I mentioned yesterday that one of the books I’ve been reading is in the genre of Mormon crime fiction (though Mette Harrison may be that genre in its entirety.) As a fellow Goodreads reviewer commented, His Right Hand is very badly written, the narrative is interrupted by large swodges of exposition and if I could critique it in one phrase it would be the time-honoured show don’t tell. Harrison never passes up the opportunity to explain Mormon history (less is more might be another useful phrase) and dialogue is strewn with so many of these snippets that to read it is like navigating an obstacle course. The main character also has long and rather irritating periods of self-analysis in which she alternately considers it her responsibility to leap in and sort things out and feels guilty for everything that goes wrong; both equally unrealistic postures.

Basically, it’s a murder mystery set in a Mormon community not far from Salt Lake City. A prominent member of the church is found murdered and – here I could warn of spoiler alerts but you’re hardly likely to read it so I won’t bother – in this seemingly perfect family all is not as it seems. Not only is the deceased legally a woman though living as a man (the transgender narrative pursues me everywhere) his wife is not the sweet submissive woman she appears. There’s a gay extra-marital affair and an illegitimate daughter as well as another gay son, all fuelled by more batches of cookies than you could ever wish to lay eyes on, baking cookies being the denominator of femininity in this community. But what kept me ploughing through this was not so much the plot as the insight it afforded into Mormon society and the slow revelation that those inside it care far more about maintaining the structures than about maintaining the people. There are complex layers of authority and what we in the Society of Friends would call oversight, but they have more to do with policing than caring, and they don’t shrink from casting out those who do not conform.

I can’t recommend this book as a novel, but I guess if you’re interested in finding out where Mormons are at, it’s as good a guide as any.

Now: it has just come to my attention that I started this blog intending to write about something else altogether. Synchronicity, when things pop up in a random sequence of coincidences, is something I notice from time to time. You may be thinking of a song you haven’t heard for years, switch on the radio and there it is. Or you might be talking about a person you haven’t seen since childhood and they pop up on Facebook. That sort of thing. It seems to mean something but since Jung first came up with the idea, nobody has been able to say precisely what; and so it was that having picked up this book without any idea of the theme, I also picked up Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet. Though both are crime novels, the settings (Baker St and Utah) could hardly be further apart. Or so you might think; yet turning to the rarely-dramatised Part Two of Conan Doyle, what do we find? ‘The Country of the Saints’ in which an as yet unknown character finds himself in Utah and meets the caravan led by Brigham Young. This turns out to be a lengthy back-story to the main murder. Who’d have thought?

I mean, what are the chances of picking up two crime novels more or less at random – in the UK – and finding they both have a Mormon theme?

And how am I doing with watching less TV? Not so bad; last night I read for a bit, then got the keyboard out and played before watching a couple of episodes of Doc Martin. Then reading some more before bed. Total viewing time: 1.5 hours. Not too bad.

Kirk out

A Convenient Waterfall?

I’ve been thinking some more about Rebus since I wrote that last post, and wondering if Rankin is trying to kill off the golden goose.  It’s odd to think of Rebus as in any way golden, since he’s such a curmudgeon.  Contrary, bad-tempered, aggressive, unhealthy (almost terminally so) and yet somehow always on the side of the angels, Rebus has kept us all guessing for nearly thirty years, since ‘Knots and Crosses’ first appeared in 1987.

And yet in this latest book I can’t help wondering if Rankin’s heart is really in it – or whether, like his revered predecessor Conan Doyle (there are a number of references to Sherlock in his work, including the character Brian Holmes and the Chief Inspector ‘the Farmer’ Watson) he is looking for a way out.  It wouldn’t be surprising; there must be a limit to the number of falls Rebus can take; the number of fights he can survive and – latterly – the number of ways in which, as a retired policeman, he can inveigle his way into an investigation.  In ‘Rather be the Devil’ he nearly cops it (no pun intended) once more as a shadow on his lung is being investigated – but instead of being a force for suspense it’s a background detail, as though his survival were never in question.  Which maybe it wasn’t: you can’t imagine Rankin’s publishers being happy about Rebus dying.  Not unless there was a handy waterfall nearby…

A propos of which, I am very happy to note that the BBC series ‘Sherlock’ is due to return very soon:

Can’t wait for that.

In the meantime, I shall re-read ‘Rather Be The Devil’ before I spend my Waterstone’s voucher.

Kirk out

Doc Martin, Doc Martens, Fake Doc Martens…

There’s a theme to this last week and it is… Doc Marten’s (or Martins).  Was it the fact that I had recently acquired an electric-blue and frankly utterly stunning pair of DM’s, not to mention a bright-red pair of fake shoes of that ilk, that encouraged me to watch a series I had hitherto ignored?  Who can say?  I guess we’ll never know – but whether it was that I didn’t want to sully my ever-keen memories of ‘Men Behaving Badly’*,

by watching Martin Clunes in another role, it was only this week that I finally caught up with him in the BBC’s ‘Doc Martin.’  For some reason I had thought this was about a vet (I think I misread it as ‘Bob Martin’) but it is in fact about a GP, and is not only an engaging series but an interesting one.  I actually care about whether this curmudgeonly medic with all the social skills of Sherlock Holmes, a failed surgeon who developed a phobia about blood and who has settled for being a GP in a Cornish village – I actually care about whether he succeeds or not in his job.

His predecessor appears to have been lax and irresponsible and to have just doled out drugs willy-nilly: but Doc Martin refuses to play.  He makes penetrating and accurate diagnoses and goes out of his way to help his patients in spite of the efforts of the locals to frustrate him.  The worst of these is his receptionist, a young woman in tie-dye and dreadlocks who would make Dirk Gently’s secretary look efficient.’s_Holistic_Detective_Agency

So go watch.  But then again, I expect you already have.

* or, ‘Les Hommes qui se Comportent Mal’, as we used to call it.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand finally…….. here’s today’s top spam comment:

Piece of writing writing is also a excitement, if you be familiar
with afterward you can write if not it is complicated to write.

You can’t argue with that!

Kirk out

Life on the i-player? Elementary, my dear Son…

It’s been a varied and interesting week on i-player this week; as well as revisiting ‘Dad’s Army’ I was able to watch the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, which I haven’t seen for about 30 years and which I found as disturbing as ever.

Then I was introduced to ‘Death in Paradise’ – very enjoyable but sadly no longer available, and on Sunday I happened across a hastily-compiled tribute to the late Mel Smith, introduced by his partner* Griff Rhys-Jones.

Continuing that theme in the evening was a ‘Not the Nine o’clock News’ retrospective, and then during the week I made the shock discovery of an Actual Human Being appearing on a real-life programme.  Yes, there are still one or two around, it seems – one or two people who still know how to be genuine and spontaneous on TV – and the cricketer Phil Tufnell is one:

Mind you, that was a repeat, so by now he’s probably had some media training and been told not to be so genuine and up-front about himself…

But!  The thing that totally blew me away this week was the discovery of the new Sherlock Holmes.  I confess it freely: when I heard they were doing a new adaptation my reaction was to yawn.  I’m done with old Sherlock, I thought.  Ever since the excellent Jeremy Brett series I have lost interest in the great detective and decided that he is terminally outdated.

How wrong could I be?  And who better to show me that than the time-travelling writer, the genius that is Stephen Moffat?  They have done an absolute blinder with this series; in fact I have so many things I want to say, all trying to burst out of me at once, that I can barely put finger to keyboard.

This series is as far as it’s possible to get from the classic Basil Rathbone and his buffoon sidekick (‘By Jove, Holmes!  How do you do it?’ etc etc).  Benedict Cumberpatch is terrific as a slightly autistic, brilliant but utterly infuriating Holmes, and Martin Freeman is just about perfect as an exasperated Watson frantically trying to teach him some basic social skills.  The problem with a modern Holmes is of course that the police are now the forensic experts and they have even less need of amateur sleuths than they did in Conan Doyle’s day: and they have got round this by a combination of Holmes’ own use of modern techniques, such as Google Street View and his own forensic lab, and the sheer pace of the narrative.  The man’s brilliance of observation remains as much in the forefront as ever (‘you have marks on your wrists from a desk, meaning that you have recently been studying hard’), while Mycroft sits aloof in the background, inhabiting a room in a gentlemen’s club where no talking is allowed.

Andrew Scott plays Moriarty brilliantly as a gut-churning, glistening, writhing, spitting, hate-filled and manipulative version of evil – and the way they do the Reichenbach Falls is nothing short of genius.  So I demand that you watch this now because it has only two days left to live on i-player:

I watched the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ episode with Daniel and suggested that he look at the Basil Rathbone films for comparison.  He said that he would.

And here is the Mel Smith stuff.  We are told there will be a proper tribute in the Spring:

Kirk out

*though not in the Biblical sense

It’s a Crime not to Read This

So… on Thursday I went along to the inaugural meeting of the local Crime Reading group: this took place in the library and turned out to be an all-women affair, though the facilitator, an ex-librarian, was male.  He proved to be very knowledgeable about crime and got the discussion going; though people didn’t need much encouragement, being a very vocal group.  We began with our favourite authors: M C Beaton was the first to be mentioned, an author towards the cosy end of crime who was referred to throughout as Mrs Beaton, which amused me.  Ian Rankin featured heavily, of course, as did Patricia Cornwell – whom I have yet to read – Kathy Reichs and Val McDermid were also mentioned; many people liked Agatha Christie (which I don’t) and what was surprising in retrospect was how little Sherlock Holmes was mentioned.  A sign of the times perhaps?

There was a potential split between those who wanted to focus purely on books and saw TV adaptations as irrelevant (‘I have only books and radio 4 in my house’ said one) and those – one woman in particular – who seemed very focussed on TV programmes and admitted to reading only ‘short, easy books.’  I suspect most people are like me, wanting to focus on books but also interested in the dialogue between books and other forms – and in particular, whether future books are influenced by past adaptations.  Some people claimed that Ian Rankin’s books, for example, had been changed by TV interpretations of Rebus.  So that will be interesting.

For next month we have a book to read which is based in the Island of Lewis off the coast of Scotland, called Black House.  I’m finding it interesting so far and he evokes the setting well:

And so to the Ale Wagon, where Jan and I discussed Scottish independence and whether the vote would go through if they had it tomorrow.  She reckoned it might…

…and going back to yesterday’s theme, there’s an awful lot of talk about tennis injuries and why the courts are so slippery, but few people seem to mention the obvious: the utterly crappy summer we’ve been having.


Kirk out

Do Go ‘-on’

Mark ejaculated this morning.  No, wait!  don’t go away – I mean in the verbal sense; in the sense in which Dr Watson was heard to ejaculate (entirely without irony) in response to a particularly incomprehensible statement or perplexing situation brought about by his friend Sherlock Holmes.

The cause of Mark’s – er, utterance was his milk.  For! he has a 2-litre bottle of milk which has been Going On Forever.  He bought and opened it before Christmas and as he just finished it this morning he gave it a sniff and said ‘It’s still not off!’  To which I wittily replied, ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter!’  I thought that was quite good, but sadly he then had to go and spoil the moment by pointing out that if it had gone off it would be yoghurt rather than butter…

I have to report that I have this week come across two people who really liked JK Rowling’s latest book, The Casual Vacancy.  The first was Daniel’s girlfriend, and the second was a rather engaging blogger in Newfoundland (or as Mark pronounces it, ‘Nwfndlnd’) whose name, alas, I have forgot.  Let’s see if I can find it… nope, sorry.  You’ll have to wait until Mark gets back from Loughborough.

Got it!  She replied to my comment so here’s the link:

Preparations are afoot here for Daniel’s 16th tomorrow… chiefly buying a sufficiently geeky card (not as easy as you might think) and a piece of wrapping paper vast enough to cover his massive present (and no, it isn’t an erection of some kind; fnarr fnarr!)*.  I’m not going to tell you in case he breaks the habit of a lifetime and actually reads this blog…

So, to conclude – I meant to put this in yesterday but decided that I’d ranted enough; but I can no longer contain my rising passion **at this – wait for it – phenomenon.

Did you get that?  Phenome-what?  Phenomen-ON!  ON!  On!  ON!  ON!!!

Here’s the deal.  PhenomenA – is plural.  PhenomenON – is singular!  Got that?  Good.   So don’t let me hear you say, as people DAILY do on the radio, ‘this particular phenomena is…’ or ‘this is a phenomena of the…’ or ‘the phenomena of the fiscal cliff is…’


Deep, calming breaths; deep calming breaths…

Kirk out

*enough with the innuendoes – Ed

** what did I just say? – Ed