Category Archives: Crime

The Lost and the Blind

Declan Burke writes thrillers like he does crime novels, seemingly just taking what’s around him, turning it into the most exciting of novels. Not every author can put him or herself into a book and get away with it. Less still their child, but what’s a thriller without your small girl’s Barbie?

Declan Burke, The Lost and the Blind

In The Lost and the Blind we have the separated Irish journalist Tom, who makes ends meet by reviewing films. Tom is hired by a wealthy American who wants him to ghostwrite a book about the killing of some young children during WWII, something which eventually causes Tom to run for his life in the company of a lovely female; his six-year-old daughter Emily.

Tom is a nice, peace-loving man, but he is no fool. On the other hand, as it’s his turn to have his daughter, and he needs to make sure he is a good dad so he stands a chance of getting custody of Emily, he can’t go off on the usual macho hunts for bad guys. As in some of Declan’s crime novels, I was enjoying reading a thriller which does all the right things, but with rather less bloodshed than you tend to expect.

Although that only works up to a point. Just warning you.

This is an interesting mix of ordinary Irish life from the days of the country’s economic collapse, and flashbacks to WWII in neutral Eire, featuring German soldiers and the IRA, as well as an English spy.

And none of it went in the direction I would have guessed, had I been capable of guessing. Very, very good.

Monday miscellany

I’d – almost – concluded I have no friends, but before you gallantly cry that I have you, I realised how wrong I was. Today is School Friend’s birthday. (Her 60th, but don’t tell anyone. She looks like 29.) And I’m not there. I suppose that’s what I meant, really. I’m not physically surrounded by friends, but I know they are out there, at various inconvenient distances for birthday parties and the like.

I could have gone. But with a future kitchen having just arrived, sitting in the hall (which has not had book boxes stored in it for maybe as long as a couple of weeks, and was beginning to look almost normal), and a sink that needed to be crowbarred free by Son, now seems an unwise time for me to up and frolic.

I typed ’tile’ instead of ‘time’ and that was most certainly a Freudian slip. I’m not 60, nor do I look like 29, but feel rather like 79 sometimes. The Resident IT Consultant and I went shopping for tiles last week. As we walked towards the entrance to the DIY emporium I halted and nearly asked him what we’d come for. Good thing I didn’t, as he beat me to it by a split second. We managed to remember why we’d come (I did have a list in my bag, but you feel that one item should be possible to keep in your brain and not have it slosh around uncontrollably) and the outing was a relative success. I mean, only the day before, we’d also ventured out for tiles but ended up eyeing raspberry bushes at the local nursery, where we’d gone for coffee, instead.

Speaking of gardens, we made some discoveries in ours. The Grandmother found we had a pond. Well, we knew that. But once the weeds went, we realised we have dependants. One duck. Plastic. An otter. Stone. A tortoise. Also stone. Frog. Real. Frogspawn. Also real, and watched over by the parental frog. And some days later, after all that unexpected light and air, we have ‘watery’ flowers as well.

As I said, Son and Dodo were here, carrying kitchens and liberating sinks. And stuff. Then they had to go home again, partly because Son is off to the London Book Fair this week. (It’s unfair! I still haven’t been. And I had to decline an invitation to Canada House. Again.) You can tell it’s that time of year, by how many publicists are already ‘out of office’ in their emails. (So, basically, I can blog as I like, and I am, as you can see.)

Before he left, Son borrowed the complete set of Martin Beck by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir. Seems he’s going to need the books for some paper or other. (Someone’s been getting their translators wrong…) He asked if we wanted anything from London, and you know, I am sure I was thinking just the other day that there was something. But what?

Harrogate

Now I dream of Harrogate. Me, who has never even made it to Betty’s Tea Rooms. 27 years in the Northwest and not a single trip to Harrogate…

Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Weekend is not something I have seriously considered going to before, especially as it takes place in mid-July, which is a time fraught with holiday plans and trips to Sweden. And things. Last year I felt dismay when I heard JK Rowling was attending, but quickly dismissed this negative thought.

And now, now there are more people who draw me there and I so want to go. Sara Paretsky will be there, and so early that a day trip is out of the question, and all those Northern Irish boys I’m fond of, including Adrian McKinty back in the Northern hemisphere. James Oswald. Stieg Larsson, except he’s not, of course.

I looked at all the suggested crime hotels for the weekend and they look positively irresistible, straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

It’s still the middle of July, however. And I know for a fact that when the time comes I will be pleased not to be going to yet one more place, or more events.

But right now I’m at the point where I want to!

A Birlinn rendezvous

There is a certain freedom – not to mention a sense of adventure – in standing at a railway station as a train comes in, and you’ve got a trainload of alighting passengers to choose from. Who to go and ‘have coffee’ with. Well, to be truthful, I had already googled Sally from Birlinn, so I had an idea of who to look out for, and she knew to find a short, fat witch. And she did.

Sally was coming all the way to me, to talk about the many good children’s books Birlinn – who are an Edinburgh based publisher – are about to let loose on the world this year. I walked her to the Burgh Coffee House, as she confessed to earlier youthful trips to the Rainbow Slides in Stirling. What’s more, she came here from Linlithgow, and the less said about this lovely place and me, the better. (Actually, Sally has more or less sold me on the town, now. It has a good bookshop just by the station, apparently, so as long as I manage to get off the train in the first place…)

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin and Joe Friedman, The Secret Dog

So, Birlinn. Sally brought me books by Joan Lennon and Joe Friedman, which both look promising. She talked me through their whole 2015 catalogue, and plans include a Peter Pan graphic novel, books by Alexander McCall Smith about the young Precious Ramotswe, history by Allan Burnett, the Polish bear Wojtek, Lynne Rickards and the ever orange Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori. There will be poetry and there will be naughty young lambs.

The books all have some connection to Scotland, be it setting or author or anything else. I knew it already, really, but it’s worth saying again, that Scotland has books all its own. It’s not just an appendix to England. If Norway can have a publishing industry, then so can Scotland.

There was a bit of gossip, too, and a secret that can’t be mentioned. And after that Sally ran for her train back to the big city, hoping that someone else would have done all the work by the time she got back to the office.

Reko no more

Remember the new crime novel by Marnie Riches that I told you about the other day? I enjoyed it so much, and I was very flattered to be asked my opinion early on. But it’s heartstopping stuff, this being asked. Because what if you DON’T LIKE THE BOOK?

There was a time before Marnie, when I was asked under very similar circumstances, by someone I knew about as well (although someone I hadn’t met in person) as I did her, and whose earlier book I had read and liked, and I was both keen and far too unsuspecting. Both of the book, and of its author. And as I began reading my heart sank and I wondered how I could 1) go on, 2) tell the author anything useful but still sort of truthful.

It was amateurish beyond belief, with wooden characters (although you could tell you were supposed to love one of them) and a pretty clichéd plot. Nice setting, though. I persevered, because this was not a book by a stranger. (Except, of course, it was.)

By some miracle, 11% in (on a Kindle you know these things) it changed for the better, and I mean really good, like someone had clicked their fingers for some magic. Luckily the loveable one died, but you were obviously still supposed to mourn this death.

My feedback was far politer and kinder than what I’ve just said here. But I felt I had to offer my thoughts on the 11% simply to explain why I reckoned this author had yet to interest anyone at all in the book; be it an agent or a publisher or anyone else. If they read what I read, they’d not want to go further, and would never reach even the 11%.

My comments were welcomed and I was encouraged to say more. I did. Well what a mistake that was.

So basically, don’t ask for what you don’t want to hear. And even if you love your character, it doesn’t mean they are the bee’s knees or that everyone else will want to be their best friend.

But the premise for this crime novel was really pretty good, and if a professional editor could get their hands on the 11% without having their head shot off in the process, I could see a future for the book.

What worried me about Marnie’s book [before I read it], were the circumstances of how I was asked, and the fact that the two stories share some basic facts. It was eerie.

(Reko is Swedish for a decent sort. I ceased to be reko as soon as I opened my big keyboard and let the advice flow. Silly me.)

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

How I have waited to be allowed to tell you about this new book from Marnie Riches! Her adult crime novel has been tugging at me behind the scenes for over a year, and what’s more, it’s so breathtakingly special that I can confidently say I remember all of it, even now.

This digital novel with the very appropriate title The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die (yes, I know what it makes you think of, and it’s not at all misleading), is Britain’s own answer to Scandi crime, a Euro crime thriller with a continental flavour. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t sure it would work. But it does.

Marnie Riches

That’s most likely due to the ‘write about what you know’ rule again. Not that I suspect Marnie of having a criminal background, but she’s got the languages, and the experience of the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the Cambridge student know-how.

Someone is going round Amsterdam blowing people up, for no apparent reason. We meet the victims just as they discover their predicament. And we meet George, an English girl, a student like many of the victims. She knows about crime, and that could make her a suspect. Or perhaps the next victim. We know someone is stalking her. Or are they?

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Wouldn't Die

George can’t leave things alone. She insists on helping Detective van den Bergen, who is surprisingly accommodating, as well as intelligent. (I like detectives with brains.)

The story has a strong European feel to it, with plenty of sex, drugs, bicycles and canals. Some iffy Germans, naturally. And then there is the English subplot. We don’t know quite what happened, nor how it might tie in with the Dutch explosions, but we sense there is more than meets the eye.

Coming fresh to Marnie’s writing, I didn’t know what to expect, or how many characters would still be alive at the end. However, the novel’s fantastic new title sort of gives a little bit away. Besides, there are two more books planned.

Trust me, you’ll want to read them.

(The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is available on April 2nd. And please give us a paper book soon.)

Murder Most Unladylike

Who doesn’t like a good murder set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s? I mean, it ticks a lot of my boxes. What about you?

Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike

13-year-old students Daisy and Hazel set up detective agency Wells&Wong at Deepdean school, and it’s not long before ‘luck’ strikes, when their science teacher Miss Bell is found dead. Only for a while though, as the body disappears pretty swiftly and no one knows Miss Bell is a bit more dead than the head teacher makes out she is.

Daisy is rather bossy, not to mention fearless, while Hazel, who comes from Hong Kong, is more conventional and careful. A good detective agency needs both to succeed.

And you know, it’s rather hard to check people’s alibis when you are not the police and when there is no body or even a public acknowledgement that the corpse is indeed a corpse. But Daisy ferrets out where everyone was, and they work out what the motive might have been. Would you kill for the post of deputy head?

The detecting isn’t made any easier when you are a relatively innocent young girl, who doesn’t quite understand the undercurrents between the adults. Wells&Wong do work out who did it, and it puts them in more danger than expected.

As for me, I kept thinking it was turning out a little Midsomerish. When you deduct the number of dead people and the murderer, you’re not left with a whole lot of characters for a sequel. And I hope author Robin Stevens won’t kill more teachers and students in every book. Even a fairly dim parent would surely take their child out of a school like that?