Saturday, May 31, 2014

Purls of wisdom

For a few hours every day Marie-Claire Girard perched on her small balcony overlooking the marshalling yards and knitted long scarves in dull grey wool.  When he wasn’t at school her young son would join her, running a wooden train around the railing and dreaming of being a driver.  Once her scarf had reached six feet in length, she’d wrap it around her neck and walk to a cafe where she’d donate it to an elderly patron.  From there it worked its way to Switzerland and into France, the trains and their cargo encoded in the unusual pattern of stitches.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dealing with time

I always think the sign of a good writer is how they deal with time in a story, especially a transition across a number of weeks and months that isn’t just a jump from one point in time to another.  At one point In the Morning I’ll Be Gone Adrian McKinty does a really nice job in moving the story forward by several weeks, whilst also letting the reader know what happened during that time, but only taking a couple of paragraphs to do so.  He does so by blending little snippets about the main character and key historical events in a quite matter of fact way.  Reading it was one of those moments where I felt myself learning a useful tip about how to structure a story and deal with temporal shifts.  I’m going to have a play with using the technique in one of my own stories.  I suspect it’s a bit more tricky to pull off than it at first seems, with the danger being the narrative potentially seeming like just a listing of time-sequenced events.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail, 2014)

1983, Sean Duffy is a Catholic cop in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.  With a record of badly judged misdemeanours and demoted out of CID, Duffy is soon drummed out of the force.  Salvation, however, comes from an unlikely source - British intelligence.  The Maze prison breakout has resulted in several high profile IRA members being on the loose.  One them is master bomb-maker, Dermot McCann, with whom Duffy attended school.  McCann was last spotted in Libya, but has now disappeared and is feared to be preparing a major bombing campaign.  In return for reinstatement to his old rank and post, MI5 want Duffy to locate his former friend.  He finds an unlikely ally in McCann’s former mother-in-law, who’ll use her Republican networks to help, but only if he’ll solve the death of her daughter.  The problem is that Lizzie died in the family pub which was locked and bolted from the inside and all the evidence points to an accident rather than the murder her mother suspects.  Duffy harbours the same suspicions, but can find no compelling evidence to support them and it’s only a matter of time until McCann resurfaces.

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone is the third book in the Duffy trilogy.  It can be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend reading the earlier two instalments in this excellent series.  In my view this is McKinty’s strongest book of the one's I've read).  It hits all the bases - strong voice and prose; very good sense of place and history that interweaves real events and people; nice characterisation and interplay between characters; and a well worked plot.  What sets this apart from his previous work is the latter.  McKinty has always been a good plotter, but in In The Morning I’ll be Gone he entwines two compelling stories to great effect.  At one level the tale is a straightforward thriller - Duffy is running against the clock to try and track down an IRA master bomb-maker, Dermot McCann.  The twist is that McKinty inserts a cold case locked room mystery into the heart of the novel, one that reconnects him with a family from his past.  Duffy thus ends up undertaking a traditional police procedural investigation that involves patient detection framed within a wider case that demands more urgency.  Both cases are very well told and enfolded, leading to a clever and interesting climax.  It takes a skilled writer to convincingly insert a character into real history and McKinty pulls it off with aplomb.  An excellent conclusion to the trilogy and highly recommended.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review of A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill (Pantera Press, 2011)

Rowly Sinclair is the black sheep of a rich Australian family, a bohemian artist with leftist views living on the proceeds of inherited wealth.  Having fled Sydney having foiled a right-wing nationalist plot, Rowly and his working class friends, Clyde, an artist, Milton, a poet, and Edna, a beautiful sculptress and model, have spent a number of months wandering Europe during 1932.  Sensing it is now safe to return home they have boarded the luxury ocean liner RMS Aquitania, travelling back to Australia via New York.  Amongst their fellow first class passengers are leading members of the Theosophists, a religious movement, and a fearsome Catholic Bishop, his wayward niece, and a couple of priests.  Halfway across the Atlantic a former member of the Theosophists is murdered with the evidence pointing towards Rowly being his attacker.  Not long after shots are fired.  By the time they reach Australia a couple more passengers have become victims, with Rowly firmly in the frame for the murders.  The dapper artist, however, is determined to bring the real killer to justice, despite being distracted by a major family event, the christening of his new-born nephew and the attempts of his brother to get him more involved in the family business.

A Decline in Prophets has the feel of a golden age of crime fiction tale, with its focus on an upper class amateur detective and his small band of confidants, the setting on board a luxury liner in the early 1930s, and the form taking a classical style whodunnit.  Gentill pulls off all three elements with aplomb, providing a gently paced, well observed tale of manners and the upper class lifestyle of the period, whilst tingeing the story with darker narrative and keeping the reader guessing as to who the killer is and their motives.  A key ingredient is the character of Rowly Sinclair, a wealthy Australian dilettante with impeccable manners, who attracts trouble and trouble-makers, and his three working class, bohemian friends who live the high life on his tab.  They’re full of playful humour and joie de vivre, even when the chips seem set against them.  They are complemented by their colourful fellow passengers, the rag-bag collection of Theosophists and the more serious Catholic bishop and accompanying priests.   Gentill plays all three groups off against each other generating plenty of potential suspects and subplots.  Back in Australia, Rowly’s stiff upper class family are added to the mix, causing him yet more headaches.  The result is an enjoyable sojourn across the Atlantic to New York then onto Sydney and its wealthy neighbourhoods.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

I've finally completed the index for The Data Revolution book.  In the end it took a fair bit longer than I anticipated to put together, c. 30 hours.  I could have rattled one out a lot more quickly but I wanted to produce a really comprehensive, useful one, and my sense is it's the best of the twenty or so I've done to date.  I just hope it gets used after all that effort!  I've also got the book's website up and running.  I'm hoping that's everything with respect to the book, but I suspect I'll also need to do a video abstract at some point.  I had to make two of these last week - one for a project and one for an academic paper.  It seems that's the trend these days, to supply supplementary material such as blog posts and videos that will help increase the main material's discoverability.  The one good thing from this is I learnt how to use some good video editing software and how to put together a professional(ish) video, and found that I enjoyed the process (despite the frustration of trying to do it on an underpowered machine that kept crashing).  Once the videos have been released I'll put up links to them.

My posts this week
Review of Another Case in Cowtown by Mel Healy
Workshop: Code and the City
Review of Keep Away From Those Ferraris by Pat Fitzpatrick

Saturday, May 24, 2014


‘Tick ... ... tick ... tick ... ... tick.’

Phosphenes danced slowly behind closed eyes.

‘Tick ... tick ...’

Lizzy let the sound tug her into blank consciousness, aware of nothing but air wheezing through crack lips.

The dark swallowed her.

‘Tick ... tick ...’

This time she felt the cold; the deep chill residing in her bones.  Sensing she was about to slip away again she willed her eyes open.

She was lying on the lino, the room dimly lit.  The house was silent except for the old clock in the hall which had more tick left than her.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review of Keep Away From Those Ferraris by Pat Fitzpatrick (Createspace, 2013)

As a teenager Noel Byrne was one of the crowd until he was plucked out for no discernible reason to be Johnny Ferrari’s best friend.  Johnny was the charismatic son of a Dublin fish and chip millionaire and the life and soul of any party.  After school, Byrne headed to university, but continued to hang out with Ferrari, who was making a name for himself by organising raves and parties across the city.  Over time they drifted apart, with Byrne using some of the confidence he gained from being in Ferrari’s shadow to become a television reporter with the national broadcaster covering business affairs.  With the impending collapse of Celtic Tiger economy, the two boyhood friends meet-up again.  Only this time Johnny seems to have gone off the rails having kidnapped a former boy-band star.  Soon, Noel finds himself entangled in a conspiracy to manipulate the share price of Hiberbank, which is either on the verge of collapse or about to bought by investors.  At the same time, Johnny’s sister Maria has also re-entered Byrne’s life, he’s being forced to take part in a TV reality show, and his parents are about to make a financial decision that will ruin them.  Caught between doing serious time for a crime he hasn’t committed or shafting the entire nation, and unsure who he can turn to for help, Byrne is left dazed and floundering.  Whichever he looks at it, he appears to be screwed.

Keep Away From Those Ferraris is a satire set at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger.  Whilst the plot is quite outlandish it works extremely well because the boom then bust in Ireland was so outlandish.  Pat Fitzpatrick captures the sense of disbelief, disillusionment, denial, panic, greed, dirty dealing, and the way in which the collapse was portrayed by a breathless media unsure as to what was happening.  He’s especially good at illustrating how the wealthy elite sought to protect their status through dodgy deals concerning failed banks.  There’s all kinds of thinly veiled reference points for anyone familiar with Irish culture and the crash, including the golden circle, Anglo, and RTE.  In my view there’s very little to fault - the plot is very nicely worked with some good twists and observational asides, the characterisation is spot on with even the ‘hero’ being somewhat of a cad, the contextualisation with respect to the Irish crash and associated shenanigans is excellent, the black humour and wit is genuinely funny, and the writing is engaging.  The only thing I didn't think worked was the title and cover, neither of which is really reflective of the book's style or themes and wouldn't ordinarily have compelled me to try it - so if you have similar feelings set them aside and cut to the content.  I thought it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review of Another Case in Cowtown by Mel Healy (2013)

Moss Reid is an unassuming private investigator who works out of small office in Stonybatter in the north inner city of Dublin.  His usual fare is snooping on cheating spouses, tracing missing people or recovering property where payments have been skipped.  During a scorching summer week, Reid finds himself snowed under with cases -- tracing the mother of man given away at birth, spying on partners suspected of having affairs, and working undercover as a chef in a Dublin restaurant plagued by thefts.  Reid is something of gourmet and the restaurant assignment lets him practise his culinary skills, but he soon detects that there is more going on than meets the eye, with one of the workers seemingly having no past.  As the week unfolds, Reid tries to nudge all of his cases to a conclusion, but when his office is broken into twice it’s clear that someone does not want one of them solved.

Private investigator Moss Reid is a fairly unassuming guy who scrapes by solving relatively mundane and routine enquiries.  He’s rarely in a rush, does not play the hard man, is generally quite convivial, and has the right amount of patience to hang around for hours waiting for clues and to deal with antsy clients.  He’s not quite as organised as he could be, but things generally fall into place.  He’s an appealing character and, along with the sense of place and the pacing and asides, he’s the key ingredient to Another Case in Cowtown.  Healy captures the atmosphere and habits of Dublin, with some nice observations, and the story drifts along, with the occasional tangent that often involves food.  The plot has Reid investigating a number of cases, all of which has some interest, but falters a little in the last quarter through some over-complication and gaps.  Nevertheless, the story is a pleasant and entertaining read. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

Yesterday I finally got round to making a start on In the Morning I'll Be Gone, the third book in Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy trilogy.  I bought the book the week it was released back in January then promptly misplaced it.  I was starting to think that I might need to buy another copy when I unearthed it looking for something else.  It promptly scooted to the top of the to-be-read pile and I zipped through the first few chapters, which are excellent.  Hopefully the rest of the book continues in the same vein.  I'll post a review in the next couple of weeks.  Other reviews to be posted in the next few days include Mel Healy's Another Case in Cowtown, Pat Fitzpatrick's Stay Away From Those Ferraris, and Sulari Gentill's A Decline in Prophets.

My posts this week
Review of Salt River by James Sallis
Review of Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis
Construction 2020 Strategy for Ireland
Reading books about crime fiction
The long drop

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The long drop

The wind howled, thick snow swirling across the steep face of the mountain.  They should have stayed holed up in their base camp.  That’s what Mark had wanted, but Terry had been determined to reach the summit before having to depart.  Now the two of them were roped together, struggling to make progress up the rough ice. Terry stoically led the way, almost dragging the younger man in his wake.  The rope went slack.  Mark glanced up as the big man slid past.  He thrust his axe into the ice and waited for the hard jerk or the long drop.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading books about crime fiction

Earlier in the week I reviewed James Sallis’ Salt River.  In the frontispiece there’s a short review of the book by Woody Haut.  This is how he starts his piece:

In this, his third Turner novel, Sallis demonstrates the degree to which his writing reflects his long held revisionism regarding the poetics of the genre.  More interested in plot as a process rather than a means to an end, Sallis’s narratives invariably include fictional memoir, meaningful quotations, episodic rumination, diversions, non-sequiturs and a great deal of atmosphere.

His observations are spot on.  Not only does it capture the style of a great book, but Haut's review also made me want to go and read his own books, which chart the history and evolution of American crime fiction: Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood; Pop Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; and Neon Noir.  All three have recently been re-issued by 280 Steps.  I’ve shied away from reading books about crime fiction in favour of reading the fiction itself.  Maybe it's about time I started to rectify this state of affairs.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review of Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (Harper, 2007)

Since leaving Pinkerton’s to venture out on his own, Michael McGill’s career as a private investigator has been spiralling downward.  He shares his office, located in a pre-revanchist district of Manhattan, with an indestructible rat.  When he is visited covertly by the White House Chief of Staff and offered a whole heap of money to find a missing book, things start to look up - for a very brief moment.  The book in question contains the real US constitution, written by the Founding Fathers to rescue society if it descended into grave crisis.  In the view of the Chief of Staff such a situation has now been reached given the levels of debauchery and violence, lack of civility and general godlessness.  The book disappeared decades previously and is rumoured to be swapping hands for favours, blackmail and very large sums of money.  All McGill has to do is descend into the dark underbelly of America, follow the trail, and retrieve it.

Warren Ellis freely admits that Crooked Little Vein is designed to offend its readers.  He submitted the first ten thousand words to his agent in the hope that she’d take the hint and leave him alone.  Instead she sold the book and asked for the rest of the manuscript.  The result is an oddly compelling read that is at times both hilarious and repugnant. The hook is to send the self-destructive private investigator Michael McGill on a dark journey through America’s sexual and political underbelly.  He’s accompanied on the journey by Trix, a researcher who’s writing a thesis on the extremes of self-inflicted human experience and is a self-confessed nymphomaniac.  The prose is engaging, the pace high, and the plot just about credible enough to keep the reader hooked.  The progression of the story, however, is a little too linear and straightforward (making one wonder why McGill was needed at all) and the tale starts to run out of steam as it nears the end.  Overall, a fun and funny read, but not for those who are easily offended.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review of Salt River by James Sallis (No Exit Press, 2010)

John Turner has led an eventful life.  After serving in Vietnam he joined the police, then served time in prison where he trained to become a therapist.  Having tired of listening to the problems of others he moved to small rural town to escape his past but ended up drifting back into police work.  After the death two year’s previously of Val Bjorn, his partner, Turner has been drifting along, taking each day one at a time, dealing with all the problems that afflict a small town in decline.  Then the sheriff’s son drives what appears to be a stolen car into city hall and his old friend Eldon Brown turns up on his porch unsure as to whether he’s committed murder but knowing that the Texas police are hunting for him.  Neither the son’s accident or the accusation against Eldon’s are, however, quite what they seem, and Turner has other issues to also resolve: the friend of a local commune owner is murdered whilst en route to him and a dog that won’t stop barking.

Salt River is the third book in the Turner trilogy, which ideally need to be read in sequence.  At 160 pages it’s more of a novella than novel, but is, I feel, the strongest of the trilogy, in part because the plot is more central than the earlier books, which seemed to concentrate more on the telling of the story rather than the story itself.  Sallis is a poet and it shows in the strength of his prose, which is evocative and haunting, dotted with acute observations and philosophical asides.  The characterisation is nicely portrayed and Sallis weaves a well developed sense of place.  There is no strong hook or sense of urgency or tension, instead the narrative floats along, much like Turner does, sometimes in the flow, other times in the eddies.  The result is a thoughtful, reflexive and compulsive tale about a man still coming to terms with his own bad choices and fate as he muddles through trying to resolve the various issues that are placed in his path.  A superior piece of literary crime fiction.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

A strange kind of week, running around between seminars, conference, meeting a government minister for a 'chat', travelling to Britain, talking to journalists, and general messing about.  In between I also read a strange kind of book - Warren Ellis' Crooked Little Vein, which he admits was designed to shock, offend and amuse in equal measure.  I've now nearly finished Mel Healy's much more socially realist, grounded, Another Case in Cowtown, about a foodie-loving private investigator living in Stonybatter, Dublin who is juggling multiple, mundane cases.  Hopefully its a segueway into a more mundane week.

My posts this week

Review of A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbanenco
Wanted: new book title - please help!
The growing crisis of homelessness in Dublin and its causes
Review of Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst
Plain versus complex writing
Arguing with women
Wet dog

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wet dog

‘You smell like wet dog.’

‘It’s the coat.  Worsted wool that’s been drenched through a few too many times.’

‘It needs to be dry-cleaned.  It precedes you.’

‘And waste good money on an old coat?  The smell is now threaded into the weave; it’s integral to the coat.’

‘You could get a new coat.’

‘When this is a perfectly good coat?’

‘Except it stinks, McGerrity.’

‘Which seems to be your concern, not mine.  It does its job, I do mine.  Which is catching thieves and murderers.  And they don’t care what I wear as long as I don’t catch them.’   

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Arguing with women

I often turn the corner of a page with the idea that I might share a passage that resonated.  Here's a short piece from Dennis Lehane's, Live by Night, which captures my experience of trying to argue with women.

Joe didn’t want to fight either.  Every time they did, he lost, found himself apologizing for things he hadn’t even done, hadn’t even thought of doing, found himself apologizing for not doing them, for not thinking of doing them.  It hurt his fucking head.

If there's a strategy for stopping the head hurting, then please - please - pass it on.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Plain versus complex writing

I've recently finished James Sallis' Salt River.  What's enjoyable about his writing is the small asides, observations, and philosophical rumination.  I've had a few conversations recently about styles of writing in academia and the overly complex use of language, so this passage in defense of such expression caught my eye.  It certainly works for Sallis', who nicely produces literary crime fiction.

‘Two schools of thought.  One has it we’re best off using simple words, plain words.  That fancier ones only serve to obscure meaning - wrap it up in swaddling clothes.  Other side says that takes everything down to the lowest common denominator, that thought is complex and if you want to get close to what’s really meant you have to choose words carefully, words that catch gradations, nuances ... You know this shit, Turner.’

‘A version of it.’

‘Versions are what we have.  Of truth, our histories, ourselves.  Hell, you know that too.’

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review of Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst (Sandstone Press, 2013; Norwegian, 2011)

Isolated holiday homes are being targeted by criminal gangs, who are raiding several at a time for items to sell on the black market.  An owner arrives at his cottage to find it in disarray.  He visits a neighbour’s cottage, owned by a television personality, to discover a man who has been shot and beaten.  Inspector William Wisting is assigned to investigate the case and the first indication that the crime is more complex than most murders is when he is carjacked leaving the scene.  Next the corpse disappears.  Meanwhile, Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, separates from her partner and moves into the family cottage at the mouth of fjord and takes an interest in the case.  Slowly Wisting starts to make headway, carefully uncovering clues as to what happened, but it’s clear that the initial murder was the start of a set of crimes not the conclusion.

Closed For Winter is a very nicely written social realist police procedural, with none of the amateur dramatics and melodrama that pervade some books in the sub-genre.  Given it’s written by a practicing police officer, this is perhaps no surprise.  Horst drops the reader into the investigation, revealing the logic of how clues are pursued, collaboration takes place, and the case unfolds.  Moreover, he situates the story within in wider themes of EU enlargement, immigration, social inequalities, and organised crime.  The result is a convincing and credible story that charts the unfolding of an investigation into a case that turns out to be much more complex than first meets the eye.  Horst does weave in the personal life of Wisting and his journalist daughter, Line, but more as context rather than as a dominant theme - the effect is the case remains the key focus rather than the investigator.  That said, the characterisation is nicely observed, and Wisting is certainly a detective a reader could spend time with.  Overall, a well written and engaging police procedural and I’ll certainly be reading other books in the series.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wanted: new book title - please help!

At the end of last week I'm delighted to say I signed a contract with 280 Steps for the publication of a new novel.  The working title has been 'Saving Siobhán'.  However, I need a new title for a few reasons - outside of Ireland no-one is quite sure how to vocalise 'Siobhán' without having heard it first, or might not even knows that it's a name; plus the spelling and fada is not good for search and discoverability; plus it's not really reflective of the screwball noir style of the book.  Other than that, I like it!

The simple solution is to change it to something like 'Saving Sinead', but I suspect it needs something entirely new.  Below is the working back cover blurb - it's not a lot to go on, but maybe it might spark an idea. A pun or phrase would be good. Take a look and if something springs to mind then I'd love to hear your suggestions.  Once the book is published I'll send a signed copy to whoever suggested the new title.  Not the greatest of prizes but I'll think of some other goodies to put in the package.

"It is election time in Ireland and a lot more is about to change for Grant, a new arrival from England, and his wheelchair-bound friend Mary, than their political representatives. Patrick has disappeared and his sister, Siobhán, kidnapped. 

Charged with tracking them down, Grant and Mary are soon caught between a vicious Dublin gangster seeking the return of a valuable package and an ambitious politician determined to protect a secret that might harm his re-election chances.  To make matters worse, when someone they confront is found floating face down in the River Liffey, Inspector McGerrity Black, Dublin’s finest rock-a-billy cop, is soon hot on their trail. 

With election day looming and Siobhán’s fingers turning up on a regular basis they race through County Kildare suburbia, Dublin’s saunas, Manchester’s gay village and rural Mayo, crossing paths with drag queen farmers, corrupt property developers, and sadistic criminal gang members, as they desperately seek a way to save themselves and their friends while all the time staying ahead of the law. 

As first dates go, it’s one hell of a rollercoaster ride for Grant and Mary."

There's a fair few chases, role reversals, general confusion and mayhem, etc. Ideas?

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbanenco (1966, Italian; 2012, Hersilia Press)

Milan, 1966, and Dr. Duca Lamberti has recently been released from prison having served three years for assisted euthanasia.  Through his father’s old contacts in the police force he is hired by an industrialist to try and get his alcoholic son dry.  Lamberti knows that the only way the young man will remain sober is if he determines and solves the reason why he drinks.  Slowly he draws Davide out of his shell.  What he discovers is a misplaced sense of guilt and a terrible secret about the death of a young woman that can only be excised by ensnaring elements of an international network of criminals.  A task that Lamberti is quite happy to perform despite its inherent risks.

A Private Venus is considered the initiator novel of Italian noir and was the first book in a set of four featuring Dr Duca Lamberti, a medical practioner who has been struck off after serving time for assisting an old woman to die rather than suffer a painful decline.  In this first book, Lamberti is finding his feet after leaving prison.  He reluctantly takes on the job of trying to dry out the depressed son of a millionaire.  Rather than attempt to stop Davide drinking, Lamberti lets him continue, hoping that he’ll tell him the reason why he drinks whiskey like water.  The story that he eventually reveals - of a young woman who begs to be hidden, whom Davide leaves on the side of the road and is found dead shortly after, having supposedly slashing her own wrists - has enough intrigue and inconsistencies that Lamberti sets out to investigate with the help of Livia Ussaro, a feminist sociologist determined to improve the lives of women in Italian society, who has intimate knowledge of the city’s networks of vice.  The strength of the novel is it’s plotting and characterisation.  Whilst the story is quite slow at first, Scerbanenco carefully and evocatively sets the scene, moves the various pieces into position, and hooks the reader’s attention.  Like Sjowall and Wahloo, who published their first Beck novel in 1965, there is a strong degree of social realism in the writing, with no melodrama or unlikely plot twists.  This is aided by Lamberti’s world weariness, Davide’s despair and self-delusion, and Livia’s idealism and determination.  The result is an interesting and engaging read that has dark undertones with hints of light.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lazy Sunday Service

I've had a good week with regards to books.  On the publishing front, I signed a contract with 280 Steps for a new novel (more on that during the week); I sent back copyedit queries on The Data Revolution book leaving just the index to compile on the revised proofs when they show up in a couple of weeks time; and I started a new book project tentatively titled 'Understanding Spatial Media' with Tracey Lauriault and Matt Wilson and sourced a publisher for it.  Also a good read weeking.  Expect reviews in the next few days of A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbanenco, Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst, and Salt River by James Sallis

My posts this week

Review of A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell
April reviews
Review of Bird Dog by Philip Reed
Review of The Panda Theory by Paschal Garnier
Expect the various crises in Irish housing to continue for the foreseeable future

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Roots and drift

There are two kinds of people who reside in these parts: those that have lived here all their lives and those that had moved away then drifted back.  Finn was the former, I was the latter.  We saw the world through different lens.  He thought the casual, overt sectarianism and violence was normal and I knew otherwise; that there were other kinds of society.  Despite our opposing perspectives, we were both though intrinsically rooted in the place.  But when I found him stabbed to death on his kitchen floor, I knew that I’d be leaving again.  This time for good.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge, 2010)

Journalist Hannah Vogel fled Germany in 1931 having kidnapped a young boy, Anton, reputed to be the son of Ernst Rohm, the feared leader of the Nazi’s storm troopers and a notorious homosexual.  She has been hiding out in South America, but takes a zeppelin that is scheduled to stop in Zurich, travelling with her 'son' and hoping to meet her lover at a later date in London.  However, the zeppelin is diverted to Munich and she’s soon in the clutches of Rohm and facing a forced marriage that will act as weak cover for the rumours concerning Rohm's sexual proclivities.  Hours before the marriage, however, Rohm is victim to the Night of Long Knives when he and several hundred of his men are murdered by Himmler and his allies seeking to remove rivals within the Nazi hierarchy.  Hannah survives but cannot locate Anton, setting out on a dangerous journey to find him before the Nazis do.

A Night of Long Knives is the second book in the Hannah Vogel series set in Nazi-era Germany.  The book has a nice hook with its direct link into the infamous night of murder inside the Nazi party in 1934 and the hunt for a young boy who is supposedly the son of Ernst Rohm.  There are some nice historical references, Cantrell recreates the stifling atmosphere of fear and suspicion of the place and era, and the story rattles along with plenty of intrigue and tension.  That said, the story suffers from three main issues, two of which are partially issues of taste.  The first person voice didn’t sufficiently resonate with me and my sense was the story would have been better told in the third person.  Second, the story is infused with too much melodrama and has at times sappy tones that seem out of tune with the otherwise darker score.  Third, although there is some tension and running around the story is far too linear and straightforward with the hunt for Anton being remarkably easy, with pieces and friendly allies very handily falling into place when and where needed.  Overall then, an interesting read that in my view is a little hamstrung by its telling.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

April reading

I got through a fair bit of reading over the past month, much of it fairly run of the mill.  The two standout books were Bird Dog by Philip Reed and Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.  Very different books in style and tone and both recommended reads.

Bird Dog by Philip Reed ****.5
The Panda Theory by Paschal Garnier ***.5
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway ***
The Numbers Game of Alan Schwarz ****
Night Moves by Randy Wayne White ***
Tropical Freeze by James W. Hall ***.5
Margin of Error by Edna Buchanan ***
Hurricane Punch by Tim Dorsey ***.5
Tropical Heat by John Lutz ***
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane ****.5
The Big Goodbye by Michael Lister ***