Category Archives: Crime

Never Odd or Even

Eliot in Never Odd or Even probably has Asperger Syndrome. And I reckon this book will appeal to children with similar fondness for prime numbers and palindromes and stuff like that. It even appealed to me, although I had feared it might not, what with all the numbers and things to begin with.

As with other aspie books, it’s about being bullied at school and about solving a crime. The two are obviously connected.

John Townsend, Never Odd or Even

We never learn all that much about the main character, who has to be called Eliot or his name wouldn’t fit in with the palindromes and all the rest. I’m thinking John Townsend likes stuff like that too.

I didn’t set out to learn all those prime numbers, nor to decipher the anagrams, but was happy to let Eliot guide me. But I have to mention that it’s difficult to have Friday the 12th of July any time soon after a Friday the 13th. I couldn’t help checking this. And if the word for fear of Friday the 13th really is Paraskevidekatriaphobia, it will never be able to score you 44 or more in Scrabble, because the word is too long. (I might also have some doubts about the length of Summer term at Eliot’s school…)

Sorry.

It’s a short and entertaining book about a boy with special interests and his interactions with the villain of the piece, Victor. Victor is vile. Evil.

I was a little surprised by the crime, as well as its solution. I won’t say more.

Montmorency on the Rocks

The second of Eleanor Updale’s novels about Montmorency begins five years later, which means there are definitely no young people in it, apart from a few incidental babies. Much more of a 39 Steps setting, this book appears to be about drug use, and how to get off the drugs if you’ve been stupid enough to start.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency on the Rocks

And it’s our hero, Montmorency, who is the addict, and it is horrible to behold. Perhaps that’s the idea. His aristocratic pal George does his best to help, even when he doesn’t want to be helped. They go to Scotland to recover, narrowly missing a bomb at King’s Cross. (This is the late 19th century, but it feels much like today in some ways.)

In Scotland another mystery introduces itself, which seems to be totally separate from the bomb. Both mysteries only get tackled by our heroes after some time, but it certainly gets exciting.

The drug problem, the poverty and the violence could be part of life anywhere, but maybe not the seemingly charmed existence led by the titled and the rich. It’s very wrong, but so charming and thrilling at the same time.

I’ll be interested to see where Montmorency will go from here. He’s not all nice, and he is clearly not getting younger. Or more law-abiding.

The Door That Led To Where

Whenever there is a new Sally Gardner book out, I just know it’s the best she has written. Same this time, with The Door That Led To Where, which features time travel, and is set in the part of London where Sally grew up. Thanks to the time travelling, she also manages to fit in almost-Dickensian London, which is something she knows a lot about.

Both these factors explain why the novel works so beautifully, on so many levels.

It begins with, if not bullying at home, then some serious discord between poor AJ and his single mum. He has achieved exactly one GCSE (but at least he got an A*) and his mum is fed up and sends him out to get a job. And what a job! He ends up as baby clerk at a law firm in Gray’s Inn.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

And that’s where the trouble starts; AJ discovers a key with his name on, and it leads to London in 1830, and it’s a fascinating place. Dangerous, but no more so than AJ’s modern London. He and his two best friends are forever getting into serious scrapes with people, and being able to escape to an older London seems ideal.

Except, that also has its problems. The three of them need to decide where to stay, and they must sort out some time travelling problems that have escalated over the centuries.

Sally deals with both modern social problems and 19th century crime as though she was born to it. And that’s the thing. She is the most wonderful of storytellers, and she spins fantastic yarns and makes it all appear totally plausible. I believe I’ve finally worked out how she does it; Sally is a time traveller. She has been to old London, as well as living in the city we know now. It’s the only explanation.

This is one of the best books I’ve read.

And the cover in its simplicity is fiendishly clever and attractive.

Gun Street Girl

Finding Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl – his fourth Sean Duffy novel – in the post was like Christmas coming early. It was unexpected, and all the more wonderful for it. I would like to think it’s still not the last Duffy, but couldn’t say, other than he doesn’t die…

Gun Street Girl is Belfast in 1985, and I’d forgotten most of the big news, like the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and a couple of other ones that help make up the plot, so I won’t name them. But it’s so incredibly interesting to read about it ‘from the inside’ as it were, even if Adrian is helped by hindsight, since we now know how things developed afterwards.

Adrian McKinty, Gun Street Girl

A double murder followed by the – maybe – suicide by the murderer, and another death and some more attempts to kill is enough to make Sean want to solve the crime he can see while others don’t want to meddle too much. They have a new boss in Carrickfergus, as well as two brand new detectives, who are thrust into the mayhem as they learn on the job.

Sean seems lonelier than before. There is a hilarious chapter when he tries a dating service (seems no one wants to get romantically involved with a – possibly – shortlived police officer).

Gerry Adams is back in a cameo, Thatcher is pulling strings in the background and those pesky Americans think they are the boss. (They probably are.)

Gun-running, politics, love and murder. You can’t ask for more when it’s Adrian doing the writing. Personally I want more Duffy, but maybe he has been beaten up too many times for that to be likely. And I was going to say that parhaps it’s not good for me to have all I want, but I felt fantastic reading Gun Street Girl. Just saying.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

Rachel Hamilton – runner up

When I noticed a photo of three people in the Emirates Lit Fest email, I decided to take a closer look, on the off-chance that I’d know one of them. And I did! The two men I have no idea who they are, but the lady on the right was Rachel ‘Exploding Loos’ Hamilton. It seemed she had been at the festival, and that she’d been runner up in their writing competition. I didn’t know that! I thought Rachel ‘just’ wrote amusing books about exploding portaloos.

Which is not a bad thing. We need books like that, and she does it so well. But anyway, I immediately emailed her to demand a blog post explaining her past, her runner up status and anything else interesting. Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that exploding loos authors can be pretty entertaining on almost any subject:

Rachel Hamilton

“I’m Rachel Hamilton, author of The Case of the Exploding Loo a title I’m beginning to regret now people have started to refer to me as the Exploding Toilet Lady!

There I was, minding my exploding toilets, when Bookwitch got in touch to say she’d spotted my name on the author list for the 2015 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. (A spectacular list, full of kids’ book superstars like Michael Morpurgo, David Walliams, Julia Donaldson, and . . um . . . me!?!). She asked me to write about my journey from struggling scribbler, via literature festivals and exploding toilets, to the wonderful world of published author-hood. How could I refuse a witch? She can do terrible things with that wand.

So here are the steps that helped me create my own Happily Ever After.

I got my family on side early

It’s rubbish to live with an absent-minded author – my daughter tells the story of the day she opened her school lunch box and found a sandwich and a packet of biros. So I try to make up for my frequent lapses into rubbishness by involving my family in the bits of my book journey I think they’ll enjoy. When I did my book tour I asked my drama-loving daughter to come up with a comedy routine to introduce me at each event. My computer-obsessed son helped me organise my website and blog tour. And my husband has been entertaining himself making facebook ads for my book (although he may be fired from my campaign after adding a ‘shop now’ button to the last one and accidentally linking it to the Amazon page for Veet hair removing cream!?). I grab every opportunity to tell my family how much I appreciate their support and dedicated my book to them:

Rachel Hamilton acknowledgement

I kept on writing even when I wasn’t quite sure why.

Rachel Hamilton - footprint 2

I love strange words from other languages. One of my favourites is ‘Sitzfleisch’ (literal translation, seated meat) which means the power to persevere in a sedentary activity – for example, putting your bottom on a seat and keeping it there until you’ve finished your book. I’m proud of my ‘Sitzfleisch’! I’ve heard people liken being a wannabe author to being Wile E Coyote – with obstacles being flung in your path or dropped on you from a great height – but the authors who succeed are the ones who laugh in the face of killer boulders and jagged rocky ravines, and keep on chasing that bird.dream.

I found my ‘voice’

I wasted a lot of my early writing years trying to create books for adults. But, over time it has become clear that my brain never fully matured to adulthood, so writing that kind of book always felt like hard work. It was only when I started making up silly stories for kids that my imagination and my writing really started to take off. Writing become more fun than fun, and people wanted to read what I’d written.

I found brilliant people to play at ‘book writing’ with.

Writing is often described as a solitary profession. Not for me. I drag everyone I know into the creation of my books! I kidnapped my sister Kate and my cousin Chris and forced them to rampage through the Science Museum with me for The Case of the Exploding Brains, setting off alarms as we acted out ways the bad guys might have been able to steal the museum’s moon rock. I lured all my cleverest friends and relatives into helping me solve the science problems that popped up in early drafts of both books. And I regular harass my forensic detective, policeman, explosive expert and prison officer friends to help me with fact checking.

But the most helpful ‘playmates’ of all are my kids and their friends, who act as slightly crazy guinea pigs for early versions of my books. When they laugh, I know that chapter’s a keeper. And when they start poking each other instead of listening, I know that scene has to go. I am also shameless about picking the brains of brilliant fellow children’s authors. The wonderful Tony Bradman was my hero and mentor while writing The Case of the Exploding Loo. The hilarious Tatum Flynn (author of the hellishly funny, D’Evil Diaries) was my brilliant critique partner for The Case of the Exploding Brains. And the marvellous Joe Craig very kindly allowed me to gatecrash one of his school visits to see how the professionals do it.

Rachel Hamilton book covers

I got lucky

Obviously, I think my book is brilliant 😉. But there are thousands of other brilliant books sitting in cupboards or on laptops out there, so I’m very grateful for the chances I’ve been given. I was lucky enough to enter the right competition at the right time – the 2013 Emirates Festival of Literature First Fiction Competition. I didn’t even win, but as I always say (and I do mean ALWAYS, it drives my daughter mad) being runner up didn’t hurt One Direction. My entry caught the eye of the competition judge, Luigi Bonomi, who became my literary agent a couple of weeks later and within a month, he had negotiated a two book deal with Simon & Schuster! Which is why I keep telling everyone (cue: more groans and eye-rolls from my daughter), ‘I couldn’t have written myself a better happy ending.'”

There you are! I like immature people with Sitzfleisch. (And Rachel is right about the wand.)

Witch livingroom library #2

The Resident IT Consultant has kept up a steady pace all week, so just in time for St Andrew’s Day and the First Sunday in Advent, we have shelves. Not just undercoated, but ‘overcoated’ and filled.

Shelves

He painted for three days, and then the joiner came and secured the shelves with screws. Except for the one he forgot to do, so that will have to be done on his next visit.

'The Paretsky Shelf'

In anticipation of putting ‘all’ the books up, we placed the first few early, as they were hanging around all un-boxed. These are on ‘The Paretsky Shelf’ as we have named the slightly taller shelf for recent hardbacks. New hardbacks are very tall and never seem to fit where other books will happily go. As for Sara, she was pleased to have a home, although she declared it slightly tacky. (I’m hoping that’s the paint tacky, not the tasteless one.)

And the day I swanned off to Edinburgh I left a room full of boxed books, and returned to a wall filled with books. He’s quite useful that way, the Resident IT Consultant. He even made time to pick me up from the station.

My heart is flowing over, and so, obviously, are the shelves. They are generous, taking up a whole wall. But that is never enough, is it? There will, eventually, be more shelves in other rooms, but each step has to be done in the right order. I estimate at least two more months before the next worthwhile contribution to our shelving issues.

Shelves

We spent the following day placing the newly released books in a more orderly fashion, while also pruning quite a bit. I was being very good, sacrificing all my Ann Grangers and my remaining Wycliffes and some of the Ed McBains.

We gained a little more space by moving some books to the shelves in the alcove, which until this week had held a number of completely irrelevant items.

Bookcase

We’re slowly getting there. Thank you for your time!