Monthly Archives: April 2009

Mystery Man

The PI in Mystery Man could be me, full of phobias and weird compulsions. A coward, with too much interest in memorising pointless number sequences. It’s almost as if Colin Bateman had met me. Come to think of it, he has. Only long enough for me to say ‘Hello, I’m the bookwitch. And I haven’t read any of your books. Can I take a photo of you?’.  Wonder if my social skills inspired him?

These days I generally come across Colin at Crime Always Pays, where we can both leave rude comments on whatever Declan Burke has blogged about. And let me make it clear that I will continue to talk about him as Colin. I know he only has Bateman on his books, but I never attended a private boys’ school, and I probably never will. So Colin it is.

Mystery Man runs the No Alibis crime bookshop in Belfast. No, he doesn’t. Not in real life. At least I don’t think so. The bookshop is real, but hopefully run by someone other than this sorry fiasco of an OCD hypochondriac. When the shop’s next door neighbour, the private eye Malcolm Carlyle, suddenly disappears, his customers come to Mystery Man with their mysteries. It’s leather trousers and graffiti and sticky-out ears and stuff like that, and Mystery Man enjoys solving these puzzles.

The Case of the Dancing Jews proves a little more interesting. A little more dangerous. He gets himself a sidekick. He gets a love life. His life is in danger. Corpses are everywhere, with and without air fresheners. It’s all to do with Auschwitz, and Mystery Man gets paranoid about Germans.

Mystery Man

This is a very funny book, and I suspect the Resident IT Consultant would not like it at all. But I did. I still wonder what they put in the water over in Ireland. They are funnier, and weirder, but I don’t mind. Colin is already writing the sequel, and it was only as I began writing this that I realised I don’t actually know the name of Mystery Man. Lots of aliases in No Alibis. Clever. The ending is clever too, but I won’t tell.

The cover is exactly to the witch’s taste. Simple. And purple. They must have had me in mind after all.


Irish crime on (Irish) television

There’s a lot happening on the Irish crime front. I mean fictional crime. Two great novels published this week. The one on Monday. And the one tomorrow… I found this blog last week ( I read the blog every day, but this blog post was up last week), which has links you can click on to bring you three snippets from Irish television, interviewing four of their best crime writers.

Not sure about that bright blue pullover against a backdrop of red and yellow, Declan. Otherwise very nice pullover. Wonder if black and grey goes better with the darkness of crime and the coolness of being a crime writer? 

So if you have a spare half hour, pop over and see Tana French, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman and Declan Burke. I don’t think we get very much of our neighbouring country’s literary figures over here. They all think they’re Americans, but they are good.

Witch journalism

Shock, horror! None of the children’s laureates chose Harry Potter for their favourite children’s books!

Well, why would they? They are old people. (No offense intended. I’m old myself.) They will pick what they liked as children, or something that stands out as excellent over decades of reading. Harry will be chosen by the children’s laureates in forty years’ time.

I just don’t get this newspaper/journalism thing. Are they stupid, or do they go out of their way to appear as stupid as they think we, the readers, are? Or do they hate Harry with a vengeance, so must rub his, or rather JKR’s, face in it as often as the opportunity arises?

Don’t worry about me. I might have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

But it would be nice if things weren’t always dumbed down or ‘over-scandalised’. I love Harry Potter, but even I can see that it’s possible to discuss children’s books without him.

And of the books listed in the Guardian article, the ancient witch has read very few. Nesbit. Treasure Island. Have naturally seen Mary Poppins the film. Have to hope that I have read all that was not listed. I’m not laureate material, that much is clear.

Fifty Grand

To think that I actually won my copy of Adrian McKinty’s Fifty Grand in a drinks competition is a little worrying for such a sober witch. But it was my witch instincts that told me from the start that the likely number of drinks Adrian would have consumed at the Ambos Mundos bar in Havana was close to 66. Seems he was fairly restrained and it was only 61, but close enough.

And I will say this now; if Adrian really did start writing a sequel to Fifty Grand, and the manuscript really did get eaten by a dingo, then he needs to do something about that. Either give the dingo the Red Riding Hood wolf treatment or simply write it again. Because I must have a sequel. Fifty Grand is that good. I think the Hemingway bar surroundings did have some effect on Adrian after all.

This ‘novel of suspense’ begins at the end, with the heroine literally on thin ice in Wyoming. And things don’t look too good. There’s a few very bloody and violent bits in Fifty Grand, and the first chapter is one of them. Then the novel meanders back and forth in time, to describe what went before the cracking ice, and why, before returning to the ice.

It’s cleverly done, and gets the reader thoroughly interested in Detective Mercado’s journey from Cuba to Colorado and Wyoming, and her reasons for doing what she’s doing. I think Adrian is knowledgeable about life in Cuba, but I could be wrong. For an old revolutionary like the witch (well, you know) he has a somewhat negative view of life in Cuba, but I’m not saying he’s wrong. He certainly knows what he’s talking about as far as Colorado is concerned, having lived there for years (we’re talking Northern Irish writer residing in Australia), and it shows. I almost believed that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt really were in the book.

Another thing Fifty Grand does, is show us the lives lived by illegal Latinos in the US. Very enlightening.

Great book. Very exciting (housework suffered, and so did feeding the family), and Adrian has some wonderful minor characters. And I really must stop typing his name as a drain. Easily done, though. He’s too nice and polite for me to behave so badly. 

If you’re only going to read half a dozen books this year, I have to insist on Fifty Grand being one of them. That’s despite the inconvenient fact that I don’t think it’s out in the UK yet. (When?)

The drawback of having liked Fifty Grand so much, is that I will probably have to find some time to read Adrian’s other books, too.

Dealing with (my) prejudices

I’m a snob, I’m afraid. Spent years at the school library seeing Saffy’s Angel and the other Hilary McKay books on the shelves. Assumed they were fluffy, pinkish books, much the same as everything else. OK, but not for mature readers.

I was wrong, wrong, wrong, and I have to offer my thanks to Sally Nicholls for persuading me they are must-reads. They are. I have spent the day in tears, mainly the laugh kind of tears, but there were some of the soppy kind as well. I’m a restrained person. I may find a book very funny, but I don’t have to sit there and laugh out loud, just because of it. The story about Saffy and her angel changed all that.

The Casson family is quite mad, and the children have been named after paint colours. The Dad is an idiot, which is more than made up for by a lovely, if ineffective, hippy Mum. Caddy is kind and caring, Indigo is clever and resourceful and Rose is an innocent little madam. And in this book Saffy is the main character, and she has an angel to find.

The plot is impossible to describe, or at least, it would ruin your enjoyment if I told you. Get hold of a copy and prepare to laugh and cry.

Saffy's Angel

As I began on chapter one, I knew I could read the book quickly and then I’d know what all the books were like and I wouldn’t have to read the other ones. Pah. Of course I’ll have to read the rest. How could I not want to know what happens to the Cassons, or to laugh a little more?

I think some of my early, but wrong, impressions of the books were due to the covers. Nice, but not my style. I gather they are about to be re-vamped, so we’ll see what I think. I don’t normally mention the publishers who have been persuaded to send me a book, but I was impressed this time. Usually if I approach someone who doesn’t know me, asking for a book that is ‘old’ and doing well, I tend to be turned down or ignored. So grateful thanks for Saffy’s Angel!

The 2009 Carnegie shortlist

Yippee! At last a shortlist where the lazy witch has read every single book! Very nice list, very nice books. It’s traditional to say let the best book win, but which one?

I have enthused about them all. Can’t say more than that.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic

Kevin Brooks, Black Rabbit Summer

Eoin Colfer, Airman

Siobhan Dowd, Bog Child

Keith Gray, Ostrich Boys

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Kate Thompson, Creature of the Night

Actually, as the Guardian points out, it’s a ‘boy’ sort of list. That is good.

Defending Anne

The other day on the Guardian’s book blog, Sam Jordison reminisced about his childhood reading, and I was vaguely amused to find his ‘distant’ childhood was quite recent. Didn’t comment on it, as that would have been ageist, but I feel that any historical musings need to be a little, well, more historical. The 1960s, for instance, and not the late 1980s. It seems the young Sam was mainly concerned with losing his marbles. No, I’ll check that again. Losing at marbles. Slight difference.

But what I couldn’t resist commenting on (read complain) was Sam’s totally incorrect view that ‘Anne of Green Gables (is) a bore’. I’m the first to admit that Sam is entitled to his opinion, however faulty, but to be allowed (Guardian editors can be strict) to state it as a fact, was a bit much for me. And it was only as I brought the subject up that anyone else noticed. They’d all been too busy discussing the main theme of his blog, a book I don’t know, so can’t say anything about. As I feel the whole point of a Guardian blog is to get a little off topic with the comments, it was clearly high time to defend Anne.

I’ll leave Blyton alone, and Willard Price, too. Dahl and Carroll are good, but not necessarily geniuses. You don’t have to like Anne, but she is no bore. Considering how popular she is, I was shocked to find that no fan jumped in to say anything at all. Where were you all?

Plates of biscuits and glasses of Ribena? Go and get them yourself, Sam! Oh, and I’ll have a mug of Earl Grey while you’re in the kitchen. Please.

And I’m of the opinion that you can go home again. Not to Kirrin Island, perhaps, but Prince Edward Island still works for countless elderly women. And me.

The Silver Blade

Sally Gardner is an old style storyteller, in the best possible way. I had waited, and waited, with bated breath for the sequel to The Red Necklace, and I gather from Sally’s blog that some of that wait was due to 21st century computer problems. I don’t know what her first five last chapters were like, but the published last chapters are pretty satisfying. I was interrupted in my reading when I had twenty pages left, and I was not as polite as I might have been.

The Silver Blade

The appearance in the story of an actual silver blade, a miniature guillotine, made me think of the Scarlet Pimpernel, that old favourite from my childhood. It’s been so long since there were new old traditional French Revolution stories, that I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to read them. This is great for a new generation of readers, who may not have tried the classics.

The story about Yann and Sido continues, with Sido ‘safely’ in London, and Yann doing his Pimpernel stuff in France. As befits a really bad baddie, Count Kalliovski isn’t as dead as we’d hoped, and he finds himself a new nasty helper, who I could tell was bad news as soon as I set eyes on him, so to speak.

There are some satisfying subplots, and also something from The Red Necklace which ties the story up very neatly. I was fairly certain this was the kind of book that had to end well, and if you don’t count all the dead and headless people, that’s what happens.

I wonder how ‘real’ the gypsy magic is? Without it the story wouldn’t work, but my rational mind tells me this is fantasy, except it feels so real it shouldn’t be. Regardless, it’s very fascinating, and I do like people who talk to horses.

As with The Red Necklace, The Silver Blade is a beautiful book, with the Paris map and the beginning of each chapter in contrasting font size and colour.

Are favourites essential?

‘This may sound silly, but I need a favourite book by tomorrow’, said Daughter. She clearly takes after the Resident IT Consultant, who does not have silly things like favourite anythings. But he has realised that people will expect you to have them, so reckons peace is achieved by making them up.

So we went round the bookcases in search of a favourite book for school today. Decided it couldn’t be Tracy Beaker, as the book was to be introduced to the other members of the reading group (Y11) as a recommendation as something to relax with over the exam season… Yes, my thoughts, exactly. Relax? Exam period?

Something age appropriate was needed. Something good, obviously. And preferably something that reading girls hadn’t already read. Piece of cake. Not.

The final choice fell on a book Daughter doesn’t actually own, because she borrowed it while in Germany last year. Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox. And no, I haven’t read it. (Thank you, Lee.) Daughter really did like it, and the proof is in the fact that she does own the sequel, Dreamquake, which she simply had to buy when she returned home.

But what I want to know is, do we have to have favourites? Or are most favourites like the Resident IT Consultant’s, a convenient reply when put on the spot?

The Secret Story

At last. I’ve got my hands on the Cathy Hopkins book I wrote about during the World Book Day period. Well, this very minute I have my hands on the keyboard, but you know what I mean. The Secret Story is the story second time round for Tony and Lucy from Mates, Dates, and the WBD sampler left me wanting it all. Now.

Finally I’ve had the background to the white roses Tony got for Lucy. I know why he felt guilty. And jealous.

They are a nice couple, those two. It’s young love, which is on, then off, and on and off a few more times. But I think we know what might happen in the end. Unless it’s just the witch and her stupid fondness for happy ever after.

And Cathy, I’m expecting that visit from Tony you promised. He can chat to Daughter, because I seriously doubt he’d want to talk to me.