28 February 2009

REVIEW: THE LOW ROAD, Chris Womersley

Scribe Publications 2007, 280 pages, ISBN 978-1-921215-47-6

Wild, a doctor de-registered because of his morphine addiction, cast out by his wife, and on the run from the law, checks into a dingy motel on the fringe of the city. He is rather obviously a doctor, carrying a medical bag with him, and so it is to him that Sylvia, the motel manager, turns when a young man with a gunshot wound is dumped on her doorstep.

The wounded man Lee is also on the run. He was shot during what should have been a simple money retrieval job, complicated by the fact that he has decided to keep the rather paltry sum of money for himself. Now Josef, the man who sent Lee to get the money, wants it back. Or rather his boss wants it back.

Wild was a GP and has never dealt with gunshot wounds and he decides to take Lee into the country to the house of doctor he knows. Their subsequent journey with Josef in pursuit is quest-like, with critical consequences for all concerned.

THE LOW ROAD was shortlisted for the 2006 Victorian Premier's Award for an unpublished manuscript. In 2008 it won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First novel. But to be quite honest, this book could be set almost anywhere, with very rare references to its Australian setting. Neither the setting nor the characters exude particularly Australian characteristics. My guess is that this will give the book a wider audience. There will be readers who won't recognise anything Australian about it.

Although there are elements of mystery in the strands of the story, and Lee and Wild's individual back-stories are cleverly unpacked as the main action progresses, for me THE LOW ROAD seems to have a lot in common with Westerns, while still being unmistakeably crime fiction. In style, particularly in the author's economy with words, it has a lot in common with Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, which also works on the idea of a journey taking place in a harsh and unforgiving landscape, which I read a couple of years back.

THE LOW ROAD has one stylistic feature I feel I must comment on. Womersley has presented it without punctuation marks in dialogue. It is something that I have noticed recently in at least a couple of other novels. While contributing to the book's style, it has the effect of requiring the reader to focus closely on who is saying what.

Here is an example: A conversation between Josef and his boss Marcel.

Yes Marcel.
We've got a problem.
Josef lowered himself into an overstuffed armchair that was here when he moved in. It was an enormous thing, almost capable of swallowing him whole. He stifled a sigh. What is it?
You heard from Lee? You seen him?
Josef sucked at his gold tooth. No.
No. Why?
Because. Neither have I.

As I read on through the novel, the lack of quotation marks, which struck me as odd at first, no longer seemed to matter. There were times when I had to re-read a passage to make sure I knew who had said what, but it does make me wonder if we are going to see more books written in this way, and whether this is an impact of word processed writing.

I thought I would make a comment on the cover design, which seems to me to be unusually good too. I've spent a long time looking at it. it appears to be a view of a harsh landscape, perhaps the road through shards of glass. It works really well with the fractured view of life the flawed characters in this novel have. Why "THE LOW ROAD"? Well, I'm going to let you puzzle over that one for yourselves. It reminded me of the words of Loch Lomond:
    Oh ye'll tak' the high road
    and I'll tak' the low road,
Chris Womersley was born in 1968 and that makes him a relatively young author. He currently lives in Sydney and has contributed stories and reviews to a variety of journals and newspapers.

My rating: 4.7

27 February 2009

Checking the value of your website

I came across this tool called Stimator a couple of days ago.

I originally tried it on this blog MYSTERIES in PARADISE and it came up with a pretty average sort of result. Disappointing I thought.

Smik's Reviews barely registered.

Blogs I'm watching has lots of links on it, I thought, it should do better! Well, it did, the result staggered me:

As did the result for my latest creation the AGATHA CHRISTIE READING CHALLENGE Carnival, which really hasn't attracted all that much traffic yet, and really only has 4 postings on it altogether!

My friend Kerry explained it to me: it is all to do with the key words of the blog, it is related to the Google search and the popularity of those terms in Google searches.

Whatever! I'm chuffed! Anybody got a spare $5million US?

26 February 2009

Forgotten Books: Who remembers Mary Stewart?

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

An author who crops up again and again in my little green note book is Mary Stewart (1916-).
She wrote some of those gothic romance/mystery novels that I seem to have loved so much 30+ years ago. Several of her books were adapted for film and television.

The first of her non-Merlin novels (for which you may remember her) was MADAM WILL YOU TALK? published in 1955, and then again, rather adventurously, as part of an omnibus in 1956, which included NINE COACHES WAITING, and MY BROTHER MICHAEL. (I can hear you saying: I remember them!)

I'm obliged to Wikipedia for the plot summary for MADAM WILL YOU TALK?

Charity Selborne is on holiday in Provence with her friend, and former colleague, Louise. Before her marriage to Johnny Selborne they both taught at the same school in the West Midlands. Charity is now a widow, her husband's plane was shot down in France. She is staying at the same hotel as David Shelley and his step-mother Loraine Bristol. Mrs Bristol has taken David to France from England. David's father, Richard Byron, an antique dealer, who has been accused of murder, is pursuing his son across France.

Also staying at the hotel are John Marsden who is English and reads T. S. Eliot at breakfast and Paul Véry, who is French. Both have parts to play in subsequent events.

Here's a list to look for, courtesy Fantastic Fiction - but you don't need to read them in order
Madam, Will You Talk? (1955)
Wildfire at Midnight (1956)
Thunder on the Right (1957)
Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
My Brother Michael (1959)
The Ivy Tree (1961)
The Moon-Spinners (1962)
This Rough Magic (1964)
Airs Above the Ground (1965)
The Gabriel Hounds (1967)
The Wind Off The Small Isles (1968)
The Little Broomstick (1971)
Ludo and the Star Horse (1974)
Touch Not the Cat (1976)
A Walk in Wolf Wood (1980)
Thornyhold (1988)
The Stormy Petrel (1991)
The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)
Rose Cottage (1997)

Again, according to Fantastic Fiction, if you liked Mary Stewart, you'll probably like these authors
Victoria Holt (aka Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr)
Phyllis A Whitney
Georgette Heyer
Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters)
Anya Seton
Mariah Stewart
Dorothy Eden
Philippa Gregory
Nora Roberts
Linda Howard
Maggie Shayne
Patricia Wentworth

25 February 2009

Scene of the Blog

Cathy at Kittling:Books is running a fascinating series called Scene of the Blog.

So far we get a glimpse of where three bloggers create their posts, but this is a weekly series worth book marking. Cathy says she already has over 35 volunteers who've sent photos to her and written a little about themselves. If you'd like to participate, then all you need to do is contact her.

24 February 2009

Five Questions Interview

I have Dorte to thank for these questions. I noticed an interview on her blog: DJs krimiblog, and volunteered for her to send me 5 questions to answer. If you check the questions she answered, you'll see that hers were different.

1) Who is your favourite book character? - Why?

This is such a hard question. I had many candidates. Reg Wexford from Ruth Rendell - Dorte wrote about him recently on her blog. Kurt Wallander whom I wrote about yesterday. Jack Frost from R. D. Wingfield's Frost series. Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg from Fred Vargas. Vera Stanhope created by Ann Cleeves, Marjorie Fleming from Aline Templeton, or maybe Sri Paiboun from Colin Cotterill's Laotian detective series.
I finally tossed up between Carole Seddon of Simon Brett's Fethering series, and that traditionally built lady Mma Ramotswe from Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana series.

And the latter won my final vote: as I wrote in another posting
There is something about reading these stories that is rather like meeting up with old friends. But don’t underestimate McCall Smith as a writer. The characters are gently but so graphically drawn, with touches of humour, and situations you can imagine witnessing. And in #8 McCall Smith makes use of an urban legend that I’m sure you’ll recognise. There’s no sex, no violence, rarely any blood and gore in these novels. And yet there is murder, mystery and crime, just enough to challenge the reader’s little grey cells.
[P.S. Click on the image to get to the article it comes from]

2) As an avid reader of crime fiction, which three Australian crime fiction writers would you recommend to readers who are not familiar with Australian literature?

Once again, a hard question. Only 3 you say?
Well, in your bookshop or library, look for these wonderful authors: Michael Robotham, PD Martin, and Leah Giarratano, who were all among my top reads last year. Want some more? Have a look at my Australian made post.

3) If you were restricted to read crime fiction from one country, which one would you choose? - why?

Not fair Dorte! How can I choose? So many countries have so much on offer. Perhaps I should be patriotic and choose Australia. I was brought up reading English and Scottish literature so if you'd asked me a couple of years ago then I would have said I read mainly British police procedurals, but I also consume American, Canadian, French, Scandinavian authors. So my answer - I'll take whatever crime fiction I can have.

4) What does having a blog give you?

I love several things about blogging - the chance to explore my ideas, a place to post my book reviews, the opportunity to begin conversations with lots of other people. Because for me that is what a blog is - the beginning of a conversation.

5) Some people do not regard crime fiction as 'real' literature. How would you defend the genre?

The people who don't regard crime fiction as literature haven't read particularly widely in the genre in my opinion. Oh yes, they've dabbled in a few authors, but they haven't read the ones I've read. It takes a while for some books to become recognised as "literature" but I used to wonder when I was doing an English major why popular authors like Agatha Christie were never studied even though they made their living writing. And we studied books that sold very little.

You have only to look at some of my top ranking books last year, to be able to see some really worth thinking about as literature.

Here are my top rating books for 2008
5.0, SHATTER, Michael Robotham
5.0, NEMESIS, Jo Nesbo
5.0, FAN MAIL, PD Martin
5.0, DIRTY WEEKEND, Gabrielle Lord
5.0, A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES, Reginald Hill
4.8, VOODOO DOLL, Leah Giarratano
4.8, THE LORDS' DAY, Michael Dobbs
4.8, WATER LIKE A STONE, Deborah Crombie
4.8, NOT DEAD ENOUGH, Peter James
4.8, CARELESS IN RED, Elizabeth George
4.8, OVERKILL, Vanda Symon

If you want more, check out Smik's Reviews .

So thank you Dorte for your questions.
And dear reader, if you would like me to pose 5 questions for you, just leave a comment on this post, and I will oblige.

23 February 2009

Review: THE PYRAMID, Henning Mankell

(The Kurt Wallander stories) translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson, Harvill Secker, 2008, ISBN 9781846550980, 376 pages.

From Mankell's website:
The Pyramid is a collection of 5 short stories which gives readers more insight into the personal life of Kurt Wallander. While it was written after the 8th novel, Firewall, the events depicted in The Pyramid take place well before Faceless Killers, making it 1st chronologically in the series. The first story takes place in 1979 while the final occurs in 1989. In the stories, the reader sees Wallander on his first case and also before he meets his future wife Mona.

While a couple are short enough to be called short stories, at least the last two are long enough to be called novellas.
  • Wallander's First Case
  • The Man with the Mask
  • The Man at the Beach
  • The Death of the Photographer
  • The Pyramid
They trace Wallander's relationship with Mona, who will become his wife, then his ex-wife; with Linda his daughter whom he recognises holds the marriage together long after he and Mona have decided it holds nothing for them; and his father with whom he has an almost love-hate relationship. They also trace Wallander's growth as a detective, from when he is mentored by Hemberg, when he is still basically a cop on the beat, through to his rise as a detective, and his relationship with Rydberg, the mentor who replaced Hemberg, until Wallander was promoted over him.

As you do in the novels of Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell and Donna Leon, the reader becomes aware of social change, as refugees flood into Sweden, and drug trafficking replaces the old ways criminals used to make money. Mankell sees himself as a social commentator, and Kurt Wallender as his mouthpiece: (this is from the Foreword to THE PYRAMID)
"... the books have always been variations on a single theme: 'What is happening to the Swedish welfare state in the 1990s?..'.....
Wallander has in a way served as a kind of mouthpiece for growing insecurity, anger and healthy insights about the relationship between the welfare state and democracy".

I really enjoyed THE PYRAMID. Other reviewers have commented on a certain lack of tension in the short stories but then that is possibly the nature of a short story. I did feel a little as if this Kurt Wallander wasn't quite the same as the one we get in FACELESS KILLERS onwards. He is not the innocent depicted in his first case; he learns gradually not to "go it alone", after his impetuousness gets him into life threatening situations; his intuition is more carefully laid out for us than I remember in later novels.

THE PYRAMID is eminently readable, and if you are already a Henning Mankell fan, then you won't want to miss it.

My rating: 4.6

The Kurt Wallender series if you want to read them in proper order.
9 The Pyramid (The Wallander Stories) 2008
1 Faceless Killers 1997
2 The Dogs of Riga 2001
3 The White Lioness 1998
4 The Man Who Smiled 2005
5 Sidetracked 1998
6 The Fifth Woman 2000
7 One Step Behind 2002
8 Firewall 2004
9 The Pyramid (The Wallander Stories) 2008

Other reviews of THE PYRAMID
Reviewing the Evidence
It's Criminal
The Guardian

See also: What does Kurt Wallander look like?

Mini reviews from my database:

THE MAN WHO SMILED, my rating 4.7
Translated into English 2005, 4th in the Kurt Wallander series. Kurt Wallender has been on sick leave from the police in Ystadt for nearly 18 months. In his last case he accidentally killed an innocent man. Since then he has been in deep depression, and he has finally decided to leave the police force for good. He is however beginning to “mend”. While he is staying at a guest house in Skagen he is approached by a former friend, a solicitor, who tells him that his own father has died in a suspicious road accident. A few days later the solicitor himself is shot dead in his office. And Wallender finally makes up his mind – to go back to work!

SIDETRACKED, my rating 5.0
Midsummer approaches and Kurt Wallander clears his desk and prepares to set off on holiday with the new woman in his life, hoping that his wayward daughter and his ageing father will cope without him. But Wallander's plans are ruined when a girl douses herself in petrol and sets herself alight as he looks on, powerless to stop her. One, and then another, and then another, vicious murder - none with any apparent motive - shatter the tranquillity of the Swedish province of Skåne. As the temperature rises and the tension mounts, Wallander's search for the identity of the girl and the serial killer will throw him and the people he loves most into mortal danger.

FIREWALL, my rating 4.7
Set in Sweden in 1997. Two seemingly unrelated incidents occur within hours of each other in Ystad and Kurt Wallender and his team investigate. Tynnes Falk, seemingly in the peak of health, drops dead late one evening at the cash machine where he has just checked his account balance. The following night two teenage girls attack a taxi driver with a hammer and a knife. The driver was able to call for assistance and the police are able to find the girls from his description of them. Kurt Wallender has recently reached 50, he is diabetic, and desperately wants a woman in his life. Some members of his team think he is getting a bit "past it", and one in particular takes every possible opportunity to sow the seeds of doubt in the mind of Kurt's superior. This is an engrossing novel, quite a long read (422 pp) as Kurt Wallender uncovers a plot where an event in Sweden could have world shattering consequences.

Your Blog is Fabulous Award

Many thanks to Dorte who writes DJs krimiblog for bestowing this award on me. I feel very honoured because her blog is truly fabulous - she publishes in both English and Danish.

My blog gives me such pleasure to write! I try to use some of the web 2.0 tools available - tools that enable readers to interact - really apart from comments and polls Blogger doesn't really have a lot to offer. I do believe in updating it regularly, posting daily if I can, and pointing to interesting topics.

The idea of course is to share the love, and hand the award on, so who will I choose? Dorte says I should choose "newbie blogs" but I'm not sure what she means.

Please don't be offended if I haven't chosen yours! My choices for the award are

22 February 2009

Sunday Salon #7 - 22 February 2009

I hope all my fellow Sunday Saloners are travelling well today.
I have lots to tell you about.

I've been running a poll this week: How many books did you read in 2008?
There are 6 days to go so you can still participate.
Here are the results so far.
Postings in the last week
Breaking News
Currently Reading
  • now - THE PYRAMID, Henning Mankell
  • sometime soon, perhaps never THE 19TH WIFE, David Ebershoff (I hate having unfinished books lying around. The longer I leave them, the less inclined I feel to continue with them)
  • also listening to, maybe never finish either - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, ready for ch. 86
  • in the car - PERFECTLY PURE AND GOOD, Frances Fyfield
What can you do if you visit my blog?
  • Leave a comment on this post
  • Leave a rating on any of my posts
  • Participate in my poll: How many books did you read in 2008?
  • Find some online places to buy Australian crime fiction
  • Find out about the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
  • Use the menu bar at the top to leap off to a variety of other places such as Smik's Reviews, Blogs I'm Watching, Reviewer's Choice, my page on Library Thing, and more!

21 February 2009

Weekly Geek 2009-7: It's All in the Little Grey Cells - my interview with Monsieur Poirot

This week's Weekly Geek Challenge is to interview a character from our reading.
    You can really have some fun with it and get a little silly, or you can be straightforward and serious. But either way, show us how well you know (or maybe don't know) your character and perhaps in the end, we'll all have a whole new perspective about some of our favorite characters!
It was a decidely rough crossing from Calais to Dover on Friday last, but you can imagine my delight when I discovered on the boat that wonder sleuth, the little Belgian detective Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

But he does not travel well, the little man. "Mal de mer", he murmured as he rushed away from me for the tenth time, and so I could not interview him until we were sitting in the train bound for London. Even then he was still not really himself, a little green about the gills still, the famed waxed moustache in a slight disarray, the legendary twinkle not yet back in his eye.
But he could not resist the temptation to be interviewed by this intrepid blogger.

I was so excited by the situation, so full of questions, that I hope I have remembered enough of our conversation to satisfy you.

Me: I hope it is all right to take notes, showing him my small notepad.

HP: Perfectly, showing me his discreet black diary. It is a wonderful aid to the memory!

Me: I have set myself the task of reading the Agatha Christie novels in order of publication [note: see my posts about my Agatha Christie Reading Challenge], and of course you were in the very first, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, weren't you? I believe you had only recently arrived in England?

HP: Yes, well I had recently arrived in England from war-torn Belgium as a refugee. Before the war I was coming to the end of my distinguished career as a detective. Mrs Inglethorpe, that wonderful woman, was the owner of the magnificent country house called Styles owned by her son John Cavendish. She had sponsored me as a refugee and we got on very well.
Then one morning she was found dead. The doors to her room were locked, and yet it did not seem as if it could be suicide. A remarkable young war hero Captain Hastings, who has since become my friend, had heard of my presence in the village, and insisted that I be consulted in the case. And of course I solved it! It was really rather simple!

Me: Was there any one thing that helped you solve the case?

HP: It was my little grey cells (tapping his head)! The problem with the English police is that they lack the deductive powers. They rely too much on new tools such as finger printing. They don't have the great Hercule Poirot's experience at reading the clues at the scene of the crime.

Me: You came out of retirement after that didn't you?

HP: Yes, I set up business in London as a private consultant, sharing the rooms with young Hastings, who pursued business interests of his own. However we did work together on a number of small cases put our way by my old friend Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. Nothing major you understand, until the case that my creator Agatha Christie called THE MURDER ON THE LINKS. This was her third book, but only the second in which she portrayed me. In between she dallied with a very scatterbrained young couple called Tommy and Tuppence. [my note: see THE SECRET ADVERSARY]. There were many coincidences in that murder on the golf links, but once again it was my deductive powers, my little grey cells, that won through. There were times when young Hastings rather over stepped his role - he thinks his detective skills are actually better than they are - and I had to bring him sharply back to reality.

Me: I think Hastings says that you don't give him enough information. You keep him in the dark. He says you tend to rush off on some little errand of your own, or give him some useless task to keep him occupied.

HP: What would be the good of telling him more when he doesn't have the mental capacity or powers of observation that good detection requires? Better to keep him ignorant so that he doesn't let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. And I do reveal all to him at the end of the case, most carefully too.

[I could feel from his manner that I had hit on a sore point here. London was getting closer all the time, so I pressed on.
But I couldn't help thinking at this stage how appropriate the description of HP in MURDER ON THE LINKS is:
    An extraordinary little man. Height, five feet four inches, egg-shaped head carried a little to one side, eyes that shone green when he was excited, stiff military moustache, air of dignity immense! He was neat and dandified in appearance.
As our journey continued, his dignity, what Hastings refers to as pomposity, an almost smug and self-satisfied air, re-asserted itself.]

Me: Tell me about the set of short stories POIROT INVESTIGATES that are the next book that we find you in.

HP: This is a set of short stories, that really do show me at my best, doing what I do best, solving the great mysteries. It was published in 1924, in the same year as Agatha Christie tried out yet another detective, who does not hold a candle to me! [ my note: see THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT]

Me: Which do you think are the best stories in that collection?

HP: The most challenging was The Adventure of "The Western Star" because of the blatant way the theft was conducted. The Western Star, a flawless diamond, was given to an actress by her doting husband as a wedding present. Legend says that it was once the left eye of a temple god, and the actress is receiving letters that threaten to steal it. The actress insists, against my considered advice, that she would be wearing it at a country houseparty on the weekend, and it is stolen under my very nose. But in the long run no-one can fool the great Hercule Poirot!

Me: I've heard you like working with young women!

HP: Young women are so grateful when you solve problems for them!
Take for example The Case of the Missing Will (in that short story collection). Miss Violet Marsh was left Crabtree Manor by her uncle in an extraordinary will. She may live in the house for a year, but must prove her wits in that time, otherwise his large fortune will pass to charity. It was I who concluded there must be a second will, one she was meant to find, andI found it for her. Hastings on the other handthought Miss Marsh was really cheating by employing me to solve the problem for her.
Or Miss Katherine Grey in THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN. She is such a sweet child, that one. She lives in St. Mary Mead, did you know?

[It was with great disappointment that I noticed the train was pulling into St. Pancras Station. Our journey was over. And so many questions unasked]

HP: Many thanks for providing such a delightful diversion to this journey mon cher! [ and to my surprise he lent over and kissed me lightly on the cheek]. Good luck with your blog!
And there is the good Hastings! [ here he wound down the window and leant out] Over here my friend!

Books for Borders: Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal

From the Borders website:

Borders wishes to extend its deepest sympathies to those affected by the dreadful bushfires in the state of Victoria and elsewhere in Australia. As part of REDgroup retail we will be co-ordinating our efforts to assist through the Australian Red Cross.

Help Borders raise $200,000 for the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal. Bring in your second hand good quality books or purchase a new book to donate.

Borders will match the retail price of all donated books up to $200,000, which will go directly to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

Borders will donate all books to schools and libraries in fire affected communities.

A dedicated area for book donations will be provided in store from Monday 23rd February 2009.

Additionally, you can make a cash donation at the Australian Red Cross web site.

You might also like to read this story in the Melbourne Age written by Adrian Hyland:

Winging Our Way to Left Coast Crime in 11 more sleeps

In the terminology that kids use, only 11 more sleeps until we are on our way!

I've written before about the Awards being given, and the Fair Dinkum Crime panel I'm moderating.

Our panel is Sunnie, Helen, Sarah, Kathy, Ann, and me.

As we are getting to pointy end as we say Downunder, I'm doing the mental checklist thingy that you do:
  • plane tickets,
  • accommodation,
  • paper printouts of other tickets and receipts and arrangements,
  • books to give away at the panel,
  • books to read on the plane (very important!) - I'm taking Australian authors so I can add them to the panel giveaways,
  • treats such as Vegemite on SAO biscuits for those who attend our session,
  • and other stuff for the sweet toothed ones,
  • Dell Mini for internet access, writing book reviews and blog postings,
  • clothes, shoes, and other such essentials
  • mobile phone (may not work)
  • money (very important)
  • digital camera
My second bag will contain books supplied by the following Australian authors or their publishers: Michael Robotham, Felicity Young, P. D. Martin, Brian Kavanagh, Adrian Hyland

Helen will have with her books from Katherine Howell, and Sunnie has titles from Chris Womersley, Lenny Bartulin, Tony Berry, and Jane R. Goodall.

So what have I forgotten?

Review: AREA 7, Matthew Reilly

Audio CD edition published 2003 by Bolinda Audio, ISBN 1-74094-412-7. 11 CDs approximately 13 hours, read by Sean Mangan.
Novel published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2001.

Area 7 is a secret Air Force installation deep in the Utah desert, near Lake Powell. Today it is being visited by the President of the United States, but the scenario awaiting him is almost unimaginable, evil of gigantic proportions, treachery on a giant scale.

Accompanying the President is his own security squad and his helicopter crew. Just as well for the President that it contains Captain Shane Schofield, because without him the President would have been easy meat for the rogue Airforce unit waiting for him.

The amazing thing about the action of this story is that it all takes place in such a short time. It is pacy, rough, violent, but at the same time as your mind is trying to unravel the mystery, you are busy imagining the setting, and visualising the challenges. The action itself has a lot in common with the earlier book I listened to SEVEN ANCIENT WONDERS, written late (2005). You can see Reilly honing his graphic descriptive skills. I particularly enjoyed the Utah desert and Lake Powell descriptions as I visited there about 15 years ago.

AREA 7 is really a thriller, at the edge of my usual crime fiction reading. There were bits that I didn't really enjoy, (particularly the blood, guts and brains bits) but I guess that is the same in any novel. The plot kept me going though. There were times when I wondered whether Shane Schofield and his team would live to fight another day, but then the cynic in me said they would, because there is a "sequel" called SCARECROW (2005). AREA 7 itself is a sequel to ICE STATION (1999), which I haven't read. However in ICE STATION Reilly killed off one of his primary characters, as he does in AREA 7.

It feels like I have been listening to this forever, certainly two library renewals have happened. I followed hot on the heels of listening to SEVEN ANCIENT WONDERS. I really have listened to enough Matthew Reilly just for now, but I certainly won't be averse to another, perhaps the first Shane Schofield ICE STATION.

My rating: 4.4

20 February 2009

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival #2 is posted

13 participants review 14 Agatha Christie titles in the second edition of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival posted today.

I must say that the Blog Carnival tool really makes the process of both submitting articles for the carnival and putting it together super easy. I had originally allowed 2-3 days for processing and then publishing the submissions, whereas in reality I only need just over an hour.

The last Carnival of Criminal Minds

Sometimes good things must come to an end, and Barbara Fister has decided to up sticks with the Carnival of Criminal Minds with #32.

I'd like to publicly thank Barbara for the 2 opportunities she gave me to host the carnival.

There have been 32 Carnivals with 24 locations and such a variety of information about crime fiction. Check Barbara's final post for a list of all the blogs who've hosted the carnival.

19 February 2009

Forgotten Book: SUCH IS LIFE, Joseph Furphy

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

Some will argue that SUCH IS LIFE is not crime fiction, and it is a long time since I read it, but my recollection tells me it is full of mysteries, not the least at the time of publication, the true name of the author.

The mystery that I remember best is the one about the identity of the woman with the crepe veil, apparently disfigured for life when kicked in the face by a horse. This element is introduced in the early pages, and the "woman in the crape veil" appears throughout the story rather like the Cheshire Cat, until, 300 pages later, the mystery is solved. There are stories of a wife who disappeared, and a squatter whose friend was found shot through the heart. The author, Tom Collins, claims to be related to Wilkie Collins, best known for THE WOMAN IN WHITE and THE MOONSTONE.

Joseph Furphy, whose pseudonym was "Tom Collins", was born on 26th September 1843 in Victoria, at Yering station, near what is now the town of Yarra Glen. His parents had emigrated from Northern Ireland, and as a lad he worked on his father's farm at Kyneton. He earned his living in various ways, travelling with a threshing plant, farming, road-rolling, until he acquired two bullock teams and roamed the Riverina for over seven years following what he described as "this adventurous and profane occupation".
When drought came and his bullocks died of pleuro-pneumonia he went to work at the agricultural implement foundry owned by his brother at Shepparton. In 1904 he and his wife (he had married in 1867) went to Western Australia where, at Fremantle, his sons had started a similar foundry. He died at Claremont on 13th September 1912.

SUCH IS LIFE is a fictional account of the life of rural dwellers, including bullock drivers, squatters and itinerant travellers, in southern New South Wales and Victoria, during the 1880s.

The book comprises a series of loosely interwoven stories of the various people encountered by the narrator as he travels about the countryside. At times the prose is difficult to understand because of the use of Australian vernacular and Furphy's attempt to convey the accents of Scottish and Chinese personalities. This novel nevertheless provides an insight into the character of rural dwellers in Australia in the latter half of the 19th century.

The title of SUCH IS LIFE is said to be derived from Ned Kelly's last words.

Available for free download from Gutenberg and at Google Books.

Other articles & Reviews:Joseph Furphy left his mark on the Australian language.
The name Furphy is still in common Australian slang use meaning a "tall story". This is believed to derive from the Furphy Water Cart, produced in large numbers by Joseph's brother John, which were used to supply water to Aussie soldiers during World War I. The carts, with the family name written large on their sides, became popular as gathering places where soldiers would for a few minutes forget their hardships and the stresses of combat by exchanging their more fanciful tales. And so "It's a big Furphy" came to mean just that.

18 February 2009

Organise an online meeting for your book group

Organising an online meeting is real time gets easier by the minute.

Today's Meet is one in a crop of web 2.0 tools. It has been around since late October 2008.

Currently it is not particularly sophisticated. For instance there is no password protection. But I guess the sophistication will come.

It really is a mini blog, but because it runs in a browser there are no significant impediments for novice users. All they have to do is to give themselves a name and then they are in. Each comment seems to be limited to 140 characters.
At the moment it seems the longest you can have a room set up for is a year, and I presume all the text just stays there, and doesn't archive in any way. If you want to keep a record of the conversation, then you would need to copy the conversation and store somewhere else.

Chatmaker looks a bit more sophisticated, and it offers the option of a "secure chat", although that appears to have a purchase scenario. it certainly has a better text display than Today's Meet.

If you have an online group of readers who meet asynchronously through a Yahoo Group or similar, then it can be a real buzz for them to meet together synchronously. All you need to do is to set a date and a time, and set the room up beforehand so they know where to come.

URLs display as links too, which is useful to know.

Thanks to Michelle who sent me a link to Tiny Chat

TinyChat is a free service that allows you to create a free chat room that is accessible by anyone with a browser. Simply create a chatroom from the homepage then send the link it gives to you to anyone you want to chat with. After you leave the chat room, all the chat data is gone, so its perfect for secure chats.
Why would you use this? Its the easiest way to have a group chat with multiple people. No more worrying about who has what messenger, or what everyones screen name is. Just send them a link! Its also a great way to talk with people who are not the most computer literate- Now you dont need them to install any programs to talk with someone!

You don't get to name the chat room what you want, but you can embed the chat room as a widget in your blog (the code is provided), you can give yourself a nickname when you enter the chat room, and you can apparently save the chat log. Worth further investigating I think.

17 February 2009

Encompass - finding new authors

Another interesting tool for finding new authors is the Encompass Wheel at the British Council website. Here is what you see at the start

You click on the category that you want, e.g. Books for Adults

And of course then I am going to choose Crime

This is where the experience becomes a bit disappointing. At this stage you choose one or more categories and then the system generates a list. I found the lists were not very extensive, but unlike what we saw yesterday in the literature map, the list is printable, and it has information about specific books.

However, it does link off to an allied British Council Contemporary Writers site where you can search a large database. However once again the lists here are a bit eclectic with huge omissions and some strange inclusions.

16 February 2009

Literature Maps - finding new authors

Literature Map, is a digital ‘tourist map’ of authors based on a self-adapting artificial intelligence engine that learns from the behaviour and preferences of users of the system. Type in an author name and it will display a map of other author names, spaced relative to your original selection. The closer two names are (graphically) the higher the likelihood that you’ll enjoy reading both authors.

I played around with it a bit, but it is not very good on fledgling Australian authors like Katherine howell, P.D. Martin, and Leah Giarratano..
However I did get some reasonable results for Peter Temple, Michael Robotham, Arthur Upfield, and Agatha Christie (not that I'm claiming her as Australian)

Here is the centre of the map that resulted for Michael Robotham.

The map is saying that if you like Michael Robotham then these other writers are possible likes too.
So I clicked on Mark Billingham (I know they are great friends) and then a new map generated, with this at the centre.

Click on John Harvey and another range of authors appears.

You get the idea. Unfortunately there is no tool to print out a list of the authors for you, which would be a good tool, and no connection to anything to give you a list of books, but then you can't have everything.

15 February 2009

ACRC Update - 15 February 2009

My intent in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge is to read her books in order, so that I can get some idea of what she is doing, problems she is attempting to solve, and her development as a writer. If you look at some of my reviews you will see that I have been able to undertake some of this reflection.

I am mainly borrowing the books from my local library and as such am a bit subject to some outside influences, and as a result may do a little out of order reading.

Check the opening blog of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.
  2. 1922, THE SECRET ADVERSARY- finished
  3. 1923, THE MURDER ON THE LINKS - finished
  4. 1924, THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT - finished
    1924, POIROT INVESTIGATES (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US) - finished
  5. 1925, THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS - finished
  6. 1926, THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD - finished
  7. 1927, THE BIG FOUR - finished
  8. 1928, THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN - finished
  9. 1929, THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY - I have a copy of this
  12. 1932, PERIL AT END HOUSE
I am using the list at Wikipedia of novels and collections of short stories. I will interlace the short story collections into the list where I can, but may have to read them out of order. I have decided on a method for reporting on the short stories.

Please feel free to join in my challenge, comment on my reviews etc.

I have set up a block over in the right hand column called Agatha Christie Reading Challenge (with the same logo as this post) where I am listing the books I'm currently reading and those I've finished.
The challenge is called ACRC so each review will be preceded by those letters.

If you want to follow my progress through your RSS reader, then the RSS URL is
Just save that in your bookmarks or RSS reader and you will be notified when I have written a new post.
Alternatively you could subscribe to the feed through FeedMyInbox. Just copy the RSS URL, click on the FeedMyInbox link and paste the URL in there.
You will need to confirm your subscription by email.

Review: ACRC#8, THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN - Agatha Christie

Originally published by Collins in 1928. This version published by Harper Collins in 2001. ISBN 0-00-712076-1, 383 pages.

Ruth Kettering's journey to Nice on the luxurious Blue Train was her last. By the time the train arrived in Nice she was dead. But what was the motive? The presence of her husband on the train makes him an immediate suspect especially as he becomes heir to her considerable personal fortune. But what about the fact that her jewellery, in particular a necklace containing the fabulous ruby the size of a pigeon's egg known as The Heart of Fire, is missing, along with her maid?

The other element to the story is Katherine Grey, recently the beneficiary of an elderly woman's will, and on her way to Nice to stay with her relative Lady Tamplin. She meets Ruth Kettering on the train, and then Hercule Poirot in Paris.

Hercule Poirot is eventually engaged by Ruth Kettering's father to discover who murdered his daughter, and what became of the ruby necklace. He sees Katherine Grey as a key witness, an excellent judge of character, and involves her in his investigation.

THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN is set about ten years after World War 1, and Hercule Poirot has been "retired from his profession for many years." His former companion Captain Hastings does not appear in this story, although to a small extent he has been replaced by a valet George, whom Poirot uses at times as a sounding board.

One of the characters says of Poirot
    He is a very remarkable person....and has done some very remarkable things. He has a kind of genius for going to the root of the matter, and right up to the end no one has any idea of what he is really thinking.
Speaking of his own methods Poirot says
    I am now a lion - a giant. Ah, Mademoiselle Katherine, you have not seen me as I can be. You have seen the gentle, the calm Hercule Poirot; but there is another Hercule Poirot. I go now to bully, to threaten, to strike terror into the hearts of those listen to me.
    ...And I shall do it...Oh yes, I shall succeed
And he does. He browbeats the truth out of some, but there are still intuitive leaps he has to make. The interesting thing about THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN is that Hercule Poirot gets some of the answer wrong, and initially the wrong man goes to gaol. The novel goes further than most of the Agatha Christie novels I have read so far. We see Poirot still worrying at the result, realising things don't hang together so well, and persisting until he has got it right.

Christie claimed that this was one of the books she liked least, however the critics did not agree with her. The Times Literary Supplement said, “The reader will not be disappointed when the distinguished Belgian on psychological grounds builds up inferences almost out of the air, supports them by a masterly array of negative evidence and lands his fish to the surprise of everyone”.

Other things of interest
  • I pointed out in reviews of earlier novels that I thought Christie was commenting on changing social conditions. This novel is set in the late 1920s and there are comments about the social structure, with a sense of a declining aristocracy, but still no understanding, by those who consider themselves aristocracy, of the lower classes.
    For example Lady Tamplin says of Ruth Kettering
    She has been a companion I tell you. Companions don't play tennis or golf. They might possibly play croquet-golf, but I have always understood that they wind wool and wash dogs most of the day.
  • Katherine Grey lives in St. Mary Mead, the small isolated village that Miss Marple will emerge from.
  • I posted last week about Christie's use of the word apache in this novel. I had noticed it in an earlier one, but it gets 3 outings in THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN.
So yes, I enjoyed THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN. It has stood the test of time very well. There are plenty of red herrings, a further fleshing out of the character of Poirot as a person that young women find attractive, and puzzles to keep the brain engaged.

My rating: 4.6

Sunday Salon #6 - 14 February 2009

Sunday sure comes around quickly each week doesn't it?
I've written a variety of different posts this week, but only one book review.

Six years ago I created a Yahoo discussion group called oz_mystery_readers.
On Monday it turned 6 so that was really my big celebration for the week.

Postings in the last week
Breaking News
Currently Reading
  • now - THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN, Agatha Christie
  • next - THE PYRAMID, Henning Mankell
  • sometime soon - THE 19TH WIFE, David Ebershoff
  • also listening to - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, ready for ch. 86
  • in the car - AREA7, Matthew Reilly (up to disc 8/11)
What can you do if you visit my blog?
  • Leave a comment on this post
  • Leave a rating on any of my posts
  • Participate in my poll: How many books did you read in 2008?
  • Find some online places to buy Australian crime fiction
  • Find out about the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
  • Use the menu bar at the top to leap off to a variety of other places such as Smik's Reviews, Blogs I'm Watching, Reviewer's Choice, my page on Library Thing, and more!

How Many Books did you read in 2008?

Last year I ran a little poll asking people how many books they thought they would finish reading in 2008. Now I find I didn't keep a record of that poll.

However I am now asking how many books did you actually finish?
The poll over in the right hand margin asks you to select a range.
    50 or less
    more than 200
After the poll closes I will update this post with the results so I don't lose them for the future.
What I discovered last year, from memory, is that most followers of this blog fell into the 51-100 range, that is about 2 books a week.

Leave a comment if you want to give me more precise numbers etc.
I'd also like some suggestions about what polls you'd be interested in participating in.

14 February 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-6: What's in a Name?

This week's Weekly Geek Challenge
    For this week's edition of Weekly Geeks, we're going to take a closer look at character names. What are some of your favorite character names?

    Go to Google or a baby name site like this one or this one, and look up a favorite character's name. What does their name mean? Do you think the meaning fits the character? Why or why not?

    If you'd like, look up your own name as well and share the meaning.
One of my lessons early in life is that your name doesn't always match it's meaning.
Like most people I was named before my parents really got to know me, with names basically chosen before I was born: Kerrie Ann
By rights I should be dark-haired and graceful
    Origins: It's source is Ciaran, an Irish Gaelic name meaning "Black-haired."
    Popularity: The name Kerrie ranked 1231st in popularity for females of all ages in a sample of the 1990 US Census.
    Though this name has fluctuated in use, it has been quietly present throughout the last century.
But sometimes in our reading, the real meaning of a character's name escapes us, particularly if the inference is a cultural thing.

Last year I read THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. What I missed, because I am not Swedish, and was not brought up on a diet of Pippi Longstocking, was the significance of the name of the main character Mikael Blomkvist.
Since then Dorte at DJs krimblog has pointed out that I am not on my own.

Dorte writes
    I surfed various blogging communities and realized that British crime fiction fans were busily discussing Stieg Larsson´s trilogy. I joined in, posted some comments on his use of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, saw that people were interested, and wrote my own posts on the subject (Stieg Larsson & Bill Bergson plus Lisbeth Salander alias Pippi Longstocking).

    and further... on the first page of chapter one it is clear that Stieg Larsson deliberately draws parallels to Astrid Lindgren´s trilogy about the boy detective Kalle Blomkvist...

    First a short quotation from an email sent from Stieg Larsson to his Swedish Publisher: "I have tried to swim against the tide compared to ordinary crime novels. I wanted to create main characters who differ dramatically from the ordinary crime characters. My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would she be called a sociopath because she looked upon society in a different way and did not have any social competences? She turned into Lisbeth Salander who has many masculine features."
I am indebted to Dorte for this insight. It is a lesson that translation does not give us all, isn't it?

Striking Covers

I came across this Flickr photo stream this morning of what are labelled Dell Mapback -- Vintage Paperback Covers. Some of them are Romance covers and the others are DELL Mystery.
The CARDS ON THE TABLE cover struck me as particularly opportune for today, Valentine's Day!

They are certainly striking covers aren't they? I don't know that they would be a success these days. They look a bit garish. But they are a real contrast to the sort of cover that were used recently on FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Peter Robinson that I posted about last week. Perhaps someone could tell me what it means when it says "Complete with Crime Map on Back Cover"?

Check them all out on Flickr and view the slideshow of all 26 covers.

These are part of a collection called Dastardly Deeds. Crime Fiction in illustration from the teens to the late 50s. With an emphasis on the Golden Age Of Mystery dust jackets, and those down and dirty dames in pulp fiction.
Check out Pulp Fiction, and The Golden Age of Mysteries!

Here is a pulp fiction cover for THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. Bit different from the sedate one below isn't it?


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