Category Archives: Crime

Glass Town Wars

How I had waited for the new novel by Celia Rees! It had been far too long. But as they say, good books come to Witches who wait.

Glass Town Wars is an interesting blend of Emily Brontë’s childhood made-up world, and gaming today. Plus a few other ideas. It’s sort of Truth or Dare meets Haworth.

It’s not explained to you. The reader has to work out what’s going on, between the young – seemingly unconscious – man in the modern hospital bed, and the girl in Yorkshire who dreams her fantasy world, and her alter ego in that other world. And then they all meet.

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

This is good stuff, and being left in the dark adds to the experience. I’m woefully uneducated in the Brontë ways – outside of their books –  so am guessing I’d have known more, had I known more, so to speak.

It’s about love, and lust, and fighting; whether in imaginary wars two hundred years ago, or in an intensive care unit right here and now. And I couldn’t very well ignore the fact that the lovely nurse who looks after Tom – our unconscious hero – is an immigrant. Where would we have been without him?

2018 is the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth, and Glass Town Wars is a fabulous way to celebrate; to bring her and her siblings back to life – if they need it – and maybe introduce a new generation to their books, while keeping readers entertained with our own ideas of cyberspace. This is something Celia does well.

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Dead Stock

First Aid is always a useful skill. Although many of the corpses in Rachel Ward’s Dead Stock are beyond help. I suppose corpses generally are…

I was going to say that unlike most crime novels, Dead Stock doesn’t have any dead humans, but that’d be incorrect. There is one dead body, but you don’t notice it so much. The bad smell comes from other dead creatures. Look away now if you don’t enjoy dead cats.

Rachel Ward, Dead Stock

Ant and Bea are back. It’s only just past New Year, with its hangovers and disappointments. As Costsave gets ready to go in the New Year, however, the missing and/or the dead cats start making themselves noticed. But Bea is ready to solve the mystery, and Ant supposes he will help, then…

It’s always good to meet characters you know, and by now we know where we are with Bea and her mum, Ant with his family, plus the whole Costsave family, for better or for worse. And it’s not only cats, but dogs, in this whodunnit. Bea is run ragged with all the sleuthing and the caring for animals.

She has her old flame, the sleazy policeman to deal with too, as well as the new and very promising part-timer at Costsave.

The question is who is doing those things to the cats? And what does it have to do with all the rest that’s happening in Kingsleigh?

Bea is definitely the one to have on your side. She’s small, but brave. And when not brave, she still does what needs doing. (Except possibly sending her police-man properly packing.)

As usual, it’s not always the ones you think did it, who did it. But for a book about dead cats, it gets really quite exciting.

Courtenay Wright, aka Mr Sara Paretsky

One of ‘my’ dear authors, Sara Paretsky, lost her husband, Courtenay Wright, on Thursday. I was very sorry to hear about this, having felt honoured to have been able to read various bits of news about him, and the dogs, which Sara has shared over the years. You feel you get to know people you’ve never met.

The first I ever heard of him was that he’d served with Eisenhower in WWII, and my immediate reaction was that this wasn’t possible, and followed that by thinking ‘he must be really old, then.’

Yes, thankfully Courtenay got to be quite old. He was 95 last month, on the same day as Sara’s latest book was published, and he was treated to a book launch-cum-birthday party. What’s more, he looked happy and chirpy, and that pleased me very much.

When Sara shared her sad news on social media this morning, she linked again to the recent piece on her blog, where she talked about Courtenay and what he’d meant to her, first published after a second 95th celebration, with colleagues at his old university. It’s the kind of speech that makes you want to have met him even more.

He was clearly a remarkable man.

What Manor of Murder?

At Monday’s event there was a hinted suggestion that maybe you can’t have crime for children. I didn’t exclaim ‘what rot!’ but they were wrong. You can, and you do, have crime novels for young readers. As with other books, some adult themes will have been missed out, but dead bodies are not necessarily one of them. Children can cope just fine.

I didn’t mention that I was reading a young crime book at that very moment, or that the young detectives actually had a fight with the policeman about being allowed to draw the chalk line round the body. I have to add here that Christopher William Hill’s Bleakley Brothers mystery, What Manor of Murder? is perhaps a little unrealistic. It’s set in the 1930s (I think) and quite posh in a modern, fake sort of way.

Christopher William Hill, What Manor of Murder?

Twins Eustace and Horatio Bleakley are on their way to spend Michaelmas with their aunt and uncle at Bleakley Manor, in the company of a Poor Unfortunate, aka an orphan by the name of Master Oliver Davenport, and their cousin Loveday. Before long there are two corpses that have to be accommodated – quite literally – and the mystery of their demise needs to be solved. Who can they trust?

Very few tears are shed over the dead people, who weren’t terribly popular anyway. This is probably rather unlikely, even in these wealthy circumstances. And the boys speak a somewhat exaggerated English, the way writers nowadays [might] believe posh people once spoke. But it’s quite fun.

(I just hope the boys grew up into decent men, because if not, I’ve just gone off the whole trend of this kind of thing. It’s only charming up to a point.)

Reaching their destinations

Rachel Ward’s back where I first met her, in Edinburgh, nearly ten years on. She has left behind her ‘hideously dark’ YA novels, and is enjoying cosy, humorous crime for adults. Rachel was doing an event at Blackwell’s last night, but first she met up for coffee with your witch, after a walk in Princes’ Street Gardens in the morning darkness, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, and going to Waterstones for [leftover] wine with Ceris from Sandstone Press, ferrying two boxes of the stuff on the bus to the other bookshop in town. That’s dedication.

The event –  Examining the Crime Scene: Three Crime Writers in Conversation – was with fellow Sandstone Press authors Lesley Kelly and William McIntyre, and I can’t tell you how good it is to ‘meet’ two authors I didn’t know at all and discovering they are fun and interesting and that I might not be totally opposed to reading their books.

Lesley Kelly, William McIntyre, Ceris Jones and Rachel Ward

I will have to get used to events no longer run by Ann Landmann, who has left, but I dare say that will be possible. I was introduced to her replacement. I immediately forgot his name. Completely my fault. It’s my age. But I do have to say he had arranged things very nicely. Differently, but almost, well, better… Except for ‘my’ sofa, which I surreptitiously shoved a little.

Helen Grant arrived in the nick of time, having struggled with the travelling-to-Blackwell’s-for-an-event-and-trains-running-late problem. Chair Ceris allowed her authors to cheat, by showing them her questions in advance… And I didn’t get the memo, but it seems that white spots on navy or black is the way to dress. The size of the audience worried our host, because why were we all out on a Monday night, being so interested in crime?

William McIntyre

William, who seems to kill people in Linlithgow – which I find an admirable thing – believes that you should commit the crime before speaking to a lawyer. He borrows freely from his day job in the legal business and puts it all in his books, which are either nine, or four, depending on whether you count his self-published novels. It saves on research. And he says he only uses already publicly known facts.

Lesley Kelly

Lesley has a policeman father, but she wished she’d spoken before William, as she’s ‘not as interesting’. She used to be a stand-up comedian, and finds the two-year wait for laughs when writing a book rather long. You never know what readers want, but in her next book she kills a lot of civil servants.

Rachel Ward

And then we have Rachel, who based her detectives on ‘a life of food shopping.’ This is a fine thing, and you can listen to and observe people in the supermarket. Everyone shops for food. The humour in her dialogue wasn’t intentional, but when she sent her husband a chapter at a time to read, she liked hearing him laugh.

None of the three authors write about sex. Well, Rachel does, a little. There was a question as to whether you have to be a bit drunk when writing about sex.

Asked whether they plot in advance, William described how you need only know some, because as long as you can see into the near distance if you are driving in fog, you will be able to reach your destination. A little at a time, and that works for writing as well. Rachel has realised that ‘plot is quite important’ and Lesley plots because she doesn’t want to get lost.

Then there was some discussion about Tom Cruise, and I’ve forgotten how many of them want him in the film of their book. Potentially all three.

And then we got to the end. Helen and I both went up to ‘Mr Ward’ and chatted. I reckon Rachel will want to lock him up, but it was nice to meet him at last.

Spoke briefly to a book fan from Chile, as well as more formally meeting blogger Kelly, who apparently reads Bookwitch. Hello!!

Realised that Sandstone Press, and Ceris, are not from Perth. They are in Dingwall, and that is a very long way north. Very very.

Chatted some more with William and urged him to really let go in Linlithgow, without telling him the whole story. Tried to be professional, handing out business cards to him and Lesley. Just hope they’re not going to turn up outside my door..!

Then I grabbed Helen Grant, and carefully avoiding Fleshmarket Close, we walked to the station where we got our train home, and one of us almost told the guard he was too loud.

(Photos by Helen Grant)

Maskerade

It was the witches who decided for me. I knew I was going to choose a Terry Pratchett novel to buy, but which one? Several looked promising, but Granny Weatherwax at the opera sounded especially tempting.

Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

Maskerade is actually a crime novel, I discovered. This made it even more fun, and I was already needing the light Pratchett touch. It improved my week considerably.

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg travel to the big city for some culture. Well, actually, they go there to see if they can persuade young witch Agnes Nitt, aka Perdita, to join them so they can be three witches together. Three is so much more fun. But Perdita wants to sing opera and might need quite a bit of persuading.

And then people start dropping dead, all over the opera. Even more than the normal operatic death toll, I mean.

You forget – well, I do, anyway – how good Terry was at observing everything in life and making pertinent comments about the ridiculousness of it all. Or is it easier to comment on life at the opera?

The main outcome for me was that I need another dose of Pratchett magic soon. Things went well for Granny and Nanny, but then you’d expect that. They are not the kind of witches who would permit things to not go well. I haven’t yet decided which of them is the cleverest. Most cunning. Whatever.

Tell Me No Truths

I loved Gill Vickery’s Tell Me No Truths! Similar to Mal Peet’s Tamar it deals with what happened in Florence during WWII, and we meet three British teenagers who have come to Italy looking for answers to questions they have.

Gill Vickery, Tell Me No Truths

Twins Jade and Amber had an Italian grandfather, and they want to discover what the place he felt he could never return to is like. They speak Italian, as does their mother. Teen artist Nico is on holiday away from his boarding school, with his mum and her latest boyfriend. Nico and his mum are big fans of a crime writer who lives in the area and they want to discover more about this elusive man.

Interspersed with today’s activities, we read a sort of diary from the war, about dramatic things that happened, but we don’t quite know who is doing the telling. But it’s easy to see it has a bearing on what all three teenagers are searching for.

There is romance in the air, as well, and now is a time for families to learn to accept the past and to start again.

There are too few novels about the war from inside another country, like Italy. We don’t know enough, and we need to learn more, as do Nico, Jade and Amber.

Great blend of art, crime and food, against the backdrop of WWII and Florence as it is today.