Difficult one, this. I excitedly got hold of a book that the world has been raving about, and I’m ashamed to admit I really didn’t like it. Books and stories are so subjective that it’s impossible to please everyone, and I’m sure the wider reading world is completely justified in praising the work. Technically it was marvellous – it was just that I couldn’t stand the protagonist. I’ve been mulling over as to why since I finished it, and I think I’ve hit on it. 

The main character of this book was just utterly subservient to men, their wants and desires. She was weak-willed, passive and fickle. It was maddening. I kept wanting to leap into the pages to shake some backbone into her, but it wasn’t just the main character who was portrayed in such weak terms – the other women in the story were all floundering, flawed and damaged with the same stereotypical traits. 

I have two little girls and I’m trying to bring them up, empower them, to be strong, spirited, independent women who can go and do anything they want in life – the polar opposite of the women in this book, and in that sense, I couldn’t relate to or respect them at all. It frustrated me so much that it was quite a sad reading experience in the end, and I feel bad for not liking this book because the effort and achievement of the author is really something. But I can’t help feeling this way about it! 

This is no essay on gender equality, or a comment on modern gender roles etc, because I’m not in any qualified position to comment. I’m just a father of girls who believes in equality, believes in strong female characters in creative projects and believes that there has to be something more to life for a woman than trying to satisfy the impossible demands of the man you happen to be saddled with.

After I finished, I grabbed the first of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series ‘A Drink Before The War’ and from the first page it was like a long cool glass of lemonade – refreshing in every way. Lehane is now another of my go-to’s if I need to redress the balance.

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I feel like the last guest to show up, but now I’m here I’m glad I made it. I practically ate this book in 24 hours (which with two young kids is no mean feat!).

It ticked every box I possess when it comes to what I like about crime fiction. It zipped along at a magnificent pace, with a sparkling succinctness that urged me to keep picking it up for just a few more pages (then a few more pages, and so on…)

It was moody, revelatory, funny, surprising, exciting and bursting with life. Catching up on what I’ve missed is now an utmost priority – the postman will be busy with book shaped parcels in the coming days…

Not the biggest gamer in the world, but a couple of nights ago I finished Mafia III on the PS4. I used to love games as a kid, being a NES devotee, until the N64 and Playstation came along in my teens, but then I unconsciously stepped away. Games just didn’t grab me anymore – the throwaway nature of games as a kid were great at the time, but now, with kids and responsibilities, there were always more stimulating ways to spend my free time. 

That has changed in recent years as the storytelling and characters in games have improved, and I found that I could enjoy games again in the way that you watch a film, only that now you can participate. And my renaissance in this regard reached what I feel was a peak with Mafia III.

As I said, I’m no gamer – but I am a consumer. The money I spend on games is as good as anybody’s and while I recognise that Mafia III is flawed in many ways, I found it superlative in others – particularly story and character, and the sheer effort and bravery that has gone into telling a story like this. The developers know it too, and know what players are to face as soon as they get started – sso much so that they include the following statement right after you select NEW GAME:

Set in the fictionalised New Bordeaux (read New Orleans) in the late 1960′s, it tackles racial tension and oppression head on. It’s brave. It’s not for everyone. It’s ugly. But it’s accurate. And playing as a black protagonist, you feel it. It lends a real weight to the developing plot strands and choices you must make. 

The attention to detail in creating the world is striking. You expect games now to be beautiful, with great colours and textures, but now the devil is in the details, which is another area in which the game succeeds.

The characters are excellent, and are an area where the developers really hit their marks. The voice acting and motion capture performances are excellent. I cared about everyone, I rolled the punches with them, the dialogue crackled and I wanted to finish it because of them. To see what happened, and where I’d end up. To beat the people that were putting me down. It was challenging at times, and asked things of me I hadn’t thought of before. It was pretty eye-opening.

I believe every dog has it’s day. Every movie it’s moment. Every book it’s reader. And in the context of what Mafia III tries to achieve, there is plenty to take from it. It’s brave and bold, not without it’s flaws, but as an exercise in storytelling, in gaming, I have yet to come across anything better.

The Lost Ones didn’t last long in the end, and I ended up gorging on it into the wee hours. It was sublime. I’m heading to the river tomorrow for a week of family downtime, so I thought I’d head back into something with a strong nature setting… and found myself in Paul Doiron territory once again. Only 40 pages in and already counting the minutes until I can pick it up again – Mike Bowditch and Charley Stevens feel like old friends now. I look forward to ploughing through this with the water slipping by in the background – if the kids will let me…

Top speed smashing through the second Quinn Colson book, The Lost Ones, which is part of another series that has quickly become a must-have, go-to, reliably excellent joy. 

This one snags the parental heartstrings, as a child trafficking network is uncovered, but it’s really the strong protagonists that push this along at speed – and the settings once again find themselves pushed right to the top of places that must be seen before I die.