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.
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!
I picked this book up at random during last year’s crime festival so that I had a book I could get signed. I chose it mainly because it wasn’t a Tony Hill novel and I think I’ve read most of those, plus it was based in Oxford and I’d spent a bit of the year working there so it was interesting to read about a place I’d visited.
I’m a big fan of Val McDermid books, and whilst I don’t think this was her best it was certainly a compelling read. The story focuses on Charlie Flint who was a psychiatrist but when a profile she did lead to a man being released and committing further crimes she is suspended. Bored and wanting to prove she is still good at her job she is sent a package which shows details of a murder at an Oxford wedding involving her old tutor. Charlie decides to visit Oxford and ends up being asked to investigate her old tutor’s daughter’s husband’s murder, which she blames her daughter’s new lover for. Charlie is happy to visit Oxford as despite being apparently happy with her partner Maria, she is thinking about having an affair with Lisa.
It all sounds very complicated and to be fair it does get a bit confusing keeping track of all the different women who seem to be interlinked but the story itself is, as to be expected, well written and draws you in to the murky world of Oxford Universities. I can’t say I particularly warmed to any of the characters. Charlie seemed incredibly selfish and self absorbed. The main suspect for the murder was Jay, who comes across as very cold and manipulating. One bit I did like was the way Jay’s background is explored as she writes another ‘misery’ memoir which is set against Charlie’s investigations into the same incidents, which I found an interesting trick.
I think it’s always difficult to read a book like this which is essentially a standalone novel, if you have enjoyed the writers main series. For fans of Tony Hill and the Kate Brannigan expecting more of the same then this may be a disappointment as its lacks the graphic punch that her previous novels have. However if it’s taken purely on a standalone merit then I think it is good. The perpetrator is relatively easy to guess (although I suspect that’s more to do with the amount of books I read which makes plot devices easier to spot rather than it being a problem with the story) and bits of the story seem a little far fetched, but then its fiction and that’s kind of the point!
If someone has never read a Val McDermid book then I wouldn’t say this is a good point to start, however if someone likes their mysteries to be more character lead than crime riddled, it’s worth a read.