Rupture – Ragnar Jonasson

Another crime novel featuring Ari Thor Arason and the fishing village of Siglufjordour, in Northern Iceland. Unfortunately, I found this to be as dull as ditchwater compared to the others. Maybe my tastes are becoming jaded, but while there was a decent historical mystery, and a contemporary crime narrative too, neither excited me.

The cold case goes back to 1955 with two young couples moving to the very isolated Hedinsfjörður. One of their number dies in strange circumstances, but there is no apparent solution to the mystery of what exactly happened.

Meanwhile, there’s a hit and run and a kidnapped baby for the police to deal with. How these cases become connected leads to a potentially stunning conclusion. The potential is not realized.

It was a real slog to finish the book, hoping for an upturn in the excitement or tension. It never came. I could not recommend this. I hope the author returns to form with the next one.

Whiskey Sour – J A Konrath

This is a police procedural novel built on a strong female character with the unfortunately alpha male name of Jack Daniels. Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels is a Chicago detective with more than her fair share of personal challenges, never mind the serial killer the Gingerbread Man who is taunting her and the forces of law and order.

The writing style is a cross between Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct realistic fatalism, and Carl Hiaasen’s comical commentary. Sometimes the humor works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I have a bigger problem with the serial killer character. I was not convinced about the completeness or authenticity of that person in the book. Fortunately, the Jack Daniels character is just about sufficient quality to carry the rest of the book on her shoulders, and there were moments of genuine tension and excitement. Indeed, this is a pretty good page turner, meaning I will be trying out more in the series.

ASL Catchup

It has been so long since I tried to post any ASL experiences I have quite forgotten many scenarios I have played. But, the last few I have some recollection of are as follows:

Command Schenke

Josh’s Germans attacking my defending Russians.

The victory conditions are simple enough: no unbroken Russians in the fortified building.

The setup conditions forces the Russian player to have some of his forces within easy enough range of the German offensive line, and so the Russian cannot simply hide away in the fortified building and surrounding area, and wait. There has to be some attempt at a delaying force.

Of course, if the Russians lose too many troops in that outer defense, they are doomed. Well, for that part of the game, I couldn’t really complain. I did lose some squads, but also chewed up some Germans and put their timetable under threat.

Eventually, however, it all came down to the last turn, and the last three Russian defenders. Could the Germans win? I said “Yes” and Josh said “No” so you can probably guess quite easily that Josh was wrong. It was a bit sad, because as I looked at the last turn, I could see exactly how his deadly flamethrower survivor (one had broken) and a couple of killer stacks (good leaders and assault engineers) would move and kill. And so it proved to be. The game could have gone either way on the last two close combat die rolls, but Josh got the kills he needed, and so on the last roll of the last turn he had won.

It was infuriating, but great excitement.

Josh had tied up one of my flank guards with a close combat, and that unit spent the last three or four close combats outside the fortified building, doing no good at all. However, in fairness, another Russian squad that had broken early, did manage to rally and get back in to the fortified building. Indeed, if there was a noticeable weakness in the Soviet at start forces, it was leadership. I needed the -1 leader with the HMG in the fortified building, and I swapped the other for a commissar. Where was I going to put him? In the fortified building. That meant all the outer defenders were dead, or pretty much dead, as soon as they broke. The fact I only got one back out of the six I was forced to setup up front says it all. That may hint I where my tactics were wrong: perhaps I should have retreated the outer defenders instead of mixing it up with the attackers? However, they did some damage, so I am unsure.

Throughout the game, Josh gave me several sniper opportunities of which only one (a pinning result) came to anything. He had one sniper and it also got a pin result.

Great stuff, but next time I would like to be on the winning side against Josh!

Bedburg Bite

A Canadian attacker against a German defender with mines and a chunky tank reinforcement. I played as the defender against Ran and diced my way to victory. I played as the attacker against josh and my attack was bloodily, and all too easily, repulsed.

I definitely seem to do better as the defender. So, I clearly need to play more as the attacker…

(There have been others, but they are forgotten.)

The Magnificent Seven

This week we were seven. (You would never have guessed, if I hadn’t told you, would you?) Azriel, Nechemiah, Laurie, Peleg, Rosalynn, and Sheer were in attendance, with Nechemiah slightly delayed by an over long commute that seemed to go on and on. So we started with six and a game of the excellent 7 Wonders.

It is a different game – still very much enjoyable – with that number, but I always take too long to adopt to the change in pace and scoring opportunities. Unsurprisingly, I was in contention right from the start – for the wooden spoon. I won it, easily. Peleg (who dislikes the game, but bravely plays it without complaint) beat me by a fair bit. Rosalynn (64 points), Laurie (66 points), and Azriel (68 points) were right up there, but just could not keep up with Sheer’s pace, and he won (78 points) with a combination of a big military and big guild score. Rosalynn deserved some kind of consolation, as she scored a whopping 54 points just from the science cards. Wow.

After that, Nechemiah joined in, and we split four and three. Nechemiah, Rosalynn, Sheer, and Peleg played the classic Acquire. Sheer won that. They followed it up with R-Eco, with Rosalynn getting her revenge.

The pack is about to be broken by Mr Blue and Mr Blue.

Meantime, Laurie, Azriel, and I played the newcomer Flamme Rouge, a light bike racing game with cool cards and pieces, giving each player two riders to get round the track. Laurie won that. However, although the game only awards a win to first past the post, using a house scoring system, Azriel would have tied for most points over the first four finishing. My racers were fifth and sixth…

Susan made us into a foursome, and then we played Dominion which I managed to win, so some consolation.

Another terrific night.

A Grand Start

Azriel, Laurie, Rosalynn, and Sheer joined me in our last session.

We started with El Grande, a classic area control game. Everyone had played it before, but wanted a rules refresher. Then, off we went.

In the very first round, Sheer took advantage of an excellent opportunity by grabbing the first place action, and scoring 20+ points. The rest of us struggled to get to close to double figures…

From then on, we were all playing catch up. Slowly, but surely, we did catch up. (Well, some of us…) It appeared that one of the side effects of Sheer getting such an early, obvious and large lead, was that the other players – not just me! – were happy to use every reasonable opportunity to do him damage and cut away at his score. Azriel and Laurie were doing OK, but seemed to miss out on decent scoring chances. There is an element of luck in the game, and here it did appear as if they suffered from a dose or two of bad luck. Meantime, Rosalynn and I were the closest contenders, and a right thrilling finish it was. With the last score of the last area in the last round, I found myself as the winner by a point or two from Rosalnn and Sheer. An epic struggle. Based on that, if I ever get the chance to grab a big early lead, I won’t!

We then moved on to R-Eco, a card management game that I either do brilliantly well in, or badly. That night it was my turn to do badly. Laurie wasn’t doing too badly, but Azreil, Rosalynn, and I were definitely struggling. It was no surprise that Sheer won. The rest of us were pretty close to one another in our low scores.

After the others had departed claiming a need to go to bed, Sheer and I played 7 Wonders: Duel. That streak of luck that can seemingly turn a game came my way, as I collected lots of resources and lots of victory points. I was crushing Sheer. Of course, the inevitable happened, and with about half a dozen more cards to go to the end of the game, Sheer picked up enough science cards to claim a scientific victory. I was robbed! Great play by Sheer.

Thanks to all who came for making another great night.

The Sacred Cut – David Hewson

This is the third in the author’s Detective Nic Costa series (see here and here). Again set in Rome, the author branches out slightly by moving away from the lines of a traditional police procedural, and going more for the mystery conspiracy market.

It begins with Rome covered in snow, and the discovery of a dead, posed, body in the Pantheon. Before our hero and his colleagues can get the investigation started, along come a couple of FBI agents from the USA embassy who want the body for themselves, and the investigation to be run their way. Cue inter agency rivalry as the Italian secret service are also involved. Of course, Costa is not for letting things go, though the investigation is somewhat problematic as the only potential witness has gone on the run. From there, the action heats up, with the target of their sleuthing seemingly always one step ahead of them.

I confess to being disappointed in the book. The story was OK, but the writing felt somewhat heavy handed and oppressive compared to the previous books. Also, the characters didn’t seem to grow very much in this book. Even the Roman backdrop was described in dark, Gothic terms, so that the atmosphere was more of a ghost or horror story. Since I know the writer’s recent output has been excellent, I am hoping this was a minor bump in the development trail of his talent. So, I will be trying out the next one. But if it is more of the same, I will not be happy.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair – Joël Dicker

This is a book by a young author about a young author writing a book. As someone else has described it, there’s a kind of Russian doll feeling of stories within stories within stories. In essence, it’s a crime and mystery tale wrapped inside the narrative of a young author trying to follow up his first novel success with the help of his original inspiration, Harry Quebert.

The backstory is this: in 1975, in sleepy Somerset, New Hampshire, wannabe author Harry fell in love with Nola Kellergan. As in fifteen year old Nola Kellergan. Some 33 years later, Nola’s body turns up in Harry’s back garden, and Harry is accused of her murder. Quebert’s most talented student, the now successful author Marcus Goldman, walks away from his second novel project to prove Harry’s innocence. And from there on, things get more complicated. All is not what it seems.

There are plenty of funny and touching moments that writers will appreciate, and somehow the author does a more than creditable job of unraveling the murder mystery, with a fair amount of tension and plot twists. In addition, the main character is interesting, if not necessarily so likeable, and some of the supporting cast are noteworthy.

But…

You knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you?

This book is way too long for my tastes. The length adds nothing of substance to the plot, the atmosphere, or the impact. A heavier editorial touch would have been welcome. Because I am interested in writing, I kept going to the end. But readers with less stamina might give up; many are likely to complain. So, in summary, a fluffed opportunity – not that author will care, as the book has been highly rated by the critics and endlessly promoted as something wonderful. I beg to disagree.

BKOA Games Night

Saved for another occasion

With the help of Peleg and Sheer, I hosted a games night for Beit Knesset Ohel Ari. I had no idea what the response would be, and while I would always prefer more people to come along and play games, those who did come appeared to have a good time. (I am open to correction, folks…)

“This is a game of survival!”

We started things rolling with The Walking Dead to get everyone into the mood. After counting up the bullets we had one survivor: Helena. A fine win to start the session.

After that we split into smaller groups.

Splendid action with Splendor

Sheer hosted Shelley and Stuart and Rosalynn. He led them through one game of Splendor (won by Rosalynn) and then Reibach and Co (won by Sheer).

This was a well fought game

Peleg hosted Emma, Naomi, Azriel, and Nechamia. He led his merry crew through Ticket to Ride Europe. Although Peleg won on points, we awarded the win to Naomi because it felt right. Emma picked up a prize for – I think – trying to complete the longest route in a five player game of Ticket to Ride, a tough, tough challenge.

Decisions, decisions

Meantime, I hosted Richard, Laurie, and Helena. At this table we played Alhambra. We had a bonus because Richard was able to give us some of the secret Jewish history of the real Alhambra. Absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, I won according to the rules of the game, but I awarded the prize to Laurie.

Some happy prizewinners

That was it. Good fun (I hope) and a chance to spread the word: playing games is great!