22 Dead Little Bodies – Stuart MacBride

This is a contemporary crime collection including:

  • 22 Dead Little Bodies – a short novel
  • Stramash – short story
  • Bad Heir Day – short story
  • The 45% Hangover – novella

All feature the author’s creations, DS Logan McRae and DCI Roberta Steel.

If it’s not a contradiction too far, although there is not much to them – by comparison with the full length novels – they are well put together, and feature some of the trademark snappy dialog, shocking violence, and stories of suburban murder and mayhem. There are also moments of high comedy, though you my wonder if it is appropriate to laugh given the whole circumstances.

I enjoyed all the stories. Bad Heir Day was the most poignant, and 22 Dead Little Bodies the most complete.

If you are a McRae fan, you must read them. If you haven’t encountered McRae, I would recommend starting with one of the novels, because these don’t quite have the same punch and pacing that the novels do.

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Rhapsody

At the end of a movie, when the audience gives a round of applause, that’s as good a short review as you are likely to get. That’s what happened last night, when Susan and I went to see the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Good Stuff

  • The music. Just great.
  • Rami Malek’s performance. Spookily close at times. And his portrayal of Freddie as someone who could have it all, except for happiness, rang true.
  • Mike Myers’ cameo appearance. He can act.
  • The music. Yes, it’s that good, it’s worth mentioning twice.

The Not So Good Stuff

  • The script. It’s a ‘color by numbers’ job, with only a few sparks of originality or insight.
  • The screwed up timelines – in short, the film plays fast and loose with certain key events (such as the timing of Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis) – to create a contrived Disney type package.
  • The film’s treatment of Freddie’s sexuality doesn’t seem right. There is something missing.
  • The rest of the band are cardboard characters. What a wasted opportunity. Of course, the focus should be on Mercury, but the band members deserved better.
  • The cinematography was bland. Visually, what caught the eye was Malek playing the lead role. Nothing else came close.

It’s a testament to Queen’s music that the good stuff drowns out the rest. It’s a feel good movie that tells a tragic story, but at the same time makes you feel positive about the big, bad world outside – especially if you were around to experienced the real life events of Queen, Mercury, and that amazing Live Aid performance.

One ironic point worth mentioning. The film accurately records the bad reviews the critics gave of the single release Bohemian Rhapsody. That echoes the bad reviews the film got! In both cases, the public ignored the critics. (And, boy, were the critics upset.)

Overall, I’d definitely recommend going to see the movie. It’s good entertainment. Not perfect, but good. As for the real Freddie Mercury and Queen story, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

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Bloody Bois Jacques

I continued my ASL education this week, with a game against Ran of the scenario Bloody Bois Jacques. Set in Bastogne, December 1944, the battlefield is a heavily wooded area which an attacking force of 9 USA squads (plus leaders, two heroes, and some machine guns) must make their way through, against a defending force of 8 German squads (plus leaders, machine guns, and artillery support).

There are a couple of scenario special rules which are a bit quirky, but do mostly work, representing fire lanes for the defenders. Basically, units in foxholes can see through woods hexes that would otherwise block line of sight. But the enemy cannot see the foxholes (or the units in them) until the fire lane is used.

I was the attacker, and Ran was the defender.

I should have known it would not be my lucky night when I failed two out of three deployment rolls in the first Rally Phase. Not a good omen.

Anyway, I split my force across the board, in two rough groups, seeking to drive on and get to the exit area that would give me victory points.

On my left flank, I put about half the squads plus both heroes. I led with a half-squad to scout ahead, and he made good progress, so the rest followed. I bumped into his hidden force and actually did a good job of forcing them back, as the Germans traded space for time.

On the right, the rest of the squads plus the machine gun, had a reasonable first turn. But then the artillery arrived. My troops on the right got clobbered by the artillery, and although many rallied and recovered, they were not able to get to the exit area in enough numbers, in time.

The key, therefore, was the deadly effectiveness of the German artillery which switched back to my other force and then harassed it to death. My two heroes who were the point men on my left flank, were wiped out by the artillery, along with supporting squads.

Although I had a chance of winning in the last turn of the game, Ran’s continued success with his artillery put an end to that, so he was able to claim another victory. (Exasperating.)

Ran did not fail a single battery access roll. He would have needed to roll a 12, but didn’t. Indeed, he did not roll a 12 the whole game. I only rolled one, but it was for a pin task check. Ran always drew a black chit for artillery availability. Although the odds of him drawing a red chit – meaning the artillery would have been unavailable – increase with each black chit draw, it never occurred.

Although I lost, I don’t think my play was bad. (Even more exasperating.) For example, I believe I got the fire/move balance about right which may be an improvement. However, I might have made the wrong call about committing to a couple of close combats. I find that if the right thing is to commit to a close combat, and I do the right thing, I am rarely successful in the close combat. So, maybe I should not have been surprised the close combats did not go well. If they had, I might still have sneaked a win, despite the awesome German artillery. (Double plus exasperating!)

Anyway, despite the loss, the game itself was the usual intense and enjoyable experience with time flying by, and there’s always a chance the next game will turn out better. Thanks to Ran for his patience and hospitality.

 

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Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

After reading the first Murderbot book, I said I would keep a watching brief. That didn’t last long. I was looking for something short and easy to read that would be guaranteed to be entertaining. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed with this, the second in the series of novellas about a security specialist robot that has achieved some form of sentience and independence. But Murderbot has a bloody past, and his – OK, this is an assumption of male identity by me – ongoing, self imposed mission, is to find out what actually happened.

This time around, another party enters the fray. Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say Murderbot is not sure if the new party is friend or foe, and part of the edge of tension in this story is not knowing, as Murderbot attempts to travel to the mining facility where the old massacre occurred.

On the plus side, the story rattles along, with a good side plot involving some clueless humans, and another robot character complicating matters. The Murderbot character continues to develop, and there’s more to find out for sure.

However, once or twice in the action, I felt that Murderer’s capacity to overcome security systems was too much of a super power like ‘get out of jail free’ card, and suggested a certain laziness in the author’s approach. That is not to say I could instantly think of other ways around these systems, but it did mean that I was starting to think Murderbot was becoming invulnerable, and the sense of danger was substantially diminished.

After reading two books in the series, I am not convinced that the overall plotting is any good. The general level of writing is interesting enough, with some nice observations and touches of comedy. And it was a fast, easy read, that did exactly what I was looking for, and no more. But is the whole package worthy? Is this a series of cut down novels, or over-inflated short stories that should not be stitched together? The jury’s out. Maybe I am going back to my watching brief.

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How to Make More Money by Paying More Taxes

This may be a first. Companies in Israel have been making money by paying too much tax.

I’ll pause while you take that in.

In essence, after a reduction in the tax rate, companies did not reduce their tax payments. Whether this was done deliberately or otherwise is not certain. However, when it came time to reconcile payments, these companies were due a refund. And here’s the kicker. The refunds attracted interest at 4%, a rate higher than the companies could have received had they paid the money into a bank… In short, the tax man became a kind of bank!

The worst effect is that because of this somewhat strange set of circumstances, the budget predictions are off, and the state is looking at a deep deficit. Oh dear.

Check out the report in Globes, here.

Only in Israel?

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Down Cemetery Road – Mick Herron

Mick Herron wrote the Slow Horses series of books, featuring spy master Jackson Lamb. Reading this precursor, you can see where he got the inspiration from.

Think suburbia. Think domestic normality. Think, home sweet home. It’s all about to end.

A businessman has some people for dinner, and his wife (Sarah) has to play the faithful hostess to support her husband’s drive for more business. The guests do not mix well. Verbal blows are exchanged with only the explosive demolition of a nearby house preventing actual fisticuffs. Sarah becomes obsessed with the little girl who lived in the bombed house, and that sets her off on a terrible trail. She tries to find the girl herself, recruits a private eye, and things go from bad to worse. Sarah is digging herself deeper into a matter of national security, though little does she know it.

This is not a read for those who like to see only the sunny side of things. This is for those who will not shy away from good men becoming corrupted, and bad men becoming successful and powerful.

Although the tale loses its way on a couple of occasions, overall it’s a suspense filled tale, with plenty intriguing characters, action, violence, and food for thought. Sarah’s journey from bored housewife to adventurer is not quite credible, but maybe that’s my cynicism in full flow.

The story itself is not bad, though there were a few loose ends, and the ending seemed to be there only because the author had written enough words to allow him to call a halt. To put it another way, I’m interested enough to want to read the next part. But for now, I’ll withhold judgement.

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For Pittsburgh

Ra’anana held a rally last night (after Shabbat) in support of the community in Pittsburgh. There were several speakers, including Daniel Shapiro, former USA ambassador to Israel who is now a Ra’anana resident. Another speaker was a nephew of Jerry Rabinowitz, one of the victims. All spoke from the heart, but the nephew was clearly in pain. The well attended event finished with Havdalah and Hatikvah.

Apparently, this rally happened not because of the Ra’anana Council, but from a Facebook post by a former Pittsburgh resident who wanted to do something to show solidarity and support. The post went viral, and the rally duly took place. Video of the event was sent to those sitting Shivah. Sometimes, social media makes a positive difference.

I hope it’s the last time I go to such an event. I hope it’s the last time there is a need for such an event.

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The Burial Hour – Jeffery Deaver

Regular hero Lincoln Rhyme stars in this transatlantic hunt, as the forces of law and order seek to find the Composer, responsible for snatching a man from a New York street in broad daylight, leaving behind on the pavement a noose as some sort of clue. The snatch is followed up by an online video displaying the victim’s dying breaths for all to see. Can Rhyme and his newly wed wife, investigator Amelia Sachs, find their man before he strikes again?

This is a strange book, because although it has all the hallmark Deaver features – forensic detail to blow your mind, twists and turns to match, and an off the wall baddie – it never quite delivers the tension and suspense that usually results. For example, one of the support characters is a certain policeman of high rank who writes things down in his little black book. The word is that he is noting those who have crossed him, so he can exact his revenge at a time of his choosing. But, as regular Deaver readers, we know it must be something else. And when the explanation comes, it rather underwhelms, like much of the book. The tension threatens to build, but never quite gets there. It’s as if Deaver is testing his readership, to see how much they will take.

Another example is a character who is a forestry official. We all know he is going to be involved, and the part of the story that develops around his character is neither surprising nor particularly enthralling. In this case it’s a minor character promoted out of his depth to the detriment of the story.

There are parts of the book that are quite good. For example, I was impressed by how the author handled the topic of immigration, and integrated that into the story with a heavy does of realism but without taking away from the main plot line. That part went well. So it would be misleading to say the whole thing is disappointing, but the overall effect doesn’t match expectations from an author – especially a suspense author – of this standing and quality.

If you are a Deaver fan, you may well lap it up. For others, I would recommend you pass on this.

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SF in Israel

The current issue of Locus (a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine) has a chunky part of it dedicated to the scene in Israel. There’s an introductory piece from Shedlon Teitelbaum, one of the editors of the newly released Zion’s Fiction, a good range of interviews (Shimon Adaf, Yael Furman, Guy Hasson, Aharon Hauptman, Keren Landsman, and Ehud Mainon) and a short review of ICon, the genre convention held in 2018.

I have zero involvement in the scene here, so the information was all new to me. Beyond being a reader of such genre fiction, I have rarely had the inclination to get involved in fan activity. I did attend one convention in Glasgow, but it was largely forgettable. My bucket list might include a visit to a World Science Fiction Convention at some point, but for now I am happy just being a reader and keeping (relatively) up to date thanks to Locus.

So far as the interviews were concerned, most mentioned what you might call the special situation of living in Israel. Presumably that is also reflected in the Hebrew language science fiction and fantasy output, though it will be a while before I want to delve into those and confirm for myself. However, Keren Landsman’s The Heart of the Circle is coming out in English in 2019 from Angry Robot (great name for a publisher) and that’s a must-buy, if only to support the author.

On the whole, if you want to know about the SF scene in Israel, the material is a good primer, and regardless is another opportunity for people to find out more about the country from other than the usual suspects in the media.

For my part, Zion’s Fiction is somewhere in my ‘to-be-read’ pile. I’ll get to it, sometime.

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