Review of ‘The Good Knight’ by Sarah Woodbury

Available from Feedbook’s website. 

‘The Good Night’ is a historical detective story set in medieval Wales.  It follows a straightforward recipe: two detectives, one male and one female,  in love with one another and working together to resolve a murder, against the backdrop of north Wales, which the author clearly knows like the back if her hand. The action takes place in the twelfth century, when the Danes were a constant threat, especially the Dublin Danes across the Irish Sea, plus the more sophisticated Normans to the East in England. Owain Gwynedd was King of Wales, but suffering frequent bad-tempered challenges from his brother, Cadwalladr. This period and setting will be familiar in part to readers of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael stories (although Cadfael was based in Shrewsbury Abbey).

Even though the word count only totalled 37,000, the plot was long and complicated, with many twists and sub-plots, especially at the end. The book might have finished in Dublin at 80%, but continued in the same vein, obliging the protagonists to rescue the damsel-in-distress a second time. The storyline was enhanced by Sarah’s intense and wide-ranging knowledge of the machinations of Welsh princes, mind sets and world views, and of how everyday life was lived during this period. The author’s excellent historical perspective led her to include several scenes where the ‘goodies’, as well as the ‘baddies’, murdered people without a second thought, but this is what you did in medieval times, especially if your little kingdom was squeezed between the Vikings and the Normans. There weren’t many concerned and hand-wringing liberals around in those days!

As Sarah included many real-life historical figures into the story, every character (apart from the Danes) had an authentic Welsh name, which made working out who was who awkward, despite the prologue telling us how Welsh names are pronounced, and especially as the author took it for granted that the reader would remember everyone at first mention. This problem might have been alleviated if more of the fictional personages had had more familiar Welsh names like ‘Gareth’ and ‘Gwen’, the two main detectives. Also, in my opinion, there were too many characters generally, and as a result it was difficult to develop all of them properly. Hot tempered and touchy Owain Gwynedd came out well, as did his sons, Rhun and Hywell, but I really didn’t get what was driving the villain, Cadwalladr; nor did Owain Gwynedd, methinks. Also some potentially interesting females – like Cristina (Owain’s mistress) and Alice (Cadwalladr’s wife) – needed developing further.

The Webster English in which this was written was at first disconcerting, and seemed out of keeping with the twelfth century, but I then learned that the author lived in the United States – so she is forgiven! Sarah wrote – refreshingly – outside ‘The Rules’, using brackets and adverbs frequently and many, many reps. However, one incorrect use of it’s stuck out like a sore thumb. Self-published authors do not get the benefit of non experienced, professional proofreader!

Although it read as a complete story in itself, ‘The Good Knight’ is the second of five ‘Gareth and Gwen’ novels – for more details, visit Sarah’s website at http://www.sarahwoodbury.com. Sarah has also written twelve other historical novels, with two touching upon the paranormal (none of which I have read). Would it recommend this? Yes, for a good read, based upon sound historical research.

A footnote: very sad to hear of the untimely death of my fellow Leicester-ian Sue Townsend. No one could write about the mundane as she did and make you laugh as loudly. She will be sadly missed.

Another footnote: as I’m currently on holiday in Sicily at the moment and I don’t have a travel blog (although I keep thinking of building one), I thought I would end with a photo.

Agrigento, Southern Sicily.

Agrigento, Southern Sicily.

Review of ‘The Hangman’s Daughter’ by Oliver Potzch

Available from Amazon.  Original German publisher Ullstein Taschenbuch.

It’s taken me a long time to read this book.   As its title suggests, much of the writing was bloodthirsty and, as you know, Dear Hangman GameReader, I don’t do blood and guts, torture even less.  To be honest, it wasn’t my ‘cup of tea’, but, fortunately for the world of literature in general, a novel’s worth does not depend upon entirely on what Charlie Britten thinks.

Based in early modern Schongau in Bavaria, the story concerns accusations of witchcraft and the battle of Jacob Kuisl (the town hangman) and Simon (a young physician) to save Martha Stechlin (the local midwife) from being burned at the stake.  It should rightly have been called ‘The Hangman’ because he is the main character and the hangman’s daughter, Madgalena, only has a relatively small part in it.   Although he seems to take an especial delight in describing dirt (mud, filth, sweat and excrement), Oliver has done his research very well, not just into the hangman and witches but in seventeenth century life in general, particularly regarding people’s attitudes to each other and executioners, doctors and midwives and their neighbours in Augsburg in particular.    However, I did feel that he failed to understand how people in the seventeenth century worshipped, allowing one character to say that he doesn’t believe in the devil or the heavenly father;  with the Reformation only just settling, everybody would have accepted both unquestioningly.

Jacob Kuisl is portrayed in a very favourable light; it is difficult to get one’s head around the idea of a nice hangman, definitely on the side of the angels, who tortures but tries not to hurt his victims.   The hangman has a certain Holmesian quality about him, always right, always able to fight his way out of a corner, and, as the novel progresses, Simon develops into a well-meaning but flummoxed Watson.   Magdalena comes across as a sort of pale Elizabeth Bennett – with her petticoats covered in mud at several points.  Apart from Simon, Magdalena, Martha, it is clear that the author has no time for any of the other adult characters.  In the prologue Oliver tells us that he is a descendant of the Kuisl family, but that the story itself is a novel; this, I feel, affected the way he drew his characters, with possibly too much respect and too little complexity.

I read this book in English – obviously.  Lee Chadeayne’s translation from German to English was smooth and natural, to the extent that the reader might be forgiven for thinking that it had been written in English originally.  Certain words and placenames were not translated eg Stadl and Ballenhaus, and, even though I don’t know for sure what they mean (although one can hazard a guess),  referring to them by in English would have taken them out of their seventeenth century German setting.

So, there it is.  The wrong book for me, I think.

On another topic, I didn’t submit an entry to the Mslexia Short Story comp.  As usual, life took over and the story wasn’t finished – not in the sense that I hadn’t written the last few paragraphs, but it wasn’t fully edited.  It still didn’t feel quite right.  Last year, I did submit and I remember posting on Chapter Seventynine (the writing site I belong to) that you shouldn’t waste £10 on a story that’s blatantly not ready.  Here we go again!

No, my  key on’t ork.  Oops!  I meant I’m having problems with my W key.  Computers, eh?  At least, I’m not sharpening pencils, I suppose.

(Image from Wikimedia.)

Enter the ‘Widow’

There it is,  my two-hundred word pen portrait of a widow, on page 42 of Mslexia (March 2014 edition).   It doesn’t state that it is what it is, but I can Traditional widowassure you, Dear Reader, that that was the brief I wrote to.   Of course, vain creature that I am, my piece was the first thing I looked at when I opened the magazine, but then I spotted my tenses in the last line and winced.   They say you should read your work aloud.  Oh yes, Dear Reader, do do read your work aloud.   Or, as a compromise, display it in another font and font size and see how it looks with different line endings.  Another ruse might be to check your work by reading it in print…  Have I got something wrong here?

Maybe I’m looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, but there was a lot of good stuff in Mslexia this month: about writing as therapy, NanoWriMo, writing synopses, creative writing MAs, promoting your blog, writing a best-seller… as well as the inevitable article on self-publishing.  I had subscribed to ‘Writers’ Forum’ for many years and have learned a great deal, but I stopped about a year ago for reasons which can only be described as ‘mixed up’.  I was having a bad writing period and, desperate as I was to improve, I couldn’t bear to read other writers’ advice, because it made me feel worse.  Each ‘how to’ article made me realise how far my own stories fell short.  However, a year on, it was refreshing to read the writer stuff.  I’m ready to learn again.

 

 

 

 

Not a Lot

How to put people off reading a blog post?  With a title like the above, perhaps.  But it’s true, I’m afraid.  I haven’t been very well this week, off work and too ill to be able to make use of the time to write.  In fact, for most of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and (in truth) Friday, using my laptop gave me a blinding headache, backache, neckache and nausea… but still, like an addict, Dear Reader, I was dragging the thing on to my knee to check my emails, even to mark my students’ work on Moodle, until I fell down on the settee exhausted, aching all over and my stomach heaving.  (Like an addict?  I am an addict.)

However, a bit of good news.  In the middle of the week Mslexia contacted me  about HOW I would like to receive payment for the short piece which I’d written to a prompt and which they had accepted  for the March issue.   Pay me anyhow, please.  It’s just fantastic to be recognised.  Usually, just having a piece placed brings on the cartwheels.  Does that sound professional, Dear Reader?  No, but I expect you have to earn a lot more than I do to be considered a pro.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve started revisiting one of my old stories and considering – possibly – entering it for the same magazine’s short story competition, having vowed last year that I would never do so again, that particular comp being well out of my league etc etc.  Without giving too much away, my story is set in Mostar, Bosnia, with much of the action taking place near the (new) Mostar Bridge, which has been rebuilt after Croatian shelling in 1993 – see the photo below, which is mine (or my husband’s).   I know some writers depend on Google Maps and Google Earth, and I’ve even seen articles in writing magazines advising them to do this, but I never feel comfortable pontificating about places I haven’t visited.

New Mostar Bridge

I keep telling my students that every piece they write must have a beginning, middle (with sub-headings, so I can mark it easily, Dear Reader) and an end, but it’s 11.10 and I haven’t posted the photo yet.  So I’m stopping right NOW!

More About Computers As Writing Tools

Can’t believe I haven’t posted for two weeks.  My only excuse is that I have been without my dear old Dell computer, which was only returned to me yesterday (Friday, 21 February), with a new hard drive, but not running any faster.  The technician who sourced, fitted and installed it, told my One and Only Husband that it was running faster – in his workshop in a town seven miles away.  I believe him, but our rural broadband is such rubbish that I’m sure that any benefit of having a new hard drive is more than offset by our poor connection.

In the meantime, I have used my iPad (with a Bluetooth keyboard – see 9 February post) and borrowed computers from other members of the family.  Arrgh.  Nothing ever feels quite right, does it?  You can’t relax with someone else’s machine, can you, and, if you can’t relax, you can’t write.  One of them was my Beloved Daughter’s new laptop, with – horror of horrors – Windows 8 on it.

“Oh yes, Mum.  You can have your own SkyDrive, and I can share photos of the baby with you.”

“Lovely darling, but where’s Microsoft Office which I installed – with many trials and tribulations – yesterday?  Yes, I realise you got it working eventually.  How was I to know that you had had a trial version in the past and that Microsoft would get fixated on its product key?”

“You switch to classic view.”

“You mean get rid of the swanky Windows 8 desktop that is trying rather too hard to look like an iPad?”

“Of course.  I’m sure Microsoft will scrap Windows 8 soon.   They always do when nobody likes something.  I mean, they moved on from Vista pretty quick, didn’t they?”  (Vista.  Now there’s a sore point – more later.)

So, last Wednesday, while she was feeding my Darling Grandson, I played with her Windows 8.  Dear Reader, a Windows 8 laptop is an entertainment machine, with links on the desktop to apps for ‘Sport’, ‘Health and Fitness’, ‘Music’, ‘Video’ (but not YouTube), ‘People’ (a natty little link for joining everyone in your address book to your SkyDrive whether you or they like it or not), the inevitable ‘Games’, more games and other stuff I can’t even remember.  I left in the news and weather links, the SkyDrive and Internet Explorer, but more or less everything else went, with the result that I was soon looking at a very empty desktop.  Then I got started.  As if I were playing patience, I moved displayed links to all the Microsoft Office applications I use on a regular basis (Word, PowerPoint, Access, Excel and Publisher), Google Chrome and Dropbox and shuffled them around into what was to me the ‘right’ order.   Within a few minutes, DR, I’d converted it into a machine for writing.

Now the beauty of it is that, although I was doing all this on my user area on Beloved Daughter’s computer, which I had to sign into using my ‘Microsoft’ user id and password, it’s there for me for keeps.  When this old Dell finally curls up its tootsies,  and I’m compelled to buy a Windows 8 computer (or later  – presumably), I can log into it with same ‘Microsoft ‘ user id and password and see the same desktop, use the same settings and access my files through the SkyDrive.   Suddenly, Windows 8 becomes worth having.

Now back to the dear old Dell.  I remembered to send it off to hospital with Microsoft Office, but I’d completely forgotten that, when I bought it, the OS was Windows Vista and that a few weeks later I’d installed Windows 7 using a disc from Dell.  I still have this disc, but when I tried insedell studio laptoprting it in the optical drive, it rattled ominously and wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do.  So here I am using a discredited and very old operating system and at a loss as to how to sort it out.  Also the computer has been very reluctant to re-acquaint itself with Adobe Acrobat, Flash Drive and Evernote, although it did the the wifi, the printer, and Dropbox without blinking – thank Goodness.   I can’t begin to count how many user ids and passwords and other security paraphernalia I’ve had to dig out over the past few twenty four hours.  Fortunately I keep them on a file on my (external) hard drive – except for the very old ones, like Kaspersky, which, as you might expect from a computer security company from the country which invented the KGB, is almost impenetrably secure.  Then there was Firefox and its Bookmarks to reinstate, to say nothing of Autocorrect and other settings.  Wouldn’t it have wonderful to have logged with my Microsoft id and just got on with using the computer?

Am I boring you, DR?  Hope not.   Nowadays, writers don’t write but type and we are dependent upon our writing machines.  Would I go back to the A4 lined pad, pencil and rubber?  No, I don’t think so.

(Image from Wikimedia, accessed 22 February 2014.)

Technology for Writing – The Bluetooth Keyboard

If you want to write, you need a Windows computer, Microsoft Surface or an Applemac.  It is accepted that iPads are for viewing and keying in the odd email, Facebook or Twitter post, but not much more than that (although my Scottish writer friend once posted on Facebook that he had started writing a short story on his iPhone, because he happened to be out at the time he felt the urge to write).  However, I am now looking forward to the prospect of a whole seven days (possibly more) without my dear old Dell laptop, which is going to have to go to the computer hospital to have an operation on its hard drive.

For the next week or so, I will be stuck with the iPad, which has never been my favourite piece of equipment, although, being small and compact, it’s invaluable on holiday.  So, I’ve bought a Bluetooth keyboard – the Cerulian Technology Mini Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad and iPhone.  I’m using at the moment.  Connecting the thing to the iPad was a bit hit and miss.  I had to switch it on, press down an ‘ID’ key, which initially I couldn’t find, wait for the iPad to detect it and then key in a PIN number.  I had to do this three times before it actually connected.

Here is a list of things it doesn’t do or have:

  • Capitalise beginnings of sentences
  • Have home or end keys
  • Have a shift on both sides.  It only has shift on the left hand side, which makes capitalising the letters on the left hand side awkward.
  • Implement the spellcheck/autocorrect in the iPad build.  I have to do the capital P on iPad manually.

The lock key (top right, above delete) is a pain, as it keeps blanking the screen and forcing me to log back on again.  Your point, Mr Cerulian?

Good things about the Cerulian keyboard:

  • The numbers are at the top of the letters, as on a normal (ie Windows) keyboard, and also function keys (F1, F2 etc).
  • The punctuation keys are in the normal places too.
  • It has cursor keys like a normal (ie Windows) keyboard and, unlike the navigation facilities on the onscreen version, they work and don’t stall.  Moving back through text and making edits and corrections is a dream.  This probably makes up for everything else!
  • The delete key is in the place where you would expect the backspace delete to be and it behaves like a backspace delete.  There is no ordinary (forwards) delete.
  • Selecting text can be done by pressing down the (one) shift key and then moving along using the cursor keys, as you would do in Windows.  (I did this without even thinking about it.) I can see all of my iPad screen, without having to obscure part of it with the onscreen keyboard.  However, you can use both keyboards together without upsetting either or the iPad.

What is bugging me is that the short list of ‘key functions’ detailed on the minute slip of paper that came with the keyboard leaves me wondering what to do with the rest of its functions.   So let’s experiment.  (Who knows, I might lose the lot in a moment!)

§§§§ ±±±± ~~~~ ∫∫∫∫∫∫∫∫∫˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚ßßßßßßßßß  That’s me experimenting with the § and alt keys.  Is that it?  …No!  Miracles will never cease!  I have found a substitute for home (Control and left cursor goes to the beginning of the line ) and end (Control and right cursor goes to the end.).  Hurray!  It would be nice to get into the menu at the bottom of WordPress … you know, bold, underline, bullets and all that.  Let’s try again.

Command and B does bold. Command and I does italic. Command and U does. (To cancel any of them, you just repeat command B, I and U again.)

I’ve just found a manual for the keyboard but, as it doesn’t include any of the things I discovered above, I’m leaving my pennyworth in here.

It’s physically possible to import Word documents saved in Dropbox into Pages and edit them, so I will do it, using the iPad and the Cerulian Bluetooth keyboard.  Unlike my Scottish writer friend, I’m not so desperate as to use on my phone (a Galaxy Ace with a tiny screen), but I have the technology to write.  No excuses!

Review of ‘Mad About the Boy’ by Helen Fielding

Available from Amazon.

A few weeks ago, one of my posts could have been summed up in the phrase ‘I HATE CHICKLIT’, so why, oh why, did I download and then read the latest by Helen Fielding, the author who, arguably, invented the genre?  Well, Dear Reader, I have to confess that I did enjoy Helen’s previous two Bridget Jones novels, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ and ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason‘ and I have a particular affection for Cause Celeb, Helen’s before-she-was-famous novel about famine relief in Africa.  However, I did read all these books when they came out, about a decade ago.  My then teenage daughter enjoyed them together.  I watched the first Bridget Jones film on a cross Channel ferry with my son, the revolutionary, and he even laughed at it.  I suppose I committed myself to ‘Mad About the Boy’ out of a sense of loyalty and because I’d read the others.  However, it seems that my tastes have moved on, but Helen’s literary style hasn’t.

As this book has been widely reviewed in the newspapers, I’m not revealing anything I shouldn’t when I write that ‘Mad About the Boy’ opens with Mark Darcy – the man of Bridget’s dreams, who she eventually married – dead, and Bridget herself a fifty-five year old widow.  However, even though she has two primary school children, she hasn’t changed a jot; still she writes about her calorie intake and how she’s exceeded it, worrying about the rules of dating and behaving like a love-sick schoolgirl over various unsuitable men.  Even the least mature fifty-five year old grows up a bit, methinks.  And, how is it that Bridget and Mark, having married when she was about thirty-five, waited so long to have children?  By my reckoning, their offspring should be starting university, not be at primary school.

Jude is still there and apparently ‘running the City’, also Daniel Cleaver, now a (partially) reformed character.  Bridget’s mother remains a caricature.  Shazza Picture of moon on dark skyhas been pensioned out of the story.   Of Bridget’s two children, the youngest, Mabel, little more than a tot, is by far the most interesting, with a lisp, saying things like ‘The moon followeth me’, and her massive conscience mortified when she discovers that she has given her class nits.   (Perhaps this ‘Mabel’ will inspire a resurgence in the name, one of the few Victorian monickers which hasn’t made a come back.)  In the background were a bevy of private school mothers, who might have been funny, but there were too many for us to get to know, and the fact that Helen didn’t didn’t get on their side indicated that she didn’t properly know them either.

Roxter, the toyboy, was a well-drawn character and very believable, a man with a great sense of humour and, as a contrast to Bridget’s constant dieting, a trencherman, but he figures in less than half the story.  Moreover, the timeline is confused, Bridget with Roxter at the beginning, then not with Roxter, and further on we read about how Bridget and Roxter meet.   Towards the end of the book, Bridget appears to act her age at last… but then she loses her maturity again in the last hundred pages by running after another male, who has only had a vague, walk-on part up until now.

It was an easy read, making no demands on the reader at all.  The book contained some vivid descriptive passages.  Helen stuck to scenarios she knew and understood well (the media), hamming up the sex and the humour.

So, Dear Reader, would I recommend it?  I wrote, in an earlier post, that I wouldn’t review books I didn’t like and that my silence must speak for itself.  I’m afraid I’ve broken my rule.  I am, however, not the best person to review it.

(Image copyright free from Wikpedia.)

Review of ‘My Antonia’ by Willa Catha

Available from Amazon.

Apparently ‘My Antonia’ is one of the staples of the American school English literature syllabus.  If so, good on them.  Much better than the tripe my very right-on English teachers got me to read – mainly Dylan Thomas and D H Lawrence.  I hated them then and I haven’t looked at their work since.  As I have said in a previous post, I read the nineteenth century classics in my twenties whilst commuting on trains up and down to London – but, Dear Reader, I didn’t come across Willa at that time, more’s the pity.

‘My Antonia’ is supposed to be the reminiscence of New York lawyer, Jim Burden, of his days as pioneer in Nebraska, Willa’s favourite stamping ground. The story starts with Jim and new immigrant, Antonia, as children, attempting, with their families, to make a living on the barren, uncultivated land, where the red grass grew. They learned to survive the harsh winters, although Antonia’s poor father, a delicate musician from ‘the old country’, did not see out even one. The story spans several decades as the children grow up, enjoying life as teenagers in the small frontier town of Black Hawk and Jim moving on to the big cities to university and to practise law.

Red grass, NebraskaWilla Catha’s work is always charming and innocent and the people so sweet and gentle that you wish that you lived amongst them, despite the harsh conditions. This is a very old fashioned work, which meanders circuitously through the years, with little or no plot except that of young people growing up and taming the harsh, virgin land. Loose ends abound. Antonia’s mother was clearly demanding and difficult, and the reader might expect her disagreeable character to affect the course of the story in some way, but she just fades from the pages. The same happens with her domineering brother Ambrosch, and Krajieck who overcharged her family for their land and the cave they lived in. Characters move in and move out, mirroring the structure of real life, more than a novel. Towards the end of the book, Larry Donovan figures largely in Antonia’s life but is probably mentioned less than half a dozen times. The writer, who appears in the first chapter only, doesn’t like Jim’s wife, but this theme isn’t developed either.

It is unclear who is the main character. The title would predicate Antonia herself and certainly she features largely, but Jim tells the story in the first person, with large portions of it to do solely with Jim himself and other characters, without Antonia. The relationship between Antonia and Jim is an enigma not properly resolved; at first playmates, then good friends, although they both had many other friends – lovers, never.

If ‘My Antonia’ had been taken to a modern writers’ workshop, it would’ve been torn to shreds by so-called experts, but yet, Dear Reader, I felt more in tune with the characters in this book, more involved and generally more interested, than in anything that written to the ‘rules’ we writers have to abide by now.

So would I recommend ‘My Antonia’. Yes, definitely.

Review of ‘Fatal Act (A Geraldine Steel Mystery)’ by Leigh Russell

Available from No Exit Press and Amazon.

This iFront cover of 'Fatal Act' by Leigh Russells the sixth in the Geraldine Steel series.  Geraldine has now moved to a new job as an inspector in the Homicide Assessment Team with the (London) Metropolitan Police, and now reports to Chief Inspector Reg Milton, who she hasn’t yet got the measure of.   This book is set firmly in the world of theatre and acting, the characters including: a successful, glamorous but petulant actress; a driven, wannabe actress; students at drama school; a set designer.  The ‘Fatal Acts’ all concern people associated with casting director, Piers Trevelyan – a stereotypical casting director who bonks everything female, although many of his bits of skirt seek out him and his casting couch as a means of  advancing their acting careers.    The three murders are gruesome, and enigmatic, because the murderer seems to be able disappear from the scene, and CCTV cameras, as if by magic.  Everything seems to point very directly to Piers as the perpetrator – too directly, Geraldine thinks.  ‘Don’t be blinded by this man’s attractions’, said Reg Milton.  (If someone had said that to me, I would have committed a ‘fatal act’ on him, although Reg is not the main mcp here.)

Reg Milton is an interesting, but not altogether likeable, character.  (He) had a tendency to regard questions as a challenge to his authority.’  ‘He was more comfortable issuing orders.’  ‘Yet he had a ‘reputation for running successful investigations.’  Towards the end of the book, Reg gives Geraldine a – richly deserved – roasting for putting a colleague (Sam Haley) in danger.   (Ruth Rendell’s) Reg Wexford and Mike Burden and (Alexander McCall Smith’s) Mma Ramotswe with Mma Makutsi have cosy relationships.   (H E Birley’s) Wycliffe always worked within a cohesive team.  Inspector Kate Miskin fawns over (P D James’s) Adam Dalgliesh – rather irritatingly so, imo.  Geraldine’s relationship with Reg Milton will no doubt smoulder for books to come.

Geraldine is a Janey-no-mates, with nothing to do and nobody to see when she has time off, but her friendship with (female) Sergeant Sam Haley showed her friendly side, even though, as the Inspector, she assumes the upper hand.  The reader also gets to renew acquaintance with Geraldine’s former Sergeant, Ian Peterson; I understand from Leigh’s website that she is currently working on a spin-off series about Ian.  Maybe that is why Geraldine had to move from Kent to London?  More creepy was Geraldine’s relationship with Nick Williams:  a sexist (‘Why don’t I go in?  Surely this is a job for a man.  You said yourself he could be dangerous-’), an alleged wife-beater and known for unfunny anti-women jokes – Leigh hardly sells Nick to us, even though he is the one who saves the investigation, and Geraldine, and Sam.   This relationship will also, no doubt, develop in future books.  Geraldine is her name – Steel – but Leigh lends her vulnerability by occasionally letting her get things wrong.

Crime fiction requires a thorough technical knowledge of how the police work, their procedures and how they interact with each other.  It also requires a tighter plot structure than other genres, although the plot is always the same one, more or less.  Without this technical knowledge, it is impossible to write plausible crime fiction – although some writers have tried.  (Wince, wince.)  I myself have never dared to write crime fiction, although it is probably my favourite genre to read.  I sometimes wonder if there is a gap in the market for a crime series featuring a cyber forensics expert, but, although I teach computing, I’m deterred by the amount of police research I would have to do.

So, Dear Reader, do I recommend ‘Fatal Act’?  Yes, of course.  If you like crime writing, you’ll enjoy ‘Fatal Act’.

(Image reproduced with permission of the author of the book.)

Review of ‘Men I’ve Loved Before’ by Adele Parks

Available from Amazon, although originally published by Headline.  This is the latest of ten books written by Adele, who was formerly at Penguin, but she has just moved to Headline.  The title warns us immediately that we are entering the raunchy world of chicklit, as chick as chick can be.  As I’m not a great fan of chicklit, I’m not the best person to write this review.

The story concerns Natalie, happily married to Neil, enjoying her managerial job in a pharmaceutical company, lots of sex, shopping and a drink-fueled party life in London. Stork carrying baby. Natalie is emphatic that she doesn’t want babies, but – surprise, surprise – at the age of thirty-five Neil’s biological clock doesn’t just tick but strikes very loudly.  Unable to deflect him, even though she clearly ‘wears the trousers’ in their marriage, Natalie contacts most of her ex-es – rather like Rob Gordon in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.  However, the plot comes round full circle when she realises that she parted company from all of them for good reason and that Neil really is her One.   Neil, meanwhile, has become over-chummy with a stripper.  By this time, the reader has come to believe firmly in Natalie and Neil as an item, albeit with a massive elephant in the uxorious living room.   This is the point where the story really takes off – so much more interesting than tired ex-boyfriends.  It was an ambitious plot, tackling a subject close to the hearts of many thirtysomething women.  I did guess how it would end, however, although not perhaps exactly the manner in which the particular ending happened.

Adele contains the novel within six months in time (August to January) and her major characters to a group of six friends, the stripper, Neil’s brother and sister-in-law and Natalie’s mother.   All the characters were distinct and vividly described; you would have no difficulty working out who was speaking or doing, Ali or Jen, Tim or Karl.  However, in places I found some of them to be too over-drawn – too chicklit, too Bridget Jones - to be totally believable.  Neil was the character Adele most got into, weak but driven, and dominated by a stronger woman.  I didn’t warm to mc Natalie; she was cold, self-seeking, managing, used to having her own way and not once during the course of the novel did she show any concern for any other character.   She was supposed to be working in pharmaceuticals because she cared about health in the Third World, but I didn’t feel that Natalie was out to save the world, more that she was motivated by ambition and career.  I believe that Adele wrote Natalie that way deliberately, because her readership want hard, feisty woman.

So, Dear Reader, would I recommend you read ‘Men I Have Loved Before’?  It was a fine example of its genre – lots of sex, relationships, hunky men and partying, but not for me.

(Image from flickr.com)