Category Archives: Crime

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.

Mayday

We debated our new Prime Minister at length a few years ago. That’s us, as in the Bookwitch family. Mrs May was one of the British ‘villains’ in Andreas Norman’s Into a Raging Blaze.

As you may be aware, the translation into English of this Swedish thriller was done in-house, so to speak. Son translated and the Resident IT Consultant proofread and criticised his efforts. All in all, a good team effort.

But the debate about our new PM was surprisingly long, considering Mrs May didn’t feature that much. In general, it was the British who were the bad guys, and the named politician was Mrs May, ultimately in charge of the MI6 agents, and I suppose in some sense responsible for their shenanigans.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Usually a novelist would only use a real person’s title, or make up a fictional minister in a country’s government, and we were startled and unsure if it was OK to name her. But as far as I recall, we decided that if she was named in the original, she had to be named in the translation, and if the publisher didn’t want that, it was their task to edit out any names.

So, we May have a fictional character at the helm of the country.

And why not?

(In my opinion, a sensible politician embraces being featured in cartoons, etc, realising that being ignored and not used, is the worse slight.)

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

Theodore Boone – The Scandal

The final Theodore Boone book has, perhaps, a slightly less exciting crime at its core. But it is just as important, and it’s good for young readers to see that an adult author will address things like standardised tests. All too often children feel that adults are not on their side.

Theo, the youthful almost-lawyer, is in grade eight and it’s time for the tests that will determine what set he will be in when he starts high school. Contrary to what we might expect, he’s not good at tests, and that goes for many of his friends at school too. They feel stressed and their teachers are stressed. Salaries could depend on how well the students do.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone - The Scandal

Add to this a less than ideal home background, and you can understand why the tests aren’t necessarily good for you. Theo finds out how lucky he is, though, when experiencing first hand how bad life is for some of his peers. And that’s before the tests.

The title The Scandal refers to the cheating, but it’s not the kind of cheating that first comes to mind. Theo’s friend April is involved and he tries to advise her, but she has her own agenda.

His parents find themselves a little bit out of their comfort zone as well, as does uncle Ike. And the almost tame otter Otto…

As in the five earlier books about Theo, you learn that you can – try to – do something to make things better and fairer. At least some of the time.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books in this series.

Mystery & Mayhem

Perfect holiday reading if you already like crime, and hopefully also if you haven’t yet discovered it. The Crime Club’s Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries is great fun.

Katherine Woodfine, Mystery & Mayhem

Twelve criminally minded authors, herded and edited by Katerine Woodfine, offer up youthful versions of traditional crime styles. You have Impossible Mysteries, Canine Capers, Poison Plots and Closed-System Crimes, all equally intriguing and entertaining. Maybe some of the crimes are not as noir as what adults read these days, but there is murder and fraud and all kinds of trickery.

I liked them all. What I especially like is the fact that younger readers get a proper introduction both to crime reading, but also to crime vocabulary. You know, schools don’t always teach useful words such as purloined.

Some are set today, some in the past. Some stories take place in other countries and others right on your doorstep. The ones by authors I know lived up to my expectations, while those by new (to me) writers were great introductions.

Put a copy in the hands of someone young and bored this summer.

V for Violet

1961 is one of the characters in Alison Rattle’s V for Violet. Set in Battersea in London, this is a refreshingly different period novel. Perhaps Alison doesn’t get everything completely right (not that I’m an expert on London in 1961), but it’s interesting to look at 16-year-old Violet’s working class life at a time that not many find all that exciting.

Alison Rattle, V for Violet

Born as the war ended, and as a replacement for her dead war hero brother Joseph, life has been tough for this clever girl who never gets noticed. Her mother adored Joseph, and then there is Norma, her much older, married sister. Violet also has a best friend, Jackie, but now that they have left school, their friendship changes.

As Violet works in her parents’ chippy, wishing she wasn’t so boring and that she was allowed to choose her own job, several girls in Battersea are found murdered. Is it the lecherous park keeper?

Violet meets Beau, a handsome and exciting boy, and she begins to hope. And then her brother Joseph turns up, not dead, and something is not quite right.

It takes a while, but Violet begins to suspect she knows who’s murdering the local girls.

(And so did I, for a change.)

Very satisfying story and just that bit different from many others.

Bloody 2016 Scotland Programme

Bloody Scotland programme makers have this terrible habit of putting really interesting events on early in the morning. I mean, I will obviously have to get out of bed for Josephine Tey on the morning of September 10th, but how to last until the end of the day? Regrettably they won’t have the real Josephine Tey, but Val McDermid talking about her is good enough for me.

And from there the rest of the programme goes on and on with tempting combinations of topics and crime writers. There are the really famous names, and then there are the authors I’ve barely heard of. I ought to pick a row of sessions of new-to-me writers for the simple reason that new can mean tremendously exciting discoveries.

But then we have the old favourites. What to do about them? Scotland the Grave, and MC Beaton?

This year’s Bloody Scotland was launched in Stirling on Wednesday, and down south the following day, and being away I was unable to go to either. I shall have to give up holidays.

BBC presenter Theresa Talbot has a debut crime novel to introduce, and England and Scotland have a football score to settle. By how many goals will Scotland beat the English?

Stuart Neville returns to Stirling, as does super-scary Helen Fitzgerald. I am very keen to hear Erwin James talk to Martina Cole, which sounds like a fascinating event. Author crime quiz or Nicci French? How can you possibly choose?

The Curly Coo pub on a Saturday night, followed by a competitive measuring of the relative tartan-ness of people’s noir. Orkney or Northern Lights? Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is back, and with her are Agnes Ravatn and Erik Axl Sund. James Oswald. Craig Robertson. And finishing the weekend with Ian Rankin and Quintin Jardine.