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.

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.

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.

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.