Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

I scrapped my initial start for the Do Some Damage crime meets recession flash fiction challenge and started again fresh this morning. For some reason I find it best to write flash fiction in one sitting, let it gestate, and then edit. The problem with the piece I've drafted - entitled 'Cutting Loose' - is that its 2,000 words long and the max is 900 (should have taken better notice of that bit!). I tend to write in scenes. 900 is probably about two scenes. My story from this morning was five scenes. Oh well, I'll probably put today's story to one side and have another go in a couple of weeks time, sticking to the rules of the challenge this time.

My posts from this week
Review of The Ones You Do by Daniel Woodrell
Development land, zoned land and NAMA
Convenient relationships
Is science just acronyms?
Review of Old Flames by John Lawton
Sticky fingers

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sticky fingers

Do Some Damage have put up a challenge to write a piece of recession meets crime flash fiction. I've started a piece involving a woman reduced to shoplifting to help make ends meet. Then today I witnessed an old woman doing her bit to liberate some goods without payment. I'd popped into a newsagents in a small country town to buy a newspaper and pick up a birthday card. I also picked up a copy of Peter Temple's Truth, which I was delighted to come across. As I went pay an old, thin, smartly dressed woman, with long grey hair piled up in a bun on the top of her head, sidled to the front of the queue and pushed in in front of me to buy two magazines. Her first trick was to make a show of placing the 2.40 euro required in her right hand, turning it over to drop the coins into the cashier's palm but keeping hold of the two euro coin. The cashier went to drop the coins into the till and realised she'd been had. The old woman reluctantly passed over the missing coin. She then shuffled off to one-side to where she'd left her bag on the floor. As she bent over to put the magazines into her bag she grabbed a bag of crisps (chips) and dropped them into the bag, placing the magazines on top, then casually shuffled out of the shop. I glanced over at the cashier, who shrugged and totalled up how much I owed her. The front cover of Donna Moore's forthcoming Old Dogs springs to mind; except remove the shades and think country not city.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Review of Old Flames by John Lawton (Orion, 1996)

1956 and Khrushchev is on a state visit to the Britain. Given his fluent Russian, Chief Inspector Troy is drafted into the special branch team to mind the Soviet President. During the visit a lone frogman is spotted trying to spy on the Russian battleship berthed in Portsmouth Harbour and a couple of weeks later a body is washed up, although his face and hands are in such poor condition he can’t be identified. Troy sets out to investigate who the frogman is, why he was spying on the ship, and why he was killed, despite warnings to stay away from the case. Soon he is caught in a web of intrigue, his life under-threat, with those that can help him being murdered as soon as he tracks them down. But Troy is a tenacious copper and he isn’t going to be stopped until he discovers the truth.

As I posted a couple of days ago, Lawton is a skilled writer and storyteller. His prose is easy on the eye, evocative, and hooks the reader in early and tugs them along. As a cold war thriller/crime novel, Old Flames works well. The characterisation is good and there is a strong sense of place and history. Where I have a difficulty as a reader is in respect to plausibility. The historical detail, the kinds of relationships between individuals and agencies, the political intrigue, and basics of the plot are all fine in this regard. Rather it is the many coincidences between characters that I find hard to buy. Every character is already known in some capacity to other characters, or has some tangible relationship to them. I noted a number of these in the previous post, but they continue all the way to the end of the novel, with even minor characters linked to Troy or others (for example, the bank at which one of the characters has an account just happens to be managed by a close school friend of Troy's who then provides him access, despite the fact that the character lives in a completely different town and there are hundreds of banks in the city). The story really didn’t need this level of interweaving and coincidence, and in many ways it works best when Troy is in territory where there are no such relationships. It’s not that I am against coincidence, but rather excessive coincidence. The story is also a little too long, padded out with some sidebars that could have been trimmed back. That said, I did enjoy Old Flames and will keep an eye out for other books by John Lawton.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is science just acronyms?

I've just spent the last 8 hours locked in a room with a bunch of computer scientists, mathematicians and geocomputational folk. I was acting as a dummy reviewer for a very large grant that is soon to have its mid-term review that will decide whether it gets continuation funding. Very interesting stuff. The kinds of computer models and visualization they can build and the types of processes they can simulate is mind boggling. For example, they showed one graphic that displayed in real-time text messages between locations across the planet. They are also very, very keen on acronyms – some of the ones I noted: LIDAR, PLS, CAM, DEM, GWR, 3DQ, KDE, PCA, MDS, ECQTG, GIS, WIFI, FDO, FME, DWG, CAD, SIFS, MSER, SOM, SBES, MBES, AMSE, LBS, and so on. These scientists are acronym mad; it’s a wonder that anyone can understand what they’re talking about (but then the social sciences are going this way as well). The graphics were nice though.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Convenient relationships

I'm just over 200 pages into John Lawton's Old Flames. My sense so far is a very strong opening is entering a bit of a plodding middle, but I suspect it's going to reignite at any minute. Lawton is clearly a very good writer and can tell a good yarn. Like with Black Out though, I can't help but notice that coincidence and convenient relationships play more than a minor role in his stories. His main character, Troy, is a chief inspector in charge of the Scotland Yard murder squad, he is the son of a newspaper magnate Russian emigre for which his brother-in-law is an editor, his brother is the shadow foreign secretary, his ex-girlfriend is Eisenhower's ex-secretary, and he's been drafted in to the bodyguard detail of Khrushchev when he visits Britain, etc. That's a lot of convenient relationships. I can't help feeling that the story might gain something if parts of it didn't rest on them quite so much. I guess the other side of this, is that there are/were families who are incredibly successful and are tied into powerful networks (such as the Kennedys). I don't know, I just find some of the plot unlikely or implausible which always unsettles me as a reader. Still it makes for an intriguing story, and I'm firmly hooked in, so on that level it is working just fine!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review of The Ones You Do by Daniel Woodrell (No Exit Press, 1992)

Randi Tripp has run off to find fame as a singer with $47,000 that Lunch Pumphrey, the local jailbird and hitman, owes to the Tampa mafia. She’s left her elderly husband, John X. Shade to take the rap and to raise their young daughter, Etta. Aware that Lunch is a few morals short of those in the bible, Shade decides to make a run for it, heading to St Bruno, and back to the town he grew up in, and where his former wife and grown up children still live. Shade himself is no saint; an alcoholic, hustler, and womaniser now in his early sixties and becoming all too aware of his frailties, unable to hustle at the pool table due to failing eyesight and the shakes. Back in familiar territory, Shade tries to re-engage with his sons, and hustle by through the hosting of late night poker games with his old buddies, aware that Lunch Pumphrey will stop at nothing to get his money back.

Woodrell says that he writes ‘country noir’ and using the definition provided by Donna Moore over at Big Beats from Badsville, The Ones You Do is most definitely noir. The title refers to a line delivered by Lunch, who having slept with a husband’s wife tells him that one never regrets the ones you do, but the ones you don’t. It’s a moral line that John X. Shade has adhered to all his life, drifting from one man’s woman to another, using his natural charm to coax them into bed. The moral ambiguities of life is a theme that Woodrell examines with some skill, exploring their enactment and consequences, sometimes played out over many years. His prose is taut, economical and lyrical, and the plot and dialogue realistic, but what really sets Woodrell apart is his characterisation, which is superb. Indeed, what makes The Ones You Do work so well is that rather than tell the story from the perspective of one person, the story spends time with each character, their personality and history, and the complex relationships between them. As I noted on Saturday, reading Woodrell is like sucking down a cold beer on a humid, hot afternoon, and comes highly recommended. My review of Winter’s Bone here. I've two more Woodrell books on the TBR pile and they've been shuffled nearer to the top.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

I came across the John Huston version of The Maltese Falcon in the DVD rentail shop yesterday and watched it last night. It was kind of strange to view the movie version just a day after finishing the book. It was remarkable how closely the film followed the book, with nearly all of the dialogue staying faithful to the Hammett's writing. It was also interesting to see a film where quite long scenes, involving a lot dialogue were filmed in one take, something that seems increasingly rare these days. Whilst I already had Bogart in my head for Sam Spade, Mary Astor did not match up to my mental image of the femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy. If they'd swapped round Mary Astor with Lee Patrick, who played Spade's secretary, it would have been nearer the mark. Elisha Cook Jr didn't fit Wilmer Cook either, for some reason. Bogart is excellent as Spade and so was Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. A good film to complement a great book.

My posts this week
Review of Grift Sense by James Swain
Most nominated
The worst year for retail in living memory
Review of Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura
I can't get the film out of my head ...
Review of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Sucking down a cold beer ...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sucking down a cold beer ...

Oh man, can Daniel Woodrell write. I'm halfway through The Ones You Do and it's like sucking down a cold beer on a humid, hot afternoon. It's not so much reading as immersion. It's a book full of great lines and neat, sharp character descriptions.

Here's Lunch Pumphery, a small, hard man who exerts power through violence and fear. 'Lunch looked like a self-portrait by a self-expressionist who'd been skipping his lithium.'

And here is John X. Shade's son - 'Tip Shade was a jumbo package of pock-faced bruiser, with long brown hair greased behind his ears, hanging to his shoulders. His eyes were of a common but unnamed brown hue. He tended to scowl by reflex and grunt in response. His neck was a holdover from some normal-necked person's nightmare, and when he crossed his arms it looked like two large snakes procreating a third.'

The Ones You Do is every bit as good as Winter's Bone - my review here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (org. Alfred A. Knopf, 1930)

Sam Spade runs a detective agency in San Francisco with his partner Miles Archer. He’s hired by the beautiful Miss Wonderly to track down her seventeen year old sister, who has fled from New York with the married, no-good Floyd Thursby. Whilst trailing Thursby Archer is shot dead and not long after Thursby is also gunned down in front of his hotel. The police initially suspect Spade since he was having an affair with Archer’s wife. On confronting Miss Wonderly it’s clear that she’s afraid and not who she says she is, but is also unwillingly to reveal her secrets. Shortly afterwards Joel Cairo enters Spade’s office demanding to search the premises, looking for a valuable black enamel bird. Whoever Wonderly is, she’s wrapped up in a much bigger game of hunter and hunted that now includes Spade.

This is the first book I’ve read from the Classic Crime Fiction Curriculum and within half an hour’s reading it was clear why it was voted onto the list. The characterisation is superb with each person well defined and memorable, the dialogue is snappy and well judged, and the plotting is first rate. The Sam Spade character, in particular, is an interesting invention – a sharp tongued, charismatic, womanising, man about town, handy with his brain and, if needed, his fists. The whole book had the feel of a good play – tight, closed sets with a handful of well-drawn characters in each scene that riff off each other through verbal sparring, violence and seduction, with plenty of melodrama and tension, and the story twisting and turning as it works its way to a satisfying conclusion. This is a lean, mean story that is action and dialogue driven, jaunting along at a terrific pace. It’s almost as if the book was written as a movie script. A thoroughly enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to reading more of Hammett’s works.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I can't get the film out of my head ...

Over the past couple of days I've been reading The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. It's pretty rare for me to read a book after seeing the film, and I have to admit it's a strange feeling. As I'm reading I can picture and hear Humphrey Bogart as clear as day. It's quite disconcerting. I can't help wondering whether if I'd read the book first, whether Humphrey Bogart would have fitted my mental image of Sam Spade? Usually this is one of things I find most jarring about seeing a TV or movie version of a book - the character's aren't portrayed as I've come to think of them. Regardless, I'm enjoying the book immensely, even though the book has look and sound of the movie.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review of Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura, translated by Peter Bush (Bitter Lemon Press, 2009 [2005])

Mario Conde has long left the police force to make a living trading in antique books, but his detective instincts remain keen. In a decaying mansion occupied by a starving brother, sister and their elderly mother he discovers a magnificent library full of rare and valuable books. His intuition tells him that something is not quite right – why has the collection remained intact for so long when the family have no obvious means of support – but his own perilous financial position compels him to trade with them. Hidden between the pages of one book he finds a news cutting about Violeta del Rio, a sultry bolero singer of the 1950s with a voice and body that men instantly fell in love with, but who mysteriously disappeared just as she started to become famous. His interest piqued, Conde starts to investigate her disappearance, slowly finding himself infatuated with the singer. As he feared, by disturbing the library he has rekindled forces long dormant, and it’s not long before he is accused of murder.

Havana Fever is a slow burner of a novel, rolling along a gentle pace though tension is never far from the surface. Padura writes with colourful and expressive prose, providing sumptuous descriptions of food, music, and literature, as well as long reflective passages on Conde’s life and thoughts. Though he is clearly a skilled wordsmith and storyteller, and I know Havana Fever will appeal to those that love well crafted prose and thick description, my taste is for more action and dialogue and less description and reflection. For large parts of the novel, especially the first half, not very much happens, although the reader gains an insight into Cuban music, literature, a sample of its economy and politics, and the world and friends of Mario Conde. It is not often I read novels in parallel, but I read two novels and one history book whilst also reading this story. In short, Havana Fever is beautifully written and has an interesting plot, but it moved to slowly for this reader.

Other reviews can be found at: International Noir, Independent Crime

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Most nominated ...

There were nine authors who had three or more books nominated in the Classic Crime Fiction Curriculum Challenge. Way out in front was Agatha Christie who had a phenomenal 12 books nominated, demonstrating a great strength in depth to her writing and her long lasting popularity. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd emerged out of the pack to make it onto the final list of ten books. The nine authors and their nominated books were:

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Final Problem

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely; Lady in the Lake, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye

Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library, Evil Under the Sun, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The ABC Murders, Five Little Pigs, Murder at the Vicarage, Murder is Easy, The Crooked House, The Mystery of the Blue Train, Death on the Nile, Cat Among the Pigeons, And Then There Were None

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, The Dain Curse, Red Harvest

Ngaio Marsh, A Surfeit of Lampreys, Death in a White Tie, The Nursing Home Murder

Ross MacDonald, The Drowning Pool, The Moving Target, The Chill, The Underground Man

Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart

Dorothy L Sayers, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Whose Body?, The Nine Tailors, Five Red Herrings, Murder must advertise, Busman’s Holiday

Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair, Brat Farrar

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review of Grift Sense by James Swain (Ballantine Books, 2001)

Tony Valentine spent thirty years as a cop policing the gaming industry in Atlantic City. Not long after retiring to Florida his beloved wife dies and he starts a new life as a consultant to casinos around the country keen to use his encyclopedic knowledge of fraudsters, cheats and their various scams. When the down at heel Acropolis Resort in Las Vegas is hit three nights in a row by a seemingly unknown player who has a knack at winning at blackjack, they contact Valentine for his opinion. The pit boss suspects the dealer, Nola, is giving tells, but the evidence isn’t so clear. Panicking the casino has Nola arrested, but it looks like she’s going to walk free and they beg Valentine to travel to Vegas to get to the bottom of the scam. At first he’s reluctant, but an impending visit from his wayward son changes his mind. Once in the boiling city, holed up in the tacky, passed-its-sell-by date Acropolis, Valentine realises that he’s been dragged into something much bigger than a simple card scam.

Grift Sense is a comic, crime caper where the only character that isn’t a caricature is Valentine. That’s just fine by me as that’s part of what makes these kinds of novels work – people who are larger than life, being too stupid, too greedy, too tainted, too mad, bad or narcissistic, and leading lives that most of us are fascinated by but wouldn’t want to emulate. Whilst the writing is quite perfunctory, the dialogue is snappy, the plotting is sound, and the story rattles along at a jaunty pace, with some nice twists and turns. Moreover, it’s clear that Swain knows the gaming world and its policing and scams well, using that knowledge to good effect. All in all, a fun book that passed a few pleasant hours.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

My discovery of the week is the blog Confessions of Ignorance, which has ampled demonstrated how ignorant I am about a lot of things! There are only a couple of posts a month, but they're quality, thoughtful stuff.

My posts this week
Classic crime curriculum
Investment magnet for Islamic finance
Slowly going cross-eyed
Review of The Song is You by Megan Abbott
Cover art seduction
It's time to examine the Irish economical model not simply the economy
Review of Kamikazi by Raymond Lamont-Brown

Friday, February 12, 2010

Review of Kamikaze by Raymond Lamont-Brown (Cassell, 1997)

Kamikaze is a history of Japan’s suicide warriors during the latter stages of the Second World War. Most often associated with the pilots of planes who deliberately tried to crash into allied shipping (there were 2,940 such attempts between Oct 1944 and Aug 1945, the vast majority of which failed in their mission), kamikaze’s also included mini-submarines and also entire ships (for example, the battleship Yamato sailed toward the US fleet in April 1945 with only enough fuel for a one way trip – it never made contact being sunk by US planes with the loss of 3,063 men). Given that the protagonists died and left little in the way of records, the paucity of Japanese material, and the US military’s blackout of kamikaze tactics during the war, Lamont-Brown does a reasonable job of pulling together the relatively limited material available. The narrative is a little dry in places, becoming quite list-like and lacking in personal testimony or stories, and the structure is a little jumbled, but nevertheless I found the book fascinating.

In Admiral Halsey’s words, ‘American’s who fight to live, find it hard to realise that another people will fight to die.’ And this was certainly a point I kept reflecting on – the willingness of some Japanese fighters to selflessly give up their lives in what were quite clearly futile attacks for the greater good of Japan and the Emperor. The logic of the attacks was to discourage the American advance, and in particular the invasion of Japanese territory, by demonstrating how bloody and costly the battle would be. And whilst the American’s quite clearly feared and were distressed by such attacks, they quickly worked out how to deal with them, although a number of ships were hit and some sunk (for example, between 17 Feb and 30 July in Iwo Jima and Okinawa theatres 146 allied vessels received some significant level of damage from kamikaze attacks, of which 48 were scrapped or sunk). Perhaps the Indianapolis was the most significant ship to be sunk, attacked by either a mini-sub or conventional torpedo on July 29, 1945. In his memoirs, Truman admitted that the vessel carried a third atomic bomb intended for Niigata.

I’ll leave the last words to a letter sent by a young kamikaze to his parents.

‘Beloved parents,
‘Please congratulate me. I have been given the splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the Southern Seas, where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree.
‘I shall be the shield for [the] Tenno and die cleanly along with my squadron leader and other friends. I wish that I could be born seven times, each to smite the enemy.

‘How I appreciate this chance to die like a man. I am grateful from the depths of my heart to the parents who have reared me with their constant prayers and tender love. And I am grateful as well to my squadron leader and superior officers who have looked after me as if I were their own son and given me much careful training.
‘Thank you, my parents, for the twenty-three years during which you have cared for me and inspired me. I hope that my present deed will in some small way repay what you have done for me. Think well of me and know that your Isao died for our country. This is my last wish, and there is nothing else I desire.

‘I shall return in spirit and look forward to your visit at the Yasikuni-jinja. Please take good care of yourselves. […]

‘We are sixteen warriors manning the bombers. May our death be as sudden and clean as the shattering of crystal.
‘Written at Manila on the eve of our sortie. Isao.’

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cover art seduction

One of the things I was constantly drawn back to with Megan Abbott's The Song is You was the cover art. Heck, is it good - strong, evocative image and great design. It cries out, 'pick me up and take a browse' - 'go on, you know you want to'. Donna Moore's Old Dogs is another great, striking cover. Much better than the generic, air-brushed and hazy photo covershots that adorn many bestselling novels. I'm having a good think about The White Gallows cover design at the minute as I due to liaise with the designer in the next week or so, and so far I'm really lacking in ideas. Hopefully something will emerge over the weekend.

I know they say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but I'm wondering - how many of us are actually influenced by the cover? I know I bought my first Malcolm Pryce novel purely because the novel screamed 'pick me up' across the bookshop. What book covers have seduced you? And did the book live up to the cover?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review of The Song is You by Megan Abbott (Pocket Books, 2007)

Jean Spangler, a rising starlet willing to take chances and risks to make the big time, disappears after a night on the town with two Hollywood stars. The only thing found the next day is her handbag containing a cryptic note. Gil (Hop) Hopkins, every star’s friend and publicist, was there that night, and in the following days helped to create a smokescreen to protect his studio’s stars and misdirect the police investigation. Two years later and Iolene, Jean’s sultry friend, tracks Gil down fearing for her life. Jarred by Iolene’s visit, Gil starts to make sure that his web of lies is still intact, but in the process gets drawn into Spangler’s disappearance, retracing his steps that fateful night to discover what really happened to the charismatic young woman intent on stardom.

Megan Abbott’s second novel is a hardboiled expose of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, revealing how the dark underbelly of the movie business was kept out of the media or was repackaged as glamour and glitz through the gossip magazines and newspapers. Hopkins is a master of spin, operating at the centre of that world, picking up the stars and wannabes who are living on the edge or skeetering out of control, dusting them down and making sure they retain their all-American, clean-living, family entertainment persona. His charm and success though masks his own dark secrets and shabby life – a serial philanderer unhappy in his own company whose wife has left him for his best friend. The Song is You is both an in-depth character study of Hopkins and his work, and a mystery tale of Jean Spangler’s disappearance. With a steady pace, careful plotting and a nice turn of phrase, Abbott spins a dark tale of sex, ambition, blackmail, greed, violence, and psychotic deviance – a tale that gets very dark in places. The characterisation is excellent, and like Ellroy, Abbott manages to evoke the time and place of 1950s L.A., immersing the reader in its the murky world. Overall, an enjoyable, dark story and I’m looking forward to reading more of Abbott's books. My review of Queenpin is here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Slowly going cross-eyed ...

I’ve spent most of today working on abridging two essays for an edited collection – The Map Reader - I’m co-editing. For some, naive reason I thought this would be a relatively straightforward task - take 50 classic essays on cartography produced over the past 60 years, edit them all down so that they are under 5,000 words each, split them into five sections each with a short introduction and top it with an introductory essay. One of the essays I’ve been working on today was over 20,000 words long in its original form. Getting it down to 5,000 words, wherein its essential argument remains intact and its narrative structure and flow still works okay (and the essay can’t be re-written or added to), has been a real challenge. Much tougher than I was anticipating and I suspect it’s going to take a few passes to tweak and polish. The real killer though is the formatting – having to convert footnotes into Harvard style references is as tedious as it gets (and one of the essays has 177 footnotes!). I’m slowly going cross-eyed …

Monday, February 8, 2010

The classic crime curriculum

Given the comments on Saturday's post, I think it is fairly clear that the consensus is to add Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's, Roseanna, as the final book on the classic crime curriculum. That makes the full list:

James Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley (1955)
Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors (1934)
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Roseanna (1965)
Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance (1934)
Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (1952)

One thing that strikes me about this list is that 1934 was a very good year for crime fiction! I'm looking forward to reading these over the next 12 months. Many thanks for everybody's suggestions. I'll post more on the full list over the coming days.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Lazy Sunday Service

I've headed off for the weekend to try and wrap up The White Gallows for submission tomorrow. Yesterday I decided to undertake fairly major edits to the ending, adding a new scene, and thankfully I feel much happier now. I forgot to bring Havana Fever away with me, which I'm half way through, but I did pack Megan Abbott's The Song is You. When I'm not immersed in my own fictional landscape of Meath, I've been losing myself in early 1950s Hollywood. Talk about world's apart.

My posts this week
Blind spots
Dublin port company suggests that trade is stabilising
January reviews
Diaspora strategy and uneven regional development
A map day
Farmland prices down, sales up
Classic crime fiction, the first results
The final spot on the classic crime curriculum

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The final spot on the classic crime curriculum

Yesterday I posted the nine of the books that would form the Classic Crime Fiction Curriculum - a list of must read, pre-1970 crime novels. There is one space left on the list. The following books all came joint tenth, but I can only pick one. The question is which one? Which of these fifteen books is an ideal complement to the nine already selected? Let me know your choice and the reason why and, based on the responses, I'll select the tenth book for the curriculum.

John Buchan. The Thirty Nine Steps
James Cain, Double Indemnity
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs
Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage
Ngaio Marsh, A Surfeit of Lampreys
Ross Macdonald, The Moving Target
Edgar Allen Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Roseanna
Mickey Spillane, I, The Jury
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
Cornell Woolrich, The Bride Wore Black

Friday, February 5, 2010

Classic Crime Fiction, the first results

I've been through the first results of the Classic Crime Fiction Curriculum Challenge. I received 15 lists, and thanks to all those who took part. The full list included 114 books, all but 24 of which received only one vote. Only 9 books received 3 or more votes (see below) and the clear winner on 6 was The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley
James Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Dorothy Sayers, Nine Tailors
Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance
Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me

I'll post up the 15 books that all scored 2 votes each tomorrow and hopefully you'll be able to tell me which one most deserves the last berth on the curriculum list. There were a number of authors who had several different books nominated resulting in their votes being split across different titles. I'll also do a most popular author list in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A map day

I've spent today writing a short piece for an Italian journal on post-representational cartography - which sounds more pretentious than it is - so I thought I'd give a plug to, a blog that produces some interesting and quirky maps. The one to the right is the distribution of bookstores to baptist churches. I'll let you work out what you think about the lack of overlap between the two sets of dots ...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

January reviews

A slow month of reading, especially in the latter half of the month. It's been a while since I read only one book in a week. Last week I read none but my own whilst I tried to deal with other things. I'm slowly making my way through Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura at the minute, so that'll be the next review up. My book of the month. Hmmm. I'll go with Via Delle Oche.

Dead Set by Kel Robertson ****
Up in Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard **
The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake ***
Via Delle Oche by Carlo Lucarelli ****
Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa **
Isle of Joy by Don Winslow ****
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley ****

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blind spots

I've been working away on The White Gallows for the past week, trying to tighten and clean the text. Every time I read through it I spot more small typos and quirky phrasing. My particular blind spot are small words - a, as, in, to, etc - which when I read the text are there, but in reality aren't, and hononyms. One reviewer picked up I'd used 'rye' instead of 'wry' in The Rule Book and I discovered yesterday that I'd managed to do the same in this one as well. It's very frustrating trying to spot a hole in the text when you're convinced that it's not there! I'm sure everyone must have some kind of blind spot ... I just wish I could cure mine. Where is an independent proof reader when you need one?