Friday, September 30, 2011

Half Blood Blues ...

It'll probably be sometime late next week before I post a review of Half Blood Blues, but unless it falls flat on its face in the last fifty pages, it'll probably be one of my reads of the year. I'm completely in thrall to it at the moment. Esi Edugyan is a real wordsmith, the story is strong, and the characters have real depth to them that makes being in their company interesting (if at times more than a little uncomfortable). Think jazz, Berlin, Paris, 1939/40, black Americans and a mischling (half-black) German, Louis Armstrong, and a seductive diva. Then mix to a sticky blend. At the minute I'm gonna have the blues when I turn the last page.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review of Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli (Chizine, 2011)

Having been left by his wife and lost his house to the bank, a failing author sets out on a road trip with his English bulldog, Churchill, traversing from Denver to New York to visit his older brother. As he makes the journey he slips further into despair, all his hopes and dreams evaporated, so that all he is left with is his trusty canine companion.

Every Shallow Cut is a short book, even by novella standards. It runs to 162 pages, but it is a pocket sized format with generous margins and c. 150 words each page and a fair few blank pages. It took about 90 minutes to read. It cost the same as an ordinary novel that is usually about four times longer. Beyond cost to product ratio, I have nothing against short books, such as Carlo Lucarelli’s De Luca series. The condensed form can lead to a more powerful punch. In the case of Every Shallow Cut, the punch was powerful, but it seemed a little pulled. I really took to Piccirilli’s writing, which rattles along full of colorful images and nice observations. He really captures the downward spiral of a man in the process of losing everything. That said, the ending seemed to come a little too quick. I wasn’t convinced that he was yet at rock bottom, the point of no return. And I was surprised when I turned the last page (to find the ones following it were adverts; I felt it needed another twenty to thirty pages to fully wind out). Dave Zeltserman’s Small Crimes is a good example of a man’s descent into hell fully realized. Overall, Piccirilli is clearly a good storyteller and writes with engaging prose and I’m going to give one of his full novels a go, but this needed a bit more rounding out for my tastes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reginald Marsh art, flash fiction challenge

Patti, over at Pattinase, is hosting a flash fiction challenge. The task is to write a short story of less than 1,000 words inspired by the art of Reginald Marsh. Stories to be posted up by October 18th and the link sent to Patti so she can collate them. For every story received she'll make a donation to charity. For all the book bloggers who check in here, this is your opportunity to have a go at stepping into the author's shoes and trying your hand at telling a short story (for a good cause). I'm thinking of basing my story on the painting right, "Why not use the L" (1930).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review of The City, The City by China Mieville (Pan, 2009)

Inspector Tyador Borlu works for the police in Besźel, an ancient city in Eastern Europe. He’s assigned to investigate the death of an American female student found brutally murdered in a skate park. His investigation soon leads to the conclusion that the woman had been dabbling in dubious political thinking and mixing with the wrong groups, and that she was killed in the twin city of Ul Qomo, an entirely different jurisdiction. In order to solve the case he crosses the border where he is assigned to work as an observer with the Ul Qomo police force. Borlu though doesn’t take orders well and is soon making a nuisance of himself and is back conducting his own investigation. The nearer he moves towards uncovering the truth, however, the more he realizes he is putting himself and others in danger.

The City, The City is in many ways a straight up and down police procedural that is political inflected by trans-jurisdictional and office machinations. The plotting is solid and the writing nicely expressive. The characterisation is a little thin in places, especially with respect to personal lives and back story of the principal characters. It took me quite a while to get into the book, but once I was, I was hooked and it turned into a nice page turner, though I thought the ending with respect to the murder faltered a little, but not with respect to the personal outcomes and wider city politics. The key distinguishing feature of the book is its geographical imagination, which reminded me of the work of Philip K Dick and William Gibson. The twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma, the architecture, the complex geometry and the densely woven sense of place play a heightened role in the narrative. The two cities are literally entwined in and through each other in complex ways to produce a unique spatiality that bought to mind the complex geographies of contested cities such as Jerusalem, Belfast and Quebec. Besźel and Ul Qoma operate as a separate jurisdiction (with separate governments, cultures, languages, institutions, currency, fashions and so on), with some parts of the city being territorially ‘total’ (that is wholly Besźel or Ul Qoma) or ‘cross-hatched’ where the city space is notionally shared. Citizens are trained to ‘unsee’ and ignore the other city, even though it is clearly visible to them, and in the cross-hatched spaces that they share they have to avoid contact whilst continuing to ‘unsee’ who or what they might collide with. Failing to stay within a jurisdiction and to unsee the other city is to breach, a terrible crime policed by the shadowy organization known as Breach that has extended powers to punish those that transgress (those that breach are never seen again, which acts as a strong deterrent). Copula Hall is a key location which exists in both cities and acts as a border; effectively the only location through with citizens can officially pass from one city to the other. The geography of the city then very explicitly shapes everyday life and how citizens understand and interact with the landscape they live in. Overall, a fascinating read that does something different and interesting with the police procedural format.

Monday, September 26, 2011

White lips / Pale face / Breathing in snowflakes ...

I can't shift the Ed Sheeran song, The A Team, from endlessly looping in my mind. A singer-songwriter that uses his songs to tell stories in a form of lyrical poetry. Definitely my favourite kinds of songs. The video is also very good, apparently made for next to nothing. Could easily use the song as a jumping off point for a plethora of short stories or even a longer piece. Might do that at some point.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

Just made a quick trip to Birmingham, flying over Friday back Saturday afternoon. Picked up Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues in the terminal in Dublin. First paragraph sold it to me.

Chip told us not to go out. Said, don't you boys tempt the devil. But it had been a brawl of a night, I tell you, all of us still reeling from the rot - rot was cheap, see, the drink of French peasants, but it stayed like nails in your gut. Didn't even look right, all mossy and black in the bottle. Like drinking swamp water.

Backcover blurb runs thus:

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero's bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero's fate was settled. Half Blood Blues weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...

Looking forward to this one. If the first couple of pages is sustained it's going to be a cracker.

My posts this week:
Review of Frozen Out by Quentin Bates
When computers fail ...
Review of Bloodland by Alan Glynn
New Aussie Kelly hero
Silence and lies

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Silence and lies

‘Where have you been?’

‘Out.’ The girl absently wraps a finger round a lock of tousled hair.

‘Out where?’ Her father stands by the fridge, trying to keep his temper in check.

She doesn’t reply, staring at a placemat.

‘It’s gone four in the morning, Sarah! We’ve been worried sick.’

‘I was at Chloe’s.’

‘No you weren’t! You were to be back at eleven.’

Sarah rolls her eyes, but stays silent. All she wants is some sleep and to forget.

‘You’re fifteen, Sarah.’


‘So you can’t just do what you want!’

She stares up at him with defiant eyes.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The new Aussie Kelly hero ...

Emmanuel Kelly is an Iraqi-Australian who entered the Australian version of X-Factor. His audition has gone a little bit viral and it's difficult to watch it without blubbing. Inspirational stuff, but man does it tug the heartstrings. He got to the last 12 in his category of men under 25, but not the last six and the live shows. The guy who is a mentor for that category is a bit of an idiot - the aim is to win the competition and find someone who will fill theatres and sell records, not simply find a pretty face with a voice who will disappear without trace once the competition is over. Anyway, watch with a tissue handy ...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review of Bloodland by Alan Glynn (Faber, 2011)

Jimmy Gilroy is an out of work journalist, making ends meet by freelancing. When he’s offered a contract to write a biography of Susie Monaghan, a celebrity actress who died in a helicopter accident three years previously, he jumps at the prospect. Not long after starting the project he receives a phone call warning him to drop the assignment. The call has the opposite effect to that intended. Across the city, Larry Bolger, the former Taoiseach is in a state. Out of office and at a loose end, the discovery of a body in the Wicklow Mountains has him worried, as it does Dave Conway, a property developer who funded his construction projects with the sale of a copper mine in Congo. Meanwhile in that country, a private security contractor escorting a US senator with presidential ambitions, J.J. Rundle, loses the plot, killing a number of civilians, the senator’s hand being crushed in the incident. The last thing Bolger, Conway or Rundle want is for Gilroy to discover the real reason for Susie Monaghan’s death.

Bloodland is a political thriller. It’s connected to Glynn’s last novel, Winterland, by a couple of characters – Larry Bolger and James Vaughan, a businessman who also pulls political strings at the highest levels in the US administration. The story is ambitious in its scope, connecting together characters, business deals and incidents on three continents – Congo, Ireland, UK, Italy and the US. The focus on resource extraction, the new scramble for Africa, business and political corruption, and private security companies is fascinating, and Glynn does a good job of highlighting the various issues without it swamping the reader with details to the detriment of the plot and pace. Indeed, the plot is well constructed, linking together all the various elements and actors, and the story seemed possible and credible (often one of the problems of political thrillers). However, for me, the unfolding was a little too straightforward in that Jimmy Gilroy doesn’t seem to have to work too hard to piece things together and there’s no real sense he’s in a lot of danger until near the end. For example, there are three confessional moments in the book, which all happen with little to no prompting or fighting from Gilroy. In some ways this is necessary otherwise the book would have to be substantially longer and it’s already tying together a complex weave of strands. The effect though was to slightly underplay the potential tension, though there’s more than enough to make Bloodland a real page turner. Regardless of these observations the book is a great read – it has a nice, quick pace, Glynn’s prose is expressive and easy on the eye, there’s a good range of interesting characters, and it’s topical and informative. As political thrillers go, Bloodland is above average fare and well worth a read. I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book in the lose trilogy, Graveland, when it’s published.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When computers fail ...

For the second time this year my laptop died last night. Of course the last back-up was two weeks ago (and the first time I let more frequent backing-up slip since the last disaster in April). The timing was lousy. I'd spent the weekend making edits to the new novel and I was in the middle of drafting an email to my agent to send the final version to him when the blue screen of death appeared. I also lost work on a new story and academic papers. The manufacturer has told me it's a known fault on the model I have, but that they won't replace the machine. They'll just keep replacing the faulty part, which typically fails after 4 to 6 months. In other words, buy a new machine or be prepared to lose it for a couple of days, twice a year, to repair. Thankfully, I've (read my technician) managed to recover all the data on the harddrive this afternoon. The new novel has now gone to the agent. The machine is backed up in three places. My cautionary words of advice - back-up your machine. Like now!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review of Frozen Out by Quentin Bates (Robinson, 2011)

The body of a young man is found in the harbour at the small village of Hvalvik, Iceland. Local police sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir suspects foul play and starts to investigate. She’s quickly put under pressure to wrap things up. With a young journalist in tow and her bosses thwarting her investigation, she initially makes slow progress. It soon becomes clear to her though that the young man is not the first victim and that there are larger forces at play centring round environmental politics, big business and political power. Gunnhildur is determined to catch the killer, but she’s going to have to do it hard way, at the same time putting herself in potential danger.

I struggled with Frozen Out. It had all the plot and character ingredients to be a very good read, but somehow it failed to fully deliver. The principle problem for me was the credibility of the plot. There were too many things about the procedural elements and office politics of the police investigation and the political corruption and murders that I did not believe. This was not helped by the writing being quite flat and lifeless, the dialogue stilted, and the narrative long winded. There’s nothing wrong with workmanlike prose, but this could have done with a good edit to make it livelier and punchier. Gunnhildur is the novel's saving grace. She was an interesting character and has much potential for heading a series. I’d like to be a lot more positive, and the book has received more upbeat reviews elsewhere (e.g., at Eurocrime), but the book just didn’t click for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

I've spent the last couple of days proofing a manuscript. I had great fun writing it and the words just flew onto the page. It felt ... right; like striking the sweet spot. But reading it back through has proved something of an odd experience. It's as if the text was written by somebody else in some other place and time. I'm not sure what to make of it. I was hoping it would have been as much fun to read as it was to write. And it kind of is, but not in the ways I was expecting. What would be really nice would be able to read it through as a clean reader where I'm meeting the characters for the first time and I don't know how the story is going to unfold. At the minute I feel like I'm too close to the story, yet paradoxically that it's not really one of mine. Funny how the mind works.

My posts this week
Review of The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
Review of The Quarry by Johan Theorin
Setting forth to Bloodland
Review of The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle
Leaving home

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Leaving home

‘You’ll phone when you get there?’

‘Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry.’

‘And someone’s going to meet you at the airport?’

‘Ma, we’ve been through this. I’ll be fine. Gary said he knows someone who’ll be able to get us a job.’

She pulls a tight smile.

‘Look, I better go. I need to get through security.’

She steps closer and draws him into a hug. ‘Ring me, okay?’

‘Ma, you’re like a broken record.’

She pulls back, tears edging down her cheeks.

‘Look after yourself, son,’ his father says woodenly, holding out a hand. ‘Don’t get mixed up in anything stupid.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review of The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle (Dell, 2006)

Matthew Worth has been busted down to patrolling a supermarket to deter robbery and he’s lost his wife to a homicide detective. He comes from a long line of cops, but he’s hardly holding up the family name. What’s more he seems to be falling for Gwen, one of the checkout workers. When she turns up at work a physical and emotional wreck, Worth decides to investigate. At her apartment he finds her boyfriend bludgeoned to death. Instead of calling it in, he decides to help her by covering up the death. But Gwen’s boyfriend works for a minor mobster and his disappearance attracts the attention of others, including a couple of crooked cops. What seemed like a straightforward cleanup has become a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The Cleanup is a very competent screwball noir that is very tightly plotted. The story rattles along with plenty of twists and turns. Worth and Gwen are nicely penned, surrounded by a set of somewhat stereotypical characters. The book has all the ingredients to be a five star read, but for some reason it just didn’t quite click that way for me. I think part of the problem was it all felt a little bit done by numbers – everything fitted together too neatly and slickly – and it lacked some darkly comic turns that would have given the narrative an added lift. Also, I never really felt I was rooting for the main characters, they’re just too ordinary and plain, and Worth’s motivations are perhaps too fuzzy. There were also a couple of questions at the end that needed some elaboration. This probably sounds more negative than the book deserves. This is an enjoyable, well plotted read, it just needed a little added something to make it an exceptional one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Setting forth to Bloodland

I attended the launch of Alan Glynn's Bloodland last night in the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin. There was a nice sized crowd. I'm going to have to work out how to mingle and talk to strangers at these things. I tend to hover round the edges looking a bit lost, but that's a different story. Alan gave a nice note of thanks and read out a couple of passages. I still find it strange to hear novels being read out loud; I guess I'm just so used to reading them that I find it odd to have them translated into another medium. He did a good job at it though. I also took an initial read last night when I got home, but I quickly put it one side. I'm in the middle of another book. The start of Bloodland has too many hooks. If I got past the first ten pages I was going to have to abandon the present book to read Bloodland instead. It is shuffled to the top of the TBR though, so expect a review next week. Early indications are very positive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review of The Quarry by Johan Theorin (Doubleday, 2011)

As the winter snow and frost starts to melt on the island of Öland off the Swedish coast, life starts to return to the landscape. The elderly Gerlof Davidsson signs himself out of a nursing home and returns to his cottage to read his dead wife’s diaries. Max Larsson, a celebrity self-help guru, and his wife Vendela move into a new, large mansion only a short distance from where Vendela grew up in poverty. Divorcee Per Morner moves into the cottage he inherited on the edge of a quarry with his twins, one of whom is very ill. Not long after he moves in, Per is contacted by his estranged father, a celebrity pornographer who he rarely meets. Jerry has been attacked with a knife in a remote film studio. Per arrives to find the studio on fire. He pulls his father free, but two others perish in the attack, one of whom his father insists is still alive. Within a few days his father is dead in suspicious circumstances. As Per starts to investigates, he seems to be drawing danger towards himself.

It took me quite a while to get into The Quarry. The story is quite layered and is reasonably well structured, intertwining the lives and histories of a small group of people. The strengths of the book are the characterisation, which was pretty solid, and the sense of place relating to the island and its history and myths. Whilst the plot worked okay in its own terms, I simply didn’t believe the police investigation into the fire and the subsequent death of Jerry. The police barely engaged with Per and Jerry, and seemed totally unconcerned when Jerry dies, apparently making no efforts to track down his killer. There were also some passages that I found didn’t ring true. A slow boiler of a read, which got better as it went on, but for me at least didn’t quite live up to the five star reviews I’ve seen elsewhere.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review of The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, 2009)

Dr Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist specialising in ancient bones, working at the University of North Norfolk. She’s single, independent and living in a small cottage at the edge of the salt marshes. Ten years previously a small child had disappeared in the area. Now the bones of a small body have been found, buried in a henge on the marsh, and Ruth has been asked to examine them by DCI Harry Nelson. Nelson is a man haunted by the missing girl, taunted by a steady stream of letters that claim to be directing him to her, full of references to the bible, Shakespeare and archaeological terms. The bones turn out to be two thousand years old, but hoping that Ruth can help him, he shares the letters. Soon afterwards a second child goes missing and Ruth starts to receive threats.

The real strengths of Griffiths writing is characterisation, inter-personal relationships and sense of place. Galloway and Nelson are both strong, well penned characters, with well fleshed out back stories. There’s clearly a sexual chemistry between them that Griffiths does a nice job of teasing along. And there is a colourful cast of supporting roles that are well observed. What really shines in the book though is the sense of place. Griffith places the reader very effectively in the lonely, rural landscape of the fens and the seascape of the marshes. Where the book is a little let down is with the plot. For the most part it’s fine, but personally I had a hard time believing the conclusion and it all seemed a little telegraphed. Overall, an enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to spending a bit of time with Galloway and Nelson.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm spending the weekend translating a short story from a first person perspective into third person. This simple change seems to be making the story stronger in and of itself, which I find interesting. The story has been rejected by a couple of crime fiction magazines in its present form, which is a little disappointing as I think it's one of my better pieces. I've had a couple of friends take a look and they agree, though they've all said the same thing. This works as a short story, but it's really the opening to a novel. Since the story and the characters won't stop rattling around in my head, I'm going to work it up as novella, hopefully between now and Christmas. If I don't write it out, I suspect it's going to be one of those stories that'll haunt me for an age. We'll see how it goes.

My posts this week:
For a few pennies more
Blood in the gutter
Review of White Sky, Black Ice by Nathan Jones
Two by two
August reviews

Saturday, September 10, 2011

For a few pennies more

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’ve worked here for 33 years.’

‘I know. We’re letting 125 people go.’

‘You’re sacking us, not letting us go. What am I meant to do? I’m 52.’

‘We have organised for someone to talk to you about your options.’

‘Options? What feckin’ options! There’s half a million people on the dole. I have a wife, kids, a mortgage to pay.’

‘As I said, I’m sorry. It’s part of a global restructuring. The manufacturing operations are relocating to Romania.’

‘And sod us poor bastards for a little extra profit! I take it that you still have your job?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blood in the gutter

Alan Glynn's new novel, Bloodland, is being launched next Tuesday (13th), 18.30-20.00, in The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin. Having recently read Winterland I'm looking forward to Glynn's new tome. Should be a cracker. I'll hopefully make into the city and if I do, I'll report back.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review of White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones (Soho Crime, 1999)

Nathan Active is a state trooper working in a small, remote Alaskan village. He is an Inupiat, born in the village, but raised in Anchorage by white adoptive parents. Despite his real mother living locally, he hopes that within a year he’ll back in the city rather than stuck in the sticks. The suicide rate in the area is high, but when two men seemingly kill themselves in the same week, Active’s interest is piqued. As he starts to investigate it soon becomes clear that the case could encroach into a political minefield that might have major repercussions for the local community. As such, he has to plot a course that tries to uncover the truth without setting off a mine.

The three great strengths of White Sky, Black Ice are sense of place, cultural politics and characterisation. This is very much a book of rural Alaska and of the Inupiat community and its relations amongst itself and the outside world. The landscape is richly evoked and the reader is transported to a place entering an Alaskan winter. Like Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest books, Jones uses the insider/outsider role of the lead character to very good effect. Nathan Active occupies a liminal space between communities. Jones uses the position to examine the nature of the Inupiat community, its various cultural practices, organization and issues. He also nicely captures the politics of resource extraction and the pressures of big business and politics on the lives of ordinary people. The plot is relatively straightforward and my guess is that the average mystery reader will have the murderer identified a long way from the end. What is very nicely done, however, is how the resolution is handled by Nathan Active given its potential ramifications to the local community. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I’ll be reading others in the series.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two by two

Yesterday I started a new job to add to the suite of things I'm already doing. Given the departure of the present director, I've taken over running the National Centre for Geocomputation for the foreseeable future. Somehow I've managed to double up all the major roles that I perform. I'm now director of two research institutes (the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis being the other), chair/lead PI of two national research platforms that link research and teaching across several universities and disciplines (Irish Social Sciences Platform, International Centre for Local and Regional Development), lead PI on two national data infrastructures (All-Island Research Observatory, Irish Qualitative Data Archive/National Audio Visual Repository), editor of two international journals (Progress in Human Geography and Dialogues in Human Geography), and editor of two book series (Key Concepts in Geography/Irish Society). And there's the two blogs (the other being Ireland After NAMA). I'm not quite sure how I've managed to get myself in this odd state of affairs, but hopefully it's not going to affect my reading and reviewing. I sense that something might have to give. Hopefully not my sanity or my evenings and weekends. If things slow down on this blog, you can take a fair guess as to why. We'll see how things hold up ...

Monday, September 5, 2011

August reviews

August was a pretty good month of reading.  Three five star books and two 4.5 star reads.  Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo and Winterland by Alan Glynn are both very enjoyable novels, one set in a country emerging from dark period (Argentina), the other in a country teetering on the edge of collapse (Ireland); both are riddled with politics and corruption.  My book of the month though is Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke - a surrealist, satirical, screwball noir.  It takes the crime genre, turns it inside out and spins it round until its dizzy.

Winterland by Alan Glynn *****
Down Among the Dead Men by Michelle Williams **.5
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry **.5
The Big Mango by Jake Needham***.5
Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke *****
Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott ****.5
Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo *****
The Whispers of Nemesis by Anne Zouroudi ***
The Dramatist by Ken Bruen ****.5

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

After reading some good reviews of Asa Larsson's latest book I decided to order the first in the series from my local bookshop yesterday.  I figured the first book was Sun Storm having hunted around on the Web a bit.  However, Sun Storm, published in English in 2006 was out of print.  In the end I went for The Savage Altar, as this seemed to be the next one published.  I've just worked out that they are one and the same book.  I'm not sure why they reprinted with a different title, but there we go.  It's being reissued again on Sept 15th with obligatory Stieg Larsson comparison on the cover.  I suspect the only two things they share are a surname and country of birth.  I also ordered William Ryan's first book, The Holy Thief.  Looking forward to both of them once they arrive.

My posts this week

Review of Winterland by Alan Glynn
Sometimes things work out for the best
Review of Down Among the Dead Men by Michelle Williams
In with the new ...
He's gone

Saturday, September 3, 2011

He's gone

A hot flush of realisation.  He’s gone. 

Her beautiful boy is gone. 

Abandoning the half full trolley, she dashes to the end of the aisle, confusion blossoming into panic.  It’s deserted except for an elderly woman staring at a fridge full of colourful yoghurt pots. 

Running, her head swivels like a weather vane on a blustery day, calling his name. ‘John!  John, darling!’

She bumps through a checkout queue, exiting onto a busy pavement.  There are people everywhere, all shapes and sizes; the street a blur of movement. 

‘Are you okay, Miss?’

A stomach roll of cold dread.  ‘He’s gone.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In with the new ...

I recently went through the TBR and pulled out all the new to me authors.  There were 24 on the pile.  I've shuffled them all to the top and intend to work my way through them.  I've already reviewed Kevin Barry, Alan Glynn, Jake Needham and Michelle Williams.  The review of Nathan Jones' White Sky, Black Ice is on the way and I'm halfway through Elly Griffiths' The Crossing Places.  Expect reviews of the following in the coming weeks: Johan Theorin, Jim Kelly, Gerald Steinacher, China Mieville, Tom Picarelli, Deon Meyer, Robert Crais, Simon Lewis, Denise Mina, Quentin Bates, Tom Rob Smith, Michael Harvey, Quentin Jardin, Alan Gutherie, Sean Doolittle, Alex Dryden, Zygmut Miloszewski and Matt Joensuu.  Yeah, I know, how have I managed to miss some of these to date?  Soon to be rectified.  I might skip out to read a book by a favourite author, but the plan is to read the books by these authors between now and the end of the year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review of Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams (Constable, 2010)

Fancying a change from working as a health care assistant, Michelle Williams decides to apply for a job as a mortuary technician.  She survives the preliminary interview where she’s watches her first body be eviscerated and is successful in the formal interview.  What follows is hands-on, on-the-job training, that wouldn’t be for the faint hearted.  Over the course of the year she learns how to deal with the dead and their surviving relatives.  And all manner of bodies pass across the mortuary table, meeting their maker in a variety of ways from natural deaths to tragic suicides to bizarre accidents.

Down Among the Dead Men is a curious read.  Some of it is fascinating, especially the various stories relating to the different deaths, the work of the mortuary team, and their interrelationships.   Some of it is mundane and lacking in any real depth or insight, mostly relating to Williams’ home life.  The writing in general is weak and flat and lacking spark, humour, meaningful reflexivity and some contextual history relating to mortuary business.  The narrative feels more like a stream of structured anecdotes rather than crafted story telling.  Indeed, this is a long way from autobiographical yarns of James Herriott or Gerald Durrell.  The cover quote states: ‘What is it like to work in a mortuary? Nothing like you’d expect, actually ...’  Actually, it was exactly like I expected and there are no great insights revealed by the book.  Overall, the fascinating stuff just about saves the book, but it could have been so much more in the hands of a skilled ghost writer.