Saturday, September 16, 2017

Easy, girl

Three SOCOs were huddled near the house.

‘What the hell’s that noise?’ Carter asked, approaching the shed.

‘His dog.’

‘Why hasn’t she been removed?’

‘No-one was brave enough to tackle her.’ Halligan eased open the door. ‘Dog warden’s on his way.’

The white bull terrier lifted her head, stopped mewing and rumbled a low growl.

‘Easy, girl,’ Carter said, showing his palms.

The dog eased itself up, it’s left flank covered in blood.

‘Are you going to remove it, Sir?’

‘I’d prefer not to look like our friend here. The question is, how did his attacker get past the dog?’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan (2016, Random House)

A gas leak explosion leads to the discovery of a mother and her paraplegic daughter in the house next door. Dawn Prentice has been stabbed multiple times, her daughter left to fend for herself, dying from a stroke bought on by neglect. The Prentices were already known to DS Mel Ferreira of Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit after a number of harassment incidents, including ‘Cripple’ being written on their car. That places the murder investigation into the hands of DI Zigic rather than CID and he, Ferreira, and their small team try to solve the case. Hampering their progress is the absence of a key witness who is being protected by another police force, too many potential suspects given Dawn’s promiscuous love life, and a lack of resources, but they doggedly stick to their task.

After You Die is the third book in the Ferreira and Zigic procedural series focusing on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. In this outing, the pair and their small team are investigating the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. The murder has the feel of a domestic crime and Dawn Prentice almost certainly knew her attacker, but there are plenty of potential candidates and some complicating factors, including the absence of a key witness and the murder weapon. In my view it’s the strongest book in what is an excellent series. There are several aspects that make it standout, not least its realism – this is no fantasist thriller, nor does it rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. Instead, it is a tightly plotted tale of a tragic double murder and its investigation that rings true. And for the first time in a while I hadn’t identified the killer a fair way before the reveal; well, I had, but then I had a fair few characters pegged as the suspect throughout the read. Indeed, Dolan does an excellent job of keeping various possible suspects in the frame and shifting potential guilt between them. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the peeling back of the victims’ lives and their relationships to others as the investigation unfolds. The tale also nicely deals with issues around disability, harassment, and fostering. And Ferreira and Zigic’s personal lives unfold with their own everyday domestic dramas. Overall, a captivating read and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I know we're not getting hurricanes like elsewhere, but it's rained every day for seven weeks and it really is time for it to stop. I'm fed up with being constantly damp! I've finally got round to starting Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr - it's a big book and I might have to get a little stand for it as its fair weighty; I suspect the content is going to be as well.

My posts this week
Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham
Behind the water tank
August reads

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Behind the water tank

‘Sir.’ Hannigan tried smiling at the petrified face. ‘Sir.’


‘There’s a child up here. A girl.’

‘Alive?’ Carter asked, surprised, turning his attention from the bloodstained walls.

‘Yes. She’s hiding behind the water tank.’

Carter climbed the ladder and the white-suited forensics officer turned her torch towards him.

‘Is she okay?’

‘I can’t get her to respond.  She looks scared out of her wits.’

‘Are you okay, missy?’ Carter asked.

The girl tried to shuffle back further out of reach.

‘She’s afraid of your voice.’

‘I would be too. I’ll get family liaison; she’d be better with a psychologist.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham (Hachette, 2013)

When a human leg is discovered in the garage freezer of a house being cleared after the death of its elderly occupant DC Fiona Griffiths is first on the scene. Soon carefully packaged body parts are being found in gardens, sheds and houses all over the surrounding neighbourhood. Then human remains from another body are discovered scattered by a nearby reservoir.  While the first victim, a young woman, seems to have been killed a few years beforehand, the second, a Moroccan-born engineer from the local university, is much more recent. Cardiff’s CID rapidly mobilises, but they have hundreds of persons of interest and no clear link between the victims. Griffiths is determined to remain a part of the investigation to the point where she’ll bend the rules to make sure she’s involved. Her antics place her in grave danger, though Griffiths is no stranger to peril or death given that she’s recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome and her psychotic episodes give her a unique perspective on life and cases.

Love Story, With Murders is the second instalment of the Fiona Griffiths series set in Cardiff, Wales. There are two key strengths to story. The first is the lead character, a complex, unconventional, socially awkward, risk-taking, young woman with an interesting back story. When she’s not creating or rushing headlong into a situation, she’s highly reflective, aware that she lacks emotional intelligence and needs to act how she thinks a ‘normal’ person might do.  The second is the voice; Bingham tells the tale through a highly engaging first person narrative.  In terms of plot, Bingham weaves together three main strands: the murders of a young woman and a Moroccan-born engineer, a suicide at a local prison, and Griffiths’ investigation of her father (a high profile criminal in the city) and her unconventional adoption when she was two. It’s an interesting mix, leading to a story that zips along and is bursting with intrigue, though some it seems to rely a little too much on coincidence and is somewhat far-fetched at times. Nonetheless, it’s a gripping read and it’s a real pleasure to spent time with Fiona Griffiths, a unique character in a genre full of stereotypes and tropes.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

August reads

On the whole, August proved a good month of reading. My book of the month is Riptide by John Lawton.

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson ***.5
Riptide by John Lawton *****
Present Darkness by Malla Nunn ****
The Dust of Death by Paul Charles **.5
The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor ****.5
Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee **.5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale ***.5
The Burning Gates by Parker Bilal ****.5
The Dry by Jane Harper ****.5

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

For all crime fiction aficionados, Noireland: An International Crime Fiction Festival, Oct 27-29, Belfast. Join Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sophie Hannah, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl, Robert Crais, Liz Nugent and many more. Looks like it'll be a couple of interesting days of conversations.

My posts this week
Visiting positions, Maynooth University
Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding
Workshop: The Right to the Smart City
Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson
Spilt coffee

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spilt coffee

‘He did it.’ Clarke said, watching a police car depart.

‘The world and her mother knows he did it, but why?’

‘He said she’d spilt his coffee.’

‘You don’t cave your wife’s head in over spilt coffee.’ Jones rolled his neck.  Over his shoulder one of the SOCOs laughed.

‘What’s so fucking funny?’ Clarke bellowed.

 ‘Meakins’ just ripped the arse out of his white suit,’ a voice answered, ignoring Clarke’s ire.

‘Jesus,’ Clarke muttered. ‘Thirty three. Two kids.’

‘He’ll get life.’

‘And be out in fifteen.’

‘Must have been some cup of coffee.’

‘It’s got fuck-all to do with coffee.’

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding (Windmill Books, 2013)

Born in 1901 Rudolf Höss served as an under-age soldier in the German Army in the Middle East during the First World War, fell in with the National Socialist Party in the early 1920s, serving time in prison for manslaughter, and tried his hand at farming before joining the SS and becoming an early employee of the first concentration camp. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming the founding commandant of Auschwitz, putting in place the architecture and practices of mass murder in the archipelago of related camps and refining the process to make it more efficient, and joining the senior management team in charge of running all concentration camps. He was thus a key player in the holocaust. Born in 1917, Hanns Alexander was the son of a rich Jewish doctor in Berlin (and great-uncle of the writer). As the National Socialists grew in power and Jews became more persecuted, along with his fellow family members he fled to England in 1936. Along with his twin brother he signed up with the Pioneer Corps, being sent to France and evacuated through Dunkirk, returning to France in 1944. As the war drew to a close he was transferred to the British war crimes unit to work as a translator, but later was made an investigator in his own right. Determined to prove himself, he tracked down the Gauleiter of Luxembourg and Rudolf Höss.

Hanns and Rudolf tells two intertwined biographies until their eventual convergence, telling the life stories of two German men who ended up on opposing sides, swapping roles of hunter and hunted.  The structure of the book thus consists of paired chapters focusing on a particular time period (in a very similar fashion to ‘Dietrich and Riefenstahl’, published in the same year and I reviewed a couple of months ago). While the focus is very much on the two men’s lives and their individual journeys, the narrative is also used to reflect in part on German society between the wars and how people became enrolled into the holocaust or were affected by virulent anti-semitism. The strength of the book is the contrasting biographies and the story of how they eventually came to intersect and the focus on their personalities and the everydayness of each man’s home life. While it is clear that Höss invented and performed monstrous acts, to his loved ones he was considered a dedicated and considerate family man. Hanns, while driven to seek justice, is a prankster and a little bit of a rogue.  They are poles apart, but are presented as stark black and white but as very dark and very light grey. Höss broke the dam of denial in the Nuremberg trials by admitting his crimes, and those of his fellow defendants, and detailing how the system worked, especially in his memoirs written in a Polish prison before his trial and execution.  The weakness of the book, however, is a reliance on those memoirs as personal testimony and a lack of critical engagement with them and deep reflection on the psychology and actions of Höss. The complexity of the man, who seemed to lead a double life or expressed a dual personality, is somehow lost and he’s presented somewhat at face value (rather than as someone trying to post-event justify their actions). The result was the narrative lacked a critical edge, failing to ask and answer difficult and penetrating questions about Höss life. Nonetheless, an interesting account of two contrasting men whose lives intersected in a dramatic way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson (2015, Orenda Books; 2010 Icelandic)

Ari Thór Arason has dropped out of studying theology and philosophy and enrolled in police college. Living with his girlfriend in Reykjavik he accepts a post as a rookie police officer in the small, isolated town of Siglufjörður, 400 km away in northern Iceland. Nestled alongside a fjord, surrounded by mountains and accessible only via a single tunnel, it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everybody else and the crime rate is so low that doors are left unlocked. Ari Thór is very much the outsider and his girlfriend is unhappy with his move, but it’s a first job and step on the career ladder. When a famous author and chair of the local dramatics society is found dead at the foot of the stairs, it’s assumed by everyone that he’d fallen accidentally. Ari Thór thinks his colleagues should at least entertain the possibility of foul play.  Shortly afterwards a woman is found stabbed and half-naked in the snow. The most logical culprit – her abusive partner – has an alibi. With the town cut off through heavy snow and an avalanche, Ari Thór investigates both cases, ignoring the guidance from his boss.

Snow Blind has a touch of the golden age of crime meets Scandinavian police procedurals, which is perhaps reflective of the fact that Jónasson has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s tales into Icelandic. The tale focuses on the efforts of a rookie cop to solve two suspicious deaths, one of which appears to be an accident, the other murder. At the same time, he’s trying to deal with being isolated in a small town in northern Iceland, separated from his girlfriend, and treated as an outsider. Both deaths have classic setups. The first concerns the death of a famous author during a break in rehearsals at the dramatic society, found at the foot of the theatre stairs, with everyone claiming to be elsewhere at the time. The second is the stabbing of a local woman, the prime suspect with a cast-iron alibi. Jónasson spins the tale out at a sedate pace, concentrating as much on the character development of Ari Thór, the personalities of the theatre group, and the social relations and sense of place of the town as it does on the cases. The solution to one case is a little telegraphed, but the other has a nice twist to it. Overall, an engaging but not gripping story that’s the first in the Dark Iceland quartet of books.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

My new academic book – Data and the City – edited by myself, Tracey Lauriault and Gavin McArdle was published by Routledge during the week. It's available in both paperback and hardback and is a companion volume to Code and the City published last year.

My posts this week
Review of Riptide by John Lawton
Review of Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Saturday, August 26, 2017


There’s definitely something tasty round here. Something sweet and fruity. Something juicy. There it is. And I have it all to myself. Hmmm, this stuff is delicious. Sticky, but lovely. Whoa! Emergency takeoff. That was some bang! Here it comes again! Dive right, duck left. And again. Bad turbulence; double roll. Time to make a run for it. Ouch! My head! What the heck, there’s nothing there. It’s like an invisible barrier. Thwack! How the heck do you escape? Thwack. If I’m going to die, so are you.

‘Jesus, the little sod stung me!’

That’ll keep the monster distracted. Tally-ho!

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review of Riptide by John Lawton (Orion, 2001)

1941. Wolfgang Stahl, a senior Nazi and American spy has fled Berlin and made his way to London, going underground in the city. Stahl’s handler, Calvin Cormack has been flown in from Zurich, and paired up with special branch inspector, Walter Stilton, to track down the missing agent. Stahl’s old boss, Heydrich has also activated a couple of agents to deal with him before he can talk to the allies about Germany’s plans. Sergeant Troy of Scotland Yard’s murder squad takes an interest when the body of a supposed Dutchman is discovered, but is quickly moved to one side. Troy though likes resolution and when the killer strikes again and Cormack is in the frame for murder, the young policemen decides to set his own trap.

Riptide (released as 'Bluffing Mr Churchill' in the US) is the fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, though it is a prequel to the other books in the series, set in 1941 when Troy is a young, up-and-coming sergeant.  The plot centres on the hunt for a senior Nazi and American agent who has fled to London and is hiding in the city, unsure who to trust.  Trying to track him down are an American Army officer and special branch detective, with Troy on sidelines waiting to enter to save the day. This is typical Lawton fare, blending strong historicisation and sense of place with a ripping yarn peopled with interesting and engaging characters, ranging from everyday folk to senior diplomats and politicians to real-life players at the time. Cormack and Troy are at the core of the tale, but it is the Stilton family who steal the show. The result is a wonderfully evocative sense of London at war and a gripping tale of espionage, politics, murder and pathos (Lawton is not afraid to bump off some of his most endearing characters) that has a nice side line in dark humour and a lovely slapstick scene in a tailor’s shop.  I was gripped from the start and picked up the book every time I had a spare moment, thoroughly enjoying the read.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review of Present Darkness by Malla Nunn (Emily Bestler Books, 2013)

1953, Johannesburg, South Africa. As with other cops, Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is hoping that no-one is murdered in the days leading up to Christmas. While his colleagues are looking forward to a holiday away from the city, Cooper is hoping to spend time with his coloured partner and child, a strictly illegal relationship in the apartheid country. Their hopes looked dashed after a white couple are assaulted, the man dying in the hours afterwards, but the positive identification of a black boy and his friend as the assailants by their daughter appears to lead to a quick result. For Cooper it creates a major headache as the boy is the son of Cooper’s friend, Zulu detective, Samuel Shabalala. Cooper is certain the boy is innocent, however the daughter is sticking to her story, the lead detective Lieutenant Mason is determined to wrap things up quickly – planting evidence as required – and the boy refuses to provide an alibi for himself. To make things more difficult, the hard-headed Mason has made it clear he will not tolerate anyone disrupting the case and he’s prepared to shatter Cooper’s home life if necessary. Cooper, however, is made of stern stuff, as are his friends Shabalala, and Dr Daniel Zweigman, a survivor of German concentration camps, and he knows the terrain, having been raised in the Sophiatown ghetto.

Present Darkness is the fourth book in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series set in South Africa in the 1950s. In this outing, Cooper has returned to Johannesburg, the city in which he was raised, and is living in secret with Davina, his coloured partner, and their child. The plot concerns the assault and murder of a white couple and the framing of a teenage black boy for the crime. The sting in the tail is the boy is the son of Cooper’s friend, Zulu detective Samuel Shabalala.  Cooper wants justice, his boss Lieutenant Mason wants to see the boy hang and is quite prepared to not only ignore evidence but to fabricate it. Mason is a bully and full of dirty tricks, though it’s not clear why he’s so keen to close the case so quickly and to push Cooper to one side. Nunn once again does a nice job of detailing the lived realities of apartheid South Africa, with its marked prejudices and oppression, corrupt policing, its dangerous ghettos, and illicit relations and friendships across the race divide. And it has a strong sense of place – both in the city and the countryside – and historical contextualisation. The three friends at the heart of this, and the other books – Cooper, Shabalala, and Dr Zweigman – again shine, forming an interesting and engaging trio. While the other books take a slightly more expansive view, this tale focuses very much on personal danger – the framing of an innocent boy and the fraught attempt to see justice served, and the threat to Cooper’s new family. Nunn nicely builds the tale up to a dramatic denouement, though the resolution seemed a little contrived and held together with plot devices. Overall, another entertaining addition to an excellent series.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I've made a start on 'Riptide' by John Lawton, though I'm reading the American version titled 'Bluffing Mr Churchill'. The book is a very good read so far, but the title change and cover design are not so wonderful in my view. Thankfully, I'd not already this fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, so did not end up with an unwanted second copy (having not realised Riptide and Bluffing Mr Churchill were the same book); I've done this a couple of times and it's bloody annoying.

My posts this week
Review of The Dust of Death by Paul Charles
Review of The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor
Why teach history if you’re going to ignore it?