This Thing of Darkness (BBC Radio Drama)

By Lucia Haynes

7 episodes, 45 minutes each is an investment and it wasn’t altogether clear from the blurb exactly what this was. I listened to everything else I had lined up before tackling it.


David Grant (Robin Laing) has been accused of the murder of his 19 year old son Jamie. Dr Alex Bridges (Lolita Chakrabarti) is the psychiatrist assigned by his lawyers to assess the state of his mind at the time of the crime. David denies committing the crime which, as Alex points out, makes her job a little difficult. As the story unfolds Alex is our guide (through monologues) to the  process that’s going on as their conversations progress. We spend time with David’s wife Laura (Shauna McDonald) and his daughter Hannah (Jessica Hardwick) as they try to come to terms with losing Jamie and the possibility that David is the killer.


Is David the killer and if so, why? If not, who (and, again, why)?


This is an insightful, compelling, sometimes truly shocking, listen. I suppose it sits somewhere in the realms of crime or psychological thriller but I don’t think it’s quite like anything I’ve come across before. This is radio at its best. The writing is well paced, the acting is utterly convincing, the technical production is spot on. 7 episodes at 45 minutes gives just the right time to tell the story and tell it well and, yes, it was well worth the investment in time.

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Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Murder Made Easy

Dir. David Palamaro

2/5 Indie film and firmly indie in feel. Liberal use of jump cuts and long takes for effect. A lot of hand-held camera work. Acting and dialogue a bit stiff which isn’t helped by the quality of sound replacement in post production.
Film school, amdram. Implicit references to Rope and explicit references to The Mousetrap.
It’s a good story. It’s stylish to the point of being tricksy. I can see why it would do well on the festival circuit. If the performances were a little less stagey and the sound wasn’t so obviously post dubbed Murder Made Easy would be pretty good. One reviewer said it was like an episode of Tales of the Unexpected. As such it would get a thumbs up.

Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

The Chalet

Book cover
By Catherine Cooper.
4/5 Compulsive reading. Fractured narrative told in first person by several unreliable and fairly unsympathetic narrators, this could have been all style no substance. Without an obvious protagonist and antagonist the story might have struggled to engage but in Catherine Cooper's hands it was compelling. I barely put the book down. I'd just finished Paula Hawkins' Into The Water which has some similarities in narrative style so at least I knew to watch the chapter headings to keep on track. Who are the unnamed voices? How are these stories going to come together? How is it all going to end? 

OK, a little less about Hugo's social ineptness as a businessman and maybe a bit too much of a similarity in the business relationship between Andy and Cameron but that's being picky. Catherine Cooper is writing about a world she knows well and it shows. Having had one (very brief) experience of (not) skiing I felt Louisa's pain!

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Messengers

By Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks.

5/5 This book could not be more timely. Never before have the messengers been so much more important than facts, statistics, in fact anything quantifiable and verifiable. How can this be? Why are some people able to get their message to gain traction while others, often much better qualified, struggle to get heard let alone make an impact?

Full of useful illustrative examples, many almost straight out of the news, this book is not only an explanation of why some messengers are successful but also how, on a good day, with a following wind, all things being equal, someone hoping to get a message across could maximise their potential.

It also challenges the reader to consider how rationally they choose who to believe. Well written, academically sound but accessible to all, maybe this should be required reading. This is a book for our time and is highly recommended.

ARC courtesy Netgalley.
Posted in communication

Where the Innocent Die

By MJ Lee.
4/5 The fourth in the DI Ridpath series, Where the Innocent Die manages to be an easy read and thought provoking at the same time. A detainee dies while awaiting deportation and noone seems to care. The initial investigation is sloppy with all concerned too ready to accept is just another suicide (and how can that even be acceptable?). 

The Coroner,  Mrs Challoner is having none of it. She wants it properly investigated and she wants it done so the girl's parents can take her body home in five days time. DI Ridpath is still with the Coroner's Office as he recovers from cancer so it falls to him to marshal the necessary resources and negotiate the obstacles commercial enterprise and government bureaucracy conspire to put in his way. 

This is a page turner that puts a human face on news headlines that have become all too familiar.

ARC courtesy Netgalley
Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Part of the Family

By Charlotte Philby.

3/5 It's difficult to nail this securely to a particular genre. It's a tale of lies and betrayal, of love and loss, it's billed as espionage but Le Carré or Fleming it certainly isn't. 

Anna, David and Meg have been friends since university. The mysterious Harry had been a star reporter and Anna is in his thrall when she begins sharing a flat with David, a millionaire's son, initially as a purely practical arrangement.
It turns out the arrangement suits Harry's purposes well as he claims to be a Government spy who is currently working on exposing the illegal activities of David's father, Clive, and his company and he recruits Anna to help him.

Anna's relationship with David becomes more intimate, first casually but gradually deepens, however, Harry is the true love and the situation with David is ambiguous at best.

I understand that Charlotte Philby is trying to nuance the motivations of those who end up in espionage and see how it might work for a woman. To demonstrate how a series of individual choices can set a person's path in a direction they might not have chosen at the start. I found myself regularly doubting the likelihood of any of this but this is where the granddaughter of Kim Philby holds the ace. At the same time I struggled to empathise and it was a pretty slow read. The regular switches back and forth in time and the changes of narrator between Anna and David's childhood friend Maria are clever and are and interesting way to allow the story to unfold but I found the timeline difficult to follow and the voices of Anna and Maria were too similar.

It's well conceived, I believe it's well crafted, it's getting good reviews, it's a promising debut by a writer who is uniquely qualified but I'm not sure I'm the right reader!
ARC courtesy Netgalley
Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Cruel Acts

By Jane Casey.

The latest in the Maeve Kerrigan crimes series sees Maeve and her partner DI Josh Derwent assigned to re-examining the evidence for the retrial of Leo Stone when it emerges his murder trial jury was prejudiced. The stakes couldn't be higher. The case relied on evidence from pathologist Glen Hanshaw and since his recent death two other cases for which he did the post-mortems had been successfully challenged. Another would open the floodgates and more evidence would be needed to be sure of conviction.

There are plenty of twists, I was pleased to spot a couple of clues but equally fell for a few red herrings.

Cruel Acts is my first Maeve Kerrigan and I'm guessing anyone who has been following the series has a better handle on her relationship with Derwent. Dropping in on them in this book, the whole thing seems a little clumsy leaving me wondering how Maeve could simultaneously have so little understanding of him and have previously given him such an insight into her personal life.

It's a good read, a police procedural that will keep you hooked.
Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Eighteen Below

By Stefan Ahnhem.

Not having read the previous books in the Fabian Risk series and not realising it was nordic noir, this was a brutal introduction. This was The Big Heat with the dial turned up to 11!

When Peter Brise, a millionaire IT entrepreneur, commits suicide by driving into the harbour after a car chase involving the Chief of Police it's odd enough. When a second autopsy reveals that he had been for some time before his car went into the water, before he was last seen alive, the nightmare really begins.  How can this be when he was seen a few days earlier? Meantime Dunja's exhile to uniform and ritual humiliation continues, frustrating her investigation into the latest, deadliest incarnation of happy slapping.

Stefan Ahnhem is a screenwriter and the narrative structure of Eighteen Below reflects this. Rapid intercutting between scenes, locations and storylines hold the attention and keep the pages turning.

I'd recommend starting with book 1; dropping into this world, cold was a shock to the system! Unless you are familiar with the characters and the back story the storytelling seems off balance, like watching an episode of a soap opera in isolation.

ARC courtesy of Netgalley.
Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Richard Dawkins, C. S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life

By Alister McGrath.

In this short book Alister McGrath compares and contrasts two popular communicators, C.S. Lewis, Christian apologist and Richard Dawkins, apologist for New Atheism. Under the four headings, Big Picture, Reasoned Belief, Is There a God? and Human Nature, McGrath analyses key arguments from each. 

Since both McGrath himself and Lewis began as atheists before becoming convinced by the claims of Christianity it isn't surprising McGrath tackles Dawkins' easy dismissal of God. This was one of my main issues with Dawkins when I read The Blind Watchmaker some time ago. Unlike Lewis, who tried to convince the sceptic, Dawkins seems to preach to the choir with no evidence of anything other than a superficial knowledge of what he so comprehensively criticises in remarkably offensive terms.

McGrath also considers Dawkins' vision for human nature. Yes, Dawkins believes we are slaves to our selfish genes but, surprisingly, he believes that with the knowledge we have we can fight against our nature. What I find so difficult to understand about Dawkins is that he believes the universe has "no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference" and yet he passionately cares ... why, what does it matter?

This is only an introduction to the key writings of Dawkins and Lewis which are listed at the end for further study. I brought my own feelings about Lewis and Dawkins to this book and had them confirmed, no doubt others will have their own responses.
Posted in Christian

Plowed Over: On the Wing

By Ellen Ann Callahan.

Not often I work out a key element of the mystery early but I got this one really early. Not to worry, it was entertaining confirming I was right and there were plenty of other things I hadn't worked out.

Happy Holiday (who agrees to calling someone in witness protection Happy Holiday?) ploughs up a dead body on her midnight shift clearing the roads in the mountains of West Maryland. It's obvious he was drunk, ran out of fuel and froze as a consequence. To the writer's credit, Happy doesn't immediately "have a hunch" that something's amiss but wants to give the man's wife some closure by finding out what happened his last hours.

The sex scene, not particularly explicit, caught me by surprise and I'm not sure why it was included (sex outside marriage where one party is religious read like it might have had significance). 

Reservations but a good story.

ARC courtesy Netgalley.
Posted in Christian