Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review of Blood Tears by Michael J Malone (Five Leaves Press, 2012)

DI Ray McBain is a loner with a troubled past, having moved from one institution to another - children’s home to seminary to police force.  When an elderly man is found brutally murdered in a Glasgow flat, marked with the wounds of the Stigmata, McBain’s past comes hurtling forward to the present.  Heading up the investigation, McBain suppresses information that will get him removed from the case and leans on a young female cop to keep quiet.  It’s a move that comes back to haunt him, along with violent nightmares and repressed memories.  As he desperately searches for the killer his carefully constructed world starts to unravel, leaving him looking like the prime suspect. 

Blood Tears is a remarkably assured debut novel.  It manages to be both a detailed character study of a police officer with a dark, troubled history, and a well-plotted, psychological police procedural that maintains an edgy tension from start to end.  DI Ray McBain is a complex character, who craves acceptance whilst also being contrary and distant.  Malone provides a well-rounded view of his strengthens and foibles, placed in a rich back story, and surrounded by a strong secondary cast.  The writing is expressive and taut, and the plot unfolds at a relentless pace, rising to a nice climax.  Malone uses misdirection quite effectively, making one wonder where the story is heading and for the most part avoids obvious plot devices.  He also avoids explicit violence and gore, except for a couple of places where it is vital to the plot, and does so in a non-gratuitous way.  Overall, an entertaining read that marks the start of what promises to be a strong series.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review of Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis (Sort of Books, 2008)

Wei Wei, the daughter of a high ranking Chinese police officer, has travelled to Britain to take a degree course at Leeds University.  Bored with her studies and wanting something more glamorous and exciting she’s hooked up with Black Fort, the leader of a local criminal gang. Ding Ming arrives in Britain (the so-called 'Gold Mountain') with his young wife, Little Ye, in a container after a long and arduous journey across Asia and Europe courtesy of the Snakeheads.  For the privilege they now owe them several years service working hard labour for minimal wage.  They’re met by Black Fort and his British colluder, Fat Kevin, and are immediately separated.  When Inspector Jian receives a distressed call from his daughter and no answer to his subsequent calls he boards a plane for Britain.  He can speak no English, his money does not seem to purchase very much, and he has lost the authority he wields in China.  A fish out of water, he blunders his way along, co-opting Chinese people to help translate.  He is soon on Wei Wei’s and Black Fort’s trail, kidnapping the naive peasant Ding Ming, who has a smattering of pigeon-English, along the way.  All Ding Ming wants is to keep his new masters happy and to be reunited his wife.  But Jian has other ideas setting them on a collision course with the ruthless criminal gang.

The premise for Bad Traffic is a good one: both privileged and peasant Chinese struggling to find their place in a new country with limited English and understanding of the culture.  It enables Lewis to both explore the differing Chinese experiences of Britain and to give an impression of Britain through the eyes of others, and to also give some insight into modern China.  It’s an opportunity he doesn’t waste, providing an engaging and unsettling tale of the illegal immigrant experience and the gang’s who run the trafficking routes.  To do so, Lewis regularly switches the perspective of the narrative between the principle characters, all of whom are well portrayed.  His prose is all show and no tell, driven along by dialogue and action, with the story told through a series of short, punchy chapters.  The plot is generally well constructed, but sometimes strays a little too close to farce and plot devices designed to keep the caper nature of the story moving along.  They work to alleviate what is essentially a dark tale, but also nibble away at the credibility of some elements of the tale.  Nevertheless this is a well written, unsettling and entertaining read that manages to find a fresh angle on the contemporary British crime novel.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I started Blood Tears by Michael J. Malone yesterday evening.  Sunday morning and I'm only a few pages from the end.  As gritty, psychological police procedurals go, its very good.  I was hooked from pretty much the get-go and haven't been able to put it down since.  Set in Glasgow and Ayr, it's published by the small Nottingham based, Five Leaves Publications, who've also published work by Stephen Booth, Ray Banks, Allan Gutherie, Russel McLean and Charlie Williams.  Usually £8.99, it's presently free on Kindle (or at least it is the day this blog post was written).  Thoroughly recommend checking it out.

My posts this week:

777: Seven sentences from page seven
Placing neoliberalism: the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger
Review of The Barbed-Wire University by Midge Gillies
What to make of the property prices data?
First draft completed (thankfully)
Review of The Rocksburg Railroad Murders by K.C. Constantine
1000 up!
Real life calling

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Real life calling

His eyes drifted slowly back into focus.

‘Hello?  Welcome back!’


‘From whatever story you’re writing in your head.’

‘What story?’

‘The fantasy you we’re just dreaming up.’

‘I wasn’t dreaming anything.’

‘You’re always cooking up something.  I was saying that we need to get milk.  And bread.’

He nods his head, his eyes starting to re-glaze over.

‘Rob!  This is real life.  It only happens once; you don’t get to re-live it.  You can replay or re-join whatever nonsense is going on in your head anytime.’


‘What’s for dinner? You’re making it.’


‘Hello?  Real life calling Rob.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 27, 2012

1000 up!

Close on the heels of the blog's third birthday another landmark has been reached.  The last post was the 1000th published on The View from the Blue House.  Of those posts, 317 are book reviews, 26 short stories and 50 drabbles.  You can explore those using the tabs above.  The rest are mostly observations and links.  Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to take a read and comment.  Much appreciated.  Hopefully you've gleamed something useful from the site. 

Review of The Rocksburg Railroad Murders by K. C. Constantine (Coronet Crime, 1972)

John Andrasko is found on a station platform late at night in Rocksburg, a small town in Pennsylvania.  He’d been heading to his work shift in a local steel plant when someone decided to beat him so badly he could only be identified by his wallet.  Mario Balzic, the local Chief of Police, has known Andrasko all his life.  He starts to investigate the death and is soon convinced he knows who the murderer is, but persuading the local district attorney and state troopers in the absence of any concrete evidence and the context of local rivalries is another matter.  Which is a cause of major anxiety as Balzic is certain that if he’s not apprehended he’ll kill again.

The Rocksburg Railroad Murders is the first of fifteen books in the Mario Balzic series.  The strengths of the book are the characterisation, dialogue and social scenes, the sense of place, and the all show and no tell style.  Constantine very good at creating clearly defined characters who are alive on the page and the social interactions between them are first rate, the dialogue spot on.  Indeed, the dialogue is what makes the book sparkle, with lively exchanges through authentic voices.  Constantine makes sure to thoroughly intertwine the social and work, providing a rounded view of Balzic’s world as a family man and local cop in a small community where he knows just about everyone.  And the story is full of insight into local law and order politics, the intricacies of the relationships between local, state and federal cops and the legal system, and has some interesting political swipes at U.S. law enforcement (at one point Balzic makes a well argued case against police officers being armed, for example).  Sometimes the plot perhaps focuses a little too much on Balzic and not on the mystery.  In fact, there’s not much mystery to the story and the plot relies on a couple of awkward plot devices, especially toward the end in order to create a dramatic conclusion.  But somehow that doesn’t really matter.  The star of the show is Balzic and it was a pleasure to spend time in his company.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

First draft complete (thankfully)

Yesterday evening I finally completed first drafts of my 685 entries for the forthcoming Oxford Dictionary of Human Geography.  Each entry was either c.75-100 words, c.300 words or c.750 words.  Up until now, July has consisted of little else other than researching and writing definitions and explanation.  I'm now onto editing entries in response to feedback/edits from my two co-authors, and also editing/commenting on their entries.  The end is at last in sight.  Thankfully.  Taking a break from it next week when I hope to catch up on reading some fiction and sorting out the garden.  Time for a sup of beer ...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War by Midge Gillies (Aurum Press, 2011)

The Barbed-Wire University provides an overview of the lives of British prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East.  It’s strength is the insights it provides into the everyday lives and experiences of the prisoners, showing how they coped with being in captivity.  The book deliberately avoids the dramatic tales of escapers and instead concentrates on the mundane and banal - gardening, entertainment, sport, learning - as well as work details, camp conditions and contact with home.  At one level it is fascinating, using individual accounts to provide a rich description.  At another, it has a number of shortcomings that prevents the text from rising above an empiricist account. 

The principle problem of the book is that it describes the men’s lives largely outside any in-depth contextualisation of how camps were structured and organised both by the prisoners and guards or the inter-relationships between these groups.  Indeed, the guards and the structural organisation of camps are curiously absent in the text except for brief mentions.  There is very little about the social relations between men, the social structure, how regimes of regulation and punishment operated, the power dynamics operating, or even how the camps and work were temporally and spatially organized.  There is very little detail on how the allies organised their connections to prisoners beyond a short discussion of Red Cross parcels and it would have been good to get a better sense of how that was all organised and operated.  Instead, we get descriptions of football games or organising concerts or taking education courses which are interesting, but lack a real depth of analysis that frames and explains what was going on a deep social and psychological level. 

Second, given that the book covers a wide range of experiences and not just education, I took the main title to be synonymous with the idea of a ‘university of life’.  However, the subtitle is a little misleading.  The book almost exclusively relates to the lives of British prisoners of war, with the occasional mention of Dutch or Australian.  There is either no, or very little, discussion of Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians, Poles, French, Russian, etc.  How nationalities and ranks were treated and their experiences in captivity were very different.  Indeed, the book could have been strengthened by much more systematically comparing and contrasting the experiences of Allied prisoners, and with how Allied prisoners were treated vis-a-vis Axis prisoners.

Third, I found the structure of the book a little odd.  It’s divided into six parts.  Parts 1 and 3 concern Europe, parts 2 and 4 deal the Far East, and parts 5 and 6 relate to the closing of the war and repatriation, and after the war.  In the latter two cases, Europe and the Far East are dealt with together, comparing and contrasting the experiences.  That probably would have been a more effective way of dealing with the first four parts as well.  As it is, themes are repeated across all four parts and it’s left to the reader to do the work of comparison.  Moreover, it’s not really clear why there are two parts per continent as there’s no real differentiation in time or the logic of themes between them.  It all seems a little haphazard.  Rather than organise the book almost exclusively around activities, it would have been profitable to also have mixed in structures, organisation and social relations. 

Overall, an interesting account full of description and anecdote, but lacking any real depth of analysis as to how the camps operated as social systems that shaped the life that took place in them.

Monday, July 23, 2012

777: Seven sentences from page seven.

I was tagged at the weekend by Margot Kinberg to take part in the 777 challenge.  Writers are invited to share seven sentences from page seven, or page seventy-seven of their work in progress and then to pass the challenge on to seven other writers.

Here's the first part, seven sentences from page seven of Dark Light, which I confess I haven't worked on for months due to other commitments (like completing the dictionary).

It had soon become clear that experience had to be accompanied by an ability to write; that it wasn’t as simple as sitting at a keyboard and tapping out a couple of thousand words a day.  There were the issues of sentence construction, punctuation, grammar, prose, character development, plot, structure, and narrative flow.  

Delaney had anecdotes.  He had fragments of stories.  He had a jumble of stereotypical characters who spoke with flat, lifeless dialogue.  Locked in his head he had thirty years of experience of every crime on the statute books and the full circus of society.  What he didn’t have was a talent for the written word.

As for the second part, here are seven writers (no obligation folks).  Check out their websites and work: 

Gerard Brennan 
Susan Condon
Paul O'Brien
Ruby Barnes
Louise Phillips
RJ McDonnell
Sean Patrick Reardon

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Service: I Hear Sirens on the Street by Adrian McKinty

In the past week I've won two fiction related competitions, neither for my writing!  First off, my suggested title of 'Both Barrels' was voted as the choice for for Shotgun Honey's first anthology.  Second, I guessed the page length for the edited proofs of Adrian McKinty's new book, I Hear Sirens on the Street, the second book in the DS Sean Duffy trilogy set in Belfast in the early 1980s.  Like many reviewers I gave the first book, The Cold, Cold Ground, a five star review, as I did Fifty Grand and Dead I Well May Be, so it's going to be a real pleasure to receive the final draft version of I Hear Sirens (right) complete with doodles, editing notes, queries, etc. and to take an early read.

My posts this week
Third birthday
The lonely men
Both Barrels
Review of Shaman Pass by Stan Jones
The Clearing

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The clearing

The undergrowth thins and I stumble into a clearing.  I’m soaked to the skin, wet jeans cold and clammy.  My naked arms, taped together behind my back, itch from their encounters with briars and nettles.  A voice shouts somewhere behind me, answered by another.  I stumble forwards, tripping on a root, landing heavily on my side at the edge of a dark pool.  Half of me wants to just lie here and wait.  The other half knows it would be a fatal mistake.  I struggle to my knees, then up onto my feet and set off back into the woods.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review of Shaman Pass by Stan Jones (Soho Press, 2003)

‘Uncle Frosty’, a Inupiat mummy originally found in a cave in Shaman Pass, has been returned to Chukchi, Alaska, by the Smithsonian Institution.  Not everyone is happy that he will be displayed in the local museum rather than being left on the tundra in the traditional way after death.  Within a few hours he has been stolen along with an ancient ivory harpoon and amulet.  A day later Victor Solomon is found out on the ice sheet next to a fishing hole speared with the harpoon.  State Trooper Nathan Active, an Inupiat born locally but raised by white adoptive parents in Anchorage has the task of investigating the death.  The evidence seems to point a local indigenous rights activist, but it is clear that there is more to the case than meets the eye, the key to which is the identity of ‘Uncle Frosty’.

Shaman Pass is a fairly straightforward police procedural, but one given a nice twist through its setting and Nathan Active’s position as an outside insider.  Jones does a very good job of capturing the social relations and tensions of an Inupiat community interfacing with white culture and laws and of placing the reader in the landscape and creating a sense of place.  Active is a solid lead character and provides a nice pair of eyes through which to view the local community and its ways.  The writing is nicely paced and expressive and the plot for the most part works well.  The final third of the story, however, falls a little flat.  The mystery element is gone, replaced with more of a thriller-style conclusion and some sub-plots, such as Active’s relationship with his grandfather, are forgotten.  Overall, Shaman Pass was an enjoyable and engaging read and I’m looking forward to catching up with Trooper Active in the third book in the series, Frozen Sun.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Both Barrels

My suggested title - Both Barrels - has won the competition to be the title for Shotgun Honey's forthcoming anthology.  There is still two weeks in which to submit a short story (1-5,000 words) for possible inclusion, if you're interested.  Details can be found here.  I need to get my act together and draft something.  I could probably do with both barrels being placed at the back of my head to nudge things along.  I'm still working away at entries for the dictionary I'm writing.  Only ten more to go.  They're all meant to be c.750 words, but I should met the end of the month deadline for first drafts.  Hopefully I can squeeze a short story in as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The lonely men

There are two themes running through the books that Amazon is presently recommending to me.  Here are eight of the top ten books that the site recently suggested I might like to read.  I clearly have a taste for fiction involving lonely, siloletted men!  For some reason, I also want to read spy thrillers, with a dash of crime.  I'm not going to deny they are right, I'd quite happily read all the books below.  What is it about the siloletted man, though?  He seems to be appearing everywhere these days.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Third birthday

The View from the Blue House was three years old as of last Thursday.  Somehow it feels longer!  In that time I've posted 987 posts, including 314 book reviews, 26 short stories and 49 drabbles.  The site gets a steady trickle of traffic and hopefully those that pass by get something useful from it.  Many thanks to everyone who has visited and commented.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

It's relatively rare that I'll read two books at the same time, even rarer that I would manage to misplace both of them.  Yet that's precisely what I've done with Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis and The Barbed Wire University by Midge Gillies.  I know where I've left them, so it's just a matter of collecting them on Tuesday and picking up where I left off.  In the meantime, I've made a start on Shaman's Pass by Stan Jones, catching up with Trooper Nathan Active in a very chilly Alaska (much like Irish summers, well almost).

On other news, I'm into the home stretch of completing my share of the Oxford Dictionary of Human Geography.  I'm down to the final twenty entries of my 685 allocation.  Unfortunately, the remainder are all longer, 750 word pieces.  Still, two more weeks and I should have a complete set of first drafts.  Then onto editing my own and my co-author's entries.  The end is almost in sight.  Thankfully.

My posts this week:
Review of Silesian Station by David Downing
Can vacant housing solve the social housing waiting list?
Review of Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason
Review of The Envoy by Edward Wilson
Desperately seeking ...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Desperately seeking ...

She read the ad out loud.  ‘Late forties, divorced, overweight, fashion illiterate, employed, solvent, honest man seeks relationship.’

‘Jesus, Dad, is that the best you can do?’

‘What’s wrong with it?’

‘The idea is to attract a date!  How about: handsome, young-at-heart, GSOH, caring, generous man seeks fun with soul mate?’

‘It would fail the Trade Descriptions Act.’

‘Who’s going to sue, the date who shows up looking like a cubist painting?’

‘Assuming she turns up.’

‘There’re people out there as desperate as you, Dad.’


‘Probably just as fat, as well.’

‘Don’t push your luck.’

‘Like you, you mean?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of The Envoy by Edward Wilson (Arcadia, 2008)

In 1950s Britain Kit Fournier is a career diplomat and spy, notionally the Counselor for Political Affairs at the US embassy on Grosvenor Square, but also the CIA Head of Station.  His family have a foreign service pedigree and Fournier is well travelled, schooled and networked.  The Cold War is well underway, both the US and Russia have the hydrogen bomb, and Britain is struggling to remain a world power and hold on to its empire.  Fournier’s primary job is to spy on and undermine his supposed ally, bringing them evermore under US influence and control.  To that end he seeks to disrupt British-Soviet relations and to keep an eye on Britain’s attempts to become an atomic power, running covert operations and a network of agents.  Through his cousin, the beautiful and alluring Jennie, married to a British nuclear scientist, he hears about developments at Orford Ness, an island off the Suffolk coast.  Determined to find out what is happening and to disrupt its progress he plays a dangerous game with MI5/6, the KGB, and his own spymasters, being drawn into a position that’ll take all his guile and skill to handle.

The Envoy is a superior spy story that blends real world events and people with a fictional tale.  It is complex, multi-layered, atmospheric, full of historical and political insight, and reveals deep insight into human relations.  Wilson constructs a compelling and plausible plot that cleverly uses real events, such as the Ordzhonikidze incident in Portsmouth harbour, Britain’s hydrogen bomb program, and the Suez crisis, and real personalities such as Allen Dulles, Jack Kennedy and Dick White.  He recreates the social landscape of Britain and the wider political atmosphere and diplomatic games being played in the 1950s, providing a deep sense of historical realism (indeed, the bibliography at the end of the book shows that Wilson did a fair bit of research in plotting the book).  In particular, Wilson captures the spy’s world of deception, lies, betrayals, coercion, blackmail, state-sanctioned murder, paranoia, danger and constant worry, and that half the battle is the games within and between one’s own organisations.  His characterization is excellent, especially his portrayal of Kit Fournier as a self-reflexive spy racked with self-loathing, yet compelled out of duty and honour to play his role, and he does a good job at exploring the human condition and what drives and shapes people in particular circumstances.  Overall, a very well told story, with a couple of nice twists and turns, and an excellent resolution that proves that nothing is as it seems, even to those that think they can see the hand that each party is holding. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review of Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason (Harvill Secker, 2012)

Sigurdur Oli has found himself at a crossroads.  His long-term relationship has recently come to an end and his life has not turned out as he hoped.  He’s even questioning whether he wants to continue being a police officer.  When a friend who is being blackmailed asks for unofficial help, he agrees to try and resolve the issue.  He arrives at the blackmailer’s house to find her badly injured and her attacker fleeing.  He calls for backup and an ambulance, but is unwilling to tell his colleagues what he was doing there in the first place.  He should withdraw from the investigation, but instead he sets off trying to solve the case by himself.  Slowly he starts to piece things together, whilst also trying to come to terms with his own social situation and his father’s illness, and dealing with a tramp who keeps trying to tell him something important but never quite imparts his tale.

Having read all seven, translated police procedural novels by Arnaldur Indridason featuring Erlandur and his team, I was looking forward to reading Black Skies.  It was, however, a book I struggled to get into and I might have put it to one side to pick up again later except for the fact that it was the only reading material I had on a flight.  The first hundred pages or so seemed ponderous and lifeless, the writing, especially the dialogue, flat.  Sigurdur Oli is out of sorts and so is the tale.  Indridason’s writing is always a little ponderous, building up in layers, gently engulfing the reader in an atmospheric fog, but it didn’t quite work in the first half of Black Skies.  However, by the second half of the book the story took on more shape, purpose and pace, with the various strands being woven together to create a nice tapestry.   It was almost if Indridason started off without really knowing Sigurdur or the plot and developed each as the story unfolded, slowly putting a form on each.  The tale itself, with its three interconnected storylines - the murder investigation, Sigurdur’s private life, and Andreas’ disassembly - eventually work themselves out nicely.  Moreover, given that the story is set just prior to the Icelandic financial meltdown it provides a nice insight into the national psyche concerning its new found wealth and its trappings.  Overall, a book that takes a while to get going, but rounds out into a satisfactory police procedural.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review of Silesian Station by David Downing (Old Street Publishing, 2008)

July 1939 and British-born John Russell returns from a trip to the United States with his son to re-enter ‘The Cage’ of Nazi Germany.  As a foreign correspondent, Russell is aware that war is coming and the trip has provided him with an American passport that will enable him to stay living near to his son and close to his lover, the movie actress Effi Koenen, and a new job working for the San Francisco Tribune.  The passport came for the price of spying on behalf of the United States, the job on condition that he exposes the plight of Jews in German controlled Europe.  He arrives back in Berlin to find Effi in a basement cell of the Gestapo headquarters.  The price for her release is Russell working for the Nazis, offering his services to the Russians, to whom he’ll pass on disinformation.  Russell has communist leanings and on contacting the Russians offers to be a double agent.  As tension rises along the Polish border, Russell plays a dangerous game of trying to keep his three controllers, plus his employer, content without revealing his duplicity, travelling to Prague, Breslau, Warsaw, Bratislava, and Moscow, notionally to cover unfolding events.  To make life even more difficult, he has agreed to help a friend track down the Jewish niece of one of his employees that disappeared on arrival in Berlin, and Effi wants to find ways to resist and undermine the Nazi regime. 

There’s a lot to like about Silesian Station and it’s a step up from the first book in the series, Zoo Station.  The characterization is richer and more keenly observed, and the plotting is excellent, interweaving a number of strands that collectively keep the dramatic tension high throughout the story.  The historical context is well realised, both in relation to the larger macro-politics across the continent in the lead up to the start of hostilities, but also the everyday realities with respect to the diverse circumstances and views of people within communities, and how politics and communal relations played out in different locales (Berlin, the Polish border, Moscow, Prague and so on).  Whilst the prose is quite workman-like, Downing nevertheless captures the sights and sounds, the cinema and cafes, the streets and apartment living, the fashions and pastimes, and the hopes and fears of people in difficult situations.  The result is a rich, rewarding and entertaining read that steadily builds in tension and is satisfyingly resolved. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

It's quite a long time since I read a book in a single day.  Yesterday I worked my way through Edward Wilson's superb, The Envoy, a Cold War spy story set in 1950s Britain that skillfully blends real world events and people with a fictional tale.  It's complex, multi-layered, atmospheric, full of historical and political insight, and reveals deep insight into human relations.  Full review in due course.  I also hope to post reviews of David Downey's excellent, Silesian Station, and Arnaldur Indridason's, Black Skies, this week.

My posts this week
June reviews
Review of The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming
A limited haul from Edinburgh
'Resolved' is a relative term if you live on an unfinished estate
It is was it is

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It is what it is

‘Well?’  She asked, rising to her feet.

‘The usual.’  He draped his coat over the back of a kitchen chair.  ‘Cut back on the sugar and salt.  Get some exercise, lose some weight.’

‘And what about ...?’

‘He’s sending me for some tests.  A specialist he recommends.’


‘Wednesday afternoon.’

‘Wednesday.  So it’s ... you know?’

‘That’s what the tests are for.  Probably.  Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’

‘That’s what my father said and ...’

‘Look, health care’s improved since then; they can treat almost anything these days.’

‘But ...’

‘But nothing.  It is what it is.  Life goes on.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, July 6, 2012

A limited haul from Edinburgh

I was going to post a review of David Downey's Silesian Station today.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet got round to writing it yet; a task for the weekend.  I was busy in Edinburgh and I'm now at another conference.  I also didn't manage to get myself to a bookshop in the city, but I did manage to pick up The Barbed Wire University: The Real Lives of POWs in the Second World War in the airport.  It's author is Midge Gillies, married to crime author Jim Kelly.  Looking forward to reading this one in due course.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review of The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming (2011, Harper)

Dr Sam Gaddis is a senior lecturer in Russian history at UCL, an expert on Sergei Platov, ex-KGB member turned politician, who has become the most powerful person in post-Soviet Russia.  Recently divorced with child maintenance bills, and being chased by the tax man for payments Gaddis can’t meet, he desperately needs an advance for a book that could be a bestseller.  With good timing, a young woman turns up at the launch of his latest book and offers him her mother’s collection of material about Platov and the KBG; she was working on an book, but has recently died and the daughter would like the project finished.  In addition, his friend, journalist Charlotte Berg, might also have a lead for such a book - she’s been contacted by Thomas Neane, who claims to be friends with the long rumoured but unnamed sixth Cambridge Russian spy.  Edward Crane ‘died’ in the early 1990s, only to be spirited away to a new life by British intelligence, worried about how his exposure would further tarnish their reputation as a compromised organisation.  It’s a potential explosive story and would solve Gaddis’ money problems.  Before he can start work on the new book though, Charlotte dies suddenly.  Gaddis resolves to continue her investigation, but it soon becomes clear that there are forces at work who would much prefer he let the matter drop.  However, with the bit between his teeth, Gaddis needs to uncover the truth.

At the heart of The Trinity Six are two compelling premises: that there was a sixth Cambridge-recruited Russian spy working at the heart of British intelligence, and that Platov (a thinly disguised Putin) has a dark secret that would topple him and which needs protecting at any cost.  The plot cleverly twists these in and around each other, providing a compelling reason for the danger in Gaddis’ investigation.  The novel unfolds as a pretty conventional spy thriller (including Gaddis bedding a much younger woman that seems to be a staple trope of the genre), told in fairly workmanlike prose, unlike the more understated and literary spy stories of Le Carre or Furst.  The result is a page-turner, with a number of feints, twists and turns, and a nice building of intrigue and tension.  The characterization is nicely observed, if a little clichéd, and Gaddis makes a decent lead as man increasingly out of his depth, trying to use spy tricks picked up from research and popular culture to take on professional spooks.  Overall, an entertaining read, with a well constructed plot.

Monday, July 2, 2012

June reviews

June proved to a great month of reading - one 5 star review and three 4.5 star reviews.  Book of the month was Resistance by Matthew Cobb, fiction book of the month A Lily of the Field by John Lawton.  Both great reads.

Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill ****.5
Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy ****
A Lily of the Field by John Lawton ****.5
The Black House by Peter May ***
The Pistol Poets by Victor Gischler ****.5
The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey ***
Resistance by Matthew Cobb *****
Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst ****
The Shark Infested Custard by Charles Willeford ***

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've had my head down most of the week trying to make progress on the Oxford Dictionary of Human Geography.  I've now drafted 649 of my 685 entries.  So, I'm nearing the finish line, but unfortunately I have seven 300 words entries and twenty nine 750 word entries to write and a month to complete them.  Going to be a busy month!  I went to the local bookshop yesterday seeking a book set in Edinburgh (where I'm heading to tomorrow), but instead came away with Black Skies by Arnaldur Indradason and Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen.  Hopefully will get to both shortly.

My posts this week:
House prices stabilising
Review of Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy
Partial quoting
Data visualization of CSO's residential property price index
Review of Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill
Census 2011: Education, post-15, broad trends
Census 2011: Socio-economic group and class
People in blue houses are apparently the most successful
A long, lonely night in the desert