Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Animal sidekicks

Two books have recently arrived in the post, both of which have a lead character encumbered with an usual animal. In Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, a journalist, Victor, shares his apartment with a depressed penguin rescued from the city zoo which could not afford to feed it. In Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, the lead character, Zinzi, wanders around with a sloth on her back which she must sustain, penance for a crime she committed. I think I'll probably read these back to back. I have to say I'm quite taken with the premise of an unusual animal sidekick. Lots of room for some imaginative storytelling. Hopefully they'll live up to expectation - they've both certainly been showered with good reviews. If you were going to pick an animal sidekick for your fictional self, what would you go for?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review of Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

Inspector Erlendur is away and Elinborg, one his trusty colleagues, is left to deal with any new cases. As a senior detective she is trying to balance the pressures of work with home life and looking after her three kids and husband. When the body of a young man is found in his apartment with his throat slashed she is assigned to the case. The investigation quickly alters track when a date-rape drug is found in his possession. It seems that one of his victims, or someone known to them, has exacted a terrible revenge. Despite her revulsion for his crimes, Elinborg patiently pieces together the events leading to the young man's death, whilst also trying to maintain a harmonious domestic life.

I finished Outrage just over a week before I sat down to write this review. What is unsettling is the fact that a lot of the plot had already started to slip away from my memory. I know I enjoyed reading the book a lot, but a fair bit failed to stick to the old grey cells. This has led me to reflect a little on Indridason's other translated books - all of which I've read. I've a mixed memory with respect to them. For example, I remember Jar City very well even though it's a few years since I've read it, but although Hypothermia was one of my books of 2010, I can't for the life of me recall what it was about (and I'm usually pretty good at remembering books and their plots). I think this is because Indridason's forte is ordinary characters and exposing the mundane and banal aspects of everyday life and police investigations. His stories are carefully layered and reflective, are philosophical in a literary sense, and have fairly ambiguous endings. It is the style, atmosphere and the central characters that linger not the plot. They're books that create a certain mood, rather than a visceral impact. That's also the reason why I like them so much. Outrage is a fine addition to the series, allowing one of the support characters to come to the fore. The reader finds out much more about Elinborg and her family circumstances and history, which was a nice complement to simply tracking Erlendur from book to book. Despite the fact that the stories seem to slip away from me, I'll be in the queue for the next one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cover rage

I've recently finished reading Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason and LA Requiem by Robert Crais (reviews shortly). In both cases, I had the same experience every time I picked the book up - the cover just didn't match the book. In the case of Outrage, the murder victim was killed in the living area of an apartment, not at a bus stop in the middle of winter. In fact I can't remember snow being mentioned once in the entire book, but that might be my memory. In the case of LA Requiem, although there a couple of trips to Palm Springs the vast majority of the action takes place in the city and the atmosphere is one of enclosure and claustrophobia, not wide open spaces. I've no real problem with generic style covers, but for me they have to be reflective of the story to some extent. Neither did in these cases. Not that it detracted from the stories themselves, which were very good. What about you, does a cover that doesn't match the book induce some mild form of cover rage?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

The power of blogging was revealed to me once again this week. On Monday, ten minutes after posting on the other blog I contribute to, RTE Radio 1 were on the phone asking if I'd go on their Drivetime programme to talk about the argument I'd made (starts 52.2 mins in). Thankfully it was a radio interview and not TV as two minutes in I started to have a nosebleed. With no tissues at hand and not wanting to pinch my nose in case I changed my voice too much I tried my best to keep my concentration and deal with the blood. The slot lasted seven and a half minutes. Certainly the messiest interview I've done!

My posts this week
Six reasons why the property market is going to be very slow to recover
Agents for short stories
Call for the Dead
Review of Call for the Dead by John Le Carre
Property register, house price and rental yield mapping
iphone, your phone

Saturday, November 26, 2011

iphone, your phone

'It's exactly as you'd get in an Apple store,' the young man said conspiratorially. 'They retail at six hundred euro. It's yours for two hundred.'

'It's three fifty in the shop,' a lank-haired youth replied.

'But that's with a contract. Eighteen months. They sell you the phone cheap to lock you in.'

'What's the catch?'

'There isn't one. It's brand new. Never used.'

'It just fell out the back of a van?'

The seller shrugged, casting an anxious glance round the bar.

'I'll give you one fifty.'

'One seventy.'

'And it definitely works?'

'Lifetime warranty. Your life, not its, capiche?'

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review of Call For The Dead by John Le Carre (1961, Gollancz)

The day after George Smiley interviews and clears Samuel Fennan, a Foreign Office worker, of suspected espionage after an anonymous tip-off, Fennan's found dead having seemingly committed suicide. Smiley's boss at MI5 and the police seem to be content to accept that Fennan took his own life. However, after visiting the scene of death and interviewing Fennan's wife, a concentration camp survivor, Smiley is not convinced and neither is a local policeman, Mendel, who is about to retire. Unwilling to drop his investigation, Smiley quits his job and continues to work at the thin trail. A short time later he is viciously attacked and hospitalised. Undaunted, Smiley and Mendel patiently unravel clues and continue their hunt convinced that there are sinister forces at play.

Call For The Dead was Le Carre's first book and also introduced George Smiley to the reading public. It's a moderately thin read (157 pages) and the plot is relatively straightforward, with no substantive subplots. What marks Le Carre out is his voice and the careful layering and rhythm of the prose. In many ways, the storytelling style of Call for the Dead reminded me of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's Martin Beck series, which was first published a couple of years later, in that the style is social realism (rather than noirish style of American hardboiled or the more swashbuckling style of spy thrillers such as Ian Fleming) and the pace is quite sedate as the story works its way to a somewhat understated climax. Like Martin Beck, Smiley is a fairly ordinary character who works through a case patiently and dogmatically, though he is a little more impetuous and foolhardy, and shares the donnish qualities of Colin Dexter's Morse. I read a number of the Smiley books when I was a teenager and it was interesting to revisit him now, especially since the character I remember was slightly different to the one presented (I thought of him as more enigmatic and calculating). Having looked around on the internet it seems that Smiley's character did mutate a little and his back story and career timeline altered quite substantially between books. He nevertheless remains one of fiction's enduring spy characters.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Call for the Dead

I finished John Le Carre's 'Call for the Dead' at the weekend. It was his first book and introduced George Smiley. There's much to like about the book. One thing that caught my eye was that the back cover blurb which simply states:

Why did a routine security check make Fennan kill himself?

Short, to the point and does the job of piquing a potential reader's interest. There's no longer blurb on the inside either. Quite a refreshing approach.

The book also has some nice philosophical asides. Here are two of them.

What did Hesse write? 'Strangers to wander in the mist, each is alone.' We know nothing of one another, nothing, Smiley mused. However closely we live together, at whatever time of day or night we sound the deepest thoughts in one another, we know nothing. How am I judging Elsa Fennan? I think I understand her suffering and her frightened lies, but what do I know of her? Nothing.

He was going to tell Mendel how he had wrestled with Goethe's metamorphoses of plants and animals in the hope of discovering, like Faust, 'what sustains the world at it inmost point'. He wanted to explain why it was impossible to understand nineteenth-century Europe without a working knowledge of the natural sciences, he felt earnest and full of important thoughts, and knew secretly that this was because his brain was wrestling with the day's events, that he was in a state of nervous excitement.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Agents for short stories?

To date I've only submitted a relatively small number of short stories to magazines but my hit rate is not particularly good. However, rather than get reject letters (although I've had those as well), the pieces seem to just disappear. In part, this is because the magazine seems to go into suspended animation. In one case the editor quit a few days after submission and it took a while for a new one to be appointed. In another the site continued to post stories, but my submission just seemed to vanish into thin air with enquiry emails ignored. In the latest case, the site seems to have become frozen in time, with no new stories posted for a couple of months. I've no idea if there are agents for short stories - folk who will help you select the right outlet and shepherd it through the process - but I feel like I could do with one. If I had a choice, Patti Abbott or Paul Brazill would be top of the list - they know how to write good stories, have great records of getting them published, and genuinely care about other authors and the changing publishing world. That's not an out and out cry for help, but I'm happy for it to be taken as such!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

The gongs for the Irish Book Awards were announced last Thursday. The winner of the Ireland AM crime novel of the year was Bloodland by Alan Glynn. My review of the book can be found here, the other nominees here. My review of Winterland, the first book in the loose trilogy is here. I attended the launch of Bloodland just a couple of months back in the Gutter Bookshop and despite only being available for a short while the book has clearly made a positive impression on the reading public. Congrats to Alan. And if you haven't yet read Bloodland, get yourself down to your local bookshop; it's a real page turner. I'll be toddling down there when his forthcoming third book, Graveland, is released.

My posts this week:
A ghost of a chance
Review of The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland
Review of The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris
Tactics without strategy: decentralisation and post-decentralisation
The end of a dream

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The end of a dream

This was the dream. To be a professional singer. Bright lights, screaming fans, world tours, fame and fortune. It was now or never. At thirty he was already halfway over the hill.

The auditorium was massive; a sea of faces.

The music started, he sang, the song faded.

There were titters of laughter and a few boos. The panel looked pained.

He stared at his feet hoping the stage would swallow him.


‘Look, Michael, I’ll be straight with you. I’m not saying no, I’m saying never.’

The world faded to a fuzzy haze, the dream dying in public humiliation.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review of The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris (Corvus, 2010)

Glasgow, 1946. Hugh Donovan is a few weeks away from being hanged for the brutal killing of five young children when he contacts Douglas Brodie, his childhood friend. As teenagers Donovan stole Brodie's girlfriend and since then the two have not spoken, going their separate ways. Brodie won a scholarship to university, then joined the police before enlisting in the army. Donovan served as a tail gunner in a bomber, becoming horribly disfigured when his plane caught fire. Despite his apathy, Brodie visits Donovan in prison and agrees to help his legal advocate Samantha Campbell investigate the case further and prepare an appeal. Both quickly become convinced that Donovan is innocent and has been set-up by the police and other forces. Those forces seem to determine to stop them discovering the truth and soon their own lives are in danger.

The Hanging Shed has all the ingredients of a successful crime novel - strong characters, a compelling plot, good pace, credible dialogue and action, and good contextualisation and back story. The tale very quickly grabs the reader's attention and the pages fly by. And yet there was something that didn't quite feel right. The storytelling seemed a little formulaic. Ferris structures the story into short chapters, each typically six to eight pages long, with each chapter ending on a mini-cliff hanger. This is great for pulling the reader through the story, but I found the formula repetitive after a while restricting the narrative in its scope and form. That's not to say I wasn't gripped by the plot, I absolutely was. And I found Brodie an interesting lead character that I'd like to spend more time with. However, it all seemed a little bit by numbers. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable book, if a little formulaic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland (Faber, 2011)

Colonel Nagorski is the paranoid developer of the T-34 tank at an isolated, secret plant. He is, however, suspected of security breaches at the site that will put the tank's plans in the hands of the German military. Not long after being interviewed by Inspector Pekkala, Stalin's personal investigator, Nagorski is dead, crushed beneath the tracks of one of his prototype tanks. The site is sealed and with strong security, so it seems certain that his killer is a member of his team. Shortly after Pekkala arrives, a ruthless NKVD major arrives determined to solve the case. The investigation suggests that The White Guild - a group of individual's still loyal to the long dead Tsar and want to overthrow Stalin by enticing the Germans into a war - has been seeking to infiltrate the T-34 project. Pekkala has himself got links to the old Tsar having been his personal investigator twenty years previously. Now he must pitch his wits against old allies in order to solve Nagorski's murder and stop a premature start to a war.

I have a soft spot for historical crime fiction set in the 1930s and 1940s and there's certainly been a mini-boom of such stories in recent years by authors such as Philip Kerr, Alan Furst, John Lawton, William Ryan, Rebecca Cantrell, Laura Wilson, Carlo Lucarelli, and Mark Mills. What marks these books out is a fine eye for historical detail combined with ripping yarns. The Red Coffin deceives with respect to both. For the most part the historical context seems okay, providing some insight into the Russia of the Tsar and Stalin. And yet a number of elements just didn't seem to ring true and there were slight continuity errors. It seems fantastical that Inspector Pekkala would have been the chief personal investigator for both rulers given Stalin's paranoia and his purging of his own ranks. And for Pekkala to occupy both roles one would expect him to be a much more ruthless, rather than being a sympathetic character. Oddly, Stalin is also written as a somewhat grouchy uncle, rather than a tyrant, and a number of other characters run against type. The story itself jaunts along, but becomes increasingly ragged as the book progresses. It is set up as a locked room mystery, but unfortunately did not really work like one. The last fifty pages were simply fantastical and I struggled through them as the book hurtled to an improbable end. This was a real shame as Eastland demonstrates throughout the novel that he has the storytelling ability to tell an engaging yarn. For the book to work as a whole, however, that storytelling had to be consistent and convincing. Passable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A ghost of a chance

After a few months of working its way through whatever system manuscripts wander inside of publishers I've had notification that my novel Ghostland might see daylight next year. I say might as publication depends on securing an Arts Council grant. In these times of austerity cutbacks, I'm not sure this is the best time to be looking for arts funding, but finger's crossed it comes through. It'll be another few months until I hear anything so the business of waiting resumes. In the meantime, I have a backlog of material piling up - three other completed novels and I'm halfway through another. It's a good job that I principally write for myself! Hopefully the new year will bring good news and those interested will be able to catch up with McEvoy's latest cases.

Monday, November 14, 2011


How important is continuity to a novel? I'm not talking big stuff, but smaller things. I've recently finished a novel where there were a number of small continuity errors. One minor character was found drowned in a canal. Later on it states that he was shot through the forehead. My guess is that if you shot in the forehead, you'd be dead before you hit the water, especially when you were shot and then transported to the canal. In another place, a person goes to sleep in the back of a car but wakes up in the front seat. Even the most restless of sleepers would find it difficult make that transfer. There were also temporal issues, where there wasn't enough time between related events. Do these kind of issues ruin a read for you, or do you just brush over and ignore them?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

If there was a professional qualification for crisis management, achievable by practice alone, I think I'd qualify on the basis of the past ten weeks. Running two soft money research institutes in a period of austerity is probably not the most sensible thing I've ever done. The upshot was I missed two days of blogging last week. I actually had things I was going to post about but never got the time. The week turned into a blur early morning to late at night. Oh well. I'm also still doing a little bit of media work. Yesterday I was a panelist on 'Saturday with Charlie Bird' on RTE Radio 1. An interesting experience as it was a live, outside broadcast in Mullingar with an audience. The discussion covered everything from the in augural speech of the new President, Michael D Higgins, banking, the wider economy, housing, homelessness, electricity prices, the proposed closure of a military barracks and women's sport. Nothing like freewheeling public debate to keep one on one's toes.

My posts this week
Review of The Somme Stations by Andrew Martin
Welsh humour
Review of The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still by Malcolm Pryce
Closing down sale

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Closing down sale

Kenny turned the sign so that it projected ‘Closed’ to the street.

‘Well, that’s it then.’

He pressed his nose to the glass and stared out, the rain coming down almost horizontally. The shop opposite had been boarded up for six months.

‘Yes,’ Elaine replied.

They’d been trading for nineteen years. Six years ago they’d bought the unit next door and expanded. The world had been their oyster.

The recession had changed everything. Sales plummeted and they could no longer afford their overheads. They’d let staff go.

‘Time to join the scrapheap,’ Kenny said.

‘Yes.’ Elaine turned off the lights.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review of The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still by Malcolm Pryce (Bloomsbury, 2011)

Private Investigator Louie Knight has been commissioned by the mysterious Raspiwtin to track down a dead man, Iestyn Probert. Probert was supposedly hanged twenty five years ago after a raid on the Coliseum cinema. He was caught by Aberystwyth's current mayor, then a cop, after knocking down an egg-headed man in a silver suit and taking him to a doctor. The rumour is that Probert was resuscitated by aliens and escaped, and the seizure of the man in the silver suit was the Welsh equivalent of a Roswell incident. Interest in the case has been sparked by the sighting of strange lights in the sky and a sighting of Probert. Neither the mayor or a shadowy government department, the Aviary, are happy with Louie's interest. To add an extra complication, Louie has become romantically interested in Miaow, a good-time girl in a nightclub, and a soothsayer has predicted that he will become the next mayor, a job he has no interest in as the election contest involves being blown out of a cannon and taking part in a boxing match. Whatever is going on, it seemingly all links back to what happened twenty five years ago.

The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still is the sixth book in the Louie Knight series. Pryce has really hit his stride with the series now. The principal characters - Knight, Calamity, Sospan, Eyeore - are all well established and the slightly surrealist rendering of Aberystwyth and its surrounds is fully realised. I thought the first half of this book was excellent and I was sure it was going to be a five star review. The story grabs one's attention, there is a hefty dose of humour which made me laugh out loud, and the prose is vivid and engaging. Throughout the book, Pryce weaves in a fair bit of philosophical rhetoric which elevated the story beyond a parody of both PI novels and Welsh culture. The second half of the story wanders off course a little. The plot, I felt, becomes over-complicated with its various threads and subplots, and I found myself often turning back a few pages to re-read passages to try and get a clearer sense of what was going on. I'm still not sure I really understood all of it. This was a shame as the book is inventive, clever and genuinely funny in places.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Welsh humour

The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still is packed full of humour. A typical example.

'I'm applying for the human cannonball, I hear there's a vacancy.' He opened his fist and revealed a crumpled newspaper advert, roughly torn out. 'It's for the election, Ercwleff is looking for ... for ...'

I peered at the advert. 'A surrogate?'

'Yes, I could do that.'

'What happened to the other guy?'

'He hit a wall.'

'Doesn't that put you off?'

'I'm ready for it. Marathon runners get the same problem, don't they? Something to do with carbohydrates. You have to eat spaghetti. I love spaghetti hoops.'

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review of The Somme Stations by Andrew Martin (Faber, 2011)

Jim Stringer is a railway detective working out of York station. Not long after the First World War is declared the drive is on to encourage men to conscript. One means to entice men to join up was the formation of 'Pals' battalions made up of men from the same village or company. Stringer signs up for the North Eastern Railway Battalion, 'The Railway Pals', and is shipped off to Hull for basic training. Given his police background the army want him to join the military police, but Stringer refuses, wanting to stay with his colleagues. The result is despite his age and social standing he enters the army on the lowest rung and seems destined to stay there. Whilst on Spurn Head in the Humber estuary one of his group is found dead one morning. The military police are drafted in and suspect foul play. The Pals head to France, the military police trailing after them. They are immediately transported to the front to work on digging trenches ahead of the Somme battle. They take part in the first days of the Somme action and are then transferred to laying the track and running miniature trains that transport ammunition to the frontline at night and often under fire. One by one a number of Stringer's group are killed, some seemingly at the hands of the pals. As Stringer tries to piece together who the killer is, the military police become more and more convinced that it is him.

The Somme Stations is the seventh Jim Stringer railway detective series and the first I've read. It can certainly be read as a standalone. The strength of the book is in placing the reader in the lives of a small group of men as they go through their training and onwards to the frontline, and the historical detail concerning the use of miniature railway system to transport ammunition and supplies along the front. The lead character is rather unassuming character and relatively uncharismatic, which I found a somewhat welcome change to some detective series. He is surrounded by a motley crew of characters that are well penned. Where I had problems was with respect to the plot. The book has a ponderous start and a weak end. In fact, with the exception of the time on Spurn Head, the time in Blighty (the beginning and end) felt flat and listless. The ending in particular didn't work for me. At one point, one of the characters said something like, 'You worked it out from that?', pretty much as I was thinking the same thing. The mystery element relies on unlikely coincidences, an unlikely confession in terms of location (where an entire carriage of men can potentially overhear), and leaps of imagination, and it's hard to believe that Stringer suddenly developed a Poirot-like mind. I also think the book would have also been stronger if it had been written in the third person. It would have allowed the narrator more scope to describe and explain both the main plot and to contextualise the First World War. Overall, the bulk of the book, especially the time in France, was an engaging and informative read and made the book worth reading; it was just a shame that the mystery wasn't quite up to scratch.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lazy Sunday Service

I don't usually comment on covers, but every time I look at the one for Malcolm Pryce's The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still the same thought runs through my head - this looks like a children's book. The cover imitates the 1940s and 50s hardboiled PI pulps, but seems a watered down version and its five elements (Louie, Miaow, the Buick, the UFO and the pier) just seemed randomly dropped on the page. I know this is a matter of taste, but I think something more like Megan Abbott's covers or those produced by Hard Case Crime, which are similar in style but with more coherent scenes and a bit more realism in the art work would work better. The material between the covers draws a rich, vivid picture, with some real philosophical depth in the narrative which is a long way beyond a childish pastiche.

My posts this week
Kinky philosophy
October reviews
If you're going to make an error, might as well make it a big one
One book, two book, three book, four ... and five ...
Review of Greenwich Killing Time by Kinky Friedman
In harm's way

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In harm's way

The forest was eerily quiet.

The geologist raised his camera and stared through the telescopic lens at the mountain five miles away.

It seemed serene.

Then, almost imperceptibly, the slope appeared to judder. In slow motion, half the hillside started to slide downwards, a massive, boiling plume of black smoke rising upwards and towards him.

He took two dozen photos in quick succession, mesmerized by the scale of the rupture.

The ground shook violently and the deafening roar of the explosion bellowed over him. The camera dropped to his side, his mouth popping wide open.

The world darkened and whoossshhhhhhhh.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review of Greenwich Killing Time by Kinky Friedman (Faber, 1986)

Mike McGovern is in trouble. The occupant of the apartment opposite has been shot and the gun has been found in his apartment. McGovern calls Kinky Friedman, sometime detective and man about Greenwich Village, seeking his help. The dead man is Frank Worthington, a bisexual, who has a string of relationships. Friedman calls on his friends, rounds up Worthington's dates, and starts to try and work out who killed him and framed McGovern. The cops assigned to the case don't like Friedman, he's soon receiving threats, another person is killed, and all the evidence suggests that McGovern is the perpetrator. Kinky needs to draw on all his skills and wits to bring the killer to justice.

The real strength of Friedman's writing is his wit, wry observations, and philosophical asides. Somewhat unusually the main character is Kinky Friedman himself and the preface indicates that most of the characters in the book are real people with their real names. The story is fairly standard PI fare in the mode of Dashiell Hammett and his thousand imitators (and there's nothing wrong with that), but with a nice dash of humour. The story is tightly plotted and rattles along at a fair pace with some nice twists and turns. There's a fairly significant tell quite near the start, so I knew who the killer was from a long way out, but that didn't really matter. Overall, a reasonably light-hearted hardboiled tale with a strong voice. I'll be looking out for his other books.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five…

I rarely do memes, but I thought I'd have a go at this one. It's appeared in a few places. I've picked it up from Books Please, The Games Afoot, Petrona, Reactions to Reading and Mysteries in Paradise.

The book I’m currently reading? Malcolm Pryce's The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still. I'm a 100 pages in and it's excellent. He's really hit his stride with this series now. I love the prose, expressive description and vivid imagination. I'm also working my way through Simon Carswell's Anglo Republic. Good book, but damn frustrating content.

The last book I finished? The Somme Stations by Andrew Martin. Review to follow sometime soon. Basically, so-so start, really great middle section, weak end.

The next book I want to read? Peter Temple's White Dog. What I'm going to read is probably The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland.

The last book I bought? The Somme Station, but I have a bunch ordered through the local bookshop including Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Dead Hand of History by Sally Spencer, Head Games by Craig McDonald, The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, Cypress Grove by James Sallis, and Killer Verse by edited by Ken Brown and Harold Schechter.

The last book I was given? Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban.

Which was the last book you borrowed from the library? The Complaints by Ian Rankin. It's the only library book I've read in the last two and half years of blogging.

What is the most recent e-book you read? I don't own an e-reader. I've no real desire to. I read Nigel Bird's Dirty Old Town on my laptop. I've got halfway through Paul Brazill's Brit Grit, but I need to print it out. I read all my own drafts on paper, rather than on-screen.

What was the last translated book you read? Asa Larsson, The Savage Altar.

What was the first book you read this year? Peeler by Kevin McCarthy. Looking forward to his next book (assuming there's one in the works).

Which book is at the top of your Christmas list? Peter Temple's White Dog, Philip Kerr's Prague Fatale and Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana. Another book that I would have already read if there was a paper version would be Patti Abbott's Monkey Justice (I might have to get an e-reader for books published in e-book form only; my only reason for getting one).

Which so-far unpublished book are you most looking forward to reading? Death in the City of Light by David King. I tried to order it after reading a review, but it's not out until January 2012.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If you're going to make an error, might as well make it a big one

How do you lose €3.6 billion euro? You make a basic error in an accounting spreadsheet (that virtual money is tricky stuff given it's just 1s and 0s). As errors go its a whopper. It's 2.3% of Ireland's GDP or about 10% of the annual tax receipts or roughly equivalent to the amount that was cut out of the budget last year as part of the austerity measures. Basically, it's a massive amount of money. To put it in context, if you paid back a euro a second, it would take 11 days to pay back a million euro; it would take 114 years to pay back 3.6 billion. As the Irish Times reports, this accountancy error has just been discovered and reported by the Dept of Finance. Thankfully we've found the money, lowering the debt, rather than discovering we owe the money, but still. Given the financial mess the country is in, you'd think 101 accounting would be top of the agenda.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October reviews

A mixed bag of reading during October. The two standout books were Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues and William Ryan's The Holy Thief. Both are historical novels, one set in 1936 in Moscow, the other in Berlin and Paris in 1939/40. Both were excellent reads. Difficult to choose between them to be honest. One had better prose and character development, the other a slightly stronger plot. I think I'll call it a tie for best book of the month.

The Savage Altar by Asa Larsson ****
The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan ***.5
Nazi on the Run by Gerald Steinacher **.5
Garnethill by Denise Mina ***
The Holy Thief by William Ryan *****
Open Season by CJ Box ***.5
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan *****
Death Toll by Jim Kelly ***.5