Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sometimes, I'm just blown away by my workplace

I don't normally go on about where I work. Mainly because I suspect if my employers ever sort out a protocol on blogging, they might go for restrictive, and then I'd have to delete things.

But this Wednesday we had an Event... and I attended it!

I was on the Reserve List, so we had a slightly anxious 90 minutes sitting in a room off the Hall wondering if we'd get in or just have to watch it on the telly while feeling guilty about not doing work at the same time (I knew 15 people would have to drop out before I was admitted), but then we were ushered downstairs. In the end I was seated a long way back but only 4 places away from the aisle.

I had to do some swaying backwards and forwards to keep President Obama in sight while he was delivering his speech, but that was fine; and although the speech has had mixed reviews, it had the hair standing up on the back of my neck a few times.

The highlight for me (as well as the fanfare, which was astonishing) was his coming down the aisle, diving into the crowd (to the obvious exasperation of the clean-cut suits with earpieces) and greeting people with wit and humour. As a child of the 70s/80s, seeing him greet Floella (now Baroness) Benjamin was wonderful; and I also saw him meet Glenda Jackson MP with an instant recognition of who she was... Yes, I'm a fangirl; but I think he had many converts, too... and I've been within about 6 feet of the first US President ever to speak in Westminster Hall.

2011 books, #46-50

Deed to death, by D B Henson. Kindle edition.

One of the interesting things about choosing the "under £1" option for Kindle books is that you get a real mixture - first novels by established author to get you to pay more for the others in the series, books which are only available electronically, and so on. This one appears to have gone out as a Kindle edition to test the waters for a print-run and is currently unavailable on Kindle but the paperback is in preparation.

Scott Chadwick falls to his death from the top of the hotel he's constructing, three days before his wedding. His fiancée is determined to prove that Scott has been murdered rather than having committed suicide, and her need for this increases when Scott's estranged brother Brian contests his will. It's a workmanlike sort of book - the plot's well thought-out and resolves satisfactorily, and while the writing style is a bit plodding, it's a nice fast read.

Street dreams, by Faye Kellerman [audiobook]. Read by Liza Ross. Oxford: Isis, 2004.

A Rina and Peter Decker novel but with the concentration on Cindy Decker. Thankfully, Cindy seems to be growing up a little since the last book she starred, in which she was extremely irritating. The story starts with Cindy finding a newborn baby buried under a rubbish heap, and tracking down her mother, a learning disabled girl almost as vulnerable as the baby. Further investigation uncovers a violent crime, and introduces Cindy to personal danger. Meanwhile she meets a handsome paediatric nurse who turns out both to be an observant Jew, which makes her stepfamily very happy, and also Ethiopian, which causes slight surprise at the Sabbath dinner table. Peter Decker is at his irascible best in this one, and with any luck Cindy's more recalcitrant days are behind her.

Unholy angels, by Karen Fenech. Kindle edition.

Liz Jansson's marriage was over well before she left her husband and filed for divorce; but Peter Jansson's suicide, a month after she moves out of their house, looks like a moment of despair at her betrayal; that's certainly what their son, Will, believes. Will is adopted by the adherents of a Satanic group which contains some of the most prominent members of the community, while Liz starts a liaison with the new sheriff, Doug McBride. As she begins to discover more about her husband's involvement in the cult, Liz realises there is nobody in the community she can trust. The writing style is quite basic, but it does have a tautly-written plot with a couple of good twists in the tail.

Gone, by Karen Fenech. Kindle edition.

This book starts with the execution of FBI agent Clare Marshall's mother for killing one of her children, and wounding Clare, twenty-four years before. After a chance meeting with a social worker during a shoot-out, Clare hears news of her younger sister and follows her trail to Farley, South Carolina. When she gets there she finds that her sister has disappeared again, and that the head of the FBI in the area is her former lover Jake. Clare tracks her sister Beth, but someone is tracking Clare...

Winterkill, by C J Box. London: Penguin Puttnam, 2010. Kindle edition.

Game warden Joe Pickett thinks his life is bad enough when he meets a colleague from the Parks Service who has gone insane and started shooting elk indiscriminately, to the extent that he's trying to fill his rifle with cigarettes. However, when the man escapes after Joe arrests him, he's found with two arrows through him and his throat cut. The case is taken over by a female bureaucrat who is truly scary, and meanwhile Joe's foster-daughter April is taken from school by her birth-mother who has come back to town in an encampment of anti-government survivors from Waco and other sieges. Joe is a good man, as is pointed out by one of the slightly more ambiguous characters in the book. The plot's good and it's a riveting read. I'm slightly amazed, given the number of basic errors in it, that this is one with a genuine publisher, but the plot does carry you over that to an extent.

2011 books, #41-45

The whisperers, by John Connolly [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2011.

A Charlie Parker book. Brought in to investigate the apparent suicide of an Iraq veteran, Parker uncovers a network of smuggling, and an epidemic of deaths, among the former combatants. Another very gripping John Connolly book, with the usual slightly supernatural elements he introduces. Ironically, I listened to the whole of Saturday Live this morning wondering who the lovely avuncular Irish guest was, and only at the end I caught that it was John Connolly. Like Mark Billingham, obviously someone whose books aren't at all like his personality!

Aberystwyth, mon amour, by Malcolm Pryce. London: Bloomsbury, 2010. Kindle edition.

I'd heard good things about these books from people who also enjoy Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently books and Jasper Fforde, but this first one was disappointing. Louie Knight is a private detective in the Chandler mode, but working in an alternative present Aberystwyth run by Druids. His glamorous client, Myfanwy Montez, a nightclub singer, isn't as she first appears. Somehow, though, Pryce just doesn't really follow through on the premise, and the result is mildly funny but not really funny enough.

Identity crisis, by Debbie Mack. Kindle edition. Also available as print-on-demand from

Tightly-written first novel . Lawyer Sam McRea is acting for a woman in a domestic abuse case when the woman's boyfriend is found dead. Sam's client has disappeared and she needs to track her down. At the same time, she finds she has become a victim of theft when someone has applied for a large loan in her name. The themes of murder, identity theft and the mafia intertwine. A very likeable and entertaining protagonist and an excellently-written plot.

Mennonite in a little black dress, by Rhoda Janzen. Atlantic Books, 2011. Kindle edition.

Rhoda Janzen's husband left her for a guy he'd met at the week she got into a serious car accident. With no alternatives, she leaves hospital to go to her family home, among the Mennonite community she'd fled at the age of 18 and never returned to. Her family and the community welcome her back with strange food and stranger dating advice, and she remembers all the reasons she wanted to leave in the first place, but also the things she didn't realise she'd lost in return. This is a lovely heartwarming book as well as being sharply funny.

An expert in murder, by Nicola Upson. London: Faber and Faber, 2009.

Period thriller with the author and playwright Josephine Tey as the main protagonist. Tey travels to London from the Highlands in the same train compartment as a young milliner who is a fan of the author's work and is coming down to see her play Richard II. Shortly after the train arrives at Kings Cross, the girl is found murdered in the compartment. Tey's friend Archie Penrose, a police inspector, is called in to head the case and Tey finds herself becoming involved in it. A very interesting setting in theatreland of the 1930s with a wide variety of suspects and a few genuinely surprising twists and turns. A nice element is the setting of Scotland Yard where it actually was in the 1930s, in the Norman Shaw buildings in Derby Gate which now house MPs' offices; often the different locations of Scotland Yard, particularly this one, are glossed over.