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Preview: The View from the Blue House

The View from the Blue House





Updated: 2018-01-20T12:45:47.598+00:00

 



Big mouth

2018-01-20T12:45:47.827+00:00

The front door slammed.  Half-a-beat later Katie stormed into the kitchen.

‘Where is he?’

‘Who?’

‘Keith!’

‘I don’t know. His room, maybe the den. Are you okay, dear?’

‘No! And nor will he be soon.’

She stormed up the stairs, throwing open his door without knocking.

He was turning from the screen when she ripped the headphones from his head.

‘What were you thinking, Moron?’

‘What? Those cost sixty euros!’

‘You told Emma about Rory!’

‘I didn’t.’

‘You told James, who told his sister, who’s Emma’s friend!’

‘So yell at James.’

‘You’ve ruined everything!’ She slapped his ear. ‘Big mouth!’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.



Lazy Sunday Service

2018-01-14T11:14:11.002+00:00

Fifty pages from the end of Deep Waters by Barbara Nadel and I leave the book on the other side of the country! Hopefully, I'll track it down this week and get to finish it off as I firmly hooked on the story set in Istanbul. Instead I am now reading Paul Thomas' Death on Demand set in New Zealand. Reviews of both in the coming week - fingers crossed.


My posts this week:
Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Rules of thumb for making decisions on requests for academic work
Around the world in 365 days
Queering code/space: special section of GPC
Review of The Sugar House by Laura Lippman
A greater good?




A greater good?

2018-01-13T11:50:59.836+00:00

‘I don’t know how you do it, man; just shoot them dead.’

McManus and Smith were sheltering in a bomb crater.

‘Self-preservation. Pre-emptive strike. The way I look at it, if he’s dead he can’t kill me.’

‘But it’s so cold-blooded.’

‘And firing artillery and charging positions isn’t?  What difference does it make – random shell, a ricochet, a sniper’s shot? It’s war.’

‘Which we all hope we’ll survive.’

‘And I’m increasing the odds. Take out the officers the others will surrender. It’s for the greater good.’

‘For us or them?’

‘For all of us.’

‘Except the poor bastards who’re dead.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.



Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Windmill, 2016)

2018-01-12T10:04:59.002+00:00

While most aristocrats are seeking to leave Russia as it falls to the Bolsheviks, Count Alexander Rostov heads from Paris to his ancestral home, then to Moscow. There he is arrested and put on trial. He is spared the firing squad given his contributions to poetry and instead placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel near to the Kremlin and the finest in the city. There is he is forced to give up a number of his possessions and to occupy a small room in the attic. Rostov draws on his well of being a gentleman and his good nature and wit to make friends with all classes staying and working in the hotel. As the years pass by his life passes through a number of phases and several escapades, but there is little sign he is to gain his freedom, something he wishes for his adopted daughter.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an expansive and endearing story of the life of Count Alexander Rostov, placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel in Central Moscow in 1922. It is somewhat of an allegorical tale exploring the nature of being confined within borders and hope, friendship, dignity and making-do under political tyranny driven by political ideology; while Count Rostov is restricted to the hotel and compartmentalises his different roles and relationships, all Soviets are denied freedom of passage, suffer numerous hardships, and work out strategies to survive. There are also a number of political philosophical asides comparing the plight of the proletariat in collectivised, socialist Russia with individualised, capitalist United States. While Rostov moves through different phases, much as the unfolding of the revolution and its leaders, a selection of characters intersect with him, some on a more permanent basis, such as the hotel’s chef, concierge, barman, seamstress and manager, others more periodically, such as a film star, an old university friend, and a young girl who loses her innocence and faith in the system as she ages. The characterisation and character development is excellent, as are the social interactions between them. There is a real sense of place as to the Metropole Hotel and all the goings on within its walls. The prose is lovely and the storytelling compelling, full of wonderful little side stories, musings, and reflections on life. And the long arc of the plot, with its somewhat meandering path, is very nicely executed.





Around the world in 365 days

2018-01-10T09:49:37.178+00:00

2017 turned out to be a bit of a slow year of fictional travel, visiting twenty six countries, with the bulk of reads set in the UK, US and Ireland. It would be nice to extend this a bit in 2018, I think, especially to Africa, South America and Central America, places I've barely travelled to fictionally (and not all in real-life).AustraliaResurrection Bay by Emma Viskic **** The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong *****CanadaOne or The Other by John McFetridge ***.5ChinaDeath in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5 CubaThe Good Assassin by Paul Vidich ***.5EygptThe Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5EnglandDon’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler **** Real Tigers by Mick Herron *****After You Die by Eva Dolan *****Riptide by John Lawton *****Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch *****After the Fire by Jane Casey ****The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor ***.5The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth ***A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward ***.5The Long Firm by Jake Arnott **** Bulldog Drummond by Sapper **The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner ****The Intrusions by Shav Sherez ****.5GermanyMidnight in Berlin by James MacManus ** Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher ***The Divided City by Luke McCallin ****.5 Stasi Wolf by David Young **.5GreeceThe Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5 IcelandSnow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5IndiaA Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee ****IrelandSleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5The Trespasser by Tana French *****A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan *** There’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty *****  Silence by Anthony Quinn ****The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell *****ItalyThe Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax ****LaosThirty-Three Teeth by Colin Coterill ****.5NetherlandsThe Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey ***RussiaA Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5 The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith *** The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko ****ScotlandWhisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich**.5Dead Water by Ann Cleeves **** Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris ****Out of Bounds by Val McDermid **** His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home ****South AfricaPresent Darkness by Malla Nunn ****  SwedenA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson ****USAA Red Death by Walter Mosley ****A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****The Sellout by Paul Beatty *****Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente ***A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston ****Moth by James Sallis ****.5Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen *** Whiskey River by Loren Estleman ****.5Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker ****Kill the Next One by Federico Axat ***.5Dead Skip by Joe Gores ****Redemption Road by John Hart *****Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb***WalesLove Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham ****.5 More than one countryFlashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser ***.5 (England, Madagascar, Singapore, Indonesia)Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr **** (France, Germany)City of Lies by Michael Russell **** (Ireland, Portugal, France, Germany)The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen **** (Vietnam, United States) Flight from Berlin by David John *** (Germany, Britain) [...]



Review of The Sugar House by Laura Lippman (Orion, 2000)

2018-01-09T10:32:32.189+00:00

A former newspaper reporter, Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore. When her father asks her investigate the death in prison of a friend’s brother, she feels obliged to take the case. The man had been convicted of killing a young woman while high on glue. Unusually, the woman was a ‘Jane Doe’, so Tess’ first task is to try to identify her based on a smattering of unearthed clues. The trail leads to a bar called Domenick’s, that is less than friendly, and ‘The Sugar House’, an exclusive private clinic for eating disorders. As she digs further she starts to identify political connections and skulduggery, and soon her father is asking her to drop the case. Tess though is bloody-minded and tenacious, determined to unravel the mystery, but at what cost to her family?

The Sugar House is the fifth instalment of the Tess Monaghan series set in Baltimore. In this outing, Tess investigates what turns out to be a testing and dangerous case involving the death of an anonymous woman and her killer, organized crime, and politics. The mystery and its investigation are the strengths of the story, with Lippman weaving together a number of plot strands, with plenty of social and political intrigue. There’s also a good sense of place, especially with regards to the social geography of the Baltimore area, and strong characterisation. Where the story suffers a little is with respect to the pacing and telling. The book, in many ways, is as much about Tess’s life and friendships, as it is about solving a mystery, and the first sixty pages is more like a soap opera than a crime fiction tale. It is only once Tess starts to investigate the crime that the book takes on more shape. Once it does find its centre, it’s an engaging and entertaining read.





Lazy Sunday Service

2018-01-07T10:49:47.654+00:00

This week I've been slowly working my way through A Gentleman in Moscow by Amos Towles. It's a long read that's quite engrossing, charting the life of a count put under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel after the Russian revolution. A nice way to start the reading new year. A review soon.

My posts this week:

New to me authors in 2017
December reviews
A year's worth of requests
2017 books read
Best reads of 2017
Repeat with variation



Repeat with variation

2018-01-06T15:49:54.793+00:00

The truck had pumped the concrete over the hard core and departed, leaving George to push the setting mass up to the edging and rake it level.

He hummed a lament as he worked. Push, push, drag, tamper, smooth; repeat with variation.

Another twenty-four hours and he’d be able to park his car on the new driveway.

He stepped back to admire his work.

Jane’s head poked out from the front door. ‘Looks good. Shep, no!’

The dog bolted along the length of the concrete, barking wildly.

‘Bloody dog,’ George muttered, extending the rake, quickly re-finding his rhythm and tune.




A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.



New to me authors in 2017

2018-01-06T15:50:53.782+00:00

Of the 85 books I read this year 45 were by authors new to me. I hope to pick up by books by a number of them in the future.A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry SweazySolo Hand by Bill Moody A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic  Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy  The Sellout by Paul Beatty Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil MeyrichHanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding   Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson The Dust of Death by Paul Charles Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee The Dry by Jane Harper  The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson Dietrich and Riefenstahl by Karin Wieland The Long Firm by Jake Arnott Bulldog Drummond by Sapper Dead Skip by Joe Gores Redemption Road by John HartThe Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith Flight from Berlin by David John Kill the Next One by Federico Axat Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk  The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham Deep Down Dead by Steph BroadribbThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen Invasion Rabaul by Bruce Gamble [...]



December reviews

2018-01-03T10:30:24.290+00:00

December was a bumper month of reading after the drought of October and November. And it was a very good month as well. Difficult to pick a stand out, but I'll go with A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****
A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5
Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic ****
Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5
A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5
Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5
Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler ****
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****
The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy ****.5





A year's worth of requests

2018-01-02T16:33:39.338+00:00

Back at the beginning of July I posted about requests to do academic labour outside of the normal day job. I had 194 requests in the first 26 weeks of the year. The trend continued in the second half of the year with 188 requests (it probably would have been the identical except for Christmas week, which was the only week during the year I received no requests). The full list is below and excludes requests relating to existing commitments (e.g., related to an advisory board or project), follow-on requests to re-review, spam requests/calls from vulture publishers/conference organisers, requests to review novels. Paper review                                 75Grant review                                 27Book endorsement                          5Reference/tenure review                27Book review                                   3Book proposal review                     8Review book manuscript                3PhD external examining                 6Speak at workshop/conference     74Invite contribute paper/chapter      27Request to write book                   10Work on project                            13Request interview/advice/survey    84Appoint to advisory board              18Visiting prof                                    1Request to be journal editor            1                                                     382In total, I was asked to do 154 reviews (of papers, grants, books, people, etc). I try and do my share of reviewing and disciplinary work, and certainly exceed my 'exchange economy of peer review' quota (Elden 2008) as in I review three times what I submit, but it's fair to say that the requests I'm receiving have got out of control and I'm still working out how best to manage my own and other's expectations. I expect I'll be saying 'no' a lot in 2018!Elden, S. (2008) The exchange economy of peer review. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26: 951-953. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1068/d2606eda [...]



2017 books read

2018-01-02T10:30:27.523+00:00

I read and reviewed 85 books this year. A somewhat slower reading year than the last eight, but a good year with a lot of enjoyable reads. In fact, fifty of the books I rated were four star and above (in large part from getting recommendations from other book review blogs). Here's the full list of the books I read.The Sellout by Paul Beatty *****Real Tigers by Mick Herron *****After You Die by Eva Dolan *****   Riptide by John Lawton *****The Trespasser by Tana French ***** Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch *****There’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty ***** Redemption Road by John Hart *****The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell *****The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong *****A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan ****.5A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky ****.5The Man With the Poison Gun by Serhii Plokhy ****.5 Moth by James Sallis ****.5Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5   The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5 Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Coterill ****.5The Divided City by Luke McCallin ****.5Whiskey River by Loren Estleman ****.5The Intrusions by Shav Sherez ****.5Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham ****.5  A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic ****  Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler **** Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout ****Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann ****A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee ****A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston ****Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr ****   Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****City of Lies by Michael Russell ****Dead Water by Ann Cleeves **** Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris ****The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman ****Out of Bounds by Val McDermid ****After the Fire by Jane Casey ****The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson ****Silence by Anthony Quinn ****The Long Firm by Jake Arnott **** Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker ****Dead Skip by Joe Gores ****The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner ****The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax ****The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko ****The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home ****The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen ****  Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5Codebreakers by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley ***.5Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser ***.5Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding ***.5 Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich ***.5Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler ***.5The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor ***.5One or The Other by John McFetridge ***.5A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward ***.5Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith ***.5Kill the Next One by Federico Axat ***.5Invasion Rabaul by Bruce Gamble ***.5   Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente ***Map of the Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt ***Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen ***A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan ***Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher ***The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth ***Dietrich and Riefenstahl by Karin Wieland ***The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith ***Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea ***His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet ***Flight from Berlin by David John ***Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk *** The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey ***Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb***  Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans **.5Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich**.5 The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5Stasi Wolf by David Young **.5  Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus **Bu[...]



Best reads of 2017

2018-01-01T10:30:22.591+00:00

I read a lot of good books in 2017, though I completed fewer books than in the last few years - 85. Selecting the top ten was relatively easy given I'd only given ten books 5 stars. I'd rated another fifteen as 4.5 stars. Thirty percent of reads hitting the top two categories is a pretty good strike rate, I think. Here's my best reads selection.The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock SerongA brilliant slice of literary Australian noir told through twin narratives. The first details the attempt by Darren Keefe – a bad-boy of Australian cricket – to free himself from the confines of a car boot. The second charts the childhood and careers of Darren and Wally, his elder brother who secures a place in the Australian national team and eventually becomes captain. The plotting, pacing and prose is superb, with Serong creating a convincing story of two brothers who seem to have it all but are always slightly out of their depth and attract tragedy as much as success. The characterisation and character development is excellent and the denouement packs a powerful and surprising punch.  The Sellout by Paul BeattyThe Sellout is the story of how an unnamed narrator becomes infamous through his efforts to place Dickens, a town in South Central Los Angeles, back onto the map and to challenge ideas of race and racism within the black community. The story is smart, sassy, outrageous, knowledgeable, and laugh-out loud funny. It is highly entertaining tale, with a great set of characters and an engaging storyline, yet also makes one reflect and think on a whole bunch of social issues and the history of race relations and places. Real Tigers by Mick HerronReal Tigers is the third book following the exploits of the slow horses – spies who’ve been put out to grass because of some major blemish in their careers. The two key elements – plot and characterisation – are excellent. The slow horses are pawns in a much larger game between a vengeful ex-army senior officer, a clownish but ruthless politician, the head of MI5 and her internal rival. There’s plenty of scheming, backstabbing, action, and twists and turns. Herron creates a multi-threaded and layered story with the strands being drawn to a climatic showdown and intriguing fallout. The dialogue and social relations between characters is nicely done, as is the storytelling in general, and there's a delicious streak of dark humour running throughout. The Trespasser by Tana FrenchThe sixth book in the Murder Squad series set in Ireland charts an investigation into the death of a young woman in Dublin. The story provides a microscopic account of the case, including every sentence in every interview, all of Detective Antoinette Conway’s thoughts, rich descriptions of context and scenes, detailed explanations of procedural elements, etc. It could have been overly descriptive, but is actually fully absorbing with the detail adding to the tension. This is aided by close attention to office politics and psychology and strong characterisation and character development. A wonderfully written, multilayered and intense tale.  After You Die by Eva Dolan The third book in the Ferreira and Zigic series set in Peterborough. In this outing, the pair and their small team investigate the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. It's strong point is its realism and tight plot that doesn't rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. Dolan does an excellent job of keeping various possible suspects in the frame and shifting potential guilt between them. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the peeling back of the victims’ lives and their relati[...]



Lazy Sunday Service

2017-12-31T10:57:27.658+00:00

I've spent Christmas week doing a bit of DIY, reading, and finally catching up with writing/posting reviews (I'm now up-to-date again). I'm a long way from finishing Laura Lippman's The Sugar House, so that'll be the first review of 2018. Hope you've had a great seasonal break and all the best for the new year.

My posts this week:
Review of A Red Death by Walter Mosley ****
What kind of present is that?
Review of A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy ****.5
Review of Solo Hand by Bill Moody ***.5
Review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ****.5
Review of Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic ****



Review of A Red Death by Walter Mosley (W.W. Norton, 1991)

2017-12-31T10:41:23.766+00:00

1953, Los Angeles. Easy Rawlins has invested his ill-gotten gains from a murderous adventure a few years previously into real estate. Working as a janitor at the buildings he owns, he hides his assets behind a paperwork screen, leaving his associate, Mofass, to front managing the properties. Now the IRS are chasing him for undisclosed income, seeking to press federal charges. Adding to his woes is the suspicious death of one of his tenants and the arrival of EttaMae and her child, on-the-run from Easy’s villainous best friend, Mouse. Salvation seems to arrive in the form of the FBI, who offer Easy a chance to skip the tax charges if he helps them investigate a group of communists connected to a local church with activities linked to Champion Aircraft. The IRS are not happy and continue to make threats, the cops have him in the frame for the tenant’s death, and he’s in love with EttaMae but knows Mouse will kill him if he tries to steal her away.  And that’s just the start of his problems.A Red Death is the second book in the Easy Rawlins series set in post-war Los Angeles. Easy has a habit of finding trouble and acting detective. In this outing he’s infiltrating a communist cell for the FBI in order to avoid a federal charge for tax evasion. When people connected to both his IRS charge and his FBI case start dying, it seems he’s swapped going to jail for non-payment of tax to going for murder. To add to his woes his personal life is a mess, starting an affair with EttaMae, the love of his life and partner of his best friend. The strength of the tale is its portrayal of the African-American experience in post-war America (both the seamier, darker underbelly and respectable business and church communities) and every-day and institutional racism, the sense of place, and the character of Easy Rawlins. Easy is a complex man in which good and evil battle internally and he’s often the sinner using casual lies, deception, robbery and violence to make headway; while he has a moral compass of sorts helping people where he can, ultimately he prioritises protecting himself. Which is perhaps no surprise given the social circumstances of the poor, working class community he’s operating in, which is a dog-eat-dog world. Where the tale struggles a little is with regards to the plot, which felt a little to tangled with a number of subplots and dozens of characters being threaded together – a death in one of the apartments Easy owns; a IRS case against Easy; a FBI case into a communist cell; an extortion racket in a church; EttaMae and Mouse arriving in the city – each with its own sub-plots and twists. There’s plenty going on – scheming, violence, extortion, murder, sex - leaving Easy dazed and confused throughout much of the story. And so, to a degree, is the reader. Eventually it all comes together with a well disguised twist. Overall, an interesting and entertaining story that might have benefitted from less is more.[...]



What kind of present is that?

2017-12-30T09:43:24.305+00:00

Tess passed over a large wrapped box. ‘Okay, guess!’

It was surprisingly heavy.

‘So this is something you wanted that you bought for yourself for me to give to you?’ Ron asked.

‘Yes.’

‘So shouldn’t you be opening it?’

‘What would the fun in that be? Guess.’

‘A bread-maker.’

‘No!’

‘A coffee machine?’

‘Open it!’

Ron ripped the paper free and opened the box.

‘Tins of paint. What kind of present is that?’

‘Well, you’ll be doing the painting.’

‘What?’

‘Well, I’ll be looking after junior while you paint the box room.’ She rubbed her belly.

‘Now that’s a present!’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.



Review of A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy (Seventh Street Books, 2016)

2017-12-29T11:20:32.881+00:00

June 1933, a chance encounter and chase with Bonnie and Clyde on a Texas road has left Ranger Sonny Burton with a badly damaged arm. A few months later, while still coming to terms with his enforced retirement the arm has to be amputated. Aged sixty two and a widower, Sonny is struggling to come to terms with a sedate life and trying to complete everyday tasks with one hand. He’s not left idle for long, however. A hospital janitor, Aldo Hernandez, persuades him to look for his wayward and missing daughter, Carmen. Aldo is afraid she might join two other young women who’ve been brutally murdered and left on the side of the road for the crows to feast on. In addition, on his first trip to the local store he witnesses a robbery-turned-homicide. Sonny is reluctant to act as detective given he no longer carries a badge, especially when his son – also a Texas Ranger – is sent to the area to hunt for the man killing young women. However, he’s prepared to help Aldo search for Carmen and if that helps find the store thieves-cum-murderers, or the serial killer preying on young women, then he’ll try to administer justice.

Set in depression-era, post-prohibition Texas, A Thousand Falling Crows tells the story of Sonny Burton’s semi-retirement from the Texas Rangers after losing an arm in a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde. Licking his wounds and struggling to come to terms with living with only one hand, he’s asked by a local Mexican janitor to search for his missing daughter. He’s reluctant to get involved, but Aldo Hernandez believes a ranger always remains one, regardless of what the service thinks. Sonny thus finds himself investigating two cases that might be related – a couple of deaths of young women, brutally attacked and left on the roadside, and a robbery-homicide conducted by two young Mexican twins. Sweazy tells the tale in an understated, poetic and engaging voice – much in keeping with his reserved lead character. The plot and pacing works well, hooking the reader quickly and drawing them through the narrative, and there’s interesting historicisation with respect to the depression era and race relations, and nice sense of place of the Texas panhandle in high summer. Interspersed in the tale are short interludes where the action is seen from the perspective of on-looking crows intrigued by human behaviour and the possibilities of a fresh meal. These interludes work surprisingly well and act as a nice counterpoint to the story. Overall, a compelling read in what might hopefully be a new series.




Review of Solo Hand by Bill Moody (1994, Walker & Company)

2017-12-28T12:20:13.406+00:00

Evan Horne is having a bad year – a car accident severed the tendons in his right ‘solo’ hand ending his career as a jazz pianist and his wife has divorced him, moving in with his former boss, singer Lonnie Cole. When highly compromising pictures of Cole and country star, Charlie Crisp, along with a blackmail note, are sent to the singer that names Evan as the go-between he’s given little choice but to cooperate. However, Evan isn’t just going to just hand over the million dollar ransom; he’s also going use his insider knowledge of the music business to try and uncover the blackmailer. What he discovers is the dark arts of false accounting, royalty and return scams, and other record company and agent tricks to promote artists and divest them of their earnings. Those tricks seem to also run to blackmail and murder, with Evan soon becoming framed for the extortion and the target of violence. Even with his old pal, now cop, Coop, helping, it seems Evan will do well to find the blackmailer given the number of potential suspects and backstabbing nature of the music industry.

Solo Hand is the first in a series that features Evan Horne, ex-jazz pianist turned amateur detective, who investigates crimes related to the music business. In this outing, Horne is drawn into what at first seems like a straightforward case of blackmail against his former employer, jazz singer Lonnie Cole, which turns to violence and murder. The strength of the tale is Moody’s insider knowledge of the music industry, its dark underbelly and how it works as business to generate profits at the musicians expense. There's also a good sense of place and music scene relating to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Evan Horne is an interesting enough character, uncertain about his future after a car accident that has damaged his right hand, but with enough wits to play detective, albeit with the help of his cop buddy, and he’s trying to navigate a colourful set of characters working in the industry. The plot unfolds at a nice pace and there’s a few twists and turns, though the tale lacks a little heft, the characters feel a little thin, and there’s no major surprises as to the perpetrator or outcome. Overall, a solid amateur PI tale with an authentic take on the dirty side of the music industry.





Review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books, 2012)

2017-12-28T16:07:24.971+00:00

Ove has never been the life and soul of a party – in fact, he’s been withdrawn, taciturn, irritable and abrasive most of his life. Ove has high principles and a short fuse. He expects things to be done correctly, conducts daily neighbourhood inspections, and badgers his fellow residents and the local council if things don’t meet his exacting standards. And he has no time for people who do not drive a Saab or can’t fix anything they own. Now aged 59, his beloved wife, Sonja, is dead and he’s been let go from his job. He just wants to end it all and join her. His new neighbours and a stray cat, however, have other ideas, disrupting his plans and his ordered life. Pregnant Parvaneh, husband Patrick and their two young children are immune to Ove’s curmudgeonly ways and slowly inveigle their way into his life – borrowing ladders, seeking lifts to hospital and driving lessons, and reading stories. The cat hangs around his house seeking shelter from a local bully with a vicious little dog. Try as he might, Ove can neither end it all, nor get his neighbours or council officials to follow or enforce the Resident Association rules. Moreover, he can’t help doing good deeds, in part because he gets so frustrated with other people making a hames of whatever it is they are doing, though he moans and despairs all the while. Despite his wishes, his bitterness and crankiness seem to finally be becoming appreciated by more than his wife, who always saw in him qualities that no-one else could. Backman tells Ove’s story by focusing on the few weeks from when Parvaneh and her family move into street, interspersed with key moments in his life. The tale is essentially an in-depth character study, peeling back the layers to reveal what made the man, and detailing how his life and those of his neighbours becomes transformed. It’s a sort of a late coming-of-age/putting life back-on-track story that’s engaging, gently humorous, a bit sentimental, and heart-warming. I found it an enjoyable read on the lead up to Christmas.







Review of Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (Pushkin Vertigo, 2015)

2017-12-26T16:49:08.418+00:00

Caleb Zelic and his business partner, ex-cop, ex-alcoholic, Frankie Reynolds run a security and investigation company in Melbourne. They hire in Caleb’s best friend, Senior Constable Gary Marsden, to help solve a couple of thefts from a warehouse. Shortly after sending a couple of warning texts to his family and Caleb, Gary is found dead. Soon Frankie has seemingly been kidnapped, Caleb has been attacked, and the only clue as to who’s behind the assaults is the name ‘Scott’. Unwilling to trust the police, Caleb retreats to his ex-wife, Kat, and to Resurrection Bay, his childhood home. There he tries to piece together Gary’s last few hours and identify Scott, while also rekindling his relationship with Kat. But Resurrection Bay isn’t beyond the reaches of his enemies.

In many ways, Resurrection Bay is a straightforward crime confusion tale in which a PI stumbles into a murderous situation and, unable to trust the police, goes on the run, at the same time trying to protect those around him, solve the case and bring the perpetrators to justice. As with most fictional PIs, Caleb Zelic’s personal life is a mess – recently divorced, a brother who’s a reformed drug addict/dealer, a partner who’s a recovering alcoholic. The fresh angle is Zelic is deaf and is reliant on lip-reading, some very residual hearing, and sign language (by coincidence, in the book I read prior to this, Sleeping Dogs, it was the criminal who was deaf and signed). Zelic’s deafness adds somewhat to the confusion, but to Viskic’s credit it is largely incidental to the story – it’s a tale in which the lead character happens to be deaf, rather than being centrally about a deaf PI. The characterisation in general is nicely done, with a good dynamic between Zelic, his ex-wife, and those he encounters. And the story zips along as Zelic careens from one situation to the next. The plot itself and the denouement is a bit predictable, except for a twist near the end, and is reliant on a series of somewhat staged plot devices (lost phone, crushed keys, etc.); nonetheless, the characters, pacing, dash of dark humour ensure it’s engaging and entertaining read.






Lazy Sunday Service

2017-12-24T09:55:11.914+00:00

After letting my Goodreads 'want to read' list expand to over 100 books I've culled a few I was interested in, but not desperate to read. The plan now is to try and work it down by actually finding and reading a good portion of the books on it. I have a couple of the tbr pile and I'm presently reading 'A Man Called Ove' by Fredrik Backman. There seems little point have a 'want to read' list if I'm not actually going to read them. Mind you, I've a pile of books I've bought that I've not read, which is worse than wishful thinking!


My posts this week:
Review of Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan
Review of A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky
Review of Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans
Stick 'em up



Stick 'em up

2017-12-23T09:50:36.947+00:00

‘Stick ’em up!’ Karl yelled. 

The three people in the queue raised their arms at the sight of two men holding sawn-off shotguns, nylon tights pulled over their faces.

‘I always want to say that,’ Karl said to Peter.

‘Just concentrate on the job. You, behind the counter, put all the money in a bag and pass it out.’

‘Don’t hurt us,’ an elderly woman pleaded.

‘Don’t worry, Betty, we’re just here to collect our pension. In a lump sum!’

‘Karl?’

‘Way to go, numb-nuts,’ Peter hissed.

‘Sorry, Peter.’

‘Sheesh. We’re meant to be incognito. Hey, lady, where’s our pension!’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.



A review of Sleeping Dogs by Mark O’Sullivan (2014, Transworld)

2017-12-22T21:01:18.891+00:00

Shot three times on an isolated lane, Harry Larkin, head of a criminal family, lies dying in a Dublin hospital. Before slipping into a coma he asks Eveleen, the ward nurse, to find Detective Inspector Leo Woods and to tell him to find his daughter, Whitney. Leo has history with the family, having run Harry as a police informer thirty years ago and had an affair with his wife, Liz. As Harry’s son and his right-hand man vie to take over the dying man’s operations, Leo and his team try to discover who shot him and what has happened to his teenage daughter. The case soon become more murky when a second death is linked to the investigation, as well as a Slovakian and Libyan connection. Dealing with the Larkins was always fraught and this case feels to Leo like an intimate family affair, tinged with an international twist that makes it tricky to decipher.

Sleeping Dogs is the second book in the DI Leo Woods series set in Dublin. In this outing, Leo is forced to revisit his past involvement with a criminal family through an investigation into the death of its patriarch and the disappearance of his daughter. Initially the case seems like it might be relatively straightforward, but it soon becomes clear that there is much more to Harry Larkin’s death than a simple shooting by a rival gang or a family feud, including a couple of international connections. As with the first outing, Sleeping Dogs is an excellent tale with strong characterisation, nicely portrayed social interactions, and an intricate, engaging plot. There’s plenty of backstory of the Larkins and Leo’s past relations, as well as the contemporary lives of the police characters inside and outside work. And the case is an interesting multifaceted puzzle built around a somewhat dysfunctional family who have little trust in the police. The only element that’s somewhat subdued is the sense of place – while located in Dublin there’s little real sense of the city or Ireland more generally and the tale could have been set just about anywhere. Nonetheless, a very fine police procedural.





Review of A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky (1988, Ballantine)

2017-12-20T23:13:12.940+00:00

In a remote village in Siberia the young daughter of a soon to be political-exile has died. The commissar sent to investigate her death is murdered by an icicle thrust through his eye. Inspector Porfiry Rostnikpov is sent from Moscow to investigate the commissar’s murder, but is instructed not to investigate the death of the young girl, even if the two are related. Rostnikpov’s career is on a downward spiral; he manages to expose political and police corruption and gain justice but pays in being reassigned and sidelined. And it seems that some hope that the trip to Siberia will finish him off for good, either falling foul of the two officers sent to spy on his investigation or going the same way as the commissar. In freezing conditions, Rostnikpov quizzes the inhabitants and tries to identify a murderer while also outwitting his companions.

A Cold Red Sunrise is the fifth book of the Inspector Rostnikpov series set in Russia. This outing, published in 1988, shows slight hints of the Glasnost era, though the Soviet regime is very much in place. Rostnikpov is an interesting character – a stoic, cunning man with an injured leg, who is obsessed with weight-lifting and solving crimes, and manages to maintain high principles yet survive the political machinations of the Soviet policing and intelligence services. In this tale, Rostnikpov is sent to Siberia to investigate the death of a commissar who had been investigating the suspicious death of the daughter of a soon-to-be political exile. Nobody in the small village seems happy with his presence and his prime tactic is to subtly unsettle the locals to try and provoke a reaction. It’s a dangerous move given what happened to the commissar. Like Rostnikpov and Siberia, the storytelling is spartan, being all show and no tell. There’s a strong sense of place and contextualisation as to the politics of living and working in the Soviet regime. At one level the story seems relatively straightforward and uncomplicated, but as it nears its conclusion Kaminsky reveals some nice twists that make perfect sense but are nonetheless surprising. Overall, an engaging and entertaining police procedural.




Review of Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between by Liz Evans (Orion, 2005)

2017-12-18T08:12:32.545+00:00

Grace Smith is an independent PI working out of a collective office. When the owner of the office passes on a case to her it seems relatively straightforward. Barbra Delaney wants to leave her fortune to three strangers who she photographed leaving a local shop. Grace’s job is to find out the identity of the three lucky people and check out whether they are upstanding citizens. However, tracking down the three proves a little more tricky than anticipated, especially since all them have something to hide. What follows is a calamitous set of events, including Grace’s home and office being trashed and a nasty murder.

Don’t Mess With Mrs In-Between is the third book in the PI Grace Smith series. Grace is not the most talented PI, but she is feisty and persistent, and she likes to think she always gets her man (or at least they might fancy her). In this outing she tries to track down three people chosen at random by a rich heiress to become the beneficiaries of her will. Only the three are not keen to have someone snooping around their business and the heiress also seems to have something to hide. Progressively the case becomes more convoluted and dangerous. The tale fits into the tart noir genre popular at the end of the 1990s/early 2000s, a kind of edgy cozy with a strong-willed, independent female lead. While at times entertaining, the story unfolds somewhat haphazardly, often held together by thin or awkward plot devices and I just had difficulty believing a good chunk of it or in some of the characters, and the ending was weak. I know tart noir and crime with a comic twist often requires a suspension of disbelief, but it all felt too overly contrived without the payoff of being lost in the tale or belly laughs. And some things made little sense to me – for example, a PI being knocked from her bike and not even being curious about who hit her, let alone trying to track them down. The result was a book that felt a little insubstantial, driven by a central character with flaws, some humour, and a frail plot.