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The Erast Fandorin Mysteries

I enjoy reading a good detective novel. I prefer the more “hard boiled” detective, but once in a while I like to read about a more cerebral detective. The most famous of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Erast Fandorin could well be described as a “Russian Holmes”. He applies logic to his dealings with the criminal mind and always, at least, unmasks his prey. Though, like Holmes, he doesn’t always keep hold of them. Written by Boris Akunin, the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, the Fandorin mysteries have sold more than 18 million copies in Russia alone. The translations are, I believe, faithful – though I have to take that on faith as I don’t read Russian!

Despite being set before the turn of the Twentieth Century, these tales are always thrilling. They show us a Europe before the various wars and revolutions that have helped create the world as we now know it. At that time monarchies were the norm and it was accepted that the monarch’s word was absolute law – all served at their pleasure. It also shows that the world wasn’t very much different: poverty was everywhere, travel around Europe was the norm (despite various border controls it appeared to be easier than now), art, politics, intrigue and international politics were as much in everyone’s minds as they are now.

We first meet Fandorin as a young and naive clerk to the police service. He is eager to make something of himself and is brought to the notice of a young and progressive superior and is enlisted to help with a case where young people are committing suicide in public places. Through this first book we see him fall in love and lose his innocence and naivety in a most brutal fashion. Through the series of books we are shown different parts of Europe, introduced to a war in Turkey and finally discover what became of Jack the Ripper! Throughout this we are taken along with Fandorin and learn how the young naive becomes a cold and ferocious thief taker.

The similarities with Holmes really end with the methods and some of the coldness. We know that Fandorin can love – romantically, fraternally and platonically. He has respect for women – as much of a man of his time can be allowed to. That period was a time of discovery and invention – we are introduced to an early telephone, for example, and learn that the uniqueness of ears and of fingerprints can be of great help to a detective – and the novels never fear to use them as a plot device. Fandorin is a great fan of physical exercise, rising early for stretches, bends and lifts; he learns Japanese martial arts while posted there as a diplomat and returns with a Japanese manservant and new skill.

Akunin clearly has a love and respect for this character. This admiration for his creation carries over into the tales and the adventures can be followed with ease and with a certain respect. If you want a slice of Imperial Russia and a detective who works primarily with his mind, I would recommend this series to you wholeheartedly.

See also:

Flat Earth News

Thanks to the Private Eye for running excerpts from this excellent book in the magazine. To step away from my main story, you should try to read at least one copy of the mag, it is the only real satirical magazine in the UK and the only publication which investigates and attacks all the parties and all the people who shape our lives. It has long had a history of hard hitting investigative journalism and prints the stories the papers and TV don’t want to or dare not.

Flat Earth News is a book about the media and written by a journalist. Nick Davies explains, throughout, where the once proud tradition of journalism has now become “churnalism”. Where once a journalist may spend weeks tracking down and verifying a story, they now rewrite PR pieces, government pieces and whatever they can get from the newswires. He takes us through the means by which outright and blatant lies can be placed on the front page of every newspaper and why they are never challenged. And the book is somewhat frightening.

If you get your world news and views from the media, you are being very subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated to think the way “they” think you should think. This is the sort of thing that would be at home in a Cold War thriller or science fiction story, and yet is happening right now and has been for many years. Welcome to the future.

What can we do about it? Depressingly, and in my opinion only, not a great deal. The lack of journalistic integrity is a massive by product of the new rise of the media barons who cut staff and demand ever more product, governments who think less of doing the right thing than getting away with it and PR companies who will do whatever it takes to make us think in an approved manner.

We are all aware of the manipulation – how many thought the “limited” number of Wii console stories were put there just to make us panic and buy one? I know I did. But it doesn’t stop there, the rush to war on Iraq is covered, the supposed Al-Qaeda operatives are covered, methods of winning elections and many other stories. The links page on the Flat Earth News website has links to sites that cover this sort of thing in more depth.

If you care about public manipulation, media integrity and about how the world is viewed, you should read this book. In my view, this is one of the more important books of this decade to be published.

About the Author:

Nick Davies has been named Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year for his investigations into crime, drugs, poverty and other social issues. Hundreds of journalists have attended his masterclass on the techniques of investigative reporting. He has been a journalist since 1979 and is currently a freelance, working regularly as special correspondent for The Guardian. He also makes TV documentaries; he was formerly an on-screen reporter for World In Action. His four books include White Lies (about a racist miscarriage of justice in Texas) and Dark Heart (about poverty in Britain). He was the first winner of the Martha Gellhorn award for investigative reporting for his work on failing schools and recently won the award for European Journalism for his work on drugs policy.

Writing a Book? Use WordPress

Slightly misleading title maybe. If you have written a book (or books) and would like to put it online, you can use WordPress (either .com or .org) to organise the book to make it readable. These instructions will probably also work on other blogging platforms, but please check your software first and make necessary adjustments.

Thanks to the WordPress FAQs for these instructions. The FAQs are necessarily short, so this expands on those instructions. With screenshots! As there is no real difference in the software itself between the self hosted WordPress blogs (.org version) or the WordPress hosted (.com version) blogs, I won’t be making changes to reflect this.

Enough with the chat, let’s get on with it!

Firstly, you need to create a new page to be the front cover of your book. Go to your WordPress Dashboard and select Manage and Pages.

Manage>>Pages

On that page, select Create a new page

Call this new page “Front” as it is the Front page of your new book. If you are artistic, I suppose you could call the page after your book’s name and create some cool artwork, but that sounds like more work than it’s worth.

If we now look at the header of my site, the Front page has been added:

Front Page(I added the red box for emphasis, it won’t show normally)

If we follow the FAQ, it then says to continue by creating another page called Index and a third called Chapters. My problem with this is that it assumes that you only host your book on the site and don’t have (as I would) other things that aren’t necessarily related. Luckily, there is a workaround for this.

When you create the Index page, go to the right hand side of the page creation page and click the plussign.png sign next to Page Parent . This expands the section and you can then choose to make the Index page a child page of the Front page. What does this do for you? Well, if you plan to host multiple books, you can use different titles for Front and keep all your books separate. It also stops your header from being cluttered and incomprehensible.

If we continue reading the FAQ, it says that we should make Front into the front page of the blog and the Chapters to be the posting pages. My method does away with this though. Obviously, if you create one blog per book and only have your book there, you can happily continue along the path shown by the FAQ.

If we follow my method, however, we have some more similar steps to follow. To recap, we created 3 pages and made 2 of them children of the main one. This means that right now we have 3 pages, all blank and ready to go.

Go to your “Front” page in the dashboard (Manage >> Pages and then click “Edit” in the list). Under the Page Content you will need to create a link to the Index Page. I use the Code editor because it’s less clicking around.

Create your Index Link

This will then give you a small “Front” page:

Front page with Index link

By clicking the Index link, you will see the Index. Obviously. Next steps are very similar, but again I am diverting from the FAQ:

Rename your Chapters page to Chapter 1 and rename the Post Slug to be “Chapter-1” so that link in the index will work correctly. Create as many more child pages as you need, naming them after each chapter – so Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and so on. Then edit your Index page to link to each of the chapters in turn:

Chapter List

This makes your Index page look like this:

Index page with chapter listings

Once you have set up the bare bones of your book, you can then add the meat of it: this means, write the book and put each chapter into the relevant page. Since the Front page looks a little bare, I would also suggest putting a brief outline of the book itself onto the page, to let your readers know what’s in store for them. Additionally, I would also add a link at the end of each chapter to take the reader to the next chapter – if they have to keep clicking “back” they may just stop reading.

Setting up your site to host your work needn’t be difficult. It can be used for any book and, because WordPress also allows you to post pictures, you can illustrate it too. There are plugins out there which will do something similar, but you end up doing some parts by hand and then letting a plugin do the rest. This is fine as long as the plugin works and doesn’t conflict with another, different, plugin. This how to also disregards protecting your work, you could make each chapter an image of the page or use a plugin to provide a digital fingerprint, but really that is beyond the scope of this.

Wowio.com – Free Books. Free Minds

If you browse through my Links page, clicking merrily away, you will have seen that I link to Yirmumah – a funny site, you should read it – by D J Coffman. For a few years now he has been publishing his strips in book format and selling them to readers around the world. Well, he is now able to offer them free for downloading. At least, you can download them if you live in the US.

Wowio is a site where you can download 3 books per day in pdf format. These books are sponsored and the author (or their estate) gets money per download. They have comic books, fiction, nonfiction and a variety of other books. And the price is right. So if you would like to enable lesser known and better known creators to get money when you click that mouse button, this is a worthwhile site. It’s easy to navigate and pretty well laid out.

The books download to your hard drive and you can then read them at your leisure whether on your PC or laptop or PDA device. As the help page states:

Does WOWIO use any kind of digital rights management (DRM)?
Since anyone can defeat the most “sophisticated” DRM with the print screen button, we believe that technology-based DRM is essentially a fraud. Our approach takes the market incentive out of misbehaving, rewards people for doing the right thing, and tries to stay out of the way of honest users. To help keep everyone honest, however, readers must authenticate their identity and agree to a licensing agreement when they set up their account. Then, each ebook is serialized with the reader’s authenticated name and a unique serial number, as well as other less visible markers. WOWIO will immediately terminate the account of anyone caught illegally distributing ebooks, and will prosecute serious offenders.

So these books are easy to obtain, easy to read and available for the price of a download. So, if you live in the US, there is no real reason not to use the service is there?

Please note: while this is a plug for Wowio, I am not getting paid for it in any way, shape or form.