Tag Archives: Harlen Coben

The Forty (nine) Steps

Back in the dim and distant time that was 2012 when I was but a much younger thing I set myself my first ever Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC). In case you don’t know this was for me to read a book by every author at the festival that year.

Well it quickly became apparent that that was rather an impossible feat, and I narrowed it down to reading something from at least one author from each session was much more manageable. Well its now 2016, I’ve just turned 40,  and so it is fifth time lucky for the TOPCWFC.

This time I’m feeling pretty hopeful.  As you’ll know I wrote a list of 40 things I’m going to do this year, it could be called 40 steps to making this year ‘The Year of Me’ (Spot The Middle reference there) Completing the TOPCWFC is one of those. The programme has been released and as always it looks like a fantastic weekend. There are some of my favourite authors returning including the excellent Peter James, Tess Gerritsen and Martina Cole. Val McDermid is doing a double hitter this year being in conversation on Friday night and of course doing my favourite New Blood panel. There is also what is sure to be one of my top ranked panel discussions ‘Domestic suspense – the killer behind the front door’ featuring five of my favourite female authors including Julia Crouch and Paula Hawkins.

As well as those who I’ve seen before there are some new faces to the festival although not new to crime fiction such as Jeffery Deaver the writer of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers most of which I’ve already read. Then there are others such as Gerald Seymour who is a new name to me although he has actually just written his 32nd book.

This year if my maths is correct there are 48 authors appearing alongside comedians, playwrights, forensic podiatrists, and radio producers. Of these I’ve read 26 already, so only 22 to go. That shouldn’t be too hard to do surely? Thanks to netgalley I’ve already made a start on A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee and I recently purchased a novel by Ysra Sigurdardottir so fingers crossed I’m well on the way to completion for the first time ever! (There is nothing wrong with a bit of optimism)

 

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The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook – a review

When an email dropped into my box asking if I would be interested in reviewing a copy of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook it is true to say that I was rather overly excited. As you’ll know if you read my blog I am a huge fan of crime fiction. As you may not know although it’s still true, I am also a lover of a good cookbook. Notice I don’t say a lover of cooking. Don’t get me wrong when I’ve got the time I really enjoy cooking and I try as often as I can to make something new out of the very large collection of cookbooks I already own. Yet it’s more than that. I like reading cookbooks just as much as fiction sometimes. I love it when I get a new book that isn’t just recipes (although these have their place) but is also more than that. I like those that include history of the people behind the books, the chef’s perspective and what the recipes mean to them.

Therefore it is quite possible that this is my most favourite book in the world (it’s only downside being I’m a vegetarian and the book is American so clearly there is a lot of meat. Luckily Mr F is very far from a vegetarian and is pretty handy in the kitchen himself so all recipes will get some use!)

The book combines some great sounding recipes with some interesting crime facts. Did you know for example that Miss Marple drank 143 cups of tea during her stories. All the recipes are provided by authors, including some of my favourites such as Harlen Coben (myron’s crabmeat dip) and Lee Child (a pot of coffee so not the trickiest of recipes but easy to get wrong) The book is split into sections making it easy to follow, and as well as appetisers and mains there is even a section of drinks at the back.

Obviously as this is an american book there are alot of bits that we don’t have over here, however that’s the joy of the internet. If you can’t find them in the supermarket you know you’ll be able to source an alternative. The recipes are all reasonably simple, and many have a short list of ingredients which makes them nice and easy to follow.

Of course the proof of a good cook book is in the eating. So i wanted to try some recipes before reviewing. My attempts started well with Scott Turow’s ‘Innocent Frittata’ which was very tasty, and Alan Orloff’s ‘Killer Tofu’ which went well with a stir fry. However things went downhill when I attempted Linda Stasi’s baked cheesecake. I was heading to some friends for Sunday dinner so thought I’d enlist their help in testing a recipe and the cheesecake seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately I’d never made a baked cheesecake before, and I don’t think I’ll be trying again in a hurry. Admittedly part of the problem was that I burnt it, one minute it looked liked a souffle that was about to explode, the next it was like I was building a scale model of the grand canyon, all brown and sunken. My friends being the true friends they are, valiantly battled on, scraping the burnt bits off and trying not to crack their teeth on the base but the remaining was truly dreadful, more scrambled egg than cheesecake. It was that bad even the dogs turned their noses up at it. Yet one bad cheesecake does not a bad book make.

The book is a beautiful thing, with lots of pictures and quotes from authors which makes it a pleasure to read. I love the style of the book with each recipe being introduced by the author saying where the recipe comes from. The Harrogate crime festival even gets a mention under Joseph Finder’s apple crumble. I would highly recommend this book for all fans of crime fiction, whether cooks or not, the only problem being I’ve now got a load of new authors to add to my to read list.

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The Woods by Harlen Coben – a review

Twenty years ago Paul’s sister went missing, presumed dead along with her friends at the hands of the Summer Slasher, after a trip to a summer camp. Wayne the slasher is now in prison and Paul is working as a County Prosecutor. Ira the owner of the camp where the incident happened has dementia and is in a home. His Daughter Lucy was with Paul at the time of the disappearance.The body of one of the missing camp friends turns up which sparks the reunion of Paul and Lucy, who both still feel guilty for the events of that night. In the meantime Paul is defending a rape victim, against two young boys whose parents will do anything to clear their names.

I’m a big fan of Harlen Coben and whilst this wasn’t one of my favourite of his books it was still a very enjoyable read. It seemed very different to Harlen Coben’s other novels, and I felt that some of the storylines were a little bit unnecessary. To me the novel could have concentrated on the slasher story and didn’t need the addition of the dead wife and charity and sister. However this also helped build the tensions and I suppose was necessary to show the pressure that Paul was under from every angle.

As with all of Harlen Coben’s novels there was a lot going on, but everything gets tied up at the end which always appeals to my natural sense of justice. His writing is flawless and I don’t think he can be faulted for the way he tells a story.

As I said I don’t think this was one of his best novels, but as always personal preference comes into play and this would probably appeal to fans of John Grisham. The legal part of it was not really the main plot, although I suspect some could argue with me depending on your particular taste in storylines. I found some of the actions of Paul a little far fetched. However whilst not the most original, the slasher camp storyline was interesting and had some good twists and turns.

If you have never read Harlen Coben novels before I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, but it’s definitely worth a read.

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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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Live Wire by Harlen Coben – a review

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Back to the TOPCWFC and my latest book was Live Wire by Harlen Coben. I am sure that I have read books by him before however I have a pretty terrible memory so couldn’t remember them. Luckily I didn’t get half way through this one and then realise I’ve read it before as has often been the case in the past.

This book was based around the character of Myron who was a sports agent/detective, with a previous life as a super athlete (as we are told many times!) He is asked to help out pregnant former tennis star Suzze T who’s husband, a famous musician, has gone missing. Amongst this Myron also has to look for his sister in law and brother who have been missing for years, and track down a nephew who lives near an ice cream shop, which has a link to the partner of the famous musician mentioned previously who is, guess what, missing!

Now despite the black hole that obviously surrounded Myron’s family, I did quite like this book. It was most definitely written by a man, and I felt it was a bit like reading an action man comic with lots of guns and fight scenes and completely unrealistic escapes from brutal Mafioso types. However it was a fun and compelling read with some witty one liners between the main characters, although sadly I felt these were sometimes rather forced (This could of course be because I previously read Mark Billingham who is a master at the wit)

There were lots of characters in it, and I sensed it was the kind of book that if you started and then put down for a day you’d get lost so it was best to read it pretty quickly.  I felt the story was a bit far fetched, bordering on ridiculous but then it didn’t advertise itself as a ‘true crime’ book so it’s not a complaint, that’s one of the joys of fiction things don’t always have to be completely true to life.

My only issue was about the use of the word ‘blackberry’. Practically in every other sentence Myron used his blackberry, or told someone he was looking for his blackberry, or checking his blackberry. I realise I’m a product of the BBC and therefore have an inbuilt dislike of product placement (Remember how they used to have tomato sauce bottles with all the labels peeled off in the Eastenders café!) but there really was no need for such blatant advertising. Surely most people with a mobile phone simply say, I’ll just get my phone, not I’ll just check the james bond app on my Samsung Galaxy 2000. It really grated on me for some reason, but it is a minor point.

Overall I liked the book, and enjoyed the pace (although in my head there were a lot of batmanesque ‘Kapow’ signs popping up during the reading of some fight scenes) I think it would be a good series to read from the beginning in order to learn more about the main characters, and also to remind myself if I have actually read any of his previous books!

 

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