Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

The next big thing is Higashoo

Those of us who braved the unexpected rain on Sunday morning, could enjoy a discussion on The Next Big Thing with Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, editor Jade Chandler and Val McDermid.

Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jade Chandler and Val McDermid

In between pronunciation issues and translations that made sanitary towels into bath towels, Barry kept hinting he knew the answer. It’s Higashoo. Sort of. I cornered him afterwards and even he didn’t know what he’d been saying, so there is little hope for me.

Barry Forshaw

The cream of Nordic crime has now been joined by less creamy novels, and the future might lie on some hitherto unheard of Scottish island. Or Man. Manx murders, anyone?

As long as president Putin doesn’t say he likes – or dislikes – what you write, you’ll be all right. Hopefully.

After Yrsa had said how she just likes creepy stuff, we crept uphill to the Highland Hotel and the one children’s books event of the weekend. It was free, which only goes to prove how undervalued children’s books are. We had the excellent Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail, along with the to me unknown, but now very scary, Helen FitzGerald talking to Christina Johnston.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

The ladies chatted on the subject of Once Upon a Crime, and were photographed next to a clothes hanger. I worry a bit about the significance of that. They each read from their books, and Helen’s piece was about seeing your mother’s dead body. I think she said Deviant is her happiest book, so I don’t know… She road tests her books for teen authenticity on her daughter. For money.

Helen FitzGerald

Cathy, who does ‘like a good murder,’ learns about her genuine child characters on school visits. She likes writing from a boy’s point of view, and her next book, Mosi’s War is another boy book. What Cathy does not like is to be put in the Scottish section in shops, next to Nessie.

Cathy MacPhail

Gillian read from The Opposite of Amber, and said she tries to avoid slang for fear of it dating too quickly. But she doesn’t tone down content for YA. For her it simply means the protagonists are younger. And she does swear in her books.

Gillian Philip

All three bemoaned the lack of room for reviews of children’s books in the papers, and seemed to feel the answer might lie in reviews by young readers.

After getting a couple of Seth MacGregor books signed, we rolled down the hill, back to the Albert Halls for The Red-Headed League. An all star cast of crime writers read a dramatised version of one of Sherlock’s best known mysteries, with Gillian Philip as the villain. Karen Campbell had the most unlikely red hair, and Craig Robertson was Lestrade. Members of the audience – OK, other crime writers dotted about – made up the other hopeful redheads.

The Red-Headed League

Waiting outside beforehand provided a parade of Who’s Who in Scottish crime, with most authors walking past our sandwich-bench under a tree. (It was still trying to rain.)

Sarah Reynolds

Once an arrest had been made, it was on to the Worth the Wait short story competition, where out of 232 entries, they had chosen the best 19 for their free ebook (download it now!). The winner Sarah Reynolds received her price from one of the sponsors.

And then it was time for the inaugural Scottish Crime Book of the Year  Award 2012, introduced by Sheena McDonald and presented by William McIlvanney. The winner was Charles Cumming for A Foreign Country.

Charles Cumming

Once this was done, we trooped out and most of us went home. Sort of.

Except the witch who likes to meet authors. She had tea with Helen Grant, who is even scarier (in her books) than most of the Bloody Scotland lot.

Then we went home.

Buckskin and seven-shooter

Caroline Lawrence began signing books on stage before her event on Friday afternoon. That’s how keen her fans were. Or maybe they couldn’t make it to the signing afterwards? She wore glasses, which might be how she saw us hiding on the back row as usual. She waved. And then I suspect Caroline came up with her little idea on how to ‘include’ us in her talk.

‘Be careful what you read. A book could change your life.’ That’s how Caroline introduced this talk on how to write, and she admitted to having been no good at history at school. Mary Renault inspired her to write the Roman Mysteries, and later heroes include Sherlock Holmes (or was that just so Caroline could show us a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch?)

That brought the conversation round to films, and she asked the audience if they could name the best Western film ever. They named plenty, and since Daughter and I refrained from showing off, no one got it right. (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, if you must know.)  Cowboys are often portrayed the same, except Woody in Toy Story is not allowed to carry a gun (I should think so!).

Then Caroline read the first chapter about P K Pinkerton in the Western Mysteries, and it does work very well as a taster, and ought to have left anyone in the audience who hadn’t read the book wanting to. And after some brief explanations on Pinky’s world Caroline decided to tell the audience about scalpings. She did so while referring to the famous Bookwitch nerves, and caused the photographer to stick her fingers in her ears for the 60 seconds Caroline needed to talk in-depth about scalping, including showing pictures.

That was very naughty.

Caroline Lawrence

And did you know they didn’t actually have double swinging doors in the Wild West? Very disappointing. You are advised to spit leeward if you’re travelling by Stagecoach. Or it will all come back.


That brought things neatly to Caroline’s Roman sponge on a stick, and her Western equivalent, the spittoon. It took people some time to guess what it was. Not a chamberpot. (Would be a bit hard to aim, I’d have thought.)

Being a writer is the best job in the world for someone who wants to work wearing their pyjamas, eating chocolate and watching television a lot, and getting paid for it. The photo she showed us of her London riverside study didn’t exactly make the job look any less attractive.

Caroline promised us ten Western Mysteries in ten years, saying that she needs time in between for her Roman Mystery Scrolls, the first of which is the Case of the Sewer Demon. Coming soon.

Six cases for Saxby

I was sure that Simon Cheshire’s Saxby Smart books would be good. If I had been ten years old, which I’m not. But you know, I was reading as bedtime approached and found myself thinking ‘just a few more pages’ and ‘I can go to bed half an hour late, it doesn’t matter’. Those stories were quite more-ish. And humorous.

At first I thought that the idea of having three cases for each book (which means they are fairly short), as well as expecting the reader to pick up on clues and help solve the crime, was not really me. But I did warm to this crime solving business, after a while. I know the clues were really obvious. If they hadn’t been I wouldn’t have had a clue.

Saxby Smart, Secret of the Skull by Simon Cheshire

Saxby is a bit like Eoin Colfer’s Half Moon, a precocious and nerdy detective who clearly doesn’t have a life outside crime solving. Saxby has been compared to Sherlock Holmes, but I feel he’s more of a young and innocent hardboiled PI. If that’s possible.

He claims not to have a sidekick, but that’s wrong. There are two regular helpers; a female with brains and a male with breakfast down his school jumper. This PI might have to make do with a cold garden shed for his HQ, and he has to share it with the garden tools, but he has a steady line of customers and an excellent success rate of solved cases.

Six of which I’ve read about in books 7, The Poisoned Arrow and 8, Secret of the Skull and I now know about amateur dramatics, Saxby’s teacher, as well as the state of Vojvladimia and MI5. That last one might have been on the far fetched side, but…

So, I know I normally blog about children’s books that adults will enjoy. And maybe Saxby Smart is more for child readers, but he does grow on you. He’s rather sweet. He’s aware of how odd he can seem (‘Something in her expression said “Yes, you’re every bit as odd as I expected”.’) which is endearing. And as he solves his crimes he dishes out a lot of common sense.

Excellent for young readers, and not bad at all for old people.

The Baker Street Boys

Do girls read Sherlock Holmes these days? I don’t want to be sexist, but am thinking of all the pink books I see. Does anyone young read Sherlock Holmes, apart from my own absolutely perfect Offspring? I used to love the books as a child, and I’m sure I would have loved these new stories, as well.

There’s something about Victorian London and crime. The fog. The cabs. The cockneys, and so on. I last moved in this neighbourhood with Philip Pullman. Both Sally Lockhart and The New Cut Gang have the flavour of Sherlock Holmes. And so does this series about Holmes’ Baker Street Boys by Anthony Read. Obviously, as the term is Holmes’ own. Or should that be Conan Doyle?

Anyway, this is great stuff for those who like Victorian crime. I would also hope that new readers can be persuaded to discover this genre, fantasy and pink books notwithstanding.

There’s a new, fifth book in the series, The Stolen Sparklers. The earlier titles are The Disappearing Detective, The Case of the Captive Clairvoyant, The Ranjipur Ruby and The Limehouse Laundry. The titles all feel so satisfyingly Victorian crimey. And the covers have all the mystery and charm that I expect from this kind of book.

I believe Anthony has a long past in television writing. The Baker Street Boys are crying out to be captured on film. Something for Christmas television, perhaps?

This would be a good place to start a love affair with Holmes, figuratively speaking. The books are best for young readers, because there isn’t enough substance for us oldies. There are also some minor details that jar, because they feel a little modern, but I doubt that young readers would notice. More books like these, please.