Three Days of Rain at the Apollo theatre

Three-Days-of-Rain-002This afternoon, Cathy and I went to see Three Days of Rain, a play by Richard Greenberg. Featuring James McAvoy, this absorbing three-hander reminded me of works by both Tennesee Williams and J. B. Priestley. I enjoyed it very much, particularly the second act (set in the 1960s) and the character of the father (played by McAvoy).

Michael Billington's Guardian review.

Lyn Gardner meets the cast. (Her take on the play? "The irony of Three Days of Rain is that, despite everyone's intelligence, they can't stop themselves destroying the future and failing to understand the past.")

Videos: trailers, pictures and interviews with the cast.

City of fear, by Alafair Burke

I very much enjoyed Alafair Burke's three Samantha Kinkaid novels, which are superior legal thrillers. I blinked, though, because I missed the fact that Ms Burke has started writing a new series, featuring NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. City of Fear is the second in this series, but there are sufficient clues to enable the new reader such as myself to identify with Ellie, her brother Jess, and the tragedy of her past in which her father died at the hand of a serial killer.
City of Fear is a tight, pacy police procedural, in which three Indiana college girls hit New York for their spring break. They go out clubbing, but one of them decides to stay out later than her two friends – and is murdered before she can return to her hotel. Ellie is out jogging the next morning when she passes the crime scene, so she is the detective assigned to the case, together with her handsome partner Rogan.
The story is a classic one, well-told, managing to tread the difficult line between conveying the horrific crime without salaciousness, and sympathy with the victim and her family. Painstaking police and forensic work identifies a prime suspect, "Jake", who apart from having film-star looks is a hedge-fund trader, so obviously someone not to be trusted. Jake, however, is really too obvious a suspect, and Ellie is convinced that the case is not that simple. Sure enough, a phone tip leads her to dig out some cold cases that were being investigated by her charismatic ex-partner (who featured in the first book in this series). Unable to convince her superiors to follow this evidence, Ellie becomes increasingly sure that the suspect is not the true criminal. Soon she identifies a more likely candidate, who seems to know things about the victim that only the police or the murderer could know. But even this line of enquiry is not what it seems.
City of Fear is a perfect light read. The plot is solid; Ellie is an attractive main character who makes errors of judgement, not least in her romantic choices, but who is determined to succeed as a cop. The red herrings are of a sufficient hue to distract the reader from the true solution to the crime until the end of the book.
Alafair Burke is the daughter of James Lee Burke, but she's a talent in her own right.
She even has a blog.

Books by Alafair Burke.

City of Fear at the UK publisher website (Avon).


Princess Alice Hospice

For very many years now, ever since I left home in fact, I have been regularly taking carrier bags full of books, clothes, "stuff" and "bric-a-brac" down to various libraries, charity shops and hospitals. Funnily enough my place of residence never gets any emptier, but I do try to stop it getting fuller.

After many years of this Sisyphean activity, I was accosted last month (in my post-Christmas clear out mode)  in the Princess Alice Hospice shop in Kingston, when dropping off a bag of (what I thought to be) a rather saleable suit, some books, a pair of shoes and some outgrown children's cardigans. "Ah, rumbled", I thought – as the shop is always groaningly full, and I'm surprised that they seem grateful for my humble offerings.  "They are going to say they aren't taking more donations. I'll have to walk round to Oxfam or the Romanians round the corner instead."

To the contrary, the gentle older man in the shop asked me if I was a taxpayer, then provided me with a gift-aid form for my donation, which I duly filled in. He then gave me a card with a bar code on it, and asked me to show it if I made any future donations. I've made two more carrier-bag drops since then, as a matter of fact, each time digging out my card from my purse and seeing it scanned in.

Thinking no more of this, I came home from work today to receive a letter from the "Retail Director" of the Princess Alice Hospice. In it, he tells me that my recent donations have raised £104.00 for the hospice, which with gift aid is increased by 28 per cent. Obviously for bureaucratic reasons, he has to suggest that I donate this money to his hospice. If I don't respond to his letter within 21 days, that's what he will do, and claim his extra 28 per cent. I do not plan to respond.

Isn't that marvellous? Three carrier bags of not-very-useful to me, but perfectly clean and serviceable household items, have gained this worthy local organisation £130. If I manage to keep up my average throughout the year, I'll have made them £780. Great stuff – this can actually make a difference to their work, and I feel that is is actually worth scouring the house for things people have not used for a few weeks, in the secure knowledge that they will be put to good use and go to a good cause, rather than my previous sneaking suspicion that they would end up as landfill.

I like fish, squirrels, octopus and the Dartmoor 12

It's been an educational day. Fish that bounce along the ocean floor, fish with transparent heads and the details of their sex lives (the video, if you can face it, is here) are revealed via Clare Dudman's Twitter feed. Well, I suppose eventually I was bound to come across an undeniable reason for Twitter's usefulness. This has to be it. I also learned, but was sworn to secrecy about the details, that the way to get fantastic web traffic is to write about squirrels or octopus – or at the very least, include at least one of those words in the title to your articles.

Clare would appreciate, as I do, A. L. Kennedy's inaugural blog post of a series at The Guardian, in which the origins of the recession are coupled with the death of Britain's National Net Book Agreement and a unisex Richard III is not required on voyage (unlike sex-mad fish). Yes it is pointless telling writers not to write and it is in fact pointless telling anyone out of the education system anything in an online context. Blatant lies are stated with impunity, are pointed out, and are "shape-shifted" (a recent rather useful blogging term I learned) into something else to justify an erroneous position. Thank you Jenny D for the link.

"The, mystery readers' bloggende Bernd Kochanowski has responded to the blog of the criminal also enthusiastic Uriah Robinson a head Proviant list discovered. Robinson has over twelve books, to a hitherto Krimiunerfahrenen, which incidentally in a hut on Dartmoor eingeschneit sits, the diversity of the genre could explain. The isolation scenario is no mere gimmick. The books should eingeschneiten thriller novices so spellbound suggest that he is not the whole time with the empty cell phone battery at odds. And they should be in a row can be read without fatigue, and hunger to provoke change." If you want to know what all that is about, see The Dartmoor Dozen. Way to go, Robinson.

Print your own Wikipedia

Here's an interesting development, via The print your own customized encyclopaedia, using Wikipedia. "An authoring tool on the Wikipedia website allows users to chose their own encyclopaedia content from the database choosing particular categories or subject areas they like. The book can then be previewed and ordered through PediaPress who transmit the PDF to Lightning Source to print." Apparently the service launched in the German language two weeks ago, and starts this week in various other languages including French, Italian and Spanish. English follows next week, on 1 March. Apparently the technology can be used with any database (I wonder if it works in a similar way to those nice "turn your blog into a book" services?), and is being likened to people's use of an mp3 player to pick and choose their favourite music.


Publishing, perishing and typography

I thought I'd mention a few of the blog posts I've read and posted into the FriendFeed book room recently.

The Science Project reports that the Department of Typography at Reading University has become involved in an initiative called Material Text. The aim is to promote interdisciplinary work in 'publishing and the book trade; the history of the book, printing and typography; and the study of the social and communicative functions of texts, whether written, printed, illustrated, performed or mediated'. For my part, I just love the idea of a department of typography and wonder if you can do a degree in it? (Though I will not say that to friends currently struggling with open source fonts.)

A pre-apocalyptic book club discussing post-apocalyptic books? Yes, that's right. They are along the right lines in that they have a video of Viggo, though I have only looked at the screen shot, as I don't watch internet videos, and for Viggo, as ever, I prefer to wait for the film. It's all on BookList Online, if you want to check it out. Apparently, the thing not to do in your book club is to call it "post apoc".

You can also discover a website for trapped authors. Unfortunately, not as fun as it at first may seem – a group of children's authors have created a website to promote their books, in which the authors seem to have been captured by monsters and are being forced to provide copy for the website. Bizarre, and somewhat forced. Perhaps BookBrunch's The End of Newsprint is a better read (though it does have the air of "part 94" about it).

Sunday Salon: A Place of Safety and Bloodprint

TSSbadge3 I have two book reviews to share with you today. The first is Bloodprint by Kitty Sewell. The author is certainly geographically adventurous, having moved from the icy wastes of Canada and wet Wales from her first book, Ice Trap, to the heat of Florida (by way of Cuba) and Bristol in western England for her second. I enjoyed the book, but felt that too many different types of melodrama were involved, verging onto cliche in some instances. But it is certainly a rich read, with two strongly depicted women as main characters, lots of romance, passion, magic and inter-relationship skullduggery, all tied up in an art and psychotherapy theme. My full review is at Euro Crime.

The second book I've reviewed in the past week is A Place of Safety by Helen Black. Covering serious topics of racism, people trafficking, prejudice and the fate of children who run away from home and have to sleep rough, the book is very readable, largely due to the attractive and funny lawyer-heroine Lilly Valentine. From my review: "The author tries to make the reader question our cosy social assumptions, tackling racism, poverty and snobbery from all points of view. Overall, I was impressed by the author's commitment and her ability to tell a good story while maintaining a clear moral voice." Read the rest at Euro Crime.

A route to reading


Join us here for friendly chat about books of mutual interest.

Reacting to what is not there

Over and over again, you see people reacting to a title or a cartoon, and getting it wrong because they have not read the article under the title or that the cartoon illustrates. I've done it myself on occasion, to my chagrin, and am seeing it fairly often at Friend Feed, where only the title of an article is shown and a discussion develops underneath it – not, it has to be said, in the book-associated rooms I am in, but in some of the others. I assume one is meant to read the linked article before commenting, but others don't share my assumption and get het up about an article that is itself getting het up about exactly the same thing, and so on. The Internet is not exactly renowned for self-control and reflection before expounding.

Michael Hann at the Guardian makes fun of himself in this regard, in an article about how surprised he was to find that Clint Eastwood's latest film, Gran Torino, is not in fact a mature, reflective elegy about a grandmother in Turin, but instead tells of a crotchety old racist and a car. He goes on to describe some other films that weren't what he expected based on their titles, for example Kiss of the Spider Woman, and invites readers to nominate their own choices. There are quite a few funny responses which don't answer the question asked, but of the on-topic ones my favourites are the person disappointed that Miami Vice wasn't about woodworking and those who thought Wizard of Oz was a biopic of Don Bradman. (Tell that to Sean Connery.)

This topic isn't always amusing, of course. In the past couple of days I have seen several prominent blogs attack a cartoon in the New York Post that appeared to be a racist, violent attack on Barack Obama. (I won't reproduce or link to the cartoon here, but it should not be hard to find if you haven't seen it and are inclined to do so.) It has taken Scott Adams, veteran of more Dilbert cartoons than you and I have had Fried Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, to explain the difference between what is really there, and what it "remindsmeof".

Celebrating atomic beauty

Decor_logo Unlikely stories don't come much more unlikely than this. I was fascinated to read on The Great Beyond (the blog of the Nature news journalists and editors) about an unusual kind of beauty contest – one for the Russian nuclear industry. From the post, which is by Alison Abbott:

"Russia’s sixth such contest is now ongoing. Any female between 18 and 35 who works for the industry in the former Soviet republics may enter Miss Atom 2009, reports the German news magazine Der Spiegel. And nearly three hundred have done so. Their pictures are displayed in an online gallery with text supporting their candidature – and, of course, their vital statistics. Some of the more serious beauty contestants say they hope for world peace. More career-orientated contestants say things like “I don’t need a modelling course – I am, after all, an employee of the company ‘Atomtrudesurcy’ ”. "

The online gallery of entrants is at the "" website. I did not spot any men, though I confess to not looking too hard – there are more than 12 pages of entries, with 30 pictures per page. Apparently, visitors to the gallery can vote, and the three winners (to be announced on 5 March) will be rewarded with holidays to Cuba, Morocco and the Adriatic (I was thinking perhaps Cumbria, Pennsylvania and, er, the Ukraine might be more appropriate).

Ilya Platonow, organiser of the contest, told Der Spiegel that with its promotion of all that is healthy and beautiful in the controversial energy sector, the contest should finally torpedo ‘the cliché of dangerous and threatening nuclear energy’.