Sunday, July 31, 2011
My posts this week:
The Secret in Their Eyes
Review of Pariah by Dave Zeltserman
Review of Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
When it flows, it pours
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
The real strengths of Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series are the colourful set of characters, the light and witty prose, and a wonderfully rich sense of place and history. Through the narrative he engages with weighty matters such as nationalism, socialism and familial relationships, without them dominating the story in some overloaded ideological manner. They’re a delight to read. Anarchy and Old Dogs is the fourth book in the series. Whilst the plot was interesting, I felt that it unfolded in a relatively straightforward manner, lacked some twists and turns, and the mystical elements used to good effect in the other stories was underplayed. There was also a sense that the book was doing a lot of work for the next book in the series, moving new characters and scenarios into place. As a result, it felt like a transition book, rather than having a fully rounded story of its own. For me, that meant it was an enjoyable read, but one that didn’t quite fulfil its promise. Regardless, it and the whole Dr Siri series is well worth checking out as no doubt is Cotterill's new series, the first book of which has just been published.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
"I guess every writer has his or her own motive for writing. Some want to be the best prose stylist ever read. Others want to tell stories. Some get into it to make their fortune. Some just want to be famous, rich or otherwise. And on it goes. When I was 17, my ambition was to write books that other writers liked."
Like Declan, at 17 I also wanted to be a writer. And whereas he went into journalism to maintain and nurture his writing ambitions, I went into academia. Both are publish or perish careers. For the past fifteen years I've told colleagues that my aim was to leave academia by the time I was forty to become a fulltime fiction writer - not because I wanted fame and fortune, but so that I had the time and space to pursue a passion. Given I'm forty one in a week or so, this clearly isn't going to happen! And that's fine. I love writing the academic stuff as well, though I could easily live without the admin and the other pressures of the job.
As for ambition with respect to my fiction writing, I wanted to write books that I would want to read. It's that plain and simple. I guess I figured that if enjoyed the book, then other people might as well, but I was most definitely the target audience. I got distracted along the way when early efforts found no favour with agents and publishers, but I'm now back in that space. And I've never enjoyed writing as much. I'm having a hoot writing the latest one. It's a book I would definitely read as a reader. And that's as much as I hope for. Now back to it.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
If you like dark, gritty noir realism, then you need to read Dave Zeltserman’s books. The first person narratives of his prison release trilogy drop you into the world of troubled men and paint extraordinary rich characters. Pariah is no different. Kyle Nevin is driven by a grim determination to rule by fear and to seek whatever he desires by any means except those legitimate. He professes to have a moral code of sorts – sticking by family and brothers in arms – but everyone else is fair game. Ultimately though he’s fighting a battle of himself against the world and he’s prepared to do anything to make sure the world loses. At times, the feeling of realism in Zeltserman’s writing is disturbing, especially in the first half of the book. The second half felt a little rushed at times, with a few key events a little underdeveloped, taking up very little of the narrative and quickly moving on. The twist at the end was clever, but felt a tad contrived. I also felt that the whole Whitey Bulger riff was a bit tired, explored in other books such as Adrian McKinty’s Bloomsbury set and Richard Marinick’s Boyos, and no doubt others. As a result, in my view, Pariah was a good read, but not quite on the same par as the other two books in the prison release trilogy: Small Crimes and Killer. Given how stellar those two books are that’s no great criticism. To repeat: if you like noir read Zeltserman, you won’t be disappointed.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
My posts this week
Review of Headbanger by Hugo Hamilton
Review of Crime Always Pays by Declan Burke
Review of Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser
Friday, July 22, 2011
The strengths of Borkmann’s Point is the pacing, atmosphere and everydayness of the narrative. The storytelling has a nice cadence and doesn’t seek to shock or ratchet up the tension too early. Instead we’re gradually introduced to the characters and the investigation, slowly building up a picture of the police officers, their lives and ambitions, and patiently working towards a resolution. The plot is fine, although I’d reached Borkmann’s point in terms of identifying the killer very early in the novel; pretty much off the first clue. I certainly didn’t know with any certainty, but for some reason I just had a gut instinct that solidified as the story progressed. It’s a solution I’ve come across in other police procedurals and it seemed to fit. As a result, a great deal of the edge was taken out of the read, and this might not be the case for other readers. Overall, a pleasant enough read and I’d try other Nesser books, but fairly standard police procedural fare.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I’ve been trying to decide how to describe Crime Always Pays. I guess it’s a screwball, crime caper, road trip noir. And very well done it is too. Burke weaves a tale that does not rest, with the action starting on the first page and not letting up until the final sentence. The story follows the intersecting trajectories of two handfuls of well penned, memorable characters as they set out from Ireland to the Greek island of Ios, swirling round each other trying to bag the proceeds of an insurance scam and each other. Laced with a big dollop of humour, there are bluffs, backstabbings, double crosses, and twists and turns galore. The story pretty much has it all – electric pace, good dialogue, tons of action, great characters (particular the double act of Rossi and Sleeps), clever plotting, and a strong sense of place. I had only had two issues really. The first is the extent to which someone who hadn’t read The Big O would be able to follow what was going on. This is very much a sequel, starting immediately where the first book ends, and it is framed in that context. I suspect it might be fine, but my advice is to read The Big O first (you won’t regret it). The second is the thread following Madge seemed a little underdeveloped and disconnected from the others. And I’m picking hairs here. If Burke’s new book Absolute Zero Cool is as good as this then it’ll be a cracker. Hopefully it’ll catapult him to the kind of success he deserves.
P.S. this book is available for Kindle on Amazon for the criminally low price of 87 pence or $1.47. Talk about a bargain. Get buying and reading.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Headbanger is an in-depth character study of a cop teetering on the edge of madness, seemingly determined to careen down into its depths regardless of its consequences. Hamilton is good at capturing the small details of life, the nuances and foibles of folk and the spaces they inhabit. The characters, their relationships, and the sense of 1990s Dublin are well penned, and I thought the ending was very nicely done. Despite his eccentricities, Coyne and his work and home life are credible, and it’s difficult not to build up an empathy for a troubled soul. For my taste the book is too much of a character study; I prefer more action and dialogue and less introspection. What is refreshing, however, is the focus on an ordinary cop, someone who hasn’t gained rank or a position in an elite squad of some kind. Overall, an enjoyable slice of Dublin noir.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?
“Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”
Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.
Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .
Absolute Zero Cool is a post-modern take on the crime thriller genre. Adrift in the half-life limbo of an unpublished novel, hospital porter Billy needs to up the stakes. Euthanasia simply isn’t shocking anymore; would blowing up his hospital be enough to see Billy published, or be damned? What follows is a gripping tale that subverts the crime genre’s grand tradition of liberal sadism, a novel that both excites and disturbs in equal measure. Absolute Zero Cool is not only an example of Irish crime writing at its best; it is an innovative, self-reflexive piece that turns every convention of crime fiction on its head. Declan Burke’s latest book is an imaginative story that explores the human mind’s ability to both create and destroy, with equally devastating effects.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
My posts this week
Review of Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
Wifiless in London
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The premise of Fun and Games is a great one – that for a price there are a bunch of Hollywood directors who script ‘accidents’, creating deaths which are accompanied by a plausible narrative. The accidents are then played out by a group of unscrupulous actors and professional hitmen using a van load of tricks. For me this was a book of two halves. In the first half, the book felt like this was Swierczynski’s attempt to cross-over into the mainstream. It lacked the edge and other-worldliness of his other novels. There was also a huge over use of the character’s name, with Hardie appearing dozens of times on each page. Once I started to read ‘he’ instead it read more fluidly. The second half felt much more like a Swierczynski story – bold, brash and adrenaline filled action. At the start of one of the chapters an Alfred Hitchcock quote is used: ‘A far-fetched story must be plausibly told, so your nonsense isn’t showing.’ Swierczynski normally excels at this, especially in Secret Dead Men and Expiration Date, but a little too often in Fun and Games there is slippage, especially with Hardie’s seemingly super-human qualities – the man will simply not die! – and the contrived set up of some scenes. That said, this is an enjoyable romp which works off a convincingly pitched premise – it would also make a great movie or TV series.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Most posts this week:
Half yearly report
Housing vacancy 1991-2011 in the Upper Shannon Renewal Scheme
Review of 1974 by David Peace
Nice things in the post
Saturday, July 9, 2011
From the backcover:
It is May in Aberystwyth, and the mayoral election campaign - culminating in the traditional boxing match between candidates - is underway. Sospan the ice-cream seller waits in his hut for souls brave enough to try his latest mind-expanding new flavour, and Louie Knight, Aberystwyth's only Private Detective, receives a visit from a mysterious stranger called Raspiwtin asking him to track down a dead man. Twenty-five years ago Iestyn Probert was hanged for his part in the notorious raid on the Coliseum cinema, but shortly afterwards he was seen, apparently alive and well, boarding a bus to Aberaeron. Did he miraculously evade the hangman's noose? Or could there really be substance to the rumours that he was resuscitated by aliens? Now, as strange lights are spotted in the sky above Aberystwyth and a farmer claims to have had a close encounter with a lustful extraterrestrial, Iestyn Probert has been sighted once again. But what does Raspiwtin want with him? And why does Louie's investigation arouse unwelcome interest from a shadowy government body and a dark-suited man in a black 1947 Buick?
Sounds like a cracker.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Maxine from Petrona describes reading 1974 as like reading a scream. I know exactly where she’s coming from. Peace’s narrative is intense, visceral, gritty, dark, unrelenting and unsettling. It is very tightly written and through the flair and style of the prose, the contextual framing, and the palpable sense of realism, it produces a powerful affective response from the first page. If anyone is looking for the ultimate noir, then 1974 must be near the top of the pile. The story is a long way from horror, and none of the scenes are particularly horrific, but I nevertheless found it a difficult read at times, simultaneously feeling senses of compulsion and revulsion. It’s one of those strange books or movies that draws you in at the same time as pushing you away. I read it in several sittings and found it emotionally draining. The end unravels a little, becoming a bit disjointed (much like the main character). Nevertheless 1974 is a brilliant piece of writing, but it’s not for the faint hearted.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
The Rage by Gene Kerrigan
The Deputy by Victor Gischler
Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston
Ghost Mountain Boys by James Campbell
Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski
Field Grey by Philip Kerr
Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The Brush Off by Shane Maloney
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
The Main by Trevanian
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn
Devil Red by Joe Lansdale
A Stone of the Heart by John Brady
Sunday, July 3, 2011
My posts this week:
Review of White Death by Tobias Jones
Reading a scream
Old book, new format
Review From Aberystwyth With Love by Malcolm Pryce
2011 Census housing vacancy data
Geographic variation in housing vacancy 2011
Friday, July 1, 2011
From Aberystwyth With Love by Malcolm Pryce ****
White Death by Tobias Jones ***.5
The Fatal Touch by Conor Fitzgerald ***.5
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly **.5
The Rage by Gene Kerrigan *****
The Deputy by Victor Gischler *****
The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan ****
Plugged by Eoin Colfer ****
Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen ****.5