Category Archives: Crime

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.

The Killing Code

What a relief it was to be back with J D Kirk and his DCI Logan! Bad language and bad diet in Inverness, and some bad killings, obviously. They are gruesome, true. But he’s quite kind, with it, is J D. We don’t get to know the victims all that well, which helps, when they die a few minutes after you’ve met them. Yes, we care, but it’s not a personal loss.

You can tell I’m slow, can’t you? This is only my third J D Kirk. But it’s kind of nice to know there is a whole bunch* of them, still to be enjoyed, as and when I need them. And I think I’ve now learned that the peril that we know is coming to one or more of the regular characters, somewhere towards the end, is not going to be too bad. J D’s characters will come out of that danger, and the reader’s heartbeat can return to normal.

In The Killing Code someone goes round murdering people around town, including at the hospital, of all places. You can generally work out who – probably – did it, even when it seems somewhat farfetched, and the thrill is in reading on as Logan and his detectives bark up the wrong trees for a while, and wondering when they will see the light.

And Inverness comes across well. I’ve not been for many years, but I can tell it has changed a bit.

*I recommend the ebooks. If not, the way he’s going, you may well end up with a shelf with nothing but J D’s books on it. (Which, I suppose, is not a totally bad thing, but…)

Coming in August

Back when I first read the first Millennium novel, I wasn’t expecting this. Neither the continuation of ‘writing’ Stieg Larsson’s books for him, nor who might translate them. So here’s to Stieg, David Lagercrantz and Ian Giles!

Murder Under Her Skin

That was a good run-up to Christmas! I so enjoyed sitting down with Stephen Spotswood’s second Pentecost and Parker mystery. Happily it was even better than the first, and I now wish myself into a future where there are lots of Pentecost and Parker novels. I hope to see you there.

This time our private eyes leave New York to go to the circus. Parker’s old circus no less. She doesn’t need to throw any knives, but the murder they have come to solve does involve a knife in the victim’s body, and it’s a victim Parker knew well, and the obvious murder suspect is her old mentor.

The small Virginian town the circus is in might be your typical small town in the South, but it is also not, and that’s very refreshing. People are prejudiced, and there is religion, but it’s not the way you’d expect. Ruby, who used to look out for Parker when she arrived as a teenager, was popular with everyone. And still she ended up dead.

We discover more about Parker’s past, obviously, but also about Pentecost’s family, and the usefulness of knowing your bible. Perhaps our two detectives packed too many changes of gorgeous clothes – I can still see that film – but it’s learning about life in the South and what a circus is like, as seen from the inside, which makes this book. I’d already minded, a little, that the action moved away from New York, and now I mind a little that it will, presumably, move away from the circus too.

But there will doubtless be another setting for me to like, and new clothes for Pentecost and Parker to wear, and more characters for them to suspect.

Seven books and a smell

For a few panicky seconds on Christmas Eve as the presents were being handed out, I was afraid we were going to do a Mr and Mrs Hilary Mantel thing. I’d read how last year they gave each other the same book. This comes of knowing perfectly well what the other one would like.

At Bookwitch Towers Daughter is good at knowing this (the Resident IT Consultant follows the list given to him), and when I found myself staring at a British Library Christmas crime anthology edited by Martin Edwards, I hurriedly tried to recall what I’d got the Resident IT Consultant. Two collections edited by Martin, but which ones? And how did they differ from the ones last year?

In the end they turned out to be different collections, but Daughter and I had clearly studied the list of crime stories edited by our Mr Edwards, and then made our separate choices. This was a problem I’d not even seen coming!

As you can see I am looking at a varied reading diet for the near future. Eoin Colfer and Shaun Tan were by request, so to speak, while the Literary Almanac was the result of individual thinking by the Resident IT Consultant. So, Silent Nights from Daughter, and also two Mary Westmacotts, chosen without even the prompting of Sophie Hannah’s suggestion in the Guardian during the year. Very perceptive. And at last I have got my Glamorgan sausages back! I’ve been going on about Michael Barry all year, after realising that parting with his cookbooks from the olden days might have been somewhat premature. I just couldn’t find his Glamorgan sausages online. But here they are. Someone paid attention to her mother, and then went secondhand book shopping.

That’s the seven books. The final gift was a scented candle from ‘an author’, smelling of old bookshop. The candle. Not the author. I’d have thought Bookwitch Towers might almost manage that smell on its own, but now we’ll leave nothing to chance.

I wish my hairdresser could see me now. I mean, when I unwrapped my books. Earlier in the week he’d asked if I thought the Resident IT Consultant would surprise me with a really special Christmas present. I’m afraid I laughed. I came home and told the other two, and the Resident IT Consultant said that it really would be a surprise if he were to do that. But I felt fairly safe from any development in that direction.

In return I surprised the hairdresser. Twice. Seven years on he discovered I have a Son. Who is not a scientist. And who does not translate for the police. He’s also into books. Son, I mean. And the hairdresser does read, so I decided to combine the two, and went back a few days later and gave him one of Son’s.

Nothing to Hide

I do love James Oswald’s Tony McLean. But I believe I love Constance Fairchild more. As I have already pointed out, they are quite similar, in their poshness and that. But it’s fun to have a female detective, and one who’s so good at annoying people that neither she nor the reader knows whether she will remain with the police. Or for that matter, end up dead.

This time she’s facing the paparazzi outside her flat, and that doesn’t exactly help with any hiding or lying low. Neither does finding a body – albeit not a dead one – near her bins. (I’ll let you in on a secret. I thought a body part was going to be in her fridge. But it seems Con is just not good at household chores.)

New boss, new-old colleagues who don’t care for her. Her neighbour Mrs Feltham is still around, and still cooking delicious curries. And there is another trip north to Scotland, with another appearance from Rose, as well as a meeting with one of Tony McLean’s team. More than one, actually. I like this crossover of characters.

The crime is awful, as is the way things happen. James is good at really appallingly unpleasant bad guys. We see more of Con’s family, and the family home. There is a wedding, and there are funerals.

But I really do like this.

Fortune Favours the Dead

Sometimes a witch has to retire a little bit, in order to get to some good new stuff to read. (I can recommend it.)

Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favours the Dead wasn’t new new, so much as lying in wait for me, because we both knew, the book and I, that I would get to it, if only I could. This debut crime novel came along as my guaranteed good read on that trip in October. And it was good.

It’s a Pentecost and Parker mystery, and both of them – Lillian and Willowjean – are female private eyes, in the kind of New York so many of us know quite well, because 1946 and New York feature a lot in films. This tale is told by Parker, the sidekick discovered by Pentecost just as the former was getting ready to bash her head in with a lead pipe.

I suppose it’s obvious that this could not have been written 75 years ago. Too much looking out for other women, too much same sex love, too much equality if you like. But that’s good. And it’s funny, and you like Willowjean, because she’s brave and capable, and you like Lillian, who is a great boss. There is also a more than useful cook, also female.

It’s a locked-room mystery. It had to be suicide, didn’t it? A dead woman’s dead husband’s ghost can’t really have murdered her. Can he? We’re moving in well-off circles, if not the exceptionally wealthy. But you know, featuring beautiful women wearing gorgeous clothes. (I look forward to the movie.)

With her background in the circus, Parker is no stranger to a bit of knife-throwing. It can come in handy. As do most of the other things she can do for Pentecost, who has multiple sclerosis, with better days and worse days.

It’s a very visual story; you have no trouble seeing these characters or the settings. Please bring on the film! Meanwhile, I’d usually say I can’t wait to get my hands on book no. two, but this time I can’t, because it arrived a couple of days ago. I really was quite late with this one, from just over a year ago. Won’t be late again.

Pitch Black Humour

Of course we wouldn’t go to see Val McDermid instead! Here were three funny crime writers, being chaired quite unexpectedly by publisher Karen Sullivan, who has form for not necessarily keeping control of proceedings like these. She did. And she didn’t.

Karen was a bit taken aback by Barry Hutchison. She had to make sure he wasn’t an old boyfriend of hers by the same name. He was there as J D Kirk, which is quite different. There was Doug Johnstone, who wore shorts. Shorts, I tell you! Barry dressed like the gentleman he is. I was proud of him. And between them was Antti Tuomainen, who is that impossible creature, a funny Finn. He writes about mushrooms, and actuaries. Very funny. He’s got the same wife as Barry. She doesn’t find him/them in the slightest bit funny. If he’s also gone out with Karen is a different question again.

By the way, I didn’t take notes. I was wanting to enjoy my evening out on the town, so just skulked quietly in my corner at the Golden Lion.

I keep forgetting what a well educated man Doug is. Despite the shorts. PhD in nuclear physics. Drummer. Plays football for the Scottish crime writers. His latest humorous books feature a funeral parlour, so he balances nicely with Barry, whose biggest laugh was with his father and sister at his mother’s funeral (which reminds me a little of Catriona McPherson in that same room a couple of years ago..), in the best of ways.

All three talked about some of the general stuff that authors get asked about when it comes to books and writing. And they answered in a humorous manner, arguing with each other as though they were long time friends. Karen was good at getting them started, if not always able to stop them. But that’s humour for you.

Asked about their favourite, humorous crime writer, Antti mentioned Chris Brookmyre. Karen pointed out Chris was sitting ‘over there.’ As Barry said, it got a bit embarrassing, as he was also going to choose Chris. At which point Doug asked if he wasn’t allowed to pick Chris as well. (Chris had obviously paid them handsomely.)

And speaking of Chris, he sat next to Mark Billingham, and I’m willing to stake my reputation on the ‘teenager’ next to them being James Oswald. It’s amazing what jeans and a t-shirt and long hair and a facemask does to one’s favourite crime writer coo farmer. In fact, lots of people [still] had Covid hair, including Bloody Scotland director Bob McDevitt. Recognised a few other people there, but had they been unmasked I’m sure I’d have ‘known’ even more.

Antti and Doug haven’t written that many books. I mean, in comparison. Barry’s 140 children’s books might have got a mention as did some of his other ‘adult’ books before the DCI Logan books, of which there are 12, with the 13th coming in December. Plus the new series starting in October. All this speedy writing is facilitated by him being unable to see a blue spot when he closes his eyes!

They were asked what books they read, that are funny. Chris Brookmyre, apparently, is funny. As was Iain Banks. Douglas Adams. Barry mentioned Terry Pratchett, who he avoided for a long time because the books were recommended to him by his mother’s friend. Quite beyond the pale. Until he picked one up and discovered what the rest of us already knew.

At this point I was struck by what I am about to do, which is to recommend one of Barry’s children’s books to a boy whose mother I know. It’s, well, I don’t know. But us older women know what’s what.

At the end I dashed out to stand first in line for the signing, cornering J D quite nicely, getting the signature and the requisite doodle, along with bits of news. And then I abandoned him for some macaroni cheese I had waiting for me.

A criminal song and dance

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be so fond of people doing something other than what they normally do, or are famous for? When my intended Bloody Scotland date with James Oswald et al last night turned out not be available online yet, I turned to the music.

Yes, the music. It’s the obvious thing for six professional killers to engage in on a crimefest weekend. I had actually considered going down to the Albert Halls to see the concert in person, but shied away because it was a bit late. And all those happy people in the audience might be, you know, a little too happy.

As Daughter commented when Val McDermid entered the stage singing, ‘is there nothing Val can’t do?’ I brought to her attention the fact that ladies of a certain age are Very Good At Everything. Cough.

It was very enjoyable. I’d also decided not to take notes, because I was just going to have fun, albeit in my own living room. Anyway, it’s not as if the six – Val, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre – were talking about their writing. They really do seem to be Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, and they’d been apart for far too long.

They sent us off on a drinking interval, the better to appreciate them in the second half.

The thing is, though, having imbibed the special Bloody Scotland non-alcoholic gin, I was nowhere drunk enough not to mind what happened next. I completely lost my pioneering spirit when part two went soundless. I’m guessing someone switched off the sound for the interval, and then didn’t flick the switch back. The online audience engaged in some frantic chat, and Daughter wondered whether she should actually drive over to the Albert Halls and alert them.

You’ll be relieved to hear that the music came back after 20 minutes, in time for Delilah. It took me until Whiskey in the Jar to thaw, however, so my thanks to Stuart for that. They went out on a high, with I’m gonna be 500 miles – which is a long enough distance for anyone – and my parting words will be that in future they allow [little] Luca to Britney on to his heart’s content. It’s what he wants.

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.