Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Roots Of Donald Trump's Nativism

Like Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit Donald Trump is a cartoon villain railing against foreigners, the Federal Government and elites. He is wildly popular (for the moment) among a certain segment of the Republican party for championing protectionism, God and guns. You may not remember this but in 2007 and 2008 Hillary Clinton championed the same demographic in her attempt to wrest the Democratic Party nomination from Barack Obama. It didn't work for Hillary and it's probably not got to work for Trump either. But that's not what interests me (politics ain't my bag). What interests me is who these Trump supporters are. This segment of outsiders who hate elites, foreigners and Washington and who love guns and the Good Book are of course what used to be called Reagan Democrats or yellow dog Democrats. People from middle America and the middle South and Appalachia. These are the people known as the Ulster Scots or 'Scotch-Irish'. As I said in a previous blogpost: 

Too few people realise that the history of the Irish in America does not begin with the potato famine but goes back a century earlier to the 1740 migration of Presbyterians from Ulster. The best book about this hidden history is the brilliant Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, but Senator Jim Webb has written an entertaining primer called Born Fighting, both of which are well worth a read. Part of Jim Webb's premise is that the Ulster Scots' fighting and a feuding ways meant that they were predisposed for military service and that Scots-Irish officers were the backbone of Washington's Army, the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War, the Doughboys of WW1, the GIs of WW2 and Vietnam.

Now as Hackett Fischer points out in Albion's Seed these Borderlanders from Ulster loved liberty, read the Bible, were fiercely independent, loved to fight, hated central government, were suspicious of outsiders and foreigners and they really loved to go to revival meetings to hear a preacher talk. These revival meetings are vividly described by Hackett Fischer with the travelling charismatic preacher cajoling, enraging, joking with and entertaining his audience. Sound like someone we know? 

But where did Trump learn this trick? He's not a McCoy from Kentucky, he's a rich kid from New York, the son of a well off German immigrant, who, furthermore, eschewed fighting in Vietnam by dodging the draft several times (unlike Jim Webb, John McCain and his cohort). The answer is to look at Trump's Scottish Presbyterian mother, Mary Anne MacLeod. Mary MacLeod came from Stornaway on the island of Lewis-Harris in the Outer Hebrides. If you've seen the movie Highlander you already know about the Clan MacLeod (of which Trump and his mother are members) if you haven't you can find out about them here. Lewis-Harris is one of the weirdest places in Britain, indeed in all of Europe. Rainy, stark, beautiful, its the only place in the British Isles where church attendance is actually going up. There are at least six different Presbyterian dominations on Lewis-Harris all at war with one another but who all insist on strict Sabbath observance, thrift, hard work and Bible study. In some of the churches the Presbyterian practice of Psalmody is carried out in an ancient Scots gaelic which to my ears is extraordinarily beautiful. 

I grew up a Presbyterian too but we went to the Presbyterian Church of Ireland which is a dour, sensible, Calvinist, unshowy, deliberately boring faith. There were no charismatic preachers in my church and none wd be tolerated by the Elders. But there was another Presbyterian Church in Ulster at that time: the Free Presbyterian Church which was run by Ian Paisley. Ian Paisley you'll recall was a loud mouthed demagogue who was suspicious of foreigners (especially Europeans), who was Evangelical and who was bizarrely obsessed by the Pope (in Paisley's eschatology Pope John Paul was the Anti-Christ).

Trump comes from or at least is channeling this tradition. Exactly like Paisley Trump loves Israel, loves Scotland, worships guns, says his favourite book is the Bible (although he is unable to recall a single verse or book*) is determinedly Nativist and he says he thinks the central government is selling out the country...Trump though seems to have dropped the anti-Catholicism (at least I think he has, I wonder if his lambasting of Mexicans is at least partly because of their religion). 

Trump's blue collar supporters seem to believe that this billionaire prep school graduate who dodged the draft and got rich by exploiting the bankruptcy laws is still somehow one of them. But, of course, he is. He was born into the Clan MacLeod and as Hackett Fischer points out Scottish and Ulster clan solidarity is a folkway that is still a very important - if almost unknown - current in contemporary American life. If any other American had attacked John McCain's war record he wd have been finished but not Trump. Why? I think to the Ulster Scots it wasnt a big deal because Clan McCain and Clan MacLeod have been fighting each other for 600 years... 

 

 If you're interested in this stuff you can buy Albion's Seed, here. The great Jonathan Meades's, wonderful, eccentric visit to Lewis-Harris is worth watching from part 3 onwards, here. Jim Webb, it should be said, is also running for President...you can visit his campaign page, here. 
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*I don't know if Trump went to Sunday School but his lack of Biblical knowledge wouldn't have passed muster in my church where huge chunks of the King James Bible were studied and analysed in the church itself, in Sunday School and at our Boys Brigade Bible study class. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Interview With Vision Australia

I did an interview with Vision Australia a couple of weeks ago that they have now published online, below. Vision Australia provide audiobooks for blind and vision impaired Australians. The interview touches on class, travel, my feelings about Nordic Noir, the Forsythe trilogy, the Duffy books, more of my crackpot theories, what I've been reading recently, etc.  It's an audio interview only so if you've no patience for that or you've heard me blather about all that shite before dont click the play button. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Girl Who Cashed All The Checks

Although it has been heavily embargoed and no preview copies have been sent out I was able to
acquire an early manuscript copy of the controversial new Stieg Larsson novel that his estate has commissioned. I present here the first two pages of The Girl In The Spiders Web. Hopefully the publishers wont make me take this down. I can cheerfully report that although the book was written by a hack Swedish novelist it is up to the high standards of the previous Larsson books. See for yourself:


The Girl In The Spiders Web


Mikael Blomkvist, the ruggedly handsome editor of Millennium magazine woke to the sound of laughter. He opened his eyes and looked around the spare but tastefully decorated bedroom. It was empty. He peered through the window of his apartment on Hantverkargatan Street but no one was on the balcony with an axe or lying flat on his skylight ready to jump through it and murder him. That kind of thing hadn’t happened in months. 
             Not since his last case - a nasty one where a greedy father and brother had ripped off a journalist's widow leaving her with nothing.
            The laughter was coming from the living room. Blomkvist pulled on his Nukes Out T shirt and Cuban Army camo pants and stopped at the mirror on the wall. Yes he still looked ruggedly handsome, he thought and walked into the living room where Helen Hagen was sprawled on the sofa wearing one of his shirts and watching television.
            Hagen was a beautiful 28 year conservative American who had been debating with him the previous evening at a packed event at Stockholm University. The debate had been entitled “American Foreign Policy Is a Force For Good”, she had been for the motion, he had been against. Not only had Blomkvist won the debate, turning the hostile crowd in his favour but he had also won over Hagen and had bedded her after showing her that Noam Chomsky’s denials of the Cambodian genocide were perfectly understandable in the context of the American perfidy and lies that prevailed in the Western media in the post Watergate era.
            He sat down beside her on the sofa.
            “What are you laughing at?” he asked.
            “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’s an old episode,” she said in that annoying American twang of hers.
            He watched the show for a few minutes. It was a fake dialectic, the sort of thing Marcuse had predicted in 1968, where the population is offered the illusion of choice and dissent, the better to control them.
            Blomkvist said nothing and went to make some Eritrean Popular Front fair trade coffee.
            “You got a phone call,” Hagen said.
            “From whom? The Zionist capitalists who control the media?!” he asked with alarm.
            “Someone called Lisbeth Salendar. She didn’t leave a message but she sounded like she was in trouble.”
            “I must go!” Blomkvist said pulling on a fair trade sweater, fair trade shoes and a raincoat given him by Olaf Palme for being such a great guy. He ran out of the apartment. 
            It was early morning in Stockholm but already the streets were filled with people: bourgeois businessmen on their way to brothels filled with underage trafficked Russian girls, fat American tourists with their noses stuffed in McDonalds wrappers, complacent young people with their faces in iPhones built by slave labour in far off China.
            When he arrived at Salendar’s apartment she had already left but Salander’s girlfriend, a cool punk rock singer called Bug was waiting for him. Bug was a musician and in the public eye a lot but she was a positive role model for young women, rejecting the patriarchy, the capitalist record companies and the corporate shills. She was a confirmed lesbian with a mohawk and a completely appropriate body fat ratio for her height. In fact she may even have been a little overweight. Not that being underweight or overweight would have mattered to her because she was confident in who she was and unconcerned by contingent western standards of beauty. That’s how cool she was. Yes, a little bit overweight, Blomkvist decided, damning his eyes for objectifying the young woman. Plump even. Ok chubby. But in a good way.
            “Lisbeth isn’t here,” Bug said.
            “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” Blomkvist said.
            Bug stared at him.
            “I, I, don’t know why I said that,” Blomkvist stuttered, horrified.
            “Was that Sir Mixalot?” Bug asked.
“I don’t know. I appreciate the culture of African American musical artists but at the same time I loathe the sexism of much of the hip hop community.”
            Bug looked him up and down. “Well aren’t you a tall drink of water,” she said admiringly.
            “What trouble is Lisbeth in this time?” Blomkvist asked quickly. He knew he was irresistible but he just didn’t have the time or energy to convert yet another lesbian thirty years his junior.  
            “Lisbeth made a surveillance tape of a man who tortures women,” Bug said.
            “All men torture women,” Blomkvist said solemnly.
            “Don’t go all Andrea Dworkin on me,” Bug said. “Just stay focused and watch the tape.”
            Blomkvist and Bug watched the tape. The violence inflicted on the women was shocking. Blomkvist called up the owner of Millennium magazine.
            “A famous rich Swedish industrialist has been kidnapping and torturing young women,” he said.
            “Who is this? What time is it?” a sleepy voice replied.
“Let me take twenty minutes out of your morning to explain exactly how these young women were violated and tortured in graphic, lurid detail,” Blomkvist said.
“Wait, who is this?”
“First he would tie them up, then—"
      "I think you have the wrong number, I'm not--
      "Then he would bring out the chains and dildoes."
      "I'm hanging up, weirdo."
      Click. Dialtone. "My God. They are already closing in," Blomkvist said his eyes wide with terror.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Woody Allen Rated

I've seen a lot of Woody Allen films. Here's my rating in the standard A, B, C, D, F format. A is a
classic, F is unwatchable, B is pretty good etc. These are the films Woody directed but I've also included 1 or two that he acted in that I've seen. Woody's career is very streaky it seems to me. You have the brilliance of the mid seventies (Love and Death, Annie Hall etc.) then another great run in the mid eighties (Hannah and Her Sisters and the underrated Radio Days) then a falling off before more good stuff in the early 1990s (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadows and Fog). A long period of terrible films was broken by Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine...

1969 Take the Money and Run B
1971 Bananas B
1972 Play It Again, Sam B
1972 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex D
1973 Sleeper A
1975 Love and Death A
1976 The Front  B (acted only)
1977 Annie Hall A
1978 Interiors D
1979 Manhattan B
1980 Stardust Memories B
1982 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy D
1983 Zelig C
1984 Broadway Danny Rose B
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo B
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters A
1987 Radio Days A
1987 September D
1988 Another Woman F
1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors A
1990 Alice D
1991 Scenes from a Mall  B (acted only)
1991 Shadows and Fog B
1992 Husbands and Wives B
1993 Manhattan Murder Mystery B
1994 Bullets over Broadway C
1995 Mighty Aphrodite F
1996 Everyone Says I Love You F
1997 Deconstructing Harry C
1998 Sweet and Low Down C
1999 Celebrity F 
2000 Small Time Crooks B
2001 The Curse of the Jade Scorpion F
2002 Hollywood Ending B
2004 Melinda and Melinda F
2005 Match Point B
2006 Scoop F
2007 Cassandra's Dream F
2008 Vicky Cristina Barcelona C
2009 Whatever Works C
2010 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger F
2011 Midnight in Paris B
2012 To Rome with Love D
2013 Blue Jasmine B
2014 Magic in the Moonlight (have not seen)
2015 Irrational Man (have not seen)


Friday, August 21, 2015

Are There Working Class Voices In The Booker Prize Long List?

Not posh enough for the Booker?
This is a genuine question. I've only read 2 books on the longlist this year (which, as usual, is pretty diverse in terms of representation of people of colour and women) so I don't actually know if they've got some working class writers on there. I'm suspicious of them because in the past the Booker Prize has ignored working class writers, especially working class women like Zadie Smith or Monica Ali or Janette Winterson, and every year they pick a very posh person (private school, Oxbridge) to be the chairman (its almost always a man) of the judging panel. Most of the other judges are also very posh which perhaps is why the Booker Prize longlist is always strangely bereft of anyone from a working class background. But, like I say, I don't know maybe this year it's different. I've done a cursory look through the author bios on the Booker website and I see literary agents, journalists, graduates of prestigious MFA programmes etc, not many brickies or mums in South London flats. The subject matter of these books too (apart from the always interesting Commonwealth writers) seems to be about upper middle class people and their bloody problems. I reckon even last year's winner, Richard Flannagan, a blue collar kid from hardscrabble rural Tazzie probably wouldn't have won if he had written a book about enlisted men instead the officer class in the British army...Julian Barnes called the Booker Prize "posh bingo" and he wd know, wouldn't he? (The other big Aussie winner over the years has been Peter Carey who is very posh indeed.) 
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Maybe I'm wrong, maybe times have changed and there are many books about working class people on there...If you've read more than I have (and you probably have) please let me know and I will - happily - stand corrected.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Girl With All The Gifts, The Girl On The Train, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Gun Street Girl

The Girl With All The Gifts is the only plausible zombie book I've ever read: scientific, charming (no really), witty and scary this is a great little novel. Read a few posts back for a fuller review. The Girl On The Train has inspired either love or loathing since it was published and became a runaway best seller - on the whole I liked it: the story of a drunk girl who fakes being a commuter to Euston every morning so she can fit in with society. Yes the story turns on the hacky devices of coincidence and amnesia but the layers of the onion peel back in a most entertaining way. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an incredibly bad Swedish mystery novel that rails against the violence directed against women but is stuffed to the gills with explicit torture porn. Horrible prose, dreary cliches (fat American tourists etc.), a locked room mystery where we are not given all the information & the launching of the Nordic Noir juggernaut are just some of this book's many crimes. Gone Girl is a well written thriller with your classic dishonest narrator: deservedly popular for its unlikeable leads (I love that), twisty first half and downbeat ending Gone Girl deserved its success, unlike Dragon Tattoo. Gun Street Girl is the fourth novel in my own Sean Duffy Series: "funny, lyrical, dark & serious" is how the book was described in the Australian newspaper. Gun Street Girl sold a tiny fraction of all those other girl books, but am I bitter? 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Visit To The Bronte Parsonage

Last month when I was in Harrogate I had a free chunk of time before getting my plane to Belfast. Because of jet-lag I was a awake at 4.00 am wondering what I could do in Yorkshire before my 2.00 pm flight from Leeds-Bradford. A bit of googling convinced me that I could pay a visit to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth and still make my flight. Ergo: walk to Harrogate train station, train to Leeds, train to Keighley, bus to Haworth, walk up a very steep hill (with my dodgy knees) to the Bronte house. 
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The parsonage is now a museum with a lot of Bronte memorabilia, replica desks and beds and furnishings. Most of the writing seems to have been done in the tiny front parlour where Anne, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell made up stories, did drawings and talked. It's an incredible sensation to be in that room where so much talent and creativity flowed. The museum has acquired both Emily's and Charlotte's portable writing desks (that one puts on ones lap or a table) and these are on display too. 
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Haworth itself is a windy, hilly out of the way place. When I arrived at Keighley train station the temperature was 5 degrees Celsius and this was in high summer, so I imagine that in winter it gets pretty wet, cold and damp in those parts. The house where the Brontes lived looks like it was pretty cold too with thin walls, thin windows, an exposed location at the top of a hill and only smoky coal fires to heat it. It's no wonder, really, that TB in the pre-antibiotic age almost wiped out the entire family. 
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The Bronte sisters tried various boarding schools but were always unhappy there and were mostly educated at home by their Ulsterman father Patrick. I asked someone at the Parsonage if the girls spoke with an Ulster accent or a Yorkshire accent (the accent in Keighley and Haworth is particularly strong) but they didn't know. Later I found this fascinating paragraph from Mick Armitage's website about Anne Bronte.

The only reference to any verbal accent the Brontës exhibited was by Mary Taylor, another one of Charlotte's life-long friends, who declared that, when they first met at Roe Head School in 1831, Charlotte 'spoke with a strong Irish accent'.  This accent was obviously acquired from her father, Patrick, who was of Irish descent. It seems logical to assume that Charlotte's accent would be echoed in Anne, and indeed her other siblings. However, as there are no other references whatever to their accent, it may not have been as 'strong', or 'obvious', as Mary Taylor suggests; alternatively, the Brontë children may have lost most of this accent during their youth. This is possible as Patrick is noted to have lost all his by 1853. Given that the siblings spent much of their childhood and youth under the care of Aunt Branwell, who was from Cornwall, it seems certain that they would have acquired some of her Cornish accent, not to mention the inevitability of adopting some of the local Yorkshire dialect from their servants and local acquaintances. In conclusion, their accent was probably a blend of all three - and one can only wonder what this sounded like.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ned Kelly Award 2015

I am very excited to announce here on the blog that my novel Gun Street Girl has been short-listed for the 2015 Ned Kelly Award. In the judges opinion this was the "best Duffy yet" which pleased me no end as I thought very seriously about ending the series after book 3. 
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You can read the complete list of six shortlisted novels at the Australian Crime Writers Association website. I've read two of the other books on the list Malla Nunn's Present Darkness and Barry Maitland's Crucifixion Creek and they were both excellent!
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This is the third year in a row that my new Sean Duffy novel has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award. If you haven't read any of them maybe this wd be a good time to start?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel lost her job because she's a lush and she got drunk and embarrassed herself in front of one of her firm's clients. Like Michael Douglas in the 90's classic Falling Down she still pretends to go to work every day on the train because she can't think of what else to do. She commutes to London every morning on the 8.04 from a suburban town drinking wine from a paper cup. When she gets to London she's toasted and she spends the day in libraries or parks, sleeping and drinking before getting the train home again. She's the despair of her flatmate Cathy who wishes she would get her act together. Riding the train every morning Rachel imagines the lives of the families she sees whose houses back onto the track. One beautiful couple, Scott and Meghan particularly intrigue her, but then Meghan goes missing....
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The Girl on the Train has been a runaway, er, locomotive of a success. I can see why. It's got a taut little mystery and its a psychological thriller with an untrustworthy narrator and a nice shift of perspective to other female protagonists: the missing woman Meghan and Rachel's exhusband's new wife Anna. Along the way we find out why Rachel started drinking in the first place (she couldn't get pregnant and her marriage collapsed) and I liked the idea that the story is told through the perspectives of three women none of whom we can completely believe (I love unreliable narrators) and none of whom have the whole truth. 
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What I don't like about TGOTT is that the entire book turns on two tropes that I am very leery about: amnesia and coincidence. Amnesia and coincidence are so played out as concepts that I never recommend them when I'm teaching at a workshop or talking to students. Coincidence that turns a wheel of the plot in a crime novel makes my head physically hurt and amnesia seems best suited to soap operas. As The Girl On The Train's sales reach the 3 million mark this - again - is why you should never listen to me for writerly advice. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Slow West

The kind of westerns I liked as a kid and young adult might broadly be called "alternative Westerns" or maybe even "anti westerns" because they were pretty far removed from the John Ford/Howard Hawks cowboys versus Indians type of thing. Sergio Leone's westerns were written by an Italian, scored by an Italian (the scores were very important) and filmed in southern Spain. I've heard people rail against Leone's work saying that they're not proper westerns but that was fine with me. Stylish, weird, with odd dubbing and good music Leone made me interested in the genre for the first time. Arthur Penn's The Missouri Breaks and Little Big Man also cd be considered alternative westerns. And lets not forget Sam Peckinpah's masterpieces: Pat Garrett and Billy The Kidd & The Wild Bunch. The great David Peoples' script for Unforgiven also has a certain left field quality to it. 
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But really it was Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man starring Johnny Depp that got the whole ball rolling in this genre. Existential, slow, strange and fascinating Dead Man is a movie you either love or are bored out of our mind by. Kelly Reichardt's terrific, slow, existential feminist western Meek's Cutoff also ploughs this Jarmuschian furrow. As do the Coens in their version of True Grit.
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Slow West then is working in an established genre with a lot of heavy lifting to do to make it unique and interesting. It tells the story of, Jay, a young Scottish aristocrat (this important class dimension might be missed by some viewers) played by Kodi Smit-McPhee who is looking for his girlfriend in Colorado. She fled Scotland along with her father following a tragic incident that is told in flashback. Along the way Jay meets Michael Fassebender and they have the sort of incidents with the sort of oddballs you expect in an alternative western. I know this doesn't sound promising but somehow the whole thing works brilliantly. The movie is being deliberately provocative by calling itself Slow West - it isn't slow at all, its twisty and gripping and good. Bounty hunters are also after Jay's girl - Caren Pistorius - who looks like a young Jennifer Connolly and who was an absolute revelation in this part. Filmed in an only slightly annoying Jacksonian New Zealand (twenty minutes west of Christchurch by the looks of it), the first time director John Maclean does a terrific job making all the characters in the movie interesting. John McClane may have saved Nakatomi Plaza but John Maclean as well as being the keyboard player in the Beta Band (who I saw support Radiohead at Red Rocks) has a great career ahead of him as a director. The score's pretty interesting too. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fargo

When you're trapped on a plane for 14 hours you watch things you otherwise wouldn't. I'm proud to say that I never succumbed to Marvel Age of Ultron or other teenage boy horse-shit like that but I did watch the box set of Fargo a show I'd no interest in watching at all previously. With a thematic and one actual plot link to the original Coen Brothers movie Fargo was an odd little TV series that never quite got the tone or the characters right. Martin Freeman plays a henpecked and bullied life insurance salesman who cracks one day and murders his wife and enlists the help of Billy Bob Thornton playing a charismatic drifter (who turns out to be a hitman). Allison Tolman is the best thing in the show as a local police officer who is just that bit smarter and more perceptive than the cops around her. There's a lot to like in Fargo: a fast moving story, strong visual storytelling, some surprising moments & a welcome return to form from Thornton. There's also a lot not to like: the entire Oliver Platt subplot (the link to the original movie), Martin Freeman's accent, the appearance of Colin Hanks and the disastrous lengthy cameo from 'comedy' double act Key & Peele who - amazingly - are worse actors than they are comedians. 
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I suppose my biggest issue is with the tone. The Coen Brothers movie Fargo had a very clear tone: its a tragedy with some black comic elements, the TV series doesn't know what it is: a black comedy, a noir, a satire, a tragedy...a bit of everything? There's a scene where Billy Bob Thornton kills 20+ people in an office rampage that is played for laughs...I think the Oliver Platt stuff was supposed to be funny and the laughs don't get any better when Key and Peele show up: to paraphrase Sam Kinison...the only explanation for Key and Peele is that the whole of America must have had a meeting in my absence where they decided that they were going to pretend that Key & Peele were funny. 
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Anyway Fargo passed the time and Allison Tolman was a revelation. If you're stuck on a plane or recovering from an operation or something I'd recommend it.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Girl With All The Gifts


It's hard to describe this novel without giving away a lot of very important plot points. It begins in a classroom where the kids are all strapped down into chairs. After their lessons they are taken back to cells in a concrete bunker. Once a week they are given live maggots to eat which they devour ravenously. It quickly becomes clear that - big spoiler alert - we are in an end of the world scenario: a fascinating and plausible zombie apocalypse has gripped the Earth (the only really plausible zombie apocalypse I've ever encountered actually in any medium) and these kids in the class are somehow zombie hybrid children that exist to be experimented on in an army base in the hope of finding a cure. Several of the teachers & scientists despise the hybrid children but one in particular has empathy...
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The second and third acts of the story are a little predictable if you've, you know, read any fiction at all, but the ending of the story was very neatly done. I also admired the anti-machismo elements of the narrative. There are not one, not two but three strong female leads, one of whom, Melanie, is the smart and sensitive zombie-hybrid kid lead. And although there are soldiers with guns this is a story about intelligent women and girls who attempt to fix things not through shooting at stuff but through thinking. I've been meaning to read this book for a while but I was put off a little by all the hype. I shouldn't have been. I hadn't read an M.R. Carey book before but I will certainly read more of his stuff. He's produced an authentic original horror thriller masterpiece and you should read it before the movie version comes out and no doubt ruins it with male leads saving the women and doing macho stuff thats not in the book.

Monday, July 27, 2015

4 Readings

the Irish Noir panel got a bit rowdy near the end
I did 4 book readings last week. I thought it wd be interesting for those of you who werent there to hear how it all went down:

Reading #1 was the Irish Noir Panel at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. I was on the panel with Eoin McNamee, Stu Neville, Steve Cavanagh and the event was moderated by Brian McGilloway. I knew all those guys except for Steve who I met for the first time. The panel was in front of a huge crowd in a big tent at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. It went well, I think, although as predicted I was jetlagged and punchy and I think I heard a few boos when I said that Nordic Crime writers had it easy because they cd publish any old shite and the punters wd buy it whereas Irish writers had to make their books, you know, good. 

Reading #2 was the launch of the pbk of Gun Street Girl later that evening in Harrogate. Another nice crowd and my buddies Stu, Brian, Steve and Ger Brennan showed up to hear me blather on about my crackpot theories and my insane plan for page 1 of Gun Street Girl which did not, alas, come to fruition. There's a report on both events, here. There's a description of the latter event - in French - and some photos, here. 

I arrived at Belfast Airport on the same day as 3 of the Game of Thrones cast and, apparently, I was on the same plane as Nell Tiger Free. Kit Harington also got to Belfast at the same time...make of that what you will - maybe he wasn't filming Thrones but just slipped in the back of one of my readings...

Reading #3 was in my sister's pub Ownies Bar in Carrickfergus. About 60 people turned up including many of my old friends from school. Good crowd, great Q&A afterwards - including an interesting writer's block question from a man in the front row (you know who you are!)

Reading #4 was in Carrickfergus Library. Another full house and another very nice audience, and more intelligent and perceptive questions. I'd brought a cold with me to the Northern Hemisphere and my voice was very much going by this stage but I think I managed to hang in there until the end. Big thanks to everyone who showed up for all of the events!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cop Story

Louie wandered off the rails a bit last season for me. I didn't really get the long arc with the Hungarian lady and Pamela is not a terribly interesting character. But of course this being Louie and thus one of the best things on TV the season had its moments: So Did The Fat Lady was a great episode and the two part flashback to Louis's childhood in Newton, Mass (where he went to school with my missus) was a classic. When Louis CK is least concerned about giving us the funny and more interested in giving us actual human emotions the show works best. I've been watching the new season here in Australia and although Pamela is still in it, already we've had a season highlight with Cop Story. A profound look at the helplessness men in their 40's feel with a world spinning out of control all around them. Michael Rapaport plays Louis's cop friend who he hasn't seen since Louis's sister dumped him two decades earlier. The two reluctantly get together to go see a Knicks game and then shit happens...It's very good. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Got It Right First Time

Classics are rare in literature and the cinema. If you write a classic the temptation is strong to write a sequel. You shouldn't. You should tie yourself to the mast and resist. 
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I have just read Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee as an ebook. This is a bit of a special case. The circumstances surrounding the publication of this quasi early version of To Kill A Mockingbird are pretty dodgy. Harper Lee wrote Watchman in the late 1950's. It's the story of Scout Finch returning to Alabama to visit her father Atticus Finch, a once noble, brilliant and wise lawyer who has now become an unlovely, boring old racist without an ounce of charm. Back in the 50's Harper Lee's editor suggested that she ditch the homecoming story and tell the tale of Scout Finch as a young girl in the 1930's and thus the classic To Kill A Mockingbird was born. Allegations of "elder abuse" "publishers greed" and "editorial malfeasance" have abounded with the publication of Go Set A Watchman. It would have been better if it had never been published. If you enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird my strong advice is to not read Watchman. Yes its competently written and it is interesting as an artifact. But To Kill A Mockingbird is a cultural touchstone. To Kill A Mockingbird was for a time the conscience of an entire culture - the American South - and it remains a school classic all over the world. Watchman completely ruins the character of Atticus Finch, one of the great heroes of twentieth century literature. In the postmodern cynical age we live in we already know that our heroes have feet of clay and we (or at least me) don't need it rubbed in our faces. 
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Other disappointing sequels/prequels to masterpieces that I have read so that you don't have to: Closing Time, Catriona, The Amber Spyglass, Rabbit Redux, Dune Messiah, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Women etc. etc. And don't get me started on the movies, I'm looking at you: Alien 3, The Two Jakes, Jaws 2, Blues Brothers 2000, Speed 2, Terminator 3, Godfather 3....

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

4 Readings This Week!


On Friday at noon (Friday the 17th) I'll be in Harrogate at the crime writing festival with Eoin McNamee, Stu Neville, Steve Cavanagh and Brian McGilloway

Friday 17th July
Come to Hale’s Bar in Harrogate for Duffy-approved drinks. The first 20 people will receive a free copy of Gun Street Girl. Hale’s Bar, 1 Crescent Road, Harrogate, HG1 2RS 6-8pm with a reading at 6.30pm.

On Sunday night (Sunday the 19th) I'll be reading at Ownies Bar in Carrickfergus at 8pm.

On Monday night (Monday the 20th) I'll be reading at Carrickfergus Library. 6.45 - 9.00 (reading, signing and Q&A) 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Favourite Book Cover Of All Time

I've thought a lot about this question. The Penguin cover of Gravity's Rainbow came a close second but to me this is the winner. It's the work of the great Chip Kidd. If you don't know his stuff you need to check it out now. Kidd's favourite fonts are Bondoni and Futura but I don't think the lettering below is either of those. Anyway here's the cover:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

This Is How You Make Porridge Mr Bittman

"I have seen wicked men and fools,
very many of both,
and they both get paid in the end,
but the fools first." 
a post from a couple of years back...
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In a quaint, old fashioned article in The New York Times Mark Bittman the food critic goes after that softest of soft targets McDonalds, for daring to include oatmeal in their restaurants. Basically he hates the ingredients in their oatmeal which include sugar and preservatives. (I may be wrong but I dont think he actually ate the stuff). He tells us that McDonalds should serve simple oats and water and he links to some lunatic who prepares his own instant oatmeal with coffee mate and dried cranberries. This is what New York Times readers like to hear. Boo! McDonalds is evil. Boo, boo, hiss. We're so much better than those scumbags we see eating in there. Yes, this article is very much preaching to the choir.
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I do like Mark Bittman though, I've got a signed copy of one of his cookbooks and I've worked with his daughter Kate, but his critique of McDonalds is ironic and very much the pot calling the kettle black. His own recipe for oatmeal in How To Cook Everything is absurd (boil oats and water and add butter!) I've tried the Bittman way and it tastes terrible. I also read the first 75 comments (out of an amazing 550) under the Bittman article and no one provided a good oatmeal recipe. So how do you cook oatmeal? Read on, MacDuff...
1. First of all, its called porridge. Oatmeal is the stuff that you buy in a packet or a box or a can, but when its cooked its called porridge. Porridge, ok? I know the word is used in America because I've used it often and nobody has ever looked askance. 
2. Not oats and water. No, no, no. Never oats and water. This is it the secret to good porridge and its real simple: a mug of oats, a mug of water, a mug of full cream milk. Ok? Got that? Add to a pot, light the gas, lets move on. 
3. Cook on a low heat stirring all the time. If you're not prepared to do that then forget it. It's only going to take five minutes of your life and if you want you can listen to the radio or meditate or whatever. If you're in a real hurry put it on a higher heat and stir faster, but do not put that bowl of oats anywhere near a goddamn microwave!
4. Add a pinch of salt.
5. Stir until nice and thick.
6. Serve with your favourite sweetener (honey, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup) and/or cream to taste. 
7. No bananas, cranberries, nuts, butter or anything like that.
8. Leave on shelf to cool. Go for walk in woods. Leave front door open so local miscreant girl with blonde hair can enter, eat and cause mayhem.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mass Market Pbk Release Of Gun Street Girl

The mass market pbk of Gun Street Girl is released this week in the UK and Ireland. It'll be at all good book stores and online. Here's the link for Amazon
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The book got great reviews in The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald etc. You can read a selection of those reviews, here. My favourite review, I think, was in the Weekend Australian by Graeme Blundell which I've reproduced below. As usual I more than appreciate any reviews you would like to add to the online sites. I read the reviews on amazon, audible and good reads and except when its an obvious troll or nutter I take them all seriously....

This is a pleasurable surprise. It seemed that last year’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone was the final novel in what appeared certain to become a classic crime trilogy. But long may the roguish Duffy continue to entertain us with his Beckettian wit and choices of soundtrack in these wonderful novels.

Belfast-born, Melbourne-based McKinty emphasises a more cinematic approach to his first-person narrative this time around, slightly percussive, subjective and impressionistic, without losing any of his much loved lyricism: “I stuck on the lunchtime news. More riots. Tedious now. Depressing. You ever read Thucydides? I’ll boil him down for you into one easy moral: intergenerational civil war is a very bad thing.”

This is crime writing at its finest. The novel’s title is from a Tom Waits song (Duffy’s musical choices are one of the many pleasures of the McKinty experience) and Jorge Luis Borges is quoted in an epigraph: “I do not know what your gift is to me, but mine to you is an awesome one: you may keep your days and nights.”

But McKinty writes so well he takes them away from us, those days and nights, and we read relentlessly on, avidly following Duffy as he investigates the murder of a wealthy couple, shot dead while watching TV, and the apparent suicide of their son who leaves a note appearing to take responsibility for the deaths. But nothing is simple when Duffy is involved. There are also missing anti-aircraft missiles, the Iran-Contra affair, sneery-faced American spooks, duplicitous Special Branch, neat lines of cocaine and many fingers of Glenfiddich, burning buses, fires, no truth and a lot of death. Always death.


And as McKinty, in a kind of Joycean stanza towards the end, writes, overlooking it all from the world of helicopters and planes is an oily-winged crow called Morrigan of the black eye, of the sorrows, the goddess of battle, fertility and strife who knows that to end war you must first change the nature of man.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bangor versus Carrickfergus...This Round To Bangor

Carrickfergus lies on Belfast Lough opposite the town of Bangor. Bangor and Carrick have been rivals for hundreds of years, indeed long before Belfast even existed. Carrickfergus's antecedents date back to sixth century taking its name from Fergus Mór mac Eirc, the 6th-century king of Dál Riata, the perhaps legendary, first king of Scotland. According to historian Michael Wood Fergus Mor may have been a confederate of King Arthur. Carrickfergus however really got going in the twelfth century when the Normans arrived and built their castle there. 
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The Normans of course were civilised Vikings and Bangor has a less happy Viking connection too. This from Wikipedia: 

The Annals of Ulster tells us that the monastery of Bangor was founded by Saint Comgall in approximately 555[11] and was where the Antiphonarium Benchorense was written, a copy of which can be seen in the town's heritage centre. The monastery had such widespread influence that the town is one of only four places in Ireland to be named in the Hereford Mappa Mundi in 1300. The monastery, situated roughly where the Church of Ireland Bangor Abbey currently stands at the head of the town, became a centre of great learning and was among the most eminent of Europe’s missionary institutions in the Early Middle Ages, although it also suffered greatly at the hands of Viking raiders in the 8th century and the 9th century.

The two towns Bangor and Carrickfergus faced each other across the four miles of lough when Belfast wasn't even a village. I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus so my instincts are to promote Carrick at every opportunity. Carrick has the castle but Bangor has Rory McIlroy. Bangor has Colin Bateman but Carrick had Jonathan Swift. Etc. 
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Unfortunately Bangor has taken a big lead in the cool stakes as far as I'm concerned. As a kid JG Ballard was my favourite novelist and my favourite two JG Ballard books were Crash and High Rise so when I heard that Ben Wheatley - my favourite British film director - was making High Rise into a movie I was very excited. High Rise takes place in London but for some reason Wheatley has chosen to film it in Bangor and Belfast. Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller, James Purefoy have all been hanging out along the Bangor seafront. One of my favourite books is being turned into a film by my favourite director starring some of my favourite actors and its being filmed in Bangor. Carrickfergus recently had Ben Kingsley in town to make a movie but still Ben Wheatley & JG Ballard & Tom Hiddleston are much cooler...You win Bangor...this time anyway.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Young Lions

My better half & the mother of my children - Leah Garrett - has a new book coming out on September 15th with Northwestern University Press. It's called Young Lions and here's the Amazon listing: 

Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel shows how Jews, traditionally castigated as weak and cowardly, for the first time became the popular literary representatives of what it meant to be a soldier and what it meant to be an American. Revisiting best-selling works ranging from Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and uncovering a range of unknown archival material, Leah Garrett shows how Jewish writers used the theme of World War II to reshape the American public’s ideas about war, the Holocaust, and the role of Jews in postwar life. In contrast to most previous war fiction these new “Jewish” war novels were often ironic, funny, and irreverent and sought to teach the reading public broader lessons about liberalism, masculinity, and pluralism.
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Leah has gotten a couple of early blurbs for the book. Debra Dash Moore, The New York Times best-selling author of GI Jews said this: "Young Lions persuasively presents a fresh interpretation that illuminates previously hidden aspects of these [novels]. Leah Garrett's lucid study will change how we think about World War II, the Holocaust and American Jews." The Harvard Professor of American and African American studies, Werner Sollers, said this: "theoretically sophisticated and probing,Young Lions is full of insights that are of interest to the literary scholar, the historian, and the student of American ethnic relations." I think its of tremendous interest to the general reader too. It's about the Jewish soliders in the US forces in WW2 (500,000 of them served) what they read on the line and what they wrote about when they came home. American war novels until then were in the mould of Red Badge of Courage or For Whom The Bell Tolls. All that changed with the publication of The Naked and the Dead, Catch 22, The Young Lions, Dangling Man, Battle Cry, The Caine Mutiny etc. and those novels influenced my favourite WW2 novel The Thin Red Line. There's also a good bit about Sergeant Bilko. 
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Here's the Northwestern University Press page about the book

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Justice Scalia Is Both Right And Wrong

America's 9 philosopher kings
While I endorse the result I'm a bit dubious about the method. Ireland did it the right way. In Ireland gay marriage became the law of the land because, after an intense campaign and many debates, an overwhelming majority of the Irish population voted to legalise gay marriage. America got gay marriage legalised in all fifty states because one man, Justice Anthony Kennedy, decided that gay marriage was going to be the law of the land. The US Supreme Court has four liberal judges and four conservative judges, Justice Kennedy is the swing vote and so what he says goes in cases like this. The judgement in the gay marriage case Obergefell v Hodges (2015) is worth reading in full, here. Kennedy's argument essentially came down to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Kennedy based his judgement on the unanimous decision in the famous Loving v Virginia case which held that laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage were illegal because they violate the 14th Amendment. Kennedy's logic is that if the equal protection clause applies to Loving it also applies to Obergefell. Kennedy was joined in this decision by the court's 4 liberal justices. 
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In a blistering, sarcastic and rather undignified dissent Justice Scalia assailed Kennedy's reasoning, prose style and the decision itself. Scalia was both right and wrong in his dissent but crucially more wrong than right. Scalia I feel is right to say that this kind of important moral decision should have been made by a vote of the people or by their elected representatives rather than by one man, Justice Anthony Kennedy. If three or four weeks ago when this case was being written Kennedy had decided to concur with the conservatives this would have been a 5:4 decision the other way. That's no way to decide a major moral issue. One man makes a judgement call over his breakfast and that's that? But Scalia is more wrong than right and his reasoning in Obergefell is both disingenuous and philosophically dubious. Here's why Scalia is wrong: 

1. Scalia claims not to care one whit either way whether gay marriage should become the law or not, he's just an impartial justice applying the law. This is utter rubbish. Scalia, a committed Catholic, was frothing with hostility about gay marriage during oral argument and has almost always taken a conservative Catholic stance towards moral questions. 
2. Scalia says that discovering the right to gay marriage in the 14th Amendment means that 150 years of case law is wrong as the orginal writers of the 14th Amendment could never have envisaged such a right. They could never have envisaged television either but in Citizens United Scalia said that political candidates and PACs could spend as much money as they wanted on TV ads. Similarly with assault rifles, drones etc. With Scalia if the Constitution is in tune with his personal views the intent of the framers is clear, if it's not "special scrutiny" is required. 
3. Orginalism is incoherent as an interpretive school of thought. Scalia believes that the way to interpret the Constitution is to discover the original intent of the framers and ratifiers. This seems logical until you think about. Hundreds of people had a hand in drafting and ratifying the Constitution. Does it really make sense to go through all their speeches and diaries and private letters to understand what they really meant? If we are to turn the clock back to the 1780s or the 1860s then that means Brown v Board of Education (1954) was wrongly decided and "separate but equal" and Jim Crow should still be the law of the land. If this is what Scalia believes he should come and say so, but of course he and the other originalists would never say such a thing because originalism doesn't make sense in 1954 or 2015. The constitution is a living document that has been modified by case law - that's how the common law works. The late Ronald Dworkin's fascinating book Law's Empire unpacks how judges should interpret the constitution and is a must read for everyone interested in jurisprudence. Dworkin has unpacked the incoherence of Scalia's interpretive school, here.
4. Loving v Virginia is the key to everything and this clock started ticking way back in 1967. To me the most compelling part of Kennedy's judgement isn't his appeals to Cicero or Confucius (!) it's his analysis of Loving

The Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” 

The Loving case was decided in 1967 not 150 years ago by a unanimous court. Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas (who takes the trouble to analyse Magna Carta (1215) in his dissent!) fail to explain why the Loving case was wrongly decided. If you believe, as all 9 SC judges clearly do, that Loving was correctly decided then you need to explain why Obergefell is substantially different from Loving. You don't need to go back to 1215 or 1865 or the 1780's. To me Kennedy's argument that the 14th Amendment covers gay couples is an understandable and compelling application of the Loving judgement and the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit should be reversed. This is not how I would have changed the gay marriage law in America but it is a logical application of the equal protection clause and the court made the right decision in this case. 
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As I say, everyone who is interested in this case should read the full judgement, here. Unlike the SC cases of just 20 years ago the opinions have been written in a fairly easy to understand almost colloquial style. Kennedy's rhetoric is a bit over the top for my taste, CJ Roberts hits the right note in his dissent, Scalia is ill mannered but entertaining in his dissent and Thomas, as usual, is all over the shop. Thomas never speaks in oral argument and when you read his judgements you can sort of see why.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Devil's Making

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a lovely few days in Victoria, British Columbia. If there's a more civilised city on this Earth I don't know what that city is. Victoria has a Scottish pub, an award winning bookshop that was established by a Nobel Laureate, the BC parliament and just about the most beautiful place in the world to walk your dog along the cliffs over the Strait of Juan de Fuca (views to Olympic National Park in the United States, Mt Baker and the San Juan Islands). If you get the chance to go to Victoria, BC take it. We arrived via fast ferry from Seattle and that's a great way to get there going up Puget Sound spotting dolphins and orcas along the way.

I've wanted to learn more about Victoria for a couple of years now so I was excited to learn about a mystery novel set there in the city's formative years by Sean Haldane called The Devil's Making. Sean, you'll remember, was up for the Oxford Professor of poetry job that went to Simon Armitage in controversial circumstances. Sean grew up in Belfast, lived in Canada and now lives in London. (the great Irish novelist Brian Moore had a very similar trajectory.) Sean's poetry is extraordinary (take a look at some of his new stuff in English and Irish) and his brother lives on Manse Road in Ballycarry a road I must have cycled down 1000 times which is very close to the place where James Orr the famous "Bard of Ballycarry" lived. 

But I digress. The Devil's Making was the winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery and is an excellent historical novel. Non spoilerish first few chapter summary from Kirkus: 

Chad Hobbes is an Oxford graduate at odds with his father, a vicar deeply disturbed by his son's embrace of Darwin’s theories. For his part, Hobbes’ feelings about women and sex are complicated by his love for his mother, who once had an affair with his father’s curate. Unable to continue his education in jurisprudence without family help, he decides to travel. A letter of introduction to Chief Justice Begbie gets him a job as a constable in Victoria, whose local population is a volatile mixture of British, American, Black, Chinese, and Native American. Hobbes’ first case is the murder of Dr. McCrory, a self-proclaimed alienist, who is found dead and mutilated by visiting Tsimshian Indians. The Tsimshian send a runner to tell the authorities, who arrest Wiladzap, a medicine man. Hobbes, called to investigate, doubts Wiladzap is the killer and sets out to learn more about the victim...

Ok that's enough plot. I loved the book and found it to be a gripping, philosophically rich, historical adventure. I also dug the period setting, the landscape, the clash of cultures and the crackpot characters. It reminded me a bit of my own book The Sun Is God which also deals with a bunch of lunatics on an island at the end of the Victorian era. This period is clearly ripe for this kind of fiction and Sean loves exploring this world as much as I do. If you're one of the many people who gave up 1/3 of the way in to The Luminaries then you should try this one instead. Or indeed if you're one of the people who finished The Luminaries you should still give this a go. The Devil's making is a very nice blend of Caleb Carr, Brian Moore and Patrick O'Brian with sympathetic characters in a fascinating setting. I hope Sean continues to write more in a similar vein.