Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Service: Drabble

Dorte over at DJ's Krimiblog has put up a nice drabble. A drabble is a story exactly one hundred words long (and a dribble is one that is fifty words long). Along with Six Sentence (6S) stories, I think these are a great idea. I've had a go at a drabble:


There was nowhere left to run. The overgrown path ended at a bed of reeds stretching out into a lake. Either side was thick undergrowth. He glanced back the way he had come, bloodied hands on knees, sucking in air. A dog barked, joined by another. He waded out into the freezing, dark water. Behind him raised voices, becoming excited, torch lights dancing. The sound of a cartridge being jacked into place. He dived under the surface, tangling in reeds, finding it impossible to swim; holding his breath, lungs fit to burst. Rising, gasping, praying. Dogs whining, pacing the shore.

My posts this week
Review of Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason
Why focusing on the overhang at the expense of oversupply is a folly
Opening lines
Short story: Death of Me (Ramones)
It wasn't me ...
Review of Halo in Blood by John Evans/Howard Browne
An Bord Pleanala call for a renewal of the planning system
Flash story - literally

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flash story - literally

Who can resist this headline: 'Cotswold flasher bitten by victim's dog'? My first instinct was that there's potentially a nice short story to had from that. As it happens a very short flash of a story to get to a bad joke ending:

The woman dropped down onto a two seat sofa and patted the place next to her. ‘Come-on, up you get.’

The dog didn’t need asking twice, hopping up next to her, wagging his tail as she stroked his ears.

‘We’re just in time, look.’ She gestured at the television, where the image had swapped from the newsreader to a reporter standing on a street, the entrance to a park behind her.

The reporter started to speak. ‘Thanks, Sharon. Yes, police are tonight searching for a man who indecently exposed himself to an elderly woman. The pensioner was taking her dog for a walk in the local park when the man approached her. Her terrier barked a warning, then leapt to the woman’s rescue. The man is described as being around five foot six, wearing a dark blue coat, and has short brown hair, and blue eyes. He has dog bite marks on his ...’ the reporter paused, unsure how to continue. Eventually she muttered, ‘in and around his groin,’ unable to hide her smile.

The woman ruffled the dog’s head. ‘What a silly man! You taught him, didn’t you? Yes, you did. He won’t come near us again, will he? No, he won’t. He was a very bad man, wasn't he?’ She fished around in one her pockets, pulling a special treat free. ‘Does Sparky want another sausage?’

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review of Halo in Blood by John Evans/Howard Browne (No Exit Press, 1988, originally published 1946)

Paul Pine is a former investigator for the State Attorney’s office who turned private detective when the administration changed. One afternoon he unwittingly gets caught in a funeral cortege and then trapped in the cemetery grounds for the strangest service he’s witnessed – a John Doe buried by clergymen from 12 different faiths. A homicide detective, George Zarr, is lurking outside the gates. Later that day he meets the millionaire John Sandmark who wants him to dig up enough dirt to get rid of the smooth talking, Jerry Marlin, who’s engaged to marry his wayward step-daughter, Leona. Leona likes to party and gamble, and as Pine seeks information on her suitor he soon finds himself tangling with a Chicago gangster, D’Allemand. When Pine is hired to deliver a $25,000 dollars ransom in a business kidnapping he’s attacked and the money taken, and whilst trailing Leona, Marlin is shot dead. Whatever is going on, it’s a complex puzzle, and someone is either trying to frame Pine or kill him. Neither of which he takes too kindly to.

Halo in Blood was published in 1946 and written by Howard Browne using the pen name John Evans. He published five novels, wrote over 125 scripts for such TV shows such as Maverick, Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, and Columbo, and also wrote screenplays for several films, including Capone, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Portrait of a Mobster. Halo in Blood was his first novel, though he’d spent the previous five years editing a pulp magazine and writing short stories. When Howard met Raymond Chandler he is reputed to have told him that he’d been making a living off of him for several years (and John Evans is a PI character in a Chandler short story). And there is no doubt that Halo in Blood, and Paul Pine (like a sizable chunk of PI stories), is derivative of Chandler and Philip Marlowe. In Browne’s case it works and Halo in Blood is an engagingly written, tightly plotted, entertaining slice of hardboiled crime fiction. The story does become overly complex, with a few too many twists, and the characters do feel a bit stock-like, but nonetheless it is a decent read.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Short Story: Death of Me

Here is my entry for Donna's Ramones short story challenge. I should probably let it gestate for a couple of days rather than posting the first draft, but what the heck. The Ramones were pretty rough and ready, just like this story. The song can be accessed below if you want to sing along.

Death of Me

Johnny had reached his limit. He stormed from the kitchen, defeated and fuming. Her parting words screeched at his back: ‘Fuck you, Johnny. My mother was right – I could have done better than you!’

Mary Wallis wrecked his head. There was no two ways about it. Arguing with her was a complete mind fuck. It didn’t matter what he said, she’d found some way of twisting his words, making everything seem like it was his fault. She dug out remnants of conversations from years ago and spliced them with recent events to create a fictive world in which every misfortune that been bestowed on them was a result of his ineptitude, fecklessness, and lack of ambition.

He stabbed at the stereo, a choppy guitar and crash symbols blasting from the speakers. He joined in, yelling rather than singing.

‘Da-da-da-da, Da! Da! Da-da-da-da, Da! Da! Der-der-der-der, Da! Da! Der-der-der-der, Da! Da! We've got to stop this crazy carrying on, it's gonna be the death of you. Stop this crazy carrying on, it's gonna be the death of me. It's gonna be the end you see. It's gonna be the death of we.’

‘For fuck’s sake, Johnny, turn it down,’ Mary yelled from the doorway.

He carried on singing: ‘If we don't stop this crazy carrying on, it's gonna be the death of you.’

Mary twisted the dial, the song dropping dozens of decibels. ‘Jesus, Johnny, when are you going to grow-up? Is that what life is to you, a fucking Ramones song?’

Johnny snorted a laugh. ‘There was a time when fucking to Ramones songs was all we did.’

‘Yeah, when we were like sixteen. If you lasted as long as one song it was a fucking miracle. Now you’re so impotent, it’ll take you a whole album just to get it up.’

‘Not a surprise, you looking like that,’ he said, defensively, still playing air guitar. ‘A blind man would find it difficult to get aroused for you these days.’

‘At least he might give me a good time. When was the last time you did? When Joey was alive?’

‘Don’t bring Joey into this.’

‘What? He was a singer, not you’re fucking brother or something.’

‘He was a god!’

‘He sang in the fucking Ramones!’

‘Yeah, exactly.’

‘For god’s sake, Johnny we only saw them twice. Anybody would think you were married to them, not me.’

‘More’s the pity. I seem to remember you thought they were the dog’s bollocks. You spent half the night flashing them your tits.’

‘I did not! We were jumping up and down.’

‘Jesus, Mary, what the fuck has happened to us? We used to have a fucking great time. Always having a bit of craic. A few drinks, concerts, nightclubs. Now all we do is fucking argue.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Yes, you do. You want more than this.’ He gestured at the tired looking room, old furniture and crappy knick-knacks. ‘More than I can give you. You want a new life.’

Mary shrugged. ‘I don’t know what I want. I just know it has to be better than curry and chips, cheap lager and the Ramones every Friday night.’

‘We can get Chinese instead if you want,’ Johnny said factitiously.

‘I need more than the memory of the Ramones, Johnny. Things we did twenty five years ago. We can’t live on memories.’

‘We’re still together aren’t we? Been together half a life time.’

‘And we’re still locked in the past. We’ve gone nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I need to feel alive again. Like I did when I was twenty.’

‘We can’t turn the clock back. This is it.’

‘Well, it isn’t enough. When was the last time we went on holiday? I mean a proper holiday. With a beach. Some sun?’

Johnny shrugged. ‘We can’t afford it, you know that.’

‘I’m going out,’ she announced flatly, heading for the door. ‘I ... this can’t go on, Johnny. Things have to change.’

She closed the door behind her. They’d been together since school. Now they were barely civil to each other. Whatever magic had been there had been revealed as the cheap trick it had always been.

In the living room the volume jumped again. He’d skipped back to the same track, singing along in his best American drawl: ‘Stop this crazy carrying on, it's gonna be the death of me. It's gonna be the end you see. It's gonna be the death of we.’

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Opening lines

I haven't done an opening lines post for a while, and I've managed to leave Dave Zeltserman's excellent Small Crimes at work changing my plans to write a review. Here are some crackers:

'He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.' Arnaldur Indridson, Silence of the Grave

'There used to be a writer by the name of Merle Miller, who wrote that people in Hollywood were always touching you - not because they like you, but because they want to see how soft you are before they eat you alive.' Steven Bochco, Death by Hollywood

'The frozen lake and the black vacuum sky and the dead man pleading for the return of his remaining days.' Adrian McKinty, Fifty Grand

'It was the sort of sound you hear in the distance and mistake for something else: a dirty steam barge puffing along the River Spree; the shunting of a slow locomotive underneath the great glass roof of Anhalter Station; the hot, impatient breath of some enormous dragon, as if one of the stone dinosaurs in Berlin's zoo had come to life and was now lumbering up Wilhelmstrasse.' Philip Kerr, If the Dead Rise Not

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review of Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason (Harvill Secker, 2010, published in Icelandic 1999)

In the middle of a fierce storm at the tail end of the Second World War a German bomber crashes into the vast Vatnajokull glacier on Iceland. One man sets off for help, the pilot and five passengers remain with the plane, slowly being covered with thick snow and being swallowed by the ice. Forty four years later and the melting glacier starts to give up its secret. The American secret service sends in a team to try and salvage the plane without alerting the Icelandic government of its mission. However, their presence on the glacier is discovered by two young mountain rescuers out on a training mission. Elias manages to briefly phone his sister Kristin, a lawyer for the Foreign Ministry, before he is surrounded by soldiers. Not only will he have to die to protect the secret of Operation Napoleon, but so will his sister. But when two American operatives force their way into her apartment she manages to escape. Fearing a conspiracy between the American and Icelandic governments she doesn’t know who to turn to, all she knows is that her brother is in trouble and quite possibly dead, and the American’s want her likewise. On the run, she resolves to find out the secret of the crashed bomber.

Operation Napoleon was originally published in Icelandic in 1999, Indridason’s third book after the first two, as yet untranslated, Detective Erlendur novels. Unlike his police procedural novels, Operation Napoleon is a thriller. The strengths of the book are the characterisation and the pace. Kristin is well penned and her back story well elaborated, and the other characters have sufficient depth to be memorable and credible. Indridason keeps the pace high throughout, with sufficient tension to keep the reader turning the pages. Where the book suffers, however, is with respect to the story. It starts well enough, with Indridason setting the characters and back story in place, but from the minute Kristin ends up on the run it is difficult to believe in the story. It’s interesting, and at times exciting, but never really credible. The minute I start to ask, ‘but why didn’t ...?’ or ‘how come ...?’ questions a story is in trouble. I was asking these questions every twenty pages or so. And the ending is simply ludicrous. I won’t say anything to avoid spoilers, but however history would have unfolded it would not have resulted in this ending. Given the pacing, the book lacks the introspection and philosophical elements that are the real strengths of the Erlendur novels. Overall, a fairly entertaining book as long as you’re prepared to suspend your sense of realism.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

A bit of a blizzard week tied up with commenting on the housing crisis. Tuesday gave a talk to the country's county engineers. Wednesday gave a talk to business students in Dublin. Thursday and Friday I was in Northern Ireland, but spent a lot of time on the phone talking to journalists and doing some radio interviews about the new Dept of Environment's survey of unfinished estates. They announced that there are 2,846 unfinished estates in Ireland consisting of 121,248 units, 43,053 of which are vacant or underconstruction. This is not the full extent of the level of oversupply, but rather the overhang of brand new, unsold houses in estates (doesn't include one-off housing or vacant secondhand housing). In a country the size of Ireland, 2,846 unfinished estates that are have little to no finance to be completed, and have issues of health and safety, security, anti-social behaviour, bonds, building control and planning permission compliance, is a sizable problem to deal with. See posts on Ireland After NAMA for more info. All of this meant I neglected this blog and my reading, missing my Forgotten Friday slot for 'Halo in Blood' by Howard Browne (writing as John Evans). I finished that yesterday morning. In the afternoon I bought 'Operation Napoleon' by Arnaldur Indridason and finished it this morning. Now onto Dave Zeltserman's 'Small Crimes' (and my MIT proofs).

My posts this week
New 'Map Reader' cover design
A 22 cent headache
We need to get past the denial phase - tax breaks did fuel the housing bubble
Key housing statistics concerning vacancy, oversupply, unfinished and ghost estates
Review of Wasters by Shane Ross and Nick Webb

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review of Wasters by Shane Ross and Nick Webb (2010, Penguin)

Wasters is an account of the misuses of state funds, poor governance, organisational failure and cronyism in public bodies in Ireland. It includes chapters on the growth of semi-state agencies, cronyism and political patronage, ministerial expenses, FAS, HSE, CIE, DDDA/NAMA, PPPs and other ‘bad deals’, and social partnership. It’s often fascinating, but suffers from a sense that one is reading little more than a name and shame list. In fact, there is very little narrative beyond an indignant list of issues and their cost to the taxpayer, and the ordering of chapters seems to be somewhat random (in fact, they could be re-ordered and it would have little effect on the read). At one level this is fine, and provides a useful service, but at another it is a significant shortcoming.

There is very little attempt to explain why the present state of affairs exists beyond a general lack of appropriate governance and oversight, cronyism, corruption and propensity to establish semi-state agencies and public entities. Analysis is left purely at the level of the implicit and empirical. I was not expecting a detailed academic explanation of the operations of the Irish state, its political economy, and its underlying ideology – this is after all a general readership book – but I did expect some attempt to make sense of the situation (as with Fintan O’Toole’s Ship of Fools, for example) and to provide a nuanced portrait of the public sector. In Ross and Webb’s account all public bodies exhibit the same poor governance, and the same levels of waste and inefficiency. This is clearly not the case. There are plenty of examples of bodies that do a very good job on limited resources, where senior management have a sense of responsibility and desire to deliver quality services, and do not treat the entity as their own personal piggy bank and jolly expense account. They also display the same level indignity for all expenses, regardless of whether they are legitimate or not, and the scale of expenditure, with scorn poured equally on a couple of euro for a coffee as for millions of euros on inappropriate property ventures where there are clear conflicts of interest.

More problematic in many ways is that the book makes no suggestions as to what should happen to address the various problems that they identify. It is simply not enough to say ‘here is the problem and its scale, and it should be dealt with’, as if there is one, obvious solution. In my view Ross and Webb needed to conclude, not with a sideswipe at the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General, but rather with a path forward that they would like to see implemented to address the various inter-related issues.

Overall, Wasters fulfils a role in setting out the governance and accountability issues that affect a number of public bodies in Ireland. Some of the examples will make your blood boil and Ross and Webb provide a great service by exposing some of the excesses and waste. As a read, however, it really lacks a narrative that seeks to explain why such a system exists and how it should be changed. In that sense it is a missed opportunity. For a longer review, see here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A 22 cent headache

I'm going to post a review of Wasters tomorrow, a book about the mis-management and mis-use of public monies. I'm all for proper auditing and accounting and I get annoyed when I see the flagrant abuse of funds. That said, oversight can often go too far and add significant costs to an organisation's operation. Today we spent time trying to deal with a very small accountancy error (not committed by us). 22 cent to be precise. 22 cent out in an account of half a million is pretty good, I think. The funding agency has asked for the accounts to be re-prepared, re-run through an audit, and to be signed off by four sets of relevant offices to account for the missing 22 cent. All this work costs significantly more than 22 cent. Based on my base salary, I've already spent more than 22 cent's time on this. This is just bureaucracy gone mad. I'm not sure where the cut off is 2.20, 22.20, 220, 2200, but above .22!

Monday, October 18, 2010

New 'The Map Reader' cover design

Thanks for your comments re. the first draft designs of The Map Reader. We've now been sent a revised version. I imagine we'll be going with this one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

I've decided to go with Ghostland for the new title of the third McEvoy book. It covers the main themes and has a strong contemporary link to what's happening in Ireland at the minute. Thanks for everyone's suggestions. I'm just reading it again before sending it off tomorrow. Then its on to reading the proofs and compiling an index for Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life, which turned up from MIT Press on Wednesday last week.

My posts this week:
Review of Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo
Phantom Roads
Name this book!
Don't worry, about a thing
Review of Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland
Death of a dream ... or why reading the property supplement is bad for your health
Why relying on indirect, cyclical taxes is a folly
638 Steps

Saturday, October 16, 2010

638 Steps

The stories 600-700 over at A Twist of Noir are the same length as their entry number. I was a little slow picking up on the call for stories, but when they put up a post saying what slots were still free, I decided to have a go at number 638. Aware time was short I drafted 638 steps the same evening and sent it off. I never received an acknowledgement or reply, so a week later I sent it again. Then they put up another post listing which slots were still free and 638 had been taken. Fair enough. The story either wasn’t good enough, or it got lost in cyberspace, or I was too late, or whatever. The 600-700 series is a great idea and there’s a stellar list of people writing, so head over there and check it out. Below is my lost entry.

638 steps

There is only so much a man can take before he snaps. Mild irritation simmers to anger, then boils into fury, before exploding into rage. Kayleigh knew what was coming before Charlie turned the corner.

‘Fucking ... bastards!’ Anger contorted his fat, sweaty face, his mouth sucking in air. ‘The wee fucking ... skanky bastards.’

The elevators had been working that morning. By midday two had died of their own volition. After thirty one years of servicing the hapless, hopeless and disgruntled residents of a twenty two storey tower block they spent more time stuck between floors than rising and falling. By five o’clock the remaining two had been decommissioned by a rival gang from another block and the stairwell freshened with half a dozen streams of stinking piss.

He looked as if he’d just entered a wet t-shirt contest, the damp material glued to his glutinous body, dark nipples topping his moobs. Four plastic bags, bulging in odd-shapes, hung from his drooping arms, crashing against legs burning with lactic acid.

‘Don’t just ... sit there ... you lazy cow. ... Give me a ... fucking hand.’

Kayleigh toppled forward and skipped down a few steps to meet him. ‘At least you got some exercise.’

‘It’s a wonder ... I’m not fucking dead.’

The word ‘pity’ formed on her tongue before she bit it back. She took the four bags and climbed up to the landing, leaving him leaning against the railing, wheezing like a punctured bagpipe.

She headed to their decrepit flat, battered after three decades of unloving care from a revolving set of tenants, furnished with cheap fittings and crappy second-hand furniture. The only saving grace was the view – south across the sprawling city to the mountains beyond and north to the dark grey sea and an indistinct horizon.

She’d emptied the bags and put most of it away before he staggered in. The stupid bastard had managed to buy his four cans of beer and bottle of whiskey, but forgotten the milk.

‘Fucking council,’ he snapped. ‘Lazy fuckers.’

He’d lost none of his anger. He grabbed one of the cans and popped its lid, sucking down the beer.

‘You forgot the milk,’ she muttered.

She knew it was a mistake the moment she said it; knew that it would tip him over the edge.


She turned away.

‘What did you say, you ungrateful bitch.’


‘You forgot the milk,’ he mimicked and drained the rest of the beer. ‘You forgot the milk!’

The can caught on the side of the head.

‘Well, you better go and get the fucking milk, hadn’t you?’

He’d grabbed her hair and was pulling her out into the hall, back to the door.

She was screaming at him to stop, clawing at his arm. ‘Charlie! Fuck! Oh, fuck! Charlie, please. Charlie! Shit!’

She grabbed hold of the door frame, trying to stop their progress. In response, Charlie gave her a bit of slack before smashing down on one of her arms with his free hand and yanking her hair viciously. They tumbled out into the passageway.

‘Fucking ungrateful bitch.’

She’d reached her tipping point, her fingernails digging into soft flesh.


He let go of her hair and punched her hard, his rage fully ignited, wrapping her in a bear hug and carrying her to the stairs. He released her and pushed.

She tumbled into space, cartwheeling down to the landing below. He followed her down, his body bouncing rhythmically.

Dazed and livid, she was struggling to her feet when he arrived. Instead of cowering away, she launched herself up into him, driving forwards, knocking him backwards and off-balance. The railing dug into his buttocks, providing a pivot, his upper body tipping back, arms flailing, then he was gone.

638 steps bypassed.

‘Low fat, please,’ Kayleigh muttered to herself.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review of Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland (2010, Quercus)

Emily Tempest has been persuaded to join the Aboriginal Community Police. It wasn’t her first choice of job, but the options in a small, rough and tumble mining town in the middle of the Australian outback are limited. She thought she’d be working for Tom Gillivray, but he’s worse for wear after being attacked with a zimmerframe wielded by an elderly tear-about. Instead, in her first day at work gets off to a rocky start with the pissy, dour Bruce Cockburn, her new boss, a roadside death, and the murder of an increasingly disorientated and disillusioned geologist and prospector. Treated like a dogsbody who doesn’t belong, she finds herself bristling with indignation. And once she realises who the dead man is, having spent half her life being dragged round the mines by her white father, and who has been accused of murdering him, she can’t help but stick her nose in where it’s not wanted and do her own digging around. Cockburn sees an open and shut case; Emily sees lazy policing and a potentially innocent man heading for trial. If this is how justice works, then she figures she can use and abuse the badge until they either take it off her or she discovers the truth.

Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland’s first Emily Tempest novel, was one of my books of 2009 (review here). It was with great anticipation then that I waited for Gunshot Road. I even pre-ordered a copy, only to be let down by the usually reliable Amazon. I eventually got my hands on a copy a couple of weeks ago and it moved straight to the top of the TBR pile. The novel, thankfully, lived up to my expectations. In Emily Tempest, Hyland has created a wonderfully engaging character; half-aboriginal, half-white, she oscillates between two worlds. Quick witted, head-strong, caring and obstinate, she ploughs her own unique path through life. In fact, the whole book is populated with well penned characters that have depth and inner life. Hyland does a great job of immersing the reader in the small, fractious communities and strained social relations of outback Australia, creating a vivid sense of place. And he has wonderful, expressive turn of phrase and lively and witty prose. The storytelling, as a whole is excellent, the plotting and narrative strong, particularly in the first half of the book. The second half does suffer a little from an attempt to build tension through a series of multiple pressure points, and increasingly shorter chapters. That said, this really is a great read and one I’ve already recommended to friends. It’s definitely going to be near the top of my best reads of 2010 and I’ll be pre-ordering the next book in the series – note to author and publisher, please get a move on!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Name this book!

Nobody it seems is that happy with the working title of 'Digging for Gold' for the next McEvoy novel. It kind of works as a placeholder, but I think I need something else. Unfortunately, I seem to be having a bit of a mental block devising an alternative title. Perhaps it's not that important, but it's bugging me. So far the book has had these working titles:

'In the Bog' (in reference to where it takes place - part of the boglands of the country and a play on where the country is heading)

'Land and Honey' (a play on land of milk and honey, and land and gold digging through sexual charms)

'Digging for Gold' (in reference to the two main murders - both women were gold diggers, using their charms to leverage what they wanted - and the Irish property boom and its pursuit of wealth that led to the landscape being scarred with unneeded development).

These are my present alternatives:

'All That Glitters' (as in 'all that glitters is not gold', in reference to the pursuit of wealth through reckless means does not always end well)

'Ghostland' (refers both to the continued 'presence' of the two dead women, and the legacy of ghost estates across the landscape as a result of the fallout from the property crash in which one of them played an important local role).

I should probably point out that the two women were murdered in different eras. One in the early 1960s when rural Ireland was very conservative and repressive; the other in the here and now as Ireland transitions from boom to bust. In that sense the book does kind of deal with the overlapping legacies of three eras (conservative Ireland, permissive and booming Ireland, sobering aftershock of the collapse). The theme of socio-sexual relations runs throughout the story as well given the gold digging elements and McEvoy's personal life becoming more complex.

You can hopefully see the kinds of ideas I'm trying to play around with in the story and the various working titles - gold digging, property development, boom-and-bust, haunting, etc. and the present version of the backcover blurb is below.

What do people think of these titles? Can you come up with a better alternative? I am leaning towards one, but I'd really welcome some suggestions.

The working backcover blurb:
"The Irish economy has imploded leaving the country littered with shattered dreams and the ghostly remains of the Celtic Tiger property boom. Whilst dealing with the fallout, Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy has got himself ensnared in a tangle of work and women. Marianne Haas, a Dutch national and estate agent, is found hanging in a client’s house. Nearby, the remains of a young woman are discovered in a bog. Along the Irish border, rivalry between fuel smuggling gangs has led to murder and collaboration with a fiery superintendent. None of the three cases are straightforward and are little helped by the attention of an ambitious journalist and the resistance of local officers to outside help. To add spice to the mix, McEvoy finds himself flirting with one of his subordinates whilst relying on his lodger to look after his increasingly distant daughter. Undertaking one case is stressful, managing three and an ever more complex personal life is a potential nightmare. Rural Ireland is proving to be anything but an idyll."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review of Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo (Bitter Lemon Press, 2010; Spanish 2006)

It’s the late 1970s and Argentina is governed by a military junta, casting a shadow of fear across the country. Amancio is a playboy from a rich, landed family, married to the beautiful Lara, who demands the finest things in life. Having exhausted his fortune he has taken to loaning money from various creditors, finally turning to the loan shark, Biterman, an Auschwitz survivor. When Biterman calls in the debt, Amancio decides to take matters into his own hands to save the family estate, turning to his friend, Major Giribaldi, who specialises in making people disappear. Superintendent Lascano is a homicide detective mourning his wife recently killed in a car accident. On a raid of a brothel he discovers Eva, a left-wing dissident, hiding from another kind of raid a few doors away. Eva is the spitting image of Lascano’s dead wife and he takes her in, a strange bond forming between them. Despite the risk, Lascona seeks new papers for Eva, but then he discovers three dead bodies dumped on the roadside outside of the city. Two are clearly junta assassinations, but the third seems more opportunistic. It doesn’t take long for Lascano to discover the truth, putting him on a dangerous collision course with the military authorities.

Needle in a Haystack is a noir crime novel blended with social/political observation. The story is not driven by a ‘whodunnit’ or ‘howdunnit’ narrative, as it is fairly clear from the start who killed the third body and why. Rather the hook is who will win out between Lascano and Giribaldi; whether justice will prevail. I’ll avoid a spoiler, but needless to say the book has one of the best endings to a novel I’ve read so far this year. Throughout the characterisation and social relations are keenly portrayed and the prose is well crafted. The plot is relatively straightforward, but that doesn’t detract from the reading experience. There were one or two things that didn’t quite ring right, such as Biterman’s backstory, but otherwise one felt immersed in the claustrophobic life of Buenos Aires in the late 1970s. Overall, an informative and entertaining slice of noir, lifted by a great ending.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

I've started to read Wasters by Shane Ross and Nick Webb about the wastage and mis-management in some Irish semi-state agencies. A fairly depressing read about political cronyism and jollies at the citizen's expense. One area of the Irish public sector that definitely does need reform, and unfortunately tarnishes all elements.

My posts this week:
September reviews
Irish bank collapse thwarts Scottish independence?
National spatial strategy update
Review of The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Coterill
The bust from a bird's eye view
Is giving houses away the answer?
Altering the space-time physics of reading
One parent edit leads to lots of children edits

Friday, October 8, 2010

One parent edit leads to lots of children edits

I took a day off work today to try use a long weekend in order to push Digging for Gold towards submission. Of course, I still spent a couple of hours on email keeping the show on the road, but that's beside the point. Two of my beta readers suggested edits to the end of the novel, so I thought I'd have a go at tweaking. The problem is that one parent edit, then leads to a cascade of children edits to ensure continuity. And make more than one parent edit and all of sudden you're trying to deal with families of edits. Families that co-exist. It can rapidly get complicated and messy. And the danger is that you're left with parentless children as you delete and replace sections. Hopefully it's improving things. We'll see. Better get back to it, before I lose all my latest genealogical thread.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Altering the space-time physics of reading

I need to find some way to slow down or extend the reading experience of enjoyable novels. The problem is the more enjoyable the story, the faster I tear through it. I'm only fifty odd pages from the end of Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland. I need to know what happens, but I don't want to finish the book. The dreaded reader's paradox - how to devour and savour at the same time. Now if the next book in the series was already out, I'd have a (temporary) solution. I suspect the only solution will be to pick up the next book on the TBR pile and hope for the same reading pleasure. That or someone needs to share with me their top tips for altering the space-time physics of reading. Any takers?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review of The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (Quercus, 2004)

Dr Siri Paiboun has spent most of his life fighting for the communist cause in Laos. Having gained power he feels it’s time for him to retire and let the next generation get on with running the country. Instead, he’s been appointed as the state coroner at the age of seventy two. Dealing with dead bodies is not the same as looking after healthy ones and he finds he’s has to learn a whole new skill set from an ancient French textbook in an environment lacking in facilities and equipment. Thankfully the post comes with Mr Geung, the mortuary assistant, and Nurse Dtui, who at least have an institutional knowledge. Rather than simply diagnose the cause of death, Siri feels drawn to investigate the reason, especially when it’s made abundantly clear he should forget such ideas. And when the wife of a party leader arrives on his slab and he suspects foul play he inevitably can’t help but put his nose in where it’s not wanted. Soon after, he is dealing with three Vietnamese soldiers and an international crisis is impending and he has unwittingly put himself in the firing line.

It’s quite difficult to pigeonhole The Coroner’s Lunch, other than to say it’s a crime novel set in Laos in 1976. It’s too political to be a cozy, though it does have leanings that way; it has too much humour and comic charm for a noir or hardboiled; and it’s more a cultural commentary than a police procedural. It’s also very good. Cotterill’s skill is manifold: the story being well paced and plotted, with a good balance between show and tell, giving enough but not too much back story, and it being peopled by a wonderfully depicted set of characters. Indeed, Dr Siri, Nurse Dtui and Mr Geung are all interesting folk that one is delighted to spend time with, and the supporting cast feel like ‘real’ people rather than stock characters. There was, however, one thing that jarred a little, and it’s taken a couple of days reflection to put my finger on it. The story has a dark side and should have had a lot of tension, and yet somehow it didn’t. I think the comic charm and the warmth of Siri’s personality seemed to dissipate any sense that he was in any real danger. In this sense, the story for all its twists and turns, lacked an edge. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read and recommended.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The bust from the air

Google released Streetview Ireland this week. One of the side effects is that they have captured the full extent of the housing bust as their cars drove round every road in the country (see here). Having looked at the startling Google Earth images at this blog of the housing bust in the US, I thought I'd capture a few of estates in Ireland. Here are eight of them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

September reviews

A fairly eclectic month of reading. No one book really stood out as stellar, but it was fun to re-read Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!

Love, Sex and War by John Cosgrove ****.5
Smoked by Patrick Quinlan ***.5
The Green Ripper by John D. Macdonald ***.5
The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman ***
Saturday's Child by Ray Banks****
Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett ***
The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Samson ***
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett ****
Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell ****
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett****.5

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lazy Sunday Service

I finally got my hands on a copy of Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road yesterday. At last! No surprise that it moves straight to the top of the TBR.

Presently reading Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack. It has some very nice passages and observations, for example:

"Our other half is our great witness, the keeper of our imagination, the one who confirms that our world is real, concrete, palpable. Our other half is the key piece of our universe. You ask: did you see that? Did you hear that? What do you think about that? Our other half provides us with the only proof we ever get that what we sense is real."

My posts this week:
Review of Love, Sex and War by John Cosgrove
Unfolding space
Trading and investing in a smart economy
This seems familiar
Ireland's Black Thursday, but are there any more black days to come
Changes in NAMA rules for AIB and BoI
Ireland's external debt
Production in Building and Construction Index
Review of South of no North by Charles Bukowski
A black old week

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A black old week

It's been a terrible week in Ireland on the economic front. We all knew the bank bailout was going to be a disaster, but we didn't know how much of one. The government finally revealed what it thinks is the final estimate for the cost: €45 billion ($62bn or £39bn) (with possibly €5bn more if the property market doesn't recover sufficiently over the next 10 years). That does not include the €40bn the National Assets Management Agency is spending buying property loans off of the banks. I've been posting about it on the other blog I contribute to, with an overview piece here.

The cost of one bank alone - Anglo Irish - will be a minimum of €29.3bn (and possibly €34bn), which the governor of the Central Bank has said we'll never see again. That's a big number and it's difficult to get into perspective. One way is to compare it to the country's tax intake of €33bn. Basically, we're going to spend an entire year's worth of tax bailing out one bank and not receive anything in return. And it's worse because we have to pay interest of €1.7 bn per annum on the money we've borrowed to bail out the bank. Another way is to standardise by the size of the economy. This quote from Bloomberg about Anglo Irish jumped out at me yesterday and put me in a cold sweat:

"Measured against the size of the economy, that’s comparable to a $3 trillion bailout for a single U.S. bank." $3 trillion!

Would U.S. tax payers have sanctioned a $3 trillion bailout of one bank? Would any other country have accepted this as meekly as we have?

€29.3bn for one bank sounds like a massive amount. Put in the context of both the country's tax intake and relative to the size of the economy and you realise how mindboggling and frigthening the bail out is.

A week we'll be paying for in a couple of generations time. God help us ...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review of South of No North by Charles Bukowski (Black Sparrow Press, 1972)

A colleague lent me a copy of this collection of 27 short stories packed into 189 pages as an example of how to write in the short form. His view is that my short stories have too much dialogue and not enough prose, and in his opinion, Bukowski manages to be dialogue heavy whilst also having weighty, meaty prose that give substance to the stories. And on my reading, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Bukowski’s prose is indeed rich, whilst still maintaining a show rather than tell style, and there is much to admire in the writing. His short stories are often only a thousand words or so, but are vivid and engaging, and it’s clear why Time magazine labelled him the ‘laureate of American low life’. And even though the stories in South of No North clearly relate to his own life, especially those focused on Henry Chinaski (his childhood acne, his chronic alcoholism, his endless succession of jobs, his movement between cheap rooming houses, his womanising, his experience of writing, his marriage to a Texan poet despite having never met, his time in hospital), they are also, it has to be said, quite troubling. Through his writing he comes across as a full-blown misogynist, with women acting purely as sexual objects. There are three ways to a woman’s heart in Bukowski’s writing – ply them with drink (preferably a fifth of whiskey), just walk right up to them and kiss them, or rape them. In all three cases they will instantly fall in love with you, dump (or kill) their present boyfriend, and leap in bed with you until they realise that you are the bastard that they always knew you were. Queue big argument, storm out, five minutes of feeling sorry for one’s self, and then stealing the next woman to come along. That said, there is much to envy in Bukowski’s writing prowess and prose. So, yes, his writing style and craft is something to work towards, and his noir sensibilities, but not, I feel, some of the stories and their worldview.