About Me

My photo
I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

So True....... and so ends Book Month here @ SaLT. Didn't it go by in a whoooosh? Well, it did for me. See you in May for more fun..... 

Just Finished Reading: Notes On a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig (FP: 2018)

It came seemingly from nowhere – without reason. He was stuck, as if struck by lightning, into immobility. In the middle of a crowded shopping Mall he couldn’t move, overwhelmed by a sudden rush of terror. His girlfriend (and later wife) tried everything she could to get him moving again and, finally, she did so as tears ran down his cheeks as he moved slowly to the nearest exit. Although not his first panic attack it was one of the worst and, looking back, the one that made him determined to understand exactly why this was happening to him and to find ways to live in a world that made him so anxious so often.

I’m not exactly sure why I picked this book up a year or so ago. Sure, it was on offer but lots of books I pick up and put back again are in the 3 for 2 pile at my favourite book store. It’s not that I’m particularly nervous. I did have my one and (so far) only panic attack over 25 years ago whilst on a train on the way to work one morning but I wasn’t looking to this book to explain that. Interesting the author and I had (eventually anyway) a similar approach to the incident although to be honest my ‘attack’ was nowhere near as debilitating as the author’s. I felt a sudden wave of panic wash over me. It was as if I was in danger of imminent attack. My flight response was turned up to 11 but I was on a speeding train – unable to go anywhere until the next station. So I did the only thing I could – I threw all of my mental resources at it in an attempt to understand WHY I was feeling this way without any obvious external reason to be so. For about 10 minutes I worked at it eventually coming up blank. It was a normal day. There was nothing at work or in my life that could elicit the reaction I felt so I could not, and cannot to this day, explain it. After about 10 minutes the feeling vanished as quickly as it arrived. I got off the train at my usual stop and went to work musing on what had just occurred. Since that event nothing like it has ever reoccurred. I have had a few bubbles of random anxiety pop into my brain over the years (odd little things that they are) but, after acknowledging them, I wait until they fade which they do within 20-30 minutes. So I can certainly appreciate – to some extent at least – what the author has gone through and continues to experience.

This is an interesting little work full of sage advice. It’s the kind of book you can dip into for a thought of the day or to re-read a list of do’s and don’ts on negative thoughts, social media use and much else besides. He makes some very good points that I’ve seen alluded to in other books especially about social media and Internet use in general. Rightly he says that, because world news is immediately in our face 24/7 there’s no opportunity to pause and reflect. Everything is happening NOW. Big Picture analysis is almost impossible with alerts from multiple platforms ringing in your ears day and night. This, the author found, was his centre of anxiety – the all-consuming need to be constantly informed and to correct people on the Internet no matter that he hadn’t slept for 36 hours. Sleep – or lack thereof – that was another thing. We live in a 24 hour world now so if you don’t want to switch off you no longer have to. We have left the age where TV channels closed down at night or when we only knew people in our own Time Zone. It is not a world designed to make us comfortable in our own skins – most especially when we are encouraged to compare the worst of ourselves (in our private world) with the best of others (constantly on public display). All of which is encouraged by the fashion and cosmetic industries – and their fellow travellers. Consumerism is, by its very nature, designed to make us feel inadequate on every level and it’s very good at its job.

If you’ve ever experienced social anxiety or even had a panic attack at any point (even before the present weird time we’re living through) or know someone who has and want to understand things from the inside then this could be a useful way in for you. The author doesn’t hide how rough it can be to go through this sort of thing (and on your loved ones too) but does offer a great deal of useful insight into the condition, the causes and some coping strategies that work – at least for him. Recommended. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Sixth View from the Apocalypse

How fast time flies when you can’t go anywhere! I think I’m getting into the habit of existing within four walls. I was always a homebody but it’s rather different when you can’t go anywhere and not just don’t want to. It’s a funny feeling. One thing I’m not is bored. The days actually rush by. I have a pretty standard schedule so I’m not looking for things to do. Reading helps of course. If I can’t leave the house physically I can at least leave it in my head (I’m spending half of the day in 19th century Bath presently which is interesting as I know the present day city – or at least I’ve been there on multiple occasions). Then there’s learning stuff on YouTube (World History mostly but also a bit of Science too), catching up on TV boxsets (just finished Stargate: Atlantis Series 3 and will now be re-watching Series 1 of WestWorld to catch all of the things I missed in the first viewing) and then there’s gaming (2 Point Hospital ATM which is funny and challenging in equal measure) and chatting to the Guys online in the evenings (we’re even talking of having a Virtual Curry as we presently can’t meet up in a restaurant).

In the larger world the UK is still in lockdown so there’s nowhere much to go. I do visit my local supermarket every few days for about 15 minutes which does honestly increase my stress levels before, during and after the trip. I couldn’t help but thinking that my present habit of cleaning any plastic bottles with anti-bacterial wipes followed by door handles, light switches and other hard surfaces when I get back felt like I was about the exit a crime scene and didn’t want to leave any DNA evidence behind. I couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

Larger still it looks like a lot of Europe is starting to open up – at least tentatively. No doubt our government is keeping a weather eye on that and taking any results into account for their own plans in the coming months. I still think we won’t see any return to a new normal (how far that will be from per-Covid normal is anyone’s guess) until after a vaccine and effective treatment are in place. If any changes will be permanent I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see if people will still shake hands in 12 or 18 months’ time. I think Bill Gates was right when he said that the Pandemic would accelerate the move online – both for workers (at least the ones who can do so) and businesses (likewise). I think in the future far more will be delivered to your home rather than going out and buying it. I do wonder if we’ll start valuing those in various parts of the Service Sector though. It’s all smiles and clapping now but will that translate into higher wages and more status? For a while maybe… But at least it has highlighted just how important these people are and, as they are human beings, they deserve to be appreciated anyway rather than be regarded by far too many as menials there to serve the better off.

Hopefully the other lesson that the whole world has learnt is that we can no longer ignore and underfund Pandemic preparedness and research. If we’d been spending the millions early on we could have saved the trillions its costing right now. Because as sure as God made little green apples there will be another Covid outbreak which could be a lot worse than this one. If we’re not ready for Covid-25 or Covid-35 then we deserve to have our civilisations butt kicked. We need to stop ignoring the science and start listening to the scientists and, far more importantly, plan and act accordingly. Maybe after the tragedy we’re living through starts to fade we’ll be stronger for it. Here’s hoping that’s the case. Be Safe. Stay Safe.   

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Coronavirus: State surveillance 'a price worth paying'

From the BBC

24 April 2020

A major increase in state surveillance is a "price worth paying" to beat Covid-19, a UK think tank says. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), founded by the former prime minister, says it could offer an "escape route" from the crisis. In a report, the Institute argues the public must accept a level of intrusion that would normally "be out of the question in liberal democracies". The rollout of contact-tracing apps has provoked a global debate. The paper argues all governments must choose one of three undesirable outcomes: an overwhelmed health system, economic shutdown, or increased surveillance. "Compared to the alternatives, leaning in to the aggressive use of the technology to help stop the spread of Covid-19... is a reasonable proposition," it says. However, digital rights activists have warned that an overly-intrusive approach could backfire. "There are many roads for the UK government to choose in lifting the lockdown and determining technology's role within that," said the Open Rights Group earlier this month. "A collaborative, privacy-preserving model would be best for preserving the trust and confidence of the British public."

Contact-tracing applications work by logging every person that a smartphone comes in close contact with who also has the app. If one person is diagnosed with Covid-19, all those at risk can be notified automatically. But experts in the field cannot agree which solution is the most effective while simultaneously protecting privacy rights to the greatest extent possible. The TBI paper recommends that official contact-tracing apps should be released as soon as possible - but should be opt-in rather than compulsory, in order to boost trust. It also says there should be a "digital credential" to help lift lockdown restrictions. It would be a type of digital certificate that would identify those who have immunity to the virus and are fit to return to work, though it notes an alternative would be necessary for those without a smartphone.

TBI argues that policymakers must adopt privacy-focused options when all other things are equal, and recommends open and transparent operation. Among the series of other recommendations and possibilities explored in the report are "cross-referencing" data from healthcare systems and private companies in "real time" and sharing anonymised patient data in the search for a vaccine. "The price of this escape route is an unprecedented increase in digital surveillance," the report says. "In normal times, the degree of monitoring and state intervention we are talking about here would be out of the question in liberal democracies. But these are not normal times, and the alternatives are even more unpalatable."

The UK is already testing its version of the app at a Royal Air Force Base in England, while France is in a stand-off with Apple over the level of privacy it intends to build into its contact-tracing app. Germany has now also put itself at odds with Apple, after announcing that its contact-tracing solution would store all the relevant data on a central server, joining France and others in that approach. Essentially, Bluetooth "handshakes" between nearby devices are seen as more private than tracking the GPS location of individuals. But Apple does not allow third-party apps to carry out the process in the background, meaning users would have to keep the software running on-screen or repeatedly re-activate it after engaging with other apps for it to prove effective. The only way to access that functionality is by using the system Apple and Google have decided to co-develop. But that would involve doing the contact-matching on a person's smartphone, rather than in a central location, which is what several countries want.

[…and yet ANOTHER excuse for the Government to keep tabs on us – for our own safety and only as a temporary measure of course – only for a year, or three just so people get used to it….. Firstly it’s a cost saving measure so that they don’t need to do the hard work of contact tracing. Then it’ll leave anyone out who doesn’t have a Smartphone or chooses not to download the App (which might just be sent out automatically and maybe even installed automatically to everyone – for convenience and safety sake of course!) or those who leave the house without their phones (with fines if caught?). Thin end of the wedge doesn’t cover it….. ]

Remember Kids.... Just Say NO!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Just Finished Reading: The English Resistance – The Underground War Against the Normans by Peter Rex (FP: 2004)

After the loss of Harold at the Battle of Hastings all it seems was not lost. Although the King was dead, as were many of his best men, others across the Kingdom had yet to fight. More importantly there was a possible successor to Harold who had a counter claim to the throne to rival William the Bastard – Edgar the Aetheling. But in the Occupied Zone still others, for a variety of reasons, where already collaborating with the invaders. William was consolidating his position. Before long he and his victorious army would be marching north into the Free Zone to stamp his authority on his new Kingdom and, at last, pacify the country and bring it fully under Norman control. Little did William know just how long it would take and how much devastation he would need to inflict upon the English to bring them, reluctantly at last, to heel. Years after 1066 ‘rebels’ operated in the hills and forests, in the ravaged lands and the fens, attacking Norman forces whenever the opportunity presented itself. Widespread killings of Norman troops throughout the country became so common that new laws and harsh penalties where created to bring them under control. England may indeed be occupied but it was far from pacified.

One of the things that really struck me about this excellent little book was the way the author compared the Norman invasion and subsequent occupation to the German invasion of France in 1940 and the subsequent Occupation and Resistance. France was only freed after the 1944 Normandy Invasion something that never happened (and was actually unlikely to happen from the possible liberators in Scandinavia) and would have been unlikely to free themselves even at the height of Resistance activity – although without access to alternate worlds this is unlikely ever to be settled one way or the other. Likewise, a fractured and hunted English Resistance was highly unlikely to repel the Normans without substantial outside help. The other thing that really stuck out was the author’s revelations/speculations about the resistance fighter Hereward (NOT the Wake!). Interestingly he had been a hero of mine since my school days after the history teacher sold him very much in heroic guise – probably against guideline but, equally interestingly, there is still after the passing of over 950 years Norman and Anglo-Saxon factions both in the world of historians and in the general population. Despite my Celtic roots from Ireland I’m firmly in the Anglo-Saxon camp!

Of course its endless fascinating to speculate what might have happened if Harold had triumphed at Hastings. If I had access to a Time Machine I’d be about half a mile away from Senlac Hill with a sniper rifle looking for William. Of course that presupposes that Norman society completely replaced the Anglo-Saxon one – which in many ways it didn’t. Many elements of Anglo-Saxon life and governance lasted long after the crows had their fill on the countless corpses generated by the Norman Invasion. There might be a LOT of Norman churches still standing but the services are more than likely to be attended by those with Anglo-Saxon roots rather than Norman ones. As you can tell the events surrounding 1066 are still emotive – at least for me. So much so that I’ve created a 1066 label over on the right. This certainly won’t be the last book on the subject here. Recommended for anyone interested in one of THE seminal moments in British history. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Just Finished Reading: We Have Been Harmonised – Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter (FP: 2019)

Imagine you’re walking home from a late night drinking session with friends. You’re still 10 minutes away from your apartment but you’re desperate for a pee. You look around. It’s 2am so the streets are empty and there’s a handy dark corner near some large bins. Seconds later you’re feeling much better and even begin to hum a tune to yourself. You phone beeps with an incoming text message. Maybe it’s from that girl you met tonight. You fish your phone out and look at your phone in horror. You’ve just been fined for your public urination and what’s more video of the act has been posted to screens located outside your apartment, the nearby bus stop you use to get to work and outside your office. As this puts you over the monthly limit your Internet connect has been throttled back to its minimum setting and your high-speed train ticket has been revoked so no visiting your parents this weekend. One getting home you discover a printed note taped to your door from the landlord. If you don’t get your Harmony Score up in the next 30 days you’ll be looking for somewhere else to live. Time to clean up your act.

Is this the future? No, it’s present day China – a society dedicated to bringing Harmony through Technology. The author who has lived in China on and off for decades outlines the lengths that the authorities will go to in order to make its citizens toe the line, and it’s a LONG way. Surveillance of the public space as well as online activities is ever present and growing every day. The technology, including the addition of increasingly powerful AI software, is becoming more accomplished as whole cities become testbeds and countries across the world are becoming interested in applying lessons in their countries too and China is more than happy to help. This pervasive and intrusive technology might help outsiders to understand how the Chinese authorities apparently controlled the recent outbreak of COVID-19 so quickly and so effectively. Contact tracing was easy as they already knew a great deal about people’s day to day contacts. Isolation was a breeze as the authorities arrived, immediately identified the people they had come for with facial recognition on their phones, and whisked them away into quarantine without so much as a murmur of protest. Clamping down on apartment blocks, streets or whole cities was as easy as pushing a button and watching a handful of monitor screens.

This was a scary enough read when you think about it happening in China but it gets scarier as you realise that not only are the Chinese exporting this technology freely across the globe but that our countries are looking at this way of ‘harmonising’ their citizens too – maybe not as forcefully, maybe not as openly – but you can see them salivating at the power it gives them. It’ll be sold, naturally, as a painless way of protecting you from crime, from terrorism, and protecting your children from predators and it will work. After all, if you’re doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear, right? I’m sure that European Jews said the same thing to themselves in 1932….. Highly recommended if you can keep your paranoia in check. Much more on China to come.

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin     

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Just Finished Reading: Rejoice! Rejoice! – Britain in the 1980’s by Alwyn W Turner (FP: 2010)

The 1980’s were my decade and not just for the music. I moved away from home for the first time – and never went back except to visit, I went to University and, after a short period of unemployment, moved to London and a job that lasted me over 30 years. So, yes, a pretty important decade for me.
But the dominant thing about the 80’s was – apart from the music – the Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher. She dominated the decade the way few (if any) PMs have done before. She in many ways defined the 80’s and British history of that time cannot be spoken of without reference to her. Rather surprisingly I voted for her (the first time I voted age 19) in 1979 and again 4 years later. Reading (and remembering) about the opposition at that time which, as today, was a total shambles it doesn’t surprise me that she got my vote. I can’t remember who I voted for in her third term though. I suspect it was Labour – in the guise of Neil Kinnock – but I’m not sure. But like most of the country I’d turned against her at that point.

Some of the reasons I tried hard (and repeatedly) to go to University had to do with the high unemployment rate throughout the 80’s. 3 years out of the job market plus leaving with a degree, I thought, would both allow things to improve (they didn’t) and make me more employable (it didn’t). But finally I got a job in the capital and experienced – or at least saw the fallout from – the Poll Tax riots and, of course, the IRA bombing campaign and the heavy handed government response, and it still amazes me to this day how quickly we got used to seeing police officers carrying sub-machine guns in body armour on the streets of central London where before we hardly saw any armed police anywhere.

Being the Iron Lady and playing up to that iconography at every opportunity would always result in opposition and it did – from the Miners, Left wing politicians and TV comedians (and not forgetting the BBC). The 80’s were undoubtedly a great era for stand-up comedians and some of the best TV drama and soap opera of any modern age – and this was when we only had FOUR TV channels for most of the decade supplemented by SKY TV with its multiple satellite channels from 1984 onwards. I honestly loved Channel 4 in those days and I’m sure that the Government regretted its direction that the new channel should cater for ‘alternative’ tastes – which it took to with a gusto! 

In many ways the 1980’s was when everything changed. Our military decline into 3rd world status was recognised and halted after the Falklands War, nationalised industries were sold off and never went back, greed became good, industries fell by the wayside and where deliberately left to die whilst the Stock Exchange and the Banking industry were lauded and rewarded handsomely, race, gender and sexual identity all became issues and where endlessly debated – it was a chaotic, vibrant, frightening and exhilarating 10 years and the author brings that to life in spades. I laughed, I sighed, I recognised, I frowned and cheered and mostly I remembered events, people and – one more time – the music of the age. I’m not sure how much this will interest my American readers but if you lived through those times or just want to know how it was in Britain during those tumultuous years this is definitely the book for you. Recommended. More 80’s to come!   

Monday, April 13, 2020

Fortunately I went to a College with a very good Library.......
A Fifth View from The Apocalypse.

Has it been six weeks already since I started these posts? I must be getting used to it…. Or not, really. I’m still having no issues (or at least minimal issues) coping with Social Isolation. To me that’s just a normal evening/weekend/holiday extended into the future. So six weeks hasn’t really fazed me – so far! After my sleep extending slightly after retirement its dropping back again to about 7-8 hours which is good. Ideal even. I’m not as physically active as I was with work so I’m watching my weight and will need to see about either eating less or burning more calories. I’ll think on that one.

I’m definitely reading more – finished 2 books last week and I’m a third of the way through my next one. That’ll slow down a bit now I’ve just downloaded a new game – Two Point Hospital – which is fun, funny and quite addictive so far. Anyway I’ve averaging 80 pages a day which will take me to 70-75 books this year if I can maintain that level (I’m not anticipating any issues).

I’m not having any issues with supplies which is nice. My local supermarket is literally 2 minutes away (I can see it from my bedroom window) so I’m leaving the house about 30-45 minutes before it closes (at 10pm) and catch them as they’re restocking the shelves. Not only do I generally get exactly what I’m after – including a 9 pack of toilet roll tonight - but the footfall is pretty low at that time so there’s a minimal of the Social Distancing dance going on. It’s good to see people taking it seriously but it can be a bit off-putting when people look at you as if you’re carrying a blood splattered machete if you get less than 10 feet away from them. I have had a few ironic shrugs of shoulders ‘what can you do’ looks which made both of us smile. Like everyone else we’re muddling through.

But I am certainly counting my blessings. So far both I, my friends and my family are all fit and healthy. From a personal/selfish point of view I definitely see myself as one of the lucky ones: I have no work worries as I’m retired now and even if I was still at work my company had already given us the tools – laptop and phone – to Work from Home. I have money in the bank, a company pension and have paid off my mortgage so don’t have any financial worries. Indeed, because of the lockdown, I’m actually spending less money than usual. So, yes, lucky.

Any problems I am anticipating are purely First World problems – like haircuts. At some point – if this lasts into the summer – I’m going to have to butcher my hair ‘style’, not that many people would even notice as I slink between the shops and back in the dead of night! I guess such things will just end us as another story to laugh about in the after-apocalypse party. If that’s as bad as it gets I think me and mine will have gotten off very lightly indeed.

So, I’m still here, still healthy and still (comparatively) sane. I hope that all is as well with my readership. It still has a way to go but there’s positive signs out there. Eventually they’ll have a vaccine and then we can get back to whatever is the new normal. I wonder if I’ll shake another person’s hand ever again. That’d be weird – not doing that and whilst I’m not a known hugger I’d definitely miss the odd one that does come my way. See you all safe and well on the other side… 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Novel news: world's biggest bookworms revealed in study

By Naaman Zhou for The Guardian

Fri 12 Oct 2018

Do you have more books than an Estonian teenager? If you live in an English-speaking country, the answer is probably no.

A new study from researchers at the Australian National University and University of Nevada in the US has revealed which countries are the world’s biggest bookworms – and discovered that having more books growing up, even if you don’t necessarily read more, improves educational outcomes. In fact, adults with university degrees, but who grew up with fewer books, had the same level of literacy as those who left school in year 9, but who had a lot of household books as a teen. The study, published in the journal Social Science Research, found the number of household books at age 16 had a direct positive relationship with literacy, numeracy and IT skill in later years – independent of how much tertiary study a person did, or how often they read as an adult.

On average Australians owned 148 books per house, but the largest chunk of respondents (35%) had only 65. Estonians, who lead the world, averaged 218, and 35% owned 350 books or more. Norway (212), Sweden (210) and the Czech Republic (204) also beat English-speaking countries like the UK (143) and the US (114). Turkey had the lowest average (27), with 60% of households saying they had only five books. Lead author, Dr Joanna Sikora from the ANU, said adolescent exposure to books laid the foundations for a “scholarly culture” that gave people life-long improvements in education, regardless of social advantage or disadvantage.

The benefit of books was consistent across the world, and independent of a person’s education level, their job as an adult, sex, age or the education level of their parents. Looking just at Australian data, where researchers had more detail, they even found the same trend when controlling for wealth, IQ and school grades. “No matter what we controlled for, we always got this advantage of growing up around books,” Sikora said. Previous studies have found a relationship between reading for fun and education outcomes, and between growing up with books and earning more as an adult, but this study found a stronger link across more countries, and for longer into adulthood. Researchers surveyed adults across 31 countries, between the ages of 25 and 65, and asked them how many books they had in their home when they were 16. They found the positive impact was greatest for those with higher levels of disadvantage, meaning lower income families could narrow the education gap by exposing their children to more books in the house.

“Literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes up for a good deal of educational advantage,” the report said. Sikora said they were surprised to see that household books led to improvements even in maths and IT skills. “The tendency is to think that this is a different skill. You either are a words person or a numbers person. But if this data is telling us anything, it’s that this is not the case at all. We didn’t expect that. It is not just: if you read books as a kid, you are good at reading books later on. You are actually good at literacy in a completely different environment, the digital environment.” However, Sikora stressed that it was not the act of reading specifically that brought benefits. “It’s very difficult to put a finger on it and say ‘just do a lot of reading’. There is more to it. It is a whole complex around books and reading. It’s important for young children to see their parents and other people surrounding themselves with books.”

[Cultural differences in reading is fascinating. I wonder why Estonia comes out top?]

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Just Finished Reading: 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan (FP: 2010)

New York, 1857. No matter how calculated it was still an act of desperation. With two teenage daughters needing a husband before long Emma Cunningham needed stability, financial security and a suitable address. In other words she needed to marry – and soon. She was fortunate in one way – despite being a widow she was still young and still beautiful enough to entice a suitable man into her orbit. She was also worldly enough and practical enough to realise that she might have to sleep with him a few times to bait the hook. After all desperate times required desperate measures. As her financial situation worsened her luck seemed to change. On holiday she briefly crossed paths with a fellow New Yorker dentist Dr Harvey Burdell. He was ideal – young enough without being na├»ve, rich enough without being out of her reach and interested enough in Emma to consider a relationship beyond friendship or a brief dalliance. After a short time in her company he seemed to be charmed enough by her to offer her rooms in his house and a position as housekeeper. It was an ideal opportunity to work on the good Doctor and bring him around to her way of thinking. As she agreed to the arrangement she could already hear wedding bells in her near future. But once in the house things do not go as she’d hoped. The good Doctor has plans too – plans to be rich off the expansion of New York’s docks and trade with the South. Plans that keep him out of the house for longer and longer periods including overnight. Does he have another mistress? Is he just using her as an unpaid housekeeper and occasional bed partner? Is there any future for Emma and her daughters or will she need to cut her losses and move on? Just days away from making her decision it is made for her. Alerted by the screams of the cook she finds her future hoped for husband lying in a pool of his own blood. With the house still locked up from the night before there is only one suspect – Emma herself – and the local DA is out to make a name for himself on the way to being elected Mayor of the city. Innocent or not Emma will hang…..

Based on a real crime that shocked New York in 1857 and a trail that made reputations this was a very entertaining murder mystery that actually kept me wondering almost up to the end. Emma was far from innocent and had what could be called a colourful past. However, did she or could she have killed her soon to be/hoped for husband? That was indeed the question raised both in the subsequent trial (I was rather disappointed that the trial didn’t figure more prominently – which is about my biggest criticism of the book) and in a series of flashbacks looking at actions of the main characters including the victim who had a very colourful past indeed! Well-paced and containing some very well drawn characters – Emma’s defence lawyer and his wife where to me the stars of the show and I’d like to see them in future novels – this was an entertaining romp which easily kept me turning pages and made me want to learn more about the time and place so ably rendered in print. Recommended.