Getting Away with Murder









{April 1st}

End of an Era

The so-called “Golden Age of Murder” is officially over, according to world expert Malvolio Chuzzlewitt, professor verberibus equus mortuus at the University of Knutsford. It seems there are simply no more undiscovered, long out-of-print, forgotten, lost, mislaid, hidden in a cupboard guarded by tigers, “classics” of crime fiction to be discovered and republished. Absolutely none. Not a one.

Writing in the influential journal Runes and Emoticons Monthly, Professor Chuzzlewitt claims that “Everything published in what is known as the ‘Golden Age’, which can now be precisely dated as running from June 31st 1928 to 29th February 1939, has now been discovered and reissued and the words ‘No, me neither’ can be consigned to the wheelie-bin of history. Lovers of crime fiction can now concentrate their energies on the Teflon Age of domestic noir thrillers in which we are privileged to be living at the moment.”

If Professor Chuzzlewitt’s predictions are true – and they have never been in the past – then the latest reissues from the industrious Dean Street Press may mark the end of an era. Dean Street are republishing all eight ‘Inspector Richardson’ novels by Sir Basil Thomson, written between 1933 and 1939, which are described as “ultra rare”, or at least have been up to now. The series, in matching covers comprises: Richardson’s First Case, Richardson Scores Again, The Case of Naomi Clynes, The Case of the Dead Diplomat, The Dartmoor Enigma, Who Killed Stella Pomeroy?, The Milliner’s Hat Mystery and A Murder is Arranged.

I cannot speak for his fiction, but Thomson (1861-1939) the man certainly seems to have had an interesting life, as a colonial administrator in Fiji and New Guinea, a prison governor in Liverpool and Dartmoor, the head of the CID at Scotland Yard and as a noted ‘spy catcher’ for MI5 during WWI and author. He was also, in 1925, convicted of outraging public decency in Hyde Park with an “actress” called Miss Thelma de Lava. All in all, a fairly typical background for a crime writer, though I do hope the attractive new covers for his novels are not indicative of what lies between them, as they represent old-fashioned jars of a popular confectionary product: humbug.

 

Allingham Remembered

Southend-on-Sea was the place where I gave my first talk as an author in a public library, back in 1988. On the assumption that Southend had forgotten all about that, I returned last month as part of the Essex Book Festival, though not, sadly, to a library this time but rather to swanky seafront hotel where the first session of the Festival’s opening week-end was dedicated to ‘Remembering Margery Allingham’.

Sharing a panel chaired by Seona Ford of the EBF, with Barry Pike, chairman of the Margery Allingham Society and Julia Jones (Margery’s biographer), I think the morning went well and the event was just the first of a series of commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the great Essex author’s death in 1966.

In addition to lots of classic Allingham novels now being reissued (and perhaps a new one featuring her famous detective Albert Campion this May), Essex University has produced an attractive bookmark to promote its forthcoming exhibition The Legacy of Margery Allingham: Remembering an Essex Queen of Crime, which will be mounted in the Albert Sloman Library at the University between 6th June and 1st July.

Essex University houses the Allingham Archive and admission to the Legacy exhibition will be free. The Margery Allingham Society is also likely to be involved in a commemorative wreath-laying at the grave of the author in the Essex village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy.

 

Miss Deal

For legal reasons I will not be attending the Deal Noir celebrations held on 2nd April, although I do hope to attend the 2017 event.

The one day conference on crime fiction features SimonBrett, John Harvey, Susan Moody and Quentin Bates, among many others and sounds like an excellent excuse for another day at the seaside. I confess that I had to remind myself exactly where Deal was and I eventually found it to be situated between Portus Dubris and Rutupiae, although I do admit that my map of Kent may well be a little out-of-date.

 

Icelandic Saga(s)

Fortunately, I was able to catch up with  the gentlemanly Quentin Bates, or Gráskeggur as he is known to the Icelandic fishing fleet, who was launching his excellent new crime novel Thin Ice  at the Icelandic Embassy.

  

Having lived in Iceland and Thin Ice being set there, the Embassy and its staff – who are always generous and friendly hosts – was the ideal venue for the launch party, which was enlivened by the distribution of cupcakes cleverly bearing sweet facsimiles of the book’s cover.

Having, for legal reasons, not actually read Quentin’s latest Icelandic mystery, I made sure I was up-to-speed on BBC 4’s imported Icelandic crime drama Trapped, which was superbly acted and quite chilling – in more ways than one. I have always maintained that one of the best, and earliest, serial-killer stories set in North America, is the tale of Freydis (the female mass-murderer), which probably dates from Icelandic explorations of “Vinland” around the year 1002 AD.

Having listened patiently, the Icelandic Ambassador, Mr Thordur Aegir Oskarsson, very kindly signed my copy ofThe Vinland Sagas (translated by Magnus Magnusson) with the words: Warmest wishes and I like your thesis on serial killers!

Coincidentally, at this gathering of the great and good at the Icelandic Embassy (Professor Barry Forshaw was not present as the setting was clearly not Nordic enough for him), the subject of Nevil Shute’s 1940 novel An Old Captivity came up. It has long been one of my favourite titles penned by a much underrated story-teller; a romantic adventure novel with mystical overtones which follows the journey (by float-plane) from Greenland to North America taken by those intrepid Icelanders in the Vinland sagas.

         

I am delighted to see that a new American edition is now available from those jolly enterprising people at Valancourt who have done a splendid job rescuing some notable books (I’m ashamed to say many of them British) from obscurity. If your interests are quirky or downright Gothic, you really should check out their website (http://www.valancourtbooks.com/).

 

The Other Side of Lunch















Publisher Quercus threw a splendid luncheon last week to celebrate the publication of Philip Kerr’s new Bernie Gunther thriller The Other Side of Silence where guests were treated to the news that not only will there be another Bernie Gunther book – Prussian Blue – next year but it seems that real progress is being made on bringing this superb character to our television screens, something all fans will agree is long overdue.

It was a pleasure to meet up again with Philip and his proud editor Jane Wood, who admitted privately that the new novel was one of her favourites in the series which began in 1989.

If it needed one, the tag-line for The Other Side of Silence, at least for the cognoscenti should be “Ashenden meets Gunther” and the short verdict is it’s good. The longer, more considered verdict is that it’s bloody good indeed.

Bernie is now pushing sixty, looking for a quiet life as a Concierge in a swanky hotel on the French Riviera, and trying to keep his head down. Of course, he fails miserably at that, for which we should be thankful. The year is 1956 and British Intelligence, still reeling from the defection of the spies Burgess and Maclean, is suspected of being riddled with moles. What has this got to do with Bernie? In theory, very little, but a near neighbour of his turns out to be the famous British novelist Somerset Maugham, who is very rich and very homosexual – and therefore very blackmail-able. This matters because Maugham was himself, back in the day, a successful British agent and Burgess and Maclean had been guests at one of his house parties at which photographs were taken. When a professional blackmailer – a blackmailer who perfected his trade in the Gestapo and is a long-time personal enemy of Bernie’s – arrives on the Riviera, it seems that Somerset Maugham will be likely victim, but the stakes turn out to be much higher than the private life of a regal old man of letters and it is left to Bernie Gunther to save British Intelligence from a dastardly Communist plot.

If this makes it sound as if Bernie is out of his comfort zone, don’t worry because Philip Kerr certainly is not. The plot twists sinuously and Kerr’s skill at period detail and packing in a lot of political back story is consummate. Although splattered with wisecracks (in the best fictional private eye tradition), his prose is positively silky at times and the pace never flags. This is an excellent piece of spy fiction as well as a very fine addition to the Gunther canon.

 

How To Rob a Museum















I have already expressed my disappointment at having to turn down an invitation to speak at the British Library at their seminar on Eric Ambler on 6th May, (the evening event is an all-ticket affair with details at:https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/eric-ambler-father-of-the-modern-british-spy-thriller-tickets-21029670310), especially as a key text under discussion will be one of Ambler’s most popular books, The Light of Day.

First published in 1962 but reissued this year as a British Library Classic Thriller, Ambler’s comic heist novel was quickly filmed as Topkapi, which won an Oscar for Peter Ustinov and left many men of a certain age with fond memories (very fond) of the lascivious performance of Greek actress – and later politician – Melina Mercouri. 

The plot revolves around the robbery of the Topkapi Museum in the Seraglio Palace in Constantinople, or Istanbul as I’m told I have to call it these days, and Eric Ambler helpfully provides maps and floor plans in his book to show how it could be done. The actual heist, as filmed, inspired many television spoofs and a rather famous ‘homage’ in the first of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible films. 

 
 All Our Yesterdays 



Continuing my trawl through the dusty filing cabinets here at Ripster Hall, I have discovered my Sunday Telegraph column of April 7th 1991 which reminded me of what was hot, and what not quite so hot, twenty-five years ago.

Judging by their prominence in the column, I seemed to have been most impressed by the heroines created by four fine female crime writers, all British. After an absence of five years, I welcomed back private eye Anna Lee as created by Lisa Cody in Backhand and rejoiced at the arrival on the scene of a new heroine, Laura Flynn, in the appropriately titled debut Flynn by Lesley Grant-Adamson. I was by then already aware of former secret agent (and archaeologist) Tamara Hoyland and described her latest adventure – Faith Hope and Homicide by Jessica Mann – as “brisk, polished entertainment”. I was also a fan of the “slobby, often sloshed and not averse to taking the money and running” Georgina Powers, the computer-savvy character created by Denise Danks and making a second appearance in Better Off Dead. {I cannot resist pointing out that I have had the great pleasure of editing reissues of the fine work of Lesley Grant-Adamson, Jessica Mann and Denise Danks in recent years.}

It was clearly a good month for crime fiction, as other new titles I felt moved to praise included: A German Requiem by Philip Kerr (that man Gunther again); James Hall’s Florida noir Bones of Coral; a new Lovejoy novel, The Great California Game by Jonathan Gash; John Harvey’s Cutting Edge – “the inner city is brilliantly and chillingly drawn”; a new Harpur and Iles novel, Club, from the ever-reliable Bill James; an unusual black comedy, The Strange Attractor by Desmond Cory – “very funny in parts, genuinely puzzling and gloriously over-the-top in others”; and I even recommended Derek Raymond’s bleak-as-hell I Was Dora Suarez for those who had the stomach for it.

Not everything received unstinting praise, though. I had distinct reservations about Robert B. Parker (of whom I was usually a fan) and his second attempt at a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe novel, Perchance To Dream, which I thought “a worthy shot, but not more, lacking the density of Chandler’s prose and consequently most of its charm.”

 

The Seven – Magnificent

The words ‘refreshingly unsparing’, ‘uncompromising’, ‘wickedly sardonic’, ‘lacerating’, ‘satirical’, and ‘mischievously diverting’ have all been used (and all © Professor Barry Forshaw) to describe the crime fiction of Ruth Dudley Edwards. An entirely new thesaurus, starting at the word ‘bravery’ (fearlessness, intrepidity, boldness, hardihood, audacity) may be needed to adequately praise describe her magnificent new work of history, The Seven.

  

I was delighted to be present at the launch of The Seven, published by Oneworld to coincide with the centenary of the ‘Easter Rising’ (or insurrection or rebellion) in Dublin in 1916 where the seven members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s military council put their names to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, declaring freedom from British rule. The rest, as they say (and, boy, do they say it) is history. But whose history?

The launch, which included speeches by Lord Trimble, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the current Ambassador of the Republic, proved – if any more proof was needed – that the subject is still a sensitive one. It certainly made me realise how ignorant I was on that particular slice of history – about which my generation was taught less than nothing at school – and the mythology which arose around those seven revolutionaries of a hundred years ago.

Ruth Dudley Edwards has clearly put a lifetime’s research into The Seven and the ‘uncompromising’ and ‘unsparing’ aspects of her crime fiction can certainly describe the academic eye she turns on her subject matter. I realise that to use the word ‘magnificent’ and ‘the seven’ in this context may be contentious, so let me make it clear: I think the book is intelligent, erudite and quite magnificent.

 

Homework

Before my annual appearance at the Chianti Crime Festival, I promised myself that I really must do my homework on recent Italian crime fiction but, it being homework, I decided to cheat by reading excellent translations rather than in the original Italian.

   

One never knows when knowing a noted lawyer could come in handy in Italy and so, following the advice of my good friend Silvio, I can certainly recommend A Fine Line by Gianrico Carofiglio which is published with aplomb this month by Bitter lemon Press. I first met the tall, irritatingly young and annoyingly handsome Gianrico a few years ago when his first legal thriller appeared in English and became aware of his previous ‘day job’ as a prosecutor of organized crime (in Italy? who knew?), an advisor to the Italian government’s anti-Mafia committee and, most recently, as a senator in the Italian parliament. A Fine Line features his regular series hero, defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri helped by the motorbike-riding, bisexual private detective Annapola Doria, a character I am looking forward – perhaps – to meeting.

Davide Longo is a new name on me, as is Corso Bramard, the haunted hero of Bramard’s Case, which is published here by Maclehose Press next month.  Bramard is a former Turin-based policeman, now a teacher, who wife and daughter were murdered by the serial killer he was hunting. Fifteen years on the killer not only haunts him but is actually still taunting him.

I am on more familiar territory with Michael Gregorio’s new novel in that the authors (Anglo-Italian husband and wife team of Michael and Daniela) are well-known for a famous series of historical mysteries set in Napoleonic Europe. In recent years they have diversified and developed what I hope will be a long series of contemporary thrillers featuring park ranger Sebastiano Cangio, of which the second, Think Wolf, is now published by Severn House.

The setting for Think Wolf is a mountainous national park in Umbria, where Cangio is devoted to observing and protecting the resident wolf pack (though he’s nicely unsentimental when they decide to snack on a local flock of sheep) whilst keeping one eye permanently over his shoulder for another sort of wolf. Those two-legged predators, who have already got Cangio marked down as antipasti, are the ’Ndrangheta, the most formidable criminal organization in Italy. As the Mafia are to Sicily, so the ’Ndrangheta  are to Calabria, but are itching to move north into Umbria and are using the local truffle industry as a cover for moving supplies of drugs. When a fellow park ranger is found murdered, Cangio is convinced it was a professional hit and that he was the intended target and from then on, it’s not the wild wolves of Umbria who need the protection.

Think Wolf  is fast-moving thriller showing off a wild and beautiful part of Italy which remains (so far) relatively undiscovered by the hordes of tourists who invaded Tuscany to the north or flock to Rome further south. Ominously, even one of the gangsters in the book, admiring the spectacular view from his Spoleto hotel, thinks that in terms of tourism: ‘Umbria was a goldmine waiting to be discovered’.

 

Red in Tooth and Claw

History is always red in tooth and claw when told by Paul Doherty; and that’s what he does – he tells English history as a mystery story, usually through the eyes of an educated contemporaneous observer. In The Great Revolt, out now from Severn House, his central character is one of his most popular creations, Brother Athelstan and his setting is the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, famously faced-down by the young King Richard II. 

Summoned to the monastery at Blackfriars (on the site of which, today, stands the famous Blackfriar pub), Athelstan is charged with investigating a ‘cold case’, the murder of a fellow monk fifty years earlier, and what connection that had with the fate of Edward II (another reign which didn’t end well). Doherty fans who prefer his other medieval investigator Hugh Corbett need not sulk for he reappears in a new novel Dark Serpent, from Headline in August.

 

Regional News

When I first began to review crime fiction, back in the mists of time, the concern of most reviewers on national newspapers was that there were not enough new fictional detectives based outside London (or, to be fair, Oxford). This regional vacuum was being filled even as we bemoaned it over our regular meetings at the Worthington White Shield Pourers’ Club and soon we were welcoming crime novels set in John Harvey’s Nottingham and Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh.

Nowadays, the geographical diversity is wide, from Alison Bruce and Jim Kelly in East Anglia to Graham Hurley’s Portsmouth and the wild West Country. (Though Hurley’s upcoming novel is a new departure:  a World War II thriller, Finisterre, from Head of Zeus in December.)

The latest regional diversions include A Tapping at My Door by David Jackson, out this month from Zaffre Publishing, which is set in Liverpool (a city surprisingly underserved by crime fiction) and Blackwater by James Henry, to be published by Quercus in July, which is, obviously, located around Colchester and the Blackwater estuary on the Essex coast.

 

Time Teams

For a diversion back to the 18th century, there are two new titles of interest out this month and one seems tailor-made for a future Deal Noir conference as it promises to be the first in a series of mysteries set on Romney Marsh.

The Body on the Doorstep (published by Zaffre) is set in Kent in 1796, but the Romney Marsh area does not allow a little thing like the French Revolutionary wars interfere with its healthy smuggling industry. The author’s name, A. J. Mackenzie, disguises the identity of Canadian husband-and-wife team of Morgen Witzel and Marilyn Livingstone, who have both written before, academically and on business management, though this is their first foray into fiction.

     

Opening in London in 1750, but rapidly moving to colonial New Hampshire, Scarlet Widow by Graham Masterton is also said to be the first of a new series from Head of Zeus. Given Masterton’s track record in horror fiction, where he is an accomplished chiller-of-spines, as well as being a successful crime writer (of the Irish series featuring Katie Maguire), I am expecting there to be more than a hint of New England witchcraft in this new mystery.

 

Postcards Off the Edge

I have noticed an increase in the use of printed postcards to promote new books, a charming publicity technique quite common twenty years ago. I have received one, however, which has rather baffled me.

It appears to be advertising a novel called The Fireman by American Joe Hill, which is to be published here in June by Gollancz, but to actually see a copy, I have to follow the instructions on the postcard: To request a review copy tweet a photo of your postcard @  Gollancz with the # The Fireman or visit NetGalley.

I am working my way through these instructions slowly and carefully. I have taken a photograph of my postcard and as soon as the prints come back from the chemist’s I will attempt to discover what a “tweet” is and why I seem to have to accompany it with the musical sharp signature when my request is conveyed by some sort of fishing vessel to somewhere or other.

 

Star Struck

Millionaire playboy and benefactor of this esteemed organ, Prince Ali Karim has become quite star-struck and can speak of nothing these days but the debut crime novel of actor David McCallum, Once A Crooked Man I have not seen the book, so can say little about it, and my knowledge of it stems entirely from Prince Ali’s gushing praise in between numerous references to Mr McCallum being famous for playing the role of Ilya Kuryakin in The Man From UNCLE.

Here I have to take Prince Ali to task, for surely Mr McCallum’s greatest role as a thespian was as Ashley-Pitt (“Dispersal”) in the classic Bank Holiday favourite The Great Escape, a film I continue to watch in the faint hope that Steve McQueen will get his motor-bike over that fence one day.

Pip! Pip!

The Ripster









































































































































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