Friday 31 July 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books - Eddie Muller - SHADOW BOXER

Here's my first offering for the wonderful Friday's Forgotten Books series masterminded by Patti Abbott and The Rap Sheet. This one is more of an underappreciated book than a forgotten one, as it's only a few years old.

Eddie Muller - SHADOW BOXER

San Francisco's "Mr Boxing" - sports writer Billy Nichols - is begged by ex-promoter Burnell Sanders to get him out of a hole. The hole is a jail cell he's languishing in for a murder he says he didn't commit. On the face of it, Sanders has picked the wrong person to help him - Billy played a big part in Sanders being arrested in the first place, and Billy has more than a couple of secrets relating to the whole sorry episode that he would prefer remain hidden. However, Sanders' choice of slightly tarnished white knight is shrewder than even he realises. Billy's nose for a good story, his innate sense of justice, and the temptation of a beautiful and mysterious dame lead him inexorably down the mean streets to truth and danger, as he shadow boxes his way through the book - unsure of who's telling the truth and who's putting up guards.

The outstanding appeal of this book for me is the character of Billy Nichols. His tough, cynical outer shell hides a vulnerable interior. He's not the typical macho noir protagonist. He's a sensitive, perceptive, flawed man. He's a storyteller - a chronicler of fact and, sometimes, a creator of fiction. But he's an honest liar, unlike many of the other characters in the book. Because Billy doesn't have that cold, self-destructive, caring for nothing and nobody streak that is the territory of a noir protagonist, the book is suffused with warmth, light, passion and heart.

The characters have a cinematic quality about them. Eddie Muller is a very skillful writer and so good at descriptions that, within a few sentences, the characters come to life in front of you. None of them are stereotypes - each one is capable of surprising the reader. None are all good or all bad. Muller turns the conventions of noir and hard-boiled fiction on their heads - the women in this book are the tough ones. The female characters in SHADOW BOXER are particularly well drawn. Even those who only have bit parts inspire strong emotions.

SHADOW BOXER is very much a sequel to Eddie's first book - THE DISTANCE. If you haven't read that, read it first. If you have, and are saving SHADOW BOXER for a rainy day, don't wait any longer - read it now; you won't regret it.

Thursday 30 July 2009

What I Read In July

KILLING MUM - Allan Guthrie
Published: 2009
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Carlos Morales
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'The padded envelope contained a note and a bundle of cash.'

Small, but perfectly formed, that's Al Guthrie for you.This is one of the splendid series of novellas published by Five Leaves. Ladies, you too can own a nifty, handbag sized Allan Guthrie that packs a punch and takes up less room than a pack of important lady things. In KILLING MUM Carlos Morales does odd jobs for people. Several of those odd jobs involve offing people. When Carlos receives a padded envelope one day it's a good news, bad news sort of affair. The good news is that a mystery client will pay him £20,000 to kill Valerie Anderson. The bad news is that Valerie Anderson is his mother. Oh, and there's more bad news. He suspects the woman he loves of being the one who wants his mother dead. Dark, warped and funny, and with a surprising number of twists and turns for such a short book. I read it in one sitting, alternately giggling and gasping. Strangely enough I had a whole train carriage to myself by the end of it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

GUN - Ray Banks
Published: 2008
Setting: Newcastle
Protagonist: Richie
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: ''Course, when he thought back on it, it was all Goose's fault. He was the one gave him the job in the first place.'

Another great Crime Express novella from Five Leaves. Richie is 18 and has recently been released from jail where he spent eighteen months for ABH, doing a job for local drug dealer, Goose. And if he'd given up Goose to the police, he might not have spent as long inside. Richie's girlfriend Becka wants him to get a proper job, and he's planning to, but he needs to make some money and working for a drug dealer pays well. So he agrees to go and pick up a gun - a nice simple task...only it's not. From the moment you find out that Goose doesn't even remember Richie - which makes Richie's stint in jail even more pointless - everything has a hopeless inevitability about it. Brutal and heartbreaking. Petty criminals and their grim, futile lives - bloody brilliant stuff. Ray Banks is one hell of a writer.

Published: November 2008
Setting: New York
Protagonist: Matthew Patrick O'Shea
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Where do I begin? Wasn't that like a song? And a pretty fucking bad one.'

Matthew O'Shea (known as Shea (and called Michael on the inside flap of the book!)) is an Irish policeman. Right at the start he tells us he's a split personality - a good cop/bad cop thing. Well, he's wrong. He's bad cop/worse cop. From time to time he zones out, to a place "covered in ice and fierceness." When he's in that place he does bad things - very bad things. Many of them involving women with beautiful long necks. He manages to get picked as part of an exchange program to go to New York, where he is teamed up with Kebar - a brutal and unstable cop whose partners either get hurt or ask to be transferred. Brrrrrrrr. Shea is one of the most chillingly psychopathic characters it has ever been my pleasure to meet. In fact, there are more than a couple of stone cold characters in this book. And Ken Bruen is brilliant at making monsters palatable. You might not like his characters, but you sure as hell want to find out what happens to them. His writing is lyrical, brutal and ferocious.

Published: 2009
Setting: A small Scottish village on the east coast of Scotland
Protagonist: Grace
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'They say that everybody has a secret. For some it's a stolen extramarital kiss on a balmy evening after two or three glasses of wine. For others it's that girl, teased mercilessly about the shape of her nose or the whine in her voice until she has to move school. Some of us, though, keep secrets that make liars of our lives.'

Grace, her husband Paul and their twin teenage daughters have a seemingly idyllic life in a beautiful village on the Scottish coast. But there are undercurrents and lies in this peaceful setting. Grace has been keeing a secet for the last twenty years and a phone call from an old friend threatens to destroy her happiness and that of those closest to her. Grace's secret involves Rose - a girl who was nine years old when she died. A very promising debut that hooks you in. I didn't particularly feel close to any of the characters, and I couldn't warm to Grace, but I stayed up way past my bedtime to find out what happened to her, and to Rose. A well written, atmospheric and frosty psychological thriller.

DAVID'S REVENGE - Hans Werner Kettenbach
Published: 1994
Setting: Germany
Protagonist: Christian Kestner
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Ninoshvili's letter has made me curiously uneasy. It's ridiculous, but I felt something like a presentiment of disaster at the mere sight of the dingy grey envelope when I came home today after teaching five tedious lessons and found it lying on the hall table.'

Christian Kestner - school-teacher, husband, father, and bit of a smug git - has his life thrown into a spin when David Ninoshvili announces in a letter that he will be arriving from Georgia for a visit. Christian visited Georgia seven years before, when it was under Soviet rule, and enjoyed Ninoshvili's hospitality. And he almost enjoyed Ninoshvili's wife. With increasingly caustic paranoia, Christian worries why David is coming - is he a Georgian spy? Does he have anything on Christian? Is he going to be seeking political asylum? Does he want revenge for Christian's almost dalliance with his wife? And when David arrives and starts to charm Christian's wife and son, Ralf(even more galling since Christian and his son have been growing apart due to Ralf's seeming involvement with a right wing group), Christian's worries increase ten-fold. Nationalism, espionage, racism, politics, morality, suspicion - huge themes, investigated within a prosaic middle-class setting.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Scottish Publisher Focus - Black and White Publishing

Black and White Publishing is an independent publishing house based in Edinburgh, publishing fiction and non fiction. They also have an imprint called Chroma which focuses on showcasing new voices in fiction. Here are the crime fiction novels they publish. All quotes are from the website, where more information is available.

ASHANTI GOLD - James Crosbie (June 2009) - "After serving a four-year jail sentence for robbery, Colin Grant emerges a changed man, with a past he’d rather forget. Unable to go back to his old life, Colin decides it’s time for a change of scene and sets off to visit his Uncle George in Africa for a good, long holiday. No more crime, no more jail, no more hassle. But when George takes him on a visit to the richest gold mine in West Africa, it’s just the start of an adventure that could end in either unbelievable riches or certain death."

DANCING WITH DEATH - Reg McKay (October 2008) - "Glasgow, 1968, and terror stalks the streets. When the first woman is murdered, they know they have something to fear. Soon they will know it’s a serial killer. Bible John. And who better to tell the story of Bible John than Bible John himself in his own words, through his diary. "

LAWLESS - Alexander McGregor (September 2006) - "Journalist Campbell McBride's first crime book, The Law Town Killers, is a success but now it's attracting some unwanted attention. McBride's going to have to return to what, when he wrote about it, seemed like a straightforward murder case – a woman strangled by her boyfriend. Otherwise, somebody he cares about might be at risk."

A DEADLY DECEPTION - Margaret Thomson Davis (August 2005) - "Set in a Glasgow high-rise, A Deadly Deception centres on Mabel Smith who lives alone in one of the flats... one day, sitting in the doctor's waiting room flicking through a magazine, Mabel notices adverts for phone-sex...and decides it could be an easy way to make some much-needed extra cash. A thirty-nine-year-old man called John begins phoning her. Mabel tells him her name is Angela and she and John gradually form a close and loving relationship. He, too, is lonely and bitter, after being cruelly deserted by his wife, and he soon becomes eager to find out everything about Angela, especially what she looks like. Mabel then describes a beautiful blonde girl she has seen in the building. John becomes more and more desperate to meet Angela but she keeps putting him off. Eventually he resolves to find her and punish her for tormenting him. After following various clues, he finds the high-rise complex and begins watching it. Finally, he spots a beautiful blonde girl who exactly fits the description he has of Angela but she is clinging to a young man. Feeling jealous and betrayed, John thoughts become murderous and he plans deadly revenge."

UNHOLY TRINITY - Alanna Knight (March 2004) - "Inspector Jeremy Faro is in County Kerry for the family wedding of his writer companion Imogen Crowe when a young couple who are guests at the wedding are brutally murdered. The village simpleton claims he has seen the killers three brothers who have been terrorising the neighbourhood. At a loss as to what to do, the local police appeal to Faro for help but, before an arrest can be made, there are three more inexplicable deaths."

HUNTER - William Coffey (June 2003) "The bodies of two business men are left in the heart of Glasgow. The killer leaves a signature: her DNA. Sex and murder. At a private health clinic in leafy suburbia, two pillars of the community play God. They take in asylum-seekers in the name of charity. The lucky ones lose only their babies. Money and murder. Three are killed in a brutal turf war over drugs. Mayhem and murder. Inspector Sandy Hunter is an old-fashioned Glasgow cop who walks in the footsteps of the dead. It is the life and the living that he cant handle. Rules are there to be bent, and the Establishment turns a blind eye as long as he gets the results. He needs to get three. . . and quickly. "

THESE ARE ONLY WORDS - Simon R Biggam ( 2006) - "I think of myself as a collector. Let him tell you his story. He is a city-centre shopworker who cultivates a facade of blandness to hide a secret life. For him, surveillance is an artform at which he can excel. Peeping Tom. Pervert. Stalker. That is not me. An urban chameleon, a Tom Ripley for the new millenium, an insanely gifted technofreak."

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Short and Sweet Snippets

Billy Connolly likes 'careering around murdering people'.

Irvine Welsh to appear at Henley Literary Festival.

My Media - an interview with Christopher Brookmyre.

A little bit more about the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes. And a very interesting piece on the topic from the knowledgeable Rafe McGregor.

An excellent interview with Helen FitzGerald and her husband Sergio Casci on adapting her books.

Ian Rankin on creating a comic book.

The Scotsman interviews Denise Mina.

Dangerous Dykes - the description is theirs - in the Independent.

Monday 27 July 2009

A Brief Photographic Interlude

In my previous post I mentioned the dual loveliness of Lord Kevin of Wignall and Steve Mosby as they wore their matching shirts with elan and panache. Here is the proof, courtesy of photographer crimeficreader. I also have to say that they were both more than happy to hug and kept up the pose for far longer than was necessary. Just saying, that's all.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Harrogate, Hugs and Monkey Pleasure

I arrived in Harrogate yesterday to attend one day of the crime fiction festival, to see old friends, meet up with new ones (hi Alison, hi Michael - nice to meet you both!) and get my supply of hugs to keep me stocked up for the next few months. The monkey pleasure is an irrelevance relating to a discussion over dinner in Wagamamas (yes, we did have a most salubrious conversation) but I thought it might amuse John Rickards, as such things seem to do. I also signed a contract (without reading it - was I so wrong to trust Allan Guthrie? Al - I'm sure that the words 'soul' and 'devil' that I spotted at the top of the page before you whipped it away were of no relevance were they?)

I also spoke to Johnny Depp's brother, marvelled at Laura Lippman's ability to do press ups whilst reciting the titles of Marx Brothers' films, admired David Simon's yummy shoes, thrilled at Steve Mosby and Kevin Wignall wearing matching flowered shirts, and decided that since my surrogate son Chris Ewan is the only crime fiction writer on the Isle of Man, I am claiming the Isle as part of Scotland and including Chris in my list of links and news items as it doesn't look as though anyone will be starting a blog for Isle of Man crime fiction any time soon. You see, son, there is a benefit to having me as your mother after all. Grandma and Granddad send their love by the way. Your Grandma has knitted you some long underwear now that you are officially part of Scotland. You only need to get drunk on Buckfast once a year to qualify.

Anyway, on arriving in Harrogate I
hopped into a taxi to my cheap hotel. I’d been worried on the train on the way down that my hotel was so cheap it must be a brothel. My worries were not assuaged by the taxi driver who, when I told him which hotel I was going to, said “Oh dear, you can’t win them all.” But it was fine. And the room service sandwiches at 2.30am this morning were the most delicious sandwiches I have ever had.

Anyway, yesterday I went to one panel, and the cabaret in the evening courtesy of the lovely Lord Kevin Wignall, who gave me his pass. The panel was excellent – Music To Murder By with Martyn Waites, Dreda Say Mitchell, John Harvey and Cathi Unsworth. It was extremely well moderated by Andrew Male from Mojo music magazine.

Each of the panellists had chosen a track that represented them, their taste in music, or was important to them in some way.

Martyn Waites – Isaac Hayes (I’ve forgotten the title- I was so shocked he hadn’t chosen a Nick Cave track that it didn’t register.

Dreda Say Mitchell – Soft Cell – Tainted Love

John Harvey – Billie Holliday – These Foolish Things

Cathi Unsworth – The Damned – New Rose (I immediately decided I was going to buy one of her books after the panel).

For all of them, the music of their youth was important, hearing a certain track would spark off memories and they used this to bring a rhythm to the narrative and to bring an inner life to their characters. John Harvey said that he tries to use what the character gets out of the music to underscore what a character is feeling at the time. Cathi Unsworth related this back to going into a pub in London a few years ago and seeing the lead singer of the 1980s one-hit wonders Splodgenessabounds (you remember their seminal hit ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please, of course? They are, in fact, still going to this day, apparently) She said that there are pubs all over with musicians who had minor hits way back when, surrounded by their ageing roadies, and all of them are still 18 in their heads.

The panellists were asked whether they listened to music while they wrote. Cathi said that she couldn’t write without a good soundtrack. Martyn said that he had only once been able to listen to music while writing and that was the Tom Waits track Ruby’s Arms. He had invented a pub with that name and he listened to the track over and over because of the melancholy in it that he wanted to reflect in the conversation his characters were having in that pub. He said that you can reflect emotion in the music the character is listening to.

John Harvey was asked why he chose Billie Holliday as his particular piece of music. He said that her voice has so much life and story in it. I like the way he said that. He also said that even from the early days jazz was associated with crime – speakeasies, drugs, and Billie Holliday’s own drug abuse and spousal abuse – you know from listening to her voice that there is a crime story there.

Dreda Say Mitchell said that there is a strong parallel between music and crime fiction in that crime writers can tell a good story – you can’t tell a good story unless you understand rhythm. The whole of life is about rhythm.

The panellists talked about whether you can have too many cultural references in a book, or whether they might actually put a reader off, rather than add to the story. Martyn said that you have to make peoples’ other senses work while they are reading a book. It can sometimes be a problem when you don’t know the music. The skill of the writer is to make that connection between the character and the reader even when the reader doesn’t actually know the piece of music, or, in fact, dislikes it. John Harvey said that he used to have that problem with George Pelecanos' books which he loves otherwise. He doesn’t have that problem any more and didn’t know whether this is because he is now used to it or whether there are fewer musical references.

Cathi's next book is called BAD PENNY BLUES. It's set in the 1960s and focuses on a real life serial killer. As part of her research and to get into the mood, she immersed herself in the music of the time and found out what was Number 1 in the charts on the day each of the serial killer’s victims died. She said that the songs became so much more sinister when put into that context – ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’, and, particularly, ‘She’s Not There’. The tracks take on a different dimension and provide a mocking context to the action.

The panellists were asked whether they thought that many fictional detectives seem to need their music, almost as an emotional crutch. Martyn said that this is because it’s what people do, and this is also the same for books – it is a time to rebalance and recover your equilibrium. John said that it also helps with the mood and links between scenes., and Cathi said that it can also spark off an idea – both in the reader’s head and also the detective’s head.

Martyn said that he tries to use music sparingly, and only when it will add something. In his book THE MERCY SEAT the character is listening to that very track (by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) while he is contemplating suicide. Cathi said that Nelson Algren has a book called WALK ON THE WILDSIDE and Nick Cave has a whole album based on that. As Nick Cave is a favourite of mine, I’m going to hunt that book down. Has anyone read it? It looks good, and Nelson Algren's three rules of life made me smile - "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."

It was an excellent panel. I’d already read and enjoyed all the panellists’ books other than Cathi, with Martyn Waites being a particular favourite. Cathi Unsworth’s books really appealed to me after seeing her on the panel so I bought her book THE SINGER which is set in the punk era of the late 70s – right up my street.

So, dear reader, what songs would be part of the soundtrack of your life, or which make you think of crime fiction? I would be interested to hear your comments on this. I've already mentioned Tom Waits and Nick Cave but here, for what it’s worth, are a few of my favourite crime fiction related songs or artists:

THE FLAMING STARS (not to be confused with The Flaming Lips). The lead singer, Max Decharne who wrote the non-fiction book HARDBOILED HOLLYWOOD. He's a big fan of crime fiction (as seen by the titles of some of the band's songs - You Don't Always Want What You Get, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Face On The Barroom Floor, A Hell of A Woman, New Shade of Black, Downhill Without Brakes...songs from the bottom of a beer glass.

THE RAMONES - 53rd and 3rd is about a male prostitute who kills his customer with a razor blade (written by Dee Dee Ramone who was, apparently, a male prostitute at one point to feed his heroin addiction). The KKK Took My Baby Away was written by Joey Ramone allegedy after ultra-conservative Johnny Ramone nicked his girlfriend. Blitzkrieg Bop with its line "Shoot 'em in the back now", Beat On The Brat which was written by Joey Ramone after she saw a mother beating her child with a baseball bat, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue...loads of dark and twisted lyrics in their songs.

VIOLENT FEMMES - Country Death Song - about a man who pushes his daugther into a well. "Well, I'm a thinking and thinking, til there's nothing I ain't thunk, Breathing in the stink, till finally I stunk. It was at that time I swear I lost my mind, And started making plans to kill my own kind." brrrrrrrrrr.

THE CRAMPS - with their wonderful brand of psycho noir.

THE HANDSOME FAMILY'S Beautiful William "Was he given a package by a man on the train? We found his car by the roadside later that day...He left his lights burning. He left his perfect lawn, His automatic sprinklers about to switch on."

MARK LANEGAN - Methamphetamine Blues

LOU REED, THE CLASH, THE SISTERS OF MERCY...I shall stop there :o)

UPDATE: Oh, and PS - thank you National Express trains for the faulty toilet door which inconveniently opened while I was mid-wee.

Thursday 23 July 2009

On Superheroes and Caber Tossing

I'm off to Harrogate for a flying visit tomorrow. I'm hoping to post while I'm away, but just in case I don't, that's why. Not that anyone will care, but my Dad might have googled me again, in which case my Mum will be reading and if I miss posting for a day she will automatically assume that I have been abducted and sold into slavery.

Anyway, for those in Edinburgh this weekend - the Gathering. It's not all about tartan and bagpipes - there's also Alexander McCall Smith and Diana Gabaldon. And I believe that Big Al Guthrie will be doing some caber tossing - at least until he's arrested anyway.

And talking of Allan Guthrie, here's an excellent interview with him where, despite protestations to the contrary, he proves that he does actually know some stuff after all.

An interesting piece on noir comics. "Superheroes still dominate comics but “The Hunter” is part of a surge in noir-minded projects that owe far more to the bloodied pulp of Westlake, James M.Cain and Jim Thompson than they do the cosmic melodramas of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Next month, DC Comics, publisher of the bright-hued Superman, is launching a new imprint called Vertigo Crime that will be populated by bloodthirsty lovers and mob enforcers. The first releases are the sexed-up murder tale “Filthy Rich” by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos and “Dark Entries,” a locked-room mystery written by Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin."

Rosemary Goring of the Sunday Herald casts a bit of a grumpy eye over the offerings at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Scottish Publisher Focus - Two Ravens Press

Two Ravens Press is an independent publisher of contemporary British and international literature based in the north-west Highlands of Scotland.They have an excellent blog about what it's like being a small publisher in the middle of nowhere, and which is a great mix of book related and personal posts. They focus on literary fiction and poetry, but here are some books which sound as though they have a crime fiction flavour at least. All quotes from the website.

SENSELESS - Stona Fitch (August 2008) -
This one looks like an excellent psychological thriller and, having read one of his short stories (brilliant stuff), this one's definitely on my 'To Buy' list. "American economist Eliott Gast is a man who treasures the finest things that life can offer – fine food, a good bottle of wine, beautiful music. Until the day that he is abducted in Europe by a shadowy and extremist anti-globalisation group. Eliott is held hostage for forty days, and each moment of his incarceration is broadcast on the internet. His captors inform him that his eventual release depends on the votes – and donations made to their cause – of the millions of people who are watching this most disturbing of reality shows. As Eliott battles to understand why he has been chosen, he unearths sins both small and large. Over the course of his captivity Eliott is deprived of each of his senses, one by one – deprived of everything except the choice of whether or not to survive." "An existential thriller told with brutal clarity and dealing with cruelty, voyeurism, consumerism and globalisation. Brilliantly written with pace, style, confidence and insight, this unbearably tense and truly unforgettable novel will leave a lasting impression." The List.

NIGHTINGALE - Peter Dorward (September 2007) - "On the second of August 1980, at 1pm, a bomb placed under a chair in the second class waiting room of the international railway station in Bologna exploded, resulting in the deaths of eighty-five people. Despite indictments and arrests, no convictions were ever secured. Exactly a year before the bombing, a young British couple disembarked at the station and walked into town. He - pale-blue eyes, white collarless shirt, baggy green army surplus trousers – and twenty yards behind him, the woman whom, in a couple of years he will marry, then eventually abandon. He is Don, she is Julia. Within twenty-four hours she’ll leave for home, and he will wander into a bar called 'the Nightingale' – and a labyrinthine world of extreme politics and terrorism. More than twenty years later their daughter Rosie, as naïve as her father was before her, will return to the city, and both Don – and his past – will follow..."
"A gripping read ... moving, chilling and all-too-plausible... The writing is vivid, economical, varied. It is alive to nuance and suggestion, dealing in emotional, cultural and psychological credibility." The Scotsman

THE MOST GLORIFIED STRIP OF BUNTING - John McGill (October 2007) - "The United States North Polar expedition of 1871-73 was a disaster-strewn adventure that counts amongst the most bizarre and exciting in the annals of Arctic exploration. Commanded by Charles Francis Hall, a romantic idealist with an obsessive interest in the frozen north, the converted river tug Polaris carries a multinational crew of scientists and sailors, assisted by two Inuit families, along the so-called American Way to the North Pole - the icy channels between Greenland and Ellesmere Island. For Hall, the planting of the Stars and Stripes on the top of the world is a sacred and patriotic duty, but his enthusiasm is shared by few of his companions, and the expedition, under the strain of conditions in the high Arctic, quickly disintegrates into warring factions. With their ship embedded in the ice, the explorers plunge into a maelstrom of anarchy and paranoia fuelled by the clash of two civilisations – Inuit and European – and the mutual misunderstanding and hostility that arise from it. John McGill’s novel chronicles the events leading up to the strange and suspicious death of the commander, and in a parallel narrative, tells the astonishing tale of the nineteen crew members separated in a storm and cast adrift on an ice floe. Their story is one of the truly great Arctic adventures, a six-month drama of narrow escapes coloured by the ever-present threats of rape, murder and cannibalism, and acted out on a shrinking platform of ice exposed to all the horrors of the most inhospitable climate on earth." "A murder mystery and a moral fable, the book is superbly structured in a ping pong of chapters that exploit chronology and revel in the present tense. A page turner with the obligatory saucy bits. McGill’s book may also be read as a critiique of US foreign policy, then and now - but will be more properly admired as a darn good yarn." The Herald

Tuesday 21 July 2009

M is for...

M C Beaton - Marion Chesney has written over 100 historical fiction novels under her own name and the pseudonyms Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, and Charlotte Ward. She also writes two cosy crime fiction series under the name M C Beaton. There are currently 20 books in the Agatha Raisin series - featuring a rather outspoken ex-PR executive who has retired to a quiet Cotswolds village. In her other series the rather lazy PC Hamish Macbeth has had 24 outings in the Highland town of Lochdubh.
"The Miss Marple-like Raisin is a refreshing, sensible, wonderfully eccentric, thoroughly likeable heroine." - Booklist

Manda Scott - a qualified vet who turned to writing in order to get some sleep. She has written four contemporary crime thrillers - three of which feature Glasgow therapist Kellen Stewart - plus four novels in the Boudica series. Her latest book THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a thriller set in modern day and Elizabethan times, and explores a Mayan prophecy about the world ending on 21 December 2012. She is currently working on a spy thriller set in Rome in AD64. Hopefully, it will be published before 21 December 2012 :o)
"Scott writes with a forensic precision and attention to detail that never gets in the way of the story's momentum and, as deaths accumulate, this becomes, like the best crime novels, a brilliant puzzle you itch to solve before anyone else. The trouble is, you get so close to the central characters, it's not easy to divorce yourself from the action. " - Mail on Sunday

Margaret Thomson Davis - Margaret Thomson Davis has written over forty books - mostly family sagas described by one newspaper as the "Glaswegian Coronation Street", historicals, and what appear from the descriptions to be romantic suspense. However, one of her novels - A DEADLY DECEPTION is a crime thriller set in a Glasgow high rise about an arthritic elderly woman who takes up phone sex to make some extra money. Apologies - I can't find a review anywhere, but it does sound intriguing.

Marten Claridge - Marten Claridge has had two novels published featuring Detective Inspector Frank McMorran - NOBODY'S FOOL and SLOW BURN, and one - MIDNIGHT CHILL - about a hired killer, set in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, these three books are rather difficult to get hold of, which is a shame as I rather fancy the two McMorran books. Claridge also has a website for an (as yet) unpublished novel called BAD BULLET DAY, set in the Scottish Borders and featuring Lennox, an ex-SAS guy with a bullet in his head. Oh, and he's a monk.
"Transport the Chandler genre from sunny LA to the grey backstreets of Edinburgh and you have a gritty gangland story with the knockdown power of a sawn-off shotgun..." Peterborough Evening Telegraph (on Midnight Chill)

Mulgray Twins - Helen and Morna Mulgray are, according to their website, 'the first twins in the world to write a novel together in English'. The books feature DJ Smith from Edinburgh, undercover agent for HM Revenue & Customs and her 'sniffer' cat Gorgonzola.
"If you love cosy crime, then this book is for you."Mystery Women magazine; "The first novel published in English by identical twins. Each of its 86, 000 words was a joint endeavour." Irish Independent.

Monday 20 July 2009

Scottish Publisher Focus - Polygon

Since the nice people at Birlinn/Polygon have sent me their latest catalogue, I thought I would do a post featuring a Scottish publisher, rather than a particular Scottish author. Polygon is the fiction imprint of Birlinn - an independent publisher of Scottish interest books. Here are some of their recently published or soon-to-be published crime fiction offerings - all quotes are from the catalogue or website. You can find out more about all the titles at the website.

CRIMESPOTTING (August 2009) - a short story collection featuring crimes set in Edinburgh. "The results range from hard-boiled police procedural to historical whodunnit and from the wildly comic to the spookily supernatural." Featuring a stellar line-up - some of whom are not crime fiction authors, so this sounds like an interesting one - with stories from Lin Anderson, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Brookmyre, John Burnside, Isla Dewar, A L Kennedy, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, James Robertson, and with an introduction by Irvine Welsh.

SHATTERED: STORIES ABOUT THE IMPACT OF CRIME (October 2009) - A different take on crime fiction, with stories illustrating the impact of crime on the victims. "The crimes featured range from fraud and house break-in to domestic abuse, rape and murder." With stories from Lin Anderson, Ray Banks, Christopher Brookmyre, Karen Campbell, Gillian Galbraith, Alex Gray, Allan Guthrie, Stuart MacBride, G J Moffat, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh, with an introduction by Ian Rankin. Royalties from the book will be donated to Victim Support Scotland.

SECRETUM - Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti (August 2009) - set in Rome in 1700. "Atto Melani - once a celebrated castrato soprano, now a spy in the service of King Louis XIV, sets in motion a grandiose conspiracy that plunges him into a world of secret languages, religious sects, forged wills and, ultimately, war in Europe."

BAY OF NAPLES - Alan Clews (June 2009) - "Like many Italians in the early 1930s, Frank Ginesi comes to Scotland looking for work and better prospects. The novel is set around his café in Paisley, The Bay of Naples, which he runs with his wife, Gina. Frank takes pity on a down-and-out drifter, Ian Miller, and employs him in the café." I'm not 100% sure that this is crime fiction, but doesn't that description sound like The Postman Always Rings Twice? I'm definitely going to hunt this one down.

THE FENG SHUI DETECTIVE'S CASEBOOK - Nury Vittachi (May 2009) - "A murder in the Philippines, a kidnapping in Thailand, grand theft auto in Singapore; it’s just another day at the office for CF Wong and his slacker assistant Joyce. More feng shui master than detective, Wong would much rather get paid, go home and put his feet up, but that’s just not going to happen."

WHITE DEATH - Ken McClure (June 2009) - seventh novel in the Dr Steven Dunbar series. "The Governments of the world know a terrorist biological attack will happen sooner rather than later. Vaccination is the only solution, but there is no such thing as a 'completely safe vaccine".

BLOODY WOMEN - Helen FitzGerald (October 2009) - "Returning to Scotland to organise her wedding, Catriona is overcome with the jitters. She decides to tie up loose ends before settling permanently in Tuscany, and seeks out her ex-boyfriends. Only problem is, they're all dead." Me want.

A TRICK OF THE LIGHT - David Ashton (October 2009) - the third in the McLevy series sees the Victorian detective team up with Arthur Conan Doyle. "It is 1860 and a Confederate officer, Jonathen Sinclair, arrives in Edinburgh with a sheaf of money to purchase a blockade-runner from Clydeside shipbuilders. He is betrayed to the Union forces and is shot dead by their secret agents. Who are they and where is Sinclair's money?"

HUE AND CRY - Shirley McKay (June 2009) - A historical crime novel set in sixteenth century St Andrews. "Hew Cullan, a young lawyer recently returned home from Paris, uncovers a complex tale of passion and duplicity, of sexual desire and tension within the repressive atmosphere of the Protestant Kirk and the austerity of the academic cloister."

DYING OF THE LIGHT - Gillian Galbraith (April 2009) Third in the series featuring DS Alice Rice. "Midwinter, a freezing night in Leith, near Edinburgh’s red light district. A policewoman’s flashlight stabs the darkness in a snow-covered cemetery. The circle of light stops on a colourless, dead face...Partly inspired by the real-life killings of prostitutes in Ipswich, this novel explores a hidden world where sex is bartered for money and drugs."

SLAMMER - Allan Guthrie (March 2009) - "Young prison officer Nicholas Glass is finding the stresses of the job increasingly hard to handle. Bullied and abused by inmates and colleagues alike, every day is getting longer than the one before. When a group of cons use outside help to threaten his wife and daughter, Glass agrees to help them out with a ’favour’." Brilliant stuff.

BEAST OF BURDEN - Ray Banks (March 2009) - "The biggest race riot in Manchester’s history and his brother’s death have left PI Callum Innes a physical and emotional wreck, when the word comes through that his erstwhile nemesis Mo Tiernan has gone missing. Innes is the only one Mo’s ganglord father trusts to investigate, but he’s not the only one working the case – Detective Sergeant ‘Donkey’ Donkin has a vested interest in both the Tiernans and Innes, and he’d sacrifice his career to see them both behind bars." Also brilliant stuff.

DEAD WOOD - Chris Longmuir (June 2009) "In a grim Dundee of urban decay and criminal deprivation what happens when the cold, calculating world of gangland retribution collides with the psychosis of a serial killer? Kara has a debt to gangster Tony and takes to the streets to earn the cash. On a job she encounters several dead bodies dumped in the woods just outside the city. Terrified, she escapes, making an anonymous phone call to the police. An investigation led by newcomer DC Louise Walker begins, but she is not the only one determined to catch the serial killer."

THE FREE FISHERS - John Buchan (August 2009) - "When Anthony Lammas, minister of the Kirk and Professor of Logic at St Andrews University, leaves his home town for London on business, he little imagines that within two days he will be deeply entangled in a web of mystery and intrigue. But he's no ordinary professor. His boyhood allegiance to a brotherhood of deep-sea fishermen is to involve him and handsome ex-pupil, Lord Belses, with a beautiful but dangerous woman. Set in the bleak Yorkshire hamlet of Hungrygrain during the Napoleonic Wars, this is a stirring tale of treason and romance."

Sunday 19 July 2009

Sunday Round-Up

An interview with Ken McClure, whose latest medical thriller WHITE DEATH is out this month. The nice people at Polygon have sent me a copy of the book. As I don't do well with medical thrillers (I once fainted on the bus when two women in front of me were swapping operation stories with ever increasing goriness, and on another occasion I threatened a dentist with violence - uttering the ill-considered line "If you think you're coming anywhere near my mouth with that thing, you can think again, matey.") So I will try and give it a more appreciative home than mine, so if you would like it (and, subsequently share your thoughts of it with me so that I can post them here, perhaps? (but don't feel obliged)) please either leave a comment in the comments section, or e-mail me at bigbeatfrombadsville at gmail dot com.

Was MacBeth set up? A story by Ian Rankin in The Times.

One minute with Denise Mina in the Independent. Plus a brief review of her new novel, STILL MIDNIGHT.

A couple of reviews of Irvine Welsh's REHEATED CABBAGE, one of which ends with news that he is working on a prequel to TRAINSPOTTING called SKAGBOY.

Three Emmy nominations for Alexander McCall Smith

Val Mc Dermid to appear at the Budleigh Salterton literary festival in Devon. Looks like a rather nice event by the sea.

And, on the topic of festivals, an interesting article on writers attending music festivals.

Friday 17 July 2009

L is for...

Lin Anderson - Lin Anderson is a screenwriter and author. Her crime novels feature forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. There are, so far, five novels in the series, starting with DRIFTNET, which has Rhona investigating the murder of a teenager who she fears may be the son she gave up for adoption seventeen years previously. The latest in the series, EASY KILL, starts with the discovery of the body of a murdered prostitute in Glasgow's Necropolis - the city of the dead.
"The adventures of Anderson's heroine Rhona MacLeod, the sexy thirty-something forensic scientist from Glasgow at the heart of this, the author's fourth novel, would make Ian Rankin's old man Rebus choke on his whisky chaser. Which is just the reaction that Anderson is looking for. "Every one of my books begins with a very scary scene" she explains. Dark Flight certainly knows how to splash the red stuff. Anderson's tale of black magic, ritual sacrifice, and child abduction chills the blood." - The Big Issue.

Louise Anderson - Louise Anderson's first book - PERCEPTION OF DEATH - was published in 2004. It features lawyer Erin Paterson who discovers her boyfriend is having an affair on the same day an old school friend of her sister is murdered. There is, apparently, a second book in the series called DEATH'S SISTER which was published in either 2006, 2008, April 2009, or not at all, and which does not appear to be available*. This article might shed a bit of light on that.
"I really enjoyed it – she’s a breath of fresh air in the Scottish crime fiction field. It’s got lots of genuinely black comedic moments but also some grimly painful storytelling" - Val McDermid
*update courtesy of crimeficreader - the outcome is 'not at all'. Thanks cfr!

Louise Welsh - Louise Welsh's debut novel THE CUTTING ROOM won a number of awards, and rightly so. The protagonist is gay auctioneer, Rilke, who finds a collection of unsavoury and sometimes apparently violent photographs when cleaning out a house for an old lady. Harrowing, creepy and laden with doom. Her third novel - THE BULLET TRICK - is set in Berlin, Glasgow and London and is a mystery featuring a magician who is persuaded to pick the pocket of a retiring police inspector.
"remarkable first novel....Like all the best exponents of the genre, Louise Welsh sets up her template and then manipulates it, using the glamour of crime to examine more humdrum kinds of suffering and loss....She is playfully referential; one reason this novel is such fun to read is that it feels as though the author's enjoying herself." Sophie Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

Thursday 16 July 2009

How Many Reasons Do You Need To Visit Edinburgh?

Here are three.

Reason Number 1

The lovely people at Waterstone's in Edinburgh have sent me this:

Waterstone's Edinburgh West End is proud to host:

A lunchtime signing with Jeffery Deaver.

12.30pm Saturday 25th July 2009

Signing. No tickets required.

The best-selling crime fiction author, Jeffery Deaver, will be signing copies of his latest book, Roadside Crosses. No ticket is necessary but this signing is expected to be very busy so please arrive in good time if you would like a dedicated copy. If you are unable to attend we can reserve a signed copy for you, though dedications cannot be guaranteed.

Store event contact: Chris Barker or Andy Jamieson (0131 226 2666, Waterstone's Edinburgh West End, 128 Princes Street, EH2 4AD)

Reason Number 2

Follow in Rebus' footsteps with a walking tour of Edinburgh visiting some of his haunts.

Reason Number 3

How about tea and crumpets with Allan 'Sunshine' Guthrie - the scariest teetotal, vegetarian, ex- bassoon playing, pleonasm-hating crime writer in Edinburgh? No? You're probably wise to turn that one down. Dec Burke reports that Allan 'Sunshine' Guthrie has been kindled.

And not only is TWO-WAY SPLIT available, but so is KISS HER GOODBYE (for $1.25) and KILLING MUM (complete with cheeky looking squirrel) for a supercheap 99 cents.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

And We Call Upon The Author To Explain...

Sometimes, your worlds can collide and your joys and pleasures intersect in a most serendipitous way.

On Friday we were at the music festival T In The Park. Every year it becomes the fifth largest city in Scotland as up to 85,000 people descend on rural Perthshire. 12 stages, around 180 artists, a fairground and enough loo roll used to stretch from Glasgow to London.

The Good
  • The Yeah Yeah Yeahs (complete with giant eye floating over the crowd and being batted back and forth)
  • Idlewild
  • The Posh Toilets (OK, they might have been the most expensive way to spend a penny at £2 a tinkle, but it was worth it - real flushing toilets that were CLEAN).
  • The 6 foot tall pink rabbit peeing against the fence (courtesy of Fancy Dress Friday rather than drugs...well, on my part anyway).
  • The sunshine.
  • Healthy T - a little oasis of calm with good food, drumming lessons, massages and places to sit down with a nice cup of tea (yes, that probably means I'm too old to go to festivals).
  • The scenery - what a stunning setting.
The Bad
  • Many amongst the festival crowds don't seem to go for the music. I think there's actually a fair number of them for whom it's going to be more The Lost Weekend than T In The Park. I like to get pretty close to the stage. Not mosh pit close (not any more, anyway), but close enough to see the faces of the band and make sure it's not a tribute band I'm watching. However, there's a minority of people in that section who insist on throwing plastic cups containing lager (please tell me it's not anything worse) into the front of the crowd. I don't like beer at the best of times. And the best of times is not all over my bloody hair when I've just had it done. Thank you.
  • The sound quality for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. At times I could harld hear them. Especially because of...
  • The group of shrieking teenage girls next to us. One was crying and showing her text messages to her pals saying "Paul's chucked me. I love him and I bet he's gone off with that Sarah cow. I love my Paul." over and over again. For about half an hour. I felt sorry for her for the first five minutes. However, things improved for her after half an hour when a guy behind her started chatting up her and one of her mates. She suddenly perked up, got out her make up bag and started re-applying her mascara. Paul? Paul who? Unfortunately, now she and her friend were shrieking at the tops of their voices trying to out-do each other in front of the poor benighted lad who was chatting them up. It was like watching a pair of loud and drunken black widow spiders circling their prey.
  • All the other toilets apart from the Posh Toilets. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.
  • The Mars Volta
The Absolutely Bloody Brilliant
  • Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. They were headlining the NME stage and were up against the brilliant Kings of Leon on the Main Stage. Tough choice but we decided that we weren't going to get anywhere near the stage for that one and we had seen KoL in December, and we both love Nick Cave, so it didn't take us long to decide. And what a great decision it was. What an amazing set. They played several of my favourite tracks - Midnight Man, The Ship Song, Deanna, The Weeping Song, We Call Upon The Author and Red Right Hand. I wish they had played Breathless, then my happiness would have been complete. When I've seen them before they haven't done that one either, so maybe they just don't do it live. It was an electric performance - one of those where you can feel the smile spreading over your face and you look at the crowd around you and everyone has the same big grin.
And Nick Cave is noir. How about these lyrics from Abattoir Blues:
Everything's dissolving, babe, according to plan
The sky is on fire, the dead are heaped across the land

I went to bed last night and my moral code got jammed

I woke up this morning with a Frappucino in my hand

So it's a joy to discover that his first book for 20 years is coming out in September. Described by Irvine Welsh as 'part Franz Kafka, part Benny Hill', THE DEATH OF BUNNY MONROE, is part of a mouthwatering array of fiction being published at the end of August/beginning of September to try and compete with Dan Brown's new one. BUNNY MONROE is about a sex-obsessed travelling salesman in search of a soul as he travels around the UK with his son after the suicide of his wife. There will also be an audiobook read by Cave himself, and here's a video of him reading from the book to whet the appetite. In addition, more worlds collide as he is currently writing a film score of Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD.

And, since this has turned into a distinctly non-Scottish-oriented blogpost, this seems a fine time to mention Noircon - a convention that I really want to go to. Crime fiction conventions are great places to meet up with good friends, enthuse about crime fiction, blether about anything and everything and hug some of my favourite people. I've heard great things about previous Noircons and it's on my wishlist. The next Noircon is from November 4th to 7th 2010 in Philadelphia.

Here's a summary of various reports from Noircon 2008. And a podcast from that Noircon on wise guys and femmes fatales. There are several podcasts from Noircon by Clute and Edwards on Behind The Black Mask - which also features great podcast interviews with some of my favourite crime fiction writers. Clute and Edwards feature heavily on my ipod with Out Of The Past too - fascinating podcasts on film noir.

Sorry for the meandering post. Bback to your normally scheduled Scottish crime fiction tomorrow, I promise.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

K is for...

Karen Campbell - Karen Campbell is a former Glasgow policewoman and has used her experience to create a great protagonist in the tough but flawed Sergeant Anna Cameron in her first novel, THE TWILIGHT TIME, which features attacks on prostitutes, drug dealing and racial tension. Her second book, AFTER THE FIRE, centres on the aftermath of the police shooting of an unarmed girl. There's a great interview with Karen here where she talks about chasing a car thief who didn't realise until she caught him that she was female. "When I caught up with him he was leaning against a wall out of breath and said, 'If I'd known you were a woman I'd have never let you catch me."
"The Twilight Time, powered by stiletto-sharp prose, is a pertinent expose of the contamination seeping into lives from prostitution and a drugs economy ruled by money-laundering thugs. But against this background, her story also vividly illustrates the physical and emotional damage caused to police officers by the vile reality of their work." - Glasgow Herald

Kate Atkinson - Kate Atkinson is the author of several novels, as well as a play and several short stories. Three of her most recent books feature former police inspector turned private investigator Jackson Brodie - CASE HISTORIES, ONE GOOD TURN and WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? Here's an audio interview with her on BBC Radio 4's The Woman's Hour about WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? And here's a very interesting interview with her from The Times.
"Not just the best novel I have read this year ... but the best mystery of the decade. There are actually four mysteries, nesting like Russian dolls, and when they begin to fit together, I defy any reader not to feel a combination of delight and amazement. Case Histories is the literary equivalent of a triple axel. I read it once for pleasure and then again just to see how it was done. This is the kind of book you shove in people's faces, saying 'You gotta read this!'" - Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly.

Ken McClure - Ken McClure has been described as Scotland's Michael Crichton and is the author of 18 medical thrillers, several of which feature his series character Dr Steven Dunbar. He has a background in medical research and a PhD in molecular genetics (he apparently has a gene named after him). The thrillers cover such topics as IVF clinics, organ donors, gene therapy, smallpox, genetically modified crops, chemical warfare, multiple personality disorder and cancer research. He has also written 4 novels under the name Ken Begg.
"Ken McClure explains contagious illness in everyday language that makes you hold your breath in case you catch them. His forte is to take an outside-chance medical possibility, decide on the worst possible outcome… and write a book." - The Scotsman

Monday 13 July 2009

A Monday Round-Up

Novelist Steven Torres with a great review of Russel McLean's excellent THE GOOD SON. In other review news, Laura Wilson on Craig Russell's LENNOX in The Guardian. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has a blog and in this post they mention that David Ashton's McLEVY is being broadcast on Radio 4 in several parts, starting Tuesday 14th July.

The lovely Karen at Eurocrime has a competition to win one of five (yes, FIVE) copies of Helen Fitzgerald's MY LAST CONFESSION. If I didn't have it already I would definitely be entering this one myself.

With the publication of Ox-Tales, the Oxfam set of four books of short stories by famous authors, The Scotsman publishes the Kate Atkinson story LUCKY WE LIVE NOW. And a video of three more authors reading extracts from their stories at the Oxford launch.

Irvine Welsh on selling double glazing, Hibs winning the Scottish cup, and Sunday morning hangovers.

Sunday 12 July 2009

And The Winners Are...

I've been out all day so this is just a quick post to say that the winners of Al 'Sunshine' Guthrie's SLAMMER are:

Ann the Bookwitch
Vince Keenan

Copies will be winging their way to the lucky recipients forthwith.

Saturday 11 July 2009

J is for...

John Buchan - writer of over 100 books and about 100 million stories. As well as thrillers and adventure stories he also wrote historical novels and non fiction, including a textbook for accountants. His most famous novel is, of course, THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, which was written in 1914 and has never been out of print. It's the first of 5 novels to feature Richard Hannay and has been filmed 4 times - a Hitchcock version in 1935 (starring Robert Donat), 1959 (Kenneth More), 1978 (Robert Powell) and 2008 (Rupert Penry-Jones). My personal favourite of his books - my dad read them to me as bedtime stories when I was about 10 - was THE THREE HOSTAGES which featured the scary and mysterious Mr Medina.
"The plot of The Three Hostages is pure blood and thunder; it is a melodrama. It is, however, an exceptionally intelligent and well told melodrama, and the reader is effortlessly carried along." Grumpy Old Bookman in a great article about the book.

John Dodds - writer of crime, horror and fantasy fiction. His first novel, BONE MACHINES, is set in Glasgow and is available as a free download here. Here's the blurb. 'They suffer for his art. When a number of women are reported missing in Glasgow, the spectre of a previous spate of unsolved disappearances in the city rears its head. Journalist Ray Bissett is drawn into the case when his daughter joins the ranks of the missing. And ambitious police detective Tom Kendrick won’t let Ray forget a terrible incident form his past which resulted in the death of a young boy. Damaged lives and dark secrets… The streets of Glasgow haunted by the ghosts of the missing… and an artist driven by a deadly inspiration.'

Josephine Tey - born in 1896 and died in 1952, her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh. She wrote 8 mystery novels, 6 of which featured Scotland Yard inspector Alan Grant (although he was only the protagonist of 5 of them). The most famous of these is DAUGHTER OF TIME which has the protagonist passing time whilst laid up in hospital researching the murders of the Princes in the Tower. Writing as Gordon Daviot, Tey also wrote over 20 plays.
"Tey's style and her knack for creating bizarre characters are among the best in the field." - The New Yorker

Joyce Holms -Joyce Holms has written 9 books in a series featuring two Edinburgh lawyers - Fizz Fitzpatrick and Tam Buchanan. At the start of the series Fizz is a slightly wild and impetuous law student in her mid 20s and her friendship with the slightly staid and cautious middle-aged Tam is told with great humour. They investigate such varied crimes as the death of an Edinburgh drug baron (MR BIG), the kidnapping of a four year old boy (THIN ICE), and the death of an elderly German tourist (BAD VIBES). The series is witty and light but definitely not fluffy.
"The writing is deft and smooth, the characters well-drawn and Fizz and Tam are a couple worth keeping an eye on" - Donna Leon, Sunday Times

Julie Corbin - Julie Corbin's first novel, TELL ME NO SECRETS, was published in April this year. It's a psychological thriller set in a small Scottish fishing village, about a woman with a secret she has kept for the last 20 years but which she may not be able to keep secret for much longer. She says "The skeleton I fear isn't hiding in my closet. The one I fear lies underground. Her name was Rose and she was nine years old when she died." I have this one on Mt TBR and it looks interesting.
"This is Corbin's first novel and it's an absolute corker. She weaves this tale of tragedy and secrecy with flair and pulls you into Grace's distress with deft strokes.This book will creep under your skin and have you thinking about it in the small hours. You won't want to put it down." - News of the World.

Thursday 9 July 2009

A Quickie

A very short blog post today. And none tomorrow as I am off to T In The Park to see the Kings of Leon, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, The View and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As well as enjoying the music, I will also be trying not to use the loo. I have an aversion to chemical toilets - even before they become totally minging (which is about ten seconds after they are first used). So no food or drink for 10 hours. How will I survive? Luckily, I am like a camel - not that I'm an ungulate, you understand, just that I have a goodly supply of fatty tissue that I could survive on for...oooooh...about a month.

Anyway, a couple of reviews from the website lovereading. The first for Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT, featuring Glasgow cop DI Alex Morrow, and the second for Grant McKenzie's SWITCH, about a man who arrives home to find his home burned to the ground with his wife and daughter inside...or were they?

And finally, a reminder that I will be drawing the winners of Allan Guthrie's SLAMMER on Sunday, so if you want a copy please e-mail me at bigbeatfrombadsville at gmail dot com.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

I Is For...

Iain McDowall - grew up in Scotland and now lives in the Midlands. He's the author of six books in a police procedural series featuring DCI Jacobson and DS Kerr of Crowby CID. He chooses as his themes issues affecting the UK today. In his own words:
"Crime fiction – mine included – exists primarily as an entertainment genre. But that shouldn’t mean that the reader has to check-in their brain or their interest in the real world at the door. My novels are designed to be ‘realist’ and thought-provoking as well as entertaining – and in most of them I’ve fictionalised crimes of the kind that really do happen in modern Britain. Race killings (Killing for England) and familicides (Perfectly Dead) for instance unfortunately come under that heading – and so do miscarriages of justice. So I’ve always had it in mind that one of the Jacobson/Kerr books would need to focus on that topic – and Envy The Dead has turned out to be that book.
"Scores on all fronts - good writing, good characters, solid plotting, highly readable and politically astute." Mat Coward, Morning Star, UK

Ian Pattison - the writer of the comedy TV series Rab C Nesbitt, as well as other TV series. He has written two novels, one featuring Rab C Nesbitt, and the other - SWEET AND TENDER HOOLIGAN - which features a criminal who lives in London and returns for the funeral of his mother. However, while he's been away he's written a tell-all exposé and some people aren't very happy.
"...a spectacular novel, prompting unease and admiration in almost equal measure... sort of American Psycho with a Paisley accent." Glasgow Herald

Ian Rankin - who I am certain needs no introduction! Apart from the Rebus series, 3 Jack Harvey novels and a couple of standalones, his new novel THE COMPLAINTS is due to be published in the first week of September. In Ian's own words from his newsletter:
"...the title is shorthand for Complaints and Conduct, this being the department that investigates misdemeanours within the police. My main character is a detective who spends his time rooting out bad cops. This makes him an unpopular figure within his own force. When he himself comes under investigation, there are plenty of people looking for payback. Is that whetting the appetite? The hero is in his early-forties and doesn’t drink. Yes, that’s right, he doesn’t drink. He really doesn’t. Not a drop. (The research, needless to say, was hell…)"
"Throughout the entire series, Rankin's strength has been his ability to get under the skin of Edinburgh's pyschogeography: he vividly describes 'a city...of banking and brothels, virtue and vitriol' where underworld meets overworld. Deftly plotted and awash with sarky one-liners Exit Music is no exception."- Metro

Irvine Welsh - another author who needs little introduction. Author of 7 novels and 4 short story collections, including the most recent - REHEATED CABBAGE - as well as theatre and film scripts. The synopsis of REHEATED CABBAGE is:
"Enjoy Christmas dinner with the Begbies, and see how warmly Franco greets his sister's boyfriend and news of their engagement. A televised Hibs-Hearts game means more to Malky than the life of his wife, while two guys fighting over a beautiful girl come to realise, after a few pills and pints, that their friendship is more important. In the novella I Am Miami, 'Juice' Terry Lawson meets his old nemesis, ritred schoolmaster Albert Black, under the strobe-lights of a Miami Beach nightclub."
"A snarling epic of a book...ugly, devastatingly funny, unremittingly nasty and pulls no punches...for my money, this is one of the best things Welsh has written to date and it's right up there with Trainspotting. Don't dare miss it." Kevin Williamson, The Scotsman (about FILTH)

Tuesday 7 July 2009

I'm Celebrating With A Competition

Thanks to everyone for your e-mails and tweets and phone calls. I'm well chuffed that Busted Flush are going to publish OLD DOGS in the US. I shan't go on. David and Al already know how I feel :o) Suffice to say that I am very lucky and very happy.

Since I can't concentrate enough to do a proper post (mainly because I have to keep hugging myself and squealing every time I think about it), I thought I would do a wee competition.

I have 2 copies of Al Guthrie's SLAMMER to give away. Should you need any incentive, here's a great review from the eloquent Gerard Brennan at Crime Scene NI.

All you need to do to win a copy is e-mail me at bigbeatfrombadsville at gmail dot com and I will pull 2 names out of a hat. Well, I haven't got a hat. I'll pull them out of a shoe. I have lots of those.

No geographical restrictions and I will draw the winners at the weekend.

Thanks all,
Happy, happy Donna

Monday 6 July 2009

Pocket Sized Books in a Pocket Sized Post

Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders reviews Allan Guthrie's KILLING MUM. The book is the latest in the Crime Express series from the lovely people at Five Leaves Publishing. What a good idea this is. A series of novellas costing £4.99 each (about the same as one of those crap celebrity magazines). Small, glossy and perfectly formed (and that's just Al Guthrie). Others in the series are Ray Banks' GUN, John Harvey's TROUBLE IN MIND, Stephen Booth's CLAWS, Clare Littleford's THE QUARRY, Rod Duncan's THE MENTALIST, Lawrence Block's SPEAKING OF LUST, and Nicola Monaghan's THE OKINAWA DRAGON. Great stuff.

More excellent little tales - further news on the Oxfam charity stories - Ox-Tales

An excellent interview with Tony Black on author Nick Stone's website.

Kate Atkinson appears at the Buxton Festival.

Alexander McCall Smith talks about the afterlife.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Thoughts From A Broad - Part Deux

It seems that whenever I go to San Francisco I leave something behind. Last time, it was underwear all over the luggage carousel, this time, it was my coat. And maybe I did also leave a little bit of my heart - it's a beautiful, slightly eccentric place that serves great food - how can you not love it?

Last time the disaster occured just as I arrived and was waiting for my luggage. As the suitcases went round, I was horrified to see that the stitiching had come away from around the edge of my suitcase and there was this gaping cavern with a pair of knickers sticking out of it. Yes indeed, the hole had developed in one of those little nooks and crannies of the suitcase where I had stuffed my underwear. This was a moment when I wished that I'd gone for the silk and lace g-strings rather than the comfy cotton Big Knickers which could comfortably house a family of hibernating bears. I feverishly scanned the carousel but luckily there were no offending items lurking ready to embarrass me.

I wondered idly whether my frillies were now gracing the tarmac at Glasgow, Amsterdam and San Francisco airports and hoped that this wouldn't cause an international incident when the pilot of a Boeing 747, 30,000 feet up, looked down and spotted an unconventional enormous pink landing field. I toyed briefly (for maybe, ooooh, half a nano-second) with the idea of going to lost luggage to see whether they had found any underwear, but the idea of them holding up a pair of knickers the size of Liechtenstein (which is not really that small a country) made me break out in a cold sweat.

"Please could you describe your underwear ma'am."

"Yes, well, it's ...ummmm....delicate flimsy and petite."

"Sorry ma'am we only have THESE, which look as though they were made for an overweight elephant."

"Oh, goodness me, no, they're definitely not mine."

This time I left my jacket in the shuttle bus on the way back to the airport. But I digress. Here are the edited highlights of our visit to San Francisco.

Our hotel was lovely. Unlike our compact, smart, bijou New York hotel, The Mayflower was bohemian, spacious and scruffy. We had a walk in wardrobe with a huge ungainly chest of drawers out of the 1950s, and big old-fashioned sash windows.

Everyone kept telling us that we had arrived during unusually glorious weather, and it was really hot and sunny, so we decided to be really touristy and do the open-topped bus thing, which turned out to be a great way to see the area. First of all was a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. On the way, a stop at this magnificent building - the Palace of Fine Arts.

While Fisherman's Wharf is horrendously touristy and a bit tacky in places, the sea lions at Pier 39 were one of the highlights of the trip and we spent ages just watching their antics. From a distance they look like big brown sacks. From close up they look like big brown sacks too, until they move.

Then it was over to Alcatraz. As part of the trip you get a fascinating audio tour which takes an hour or so, telling all sorts of interesting stories about the former residents and their lives there. I was struck with how weird it must have been to have been a child of one of the guards and to have spent your childhood on this little island which is both magical and forbidding.
Also, how close it is to the city, and how tempting it must have been when you could see the big city so close and yet so far. Apparently, it was the only prison in the federal system at the time to have hot showers. "How forward thinking and kind." I thought. But was just so that the prisoners didn't become acclimatised to cold water and try to swim across to freedom.

Our bus trips also took us through Chinatown, North Beach, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury. Our tour guide told us that there was a house they passed on this tour that always had a naked guy in the window. I got my camera at the ready. Sadly, he appeared to be taking the day off.
We also walked a lot, from Nob Hill to the Tenderloin (via the Tender Nob?), all around Union Square and Market Street, up those bloody great hills, and through Haight Ashbury. On Haight, I went into a shop to buy some jewellery and Ewan waited outside. He decided to sit down on the pavement as he was hot and tired and this guy came up to him "Hey buddy, you OK? Want some food?" "Do I look like a jakey*?" he said to me, half horrified, half proud, when I emerged from the shop. "Well, now you come to mention it..." We also went to Amoeba Records and spent about 5 hours in blissful browsing. I bought a Clash CD I thought I didn't have (but, of course, got it home to find out that I already have it), something by the wonderful Flaming Stars (not to be confused with the Flaming Lips and who are a great band to check out if you are a fan of noir - with tracks such as Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Face on the Bar Room Floor, New Hope For The Dead, and You Don't Always Want What You Get), Apples In Stereo and The Hives.

One of the most...interesting parts of San Francisco is the Tenderloin. With its smoke shops, dive bars and...massage parlours ("With hot showers"!) and the gauntlet of sometimes quite aggressive homeless people, drug dealers, people peeing in bus shelters, people begging and people with serious mental health problems (I didn't think that the sight and sound of someone blowing a kiss at you could be quite so creepy), it can be a bit daunting. But it's also one of the most fun areas with great bars, restaurants and music venues. From the top notch Bourbon and Branch cocktail bar (of which more later) to the wonderfully grungy Hemlock Tavern with its friendly staff and great music ( plus the ladies restroom that only has a curtain to preserve your modesty and graffiti that is well worth the price of admission).

On the topic of people begging, we saw this guy outside Macys one day. He was standing like this for about 3 hours and I felt really bad for him. The next day, I felt better. As we walked through Union Square, the same guy, dressed in the same outfit, with the same stick and begging cup, bounded off the back of a van, waved cheerily to the driver and sauntered towards Macys. As he got closer his steps became slower, his back more hunched, his face more pained until, as he reached his favourite spot, he was hobbling painfully into position. Cheeky beggar.

The day we were leaving was the Gay Pride festival so there were all sorts of preparations going on for it, including some people with placards protesting against it "God Hates Dykes on Bikes" - we couldn't work out whether God's aversion was to lesbians or two wheeled forms of transport. One of the nutters with the placards called out to a pretty girl walking past eating an ice cream "You're lickin' that ice cream all sexy, like you want the boys to notice you. They're all watchin' you lickin' on that ice cream and wantin' you to lick on them." Errrrr, actually mate, I think that says more about you than the girl.

We ate and drank. A lot. Amongst many great meals we had lunch at John's Grill with the lovely Simon Wood and his even lovelier wife Julie. We ate Brazilian Italian at Mangarosa in North Beach with the charming David Corbett (may I recommend the Brazilian cheesebread and David's books - both of which are tasty, hot and melt in the mouth). And I had one of the best steaks I've ever had at The Daily Grill, in the splendid company of two of my favourite people - Eddie 'Czar of Noir' Muller and his wife Kathleen. I've been a big fan of Eddie's since I read his first book THE DISTANCE which is one of my top 5 books of all times and should be much better known than it is.

Eddie and Kath also accompanied us to Bourbon and Branch which is an old speakeasy. You have to give a password before they let you in, and then you're seated in a quiet booth and given an enormous cocktail menu. Well, I just had to try a few. "But don't worry," I said to my companions, "I won't be mixing my drinks - I'll stick to tequila." So I started off gently with the Ambajador - kaffir lime infused tequila, passionfruit nectar, fresh lime and simple syrup. Next was the O'Farrell Street Fizz. Oh. My. God. Bourbon, blackberry liqueur, Allspice dram (a type of rum), lemonjuice, eggwhite (well, they say you should always have something to eat while you're drinking) and soda. Then the Claremont Affair - pear infused rye whisky, Amaro Nonino (which is a type of grappa), simple syrup, grenadine and egg white. Finally, the Clover Club. It had gin in it. Frankly, I have no idea what else.

We finally staggered home through the Tenderloin at 2.30 am. Strangely enough, it didn't seem quite so scary. I would definitely recommend Bourbon and Branch. One word of warning though - I felt a bit ropey the next morning - I think it was all those egg whites - I must have a dairy allergy or something.

For our last evening Eddie and Kath invited us over. David Corbett and the delightful Cara Black were also there and we had great chat and loads of laughs. Eddie made us cocktails in the Tiki lounge (including one he'd invented especially), we had a barbecue that included the most delicious corn on the cob oever, and listened to the Pogues.

A perfect end to a perfect holiday.

*Scots for tramp/bum/homeless person