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text 2017-11-23 21:44
Reading progress update: I've read 21 out of 642 pages.
Le vide - Patrick Senécal

I've read chapters 21 and 8. Chapter 21 gave us a horrific murder scene and its aftermath while chapter 8 just gave us middle-aged guy with adrenaline-junky issues and who likes to sleep around.

 

It seems that the chapters alternate with thread 1 starting just after the middle (chapter 21 out of a total of 40 chapters) and thread 2 jumping all over the place from the first half, so it's not quite as random as it first appeared.

 

I'm reading up to chapter 4 as a buddy-read with Themis-Athena since we worked out that that was the point where the first book, Vivre au Max, ended. We also now know that Vivre au Max is a TV show and seems to have a sketchy background.

 

So, what tag should we use? "Vivre au Max"? "French buddy-read"? "Vide buddy-read"? I've never come up with a satisfactory translation of "buddy-read", myself.

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text 2017-11-22 19:42
My vide has arrived, but...
Le vide - Patrick Senécal

It's the combined 2-book edition and the table des matières has me confused.

 

Seriously, it goes:

Chapter 21

Chapter 8

Chapter 22

Chapter 1

Chapter 23

....

 

And it's not overtly divided into two "books". In the single book edition, how far does it go?

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review 2017-11-11 00:38
Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

My wife was on a visit to her mother’s, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker Street.

“Why,” said I, glancing up at my companion, “that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”

“Except yourself I have none,” he answered. “I do not encourage visitors.”

“A client, then?”

“If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady’s.”

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door.

I'm not going to comment on every Holmes story - I left out The Boscombe Valley Mystery, for example - but will focus on the ones that have left me with thoughts, and The Five Orange Pips definitely has done so.

 

It is a relatively short story, but there were quite a few points that got my attention on this re-read / re-listen:

 

1. Forget Sherlock's "mind-palace". Sherlock is much more down to earth. ACD gave him a brain-attic. I am not kidding, here's the textual proof (although I apparently missed its mention in A Study in Scarlet):

Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” he said, “I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.

I much prefer the brain-attic. It is much easier to relate to. ;)

 

2. Watson has obviously changed his mind a little about Holmes' shortcomings with respect to general knowledge. In this story, Watson now laughs about his initial assessment of his friend's intellectual capacity. In fact, both Watson and Holmes seem to find it funny in hindsight, which again tells me that some people get Holmes wrong when they say he belittles Watson all the time. Holmes clearly acknowledges his friend's assessment, but instead of being offended by it, he just explains his reasons for not expanding his general knowledge.

 

It is this interaction between the two and the acceptance between the two make the stories so much fun for me.

 

3. There is a reference to Georges Cuvier, one of the forces that established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology. He's much forgotten in today's general knowledge but is mentioned in this story. It made me smile. It also brought home that this story was written only a few decades after the natural sciences were really taken seriously.

 
 

4. Without going into the plot of the story, I loved the acknowledgment that Holmes can fail, and that his sense of pride is not the only motivation in his attempt at make good, but that he is also driven by the senses of justice AND personal responsibility. 

 
5. This is going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:
 
The way ACD describes theactualparts about the KKK was handled well. I loved that ACD does not explain them to the reader much. To explain the KKK would provide a platform to argue about their "cause" or their "justifications". ACD cuts this out from the start by presenting them as the contemptible murderers they are.
(spoiler show)
 
6. This is also going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:
 
 
As my reading buddy points out, the ending is a bit disappointing because it is left to fate to bring about the end of the three murderers, and it would have been a stronger message to have a people stand up to bring about justice.
 
At the same time, tho, the sense of unresolvedness and denial of that delivery of justice also carries some power as a cautionary tale that these secret societies of evil exist in our midst and that people must keep vigilant about spotting their actions.
 
(spoiler show)
 
There is much to admire about this story. It definitely is another story in the Holmes canon that is underrated.
 
“I have come for advice.”
“That is easily got.”
“And help.”
“That is not always so easy.”
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review 2017-11-07 18:25
Investigative Journalism and True Crime Writing Masquerading as Science
Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

I had long rants going through my head on pretty much every page of this book while I was reading, but bottom line, it just doesn't deserve the attention of my detailing them.  I like McDermid's crime fiction (most of it, anyway) and I'd very much wish she'd stick to that in the future.  There is enough writing "for the effect", garnished with sweeping (moreover: repeatedly dead wrong) generalizations about the justice system and legal history in here to last me the next several years at the very least -- and the fact that this is the way she is writing about the one area that I know personally and in-depth only enhances my doubts about her writing concerning the areas with which I am less deeply familiar, and about which I would very much have liked to learn more.

 

As I said in my one and only status update, this isn't science writing -- not even popular science writing.  McDermid lists a number of science books in the bibliography at the end of this book, but there is no indication -- neither in foot- or endnotes nor in any other way -- how, if at all, the contents of those or other books, or other forms of research, personal knowledge and experience actually impacted her writing, are reflected therein, or would provide further information on specific topics that she addresses (by which I don't mean general areas and disciplines such as entomology or toxicology as such but individual aspects of these disciplines that she touches on). 

 

The only thing we may reasonably be assured of is that she talked to a number of scientists and (hopefully) renders the salient contents of their answers with a modicum of faithfulness.  Nevertheless, it is their statements she quotes, not her own independent research and knowledge, and obvioiusly, their answers only cover the topics she asked about, leaving plenty of questions both unasked and unanswered.  Hence, the actual scientific contents of this book is never more than skin-deep.  The vast majority of the book's chapters are a mixture of true crime writing à la Ann Rule and David Wambaugh on the one hand (including lavish, detailed, tabloid-style descriptions of the victims and their suffering), a journalist's description of the physical attributes of her interview partners on the other hand, and a historical and general introduction to the various areas of forensic science that, in any university program, wouldn't merit more than a few minutes' discussion and a recommendation for further reading at home.  Mind you, I'm interested in history, so I did enjoy the individual chapters' paragraph-(or-two-)long introductions dealing with the origins of the respective disciplines, but I most certainly could have done without the plethora of lengthy true crime narration and I also didn't need to know what McDermid's interviewees looked like.  With very few exceptions, I've learned more about forensic science in law school and by reading forensic accident reports in civil cases and pathologists' statements in criminal cases -- and, more specifically, about forensic anthrophology also by reading Kathy Reich's Tempe Brennan mysteries -- than from this book by Val McDermid.

 

On more than one occasion, there is not even any indication how McDermid selected her interview partners in the first place (what exactly do the attributes mean that she uses to characterize several of her interviewees in lieu of detailing their professional background, such as "eminent": who awarded these people those attributes, and on what basis precisely?).  Indeed, in several instances, there is every reason to believe that these just happen to be people she has come across in her day job as a crime fiction writer.  The Professor Bernard Knight she references, for example, is very likely the mystery writer and, according to his own standard short biographical blurb, former Home Office pathologist and professor of forensic medicine who since the early 2000s publishes the Crowner John mystery series and is one of the authors of the "Medieval Murderers" round robins (the first of which appeared in 2005); and the scientists she references from the University of Dundee were involved, last year, in an open university forensics project that used McDermid as a figurehead.  That doesn't mean, of course, that these people don't know what they're doing as scientists (in fact, the frequently plodding nature of Knight's fiction writing makes me suspect that he is probably a better scientist than fiction writer, and from what I saw of the Dundee open university project before I had to drop it due to other commitments, it looked both fun and informative) -- but if McDermid's book had the least bit of claim to being a genuine contribution to (if only: popular) science writing, she would openly state her connection with these sources.  (As an aside, it is not good journalism, either, not to have done so.)

 

Final note on the visuals of the specific edition that I read: I was initially pleased because the cover of this edition seemed to promise a relatively matter-of-fact approach without any recourse to showy effects.  Unfortunately, that proved to be the case with regard to this particular print edition as little as it is with regard to the book's substantive contents, as the fly making an appearance as the cover's sole illustration also makes an appeareance on the book's every single page, for purely "ornamental" purposes and without the slightest reference to the actual contents of those pages:

 

(Scans from the final 2 pages of the chapter on facial reconstruction.)

 

Can you possibly get any tackier -- in a book aspiring to a scientific contents, no less?

 

I read this as the November group read of the Flat Book Society and was planning to use it as my "16 Festive Tasks" book for the "Newtonmas" square: I'm going to leave it on that square provisorially on the basis of the occasional scientific bits contributed by McDermid's interviewees, but will very likely be replacing it by the December rogue Flat Book Society buddy read, The Science of Discworld.

 

 

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text 2017-11-02 18:36
Tannat: Buddy Read Français

... we're good to go.  Or, well, I am.  They got here much quicker than expected, and even both on the same day.  Your call now -- whatever is easier for you to track down at the library.

 

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