Reviews

‘I opened this book with high expectations. They have been admirably fulfilled.  Here we have a stand alone thriller about two lonely people who pursue a relationship of monthly weekends together in remote spots.  Suddenly one of these two fails to get to the rendezvous-vous and the other realises how very limited her knowledge of her  companion is . . . Gradually the reader pieces together some of the facts as an atmosphere of rising tension envelops everything. The intelligent way Jay, Lisa and others plan their actions is enjoyable and the suspense of the tale is palpable.’

- MYSTERY PEOPLE

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 | 18 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.

My best ever buy in an Oxfam shop

Posted on Jul 7, 2018 in Michael Gilbert, Oxfam bookshops | 8 Comments

It’s forty years since I bought the first of many books in an Oxfam shop. I know that because I have the book open beside me and the date is written inside: ‘July 1978’ along with the place: ‘Birmingham.’ It was a new book, The Oxfam Vegetable Cookbook by Rose Elliot, and it cost 75 pence. Did Oxfam sell second-hand books then? I was a young postgraduate, living alone for the first time in a bed-sit in Moseley, a leafy suburb close to the University, and learning to cook for myself. I certainly got my money’s worth from that book. It’s been worked hard and is corrugated from cooking stains and water marks. There is a recipe for carrot and lentil soup that I still use.

Over the years how many books have I bought from Oxfam bookshops? Hundreds, certainly, more likely thousands, and I’ve donated just as many. I love the idea of sending books back out into world for others to enjoy with the knowledge that they are doing good at the same time. The one in Cambridge, where I taught at Homerton College in the 1990s, was a particular favourite. Academics are great readers of crime fiction and I used to snap up US editions left by visiting scholars.

There is nothing like the frisson of entering a Oxfam shop, not knowing if you’ll find something out of print by a favourite writer or happen upon a wonderful writer who is new to you. My best buy ever was The Man Who Hated Banks and Other Mysteries by Michael Gilbert, discovered in the Sheffield Broomhill branch. It was difficult to get hold of at the time and though it set me back £12, it was worth every penny. Looking on-line I see that there are now copies available from the US for around the same price at the click of a mouse, but where is the fun in that?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Matlock Oxfam shop and this was written to be displayed there. Perhaps I should add that I do buy new copies of books by my favourite writers, but this is a great way of sampling writers first.

The Case of the Missing Editor

Posted on Jun 12, 2018 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Recently I was reading a novel by a well-known writer and came across the phrase ‘tyres hissing on the blacktop.’ That was fine, but then it was used again a few pages later. Similarly someone was described as ‘all squared away’ and soon after that someone else was also described as ‘all squared away.’ Am I a fussy nit-picker to think that an editor should have picked up these repetitions? They didn’t impinge on my enjoyment but they did just for a moment or two pull me out of the world of the novel.

It is very easy for these things to slip past an author. I hadn’t noticed in my first novel that people were forever clattering down the stairs or gazing out of windows until the copy-editor pointed it out to me. It is their job to stop these things getting into the novel. But I wonder, just as banks become too big to fail, do writers sometimes become too successful to be edited? This perhaps relates to something I wrote about a few weeks ago about length.

There are some writers who start off reasonably short and get longer and longer. J K. Rowling and P. D. James are examples. The line between richly textured and over-written is one that readers will decide for themselves and for some there can never be too much of a favourite writer. But I do sometimes read a novel and wish an editor had got there first with a red pen.

At the other extreme is the editor who is too anxious to leave their mark. Raymond Carver was so comprehensively edited by Gordon Lish that there has been debate about how far his short stories remained his own work. I don’t really care. I think they are wonderful and don’t much mind how they got to be wonderful.

But the absence of the editor is what I am most interested in here. Years ago I was gripped by The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve (which I recommend), but was suddenly pulled up short when the narrator’s aunt literally aged several years overnight. Perhaps after all it is a tribute to the editor’s art that this kind of thing so rarely slips through the net. But it’s still surprising what does. Over to you . . .

 

The Thrill of It All

The life of a writer is pretty dull. That is almost a necessity. You can’t write a novel without spending a lot of time on your own and it is best if your daily life is not too exciting or distracting. It’s not only that you have to spend a lot of time alone in a room in front of a computer, there is also the time needed for mulling things over, for wandering around the house, and staring into space. Your family come to realise that though you are there in body, you are not necessarily there in mind.

But now and again, the time comes to rummage in the wardrobe for your glad rags, spray on some of that Chanel No 5 that your husband once gave you for Christmas, and head for the bright lights of Bristol. Yes, last week-end it was Crimefest, one of the highlights – if not the highlight – of the crime writer’s social calendar, and this time it was especially exciting because I had a story short-listed for the Margery Allingham Prize. The winner was announced at the Friday evening reception. To cut the suspense short (not something I usually like to do) I didn’t win. But any disappointment I felt was rapidly assuaged when the next announcement was the long list for the CWA Short Story Dagger – and my story, ‘Accounting for Murder’ was on it.

That was about as much excitement I can take in one evening. I had a lovely time, meeting old friends and new, but I am quite happy to back at home now in my study, just me and the cat. And happy too to return to my usual occupation of getting people into terrible trouble and telling lies for fun and profit (as Lawrence Block has it).

The photo is of me with friends, Kate Ellis and Jason Monaghan, and was taken by Dea Parkin.

PS. The winner of the Margery Allingham Prize was Russell Day with ‘The Value of Vermin Control.’

The Long and the Short of it

Posted on May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Today I am delighted to be a guest on the splendid blog, http://Typem4murder.blogspot.co.uk. I’m written a post called The Long and the Short of It about the perfect length for a crime novel. I hope you’ll visit and explore some of the other offerings too.

The charm of the unexpected

On holiday in France a couple of weeks ago we were strolling around the lovely little town of Le Crotoy on the Bay of the Somme, when we came across this: a redundant phone box that had become a book exchange. There was nothing that tempted me, but it was nice to see a copy of an Ellis Peters’s novel there, especially as I was planning to be in Shrewsbury the following week and that is the town most associated with her and her books.

There is a particular pleasure in finding books in unexpected places. Last summer I spent a happy quarter of an hour browsing among the books offered for sale just inside the English Church on Lake Como. That time I came away with a copy of an Ed McBain novel and a Pan edition from 1966 of Victor Canning’s The Scorpio Letters. (Victor Canning has been having a bit of a moment over on Moira’s splendid blog, ClothesinBooks.com.) I discovered Elizabeth Taylor when I picked up a copy of A View of the Harbour in Austin’s second-hand furniture emporium on Peckham (long since closed): I had gone to buy a wardrobe, which I did, but I also came with a new author. My copy of Michael Gilbert’s Fear to Tread came from the second-hand book shop at Killerton, a wonderful National Trust garden in Devon, that we used often to visit when my mother-in-law was alive and our daughter was small. It is freighted with precious memories. So is my copy of Christie’s Murder on the Links, picked up at another NT house, Standen, on a rare trip out with just my husband, the year before he died.

What unexpected find sticks in your memory?