Not From That Man…

murder-at-myall-creekI have a lot of respect for books and the written word. I like my books to be (and remain in) the best shape possible.
When I buy a book I closely check the condition and when possible will avoid copies with creases (no matter how small) or other blemishes.

I had Murder at Myall Creek on a bookstore wish-list for some time – and so was excited to find a second hand copy in very good condition for a fraction of the cost.

But before I read it I chose to tear it up and throw it in the recycling bin.

Doing something like that is very out of character for me; but there was a reason.

I saw the author on TV.
He was the Prosecutor in the Keli Lane case and I was not impressed by some of his tactics in that case. [See my previous post]
I decided I couldn’t trust the man and therefore didn’t want to spend time reading his account about a historical mass murder of Aboriginal people.

I’d like to learn about the Myall Creek Massacre, but not from that man.

 

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Old Habits

This month I’ve returned to a practice I’d recently abandoned; that is reading more than one book at a time.

For several months now I’ve stuck to reading a single book from beginning to end before starting another, but maybe two weeks ago I picked up a second, and then a third book, slowing down my progress while I try to juggle between the three.

The first was a book of short stories upon which the TV series Grantchester is based. I heard an interview with the author, James Runcie, and was drawn to the stories of a C of E priest who finds himself drawn into murder solving.

I’ve seen the drama series advertised on TV but didn’t like the look of it, but after hearing the author speak of the differences between book and TV versions, I thought I could give the books a chance. One of those differences seems to be the extent that the lead character pursues “romantic” relationships. The impression I got from the author, and also from the brief advertising clips of the show, the TV version leans more to sexual relationship than “romantic”.

I recall the author saying something along the lines that in reality the minister would have been driven out of his position in the church if his actions had been discovered.

So far I’ve finished the first of the stories in the first Grantchester book, originally titled Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The story introduces Sidney Chambers, the Anglican priest, and how he was introduced to the world of detection. The mistress of suicide victim asks for his help, being convinced he hadn’t taken his own life. Chambers reluctantly makes some discreet enquiries and becomes convinced that she’s right. But how does he take that conviction to his police detective friend?

The story itself is reasonably simple. It’s length doesn’t allow for too much complexity, so the murder is solved with relative ease. While enjoyable as a short read, it didn’t draw me in and keep me hooked in the way that my previous crime reading has done. I also see it being in the Miss Marple and Jessica fletcher (Murder She Wrote) line of murder mysteries, that to me stretch credulity too far. How many murders does the average person come across? And is it credible that they could actually solve the countless murders that they somehow attract into the sphere of their daily lives?

My crime fiction preference therefore leans to police centred murder enquiries where the protagonists are more likely to come across crimes of this nature.

I’ve now put that book of short stories aside while I tackle the two other books currently on my reading list.

I’ve written a little about the second book in a previous post, View From a Low Bough, by Barrie Crowley. It’s not an easy book to get through. It is episodic, with Crowley taking the reader on a journey through various aspects of his time served in the Vietnam War. He addresses his reader as a companion being shown around his various haunts and activities. While the surface has a veneer of humour, there is also a clear undercurrent of the horrors and degradation to which he and his fellow soldiers were subjected. It is clear that he recognised (or has come to recognise) the war’s futility and contradictions.

I repeat an excerpt that I used in my earlier post:

“Hearts and Minds, one of the programs was called, one of the greatest abuses of the English language ever perpetrated. It worked this way. Fly over some Nogs and drop some pamphlets about love and peace, fly back later and napalm the ****s. Schizophrenic behaviour; hard to defend allies like that, but we tried”

It’s not a “pretty” book. It’s no literary gem. It’s very uncomfortable reading due to its style and the bluntness of its very coarse language, but it comes across as a disturbingly honest account. At times Crowley appears to relish in sharing some R-rated [extreme coarse language], boys own adventures, but he also paints a disturbingly vivid backdrop that brings those “adventures” into the context of a bloody and unnecessary war.

 

And on to the third…

The Hanging Valley is another in Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series.
A body is discovered in a remote valley near the village of Swainshead. What seems to be the murder of an unknown tourist develops into a story of a village where everyone has something they want to hide; but to what extent will covering up their personal secrets hinder Banks’s investigation?

I started this as an escape from the slow progress I was making through the Vietnam memoir. I was eager to get back to a good page turning read, and I haven’t been disappointed yet by anything in this series.

The only problem with this approach is that I can’t read both at the same time, and I have to decide which one to pick up and therefore, by default, which one gets neglected.

While I enjoy the entertainment value of an excellent crime mystery thriller, especially one where character development is given equal weight, I’m a person who likes to learn – so, while they may not have the same page turning nature, I’m also eager to dive into books that potentially aid my understanding of topics of personal interest (currently the Vietnam war)

If only, after that initial dive, the actual reading was easier than swimming through rough waters against the current.

 

On Unplugging (At Least Sometimes)

I liked this article posted by author Nick Earls.

Nick Earls

Brisbane’s last walk-in video store is about to close. I can’t say I realised one was still open, but it’s not a bad time to pause and note the transience of an industry that started from nothing only 40 years ago, became a staple of suburban life, seemed irreplaceable as recently as the turn of the century and then skidded abruptly into the ditch of obsolescence.

It’ll be put down to streaming, but it’s more than that. It’s life. Yes, we stream, and we stream plenty (I’m sounding like someone with out-of-control rhinitis, but bear with me), but there’s more going on. We’re also spending time on YouTube and other infinite sources of online content, but there’s more to it than that too. It’s the arrival of a world of apps in our pockets, all on one convenient device. When the machines rise to take over, they will come in…

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I Read

I

Read

Books

Secular

And/or sacred

Seeing the best of things

Or maybe the worst

Enlightening

Or offending

Gratuitously?

Is offence taken or given?

Distinguish light from

Darkness

According to

Individual merit 

(or lack of)

Without

Pre-conception

Or bias

 

 

The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

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The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.

What I Did on the Weekend. (Friday)

I remember in my very early school days, when my class were developing basic writing proficiency, we had to write short accounts with the title “What I did on the weekend”.

As I rarely did anything really interesting on weekends, I sometimes embellished my reports – occasionally with embarrassing results.
One of these times was when I spun a story about a burning piece of coal falling from the grate onto the hearthside rug, starting a fire at home that needed a visit from the fire brigade.

Classmates shared the exciting story with their parents who later, either expressed their concern about the averted emergency, or berated me for being a liar. I don’t remember what happened when the story got back to my parents – but I suspect they wouldn’t have been too upset about me stretching the truth for a school writing exercise.

The only other thing I remember writing about (and this time it was a GENUINE experience) was when I saw my very first helicopter, a rarity around my childhood home at that time. These days’ living next door to a hospital, low flying helicopters are reasonably frequent.

Those memories, stirred up by my title, have nothing to do with what I intended to write. What did I do last weekend?

Firstly, it was a long weekend because I also had Friday off.
Gloria and I had intended to stay overnight in Canberra on Friday, so we could attend a “swap meet” on Saturday morning. For those unfamiliar with that term, it’s a kind of trash and treasure market where we’ve seen a lot of rusty car parts but have also found some interesting collectables (art glass, porcelain, militaria).

We had been anticipating this weekend for many months and I booked a hotel room several weeks ago – but as we got closer to the date of the swap meet the weather forecast became a concern, with predictions of rain and possible storms. At the beginning of the week we therefore decided to forget about the market, and I cancelled the overnight accommodation. Instead we made our time in Canberra a day trip (a four hour drive there and back).

For some time I’d been trying to visit a second hand bookshop in one of Canberra’s suburbs, but on recent visits the owner had been sick and the shop remained closed. This time, after a couple of months, it was open again and I was able to look for some of the books on my personal wish-list.
I was happy to find four books by the authors on my list, but what made their discovery even more exciting was the fact the books were the ones I wanted most – books that bridged a gap in the sequence of a series of stories I’ve been reading, or wanted to read.

Books I found:
Sinister Intent, Karen M Davis. First book by Davis. I’d already purchased a new copy of her second book and had tried to order a copy of this one. however after making the purchase online, the bookseller contacted me to say that they couldn’t guarantee a timely fulfilment of the order, so allowed me to cancel it. The copy I found was the same edition that I’d tried to order, an edition that may now be out of print.

Still Midnight, Denise Mina. I haven’t read anything by Mina, but have heard some radio interviews with her. This is the first book in one of the series she’s written, so I thought it would be a good introduction to her work, without having to spend more on something I potentially might not like.

Deity, Steven Dunne. The third of Dunne’s books. I’ve already finished the first two and this one was on my wish list to follow up in the future. At this stage there are other books on my list with a higher priority, but I couldn’t miss the chance of getting a cheap copy now. Dunne is one of my recent discoveries of writers basing work in Derbyshire. His settings are in Derby itself, only 12 or so miles from where I used to live.

The Devil’s Edge, Stephen Booth. Another writer with a Derbyshire setting. I’ve bought several of his books so far, about half new and half second hand. There are so many to get that I feel justified not buying them all new.
If affordable, and still in print, I prefer to buy new so the author doesn’t miss out on the tiny portion of royalties they’d get from my purchases.

Why Now? ( a more extensive venture into crime fiction)

I’m approaching 60. I’ve been an avid reader since I was 5 years old, and half a lifetime ago, as a “mature-aged student”, I completed a BA degree in English literature and creative writing.

And yet, for some reason, only now do I find myself intentionally reading “crime fiction” – something that’s not really interested me before (apart from a short period in my 20s when I read a few Agatha Christies).

This interest seems to have started when a few weeks ago I watched Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect 1973 on TV. My motivation for watching had more to do with the “1973” than the “Prime Suspect” part of the title, but I got hooked on more than the 70s ambience of my youth.

Around the same time, for similar reasons I started watching the series Shetland, based on books by Ann Cleeve, fortunately catching it from the beginning.

While I’ve never been to the Shetlands, I’ve had a long lasting love of traditional fiddle music, and many years ago bought a CD of Shetland fiddle tunes. Again, while initially drawn by the potential ambience, I was hooked by the story and have watched all episodes screened to date on my local channel.

During the past two weeks I’ve bought or ordered most of the Shetland books, and all of another series by Cleeves, featuring Vera Stanhope. Those books have also been adapted for a TV series, Vera starring Brenda Blethyn.

I’m now halfway through Telling Tales, the second Vera Stanhope story after finishing the first, The Crow Trap in just two days.
I like the way Cleeves builds up the stories, using alternating points of view of the characters involved. Also the fact that the lead character (Stanhope) often remains in the background; although she always seems present, even when she’s not in a scene.

I still have a lot of potential pleasure ahead with so much more to read, but face the difficult choice between sticking with Vera Stanhope, or moving on to a volume of the Shetland series next.

At first I wondered whether watching the TV series would spoil my reading of the corresponding books (or vice versa). I haven’t found out for sure yet, but I suspect the extra richness of the books will make up for the inevitable “spoilers” revealed by the TV show. I’ll find an answer when I finish the book I’m currently reading now. Telling Tales is the next episode of Vera that I’ll be watching. I’m delaying my viewing of it until after I finish the book.

Along with Cleeves’ books I’ve also followed up that Lynda La Plante influence, her books follow a much grittier, seedier, urban path contrasting with the more rural settings of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope books.
La Plante is much more graphic in the detail of the murders at the centre of her books. In the two I’ve read so far (Above Suspicion and The Red Dahlia), La Plante’s story telling has been much more linear than that of Cleeves and her investigating police have been the focal characters, with less attention paid to the points of view of other characters.

These two books are part of the Anna Travis series, and while the storytelling is compelling, there is a degree of “sameness” between the books, with sociopathic, misogynist men being the perpetrators of exceptionally brutal murders of women, while being able to hide behind the respectable standing they hold within the community at large.

These two very different authors offer widely contrasting reading experiences.  La Plante gives a page turning rollercoaster ride though territory most us would never experience, compared to Cleeves’ more leisurely but no less compelling journey into more familiar parts of everyday society.

La Plante gives us serial killers, or others who kill for extremely nefarious reasons. Cleeves brings along the man or woman next door, with more down to earth and practical (even domestic?) motives for killing, more in keeping with the statistical fact that 80% of murderers were know by their victim.

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Note: the above was written from my own introductory experience of the work of these two writers and the TV adaptations of some of their work. The views I express therefore don’t necessarily convey a true and complete picture of all of their work.

 

Brenda Blethyn (TVs Vera) reading an excerpt from Harbour Street (a Vera Stanhope story by Ann Cleeves)

Brenda Blethyn from Beeline Films on Vimeo.