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Dead Man's Wharf (Detective Inspector Andy Horton)
Dead Man's Wharf (Detective Inspector Andy Horton)
by Pauline Rowson
Edition: Hardcover

1.0 out of 5 stars That Sinking Feeling, 24 Jan. 2010
Ever opened a book and known pretty much instantly that you weren't going to enjoy the remaining two hundred pages? Here are the first 160 words of "Dead Man's Wharf" by Pauline Rowson:

"Has Mr Jackson received death threats before?" Inspector Horton tried to contain the anger in his voice. Usually he took such matters seriously, but not this time.
"No, Inspector, and neither has Nick." The woman opposite dropped her eyes as soon as they connected with Horton's. Was that from guilt, he wondered, at wasting police time?
She was perched nervously on the large leather chair opposite him. The woman dressed from head to toe in black looked more like a nun without the wimple than a television director to Horton. But then he guessed his views of directors were coloured by newspaper and magazine articles where they were usually men of presence and power. `Wrecks Around Britain', though, was hardly `Titanic', and Perry Jackson wasn't exactly Leonardo DiCaprio. Not that Horton had met Jackson yet as Corinna Denton had waylaid him and Sergeant Cantelli the moment they had entered the plush reception of the Queen's Hotel on the Southsea seafront.

So, what were my problems with this passage? First of all, there's the sensation of being thrown into a situation so quickly that one has to fight to gain awareness of the context. This is swiftly followed by disbelief: is the detective really being openly rude to someone who's informed him of a death threat to a television presenter? (Sadly, yes he is - and we learn a couple of paragraphs later that Horton has no stronger proof than a "gut instinct" that this is a hoax.) Then there are the stylistic features which make the narrative a struggle - the requirement to hold orphaned character names or descriptions in our heads until they can be matched up later on (Nick? Nick who?) and the stripped-bare writing style which provides little more than a skeleton of context for the dialogue. True, nobody wants screeds of needlessly purple prose in the hard-boiled detective genre - but most readers require some kind of fleshing-out of scene and character, and this is something Rowson fails to provide.

Tempted as I was to give up after the first chapter (which also contains the sentence "Farnsworth's expression assumed one of concern", something an editor really should have caught!) I ploughed on, only to emerge dissatisfied with the shallow characters, inexplicable behaviour (police divisions failing to share relevant information with Horton) and lack of clues leading to the final denouement ("And how was I supposed to figure THAT out?")

Since the author clearly doesn't enjoy prose-writing (would someone who enjoyed their craft ever allow a sentence like "Farnsworth's expression assumed one of concern"?), I can only assume that this series was written pragmatically, with a television franchise in mind - the sort of sweet deal where the author gets paid a sizeable amount of money to allow a TV company use of the main character names, and a cadre of talented screenwriters will then improve the premise beyond all recognition.

If so, all I can suggest is that you hang on for the television adaptations. Whatever you do, don't waste your time with this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2013 11:15 PM BST

How Starbucks Saved My Life
How Starbucks Saved My Life
by Michael Gill
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sweet at first... Then the bitter aftertaste, 24 Jun. 2009
Is it possible to enjoy a book, but simultaneously wish it had never been written?

I originally picked this up only because it was written by the son of Brendan Gill (in the 1970s Gill wrote a deservedly best-selling memoir, HERE AT THE NEW YORKER, of his time at the famous magazine: it was a favourite read of mine at a relatively early age - 14 - when I had heard of only a fraction of the literary celebrities Gill describes and occasionally eviscerates.) Gill hasn't inherited his father's gift for witty description, but his prose is perfectly readable and his story is sadly typical of many of the older generation.

Read as a personal memoir, HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE is a straightforward tale of how a Son of Privilege unexpectedly found himself a casualty of the callous corporate culture, thrown onto the scrapheap in his sixties. His marriage disintegrated, followed by his health, but at his lowest point he was offered a job in his local Starbucks. Donning the green apron and starting at the bottom, he found a corporate culture which was far friendlier than the merciless, high-pressured advertising world he'd left behind.

So far, so self-affirming and even heartwarming... But what makes me wish it had never been written is Gill's pathetic gratitude for an entry-level service job.

On a personal level, such humility is commendable.

On a political level, however, I shudder to think of some corporate reptile reading this book and taking from it the message that the perfect lower-level employee is one exactly like Gill: someone who is crushed, ground-down and utterly desperate to hang onto any employment, regardless of how onerous the duties are.

This, I fear, is the potentially harmful message of the book. What is doubtless intended as the story of one man's redemption through humility and hard work actually carries a less palatable message about the desperation of the average working stiff in America, not to mention the tragic waste of talent and experience when older, highly-trained workers are laid off in their thousands to "save money".

Seen in this light, it's really not so heartwarming after all.

Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile
Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile
by Geraint Anderson
Edition: Hardcover

124 of 134 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cityboy Belatedly Finds His Conscience. Yawn., 2 Jan. 2009
As a commuter in London I was one of thousands who, on Mondays, caught up with the exploits of anonymous columnist "Cityboy" in the free hand-out "The London Paper". Purporting to lift the lid on the sordid existence of the average city banker, Cityboy's column continued for about two years until his unfortunate motrocycle accident, which led his premature retirement. In June 2008 Cityboy "came out" to the world as Geraint Anderson, an MP's son, and announced his intention to break into the world of novel-writing.

On the whole, "Cityboy"'s columns weren't bad and his work tended to be amusing, in a blokey and obnoxious kind of way. It was more or less what we expected from a financial analyst: "My life is utterly amoral but since I earn shiploads of money (my last bonus was five times - no, make that twenty-five times - your annual salary), I REALLY DON'T CARE." Of course the column appealed to the worst side of human nature - that was the whole point of the exercise - but it was often quite funny in small doses.

Now, however, Mr Anderson has revealed himself to the world as a person with - gasp! - a conscience. He feels VERY BAD about his previous incarnation as a banker, and so his novel (a thinly-disguised autobiography which also draws heavily on his columns) is intended as a kind of morality tale, warning us that we, too, might well have behaved in a similar manner had we too been faced with the kind of atmsophere and temptations brought to bear upon a newcomer to this gaudy world.

Problem Number One: what was amusing in small doses is irritating in a sustained extract. Anderson's principal method of humour is the unlikely comparison (example: "it was about as likely as Ann Widdecombe winning Rear Of The Year") and boy, does he milk these contrived and lengthy comparisons long past the point of unfunniness. Two or three on virtually every single page?! By the end of Chapter Three I was about as amused as Queen Victoria at a wet T-shirt contest.

Problem Number Two: Anderson's claim of being "a good boy now" isn't all that convincing. It's pretty clear that he'd love to carry on his openly-rude devil-may-care "Cityboy" persona, but both his concern for his reputation and events in the international financial sector have necessitated a display of public contrition. Anderson's narrative thus asks us to buy into the inconsiderate blokiness whilst simultaneously asking us to believe that the narrator doesn't REALLY believe in all that any more. It just doesn't work.

Case in point: our narrator "Steve Jones" tells us that, at one point, he and his gambling-minded friends were so desperate to have something to bet on that they even took a flutter on "the bra-size of some poor salad-dodger standing at the bar." Ah, how perfectly Cityboy! How staggeringly rude! And yet, notice the word that doesn't belong there: the word "poor". Doubtless we're supposed to believe that the narrator now is sorry for having caused distress to the woman in question... Yet, if he were that sorry, why use the term "salad-dodger" to describe her in the first place? Here, as elsewhere, you get the sense of Cityboy hastily covering his rudery with a tiny fig-leaf of consideration, and all it does is make the reader feel thoroughly uneasy. Are we supposed to be laughing heartlessly at this or not?

Ultimately, I'm giving it a couple of stars for exposing the macho "boy's culture" of the City. If it does its part to bring the culture of obscene bonuses to an end, good for it. But as a piece of humour I wasn't impressed.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2009 8:14 AM GMT

Sisterhood Of The Blue Storm: Book 4 of the Orokon
Sisterhood Of The Blue Storm: Book 4 of the Orokon
by Tom Arden
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A huge baggy monster, 29 Sept. 2001
It's a given that anyone new to the series should begin with the first volume, "The Harlequin's Dance" - unlike some other fantasy series, it's just not possible to start midway through Arden's dense and multi-layered Orokon quest.
This, the penultimate book in the series, sees Jemany, Rajal and their new friend Littler searching for the next crystal on a savage archipelago controlled by the eponymous Sisterhood of the Blue Storm. As in the previous books of the series, Arden's literary language and imagery is quite excellent and I enjoyed the pastiche dramatic interludes.
However, I wish that Arden's editor had had the courage to trim some of the excess subplots and characters. That it's all glorious camp excess can't be denied, but it's sometimes a headache to have to keep flipping to the lengthy list of characters at the front of the book in order to keep events straight. (Also, a little more focus would have given the Sisterhood more of the prominence they deserve: they're a wonderfully chilling creation and it's a shame Arden doesn't allow them more time "onstage".) I also think that a stronger editor would have challenged some of Arden's more annoying tendencies, such as his habit of having characters disappear - *literally* disappear - for no real reason.
So what we have, in all, is a huge baggy monster of a plot couched in lush and living prose. Arden is a writer for those who love language above pacing and tension: if this sounds like you, give Arden a try from the beginning. Those who have read the previous three books of the Orokon will want to feed their Arden addiction with this one.

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