Saturday, October 31, 2020

Poor bastard

‘There,’ Dessie slid the fiver across the table, ‘she almost made the record.’

Cathy stopped and turned. ‘Were you betting on me?’

‘Most last just a few minutes; you were pretty game.’

‘I don’t believe this.’

‘You won’t meet a nice fella then Terry,’ Colin said, ‘but he’s cursed. Put him next to a woman and he’s a nervous wreck; either clams up or spouts gibberish.’

Cathy glanced back at her blind date, who was staring forlornly at his cup.

‘Then why does he do it?’

‘Probably the same reason as you. Except he does it without hope. Poor bastard.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Review of Crimson Lake by Candice Fox (2017, Penguin)

Ted Conkaffey’s life has been turned upside down. The last known person to see a girl at a bus stop before she was abducted and raped, he’s accused of the crime. The case is withdrawn halfway through the trial leaving him neither acquitted nor convicted, but his reputation and marriage in ruins. His lawyer drives him north from Sydney to the wetlands of Crimson Lake, near to Cairns, and introduces him to Amanda Pharrell, a private investigator who has served time for killing another girl when she was a teenager. With the local community and cops starting to make Ted’s life a misery, he throws himself into investigating the disappearance of a local celebrity author with his new partner. At the same time he starts to dig into Amanda’s past, convinced there was more to her case than what’s on the public record. He’s pretty much given up on trying to prove his own innocence; the question is whether he’ll be able to stay in Crimson Creek long enough to solve the cases he’s working on before the locals force him to leave.

Crimson Lake is the first in a private investigator series set near to Cairns in North East Australia, featuring ex-detective Ted Conkaffey, a man wrongly suspected of kidnapping and raping a teenage girl, and Amanda Pharrell, an ex-con, who served time for murdering a fellow teenager. Ted has fled north to try and rebuild his life, knowing that he’ll never be able to shake-off the accusation unless the real culprit is caught. Amanda is all sharp angles, awkward, brazen, and with her own way of doing things. They make an odd pairing, but their circumstances enable them to form a working relationship. Their first case together is to investigate the disappearance of a local author who has gained fame and fans for Christian fiction, but whose lifestyle is far removed from pastiche of Old and New Testament he writes. As they hunt for clues and track down leads, the local community start to harass Ted and the cops threaten him with the aim of moving him on. Then the media track him down. Relatively tense from the start, Fox slowly ramps up the tension to create a taunt psychological thriller that interweaves three cases – Ted’s abduction, Amanda’s murder, and the author’s disappearance. Although somewhat unsettling and uncomfortable at times, there is strong character development, a good sense of place, and a nicely crafted plot that propels the story along with some good hidden twists leading to an enthralling denouement. And I was certainly left with a desire to see how Ted and Amanda’s lives develop in the next book in the series.

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


 ‘That’s Queen Victoria?’

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

‘But she’s black.’


‘Queen Victoria was white.’

‘To you maybe.’

‘It’s not a matter of opinion.’

‘And what about Cleopatra?’


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


‘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


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.