Category Archives: Crime

Marcus Sedgwick on horror and sheds

The Marcus Sedgwick interview is ready for your entertainment today. I wish you could hear Marcus, as well as just read. He laughs a lot and he talks ‘just right’ by which I mean that he is interesting on whatever stupid question someone like me might ask, and he spends time on them, but not too long.

Lagom, as we say in Sweden.

He is someone who has been on my interview radar for years, and it’s mainly coincidence that it was his new adult novel, A Love Like Blood, that caused us to meet and talk (I ‘blame’ the very helpful Kerry at Hodder), which is why I used up some of our ‘adult’ time on talking about his – slightly – younger books as well.

Marcus Sedgwick

And his shed. (It’s not necessary to buy a house that has a good shed. You can actually build a nice shed once you’ve found the house of your dreams.)

Marcus claims not to be obsessed by horror, but he is a man who scares me a lot, through his books. They are the kind of books you read hiding behind the sofa.

Scam on the Cam

Cambridge, Cambridge… what’s going on? More crime. Another young detective. Another college theologian. I’m beginning to feel Cambridge might not be as safe as the romantic view of this place of learning would have you believe.

Clémentine Beauvais, Scam on the Cam

Clémentine Beauvais sends her Sesame Seade out into seedy Cambridge for a third adventure, Scam on the Cam. As the title suggests, it’s water based and it’s about the famous boat race. The poor young men who row for Cambridge are dropping like flies. Who is poisoning them and why?

Or are they falling ill for some other reason? There are frogs, and a handsome young boy from one of the other schools in town. There are ze zieves. (thieves, you know) It’s enough to make Sesame shplutter.

I love the humour and the use of language (and she is French! Young, too…) and there is nothing about this rather innocent crime series and its 11-year-old detective that makes it unsuitable for old people. Quite the contrary. I hope the quality of the writing isn’t wasted on the young (like so much else).

(Illustrated by Sarah Horne.)

Dead Silent

Have I said this before? There isn’t enough crime in YA fiction. I don’t know why. Crime is so popular with us ‘slightly’ older ones, that I can’t see why there isn’t more straightforward murders offered to YA readers. Sharon Jones’s Dead Silent is like a breath of fresh air, as long as you like your corpses coming thick and fast.

Very briefly, I worried that my promised murders were going to disappear in a haze of teen sex, but it didn’t. Not having read the first Poppy Sinclair book (Dead Jealous) I didn’t know what to expect.

Sharon Jones, Dead Silent

Poppy is in Cambridge with her boyfriend Michael, who has an interview for King’s. She has sex on her mind, and whereas he wouldn’t mind, the murders rather change the pace of romance. Poppy’s dad is chaplain at Trinity, and it’s in his chapel that the trail of bodies begins. After that they are all over Trinity.

Did dad do it? That’s the question. And why are the bright young third years behaving so strangely? Can Poppy really speak to the dead? Are the angels real?

This is very nicely – if atypically, I trust - Cambridge. Snow. Students. Professors, policemen, a Dean and even a Master. Lots of surprisingly helpful and friendly porters at all the colleges.

Great fun and quite exciting by the time you have suspected almost everyone of being the murderer. Blood on snow looks so striking, don’t you think?

The Hangman’s Song

I had to forcibly remove The Hangman’s Song from the Resident IT Consultant’s hands because James Oswald likes to revisit old crimes. It’s very nice and it adds to the continuity of his Inspector McLean books, but oh the spoilers! (And someone has not yet read The Book of Souls, so must be protected from finding out who did it and how and to whom and did anyone at all survive?)

James Oswald, The Hangman's Song

You see the crime being committed in these books, and rather than taking away from the suspense, it adds to it. Especially when you see the murderer at it, again and again, with the police none the wiser.

In The Hangman’s Song, someone is making people hang themselves. And because the police department is headed by ‘an idiot’ and because there is money to be saved, you don’t investigate ‘suicides.’

Tony McLean wants to, but has to fight for it. He isn’t exactly flavour of the month, and also ends up at the receiving end of practical jokes. Because he is wealthy, and that is annoying.

I can see James Oswald building up some regular characters, who might be trustworthy. I hope so, in some cases. It’s just when they are odd in some way, you don’t know if they are the next bad guy, or your new – fictional – best friend.

For all the horror in the crimes; the senseless killing and maiming, this is very enjoyable. Edinburgh is the right size city for this kind of thing to work well in; both small and large. And McLean is the right kind of detective.

This is the kind of crime novel I could read all the time.

 

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

Crime Always Pays

(Swish. Swish. Please don’t disturb! The witch is dusting, and that’s a very rare sight.)

So, what I’ve got here is an old review, and I find it mostly still works, which is why I will offer it up for inspection again. Many of you weren’t here back in 2008, so to you it will seem almost brand new.

It’s  complicated. Back then, Declan Burke had yet to see Crime Always Pays published. It’s the sequel to The Big O, and I read it in manuscript (the Resident IT Consultant printed it out on his office printer for me), and I loved it. Back then, it was titled The Blue Orange (which personally I still prefer).

Now, though, it is finally being published properly! It’s a real book. Not the US edition which was cancelled in the end, nor the Kindle version published to compensate. A Real Book! And I think you should read it. (After The Big O, obviously.) Below is my slightly edited, and very ancient, review.

Declan Burke, Crime Always Pays

“The Blue Orange, as he calls it, is a continuation of The Big O, with all the same characters, except those who may have died in the first book. Plus a couple of new ones. The Big O was very funny, if rather full of four-letter words, and had endearingly inept, mostly minor, crooks.

In The Blue Orange (Crime Always Pays) we meet them again, and this time I found myself quite fond of even the less charming ones. It’s a mad-cap race across the Continent, with everyone ending up in Greece, where Declan has totally taken over his favourite holiday island, which I understand was quite nice before this.

As is to be expected, there are so many double-crossings that the witch developed a squint trying to cope. The best thing is simply to sit back and enjoy, while laughing quite a lot. The story is crying out to be made into a film, and I know which part I can play.

And as Mother-of-witch so rightly said, crime is not nice. But this kind of crime is as nice, and as funny, as it gets. The worst baddies are killed or have lots of blood removed in interesting ways, and maybe the rest lived happily ever after. I’m hoping for more.”

It’s today! Get shopping!

A Love Like Blood

A book like The Thirty-Nine Steps, but with blood. Lots of it, and not for the faint-hearted. Like Marcus Sedgwick’s mother, who promised not to read her son’s first adult novel. I can see where they both are coming from.

I wanted to read this, because it is a Marcus Sedgwick novel, and I wanted to see what he’d get up to when writing for adults. Considering that his YA books are no picnic (ooh, bad word, under the circumstances), it is not surprising that Mrs Sedgwick abstained. I wish I’d known.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

This is a thriller set over 24 years, starting in Paris in 1944 and ending in Italy in 1968. I thought I could guess how it would end. I was wrong. And that’s despite the ending coming at the beginning of the book, giving you a flavour of what might be.

Charles Jackson is a young-ish consultant haematologist in Cambridge. He’s rather a failure of a man in most other respects, and not terribly likeable. It is, however, quite easy to identify with him. At least it was for me. (Up to a point!)

The book reads like an old novel, from the period it is set in. It looks so easy, but I’m guessing it’s not. Setting aside one mention of ‘having sex’ which felt too modern and one possible fashion mistake, this is pure old style adventure. It feels really comfortable, even as you wince at the inept Charles. You are lulled into a false sense of knowing where this story is going. Very clever.

It is mostly about blood. Possibly there is a vampire. You can’t be sure. Partway through you get a very Buchan-ish adventure, making my spirits rise, only to be dashed soon again.

Dr Jackson looks like he won’t last long. And in a way you don’t mind, because he’s hard to love. On the other hand you feel that a main character ought to be allowed to have something positive happen to him.

This is a fantastically well written thriller. I just wish there’d been less blood.

Neighbourhood watch

I walked round the neighbourhood in the recent – and very welcome – sunshine. So sunny was it, that when I came level with Mr Beaverman’s house, I didn’t see him at first, hidden in the shade, killing off his weeds.

But he called out a greeting and I stopped for a chat. The funny thing is, I can’t quite remember how we first started talking, years ago. But it’s that sort of neighbourhood; you feel a connection with someone further down the road, across generations and occupations and any other obstacles you might come up with.

Once the primroses had been discussed, I mentioned I needed to get back to packing more books. I moaned about the number of books we have, and Mr Beaverman countered with how many he owns. Lots of metres…

And then he said – in an apologetic kind of way – that most of them were only (and here I imagined he’d say they were mostly boring ones, like the Resident IT Consultant’s books) whodunnits. Just think! Here we’ve been polite for years and we have never ventured onto a shared interest in crime. Because you don’t, when there are primroses and world economics and important stuff that you can talk about.

Ian Rankin

He likes Ian Rankin. He has read all of his books. I was desperately trying not to say I’ve only read one. (Sorry about that.) And having read all of Rankin, he has moved on to Stuart MacBride. I shuddered and asked how he managed that, saying I’d only read a short (Barrington Stoke) MacBride and that was more than enough for my ladylike nerves.

Mr Beaverman admitted the books are gory, but that’s OK. He then described what happens in the one he’s reading now…

I mentioned I’d heard Stuart at Bloody Scotland last September, and how entertaining he and Val McDermid had been. We agreed that swearing is all right if there is a reason for it.

James Oswald, Natural Causes

And then I tried to interest Mr B in James Oswald, since he is obviously into Scottish crime. I pointed to the Edinburgh setting, which ought to be just right for someone who has exhausted Rebus & Co, but totally forgot to say that James has named his sidekick for Stuart. Must go back and tell him.

Mr B would like to go on a Rebus walk in Edinburgh, but the trouble is when he is there, he’s so busy visiting people, he’s never had the time.

It might be time to force him.

Meanwhile I’m pondering who else Mr Beaverman would enjoy. Knowing me, I won’t settle until I’ve got a long list. (And I went back to my house with a view to seeing if I had any crime I could off-load.)

3 x Theodore Boone

For various reasons I have read The Abduction, The Accused and The Activist, all about Theodore Boone – the loveliest of 13-year-old almost-lawyers – and all by John Grisham, in the last week. Since I had the opportunity, it was actually quite nice to give in to the urge to read more ‘ in one sitting.’ Which is why I read books 2, 3 and 4 in quick succession.

Theo will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly suits me. And I will continue giving these books the Aspie label; not because Theo is one (well, not much), but because the sheer orderliness and lack of the unexpected in these books means they are well suited to someone who needs to know what’s what and not be too overwhelmed by surprise.

The Theodore Boone books are full of instructions on how to live life successfully. It’s not all about some nice middle class dream existence in a nice quiet American town, even though it might look like that. Theo is here to set examples of what to do and why and how you can win over the powerful people in your own life, like parents, teachers and policemen. Be polite. Consider not saying the first thing that pops into your head. Work hard to achieve what you want.

It’d be easy to think Theo has it made and that nothing bad will ever happen to this archetypal American hero. Book 1 looked like that, but here bad things happen and Theo needs to work to put things right. He learns, and we learn with him.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Abduction

In The Abduction his friend April disappears, and while the police search for her, Theo and his friends and his Uncle Ike do it their way. Guess who manages to find April?

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Accused

The Accused goes much further, because here Theo is the one under scrutiny. Someone is setting him up (we know that), but the police believe he has committed a crime and want to arrest him. Even having two lawyers for parents isn’t enough, or having the support of many friends and influential adults. Theo can visualise his whole future in ruins, if the misunderstanding isn’t cleared up.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Activist

He never imagined he’d be disappointed in the law, but in The Activist Theo discovers that people can loose their homes perfectly legally. A bypass is being planned to make his home town safer, but at the expense of people’s houses and the beautiful landscape and the fresh air. There seems to be plenty of money to fund the road building as well as for bribing politicians, while local budgets are slashed and people are losing their jobs.

What’s so nice, and so useful, is the way John Grisham explains how things in life work, as Theo either finds out from his parents, or he already knows and can explain stuff to his peers. If you’re twelve you don’t necessarily understand about taxes, how the law works or what the point of politics is. (Well, perhaps there isn’t one.)

I like that you learn that you can turn to adults with problems and they will be there for you, instead of the way fictional adult characters tend to either go away or die or are plain awful, and always against whatever the young characters need or want.

These books are also a slice of Americana, just the way we would like the US to be. And what’s wrong with that?

The talk

‘Are you going to the event next week?’ Helen Grant asked. Since I wasn’t going to anything at all, I knew my answer would have to be ‘no.’ But I still pressed for more information on the what, where and when. (A witch likes to keep track of that which goes on without her. Actually, no, not really. But still I asked.)

It was a shared presentation evening for four of Random’s authors, and once the event was over I even found out who they were. Not a random bunch at all. They are all at the crime-y thrillery end of YA. Good stuff, in other words.

So, Helen was on her own. Apart from the other three and those who had actually been invited. (If anyone is reading this; don’t take it as a heavy hint. I’ll be distancing myself much further from London soon, so will not be able to say yes to very many Southern events.)

Anyway, as you will have worked out from my post about the cover of The Demons of Ghent a couple of weeks ago, Helen has a new book coming ‘soon.’ She talked about that, as well as her first Belgian book, Silent Saturday. And because she’s a well organised kind of woman she recorded her talk and put it on YouTube for the rest of us.

Forbidden Spaces 1  Forbidden Spaces 2

Please enjoy.

The other three were Simon Mason who wrote that very good crime novel that I loved so much, as well as Jane Casey and Niall Leonard, who I am sure are responsible for equally excellent books. I just haven’t read them…

Jane Casey, Simon Mason, Helen Grant and Niall Leonard

And here they all are! I wouldn’t trust a single one of them. Would you? But I shouldn’t speak, seeing as I have ‘borrowed’ this photo without asking. Possibly the handcuffs are for me.