Saturday, June 30, 2012

A long, lonely night in the desert

The back room of the bar smelt of damp dogs and stale beer with a hint of cinnamon. 

‘You got the money?’

‘Right, here.’  Mike tapped the bag, tried not to look nervous.

There were shots out front, then shouting.

‘Fuck!’ The courier bolted for the door, bursting out into an unlit back lot, heading for a battered four-by-four.

Mike followed, but dashed for the scrub of the desert.

The jeep roared into life, but had barely moved before bullets pinged from its shell.

The darkness of the wilderness swallowed him; taunts, shots and whoops of bravado in quick pursuit.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, June 29, 2012

People in blue houses are apparently the most successful

We need to re-paint the outside of the house and we're having difficulty finding the same colour paint.  We've been scouting around online and came across this article from The Telegraph from 2009, which argues that people living in blue houses are much more successful than those living in homes painted any other colour.  Here's some of findings:

The average professional living in a blue-painted house earns an impressive £38,000-a year and drives an Audi TT to work. They take 27 days annual leave a year and treat themselves to at least two holidays abroad to exotic locations such as Barbados or the Maldives.  23 per cent of people in blue houses have already worked their way up to Director level at work.  A further 31 per cent are proud to call themselves 'manager' or a job title of similar status. And most of these professionals have at least three members of staff working beneath them.  Blue home owners will have already achieved two significant promotions to date in their high-flying career.  And if they haven't chosen the legal route, 11 per cent are likely to work in the health service or nine per cent in education.  In addition to maintaining a successful career, people living in a blue house even do well on a personal level.  The average blue homeowner is in a long-term relationship, has two children and four really close friends. 

Well, there you have it.  Scientific proof that house colour reflects the success of their occupant.  And does it relate to our blue house?  Partially.  I am a director and have more than three staff working in the institute.  However, we don't do exotic holidays and I drive a Ford Focus.

Here are the annual earnings of those occupying other house colours.  Do people really paint their houses orange or purple?

Blue £38,000
Red £23,500
White £23,400
Magnolia £23,100
Beige £20,800
Orange £20,000
Purple £19,600
Grey £19,000
Yellow £18,500
Brown £18,400
Pink £14,500
Green £13,100

How about you?  Your house colour reflect your success?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review of Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill (2009, Harper Collins)

My review of Midnight Fugue by Reg Hill is up on the Celebrating Reg Hill site

In Mid-Yorkshire, Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel is not quite himself, still easing himself back into work after being hospitalised by a terrorist bomb.  His Monday morning starts badly when, seemingly late for work, he discovers that it’s actually Sunday.  To make matters worse he’s been followed by a woman chasing a ghost – her former copper husband who disappeared seven years previously after the death of their daughter and accusations he was on the take.  She in turn is being followed by a sister and brother pairing, sent to dispose of the rogue cop before he turns against the criminal he served.  That criminal is Goldie Gidman, who started running rackets, progressed into the money markets of London’s square mile, and is now a major conservative party funder.  His son is a MP and a rising star of the party.  Both are being hounded by a tabloid journalist, the nephew of a cop who failed to corner Gidman for the murder of a local Polish businessman.  A recent picture of the rogue cop, taken in Yorkshire, has been sent to his former wife and she wants Dalziel to help find him so she can get divorced and marry one of his former colleagues, one of Dalziel’s old copper mates.  So starts a sixteen hour swirl of drama and farce.

Midnight Fugue is the twenty-second Dalziel and Pascoe book.  The series has lost none of freshness, wit and verve.  The story starts at a brisk pace and never lets up to the end.  There are three main strengths to the book.  First, the characterisation is excellent, and despite there being a large cast, each character is fully fleshed out and realised.  Dalziel is a wonderful creation, possessing a number of negative traits, yet the reader can’t help but warm to his political incorrectness and bullying manner due to his generally good disposition.  Second, the plotting, whilst quite complex and intricate, involving the intersection of several subplots, is very well done.  Hill weaves the various strands together, whilst making sure the reader never gets lost, and there are two nice climaxes to the tale.  It’s always difficult to avoid plot devices and the only let down to the telling were the use of two weak ones – both involving laptops and neither likely.  Third, the storytelling and prose has verve and style.  Hill manages to blend a serious crime story with farce, balancing seriousness with wit.  It’s a difficult trick and he manages to pull it off with aplomb.  And whilst the telling is so rich in detail and the plot reasonably complex, this is no doorstop of a book, and yet it does not seem rushed.  The overall effect is a very enjoyable police procedural written by an author at the top of his game.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Partial quoting

Monday was a busy day.  The latest house price index was released in the morning and a story broke about an apartment complex on a ghost estate being demolished.  I ended up spending part of the afternoon being filmed for the RTE evening news and then doing interviews on two of the national radio stations (Last Word on Today FM and Drivetime on RTE).  I also swapped email with a couple of journalists.  Yesterday I was quoted in one of the papers with respect to the house price data.  My first thought on reading the quote was, 'I'm not sure that's quite right'.  I was fairly sure I did say the quote, but something didn't sit well.  Here's what the paper said:

Professor of Geography in NUI Maynooth, Rob Kitchin, said there was tentative evidence the property market was bottoming out.

"We are at the bottom and we are bumping along the bottom and hopefully things will begin to rise again very slowly," he said.

He said it appeared that property prices in Dublin were stabilising, but we would need at least six months of prices either remaining flat or rising before we can be sure we have hit the bottom of the market nationally.

But prices outside of Dublin would keep falling, because there were so many vacant properties.

I had feeling the quote was taken from the Drivetime radio interview, so I went back and listened (starts 01.11.00 in, quote at 01.11.40).  Here's what I said.  I've also included the question asked and the preceding and following sentences to give the context.

Int: Should we be excited by these figures? Even just a little bit?

Me: Well, it's a very small increase, 0.2 percent, the first time [rise] in five years.  I would be relatively cautious, in the sense that we really need to have a time-series of data.  So if it levels out, or starts to slowly go up over 6 to 9 months then I think we can start to suggest that we might be or we're at the bottom and we are bumping along the bottom and hopefully things will begin to rise again very slowly. But on the way down we've had periods where its kind of slowed down and its almost looked as if its levelling off then its fallen again, and then it slowed down and fallen again. So it might be a tiny little blip, or it might be the start of something else.  And its probably different for Dublin than elsewhere.  This is now three months in a row for Dublin where house prices haven't fallen, though its fallen for apartments but not for houses, which suggests we might be seeing some levelling off for houses."

So, the paper was kind of right with the last two sentences, but the quote was a little misleading in that the 'we are at the bottom' statement is lifted out of context.  C'est la vie.  Here's the analysis I provided on the other blog I contribute to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy (Viking 1976)

Since Euro 2012 is taking place, I thought I’d read Eamon Dunphy’s footballer's diary concerning the 1973-4 season.  Dunphy is well established as one of Ireland’s top football pundits, as well as all-round journalist.  Even back when he was playing he wrote a weekly column for a local paper and appeared on radio shows as a pundit.  In 1973, he was 28 years old and an established first team player for Second Division team, Millwall, as well as an Irish international with 25 caps.  Only a Game? charts from August to the end of November of that season, when he was sold to Charlton.  The book is written as a diary, detailing the workings of the club, the camaraderie, rivalry and jealousy between players, the tensions between players and the coaching staff, the external pressures exerted on the manager and team, and the psychology of playing in matches and how they unfold. 

The real strengths of the book are the level of reflexivity and that Dunphy doesn’t pull any punches.  The narrative does more than describe a season, but tries to explain and to provide a real insight into the mind and life of a player and a club.  Moreover, Dunphy tells it exactly how he sees it and he doesn’t spare the blushes of players or coaches.  He is scathing about the professionalism of the coaching routines, the facilities, the manager’s decisions, how the game was being run by chairmen and directors, players who he felt were not being ‘true’ pros, and forensically picks apart the strengths and weaknesses of opposition teams.  He’s equally open about his own performances and shortcomings, including his emotion turmoil at being dropped and his frank exchanges with his manager.  There are some silences - he never really discusses the role of his family and friends, barely discusses journalists and the role of the media, or the fans.  Instead the book very much focuses on the players and coaching staff.  Having now read the book, it is easy to see how he sided with Roy Keane in the Saipan affair - Only a Game? details the same frustrations Dunphy had whilst at Millwall as Keane had for the Irish international set-up; and like Keane, Dunphy was obsessed with professionalism.  Overall, an interesting book that gives real insight into the beautiful game.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

It has been a really hectic week between interview panels, talks, media work and the day-to-day stuff. One thing we have to do for our six monthly reports to government on the work of the institute I run is to give details on media coverage.  We thus have to track all the stories and appearances.  Hence I know that this week I passed the 500 threshold with respect to coverage of my own work/analysis broken down as follows: 11 TV appearances, 58 radio interviews, 127 stories in international newspapers, 147 stories in national Irish papers, and 165 stories in local Irish newspapers.  Nearly all of this has been in the last two and a half years.  Strange how it slowly accummulates and ebbs and flows.  I never anticipated the coverage or doing media work, so it's been an interesting time. 

My posts this week

Review of The Lily of the Field by John Lawton
What are the real household charge numbers?
Scattered to the four winds
Cantemir Prize
Fast Car
Mortgage crisis overstated?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fast Car

She stared across at the convenience store, lit with garish neon.  The engine was gently ticking over, the radio playing Tracy Chapman.

You got a fast car. But is it fast enough so we can fly away ...

He should have returned by now, clutching a bag of cash.

There was a shot, followed by two more.

Kenny appeared in the doorway, his white t-shirt stained red.  He tried to smile, then dropped to the ground.

We gotta make a decision.  We leave tonight or live and die this way.

She sped from the parking lot, tears making her half-blind.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cantemir Prize

We got a nice email at the weekend informing us that we had won the Berendel Foundation's 2012 Cantemir Prize for our book The Map Reader.  We're due to collect the award from HRH Prince Radu of Romania at a conference in Oxford University in September.  Looking forward to the trip over to Morse country.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Scattered to the Four Winds

Here's a short yarn submitted to a story competition run in conjunction with Power's Whiskey.  Had to be less than 450 words and on the theme of 'Celebrating what truly matters'.

Last through the front door, Conor caught Jack and Siobhan sneaking hand-in-hand up the stairs.

‘Hey, where’d do you think you two are going?  Front room for a nightcap.  We’ll be scattered to the four winds from tomorrow.’  He looked at his watch.  ‘Today.’

The two lovebirds descended reluctantly and ducked into the lounge.  The other five house mates were already slouched on the two tatty sofas and two threadbare armchairs.

‘Sarah, see if you can find some candles, will you?’ Conor instructed a waif-like young woman dressed from head-to-toe in white.

‘What for?’ she answered, half-heartedly.

‘Atmosphere.  With this lighting we could be sitting in a supermarket.  I’ll get the drinks.’

He disappeared through a door into a messy kitchen.

‘Put some toast on, while you’re in there,’ Sean shouted through. 

‘You’re like an empty pit,’ Jack said, dropping two slices of thick white bread into the toaster.  He retrieved a tray from on top of the kitchen presses and on it placed an odd assortment of glasses.

Back in the lounge the lights were off, the room lit by four candles.  Somebody had put on some trance-like, electronic mood music.

Conor slid the tray onto a coffee table, nudging a pile of magazines to the floor.  He reached in behind the television and withdrew a bottle.

‘Whiskey?’ Jack said.

‘Powers.  Gold label.  I’ve been saving it.’

‘You bought it last week!’

‘As I said, I’ve been saving it.’

‘Come-on, Conor, how old are we?’ Charlie asked.  ‘Sixty?  Sitting around supping whiskey like we’re auld fellas.’

‘For god’s sake, Charlie, you don’t have to be an auld wan to enjoy a drop of the golden elixir.  And sitting round swapping stories, taking a wee drop, is part of our DNA.  What makes us, us.’

‘You’re a sentimental fool, Conor,’ Aine said.

‘Look, this is our last day together.  Jack and Siobhan are heading to Sydney tomorrow night.  Brenda’s heading over to London next week.  Charlie and Sean are off to Alberta in a month’s time.  This is last time we’ll be together in a long while.  That deserves a toast and the telling of yarns.’

‘Toast?  My flippin’ toast!’ Sean dug himself out of the armchair and headed for the kitchen.

‘Sean, forget the toast!  Get back here.’

‘Just give me a minute.  We’ve got the rest of the night, haven’t we?  Besides, it’s not good to drink on an empty stomach.’

They waited in silence until the big man returned, Conor passing out the glasses.

‘Right then,’ Conor raised his tumbler.  ‘To us, to supping whiskey and telling yarns, to the four winds and the future.’

‘To us,’ the others chorused, clinking glasses.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review of The Lily of the Field by John Lawton (Grove Press, 2011)

Vienna, 1934, and ten year old Meret Voytek, a talented young cellist, becomes a pupil of the concert pianist/cellist Viktor Rosen.  A Jew, Rosen has fled Germany after a stint in a camp, but the political climate in Austria is deteriorating and he knows that he’ll shortly have to move on.  1940 and Meret is playing in the Vienna Youth Orchestra, shorn of its Jewish players, and Rosen has been detained in London and interned on the Isle of Man, along with an assortment of other European émigrés, including Rod Troy and Karel Szabo, a Hungarian physicist.  Whilst some internees stay in Britain, others are sent overseas,  Szabo put on a boat to Canada.  A couple of months later he is recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.  1944 and Meret is in Auschwitz, trying to survive, playing in the women’s orchestra that greets new arrivals and waltzes them to the gas chambers.  Szabo is in Los Alamos, helping to build the atomic bomb and Rosen is delighting audiences at concerts.  1948 and a man is killed on a London Underground platform, shot in the back.  A man known to Rosen, who is now reunited with his protege, Meret.  Inspector Freddie Troy, brother to MP and government minister, Rod Troy, is put in charge of the case.  It doesn’t take him long to realise that there is more to the killing than it would first appear.  He’s been warned in no uncertain terms to stay away from anything involving spooks, but Freddie’s always had a problem following commands and it always drops him in hot water.

A Lily of the Field consists of two distinct parts.  The first part charts the various strands of Meret, Victor and Szabo from 1934 to 1948, putting in place the contextual back story.  The second covers Troy’s investigation into the underground station murder.  There’s a distinct contrast in styles between the two parts.  The first is light, quick, short scenes that provide insight into key moments and give good, strong pen pictures of the characters.  The writing is expressive and Lawton delivers an expansive story, covering a number of characters, places and times, in a relatively short amount of space.  The material is also historically rich, detailing key events over a 14 year period without it seeming as if things were skipped over or them dominating the narrative.  It is a really skilful and engaging piece of writing.  Really top-draw stuff.  The second half, the pace drops and the writing becomes a little more leaden, and characters from the first half all but disappear for extended passages.  At times, it is seems to become more about Troy and his family than the story.  It’s still very good, but it lacks the sparkle and dash of the first part.  Even so, the plotting is excellent and there is a satisfying resolution to the story.  Overall, a shame that the second half did not have the verve of the first, but nonetheless a well crafted and very enjoyable read that is a cut above normal fare.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I completely forgot that Patti Abbott was running her Drabble Challenge yesterday.  The idea was to write a drabble based on one of three photos.  As usual, I posted my Saturday drabble but it had nothing to do with the three pictures.  C'est la vie.  There are 21 drabbles over at Patti's blog.  Check them out.

My posts this week

Review of The Black House by Peter May
Review of The Pistol Poets by Victor Gischler
Aberystwyth haul
Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
Karma Coma

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Karma Coma

‘How are you, George?’

His skin was paper thin, tight to his bones, eyes buried deep in their sockets. 

‘You’re still in pain?’

He tried to nod his head. 

‘Do you want me to make it go away?’

He blinked, thinking that he hated rhetorical questions.  Hated this damn hospital.  Hated the cancer that had put him here. 

She produced a syringe.  ‘Morphine.  It’ll make it all disappear.’

He watched her roll up his sleeve, the needle being fed into a vein, wondering about the use of ‘all’.

‘The pain will drift away, then a moment of karma, then ...’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey (Time Warner, 1990)

A young woman is found floating naked in a lake, with no obvious signs as to how she was killed.  She seems vaguely familiar to many people but it takes a little while for her to be  identified.  Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has been assigned to the case.  Diamond believes in old fashioned policing using clues and deduction, not overly relying on forensic evidence and fitting the facts around it.  He has a spiky, dominant personality and his staff live in fear of his wrath.  He’s also awaiting the report of an investigation into his conduct related to a miscarriage of justice case, and his usual DI has been replaced by a plant from head office to keep an eye on him.  As the case unfolds, Diamond feels he is pushing a lonely furrow, his team more interested in seeking a conviction rather than the truth.

The Last Detective is a police procedural in the traditional, British form - think Colin Dexter, John Harvey or Ian Rankin.  Lovesey tries to break the form up by varying the point of view, the book divided into parts, with each told from the perspective of a different character.  It’s a useful device to add some depth to what is a fairly mundane story.  The characterisation is good, although it’s difficult to warm to Diamond until near the end of the book and at that point his personality seems to have been transformed.  There is a good sense of place, the story clearly rooted in Bath and its surrounds, and there is nice contextualisation with respect to Jane Austen’s link to the city.  The plot works fine, having a couple of twists and turns, some misdirection, and good procedural detail with respect to the case and a trial, but ultimately, the book hinges on two events that both seemed weak to me.  Difficult to discuss without giving spoilers, but the dramatic change in Diamond’s life was needed as a plot device but didn’t ring true, and the resolution is based on a confession that comes very easily and seemed very unlikely.  Overall, an okay, straight up-and-down police procedural.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aberystwyth haul

I have finally managed to buy a Reginald Hill book.  It took nine bookshops, but I got there in the end.  The book I've bought is Midnight Fugue, a Dalziel and Pascoe book.  Although I've read a Reginald Hill book before then, it's not been in this series, so I'm looking forward to it.  I also picked up Deon Meyer, 13 Hours; Colin Coterill, Love Songs from a Shallow Grave; Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers; John Lawton, A Lily in the Field; and Sarah Helm, A Life in Secrets.  A nice little haul.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review of The Pistol Poets by Victor Gischler (No Exit Press, 2004)

Wandering professor, Jay Morgan, has landed at East Oklahoma University to teach poetry on a one year contract.  Beyond the fact that his students have a distinct lack of talent, within a week of term starting he has major problem - there’s a dead co-ed in his bed, the victim of a dodgy drug overdose, and an overly keen student journalist is tailing him.  A potential benefactor to the university and aspiring poet comes to his rescue, helping him dispose of the body and cover his tracks.  He has two further problems, however.  First, the young woman’s parents have sent low life PI, Deke Stubbs, to find out what happened to her.  Second, St Louis drug lieutenant, Harold Jenks, has decided to try and go straight, well kind-of.  He’s stolen the identity of a kid who has a scholarship to EOU, skipping town with a hundred thousand dollars worth of cocaine, hoping that stolen rap lyrics and hallmark card greetings will be enough to edge him through Morgan’s poetry class.  In his wake he has left a very pissed off drug lord.  With the convergence of Jenks, Stubbs, Morgan’s slightly mad colleagues, and a St Louis gang, all hell is about to break loose.

The Pistol Poets is a screwball noir with a healthy dose of mayhem and madness.  As with all books in this sub-genre, plausibility is thin on the ground, but that’s hardly the point.  Instead, the plot skates the edges of credibility with a series of twists and turns, double-crosses, dead ends, and violent clashes, acted out with a weird and wonderful set of characters who are all slightly larger than life or are kooky in some way.  Moreover, the book is written in nice, tight, expressive prose, with a plot that is well choreographed.  I was hooked from pretty much the first page and they then flipped over at a steady pace.  It would have been quite easy for the various intersecting subplots to drift away into a bit of a mess, but Gischler has a firm hand on the tiller and keeps the whole thing together until the last page.  A very enjoyable bit of escapist noir.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review of The Black House by Peter May (Quercus, 2011)

Detective Inspector Fin Macleod grew up in a remote village on the Isle of Lewis, escaping the cloying, conservative society to Glasgow University when he was 18.  Within a year he had dropped out and joined the police.  Seventeen years later and his life is in a rut.  His marriage is on the rocks and his eight year old son has recently been killed in a hit and run incident.  On the verge of leaving the police he is sent back to Lewis to help in the murder investigation of one of his former class mates, killed in the same way as a victim in one of his open cases in Edinburgh.  Neither Macleod or the DCI in charge of the case wants him there.  As MacLeod starts to investigate he uncovers old memories and encounters ghosts from his past.  As the case unfolds, it twists in a sinister fashion, Macleod becoming ever more uncomfortable as his past catches up with him. 

The Black House is written in expressive prose that’s very easy on the eye.  The sense of place, the characterization, and the close community relations are very well done, placing the reader into the landscape and society of Lewis.  The telling alternates between the present, told in the third person, and flash backs to Macleod’s childhood, told in the present tense.  It’s a plot device that works well, providing vital contextual back story.  Unfortunately, it is also over elaborated and it would have been possible to trim much of it back in length without losing any important material.  Certainly 50 plus pages could be edited from the book without the story suffering in any great way.  The other main issue is the telegraphing of the mystery element of the plot.  By a third of the way through I’d worked out who the killer was and roughly why; I was holding out for a major plot twist, but although a twist did come it was one that confirmed my deduction rather than challenged it.  All in all, a nicely written book that provides an interesting tale with a strong sense of place and community, but is overly long and has a weak plot with respect to the murder investigation though not Macleod’s personal history.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've been trying to buy a Reginald Hill book to read for the celebration of his life that's taking place this month.  So far I've been to six bookshops and not found a single copy of any of his books, which has been a surprise.  I'm off to Aberystwyth on Tuesday, assuming I can get through the floods (right), to do my external examining gig, and will take a scout round the bookshops there.  If I've no joy there, then I'll have to resort to some online shopping.  Other than that, it's been business as usual this last week.  I did a TV interview for Danish television on Thursday.  One of the Irish banks is owned by Danske Bank and they've been burned by the Irish property market.  I've also posted on that a couple of times this week (see below).

My posts this week
According the CIF we need to add supply to our oversupply (do we really need more houses?)
May reviews
A couple of interviews
Review of Resistance by Matthew Cobb
Demographic contraction in Ireland's house buying cohort
Review of Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst
Nothing under the mattress
If this is the standard of banking analysis no wonder we're in trouble

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Nothing under the mattress

The chair toppled backwards, the old man’s head bouncing off the ground with a sickening thump.

A gloved hand grabbed his brother’s throat.

‘Where’s the money?’

‘What money?’  His voice was weak, his body shaking uncontrollably. 

‘Your savings!  Your stash of cash.’ The robber’s face was hot beneath the balaclava.  ‘Tell me where
the money is or I swear to god I’ll kill you both!’

‘The bank.  I told you before, our money’s in the bank.’

A second man, holding a knife, entered the room.  ‘Nothing.’

‘He’s lying.’ A vicious punch snapped the man’s head back.  ‘Where’s the fucking cash!’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Review of Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst (Victor Gollancz, 2000)

March 1938 and former Hungarian cavalry officer, Nicholas Morath, travels Europe from his Paris base performing duties for his uncle, the diplomat, Count Polanyi.  Polanyi trades information, favours and conspiracy with the intelligence agencies and rogue agents of various countries as he tries to steer Hungary away from the clutches of the fascist Arrow Cross party and Nazi influence.  Morath drifts through the shadows, carrying information, aiding people cross borders, funding political activity, encouraging and cajoling reluctant patriots, and trading intelligence, traipsing between Paris, Antwerp, Vienna, Budapest, Romania, Ruthenia, Slovakia and Sudeten mountains for clandestine meetings.  It is clear the war is coming and the pressure is starting to build as Morath tries to ease political tensions, persuade his mother and sister to leave Hungary, maintain his relationship with Argentinian mistress, Cara, and keep his advertising business ticking over.

Furst’s novels are multi-layered, atmospheric affairs, full of crafted prose and understated plotlines.  Kingdom of Shadows is no different.  An awful lot happens in what is a normal length novel, as Morath criss-crosses Europe sliding in and out of various scrapes, and yet the pace seems leisurely and evocative.  Furst is very good at setting a scene, placing the reader into a landscape, and in providing in an economical fashion the contextual politics both locally and at a European scale.  In this sense, the reader comes to understand the fully geopolitical complexity of what was going on, without it swamping the narrative.  That takes some skill and yet Furst makes it look effortless.  As with his other novels, various strands are left somewhat ambiguous, a snapshot of one set of social relations at a particular place and time.  My only critique is sometimes the storytelling is a little too understated, especially when something truly dramatic is taking place (being shot at and chased has the same tone and feel as meeting a girlfriend), and there is a little too much ambiguity at times.  But when all said and done, Furst has a distinctive voice and its always a pleasure to read one of his books.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review of Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis by Matthew Cobb (Pocket Books, 2009)

In Resistance, Matthew Cobb provides a broad social and political history of the French resistance movement in France during the Second World War, drawing on extensive archival and interview research.  What his analysis demonstrates is that the Resistance was, in fact, many resistances, made up of hundreds of groups and cells working in broad alliances, cross-cut with deep political schisms, clashes of personalities, differences in opinion, tactics and strategies, and answering to different masters.  A real strength of the book is that Cobb manages to, on the one hand, contextualise resistance within wider European and global politics and the war, and within what was happening in France with respect to the Vichy regime and the apparatus of Nazi oppression, and on the other, to provide in-depth discussion of particular individuals and groups, and their motivations, aspirations, actions and fate.  As such, he provides by both breadth and depth, dispassionate contextualisation and poignant intimacy.  It’s a powerful combination that leads to a huge amount of information being crammed into a relatively short book without it ever feeling rushed or truncated.  In addition, rather than simply describing events as with many historical texts, Cobb provides an explanatory framework, seeking to interpret why certain decisions were undertaken, and he does so from a relatively neutral position, detailing how others have interpreted the same events and why his view concurs or differs.  In my view, it’s an excellent piece of work, covering a huge amount of ground in a lively, engaging and informative voice.  If you want a rounded, synoptic introduction to the various Resistance movements in France, this is a great place to start.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A couple of interviews

I've two book reviews to put up in the next couple of days.  I'm still working on drafting them, so in the meantime here are links to two interviews that were published in the last couple of days concerning Killer Reels.

An origins piece on Crime Always Pays
A short, sharp interview on You Would Say That, Wouldn't You

Monday, June 4, 2012

May reviews

A fairly varied month of reading, in terms of the styles, places and how I rated the books.  My book of the month is Joe Lansdale's Edge of Dark Water, a porch-told, coming of age yarn set in East Texas in the 1930s.  Edge of your seat stuff.

Ghost Town by Michael Clifford ****.5
The Shark Infested Custard by Charles Willeford ***
Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale *****
Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill **
Buried Strangers by Leighton Gage ***
Lumen by Ben Pastor ***.5
Snapshots by Paul Brazill ****
The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson ****.5
Dead Harvest by Chris F Holm ****

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I was asked this week whether I could write a character drive story about a monster with whom the reader can sympathise.  The two main ways to do this, I think, is to make the story about redemption or vengeance.  Weighing up which way to go, or maybe there's a third way ...?

My posts this week:
Census 2011: Age profiles
This book was written by someone else, wasn't it
1991-2011: One and a half housing units built for each new household
Review of Ghost Town by Michael Clifford
Spinetingler piece
Review of The Shark Infested Custard by Charles Willeford

Can you smell smoke?
According to the CIF we need to add supply to our oversupply (do we really need more houses?)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Can you smell smoke?


‘Can you smell that?’


‘Smoke.’  Sniff.

‘Probably next door burning rubbish again.’

‘Oh, god!  I’ve got washing out.’  She dashes from the room.  ‘Pete!’


‘Pete!  The kids!’

He bolts for the door, black smoke twisting along the ceiling.

Flames are dancing in the kitchen, stretching out into the hall and up the stairs.

He hurtles past her, disappearing into the charcoal fog.

‘Pete!  Sarah!  Liam!’

The banister catches fire.



Pete re-emerges, coughing, carrying a small boy.  ‘Get out!’

He turns back to the stairs. 


He takes a deep breath, then dashes into the flames.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review of The Shark Infested Custard by Charles Willeford

Four guys in their late twenties/early thirties live in a singles apartment block in Miami.  Larry ‘Fuzz-O’ Dolman is an ex-cop who now works for a private security company.  Eddie Miller is an airline pilot who’s studying for a real estate license.  Don Luchessi is a salesman, separated from his wife, but pining for the company of his ten year old daughter.  Hank Norton is a smooth talking drug company rep who claims to be able to pick up a woman in any locale.  They spend their free time hanging by the pool, playing cards, going to the movies and trying to chat up women.  When Hank bets the others that he can pick up a woman from what they agree is an impossible scoring location - a drive-in movie theatre - he sets in train a whole series of events, starting with trying to dispose of two bodies.  All four guys love Miami, but can they take the heat?

The Shark Infested Custard is told in four parts, each part told in the first person from the perspective of one of the four lead characters.  Willeford manages to produce four different voices and to provide a nice depth of characterization.  The dialogue is spot-on, and the scenes are well penned, some of them very well so.  There are some very nice observational touches throughout, especially Hank’s amateur psychology readings of other people, although this is tempered by some fairly explicit sexism and some political incorrectness around race.  For me, it was the plot that was the weakest element of the book.  Each part is an extended short story, with each intersecting with the others.  In some places, the story didn’t really seem to be moving anywhere other than building the character.  There just seemed to be little forward momentum and if I’d lost the book, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to buy another to find out how the book ended.  And collectively the four parts didn’t seem to be adding up to more than the sum of the parts.  That is, until the last few pages.  Often novels seem to tail off at the end, whereas this one finished with a flurry that had the effect of lifting the whole book.  Indeed, it is interesting that a day or so after finishing it, my opinion of its merits is much higher than when I was actually reading it.  Overall, an uneven story that has some flashes of brilliance.