Tag Archives: julia crouch

When the Music’s Over

Once again the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is over for another year. The whirlwind of books, authors, crime and intrigue has finished. The dead bodies have been scraped off the pavements, the books have been transported back inside bricks and mortar buildings and us readers have gone back to our mundane office life hankering after a world where we could get paid to read.

As always this was another great weekend, created by the fantastic team at Harrogate International Festival’s, with a wonderful programme committee lead by the excellent Peter James. The programme was jam packed to the point that it was difficult to find a session that could be missed. Missed, some had to be though, as this isn’t just about listening to talks, there are free books to be collected, passports to be stamped thanks to Crime files on tour, people to chat to and even fingerprints to be taken and crimes to be solved.

Unfortunately one of the biggest crimes this year at the festival was  the signing queues. For some reason WHSmiths decided to ditch the age old Harrogate tradition of one queue for all, instead opting to have separate queues for each author. This meant that if you had more than one author you wanted to meet you had to queue numerous times and it was never certain which queue was for who. However this lack of management did probably lead to one of the biggest shocks of the whole weekend – an unlikely friendship was struck up between me and my arch rival, the bookseller.

Every year the same two booksellers turn up with their big pile of books, they go into no sessions, have little interest in the authors and just want to get the books signed to sell them on. Every year, because I’m known for my calm and tolerant persona, this really winds me up as they are always at the front of the queue. However this year, in the face of adversity me and the Bookseller drew on our great british spirit and joined forces sorting some of the queues ourselves. See there is always a silver lining and its amazing how suddenly having a common aim can unite enemies.

Every year there are some fantastic sessions and this year was no exception. Julia Crouch chaired an interesting discussion about domestic suspense which included Paula Hawkins and the award winning Claire Mackintosh, whereas Tess Gerritsen took to the stage alone and was absolutely amazing. The discussion between Val McDermid and Susan Calman was definitely a highlight for me. Both have a great sense of humour and it’s clear there was a real friendship there which always makes the panels more entertaining. 

Surprise of the weekend was the ‘Out of Africa’ panel. It was informative and entertaining and I came away with another new author to try.That being said though, it does mean that technically I didn’t get to complete the TOPCWFC2016 as I hadn’t been aware Leye Adenle was attending. Yet I’ve created another rule for my challenge which is, if I didn’t know in advance they would be there it doesn’t count. Therefore I have officially ticked off another one on my list of 40 things to do.

The festival is not just all books either, there is beer, wine, football, and even music. I was lucky enough to meet the excellent Mark Billingham, who whilst signing my book asked if I’d ever heard a song called Candi’s Room by Bruce Springsteen. Mark, as well as his main character Thorne, are well known lovers of music, so this would have been a great opportunity to impress him with my expertise. But no, instead of saying something witty  I stuttered that I thought Brotherhood of Man had done something too. Well the look of disappointment on his face was just embarrassing, why couldn’t I have picked something cooler?? That surprisingly was the end of our conversation.

From the Thursday evening awards, through the final session with Yorkshire chap Peter Robinson it has once again been a fantastic weekend. I’ve come away with tons of book, including lots of new authors to try, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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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 Long Fall by Julia Crouch – a review

As regular readers of my blog will know, Julia Crouch is a definite favourite of mine and a regular at the Theaksons Old Peculier Crime Festival. So her new novel was one of the first books I bought at this year’s event and I’m pleased to say The Long Fall didn’t disappoint.

The main character is Kate. She is a successful woman, married with a teenage daughter Tilly. Kate runs a charity that was set up in memory of her daughter who died when young. Tilly is getting ready to go backpacking to Greece, which for some reason Kate is very reluctant for her to do. Interspersed with the present day story are diary extracts from Emma. She is a young girl who went backpacking in the 1980s. Heading first to France and then on to Greece Emma meets up with two new friends but things don’t go to plan. Gradually the two stories unfold as Kate’s past comes back to haunt her and she finds out the truth about what happened in Greece.

This was a great easy read novel. I thought that the two parallel storylines worked well together and the diary extracts were an interesting way of telling Emma’s story. I did think that some of the twists were quite easy to guess but I don’t believe that is always a bad thing and the story was a real page turner.

I thought that this was a very atmospheric book and the descriptions of some of the places made me want to go backpacking (well 4 star hotel-ing at least) However I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Kate. I think she seemed particularly naive and as a supposed successful business woman I think some of the decisions she made were a bit out of character. However saying that one of the big themes of the story is guilt which can make people act in very strange ways, and no one really knows how they would react if there family was being threated.

As with all Julia Crouch novels the crimes are not described in a gruesome manner, the tension is built through description and plotting which makes a change from some of the other books I’ve read recently. I also like the fact they are completely stand alone novels without a recurring character which makes a nice change from alot of crime novels. If you are looking for a quick gripping read then I’d recommend The Long Fall.

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The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald – a review

After the upheaval of the past few months I’m now back at work as normal which is good (honestly!) Unfortunately this means I’ve had to curtail my addiction to watching back to back episodes of criminal minds. However it does mean lots of train travel again, which if nothing else means good kindle book reading opportunities. Last week I had a trip up to Scotland so armed with my programme for the festival, I downloaded (or uploaded I’m never certain of the difference) some books and got stuck in.

My first read of the journey was ‘The Cry’ by Helen Fitzgerald. She is talking in the session called Worse Things Happen at Home. I think that this was the first book I’ve read by the author which I’m very surprised about as it was excellent.

Joanna, her husband Alistair, and their new baby son are travelling to Australia from Scotland. They are going in the hope of winning custody of Alistair’s daughter. When their son goes missing they become involved in a widespread media campaign to try and find him. However obviously things are not as straightforward as they seem and their lives soon start to fall apart.

It’s very hard to review this book without giving away any of the plot. The story is told through the eyes of both Joanna and Alexandra the ex-wife and flits between their viewpoints. There is also a jump around in timeline, as the story slips between what happened on the actual flight, the aftermath after they’ve lost the baby, and also the outcome. This adds to the build up and suspense as everytime you think you know what happened something else changes.

Whilst I throughly enjoyed this novel, I did think that some of the actions of the main characters were a little unbelievable but as I’ve often said, in fiction you have to sometimes suspend the truth a bit to enjoy a good story. Equally I don’t think any of us really know how we would react to a stressful situation until it happens. I thought the description of the crying baby on the plane, and the reaction of the others around her was a great way of building up to the main crux of the plot. As someone who would have been complaining and wondering why the child wasn’t being shut up, I hope that I’d now think twice in that situation. There is a certain element of predictability regarding elements of the plot but I suspect that’s done on purpose as it is used to great effect to build up the tension leading to the eventual, and I thought unforeseen, climax.

I would certainly recommend this book to others, especially if you like the style of story that is being given the term ‘domestic noir’. It’s one of my favourite types of fiction and makes a nice break sometimes from the more hard-nosed style of detective novel, which is not to say these stories are any less gritty or unsettling.

I think the ‘Worse Things Happen at Home’ panel is going to be excellent as alongside Helen Fitzgerald is the lovely Julia Crouch who I was fortunate enough to sit with at dinner last year. Both excellent authors, and I look forward to reading more of their books soon. In the meantime I’ll be downloading the other panellists novels ready for my next trip out.

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Crime Writers: A decade of crime

Well it’s all over for another year. The weekend before last the sun was shining, the deck chairs were out and the pimms was ready on ice as Harrogate got taken over by 100s of people all with one thing in common, an obsession with crime fiction.

The Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival really is the highlight of the year for anyone with an interest in crime fiction. This year to celebrate the festivals tenth anniversary they had gone full out for the festival theme, there was a bookshop in a tent (or yurt if you listened to Mark Lawson) lots of outdoor chairs and of course plenty of drink. The weekend began with the award of the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year which for the second year running went to Denise Mina. I think we may be her lucky charm.

The days go in a blur of talks and queuing (beware there is a lot of queuing for sessions and signings, all worth it though) and chatting about crime fiction.

To me and the sister one of the highlights of the conference is always the New Blood Panel and this year was no exception. Anya Lipska shared the stage with Malcolm Mackay, Collette McBeth and Derek Miller and it was interesting to hear them discuss with Val their new books and of course get a sneak preview of what to expect next.

One of the things I like about this festival is the wide range of topics (within crime of course) and one of the most fascinating was Val McDermid in conversation with Prof Sue Black. There were certainly some memorable moments, and were I not already a vegetarian I doubt I’d ever eat tuna fish again.

Despite the heat and the sunshine outside, the sessions were all packed, and none more so than ‘Vera’ where alongside Ann Cleeves we were treated to a reading of her latest novel by Vera herself the lovely Brenda Blethyn.

The evenings in the bar are just as much fun as the sessions during the day, and being able to just mingle with the authors to us is like getting to go back stage at a Bon Jovi concert (insert most favourite band here) Where else would you sit down with a glass of wine and be next to Baroness Ruth Rendall, Jeanette Winterson and Val McDermid?

The dinner was a last minute addition to our booking as neither of us are James Bond fans. Yet this turned out to be a great decision as we got to join a table with Julia Crouch who was an excellent host. Despite not guessing the murderer we were with a lovely group of people and to top it off we got a copy of Julia Crouch’s new book.

After a quick listen to Lee Child talking to Sarah Millican (and of course being asked about Tom Cruise) it was straight into the quiz. This is always a great way to spend an evening, and is a perfect example of how friendly everyone is. Someone will always come and join you to make up a team. Sadly we didn’t do as well as last year although were by no means last which I always say is all you can ask for.

Charlaine Harris was the final talk of the event and the queue for her book signing broke all records. Luckily she obviously didn’t finish too late and we spotted her heading upstairs in Betty’s for afternoon tea before we left.

The whole weekend was once again a fantastic experience and coming home and making Mr F look at every single book, signature, photo and freebie I got is just part of the fun (for me not him)

Roll on TOPCWF2014.

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Every vow you break by Julia Crouch – a review

On my recent mammoth holiday reading session, this was one of the first books I picked up. I had read Cuckoo for the TOPCWFC 2012 and enjoyed it, so was looking forward to this one.

Lara moves to New York with her actor husband, twins and toddler. Whilst there, they meet up with old friend Stephen who is now a famous film star but currently in hiding having had a run in with a stalker. Strange things then start happening, and it seems the stalker may have returned.

I thought that ‘Every vow you break’ was an interesting story although I did feel the end was slightly predictable. The book starts quite slowly, and is very descriptive. The atmosphere is built up with descriptions of the area as well as the day to day minutia of family life such as supermarket shopping that was a feature of Cuckoo. Yet there was enough of interest to keep you turning the pages.

I did however find some of the characters and the stories around them completely frustrating.  The twins relationship is quite central but their interaction seems as though it was included for shock value rather than because it was a necessary plot device. I also felt that the relationship between Lara and Stephen didn’t ring true and seemed to come out of the blue. Of course that’s not helped by the fact I thought that central character Lara is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever read.

I think that we are supposed to feel a bit sorry for her, she is married to a completely selfish older man with a failing career, she is struggling bringing up three children whilst being the main breadwinner and feeling guilty about a recent abortion that she was forced into having by her husband. However I’m afraid I completely failed to feel any sympathy for her at all. She is either incredibly stupid or so self absorbed she can’t see anything else around her. She could leave her husband as she has her own income but chooses to stay, she completely misses the screwed up relationship her twins have, and fails to notice that the brother is completely mad.

The other problem I had with this book was the ending. It all seemed to be wrapped up too cleanly, and meant that what had been a good story ended a bit flatly. Sometimes stories work best if there isn’t an easy tie up and if things are left hanging a little. Overall though I enjoyed this read and it was a perfect beach read.

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The Cuckoo by Julia Crouch – a review

Julia Crouch is in the session entitled Deadlier than the Male, which I have to say seems a strange session for her to be in. Having just read her book ‘The Cuckoo’ it wasn’t particularly gruesome, or violent especially when compared to someone like Chelsea Cain  or Jilliane Hoffman and so I wander if she would have been better in a different session or if she is there to give the opposing view and prove that crime doesn’t need to be violent to be engaging.

Whilst less graphic than the usual books I prefer I thought the story was great. It really was one I couldn’t put down. Rose has an apparently idyllic life in Bath with her husband Gareth and 2 children Anna and Flossie (yes that was the name that she decided to give the baby. My parents had a habit of calling me that when I was little but you can’t christen someone it. It’s a good job that child isn’t real or she really would have a bad time at school!)

Anyway Rose gets a call to say her best friend Polly’s husband has died at their home in Greece, so Rose invites Polly and the boys to stay with her. As the title of the story would suggest this is a bad move and things soon go wrong. Baby’s overdose, animals gets killed, champagne gets spiked. Its obvious that Polly is to blame.  Yet despite people trying to warn Rose, the hold that her friend has over her is just too much. Eventually things come to a head between Rose, Polly and husband Gareth.

 I really enjoyed this book. Its not dramatic, or a fast story. It reminded me a bit of One Moment One Morning by Sarah Rayner in that you really want to keep reading but look back and realise nothing really happened. This book is not perfect in anyway, the story is quite slow and I think some of the descriptions of the minutia of Rose’s life (plus all the brand name dropping) should have been stripped out a bit. However I can see that this was maybe done on purpose and the minutia helped build up a feeling of suspense and create an almost claustrophobic atmosphere.

Rose wasn’t the most likeable character, and had rather dubious morals however you still wanted to know what was going to happen next. Polly is one of those characters that you dislike straight away and really want to see punished, but somehow you know that won’t happen. I think its more a ‘chick lit’ book than a crime story, and certainly wouldn’t be described as a gruesome story. I would definitely be interested in reading more by this author though and look forward to seeing how she will fit into the Harrogate session.

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