Saturday, March 31, 2012

Empty promises

‘You promised you would get it sorted.’

‘I’m working on it. It’s not ...’

‘I don’t care,’ the man interrupted, ‘how easy or difficult it is. I voted for you because you said you’d get it fixed. Three years we’ve been waiting.’

‘Look, the recession has changed everything. The country is dying on its feet. It’s ...’

‘And whose fault is that? You’re as bad as the last lot! Full of empty promises. Don’t try and tell me about the recession. I live the recession!’

‘Look, I’m doing my best.’

‘Well, it’s not good enough, is it? It never is.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Time flies by when you're lost in data

This week has been unbelievably busy. The institute I run was the official data visualization partner for the Irish Census 2011, launched yesterday morning. The AIRO team in NIRSA has been flatout working with the data and constructing and testing various interactive mapping and graphing visualizations. We only had the data for a week before launch (and there's only 4 of us - 3 when you consider that all I do is test, analyse and do the media stuff). The team did an unbelievable job and the launch by the Central Statistics Office and ourselves went smoothly and we've had great feedback and media coverage. Several of our graphing tools were embedded into Irish Times stories (see the IT census section). If you're interested in these kinds of things then the CSO report 'This is Ireland' can be found here, and the interactive data visualizations here. A bunch of analysis can be found on the other blog I contribute to Ireland After NAMA. After a week of 12-14 hour days I'm zonked; back to usual next week, hopefully.

Review of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay (Piatkus 1999, reprinted by Blasted Heath, 2011)

A serial killer is at work in Glasgow sending a body part through the post to the victim’s relatives. The case has Chief Inspector Robert Holdall and his sergeant MacPherson vexed. The madman’s exploits vie for attention in a local barber shop, along with football and general pish. Barney Thomson resentfully works the chair furthest from the window, the other two operated by Wullie Henderson, the owner’s son, and Chris Porter, who is several year’s Barney’s junior. When on form, Barney cuts like a maestro, but lately he’s lost his form and customer’s seeking his services are dwindling. To make matters worse his wife is a soap opera addict that barely notices him and his aging mother has dementia. In his fantasies, what Barney would love to do is kill Henderson and rightfully reclaim the window seat and his dignity. And the local serial killer would like to help.

The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson is a comedy noir, thickly laced with black humour. The story is not particularly complicated, but is very well told, and there are three strong twists in the book that the rotate the plot ninety degrees each time to good effect. The dialogue and wit (or talking pish in the books terms) in the barber scenes is excellent, as is the running commentary on the soap operas Barney’s wife watches, and the banter between the detectives. I laughed out loud several times, especially in the first half of the book. The characterisation was spot on and despite being one of life’s losers it’s difficult not to take to Barney and his ill-judged decisions and morose approach to life. If there are any television producers reading this, in my view, the book would make a very good two-hour comedy drama. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, The Cutting Edge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review of Death on the Marais by Adrian Magson (Allison and Busby 2010)

It’s 1963 and Inspector Lucas Rocco has been posted to the village of Poissons-les-Marais in north-west France as part of a bureaucratic exercise to rotate officers around the country. He’s not best pleased to be leaving cosmopolitan Paris, but is immediately plunged into a village life and a murder case. A young woman is found dead in a Great War cemetery having been drowned and moved. A former sergeant who served in Indo-China, Rocco is famed for his insubordination, determination and bravery. His new boss is his former commanding officer, a coward who lost countless men’s lives through poor leadership. Before Rocco can even make a start investigating the case, the young woman’s body has disappeared, high level officials creating a smokescreen. The dogged Rocco soon picks up a trail, though it brings him into conflict with a powerful family. As Rocco makes slow progress, he starts to uncover a web of intrigue and a bitter legacy left over from the Second World War. To solve the case, Rocco must battle both enemies unseen and French bureaucracy.

Death on the Marais has many good qualities: an interesting main character in Inspector Lucas Rocco, a nice sense of place, and engaging prose that’s easy on the eye. The story unfolds at a fast clip, tugging the reader along, and the plot has a nice mix of a cop out of place and historical intrigue. The main plot is lively and intriguing and the subplot involving Rocco’s new boss, Massin, with whom he has an old enmity, unfolds nicely. There are two flaws in the story, however, which have niggled away at me since finishing the book. It’s difficult to talk about either in specific terms without giving spoilers, however, in general terms: Rocco is thorough in what he does but occasionally he notes to himself that he needs to do something, such as searching somewhere, then ignores it; the killer also leaves a large thorn in the side unresolved and yet is ruthless otherwise. Neither made little sense other than as plot devices and both worked to undermine what was otherwise an fine piece of storytelling. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Death on the Marais and look forward to catching up with Rocco in his next case.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Laughter shack

One of my flash fiction pieces is up on Laughter Shack. Had to be less that 500 words and be funny without telling jokes. My piece is a riff on that theme - a host of almost told jokes. Two men get thrown out of a bar ...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Shots of noir

A slow week of reading shorts. Here's what I managed.

Baby boom by Jochem Vandersteen (Shotgun Honey)
Undead by Benoit Lelievre (Flash Fiction Offensive)*
Saving his marriage by Jim Harrington (Near to the Knuckle)
Toad skin and yellow eyes by S. Zaniab Williams (Spinetingler)
Deviation Jones - a trilogy by Christopher Grant (All Due Respect)*
Shades of grey by Darren Sant (Thrillers, Killers and Chillers)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

For the first time this year I've spent the day in lazing in the garden. The sun even decided to show itself. A nice calm before the storm - Census 2011 results are out this Thursday. I'll be flat out at work trying to make sense of those at the end of the week. I'm looking forward to wading through and analysing the results.

My posts this week
Shots of noir
Review of The Imitation of Patsy Burke by John J Gaynard
Guerrila gardening and ghost estates
Guerilla art: Romantic Ireland is Dead and Gone
Review of Kiss Me Quick by Danny Miller
Third level education from the frontline
Brief encounter
Deserted village

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brief encounter

The doors on the train slid open.

‘Hey!’ He waved and stepped onto the platform.

Sarah dashed forward and threw her arms around him. ‘At last! What was the problem?’

‘Signal failure. It took an age to fix.’

‘I know! I’ve had three cups of coffee whilst waiting. I’m buzzing like a wind-up toy! Come-on, my parents are dying to meet you.’

They started to head for the exit.

‘My scarf!’ He turned and dashed back onto the train.


The doors clunked shut behind him.

He turned, jabbing at the button, then rested his forehead forlornly against the glass.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review of Kiss Me Quick by Danny Miller (Robinson, 2011)

It’s 1964 and Vince Treadwell is law graduate who has taken the path of a copper. On the fast track to the top to the force he’s a Scotland Yard detective working central London. He also seems to be the only cop on the force who isn’t on the take. When he’s called to a murder in Soho he discovers more than he bargained for. Three weeks later he is emerges from a coma convinced that his soon to be retired boss was partially responsible for his hospital stay. To keep him out of the way until his boss leaves he’s packed off to Brighton, his home town, to take a look at case that has the paw-prints of Jack Regent, a legendary underworld boss, all over it. Regent has disappeared, but his rackets and gang haven’t, still with their fingers in every lucrative pie in the town, overseen by his trusted lieutenant, former professional wrestler, Henry Pierce. Working with the resentful Brighton police, Treadwell starts to investigate, only to find himself falling for Regent’s woman, the blond bombshell, Bobby LaVita, and to discover his own past in the form of his brother, Vaughan, catching up with him. It’s going to take all his skills and wits to bring Regent and his cronies to justice.

Kiss Me Quick is very much a story of an isolated, maverick, brilliant cop against his own corrupt bosses and the criminal underworld. Vincent Treadwell is an engaging lead character, with his movie star looks, sense of morality and reckless bravery. The other lead characters - Bobbie, Jack Regent, Henry Pierce, Vaughan - are all well penned, full of life and fleshed out with strong back stories. Although the book is very much rooted in the town, somewhat oddly I didn’t really get a feel for Brighton, its geography or sense of place beyond it being a seaside resort. What I did get was a vivid sense of time. Miller does a good job at recreating the early 1960s and the feel and vibe of the time. These are the two real strengths of the book: the characterization and the historical rootedness. The plot was interesting if a little cumbersome at times, but it was generally engaging, tense and rose to a crescendo. For the most part the storytelling was solid enough, but was a little over-elaborated in places for my taste. Overall an enjoyable read and I’d be interested in catching up with Detective Treadwell’s next case.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review of The Imitation of Patsy Burke by John Gaynard (Createspace, 2011)

Patsy Burke, a famous Irish sculptor in Paris, wakes in a small apartment hungover, battered and bruised and with a broken arm. He’s somewhat confused and has little recollection of the night before. Over the course of a morning, and with the aid of the cast of voices residing in his head (including The Scandal Man, Caravaggio, Goody Two-Shoes, Forget Me Not, The Chopper, The Observer) and Khadija, one of his lovers, he starts to piece together what happened and to situate it within the narrative of his life, which includes a boarding school in the north of England, the death of his sweetheart, three marriages, five daughters, a series of lovers, a kidnapping, squabbles with gallery owners, fights in bars, and an infamous sculpture that offended the Church and sold for millions of euro. Despite everything that has happened in his eventful life, it seems that the previous night he may have gone too far.

It took me a little while to get into The Imitation of Patsy Burke - both the storyline and the style. The story is an in-depth character study and the story unfolds through the various voices in Patsy’s head as it tries to reconcile the morning after with recollections of the afternoon and night before and the back story to the artist’s life. At first, I found the style somewhat awkward and contrived, but as the story progressed the style made more sense and I got drawn further and further into the narrative and by the end I was truly hooked, staying up way past when I would normally shut a book and turn off the lights, devouring pages until I reached the end. And a very nicely resolved end it is too, both somewhat inevitable and slightly out of left field. Whilst Burke is a character for which one feels little sympathy, the characterization and its unfolding is very well done, with the story well layered. The voices in Patsy’s head each have a distinctive voice and message and their bickering has an authentic tone (if voices in a head can have such a thing). The prose is nicely expressive throughout and is peppered with philosophical insights. If you like in-depth characterization, then The Imitation of Patsy Burke will provide good, if a little unusual, reading fodder.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shots of noir

I was dipping in and out of short story collections. I've now changed tack and am concentrating on one at a time. I'm presently working my way through Daniel O'Shea's Old School. It has some cracking stories in it. From online sites I've read the following:

Cold Beer by Townsend Walker (Near to the Knuckle)
The gun by his bed by Chris Rhatigan (Near to the Knuckle)
Victoria's even bigger secret by Cheryl Ann Gardner (Near to the Knuckle)
What you don't know by R.J. Spears (Shotgun Honey)
Whatever it takes by Matthew Funk (Shotgun Honey)
The golden shot by Graham Smith (Flash Fiction Offensive)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

Given the rapid fall off in comments and some of the discussion online complaining about Blogger's captcha setting I've decided to turn off the word verification to post comments for now and see how I get on. You'd think that Blogger could work out a decent spam filter that would negate the need for captcha and if they're going to persist in using it, then you'd think they could come up with a system that is useable. At the minute the words are unreadable and they're sure as hell unlistenable if you have visual impairments. Anyway, I hope it is now easier for people to comment.

My posts this week
Shots of noir
Review of Choke on Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
Being jolted out of a story
Review of Manchester 6 by Col Bury
Review of Star Island by Carl Hiassen
A dozen Irish crime novels to celebrate St Patrick's Day

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A dozen Irish crime novels to celebrate St Patrick's Day

Since it's St Patrick's Day, here are a dozen recent Irish crime novels set in Ireland for your consideration. There's no duds on this list; all top quality reads - click on the links to see my reviews and find out more. Or how about sampling any of the books on the two piles right (photos lifted from the central station of Irish crime writing, Declan Burke's blog, Crime Always Pays)

The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
The Point by Gerard Brennan
Winterland by Alan Glynn
Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke
The Dramatist by Ken Bruen
The Rage by Gene Kerrigan
Black Sheep by Arlene Hunt
Peeler by Kevin McCarthy
Taken by Niamh O'Connor
A Stone of the Heart by John Brady
Collusion by Stuart Neville
Gallows Lane by Brian McGilloway


‘You bitch!’

The slap whipped her head right, knocking her off balance. He then shoved her hard, sending her sprawling backwards onto the sofa. He was on top of her before she could react, the buttons on her blouse popping off as he tore on the thin cotton.

‘Stop! Michael!’

He was drunk. Angry, vengeful and beyond reason.


Somehow she landed a knee to the groin and scrambled out from under him.

She dashed to the kitchen and grabbed a knife.

Michael staggered after her, bellowing insults.

She was surprised at how easily the blade slid between two ribs.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of Star Island by Carl Hiassen (Sphere, 2010)

Cherry Pye is a twenty two year old out-of-control, airhead, drug-addled, lip-synching, manufactured popstar. All she wants is to party, to screw every bloke she meets, and to be adored by her management team and fans. Her first two ambitions don’t sit well with the clean-cut, role-model image demanded by society and she’s constantly getting herself into trouble, with her behaviour caught by the paparazzi. To counter this, her parents have hired an undercover stunt double, Ann DeLusia, who covers for Cherry when she messes up, plus a pair of devious PR sisters, and a slightly psychotic bodyguard who is immune to her sexual charms and has a weed wacker in place of an amputated arm. Bang Abbott, a paprazzo with very little morals, is obsessed with Cherry Pye and her slow disintegration. If he can catch her death on film he knows he’ll make a fortune. Pushed to desperate measures, Abbott kidnaps the star to find he’s snatched the body double. Cherry’s management can’t afford for the existence of the double to become public and Abbott sees an opportunity to leverage a day with the young star. Nobody, however, counts on DeLusia being friends with a former governor of Florida who has forsaken materialism, lives on the margins of society, and has a righteous sense of justice.

Star Island is the latest comic crime caper novel from Hiassen. Like the books preceding it, the story is populated by larger than life characters acting out a slightly surreal satire on modern society. Star Island takes a swipe at today’s manufactured celebrity culture and the role of the media and paparazzi. With the exception of the governor and Chemo (the bodyguard), unfortunately Hiassen’s characters seem entirely plausible as does the twisted storyline. Indeed, Hiassen does a relatively good job at highlighting the vacuous nature of celebrity and the so-called entertainment industry. He writes in a confident, engaging style and there are some genuinely funny moments in the story. As usual, Florida shines through, providing a good sense of place. The plot, for the most part, works well, though the story feels at times a little bit all-surface and not enough depth. And the governor and Chemo work to de-rail the story a little because even though the story is full of odd-characters, they at least seemed as if they belonged (that the governor is a long running character in the Hiassen novels is neither here nor there for me). Nevertheless, for Hiassen fans, of which I am one, this addition to the series will mostly hit the mark.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Manchester 6 by Col Bury (Ganglion Press, 2012)

I bought Col Bury's Manchester 6 at the weekend. It's a collection of six hardboiled, flash fiction pieces set in the city (plus a bonus story). The stories were:

Lucky Shit (the perils of winning big on the horses and partying afterwards)
Fists of Destiny (being caught up in a terrorist incident)
Mr Curly Top (anger management when being taken for a mug)
Forum of Fury (a wannabe writer gets a visit from someone he cheesed off online)
Snakes and Ladders (a window cleaner tries to catch up with the person collecting his wages)
Gallance (a hit man takes down a criminal gang)
Till Death Do Us Part (a bent copper gets his comeuppance)

This is a tight, taut little collection, focusing on everyday people living on the margins in working class Manchester. The stories are short, sharp, with dark humour and crisp twists. If you like noir flash fiction - the kind you find on Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive or Thrillers, Killers n Chillers, then you'll enjoy Manchester 6. The writing was a little raw at times, but I blasted my way through them in about forty minutes and was left wanting more.

Being jolted out the story

I started a new book a couple of days ago. I'm having a reoccurring problem with the prose. The story seems to be a little over-written at times, with too much elaboration and what seems to me to be odd sentence construction. The effect is to jolt me out of the story as I start to focus on the prose itself and not the narrative. I know you won't have the full context, but see what you make of these passages:

The sharp sodium wind prickled Pierce's scarred face. Scars he picked up years ago, but somehow they'd never weathered, just remaining smooth, shiny and pink. A long stripe running from an ear lobe to his top lip sectioned off one quarter of his face. A spider's web on his cheekbone where the business end of a broken stout bottle had been plunged. His left eye resembled a rare bird's egg sitting in a nest - a nest of scars. A shard of glass had penetrated it, leaving it completely redundant: a speckled, marbled jelly with streaky blue and red blood vessels running through it.

The 'a nest of scars' is, for me, redundant and pops me out of the story by disrupting the flow. Why not simply: 'sitting in a nest of scars'?

Ribbons wasn't his real name. He'd been given that nickname due to the scars he'd picked up over the years - literally cut to ribbons.

The 'literally cut to ribbons' seems redundant. Surely the reader has the wit to understand the nickname given the reference to scars and wider contextualisation.

'I double parked,' said the young detective, knowing that it would displease Tobin. It did.

Again, no need for the 'It did'.

There seems to be multiple instances of these kinds of re-statements. Perhaps it's just me, but they're disrupting the flow of my reading. Does anybody else experience being jolted out of the story in this way?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review of Choke on Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith (2011)

Mick Thooft is a poet and a professor at a small, elite college. His wife, a professor in the same department, has left him for the provost and she wants sole ownership of their house. Thooft is prepared to roll over and let his wife crush him, but his friend since high school, Octavia VanderPlatts is having none of it. Octavia is wealthy, powerful, devious and enormously over-weight. Highly intelligent, with an ability to read the psychology of opponents and to bend them to her will, she has become enormously wealthy suing large corporations. Thooft’s wife it transpires has not only been sleeping with the provost, but also a fair few faculty, staff and one of his students. She’s also been forging his signature. Octavia tries to install a bit of backbone into Thooft, but they’re up against a swinger’s club with plenty to hide and the intelligence to make life difficult. Just as they start to get the upper hand, Thooft’s new girlfriend is found dead, his wife is missing, and he and Octavia have been arrested. It’s going to take all of Octavia’s cunning to sort out the ensuing mess.

The star of this novel is Octavia. She’s a talented sociopath - completely self-absorbed, self-centred, and incapable of empathy (though she occasionally pretends she has some). She demands loyalty and is happy to entrap people to get it, and despite her massive size she manages to seduce both men and women. She takes great delight in verbally abusing people and making their life hell. And she doesn’t give a hoot what people think of her, she’s going to get her way in any case. She is helping Thooft in order to crush his wife who she has hated since she was taken off the guest list to their marriage. She’s an absolute blast to read about. Thooft on the other hand is annoying wuss who you want to slap. And that’s the rub with this novel for me. I just couldn’t connect with the main character, who often seemed quite schizophrenic in temperament but always annoying. Octavia was fantastic, as were the most of the other characters. The story was interesting with its mix of swinging, blackmail, lies and crosses, and Smith has a steady hand at the tiller guiding it along. There’s some nice twists and turns, some well constructed scenes, and a nice darkly comic streak running throughout. Overall, an entertaining read and I’d like to read another Octavia novel (though preferably without Thooft in tow).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shots of noir

Here are the shorts I read last week. I also read Col Bury's Manchester 6. I'll probably put up a separate post on that later in the week.

Patti Abbott: Bit Players; The Instrument of Their Desire (Monkey Justice)
Julia Madeleine: Candy from strangers; Paranoid (Stick a Needle in My Eye)
Robin Billings: Her Deliverance (Flash Fiction Offensive)
R Thomas Brown: The Hit (Flash Fiction Offensive)
Michelle Ann King: Bring it on (Shotgun Honey)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

Feels like spring here this afternoon. Two highlights of the week were the crime fiction event I hosted on Tuesday evening - an audience with Declan Burke, Gene Kerrigan and Niamh O'Connor - and my flash fiction piece, Preparing the Lure, appearing on Spinetingler. R. Thomas Brown, the editor at Spinetingler, gave a very useful editorial steer on the flash fiction piece. It was only a slight tweak to a single paragraph but it really strengthened the story. Funny how a relatively small change can make such a difference. On the review front, John Gaynard gave The Rule Book a nice review a couple of weeks ago.

My posts this week:
Shots of noir
Review of The Point by Gerard Brennan
Review of Tollesbury Times Forever by Stuart Aylis
Ireland through the lens of crime fiction
Review of The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
Preparing the lure

Saturday, March 10, 2012


There it was again, the creak of wood bending under stress. Gina wanted to pull back the curtain and peer out into the dark, but a cold fear was holding her back. Three houses on the row had been broken into recently. Mrs Ganley two doors up had been assaulted; punched and kicked to the floor. She crept into the kitchen and slid a carving knife from the block. Somebody was at the back door. She held her breath. The cat-flap lifted and Bosco slid into the room. A shrill laugh escaped Gina’s lips. Outside something clunked to the floor.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Preparing the Lure

The next installment of Jimmy Kiley's movie making exploits - Preparing the Lure - is up at Spinetingler. The first three can be found at:

King Canute - Powder Burn Flash
On a High Wire - Flash Fiction Offensive
Infrared Dead - Shotgun Honey

I've sent off the next 'movie', so hopefully that might be published in the next few weeks.

Review of The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, 2010)

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at the University of North Norfolk. She is occasionally used by the local police to help analyze any bones discovered. The last case she was involved in, she ended up sleeping with the lead investigating officer, Harry Nelson, and now she’s pregnant. When the remains of a child are found under the entranceway to a former children’s home that is being demolished to make way for an apartment block, she is asked to take a look. The bones appear to have been buried quite recently and the police start an investigation, once again with DCI Harry Nelson in charge. Ruth and Harry dance awkwardly around each other as the case makes slow progress. Then Ruth starts to be threatened and the case takes a more sinister turn.

Griffiths has an engaging style of writing that draws the reader into Ruth and Harry’s worlds of archaeology and policing, and their awkward relationship. The two lead characters, along with Cathbad, a local druid, are very appealing and the strengths of the book are the unfolding of their relationship and the sense of place of the Norfolk coast. However, whilst the style of the storytelling, the characters and setting are good, the book struggles more with respect to the plot and the mystery. The Janus Stone overly relies on coincidence (there are a fair few in terms of time, place, people, activity) in order to drive the investigation along, and contains a few elements that didn’t stack up. Griffiths has a passage near the end in which a character reflects on the case, thinking that, in so many words, 'such and such was unbelievable, and so was, and also, and yet it was all true'. A direct appeal to readers to forget that they had to suspend their disbelief too many times is not a good sign. Griffiths has a genuinely engaging set of characters and I am hooked on finding out what happens to them when the baby is born, but I really hope that the plotting improves so that it isn’t so dependent on coincidence and unlikely plot twists. Overall, a largely enjoyable read as long as one doesn’t mind suspending their belief every now and then.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ireland through the lens of crime fiction

Tuesday evening I hosted a session at the NUI Maynooth on crime fiction and contemporary Ireland with Declan Burke, Gene Kerrigan and Niamh O'Connor. I thoroughly enjoyed the panel discussion and the conversation in the pub afterwards. Each author opened by saying a little about their writing and what they are trying to achieve through their story-telling. They then read a short passage from one of their novels that they felt opened a window into Irish society. This was followed by questions and answers with members of the audience. The discussion was quite wide-ranging, including how crime fiction enabled a writer to explore the human condition and drama arising from crime, as well as the social and political context within which crimes take place; how crime fiction creates a sense of place and identity; if there was anything particularly unique about Irish crime fiction and how it fitted into the wider international crime fiction landscape; and the points of connection and difference between Irish crime fiction and Irish literary fiction. The event was videod, so depending on the quality of footage I'll look at putting the session up on line rather than try and paraphrase the discussion as I wasn't taking notes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review of Tollesbury Time Forever by Stuart Aylis (Amazon, 2012)

Simon Gregory lives in a cottage in the small village of Tollesbury. He left his wife when his son with Downs Syndrome was six years old. A regular of the King’s Head pub he’s prone to drinking himself into a stupor and throwing himself in the local salt marshes. After one of his sessions he wakes in the village square to find himself in 1836. Whilst he struggles to make sense of what has happened, the villagers seem overly keen to help the stranger in their midst, competing to draw him into their circle. What’s more, they know the lyrics to Beatles’ songs and they appear to know about aspects of his life. He’s tired, confused and wants his old life back, but perhaps not quite the same life. He wants a life where he gets to see the son he hasn’t seen for twenty years. But first he must find his way back from 1836.

Tollesbury Time Forever is a curious book. It took me quite a bit of time to get into it. The first half, whilst nicely written, is as confusing for the reader as it is for Simon Gregory. As a reader, you just have to go with the flow, enjoy the prose and scenes, and trust that Aylis knows what he’s doing. The second half jolts into something a lot more concrete and the power and cleverness of the book is revealed. I don’t really want to discuss specifics because it’ll spoil the read for others, but needless to say, Aylis performs a lovely sleight of hand. Where the book excels is in the affective response it creates for its readers in response to Simon’s journey. This would not usually be my kind of book. I struggled slightly with the first half, but I’m glad I stuck with it. A book that makes you think and reflect on life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review of The Point by Gerard Brennan (Pulp Press, 2011)

Paul Morgan is a young criminal always on the hunt for any easy score and a party. He’s brash, cocky and ballsy, and he drags his reluctant brother, Brian, in his wake. When Paul pushes a local hippy-gangster, Mad Mickey, a little too far, he does the sensible thing and flees Belfast, taking his brother with him. Their getaway vehicle though is Mickey’s van, which they then duly torch. Settling into their new life in Warrenpoint, a small seaside town, Brian meets Rachel, a slightly psychotic lass who’s a keeper, and Paul inveigles his way into the local drug dealing scene. And whilst Brian gets a job in a lumber yard, Paul convinces the local kingpin that he can rob cars to order. All Brian wants to do is work and be with Rachel, but he can’t escape the Paul’s vortex of crime and self-destruction. And then there’s Mad Mickey, a man who loved his van.

The Point is a novella. And whilst it’s a relatively short book - I flew through in a couple of hours - it packs one heck of a punch. The writing is tight, each scene crafted and shorn of flab, and the pace is electric and never lets up. What really struck me about The Point was that it managed to work at a number of different levels - it has crime and violence, warmth and tenderness, humour and pathos - and it had gritty realism to the anarchic arc of the Morgan brothers freewheeling lives. I believed in the characters and their relationships to each other, and the dialogue was spot on. Paul, Brian and Rachel are fully formed and come alive on the page. I would love to see this adapted into a movie or two hour TV show. If you want a gritty shot of Irish noir then order up this fine fare.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shots of noir

The short stories I've read this week. I think I'm back on track to make the 365 in a year challenge.

Tina Lonergan: The Dead Never Forget (Flash Fiction Offensive)
Chuck Caruso: An Itch More Than Anything (Flash Fiction Offensive)
Patti Abbott: Sleep, Creep, Leap (Monkey Justice)
Julia Madeleine: The Plan; Schmo (Stick a Needle in My Eye)
Dave Zeltserman: The Canary (Top Suspense)
Paul Brazill: The Friend Catcher (13 Shots of Noir)
Chris Rhatigan: Glug, Glug, Glug (Watch You Drown)
Keith Rawson: Ma's Favourite Wife (The Chaos We Know)
Daniel B O'Shea: Thin Mints; Hilary's Scars, Exit Interview (Old School)

Crime Fiction and Contemporary Ireland: Tomorrow

Crime Fiction and Contemporary Ireland:
An audience with Declan Burke, Gene Kerrigan and Niamh O'Connor

Tuesday, 6th March, 5-7pm, Renehan Hall, NUI Maynooth
All welcome, free entry

It is perhaps no coincidence that at time of crisis and social and economic upheaval Irish crime fiction is flourishing both domestically and internationally. More than any other genre, crime fiction is said to document and help its readers make sense of the social, political and economic landscape of its setting. Talking about their own work and that of other Irish novelists, the three authors will discuss the role of the crime novel in reflecting and understanding contemporary Ireland.

Declan Burke is the author of Absolute Zero Cool (2011), Crime Always Pays (2009), The Big O (2007) and Eight Ball Boogie (2003) and editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the Twenty First Century (2011). He writes the influential blog, Crime Always Pays, reviews crime novels for a number of newspapers and radio programmes, and is film reviewer for The Last Word on Today FM. Absolute Zero Cool was nominated for an Irish Book Award in 2011.

Gene Kerrigan is the author of four novels, The Rage (2011), Dark Times in the City (2010), Midnight Choir (2008), and Little Criminals (2007), and seven non-fiction books including Hard Cases (1996) and This Great Little Nation (1999). He is one of Ireland's leading political commentators, working as a columnist for the Sunday Independent. He won the Irish Book Award with Dark Times in the City and has been nominated for the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award.

Niamh O'Connor is the author of two novels, Taken (2011) and If I Never See You Again (2010), and the author of the true crime books, Blood Ties (2009), Cracking Crime (2001), and The Black Widow (2000). She is a journalist and true crime editor at The Sunday World. If I Never See You Again was nominated for an Irish Book Award in 2010.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've been making slow progress with my Oxford Dictionary of Human Geography entries. This week I finally passed the halfway point for my share when I reached M, with 350 entries written. I need to have the rest done by the summer. Better keep cracking on, I guess.

On other writing news I had a piece of flash fiction accepted by Spinetingler yesterday, which I'm very happy about. To celebrate I wrote another flash piece. Only problem is, I've no idea where to submit it. It's about an 83 year old guy trying to persuade his care assistant to help him rob a bank. If you've any ideas, let me know.

On the reading front, I've recently finished four books. Expect reviews of the following shortly: Gerard Brennan, The Point; Stuart Aylis, Tollesbury Time Forever; Anthony Neil Smith, Choke on Your Lies; Elly Griffiths, The Janus Stone. Problem is, I'm still buying books slightly faster than I'm reading them. I had the TBR under control as a single book shelf. Now its a single bookshelf and whatever a Kindle shelf is. Oh well, nothing for it but to open the next book and dive in.

My posts this week
15 shots of noir
Review of Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr
The next installment is up
February reads
Review of Incompetence by Rob Grant
Many a true word said in jest

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Many a true word said in jest

‘And your belt, Sir.’

‘It doesn’t set off the alarm.’

‘If you could just put the belt into the tray, Sir.’

‘But it’s just a belt.’

‘With a metal buckle.’

‘That doesn’t set off the alarm.’

‘This is not a negotiation. And your shoes. Do you have any liquids in the bag, Sir?’

‘Yeah, two acids that when they’re mixed together create an explosive cocktail. What do you think, Poirot?’

‘Are you telling me that you have a home-made bomb in the bag?’

‘No! It was a joke.’

‘We don’t do jokes, Sir. What we do is full cavity searches.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review of Incompetence by Rob Grant (Gollancz, 2003)

Harry is an deep cover agent at large in Europe keeping an eye out for unusual happenings and security issues. The former occur in spades as Europe is now one entity, tolerant of incompetence, and where everyday farce is almost mandatory. He uses a series of identities, including Harry Salt, Harry Tequila and Harry Lime, and communicates through the personal ads of various magazines. One of his contacts, Klingferm, has summoned him to Rome. Before Harry can meet him, however, Klingferm is murdered. As Harry starts to investigate it’s clear that someone is committing a series of high profile murders designed to look like accidents. Following the trail, Harry travels to Paris and then onto Vienna, moving from one mishap to another, trailed by an Italian cop with anger management issues and hampered by a society that basks in incompetence, on the trail of a killer who seems anything but incompetent.

This is a somewhat of a curious book. A kind of futuristic, comic noir. Its strengths are some very well written, clever and genuinely funny scenes. The weaknesses the unevenness and disjointedness of the whole work and the fact that story is pretty much all surface and no depth. Essentially the book consists of a set of linked set pieces framed within a future united Europe that is overly bureaucratic and largely dysfunctional. Everything is subordinate to the gags in the set pieces, which means the characterisation consists of little more than caricature, and the plot is loosely strung together. The story probably would have worked more effectively if the plot and characterisation had come first, and the humour infused into them. I almost stopped reading the book at a couple of points because the narrative was stretched so thin and some of the scenes are below par. I persevered though and was rewarded by some excellent set pieces. Overall, a book that both frustrates and entertains in pretty much equal measure. The truly first class bits though are worth the effort.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February reads

A slow reading month. I've actually read two others, but haven't yet put up the reviews. I did a lot of reading, but it was mostly exams, coursework and research. Of the five books below, When Money Dies gets the nod, though I doubt it'll be up there in my best book of the year list come December.

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr ***.5
Or The Bull Kills You by Jason Webster ***
When Money Dies by Adam Fergusson ****
Nobody's Perfect by Donald Westlake ***.5
Head Games by Craig McDonald ***