Crime and Pentominoes

By some strange synchronicity, Lucy (my partner in crime here at Hard Book Habit) and I, have both ended up working night shifts for the council (albeit in different corners of the UK). Night shifts can be very boring affairs, I can tell you, and it helps to have an activity that you can do to help you stay awake while also allowing you to keep an eye on the CCTV cameras.

While Lucy has been whiling away the hours knitting herself an entire 1940s fair isle wardrobe, I’ve been messing about with pentominoes. Apparently there are thousands of ways to assemble these tiles into a 6×10 rectangle. So far I’ve managed, er… two.


I’m determined to work out at least a few more combinations before I consign them to the recycling or worse, cheat.

On the reading front, the school holidays have put paid to any hopes of reading my planned 20 books of summer, but I have thoroughly enjoyed a little sojourn into the world of crime with the next in the series of Martin Beck novels – The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Discovering a tenuous link between an explosion at a house and a suicide, Beck and his team begin to try and untangle the complicated case.

Like the four novels in the series that precede this one, the cases themselves seem of secondary importance to the keenly drawn characters and relationships of the police officers charged with solving them. The way the authors contrast the brutal violence of a crime with the mundane machinations of police procedure and the drudgery of the policemen’s daily lives gives extra dimension to the novels. The characters get fleshed out more fully with every book. I’m totally hooked – the next in the series has already been ordered.

Moving away from police procedurals, I read Patricia Highsmith’s A Suspension of Mercy. In the same way that I have utter confidence in a Martin Beck novel to provide a satisfying crime read, I know I can rely on Patricia Highsmith for thrills and chills, her slick prose as sharp as a cutlass and delivered with gleeful malevolence.

Sydney Bartleby spends his time plotting murders in the hope that he’ll break through his writer’s block. His relationship with his wife Alicia is under strain, something which doesn’t go unnoticed by their friends and neighbour. Alicia tells Sydney that she wants some time apart, but when she appears to have disappeared, people begin to suspect that his plotting has moved beyond the realms of fiction. Rather than trying to prove his innocence, Sydney knuckles down to a prolific period of writing. He ponders what it would feel like if he had murdered his wife, and it becomes increasingly apparent that his reactions to his wife’s disappearance are distant and unpredictable. Even when he discovers Alicia’s whereabouts, Sydney doesn’t clear his own name by telling the police but mines the experience to further his writing. What could have been an engaging enough novel about a crime writer caught in his own trap, is elevated by Highsmith’s  chilling characterisation. Nobody writes sociopathy better.