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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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Where the devil can’t go by Anya Lipska – a review

Every year at the festival Val McDermid runs the New Blood panel which is a group of brand new authors who she thinks are worth reading. If it is good enough for Val it is good enough for me.

I must confess I was a bit sceptical of this book to start with. Another crime novel set in London with a young, naïve woman who would no doubt catch the criminal at the end and all would be rosy. However I was completely wrong. Despite a bit of a slow start (more to do with my attitude than the writing) this book soon gripped me. At the heart it is a murder mystery but told from the perspective of two very different characters.

One is Janusz, a polish immigrant who is seen as a kind of private detective / fixer within the polish community. He is asked to help find a missing girl. He suspects she has just run off with her boyfriend, but agrees to look into it anyway. The other main character is Natalie Kershaw, the young police detective. She is tasked with investigating the death of a young woman found floating in the Thames. Another body soon appears and she connects the two. Both characters paths cross and Janusz becomes both a suspect and a source of information.

This novel was not only an intriguing murder story, it also gave a fascinating insight into the history of Poland, and the Polish community living in London. However unlike some novels which can get bogged down in detail, none of this detracts from the story. In fact it simply enhances it and at no point do you get the feeling that you are being preached at. This was probably testament to the quality of the writing.

I thought both the main characters were equally likeable and annoying, which I find tends to be the case with most human beings anyway and meant that they seemed very realistic.  I also enjoyed the way that the story was interspersed with polish words as it seemed to give a realism to the dialogue that added to the feel of the book. You get a real sense of how it must be to have lived both in Poland under communist rule, and now as a settler in a foreign country. The descriptions of London, and then Gdansk in Poland had a certain darkness to them that gave an almost gothic feel. This was interspersed with bits of humour that  lifted what could have been quite a dark novel.

I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to hearing about future books featuring these characters at the panel at the theakstons crime festival.

 

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