Tag Archives: york

Coffee, tea or murder

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!

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The Baedeker Murders by Julian Cole – a review

I suppose I should start by announcing a declaration of interest – I love York and am very lucky to live in such a wonderful city. It also makes me rather biased to anything that is York based, so my latest read, The Baedeker Murders did have a slight starting advantage!

The Baedeker Murders is the first novel I’ve read by local author Julian Cole, and he kindly sent me a copy. The book starts off in the aftermath of a bombing raid on York. It then moves to the present day where Maximillian is visiting York in order to apologise for his role in the bombings during the second world war. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and a murder is committed.

I thought this book was very enjoyable. The writing walks you through the city of York and gives a great feel for how things would have been during the war, and how they are now. The impressive York Minster takes centre stage, and is the backdrop for the whole of the novel.

The book flits between World War II and modern day. However to me there almost seemed to be two separate elements and I felt that they could almost have been two individual stories. That of the elderly veterans who were trying to come to terms with their past actions, and a more modern day crime involving the two main protagonists, the Rounder brothers. One is a policeman, the other a Private Investigator who is accused of murdering a women he had a one night stand with.

I also felt that some of the scenes were a bit rushed. For example two people falling into a one night stand in the middle of the day after drinking half a bottle of wine didn’t ring true with me, but maybe that just shows my lack of imagination. There seemed almost too many things goings on, the book covers war crimes, conscientious objectors, obsessive partners, teenage pregnancy, dieting, alcoholism, affairs, rape, even dog napping. It all ties up at the end but it does take a bit of concentration.

All the different themes meant that it was a very fast paced book that I read in only a couple of sittings. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the city, and it was fascinating to hear about York in war time. I had not heard of these raids before, so of course I accessed my external memory and Wikipediad them to check they were real. They were the most destructive raids ever felt by York. Apparently the church of St Martin-le-Grand on Coney Street, still has a stained glass window representing the church burning after a bomb fell.

This is the third book written by Julian Cole and all include the Rounder brothers, and I believe are based in York so I’ll keep an eye out for them. A history lesson rolled into a good story is always a winner with me.

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Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen – a review

In a break from my usual reading fare (in that the author has absolutely no connection with the Harrogate festival) I have recently read Carl Hiaasen’s novel Tourist Season.

This was recommended by a friend, and was the first Carl Hiaasen I’d read, it was also the first one he wrote. The story is set in Florida and follows the fortunes of ex newspaper journalist turned group leader, Skip Wiley, who is trying to scare off tourists with a range of bizarre crimes. He is helped by an ex-football player, an American Indian, and a failed terrorist who has been kicked out of other gangs for being useless. They are tracked by another journalist who has turned private investigator, Brian Keyes.

It does need to be said firstly that this book was written back in 1986 and therefore did have a certain element of feeling a little dated. That is not a criticism however as I suspect the same could be said of a lot of books. (Unlike Red Dwarf which if any of you recently watched the start of series x, you’ll know is utterly timeless and works just as well no matter what the year!)

I enjoyed this book, but didn’t love it. It started well, the story was interesting and it picked up pace pretty quickly. I thought it was amusing in parts, and some of the more outlandish ways to commit crime did amuse me – especially when a pet crocodile appeared. I felt the book was a bit long though. Without giving away the plot in case there is anyone left that hasn’t read this yet, the final ‘twist’ could really have been done without.

It was called a ‘crime caper’ which is a pretty good description, although I think personally the emphasis was more on caper than crime. There wasn’t the element of ‘whodunnit’ that is found in my usual crime, it was more about the when and where. That did make for a nice change though, and I enjoyed the lighthearted aspect of the novel.

One slight criticism is that I felt some of the relationships seemed a bit odd. I read the book believing that Brian Keyes was a middle aged, balding old man, however further into the book he has a relationship with a young beauty queen. Either I was wrong in my assumption, or it was a bad bit of writing.

Living in York, which is a city geared around tourists, I can sympathise with the basis of this novel (although I’m not suggesting we scare them off with poisonous snakes) however I still couldn’t drum up much sympathy for any of the characters or their cause.

Many years ago I read Ben Elton’s ‘Stark’ and although my memory of that has faded, I remember enjoying it, and Tourist Season reminded me of that with its ‘eco’ message.

Overall I was a little disappointed with this book, but  I suspect my disappointment is mainly that I had very high expectations of a laugh out loud novel, whereas it was just an amusing crime story but as Rimmer would say ‘hey ho, pip and dandy’. I would try another of this authors books , as I certainly enjoyed it and would hope that like anything Carl Hiaasen’s novels improve with practice.

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The body farm

Last weekend was a total washout weather wise. Half of York was underwater, roads were flooded and the garden was a soggy mess. It was a good weekend to be a duck. It was also good weekend to stay indoors and read if you ask me. There is nothing better than a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining cats and dogs, to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a hot chocolate (Ok a glass of red but hot chocolate sounded better in that particular scenario!)

However this weekend the parents were visiting, so rather than stay indoors we braved the elements and took a trip over to Knaresborough and Harrogate. Both of these are lovely places. Knaresborough has a great walk down by the river, where you can stare at all the houses you can’t afford and look at all the amazing gardens. This is not so much fun however, in gale force winds, temperatures that penguins would moan about and sheeting rain.

This was also the weekend for the Harrogate Flower Show. Whilst a bit of mud never hurt anyone, I went on the Thursday and you needed your wellies. By Sunday I imagine even pigs would have been calling for their sties to be on stilts. Luckily I managed to dodge the worst of the showers and pretty much see everything the flower show had to offer.

One of my favourite bits was the outdoor gardens, this year the theme was ‘small spaces’ (I have to say their idea of small was a bit different to mine, they were definitely free range size, my garden is more a battery hen size) One of these ‘small’ gardens was called The Writers Pad, which was a decking area, some shelves with books on them, a seat with a bench for a laptop and a water feature. The idea being it was meant to provide inspiration for writers.

Putting aside the obvious practical issue of storing books outside in this country, whilst it was lovely and calming, it wasn’t really what I would call inspirational. I suppose it depends what type of books you want to write as to what you would want as inspiration. Beatrix Potter would have probably been quite at home in the Writers Pad, dreaming up stories for Froggy the frog.

As a crime reader personally I thought that the Farming Museum I went to on Saturday with my Dad would provide more inspiration. If they got rid of the lambs and baby rabbits, it could have been renamed Museum of killing instruments. Massive machines with big spikes and conveyer belts were everywhere. Allegedly most of them were for turnip related things, but it looked like a great place to dismember and dispose of bodies if you ask me. They even had a man trap hanging on the wall (to be used on poachers not just passing single men!)

It would be interesting to know what does inspire crime readers, do they all sit around with pictures of torture and weapons on their walls, or do they look out over calming waterfalls and flying geese (real flocks, not the Hilda Ogden version) Personally were I to write a book a nice wet day would be my best inspiration, at least I live in the right country for it.

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