Happy new year

The picture above is of a proper, six-sided snowflake, whose symmetry was noticed 400 years ago by Kepler. Phil Ball explains the history.

Today is the start of a new year. I hope that all readers of Petrona found much to enjoy in 2011, and will have a happy, prosperous and healthy 2012.

In planning your 2012 reading, you might like to glance at:

25 favourites of books I’ve reviewed in 2011 (no special order).
All my book reviews from 2011, helpfully ranked with a 1-5 star system.
My posts about Norwegian crime fiction and Swedish crime fiction. These were my two most-viewed posts from 2011, the Norwegian one being the most popular.

Ten pairs and ten clichés: games for the holidays

A game going the blog rounds concerns the bromance, a horrid word meaning a non-sexual partnership between two men, a common crime-fiction theme. I wonder what a partnership between two woman is called, or indeed, one between a man and a woman, that is purely professional? As I thought the list at Criminal Element scores only 3 out of 10*, I thought I’d provide readers with some pairs – can you name their creators and the genders of the (strictly professional) pairs in each case?

1. Beck and Kollberg
2. Stanhope and Ashworth
3. Pickett and Romanowski
4. Sejer and Skarre
5. Montalbano and Augello
6. Gunnarstranda and Frolich
7. Challis and Destry (?)**
8. Van Veeteren and Munster
9. Rebus and Clarke
10. Grace and Branson

*Holmes and Watson; Poirot and Japp; Cole and Pike.
**I am not up to date with this series but sense I might have to exclude this pair.

Another Criminal Element post lists “the ten least thrilling thriller cliches“. This post pretty well sums up why I don’t read a certain type of thriller – the cliches are indeed extremely common to the genre. What about crime/detective fiction, though, as opposed to the thriller yawns listed by Criminal Element? There are a few standards that I could do without:

1. Mobile/cell phone runs out of power/no signal (only at crucial plot points, of course). Variants include car running out of fuel/breaking down/flat tyre, torch running out of battery.

2. Female character has boyfriend but never goes to his house or knows his address. (Less common, but not unknown, is the reverse gender situation.) Variant: character does not lock doors, close curtains, etc.

3. Police take the whole book to interview witnesses/suspects one after the other, leaving till the last the person who is either the perpetrator or who has the crucial information leading to the solution. (Why have so few police teams heard of dividing up interviews among a group of cops and conducting them at the same time?)

4. Not checking medical or criminal records in sufficient detail during a search; the solution depends on a piece of information available all along.

5. Two detectives dislike each other so do not tell each other about crucial information. (Variant: they get together romantically at the end.)

6. Character goes to meet someone without telling anyone where they’ve gone. (Variant: he/she does tell someone, but that someone is the perpetrator or ally of the perpetrator.)

7. A hacker can get into anyone’s computer or any database/network, by methods not explained by the author. (Variant: the detective has to access a victim’s computer and guesses the correct password on the third attempt.)

8. Someone is being blackmailed or pressured but does not log a statement with a lawyer spelling out what is going on as an insurance policy. This person is usually killed by the murderer in the middle of the book, so if he/she had taken this elementary precaution the book need only be half the length ;-).

9. A character has been abused in the past and is too scared to reveal what he/she knows until near the end of the book. Either the abuser is the criminal or the information itself is relevant to the current crime’s solution in some other way. (Variant: the information is not revealed because someone kills this character so it has to be discovered by other means. Other variant: this character is the killer.)

10. The detective is stuck in the investigation, having followed up all possible leads. Then someone else is killed, leading to the solution to the original crime by connecting the two (or more) victims.

Have I omitted any? 😉 Excessive, often irrelevant, back-story of between one and all of the characters seems to be a more popular cliché of late. Which crime novels have you read that manage to avoid all these clichés?

I just discovered a similar post I wrote in 2009. This post contains some of the above clichés but also some other ones! Even more can be found at Crime Fiction Dossier in a 2008 post with an amazing set of comments (including a good nomination by Norman.) Going back even further, there’s a good list by William Meikle, here.

East African children in crisis

Dear Maxine,

Thank you for your generous donation of £xxxx to UNICEF’s East Africa Children’s Crisis Appeal.

Your support will make a real difference to the many children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, who are struggling to survive without food, water and medical assistance.

The severe drought is endangering the lives of over 2 million children under five. UNICEF has been working in the region since the emergency began, but we desperately need to do more now.Without access to feeding programmes, medical supplies and clean water, many lives will be lost. Your generous donation will help us to provide the necessary aid these children desperately need.

It is essential that we reach as many people as possible with news of this crisis. If you would like to help us further, please ask your friends to donate at www.unicef.org.uk/eastafrica.
On behalf of everyone at UNICEF and all those who will benefit from your gift, thank you.

Happy Christmas

A very happy Christmas and warm holiday greetings to readers of Petrona.

Housekeeping note: archive complete, but for how long?

I think that I have now completed the installation of my old Vox blog (a.k.a. my book review archive) onto this blog, now that Vox has closed its doors and will indeed be disappearing from Thursday. 

My book review archive is now here. You can get to it by clicking on the appropriate link at the top of this blog (just under the header) or at the sidebar. 

What took the time was not exporting the blog itself but re-categorising all the posts. I've now completed this task so you can read book reviews by region (country or continent), genre, and other categories of interest, such as whether the book is translated, or won an award.  You can receive any of these as an RSS feed by clicking on the icon on the top of the category archive you have chosen. A full archive of all my reviews, by date and category, is here.

While slogging through this work, I learned that Six Apart, the company that makes Typepad (this blog platform) and Vox (the defunct one) has been acquired by SAY media. Although the old and new owners assure Typepad bloggers that the service will continue (I hope it does as we pay for it), the emphasis of the new company will be on monetisation, that is, people who want to put ads on their blogs in the hope of making money out of them. As this isn't my cup of tea, I am now seriously considering a back-up blog on Blogger (I have a couple of old blogs there that I could revive). There are only so many back-up archives one can have, though, and retain a modicum of sanity.

Vague attempt to answer eight questions

A propos of my previous post, because it has taken me all week to read Three Seconds by Roslund and Hellstrom (a three-hour, never mind second,  reading blitz this afternoon, Saturday, has put it to bed but the review has yet to be written), I am a bit short of subject-matter for this blog's usual daily post right now. Never fear, Jose Ignacio, whose excellent blog is called The Game's Afoot,  has come to the rescue with a meme that I think I may be able to do, called Eight Questions.  I am currently a refugee from the X-Factor, banished from the room I was quietly reading in earlier, so I will have a go at answering the octet:

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

I would like a pair of boots with an engine that would let me fly. Or, just to be able to fly without the boots, if we are talking superpowers.

2. Who is your style icon?

Is this a person whose style I admire? Hmmm…..J. K. Rowling.  She's intelligent, successful, kind, talented, individual, has thought-through (processed) opinions and is "unspun". And, of course, she is a mother.

3. What is your favourite quote?

It is a tie.

John Lennon: Life is what happens while you are making other plans. 

Kenny Dalgliesh: This is as good as it gets. 

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I am always surprised and delighted when people at work pay me compliments of various kinds. I also very much value people who compliment my book reviews and/or blog posts, by their kind comments. Occasionally I hear a compliment from one of my daughters and I think these rare treats probably mean the most.

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player right now?

None. But I seem to be listening to a lot of other people's Muse just at the moment, not unrelated to their recent gig.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

I have to be a morning person whether I like it or not. But if I did not have to be, I'd be a night owl.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

Cats, though I cannot have one because of others in the house who are allergic to animal hairs. This is a great pity as I am very fond of cats and admire the species and its values.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name.

A female version of "Patronus", from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. (Though the eagle-eyed will spot a typo.) A Patronus is one's mystical alter-ego. Harry's was, of course, a stag.

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. 

Ercument Buyuksumnulu

This is my new name. Not seriously, I could not possibly remember it. At work I am testing a new system out, which automatically generates "pretend" users for the purposes of testing. Ercument Buyuksumnulu is the name the system has given me. It's growing on me…. And look what happens when I do a Google search for my new name. I have a LinkedIn account, a profile at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com, and can query the RIPE database, whatever that is. What do I look like? This, according to Google image search:EB

Sexism, yards and Tim

Browsing through my RSS reader after two or three days "off" leads to some interesting snippets.

Women bloggers face a sexist atmosphere online, apparently. At a meeting in Austen, Texas, Rebecca Fox, a blogger and managing editor of mediabistro.com said "Name-calling and denigrating outspoken women creates a sexist climate online". Robert Scoble, another scion of the internet, said  "…Whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn't happen if the interviewee were a man." The Times AlphaMummy blog asks its readers whether they think women are criticised more harshly for their opinions online. A man called Kentucky responds: "Sounds like a bunch of dimb tarts who couldn't hold their own." A woman respondent replies: "Kentucky you spelt dim wrong!" This is a perfect example of a brilliant non-aggressive, total obliteration, put-down which I find it hard to imagine a man would have managed – or me, I would probably have risen to Kentucky's bait. (I'm learning, slowly).

On to more profound matters. I could not agree more with Dave Knadler when he writes: "Blogging is no piece of cake, what with the need to motivate the research staff, root out cliches and watch the profanity, but after all is said and done at the end of the day, it's as simple as pie compared to yard work." Although I have only a tiny garden, each time I look out of the window I feel the guilt-burden of lack of essential maintenance. Why don't I just do it? I don't know, but I don't.

And this thought is worryingly perceptive: there is something about being called Tim.

By the way, if you think this blog is not much about crime fiction these days, it is because a lot of the discussion is going on at Friend Feed – please join us, and the fun, there.