Saturday, June 30, 2018

Her last hope

‘Is it true you were a policeman, Gerry? In Britain.’

He’d known his neighbour had be building up to something, but the question still took him by surprise.

‘That’s right, Bridie.’

‘You were a detective?’

‘Just an ordinary cop. Walking the beat, keeping the peace.’

‘But you worked on missing people cases?’

‘What is it that you’re after, Bridie?’

‘My Mary. She disappeared. Twelve years ago.’

‘I’m not a policeman anymore.’

‘But you know how to find people.’

‘Bridie …’

‘You’re my last hope, Gerry. Her last hope.’

So much for retirement. He thrust his spade into the sodden ground.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review of Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Orion, 2016)

Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Cloverleaf Books, spends a weekend reading the latest instalment of Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd series set in post-war Britain. It soon becomes clear that this will be Pünd’s last case, the detective suffering from inoperable brain cancer. Given that Conway’s books are Cloverleaf’s bestselling titles, this is somewhat of an issue for the publisher. Worse though is to follow, when Conway himself is found dead. It seems that he committed suicide, though Ryeland is not convinced, herself becoming an amateur detective to solve the both Pünd’s last case and Conway’s death.

Magpie Murders presents a murder mystery inside a murder mystery. The first half of the book presents the ninth instalment of Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd series, titled ‘Magpie Murders’ as read by Susan Ryeland, a publishing editor. The second half follows Ryeland’s attempt to get to the bottom of Conway’s sudden death a few days after submitting the manuscript. While the first mystery is self-contained, the second one is intricately linked to the first, with parallels from Conway’s real life finding reference in the Pünd novel. Both mysteries, and the novel as a whole, is very much an homage to the Golden Era of English crime fiction, especially the work of Agatha Christie: Pünd is a German refugee version of Hercule Poirot and Ryeland is a modern, younger version of Miss Marple; and the narrative structure and plotting mimics tales from English rural mysteries of Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Nagio Marsh, etc., with intricate puzzles and hidden clues. In many ways, Horowitz has taken the homage to its limit, packing the novel with clever, knowing references to the era’s novels and style, lots of puzzles within puzzles, hidden puns, and the novel within a novel format. If I was judging the book for sheer inventiveness it would be a five star review. The issue, for me at least, is that neither of the two mysteries are particularly compelling in-and-of themselves. They’re both well plotted tales, with lots of suspects and red herrings, but neither particularly sparkles and the denouements of both are relatively straightforward. So, if you want a clever tale about crime fiction, with lots of intertextual references, then this novel is for you (and this was certainly what I most enjoyed about it); it may also be for you if you want a two-in-one, relatively run-of-the-mill, golden age style mysteries.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review of The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan (Sphere, 2018)

As a fresh-faced guard, Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her ruined home, apparently dead from a drugs suicide. He takes the two children, Jack and Maude, to a local hospital where the daughter disappears. Twenty years later Reilly is back in the West, having transferred to Galway to follow his university researcher partner. He arrives to a frosty reception from his new police colleagues and is assigned to cold cases. A few weeks later and Jack Blake is dead, reported as committing suicide by leaping in the Corrib river. His partner, Aisling is devastated, but accepts the guards’ explanation until Jack’s sister, Maude, turns ups, having returned from Australia. She uncovers evidence that there is more to Jack’s death than first assumed. Reilly remembers Jack and Maude from his first fatal case, but is kept from the investigation into Jack’s death. Instead, he is asked to look into their mother’s death and the possibility that Maude killed her mother. Nothing about either case is what it seems and Reilly is swimming against the police tide in his new posting.

The Rúin is Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel, a police procedural set in Galway in the West of Ireland. There’s a kind of play on words in the title, with Rúin meaning secret in Irish, and the first body and anchor to the story being found in a ruin. The story links together an old and new case: the suicide death of a mother and twenty years later, the death of her son. The lead character is Detective Inspector Cormac Reilly, who has transferred from an elite unit in Dublin to the regional city to follow his partner. Reilly connects both cases, having discovered the mother and moved to the same station investigating the son’s death. He has been marginalised in his new role however, relegated to reviewing cold cases, and shunned by his new colleagues. He knows though when something smells off and the inquiry into Jack Blake’s death is being badly handled. McTiernan does a nice job of telling the tale, with a deep sense of foreboding throughout and plenty scheming, tangled histories and station politics that does a good concealing over the many coincidences holding the plot together. I wasn’t convinced by the denouement, but the tale is nonetheless intriguing and entertaining and an assured start to a series.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

I visited Dundee a week or so ago. It's changed a bit since I was last there. I gave a talk with a view of RMS Discovery and the new V&A museum. The V&A is a striking building and opens in September. I should have tried harder to find some Dundee based fiction, but settled for Ian Rankin. I'll see if I can track down some Tayside Noir.

My posts this week
Review of Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin
Review of Bone Island Mambo by Tom Corcoran
Red shoes

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Red shoes

Harry led Chloe along a track through the forest.

‘It’s only a little further. It’s perfect. Hidden. Secluded.’

Chloe halted.  ‘Look.’


‘Over there.’ Chloe pointed at a pile of leaves. ‘A red shoe.’

‘Probably dumped there.’

‘I don’t think so.’ Chloe edged nearer. ‘It’s a body.’

Harry approached the shoe and leg. ‘We need to call the police.’

‘They’ll find out we were together.’

‘I’ll say I found her.’

‘But our footprints.’

‘I can ring them anonymously.’

‘There’s no phone boxes anymore, Harry.’

‘We can’t just leave her.’

‘My mum, will kill me.’

‘At least we’re wearing black shoes.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Review of Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin (Orion, 2016)

John Rebus is retired but he has a new partner and a file of cold cases to keep himself occupied. One case in particular preys on his mind. Maria Turquand, the promiscuous wife of a wealthy banker, was killed in her hotel room forty years ago. Rebus was on the fringe of the case and now uses his friendship with DI Siobhan Clarke to access old files. Clarke is investigating an attack on Darryl Christie, the new crime lord in the city. DI Malcolm Fox also has an interest in Christie and his extensive money laundering operation and his connections to the activities of a shady financier. A few hours after Rebus talks to an old colleague about the Turquand case the man is dead and a team from Police Scotland parachuted in to investigate, with Fox and Clarke drafted in to help. Rebus immediately starts stepping on toes as he continues his investigation, becoming more intrigued as his cold case and the investigation into Christie’s attack and operations start to blur. Meanwhile, Big Ger Cafferty stirs the pot from edges sensing a chance to profit from his protégé’s troubles.

Rather Be The Devil is the twenty first instalment of the Rebus series. Rather than becoming tired and clichéd, the series still has a freshness and verve. The relationship between Rebus, his former sidekick Siobhan Clarke, and old rival now friend, Malcolm Fox, and his rivalry with Big Ger Cafferty and Darryl Christie, continues to evolve and shift. And Rankin keeps the police procedural elements up-to-date as the organisation, politics and practices of Scottish policing transforms. Beyond the characters and the context, it is the quality of the storytelling that really shines. Rankin’s voice is very engaging, with an excellent blend of present case and continuing series threads, with a strong grounding in the everyday – these are characters and situations that seem real, rather than exceptional or extraordinary. The story in this outing is particularly compelling, investigating a cold case of the murder of vivacious banker’s wife and investigating a current attack against a young crime lord and murder of the last detective to examine the cold case. It’s somewhat unbelievable that there are so many connections between the three events, but Rankin handles these nicely rather than it being a series of clunky coincidences, and they add to rather than detract from story. Overall, an entertaining crime tale and a strong addition to the series.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review of Bone Island Mambo by Tom Corcoran (2001, Minotaur Press)

Alex Rutledge is a freelance photographer who occasionally does crime scene photos for the Key West police authorities. On a January afternoon he’s called to a construction site at which he was snapping photos of in the morning and had an altercation with a couple of thugs. The detective in charge is hostile and sloppy and Rutledge is quickly dismissed. An hour later and the sheriff’s office has him photographing another victim on a nearby island. Rutledge recognizes that the incidents are related and connected to his early morning encounter. So begins a strange week of murder and mayhem as Rutledge seeks to stay alive, stay out of jail, and catch a killer as his friends are threatened and others are murdered in copycat fashion to recent unsolved crimes.

Bone Island Mambo is the third book in the Alex Rutledge series set in Key West. Like many Florida set crime tales there is a fair amount of mayhem in the plot and colourful characters, but Corcoran shies away from flat-out craziness and crazies, telling the story more as a straight action-packed amateur detective tale. The plotting is complex but excellent, with lots of moving parts, plenty of twists and turns, and several suspects being in the frame coming to the denouement. There’s a lot going on and lots of characters, but the narrative is clear enough that the reader doesn’t get lost. What renders the tale a little flat is the telling, which lacks a bit of verve, and the characterisation, which often felt a little one dimensional, especially Rutledge who I never really connected with. I think this was partly because of the first voice narration, which sometimes seemed a little wooden. Nonetheless, the story carries the reader along for what’s an enjoyable whodunit.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

The world cup has become the moving wallpaper in the background at home. I'm not sure I'm going to win the fantasy football league at work. My six teams are France, Argentina, Portugal, Iceland, Serbia and South Korea. The points system works on wins and goals scored equals points, losses and goals conceded losing points. So far, two wins, three draws, and one still to play. Main thing is I need all of them to get out of the groups to stand any chance. Come-on Iceland!

My posts this week

Review of Traitors by Josh Ireland
Own goal

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Own goal

‘I guess we’ve a month of this nonsense?’ Emma said, entering the living room. ‘Ten hours a day of twenty men chasing a ball.’

‘Twenty two,’ Tom said, not looking up.

‘The goalkeepers are not chasing anything.’

‘Still …’

‘Still, nothing. Ninety minutes of tedium, diving, fouling, grown men throwing tantrums, dodgy refereeing, then a panel talking shite.’

‘And a few goals.’

‘What else is on?’

‘Ah, come-on, it’s the world cup!’

‘And Ireland’s not there.’


‘Seriously, you expect me to watch wall-to-wall football for the next four weeks?’

‘And fetch me beer.’

‘Talk about scoring an own goal.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review of Traitors by Josh Ireland (John Murray, 2017)

During the Second World War a number of British subjects betrayed their country by working for the Germans (a number of others do the same for Russia). In Traitors, Josh Ireland provides mini-biographies of four men who worked for the Nazis, providing a nuanced account of their actions, reasoning and fate.

William Joyce, a fascist in Britain before the war, broadcasts as Lord Haw-Haw. John Amery is the wayward son of one of Churchill’s cabinet members, who sets up a scheme to try and recruit prisoners of war to fight on the German side against the Russians. Harold Cole is a conman and thief who finds himself left behind in France after Dunkirk and sets up escape lines only to betray all its members to the Gestapo, who he subsequently serves. Eric Pleasants starts the war as a pacifist, who is captured in Jersey and spends time as a prisoner of war before he’s recruited to join a British unit of the SS. Joyce and Amery are ideologues who maintain that they are patriots who wish to see Britain join Germany to fight the Bolsheviks. Cole is an opportunist petty criminal who’ll do anything to save his own skin. Pleasants does not believe in nationalism and principally looks after himself. While they each can self-justify their actions, the British authorities, press and public take a different view, and all of them pay a heavy price for their actions.

Ireland’s account is well researched, yet he doesn’t get bogged down in minutia, keeping the tale moving. Unusually for a historical account, Ireland tells the four men’s stories in the present tense. Along with an engaging voice, this works to give the material some immediacy and verve. It would have been nice to reflect a bit more in the conclusion about the nature of treachery in concept versus the messy lived reality, but overall an interesting, thought-provoking read.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

It's been a few weeks since I last visited the local bookshop. I popped in yesterday and picked up some reading for the next few weeks: Black Water by Cormac O'Keeffe, The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, The Confession by Joe Spain, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, Lightening Men by Thomas Mullen, and Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin.

My posts this week:

Review of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr
Review of Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth
May reads
Defending home

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Defending home

The orangutan ran along the downed trunk and slammed his fists into the digger’s scoop. Paused, thumped again and retreated.

A handful of loggers watched, looking bemused.

‘We need to get closer, Miguel,’ Cassie said. ‘One of them might shoot him.’

‘More likely capture and sell him.’

The orangutan stood in front of the treetop defiantly.

The scoop started to move. The great ape advanced, raising its arms.

‘Hey!’ Cassie yelled. ‘Stop that machine!’


‘They’re logging illegally. Stealing his home. Now there’s three of us defending it.’

‘With fists and cameras.’

‘I came here to help them, Miguel. Hey!’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2018)

1957, Munich. Bernie Gunther is working as an assistant in a hospital mortuary when an old acquaintance recognizes him and strong-arms him into helping to steal money destined for a politician. Expecting a double-cross, Bernie plays his own version and his reward from the politician is a job as an investigator in an insurance company. For an ex-cop, the job is perfect, with Bernie’s detective instincts enabling him to spot frauds and quickly gain the attention of his bosses. When the company’s usual shipping investigator reports ill, they decide to reward Bernie’s work by sending him to Athens to verify the claim for a sunken ship. The ship has a dirty history, having been taken from a Jew sent to Auschwitz, and was on a trip to search for sunken treasure. Bernie takes an instant dislike to the German owner and is suspicious of the circumstances related to the claim. When the claimant turns up dead, shot through both eyes, a Greek cop likes Bernie for the murder. Holding his passport and threatening jail, the cop strong-arms Bernie into discovering the murderer and tracking down old Nazis who seem to have returned to Greece to collect what they stole from the Jews of Salonika.

Greeks Bearing Gifts is the thirteenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. In this outing it is 1957. Bernie is living in Munich under an assumed identity and is trying to keep a low profile. However, his peace is broken by an old Berlin colleague and very quickly Bernie’s life first starts to unravel, then takes a turn for the better. In his new role as an insurance claims assessor he is sent to Greece to investigate the legitimacy of a claim relating to a sunken ship. There his luck seems to flip-flop: on the one hand he is placed in the frame for murder and is embroiled in a conspiracy that dates back to the Nazi occupation of the country; on the other hand, he meets and falls for a beautiful Greek woman. As usual, Bernie’s task is to stay alive and extricate himself from the mess he now finds himself in. And also as usual, Kerr does a very nice job of creating an intriguing plot that places his anti-hero into the midst of real-life characters and historical events. There is a strong sense of place and time, the characterisation is excellent, there’s nice references to Greek mythology and noir films, and story for the most part is compelling. The only fly in the ointment was the troublesome coincidence that some of the people in Munich are the same as he's dealing with in Greece, creating what felt like an over-extended plot device. Nonetheless, this is Kerr and Gunther in fine form, with Greeks Bearing Gifts being an entertaining and engaging read.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review of Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth (Serpents Tail, 2015)

London, 1942. A killer is preying on women in the blacked out streets of London. As women fear for their lives, DCI Ted Greenaway investigates, seeking to quickly capture the murderer. The killer, however, is moving swiftly, selecting new victims in rapid succession. To add to Greenaway’s woes as soon as he apprehends the suspected killer another women is murdered in the same area, raising the question as to whether he has arrested the right person, or whether a second killer is at work.

Without the Moon is a relatively straightforward police procedural, although with fewer twists and turns, and less focus on the personal life of the lead police officer. The story is rather linear and the two denouements (one mid-book) anti-climaxes, which is somewhat to do with it being the fictionalised account of two real cases that took place, the first named ‘the blackout ripper.’ The tale is also somewhat thin, with Unsworth fleshing out the story with subplots relating to London gangsters and lives of working women. The characters are largely one-dimensional lacking backstory and personality. In addition, there were a number of small elements that didn’t ring true, for example, a sergeant calling his boss ‘Ted’, as opposed to ‘Sir’ or ‘DCI Greenaway’. The result was a story that had an interesting setting and premise, but felt a bit anaemic with respect to characters, plot and storytelling.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

May reads

A fairly mixed month of reading in terms of setting, themes and styles. Two historical crime fiction tales, told in a hardboiled style were the standout books. I think Night Life just shades it as my read of the month.

Night Life by David C Taylor ****.5
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter ***
Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell ****
Paris Trout by Pete Dexter ***.5
The Bombers and The Bombed by Richard Overy ***.5
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan ***
White Butterfly by Walter Mosley ****.5

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Lazy Sunday Service

A beautiful day. Ten hours of gardening. Digging French drains, creating a gravel patio, and raking flat top soil and sowing with grass seed. Same again tomorrow. Now sitting outside watching the swallows acrobatics over the meadow. Very little reading, though I did finish Philip Kerr's Greeks Bearing Gifts early this morning.

My posts this week
Review of Night Life by David C Taylor
Final ‘official’ day of Progcity project and thanks
Where's my money?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Where's my money?

It took him a couple of moments to realise he wasn’t alone. Even then Steve’s reaction was slow. A fist sent him back onto the sofa.

‘You had the whole world to hide in and you chose Donegal!’

Steve made it halfway across the room before his legs were kicked from under him.

‘Where’s my money, you little prick?’

He scuttled backwards until he hit the wall.

‘Fifty thousand euros. I trusted you to collect and deliver, Stevie. Instead you collected and ran.’

‘I, I …’

‘Fifty thousand, plus interest, plus broken bones. That’s the deal. Now, where’s my money?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.