Saturday, August 31, 2019

Seventeen sodden souls

Larkin pulled up his collar against the driving rain and pressed closer to the wall.

On the far side of the cemetery, a small group of mourners huddled under umbrellas.

There were seventeen. Eleven of them were family.

Even with the dirty weather, he’d hoped for more.

Where were friends? Work colleagues?

Fifty years and this was what a life was worth. Seventeen sodden souls in a soulless graveyard.

Four workers lowered the coffin.

That was it. His old life gone.

Larkin headed for the gate, aware that the next time he perished the funeral would be a solitary affair.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review of Assembly of the Dead by Saeida Rouass (2017, Impress)

Morocco, 1906. Six girls have disappeared in Marrakesh but local officials have refused to investigate, suggesting they have run away. The sultan sends Farook al-Alami, a cultured official who has spent time in Europe and learned some of their policing methods, to the city to discover the truth. Farook’s presence is unwanted and he gets little help from the locals. He gradually makes progress and it soon becomes clear that there are more than six girls missing. The locals now take a more active role to save face, but their methods are crude. Farook sticks to his approach hoping to stop the killer before any more girls disappear.

Assembly of the Dead is a historical mystery tale set in Morocco in 1906 and fictionalizes a real serial murder case in which teenage girls and young women were lured to their deaths in the city of Marrakesh. At the time, Morocco had no police force (crime was investigated by a civilian or court judge appointed by the Ministry of Complaints), was plagued with domestic political instability, and was under pressure from European powers (it became a French protectorate in 1912). Rouass very nicely places the story within this political context, but also the social context of everyday life and the social hierarchies operating. Indeed, there is a strong sense of place and culture (family relations, food, religion, trade, governance) throughout. The political context is also captured in the relationship between the lead character, Farook al-Alami, a representative of the sultan who has spent time in London and takes an interest in European affairs, including police investigative methods, and a local investigator, Yusuf al-Mhadi, who is rooted in local officialdom and gains confessions through terror; as well as with a French doctor practising in the city who feels increasingly under threat. The telling felt a little clunky at first, but it quickly smooths out, settling into a nice cadence, and gains interest as Farook’s investigation progresses. The plot is well charted and builds to a nice denouement. And it was interesting to learn about the ‘Moorish Jack the Ripper’, who had far more victims than his London counterpart.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

A lovely order of books arrived into the local bookshop last week. I'm already read and reviewed the James Sallis' Black Hornet, finished Saeida Rouass' Assembly of the Dead, and I'm well into The Smoke by Tony Broadbent. Others on the pile include Friends and Traitors by John Lawton, Brothers in Blood by Amer Anwar, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Gravesend by William Boyle, The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace and Black Cross by Greg Iles. And I've another order on the way. I figure the TBR pile will keep me going to almost the end of the year, but no doubt I'll find a way to add more books to it in the meantime.

My posts this week
Review of Black Hornet by James Sallis
Review of Hitler in Los Angeles by Steven J Ross
Still a jewel

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Still a jewel

‘They’re very nice, but they’re paste.’


‘But you have to admire the craftwork of the settings.’

‘Admire the craftwork! I cased this job for two months.’

‘Then they saw you coming.’

‘I was like a ghost.’

‘People see apparitions all the time, Frank. Think they’re haunted.’

‘Are you sure they’re paste? She wore them out that evening. To the palace.’

‘You’re free to seek a second opinion.’

‘I’m going to get the original set, if it’s the last thing I do.’

‘Perhaps they are the original set?’

‘You’re saying she’s as fake as her diamonds?’

‘But still a jewel.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review of Black Hornet by James Sallis (1994, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin is drifting along in life in 1960s New Orleans. A black man in the Deep South, cobbling together jobs working for bail bondsman, doing security, acting as a private investigator. Not quite committing to Verne. Floating between bars. Never quite far from trouble. And it finds him when he’s talking to a white journalist when she’s shot dead. She’s the sixth victim of a sniper who is preying on the city’s citizens. Forming a loose alliance with a police officer and the journalist’s partner, Lew seeks to track down the sniper and make sense of his actions. In the process he wallows black literature and gets caught between different warring black communities.

Black Hornet is the third book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing, it the early 1960s and a sniper is territorizing the city, killing random strangers. Griffin is pulled into the hunt for the killer when a white journalist he is talking to is shot dead. While the plot centres on Griffin’s search for the marksman, the heart of the story is the excavation of Griffin’s character, his philosophical musings on life, and what it means to be black in the Deep South. Griffin is a man of contradictions who fears close relationships and rarely takes the easy path. He drinks to excess and has a habit of finding violence. Yet he is kind, seeks justice, has a literary bent, and is deeply reflexive. While he gets results, he doesn’t always get answers. The result is a thoughtful, existential tale told in evocative prose. There’s no great mystery to the tale, the pleasure is in its observations and telling.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review of Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J Ross

Prior the Second World War the Nazis targeted Los Angeles and Hollywood due to its strong military-industrial complex (especially Navy and aircraft production) and the propaganda power of the movies produced. As well as the German consul vetting movie production across studios with the threat of banning all films from the lucrative German market, they also set up spy networks, encouraged those of German descent to oppose America entering any future European war, and helped organize and fund pro-Nazi and fascist organizations. Despite the threat posed by a foreign power operating in their territory and fomenting racial hatred, and German re-armament and the treatment of Jews in Germany, US policing and military intelligence paid little attention. Many members of the police had fascist leanings and were anti-Semitic, the FBI were chronically under-staffed, military intelligence outwards facing, and all three were more concerned with communism. Instead it was left to the Jewish community and their allies to monitor and tackle the growth of openly pro-Nazi/pro-German and fascist groups.

Steven Ross details the work of Leon Lewis and Joseph Roos, a lawyer and a journalist, who set up their own spy organization and network in Los Angeles, funded by the heads of the Jewish owned movie studios. Lewis and Roos recruited a number of spies – thirteen of which feature in the book – who agreed to join various fascist organizations, work their way up through the ranks, pass on everything they heard and work to spread discord and internal fights between rival factors. It was dangerous work, with the threat of death for any spy discovered, and at least three died in suspicious circumstances. Lewis and Roos passed on what they learned to the police and intelligence services, seeking to prosecute those preaching hate crimes and planning to commit domestic intelligence. Ross provides a fascinating and detailed account of the work of this spy network in penetrating organizations promoting fascism, some of which were also aiding German ambitions, and the extent of anti-Semitism and isolationist views in pre-war America. He does a good job of marshalling all the material and providing a coherent narrative given the number of actors and organizations. While providing plenty of detail, he doesn’t let it swamp the story and keeps the account moving along. I only had two minor gripes. First, the title is a little misleading – Hitler is used as a surrogate for Nazism (he doesn't feature per se) and the focus is both Nazi and fascist groups in Los Angeles, the latter of which might not be pro-Nazi or pro-Germany, but certainly is American first, isolationist, and anti-Semitic and racist. Second, Hollywood and its moguls fall out of the story as it progresses and is certainly never revisited as to its reaction to the various cases and on-going anti-Semitism throughout the war, or how it dealt with fascism post-war. Overall, an absorbing and engaging account that underscores how deep-seated white, Christian, nationalist fascism is in the United States (and how they are aided/funded by other countries – swap Russia for Germany for the present).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

In the day job we've been experimenting with 3D printed models of Dublin at 1:2000 scale and map projecting OpenStreetMap onto them. Just at the initial stage, but the material used makes a big difference to the quality of projection. Waiting on 1:1000 test tiles. Plan is project all kinds of data onto them, including real-time transport and environment data. Okay for first passes but a long way to go yet. In terms of reading, I've been making very slow progress in the last two weeks. Too much else going on.

My posts this week
Review of The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor
I want more before I die

Saturday, August 17, 2019

I want more before I die

‘Where’re you going?’


‘John, wait.’ Katie hurried after her brother.

‘Just leave me be.’

‘You can’t leave. What will we do without you?’

‘You’ll manage just fine.’

‘You know that’s not true.’

‘I don’t want to be a farmer, Katie.’

‘It was good enough for daddy.’

‘And look where it got him. He spent his life working the land to then die face down in it.’


‘He was fifty two and he’d seen nothing of the world.’

‘He had everything here.’

‘No, he had us and the land.’

‘That is everything.’

‘Well, I want more before I die.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review of The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor (2019, Bitter Lemon Press; 2003 Italian)

Spain, summer 1937. Martin Bora is twenty three, a lieutenant in the Spanish Foreign Legion sided with Generalissimo Franco’s nationalists, and a member of German intelligence. He’s based on the sierras of Aragon in a quiet sector, facing the republicans across a dry valley. Each day Bora wakes early and sneaks down to the river in the valley floor to wash. One morning he discovers the body of a man, shot in the back of the head. He’s curious as to the identity of the man and who murdered him. More so when it turns out to be Federico Garcia Lorca, a famous poet and playwright. On the opposite side of the valley, Philip Walton an American member of the international brigades is also curious about his friend’s death. Two outsiders, Bora and Walton circle each other trying to determine the truth, while negotiating simmering tensions of the civil war and sharing a lover.

The Horseman’s Song is the sixth book of the Martin Bora series to be translated into English (and the fourth in the original Italian series). It is the earliest in time, set in 1937 during the Spanish civil war. A young member of German intelligence, Bora has joined the Spanish Foreign Legion and after training in Morocco has been posted to the sierras of Aragon. There he takes command of a nationalist outpost on a quiet sector of the front, where a handful of men oppose each other across a valley. When Bora finds the body of a famous poet, Federico Garcia Lorca (who did disappear during the war) he decides to investigate, ruffling the feathers of his Spanish commander. An American member of the international brigade, and a friend of Lorca, is suspicious of Bora’s motives. The two men enter a battle of wits in the heat of the Spanish summer and civil war. It’s a slow moving affair (perhaps too slow at times), written in nice prose, with Pastor charting the lives of Bora and Walton, their politics and motivations, their relationships with their men, and with women, and Bora’s inquiry as he starts to come of age as an army officer and investigator. There’s strong character development and well developed sense of place and history. The plot is understated and realistic, avoiding melodrama and plot devices designed to create pace and tension. The result is a literary, atmospheric mystery.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

I discovered last week that there's a Wikipedia entry about me. Not sure what I think about that to be honest. Baffled probably best summarises it. The creator - someone I don't know - says they concentrate on adding "relatively minor people, who have gone 'under the radar' on Wikipedia." They must be down to very minor if they've got to me. I'd quite like to edit it, but the politics of editing your own entry seems a bit fraught!

My posts this week
Review of Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
It won’t bring him back

Saturday, August 10, 2019

It won’t bring him back

‘I don’t know whether to be happy or pissed off.’

Michael sat on the courtroom steps.

‘He was exonerated, that was the main thing,’ David replied.

‘Five years and a lifetime late. How’s Marie?’

‘Angry. Exhausted. She’s gone for a walk.’

‘It was so bloody senseless. A schoolyard rumour.’

‘It was more than a rumour. It was a whispering campaign.’

‘I hope the police go after the bastards.’

‘It won’t bring him back.’

‘I’ll never forget finding him. He was innocent, but couldn’t live with accusations. He deserves justice.’

‘He just got it.’

‘No, all he got was the truth.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review of Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1970, Harper)

Viktor Palmgren, a rich industrialist, is having dinner with a small group of colleagues and their partners at the Savoy Hotel in Malmo when a man enters the restaurant, shoots him in the head, climbs out of a window, and disappears. The police are slow to react and by the time they arrive the man is long gone. Given Palmgren’s standing and overseas connections, political pressure is applied to the police for a quick resolution. With no result in sight, the national police chief turns to Martin Beck, head of the homicide division in Stockholm. Beck heads to Malmo, but there are few leads to follow. With little other option he starts to place pressure on Palmgren’s dinner guests in the hope that they can remember anything that might help, or better still make themselves into a viable suspect.

Murder at the Savoy is the sixth book in the Martin Beck series set in Sweden in the 1960s/70s. In this outing Beck is called in to help investigate the assassination of a high profile industrialist, killed while he is eating dinner at the Savoy Hotel in Malmo. The industrialist has no shortage of potential enemies given his various business enterprises and ruthless pursuit of profit. However, Beck and his colleagues have few clues to pursue and struggle to make headway. The attraction of the Beck series is its subtle social commentary on the Sweden’s social project and the realism of the characters and procedural elements. Beck and his colleagues are very ordinary people, and there is no melodrama, no plot devices, and no larger-than-life characters to ‘lift’ the story or add tension. Instead, the tales are told in an under-stated way focusing on how the police go about their business (and make mistakes, sometimes get lucky), the interactions between them, and how the crime sits in the context of Swedish society. This gives the story a humdrum, everyday feel, and this I think is the beauty of the series. The resolution to this outing is nicely satisfying, in the main because it is so straightforward, unadorned and arrived at via persistence, luck and muddling through.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ten year anniversary

It completely passed me by that July 12th was the 10th anniversary of the blog. I started it not long after moving into a house that was painted blue, hence the name. I was hesitant about initiating it as I knew it would be a commitment to keep adding content, but it's actually been a pleasure to write a review or post an observation a couple of times a week.

Over the past decade, I've published 2,690 posts, 412 of which were drabbles and 1,031 book reviews, which is quite a few more than I was anticipating! Part of the reason for this is that the blog led to interactions with other crime fiction bloggers and their recommendations significantly improved my reading experience by pointing me to books that I was likely to enjoy. The more you enjoy something, the more you're likely to do it. Ergo ...

My first review was Stuart Neville's The Twelve and it's been a real pleasure to support Irish writing, so far reviewing 132 books published by Irish authors. I try to support writers in general, while sticking to the principle of reading the books I want to rather than out of obligation, hence why I've purchased nearly every book reviewed.

My style of blogging tends to be as a broadcaster, rather than someone who channels conversation, but I'm always grateful for those who leave comments. Many thanks to anybody who has stopped by to take a read. I'm not sure if I'll make it twenty years, but I've no plans to stop blogging just yet.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

I've a few books on the TBR, but in the interests of making sure I have a nice selection to choose from I put in another order with local bookshop. Hopefully, new reads from John Lawton, Amer Anwar, Kate Atkinson, William Boyle, Sujata Massey, Fred Vargas, David Peace, James Sallis and others will turn up shortly to mix into the pile.

My posts this week
Review of An Empty Death by Laura Wilson
July reviews
Review of The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Disease without a cure

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Disease without a cure

Matt threw back the damp sheet. ‘Fuck.’

‘Again?’ Lily laughed, wiping the sweat from her brow.

‘You’ll have to give me at least ten minutes. Shit.’

‘God, you’re insatiable.’

‘It’s not my fault. You’re like a disease that hasn’t a cure.’

‘Lovely, I’m a disease!’

‘Without a cure.’

‘And you can’t get a vaccine.’

‘Wouldn’t want one. Who would? You’re every boy’s wet dream.’

‘Charming. Actually, what a horrid thought.’

‘I save all my best compliments for you.’

‘And who gets your weaker ones?’

‘Also, you. You ready for round five?’

‘Jesus, Matt. We both need to find a cure!’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Review of An Empty Death by Laura Wilson (2009, Orion)

Summer, 1944. The Blitz is over but London is still being hit by doodlebugs. DI Ted Stratton and his wife Jenny head to aid those affected when one lands two streets away, Ted helping to dig Mrs Ingram from the rubble. The next day he’s called to investigate the death of a doctor from the Middlesex Hospital. He’s been found dead on a bomb site and it appears he’s been murdered. For mortuary attendant Sam Holt, Dr Reynold’s death is an opportunity to take on another identity, one he’s been working up to for years. He changes his appearance, assumes someone else’s identity and finagles his way into a job as a casualty doctor, learning the trade on the go and from books. His life is looking up, especially after he starts to date a pretty nurse. However, he hadn’t anticipated the tenacity of DI Stratton to solve the murder, or that others might see through his disguise. Having come so far, Dr Dacre is prepared to protect his new life, even if that means killing anyone trying to expose him. Meanwhile, Ted is getting tired of his wife and her sister caring for Mrs Ingram who appears to be suffering from a rare mental illness after her traumatic rescue. 

An Empty Death is the second book in the DI Ted Stratton series set in London during the Second World War. In this outing, Stratton is investigating the suspicious death of a doctor on a bomb site. His nosing around the hospital that Dr Reynold’s work at quickly ruffles feathers and spooks one doctor in particular – Dr Dacre is an imposter that has used Reynold’s death to pass himself off as a medical doctor and take over his position. Meanwhile, Jenny Stratton is helping to care for a bomb victim who is suffering from mental health issues, creating tensions at home. Wilson tells the tale as three main strands: Stratton’s investigation, Dr Dacre’s perspective, and Jenny’s care of Mrs Ingram. Wilson patiently unfolds the plot, in particular fleshing out the main characters and filling out their backstories. The pace is a little slow at times and the Ingram strand felt a little bolted on for much of the story, but eventually it comes into its own as the three strands are pulled tight. Rather than finish the story at the main climax – which is a twist with real affect – Wilson does a nice job of letting it continue to unfold to another twist and natural denouement, though this one was telegraphed from a long way out. Overall, an engaging police procedural with emotional depth.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

July reviews

Relatively straightforward to pick a read of the month - Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, a thoughtful tale about living over and over.

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean ***.5
The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney ***
The Last Goodnight by Howard Blum ***
The Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson ****
Metropolis by Philip Kerr ****
Last Call by Paula Matter **.5
The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett ****.5
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson *****
Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan ****