Category Archives: Crime writing

Killer Women

killter-woemn-crime-writing-festival-2016I am quite used to getting strange looks off friends and colleagues when I’m asked about my weekend plans. My penchant for heavy metal music, combined with a love of crime novels, Coronation Street and horse riding regularly leads to a look of confusion when the question is asked. Usually followed by a mumbled ok before they back quickly away. This weekend was no exception. People seemed to run away even quicker than normal, when I announced I’m off to the Killer Women Festival in London.

Luckily for Mr F this wasn’t an instructional day on how to do away with your partner (although I think I met a lot of people there who might be able to help with ideas on that front) It was the first ever festival organised by a fantastic group of mainly London based crime writers, collectively known as the Killer Women.

The event was held in Shoreditch Town Hall and was a fabulous mix of panel discussions, author interviews and workshops. As soon as the programme had been released, I started by circling all the sessions I wanted to attend. This seemed like a sensible plan until I realised that actually I wanted to see them all. Therefore, on the day, me and the Sister decided we’d adopt a divide and conquer approach and split up so we could see as much as possible.

The day passed by way too quickly, in a blur of crime, books and our festival pastime of author spotting. Martina Cole, one of my favourite authors, had us all in stitches as she talked about her life and her novels. There was an interesting workshop on how to write a successful book blog with Ayo Onatade of Shots magazine, apparently her blog gets on average five hundred hits a day (Very similar to acrimereadersblog – well the five part anyway) I was entertained by Mark Billingham and Douglas Henshall amongst others in Serial Thrillers, although I’m not convinced that the Great British Body Off would be a big hit. I heard a discussion about being Inside a killers head with authors including Jane Casey and Tammy Cohen. This was a truly terrifying line up, never mind inside a killers head, inside a female crime writers head is much more disturbing! There was even a session where I learnt about solving a crime, with two real life detectives. Having been shown the building blocks of solving a crime I went into the interactive ‘Murder mystery session’ pretty confident that I could solve it quicker than Miss Marple could say knit one purl one. Only to be put in my place rather smartly when I got the answer completely wrong.

The whole day was absolutely superb, it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and you can’t beat a day that ends in some killer women cocktails. I would thoroughly recommend this event to anyone interested in reading or writing crime fiction. If next year we could throw in some heavy metal, and a Coronation Street actor on horseback it really would be a perfect day.

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Breaking point

With less than a week to go until the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival its time to take stock of how the TOPCWFC2013 has gone.

Unfortunately however it looks like I’m definitely more Novak Djokovic than Andy Murray. Even for a reasonably fast reader like me there are just so many authors at the festival it’s impossible to read them all. By my calculations I counted 43 at the beginning of the challenge. That’s nearly a years’ reading at my normal one a week rate, and as much as I do love reading sometimes other distractions just get in the way (a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show this week for one) There has also been a big difference this year in that I have more blog followers, which in turn means I’ve actually been asked by people to review their books. This is not a complaint at all as it is still very exciting to be asked to read someone’s book, and I’ve discovered some very good authors that way. It does mean though that the challenge has come somewhat unstuck.

However when it comes to looking at the ‘TOPCWFC2013 Lite’ then things are a lot more rosy. There are 17 sessions not including the opening party, the quiz (at which we did rather well in last year, our team PTCK came third) or the dinner. Of these 17 I have read authors in all but two of the sessions.

Unusually for me the missing authors are actually two of this year’s ‘big hitters’. Someone recently accused me of sounding like a frog when in a bookshop ‘read it, read it, read it’ and so to admit that I have never read either William McIlvanney or Lee Child is rather embarrassing.

Crime itself is such a huge genre that it can be difficult sometimes to work out which authors to try. Often the easy option is to stay with the tried and trusted such as Val McDermid and Mark Billingham as you know you are going to be getting a great book, and straying away can be disappointing. It can also be a great experience though. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing this challenge, sometimes it may take over my life but its also addictive. The more I read the more I want to read and the festival provides such a plethora of new writers it is impossible not to want to try them. It is not even just about showcasing brand new writers such as those in the New Blood session, the festival is also about discovering writers that have been around but somehow slipped through my net, such as Lee Child.

Therefore with a week left to go, its down to the break point I’ve got a William McIlvanney book in my bag ready for a train journey this afternoon, and then I just need to fit in a quick Lee Child next week and its game set and match for the TOPCWFC2013 Lite.

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Bloodstream by Tess Gerritsen – A review

This book has been sat on my bookshelf for quite a well, as she technically wasn’t part of the TOPCWFC but I recently found it in the pile so got stuck in.

After her husband’s death, Dr Claire Elliot moves to the small town of Maine, with her teenage son. She hopes that relocating to this small quiet town will be a good opportunity for her son to put his past indiscretions behind him and for them both to make a new start with her running the towns medical practice. As with all good stories unfortunately it doesn’t quite work out like that. Not long after they arrive her son’s school mates start murdering each other and it soon becomes clear that things are not quite what they seem. People are quick to blame the fact the children are just bad, and it takes a while before the town link what’s happening now to a similar event 100 years previously.

This was not a Rizzoli and Isles book, which as I’d just finished watching the fantastic tv series of the same name did disappoint me a little, I really should read the blurb on the back a bit more. I am a big fan of Tess Gerristen and we saw her talk during the festival in Harrogate in 2011. So I hate to say it, but I didn’t think this novel was one of her best. The story was not particularly original, and could almost have been called Erin Brockovich.

However I think that Tess Gerritsen is such a skilled writer, she still manages to create tension and intrigue, and leaves you guessing the outcome right til the last few pages. I must admit that I did skip over some of the lengthy medical descriptions as they were a little long, but then the main character of the book was a doctor so its to be expected and the one of the authors skills is being able to intermingle medical knowledge, with suspense.

Half way through I got some Stephen King flashes (at the risk of upsetting people everywhere I’m afraid I’ve never managed to finish a Stephen King novel, not saying they are not good. I just get a bit lost) and I began to think that the story was heading to the dark side. But I’m glad to say that as ever Tess Gerritsen did not disappoint.

All in all I would say its definitely worth a read, but wouldn’t rush to read it twice. I am however looking foward to the next Rizzoli and Isles outing.

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Doors Open

Well it’s over, the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished, and I have no idea how to begin to describe this weekend. It was excellent!

Me and the Sister travelled over on Thursday afternoon. After a quick trip round the bookshops of Harrogate (market research obviously) we headed to the hotel where the festival kicked off to a great start with Denise Mina being awarded the crime novel of the year. Colin Dexter then made a guest appearance to accept the lifetime achievement award, he was a very witty man.

Breakfast the next morning and the celebrity spotting began before the first session of the day started. This was Mark Billingham (who incidentally was our first celebrity spot at breakfast) interviewing John Connolly. Obviously great friends it was a very funny interview.

The first full day of the festival included the science fiction session. Contrary to my original thoughts this turned into a very amusing talk and not completely geeky! In the afternoon there was the rather controversial e-book debate, which yesterday afternoon on twitter was rebranded ‘tossergate’. Some very strong views were aired, including one bookseller who pointed out that people are happy to pay over £8 to view a two hour film, but will balk against buying a £7.99 novel.

John Connolly then reappeared, this time as chair of the America’s Got Talent session with four great authors discussing their latest book and what they are doing next. After such a full day we decided to skip the Kate Mosse interview (although apparently she was absolutely fascinating) and headed into a very busy Harrogate for something to eat.

We got back in time to see what, to me was definitely one of the highlights – A late night chat between Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson. With Mark Billingham attempting to stand in as barman for the pair, it did seem that they were just out for the night having a couple of beers and a catch up which was excellent.

Saturday morning started with Peter James and quite a disturbing story about his stalker. At one point he was receiving up to 40 emails a day from her, how on earth did she find the time? The day continued with a fascinating debate on whether the 1920s/30s really can be called the ‘Golden Age of Crime’ before Val McDermid took to the stage for the New Blood panel. This was her choice of the best new writers of the year and  included the lovely Elizabeth Haynes who I later met in the queue for Harlen Coben and again in the toilets (Contrary to what it may sound like, especially after the earlier discussions I wasn’t actually stalking her!)

The afternoon continued with the same gusto. One panel was an interesting discussion between 3 female writers and ‘reader in residence’ Martyn Waites (who writes as a women) as to whether women write more gruesome stuff than men. There was also a special event around the TV show Luther, where journalist Miranda Sawyer interviewed its writer Neil Cross alongside production team members and two actors (I confess I now have a bit of a crush on Warren Brown who plays Ripley).

Early evening and we went along to the Come Die With Me dinner hosted by Ann Cleaves, and were sat on a table with SJ Parris. It was then straight into an interview with Harlen Coben who was talking to Laura Lippman. It was another interesting session, and again they are obviously great friends and it was a very natural interaction.

Me and the Sister then rather nervously went along to the Late Night Quiz. Neither of us are particularly good at quizzes, and not knowing anyone else we did have visions of ending up bottom on our own. However it was great fun. We met two very nice ladies again on their own, and rather amazingly (Especially considering the competition in the room) we came third out of the readers teams and fifth overall.

Another late night in the bar (although much earlier than most people) and then our final day started with a discussion around translation, before the final session which was Mark Lawson interviewing an interesting Jo Nesbo. A quick trip to Betty’s as we’d not had time to go during the weekend and we left the Swan Hotel sadly behind.

People keep asking ‘which was your favourite’ and I can honestly say, I haven’t got a clue. I can’t pick one as it would feel like a disservice to all the others. Each session was fascinating and I came away from each one thinking ‘wow’. Admittedly that only lasted for the 10 minutes I was queuing for the book signings before it was straight back into the next session. It was a full on weekend and I loved every minute of it. Roll on 2013!!

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Shatter the bones by Stuart MacBride – a review

Ok, so I have a confession to make. Stuart MacBride is talking in the science fiction session, therefore I had decided to ignore the authors in this until lunch with Mr T who told me I had to read one to complete the challenge.

So I took pot luck on my kindle, downloaded a Stuart MacBride and set off on yet another epic train journey. I’m very glad I took up the challenge, as I really enjoyed this book. However there is a part of me that suspects I may have picked the wrong author as there was not a trace of science fiction in this novel. The description of the session ‘Crime in another dimension’ actually states science fiction or urban fantasy. I have no idea what urban fantasy really means so I’ve Wikipedia-ed and apparently its a fantasy set primarily in a city that focuses for example, on coexistence between humans and paranormal beings.

This must be what classes this book as Urban Fantasy, as its based around a mother and daughter who are kidnapped after they become famous by appearing on the novel equivalent of X-factor. The mothers appearance on a show like this would therefore suggest she is not ‘normal’ so maybe this is the link to urban fantasy?

The story follows Jenny and Alison who are kidnapped after appearing on the show, and the public are told that in order for them to be released unharmed they have to raise millions of pounds. Logan is the officer investigating the crime, and is also dealing with a missing drug dealer and a stalker.

This was quite a good story, although it was obvious who the perpertrator was quite soon on in the book. However saying that there is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

I thought the characters in the book were a little bit stereotyped, the lesbian policewoman, the tattooed girlfriend wearing studs and black leather, but there were enough twists and turns to make this an enjoyable read right through to the end.

I also did think some of the characters were a little bit fawlty towers which was slightly off putting, although this was usually tempered by something horrific happening to them, and you were brought back to crime and murder.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by this and would definitely like to read some of his other books. It may also have tempted me to go along to the science fiction section, if just to see if I’ve read the right author!

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Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn – a review

My latest read was Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn, and I can honestly say it was one of the best books I’ve read all challenge.

It is based around a street is 1960’s America where Kat is brutally stabbed and raped. This is witnessed by various people in the area. Pat with the dying mother, Thomas who is about to kill himself, Frank who is a black man who goes out looking for a push chair his wife thinks she has hit with their car, the policeman who tries to frame him for the beating of a man who is trying to blackmail him, David and John a pair of ambulance drivers, and two couples having their first attempt at swinging.

All these people see what happens to Kat but no one does anything about it, all assuming someone else will. The story starts with Kat and returns to her every few chapters whilst the other characters stories intermingle throughout.

I thought although this was violent and disturbing in equal measures, it was a fantastic read, with clever plot that made me not want to put it down (I had to have that extra glass of wine in the bar as I didn’t want to have to stop reading!) It covers a huge range of moral issues, paedophilia, war, rape, homosexuality, racism, euthanasia. Each character has something they deal with over the few hours this story is told as they intermingle with each other.

This book reminded me a little of the Armistead Maupin series Tales of the City I read many many years ago. It had a claustrophobic air to it that makes you want to scream ‘ring the police’ at the self absorbed characters letting a woman die on the street. Everyone is to blame in part, from the person who stabs her to the one who ignores her cries for help.

It wasn’t until after I’d finished reading that I realised this story is based on a true  murder that happened in the 60s. This may have slightly slanted my opinion of the book if I’d known before, however what makes this book even more outstanding to me, is that I imagine this could easily happen nowadays. No one is ever without a mobile phone yet how many people would actually stop and help someone? Would people even notice, or just be too self absorbed in their own small worlds to even look up from facebook?

This book was a great story, told at a good pace, that was cleverly written. It was also depressing and thought provoking. One completely random act and everyone in this street were changed in some way and nothing in their lives was ever the same again.

Everyone should be made to read this novel, and think how would they want to be seen to act in these circumstances? The challenge of course is to act that way!

On a lighter note, it now means I have completed two full sessions, America’s got talent which is where this sits, and Deadlier than the Male, which I am really looking forward to, so my own challenge continues!.

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Before I go to Sleep

Last Wednesday (after an exciting day full of steam engines and train rides at York Railfest) I went to York Library to see the Crime on Tour event.

Peter Robinson, creator of the DCI Banks series which starred Stephen Tompkinson on tv was presenting a ‘New Blood’ Panel discussion. Alongside him were new authors Steven Dunne and David Mark. Sadly there were only about 10 people attending which is always a shame when these kind of events are put on but then the obsession with reading and crime doesn’t extend as far as I’d like I suppose.

Despite low attendees the event was great. It was a very informal evening, introduced by Peter where the authors talked about how they had both got published, and how their respective settings had reacted to the book. It was interesting to hear how their publishing journeys differed, David was previously a journalist and ‘The dark winter’ was his first novel. Steven however had written previous books and was now on his third novel, but his first with a more mainstream publisher.

All three authors were very entertaining and there were some great snippets of information. For example Sky TV wanted to commission the DCI Banks tv series, but only if they could have Ross Kemp as the lead role (there’s something to be grateful to ITV for!)

There was a big discussion over the difference between paper novels and e-books. David was quite vocal about the fact that he only felt like a real author once he saw his novel in print. I completely agree, whilst I love my kindle I still prefer real books when I can. Where we did differ though was him saying how upset he gets when he sees people mistreating books by folding the corner over, or putting them face down to keep the pages open. I love books and I love the whole process about them including seeing them on my shelves, but I can’t say my books are kept pristine. They have soggy pages from reading in the bath, battered edges from carrying them in bags, broken spines from leaving them open next to the bed. Books are about the content, appearance is secondary is all contexts.

There was an opportunity for questions (which is always the point my mind goes blank, and I desperately try and think of something witty and intelligent to ask. What are you having for tea? is probably not the question they want to hear) There was some interesting discussion around how they chose their main protagonists, and why they chose the settings they did.

Seeing these authors talking was a great taster for the full festival at the end of July, and I’ve got two new books in my ‘to read’ pile!

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