Category Archives: Crime

A report from the pavement

I spent quite a bit of my Bloody Scotland weekend trying to hunt Elly Griffiths down. This entailed looking into bars; a thing I don’t normally do. I wanted her to sign a book, but by the time I had the book, Elly was nowhere to be found.

She was one of the crime writers taking part in Vaseem and Abir’s Red Hot Night of a Million Games. It was a very silly night, but a lot of fun, and it cheered both Daughter and me up. We’ll go next year too if it’s on. Daughter’s favourite was Luca Veste singing Hit Me Baby One More Time. Again. We got to wave our lit-up mobiles in the air and everything. Elly did some good moves with her maracas. Helen Fitzgerald played a convincing corpse on the floor. There was much cheating.

And when all’s said and done, it has very little to do with crime fiction, except that these authors are fun to spend time with.

In Houses From Hell, all I wanted to do was move the furniture on the stage around. Lovely, tartan armchairs, but Helen Grant, Lesley Thomson and Stuart Neville didn’t get to interact enough, because they were not seated in a convenient semi-circle. (Please take note!) Besides that, between you and me, they are quite creepy people. No, that’s not right. They have creepy interests and they put all sorts into their books. Helen even managed to scare her own husband.

When the programme for Bloody Scotland came I wanted to go to so many events. But I know my [lack of] strength, so decided to pace myself, and opted for four, thinking I could add to them later. When the time came, however, four seemed like really quite enough.

After many years of not meeting Martin Edwards in person, there was no way I was going to miss his Cosy Makes a Comeback event. I think of him as a cosy writer. And then he started off by saying he prefers traditional; not cosy. Conveniently enough both the other participants, Jonathan Whitelaw and S J Bennett, as well as the audience, were quick to adapt and the word traditional got a lot of airing. Big audience, too, so I have to say that we are many who like cosy crime. Pardon, traditional.

Hadn’t been sure how the death of the Queen was going to influence the discussion, seeing as S J’s detective actually is the Queen. But she has many plans, and always lets fictional characters do the actual deeds, so this may well continue working. Martin’s excellence at editing [other people’s] vintage crime got a mention, with very many of us being big fans and wanting to know that there will be more from the British Library. He’d initially expected to edit two. There are now over a hundred, so that clearly exceeded expectations.

At the cosy event (sorry!) I said hello to Lizzy Siddal, who I now recognised, and was introduced to her companion Marina Sofia. This turned out to be serendipitous since Marina bore down on me outside the room for the evening event about Detective Duos. We exchanged cards, the way civilised people do, and talked. A lot. For obvious reasons we were able to talk about funny foreigners. Marina is a publisher of translated crime. When Son arrived, in his role as translator of David Lagercrantz’s book, I introduced them, and it turned out they knew about each other already, and a lot more conversation took place.

The Detective Duos event was interesting, and I was pleased to finally come across Ayo Onatade who chaired it. Must have been aware of her for ten years at least. And I had thought it was her I saw down at the Albert Halls the previous night. It obviously was.

One day I’ll have to explain to David Lagercrantz about spoilers. Like not mentioning them too much at events… I liked new-to-me author Ajay Chowdhury, who is a Bloody Scotland-made success, having won a competition to write new crime. Having decided against buying his book before the event on the grounds that it was a hardback, I hurried out afterwards to hand over my money, and still make it to be first in the signing queue.

Simon Mason talked about his two DI R Wilkinses, and if I’d not already read and loved his book, I’d have bought that too. At the end Ayo put them all on the spot, and David agonised at great length before giving up on answering. (In case you want to know what it was about, I’m afraid I can’t remember.) When asked about their personal favourite detective duos, I was very pleased that Ajay chose Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haven’t heard those names mentioned in a long time.

I then proceeded to confuse everyone by chatting to Simon and David at more or less the same time at the signing table, about different things in two different languages. I think maybe I won’t do that again. But it was nice to reminisce a little with Simon, and good to introduce myself as the mother of you-know-who to David, who got quite carried away. And he finally got to meet his translator. So I suppose that was all good.

Afterwards Son and Dodo and the Resident IT Consultant went for a beer somewhere. Probably not where I was looking for Elly. Instead I hugged an author and talked about cows with another while I waited outside on the pavement for Daughter to pick me up. It’s quite nice this, finding yourself right next to some favourite writers on the pavement (where many of them go to smoke. But not these two!).

As you may have guessed the cow conversation was with James Oswald, which in turn started Vaseem Khan on the Scots use of the word coo. I worked out later that they might have been on their way to Crime at the Coo. Talked elephants with Vaseem. Obviously. And said what fun we’d had the previous night. Soon after the hug Daughter turned up and she tried to invite him round for chilli. Vaseem turned us down very nicely. But we can try again next year.

So, as I said, you find a lot of authors milling about both in and out of the Golden Lion. And when the ticket table remained unstaffed for rather longer than it should have, Gordon Brown came to the rescue.

Dark Music

I surprised myself by reading David Lagercrantz’s Dark Music. But what with David appearing at Bloody Scotland this Saturday, and the fact that a copy of his book ended up in my hands, I decided to see what he could do with two detectives from two completely different backgrounds.

In fact, seen from my exile point of view, I am wondering why Chileans seem to pop up so much. Are they – the second generation immigrants – seen as more attractive than some other nationalities? More attractive to me, having met some of the parent generation fleeing Chile back in the day. Anyway, here we have Micaela Vargas, who almost ruins her family’s reputation by joining the police. I’m curious to see if her delinquent brothers will be made more of in future books.

And on the opposite, but same, side we have the Holmesian Hans Rekke, a professor who sees too much and who is frequently high on drugs. He’s rich, too. Being clever can be a drawback, and it can be hard to stop thinking, and seeing.

Together these two start solving a murder that the police gave up on. It’s 2003/2004 and most of the signs point to Afghanistan. The crime as such is perhaps not so interesting, but the way the two detectives interact is. And then there’s the government and various foreign agents. What’s so special about a football referee from Kabul?

I quite liked the way David introduces the next book. At least, I hope it’s the next book. So I suppose that means I want to see more of Vargas and Rekke?

(Translation by Ian Giles)

Houses From Hell

If that’s not a tempting – I mean, hellish – title for a Bloody Scotland event, I don’t know what is.

Lesley Thomson is new to me, but I hope she’s as scary as Helen Grant and Stuart Neville, who I imagine will manage to be suitably spooky. Actually, Stuart has generally come across as quite cuddly, so I’d say his The House of Ashes will probably be as blood-curdlingly menacing as befits this event.

Lesley’s The Companion sounds so friendly, and that makes me suspect the worst. She looks like a really sweet person too. But looks can deceive. Besides, looks don’t write novels.

I know this particularly well because Helen Grant has never been anything but kind, in that friendly way she has, but her books..! Her books! Too Near the Dead is pretty borderline as far as the romance of living right next to buried bodies goes. Imagine waking up to find you’re in a coffin. A closed coffin, at that. Not one of my favourite pastimes.

So, if you were to turn up at Bloody Scotland’s Houses From Hell event at six pm this Friday, 16th September, you can decide how you feel about coffins and other haunting aspects of seemingly innocent properties.

A Killing in November

It’s lovely when people get on. But it’s also quite good – or fun – when they don’t. That’s what you have here, in Simon Mason’s new crime series about DI Ryan Wilkins and his close colleague DI Ray Wilkins. Ryan could possibly be described as white trailer trash (from Oxford), while wealthy Nigerian Ray graduated from Balliol (also Oxford).

A Killing in November trails in the footsteps of Simon’s Garvie Smith YA crime novels, and at first I laughed out loud at the humour of these two very different and also difficult detectives. But it’s a murder tale, so it gets darker, albeit with some very light and unusual touches throughout. I loved it.

Our two DIs have a dead woman on their hands, found at Barnabas Hall, in the Provost’s study. No one seems to know who she was. Rubbing each other up the wrong way, not to mention the people at the college, Ryan and Ray do their best, while trying [not really…] not to annoy the other one.

Highly recommended.

You can find out more about it at Bloody Scotland on Saturday 17th September when Simon Mason is here, chatting to two other crime writers – David Lagercrantz and Ajay Chowdhury – about their own respective detective pairs in Detective Duos. See you at the Golden Lion? I can almost promise you that David’s British translator, Ian Giles, will be present as well… I’ve been hearing a lot about his Dark Music. And there is Ajay’s The Cook.

Sally Jones and the False Rose

Sally Jones and The Chief travel to Glasgow! Here is Jakob Wegelius’s new story about our favourite ape and her beloved chief, and it’s a good one. Glasgow offers up all manner of horrendous characters, and one or two good ones. And, I hadn’t thought this through before, but for the purposes of the story Sally Jones needs to be left alone and like so many parent figures in fiction, The Chief has to be temporarily removed.

They are both honourable creatures and that’s why they travelled to Scotland. While renovating their old ship, the Hudson Queen, they came upon something valuable, which they are determined to return to its rightful owner. If only they could find her.

The low lifes of Glasgow quickly send The Chief off on bad business, holding our dear ape hostage. But Sally Jones is no ordinary victim, so she manages to move ahead, towards some sort of solution. Old Glasgow is an interesting place, and so are the crooks you find there (although their names could in some cases have been a little more Scottish).

I won’t tell you more though. You will want to read and discover for yourselves how some decent people are not decent at all, and how some bad ones are not all rotten. But which ones?

(Translation, as before, by Peter Graves.)

Low-hanging books

Having feared a long and slow decline in in-coming books, I have been relieved to find that I seem to be coming to a mostly natural end. I expect the postman would agree.

It’s been a freeing experience to buy my own. In a way. If I know I would like the new – or, for that matter, old – book by A N Author, I can get it online. But when I don’t know, I tell myself that what I need is a good browse; see what looks promising. If there are any three for two offers, maybe.

The next step is deciding I’ll pop into Waterstones to see what they’ve got. And once I’ve visualised myself there, I remember the upstairs aspect of children’s books. And then I see myself in the lift, and recall what it was like the last time and how I stepped out of it once the lift-woman’s voice had stopped being downright crazy, allowing me to exit [without having moved upwards].

Never again, I thought. And as the stairs are many and high, they are also a ‘never again’ if I can help it. This is why I have been happy to visit St Andrews, where they have a couple of normal bookshops with only a downstairs. On the other hand, travelling fifty miles there and then fifty miles back, seems like taking this book buying a bit far. Fifty miles, in fact.

There are other places a witch could go. Edinburgh, for instance. But both the obvious shops involve sharing a train with others, getting on a bus for a bit, and then there are stairs or lifts as well. Children’s books will probably never be the category to be found right inside the door. A bit like shoe shops back in the day when I wielded a pushchair and children’s feet at the same time.

So… Whereas I couldn’t buy adult shoes instead, these days I have turned to crime. Crime is adult and can be found somewhere the crazy lift-woman is not needed.

The rings of Siobhan

Today was nice. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Seana, whom I first ‘met’ on Crime Always Pays. It’s an intriguing thing when you find you get on well with someone else who also comments on a blog post somewhere.

As you will know if you’ve been here for a long time, it was blogging about Siobhan Dowd that brought Bookwitch to the attention of Declan Burke and his blog on all kinds of Irish crime. Which in turn brought lots of other people to me, one way or another.

So, many blog-reading and Facebook years later, we finally met. It wasn’t something I’d imagined, seeing as we live a long way from each other. But there she was, on her way to Scotland and Robert the Bruce, and wanting to see me too.

She and her sister consented to make a comparison of the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling, and were also agreeable to being cajoled into every gift shop in sight, where money literally spilled from purses. With Daughter doing the driving, we moved from one Robert the Bruce to another. (And possibly from one slice of cake to a second. Although the less said about that, the better.)

It didn’t even rain very much. Mostly the sun shone, which is its job. And we talked. If your ears burned, maybe it was about you.

In case you were wondering; Stirling Castle won. Obviously.

Launching the tenth anniversary Bloody Scotland

She notices things, does Lin Anderson. She’s very kind, and she came up to me to ask ‘did I want a chair?’ I did, and she gave me one. I asked how she knew, and it seems I was leaning on a stack of brown boxes. I was. I just hadn’t noticed.

So there I was, the only one sitting down. Very comfortable it was, too. My friend Helen Grant had to stand, but apparently she prefers that. She’s going to be at the tenth (?) Bloody Scotland in September. High time, if you ask me. She’s as scary as the rest of them.

Between me and the mail chimp I almost didn’t make it, but I was in a position to dash off to the Golden Lion at very short notice this morning, so I did.

You will have noticed my question mark above. I am sure they know what they are doing, but I am equally sure it’s not the tenth Bloody Scotland. One of us will be wrong.* But I was given a chair to sit on, so will not insist on being right.

After some suitable mingling, Bob kicked things off. He’s the boss. He then handed over to Citizen Kane, sorry, Councillor Kane, to talk about how much Stirling loves Bloody Scotland. Then it was back to Bob again, with more information about the sheer wonderfulness of what is to come. And there is a lot.

I was quite excited to find Sara Paretsky on the front cover of the programme, but cynical enough to realise she will Zoom in. So are some of the other grand crime writers. But most are coming here, and I already have a conundrum as to who to see and who to miss. Helen is appearing with ‘my old pal’ Stuart Neville, and new Swedish star David Lagercrantz will be on a panel with Simon Mason, David Fickling’s man in the basement.

Not going to list all the others. Look at the programme. It’s already live. And Crime at the Coo sold out instantly, so don’t even bother trying. Anyway, it’s on from 15th to 18th September, and if you are good with numbers you can see they have added a day.

As we left, Helen and I ended up behind everyone being photographed on the steps of the Golden Lion. I considered trying to look especially silly, but gave up. Having squeezed through, we then joined the throng on the pavement instead.

After which Helen bought me a baked potato across the road.

*That will be me. I’m a foreigner. There is a difference between anniversary and tenth event… Thank you again for the chair.

Overboard

Sara Paretsky has managed to put both her late husband as well as her dog into Overboard, her latest crime novel. Those are among the lighter points in what of necessity has to be a dark book. Even Covid, which features naturally, is nowhere near as dark as the situations caused by certain human beings. If one can call them that.

Chicago continues to be an interesting backdrop to V I Warshawski’s detecting, but what was once ‘merely’ a city with much crime in it, we now see what it has become through the behaviour of so many ruthless and powerful men. In that it mirrors what goes on in many other places, but it does mean that when reading Overboard you don’t feel that everything will be all right in the end, because it just seems impossible that so much bad can be turned into good, even by someone like V I.

We meet two separate teenagers with problems, and the positive thing about their age is that we see what they are capable of achieving, and you hope Sara won’t kill her young characters. We also reconnect with others from V I’s past; both crooks and decent people, which adds depth to the story. She knows things about these people, making their relationships different from a detective simply hunting bad men. Because they are mostly men.

It’s the weaving together of strands about money and greed, immigrants fearing for their very existence, old people who are mistreated, the persecution of Jews, the criminal intent of the police, the homeless, torturers, the press, and V I’s own fears and hopes that makes Sara’s story so great.

Because even if it can’t end with everyone living happily ever after, you do get a sense of satisfaction when good and ordinary people get together to put wrongs right. Please let there be many more books like this!

I’ve been here before

‘You’re not reading enough, Witch’ I told myself, as I was wiping the dining table after a healthy meal of leftover pizza (which we didn’t even finish, so there are leftover leftovers). ‘You only seem to be reading magazines,’ I said.

And then, I noticed the vaguest flicker of déjà vu over the table. I’ve been here before. The magazine reading; not necessarily the dining table (or dinning as it says in so many ads online). When Offspring were small, especially once there were two Offsprings, I really didn’t manage much more than the odd women’s magazine. The kind you can read without really reading.

Until I was saved by Woman & Home. And by my frugal mind. [As I have mentioned here more than once] I bought a copy, because it offered me a free crime paperback. It was Ann Granger’s first crime novel, the first Mitchell & Markby.

And I suppose it was the same frugal mind that told me that now I had the book, free and everything, I had better read it. The Resident IT Consultant travelled weekly to Guildford at that time, so I had three or four evenings all to myself, once Offspring had been put to bed, and stayed there.

One chapter per night, just before my bedtime.

As with many things, slowly does it.

It got me reading actual books again. First, mostly Ann’s books, but as she had to write them for me to read them, I suspect the odd other book got some attention as well.

And now, here I am, struggling to read, [almost] ashamed to be reading quite so many magazines. But actually, after my little dining table chat with me, perhaps there is hope?

And just so you know, I have a pile of ten books in front of me that I have read, but not reviewed. I could always send the Resident IT Consultant to Guildford again.