Thursday, June 30, 2016

Stephen Puleston’s “Against the Tide”

Ed Mostyn lives on the large island of Anglesley (Ynys Mon in Welsh), off the northwest coast of Wales. The distance to Wales is short enough for a bridge, and most mornings will find Ed near the bridge digging for worms in the beach sand to sell to fishermen. Early one morning, as he’s digging, he hears a sound and looks around.

Within a few hours, Ed’s body is found, a garden pitchfork jammed in his neck.

Detective Inspector (DI) Ian Drake of the Wales Police Service is called to investigate. He has his usual team, including Detective Sergeant Caren Waits. No murder is ever simple, and Ed Mostyn’s quickly turns out to be more complex than most, especially when the body of a young woman is found a few days later, not far from where Mostyn’s body was found.

Against the Tide is the third Ian Drake police procedural novel by Welsh writer Stephen Puleston (he also has three novels in the Inspector Marco series). It’s just as good as its predecessors Brass in Pocket and Worse Than Dead, and they were both good mysteries.

As in the previous novels, we see that DI Drake has a few idiosyncrasies. He has a borderline mania for cleanliness, and can often be found in the washroom, cleaning his hands. He has to begin each day with at least 10 minutes working the Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper. His desk has a precise arrangement of post-it notes, computer, and framed photographs, and he knows immediately if something has been moved, even ever so slightly. And he checks for dust.

Stephen Puleston
His “rituals,” as he and his counselor call them, have gotten worse since the death of his father. And the backdrop to this story is the deteriorating relationship with his wife, a physician.

The investigation becomes akin to peeling back an onion, with one layer removed only to have to deal with the next. Drake and Waits find themselves expanding the investigation back into the past, where the solution will ultimately be found.

Against the Tide is a satisfying, intriguing novel, and I’m looking forward to starting the Inspector Marco series.


Top photograph: Map of the Isle of Anglesley.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Annual Performance Review: RIP

Last year, General Electric announced that it was ending the annual performance review. If there was anything that might have sent more shock waves through large corporations and their Human Resources, I can’t imagine it. Annual performance reviews were a staple –perhaps the staple – of my entire career across three different Fortune 500 corporations and one public school district.

The official reasons given by GE and other companies (GE wasn’t the first but it was the most notable) were that today’s workforce was different, coaching and mentoring were more important, and annual reviews were no longer necessary in our wired 24/7 world.

I hate to be the one to break it to these companies, but annual reviews were never necessary. Not even in the highly structured old days. I sat through enough annual performance discussions to know that few if any managers knew how to conduct them. Of the 23 supervisors I had in my working career, only one knew how to give them and use them properly.

Work constantly changed. Goals and priorities constantly changed. Employees and their supervisors generally knew who was doing work really well, and who wasn’t. And when politics entered the equation, as it invariably did, the annual review process (and its handmaiden of forced performance ranking) served more to keep the workplace and work team in upheaval and discord.

While it unlikely to have ever happened, what my workplaces needed was a better understanding of performance – what it is and isn’t. It might have also been helpful if they had had a general understanding of grace.

Christians know the difference between performance and grace. Performance is what we do; grace is what we receive, when we do nothing to deserve it. Nothing we do, in fact, merits the grace of God. Performance and grace are contradictions of each other. Too often, we mistake service for performance. If we perform well, then God’s blessing should follow.

God’s blessing is independent of anything we do, or can do. Yet we never seem to stop performing. Why? “It is because we do believe,” said the late author and theologian Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, “that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditioned upon our spiritual performance.” He suggests that the idea that blessing depends on performance is a cultural concept.

Jerry Bridges
It is cultural, and even the culture does it badly. For Christians, emphasis upon performance doesn’t just smack of legalism, it is legalism.

“Regardless of our performance,” Bridges says, “we are always dependent on God’s grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath.”

Who deserves His wrath?


And who receives his grace, regardless of what we do to earn it?

I don’t miss performance reviews. May they die and rest in peace.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. Consider joining with us. To see others’ posts, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact. (Four years ago, I participated in a discussion on this book led by Tim Challies, but it's good to read it and discuss it again.)


Jerry Bridges’s Seven Standout Spiritual Lessons – Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Top photograph by Jean Beaufort via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Understanding the Life and Art of William Blake

British writer, historian, biographer and novelist Peter Ackroyd, and Harvard professor Leo Damrosch, have both written studies of the poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). Although the two works are separated by 20 years (Ackroyd’s in 1995 and Damrosch’s in 2015), they form a cohesive understanding of Blake and his work. Damrosch used Ackroyd’s biography in his own research, and calls it one of the best ever written about Blake.

Blake: A Biography is classic Ackroyd, whom we in the United States would call a popular as opposed to academic writer but who occupies a different position in Britain. Amateur historian and biographer he may be, but few living writers today can equal his output, erudition, and insight. He’s in the process of writing a multi-volume history of England. He’s written three novels. He’s retold the stories of the legend of King Arthur and The Canterbury Tales. And he’s written biographies of Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Sir Isaac Newton, Edgar Allen Poe, Geoffrey Chaucer, J.M.W. Turner and Shakespeare. And William Blake.

Ackroyd gives us Blake in his historical context, and “historical” is defined in its broadest terms – historical, philosophical, literary, social, and economic.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Illustration: The Ancient of Days by William Blake (1794).