Category Archives: Crime

Bookwitch bites #146

Bookwitch hasn’t ‘bitten’ for a long time. But better late than never.

Danny Weston has a new book out, which he launched in Edinburgh on Friday. He had to do it without me, but I gather it went well enough despite this. It’s called Inchtinn, Island of Shadows. Danny had even baked Inchtinn cakes. I bet he ate most of them himself, or possibly his friend Philip Caveney helped with the eating. (I won’t post that picture here. It is too dreadful.)

Danny Weston, Inchtinn

If it’s dreadful you’re after, you only need to look at this photo from when the witch met Vaseem Khan at Bloody Scotland last month. Vaseem looks just fine, but, well, that creature on the left… Sorry.

Vaseem Khan Twitter

That was the event when we discussed humour and how important it is, while not being taken seriously (!) by enough publishers. This is what Sarah Govett has found as well. After her dystopian trilogy a few years ago, she has tackled teen humour, much in the vein of Louise Rennison. If she’s to be believed – and I see no reason why not – teens are crying out for more funny books. India Smythe Stands Up is the book for you, fresh from Sarah’s keyboard.

Sarah Govett, India Smythe Stands Up

It’s important to keep track of children’s books. Even the Resident IT Consultant seems to feel this. I was a little surprised to find his companion in the holiday reading sofa, but who am I to say anything?

Daniel Hahn, Children's Literature

And, I knew this news was coming, but it’s still good to have it confirmed. There is another book from Meg Rosoff. It’s old YA, or some such thing. And not very long, apparently. We will have to wait until next summer, but the witch who waits for something good… (The Great Godden, since you ask.)

Meg Rosoff book news

Strangers at the Gate

Wow! If you want an intelligently plotted and well-written crime novel, that will only partially keep you awake at night, then Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson is the answer.

Catriona McPherson, Strangers at the Gate

The murder is pretty gruesome and after a while you realise that there are only so many possible suspects, and that makes your life a little difficult. Yes, some of the characters are a bit odd, but you don’t necessarily want them to be the one who did it.

The question is, ‘did what?’ Finnie and Paddy are newly married, and suddenly find themselves moving from Edinburgh to a small – and strange – town, in a deal that could be described as too good to be true. And you know what they say about such things. Although the weather is awful – Scotland in winter – and the dead bodies not exactly fun.

But Paddy is dead keen to be made partner of the law firm, and Finnie gets a post as deacon in the local church.

If dead children and disappearing corpses are your thing, look no further. In fact, even if they are not, and I really don’t like dead children, this book is it.

I’m so clever I noticed one clue before even Finnie did, and then I saw another, which was actually never part of what happened. I’m really glad I read this novel. I suspect I could be a fan for life, now.

Sharing the plot

On the cover of Catriona McPherson’s latest crime novel Ann Cleeves calls it ‘disturbing.’ Obviously in a complimentary way, but disturbing is disturbing. A facebook friend – I forget who – mentioned reading it and said what a great book it was, but perhaps not for bedtime.

I immediately decided I wouldn’t read it, and that lasted until Catriona said she’d send me a copy, and then there I was, reading it – because it looked so very good – alone in the house and bedtime was approaching. What to do?

Instantly devising a solution of reading Catriona’s book in the daytime, and moving on to Jenny Colgan’s new romantic novel for evenings, I felt quite satisfied.

And then I realised that the two plots have a lot in common. Both feature women going somewhere new, starting new jobs. Both new jobs are in some far flung dark corner of Scotland, in a small community, and there are rumours about the ‘man in the big house.’

Whose mother was it? And were there plans for coffee or something on Friday?

When I got this far I suddenly realised my own life had similarities, too. It was the week Daughter started a new job somewhere a longish way away. Hopefully there are no weird ‘lairds’ in big houses where she is. But perhaps the coffee on Friday was hers?

I just don’t know.

(And this is not a review, of anything. Those will come later, assuming I sleep at night, and the Friday coffee plans get sorted.)

A Shot in the Dark

How quickly time passes! Lynne Truss set her crime novel – featuring the best of Brighton’s landmarks – in 1957, making it somewhat historical and retro. But my mind boggles as I realise that I first set foot in Brighton a mere twenty years later, and moved away ten years later still. That almost makes me retro as well.

Lynne Truss, A Shot in the Dark

It’s amusing to find the streets and squares of Brighton in the names of the characters; Old Steine, Brunswick Square, and little Twitten, not forgetting Groynes, Palmeira and Adelaide.

Inspector Steine is an idiot. Sergeant Brunswick so-so, while young Constable Twitten doesn’t miss much, unless it’s social cues. What I don’t know is how long it would have taken me to know who the villain was, has Lynne not actually talked about that at her Bloody Scotland event. Was it very obvious, or just a bit obvious?

Whatever. It’s an entertaining story, poking fun at old-style crimes and old-style policemen, with a dash of Brighton Rock thrown in.

After the Bloody Scotland ‘cosy’ discussion about swearing and authenticity I couldn’t relax, but had to look for discrepancies. I always do this. There was much swearing for a ‘no-swearing’ book. And it’s never easy knowing what life was like around the time you were born. To some extent I’d say Brighton in 1977 wasn’t much different, albeit perhaps with a few more language schools.

I went to my first panto in the Theatre Royal. It was slightly more lacking in bloodshed that time.

If you are nostalgic for times gone by, this is your book.

Bad Day at the Vulture Club

‘Man cannot live on dhansak alone.’ But they certainly try, those Parsees at the Vulture Club.

Vaseem Khan, Bad day at the Vulture Club

It’s time for Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesh to solve another murder when a wealthy and respected Parsee is found dead, in the place where the dead are put to be eaten by vultures. Could it have been an accident?

As usual Chopra does his best in the face of lack of belief in this ‘murder’ and meanwhile his partner Rangwalla is investigating a collapsed building. And Poppy, Mrs Chopra, has a new cause, Poo2Loo, much to Chopra’s embarrassment.

This latest crime novel by Vaseem Khan looks at some of the richest people in Mumbai, and also how some of the poorest people live, both in regard to their homes and jobs, as well as their [lack of] toilets. We get to know more about India today, with the help of fictional crime and a good dose of humour. Singing turds, anyone?

At times Chopra seems more literal than ever, even going so far as to point out to Poppy that ‘I don’t have a husband.’ And this time his mother-in-law actually has a point, and she’s starting to grow on me. Well, I suppose she is responsible for how the lovely Poppy turned out.

The crime turns round and round several times, and both the reader and Chopra think they know who did it, and they don’t, because they didn’t. And we don’t want it to have been one of the people we like.

But more than fairness in finding a murderer, we want a better and safer life for all Indians, at the mercy of crooks everywhere. This is neither cosy nor noir, but entertainment with humour, while educating us about that which we didn’t know or had forgotten about.

At least it rained on the last day

Stirling

You can have too much sunshine. Or can you? Well, this time of year in Scotland it is usually quite welcome. Makes you feel summer isn’t quite over, and you can forget that it will be Christmas in three months.

Actually, I don’t know where that thought came from. I don’t want to think about it.

But it was nice while it lasted, even if it did rain when people woke up on Sunday, for the finishing touches of Bloody Scotland. The sun somehow makes it easier to chat to people, to hang about, to enjoy yourself.

I could easily have stayed on outside the Golden Lion on Saturday night, as I waited for my chauffeur to pick me up. It was balmy and pleasant, and none of that September chill after the sun has set. I almost did have to stay, as the hotel walls – or whatever caused the block – wouldn’t let my call through to the Resident IT Consultant to come and get me. I had to go outside before those telephone lines started connecting up.

Lucky for me, because when I went back inside to wait I discovered James Oswald and went over to bother him for a few minutes. He was very polite about it.

Alexander McCall Smith

Earlier in the day I had encountered Alexander McCall Smith at the Albert Halls. It was his first time at Bloody Scotland, but he chatted to his fans as though they are always doing this.

And all those people sitting out in the sun, eating sandwiches, fighting the wasps (I made that up), and generally having a good time…

Albert Halls

You’ll have to wait until the 18th September 2020 to do this again. See you!

A twist on the cosy

And I’m afraid we all laughed at the memory of Catriona McPherson’s grandmother’s funeral. (But I’d say we were meant to.)

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Last night at the Golden Lion was one of the very best Bloody Scotland events I’ve known, and I’ve been to some good ones. As Vaseem Khan said, it was quality over quantity, referring to the fact that he and Catriona and Lynne Truss were competing with Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon down the road. But really, who’d choose those two over these three, so ably chaired by Laura Wilson, who’s just as fun and capable as I remembered from CrimeFest eleven years ago?

Right, so it was a discussion on cosy crime with three authors and a select audience, which contained, among others, Catriona’s parents. I liked her parents and wouldn’t mind borrowing them.

But was it really cosy crime we were dealing with? No, it was more whether you can kill kittens, and about writing with humour. Which, as far as I’m concerned is the best. Well, perhaps not the kitten-killing.

Apparently all cats are psychopaths.

It was actually a fairly animal-centred discussion, ably led by Baby Ganesh, Vaseem’s little elephant. While it was his detective Chopra’s wife’s involvement with where to deposit your poo that got us onto this, it was Catriona’s question whether he never worried whether Ganesh might, well, deposit, something somewhere unsuitable as well, which took us straight to Blue Peter’s elephant poo memory. This made us laugh a lot.

(Here I have to insert an apology to Lynne. I am not at all sure I get my thats and whiches and anything else right. But that’s the way I am. I loved Eats Shoots and Leaves. I just didn’t learn anything.)

And let’s get the panda out of the way right now. Not allowed to say what Vaseem thinks about pandas. But he likes vultures. He gets mail from fans, warning him not to let anything bad happen to Ganesh. There is no great plan for his little elephant, since when he wrote the first book he didn’t expect to get published, or that there would be more books. Ganesh will obviously outlive Chopra.

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This makes dogs more suitable to your plots; they won’t live as long. But this thing with age is difficult. Apparently Catriona and her Dandy were the same age in 2002 when they started out, but now Dandy is four years younger than her.

Catriona wanted to write her period crime as though it was written back then, and the greatest praise she’s had was the comment that it was just like a novel you might encounter in a wet Norfolk cottage (and not in a good way). Or, Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym. Her problem is that the action happens in the shadow of WWI, while the reader knows what is to come.

Lynne’s novels are set in Brighton in 1957. She wanted to go back to a time when her parents were young, and while it’s easy enough to know what was in the cinema at the time, it’s harder to get people to act the way they did. Do you let them swear, or not? The criminals can’t be seen to swear, even if they would have.

And you certainly didn’t swear in the wet Norfolk cottage.

Murder on the other hand is fine. Even of kittens.

What all three authors were annoyed by is that cosy crime is seen as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and as not proper books, and you can’t be funny. This snobbery is so unfounded.

Police in Brighton were notoriously corrupt, and Lynne wanted to write about the ‘relentless idiocy’ of her stupid policemen. She quite enjoys the sexism from the 1950s, meaning the police can’t even imagine that a working class woman could be the villain. But Lynne doesn’t set out to scare people.

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This panel almost fought to chat to each other, and to ask questions, and it was all interesting and fun, and if I ever get one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner?’ opportunities, Catriona, Lynne and Vaseem will be the ones, along with Laura. And hopefully Catriona’s parents. Maybe their friends whom I eavesdropped on outside on the pavement afterwards.

Before that afterwards, there was the signing. I already had books by Vaseem and Catriona, but hurriedly bought Lynne’s book as well. It was that kind of event. Vaseem insisted on taking a selfie with me, even after looking dubiously at my [conventional] camera, realising that no selfies would be coming from that. He had a mobile to hand, and now I’m afraid the internet will explode once that goes on Twitter.

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Catriona remembered the Witch, even after so many months, after just the one review. I might have said I now need extra time in my life to be able to read all her books, but all she could offer was more books… Like the fourth in her trilogy. And she couldn’t speak to me until she’d written down the ‘just arrived’ idea for her new book title on the back of the Bloody Scotland programme.

And Lynne, well, her book on the pitfalls on grammar and punctuation has put her forever in my, erm, good books. It’s like talking to royalty. Her next book will be the impressively titled Murder by Milk Bottle.

Talking about the future, Vaseem clearly has too much time on his hands, as Chopra and Ganesh will be joined by a new series, about a female Indian detective in the 1950s.

I really will need that extra time.