Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

It would have been nice to attend the Noireland, An International Crime Fiction Festival in Belfast this weekend, but family commitments prevented me from making it. From social media it seems to have been a success, so hopefully it will continue and I'll make it next year.

My posts this week:
Review of Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser
New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores
Forgotten in his own life time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Forgotten in his own life time

‘This is it?’ Turner put the photograph of a young woman back on a shelf and picked up a folder.

‘Yes,’ the duty manager replied. ‘He arrived with a suitcase and one box.’

‘And he’d no relatives?’

‘Not that we know about. No-one’s visited since he arrived three years ago.’

Turner pulled a sheet of paper free. ‘It says here he won a Gairnder Award.’

The manager shrugged.

‘It’s a major international award for medical science. A stepping stone to a Nobel prize.’

‘He never talked about himself.’

‘Jesus. Forgotten in his own life time.’

‘Even by himself. Alzheimers. Poor bastard.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review of Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (1977, HarperCollins)

Harry Flashman is back in London and has been asked to reprise his cricketing prowess at Lords. Unwittingly he’s dragged into a gambling racket and into the orbit of Don Solomon, a man with great wealth but an unclear past rooted in the Far East, who has taken a shine to Elspeth, Flashman’s beautiful but ditzy wife.  Solomon wants to take Elspeth and her doddery, scheming father on a cruise to the far-side of the world. For once, Flashman acts with chivalry towards his wife and when Solomon gets his way he tags along to keep an eye on her. The journey takes them down the African coast, round the Cape of Good Hope, into the Indian Ocean and to Singapore. There, Flashman is set upon and Elspeth kidnapped. Flashman hooks up with James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak, to pursue his wife into the wilds of Borneo and a battle with pirates, ending his adventure on the island of Madagascar where he’s enslaved by despot, Queen Ranavalona.

Flashman’s Lady is the sixth book in the Harry Flashman series, but the second in chronological order, set in 1843-45. As usual, Fraser interweaves Flashman into real-world events and places from the time – in this case, cricket in London, James Brooke’s battles with pirates in Borneo, and the tyrannical reign of Queen Ranavalona in Madagascar, a deadly place for Europeans to visit. To a large degree these are three separate adventures just about held together by Flashman’s global chaperoning and pursuit of his air-headed wife, Elspeth. Moreover, Flashman almost slips out of character, for although he is his usual bawdy-self for once he is chivalrous to Elspeth, seeking to make sure she is safe rather than simply looking after himself as normal.  Of course, that doesn’t stop him getting up to high-jinks with other women. And Flashman continues in his misogynist, racist, imperialist ways – very much reflecting a certain British, nineteenth century mentality that feels somewhat uncomfortable in today’s politically correct times. Fraser plays the bawdiness and humour to good effect to deliver a swashbuckling adventure with plenty of social and historical commentary. Overall, an enjoyable if a little uneven addition to the series.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I've not travelled that much in the last six months; just to the UK a couple of times.  Heck, do they need to sort out their rail system. It's a mess. Whatever the timetable says double the time. I might write a short story at some point about a man who loses the plot on a train - but actually externalizes it rather than it unfolding only in my head. The only thing keeping me sane was first 'Flashman's Lady', then 'Map of a Nation', a biography of the Ordnance Survey.

My posts this week
Review of A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston
Wanting to scream

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wanting to scream

The two shopping bags hit the floor. A yoghurt pot jumped free, landed and split.

Tom was hanging naked above the stairs.

She wanted to scream – inside her head and body that’s all she could hear and feel – but couldn’t externalise it.

Instead her legs collapsed under her, though she fell still gazing up, unable to avert her stare.

‘Mummy! Rachel won’t let me play.’

Some primordial instinct broke the spell.

‘Stay outside’: Said as she landed.

‘But mummy …’

‘Just stay there.’ She tried to scramble up and towards the door, slipped on the yoghurt.

Then the screaming started.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review of A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston (2006 by Ballantine Books)

Having moved from a man on the run in Mexico to reluctant hitman for the Russian Mob in Las Vegas, Hank Thompson only seems to function if he’s swallowed a cocktail of drugs. Other than the drugs, all that is keeping him going is the need to serve his debt to keep his parents alive, but he knows that his boss’s patient is running thin. He’s somewhat surprised then when he’s asked to babysit a rising baseball star and gambling addict who's visiting the city to blow some of his signing-on-fee from the New York Mets. Hank’s task is to keep the player partying and out of trouble. It’s a bitter pill for the ailing hitman to take given that he was also a hot baseball prospect before events overtook him. Nonetheless despite his resentment he can’t help liking Miguel Arenas. When Miguel heads to his new life, Hank is sent as his chaperone; back to the city where he’s still a wanted man.

A Dangerous Man is the final instalment of the Hank Thompson trilogy. After the trials and tribulations leading up to his present predicament, it’s no surprise to find him struggling as a conscience-wracked, drug-adled hitman for David Dolokhov, a Russian mobster. Dolokhov specialises in fleecing gambling addicts and running rackets, taking the ultimate sanction as a warning to others when they fail him. He keeps Hank on a short tether with a threat to murder his parents. At a low ebb and waiting to find himself in the firing line Hank’s surprised to be asked to mind a rising baseball star with a gambling problem. Huston uses the introduction of Miguel Arenas to inject some hope into Hank’s life, but also more danger as he’s sent back to New York where his descent started. Told in the first person the narrative is pretty bleak throughout with Hank stumbling from one incident to another, constantly shifting from paranoia to scheming for a way out. It’s a little uneven in the telling, but still a solid piece of contemporary hardboiled pulp and it has a very apt noir ending.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

Hurricane Orphelia should be a tropical storm by the time it hits Ireland in the early hours of Monday. It's predicted to be the biggest storm in 50 years with winds gusting 90-130 km an hour. Hopefully our nearly complete house and garage will survive. Fingers crossed the storm loses energy very quickly and veers west into the Atlantic.

My posts this week:
Review of Moth by James Sallis

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Grogan opened the front door. ‘It’s yourself.’

‘I thought you’d appreciate a personal visit. You don’t look so well.’

‘No thanks to you.’

‘You seem to think I’m the poison, Grogan, but I’m the remedy.’ Phelan held up a bag containing an off-white powder.

‘Ha! A pharmakon.’


‘It’s Greek. It means poison and remedy. Both you and the H.’

‘Nobody made you take drugs, professor.’

‘Nobody tried to stop me either.’

Phelan shrugged. ‘You’re an adult, and I’m a businessman. Now, you want a fix, I want my money.’

‘I’m broke.’

‘Then you need remedy that situation. And mine.’

A drabble is a story of 100 words.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review of Moth by James Sallis (1993, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin has lived a meandering life of unfulfilled relationships, sorrow and regrets. After years of working as a private detective, scouring the underbelly of New Orleans, he has become a novelist and university professor, transforming his past into fiction. Shortly after the death of one of his past loves her current partner asks Griffin to locate her missing daughter.  She has dropped out of school and seemingly gone on a drugs-filled bender. Griffin agrees to try and track her down, returning to his old crafts and haunts, and occasional violence he thought he’d left behind. The trail takes him out of the city and to memories of his parents and his own long-lost son.

Moth is the second book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing Griffin comes out of retirement as a private detective to track down the missing daughter of an old flame who has recently died. His journey threads him through the underbelly of the city and out into rural Louisiana. There are three real strengths to Moth. The first is the central character of Griffin, who is cloaked in a world weariness, worn down by years of operating as a PI and dealing with oppressors and victims, everyday racism, successive failed relationships sabotaged by his own unwillingness to commit, and his inability to find his missing son, yet remains compassionate and resolute. The second is philosophical observations and asides about human nature and society, as well as some nice intertextuality concerning the authorship and narrative form. The third is the prose and voice; Sallis also writes poetry and it tells in the lyrical nature of his writing.  The plot is engaging enough, tracking Griffin’s progress in locating the wayward daughter, with a second thread added near the end, though the resolution of both are rather flat. However, Moth is really a tale about Griffin himself rather than telling the story of a compelling mystery. And that focus worked fine for me as he’s an interesting character to spend time with, as is Sallis’ prose and reflections on life and society.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm finally getting round to reading the final installment of Charlie Huston's 'Hank Thompson' trilogy, A Dangerous Man. It's hardly cheery stuff, but it's rattling along.

My posts this week

The time I wrestled with a tiger
Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich
September reads

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The time I wrestled with a tiger

Tom paused and stared at the fire.  He’d told the story so many times he was no longer sure as to what was truth or embellishment. Perhaps his memory had become so corrupted that it was all just a mutant narrative. Maybe it wasn’t a memory at all, but simply a story about himself; an expression of who he wanted to be.

‘Granddad? What happened next?’

‘I don’t know, son. I’m not sure if any of it happened.’

‘But you have the scar!  There on your hand.’

Tom rang a finger along the pale line.

‘The tiger leapt forward. Roar!’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich (Polygon, 2012)

The body of a young woman is washed up on a Scottish beach in the West of Scotland. Detective Inspector Jim Daley is sent from Glasgow to the remote, close-knit town of Kinloch to investigate. There he discovers that the woman was infamous for performing sexual favours for drink and drugs and that her friend and a local club owner have disappeared. Daley and his team start a search while also hunting for other clues, though their task is not aided by the lukewarm reception of the local sub-divisional commander. Also acting as a distraction is the presence of Daley’s wife. She has followed him to the seaside town with her brother-in-law in tow hoping to try and patch things up despite her infidelity and Daley's hair-trigger temper. When the body count rises further pressure is applied by Daley’s ambitious boss. Soon there is much more at stake than Daley’s job and his rocky marriage.

Whisky in Small Glasses is the first in the DCI Daley series set in the West of Scotland. Daley is for the most part calm, collected and reasonable but he also has anger management issues that flair up when stressed. Given the state of his marriage, the pressure from his boss, and a difficult case, he’s never far from snapping. His sidekick is DS Brian Scott, a no-nonsense cop who’s reached his career ceiling. Together they make an interesting pair. Where the story suffers though is with respect to the plotting and telling. Meyrich uses a succession of plot devices to keep the story moving forward, some of which are seem barely credible, such as the backstory and unfolding drama involving the local chief cop, and Daley’s wife following him to the murder location. Moreover, the identity of the killer is strongly telegraphed from about halfway through in what is meant to be a whodunit. This is not helped by the lifeless, workmanlike prose. The result is a fairly weakly told police procedural anchored by a couple of intriguing lead characters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September reads

September proved to be quite possibly the slowest reading month of the last eight years of the blog. I managed one book a week. At least they were good reads! My book of the month was Eva Dolan's After You Die.

Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr ****
After You Die by Eva Dolan *****
Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding ***.5