Monthly Archives: March 2011

iPad drawing

I have started trying out some art apps on the iPad. I’d downloaded a few but without seriously trying them out. But, since starting a local painting course a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d see if any of those apps could help me in my painting. The two I’ve used most in the last week are ArtRage and ASketch.

With ArtRage, I tried importing a photograph as a transparent underlayer and then painting on top of that. This works to a point but you then need to do some serious painting on top of that. I have to say that using ArtRage is just as difficult as using real paint with the advantage being less setting and cleaning up and the wonderful Undo button! It is going to be a while before I can post any of these online!

ASketch is easier to use once you figure out the eccentric way of altering the sketching tool. This is, as the name suggests, an app for sketching only. You get a hard and soft pencil and eraser and that’s it. But it is wonderful to use. I tried copying a couple of b&w photographs from magazines and, while the sketches fall far short of representation, the app itself worked well. I’ll play with that a lot more and, if I get up the courage, may even take it out and do some live drawing!

Those two sketches are up on flickr:

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Book review: London Boulevard

London Boulevard, Ken Bruen, 2001

I’d not come across Ken Bruen before being sent this book (& one by Dennis Lehane which I’ll get to in the next couple of weeks) by Lynsey Dallady of Transworld when she had a big give-away recently. On the strength of this, though, I will definitely be looking out for more of his books.

The first thing that hits you about this book is the voice of the narrator. It is like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on speed. Mitchell is a hard man, a London villain who takes shit from nobody. He reads and quotes from crime authors, poets and popular films.

Mitchell is out after three years in prison and determined not to return but things have a way of happening to him. A mate picks him up, gives him somewhere to live and offers him work. The mate has taken up loan sharking and he wants Mitchell along on collections, as protection and persuasion. He agrees.

Later, on the way to his coming out celebration, he rescues a young woman from muggers, crippling one of them in the process. She puts him in the way of another job, as handyman to her aunt. The aunt is an old once-great actress who lives in a grand house with a dedicated butler. Mitchell takes the job and soon becomes the old woman’s favourite toy. Is the title starting to make sense now? But Mitchell is no Joe Gillis.

Finally, he comes to the attention of a psychopathic gang lord who wants him on his team.

Added to all this is Briony, Mitchell’s little sister. She is not often in the land of the sane, frequently exasperating Mitchell, but he loves her and does his best to smooth out life’s bumpy patches for her.

This is a brilliant, must-read novel for anyone who likes sharp dialogue and violent (but not too graphic) anti-heroes. A word of warning, though. Ignore anything you read about the film being made of this book. From what I can see, its only resemblance to the book is the title and character names. The characters and, especially, the plot are quite different. The comments for the film on IMDB are not promising. Do yourself a favour and get the book instead.

Book review: Sacrifice

Sacrifice, S J Bolton, 2008

This is the last of the novels I chose to read and review in The Great Transworld Crime Caper.

I was hooked on this book by the end of the first page. The narrator’s voice comes through clearly and she is someone you want to follow and listen to. Her story is good although it requires a fair suspension of belief, as do most thrillers. And I do think this is a thriller, rather than a crime novel.

Suspense is at the heart of the thriller. You need to believe that the principal or someone they hold dear is in danger of her life. That danger is exposed quickly in the story – slow starts are death to the thriller – and is then ratcheted up as the story continues. The obstacles pile up, no-one else believes in the threat, and the clock is ticking. Very few thrillers take the time for character development. More work is put into explaining the intricacies of the threat: the structure of terrorist cells, creating lethal viruses, the history of a particular pistol – all that geeky stuff.

Sacrifice can be read as a thriller. It has all the necessary ingredients. Tora Hamilton is a consultant gynaecologist, recently moved with her husband to his home island in the Shetlands. While trying to bury her favourite horse on land attached to their house, she uncovers a woman’s body. The woman had recently given birth, been tattooed with ancient runes and had then been killed by having her heart ripped out. The problems come as the police try to trace the woman.

Tora uses her knowledge and access to hospital databases to discover possible identities for the woman. In doing this, she uncovers birth and death trends on the islands that seem anomalous. Her husband, boss and the senior police officer working the case ridicule her idea of some sort of conspiracy, so she sets out to get more proof. She begins to suspect everyone of being involved, even her husband. She is alone and frightened.

All this is pure thriller writing. But S J Bolton is better than that. Her characters are more than mere ciphers. Tora is well rounded and the other characters, although not as well fleshed out, are believable. The plot is ludicrous but that, too, is standard for the thriller. In real life, conspiracies of more than a few people fall apart all by themselves. And in real life, any innocent person going up against serious villains will quickly be killed. But none of that matters. The plot is sensible within the context of the novel. The story is consistent and that is all we should ask of a thriller.

Tora is not the typical thriller hero, with martial arts skills and access to all types of weapon. She is vulnerable, frightened and largely powerless against the forces confronting her. She is a normal woman plunged into horrifying circumstances. This makes us identify with her and care about her.

S J Bolton has done an excellent job on Sacrifice. Grab it and prepare to lose a few hair raising hours.

Book review: Full Dark House

Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler, 2003

This is the second in ‘The Great Transworld Crime Caper!’ that I’ve been sent to review and the first in the series of Bryant and May mysteries. It has an unusual beginning in that one of the pair (Arthur Bryant) is blown up and killed in the first few pages. His partner, John May, then tries to find out why and by whom. This investigation leads back to the first case the pair worked on, a series of killings in a theatre during the London blitz of the second world war. The bulk of the book relates that case with the rest dealing with the current day investigation.

This is not an easy book to read. I found the writing clunky and off-putting. It switches between multiple points of view, often without a signal and with no link to the plot. The omniscient narrator sticks in his observations and opinions willy-nilly. Characters and the narrator spout chunks of theatrical lore with no justification of plot or motivation. Every now and then the narrator sticks in some observation about how one or the other of the pair spent the next sixty years doing the same thing as they were doing at that point in the plot. All these interventions are jarring. I found myself having to go off and do something else every dozen pages to get over the annoyance.

The primary characters are engaging. There is no shortage of such partnerships in crime story history: the eccentric and the prosaic detective have been paired off since Holmes and Watson. This novel presents enough background (and, weirdly, foreground) of the two that would make the reader look forward to more in the series.

The plot is also interesting. Theatres are always good places for weird goings-on and they do not come much weirder than this. We get ancient Greek myths mixed in with suspicions of Nazi infiltration, elaborate killings inside the theatre with bombings and displacement all around it. All this is entirely satisfying and could do without the modern day mystery.

The book is filled with the usual false leads and red herrings and is more or less tied up at the end. The resolution is as melodramatic as you could wish for from the preceding pages, and as unbelievable as you’d expect.

I would like to get hold of the next book in this series but will borrow it from the library: I’ll only want to buy future episodes in the series if the shortcomings in this one are absent.