Category Archives: Crime

Al Capone Does My Homework

Gennifer Choldenko covers a lot in the third outing for Al Capone, in her trilogy set on Alcatraz in the 1930s. To begin with, there’s a terrific children’s novel. Then there’s the autism aspect, which she handles so well, fitting it neatly into the plot. Also some American history, as well as showing us the community spirit of people living close together in such an unusual place, with a bit of crime and lots of excitement added.

Not that Mr Capone enters centre stage, or anything. He just hovers in the background, somehow colouring much of what goes on at Alcatraz prison.

The lovely Moose is 13 now, and his Dad has been made Assistant Warden. This causes lots of trouble, with jealousies among other prison guards, and difficulties with the cons. Then there is Moose’s sister Natalie, who is 16 and is autistic. Her family are trying to teach her to make eye contact with people.

Attacks on people, arson, gambling and counter-feiting fill this book on childhood in times gone by, and exciting though this is, what matters is the friendships, the solidarity and the hard work it means to have Natalie in your family. Moose does so much, and still feels he is failing. He’s also falling in love, which is both easy and hard in such a small place. ‘Being locked in a shed with a girl you once kissed and your best friend who happens to be a girl is not exactly relaxing.’

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

I know Gennifer has done a lot of research, because she says so in her notes. But it only shows in how natural the whole story feels. You end up thinking you’re there on Alcatraz, in 1930s America. I’m sorry the trilogy has come to an end, but I have enjoyed every minute of all three books. Credit to new publisher Hot Key Books for taking over, and for keeping the cover art – by Melvyn Evans – in the style we’d learned to love.

 

Meeting the next big thing?

You know when there is a train strike and you end up with two hours to kill in Malmö? That’s what happened to Daughter and me yesterday. And me being me I had emailed the next big name in Scandi thrillers to come and meet us to while away the time.* This is him.

Andreas Norman

Andreas Norman is far too diplomatic to say he couldn’t, so suggested we meet at Starbucks (did you know they have about three Starbucks in Sweden and that makes them special and unique? It was nice…) at the station. After all, he had to have lunch somewhere. Might as well be with us. (He wasn’t quite as much of an old fogey as Daughter had been visualising.)

We arrived early, after saying we’d be late, so had time to case the joint and to buy drinks. This dealt with the possible embarrassment of deciding who would pay for what. (They are very fair-minded in Sweden.) Andreas bought a difficult-to-eat-while-you-talk sandwich, but I have promised not to publish any photos of him stuffing himself.

Starbucks lunch

I’d asked for twenty minutes and kept him talking for an hour. Because it was so nice to sit there and chat. It will morph into a proper interview, given enough time. Wrong language, of course, so I will have to see about a translation. (That’s what got me into this in the first place.**)

Once he’d eaten and I’d stopped asking questions, Andreas politely inquired when our train was, so we picked up our suitcases and went to look for a way to cross That Bridge. (No dead bodies.)

*I didn’t really ask him to come and help pass the time. I had requested an interview in a reasonably normal way.

**I need to declare an interest here. Andreas Norman’s debut thriller – Into A Raging Blaze – which is published by Quercus next month, has been translated by Son of Bookwitch. That’s not why I like it. It’s purely the way I was introduced to the book, which makes for a marvellous read. After Monday’s interview, I also reckon I understand better why I like it. And I think you will, too. Like it, I mean.

Bloody Scotland 2014 programme

Am I allowed to have a favourite? OK, in that case I must admit I am really looking forward to hearing Sophie Hannah talk about ‘becoming’ Agatha Christie, writing the new Poirot.

The programme for this year’s Bloody Scotland – on my own home ground – is out and ready for your perusal, and for buying tickets. It’s another good one. Perhaps not filled with the best selling best sellers, but then that’s not what I feel Bloody Scotland should be about. It should be Scottish crime, and perhaps a little something else on the side. Like Sophie Hannah.

They are rolling out Ian Rankin again. Can’t have him every year – although, why not? – but I’m glad he’s back. My new ‘neighbour’ Craig Robertson is obviously doing his bit, and so is sheep farmer James Oswald, who debuted so well last year by pretending to be Eoin Colfer. He will have had his fourth McLean novel published by the time September arrives. (Slow down!) James will appear with Alexandra Sokoloff and Gordon Brown. Probably not that Gordon Brown, but the other one.

Well, you can read for yourself. You don’t need me to list the whole weekend. They have a new hotel venue in the Hotel Colessio, which isn’t even open yet (and I’d not heard of it). Otherwise they are mostly in the Albert Halls, and at the  Stirling Highland Hotel, when they’re not making crime writers play football against each other. I mean, honestly! (Scotland will win.)

There will be a surprise cinema event at the Old Town Jail (don’t go, whatever you do! They get up to funny stuff in that jail…), as well as the traditional dinner where you eat with people who live off crime.

Sounds like an OK kind of weekend, actually.

Food, glorious food

How can anyone not love the food in the Famous Five books? I just don’t get it.

I obviously liked the children and I liked their adventures, but I’m pretty sure I rated their food above everything else. Oh how they ate! Lots of it, all the time. And it sounded so tasty, too.

The food seems to be one of the things people have to point out as a negative aspect of Enid Blyton’s books. That, and the class distinctions between the children and the baddies. But the class stuff was lost in translation. We didn’t do class (I won’t say ‘at all’ but not like that, so it wasn’t noticeable). Hence we didn’t see it.

My best friend during the Blyton years kept saying ‘but they eat all the time.’ She enjoyed the books, but clearly felt the food got in the way slightly.

I thought the books were so truly wonderful it didn’t even occur to me to apply any literary analysis. Not that I could have, even if I’d known about such things.

They wake up in the morning and come down to (that phrase, ‘come down to,’ is so wow, in itself) a cooked breakfast, provided by the mother/aunt. And if they stayed in (hah) there was lunch and tea and dinner. Cake for tea, and puddings. What’s not to like?

There was food in the larder. You could help yourself.

If they went out on adventures they made sure to pack all sorts of goodies. Heaven for a fat little reader. It seemed to be allowed. I suppose they ran so fast chasing baddies that they used up the calories.

Ice cream. Sweets. Crisps, probably.

They led charmed lives. They really did.

(The only time I came anywhere close to this state, was when visiting my pen friend in Surrey for two weeks. We watched television in the afternoon – an impossibility in Sweden – and her mother brought us freshly made cake every day. It was probably a blessing it was for a fortnight only.)

Stealing and borrowing

Some people put it better than others. That’s why I am borrowing someone else’s words to talk about stealing. Simply because they said it so well.

First it was Nicola Morgan who discovered that ‘pirates’ were offering her ebooks online. She has worked hard to bring them out, so wasn’t terribly pleased to find that people were that keen to avoid paying the mere £2 she’s asking for her books.

Nicola reckons ‘pirate’ sounds much nicer than ‘scummy thief’ and that it’s time we stop thinking of these book thieves as rather loveable pirates. She’s right.

Then came Joanne Harris who discovered her fans tweeting happily about how and where to best steal her books. Except if you use the word download it sounds rather better to those who do it.

She wrote a great blog post about it, and she doesn’t just mention her own – lack of – income, but that of everyone else in the book business, who will not have the money to feed their families or pay the bills.

It’s worth noting, too, that this is the way to lose the publishing business, and anything else connected with it, like libraries. Which is just as well, really, as there will be no books written, that could be published, or that might be borrowed from your local library.

For free.

Craig Robertson and ‘the grandad rap’

I know only one author in Stirling, and that’s Craig Robertson. He had the decency to launch his brand new crime novel yesterday, right here ‘at home’ and he had even tweaked his usual Glaswegian crime, to offer up a Faroese murder in its place. (I suspect he just wants to be one of these fantastically rich Nordic crime writers…)

Craig Robertson

The launch of The Last Refuge took place at The Mediterranéa restaurant (obviously some compass malfunction here, but I’d much rather attend a tapas bar than a dead whale kind of restaurant, or fried puffin place) and the Resident IT Consultant and I made our way there to rub shoulders with other local literary types. In the end it was the Faroese connection that persuaded him.

Craig received the news of our recent move with surprising calm and almost seemed to think it was a good thing. He had asked my ex-Bloody Scotland blogging colleague – and crime writer – Michael J Malone to come and talk to him about his new book. They were both rather fascinated with the traditional Faroese whale slaughter, the word for which I didn’t catch, but which Michael’s spellchecker suggested could be ‘grandad rap.’

Craig Robertson

After some mingling and Faroese music and pretty photos of the islands, Craig read a wee excerpt from the first chapter, where his hero John Callum wakes up dead drunk in the harbour, with a bloody whale knife in his possession. And there has been a murder…

Apparently the islands had not had a murder for 26 years, but soon after Craig’s visit there was one. It was probably not his fault.

Craig had initially wanted to set a novel in Tallinn, but was beaten to it, so went to Torshavn instead. He found his female main character in a bar one night, and soon learned to say ‘thank you’ and ‘beer’ in Faroese. He also realised you should never get drunk with the leader of the Faroese Hell’s Angels.

They have no forensics on the islands, so when – if – there is a murder they have to send for someone from Copenhagen. And speaking of Denmark, Craig couldn’t afford to buy the Sarah Lund jumper someone asked him to get, and he wouldn’t mind a Danish film being made of The Last Refuge. The book will also be translated into Danish for any islander who happens not to understand English (which seems pretty unlikely).

He missed the opportunity of joining a whale slaughter, which he would have liked (!) because it would be so interesting to see people’s faces as they do this dreadful (my word) deed. Craig thinks that – in theory – it would be good for a crime writer to have a go at this kind of killing…

Craig Robertson

The Q&A session that followed was fun, but possibly not taken as seriously as they sometimes are. The Mediterranéa was just about full, which is great going for this kind of event. There were tapas to eat and free drinks, and anyone brave enough was invited to try some of Craig’s 50% Faroese akvavit (although I believe he soon regretted having some himself), illegal to make, but not drink, in the Faroe Islands.

The tapas

We’d planned to stay and have a meal afterwards, but ‘unfortunately’ there was so much free food on offer that we were too full to do so. We will have to go back some day when we actually feel hungry.

Instead we did that thing we hardly ever do. We paid for a book.

Craig Robertson

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.’