Tag Archives: John Connolly


Science Fiction set at Edinburgh Castle and in the Scottish Highlands? If it didn’t actually have aliens, I’d say that Conquest is like any other – fabulous – story about invasion and resistance movements. Written by John Connolly (does that man never sleep?) and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest is the first in their mature YA sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Invaders.

Despite the aliens I’d have felt it was more civil war story than sci-fi, except it looks like we are heading out into space for the next instalment.

Set in the not too distant future, Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, from a very long way away, arriving via multiple wormholes. They were pleased to find a race so similar to themselves, but shocked at the crude behaviour exhibited by us humans. As with many invasions, it seemed at first as if the Illyri were more civilised, but we’re all the same; good and bad and ‘human.’

John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest

16-year-old Syl lives with her father at Edinburgh Castle, and like most teenagers she likes to disobey the adults occasionally, which is how she meets Paul Kerr, a 17-year-old member of the resistance. At first he doesn’t realise she’s Illyri, and he saves her life and then she saves his, and after that both of them are in danger.

This is a fantastic tale of deception and intrigue, politics and love. (Star Trek meets Braveheart?) There are witches and spies; some with special abilities. Conquest is very pacy and exciting. You just don’t know who to trust. The Illyri have brought with them people from other planets, and some of them you’d rather not think about too much.

Gruesome in places, but also lots of food for thought regarding what we – in reality – are doing to this planet.

The Creeps

Or Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil, round III. (Actually, that has more of a ring to it, I think.)

John Connolly, The Creeps

Samuel Johnson must be one of the most wonderful boy heroes in fiction! I love him. I’m not alone in this, because there is a fair amount of love in this last (I wish it wasn’t) book in the trilogy by John Connolly, although it is also about one of the worst dates in history.

Mrs Abernathy is back, if only in bits and pieces. That woman certainly knows how to hold a grudge! After so much exciting stuff taking place in Hell and other far-flung settings, it almost comes as a surprise to spend most of this book in the somewhat unusual town of Biddlecombe.

I like second and third books. That’s when you know what’s what and you and the supporting characters have learned to find your way around. Even the stupid policemen have stopped being quite so idiotic, and have the good sense to know when they are up against the devil and generally supernatural things. The same goes for the – almost – loveable dwarfs.

You know where you are. Biddlecombe. You know Mrs Abernathy is bad, even in molecule form.

I’m a little concerned that the scientists sent to Biddlecombe from CERN in Switzerland are nearly more stupid than the policemen, but you can’t have everything.

It’s not only the molecular Mrs A you need to worry about. Teddybears and armed dolls are not toys. (Think Ilya Kuryakin and the dolls…) Beer can damage your health, and who cares if your best friend is a little green?

As with the first two, The Creep is a very funny book. John’s footnote style asides are most entertaining, and should go a long way to educating young readers. But along with that lovely humour you do get the serious aspects of life, love and friendship. Courage.

Love conquers all, and there were tears at the end. (Obviously not absolutely everyone can be allowed to survive.)

I need more books like these. They are what makes life worth living.

Friday the 13th

Fascinating Aïda used to sing a song called Taboo. One line was about inviting a vegetarian to a barbecue. In the case of Daughter yesterday, it was more about the wisdom of asking the vegetarian to order the food for the AstroSoc barbecue for Freshers’ week. I have no wish to ask for more details as to what she actually bought. (Grilled mushrooms anyone?)

The event was shared with the Physics students (might be Quantum Soc?), who wanted them to have a plan B in case of rain. It won’t rain, Daughter told them. And, you know, Astrophysicists are surely that little bit closer to any potential rain, so would know what’s coming. That’s my theory.

It was Friday the 13th. Did you notice? My travelling went better than the date made me expect, but I suffered the ignominy of being mistaken for a woman who goes to Blackpool. By the time I got to Manchester Piccadilly the platform was full of (superficially) similar women, all heading for fun in Blackpool. I changed trains in Preston, and the Grandmother later told me about the time when she did that, and a kindly man tried to tell her she didn’t have to, because it was a through train to Blackpool. (He found it hard to grasp that she wanted to go to Glasgow.)

I spent part of the day reading about devils and demons. In two separate books. What are the odds? I expect the date helped. First I read a short story about The Good Little Devil (with my breakfast, if you want to know). Then I moved on to John Connolly’s latest Samuel Johnson book, which as the disCERNing fan knows features CERN and the Higgs Boson.

Once Daughter had got the barbecue going, starring whatever devilish veggie-burgers she could muster, she left the two Socs to their fate and grabbed her gown (academic, not dressing) and dashed downtown for her meeting with Hillary Clinton and Peter Higgs.

Hillary Clinton at St Andrews

It wasn’t a threesome, but when people like that come to town, you go and see them. At least if you’re so boring as to having applied for tickets before the star turns became publicly known. As it happens Professor Higgs didn’t come. But what Daughter forgot to mention was that Hillary Clinton wasn’t exactly alone.

Rowan Williams. Mary Beard. Tim Berners-Lee. Jane Goodall. To name but a few ‘nonentities’ who were there. Apparently the former archbishop said his only claim to St Andrews fame was having married two of its former students.

Hillary Clinton at St Andrews

I mentioned Glasgow. Like the Grandmother, I went to Glasgow, where I overheard someone talking about crayfish kebab. Walking from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Queen Street I came across a poster for safe sex. No, I didn’t. I looked again. Surf and Fax was being offered. So did I hallucinate that crayfish kebab?

Once I’d reached my destination I learned that the Hungarian Accountant is in town. But also that Eoin Colfer isn’t.


Bookwitch bites #97

Let’s start with a stolen photo, shall we? (My thieving is getting worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.) Here is a photo, which might have been taken by Gill Lewis, winner of the Salford award last week. It was on her Twitter, anyway. And the lady between Jamie Thomson and Josh Lacey is not Gill, but Barbara Mitchelhill, who narrowly avoided that dinner.

Jamie Thomson, Barbara Mitchelhill and Josh Lacey

Another award is Sefton Super Reads. They have announced their shortlist for the summer, and it’s pretty good. The lady above is on it, for instance. And so are some of my other favourites, and some unknowns (to me).

• Ruth Eastham, Messenger Bird
• Fabio Geda, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
• Caroline Green, Cracks
• Barbara Mitchelhill, Road to London
• J. D. Sharpe, Oliver Twisted
• David Walliams, Ratburger

In fact, there are awards absolutely everywhere. Declan Burke could be in for an Edgar for his hard work on Books To Die For, along with John Connolly. I don’t know who or what they are up against, but if ever a book and its creators deserved an Edgar, Books To Die For must be it.

While we are in an awards kind of mood, it appears Adrian McKinty is on the shortlist for The Last Laugh for The Cold Cold Ground, which will be awarded at Crimefest later this year.

Nick Green, The Storm Bottle

Finally – in more ways than one – Nick Green’s The Storm Bottle is available to buy. That’s over three years since I reviewed it, which happened by some odd fluke (me looking into the future, kind of thing). So far it’s ‘only’ on Kindle, but if you only ever buy one Kindle book in your life (although that sounds a bit unlikely, now that I stop and think) this has to be it. The Storm Bottle! Very good book! Sad. Funny. Exciting. Does not end the way you expect it to.

Dolphins can definitely talk.

… and rock ‘n’ roll

This week we’ve mentioned the sex, and the alcohol. That leaves the rock ‘n’ roll. Wine, women and song. All bad stuff.

There’s so much music in novels these days. Perhaps there always was, and I’ve been deaf and blind. Adrian McKinty (yes, him again) puts lots of music in his books. Sergeant Duffy listens to a wide repertoire. He’s a bit of a show-off, that Duffy.

In Adrian’s YA novel The Lighthouse Keepers, which I’ve read but not yet reviewed, the young main character raves about music. Not so sure he’s not too precocious in his musical taste, but never mind.

Might be an Irish thing? When I first ran into John Connolly – outside the Ladies, before an event, and before he knew who I was – he pressed a CD into my hands. I gather he listens to a selection of music each time he writes a book, and those tracks end up belonging to that particular novel.

I added John’s favourites to my iTunes, and every time a track I can’t identify pops up on shuffle, I can be certain it’s one of his. I only added the CD because it contained a Lee Hazlewood track. I used to be a great fan.

A Jodi Picoult novel from a couple of years ago also included a CD. I passed the book and CD on to someone else, while making sure I put the tracks into iTunes first. I like them a lot.

It can be inspiring having an author’s choice of music for when you read. But what if you don’t like the music that helped them write? If every time the characters play their favourite tracks, you just can’t stand the music? Would you rather do without it?

Rather like when you find out which actor inspired someone’s character. If it’s the ‘wrong’ actor, you’ll have to quickly re-imagine them as someone you’d prefer. (Nobody tell me their heroine was inspired by that Keira woman! I’d have to burn your book.)

Music is an age thing, too. Adrian – again – is the wrong age for me. He doesn’t pick the music I listen to, nor the stuff forced on me – I mean, made available to me – by Offspring. I have a whole decade, that’s been almost completely blacked out. (When Son did a GCSE project on a decade in pop music, he was given the 1980s. Naturally. And we could offer no help.)

It’s not only the music behind a book, or the albums enjoyed by a fictional character. The whole book can be based on music. Obviously. Recently Son translated extracts from a couple of music based novels written by a Norwegian author. That was 20,000 words featuring an opera and all the backstage stuff. Luckily it was a made-up opera, so it ended up being less of a fact checking nightmare.

And we get YA books about pop groups, and wannabes. With the current talent programme epidemic on television we will probably end up with many more of them. It beats vampires, though.

Although having said that, I seem to recall that one of Anne Rooney’s vampires played in a band.

And Elvis lives.

Two more bests

There are two more books I really feel deserve another mention for their general excellence. My ‘best of’ for the year is for children’s books. But 2012 had a lot of good books to offer, and some of them are for the ‘older reader.’

If I had had a best adult novel category, the award would go to Adrian McKinty for The Cold Cold Ground, which is as close to perfect as you get with a crime novel.

And I don’t often read reference books, but Books To Die For, edited by Declan Burke and John Connolly, is just that. A reference book to die for. Except we don’t want to die. We only want to read about the most fantastic crime novels, in which people might well die.

Those Irish know a thing or two about crime.

The Burkes at the Irish Book Awards

To finish off in style – it is the weekend, after all – I give you the glamorous face of Irish crime. The other one just writes books.

The Books To Die For Tour

Waterstones Deansgate is a good place to go to if you want the attention of several young men at once. (Staff, I mean. And it helps if you’re difficult. Like me.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

I was there to hear Declan Burke and John Connolly – and as it turned out, Barbara Nadel – talk about how they forced hundreds of authors to write essays on their favourite crime writers, and to do so by the deadline. (I have to get back to Waterstones here. Last year I was in that same room to hear John speak about one of his children’s books. It was the children’s department. Yesterday he was there as an adult writer, and it was an adult’s fiction department. Very obliging of them to keep switching.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

Declan Burke and Barbara Nadel

Anyway, there we were, around fifty crime fans or so, to hear the gossip about the participating authors of Books To Die For. And how much work it had been putting this wonderful ‘reference’ volume, conceived in wine, together. I believe John said yes to Declan’s idea, while really meaning no. These things happen.

They insulted each other, which was only to be expected. John reminisced about young people, suddenly feeling old doing so. (Having stumbled across a photo of John last week, I can assure you he was himself very young once.)

Apart from age issues, we learned that John has a marvellous black book of contacts, and he really entered into ‘the spirit’ of this job. I’d say they both did.

According to Barbara the participating writers were given very little time to write their essays. A mere six months, which left the editors to hunt people down ‘like assassins’ (hope they really didn’t mean that) after the deadline, literally chasing people across continents.

They had to fact check everything from often inaccurate quotes to people who couldn’t remember their own date of birth or the titles of their books. (It’s always so hard, that.) Both John and Declan gave examples of authors they didn’t know, and also listed some of the more unusual writers that cropped up. (No, I’m not listing them here. Read the book!)

John Connolly

There was a worried moment when it looked like no one was going to pick Agatha Christie, which indicates that people didn’t necessarily go for the obvious names first. Some essays revealed a lot about those who’d written them, and whereas they tried to be really strict on word count (2000), some essays did end up twice as long.

Lee Child wrote the shortest one. Declan and John were amazed that he remembered the cover of ‘his’ book in such detail, and the price he paid, and not much else… Sara Paretsky’s contribution is ‘wonderful.’

Declan Burke

In the Q&A I finally had my explanation as to why crime writers are so nice. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards, murdering all day long makes you nice. Although as regards bad reviews, John prefers knockdown fights in the pub. More honest. (He doesn’t read reviews. Except he seemed to have read mine…) We are all so nice, because these days we want to be able to meet an author in the bar, and still be friends. So true. Sometimes.

Declan Burke, Barbara Nadel and John Connolly

There was a lovely long queue to have books signed, and I fought for my place last in line with another big fan. We both won. More or less. There were trading cards. With duplicates. We now have to meet up again and swap. And make friends. John also handed out postcards, which left Declan wishing he’d thought of that.

Afterwards I hobbled towards my train at such utter lack of speed that my lovely Irishmen returning to their hotel would surely have caught up with me, had I not been rescued by a tram.

The Irish are coming

To Waterstones Deansgate. Wednesday 12th at 7pm. Be there, if you can. (I was going to say ‘or else’ but decided against such heavy handed tactics.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke at the launch for Books To Die For, photo by Ger Holland

They are Declan Burke and John Connolly, who will be talking about Books To Die For and possibly also their recently published The Wrath of Angels and Slaughter’s Hound. Both John and Declan are such fantastic writers that I suspect people will want a copy of all three books, if not careful. And why be careful?

Books To Die For. The reference book for the crime novels you want to read.

Eoin Colfer with Books To Die For, photo by Ger Holland

Personally I’d have loved to be at the – Dublin – launch last week. It seems as if the creamier end of Dublin’s (or shall we say Ireland’s?) crime world was present, and whereas I suspect neither Eoin Colfer nor Colin Bateman will follow Declan and John to England, I am sure we will have a fantastic night, anyway.

After all, I will be there, and I will add all the glamour required.

(Maybe just bring a little pixie glam? Just in case?)

Dublin photos by Ger Holland

Books To Die For

At one point I almost got blood on my copy of Books To Die For, but after chastising myself I came to the conclusion it would have been really very appropriate. Maybe I’ll smear a few drops on later for the sheer excitement of it.

It’s most unusual to read all of a ‘reference book’ and I admit I haven’t got there quite yet, but I would have if I could have. I am simply saving some for later, because it’s one of these pleasurable reads you want to last. Preferably forever.

John Connolly & Declan Burke, Books To Die For

Declan Burke and John Connolly (two of those nice Irish boys I like so much) have worked on a real must-have book for crime lovers and others, who are thinking of entering the world of crime. They, and over a hundred of their crime writing peers, have got together to write essays – admirably short ones, at that – on the ‘greatest mystery novels ever written’ and it is wonderful beyond words.

The contents pages read like a Who’s Who, and I have been dipping in and out, trying to decide whether to pick essays about people I like, or by people I like, or about books I know and love. Or just go for the odd ones where I’ve never heard of either the novelist or the essay writing fan.

I have done all of these, and it’s been immensely satisfying, and I could go on and on. I’m quite pleased with myself for having such good taste, and it’s enlightening to see who I share it with. It’s also tremendously good to find that some of these successful writers are putting forward surprising suggestions. Liza Marklund was inspired by a Nancy Drew book, and I admire her for daring to say so.

If you are missing tags of all participating authors, let me remind you that the list would run into hundreds. Admittedly, some are both recommenders and recommended, and John and Declan get more than one essay each, but this book has one long list of the cream of crime.

You could always get the book. It’s even got its own website. You can read more on there. And you can hear some authors talk about their choices. If you play your cards right, you can also go and hear Declan and John talk about the book at various events.

Me, I’ll go back to checking out which ones I’ve read, and which ones I must read. As if I actually needed a longer must list than the one I already had. But it’s crime. Lovely crime. Recommended by the best. And because much of it is old, I reckon I can spread it out, find a book every now and then.

Time to get excited about the AZC launch

It’s a cool title, albeit weird. I’ve read Absolute Zero Cool, except when I did, it was called something else. Declan Burke (yes, it’s him again) keeps working on his novels, and this one he’s been twiddling with for nine years, or something.

Declan Burke, Absolute Zero Cool - Invite

I still need to read it in its new form, but the paper version has not reached me yet. It can reach you, dear reader, if you pop along to the launch in Dublin. Which is at The Gutter Bookshop (and how apt is that?) on August 10th. I won’t be there. Declan forgot to clear the date with me, so I’m busy.

And you know, you could always pop along just to see John Connolly, who is launching the book. I imagine it will be the usual champagne bottle banged against the book and away it goes.

For a noir crime novel about a hospital porter trying to blow up a hospital, it’s got a really cool cover, wouldn’t you say? Generally I don’t approve of that kind of behaviour, but seeing as the weirdo is called Karlsson he’s got some sympathy from me.

Let’s just say the novel is anything but average, and quite possibly the launch will be un-average too.