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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – a review

sister

My latest read has been My Sister, The Serial Killer. No this is is not autobiographical (Well as far as I know, bearing in mind the Sister lives with our parent’s and they are both very much alive and fighting fit so I assume if she had murderous tendencies the patio area might have been much extended by now!)
My Sister the Serial Killer is actually the debut novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Set in Nigeria, it tells the story of Korede, the elder sister of Ayoola. The sisters are very close. So much so that Ayoola can ring Korede any time of the day or night knowing that she will drop everything to help her. Even when that help involves bleach, rubber gloves and the ability to move a body, for the third time.
I picked this novel up on a whim whilst browsing Waterstones, at the time I hadn’t realised that Oyinkan was appearing at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival next weekend. Well once I started reading I couldn’t stop and I read this pretty much over two nights.
My Sister, the Serial Killer was a really engaging novel. This wasn’t a long book, and had it been formatted like a normal book I imagine it would have been very small but that was part of the charm. It felt like quite a simple story, yet for some reason it is one that really gets under your skin. It is a slow story that is hard to explain, as it feels like nothing happens, yet it also includes murder galore.
The sisters are two very different people. One is glamourous and exciting, the other is rather dowdy and dull yet they are bound together by a bond that only siblings will understand. I found the interaction between the two sisters interesting. There were moments where you just want to give Korede a good talking too and make her stop enabling her sister’s murderous ways. Yet equally you feel for her as she is trying to make the best of a situation that she didn’t create but is stuck in. This is mainly a story about relationships rather than murder. The writing is full of short quick sentences and the rather macabre topic is lifted by the deadpan humour of Korede.
I would highly recommend My Sister, the Serial Killer for a quick engaging read and I am very much looking forward to hearing Oyinkan speak next week.

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Nemesis

So with one week and two days left to go until the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival I thought I’d have a bit of a check where I am with the TOPCWFC 2016. I had high hopes this year. Looking through the list there were a lot of authors that I’ve seen before and therefore there was a high chance that I had read something of theirs already. However it does look like sadly I may have taken on more than I can chew yet again. This challenge is beginning to be my nemesis.

On the positive side, I’ve realised I’d counted wrong in my initial plan. I had counted two authors separately although they write as a team, and I’ve also excluded one author on the grounds he only writes true crime and this is a fiction challenge (my challenge my rules!) However with only nine days before the festival I still have 4 authors to go. Now admittedly as I write this I’m about to finish an audio book of one, and I’m halfway through another in hard copy, yet I still suspect it’s going to be a case of so near yet so far.

Out of interest though I’ve listed all those books I have read below. Obviously with some authors I’ve read most of their novels and so I’ve just listed the most recent one. It was actually quite an interesting exercise going through the authors and seeing what I’d read. Although it has made me realise how many new books there are out there that I really want to read. If only I could find a job that would pay me to read books all day, fingers crossed for next year.

The TOPCWFC 2016

  1. Linwood Barclay – Broken Promise
  2. Mark Billingham – Time of Death (audiobook)
  3. Peter James – A Twist of the Knife
  4. Sharon Bolton – Little Black Lies
  5. Mari Hannah – The Murder Wall
  6. Ysra Sigurdardottir – The Silence of the Sea
  7. Julia Crouch – The Long Fall
  8. Helen Fitzgerald – The Cry
  9. Paula Hawkins – Girl on a Train
  10. Clare Mackintosh – I let you go
  11. Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls
  12. Simon Brett – The Hanging in the Hotel
  13. Frances Brody – A Death in the Dales
  14. Ann Granger – Dead In the Water (audio)
  15. Catriona McPherson – Quiet Neighbours
  16. Ruth Ware – In a Dark Dark Wood
  17. Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places
  18. Brooke Magnanti – The Turning Tide
  19. Kate Medina – Fire Damage
  20. Val McDermid – Splinter the Silence
  21. Sophie Hannah – A Game for all the Family (audio)
  22. Simon Kernick – The Murder Exchange
  23. Laura Lippman – After I’m Gone
  24. Martyn Waites – The Dolls House (Yes technically its Tania Carver but its my rules!)
  25. Laura Wilson – The Wrong Girl
  26. Jeffrey Deaver – The Skin Collector
  27. Mark Lawson – The Deaths
  28. Gerald Seymour
  29. Martin Holmen – Clinch
  30. J S Law – Tenacity (audiobook)
  31. Beth Lewis
  32. Abir Mukherjee – A Rising Man
  33. NJ Cooper – Vengence in Mind
  34. Paul Mendleson – The serpentine road
  35. Deon Meyer – Devil’s Peak
  36. Margie Orford – Daddy’s Girl
  37. Michael Stanley –
  38. (Micheal Sears and Stanly Trollop one author above)
  39. Pierre Lemaitre – Blood Wedding
  40. Bernard Minier – The Frozen Dead
  41. SJ Parris – 
  42. Martina Cole – The Life
  43. Tess Gerritsen – Last to Die
  44. Charles Cumming – A Divided Spy
  45. Frank Gardner (True Crime so not in the challenge)
  46. Kate Rhodes – River of Souls
  47. Gillian Slovo – Ten Days
  48. Neil Cross – Captured

 

 

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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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Like this, Forever by Sharon Bolton – a review

I picked this book up on a whim as it was part of some of the free books that I was given at the Festival. As it was a proof copy it didn’t have any blurb on the back so I wasn’t really aware of what the story was about. The quotes on the cover were enough to make it stand out from the pile on my dressing table and grab on my way out to catch a train.

I was certainly not disappointed that I had done. The main character that the book focuses on is Barney. Children are going missing and when their bodies turn up they have been drained of blood. Young Barney lives with his Dad and is obsessed with searching for his mum who he believes is living in London somewhere. He also follows the investigation into the disappearance of the children following updates on the special facebook page set up to discuss the murders.

Barney lives next door to Lacey who is a policewomen currently on sick leave after a traumatic experience whilst on duty (dealt with in a previous novel I believe) He asks her to help him find his mum, and in the process of helping she finds out more than she bargained for.

I really enjoyed this book. I don’t believe that I’ve read any Sharon (or S.J as she was previously known) Bolton before although I will definitely be reading more. Throughout the story I was kept guessing as to the perpetrator and there were numerous possibilities all intertwining different stories, for example the teacher who takes a special interest in Barney, his friends with their own lives and families, the football coach who is always busy on the same nights, the man who posts on facebook. At no point did I guess the true identity.

I thought that the inclusion of social media worked well, especially as it gave a good insight into how children interact via these sites nowadays. It was an interesting mix of normal police investigation led by Dana Tulloch and a childrens viewpoint and their belief that they can find out who did it.

Unlike a lot of books this was a book that didn’t waste words. Although I felt slightly that I missed parts of the story, for example who does Lacey go and visit in prison? I suspect that most of these are either things that would be clearer if I had read previous Lacey novels, or indeed will get cleared up in the next book. Hopefully I don’t have to wait until next years festival to get a copy of that one!

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Fear the worst

I’ve been having a closer look at the programme for the Harrogate Crime Writers Festival today, there are 17 sessions across the three days not including the dinner or the quiz. Having looked through them all, so far I’ve read at least one author from 11 of the sessions. Therefore if the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC for the purposes of my new readers) is this year to ensure that I read an author from each session then I’m pretty much on track.

However sadly, those of you who have been reading this from the start will know that the initial TOPCWFC was actually to read a book by every author appearing at the festival. By my calculations there are 43 authors (not including those who are chairing or interviewing people) and so far I’ve read a rather paltry 14. I think even by my standards the main challenge is over before its even really begun, somehow I doubt I’ll find the time to read 29 authors in the next eight weeks but never one to shirk a challenge I’ll give it a go.

In order to start properly as I was in town earlier today I decided to pop into Waterstones. I think one of the saddest things over the past few years has been the demise of the bookshop. I’m not one for shopping but put me in a bookshop and I can spend hours browsing round but I fear that sadly I’m in the minority and bookshops are only going to become more scarce. This time I went into my local Waterstones with my copy of the festival programme dutifully annotated to ensure I don’t end up duplicating authors. I figured I’d try and pick up a couple of the books from sessions I’ve not yet completed. That however is where I hit the fundamental flaw when it comes to bookshops, their lack of books.

I understand that bookshops can only stock a limited selection of books due to shelf space but when you go in wanting something specific its very frustrating. Obviously the idea with a bookshop is that you can go in and browse around and then decide what you fancy reading which is good normally. Today however I was to be disappointed. Therefore I can see where the benefits of amazon come into play (and in true bbc style all other good online retailers  this is not an advert for amazon) shopping from the comfort of my own front room and every single book you could possibly want certainly has its advantages.

The problem is, online shopping in itself can be annoying. The endless waiting for delivery and then in my case the knowledge that no matter what size the parcel is, it will still have been intercepted by Hilda next door. That means an extra 30 minutes discussion about the latest parking saga on the street before I can get my hands on my book. Patience has never been one of my strong points and this can certainly test it.

Some of course may say that all this annoyance could be circumnavigated by simply purchasing items for my kindle. I do agree to a point, and a kindle really is one of the best inventions since the creation of BT Vision in my opinion. No luggage limit is likely to allow me to carry the 14 books recently read on my holiday. However I still like to have a proper book to read at home which takes me back round in full circle to having to visit a bookshop.

Luckily in order to continue the TOPCWFC un-interupted I did find one book I wanted in the bookshop, so its time to start some serious reading.

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Coffee, tea or murder

Last weekend I was lucky enough to sample the delights of afternoon tea in Bettys in York. It was all very civilised. We bypassed the usual never ending queue into the main café, and were led straight to our table in the previously unseen upstairs. We then spent a very nice afternoon eating salmon sandwiches, scones, cakes and drinking tea. Well ok, as a coffee drinking vegetarian I’d already put my special request in so I had Betty’s posh coffee and very nice avocado sandwiches.

The first Betty’s cafe was opened in the home of the ‘Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival’ The lovely spa town of Harrogate back in 1919 and still remains its most popular café. Me and the Sister went in last year for coffee and cake and were surrounded by people excitedly discussing the festival and carrying goody bags. I’ve no doubt this year will be no exception.

The programme for the event has recently been released and once again it looks a fantastic few days. There are some great special guests, including Ruth Rendell being interviewed by Jeanette Winterson which I’m especially looking forward to. I’ve always been a big fan of Ruth Rendell. Although I’ve not read any of Jeanette Winterson’s books apart from ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ which as a child I had to keep hidden under my bed as it would most definitely not have been classed as suitable reading.

I’ve not yet been through the entire programme in detail, or indeed planned my reading list for the next few months but at first glance it looks an excellent programme. Some of the speakers are old favourites from last year, whilst some are brand new such as William McIlvanney who I hadn’t even heard of until I saw he was being interviewed by Ian Rankin so will be looking out his novels.

This year’s TV tie in panel is Vera. Ann Cleaves (star of last year’s murder mystery themed dinner) is going to be joined by those who are responsible for bringing her novels to tv, including actor Brenda Blethyn. Another interesting sounding session features forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black OBE. I’m always fascinated by how far fiction actually mirrors real life, and how much artistic license authors have to employ to keep the story moving.

One of the special guests this year is Lee Child, I have to confess that I’ve never actually read any of his books, so he will definitely be an author I put on the top of my list. He’s being interviewed by Comedian Sarah Millican so that should be an excellent session. Special guest on Saturday evening is York born Kate Atkinson, whose Jackson Brodie novels have recently been turned into a tv series. As a York dweller myself I’m always happy to hear from local people.

The one thing that really did stand out of the programme was that there was not one session I would want to miss. Last year me and the Sister did skip a couple, mainly to give us time for food and of course Betty’s cake. This time Betty’s will definitely have to wait until the show is over!

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