Category Archives: Crime

A is for Alibi

You can tell I’m a little behind, can’t you? Only by 33 years, but still. Sue Grafton was only known to me as the woman who wrote the alphabet crime novels. For years I didn’t know if they were good, quality, or just light crime. And when one day I came across A is for Alibi in a charity shop, I decided this was the right book to start with.

And then a few more years passed. When Sue died, not long ago, Sara Paretsky said some lovely things about her peer. And more recently she said some more, and someone else whom I respect also mentioned how important these books were to her, and I got the A book down from my bookcase.

How things have changed! Published in 1986, it is almost a lesson in modern history, what with phone messenger services, and typewritten case notes stuffed in desk drawers.

I enjoyed this tale about the ghastly man who was murdered, and whose second wife was believed to have done it. Now out of jail, she wants PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really did kill him.

My instincts were right. Partly. The whole case was more complicated than was first obvious, and with a few more killings, Kinsey had a lot to look into.

Loved her comment at the start, that the police believe ‘murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.’

Also loved that Sue began by plotting to kill her ex-husband, but decided to write a book instead. Good idea.

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Cymera on the small screen

I have to confess I didn’t know there was going to be live coverage from Cymera on its Facebook page. But it was a nice thing to discover when my knees refused to go out this weekend. Had I known well in advance – about the filming, not so much the knees – I could have planned to make better use of it.

Thus it was that I did that time-wasting staring at Facebook post-cup-of-tea yesterday, and arrived just as Cymera started off on James Oswald, or JD as he was for the weekend, with his Sir Benfro hat on. Not that he wore a hat. But on the very small screen on my phone, the ‘camera eye’ unfortunately sat right on top of his head, leaving only the beard and the pink jacket visible. But I know what he looks like.

(Yes, the image was better on the computer. But it buffered an awful lot.)

JD Oswald and David Bishop

But anyway, I got to see James talking to David Bishop and that’s what I had wanted to do all this time, after discovering he was going to be there, and after reading the first Sir Benfro book.

Much of what he said has been covered in my own interview from four years ago, but I was struck by how James said he now has three books a year to write. Plus being a farmer. And then someone asked what he likes to read! As though the man would have time to read.

Actually, he does, and he listed a number of books, but like me, he forgets immediately, making it hard to recommend books. And he ‘cheats’ by reading audio books when out on his farming duties. It’s mostly fantasy. Seems he doesn’t like reading crime! (So before you send him yet more crime novels for a quote; don’t. Send him fantasy instead.)

There was a somewhat abrupt end to the filmed event, but it was far better than nothing!

Below is the ‘only good’ photo Clare Cain got of the Ghost event with Claire McFall, Rachel Burge and Helen Grant chatting to Sarah Broadley. I imagine they are hearing ghostly voices there. Or something.

Claire McFall, Rachel Burge, Helen Grant and Sarah Broadley, by Clare Cain

And even more below, is another stolen photo from Sunday morning’s event where Moira McPartlin chatted to Sarah Broadley [Sarah does seem to be everywhere, doesn’t she?].

Moira McPartlin and Sarah Broadley

Val McDermid – no singing in September

My heart sank as I walked up the slope towards the Golden Lion, where half of Scotland’s crime writers were milling about in the street. Not because of them, but they were milling next to the ‘wee tourist train’ parked outside. For a brief moment I was worried the launch of Bloody Scotland involved the train, but it seems they just ‘played’ on it.

Crime authors on wee train, by Paul Reich Photography

On reaching the ballroom anteroom upstairs, my heart sank again. Were we really launching in this hot little room with no seat in sight? We were. But I lie. There was the usual tartan-covered bench outside the room. I sat there, instead, doing my best to hear some of what was said.

Boss Bob McDevitt spoke, as did Val McDermid and various other people, including the Provost. The speeches were pretty much what you expect in these circumstances, until a cleaner squeaked past with her towel trolley and they closed the door.

The programme looks good, though, so I expect you’ll find me back at the Golden Lion come September. And hopefully also my colleague Lizzy Siddal who very kindly offered to share her photos of Val with me. I don’t deserve it, but that’s never stopped me.

Val McDermid by Lizzy Siddal

After a sandwich break, it was time for Val McDermid’s launch event, in the actual ballroom, with actual chairs. This crime writing star, who only mildly complained that the Bloody Scotland bloody logo doesn’t feature Fife, where she grew up, is heading to this year’s Glastonbury with her crime colleagues. To sing.

On Monday she was here to talk about her new book – My Scotland – alongside photographer Alan McCredie. The book features all the places in Scotland Val has included in her novels over the years. She’s a bit embarrassed about the title of this travelogue and memoir, which she reckons was easier to write than an autobiography, because ‘my life is quite dull.’

It was their first time doing the talk, so it counted as a work in progress. Val has done a lot in her time, beginning with the Fight for Fife, demolishing Wemyss Castle [in a book] and ‘opening’ a [temporary] pub in Edinburgh called the J K Rowling.

Now she’s off to be a professor in New Zealand, which is why she will have to give Bloody Scotland a miss. She might commit murder down under, but she only does what she has to.

If you ask me, they ought to have got Val and her band to perform for us. That would really have made for a memorable launch. Especially now she’s not singing in September.

Affordable?

We went to a new-to-us charity shop this week, Daughter and I. It’s on the outskirts of our holiday town, and I only knew where, because it’s across the road from the designer furniture shop.

I had filed it away as being cheaper premises and easier parking. That was until I looked at who was buying. Apart from a few people looking for trendy second-hand bargains, the customers were immigrants. Recent immigrants, most likely, carefully examining the shoes to see if there was anything they liked, that fit and was reasonably priced [to them].

This made me think again, and I realised that these outskirts next to the motorway are just across a busy road from the town’s ‘ghetto.’ I don’t like calling it that, as the standards of the flats will be good Swedish 1960s, but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s where you expect the latest arrivals from other parts of the world to live.

As Daughter looked at furniture I did a quick recce to see what the shop’s layout was like, and I noticed a man, maybe in his thirties, obviously foreign, looking at necklaces over on the far wall.

I took in the exercise bikes, and the wine glasses and varying vintage furniture. They had lots of books, including a whole set of – seemingly unread – Denise Mina in translation, and a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke in the original.

While we looked at most of what the shop had to offer, the man continued studying the different necklaces. He was still there as we paid and left.

Unlike shoes, I’m fairly certain he didn’t need a necklace. It probably wasn’t for him. I’m guessing he wanted to buy someone a gift, and this was the prettiest and cheapest non-essential item he could manage. I was touched by the care he took in selecting his gift, and I hope he found something pretty and that she likes it.

A Girl Called Justice

We meet young Justice on her way to boarding school for the first time. It’s the 1930s, her mother’s just died, and this is Justice’s first ever school. You kind of wish she’d been sent to a safer one. Where dead baby* is not on the menu daily. Even a school where they have heating occasionally.

Elly Griffiths, A Girl Called Justice

I didn’t know Elly Griffiths, but I understand she has written adult crime novels before tackling the popular 1930s boarding school crime trope. At first I thought that the plot was a little slow, and I wondered if we could place young detectives somewhere different from a boarding school in the past. But I didn’t come up with an answer to that, and from the acknowledgements I learned that Elly based the book on her mother’s time at such a school. Hopefully one with fewer corpses.

And you know, I got drawn in. People are dying or disappearing all over the place, and then comes the deep snow and they are cold and hungry and can’t escape. You wonder how many victims you can have in a crime novel for the young, set in a school with limited resources, so to speak. As with Midsomer, if there are more books, will there be a big enough supply of more victims and more murderers?

I hope so. Well, I obviously don’t. Not even the more obnoxious pupils deserve to be murdered out there on the Romney Marshes. But where’s the fun in having introduced Justice if she is to sleuth no more?

*I gather it’s some sort of food.

Theodore Boone – The Accomplice

This, the seventh book about Theodore Boone, John Grisham’s 13-year-old future lawyer, was completely unexpected. And what a great surprise! I was so happy, as I’d had to accept that the six books had come to an end.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone - The Accomplice

But here we are again. And it feels darker. Yes, Theo himself leads a charmed life, with two lawyers for parents and enough money in the bank, and doing well at school. His friend Woody ends up in trouble, and the more of this trouble we see, the worse it looks. The law is not a friend of those without means or friends.

You just need to make a small mistake, and if it’s the wrong small mistake, your life could well be ruined. Woody and his older brother Tony do this, and they end up paying so much more than us innocent readers would expect.

Whenever it looked as though the boys, with the help of Theo and others, were going to be OK, something else rears its ugly head. Something coming from power and money.

Theo is a hardworking friend. But even with his help, and the rabbit, the ending felt as though there will be more. While I look forward to reading another book, I am disgusted by a legal system like this. And more so with some of the people who use its loopholes for the wrong reason.

Never-ending

Not long ago I mentioned choosing books to take on trips. How I want to ‘know’ that they won’t be duds, and how I need at least one spare, just in case. I usually look really carefully at books that seem OK from the press release, and more so if I’m going to pick them for my travels. But I must have slipped up a little.

This book was on my to-be-read shelf, but it seems I didn’t examine either press release or book as carefully as I should have. My fault. But at least we didn’t go away together.

Not until I received another email from the publisher did I smell rat. I went back to the original email. Yes, I suppose there was a hint. And then I got the book out and had that little look I’d obviously not had before.

THEY HAVE ONLY GONE AND CUT OUT THE LAST CHAPTER(S)! I’d say with scissors.

The clue was that anyone who felt they needed to know more could contact the publicist for information about the ending. Just as well I wasn’t making this discovery on a plane or an exotic beach, with no end in sight.

To my mind, this mutilation of a book is So Very Wrong.

Any good vibes I might have harboured would have disappeared when finding this end-less end. No information sent over later would remove that feeling.

It’s not exactly a new Harry Potter. And had it been, then an embargo until publication day would have sufficed. It’s a debut, and I fail to see why a ruined paperback would thrill the reviewers. There is only one place for it to go, and that is the [landfill] bin.

The book