Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review of Ghost Money by Andrew Nette (Snubnose Press, 2012)

The mid-1990s and Max Quinlan, the son of an Australian soldier and Vietnamese mother, has left the Victorian police force after messing up a case whilst on secondment to Bangkok, Thailand.  Now he finds himself back in the city hunting for Charles Avery.  His sister and a bunch of Melbourne investors are keen to know what the lawyer turned gem dealer has done with their ten million dollar investment in his latest business venture.  All Quinlan finds in Bangkok is the dead body of Avery’s partner and evidence to suggest that he has fled to Cambodia.  Quinlan heads after him to the city of Phnom Penh trying to pick up his trail.  The country is still finding its feet after the rule of the Khmer Rouge and occupation by the Vietnamese, trying to heal the wounds of genocide and a dysfunctional society.  Hooking up with an Australian journalist and his Cambodian assistant, Quinlan starts to find Avery’s trail.  It's clear, however, that Avery has been dealing with some very dangerous characters, others are hunting for him, and finding him is going to be a fraught process.  Undaunted, Quinlan pushes on, determined to catch-up with his quarry.

Andrew Nette spent a number of years in Cambodia as a journalist in the 1990s and it shows.  The real strength of Ghost Money is the sense of place and historical contextualisation.  Nette drops the reader into the landscape, culture and politics of the country, without it dominating the story, and one gets a real sense of what ordinary people have been through during various regimes and the unsettled legacy they now find themselves in.  And he does a good job at detailing how an outsider such as Quinlan negotiates this complex terrain.  The story itself is a relatively standard search for a missing person who doesn’t want to be found and has got themselves into a situation they can’t handle.  The plot unfolds with some twists and turns as Quinlan homes in on his target, despite the various threats and warnings given to him.  There were a couple of things that didn’t seem to quite sit right, however.  The first was Quinlan’s naivety - he was an experienced ex-cop, yet he wanders into really dangerous situations with no real forethought.  The second was motivation - I couldn’t understand why Quinlan was willing to risk his life to find Avery, a man he has no connection to or affinity with other than he was hired to the job, and why he didn’t just walk away.  In general, the characterisation is fine, though Quinlan and the other central actors were somewhat skin deep, their back story substituting for personality and character at times.  Other than those quibbles, the story rattles along as a real page-turner.  Overall, an entertaining and informative story that gives a real sense of Cambodia in the mid-1990s.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Odd, random echoes

I finished reading Ghost Money by Andrew Nette last night and should get round to putting up a review tomorrow.  Although the story was very different to Robert Ryan's The Last Sunrise (which I reviewed on Monday), it also had a couple of odd echoes.  Both were set in South East Asia (Cambodia and Burma/Southern China respectfully) and both involved the hunt for two million dollars worth of gold lost from a US military plane.  Pure coincidence in the plot hook (there is nothing else in common between them in terms of plot or how the story is told) and that I read them back to back, but nonetheless oddly unsettling.  I'm now onto US Mid-West noir set between the end of the Second World War and the 1960s - Donald Ray Pollack's The Devil All the Time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vienna crime fiction?

I'm visiting Vienna in the second half of September to attend a meeting.  What I'm seeking is suggestions for good crime fiction set in or around the city.  Any recommendations?  I'll probably also re-watch The Third Man sometime in the coming weeks as well.  Been a while since I've seen it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review of The Last Sunrise by Robert Ryan (Headline Review, 2006)

1941 and Lee Crane has arrived in Burma en-route to Southern China, part of Flying Tigers, a volunteer American air force assembled by Colonel Claire Lee Chennault to aid the Chinese fight against the Japanese.  Training in the Burmese jungle he meets Kitten Mahindra, an Anglo-Indian widow and they start a romantic affair.  Then Crane is shipped out over ‘the hump’, the towering Himalayas, to China, the Japanese invade Burma, and Crane loses contact with Kitten.  When the Flying Tigers are absorbed in the United States Army Air Force, Crane falls out with Chennault and transfers from flying a fighter to a cargo plane.  Come 1943, Crane is an old hand at crossing the hump, transporting goods, personnel, mail and gold to fund the Chinese war effort.  On one trip he transports a young SOE agent, Laura McGill, from Calcutta to Southern China.  He’s persuaded into starting a friendship with her by an OSS agent, the forerunner of the CIA, eager to find out what the British are up to in what the Americans consider a United States sphere of influence, but the relationship remains nothing more than platonic.  1948 in Singapore and Crane is still ferrying cargo around South East Asia, Laura is in Berlin, and he still hasn’t found out what happened to Kitten.  Then some old friends turn up wanting him to fly them all back to a shared secret, a secret that heralds danger and reward.  In return they’ll tell him where to find Kitten.   

The Last Sunrise tells the story of Lee Crane’s time in South East Asia between 1941 and 1948.  The narrative shuttles back and forth between 1941, 1943/44 and 1948, with the scenes concerning the latter told in the first person.  Despite the changes in perspective and the splicing of the timeline, this is a straightforward tale of wartime adventure and romance.  It is competently told and is reasonably engaging, and it draws on real historical events, but the story lacks a real edge despite the various action sequences and rivalries between characters.  It all seemed a little formulaic and there were no real surprises.  Crane is reasonably well drawn as the principled but naive officer, accompanied by a colourful set of stock characters (the femme fatale, the scheming spy, the resourceful but straight-laced young operative, the wide-boy co-pilot, etc), but I never really connected with or cared for any of them.  The result was a competent and pleasant read, but one that didn’t sparkle.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

I've had a week of small mishaps, mostly forgeting and missing things.  I'm writing this blog at this time as my Kindle has died, just as I've reached the last third of Andrew Nette's Ghost Money, and I've left the cable to charge it somewhere else.  I missed the launch to Declan Burke's Slaughter's Hound on Wednesday because I'd written it in my diary for Thursday and what's worse, I was in Dublin at the time and I'd arranged other meetings on the Thursday built around when I thought the launch was.  I've since managed to buy a copy and also spent yesterday in Sligo, the setting of the book, and had a fabulous walk along Streedagh beach with the dogs.  Looking forward to reading this one.  His last book, Absolute Zero Cool, was excellent.

My posts this week
Oxford crime fiction?
Commercial vacancy in Ireland: The need for the full picture
Review of The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
Review of The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark
Review of The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

Saturday, August 25, 2012


‘Are you okay?  You’re not going to do anything stupid?’

‘I’m listless, not suicidal.’  He stared up at the stars.  ‘I’m just ... I mean, what’s it all about?  You know, life?  There has to be ... more, more than this.’  He swung his arm in an arc.

‘What’s wrong with this?’

‘Everything.  Nothing.  I don’t know.  It all just feels so mundane, like we’re just killing time.  Waiting for the great heave-ho.’ 

‘And you want more?’

‘Yes.  No.  I think I just need a change.  A new job, a new place, a new ...’


‘I’m listless, not suicidal.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review of The Last Policeman by Ben Winters (Quirk, 2012)

Hank Palace has achieved his life’s ambition to become a police detective in the small town of Concord.  Unfortunately his promotions coincides with news that Earth is going to be hit by 6.5 kilometre wide asteroid travelling at speed.  In the months before the coming apocalypse the economy has unravelled, some people have found religion, others are making plans to try and survive, or have given up work and are living one long party.  And some are not waiting to find out if humanity will survive and are taking their own lives.  One such man, an insurance actuary, has seemingly hung himself in a McDonalds’ toilet stall.  But Palace is not convinced.  The world might be about to end in six months time, but he’s going to continue to his job regardless of the general apathy and lack of resources.  And if foul play is involved, he’s going to make sure the perpetrator witnesses the event from behind bars.

The tag-line for The Last Policeman is ‘what’s the point of solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?’  It brings an interesting twist to the story, providing an unusual framing.  Otherwise, this is a straight up-and-down police procedural where Palace uses his skills and wits to piece together and solve a mystery puzzle.  The construction of the story is well done, with Palace being misdirected or led down dead-ends, slowly working out the reason for the death.  The characterisation is a little thin especially beyond Palace, suffering I think from the first person narrative, but it’s made up for in the plot and premise.  There was also more scope to explore the nature of a pre-apocalyptic society and elaborate some philosophical musings on the meaning of life and the human condition.  However, the premise is used much more as context, rather than as foil.  That’s fine, but I felt it was a missed opportunity.  Overall, an enjoyable, well written police procedural with a nice contextual twist.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review of The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark (New Pulp Press, 2010)

Paul Little is a listless ex-con, searching for direction and a path through life.  He’s just buried his grandfather in rural North Carolina and has headed back to Philadelphia with Tammy, his beautiful girlfriend.  Paul knows that she is too good for him and he hates the fact that he is living off of her kindness.  In a moment of disquiet and self-loathing he walks out, stepping back onto the mean streets of the city, streets that have their own science.  He heads to a local barbershop owned by another ex-con known for helping people to get back on their feet.  There he gets a job offer.  All he has to do is collect an item and pass it on to another party.  The fee will help to keep him ticking over now he’s no access to Tammy’s purse.  He agrees but then decides that he wants to cut out of the city and head back to his grandfather’s farm and start over.  He passes the job onto an old friend intent on catching a bus the following morning.  Only during the night his friend is shot dead.  Undaunted, Little tries to flee the city, but people and events conspire against him time after time.  He’s left to wander the streets with a copy of David Hume’s The Science of Man trying to resolve the challenges thrown in his path.

The Science of Paul is a thoughtful book with an undercurrent of philosophy concerning urban society and the meaning of life.  The main character is complex and multi-layered.  He’s seemingly got his life back on track after prison - a nice home and a beautiful, caring girlfriend - yet deep down he knows he doesn’t belong, that he doesn’t deserve this life, that he needs to find a different path, yet he’s not sure what that path is.  Clark tells his tale through a well plotted and paced story full of astute observations about American urban societies.  And whilst the story is predominately an in-depth character study, it’s also one of murder and crime, with the mystery as to who killed Little’s friend subtly woven into the narrative.  Overall, an enjoyable crime novel that ploughs a different furrow to most fiction in the genre to good effect.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review of The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman (St Martins Press, 2010)

The tail end of 1932, the dying gasp of the Weimar Republic, and a young woman is found on the bank of the Havel river on the outskirts of Berlin, her legs horrible deformed.  Detective Inspector Willi Kraus, a highly decorated war hero, the most famous homicide detective in the Berlin police force and a Jew, starts to investigate her death.  Almost immediately the case starts to attract political interference and attempts are made to divert Kraus, first through misdirection then with him being asked to investigate the disappearance of a Bulgarian princess who seemingly sleepwalked out of the Adlon Hotel and into the night.  When Kraus discovers links between the two cases, attention is focused on his competence and Jewishness.  Using his own high-level political contacts and influential friends, as well as those on the street, Kraus tries maintain his investigation, but elements of the emerging Nazi regime are determined to halt his progress as they edge nearer to assuming power.  As he struggles on, Kraus becomes convinced that exposing whatever lies at the heart of the case will destroy Hitler’s ambitions, but it might also cost him his life.

The Sleepwalkers is a police procedural thriller where a cunning and connected Jewish detective takes on the upper echelons of the newly formed and secretive SS.  It’s a nice premise and certainly makes for a page-turner as Kraus does his best to expose the dark secret that led to death of the woman found on the bank of the Havel river.  The sense of place and time is good, with Grossman effectively conveying the uncertainties, confusion, paranoia and culture of the dying days of the Weimar Republic, and the rising anti-Semitism and the bloody clashes and power struggles between political factions on the streets of Berlin.  The characterization is generally okay, though a couple of characters didn’t quite ring true or were defined by status rather than personality.  At one level the plot works well, with a strong hook, political intrigue, personal rivalries and a nice build-up to a tense climax.  At another level, it’s all a bit too contrived and the history is muddled.  I found it difficult to buy into the sleepwalking element: it left a massive trail that is covered over by one of Kraus’ colleagues in missing persons being inept beyond belief (it simply would have been more credible to snatch them).  As Grossman notes himself in the author notes, he has fiddled with the historical narrative, moving one event forward four years, another a decade.  There’s really very little need for it other than to create a huge conspiracy for Kraus to try and uncover, especially given all the atrocious things the Nazis did (even in 1932/33).  Overall then, The Sleepwalkers is a gripping page turner and if you like your police procedurals to be thrillers with a capital T and don’t mind a contrived plot then you’ll thoroughly enjoy the book.  Personally, I enjoyed the read, but felt the issues noted above undermined the credibility of the story.   

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oxford crime fiction?

I'm visiting Oxford in a couple of weeks time.  What I'm looking for is suggestions for good crime fiction set in or around the city that isn't Morse.  Any recommendations?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

A couple of weeks ago I won the copyedit verison of the manuscript of I Hear Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty.  It was waiting for me in my pigeonhole at work on Monday.  I'm now trying to decide whether to take a read straightwaway or wait until nearer the publication date.  I'll write and post my review shortly after reading, so I've been mulling over what will be of most benefit to Adrian (assuming I like the book, which I'm reasonably sure I will since I've read and reviewed a few of his books and liked them all).  I suspect that curiousity and interest will mean I won't be able to hold out for long in any case.  We'll see.  It'll also be interesting to to take a look at the copyedit queries.

My posts this week

Reviews up on Goodreads and Amazon
Review of Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
New arrivals
Review of A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady
Review of The Man on the Balcony by Majs Sowall and Pers Wahloo
A slither of hope

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A slither of hope

‘It’s your turn, Coles, I did the last one.’

The big man nodded, chewing the inside of his cheek.

‘I fucking hate doing them,’ his companion continued.

He stared over at the drab, semi-detached house.

‘I can take seeing the body, but the family ... fuck, can’t sleep for a week.’

He pushed open the car door and trudged across the quiet road, trying to mentally compose the words that might break it gently.  Humanely.

The front door was opened by a man with grey hair and skin, his eyes nursing a slither of hope.

There’d be little sleep tonight.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review of The Man on the Balcony by Majs Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1967, translated 1968)

The summer of 1967 and a mugger and a child killer are stalking the parks of Stockholm.  The jaded and tired Detective Inspector Martin Beck and his colleagues are under pressure to catch the killer before he strikes again.  However, there’s precious little evidence to go on.  Eventually they find two witnesses, the mugger who is given up by a jilted girlfriend and a three year old boy who’d been playing with a small girl when she was snatched.  One is reluctant to talk, the other can barely put a sentence together.  As the summer unfolds, the number of victims grows and the public pressure rises, and the police hope for a break that will identify the perpetrator. 

The Man on the Balcony is the third instalment of the Martin Beck series of police procedurals written by the husband and wife team of Sjowall and Wahloo between 1965-75.  The books are characterised by an understated social realism.  Beck and his colleagues are normal, everyday people with differing egos, foibles, frailties, talents and opinions, trying to balance work with their home lives.  The investigation unfolds in fits and starts, with painstaking footwork, frustrating interviews, and little doses of luck.  There’s little machismo, no maverick geniuses and little in the way of heroics - just the police getting on and doing their jobs.  In this book, Sjowall and Wahloo start to broaden out the focus from Beck to introduce more of the team and the characterisation is keenly observed.  The plot is fairly standard police procedural fare and hinges on a couple of coincidences, but what makes the story work is the realism and its telling.  There’s a lovely cadence to the storytelling, a kind of gentle, instant rhythm.  Overall, a solid addition to the series.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review of A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady (New Island, 2012)

At the height of a sweltering hot Dublin summer in June 1887 two bodies are found in the Phoenix Park, their faces disfigured.  The case is assigned to the Detective Sergeant Sam Swallow of G Division, the unit of Dublin Metropolitan Police that investigate ordinary and special (political) murders in the city.  Unable to identify the bodies, the investigation almost immediately stalls.  Shortly afterwards another body is discovered.  Tension in the city is already high given growing nationalist unrest, an imminent royal visit as part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and the death of Ces Downes leader of one of Dublin’s most prominent criminal gangs and the manoeuvring to take over her empire.  Swallow is put under pressure from his superiors and the media to solve the cases quickly, but as he slowly makes progress political forces work to halt his advance.  Stubborn, cynical and resourceful, Swallow is prepared to see the case to its resolution regardless of who he upsets and its consequences.

A June of Ordinary Murders is an engaging historical police procedural.  The start is quite ponderous and has too much show and not enough tell, with Brady spending time setting out the organisation of the Dublin police force, sometimes repeating certain information, and positioning the main characters.  As the story unfolds the storytelling becomes more lively with a number of intersecting subplots, and the tale progresses to a nice resolution.  The set-up is fairly standard police procedural fare, with Swallow being somewhat of a maverick, outsider cop with an idiot boss in Inspector Boyle and who is used to battling the interfering forces of the media and elite classes (in this case the British administration and city official).  The characterisation is generally good throughout, especially Swallow, though the criminal classes and Boyle felt a bit caricaturish (also it’s difficult to take seriously any character named ‘Pisspot’, especially someone meant to be a ruthless criminal boss).  The historicisation is well done, transporting the reader to late nineteenth century Dublin and its inequalities and political machinations.  Overall, after a stilted start, A June of Ordinary Murders is an enjoyable multi-layered tale and a fine addition to Irish crime fiction.  I look forward to Swallow's next outing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New arrivals

I always get a little edgy when my working TBR drifts below ten books.  Thankfully a box of supplies has turned up to replenish the stock.  Expect reviews of these books some time in the near future.

Parker Bilal - The Golden Scales 
Paul Grossman - Sleepwalkers
Joseph Kanon - Istanbul Passage
Donald Ray Pollock - The Devil all the Time
James Reasoner - Dust Devils
Ben Winters - The Last Policeman 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review of Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon and Schuster, 2008)

1953 at the tail end of Stalin’s rein, paranoia and fear pervade society, with millions being denounced and sent to the gulags in the quest to create a perfect society.  Leo Demidov is an idealistic agent of the system who works for the state security service, the MGB, investigating and arresting enemies of the state.  Whilst Leo is aware of the political machinations within his own organisation, he does not question the system as a whole.  However, his idealistic veil is slowly removed, first through having to persuade a colleague that in a country with zero crime his young son could not have been murdered, then witnessing the death of an innocent man at the hands of a MGB colleague, and being asked to investigate the political activities of his wife.  Denounced, he is exiled to a new city and demoted to the bottom rung of the militia.  There he discovers that child murderer is at work; a murderer the state refuses to acknowledge exists.  Determined to investigate further, he’s forced to go on the run in order to bring the killer to justice.

Child 44 is an assured and competent debut.  The novel starts with a well crafted opening hook and unfolds at a steady pace.  The historical contextualisation and sense of place is good throughout, with Smith depicting a paranoid and oppressed society where even the security services and family members are afraid of each other.  The characterisation is solid, especially the idealistic and often naive Leo Demidov, and his more worldly-wise wife, Raisa.  The prose is for the most part fairly workmanlike and the story fits the category of historical police procedural thriller, rather than a literary novel, as I’ve seen it described elsewhere.  The plotting is well handled up until near the end.  The twist was purely a literary device and undermined the credibility of the story.  It could have been resolved in a more straightforward manner, which for me at least would have been more satisfactory.  Overall, an engaging and crafted story with a contrived resolution.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reviews up on Goodreads and Amazon

It has taken me a little over three months, but I have finally uploaded all my Blue House reviews up onto Goodreads and Amazon.  If you want to take a look all the ones on Goodreads they're here.  It would have been a heck of a lot easier to have done them as I went along.  If you've been following me on the Goodread's site, you will no longer be bombarded with updates!  I hope they prove useful to both readers and authors.  I'm still getting used to Goodreads, but it's an interesting site.  I've just ordered a handful of books based on the recommendations it threw out, so it'll be interesting to see whether they match my tastes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

This last week I've been catching up on some historical crime fiction, one set in Russia in the 1950s, the other in Ireland in the 1880s.  Expect reviews of Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady some time this week.  Back to work tomorrow and no doubt a large list of emails and sizable pile of admin and marking.  Can hardly wait.
My posts this week
A year of drabbles
Review of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Review of Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen
A frustrated book buyer
Review of Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli
On the ropes

Saturday, August 11, 2012

On the ropes

Carter ducked left, then danced right.  A blow caught his ribs, followed by a jab to the temple.  He blindly threw a punch, hitting nothing but thin air.

Thought: there has to be a better way to make a living.

His head swivelled, his jaw tugging at its sockets.  He tottered backwards, the ropes halting his fall.  Instinctively he raised his gloves, pulling them in tight to his face and body.

Thought: where’s the damn bell when you need it?

He tried to soak up the punches.  Then he was staring up at the lights.

Thought: why is he counting?

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review of Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli (2000, translation 2005, Vintage)

Alex works for an internet provider, policing their chat rooms. It’s a pedestrian job and he spends most of his day mourning the departure of his girlfriend back to Denmark from Italy and fending off nervous reaction to his dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier that people confuse for a pit bull. Ispettore Grazia Negro and two colleagues are staking out a criminal who is murdered without them even being aware of it. The crime seemingly has few clues as to the killer’s identity. A short while later a man is assassinated in an airport lounge whilst being protected by a security detail, yet the killer seemed anonymous entering and leaving the scene. Ever alert, Negro spots a connection between the murders: the image of a pit bull. She starts to search for other deaths where a pit bull is linked to the case, even in the most tangential ways. At the same time Alex has started to take a keen interest in an internet chat room notionally concerned with pit bulls. Unwittingly he has found a key to the killer’s identity, but he’s also made himself a potential target. The question is whether Negro can apprehend ‘the pit bull’ before he strikes again.

As with all of Lucarelli’s other translated novels (all reviewed on this blog), Day After Day is a relatively short book (in this case 225 pages in a small, pocket format). And as with the other books it is engagingly written with some very nice observational touches (I particularly liked those about silences and motorway driving) and it seems slightly underdeveloped. Lucarelli writes very tightly, with little in the way of subplots or misdirection or dead-ends. The style is all tell and little show. The result is a fairly linear plot which hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion. Yet his prose, quality of storytelling and the character of Ispettore Negro makes the reader want more. As with all his books then, I’m conflicted in rating Day After Day. On the one level, it’s a great read, a literary piece of crime fiction, on another level it is too straightforward and underdeveloped. Overall, a tightly written, entertaining read which could have benefitted with a little fleshing out.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A frustrated book buyer

A couple of days ago, Bernadette over at Reactions to Reading posted her reads of the month.  Two of the books took my fancy: Black Wattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin and Paving the New Road by Sulari Gentill.  Neither are available on or, nor Book Depository.  I've previously tried to buy McGeachin's other Charlie Berlin book, The Digger's Rest Hotel.  It's available as an audio book but not a paper or e-book.  I've twice had pre-orders for White Dog by Peter Temple cancelled because of delays in being published in the UK, despite the fact that it was published in 2004 in Australia (it is now available at hardback price).  I've also tried to buy Kel Robertson's second novel, Smoke and Mirrors, a winner of Ned Kelly prize for crime fiction in 2009, but to no avail.  I've read the first book in the series because a friend in Australia sent me a copy.

It's pretty difficult to be Fair Dinkum about Australian crime fiction when it is almost impossible to buy the crime novels published there.  In an age of globalised cultural production, Internet buying and e-books, I find it very odd that English language books are still being limited to geographical regions.  I can read reviews of books, but I can't buy them.  It's a practise that seems limited to fiction.  I think all of my academic books can be bought anywhere on the planet relatively easily.  It is very frustrating to potential readers and I suspect also authors who's audience is being deliberately limited.  I know that this is to do with the selling of rights and the launching/marketing of books in different locales, but it seems to me that there should be an opportunity for readers to purchase books online that might not yet be available in bookstores.  If nothing else it might create a buzz about a book, including reviews, and actually aid the selling of rights in different regions.  Especially as so many of the books I'm interested in will probably never be published in other regions.

Anyway, what I want to know is this: can somebody recommend an Australian online bookstore that will post the books to Ireland at a reasonable rate?  Or perhaps an alternative way to buy Australian crime fiction that is presently not available in the Europe or North America?  I know books in Australia are relatively expensive, but I can live with that.  I just want to be able to read the books that I want to read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review of Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2008. Penguin, 2012 in translation)

Kimmie has lived on the streets of Copenhagen for twelve years despite owning a luxurious mansion.  A rich, wild child in her youth, who was expelled from boarding school, she now wanders the city stealing food and clothes, muttering to herself and drinking whisky to make the voices in her head go silent.  All the time she is watching her back, afraid that her former school friends will catch-up with her before she reveals their dark secrets.  Their hunt is about to intensify as an old murder case, to which one her old gang has confessed and is in prison, has landed on Carl Morck’s desk in Department Q in the Danish police force.  Morck is not really sure why it is in the cold case pile given it has been resolved, but decides to look into it regardless.  His investigation soon catches the former boarding school pals attention, now all part of the elite of Danish society, who move to get his snooping stopped.  The question is, who will get to Kimmie and her secrets first?   

Disgrace is a fairly straightforward police procedural thriller that slowly builds to a suspenseful climax.  The strengths of the book are the characterisation, pacing, and page-turning prose.  Carl Morck, Assad his Syrian colleague, and Rose his new administrator, are all well constructed characters whose prejudices and personalities lead to some entertaining exchanges.  Where the book has some serious problems, depending on how much you want to suspend your sense of realism, is the plot.  I’m willing to believe that an elite, rich group of people can hide isolated actions and draw on networks and favours to cover up their sadistic assaults.  But to do so over twenty odd years with no rumours or accusations or cases is not credible.  Nor is the fact that they can’t find a homeless person in Copenhagen over a twelve year period using professional private detectives (especially when Assad finds her in less than an hour) or that the file Morck is using has enough circumstantial evidence in it that the person who has been compiling it could have acted several years earlier.  Nor is the fact that the cold case unit consists of three people - a detective, a non-police helper and an administrator, and they are afforded no additional resources, even when the scope of the investigation becomes apparent.  In fact, there are loads of elements of the story that make little sense when reflected on.  That’s hardly the point though in this kind of tale, where realism is not going to stand in the way of a good story.  And for the most part it is an engaging story.  It’s just a shame that I didn’t believe large chunks of it.  Nonetheless, an entertaining enough tale, with a strong central cast of characters.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, 2012)

Miriam Black is twenty two years old yet she has witnessed hundreds of deaths.  She only has to touch skin-on-skin with another person and she has a vision of how when and how they’ll die.  Initially she tried to intervene, to save people from their fate, but she soon learnt that by doing so she became an agent in their death.  Haunted by her lack of ability to stop accidents, murders and disease she has drifted into a life on the road, moving from one location to the next, scavenging money from people who she knows are about to die and living by her wits.  One night she hitches a ride with Louis, a truck driver.  She feels comfortable in his presence until she shakes his hand and sees his gruesome death in thirty days time in  which he calls out her name.  Knowing that she will be responsible for his death and that she herself will be in great danger she flees his company in an effort to cheat fate.  If she’s not present, then his death cannot unfold as foreseen.  Later that evening she hooks up with small-time con artist, Ashley, who trails in his wake a gang looking for retribution.  Then she bumps into Louis again.  Whichever way she twists and turns, Louis’ fate and thus her own seem sealed.

Blackbirds is somewhat of a curious book.  The hook is excellent and some of the writing mouth watering, yet there is something slightly off key.  Having slept on it I think the issue is that story felt like two separate tales jammed together.  On the one hand, it is the story of Miriam, a young woman who is street smart, damaged, fragile, feisty and generally messed up, who on touching someone sees a vision of their death, and her search for answers, redemption and some kind of hope and alternative future.  Wendig does a great job at detailing her life, her thoughts, dreams and fears, mixing the present with her back story, and her tentative relationship with Louis, who is also damaged goods and looking for a new start.  The characterization is excellent and I’d happily spend more time in her company.  On the other hand, it is the story of small-time con artist, Ashley, and the three psychotic serial killers who are after him.  Whilst Ashley is mildly interesting, Harriet, Frankie and Ingersoll are caricatures cookie-cut from serial killer dough.  More awkward is the weaving of the two tales together.  Ashley is stalking Miriam, whilst also on the run from Ingersoll and co, who are meant to be drug dealers.  These are straight-up psychotic serial killers (a band of three), not drug dealers (with territory, networks, etc).  It is not at all clear how Ashley is tracking Miriam, or how Ingersoll and co are tracking Ashley.  Ashley simply turns up at whatever motel Miriam is staying and Harriet and Frankie arrive shortly after.  This may be urban fantasy, but the plot has to make sense within the logic of the world created.  The result, for me at least, was the fascinating and wonderful thread concerning Miriam was undermined by the intersecting storyline which didn’t ring true.  It did work to create tension and action, and a lot of swearing and violence, and to set up the endgame with respect to Louis, but this tale is all about Miriam and those elements could have been there without Ingersoll and co.  Overall then, a story with a great hook and lead character, that has some striking, engaging prose, but a plotline that seems to fuse two tales that don’t quite gel.  I doubt I’ll buy a book with a better cover this year; very intricate and striking.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A year of drabbles

Saturday marked the first anniversary of my weekly drabble.  Below is a list of all 52.  I generally pen them on a Saturday morning, with each one written and published in half an hour or so.  It can take a little bit longer if I'm struggling to hit exactly 100 words or if it's taking a while to craft into a story.  I find them a great writing exercise and fun to do.  Hopefully they're an enjoyable, quick read.  Difficult to pick favourites, but I have soft spots for Blood pumping quick, The song of the sea and Can you smell smoke?

A little encouragement
A long, lonely night in the desert
And half of nothing is?
Blood pumping quick
Brief encounter
Bulldog Salts
Can you smell smoke? 
Cancelling Christmas
Can't live without shoes
Closing down sale
Desperately seeking ...
Empty promises
Fast car
Final notice
First at the scene 
For a few pennies more
He's gone
I know you're not the answer
I'm meant to be grateful? 
In harm's way
iphone, your phone
It is what it is
Karma coma
Leaving home
Losing Trigger
Many a true word said in jest
Nine tenths of the law
Nothing under the mattress 
Peppered tail
Real life calling 
She has to go
She wrecks my head
Shhh ... Sugar 
Silence and lies
Swimming with loan sharks
The clearing
The cook is in meltdown 
The dance floor swallows him whole
The drink talking
The end of a dream
This isn't a game
The long walk
The song of the sea 
Whiskey and tears
Will be caught, won't be caught 
You can ring my parents
You can practically taste the pong 
You'd better sit down

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy it takes the supercomputer Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.  It turns out the answer is 42.  Since I have now have 364 days at this grand age, perhaps I might discover what the ultimate question is?  Who knows.  It must be twenty years since I read the books.  Maybe I'll re-read at least the first one some time in the next year.

My posts this week:
Review of Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
Review of Blood Tears by Michael J Malone
When an author interrupts the story
July reviews
Review of A Long Silence by Nicolas Freeling
First at the scene

Saturday, August 4, 2012

First at the scene

McCarthy tugged the black leather coat to one side to reveal the handle of a knife jammed between lower ribs.

‘I suspect this might be the source of all the blood.’

‘You reckon?’ Polanski said.  ‘Do you think it killed him as well?’

‘Part of a set. Someone’s going to be pissed to find it missing.’

‘Not as pissed as Dead Guy.’

‘Small wound like that, could have taped it up.’

‘Right, with sellotape.’

‘More like duct-tape.  There’s nothing you can’t fix with duct-tape.’

‘Shame he didn’t have any.’

‘Yeah, it would be a lot less paperwork.  Call it in.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Review of A Long Silence by Nicolas Freeling (Penguin, 1972)

Whilst eating a sandwich on an Amsterdam street Richard stares into a antique jeweller's shop.  His reward is the manager of the store offering him a job as a sales assistant.  When he’s told to clean out a drawer and finds an expensive gold watch he decides to go to Commissioner Piet Van der Valk, suspicious that he is being tested in some way.  The former detective has been put out to grass in The Hague working on a European committee concerning law reform. Van der Valk’s interested is piqued and he starts to nose around from a personal perspective, a small puzzle to challenge his talents, jotting down cryptic observations in a notebook.  He senses that the jewellers are up to something fishy, but can’t find any concrete evidence.  But this is a puzzle he is not going to solve.  Instead he is shot dead walking home from work.  The police can find no leads to his killer.  Frustrated with the police investigation, his grieving wife, Arlette, decides that she will try to find her husband’s killer, starting with trying to decode some of his notebooks.

I struggled through A Long Silence.  It didn’t work for me at a number of levels.  First, Freeling’s style is more show than tell, with lengthy descriptive, reflective and back story passages.  Second, the plot just didn’t seem to make much sense: a person recruited off the street without any assessment; going to a policeman in another city because a watch was found; assassinating a policeman who is barely trying and has no evidence of any wrongdoing.  Third, the author inserts himself into the story immediately after he kills off his detective to provide a personal account of the real life detective on which Piet Van der Valk was based and his relationship with him and his wife.  It's a strange interlude, especially as a lot of it is not that complementary and quite misogynist.  And it totally disrupts the narrative flow of the novel.  The second half is a little better, swapping into a cozy, but the resolution is a bit of a damp squib.  All in all, a weak story and storytelling that failed to provide a compelling narrative.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

July reviews

A good month of reading and difficult to pick a book of the month.  Both Blood Tears by Michael Malone and The Envoy by Edward Wilson stood out from the pack.  I'm going to go with The Envoy, a very well constructed Cold War spy thriller.

Blood Tears by Michael J Malone *****
Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis ****
The Rocksburg Railroad Murders by K.C. Constantine ****.5
The Barbed-Wire University by Midge Gillies ***
Shaman Pass by Stan Jones ***.5
The Envoy by Edward Wilson *****
Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason ***
Silesian Station by David Downing ****.5
The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming ***.5

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When an author interrupts the story

I'm currently reading 'A Long Silence' by Nicolas Freeling.  It's been a curious book from the outset, but it has taken a very odd turn from about halfway through.  Freeling interrupts the story immediately after he kills off his detective to provide a personal account of the real life detective on which Piet Van der Valk was based and his relationship with him and his wife.  It's a strange interlude, especially as a lot of it is not that complementary and quite misogynist.  And it totally disrupts the narrative flow of the novel.  Moreover, Freeling continues to insert himself in the rest of the text, as if he's recounting the story on behalf of the detective's wife, whilst at the same time making judgements about her.  It's either a clever piece of postmodern fiction or a very odd series of interventions.  It's the kind of thing that is usually reserved for an explanatory endnote.  At the moment, I'm not at all convinced it's a clever piece of postmodern fiction, but maybe I'll change my mind by the time I reach the end.