Getting Away with Murder

 

The Hectic Whirl

I for one am looking forward to high summer whatever the weather as it will, I hope, offer some respite from the hectic social whirl of the crime fiction scene which has made May a truly madcap month.

For your humble correspondent, it began in Italy at the Chianti Crime Festival and a chance to catch up with Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio, who not only live together successfully, but write together successfully as ‘Michael Gregorio’.    

Hardly had I time to unpack my souvenir Brunello than it was off to London for the launch of the ‘Killer Women’ collective at an event held in a Bloomsbury art gallery and generously sponsored by the innovative Naked Wines company. At the moment, Killer Women comprises 15 London-based female crime writers whose stated aim is “by pooling our talent, energy and creativity we plan to use the group to help build on the brilliant work already being done by our publicists and publishers.” In practical terms, the group will be organising events in bookshops and libraries, interviews between crime writers and forensic scientist, masterclasses, workshops, cocktail parties and ‘salons’.

Now I am not terribly sure what a ‘salon’ involves, although I have been thrown out of numerous saloons in my time, but Killer Women seems off to a confident, flying start and it was a delight to run into Frances Fyfield, who was at the launch to wish the group well.

I had hoped to chat to two of the Killer Women who both have new novels out this month: Kate Rhodes, whose River of Souls, featuring psychologist Alice Quentin, is published by Mulholland, and Anya Lipska, whose third ‘Kiszka and Kershaw’ novel, A Devil Under the Skin, comes from The Friday Project imprint of Harper Collins.

      

Sadly time did not allow, for I had to report to another part of Bloomsbury, to a crowded Waterstones bookshop, to meet debut English author Cal Moriarty for the launch of her American-set The Killing of Bobbi Lomax from Faber.

 

It was particularly pleasing to discover that several of Cal’s readers there to support her, were also regular readers of this column and, most unusually, quite happy to admit that in front of witnesses.

And it was back to London for one of the social calendar’s highlights – the Margery Allingham Society’s party to mark what would have been the 111th birthday of that great Queen of Crime. In fact it was a double celebration this year, for chairman Barry Pike was also marking his 80th birthday and it was a delight to be able to enjoy the event seated between Barry and Professor B. J. Rahn, a legendary campaigner for crime fiction and the author of The Real World of Sherlock (Amberley Publishing).

The Allingham Birthday Lunch always attracts a high calibre of guest speakers and this year it was my pleasurable duty to introduce the talented and disgracefully young Jake Kerridge, crime fiction critic for the Daily Telegraph, and avowed Allingham fan.  Jake’s speech, which concentrated on Margery’s skill in making even the most minor ‘walk-on’ character in her books memorable was both erudite and charming and Jake completed his duties by performing the ritual cutting of the birthday cake. I can honestly say I have never felt safer when in close proximity to a critic holding a rather large knife…

 

It is actually quite a good time to be a member of the Margery Allingham Society (www.margeryallingham.org.uk) as not  only is it a remarkably friendly body with a hard core of learned fans of crime fiction, but the BBC series Campion is currently being repeated on television,  a short story competition has been established in conjunction with the Crime Writers’ Association, and all Margery’s novels are being reissued by Vintage over the next twelve months. The first two titles are now available: The Crime at Black Dudley from 1929, which introduced her deceptively gentle detective Albert Campion, and The Tiger in the Smoke, from 1952, which Susan Hill in her Introduction describes as ‘Allingham’s finest book and one of the greatest crime thrillers ever written’.

    

 

I am fortunate to have been sent review copies of this pair of reissues, but as I already own multiple copies I am happy to offer them both as a prize in a simple completion. Which Margery Allingham ‘Campion’ novel will celebrate its 50th anniversary of first publication this year?  Answers please to shotseditor@yahoo.co.uk by 19th June, when a winner will be selected (by ESP) and the books will be despatched by Royal Mail. I will even pay the postage myself as soon as I can arrange the release of monies from my pension fund.

And the Award goes to….

At the same time that the world was holding its breath for the announcement of the crime-writing Awards dished out at CrimeFestlast month, a rival awards ceremony was taking place in the Hot House restaurant in Toronto in Canada, where one lucky writer received this year’s Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.

Still in Toronto, later this month, winners of the 2015 Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian crime writing will be announced at a gala do at the Arts and Letters Club. There are ‘Arthurs’ in almost every conceivable category: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Book in French, Best Young Adult, Best Non-Fiction and, my absolute favourite,  the “Unhanged Arthur” for Best Unpublished  First Novel.

And also this month, in New Orleans, American writers Nevada Barr and Adrianne Harun will both receive Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.

Shortlists have now been announced for the Anthony Awards (six categories) to be given at Bouchercon in October , the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger (for unpublished work) and for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year.

Is anyone counting all these awards?

T(ea) for Tennison

No sooner had I commented last month on the interesting promotional items which sometimes come with new crime novels, than another arrived.

Though a new book by Lynda La Plante hardly needs promotional gimmicks, I was delighted to receive a sturdy coffee mug and a pack of chocolate brownies to mark her most famous creation in the forthcoming Tennison from Simon & Schuster (a prequel to her legendary Prime Suspect) on 24th September. I fear the brownies may not last until then though.

 

Diabolic Talent

With a suspicious symmetry, the new crime fiction imprint of Pushkin Press, to be launched in September, is called Pushkin Vertigo and their first title will be a new edition of the classic thriller Vertigo.

      

Immortalised on film by Alfred Hitchcock, the original 1956 novel D’Entre Les Morts (or The Living and the Dead when first translated) was by France’s most successful crime-writing team Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Often credited simply as ‘Boileau-Narcejac’ the duo’s debut novel in 1952, She Who Was No More, is also to be reissued by Pushkin Vertigo in November and  that too was made into a rather famous film – certainly a film not forgotten once seen: Les Diaboliques.

Not that one needs an anniversary to celebrate a classic crime novel as famous as Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley but it is actually 60 years since the book was first published in the USA, which is a delightful excuse for a splendid new hardback edition from Virago Modern Classics.

  

Virago are also reissuing a new paperback edition of The Boy Who Followed Ripley, both books coming with an introduction by Professor John Sutherland.

Postman Ringing Twice

I was out of the country when I heard the news that Ruth Rendell had died aged 85 following a stroke some months ago. My personal, far-too-brief appreciation of her career as a major force in British crime writing appeared rather belatedly on the Shots Confidential blog but others elsewhere, including Val McDermid have done justice to her legacy.

For many years we lived only a dozen miles or so apart, but it turned out we shared more than the East Anglian countryside. When I took up residence in Ripster Hall some 21 years ago, I made it a priority to meet our new postman and to apologise in advance for the vast number of proofs and review copies which would be arriving just as soon as publishers discovered my new address.

‘Don’t worry yourself about that,’ said the postman cheerfully, ‘I’m used to parcels of books. I’ve just been transferred from Polstead and that Ruth Rendell used to get bloody hundreds of books sent!’

Order in Court

As Rick in Casablanca said when he recalled that he went there for the waters, only to be told it was in a desert: ‘I was misinformed’. Well, I too was misinformed when I was told some time ago that there would be no more of the splendid Crime in the Court parties thrown by Goldsboro Books of London’s Cecil Court.

I am reliably informed by my old chum that fine writer John Harvey that there will be a Crime in the Court event this month, on Thursday the 25th attended by the cream of the crime writing world. Perhaps I was not so much misinformed as just not invited.

Simply Red

I have always preferred to recommend books rather than criticise them – hence the relatively few death threats I received during my eighteen years as a professional reviewer. There are times, however, when one cannot recommend a title as enthusiastically as one might wish to and such a case in point is Red Icon, the latest in the mostly excellent ‘Inspector Pekkala’ series from Sam Eastland.

Set in Stalin’s Russia just before and during WWII, with a back-story embedded in pre-Revolution Tsarist Russia, I have been a fan of this series since that excellent writer Paul Watkins adopted the Eastland pen-name in 2010. Red Icon, however, has the feel of a story stretched too thin. Ostensibly set in 1945 as the victorious Red Army invades Germany, there are flashbacks to 1944, 1922 and 1915 (with a key role for the infamous ‘mad monk’ Rasputin) as well as several long journeys across the breadth of Soviet Russia from the German-Polish border to Siberia.

Such shifts in time and place lead to a disjointed narrative and this, to me, seems to lessen the suspense. As always with a writer as good as Watkins/Eastland, there is much of interest, the burden of meticulous historical research is carried lightly and Pekkala is a fascinating character – and clearly a born survivor – but I would not suggest that newcomers to the series start here.

Who Cares if it’s Hot Enough For June?

Whatever the weather, I intend to spend the coming month in the garden with a crate of Prosecco and make serious inroads into my TBR (to-be-read) pile of books, once, that is, I have completed some promotional work on Callan Uncovered 2 - the second volume of James Mitchell short stories I have edited - and my annual stint of volunteering on an archaeological dig in darkest Suffolk.

For those without such onerous commitments, there is some cracking crime fiction coming their way.

I have already read Mike Nicol’s Power Play, published by Old Street, and it’s an absolutebelter; a must-read for anyone who likes their fast-pace thrillers red in tooth-and-claw.  Once again, though, it is unlikely to be used as a brochure for the South Africa tourist board, for this is a cut-throat story about cut-throats not only in the ranks of organised crime, but within the Secret Service as a war of annihilation appears to have broken out among Cape Town's gang lords over the abalone business; a business attracting a tempting amount of Chinese investment.

Dragged reluctantly into this mayhem is Krista Bishop, who runs a bodyguard/security agency for women only (and who is a first rate character) but centre stage falls to career gangster Titus Anders, whose empire comes under attack through murderous assaults and mutilations on his children. Any similarities with Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy Titus Andronicus are purely intentional – just note the names used: Tamora, Aron, Quint, Lucius, etc. – not to mention the mutilations…

Robert Wilson has a new, hardboiled ‘Charlie Boxer’ thriller out this month from Orion - Stealing People – which, to coin a phrase, is about exactly what it says on the tin.

The book kicks off in truly dramatic fashion with the well-organised kidnapping of not one, but six, children of London-based billionaires – topically, one of the kidnapping methods utilises the gas of choice of many a Premier league footballer, Nitrous Oxide.

Coming in July, from Century, is a second ‘Sully Carter’ thriller, Murder, D.C., by American journalist Neely Tucker, whose first outing, The Ways of the Dead, was well-received last year and appears in paperback (from Windmill) alongside the new novel.

Like his creator (a Washington Post journalist), Sully Carter is a newspaperman, but one damaged by his years as a war correspondent in Bosnia. Cynics might say, however, that such experience was the perfect training for dealing with the drug wars and high-level corruption permeating ‘D.C.’

Google Doodle

I am indebted to ‘Kiwi Craig’ Sisterson, the globe-trotting brains behind the excellent Crime Watch blog in New Zealand, for bringing the recent ‘Google Doodle’ to my attention.

Although my illustration does not do it justice, the doodle charmingly celebrates the life and work of crime writer Ngaio Marsh, but sadly was only visible to computer-users in New Zealand.

Learning Italian, One Thriller at a Time

At the recent Chianti Crime Festival, I decided to try and improve my paltry skills in the reading of Italian, having discovered to my surprise that many Italians no longer communicate in Latin.  I decided to do this using crime fiction and purchased a popular Giallo edition of a book I already owned in English.

        

On reflection, I am not sure this 1926 Philo Vance adventure was the wisest choice for my experiment in self-education. My Italian may be improving, but I have fears for my English….

Pip! Pip!

The Ripster

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