Sunday, May 24, 2009

A copule of mini-reviews.

My reading has slowed a little of late. Perhaps it's my frame of mind or perhaps it's the demands of life intruding. Or it could be after a spectacular reading month in April, May's offerings haven't held me glued to the page as much.

Richard Montanari
Publisher: William Heinemann
ISBN: 9780434016020

Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are on the trail of a serial killer. He murders young women and leaves clues for the police to find. Solve the clues and they might just save another victim. He also dumps his bodies in very specific locations. The detectives also have to try and work out the reasoning behind the locations to unlock the riddle of the killer.

PLAY DEAD is about riddles, puzzles and magic tricks. At least for the killer that's what it's about. For Bryne and Balzano it's about catching him before there are too many more victims.

We know who the killer is pretty early on in the book. We also know something of the reasoning of the killer. It's up to the detectives to find out what it's all about.

I enjoyed PLAY DEAD while I was reading it but when it came to writing this review I had to pick up the book to remind myself of the plot and the characters. There were parts of the plot that I didn't particularly like. The connection with a murdered colleague seemed just a bit too coincidental.

My verdict: Fairly quick and entertaining read, but details will soon fade.

DEATH'S ACRE - Dr Bill Bass (with Jon Jefferson)
Bass and Jefferson write crime fiction under the name of Jefferson Bass. The protagonist in their fiction seemed to me to be very closely based on Bill Bass himself. This opinion was confirmed when I read DEATH'S ACRE which is the story of Bass' professional career, how he came to established the now famous "body farm" and some of his landmark cases which have led to advances in the science of forensic anthropology.

The book is packed with fascinating facts and details of the work done by Bass and his colleagues at the Body Farm. He relates this information in a cheerfully conversational manner that cuts down the "ewwww" factor considerably.

My verdict: Anyone who is even vaguely interested in how the experts can find out so much about how, when and why a person died will find DEATH'S ACRE informative and entertaining.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

This edition published: 2007
ISBN: 978023002006 (HB)

Winter 2002. The body of a teenage girl is found murdered on the border between North and South of Ireland in an area known as Borderlands.

Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is given the case. The only clues are a rather expensive looking gold ring on the girl's finger and an old photo left where she died.

Another teenager is murdered. Devlin finds a link between these killings and the disappearance of a prostitute twenty five years ago. The trail leads Devlin not only to people with links to "the troubles" but also, to his mounting horror, a suspect who is one of his colleagues.

A well written police procedural is one of the reasons I'm so addicted to crime fiction. A good police procedural will introduce you to the police,take you by the land and lead you through their investigation as they unearth clues by interviewing people, sifting the evidence and following leads. There will be a careful balance of detecting and learning about the lives of the detectives. If the author has done the job properly s/he doesn't deliberately hold back clues or have the the detectives catch the culprit in the act, just two pages before the end.

In his first novel, BORDERLANDS, Brian McGilloway has succeeded in all of the above. He has also avoided producing a door stop of a book. At just 227 pages, BORDERLAND doesn't muck about. You're straight into the story with no unnecessary padding. It's something I wish more authors would try to achieve.

If, like me, you enjoy police procedurals, you can't go wrong with BORDERLANDS. I look forward to reading more of McGilloways' writing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

SUNDA SALON: Guilty Pleasures.

You know it's rubbish, you know it has little merit, but despite that you enjoy it anyway. You might be reluctant to tell others you enjoy it because they'll laugh. But we all have them.

Perhaps it's a series of books, or some movies or a tv show. Some come on 'fess up. What's your guilty pleasure(s)

I shall admit to an addiction to the tv show NCIS. The plots are trite and predicitable. The characters aren't believable, but I love their quirkiness and hubby and I eagerly await the slap in the back of the head each week. We are on the edge of our seats. Who will be be the slapper this week? Who will be the slapee? One week there was no slap at all.

I also have to confess to always giggling at Dude, Where's My Car? and Wayne's World. So there, I've bared all with my guilty pleasures. What are yours?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE : a real curate's egg.

Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Quercus
This edition published: 2009
ISBN: 9781847245564
569 pages

Lisbeth’s friend, Blomqvist is working on a major story for his magazine Millennium. They are about to blow wide open the details of human trafficking for prostitution in Sweden. They are going to name names. The couple working on to story are gunned down in their apartment and Salander’s prints are on the gun left behind. A country-wide hunt for the girl with the violent past ensues; most think she’s guilty but when the investigating officer begins to question the people in Salander’s life, he gets a very different picture of the woman described in official records.

I’ve heard the expression “curates egg” and know what it means but I’ve often wondered where that expression came from. I found a nice explanation of its origin on the Phrase Finder website.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE fits that definition exactly. Good in parts but annoying and exasperating in others. The book begins with a recap of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and a very detailed account on the minutiae of the life of Lisbeth Salander. In fact these elements are so detailed that its past page 150 before the meat of the story even begins. I nearly gave up on the book, but a number of people urged me to keep going because it was worth it. I did persevere and I’m glad I did. But there were other things in the book that I struggled with: overlong-fight scenes with a minor character that was almost invincible which might have worked in an action movie but seemed silly and out of place in the book and a scene with Salander in danger towards the end that had me rolling my eyes.
My reaction to the book had me asking questions about the accolades the book has received. Does it truly merit this or is there the “Marilyn Monroe” effect happening? Would the books have been as universally acclaimed if the author hadn’t died tragically young before the books were published? How much editing was done on THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE? Was there a sense of “we mustn’t’ touch this work”? Would the publishers have allowed nearly 150 pages of back story and Salander’s daily life to stand as it does if Larsson had lived?
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, but I enjoyed it with reservations which not many seem to have expressed. Am I alone? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: BROKEN SKIN Stuart MacBride

Publisher: Harper Collins
This edition published: 2007
ISBN: 9780007193172

There’s a rapist on the streets of Aberdeen and the violence of the attacks is escalating. Police fear sooner rather than later one of the victims will die. While Detective Sergeant Logan Macrae’s girlfriend is acting as bait, Macrae is working on finding out who is responsible for inflicting the wounds on a body dumped outside the hospital.

Some films are discovered; bondage and discipline featuring the dead man, police begin to wonder if the man was the victim of a session gone wrong or if someone out there has developed a taste for inflicting serious damage. The investigation takes Macrae into the twilight world of the BDSM scene with some unexpected and reluctant help from one of the uniformed constables who has some unusual interests.

BROKEN SKIN is Stuart MacBride’s third Logan Macrae novel. The first, COLD GRANITE had him working with DI Insch. In the second, DYING LIGHT, DI Steele was the officer in charge. In BROKEN SKIN, MacBride seems to have gone for a bet each way and had Macrae working for both at the same time. It’s a plot idea that does not seem to work terribly well. Rather than concentrating on a single investigation, Macrae is pushed from pillar to post, grumbling all the while and becoming impatient himself. Macrae and his colleagues moan, groan and whinge their way through the book. We know this because these adjectives are used often; to the point of annoyance on my part.

The issue of the over-used adjectives aside, BROKEN SKIN is entertaining enough. However after the wonderful debut novelCOLD GRANITE, BROKEN SKIN is a bit of a disappointment. I only hope this was a glitch and subsequent novels will be of the standard of MacBride’s first.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Salon: Ever wanted to write your own crime story? Here's your chance.

Have you ever been to a progressive dinner? You know the type of thing. You have a different course at each house.

Well, my friend Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise has set up a progressive crime story.

Each person has just 140 characters to make their mark. You can contribute as many times as you want. It's great fun. It's like watching a bunch of lunatics trying to wrest control of the steering wheel of a runaway bus.

To check out the story so far and to add your own piece of madness, go to

Sunday Salon: 15 books. you've been tagged

This has been doing the rounds of Facebook recently. I thought it was worth a blog entry.

The name of the game is to list 15 books that will always stick with you and do it within a 15 minute time frame. Pass it on to 15 friends and see what they come up with.

Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Graham

Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Ten Little N*ggers (yes, that's what it was called way back when dinosaurs roamed) - Agatha Christie.I found this on my grandmother's bookshelf when I was a teenager and it introduced me into the world of crime fiction.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Christine - Stephen King (my first horror book and it gave me the heebie jeebies)

Needful Things - Stephen King (it was supposed to be horror but I laughed all the way through - it made me realise I had a taste for sick puppy humour)

all of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels by Reginald Hill

Riotous Assembly - Tom Sharpe - political commentary in the form of farce - glorious.

The Colour of Night - Terry Pratchett (audio book narrated by Nigel Planer - introduced me to Pratchett's beautifully odd disc world)

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

Be My Enemy (aka F*ck This for a Game of Soldiers) - Christopher Brookmyre - Mad, bad, tacky, tasteless, politically incorrect, hysterically funny and the best ranter in the business

Underbelly - John Silvester & Andrew Rule - hooked me on Australian true crime

The Body Farm- Patricia Cornwell - my first encounter with the forensic side of crime - that fascination has stayed with me even though Cornwell hasn't. I've long since given up reading her books.

Diamond Dove - Adrian Hyland - so many themes in this book combined with aboriginal spirituality

A Beautiful Place to Die - Malla Nunn - I've just read it and it truly was a WOW book. Set in 1952 South Africa, the fear and paranoia that apartheid laws brought is all through this book.