One of the best things about attending the Harrogate Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival is the amount of free books that you come away with and this year was not exception. The tricky part is working out what to read first but one of the books that found it’s way to the top of the pile was Alias Emma by Ava Glass.
I have to confess that spy thrillers are not my usual thing, I’ve never seen a James Bond and although I have read the odd spy thriller they wouldn’t be my first choice. However, this may just have changed my mind.
The Emma in Alias Emma is Emma Makepeace an undercover agent who has been infiltrating a group of activists until she is pulled off by her boss for a special assignment. That assignment is to bring in Michael who is being targeted by the Russians. The pair of them have to cross London at night avoiding cameras and assassins in any way they can. Not helped by the fact that Emma’s boss has gone underground and she no longer knows who she can trust at the agency.
I really enjoyed the slightly bonkers, slightly surreal atmosphere of this novel. The two main characters are obviously Emma and Michael, and the story follows them as they run through buildings, hijack boats and generally spend a lot of time very nearly getting caught.
Throughout the story we find out more details of Emma and her background, and gradually her reasons for being where she is come to light. Other than a slight ‘frisson’ between the two main characters there is very little in terms of other stories which was actually quite refreshing as the focus was completely on could they outrun the ‘baddies’. I really enjoyed the details of the city within this book, the underground rivers and the alleys and roads of the capital all play a big part. It felt well written, and clearly the author knows her stuff.
As I say this is not my usual type of thing but I thoroughly enjoyed suspending belief for a while and following Emma through a dark and scary London.
In the absence of a full TOPCWF this year, I thought I’d have a go at reading the full long list of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year as my challenge. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete it ahead of the announcement of the shortlist tomorrow but it’s my challenge and my rules therefore my aim is to read them all before the announcement of the winner later in the year.
The 18 authors listed are:
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Read – see review here)
Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre
Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver (Read)
Cruel Acts by Jane Casey (Read)
Blue Moon by Lee Child
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
Red Snow by Will Dean
Platform Seven by Louise Doughty (Read – it’s set in Peterborough so I had to read a book from my home town)
Ok, well firstly that list confirms that I am very behind with writing reviews. Secondly assuming the winner is announced on the dates that the festival should have been held, voting for the winner will probably close a bit before then. That gives me around 6 weeks to read 9 books. I suppose there are some bonuses about the lock down, with the pubs closed the evenings can be given over to book reading!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is gutted that we’ll be missing this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (TOPCWF) However if there is any small upside to it, it does mean that I am finally getting the time to catch up on all the books that have been gathering dust on my ‘to read’ pile since last year. One of which was The Nowhere Child by Christian White.
Last year the TOPCWF had a session called Antipodean Noir. This was one session where I didn’t actually have any of the books, although I was keen to purchase the new one by Jane Harper. Whilst stood perusing the session book stall I got chatting to a very nice chap about the authors in the session – long story short I walked away with all 4 books and realised when the session started that I had actually been talking to Craig Sisterson the chair of the panel, he should be a sales person not a journalist. Well I am very glad I was persuaded to buy this, as this was a superb debut novel.
The Nowhere Child tells the story of Kim an Australian photographer. One day a man turns up with a photo of her as a child. He says that Kim is actually called Sammy and that she was abducted from her home town of Kentucky, America twenty years ago. Kim can’t believe that her kind and caring mother who passed away could be an international child abductor, so she heads to America to try and discover the truth.
I found this story absolutely compelling. The story is set between past and present as Kim tries to find out what happened to her, and we also flip back to the lead up to Sammy’s abduction. The flipping between times was done expertly, and it almost felt like two different books (in a positive way) until the worlds finally collided. I especially liked the inclusion of the cult element and the rattle snake wielding preachers that I found fascinating.
Whilst the idea of missing children is one that has been done a lot, this felt like a completely new take on it. Although at its heart this is a family drama, the writing is superb and the element of suspense cuts across every page. I wanted to find out what had happened to Kim when a child, and the twist at the end was a complete surprise.
I would definitely recommend this superb debut novel to all mystery lovers.
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)