Wednesday 30 September 2009

What I Read In September

BURY ME DEEP - Megan Abbott
Published: 2009
Setting: Phoenix and LA, 1931
Protagonist: Marion Seeley
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Thrill parties every night over on Hussel Street. That tiny house, why, it's 600 square feet of percolating, Wurlitzering sin. Those girls with their young skin, tight and glamorous, their rimy lungs and scratchy voices, one cheek flush and c'mon boys and the other, so accommodating, even with lil' wrists and ankles stripped to pearly bone by sickness.'
Marion Seeley's doctor husband has lost his licence due to drug use, and the only job he can get is in Mexico. So he leaves his young wife in Arizona where she gets a job at a clinic. There, she meets Louise Mercer - a nurse who is vibrant, scintillating, full of life, and is as much a woman of the world as Marion is naive and innocent. Louise and her friend Ginny introduce Marion to another life - wild parties, alcohol, and powerful and dangerous men. Watching Marion become drawn into the depravity and become tainted by it is both enthralling and unsettling. This is a wonderful tale filled with darkness, lust, sin and beautifully atmospheric and evocative writing. It will most definitely be on my list of favourite reads for 2009.

EMPTY EVER AFTER - Reed Farrel Coleman
Published: 2008
Setting: New York
Protagonist: Moe Prager
First Lines: 'We walked through the cemetery, Mr Roth's arm looped through mine. The cane in his left hand tapped out a mournful meter on the ice-slicked gravel paths that wound their way through endless rows of gravestones. The crunch and scrape of our footfalls were swallowed up and forgotten as easily as the heartbeats and breaths of all the dead, ever.'
PI and former cop Moe Prager is haunted by the past - quite literally - as a decision he made over 20 years before is thrown into question once again. And now, the cause of so many problems in his life, Moe's dead brother in law, Patrick Maloney, is seemingly resurrected. Corruption, lies, secrets, loss, uncertainty and despair all serve to make this a great read that lingered in my mind long after I had finished. Coleman's prose is poetic and I love the way this series is as much about keeping secrets as revealing them. EMPTY EVER AFTER has Moe revisiting his previous cases, so it's probably best to read some of the earlier books in the series first. And you should - they're excellent.

BARBELO'S BLOOD - Capt. Joseph Barbelo

Published: 2009
Setting: Brixton, London, 1980s
Protagonist: Capt. Joseph Barbelo
Series?: standalone
First Lines: 'The scent of ionised concrete; the underpass, dripping the evening rain, thundering a hundred regrets into my brain.'
BARBELO'S BLOOD is like a cross between Death Wish and Grumpy Old Men. The subtitle is "The Trusty Terrorist's Illuminati Handbook", and it has all that and more - conspiracies, major philosophical concepts, action-hero thriller stuff and complete and utter madness. Really, I mean it. It's set in Brixton in the 1980s and features eighty-two year old Capt. Joseph Barbelo who, despite his advancing years, takes over a 'firm' and causes havoc - even going so far as to contemplate blackmailing the Bank of England. Lots of very clever stuff, lots of stuff that went over my head, and lots of stuff that made me laugh. Barbelo is a fascinating character, and the supporting characters are excellently drawn. I have no idea how to classify this one - magical realism meets hardboiled meets heavy acid trip, perhaps. A very, very different book that I heartily recommend. But not to my Mum.

ASHES BY NOW - Mark Timlin
Published: 1993
Setting: London
Protagonist: Nick Sharman
Series?: 9th
First Lines: 'That morning, one not much different from any other, I let myself into my flat, kicked off my shoes and opened the fridge to find out what was left there in the way of alcohol.'
Private Investigator Nick Sharman is contacted by 'Sailor' Grant - a man Nick helped to put away for rape and murder twelve years before when he was a young, enthusiastic policeman. It's a case that has preyed on his mind since then. And now Sailor wants Nick to help him clear his name. Edgy, tough, hard-hitting and exciting - this was my first Mark Timlin novel but it definitely won't be my last.

Published: 2009
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Various
Series?: Short story collection

This is an anthology of crime stories set in Edinburgh in support of the OneCity Trust (which is committed to tackling poverty in all its forms). The writers included are not all crime fiction authors but all have written a story set in Edinburgh and featuring a crime. It is an excellent and very varied collection. I love short story collections because they introduce me to writers I have never read, and give me a little bit extra from authors I enjoy. There are stories by - amongst others - Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina and ALKennedy. My favourite stories were by John Burnside and Ian Rankin.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Festivals and Porridge

Ian Rankin at the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival from October16th to 31st. And here he is in the Independent, on his new graphic novel.

A focus on the booksellers at Wigtown's festival.

Craig Sisterson reviews Craig Russell's LENNOX for Eurocrime.

An interesting report from the Oxfam Bookfest (which was back in July)

Crime writers Ann Cleeves, Stuart McBride, Alex Gray and G J Moffat will be doing porridge in Inverness Prison.

And, finally, The Times pick their best 50 paperbacks of 2009. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Monday 28 September 2009

Warning - Gratuitous Holiday Snaps

Well, here I am, back again, after a lovely weekend. We went to Inveraray, which is a tiny little town in the west of Scotland on the shores of Loch Fyne. It has a castle, a jail, gorgeous scenery, a few pubs, and about seventeen thousand shops selling tourist tat. You can get See You Jimmy hats in every other shop in the high street. Why you would want to do such a thing I have no earthly clue, but there you go- they are, sadly, available.

We spent the whole weekend stuffing our faces. Here we are about to eat at the famous Loch Fyne seafood restaurant. I had oyster followed by lobster. Luckily the photos was taken before the meal because by the end of it I had lobster in my hair and butter all over my face. It was yummy. Not my face - that can never be described as yummy.

Inveraray Castle is the home of the Duke of Argyll. As with most Scottish history, all you really need to know about the historical earls and dukes of Argyll is that most of them didn't like the English, and conspired with...well, anyone else, against them. The castle is very grand, there are lots of paintings, fancy furnishings and nice cake in the cafe. As usual, I spent most of the time wandering around the castle trying to see into bits that you're not supposed to go in. I got caught opening a door. Whoops.

We also visited the jail/courthouse, which is a fascinating place with lots of dummies. This picture shows three of the dummies. It would have been a horrendous place to live, although in the 1840s new reforms brought in central heating, three meals a day and gas lighting (to replace no heat, no lights, one meal a day). Unfortunately, that turned out to be too much largesse in one go and people were queuing up to get in. Mind you, it wasn't very hard to get yourself thrown into jail. Walking around after dark on a Sunday would do it. One little boy got thrown into the cells for stealing a ginger biscuit. You could get 14 years for stealing a sheep, and 7 years for murder. I got to try the thumbscrews and a table you could lie on and be whipped, but enough of my personal life...

I had a nice little haul of gifts, including Nelson Algren's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, David Simon's HOMICIDE, Nick Cave's THE DEATH OF BUNNY MONROE (yippee!!), some personalised notepaper (I have a thing about paper), a couple of Muse albums, and tickets to the ballet (Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray). And then last night we went to see Bombay Bicycle Club at one of my favourite Glasgow venues - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut. They were brilliant, although we brought the average age of the crowd up quite considerably...

And now, to return you to your regularly scheduled crime fiction, here are a couple of news items.

Spend a minute with Philip Kerr. And he's shortlisted for the 2009 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award.

Craig Russell interviewed in the Aberdeen Press and Journal.

Iain Banks at the Wigtown book festival between now and 4th October, and the Beverley Literature Festival (October 1st to 11th). I know he has an alter ego in Iain M Banks, but presumably he's scheduled for different days. And TRANSITION is reviewed in The Guardian.

The Independent reviews Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE. And Norm at CrimeScraps reports on her appearance at the Budleigh Salterton festival.

Sue Walker's THE BURNING comes out on October 1st.

And finally, what a nice idea as a hotel leaves an Ian Rankin novel in every suite. I'm not sure what you get in your room if it's not as posh as a suite, mind.

Friday 25 September 2009

Short and Sharp

Quick and early today. It's my birthday this weekend and we areleaving shortly for a weekend of festivities and pampering. At least, that's what I'm hoping for... So no post Saturday or Sunday this week. I'll catch up on Monday.

More on the North Lanarkshire Words 2009 festival, nice to see there's a heavy crime fiction influence.

Louise Welsh's play Memory Cells on at Glasgay! between 20th and 24th October.

It's UNICEF Crime Night at Glasgow's Hillhead Library on October 16th with Karen Campbell, Helen Fitzgerald, Caro Ramsay and Alex Gray. And there's a short story competition - the topic is 'crime', the word count is 1500 words and the phrase "out of the darkness" needs to appear somewhere in the story. Closing date is 30th September, entries cost £6 with all proceeds going to UNICEF. Entries will be judged by Helen and Karen with the winner receiving signed copies of the authors' books, plus an award presented at the Crime Night and the story showcased at a special reading on 17th October from 2pm-4pm, also at Hillhead Library. Why are these events always while I am away? . For more information contact Hillhead Library or e-mail

Craig Russell on his new series character LENNOX.

And finally, feeling as though you want to treat yourself? Love luxury hotels complete with butlers? Books? Pubs? Edinburgh? Then how about this?

Have a lovely weekend all. X

Thursday 24 September 2009

P Is For...

Pat McIntosh - author of six books in a series featuring Gilbert Cunningham, a young notary in 15th century Glasgow. The first book in the series - THE HARPER'S QUINE - introduces us to Gil as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the new Glasgow Cathedral. Later books in the series are set in Glasgow University, Stirling, Linlithgow, an almshouse, and a coalmine amongst other locations. "With a historian's eye for detail and a novelist's flair for plot and characterization, McIntosh provides an intelligent, authentic, and suspenseful historical whodunit that will please the most demanding of Ellis Peters' fans." - Booklist

Paul Johnston - Paul Johnston is the author of three very different series - the Alex Mavros novels, set in Greece, featuring a half-Greek, half-Scottish private investigator; the Matt Wells novels which feature a crime novelist as protagonist; and the Quintilian Dalrymple series (my favourite of Johnston's series) which are set in a dystopian Edinburgh in the near future (2020s). The protagonist is an ex-policeman turned private investigator who's not best loved by the authorities. Funny, clever and great storytelling. And it's been far too long since the last one. "In a series of highly original books set a couple of decades in the future, Paul Johnston has created a portrait of the post-Enlightenment city-state of Edinburgh, whose inhabitants' drab lives are controlled by a secretive little group of dour Guardians. Despite the grimness of the setting, the books are always entertaining, in part because of the unsquashably rebellious personality of Johnston's maverick sleuth, Quint Dalrymple, and the sardonic humour which enlivens the narrative." - Sunday Telegraph

Peter May - as well as writing for TV, Peter May has written standalone thrillers, plus a series featuring a half-Scottish, half-Italian former forensic scientist called Enzo MacLeod who lives in France and solves cold cases. Peter May is probably best known, however, for his China set thrillers which pair detective Li Yan and pathologist Margaret Campbell. "An accomplished pulse-racer of a novel. This book is much more than just a run of the mill whodunit, think Silence of the Lambs crossed with Quincy, with a bit of the Lonely Planet's Guide to Beijing thrown in." -Daily Record (about chinese Whispers).

Peter Turnbull - Peter Turnbull is the author of over 35 novels. He is best known for the police procedurals set in Glasgow's P Division - a fictitious division similar to Ed McBain's 87th Precinct. Like McBain's books, the stories don't focus on one or two characters, but the entire division. Sadly, he stopped writing this series in the late 1990s. He also writes a police procedural series set in York featuring Chief Inspector Hennessey and Sergeant Yellich, as well as a number of standalone novels. "Our own mean streets done to a turn by Turnbull" - The Times. "Grips like the devil’s forceps" - The Observer.

Philip Kerr - Philip Kerr has written six books in the Bernie Gunther series - Bernie is a hard-boiled detective in Berlin in the 1930s who specialises in finding missing persons. Kerr has also written a number of other thrillers set in the past, present and future, as well as childrens' books under the name P B Kerr. His most recent Bernie Gunther novel - THE DEAD RISE NOT - recently won the RBA international prize for crime fiction - the world's most lucrative crime fiction prize (125,000 Euros - nice!) "Kerr builds his story like an apple strudel, lots of layers that peel away to reveal a shocker based on fact that threatens everybody from Peron down to Gunther...A Quiet Flame is an intelligent, smartly written thriller with a touch of reality that makes its chills even more chilly" - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Wednesday 23 September 2009

A Cornucopia of Conventions

Early news from the 2010 Bouchercon in San Francisco - Val McDermid and Denise Mina in conversation.

And for those who can't wait until October 2010, how about Bouchercon in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks time? Anyone who reads this who is going, please come up and say hi - as long as you don't mind a hug in return. A quick look down the attendee list does not throw up any Scottish authors...that must be wrong, surely? Anyway, I am hoping to blog from Indianapolis at some point, if not several points, after a few days spent visiting my lovely friend Bobbie in Illinois.

Irvine Welsh on Henley Literary Festival, sequels and prequels.

Sherlock Holmes features heavily in the Havant Literary Festival. (Is there any town in Britain that doesn't have its own literary festival these days? How brilliant that there is so much focus on books. And, speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I'm sure I don't have any readers from New Zealand, but just in case, here's a competition to win THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

More on the Alexander McCall Smith auction, complete with diamonds.

Listen to Iain Banks TRANSITION as a free podcast.

And finally, a reminder about the delightful Russel McLean's book launch in Dundee next week.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Complaints, Fevers and Yearnings

A review of Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS and also his DARK ENTRIES.

And one for Val McDermid for FEVER OF THE BONE. And, talking of Val, she and Kate Atkinson are amongst a stellar line up appearing at the Manchester Literature Festival from October 15th to 25th. And globetrotting Val will also be appearing at Crime Day at the Bodleian Library in Oxford on 2nd October.

I have added a new author over to the right in the links- Ross Robertson, whose debut novel - A YEARNING FOR JACOB'S SON - is a Scottish set political thriller and has been described as 'fast, caustic, shocking and controversial'.

A sequel to the new SherlockHolmes film is already on the cards.

Monday 21 September 2009

We Interrupt Your Regular Scottish Blog Posts... announce a new independent crime publisher. And, since I love independent crime publishers, and this one looks like a cracker (their first book sounds brilliant, and the marvellous J T Lindroos is involved) here is their press release (with apologies for no Scottish content other than a blurb from Allan Guthrie which, let's face it, is quite enough reason):

Here's the score. The Outfit has the handle on tough guys and even tougher girls. Even the book business needs its own plunder squad.

Formed by Prime Books head-honcho, award-winning editor Sean Wallace, and the Point Blank Press co-founder J.T. Lindroos, The Outfit has their plans, artillery and blueprints ready for the big takeover.

Their breakout title is the award-winning Australian hardboiled debut PEEPSHOW by the criminally under-appreciated Leigh Redhead. The Weekend Australian called it the 'best new [crime] novel of the year'. The follow-up featuring our smart and sexy stripper slash private investigator Simone Kirsch, CHERRY PIE, is scheduled for 2010. Redhead -- yes, really -- has not worked as a private investigator, but she has been a cook on a prawn trawler from Cairns to Cape York, stripped at the Crazy Horse and Club X Bar in Melbourne, written five novels, and currently teaches English in Vietnam.

"I couldn't believe this series had not been picked up for US publication," says Lindroos. "It's entertaining, smart and tough, and Leigh obviously knows what she's writing about. There's a lot of outstanding downunder crime fiction that just isn't getting the exposure it deserves and we're planning give it some."

The Outfit will chase the inaugural title with a long-lost novel by Edgar Award winning author Frank McAuliffe. SHOOT THE PRESIDENT, ARE YOU MAD? is the final book to be published in McAuliffe's series featuring the rapscallion Augustus Mandrell. The reason for the long delay in getting the book published? McAuliffe submitted the manuscript to his publisher just prior to death of JFK, and the book was cancelled. The Outfit is about to correct that mistake.

"We'll handle four to six titles a year, making sure all the books are smart and entertaining. Don't expect a 500-page tome. We like short and sharp. Like an icepick. Every book we publish will be a really good read."

PEEPSHOW is available now.

The Outfit

“Australian author Redhead puts her past as a stripper and table dancer to effective use in her debut, the first in a crime series to feature aspiring PI Simone Kirsch … Redhead has made an unlikely premise convincing. ” —Publishers Weekly

“PEEPSHOW introduces us to a hugely entertaining and engaging new voice. Stripper-cum-private investigator Simone Kirsch is a terrific new character and Peepshow is a great read.” —Allan Guthrie, author of SLAMMER.

“PEEPSHOW [is] a wonderful private eye novel … Simone is a great character, a little out of her depth and she knows it, not all that admirable but not the least bit apologetic for her background, and ultimately smart and likable enough that the reader can’t help but root for her.” —James Reasoner, author of DUST DEVILS

Sunday 20 September 2009

Happy Anniversary, Happy Sunday

Well, I hope you've all had a lovely weekend. I certainly have. It's my Mum and Dad's Golden Wedding Anniversary so they are away on a wee jaunt in the Isle of Wight. Bizarrely, when I rang them yesterday to congratulate them, this was the conversation that ensued:

Me: Happy Anniversary Dad! Are you having a lovely time? How is the hotel? What's the weather like? Is the food nice? What have you been doing? What have you seen?

Dad: Hello love, I'll pass you over to your mother.

Me: Hello Mum, happy Anniversary!

Mum: Eee, I've just sat in some shit, but your dad says it's chocolate.

Me (confused): How did he know? Did he lick it?

So there you have it. My parents and I love them. Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad, and here's to another fifty years.

And can anyone tell me why, given that DOWN BY LAW is one of my favourite films, I have never seen another Jim Jarmusch film until this weekend? We watched DEAD MAN and I absolutely loved it - what a great film. Anyone have any other favourite Jarmusch films they want to recommend?

And now, onto the regularly scheduled Scottish crime fiction stuff.

First, an interview with Alexander McCall Smith, serial novelist. And talking of McCall Smith, how about winning a signed manuscript along with a diamond necklace? And here's a review of THE LOST ART OF GRATITUDE.

Quintin Jardine on childhood memories.

And, not for the first time, I point you to novelist and journalist Tom Morton's blog, where in this post he talks very entertainingly about his week.

An article from DNA India about DNA dramas, talking about Denise Mina and others.

The Guardian reviews Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE.

And an interview with Iain Banks in the FT.

And, finally, the imprint that I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of is announced. The Mike Hodges mentioned is the director of the original GET CARTER, and his novel WATCHING THE WHEELS COME OFF, sounds brilliant. The back cover copy says "The next Houdini and one of Mark’s few remaining PR clients, Reg Turpin, is about to attempt a great feat of escapology, and then Dr. Herman Temple, the self-appointed guru, will arrive to conduct a seminar on the dynamics of leadership at the Grand Atlantic Hotel. It’s going to be his big day and nothing’s going to spoil it. Well, nothing apart from the seedy private investigator who’s just unpacking his thermal underwear, pyjamas and a .32 Smith & Wesson at a local bed and breakfast; Avril, the voluptuous, insatiable wife of the drunken hotel owner; a man called Bela; and Alice, Temple’s beautiful, if terrifyingly ambitious, assistant." I'm really looking forward to that one.

Friday 18 September 2009

Shouldn't They Be Writing?

To paraphrase Denise Mina, with all these festivals it's a case of throw a brick and hit a crime fiction author (but don't, by the way, that wasn't a suggestion...)

Speaking of Denise Mina, she and Louise Welsh are doing events at the Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival.

And Louise Welsh will be at the North Lanarkshire Festival of Books And Writing.

More on the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.

And Val McDermid is very busy, because here she is at the Ilkley Literature Festival.

And Alexander McCall Smith to appear at the Lennoxlove Book Festival in Haddington.

For anyone in and around Cambridge on Monday September 21st, Manda Scott will be on a panel at Heffers.

I do wish I could go to the Wigtown Book Festival (September 25th to 4th October) - it's looking like an excellent series of events.

And finally, if you can't make any of those, then why not go and have a chat with the charming Ray Banks. You could turn up at his house for a cuppa, but he might thump you, so why not chat to him online, here, on September 26th.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Holmes, Reviews and Nightmares

An article on the new Sherlock Holmes film. And the lovely Rafe McGregor gives us Sherlock Holmes for beginners.

Reviews abound - first of all Gerard Brennan with a review of the very intriguing sounding Liam McIlvanney's ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN. Next, a review of Allan Guthrie's wonderful KISS HER GOODBYE. And the Independent reviews Christopher Brookmyre's PANDAEMONIUM.

And, finally, Robert Louis Stevenson's worst nightmare set to music. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder whether anyone wants to set my nightmare about having to eat my way out of the middle of an enormous treacle sponge pudding to music. Actually, on second thoughts, that wasn't so much a nightmare as a fantasy...

Wednesday 16 September 2009

M and N are for...

It's been a while since I did an alphabet post, as there seems to have been so much other stuff to write about, so here's a catch up of the remaining (recently added) Ms, and the only N on my list:

Margot Bennett - born in 1912, Margot Bennet published nine books in the 20 year period from 1945 to 1964, several of which were crime fiction featuring her series character John Davies. Her best known novel - THE WIDOW OF BATH - was adapted for television and Bennett also wrote for television - most notably several epsiodes of Maigret. She won the prestigious Gold Dagger award in 1958 for SOMEONE FROM THE PAST. Sorry, I can't find any reviews of her books to quote.

Morag Joss - author of six crime fiction novels - three psychological suspense, and three in a series featuring cellist Sara Selkirk. Her novel HALF BROKEN THINGS (the tale of three loners who are drawn together, but whose pasts catch up with them) was awarded the CWA Silver Dagger in 2003, and her most recent novel - THE NIGHT FOLLOWING (about a woman who, temporarily distracted by the betrayal of her husband, kills a woman in a hit-and-run accident) was nominated for an Edgar. "For her mastery of mood, her complex story lines and her shrewd appreciation of the frail boundaries that divide the sane from the mad, Morag Joss has been compared to…Ruth Rendell, Barbara Vine, and Minette Walters. Such compliments are tossed about too lightly in the publishing world, but this one is so justified it seems like an understatement." Washington Post.

Neil Forsyth - while working as a journalist in Dundee, Neil Forsyth discovered the story of Scottish fraudster Elliot Castro who, by the age of 21, was living the high life in London, New York and LA on the money from other peoples' credit cards, before gradually losing his grip on reality as he tried to juggle he various lies he had told. Forsyth's first book - OTHER PEOPLES' MONEY is the story of Castro. LET THEM COME THROUGH is Forsyth's first novel and is the darkly funny tale of celebrity medium Nick Santini. "A gritty, funny, sometimes tragic story about corruption and fading celebrity. You'll never enjoy existing among such a grotty cast more." The Bookbag.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Fever, Festivals and Flicking The Viccies

Yet more reviews of Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE. And in one of them, Maxine Clarke talks about joining the new social networking site RigMarole, described in the book.

And here's Val talking about her similarities to Agatha Christie

A write up of Alexander McCall Smith's event at the Edinburgh book festival.

Aly Monroe with an interesting blog post on the language of character.

Iain Banks talks about TRANSITION, drugs and flicking the viccies at Ian Rankin.

Monday 14 September 2009

Tales From The 62 Bus - Number 3

Well, I didn't manage to get to the book event last night as I had a stinking migraine. So here, in the absence of a proper post, is another Glasgow bus story.

I was sitting there on the bus, happily reading away and listening to the drunk behind me eating his fish and chips (I'm just glad I couldn't see him). The bus stopped at a junction and there was a loud banging on the door. The driver eventually opened it and this woman stormed on and started shouting at the driver:

"You just hit ma car, ya daft bampot."

"I didnae."

"Aye ya did ya numpty. You've damaged ma car." She pointed to this black car just in front of us which, to my untrained eye, looked as though it didn't have a scratch on it. "Did ye no' hear the big bang?"

The driver looked puzzled "Naw." He turned round to the rest of the bus. "Did any of yis hear a bang?" Choruses of "Naw", "Nothin'" and "Get aff the bus hen, I want tae get up the road."

So they shouted at each other for a few more minutes and other people on the bus started joining in - particularly vociferous was an elderly woman, a real nippy sweetie, who kept telling the car driver to get off the bus because she wanted to get home. The car driver produced a witness, and the bus driver called the bus inspector who turned up a couple of minutes later. The drunk behind me muttered "Jeez, can ye no gi'es peace tae finish ma dinner" and eventually hauled himself out of his seat to go and join the fray at the front of the bus. All I can say is that if he ever applies for a job with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force, I hope he doesn't come looking for a reference from me.

He waved his chips at the woman whose car had allegedly been hit. "Hen, ye're puttin' me aff ma fish supper, can ye no' shut the feck up?"

"Go and sit down ya drunken auld get. This is none o' your business."

"Oh, none o' ma business is it? Aye it's ma business. I want tae eat ma chips in peace, and ah cannae. Ye've spoiled ma dinner, ah dinnae want it ony more." And with that, he screwed the fish and chips (traditionally wrapped in newspaper for a change) into a ball and heaved the whole lot out of the bus door. Only he didn't screw it up very well. The badly wrapped fish and chips landed squarely in the face of a poor, defenceless woman walking past. She immediately shouldered her way into the melee at the front of the bus, a piece of fish batter resting jauntily on her hair, shaking chips off her coat, tomato ketchup looking like blood dripping down her face.

Me and the bloke sitting next to me were howling with laughter by this point. The bus inspector took the woman hit by flying fish supper off the bus and tried to calm her down, the bus driver sent the drunk back to sit down, the car driver went to pull her car in to the side of the road just around the corner and the bus driver followed, so that they could exchange details. The drunk stoted back down the bus still shouting about the car driver.

"Aye, you widnae want tae come home to HER wi' a penny short in yer pay packet would ye? Wee hairy." [Glaswegian term for a female ned, for those unaware, by the way].

I'm pleased to say, though, that he soon perked up. As the bus driver parked around the corner the drunk looked out of the window. We'd parked outside somewhere very interesting.

"Oh look," he squealed, "An off-license, we can all get oot and get a wee hauf bottle o' whisky. Whit de ye say? Shall we all get blootered?" He then started giving us a unique rendition of Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind, recognisable only from the fact that the words consisted of
"The blowin' inna wind, is a blowin' inna wind, the blowin' is a blowin' inna wind."

Eventually, the bus set off again, and peace descended, with the exception of the drunk behind me, who tired out from doing his Ghandi impersonation, had lapsed into beery scented snores.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Short And Sweet Snippets For Sunday

An early Sunday round-up today as I'm off out this evening to see Helen Fitzgerald, Karen Campbell, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and Harry The Polis at the event I mentioned earlier this week. Hope to report on that tomorrow.

As also mentioned, there's a nice double page spread on Scottish crime fiction in the Sunday Herald. I love this quote from Denise Mina: "If you throw a brick on Sauchiehall Street you'll hit someone writing a crime novel." And long may that continue, I say. Well, not the brick throwing on Sauchiehall Street, of course, but the vast array of crime fiction authors in Scotland.

Ian Rankin is currently working on a screenplay of James Hogg's 1824 novel THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER - demonic possession, murder, religious fanaticism, satire, horror, serial killing and madness. Excellent! I'm looking forward to seeing that.

And, talking of screenplays, a major adaptation of Kate Atkinson's BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM is underway.

Russel D McLean with a spirited essay on why he loves crime fiction. Russel's second Dundee set PI novel THE LOST SISTER is out next month by the way, and, if it's as good as his first, we're in for a treat.

Martin Edwards chooses Bill Knox's VIEW FROM DANIEL PIKE as his entry into the Friday's Forgotten Books series. I love FFB because it introduces me to authors I may never have heard of otherwise, and also highlights those underrated and neglected authors like Bill Knox.

The National Library of Scotland opens its new visitor's centre. Christopher Brookmyre is one of those named to appear at a series of events.

Reviews for Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE, and THE COMPLAINTS and DARK ENTRIES by Ian Rankin.

An interview with Colin Galbraith.

And finally, adopted (by me!) Scot Chris Ewan launches a book club on the Isle of Man.

Friday 11 September 2009

That Friday Feeling

First off, I have it on very good authority (ie straight from the horse's mouth) that the Sunday Herald will feature an article on Scottish Crime Fiction this Sunday.

A preview of the Wigtown Book Festival.

The sequel to Irvine Welsh's TRAINSPOTTING is 'edging closer' to being made. Although not all parties are happy.

This sounds fascinating - a social networking site for McDermid fans.

An interesting article on how to write crime fiction featuring comments from Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Mark Billingham and Lee Child amongst others.

Alexander McCall Smith to appear at the Bridport Literary Festival.

And, finally, Edinburgh decides that ambassadors are better than tsars. You are spoiling us ambassador. Now, pass the chocolates.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Is This A Cover I See Before Me?

How gorgeous is this? After my excited post about my yummy US cover, here is my equally yummy UK cover. I particularly love the cigar stuck in the cake - the person who designed it has totally nailed it.

The UK and US covers are completely different but both are absolutely perfect and I am so thrilled. And I don't think I will ever get over the excitement, joy and 'pinch me' - it can't be real' of having my name on the cover of a book. I'm very grateful to those people who have made it possible - especially my lovely agent Allan Guthrie.

And now, before I get all Kate Winslet on you and burst into tears, on to proper news...

A nice piece on the underrated Peter Turnbull.

Good on ya, Ian Rankin.

A reminder of a rather spiffy looking event. I'm looking forward to this one:

Waterstone's Crime Time - Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Helen Fitzgerald, Harry Morris and Karen Campbell.
Eastwood Park Theatre

Sunday 13th September 2009 from 6.30-10.30PM

Tickets £8 available from: Waterstone's Newton Mearns, 0141 616 3933
and Eastwood Park Theatre Box Office, 0141 577 4970

Featuring the cream of Scotland's crime writers, telling stories, reading from their novels and answering your questions.

Louise Welsh - Author of prize-winning novel 'The Cutting Room', and Berlin burlesque crime thriller 'The Bullet Trick' will be reading exclusive previews from her next novel due out in March 2010.

Denise Mina - Author of the acclaimed Garnethill series will be talking about her latest novel - 'Still Midnight' an intelligent crime thriller which has been awarded numerous plaudits by the critics.

Karen Campbell - has penned her incendiary second novel 'After the Fire' a literary crime follow-up to 'The Twilight Time'. Her skillful writing is informed by her experiences in the Glasgow Police Force.

Helen FitzGerald - Author of sparklingly black crime fiction with a wicked twist, Helen will be talking about her latest novel 'The Devil's Staircase'

Harry Morris aka Harry the Polis - is well known for his hilarious anecdotes about serving as a Glasgow Policeman, and his stand-up routine always goes down fantastically well. His latest book 'Up Tae My Neck In Paperwork' continues the side-splitting saga.

For further details contact; Waterstone's Newton Mearns, 38 The Avenue, Newton Mearns, Glasgow, G77 6EY, 0141 616 3933

Wednesday 9 September 2009


Today, a duet of reviewlets from me and my Dad.

First, my thoughts on BARBELO'S BLOOD.

Capt. Joseph Barbelo - BARBELO'S BLOOD
Publisher: Galway Print
Published: 2009
(Soon to have a spiffy new cover and be re-published under the author's real name.)

First of all, this book is completely bonkers and defies all reviewing. I could stop there, but I won't, of course. BARBELO'S BLOOD is like a cross between Death Wish and Grumpy Old Men. The subtitle is "The Trusty Terrorist's Illuminati Handbook", and it has all that and more - conspiracies, major philosophical concepts, action-hero thriller stuff and complete and utter madness. Really, I mean it.

This utterly lunatic book is set in Brixton in the 1980s and, stars... eighty-two year old Capt. Joseph Barbelo who, despite his advancing years, takes over a 'firm' and causes havoc - even going so far as to contemplate blackmailing the Bank of England. Lots of very clever stuff, lots of stuff that went over my head, and lots of stuff that made me laugh. Barbelo is a fascinating character, and the supporting characters are excellently drawn - particularly the women, two of whom I absolutely adored. I have no idea how to classify this one - magical realism meets hardboiled meets heavy acid trip, perhaps. A very, very different book that I heartily recommend. But not to my Mum.

And next, my Dad's comments on ABSOLUTION (after he gives you a summary of his reading habits for the last 70-odd years).

Caro Ramsay - ABSOLUTION
Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd
Published: 2007

My reading habits were formed many years ago. Firstly the Biggles books by Capt. W E Johns, then The Saint books by Leslie Charteris, graduating to the novels by Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens and many others. I tried to read a whole series by those authors. After reading Caro Ramsay's first book I am looking forward to what follows.

Absolution starts in 1984 with PC Alan McAlpine looking after a girl in hospital. His imagination forms a picture of her, and he falls in love with that picture. The story then jumps forward to 2006, where, as a DCI, Alan McAlpine investigates a series of murders. By this time he is married, but still in love with the picture formed 22 years previously and, unfortunately, becoming an alcoholic. After his wife is attacked the investigation continues, run by his colleagues. The outcome was fairly obvious, with the two halves of the story coming together, however there was an unexpected twist at the end. There is much more to the story, but to put too much would spoil the tale to those who have not read it.

The characterisations appear to be what one would expect from an overworked group of police, the interviewees are not very helpful, and the reasons behind the murders and the murderer are quite believable.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Paycuts, Deals and Launches

Iain Banks takes a paycut. While TRANSITION gets mixed reviews.

Brilliant news of multiple deals for Helen Fitzgerald. Well done, that woman! I really like the look of HOT FLUSH and THE DONOR.

Have a look at Russel's blog for details of how to submit to a literary anthology called New Writing Dundee. And, for those in the vicinity of Dundee, the launch of Russel's second book, THE LOST SISTER is on October 1st at 7pm downstairs at Drouthy Neebors in the Perth Road in Dundee. It's free and open to everyone, but if you are planning to attend, e-mail just so they can keep track of the numbers.

And, a tad further afield, if you're in New Zealand, you can win a copy of Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT.

Monday 7 September 2009

Defining Genres By Bedroom Scene

A lazy post today as I am not feeling well, so, having been reminded of something I did a while ago (hi Vicki!) here's my stab at defining genres by how they deal with bedroom scenes. Dad - better keep Mum well away from this one.


There was a knock on the door of my hotel room. I knew who this would be. My heart started beating fast like a baby sparrow fluttering in my ribcage. I fluffed up my hair, touched up my lipstick, adjusted my heaving breasts and opened the door. Tarquin stood there, leaning against the door frame like a bronzed God. His Armani jacket was slung casually over his shoulder and an errant lock of hair formed a little kiss curl over his forehead. I wanted to reach out and tenderly push it back into place. He smiled at me - a smile which reached from his chiselled jaw right up to his smouldering eyes, softly caressing the contours of his exquisite cheekbones on the way up.

"Hey there gorgeous," he said leaning close, his hot breath warming mycheek. "I've got something for you."

My eyes travelled down to the straining crotch of his tailored trousers,where his throbbing manhood lurked. I trembled. "You'd better come in then." I said.


There was a knock at the door of my hotel room. I jumped out of bed and grabbed the bedside lamp. Who could this be at 3am? My nerves were still on edge from the threatening phone call I'd received earlier. The voice, slightly mechanical and completely without intonation, had said "Don't say I didn't warn you." The receiver had gently been replaced after a few seconds. I crept over to the door and looked out of the spyhole. The corridor was empty, the lights low; the whole hotel was sleeping. As my heart beat returned to normal, I realised I had been holding my breath.

I relaxed but tensed up again almost immediately. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the wardrobe door opening.


There was a knock at the door of my hotel room which woke me up from my dream. I felt half regretful and half relieved. I felt disloyal for dreaming about Inspector Danny Trevelyan when I should be concentrating on looking for my sister, who had mysteriously disappeared three days ago.

"Who's there?" I called out. There was no reply, just another knock. I got out of bed and walked to the door. With my hand on the doorknob I glanced out of the spyhole. There was no one there. As I turned away, puzzled, I saw the wardrobe door opening. I let out a squeak of fear and stayed rooted to the spot as a tall, handsome man stepped out of the wardrobe.

"Danny? What are you doing in the wardrobe?"

His eyes twinkled. "I came to tell you something about your sister and saw something mysterious in the wardrobe. "He shrugged. "I got locked in and didn't want to wake you up." I wasn't sure that I believed him. Was he all that he seemed? Was he even really a police inspector? But there was undeniably an element of sexual tension between us that troubled me more than anything. Well,except the mysterious disappearance of what's-her-name of course.


The explosion knocked the bedroom door off its hinges. Butch threw himself down by the side of the bed, grabbing his Uzi as he flew over the night table. The two men in balaclavas sprayed bullets into the room before turning and running off down the corridor. Butch jumped up, ran to the window and looked out. A black SUV with tinted windows was just pulling away in the courtyard below his hotel room. He could catch them.

Not stopping to open the window he jumped through, landing on the balcomy below. He turned to the shocked white face of the girl who'd been sitting on her balcony reading the morning paper. "Sorry lady, criminals to catch. I'll be back." He kissed her hard, grabbed the drainpipe and effortlessly slid to the ground. He ran towards his souped up chevy with 40 million horsepower under the hood and go faster stripes along the side. The idea of a car chase ending in a spectacular crash and the SUV bursting into flames excited him.


I quietly got out of bed, leaving Sheriff Pete Mallory gently snoring.I needed to get a head start on the day, what with having to make fresh bread, pack the childrens' lunches, finish the quilt I was handsewing for the Women's Guild Summer Fete, and take Andrew to the school concert and Butthead to the vet. Or was it the other way round? Since the murder of my neighbour Philip Stover I had been at sixes and sevens and hadn't been able to concentrate on anything other than trying to solve the crime, despite Pete Mallory's insistence that I keep my pert little nose out of business that didn't concern me.

I shook him awake. "Sheriff Mallory, do you have the key to Philip Stover's house? There might be a vital clue there that you missed. And, by the way, you need to get up and leave before the children wake up. I'm not supposed to have a love life since my husband ran off with his secretary 8 years ago."

He groaned. "Not that it's any of your business, but the key's in the front left pocket of my trousers. You really MUST learn to keep your pert little nose out of business that doesn't concern you. Now, for goodness sake come back to bed and give me a kiss. It's 3am, the children won't get up for 4 hours. And while we're on the subject - what the hell's wrong with sliced bread from the supermarket, let the children pack their own damn lunches - there's something weird about 4 30-somethings who all still live at home anyway. And another thing, the damn quilt's already bigger than Madison Square Garden and you've only been sewing it for 2 weeks; Andrew can take himself to the school concert - he's the headmaster for god's sake, and I can never remember - is Butthead the dog or one of the children? And for goodness sake, stop calling me Sheriff Mallory - we've been seeing each other for 6 years and you've stuck your nose into 12 murders over that time."


I reached over the mysterious dame in my bed, opened the drawer of the bedside cabinet and pulled out a half bottle of whisky. I took a slug and savoured the welcome burn in my throat as it went down. I lit a cigarette, screwing up my eyes against the smoke as it curled into the air. The Venetian blinds slanted a weak light into the room, leaving a pattern of gray stripes on the rumpled bedsheets. I looked at the broad as she lay spreadeagled on the bed. "Of all the beds in all the world,"I muttered "Why did you have to walk into mine?" She was a strawberry blonde and I knew she was trouble from the moment she'd stepped into my office the afternoon before. Her jailbird boyfriend had gone on the lam but she thought he'd been fingered by The Duke's mob of gorillas. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'd seen her sleazeball boyfriend getting on a Greyhound bus to Chattanooga, a petite brunette hanging from his muscular arm like....well, like something really delicate that hangs from something really ugly. It's early, I've got a hangover - similes and metaphors don't come easy until later in the day. Give me a break.

So anyway, I fed her some brandy, along with some line about how a cute tomato like her could always find another sucker to take care of her and here she was - in bed with that next sucker. Her lips had lost the layers of red lipstick and looked beestung and bruised, false eyelashes had given up the battle during last night's exertions and one of them now lay gently on her cheek like a depressed spider, and she smelled of expensive whisky and cheap perfume. God, she was gorgeous.


The phone rang. "Shit." Inspector Alan Jeffries woke with a start and reached out over his wife's prone body for the phone. He knocked the alarm clock off the cabinet in his haste and his bleary eyes caught sight of the luminous dial. 3am. "Shit," he said again. There could only be one reason for the phone ringing at 3am.

"Yeah?" he said into the receiver, rubbing his hand through his hair and over his eyes, trying to force himself awake. He belched - the sour beery taste made him wish he'd just come straight home last night rather than going out for a pint with the lads yet again.

"Guv? Watters here. You'd better come down to the Docks. We've got another murder."

Jeffries' wife stirred. "Alan? It's no good - I hate being a policeman's wife. I want a divorce."


Agatha Parple opened her bedroom door with a sigh of relief. She was so glad it was 9pm and she could turn in with a nice cup of hot cocoa. This had been a hectic day - from the moment she'd walked into the dining room at breakfast and seen Colonel Arbuthnot face down in the kippers with a south American blow dart in the back of his neck, until the moment she'd assembled the household in the library and Revealed that the murderer was young Fotheringham, who reminded her so much of the butcher's son, she hadn't stopped once all day. The sheets of her bed had been turned down by Betty, the slightly common but good hearted maid with the unfortunate habit of dropping her aitches. Agatha reached down and unfolded her nightdress from where it lay warming on the hot water bottle Lady Alexander thoughtfully provided for all her guests. Ah, surely the greatest bedtime experience anyone could ever have - the feel of toasty brushed cotton against one's skin.


William stirred as I opened the bedroom door and the scent of toast and jam wafted towards him. He opened his eyes. "I thought you'd be hungry after trying to solve the murders,." I said, "so I went downstairs and rustled up a treat for you." I put the tray in front of him. As he ate, I went through the recipe in my head, to make sure I'd cooked it correctly:

Toast and Jam: Take two slices of bread
Put bread in toaster
Switch toaster on and cook until a sort of brownish colour (pale brown rather than dark brown - definitely not black)

Handy hint - when the smoke alarm goes off, your toast is done
Remove from toaster and spread with butter (or vegetable spread of your choice)
Ladle a generous helping of jam over the top
Serve while still warm


Hector Lector opened the bedroom door. His victim was spreadeagled on the bed, her legs and arm tied to the bedposts. Hector made sure he had covered all his serial killer trademarks. His victim was a blue eyed woman with one arm and he had drowned her in a vat of hot chocolate while narrating The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. He had then tied her to the bed and had drawn a picture of a squirrel on the wall and scattered rose petals around the bedroom floor.

For a time the pounding in his head had subsided. He would be able to forget for a while that he had been burned by a scalding mug of hot chocolate as a baby, force-fed him by his mother Rose, a blue-eyed ex Womens Royal Navy sailor who lost an arm in a bizarre accident involving a rabid squirrel.

Hector sighed happily and left the bedroom.


Bob took off his boxer shorts and turned round, gazingly lovingly at his new love. Lumarella gasped in shock and drew her little pointy head back. "By Jupiter, what's that?" she cried. "On MY planet that looks like the tool we use to stir our Grogon Juice."


Legolas got out of bed in a huff. "What do you mean 'It's small'?" he said. "Of COURSE it's bloody small - I'm an elf."

Sunday 6 September 2009

Sunday Slew of News, Reviews and Interviews

Craig Clarke reviews Allan Guthrie.

The Lancashire Evening Post reviews Craig Russell's THE VALKYRIE SONG. And he's interviewed by Craig Sisterson here.

More on Ian Rankin's DARK ENTRIES. And Denise Mina speaks to him about comics on the BBC's Culture Show.

It must be festival season. The Inverness Book Festival - from 5th - 10th October, the Wigtown Festival from September 30th to October 3rd, and a bit of a stushie at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.

Lots and lots of news from Val McDermid with the release of her new book - FEVER OF THE BONE. First of all, she talks about her perfect reader and which literary character resembles her to the FT. And in the Times she talks about violence, lesbianism and being school mates with Gordon Brown. She tells the Herald she is "just a simple writer." And here she is on Agatha Christie.

Friday 4 September 2009

Teeny Tiny Friday Post

A review of Irvine Welsh's REHEATED CABBAGE.

CWA and Cactus TV launch a crime season.

Frederic Lindsay and Charles MacLean at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Stuart MacBride appearing at the British Science Festival.

Ian Rankin talks to Simon Mayo.

And Tony Black talks to Nick Stone at Allan Guthrie's marvellous Noir Originals site.

Crime writing dominates the Inverness Book Festival.

Philip Kerr wins a rather nice prize. Well done him!

Thursday 3 September 2009



Published: 2009

Publisher : Polygon

This is an anthology of crime stories set in Edinburgh in support of the OneCity Trust (which is committed to tackling poverty in all its forms, by developing local community projects which allow those communities to work for social justice. The writers included are not all crime fiction authors but all have written a story set in Edinburgh and featuring a crime. All the authors featured agreed that all their royalties should go to the Trust. You can find out more about the Trust at

Irvine Welsh – an ambassador of the Trust - says in his introduction to the collection “...I think it’s important that we realise, even as we are being entertained by the virtuoso skills of these great writers, that with regard to the nature of the OneCity Trust, for many people, crime is not a form of entertainment. Sadly, it’s a way of life.

It is an excellent and very varied collection. I love short story collections because they introduce me to writers I have never read, and give me a little bit extra from authors I enjoy.

Photo courtesy of Tim Duncan (thanks Tim!)

Here is a mini summary of the stories, and of my reactions to each of them:


Franklin is an ordinary man with an average life who feels that one day he will be tested and will rise to the challenge. He meets Connie “a girl who had never had a worry in her life greater than whether or not flat shoes made her calves look fat.” This is the story of meeting Connie’s parents for the first time. A quirky little tale that’s witty as well as slightly odd in a good way.


Sal tells her friend Marla about an internet chat site where you can explore the idea that you were someone else in a past life – a ”virtual masquerade ball.” When Marla decides she needs a past life of her own and chooses Mary Queen of Scots, this causes friction between the two friends. Another quirky story that’s a lot of fun.


Callum is a slightly obsessive-compulsive who spent 24 years stealing things. Now he’s a private eye dealing with minor domestic stuff – a woman who thinks her noisy neighbour is a drug dealer, a missing cat, and a missing husband. Not one of my favourite stories in the collection but still a good tale.


Jack Parlabane on a crusade to expose “hocus-pocus known by the name of homeopathy.” In a lot of ways, this was more of a Brookmyre rant against homeopathy than anything else, and it lacked a lot of the humour that a Brookmyre story usually has. As a big fan of Christopher Brookmyre, this was a bit disappointing. I often enjoy his rants immensely, but this seemed to be all rant and no story.


A man is stood up by the woman he’s having an affair with and ends up going for a meal with a couple of work colleagues. Although I saw the ending coming, this was one of my favourite stories in the collection. I really enjoyed the way he writes, and the atmosphere of the story.


The son of a Church of Scotland minister, and who is a firm believer in the sanctity of human life, saves a man who has crashed his car into a tree. An excellent story that made me think. My favourite of the collection.


Set in 1852, a doctor discovers that his old anatomy lecturer has been murdered. Told in a series of diary entries, this is a really atmospheric and thrilling story. And for me it was the strongest in the collection as far as a sense of place is concerned. Robertson really gives you a picture of old Edinburgh and its inhabitants.


The story of two policemen – one close to retirement and haunted by ghosts, the other a new father – are called to investigate reports of a woman screaming in Edinburgh’s famous Greyfriars churchyard. All they find is a pool of blood next to a stone casket in a mausoleum. A moving and spooky story which entwines past and present.


A young man is waiting at the bus station with his friend, ready to start a new life in London. That’s about as much of the plot as I can say as it’s a VERY short story. I would like to have had more. I really like Denise Mina’s writing.


A man pays a regular visit to the swimming baths with his friends – all of whom have suffered injury during the war. I found this one moving and well written but a little unsatisfying. I would definitely read more of her work based on this though.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Tales From The 62 Bus - Number 2 - West Side Story Glasgow Version

As I am still travelling, here's a lazy post. Following my 'snakes on a bus' experience here's an old tale from the number 62

We were out at a party and when we left it was impossible to get a taxi home as they were all aken. So we decided to wait for a bus. Now, this was a pretty bad idea anyway because after 10pm, Glasgow buses become an alternate universe where people talk to each other (but you
wish they wouldn't) and where no matter which bus you get on, where you're going, or what time after 10pm it is, you'll always be treated to a rendition of My Way ("hand naow, the hend is neeeeeeeeah"), somebody will be lying in the aisle snoring, sporadic fisticuffs will be breaking out at random and the air will be heady with the smell of fish and chips and beery belches.

Now, not only did we get on a bus after 10pm, but what we got was The Last Bus - a Glasgow experience that ranks only with typhoid on the list of Things To Be Avoided At All Costs. But there you go. We got on it. It was really crowded, so we had to stand up. And we immediately discovered a pitched battle going on between the front of the bus and the back of the bus. The main reason for this as we understood it (given that no-one was in the remotest bit comprehensible) was that someone at the back of the bus was ringing the bell over and over.

It was like The Sharks and The Jets. At the back of the bus was a group of neds in flammable shellsuits, and at the front was a group of elderly ladies who appeared to have put on sequins to go to the bingo. Both groups had been drinking heavily. Light the blue shellsuit and retire. I thought I'd stepped into a particularly Scottish version of West Side Story.

The air was thick with quaint anglo-saxon terminology - most of it, it has to be said coming from the elderly bingo-goers. Most of the insults I couldn't repeat here, but there's one which is a typically Glaswegian one which sounds innocuous but, when delivered with the right amount of sneering venom, is like a red rag to a bull "Hey you, ya tube". I'll leave you to imagine the rest. The neds were more or less restricting themselves to "You're not ma maw", "Naw, she's yer granny", and "Gie yersel' peace Methuselah" (this particular one was followed by a few moments silence as everyone digested the name, until someone piped up "Was Methuselah no' that baldy-heeded bampot who used tae play fer Dundee United?")

By this time, everyone on the bus had joined in the slanging match. The bloke standing (I use the term advisedly since he was swaying all over the place) next to us, was shouting over and over again at the top of his voice "Shut the f*** up ya wee nyaffs". I wasn't quite sure whether he was talking to The Neds or The Sequins and I don't think he did either. I, on the other hand, just wanted to sing "I feel pretty, Oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and gay, And I pity any girl who isn't me today", and then see the two halves of the bus break out into spontaneous dance, or at the very least, stand up without staggering. Meanwhile, in all this madness, the phantom belldinger of old Glasgow town was still at it.

The bus stopped and I looked out of the window. Hang on, this wasn't a scheduled bus stop. This was the police station. Excellent. Of all the crimes being committed all over Glasgow last night, we were in the middle of probably the most heinous. I could just see the headlines the next morning "Glasgow Revellers in Bus Bell Drama".

Tuesday 1 September 2009

What I Read In August

VANILLA RIDE - Joe Lansdale
Published: 2009
Setting: East Texas
Protagonist: Hap Collins and Leonard Pine
Series?: 7th
First Lines: 'I hadn't been shot at in a while, and no one had hit me in the head for a whole month or two. It was kind of a record and I was starting to feel special.'
At long, long last, East Texas' finest - Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are back. Hap is a white trash, good ol' boy, with an eye for the ladies, but a penchant for bunny slippers; Leonard is a black, gay, martial arts expert and Vietnam veteran. Together they've been through many years of dead end jobs, romantic troubles, fights, fun and friendship. In this outing, they agree to help an old friend, whose granddaughter is living with a local, small-time drug-dealer. A little skirmish later and our heroes have rescued the girl. Job done. Unfortunately, the drug dealer is tied to the Dixie Mafia - a rather scary bunch of guys with a seemingly never-ending array of assassins, all of whom now seem to be after Hap and Leonard. A great mix of viloence, thrills, humour, and added philosophy from Hap. This is one of my very favourite series, and Joe Lansdale is a truly brilliant writer, and a wonderful storyteller. As I wrote those first lines out for this summary, I wanted to get the book off the shelf and read it all over again. Love it, love it, love it. And here's a great podcast interview with Joe Lansdale.

THE TWILIGHT TIME - Karen Campbell

Published: 2008
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Sergeant Anna Cameron
Series?: First
First Lines: '"Put your arm back through." "No, darlin', no. I got to breathe."'
When Sergeant Anna Cameron arrives at Glasgow's Stewart Street police station to take charge of the Flexi Unit she shows a very confident front - composed, successful, and more than a little frosty. Her personal life, however, is anything but composed and successful. Prostitutes are being viciously attacked and Anna's team is tasked with solving the crimes - a task made much more difficult by the often suspicious and sometimes downright unhelpful nature of the victims. In addition, Anna gets involved in the case of an elderly Polish man who is the target of racial abuse. Anna is a really interesting character - sometimes frustrating, sometimes cold, often very likeable, but above all, never dull. All the characters are very well drawn and some of them are surprisingly touching, without being cloying and melodramatic. In places the book is very dark and not for the squeamish. Along with the darkness there are also some great touches of black humour which mean that it's not a depressing read. The setting is one of the best depictions of Glasgow I've read, and it's shown as the schizophrenic, gritty, in-your-face, characterful city it is. On top of all that, there's a gripping plot that is full of twists and turns. But this is not a bog standard police procedural. It's an insight into real peoples' lives - police, victims and criminals - who all come across in shades of grey.

Published: 2009 (originally 1935 and lost to the world)
Setting: Glasgow, Chicago, New York - 1930s
Protagonist: Bob Moore
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life.'
This is the autobiography of Glaswegian Bob Moore - sailor, adventurer, engineer, world traveller. He's also racist, sexist, violent and, more often than not, pickled in alcohol. Breaker of almost every law imaginable, he's also a thoroughly charming rapscallion. He keeps telling us he's not a crook, and you almost believe him. He doesn't steal things - he borrows things and just doesn't return them. And besides, usually it's the owner's fault he doesn't give them back - they should have been more careful shouldn't they? He has a callous disregard for human life, sometimes breathtakingly so. Moore travels the world in the 1920s and 30s - America, South America, Europe, China - partly because he has a real sense of adventure and seems to revel in danger - but partly because towns, cities, countries and even whole continents often end up a little hot for him because he's...well, let's face it...he is a crook. Bob Moore wouldn't know a scruple if it jumped up and bit him, but he knows how to spin a great yarn.

THE SINGER - Cathi Unsworth
Published: 2007
Setting: Mostly Hull and London
Protagonist: The members of punk rock band Blood Truth
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'You can tell its love by the expression on their faces. Four, maybe five hundred of them, packed together so tightly they've formed a kind of human sea, rolling and lapping in waves around the rim of the stage.'
It's 1977 and, like many young people at the time, Stevie Mullin has discovered punk. He and some mates form a band and, when they meet their edgy but charismatic singer Vincent Smith, it seems as though everything falls into place. They shoot to fame on the punk scene and make powerful and inspiring music, despite the tensions under the surface - mostly caused by Vince, who is quite a destructive character. Then, in 1981 Vince disappears. Twenty years later, journalist Eddie Bracknell is intrigued by the story and delves into the secrets and lies that surrounded his disappearance. Cathi Unsworth was a music journalist during the punk era and the atmosphere is totally authentic. I found myself trying to work out whether some of the characters were based on real people. The story and the characters reflect the passion, energy, aggression and rawness of punk, as well as the deprivation, social unrest and alienation of the times.

Published: 1949
Setting: errrr...a city somewhere along the Ohio River
Protagonist: Captain Sam Birge of the Homicide Squad
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'The yellow fog was already creeping up around the Marne Hotel, mingling with the white breath from the sewers, carrying west the faint, sweet, rotting scent of the Ohio River.'
Captain Sam Birge is a dedicated and overworked homicide detective. His latest case is the brutal murder of night club hostess Janice Morel - or, as the front of the book describes her "blackmailer, hostess-entertainer, a lady of no virtue. Somebody wanted her dead." Janice lived in a sleazy residential hotel and when Birge and his partner, Lieutenant Charley Hagen, start their investigations, they interview a number of colourful characters, most of whom have mysterious pasts, or tortured presents, and Krasner brings them all to life with a few deft touches. We get to know Janice herself through fragments of diaries she has left which chart her downward spiral from hopeful, naive small town girl with ambitions of fame and fortune, to used-up, old before her time good time girl. This is an excellent, noir-feeling book, which has a wonderfully seedy atmosphere. Highly recommended for lovers of noir or hard-boiled or TV series like Dragnet.

EYE FOR AN EYE - Frank Muir
Published: 2007
Setting: St Andrews, Scotland
Protagonist: DI Andy Gilchrist
Series?: 1st
First Lines: 'Rain hangs from the sky in silver ropes that dance on the street and spill from choked gutters. Lightening flashes. His face flickers white.'
A serial killer called The Stabber is terrorising Saint Andrews. The victims are all men who abuse women, they are all attacked during storms, and they are all stabbed in the left eye. I sighed when I read the prologue - why must serial killers always write in italics? I mused to myself, twisting the legs off a wasp. However, there was a lot about this book that I liked - particularly the main character - DI Andy Gilchrist, and a couple of the supporting cast. There were things he did that I didn't agree with (she says, vaguely, so as not to give anything away), but I found him an easy and interesting character to read about. The dialogue is excellent and it's very well paced. I also enjoyed the St Andrews setting - traditionally the home of golf and where princes go to university.