Monday, August 3, 2015

First draft of The Deadly Detective Agency complete!

Having speculated yesterday that I might soon complete the first draft of the new novel, I find I have reached the end having bashed out five thousand words in the last twenty four hours. The Deadly Detective Agency has been my favourite one to date to write.  It has a nice set of characters and location and everything just slotted into place plot wise. If only all my writing progressed with the same karma!  Now onto edits, then beta readers.

July reviews

July was a good, varied month of reading.  The standout read was The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. An excellent example of a realist police procedural that doesn't rely on plot devices to move the investigation along.

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B Parker ****.5
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers ***
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo *****
Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway ****
Werewolf by Matthew Pritchard ***.5
In The Wind by Barbara Fister ****.5
Easy Streets by Bill James ***
The Detective Branch by Andrew Pepper ****
Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal ****
Nazis in the Metro by Didier Daeninckx **.5
The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris ***

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

After a couple of days break in East Mayo, I've returned to working on the current novel.  I'm making steady progress and hope to finish the first draft this coming week.  Then to edits.  I'm still not sure as to who constitutes its ideal audience.  I've basically written it to keep myself amused and it'll be interesting to see what my beta readers make of it.  Tapping away at the laptop has slowed my reading a little, though I have managed to read Sarah Ward's In Bitter Chill, which I'll review sometime in the coming days.

My posts this week:
Review of The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B Parker
Review of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers

Saturday, August 1, 2015


‘It’s seaweed.’

‘That’s just covering something else.’

‘Okay, it’s a log covered in seaweed.’

‘I think it’s a box.’

‘I don’t care, I’m not wading out in this weather into those waves.  It’s freezing.’

‘Or maybe it’s a body!’

‘Then call the police.  What are you doing?’  Paul watched Steve tug off his shoes, socks and jeans. 

‘You’re mad!’

‘I need to know what it is!’

‘You could drown.  This beach has a hell of a riptide.’

Paul watched as Steve waded out into the roaring swell and disappeared from view.


A wave broke and rushed up the shore.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers (1933, NEL)

When a copywriter falls down the stairs and meets an untimely death at Pym’s Publicity the owner calls in Lord Peter Wimsey in disguise as his cousin Death Bredon.  Working in parallel with his brother-in-law, a Scotland Yard inspector, Wimsey starts to poke around Pym’s convinced that the death was far from accidental.  His investigation soon extends outside of the advertising agency to a circle of wild rich party-goers and a dope smuggling ring.  But the more Wimsey probes, the more he unsettles his quarry, leading to a string of additional murders.

While I thought another Lord Peter Wimsey tale, The Nine Tailors, was first class I struggled through Murder Must Advertise for two main reasons.  First, the story felt overly drawn-out, with whole sections either failing to move the story forward or barely doing so.  Basically there were too many asides, or passages had long-winded detailing that were unnecessary.  And while The Nine Tailors had the same style its asides were much more interesting.  Second, I just didn’t connect with the characters, especially Lord Peter Wimsey who I found very tiresome especially in disguise as Death Bredon, nor most of people working at Pym’s Publicity, in part I think because who narrative is so classed with the world portrayed through a very particular upper class lens.  Those issues apart, the mystery is okay if a little far-fetched.  Overall, an satisfactory mystery tale, but not to my taste.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review of The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker (1974, Houghton Mifflin)

Boston in the early 1970s.  A wise-cracking private investigator, Spenser has been hired by a university to recover the Godwulf manuscript, a rare medieval illuminated text.  His initial focus is a student radical group who oppose the forces of capitalism.  When one of their members calls him in the early hours he arrives at her apartment to find her heavily drugged holding a gun and her boyfriend shot dead.  She swears that he was killed by two men and the gun forced on her, but to the police it looks like an open and shut case.  Spenser, however, believes she might be telling the truth and her rich parents hire him to discover the truth.  Others though are not so keen for him to be meddling in their affairs.

First published in 1973, The Godwulf Manuscript is the first in the Spenser series that had reached book #40 by the time of Parker’s death in 2010 and also spawned a hit TV show and some TV movies.  Spenser, as introduced in the book, continues the hardboiled, American PI tradition of the wise-cracking, womanising, tough guy investigator, which is perhaps no surprise given Parker’s own interests in the private-eyes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, on which he wrote his PhD dissertation.  While the theft of a medieval manuscript sounds like a relatively sedate case for a tough guy PI the tale soon shifts focus as Spenser tries to free a student framed for murder and tangles with both cops and the mob.  Never short of a wise-crack, Spenser manages to rub up the wrong way just about everyone he meets and progresses from one scrape to the next in the pursuit of justice.  A good example of oeuvre, tightly written and rattling along at a fair clip, the book is an entertaining read that will appeal to fans of hardboiled PI tales.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

On Thursday and Friday I attended the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Donegal.  It's an interesting event that's been running since 1981 and is unusual in that it is attended by senior politicians from all political parties, including government ministers (and this year the Taioseach [Prime Minister]), and by high profile journalists, with a smattering of academics thrown in.  Moreover, it's cheap to attend (€20 a day), and the sessions are geniunely open to debate and views and questions from the floor.  The sessions I was involved in on housing, planning and rural development were excellent in terms of setting out the present state of play and debating present and future policy.  And to top it off I was housed in Meryl Streep's old room at the Highlands Hotel.

My posts this week

Review of The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Review of Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway
Review of Werewolf by Matthew Pritchard
I can't confess to what I don't remember

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I can’t confess to what I don’t remember

‘I don’t remember.’

‘You don’t remember killing an old man?  Stabbing him fifteen times in the chest?’


‘You’ve no idea how you came to be covered in his blood?’


‘Or why you were hiding in his garage?’

‘I don’t remember anything.’

Harkin slammed his hand down on the table making Malloy jump. 

‘I don’t believe you.  You went there with the intention of robbing Mr Smith.  Only it went wrong.  Perhaps he wouldn’t give you the money.  Perhaps he insulted you.  Then you lost it.’


‘The evidence suggests otherwise.’

‘I can’t confess to what I don’t remember.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review of The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1968 Swedish, 1971 English, Pantheon)

Late 1960s Stockholm.  On a cold winter night as a bus nears the end of its route a gunman opens fire killing the eight passengers and the bus driver.  Amongst those killed is Åke Stenstrom, a young detective in Martin Beck’s team.  Beck is assigned the high profile case and immediately comes under pressure from politicians and the media for a quick solution.  However, clues are thin on the ground.  Working on the assumption that Stenstrom’s presence on the bus is not a coincidence, Beck and his team chase down all leads, however tenuous they might seem seeking the vital breakthrough that will reveal the killer’s identity.  But to solve one mystery they discover they must solve another.

The Laughing Policeman is the fourth book in the much praised Martin Beck series.  In my opinion it’s a masterclass in how to write a realist police procedural novel that does not rely on coincidence or plot devices to move the story along, nor does it concentrate on a non-conformist, lone cop (plus sidekick) who singlehandedly solves the case whilst coping with all kinds of personal issues.  Instead, the case is solved through patient, diligent investigative work by a team of cops, involving a lot of footwork, collaboration, probing, leaning on informers, petty criminals and suspects, and wandering down blind alleys.  It doesn’t get any racier with respect to the cops’ home lives, which are relatively humdrum and mundane.  Yet despite this everyday realism the story is completely gripping as the dyspeptic Beck and his team inch towards solving the death of their colleague and eight other passengers shot late at night on a Stockholm bus.  In my view the best book in the series so far.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review of Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway (2011, Macmillan)

Detective Sergeant Lucy Black has moved to Derry so she can be nearer to her father.  An ex-policeman forced away from the area at the height of the Troubles, he has returned home and now has dementia.  Her estranged mother has also returned, but as Assistant Chief Constable, and is now Lucy’s boss.  It’s not an ideal scenario and its made more challenging when Lucy is transferred internally away from CID at her mother’s behest.  First at the scene of a reported sighting of a local girl who’s been kidnapped she’d discovered another younger girl walking in the woods in the snow in bloodstained pyjamas.  Whilst CID search for the kidnapped girl, Lucy tries to determine who the young girl is and why she was in the woods.  Tracking down her own leads she keeps circling back to the kidnapping, much to the chagrin of her superiors.  But Lucy is her own woman and she’s determined to get to the truth of the little girl lost.

After five Inspector Devlin books set along the Irish border, Brian McGilloway turned his attention to a new series featuring Detective Sergeant Lucy Black set in Derry.  Like the Devlin books, the legacy of the Troubles haunts the tale, as it would for just about story involving the police in Northern Ireland, and McGilloway does a good job of weaving the past with the present.  He also does a decent job of balancing the narrative between Lucy Black’s work and personal life, and in so doing ensures two strong hooks: a pair of interwoven police cases (a young girl found wandering in the snow in ancient woodland and a kidnapped teenager), along with the unfolding personal challenges of an engaging lead character.  The result is a nicely constructed police procedural with a compelling plot, a good sense of place and time, and a great deal of heart.  The only downsides were a little too many coincidences intertwining the professional and personal and an extra twist at the end felt a little forced.  Nonetheless, a solid start to what seems set to be a strong series.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review of Werewolf by Matthew Pritchard (Salt, 2014)

August 1945 in the British occupation zone in Germany. Detective Inspector Silas Payne, a fluent German speaker, has been seconded from Scotland Yard to help train a new local police force, although his recruits are still interned.  When two bodies are found in the cellar of house requisitioned by the army Payne starts to investigate, quickly encountering resistance from the local British personnel who do not want him interfering in their affairs.  When a British soldier is killed, the commander and his deputy become convinced the murders are the work of still active Nazi resisters, so-called werewolves, seeking to undermine British authority.  Payne, however, believes it is the work of a single killer with a history of murder.  Whilst the army are chasing shadows, Payne employs his policing skills to try and track down the depraved killer who has used the war to hone his skills.

In Werewolf Matthew Pritchard joins together a story about the British occupation of the Western Germany and acts of profiteering, revenge, poor management, trying to place order onto a chaotic society and chase down war criminals, with a serial killer tale.  At one level, it’s pretty well executed, except towards the end where it becomes a little ragged and a few loose ends are left hanging, on another level the serial killer angle felt like a different kind of story interwoven into an end of war tale; a kind of sensational twist to an already murderous war.  There was, to my mind, plenty of interesting avenues to explore concerning the British occupation, Nazi war crimes and ratlines on their own.  Nonetheless, the story rattles along at fair clip and its engaging fare, there is some nice contextualisation with respect to the period, and Silas Payne is a strong lead character.  Overall, a quick-paced, tightly written piece of post-war crime fiction. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lazy Sunday Service

Since the publication of The Data Revolution book last summer I've not had a written academic book in progress. That changed yesterday morning when I mapped out the structure of a new one. No idea when I'll get to writing it since I've three edited books on the go and a whole bunch of paper and chapter commitments. Plus the latest novel is not writing itself.  Still, it's a start.  And it feels good to have a new book project settled in my mind (well until I dream up another one - I've a folder full of books I'd like to write and never have!).

On other news, I still have a short backlog of book reviews to post.  This week expect reviews of Werewolf by Matthew Pritchard, Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway and The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

My posts this week
Review of In The Wind by Barbara Fister
Review of Easy Streets by Bill James
Review of The Detective Branch by Andrew Pepper

A handful of bullets

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A handful of bullets

Harper opened his office door.

‘That must have been some lunch, Henry,’ Clarke said, without turning.  ‘We need to talk about Gina.’

Harper dropped into his chair and opened a desk drawer.

‘She’s dead.’

‘And she didn’t beat herself to death.’

The gun was in Harper’s mouth before Clarke could react.

As the trigger clicked Clarke opened his hand to reveal the bullets.

Harper dashed for the window, smashing through it.

Clarke ambled over and gazed down.

Fifty feet below two cops were wrestling with Harper on a slowly deflating crashpad.

The Doc would be delighted at his murder-suicide assessment.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review of In The Wind by Barbara Fister (St Martins Press, 2008)

After ten years working for the Chicago Police Department Anni Koskinen quit after testifying against a fellow cop whose actions had left a young man brain damaged.  Having set herself up as a PI she’s so far only had one job - finding the teenage daughter of her best friend - and has spent most of her time renovating her apartment.  When a local priest asks her to drive a quiet, well-liked church worker out of town she accepts the job without realising that she’s aiding a fugitive escape.  Rosa Saenz was once an active member of a radical arm of the American Indian Movement and is wanted for the murder of an FBI agent in 1972.  That agent was the father of her mentor, now also working for the FBI, and whose daughter she’d located.  Despite his personal investment in the case he doesn’t counter his wife and daughter’s encouragement for Anni to work for Rosa’s defence team.  The Feds and local cops are not so understanding, and nor is a group of white supremacists who are waging their own battle with the American Indian Movement.  Despite the age and obvious problems associated with the case, the Feds seem overly keen to capture and prosecute Rosa.  With tension rising in the city concerning post 9/11 policing and civil liberties, Anni finds herself battling to discover the truth against diminishing odds of success.

There is lots to like about Barbara Fister’s In The Wind - a strong, likeable lead character in Anni Koskinen, nice historical contextualisation, its social commentary on policing in the US post 9/11 and tensions around civil rights, and its engaging storyline.  This is a novel very much of its time, capturing the social and racial divisions of American society and the divided geographies of a US city.  And whilst it’s a crime thriller it takes a different path to most by portraying an alternative perspective from the typical cop or federal agency point of view.  The result is a subtle but stinging critique of heavy-handed, strong-arm, politically motivated policing, and series of interesting connections to the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.  From the very start Fister ratchets up the tension and then keeps it taut throughout as Anni pings from one crisis to another, tries to track down clues, and to maintain fraught relationships.  Whilst the solution to the puzzle is telegraphed from a very long way out, the tale remains gripping and the pages kept turning.  Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable, politically inflected and thought provoking, crime thriller and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Through the Cracks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review of Easy Streets by Bill James (2004, Countryman Press)

For years there’s been an understanding between Desmond Iles, a cop with a short temper and ambition, and Mansel Shale and Ralph Ember, two underworld bosses who run a substantial part of the city’s drug trade -- the police will turn a blind eye as long as they conduct their business in an orderly fashion.  However, a relaxation of the government’s attitude to drugs, plus a plentiful cheap supply, has meant the marketplace being flooded.  As profits plummet, various factions set about restructuring who the main players are, seeking alliances and bumping off rivals.  After a small time criminal’s house is firebombed, killing him and his young daughter, Iles and Harpur seek to restore order in their own unconventional way.

Easy Streets is the twenty first tale in the Harpur and Iles series.  It’s the first one I’ve read and I’m not sure it was the ideal introduction.  The start felt like joining an on-going conversation and it took a little time to work my way into the story.  In fact, the whole tale felt like an episode of a long running television show; more a snapshot into a much longer narrative than a fully-formed, self-contained story.  The tale is told from a handful of perspectives: that of the shady, seedy cops, Iles and Harpur, and the upwardly mobile criminals, Mansel Shale and Panicky Ralph Ember.  Where it excels is with respect to the dialogue in which characters can often be talking past one another as they ignore what the other has to say, and it is often darkly comic.  Overall, however, whilst interesting, it lacked a strong hook that would shift it from crime soap opera to something more substantial.