A Book Review: Cal Moriarty – The Killing of Bobbi Lomax

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I know, I know – I promised a lot of things for this blog a few weeks ago and they are on their way I promise but first up I want to rave about a book that I read over the weekend.

Cal Moriarty is a screenwriter and a former private eye and The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is her first novel which is getting rave reviews all over the place. Sometimes I come to books with hype or incredible amounts of high praise behind them and having finished them come away feeling slightly underwhelmed – I will name no names – but this isn’t the case with The Killing of Bobbi Lomax  – or if you don’t mind, TKOBL.

As the book begins two people including Bobbi Lomax the young wife of a older local businessman Alan have been killed by bombs and the local police are struggling to work out the reasons behind the bombings. A third bomb has just gone off and detectives Marty Sinclair and Al Alvarez are heading to the scene where they find the third victim Clark Houseman still alive and he manages to whisper a name: “Hartman” before he is whisked off to hospital. With that we travel back a few months to Vegas where Houseman has travelled to conduct some business away from the prying eyes of “The Faith”.

This is where TKOBL got me hooked and led me spend a large part of my weekend crashed out of the sofa and in bed reading – The Faith isn’t given a name but with mentions of prophets, scared texts dictated to the prophet and his wife, polygamy and illicit alcohol drinking you don’t have to have a doctorate in religions of the world to know that we’re talking about Mormonism here and quite simply I loved this aspect of the book. The Faith permeates every aspect of the story, from the way in which the local police function to the everyday lives of every single character in the book, The Faith is invasive and leads people to do stupid and illogical things and to behave in what their leaders would deem to be immoral ways – TVs are hidden away as are drink cabinets on wheels, people vanish or leave and are never heard from again but at the same time one of the protagonists – the latest victim is seen in the flashbacks – is using The Faith’s faith to plot against them. By using his particular skills he exploits their need to keep their faith sacrosanct and pure and in doing so aims to further his own needs and social standing.

I really enjoyed this book; I liked the lead detectives’ relationship, the delicate reveal of Detective Sinclair’s backstory is subtle and all the more believable because of that. All too often damaged cops’ reasons for being damaged can be shoehorned in with the sound of a klaxon sounding but not in this instance and having been tweeted by Cal Moriarty over the weekend about her next book I really hope that this is explored further in her future work.

The details of the sting enthralled me, not just the practical details of how a forger works and how he creates his pieces but also the research that goes into it all and the sacrifices he makes, the risks he takes and how a man can be blinded by greed when initially his reason for conning The Faith are deeply personal.  It’s important to say that the level of detail contained in these passages is never overwhelming and it always convinces, it feels like it could have – and possible has – happened.*

It was however the aspects of the book that dealt with The Faith that intrigued me and drew me deeper into the story. There’s something about Mormonism that fascinates me, I’ve read a lot about their history and it’s genuinely a thought provoking story which continues to develop as they expand across the globe. The sections of TKOBL that dealt with The Faith and their meetings with Houseman reminded me of the HBO series Big Love and this really isn’t a bad thing as that was a wonderful show that really deserved a bigger audience over here in the UK.

As the story progresses we see the leaders of The Faith and their Supreme Leader seemingly blinded by their desire to own their history and in doing some becoming prepared to acquiesce to the demands of Houseman so that they can remain the one true faith whilst at the same time destroy their enemies.

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is a book about faith, love, criminality, revenge, family, loss and the all-encompassing  panoramic experience that is the American Way.** It more than lived up to the online hype that has been growing over the last month or so and I highly recommend that you read it!

*This was only re-enforced when having finished the book I went on the BBC News website and saw a story about a first edition of Peter Pan that’s just gone on sale – when you read the book it’ll make sense why I said “No way!” to myself.

** I’m so sorry – I have serious doubts about the end of that sentence but I’ve gone with it.

My James Ellroy Reading Challenge

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Five years ago at a Waterstones in Bristol I bought the paperback of Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy. I’d read a lot of his books over the years preceding its release in paperback and I really liked a lot of what I read and if I’m going to be honest some not so much but I did consider myself a fan.

I never read Blood’s a Rover – it’s still on my to read list over on Goodreads but this evening having sorted out the books on my Kindle I made a decision to undertake a blog reading challenge which I have given the following snappy title:

“Gruffsdad Goes Back to Ellroy and Reads the Books by Him That He’s Not Read Yet.”

First up will be the aforementioned Blood’s a Rover just as soon as I’ve finished Garnethill by Denise Mina* who is also another author whose back catalogue I’m currently making my way through.

I don’t know how long this challenge will take but I know that you my loyal and patient blog readers will wish me luck and I’ll report in to let you know how I’m getting on. As a bonus to get you back here, over the next few weeks I will post the following things:

  • A review of Denise Mina’s Garnethill
  • A review of a Super Furry Animals gig
  • A review of a Belle & Sebastian gig
  • A restaurant review

So that’s it for now but please come back soon.

* I’m on course to finish it tomorrow – parenting got in the way of my reading today.

In which I talk to my son about girls and relationships…

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Next year my elder son will become a teenager. This is a fact and there is nothing that I nor my wife can do about it – this however isn’t going to be one of those blogs where I wail about “How can this have happened?!?!” or “Where does the time go?!?!” I know how time works and I’m also aware of the biological fact that we get older and that the children my wife and I created also get older but what I didn’t expect was that my firstborn would become a teenager before he actually turned thirteen.

Last night I got home from work and as I relaxed into my armchair and put Pointless on the telly – the calm before the boys arrived home from their grandparents’ house – my phone buzzed and I had a message from the aforementioned twelve year old:

“Have school rung? *******’s Mum saw our texts and was really angry and she’s contacted the school.”
“What did you say in these texts?!?”
“Just funny stuff.”
“Did it include swearing?”
“Yes but it was both of us.”
“Anything else?”
“No”
“We’ll talk about it when you get home.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“Well duh.”*

This was coming in the middle of me not only watching my favourite quiz show but I was also making a lovely tea for me and my wife who was on a late at work – for goodness sake I was even doing veg.

Anyway he arrived home with his brother and grandmother – aka my lovely mother in law Val and she didn’t know what was going on just that he was being sullen and let’s be frank here, that isn’t really anything usual at the moment. He looked miserable and a bit scared and when my wife arrived home and I updated her with the news of what our first born had been up to well it’s fair to say that our evening ruined.**

There were tears, apologies, I ended up repeating phrases my parents had said to me when I was younger and then sat in bed later reflecting on how it was true and that you do turn into your parents and tried not to get too depressed about that. We had further disclosures from him, he’d had his first kiss, some of the texts did mention saucy activities – he’s twelve, I can’t say sex – and that his friends didn’t like him at the moment as he’s spending all his time with this girl.

I listened to all this and I didn’t get angry with him but instead I felt a little bit sad for him. There’s a running joke in my family about how when I was younger I could never speak to girls and that I didn’t get my first girlfriend until I was 18 but last night I thought about it all and I thought that when I look back at things I really glad I didn’t. Maybe I am old fashioned but I feel really uncomfortable seeing and hearing little kids talking about their boyfriends and girlfriends and what’s worse seeing their parents talk about these relationships as though they are serious and a long term proposition – my son and his friends are eleven and twelve!!! I want him to be uncomfortable talking to girls, I want him to obsess about football and the untouchable impossibly perfect women that he sees incessantly in the media and not a girl he sees every day in school – that’s for later on in life.

One of the main things in my son’s life is technology. He has a tablet and a mobile phone and hits them hard every single day vanishing into his room as soon as he gets home, resurfacing for tea and heading back upstairs. We hear him chatting via whatever app to his friends and this goes on for hours and I know as I’m typing this that your saying “Well for God’s sake take some action over this!!!” well we have.

Last month there was an issue at school*** the end result of which was that we took my son’s devices off him for what in the end turned out to be two weeks and those two weeks were simply lovely. He played with his brother, he read, he sat downstairs and chatted with us and frankly he was a pleasure to be with. The mistake we made was not planning for what would happen when he got his things back and two weeks on here we are again.

When I was twelve and starting to disappear into my room like he does now it was for the following reasons:

i. To get away from everybody
ii. To read
iii. To eat crisps
iv. To listen to music
v. To masturbate****

When he goes upstairs he just seems to want to talk nonsense to his mates and post rude things on various apps and he tries way too hard to be cool – he’s lovely but he’s not cool. He’s ignoring his brother again, he gets cross when challenged and we feel that we’re failing as parents whilst simultaneously remembering that we too acted like twats at the same age.

Make no mistake, it is ace being a parent but by God it’s hard work and the worst thing is that I know it’s going to get harder before it gets better. We’ve taken the electronic devices away from him again but this time we’ve also hidden the obsolete ones that he tried to resurrect and use instead last time. He had to walk to school today with his Mum and brother and perhaps the worst punishment of all for him is that he’s had to listen to relationship advice from me.

I didn’t want to do that to him but if nothing else then surely the awfulness of having me sit on the end of his bed and talking to him about my experiences with girls will surely help him see the error of his ways and lead to him reuniting with his pals in school today. Or quite possibly it will scar him for life – I’m hoping for a combination of both.

Here’s the thing though, as sit here typing this, what I’ve failed to mention is that there was no call from the school last night. Either we wasted our evening berating our son or joy of joys this could be a parental nightmare rollover and when I get home this afternoon, slip into my armchair, take a sip of my cold drink, stick Pointless on and sigh out with a long “Ahh…” I know that the phone is going to ring and the voice at the other end of the line will say: “Hello is that Mr James?”

Either that or the school will have rung before I get home and as my wife is on an early finish today she’ll have to deal with it.

Follow me on Twitter to find out – follow me at @gruffsdad

*I know, I said “Duh.” – I let myself down there, don’t condemn me.

** Mrs Gruffsdad managed not to eat the tea I’d cooked as the chicken, despite being in the oven for ages and ages hadn’t cooked through properly even though I’d checked it with our meat thermometer and the needle hit the chicken on it and so it should have been okay but it wasn’t. Sausage sandwiches for tea this evening – surely I can’t screw them up.

*** This one involved a game of football and a boy with a clubbed foot. No wait, he really is lovely, honestly he is.

*** And so did you.

A Book Review – Eva Dolan: Tell No Tales

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Eva Dolan wrote one of my favourite books of 2014 – Long Way Home – for which I wrote a review on this neglected blog – you should be able to find it on here somewhere – and my reward for said review was getting sent a copy of Ms Dolan’s second book to feature Zigic & Ferreira: Tell No Tales.

Long Way Home was a remarkable read combing social commentary with a cracking whodunit and my worry was that Dolan wouldn’t be able to match the heights obtained in her second book. I was so worried about this that I put off reading the book on several occasions until I just bit the bullet and cracked on with it. I needn’t have worried, Tell No Tales is another first rate read and a book very much of its moment which the way events are developing in the UK will ensure that it remains relevant and essential.

Dolan this times focusses on not only the immigrant population of Peterborough as she did in Long Way Home but also finds time to write about the various aspects of British right wing politics and how they gained strength in mainstream politics over the last couple of years. They have parliamentary seats are working to maintain this new found power in the face of an upcoming General Election. Recent reports in the press reported on how the far right is in disarray, the BNP and NF have fallen apart and whilst the headline news is great for the people who have fought against such political foes the reality is that the right wing haven’t gone away and as in such difficult times faced by them before they will regroup and fight again and it’s important that this isn’t ignored by the media.

Dolan seems to have an uncanny knack of identifying and then writing about issues that are current and matter to a great many people. She does this in a direct manner but doesn’t take sides in the debate. She is fair and honest and whilst this might not make her popular with certain sections of the population it does make her an important writer because I do believe that popular culture can play an important part in educating and informing society and Dolan’s work in both this book and Long Way Home has done its part to fulfil this objective.

Before you think “Oh Gruffsdad, you make it sound so boring! Why on earth would I want to read that?” then stop, you needn’t worry as Dolan is a thriller writer of the highest calibre and Tell No Tales is a terrific thriller. The storylines  – a hit and run which is possibly racial motivated and a serial killer  who is killing members of the BME community – race along with each development in the different cases keeping you turning the pages and I raced through the book desperate to know how and indeed if all the threads tied together.

The characters of Zigic & Ferreira along with their supporting cast are given the space to develop, we learn more about them and we are given the chance to care about the characters and identify with them which for me is an essential aspect of any crime book series.

Dolan has fast become one of my favourite crime writers and the Zigic and Menedes series ranking highly in my list of favourite crime series with Tell No Tales leaving me eager for the next book!

Tell No Tales is out now and thank you so much to Eva Dolan and to Harvill Secker for sending me a copy to review.

Broadchurch – This isn’t about Meera Syal’s legal wig.

My name is Anthony, I live in Dorset and I’ve given up watching Broadchurch.

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Oh God that feels good.

This is my first blog in ages and it’s about Broadchurch, the crime show that is filmed near where I live in Dorset oh and other places too that the Dorset Echo never refer to but for the record include Clevedon – where my Auntie Hilary lives – Exeter, North Devon and I think possibly Sherborne where my wife and I once saw Jill Dando driving an Aston Martin DB5.

Broadchurch is big down here, well as big as anything can get in West Dorset, the local paper the Dorset Echo when not covering such important stories as a man not being able to use the staff toilet in Superdrug* have a massive stiffy for the show. Their website has a special section for it and details everything down to the minutist detail – we’ve had stories about the cast – understandable, they are big stars! The locations – it’s a beautiful place, who doesn’t want to see it as often as possible? The shops and restaurants where it’s filmed – hmm not so interested to be honest, not so much as an article, more a free advert for featured establishments. The filming schedule – losing me now, and the self-proclaimed “Broadies” who organised a coach trip around the locations – the Dorset ones only mind, a trip up to Clevedon wouldn’t have been cost effective – and I’m gone.

The thing is that I don’t think it’s that good.

This isn’t a reaction against the populist nature of the show, or the mass coverage it gets down here. I’m not really that bothered with the list of mistakes that appeared in the papers at the weekend nor do I really care about the generic “Alright my lover!” West Country accents that bedevil the show – if the producers had gone for a full on Dorset accent like the one my father in law has then nobody would have understood a bloody word. I’ve known him 19 years and still struggle to know what he’s talking about half the time.

We’ve had conversations over the years that have gone like this:

Him: “Something, mumble, something, mumble, something, lardy cake.”

Me: “Did you see that thing about cows on the news?”

Him: “Thaaaaat’s whaaaaaat eye’ve bin taaaalking ‘bout!!!!” **

No I just don’t rate it. I think I know what the producers were going for, a reaction to the Scandinavian dramas that BBC4 have shown on recent years and which I have watched and have enjoyed  – save for the ending of the series three of The Killing, what the hell was that about?!? So they’ve aimed impressively high but they don’t quite make it.

The main stumbling block for me is that I don’t like any of the characters in the show – no not even national treasure Olivia Coleman – she’s great as always but she’s not sympathetic but rather she’s pathetic and weak and gets trampled oncontinuously by everybody else in the show. I know that in the second series he’s been through a trauma which might explain that but she was like that in the first series before she went through all that. Danny’s family – horrible the lot of them. That bald bloke who works for Danny’s dad – a yokel simpleton – I could go on – nobody in the show warms the heart and I don’t care for them.

Where’s the Sara Lund whose jumpers I desire or the Martin Rohde who my wife compares me to and who she’ll miss more than words can say from series three of The Bridge?

That’s my main problem and why I gave up on Broadchurch it last week. Okay so I’ll backtrack yes the glaring mistakes do matter – it’s not like a show being set in the 1950s featuring a train from the 1960s, it’s worse than that and it affects the storyline. ITV have said that it’s a fiction and they’ve had support in that from eminent critics such as Mark Lawson but when the writer bends the law to enable a story to develop down a route which it wouldn’t have been able to develop without the bending then I have an issue.

I’ve done jury duty and have seen at first-hand how boring a criminal case can be but that’s no excuse for painting a false picture of what goes on in a Crown Court. Kavanagh QC never felt the need to do it and frankly it’s lazy writing on the part of Chris Chibnall to resort to such tactics.

I know what it wants to do and I really wanted it to work but Broadchurch has become more like a soap as it’s progressed and this process has been aided by the blatant shoe horning in of the David Tennant back story which we are meant to believe is something that was going on during the entire first series – oh come off it!!! Stop now please.

Maybe I was spoilt by the shows the preceded it and inspired it but Broadchurch can’t hold a candle to The Bridge or The Killing and no matter how hard it to tries to do so, I don’t think it ever will and I won’t be back to watch it.

That’s my other main issue, I want my crime drama to fascinate me, to keep me wanting to come back for me, to tease me, to shock me and to get my heart racing – Prime Suspect did that to me but Broadchurch just doesn’t and it has failed to do so since the very first episode. Characters came and went, were spooky or scary without ever really explaining why and the best character they had in series one – come on you know it was Pauline Quirke – was shamefully underused.

Maybe television has moved on from the days of classics such as Alec Guinness in the Smiley adaptations or Bob Peck in Edge of Darkness and my favourite, Ray McAnally in A Very British Coup.

These are dramas that decades on are still fondly remembered, eulogised over and watched with new eyes are drop dead classics of British television– will Broadchurch be so fondly remembered in five, ten or twenty years time? Getting quality actors such as Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling into a production was a casting coup for ITV – it just seems such a shame to have put them into such an underwhelming thing as the second series of Broadchurch.

The word subjective comes into play here and means that some of you will be saying “Yes” and some “No” – I fall in the latter camp but I’d honestly  – and despite what I’ve just written would rather be in the former.

*Here he is! http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/localnews/dorchester/11687754.Loo_refusal_causes_customer_outrage_in_Dorchester/

** No, not racist, Dorset people are not a race.

Book Review: Mick Herron – Slow Horses

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My first love when it comes to reading is crime fiction, I do enjoy a lot of non-fiction but I also love spy fiction. My knowledge isn’t encyclopaedic but I know what I like, my Kindle has the complete works of Ian Fleming and John Le Carré on it and I’ve read lots of books by newer spy writers too and the latest of these is the first in a series by Mick Herron. 

Slow Horses features a group of MI5 agents who for a variety of reasons have found themselves internally exiled to Slough House where they are given boring, mind numbing jobs in the hope that they will decide to leave the service without the need for industrial tribunals or the need for a pension to be paid out to them. Overseen by Jackson Lamb, this band of agents don’t really like each other or their colleagues who are still in the game and enjoying the careers that they had until catastrophe struck. River Cartwright for example closed Kings Cross at rush hour when a training exercise went wrong, it wasn’t his fault but for reasons that become clear as the book progresses certain people wanted him out of the way and pushed him out to Slough House where he became what is known as a Slow Horse – Slough House/Slow Horse. 

Now however this band of misfits have a crime to look into, Hassan a young British Asian student has been kidnapped and his kidnappers a group of white British extremists have vowed to behead him in three days on camera, there are no demands, he’s going to die. Can the Slow Horses save him whilst battling against the forces set against them? 

I loved this book. First off it’s a great spy novel with enough details about the inner workings of MI5 to keep a spy buff happy – who cares if they are realistic or not, the truth is that we don’t know and all that matters is that Slow Horses feels genuine and at times the image of Harry Palmer popped into my head – this in my humble opinion is a good thing. The characters emerge throughout the book and are establish efficiently and with enough detail for you to like them, get frustrated with them and I got nervous at various points in the story – I needed to know what was going to happen. 

Secondly Slow Horses is a book with a sense of humour, the agents riff off each other with one liners, jokes and there is an element of satire throughout the book – there’s a none too subtle portrait of a prominent politician halfway through the book which made me laugh and also question my opinion of the person in questions. Finally the book offers a commentary of the situation of Britain and the relationship between members of its various ethnic communities something which is a decisive an issue now as it was back in 2010 when Slow Horses came out. It doesn’t for one minute give us any answers but sadly the main storyline portrays a situation which I wouldn’t be too surprised to see happen at some point in the future – I hope I’m wrong.

Slow Horses is a good as I’d hoped it would be and I’m already reading the sequel Dead Lions and that’s even better. 

A book review: Chelsea Cain – One Kick

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Chelsea Cain’s new series features the Kick Lannigan survivor of an abduction who was rescued by the FBI after six years of captivity during which time she was abused and that abuse was filmed and then sold across the internet. Ten years later she’s still getting notifications from a federal agency that the films of her abuse are being bought and sold. As is pointed out to her at an FBI field office, after all these years she’s still the biggest box office draw on paedophile message boards and websites. 

When a girl is abducted Kick is approached by Bishop a mysterious man with seemingly unlimited resources who wants her to help investigate the disappearance as well as that of Adam Rice who disappeared a few months previously and whose abduction Bishop believes is linked. With resources seemingly unavailable to the FBI, Kick and Bishop travel to various places of interest across the American North West where clues are discovered, people are beaten up and Kick and Bishop do what was obvious they would do the minute the two of them set eyes upon each others. Kick’s brother James is a computer genius who creates algorithms that can trawl and fish data to aid Kick in her job, oh and throw in some stereotypical paedophiles, a pushy ‘mom’ and a grizzled FBI agent with heart of gold and that’s your book – at times it’s almost a thriller by numbers with an ending that not so much sets up the rest of the series but shouts out to the reader “YES, THERE ARE MORE BOOKS COMING!!!” 

I’ve really enjoyed the Chelsea Cain books that preceded One Kick – featuring Archie and Gretchen, the damaged cop and his devoted serial killer nemesis/number one fan, the six books had characters you got to know and care about and get upset about when bad things happened to them. They had a sense of humour, situations which you couldn’t work out how they would be resolved, impossible scenarios that never seemed too outlandish or unrealistic even though at times they probably were but that didn’t really matter as you were just along for the ride and it was a thrilling ride. I guess what I’m trying to say is that everything Cain’s previous books were and everything that I loved about the Archie and Gretchen series turned into everything I really disliked about Kick. 

One example of what annoyed me about this book was the character of Bishop, he’s a fixer, a success with the ladies who can clear a high security prison corridor when it’s needed for a chat, he can tell the FBI what to do, knows things before anybody else does but only shares this after the other person has worked it out, he is cold, mysterious, apparently has a wife who he cheats on but he still is able to undertake a sentimental task towards the end of the book – he’s not a complete bastard you understand. He is however a crushingly predictable character – the corporation’s big man who gets things done and won’t let anything or anybody stand in his way but who at the same time probably loves his mum and watches cat videos of YouTube. The issue for me is that he’s not the only cliché riddled character that populate Kick. 

I was so disappointed by this book especially as I’d had really high hopes having thoroughly enjoyed all of Ms Cain’s previous books. Previously to this I’d read a book which had similar themes entitled The Edge of Normal by Carla Smith – that was a fantastic read which achieved everything that for me Kick failed to do. My advice would be to read that and then get stuck into Cain’s Archie and Gretchen series – I can’t recommend them highly enough. 

If I did them then a sad face smiley would be here. 

One Kick by Chelsea Cain is out in the UK on 14th August