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February 22, 2007

Panic - Jeff Abbott

Panic - Jeff Abbott

Another week, another crappy thriller, I really must stop reading them now. Open appeal to WH Smiths - stop sticking these turkeys in prominent positions on your shelves as part of 'Buy one get one half price" offers!

Anyway, Evan is a young documentary film maker, and his mother calls him very early one morning to ask him to drive over to her house to see her urgently. When he gets there - she is dead, murdered. How could this happen? Why would someone want to kill his sweet mom?

Before long Evan is fighting for his life, being pursued by the police, the CIA, and the 'Deeps' who are a secret limb of the CIA, his girlfriend is also a bit suspect. He comes to realise that his family are not what he always assumed, and that they have a very dark past.

Relentless action, stereotyped psychopathic villains and danger from every corner stops things from getting boring, but I wasn't really involved enough to care that much about Evan. Being a geek, I liked some of the cryptography - hiding data using steganography inside photograps or MP3 music files is a fairly neat idea to use, and I was pleased that though he mentions computers quite a lot, he manages to get the technical details right.

One good character tries to save Evan, risking his own life several times, only to get written out ignominiously - I think this was a mistake and would have liked to see a bit more of him.

I'm disappointed in the title too, pretty meaningless as no-one actually panics in the whole story. I think it would be a fun film to watch in a "Bourne Identity" kind of way, but no, I really don't think I'll be trying any other of his books any time soon.

Posted by se71 at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2007

Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen

Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen

Still on the thriller trail, I thought I'd give Hiaasen a try. I've not read many comedies recently, and if the reviews were to be believed, I'd be laughing out loud at this one. He's written a fair number of books, and I read the first page of 'Skinny Dip' in the bookshop and decided that this one would do - it had a nicer cover than the other monochrome themed ones as well.

Unfortunately, it's a very disappointing let down. It does start with a great idea - Joey is on a cruise ship off the coast of Florida with her husband Chaz, when he suddenly throws her overboard. It's dark, and he thinks she is dead, but she survives the fall and starts swimming to shore. She is confused. Why did he do it? She means to find out and get her revenge.

The problems start right away - why doesn't she go to the police and have him arrested. The flimsy excuse is that she thinks he's a good talker, and would probably get off if it went to court. I wasn't convinced. Amazingly she is rescued by an ex policeman, who agrees to help her wreak her revenge in a more unconventional manner. This is bizarre and unbelievable. Her next steps are disproportionate and in some cases illegal. She loses the reader's sympathy with each new crazy way she tries to pay her husband back instead of doing the sensible thing and alerting the authorities. In fact, she even drives him to another attempted murder.

So I've covered the thriller part, sort of, I don't want to give away too much plot in case you want to read this rubbish. How about the comedy aspect. Well, Hiaasen thinks he's Elmore Leonard, but he isn't. Comedy novels are notoriously difficult to get right. The characters need to behave in a believable way, and their situations have to force them into doing things that are funny. Here, the characters all make completely stupid decisions that make no sense to anyone, just to set up a comedy moment. Wouldn't it be funny if Joey was hiding under the bed while her husband had another woman with him. Sure, though why she'd risk being in the house when she is trying to make him believe she is dead is a small detail we'll gloss over. And you also need rare skill to make attempted murder in cold blood funny, Hiaasen doesn't possess it.

By the end it's Chaz we start feeling sorry for, and wish Joey would just leave him alone.

The only positive thing you get from the book is an appreciation of the ecological problems facing the everglades swamps. Hiaasen obviously feels stongly about this, and, in fact, some of his other books deal with this theme also. But it's not enough, if you want to try this genre, stick with Elmore Leonard I think.

Posted by se71 at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

The Husband - Dan Koontz

The Husband - Dean Koontz

Koontz hasn't traditionally done standard thrillers, there is usually a supernatural bent to his work. I occassionally get in the mood for something pacy and the tagline for this novel caught my eye in the bookshop.

It's about a man who's wife is kidnapped, and he is ordered to pay $2 million within 60 hours to get her back. The twist is that he is a poorly paid gardener; how on earth will he find that kind of money? The kidnappers obviously have some kind of plan, but what is it?

As usual, Koontz writes with a breezy familiarity, and the story flows smoothly and intelligently. His main character, Mitch, is really likable, and though he sometimes has to do bad things in his pursuit of the kidnappers, it's always explained away in a manner that means we never lose sympathy for him. In fact, he's almost too nice near the end and the situation gets a little slapstick because of it.

The family history of Mitch gets explored in some detail; he comes from very odd parents, and there are echoes of one of Koontz's past books, Whispers, in there I thought. I guess Koontz couldn't resist having a bit of weirdness in his book

Nevertheless, the plot works out neatly, the twists are interesting if not startling, and the whole thing is a great way to spend a few hours on a train, plane or beach.

Posted by se71 at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2007

Hidden Tracks on CDs Hell

I am now getting royally pissed off with this stupid practice. Artists seem to think it's cool and clever to waste my time and disk space with several minutes of silence on a CD. Latest culprits are Klaxons who couldn't even manage 3 minutes for the final track of their latest album (no link - do not buy this CD), and yet padded out the CD with 15 minutesof complete silence, and then put a couple of minutes of annoying synth sounds. Don't these people know that some people might be listening on portable music players whilst running, or in rooms far away from the audio equipment, so that clicking to the next track is non-trivial. I spent 1/3 of my last run in silence thinking the album was over and not able to easily get at my iPod throgh the layers of clothing I was wearing; you've really annoyed me Klaxons.

Am I supposed to think this is fantasticly wonderful. Don't these bozos know that this kind of thing was boring ten years ago. It's a 23Mb MP3 file, and it's just not funny.

So, if I had time, here's what I'd do. Search my MP3 folders for all final tracks on a CD that are >10Mb. Some of the resultant files will be legitimate, but a lot will have these stupid silences. 'Name and shame' the artists as publicly as I can, and try and make them and anyone else stop doing it in future. Who's with me?

It's not just hidden tracks that are annoying me, it's bonus tracks in general too. If I get a 'Special Edition' CD (#) with bonus tracks, I expect the bonus to be something worth having.

Pink, on her latest album "I'm not Dead" has an untitled bonus track which is a Vietnam War lament written by her father years ago. They sing a duet. I't appalling.

Similarly, and untitled track on Snow Patrol's "Eyes Open" CD is just some muffled talking from a child (I think it's the lead singer's daughter), nearly 4 minutes of it. Total waste of space.

Paulo Nuttini on his pretty good "These Streets" debut, falls into the same trap. Track 10, Alloway Grove, is 14:12 minutes long, but in the middle there is about 3 minutes silence, and then a bonus track which is just an acoustic, and inferior, reworking of one of the others.

And these are just albums I've bought in the last few months - it seems to be getting worse.

note to the publisher 'Universal' - I'm not fooled - every single one of your artist's CDs has a special sticker on it.

Posted by se71 at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2007


Someone pointed me to this little site, Indexed, which I've stuck in my RSS feed and find quite amusing and interesting. It appeals to the geek in me. Taking some common situation, and distilling it to a Venn Diagram, or graph, is a good way to see how you feel about something.

It looks fun to do, and I had an idea, so knocked it up in paintbrush. Apologies to Jessica Hagy for the plagiarism


Posted by se71 at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2007

The Doomsday Machine

They've made some new special effects, and will be releasing a special edition of the Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine"

Of all the Star Trek stories, this one actually scared me when I was a kid. The thought of a huge, planet eating monster, possibly coming towards us, made a big impression on an imaginative child.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new one, though I'm much less impressionable now, which is a shame really.

Posted by se71 at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2007

Computer Games Are Too Hard

I was sure I'd written a piece on this, but cannot find it right now.

Anyway, slashdot are dicussing the subject today, and when I find what I wrote, I'll link to it.

Posted by se71 at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)