Tag Archives: #topcrime2014

The Deaths by Mark Lawson – a review

I have to confess that although Mark Lawson has made regular appearances at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival over the past few years, I wasn’t aware that he was a novelist in his own right until I saw the advert for The Deaths.

The Deaths opens with the discovery of a dead family. We then flit back in time and are introduced to four families living in a small village. The Eight as they are known, are firm friends and outwardly they seem to have perfect rich lives. The families are all busy trying to be the top dog of the group, the women shop in waitrose (although obviously the supermarket is not named) and the husbands all travel to their jobs via first class trains into the ‘big city’. Conversations are usually about the latest car they’ve bought or how much they earn or what the latest posh coffee delivery has been. However behind the scenes things are not what they seem.

I thought this book was excellent. The story itself is the lead up to the murder of the unidentified family, and I spent the whole read thinking it could be any of them. The characters are all equally irritating and fascinating in equal measure. They spend their time trying to keep up appearances yet behind the scenes the money is running out and credit card bills are getting bigger. The main characters in this book are all pretty stereotypical and based on the assumption that all wealthy people are unpleasant. Yet that shouldn’t put you off as predominately this is a hugely clever observation on life. There are lots of references to culture within the 1990’s and the yuppy attitude that was prevalent.

The crime is almost a minor player in this novel, the focus is on the social situation that the families are in. I enjoyed the story but also the writing. It is almost an observational comedy with an edge that appeals to me and reminded me of authors such as early Ben Elton and a recently discovered Christopher Buckley. This was an excellent novel that I’d definitely recommend to anyone who likes a sarcastic edge to a novel.

 

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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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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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Lonely Hearts by John Harvey – a review

I have recently read my first novel by John Harvey who is one of the main speakers at the Festival this year. Never having read anything by him before I decided to start with his first novel Lonely Hearts. According to the nice people at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival this novel was named by the Times newpaper as one of the hundred greatest crime novels of the century (that’s a list I should look up, it could be an idea for a new blog!)

In Lonely Hearts a woman is found raped and murdered. Her ex-boyfriend is the instant suspect as he was known for violent outbursts against her. However whilst he’s being escourted down from Aberdeen another woman is killed in a similar way. DI Resnick is first to spot the possible link and starts to investigate the case, in-between a bit of flirting with social worker Rachel.

This was one of those books that I started at home, then half way through I went away for a couple of days and so started reading something completely different on my kindle. A few days later I came back to this novel having forgotten a bit of the plot. Sadly I think that slightly ruined it for me. Lonely Hearts started really well, but I have to admit getting a bit bored half way through and it took me a while to finish. That may be because of my disjointed reading though.

I really enjoyed the character of Charlie Resnick (who doesn’t love a man with a cat?) but I found the relationship he had with Rachel a bit unlikely. The story itself was quite interesting, although slightly slow in places. However saying that, this book was written 20 years ago and so things by necessity were slower. It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t modern day or purposely set in a historical era so that added to the interest, a page of description of Resnick looking for a phone does give a somewhat slow feel, but that is how it would have been.

Despite my mixed reaction to this book, I will certainly read his other novels. It will be interesting to see how the character of Resnick develops as he moves towards the more modern day style of policing that I have now become used to. I think this is definitely a series of novels I would like continue reading. John Harvey has been writing novels since 1989 so it will be interesting to hear him talk, and find out how he thinks his books have changed over time. 

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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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Long way home by Eva Dolan – a review

Long Way Home is Eva Dolan’s debut novel. I ordered this book a while ago after seeing it mentioned on twitter. The story sounded good and the setting was interesting. It wasn’t until the book had arrived that I saw the author was appearing at the festival in my favourite New Blood panel. It’s not often I’m ahead of the crowd so I was definitely looking forward to reading this.
Long Way Home begins as is often the case with crime novels, with the discovery of a body. The victim has been burnt alive and left in the shed in the back garden of a couple. He is soon identified as a local immigrant who was quite unpopular amongst certain groups. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira work in the Hate Crimes Unit and are called to investigate. Alongside this there are other people being murdered and plenty of hidden secrets.
I really enjoyed this book. The story itself was good, although not the most complicated of plots; however the actual writing and the background made this fascinating. The story is based in Peterborough and is almost unrecognisable from the place I lived 20 years ago (and where my family still live although some members prefer to say they live in Stamford!)
Eva Dolan’s novel gives a graphic insight into the world of both legal and illegal migrant workers who flock to the fenlands around Peterborough in order to get work as labourers and farm hands. The story highlights the treatment that they get at the hands of landlords. Men are crammed 20 into one small room, whilst local residents rent out sheds and garages with no running water or heating. It was reminiscent of the slum lords of the Victorian Age. 
This novel will certainly never be a favourite amongst Peterborough Tourist Board (Is there one? I don’t remember being overrun with tourist attractions when I was a child) however the description of the places and surrounding countryside certainly add to the atmosphere of the book.
I wasn’t overly keen on the two main characters, I found Ferreira’s chainsmoking ‘one of the boys’ attitude a bit annoying, and I’m pretty certain that nowadays smoking has been banned almost everywhere a fact she seemed to ignore. Yet I suspect that they will both grow on me pretty quickly. Which leads me to my main bugbear with the book. The fact that it was advertised everywhere as the start of a series. Personally I felt this did slightly ruin the tension when one of the main characters got into trouble, which otherwise could have been a nail biting scene. However by the time I got to the end I had it enjoyed it so much I’m very glad there is going to be a second instalment. It was a fascinating read and I’m looking forward to seeing Eva Dolan at the festival.

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