Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spinetingler piece

There's a short piece up on Spinetingler Magazine's website about Killer Reels.  It provides a little bit of background to the book.  Many thanks to Brian Lindenmuth who offered me a slot.  Check it out ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review of Ghost Town by Michael Clifford (Hachette, 2012)

Joshua ‘The Dancer’ Molloy could have been a professional footballer.  Instead, he turned to drink and became a member of a drug’s gang.  Having just got out of prison for drug smuggling, as part of his AA programme he has returned to Ireland to confront his past and to see his young son.  Only his past mugs him, implicating him in the shooting of a gang leader, Junior Corbett.  The hit unleashes a fresh wave of tit-for-tat killings amongst Dublin’s gangs and a contract being served for Molloy's life.  The Dancer tries to go to ground, at the same time using the services of Noelle Higgins, a solicitor, to seek access to his child.  Noelle has problems of her own.  She’s married to Donal Higgins, a property developer whose empire is falling around his ears and who has fled the country leaving her to face disgruntled investors, the courts and the media.  Alan Slate, a crime reporter trying to rebuild his career and working for a small start-up magazine, has been assigned to investigate both the attempt on Corbett’s life and Noelle’s husband.  Well connected with the police, Slate excels at putting his nose where it’s not wanted.  In a twist of fate, Corbett has invested in one of Higgins’ schemes and wants his money back.  The scene is thus set for a complex game of cat and mouse, Molloy and Noelle trying to survive as various forces are ranged against them. 

Ghost Town is a very well written and entertaining debut novel.  Michael Clifford is an Irish journalist and columnist and brings all his skills as a seasoned writer to the book.  The real strengths of the novel are its plotting, the characterization, the sense of place, and the contextualization.  The story is told through a series of short, tight scenes, shorn of any flab.  This works to drive the plot along and to create a high tempo and good tension.  And although the plotline is relatively complex, told from multiple perspectives, Clifford makes sure that the reader never loses the thread of the narrative.  All of the characters are well penned with sufficient back story to give them depth and make them interesting despite there being a number of central cast members.  A real plus for me was that Ghost Town is very much a book about modern Ireland, clearly set in Dublin and Kerry, and detailing elements of the property crash and how it has affected the lives of many.  One touch I particularly liked was the symmetry between the professional footballer turned media mogul slowly disintegrating (Slate’s boss), with the failed footballer putting his life back together (Molloy).  Clifford does an excellent job of bringing the story to a climax; though a couple of aspects of the resolution were a little clunky though just about credible.  Overall, this is a very solid and enjoyable book and a very good complement to Alan Glynn’s Winterland and Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage.

Monday, May 28, 2012

This book was written by someone else, wasn't it?

I’ve almost finished Ghost Town by Michael Clifford, which has proved to be a very entertaining read.  I’ll try and post a review tomorrow.  The only thing that I’ve found a little unsettling is that it reads like another author's work.  If I’d been given the tome minus the cover I would have sworn it had been written by Gene Kerrigan.  It has the same voice, same style, the same locale, the same themes, and the same types of characters as Kerrigan’s books, especially The Rage and Dark Times in the City.  This is no bad thing, per se.  I’m a huge fan of Kerrigan’s writing and I’ll be buying the next Clifford book based on the quality of Ghost Town.  More just an observation.  Both Kerrigan and Clifford are reporters and columnists working for Irish papers, both are writing about the present woes of the country.  Perhaps the similarities are inevitable and coincidental.  I got the same feeling reading one of Robert Crais’ novels: it read like a Michael Connelly story and again had the same locale, same kinds of characters, same kind of storyline. 

How about you, do you ever feel you are reading a book that might have been written by another author?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

The last four days have been scorchers; an excuse for the Irish to show off their milky white limbs.  Unfortunately, I've been stuck inside at work or at a conference.  Now arrived home and am sitting in the garden.  Sun still shining, but a brisk breeze blowing.  Lovely.  Conference of Irish Geographers was good.  Some decent papers and nice to catch up with folk.  Always a friendly affair.

My posts this week

When I grow up I want to write like ...
Review of Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale
300 reviews up
University and IOT catchments and feeder schools
Distracted by the media
Will be caught, won't be caught

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Will be caught, won’t be caught

Cramped muscles, dry mouth and clammy hands.  A floor board creaks, two booted feet moving overhead.  Counting the steps, un-synced with the thump of a racing heartbeat.  Then silence.  A long sigh, deflating like a balloon with a slow puncture.  A voice shouts out: ‘There’s no sign of the fucker’.  It’s answered by another: ‘He’s here or he’s nearby.  He’s a wily fuck.  Tear the place apart.’  The feet return, the inner voice chiming a mantra in time to their dance: ‘will be caught, won’t be caught ...’  The feet stop directly above.  ‘Will be caught, won’t be caught ...’

Friday, May 25, 2012

Distracted by media

This has been a busy week for media work.  So far I've been interviewed by an Austrian paper, Die Presse, the Irish Times, Irish Independent, RTE, Miami Herald, and The Sun.  I've also done radio interviews on Newstalk (The Right Hook) and RTE Radio 1 (Morning Ireland).  Now into a busy week of talks.  This morning's talk was on catchments of higher education institutions (see my post on Ireland After NAMA), tomorrow morning is property and neoliberalism, Sunday is diaspora strategy, Monday is immigration, Tuesday is data visualisation, Thursday is planning for degrowth and the national spatial strategy.  Six talks in seven days, all on different things.  Nice to get the invites, but I need to get better at managing the diary!  And to top it off, I'm missing CrimeFest in Bristol.  Hope it's going well there.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

300 reviews up

Yesterday's review of Joe Lansdale's Edge of Dark Water was the 300th review I've posted on this blog in just under three years (blog started July 2009).  I'm fairly consistently reading two books a week.  To be honest, I'd be a bit lost if I wasn't.  If I've a little spare time, I'll pick up something to read - newspapers, promo leaflets, blogs, books.  I'd probably read the telephone directory if there was nothing else to hand.  That or write.  Heaven knows how much all those books have cost me as I've bought nearly all of them!  Links to all 300 reviews can be found on the review tab above.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review of Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale (Mulholland, 2012)

It’s the early 1930s and Sue Ellen lives with her alcoholic mother and abusive father in a falling down house deep in rural East Texas.  Her best friends are Jinx, a local coloured girl, Terry, suspected of being a sissy, and May Lynn, who dreams of travelling to Hollywood and making it big in the movies.  One day, when fishing the Sabine river, Sue Ellen and Jinx snag the body of May Lynn, weighed down by a typewriter.  In her personal effects they find a map pointing to the location of loot stolen from a bank by May Lynn’s dead brother.  Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry decide to find the money, dig up May Lynn and cremate her, and float down the river to the nearest town to catch a bus to Hollywood to scatter her ashes.  What they don’t count on is Sue Ellen’s mother tagging along, nor the attentions of other’s interested in getting their hands on the money who are prepared to use any means to obtain it.  Suddenly the trip down the river has become a battle for survival.

Edge of Dark Water is top draw country noir.  Lansdale writes in engaging prose, with a strong narrator’s voice that makes it feel as if it’s a transcript of porch-told yarn.  And that voice is very much that of sixteen year old girl coming of age.  Lansdale does all the basics very well - character development, sense of place and time, dialogue and plot.  The book is populated with real people, with the principles of Sue Ellen, the strong-willed, fast mouthed Jinx, and conflicted Terry, very well penned.  Lansdale’s particularly good at creating a sense of foreboding and tension, and writes great action sequences and unpleasant endings without descending into gratuitousness.  If you enjoyed Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell or Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, then Edge of Dark Water is in the same mold - Southern, rural, coming of age tales laced with noir.  The story is not always perfect, and there are a couple of weak plot devices, but this is nonetheless superior storytelling.  I loved it from the first page to the last.

Monday, May 21, 2012

When I grow up I want to write like ...

Joe R Lansdale.  I'm presently reading Edge of Dark Water, Lansdale's latest book.  It is very much in the mold of his excellent, The Bottoms.  The prose is simply mouthwatering.  The man writes as if he's telling a yarn on the back porch.  To you personally.  He writes great dialogue and drops you right into the landscape.  And he can do a sense of foreboding very well.  I've been looking at his writing and it's deceptively simple.  There's few fancy words, the sentences are short and tight and it's all show and no tell.  I should be able to write like this.  Yet somehow there's more going on.  I think what it is, is that he writes in a very verbal way.  He has a very strong, engaging voice.  I'm sure the audio version would be excellent.  If you haven't given him a go, you should.  Start with The Bottoms.  Definitely one of my top five favourite authors.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Killer Reels published

My collection of interlinked short stories, Killer Reels, is now officially published and is available for purchase, priced $1.99/£1.28.

Jimmy Kiley is a keen amateur movie maker. He’s also the ruthless criminal boss of the north side of the city. When enforcing his own brand of law, he sees no reason why he shouldn’t mix business with pleasure. His kick is to provide a private viewing of his last venture to the star of the next. And his reluctant stars are only ever one hit wonders.

Killer Reels documents Kiley’s movie making through a collection of twelve interlinked short stories.

Eostre Press
ISBN (Mobi) 978-1-909165-00-7
ISBN (EPub) 978-1-909165-01-4

Buy (Kindle, $1.99) (Kindle, £1.28)
Smashwords (Epub, Mobi, PDF, PDB, $1.99)

If you purchase the book, I hope that it provides an enjoyable read (and if it did, then please provide a review on Amazon/Goodreads, etc!). 

Many thanks to everyone who provided help and advice in getting the book to publication.  It was very much appreciated.

Lazy Sunday Service

I spent a chunk of yesterday setting up various accounts and creating/updating author pages.  Here's links to my various profiles:

My Goodreads profile
My author profile; my profile
My Smashwords profile
My Twitter profile
My Facebook profile

My academic profile at NUI Maynooth

I think that's all of them.  Check them out (warning: huge duplication)!

My posts this week
Where were Dublin residents born?
Review of Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill
Frontline TV appearance
Hitting the wall
Review of Buried Strangers by Leighton Gage
Nine tenths of the law

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nine tenths of the law

Tanner dropped like a hundred kilo bag of potatoes.

Annie wheeled round, brandishing the two by four.

His two brothers backed away, leaving me lying in sticky mud.

‘There’s no need to go crazy, Annie,’ Johnny said.

‘Crazy?  Crazy is trying to rob me of what’s rightfully mine!’

‘Ours,’ I mumbled through thick lips.

‘Rightfully yours?’ Mickie said.  ‘It fell off the back of a truck!’

‘Possession’s nine tenths of the law.  It fell into my hands, not yours.’

‘Our hands,’ I said.

‘What’s yours is mine,’ Annie said, then to the Tanners: ‘Now collect your idiot brother and vamoose.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review of Buried Strangers by Leighton Gage (Soho Crime, 2009)

In a remnant of rain forest on the outskirts of Sao Paulo a clandestine cemetery is discovered.  Despite his boss being more interested in the investigation of a political rival, Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Federal Police travels from Brasilia to investigate further.  The bodies have not been long buried and are interred in family groups. Silva enlists the help of local cop, Delegado Yoshiro Tanaka.  Tanaka soon discovers the recent disappearance of a local family.  Following their trail leads to Tanaka straight to the source of the bodies and his own death.  Silva and his team struggle to pick up the trail once again, but when they do it uncovers a dark secret and other cemeteries.

Buried Strangers is an engaging read.  Gage writes in an assured, economical style heavy on dialogue and action.  The political, social and economic relations of modern Brazil are laid bare without overly dominating the text; there’s plenty of context without it being a geography/history lesson.  The characterization is good, with Gage able to quickly sketch a portrait that appears in the reader’s mind’s eye.  The storyline for Buried Strangers is contemporary and interesting, if more than a little unsettling.  The pages just fly past.  That said, the book suffers from too many awkward plot devices.  For example, moving a pair of witnesses hundreds of miles away to where they were uncontactable, a mother living next door to her son, Silva’s cleaner’s son using an underground emigration network in a city hundreds of miles away.  There’s coincidence and then there’s plot device coincidence.  There’s 200 million people in Brazil and it’s a massive country, the chances of Silva’s cleaner’s son having anything to do with the case must be astronomical.  I don’t mind having to suspend disbelief every now and then, but I like it to be near-credible disbelief.  Moreover, the ending unfolded in a very quick, straightforward fashion, with no twists or turns, though there was some tension.  Overall, an enjoyable read, which could have been great if it hadn’t been reliant on obvious plot devices.  The next book in the series is Dying Gasp and it's on my to read list.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hitting the wall

If you're a regular on this blog, you've probably noticed the posts getting shorter and shorter in the last few weeks.  Basically I've hit the wall of over-commitment.  Running two research institutes and also doing another person's job in the university, plus a load of other project and institutional commitments, has me running around endlessly.  I'm hoping it might ease off by mid-June.  Until then, expect snippet blog posts with occassional reviews. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Frontline TV appearance

I took part in the Frontline debate on Monday evening on RTE1.  The programme was on planning and building failures and some of the pressing issues with respect to property in Ireland.  If you're interested, then the programme can be found here.  I can't find a way to embed here.  My slot is 17.45 in.  Interesting to take part.  The programme mainly focused on the problems rather than solutions.  My contribution focused on this piece I wrote a week or so ago.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review of Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill (Quercus, 2011)

Jimm Juree was a crime journalist in Chiang Mai until her mother sold up their profitable shop to developers and moved the family to the rural coastal village of Pak Nam as the new owners of the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant. Nine months later and she’s sick of running a failing resort and craving the thrill of crime journalism.  Then two crimes come along together - two bodies unearthed after many years and the vicious killing of a local abbot.  Suddenly Jimm has two cases to investigate, one of which is trying to be hushed up by Bangkok detectives.  She sets about the task with the help of her reluctant bodybuilder brother, her sister that used to be a brother, her resentful grandfather that used to be a policeman, and a local gay, camp cop looking to make his mark, at the same time trying to keep her eccentric mother, who seems to be suffering the first stages of dementia, in check.

I’m a fan of Cotterill’s Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970s.  Although the characters are all a bit eccentric, they are all believable, warm and sit together comfortably, and there is a lovely sense of place and time.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat had none of those things.  The characters are a ragbag of caricature and are largely one-dimensional.  They seemed forced and false.  Moreover, told in the first person, the voice of Jimm Juree just didn’t click for me.  The real let down of the book, however, is the plot.  Neither of the two plotlines are well resolved, though the two unearthed bodies was more plausible than the death of the abbot, which really made little sense and relied on coincidence and Juree having a sister with way more resources and skills than the police could ever dream of.  Just about the whole storyline was nonsense and didn’t stand up to a casual read, let alone scrutiny.  Cotterill is a skilled writer and he can write with great warmth and wit, this whole story, however, felt forced and flat.  I’ll persist with the Dr Siri novels and will maybe return to this if reviews of future books suggests a return to form.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've spent part of the weekend making copyedit changes to a novel manuscript.  It's taken an age, partially because I had to decipher my own handwriting!  I think the book is now in pretty good shape.  At least, I hope it is.  I also took one last read of my short story collection, Killer Reels.  I'm hoping it might go to press sometime this week.  That's the plan in any case.  It won't be tomorrow though.  A busy day at work, followed by an hour long TV debate in the evening on Frontline.  Will need to get my thoughts ordered for that - usual stuff on planning failures and what needs to change.  Making slow progress uploading my Blue House reviews onto Goodreads and Amazon - I've now 138 done.  It's going to take a while to get them all up.

My posts this week
Review of Snapshots by Paul Brazill
Drop in price for The Rule Book and The White Gallows
Potential time bombs for home buyers/sellers
Review of Lumen by Ben Pastor
$1 billion gost town to be built in US as locus for economic development
The drink talking

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The drink talking

‘You’re a dead man!  A dead man!  You fuckin’ hear me?’

‘Fuck off away with yourself.  You’re full of shite.’ 

The two bouncers kept their distance, not wanting to get involved.

‘I’m going to fuck you up big time, you lying, cheating, fucking gombeen fucker!’

‘Go home, Christy.  You’re not right in the head.’

‘I’ll give you right in the head!’  Christy pulled a knife from his jacket and lurched forward.

The older man dropped to the pavement, clutching his stomach.

Christy pointed the bloodied knife at the bouncers, then starting running, full of panic and regret, though not remorse.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review of Lumen by Ben Pastor (1999/2011, Bitter Lemon Press)

October 1939 and Captain Martin Bora of Wehrmacht Intelligence has taken up lodgings in Cracow, sharing with the boorish womaniser, Major Retz.  He’s charged with gathering information and suppressing Polish resistance.  Within a couple of days of arriving, Mother Kazimierza, the abbess of the city convent, is shot dead.  The abbess has a devoted following given her apparent ability to see future events and her death has the potential to provide a locus for insurection.  Bora is given the task of investigating her death and to prove it wasn’t the Germans who killed her.  Father Malecki, a Chicago Pollak, is already investigating the abbess’ powers for the Vatican.  With her death, he’s instructed to stay and assist the investigation into her killing.  Bora and Malecki form an uneasy alliance, pushing against the regimes of the Church and occupying state for answers.  Retz meanwhile has taken up with an old flame and other women, regularly instructing Bora to stay away from his lodgings until the early hours.  As the weeks unfold, Bora’s becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Nazi regimes actions in Poland and with his own life.  Then Retz is found dead having seemingly committing suicide, providing Bora with a fresh mystery. 

Lumen is a competently written police procedural, well contextualised within the opening few months of the Second World War.  It is effectively a coming of age tale.  Bora is from a wealthy, well-positioned Prussian family.  Whilst he has little sympathy for the Polish, prepared to harass them and kill their livestock, he has a sense of morality that stops well short of open murder.  As time moves on, he comes to see the Nazi regime for what it is and struggles to challenge the actions of his comrades, whilst being mindful of his own position and career.  He also comes to understand his own domestic situation.  In both cases, his sense of loyalty and conviction is severely eroded, but held in place by his sense of honour and pride.  The prose and plot are very measured, with the story unfolding at an even pace that downplays melodrama.  This makes the story seem slow at the start, but works effectively across the novel to expose the everyday torments that Bora, Malecki and the Polish population face.  The characterisation is understated, but nicely done, revealed through actions not description.  In general, the plot is well structured and engaging, with the three main strands (the abbess death; Retz and his domestic life; Nazi actions in Poland) nicely intersecting, but the mystery elements were a bit more ponderous.  I knew the identity of the killer from very early on, even though I was wrong about the reason, and its resolution seemed a little clunky.  The second case was all circumstantial evidence and supposition, which appeared realistic, but only to internally resolve the death, not to act on.  These were not major issues, to be honest, and Lumen is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I've set up an author profile on Goodreads.  It took a little while to sort through things and get all 23 books listed under my profile and mess about with other stuff.  I'm not really sure what to do with it now!  You can check it out here.  I've also been busy uploading reviews into the reader part of my Goodreads account.  I've managed 99 so far (which takes me back as far as June of last year).  It's going to take me a while to get all my Blue House reviews loaded in.  I know you can link to other Goodread users, join groups, fan authors and all that malarkey; I'll take a look at that in due course.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Drop in price for The Rule Book and The White Gallows

The publishers of The Rule Book and The White Gallows have lowered their Kindle price.  Now both available for £1.90 or $2.99.  The paperback version is £8.99 or $10.99

Visit or to download The Rule Book.
Visit or to download The White Gallows.

And if you do download, I hope you enjoy them.

For reviews of both, click on the tabs above.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review of Snapshots by Paul Brazill (Pulp Metal, 2012)

Paul Brazill burst on the flash fiction crime scene in late 2008 and he quickly developed a reputation for dark, inventive, clever and witty stories.  Snapshots is a collection of 21 of his short stories published on various online magazines between 2008-11.  The tales mostly focus on the everyday, gritty underbelly of society - lowlife criminals, chancers, losers, affairs, prostitution, robbery, murder, seedy pubs, drink, drugs and rock n’ roll - and whilst they are dark, there is also an undercurrent of humaneness, wit and warmth.  There is a strong element of his adopted Poland throughout, but the stories are undoubtedly British in character and feel.  Like the vast majority of collections there is a little unevenness across the pieces, with a handful of stories a little underdeveloped,  There is undoubtedly, however, some very fine pieces of writing here.  Brazill writes in colourful prose, has some lovely turns of phrase, and is handy with an effective simile (though some are used a little too often).  What I would really like to see is what he could do with a longer format - even a novella the same kind of length as Gerard Brennan’s excellent, The Point.  My money’s on it being a knockout.  Whilst we wait for that, Snapshots is a visceral, enjoyable introduction to one of the most productive and entertaining practitioners of crime flash fiction. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I keep hearing how useful it is for both readers and authors to have reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I spent an hour or so this morning uploading my book reviews from 2012 so far.  I'll try and upload 2009-2011 reviews over the coming weeks.  Given that there are three years worth, it's going to take a little while (one of the reasons I've not done so to date, plus having two more social media outlets to manage).  Anyway, the process is underway.  I might try to put a goodreads widget in blogger at some point.

My posts this week:

Shots of noir
April reviews
Shanghai on Shannon: will it happen?
Review of The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
Country noir
The need for a land banking strategy
Review of Dead Harvest by Chris F Holm
Losing Trigger

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Losing Trigger

‘Whoa, Jean, you can’t go in there.’

He’s blocking the door to the utility room, his face ashen and streaked in tears.

‘What do you mean, I can’t go in there?’

‘I mean, you don’t want to go in there.  It’s Trigger, he’s ... he’s ...’  He swallows an anguished cry, trying to keep his emotions in check.

She ducks under his outstretched arm and pushes open the door.

The big, fluffy golden retriever is asleep in his basket.


‘Trigger!’ She drops down at his side and buries her head in his thick fur.

The big dog doesn’t stir.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review of Dead Harvest by Chris F Holm (Angry Robot, 2012)

Sam Thornton is a collector of the souls of the damned.  He’s sent to Manhattan to collect the soul of Kate MacNeil, a young woman who tortured and murdered her younger brother, father and mother.  It’s an assignment that has two main problems: Manhattan is the site from which his own fallen soul was collected and it raises painful memories, and he believes that Kate is innocent.  Failing to collect her soul disrupts the natural order between the blessed and the fallen and will lead to personal retribution, collecting it will unlease a terrible war between angels and demons that will see millions of people will die as collateral damage.  Caught between a rock and hard place he snatches Kate and goes on the run hoping to buy time to reveal the truth about Kate’s supposed crimes and stop Armageddon. 

Dead Harvest is a dark urban fantasy.  The book is interesting because it manages to be thoroughly supernatural and yet keep the fantastical elements to a minimum by casting heaven and hell, angels and demons, into everyday landscapes and people.  By that I mean, the world is portrayed as we know it, with the souls of the fallen and blessed dwelling in individuals.  Thornton ‘borrows’ bodies to undertake his collections.  Holm writes in an assured style with engaging prose.  The contextual material is well thought through and conveyed and Thornton’s back story is nicely told.  The characters have enough depth for the story to work but, except for Thornton, are fairly sketchy and a little under-utilised - it would have been nice to find out a bit more about Anders and Pinch, for example.  The plot is nicely structured and tugs the read through the story.  The first two thirds I thought worked very nicely.  The latter third seemed a little rushed, transforming into a kind of caper, and the believability factor, which even in fantasy is calibrated, dropped - Thornton and Kate repeatedly manage to escape encounters in which they really should have perished and the timings felt a little off.  It seemed as if the story had slipped from indie production to Hollywood blockbuster, although it’s fair to say that in the right hands Dead Harvest would potentially make a good movie.  Overall, an enjoyable read that excels on premise and contextual construction.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Country Noir

I have a soft spot for country noir - dark rural tales.  I was delighted then to be directed to Bill Ott's 'Hardboiled Gazetteer to Country Noir' published in this month's Booklist.  It provides short reviews of 23 books that fit within the subgenre, listed in relation to the geographic location in which they're set.  I can see myself tracking down a fair few books reviewed over the next year or so.  One thing that's striking about the list is that every book is set in the US, bar one (set in Canada).  Is country noir exclusively a North American subgenre?  Can anyone recommend non-US country noir (and I do mean noir and not simply rural crime novels)?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Penguin, 2005)

Walt Longmire is the long-time sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  Having recently lost his wife, he’s looking forward to finding a worthy successor and hanging up his spurs.  As winter approaches his plans are dashed by the murder of Cody Pritchard on the edge of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  Two years earlier, Pritchard and three other boys had received a suspended sentence for the rape of a local Cheyenne girl.  Given the general dissatisfaction with the verdict, there’s no shortage of potential vigilante killers.  There’s also the thorny issue of identity politics clouding the investigation.  Longmire’s job is to solve the case, whilst at the same time keeping the three other boys alive and maintaining good relations between all members of the remote, rural community.

There is lots to like about The Cold Dish.  The characterization, sense of place and prose are all excellent.  Johnson places the reader into Absaroka County and its colourful and complex characters, its social relations, local politics, and myths and legends.  All of the principle characters are very well drawn and there’s a good, even balance of strong male and female leads.  The landscape is a character in itself, fully fleshed out and realised, and used to good effect. Johnson draws on his own long law enforcement career to detail the nuances of police procedure and cop dynamics and personalities.  For the most part the plotting is very good, with the story unfolding at a nice pace, progressively becoming more complex and layered.  Several plausible characters are all viable suspects, keeping the reader on their toes.  However, in the last fifth of the book, the story becomes a little overly melodramatic and the resolution felt contrived to create a twist for the reader and just didn’t feel ‘right’ - difficult to discuss without spoilers, but it undermined what had been until then a really excellent read.  Nevertheless, this is superior fare and well worth a read.  I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series - Death Without Company.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April reviews

I'm surprised that I've only written seven reviews in April.  It felt like I'd read many more books than that.  I do have one review outstanding, but somehow the month seems to have slipped by in a blur.  It was, however, a good month of reading.  Difficult to select one book of the month, but I'm going for A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, with Charlie Stella's Johnny Porno close on its heels.  Very different kinds of books, but both very enjoyable.
Where the Devil Can't Go by Anya Lipska ***.5
Old School by Dan O'Shea ****
Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella *****
Hill Country by R. Thomas Brown ****
Death in the City of Light by David King ***
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore *****
White Heat by M.J. McGrath *****