Getting Away with Murder

 
 Jack’s Back

There will be millions (and I do not use the word lightly) of fans gearing up to storm the bookshops in September when Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, The Affair, is published by Bantam.

As one of those happy few privileged to have received an advance proof copy, I can say with confidence that they will not be disappointed with Lee’s exercise in sending Jack ‘back to the future’ as The Affair is set in 1997, when Reacher was still a major in the military police and the action is set six months before the debut Reacher thriller, Killing Floor, first published in 1997. Both books are narrated in the first person. I know this as I have just checked in the advance proof I received some 14 years ago!

   Before then, for those who cannot wait, comes Second Son, a new story featuring a 13-year-old Jack Reacher living on a military base in the Pacific, which will be issued as an eBook and an audio digital download.

   Amidst this summer of Reacher frenzy, it might be easily forgotten that Lee Child recently (and finally) won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for 61 Hours, that Tom Cruise is strongly tipped to play Reacher in a film adaptation of the book One Shot and that a Jack Reacher book is bought, somewhere in the world, every 20 seconds.

   In other words, four Reacher books have been bought whilst you’ve been reading this.

  

The Fez is Cool

The current holder of the prestigious Last Laugh Award, the engaging Len (L.C.) Tyler insists that the Fez – a form of headgear diminished in status thanks to the antics of magicians and the cafe owners of Casablanca – “is cool” once again, and who am I to disagree?

   Len was certainly not afraid to wear his in public at the launch party for his latest novel Herring On The Nile, thrown at London’s premier party venue, Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court last month.

   I have already commented on this delightful book and on the memorable passage on page 12, where the crime-writing hero Ethelred Tressider lists his favourite (real) crime writers. In fact I distinctly remember saying in my review that I thought it one of the best page 12’s I had ever read. That, however, was in the advance proof version kindly supplied by the publisher Macmillan. In the finished book, launched at the party, it turns out that the passage I referred to is now page 13 and not 12. I must therefore recast my review accordingly and I will contact Lock & Co. of St James’ to see if I can arrange a fitting for a Fez, though if they insist on fobbing me off with another ‘fascinator’ I shall cancel my account.

The Quicke and the Dead

I’m sorry, but that headline was irresistible when introducing the latest ‘Ellie Quicke’ mystery by Veronica Heley, Murder My Neighbour from publisher Severn House.

    This is, I believe the twelfth novel in the Ellie Quicke series, which began in 2000, and all feature ‘Murder’ in the title. Although barely a decade old, early titles are already being re-issued in the Clerical Crime imprint (and as e-Books) byOstara Publishing.

 

Welcome Back

Many years ago when I was a fledgling crime writer my heart sang and my blood pressure rose dramatically when I heard a rumour that the 1988 winner of the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey Award for debut crime novels was to go to a novel with ‘Angel’ in the title.

    Naturally and rightly, the Debut Dagger (as I think it is now known) that year went to Death’s Bright Angel by Janet Neel.

    Despite this, Janet and I became firm friends; I reviewed her subsequent, excellent crime novels (featuring Francesca Wilson and police detective John McLeish) for the Daily Telegraph and even made a rare public appearance at the launch party for To Die For which was held in the hallowed halls of Broadcasting House when Janet served as a BBC Governor. I also persuaded her to appear on my panel at one of the infamous Shots On The Page conventions in Nottingham alongside Gwendoline Butler and Ian Rankin though even after that, we remained friends.

   As well as writing novels, Janet has had numerous distinguished careers in industrial relations, merchant banking and within the Department of Trade and Industry, not to mention being a member of the House of Lords after being created Baroness Cohen.

    I am delighted, therefore, that her seventh mystery to feature the (husband-and-wife) pairing of Wilson and McLeish, O Gentle Death is now available, inexplicably for the first time in paperback in this country, in the College Crime imprint of Ostara Publishing.

    I suppose, in the interest of “transparency” (whatever that is) I should declare that in my days as a professional crime fiction critic I reviewed most of Janet Neel’s crime writing output and frequently used words such as “superior”, “intelligent” and “convincing”. Whilst browsing my first edition copy of O Gentle Death, I discovered that other reviewers, such as Marcel Berlins, Julian Symons, John Coleman and Matthew Coady, had also used them, but I make no apology for being in such distinguished company.

 

Hacking the Blogster

I tend not to follow ‘blogs’ about crime fiction on the interweb, for they rarely manage to combine judgement with enthusiasm  and many run out of steam when the bloggers decide to write that best-selling crime novel they’ve always been meaning to.

    However I did chance upon one particular site called Tipping My Fedora which certainly seemed to know what it was talking about. Sadly, I know nothing at all about the blogger behind the fedora being tipped, other than that he goes under the nom de guerre of ‘Sergio’ and that he lives on the front-line of the British fight against organised crime, which is of course Caversham in Berkshire.

    Although I know little about ‘Sergio’ I do know something of his taste in crime fiction for among his many interesting blogs on the genre, he has recently undertaken an ‘alphabet challenge’, using each letter as a link to a book title or author. Perhaps his most rewarding entry in this challenge is for the letter ‘T’ but other notable bloggage has covered excellent writers from Bill James and Philip Macdonald to Jonathan Latimer, Richard Matheson and Rex Stout.

   I have found myself, for the most part, totally in agreement with Sergio’s assessments and I am indebted to him for flagging up an author I was previously unfamiliar with, Joel Townsley Rogers.

So enthusiastic was Sergio in his recommendation of Rogers’ 1945 suspense novel The Red Right Hand that I immediately hunted it down via my usual shady contacts in the second-hand book market. Indeed, I am now the proud owner of a copy and cannot for the life of me know how I have managed to overlook this unique and somewhat bizarre novel of suspense. However, my conscience is clear for I can lay the blame squarely on Maxim Jakubowski, the former proprietor of the legendary Murder One bookshop and my co-editor on the almost-legendary Fresh Blood anthologies.

    It turns out, you see, that the edition of The Right Red Hand which I have now acquired is a 1988 reissue in the Blue Murder imprint, published by Simon & Schuster under the editorship of....Maxim Jakubowski. I do not remember Maxim ever recommending the book to me (though he did sell me David Goodis and Charles Williams titles in the same series), and for that I cannot easily forgive him.

   However, I do thank Sergio for introducing me to the book and also, in a recent post, for treating me to a promotional trailer for the forthcoming Sherlock Holmes film A Game of Shadows which I must say looks jolly exciting.

   I am indebted to another blog, The Venetian Vase (it’s a quote from Chandler if you have to ask) which has an academic bent and I believe to be closely linked to the University of Liverpool, for news of a new study of Scottish crime writers, Dead Sharp: Scottish Crime Writers on Country and Craft by Len Wanner.

     Although I have not actually seen this new book, published by Two Ravens Press, I am assured that it is “blasting into the Zeitgeist” with its interviews with leading practitioners of what is all-too-casually called ‘Tartan Noir’ these days.

     Oddly the list of writers interviewed does not seem to include Val McDermid, and whilst I have never seen Val wearing tartan, she is certainly Scottish and has been a leading crime writer for almost 25 years. Neither does there seem to be room for the infuriatingly talented Denise Mina, that Dundee-born noirista Carol Anne Davis, nor even my old chum Douglas Lindsay who single-handedly invented the Glaswegian Barbershop Serial Killer Gothic sub-genre of ‘Tartan Noir’.

 

Still Keeping Me in Suspense

I do not wish to give the impression that I get all my suggestions for crime fiction reading from blogs on the interweb. Quite often, fellow fans of the genre stop me in the street and recommend authors (often themselves). Sometimes, just occasionally, publishers actually send me books. But often I find a clue in my personal library here at Ripster Hall which leads me to try a ‘new’ author.

     During a recent mooch around the ‘S’ section [Sayers to Symons] I came across a copy of the monthly magazine Suspense from July 1959 which had retailed at 2/6d in the days of real money, about the same price then as a full-length paperback novel.

    This particular edition of Suspense certainly gave value for money. It contained short stories by: Dashiell Hammett (reprinted from a 1924 edition of Black Mask), Rebecca West, George Harmon Coxe and Berkely Mather and a murder story competition (first prize £100) set by Manning Coles.

    One contributor to that magazine was a new name to me, Robert Edmond Alter, with a story set, unusually, in the New Hebrides in the south Pacific. From such a thread, I managed to discover that Robert Edmond Alter (1925-1966) was a prolific story writer for mystery and sci-fi magazines and two ‘classic’ Gold Medal thrillers, Carny Kill and Swamp Sister, which is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of “swamp gothic”.

     I suspect Alter’s books are long out of print and possibly were never published in the UK, though some American editions did find their way across the Atlantic as my particular copy of Swamp Sister carries the official stamp of Wiltshire Library & Museum Service from about 1993, although I have no clear recollection of ever having visited Wiltshire and now, fearing an exorbitant fine, never will.




Gay Paree

I do, however, make a point of visiting Paris, or at least the more central arrondissements, at every opportunity often using the crime novels of Leo Malet (1909-1996) as guide books to the more salubrious restaurants and bars.

   For anyone wishing to experience a more historical fictional guide – tobelle-époque Paris of the 1890s – then I cannot recommend too highly the mysteries of Claude Izner and the latest to be translated into English, Strangled in Paris, is just out from Gallic Books.

    ‘Claude Izner’ is in fact the nom de plume of two sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lèfevre, who as well as writing successfully together for over a decade now are also both second-hand booksellers on the Right Bank of the Seine.

    The sisters are also acknowledged experts in 19thcentury French art and literature, which insures that their historical settings are very accurate, as does the profession they have chosen for their series’ amateur detective Victor Legris; he is, of course, a Parisian bookseller.

 

Here comes the Judge

Constance Briscoe is a London barrister and was one of the first black British women to sit as a judge.

    She is also the author of two hugely successful non-fiction books, Ugly and Beyond Ugly, in the genre often referred to by curmudgeonly publishers and reviewers as ‘misery memoirs’.

    Now she has turned her hand to crime fiction, with a debut novel The Accused published this month by Ebury Press, which I am assured is “a gritty, page-turning”  murder story set in South London. Just in case I should ever find myself south of the river Thames and in a court of law (should the former happen, the latter probably will), I am taking the precaution of reading this book very carefully.

   

And now, the Norse in full

It has been announced, with due fanfare, that Professor Barry Forshaw’s long-awaited and totally definitive academic study of Scandinavian crime writing is due to be published any year now.

   Of course, I may have got this wrong due to great age and alcohol taking their toll on my feeble brain. Yet I am sure I have heard that the book will appear soon and under the title Death in a Cold Climate.

    Yet this is a title made famous back in 1980 by Cartier Diamond Dagger winner Robert Barnard and Professor Forshaw would not, surely, stoop to hijacking a title unless of course it was in homage to Robert Barnard, whose book featured Inspector Fagermo of the Norwegian police investigating a murder in Tromsø. Indeed, Robert Barnard himself enjoyed a distinguished academic career for many years in Norway, having been a lecturer at the University of Bergen and Professor of English Literature at the University of Tromsø which I believe is the only university within the Arctic Circle, though as with so many things, I may have got that wrong too.

    Or perhaps Professor Forshaw is, by inference, implying that Death in a Cold Climate was the book which, over 30 years ago, sparked off the current Viking invasion. In which case, it is not he, but Professor Barnard, who may have a lot to answer for.

 

Pirates IV

Already this year I have noted that for plot purposes the actions of Somali pirates have proved particularly popular with three leading thriller writers: Elmore Leonard, Wilbur Smith and Stella Rimmington. Now I learn of a fourth, Stephen Leather.

    Fair Game, from Hodder, sees Leather’s tough, MI5 hero ‘Spider’ Shepherd (in his eighth adventure) tackling these callous sea wolves who have none of the charm of dear old Captain Jack Sparrow or his venerable dad.

 

Far Side of the World

My personal reading for  pleasure has suffered of late as I have laboured under the responsibility of being the British (and European) representative on the judging panel which will, later this month, decide the winner of the second Ngaio Marsh Award for crime writing in New Zealand. This is a prestigious award organised by New Zealander Craig Sisterson (and not ‘Sanderson’ as previously reported), that noble and dedicated promoter of crime fiction on the far side of the world.

    In truth, though, having to read the ‘long list’ of novels was anything but a chore and certainly it was an honour to be able to discover many authors I was previously unaware of.

   A couple, I admit, were familiar to me as they have been published in the UK, notably Neil Cross (well-known here for his work on the BBC’s Luther series) and Paul Cleave, who is a best-seller in translation in Germany. But the joy in undertaking such tasks is finding the Holy Grail of crime reviewers: Something New.

    I have not been disappointed and will report more on this year’s award next month.

 

TBR Pile

Having implied that my To Be Read Pile is somewhat log-jammed due to my judging duties of late, I had better point out the titles I have not yet got around to reading, thus apologising to the authors.

    I know I cannot resist, though it will probably scare me witless, the new thriller by Carol Anne Davis Extinction, published by Crème de la Crime, an imprint usually associated with more homely, cosier types of crime fiction.  Her 1997 novel Shrouded still gives me nightmares and Extinction, centred on a charismatic bereavement counsellor who is also a sexual predator, sounds as if it could do the same. Thanks for the sleepless nights, Carol, and I don’t mean that in a good way....

    I am also intrigued by the latest historical mystery from Ian Morson, possibly best known for being one of the ‘Medieval Murderers’ collective and the author of the ‘Falconer’ series.

   A Deadly Injustice, out now from Severn House, continues the adventures of Niccolo Zuliani, Morson’s latest series hero who is a Venetian working as an investigator for the Mongol Emperor of Cathay in the year 1268. In other words, he’d the Venetian who got there and did that (and probably got the t-shirt) before Marco Polo did.

    I am already anxious to learn more, for my old and distinguished friend Professor Bernard Knight said of  Zuliani’s debut in City of the Dead : “Morson has found a new and unique character...written with his usual combination of authenticity and panache.” And as Bernard Knight is not only one of our leading purveyors of historical-mysteries, a renowned forensic scientist and Welsh, his is not an opinion one should argue with.

    And as I rarely argue with my own opinion, I can honestly say I am looking forward to reading Ruth Dugdall’s new novel having described her last one as “at times quite hypnotic...gripping and powerful.”

    The Sacrificial Man, published by Legend Press, sees the return of Probation Officer Cate Austen, who featured in Ruth’s previous psychological thriller The Woman Before Me, which I thought was one of the most under-rated spinetinglers of 2010.

   I must also make an effort – finally – to get around to reading Richard Powell’s All Over But the Shooting, published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton in 1952 though, interestingly, printed in Holland.

    All Over But the Shooting, written in 1944 and set in wartime Washington DC, was the second comic crime novel by American Richard Powell (1908-1999) and is described on the title page (I kid you not) as:

The second gay adventure of Arab and Andy in which Arab comes to town.

     I hasten to point out that the ‘Arab and Andy’ referred to are in fact Lt Andrew Blake and his wife Arabella and they featured in a string of novels by Powell (who served in the war on the staff of Douglas MacArthur) very much in the ‘Thin Man’ tradition.

    But one book on my TBRP may just have to wait.

    As much as I admire The Maltese Falcon in its original English (well, American) version, I am afraid my Polish simply isn’t up to this version.

 

St Michael’s Day

September 29th is, as everyone knows, St Michael’s Day and also the birthday of some notable personalities including Pompey the Great, Horatio Nelson, Enrico Fermi, Jean-Luc Ponty, Ian McShane, Colin Dexter and myself.

   This year, St Michael’s Day not only marks the publication of Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel (which I’m betting will be the #1 bestseller by September 30th) but also sees the first gathering of History in the Court. The Court in question is, of course, Cecil Court in London’s West End, the home of Goldsboro Books, and the event is inspired by the success of Crime in the Court earlier this year, where crime fiction writers and readers gathered in what became the biggest street party seen in the capital since VE Day.

    Aimed at historians, writers of historical fiction and readers of both, further details of History in the Court will be posted on the Goldsboro website.

E-tempted by Tom

There are few things which might tempt me to purchase an e-Book ‘reader’ for there are so many attractive young au pair girls employed here at Ripster Hall to read to me, it would be unkind to replace them with electronics.

    However, my eye was caught by a familiar name now appearing in cyberspace (if that’s what it is called) – Tom Neale; a thriller writer whose work I have admired in the proper, printed form before now. (Although I admire even more the books he writes under his real name.)

    ‘Tom Neale’ has just released not one, but three new thrillers as eBooks under the imprint X Books, Silver Skin, Black Cross and The Judas Clock, at a seemingly ridiculously low price of £1.71 per ‘download’. I believe they are all concerned with the uncovering of conspiracies dating back to WWII and with soldiers believed to be missing in action.

    Much as I enjoyed Tom Neale’s published thrillers Steel Rain and Copper Kiss, it is unlikely that I will read this trio of new tales, although I will ask Bridgit, Katerina and Zofia (this week’s batch of au pairs) if they have the necessary ‘app’ on their blueberries – see how I’m down with the kids? – in which case, they could read them to me.

 

Degrees of Latitude

I always like to end with a picture of one of my ‘Angel’ books in an unusual setting and this month I am grateful to some young fans who spotted this one at the recent Latitude Festival in Suffolk.

    
For those who have never heard of East Anglia’s premier cultural event, I would best describe it as a sort of Glastonbury, but with better beer.

 

Pip! Pip!

The Ripster

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