Some reviews, a profile and a bit of mystery twittering

Even in the summer heat and at the peak of Wimbledon, there's lots of entertaining, stimulating  reading on that ol' Internet. Via In Reference to Murder and dBusiness news, I learn that on June 15th, "the Tweet Mystery of Death became Twitter’s first live murder mystery — letting Twitter users follow nine characters to engage with the story and solve a series of crimes." The mystery is running live on Twitter from 15 June to 27 July: see  tweetmystery.com or hashtag #tmod on Twitter.com for more.

There's a highly readable profile of Yrsa Sigurdadottir in PW, by Jonathan Segura, who writes "in addition to international bestselling author, mother of two, grandmother of one and owner of two pugs, Yrsa’s a civil engineer. With the economy in a death spiral, the engineering work has slowed, but, she says, her books are doing better than ever: her most recent Thora novel debuted in December as the #2 hardcover bestseller in Iceland (its initial print run, 10,000, was huge by Icelandic standards), and she’s in the middle of writing the next, on track to deliver this fall and maintain her average of a novel per year. She doesn’t do much press in Iceland—one interview per year, so people “won’t get tired of me”—but is frequently on the road to promote her books abroad. There is much terrain to cover; she’s been translated into nearly 30 languages." See here for my Euro Crime review of Yrsa Sigurdadottir's debut, Last Rituals.

There's a lovely review of Case Histories, Kate Atkinson's first Jackson Brodie novel, by Dorte on DJ's Krimiblog. I must read One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News?, both of which have been on my shelves unread for far too long, given how much I enjoyed Case Histories - especially the first two-thirds of the novel.

Very appropriate for the current weather, Norman Price reviews the latest Camilleri to be translated into English, August Heat. Norman's quote says it all:
"How about a few big platters of antipasto di mare with shrimps, prawns, baby octopus, anchovies, sardines, mussels and clams?"
"Sounds good. And for second course?"
"Mullet in onions: served cold a delight."
Served cold, a delight indeed. I'm already looking forward to Montalbano's next outing.

The Brothers Judd have just reviewed The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson, and give the book a C! "Try a Martin Beck instead", they write. I can't argue with trying Martin Beck – but you can do both! Incidentally, if, like me, you are interested in Scandinavian crime fiction and keeping up with the latest news about books, films, translations and so on, Peter at Nordic Bookblog has a very informative and useful post up – with some good news for Jo Nesbo fans.

Kim at Reading Matters writes a spiffing review of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I read and loved all Wyndham's books when I was young (I think I read them all, I may have missed a couple), and it's surprising, though maybe it shouldn't be, how often one comes across posts about his books, and how many people I encounter on the Internet are fellow-enthusiasts for this author's books. Kim writes that The Chrysalids is set in a "post-apocalyptic world a few thousands years in the future. But in this case society has regressed to the point of living a rather primitive frontier-like existence reminiscent of 18th century pastoral America….. But all is not as it seems. This is a society obsessed with fundamental Christianity to the point where anyone not born in the true Image of God is regarded as a blasphemy to be dispatched at birth or condemned to live in the Fringes, a wild untamed area where other rejected "humans" roam." Read the rest of Kim's excellent review here.

Val McDermid’s summer reading selections

As part of yesterday's (Saturday) Times books "supplement"* on holiday reading, Val McDermid recommends her choice of crime and thrillers. Crime fiction may at first glance seem an odd choice for relaxing reading, she writes, but it lifts the spirits to "pick up on our favourite characters' latest travails. It can be like catching up with old friends – the ones you always go on holiday with." She also opines that murder mysteries divert the reader from committing domestic violence when cooped up for two weeks with their families, but I think I part company with her on that.

Here's what Val McDermid, a generous blurb writer with a great turn of phrase, recommends. Links are to reviews of the books at Euro Crime, Richard T. Kelly's blog, Picador blog, International Noir Fiction and It's a Crime.

Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill – "a complex story packed into 24 hours. It's a witty, wise and warm read, with rich characterisation and emotional depth".

The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri- "a cold, twisted tale of love and exploitation at its heart, but Montalbano and his team are the perfect counterweight to its darkness."

When Will There be Good News? by Kate Atkinson- thick and fast plotlines, and the coinicidences "explanations waiting to happen".

The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler- "devishly clever and mordantly funny".

The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah – "a corkscrew plot that performs a danse macabre around the passions and rivalries of artists".

Woman With Birthmark by Hakan Nesser- an intriguing series in which "Nesser displays more optimism in his social commentary than do most of his fellow Nordic writers."

All the Dead Voices by Declan Hughes – Irish crime that is "energetic, pacy and vivid."

Singing to the Dead by Caro Ramsay – "Well-drawn characters and a great sense of place set this head and shoulders above most of the competition."

Shatter by Michael Robotham – "a haunting read that niggles in the mind for a long time."

All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney – "Tough and uncompromising, beautifully written", it's a debut about a Glasgow journalist, due out in the UK in August.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – a reissue of this "bewildering devious tale of how lies devour lives" – which in part inspired Sarah Waters' "brilliant and unsettling" new novel, The Little Stranger.

A final addition from me: you could do a great deal worse than to take Val McDermid's A Darker Domain with you, if you have room in your suitcase.

*No longer a supplement but a few pages clinging on to the end of a "Review" section.

Sunday Salon: inappropriate titles

Interesting weather last night: raining steadily but mildly in Kingston, completely dry and sunny in Wimbledon 3 miles down the road, and torrential rain in north London, causing closure of the North Circular and other roads in many places due to severe flooding, and a several-hours-long power cut over Mill Hill. Today, all is calm and I turn to the topic of books.

Horace Bent of the Bookseller 26 June p. 42 (not online) notes the Sun-generated outrage that The Crimes of Josef Fritzl was selected for a prominent a father's day promotion in W H Smith and Tesco. The book was quickly removed from the shelves despite, writes Horace Bent, "Tesco's initial bold defence of their decision to stock it".

What, he asks, would rank among the most inappropriate book promotions? "The God Delusion on an Easter table? Living with Sexually Transmitted Diseases in a Valentine's promo?" He also suggests Wittgenstein as a 'Summer Read', but that doesn't seem so bad to me – especially on reading some of the holiday recommendations in yesterday's papers. Winter's Bane or Snow Falling on Cedars, now….

What would be your suggestions? Far From the Madding Crowd in a "Glastonbury special"? The Black Path to promote countryside walks? Skin and Bones in a health campaign?

[For more bookselling amusement, follow HoraceBent on Twitter]

A welcome perspective

Thank you, Dave Knadler, for providing some much-needed perspective on MJ. Here's an excerpt from his post, but do read it all – it is one of those posts which sums up all the craziness in a nutshell.

"When a major celebrity dies, it's bigger than World War II, at least for a day or two. The stars get realigned — literally, because there's one less of them, and figuratively, because big stories have this way of becoming small when something bigger comes down the line. Who cares about Sanford any more? Who cares about Iran? We are talking Michael Jackson here, who has Touched Us All in ways we will still be discovering years from now. Personally, the coverage I've found most poignant is this piece about the time Michael Jackson inadvertantly dropped his sequined glove in the toilet."

See also Dave's RIP for a TV Angel.

The Onion: King of Pop Dead at 12; Michael Jackson dead: what do you think?; and [warning] another story that is a bit tasteless.

And for something completely different and much funnier than the previous Onion stories: Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form of Unhyphenated Word.

Ann Pettifor on economic crisis and recovery

I'm too exhausted to post anything sensible tonight. Last night I went to a fascinating event organised by the UK resource centre for women in science, technology and engineering, on the recession. "The recession is having a major impact on science, engineering, technology and the built environment (SET) in the UK. Applications to study SET subjects are rising, while employment opportunities have diminished. Some sectors are harder-hit than others. Women in SET, alongside men, are facing reductions in working time, redundancy and unemployment."

There were several excellent speakers at the event, which was at the Institute of Physics, but I would like to highlight a speaker who is particularly inspiring: Ann Pettifor. From her Wikipedia entry: "In 2003 she correctly predicted the bursting of the credit bubble ("The Credit Crunch") in a book she edited for the new economics foundation The Real World Economic Outlook (Palgrave, 2003). You can find her blog about the crisis at Debtonation.org. In 2006 Palgrave Macmillan published her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis (Palgrave, 2006). She is a co-author of the Green New Deal, published by the new economics foundation in July 2008 – a set of policies to deal with threats posed by the Credit Crunch, Peak Oil and Climate Change."

Ann is an excellent speaker and inspiring (as well as friendly) person. She explained the economic crisis in terms that I (and the rest of the audience) could understand, suggested practical solutions, and explained how all the economists (each with two PhDs from Harvard) had not only not seen the crisis coming, but who have failed to realise the paradigm shift that has occurred and therefore have no idea what to do now. Whereas she says: "The best way out of the economic crisis is to cut interest rates, create jobs and raise incomes." After hearing Ann speak, I actually felt quite cheerful on the subject of the global economy for the first time in ages.

Brief biography of Ann Pettifor.

Ann Pettifor at the Huffington Post.

End of the line for science journalism?

Although I say it myself, there are some really stimulating, readable and fascinating articles in Nature this week (25 June issue) about science, journalism and communication with the lay public. Most of this post is taken from a Nature Network forum post: you're welcome to join in the discussion there.

Many researchers see science journalists as a public-relations service or as an ally in spreading the news about their work, asserts a Nature Editorial this week (459, 1033; 2009 – free to read online). The Editorial points out that there is a deeper value of journalism: to cast a fair but sceptical eye over everything in the public sphere — science included. This kind of scrutiny is easy for researchers to applaud when a news report questions dodgy statistics or dubious claims about uncertainties in evolution. It is not so easy when the story takes a critical look at animal-research practices, overblown claims about climate change or scientists’ conflicts of interest. But such examinations are to the benefit of society, which needs to see science scrutinized as well as regurgitated, and journalists are an essential part of that process.
This week’s Nature special issue, of which the Editorial is a part, shines a spotlight on the profession in changing, troubled times, and is published to mark the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June to 2 July 2009 in London.
Scientists can do little to stem the current bloodletting, in which readers and advertisers are deserting publications that are downsizing or folding at fast pace. But, argues the Editorial, they can make worthwhile attempts to ensure that questioning and informed science journalism persists in whatever new forms might emerge from the carnage. If the future of the media truly is a dire landscape of top-100 lists, shouting heads and minimal attention span, then such efforts might at least defer the grim end. A good start would be to have a look at the advice for academics speaking to journalists provided by Brad Delong and Susan Rasky. And from the other side of the coin, the Washington Post‘s national environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin and its executive editor Marcus Brauchli discuss the future of science coverage in their newspaper in a Nature Books&Arts Q&A.
But do newspapers even matter? Blogs and microblogging services like Twitter are opening up conferences to those not actually there – how is this direct to web exposure affecting science journalism, and indeed scientists themselves and their options for peer-review and publication of their research? A range of angles on these questions are covered in a Nature News feature, including the story of a recent ’blogostorm’ about a Cold Spring Harbor meeting in which scientists seemed free to report what journalists could not.
In other articles in this week’s Nature, Toby Murcott in Toppling the priesthood argues that the process of science needs to be opened up to journalists; Boyce Rensberger (Too close for comfort) tracks the progression of scientific correspondent from cheerleader to watchdog; and Nadia El-Awady in The Arab boom suggests much room for improvement in local journalism in Arab countries. The bottom line? To what extent should scientists help — or care?
(All the Nature articles mentioned and linked here are part of the science journalism special in the issue of 25 June 2009. The three Essays and the Books&Arts article are free to read online for 2 weeks from the publication date.)

The Dolphin Man comes to an end

Don't read this blog post! It is the ending of The Dolphin Man, a publishing experiment.

If you are intrigued, start here – this is a blog you have to read backwards, starting in November last year and finishing just the other day. How it all began…

"For the few who knew I’d left, I have arrived.
Who am i?
Some people call me the dolphin man. That is all you need to know for now.
Where am I?
That is a secret: a Top Secret.
Why am I here?
I am a researcher (I dislike the word ‘scientist’) and I work with dolphins. I investigate the way dolphins communicate with each other and other pods of dolphins that may be swimming many miles away across the ocean.
Most scientists doubt that this possible that this is possible over the scale – hundreds of miles – that I’m interested in. These are the same scientists that say that dolphins don’t have a true language as such, just some fancy one-way signalling, as opposed to true two-way communication.
I will spend the next three to five years here and I will prove the sceptics wrong.
In the meantime, there’s just me, and this blog. I have a laptop with satellite broadband Internet. It would be a bit of a waste to sit here hiding from the world."
Enjoy! 

Individuality in the online age

General interest is out, niche is in – according to an article in The Atlantic on why the Economist is thriving while Time and Newsweek fade. "The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009." Michael Hirschorn describes how the Economist (by accident or design) more or less ignored the online revolution and the desperate urge to be "relevant" on the web, and has hence remained a valuable print product  – valuable that is to readers and to the owners, an enviable double-whammy for publications these days. The Economist is not innovative or intellectual, according to Hirschorn: "The “leaders,” or main articles, tend to “urge” politicians to solve complex problems, as if the key to, say, reconstituting the global banking system were but a simple act of cogitation away. A typical leader, from January, on the ongoing Gaza violence was an erudite, deeply historical write-around on Arab-Israeli violence that ended up arriving at the same conclusion everyone else arrived at long ago: Israel must give up land for peace. The science-and-technology pages tend toward Gladwell-lite popularizations of academic papers from British universities." However, the magazine cleverly distils the world into a compact survey every week – so you really can keep up with what is going on everywhere. (The other publication that is succeeding for similar reasons is The Week, an addictive digest of everything but without any orginal content.) "Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices."

Along similar lines, here's a video of Christopher R.Weingarten talking about music criticism and the web at the "140 characters" conference in New York a few days ago. It's an entertaining rant, making the point that using Twitter (etc) to find information relevant to you is the problem, not a solution, because all you find is what you already know. He writes music reviews on Twitter, and says he makes an effort to make every one poetic and infomative. His line is: don't just say "I like/hate this" and make it about you, in common with everyone else on Twitter, but be a critic, let people know the "why and the how" – there is enough room in 140 characters to elaborate and have good writing, and that way you might actually discover something new rather than following the bland majority. Those of us who read and review books know this already (the principle, rather than the bit about the 140 characters!), but I think it might be news to a few.

Stieg Larsson in the Library Journal

Via Dave Lull, Wilda Williams of the Library Journal hosts a Q&A with Sonny Mehta, editor in chief of Knopf and Paul Bogaards, the publisher's executive director of publicity, about Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. From the article:

SM: I have to say that these books just keep getting better. I think Book 2 is better than Book 1, and Book 3 is better than Book 2. It's extraordinary that Larsson was able to outdo himself with each successive work.

Prior to its U.S. publication, there had been a great deal of online buzz about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So in a way, Knopf  had a ready-made audience before the book’s debut. What role did your marketing efforts help in the novel's success? And how did libraries contribute to its commercial success?


PB: It’s true that we worked very hard to seed the book with the online community, and with influentials in the mystery blogger community. We sent out advance reading copies (ARCs) and allowed some early publicity to take place. This is an international community of fans you’re talking about, and so even before the books had been translated to English, the online community was buzzing. Word got out.

There is more in the article about the trilogy's impact and about the author himself. The same issue of Library Journal features a brief review of The Girl Who Played with Fire, which is out in the US in August. Readers in the UK can look forward to reading the final novel in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, in October.

My review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

My review of The Girl Who Played with Fire

Round-up post on Petrona: Stieg Larsson flies to new heights

Articles about Stieg Larsson and his books on crime-fiction journeys.

What happened this weekend

I had no idea that the Fighting Nuns of Harrogate, led by the terrifying Sister Mary Agnes, had not only pursued Meg Gardiner to this year's CrimeFest (thank heavens I was quietly reading in my room and missed being attacked by a flying cocktail), but are planning a raid on London, necessitating Meg to join forces with Jeff Abbott. The gang met this weekend, planning their strategy for squashed-strawberry chucking (yes, it's Wimbeldon next week) and seeing off the Rottweillers by knitting them little pink bootees, causing them to slink away in embarrassment. "Sock" it to them, Meg and Jeff! It is anyone's guess what havoc Sister Mary Agnes will wreak when she discovers that Jo Beckett has been optioned for TV and that The Memory Collector was at number 3 on the teen bestselling charts on Amazon earlier this week. Whatever she does, I am sure it will be scary.

David Montgomery reviews Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow in the Chicago Sun-Times, headline; "Novel rips sad state of US journalism". His review starts: "There's something so comforting about knowing you're in the hands of a master when you pick up a new book. Certain writers are just so good, so dependable that you know when you buy their latest novel, you're in for a treat. George Pelecanos is one of those authors, as are Joseph Finder, Laura Lippman and Robert Ferrigno. But Michael Connelly is perhaps the best example.
Through 21 novels, Connelly has produced one of the most impressive bodies of work in crime fiction, both an in-depth study of the darker side of human nature and an ongoing biography of the city of Los Angeles, told through the guise of sharply plotted, endlessly entertaining mystery novels." I couldn't agree more. [Taking a raincheck on the other examples, as I haven't read many (or in one case, any) books by these authors.]

At Nature we call them research highlights, at DJ's Krimiblog they are called just "highlights" – for a novel in six parts. The first half is here. Can't wait for the second.

There's a superb post here by Kerrie, who has listed 17 crime-fiction awards and the 100-or so books that have been nominated for their current rounds, together with links to the titles she has read and reviewed. I've read 22 of the books on the list - about one-quarter.