Petrona’s choice from the Internet (30 April)

Scott Adams’s take on the ludicrous “birther” issue in the USA (is President Obama, in fact, American? – honestly!) made me smile this week: “I think the birther issue is good for the country. A modern republic needs some simple and unimportant issues to keep its citizens invested in the process. The important issues of our time are far too complicated for the average person, and I count myself in that group. We need a few simple issues so we can be part of the political conversation without hurting anything. The last thing our system of government needs is regular citizens getting involved in Middle East strategy, healthcare reform, the budget, climate change, or anything else that might matter.” This point reminds me a little of the referendum in the UK next week, and associated current debate, in which we are to be invited to vote on our electoral system.

I enjoyed this post by James Wilsden, the director Royal Society’s science policy centre, in which he looks at how quickly China might become a world leader in science and innovation, based in part on how quickly the country came from nothing in the sporting sphere. Just look at that graph comparing countries’ projected spending on R&D! (Research and development.)

The Guardian asks its readers to name their favourite literary pseudonyms, the peg being the shortlisting for the Orwell (a pseudonym in itself of course) prize of “Death to the Dictator! Witnessing Iran’s election and the Crippling of the Islamic Republic” by “Afsaneh Moqadam”. Nominations include Benjamin Black, Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen (both pseudonyms of the same person), Currer Bell (and presumably Ellis and Acton), Lewis Carroll, Richard Bachman, Saki, etc. There are lots of names in the comments field, plus the usual Guardian comment pseudo-(intellectual this time) bickering.

Moving to something a bit more substantial, there’s a fascinating “guest” post at O’Reilly Radar about the use of linked data to examine the US Civil War on its 150th anniversary. By “linked” data they mean connecting data held on individual museums and historic sites, with the aim of making historical data both more discoverable and “interoperable” (the goal of many an open data project). The post is by two of the project organisers and well worth reading.

The latest back-to-front application of Twitter came to my notice – Storify. So you can write lots of 140-word tweets, then use Storify to combine them into a post. Hmm, what is blogging, exactly? A day or two after I read about this application, I saw it used for the first time in my own experience – when Chris Mims Tweeted the story of how he helped to establish the scientific blogging network for Seed Media, Inc. (These tweets were stimulated by the sale of the platform to National Geographic). See more about that here, if you are interested in this storm in a teacup.

A few brief links:

I was so impressed by the sheer magnitude and effort of Michael Sheen’s 72-hour The Passion in the streets and environs of Port Talbot, Wales. Lyn Gardner writes it up.

The Good Library blog has a passionate list of bullet points about what a good nationwide library service “could have done”. Broadly, who could disagree, though some of his points are plain wrong, most notably that people who work in libraries are overpaid whereas the truth is the opposite. Unfortunately, these sorts of incorrect details can undermine the real force of the main argument, as well as alienating many of those who feel the same and who happen to work in libraries!

Amazon is not the publisher’s enemy. A good counter-argument to that made last week by the small publisher Linen Press, whose owner said that every book sold through Amazon cost her more money than it took to produce the book.

Here’s an excellent review of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, at Shade Point.

The dark, disturbing genius of Philip Ridley. Indeed.

Mrs Peabody Investigates: crime novels that make you want to rant: Field Grey by Philip Kerr.

How to kill e-book piracy.

Translators must read with their ears.

Will books vanish along with bookshops? and Top 20 Facebook apps for book lovers.

Book review: Intuition by Allegra Goodman

Intuition by Allegra Goodman
Many, if not all, novels I’ve read about science fall into the trap of exaggeration – most typically the scientists themselves are deranged or the discoveries they (attempt to) make are earth-shattering (sometimes literally! Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg being one example). Rarely is the reality presented in as realistic and yet compelling manner as is done in this excellent novel. Science, in this case cancer biology research, is laid out in all its boring, frustrating detail, in which three years’ effort can result in an incremental advance – if you are lucky.
Cliff and Robin, two postdocs (postdoctoral researchers) in a small institute on the doorstep of the infinitely more prestigious and rich Harvard University, work insanely long hours at their repetitive tasks as well as having a relationship. Robin is the senior, and is jealous when Cliff’s experiments injecting cancerous mice with a virus result in the disappearance of the tumours. Robin is moved off her fruitless project by Marion, the lab chief, and told to assist Cliff. She discovers what she believes to be evidence that Cliff has not recorded all his data in his lab notebook; in other words, his results (now to be published in the prestigious journal Nature) are selective, and hence don’t stand up. Robin attempts to engage Marion and her co-chief, the charismatic medical doctor Sandy, in her concern but although a private internal enquiry is held, Robin’s worries are dismissed and she herself feels unable to continue working in the lab.
As well as the story of what happens next, and how a simple concern can get blown out of all proportion and misused by those with very different agendas, Intuition is a portrait of Marion’s and Sandy’s families; how their spouses and children live with such committed and driven people, and how the events set in chain by Robin affect them all. The novel also describes the mundane yet intensely competitive daily lab routine of the postdocs and technicians, drawing the reader in to the personal lives of these individuals as well as observing how they react to the climate of suspicion that prevails in the aftermath of Cliff’s apparent breakthrough.
Intuition is an utterly authentic book: several of the cases and personalities described in it are real (though names have been changed), and are depicted with confidence. By providing the perspectives of most of the main characters, most particularly Robin, Cliff and Marion, as well as Sandy’s daughter Kate, we can see that there are no obvious villains or heroes – nobody is too sympathetic, and nobody is too black. Just like real life, in fact. I highly recommend this book both as a compelling depiction of life at the cutting edge of modern biology research, and as an absorbing, well-constructed novel.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this book (Jan 2010; novel first published in print form in the USA by the Dial Press in 2006, and in the UK by Atlantic in 2009).

Author’s website.

Review of the book at The New York Times (though the “real case” identified in the review is only one of many real-life scientific dramas on which events in the book are based).

Other reviews of the book are at LabLit (an excellent website for those interested in science-in-fiction); The Observer; and The Guardian.

In the tradition of some blurb writers, I could make a suggestion that if you enjoyed this novel and want to read another good book about the scientific life, you might like to try Experimental Heart by Jennifer Rohn (Editor of Lab Lit). My review of her novel is here.

Pre-shortlist update on reading International Dagger possibles

My last update on my progress on reading the books eligible for the International Dagger for 2011 was in February. To qualify, books have to be translated, and published in the UK between May 2010 and June 2011. Karen continuously updates her essential Euro Crime blog post of eligible titles.

These are the books on the list that I had read when I wrote my last post on the subject (links go to my reviews):

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Italy)
Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder , translated by Marlaine Delargy (Sweden)
Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Norway)
1222 by Anne Holt, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Norway)
Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo, translated by Jethro Soutar (Argentina)
Red Wolf by Liza Marklund, translated by Neil Smith (Sweden)
The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G W Persson, translated by Paul Norlen (Sweden, not reviewed).
Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, translated by Philip Roughton (Iceland)
River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi, translated by Joseph Farrell (Italy)
Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Michele Hutchison (The Netherlands)
Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, translated by Anthea Bell (German, setting Finland)
Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom, translated by Kari Dickson (Sweden)
Bunker by Andrea Maria Shenckel, translated by Anthea Bell (Germany)

At that time, my own personal favourites to date (in no special order) were Red Wolf, Frozen Moment and Needle in a Haystack.

Since that February post, limited slightly by UK publication dates, I have read:

Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek, translated by John Brownjohn (Germany, not reviewed)
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
The Gallows Bird by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steven T. Murray (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett (Norway)
Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissinotto, translated by Howard Curtis (Italy)
A Short Cut to Paradise by Teresa Solana, translated by Peter Bush (Spain, not reviewed)
Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef, translated by Alexander Smith (The Netherlands)
Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar, translated by Sonia Soto (Spain)

Of the remainder, I’ll try to read two more (if available) before the announcement of the shortlist in early May:

Summertime by Mari Jungstedt
Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

On consideration, I am not planning to read any more from the ‘pool’ but if I haven’t read any on the official shortlist when revealed, I’ll undertake to read them before the winner is announced (which will probably mean I have to read Fred Vargas’s An Uncertain Place!).

So, which are my front-runners now? (Noting that English-language publication dates have changed for some books, eg Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, bumping them into next year’s eligibility criteria).

Well, unlike the past two years, there are no stand-outs. I am going to predict that The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom and An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas will make the shortlist, on the basis of the many glowing reviews I’ve read in the “mainstream media” and on blogs. My main objection to The Leopard was its unnecessary (but mercifully not many) descriptions of nasty torture; other than that it is a very exciting book though once you have read a few of these you can see how the author’s mind works and second-guess some of the twists. As a mystery, The Leopard has flaws but it is an exciting book with a great central character and sense of local atmosphere. Three Seconds is a thriller and as such I personally would prefer a more measured story such as Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar, but I think Three Seconds has quite a bit of momentum behind it and is an exciting read if a bit unlikely in places (and a bit maudlin in others).

I think that The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell should make the shortlist. It is a deeply absorbing book, and a challenging mystery – though the solution to the “crime” is hastily dealt with. As a portrait of a man’s state of mind as he declines, and of his relationship with his heroic and independent daughter, it is the most human of the eligible books I’ve read.

I would include Frozen Moment by Camilla Cedar on my predicted shortlist. The book is a solid, satisfying mystery, a good police procedural and strong characterisation as well as very atmospheric. Even though it is a debut, it very much holds its own with the other eligible titles on the list.

Many of the other books are good reads, but in my view aren’t really “crime fiction” – for example Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef. Others of the books show their authors writing at less than their best (Anne Holt, Arnaldur Indridason, Jan Costin Wagner, Teresa Solana). Domingo Villar slightly falls into this category for me, as though his second novel is very good, I did not think it had moved on since the first. Similarly Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust is a good, solid novel but I found the character of Thora had stalled a bit compared with her very funny first outing. Shadow Sister is a good psychological novel and Blood Sisters is a promising debut. Others on the list are fine books by established authors, but lack that “special” factor (Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Andrea Camilleri). I enjoyed most of the eligible books I’ve read (some more than others!), but none of them really stands out to me as an excellent crime novel. Red Wolf by Liza Marklund and Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo are good examples of novels about socio-political issues, and are personal favourites of mine, but objectively, I don’t see them as being on a par with some of the previous winners of a crime-fiction award (eg Johan Theorin or Arnaldur Indridason at their best).

So, here’s my predicted shortlist for this year – not necessarily my personal favourites, but a prediction:

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (not yet read)
Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom
An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas (not yet read)

Of these, I’d be happy if any of those that I’ve read wins, though for me Frozen Moment and The Troubled Man are the front-runners on my predicted list.

My previous posts about the International Dagger.

Read, reading, to read: end-April update

Since my last post on this topic, I’ve read quite a bit – but as usual I am out of synch with my reviews and non-reviews.

Books I’ve read and have reviewed or will review include Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar (reviewed for Euro Crime), a book I very much enjoyed but did not move the characters on from the author’s debut, the marvellous Water Blue Eyes. The Redeemed, by M. R. Hall, turned out to be very much a return to form for coroner Jenny Cooper, and my review of that is published at Euro Crime. In addition, I’ve read The Track of Sand, the new Montalbano novel by Andrea Camilleri. As ever, the book is charming but perhaps not quite up to the mark of some of its predecessors; a very good thriller/police procedural, 66 Degrees North, by Michael Ridpath (second in his Fire and Ice series, set in Iceland); and The Gallows Bird by Camilla Lackberg, an enjoyable fourth outing for Erica and Patrick. Reviews of these three novels are submitted to Euro Crime.

Michael Connelly‘s latest, The Fifth Witness (double meaning in title) turned out to be a superior courtroom drama (reviewed at Petrona); and Blood Trail, the seventh Joe Pickett novel by C. J. Box, was as-ever very readable but I question the violent codas that seem to be increasingly a feature of these books (reviewed at Petrona).

I’ve read some books which I’m probably not going to review for a variety of reasons. One is The Prime Minister by Trollope, which I enjoyed a lot but don’t feel qualified to write an informed review. A second is The Airmen Who Would not Die by John Fuller, Jr, lent to me by a friend – interesting on aviation history but less so on the paranormal aspects. Another is Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve which I might review but probably won’t as I found it a bit of a “meh” book – strong on atmosphere but rather superficial about two of the significant characters, a journalist and a violent man. A fourth is Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek, which I read as it is eligible for the International Dagger this year, and was available over Christmas as a very cheap promotion in Kindle format. I didn’t enjoy the author’s previous translated novel, Therapy, and I did not enjoy Splinter either. Hence, no review.

What next? I have another C. J. Box/Joe Pickett novel to read, Below Zero (there are two more in the series that I haven’t bought yet), as well as a proof of his upcoming standalone, Back of Beyond. I’m looking forward to the last Palliser novel, The Duke’s Children (which is thinner than the previous novels, a mere stripling at what looks to be about 700 pages). I have a couple of outstanding novels I have to read because I bought them – Where or When by Anita Shreve (part of a 2 books in 1 edition with Strange Fits of Passion) and the dreaded One Day by David Nicholls which I am convinced I’m not going to like. Last of my “recently purchased” books is one I’ve been meaning to read for ages, Intuition by Allegra Goodman, a novel about science, which is part of the current Amazon (UK) Kindle Easter promotion, so cost me £1.40 to download. Finally, I ordered Hotel Bosphorus by Esmahan Aykol, another International Dagger eligible title some time ago from Amazon but they keep emailing me saying it has been delayed at the publisher (possibly bumping it into next year’s time window?).

I haven’t really decided what to read after I finish these books. I have quite a few in my Amazon “basket” but most of those aren’t yet published. No doubt it won’t take too long for me to remedy this situation.

Book review: Blood Trail by C J Box

Blood Trail by C J Box
(Joe Pickett #8)

I very much enjoyed reading this short novel, but I am not sure why. I’ve been puzzled before at why I like a series set in Wyoming (usually) about a fish and game warden who loves the great outdoors. The mysteries aren’t that mysterious and the subject-matter (ethics of hunting, land development in the wilderness, or farming wild animals, etc) does not interest me that much. To date, I think the main appeal has been the character of Joe Pickett, who is determined, straight-arrow and a good family man, as well as his wife and two daughters, who as the series continues, develop in personality themselves. Joe always suffers for his principles, but rarely deviates from them, an appealing theme.

Blood Trail, however, leaves me at a crossroads. The basic plot is very simple, even simplistic. An unknown hunter stalks, shoots and kills another hunter, leaving a red poker chip in his mouth and does various other unsavoury things which I won’t dwell on here. Joe is now a “special agent” for the eccentric state governor, which in practice means filling in for absences of other game wardens across the state. He’s finally bought his own house, but feels constrained living on a normal street at the mercy of nosy neighbours, compared with his old state-department house in the forest. The governor adds Joe to the team that is investigating the crime, while Joe’s current enemy and immediate boss, Pope, calls in a famous tracker to help. Despite Pope’s sarcastic and patronising attitude to Joe, Joe and the tracker see eye-to-eye and implement a plan to find the perpetrator; but in rapid succession a series of other shootings occur, leaving everyone devastated.

One of the outcomes of these events is that Joe persuades the governor to release his friend Nate from prison (see the previous novel, Free Fire) so Nate can help track the criminal(s) before the governor is forced to shut down hunting and hence lose the state a lot of revenue. Joe immediately realises, however, that his friend is closer to the crime than he’d thought. Environmental activists seem to be involved, but what is their motive? In one passage of the book, Joe and his 16-year-old daughter Sheridan exchange views about the ethics of hunting, which provides the author with an opportunity to state his position (one assumes) through Joe’s mouth, and have the (mild) opposing arguments, from Sheridan’s, answered.

At the end of the book the crime is solved (not very difficult to guess, partly owing to a dearth of suspects and motives) and everything is up in the air again in preparation for the next novel in the series. And this is what brings me back to the question at the start of this review: why did I enjoy this book despite two “no nos” for me in its ending? The two aspects I hated were the excessive shooting and violence, with Joe tying an involved party to a tree as “bait”, and escalating from there to quite ludicrous levels; and the “proxy” role of Nate, in which Joe keeps his integrity but Nate eliminates anyone nasty that Joe happens to encounter, in this case Joe’s nemesis from the very first book in the series, Open Season. I am sure I’ll carry on reading these novels, as I’m obviously hooked, but the author does not need to indulge in either of these no-nos to create a good story! I wonder if these vigilante and post-plot-ending acts of violence do garner him more readers? I hope not, and I hope he sticks to the essentials next time, rather than indulging in overkill.

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2009. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

About the book, including excerpts from reviews, at the author’s website. Other reviews of this novel are at: Jen’s book thoughts, Blogger news network and Bookreporter.

My reviews of the previous novels in the series:

Open Season (# 1)

Savage Run (# 2)

Winterkill (# 3)

Trophy Hunt (# 4)

Out of Range (# 5)

In Plain Sight (# 6)

Free Fire (# 7)

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (18 April)

DRM, or “digital rights management”, is one of those topics that never ceases to generate heat in online discussions. Here’s a good post at O’Reilly Radar by Joe Wikert, in which he gives four reasons why DRM is like airport security: false sense of security; treats everyone like a criminal; is highly inefficient; and introduces silly limitations. Junk it, is his advice. For a consumer, it is annoying to pay more for an ebook than for a print hardback (partly for tax reasons), and then not to be able to loan it to anyone. It is also annoying to know that an ebook can be downloaded by a reader in one part of the world but not another. (See also Piracy adding to publishers’ digital costs at The Bookseller blog.) For my part, I seem to have stopped reading books in the e-format, pretty much, unless I see a book I’m about to buy in print on sale in e-form very cheaply. Even that assertion does not always hold, for example I’ve been shelling out £6 or £7 a go for Anthony Trollope books which are free in e-format (thanks to the Gutenberg project). I think it’s their sheer length that puts me off reading them on screen. And, returning to a point made above, the fact that someone else might want to read them as well as me. The Gutenberg project, incidentally, has just released its 30,000th English language book. DRM eat your heart out!

There is a fascinating slide presentation by Paul Adams, ex-Google and now at Facebook, about “how real social networks work, and why online social networks leave us feeling exposed and awkward”. (The slide show is embedded at Scholarly Kitchen but was presumably originally uploaded somewhere else.) The points are obvious but very well-put together and convincing. Or at least, they are in the first 30 or so slides, I got the message by then and did not progress through to slide 224, though I am sure they are all very good. In a sort-of similar point on a different topic, Alex Howard (at O’Reilly Radar again) argues that as “we all struggle to make sense of a world rapidly changed by technological disruption, the institutions that preserve cultural memory are becoming even more important.” He uses a museum project, Ignite Smithsonian, as an example.

How book publishing has changed since 1984 – this is a great article by Peter Osnos as he looks back “at an age of old retail and indie bookstores, before computers, celebrity memoirs, and megachains came to dominate the literary world.” And it isn’t only book publishing that’s changing. In the wake of its recent sale to AOL, The Huffington Post is being sued for back-pay by 9000 of its bloggers, who previously wrote for nothing.

Some nice book reviews this week: What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (review at Reactions to Reading); Rupture (1000 Cuts) by Simon Lelic (review at Mysteries in Paradise); and Hotel Bosphorus by Esmahan Aykol (review at A Work in Progress).

Short links to posts I liked this week:

Help! I need a publisher. Have you been to Oxford? (Nicola Morgan)

London Book Fair vote shows that publishers are still relevant (Future ebook)

Novelists: What are you trying to accomplish? (Mysterious Matters)

Huh?! Faber (and Marcus Chown) to answer science’s biggest questions in tweets. (Bookseller)

Stupid, stupid. Want to avoid a retraction? Hire a medical writer, say medical writers. (Retraction Watch)

Even more stupid. Despite demand, parents urged not to use direct-to-consumer genetics tests on their kids. (Spoonful of Medicine)

Book review: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

(Orion 2011)
Michael Connelly’s books are invariably a treat, and The Fifth Witness is no exception. If you enjoy “court case” legal dramas, I bet you won’t read a better one this year (or any time soon).

Michael (Mickey) Haller, known as “the Lincoln Lawyer” and a recurring character, is struggling in recession-hit California to find the kind of clients that he, a bottom-dweller with a slight conscience, specialises in. He’s therefore changed direction somewhat, in a topical move, to join the mortgage repossession market. As is well-known, a current scandal in the USA is the bundling and reselling of mortgage loans by the original lender to third parties, often in a less-than-legal manner, causing grief to the home-owners, many of whom should never have received the loan in the first place under their circumstances, and even more of whom are finding themselves jobless or otherwise unable to pay back the shark-like creditors. Cue lawyers like Mickey, who take on these people as clients, charging less than the repayments in order to pick holes in the contract-transfer documents and delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

This is the background of The Fifth Witness, in which one of Mickey’s defaulting clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of murdering a banker at the firm that is enforcing her mortgage foreclosure. Lisa is an unlikeable woman: her husband has left her, she has a young son, and has recently lost her job as a schoolteacher. She spends her time loudly protesting her situation, setting up online and real-world protest groups, eventually causing the bank to take out an injunction to prevent her entering its premises. When one of the senior partners is found murdered in the parking garage, Lisa is an obvious suspect, not least as a witness puts her in the area at the time of the death.

The main part of the novel describes Lisa’s trial, Mickey’s defence strategy, and his gradual uncovering of what really happened on the morning in question. Hollywood low-life, mobsters and biker gangs all feature as part of a tightly convoluted plot in which revelations occur as the trial progresses and the tension builds up. On the personal side, Mickey is as usual torn between his need to earn a living and his love for his ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie “McFierce”, and their teenage daughter. His small set of associates are also to the fore, all contributing their unique talents to what seems at first to be a hopeless case for the defence.

The Fifth Witness is, simply, a solid, exciting story which delivers – a traditional tale with plenty of modern twists. As noted at the start of this review, Michael Connelly is an author of predictably high-quality novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. His Mickey Haller novels are told in the first person, so the reader is more privy to his internal doubts and insecurities than in the (longer-standing) Harry Bosch series, which is told in the third person. Neither character is very likeable, though both are presented with sympathy. I’m glad to see from the end of The Fifth Witness that Bosch will be returning in a new novel, The Drop, in October.

I purchased my hardback copy of this novel. Read more about it at the author’s website – including an iPhone app, a Q/A with the author, a sample chapter, and more.

Excerpts from many positive reviews of the novel. Read other reviews of The Fifth Witness at: WSJ.com, the Express, and Reviewing the Evidence. (I have not linked to some newspaper reviews because of their shocking web displays, which intersperse the review with multiple page-breaks and advertisements.)

Petrona’s choice from the Internet (10 April)

One of the links in my “blogs and website” sidebar (see right) is called Miscellany from the Internet- which are the articles I “share” on Google reader. I thought I’d round these up for the past week in this post.

O’Reilly, the technical publisher, is to go fully print on demand. “With the enormous change we are experiencing in the industry, the traditional models of publishing no longer make financial sense. To be able to grow our publishing program while at the same time lowering our costs is a huge leap forward”, said Laura Baldwin, president, O’Reilly Media.

The cost to a small publisher of selling books on Amazon. Linen Press loses £2 for every title sold by the online bookseller – not exactly a sustainable business model.

An anonymous Waterstone’s bookseller writes about the company’s current woes. “But all booksellers can hope for is that our new owners will eventually invest and give us the tools to do what they actually genuinely love doing—selling books.”

The Scholarly Kitchen, always worth a read, has a good post about the disruption being caused by the “social web” (or Web 2.0), based on a “recent report from Wedbush Securities, a Silicon Valley firm that analyzes the valuations of private companies, updates what we already know about the social Web, and shows how powerful it has become. Almost across the board, it is the de facto Web now”.

Moving to books, there is a fascinating and informative interview of Quentin Bates by Barbara Fister at her Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog. Bates is the author of the debut novel Frozen Out (UK; Frozen Assets US), which I reviewed for Euro Crime earlier this year. He answers questions about why he set his novel in Iceland; why the protagonist is a woman; and how his work compares with that of Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, native Icelandic authors whose novels have been translated into English. Bates’s second novel in his series, Cold Comfort, will be published in January 2012.

Book reviews I’ve enjoyed: The Magician’s Accomplice by Michael Genelin, reviewed by Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction; Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson, reviewed by Ben Hunt at Material Witness and also by Peter at Nordic Bookblog.

One or two posts of interest (to me):
Smashwords: Readers, authors and librarians against DRM (includes logos for your website or blog).

Cuts, cuts, cuts at Nicci French blog.

Two articles here and here about the threats to the important programmes to open up all types of government data in the US and the UK.

Google crisis response, including “preparedness tools”.

Read, reading, to read

I have done quite well this year in keeping my unread book possessions down to the level at which I can actually read them at the time I purchase or otherwise obtain them. Things are getting a bit dangerous just now, though, not least because of my project to read all of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which are deeply engaging but very long. I am currently on The Prime Minister, the fifth of the six novels, which has stalled my other reading for a while.

Recently completed are two books I received via the Amazon Vine programme, which I was recently invited to join. One of these is The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for a Swedish husband and wife), the other is a standalone (or at least, a non-Ben Devlin novel) by Brian McGilloway, Little Girl Lost. I have submitted reviews for both of these to Euro Crime. I also received a copy of Donna Leon‘s latest, Drawing Conclusions, from the publisher, and have submitted a review of that to Euro Crime as well.

Even more recently, my project to read the appealing (to me) titles eligible for the CWA International Dagger received a boost via the UK paperback publication of Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef. I purchased and read this book and, unsurprisingly, have sent my review of it off to Euro Crime.

What next? I’ve a bit of a cornucopia just now, which was not my intention but that is how it goes. On the International Dagger front, the long-awaited Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar has finally been published in the UK so I have immediately purchased that and I am pretty sure I’ll read that next after I finish The Prime Minister. (I loved his previous novel, Water-Blue Eyes.) In addition, I have received a few extremely tempting titles from very generous publishers: 66 degrees North by Michael Ridpath (Corvus), the second in his Icelandic series. If it is anything like as good as the first, Where the Shadows Lie (see my review here), this one will be a very good read. And Macmillan has very kindly sent me two books: The Redeemed by M. R. Hall – third in his excellent series about coroner Jenny Cooper (the first two are The Coroner and The Disappeared, links go to my reviews); and The Track of Sand, the new Montalbano novel by the peerless Andrea Camilleri.

Apart from these riches, I also have a few unread books that pre-date all of the above and which I am also keen to read: three novels by C. J. Box; Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek (my only unread Kindle book, and another on the International Dagger-eligible list); a couple by Anita Shreve; and One Day by David Nicholls (which I don’t think I am going to like, but should read as I bought it). Of course, the UK publication date of the new Michael Connelly novel, The Fifth Witness, is now upon us, and I can’t miss out on that….

Book Review: The Sentry by Robert Crais

The Sentry, by Robert Crais
Orion, March 2011.

Although The Sentry focuses on Joe Pike, the investigation-based plot is more similar to an Elvis Cole story. Joe and Elvis are good friends and business partners in Los Angeles: Elvis is a licenced private investigator and Joe an ex-mercenary, ex-cop who owns a “gun shop” but essentially spends his time cruising around protecting Elvis, keeping fit, and looking for ways to keep himself occupied. That is what Joe is up to as The Sentry’s main section opens; he’s filling his jeep with “gas” (not sure if petrol or diesel!) when he witnesses what seems to be a robbery with violence in a sandwich bar on the other side of the street. Being Joe, he rapidly sorts out the baddies and gives his card to the victims, an elderly man called Wilson and his niece, Dru, in case they experience further trouble.
Joe’s attracted to Dru so goes the extra mile, discovering who is head of the gang whose members committed the crime (he knows a gang is involved because the perpetrators are tattooed). He extracts a promise that Wilson and Dru will be left in peace, so is most put out (or maybe furious, it is not easy to tell with Joe who is one of those silent types who never takes his sunglasses off) to find that the bar has been desecrated, and that Wilson and Dru have disappeared. Have they fled, been abducted, or worse?
Joe calls his friend Elvis to help him investigate the case. Together, the two men find out where the victims live and begin to follow up clues. They get tangled up with the police, the FBI and other law-enforcement officials, as well as two or three sets of criminals, as the truth of what is going on shifts with each new discovery. This part of the book is exciting and fast-paced, as Joe and Elvis work out the convoluted plot in parallel with bags of action and thrills. The reader has a big hint about what is going on, in the form of a prologue, so knows a bit more than Joe and Elvis, but even so there are enough twists that it is unlikely that he or she will work out everything before our heroes.
In The Sentry, Robert Crais has provided a readable and exciting addition to his successful series. Perhaps the weakest aspect of the novel is the coincidence at the start, in which Joe stumbles across the complex case, as well as the slightly clunky plot device of him falling for Dru. But as a detective story, and an account of two mens’ friendship, strengths and vulnerabilities, the book is an absorbing read. Despite quite a few violent aspects (briskly dealt with), I’d say this novel is a light read.
The first few volumes of Robert Crais’s series are classic, Chandler-esque PI novels about Elvis, with Joe a minor character, as his enforcer. Later, Joe features in a couple of his own novels, which are thrillers more than detective stories. Here, in The Sentry, Joe and Elvis have a more equal relationship in that they split the investigation between them, and both of them have to use their deductive powers. For me, this gradual uncovering of what is at the root of a deceptively simple case by leads and reasoning, works better than Joe’s more usual persona as a bit of a superman, so I hope it is a trend that is set to continue.

I thank Ben of Material Witness for so kindly sending me a proof copy of this novel. His review of it is at Material Witness.

Other reviews of this novel are at: Jen’s Book Thoughts (Jen Forbus), Irresistible Targets (Michael Carlson), and a selection from the author’s website.