A few post ago I wrote about reducing my TBR pile by culling those novels that I decided not to read. Well, here are a couple that made the cut. I read both on my e-reader, where unread books were also accumulating: fatally easy to buy them and just as easy to forget you’ve got them. I’m glad I didn’t forget these.
The Chessman is Dolores Gordon-Smith’s new Jack Haldean novel, one of a series set in the 1920s. She has quite a following and deservedly so. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Sir Matthew Vardon, such a deliciously unpleasant character that I was delighted when he kicked the bucket in chapter two, and not surprised that there are rumours that he was helped on his way. It is just the first of several deaths and soon Jack Haldean is brought onto the case. The period detail is deftly handled and the plot kept me guessing. Every time I thought I had worked it, another twist showed me that I had got it wrong. A rattling good read.
Snowblind is the first novel by Icelandic writer, Ragnar Jonasson. He has translated sixteen of Agatha Christie’s novels, and the set-up here is one that Christie herself might have employed. It is a classic closed community plot. Ari Thor is a young policeman who takes up his first job in Siglufjorour, a fishing village in Northern Iceland. It’s the middle of winter, it’s dark all the time, and snow has blocked the road tunnel that is the only way in. When young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and close to death, and a famous local writer is found dead in the local theatre, the tiny police force are on their own. Great stuff! Everyone, it seems, has a secret and I have to say, I did guess one of them. No matter: it was an engrossing read and a very promising debut. Snowblind is ably translated by Quentin Bates, no mean crime writer himself.
Dolores Gordon-Smith is my guest today. Dolores is great company and am always glad to run into her. We first met when she was on a panel that I chaired at Crimefest. That was also when I first encountered her series featuring Jack Haldean, set in the 1920s and drawing on the Golden Age tradition of the fair play mystery. They are rattling good reads.
I asked her, What comes first for you: a theme, plot, characters?
I tend to think of an intriguing incident first off, and puzzle out how it came to be. What led up to it, what happened afterwards – that sort of thing. That gives me an idea of who the characters are who have made the incident happen. For instance, as As If By Magic I knew I wanted a man to witness a murder in a deserted kitchen, where the body disappears minutes later after the police have been called in. I had to think why he was there – it wasn’t his kitchen so he’d broken in but he wasn’t a burglar. I also wanted him to be sympathetic but disbelieved, so I came up with George, who despite wearing full evening dress, is completely destitute and suffering from malaria. What happens to the body is, of course, the plot!
What’s your writing routine?
I write in the mornings – I think most people do – as that’s when I’m freshest. That’s the hard graft of actually making the book up! Editing, which is knocking the first draft into shape and the subsequent edits, I can do in the afternoon and evening, but life will keep getting in the way…
Your Jack Haldean novels are set in the 1920s. What drew you to that period?
I think the 1920’s are the perfect period for the sort of Whodunnit I like to read and write. The technology (telephones and cars) make it recognizably the modern world in a way that the Victorian era, say, isn’t, but forensic science hadn’t advanced far enough to get in the way of good story. The First World War had shaken up society in a way it had never been shaken before, so there’s that sense of society on an edge, in a time of change. In addition, I’m a massive fan of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and the whole “Golden Age” of detective fiction. I was delighted to be asked to participate in a Golden Age day at the British Library on 20th June this year. If anyone would like to come – it’ll be a great day – you can find out more at http://thebodiesfromthelibrary.wordpress.com/
A favourite bookshop?
I live in Manchester which must be one of the most “unbooky” places in Britain. Seriously. There’s two big Waterstones in the centre of town, but that’s it.
What single thing would make your writing life easier?
Can you ask? A plot generating machine. I think science has been strangely lax in its lack of attention to this vital piece of technology!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished my tenth Jack book, The Chessman. That should be out in August. It concerns a body found in an otherwise idyllic parish church and is an idea I’ve been playing around with for ages.
To find out more about Dolores and her most novel, After the Exhibition, go to http://www.doloresgordon-smith.co.uk/. Her books are published by Severn House and are available in print, ebook and audio.