Saturday, September 30, 2017


Hannah took a sip of red wine.

‘Do you think this is going anywhere?’

‘What?’ Tom looked up from his meal. ‘Us?’


‘I … I thought we were getting on okay?’

‘But is okay enough?’

‘You want more?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect any more.’

‘You were hoping for fireworks?’

‘Maybe.’ Hannah shrugged.

‘They’re sparking all around us, but they’re fireflies rather than lightning bolts.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘This is what, our sixth date? I’m sixty three, and I’m too polite to ask your age, and I’m not sure of anything anymore. But I see fireflies.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review of Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2017)

1956. Bernie Gunther, former Berlin Kripo detective, is working as a concierge on the French Riviera. Gunther has a colourful past including working as a private investigator and for the upper echelons of the SD and SS; the latter under duress as he’s no Nazi. He’s also a wanted man for war crimes he didn’t commit. Ernst Mielke, the deputy head of the East German Stasi, wants Gunther to travel to Britain to murder a female agent that’s fallen out of favour. To make him compliant, Mielke’s brought along a small team led by Friedrich Korsch, an old Kripo colleague. Despite making the penalty for failing the mission clear, Bernie is reluctant to participate and loses his chaperones, making a break for West Germany. As he heads for the border, pursued by the Stasi and the French police who suspect him of a double murder, he recollects the last case he worked with his former Kripo colleague. That took place in early 1939 when he was asked by Martin Bormann and Reinhard Heydrich to investigate the shooting of a SS officer on the terrace of Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg. Heydrich considers Gunther the best detective in Germany, and one not driven by political ideology. It’s unthinkable that a man can be killed on the Fuhrer’s terrace, especially a week before the leader’s fiftieth birthday, and Bormann gives Bernie one week to catch the killer or face dire consequences. Bernie soon discovers there are no shortage of suspects given the widespread corruption linked to the development in the area. The problem is identifying which snake in the grass is the murderer and to tread carefully enough that he doesn’t end up dead as well. However, full of methamphetamines to keep him at work night and day, Bernie has big feet and the drugs make him emboldened. 

Prussian Blue is the twelfth instalment of the Bernie Gunther series. As with the last few outings the story is split into related threads, one set in 1956, the other in 1939. In 1956 Bernie is on the run from the East Germany Stasi who want him to murder a rogue agent and the French police who want him for murder. While fleeing from the French Riviera towards West Germany, Bernie remembers the last case he worked with the man now in pursuit of him. That involved him searching for the murderer of a high-ranking SS officer serving at Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, conducting the investigation while trying to deal with several senior Nazis and widespread local corruption. As with the other tales, the undoubted draw of Prussian Blue is the acerbic, world weary lead character whose principles have slowly been eroded over the years, and the historical contextualisation. A bit like Forrest Gump, Bernie has a habit of rubbing shoulders with a range of high profile historical characters and real-world events. Both threads are engaging, but there’s an unevenness in the telling. The 1956 thread is quite linear and operates as a short story interleaved between episodes of the more developed, complex 1939 thread. In many ways the 1956 thread more acts as a framing for the 1939 story and a bridge to the next episode in Bernie’s tale, moving him back to Germany. While the 1939 tale is engaging and rich in historical detail it’s also somewhat drawn out, with quite a bit of unnecessary explication, and in my view would have benefitted from quite a bit of pruning. Overall, despite my quibbles, another enjoyable addition to the series.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

This might possibly be the leanest period of reading and posting I've had on the blog. Too many things going on offline. I'm presently working my way slowly through 'Whisky from small glasses by Denzil Meyrich, one of the spate of Scottish-set police procedurals published in the last few years.

My posts the last two weeks
We still need better property data
Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan
Easy, girl 
Poor cat

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Poor cat

John yanked the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes but still felt a dull thud.

‘What the hell was that?’ Carrie said.

‘I dunno; some kind of animal.’

‘Jesus, John. Did we kill it?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘We should check.’

Carrie was crouching over a small black body when John joined her.

‘It’s a cat. We need to put it out of its misery.’

‘How about taking it to a vet?’

‘It’s too late for that; you need to kill it.’

‘Me? With what?’

‘A rock?’

‘No way.’

‘John, show some compassion. ’

‘You kill it then.’

‘Poor cat.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Easy, girl

Three SOCOs were huddled near the house.

‘What the hell’s that noise?’ Carter asked, approaching the shed.

‘His dog.’

‘Why hasn’t she been removed?’

‘No-one was brave enough to tackle her.’ Halligan eased open the door. ‘Dog warden’s on his way.’

The white bull terrier lifted her head, stopped mewing and rumbled a low growl.

‘Easy, girl,’ Carter said, showing his palms.

The dog eased itself up, it’s left flank covered in blood.

‘Are you going to remove it, Sir?’

‘I’d prefer not to look like our friend here. The question is, how did his attacker get past the dog?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan (2016, Random House)

A gas leak explosion leads to the discovery of a mother and her paraplegic daughter in the house next door. Dawn Prentice has been stabbed multiple times, her daughter left to fend for herself, dying from a stroke bought on by neglect. The Prentices were already known to DS Mel Ferreira of Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit after a number of harassment incidents, including ‘Cripple’ being written on their car. That places the murder investigation into the hands of DI Zigic rather than CID and he, Ferreira, and their small team try to solve the case. Hampering their progress is the absence of a key witness who is being protected by another police force, too many potential suspects given Dawn’s promiscuous love life, and a lack of resources, but they doggedly stick to their task.

After You Die is the third book in the Ferreira and Zigic procedural series focusing on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. In this outing, the pair and their small team are investigating the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. The murder has the feel of a domestic crime and Dawn Prentice almost certainly knew her attacker, but there are plenty of potential candidates and some complicating factors, including the absence of a key witness and the murder weapon. In my view it’s the strongest book in what is an excellent series. There are several aspects that make it standout, not least its realism – this is no fantasist thriller, nor does it rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. Instead, it is a tightly plotted tale of a tragic double murder and its investigation that rings true. And for the first time in a while I hadn’t identified the killer a fair way before the reveal; well, I had, but then I had a fair few characters pegged as the suspect throughout the read. Indeed, Dolan does an excellent job of keeping various possible suspects in the frame and shifting potential guilt between them. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the peeling back of the victims’ lives and their relationships to others as the investigation unfolds. The tale also nicely deals with issues around disability, harassment, and fostering. And Ferreira and Zigic’s personal lives unfold with their own everyday domestic dramas. Overall, a captivating read and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I know we're not getting hurricanes like elsewhere, but it's rained every day for seven weeks and it really is time for it to stop. I'm fed up with being constantly damp! I've finally got round to starting Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr - it's a big book and I might have to get a little stand for it as its fair weighty; I suspect the content is going to be as well.

My posts this week
Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham
Behind the water tank
August reads

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Behind the water tank

‘Sir.’ Hannigan tried smiling at the petrified face. ‘Sir.’


‘There’s a child up here. A girl.’

‘Alive?’ Carter asked, surprised, turning his attention from the bloodstained walls.

‘Yes. She’s hiding behind the water tank.’

Carter climbed the ladder and the white-suited forensics officer turned her torch towards him.

‘Is she okay?’

‘I can’t get her to respond.  She looks scared out of her wits.’

‘Are you okay, missy?’ Carter asked.

The girl tried to shuffle back further out of reach.

‘She’s afraid of your voice.’

‘I would be too. I’ll get family liaison; she’d be better with a psychologist.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham (Hachette, 2013)

When a human leg is discovered in the garage freezer of a house being cleared after the death of its elderly occupant DC Fiona Griffiths is first on the scene. Soon carefully packaged body parts are being found in gardens, sheds and houses all over the surrounding neighbourhood. Then human remains from another body are discovered scattered by a nearby reservoir.  While the first victim, a young woman, seems to have been killed a few years beforehand, the second, a Moroccan-born engineer from the local university, is much more recent. Cardiff’s CID rapidly mobilises, but they have hundreds of persons of interest and no clear link between the victims. Griffiths is determined to remain a part of the investigation to the point where she’ll bend the rules to make sure she’s involved. Her antics place her in grave danger, though Griffiths is no stranger to peril or death given that she’s recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome and her psychotic episodes give her a unique perspective on life and cases.

Love Story, With Murders is the second instalment of the Fiona Griffiths series set in Cardiff, Wales. There are two key strengths to story. The first is the lead character, a complex, unconventional, socially awkward, risk-taking, young woman with an interesting back story. When she’s not creating or rushing headlong into a situation, she’s highly reflective, aware that she lacks emotional intelligence and needs to act how she thinks a ‘normal’ person might do.  The second is the voice; Bingham tells the tale through a highly engaging first person narrative.  In terms of plot, Bingham weaves together three main strands: the murders of a young woman and a Moroccan-born engineer, a suicide at a local prison, and Griffiths’ investigation of her father (a high profile criminal in the city) and her unconventional adoption when she was two. It’s an interesting mix, leading to a story that zips along and is bursting with intrigue, though some it seems to rely a little too much on coincidence and is somewhat far-fetched at times. Nonetheless, it’s a gripping read and it’s a real pleasure to spent time with Fiona Griffiths, a unique character in a genre full of stereotypes and tropes.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

August reads

On the whole, August proved a good month of reading. My book of the month is Riptide by John Lawton.

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5
Riptide by John Lawton *****
Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5
The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5
The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5
The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

For all crime fiction aficionados, Noireland: An International Crime Fiction Festival, Oct 27-29, Belfast. Join Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sophie Hannah, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl, Robert Crais, Liz Nugent and many more. Looks like it'll be a couple of interesting days of conversations.

My posts this week
Visiting positions, Maynooth University
Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding
Workshop: The Right to the Smart City
Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson
Spilt coffee

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spilt coffee

‘He did it.’ Clarke said, watching a police car depart.

‘The world and her mother knows he did it, but why?’

‘He said she’d spilt his coffee.’

‘You don’t cave your wife’s head in over spilt coffee.’ Jones rolled his neck.  Over his shoulder one of the SOCOs laughed.

‘What’s so fucking funny?’ Clarke bellowed.

 ‘Meakins’ just ripped the arse out of his white suit,’ a voice answered, ignoring Clarke’s ire.

‘Jesus,’ Clarke muttered. ‘Thirty three. Two kids.’

‘He’ll get life.’

‘And be out in fifteen.’

‘Must have been some cup of coffee.’

‘It’s got fuck-all to do with coffee.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding (Windmill Books, 2013)

Born in 1901 Rudolf Höss served as an under-age soldier in the German Army in the Middle East during the First World War, fell in with the National Socialist Party in the early 1920s, serving time in prison for manslaughter, and tried his hand at farming before joining the SS and becoming an early employee of the first concentration camp. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming the founding commandant of Auschwitz, putting in place the architecture and practices of mass murder in the archipelago of related camps and refining the process to make it more efficient, and joining the senior management team in charge of running all concentration camps. He was thus a key player in the holocaust. Born in 1917, Hanns Alexander was the son of a rich Jewish doctor in Berlin (and great-uncle of the writer). As the National Socialists grew in power and Jews became more persecuted, along with his fellow family members he fled to England in 1936. Along with his twin brother he signed up with the Pioneer Corps, being sent to France and evacuated through Dunkirk, returning to France in 1944. As the war drew to a close he was transferred to the British war crimes unit to work as a translator, but later was made an investigator in his own right. Determined to prove himself, he tracked down the Gauleiter of Luxembourg and Rudolf Höss.

Hanns and Rudolf tells two intertwined biographies until their eventual convergence, telling the life stories of two German men who ended up on opposing sides, swapping roles of hunter and hunted.  The structure of the book thus consists of paired chapters focusing on a particular time period (in a very similar fashion to ‘Dietrich and Riefenstahl’, published in the same year and I reviewed a couple of months ago). While the focus is very much on the two men’s lives and their individual journeys, the narrative is also used to reflect in part on German society between the wars and how people became enrolled into the holocaust or were affected by virulent anti-semitism. The strength of the book is the contrasting biographies and the story of how they eventually came to intersect and the focus on their personalities and the everydayness of each man’s home life. While it is clear that Höss invented and performed monstrous acts, to his loved ones he was considered a dedicated and considerate family man. Hanns, while driven to seek justice, is a prankster and a little bit of a rogue.  They are poles apart, but are presented as stark black and white but as very dark and very light grey. Höss broke the dam of denial in the Nuremberg trials by admitting his crimes, and those of his fellow defendants, and detailing how the system worked, especially in his memoirs written in a Polish prison before his trial and execution.  The weakness of the book, however, is a reliance on those memoirs as personal testimony and a lack of critical engagement with them and deep reflection on the psychology and actions of Höss. The complexity of the man, who seemed to lead a double life or expressed a dual personality, is somehow lost and he’s presented somewhat at face value (rather than as someone trying to post-event justify their actions). The result was the narrative lacked a critical edge, failing to ask and answer difficult and penetrating questions about Höss life. Nonetheless, an interesting account of two contrasting men whose lives intersected in a dramatic way.