Saturday, December 27, 2008

Review: The Watcher in the Woods - Gillian Maisey-Jackson

When Kathleen Ashley’s husband died leaving a failed business behind, Kathleen was forced to take work as a live in carer to make ends meet. Her current job is with the elderly, irascible Cedric. Cedric is very difficult but Kathleen is fairly happy in her job. She likes the little village and the people in it.

Kathleen’s orderly world is thrown into turmoil when she receives an anonymous poison pen letter accusing her of immorality with her employer. She reports it to the police who go through the motions until they discover that a murder victim some months earlier had a similar letter in her possession.

Sergeant Awders and Inspector Brent discover that there are a number of murders over a fifteen year period that could be connected. As they begin to question the people of the village, they uncover the gossip and jealousies beneath the surface.
Reading THE WATCHER IN THE WOOD is like watching a one hour mystery on TV. The setting is a place with a finite number of suspects; in this case a small village. We are introduced to the characters and then one or more of them are murdered. Enter the police who question everyone and solve the crime.

THE WATCHER IN THE WOOD is a puzzle piece. At just 138 pages the reader isn’t really given the opportunity to fully engage with any of the characters. I guessed the identity of the killer before the author chose to share it with me. The book is written well enough, but I felt it lacked substance. It does the job of a light read for the holidays but nothing more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunday Salon: Merry Christmas everyone

This is a You Tube Video of one of my favourite fun Christmas songs. I hope you all enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Review: SAWBONES

Author: Stuart MacBride
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
ISBN: 9781842995297
This edition published: 2008
114 pages

Stuart MacBride is a relative newcomer to the crime fiction scene. His first novel, COLD GRANITE, featuring DI Logan Macrae, burst onto the scene to much acclaim in 2006. Since then there have been four other Logan Macrae novels, with a sixth in the pipeline.

SAWBONES is a different kettle of fish. It is set in the USA for a start and is a road trip no one would ever want to undertake. There are three gangsters in a car, a teenage boy who has recently had his “frank and beans” cut off and a dead FBI agent in the boot. They are on the trail of a serial killer who kidnaps young blonde women and cuts off their limbs while they are still alive. This time the killer has picked the wrong victim. He has taken Laura, the sixteen year old daughter of a New York crime boss.

Police throughout the country are making enquiries, but the gang boss doesn’t trust them. His minions are making their own. Their interviewing techniques aren’t what you’d call subtle. After being questioned by this lot, a witness is just relieved to still be alive, let alone still have all their original body parts.

SAWBONES is very violent and definitely NOT for readers of cosies. It could very easily be very grim indeed, but underlying all this blood and gore lurks MacBride’s humour. And that is the attraction for me. While one of the more psychotic members of the gang is wreaking havoc on the most innocent of bystanders, the narrator of the story (another member of the gang ) is standing back admonishing “never poke a bear”.

More a novella than a novel ,SAWBONES is just 114 pages long. But those pages are action-packed with never a dull moment. If you think you can handle the violence, then give SAWBONES a try. I loved it.


Author: Alex Caine
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781405038997
This edition published: October, 2008
Price: $32.99 (Aust)
287 pages

Aaah, America. Land of the free, home of economy? Who knew that there are people out there who earn their livings by hiring themselves out to law enforcement agencies, to gather intelligence by infiltrating gangs and organisations? We’re not talking about under cover cops here. These are civilians.
One such civilian is Alex Caine. Caine few up in Canada and had a tumultuous childhood, frequently skating around the fringes of the law. In the late 1960s, looking for something more adventurous he travelled to the USA , enlisted in the army and spent time fighting in Vietnam. On his return he found it difficult to settle down.

Caine was and is a martial arts aficionado. One day while attending a competition he was befriended by a fellow practitioner who was a member of The Bandidos motorcycle gang. In the course of conversation, Caine was asked if he was interested in helping to make a large drug buy. Disconcerted, Caine gave a non-committal answer. He later told his wife who encouraged him to report this offer to the authorities, which he duly did. Not long after, he was approached by the Mounties and asked if he was interested in accepting the offer and infiltrating the gang. So began Caine’s new career.

Over a period of twenty or so years Caine infiltrated gangs such as the Bandidos, the Hells Angels, and even the KKK. He also made contacts with and supplied information on Asian Triads, Russian mobsters and corrupt cops.

BEFRIEND AND BETRAY is an insider’s story of this complex and murky world where you can trust no one. Not only did Caine have to be wary of the gang he was infiltrating, but he also had to be circumspect about who he trusted in law enforcement. His is a story of creating alternative identities and living on his wits, often for months at a time. It makes compelling reading.

Just how such people live, how they maintain their own identity and the effects on their relationships outside their work is as fascinating as the details of the work itself. In some instances Caine’s story raises as many questions as it answers. Just how effective are these types of operations? The biggest success of his career, Caine feels is his first, the infiltration of the Bandidos. It resulted in dozens of arrests across the USA, Canada and internationally, but ultimately it didn’t put a stop to the gang’s drug-dealing activities. It just slowed it down for a while.

I thought BEFRIEND AND BETRAY said as much about the character of Alex Caine as it did about the gangs he was infiltrating. Caine’s seemingly burning need for danger and excitement appeared to come before anything else. With a trail of failed marriages and estranged children behind him , Caine has finally given up this work. At least that’s what he claims in his book. The author blurb tells us that Alex Caine now works as an advisor on motorcycle gang investigations and is a frequent guest speaker at police conferences. He is a certified fifth-degree black belt martial artist. One does wonder about the ultimate cost of his unconventional life. Will he be alone in his old age or will his desire for living on the edge once more take control and lead him back to old life and ultimately cost him his?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Review: ANGELS UNAWARE - Mike Ripley

Publisher: Allison and Busby
This edition published: 2008
ISBN: 9780749080839
398 pages

Roy Angel is a Private Investigator. He is the token male at an all female agency. His wife, a successful fashion designer, has recently given birth to their first child.. But there’s a fly in Angel’s blissful ointment. The Agency is insisting he is not entitled to extended paternity leave and his mother has descended upon them to “help” with the baby. Angel’s mum is a bit eccentric. She’s a hippy with a penchant for trouble and has the maternal instincts of a doorknob.

Angel takes on the job of searching for a missing script writer. The bank financing the film is getting jumpy because the final draft of the script is past due and the writer hasn’t been seen in nearly two weeks. The investigation takes Angel out of his comfort zone of London into the wilds of Yorkshire. He is aided by fellow PI Ossie Oesterlein, a very large man with an even larger appetite, who lives at home with his mum and is into line dancing in a big way.

So just how does a search for a missing man end in a murder hunt with Angel staring down the barrel of a loaded gun contemplating his own death? And what does a Polish porn star have to do with it?The story is told from Angel’s perspective. As the narrator, Angel’s voice is highly amusing; particularly the banter between himself and Ossie. These two are about an unlikely a pair as you’ll ever come across. His wife’s increasing exasperation and annoyance at Angel’s extended absence from the martial home is also very entertaining, as is his mother’s antics.

The author, Mike Ripley, deftly changes both the tempo and mood of the plot as what begins as a routine missing person case and a jaunt to the north becomes a matter of life and death for Angel. ANGELS UNAWARE is a light-hearted detective yarn with a somewhat dark centre.

I was surprised to learn that ANGELS UNAWARE is the fifteenth in the Angel series. I must look out for more. Mike Ripley’s Roy Angel has slipped under my radar until now. Don’t let it slip under yours.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

SUNDAY SALON; Crime fiction book review ANGELS UNAWARE by Mike Ripley

ISBN: : 9780749080839
Publisher: Allison & Busby
398 pages
Roy Angel is a Private Investigator. He is the token male at an all female agency. His wife, a successful fashion designer, has recently given birth to their first child.. But there’s a fly in Angel’s blissful ointment. The Agency is insisting he is not entitled to extended paternity leave and his mother has descended upon them to “help” with the baby. Angel’s mum is a bit eccentric. She’s a hippy with a penchant for trouble and has the maternal instincts of a doorknob.

Angel takes on the job of searching for a missing script writer. The bank financing the film is getting jumpy because the final draft the script is past due and the writer hasn’t been seen in nearly two weeks.

The investigation takes Angel out of his comfort zone of London into the wilds of Yorkshire. He is aided by fellow PI Ossie Oesterlein, a very large man with an even larger appetite, who lives at home with his mum and is into line dancing in a big way.

So just how does a search for a missing man end in a murder hunt with Angel staring down the barrel of a loaded gun contemplating his own death? And what does a Polish porn star have to do with it?

The story is told from Angel’s perspective. As the narrator, Angel’s voice is highly amusing; particularly the banter between himself and Ossie. These two are an unlikely a pair as you’ll ever come across. His wife’s increasing exasperation and annoyance at Angel’s extended absence from the martial home is also very entertaining, as are his mother’s antics.

The author, Mike Ripley deftly changes both the tempo and mood of the plot as what begins as a routine missing person case and a jaunt to the north becomes a matter of life and death for Angel. ANGELS UNAWARE is a light-hearted detective yarn with a somewhat dark centre.

I was surprised to learn that ANGELS UNAWARE is the fifteenth in the Angel series. I must look out for more. Mike Ripley’s Roy Angel has slipped under my radar until now. Don’t let it slip under yours.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A comment on my previous comments post.

Well, that's odd. It appears my comments option reappeared with my previous post about comments not appearing.

So, if you want to comment on a previous post, then just add your comment here and I'll see it, I promise.

This stuff can send you insane very quickly.

Here's a great video of your typical tech support (always assuming you can get through to an actual living, breathing person.

Comments not working for some reason.

My apologies for not having comments enabled. It is not of my doing, I assure you. I have spent the last hour going round and round in circles trying to find out how to fix it.

Everything in my settings appears to be in order, yet the comments option just isn't there. If anyone knows of a fix for this I'd be your friend for life and 10 days.

There appears to be no way of contacting a sentient life form at blogger unless there is abuse or some such. I've had to post to a help news group, but not holding out much hope as there are pleas for help going back a number of days that appears to have been unanswered.

I hope the comments will be back up and running again soon, so please check back.

Review: WHITE NIGHTS - Ann Cleeves

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: 2008-10-05
2nd in the Shetland Quartet series

WHITE NIGHTS is the second in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland quartet. In her first, Raven Black, we met Jimmy Perez, a detective sergeant born and raised in the Shetland Isles. We followed Jimmy as he solved a murder and met Fran, a divorcee with a daughter.

In WHITE NIGHTS Jimmy and Fran are on the brink of taking their friendship one step further. It is mid-summer, that time of the year when the sun never quite sets in the Shetlands. It can disturb sleep patterns and they reckon it can send people a little bit mad.

Fran is having her first art exhibition with Bella. Bella is a local woman with an international reputation, so Fran is thrilled to be sharing the limelight with her. On the big night, the turnout is disappointingly small and is also marred by the presence of a stranger; a man who stands in front of one of Fran’s paintings, head in hands and begins to sob. Jimmy steps in to try and help. He takes the stranger into the kitchen and leaves briefly. When he returns the stranger is gone. He is found the next morning, hanging in a fishing shed. The marks on his neck quickly establish it wasn’t suicide and Jimmy begins the investigation.
Reading Ann Cleeves is a little like being an addict. You very quickly become hooked as Cleeves
drip-feeds background information of her characters in very measured doses. And you have to pay attention. Miss one piece of this information and you might miss a vital clue.

The protagonist, Jimmy Perez is a quiet thoughtful man, familiar with the Islands and the people. His boss D.I. Taylor, who flies in from Aberdeen for major cases is the opposite. He is unable to sit still and has a bull-at-a-gate approach. They work well as a team and have developed a solid working relationship. It’s a fine line Jimmy has to walk in his investigations. He has to find out who committed the crime, yet he has to live with these people.

The characters, the island and its culture are all beautifully described. I’ve never visited the Shetlands but I feel as if I am there when reading these books. I have loved both books in the Shetland series and my regret is that Cleeves has stated she is only writing four. Each book represents a season of the year. We’ve had Winter and Summer. I can’t wait to read the other two seasons.

WHITE NIGHTS is one of my WOW books for 2008. Do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy. I’m sure it will be one of yours.

Cleeves' website at h gives details of the third in the series scheduled for publication early in 2009.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Getting Stuff done

You tube video found on These Aye Mean Streets blog by Russell D. McLean

I just had to add this before I went back to my school assignment. Well, I'll do that after I've finished reading my emails, washing the lunch dishes, checking my Facebook. You know....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sunday Salon: Can we please lose some adjectives?

I have just finished a doorstop of a book. 487 pages to be exact.
I won't bore you with the problems I had with the plot or the court room ending that simply wasn't credible.

What I want to talk about today is why this book was over-long. It's something that seems to be occuring more often recently.

The over-use of adjectives. An example from the book I read recently:
She took two of the upturned glasses standing on the crisp white towel on the black marble counter and poured them both a drink before gliding across the room, extendingher long slender arm and handing him his water."

Oh pu-lease. It was such an inconsequential bit of trivia in the book, yet the author made a 3 course meal out of it. She handed him a glass of water would have sufficed.

So why are is this happening in books? Is it an attempt to make them thick and seem like value for money for the reader (new paperbacks in Australia cost in the region of $33)?

Is it the fault of the writer, who doesn't know when to stop?
Or the publishers and the editors who let the books be published without asking for cuts?
Or is it an uncritical buying public who seem to go on buying and buying ?
There are a few authors who are huge these days whose work seems to have gone downhill, yet their books keep selling.

Any thoughts on this phenomenom?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Salon: Reading review books to the bitter end.

I am regularly given books to review.  They cost me nothing, which is quite a saving when you consider the cost of books here in Australia. 

There is a dilemma though. What is the right thing to do when you don't like the book?  Do you struggle on and finish it or do you stop when you know it's not going to work for you?

I'm in the former camp.  I have been given a copy and in order to do it justice I feel I should read it right though.  There is one friend who wrote a review saying she was simply unable to finish it.
That hasn't happened to me yet.

So which is better?  Write a review saying you couldn't finish it because you didn't like it? Or read it all and perhaps colour your opinion of it even more?

There is a school of thought that feels if you can't write a positive review, don't write anything at all, but I think that's being dishonest to a degree. I'd much prefer to read a negative review of a book than none at all. I think that negative reviews are just as useful, if not more so than positive ones. At least you know the reviewer is probably being honest.

What do others think?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: GOSPEL by Sydney Bauer

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
This edition published: July 2007
ISBN: 978140503802
Price: $32.95 (Aust)
487 pages
Tom Bradshaw is the perfect Vice-Presidential candidate. He had a difficult time in college, but overcame drug addiction and now leads the fight against illegal drugs. The nation is stunned when he is found dead in a hotel room of an apparent self-administered drug overdose after being clean for over twenty years. Just as the public is coming to terms with the death of the much-respected politician, it is announced that it wasn’t an accidental death, but murder.

Police very quickly charge Stuart Montgomery with Bradshaw’s murder. Montgomery is Bradshaw’s doctor and is touted as one of the front-runners for Surgeon General should there be a change of administration in the upcoming election. The pair have had a falling out and the evidence points to Montgomery. Attorney David Cavanaugh has never liked Montgomery. He is arrogant and pompous and more than that, he is the reason David’s ex-wife left him all those years ago. When Cavanaugh is asked to represent Montgomery at his murder trial, he hesitates. He doesn’t want to have emotions of the past dredged up again, and there is his current partner, Sara to consider. Despite his misgivings Cavanaugh accepts and quickly discovers that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. He begins to uncovers a conspiracy that reaches far and wide in the halls of power, putting his life and those around him in danger.

Sydney Bauer’s first book, UNDERTOW was a fast paced thriller and GOSPEL is promoted in the same way. It doesn’t seem to have quite the same pace and I think it suffers for that. The first couple of chapters introduce a so many characters that I found it confusing for quite a while. Bauer’s use of adjectives seemed at times a little unnecessary: ‘She took two of the upturned glasses standing on the crisp white towel on the black marble counter and poured them both a drink before gliding across the room, extending her long slender arm and handing him his water.’ It was a very minor detail. She gave him a glass of water would have sufficed. I found numerous examples of this. These unnecessary descriptions detracted from the pace of the book considerably. When a book is 487 pages long, details like this can become annoying.

Most of the plot was predictable. There were a few very clever little twists, but they didn’t arrive until after 400 pages and seemed to come too late. A large part of the ending involved a dramatic overblown court scene. “’Cavanaugh is a liar,’ he yelled, his voice rising over an astonished crowd. ‘A simple-minded show pony who, in his desperation to win exoneration for his murderous client, has rallied this group of geriatrics, has-beens, teenagers and drug addicts in a pathetic attempt to sully my good name,’”. Speeches like this abounded and I felt that any resemblance to a real courtroom situation was purely coincidental.

It’s a shame that GOSPEL was so overdone because there was a good idea in the basic plot premise.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Execution Lullaby

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simon Chase is on death row for the murder of seven teenage girls. Execution Lullaby is told from his point of view. It quickly become apparent that Simon didn't murder the girls, but he is complicit.

The story follows Simon's blissfully happy marriage to his wife, until he discovers a terrible secret.

The blurb for the book asks the question "how far would you go for the one you love?" and gives Simon's answer.

Nigel Latta is a clinical psychologist who specialises in assessing and treating sex offenders. It's dark place he has to visit on a regular basis and EXECUTION LULLABY reflects that. It's a compelling read if you have the stomach for it, with a very clever twist at the end. I found EXECUTION LULLABY unputdownable.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Salon: Re-reading classic crime.

I realised with horror that I haven't actually added anything to this blog all week.
Now that school is back I'm finding I just don't have the energy for much beyond the basics. Back on the iron tablets in case it's that.

Anyway, I re-read a crime class this past week. RAFFLES: THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN by E.W. Hornung - first published in 1899. I'd read these books in the 1970's when I was in my early 20's. I hadn't revisited them since.

I had fond memories of them. I'm not sure if my tastes have changed of if I've become more sophisticated in my analysis of what I'm reading. I found Raffles not to be the raffish but likeable crook of my memory but in fact a fairly self-centred character who appeared to treat his friend and confidante, Bunny Manders with a certain degree of disdain.

The book is written from Bunny's point of view and it seems that he portrays himself as being something of a bunny. Everytime something went wrong it seemed Bunny blamed himself.
I put it down not so much to Bunny's naivete but to Raffles not informing him what was going on.

What also raised questions for me that never occurred to me 30 years ago was the relationship between Raffles and Bunny. Bunny makes reference to Raffles' success with women once or twice in the book, but apart from one story, there is an almost complete absence of females. The one time one does appear, Bunny writes about her as being of no consequence. In fact, it seems as if Bunny is jealous. Hmmmm.. Could it be. The friendship from Bunny's perspective is more than mere admiration? Is Raffles selfishness in not keeping Bunny completely informed the act of a loner not used to working with someone or an attempt to keep him at arm's length?

Raffles was first published in 1899 and apparently E. W. Hornung was the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Was this portayal of Raffles and Bunny a genuine relection of a friendship in more innocent times issues of sexuality weren't questioned? Was it perhaps a sly, subtle glimpse inside a hidden world? Or could it have been an equally sly satire of Holmes and Doyle from a less successful writer?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Around the world in crime fiction.

Em (from L.A.) found this article on the UK Guardian website.
Around the World in 80 Sleuths
by Jonathan Gibbs
"Holmes and Watson would be proud. Crime fiction is booming as never before - and with dozens of new titles translated into English for the first time, there’s a detective for every holiday destination. Jonathan Gibbs tracks down 80 of the best sleuths to escape with this summer.... "

and goes on to list 80 authors with characters from all over the workld

or easier still try the tiny URL link.

How many have you read?

Crime and Justice Festival pt.2

Gee, life and school did catch up with me in a big way this last week.
Only now getting around to part 2 of the C & J Festival.

A Conversation with Peter Temple

What a great way to kick off the 2nd day of the Festival. Peter Temple is modest and his humour largely self-deprecating. He talked about his writing process. Not for him 17 drafts. He couldn't understand that. He writes and re-writes and does it again until he's happy with it. Somehow I got the impression that he's probably never really happy with it and perhaps the manuscript has to be wrenched from his fingers to cries of "wait, I haven't finished with it yet."

He spoke about getting published - his first Jack Irish novel. In it he had Irish learning cabinet making,he loves football and has a fondness for horse racing. His first experience was being told that they loved the book, but perhaps remove the cabinet making, the football and the horse racing. Fortunately wiser heads prevailed and Jack was allowed to keep these interests.

He was asked about writing for television. Recently the tv movie VALENTINE'S DAY was screened. Temple's experience with this wasn't a particularly happy one. He was wined and dined and fussed over and his screenplay raved over.... but.... just a few minor changes herfe and there. He claimed there isn't much left of his original work.

I'm not so sure. I saw Temple's hand in the emotionally closed off and uncommunicative character of Ben Valentine. Regardless of how Temple feels about the end product. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Matters of Procedure
P.D. Martin, Garry Disher and Barry Maitland, with participating chair, Marshall Browne discussed researching and writing police procedurals. Phillipa spoke about getting started in this genre and brought along some books she found valuable in her research (I was furiously making notes at this stage). She also talked about a forensic text book she purchased from the U.S.A. She had tried to gain permission to witness an autopsy but failed. After seeing the images in the text book, she professed to be somewhat relieved that she didn't succeed. She said it gave her new sympathy for the victims and their families.

Garry Disher lives in a small community and knows the police officers who police that community so he said for him, it's a matter of a trip to the pub and buying a few beers, asking questions and perhaps organising a tour of this or that police station. Barry Maitland told a similar story.

Writing From Life
Crime writers - like any other writer - often use elements of their own life and the lives of
those around them in their fictionLeigh Redhead, Angela Savage, Dorothy Johnston ; discussed borrowing from life and the blurred line that divides fact from fiction .

It turned out to be a highly entertaining panel discussion as both Leigh Redhead and Dorothy Johnston had both worked in the sex industry at some stage. Leigh admitted that the character of Chloe in her book is her best friend. Her friend often rings her and says "So what's Chloe up to today." She also claims her friend only reads the bits of the book with Chloe in them.
Redhead also spoke of the different atmospheres in brothels in different states. Terms like "massage with hand relief" were used. The most difficult she claimed was a two person massage with hand relief. She said the most important thing is not to catch the eye of the other girl. Otherwise you're gone in fits of giggles.

Angela Savage's life experiences are very different - yet in some ways similar. Angela works for the United Nations and Non-Government Agencies in setting up Aids/HIV awareness and treatment programmse in Asian countries. She is currently living in Vietnam (as is Leigh Redhead)

It would be difficult to pick 3 more interesting authors to discuss writing from life experiences than these.

Nigel Latta's Darklands

The true surprise of the festival. I chose it because I wasn't really interested in the session the others had booked into. I didn't fancy waiting around in the cold outside and this sounded like it might be of some interest. Boy was I wrong. It was fascinating. The rest of the group ended up in this session as well when the other one was cancelled.

Nigel Latta is a clinical psychologist - a New Zealander who specialises in treating sex offenders and victims. Nigel is outspoken, profane ("I swear because I enjoy it and it get's my guys' attention"). and hugely entertaining. Surprising when you consider the subject matter.
His book INTO THE DARKLANDS is a fascanating read and Nigel has made a documentary series based around the book. We learned that apparently this series has been bought by an Australian tv network. (Fingers crossed that it is not shown in the wee small hours in some unpublicised time slot).

Trivia Quiz
A large box of books was on offer. And we were the only ones who signed up for the quiz. We did offer Simon the opportunity to cancel the quiz given there were only 4 of us but he insisted we go ahead anyway. What was odd was that at the end of the day Helen, Karen and I all ended up on the same number of points - I thank knowing the theme tune to Bergerac for that piece of good fortune and we all shared the booty when we got home.

We all left very happy and vowed to make the Crime and Justice Festival our number 1 priority next year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not much reading and fantastic news.

I'm back at school now with 4 new classes and attendant assignments, so not much reading being done the last few days.

I got sidetracked from reading Jarad Henry's wonderful BLOOD SUNSET into RAFFLES: AMATEUR CRACKSMAN by E. W. Hornung. A classic first published in 1899. It is the group discussion on Oz-Mystery Readers classic month and I put my hand up to ask the questions as I nominated the book and it won the vote. It's been many years since I read the book and I'm quite enjoying it, even though my mind isn't really in reading mode right now - it keeps wandering off to the assignment on Web 2.0 tools. However, now that I've broken the back of some of it, hopefully I'll be able to concentrate.

Now for the news. Wednesday was Allan's (hitherto known as The Childe) birthday. His 23rd. We organised to go out to a Smokey Joe's a local Cajun/Creole restaurant. The food was delicious as usual. However that's not the news.

Now when The Childe left school he didn't have a clue what he wanted to do. As luck would have it an apprenticeship at a bakery just across the road from us came up and he went for the interview and got the job. He's now been there nearly 5 years and is the only one who started his apprenticeship there at the time who actually stayed the distance.

When he qualified his boss wanted him to take on a Franchise Management course with a view to perhaps taking over the bakery when he'd finished. Well he applied to do the course and in doing so, learned the other day that he is one of 4 in the COUNTRY to win a scholarship. All his costs paid for by the company - in excess of $1000, PLUS he gets to attend the company's annual conference in October - all expenses paid. In Cairns in far North Queensland. Nice work if you can get it. when he learned about this hubby's reaction was "do they know just how much The Childe eats?"

Anyway, that's my news for the past few days..

Oh yes, and I am fully aware that I have yet to complete my diary of the Crime and Justice Festival.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Crime and Justice make for great Festivals

I'm back from the inaugural Crime and Justice Festival held at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne over the weekend. And what a wonderful weekend it was. All crime, all the time. Nirvana for a crime fiction addict like me. The atmosphere was so informal and friendly. Unlike bigger events, author's werent' whisked away for signings, publicity etc. yes, there were signings, but if you missed an author then, chances were you'd see them later on.

Which brings me to Robert Gott. Poor man. Everytime he turned a corner, there we were in our usual hunting pack configuration (books under arms, glass or something red or white in hand or perhaps a coffee).

The one major problem with the Crime and Justice Festival was the decision making. Leave it to the professionals with Robert Gott, Sydney Bauer and Dorothy Johnston; Crime and Reason - Forensic Psychologist Nigel Latta, Kerry Greenwood & Liz Porter talk about crime motivation or perhaps Leigh Redhead, Garry Disher and Jarad Henry on keeping it local? This is just one example of the agonising choices we had to make with clashing events. Truly spoilt for choice (for the record we went with keeping it local). But isn't that a wonderful problem to have. But enough of that. You want details (or perhaps you don't, but you're going to get them anyway)

All three authors on this panel have set their books in the areas they work and/or live. Jarad Henry spoke about St. Kilda at night and how the weather can affect what people do. Blood Sunset (the title of his second book, which you must read it's fabulous) is a term the police use when the sun sets on a hot summer day and turns the sky red. It often augers a hot night when people come out and drink more than they should. The heat frays tempers more than usual and that's when blood is shed. Beware the blood sunset Jarad writes when signing his books.

Garry Disher spoke about the changes in the demographics of the Mornington Peninsula over the years, the increasing difference between the haves and the have nots and how that has changed crime patterns. His observations of life in the area very much inform his writing.

Leigh Redhead has been a sex worker. That's where her books are set. As part of her research Leigh did a Private Investigator's course. She stressedn upon her audience in her own inimitable way the vital importance of taking a funnel on stake outs.

Crime and Verse with Dorothy Porter
Dorothy talked about the two crime novels she has writen in verse. Monkey Mask and El Dorado. She also spoke about how the way kids are taught poetry in school often turns them away from it. What's wrong, she mused, about starting kids off with song lyrics. After all, aren't some of them poetry? She's got a point. Anything would be better than having to learn off by heart "I wond'red lonely as a cloud" in grade 3 as I did. Do they still inflict that on kids? Poetry should be taught by people who have a passion for it is Dorothy's thinking and I suspect she's probably right.

Colonel Mustard in the Library
Kerry Greenwood and Robert Gott have both written books with settings that pre-date sophisticated forensic testing. Robert Gott confessed to having chosen World War II as his setting our of sheer laziness. Police procedurals? Have to learn about it. Legal Thriller? Would have to be up on law. That'd require hard work. Forensics? Too much reserach involved. I don't believe Robert for a minute. But his stated reasoning was as entertaining as his books. If you've read A Good Murder then you'll know that the opening of the book has a dead woman floating in the town's water supply for over a week. Robert grew up in Maryborough in Queensland and said this actually happened. Although they didn't have Australia's most incompetent Shakesperean actor investaging (at least one hopes not).
End of part 1. Part 2 to follow

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: Trick or Treat

Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Life is going well for Corinna Chapman. Her bakery is going gangbusters. Her apprentice, Jason, has revealed himself to be a talented baker, his muffins in particular are to die for. And her lover, Daniel shows all the signs of being blissfully happy.

When a cut-price bakery opens just down the road, it gives Corrina a few nightmares. She hopes the novelty of the cheap bakery will wear off quickly and people will return to her because of the quality of her goods.

Another fly in her otherwise sweetly perfumed ointment is the sudden appearance on the scene of Georgiana, one of Daniel's ex-girlfriends. Georgiana is tall, slim, blonde and incredibly glamourous. How can Corinna compete.

The inner city always sees its fair share of drug overdoses and attendant odd behaviour, but there is something that is sending people mad and causing deaths. Corinna is shocked to find her bakery is one of the suspects in the source of the drug.

TRICK OR TREAT is the third in the Corinna Chapman series and my first meeting with her. I liked Corinna enormously. Hers was a world I want to inhabit. Inner city living in a beautiful old building with what appears to be affordable costs with a group of lovely people. Lots of wonderful food and fine wine. I want that life!!! It's probably just as well I don't have it. I'd be the size of a house rather than the commodious garden shed that I am now.

There were a couple of tiny things that didn't quite work for me. The presence of cats in the bakery being one. My son is a baker and there's no way they'd be allowed to trade with felines on the premises. And the sheer hard physical labour involved in the job is glossed over. But that's understandable. Trick or Treat is as much a fantasy as it is a crime fiction. It is an idealised life. In that respect TRICK OR TREAT reminded me of The Darling Buds of May with the lavish and loving descriptions of meals eaten. And that was my main problem with the book. While reading these descriptions it was difficult to resist the almost overpowering urge to go and rummage in the fridge for a snack.

TRICK OR TREAT is a real treat, but not one I'd recommend to anyone trying to diet!!

Another one bites the dust & having a "ball"

Finished another book last night. TRICK OR TREAT by Kerry Greenwood. Will write the review later today.

Horrible cold day here today. One of those gloomy days when the sun doesn't bother to put in an appearance. I'm having toasted muffins with melted cheese and salami for lunch. Just the thing for a cold day.

Last night I watched one of my favourite tv shows. It's called Spicks and Specks and it's a music quiz show. It's hilarious.

Comedian Frank Woodley was guest last night as was the woman who played Little Nell in the Rocky Horror Movie. For reasons which will become apparent in the film clip I'm about to link Frank was in a woman's one piece bathing suit. The result cracked everyone up completely.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lunch, test results and a new movie.

I went out to lunch with the TAFE crowd again yesterday. Well, perhaps crowd is overstating it a bit. There were just 3 of us. One is farm-sitting and no one had his number, another was sick with the lurgi and a third couldn't come because she was home alone and had forgotten the security code for the house alarm. Now that's the sort of thing that happens to me. Very reassuring to know I'm not the only one.

Shared a pizza with Kelly. Delish. One of those thin, crispy crusts that, when done properly are wonderful (not like the franchise chains) with a chicken, brie and spinach topping.

When I got home I found an email waiting to tell me I had passed the test for the module about using catalogue tools. A very pleasant surprise because I really thought I'd tanked it and would have to sit it again.It was the punctuation that caused me the headahces.

Another interesting piece of news. Chris Nyst,author and the writer of the screenplay GETTIN' SQUARE - one of my all time favourite movies and one I don't think has seen the light of day outside Australia is about to release another movie.

This one is called CROOKED BUSINESS. I love the publicity strategy they have used. They showed a preview to Mick Gatto - one of the major players in Melbourne's underworld - and asked him to review it. Since the UNDERBELLY tv series, interest in the Melbourne Gangland is sky-high and as Gatto has given the movie his seal of approval "Sensational: Underbelly with a sense of humour", then hopefully it will have a good audience

I'm not confident that it will make the movie screens here in Launeston any time soon. The disappointment is that it is scheuled for theatre release just 4 days after I return from Melbourne where I would have had a strong chance of seeing it. I'll just have to wait.. and wait.. and wait I guess.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Open File by Peter Corris

Allen & Unwin
205 Pages

Cliff Hardy is cleaning out his office after losing his Private Investigator's licence. He comes across a folder with the paperwork for a missing person's case going back to 1988, Australia's Bi-centennial year.

OPEN FILE is a look back at how Cliff did his job twenty years ago. It is remarkable to note just how much technology has changed our lives in the twenty years since that landmark year in Australia's history. It was an era before the common use of mobile phones - when you could still find a public phone booth and put a coin in the slot. There was no internet to use as a reference to find people and information. These things have become so much a part of our daily lives that we forget what life was like before we had them.

Peter Corris' writing style is to the point. He gets straight to the story and doesn't waste words. He also manages to evoke a very strong sense of Sydney. Corris knows these streets, he's had a beer at the pubs and a cup of coffee at the coffee shops. There is a reason why Corris is referred to as the "godfather of Australian crime fiction" and if you are wondering why, then one of his Cliff Hardy books will answer the question.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Review: BYE BYE BABY by Lauren Crow

Publisher:Harper Collins

Thirty years ago there was a victim. A victim of unbearably cruel actions who never saw justice. Now there's a serial killer on the loose.

DCI Jack Hawksworth doesn't know any of this when he is assigned the case. Jack is young for his rank and good-looking which makes him interesting to the media. He's also the subject of considerable interest and speculation amongst his female colleagues which doesn't help.

As if that's not enough, there's an officer in the "Ghost Squad" who seems intent on re-opening an old complaint against him.


BYE BYE BABY is a very thick book. At just over 500 pages, perhaps too thick.

The basic plot is pretty good, but there seems to be just a little too much window dressing. Jack is attractive to women, his past problems demonstrate that. His deputy, DI Kate Carter has a crush on him and is extremely jealous of attention he pays to any other female, despite the fact she is engaged to be married. I didn't like this particular plot thread, I felt it detracted from the story and made a character central to the book unlikeable when she didn't need to be. And perhaps its a sign of the author's inexperience with the crime fiction genre that many plot developments are telegraphed to the reader long before the police discover the clues. At times I felt like shouting at them not to be so dopey.

That aside, BYE BYE BABY differs from many books dealing with serial killers. There are shades of grey in this book which are missing from most other books with a similar theme.

Lauren Crow is a nom de plume for Fantasy author Fiona Macintosh who is making her first foray into crime fiction.

Musings on Doorstops.

What is is with authors these days that they seem to feel the need to write mighty tomes that you need a system of pulleys to read in bed without causing yourself injury?

Remember when a book that was more than 350 pages was considered thick? When the average was around 250 pages?

I've just finished reading a doorstop. It's was over 500 pages long. It could have been less than 400 pages and not really suffered. Sometimes it feels as if the author has thrown a bit of everything (including the kitchen sink) in effort to be worthy of the price the reader has to pay for the book. Sometimes more isn't more.

Even established writers who have developed a loyal following seem to be producing thicker and thicker books these days. Admittedly sometimes I don't mind: Reginald Hill recently wrote a 500 page plus book and I devoured every word, but he's rather exceptional.

Fortunately for me my next choice is just over 200 pages. Peter Corris' OPEN FILE. Not a spare word in sight. Every one of them used to tell the story and advance the plot.
What bliss.

So why authors writing longer books these days? Any and all theories welcome.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Another day another lunch.

Well, 2 lunches actually. Trip into town yesterday to have lunch with my fellow TAFE students (semester break at the moment). Local food hall. Won't go there again in a hurry. Walked bravely past the burger and steak sandwich place and went to the place that has heathly looking food. Chose a piece of pumpkin, spinach and feta quiche. It looked ok, but the pumpkin had almost no taste and the outside of it was overcooked. One of the others had a spinach and feta muffin and said it tasted as though it had been through the dishwasher.

Oh the point of all this is I ended up calling into my favourite book shop and buying THE BLOOD DETECTIVE by Dan Waddell, who is one of thre minds behind the tv series "Who Do You Think You Are?". That wasn't what swayed me in this impluse by, it was the positive comments on the cover by Mark Billingham and Reginald Hill.

Went walking with my walking group today. The Wobbly Women Walkers. Ended up having nice lunch at the local Museum coffee shop. No books acquired. A small victory there, not that there was anything to buy but still... I stayed away from all things books.

Not much else has been going on around here. The photo with the dogs is proving an attaction as they look so unbearably cute. Looks are deceiving though and right now Jirrah is outside with her battered frisby with lots of mud on her legs. At least it's stopped raining.

Still sloggon on with Bye Bye Baby and enjoying it more and more. I did promise myself a long session of reading it this afternoon, but the time is just slipping away......

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hawaii, here I come!!

I nearly forgot. After several months of prevarication and faffing about, I finally bit the bullet on my guilt and booked a flight to Hawaii!!

I'm going to Left Coast Crime in Hawaii in March next year!! The guilt comes from the fact that for health and stress reasons I gave up my job and enrolled in a full time course at TAFE. At the end of 2 years I'll be a qualified library technician. But because I've stopped working we're now down to one fairly meagre income. At least I had the airfare saved before I stopped working.

On the upside and the reason I finally booked my flights was that I found a site that offered student discounts on the flights I wanted - and with QANTAS. I save about $200 all up. Which aint bad. No more procrastinating. I'm probably not going to get a better deal and fuel prices are only going to continue to rise.

Quiet, cold Sunday.

The weather here continues to be mostly awful. We're getting our fair share of frosty mornings, the trouble is that the one thing that makes those frosty starts bearable is missing. Most days when it starts out this cold, the sun is out and we end up with a beautiful sunny but cold winter day. Lately though, soon after the frost, cloud has descended and the rest of the day is spend under dreary, grey skies which means the place doesn't warm up at all. Even the wood heater going doesn't seem to take much of the edge off the cold at the moment.

Reading-wise, not much to report. Making progress with Bye, Bye Baby by Lauren Crow. It's a doorstop of a book at just over 500 pages and perhaps could have done with a little paring down.

My aim to read all the Ned Kelly nominee long-list before the awards in late August is starting to look a bit shaky. I do hope not too many of the nominated books are as fat as this one.

Mind you, after a rocky start - I really did think I was going to struggle with holding my interest, it's starting to pick up, although I could live without the romance elements. If I wanted to read romance I'd read romance books. But that's my quirk.

Will anyone read my ramblings apart from me I wonder?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Well, here I am.

At last, just what the entire world has been waiting for. My very own blog.
To be honest, I've never thought that anyone other than me would have any interest in my thoughts and ramblings so I've never bothered before. But I have to set up a blog as part of my TAFE course so here we are.

I have no idea what this blog is going to contain as I haven't been given a topic yet, so we shall see. If I had my way I'd choose a subject like Australian crime writers.

NOTE TO SELF: For goodness sake don't forget to bookmark this page otherwise you'll forget where it is!