Monday, April 22, 2013

Book review: The Circus

Those of you who have read my previous book reviews will know that although I started off loving James Craig’s work, especially his first book London Calling, I have recently started to lose interest. I downloaded his latest offering The Circus partly as a last chance and partly because I feel some kind of loyalty to the main character.

One of the main appeals of the Carlyle series has been the clear influence of real events. In the first book there were two brothers vying for the leadership of the country, albeit not in the Labour Party and trying to cover up murders as they went. The second book deviated slightly but still had references to the London riots of 2011 and more historically the miner’s strike of 1984. The next instalment, Buckingham Palace Blues tackled an issue too often swept under the carpet, child trafficking, although in featuring a member of the Royal Family I don’t think it was too close to reality.

The Circus has taken the idea of using contemporary events to influence the fiction and really run away with it. In the middle of a crisis involving a Sunday newspaper hacking the mobile phones of celebrities, the political establishment attempt to interfere in the investigation to avoid making their own relationship with the media public. In the midst of this a teenage girl disappears from her family home, but the police are not too concerned as they know she has still been checking her voice mails (who else is now groaning). It gets worse, when I read that the ex-Eton educated Prime Minister was caught riding the horse of a newspaper editor which actually belonged to the Met I stopped reading for a while. 

Overall I never really decided whether the book is entirely satirical and therefore probably quite clever, or whether Craig has run out of ideas and therefore just writes what he sees on the news and changes the names. 

The most annoying aspect of the book is undoubtedly how rushed it feels. With 10 pages left there are still a fair few serious threads from the story to be tied up, but rather than taking time to finish the book properly or even carry some plot lines through to the next book everything came together in such a hurry. This is the second book in a row where one of the main players in the story suffers from a severe medical emergency, and this time Carlyle even says “That’s convenient” which is largely what I imagine Craig’s editor said when he got the manuscript to her on time.

James Craig was obviously in a rush to get this book out before the Carlyle bubble bursts, but producing sub-standard work is just speeding up that event. The next instalment doesn’t come out until September, so hopefully the longer break will lead to a stronger book. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Washington Nationals v Chicago White Sox preview

The background

It's been a funny start to the season for Washington. Many people expect them to win more games than any team in the National League, and almost as many think they'll win the World Series (I have a healthy pessimism borne from watching Ipswich Town as well as the Nats, I don't think anything until it happens). They started off against the worst team in their division by a mile, and promptly swept the Miami Marlins 3-0 at home. Although they made light work of the Fish, shutting them out for the first two games, they never really looked that comfortable on the offence, except Bryce Harper who is already awesome.

The weekend series in Cincinnati brought us back down to earth as Dan Haren got beaten up on Friday night and Stephen Strasburg took more of a beating than usual on Sunday as the Nats dropped 2 of 3 in the Great American (Sm)Ball Park (silent B, it works).

So we come back to Nationals Park for the first taste of interleague action and the first series with the other good team in the National League East. This will be the first time that that Chicago White Sox have provided the opposition since June 2011, when wins from Collin Balester and Livan Hernandez recorded the wins as the Nats took 2 out of 3. The game they lost in that series will be repeated tonight as Jake Peavy goes against Gio Gonzalez.  

The pitchers

Gio had a pretty good outing first time round when he faced the Marlins. He tossed 91 pitches over 6 innings giving up 2 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5. The only problem continues to be his command, especially of his fastball, as he threw just 55 of his pitches for strikes. He then helped his own cause with a solo Home Run.

Zimmermann looked impressive in the final game against the Marlins, although he was the only pitcher to concede a run as Justin Ruggiano took him deep in the second inning. Zimmermann threw 89 pitches in his 6 innings with 60 for strikes as he allowed 8 hits, and walked 2 while striking out just 1.

Haren had by far the worst debut of the rotation, as he was chased from the game in Cincinnati after just 4 innings and he threw 78 pitches (58 for strikes) giving up 6 runs, all earned on 9 hits, 4 of them homers and striking out 5. About the only nice thing to say is that he didn’t walk anyone. Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez also got pounded during the 15-0 loss though.

The keys

·         Get the offence going – even when winning their first 3 home games of the year the Nats failed to really get any offence going. If they can get on the board early and often, without relying on Harper, they’ll be in business.
·         Get the easy outs – Ian Desmond punted a couple of times during the loss against the Reds on Sunday, and you can’t afford to let people get on base, especially with Zimmermann and Haren on the mound.
·         Keep Bryce hot – the 20 year-old wonderkid is 9-25 so far this year (.360) with 3 Home Runs. Every time he goes to the plate at the minute you expect him to score. He needs to keep that going until the others can catch him up.
·         Seal the deal – on Saturday the Nats gave up four runs over the 8th and 9th innings to take themselves into extra innings before getting the win. Again on Sunday when they were on top they let it slip to lose 6-3.

The stats

Because this is an interleague game, there are naturally not many previous encounters to draw on, so the sample sizes for all are small. But for what it’s worth, here are the White Sox numbers against the 3 Nats pitchers pencilled to go this week.

Gio Gonzalez (Tuesday)
Jordan Zimmermann (Wednesday
Dan Haren (Thursday)
Tyler Flowers
0-2, K
Paul Konerko
1-12, 3BB, 4K
7-19, HR, 3K
Gordon Beckham
1-4, BB
1-3, K
0-7, 2K
Alexi Ramirez
3-11, 3BB, K
Jeff Keppinger
8-16, 2x2B, HR, 2BB
Dayan Viciedo
0-3, 2K
0-4, K
Alejandro De Aza
1-6, K
Alex Rios
3-15, BB, 3K
6-20, HR, BB, 3K
Adam Dun
0-1, BB
0-3, 2K
2-15, HR, 2BB, 7K

And here are the Nats batters numbers against the 3 White Sox due to go. The two which are closest to being worthy of attention here are Denard Span who bats a shade under .500 against Gavin Floyd and Chad Tracy who bats .200 in 50 trips against Peavy, with 7 of those hits going for extra bases. This will be the first time that any of the Nats batters have seen Dylan Axelrod as he starts his third year.

Jake Peavy (Tuesday)
Gavin Floyd (Wednesday)
Dylan Axelrod (Thursday)
Denard Span
5-17, 4x2B
17-35, 2B, 3B, 7BB, 3K
Jayson Werth
2-13, 7K
Bryce Harper
Ryan Zimmerman
3-15, 2x2B
1-6, 2K
Adam LaRoche
4-11, HR, 3BB, 4K
2-8, 2B, HR, 3BB, 2K
Ian Desmond
2-4, 2K
Danny Espinosa
0-1, K
Kurt Suzuki
1-10, 2BB, 3K
Wilson Ramos
Chad Tracy
10-50 3x2B, 3B, 2HR, 3BB, 16K