Monday, February 27, 2017

Review of The Intrusions by Shav Sherez (Faber & Faber, 2017)

DI Carrigan has taken to munching pills to keep his demons in check – his mother is in a coma and having crossed the Assistant Chief Constable six months previously he’s under criminal investigation for misconduct.  When DS Miller comes to him about the possible abduction of a backpacker, he dismisses the concern.  Miller, however, is convinced that there has been foul-play, which is soon confirmed by the discovery of a body.  Anna, an aspiring German actress, disappeared from an alley behind a bar after her drink was spiked.  Her Australian friend, Madison, was also drugged but made it back to the Bayswater hostel they were both staying at.  The killing has all the hallmarks of a serial killing given the two women were initially stalked and the ritual nature of the murder.  As Carrigan and Miller slowly scrape together and pursue clues they discover an online world of hacking and psychological torture and control.  Convinced that the killer will claim another victim, and aware that Carrigan could be removed from the case at any minute, they struggle to make headway both online and in the real-world. 

The Instrusions is the third novel in the Carrigan and Miller series.  Unlike the first two, which had strong political foci, this outing is a more straightforward police procedural tale that pits the wits of the two main protagonists against a serial killer preying on female backpackers and also their bosses.  At first it seems that Sherez has strayed from the political edginess that set the series apart into typical crime fiction cliché territory.  However, the novelty in the tale is the contemporary nature of how the killer stalks and intimidates his victims through the internet, initially without them even realising their lives have been captured, and then ensnares them in a nightmare world of psychotropic drugs that lengthens time and heightens awareness of their suffering.  Sherez uses this scenario to great effect, creating a high-tension, psychological drama that has the reader sitting on the edge of their seat.  The result is shocking, gripping, and scares as much for the tale as the possibilities for how such stalking could affect the reader in real-life.  While there are a couple of twists, the storyline got a little linear towards the end I felt, and while tense the tale ended quite quickly.  Nonetheless, The Intrusions is another strong addition to what is becoming one of my favourite series.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

Storm Doris crashed through the blue house this week, upending anything not firmly fixed to the ground. This included our shed that got lifted over onto its roof.  As Storm Ewan now swirls around pelting the house with rain I've decided to whisk myself off to the heat of Botswana and the exploits of Precious Ramotswe of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in 'Tears of a Giraffe'.

My posts this week
Review of Flight from Berlin by David John
Review of Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

Cold feet

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cold feet

‘We need to go,’ Seth yelled. ‘We’re over the zone.’

Cath glanced down then back at the short wing, her arms bridging the door.

‘Take a deep breath and relax. I’ll be with you the whole way.’

‘I can’t!’

‘You can! Close your eyes and shuffle forward as we practiced.’

Far below a patchwork of green field slipped by.

‘I can’t do it, Seth.’

‘Okay. We’re going to turn around and sit down.’

The linked pair slowly pirouetted.  Then Seth lifted Cath by the waist and fell backwards.


The noise of the engine disappeared.

‘Oh my God!  It’s beautiful!’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review of Flight from Berlin by David John (Bourbon Street Books, 2012)

Eleanor Emerson is an Olympic athlete and socialite. On the ship from New York to Hamburg for the 1936 Olympics she refuses to tow-the-line of the team rules concerning on-board behaviour, straying up to first-class to party. The penalty is to be kicked-off the team. Instead of returning home she accepts a position of a celebrity columnist to report the games. Richard Denham is a British journalist who has been living in Germany for some time. He’s well aware that the games are being used for propaganda by the Nazi regime and he’s determined to expose the dark heart of the enterprise. Emerson and Denham meet at a garden party and form an uneasy alliance. Denham is being unwittingly drawn into a deadly game of espionage, with anti-Nazi resistors seeking to pass on a highly secret and potentially explosive dossier. Denham and Emerson are more interested in trying to uncover the story of the only 'non-Aryan' competitor in the German team, a fencer who is competing only because her family are being held hostage. As the games progress they come to realise that the Nazi machine is prepared to break its careful choreography to silence their activities. The question is whether they can flee Berlin intact and while exposing the Nazi lies and brutality.

Flight from Berlin is set around the 1936 Olympics and follows the escapade of American athlete and socialite, Eleanor Emerson, and British journalist, Richard Denham, as they tangle with the Nazi regime. Emerson is loosely based on Eleanor Holm, the US swimmer who was thrown off the US team for partying on the journey to the games. Another central character, Hannah Liebermann, is based on Helene Mayer, who was the only ‘non-Aryan’ to compete for Germany. Numerous other real-life characters populate the story, as do some real-world events, along with a couple of rumours surrounding Hitler’s medical notes from the First World War. John weaves a fictional narrative around these centring on a plot to discredit Hitler and the Nazi regime and to undermine the propaganda surrounding the games. The characters of Emerson and Denham are well-penned and for much of the story the plot is engaging and intriguing. In fact, I was thoroughly hooked up to the initial flight from Berlin. At that point, the story becomes increasingly ridiculous, progressing through an endless succession of clunky and unbelievable plot devices designed to create a series of dramatic moments leading to a climatic denouement. This was a real shame as it was all going so well before it spiralled into a series of staged chases. Overall, an interesting story with strong characters that became more-and-more implausible.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review of Kill the Next One by Federico Axat (Text Publishing, 2016)

With an inoperable brain tumour, Ted McKay has decided to end it all.  With his wife and two daughters away on a break he sits in his study with a gun at his temple.  Just as he’s about to pull the trigger the door bell rings, a man shouting, begging him not to end it all just yet.  When Ted opens the door the stranger makes him a proposition: to join a suicide daisy-chain.  The man reasons it will be easier on his family if he’s murdered rather than committing suicide.  All Ted needs to do to join the club is kill two men: a man who has gotten away with murder and the next man in the daisy-chain.  With those two tasks complete, someone will come to kill him.  He agrees to the offer but during and after performing the two murders his grip on reality starts to become ever-more tenuous.  He blames his faulty memory and supposed hallucinations on the brain tumour, turning to his therapist to try and make sense of his world as he tries to work out if he’s become a cold-blooded killer or whether it has all been a trick of the mind.

Kill the Next One is an ambitious and an unusual crime novel.  Ted McKay may or may not have joined a suicide daisy-chain, killing two men – one the entry to the chain, the other the next link in the chain.  Since he’s suffering from a brain tumour his grip on reality is tenuous, with his dreams and the real world becoming thoroughly intertwined.  Axat uses this premise to spin a tale with numerous blinds, feints and twists.  Just as the reader feels they’re starting to piece the puzzle together, Axat throws all the pieces in the air once again.  The result is an intriguing and clever story about a man struggling with demons that may or may not be real but nonetheless have consequences with respect to his family and those he encounters.  Throughout Ted remains something of an enigma, somehow less than the sum of his multiple parts.  While the book is tagged as ‘The Perfect Thriller,’ it lacks the pace and tension of a thriller until the story reaches the denouement. Indeed, the pace is actually quite slow and more accurately be described as a slow-burning psychological noir.  The result of a somewhat elusive lead character and pedestrian pace that sometimes drags is that the tale is overly reliant on the plot to hook and drag the reader along.  This it achieves through the premise and convoluted loops, but cleverness alone doesn’t make-up for the lack of a thriller vibe.  Nonetheless, an interesting slice of literary crime fiction.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I've been meaning to make a start on Stav Sherez's The Intrusions.  I misplaced it for a while but now have it back on the to-be-read pile.  The plan is it'll be next up, so a review will hopefully appear in the next couple of weeks.

My posts this week
Review of Stasi Wolf by David Young
Review of Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk
New paper: The (in)security of smart cities: vulnerabilities, risks, mitigation and prevention
This is a joke, right?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

This is a joke, right?

Tony sighed and rolled his eyes. 

‘I hit him once in self-defence.  He was drunk and looking for a fight.’

‘You admit you killed him?’ The seated cop asked.

‘What? I just told you, he attacked me.  I punched him once.’

‘Once was enough.’

‘This is a joke, right?’ He glared at each cop. ‘I barely touched him.’

‘However you clocked him proved fatal.  Were you in the military, Tony?’


‘How about martial arts?’

‘No.  There must be some mistake.  I punched him once then ran.’

‘And he dropped dead.  Manslaughter.’

‘Manslaughter!  He attacked me!’

‘And you killed him.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review of Stasi Wolf by David Young (Zaffre, 2017)

East Germany, 1975. In the model new town of Halle-Neustadt twins have been snatched from their parents.  A short time later the baby boy is found dead in a suitcase thrown from a train.  Detective Karin Müller is transferred from Berlin to take over the case.  However, she is prevented from running a normal investigation by the local Stasi office who do not the reputation of a flagship development to be sullied by the abduction or the locals to panic.  Instead, Müller must find creative ways to try and quietly search for the missing baby girl.  The case also reminds Müller of her own aborted twins and raises questions about her own background.  Despite her best efforts, the investigation grinds almost to a halt, then the child snatcher strikes again.  Müller and her team are under pressure to find the culprit and rescue a second child but within the silencing parameters dictated by the Stasi.

Stasi Wolf is the second book in the Karin Müller series set in East Germany in the 1970s.  The premise of trying to find a child abductor in a police state where the Stasi do not want the crime to be publicly known was an interesting one.  However, while there is plenty going on in the plot, with a plethora of feints and turns, there is also too many niggles in the storyline.  For example, there was too much coincidence and telegraphing with respect to Karin’s personal life and history, too much coincidence in the links between Karin and other key characters, and the setup for the denouement was highly staged and fanciful in all aspects.  A key part of the plot premise also felt too contrived - I could see no logical reason why Karin would be bought in to investigate the case other than as a plot device – the same ends would have been achieved by the manipulator by just using the local police force, which is precisely what Karin does.  What keeps the book interesting is a glimpse into East Germany in the 1970s and its social relations and paranoia and resistance, which was nicely done, and the character of Karin Müller, who is determined to succeed as a murder detective despite widespread misogyny and difficult internal politics.  These pluses however are not sufficient to paper over the plotting issues, which is a shame as the series and character that has a lot of potential.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review of Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk (Osprey Pub, 2014)

The Crimea has long been fought over.  Robert Forczyk provides a brief summary of  number of conflicts as context for his main focus: the period between Russian Revolution and the Second World War, and in particular WWII itself.  While the contextual material covering the pre-WWII is a little sketchy, the war and the various actions and battles between 1941 and 1944 are covered in depth.  The Germans and Romanians entered the Crimea in force in September 1941, occupying most of the territory with the exception of Sevastopol.  Kerch was briefly taken back by the Russians in December for five months.  The siege of Sevastopol lasted 250 days before it finally fell. The Russians held a toe-hold at Kerch in late 1943 and invaded in force in April 1944, occupying the whole territory by early May, with the Germans conducting a Dunkirk-style evacuation of troops from Sevastopol.  The scale of the battles meant thousands of troops and civilians on both sides were killed or captured during the fighting or subsequent ethnic cleansing.  Further, during the German occupation, many Crimean Tatars sided with the Axis, paying a heavy-price after war being sent to labour camps or being murdered en masse.

Forczyk provides a blow-by-blow account of the war in the Crimea in what often reads as a list-like battle diary.  There is no shortage of technical terms, but very little personal testimony or a sense of key personalities beyond identifying them.  Moreover, while there is an extensive detailing of the places where battles occur, there is not a single map, let alone detailed battle maps.  Further, the narrative seems a little unequal, with the balance of attention focused on the Germans.  This is also reflected in the title – ‘Where the Iron Crosses Grow’ – despite the fact that the Russians were often just as brave and certainly lost more personnel in the conflict.  The result is an account that is somewhat dry and distant.  The last handful of pages concerning present day conflict in the Crimea is thin and strays into political reporting.  Overall, a quite technical, dry account that details all of the main events.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm back to acquiring books faster than I'm reading them.  Three more turned up at the weekend: Flight from Berlin by David John, Kill the Next One by Axat Federico, and The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax. I've also Stav Sherez's The Intrusions.  It's nice to be spoiled for choice.

My posts this week:
Review of The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
New paper: Urban informatics, governmentality and the logics of urban control
800th review
Let sleeping dogs lie

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Let sleeping dogs lie

Tony crashed the sledgehammer onto the concrete base four times in succession.

The pickaxe slid into a deep crack and Mike levered up a thick chunk.

The two men worked methodically excavating the site.

Tony stamped down the spade, levered it back and threw soil to one side.

‘Looks like an old boot,’ Mike said, hooking the leather with the pickaxe.

‘Still with the foot in it.’


The two men stared at the stained bone.

‘Now what?’ Mike asked.

‘We move the body.’

‘We what?’

‘Only pa could have put that body there.  Better to let sleeping dogs lie.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review of The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong (Text Publishing, 2016)

Darren and Wally Keefe spend all their time growing up playing cricket in the backyard.  They hone their skills and rivalry through hours of contest while their single mother works in a bar to pay the bills.  Their passion and batting skills soon gets them noticed when they join a local team. A short while later they are the youngest members of the senior team and are breaking records.  As they progress into adulthood, Wally becomes taciturn and single-minded, determined to play for his country.  Darren falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes the bad-boy of Australian cricket.  Both become sporting stars, but their careers take different paths.  What remains constant is their sibling rivalry and an endless succession of ups and downs on and off the pitch.  However, as they enter middle-age, it seems as if Darren’s past has caught up with him as he’s driven from Geelong to Melbourne, locked in the boot of a car, gagged and cable-tied, a bullet in his knee.

The Rules of Backyard Cricket is a brilliant slice of literary Australian noir.  The story is told through twin narratives.  The first, which opens each chapter, details the attempt by Darren Keefe – a bad-boy of Australian cricket – to free himself from the confines of a car boot.  The second charts the childhood and careers of Darren and Wally, his elder brother who secures a place in the Australian national team and eventually becomes captain.  Throughout their careers the Keefe brothers experience a number of highs and lows, all the while maintaining their sibling rivalry and fierce devotion to their single-mother who made many sacrifices to make sure they succeeded in becoming professional cricketers.  The plotting, pacing and prose is superb, with Serong creating a convincing story of two brothers who seem to have it all but are always slightly out of their depth and attract tragedy as much as success.  The Keefes’ world is very well realised, with keen attention to detail with respect to the cricket, as well as its less attractive elements – indeed, the story had the feel of a well realised autobiography than a piece of fiction.  The characterisation and character development is excellent, with Darren Keefe in particular – with his frailties and complexities – being very nicely portrayed.  Given Darren is trussed inside the car boot throughout it’s clear where Serong is leading the tale, but the denouement still packs a powerful and surprising punch.  Overall, an excellent, engaging read that knocks the ball out of the park.

Monday, February 6, 2017

800th review

I see from review counter that I have reached 800 book reviews on the blog, which must be worth a note.  If you've stopped by to read the reviews I hope they've been useful. I know I've enjoyed reading all the books and then jotting down some thoughts.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I got side-tracked on Thursday by the launch of the initial consultation document for the new National Planning Framework and ended up doing a couple of radio interviews and a TV debate:  RTE Radio 1, Drivetime interview; RTE Radio 1 News at One; RTE 1 Primetime. I also drafted a blog post if you're interested in such things.
My posts this week
Thoughts on the initial consultation document for ‘Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework’
Don't think of it as a test
Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
January reads
The limits of social media big data
New paper: Urban science: a short primer

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Don't think of it as a test

Tess kicked off her heels.

‘Just so we're clear. If you don't make me cum either shortly before or at the same time as you they'll be no second time.’

‘The same time?’

‘Synchronous; mutually compatible coupling.’

‘No pressure then!’

‘There better be plenty of pressure, Dan. Stop looking so worried! Don't think of it as a test but the best hour of your life.’




‘Come-on, let’s get those jeans off. Anything goes unless I say no. Ravage me!’

‘What about my rules?’

‘I want your prick, not for you to be one. Now, foreplay or home?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2006, Hyperion; 1998 Russian)

For a thousand years or more, a select group of supernatural humans, so-called ‘Others’, have lived among ordinary mortals, serving either the Dark or the Light.  While the Light feel duty bound to serve a common good and seek to produce a utopia, the Dark live to serve themselves.  Since calling a truce both sides honour a treaty, seeking to make sure each observes its remit while also trying to get the upperhand.  Anton is a mid-level member of the Night Watch who spend their time policing members of the Dark in Moscow.  Patrolling the metro one evening and tracking a young Other who has yet to choose the Light or Dark, Anton spots a young woman carrying a curse.  Both the child and woman, along with Anton, turn out to be highly significant pawns in a larger game being played by the respective bosses of the Light and Dark, and all three are in grave danger.  While Anton is not blessed with great magical powers he has enough guile to try and plot a path out of their predicament; it’s not clear though whether a willingness to try will be enough to save them and the city from catastrophe.

The Night Watch is an urban fantasy set in modern day Moscow.  It follows the adventures of Anton, a young member of the Night Watch who police the actions of the Dark, a collective of supernatural people who use their powers to further their own ends.  Members of the Light and Dark walk amongst ordinary people but can practice magic, take on other forms, and can slip into the Twilight, a kind of magical overlay that enables other kinds of interactions with time and space.  Following a young boy who is being called to a pair of vampires, Anton spots a young woman who is cursed.  The intersection of the three pull them into a strange interlinked nexus.  Both the boy and woman are ‘Others’ that have not yet chosen the Light or Dark and both sides want them to join their ranks.  It soon becomes clear, however, that a wider game is being played. It’s a testimony to the storytelling that Lukyanenko creates a full realised fantasy world that seems entirely natural to the reader from the first page.  Anton is an engaging character and is surrounded by other colourful members of the Night and Day Watch.  The plot is nicely constructed with good interplay between the characters and a shifting pattern of fortunes. Lukyanenko structures the tale into three interlinked parts, each of which is constructed as if it is a separate episode in a longer story arc.  The result is an entertaining and compelling tale of an unfolding battle between good and evil, the Light and the Dark.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January reads

A fairly slow reading start to the new year.  My book of the month was Harry Bingham's Talking to the Dead.  A great lead character and it's a series I imagine I'll be catching up with over the next couple of years.

The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home ****
The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey ***
Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham ****.5
Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb***
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen ****
Invasion Rabaul by Bruce Gamble ***.5