Wednesday 1 April 2015
1 April? That’s a good day to remember not to take things you read on the internet at face value. There are bound to be plenty of spoof stories appearing on normally serious sites (I wonder if normally spurious ones, like The Onion, print a piece of genuine reporting).
It probably isn’t a good day to mention that you can now, for a time at least, play Pac-man on Google Maps. I should have mentioned it yesterday when I first discovered the new option in the bottom left corner. I’m not a great one for arcade games so it didn’t hold my attention for long but at least you can verify the suggestion by visiting maps yourself.
Anyway, exercise more than the usual degree of caution in assessing the things you read today.
Tuesday 31 March 2015
I love a thick, crunchy crust on my bread. Turn up the heat high, give it a good cook and you get that satisfying crack as you bite into it. However, sometimes that isn’t ideal, such as when I bake bread to take down for a communion service at church. People love the taste but I think it can be a challenge for the people breaking the bread and people are still chewing when they get to the cup! How could I bake good bread with a softer crust.
It turns out that the answer is simply to turn the heat down. Bread needs to reach an internal temperature of about 95°C to be properly cooked but the oven doesn’t need to be at the 200°C range that I normally set it (my typical regime is heating the fan oven to 220°C, putting the bread in and turning down to 200°C). It didn’t take any longer too cook and I got the softer crust I was after – not like mighty white sliced bread but not too hard. It is a technique I’ll keep in my repertoire.
Monday 30 March 2015
I was excited to see that Spotify had a new Jack Bruce album available (Live at Canterbury Fayre). Bruce died in October last year. I couldn’t pretend to be an expert on his work but his playing definitely exerted some influence in my formative bass playing years. However, listening to the album was a little disappointing and I wonder if it would have been released if he were still alive and performing?
It isn’t that it is particularly egregious but it just doesn’t seem to rise above a decent pub rock level of playing. I’ve got recordings of gigs I’ve done that aren’t far off the standard and, to my ears, it sounds like there are a number of passages where he doesn’t nail the intonation on his fretless bass, while the guitarist (Vernon Reid, I think) sometimes sounds like he is getting carried away with a flurry of notes.
I expect the gig was pretty expensive, given the brand value of the musicians involved. Perhaps the lesson to draw is not to decry the value of hearing something almost as good at a boozer near you? When does an originals band start to just become a cheap covers imitation of itself? Perhaps Live at Canterbury Fayre is one of those albums that sits on the borderline?
Saturday 28 March 2015
Last week’s homebrew, Inspector Banks, is now in the bottle and first indications are that it is one to look forward to. It needs at least a couple of weeks to condition in the bottle but the left-overs that I sampled make me optimistic.
In the photo above you can see the label I created for this brew, using covers from various Peter Robinson novels about the detective of the same name. It is a good way to end my week of crime and I am inclined to stick with the practise of bottling after a week if the gravity is stable rather than leaving the brew waiting longer. In other words, I’ve got a convition in mind, pending actually trying the results once it has had time to pass through the final prosecution.
Friday 27 March 2015
Fred Vargas, despite, the assumption you might make from the name, is a French lady writing (in the books I’ve enjoyed so far) about male detectives. By contrast, travelling back north to Sweden for the last entry in my week of crime, Mons Kallentoft is a man who writes about a female detective. Fit and determined to the point of obsession, Malin Fors would give any of the others I have written about a run for their money.
So far, I’ve read four of the five novels in the series that have been translated into English; I finished the latest one, The Fifth Season, earlier this week but haven’t managed to get my hands on Summertime Death so far. A particular feature is that the narrative uses shifting perspectives; mainly the protagonist, Malin, but also other characters, most notably the spirits of the disembodied victims. It doesn’t quite become a supernatural series, with the dead guiding the living to find the truth, but there is a feeling that Malin is partly driven by picking up the resonance of the unjustly killed even if she still has to put in the legwork to track down the perpetrators.
Dark, but mysterious, gripping and highly recommended. You might have come across some of the stories I’ve mentioned this week but I hope I’ve provided a few leads to help you travel further if crime fiction is your bag.
Thursday 26 March 2015
Fred Vargas is an archaeologist but also a very accomplished author. A few years ago I enjoyed The Three Evangelists and was similarly impressed by The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. Both are set in her native France and I will mainly concentrate on the latter book, which I remember more clearly.
The lead character is Commissaire Adamsberg, who takes a circuitous route in his investigations but does so both to allow hunches to prove themselves and to make room for compassion. Here is a hero who is an admirable person and, unlike many other fictional detectives, not weighed down by issues like alcoholism. I found the writing evocative; not fast-paced but drawing on an engaging sense of connection.
Therefore Vargas and her investigations of France are high on my list of works to seek out and read.
Wednesday 25 March 2015
I became aware of Peter May through his Lewis trilogy, detective fiction set in the Outer Hebrides. Since finishing the last of those I’ve keenly scanned the M section on the library shelves looking to read more. Last year I enjoyed Entry Island, set in Canada and I recently finished The Critic, an Enzo MacLeod investigation that takes place in France (Enzo himself is Scottish with Italian roots).
May seems to do a remarkable job of capturing a sense of place, despite writing several distinct series set in diverse place round the world. I’m not sure I would rate the latter two works quite as high as the Lewis ones, where I felt a very visceral connection with the lead character, but his writing stands out as clear, intelligent and well-paced in all cases.
I will continue to scan the M section and am particularly keen to find out how his series of books set in Shanghai turn out to be. That’s a city I haven’t come across as a setting since reading J G Ballard’s Empire of the Sun at school so one I’d be fascinated to “revisit”.