Monthly Archives: March 2007


My writing still seems to be stuck – so many other things to do that somehow seem more important. At least now I have an idea where I’m going with the novel. For a long time I had lost even that. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I write and how I write it, and I think there’s been a huge change there. It was coming anyway – the current WIP is quite different from things I’ve written before, but has been precipitated by things going on in RL. I have confidence I will get there eventually, just not quite yet.

The other reason there has not been as much activity in this blog as I would like is that recently I’ve been reading a lot of books for review elsewhere, and I can’t publish the reviews here, yet. That pile is at last getting smaller. I have also now finished all the brand new library books that were on Mount TBR, so I may even get back to the sort of books that were the original impetus for this blog in the near future. There are some interesting ones in the pile – another Ian Hay, a couple of Louise Gerards, a Cosmo Hamilton and many more.

Dissecting a life: Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (2006)

Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of the writer, John Banville whom my SO assures me is a fearsomely literary Irish type who won the Booker a couple of years ago. Shows how much attention I pay to things like that. Despite this handicap, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it interesting and readable. I would agree with The Grumpy Old Bookman that whatever it says on the tin, it’s not a crime thriller, although despite what he asserts, there is in fact a crime, as a character is murdered. But I think it reads better as a straight historical novel.

The novel is very rooted in its time period, and gives a wonderfully evocative view of Irish society in the fifties, smothered in its ecclesiastical blanket. A society where everything is done on a nod and wink, without bothering the authorities, with its laundries and orphanages for inconvenient mistakes and the recalcitrant.

The protagonist, Quirke, is a pathologist, and the tale begins with a body. But the dissection Quirke must carry out is as much on his own life as on the corpse on the table before him. He is a well-realised character (as are all of them) deeply flawed and all too human.

I liked the twist at the end, but thought the rape was a clunky way of ensuring a rather unpleasant character got their come-uppance. What I did find annoying (and improbable) was the way that we never find out what Quirke’s first name is. Even his relatives all call him by his surname. Still, as I say, an enjoyable read, as much for the background as for the story.

A cavalier affair: Parliament House by Edward Marston (2006)

Marston is a prolific writer of historical crime fiction although this is the first of his novels that I have read. This particular one is the fifth featuring the two main protagonists, the architect Christopher Redmayne and constable Jonathan Bale, and is set in Restoration London. In this case, I had no difficulty picking up the threads; there were references to past cases but they were never intrusive, and always given to provide relevant background information. Too often, when reading third or fourth novels in a series there is far too much irrelevant catch up info; here it was just about right.

On arrival at a party being thrown by a client to celebrate the completion of a house for him, Redmayne witnesses the appalling murder of one of the guests, shot in the street by a miscreant who escapes before being identified. Teaming up again with Bale he engages to find the murderer, but things are not as obvious as they might appear. Was the guest the intended victim after all?

I found it an entertaining read, but I felt that the unmasking of who really dunnit at the end was a bit rushed, and there seemed to have been little ground work laid for the unmasking, which should always be obvious once you are told. I didn’t feel this was the case in this instance. I did like the ironic twist right at the end though.

Keeping a stiff upper lip: Word of Honour by ‘Sapper’ (1926)

I think it must have been George Simmers’s January post about ‘Sapper’ that prompted me to pick up this book by that author when I was in a wonderful second hand book shop recently. I have never read any of his books before and I didn’t look at this one too closely in the shop, and assumed that a) it was a novel and b) it was about WW1.

I was wrong on both counts. It’s a collection of short stories, and only the first one even has anything to do with the army. It made interesting reading. Most of the stories are set in Africa and involve various colonial shenanigans. Structurally, many of the stories are similar; someone is relating an incident that happened to them or a friend some time in the past to a group either on board ship or wanting in some other way to pass the time. So they are mostly told in the first person. Some of them have what could be a supernatural element to them, for example, The Message, while they nearly all have some sort of twist in the tail. In other words, ideal magazine stories.

I think the collection gives a nice insight into a long vanished world, where long, boring sea voyages to remote colonial outposts were made more bearable for some by the telling of tall tales, and for others by illicit shipboard romances. Wonderful stuff, but not something I would necessarily rush back to.