Monday, October 26, 2020

Review of Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson (1996, Vintage)

Belfast in the early 1990s. The Troubles are still on-going. Friends Jake Jackson and Chuckie Lurgan don’t care too much for the sectarian divisions and violence. Jake is a lapsed Catholic with a disdain for republicanism and its violence who works as a repo-man. Chuckie is an over-weight, poor Protestant living with his mother. As they reach thirty, change is in the air. Jake’s English girlfriend leaves him and he’s had enough of repossessing property. Chuckie has decided he’s going to make money and he’s discovered a cunning way to get his initial investment. And a cease-fire seems possible. As Chuckie’s empire rapidly grows and he finds love with good-looking American, Jake struggles to move-on, finding himself working as a builder.

I first read Eureka Street when living in Belfast in the late 1990s and much of the story takes place within a mile of where I was working in the area just to the south of the city centre. And in many ways the novel is a kind of love story for the city and its people. It has a wonderful sense of place and is full of pathos and humour as Chuckie and Jake try to navigate being poor, working-class friends from different religions in a city still riven with sectarian tension and violence. Wilson does a fantastic job of developing the two characters as their lives transform over the course of a year and deal with various situations. It’s beautifully written and has a strong emotional resonance, with the story switching from laugh-out loud moments to deep melancholy and tears. It has as much relevance for understanding Northern Ireland now, as it did then. Definitely one of my favourite novels. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

I didn't kill her

‘How many times do I need to say it? I didn’t do it.’

‘You took her behind the skip and you killed her.’ The police office tapped a photograph. ‘You stabbed her twenty two times in the neck and chest.’

‘I didn’t do it.’

‘You were found covered in her blood. You had the knife in your hand.’

‘I told you, I heard screams. I found her. I pulled the knife from her side.’

‘Yet you didn’t call for help.’

‘I didn’t leave either,’ Carrie said. ‘I was in shock.’

‘Or you had a guilty conscience?’

‘I didn’t kill her.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Typecast

 ‘That’s Queen Victoria?’

‘Yes.’ The director squinted into a camera eyepiece.

‘But she’s black.’

‘And?’

‘Queen Victoria was white.’

‘To you maybe.’

‘It’s not a matter of opinion.’

‘And what about Cleopatra?’

‘Sorry?’

‘Was she as white as an English rose? Was Jesus as pale as a Scot?’

‘What?’

‘Everyone living in Palestine and Egypt were baby pink?’

‘John …’

‘Shall we daub her with white makeup like a minstrel?’

‘We need to recast.’

‘It’s what she says and does that matters not her skin colour.’

‘That’s not …’

‘So, white folks can play black characters but not vice versa?’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Review of Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall (2014, Titan Books)

The body of a 17 year old black girl is found in an under-construction development. Homicide detective Elouise Norton and her new partner are assigned to the case. For Lou there are strong echoes with the disappearance on her sister, Tori, thirty years previously; not least the age and race of the victim and that the development is owned by Napoleon Crase, who owned the stored Tori was last seen hanging around. As they investigate, Lou tries to stay impartial but there are too many similarities between the two cases. She has never given up hope of discovering what happened to her sister, but that baggage might jeopardise the current investigation into an active killer.

Land of Shadows is the first book in the Detective Elouise Norton series set in Los Angeles. Lou grew up in a poor black neighbourhood and has worked her way out into a new life, though she is deeply scarred by the disappearance of her elder sister when she was a teenager. Her new investigation has echoes of Tori’s case involving the death of a young black girl and the chief suspect from thirty years ago. Along with her new white partner, Lou starts to follow leads, though she’s convinced she knows who the perpetrator is. To add to her stress, her husband is away in Japan on business and is conducting an affair. The tale then is a police procedural that is thoroughly personal to the detective. At one level this adds spice and tension, and on another feels like one massive coincidental plot device for that purpose. Consequently, while it’s an engaging read with an interesting lead character, there were some odd quirks that rang hollow – for example, it was a mystery to me as to why she’s allowed to investigate it at all, why there was a suggestion of suicide in Monie’s death, and why the original investigation into Tori’s death was so lackadaisical. While it builds to a tense denouement, the reveal felt a bit too contrived. Other than that, there’s a decent sense of place, it’s nicely paced becoming somewhat of a page-turner.  



Saturday, October 10, 2020

The way home?

 Alicia stepped through the door and into a warehouse. Pallet racking towered above her.

Startled, she turned heels and barged through the fire escape.

The pub was half-empty; a Beatles song playing on the jukebox.

Alicia imagined the speech bubble over her head. ‘What the …’

She wandered to the front door and stared out at a car park.

‘You alright, love?’ The barman asked.

Ignoring him, she exited onto a theatre stage and into the glare of a spotlight.

Alicia raised a hand to her eyes. Every door opened to a new space.

But none seemed to lead home.


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, October 9, 2020

Review of A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly (2017, Hodder & Stoughton)

Charlie Parker is spending a lot of time talking to his lawyer. Rachel his ex-partner wants to restrict access to his daughter. Ross, a federal agent, has persuaded him to sign a contract to undertake work for the government. The first case is to track down Jaycob Eklund who has disappeared. Eklund was a private investigator obsessed with the paranormal, and in particular, The Brethren, a group of ghosts whose ancestors maintain their sect. The trail leads Parker, and his two friends Angel and Louis, to ‘Mother’, the custodian of a criminal empire, and her disturbed son, Philip, who also want Eklund found. As Parker follows the trail, his own ghost, The Collector, is also seeking out The Brethren. What evolves is a complex game of ghosts. 

Connolly spins a multi-layered story. The plot is fairly complex, and is heavily contextualised by previous instalments of the series that might make it a tricky read if read as a standalone. But that is also its strength, in that it builds on and ties off some of threads of the longer arc of the series. As usual, the prose and storytelling is engaging, the plot is compelling and entertaining with a strong sense of mystery and tension throughout, and Parker is put through the usual wringer with respect to both his personal and professional life. A chilling, page-turning read.



Monday, October 5, 2020

September reviews

A very good month of reading, but Neuromancer was my read of the month.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha ****.5
Neuromancer by William Gibson *****
East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman ****
Austral by Paul McAuley ****.5
A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson *****

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Betrayal

Mark stopped typing.

‘I was wondering when you would appear,’ he said without turning.

Sarah didn’t reply, unable to speak.

The gun started to tremble in her hand.

‘What are you waiting for?’

‘You … you betrayed us.’

‘To save you.’

‘Karl is dead.’

‘The three of us would have …’

‘And the others?’

‘They would have died regardless. We were all …’

‘In the fight! But you betrayed them. The cause.’

‘We’ll rebuild. Start again.’

‘No. I …’

‘Sarah.’ Mark turned in his chair. ‘I have always loved you.’

‘Yet you never understood me. Us.’

Sarah pulled the trigger.



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Review of Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (2019, Faber and Faber)

1991, two weeks after the Rodney King beating ignites race riots in Los Angeles, 16 year old Ava Matthews is shot dead in a Korean convenience store after tussling with the pregnant owner who thought she was trying to steal a quart of milk. Jung-Ja Han is subsequently cleared of murder and freed, but by then war has been declared on Korean communities by African-Americans, who loot and burn down their stores. 27 years later, the city is dealing with another unarmed, young black man shot dead by police, and Ava’s cousin, Ray, leaves prison after a ten year sentence for attempted armed robbery. Shawn, Ava’s brother, and his family are waiting for him hoping he can go straight this time. Grace Park is disturbed by the continued racial tensions in the city, but lives a quiet life, residing with her parents and working as a pharmacist in their store. Her world though is about to be turned upside down. When leaving the store together one evening, her mother is shot, and while she is in surgery Grace learns about her past. As the police investigate the shooting, Shawn finds himself grappling with a crime that still haunts his family, and Grace with the attempt on her mother’s life and a past crime she knew nothing about.

Your House Will Pay follows two families still living with the after-effects of a crime committed in the shadow of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. The two main characters are Grace Park, who wasn’t yet born at the time teenager Ava Matthews was shot dead by Jung-Ja Han for seemingly stealing a quart of milk, and Shawn Matthews, Ava’s young brother, who was in the store at the time. Shawn was already hanging round the fringes of a gang and his sister’s death tipped him into that life and prison until he found his feet and went straight. Grace grew up not knowing about her mother’s crime and how she walked free from court. Now her mother has been shot and Shawn and Grace find themselves grappling with the consequences. Cha sympathetically charts the pain, hurt and confusion in both families, while nicely contextualising the story in relation to the race riots and police brutality in 1991 and tensions between the African American and Korean communities, and the continued systemic institutional racism and Black Lives Matter in the present day. The character development is excellent, as is the portrayal of both families and their internal tensions and struggles. The plot is well-paced and balanced, with a well-judged thread of tension and intrigue running throughout. The only thing that seemed a little off was the ending, which felt curtailed and somewhat open-ended. Nonetheless, it is a powerful, thoughtful and thought-provoking read about racial tension, policing and justice in contemporary America.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson (1995, Harper)

Case used to be a skilled hacker, until an ex-employer compromised his ability to jack into the matrix by crippling his nervous system. Instead, he is left to hustle in the dark economy of Chiba City. Now he’s being given a second chance, recruited by a mentally unstable former military operative, and paired with Molly, a mirror-eyed samurai, and the construct of a former hacker, to make a run against a powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth that serves the Tessier-Ashpool business clan. He finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly conflict between AIs and family members, with little choice but to continue given the poison stored in his body, the antidote held by his employer.

I’ve read Neuromancer a couple of times before and have written about the book in some of my academic work. It’s twenty years though since I last read it. It’s aged remarkably well given the centrality of digital technologies to the storyline. In fact, if it were published today it would hold up on the tech side of things given its precedence. And the storyline does as well; a cyberpunk thriller that pits Case, a has-been hacker, and Molly, a cyborg, street-smart samurai, against a powerful AI that serves a shady business clan. Along with a whip-smart, intriguing and well-paced plot, the prose is evocative and delightful. It’s easy to see why the book won so many awards and how it became so influential in shaping thinking about networked technologies and the worlds they create. It remains an excellent, engaging, thought-provoking read.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

New book: Slow Computing: Why We Need Balanced Digital Lives

A BOOK ABOUT TAKING CONTROL OF OUR DIGITAL LIVES

By Rob Kitchin and Alistair Fraser

Digital technologies should be making life easier. And to a large degree they do, transforming everyday tasks of work, consumption, communication, travel and play. But they are also accelerating and fragmenting our lives affecting our well-being and exposing us to extensive data extraction and profiling that helps determine our life chances.

Is it then possible to experience the joy and benefits of computing, but to do so in a way that asserts individual and collective autonomy over our time and data?

Drawing on the ideas of the ‘slow movement’, Slow Computing sets out numerous practical and political means to take back control and counter the more pernicious effects of living digital lives.

1 Living Digital Lives (PDF)
2 Accelerating Life
3 Monitoring Life
4 Personal Strategies of Slow Computing
5 Slow Computing Collectively
6 An Ethics of Digital Care
7 Towards a More Balanced Digital Society
Coda: Slow Computing During a Pandemic (PDF)

ISBN 978-1529211269

Book website

Bristol University Press, £14.99; 20% discount (£11.99) at: Bristol University Press, or £9.75 if sign up for BUP newsletter

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A foggy night

Mist filled the yard like a giant pool of bubble bath. Only the roofs of the outhouses were visible.

‘Bruno?’

The dog didn’t reply.

‘You okay, boy?’

George stepped away from the door, disappearing into the fog.

Something clattered to the cobbles away to his left.

‘Hello?’

He inched towards the old stables, a faint scrabbling ahead.

‘Who’s there?’

‘Is everything okay, George?’

‘Shut the door and lock it,’ he called back.

‘George?’

Something lay on the ground ahead.

‘Bruno?’

Foam ringed the old dog’s mouth, a foot pawing the handle of a spade.

In the field a cow bawled.

 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Swim with me

 Emma put down her fork.

‘What happened to Jack the joker?’

‘What?’

‘The bloke that I used to flirt but not flirt with?’

‘He’s got stage fright.’

‘There’s only one person in the audience.’

‘That’s making it worse. Along with imposter syndrome.’

‘Imposter …’

‘You were the impossible dream. Now …’

‘We’re on a date.’

‘And my feet can’t touch the bottom of the pool.’

‘Just relax and swim with me.’

Jack snorted a laugh.

‘Think of it as clothed skinny dipping.’

‘What?’

‘Are you seeing me as I’m seeing you?’

‘Err.’

‘Now we’re in the same pool.’ Emma smiled.

 

 

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Review of East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (2017, HQ)

Javid – Jay to his friends – has been cruising through life as a small time dealer in West London. He keeps his head down, stays away from trouble, and goes to the mosque on Fridays, doing enough to get by but not attract attention. Just at the point where he’s bought the car of his dreams everything is turned upside down. The mosque is vandalised and Jay gets himself tangled up in a revenge attack while trying to protect a friend. During the fracas his car is stolen and with it the drugs and cash of a major supplier. Now Jay faces a tough choice, work for MI5 and rat on the supplier or be prosecuted for assault and face the consequence for the lost money. All MI5 want him to do is go undercover as a jihadist. Either way, his quiet life is over. 

East of Hounslow is the first book in the Jay Qasim series following the adventures of a small-time dealer turned reluctant MI5 agent. Rahman does a very nice job of flipping the everyday world of Jay from comfortable lad-about-town, who practises his Muslim religion and hustles to get by, to infiltrating an extremist cell who want jihad. It is the everydayness of the Muslim characters and their journey that adds an authenticity to the storytelling, though this feels a bit more paint-by-numbers with respect to the MI5 elements. Rahman portrays the lives of Muslims in Britain and how some become radicalised and many more do not without misbalancing the framing and plot. The dilemma set up provides a nice hook, and the plot unfolds at a nice pace with a couple of intriguing twists to a tense denouement. The ending seemed to unravel a little, with Jay more a bystander than a hero, but it overall the tale had a strong arc. Overall, a good blend of social and political commentary and thriller.


 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Are you going to ask?

Emma watched Jack enter the café.

He glanced around, his gaze briefly staying on her, then took a seat as far away as possible.

She waited five minutes before heading over.

‘Are you avoiding me?’

‘No.’ He continued to stare at his coffee.

‘You’re ignoring me at work as well.’

‘I … I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.’

‘I’d have told you if I were. There’s a difference between flirting and harassment, Jack.’

‘Oh.’

‘So?’

‘What?’

‘Are you going to ask?’

‘Ask?’

‘What you want to ask.’

‘What?’

‘Do I have to spell it out? A date.’

‘Oh.’

‘So?



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Review of Austral by Paul McAuley (2017, Gollancz)

Sometime in the near future climate change has led to the thawing and wilding of parts of Antarctica. It’s still a cold, harsh place, but it’s also home to a sizable and growing population attracted by its natural resources. Austral is the daughter of an ecopoet and a husky: a person whose genes have been edited to cope with the climate and environment, though her difference means she is feared and discriminated against by others. She’s had a tough life, first growing up on a remote island where ecopoets, who work with rather than exploiting nature, were isolated, then in an orphanage after her escape fails. After a time in prison, she’s now become a corrections officer in a labour camp and consort to a major criminal. He’s got plans to escape, enrolling her in his scheme to kidnap the daughter of a senior politician, who is related to Austral through her grandfather. Austral has other plans, however, snatching the girl herself and heading out into the wilderness. Her plan is to demand a ransom then use the funds to leave Antarctica. Her first priority though is to make good her escape and keep herself and the girl alive as the authorities and criminal gang try to track her down.

The narrative takes the form of a story being told by Austral to her child, explaining her adventure, her relationship to the girl she has kidnapped, who’s her second cousin, the history of her family and of the populating and wilding of Antarctica, and the decisions that she took. The plot essentially follows her escape journey and its various twists and turns as the pair struggle across a tough, wild landscape and get themselves into scrapes. The world building is very nicely done, with a strong sense of place and landscape. And the tale is infused with thoughtful reflection on climate change, wilding and genetic modifications. Two other threads are woven in to the telling – the history of Austral’s grandparents and her own backstory, and a fantasy adventure that forms the story that the kidnapped girl is reading. The latter seems somewhat out of place and surplus to the main tale. The real strength of the book, however, is Austral and McAuley creates a convincing and interesting character who despite circumstances is determined to escape while acting in good faith to the girl she is forcing along with her.


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Idiot boy

 Turning from the bar, Tom almost tipped his drinks over Sarah.

‘Woah!’

‘Is idiot boy ever going to do the honourable thing?’

‘What?’

‘Jack. Is he going to ask Emma on a date?’

‘Not in this lifetime.’

‘He’s been dancing round her for months.’

‘He’s worried he’ll be accused …’

‘Of what? Of being a sap?’

‘Of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.’

‘What? Is he that dumb he can’t tell she wants to be asked?’

Tom nodded. ‘Can she not …’

‘She doesn’t think proper for the lady to make the first move.’

‘Then it’s doomed.’

‘Let’s aim for delayed? What’s the plan?’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Review of A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson (2010, Quercus)

Winter, 1950. A young woman and a 14 month old child are found dead in a washhouse behind a terraced slum in London. The husband confesses to the murders, though he proves to be a congenital liar, constantly changing his story. It seems like an open and shut case and John Davies is convicted of the crime, largely on the evidence of another resident of the house, Norman Backhouse, and hanged. A couple of years later, the bodies of four recently disappeared women are found in the house and two more are buried in the garden. The key suspect is the Backhouse. It seems like a terrible miscarriage of justice has occurred, unless two different murderers had been living in the same house at the same time. DI Ted Stratton had misgivings about the first case, and they’ve come back to haunt him. Meanwhile, ex-war time agent, Diana Calthrop, finds her life sliding backwards as two marriages fail leaving her in dire straits, and Stratton’s daughter finds herself struggling to make sense of her sexuality, and neither woman should be wandering London when so vulnerable.  

The third book of the DI Ted Stratton series fictionalises the events at 10 Rillington Place, where two sets of murders occurred in the early 1950s sending two men to the hangman. The first murderer was convicted in part on the evidence of the second one, casting significant doubt on the initial investigation, trial and guilty verdict. The cases subsequently led to two inquiries, though their findings were inconclusive, and influenced the decision to end capital punishment. In Wilson’s telling DI Stratton is the lead officer in both cases. He has misgivings while investigating the death of a young woman and 14 month old child. John Davies is a simpleton with a temper who continually tells lies. Some of the evidence doesn’t quite add up, but most points to Davies, who has also confessed. And everyone involved in the case, including Stratton, think him guilty. When a couple of years later, six more bodies are discovered in the house and garden, Stratton wonders if he’d made a terrible mistake, despite the evidence and confession. Along with the investigation, Wilson spins two other threads through the story, both of which are hooked around women’s sexuality and position in society. The first follows Monica Stratton as she enters the workplace and starts to question her sexual identity. The second focuses on Diana Calthrop, a woman Stratton holds a flame for, and her fall from grace as she divorces her first husband and quickly enters another doomed marriage. In part, these are included to provide a thread through the series, but they do add to rather than detract from the story arc. The result is a very nicely plotted tale that is very strong on exploring the psychological side of investigating emotive cases with criminals who constantly lie and charting character development, in particular, Stratton, Monica and Diana’s lives. The pacing, atmosphere and sense of place and time adds to the telling. Overall, the strongest book in the series, in my view.


 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

August reviews

A good month of reading. My book of the month is The Lost Man by Jane Harper.

Silent City by Alex Segura **.5
The Lost Man by Jane Harper *****
A Philosophical Investigation by Philip Kerr ***
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke ****
Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan *****
One For The Money by Janet Evanovich ****
Joe Country by Mick Herron ***.5

 

 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Review of Silent City by Alex Segura (2016, Polis Books)

Dumped by his fiancée and his newspaper career on the skids, each day Pete Fernandez drinks himself into a stupor. When a writer for the paper asks him to look into the disappearance of his daughter, a reporter, Pete reluctantly agrees. It pretty quickly becomes clear that something is awry, though the police don’t seem to want to know. The journalist had been investigating a series of underworld murders committed by a mysterious hitman known as The Silent Death and it seems she might have been on the cusp of revealing his identity. He might be a mess, but Pete used to be a bloodhound reporter, and he’s soon ruffling feathers as he tries to track down the missing journalist. And as he digs deeper, he’s drawn into the world of his father, a homicide detective who’s recently died, and the body count of The Silent Death rises.

Silent City is a journalist turned PI tale set in Miami, following the attempt of a drunken, washed up reporter trying to track down a colleague who’d been working on a big story for the crime desk. It’s one of those tales where just about every character, regardless of their role, is already a part of the lead character’s life, the trajectory and mystery of the story is telegraphed from a very long way out, and the tale is driven forward by plot devices. And the characters were a little too typeset and one-dimensional. The result is a derivative crime thriller, told through workman-like prose, which has a decent pace, intrigue and tension, but is wholly unbelievable yet predictable. It passed the time, but sparked little else. 




Saturday, August 29, 2020

You deserve each other

 ‘I don’t think he’ll ever ask me out.’ 

‘He will. Eventually.’ 

‘I’m just a friend to him.’

‘A friend he wants to do naughty things with.’

‘He’s never even hinted at naughty.’

‘He sees you naked most of the time,’ Sarah said.

‘What? No!’

‘He’s practically drooling.’

‘Stop! He doesn’t see me that way at all.’

‘Well, you see him that way, so what’re you going to do about it?’

‘Nothing. He has to make the first move.’

‘It’s the twenty-first century, Emma.’

‘I’ll die of shame.’

‘You won’t.’

‘I probably will.’

‘Well, one thing’s certain. You deserve each other.’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Review of The Lost Man by Jane Harper (2018, Abacus)

Deep in the Australian outback Cameron Bright’s body is discovered by his two brothers at Stockman’s grave, a bleak, isolated spot, having perished in the searing heat. His vehicle being parked some kilometres away suggests foul play, but other circumstantial evidence indicates misadventure or suicide. It’s not uncommon given the rural isolation and Cam seemed off-colour for weeks before his death. Nathan, the eldest of the siblings and social outcast, wants answers but the rest of the Bright family and ranch hands are more concerned with his mental wellbeing, their own problems, and preparing for the funeral and Christmas. And the police are several hours away, busy, and unconvinced that the death was anything more than a tragic incident. Nathan hasn’t spent this much time with others in a decade and he’d sooner retreat to his own failing ranch, but something about Cam’s death has got under his skin. 

Harper’s tale charts Nathan’s faltering investigation into his brother’s death, slowly revealing secrets and dark moments that shadow the Bright homestead. The telling is nicely evocative, with a strong sense of place, realistic rendering of ranch and family life, and tensions and social relations among an isolated, resilient community, and well-painted characters. The real strength of story is the tight crafting of plot, which is free of awkward or contrived plot devices; mixing reminisce and mystery it creates a slow burn sense of unease and intrigue, leading to an understated and satisfying denouement. The result is an engaging tale of a lost man wandering back towards redemption.


 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review of A Philosophical Investigation by Philip Kerr (1992, G.P. Putnam)

London, 2013 (at the time of publication, twenty years in the future). Society has become more uneven and unequal with capitalism devouring the state and prison sentences have been replaced by ‘punitive comas’. The Lombroso project uses brain scans to identify men lacking a Ventro Medial Nucleus, who are more likely to commit violent crimes, and places them in an anonymous programme designed to limit their tendencies. Only someone seems to have accessed the secret database and is murdering the men, focusing in particular on those given philosopher names as pseudonyms. Detective Isadora ‘Jake’ Jacowicz is assigned the case. Jake has her own demons related to violent men and she’s determined to track down the killer. But ‘Wittgenstein’ is a smarter than the average killer and she might have found her match. 

Kerr spins the tale out through two intertwined threads, the first the tracking police investigation, the second reproducing the journal entries written by the killer. The procedural elements are inflected with philosophical musings related to crime and punishment, with Jake increasingly questioning the ethics of the criminal justice system. The second apes Wittgenstein’s style and ideas, setting out the logic and reasoning of the killer and reflecting on the crimes committed. The result is a police procedural thriller that is thoroughly saturated with ethical and normative reflection, sometimes to the point of drowning the procedural side of the story. The issues raised are thought-provoking, but at times they seem forced centre stage, especially through the use of Wittgenstein’s notebook, and the tale feels too clever for its own good. As a result, while I found many of the ideas underpinning the book interesting, and it was quite an engaging read, it seemed a little too contrived and stilted.

 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Better than messing up?

‘Stop glancing over; go and ask her for a date,’ Tom said.

‘I can’t.’ Jack stirred his coffee.

‘Won’t, more like.’

‘We work in the same office.’

‘And?’

‘And me too.’

‘So, work romances are banned?’

‘Yes. I don’t know. I don’t want to make her feel … uncomfortable.’

‘It’s everyone else that’s uncomfortable, the pair of you doing that flirting not flirting thing.’

‘What?’

‘Sitting together, glances, shy smiles, small talk. It’s excruciating.’

‘You’re right, I’ll leave.’

‘Now you’re really talking nonsense. I’ll sound her out.’

‘That’s worse.’

‘You’re going to do nothing?’

‘Better than messing up.’

‘Is it?’




A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Review of Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (2017, Mulholland)

Darren Mathews’ career as a Texas Ranger looks like it could be over, as well as his marriage. While both are in hiatus, an old friend points him to a pair of murders in the tiny settlement of Lark, which is little more than a pit stop on Highway 59. The first murder was a black lawyer from Chicago, the second a couple of days later, a local white woman. The local sheriff doesn’t want a Texas Ranger looking over his shoulder, especially a black one, and the locals are not happy he’s there either, especially those who attend a local bar where members of the Aryan Brotherhood hang out. Undeterred and determined to discover the truth before he loses his badge, Mathews starts to poke around, annoying just about everyone he encounters, including the wife of the dead lawyer. There are secrets in Lark, however, that nobody on either side of the racial divide wants revealed.

Bluebird, Bluebird is a police procedural set in East Texas centered on the investigation of a pair of murders by Texas Ranger, Darren Mathews. Race, family and community are its central hooks, explored through the killing of a black lawyer and a white woman in a small, rural settlement, and the turmoil in Mathews own life. Mathews is battling a number of issues at work and home – a career being derailed, a marriage on the rocks, a guardian pushing for a career change, a dysfunctional mother, an obstructionist local sheriff, and drink. The murders in Lark are a chance to redeem his career, and also to potentially contribute to the ongoing investigation to Aryan Brotherhood operating in the state. But little goes well after his arrival in Lark. Racial tension is high, and a black ranger is unwelcome. Locke nicely balances Mathew’s personal life with the investigation of an intriguing mystery, using both to provide an insightful social commentary on institutionalised racism in the Deep South. The story is well paced, the prose evocative, and the there’s a couple of nice twists. A strong start to the series.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

If you could see the future

 Jack downed the whisky.

‘What would you do if you could see the future?’

‘Find out that week’s lottery numbers.’ Greg refilled the glass.

‘But what if you were going to die?’

‘Then Gemma would be a rich widow.’

‘I’m being serious. What if you could foretell your own death?’

‘Then I’d change my future.’

‘How?’

‘By avoiding whatever kills me; steering clear of the place and activity.’

‘What if you can’t?’

‘Then you’re fucked. Relax; none of us know our future.’

‘I knew you’d say that.’

‘Déjà vu.’

‘I know a truck is about to plough through that wall.’

 


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Review of Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan (2019, FSG)

In reaction to the ever-growing dependency on digital technologies and the tyranny of surveillance capitalism, the predictive state and autonomous systems, a small enclave in Bristol has cut itself off from mainstream networked life, setting up an alternative counter-culture, the Croft. It’s not popular with everyone, creating inconveniences for those living in or nearby who do not aspire to its ideals, but it does demonstrate that an alternative digital life is possible. But then a radical anarchist group takes down the global internet and every connected device. Global capitalism is halted in its tracks and every production, logistical and consumption system descends into chaos. Instead of creating a better society, the world seems to implode, people scrambling to survive.  The Croft’s is targeted, it’s inhabitants battling to protect their turf and scattering. Years later, Anika – one of its former leaders – is making her way back attracted by stories of a girl who can see ghosts. At the same time, the architect of the Croft’s alternative network is making his way to Brooklyn to track down his lover. 

Infinite Detail tracks life before and after a catastrophic cyberattack that takes down the global internet and permanently disables every digital technology and system, following two threads, one set in Bristol, the other New York. In the time before and during the crash, the excesses of the global capitalism and technocratic governance in Bristol and New York is contrasted to the idealism of the Croft, a community that disconnects from the global internet, building its own communitarian network. In the time after, the folly of imploding the global system with no plan or bridge to maintain social systems is exposed, with the focus mostly on Bristol and the lives of a handful of the Croft’s inhabitants. Maughan nicely juxtaposes life before and after the crash, raising thoughtful questions and observations about a world becoming increasingly dependent on digital technologies to drive and control the global economy and state practices (and all the tech and systems discussed currently exist and are deployed rather than being speculative, though some are more embedded in the story than at present) and what happens if they are suddenly and permanently switched off. At the same time, the story relating to the Croft’s current and former inhabitants, and their own trials and memories, remains centre stage. The result is an engaging tale about our digital and surveillance present and future.

 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

There’s a difference between stupid in love and stupid

‘He’s in the shower then?’ Cathy asked, entering the kitchen.

‘Yeah.’

‘You don’t sound too happy about it.’

‘Well, y’know.’ Jane shrugged.

‘Well, I know I was kept up half the night.’

‘Sorry.’

‘What are you sorry for? Oh, god! Oh, god!’ Cathy mimicked. ‘Oohhhh, fuck. Don’t stop!’

‘Sorry.’

‘What is it, buyer’s remorse? Got a face like a slapped arse?’

‘Cath.’

‘At least it wasn’t that fucker Gary.’

‘Shhhssh. He might hear.’

‘Wait …’

‘I know.’

‘He cheated on you. Gave you a fucking black eye!’

‘I …’

‘Jesus, Jane! There’s a difference between stupid in love and stupid.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Review of One For The Money by Janet Evanovich (1994, Penguin)

Jersey girl Stephanie Plum has been let go from her job as a department store lingerie buyer. She can’t find another job, her car has been repossessed, and she can’t afford the rent. In desperation, she turns to her cousin Vinny and blackmails her way into becoming a bounty hunter. If she can bring in Detective Joe Morelli, out on bail for murder, she’ll be able to stave off homelessness. However, Morelli is a seasoned detective who doesn’t want to be caught and he’s also Stephanie’s weak spot – the man who took her virginity, broadcast the details to the neighbourhood, then disappeared. She’s also clueless about the bounty hunter business and she’s about to tangle with a lot more than Morelli – a psychotic boxer with a shot at a title who gets his kicks hurting women. She’s soon well out of her depth, but pride, bloody mindedness and the chance of revenge mean she’s determined to get her man. 

One for the Money was the first book in the Stephanie Plum series, now at book 27. I first read it in 1996. It was a breath of fresh air at time – a tale that was breezy and humorous, laced with a dark streak, crossing a rom-com sensibility with violent crime. The juxtaposition of the fish-out-of-water former lingerie buyer working as a bounty hunter, the sparky relationship between Plum and Morelli as she chases him as he seeks to clear his name chasing witnesses and someone else chases them both, work well to produce an entertaining caper. Added to the mix is Stephanie’s exasperated family. Reading it again it’s still a good read, but it’s not quite as a I remember it, partly clouded by an expectation to spend more time with characters that are developed further in subsequent books (I got to about book 12 before giving up on the series, which at that point seemed to be rehashing the same story and had lost its spark). Nonetheless, it retains its freshness and sassiness. A fun read.



Thursday, August 6, 2020

July reviews

July provided a good mix of interesting reading. Four stand out books, but the read of the month was Blackfish City.

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller *****
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina ****.5
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz ***
Red Square by Edward Topol and Fridrikh Neznansky ****
A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin ***
The Portable Door by Tom Holt ***
The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre ****.5

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review of Joe Country by Mick Herron (2019, John Murray)

River Cartwright’s grandfather, the Old Bastard and master spy, has died and an old foe shows up at the funeral. The ‘slow horses’ of Slough House – intelligence officers that have messed up their careers – have unfinished business and set off in pursuit. Except for Louisa Guy, who has requested leave to track down the missing son of a fellow former horse and now dead lover, and Lech Wicinski, a new transfer to Slough House who is busy trying to work out who sabotaged his career and personal life. Meanwhile, the head of the Service is too busy fighting political battles to worry too much about what her rejects are up to in Joe Country, and their boss Jackson Lamb is happy to give them their heads, even if it means they might lose them.

Joe Country is the sixth instalment in the wonderful ‘Slough House’ series that follows the exploits of a set of washed-up intelligence agents who’ve been put out to pasture, consigned to meaningless, menial tasks. In this outing, while each of the 'slow horses' continues to deal with their own personal demons, they also set off into Joe Country – entering the field as active agents – in order to track down an old foe. But this is somewhat of a solo run, without the back-up and resources of the Service, against professional opposition in a remote corner of Wales in the depths of winter. It seems certain that not everyone is going to make it home. Which is a hallmark and strength of the series – Herron creates a wonderful set of characters, lets the reader invest in them, and then kill off them off in subsequent books, always in service to the story. It’s a remarkably effective in terms of adding emotional resonance to the tale, but also keeping the series fresh as new misfits are cycled through Slough House. And half the fun is trying to guess who’ll be for the chop. While Joe Country is an engaging and entertaining read, with Lamb’s acerbic commentaries, snide commentary of contemporary politics, and the chase in the snow a delight, in my view it was one the weaker books in the series, with the thread linking the various elements somewhat tenuous, coincidental and underdeveloped. This gave the plot a contrived feel, held together with relatively weak plot devices. Nonetheless, it was still an enjoyable read and provides a nice setup to the next instalment.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A stranger

Hayden stared at the mirror.

The man gazing back was a stranger who seemed vaguely familiar, yet couldn’t quite be placed. A reflection in a carriage’s window of a man who caught the same train each morning. Someone otherworldly, yet somehow an echo. No, a simulacrum. Or something distant, but tenuously connected. Whatever, it wasn’t himself he was seeing. Or at least a self he recognized.

He closed his eyes and pressed the bridge of his nose, then ran his finger and thumb down across his cheeks.

How could be find himself again when he’d forgotten what he’d been like?

Friday, July 31, 2020

Review of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower (1999, Penguin)

Starting with Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast to the nation to announce Japan’s surrender, Dower’s account provides a detailed account of Japan under the American occupation post-World War Two until their departure in 1952. In particular, the account focuses on the influence of the US administration on Japanese life in the immediate post-war years and its long-term effects on politics, culture and economy, covering in particular the rejigging of the political system and the introduction of democracy, the reshaping of public governance, strong censorship of the media, communications, literature and entertainment, the black market, the hardship faced by families trying to make ends meet in a country destroyed by aerial bombing and suffering the trauma of defeat, and the war crimes trials. What emerges is a fairly balanced picture told from the perspectives of the US administration and the Japanese elite and ordinary citizens, set within the wider context of a changing world order as the Cold War emerges and the Korean War starts. In particular, there is an interesting discussion of the strategy employed by the US and Japanese officials to exonerate the emperor and maintain his position, and colonialism and imperialism in Asia and the duplicity and hypocrisy in the war crimes trials. While the book is strong on the administrative and politics aspects, it pays less attention to recovery of the economy (just one chapter to bookend the history), the plight of ordinary families, and US military bases and effects on local communities. Moreover, the context leading up to the occupation is quickly sketched and scattered in the text. This is kind of inevitable – it is already a large tome and to insert these to the same level of detail would require an additional volume. Nonetheless, it is thoroughly readable, balanced and detailed overview of the period of American occupation of Japan.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review of Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (2018, Orbit)

Post-apocalypse, the world has been shattered geopolitically into a myriad of cities and wandering tribes. Qaanaaq is a floating city powered by geothermal energy constructed above the Arctic Circle by an alliance of Thai-Chinese-Swedish corporations and government bodies. It is structured hierarchically through capital and crime syndicates with seemingly little state-led control. Over a million people call it home, scratching out a living providing services or contract working to gather resources and paying rent to stakeholder owners and protection to crime lords. There’s unrest among the inhabitants and many suffer from ‘the breaks’, a condition where they experience other people’s memories. Then a woman riding a killer whale and accompanied by a polar bear arrive spawning rumours and unease. For four people her presence provides an impetus to resist the present order, though they are unsure about what they are seeking to achieve.

Miller tells the story through the perspective of these four characters, each chapter following one of their lives and the points of intersection with the others. This produces different viewpoints onto the social life and politics of Qaanaaq and provides historical context and world building. Blended into the mix is a swirl of climate, gender and bio- politics. This world building is very nicely done, creating depth and intrigue yet never feeling laboured or separate to the story. The lynchpin to the tale is the ‘orcamancer’, a woman who immediately seems to spawn her own myths and legend, simply through her presence. Gradually the four characters fall within her orbit, discovering hidden truths about themselves and gaining strength and purpose. The story rolls along at a well-judged pace, building to a strong denouement that provides a glimmer of hope without dimming a dark, stratified future. An engaging, enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Comfortable love

‘I just want to be content,’ Lena said. ‘I don’t need thunderbolts.’

Katie turned off the television as the credits rolled.

‘You don’t want to be whisked off your feet? Feel your heart is going to burst?’

‘I want companionship not romance.’ Lena sipped her wine.

‘You don’t want to be madly in love with him?’

‘I want love built on friendship, not desire, big gestures, emotional highs. For it to burn like incense not explode as fireworks.’

‘Sounds like romantic love to me.’

‘But with a small r and less melodrama.’

’Also boring.’

‘Exactly. Comfortable love. That’s my dream.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review of Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (2018, Penguin)

Beth Teller died in a car accident. Now she haunts her broken-hearted father, who’s a detective. When he’s sent to small town to investigate a fire at a children’s home which killed an un-identified person, she accompanies him. While the local police chief is keen to wrap the case up as the result of an electrical failure, Beth’s father is suspicious; more so after he discusses the fire with a witness – Isobel Catching who tells an oblique tale that seems to have little to do with the inferno. Like Beth’s father, Catching can see and converse with Beth. Shortly after, two bodies are found in the town, seemingly dropped from the sky. Beth’s father calls in fellow city cops to help, sensing that other crimes are surfacing.

Catching Teller Crow is pitched as a young adult read, but its story and themes will resonate with readers of all ages. While told as a kind of literary supernatural police procedural, it is probably better to describe it as a meeting of Western and aboriginal traditions of storytelling hooked around two principle characters/voices. Beth Teller is a mixed race teen who has died in a car accident and haunts her grieving father, who’s a detective. Isobel Catching is an aboriginal girl who witnesses a fire that burns down a remote children’s home and kills a man. Beth’s tale sets out the investigation into the fire led by her father. Isobel’s tale is told more obliquely as a kind of dreamlike poem. The two stories cast light on the intersection of two cultures and issues of grief, colonial violence, and resilience. I thought it was a very moving, thoughtful, and thought-provoking tale that nicely blends different forms of storytelling. It’s a little short in the telling, but nonetheless is a substantive and engaging read with some very evocative prose.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (2017, Orbit)

Earth, 2144. Information has become the key commodity and everything can be owned, including humans. Jack is a pharmaceutical pirate that reverse engineers drugs to make them available to the poor. Her latest batch, however, is creating havoc by making users so compulsively addicted to their work that they’ll do anything to fulfil a task including put themselves and others at risk. She quickly realises that the drug she’s copied and distributed is being illegally produced by a large multinational that is now intent on making her the scapegoat for the deadly hit. While she races to try and find a solution, the company has persuaded authorities to track her down. Tasked with the job is Eliasz, an experienced military agent, and Paladin, a rookie indentured robot. As they try to locate Jack they start to form a close bond that neither is comfortable with but they nonetheless form an effective, deadly team.

In Autonomous Annalee Newitz imagines a world reconfigured into large trading zones, where power and capital are driven by information and patents, and not everybody or everything possess autonomy but are indentured in some way. Pushing back against the monopolies controlling intellectual property are pockets of scholar activists who believe in open knowledge. Newitz’s story follows the exploits of one of these activists, a kind of pharmaceutical Robin Hood who manufactures patented drugs and distributes them to those that need them rather than can simply afford them, and an attempt to track her down by an agent/robot pairing. The book is pitched as a biotech/AI version of Neuromancer. And while it does have a kind of cyberpunk feel, it lacks somewhat on the world-making and depth of story. While the reader is placed in a future world, there’s little sense as to it history or configuration or how it presently operates and is governed other than some kind of alliance between militarized trading zones and large corporations. The story is fairly linear and centred on three main characters (and another who is partially developed), and is more used to explore some ideas relating to informational capitalism and biotech, and identity, autonomy and sexuality, than to spin a more layered and complex chase. The result is some interesting ideas, though some could have been more fully worked through – for example, in relation to human-robot desire/relations - set within a loose framing that leads to an underwhelming denouement. Which was a shame as there was a lot of potential for more.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

She's already dead

Liam stepped over the threshold.

‘Where the hell have you been!’ Beth exploded.

‘I …’

‘I can’t believe that you’d cheat on me!’

‘Beth …’

‘Who is she?’

‘Just …’

‘You’ve been acting suspiciously for the last couple of weeks. But …’

‘Beth …’

‘And now you’ve taken to switching your phone off?’

‘I …’

‘I thought that this was it. That … Jesus. I’m going to kill her.’

‘She’s already dead.’

‘What?’

‘My mother. She passed this evening.’

‘What!’

‘She didn’t want a fuss.’

‘Fuss?’

‘She me made promise.’

‘But …’

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to …’

‘Liam?’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review of Red Square by Edward Topol and Fridrikh Neznansky (1983, Corgi)

A special investigator for the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Shamrayev is taking a break in Sochi on the Black Sea when he is urgently recalled to Moscow investigate the suspicious death of Semen Tsvigun, the Deputy Director of the KGB and Brezhnev’s brother-in-law. The KGB have quickly commissioned an autopsy, declared the death a suicide, and arranged for Tsvigun’s burial. Shamrayev soon finds his avenues of inquiry being actively blocked by very senior figures across security and police agencies, with not so subtle threats being delivered to drop the case. A massive round up of senior post holders across multiple agencies involved in the black market is taking place, and Tsvigun’s death is being used to move against Brezhnez’s family, who seem to be at the heart of the lucrative trading, and to conduct a political coup. Shamrayev is not prepared to let murder slide and he has a letter from Brezhnev that provides him with the power to demand whatever is required to solve Tsvigun’s death and protect the head of state from scandal.

Topol and Neznansky’s tale spins the actual reported suicide of Tsvigun by imagining it as murder, populating the story with numerous real-world characters and scandal relating to ‘Brezhnev’s mafia’, which led a high life in Moscow on the back of black market profiteering. Novelist and screenwriter, Topol provides the engaging narrative, while authenticity in the police procedural and internal politics between state agencies is added through Neznansky’s insider knowledge gleaned as an experienced Soviet prosecutor before emigrating to the United States. The result is a political thriller meets police procedural in which the stark realities of Soviet life in the Brezhnev era is revealed: from the heavy state hand, paranoia, discipline and punishment, everyday resistance, black market, political corruption, and institutional rivalries. Added into the mix is anti-Semitism and rampant misogyny. The authors keep the story moving at a brisk pace with plenty of intrigue, tension, and attention to detail as Shamrayev tries to uncover who killed Tsgivun, what game is really being played out, and to actively intervene. It leads to a nice denouement and a couple of good twists, keeping the ‘what really did happen’ framing active to the final line.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Review of A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin (2019, Little, Brown and Co)

In the early part of the war Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic with more tonnage of ships sunk, and all of their precious cargo, than it could replace. The situation became more perilous as the U-boats started to attack in packs, with the allies having no effective strategic or tactical response beyond seeking safety in numbers. That was about to change with the intervention of Captain Gilbert Roberts and a team of wrens who formed the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) and devised a strategic game to determine the hunting tactics of the U-boats and how best to counter them. This game was then used to train hundreds of ship personnel in how to protect the convoys and successfully find and sink their attackers. In the following months the balance of the battle had shifted, with the new tactics, along with new weapons giving the Allies the upper-hand.

Parkin’s book tells the story of the game’s devising and deployment, focusing on the role and lives of Roberts and the wrens in his team. He contextualises this by framing WATU within the wider Battle of the Atlantic from the perspective of the convoys and U-boat mariners, internal politics of the British armed forces, and the history of the wrens. This wider context situates the story, though it is a little patchy and in a jumbled temporal order; but it is also necessary because the material for the primary story is also a little sketchy. My sense is Parkin is working from relatively thin material concerning the game and the personalities involved given all the main actors have passed leaving little in the way of personal testimony and the archival material used seems scant. He does a reasonable job with what material he has, producing a social history around the game and its wider impact.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Calling time

Josh closed his eyes. ‘How the hell did I end up living in a soap opera?’

‘Is that a pathetic attempt at gaslighting?’

‘I’m not the only one who slept away, but I’m the only one who’s repented.’

‘Repented?’ Sarah hissed. ‘I got a limp bunch of flowers and an unapologetic apology.’

‘You started this game.’

‘I might have been first to bed, but not to flirting.’

‘Flirting isn’t infidelity.’

‘It signals intent.’

‘So, you thought you’d land a first strike?’

‘Josh.’

‘We can’t keep doing this; playing the same scene. We need to forgive and forget or call time.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Review of The Portable Door by Tom Holt (2003, Orbit)

Paul Carpenter has been abandoned by his parents, who upped sticks and moved to Florida the moment he finished school. Living in a crappy bedsit he interviews for a job at J.W. Wells & Co as a clerk. Much to his surprise he’s offered the post, turning up to the company to find the skinny, angular, distant girl he took an instant liking to at the interview has also been employed. They are paired for their training, which seems to consist of nothing but sorting, filing, long awkward silences and furtive glances, without any clue as to what they are doing professionally or personally. Things are weird enough, but they gradually become odder and when they try to quit they’re informed that the terms of their contract forbid such a move and the consequences. At least Paul has discovered a portable door that enables him to escape for a while, though it too has its downsides.

The Portable Door is the first instalment of the J.W. Wells & Co. urban fantasy series. In this outing, the young, naïve and painfully shy Paul Carpenter joins the company, along with the equally socially awkward, Sophie. Neither seems able to tell the other how they feel and seem determined to sabotage any chance of a relationship for fear of rejection and making a fool of themselves. Instead, they carry out boring, mundane administrative tasks, the purpose of which they don’t understand, for a very odd company. Then Sophie gets a boyfriend and Paul finds a portable door and things start to get stranger. Essentially, the story is an extended rom-com with a bit of fantasy thrown in. And unfortunately it is a bit of fantasy, with the balance weighted heavily towards the strung out failure-to-connect romance. The other part of the story – the mystery and adventurous task they find themselves central to is underplayed and lacks depth and tension. The result was one part of the tale being drawn out and the other underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the characters are engaging in an annoying kind of way, the setup around the company is intriguing, there’s a gentle humour running throughout, and there’s a sense that the series will be worth persisting with.


Monday, July 6, 2020

June reviews

The Concrete Blonde was my best read during June, a book I first read two decades ago, and I think the first of many Harry Bosch tales I've worked my way through.

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver **.5
The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly *****
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey ****
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon ***.5
Fires of London by Janice Law ****
The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö ***

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Like a trampoline

‘I can’t believe she lied to me. That she cheated and stole my stuff.’

Todd swigged his beer. ‘What, you think that women are all sweetness and light and all things nice?’

Craig shook his head. ‘That they’re better than men, yeah.’

‘Then you’re an idiot. Who do you think men are cheating with? Who do you think bitches refers to?’

‘But not Claire.’

‘Yeah, Claire. Man, she was using you as an ATM.’

‘But she …’

‘And you better be ready for round two.’

‘What?’

‘She’ll be back. She knows you’re a soft touch.’

‘Soft touch?’

‘Like a trampoline.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, July 3, 2020

Review of The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre (2017, Old Street Publishing)


Patience Portefeux works as an underpaid, off-the-books French-Arabic translator for the police and courts, specialising in phone taps. She grew up in a criminal enterprise, living a low-life in France but experiencing luxury on holidays. When she got married her father decided she didn’t need to inherit and now she’s a widow she’s struggling to cover the nursing home fees for her mother, provide for her daughters, and plan a nest egg for her own future given a lack of employer pension. Then an opportunity presents itself through her work – a huge shipment of drugs disappears en route from Morocco to France and Patience knows roughly where it is hidden. So starts her second life as The Godmother. It’s fairly difficult to find a fresh take in the crime genre, but Cayre has managed to produce a novel, dark, engaging and humorous tale hooked around a colourful lead character and her situation. The plot unfolds at a nice pace, with a good balance between backstory, character development, social observation, and the main plot thread. Beyond Patience, the story is populated with other quirky characters and the spins out along an interesting trajectory. It ended a bit too quickly, with a thin wrap-up, but I still thought it was a wonderful noirish read that I rattled through.