Reviews

‘My favourite type of mystery, suspenseful, and where everyone is not what they appear . . . Christine is great at creating atmosphere . . . she evokes the magic of the stage, and her characters [have] a past to be uncovered before the mystery is solved.’ [Stage Fright]

- Lizzie Hayes, MYSTERY WOMEN

Bodies from the Library 2019

Not long to go now to the annual British Library event, Bodies from the Library, and I am busy putting together my talk, Murder in Mind: The Crime Novels of Helen McCloy. She is a fine writer who has been unjustly neglected. I intend to put that right. If she is known at all it is for Through a Glass, Darkly – a novel I find chilling even on rereading – but she was far from being a one-novel wonder. I’ll be looking at the reasons why she sank out of sight so completely and saying why I think she is well worth reviving.

I’ve also been rereading with great enjoyment the novels and short stories of Cyril Hare in preparation for the session in which Martin Edwards and I will discussing him: Cyril Hare: Master of the English Murder. He is another writer who is not as well known as he deserves to be.

There will also be sessions on John Dickson Carr, E. C. R. Lorac, and much much more, including the chance to mingle with fans of golden age crime fiction. For details of what I am sure will be a splendid day, go to https://bodiesfromthelibrary.com

Judging a book by its cover

Posted on Jun 7, 2019 in An Air That Kills | 6 Comments

It’s an exciting moment when your editor sends you the cover design for your new novel. It makes the whole enterprise seem so much more real. And I am delighted by what the designer has come up: truly and fittingly sinister, I feel. An Air That Kills is the third in the series and this cover continues the colour scheme and general design of the other two. I am lucky to have such striking covers.

Can a cover persuade someone to buy a book? Not sure, but at the very least it can grab the book-buyer’s attention. And conversely a cover can put a reader off: that has certainly happened to me.

Does this mean I have actually finished writing the novel? Well, no, I still pondering the last few chapters as well as revising the earlier ones. But there’s nothing like seeing the cover (and being given a publication date: 22 November) to light a fire under a writer …

The Book Stops Here

Long ago when I was doing an English degree I chose an option on American Literature that involved reading a novel every week for a seminar. One week it was Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. It is a long novel – around 600 pages of densely written prose – and though I tried very hard, I didn’t quite make it to the end and came in fifty pages short. In those days, I felt obliged to finish every book that I started and those fifty pages weighed on me. I don’t feel that obligation now and that’s been the case for quite a while. If I’m not enjoying a book or it fails to grip me, I have no compunction about abandoning it. I regard it as the writer’s job to keep me reading. There is one exception: I do try to finish the books that we choose for my book group, though even there occasionally I end up skipping.

And I have to admit that sometimes persevering with a book that I am not initially enjoying does pay off. One of the great things about doing an English degree was that I read some marvellous things that I might not otherwise have read – among them, Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and, yes, Moby-Dick. But these days, I read for pleasure, particularly when it comes to crime fiction, and if there isn’t something – narrative pace, or character, or the quality of the writing – to keep me reading, I am ruthless and the book goes in the bag for the charity shop.

PS. I’ve just got my copy of Moby-Dick off the shelf and to my surprise there are underlinings right up until the last ten pages. Maybe I went back and finished it.

PPS. I really didn’t finish James Joyce’s Ulysses – and I am pretty sure that I never will.

I could not resist this book cover. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.

 

What to read in a hospital waiting room

I have a rare congenital eye disease and I have been going to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London for – well, let’s just say over forty years – sometimes travelling a long way to get there. It is an excellent hospital with a world-class reputation and over the years I have spent an awful lot of time there both as an outpatient and an inpatient.

I had an appointment yesterday. I always take plenty to read. It is hard to do any work or to write up my journal with people sitting on either side of me in waiting room, so I always have at least one book with me and it is important to have the right book or books and a newspaper too. Sometimes it can be a long wait. On Friday I arrived at 8.40 and I wasn’t signed off by the clinic until 12. 00. The book that kept me company was Rex Stout’s The Black Mountain. It was a comfort to have old friends like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin at my side.

Having said that, this is far from being Stout’s best book. It is one of the few occasions when Wolfe leaves the brownstone, in this case to go to his native country of Montenegro to track down the killer of an old friend. As soon as he and Archie leave the New York, the novel starts to go downhill.

There are some fictional detectives who are so closely associated with a particular location that it doesn’t feel right when they are transplanted to somewhere unfamilar. I am one of those who feel that Sherlock Holmes was not quite the same after he left London with its fogs and gaslight to retire to the Sussex Downs. I also prefer the Maigret novels set in Paris to ones that feature Maigret further afield. Similarly in the case of Rex Stout, I’m not reading just for the mystery, perhaps not primarily for the mystery, but to hang out in the brownstone on West 35thStreet. And it is not just Wolfe and Archie. It is the whole case of characters. In the kitchen Fritz is always cooking up a storm, Theodore is tending the orchids on the top floor, and any minute Inspector Cramer is likely to show up in a very bad mood.

It is comfort reading of the highest order and perfect for a hospital waiting room.

What’s your favourite crime-writer?

Now and then someone asks me who my favourite crime-writer is, as they did last night at my book-group. My mind always goes a blank and I mutter something about still loving Agatha Christie. Last night I did in the end manage to come up with Andrea Camilleri, Michael Connolly (recent worthy winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger) and Ian Rankin. But I did feel a bit of a fool. After all I write crime fiction and – goodness knows – I also read plenty of it, so I ought not to be at a loss.

Perhaps the truth is that there are just too many to choose from and I don’t have just one favourite. And at the moment too my head is full of my own novel, which I am right in the middle of writing (and which also accounts for my neglect of my blog).

All the same, why didn’t I think of the excellent Ellie Griffiths, for example, whose Ruth Galloway series I enjoy so much? Or my favourite Scandi authors, Norwegian Jorn Lier Horst and Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason (though possibly uncertainty about pronunciation plays a part there)? There is also Simenon whose Maigret novels I return to again and again.

And then there are all the Golden Age writers, such as Helen McCloy whose books I am reading or re-reading in preparation for talking about her at the annual Bodies from the Library in June. I’ve also been loving the collection of short stories edited by Martin Edwards in the British Library Crime Classics series. And by the way, that series is now accompanied by a very attractive little book that I have been meaning to mention, The Pocket Detective, compiled by Kate Jackson, and containing a hundred puzzles, including word searches, spot the difference, anagrams, and crosswords (that staple of the Golden Age). I was delighted to be sent a review copy and the puzzles are perfect for mulling over during a coffee break: an excellent little present for the crime-lover (or writer) in your life – or maybe yourself. Kate by the way is the author of a terrific blog about crime fiction:http://crossexaminingcrime.com.

Happy New Year to my readers. I intend to do better with my blog this year and there may even be a new development in the offing. Watch this space.

 

 

 

Where were you when . . .

Some people have music on in the background when they are writing. I don’t tend to do that, but there is sometimes a particular piece of music or song that I associate with something I am writing. With Cold, Cold Heart, the Hank Williams classic actually gave me the title as well as playing a small part in the novel and I often listened to it before I began the day’s writing. It seemed to tune me into the novel.

In the one  I’m writing now there is a nod to Elvis singing ‘The Girl of My Best Friend.’ As I listened, I was suddenly young again and it was a sunny summer’s day in August 1977. I was in my boyfriend’s car and we were driving out of Sutton Coldfield and it came on the car radio: Elvis had died. I can see that stretch of road. There are very few famous people of whom I can say that I have a vivid sense memory of where I was when I heard of their death –  John Lennon, Princess Diana are others – and I suppose that what they have in common is that their deaths were shocking and premature. I wasn’t even a particular fan of Elvis – I was too young for that – but  I felt the pathos of his early death. I feel it even more now that I am so much older.

I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with those extraordinary looks and that amazing voice. Browsing on Youtube I came the version of ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ where Elvis starts messing around with the lyrics and laughs so much that he can’t finish the song, while Cissy Houston the backing singer just goes on and on warbling away. It made me laugh out loud. Here it is if you want to brighten a dark November day: https://youtu.be/WoqVFEE1UBY

I didn’t see that coming!

‘I’ve read so many crime novels that I’m rarely surprised by plot twists or startling solutions. So I was pretty sure that I knew where things were heading when I recently read Fredric Brown’s The Far Cry – but he totally pulled the wool over my eyes. What an ending! So, fellow fans of GA fiction, which are the novels that have left YOU open-mouthed? No spoilers, please . . .’

I posted this on the Facebook page of the Golden Age Detection group and got some very interesting responses – and a list of books to be added to the TBR pile.

The subject of shocking plot twists seemed worth exploring further here. I am not talking simply about failing to guess whodunit. I mean the kind of twist that takes your breath away, and yet in retrospect makes perfect sense. Recently with a couple of novels famed for their plot twist, I guessed correctly in the first chapter and that’s always a disappointment. So it’s not often that a writer pulls the rug from under my feet and I love it when they do.

Sarah Waters’s extraordinary novel, Fingersmith, did that to me. Hats off to her. Lawrence Block did it too with Out on the Cutting Edge. In GA fiction the end of John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court left me open-mouthed.

Other suggestions from my Facebook friends included Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying, Thomas H Cook’s The Instruments of Night and Red Leaves, Elizabeth Daly’s The Book of the Dead and Robert Barnard’s Death of an Old Goat.

Further contributions are very welcome.  Over to you!

 

PS The Golden Age Detection group is friendly and lively. If you are not already a member, do come and join us.

Hidden Gems

‘They must have one,’ I said to my daughter, ‘all good hotels have one . . .’ and this was an lovely little hotel on the shores of Lake Garda. In the end I did discover it on a window sill along a little-used corridor: a small collection of books left behind by earlier visitors. It was something of a disappointment: the only thing in English that really fitted the bill was Michael Connolly’s latest – and I’d read it.

I thought fondly of the collection in the hotel we stayed in last year: the excellent Hotel du Lac in Bellagio on Lake Como. It’s a long-established hotel and they had clearly reached the admirable decision that they wouldn’t throw out anything. There were hundreds of books, forming a kind of snapshot of popular reading stretching right back to the 1960s: James Herbert’s The Rats, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, even The F-Plan Diet(remember that?), to name only a few. I picked out Betty MacDonald’s Onions in the Stew, a book I have never actually seen anywhere else and read it during my stay. And before I left, I made my own contribution, Jane Harper’s The Dry.

There’s something very enjoyable about discovering a gem in a hotel library of generally rather dog-eared paperbacks. One of the most memorable for me was around twenty years ago in a hotel in Greece, picking up Michael Connolly’s The Concrete Blonde, and being so gripped that I read it all in one gulp. I’ve been reading Michael Connolly ever since.

I would love to hear of other serendipitous discoveries . . .

A Fresh Start

Posted on Sep 3, 2018 in ariadne Oliver, tidy desk | 20 Comments

It is years, quite literally years, since my desk looked like this. In fact, has it ever looked like this? Today I at last got to work, vacummed cobwebs off the windowsill and washed the window. I took all the papers and miscellaneous stuff off my desk and sorted them and then I cleaned it. See how it gleams! Outside the window I can see my neighbour’s plum tree, laden with yellow plums. On the shelf to my left the cat is curled up between the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and my intray. To the right is a wall of shelves two deep in crime novels. On the desk are my favourite photos of my husband, our younger daughter, and my mother. There is a paperweight given to me my dear friend, Jo, for my 21st birthday, a small sculpture by another friend, and a few other totemic objects.

I am all ready to go. Tomorrow I am starting my new novel.

Shortlisted for a CWA Dagger!

Posted on Jul 25, 2018 in 'Accounting for Murder', CWA, Mystery Tour | 6 Comments

Mystery Tour CWA AntholgyI was delighted to learn tonight that my story, ‘Accounting for Murder’ in the CWA Anthology, Mystery Tour, has been shortlisted for the CWA Short Story Dagger. Here is the announcement of the Dagger Short Lists in full.

CWA Dagger Shortlists 2018

Latest news

The Crime Writers’ Association announced the shortlists for the prestigious annual Dagger awards for crime writing at an evening reception at Daunt Books, Cheapside, London, on Wednesday 25 May.

The shortlists provide some interesting duplications. Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic appears on the shortlist for the CWA Gold Dagger and the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, while A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee is on the Gold and the CWA Historical shortlists. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke is on both the Gold and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger shortlists.  London Rules by Mick Herron also appears on the Gold and the Ian Fleming Steel longlists. Also listed for the Historical Dagger is LC Tyler’s Fire and Stella Duffy’s completion of Ngaio Marsh’s Money in the Morgue.

For the CWA International Dagger, the names of Fred Vargas, Pierre Lemaître and Dolores Redondo appear alongside Henning Mankell.

Lee Child makes an appearance on the CWA Short Story Dagger shortlist, as does Christine Poulson with her story ‘Accounting for Murder’ from the CWA’s own anthology, Mystery Tour. Martin Edwards, Chair of the CWA and president of the Detection Club, features on the Dagger in the Library shortlist. The CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction represents as an eclectic shortlist as ever, with Piu Marie Eatwell’s Black Dahlia Red Rose a notable title with its new take on an infamous murder case.

The CWA Daggers, which are the probably the awards crime authors and publishers alike most wish to win, are awarded every year in 10 categories. The Diamond Dagger, for a career’s outstanding contribution to crime fiction as nominated by CWA members, was announced earlier in the year and will be awarded to best-selling author Michael Connelly at the Dagger Awards event on October.

Here are the CWA Dagger shortlists for 2018.

The CWA Gold Dagger

Author                      Title                          Publisher

Steve Cavanagh                                           The Liar                                                (Orion)

Mick Herron                                       London Rules                                     (John Murray)

Dennis Lehane                                  Since We Fell                                     (Little, Brown)

Attica Locke                                        Bluebird, Bluebird                            (Serpent’s Tail)

Abir Mukherjee                                                A Necessary Evil                               (Harvill Secker)

Emma Viskic                                       Resurrection Bay                              (Pushkin Vertigo)

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

Author                      Title                          Publisher

Mick Herron                                       London Rules                                     (John Murray Publishers)

Emily Koch                                          If I Die Before I Wake                     (Harvill Secker)

Attica Locke                                        Bluebird, Bluebird                            (Serpent’s Tail)

Colette McBeth                                An Act of Silence                              (Wildfire)

C J Tudor                                              The Chalk Man                                  (Michael Joseph)

Don Winslow                                     The Force                                            (HarperFiction)

The Steel Dagger sponsor, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd is the Fleming family-owned company that looks after the James Bond literary brand, by promoting and making available all of Ian Fleming’s 007 books across the world.  They also keep the brand alive through the publication of new stories by other authors such as Anthony Horowitz.

The CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger

Author                      Title                          Publisher

William Boyle                                     Gravesend                                          (No Exit Press)

Joe Ide                                                 I.Q.                                                         (Weidenfeld &  Nicolson)

Danya Kukafka                                  Girl in Snow                                        (Picador)

.

Melissa Scrivner Love                     Lola                                                        (Point Blank)

Khurrum Rahman                            East of Hounslow                             (HQ)

Emma Viskic                                       Resurrection Bay                              (Pushkin Vertigo)

The CWA ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

Author                      Title                          Publisher

Piu Eatwell                             Black Dahlia Red Rose                       (Coronet)

David Grann                           Killers of the Flower Moon              (Simon & Schuster)

Thomas Harding                    Blood on the Page                             (Heinemann)

Alexandria Mariano-Lesnevich        The Fact of a Body                (Macmillan)

Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong A False Report (Hutchinson)

Laura Thompson                   Rex V Edith Thompson                     (Head of Zeus)

The Dagger’s sponsor The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a not-for-profit organisation for the benefit of all types of writers. Owned by its members, ALCS collects money due for secondary uses of writers’ work. It is designed to support authors and their creativity, ensure they receive fair payment, and see their rights are respected. It promotes and teaches the principles of copyright and campaigns for a fair deal. Today it represents over 95,000 members, and since 1977 has paid over £450 million to writers.

The CWA Historical Dagger

Author                      Title                          Publisher

Abir Mukherjee                                                A Necessary Evil                               (Harvill Secker)

L. C. Tyler                                                         Fire                                           (Constable)

 

Thomas Mullen                                 Lightning Men                                   (Little, Brown)

Ngaio Marsh & Stella Duffy          Money in the Morgue                    (HarperCollins)

 

Nicola Upson                                     Nine Lessons                                     (Faber & Faber)

Rory Clements                                  Nucleus                                                                (Zaffre Publishing)

The CWA International Dagger

Author, Translator                      Title                          Publisher

Oliver Bottini, tr Jamie Bulloch                    Zen and the Art of Murder           (MacLehose)

Pierre Lemaître tr Frank Wynne                                Three Days and a Life                      (MacLehose)

Henning Mankell, tr Marlaine Delargy     After the Fire                                     (Harvill Secker)

Jon Michelet, tr Don Bartlett                       The Frozen Woman                        (No Exit Press)

Dolores Redondo, tr Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garzía     Offering to the Storm                    (HarperCollins)

Fred Vargas, tr Sian Reynolds                     The Accordionist                              (Harvill Secker)

The CWA Short Story Dagger

‘The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle’ by Chris Brookmyre

Bloody Scotland (Historic Environment Scotland)

 

‘Second Son’ by Lee Child

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories (Bantam Press)

 

‘Smoking Kills’ by Erin Kelly

“The Body” Killer Women Crime Club Anthology 2, Edited by Susan Opie (Killer Women Ltd)

‘Nemo Me Impune Lacessit’ by Denise Mina

Bloody Scotland (Historic Environment Scotland)

‘Accounting for Murder’ by Christine Poulson

Mystery Tour: CWA Anthology of Short Stories, Edited by Martin Edwards

(Orenda Books)

The CWA Dagger in the Library

 

Nominated by libraries.

Martin Edwards

Nicci French

Edward Marston

Peter May

Rebecca Tope

Simon Kernick

The CWA Debut Dagger

 

For the opening of a crime novel from a writer without a traditional publishing contract.

The Eternal Life of Ezra Ben Simeon by Bill Crotty

The Last Googling of Beth Bailly by Luke Melia

Riverine Blood by Joseph James

Original Sins by Linda McLaughlin

Trust Me, I’m Dead by Sherryl Clark

The winners of the CWA Daggers will be announced at the Dagger Awards dinner in London on 25 October, for which tickets are now available. Visit www.thecwa.co.uk for more information or email admin@thecwa.co.uk .

Note

The Crime Writers Association was established in 1953 by crime writer John Creasey. The Daggers began with what was originally known as the Crossed Red Herring Award in 1955 and have grown from there, attracting sponsors such as Ian Fleming Publications and ALCS. The 10 Daggers are awarded every year. Except for the Diamond Dagger, Debut Dagger and the Dagger in the Library, authors’ books are nominated by their publishers.

The Debut Dagger attracts hundreds of entrants worldwide from would-be crime writers.