Category Archives: Crime

Fallout

In her new novel Fallout Sara Paretsky goes home to Kansas. She lets V I do her detecting in her own old home town of Lawrence, even if she does rearrange the place a little to make it fit the plot. Sara’s father features for a second or so, and apparently she based the story on something from his work past.

Sara Paretsky, Fallout

Fallout proves the theory that writers generally do better when they write about a place they know well, so it was a good move to send V I to Kansas. I’m not sure, but I wonder if this was the most Chicago-free of all the Warshawski novels.

Anyway, they do things differently down there, and before long the whole of Lawrence knows exactly what V I has come for (to find two people who have vanished from Chicago), and they seem to keep track of her wherever she goes. They literally are.

And Fallout is precisely what the story is about, in more ways than one. As well as mentioning NCIS several times, Sara goes a bit DiNozzo with her clues, and V I makes a Faraday cage! V I’s missing pair are really only the catalyst of what’s going on in Lawrence, and the crime takes us in a rather worrying direction. It’s feels more generally political than has been the case in the past, and that’s despite the book having been written before the Presidential election.

The plot is kinder than they have been, or do I mean less violent? Not that V I is muscle before brains, but the most menacing thing is the way everyone ‘knows’ everything. It can get quite claustrophobic when you have no privacy in your detecting. Or so I imagine. I obviously wouldn’t know.

But there are also some very promising local characters, understandably different from the inhabitants of Chicago. I loved this, as long as I don’t have to go down into Doris McKinnon’s cellar.

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Not CrimeFesting at all

I had to agree with the facebook friend who pointed out yesterday that she wasn’t at all jealous of those of her ‘criminal’ friends who are currently in Bristol, enjoying the 10th CrimeFest. She obviously didn’t mean it. We’d both like to be there. Maybe not kill to be there, but severe jealousy is a painful thing.

One of my American colleagues is there, again, and has been ever since he first sat on ‘my’ chair the year after I went. Which is now nine years ago, and I’d not have believed it could – would – be that long. (That’s [not] me on the left. As you can see.)

Dinner Friday Night

And the funny thing is, the less time I have to read adult crime novels, the more I feel like a fraud for even wanting to be there. ‘I won’t know anyone,’ I tell myself. But looked at realistically, I must know many more people than I did in 2008. I suppose I just threw myself right into things then, with my youthful energy, and now I sit here in my dotage, doubting my criminal credentials.

It’s so long ago that I even used the word Ceefax in a blog post the same month! I know because I went back and looked, to remind myself of Bristol. I have promised myself countless times to really try to go back ‘next year.’ I suppose the best thing would be if I could book right now, long before I know what I will or won’t be doing in May 2018.

In 2008 I made the rash decision to go, when discovering that my Irish colleague Declan Burke was going. Just like that. Have I become responsible? No, actually, I haven’t. I just caught a glimpse of the dates for Bouchercon, and almost saw myself in Toronto in October.

This will not do! Bloody Scotland is a short walk away. Much more convenient.

Launching The Pearl Thief

Elizabeth Wein was clutching a bunch of flowers when I found her just inside the doors of the Perth Museum last night. (I hadn’t thought to get her anything…) She introduced me to a fellow American, whose name I immediately forgot. Sorry.

I said hello to Elizabeth’s publicist Lizz, and it is so nice to find that London-based people occasionally venture this far north. I mean, Perth is practically the North Pole. I stepped outside again to fortify myself with a sandwich, where Alex Nye found me. She had also braved the travel situation, but had to drive (trains stopped at her station going north but not south, which is no way to get home), unlike me who had the luxury of the London train. Very nicely timed.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

After bagging a seat on the back row, I was greeted by ‘Mr Wein’ who was doing his utmost not to pass on his cold. And five minutes past the starting time the museum’s lecture theatre was just about full.

Elizabeth was joined by Jess Smith, another local author with a traveller background, who’d been an early reader of The Pearl Thief. They were kept in order by Gavin Lindsay of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust. We were treated to the first chapter in Elizabeth’s book, and she apologised for not being able to read with a Scottish accent. (That’s OK.) Then Jess read a long poem called Scotia’s Bairns, accompanied by a slideshow of old travellers, showing how they lived. She described it as a fading culture, that has to be grabbed before it disappears.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth made her heroine Julie posh, so she could be educated and well-read in the 1930s. The reason the travellers are in the story is due to her PhD in folklore, having been introduced to them by her professor, and Jess was there to see to it that she described them properly. ‘Casting’ a pair of traveller siblings balanced Julie and her brother Jamie. Jess said she ‘lived’ in the story, but both she and the editors demanded more action. And apparently the villain was the wrong one.

Jess Smith

Jess spoke of writing her first book, about her life growing up in the travelling community, explaining how she could deal with the bullies. She just learned to run fast. She hopes that young people will read her books, and she spoke fondly of her mother. Both writers agreed there is a lot of freedom in fiction.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

‘A homecoming’ is how Elizabeth described The Pearl Thief. It’s the first book set where she lives. Lara, the librarian from Innerpeffray Library, was in the audience, and I wasn’t the only one to have visualised her as the librarian in the book. Asked when Elizabeth knew she wanted the library in her story, she said she’d always known it was a part of it.

The reason Elizabeth wanted to return to writing about Julie was that her voice is so easy, although in this book she needed to adapt because Julie is younger. And the back story had to be expanded, as Elizabeth only had a name for one of Julie’s five brothers. She doesn’t know whether it’s best to read The Pearl Thief before or after Code Name Verity, but said that the experience would be different, whichever of the books came second.

Jess had a cousin in the audience who’s read all her books and loves them, and Jess suggested she would like Elizabeth’s book as well, and that she’s not getting paid to say so.

Logboat

Before finishing Gavin Lindsay mentioned the museum’s archeology programme for 2017, which includes the logboat that features in The Pearl Thief. And as long as we didn’t bring drinks in, we were allowed to have a look at the boat, which was much larger than I had imagined. It was surrounded by notices not to touch, and I was overcome by this dreadful urge to disobey, but didn’t…

Elizabeth Wein and Jess Smith

People bought books, had books signed, had more to eat and drink, and chatted. I explained my conundrum to Elizabeth that I didn’t know which of my copies of The Pearl Thief I would like to have signed, so in the end I’d brought both. Yes, I know it’s greedy, but this is the prequel to the second best book in the world. A bit of greed is fine.

I helped myself to one of the free maps of Perth, having got there totally mapless (someone had left the printer without toner), and set off on the walk back to the station. Halfway there I was asked to rescue my new American friend, who felt a bit lost. I could do this, but I’m warning you; don’t ask if you actually want to catch your train. She had so much spare time that we talked about books and reading and she very nearly didn’t make it and had to run. Which was entirely my fault.

But it is good to meet other book fans.

After this I discovered that one route to my platform involved getting the lift up to a glass-fenced bridge over the station. Aarrgghhh.

Reader, I did it!

And the evening also solved a little problem I’d had. So it’s all good.

Perth Museum

The #22 profile – Marnie Riches

She likes her Swedes. That’s always a good thing. Marnie Riches is about to spill a few beans, to celebrate the fact that you can actually have the Kindle version of her new novel Born Bad absolutely free if you hurry. Do it! Or pay money for the paper book. Or even both.

Marnie sent me a really beautiful photo of herself, smiling. Now, I don’t want you to get too comfortable, so here is a non-smiling Marnie instead, ready to tell you about herself and her writing:

Marnie Riches (by Phil Tragen)

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

All the books, ever! I slaved over a novelization of an epic 12th century Dutch poem that I eventually turned into a rather crap YA historical thriller. I lovingly put together a fully illustrated picture book about a messy hippo called Billy. I gave it the imaginative title of, Billy, the Messy Hippo. I wrote three middle grade novels, which turned out to be practice. I wrote six historical adventure novels for 7+, which were published under the pseudonym, Chris Blake (the first six in HarperCollins’ Time-Hunters series). But still not in my name! I wrote half of a YA manuscript, which got put to one side and forgotten about because of writer’s block nonsense and because it was…nonsense. I wrote a women’s novel that’s STILL on submission, even though it’s totes hilaire (yes, that was said ironically). Then, I was finally published with The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – my crime-thriller (not for kids) about a criminologist, set mainly in Amsterdam. I wrote three more George McKenzie thrillers, but the entire series is still digital only. SO…my first paperback didn’t come out until March 2017. Technically then, Born Bad – my tale of Manchester’s gangland – is my first book made from actual book. That’s many thousands of books before I got published. Luckily, I’m better with words than numbers, much to my accountant’s chagrin.

Best place for inspiration?

Walking amongst normal people.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

My Time-Hunters books were published under the Chris Blake pseudonym as there were several writers working on the series at once. I’m fine with that. I’d happily write again under a pseudonym and fully expect any of my women’s fiction to be published as such. Many crime-writers relaunch their careers as debuts by writing under pseudonyms.

What would you never write about?

I’ve written about people-trafficking, the sex industry, Charlemagne the Great, fairies, dead Egyptians, Vikings, organ harvesting, paedophile rings, missing children, Mexican cartels, gangsters and Manchester. I’ll pretty much tackle anything as long as it doesn’t involve too much hoovering.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I’ve spent too much time trawling Amsterdam’s red light district and also the medieval churches of the low-lands and Germany. But that’s more to do with my being a little odd, a history dork and a linguist than being a writer. I met a couple of very interesting criminologists and had an exchange with the head of forensic pathology at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Unexpected enough for you, Bookwitch? I could tell you I also met the Duke of Edinburgh on many an occasion, but then, I worked for him, so that was fully expected.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I’d like to be George McKenzie, of course, because she’s even mouthier than me and doesn’t grunt when she bends over. She’s got better hair too.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

This would be wonderful because those enjoying the TV programme or film would rush out and buy all of my books. I could have Born Bad merchandising with special Sheila O’Brien dolls and a branded range of antacids, “As used by Chief Inspector Van den Bergen”. It would rock.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

I haven’t been asked anything really odd yet. I was asked at a bookshop recently what advice I’d give to the reader’s 24 year old son, who aspired to be an author. My answer involved living a little longer and doing a good deal more before attempting to write.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can lay laminate flooring, tile badly and decorate. I can pave a patio. I can router out a hole in a worktop for a kitchen sink. I bake brilliant bread. I play bass and rhythm guitar. I’m excellent at sewing on buttons. I’m really good at swearing.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, any day of the week. Everyone knows Enid Blyton’s best books were “The Mystery of…” books and “The Thingy of Adventure” books.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Bookwitch, of course! Then, my ex-husband. Then, Stieg Larsson, for giving us Salander. Then, Saga Norén.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

In packing boxes, currently. I moved house almost a year ago and still haven’t unpacked for fear that the various infestations in my superannuated bungalow will see my books as a food source or new habitat.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

My Time-Hunters books. Although my own son is a reluctant reader and wouldn’t read them. He did, however, go bonkers over the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other Jeff Kinney books.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. Some might say writers are just a bunch of narcissists telling big fibs. I say, every author has stories inside them, trying to punch their way out. We get dented in the head if we don’t tip those stories onto the page. So, the writing comes first.

Marnie Riches, Born Bad

The Duke of Edinburgh! Who’d have thought? And strictly speaking Marnie chose far too many Swedes (I said favourite!), but I’m feeling generous today. In my head Marnie is George McKenzie, and no one sensible would want to hoover unnecessarily. I could do with a new patio, though, Marnie.

Marnie??

Where did she go?

The Pearl Thief

Reading the prequel to the second best book of all time can be nerve-wracking. But for those of you who have also read Code Name Verity, you know why it has to be a prequel, and you will bless the opportunity to see more of Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart. Or Julie, if you don’t want to be too formal.

And you don’t, because Julie is fun and brave and outspoken, even at [barely] sixteen. The first chapter had me slightly confused while I worked on working out what kind of story this was going to be. It’s 1938 and no WWII yet, and Julie has just escaped early from school. That’s boarding school in Switzerland; not one just round the corner from her Scottish home.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

This is a romantic crime novel, featuring a girl who might have read too much Harriet Vane, and which is very much in the vein of Mary Stewart. It’s wonderful.

The danger of returning home early and unannounced is what might happen if something happens. As the title suggests, there is a pearl thief around, somewhere close to where Julie and her mother and grandmother are sorting out her late grandfather’s estate. Everyone else thinks it was the travellers. But the Stuarts know this is most unlikely, and Julie tries to find out what happened.

Her brother Jamie shows up (I love Jamie!) and there is much scope for romantic entanglements of various kinds. But who can you trust? I quite like the unreal Davie Balfour.

We learn a lot about Scottish Earls and Scottish pearls. We learn more about Julie’s mother and grandmother; both of whom we met in Code Name Verity. The international/French aspect of who they are is better explained.

Much of this adventure takes place at a thinly disguised Innerpeffray Library, making it all the more interesting for me.

And there is much kissing.

And kilts.

Kid Got Shot

Oh, Garvie Smith how I love you! (At least from a distance. Your mum loves you too, but I think we are both a bit exasperated by now.)

Simon Mason, Kid Got Shot

Simon Mason’s Sherlock/Cumberbatch crime-solving hero is back with another school murder mystery. It is still the exam period, so the deaths at Garvie’s school are coming hard and fast. And how could anyone sit exams, or revise for them, when there is a death to investigate?

Not Garvie. He sacrifices most of his GCSE exams for this unknown boy with Asperger Syndrome who has just been found shot. Pyotor was ‘known’ to everyone, while still not known by anyone, because he didn’t socialise or even talk to people at school. So how come this stickler for routine who spoke to no one was found dead in the middle of the night, close to a well known criminal?

Well, Garvie just has to find out. His old police pal DI Singh, who is in disgrace after ‘working’ with Garvie on the last murder, is the one who discovers the body, and this time the two do talk rather more easily, but poor Singh isn’t getting on too well with his colleagues.

Grown-ups are often stupid and can’t see what this lazy teen genius is doing (other than missing or failing his exams), but the reader knows Garvie will get there in the end.

Don’t miss this perfectly written, light but serious, and occasionally humorous crime novel. It’s the kind of book YA was invented for.