Sunday, September 15, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

Finally decided to invest in a bike and cycle to work now that there is a cycle path nearly the whole way from house to office. The weather will probably dictate how often it gets used. I have little fondness for cycling in the pissing rain after a childhood of doing that on a daily paper round and to school.

My posts this week

Review of The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas
Review of Gravesend by William Boyle

Saturday, September 14, 2019


‘I can’t do this any longer, Sandra.’

She turned from the dishwasher. ‘Are you breaking up with me?’

‘What? No. This.’ He tapped a document. ‘I can’t do this.’


‘Working in the civil service. I spend all day writing policy I hate for politicians I detest who’re determined to enrich themselves and their friends by fucking over everyone else.’

‘We need the money, Michael. If …’

‘They’re destroying the country. I’m destroying the country.’

‘You’re the first line of defence.’

‘I’m a cog in a wheel.’

‘You’re doing your duty.’

‘By selling my soul, Sandra. By selling my soul.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review of The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas (1995 French; 2006, Vintage)

Opera singer, Sophia Siméonidis, wakes to discover that a tree has been planted in her Paris garden overnight. Her husband has little interest in the event, but she cannot put it out of her mind. She turns to her new neighbours, three down-at-luck historians and a disgraced ex-cop, who have rented the dilapidated house next door. They agree to help, digging up the tree to see if there is anything underneath then placing it back. They find nothing, but a few days later Sophia goes missing just before her niece and her son turn-up. There is no sign of her until a woman is found burned to death in an abandoned car. Already directing the case, the ex-cop starts to orchestrate the murder investigation using the detective assigned to the case and the three historians.

The Three Evangelists is the first of a three book series featuring three historians turned detectives - Marc, Mattias and Lucien (named St Mark, St Matthew and St Luke by Vandoosler, Marc’s godfather – hence the book title). In this outing, they initially investigate the appearance of a tree in the garden of their next door neighbour, opera singer Sophia Siméonidis. They are aided by Vandoosler, an ex-cop who resides with them. The case, however, soon turns into a murder mystery with the discovery of Sophia’s remains. The charm of the book are the three evangelists, each of whom specialises in a different period – prehistoric, middle ages and Great War – and has quite different personalities. They are drawn together by circumstance – they are lacking work and need to share to afford rent. Their haphazard approach to the case is given shape by Vandoosler, who was forced to give up his police career after letting a murderer get away. Vandoosler believes in giving some slack to Sophia’s killer to help smoke them out and to see what they do next. Though it gets results, it’s a dangerous strategy as it places people in harm, and it quickly becomes clear that the killer will murder again to avoid being caught. The plot has the feel of a golden age of crime tale, given its relatively small cast, puzzle like set-up, and its twists as different characters are moved into the frame. Through the four main characters, Vargas keeps the tale lightly humorous and engaging. The only real blip is the reveal which just didn’t sit right; while plausible, the clues for the reader were light and not convincing, and the denouement felt clunky. Nonetheless, an entertaining read.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review of Gravesend by William Boyle (2013, No Exit Press)

Conway D’Innocenzio has been waiting for Ray Boy Calabrese to be released from prison so he can exact revenge for the death of his brother. When the day arrives he finds himself ill-prepared, his ex-cop friend teaching him to shoot. When Conway does confront Ray Boy, he finds he can’t pull the trigger, setting him free in their home town of Gravesend. Conway stalks the streets and bars, frustrated with life. Ray Boy returns to his parents and sister, unhappy that Conway didn’t have the nerve to go through with his quest. Another of Conway’s school contemporaries, Alessandra, also returns to Gravesend from Hollywood, where she has failed to make it as an actress. She re-ignites a friendship with Stephanie, Conway’s co-worker and secret admirer. Like Conway and Ray Boy, both women are somewhat lost, unsure how to make something of their lives. Ray Boy’s fifteen year old nephew, Eugene, feels the same way. He worships his uncle Ray and is already plotting to team up with him for a life of crime.

Gravesend is William Boyle’s debut novel set in the neighbourhood of the same name in Brooklyn. The area is somewhat run-down a shadow of its former self, as are its residents. Four high school contemporaries find their lives re-entwined. Conway and Stephanie never left and both work in a local pharmacy. Ray Boy has just been released from prison for the murder of Conway’s brother. Alessandra has returned from Hollywood, where after a decade she has failed to make it as an actress. Conway wants to enact revenge on Ray Boy. Ray Boy wants him to. Stephanie wants a relationship with Conway, and to move out of home with her mother and share an apartment with Alessandra. Alessandra’s not sure what she wants. Eugene, Ray Boy’s nephew, wants to be free of school and to run wild. The story charts the intersecting lives of these five characters as they slowly revolve towards a cathartic and violent set of resolutions. The tale is very much character-driven, with a strong sense of place, focusing on lives and a community abandoned by the American dream. There’s a fatalistic realism to the story, with Boyle painting a fairly bleak picture of troubled lives that are seemingly going nowhere, the narrative shot through with a noir atmosphere shorn of any hope. It’s a well told and engaging tale, but a far cry from light entertainment!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

This week has been one of chasing shadows. Ordered a mobile broadband service. It was meant to be activated Tuesday. A few phone calls and a couple of visits to shops and it's still not live. Apparently I cannot cancel it because it's not been activated and it seems impossible to activate. Dealing with the company has been somewhat Kafkaesque. Hopefully it'll get resolved next week. In other news, I'm working my way through Simon Mawes' tale, Tightrope. Enjoying it so far.

My posts this week

Review of The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Review of The Smoke by Tony Broadbent
August reads
No love among traitors

Saturday, September 7, 2019

No love among traitors

Kearney stared at the fast moving water. ‘It’s Seth.’

‘What’s Seth?’ Lowe threw a pebble into the river.

‘The traitor. The mole.’

‘Seth? He can be a self-righteous prick, but he’s loyal.’

‘Loyal to whom though? That’s the question.’

‘Loyal to us. Jesus, Jim, what makes you think it’s Seth?’

Kearney shrugged.  ‘If it’s not Seth, then it has to be you.’

‘Me? Now you have lost the plot! I’ve dedicated my life to this job.’

‘Yes, this job not ...’

‘I don’t …’

The shot sent Lowe down the riverbank.

‘Sorry, Jack. Just one traitor protecting himself from another.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review of The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (2018, Soho Crime)

Bombay, 1921. Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in the city, takes over the administration of the will of Omar Farid from her father. Having survived a sham marriage and gaining her law degree in Oxford, she is keen to prove her worth to the family business. As she goes through the estate papers of the wealthy Muslim mill owner, she notices that his three wives have signed away their inheritance to a charity. Wanting to be certain of their wishes, she travels to their bungalow in the desirable district of Malabar Hill. The three women are living with their children in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters, forbidden from talking to or being touched by unknown men. There she is confronted by the guardian appointed by the late-husband to look after the wives’ affairs, who is unhappy that she is questioning how he running the estate. After talking to the women, she is suspicious about the set-up; even more so when there is a murder in the house shortly after she leaves. While the police rush to conclusions, Perveen works with her best friend, Alice Hobson-Jones, the English daughter of a senior government official, and her father to solve the case.

The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first book in Perveen Mistry series set in 1920s Bombay (now Mumbai). After studying for a law degree in Oxford, Perveen has joined her father’s law firm as the city’s first female solicitor. She’s keen to establish herself and build a successful career, hoping to eventually become a lawyer and undertake court cases, though women are barred from such work. In the meantime, she helps her father prepare cases and undertake more routine work relating to family and commercial affairs. In this initial outing, her father asks her to take over the legal aspects of the legacy of a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three wives and a handful of children. Perveen notices some odd things about how the wives’ guardian is administering the estate and shortly after she leaves the family home a murder is committed. Perveen aids the police, but unhappy with how they are handling the case, she starts her own investigation. Massey does a nice job of historically contextualising the tale with respect to the multicultural nature of Indian society, the position and roles of women within these cultures, the laws that shaped different communities, and governance by the British. There’s also a strong emphasis on the workings of family and food and fashion. The characterisation is nicely done, especially Perveen, who is smart, determined, and politically astute, but also a little naïve, and her somewhat bolshie English friend, Alice Hobson-Jones. The plot with respect to the bereaved family and the murder was interesting, and nicely constructed, though there were a little too many coincident holding it together in terms of connections between characters and places. Where the telling suffers, however, is Perveen’s extended back story, which not only broke the flow of the mystery tale but was drawn out. The back story is important for understanding Perveen and her approach to representing women, but its inclusion as a detailed separate strand took the pace out of the story and meant the key part of the investigation doesn’t start until two thirds of the way through. Nonetheless, Perveen, the setup and context are interesting and I look forward to giving the second book in the series a read.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review of The Smoke by Tony Broadbent (2012, MP Publishing)

London post-war. After a stint in the merchant navy, Jethro has returned home to work as a theatre stagehand and resume his life as a cat burglar and jewel thief. His work in the West End provides a cover for criminal activities, both as a legitimate source of income and access to wealthy areas of Mayfair and Belgravia. After spotting a valuable necklace set, he decides to set up an escapade to steal them. The job, however, means breaking in to the Soviet embassy, as the set belong to the ambassador’s wife. His successful mission, but narrow escape, brings him to the attention of MI5, who want him to make a second trip to retrieve a code book and help a cipher clerk defect. His first trip, however, has ruffled a few feathers. The Russians want to prosecute revenge, the London mob want him to join their ranks, and the police want him locked up.

The Smoke is the first book in the Jethro, cat burglar series set in post-war London. Jethro is a Cockney likely-lad who’s day job is working as a theatre stagehand, but he makes his real money stealing expensive jewellery. He’s a skilled thief who always spends time casing his target, works alone and uses a single trusted fence to minimize the risk of being caught. In this outing, he breaks into the Soviet embassy to steal the jewels of the ambassador’s wife. His escapade makes him the target of the soviets, the London mob, the police and MI5 and he gets into scrapes with them all, eventually agreeing to return to the embassy for more thievery on behalf of MI5. While the story is reasonably entertaining, I didn’t really warm to it. Written in the first person, I never really connected with Jethro’s voice and perspective. The main issue though was the plot, which just didn’t feel credible enough and was a little uneven in pacing. Yes, it’s a caper tale involving Soviet officials, the mob, police and secret services, but even allowing for that, it felt too contrived and over-the-top while lacking the humour to offset. Overall, the detail on the thefts was interesting, and the story had its moments, but I never felt vested in the story.

Monday, September 2, 2019

August reads

I think this must be my slowest August in terms of reading. Just five books read and reviewed. The stand out book was Hitler in Los Angeles, an engaging account of fascist and pro-German organisations in LA pre-war.

Assembly of the Dead by Saeida Rouass ****
Black Hornet by James Sallis ****
Hitler in Los Angeles by Steven J Ross ****.5
The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor ****
Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo  ****

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Lazy Sunday Service

A slow week of writing and reading. At least I've got the next few weeks kind of mapped out with the TBR pile. Hopefully some good reads in these two piles.

My posts this week
Review of Assembly of the Dead by Saeida Rouass
Seventeen sodden souls