Category Archives: Crime

Little Criminals and other dark granite

When I first heard about Granite Noir, which is on this weekend (24th to 26th February), I wanted to go. I still want to go, but have come to the conclusion I will not be going to Aberdeen for the crime, however tempting. But there’s no reason why some of you can’t go.

It’s their first year, and it makes me wonder why they didn’t start Granite Noir sooner. The name is so perfect! The programme is good. At first I suspected they might offer just a few events, while they warm up, so to speak. But it’s three days filled with great crime authors and with catchy event titles.

I love the ones for children – thank you for thinking of the children! – Little Criminals. Vivian French and Shoo Rayner will be teaching children how to write, and how to draw baddies.

There are workshops for old people too, and several Nordic Noir sessions, and lots and lots of talks by our favourite Scottish criminals. Pardon, crime writers. And how could anyone resist Poisoned High Tea?

Well, I think it sounds perfect. And I believe warm weather is on the way this week, so Aberdeen will no doubt be sweltering. Maybe. If it is, cool down with Noir at the Bar.

Just weird

After watching the programme about Terry Pratchett last weekend, I told myself I really must read more of his books, as there are some I’ve not yet read. I’ve been hanging on to the idea of them as a treat. It’s time to forget about [some] new books and dip into my reserve. The last time I thought along these lines I realised there is a problem. Son has custody of most of the Discworld books, and when we moved house that custody shifted from being his room in our house, to a room in his own home.

So I reached the conclusion I need to visit some charity shops, but before doing that, I ought to check which – if any – books we had managed to hang on to. I especially wanted to read Night Watch, after it was mentioned so many times last week.

It turns out we have exactly one unread Pratchett novel. Night Watch.

As I was visiting a real live bookshop, I had a quick look at their shelves of Discworld books. Seems there are some tasteful new covers of paperback sized hardbacks. I liked them, but £13? Besides, don’t they sort of have to be the cover designs we’ve got used to? Discworld’s not the same without them.

I had been invited to another event at the same time as Debi Gliori was talking at Blackwell’s on Thursday. It was the launch of the International Science Festival, and having had to miss it last year, I’d intended to make it work this time. And then I bumped into the publicist I thought had invited me, at my event, which seemed a bit odd. She’s working on something else. (So I clearly wouldn’t have found her at the launch.)

On my way to and from Edinburgh I read James Oswald’s new crime novel (more about that later). His corpse had a background in Saughton. It could be my old age, but while I knew this was a prison, I didn’t actually know where. Two minutes later my tram took me through Saughton.

I appreciate this kind of helpful behaviour in trams.

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

Read, Enjoy, Debate # 11

It was chilly. And there I was, in Falkirk, red clothes, rosy cheeks and everything, and the station footbridge was being repaired. Luckily I had my folding broom with me, so managed to cross the railway lines (my apologies for any subsequent unentangling required) and arrived at fth (Falkirk Town Hall; keep up!) with barely any delay, for a day of the 11th RED book award.

Greeted Cathy MacPhail who was shortlisted for the umpteenth time (they know a good author when they see one), still basking in the glow of her birthday the day before. She introduced me to Narinder Dhami (13 Hours), and we spent some happy minutes saying gossipy stuff about [some] people. Very satisfying. A few of the students were going round interviewing the four shortlisted authors, who also included Clare Furniss (The Year of the Rat) and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (The Apple Tart of Hope). All beautifully decked out in red, and all looking very beautiful, too. And they were nice people…

Yvonne Manning

RED captain Yvonne Manning was wearing red fairy lights. Clothes, too, but those lights really caught the eye. She welcomed each school and they were as noisy as ever. She encouraged them, it has to be said. (That woman is not a normal librarian! Whatever happened to silence?)

The schools charged straight ahead with their dramatised presentations of the books, two schools for each book. Between every little show, the same slow stagehands cleared up. They really want to look into who they employ. At times they sat down and read the paper and took selfies. If we’re not careful they’ll get used to this kind of slacking, and the audience encouraging them.

Presentation of Devil You Know on behalf of Polmont Young Offenders

As well as the eight schools who took part, they were shadowed by boys from Polmont Young Offenders (who for obvious reasons were not present, although I suspect if this had been Sweden they would have been). One of them had written a script for Cathy MacPhail’s book, Devil You Know (very appropriate), and Yvonne got seven volunteers on stage to act it out, totally unrehearsed. They would have found it easier had there been more microphones and printing of words on one side of the paper only, I reckon. But well done to everyone; actors and script-writer!

There were prizes for best reviews, before Provost Reid went off to a council budget meeting on libraries, and as we broke for coffee Yvonne introduced ‘selfie corner.’ (It was really only a cardboard frame…)

Narinder Dhami

You could tell Cathy had been before, as she managed to get coffee long before anyone else. But eventually we all sat down and chatted, and I had a really good idea for a blog post from what we talked about. (It would have been even better if I could remember what it was.)

RED coffee

Once back, Yvonne had changed into an enthusiastic red wig, with fairy lights on top. She hoped it wasn’t too much. Well, I’m sure we were too polite to say. Before the last set of book presentations, the authors got their three minutes of saying whatever they wanted. Each. Narinder told us about her breakfast that morning (sort of, anyway), Sarah has a lovely Irish accent and Clare wore fabulous red high heeled boots, while Cathy said how pleased she was that the young offenders got her book.

The stagehands grew ever more inept as the day wore on.

Provost Reid was back by then, and he whispered to me that he could smell lunch. Clare was extremly fortunate with her school, who presented her with an iced cake at the end of their presentation. (I was worried it’d turn into a pie throwing event at first.)

RED lunch

Covers 13 Hours

At lunch we said how fantastic it was to have an all-women shortlist and we discussed agoraphobia. As you do. The authors were asked to go and cast their votes on alternative book covers, before the signings. I asked the Provost what happened to his retirement from politics plans from last year, and he seems to have sacrificed himself for the greater good.

Narinder Dhami and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Clare Furniss and Cathy MacPhail

RED award disco

Back in the hall there was disco dancing in one corner, with Yvonne and her fairy lights leading the way. Most of the students were singing at the top of their voices, and I couldn’t help wondering if they know how ancient that music is. Grease must have been at least forty years ago?

RED award disco

RED award

The authors got to sit on the sofas in readiness for question time, while more prizes were handed out; for best presentation, for best red accessories (I especially liked the feathers one girl wore in her hair), the stage hands, and for best book covers.

RED award

Questions were many and varied, on how long to write a book, is it hard to get published, inspiration, apple tarts, do they Google themselves, why read books, advice to themselves as teenagers, and favourite children’s books. Little Princess did well. Believe in yourself. Yes, some do Google. Time to write a book depends. Lots of good questions and the answers were all right too.

Librarian Anne Ngabia told us the latest news about her book collecting for libraries in Kenya (I have plenty more!), saying how good our children have it with free schools, even if it doesn’t feel like it. How in Kenya people might walk for three hours to the library, queueing up when it opens, and walking three hours back again. (I dare say this could happen here too, if libraries get scarcer.) And thanks to the army and the air force for sending the books out with the troops.

RED award

The boy with the lovely red hat got the job of opening the red envelope, to announce the RED winner. That envelope was made with very good glue. It had glued itself to the paper inside and only after a prolonged, manful struggle did red hat boy sort of manage to peer into the mangled remains of the inside and tell us that this year’s winner was Narinder Dhami!

Narinder Dhami

Narinder made a short speech, not even thanking her cat, cried a bit, and then she needed to sit down to stop her legs from shaking. But there were photographs to be taken of everyone, of her, the provost, envelope boy and the award (a photo of the famous Kelpies).

RED award, Yvonne Manning, Cathy MacPhail, Narinder Dhami, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Clare Furniss, Provost Reid

Then we went home. Me not forgetting I came with a coat, and Cathy hunting for hers. The Provost let the students try on his red ‘coat’. And Clare had a cake to carry. It was a good day.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Will Duffy be riding into the sunset at the end of Adrian McKinty’s sixth novel about our – well, mine – favourite RUC detective? It’s quite obvious throughout the book that Duffy has had enough. More enough than before. You read and hope Adrian isn’t paving the way for killing Duffy, because it’d clearly be easier to kill someone tired of his current existence. But then he has a girlfriend and daughter to live for, although the relationship with Beth isn’t going well.

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Duffy is forced to dig his own grave, but as it comes first in the book, you hope it won’t be as final as it is made to look. Life in 1980s Northern Ireland seems harder than ever, and it’s not just the IRA or their Protestant counterparts. Duffy has always annnoyed his superiors, but never more than now.

Two attacks with bows and arrows, leaving one man dead, are mystifying the police, and as always it is hard to get witnesses to come forward, because they ‘didn’t see anything.’ Healthier that way.

I could be wrong, but the religious division felt worse than ever. And ironically some of Duffy’s strongest support comes from the Protestants around him. Although school friends are not always wrong, even at times like these.

He swears a lot, drives too fast and he drinks far too much, but Duffy is still someone you want for your friend. Just like Carrickfergus in 1988 appears to be more attractive than I suppose it was, back then. You want it to end well, even if this could be Duffy’s final mystery. You want his two fellow detectives to survive, too, and you’re even hoping for a rosy future for us all.

Hah.

And the bow and arrow thing is obvious once you know how and why.

Did I ever mention how much I love these books?

Another A G

She looks nice, my saviour from Not Reading. And the odd thing is that I – who obsess about meeting the people I admire – have never even Googled Ann Granger to see what she looks like. But by complete accident I came across this short interview with Ann talking about her new crime novel, The Dead Woman of Deptford, a couple of days ago.

There are a number of authors, whose books helped make me the Bookwitch I am, and Ann is one of them. In fact, she is the only one to encounter me at the stage when I was not reading books. At all.

With both Offspring fairly young I read to them, and perhaps managed a quick glance at magazine if they had the decency to sleep. At the same time. (I think we can deduce that I didn’t cope well with stress.) The Resident IT Consultant travelled a lot, so it’s not as if I was going anywhere.

Ann Granger, Say it with Poison

One day I went into the newsagent’s and bought a magazine purely on the basis of the free crime novel that came with it. This was the first Mitchell & Markby book, and as soon I’d got rid of Offspring in the evenings (by which I mean putting them to bed), I read one chapter every night. Even at such a slow pace, sooner or later you get to the end.

Not only did reading make me feel calmer, but it showed me the error of my ways; that I needed time for me, and that reading regularly – however little – was A Good Thing.

Because I really liked the Mitchell & Markby books, I worked my way through every one as they appeared. The drawback being that after the first few I had to wait for them to be written.

Then came the Fran Varady books, which I liked even better. And in between waiting for Ann to write, I read other books, and when Son started reading, I moved on to Roald Dahl with him, and then further upwards and outwards.

By the time Ann Granger began her third and fourth crime series, I was no longer able to keep up. But I always intended to give them a go…

Thank you, to the other Ann G! I owe you a lot.

The Girl Who Had No Fear

You don’t really want to be friends with Dr George McKenzie. Such a friendship is likely to involve danger in general, and eyeballs in particular, and not in terribly nice ways.

On the other hand, George is good to have on your side, as long as you manage to stay alive. In the fourth outing for Marnie Riches’s more than feisty heroine, things are darker than ever, and as you read you can’t help but wonder if anyone at all will be alive at the end. Apart from the bad guy, who appears to have at least nine lives.

Well, I clearly can’t comment on that. You must read and find out for yourself, and I can highly recommend starting the new year with Dr McKenzie. She’s imagining danger everywhere, and can defend herself with an Old German dictionary if need be.

Mothers are everywhere in The Girl Who Had No Fear. There is George’s own, who has disappeared. Elvis is busy juggling police work with looking after his mother, who seems to be on her very last legs. Marie is another mother, as is a fearsome girl George encounters when she goes off on her own to… Detective van den Bergen’s daughter is a new mother, too, and this changes how George’s lover looks on taking risks.

This time the crime hinges on bad drugs, and van den Bergen and George search all over the world for answers as to why so many men end up dead in one of Amsterdam’s canals. And it’s not just about a mother who’s nowhere to be found, but George’s long lost father pops up on the horizon. If it is him. If he’s not dead.

And will Marnie have to start afresh with a whole new set of characters in the next book?