence.

The Delicate Storm is the second book in the Cardinal and Delorme procedural series set in Northern Ontario. In this outing they are investigating two deaths, a dismembered man and a young female doctor, both found in woods outside of Algonquin Bay. Neither appear to be straightforward and progress is slow, not helped by inter-agency intransience. Following the trail of the dead man leads them to Montreal and acts of political violence that gripped and shocked the nation in 1970. Blunt puts in play all the ingredients for a decent police procedural meets political thriller. However, after a decent start the story starts to lose its way. In the middle section, when the tale moves to Montreal the pace drops to a crawl and the story becomes a drawn out political history lesson on Quebec separatists and specific events. It’s interesting in its way, but is way too much tell and not show. After that, the tale winds to an underwhelming denouement, with the excitement coming more from it taking place in an ice storm rather than the mystery. What saves the story to an extent is the revealing of some of Cardinal and Delorme’s back story, with some nice character development. Overall, however, a tale that had lots of potential suspense that starts well then slowly fizzles out.


 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

It's just begun

‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m leaving.’

‘At this hour? I thought you were staying the night.’

‘I have to go.’

Greg reached out a hand. ‘Are you okay?’

Maria pulled away. ‘Let’s end this.’

‘What?’

‘We said no strings, remember?’

‘Maria?’

‘I can’t do this. You’re a player.’

‘But …’

‘I don’t want a serious relationship. And I’m not going to let myself be hurt again.’

‘You’re hurting now.’

‘It’ll be worse later. Trust me it’s better this way.’

‘But we …’

‘There is no we. There never was.’

‘We can work it out.’

‘No. It’s over.’

‘It’s just begun.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review of City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris (2009, Abacus)

Shortly after Miriam, an American woman married to a contractor working in Saudi Arabia, arrives back in the country after a trip home her husband disappears. Cautious of the authorities given its repressive regime, particularly towards women, she’s scared and out of her depth. On a local beach the disfigured body of a young woman is found. Detective Osama Ibrahim is assigned to investigate, aided by forensic scientist, Katya Hijazi, one of the few women working in the police force. After a stuttering start, the woman is identified and eventually connected to Miriam’s husband. Aided by her Bedouin friend, Nayir, who could end up being much more, Katya tries to make a positive contribution to the case. But it’s not easy to be a female investigator in Saudi, and just as difficult to start a relationship of equals with a devout man. Miriam’s life, however, depends on Katya making progress on both fronts.

City of Veils is the second book in the Katya and Nayir trilogy set in Saudi Arabia. As with the first book, there is a very strong sense of place and politics, and continued good character development. The plot is intriguing and engaging, with plenty of twists and turns, though the desert denouement felt a little over-dramatic and switched pace and structure. While the story provides a fascinating social commentary on Saudi society, at times there was a bit too much tell rather than show, with the narrative explaining a situation rather than just detailing it. The result was a kind of education through fiction that felt a little too prescriptive even if it was informative. Other than that, I thought it was a well plotted, entertaining read with two lead characters I’m happy to spend time with.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Natural order of things

He hadn’t quite got to grips with life; stumbling into one dead-end after another, backtracking having never understood what had gone wrong, yet somehow muddling through. And it was happening again. The same kind of wall was starting to form ahead. Another week, another month, and he’d start to retreat. This time though he’d resolved not to advance again; he’d make-do in situ. Live hand-to-mouth, slowly decay and retreat from view. Maybe there could be solace in loneliness; some inner peace free of hurt and hope. Perhaps that was how things were meant to be; the natural order of things.

 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Shipwreck and lifeboat

‘You need to pull yourself together.’

‘I am together.’

‘No, you’re not. You’re all at a sea. Without a compass.’

‘I’m fine. We’ll be fine. You want another drink?’

‘No. Neither do you. You call this fine? Look at you, you’re an emotional mess. She has you’re head so twisted you can’t think straight.’

‘That’s what love does to you.’

‘It’s what abusive love does. She’s a bitch; you’re just too bewitched to do anything about it.’

‘I know, but …’

‘So, what are you going to do?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘What else can I do? She’s my shipwreck and lifeboat.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Review of Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (2013, Orion)

For his last case in internal affairs DI Malcolm Fox has been assigned to investigate a 30 year old murder case in which the police team was suspected of helping the perpetrator evade justice. It’s a case from the start of Rebus’ career when he was a new member of the ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’, a group of detectives who brandished their own form of justice when the system failed to adequately punish criminals. Retired and now re-employed to work cold cases, Rebus is clinging on to being a police officer. His old team are relying on him to stifle the investigation, but that’s hardly his modus operandi, even if it means he could bring himself down. It’s a distraction he doesn’t need however given he’s got a whiff of something off in a car crash involving the justice minister’s son, which is quickly followed by the minister’s death. His old colleague DI Siobhan Clarke is involved in that case, which provides Rebus the opportunity to interfere. Rankin nicely brings his three principle characters together through the investigation of the old and new cases, spinning an intriguing and entertaining tale. As usual the strength of the story are the lead characters and their interaction, the well-constructed plot, and the contextualisation and extension of the longer series arc that made the installment feel like catching up with an old friend. My sense was that there wasn’t an element out of place.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Does she hate us that much?

‘You’ve found her?’

‘Can I come in, Mrs Cale?’

‘Of course. Is she …’

Sergeant Lowe allowed himself to be ushered into the sitting room.

Mr Cale kept his gaze on the television.

‘Sit, sit. Do you want tea? Coffee?’

‘I’m fine. You’d better take a seat.’

‘She’s …’

‘Alive. She’s a witness. That’s how we …’

‘Oh. Oh, thank god,’ Mrs Cale started to weep.

‘She said to say that she’s fine.’

‘But she’s coming home?’

‘Not yet. She … It’s her choice. We have to respect that.’

‘But …’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Dave?’

‘Does she hate us that much?’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Big stakes

‘Did you hear? Mary’s got the covid.’

‘Mary? Jesus. I’ll raise you two matches. I’ll bet it’ll live to regret it.’

‘She’ll nag the thing into a new strain. I’ll take one and raise you a match.’

‘A whole match? Can your dodgy heart cope with the big stakes? She’ll have that fecker feeling under the weather in no time.’

‘We’ll never hear the end of it otherwise.’

‘Unless … I’ll see your match and raise you two.’

‘She’s as tough as old boots. Two pair, queen high.’

‘Three of a kind.’

‘But pray it’s not a threesome with Mary.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Dreams don't pay the rent

 Jess shuffled into the cramped dressing room.

‘What are you still doing here?’

Sally kept her eyes closed, her enormous costume feet propped up on the dresser.

‘I’m calling time on my calling.’

‘You’re skipping the audition?’

‘For evermore.’

‘But … Jess; it was a call back.’

‘There’s nothing worse than having raised hopes dashed.’

‘But it could be your big break.’

‘Panto is Skegness? I’m thirty-three. My job is wearing an oversized cartoon costume to entertain sugar-rush kids. It’s time to enter the real world.’

‘This is the real world.’

‘Is it? Playing make-believe? Dreams don’t pay the rent.’

 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Review of The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (2020, Profile Books)

For many people street addresses seems quite mundane and routine. However, as Deirdre Mask, details they have become vital pieces of information for those living at an address and the operations of government and business. Yet, in many parts of the world street addresses remain absent causing issues for those who do not possess one. In this fascinating book, Mask travels to a number of locations to explore the history, variance and politics in street addressing, using her own investigations and interesting facts and anecdotes to illuminate the stories. As a popular science book it works well, keeping the analysis light and engaging, while providing enough depth and reflection to be insightful. And there’s a reasonable geographical mix, with stories relating to several countries, including beyond the West. Personally, I think there could have been more discussion of postcodes and other spatial addressing units such as townlands and parishes, and also how addresses are vital to industries such as geodemographics and data brokers (there is a capital imperative to addresses not just governance), but generally a wide range of addressing issues are discussed. 

As an aside, I thought it was interesting that Ireland featured so little in the book given the author was living on the island when she started researching and writing. A very large number of homes in Ireland have no street address – in the county I reside in over 60% of addresses are non-unique (I share mine with 13 other properties some of which are 3-4 km away and I have no road name or house number). And there can be multiple townlands of the same name in the same county. It is only the towns and cities that have road names and numbers. The solution, introduced in 2015 (after a lengthy debate and delays), has been individual property postcodes, which are still not widely used, even by government (and interestingly the biggest blocker of their introduction was the national postal service). In addition, many street names in Ireland were changed after independence, with all the associated politics that involved. Yet, Mask travels from Ireland to West Virginia to look at a place transforming its addressing and then onward to other countries. It seems odd given Ireland’s own history of addressing to not discuss where one is residing. Regardless, overall an interesting and enlightening read.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Blood on his hands

 The door burst open.

‘Did you hear about Larkin?’

‘He’s filed an appeal?’

‘He took his own life.’

‘What?’

‘Asphyxiation. Used a strip from his pillowcase.’

‘I don’t …’

‘It’s what he deserved.’

‘No. No, it’s not. Did he leave a note?’

‘It said he was innocent; that it was hopeless and he’d had enough.’

‘It wasn’t hopeless; he just didn’t know how to prove it.’

‘There was literally blood on his hands.’

‘But they were the wrong hands.’

‘Jack?’

‘They never checked his hand span.’

Joyce felt sick. Larkin was dead because of his desire to win the case.


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Fingers splayed

‘I didn’t know her and I didn’t kill her.’

Larkin closed his eyes. He knew that nobody in the courtroom believed him, including his own family.

‘And your fingerprints?’

‘I don’t know. I just don’t …’

Larkin held his hand out, fingers splayed.

‘They were …’ Joyce stopped.

With sudden clarity, he felt the case fall apart. Except nobody else noticed.

‘Counsel?’

‘I …’ Joyce stared into space.

Could he really prosecute an innocent man? They’d spent months preparing the case, certain of his guilt.

‘Counsel?’

Joyce blinked twice. It wasn’t his job to do the work of the defence.



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

At first sight

‘Here’s you bill.’

Ronan glanced up and found himself staring into the waitress’s eyes.

Boom!

‘Did you hear that?’

‘It must’ve been the lifeboat flare.’

Lisa made to turn away, but Ronan grabbed her wrist.

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Then a gas explosion.’

‘Did any of you just hear a loud bang?’ Ronan asked.

‘What?’ Conor said, looking over.

‘An explosion?’

‘What explosion?’

‘It seems we were the only ones to hear it.’

‘You can let go off my arm now.’

‘People are staring, Ronan.’

‘This is the woman I’m going to marry.’

‘Marry?’

‘Yes,’ Lisa said to own surprise.

 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Life being life

 Ginny stared at the ward ceiling.

‘Why am I still here?’

‘Because you flooded my apartment.’

‘I didn’t want to be saved.’

‘And I didn’t want you to die. And nor does anyone else.’

‘It’s not their choice.’

‘You’ve a long life ahead of you. It’ll get better.’

‘My life sucks. My boyfriend dumped me for my best friend. My brother-in-law fired me. And my parents think I’m a lost cause.’

‘They’re the problem, not you.’

‘I’ve always been the problem. I can take the hint.’

‘There was no hint. Just life being life.’

‘Well, I don’t want it anymore.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.