Memoir of a Ghost by Susan Balée

Here is a link to a short story, Memoir of a Ghost, by Susan Balée, in Wild River Review. I read the story last night and enjoyed it a lot, so let me encourage you to visit the link and read the story, too. It is a haunting piece of short crime fiction, set in a newsroom — or is it?

"Wild River Review is a regularly updated online magazine committed to free speech, multi-cultural exploration, cutting edge news coverage, and timeless themes. Wild River Review provides a forum for dialogue between writers, artists, scientists, musicians, poets, and readers to foster connection and understanding between and within cultures. To that end, we work with and support talented artists — emerging and well established — in every genre. "

A frank exchange of opinion

Isn’t blogging wonderful (sometimes)? On Sunday, Susan Hill protested about the price being charged for Nicola Watson’s book The Literary Tourist. After a short review of the book, she wrote: "But in their wisdom the publishers have not only made it look more like a scholarly book than a popular one  which is a pity – but worse they have the nerve to charge £45 for it. Yes, you heard me correctly. Even libraries – which do not buy many new books now anyway – are not going to order this for you. I tell you what. I challenge Palgrave to hand THE LITERARY TOURIST over to their general division, Macmillan. I then challenge Macmillan to issue another edition – for the general interested reader, with a new, more lively jacket and as a paperback, to cost no more than £10. It still would not (probably) make Richard and Judy but it would definitely reach the parts that a £45 academic book will not reach. And if Macmillan won’t do it, with my publisher’s hat on, I will."  Five people agree with her, in the comments to the blog post.

The next day, Monday, Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillan, responded:  "Susan’s commentators are horrified at the idea of paying £45 for a 250 page book. Compared to discounted Harry Potter of course £45 seems expensive. But is it? Try comparing the price with a shirt, a meal in a London restaurant, a ticket to a major sporting event, a train ticket, an hour of a lawyer’s time. I think academic books are amazingly good value. They are permanent. They are valuable. They are great value for money. They are the fruit of extensive research and application. They are fundamental to the scholarly process. They reach a global audience and are readily available through libraries for those who cannot afford to purchase. They are fit for purpose and worth every penny. Thank goodness academic publishers have worked out a way of continuing to publish academic works commercially in spite of library budget constraints and falling print runs."

This type of exchange, between two top, well-informed, open-minded and opinionated publishers would not have happened, on this timescale at least, 10 years ago. More’s the pity. But now, thanks to the willingness of the two individuals concerned to write openly about their views as well as the good old Internet, we can all see for ourselves how these pricing decisions are made. To take an example somewhat closer to home, I would rather stay in and read (and, if I so choose, re-read) a £45 book than spend £50 on seeing "We will rock you" in the West End (and have to spend another £50 if I wanted to see it again).

Coram Boy on Broadway

If you are in New York this week you can see the fantastic play Coram Boy on Broadway (nominated for six Tony awards) for as little as $25, for performances from today to 27 May.

Go to this part of the NT website  for more details. Go here to order or call 212-947-8844.
For the $25 seats use code CB4NPEM (mezzanine); for the $66.25 tickets, use code CBGNA67 (orchestra); or bring this offer to the Imperial Theatre, 249 W 45th Street.

From the NT website:  "CORAM BOY, an amazingly rare theatrical experience [is] arriving direct from a sold-out run at London’s National Theatre. CORAM BOY is set in 18th-century England, where two orphans get a second chance in life at a home for deserted children. One has been rescued from an African slave ship. The other is the abandoned son of the heir to a great estate. The boys are given two very different roads to follow and the adventure of a lifetime begins!" And, they forgot to say, the music (mainly Handel) is a running theme in the play, and truly wonderful.

Here is Richard Morrison, excellent columnist and the Times’ chief music critic, on Thomas Coram, and here is his exuberant article about the play and the music in it.

Here is the Times review of the original production.

And see here for an (as ever) lovely post by Clare of Keeper of the Snails about the Foundling Museum in Coram Fields, London. From Clare’s post:

"Whereas other cities in Europe had homes for foundlings, London did not. It was thought that by having a hospital for foundlings society would be seen to be condoning loose morals; because most of the children were born to unmarried mothers.
Coram faced a long campaign. It took him 17 years to establish the Hospital, but once the Hospital was started he was almost immediately ousted by a committee coup. I keep wondering what he felt about this – doing all that work and then not having much to do with his great accomplishment.
It was a secular independent charity – the first time such an institution had ever been established. One of its greatest innovations was to invite Hogarth to display his pictures there,  which encouraged other artists and it subsequently became the first public gallery in London. Another benefactor was Handel who donated an organ to the chapel and conducted recitals there."

Going to the Harrogate Crime festival

Link: Anyone else thinking of going to the Harrogate Crime festival? – crimespace.

Laura Root asks on Crimespace (link above) who is going to the Harrogate Crime festival this year. I was hoping to go, but it turns out I have a prior engagement (in addition to the little matter of Harry Potter 7 being published at the same time), so sadly will not be going.

But if you’d like to find out a good selection of people who are (and who aren’t) going, and for which bits, please go to Laura’s Crimespace discussion at the link above.  If you aren’t already a member of the Crimespace group on Ning I expect you’ll have to sign up, but it is free.

Digital jigsaw of Stasi files

A research team in Germany has developed a computer-software system to piece together some 45 million pages of secret police files ripped into 600 million pieces. The files were torn up nearly 18 years ago by panicking agents of communist East Germany’s dreaded State Security Service (Stasi), writes Ned Stafford in Nature‘s online news service.

The pieces of torn documents are scanned on both sides, and the digital images are then analysed by a cluster of 16 computers for 25 features, including colour, shape, texture, handwriting and typeface. Just like a person doing a jigsaw, the computer then groups the images into clusters with similar features, and finally fits pieces in each cluster together.

The torn documents date from the autumn of 1989, when the communist government of East Germany collapsed and jubilant West Germans and East Germans broke down the hated Berlin Wall. But not all East Germans were dancing in the streets. Stasi agents in ensuing weeks were holed up in offices around East Germany desperately trying to destroy evidence before West German authorities gained access to the files.

The Stasi lacked enough paper-shredding machines to do the job right, and began tearing documents by hand and stuffing them into bags. The plan had been to transport bags bulging with documents by trucks to locations where they could be burned, but by January 1990 East German citizens had taken control of Stasi offices and the plan could not be carried out. West German authorities eventually seized still-intact Stasi documents and more than 16,000 bags of ripped documents.

Second Nature and a history lesson

Link: A Natural Fit: For Science Journal, Web Is ‘Second Nature’ – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News.

Above is a link to an article about some new and not-so-new online activities of Nature and Nature Publishing Group: according to the article,  "as shocking as the Queen moving to Las Vegas". Timo Hannay, director of web publishing, responds:  "The core business of Nature is not to produce a magazine," he says, "but to facilitate the exchange of ideas among scientists."  More and more nowadays, that exchange happens to be taking place electronically." "

The article continues:

"Would you like some coffee?" Hannay asks, as he sits down at his computer and directs his digital representative, Timo Twin, to the Magic Molecule Model Maker, which looks vaguely like a gumball machine. "Let me make some caffeine," says Timo Twin, and soon brightly colored atoms begin bursting onto the screen, combining to form a coffee molecule. As big as scaffolding, the molecule floats in cyberspace in front of the Timo avatar, three-dimensional and easily rotated. All it takes is a mouse click and the virtual machine starts spitting out other molecules: adrenaline, Viagra, aspirin — just as requested. "The Magic Molecule Model Maker sounds like a game," says Hannay. "But chemists use it a lot when they need a three-dimensional image that can be rotated for a presentation or a discussion." "

The article goes on to describe some of Nature‘s online activities, not so modern as some might think, perhaps, in concept at least:

"The digital pub, with its green-haired avatars and podcast chatter, may seem futuristic. But it is also strongly reminiscent of the generation of Nature‘s founders. At the time, more than a century ago, there was bitter competition among various young, often underfunded and short-lived scientific publications (Nature’s current competitor Science almost went out of business several times and frequently changed ownership). But Nature had a decisive advantage. Its publisher, Alexander Macmillan, loved a good party. He would routinely invite the cleverest thinkers of his day to his house for what he called "Talk, Tobacco and Tipple." This principle also served as the basis for his magazine. Science, Macmillan reasoned, simply had to be fun."

However, my local Nature history expert reports:

"Alexander Macmillan did indeed host the famous ‘tobacco parliaments’ in the 1860s and 70s with scientific heavyweights of the day where art, literature and science (particularly Darwinism) were debated with much drink and cigars. It worked in the sense that Macmillan cared enough about science to found a journal, and support it for three loss-making decades!

History pedant corner: the para afterwards is not really correct:

"The generation of people who founded Nature continued to meet for decades in London in a sort of offline community for meals, drink and talk. The group called itself the X Club because it accepted only one rule: that there would be no rules."

The X-club was different. Macmillan was not a member, nor was Norman Lockyer (Nature‘s first editor). And most, if not all, of the X-club members would write for other journals too. In fact, it was Lockyer’s non-association with the X-club that allowed him a free reign as editor to stoke controversies — a tactic to increase circulation and keep the journal on people’s lips when there was much competition around."

Harry Potter stamps of approval

Potterstamp372 On 17 July, the  Royal Mail will issue a series of seven stamps depicting the colourful covers of each of the books in J.K. Rowling’s series. The commemorative designs will be released to coincide with the 21 July  launch of the last of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Via James Long and The Guardian,

and via my morning station-platform read of The Times.

Unfortunately, you do not seem to be able to buy the stamps direct from the Royal Mail website; here is the link in case they rectify this mysterious omission later.

I Heard that Song Before By Mary Higgins Clark

I Heard that Song Before 

By Mary Higgins Clark

Simon &Schuster

What is it that I find so compelling about Mary Higgins Clark’s books? She’s a sure-fire bestseller with each one (she’s written 26 single-author novels, according to PW), but though as easy to read in their own way as, say, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are in theirs, they are often not as “critically favoured”. Well, I think she’s marvellous (with the exception of when she attempts comedy or Christmas seasonal specials).

The central characters of her books are invariably women who are so darn constructive in the face of sometimes awful life-circumstances. You have people who are tragically widowed young (as was the author herself), who are orphaned, betrayed by shifty husbands, imprisoned, psychologically traumatised, have their children kidnapped, are kidnapped themselves, and all the rest of it. Yet each heroine is capable, incorruptible, unbowed by adversity, and by the end of the book has, mainly by her own ingenuity and without too much of the “woman in peril” cliché, solved the central mystery. Sometimes the heroine is rich and doesn’t work – but is always constructively occupied — sometimes she’s not well-off and works in a profession, maybe in the law or the media. Whatever her social class or employment status, she has a strong moral decency. The books don’t always end happily, but the reason I like them so much is that the main character is usually an independent person with strong emotional intelligence, who ends up taking control of threatening events, leading either to a solution to the mystery or to a coming to terms with whatever the fates have thrown at her.

Thanks to Karen of Euro Crime, I’ve just read Mary Higgins Clark’s latest, I Heard that Song Before. Kay Lansing’s mother died when Kay was about four, and her alcoholic father ran off and is presumed to have committed suicide soon afterwards. Kay is bought up in New Jersey by her grandmother and becomes a librarian. At the start of the book’s main story, she goes to the local mansion to ask its owner, Peter Carrington, to host a charity fundraising event. He agrees, and after a whirlwind romance, he and Kay marry. Peter, however, is a questionable character, whose fiancée died after a party some time ago. He later married, but four years ago his pregnant wife drowned in the swimming pool in the grounds of the mansion. Peter has since lived under a cloud of suspicion, but Kay trusts him completely, despite the misgivings of her grandmother, who holds Peter responsible for these, and other, tragedies.

Having set up this central situation, the rest of the book is the typical Mary Higgins Clark six-hander, high on claustrophobia and suspicion. Any one of half a dozen people could be guilty of the crimes, but why would they have committed them? The evidence points increasingly towards Peter as the villain, and he is indeed arrested for one of the murders, but by switching the focus between his dead wife’s mother, who still lives on the estate; her son (now a Manhattan gallery-owner with a gambling problem); a trio of domestic servants; Peter’s chief aide; and assorted parents, friends and relations of the two dead women, the likely identity of the villain shifts from character to character, until aided by a police investigation and the perspective of a private eye hired by the ailing mother of the dead fiancée, everything cleverly falls into place.

Wonderful stuff – escapist maybe, but uplifting. Mary Higgins Clark is utterly reliable, sure in her plotting, knows what her readers like, and delivers.

A tempting set of reads

I’ve read some enticing book reviews today – they all look the same in the RSS reader, but it is apposite that a couple are from blogs and a couple from newspaper "book review sections". Room for everyone.

Donna Rifkind of the LA Times reviews Michael Connelly’s latest Bosch novel, The Overlook.  Can’t wait, Connelly is one of my very, very favourite crime-fiction writers, I’ve loved him since first publication of The Black Echo.

Here’s a review of Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know (UK title restored to US version) at Material Witness blog. I thought I wouldn’t read her again after her last, but now I’m pretty sure I’ll have to, after reading this review.

CrimeFicReader reports on Chris Ewan’s Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam. CFR has a unique review-writing style. You find out lots of often-unusual context as well as obtaining a good sense of the book’s content. Often, as here, she combines the review and an interview with the author, though we’ll have to wait a day or a few for that.  After reading about this book on Susan Hill’s (the publisher) and friends’ blogs, I’d already decided to read it, but if I’d heard nothing previously, CFR would have convinced me.

Finally, Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times rounds up several books, including the much-praised In the Woods by Tana French, and Cruel Stars of the Night, Kjell Eriksson’s follow up to his enjoyable police-procedural, the enigmatically but sweetly titled Princess of Burundi.  Both these books are in my Amazon list anyway, but it is nice to read such enthusiastic reports.

Borkmann’s Point at Euro Crime, and more

It’s that time of the week again, when the new reviews are up at Euro Crime.  The new reviews are of A Fall from Grace, by the usually reliable Robert Barnard (one of my long-time favourites); Good Night my Darling, by Inger Frimansson; All She Ever Wanted by Patrick Redmond; and my review of Borkmann’s Point by Hakan Nesser, newly out in paperback.

You can read two other reviews of Borkmann’s Point on Euro Crime, one here by Karen Meek, and one here by Karen Chisholm.

On re-reading my review now a few weeks after I read the book, I think I was a little harder on it than I might have been. As Karen (M) writes, I found the ending a bit disappointing, but I enjoyed reading the book and laughed aloud at its deadpan humour. I am certainly looking forward to reading his next to be translated in this series, The Return.

As usual, you can win books by entering the competitions at Euro Crime (see first link in this post).  Karen’s site is a great resource for those of us who enjoy reading this type of fiction. Thanks, Karen!