Category Archives: Crime

Down Memory Lane

I’ve been concerned with getting too grumpy. And I don’t want to be. So I thought I’d look out photos from the past; pictures that make me happy remembering what I was doing and who I was with.

In our first year of the Edinburgh International Book Festival we met lots of people, old [to us] and new. One event I was simply not going to miss was Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess, and those of you with good memories will know why I thought this could be especially interesting. The third author with them was going to be newbie Rachel Ward, whom I didn’t know anything about. I just felt a bit sorry for anyone caught in the crossfire.

Well, Melvin was Melvin and Anne was dignified and calm and they didn’t fight. And Rachel was all right. Both from the crossfire aspect, but also because she was a rewarding new author to meet. With good taste in necklaces.

Almost twelve years on and Rachel is someone  I ‘see’ just about every day – on social media – and she keeps us going with her photographs and her art. Lovely pictures from near her home, adorable dogs, and fun photos of her grandkittens.

And her art! I have a couple of Rachel’s paintings on my walls, and if I were to be miraculously furnished with plenty more walls, I know exactly what I’d hang on them. You can see some of her stuff on Instagram if you like (rachelwardart).

So that is a sunny memory.

I’ve got it covered #1

It was always going to be The London Eye Mystery.

Whenever I thought of revisiting to best book covers, Siobhan Dowd’s crime novel about a young autistic detective was top of my list, because not only is it a wonderful story, but the cover is one of my favourites.

So there was that. I always think of it as pale blue. As you can see, it’s not in the slightest blue, pale or otherwise. (That was the plain cover of the proof…)

When I wrote about the illustrator’s lot in life a few weeks ago, David Dean kindly popped in to say a few things. So I looked him up. Liked what I saw. And by the time my brain kicked in properly, I knew that I knew him, and that David had been praised by me before, and that I’d noticed quite a few of his book covers. And that he’d done The London Eye Mystery.

In short, I like David Dean’s work. Like I like Siobhan Dowd’s writing. And since it’s actually been very nearly 14 years since this book came out, it could be that some of you don’t know it, or never got round to reading it. I’d recommend doing so.

Kat Wolfe On Thin Ice

It was with some dismay I realised I’d missed the second Kat Wolfe mystery. But here, for both you and me, is Kat’s third adventure, Kat Wolfe On Thin Ice.

Kat and her co-detective Harper Lamb are on their way to the Adirondacks (I will never be able to say that right) for half term, along with Harper’s dad and Kat’s mother. And on the basis that parents always need to be lost before the fun starts, they mislay Professor Lamb before they even get on the plane, and Dr Wolfe somewhat later but also before they really arrive where they are going.

They learn there has been a diamond heist in New York, and the trial of the 91-year-old thief is about to start. The star witness for the trial manages to disappear near their Adirondack cabin, and Kat and Harper start detecting. There is a snow storm on the way, and there are huskies. And a raccoon. But that’s just fine because Kat is missing her pet leopard.

Harper misses the internet and computers, but she still manages to do some research for their detecting. And it’s quite astounding what the girls come up with, and how they tackle every problem. Because as I said, the parents are long gone, and what with the storm and everything…

Very exciting, just as I had hoped and expected. And maybe this is a little farfetched, but it’s so well plotted and researched that every step of the way seems believable. They even cook, which is just as well because that is one hungry raccoon.

The solution to the jewel heist mystery is just that bit different to what you might have thought, too.

Success ahead

So, two weeks later another one gets ahead to the number one spot for ebooks.

This week it is J D Kirk’s Ahead of the Game, which sold better than the others, including his pal Alex Smith who has been ‘relegated’ to fourth place with his Paper Girls. (But fourth is still really good.)

I’ll probably tire of this, but so far I am enjoying the successes of ‘my’ former children’s books authors. And J D – or Barry, as I call him – shot to the top on the very day his tenth DCI Logan novel was published. Without my assistance, because I wasn’t going to buy book ten* when I have all those other single digit books to get through, was I?

But 14,501 fans did buy. Well done.

*And I hear book 11 is due in May. Doing better than trains and buses, being both regular and on time.

Best

I’d like to think that they all did what I had done. I bought Alex Smith’s first* crime novel, Paper Girls, as an ebook a few weeks ago, a little before Alex – or Gordon as I call him – announced that his was the best selling ebook that week. I’m afraid I didn’t entirely believe him. Sometimes people are top of some smaller category, which is still nice, but easier to achieve.

But no. Alex was first. Or so The Bookseller told me some days later. Or would have, had I not got stuck the wrong side of the paywall. But you can eventually find out what they would have said.

So Paper Girls really did sell more than others, and what pleased me especially was that Alex did better than that charming Danish woman, Jo Nesbø.

I will now have to read Alex’s book. No, I didn’t mean that the way it came out; I bought it to be able to see what it’s like, as soon as I am able to fit in more adult crime from my growing list of children’s authors who have gone over to the other side. A side where they are selling really well.

And, surely, the world was aware of what I’d done, and decided to follow suit. Follow that Witch!

*There are five in total. Unless there are even more by now…

Christmas is Murder

You’re not all done with Christmas, I hope. Although, apart from its title, Val McDermid’s Christmas is Murder isn’t primarily Christmassy. Some of the twelve stories are seasonal, but many are not. Which is fine, as I believe Val was after creating Christmas crime reading like the Norwegians do at Easter (when I suspect not all the murders are egg or chicken related).

I had just about despaired after a couple of good, but too dark [for me] stories, when Val hit me with a traditional style ‘pleasant’ murder, which cheered me up no end. The preceding murders had been of people who didn’t deserve to be killed…

The most interesting story is a Sherlock Holmes one – Holmes For Christmas – which takes the reader in an unexpected direction. Quite fun. But it set me thinking about whether you are allowed to write more of someone else’s stories? With Sherlock Holmes I feel we are always getting new material, be it written or on screen. So I don’t know whether Watson being addressed as James in one instance meant anything, or if it was an unfortunate mistake.

Anyway, once the stories became a little less dark, I enjoyed the collection. And for anyone into same sex relationships, there’s much to discover.

Careful with that advice

And I should obviously heed that, erm, piece of advice myself, re advice on what to tell people to read.

I can’t tell you how relieved I felt on reading today in the Guardian Review that Patricia Highsmith can be a bit iffy to read. It absolves me from the disaster that was the younger me having a go with one of her books, on the advice from someone else. I forget who. I found it a horrible book, and I can no longer recall if I soldiered on or if it was an early instance of me permitting myself to give up.

Since then I have steered well clear.

Setting personal tastes aside, I feel the suggestion was made to too young a reader. I don’t mind inappropriate sex or violence at too early an age, as you will generally just filter it out if you don’t enjoy it. But the sheer boredom of not understanding what’s being written about is a sure way of turning people off.

At what was most likely an even lower age, I was told to read Graham Greene. I started on The End of the Affair, found it incredibly boring, but made it to the, well, end of whatever this affair was. I forget. I went on to read many Greene books, but they were slightly later and they were chosen by me, so the subject was more suitable.

And at a rather more mature stage in my life, someone said I would love P D James, because she’s just like Agatha Christie. That sounded good, and I did have a go. But it was a lie. She’s not like Agatha. I’m sure she’s very good, but I was mis-sold, in all innocence. So me and P D have not really recovered from that first meeting.

I shall now go away and see if I can reign in my own advice on who should read what and when.

A Surprise for Christmas

Be still my beating heart. I now know how Daughter felt when I unintentionally kept interrupting her while reading the longest of the short stories in the Christmas anthology A Surprise for Christmas. Or I think I do. I’m all shaky and disturbed and that adrenaline is pumping.

This will no doubt be because these stories are extremely well chosen. Martin Edwards as the editor of the series clearly knows what he’s doing, down to getting the order of the stories right. The ‘long one’ was the antepenultimate story, and it was followed by two more that didn’t calm me down quite as much as I would have liked.

Well.

There was not a single dud in this collection. You’d think at some point editors would run out of material from which to choose. But not yet. It looks like many of them originally were published in papers and magazines, just before Christmas, and when I think of it, it’s obvious that this would have been a big market. Good for writers to have short stories published and good for magazine editors to have suitable entertainment for their readers.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this market is no longer as big. Or it could be I don’t read the right publications, or not enough of them.

But here they are all collected for me, and I can see I will not only become a serial user of anthologies, but some of the hitherto unknown [to me] authors are calling to me to look out for their crime novels as well. I will need a lot of time to read. And preferably nerves of steel. Anthony Gilbert’s Give Me a Ring (aka the ‘long one’) scared me as much as Philip Pullman’s Tiger in the Well did.

It was preceded by [more comfortable] stories from Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh and countless others. Have a go yourself, unless the lack of Christmas stops you. Or save it for next November/December.

Thoughts on Christmas shorts

For her birthday I got Daughter a Christmas crime anthology, edited by Martin Edwards. (How that man manages to fit so much into his time, I will never know!) I reckoned she’d enjoy reading about gruesomeness at Christmas, or rather, in the run-up to that peaceful time. In the snow. She did. She hinted she wanted more (because the clever publisher listed further reading suggestions at the back of the book).

I had calculated on this success, so had obviously bought her a second collection, also edited by Martin. We just had to wait for Christmas to come. And after watching the event with Val McDermid last month, Daughter felt that Val’s new Christmas murder story anthology would also be essential for her happiness.

I shopped some more.

Now I have started reading the first one, the birthday gift, and it’s very promising. The trouble is, I feel these stories really are best consumed during the month, or so, around Christmas. And I’m running out of time here. Once the sprouts have been cooked and the dishwasher’s been seen to, and a few other chores, I appear to have very little time left.

Other people watch endless television and go for walks and do jigsaw puzzles and even read books. (You should have seen me watch the other two do a jigsaw. I might have managed to put about 25 pieces in their places, but they were left to find the other 975. I did the green bits. There were not many green bits at all.)

At this rate I’ll be saving the anthologies for December 2021.

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.