Friday 30 April 2010

Wolves, Honey Buckets and Wanted Posters

First day in Aniak. Click the link to be taken to my Alaska blog.

Thursday 29 April 2010

The Fat Bird Has Landed

First Alaska post over at Alaskan Misadventures


Monday 26 April 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

This weekend was the Mannslaughter and Mayhem event organised by the charming Chris Ewan, over in the Isle of Man. I was as nervous as anything - especially as I was doing the event with Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride who are both everything I'm not - funny, articulate, quick witted, intelligent, male. However, Bob Harrison of Manx Radio who was interviewing us was really nice and didn't ask too many difficult questions, and the audience were kind enough to laugh. I managed to get through the whole thing without vomiting, which was a surprise to me and a relief to Stuart and Al. We signed books afterwards and I actually signed books for people I didn't know - it was a total thrill.

On Sunday, we went for lunch with Chris and his lovely wife Jo (who's a complete star - in every sense of the word - loved the seal costume, Jo, it was really convincing :o) ). Over lunch, Chris taught us to pick locks - much to the consternation of the other people in the restaurant, who clutched their belongings very carefully. We had a leisurely lunch and lots of laughs (if you ever see Chris, do ask him about his boat trip along the canals of Amsterdam, but make sure you're not eating anything at the time).

Afterwards, Chris showed us around the island. Despite the fact that he is married to a history teacher, his knowledge of history is slightly sketchy. However, it is better than his maths. This post is accompanied by a few pictures - one shows the beautiful scenery I was looking at while Ewan (my partner) and Stuart were gazing lovingly at each other, and while they were all doing something important on their phones (checking the football scores, looking at porn, buying The Idiot's Guide to Arithmetic on Amazon, drooling over the shoe pages at Marks and Spencer) - I'll leave you to decide who was doing what by the looks on their faces.

Al And Stuart were due to fly out at 7.30pm, and Ewan and I at 9pm. Al and Stuart took off in sunshine. Half an hour later, a thick fog had descended. It felt as though we were sitting in the middle of a James Herbert novel. It was no surprise when our flight was cancelled. They sorted out a hotel for us overnight and we walked to the hotel with a lady who was supposed to be on our flight. As we walked over she told us why she had been in the Isle of Man.

"My grand-daughter was being presented with a certificate for a writing competition and there was an event at the Erin Arts Centre. It was very good, although I'm a little hard of hearing and couldn't hear the lady," she said.

"Don't worry, you didn't miss anything, she was rubbish."

"It was you!"

Ann is a really nice lady and we had great fun chatting to her. When we turned up at the airport the next day I spotted her reading OLD DOGS, so I had to snap this picture. By the way, I should point out that the bruise on Ann's face is nothing to do with me - I did not force her to read the book, I promise. As I left her to it, she leaned forward and said "I really liked the shite sandwich." (She was, needless to say, referring to something in the book, rather than the offerings in the cafe at Ronaldsway airport (which, by the way, has the friendliest staff of any airport in the world)).

I'm off early on Wednesday morning to go to Alaska - woohoo! So there won't be another post before I go, as tomorrow night I have to try and squeeze two suitcases full of stuff into one suitcase and work out how to wear ten layers of clothes on my flight over. Hopefully I'll be able to post while I'm there. If I do, it will be over at Alaskan Misadventures, but I'll try and remember to post a link here. Mum - if I can't post, it means I can't get a signal, not that I've been eaten by a bear, OK?

Before I go, a few links.

A great review of Allan Guthrie's SLAMMER over at the most excellent PSYCHONOIR. And Sea Minor with a review of Allan's KILLING MUM.

Chris Ewan's GOOD THIEF'S GUIDE TO VEGAS is due out soon. And my copy is coming with me to Alaska.

Lynda's Book Blog reviews Ken McClure's A WHITE DEATH, A Bookish Way of Life blog on Alexander McCall Smith's DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB, Joe Barone on M C Beaton's AGATHA RAISIN AND THE VICIOUS VET and Seacoast Online on Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT.

Finally, Ian Rankin on his secret Edinburgh.

Friday 23 April 2010

My Dad Reviews...Blue Genes - Val McDermid

The usual reminder first of all of my Dad's tastes:

DISLIKES: romance, books that have too much swearing in (I guess that's my Dad not going to read my next book either, then - I thought it was just my Mum I had to keep away from it). Also doesn't like horror, and books with vampires, pterodactyls and the living dead in them. Also, something called an ungoliant. No, I have no idea either - I think my Dad has been at the sherry.

: thrillers, spy novels, war stories and books with elves in (the elves can swear their little heads off as far as he's concerned). Oh, and maps. He bloody loves maps. If you ever meet him, for goodness' sake don't ask him for directions. Not even to the bathroom.

PREFERS: Philip Marlowe to Miss Marple, Inspector Morse to Homicide.

BLUE GENES - Val McDermid
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: March 1999
First Lines: '
The day Richard's death announcement appeared in The Manchester Evening Chronicle I knew I could not postpone clearing the mess any longer.' *

The story involves Kate Brannigan, a female private investigator. Set mainly in Manchester, with side trips to Leeds, it tells of three investigations. Two con artists are ripping off Joe public in a memorial scam, Kate's boyfriend - who is an agent for a rock group - gets her to look into a problem his band is having, and her best friend Alexis who is a lesbian is worried that a murdered doctor has set her and her partner up as blackmail targets.

Kate's investigations into all three cases uncover a web of intrigue and deception second to none. The characterisations in all cases are believable, the plots are realistic and what could be expected in any city or town, and are believable. There are a few medical references, but not too involved.

I enjoyed the story and how the characters developed as I read further, there was not a dislikeable one in the main thread, however the two side threads contained people of very questionable morals. All told, a very readable book. I shall look for other books by Val McDermid especially those which feature Kate Brannigan.

A note to my Dad: Can I also suggest that you check out her standalones - I think you'll really like those (especially A DARKER DOMAIN, A PLACE OF EXECUTION and THE DISTANT ECHO.

* By the way, when I asked my Dad what the first lines were, this was his response: 'The first lines are---" The day Richard's death announcement appeared in The Manchester Evening Chronicle I knew I could not postpone clearing the mess any longer". Get the book if you want to read any further.' Cheers Dad (stroppy git :o) )

And now, I am off to the Isle of Man for the weekend for this. So have a lovely weekend, and feel sorry for me as I vomit nervously before the event. Oh, sometimes I wish I was articulate and scintillating.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

A Girl's Guide To Shopping For Alaska

145 assorted lollies and sweets - check
49 assorted chocolate bars - check
32 mini packs of Cadburys Animals - check
14 children's books - check
8 packets of shortbread - check
85 ballpoint pens - check
9 notebooks - check
7 sets of coloured pencils - check
3 sets of ballpoint pens - check
4 packets of fudge - check
Something to keep bears away - errrrrr, no - nothing but my scintillating personality.

I'm heading off next Wednesday so I'm hoping flights will be back to relative normality by then. Both Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin have, unfortunately, had to cancel events. This Saturday, Stuart MacBride, Allan Guthrie and I are going to the Isle of Man for the Mannslaughter and Mayhem event organised by the lovely Chris Ewan. We're supposed to be flying but have a back-up plan that consists of trains, boats, cars, horse and carriage, pedalo and tandem. Lin Anderson will have no such problems as she visits Perth's AK Bell Library in May.

A review of Ian Rankin's KNOTS AND CROSSES. And one of Denise Mina's SANCTUM.

A Sherlock Holmes game is coming to an ipad near you.

And, finally, thanks to those who asked how the Write, Camera, Action workshop went- it was really good fun. I was allocated a great director and two brilliant actors. It was really nervewracking at first but the scene developed, the actors added little bits of their own, and when it was performed in front of the audience it got a fair few laughs. And I got both Razzle and BUSES back at the end of the night. Result :o)

Monday 19 April 2010

In Which Your Humble Narrator Purchases Some P-O-R-N

I mentioned a month or so ago that I went to an event called Write, Camera, Action - an excellent workshop which puts together writers, directors and actors, to work on a 5 minute script. At the end of it I e-mailed Linda, who organises it, to ask what you needed to do if you wanted to workshop a piece "for some time in the future,"I said. "I'm just enquiring for future reference," I said. Well, I'm not sure how it happened, but I managed to find myself on the schedule for the next WCA. Which is tonight. So I had to turn a scene from OLD DOGS into a script, to be worked on and acted in front of everyone as a mini-play. I chose a scene from the middle of the book. It's not giving anything away to say that after hours on a Saturday night, most the main characters end up in the museum where the gold dogs are on display. They're not all there for the same reason, but none of them are there honestly. Two of the characters are a pair of neds, who want the dogs so that they can finance the purchase of their own boozer. They are hiding in the toilets. At this point in the book the scenes cut between the characters quite quickly, so I took all the scenes in which they appear, changing it a bit, and made one scene out of it.

In the five page screenplay - although not in the book - to pass the time I have one of them pulling out a magazine called Big Jugs. Five minutes later the other one pulls out a copy of Butterflies and Moths. You can take props to Write, Camera, Action, so I decided I needed two magazines. I was going to get Ewan to go and get one of them for me (not Butterflies and Moths, obviously - that would completely destroy his street cred). Only I forgot. So that left me with a bit of an embarrassing lunchtime to look forward to.

I did ask a couple of male work colleagues if they would go for me. One of them just looked at me as though I was out of my mind. The other told me that he would do many things for me, but that buying dirty magazines was not one of them. So, no further forward, but with a face as red as a spanked bottom, I set off for a newsagents that I never normally go to. Operation Scud Mag was underway. Only to be abruptly aborted as I walked into the shop to be confronted by a group of schoolboys.

I turned tail and walked back out. There was another newsagents just along the road so I popped in there. Mercifully quiet this time. I glanced up at the top shelves. There was my target. Lock and load. I reached out an arm to pick something titillating off the shelf, when what did I hear but "Oh, hello, Donna. How are you?" Foiled by the wee woman from accounts.

"I' the wrong shop," I said, and scurried out. Well, what are you supposed to say when you are caught in the act of buying porn? "I'm just in for my jollies"? "I only read them for the articles"? "Whatever happened to Big And Bouncy? I haven't seen that for ages"? No one was going to believe "It's for a play," so there was no way I was going to try that one.

My next try was in a newsagents I go to occasionally. "Awright, hen," said the shopkeeper. "The usual, is it?" I just nodded, and came out with a packet of extra strong mints and some Askits.

So I decided to go to the big W H Smith at Central Station, on the grounds that it would be anonymous and I could do a swift in and out mission. There are shelves and shelves of magazines in W H Smith. As I was trying to suss out what was what, I noticed a strange phenomenon. Women would walk over to the shelves, look briefly at what was on offer, then pick up the latest copy of Vacuous Celebrity or Woman and Kitchen or Let's Knit! and then head up to the counter to pay for it. Not so the men. They were all bloody standing around reading about football, or computers, or cars. Not buying the magazines, just standing there. Right in front of my porn.

But I now had my plan. A quick survey of the shelves for a Butterflies and Moths type magazine produced BUSES (which is, apparently, the world's biggest selling bus magazine since 1949 and came with a 16-page Diecast and Model Bus supplement. In other news, the Metroline Dennis Dart SLF/Plaxton Pointer B27D is replacing the Dennis Dart SLF/Caetano Nimbus on route 35 and I unfortunately missed London Bus Day on April 18th). I picked up BUSES and walked over to put Operation Scud Mag into play. I pretended to be looking intently at the football magazines on the shelf below, then reached up an arm and pulled one off the shelf. Five bloody others fell.

Two men hurried to help a damsel in distress, saw what it was that had fallen and backed away in horror. "It's for a play." I mumbled, neatly replacing the fallen magazines by throwing them onto the top shelf, before scuttling off.

I got into the queue, hiding my new copy of Razzle in between the pages of BUSES. Then I hid Buses underneath my arm. I wasn't actually sure which one I was more embarrassed about buying. The counter was staffed by a bloke and a young girl. 'Please don't let me get him, please don't let me get him, please don't let me get him,' I prayed to the porn gods. "Next, please" said the male assistant. I plonked my magazines down on the counter. He looked at me as he picked up Buses and rang it through. I shrugged. His eyebrows raised as he picked up Razzle. "It's for a play," I said through gritted teeth. "Oh, aye, hen, I'll just bet it is." He didn't even give me a brown paper bag to put my shame in. Luckily, I'd brought my own, just in case.

To add insult to injury, when I got back to the office, the colleague who had looked at me as though I was mad said "Did you get it?"


"Can I get a wee look at it then?"

Sunday 18 April 2010

Cul-cher, Cul-cher - All Weekend It's Cul-cher

It's been a cultural weekend here in sunny Badsville. First of all the marvellous Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Barrowlands Ballroom. It was one of the best gigs I've ever been to. Apart from anything else, the band seemed to be enjoying it themselves - they were on for two hours, and even ended up taking requests at the end. Sorry - I can't do a poncy gig review - just take my word for it, it was bloody brilliant. We started off at the edge of the mosh pit, but by the end of the gig we were somehow in the middle of it. I was minging when we came out. BRMC played most of the new album, plus my favourites of their earlier stuff, including this one, my all time favourite. When I go into work having been listening to that one on my ipod, my colleagues all say "Oh, no, watch out, she's been listening to those Motorcycle boys again." For anyone who's never heard BRMC before, this might give the wrong impression, but my Mum likes them (yes, dear reader, my Mum will not read my books(that's her, making a sour face at it), due to all the swearing and nastiness, but she likes dirty, sleazy rock music. She is also a big fan of The Cramps and does the psychobilly chicken strut to I Ain't Nuthin' But A Gorehound (although she does call it the 'turkey trot', but you can't have everything, I suppose).

On Saturday we went to see a great independent Scottish film called Crying With Laughter. It's about a stand up comedian called Joey Frisk who has a problem with drugs and alcohol, an ex-wife who thinks he's a waster, and a landlord who's about to evict him. Joey gets his own back on his landlord as part of his stand-up comedy routine by threatening to kill him in front of an audience. When the police turn up to arrest him the next day for GBH, Joey has no memory of the night before. To add to the mystery, Frank - one of Joey's old school friends, although Joey doesn't remember him very well - has contacted him out of the blue, and wants to arrange some sort of reunion. The film starts out lightly and gets gradually darker and more sinister. Stephen McCole, who plays the lead character, is brilliant. Crying With Laughter won a BAFTA and rightly so - if you get a chance to see it, do so.

Gleeful moment of the weekend - I went to Waterstones in Sauchiehall Street to buy some childrens' books to take to Alaska with me and while I was in there, I nipped up to the crime section for a wee browse. And look! Look! I didn't even feel slightly embarrassed grabbing my iPhone and taking this photo. Actually, it was all I could do to stop myself grabbing a passer-by and asking them to take one of my shiny, beaming, football-shaped face (that's soccer, dear American reader) next to the shelf.

And now, on to the proper news. First of all, Alexander McCall Smith reveals that he sent his first manuscript to a publisher when he was eight.

Congratulations to Craig Russell, who sells two new Glasgow thrillers to Quercus, and to Aly Monroe who has signed a contract for two new Peter Cotton books. Excellent news. reviews Philip Kerr's IF THE DEAD RISE NOT. And The Scotsman reviews Lin Anderson's FINAL CUT.

Christopher Brookmyre is appearing at the Ayr Festival in September.

Interviews with the lovely Ray Banks are always good fun, and this one with the charming Byker Books guys is no exception.

More on the Irvine Welsh film, The Magnificent Eleven.

The Independent on Sunday asks if you can judge a book by its cover. And, on the subject of covers, Karen over at Eurocrime remarks on the number of angels on covers these days.

Friday 16 April 2010

Sunshine, Music and Crime

I'm off to see the wonderful Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tonight so I'm sitting listening to their new album Beat The Devil's Tattoo as I write this post. It's lovely and sunny, it's the weekend and the lovely Bookwitch and the charming Rob Kitchin have been inordinately kind about OLD DOGS. Life is very good. (And, don't worry Mum, I shan't get big-headed - I will make sure and post the negative reviews I get :o) )

M M Adjarian in Boston's Edge reviews Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT. The Chicago Sun-Times reviews Philip Kerr's IF THE DEAD RISE NOT. And the Irish Independent with a double-header of Alexander McCall Smith reviews. Powered by Books reviews M C Beaton's AGATHA RAISIN AND THE POTTED GARDENER.

And, talking of M C Beaton, apparently the experience of Hamish McBeth on TV was not a good one. And she will be at Sleuths: English Riviera Festival of Crime and Thriller Writing in Torbay, Devon between 20th and 25th April.

And if you're in Edinburgh on 23rd April, you may fancy the Quintin Jardine Walking Tour. And why not stay around and help Ian Rankin celebrate his birthday on April 27th at Edinburgh Central Library.

Further afield, Alexander McCall Smith is in New York on 20th April.

And Iain Banks is appearing at the Dundee Literary Festival in June (although I do have to say that it's the appearance of Nick Cave that sets my heart beating.

This is not crime fiction, or even fiction, but it sounds like a lot of fun.

Martin Hannan in The Scotsman with a sobering look at Edinburgh's real life crime.

Thursday 15 April 2010

In Which I Realise My Dad Is A Secret Agent

A youtube interview with Craig Robertson about his recently released book RANDOM and his next novel SNAPSHOT (which sounds great). And an interview with the author on

Caro Ramsay (who should blog more often!) on the good times and bad times of writing.

The Glasgow Herald features G J Moffat in an article on how Scottish crime fiction leads the way in law and disorder.

Peter May on being a prowler. And an audio interview on the Stuph File.

And, finally, even spies have to move with the times. Although it strikes me that if they can't use Facebook and Twitter, how do they cope with all those little pens that take photos and bugs in flower vases, and lovely stuff like that? Blimey, even my Dad uses Facebook and he's in his mid 70s. (Luckily, he hasn't yet discovered Twitter. It's the only place I am safe on the Internet. (Dad - you really wouldn't like Twitter by the way. Trust me.)) Wait...maybe my Dad is secretly a spy. All those trips to take the rubbish out aren't to have a secret cigar but to test out his night vision goggles. Then he cleverly sprays himself with Eau De Cigar, just so that my Mum gets the pleasure of saying "Have you been smoking those foul things again Patrick?" and he keeps his cover. And perhaps when I was down at Christmas and he whispered in the ear of the next door neighbour's dog "The daffodils in Prague are blooming early this year" that wasn't senility, but spy talk.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Offensive Weapons and Duelling Donkeys

The Guardian on how the novel can be an offensive weapon (and they're not talking about sharp corners).

An interesting (as ever) blog from Margot Kinberg on creating a protagonist in your likeness or not.

Enjoy Alexander McCall Smith with appetizers and complimentary beverages (presumably some f-f-f-fave beans and a nice chianti). And, talking of Alexander McCall Smith, here he is on drinking whisky and running upstairs (but not at the same time).

A plethora of reviews. First of all, Mike Dennis is impressed by Ray Banks' hard-hitting prose in SUCKER PUNCH. And quite rightly so - Ray is a wonderful writer. Not being a boxing aficionado, I'm not sure why the title was changed from the UK version DONKEY PUNCH, but here's a picture of a pair of donkeys. Lourdes at Lost In Books had a good time with Ian Rankin's short story collection A GOOD HANGING, while the marvellously named Bad Tempered Zombie enjoyed EXIT MUSIC . Here's Rob Kitchin over at View From The Blue House with one of his invariably perspicacious reviews, this time of Tony Black's PAYING FOR IT. Fay Scheco with an excellent review of Denise Mina's GARNETHILL. And The Truth About Books reviews Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE.

Christopher Brookmyre, amongst others, will be appearing at the Nairn Arts Festival in June.

And finally, Mr Cunard, if you need me, I can fill in any time you like.

Sunday 11 April 2010

"Oh, Look, She's Crying Again"

A great article on Val McDermid and her love of Raith Rovers. If I didn't already think that Val was great, this quote would swing it for me: "If I ever worry about being an old, fat lezza – which by the way I don't – then I'm pretty confident the attitude of the Rovers would be: 'Aye, but you're our old, fat lezza.'" Brilliant. And, of course, Raith Rovers' other famous crime writing fan is Ian Rankin. Sadly for our criminally inclined Raith Rovers fans, they lost the semi-final to Dundee United earlier today. Sorry Val, sorry Ian.

The true story that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's KIDNAPPED.

The Winnipeg Free Press on Philip Kerr's IF THE DEAD RISE NOT.

Valbond enjoys Catriona McPherson's Dandy Gilver series.

Spend an evening with Stuart MacBride in Birmingham. Unless, of course, you prefer to spend an evening with him in Blaydon. And if you're tired of evenings with Stuart MacBride, then how about one in Kelso with Quintin Jardine.

And, talking of Stuart MacBride, here is an excellent and creepy trailer for DARK BLOOD.

A review of Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT. And the lovely Dorte enjoyed EXILE.

The Times on watching the fictional detectives.

And, finally, please excuse me a little glee and a little tear. I'm getting very excited about my forthcoming trip to Alaska - less than 3 weeks now. I now know my rough schedule which involves 10 days, 4 yup'ik villages, squllions of rides in a tiny plane, at least 5 schools, 3 library events, an arts festival, and lots and lots of fun. The largest village I visit has around 570 residents, the smallest around 60. That one I've never been to before so I'm very excited to go. I will also get to see one of my very favourite people. Hopefully, I will get to eat one of my favourite things (I can feel my arteries hardening already). Apparently the weather is still below zero, with snow, and the river is still navigable by snow machine. I am hoping that I will get to ride one across the river (Dad, you needn't bother mentioning that to Mum. She will start sending me links to websites entitled "How to Get By In Alaska if You Are Stupid (Or My Daughter - Which Is The Same Thing Really)). ". Luckily, I have these to keep my feet warm and dry, and rather splendidly shod.

The best bit is that I get to spend time with the students, teachers and villagers who have become very special to me. I got a lovely e-mail from the school district administrator who said, in part: "In the past when you had the students' writing published it was really special for all of them. It inspired us to include a section in a grant I wrote last year for money specifically to publish student writing. We haven't spent any of the money yet, and we are hoping that students will do some writing while you are here that we can publish (no pressure of course!) and present one copy to the student and one copy to the school library. During your past visits a lot of students who may have not been motivated previously really did some nice writing."To know that the students are enjoying writing and that I will get to share in that enthusiasm and their friendliness again just makes me so happy I could cry (not that that will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.

Friday 9 April 2010

And the Winners Are...

The lucky (?) winners of OLD DOGS are Tim, Vince, Tania, Peter, Philip and Sylvia. In the end, I doubled those on offer and pulled 6 out of my boot because you're all so lovely and I'd love to give you all one. (That's a book, by the way, for the Finbar Saunders fans amongst you. Fnaaar Fnaaaar). If you could e-mail me your addresses, I will get the books off to you next week. On the other hand, if you've suddenly come to your senses and decided you're better off without a copy, that is perfectly fine.

Mysteries Galore reviews THE RUNNER by Peter May.

Aly Monroe on the third person narrator, The Third Man and names.

Stuart MacBride discusses forensics at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. With thanks to Helen for the link. And that reminds me, have a look at Helen's post on having your character take a personality test, and how I'm not the only person to have fun on buses. Good stuff.

More on the University of Aberdeen's Word Festival, featuring Philip Kerr amongst others. And a review of Philip Kerr's THE ONE FROM THE OTHER.

M C Beaton at the Swindon Festival of Literature on Tuesday 11th May.

ITV to adapt Lin Anderson's Glasgow set Rhona McLeod series.

And, finally, this helps to explain the man who got on my bus with a mini trampoline and a pair of rubber gloves something like this.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Charmers, Criminals and Naked Burglars

The charming Tony Black talks to the equally charming Paul Brazill.

Stuart MacBride spills the beans at Aberdeen's Lemon Tree Lounge on May 4th. And he gets the thumbs up from bloggers as Luke's Book Review enjoys FLESH HOUSE, as does Read By Karin.

Clea Simon at the Boston Globe reviews Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT.

A new documentary and book about crime writer Anne Perry.

The always excellent Alistair Braidwood on Irvine Welsh's TRAINSPOTTING over at Dear Scotland. Next month, he looks a Louise Welsh's THE CUTTING ROOM. I very much look forward to that.

Talking of Louise Welsh, Three Monkeys Online is quietly impressed by NAMING THE BONES.

Whisky tasting with Iain Banks.

For the lovely Helen here's my probable list of reads for April (some of which may leak over into May):

Tim Weaver - CHASING THE DEAD (because I'm leading a book discussion on it).
Mark Timlin - GUNS OF BRIXTON (because it's out from maXcrime this month and I have really enjoyed the previous Timlins I've read).
And then, in preparation for my Crimefest panel in May - Zoe Sharp's KILLER INSTINCT (a re-read of the first in the series) and THIRD STRIKE (the most recent), Steve Mosby's STILL BLEEDING (a re-read of one of my favourite books of last year), Helen Fitzgerald's MY LAST CONFESSION and THE DEVIL'S STAIRCASE (I know both of those will be a treat), and Chris Ewan's THE GOOD THIEF'S GUIDE TO LAS VEGAS (due out later this month and I can't wait).

And, finally, my upstairs neighbour has done this, but, thankfully, always fully clothed.

Monday 5 April 2010

My Dad Reviews...Doors Open - Ian Rankin

Well, that's me just back from a few days away to the lovely Fife coast.

OLD DOGS is out today and I still can't quite believe it. Thanks to all for the good wishes online and offline. There's still time to enter the competition to win a copy. Just leave me a note in the comments or send me an e-mail with the first line of the book you are currently reading and you will go into the shoe. In fact, I've had so many entries I shall now have to draw them out of a boot. And I am giving away three copies instead of two. I will draw the winners at the end of this week.

And now, since I am feeling tired and lazy after a weekend of jollification, I managed to bully my Dad into doing another review for me. So, courtesy of my Dad, here's a review of Ian Rankin's DOORS OPEN. He assures me that he's not included any spoilers. Take it up with him if you think otherwise. Just a reminder first of all of my Dad's tastes:

DISLIKES: romance, books that have too much swearing in (I guess that's my Dad not going to read my next book either, then - I thought it was just my Mum I had to keep away from it). Also doesn't like horror, and books with vampires, pterodactyls and the living dead in them. Also, something called an ungoliant. No, I have no idea either - I think my Dad has been at the sherry.

: thrillers, spy novels, war stories and books with elves in (the elves can swear their little heads off as far as he's concerned). Oh, and maps. He bloody loves maps. If you ever meet him, for goodness' sake don't ask him for directions. Not even to the bathroom.

PREFERS: Philip Marlowe to Miss Marple, Inspector Morse to Homicide.

DOORS OPEN - Ian Rankin
Publisher: Orion
Published: August 2009
First Lines: 'Mike saw it happen. There were two doors next to one another. One of them seemed to be permanently ajar by about an inch, except when someone pushed at its neighbour. As each liveried waiter brought trays of canapes into the saleroom the effect was the same. One door would swing open, and the other would slowly close. It said a lot about the quality of the paintings, Mike thought, that he was paying more attention to a pair of doors.'

A story of intrigue, scams and violence. DOORS OPEN is the tale of a Fine Arts theft in Edinburgh. The main character is Mike Mackenzie - a self made millionaire. Mike believes that the theft of pictures which belong to the main art galleries in the city, but which are in storage, will go undetected. With the aid of Alan Cruickshank (a bit of a wimp), Professor Robert Gissing (a dreamer with big ideas of making a name for himself), and an art student/forger they all call Westie (a sad case of being under the thumb*) the stage is set. Mike, who is not a serious criminal, enlists the aid of a local criminal, Chib Calloway (an Edinburgh hoodlum who has got in with the wrong crowd**) who provides the necessary muscle and dubious expertise.
The robbery goes according to plan, then begins to fall apart, with the perpetrators falling out with each other, because unknown to them Chib has a dark secret which is personalised in a foreign criminal with tattooed fingers (a thoroughly bad egg***).

Read the book to find out more, I can promise that, once picked up, it is a book that is difficult to put down.

Donna's Dad

Thanks Dad. I just have to point out a couple of things though...
The phrase 'under the thumb' appeared to be typed with great feeling. I have no idea why.
** I'm not sure whether an Edinburgh hoodlum who has got in with the wrong crowd means he's drinking tea with the ladies who lunch, but...
*** only my Dad could say that and get away with it.

Friday 2 April 2010

What I Read In March

March was (mostly) translated crime fiction month. Although I started the month off with a British caper and ended it with a most excellent short story collection.

Published: March 2010
Publisher: maXcrime
Setting: English seaside town
Protagonist: Mark Miles
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Summer is hell here.'
Mark Miles is a PR...I hesitate to say expert because, quite frankly, he's not. When his escapologist client fails to escape and is missing, presumed drowned, that's just the start of a very bad day for Mark. It's only going to get worse as he's pestered by a sleazy private investigator and he becomes involved with a dodgy self-help guru who's more like the leader of a cult. A great blackly comic romp from the director of the original Get Carter, you can tell this was written by a man with an eye for the screen as there are some wonderful descriptions and very cinematic scenes that really made me smile. Larger than life. Violence, sleaze, blackmail, sex. Great stuff.

I'M NOT SCARED - Niccolo Ammaniti
Published: 2010 (first published 2001)
Publisher: Canongate
Setting: A small Italian village
Protagonist: Michele Amitrano
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'I was just about to overtake Salvatore when I heard my sister scream.'
Michele is a ten-year old boy from a tiny Italian village. His long hot summer days are spent with his sister and his friends, riding around on their bikes, playing games, squabbling amongst themselves – typical ten-year old boy stuff. Until one day Michele is dared by his friends to go into a deserted and tumbledown house. He finds something hidden away in a pit which changes his life and leads him to discover things about himself and the people he loves that mean that idyllic childhood days are gone for good. A dark, tense coming-of-age story told in the first person, which means we are just as in the dark as Michele and see things as they unfold through his eyes.

THE RETURN - Hakan Nesser
Published: 2007 (first published 1995)
Publisher: Macmillan
Setting: an unnamed country in northern Europe
Protagonist: Inspector Van Veeteren
Series?: 3rd to be translated
First Lines: 'It was the first and last day.'A prisoner is released from jail after serving a twelve year sentence. A little girl on a school trip in the woods comes across a man’s body wrapped in a carpet. Inspector Van Veeteren is called in. His job is made harder not only by the fact that the body has been dismembered and decapitated, but it’s also been lying there for about a year. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Van Veeteren is due to go into hospital for a serious operation and is facing his own mortality. Nesser is an excellent writer. This is a clever and brilliantly plotted book that spans twenty years, but it is the character of Van Veeteren which is really special. He’s slightly glum but with a great sense of understated humour. He’s also realistic about justice, without being totally cynical. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he’s not an easy man to get to know but he’s sympathetic and likeable character, a good man and an excellent policeman.

SILENCE OF THE GRAVE - Arnaldur Indridason
Published: 2006 (first published 2002)
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Setting: Iceland
Protagonist: Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson
Series?: 2nd
First Lines: 'He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.'
As a decades old skeleton is slowly and carefully unearthed, so detective Erlendur Sveinsson slowly and meticulously uncovers the solution, fleshing out the bare bones of the story by painstaking detective work. Like the Nesser, this book has its roots set in the past. Indridason’s detective is quite a bit grumpier than Nesser’s. He’s lonely, miserable, and he doesn’t seem to have that much going for him. His ex wife hates him, his children avoid him, and his daughter is a pregnant drug addict. Indridason is one of those authors who do social realism really well. The main theme of SILENCE OF THE GRAVE is domestic violence – past and present. And a very compelling and sad tale it is too. It made me feel quite melancholy as I was reading it and heartsick for several of the characters.

A PRETTY FACE - Rafael Reig
Published: 2007 (first published 2004)
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Setting: Madrid
Protagonist: Maria Dolores Eguibar Madrazo
Series?: Possibly 2nd but more of a standalone
First Lines: 'It all ended one Thursday morning, 18 November 1999, without the century coming to an end and five days before my birthday. I'd have been thirty six.'
We first meet Maria Dolores (aka Lola), the narrator of this story, as she is dying on her own doorstep. Needless to say, she's more than a tad peeved by this, and is not paticularly happy to attend her own autopsy, especially as she's accompanied by Benito, the obnoxious schoolboy her imagination has created in a series of children's books. Got that? This is the very surreal, alternate reality created by Reig. Into the mix he throws a psychiatric hospital, some mysterious papers, and a neuroprotein. Convoluted and idiosyncratic metafiction I quite literally lost the plot on occasion, but it's good fun, and told in a breezy conversational style by a protagonist you can't help wishing was still alive.

RADGEPACKET 4: Tales From The Inner Cities - Various - short story collection
Published: March 2010
Publisher: Byker Books
Setting: Various
Protagonist: Various rapscallions, madmen and cutpurses
Series?: Luckily, yes, there are more
A collection of 22 short stories - gritty, funny, weird, warped and wonderful. Some of my favourites were Ray Banks' THE DEACON SHUFFLE about a robbery in a chemist's shop, Keith Gingell's REPO - a chilling tale of a man who values houses that have been repossessed, Danny King's IT STARTED WITH A DISS - a great story of a schoolboy crush, Steve Porter's creepy BLURRED GIRL DIARIES, Paul Brazill's THE NIGHT WATCHMAN and Blaine Ward's AN EYE FOR AN EYE. They're not all crime stories but many of them have a crime in, and all of them are deliciously nasty. An anthology for those who like their fiction twisted, profane and depraved. Me, I loved it.