Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

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Murderous Reviews: The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade – MJ Trow (1985)

The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade

This could have worked quite well if the author had taken the time to think through what he wanted the novel to be. It has other serious flaws but in the main one is confused as to whether this is a comic novel, a pastiche or a complex murder mystery.
As a comic novel it fails since the comedy is sporadic and reliant for effect on Carry On style ‘double entendre’ and cheap puns. It is draining to read since – for one thing – the style of the comedy is far too modern and sits uneasily in a late Victorian setting. Sometimes it hits the nail but most of the time it is just not funny or severely laboured. There is a section where Lestrade meets Oscar Wilde which is particularly painful to read, brief though it is, as it seems it was only included for its comic value.
The basic premise is that Inspector Lestrade (of the Sherlock Holmes tales) is in fact a real Inspector and exists in the real world alongside Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson are reduced to one-dimensional buffoonish stereotypes, while the rest of the cast struggle to get beyond two dimensions.
Lestrade is tasked with investigating a series of peculiar murders which are based around Hoffman’s cautionary verses of Struwellpeter, or Shock Headed Peter.
Lestrade – for no good reason – comes into contact with various famous Victorians, such as Tennyson, Swinburne, The Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor (whose presumed homosexuality, like that of Oscar Wilde, is presented to us for no other reason than the author knows all about it and presumes he is telling us things we never knew… Oh, and it gives him the excuse to use the derogatory term for gay men ‘cottage loaf’ several times) and various others.
The murders themselves are quite preposterous and would be impossible to put into practice in real terms. Had the author taken some time to construct more credible scenarios it might have saved this novel from ruin.
It’s not that difficult to work out who the murderer is either, but I’ll leave that for you to determine.


Murderous Reviews: Cold Granite – Stuart MacBride (2005)

Cold Granite (Logan McRae, #1)

This is a highly enjoyable romp around Aberdeen, a city painted as being beset with relentless rain and snow. DS Logan McRae is part of a team investigating a child killer. Logan is nicknamed Lazarus as he has only just returned to active duty having been stabbed almost fatally by a murderer he recently apprehended.
When another dead child is found the police are under pressure to find the killer, beset by a reporter who has a mole within the investigation as well as the rank and file of angry Aberdonians.
It’s a non-stop adventure which maintains pace throughout and is peppered with colourful characters.
Despite the depressing central theme it’s an uplifting read with some sprinklings of humour here and there, and a nice balance between action and character development.
Logan is, if I have to poke a critical finger at anything, perhaps a little too nice. It might have been interesting to know more of the history between him and Isobel the Ice Queen pathologist. They were once an item, but it ended badly. This certainly adds an extra element to their working relationship but it might have expanded Logan’s character a little to know what went wrong. Detectives generally need some kind of flaw, and his pining for Isobel doesn’t really cut deeply enough.
The deciding question on this is ‘Will I read the next one?’
Absolutely. It’s always a good sign when a book makes me miss my stop. It doesn’t happen a great deal.
MacBride is kind enough to point out in a afterword that Aberdeen really isn’t that bad, and I am presuming he is referring to both the weather and the residents.
I’m hoping that’s true.


Murderous Reviews – Never Sorry (Leigh Koslow #02) – Edie Claire (1999)

Never Sorry (Leigh Koslow Mystery #2)

Leigh Koslow returns in the second of Claire’s delightful series. To earn some extra cash Leigh has taken a part time job at the zoo with an old crush, zoo vet Mike Tanner. Having worked late to help Tanner perform an operation, Leigh is drawn to a light in the tiger keeper’s hut and finds the place awash with blood and foolishly picks up a bloodstained knife. Venturing out she notices something in the tiger enclosure; some severed limbs, one of which is an arm sporting several familiar rings. They belong to Leigh’s childhood nemesis Carmen Koslow.
Leigh becomes the chief suspect in the murder and needs to call on her friends to help her investigate and clear her name.
It’s a very enjoyable and somewhat cosy murder mystery, boasting an array of great characters, some of whom will be familiar from volume one, ‘Never Buried’.
Pleasingly it also features a refreshingly surprising ending. I’m very much looking forward to reading more.
Times change so fast. I had not realised while reading that this book was published in 1999. My main thought at several points was ‘Does no one have a mobile phone?’
The policeman in charge of the case has one but everyone else seems reliant on landlines, answering machines and payphones.
I think I preferred it when life was like that, but without the murders.


Murderous Reviews: Invisible – Lorena McCourtney (2004)

Invisible (Ivy Malone Mysteries, #1)

Ivy Malone is a LOL. A little old lady. She’s a widow who has discovered that her social staus as a LOL renders her mostly invisible. She is ignored in shops and even discovers that she can slip into a Post Office queue without anyone batting an eyelid.
Following the death of her old friend, she decides to investigate the desecration of several tombstones in her local cemetery, rationalising that her relative invisibility will be a bonus in investigations.
Then, the lodger in her friend’s basement, Kendra, disappears and Ivy suspects that she may be the body that was found recently in a river.
Ivy, finding the police investigation to be running slow, decides to carry out her own enquiries.
It’s a very enjoyable and amusing read. McCourtney has created some memorable characters and the narrative rattles quickly along. There’s a nice balance between humour and drama and she paints a vivid picture of life in Missouri.
It has to be said that the heavy emphasis on Ivy’s Christianity was a bit wearing. I’ve checked some other reviews and it does come to something when even her Christian readers are complaining that there is a tad too much God in it. It’s counter-productive in fact, since one is tempted to skip the passages where Ivy is rambling on about having accepted Jesus into her life. If Jesus is in her life, he must be getting a bit tired of it too, or may have invested in some earplugs.
One could argue that the first person narrative here needs that because Ivy is a devout Christian. We have had religious detectives before, such as Father Brown and the vicar from Grantchester, but the religious element, although present, seldom intrudes unless there us a conflict of conscience of some sort. It’s over-egging the Jesus pudding, frankly.
At one point Ivy is ‘fixed up’ for want of a better phrase, on a date with Mac, a travelling reporter. He is the one character (apart from the criminals, who are obviously evil and ungodly) that comes nearest to being a challenge to Ivy’s beliefs. This isn’t explored fully enough. If Mac had been an out and out atheist it would have made for a far more interesting relationship and provided a different viewpoint.
The ending is a little ambiguous, leaving us to want to read the next installment. I think I will. I quite enjoyed this visit to Missouri and Arkansas and think I would get on with Ivy quite well, as long as she keeps the godbothering to a bare minimum.


Murderous Reviews: Crimson Lake – Candice Fox (2017)

Crimson Lake

Ted Conkaffey – a working Sydney police officer with a wife and baby daughter – is wrongly arrested and charged with the rape of a thirteen year old girl. The case is abandoned due to lack of evidence. Ted is left in limbo, being neither acquitted nor found guilty and very soon finds himself without a job and having to abandon his family to protect them from any collateral blame and publicity.
And so Ted moves away to the wilds of New South Wales and a town called Crimson Lake, surrounded by alligator infested swamps and creeks.
Here, he is advised by his solicitor to seek out Amanda Pharrell, a private investigator who offers him a job. Amanda has her own issues, since she spent years in prison following her alleged murder of a school friend, a murder which many suspect she did not commit.
She invites Ted to help her with her current case. She has been hired to investigate the disappearance of Jake Scully, an author of popular Biblical paranormal romance novels, who unaccountably drove out in the middle of the night and never returned.
It’s a great rollercoaster of a novel with a well-varied cast of small town Australians, moody teenagers, menacing corrupt cops, drug dealers, and people with secrets.
Amanda and Ted’s investigations are paralleled by Ted’s determination to discover the truth behind Amanda’s murder charge, which she refuses to discuss, and his attempts to hide from a reporter and the local vigilantes.
Crimson Lake itself is a wonderful setting, and Fox does a brilliant job of evoking the reality of this remote town, existing on the edge of the wilds with alligators, snakes and human predators for neighbours.
One of the best detective novels I’ve read in ages. Recommended.


Murderous Reviews: Remorseless -Will Patching (2012)

Remorseless: A British Crime Thriller (Doc Powers & D.I. Carver Investigate, #1)

I pointed out recently that some authors tend to have an obsession with eye colour. I don’t believe that most readers take a blind (no pun intended) bit of notice of this. I was chatting to my mate Jan about this recently. She has also been reading this book and we both tend to cast people from TV or movies in the books we read. As a matter of interest Doc Powers in this case was (for both of us, coincidentally) Robson Greene. DI Carver was Idris Elba. The psychopathic central character Peter Leech was originally Peter Barlow from Coronation Street but he wasn’t up to the role and he morphed quite early on into Tom Hardy. Eye colour is therefore, I suspect, immaterial to most readers.
The eye colour issue was a problem for me because parole officer Judy Finch (Emilia Fox) is described (several times) as having violet eyes. I snorted at this as I am yet to come across anyone with violet eyes. Having checked it out to avoid making myself look a little stupid I discover that some people do indeed have violet eyes, although it is quite a rare phenomenon. Elizabeth Taylor was a violet-eyed woman it seems.
However, one would have thought for the sake of realism that someone might have said at some point ‘Oh… you’ve got purple eyes. That’s unusual,’ at which point Judy could have said ‘Yes, it’s quite rare. Elizabeth Taylor had them too, you know.’
That might have quelled my irritation.
Peter Leech’s eyes are green, but he later acquires some contact lenses in Caribbean turquoise in order to help him get through passport control on a fake passport. For a man with an IQ of 160 this doesn’t seem like a sensible plan.
Anyhoo, apart from the eye colour thing this isn’t a bad read.
Doc Powers, forensic psychologist, is on a parole board to determine if Peter Leech (convicted twenty years ago for the savage murder of his parents) can be released. Powers is in angst because of the recent death of his wife and has been hitting the bottle. Not being on form, he fails to convince the rest of the board that Leech is an an intelligent and charming psychopath and too dangerous to be let out.
They let him out.
Leech then embarks on a brutal spree of rape and murderous revenge, his ultimate targets being his brother Shaun (David Tennant) whom he has always claimed was the actual murderer of his parents, and Judy Finch, whom he fixated on when she came to take his statement.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and flies along at a fair pace. I do feel some of the characters to be a tad formulaic and we may have benefited from some additional scenes outside the main plot, or indeed a subplot of some sort, to allow them to interact and round themselves out a little, although I daresay that may well be resolved in subsequent novels.
On the whole though, it’s a satisfying – if violent – page turner which I could quite easily see, with a few tweaks, as a TV series. Robson Greene Please. Don’t think we’ll get Idris Elba or Tom Hardy, but I’m sure Greene could slot this in between seasons of ‘Grantchester’.

 


Technorage – William Olsen (2017)

Technorage

The title refers to the practise of users of modern technology whereby they personify and abuse their devices both verbally and physically.
I found this a very difficult and unenjoyable read, at least at first since the author occasionally adopts a clumsy grammatical style as if the words at some point are pouring on to the page.
However, some way in it seemed I found some common ground and it was a revelation.
One problem of the book unrelated to the content is the e-book format since it is often difficult to determine where the author’s chosen line ending is. My apologies therefore if any of my quotes from the poems are not in the form they should appear in on the page.
Olsen addresses dark issues; chronic pain, death, the ruthlessness of nature and perhaps the veneer that separates humanity from this. He employs both free verse and some intense prose poems. There’s a sense of ripping away the facade of ‘human happiness’ to reveal a bedrock of pain, frustration and pointlessness. And yet, the natural world seems to hold some hope, or at least some unattainable meaning.
Although I read and write a good deal of it, I do not claim to be an expert on poetry, particularly American poetry, and fully admit to not fully appreciating some of the more difficult pieces. There is much I am missing although I feel I will return to this book. Olsen has the knack of pushing one’s perceptions in new directions, which can only be a good thing.
The first poem ‘Posthumous Cabin’ begins as a description of occasional trips to a lakeside cabin and by degrees descends into an almost raging cry for help.
I find that ‘Customer Service’ is also a poem that returns to me, wound around the frustration of waiting in a queue. Here, there is the smalltalk with others which not only demonstrates to oil the veneer covering our inner natures but also serves within the piece to take the author on a sidepath to examine the nature of the self.

The guy at the beginning of a growing line is saying,
“No one else is gonna do it for me,” and I’m saying,
“That’s for sure, you gotta do everything yourself,” he’s saying “That’s for sure.” and then finally saying, “My mama isn’t gonna do it for me,”
with some tacit rage of having said that hovering in his face.

‘Early Murder’ is a lengthy and beautiful prose poem about crows, one of my favourites in this book, which again touches on our relationships with nature and each other, and the way we mask unpleasant facts from ourselves.

The title piece is one of the most difficult poems for me. I can see there is an exploration of how technology has infiltrated our lives, from his wife’s e-books (‘My wife reads books on clouds / that wander lonely or out loud’ ironically referencing Wordsworth and his personal connection with Nature as a force) to Luddites, the holocaust and the Transformers movies.
Olsen also manages to include quotations in this piece and elsewhere, a stylistic touch that I’ve never seen employed before.

“the human frame / A mechanized automaton,”
Shelley wrote, “Scarce living pulleys of a dead machine…”
“Men are more easily made than machinery,” Lord Byron, for a brief

period outraged.
Say yes to cyberutopia
and instant democracy.

The author, refreshingly, does give some helpful notes at the end of the book on some specific pieces. Should this be necessary? Yes, I believe so. It’s always useful and indeed interesting to get the artist’s take on whatever s/he has created but preferably after one has wrestled with it to determine a personal interpretation.
The collection has certainly grown on me in the last couple of weeks and I am certain I will be returning to it to fathom its other secrets. I liked it. It pushed my boundaries.


Murderous Reviews – Dying for You (Rafferty & Llewellyn #06) – Geraldine Evans (2004)

Dying for you (Rafferty & Llewellyn Cozy Mystery Series, #6)

Rafferty, feeling the blues of loneliness washing over him while his Welsh sidekick is on honeymoon, decides to enrol in a Dating Agency. Unwilling, for reasons that are not entirely clear, to enrol under his own name, he borrows the identity and the rather tight suit of his cousin, Nigel Blythe, and pretends to be an estate agent. All seems to be going well, as on two consecutive dates Rafferty meets a very nice woman. The first does not ring him back, nor the second, and he only finds out why when he is assigned to investigate their murders.
Rafferty is therefore forced to cover his own tracks, eliminate his cousin Nigel Blythe as a suspect and keep the real suspects from recognising him as the original Nigel Blythe.
Much of this requires a huge suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, and if you can manage that it is mostly an enjoyable read, and a little like an old-fashioned farce, with Rafferty sporting a new beard and a pair of spectacles.
Those of you who find it difficult to suspend your disbelief will no doubt be wondering why Rafferty didn’t simply admit to having been there under a false name in the first place, since surely then the investigation could have been pushed in the right direction from the start.
Additionally, a Dating Agency would surely need to have photographs of their clients, if only to ensure they have something to show to the police when their members start getting murdered.
Anyhoo, if one can live with that, it’s a fairly short and absorbing tale with some humour, romance and human drama.
The only – and really annoying – flaw of the book is that Evans’ view of gay life seems to be obtained through a telescope to the Nineteen Seventies. One is allowed to use the word ‘gay’ in literature in the 21st Century, although you wouldn’t know it. The word ‘homosexual’ is whispered in disdained tones and the one gay character that does appear is the standard predatory camp waspish gay man that one used to find in Seventies sitcoms; the one-dimensional ones, the ones you could laugh at.
We’re thirty years or more on now Geraldine. Times have changed, and I hope, so have the attitudes of your readers.


Murderous Reviews – Out With A Bang – Solomon Carter (2014)

Out With A Bang (Long Time Dying, #1)

Private Eyes Dan Brady and Eva Roberts are approached by their jaded police contact Gary Rowntree who is concerned over the disappearance of his brother Charlie. Rowntree is loth to make his investigation official for reasons of his own.
The pair visit Charlie’s house to discover that he left his wife and children to face debts, not having told them that he left his job months ago.
Delving into social media, Eva manages to find links between Charlie and a sex blogger called Anna Eavis. Anna and Charlie it transpires, run swingers parties and when the detectives visit Anna pretending to be journalists, she tells them she won’t give them a story unless they come to a party the next day in a large house in Blackheath. Unbeknown to the pair, they are walking into danger and opening a rather larger can of worms than they expected.
It’s an easy read and despite some critics citing numerous typos and spelling errors, I only noticed one in the entire novel.
It has its flaws. Carter really needs to work on his dialogue as it comes over as a tad unrealistic. Dan especially is one character for whom less would be decidedly more in this respect. He talks too much. At some points there is a valid reason, such as when he is trying to provoke someone to shoot him so he can disarm them. At other times it’s just relentless and sustained attacks of macho verbosity and infodumping.
Conversely, Eva is a far more interesting character, employing novel solutions to obtain information about people. It is a bit of a shame that Dan seems to get more page space in this novel. There are several more however so maybe the balance may be redressed. It might have been better if Carter had mixed up the dynamic a bit and made Dan a bit geeky, and had Eva as the streetwise Essex girl who can handle a gun and talk her way out of a dangerous situation.
It’s not bad, at the end of the day. Reads a little like a first draft though. I don’t yet feel that Carter inhabits his characters enough to give them their own voices and patterns of speech. It could do with a serious revision but the basic premise works and I love the idea of Bromley in Kent being a hotbed of murder, sex, drugs and general racey behaviour.


Murderous Reviews – Fatal Philosophy – David S Alkek (2013)

Fatal Philosophy - A Murder Mystery

I feel somewhat reluctant to provide negative feedback on a novel that was free on Amazon. I have reasoned that, given that the novel was free, it would be churlish to complain, but on the other hand, I have invested a great deal of time in reading it (I tend to take the view that one should not comment on a book unless one has read it the whole way through) and therefore feel quite justified in having an opinion.

The overview is that a Dallas murderer is shooting people whose surnames start with the name of a philosopher to whom they are connected in some way. It is not noted immediately that the victims are being killed in the order of the philosophers being discussed at the weekly meeting of The Philosophy Club. Detective Jason Colbert is put on the case.

There are many things wrong with this book. In the first chapter, the first murder takes place when a Professor of Philosophy is shot. The murderer, through whose eyes we see the crime, makes a point of retrieving the bullet. The next week, there is another murder. Jason Colbert’s lab techs are quick to report that the bullets from the two crimes are from the same gun.
One also has to ask why the murderer did not retrieve the bullet from the second murder.

Meanwhile at an Art gallery, several people get into a discussion about Philosophy and decide to make it a weekly debate at the homes of the Debaters. The fact that everyone present not only immediately agrees to this, but are familiar enough with philosophy to give a talk on a specific philosopher, is just the first of a series of implausible scenarios.

The murder victims are chosen because they share the initial of the Philosopher of the week, and/or an ethnic and employment relationship, therefore the first victim is a Greek Philosophy Professor, Professor Patagos, whose speciality is Plato.

Given that the rest of the victims are connected in some way to members of the Philosophy Club, how realistic is it that one could find victims matching this criteria? Additionally, the Philosophy Club and the list of philosophers for discussion were not in existence when the first murder occurred, so how did the murderer know what he was going to be doing after the first murder?

Apart from the plot holes, the dialogue and the characterisation need some serious work, as does the pace. There are interminable passages of the background history of people, as well as the colour of their eyes. Whenever a new character is introduced, it seems that an entire page (at least) comes with them, telling us their backstory and their place in the world.
The murderer is fairly easy to determine from very early on, so I was even robbed of some surprise revelation at the end.

It’s a shame, because it’s not a bad idea, but until the characters are made a little more rounded with dialogue relevant to their individual personalities, and the bugs are ironed out of the plot, then this is not going to fly.