Sirens – Joseph Knox

Modern British crime novel set in Manchester, looking at the drug scene and some of the city’s less attractive features, areas, and characters.

The hero is Aidan Waits, a loose cannon of a policeman who oversteps the law and falls into the clutches of a superior officer determined to send him into deep undercover. There, he is tasked with collecting evidence against a local drug boss, one of whose girlfriends disappeared without a trace ten years ago. At the same time, a member of parliament has a wayward daughter who has done a runner and is enmeshed in the dark underbelly of that city.

Waits is a compelling enough character to keep the reader’s interest up. The backdrop is done reasonably well, but I thought the critics were way over the top in suggesting it was outstanding. (That Observer quote on the cover is ridiculous. A friend of the author perhaps?)

The supporting characters are a believable lot, though I would have liked to seen more attention paid to some of them. The main baddie, for example, kind of makes guest appearances only, popping up from time to time to no great effect.

The closing chapters are a step up from some of the middle where the fizz went out of the tension at times. Overall, pretty good stuff.

There is more to come from Waits and here’s hoping this reasonably promising start is a true hint of better things ahead.

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A Feast of Spenser

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So, here are books seven to thirteen to in the Spenser series by Robert B Parker which I recently finished reading. For reviews of the first six, see: The Godwulf Manuscript God Save the Child Mortal Stakes Promised Land The … Continue reading

The Two of Swords – K J Parker

I finished the second and third volumes of this fantasy tale with mixed feelings. The central story is a war between two counties that seems not be to either’s advantage. The narrative is largely told through the eyes of individual contributors to the action – soldier, spy, diplomat, and so on – giving some finely observed detail to add to the sweeping grand maneuvers.

The author is a great storyteller, and the book is jam packed with twists, turns, action, and adventure. It’s also an exceedingly complex plot where, at times, it can be hard to work out if a character’s motivation is all that it seems to be. Subterfuge, deception, and treachery are ever present. But, was it worth it? Was the book too rich for my tastes?

Originally, the three books were actually a series (19 I think) of novellas that you subscribed to, and the author released to a monthly schedule. I cannot help wondering if the cramped nature of the book, especially in the closing stages, was the result of writing to a deadline and a formula.

The books are good, but not great. I don’t think the format allowed Parker to be at his best. It was a worthwhile experience, and I am glad I read it, but I hope the next book by the author follows a more traditional route.

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Love Like Blood –

Tom Thorne may be a retired detective, but the author clearly cannot let go of the character, so once again he pops up in an unofficial capacity, becoming central to the story. In this case, matters start with the murder of Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner’s partner, in what seems to have been an attack meant to silence Tanner, working on several ‘honor’ killings. Tanner is taken out of the firing line, but she is not convinced anyone will do enough to find the killer, and she persuades Thorne to get involved. From this point on, the roller coaster ride begins.

Thorne and Tanner are comprehensive and believable characters, and their interaction and involvement are key to the success of the novel. However, the supporting cast are not always mere fillers, and the overall impression is of a well constructed, realistic, gritty crime novel. In other words, a damn fine read.

The honor killing part is handled without sensationalizing this difficult cultural issue. I did, however, think there was a degree of political correctness on show with the attempt at evenhandedly apportioning the sources of such crimes across multiple religions. That was the only very minor criticism I would make.

It’s best to read the Thorne books in order, but if you prefer just to dive in here, you will not lessen the enjoyment too much. It is a solid standalone tale.

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True Blue – David Baldacci

True Blue is a typical Baldacci tale with twists and turns, complex intertwined stories, and some great ideas.

The main character comes with an enticing setup: Mason Perry is an ex policewoman who was framed for a crime she did not commit. Released from prison, she is out to get to the truth, but there’s a US district attorney eager to see her back in prison. Matters are slightly complicated by Mason’s sister being the chief of police. It’s a recipe for conflict of interest and loyalties, and Baldacci duly goes to town.

In addition, there’s Roy Kingman, the lawyer who finds the body of one of his partners at his office. Kingman and Perry are, inevitably, drawn together as the plot threads become entangled.

Unfortunately, I found the character portrayal of both sisters less than realistic. With that fundamental flaw, for me the book did not work. The Kingman character was a bit better, but not Baldacci’s best.

As usual, the plot is well constructed, and the pace of the action is relentless. But with my lack of empathy for the Perry characters, I was less than enthralled.

Not recommended.

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The Norman Geras Reader

Norman Geras was a Zimbabwean born political thinker, a Marxist by belief, and a Jew by birth. A Professor Emeritus of Politics at Manchester University, he was a prime mover behind the Euston Manifesto.

I came across him late on in his life, courtesy of his blog. The posts there reflected not only his wide interests (including a love of cricket) but showcased the continually high quality of his writing. Generally, he was clear and to the point. And sometimes that point was the one on which he skewered antisemites with his razor sharp keyboard. For example, see here.

While my political beliefs are not those of the late Mr Geras, I admired his writing so much that I had to buy this selection of his output. Although I have read some before on his blog, it was good to refresh the experience. I don’t normally mention the non-fiction books I read, but I wanted to make this an exception. While there are some passages that only hard-boiled academics and Marxist thinkers will follow, there is an abundance of other, solid, thoughtful material. Geras’ death was a real loss. This reader is a good way to remember and honor him.

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a highly acclaimed writer. American Gods is one of his top rated books. I hated it.

The fantastic elements did not trouble me, but neither did they excite or even interest me. The characters did not spark any empathy in me, and I cared not one jot what happened to them. The plot, when it appeared, was a mish-mash of nonsense that took itself too seriously, but lacked the gravitas to carry it off. And, it was slow. Slow as in too slow, too lacking in urgency, and requiring more suspension of disbelief than was worthwhile.

It is a book touted as being a wonderful new, fresh perspective on America. That’s not how I see it. It’s a new perspective on marketing over substance.

In short, a dud.

If the rest of Neil Gaiman’s output is like this, I’ll not be bothering with it.

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The Guards – Ken Bruen


This is a patchy but interesting crime novel, set in Eire, and featuring an all too realistically alcoholic ex policeman, Jack Taylor.

The central story – apart from Taylor’s battle with the bottle – is about a series of suicides by young girls. Except somebody doesn’t think they are suicides and recruits Jack to look into matters. Thus starts the somewhat rocky adventures of the reluctant, but dogged, private investigator. He faces obstacles in the shape of the law, a powerful local businessman, and his poisonous relationship with his mother and the church.

There is a touch of humor  in places, but mostly this is a gritty and dark and painful story. The writing is good in the sense that it carries the reader along, but some of the pacing is off (that’s the ‘patchy’ aspect) as sometimes I felt things were just standing still for no good reason. The climax is well put together, however, and drew a sharp intake of breath from me with its unexpected twist.

I had never heard of this writer until I stumbled across the television series based on the books. The TV programs were OK, but I suspected the books might be better, and to my mind they are.

I would rate this as a good solid start, promising more, so I’ll be delving further into the life and times of another damned defective detective.

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The Mangle Street Murders – M R C Kasasian

Quirky and entertaining crime novel that takes a shot at the Sherlock Holmes genre, and does a good job all round. It is set in Victorian times and has two main protagonists: Sidney Grice – “London’s most famous personal detective” – and March Middleton, Grice’s recently orphaned (female) house guest.

Grice starts investigating (reluctantly) the case of a young wife murdered, apparently repeatedly stabbed by her husband. March is the one who talks Grice into taking the case to try to prove the husband’s innocence (she pays Grice) and manages by dint of the force of her personality and stubborn resolve to become part of the investigation. Inevitably, it’s not easy for March in this very male and misogynist world, but her sharp brain and tongue do make an impact.

Grice is a cold, grumpy bastard. But clever. March is more caring, with hidden depths, but no less intelligence. However, she has much to learn.

There is some dark humor, and more than one literary joke spiking the narrative. The case itself is no easy puzzle, and the Gothic overtones never let up. This is an encounter with evil.

The two main characters are terrific, and the plot a good support for their interaction. The writing comes in short choppy chapters which sometimes seem too short and infuriating as you are just warming to the situation when it is time, according to the author, to move on. The setting is well done, down to the gritty, harsh details of life in Victorian London for those who are not in the safe bosom of the middle class.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough to fancy reading another in the series. But I wasn’t so enthused by it that I feel I must read more. Maybe further exposure will strengthen the bond.

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