Radioactive Crimes at Midnight

Some recent reading of crime fiction, including one genre crossover, a sobering non-fiction title, and the curious tale of a fox.

Issue #22, Sunday 15 May 2022

Bookish News

New and Upcoming Releases

Just a few books which caught my eye this time, one debut novel and two interesting-looking non-fiction titles.

A Place Near Eden - Nell Pierce

This won the 2022 The Australian/Vogel Award for an unpublished manuscript, and is being published by Allen and Unwin.

How can we know the truth of our own lives? This question troubles Matilda, as she looks back on her time with her foster brother, Sem. Matilda remembers long hours at the swimming pool. Celeste, a girl who lived downstairs with her artist mother. Sem disappearing for hours, then days. Her father yelling in the driveway. A car coming to take Sem away.

More details

The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight

In 1966, John Barker, a dynamic psychiatrist working in an outdated British mental hospital, established the Premonitions Bureau to investigate [instances of accurate premonitions]. He would find a network of hundreds of correspondents, from bank clerks to ballet teachers. Among them were two unnervingly gifted “percipients”. Together, the pair predicted plane crashes, assassinations and international incidents, with uncanny accuracy. And then, they informed Barker of their most disturbing premonition: that he was about to die. The Premonitions Bureau is an enthralling true story, of madness and wonder, science and the supernatural - a journey to the most powerful and unsettling reaches of the human mind.

I’m more than a bit sceptical about this, but on the other hand I’m very interested in how the human mind works and how complex the whole business of perception is. So this is certainly a book I will borrow from the library rather than buy.

Buy it at Readings.

Machines Behaving Badly: The Morality of AI by Toby Walsh

Professor Toby Walsh, a world-leading researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, explores the ethical considerations and unexpected consequences AI poses - Is Alexa racist? Can robots have rights? What happens if a self-driving car kills someone? What limitations should we put on the use of facial recognition?Machines Behaving Badly is a thought-provoking look at the increasing human reliance on robotics and the decisions that need to be made now to ensure the future of AI is as a force for good, not evil.

This certainly looks like the kind of book I would be interested in buying, and probably in paper format. For whatever reason I struggle with non-fiction books in ebook format. Maybe it’s the difficulty of referring to footnotes, or skipping back a few pages without losing your place.

Buy it at Readings.

My Reading

What I’ve Been Buying

I bought another couple of paper-format books this time around, my bad. I’ll have to hold off on any more for quite a while or I’ll have drained my book-buying budget for months.

The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford

Francis Spufford is a well-regarded British novelist. His novel Light Perpetual, which I read and enjoyed, was long-listed for the 2021 Booker Prize. This is an account of how his childhood reading influenced him as he was growing up. I was able to find a second-hand copy via Abe Books. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Memory’s Legion by James S. A. Corey

This is a collection of novellas and short stories set in the Expanse universe. I actually bought it as a hardcover because it was only a few cents more expensive than the paperback, go figure.

Buy it at Readings.

Completed Since Last Issue

I’m only going to talk briefly about the following three books, because they were read for a crime fiction episode of our podcast, which we will be recording tomorrow. I’ll publish more detailed reviews next time around after that episode has gone to air.

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

This was a really excellent book, an almost-incredibly detailed and well-researched account of what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, and why. Higginbotham was able to get hold of an immense amount of material, including many first person accounts of the disaster and its aftermath, and he brings it all to life so well that it’s almost like being on the spot (not that you would have wanted to be on the spot, or anywhere near it!). Much of the blame can be sheeted home to the stultifying Soviet bureaucracy and endemic corruption. Back then the Soviet Union was still in place, of course, and it’s clear from Higginbotham’s account that the race to modernise the country by rapidly building a large number of nuclear power stations was very much a political rather than technical decision. In fact, the design of the RBMK reactors installed at Chernobyl and many other places across the Soviet Union was fundamentally flawed in several respects. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

It was particularly interesting reading at this time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because there are many interesting resonances. The pushing ahead at all costs for political purposes, the corruption and over-confidence, the misinformation and severe clampdown on anyone trying to tell the truth to the Russian people; it’s all here.

Highly recommended.

Buy it at Readings.

Lady Into Fox by David Garnett

This is a curious little book. Published in 1922, it’s quite short (about 25,000 words, more of a novella). The strange premise is this: A newly-married couple are taking a leisurely walk through the woods in England when, without warning, the woman suddenly transforms into a fox. The grief-stricken husband does his best to look after his transformed wife after this astonishing change.

Lady Into Fox quickly attracted critical attention and praise. It won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize, and was included by the writer Rebecca West in a list of the “best imaginative productions” of the 1920s alongside Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

I did this book as a production for Standard Ebooks because I’d read a kind of sequel to it. As part of one of our podcast episodes, we go back to look at the Hugo Awards in various years. One of the nominees for best novel in 1963 was a book called Sylva by an author with the pseudonym “Vercours”. Written originally in French and subsequently translated into English, this was directly inspired by Garnett’s novel. However, in it, the reverse transformation occurs: a fox on the run from a hunt is transformed into a naked young woman, who is taken in and cared for by the owner of a nearby manor, with all sorts of difficult consequences.

Available as a free ebook here

Waiting on the Shelf

And that’s another issue done! See you next time. With my new schedule, that should be on Sunday 5 June. Please feel free to comment and to share this with your friends.

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