Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

This month has largely been a washout in terms of researching and writing.  I've spent most of it on the road for work-related stuff, either in Wales, England, Iceland, Northern Ireland or Dublin.  I managed just four days in Maynooth.  In fact, the first half of this year has felt slow with respect to drafting material.  I've managed three and half chapters for an academic book I'm writing, and co-written four other book chapters and two journal papers, which now I've jotted it down doesn't seem too bad.  The problem is I should have six chapters of the academic book written by now and am finding the slow progress frustrating.  The plan is to try and catch up and get back on track during July and August.  I have meetings all day tomorrow, but from Tuesday on I plan to have my head down and fingers tapping away.  We'll see how it goes.

My posts this week
Review of Exposed by Liza Marklund
Review of Countdown City by Ben Winters
Night swimming

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Night swimming

Bored and restless, Jodie wandered from the tents to the lake shore.  Her friends had gone to the local pub and she’d stayed behind to mind their belongings.

The sun had long disappeared behind a ridge, but it was still warm and muggy.  Smiling to herself she stepped out of her flip-flops, removed her clothes, and waded out into the chilly water.

Once her thighs were submerged she pitched forward, breaking into a choppy stroke.  Three minutes later she was treading water when movement on the shore caught her eye.

A man stood next to her clothes removing his own.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review of Countdown City by Ben Winters (Quirk Books, 2013)

There’s only 77 days until an asteroid ploughs into Earth causing an apocalypse.  Hank Palace has lost his job as a police detective and is counting down the days to doomsday hanging out with his dog, Houdini, and chatting at a local diner.  All around them society is crumbling in advance of the impact.  To try and keep order, the US Department of Justice has invoked a police state, but regardless people have organised themselves into collectives and communes, and many have abandoned their lives in order to undertake their bucket list.  When Martha Milano, Palace’s old babysitter asks him to look for her missing husband, Palace thinks that Brett Cavatone might have fled the nest.  As he tries to track him down, he senses that Brett had another agenda.  Finding Brett, however, is no easy task given the lack of modern amenities and Palace is forced to rely on the help of his anarchist sister who still has hope that the apocalypse can be avoided.  The general consensus is that Palace should abandon his hunt and concentrate on keeping himself alive, but his sense of obligation and duty and his desire to act as a detective compel him to find Brett and bring him home to Martha.

Countdown City is the second book in the Last Policeman trilogy and picks up Hank Palace’s story a couple of months after the first.  The real strength of the series is the premise and the character of Hank Palace.  Despite the impending doom of an asteroid hitting Earth, Palace feels compelled to continue acting like a detective and serving his fellow citizens, despite having lost his job and the woman he loved.  Everyone around him might be selfishly acting out their desires or plotting how to survive the apocalypse, but Hank is determined to stay a decent, humane fellow to the end.  Having such a civil lead character enables Winters to inflect the story with a series of philosophical questions concerning social relations and how people treat each other in extreme circumstances.  He does so, however, subtly so that the story remains very much a crime novel rather than a reflective literary text.  The plot for the most part works fine, with Palace trying to track down a wayward husband who has abandoned his wife.  However, it did very much read as a bridging book to the final instalment, moving elements of the plotline and characters into place for the denouement.  As such, the reader really needs to have read the first book to fully understand what is happening and has to appreciate that they will need to read the third to experience closure given the open ending of this instalment (I’m assuming the third book will provide closure).  Overall, an entertaining read, but probably not best read as a standalone.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of Exposed by Liza Marklund (2011, Corgi; 1999, Swedish)

Annika Bengtzon is a trainee journalist working as a summer intern at one of Sweden’s largest tabloid newspapers.  She’d like to be sourcing and reporting stories, but instead has been assigned to the tip-off phone, trying to weed out the genuine items of interest from pranksters and crazies and passing them onto the news desk.  When a caller rings in to report that the body of a naked woman is lying in a nearby cemetery she senses the chance to move from office lackey to reporter.  She manages to persuade her boss to let her follow up on the tip and sets off to investigate.  The tip proves to be true and Annika quickly starts to source facts about the woman and the police investigation, determinedly tracking down leads and making a nuisance of herself.  When a government minister is named as a prime suspect in the case she knows that something is not quite right.  But why would a minister sooner be a murder suspect rather than revealing the reality about where he was and what he was doing?  Annika knows that she potentially has a much bigger story, but forces are conspiring to ensure that she doesn’t get the chance to discover the truth.

Exposed is a very readable investigative journalist procedural set in Stockholm.  It follows the travails of rookie reporter Annika Bengtzon as she investigates the death of a local sex club worker and seeks to secure a permanent post with a tabloid newspaper.  Annika is a well realised, complex character who is determined to succeed, but has a habit of undermining her own efforts through instinctive, but poorly judged actions.  The story rattles along at a quick clip and the central plot is engaging, with Marklund threading the story with a number of subplots and rivalries and alliances between characters.  The telling is a little melodramatic at times and there are two twists at the end, one concerning Annika, the other another central character, neither of which were needed nor rang true.  Nevertheless, Exposed is an entertaining read that introduces a character whose life is as messed up as those on whom she reports for the tabloid press.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

Snubnose Press, the publisher of Stiffed, is celebrating its second birthday by reducing the ebook cost of all of its titles to 79p (UK) and 99c (US) for a limited time.  There are loads of great books to be snaffled up at a bargain price, including titles by authors such as Patti Abbott (Monkey Justice; Home Invasion), Tom Pitts (Piggyback; my review), R Thomas Brown (Hill Country; my review), Eric Beetner (Dig Two Graves; my review), Dan O'Shea (Old School; my review), Heath Lowrance (City of Heretics; my review), Andrew Nette (Ghost Money; my review), Keith Rawson (The Chaos We Know), Aaron Philip Clark (A Healthy Fear of Man) and loads of others.


Stiffed can be purchased for 99c from Amazon US or 79p from Amazon UK

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bishop to G3

‘Queen to E5’

‘I heard you the first time.’

‘Well, you didn’t acknowledge me,’ said the voice from the speakerphone.

‘I was thinking.’

‘Panicking more like.  You’re in trouble now, John.’

‘Maybe.’  He stared at the board and the ivory figures, his head in his hands, hair sticking up through fingers.

‘Come on.’

‘Dad, will you let me think.’

‘How about you call me back when you want to resign, the roses need pruning.’

‘How about you be quiet and patient?’

‘You’re not going to be a sore loser, are you?’

‘No.  Bishop to G3.’

‘Huh.  Oh.’

‘Now who’s panicking?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tuning out

"You have a way of saying you're going to listen to something, but then when the other person is talking you're up in your head having some sort of complicated policeman dialog with yourself about something else."

The speaker is describing Hank Palace, a former cop who can't stop being a cop, in the second part of The Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City.  If you swap the word 'policeman' to 'academic' it's a sentiment I've heard dozens, possibly hundreds, of times.  I can happily spend hours upon hours locked away in my head talking to myself!  The book, by the way, is proving to be as entertaining as the first.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review of Season of the Witch by Arni Thorarinsson (Amazon Crossing, 2012; Icelandic 2005)

After a merger of media interests, Einar has been sent from Reykjavik, along with an editor and photographer, to Akureyri in the north of Iceland to help cover the area more effectively and boost sales.  He’s a reluctant migrant to provincial life, but hopes it’ll help get his career and life back on track after a couple of years of stagnation and too much drink.  His initial stories are a school play of Loftur the Sorcerer, an allegorical tale of narcissistic power, the death of a woman who fell overboard whilst white water rafting on a work bonding trip, and violent clashes between locals and foreign labourers in Reydargerdi, where a new industrial plant is being built.  Each story seems relatively benign and nothing unusual in the general run of things.  However, the woman’s mother insists that her daughter’s husband killed her, contrary to all the evidence, and the charismatic lead actor in the play is murdered soon after, the body dumped and set on fire in a local junkyard.  Einar starts to investigate each case, hoping that he might land a scoop that will see him recalled to the big city.

Season of the Witch is a mildly entertaining tale set in the north of Iceland.  It’s what I would characterise as an ‘okay’ story: it whiled away a few hours without every really capturing the imagination.  The story suffers from three main issues.  First, the main character is bland and nondescript and is not conflicted enough with respect to his ostracisation to the north, his ‘odd couple’ relationship with his news editor, or staying on the wagon with respect to drinking.  Moreover, the author tries to cast him as both a worldly rebel and a decent, moral conservative, and he’s really the latter.  The result is a character that doesn’t ring true, who’s difficult to connect to or identify with.  The other characters also seem quite weak and superficial in their portrayal.  Second, the story is drawn out and meandering and lacks pace and tension.  Moreover, the plot just about holds together, but it becomes thin at times.  Third, the writing is quite pedestrian, although it does have some nice observations at times, especially when it discusses the play the students are putting on and Icelandic lore.  The overall effect is an investigative journalist story that never really seems credible or sparks into life.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cover choices: The Song of the Sea

In a couple of weeks time I'm going to reach 100 drabbles published on the blog.  My plan is to bundle them all up into an ebook and to make it available for free download.  I'm going to call the collection 'The Song of the Sea' - the drabble below.  JT Lindroos has designed the cover (he also did the cover for Killer Reels).  All I need to do now is pick one of the two right.  I can't make my mind up about font, so I'm looking for your view as to which you prefer?

The Song of the Sea
It had been five days since the yacht had capsized. Five days in an orange bubble being tossed around on boiling waves, tumbling and spinning in a drunken dance. Five days listening to the song of the sea. The pitter-patter of spray and the thwack of waves against nylon and rubber, the crash of mountains of water greeting each other or tumbling in on themselves, the howl of the wind whipping and spinning in the troughs, his own groans and the dry heaves of sea sickness. And every now and then a haunting lullaby calling to him from the deep.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath (Corvus, 2010)

Sergeant Detective Magnus Jonson did not have an ideal upbringing.  His father abandoned his family and left Iceland for the United States.  A couple of years later, his drunken mother was killed when her car hit a rock face.  Magnus and his brother moved to be with their father and his new wife in the US, but shortly afterwards he was murdered, the killer never caught.  Filled with a need to seek justice for the victims of murder he joined the police force.  After witnessing and reporting a colleague who was taking bribes from a Dominican gang in Boston, he becomes a marked man.  Surviving an attempt on his life, his bosses decide to put him in a witness protection programme by fulfilling a request from the Icelandic police force for a secondment of an experienced officer to help in their training.  Magnus has no great desire to return to the land of his birth, but has little choice in the matter.  He tries to persuade his partner to join him, but she won’t go unless they get married.  Unwilling to bow to that kind of emotional blackmail, Magnus travels alone, arriving shortly after one of Iceland’s rare murders and is asked to help in the investigation, much against the wishes of the lead officer.  Frustrated by how the case is being run and trying to settle back into life in Iceland, he starts to follow his own lines of enquiry into the death of Prof. Agnar Haraldasson, an expert in old Icelandic sagas.  At the same time, the gang in Boston has not given up on tracking him down.

The strength of Where the Shadows Lie are the lead character, the outsider-insider storyline, and contextualisation with respect to the Tolkein and Lord of the Rings.  Magnus Jonson is a strong and engaging lead character who has been unsettled by the corruption case in Boston, the move back to Iceland, and splitting with his long-term partner.  Born in the country, able to speak and read the language, and being familiar with its lore, but having left for the US when he was twelve, Magnus is both an insider and outsider; a square peg looking to fit a round hole, but nevertheless a peg.  The other characterisation is also generally good, with an interesting cast.  The link between Tolkein and a long lost Icelandic saga seems both plausible and credible, though the plotline concerning the ring, as opposed to the manuscript, seemed a little ridiculous and over-wrought.  Indeed, the plot does lack credibility at a number of different points, including the premise for him being sent to Iceland (which should rest on the months of FBI case building and not him witnessing one exchange), and his relationship with Colby (which seemed long over).  Moreover, the writing is often quite pedestrian and flat, lacking in engaging prose and with too much show rather than tell.  Overall, an interesting lead character and I’d try the second book in the series, in which the plotting is hopefully a little less fanciful.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

After five nights in Iceland I'm enroute back to Ireland.  Although I spent three days at the university at a conference, I did get to look around Reykjavik in the evenings and yesterday went on a tour of some of the interior (my sample postcard of some of the snaps I took right).  It's proved to be a fascinating visit and I definitely plan to come back again in the future for a longer trip.

My posts this week

Review of Penance by Dan O'Shea
Iceland: first impressions
Review of Roll With It by Nick Place
Wandering in half-light

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wandering in half-light

Silence.  Not even the whisper of a breeze.  The air around him was laced with mist, the ground dark grey bedrock mottled with muddy green moss and sedges.  He took a few steps, turned slowly, staring into the murky half-light, hoping to catch a glimpse of something recognisable.  Somehow he’d wandered off the narrow path three hours previously.  Whichever direction he headed the landscape never changed; the lava field stretching monotonously and endlessly.  He knew panicking wouldn’t help, but nonetheless felt sick and jittery.  He rubbed his arms, seeking warmth, muttered a short pray, and set off into the mist. 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review of Roll With It by Nick Place (Hardie Grant, 2013)

Tony ‘Rocket’ Laver is a Detective Senior Sergeant with the Victoria Major Crimes unit in Melbourne.  In an operation to arrest a team of armed robbers he shoots one of the gang members dead.  It is the sixth time a Victoria cop has killed a member of the public in a four month period.  The fact that Laver was returning fire cuts no mustard with the politicians who feel they need to set an example.  Senior police management bow to their pressure, demoting Laver and ‘sending him to Siberia’ pending an inquest.  Siberia turns out to be the Mobile Public Interaction Squad, cops who patrol the city on bikes, helping tourists and directing traffic.  It’s a long drop down from being a member of an elite squad and means turning up for work dressed in Lycra.  To add to his woes his fiancée has little sympathy for his predicament and is giving him the cold shoulder.  Reluctantly, Laver takes to the saddle, but it doesn’t take him long to spot four shady characters who immediately set his crime detection antenna twitching: a naive, love struck junior supermarket manager, a beautiful green activist, and two career criminals.  Laver is sure that a major crime is about to take place, but given his quarantining none of his previous colleagues want to know and it’s left to him and a newbie bike cop to investigate.  

Comic crime capers always have elements that are a little exaggerated or stretch the imagination, with characters that are somewhat larger than life.  At the same time, the story has to have some ring of believability about it.  It’s a difficult balance to perfect.  For the most part, Nick Place manages it with Roll With It, a tale about a good cop’s fall from grace and his increasingly desperate attempt to gain redemption.  Laver the career cop demoted from elite squad to bike duty, Jake the naive supermarket assistant, Lou the rebellious green activist, Stig the loser, low-level criminal, and Westie his violent side-kick, are all well-penned and engaging characters whose lives become entangled.  For the most part the plot also works well, with Jake pursuing Lou, Stig’s former girlfriend, whilst Stig is also trying to win her back whilst also offloading a consignment of drugs stolen in a different part of the country.  However, I didn’t quite buy Laver’s initial or ongoing quarantining, nor his relationship to his fiancée which seemed way past over and certainly not worth pursuing.  The tale is told in a nice tell not show style, with a gently comic voice, and a nice sense of place with respect to the city streets of Melbourne.  Overall, Roll With It is a light, enjoyable and amusing read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Iceland: first impressions

I arrived in Iceland yesterday.  Having read a number of novels set in the country I had a certain idea of what the landscape and Reykjavik would be like, but oddly it has quite a different feel.  On the drive from the airport to the city there were only four colours on display: light and dark grey, muddy green and fawny green.  And there were no trees.  At all.  And the city is low density, sprawling and modern.  I usually praise novels set in Iceland for their sense of place, but now I'm not quite so sure.  Nevertheless, I'm quite taken by the landscape and it's bleakness and scale.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review of Penance by Dan O’Shea (Exhibit A, 2013)

An elderly lady is shot through the heart as she leaves a church in Chicago after confession, dying in a state of grace.  Detective John Lynch is assigned to investigate what seems like a senseless murder.  Lynch is a second generation cop, his father killed in the line of duty in 1971 whilst investigating the death of a politician.  At first there is little for Lynch to go on other than the elderly woman was the mother of a well connected billionaire and the shot appears to have been fired from long distance by a skilled marksman.  The shooting has also been noted by Colonel Weaver, the head of a black ops unit in Washington who specialised in ‘neutralising’ enemies of the state.  He is missing a sniper, who appears to have gone rogue after his family was murdered.  He now wants the sniper neutralised and any trace of his existence airbrushed from history, especially given the sniper’s connections to Chicago’s political elite, even if that means tarring members of the Chicago police force.  As Lynch and Weaver’s teams race to find the rogue sniper, he kills again, and seems set to continue his murderous spree until he’s avenged the deaths caused by the actions of his own and his victims’ families.

Penance felt to me like a mash-up of Michael Connelly, Tom Clancy and Stuart Neville’s The Twelve -- a smart, well-written police procedural thriller, mixing cops with black ops spooks, political intrigue and a rogue operative seeking to avenge deaths through murder.  The story is all tell and no show with engaging prose, and rattles along at a quick, page-turning pace.  I was hooked from the get-go and zipped through in a couple of sittings.  The characterisation is good across the cast and Lynch is especially likeable as the cop who’s determined to get his man regardless of the obstacles and odds.  The plot builds in tension throughout, and does a good job at fleshing out some of Lynch’s back story and present life outside of work, such as a new romance with a journalist and his relationship to his mother and sister.  It does, however, also use a couple too many plot devices to bind the whole story together, such as linking the present to Lynch’s father’s past, conveniently finding clues that he probably should have found year’s before, and having a member of his own team with black ops connections.  Despite these niggles, Penance is an enjoyable and engaging read and I have a feeling that Detective John Lynch might do for Chicago what Harry Bosch has for Los Angeles.  And that’s no bad thing.  Here’s hoping the next book is the pipeline.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

I spent most of last week in North and Mid-Wales, taking a tour around either side of performing external examining duties in Aberystwyth.  Normally I just travel direct to and from work-related meetings, so it was nice to have a bit of a look around.  Wednesday was spent going up and down the narrow guage Ffestiniog railway (right) and then exploring Harlech Castle.  Next week I'm off to Iceland for the conference of Nordic geographers and hope to spend at least one full day wandering around part of the island.

My posts this week
May review
Review of Screwed by Eoin Colfer
Review of Crocodile Tears by Mark O'Sullivan
Cover for next academic book
Review of Once in Another World Brendan John Sweeney
The morning after

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The morning after

David rolled onto his back, his arm sliding across lower ribs.

‘The morning after,’ Katie whispered.

‘The night before,’ David muttered, his head thick with a hangover, his stomach queasy.  ‘Now what?’

‘I ... I don’t know.’  She stared at the wallpaper, trying to untangle emotions. 

‘I’m trying to decide if that was the best or worst night of my life.’

‘What about Rosa?  And Neil?’

‘They don’t need to know.  Do they?’

‘I ... I suppose not.  But ... what if they find out?’

‘I can keep a secret, if you can.’ His hand found her hip, squeezing gently.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review of Once in Another World by Brendan John Sweeney (New Island, 2013)

Holland was recruited into the Movement as a teenager.  Just over twenty years after the 1916 Easter Rising and the Movement is at a low ebb, increasingly marginalised by a society wanting some sort of closure after independence and civil war.  Holland, however, is still filled with idealism and is prepared to fight for the liberation of the six counties of Northern Ireland.  When he’s offered an assignment chauffeuring and protecting Farkas, a Hungarian businessman working in Dublin, he reluctantly takes the job.  The perks and the clandestine nature of some of the work are welcome, as is hanging out with the cold and distant Sabine, a Jewish refugee from Berlin.  It seems that Farkas is operating a shady scheme to get Jewish assets out of the Reich and the Movement is protecting him for a cut.  But all is not quite what it seems and on a trip to England, Holland ends up shooting a man dead.  When they return to Ireland, Farkas disappears and the Movement wants answers from Sabine.  Fearing for both their lives, Holland takes Sabine deep into rural Ireland hoping that their pursuers tire of the chase and they can slip across the Irish sea to Britain.  The secrets that Sabine hold, however, are worth the chase.

Once in Another World is an excellent debut novel set in Dublin and Meath in 1937.  Sweeney captures the political intrigue and games of the time, as well as the atmosphere, sense of place, and social relations of urban and rural Ireland.  The historical contextualisation is very well done and is woven into the story without it ever feeling like a history lesson.  Indeed, the narrative is all tell and no show, and the prose is nicely crafted.  The plot is well executed, effectively divided into three acts, with urban and political scenes bookending a rural sojourn.  The register in the rural part of the novel is slightly different, focusing on the awkward relationship between Holland and Sabine, and whilst evocative it would have be interesting to get a little more of their back stories.  Nevertheless, the characterisation is strong and by keeping the focus tightly on the lead characters of Holland, Sabine, and a handful of others, Sweeney is able to flesh out their interactions and personalities.  Overall, a very enjoyable story that is easy to imagine being adapted as a television drama or a play.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cover for next academic book

A couple of days ago I received the proof for the next academic book to hit the shelves, which should happen sometime around November.  I'm meant to provide some feedback.  What do you think? (click on it to make it larger).  It's a wrap around for a hardback, hence the flaps to the left and right of the main cover.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review of Crocodile Tears by Mark O’Sullivan (Transworld, 2013)

In the wealthy, seaside suburb of Howth, on the north side of Dublin city, property developer Dermot Brennan has been clubbed to death with a crowbar.  Having only joined the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation a couple of days before, Detective Sergeant Helen Troy is a little anxious about undertaking her first case, especially given her boss DI Leo Woods is still en route home from a holiday break.  Woods is a first rate cop but a wounded soul, disfigured from Bell’s palsy, haunted by a troubled youth, a disastrous marriage, and secondments to Angola and Bosnia.  He makes his way from the airport to the murder scene under instructions from his superintendent to tread carefully as Brennan had been involved in a ghost estate development with a junior minister’s cousin and a bunch of other influential individuals.  The superintendent has also assigned a rookie detective to the case, Ben Murphy, who’s competence and efficiency gets under Woods’ skin.  Given Brennan’s dysfunctional family, his collapsed business interests, and the disenfranchised residents of his unfinished development, there’s no shortage of leads for Woods’ team to follow.

Crocodile Tears is a very nicely written police procedural that has a strong blend of unpicking the mystery surrounding the death of Dermot Brennan, capturing the aftermath of the property crash in Ireland, and charting the interactions and tension between the cops and with the suspects.  O’Sullivan creates vivid characterisation, particularly with respect to the guards, and rather than concentrating on a single cop traces a handful from junior to senior rank, each well penned with a decent back story.  The dialogue and interactions are first rate.  In particular, I thought the first interrogation with Sean Doran, a resident on one of Brennan’s ghost estates, was excellent: all lies, threats, feints, and violence waiting to explode.  For the most part the plot worked well, though I felt it became a little derailed towards the end as it veered towards a more fanciful ending.  Overall, a very promising start to what I assume (and hope) is going to be a series and highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review of Screwed by Eoin Colfer (Headline, 2013)

After years of working the doors of night clubs, ex-Sergeant Dan McEvoy is preparing to open his own in Cloisters, New Jersey.  Life is just about on an even keel.  He’s a delusional girlfriend who thinks he’s her long-lost husband, a lecherous best friend who practices backstreet plastic surgery, and a truce with Mike Madden, a local mobster, so long as Mike’s mother remains alive.  But then lightening strikes, Mrs Madden is toast and the local boss is back on the war path.  To help pay off his debt, McEvoy agrees to be the middle man between Madden and a Manhattan-based boss.  But before he can deliver the bearer bonds he’s picked up by two local cops who have other plans for him.  A few hours later and McEvoy is the target of two sets of mobsters, the police and his own family, and is a viral hit on a porn site.  It’s taking all skills as a veteran soldier and a lot of luck to stay alive, especially given his aversion to killing those who are trying to kill him.

Screwed is a screwball noir that rattles along a quick clip, with McEvoy pinging from one dose of slapstick violence and gallows humour to another.  Colfer has an engaging voice and the narrative is witty and sassy, with a number of laugh out loud moments.  As with all comic crime capers the plot is a little ridiculous and the characters lean towards caricature, but that’s a key part of what makes them work.  Colfer sets out a series of quirky plot strands then weaves together to form a story full of collisions and ricochets, whilst also filling in more of McEvoy’s family back story.  As I noted with respect to the first book, Plugged, McEvoy seemed a little out of key - he’s meant to be scarred with deep psychological flaws courtesy of an abusive family upbringing and his time as a peacekeeper in the Lebanon, but he seems way too together, clear thinking and assured in his own violent abilities to fit that mould.  Moreover, some of the humour seems a little forced at times.  Nevertheless, Screwed is good rollicking fun and an enjoyable second book in the series.

Monday, June 3, 2013

May reviews

May was a month full of okay reads.  Rising out of the pack, my book of the month is Clare Mulley's The Spy Who Loved, a biographical account of the remarkable life of Krystyna Sarbeck (Christine Granville).

Behind the Battle by Ralph Bennett **
Death of a Nationalist by Rachel Pawel ***
The Woman Who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas-Home ***
The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke ***
Black Irish by Stephan Talty ***.5
The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri ***.5
Bogmail by Patrick McGinley ***.5
The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel ***
The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley ****.5
Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier **.5

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lazy Sunday Service

June is set to be a busy month of work travel.  I'm off to Aberystwyth this coming week to externally examine at the university, the following week I'm in Iceland, and the week after I'm in Durham.  I haven't yet bought my reading for Iceland, but I'm thinking of Michael Ridpath's 'Where the Shadows Lie' and Arni Thorarinsson's 'Season of the Witch' - good choices?  (I've read books in the past by Arnaldur Indridason, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Quentin Bates, so looking to try new authors). 

My posts this week:

Review of Behind the Battle by Ralph Bennett
The value of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Review of Death of a Nationalist by Rachel Pawel
Irish exchequer tax receipts 2000-2012 data viz
Once in Another World
Academic and social media: opportunities, challenges and risks
Fearing rejection

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fearing rejection

‘Dreams don’t just come true, Terry.  They need a helping hand.’

‘They’re not good enough.’

‘You know that’s bullshit.  What’s the worst they can say?  “Thanks, but no thanks.”  So what?  People have different tastes; just send them to someone else.’

Terry stared at the sea, watching the breakers.

‘People can’t read your stories if they’re locked in a filing cabinet.’

‘I don’t want people to read them.’

‘If you didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  The problem is you’re afraid of how they’ll be judged.  But they won’t be judged at all if you won’t set them free.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.