A miscellaneous round-up, for a change

In the first couple of years of this blog, I regularly posted "round ups" of various bits and bobs I came across, usually articles on the Internet. About a year ago I more or less stopped doing this, mainly because I can post links to the relevant Friend Feed group if I come across articles of interest, and also because I share my Google Reader selections so anyone can follow those. In addition, of course there is always Twitter, where if you follow me you won't find out what I'm having for tea or think about the price of fish, but you will get links to various items that I find stimulating for one reason or another. (Typepad has a similar "following" service but it is pretty nascent.)

However, a couple of articles and sites came to my attention recently so I thought I'd share them here. First, I received an email from someone called Mike Norman about his website, ungrammatically called Thrillers4u. Despite the offputting title, this site is pretty ace, providing cover pictures and blurbs of recently published crime novels, "a showcase for exciting and engaging thriller fiction. Ignore the siren call of 'best seller' authors. Forget the publisher's hype. These are stories you may have overlooked or never even been aware of." Yes, it is true, Pile-of-book there are some good selections on there, and no sign of James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell and others with huge marketing budgets behind them (though there are some of the better top-sellers, eg Harlan Coben). There is a welcome accent on translated fiction, and fiction from smaller publishers. So this is a site to which I shall be returning, not least for their tagline, "you'll find none of the usual suspects here".

On the more technical side, is this the end for RSS? I was not too sad when I read that Bloglines will soon close – this is an RSS reader that I used a long time ago (before I started a blog, in fact). Although it changed my world at the time, it is a sad fact that Google Reader, when it came along, was even better (and "up" a lot more!), so I switched. Ask.com bought up Bloglines, somewhat behind the curve, but it seems it has not thrived. I was not too bothered about Bloglines until I learned from a colleague that Google Reader use has declined massively too – by 27 per cent last year –  it seems that RSS readers have been superceded by the echo chamber that is Twitter. How annoying, I much prefer an RSS reader than having to follow people or hashtags or lists on Twitter as there is too much noise that needs filtering out. Still, there may be life in the young dog yet, according to the source itself.

If you are one of those considering an e-reader, there's a useful comparison between the latest versions of the market leaders, Sony's reader touch and Amazon's Kindle 3, at The Inquirer. My Kindle 3 arrived 2 days ago, and so far I am very impressed. I set it up and (wirelessly) downloaded a book within minutes of opening the packaging. (A book that has been on my Amazon wishlist for 2 years or so, but has never come out in paperback — but is available in an affordable e-reader format.) I note that there is a "read aloud" option (where it reads the book to you rather than your eyes doing it); I also note that you can download audiobooks via the Audible website, and you can download your music files in mp3 format if you like to listen while you read, using the built-in stereo speakers and earplug jack. Thankfully, however, it isn't a phone.  I haven't actually started reading the book yet ;-), but the screen and print looks good, so the omens are promising. The choice of books on Amazon is brilliant; the selection of magazines, newspapers and blogs less so — but it is early days. As ever with Amazon, I'm very impressed with the thought they've put into the customer interfaces and interactions between the device and the website.

Finally, for this post, returning to "proper" books – Robert McCrum in the Guardian totally misses the point in his widely reported article Waterstone's has forgotten what bookselling is about. (Incidentally, along with the present tense in novels, a pet hate of mine is assertions in titles. A better one here would have been Has Waterstone's forgotten what bookselling is about?) In the Guardian piece, the author confounds two issues – that of Waterstone's  being unable to deal effectively or well with a journalist's enquiry; and whether or not they are a decent bookseller. Dealing with media enquiries is not easy for anyone, but even the most silly journalist should realise that a company's policy on who can or cannot speak to the media is not relevant at all to what it stocks in its shops. I despise these petty attacks not only because they are prejudiced, unaware of the economics of bookselling and illogical, but because for many of us, Waterstone's is the only bookshop anywhere near where we live. Would not having a bookshop at all, or having to rely on WHSmith, be better? No. And, so far as my own local branch of Waterstone's is concerned, it is quite a nice place to browse and even buy books. Not as good as the old days before the Internet and when the National Net Book Agreement ruled, maybe, but still, not bad.

Weekly Geeks: Long-lasting authors

Having written the grand total of one "Weekly Geeks" post, I haven't yet spotted another set topic that I thought I could answer, until last week. The question is "what makes an author last?", and it is posed at the Weekly Geeks blog by Bernadette in Oz, of the brilliant Reactions to Reading blog. Bernadette highlights Agatha Christie, whose first novel was published in 1920 and her last in 1976 (the year she died). I think I'm right in believing that all these books, or if not all, most, are still in print today, a remarkable achievement.

Bernadette asks: "What do you think it is that gives your favourite long-lasting author an edge? Is longevity all to do with quality? Quantity? Style perhaps? Or luck?"

My favourite long-lasting crime author is Dashiell Hammett, without a doubt. I think Mystery Net sums up his appeal to me, in a nutshell: "Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) is recognized as the first master of hard-boiled detective fiction. His lean writing style, cynical Hammett Hammett characters and complex plots brought a new energy to pulp magazines then went on to define the genre in movies, radio and television where the private eye series became an entertainment staple." Unlike Agatha Christie, he wrote only a few novels – The Dain Curse, The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and Red Harvest – as well as short stories, often about the Continental Op, published for example in a volume called The Big Knockover. All of these are on my shelf, read many times over. I read my first Hammett novel when in my early teens and was instantly attracted both to the utter difference of the world it described compared with my own tedious existence, and to its essential darkness. (I also discovered John Steinbeck at about the same time, and read most of his novels – Cannery Row is still my favourite of his, but that short novel is a brilliant, poetic, funny, bursting Judgement celebration of life which I recommend highly to anyone who wants a saccharine-free antidote to the dark side on occasion). Although I read and enjoyed many other long-lasting American crime writers, for example Raymond Chandler, James Hadley Chase and Ross MacDonald, none of them quite touched the same nerve for me as Hammett.

Of crime novelists writing today, the two that spring to my mind as long-lived and highly enjoyable are Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, and Michael Connelly. Maybe Rendell/Vine is the author to whom Christie handed her torch, and similarly Connelly continues the true Hammett tradition. His 21 (soon 22) novels about Harry Bosch and/or his world in Los Angeles – the blue religion; speaking up for those who don't have a voice; the loneliness and poetry amid the urban sprawl; and the sadness of our modern "civilisation" – it's all there, and I think will continue to live on for many years to come.

Michael Connelly's first novel, The Black Echo, was published in 1990. Ruth Rendell's, From Doon With Death, was published in 1964. Both authors' novels are in print, and you'll see their books on sale in any good bookshop as well as readily available online.

Book Review: Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Translated by Philip Roughton
Hodder&Stoughton, 2010.  £12.99 (not yet out in mass market paperback)

Having recently re-discovered the charms of the local library, I was delighted the other day to spot a copy of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s third novel about lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir, Ashes to Dust, and snapped it up. In this novel, Thora is hired by Markus, a 50ish well-off businessman, to allow him to gain access to the basement of his old family home in the Westmann Islands. The islands were covered in lava and ash in a volcanic eruption back in the early 1970s, and the houses there abandoned until now (2007), when they are being excavated as part of an archaeological project called the Pompeii of the North.  Eventually, Thora negotiates access for Markus and accompanies him into the dusty, abandoned cellar with the eager archaeologists in tow – but they make a horribly gruesome discovery. Not only this, but in the eyes of the unsympathetically portrayed local police, Markus is the person most likely to be responsible. Thora therefore finds herself both acting for Markus and trying to find out for herself what really happened all those years ago, so she can find the real perpetrator.

 In a parallel plot, a woman called Alba is found dead in her bed in her house in Reykjavik. The reader is sure the two incidents must be connected, not least because Alba and Markus grew up and went to school together on the islands. At first, Alba’s death is considered to be suicide but it rapidly transpires that the woman was murdered, in quite a horrible way. (In fact the first chapter of the novel is a gruesome description of Alba’s death from the victim’s perspective, which I could both have done without and found unnecessary for the plot – the rest of the book is mild in comparison.) Alba was a nurse, both at a plastic surgery practice and at the A&E department of the town’s hospital. She left the A&E job a few days before her death under something of a cloud, and Thora finds it difficult to find out why, although the reader knows that a rather unpleasant man called Adolf is somehow involved.

The author gradually pulls all these strings together as Thora digs into the past, visiting the islands several times with the secretary from hell, Bella, to help her – this makes a refreshing change from the rather bland Matthew, who does not feature in this book apart from in a few phone calls. The best parts of the novel are when Thora interviews all the old associates and families of Markus and Alba, in which we see the way of life and concerns of those who live in these remote parts: Thora encounters resistance, partly because Markus’s family are powerful and wealthy, in effect owning the main business of the region, so people are reluctant to say anything against any of them; and partly because nobody wants to betray old confidences or reveal nasty incidents that happened so long ago and have long since escaped the notice of the police. The descriptions of the volcanic eruption are also fascinating, as villages, farms and towns became buried and everyone and their animals had to escape the best they could. (This novel was written before, but published in English after, the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull this year, which adds a level of fascination, as does the description of the Cod War from the Icelandic perspective, somewhat different from the way it was portrayed in the British press, of course.)

Readers of previous novels in this series will also know that Thora has a rather stressful personal life: she is divorced with a teenage son and young daughter. At the end of the previous novel, the son and his girlfriend had a baby, so Thora has to support them as well as struggle to keep her practice going while doing her duty by her family. She’s a charming and humorous character, and the reader is rooting for her all the way. I particularly liked her negotiation with the golf clubs. There are also lots of astute, neat touches, not least asides about attitudes to whaling and catching/eating puffins.

This having been said, I feel that at 455 pages the novel is too long and slow for its plot – and either the translation or the editing could have been a bit sharper (or even, on some occasions, grammatical). The book also cried out for a map! It is not difficult for the reader to guess the outline of what must have happened in the past to create the dilemma of the present, so the main revelation is not a surprise. Although the author creates a great atmosphere of life in Iceland, particularly on the islands, as well as providing some neat details and a nice twist in the tail, the denouement seems a long time coming. I also think that the character of Thora, in particular her domestic set-up and, in this novel, Bella, are all intriguing but under-developed. Nevertheless, this novel is superior fare: the bleak, tragic life-story of Alba in particular is extremely well told, and the subplot of Adolf and his daughter creepily telling. Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a very talented author, but I feel that she could raise her game even further by fleshing-out her regular characters more within her excellent settings and narratives.   

Read other reviews of this novel at: The Independent, Nordic Bookblog, and It's a Crime! 

Interviews with the author about this book at The Scotsman , Scene of the Crime and The Telegraph (whose headline-writer could not resist calling her "Iceland's answer to Stieg Larsson", sigh). 

Publisher website. 

The author blogs at Murder is Everywhere, usually every Wednesday.

My Euro Crime reviews of the two previous books in this series: Last Rituals and My Soul to Take.

New UK fiction for December

Holt "Cold comfort" is the Bookseller's (3 September, p 25) headline about new fiction titles to be published in the UK in December. And boy, are they right! Either something is really wrong with the publishing industry or publishers are failing to submit titles to the magazine for the monthly listing. Or perhaps the Bookseller's explanation is correct: "December offers the slimmest pickings of the year, as everyone concentrates on selling titles published in the previous three months", ie on the run-up to Christmas, which is when by far the most books are sold in the UK, as they are a very popular choice of gift even in this era of Amazon, Book Depository and e-readers.

Be that as it may, there is only one title in the category "crime and thriller" – but it is (I am betting) a good one! 1222 by Anne Holt (Corvus, £12.99). The author is former Norwegian minister for justice and is a bestselling crime writer. I've enjoyed her three novels that have so far been translated into English (Punishment, The Final Murder, Death in Oslo - see also reviews of all three novels by Dorte). 1222 is Anne Holt's first title for Corvus and is first to be published in her series about police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen, paralysed from the waist down. (Hanne appears in some of the previous books, but not as the central character.) Here, she is a passenger on a train en route from Oslo to Bergen when it derails in a storm. The passengers are evacuated to a hotel, but then one is found dead – the ensuing mystery sounds intriguing….. I am definitely going to read this novel between now and its publication date because the publisher has kindly sent me a proof copy, so watch out for my review at Euro Crime. You won't find this out from the Bookseller, but the translator on this occasion is Marlaine Delargy. 

The only other novel listed for December that could remotely be of interest to keen crime-fiction readers is Broken Fences by Camilla Noli (Orion, £9.99), a second novel "from the darker shores of maternal love". This one is about Clair, who will do anything to protect her children from any perceived threat, real or imagined. "And what she does has her teetering on the edge of madness." Hmmm. Oh yes, and there is a thriller by Tom Clancy due out in December (Michael Joseph, £20!), Dead or Alive, about Jack Ryan, this time on the trail of a sadistic terrorist called "the Emir". Uncle!!!

The Corvus catalogue (PDF).

Book Review: All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney

Mcilvanney All the Colours of the Town
By Liam McIlvanney
Faber&Faber 2009. Paperback, £7.99

Gerry Conway is a political journalist for the Glasgow Tribune. Divorced with two young sons, he lives in a flat in the city centre and when he isn’t at work he’s in the pub.  Aware of the general unease and insecurities of the newspaper industry, he and his colleagues are warily collaborative, eyeing each other up and wondering for how long their jobs will last. Gerry has spent much time during his career cultivating John Lyons, a politician who has risen up the ranks to become Scotland’s Minister for Justice, so he gets plenty of scoops and heads-up of stories, in return for presenting the charming but ambitious Lyons in a good light.

This cosy arrangement looks set to come to an end when a random email and phone call alert Gerry to possible criminal activity in Lyons’s past. Gerry can’t even contemplate the allegations at first, but after following up with a retired man who founded an Ulster Volunteer Force sympathisers’ magazine and group in the early 1980s, he comes to believe that Lyons was a terrorist in Belfast at that time. The pace of the novel flags at this point, as Gerry travels to Belfast to try (vainly, most of the time) to dig into the story, and we learn a lot about the ties between Scotland and Ulster at the time of the troubles, and how life for the Glasgow working class has changed in the intervening 20 years.  Stimulated by a bit of a lucky coincidence, the pace picks up tremendously in the last 30 pages of the book; and indeed the concluding few pages are even slightly over-hasty in bringing together some of the many aspects of the plot. 

One thing I very much liked about this book was the insider’s view of the newspaper industry and the journalists, in particular some nice vignettes about the subeditors at the start. These aspects become less significant as the book develops, and I found it hard to maintain my interest in the middle third (the Irish section), dominated as it was by men getting drunk in pubs and, occasionally, beating each other up, as well as a long part where Gerry stays at the family home of a colleague. 

I don’t want to give away information that will spoil this novel for anyone, so suffice to write that the plot is a standard arc of hubris followed by a fall from grace and the eventual prospect of redemption.  Although there were not many surprises in it, the story is well told, in particular Gerry’s interview with someone who appears in the prologue.  Some passages of the book are quite sensitively poetic, but don’t really seem to belong to the rest of the book, perhaps because Gerry himself is not a likeable character. He’s extremely well drawn both as a man and as a very recognisable type of journalist, but he does not behave particularly well on many occasions during this story, personally or professionally, in small ways as well as larger ones.  So although I admire the author’s creation, observation and writing skills, I could not warm to the character or sympathise with his situation and various predicaments.

Nevertheless, this is a very talented debut novel (the author has previously written a non-fiction book about Burns, and is currently Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand). I was drawn to read this book partly because I like crime novels about journalists, and partly because I very much enjoyed reading Laidlaw, by the author’s father William McIlvanney, many years ago. Despite my criticisms of All the Colours of the Town, I enjoyed the novel overall and can recommend it as a worthwhile read to anyone who enjoys crime fiction.


Read another review of this book at the superb blog Asylum, by John Self (far better than my meagre effort!).

Other reviews of this novel are at: Crime WatchThe Telegraph, The Guardian (Christopher Brookmyre), Living Scotsman, and The Independent. There are lots of other reviews of this book that are easy to find  on the internet. You can read an interview of the author by Craig Sisterson at Crime Watch.


What kind of a (mystery) reader are you?

Am I alone in feeling permanently guilty for not commenting more on people's blogs? I am always so thrilled when people comment here, so feel doubly at fault for so rarely commenting elsewhere myself. I do read a lot of blogs, courtesy of Google Reader. (The reader is hooked up here so that it is also Petrona's blogroll, therefore if you look to the right and scroll down, you will see I am not telling a lie when I write that I read a lot of blogs!) But somehow, I only comment on the statutory 1 per cent of posts that I read, fulfilling some statistical observation or other. Most of the time this is because even when I have enjoyed a post I can't think of anything interesting to write Reading about it – or if I do have a thought, I go to the blog and find out that six other people have already written it. Some of the time I just can't face going through all the palaver of trying to comment, crashes, signing in or other slowing-down factors. I am around a bit on the internet (see my Google profile for where) and  I do comment quite a bit at the Friend Feed crime and mystery group (for online discussion of crime novels), but I am aware that a comment there is not the same as a comment at the actual blog itself. I will try to improve.

I don't really know why I wrote all that, because what I intended to do when I started this post was to highlight a discussion at Martin Edwards's excellent blog (Do you write under your own name?) about how one reads a mystery. (It was probably my awareness that I have not commented there for a while, and feeling bad about that, that made me write the first paragraph above!) Martin divides such readers into two groups, "those who like to try to solve the mystery themselves, before the solution is revealed, and those who simply enjoy the story and make no serious effort to work out what is going on." He's in the former group, and of the people who have commented to the post, about half are in each.  Here is the gist of my response:

Martin, I am in your camp. Well I think I am. I started out with Sherlock Holmes and ever since have enjoyed the "race" to see if I could work out the solution before the author. But now that I am (a lot) older and have read so much crime fiction, I am not so sure. For example, I have recently finished a really wonderful book, An Empty Death by Laura Wilson (Orion, 2009). It is such an absorbing book, written by a talented author who is so enjoying the universe she has created and conveying it to the reader, in three main plot lines. However, the actual main mystery at the heart of it is not that difficult to work out, mainly because of the dearth of suspects. Yet I found myself deliberately not trying to second-guess the author, because there were so many aspects of this rich book to enjoy, and I was just happy to go with the flow.

So, eeek! I became of the second category without meaning to. 

On the whole, though, I like to try to work out the puzzle before the author reveals all. In addition, if a crime book is not that well written and/or not a lot of effort has been put into it, I like to guess who did it before the author tells me – to get even! How sad or bad is that?!

Book Review: An Empty Death by Laura Wilson

Empty death An Empty Death by Laura Wilson
Orion, 2009. [Available in the UK in paperback, £7.99]

Having been sent a copy of Laura Wilson’s third Stratton book by her new publisher, Quercus, I thought I had better read the second, An Empty Death. This was not too onerous a proposition as I’d very much enjoyed the first in the series, Stratton’s War, set in 1940 and combining a police investigation during London’s Blitz, a tale of family life in North London, and an espionage thriller. When in the library on Saturday, I saw a copy of An Empty Death on the shelf, so took the opportunity to borrow and read it.

The novel opens in 1944, four years after the end of the first, when Londoners are truly sick of the war, with the rationing, constant worry about bombs (and, latterly, V2 rockets) and, in the case of Stratton and his wife Jenny, missing their children who have been evacuated to the countryside. The book opens with a crime, possibly, when the body of a doctor who works at the Middlesex Hospital in central north London is found dead in a bomb crater. Stratton would like to assume that the man died during a raid (what passed then for "naturally"), but the pathologist, Dr Byrne, is suspicious and his post-mortem rapidly reveals that the man’s head injuries were from a brick wielded by a human hand. A murder enquiry is opened in which Stratton and his colleagues have to question nurses, doctors and other harried medical staff at the hospital, who at the same time are horrendously overworked with treating the casualties of wartime London as well as all the usual afflictions of patients. The author is particularly strong at conveying this atmosphere, depicting professionals working under extreme pressure, struggling to stay awake after nights in bomb shelters or worse, yet, in the style of the times, rarely mentioning how they feel or verging on “cracking up”, though it's hard to see how on Earth they all kept going under such circumstances.

Another strength of this novel is the depiction of the family life of Ted and Jenny Stratton in Tottenham, together with Jenny’s sisters Doris and Lilian and their husbands, and the immediate neighbourhood.  The atmosphere of the times just seems to be perfectly encapsulated. Jenny is missing her children, Monica and Pete, and is somewhat insecure about the country estate where they are staying, which is far grander than anything she or her husband can offer their offspring. She’s a warm and sensible woman, however, and spends most of her days working in a local ‘rest house’, and her evenings cooking and looking after her husband. Near the start of the book, a bomb falls on a nearby street, and Stratton is involved in digging out the victims. One of them, Mrs Ingram, is alive but shaken. Her husband is away serving, so Doris invites her to stay in her spare bedroom until he can be located and come to collect her, setting in motion a dramatic series of events.

The reader knows more about the murder case than Stratton, just, because we know that one of the doctors at the hospital is an imposter. The story of how “Dr Dacre” came into being is cleverly told, with the lack of electronic record keeping, as well as the chaos of a country at war, contributing to his ability to evade capture for so long. 

Laura Wilson is a very good storyteller indeed; there are innumerable little touches that I have no space to mention here if this review is to be readable, that add up to a rounded and satisfying whole.  I enjoyed this novel as much, or perhaps even more than, Stratton’s War. The earlier novel focused on events that could only have taken place in the context of the war, whereas An Empty Death is a timeless mystery that is given added interest and excitement by taking place during such unusual times. I am not usually a fan of historical novels, nor of books set in World War Two, but the apparent authenticity of the many domestic, professional and general details in this novel, as well as its triple plot, soon had me absorbed. The characters seem so genuine: so often when one reads a contemporary novel set in the past, the characters seem to act knowingly about the future, or to have attitudes that anticipate the modern era. There is none of that here, the author simply presents her characters as of their times, which is very effective.

Naturally I am not going to provide any spoilers, but the novel is highly satisfactory as a crime story, apart from one unusually clunky section sowing the seed of a connection between Dr Dacre and Mrs Ingram. This is the only wobble I experienced in a really rewarding novel. There is a tragic event near the end which I think was inevitable in order for the series to have momentum in the future, and I’m glad the author did not flinch from it. I can’t wait to read the next in this excellent series – not least because on the basis of the first two titles, each book is going to be very different in theme from the others.

Read another review of An Empty Death at Reviewing the Evidence (reviewer Nick Hay).

 Laura Wilson's website, including a piece by her about writing this series.

Stratton's War, An Empty Death, and A Capital Crime (set in 1950), described at the author's website. You can download chapter 1 of each novel at these links. Stratton's War won the CWA Ellis Peters award for historical crime fiction. My Euro Crime review of this novel is here.

Book Review: The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

Dugdall The Woman Before Me 
Ruth Dugdall
Legend Press, August 2010, £7.99 paperback.

This novel is an extremely addictive debut, which deservedly won the CWA debut dagger this year. The publisher very kindly contacted me to offer a copy, and though books about babies in danger are definitely not my cup of tea, I accepted the generous offer — and I am glad I did. 

The novel is a real page-turner, being mainly the story of Rose, a woman who is on trial for setting a house on fire with a baby and his mother inside it. The novel explores Rose’s past via her diary, exposing a history of neglect by her parents and parent-figures for a variety of reasons. As a young adult, Rose ends up working in various menial jobs in a seaside hotel, where she meets Jason, the barman, and falls for him. She and Jason begin to live together, fulfilling Rose’s fantasy of a happy relationship. The reality, though, is that Jason is still in love with his young ex-wife Emma, and isn’t that interested in Rose. The author builds up the suspense within this eternal triangle, and cleverly portrays emotions and events spiralling out of control.

The contemporary part of the novel centres around Cate, a newly qualified prison probation officer. She has to decide whether or not Rose deserves parole when her case comes up in the next few weeks. Cate has a tough time of it, partly as a newly-single parent whose young daughter Amelia is in child care while her mother works, and partly because of the prison culture, which consists of (mainly) deeply sexist, lazy and overweight men (there is one butch female guard), together with devious prisoners who are pretty good at playing the system and hoodwinking their keepers. 

There is plenty of suspense and melodrama in this novel; even though the main plot twist is very easy to anticipate, it is delivered with high impact. I won’t say more in my review as I do not want to provide any spoilers, but the subsidiary twist is not convincing to me, given what we know of the principal characters. 

As a debut novel, this is a remarkably assured and well-written book. It only takes an hour or two to read, and is well-worth the effort. The book is not without its flaws, unfortunately, and at several points during Rose’s back-story I was hardly able to suspend my disbelief even while my emotions were engaged in her sad yet creepy tale. The other story, about Cate, peters out towards the end which is quite disappointing, as the prison scenes, from the perspectives of the inmates and the administration, are perhaps the strongest part of the book (the author worked in the probation service), and Cate is an intriguing character. The novel is clearly by a very talented author, and despite the occasional lapses from believability, it is certainly a novel well worth reading as an exploration of the nastier aspects of human nature and the bleaker end of the genre.

Legend Press is an independent book publisher, and it’s great for them as well as the author that the novel has won the CWA debut dagger. I hope that it does very well. 

News and reviews about this novel at Legend Press's website.

Interview with the author at Books You Love.

Read another review of this novel at The Bookbag.

Ruth Dugdall's blog. A post there features another review of the novel, by Mike Ripley at Amazon.

Sometimes I wonder…….

….why I bother.

One of my hundreds of (work) emails today (in toto):

Message: "Frankly speaking your 'nature' is the stangest thing on this
earth. I have been trying to communicate theory of everything but nobody
seems to bothered. Please do not take it a joke.
I almost failed to submit the manuscript through the online process of
your worthless website. Kindly communicate with me so that I could
submit the theory of everything."

Why are people like this, I wonder? This combination of insult and "begging letter" is so common, but I have given up smiling, over the years.

A picture for Petrona

My daughter Cathy was sorting out her computer and came across this picture, which she says she made for Petrona a few years ago but never finished or sent to me at the time. I asked her to send it to me now, and so here it is.