A criminal song and dance

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be so fond of people doing something other than what they normally do, or are famous for? When my intended Bloody Scotland date with James Oswald et al last night turned out not be available online yet, I turned to the music.

Yes, the music. It’s the obvious thing for six professional killers to engage in on a crimefest weekend. I had actually considered going down to the Albert Halls to see the concert in person, but shied away because it was a bit late. And all those happy people in the audience might be, you know, a little too happy.

As Daughter commented when Val McDermid entered the stage singing, ‘is there nothing Val can’t do?’ I brought to her attention the fact that ladies of a certain age are Very Good At Everything. Cough.

It was very enjoyable. I’d also decided not to take notes, because I was just going to have fun, albeit in my own living room. Anyway, it’s not as if the six – Val, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre – were talking about their writing. They really do seem to be Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, and they’d been apart for far too long.

They sent us off on a drinking interval, the better to appreciate them in the second half.

The thing is, though, having imbibed the special Bloody Scotland non-alcoholic gin, I was nowhere drunk enough not to mind what happened next. I completely lost my pioneering spirit when part two went soundless. I’m guessing someone switched off the sound for the interval, and then didn’t flick the switch back. The online audience engaged in some frantic chat, and Daughter wondered whether she should actually drive over to the Albert Halls and alert them.

You’ll be relieved to hear that the music came back after 20 minutes, in time for Delilah. It took me until Whiskey in the Jar to thaw, however, so my thanks to Stuart for that. They went out on a high, with I’m gonna be 500 miles – which is a long enough distance for anyone – and my parting words will be that in future they allow [little] Luca to Britney on to his heart’s content. It’s what he wants.

The Primrose Railway Children

Paying hommage to an older author’s book, one that you’ve enjoyed a lot, is nearly always a good idea. Thanks to Bank Holiday television there can’t be a person in this country who hasn’t watched the film version of Edith Nesbit’s book The Railway Children. I’d like to think that this by itself would be enough for children to discover Nesbit and her many books.

However, if not, then surely the fact that Jacqueline Wilson has now written a book inspired by The Railway Children will send young readers looking for more by Edith. It’s a different story, one set in modern times, which probably suits Jacqueline’s fans better.

It took me a while to work out why it’s called The Primrose Railway Children… Jacqueline gave her fictional siblings a vintage railway, once she had discovered the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, and realised that this was how she could write her Railway Children story.

This way her fans can have a traditional Jacqueline Wilson book, but with a hint of history as well. Best of both worlds.

Illustrations by Rachael Dean.

No Man’s Land

It wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, this dystopian story by Joanna Nadin. It’s actually quite scary, in more ways than one.

Set in a future that doesn’t feel either all that far off, or terribly unlikely, it can certainly scare us adults. Whether young readers of a similar age to the main character – Alan – who is ten, will read it as ‘merely’ a futuristic adventure, I can’t say.

Albion is a far-right country, getting ready for war with the foreigners of Europe. There are pockets of non-Albion areas, like Caledonia (good old Scotland!) and also No Man’s Land, which is where Alan and his little brother are sent by their Dad, to be safe.

They don’t want to go, and – at first – they don’t like it there. But you get used to things. Just as you will continue longing for that which you miss very much.

Alan knows he’s no hero. He just does his best.

And I will pray that our future looks nothing like this Albion place.

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.

Bloody funny

You know what I mean. It’s time for Bloody Scotland. This coming weekend, and you should be able to attend a fair few events in person, and if you can’t, it’s all online. Get your digital pass now!

I’ve just done my little selection process where I have tried to decide what I want to see live and what I can watch at home. All of it, and all of it, obviously. But I suspect a witch has to be realistic and only pick a couple of live events, in case she tires, or mixes too much with people. They are promising ‘very safe seating’. I’ll hold them to that, albeit not literally, as there should be no touching.

It’s hard, this deciding business. I began with Pitch Black Humour, and that wasn’t funny at all. Turns out I have the wrong browser to pay. Luckily I’m computer literate enough to find another browser, but how dare they turn Apple away? (Only joking.)

I had to start with that one, because of J D Kirk, aka as Barry. I’d like to see him. And hear him. I even went so far as to ask him what the J D stands for. He doesn’t know, but guessed (!) it might be John Doe…

After that it was a toss-up between several events, some of which will be on at the same time. Which is not good. I [almost] closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

And I’ll watch the others at home. Or as the publicist pointed out, I can watch myself attending the live events.

I’ll wave!

Where are all the turkeys?

I get it wrong Every Single Time. I put a turkey, or two, in there, somewhere.

OK, so I’ve not yet read Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, but it is lying in wait for me. I veer between looking forward to it, because some people have loved it, and fearing I’ll regret it, because some have not. Was heartened to discover that Susanna Clarke and her husband got one for each other for Christmas. Not, I assume, because they habitually buy two of everything, but when you know that the other one would love this…

Still no turkey, despite it being Christmas for them.

Then I read the Guardian interview with Richard, and was heartened – again – when he said he’d been afraid of being seen just as a celebrity success, until people in countries where they don’t know him from television, seemed to like his first crime novel too.

So that was reasonably modest of him.

And then, the Guardian Review yesterday happened to mention that Agatha Christie’s The Tuesday Club Murders is being reissued.

No turkey there either.

No, the reason I keep wanting there to be turkeys is Craig Rice’s The Thursday Turkey Murders. Which I read half a decade ago (it’s from 1946), and it has clearly formed a beaten path through my brain, and I simply cannot separate turkeys from Thursdays. Especially when there is also a murder.

Although I note Craig Rice also wrote The Sunday Pigeon Murders… Can’t stand pigeons.

Catch that baby!

Old people are said to return to thinking much more of their early days. Well, permit an ancient Bookwitch to look back on her early witch days.

I was fairly pleased about this; him learning to read, and felt that seven was a fine age, and all that. I’d obviously read to him and Daughter before this, at bedtime, and even at other times. I think.

But just as I have told myself that ‘next time round when I’m forty again, I shall do things differently’, as though that was even possible, I am feeling that next time Offspring are babies I will start their literary education much sooner.

A bit like Anne Rooney. She’s blogging on ABBA about her grandchildren. Her children too. She’s clearly someone who has been terribly ambitious and who has been able to carry through with her plans on building bookworms. I kind of envy her. Both for her stamina and her general knowledge of all that is worth bringing to a very young child. You must read her post. Because I will not steal that adorable photo of MB and her baby brother NB reading a pdf of Anne’s next book, where the older sister entertains her minuscule brother to the extent that his little eyes almost pop.

That’s early reading for you!

I did not read to Offspring before they were born. I should have. Although, there was a bath book, which got a lot of use. And board books. I hope I did all right. They can read now, if that helps. Write too.

Let’s stay, not stray

Where are you, when you have a staycation?

The word has become more fashionable than ever, but I feel people have misunderstood. Maybe it’s the brainfog that comes after Covid? My brain is certainly fogging worse than ever.

A long time ago, mostly pre-Offspring, the Resident IT Consultant and I occasionally staycationed. This was for financial reasons, not being anywhere near as rich (cough) as we are now. But also, we felt we could quite like visiting places near us. For the day.

Because that surely is what it is? You stay at home. The same place as all the other days and nights of the year. And whether you have a picnic in the garden, if you have a garden, or get the bus to a nearby attractive spot, you sleep in your own bed. Or you might visit friends or family, if you have people in your vicinity. (We didn’t.)

Now it appears to mean that you haven’t gone abroad. People have had holidays – not staycations – for decades, never leaving the country, but paying for travel and hotels and meals out. Those weren’t staycations. They were holidays. Just not in Spain.

And of course, I have been known to travel outside Britain, without it being a holiday. That’s also a thing. Leaving the country you are a resident of does not equal a holiday. Not even if it’s not for business. Nursing a very ill relative isn’t much fun. Nor is going to their funeral, regardless of where it takes place.

Those outings we made from our house in Brighton; they were good. Sometimes we had to work out if the money would stretch to both bus fare and a cream tea. But I would say such a day was no less fun than Spain (we’re not the nightclub type).

You can tell I’m just a bit irritated, can’t you?

The Drowned Ones

The third instalment of Ellen Renner’s trilogy about Storm, the witch of more than one of the elements, follows in the footsteps of Storm Witch and Under Earth. It has the same reassuring feeling of belonging with your people as I discovered in Storm Witch, and which moved me so.

Admittedly, Storm starts off in a dire situation here, because where would a heroine be without her cliffhanger? She’s with her enemies, or at least some of them. She’s not really sure who she likes, or trusts, any longer. My vote would always be for Nim, despite what he did.

But there are the others; ones she started believing one thing of, only to wonder if there’s more to them. In a really good story there will be.

So, out at sea, all tied up, in the company of the one who killed her beloved mother. And then ‘rescued’ by someone who in turn wants to kill her own mother. There’s a lot of killing of mothers. And brothers. It’s how you make enemies.

I was wondering if Storm had left her own island behind for all time, but we do get to visit it again. I’m glad, because it reinforced that feeling I had of belonging.

For the rest of the time Storm and her friends and enemies have to work hard to restore some sort of sense to their respective worlds. Just because your tribe are responsible for doing bad things, doesn’t mean some of them aren’t all right. Just like you.

Bad Dog

It will be some time before I relax when we go to the park again. All those dogs running around.

Bad Dog is Alex Smith’s second book featuring DCI Kett, and he is no more sensible this time round. He risks his life, while his three young daughters are at home, missing their mum, but thankfully being looked after by someone who is good at it.

This one, as you might have gathered, is about dogs. And I’m sure you can work out what a bad dog might do. (Don’t read this with a meal!) But I like Robbie Kett and his fellow detectives, and even the boss, Clare, when I can remember that he’s not a girl, and that Clare is his surname.

There are dog attacks in the woods. There are some quite unsavoury characters living nearby. In fact, there are a number of neighbours, and you need to take your pick as to which way to direct your suspicions. (I was mostly right. But that only makes you even more worried about how things will develop.)

The girls are lovely, if somewhat wild and noisy. They, and I, would like DCI Kett to stay at home in a calm and orderly fashion for a little while, but that will never happen. Especially not after that cliffhanger.