Category Archives: Theakstons Festival

If she did it by Jessica Treadway – a review

As I have mentioned many times before, one of the best things about the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is the abundance of new books and writers that are around. The goodie bag this year was a thing of beauty, sturdy, black and full of books. Of course it does always lead to a bit of sibling rivalry as it seems the contents of no two book bags are the same, and this year it did look that my sister got the better haul.
However disappointment never hangs around long in Harrogate and I soon found a spare copy of one I had my eye on – If She Did It by Jessica Treadwell. An intriguing black cover with the strapline ‘The only thriller you need to take home from Harrogate this year’ it was impossible not to pick up.
If She Did It begins when Hanna finds out that the man who is in prison for murdering her husband Joe is being granted an appeal. The man, Rud Petty, was their daughter Dawn’s boyfriend. Hanna and her husband were attacked by Rud in their bedroom. Many people think that Dawn was involved but Hanna can’t remember what happened and refuses to believe her daughter could be so terrifying.
If She Did It was termed a ‘domestic noir’ which I think is a great term and a category that I personally really enjoy. This book was no exception. The story is told from Hanna’s point of view, both present day as her daughter Dawn returns home and flashbacks to the time prior to that attack. The story is not exactly fast moving and it is all told from one point of view so can feel a bit stifling but that was what made it so gripping. Not only did I want to find out who had actually killed Joe it was intriguing to see how the relationships between mother, daughter and sister Iris would pan out.
As is often the case with these kind of books, the heroines are by no means perfect, in fact they are often downright annoying. There was a part of me that just wanted to shake Hanna and make her realise what was in front of her. Especially during the flashbacks to Dawn’s childhood and the elements where you were hard pushed to believe that she didn’t realise that there was something wrong. However equally the idea of having to admit that the child you love might have problems and even be capable of such a horrific act must be terrible. Clearly love can be blind which is really the theme of this book, and the ending gave it a nice feeling of completion.
This was a really enjoyable book which whilst not perfect makes you think. It was another great pick up from the festival, and I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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The facts of life and death (in Harrogate)

What do the following statements have in common:

  • Patricia Highsmith used to breed snails and was so attached to them that when she moved to France she smuggled them in her bra.
  • The north is better than the south at playing football
  • I am really rubbish at quizzes.
  • The name Jack Reacher came about because Lee Child could reach things from high shelves in supermarkets.
  • Knitting can be taken anywhere.
  • I have the same first name as Simon Theakston’s wife – sadly for Mr F that doesn’t allow me a discount on his favourite Old Peculier.
  • If turning around a hotel room from theatre to cabaret style was an Olympic sport the Old Swan would definitely take the gold medal.
  • In Iceland they suck on boiled sheep heads as a tasty snack.
  • Crime writers make me look a complete amateur when it comes to drinking in the bar.

The common thread? Yes you guessed it, these are just some of the many fascinating facts that I learnt at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Once again the festival is over and I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel the disappointment. Having spent three days immersed in crime books, crime authors and crime discussion, having to return to the boring minutiae of work really is rather dull. It’s difficult to remember that when my boss tells me about her recent vandalism problem she just wants a bit of sympathy and head nodding – not a ten minute monologue on why fingerprints are only fingerprints once they’ve been identified.

It was as always another fantastic festival. This year the sister and me had agreed not to make our usual mistake of spending three full days rushing from session to signing queue to coffee queue to session and to take time to enjoy the atmosphere a bit more. We were very selective with what sessions we actually attended and managed to have at least one each day that we kept spare. This gave us a great chance to chat to people outside, sit in the sun and get even more free books than previously.

The atmosphere at this festival is always the best; it’s no exaggeration to say that for people who spend their time conjuring up the most gruesome ways possible to kill and scare people, crime writers really are the most friendly bunch. To me the writers at this festival are the equivalent of A List celebrities to the readers of Hello, but you can actually talk and walk amongst them. I bet not many festivals include an award winning actor browsing in the bookshop (on being asked to say a few impromptu words at an awards ceremony their reply was I can’t I’m pissed) or the winner of the 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Novel of the Year standing next to us in a signing queue. (The winner was the lovely Sarah Hilary)

The programme for this year again gave a great range of authors and topics. Apart from my favourite New Blood panel led by Val McDermid, some of the highlights for me this year included the Perfect Match with David Mark and Anya Lipska discussing reviewing and choosing that next new book, the Forensics panel which was fascinating and gave an interesting insight into the real world of detection, as well as the surprise of the weekend which was Eddie Izzard talking to Mark Billingham. Not strictly crime but very entertaining.

Of course no matter how excellent the weekend there is always a downside. This one being the amount of books I returned with. Despite my best acting I’m not sure Mr F believed that they were all ones I already had and had taken with me! I’ve definitely got my work cut out to read my way through them all before the next festival. Which reminds me of one final fact:

  • Its only 52 weeks until the next TOPCWF.

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The End of the Wasp Season

Well the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is only two weeks away. Therefore the 2015 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (try saying that quickly after a couple of glasses of wine) is very nearly at an end.

By my reckoning there are 56 authors appearing during the main three days of the festival. Of those there are 28 authors that I haven’t read. That is a pretty poor show by anyone’s standards. I’m actually beginning to think that this might be an impossible challenge. I think I need to join forces with some of my fellow bloggers who are attending. I’m sure if we all put our heads together and combined our reviewing forces we’d be able to cover all the authors. Maybe I should arrange for us all to meet for a coffee at Harrogate and we can see if we’ve managed it?

On the positive side however, the TOPCWFC2015 Lite as I’m now calling it is much more manageable. The aim of this one is to read at least one author in every session. Again by my own calculations removing things such the dinner, and the reader awards there are 16 sessions. Currently I have read at least one book by an author in 15 of these sessions. I think with two weeks to go that is pretty good going, so it’s just one more book to go.

Of course the actual blogging is very far behind the reading
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who was saying they used to write a book review blog, but found that they read more than they had time to review so gave it up. I completely understand what they mean, I definitely read alot more books than I actually review. I suppose it depends on what you like doing most. If you let yourself get bogged down in it, the reviews start taking over your life, the unwritten ones becoming as annoying as a wasp round your glass of wine. I enjoy writing this blog and I like to think that occasionally someone other than my family actually read it, but for me it’s always the actual reading that is the best part. The blog is just an added bonus. On that note, time to stop writing and get on with some more reading I think. Challenge completion here I come.

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Disclaimer by Renee Knight – a review

This was a book I had picked up and looked at a few times in bookshops recently. So I was very pleased to see that it was to be featured in my favourite panel of the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival, the New Blood one. As I’ve said before if it’s good enough for Val McDermid it is good enough for me so I purchased my copy.
Disclaimer centres on Catherine. She’s a successful film  maker, who has recently moved into a new house with her husband Robert. One night she picks up a book that she finds on her bedside cabinet, which she has no recollection of buying (not quite sure why she doesn’t think a book just arriving like this is strange but let’s gloss over that bit!) The standard disclaimer at the front that states ‘the characters are not based on real life’ has been crossed out. As Catherine starts to read she realises that the strange book is about her. The story in it is describing a secret relating to her son that she has tried to bury. Things become even more sinister when her drop-out son also says he’s recently read a copy of the book which had been pushed through his flat door one day. The other main character in Disclaimer is Stephen who has recently lost his wife, and spends his days talking to her in his head whilst he sorts out her clothes. It soon becomes clear that Catherine and Stephen are linked.
Disclaimer is one of those stories that to really enjoy you are best not knowing much about it, so it’s difficult to review properly. However I can say I thought it was a really good story that I read over 5 days (whilst going to work and having the occasional social outing) Every time I thought I was going to guess the ending, there was another twist and off it went again. 
Throughout the story I kept changing my perspective of who was good and who was bad, and I can’t say any of them were particularly likeable but that’s often the case with this type of novel. It would all have been much simpler had Catherine just told her husband the truth, but then she thought she would never be found out.
There were a few unnecessary bits, and i thought the ending was a little weak. Yet despite this I thought Renee Knight’s debut novel was excellent and look forward to seeing her at the festival in July. 

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The Kill by Jane Casey – a review

I should start this review with a bit of a caveat. I’m completely biased about this book having had the great pleasure of sitting next to Jane Casey at this year’s murder mystery dinner at the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. It was a lovely evening, with a great bunch of people on our table and therefore I really wanted to love this book.
Unfortunately that brings me to my second caveat. I was halfway through reading this when we went on holiday, and due to being lucky enough to own the hard copy of the book I decided to leave it behind whilst I went on my jaunt. Therefore I picked it up, three books and two weeks later, to try and remember where I’d left off. Obviously as I’m not known for my great memory this did cause some confusion.
The Kill starts with a group of police officers, including Maeve Kerrigan at a wedding party. They find out that a fellow officer has been killed. This starts a wave of police killings which Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent are desperate to solve, however they are soon in fear for their lives.
This was the first of the Maeve Kerrigan series that I’ve read, which combined with the fact I stopped half way through did mean I struggled with the plot a bit. However overall I’m pleased to say this was a good read. Although it is the third in the series, the novel works as a standalone story, I didn’t get the impression I was missing out on lots of background information. I enjoyed the mix of police action and the relationships between Maeve and her rather unpleasant boyfriend, as well as senior officers. I can’t say I particularly warmed too many of the characters except Maeve, although I enjoyed the fact that the characters weren’t one dimensional. They could spend half the book acting like complete idiots and then suddenly turn round and actually be quite nice, which is a pretty human trait.
The story itself was interesting, and the concept of the police being under attack, and the motives behind it were good. I especially liked the contemporary setting of the novel, with references to real world events such as the riots in 2011. When the policeman is found dead at the start of the novel, local politicians are soon quick to put the blame on the fact that allegedly the police shot an innocent boy.
Overall I enjoyed this book, despite the second half taking a bit of getting back into and would be keen to try the series from the start as I have a suspicion that if I started at the beginning this is a series that would really grow on me.

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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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