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Rob Kitchin

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The Dutch Shoe Mystery
The Dutch Shoe Mystery
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars a fairly dry fair play mystery, 15 Feb. 2015
Published in 1931, The Dutch Shoe Mystery is the third book in the Ellery Queen series, jointly written by cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, under the pen-name of Ellery Queen. The series was considered one of the finest examples of a ‘fair play’ mysteries, with the reader presented with all of the clues available to the fictional detective so that they might solve it for themselves. Indeed, the book includes a ‘challenge to the reader’ page inserted near the end of the book, prior to the denouement, that asks them to try and identify the killer based on the clues revealed in the plot. The Dutch Shoe Mystery is a variation on the locked room mystery in that one of the workers, patients or visitors within the vicinity of the pre-op room must have perpetrated the crime and was almost certainly still present on its discovery. And the investigation soon reveals plenty of people present with the motive to murder the victim. The strength of the story is the intricate plot, which charts the detective’s investigation and reasoning. However, this offset somewhat by the dryness of the read, the fact that Ellery Queen is quite a difficult character to warm to, being somewhat aloof, snobbish and self-obsessed, and the fact that whole premise felt somewhat contrived in order to produce the puzzle. Nonetheless, an interesting read for the puzzle and challenge of solving it.


The General Danced at Dawn
The General Danced at Dawn
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing set of anecdotes, but lacking wider story arc, 8 Feb. 2015
The General Danced at Dawn is the first book in a set of three semi-fictional memoirs of Lieutenant Dand McNeill, based on the first-hand experiences of George Macdonald Fraser. The book has a weak overall story arc, consisting of a set of anecdotes about various incidents, as McNeill makes his way from Burma, via the Middle East, to Edinburgh. Told in a light-hearted fashion, each of the stories has a humorous tone, being more amusing than laugh-out loud, as McNeill blunders through various scrapes and japes with an odd assortment of characters that populate his regiment and those they encounter. Fraser uses the same memoir technique to much better effect with the Flashman series, where the overall story arc and hook is much stronger both in relation to the main character and historical framing. Overall, an amusing set of anecdotes, but little more.


The Korean War (Pan Military Classics)
The Korean War (Pan Military Classics)
by Max Hastings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overarching analysis, but a decidedly slanted one, 8 Feb. 2015
Just five years after the end of the Second World War, the Korean War was the first of a set of ideological wars between the capitalist United States and her allies and communist states, which threatened to make the cold war with the Soviet Union a hot one. In The Korean War, Max Hastings sets out the historical context and lead-up to the war, its initial unfolding and the deployment of a United Nations forces, and its bloody progression up to the armistice in 1953. The book covers the wider general arc of the war, its ideology and politics, military actions, and the principle actors and their acts, but also has a series of smaller stories about individuals, and chapters about specific aspects of the war, such the air war, intelligence, and prisoners of war. There’s a wealth of information based on an analysis of documentary sources and interviews with over 200 participants. And rather than just describe what happened, he’s prepared to provide analysis and judgement as to cause and effects.

However, whilst the book provides an overarching analysis, it is fair to say it is a decidedly slanted one, and has a number of notable absences. Hastings is a British journalist and historian and the book has a definite British slant in terms of analysis and sources. There is some criticism of the British participation, but largely the British role both militarily and diplomatically is portrayed favourably. On the other hand, the Americans do not fair so well, in part because they did make a hames of many situations, but it seems that more than that is going on. For example, the British disaster at Imjin is depicted as a heroic last stand and plucky retreat, whereas the very similar American defeat at Chosin is framed as a deadly calamity. His coverage of the Chinese participation is relatively scant and certainly coloured by his own ideological position. However, by far the largest absence from the book is how the citizens and soldiers of the Republic of Korea and North Korea viewed and experienced the war. Beyond a handful of anecdotes and some sweeping statements, the Korean people and Korean politics are almost absent in a book about Korea. Perhaps this is to be expected in a book written by a British historian and the bias toward using Western, and in particular, British sources and interviews, but it does create a somewhat lopsided narrative. The other major gap is what happened in Korea after the war ended in 1953. Instead of tracking the post-war developments in both parts of Korea, Hastings instead compares the Korean war with Vietnam and the wider conflict with communism. It’s another way in which he demonstrates that the book is not so much an analysis of the Korean war, but a war against communism fought in Korea. It’s shame that it couldn’t have been both. Nonetheless, it’s a very useful starting point for anyone interested in getting an overarching, if particular, account of the war.


My Soul to Take: Thora Gudmundsdottir Book 2
My Soul to Take: Thora Gudmundsdottir Book 2
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Amateur sleuth tackles murder and ghosts in Iceland, 1 Feb. 2015
My Soul to Take is the second book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series set in Iceland. It is effectively an amateur sleuth tale, with Thóra running her own investigation that parallels, and at times, undermines the police’s work. The story is lively and engaging with a nice blend of various sub-plots concerning the contemporary investigation, the past concerning the hotel site and its former owners, and Thóra’s family. Siguršardóttir populates the story with a mix of characters that all have possible motives for murdering the hotel architect or lack a convincing alibi, and keeps many of them in the frame for a sizable chunk of the tale, slowly whittling down the list of suspects. That said, it’s clear that it’s one of two people, and the reason why, from quite a long way out. The Icelandic landscape also provides an atmospheric backdrop. The pace is quite leisurely, with Siguršardóttir spinning the tale out through a series of blinds, feints and tension points. My main issue with the tale was the amateur sleuth angle - Thóra’s actions, especially with respect to evidence and the police, or why various suspects are prepared to talk to her, is not really clear. Putting this issue of credibility to one side, the story is entertaining read.


Dark Song of Blood, A (Martin Bora Series)
Dark Song of Blood, A (Martin Bora Series)
by Ben Pastor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rome 1944, murder, politics, religion and war, 25 Jan. 2015
A Dark Song of Blood is the third book in the Martin Bora series translated into English. As with the earlier books, the strength of the story is the character of Bora and the moral ambiguities of the tale. Bora has aristocratic roots, is a committed military man who has served in Spain, Poland, Russia and Italy, and is strong willed, intelligent, principled and brave. Although he knows he serves a corrupt regime he has a strong sense of duty and loyalty, but he’s no apologist for the German army. He also abhors the Gestapo and SS and their work and methods, and hates the treatment of the Jews and will actively intervene on their behalf. At the same time, he’s quite happy to see partisans executed, but not the ratio of reprisals. The story unfolds over the first six months of 1944 and mostly focuses on Bora’s interactions with the local police, the Gestapo and SS, and the Church, with the murder investigation forming one thread amongst a number, being very slowly edged forward and at times almost disappearing entirely. At one level, this is fine, as there is plenty happening, but another it left the plot a little rudderless at times. And whilst Pastor keeps a number of possible suspects in the frame, I found the denouement a little unsatisfying. Overall, an interesting story centred on a fascinating character.


Let the Dead Lie
Let the Dead Lie
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Atmosphere and tension, 1950s South Africa, 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Let the Dead Lie (Kindle Edition)
Let the Dead Lie is the second book in Malla Nunn’s series set in 1950s South Africa. The strength of the story is the characterisation, its historical contextualisation, and atmosphere and sense of place. Emmanuel Cooper is an intriguing character, a kind of nowhere man that belongs to no community, but somehow manages to straddle both white and black worlds. He is surrounded by other conflicted and flawed characters that are all well penned. The tensions and shifting social and legal landscape of South Africa is vividly bought to life, especially the marginal spaces around the Durban docks. Whilst the story is engaging and entertaining, I found the plotting and pacing a little tenuous in the first half, becoming more purposeful and sure in the second, turning into a real page turner as the political intrigue deepened and tension rose as Cooper’s deadline approached. Moreover, the story concentrates on the first murder and it never really became clear to me why the second and third murders occur. Overall, an interesting read and I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series.


Buffalo Jump
Buffalo Jump
by Howard Shrier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.13

3.0 out of 5 stars PI, mob, prescription drugs ..., 11 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Buffalo Jump (Paperback)
Buffalo Jump is the first book in the Toronto-based Jonah Geller private investigator series. For me it was a book of two halves. The first half was quite pedestrian and I felt little affinity for the tale or the characters. About halfway through, however, the story seemed to shift register and became more engaging and compelling. In part, I think, this was because Geller became more multidimensional as chunks of his back story were divulged (he’s the usual flawed, damaged, independent PI, but has enough twists that he doesn’t neatly fit the mould), his relationship to the hitman, Dante Ryan, developed through a nice set of interchanges, and all the various plot strands started to be woven together into a clearer tapestry. Indeed, the plot focus on the illegal cross-border trade in prescription medicines provided a nice hook. The denouement seemed a little rushed, but nicely tied off the tale. Overall, a decent, if a little uneven, read that introduces an engaging lead character that I’d be happy to spend more time reading about.


The Hidden Child (Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Book 5) (Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck)
The Hidden Child (Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Book 5) (Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck)
by Camilla Läckberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars multi-threaded, well paced story, 28 Dec. 2014
The Hidden Child is a well plotted story about two connected crimes in the small coastal town of Fjällbacka, Sweden, one committed in 1945, the other in the present day. The tale has two particular strengths: a fairly intricate plot told from multiple perspectives that has depth, resonance, and attention to detail; and very nice and detailed characterisations, with in-depth back stories and interchanges. Indeed, the tale is as much a soap opera concerning the families of Erica Falck and Patrik Hedström, the small team of cops at the local police station, and the lives connected to the case as it is a crime tale. However, whilst a lot of this soap opera drama is interesting and engagingly told, much of it is somewhat surplus to requirements with respect to the main storyline (though I suspect some of it is pretty central to the series). The ending is a little telegraphed, especially as the number of viable candidate murderers is whittled down, but nonetheless Lackberg manages to spin out intrigue and nice reveals under the end. The result is a multi-threaded, well paced story that kept this reader turning the pages.


The Stranger You Know: (Maeve Kerrigan 4)
The Stranger You Know: (Maeve Kerrigan 4)
by Jane Casey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars very good London-based police procedural, 28 Dec. 2014
The Stranger You Know is the fourth book in the DC Maeve Kerrigan series set in London. In this outing much of Kerrigan’s attention is focused close to home, trained on her immediate boss, the intimidating bully, Josh Derwent, and the connection between the murder of his girlfriend twenty year’s previously and a series of more recent slayings. Derwent is desperate to be part of the case, but some of his colleagues are unconvinced of his innocence. Kerrigan is prepared to give him the benefit of doubt, but as usual he doesn’t make it easy for her. Casey hits all the nails on the head: a well developed set of characters, a nicely constructed plot, a good sense of time and place, well depicted police procedural elements, engaging prose and narrative, and a good pace. Kerrigan is a complex character, wracked with vulnerabilities, insecurities, and has low self-esteem, but at the same time knows she has talent, is headstrong and risk-taker, charting her own path often in direct contravention of orders. The other characters are similarly multidimensional. The tale has plenty of intrigue, tension, twists and turns, feisty interchanges, and engaging subplots. For me there was one twist too many, and a couple of characters drop out of the story towards the end, but Casey nonetheless keeps the reader guessing to the last few pages as to the culprit. Overall, a superior and entertaining police procedural.


The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More
The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More
by Luke Dormehl
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging read but has notable gaps, 20 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Formula provides an overarching account of how algorithms are increasingly being used to mediate, augment and regulate everyday life. There’s much to like about the book -- it’s an engaging read, full of interesting examples, there’s an attempt to go beyond the hyperbole of many popular books about technology and society, and it draws on the ideas of a range of critical theorists (including Baudrillard, Deleuze, Marx, Virilio, Foucault, Descartes, Sennett, Turkle, etc). It’s clear that the discussion is based on a number of interviews with algorithm developers and academics. However, there are also some notable gaps in the analysis and the analysis itself generally lacks depth. There is no detailed discussion about the nature of algorithms or its formulation into pseudo-code or code, or even a brief potted history of the development of algorithms. There is a very short discussion concerning the negative side of algorithms and how they are used to socially sort, underpin anticipatory governance, regulate and control, which really needed to be expanded. The analysis points to various issues and suggests some interesting lines of enquiry but then skims over them, with one or two points from the varied selection of theorists being used to illustrate an idea but often in quite a superficial way. Given the book is designed to be a popular science text aimed at a lay readership getting the balance between accessibility, depth and critical reflection is tricky. Dormehl does a better job of balancing the two than some others I’ve read recently, but I would have still have preferred deeper analysis, especially on the nature of algorithms and the effects and consequences of algorithmic governance and automation.


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