THE SEARCHER

THE SEARCHER
TANA FRENCH

Rating: 1 out of 5.

An American cop retires at the early age of forty eight and buys a ramshackle house in Ireland with the aim of doing up and recovering his lost peace of mind. His marriage has collapsed apparently because his wife no longer wants to be the wife of a cop (after more than twenty happy years) and because of an incident where the pursuit of a black suspect, who wasn’t hurt in any way, sickened him against his job. This is Chicago, where the death rate is high and cops have thick skins. He also has a moody daughter, although it’s never explained why.
So far so Quiet Man. If only.
A sulky thirteen year old kid starts hanging round his house and, for some reason, the cop entices the kid onto his lawn and starts teaching him woodwork on an old desk. He also teaches the kid to kill rabbits. After some time, the kid reveals that his older brother is missing and he wants the cop to find him so, after an initial refusal, the cop agrees, mainly because the kid throws eggs at his house.
Pause.
We are now halfway through this long book (over 400 pages) and we’re still waiting for the thriller we were promised. There are lots of descriptions of the Irish countryside, how to renovate an old desk, debating over whether
Until she turns up at his door one night, having been brutally beaten.

to adopt a pub and an abundance of whimsy and Oirishisms from his neighbour and from the local matchmaking shopkeeper.
After a lot more of nothing much happening, the cop finds out that the kid is, in fact, a girl so he tells her he can’t go on with the ‘investigation’ and that she can’t come back to work on the desk any more.
SPOILER STARTS HERE.
It transpires that her feckless mother – abandoned by her husband, six kids – did it. Not because she meant the girl any harm but because the people responsible for the brother’s disappearance wanted the ‘investigation’ to stop. Instead of warning off the cop, they told the mother to beat the girl to a pulp or they would. So she did.
No. Just no.
This downtrodden woman, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, half kills her own child on the say so of the local bullies and doesn’t even come looking for her when she stays at the cop’s house. Not only that, but the cop feels sympathetic towards the mother.
SPOILER ENDS
The end, when it comes, is unrealistic, a damp squib that, quite frankly left me incredulous.
In departing from her usual Dublin-based Murder Squad, I’m afraid Ms French has lost the plot, both figuratively and literally.

GAIL FORCE

STAND AND DELIVER
VICTORIA
FEAR NOT THE DARK

I met Gail Noble through a multi-photographer / multi model day and was instantly impressed by her unique ability to lose herself completely in a character.

We went on to do a couple of shoots after that where we could explore different ideas, aided by the fact that she is also a very talented seamstress, able to create her own costumes, as in the portrait of Gail posing as Queen Victoria. The background to Her Majesty is an interior shot from Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire.

We has fun with Stand and Deliver, making full use of a wind machine, although I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me she’s holding the knife in he wrong way. She looked pretty determined to me so I wasn’t going to argue with her! All I did to this one was add a few trees and a bit of mist.

Fear Not the Dark was taken at the initial shoot mentioned above and is a (nearly) straight shot, only needed the addition of a flame in the lamp.

A FEW WINTER BIRDS

As we’re still confined to barracks with not much hope of any bird photography on the horizon, I’ve collected a few winter birds taken in the East Midlands (UK) over the last few years. We can only hope that one day we’ll be out in the sunshine again listening to birdsong.

LITTLE OWL
WAXWING
GOLDFINCH

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all …
Emily Dickinson

SHORT EARED OWL
GOLDFINCH
WREN

DINNER FOR BILLY

IMAGE FROM IMGFLIP, UNATTRIBUTED

Billy lived alone in a corridor and wore blue silk drawers. On wash day, Mammy closed the curtains on our kitchen window so she couldn’t see them on Billy’s clothes line. He had a matching vest, a bit frayed at the edges, but without the faint brown stain on the drawers.
He was a Roman Catholic and we were Protestants, but Mammy did her duty and sent me round to Billy’s house every Sunday with a bowl of stew. I had to go out of the front door, which opened directly on to the street, because what was the point in doing a good deed if nobody knew about it?
It was only a few steps to Billy’s front door, just enough time to shove a couple of spoonfuls of stew into my mouth and return the spoon to the bowl. Sometimes, he was waiting behind the net curtain and opened the door before I could kick it.
“Hurry up, get in. I can see Ma McCracken’s curtains twitching.”
“Mammy said can you wash the bowl before you give it back.”
She didn’t, but I never missed a chance to practice my dumb insolence.
“Off you go, out the back way.”
I liked going through Billy’s long, narrow house, surely some kind of architect’s mistake. The narrow living room, barely wide enough to accommodate the front door and the window, led into the bedroom.  A glowing Sacred Heart adorned one wall, above a dresser with dusty vials of Holy Water.
Billy was going to Hell, but I wasn’t quite sure why, only that it was something to do with the Pope. His window always got smashed on the Twelfth of July, but he never told the police. No point. My Da fixed it for him and Billy slipped him a bottle of whiskey when Mammy wasn’t looking.
A tiny scullery beyond the bedroom opened on to the communal garden. A quick hop over the dividing wall and I was home again, job done for another week.
One Sunday in November, after taking Billy’s dinner to him, I overheard a conversation between Mammy and my older sister, Frances, who was getting married in a few weeks. Frances could whinge for Ireland.
“Do we have to invite Billy to the wedding, Mammy?”
“Yes, we do. What would the neighbours think if we didn’t ask him?”
“But he’s – you know –”
“I know, but maybe he won’t come.”
But Billy did come, in spite of being “you know –”. His hair was freshly permed and his overcoat had a velvet collar, which proved to be quite the talking point. I watched him like a hawk all day, but couldn’t work out what “you know –” could possibly mean.
January blew in with sleet and snow. Mammy stepped up Billy’s dinners to twice a week. Well, it was the Christian thing to do. The snow was too deep for me to walk a mile to school, so I was left alone in the empty house while Mammy and Da went to work.
The letterbox thumped and a handful of letters shot through on to the floor. I picked them up and had a quick shuffle. We didn’t get many letters as such, usually just bills, but today there was a lavender-perfumed envelope addressed to Mr. W. McParland of number 22a, Reilly Street.
Well, this was interesting.
We were number 22 and, for the briefest of seconds, I considered walking next door and poppng it through the letterbox. But, lavender perfume? Maybe it was a love letter. Maybe it had stuff in it about ‘you know –’.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I had the envelope ripped open. The writing was flamboyant and written in purple ink with lots of curlicues. I could hardly contain myself, even as I struggled to read it.
My dearest William,
It seems so long since I last saw you, when we ran naked through the grass together.
Boy, this was good.
Unfortunately, that was the best bit. The rest was just a lot of boring arrangements to meet, so I skimmed over it until I got to the bottom of the page.
Yours, in loving friendship,
Harold
Harold? That wasn’t a lady’s name. Why would a man write that stuff to another man?
I was so engrossed in this conundrum that I didn’t hear Mammy come home.
“What’s that you’re looking at?”
“Nothing.”
She held out her hand “Let’s see nothing, then.”
I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction.
“Where did you get this filth?”
Unseen, I stuffed the envelope into my pocket.
“Uh, it was in the dustbin. It was on top when I took the rubbish out.”
Without further ado, Mammy turned on her heel and stormed out into the street, hammering on Billy’s door and shouting for him to come out.
He opened his door and, before he could speak, Mammy was in his face.
“You bloody pervert! You’re not fit to live near decent people! And leaving your filth where a child can see it, you’re evil.”
Billy stood open-mouthed, without a clue what she was talking about.
An interested crowd of neighbours were unashamedly gawking at the spectacle, which lent fuel to Mammy’s ire.
“Yes, you can all look! You don’t know what he’s been up to. Things with men!”
Things? What things? Running in the grass?
She caught sight of me, taking everything in and dying to know more.
“And you, get back inside. You’ve seen enough for one day.”
Back to Billy, now ashen-faced and trying to get his hands on the letter.
“Oh, no. This is going to the priest, he’ll know what to do about it.”
There was much, much more as the neighbours felt it was only right that they had a say in the matter. But I didn’t hear it, as the door closed behind me.
After that, there were no more dinners for Billy.

THE POET

THE POET
LISA RENEE JONES

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Detective Samantha Jazz has just returned to work after traumatically witnessing the murder of her father, who was also a detective, but a dirty one. She and her partner, Detective Ethan Langford are assigned to a murder case which takes place at a poetry reading.  She quickly determines that the killer is obsessed with poetry and assigns him the nickname of The Poet. 
Quite early on in the investigation, the computer expert finds a Professor Newman Smith who, for one semester, had a course called Abstract Poetry and Criminology. On the strength of this information alone, Jazz is convinced that Newman (she always refers to him by his first name) is their man and concentrates her investigation solely on him. For most of the first half of the book, Jazz charges about energetically trying to trap Newman in spite of lack of evidence and advice from several people who caution her to broaden her thinking.  
It is only when Newman is proved to be innocent of the killings and the investigation goes off in a different direction that I began to get invested in the story, although Jazz still isn’t any nearer to finding the elusive Poet. It is left to the sections written from the killer’s point of view to reveal a large part of his motivations. I felt a bit cheated because the denouement is all crammed into the final few chapters, revealed to Jazz almost by happenstance, so there was no build up of tension to keep the reader eager to know if their suspicions were right.
Overall, I felt that this was a book I should be really enjoying. Jazz is quite feisty, secondary characters are really well drawn in and there is a liberal sprinkling of red herrings and some deft touches of humour. Unfortunately, it was let down by an unrealistic plot which required too much of a suspension of belief for me.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

AND WE HAVE SNOW …

NOT MUCH, TO BE HONEST, MAYBE IT’S A COUPLE OF INCHES, IF THAT. BUT IT’S ENOUGH FOR WARNINGS NOT TO TRAVEL UNLESS IT’S ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

SORRY, BUT BORIS GOT THERE BEFORE YOU!

HERE ARE A COUPLE OF GREYLAG GEESE WHO OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T GET THE WARNING.




THE SOUL KILLER

THE SOUL KILLER
ROSS GREENWOOD

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had read The Snow Killer, the first of this trilogy, quite some time ago and couldn’t quite remember all the details. It was referred to a fair bit so I’ll go back and read it again!
I like Greenwood’s style of writing. It flows smoothly and coherently and, although the book was written from two differing viewpoints and also in first person as well as third person, I felt rooted in the plot at all times.
It was a book of two halves for me; the first part was slow as the author teased out the personality and raison d’être of the killer and DI Barton and his team seemed to do a lot of conjecturing; the second half fairly galloped along and I have to admit I found some of it a little hard to swallow.
However, he does a great job on characterisation and I really warmed to John Barton and his team. I was a bit disappointed that the identity of the killer was revealed so early on. As the middle book of a trilogy based round DI Barton, it was obvious he would bring the case to a successful conclusion, so I felt the revelation robbed the book of the tension that usually builds in the last third.All in all, a quick and easy read and I have just downloaded The Ice Killer. Poor old John Barton. I note he is still in his hospital bed when I checked the Look Inside. I can’t wait to see what is in store for him next.

TUESDAY MORNING

We were at Sainsbury’s this morning while it was still dark, which proved to be a good move as there were only a handful of other shoppers there. Loads of employees filling Click and Collect orders, though. Everyone was calm and pleasant. The only things we didn’t get were Gruyere cheese and slimline tonic – this saved money on Bombay Sapphire which I promptly spent on Sauvignon Blanc. And I got some lovely lisianthus. Home before eight o’clock for well earned bacon and eggs.
Safely indoors again for another week.

I can’t help feeling this guy has got the right idea, especially the bit about getting gently hammered in a warm pub. Although not today, as I can feel a bout of labyrinthitis about to make its presence felt.

A Christmas present from Beverley, this is one of the most difficult jigsaws Jan has attempted since the lockdown started – an atlas of the world with names so tiny it requires a magnifying glass just to read them and Google to work out what country or continent they belong to. I think she’ll be able to compete on Mastermind with Geography as a specialist subject by the time she finishes it.

MIKE THE MODEL

Left: Off Duty
Top Right: Bad News
Bottom Right: Aircraft Overdue

I met Mike at a studio session that had been organised by Dave Severn of Studio 3 by Severn. It was quite a chaotic day with multi models and multi photographers, all ably organised by Dave and his wife, Pamela. It meant that each photographer had a limited amount of time with each model before being moved on. I enjoyed working with Mike and had hoped to spend more time with him in the future but, unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen now.

NICE DAY FOR AN ICE CREAM

Kevin, the Fallen Angel, 2017

Heaven, Saturday morning 

Angel number 4501 is summoned to His Presence, or HP, as he likes to be called.
“I have an important job for you, 4501. There’s a music festival tomorrow in Everyman’s Park.”
HP’s magnificent voice rolls out, setting clouds, cherubim and seraphim a-tremble. A few feathers shiver and fall off 4501’s wings.
“I was very upset at the amount of sin that went on at the last one – drugs, blasphemy and …” HP lowers his voice and the Heavens still. “… you know, s-e-x that went on.”
4501’s heart leapt in anticipation.
The celestial voice rumbles on. “It will be your mission to point out the error of their ways to these young people, put their feet on a new and better path.”
OK. So it’s Mission Impossible, but I’m going to a music festival.
“Of course, HP. An honour to be chosen. In what guise shall I descend?”
A rock star? A Hell’s Angel? Oh please, not a groupie.
“You will temporarily take over the body of an ice cream salesman called Kevin.”
HP taps his foot and watches as 4501 plummets to earth, his heavenly raiment already changing to jeans and a Nirvana tee-shirt.

Hell, Saturday morning

His Satanic Highness kneels on the backs of two recently arrived politicians, his backside bare and pulsating with inner evil. A ring of hellfire encircles them, holding back a legion of imps and fiends with singed hair and blistered skin.
“Kiss my arse!” roars HSH. “A day back on earth for whoever braves the flames and kisses my royal arse.”
None are brave enough to risk self imolation until Black Bart steps forward. Seven feet tall, once a grave robber and now an upper level demon, he’s been a thorn in HSH’s side ever since he fell into an open grave and drowned in the seepage.
One almighty leap and he’s through the hellfire, skin smouldering and bubbling, smoke seeping from all his orifices.
Bending at the knee, he kisses the putrefying buttocks before him. 
Beelzebub, as he likes to be called when dealing with the Damned, rears up and points upwards, searing a hole through the charcoal-blackened vaults. 
“Go, Lulu, enjoy your day.”
Black Bart only has time to say, “Lulu? What the f–” before he vanishes in a swirl of silk and Chanel No 5.

Saturday afternoon

His Presence watches the materialisation of the ravishing young woman, her modesty barely covered in wisps of green silk.
“You’ve outdone yourself this week, Lucifer.” He prefers the old names to all this high-falutin’ Royal Highness stuff.
The Devil laughs. “Kevin the ice cream seller won’t stand a chance. Shall I make the first move?”
The two deities settle down to their weekly game of Celestial Chess. 
Lulu basks under the hot sun and a thought pops into her mind.
I’d kill for an ice cream.

 

 

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