Montalbano: The Terracotta Dog Collection 1 episode 4

Montalbano - the terracotta dogBook two and Episode 4 of the Commisario Montalbano series, this starts out as an investigation into a Mafia influenced robbery and arms-cache but decends into the investigation of a cold case.   Salvo stages an arrest at gun point to bring in Tano the Greek – an old man from the old style Mafia. On being transferred to another prison, Tano gets ambushed….there’s a mole in the police. Tano dies but not before he talks to Montalbano, who passes on what was said to the commissioner.

Meanwhile a Vigata supermarket gets raided and the following morning, a truck, still full of stock is found abandoned outside of town. The manager comes in to report the theft, which appears to make no sense – why abandon the truck nearby with the stock still in it?

Based on what Tano has told him, Salvo and the team go looking for a cave up in the mountains, finally finding it and it’s full of weapons and police uniforms.

Salvo’s old headmaster comes to visit, giving him some history of the cave, including the name Lillo Rizzitano. Lillo’s father and grandfather sold stuff on the black market, but it is not known if Lillo survived Allied bombings of 1943 when his house was flattened.

Forensics find some paper in the cave that seems to link the guns to the supermarket robbery. Salvo outlines his theory to the commissioner, that the gun runners used the supermarket to stash the guns following a gun fight, and the two men agree to keep things under wraps.

On a subsequent visit to the cave, Salvo realises it isn’t symmetrical and in pulling the fake wall down, the team finds two bodies guarded by a terracotta dog. Pasquano thinks they have been dead at least 50 years and not killed there.

Mimi complains to Salvo about feeling left out, including not being part of the Tano arrest. There is some almost stereotypical Italian male behaviour, with waving of hands and much sulking/pouting at each other in a kinda macho way. Ultimately Mimi is told to do things Salvo’s way or else. However he ignores the advice and puts a tail on the Supermarket manager.

At their usual meeting place on a deserted runway, Gege warns Salvo that the new guard in the Mafia are offended by Salvo bringing Tano in and it is whilst they are talking that gunmen open fire, killing Gege.  Salvo kills one of the gunmen, but gets shot trying to take down the second. Salvo blames Mimi for getting him shot – by insisting that he gets pulled in on the supermarket case, he puts a tail on the manager, which alerts the Mafia, who then target Salvo – not knowing it was Mimi who had ordered the tail. Turns out lots of people know about their meeting spot, including half the police.il commisario

With Tano dead and Salvo out of action whilst he recovers, the case is effectively closed.    Livia comes to stay whilst Salvo recovers. (I believe that in the book, it is 3 women, not just Livia who comes to watch over him). Once out of hospital, Salvo visits Gege’s mother and they reminisce about the two men growing up together before he gets fed with foodstuffs that are probably not right for a man missing part of his colon.

The headmaster’s wife remembers a school friend (Lisetta Moscatos) who disappeared at same time as Rizzanto, as well as other names – including Mario Tumino.  It’s not entirely clear as to why Salvo takes Livia to the scene (he has caught a courting couple making out here previously), but it ends with her initiating them making out – as usual there is effective use of low lighting, making sure the scene is lit well.

At the public event for the mayor opening a tunnel, a plane flies overhead trailing banner saying Lisetta and Mario. The plane drops leaflets announcing their “reawakening”.

Salvo takes a couple of days off work and waits at home for a call. Cue moody staring off sea, and  topless shots of him swimming. Finally the phone call comes from some one who was there (Lillo Rizzitano, Lisetta’s cousin). Lisetta had run away after being raped by her father. Lillo reunites her with Mario, then leaves them alone. He comes back to find his Uncle Stefano (Lisetta’s father) looking for his daughter, raging like a wounded lover. It’s not Stefano who kills the pair but a hired killer who breaks into the house the following day and shoots them both whilst they sleep. Lillo buries the bodies in the cave, glad they are together forever.

As the old man takes a nap on his bed, Salvo finds the letter Livia has left him before she left, telling him that despite his selfishness and her fears she still loves him.

In writing this review, it seems there are some differences between the book and the show (I’ve only seen the latter), so it’ll be interesting to see what the differences actually are when I get around to reading the book.

Reading Update

Well it’s been nearly a month since the last (physical) book came into the house, but for some reason my reading has been sparse, and my reviewing even less so. There’s at least 3 books that I have completed where I have almost finished the reviews for but for which I still need to go over again to make sure I’m happy.

cluffI started reading The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester, having seen Bookertalk‘s review of it, and I think I know what she was getting at. I subsequently found that British Library Crime Classics publishing books get on netgalley via Poisoned Pen Press, and asked, then got, three books in. Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm is the first of the three I started and, well, it’s a diffthe lavender houseerent style of writing, and one that I’m going to take a while getting used to.
The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd is the last book in the #Quercussummer event, and it’s the last physical book to come in. It’s been sitting there since the first week in August and since it’s now week three, and I really should review it by the end of the month (ish) I decided I had better get cracking. The only one of the three to be in hardback, I’ve done 150 pages so far, and doing ok.

So the plan is to finish The Lavender House, complete and schedule some reviews, finish the Sergeant Cluff book, take another run at The Female Detective…and then who knows? There’s still a lot of books on my shelves that need to be got through and I am, apparently 5 books behind my challenge of reading 60 books this year, which is appalling by my standards. I just haven’t sat down and done a good run at reading this year for some reason.

Blog Post Commenting

One of the tips always churned out for getting more traffic for your blog is to go out and comment on other people’s blogs. In turn you are supposed to respond to people who leave comments on your blog, and therefore build up a relationship with people who are more likely to return in order to respond, and comment on other posts.Lafayette College Library

However, many people find it hard to comment on other blogs, either at all or in what could be classed as a meaningful way. Just how many times can you write “nice post!” before coming across as insincere and lazy? How does that start a conversation to build up a relationship?

Quite often this is because the original blog poster has not provided a “hook” that the reader can latch onto in order to start something. This can be easier on free text posts like this, where the author can ask questions, provide tips or have a “controversial” stance on a specific topic (hopefully not TOO controversial!) that can spark some kind of debate.

It’s a bit harder for review posts, as it’s quite a personal post in revealing the author’s reaction to a certain item. I suppose the best opportunity here is when a blog reader has a different reaction to a book/film/item than the blog author. I’ve recently done some reviews of TV programs rather than books, and have had comments from people who haven’t seen the show (and now want to) or have been to some of the locations described and agree with my description of what’s presented on screen.

I have rarely read the same book at the same time as bloggers I interact with, but recently I’ve seen someone review a book, and I have instantly moved it to the top of my list in order to see whether I agree with her.  I have let her know that something will come out hopefully soon, and we can compare reactions.

As a blog author it can also be difficult to respond to comments. How are you supposed to respond to comments like “Nice post!”. Errm, thanks? Now What? If I don’t respond will this person get upset, but if they wanted a reaction, perhaps they should have written a more useful comment?

This post was prompted by someone commenting on a post and basically said “I’ve nominated you for a challenge, please visit my site to find out about it”. Excuse me?  Blatant case of clickbait, apropos of nothing at all, and no attempt at a developing a relationship (didn’t even make reference to the post they had commented on – even spambots can do that!).  Anyway went straight in the trash.

I’ve also had people try and submit review requests via commenting on reviews I’ve done of someone else’s book. 1) that’s unbelievably rude to both me and the other author and 2) I have a review policy that clearly states how and when I will accept review requests – and via comments is certainly not the way to do it.

So bloggers and commenters: how do you give people the opportunity to comment on your posts? What makes you comment on a post and how do you look to get a response back?  Do you ever feel guilty for not commenting on a post, or not replying to something written?

 

 

Sunday Salon: Writing Reviews

bookshelfI saw a post titled Points to consider when writing reviews over at Girl Who Reads, which reminded me that I have my own list of things to consider when writing a review.

I have  a set of questions, cobbled together over the years from various sources (including reading group guides) and I use the “Copy Post” feature in WordPress to create a new draft post and then start building other information into the post. I don’t follow every question (sometimes I don’t follow them at all!) but in summary, here are the subjects I cover:

General Book Information

How would you recognise the book if you saw it in the store? If you picked it up, what do you need to take it further?  Therefore I include the  Book Cover and Book Blurb, both usually taken from somewhere like Goodreads or Librarything. This information therefore is generally provided by the publishers or author – I have had no issues with image rights.

I live in the UK, so don’t necessarily have to abide by the FTC rules, however, I do get a lot of books from publishers, authors etc, so I think it only right that I tell you where I got it, especially if I didn’t have to pay for it. Where I think it appropriate, I will include a link to the publishers.

Summary of the book

This is not a full list of the questions I have, but should give you an indications of the subjects to consider

Characters

  • Are the characters convincing? Do they come alive for you? How would you describe them — as sympathetic, likeable, thoughtful, intelligent, innocent, naive, strong or weak? Something else?
  • Are characters developed psychologically and emotionally? Do you have access to their inner thoughts and motivations? Or do you know them mostly through dialogue and action?
  • Do any characters change or grow by the end of the story? Do they come to view the world and their relationship to it differently?
  • How were the secondary characters? Were they three dimensional?

Writing Style

  • Does the book engage you – do you want to keep turning pages
  • Why or why not?
  • Who tells the story—a character (1st-person narrator)? Or an unidentified voice outside the story (3rd-person narrator)? Does one person narrate—or are there shifting points of view?
  • Did you enjoy the POV(s)?

Plot

  • Did you notice any plot threads that didn’t make sense?
  • Was the plot believable?
  • Did the world building make sense?
  • Is the plot chronological? Or does it veer back and forth between past and present?
  • Is the ending a surprise or predictable? Does the end unfold naturally? Or is it forced, heavy handed, or manipulative? Is the ending satisfying, or would you prefer a different ending?
  • What is the story’s central conflict—character vs. character…vs. society…or vs. nature (external)? Or an emotional struggle within the character (internal)? How does the conflict create tension?

Additional Links

Where I think it will add to the post, I will add in additional media – this could be links to posts on my own site, or someone else’s (I still get traffic from someone else’s review of a book I’d read, so that’s one way to build community within your niche).

For books that are somehow related to TV or Film work, I hunt down some footage that I believe will add some additional context or visual content. See my posts on Versailles and Practical Magic as examples.  Videos should NOT be set to autoplay!

About the author

If I haven’t already written something about the author (e.g. they’re not the ones who gave me the book), I will include details of the Author Web, some spiel (generally from their website or a bio on Goodreads). I will also tend to include their twitter details, either in the text of the post, or when publicising it

 

In the end

Is there anything you’d like me to include that I’m missing? Anything you’d like me to drop?

 

 

#BookReview: Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh

Enter a Murderer

The script of the Unicorn Theatre’s new play uncannily echoes a quarrel in the star’s dressing room. And the stage drama gets all too real when charming Felix Gardener shoots his blustering rival, Arthur Surbonardier, dead-with a gun Arthur himself loaded with blanks. Or did he? How the live bullets got there, and why, make for a convoluted case that pits Inspector Roderick Alleyn against someone who rates an Oscar for a murderously clever performance.

Paper version picked up from my bookgroup.  I originally listened to this back in 2011, but for some reason have never produced a review.  This is the second of the Alleyn stories (before he marries Troy or starts working deeper in the Government), and it starts with Nigel Bathgate inviting him to watch a play at the Unicorn. There are underlying tensions, however, mainly due to some of the actors being snubbed over certain roles, and it’s during the performance that Surbonardier is killed. The question is: who killed him? Everyone knows who fired the shot, but no one knows who loaded the gun with live ammo.

It’s a multi stream story, where Nigel gets to talk to “do the dirty” in interviewing some of the characters – a method employed in later books by using Troy instead of Nigel. Surbonardier is in love with Stephanie, who in turn is in love with Felix. Throw in Surbonardier’s uncle Jacob Saint, the theatre owner who has an apparent side line in strong narcotics, as well as some of the back stage staff and there’s no end of potential culprits.

Still unmarried at this point, Alleyn does have his head turned by Stephanie Vaughan, a rather good actress, even though he knows he’s being played. Bathgate is kept on side by getting access to the exclusive part of the story, but only be allowing Alleyn to have first sight of his copy.  There are a couple of red herrings – Saint for instance gets arrested – and for a while it looks like he’s going to be blamed for the murder, but in reality the police have enough evidence to pick him up for the supply of illicit drugs (including heroin).

It is clear that each of the major characters all have reasons to kill Surbonardier, and what frustrates Alleyn and his team is that he has too many motives, rather than not enough.

All the main players are followed, and when one of the policemen gets given the slip, he unfortunately makes what turns out to be a fatal mistake, but which gives Alleyn the chance to catch the killer during the standard denouement at the end where Alleyn brings everyone together in the theatre to recreate the scene in the play where Surbonardier is killed.

So overall, it’s early days still, and I dont think that this is the best in the series as the characters are still being developed. I must admit that it took me a while to finish the last 50 pages or so (bad, considering that the books is under 200 pages), so I seemed to have lost some impetus somewhere.

 

#BookReview: Oddjobs by Heide Goody and Iain M Grant

Book Review OddJobs by Heide Goode, Iain M GrantIt’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Incomprehensible horrors from beyond are going to devour our world but that’s no excuse to get all emotional about it. Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible.

In her first week on the job, Morag has to hunt down a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

The first book in a new comedy series by the creators of ‘Clovenhoof’, Oddjobs is a sideswipe at the world of work and a fantastical adventure featuring amphibian wannabe gangstas, mad old cat ladies, ancient gods, apocalyptic scrabble, fish porn, telepathic curry and, possibly, the end of the world before the weekend.

Published by Pigeon Park Press and provided to me by the authors in exchange for a review.  I’ve read a number of their books before including Beelzebelle (part of the Clovenhoof series), Hellzapoppin and Godsquad. Oddjobs is very similar (but not identical) in terms of the style of humour to Clovenhoof, but because it’s the start of a new series it’s subtly different.

It starts a break-in at the Vault – an underground facility beneath the new Library Of Birmingham that stores artificats aligned with the coming apocalypse. Meanwhile Morag is on her way on the overnight Calendonian Sleeper to Birmingham.  She is being “transferred” to the West Midlands office, officially because they are under-resourced, but unofficially because of killing one of the August Handmaidens of Prein the day before.

The story is split across the week, where very little sleeping gets done, and where sleep is usually replaced by copious drinking of alcohol and eating curries.  It takes place in various parts of Birmingham, some real, some not (and some re-appropriated for different uses).  I started reading the book whilst sitting in an indie sushi restaurant in Grand Central Station – so it did lead to the weird feeling of whether some people I know would appear in the book (they didn’t).  Travel around the city for Morag is usually done with the help of a fleet of wordless taxi drivers, who know where she needs to be, often before she does, because of being mind-controlled by one of the aliens.

The world building is good, with little time spent on exposition – mainly about how the team were set up in order to make the coming apocalypse more acceptable. There are various different teams and I only hope it’s Morag’s sleepiness that she’s not up to speed in taking part in the office “Bullshit Bingo” during the meeting with the marketing department.  Some of the baddies are disgusting enough – the description of Ingrid dealing with the poisoned Yo-Morgantus is suitably unappealing as is the sex life one of the August Handmaidens of Prein.

Have to note that I did spot one red herring perhaps a little early, but I have read a lot of Golden Age crime, as well as watched enough Buffy the vampire slayer to know that these things happen. The execution of the event (if not the event itself) was new and novel enough and in keeping with the rest of the story.  It’s not got the same slapstick humour as the Clovenhoof series, but still has a certain level of surrealness  that will make it appealing to particular readers.

About the Authors

I did an interview with Heide and Iain a few months ago, ahead of their Beezebelle book and it can be found here.

#BookReview:Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibilty and Sea monsters Book Review

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest—and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

Paper copy from my bookgroup collection, to help bring down my TBR!

Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, one of the other books in this series, this book deviates quite heavily from the overall world created by Jane Austen. London is replaced by Sub Station Beta, an underwater domed world off the west coast of England, where people travel along canals, fire is not allowed (so there’s no cooking, and food is cold and made from sachets similar to military rations) and the sea creatures outside prove they are the biggest threat.

The Dashwoods are removed from their house, to live on a desolated island off the coast. Despite no other families living on the island, they have a reasonable social life, in no small part to their gregarious neighbour (and landlord) who is married to a woman he kidnapped (having slaughtered all the men in her family) on a raiding party one year.

The overall structure of Sense and Sensibility remains the same, even if the execution has changed significantly. Willoughby is a gentleman hunter, who looks dashing in wetsuit, and Colonel Brandon, who pins after Marianne has the unfortunate affliction of having tentacles on his face rather than a decent mustache. Edward Ferrars and all the other beaux make appearances and generally get into trouble as per expected.

Rather in two minds about it – I like P&P&Z, and could see the effort put in to be as close as possible to the original (not only in narrative but language as well). S&S&SM was cleverly written – the world was well created and the humour and the horror were well written. The use of S&S seemed a little forced however. Had the author not been constrained by trying to keep in close to the original….I think it could have been funnier, more farcical and overall freer.