31 July 2008

For Australians: Fathers Day Competition

For Australian readers...
Give Dad something he actually wants this Father’s Day

…and WIN a weekend in the Barossa.

To celebrate Father’s Day, Hachette Livre Australia, together with Peter Lehmann Wines, is offering you the chance to WIN a weekend for 2 in the Barossa Valley or some fantastic wine.

How to Enter

1.Purchase a specially stickered copy of any book featured in the promotion.

2.Fill in the entry form below, including the barcode number from the back of the book you have purchased.

3.Tell us in 25 words or less why your Dad deserves a weekend away in the Barossa Valley with Peter Lehmann Wines. Most creative entry will win.

You must be 18 years of age or over to enter.

Enter now! The competition commences on Thursday, 24 July 2008 and closes at midnight on Tuesday, 30 September 2008.

30 July 2008

Ned Kelly Shortlist - how well did we do?

The Ned Kelly Shortlist was announced today.
Nearly 2 weeks ago, we tipped

Best Non-Fiction

KILLING JODIE, Janet Fife-Yeomans
but missed
  • Red Centre, Dark Heart, Evan McHugh
  • Underbelly: The Gangland War, John Silvester & Andrew Rule
Best First Fiction

THE LOW ROAD, Chris Womersley
but missed
  • A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz
  • Golden Serpent, Mark Abernethy
Best Fiction

SHATTER, Michael Robotham
SUCKED IN, Shane Maloney
but missed
  • Amongst The Dead, Robert Gott
  • El Dorado, Dorothy Porter
The Ned Kelly Award winners will be announced at Melbourne Writers Festival on the night of Friday 29 August.

My money's on Michael Robotham!
Steve Toltz, A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE, has also been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Man Booker Prize Longlist

Now in its 40th year, the Man Booker Prize aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The Man Booker judges are selected from the country's finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize. The winner of the Man Booker Prize receives £50,000 and both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales.

This year's "Booker dozen" longlist has been announced, and includes a crime fiction novel that has already won the CWA's Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Australian -Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
**** Tom Rob Smith Child 44
**** Australian - Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

**** Crime Fiction
The chair of judges commented With a notable degree of consensus, the five Man Booker judges decided on their longlist of 13 books. The judges are pleased with the geographical balance of the longlist with writers from Pakistan, India, Australia (which novel is this?), Ireland and UK. We also are happy with the interesting mix of books, five first novels and two novels by former winners. The list covers an extraordinary variety of writing. Still two qualities emerge this year: large scale narrative and the striking use of humour.

The shortlist will be announced on September 9 and the winner on October 14.

Earlier this month, a public vote decided that Salman Rushdie was the winner of the "Best of Booker" prize with Midnight's Children. The prize celebrates the 40 years of Booker prizes.

28 July 2008

REVIEW; THE QUIET GIRL by Peter Hoeg

Random House, 2007, 406 pages, ISBN 978-1-846-55060-7
Translated from Danish by Nadia Christensen

Kasper Krone's God is a woman. "She Almighty had tuned each person in a musical key and Kasper could hear it." The world hums around Kasper. Some people emanate harmony, others a sense of confusion. Kasper's perceptions are inundated by orchestral imagery, keys and tones. Kasper works with damaged children, those who have retreated into themselves. He treats them by accessing their "accoustic essence".

Kasper's father Maximilian, now dying in a hospice, was a circus clown. He took Kasper into the ring with him, and circus imagery has always been part of Kasper's life. Maximilian decided when Kasper was in his teens to leave the circus life so that Kasper could have higher education and a secure income. Kasper though had the circus in his blood and never forgave Maximilian, returning to the circus at times throughout his life.

One of Kasper's patients is a nine year old girl called KlaraMaria. In her he can sense great pain, and he suspects that she has been abused, perhaps sexually. Days after he had first met KlaraMaria those who brought her to Kasper paid him off, sending a message that they no longer required his services. A year later KlaraMaria has disappeared from the children's home she lives in and Kasper fears for her life.

At this point I must confess that I have not finished reading this book. It is most unusual for me to abandon a book in mid stream. I am nearly 200 pages in, and have only a sketchy idea of what is going on. It is not for want of trying. After the first sixty pages I started again, but I feel as if I am swimming in treacle. I think the story is swinging through a number of time frames. It switches from the past to the present, from Kasper's childhood to his friendship with a young woman called Stina who disappeared, from reality to illusion. So confused am I that I don't even feel as if I can trust my perceptions of what the book is about. I think, but I am not sure, that some of the conversations that Kasper has with KlaraMaria are in his mind. Certainly Kasper has preserved Stina's tone and vibration in his mind so that he can imagine that she is with him.

The writing style in this book is fairly dry and minimalist. The reader is left to draw the images and make the connections from scanty clues. I can't tell whether this is the effects of poor translation or not. I've checked out what other readers who record their reactions on Library Thing thought, and most of them appear to share my bewilderment. I'm disappointed because I read and enjoyed his earlier novel MISS SMILLA'S FEELING FOR SNOW.

So there it is, my first rating of 0 since I began this blog, in fact my first zero for a number of years. I feel defeated!

27 July 2008

Books Alive Australia 2008 - books & events

Books Alive is a literacy initiative of the Australian government. There are 50 books, including the 8 crime fiction and thriller whose covers are shown above, listed in the brochures that were distributed Australia wide in the Sunday papers today. The Books Alive 2008 ambassador is Michael Robotham.
Buy a book and get a free copy of a new Michael Robotham mini-book called BOMBPROOF.

In addition there are nearly 200 events listed on the website, Australia wide.
They start Monday 28 July and go through till Sunday 31 August. Look out for Michael Robotham, and also Leah Giarratano, Kathryn Fox, William McInnis, just to name a few.
You can search by State.
Includes lots of places - Michael Robotham is going to Newcastle, Launceston, Palmerston, as well as the usual capital cities.

*** If you see him, tell him Kerrie sent you.

P.S. Michael is a guest on oz_mystery_readers at the beginning of September on Quiz an Author.

In addition you might be interested in the Indigenous Literary Project
There are booklists for all ages, including an adult one, also a Readers' Quest to participate in.

Sunday Salon #19 - 27 July 2008

Really a week in which I've learnt a lot - as you'll see.

This week's posts:
  • A new tool - Screencast-O-Matic.
    Sunnie pointed me towards a new web 2.0 tool that enables you to create a screencast of a screen on your computer. So I created a tour of my blog. You can listen to me for nearly 10 minutes showing and explaining aspects of my blog. You can leave a comment too. Not sure yet whether I get notification of the comments yet though.
  • REVIEW: RAFFLES: THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, E.W. Hornung.
    For the last 2 weeks I've been listening to a reading of the 8 stories that make up this book. The reading was created by Librivox. My rating: 4.2.
  • My first Award.
    A fellow blogger gave me an award and said nice things about me. So I then awarded 7 fellow bloggers and said nice things about them.
  • REVIEW: THE CLEANER, Brett Battles.
    I was travelling on the weekend and on Monday and got a couple of books read. This is Brett Battles' first book, and already there is a second. My rating 4.2. I also answered a Weekly Geeks Challenge question posed by Book Zombie.
  • What a funny idea!
    Two things here - I read a suggestion that some people would reject a book if it had an Australian setting. It never occurred to me that that could happen, because I never reject a book for that sort of reason.
    The second thing is a suggestion that Helen Garner, a Melbourne author, is headed for a Booker prize.
  • Top 10s in the Guardian.
    A set of lists in the UK Guardian related to crime fiction.
  • Around the world in 80 sleuths.
    80 books matched to 80 sleuths in 80 destinations. Lots of omissions, but I love lists anyway.
  • REVIEW: DEATH OF A HAWKER by Janwillem van de Wetering.
    Review of a book written in 1977 by a Dutch author who died just recently. Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders pointed me to it originally, and I also answered a Weekly Geeks Challenge question he posed. My rating: 4.4
  • It Worked! - the commuting that is.
    Two things in this post too. I commuted from Hobart to Adelaide on Tuesday morning. 3 hours after leaving Hobart I was walking in the door of the office in Adelaide. Not bad!
    The second thing is that Sunnie pointed me to a tool which creates a podiocast of your blog, so now every one of my posts can be listened to. A great tool. I find it helps me check my blog too - missing words, misspellings etc that I missed in the first place, although I'm probably driving people mad with re-posting.
What I'm reading:
  • now - THE QUIET GIRL, Peter Hoeg.
  • next - THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Stieg Larsson.
  • audio book - BENEATH THE BLEEDING, Val McDermid.
I'm struggling a bit with THE QUIET GIRL. Peter Hoeg's writing style is a bit minimalist - or perhaps it is the translation from Danish - but I'm struggling to connect the dots and feel as if there are big gaps in my understanding. Has anyone else read it?

If you've like to follow my blog you can do it in 2 ways:
Have a good reading week.

26 July 2008

A new tool - Screencast-O-Matic

Many thanks to Sunnie over at Sunnie's Book Blog who pointed me to this new tool. She also, I'd like to point out, pointed me to Odiogo which creates my podiocasts.
Sunnie, one of my oz crime fiction pals, is doing a library studies class and I am reaping the benefits!

I'f you'd like to watch the Screencast which gives you a tour of my blog, plus you can hear my voice. The Screencast should start playing straightaway, but there may be a problem if you don't have Java.



Hopefully you can leave a comment on the screencast itself, but if you can't come back here and let me know.

Instructions for creating a Screen Cast:
  1. Load up the web site you want to screencast.
  2. in another tab go to http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/create
  3. Choose the size screen - I used Full Screen.
  4. The system will check whether you have Java installed.
  5. You need to check that it has located the right headset/microphone.
  6. Click on Go.
  7. A screen will pop up that says : Ok! Here are the basic steps to create a screencast:
  1. Drag the black frame so it surrounds the area of the screen that you'd like to capture.
    (I found the black frame a bit difficult to see but hover your cursor over the black bar to the right of the microphone symbol) and then drag that over the screen you want to use for the screen cast.

  2. If you are recording audio, make sure the mic level is ok by talking into your mic and watching the Mic level example image icon. You may also need to adjust the mic recording volume for your operating system. See examples for Windows XP and Mac OS X.
  3. Click the record button to start recording the part of your screen inside the black frame (and audio from the mic you chose).
  4. Click the close button when you are done (or if you need to pause click pause button).
  5. Come back to this page and we'll show you how to upload or export your screencast
    (Click this if you still see this message after doing a screen capture).
  6. Make sure you keep this page open while creating your screencast!
I found the final step after I'd created the screencast a bit slow but I think that was because I had created quite a long screencast (nearly 10 mins) with large screen capability so the file is pretty large. Before you can upload the screencast you do have to create an "account."

Have fun!

REVIEW: RAFFLES: THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, E.W. Hornung

A collection of 8 short stories which feature A.J. Raffles, gentleman, cricketer, and amateur cracksman, and his old school mate Bunny Manders, a bunny in most senses of the word. In the first story The Ides of March Raffles prevents Bunny who is constantly in debt, like Raffles, having no honest source of income, from committing suicide. The eight stories are narrated by Bunny, with the plots complicated by the fact that Raffles doesn't always keep him totally informed. At times Raffles uses Bunny as a decoy, and at times Bunny initiates action on his own because he thinks Raffles has failed. Of course Raffles never fails, and in the long run it is Bunny who pays most dearly.

The stories depict Raffles as a master burglar, a gentleman, a sportsman who extends the code of cricket, of "playing fair", to thievery. He is much sought after because he is such a splendid cricketer, both at the bat and as a bowler, and various invitations give him the opportunity to relieve others of their riches. As with Conan Doyle's Holmes and Moriarty, Raffles has his principal opponent in Scotland Yard's Inspector Mackenzie. The Penguin blurb credits Ernest Hornung with creating " a unique form of crime story, where, in stealing, as in sport, it is playing the game that counts, and there is always honour among thieves".

The stories in this collection:
  1. The Ides of March.
  2. A Costume Piece.
  3. Gentlemen and Players.
  4. Le Premier Pas.
  5. Wilful Murder.
  6. Nine Points of the Law.
  7. The Return Match.
  8. The Gift of the Emperor.
So here we have the forerunner of a style of book that we thought was modern - where the villain is the central character. Although, unlike Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Morgan in DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER, or Simon Kernick's Dennis Milne, Raffles never kills.

I think the text of the stories is a bit dated, the language a bit more formal than we use now, and certainly I noticed the odd word that is no longer part of our regular vocab. But in the late 19th century, these stories must have been a breath of fresh air. Hornung was Conan Doyle's brother in law, and whereas in Holmes vs Moriarty you have good vs evil, in Raffles you really have evil vs. good. Interestingly they both, Homes and Raffles, have rather lame sidekicks in Watson and Bunny.

As you can see, I'm rather taken with the stories although I'm only rating it at 4.2.
They won't be everyone's cup of tea. But they are short quick reads if you want to dabble or listen like I did (see below for more explanation).

Now although I have acquired a copy of the Penguin Classic (2003), I haven't really read this in the conventional sense of the concept. I have listened to nearly 6 hours of Librivox recordings read by Kristin Hughes. I posted about this earlier.

What prompted me to read it is that August is Classics Month over on oz_mystery_readers and Sunnie who is going to lead the discussion gave us the options of listening to it with Librivox, downloading a text file from Gutenberg, or buying a reprint (the Penguin Classic). Nut that I am, I have done all three. I didn't end up printing out the text file, although I am being tempted with the idea of an e-book reader like Kindle (not available in Oz), or the Sony Reader Petrona talks about. I am thinking though of just getting a smaller lap top, but I guess that won't have all the features of an e-reader.

There's a bit to talk about - I have an idea that I sometimes listen with only half an ear, so it is sometimes difficult to recall names etc. I am almost just a touch deaf so I may not have heard a name properly in the first place.

Kristin read the stories mainly in what appeared to my ear to be an Irish accent, and that, and the fact that the narrator is Bunny Manders, a male, took a bit of getting used to. However by about the 4th story we were well into the swing of things, and Kristin was letting herself go and doing a wonderful job of each character, including the detective from Scotland Yard Inspector Mackenzie.

The Penguin book has the advantage of coming with an extended Chronology of Hornung's life. From that I've learnt that RAFFLES: THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN was published in 1899 when Hornung was 33 years old, although the first six stories had been published serially in the previous year. I also learnt that he spent 2 years in Australia as a tutor to a family in the Riverina (hence the Australian references in the stories). The other items the book contains an Introduction, and then some Notes at the end. They would enable a serious study of the stories and their context if that is what you had in mind.

My first Award

Many thanks to Just A (Reading) Fool who made my day by giving me a BRILLANTE WEBLOG PREMIO 2008 award. In giving me the award he said "she brings a worldwide flavor to mysteries and highlights books that those of us here in the States might not have heard about."

Admittedly it is one of those awards that is part meme and rather like a chain letter. But it is a chance to tell a few others that you admire what they do, and also to direct your own readers to blogs that you regularly visit.

Here are the rules:
Once an award is received, the rules are as follows:
  1. Put the logo on your blog - I have included it in this posting, but also put in in the side bar
  2. Add a link to the person who awarded you - that is here in this blog, and also in the block called 60 Blogs I'm watching.
  3. Nominate at least seven other blogs (see below).
  4. Add links to those blogs on your blog. - they are already in my list of 60 Blogs.
  5. Leave a message for your nominee on his or her blog (I'm off to do that now).
Here are the 7 book reading blogs I'm nominating

Petrona- Maxine is just an admirable blogger. She reviews crime fiction both on her blog(s) but also for Euro Crime, and also writes about other items of interest. She has also been a great source of encouragement to me. She recently introduced a heap of us to Friend Feed
She created Crime and Mystery fiction FriendFeed group and then this morning I discovered she also has OWL FriendFeed group. I don't know where she finds the time or the energy!

Detectives Beyond Borders - Peter is another who has been a great source of encouragement. He has a very cosmopolitan taste in crime fiction, and is a constant source of a new direction for my reading. He is responsible for many of the new-to-me authors like van de Wetering, Glauser, Vargas and the like.

Do You Write Under Your own Name? - Martin's is one of the calmest feeling blogs that I read, but always informative. He is also a talented writer and recently won an award for one of his short stories, "The Bookbinder's Apprentice". He hosted Carnival of Criminal Minds #17 and keeps me up to date on Festivals and the like in the UK. One day we will meet.

Musings from a muddy island -Not only does she read crime fiction occasionally, but Juliet takes fabulous photos of the waters around her muddy island.

Reading Adventures - this is Marg in Melbourne, queen of challenges. She reads much more broadly than I do and I am amazed at all the challenges she participates in.

Barbara Fister's Place - Barbara is another who has been a great encouragement to me. She is also the creator of The Carnival of Criminal Minds, a wonderful blogging ring that I have also participated in.

Bloodstained Book Reviews- Canadian Lillian Porter is an avid crime fiction reader and we share a lot of reading DNA. I watch her reviews to see what she thinks of books I haven't yet read. If Lillian doesn't like something, chances are that I won't either.

24 July 2008

REVIEW: THE CLEANER, Brett Battles

Random House, 2007, ISBN: 978-1-848-09006-4, 353 pages
Author website: http://www.brettbattles.com/

In his line of work Jonathan Quinn does a lot of travelling. He’s a cleaner, usually hired to clean up messes others have left behind, inconvenient traces that may incriminate. He thinks of himself as a "dry cleaner". He removes bodies but is rarely called upon to initiate violence himself. All that is about to change. This time he has been sent to find out first hand what caused the death of a tourist in a farmhouse fire just out of Denver, Colorado.

Quinn quickly concludes this fire was no accident, and the victim no tourist. Things just don’t jell. The farmhouse is isolated but there is no indication of how the victim got there. He realises the body in the farmhouse is meant to be seen as a warning but for whom? And why?

Just as he himself was once an apprentice in the cleaning business, so Quinn is now training a young man. Nate has a lot to learn – he is overeager, a little raw, but he is learning fast. There are times though when thinking for both himself and Nate is a real handicap.

When a fellow cleaner attempts to assassinate Quinn he realises that somehow what he has found out about the farmhouse body has put him on a hit list. Both he and Nate are in danger. Quinn’s quest to find out what is going on takes them from Los Angeles, via Vietnam, to Berlin, uncovering a threat that not only challenges the Office for whom Quinn works, but the very safety of the human race. The closer he gets to uncovering the secret, the more dangerous it becomes for himself and those he contacts.

THE CLEANER is a fast moving thriller, in a style made popular by Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins, Hammond Innes, and more recently Matthew Reilly. Not really my favourite genre, the story at times strained the bounds of credibility. Nevertheless the plotting is tight, the tension sustained, and the central scenario believable.

This is a strong debut novel, followed up recently by a second in the series, THE DECEIVED. An American by birth, Brett Battles lives in California.

My rating: 4.2

Earlier this week I invited people to pose me a question related to my reading.

Book Zombie asked me:
I would like to know about The Cleaner - What exactly does he clean? Does the book have anything to do with the movie called The Cleaner starring Samuel L Jackson?

You've made an interesting point here. I found a reference to the film on Wikipedia:

Cleaner is a 2007 thriller film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and Eva Mendes.
Single father and former cop Tom Cutler has an unusual occupation: he cleans up crime scenes. But when he's called in to sterilize a wealthy suburban residence after a brutal shooting, Cutler is shocked to learn he may have unknowingly erased crucial evidence, entangling himself in a dirty criminal cover-up.

There are some similarities: Jonathon Quinn is a former cop, but he doesn't really clean crime scenes, so much as remove embarrassments. He works for the Office, but is himself not quite sure who the financiers of the Office are. He suspects at one stage, that they may be government related.

The film was released in December 2007, but it seems to me that the book and the film are not really related. The book was released in hardcover in June 2007.

23 July 2008

What a funny idea!

On her blog Susan Hill is tipping THE SPARE ROOM by Australian author Helen Garner as the next winner of the Booker Prize. She says "THE SPARE ROOM is so highly charged you need to read it, and then re-read it, to try and deal with the electricity Helen Garner generates between herself, her characters, and the reader."

But this is the bit that struck me as a bit odd. Susan writes "If you happen not to like reading novels set in Australia, do not be put off in this case - it might be set anywhere. Australia does not intrude."

It had never occurred to me that readers would be put off if a novel was set in Australia. Of course, I'm a little biased about Australia, but I don't think I have ever rejected any novel because of its setting. I thought it was Australians who felt the cultural cringe.

So I invite you to comment on a couple of things.
  1. Have you read THE SPARE ROOM? Do you agree with Susan about its Booker potential? You might like to read what she says in full, and even comment on her blog.
    I haven't read it, and I am so committed to crime fiction, that I may not ever get to it, but I am interested to hear what others have to say.

  2. How do you feel about novels set in Australia? Are you put off? If so, what don't you like about them?

Top 10s in the Guardian.

For years the UK Guardian has been running a Top 10s series where authors choose their favourite books on their chosen theme. There are 250 lists on the list.

If you don't want to wade through all the lists looking for crime fiction, then here are some that came through on a Google alert today:

Around the world in 80 sleuths

Thanks to Sarah Weinman for pointing to this list on The Independent. 80 books matched to 80 destinations, and 80 sleuths.
Some strange choices (for me) but a lovely list nevertheless. I have tried reading books set in the place where I have travelled to and it is does add an extra dimension to your travels.

Currently there would be huge holes in my itinerary if I tried to match books I've read with destinations, even if I was just travelling in Australia.

I was glad to see mention of Peter Temple and Adrian Hyland on the list though. Perhaps you could help me out with some Australian suggestions for a similar journey.

22 July 2008

REVIEW: DEATH OF A HAWKER by Janwillem van de Wetering

1977, Soho Press, 262 pages

It is riot time in Amsterdam again. It is summer and there are screaming mobs, flying bricks, howling fanatics, exploding gas grenades, soapstone powder, bleeding faces, and the sirens of ambulances and police vehicles. Esther Rogge rings the police station to say that her brother Abe is dead on the floor and his head is all bloody.
The nearest police are on the other side of the riots and it takes Detective Sergeant de Gier and Adjutant Grijpstra nearly an hour to get to her, largely on foot. It appears that the dead man has been killed by a round object studded with spikes that has smashed every bone in his face. But neither his sister not the upstairs lodger heard anything before discovering his body. They of course are the prime suspects but neither appear to be likely murderers.

The dead man was known as the King of the Albert Cuyp street market, a dealer in beads, cloth, and haberdashery, and their search for his enemies take de Gier and Grijpstra into a disconcerting, for de Gier at least, world of prostitutes and market stalls. There will be one more death before they finally work out who killed Abe Rogge.

This is #4 in van de Wetering's Amsterdam Cops series, and the first that I have read. The investigation is led by a commissaris plagued wuth rheumatics. "A policeman is a hunter" says the commissaris. "We observe, connect, conclude and apprehend", he says, as he tries to instruct both de Gier and Grijpstra in the art of good detection.

This is the first of this series that I have read. The style is very different to modern police procedurals, with more in common with Glauser and Simenon. There are little background snippets, like the reasons for the riots, the man who has a heart attack and drops dead in the hospital emergency waiting room, the two thousand guilders that become saturated by a cup of coffee accidentally tipped into the cash box, de Gier's nightmares, Gripjstra's liaison with the prostitute Nellie, and the seething mass of toads on the road near the canal bank, that all add atmosphere.

My rating 4.4

A couple of days ago I invited people to pose me a question related to my reading.

Peter over at Detectives Beyond Borders asked:
What influence do you think Janwillem van de Wetering's experience and training in Zen Buddhism had on his crime writing? What influence do you think his police experience had?

Evidence of Zen Buddhism
I am not sure what I am looking for here. Perhaps it surfaced in the way Grijpstra thought about what caused the violence in Amsterdam - "Amsterdam, by its tolerance for unconventional behavior, attracts crazy people....Crazy people are special people. They carry the country's genius, its urge to create, to find new ways." Or perhaps in the character of the upstairs lodger Louis Zilver who says "Life is short. Seize the day, and all that."
Zilver and Grijpstra discuss the role of the police. Grijpstra says it is the role of the police to protect the people from themselves. Zilver says public order comes from sheer boredom, a heavy weight that throttles the citizen. Perhaps the Zen Buddhism is surfacing in the mere discussion of issues like this.
When an informant is murdered the commissaris blames himself, saying he may as well have murdered her himself.

Evidence of his police experience.
This one is a little easier. There is a focus in the story on the police hierarchy which is footnoted for the reader's benefit at least twice. We are told "The ranks of the Dutch municipal police are constable, constable first class, sergeant, adjutant, inspector, chief inspector, commissaris, chief constable." The pecking order determines who is allowed to give orders to whom. The story gives us a strong idea of how the police system works.

It Worked! - the commuting that is

Just reporting that commuting from Hobart in Tasmania to Adelaide in South Australia this morning worked. I was at work by 9.30 am, although it did mean getting up just after 4 am.

The other thing I've done today came at Sunnie's suggestion, see Sunnie's Book Blog. I've added Odiogo to my blog. It gives your blog "a podiocast" - a high-fidelity computer-generated voice file. The voice is a bit odd, sort of male American.

As a result you can now subscribe to my blog with http://podcasts.odiogo.com/mysteries-in-paradise/podcasts-html.php

20 July 2008

Sunday Salon #18 - 20 July 2008

I'm travelling again today, so I've set this to auto publish, which is a nice feature that Blogger offers. I'm off to Hobart today to deliver some workshop sessions on Monday. On Tuesday morning I aim to commute from Hobart to Adelaide.

Last time I tried to do this Melbourne had a blanket of fog that prevented my plane from landing, and we eventually returned to Hobart to refuel, after circling Melbourne like a chicken hawk for about an hour.
About 4 hours after we originally set out, we flew out of Hobart again, and returned to hover in the air above Melbourne as the backlog of delayed flights eventually managed to land. Got into the Melbourne airport to find that flights to Adelaide were all booked out and finally got back to Adelaide about 7 pm. So much for commuting. Let's hope everything goes to plan on Tuesday.

This week's posts
  • Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award
    At the dinner prior to the Harrogate Festival, which would be a wonderful event itself to attend, the winner of the Old Peculier Award was announced: a debut novel that has already won the 2008 COSTA Book of the Year. The Yorkshire Post has interviews wth Stef Penney, Zoe Sharp, and Peter Robinson too.
    Both longlist for this award, and the short list, are worth your attention. They make a reading syllabus in crime fiction where you can't go wrong.
  • Crime in the City
    A set of interviews you can read and listen to with 9 well known crime authors. The text interview is a part transcript of the audio. You can also read an extract from their books online. I haven't read them or all, or listened to all the audios, but the ones I have really whetted my appetite for more. Each audio is about 7 minutes. The interview with Donna Leon is an absolute gem.
  • Don't the organisers of MWF like crime fiction?
    The quick answer - I don't think they do. A disappointing offering.
  • Ned Kelly Shortlists - what we reckon
    This week I closed my polls for what might be on the shortlists for the Ned Kelly awards to be announced at MWF on August 29. Let's see how close we get.
  • A KILLING FROST, Progress Report
    I've spent the week reading R. D. Wingfield's posthumously published novel.
    My final review is here. My rating: 4.7
  • Online audio books
    Late last week I discovered Librivox, which champions "the acoustical liberation of books in the public domain". I was really pleased when I learnt how to burn audio books from the web onto CDs, so I could listen to them in the car on my way to and from work. And then the reader of the one I've been listening to made my day when she commented on my blog.
This week I attended a computers in education conference with the theme of Learning is a Conversation. I gave a session on blogging which I am convinced is not only cathartic but addictive. Every blog posting is the beginning or perhaps a continuance of a conversation. But only if people take the trouble to comment. So, now you've read to here, why not take the next step and tell me what you think? Do you blog? Are you addicted?

Being a Weekly Geek- #12 - pose me a question

I haven't been participating recently in Weekly Geeks simply because the activities haven't appealed, but this one looks like one I could manage.

The challenge is

1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you finish this week.

2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.

3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).

4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions!

OK - so here is your chance..
In the next week or so I'm going to read
  • THE CLEANER, Brett Battles: review here
  • THE QUIET GIRL, Peter Hoeg
  • DEATH OF A HAWKER, Janwillem, van de Wetering: review here
  • RAFFLES AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, E. Hornung: review here
  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Stieg Larsson
So, pose me some questions, and I'll try to answer them in the reviews that I write.

19 July 2008

REVIEW: A KILLING FROST, R. D. Wingfield

Bantam Press, 2008, 400 pages. ISBN 978-0-593-0647-6

It's late at night in Denton, dark with rain, and a man walking in Denton Woods is horrified when his dog retrieves a chopped-off human foot. As usual D.I. Jack Frost has far too many cases to cover - fifteen year old Sally Marsden attacked and raped near a multi-storey carpark; the reported abduction of a two year old from his cot;two missing teenagers; a blackmailer who has poisoned baby food in a local supermarket and is demanding money; and then on top of it all, the arrival of a new D. C. I. whose sole mission in life is to rid Denton police station of scruffy, irregular, and unconventional Jack Frost.

Published posthumously by the estate of R. D. Wingfield, after a long gap in the six book series, it seemed to me as I said in my progress report earlier this week, that the early incidents in A KILLING FROST owed their existence to some of the episodes in the very popular television series. In all there have been 42 episodes in 13 series, made, "based on the characters created by R. D. Wingfield". A KILLING FROST seemed to me to contain a compilation of some of these episodes.

His very continuance as part of the Denton police force under threat because of scheming by the new D. C. I. and Superintendent Mullett, to get him to volunteer to transfer to another station, overburdened with an enormous workload, continually under-resourced, Frost continues to show as he connects the dots in the puzzles, why he is among the best.
If I had to compare him to another fictional detective then I think it would be Fred Vargas' Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Like Adamsberg Frost is able to connect the seemingly unconnected. Nor does Frost do things by the book. If he doesn't get a search warrant then he is devious enough to do without. His mind continues to gnaw at problems, trying make sense of what he knows he has seen.

I liked A TOUCH OF FROST more as the central story of missing teenagers surged on. Frost complains at the amount of work piled on his plate, but he never shirks, and he always shoulders the blame when it is his.

As the threat of having to leave Denton looms, Frost is haunted by thoughts of his dead wife. They were not close in the final years of their marriage, constantly driven apart by the demands of his job, and the fact that he really is a workaholic. That strand inserts an element of pathos into the story. But it's easy to see how the job separated them.

So this book is Wingfield's last. It is sad to think there will be no more.
If you haven't read any at all, do start from the beginning.
Here's the list to look for
1. Frost at Christmas (1984)
2. A Touch of Frost (1987)
3. Night Frost (1992)
4. Hard Frost (1995)
5. Winter Frost (1999)
6. A Killing Frost (2008)

My rating: 4.7

Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Announced

The short list was

Blue Shoes & Happiness
Alexander McCall Smith
Buried
Mark Billingham
A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil
Christopher Brookmyre
Not Dead Enough
Peter James
Sovereign
CJ Sansom
One Under
Graham Hurley
Dying Light
Stuart Macbride
The Tenderness of Wolves
Stef Penney
Piece of My Heart
Peter Robinson
The Death of Dalziel
Reginald Hill
The Chemistry of Death
Simon Becket
Relentless
Simon Kernick

And the winner was a first novel which has already found acclaim as a work of mainstream literary fiction, Stef Penny's THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES.

Harrogate Festival looks set to have 7,000 participants. Listen to a series of interviews with Stef Penney, Zoe Sharp, and Peter Robinson.

Crime in the City

Many thanks to In Reference to Murder who put me on to this. Over on NPR (National Public Radio) in a series of stories, crime novelists give listeners a tour of the places they and their characters inhabit.
They include
  • Robert B. Parker's Boston,
  • Donna Leon's Venice,
  • John Burdett's Bangkok
  • Laura Lippman's Baltimore.
  • Joe Wambaugh's Los Angeles
  • Chelsea Cain's Portland
  • Julia Smith's New Orleans
  • Sarah Graves' Eastport
  • Michael Connolly's Los Angeles (might be interesting to compare with Wambaugh's view)
A good series to monitor..

18 July 2008

Don't the organisers of MWF like crime fiction?

What a tragedy! I've been looking forward to the Melbourne Writers' Festival for a whole year now. Looking forward to a feast, meeting my favourite authors, listening to really good panel discussions, catching up with 7 others of my crime fiction "cronies" as I've done for the last 2 years. They are coming in from Perth, Launceston, Newcastle, Darwin, as well as couple from Melbourne.

When I recently discovered that work commitments would mean that I couldn't actually fly over(from Adelaide) to Melbourne until after work on August 29 I was bitterly disappointed because I had been looking forward to it so much.

Well, I needn't have worried. The MWF organisers, for reasons best known to themselves have decided to fly in the face of the current popularity of Australian crime fiction, and include so little to interest readers of the genre that it is laughable.
Check the programme for yourself. Do the search for crime like I did and come up with just 8 events!
Oh yes, there are the Ned Kelly awards on the Friday night (Aug 29) and if I'm lucky I'll be able to get there for the BIG announcement.
On Saturday and Sunday there are just 2 events of interest to me. And I'm flying across to Melbourne for this?

If you want to see the true famine of crime genre in the programme, have a look at the discussion happening over on Aust Crime Fiction, where those of us who have met at MWF for the past 2 years are weighing up what is available. Some of our group are arriving on the first Friday of the festival, and the landscape of offerings for them between Sunday 24 August and Friday 29 August is starker than the Nullarbor!

Disappointment is a very mild word for what I feel. The crime fiction element at the Crime & Justice Festival at Abbotsford this weekend will put MWF to shame. And what a bounty we had at Adelaide Writers Week earlier this year. It will certainly make me think twice about MWF next year. MWF no longer looks like Mecca.

17 July 2008

Ned Kelly Shortlists - what we reckon

For the last 2 or 3 weeks I've had a poll running on the bottom on my blog so people can say which books/authors will figure in the Ned Kelly shortlist. The longlist is here.

Here's what people think:

Best Non-Fiction
NED KELLY'S JERILDERIE LETTER, Carole Wilkinson (1)
KILLING JODIE, Janet Fife-Yeomans (1)

Best First Fiction
FRANTIC, Katherine Howell (4)
VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE, Leah Giarratano (4)
THE LOW ROAD, Chris Womersley (1)
THE BUTCHERBIRD, Geoffrey Cousins (1)
MAELSTROM, Michael MacConnell (1)

Best Fiction
SHATTER, Michael Robotham (4)
SKIN & BONE, Kathryn Fox (3)
CHERRY PIE, Leigh Redhead (2)
HARUM SCARUM, Felicity Young (2)
THE CALLING, Jane Goodall (2)
FAN MAIL, PD Martin (1)
APPEAL DENIED, Peter Corris (1)
SUCKED IN, Shane Maloney (1)
SHATTERED, Gabrielle Lord (1)

The program is now available online and will be published in the Age newspaper tomorrow.

Author Marele Day will be given a LifeTime Award

16 July 2008

A KILLING FROST, Progress Report

This week I'm in Denton, in particular Denton Woods, in A KILLING FROST by R. D. Wingfield.
This was his last novel, published posthumously.
Unfortunately it feels a bit like I've read bits of it before- and not all of it in a Wingfield novel.

Bits of foot and leg have turned up - was there a newspaper case last year that had this happen?
I've certainly met this idea in a couple of other plots recently, although they might not have been recently written books.
There's the hand in the truffles case in Ruth Rendell's NOT IN THE FLESH. But I could have sworn there were others. Help me out if you can.

We are back in Denton Woods with a rape case - that doesn't feel new. Nor does the case of a missing teenage girl. But is it connected to the rape case?
And we are hanging around an ATM waiting for somebody who is blackmailing a supermarket to collect money that has been paid into his account. Predictably he manages to get money out of one where we are not waiting.

Mullett has brought in a new DI to get rid of Frost. He's going to make him toe the line - as if that will ever happen!

I think perhaps some of the ideas have been explored by script writers in the TV series which I have been an assiduous watcher of. Perhaps that is what happened- it's been a long time between printed books. As you can see the signature is that the word FROST always appeared in the title.

1. FROST AT CHRISTMAS (1984)
2. A TOUCH OF FROST (1987)
3. NIGHT FROST (1992)
4. HARD FROST(1995)
5. WINTER FROST (1999)
6. A KILLING FROST (2008)

I've read criticism that the TV version of Jack Frost, David Jason, is much nicer than actual book version. I'm testing that idea out too, and not finding much validity in it either.
I'm surprised to find that I haven't mentioned Wingfield before in my blog, so I'm correcting that now.

FROST AT CHRISTMAS, My rating 4.7
Ten days to Christmas. 8 year old Tracey Uphill disappears on her way home from Sunday School. D.I. Jack Frost has been assigned a new helper, the Chief Constable's nephew, D.C. Clive Barnard. As Christmas approaches, Frost is typically behind with his paper work and the trail to Tracey seems cold. His investigations unearth information about the vicar, about a teacher who regularly visits Tracey's prostitute mother, and about a robbery that was committed a long time ago.

TOUCH OF FROST (Audio CD), My rating 4.8
This book (unabridged on this 13.5 hr CD set) could just have easily be titled FROST's WEEK. Tuesday night brings with it the discovery of the body of a junkie in a public toilet, a rape in Denton Woods, a farewell party at Denton police station for a retiree, a hit and run death at a retirement village, a robbery at the town's strip joint, a missing school girl, and the crime stats are due. This CD reading gives you to time to wallow in Wingfield's excellent writing. But if you can't get the CD and haven't got 13.5 hours to spare (no long trips coming up), then get the book. The Frost series are worth the trouble. If you can't find the books, look for the TV series with David Jason.

15 July 2008

Online audio books

What do these all have in common?
They are the new releases on Librivox, which champions "the acoustical liberation of books in the public domain". LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Their goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books.

I'm currently listening to the 8 short stories that make up RAFFLES THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN by E. W. Hornung.

The Amateur Cracksman is the first collection of stories about A. J. Raffles, gentleman, cricketer, and thief. After stopping his old school friend, Bunny Manders, from a desperate attempt at suicide, Raffles introduces the unsuspecting Bunny to a new way of earning a living, burglary. Though frequently horrified by Raffles’s actions, the conscience-stricken Bunny stands by him through all their adventures, firm to his promise, “When you want me, I’m your man!” (Summary by Kristin Hughes)

I was able to download the 8 mp3 files to my computer, and then burn to a set of CDs (hopefully that does not break any sort of copyright) so I can listen to them to and from work in the car. Kristin Hughes appears to be the reader of all 8 stories. The recording is a bit over 5 hours.

Librivox say they are always looking for volunteer readers.

They have a number of different types of projects:

  • collaborative: many volunteers contribute chapters of a long text
  • solo: one volunteer reads an entire book
  • short works (prose and poetry): short works and poetry!
  • dramatic works: “actors” record parts, all edited together.
  • other languages: projects in languages other than English.

Practically, here is how things work:

  1. a book coordinator posts a book in the Readers Wanted Section.
  2. volunteers “claim” chapters to read.
  3. the readers record their chapters in digital format.
  4. the book coordinator collects all the files of all the chapters.
  5. the book coordinator sends the collected files to a meta coordinator.
  6. we check the files for technical problems in the Listeners Wanted section.
  7. the book coordinator sends the collected, corrected files to a meta coordinator..
  8. another public domain audiobook is made available for free.

13 July 2008

Sunday Salon #17 - 13 July 2008

A pretty busy week this week, lots of blog posting, and 3 book reviews. In fact I'm a bit later in writing this post because I wanted to finish my most recent read first.

This week's posts:

REVIEW: BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES, Simon Brett

Panmacmillan hardback, ISBN 978-0-230-01457-2, 2008, 339 pages.

BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES is #9 in Simon Brett's cozy Fethering series featuring town busybodies retired Civil Servant Carole Seddon and her neighbour Jude.

Carole is laid low with the flu the day that Jude sees a pale young man come into the betting shop where she is placing bets for an elderly friend. She assumes he has come in to escape the heavy hail storm outside but after he has left she sees a circle of dark blood on the floor. She follows a trail of blood drops to an alley next door where she discovers the man dying. He mutters a word and expires.

Jude tells what she knows to the police and eventually discovers that the young man has recently arrived from Poland. A few days later his sister contacts Jude and together Jude, Carole, and the sister attempt to discover who killed Tadek and why.

This is just the sort of situation, a murder almost on their doorstep, that Jude and Carole love. For my part I love Simon Brett's gentle humour, and the degree of personal story he weaves into their characters. Carole is now a grandmother and is surprised to find in herself a degree of feeling for her new granddaughter. Jude has a dalliance with a man who becomes a suspect in their murder investigation.

It doesn't matter to me that, probably because Brett lays clues down thickly, I had worked out who was responsible for the original murder, and then for another attemptedmurder. The book is just such easy reading.

The only thing that annoys me about this book, is something that I've noticed with other books in the Fethering series. Simon Brett doesn't seem to know how to bring the book to a close. The final chapter is written as if it is a retrospective, written some time after the final action has taken place. So you read the book as if it is all happening in current time, and then the final chapter makes you feel as if you've been in some sort of time capsule. I'm not explaining it very well. The problem occurs because Brett tells you what happens to the main characters in the time following the book, and this can take you quite a time into the future. It makes me feel as if I don't know what the time scale is between the books in the series.

My rating: 4.4

Australians are fascinated with crime fiction

If my recent hosting of The Carnival of Criminal Minds didn't convince you, then maybe this article in yesterday's Melbourne Age titled Crime Lines will.
Promoting Australia's first ever Crime & Justice festival, where among the participants you will find Michael Robotham, Garry Disher, Gabrielle Lord, Chloe Hooper, Leigh Redhead, Brendan Kilty SC, Brian Walters SC, Barry Jones and Malcolm Fraser.

Just some snippets...
next weekend will see the launch of Melbourne's — and Australia's — first-ever specialist crime-writing and justice festival, to be held at the Abbotsford Convent.

Crime fiction has become respectable, says the internationally acclaimed and Ballarat-based crime writer Peter Temple, author of nine crime novels and winner of the world's biggest crime-writing prize, Britain's Golden Dagger.

"Crime fiction readers have come out, they are admitting to their secret addiction," he says. "All sorts of people are now prepared to say: 'I love crime fiction.'

..... According to Temple, a passionate interest in crime fiction is an Australian tradition that dates back to 1886, the year our first blockbuster crime novel was published. Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, billed as "a sensational Melbourne novel", sold more than 400,000 copies before the turn of the century .

He missed out Rolfe Boldrewood's Robbery Under Arms first published in 1882 and now available as an e-book. And For the Term of His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke, published in serial form 1872 -1874 now also available as an e-book.

So crime fiction, here downunder, we do well. Go read the whole article.

The Age invites Melburnians to "Tell us in 50 words or less the author and title of your best read, and why you enjoyed it so much." Email: sunday@theage.com.au

12 July 2008

Fifty years on

Today I went out to lunch with a number of people whom I began secondary school with 50 years ago last February. It's interesting to see how little we've all changed once you peel back the years. Of course many of us look like our parents! Many of the others still live in the country town where we went to school, and quite a number of them are retired. Some are grandparents, even great-grandparents. Mostly our parents are still alive, although they are in their late 80s and early 90s.

I was in a girls class in that first year and our teacher (on my left) came today too.
She seemed so old back in 1958, but in fact she was only 19 and we were her first class.

We had our first reunion about 4 years ago just as many of the class were about to turn 60. Interesting that such a little school, never more than 350 students, could have had such influence.

We were true Baby Boomers, born in the year after the war in the Pacific finished.

Many of our year became teachers, some doctors, an architect, a professor of mathematics, some farmers, nurses, midwifery sisters, artists, a scientist or two, a florist, a graphic designer, a music teacher and composer, - the whole gamut of occupations really.

Life was very different then. Australia was suffering post-war effects, rationing still in force while we were young, paperbacks non-existent, Australia pre-decimal currency, school leaving age set at 14 years, very few before us completed secondary school, and in fact I had to go to the city, leaving home at 16 years, to complete the final year of secondary school.
The lunch passed quickly, lots of swapping of memories, catching up with what has happened in 50 years, sharing of brag books, looking at class photos 50 years old,. Many thanks to Julia, the 2 Helens and Vic for organising us - not an easy task.

11 July 2008

The Daggers are Awarded!

2008 CWA Daggers have been announced

The Duncan Lawrie Dagger:
Frances Fyfield, BLOOD FROM A STONE

The International Duncan Lawrie Dagger:
Dominique Manotti, THE LORRAINE CONNECTION

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44

John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
Matt Rees, THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS (aka THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM)

The Non-Fiction Dagger:
Kesper Aspden, NATIONALITY: WOG - THE HOUNDING OF DAVID OLUWALE

Dagger in the Library:
Craig Russell

Short Story Award:
Martin Edwards for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice"

Debut Dagger:
Amer Anwar, WESTERN FRINGES

Forgotten what was on the shortlist already? See an earlier posting.

The temerity to write a review

A posting by Sharon Wheeler on Hey, There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room has me so stirred up that I think I will sit on this for just a little while to let the blood cool.
Titled Amateurs and Professionals, it's redolent of the old argument that only trained journalists can write.
Now it's probably not directed at me, but like Samson into the lions den, or Boadicea against the Romans, I feel I can't let this go by.
So after work tonight, I'll be back to take up the cudgels again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, here I am again and still simmering.

Here are some selected bits from Sharon's posting:
To be brutally honest, the standard of online reviewing isn't great – and I reckon there are two reasons for that. One is that old amateur/professional divide..... But the problem with reviewing is that every bugger thinks they can do it. .....I've learned by bitter experience not to bother reading most of what people call reviews on the discussion lists or blogs, because they're not – they're barely adequate summaries... the 'fan' reviewer. A number of these appear to have cosy little niches where authors send them books and they post the 'reviews' on lists or blogs. Because they've had the book direct from the author, most appear to feel they can't then be honest, which renders the review almost useless.

Well, let me lay my cards on the table. A journalist I am not. I have been reading books though for well over 5 decades, and writing about them in some way for nearly all that time. I'm an amateur who's been reading crime fiction for approximately 45 years, brought up on a diet of classics in first of all in the traditional sense and then in crime fiction, honed by a university major in English literature followed by decades of teaching English. I know what I like and I'm not afraid to say what I don't like.

You may look at my 2008 list over in the right margin, and think that I am not very critical. You'll see a couple over there that I really didn't like (right down the bottom), but you see there's a process of selective discrimination that goes on before I even read a book. I generally read, and then tell people about, books that I enjoy. However I do write about all the books that I've read, and it is very rare that I don't finish a book.

That said, I don't see it as my role in life to harpoon authors with cruel words to discourage them from ever writing again. Hopefully Sharon had people other than me in mind when she wrote her post. But I'm defending all those amateurs who post their mini-reviews in their blogs in good faith. Many of them serve their purpose well, help them to clarify their ideas about the book, and at the same time, give the reader a clear indication of whether they will enjoy the book or not. And yes, like me, they are amateurs, not earning a living by their writing. That doesn't make their opinions any less valid.

An editor tried to harpoon me recently by contacting me by email, so perhaps I'm still feeling a bit tender. She criticised a review I posted, one of those at the bottom of my list, telling me I obviously couldn't recognise a cosy when I read one. I deleted her email and now I wish I hadn't. I'm not sure what I would have done with it though.

And I don't mean this posting to be a personal vendetta. I am arguing with the idea, not the person. As well as being a blogger on Hey, There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room, Sharon Wheeler is the editor of Reviewing The Evidence, where a phalanx of professionals and amateurs keeps us up to date with the latest in crime fiction, with candid and well written reviews.

10 July 2008

REVIEW: THE DARKEST HOUR, Katherine Howell

Pan Macmillan Australia, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-4050-3832-4, 380 pages

Lauren Yates and Joe Vandermeer are paramedics, a team working in Sydney’s ambulance service. They are generally, but not always, on night duty. Joe has called in sick and so Lauren is on her own. An ambulance officer is always vulnerable in these circumstances. It’s a winter’s night and Lauren has just attended a horrific car crash where the driver died, and is now on her way back to the station. Two men rush out of an alleyway and one collapses into the gutter just in front of her car. When Lauren investigates the alleyway she sees a body. She locates another person in the alleyway, this time very much alive. To her horror it is someone she knows, someone she had hoped she would never see again. Thomas Werner is her niece’s father, and when he sees that Lauren recognises him, Thomas threatens to harm Lauren’s family if she reveals she has seen him. Lauren’s decision not to reveal this information when she later makes her statement to the police about the body in the alleyway has far-reaching repercussions.

In a sense THE DARKEST HOUR is a sequel to Howell’s debut novel FRANTIC because, although the central paramedic character is different, the investigating police officer is again Detective Ella Marconi. Ella realises that Lauren has not revealed all. THE DARKEST HOUR uses a structure of two parallel plots, rather like the structure of FRANTIC. Ella’s determination to succeed in her investigation and to cement her position in the homicide squad at times makes her obsessive and seemingly hard-bitten. The investigation brings very real danger for her as it is realised there is a “mole” in the homicide squad.

The personalised stories of the main characters breathe life into THE DARKEST HOUR. Lauren Yates at times makes some pretty poor decisions. Her partner Joe’s fiancĂ© is venomous in her hatred for her, ready to bring her into disrepute at every turn. Ella Marconi is struggling to maintain a life independent of her doting Italian mother and extended family. The result is well-fleshed characters that seem real.

THE DARKEST HOUR is not so much a mystery as a thriller. The reader always knows who the quarry is. The book gets its pace from the net closing around him. This book confirms that Katherine Howell is an Australian author to watch. In an Author’s Note Howell is candid in her explanation of how she came to be a writer, how she has used her previous job as a paramedic as background for her novels, but also how she had to distance herself from that life in order to write. There’s more on her website at http://www.katherinehowell.com. Katherine Howell lives on the New South Wales north coast and is currently working on her third novel. Her debut novel FRANTIC has been longlisted for the 2008 Ned Kelly Best First Novel awards.

My rating: 4.6

9 July 2008

BookMooch works!

When I joined BookMooch I must admit I was a bit skeptical about whether it held much for me. It was suggested to me by Bernadette who monitors and comments on my blog postings quite often.
Their lovely graphic explains it all:


I'm still a BookMooch newbie in terms of the transactions I've made. Originally I made 18 books available and that gave me 1.8 points to play with. You get points for sending books off to people and use points when you receive books. You can choose to just send books within your own country, but there are rewards (triple points) for sending books overseas, which of course is more expensive for you.

What made me doubtful about whether it would work for me was that the Australian BookMooch "arena" might be so much smaller. You can confine your search to books available in Australia or you can search the wider world. There's a "wishlist" page too where you can list books you would like.

Anyway I have accepted requests from fellow Moochers and sent books overseas. So far 4 books I've sent have arrived at their new homes, 2 to the US, 1 to Ireland, and 1 here in Australia. Two more are on their way- 1 to Australia, the other to Greece.
So far I have received 2 from people in Australia. 3 more from Australia are in their way, and one is to come from Canada.

There are rules. For instance, you have to send out at least 1 book for every 2 you receive. If you don't keep this ratio up, you won't be able to mooch any books, even if you have the points, until you improve your ratio.

Points summary:

ActionPoints
Add a book to inventory+ 1/10th
Give away book (within your country)+ 1
Give away book (to another country)+ 3
Mooch a book (within your country)- 1
Mooch a book (from another country)- 2
Acknowledge receiving a book you mooched+ 1/10th

I must comment too on how helpful people have been. My first Mooch "friend" was incredibly informative when she realised that I was mooching my first book. When I had a mild technical problem I got "personalised" service from the help desk, who promptly sorted the problem out. Then there are some impressive statistics about the number of members, number of books listed, and numbers of books "given" over the last 2 years.

Perhaps, like me, you probably need to add to Mt. TBR like a hole in the head as the saying goes, but if you have surplus books lying around, you could give it a go.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin