Reading Slowdown

I have three books under the heading “Reading Now” on my current “Reading List” page:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

sidney chambers.jpgThe James Runcie book has been there for several months. It’s a book of short stories and so far I’ve only read the first and wasn’t engaged enough to want to rush on to the next one. I leave it on my list because I’ll get a round to the next story eventually.

I got the book because I heard an interview with the author who is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The stories feature a C of E minister as the main character, who finds himself investigating suspicious deaths. The books were adapted into a TV series Grantchester,  which apparently takes a lot of liberties with the main character. The author mentioned in the interview, something along the lines that a real priest would have been thrown out of the church if he’d acted the way of the televised version.

Green MarsGreen Mars is the sequel to Red Mars, and continues the story of colonists on Mars.

In the series so far there have been some allusions to early America, leading up to the war of Independence; with the colonists growing to feel exploited by their home land (home planet) and developing a growing passion for an independent, self sufficient  new home, free of the exploitation of a distant colonial power.

I started this one several days ago, but have been distracted too much by other (non-reading) things to get far into the book yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this one up straight after reading the first three volumes of the Dune series. Something a little less bulky may have been a better reading option than a 550+ page book midway through another sizable trilogy

noisnotenoughI started on Naomi Klein’s  No Is Not Enough because of some of those (political) distractions. I can only shake my head in disbelief at what has been going on in Australian politics, and I spent far too much time trying to keep up with the last few sitting days of parliament.  The cost of that has been my usual lunch-hour reading time.

Klein’s book shines a light on a lot of what is behind that current political situation from a North American viewpoint. Problems that aren’t restricted one particular nation, but are evident throughout the “western” world.

This book draws together the issues she’s written about in earlier books in greater detail. No Is Not Enough shows how all of those issues have become focused into a single point in the person and Presidency of Donald Trump.

However rather than merely add a negative voice of despair and opposition, Klein wants to look at positive answers to turn around the political and cultural systems that led to Trump’s political rise.

None of these books have maintained my interest enough to make me want to keep reading, so my progress through them has been slow, and my attention has been drifting towards other books. I suspect I’ll be finishing another book or two before I get to the end of any of these three. I’m already approaching the end of one about the manned Apollo missions of the late 60s – early 70s and have tentatively started another about the retrieval of the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia after it broke up on re-entry in February 2003 (so long ago, how time flies!)

sts 107

 

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Blackened Tanner by Ron Irwin

blackened-tanner.jpg

The principles of natural justice are based on three core rules.

The hearing rule provides the right to a fair hearing. When conducting an investigation, it is important that the person being complained against is advised of the allegations in as much detail as possible and given the opportunity to reply to them before any decision is made.

The bias rule requires that no-one be judge in his or her own case and that investigators and decision-makers act without bias or perception of bias in all procedures; where a person has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal or family involvement, they should not investigate the matter.

And the evidence rule provides that decisions must be based on logical proof and evidence, not on mere speculation.

When I set out to look at the cases involving Denis Tanner, I discovered that these principles of natural justice had all been ignored.

This is the beginning of Ron Irwin’s first chapter in his book Blackened Tanner.

Like Denis Tanner, the subject of the book, Ron Irwin had been a police officer in the Victorian police service.  He writes of a man who was identified as a murderer at an inquest into the death of his sister in law- but because there was insufficient evidence to put him to trial, was never given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him.

Denis Tanner and his family had to continue living within a community where he was seen as someone who had literally got away with the murder.

Irwin makes it clear there was something rotten in the state of Victoria, especially within the legal processes and their dealings with Denis Tanner.

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/evidence-backs-jennifer-tanner-suicide-theory-late-cop-ron-irwin-claims/news-story/a6e1853995dbdaf5c94e7380e58560c1

Cold Shot, Dani Pettrey

cold shotA Christian friend brought this author to my attention.
After frequently expressing concern about me reading “crime fiction”, he told me about Dani Pettrey’s books: crime fiction by a Christian author.

Cold Shot was my personal introduction to her work, and I don’t think I’ll be following up with any more of it.

She seems to have a strong following (no author would have published more than ten books without a devoted readership) but based on this book I won’t be joining that readership.

On the positive side, the story kept me reading, wanting to find out how it would be resolved. It was also refreshing to have prayer included as an ongoing feature.

Not so positive, was finding the characters and their dialogue unconvincing. To me they didn’t ring true. One case in point concerns the murder of a co-worker of a major character – something that seems to have no emotional impact at all on that major character who discovered the body.

To this non-American reader, there was also the issue of guns. While it was understandable that a murder by shooting was at the centre of the book, there was a disturbing reliance upon guns by (Christian) law-enforcement personnel, with a number of shooting deaths at the hands of those “good guys” before the case is finally resolved.

And also on the issue of guns and gunmen – it is established quite early that the killer being pursued is a sniper. One hurdle to finding him is the fact that snipers are apparently numerous within that community and they need to determine which one of them is guilty of the crime.

I suppose for an American crime story the prominence of guns should be expected – one only needs to have seen a few American police dramas to be aware of that.

Dying to Sin by Stephen Booth

dying to sinRenovation work on a derelict farm uncovers a woman’s body, buried near the house.

She had been buried several years before.
So, who was she, and why has no one missed her?

In this book DS Diane Fry’s future with the Edendale police seems to be a little tenuous when bureaucratic changes are made.

That threat to the security of her current position ought to provide a pathway to the change she’s wanted,  and a return to city policing rather than the rural setting in which she’s never felt at home. So why does she seem so unnerved about it?

Stephen Booth again blends a modern day mystery with local folklore and sets it within the harsh winter landscape of the Derbyshire peak district.

 

 

Wednesday’s Child by Peter Robinson

wednesdays childBack to back DCI Banks.

I started reading Wednesday’s Child as my immediate follow up to Past Reason Hated.

Seven year old Gemma Scupham is abducted from her home by a couple posing as social workers allegedly investigating reports that Gemma was being abused.

Alan Banks’ boss, Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe takes a personal interest in the case. Having been involved in the 1960′ s Moors murder investigations, he fears they may have the start of a similar scenario on their hands.

Then, nearby, the body of a young man is found at an abandoned mine, the victim of a very brutal murder.

While Gristhorpe leads the investigation into Gemma’s disappearance, Banks is given the murder case.

Could two dissimilar serious crimes be related?

While reading through the DCI Banks’ books, in order, from the beginning of the series, I’m interesting in seeing how Robinson’s writing develops. In previous “reviews” of his books I’ve mentioned how parts of these early books seem a little dated in the attitudes portrayed, specifically with regard to gender. I’m assuming certain things might change within the writing as I get closer to the present day.
I’ve read two other, much more recent,  Robinson books, not associated with the Banks series, and found a better quality of writing that seems to justify that assumption.

Regarding Wednesday’s Child, it may seem a little pedantic to point out a couple of examples of what I consider poor writing, considering I enjoyed the overall story. However, the following two sections jumped out, in a bad way, as I read them.

Firstly, Gemma’s stepfather, Les Poole, mentions the following about another character:

“All I know is his name is Chivers. It’s pronounced with a ‘sh’ like in shivers…”

This is dialogue where the character is speaking – surely the pronunciation of the name would have been evident. He SAID the name, and therefore would have pronounced it as ‘Shivers’. If there had been any need to point out the difference between the sound and the spelling, it would have made more sense to say something along the lines of “his name is ‘Shivers’ spelled with a ‘Ch'”.

The second example that slightly irritated me is describing a scene where one night Les has been locked out of his house. His noisy demands to be let in wakes the neighbours,  providing an audience.

His partner, Gemma’s mum, throws a suitcase containing his clothes and toiletries out of the upstairs window. For some reason she also enclosed a packet of tampons among his things. The falling suitcase burst open scattering contents around Les, who:

…put his hands up to try and stop [the case] hitting him, but all he managed to do catch was the packet of tampons. It spilled its contents on his shoes as he grasped it too tightly. One of the neighbours noticed and started laughing.

I found a clumsiness in this attempted humour, especially the unlikeliness of a neighbour being able to see the implied detail of the tampons being scattered around Les’s feet – something that would even be unlikely in daylight, and therefore more unlikely at night.

While those two incidents stood out as examples of poorly thought out logic, I’ll just mention another case of something I found irritating. This example is probably more of a personal gripe than anything else.

The police staff of Eastvale seem to spend a lot of time in the local pubs, which are often their preferred places to have lunch – usually sandwiches of some kind that are always “washed down” with a pint of their preferred beer. As I said, it is more of a personal gripe, but after a few times that term “washed down” started to aggravate me.

Despite those negative comments, I still found it had an interesting story and I continue to enjoy the ongoing contact with the characters. This book is the second appearance of DC Susan Gay who made her debut in the previous book. She has settled into her new position as a detective, however this time her role is less prominent than in Past Reason Hated where she had a stronger presence in the investigation of that book’s murder case.

It will be interesting to see how her role develops. My introduction to the DCI Banks stories was through the TV series based upon the (later) books.
In the series there was a strong female presence, with two significant women detectives being given important roles in the stories. Even though I think one of them was created for the TV version and wasn’t in the books, I’d like to see the female element increase as I progress through the rest of the Banks stories.

Again there are many musical references, including a few related to the music of Ivor Gurney, including this one “In Flanders”. While this song doesn’t have any specific relevance to the story, its subject has a poignance at this particular time, a week before the centenary of the end of the first World War.

In Flanders

I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
I see above the Severn plain,
Unscabbarded against the sky,
The blue high blade of Cotswold lie;
The giant clouds go royally
By jagged Malvern with a train
Of shadows.
Where the land is low
Like a huge imprisoning O
I hear a heart that’s sound and high,
I hear the heart within me cry:
“I’m homesick for my hills again –
My hills again!
Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain!
My hills again!”

Music: Ivor Gurney
Text: Frank W. Harvey

Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson

past reason hated

When Caroline Hartley is discovered savagely murdered in her living room, an LP record of Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri sung by Magda Kalmar is playing, set on repeat. The victim had never liked classical music and her partner claims she had never seen the record before.

Where did the record come from? Why was it playing? Did it have any significance to the murder?

Banks walked back to the window and lit a cigarette. What the hell was it about the music that bothered him? Why did it have to mean something? He would find out as much as he could about Vivaldi’s Laudate pueri

It’s been a while since I read one of Robinson’s DCI Banks books, and this one has been a welcome change from the “True Crime” I’ve been reading recently. It was good to get back to a story with an element of the unknown, a “page-turner” that I could read without knowing the outcome before I started, and also have the “comfort” of knowing that it wasn’t portraying the crimes and resulting suffering of real people.

This is the fifth of the DCI Banks books and its not a coincidence that the majority of crime books I’ve been reading are parts of various series. Most of them have been more than merely crime mysteries and their resolution. In the best of them the returning characters grow and develop through their experiences.

While Past Reason Hated was a “good read”, it wasn’t free of problems.

The book was first published in 1991, and I think like some of the previous Banks books, the writing shows its age.
For example, I’m not sure that a description of

“groups of female office workers [laughing] about the way the mailroom boys hands had roamed during the office party”

stands up very well almost 30 years later.

Also, the book’s opening scenes, at wedding reception, include excerpts  of  what used to be known as “rugby songs” – crude, often misoginistic ditties associated with men’s sporting teams. Again this tended to add an out-dated feel to the book.

And annoyingly, Robinson also revisits an earlier facination with breasts – this time when Banks visits a Soho night club with topless barmaids.
In more recent books (not part of this series) those “dated” elements aren’t there – or are not as noticeable

As a contrast, the book also visits territory that would have had a different political charge to it  almost 30 years ago, before LGBTIQA+ became a fashionable, ever expanding acronym.
Two of the major characters , including the murder victim were lesbians, and other characters express an assortment of attitudes towards them, some of which wouldn’t be acceptable in current western secular societies, but  the narrative itself leans more towards a live and let live attitude.

One thing made clear in all of Robinson’s work is his deep and eclectic love of music. Alan Banks shares that love and throughout the books references are made to various pieces of music, of many genres, that he plays while driving or walking.  Part of the pleasure beyond the books is tracking down examples of the tracks Banks plays.

 

The video above is one part of the recording playing at the murder scene.
It is based upon Psalm 112.

Psalm 112
Praise the LORD.
Blessed are those who fear the LORD,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Pietr the Latvian, by Georges Simenon

pietrInspector Maigret receives notification from the International Criminal Police Commission, an organisation that “oversees the struggle against organised crime in Europe”, that Pietr the Latvian has been sighted boarding a train heading for Paris, Maigret’s own territory.

Maigret waits at the station, equipped with a detailed description to help him recognise his target as he leaves the train. His stakeout is disrupted when a body, suffering a gunshot wound, is found on the train.
Is the victim the Latvian himself? Or could he be the victim of the man Maigret was seeking?

My introduction to Georges Simenon’s Maigret was through a recent TV programme with Rowan Atkinson playing the Paris detective, in what must be his most understated performance, showing his talent isn’t restricted to the often slapstick comedy of Mr Bean and Johnny English.

I came across this book in an almost hidden book warehouse in Canberra, where they had large numbers of more than a dozen different Maigret titles all priced quite cheaply.

I decided to buy the first two books in the Maigret series, Pietr the Latvian being the first, to see whether I liked them enough to buy more.

These books are different to the rest of my crime reading over the past year, being more of a “classic” – this one being written in 1930 originally in French, requiring a reading in translation.

I suppose one of the problems with translated works is the anglicisation of some terminology, or using an approximate British equivalent when describing something specifically French. I may be wrong to have such a response, but I found the first sentence of the book a little jarring when it referred to “Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Flying Squad” (my italics). It made me think of Denis Waterman and cockney accents from the old TV series The Sweeny.*

I’m not sure what I expected of my first experience with an almost 90 year old Inspector Maigret book. I’ve read “old” crime fiction (Agatha Christie) in the distant past, and knew the style would be different to the more modern stories I’ve been reading. I think the tone of the TV series also set the scene a little; very even, downplayed, almost drab – avoiding any hint of melodrama or heightened emotion. And that is how the story started, with a matter of fact depiction of Maigret following up a run of the mill case.

And then about halfway in, an event happens that releases the emotional restraints a little, as Maigret is left in no doubt of the seriousness of his investigation and the dangers it entails. I’d like to provide an example of the very vivid but controlled prose associated with that event, but wouldn’t be able to do so without resorting to “spoilers”. One thing I try to avoid when writing about a book is giving anything away that would rob other readers of  any surpises.

Overall, that section was the highlight of the book.

At times the story confused me. At other times its credibility lapsed.

Maigret not only followed the prime suspect, he continually made his own presence obvious. At one time sitting directly opposite his suspect, at the the same table, in a hotel dining room.

The story’s denouement adequately resolves a lot of the puzzles revealed earlier in the story, but I was disappointed with the path leading up to that conclusion.

At least I have Simenon’s second Maigret book, so I’ll have the chance to see if I find his story telling improved, and afterwards can decide whether I want to continue with the series beyond that second book.

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* From cockney rhyming slang, Sweeny Todd = Flying Squad.