The October List

The blog has been a bit quiet for the past few weeks. Yet again work has gotten in the way of blogging, plus there was the small matter of a couple of week’s holiday in the good old USA to take up my time. Long distance travel is always a good time to catch up on reading as there isn’t much else to do on an 8 hour flight, especially one that didn’t even provide a tv (considering even the squirrels are obese in America, their planes are surprisingly small!)

However as much as I do love reading crime novels I like to start a holiday with a good selection of guidebooks, and lists of must see places. So with New York, Boston and New England to research in one trip the novel reading was put to one side for a bit. I’ve realised I do become a bit obsessed with ticking things off lists though, in fact I’ve been known to write things on lists just to tick them off. New York therefore became one long blur of tourist attraction after tourist attraction, punctuated occasionally by the search for a good pint of beer in order to keep Mr F happy. Luckily with the American’s love of all things Halloween there were plenty of festive themed ales to choose from.

It’s easy to understand how some of the authors of the best novels in recent times were inspired by America. We stayed in a motel at Weir’s Beach, which was a lovely seaside resort. I can imagine at high season the place would have been packed. However arriving the day before Columbus day things were rather more subdued. In fact other than the woman who checked us in, we didn’t see another sole. Apart from a bloke chopping what I hope were logs in the morning, I didn’t catch his name although it did sound suspiciously like he said it was Norman. Robert Bloch had probably signed in the visitor book if I’d looked closely.

During a session at the festival a couple of years ago there was a discussion around why so many crime writers hail from Scandinavia, and although I’m paraphrasing a bit they said it was because the Scandinavian countries had such a low crime rate and were so pretty that they had to make up scary things themselves. The same may be said of Portland, Maine. From my experience of a short drive to Portland, it’s a beautiful place and the views over the sea from the lighthouse we visited were stunning. Certainly not the stuff of horror, however it doesn’t stop the output of prolific horror writer Stephen King who is based there.

Probably the best views of the holiday (apart from seeing a baby black bear walking along the side of the road) came from a visit to a place called Castle in the Clouds. Although I was very disappointed to find it wasn’t a castle at all but just a big house built in 1914. I used to live in a flat that was built in 1620 so something 100 years old isn’t really that impressive. The view over the Lake was stunning however, and whilst not crime related was apparently where some of the film ‘On Golden Pond’ was set.

In between New York and New England we spent a couple of nights in Boston. One of my favourite authors is Tess Gerritsen, who sets her Rizzoli and Isles novels in the city. As a fan of the TV show as well I was quite excited about the prospect of finding the police department where it is filmed. Until Mr F did a quick internet search and found the show is actually filmed on set miles away from Boston. We had to content ourselves with following the freedom trail instead, which came with a handy painted line on the road to follow so no map reading necessary.

 

After a final night back in New York it was heading home time, and back to reality. It’s potentially given me an idea for a new challenge though, to read a crime novel set in every city I’ve visited. That sounds to me like its time for a new list to be created, and my train journey back from working in Manchester might be a good time to start.

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You by Caroline Kepnes – a review

One of the best things about the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime writing festival is the amount of books by new authors that are given out. One of the treasures in the goody bag this year was You by Caroline Kepnes the paperback of which is released in October (I can’t deny there is something very exciting about being able to read a book that isn’t yet available to the general public)

As the title page states this is a novel of dark obsession. Joe works in a small independent bookshop in New York. He started working there as a child for the mysterious now absent Mr Malooney. Joe meets Beck, an aspiring writer living in a bed sit who makes the mistake of walking into Joe’s bookshop and requesting a book by his favourite author.

Taking this as a sign that they are destined to be together he becomes obsessed with her, and believing that she also likes him he starts stalking her. He tracks down her friends and uses the wonders of the internet to follow her every move, even going so far as to remove anyone he thinks might get in their way.

I thought this was a fantastic story. It is all told from the viewpoint of Joe, which gives the whole thing a creepy edge. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say I understand him, you can see how he interprets things to fit in with his own warped sense of relationships.

This book reminded me of the Dexter novels, where you know that you shouldn’t really like the character but actually I did feel a bit sorry for him. Beck rather than just being portrayed as an weak little victim is a manipulative unpleasant woman. I couldn’t warm to any of the other characters in the book either, but that’s obviously how it’s meant to be as you only know anything from Joe’s point of view and he clearly dislikes anyone who gets in his way.

I liked the way that although there are crimes committed in addition to the stalking, these are almost glossed over. To Joe these were just necessary actions to further his main goal and if you skim read fast enough you’d almost miss them.

Overall I thought this was a great book that I couldn’t put down and would recommend it to anyone who likes crime but fancies a bit of light relief.

 

 

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Dead run

I have recently taken up running again. Now I’m never going to be a marathon runner, but I would like to be able to run a full 10k eventually. Therefore I started small and downloaded a couch to 5k programme on my phone, got myself a new audio book (Jeffery Deaver, the skin collector) and started pounding the streets.

I do like the idea of being a runner, the whole running along the beach with the wind in my hair looking carefree and gorgeous really appeals to me. However the reality is not quite like that. Apart from the short hair not really blowing in the wind, more times than not I run for five minutes and turn into a red faced sweating machine unable to string a sentence together whilst cursing the blisters on my feet. I know all the theory, I buy the magazines and I’ve read umpteen books on running however I’m just not very good at it. I know that like anything it takes practice and in order to become a runner you have to actually put the effort in but sometimes I’m not sure the effort is worth the outcome.

I suppose my problem is willpower, and I’m the same with reading. I love reading and always have a few books on the go. However there are some books that although I really like the idea of having read them I never actually get to the end. Take Jane Eyre, I roughly know the story but if I was actually quizzed on it I don’t think I’d know the answers. Pride and prejudice is another of those classics that it seems the majority of the world says they’ve read, but I haven’t. I have read the story of Charlotte Bronte’s life, but not her actual books despite part of me wanting to. Its the effort I suppose, and like with the running I often start but never quite finish.

I don’t think it’s because I lack stamina, I’ve posted 131 times on this blog for example so obviously I can keep up with some things. Although even with this I’ve read many more books over the year than I’ve actually reviewed on here. I suppose its just about effort level.

Sometimes things just click, for example I have read Gone with the Wind which would come under the long classics bracket, and I really enjoyed it. Equally last week I had a lovely run along the canal and although there was still alot of walk breaks being taken actually I felt like a runner, but other times things just don’t seem to work.

I suppose it’s all about how much you want the outcome, and accepting that maybe you just don’t want some things quite as much as you think you do. Therefore I’ll keep reading crime and reviewing, I’ll keep attempting to run and ignoring the worried looks of passer by’s as I run up behind them and they suspect a herd of elephants has got loose, but I may just have to accept that marathons and the complete works of Shakespeare are just never going to happen.

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The Deaths by Mark Lawson – a review

I have to confess that although Mark Lawson has made regular appearances at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival over the past few years, I wasn’t aware that he was a novelist in his own right until I saw the advert for The Deaths.

The Deaths opens with the discovery of a dead family. We then flit back in time and are introduced to four families living in a small village. The Eight as they are known, are firm friends and outwardly they seem to have perfect rich lives. The families are all busy trying to be the top dog of the group, the women shop in waitrose (although obviously the supermarket is not named) and the husbands all travel to their jobs via first class trains into the ‘big city’. Conversations are usually about the latest car they’ve bought or how much they earn or what the latest posh coffee delivery has been. However behind the scenes things are not what they seem.

I thought this book was excellent. The story itself is the lead up to the murder of the unidentified family, and I spent the whole read thinking it could be any of them. The characters are all equally irritating and fascinating in equal measure. They spend their time trying to keep up appearances yet behind the scenes the money is running out and credit card bills are getting bigger. The main characters in this book are all pretty stereotypical and based on the assumption that all wealthy people are unpleasant. Yet that shouldn’t put you off as predominately this is a hugely clever observation on life. There are lots of references to culture within the 1990’s and the yuppy attitude that was prevalent.

The crime is almost a minor player in this novel, the focus is on the social situation that the families are in. I enjoyed the story but also the writing. It is almost an observational comedy with an edge that appeals to me and reminded me of authors such as early Ben Elton and a recently discovered Christopher Buckley. This was an excellent novel that I’d definitely recommend to anyone who likes a sarcastic edge to a novel.

 

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The Long Fall by Julia Crouch – a review

As regular readers of my blog will know, Julia Crouch is a definite favourite of mine and a regular at the Theaksons Old Peculier Crime Festival. So her new novel was one of the first books I bought at this year’s event and I’m pleased to say The Long Fall didn’t disappoint.

The main character is Kate. She is a successful woman, married with a teenage daughter Tilly. Kate runs a charity that was set up in memory of her daughter who died when young. Tilly is getting ready to go backpacking to Greece, which for some reason Kate is very reluctant for her to do. Interspersed with the present day story are diary extracts from Emma. She is a young girl who went backpacking in the 1980s. Heading first to France and then on to Greece Emma meets up with two new friends but things don’t go to plan. Gradually the two stories unfold as Kate’s past comes back to haunt her and she finds out the truth about what happened in Greece.

This was a great easy read novel. I thought that the two parallel storylines worked well together and the diary extracts were an interesting way of telling Emma’s story. I did think that some of the twists were quite easy to guess but I don’t believe that is always a bad thing and the story was a real page turner.

I thought that this was a very atmospheric book and the descriptions of some of the places made me want to go backpacking (well 4 star hotel-ing at least) However I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Kate. I think she seemed particularly naive and as a supposed successful business woman I think some of the decisions she made were a bit out of character. However saying that one of the big themes of the story is guilt which can make people act in very strange ways, and no one really knows how they would react if there family was being threated.

As with all Julia Crouch novels the crimes are not described in a gruesome manner, the tension is built through description and plotting which makes a change from some of the other books I’ve read recently. I also like the fact they are completely stand alone novels without a recurring character which makes a nice change from alot of crime novels. If you are looking for a quick gripping read then I’d recommend The Long Fall.

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No time for goodbye

The tents have gone, the bar is empty, and the dead body outline has been taken up from outside the front door, yes the annual Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished for another year. Despite the rain which was an unwelcome new addition to the festival, normally the organisers are able to arrange for glorious sunshine, once again it was an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Arriving on Thursday afternoon as soon as you drive up the path there is an unmistakable buzz that says you are in for a real treat. The tents were even bigger than last year, there was an outdoor bar and the whole thing was set around one of the best bookcases I’ve ever seen.

Anyone who has any interest in books will by now know that J K Rowling made an appearance as Robert Galbraith, an event which surprisingly was completely wizard free. However this was only one of many many fantastic sessions put together by programme chair Steve Mosby of which it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

There was no doubt that for me Lynda La Plante was definitely a highlight. It showed exactly what I love about this festival. I went along with a pre-conceived idea, I had seen a lot of her tv credits but had only read one of her books so I was in two minds as to whether to go. Yet she completely blew me away. She was funny, charming, interesting and intelligent, and it definitely goes down as the session I laughed the most in. I came away wanting to immediately rush out and buy all her back catalogue.

Unfortunately the back seat and boot of the car were already full with all the other books we’d bought so I thought it best to wait until I got home. Thanks to Mr F a copy of Twisted is now on the top of my ‘to read’ pile, a pile which could conceivably be described as more a tower than a pile. The number of books I came home with possibly out did even last year’s tally, as it is completely impossible to sit and enjoy listening to authors talk without wanting to go and read their books. I can’t guarantee I’ll manage to get through as many as Natalie Haynes who in the turning to crime session said she’d read about 220 novels last year, but I’ll give it a go.

As always there are some interesting debates and points of view put forward, during one session James Smythe suggested what is possibly both the best and the worst idea ever. He thought that one way of getting people to read books they wouldn’t usually read was by changing bookshops around so that books are stored a-z rather than by category. This could be a good way to find new books, but would mean that a quick trip to the bookshop would actually end up taking me all day.

People familiar with this festival will know that listening to the authors up on stage is only one part of the fun, celebrity author spotting adds another dimension, which author eats the most for breakfast, who was the last still standing in the bar at night, will people make it to the morning sessions, and of course the most important question of all, will anyone join us to make a team for the Saturday night quiz. Excitingly for us this year we were actually joined by the lovely Tony Thompson, although our performance was rather dismal compared to this years winning team lead by Stav Sherez.

The weekend is certainly not a relaxing one, its non-stop with sessions and book signings back to back throughout with little time for chatting. Yet it is definitely one of my most favourite ways to spend a weekend, finished off as always by a quick Betty’s lunch before heading home to sort through all my new books. Its a wonderful weekend,  and a great way of finding new authors, plus you never know what interesting knowledge you’ll pick up, who knew cabbage shows up the same as blood in some forensic tests. I’ll be more careful with my cabbage chopping in future!

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Questions and answers with Eva Dolan

As those of you who read my reviews know I recently enjoyed the Long way home by  Eva Dolan set in my home town of Peterborough. So I was delighted to be offered the chance of a question and answer session with Eva prior to her appearance at the festival. 

1) Why did you choose Peterborough as the setting for your novel?

The subject matter of Long Way Home – the murder of a migrant worker and the wall of silence met by the police in that community – dictated the location. Peterborough has a sizeable population of economic migrants from all over Europe and as the city is quite small it makes for an interesting social situation. It’s one of those places most people only see through a train window as they wait at the station or in the news when journalists want to look at the issues around migration, so it was familiar without being well known.
It was a new setting for crime fiction too and I liked the idea of having a city all to myself, one with a long and illustrious history based around the cathedral and a declining manufacturing industry which has left Peterborough slightly stranded and directionless in the 21st century. Also the surrounding Fenlands tugged at me. Tens of thousands of acres of black earth and steep, treacherous drainage ditches, villages standing isolated under those huge horizons – it’s a landscape built for nefarious deeds.

2) Did you start the novel knowing you were writing a series or was it something that you decided as you wrote?

I hoped it might grow into a series but writing is such an unpredictable business that I simply didn’t know what was going to happen.
Starting out I had a clear vision of my detectives, both outsiders to differing degrees, dealing with a community where the police are distrusted and avoided at all costs; DI Zigic, a family man and a solid professional, aware that his promotion to heading up the newly formed Hate Crimes department was based on his third generation status, an immigrant now in nothing but name, and DS Ferreira, born in Portugal, raised on the Fens in a series of caravans and bedsits as her parents scraped together enough money to give their children a better life. She is closer in experience to the victims they work with and her sympathy has a tendency to boil over into anger.
As Long Way Home progressed I began to realise these were characters I wanted to write more about; they kept revealing little secrets and personality kinks I hadn’t considered in my notes, while the world they were entering – of slums and brothels, gangmasters and thugs – kept moving into new, ever seedier, corners.
I wanted to stick with that world, and my characters, and hopefully readers will feel the same way.

3) Often writers say they get rejected a number of times before finally getting published, was this the first book you wrote or are there other unpublished novels that came first?

There are lots! I have a hard drive stuffed with unpublished novels, two other series spanning five books, standalone police procedurals and what would now be termed domestic noirs, countless partials and outlines. Mostly they were never rejected because nobody has seen them but me.
The book which hooked my agent is the only one which went out on submission and it received some very kind and complimentary rejections which, although disappointing, encouraged me to keep going. Ultimately that book just wasn’t good enough to stand out from the crowd and it was an important experience for me. I realised that getting published meant doing something a bit different, showing editors a world they hadn’t seen before – Long Way Home felt like that new and unusual something as I was writing it and thankfully it caught the eye of Alison Hennessey at Harvill Secker.

4) What other writers do you enjoy reading and is it mainly crime or other genres?

Too many too mention them all but I love the hardboiled classics like Chandler and MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thrillers, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and Martyn Waites for their social crime novels and when it’s escapism I’m hankering after, Jason Goodwin and Boris Akunin. The crime genre is positively humming with talent and the new writers coming up are producing an eclectic mix, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste’s fresh detectives look set to run for a long time, James Oswald and Lauren Beukes are producing fantastic crossover novels and the British scene especially is bristling with gritty talent; the likes of Kevin Sampson, Howard Linskey and Tom Benn.
I think it’s important for a writer to read widely in the genre but outside it too. The author I reread most often is Emile Zola – his Rougon-Macquart series contains the whole of human nature as it slams up against modernity and mechanisation, concerns which we’re still dealing with a hundred years on. Lately I’ve really enjoyed The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove – both excellent summer reads for people who want a bit of substance by the pool – and I adored The Goldfinch, completely ripped through it.

5) What is your next novel about and when is it due out?

The next Zigic and Ferreira book – still stubbornly untitled – is out in early January. Here’s the blub…

‘The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it.
DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the investigation but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect. But the case isn’t that simple and with tensions erupting in the town, leading to more violence, the media are soon hounding them for answers.
Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow. Journalists have been quick to acclaim Shotton, with his Brazilian wife and RAF career, as a serious contender for a major political career, despite his extremist views, but is his party a cover for something far more dangerous?’

6) Are you looking forward to the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival?

I am hugely looking forward to it. Lots of drinking and gossiping with lovely writing folks and an excuse to buy a new capsule wardrobe, it’s the highlight of the summer!
Last year was my first at the festival and the atmosphere was amazing, so warm and welcoming, authors chatting with fans and bloggers, a really chilled out affair – I’d urge any crime fan who hasn’t been yet to make the trip, even if it’s just for a day. The organising committee have attracted some massive name – JK Rowling, Lynda LaPlante, John Harvey and lots more – and, being Harrogate, where the wits are quick and the drink free-flowing there are bound to be fireworks on some of the panels…
On a personal level I’m honoured and delighted to be part of Val McDermid’s New Blood event, alongside three outstanding debut novelists; Ray Celestin, Helen Giltrow and Nicola White. Their books are all very different but equally original and compelling. Hopefully we’ll keep the audience well entertained for an hour.
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Thanks very much to Eva and Vintage publishing for their time, and don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Long Way Home.

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