Category Archives: Crime

OxCrimes

Pop down to your local Oxfam and buy a copy of OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers and support the work of Oxfam while giving yourself something good to read for the next few hours.

It’s got ‘practically every crime writer’ contributing. Even the ones I’d not heard of, as I had to confess to yesterday. But especially the ones I do know. Foreword by that Rankin chap who always pops up and takes part in every worthwhile venture going. (All right, not everyone. But 27 isn’t bad. Plus Ian Rankin.)

OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers

The stories were of every imaginable kind, including a pretty scary sci-fi thriller crime tale from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. There’s war crimes and ghostly crimes, sexy ones and the usual crime-y crimes. How Anthony Horowitz could be allowed to say what I’ve always suspected about public toilets (you know the kind…) is beyond my comprehension. Now none of us will want to go.

My favourite – if I’m allowed one – has to be Stuart Neville’s, which was brilliant in all its period simplicity. Not to mention chilling.

As for the rest, I think I’ve listed them all. You will know some better than others, just like me. You might find a new favourite, or even one you wouldn’t mind killing slowly and painfully. What do I know?

It’s all in a good cause, even if the blood flows fairly freely in places.

‘With previous books OxTravels and OxTales having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s Emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.’

The #8 profile – Phil Rickman

Today I give you a – very – brief profile of Phil Rickman. And no, I had never heard of him before this. He is an adult crime writer (I know, most writers are adults. It was the crime I meant) and he’s one of the contributor’s to OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers, which is out today. I thought it’d be an adventure to meet someone totally new – to me – and hopefully Phil didn’t mind too much having to answer stupid questions from a Bookwitch he’d never heard of before, either.

Between you and me, I find his answers admirably informative while not wasting anybody’s time. And he is clearly a witty man. I like witty men (within reason).

Phil Rickman, by John Bullough

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

One. The Secret of Shimmering Cliffs. (I was nine)

Best place for inspiration?
Bath (the tub, although the town has its merits).

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?
Twice. All four books bombed.

What would you never write about?
A superhero.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?
Last few book-signings, it was two exorcists and a shamanic healer, but I can’t think of anybody unexpected.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?
Ethel, the vicarage cat.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?
Depends if I had to watch it.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?
I’ve heard there’s supposed to be a writer here today. Don’t know who it is, do you?

Do you have any unexpected skills?
Demolition (according to my wife).

The Famous Five or Narnia?
Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?
Eva Gabrielsson (the ripped-off Mrs Stieg).

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?
Hang on… there are people who actually arrange books by colour? Is there a medical term for this?

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?
Probably not The Secret of Shimmering Cliffs.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?
There’s a difference?

You can tell Phil hasn’t moved in the same circles as you or I have, or he’d understand about the colour of books. But he seems quite nice anyway, and got the Famous Five versus Narnia question right. And before long I might stop calling him Rick…

Phil will be talking about OxCrimes at Hay on the 28th of May (that rhymed quite nicely), and the book – which I recommend you actually buy – is available from Oxfam, as well as all those usual shops you sometimes buy from.

Bookwitch bites #120

Bah, rubbish! And I mean google and unresponsive websites. I went looking for the link to Peter Dickinson’s essay A Defence of Rubbish and found nothing. I understand the origin is a talk from 1970, but I read about it not long ago. Unfortunately, as this rubbish stands, I can offer no link.* Sorry.

I was reminded of this when I came across another – not quite so old – piece on reading rubbish, by Clémentine Beauvais on ABBA. I don’t know how I missed it, seeing as it stirred lots of feathers, and quite rightly so. Clémentine is against, but a lot of people believe in rubbish.

So do I, although there is good rubbish and bad rubbish. I’m probably most in favour of the better stuff.

John Connolly Edgar award by David Brown

Not rubbish at all is what I can say about John Connolly’s recent Edgar Award for Best Short Story for The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository. (I’ve not read it, but I very much doubt he’d win anything if it was bad. Or that John would write bad stuff.) The photo of John and Edgar is pretty appalling, however. Could almost have been taken by me, but wasn’t.

More Irish excellence with the news that Eoin Colfer is the new Laureate na nOg, which I believe means he’s their Malorie Blackman. Congratulations to Eoin, and here’s to the great work he’s bound to do, for books and reading!

Someone who definitely gets young people reading is Liz Kessler, who recently reported that there is now a fantastic screenplay of her Emily Windsnap, written by a Hollywood-based producer and an amazing scriptwriter. As Liz points out, that’s still a long way from it becoming a film, but it’s a start. We’ll be waiting!

You don’t have to wait quite as long, and there’s more certainty, for the Borders Book Festival. The programme is out now, and the festival itself will happen in five weeks’ time. Who knows, I might even make it there this year. Bring on the famous Scottish sunshine!

*Below are two screen caps of parts of what Peter said:

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Marcus Sedgwick on horror and sheds

The Marcus Sedgwick interview is ready for your entertainment today. I wish you could hear Marcus, as well as just read. He laughs a lot and he talks ‘just right’ by which I mean that he is interesting on whatever stupid question someone like me might ask, and he spends time on them, but not too long.

Lagom, as we say in Sweden.

He is someone who has been on my interview radar for years, and it’s mainly coincidence that it was his new adult novel, A Love Like Blood, that caused us to meet and talk (I ‘blame’ the very helpful Kerry at Hodder), which is why I used up some of our ‘adult’ time on talking about his – slightly – younger books as well.

Marcus Sedgwick

And his shed. (It’s not necessary to buy a house that has a good shed. You can actually build a nice shed once you’ve found the house of your dreams.)

Marcus claims not to be obsessed by horror, but he is a man who scares me a lot, through his books. They are the kind of books you read hiding behind the sofa.

Scam on the Cam

Cambridge, Cambridge… what’s going on? More crime. Another young detective. Another college theologian. I’m beginning to feel Cambridge might not be as safe as the romantic view of this place of learning would have you believe.

Clémentine Beauvais, Scam on the Cam

Clémentine Beauvais sends her Sesame Seade out into seedy Cambridge for a third adventure, Scam on the Cam. As the title suggests, it’s water based and it’s about the famous boat race. The poor young men who row for Cambridge are dropping like flies. Who is poisoning them and why?

Or are they falling ill for some other reason? There are frogs, and a handsome young boy from one of the other schools in town. There are ze zieves. (thieves, you know) It’s enough to make Sesame shplutter.

I love the humour and the use of language (and she is French! Young, too…) and there is nothing about this rather innocent crime series and its 11-year-old detective that makes it unsuitable for old people. Quite the contrary. I hope the quality of the writing isn’t wasted on the young (like so much else).

(Illustrated by Sarah Horne.)

Dead Silent

Have I said this before? There isn’t enough crime in YA fiction. I don’t know why. Crime is so popular with us ‘slightly’ older ones, that I can’t see why there isn’t more straightforward murders offered to YA readers. Sharon Jones’s Dead Silent is like a breath of fresh air, as long as you like your corpses coming thick and fast.

Very briefly, I worried that my promised murders were going to disappear in a haze of teen sex, but it didn’t. Not having read the first Poppy Sinclair book (Dead Jealous) I didn’t know what to expect.

Sharon Jones, Dead Silent

Poppy is in Cambridge with her boyfriend Michael, who has an interview for King’s. She has sex on her mind, and whereas he wouldn’t mind, the murders rather change the pace of romance. Poppy’s dad is chaplain at Trinity, and it’s in his chapel that the trail of bodies begins. After that they are all over Trinity.

Did dad do it? That’s the question. And why are the bright young third years behaving so strangely? Can Poppy really speak to the dead? Are the angels real?

This is very nicely – if atypically, I trust – Cambridge. Snow. Students. Professors, policemen, a Dean and even a Master. Lots of surprisingly helpful and friendly porters at all the colleges.

Great fun and quite exciting by the time you have suspected almost everyone of being the murderer. Blood on snow looks so striking, don’t you think?

The Hangman’s Song

I had to forcibly remove The Hangman’s Song from the Resident IT Consultant’s hands because James Oswald likes to revisit old crimes. It’s very nice and it adds to the continuity of his Inspector McLean books, but oh the spoilers! (And someone has not yet read The Book of Souls, so must be protected from finding out who did it and how and to whom and did anyone at all survive?)

James Oswald, The Hangman's Song

You see the crime being committed in these books, and rather than taking away from the suspense, it adds to it. Especially when you see the murderer at it, again and again, with the police none the wiser.

In The Hangman’s Song, someone is making people hang themselves. And because the police department is headed by ‘an idiot’ and because there is money to be saved, you don’t investigate ‘suicides.’

Tony McLean wants to, but has to fight for it. He isn’t exactly flavour of the month, and also ends up at the receiving end of practical jokes. Because he is wealthy, and that is annoying.

I can see James Oswald building up some regular characters, who might be trustworthy. I hope so, in some cases. It’s just when they are odd in some way, you don’t know if they are the next bad guy, or your new – fictional – best friend.

For all the horror in the crimes; the senseless killing and maiming, this is very enjoyable. Edinburgh is the right size city for this kind of thing to work well in; both small and large. And McLean is the right kind of detective.

This is the kind of crime novel I could read all the time.

 

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

Crime Always Pays

(Swish. Swish. Please don’t disturb! The witch is dusting, and that’s a very rare sight.)

So, what I’ve got here is an old review, and I find it mostly still works, which is why I will offer it up for inspection again. Many of you weren’t here back in 2008, so to you it will seem almost brand new.

It’s  complicated. Back then, Declan Burke had yet to see Crime Always Pays published. It’s the sequel to The Big O, and I read it in manuscript (the Resident IT Consultant printed it out on his office printer for me), and I loved it. Back then, it was titled The Blue Orange (which personally I still prefer).

Now, though, it is finally being published properly! It’s a real book. Not the US edition which was cancelled in the end, nor the Kindle version published to compensate. A Real Book! And I think you should read it. (After The Big O, obviously.) Below is my slightly edited, and very ancient, review.

Declan Burke, Crime Always Pays

“The Blue Orange, as he calls it, is a continuation of The Big O, with all the same characters, except those who may have died in the first book. Plus a couple of new ones. The Big O was very funny, if rather full of four-letter words, and had endearingly inept, mostly minor, crooks.

In The Blue Orange (Crime Always Pays) we meet them again, and this time I found myself quite fond of even the less charming ones. It’s a mad-cap race across the Continent, with everyone ending up in Greece, where Declan has totally taken over his favourite holiday island, which I understand was quite nice before this.

As is to be expected, there are so many double-crossings that the witch developed a squint trying to cope. The best thing is simply to sit back and enjoy, while laughing quite a lot. The story is crying out to be made into a film, and I know which part I can play.

And as Mother-of-witch so rightly said, crime is not nice. But this kind of crime is as nice, and as funny, as it gets. The worst baddies are killed or have lots of blood removed in interesting ways, and maybe the rest lived happily ever after. I’m hoping for more.”

It’s today! Get shopping!

A Love Like Blood

A book like The Thirty-Nine Steps, but with blood. Lots of it, and not for the faint-hearted. Like Marcus Sedgwick’s mother, who promised not to read her son’s first adult novel. I can see where they both are coming from.

I wanted to read this, because it is a Marcus Sedgwick novel, and I wanted to see what he’d get up to when writing for adults. Considering that his YA books are no picnic (ooh, bad word, under the circumstances), it is not surprising that Mrs Sedgwick abstained. I wish I’d known.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

This is a thriller set over 24 years, starting in Paris in 1944 and ending in Italy in 1968. I thought I could guess how it would end. I was wrong. And that’s despite the ending coming at the beginning of the book, giving you a flavour of what might be.

Charles Jackson is a young-ish consultant haematologist in Cambridge. He’s rather a failure of a man in most other respects, and not terribly likeable. It is, however, quite easy to identify with him. At least it was for me. (Up to a point!)

The book reads like an old novel, from the period it is set in. It looks so easy, but I’m guessing it’s not. Setting aside one mention of ‘having sex’ which felt too modern and one possible fashion mistake, this is pure old style adventure. It feels really comfortable, even as you wince at the inept Charles. You are lulled into a false sense of knowing where this story is going. Very clever.

It is mostly about blood. Possibly there is a vampire. You can’t be sure. Partway through you get a very Buchan-ish adventure, making my spirits rise, only to be dashed soon again.

Dr Jackson looks like he won’t last long. And in a way you don’t mind, because he’s hard to love. On the other hand you feel that a main character ought to be allowed to have something positive happen to him.

This is a fantastically well written thriller. I just wish there’d been less blood.