Category Archives: Crime

Bloody India at Bloody Scotland

There were so many things I had no idea I needed to know about Kolkata!

Bloody India was my first event on Sunday morning, and it was even better than I had expected. Jenny Brown was there to usher the others in, and they were ‘needs no introduction, she’s great, obviously’ Lin Anderson and ‘little’ Doug Johnstone, whose jobs were to introduce Monabi Mitra, all the way from Kolkata, and Abir Mukherjee, from his mum’s house ‘down the road,’ but who usually lives in London.

Monabi Mitra

Chance – and the British Council – had sent Lin and Doug, and oh, Jenny too, to the Kolkata Literary Festival in February, where they met lots of people (they get something like 2,500,000 visitors there…), including, I believe, Monabi. Such numbers will explain why Scotland wants to make it on the Indian litscene. Just imagine how many books they could sell to so many fervent fans of reading! They are planning special Indian editions of Scottish crime, and expect to return there in February 2018.

Lin and Doug entered Indian immigration successfully, but there had been some doubt about whether Jenny should be let through. Or so they claimed. But when they were all safely in, and wondering what could have happened to their luggage, they discovered that people from [the plane?] had kept their bags company in the now deserted airport.

Doug said that it wasn’t until he went to India that he understood what culture shock means. And people are so cultural, in a place where readers rioted because the book fair closed early… According to Abir the words on the airport ceiling are from Tagore’s works. Watching an eight-year-old boy choosing a book to buy, they were flabberghasted to find it was a copy of Ivanhoe.

Anyway, as Lin said, we hadn’t come to hear her and Doug speak.

Monabi Mitra, The Final Report

Monabi Mitra is a professor of English literature, and she is married to a detective inspector, which might explain why she started writing crime fiction. She said there’s a duality in her life, with literature on one side and the dangerous world of the police on the other. Mentioning her own experience of being present at an autopsy, she feels there must be one in each book.

Indian autopsies are quite different from the Western kind we’ve got used to from CSI. Monabi read an excerpt from her novel, about a shockingly different autopsy. It’s fast, and careless, and there are rats, and it’s always smelly.

Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee reckons he is the only Scottish-Indian crime writer, and if there’s anyone else, he’ll have to kill them. He recounted the old tale of how in parts of Scotland people want to know if you are Catholic or Protestant, and when saying he’s Hindu, they want to know if he’s a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu.

Kolkata is practically a Scottish city, built by Scots, and it’s not all that old. Bengalis are very much like Scots, but without the alcohol. The period between 1919 and 1947 is an important one.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man

Reading from A Rising Man, Abir chose a passage about a visit to a church (because we were in a church). His detective is a Scot who has gone to live in Kolakata after being widowed, and it was ‘slightly preferable to suicide.’ A sad background, but Abir’s writing is humorous and his book sounds like a great read. There is apparently a shared gallow’s humour between Scotland and Bengal.

Monabi mentioned the works of H R F Keating and his Inspector Ghote. As homage to this man who wrote about an India he’d not visited, she named her detective Inspector Ghosh. She pointed out that in India you don’t tend to hire a PI, unless you are ‘in deep shit.’

Monabi Mitra

When asked, she said that she thinks in English, although she speaks two other languages. She described her Saturday at Bloody Scotland, the sunshine (!) and what a great invention queueing is. Kolkata is not orderly. It’s wonderful here, and the events were real eye-openers.

But on the other hand, Kolkata used fingerprinting before Britain, and Ronald Ross discovered what causes malaria (admittedly by experimenting on the servants…). Kolkata was very cosmopolitan between the two world wars, and in the past ‘its greatness was greater.’

Abir said that the reason he writes is he read some popular crime novels and felt they were so badly written that he could do better. Despite his Indian background he said he didn’t feel he could write from a Bengal point of view, which is why he chose a Scot in Kolkata.

Abir Mukherjee and Doug Johnstone

His first book is set in 1919, and he said that whereas what happened in Amritsar that year had an impact on Kolkata as well, news travelled so slowly, that he had to make up faster news for his story, so that they knew the day after.

When time was up, there was a bit of a scramble to be first to the books for sale [as there could have been more copies]. I admit to buying a book by each of the visiting authors, which is something that hardly ever happens. I spoke a little to both of them, and Monabi told be about the number of Scots who have not only moved to Kolkata, but have aquired nationality, because it’s the best place to live.

After this event I can sort of see why.

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Bloody Scotland – Sunday

My theory is that if you tried to take photos of someone’s arm being waved in front of an author’s face, you’d not do well. Whereas if you aim for the opposite, there are an awful lot of available arms out there, as well as hands and stomachs and books. Another observation is that it helps trying to enter a Bloody Scotland venue through the correct door.

That aside, Sunday was another good day. Well, I might have jinxed the weather somewhat by mentioning Saturday’s sunshine. It rained a wee bit on Sunday. But that’s fine. We are hardy souls.

Continuing with events featuring less well known crime writers, I began with Bloody India at the Albert Park South Church, although the Resident IT Consultant wondered what they did about their Sunday morning service. (I’m not sure, but at some point I did hear an organ being played, so am guessing they made use of the other end, so to speak.)

Abir Mukherjee and Monabi Mitra

Was pleased to encounter Fledgling’s Claire Cain, and we compared notes on events seen. I decided I didn’t fancy Harlan Coben, and swapped the free book on my seat for Elizabeth Moon’s Winning Colours.

Had another event in the church immediately after, so trooped out and queued with a couple of crime fans who had just been to hear Vince Cable, and who were very enthusiastic, except maybe not about his book selling out. Coincidentally it’s a crime novel, set partly in India. And they’d definitely vote for him.

My second event was Pitch Perfect, and I spied a couple of people ‘in the business’ but don’t know if they were there for professional purposes or not. It’d be a good place to discover a new – and unadopted – book you like the sound of. As for me I was so carried away by it all that I – literally – forgot where I was.

Louise Welsh

ES Thomson

Then it was time to walk over to the Albert Halls, where I did a quick check for signing authors and found a panel of four, including three who had written a short story each for the Bloody Scotland anthology; Louise Welsh, E S Thomson and Doug Johnstone. Remembering I actually had my copy in my bag, I hot-footed over to the end of the queue, while mentally kicking myself for not collecting more signatures on Saturday. Virtually everyone is/was here. I told Doug how disturbing his story was, and he seemed really pleased.

Doug Johnstone and Pat Young

Went downstairs for James Oswald’s event, and looking around the free books, came to the conclusion that there are a lot of books by James Patterson in the world. In fairness, the James we came to see also has a few books out, and the shelves in the shop were satisfyingly full of his Tony McLean novels.

Albert Halls bookshop

Managed to avoid most of the unwanted arms and elbows when I took photos of James at his signing. Noted that he has adapted to signing sitting down.

James Oswald

Some of us also found Lin Anderson resting after chairing his event, and I got myself another Bloody Scotland signature. I asked Lin if we might hope to see more of this kind of story collection, and if it’s down to her, we definitely will. Let’s hope it is then, because as she said, they only used up a dozen authors for this volume, and many more where they came from.

It was time for me and my umbrella to walk home, and I did so musing on the mystery of Stuart Neville. I had kept noticing his photo in the programme, and every time I looked for his name, he wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I peered extra carefully at the photograph that I saw that it was him. Stuart was here as Haylen Beck, who has a ‘debut’ novel out. I should have trusted my instincts. There can’t be two authors who look like that.

Alex Gray’s New Crimes – Bloody Scotland

My resolve was to try new authors. At least new to me. And then Alex Gray turned out to have a whole event featuring new crime writers, which was perfect. She herself was obviously not new. The others were. Sort of.

While I didn’t recognise the very smiley Felicia Yap, as soon as she mentioned that she had been introduced to her husband by Anton Du Beke, I knew I had read about her in the Guardian recently. She is one of these people you want to dislike, because they are both attractive and talented and can do/have done so much.

Rob Ewing, Ian Skewis, Mark Hill, Felicia Yap and Alex Gray

This must be what led Mark Hill to claim that he had also been a catwalk model, although I feel that ‘only being a journalist’ is no bad thing. Ian Skewis, on the other hand, was a ‘pissed off’ former actor, and Rob Ewing a Falkirk GP. Ordinary, but not really ordinary. All four have got a debut crime novel out, something that made Alex point out that anyone can become a crime writer.

Rob’s book – The Last of Us – is set on Barra, except he doesn’t say it’s Barra, but it is. The bit he read to us was partly about posting coconuts through a letterbox, and surprised cows. I think it was, anyway. Ian read on the Kindle from his A Murder of Crows, which he began writing in 1989, and as he mentioned finding a dead body (in real life) ten years earlier, I’m having trouble working out his age. He looks younger than that.

Mark Hill and Felicia Yap with Alex Gray

Mark Hill’s novel Two O’Clock Boy was always going to be a crime novel. No doubt about that. Finding out it was going to be published made him the happiest ever. Unless that was having a child. And Felicia read from Yesterday, about the difficulty of solving a crime when you can only remember the last 48 hours. She might have claimed she wrote it on the dance floor.

(I’m wondering if books featuring amnesia are ‘in’?)

I found it interesting that all four had strong opinions on how to write, despite not having lots of books under their belts. Maybe they have lots of unpublished ones? Mark plots on a blackboard with coloured pens. Felicia writes anywhere as she travels a lot, and her writing in Germany differs from that in Italy.

Rob does only a little plotting and planning, while Ian said that writing over so many years has had an impact on the book. That, and being OCD, and having your characters talk to you. He crowdfunded his novel, which has caused him to have 900 friends on Facebook, after having virtually none.

Rob Ewing and Ian Skewis

How do you know when your book is finished? Felicia reckons when you are tired of it. She did 14 edits on Yesterday. Rob wrote fast, and Mark a bit less so, and as we’ve mentioned, Ian took a very long time. There’s the issue of having a day job, too.

Titles are difficult. All went through several, and had help from editors and agents.

Asked whether they could see themselves writing a series about the same character for 30 years, like Ian Rankin or Val McDermid, Mark reckoned he wants to have a go, and is already on the second book [about the same character]. Felicia is writing a prequel, and here I got rather lost in the days of the week. Might be called Today, or perhaps Tomorrow?

Caro Ramsay was in the audience, and she wants Ian Skewis to read audiobooks, because his own reading was so fantastic.

Finally, Mark had a question for Rob, the GP. He wanted to know how he would go about starting a pandemic. And Rob has clearly given this some thought, as he had his reply ready and waiting, finishing with ‘that will do the job.’

Well, that’s good, I suppose…

Off the beaten track – Bloody Scotland

The Saturday lunchtime event Off the beaten track, was – I think – a discussion about picking far-flung settings for your crime [novel].

Catriona McPherson, CF Peterson and Michael Ridpath were talking to Russel McLean, who was having a little bit of trouble speaking the lines he claimed to have written down. He introduced the three authors, and asked them to tell us what made them pick their settings.

‘Californian’ Catriona joked that she’d obviously been inspired by Wisconsin. She’d found a former army firing range, and somewhere she felt would be a great place for someone to have a breakdown… She read from her new Weight of Angels, which she said felt longer than when she planned the reading. It was about Mary Queen of Scots, who had her head chopped off, although she didn’t actually sing it, and the audience didn’t either.

CF (whose name might be Callum), felt he needed to set his story some other place than where he lives, but it’s still close. He read a piece from Errant Blood, about finding a dead body.

Michael had wanted to set his book in Vermont, but his agent told him that wasn’t a good idea, so it had to be Scotland instead. He picked the isolated cottage where he had spent a holiday as a boy, and read an excerpt from Amnesia, about an old man who can’t remember anything. Or so he thinks.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson, with Russel McLean

Talking about how you see Scotland when you are somewhere else, Catriona feels that it looks different, and that distance makes her braver and she’s not worried about letting her characters live in someone else’s house. But after years in America, she occasionally needs to ask her friends stuff like whether you call trackie bums sweatpants…

Callum, who has a past in South Africa, already knows it’s too late to set a book there, without going back for more research. Asked about characters, he did pick a main character first, but sees the weather as another character which determines what happens.

Michael spoke about doing research in Greenland, and also Iceland. It’s important to collect impressions. But Capri is more fun than the distant corners of Scotland. He used no locals for his remote cottage, because people coming and going make things more neutral and also isolated.

Russel wanted to know if they have ever killed anyone. Not sure what he meant, as they clearly kill in their books, but ought to be sensible enough not to own up to any real life killings. Catriona replied that she has ‘happy and well adjusted down pat.’ I’d say so. She must have mesmerised the whole audience with her red, shiny earrings, which matched her red cardigan so beautifully.

An old manuscript by Michael’s father which he found after his death, contained things he’d later put in his novel. You just never know what you will find, and Catriona mentioned a friend’s grandfather discovered in a photo next to Hitler.

A member of the audience asked if they feel Scotland is overcrowded yet, from a crime-writing perspective. Michael said it’s no Midsomer, and that Sutherland is empty and offers endless opportunities. We’ll take that as a no then. As for whether Scotland has nice cosy crime like England, Catriona pointed out that Agatha Christie was far darker than people generally think.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson

Somehow the talk moved on to ‘depleted uranium’ which made Catriona mention that she doesn’t want to ‘know things’ again, and she’s too lazy to do research. This didn’t seem to have stopped her from sheltering from the rain in a bread oven at some ancient house, where she was busy taking notes and needed to protect her ink from getting wet.

At this point poor Russel almost choked and had to be revived with some water before we were sent on our way with the happy thought that at least no one had asked anything about bubblebath dispensers. Apparently Iain Banks had once been asked if he or any of his characters had ever been made into such things…

This will now prey on my mind and it will be hard not to ask about.

Bloody Scotland – Saturday

Bloody Scotland on Saturday morning began with me picking up my press pass at the Golden Lion hotel, where you could almost not move for bumping into crime writers. Chris Brookmyre was being interviewed – I think – in the foyer. It was dark. And Ann Landmann was there to manage the venue. It had something to do with someone having to go to a wedding. We agreed that people should be very careful when they get married.

C L Taylor and Sarah Pinborough

Ran past Gordon Brown and Graeme Macrae Burnet, and ‘someone else’ on my way upstairs where I bumped into James Oswald, who very kindly offered his cows to be photographed in case Daughter felt inclined. His are real coos, unlike the fake she found last week. Alanna Knight was hovering, and two of the three Queens of Lit-Grip – Sarah Pinborough and C L Taylor – were signing after their early event. (I’d considered going to that, but decided they scared me too much.)

After checking out the bookshop I went and sat while waiting for my first event, being waved at by Craig Robertson, and eventually moving away to avoid overhearing a conversation that was going into far too much detail regarding an operation. I know this was Bloody Scotland, but there are limits!

Once in the Golden Lion Ballroom – which is a good room for events (except for loud conversations in the bookshop from behind the curtain) – I was reminded of the free books on the chairs from bookdonors, who sponsor Bloody Scotland. I did what many in the audience did; looked to see if a neighbouring chair had a better book to offer. And I couldn’t help getting some satisfaction from seeing Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer on the floor, under one of the chairs. Their books. Not the actual men. Although that would have been funny too.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson

After Off the Beaten Track, I did what I usually do, which is take blurry photos of the signing authors. I saw Thomas Enger, but felt it would be unfair to make myself known to him yet again, so soon after Edinburgh.

Walked up the hill a bit, and then down towards the Albert Halls for my afternoon event, meeting hordes of people presumably coming away from an event there. One of them seemed to be Neil Oliver, and I most definitely refrained from saying hello to him. I suspect he doesn’t want to meet any more Swedes.

Val McDermid

Sat on a bench in the sun, eating my lunch, before popping into the Albert Halls bookshop to see who all those people had been to see. Val McDermid. Obviously. She was still signing, with a long queue to go. I bought an emergency piece of cake (that should teach me to come out with too little to eat) and squeezed out past the long queue waiting for the next event, with Peter May. Mine was in the new Bloody Scotland venue, the Albert Park South Church, across the road.

Albert Park South

It was a far better place than I had been expecting, with plenty of space, toilets and a small bookshop table. And tea! I needed tea to go with the emergency cake. I was there to see Alex Gray introduce some newbies to crime writing, and very appropriately, all the chairs had the same book to offer; a proof of another debut author.* Which just goes to show that Bloody Scotland think about what they do.

Rob Ewing, Ian Skewis, Mark Hill, Felicia Yap and Alex Gray

After the event I gathered up my tea and put it in my pocket (it works if you move carefully) and set about taking more iffy photographs. Looked longingly at the book table but sensibly left all the books where they were, and walked home in the sunshine. It was almost too warm. That’s Scotland for you!

*Bloody January by Alan Parks. And yes, the title sounds like the festival, and the author like the church…

Bloody Scotland – the torchlit beginning

Here they come. Those are the torchlights coming from the Top of the Town.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Bloody Scotland has started, and this year they certainly did it in style, with Friday night’s grand opening in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle. It was [justifiably] expensive, so I didn’t go, but not wanting [you] to miss out, the Resident IT Consultant and I went to stand halfway up the street leading to the Castle Esplanade, just in time for the torchlight procession to begin the walk down.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

There was a piped band playing Scotland the Brave, and then came the authors, of whom I’m sure you can see Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Denise Mina. You can, can’t you?

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Denise Mina had just been awarded the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year up in the Great Hall.

There were a lot of torches. And the torchlight bearers just kept coming. And coming. There are many crime fans in the world, and for those who didn’t fit into the sold-out hall, there were torches to be had outside, which might explain the numbers of people.

The Resident IT Consultant wondered where the First Aiders were, more or less as they actually walked past us.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

And do you see that car going the wrong way down the one way street? Admittedly a police car, but still.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Further down the Old Town they turned right and walked past the library, and then came to pretty much a complete stop. The procession was heading for the Albert Halls, where Ian Rankin was doing his first night sold-out event, and where everyone had to deal with their torches.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

That was a lot of torches to extinguish, and then presumably to put somewhere. When we passed the Albert Halls again on our way home, all was dark and orderly, with just a queue for Rankin.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

When the Resident IT Consultant came and offered me some Northern Lights, I declined, because I felt there is only so much light entertainment a witch can manage if she’s to sleep as well.

The Murderer’s Ape

You will want to read this award-winning book. At least I hope you will. I can’t believe I didn’t know [more] about The Murderer’s Ape by Swede Jakob Wegelius, before it was translated into English, by none other than Peter Graves. Or that I hadn’t even heard of the first book about the gorilla by the name of Sally Jones. Also award-winning.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

I believe that in the first novel about Sally Jones (no, you can’t just call her Sally) the reader meets the baby gorilla, and finds out how Sally Jones got her name, and how she learned to do all those human things she’s so good at, apart from talking. Sally Jones does not speak, but thankfully she can type, and that’s how we know about the dreadful time when her best friend Henry Koskela is jailed for murder, and what Sally Jones did to free him.

Like many of the best characters in fiction, Sally Jones is both a loyal and loving friend, as well as extremely skilled at many things. Until the murder Sally Jones and Koskela – the Chief – had run a cargo boat, and she’s an experienced engineer. When the Chief ends up in jail, Sally Jones has to use all her skills, and learn many new ones, to help him.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

She also makes new friends; really lovely friends, although never quite as special as the Chief. And it goes without saying that there are many new enemies for Sally Jones. Powerful people want to stop her from helping Koskela, and for someone who doesn’t speak, it’s not always easy to ‘speak out.’

This beautifully illustrated book (drawings by Jakob Wegelius himself), set some time in the first half of the 20th century, mainly in Portugal and in India, has the feel of a classic film. It’s a wonderful adventure with a genuine pre-WWII feel to it; a time when anything was possible, and there was both good and evil, and unimaginable wealth, but also possibilities for going places if you worked hard and were good at what you did.

It does take a little while to get used to Sally Jones being a gorilla, but only about as long as it takes those who become her dearest friends to understand what a gem she is. And if you want to get rid of your useless boyfriend, Sally Jones is your, well, gorilla.

This is nearly 600 pages of exciting, nail-biting, romantic adventure. Besides, you can’t beat a bit of good engine grease.