Category Archives: Crime

And then it was the end

I began Saturday with an alarm clock related issue. No, not what you’re thinking. One that immobilised me to such an extent that I had to miss my first Bloody Scotland events, only limping in towards the end of the day to collect my press pass.

The press pass

And to hear Erwin James talk to Martina Cole; an event I’d looked forward to considerably.

As I was waiting to get in, I spied one of my favourite publicists, Kerry, and very nearly jumped up (well, not jump, but you know what I mean) to say hello. She was with the equally lovely Peter Robinson. But I decided I needed the armchair I’d found to sit in, and it would undoubtedly be ‘taken from’ me if I got up. So I didn’t.

Instead I was chatted up by the very pleasant woman sitting across from me, so the time wasn’t wasted in any sense. We discussed dyslexia, and she’d been to the event in Edinburgh last month that I never made it to. She had many nice things to say about Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd.

She told me she reads a fair number of YA books and is tired of having to justify this to people. I know the feeling. She asked if I know Nicola Morgan, and I had to admit I do. She likes her. I suggested reading Sally Gardner. And then she asked what I read for pleasure, so I had to point out this is pleasure.

And that my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff is also my favourite author. She didn’t even ask ‘who?’ but knew, and turned out to be a big fan of How I Live Now, having given countless copies of the book to people to read. I know the feeling.

At that point it was time to go in for Erwin James, so I said goodbye.

Within minutes it was more goodbye than that, as I was bluntly informed that the press pass that would give access to anything, was no good for sold out events such as this. (I had wondered, but on asking, was reassured that it would get me anywhere.) Probably didn’t help that they changed the venue around, meaning this was in the smaller room, making sold out happen much sooner.

So, well, I limped home again.

At least the weather was nice.

And today I have the day off, as no way am I limping anywhere else on the off-chance that Sunday’s events have seats left.

Bloody Scotland 2016 – The beginning

Val McDermid and Provost Mike Robbins

We don’t kill using tropical fish, or even curare, in Scotland. Murder wants to be less outlandish. More the way William McIlvanney killed. More Scottish. That’s why Bloody Scotland renamed their crime award after the late, much admired and loved, crime writer.

His brother Hugh was at the opening celebrations at the Golden Lion last night, along with our host Provost Mike Robbins and most of the authors who are in Stirling for another bloody weekend.

Robert Burns had been there too, but not all that recently, I understand.

Chris Brookmyre with Hugh McIlvanney and Magnus Linklater

There were various speeches before Chris Brookmyre was announced winner of this year’s prize. This nice man – who is always shorter than I expect him to be – was photographed, and then came and lay his prize at my feet as he was interviewed on camera right in front of me.

Chris Brookmyre

The longlisted authors were coralled into a line in front of the stage, and it almost worked. There’s always one not quite in the right place. The shortlisted ones were clutching their prizes, the complete works of William McIlvanney.

James Oswald, Lin Anderson, E S Thomson, Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride

McIlvanney Longlisted authors

I avoided the haggis canapés, looking to see where the promised veggie ones might be, but gave up. (I had a sandwich in my bag.) Picked up my free ticket to go and see Stuart MacBride and Caro Ramsay at the Albert Halls, and discovered that it is indeed only five minutes there, even for me. I thought they lied.

The free books

There was a free book on every seat, donated by Bloody Scotland sponsors BookDonors. I was about to scout around for the most interesting one, when I realised ‘my’ seat came with a Paul Temple, and you can’t improve on that. Had to sit next to a Jeffrey Archer however.

Stuart and Caro arrived on stage promising a shambles, which I have to say they managed to deliver. Caro brought a book, in case she got bored. I did too. She brandished a traffic sign to be used in case of spoilers, mentioned something about someone not drinking. And there were rats.

I only took one, very poor, picture, because I discovered my stupid mobile has a flash. And that’s not good.

They argued about their first meeting, which might have been about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Or not. If it was in Harrogate, then it wasn’t Caro. There was some running back and forth, dog style, possibly for a reason. Worst reviews brought out some interesting ones, and they discussed whether they post reviews of their own books on Amazon.

From Googling herself, Caro knows she speaks Swedish, which caused some problems when required to actually speak it. Stuart offered a Swedish Chef impersonation. He’s a man who never plans, and he certainly won’t tell anyone the best place in Aberdeen to hide a body.

In Glasgow they kill with sarcasm, not guns. And I didn’t quite catch the issues with horse meat and butchers. There was a soaking cat, somewhere, unless it was stroaking a cat.

Might have been.

Yeah, so that was the first bloody evening.

Francis Durbridge, Send for Paul Temple Again!

A letter B miscellany

We were away for a bit recently, the Resident IT Consultant and I. We had new windows to mastermind. (And as with most window-related things it wasn’t entirely as much fun as one could have hoped for.) We travelled on the ‘proceeds’ of last year’s flight to Copenhagen that took us to Oslo, so mustn’t complain. Over breakfast at the airport with Daughter, the Resident IT Consultant – for reasons known only to him – laughed and said ‘it could be worse, we could be going to Norwich.’

I sighed, because whenever he says things like that, something untoward happens. (Nothing wrong with Norwich.) So when we touched down at Billund after an hour, I was not surprised. And witch that I am I had harboured thoughts on the likelihood of doctors on board planes only a week before, and I had actually been sitting staring at the doctor on board for some time before he was called on and rose to deliver care to the ill passenger a few rows ahead, before saying it’d be a good idea to descend to Billund. It’s nice to know that emergencies can be sorted out.

We collected the hired car (which, typically, was enormous, unlike when there are more of us to cram inside), and I practised vertigo-desensitising by only closing my eyes a little on The Bridge. Stopped for buns and cups of disgusting tea at an old favourite watering hole. Should have gone to Burger King.

The window company has a name beginning with the letter B, but to avoid legal action, I won’t add the other letters. The fitters were lovely. The result less so. On the plus side only one window sill (bräda, in Swedish) broke, and ‘luckily’ it was the marble that broke, while the cheap brackets held…

Summer was in full swing and we made it to the beach, pre-windows. So did everyone else, which actually made the place quite crowded. We had books to read, and we made good time with those. A friend let me read her as yet unpublished children’s novel. Watch this space.

People wanted to discuss Brexit and how silly Britain had been. Sorry. I went looking at beds (with a view to getting a new one) and you can’t believe what hard work it is getting in and out of so many beds in one afternoon. I successfully bought some more ink for my Ballograf biros.

We returned home to Bookwitch Towers just in time for the Resident IT Consultant to be whisked away by Son for his birthday trip. Whereas I don’t seem to have been whisked anywhere at all, but I do have a Bloody Scotland to see to this weekend.

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.

Mayday

We debated our new Prime Minister at length a few years ago. That’s us, as in the Bookwitch family. Mrs May was one of the British ‘villains’ in Andreas Norman’s Into a Raging Blaze.

As you may be aware, the translation into English of this Swedish thriller was done in-house, so to speak. Son translated and the Resident IT Consultant proofread and criticised his efforts. All in all, a good team effort.

But the debate about our new PM was surprisingly long, considering Mrs May didn’t feature that much. In general, it was the British who were the bad guys, and the named politician was Mrs May, ultimately in charge of the MI6 agents, and I suppose in some sense responsible for their shenanigans.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Usually a novelist would only use a real person’s title, or make up a fictional minister in a country’s government, and we were startled and unsure if it was OK to name her. But as far as I recall, we decided that if she was named in the original, she had to be named in the translation, and if the publisher didn’t want that, it was their task to edit out any names.

So, we May have a fictional character at the helm of the country.

And why not?

(In my opinion, a sensible politician embraces being featured in cartoons, etc, realising that being ignored and not used, is the worse slight.)

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

Theodore Boone – The Scandal

The final Theodore Boone book has, perhaps, a slightly less exciting crime at its core. But it is just as important, and it’s good for young readers to see that an adult author will address things like standardised tests. All too often children feel that adults are not on their side.

Theo, the youthful almost-lawyer, is in grade eight and it’s time for the tests that will determine what set he will be in when he starts high school. Contrary to what we might expect, he’s not good at tests, and that goes for many of his friends at school too. They feel stressed and their teachers are stressed. Salaries could depend on how well the students do.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone - The Scandal

Add to this a less than ideal home background, and you can understand why the tests aren’t necessarily good for you. Theo finds out how lucky he is, though, when experiencing first hand how bad life is for some of his peers. And that’s before the tests.

The title The Scandal refers to the cheating, but it’s not the kind of cheating that first comes to mind. Theo’s friend April is involved and he tries to advise her, but she has her own agenda.

His parents find themselves a little bit out of their comfort zone as well, as does uncle Ike. And the almost tame otter Otto…

As in the five earlier books about Theo, you learn that you can – try to – do something to make things better and fairer. At least some of the time.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books in this series.