5: Sun Storm

Larsson My fifth book-review retrospective is from February, and my choice is Sun Storm by Asa Larsson. The full review of this haunting novel is here.

“Rebecka Martinsson is a struggling young lawyer, working insanely long hours to get a foot on the ladder, despite an unsympathetic boss and a corporate environment as cold as the Swedish seasons. She sees on the TV news that an Victor Strandgard, an old friend has been murdered in Kiruna, a remote village in the north. Before she can assimilate this information, she is phoned by a “Moomin troll”, otherwise known as Sanna, the dead man’s sister, prime suspect for the murder, and Rebecka’s ex-flatmate and ex-best friend.

Rebecka is forced to jeopardise her shaky career to return to her roots in Kiruna, the place where she grew up, made her childhood mistakes, and began her involvement with the oppressive church group of which Victor was a leading light.”

4: The Overlook

Connelly My fourth pick for this series of book-review retrospectives is another January book, The Overlook by Michael Connelly. For the complete review, please see here.

“Michael Connelly has written another work of pared-down genius. The Overlook covers twelve hours in the life of LAPD detective Harry Bosch, from his taking of the case of a man being found dead on the cliffs overlooking Los Angeles, to his solution of the case. The book is simple, with few if any special effects and a simple, direct writing style, but the overall effect is very powerful.
Harry Bosch is 56 years old: he is a Vietnam veteran (a “tunnel rat”) and a long-standing policeman before taking early retirement in a fit of disillusionment with LAPD politics. A few books ago he was persuaded back to serve, working cold cases. The most recent of these, described in Echo Park, ended in a bit of a mess, as a result of which Harry is transferred back into the main business of police work.
Harry stands for the victim. It is impossible to deflect him by political or emotional means, hence he is the eternal outsider, not promoted, and unsuccessful in his relationships outside work because of his moral rigidity. At the start of The Overlook he is sitting at night in his house, waiting for a call, any call. Eventually it comes, leading him to the clifftop scene where a man has been shot in the head, execution style.”

3: The Mystery Writer

Mann January was a good month. My third retrospective book review is of The Mystery Writer by Jessica Mann. If you like the sound of the excerpt, read the whole review here.

“Jessica Mann has written an intriguing, interwoven story of a wartime evacuation and its aftermath, cleverly bridging the class divide between past and present, and exploiting wartime confusion to create a haunting yet dramatic whole. The plot is a series of overlapping themes told from multi perspectives and from various times. These shifts provide a telling testimony to the psychological effects of the Second World War on a group of Cornish characters.”

2: The Coffin Trail

Edwards This is the second of a daily series of book-review retrospectives. This one is also from January 2008, and the book is The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards. For the full review, please click here.

“THE COFFIN TRAIL an absorbing read, full of local detail and vignettes of Lake District life. Hannah and Daniel are plausible characters, and if the hints here are carried forward, they are surely destined to become more closely involved with each other in future books. The central mystery is satisfyingly resolved, with a clever twist in the tale.”

1: No Time for Goodbye

Barclay This is the first of a daily series of book-review retrospectives. This one is from January 2008, and the book is No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. For the full review, please click here.

“The book opens well, with the making of a reality TV show in which Cynthia and Terry tell the story of the past 25 years in flashback. The strain has told on Cynthia, so seeds of doubt are sown in the reader’s mind, as well as in Terry’s, about her mental stability. She is certainly paranoid about Grace’s safety, refusing to let her out of her sight. The plot develops with real pace and tension. Strange events begin to happen – a phone call, a psychic who claims to have information, a disappearing door key to the Archer’s house…is someone using the house while the family is out? The reader is cleverly kept on the edge. Most of the story is told by the very straight Terry, so we are never sure if Cynthia is telling the truth, imagining things, or is involved in something more sinister.”

A matter of taste

So you thought the parents of Sunday Rose and Apple didn’t show much sympathy for the person being so named? According to a post on the Times Alpha Mummy blog, these are the ten strangest baby monikers that the authors of a new book on the subject could find:

10: Fat Meat Fields

9: Geography Bryan

8: Zero Pie

7: Cylinder Klinefelter

6: Nice Veal

5: Cylclops Walthour

4: Envy Burger

3: Cancer Grindstaff

2: Young Boozer

1: Dracula Taylor

Bad Baby Names by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback is published by Ancestry.co.uk, priced £4.99

I don’t know if I can honestly believe that people would call their children by these names. I hope, for the sake of the innocent, that the book is a joke. However, the day after this Times post, the same blog reported that a nine-year-old girl called Talula does the Hula from Hawaii was made a ward of court so she could change her name, apparently to “K”. The judge said “The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child’s parents have show in choosing this name…It makes a fool of the child and set her up with a social disability…” The judge also attacked other strange names, such as Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence, and Benson and Hedges (the last two for a pair of twins). Dilbert’s take on this particular story is here.

If you like weird lists, Alpha Mummy provides links to some of its past triumphs:

12 most expensive celebrity baby pictures

5 tips for a streamlined life

5 reasons why maternity leave is bad for women

90 best classic children’s books

7 worst sexy toys for kids.


Waterstones offer on the Sony Reader

After reading so many reviews and opinions about Amazon’s Kindle, I conclude that it is catching on. People are broadly positive about it and the reading experience, especially when it saves them from carrying a pile of books (eg technical manuals) around the world. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to buy one in the UK, although one enterprising Australian author told us at Harrogate that she had obtained a Kindle on Ebay and finds it indispensable.

Help is now at hand for those desperate to try out this reading method, in the shape of the next version of the Sony e-reader, almost available in the UK (it has got to the pre-order stage, anyway). If you are keen, Waterstones is offering Sony’s Reader at £199 and 500 points, from waterstones.com or some stores. The Reader comes with a CD of 100 “classic” (out of copyright) books; 6,800 page-turns per battery; the ability to store and view a range of file formats, such as PDF, Microsoft Word, mp3 and various picture formats; bookmark and a three-times zoom; as well as various navigational features, e-ink of various degrees of black, and a six-inch screen. I have to admit I am tempted. According to Waterstone’s website, the Sony Reader will be in the shops from early September, simultaneous with “thousands” of e-books also going on sale. (The reader holds up to 160 at a time, it is said.)

A strange geography

A few days ago, the omnipresent Dave Lull sent me a link to an article in the Independent newspaper, Around the World in 80 Sleuths. (If you would like to see the articles at the link Dave sends me on a regular basis, as I don’t post here about them all, please join our OWL FriendFeed group. I also posted this link in our Crime and Mystery fiction FriendFeed group, which you are also welcome to join.) I didn’t have time to read the article until today, but I have seen a few reactions to it on blogs, for example AustCrime (Karen C) and Mysteries in Paradise (Kerrie).

Anyway, back to the Independent article. It starts well, with Greenland and Iceland, but skips Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland before arriving at the Shetland Islands (the excellent novels by Ann Cleeves). Don’t worry, though, although the geography is a bit odd, the rest of Scandinavia is included much further down the list (Sweden represented by Mankell, omitting Sjowall/Wahloo, Tursten, Jungstedt, Theorin, Lackberg… and Norway captured by Fossum, which omits Nesbo). There are, as might be imagined, lots of British examples and a controversial Irish choice of “Benjamin Black”. Wilkie Collins is assigned to Yorkshire, but perhaps more appropriate might be Peter Robinson. Surely Martin Edwards should also have been included, for the Lake District? And I’d have gone for Brian McGilloway for Ireland — conveniently, he can cover Northern Ireland as well as Eire. Lots of my favourites are included, for example Michael Walters (Mongolia), Colin Cotterill (Laos), Peter Temple (Melbourne) and Andrea Camilleri (Sicily) (but not, sadly, Bari’s Gianrico Carofiglio) as well as several I am intending to read, such as Paulus Hochgatterer. Authors are sometimes chosen who aren’t from the region about which they are writing. Fair enough, but in this case, Catherine Sampson (Beijing) and Donna Leon (Venice) justify inclusion. Los Angeles apparently features more than 80 famous fictional sleuths, represented here by James Ellroy (Robert Crais and Michael Connelly surely deserve a mention). London probably has about the same number, but the only mentions here are Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Derek Raymond’s factory novels.

None of these lists is ever going to satisfy everyone, but this one is not bad at all. LA and London are probably the two towns in the world whose detectives don’t need advertising, as you can’t move for tripping over them. It’s a good approach to draw attention to some of these less-well-known regions. In the words of a friend of mine, books of this quality save one from having to actually visit all of these places.

There’s no place like home

Via Dave Lull, here is an extract from a post by Roy Peter Clark on his experiences of having his newspaper’s copyediting outsourced to India:

” I need copy editors to know that Eva Longoria is not the wife of Tampa Bay Rays baseball phenom Evan Longoria.  I need them to know that a Florida cracker is not something you eat, and that it may or may not be offensive to some readers. I need a Rhode Island copy editor to know that you don’t dig for clams; you dig for quahogs, a word of Indian origin — American Indian. I need copy editors who know that Jim Morrison of The Doors went to St. Pete Junior College, that beat writer Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Fla., but is buried in Lowell, Mass. I want them to know that Lakewood High School is different from Lakewood Ranch High School. I want them to know that 54th Avenue North in St. Petersburg is 108 blocks north of 54th Avenue South.”

My sympathies.  The fact that these copyeditors are apparently trained in “the Queen’s English” does not mean that they’d have done any better with text for an English English publication, either.

Thrown to the ground, paralysed

My daughter is one of thousands who finishes her school year today with a letter of apology from her headteacher instead of her SATs results.

From The Times:
The prospect of mass appeals over the Standard Assessment Tests (Sats) for 1.2m 11-and 14-year-olds has grown as concern switches from scripts delayed and lost to the accuracy of the marking itself……
James Elliott, head teacher at Talbot combined school in Poole, Dorset, said: “When some of our papers did finally arrive last week, the maths papers had been returned totally unmarked. Secondary schools use these tests as the basis of their class groupings. It’s very hard on the kids to be left in limbo like this.”
Other evidence has included marks added up wrongly and “totally implausible” differences in reading and writing scores given to the same pupil……
The quangocrat at the centre of the testing fiasco is one of Britain’s highest-paid civil servants. Ken Boston, lured from Australia six years ago to sort out an earlier exam debacle, receives £328,000 in salary and perks. The package, greater than that paid to Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, jumped 15% from 2006-7 to 2007-8.

From another article in The Times (illustrations at the Times site):
An 11-year-old child who had performed much better than a classmate in the Key Stage 2 English test was marked lower.
Child A wrote about Pip Davenport, a fairground inventor: “If he wasent doing enthing els heel help his uncle Herry at the funfair during the day. And had stoody at nigh on other thing he did was invent new rides.
“Becoues he invented a lot of new rides he won a prize. He didn’t live with his mum he lived with his wife.” This received one mark more than Child B who wrote: “Quickly, it became apparent that Pip was a fantastic rider: a complete natural. But it was his love of horses that led to a tragic accident. An accident that would change his life forever.
“At the age of 7, he was training for a local competition when his horse, Mandy, swerved sideways unexpectedly, throwing Pip on to the ground, paralysed.”

I am not happy about this state of affairs.