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Brian R. Martin (London, UK)

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The Dark Net
The Dark Net
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the dark side., 6 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Dark Net (Kindle Edition)
As a daily user of computers for over 50 years, starting with mainframe machines by manufacturers who have long since disappeared from the scene, through supercomputers and the earliest personal computers with their unreliable dial-up modems, to modern powerful laptops, I am well aware of many of the developments described in this book. The rapidity and these and the inventiveness of the individuals involved is truly remarkable, but enabling technologies inevitably have downsides, particularly in the realm of the so-called `the dark net'. This term refers to areas of the internet/web that are only accessible via the use of techniques that render the user essentially `invisible' to third parties. How this is achieved, for example by using the Tor browser, is briefly described in simple non-technical terms.

There are legitimate uses of these techniques, where secrecy is vital, but they also offer the opportunity for more dubious activities. Thus the dark net contains child pornography sites, sites selling illegal drugs, such as the notorious Silk Road, and others that actively encourage disturbed individuals to engage in destructive behavior, such as self-harming and committing suicide. There is even a site where users can bet on when someone will die, possibly encouraging murder, although there is not, as yet, evidence that this has happened. All these, and many more, are explored in some detail and with authority, clearly coming from extensive research by the author.

But the book contains much more than this. There is also an interesting brief history of the early days of the internet, and simple explanations of terms such as `trolling', Bitcoin and many others.

Where is all this going? This is the question explored at the end of the book, where the author examines beliefs at both extremes of the spectrum: those of the anarcho-primitivitists and the transhumanists . The former see all technology, particularly computers, as intrinsically bad and advocate returning to small agricultural self-sufficient communities. The inconsistency of this position is revealed when a leading exponent of this belief communicates with the author via the internet! The transhumanists have absolute belief in the power of computers and are convinced that in the future, disease, aging and even death will become irrelevant. A leading exponent is working towards having his brain uploaded as a computer file and wears round his neck at all times detailed instructions about how his body should be frozen and treated in the event of his sudden death. His instructions to his wife are "Pop me in the freezer as soon as possible". Bizarre as these beliefs may seem, perhaps they really are the future; who knows?

This is a well-written book that explores a rapidly changing area with great skill and clarity. It is sometimes upsetting and disturbing, and some of the activities described challenge our beliefs about what is `normal' human behavior. The author makes no moral judgments; the book is just as much about the sociology of the dark net and the characters that interact with it, as it is about its technical aspect. It is well worth reading about a subject that will become increasingly important and that will impact more and more on all aspects of our daily lives.

StilGut UltraSlim Genuine Leather Case for Nokia Lumia 630, Black
StilGut UltraSlim Genuine Leather Case for Nokia Lumia 630, Black
Offered by StilGut
Price: £29.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good quality, but too expensive., 2 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Unlike some others manufacturers that advertise their covers are leather, this one really is. It is a good quality leather, well stitched and accurately cut so that all buttons and ports are accessible without removing the phone from the cover. The inside of the part touching the screen is suede so should not cause scratches. I have three criticisms:

(1) I would have preferred the flap to have been hinged at the top of the phone, because I find the flap gets in the way when using the phone, although I know that other covers have this arrangement. (Turning the phone round would cover the ports, of course.)
(2) The leather hinges are small and are a weak point. When they break, the cover is useless.
(3) The price is very high for such a small piece of leather.

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand (Commissaire Adamsberg)
Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand (Commissaire Adamsberg)
by Fred Vargas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2.0 out of 5 stars Thriller or fantasy, 2 Sep 2014
This is the first Vargas novel I have read; it may well be the last. It's the fifth book in the series about Commissaire Adamsberg, a senior Parisian policeman in the all-too-common mould of the detective who works largely by intuition, rather than analysis. This might be just about acceptable if he was charismatic, but instead he is wooden, selfish, and seems unable to interact emotionally with anyone. (At one point he even discovers he has a five-month-old son.) He is obsessed by an event earlier in his life when his brother Raphael was wrongly accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, and Adamsberg had to lie to prevent his arrest. For some reason not fully explained, Adamsberg is convinced that the killer was a judge who lived in the countryside nearby when he was a boy. Moreover, he has subsequently discovered that a series of other murders have been committed over the years, in each of which the victim has been found to have three stab wounds in a straight line and with similar distances between the wounds. Then another victim is found, with the same pattern of wounds, but there is a problem; the judge died sixteen years earlier. Not surprisingly, he is unsuccessful in persuading his colleagues that the same murderer is involved. More than that, his obsession is beginning to get him a reputation as being unstable and is irritating his superiors.

The action then shifts to Canada when Adamsberg leads a small team of detectives on a course about DNA testing held by the RCMP. During his stay yet another victim is murdered, but this time all the evidence points to Adamsberg himself being the killer and he is forced to flee the country back to France with the aid of a colleague. The way this is done is the start of a steadily increasing catalogue of totally unbelievable events, which gradually turns the book from a thriller into a fantasy story where the killer has a pattern based on the winning hands in the game of Ma Jong. Back in France he sets out to prove his innocence and trap the judge with the highly unlikely compliance of his superior officer, and the help of an aged female super hacker who seems effortlessly to be able to enter just about any site on the internet, including police files. Although a lot of things happen in these closing phases of the book, including a face-to-face confrontation with the judge, they lack the nail-biting tension of a first-class thriller. The end is totally unconvincing; no-one seems too concerned that a mass murderer has slipped through the net yet again.

Vax Air Silence Pet Eco Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner
Vax Air Silence Pet Eco Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner
Price: £198.96

3.0 out of 5 stars Vax Air Silence+Pet, 27 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A have a large Dyson upright that is very heavy and a bit clumsy to haul upstairs. I requested this cylinder Vax because it is lighter and I wanted, among other things, to see whether it was more maneuverable. I have tested it on carpets only (no suitable hard floors).

The good points are: it has very strong suction for such a low powered machine (only 800W); it is much quieter than vacuum cleaners I have experienced before; the automatic cable reeling is excellent, although the cable could be longer (6m); and it has an impressive telescopic chrome extension tube, albeit rather heavy, which contains a slider to adjust the suction.

Unfortunately these are outweighed by a number a negative points. The machine weighs 5.5kg, which is not negligible if you have to pick it up very often and unfortunately that is what I had to do. Although it will `follow' you in a straight line, in practice it frequently gets snagged on furniture and it is not easy to realign it without picking it up. Also, if you are not careful, it can easily tip over. So the Vax failed on two important issues for me. The other negative points are more minor: the on/off button has to be pressed for 2-3 secs before it `takes'; there are two handles, very similar looking, one to carry the machine, the other to open the dust receptacle and it is easy to grab the wrong one; the attachments have to be fitted via a coupling piece which I was for ever taking on and off, and it is not easy to get the friction-fitted fittings off the extension tube; a number of key parts, including the snap clips that attach the hose to the cylinder are plastic, and if they break ....; there is a `turbo tool' for cleaning stairs and picking up pet hairs (the latter function not tested - no animals) that I opened to clean, whereupon a number of small parts fell out and it was a fiddly job to reassemble them; it does not push easily over the carpet, with only two small wheels at the rear to assist. Finally, it needs much more storage than my upright, mainly because of the hose. Keep the box!

Overall, a reasonable machine if you like cylinders; I will stick with my upright.

Affairs of State (Eurocrime)
Affairs of State (Eurocrime)
by Dominique Manotti
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Corruption, crime and politics in 1980s France, 23 Aug 2014
To appreciate this thriller you have to understand the political situation in France in the 1980s. The socialists, out of power for decades, finally returned by winning the 1981 elections, with Mitterand as President. Now, in 1985, they are preparing to defend their position in elections scheduled for early 1986. French politics at this time was an even dirtier business than usual, where senior politicians and party members had dubious links with underworld characters and corrupt policemen.

One of the former is François Bornand, a businessman and longtime friend of, and advisor to, Mitterand. He has a shady past as a collaborator during the war, but is now in charge of a special unit of police responsible for the President's security and leading the fight against terrorism in France. Bornand is a corrupt opportunist, with interests in drugs, brothels and arms dealing, and to increase his own power and influence, involves himself in illegally supplying arms to Iran. But things start to go wrong when a plane carrying a cargo of missiles is destroyed over Turkey. Rumours about his involvement, which could rebound on the President, begin to appear and seem to originate from a high-class prostitute Bornand frequently uses.

The plot then becomes far more involved when she is found murdered and both the Crime Squad and their fierce rivals, the police Intelligence service, become involved. Noria Ghozali, initially a member of the former, is a young ambitious female Arab-French police investigator, and is determined to solve the murder. Later she transfers to the Intelligence branch and eventually the original murder is solved and corruption exposed, but not before several other murders are committed and an investigating magistrate commits suicide.

This is a complex novel, with a heady mix of politics, murder, intrigue, blackmail, corruption and sex (even incest). The pace of the action is fast and the quality of the writing is good, but I sometimes had difficulty keeping track of the large cast of characters and their shifting allegiances. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable book that I recommend.

Borkmann's Point (The Van Veeteren Series)
Borkmann's Point (The Van Veeteren Series)
by Håkan Nesser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rather bland Swedish (?) detective novel., 14 Aug 2014
This is one of a series of books about Inspector Van Veeteren by the hugely successful Swedish author Hakan Nesser, who has sold over 5 million books in the series, according to the blurb inside the cover. If this volume is typical of others in the series, I fail to understand their success.

It's a variation of a police procedural, but where the solution to the crimes is found more by inspired hunches than deduction, rather in the style of Inspector Morse. The plot revolves around the brutal murders of three men, all killed by a vicious blow with an axe. This is left at the scene of the third murder, suggesting that it is the final one that will be committed. Van Veeteren has been called in from another district to help the small local force, whose Chief is about to retire, because of his experience in solving murder cases. Despite much searching, no link is found between the victims except that they had all recently moved to the town. The pace is very slow, with little progress being made for most of the book and a long series of superficial interviews conducted, along the lines of `Do you know anyone who could have committed this crime'?

The solution is eventually found by Van Veeteren, partly from clues, but mainly using his famous intuition, but not before an ambitious local female detective Beate Moerk disappears, presumably captured by the killer. Even at the close, Van Veeteren stops off to have a substantial meal in a restaurant before setting in place the arrangements for the final confrontation. He shows remarkably little urgency, given that Inspector Moerk's life could well be in danger. The revelation of the identity of the murderer at the end of the book is contrived and unconvincing, but when the reason for the murders is revealed, the killings seem almost rational, and unusually one has some sympathy for the killer.

Overall, the book is rather bland, with somewhat featureless characters. This is not helped by the location, which from the curious mixture of the names of those involved, could be anywhere in Sweden, north Germany, or the Benelux countries. I didn't see the point of this vagueness, which leads to characters lacking a clear identity. They also speak in robot-like stilted language. The personal lives of the characters are mentioned, but rather briefly. Thus there are hints about Van Veeteren's divorce, a little about assistant Inspector Muller's troubled relationship with his wife, and something about Inspector Moerk's dreams of a possible future married life and the potential conflict with her career.

This is not a typical Swedish detective novel, which by itself is no bad thing, but it does not compare in quality with the best of the latter.

The Spring of Kasper Meier
The Spring of Kasper Meier
by Ben Fergusson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mystery in post war Berlin, 7 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The time is 1946; the place is Berlin. The city is almost totally destroyed and its inhabitants are surviving as best they can in an atmosphere of lies, suspicion and deceit. Some clear rubble, others sell their bodies to the occupying troops, many live by their wits trading small items on the black market. One of the latter is Kasper Meier, who lives in a shattered apartment and looks after his sick father in an adjoining flat. Kasper also supplements his income by finding people and information. He is gay, still illegal in Germany of course, and just wants to stay unnoticed by the authorities, but his life is changed by the visit of a young woman, Eva Hirsch. She asks him to find a British pilot for a woman called Frau Beckmann, but refuses to tell him why. Kasper does not want to get involved with the military, and only agrees after Eva blackmails him by threatening to disclose his homosexuality.

Reluctantly, Kasper is drawn into a new dangerous world of crime organised by Frau Beckmann, who has other girls under her control and seems to be at the centre of a web of criminal activities, but whom he never meets. Everywhere he goes he is watched, often by the sinister, sadistic teenage twins of Frau Beckmann. He is drawn to Eva and wants to help her, but the more he tries to unravel her relationship with Frau Beckmann, the more threats against him increase, and the more violence he is subjected to. He becomes aware that most of the women working for Frau Beckmann have been raped by the invaders, and he also hears rumours that individual soldiers are being killed in the city. He worries that these things are related. He is walking a dangerous line between finding the pilot and saving Eva, and avoiding the attention of the authorities that could cost him and his father their lives. How the relationship between these events is resolved is the core of the book,.

The identity of the mysterious Frau Beckmann and the role of the twins is eventually deduced by Kasper after he makes contact with a former lover, Heinrich Neustadt, who plays an important role towards the end of the book. There are important twists en route involving Heinrich, but not all of these are very credible and some almost trivialise the plight of the violated women. The book ends in a rather predictable, if somewhat unbelievable, outcome of the relationship between Kasper and Eva.

The book superbly evokes the desolate atmosphere of post-war Berlin; the numerous ruined buildings, mountains of rubble filling the streets slowly being clearly by gangs of women, and the constant daily struggle for survival that forces everyone to be suspicious of everyone else. The only criticism is that these descriptions tend to be repeated too often. Standing out from this grim background are the moving, tender, sometime sad, relationships between Eva, Kasper, and his father, which are beautiful described. There are also many other lesser characters that are well drawn, including that of Heinrich, and the soldiers, who often also participate in the seedy black market transactions. Overall, the author has produced a very good first novel, and I enjoyed reading it.

(You Can Cope with Peripheral Neuropathy: 365 Tips for Living a Better Life) By Latov, Norman (Author) Paperback on 07-Apr-2009
(You Can Cope with Peripheral Neuropathy: 365 Tips for Living a Better Life) By Latov, Norman (Author) Paperback on 07-Apr-2009
by Norman Latov
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Self-help Guide to Peripheral Neuropathy, 1 Aug 2014
Nerve damage (neuropathy) is a widespread condition and peripheral neuropathy (which mostly involves the feet and hands) is one of the most common varieties, with symptoms that range from minor inconvenience to major debility. Although there are many known causes of peripheral neuropathy, a high proportion of cases are still in the category of idiopathic (`we have no idea'). But whether the cause is known or unknown, the condition has remained stubbornly resistant to finding a cure, and treatment is mainly pain relief and advice to mitigate the effects of the condition and to slow its progress. In this situation, many sufferers turn to self-help books for advice and information, of which this is one. It does not discuss medical treatments in detail, for example it does not discuss pain medication, rather it offers advice on day-to-day living: taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, adapting your surrounding to take account of the extent of your disability etc. This is all just common sense of course, but nevertheless it is useful to have this together in one place to remind suffers that they can make their plight somewhat better. There are also useful contact details of many organisations devoted to peripheral neuropathy. Most of the book is written by a journalist, Mims Cushing, who is herself a sufferer from the condition; three chapters are written by a doctor, Norman Latov, who offers advice in the form of questions and answers and retelling the personal histories of patients. Whether you like the upbeat motivational approach of the text is a matter of taste. It is not necessarily mine, but I did not find it overly `grating'. All in all, this is a useful little book that summarises information that suffers might only have seen fragmented elsewhere.

Snow White Must Die
Snow White Must Die
by Nele Neuhaus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best of German crime novels, 1 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Snow White Must Die (Paperback)
This is the fourth book in a series of police procedurals involving the German detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein, although the first to be translated into English. (Why do publishers do this?). It starts when a young man, Tobias Sartorius, is released from a 10-year prison sentence following his conviction for murdering two young girls. This is already a bit unbelievable on two counts: the shortness of the sentence and the fact that the bodies of the girls were never found. Tobias rashly returns to the small claustrophobic village of Altenhain, near Frankfurt, where he previously lived. Remarkably, this is a real place and one wonders what the villagers' reactions to this book were when they discovered they had been portrayed as deceitful, vicious and utterly without morals.

Tobias's return is greeted with hostility, which is greatly strengthened when within days another young girl disappears. Then his mother is pushed off a railway bridge and a host of old animosities are reopened. Tobias has two supporters who doubt his involvement in the original murders or the latest disappearance. One is Nadia, an old school friend, now a famous actress, who has always been in love with Tobias, and Nathalie, a newcomer to the village, who bear a striking resemblance to one of the earlier victims. They both set out to prove his innocence. By this stage the plot is getting overly complicated with too many characters, the relevance of some of whom is unclear. It is not helped by frequently switching from surnames to first names and even sometimes nicknames, and by a style that divides the action into short disjoint sections.

The relation between the various crimes begins to emerge via an increasingly convoluted series of coincidences, but as it does credibility of the plot falls. It involves a bewildering array of unlikely characters, including an autistic teenager with a remarkable ability to paint, a cold calculating `squire' who seems to have a hold over many of the villagers, a female doctor who projects an image of benevolence, but in reality is far from that, and several `friends' who, only after 10 years, show some remorse. The final stages contain a torrent of frenzied activity, with the police rushing from location to location, but failing to tie things together, although some of the clues have been around for 10 years. You can call these twists and turns if you like, but I prefer the analogy of a headless chicken.

In addition to the main plot, there is a quite a lot about the private lives of the two main characters, which although mildly interesting, add little to the overall story, but do contribute to the overly long text. The translation grates in many places to English ears, but that's inevitable, as it has clearly been aimed at the larger American market. The cover of this book says that it has sold three million copies in German. I wonder how many regretted their decision?

The Dinner Club
The Dinner Club
by Saskia Noort
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.36

2.0 out of 5 stars A Dutch Mills and Boone 'thriller'., 20 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Dinner Club (Paperback)
In my continuing quest for good European thrillers in translation, I turned to Holland and this book, although frankly I wish I hadn't. It's the story of a small group of rich couples that live in a village outside Amsterdam. The wives spend most of their day drinking coffee in expensive cafés, playing tennis, shopping for expensive clothes and gossiping about each other, the full yuppie menu in fact. Into this claustrophobic atmosphere comes Karen, a self-employed graphic designer, who has moved to the country with her husband and two young daughters. At first she finds it difficult to makes friends, but later forms a `dinner club' with the families of four of the other residents.

All goes well until one of the husbands dies in a fire that destroys his house and almost kills his wife and two children. He has recently suffered a psychotic breakdown and there is some evidence that he started the fire deliberately. This tragedy is quickly followed by the death of one of the wives, who falls from a hotel balcony. These two events allow existing simmering suspicions and jealousies within the group to surface. There are accusations of adulterous relationships and dubious business dealing between some of the husbands, amongst other things. Many dull, uninteresting pages are devoted to the resulting squabbles and soul searching amongst the wives, which add precious little to the story. They are made worse by the very pedestrian style of the writing, rather Mills & Boone. One could read this as a satire on the rural yuppie life, but I suspect that was not the author's intention.

Karen, based on what she thinks she knows about the characters of the deceased pair, becomes convinced that both deaths were not accidental and is sucked into a rather desultory police investigation, which is tied up with an investigation of the tax affairs of one of the husbands, an amoral odious character who is an obvious `bad un', and who seems to have a financial hold on the other husbands. Karen's amateurish blundering around, helped by a woman police officer who has a personal interest in one of the suspects, eventually leads her to the correct conclusion, and the murderer is confirmed in a final violent scene in a hotel room. The picture is completed and `tied in a pink ribbon' with the reconciliation between Karen and her husband.

Although this book sold 300,000 copies in Holland, I could find little to recommend it. A substantial fraction of the book is devoted to the pointless lives of the group, but I found the details of their jealousies and petty betrayals of little interest. Incidentally, although there are at least four children around, they play no significant role whatsoever. It only becomes a thriller late in the book, and even then the action is all too obvious. Finally, about the only thing remotely Dutch is the fact that everyone smokes cigars and some ride bicycles, hardly unique characteristics.

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