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Death Can’t Take a Joke by Anya Lipska – a review

Currently being stuck at home means the postman’s visit is always a very exciting prospect and amazon has become my best friend these past few weeks. There is nothing more exciting than receiving a parcel you don’t remember ordering. Except that is, if you then find out that not only is it a book, it’s an advanced copy of a book sent directly from the publisher by an author whose first novel you really liked. Winner winner chicken dinner as some would say (although I’m a vegetarian so chicken dinner isn’t something I’d be too pleased about!)

death Death Can’t Take a Joke is the second novel by Anya Lipska. I read her first novel ‘Where the devil can’t go’ as part of last year’s festival reading. Anya Lipska had been picked by Val McDermid to appear as part of the new blood panel during the crime festival.

Death Can’t Take a Joke begins with detective Natalie Kershaw about to start a new job with the Murder squad. Unfortunately on her way to work she comes across a potential suicide so her first task is to identify the body. This is not as straightforward as it sounds as the person has no identity and the only clue is a polish coin found at the scene.

As in the first novel, the other main character is Janusz Kiszka. He is a private investigator who is also well known within the Polish community as someone who can fix things. His best friend Jim is stabbed to death outside his front door, and Kiszka vows to track down who is responsible. He starts by following a woman who he sees leaving flowers at the scene, which is a trail that soon leads him into trouble, and to accompanying Kershaw to Poland where things finally begin to make sense.

Death Can’t Take a Joke was a great read, as evidenced by the fact I read it in a day. Initially as with all good books, it starts out as seemingly separate stories which slowly begin to wind together culminating in the final reveal. A couple of times during the book I had an ‘ah ha’ moment and thought I’d actually guessed what was going to happen. Each time I was wrong as more twists and turns were created.

I especially liked the fact that everything around the thriller aspect was neatly wrapped up at the end although not in a sickly isn’t it all wonderful way but realistically and relationships were still left damaged. The characters were very likeable and I felt they were less annoying this time than in her previous novel which could be a sign that I am just getting to know them better.

One of my favourite things about this novel, as with her previous book was the insight it gives into the Polish community and Eastern European history although I felt that this time there was less emphasis on the actual setting and more on the stories but that is often the case with a second book. Throughout the story you are aware that you are reading about a Polish man, and one of the subtle ways this is reinforced is through the fact the novel is interspersed with Polish words. They are placed in such a way that they don’t interrupt the flow of the story at all but are a great way of consistently reminding the reader of the different cultures.

I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to reading more from Anya Lipska. In the meantime it’s back to the internet for more online shopping!

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Fear the worst

I’ve been having a closer look at the programme for the Harrogate Crime Writers Festival today, there are 17 sessions across the three days not including the dinner or the quiz. Having looked through them all, so far I’ve read at least one author from 11 of the sessions. Therefore if the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC for the purposes of my new readers) is this year to ensure that I read an author from each session then I’m pretty much on track.

However sadly, those of you who have been reading this from the start will know that the initial TOPCWFC was actually to read a book by every author appearing at the festival. By my calculations there are 43 authors (not including those who are chairing or interviewing people) and so far I’ve read a rather paltry 14. I think even by my standards the main challenge is over before its even really begun, somehow I doubt I’ll find the time to read 29 authors in the next eight weeks but never one to shirk a challenge I’ll give it a go.

In order to start properly as I was in town earlier today I decided to pop into Waterstones. I think one of the saddest things over the past few years has been the demise of the bookshop. I’m not one for shopping but put me in a bookshop and I can spend hours browsing round but I fear that sadly I’m in the minority and bookshops are only going to become more scarce. This time I went into my local Waterstones with my copy of the festival programme dutifully annotated to ensure I don’t end up duplicating authors. I figured I’d try and pick up a couple of the books from sessions I’ve not yet completed. That however is where I hit the fundamental flaw when it comes to bookshops, their lack of books.

I understand that bookshops can only stock a limited selection of books due to shelf space but when you go in wanting something specific its very frustrating. Obviously the idea with a bookshop is that you can go in and browse around and then decide what you fancy reading which is good normally. Today however I was to be disappointed. Therefore I can see where the benefits of amazon come into play (and in true bbc style all other good online retailers  this is not an advert for amazon) shopping from the comfort of my own front room and every single book you could possibly want certainly has its advantages.

The problem is, online shopping in itself can be annoying. The endless waiting for delivery and then in my case the knowledge that no matter what size the parcel is, it will still have been intercepted by Hilda next door. That means an extra 30 minutes discussion about the latest parking saga on the street before I can get my hands on my book. Patience has never been one of my strong points and this can certainly test it.

Some of course may say that all this annoyance could be circumnavigated by simply purchasing items for my kindle. I do agree to a point, and a kindle really is one of the best inventions since the creation of BT Vision in my opinion. No luggage limit is likely to allow me to carry the 14 books recently read on my holiday. However I still like to have a proper book to read at home which takes me back round in full circle to having to visit a bookshop.

Luckily in order to continue the TOPCWFC un-interupted I did find one book I wanted in the bookshop, so its time to start some serious reading.

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Winter Frost

Those of you have read any of my previous blogs know my love of a jiffy bag arriving. This week it has been jiffy bag galore around us. You could tell it had been pay day as it seemed every house had been ordering things. Of course down our street all parcels end up being delivered to Hilda 1. It’s nothing to do with the size of either the parcel or the letterbox, mainly it’s the fact that Pete the postie gets intercepted with the offer of help as soon as he turns into the street. On the odd occasion I’m actually in at lunchtime, watching him is great fun. You can see the look of fear on his face as he creeps round the houses trying desperately not to make any sound that might alert the Hilda’s to his presence. Sadly for him Hilda 1 has the hearing of an Owl (seriously, this is the woman who once told me she had heard a rat climbing into my hanging basket) so most days he is unable to avoid her.

This week the street has had a whole range of items delivered, from vitamins to clothing to a new frying pan. Of course mine were jiffy bags of knowledge containing books as always. This week they were even better from my point of view, as they were both books I’d been sent from America to review, so I’m very excited.

The slight problem with getting things delivered to Hilda 1 is that as she goes to bed at 4.30pm you always have to wait until the next morning to get the parcel. Although handily it’s always delivered with the 7am weather forecast and her top tip of the day. Friday’s tip for those of you interested was that you should always use lard when making pastry not butter, helpful to know at 7am.

Of course the fact that I know what everyone else down the street has bought also means that they all know my purchasing habits too. This led to the women over the road, we’ll call her Marina, commenting how she can’t believe I have so much time to read. This is the kind of comment that annoys me, in my experience everyone has the time to read if they want to. For some people checking their email is such an addiction there is barely time in their lives for anything else, similarly those who put constant updates on facebook are often those complaining of lack of time.

Marina is a classic example of a woman who spends hours doing non necessary (in my view) tasks. Putting aside the stream of male visitors that appear as soon as her husband turns her back, just friends obviously, this is the woman that seems to be obsessed with saving the street from the dangers of winter weather.

At the first sign of a morning frost she’s outside with her bucket and trowel throwing sand around until even the seagulls get confused and start circling overhead looking for the sea. When it was snowing, you’d think it was about to be the end of the world. Every time I looked out the window she was out with her shovel moving the snow, only for it to be completely covered again within an hour. Not that it deterred her or the Hilda’s who joined her in the fight against snow. . It was truly one of the most pointless tasks I’ve ever seen, especially as it all disappeared overnight anyway. This is the problem with a lack of reading I think, maybe if she’d read more books she would have known that snow is only temporary and does eventually melt! I think I need to introduce her to the joys of amazon and she might start getting the jiffy bags of knowledge too.

 

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Small crimes

People are always saying that things have shrunk over the years and on the whole I would agree. For example, last week I was given a wagon wheel. When I was a kid finding a wagon wheel in my lunchbox was like a lottery win (although obviously I wouldn’t have thought that exact thought at the time, as it was pre-lottery) The wheel of chocolate that was a wagon were massive and they were much favoured over the usual non branded chocolate biscuits. This time whilst it was very nice, it just seemed very small, more tonka toy wheel than wagon. You could dunk it in a cup of coffee and I’m sure you wouldn’t have been able to do that years ago.

Monster munch, there’s another micro snack. You can’t bite the toes of a pickled onion foot anymore, the whole thing is only one bite.

Music players have shrunk to Lilliputian standards from the big record players you played vinyl on, to the tiny mp3 players people use now. I saw a man walking down the road listening to a portable cd player the other day and even that looked huge.

Books however, I think are the complete opposite. This week I started reading a book by Carl Hiaasen that a friend lent me. Its an old paperback version and it seems tiny. I know it might just be because the last few books I’ve read have been hardbacks which by necessity are much bigger, but even compared to the paperbacks I’ve bought recently it is really small.

I like to think, in my romantic view of the world, that it is all because paper and ink is affordable now. In Georgian times they used to put a pineapple in the middle of their table to prove their wealth. Now we all want to show off our wealth by buying bigger books.

I suspect though that as with so many things, it’s just about greed. People want more for less, more clothes at less money, 300 channels on their tv, triple whopper double bacon burgers, and now to top it all off bigger books.

Of course there is a third argument, that this may just be a ploy by Amazon to sell their kindles. The bigger the books get, the more we are all going to hate carrying them around, hence the more e-books will sell. That would seem a clever bit of marketing! Luckily the smallness of the book isn’t affecting my enjoyment of Carl Hiaasen, although I won’t be buying any wagon wheels in the near future.

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The Memory Game

I suspect that people read less nowadays then they used to. Obviously I have no scientific evidence for this at all, but I think its probably common sense. When Charlotte Bronte was penning her stories up in Howarth her other options for entertainment were housework or painting (or maybe polishing the church pews!) so writing and reading would have been all she had to do.

Nowadays of course, we not only have tv and radio, but computers, the internet, games consoles, mobile phones the list goes on. I read somewhere recently that nowadays people go for months without hand writing anything. This means that soon adults will forget how to write completely and will only be able to type. I think it’s hard not to argue that tv and social media has had a massive effect on reading as well and definitely its had a negative effect on peoples ability to concentrate.

TV shows tend to treat us as though we have the attention span of a half dead goldfish. I recently watched an hours show about criminal psychology on Channel 5 (I know, it’s the red top of the terrestrial tv world) It started by telling us what they were going to show in the programme, then we had 10 minutes of actual show, before we got ‘Coming up…’ Then of course we had the first of 3 ad breaks (all over 3 minutes long) Then back to the show which spent 5 minutes telling us what we’d seen before the ad break, just in case we’d forgotten in the space of those 3 minutes.

This went on for the entire show. I imagine if you added it up (which I may try shortly) you would probably only get about 30 minutes of unique material in the whole hour.

This is why I think people no longer read books. Unless they can actually sit and read them in a whole session (Do they still make Dick and Jane books?) then people forget what they’ve read the following day. They are so used to having everything repeated and repeated that without someone going – ‘Welcome to chapter 2, in Chapter 1 we found out…’ – they can’t remember what happened.

Maybe this could be a new business idea? In a recent conversation with a friend she pointed out that my ability to read very fast is a great attribute. Maybe I could use that to start a whole new series of books. I’ll read a book and then turn it into the equivalent of a channel 5 documentary with a few pages at the beginning of each chapter summarizing what you are about to read, and a few pages at the end of each one saying what is about to happen in the next one. Of course this will definitely have to only be available as kindle editions – can you imagine the size of a Mark Billingham novel if you did this?

It could be a winner though and yet another great reason for owning a kindle. I’m off to contact Amazon now (This idea is copyright of acrimereadersblog…)

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