Category Archives: Crime

The Fake News launch

You already know there was a launch last night for C J Dunford and her Fake News, talking to Dr Noir, aka Jacky Collins, about what she had done and why and how.

Caroline, as she’s really called, is completely new and unknown to me, which makes her all the more interesting. She has her own teenagers, and her youngest son is also a non-reader, and she dedicated Fake News to him in the hopes that he’ll start reading. There was a little bit of adult pressure on him last night, so I’ll be contrary and hope that he can withstand this push to read.

But anyway, Caroline knows teenagers and what they are like, which as I said shows in the book. She spoke for a while with Dr Noir, and we were promised some mystery guests, which, being me, I didn’t relish at all.

They turned out to be Alex Nye and Philip Caveney, also with Fledgling Press, and so were totally welcome and it was good to see them. I should learn that they are unlikely to drag strangers in off the streets to discuss literature. Dr Noir withdrew and left the three of them to chat about how they write, and to compare notes, and to sing the praises of Fledgling.

I have to agree. Fledgling publish a bunch of varied books for all kinds of readers, all with some Scottish connection.

This was another event where the Resident IT Consultant was quite satisfied, because he’d just finished Fake News and was feeling enthusiastic. Even Daughter muttered positive comments about what she heard, so clearly it’s an interesting sounding story, whether or not one ends up reading.

Caroline is already writing a second book, about something else, but didn’t rule out returning to our Fake News team later on. Although, as she so nicely put it, she feels she left them in a good place, so they don’t absolutely need a sequel.

So, that was quite an acceptable book launch!

Fake News

‘I’ll send out a copy of Fake News too’, said the publisher in response to my comment that while C J Dunford’s new YA title looked quite promising, I didn’t have a lot of May left in which to read it. But she clearly knew what she was doing, guilting me into finding more reading time.

Only joking! Once Fake News was here, I could tell it was a book for which May had to be stretched a little. But it has caused me much trouble, I have to tell you. The first afternoon when it was lying on my table, to be picked up by my hands, I had to – twice – remove it from the hands of the Resident IT Consultant, who, unbidden, declared it looked really good. And as I was racing through the book, I attempted to stop for little breaks every now and then, but it was actually impossible to stop. I closed the book and opened it again within seconds.

This is an intelligently written story – which will be why a certain somebody thought it was an adult novel. Let me just say it takes much more to write quite so sensibly and entertainingly for a YA audience. Partly set in a school, and also in the bedrooms of the four children involved, it doesn’t sink to the usual levels of such tales.

Three teenagers, one 11-year-old (he’s so clever he’s been moved up a few years at school) and a dog, decide to give the world some more fake news. Just to prove it can be done and that we are gullible. They do it for several good reasons, or I wouldn’t have approved. And there are aliens.

Possibly the aliens were why things happened the way they did, but that was also a lot of fun. And can you believe teenagers are so young these days they haven’t watched ET? GCHQ might have been involved. And eco-warriors. A creepy wannabe journalist, some surprisingly decent teachers at school, and the question of whether pink and purple go together.

Fake News is so much fun. You too will want to read it, even if there is very little May left. You can have June.

See you at the launch tonight?

Big in Barnes

Today I bring you a review from the keyboard of the Resident IT Consultant. He’s been enjoying Bernard O’Keeffe’s debut crime novel, The Final Round:

“DI Garibaldi is the only policeman in the Met who can’t drive a car which means when he’s not being driven by his DS, he uses a bicycle or buses to get around. The tube gives him claustrophobia and he feels you learn more about London and its people by travelling by bus. You have to go back sixty years to the crime novels of John Creasey and his ‘handsome West of the Yard’ to find a London detective who travels by bus.

DI Garibaldi lives in Barnes, so when a man’s body is found near the Thames, he’s conveniently close to hand. The victim was last seen at a charity quiz at which, during the last round, a series of scandalous allegations were made about his Oxford contemporaries, most of whom also live in Barnes. Any one of them might be the murderer, and their sense of entitlement and self-satisfaction only reinforces one’s suspicions.

Perhaps DI Garibaldi is a little unrealistically free from the police procedures and paperwork that dog most other modern detectives, but it’s an amusing story, firmly rooted in southwest London, and leading to an exciting climax.”

And, there’s more! On the day of publication – Thursday – the Resident IT Consultant joined me at the launch, held online and also a little bit in the Barnes Bookshop, where Gyles Brandreth showed what a fan of the book he is, by asking Bernard lots of questions. And he’s also a Barnes inhabitant…

After explaining quite how much the book, or rather, the detective, has to do with Garibaldi biscuits, Bernard read from the beginning of the book, when the dead body is found..

Generally speaking, this was a very Barnes-y launch, quite noisy, in fact, with what I suspect to have been mostly Bernard’s friends and family, plus the publishers. And us at Bookwitch Towers and Bernard’s publicist Fiona, also up here in the north.

Apart from being a bit related to the biscuit, on his wife’s side, Bernard refused to jinx book no. 2 by talking about it prematurely. He is a pantser, not a plotter, and it sounded as if he’s the kind of author who changes his mind about who did it, somewhere in the process of writing. More exciting that way.

Asked who he’d like to see as Garibaldi on screen, were this ever to happen, Bernard moved swiftly between [a younger] Tom Conti, or maybe Peter Capaldi, to Toby Jones, which really doesn’t leave us any the wiser as to what the man looks like.

Oh well.

New covers

It’s not only old book covers that I get enthusiastic about.

Here are two adult crime novels, which both arrived on the same day, thereby being more noticeable [to me].

I may very well not read them. I’m sorry. But it’s time and all that, again. It doesn’t grow on trees. But I like the look of both novels, and by that I mean insides and outsides.

Neil Humphreys’ Bloody Foreigners is out in July, whereas Alan Johnson’s The Late Train to Gipsy Hill is not until September.

The thing about both covers is that they don’t look exactly like every other adult crime novel at the moment. Yes, the man on the dark street is not unusual, but the colours are attractive. And I will probably always love a train-related cover like Alan’s book has. Not much colour, but well used.

These days you get a lot of ‘special’ cover reveals, engineered to attract early attention for a book due to be published soon. But I find it so hard to work up the required enthusiasm under those circumstances. Whereas here, I saw, and I liked, and it wasn’t pushed at me.

A Topping corner

You’ve probably seen them somewhere. University age or slightly older, very full of themselves, and in towns like St Andrews most often from across the Atlantic. They talk a lot, and they are oblivious to the rest of the world. They are so cool and intellectual, and no one else has ever been quite so cool, or clever.

I happened upon a pair of them yesterday, in Topping’s. This is a lovely shop, which looks just as you’d want a bookshop to look like. But it’s cramped, and the aisles are narrow. Very charming.

Being me, I obviously headed towards the children’s books corner, where the picture books got some attention before I turned to the older children’s books, and then the YA section. There were three people there, all in the way.

The one I minded the least was a member of staff, who moved off to do other shelving tasks when she saw me waiting to access the YA shelves. But those other two… There they were, standing right into the corner, chatting away in their earnest, intellectual, transatlantic way. They were so cool.

And they were standing in what they might have felt was the most unwanted corner of the shop. In which case they did have some awareness of other customers. Or they were simply standing. In my way.

I could wait. I’d had a little sit-down first, so had the strength to wait until they noticed me, apologised and moved off. Except they didn’t.

I pondered suggesting they could toddle off to the opposite corner, which was empty. Would that have been very rude? Anyway, I didn’t. I stood there until they finally left. I craned my neck this way, and that way, and did everything I could to indicate that I had not also accidentally taken up residence in the YA area.

This is the beauty of old age. One becomes invisible. And the wonderful thing is they have no idea that not only will they also grow old one day, but I am, or have been, at least as intellectual as them.

And my apologies to Topping’s, but I will head to Waterstones, which won’t be quite so highbrow and exciting.

Pirie was here?

‘Most of The Scores is closed off,’ said the Resident IT Consultant after his brief recce of the local streets. Less parking for us mortals. Even he could tell something unusual was going on, and actually Googled this unusualness to discover what he’d almost seen.

Seems STV is filming the new Karen Pirie series; including The Distant Echo, as described by Val McDermid back in December.

Later that evening, Daughter gasped as she looked out over our airbnb garden in the twilight. There was a tall lighting rig, with a yellow ‘searchlight’ thing. Just past the houses we back on to. So clearly they were filming something ‘at night’ and I suggested someone had found a corpse or two littering the Castle ruins. To my mind that’d be a perfect place to find dead bodies. If you have to find dead bodies, I mean. I’d obviously rather not.

Or there could have been some twilight chase up and down those paths to the sea. I don’t know. I’ve not read Karen Pirie. And anyway, scriptwriters do what they want…

But it would seem these are the mean streets of St Andrews.

Love & Other Crimes

I’ve learned I am the same age as VI Warshawski. Or I was, until VI slowed down her ageing, and she’s now probably ten or fifteen years younger. But let’s say I know where she came from. I always feel very safe with Sara Paretsky and her detective, and look on both of them as my sisters. One older, one [now] younger.

Love & Other Crimes is Sara’s short story collection from last year. It’s got older stories and newer ones, plus a brand new story. Many of them feature VI, including the one set in 1966, when she was ten, but there are also other sleuths; some of whom are older women, and some set well in the past. I like that.

Short stories can be ‘easier’ to solve, with fewer characters and less background. But the plots are complex and it’s exciting to see how who did what and why.

At her launch last year Sara read the first half of Miss Bianca, about a young child and some laboratory mice, and most of that had some connection to Sara’s own family and her childhood. There is also a story set in the future, in a dystopian, but oh-so-plausible, America, showing both Lotty and VI in a completely new light.

You won’t be disappointed.

Kissing frogs

When we were in the front garden a while back, with the Resident IT Consultant doing the gardening and me sitting comfortably, issuing instructions, the neighbour next door gave us two frogs. I suspect they were ours originally, and we do have a tiny pond they can live near.

Those are not the frogs I am kissing. Wouldn’t dream of it. But it struck me, not long ago, as I was contemplating what to read and why, that it’s a bit like kissing frogs, to see if they will turn into princes. Sometimes you have to kiss quite a few frogs, to find a book worth spending your time on. (This might be a mixed metaphor. I am hazy about those, but I suspect frogs and books are not interchangeable.)

So, I kiss fewer frogs these days, and am not able to bother with quite a few of them, even if they really are princes, deep down. And far too many have no blue blood in them at all.

Not sure how our frogs are doing, as I’m rarely out there searching for them. At the time we had a lot of frog spawn, however. Whether they will grow up into handsome princes, I have no idea.

Once a week Daughter has online tea with some friends/colleagues. On some occasion the chat turned to books (one can never be certain those academic types actually read…) and one of them mentioned she’d loved a Swedish thriller recently. Some more digging revealed a title and the mention of two authors, which in turn made me sort of, nearly, remember something. She had read it in Dutch, as the English version isn’t out yet. It will be, though, seeing as my inkling confirmed that it’s one of Son’s translations.

This week he received his copies of another Swedish crime novel – Gustaf Skördeman’s Geiger – which is out sooner. Both of these books have been much talked about, enough so even I could hear it and be a little aware of things.

And both Daughter and Son have recently sent off copies of their theses to GP Cousin, who was foolish enough to ask to read them. Those books are definitely not frogs. At all. I know, because I have read them. One a bit more closely than the other, but I pride myself on believing that I understood more than GP will. (Which is unkind, because he is a boy and he is four years older than I am, so…)

Some books actually are about frogs. They can be quite good too.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Apocalypse Kings

This made me quite happy. It’s the World Book Day offering from Derek Landy; a short story within the world of Skulduggery Pleasant. Judging by Valkyrie Cain, it was set a few years ago. But that’s just fine. The world was a better place then. And he has dedicated the book – which I read as an ebook – to his pets, dead and alive, and among them Lorelai and Rory. Although he points out there are no pets in the story. Just as well.

We meet Adedayo, who until he was fourteen had no idea he was magic. And then he discovered a lot more than he might have bargained for. Like, he had to save the world.

But at least he also gets to meet Valkyrie and Skulduggery. Plus some fairly unsavoury characters who just want to end the world. Thanks to his soon to be dead Nigerian grandmother he has learned a few useful things, although if he spoke Yoruba it would have helped a great deal. He’d have known what she was trying to tell him, for one thing.

Apart from all this, Apocalypse Kings is a pretty standard school story, with the added characters he meets so suddenly, not to mention unwisely.

By standard, I mean that it is fun. As much fun as you can expect for 75p, or however much I paid.

Launching the outlaws

I admit to raising my macaroni cheese when all the others raised perfectly civilised glasses of some kind of drink. We were at the launch of Jonathan Stroud’s new YA novel, The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne. It was on Zoom, as so many other things have been. This is both good and bad. You get to sit in comfort, you can eat macaroni cheese, and you can ‘meet’ the publicist’s son sitting on her lap. It’s nice and cosy. But the other kind of launch would have been nice too, and might have spared us the frequent pling-plongs when people rang the doorbell (although I gather this could have been turned off).

There were some spoilers, it has to be admitted. But as Daughter pointed out, most of the attendees had probably already read the book. In fact, the large number of people present were the cream of children’s books publishing. And me.

Jonathan’s editor Denise said many very kind words about both him and his book. His publicists spoke (he has at least three!) and told us about the expected proceedings, and played the book trailer. After which we got a reading. No we didn’t. First Jonathan said many kind words about Walker Books, which is where he once worked as an editor. Then he read from his book.

And after that his other editor, Grainne, took over and chatted about his writing and how he came up with the idea. It was meant to be a sort of Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer on the Thames. The main character was a middle aged man. When that didn’t work, he became a teenage girl instead, which is clearly what we needed. In fact, what was so interesting to learn was that Jonathan started somewhere on a raft on the river, with the wrong characters, and how this all sorted itself out to become what it is now. Hardly surprising that the two editors had to pinch themselves because they got to work with Jonathan.

To finish there were questions from ‘us’ and after that there were more grateful, kind words from everyone to everyone else. And the good thing about Zoom is that it’s then fairly easy, not to mention swift, to pull the plug and silence any stragglers. But I’d like to think that a good launch was had by all.