Friday, 29 November 2013

Philip Kerr: A Man Without Breath

Philip Kerr seems to be sticking with the idea of keeping his Bernie Gunther stories simple, or at least respecting the Aristotelian unities. A Man Without Breath picks about a year after Prague Fatale, when Bernie has bounced into the otherworldly irony of a job in the Wehrmacht's War Crimes Unit. Before you ask, no, they're not there to make sure that War Crimes happen in a suitably efficient way. They're there to investigate and document the war crimes the Allies are committing against Germans. I couldn't decide whether Kerr was tickled by the irony that such a thing even existed, or was pursuing his earlier agenda of reminding us that the war didn't so much have good guys and bad guys as winners and losers. 

Bernie starts off trying to get himself a witness to the British sinking of a German hospital ship, but before long he finds himself dragged into the German investigation of the Katyn Wood massacre. By 1943, when the Germans tripped over thousands of Polish officers butchered by the Russians in 1939, German massacres in the same area had been so extensive that the initial reaction seems to have been to put someone on a charge for failing to kick enough dirt over his work. Once it dawned on them that they'd found one of the few mass graves in the neighbourhood they hadn't filled themselves, it seemed like a propaganda dream come true, and Goebbels mobilised an international tribunal of investigation into the beastly doings of the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile the SS was murdering 13,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, so it's borderline miraculous that the gravitational pull from Goebbels' balls didn't pull the moon out of its orbit.

Bernie is, thus, and as usual, neck deep in gothic levels of moral confusion even before he starts dicking about with day to day corruption in the German High Command and the hapless efforts by what was left of the Prussian military aristocracy to schwack Hitler. As I've often said, even bad people hated Hitler. Turns out effete snobs hated him too, despite the danger and their own lack of native talent for plotting anything more complicated than pouring piss out of a boot. Bernie's effortless talent for annoying the powerful ensures that he's on the wrong end of literally every single one of the plots which collide in his neighbourhood, and by the time the book reaches its anti-climax, he's so screwed that the only way Kerr can save him is get Admiral Canaris to walk in from off-stage like the world's creepiest spymaster deus ex machina. Never has the sheer improbability of Bernie's continuing survival been more shabbily apparent, and I was suddenly unsurprised that Kerr is taking a break from Bernie to write another of his high concept pot-boilers.

However, in happy news for women everywhere, finally a woman who Bernie has had sex with gets out of  a book alive. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sons of Anarchy; Season 6; dare we imagine a Sons without terrible Irish accents?

Well, episode 11 of Sons done drop, and with it they done drop Clay, at long, long last. But first someone put a long overdue bullet right through  Galen O'Shea's smirking implausible face. I've been dreaming of THAT day. Galen's not-quite-right northern accent has been bugging me for as long as I've been surrounded by real ones, to the extent that now that he's finally out of our lives, I googled the actor to see what his excuse was. Turns out he's from Kerry, which explains everything. Southerners, as I've daily been reminded, do terrible nordie accents.

Season 6 has been driven by Jax's crusade to get the Sons out of guns, which has had to surf past the rampaging lunacy of them ever being in guns in the first place and the further lunacy that Galen's nutso Real IRA man was so wedded to the Sons as the only possible middlemen for his vast arms marketing empire. Jax's plan is to get out facilitating mass murder by moving into whoremongering, and he really seems to think it's a step up. Ordinarily I'd look at a plan like that and say "Your mother must be so proud" but then Jax's mother is Gemma Morrow….

There's still two episodes to go, in which presumably Tara's bonkers scheme to get out of Charming with her kids is going to go even more malevolently wrong than it already has. Of course, the real suspense is over whether we've got all these plastic paddies out of Charming once and for all, but I know better than to get too optimistic.

In other news, Donal Logue blew up in the hangar. I'd been looking forward to watching him mess the Sons up all the way through this season, and instead he had a complete meltdown and was dead by episode six, by which stage it was a blessed relief to see him getting off the screen before he ruined all my happy memories of everything else he'd done. Mind you, at least he took Otto with him. That was something. 

But the big news is Clay is gone. After guns, Clay has been Sons' biggest problem for a couple of years now. On the one hand, Ron Perlman is awesome, and you could see how the team didn't want to let go of an asset like that. On the other hand, Clay should have been dead years ago. It was getting harder and harder to believe the stories which were somehow keeping him alive, no matter how much Ron Perlman did to make you buy them. Clay had to go, if anything else was going to make any sense. And with him gone; with that epic presence finally eased out; the rest of the cast have got a chance to fill the space with something new. Are we going to see them step up in the last two episodes? 

The Family: There is no limit to Luc Besson's villainy

I complained, once upon a time, that Luc Besson had stopped directing good movies in favour of producing terrible ones at a much greater rate. Then he started directing again. Hmmmm. I shoulda stayed quiet. The Family is his latest movie, and the surprise is not that it's set in France and has a problematic attitude to visitors, but that Besson somehow got Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones to star in it. The mind reels. Has anyone see their families recently? Are they all chained up in a basement somewhere in Serbia? 

The Family, in its way, represents great value for money, in that it's two bad movies for the time and money of only one. On the one hand, it's a not very funny comedy about a mafia family ruining the peace and tranquility of a bucolic French town out of boredom, spite and a malevolent sense of entitlement. On the other hand, it's a not particularly well executed action drama about a mafia family on the run from platoons of implacably insane hit men. There are fitful flickers of how either one could have been a pretty good movie, but somehow knowing that something could have been better seems to make it worse by contrast.

I know most of this going in, but I was in the mood for something somewhat dumb, and I took the view that Robert de Niro had to lift the thing above merely terrible. And there are moments when he does; his scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are a faint echo of much better work they've both done; they feel like a couple of alter kackers gossiping on the porch about the better times, but they're charming somehow. The rest of the time; meh. Part of the joke is that the Family are terrible terrible people who hurt anyone who doesn't give them their way immediately; but beating the crap out of a glib plumber or dragging a supercilious executive behind your car because you didn't like their manners … doesn't play funny, somehow. They don't deserve it, and it's horrible, not hilarious. Though there is a scene when Dianna Agron absolutely demolishes a creep with a tennis racket which I think should open every secondary school "relationships and sexuality" class from now on. 

There are scenes here and there which suggest a much funnier movie, in which de Niro only imagines doing these horrible things and then resigns himself to the need to be low key and reasonable; that would have been a much smarter way to go. More than that, you kind of wind up rooting for the real mafia to show up quickly and whack the bunch of them so that it can all be over. Instead, they're practically the only people who survive the apocalypse which descends on the small town when the mafia finally, through coincidence so implausible it starts being funny again, catches up with them.

Still, it says an awful lot about how the mighty are fallen that I spent most of the movie hoping that Domenick Lombardozzi would get out of it alive. He plays one of the two FBI men on the protective detail for de Niro and co, and the moment I saw that gormless face, I said "Oh God, they're relying on Herc. They're doomed." For most of the movie, Herc is the sweetly dumb soft centre to the action, and just about the only likeable character for the audience to root for. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Iain M Banks: The Hydrogen Sonata

When I blogged  Surface Detail, I complained that Banks was getting caught with mission creep. Having set Consider Phlebas around the edges of a galactic war that characters in The Hydrogen Sonata are still talking about a thousand years later, he was making it harder to top the fireworks in the various Culture books which came after it. It continues to be my view that the best of the Culture books is the deeply creepy Use of Weapons, which is all about a nice manageable local mess and the damage it does. But no-one ever listens to me, and Banks went on dialling it up, with Surface Detail tackling heaven and hell, having mined out reality some time back.

For his last SF book, and a book which he must have known would be his last book, he took another swing at the afterlife, trying to set a book in and around the last days of a civilisation which is "Subliming". In most of the Culture books, there have been passing references to Subliming, as something which civilisations do when they've exhausted reality's potential and move to an ethereal plane, never to be heard from again. This must have seemed like a fitting capper to his career, an apposite note to go out on. I suspect that it went off the road pretty early on when he realised that the moment you describe the indescribable, you've ruined it. So instead, the Gzilt civilisation's move to the ethereal plane is basically a big shiny backdrop to a pretty routine saga of political skulduggery and AI chicanery, both well trodden areas for Banks. 

One of the minor paradoxes for me in enjoying all those Culture books is that while I love the idea of his vast, effortlessly canny ships with their unbeatable Minds, once he slings more than two or three of them into the action they start to blur into one another no matter how much effort he puts into the funny names for them. In The Hydrogen Sonata, Mistake Not… would have been plenty of Ship all on its own, but it's just one of dozens, and more is not more when you're chucking well-nigh invulnerable dei ex machina at the page.  

In a way, The Hydrogen Sonata is a retread of Consider Phlebas; against a backdrop of something huge and complicated, one kinda-human is off on a scavenger hunt for a secret which might change everything. Or might not. It's a perfectly serviceable plot, but it's not anything like the best that Banks can do. It's also kind of a stupid way to engage with the theme I think he really was going after. The whole point of Sublimation, as it's always been explained in the past, is that the civilisation in question has risen above the material and short-sighted day to day nonsense we all live with, and is ready for something else. But there's a whole political chicanery sub-plot involving the Francis Urquhart of the Gzilt and his beavering away to cut deals on the eve of a phase-change which will render all the deals completely pointless. Something doesn't make sense here; either these guys are ready for the infinite and beyond such pettiness, or they're not, in which case why is the infinite even on the agenda? It's never properly teased out. The irony of a man making pointless deals because it's all he knows how to do - there's book in that, but this book isn't it.

Banks was starting to lose his edge (or I was starting to want different things from my fiction) as he got older, and I knew that this was a book where he wouldn't have been at this best; he simply didn't have the time to get it right. So I didn't expect this to be a magnificent send-off for a mighty talent. I expected it to fizzle a bit, and still to enjoy it on the back of the really good ones from years before. What upsets me is not so much that I'm disappointed in the book, but my feeling that as he got to the end of it, Banks himself must have been feeling disappointed. Facing into the end (with his waspish humour more than intact; he announced his fatal cancer by saying he'd asked his girlfriend to do him the honour of becoming his widow), he must have wanted The Hydrogen Sonata to say something striking about tranquility in the face of extinction, and the value of a life lived to make a difference in the here and now (I'm not guessing; Banks has always been pretty clear about not believing in an afterlife). I wish it had been a better book, not for me, but for him. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Gravity; Space for great direction

Gravity is a surprisingly short movie, until you start to think about how little plot it's got and how they'd have ruined it if they had to spin it out a bit longer. Cuaron and his team decided to keep it short and simple and get the short and simple thing exactly right. Better call, not least because if they'd run it up to the more usual two hour plus mark of a big budget movie, I'd probably have had a heart attack from the accumulated roller coaster shock.

For all the simplicity of the plot, there's a lot to think about in Gravity. For one thing, it hammers home just how precarious humanity's little toehold in space is. Everything is ridiculously difficult in space, and it only takes one small thing - any of millions of small things - to go wrong and kill you. For another thing, it gets you thinking about the fragility of things we've started to take for granted. The driver of the whole plot is that the Russians screw up destroying an obsolete satellite, scattering debris throughout its orbit. The debris knocks out more satellites, which splinter and knock out more, till a cascade of high speed shrapnel wipes out everything in its path, including the International Space Station and the Shuttle which George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are space-walking around. Clooney's Matt Kowalski comments drily "There goes half of America's Facebook." And most of its TV and phone networks, not to mention the internet and satnav.

Don't shrug. The internet and satnav now play nearly as big a role in making sure there's food in your supermarkets as farmers do. No internet, no inventory and ordering systems. A clean sweep through the satellites holding that stuff together; civilisation teeters. It's an old truism that no culture is more then four missed meals from anarchy.

Cuaron doesn't waste any time on the mere destruction of our modern way of life; he's got something much more immediate to sort out. Are Kowalski and Sandra Bullock's Ryan ("my father wanted a boy") Stone going to make it back to earth as anything more than glowing debris? As I keep saying, keep your action personal and immediate; none of us can really imagine the end of the world, but we can all imagine the end of our own world. Or, to quote Ryan Stone again, we all know we're going to die, but it's different when you know it's today.

Cuaron's calling card among people who care about movies is this famous scene from Children of Men. If you know anything about his work, you know it was done in a single take, using one of the most preposterously complicated camera rigs of all time. But when you're watching it, you're not thinking at all how complicated the shot must have been or how unlike normal editing and cutting it is; you're just immersed in the moment, drawn in and lulled until the action starts to become terrifying. Everyone's sat in a car talking backing and forth, and Cuaron found a way to make you feel that familiarity, that sense of being among the people in the car, so that when things start to go horribly wrong, it feels - as they always used to say about movies - as though you were there. Cuaron knows how to make a scene all about what's happening, and what's going to happen next.

Gravity was almost entirely CGI; it has only two actors and all the space scenes were - of course - done in computers, with just the actors' faces inserted by magic into the fake surrounds. But even when the action is inside the shattered space station or limping capsules, much of what you're seeing is CGI and painstaking choreography of actors jumping and swimming through things which they couldn't even see. The brilliance of Cuaron's work - his direction and his script - is that you never even think about how it's done; you're too busy hyperventilating as you try to figure out what's happening to the people and what might happen to them next. The vision of earth orbit and all the things flying around in it is perfect (probably technically wrong in all sorts of ways, but apparently flawless), but it's background to what really matters; people and what they're doing to survive.

It's a superb piece of work at a purely technical level, but it works as a movie because it's a wonderful piece of work at a human level. Yes, Clooney and Bullock are good actors, but in something as fake as an all-CGI movie, even good actors need a great director, and it's astonishing that someone could do something so technical and still have what it takes to get the best out of actors too. Apparently James Cameron is a huge admirer of the movie (and the computers to make it probably owe their existence to the grand loon of Avatar) but there's a telling little story about the difference between Cameron and Cuaron. Cameron's famous for pushing his actors to the point of near death and not caring very much, and that indifference to people tends to show in the results. Cuaron at one point had to put Bullock into a situation where she had to hold her breath through the whole take. And he held his breath with her, to make sure that he didn't push her beyond what was manageable for her. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Ace Atkins: The Lost Ones

It was cheap, and I needed the distraction, so I checked out the follow-up to The Ranger. The Lost Ones is not at all bad. It's not Elmore Leonard good, let's dash that hope straight away, but it's not bad at all. The challenge for any silly little genre book is down to one simple question; do I want to know what happens next to these people? That's what keeps you going to the end of the book and what makes you look forward to the next one. It's the same thing that makes serialised TV works; we want a story. We want a story that will distract us from whatever's around us.

Well, northern Mississippi may not be paradise but at least it's not Nordor, and I've been passing the time finding out what's happening in Tibbehah County in the last year or so. And it works. Atkins resisted the siren call of his Bubba, and eased Boom into the background in a clever and believable way. He found a way to put Johnny Stagg into the action without having him overshadow it; Johnny makes a much better landmark than villain. The balance of the characters and the place feels right; Quinn Colson is sinking back into his home place at a pace which feels credible, winning some of the battles, not really grappling with the war. 

I still can't quite figure the logistics of the County; sometimes it feels like a village, other times like there's a cast of thousands seething round the edges, neither size feeling quite right for a Sheriff's department with nine deputies. I suppose that, like all imaginary spaces, it's as big as it needs to be from one moment to the next. As long as it doesn't suddenly sprout a plutonium mine from one book to the next I shouldn't quibble; the important thing is that the County provides a place in which Colson can argue with his family, not quite romance his old crush from high school and intervene decisively in messy little backwoods crimes. It's a living, I guess. 

I'll even forgive the introduction of a history of abuse into the Colson back story because it's handled pretty well, echoing off some of the other stuff in the book and explaining some of the family messes, but not overshadowing everything else in the action.

In the end, though, it passes the simple test; when I got to the end, which is a nicely judged mix of mess and injustice, I was keen to see what happened next. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Urban Waite: Dead If I Don't

The Terror of Living was a tough act to follow, and Dead If I Don't disappointed me by being merely good, rather than breathtaking. From reading the afterword, I suspect it was because Waite didn't get the time he needed to produce another blinder; there's a reference to the manuscript being overdue.

Like The Terror of Living, Dead If I Don't is about the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong, this time in New Mexico rather than Washington State. One of the impressive things about The Terror of Living was Waite's knack of sketching in character after character and making them feel real and threatened. Somehow, Dead If I Don't doesn't land this. It's odd, because in his second book, Waite moved away from showing us a bunch of strangers just missing each other again and again, and instead tried to show us a set of small town people who've known each other for ages. It ought to have been easier to get a sense of them from the way that they keep mulling over their shared pasts, but somehow they never grab the imagination the way the characters of The Terror of Living did. 

I find myself struggling to find something clever to say about the book; it's a good book, but it's not essential reading. Ray Lamar's fate seems sealed from the moment we meet him, and the question for the book is not so much what's going to happen to him as what damage he's going to cause before it happens. It's difficult to make that a gripping story; the suspense is going to have to lie in what's in store for the side characters, and that in turn has to come out of how much we care about them. This might be where Waite has gone wrong; part of the story he's telling is about the way that Lamar and his friends and family have been sleepwalking through their lives since a tragedy ten years in the past. The problem is that they're still sleepwalking as all hell breaks loose around them, and somehow, their numbed responses to chaos are numbing for the reader as well. The result felt fuzzy and disconnected, when The Terror of Living was gripping and frightening.

Waite remains a very skilled writer, someone whose natural skill with language outclasses his chosen genre. The blown deadlines show here and there; Waite is a man who knows about people, not things, and you can see much more attention going into the perfect word for people's emotions than for things around them, which can be jarring when he's built up so much of a point about Lamar's skill with guns, and then has him thinking about how he's putting shotgun shells into a rifle. That's the kind of thing which gets fixed in the edit, but they seem to have run out of time.

I mentioned in my earlier post that Waite seemed to be working off a template which Cormac McCarthy uses; of the swirling pointlessness and inevitability of violence in the drug wars along America's borders, and in this book, Waite chose to locate the action in the 1990s, just as McCarthy put No Country for Old Men in the 1980s. The key misstep may have been to try to use a week's concentrated action as a way to reflect on a decade's wrongdoing by Ray Lamar himself; Waite didn't really give himself space to let us feel that decade of failure, and I'm still not sure if he was trying to make a larger point about the cartels' reign of terror through the 1980s and 1990s along the border. If he was, there's a better book which explores the same theme, Don Winslow's slow and heartbreaking The Power of the Dog.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Ace Atkins: The Ranger

A long time ago, the man who ran the - now long closed - Murder Ink bookstore in Dawson Street vented his irritation to me about the decision to put the words "A Jane Whitefield Book" on the cover of the reprint of Vanishing Act.  His point, and it was a good one, was that this told the reader immediately that there would be a whole bunch more of these books, and thus removed any doubt about whether Jane Whitefield was really in danger. This was the thought of an absolute purist; on the one hand, it was his living to sell these books and people DO seem to buy things which they know there's more of, and on the other hand, if you'd ever read even one Thomas Perry book, you wouldn't be expecting the protagonist to bite it before the end. Right on the principle, maybe not picking the best example. But it was just that principle which made him go on to recommend Killing Suki Flood by Robert Leininger, a really gripping little noir which worked on a first read because it really did make you think that everything was on the line - it also works on a re-read because it's a well written book, full of sharp dialogue and clever observation.

I thought of that conversation every few minutes as I was reading The Ranger, because the kindle version I was reading had (Quinn Colson 1) at the top of every page, making it all too clear that no matter what else happened, Quinn Colson was going to be just fine. Which really undercut the mood which Atkins was trying to invoke all the way through the book, of a world in which bad things happen even when good people try to do the right thing. A writer does his best, and then some marketeer wrecks the mood with a badly chosen notion.

Well, in some imaginary world where I'd bought the book as a real book and presumably something that stupid didn't mar the top of every page, would it have been a better book? Probably. Was it a good book anyhow? Much to my surprise, it was.

I knew two things picking up the book; one was that Ace Atkins was easily the most cosmically juvenile author name I'd seen since I'd learnt how to read, and the other was that the estate of Robert B Parker had hired him to finish up Parker's last couple of manuscripts. Since I'm one of the people who think that a) Parker went to hell in a hand basket after about the fifth Spenser book [1], and b) his "completion" of  Poodle Springs is the literary equivalent of acting on the idea that the Mona Lisa would look better with ringlets and Ray-bans, my heart quailed rather at the notion that Parker's estate thought this guy would be just the fellow to finish what even Parker had balked at. Those misgivings apart, a quick glance at the style had me thinking it would at least be a fun read, and when it got cheap on kindle I bought a copy.

In a way, The Ranger is what Lee Child might have thought he was going to do before he realised how much money there was in giving us his gloriously moronic power fantasies instead. Quinn Colson is a US Army Ranger on leave, going back to his one dead horse town to discover it's a seething den of scum and villainy that makes Mos Eisley look like the nice parts of Monaco. So he sets to cleaning it all up, as heroes be wont to do in these narratives. If he'd been Jack Reacher, he'd have pounded on people right and left, effortless in his superiority, before wandering off into the night to wreak havoc in the sequel. Since, blessedly, he ain't Jack Reacher, he's neither so decisive nor so unstoppable, and therein lies much of the charm of the book.

Well, charm might be the wrong word. Tibebah County is somewhere between an out-take from Harlan County and the bleak world of Winter's Bone, without being quite as compelling as either of them - in fairness, not much is that good. The landscape and people are relentlessly messed up, and Atkins catches that; he's no Chandler, and he'll use the same simple words again and again rather than ring the changes, but there's an unsentimental solidness to Tibbehah, and to the little edge on glimpses of the ordinary lives bobbing on its surface.

It's not all brilliant. There's a Bubba Rogowski in the shape of a huge one armed black buddy for Quinn Colson, which left me feeling that Atkins was pushing his luck. And at least one of the villains doesn't make enough sense; Gowrie doesn't scale right. There's a moment when he switches from being some kind of stooge to the prince of darkness and we never see anything which helps that to make sense, even if you buy the notion that Quinn Colson has goaded him over the edge. But most of the side characters feel weathered and real, and all the bad decisions carry weight and consequences; this is a world where if you get hit in the face with a frying pan, you go to the hospital, and people who make bad decisions fret and try to renegotiate them rather than moving on like steam driven monoliths of certainty.

It all ends in a messy open-ended way, as much anything does in real life, but the openings are good ones; a sequel isn't a bad idea, or an excuse to throw Quinn Colson into someone else's woodchipper; there's unfinished business of all kinds in Tibbehah County. And I think I'm following it.

[1] In fairness, the writing was on the wall long before that. I actually wrote "Oh, come ON" in the margin of one of the more overwrought pages of the first or second book, almost the only time I ever wrote on a book.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ben Aaronovitch: Whispers Under Ground

Let us all give thanks for e-books, and the way in which they let me catch up with someone's back catalogue without cluttering the house up. I have grumbled in the past about buying up a wedge of books only to discover that I didn't like the first one and won't be reading the others; somehow e-books are making it more straightforward for me to put my toe in the water and then come back and catch up if I like something. So a friend recommended Rivers of London, and that was good enough that I went on to read Moon Over Soho, which in turn was good enough that here I am, having finished Whispers Under Ground, all in under a month.

Whispers Under Ground feels like a book that's marking time, noodling about with a plot which isn't pulling the master plot further forward, but instead throwing out tantalising hints of other, bigger plots which are coming down the road. For example, there are Chinese magicians, though no-one seems to know much about them and they walk on a for a few minutes and then stroll back off, leaving us none the wiser. I kind of agree with the approach, since it gives a picture of a much bigger world which is as puzzling to the characters as their world is to the reader. What I'm less convinced about is the way that the series big bad - and major villain of the previous book - stays off the radar through most of this book; in TV terms, Aaronovitch doesn't quite handle the balance between his monster of the week and his mythology. The foreground case doesn't feel big and threatening enough to justify the way in which the major threat introduced in Moon Over Soho fades into the background.

Quite why this doesn't work properly, I'm not sure. The foreground problem - a previously unknown culture living in the London Underground - is cleverly put together and subtly subverts a lot of the magical tosh which you'd expect in a more conventional piece of work. But despite the cleverness, it somehow doesn't spark. 

Still, the things I like are all still there; the constant asides about how things ought to work, and the sense of a sprawling clan of investigators living on the edges of things and gradually linking together. Three books in, I still want to know what Grant and Nightingale and May are going to get up to next. And the magic-ification of May is nicely explained without the use of anvils; it's not that she's naturally magical, but that the magical carnage wreaked on her in the first book has contaminated her somehow. That's clever, and gets us away from the vague misgivings I had at the end of the second book. 

And I have to admit I liked the way that Ireland is covered; Aaronovitch obviously had a good chat in a pub some evening with a Celtic Tiger survivor and caught the way not just that we feel about the collapse, but the way we talk about it. That's a good ear.

This isn't great art, but it's entertaining, and I will probably be writing something about Broken Homes whenever it gets cheap enough to be added to the stack of things in my iPad.