Getting Away with Murder

 

 Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion

I am told that the world of ‘Social Media’ – which seems to be the electronic equivalent of what I used to call a session in the Snug bar – is positively awash with reports of the intellectual debates and deep discussions which took place at the recent CrimeFest convention in Bristol. As this was my first CrimeFest I feel I am in no position to comment on the content of the convention except to say that the level of academic insights displayed on the ‘panels’ – where groups of crime writers were put through their paces – were uniformly high and often far too high for a mere hack such as myself, though there was one panel (I forget its title) where three old gits nattered on for hours about old thrillers despite the best efforts of the official CrimeFest time-keepers to get them off the stage, that lowered the standard to my level. I believe that the CCTV cameras of the Avon Constabulary caught this disgraceful exhibition on film and it has been dutiful archived on something called You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKnrh5oBfcY.

Of course there were many sensible panels and I had the privilege to sit on one on ‘Continuation Fiction’  representing Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion, alongside my fellow ‘continuers in crime’ Robert Ryan (Dr John Watson), Sophie Hannah (Hercule Poirot) and Jill Paton Walsh (Lord Peter Wimsey) under the steely chairmanship of that young heart-throb Jake Kerridge of the Daily Telegraph.

The subject of great detective revivals was a running theme of CrimeFest 2014. No only had Jake Kerridge written on the subject in the Sunday Telegraph  and I had added in my humble two-penneth-worth in the Independent on Sunday in advance of the convention, but The Times followed up after the event, which in turn led to Jill Paton Walsh and myself appearing on the Today programme on Radio 4. So, kudosto whoever thought up that panel.

For one of such great age and infirmity, it was an exhausting week-end where one often found oneself dazed and confused by the hectic schedule. However, I am delighted to report that the conference organisers had the good sense to provide a private nursing service to help an elderly gentleman through the long hours of intellectual rigour.

I am sure the official Minutes of the convention will be published somewhere, and I can do no more here than record some personal highlights, if I may be so indulged.

On the serious, academic side, it was very rewarding to hear guest speaker Simon Brett’s insightful dissection of Scandinavian crime fiction – an awesomely comprehensive assessment done with great philosophical insight and, clearly, deep affection. The opportunity afterwards to have dinner with Simon and another former CWA chairperson, Susan Moody, was only one of many social highlights.

There was also the very pleasurable opportunity to renew old acquaintances with another former CWA chairperson, Hilary Bonner, and have the chance to discuss comedy timing with that gorgeous British actress Amanda Barrie. I even found myself involved in an impromptu seminar on the subject of the late, great Sarah Caudwell whose presence at crime conventions past was not only mandatory but always delightful.

But the highlight of the social side of Crimefest for me was both the joy and the privilege of being presented to the Princess Sophia Isabelle Karim by Shots’ very own royal correspondent, the voluptuous Ayo Onatade.

Yet it was not all fun, as there were parties and receptions one simply had to attend and possibly the most spectacular party combined two excellent reasons for celebration in one: notably the 40th birthday of that elegant publishing firm Severn House, superbly hosted by their supreme leader Edwin Buckhalter, and the launch of a new study by Professor Barry Forshaw, Euro Noir.

I would like to have given a brief summary of the Professor’s new book (published by Pocket Essentials), but such was the rush to acquire the few advance copies that were on display, that elderly and infirm readers such as myself were rudely trampled by the crowds avid to obtain one. However here is a picture of it.             

During the excellent Gala Dinner, a host of short lists for forthcoming awards were announced, details of which have been faithfully reported elsewhere, and CrimeFest also saw the birth of a new award, the Margery Allingham/CWA Short Story prize, presented by Julia Jones, Margery Allingham’s biographer to the first winner (from over 200 entries), Martin Edwards.

And of course, one learns a lot at these conventions. That is their main function. I learned, for example, that is now perfectly acceptable for the younger generation of crime writers to wear trainers and still pick up an award for short story writing.

But I also have to report some disappointments:

-         Not having a camera to hand to catch the ecstatic expression on editor Kate Lyall Grant’s face when she took the first sip of the complimentary Icelandic digestif.

-         Not learning that Lee Child was to attend next year before I could produce – and wave – the Aston Villa scarf I had recently bought from the thousands currently offered for sale on eBay.

-         Not being able to snatch more than a few moments with the delightful Anne Zouroudi who (suspiciously) had to leave the convention within an hour of my arrival.

This last disappointment was, however, was to disappear after only a few days, for no sooner had CrimeFest packed its tent for another year, that Barry Forshaw and I were able to catch Anne in London in a Piccadilly bookshop (for the launch of the OxCrimes anthology I mentioned last month), where the vivacious Ms Zouroudi was being filmed for a television documentary.

 

There was also something of an instant CrimeFest reunion in London later that night at the sumptuous birthday party thrown by Ruth Dudley Edwards in the heart of the West End, where the champagne flowed and the quails’ eggs and caviar enticed even the most jaded palates.

Although Ruth had been a major attraction at CrimeFest, she seemed to magically avoid all the paparazzi present and so this formal birthday portrait must suffice.

Picture credits: Ayo Onatade, Ali Karim, Lesley Simpson.

Tiger Not in the Smoke

Thanks to “engineering works” perpetrated by British Rail (or whatever they are called these days), I was unable to get to London for the AGM of the Margery Allingham Society which is always combined with a Birthday Lunch for Margery (she was born on 20th May 1904). As a consequence I was left fuming on a railway station in East Anglia watching my buttonhole of freshly picked pink campions wilt whilst members of the Society celebrated at the University Women’s Club in Audley Square, complete with birthday cake!

I am told that CWA Chairman Alison Joseph was an absolutely excellent guest speaker who had ‘clearly put a lot of thought into what she was going to say’ – unlike a previous speaker… (though I have apologised about that). However, I will be making every effort to get to the Society’s next lunch, prior to a visit to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, for it will be held in one of my favourite venues, the Concert Artistes’ Association – a delightful watering-hole hidden away in Covent Garden, which would not have looked out of place in an Allingham novel.

Missing the Birthday Lunch meant that I had to wait for the Royal Mail to deliver my copy of the new look Bottle Street Gazette which is the Society’s most learned journal. Anyone interested in joining this friendliest of societies should visit www.margeryallingham.org.uk.

Bloody Foreigners

No, this column has not been rented out to UKIP. Rather, it has the great pleasure to recommend a splendid evening in the company of some of Europe’s finest crime writers who have the added advantage of not being Scandinavian.

More Bloody Foreigners is an evening organised by a consortium of publishers and will feature crime writers Ben Pastor and Marco Malvaldi (Italian), Marius Czubaj (Polish) and Andrej Nikolaidis (Montenegrin), with our very own Jake Kerridge in the chair. Tickets are free but should be reserved at morebloodyforeigners@gmail.com.

The event, organised by Bitter Lemon Press, Europa Editions, Istros Books, Stork Press and MacLehose Press, takes place on 11th June in the refined surroundings of the London Review Bookshop near the British Museum, where distinguished reviewers of crime fiction have been known to meet for afternoon tea and cake before now.

Coincidentally, another well-known bloody foreigner has a new book out this month, the veteran Italian crime writing master, Andrea Camilleri, now 88.

Angelica’s Smile, published here by Mantle, is I believe the seventeenth novel to feature Inspector Montalbano since his debut in The Shape of Water over ten years ago.

Continuing Continuation

Continuing the theme of continuation fiction – quite a hot topic recently – I must point out Philip Marlowe is not the only iconic American detective to get the revival treatment. That highly prolific American writer Max Allan Collins has, for a number of books now, been continuing the career of Mike Hammer, a tough (some might say brutal) private eye created in the 1940s by Mickey Spillane. The latest, King of the Weeds, is out now from Titan Books.

Bristol, via Colchester and Reading

 It may be an unlikely universal law, but I only manage to see Peter Leyland three times every 25 years and it is always to discuss The Detective in Fiction course he developed for Grey Friars Community College in Colchester back in in the 1980s. In 2010 I met him at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing where he had been lecturing and where it was suggested that he should commit his teaching theories to print. Last month at Bristol’s CrimeFest, Peter was there to present me with a copy of his book The Detective in Fiction, published by Glebe Books, which is an excellent primer for anyone interested in the creation of the central character of most crime fiction.
Peter Leyland’s book is available from www.detectiveinfiction.co.uk.

 

 

 

 

   Better Late…

Fans of Lawrence Block, who are numerous and highly dedicated in this country, will be delighted that Hard Case Crime has unearthed Borderline, a pulp thriller first published in 1958 under one of Block’s many pseudonyms.

On the Front at Felixstowe

I am sure the seafront at Felixstowe in dear old Suffolk will be thronged with literary types later this month when the second Felixstowe Book Festival takes place on the 28th and 29th.

 

Although the Festival has a wide remit to cover fiction, non-fiction, poetry and music, there are lots of crime-writing connections with speakers including: Ruth Dugdall, Nicola Upson, Peter Tremayne, Karen Maitland, Colette McBeth, Sarah Hilary, William Broderick and Alex Marwood. Events include a crime writing workshop and, given the location, it is fitting that Julia Jones (the biographer of Margery Allingham) will give a talk on ‘Books and Boats’. Full details can be found on: www.felixstowebookfestival.co.uk.

But if the Suffolk coast, beautiful though it is, is too exotic a location for my London-centric readers, then they can take comfort in a series of events at the Institut Français under the banner title Noir is the Colour. Highlights for June include Bernard Minier appearing with Nicci French on the 12th and on the 26th, Marc Dugain in conversation with that cosmopolitan sophisticate Peter Guttridge.

New Award?

If there was an award for ‘hardest-working crime writer’ (and given the plethora of awards there probably will be), then this month it would certainly go to Julia Crouch.

In between visiting CrimeFest in Bristol, Julia was also a key organiser and co-founder of the first Dark & Stormy festival celebrating crime fiction, held in her home town of Brighton. In addition to all that, her fourth novel The Long Fall is published this month by Headline and she is reported to be ‘well into her fifth’.

Tim Griggs

I was horrified to learn of the death of Tim Griggs (who wrote as T.D. Griggs and Tom Macauley) in Oxford, at the age of only 65.

Originally a journalist, Tim moved into public relations and for many years worked abroad, in Nigeria, Taiwan and Australia. His 1999 thriller Redemption Blues was a massive seller in Germany and France and The Warning Bell was one of my favourite novels of 2009. Tim was a fine writer, a generous host, engaging company and had a long-standing interest in archaeology – in other words, a proper gent.

In Your Face

The International Thriller Writers organisation, of which I have the honour to be a member (though I’m not quite sure how) has produced an anthology of short stories with, I think, a unique twist.

Face Off, edited by David Baldacci and published on 6th June by Sphere, brings together twenty-three thriller writers co-writing stories featuring their best-known protagonists. Hence, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher gets to team up with Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus solves a case with Peter James’ Roy Grace. You get the idea, but if you are wondering how these double acts involve an odd number (23) of authors, then I would point out that one of the protagonists featured, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, was created by the partnership of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Policing Perigord

For legal reasons, I seem to have missed out on the adventures of Bruno Courrèges, the chief of police of the French country town of ‘St Denis’ which is situated, it is suggested, somewhere between Bergerac and Sarlat in the beautiful Perigord region. Created by Martin Walker, the ‘Bruno Chief of Police’ series comprises eight novels over the last six years, but I am ashamed to say the latest, Children of War, from Quercus, is the first I have tried.

Yet even on such short acquaintance, I am sure I will become a fan. Bruno himself is an engaging character but the star of the show is probably the town of St Denis. Martin Walker cleverly resists the temptation to give us an updated Clochemerle and doesn’t fall into the English trap of doing Allo, Allo but without the occupying Germans. This may be small town rural France, but it is modern-day France and St Denis is more than a two horse (or deux chevaux) town. I have read somewhere that ‘St Denis’ is based on the town of Perigueux but I have a feeling that the smaller town of Le Bugue, some 30 kilometres to the south-east, is a more likely candidate. It is some time since I explored the Dordogne but Children of War is definitely tempting me back.

Gruesome Gondoliers

I have never actually been to Venice, though one of my early novels was found abandoned in a gondola there a while ago. It has, however, been a happy hunting ground for English crime writers over the years, notably the divine Sarah Caudwell, Michael Dibdin, Reginald Hill and now Suzette A. Hill with The Venetian Venture from Allison & Busby.

.

Set in 1954, this charming, gentle and very witty thriller follows the expedition of the British Museum’s go-to girl Rosy Gilchrist to acquire a rare edition of Horace’s Odes. I particularly enjoyed the last fifth of the novel where the bodies start being disposed of in the Grand Canal and both the plot and the humour take on the dark hue of the waters flowing there.

In Search of the new Doyle

All but my youngest readers should be clever enough to identify at least two of this triumvirate of judges appointed by The Times in 1972 for a very special investigation.

They are, of course, Lord (‘Rab’) Butler, then Master of Trinity College Cambridge, playwright Tom Stoppard and Dame Agatha Christie, and their mission was ‘to search for a potential new Conan Doyle’ in conjunction with publisher Jonathan Cape. The idea was to run a short story competition to revive the detective story. ‘Where are the new young writers who can weave plots as beguiling as those of their nineteenth-century forbears?’ bemoaned The Times. (Clearly, by 1972, word had not yet reached the newspaper of the activities of P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Peter Dickinson, Anthony Price or Reginald Hill.)

So a competition was held offering the first prize of £500 cash (about £5,600 in today’s money I think) and a £500 publishing deal for a full-length novel and it attracted well over a thousand entries, ten of which were published in a Times Anthology.

It was a noble venture, no doubt. After all, newspaper competitions had been responsible for launching at least two notable careers: Muriel Spark, who won a short story competition in The Observer and Alistair Maclean, who wrote his first bestseller HMS Ulysses after winning a competition in the Glasgow Herald. But the 1972 hunt for the next Conan Doyle did not seem to bear fruit. Of the ten authors whose entries were selected for the Anthology, only the winner, John Sladek – an American then living in England – seems to have prospered as a writer, and of science fiction, not detective stories.

World Cup Fever

As England’s participation in the World Cup is unlikely to be lengthy, I have pulled together a clutch of novels to read in the longeurs between games with an international flavour reflecting global interest in the event.

A new novel from Paul Charles is always worth a look, especially when it is set in 1960s Northern Ireland and may just have strong autobiographical theme, and I am certainly looking forward to reading The Lonesome Heart Is Angry, which is published by Dublin-based publisher New Island. Totally new to me is the name Edney Silvestre, an award-winning Brazilian journalist (the first Brazilian journalist to report from the World Trade Centre on 9/11) and novelist, whose new book Happiness Is Easy is published here by Doubleday. I am told to expect an ‘electrifying new voice’ in his thriller about the kidnapping of the son of an important political spin doctor.

Tony Black is a leading exponent of ‘Scottish Noir’ (I think the term ‘Tartan Noir’ is now old-hat) and must be heartily sick of the label ‘Black is the new Noir’ but he does come heartily recommended by both Irvine Welsh and Ken Bruen, who know their bitter herbs and onions when it comes to such things. Tony’s new novel The Inglorious Dead comes from publisher McNidder & Grace, which sounds like a firm of solicitors in Balamory but is in fact based in Pembrokeshire in west Wales. Perhaps the best practitioner of visceral prose, and one of the genuinely original voices in crime fiction, is Andrew Vachss, who is seriously under-published in this country. The second novel in his new ‘Aftershock’ series, Shock Wave, is now out in America, though, from Pantheon.

And those are my choices to help me through the World Cup. New novels from an Ulsterman, a Scotsman, an American and a Brazilian. Guess which one will be smiling by the time the final comes round…

Flagging

Spring cleaning is late this year at Ripster Hall, but I simply have to make room for the flood of new books expected this summer. This means, of course, that some old stock has to be ‘churned’ as I believe the expression is, and the exercise always throws up a few conundrums.

Take for example The Double-Crosser, ‘A Superintendent Flagg novel’ by John Cassells, published by John Long in 1969. Now where did that come from? I have absolutely no memory of buying it and even less of reading it or indeed any other case solved by Superintendent Flagg, or for that matter any of the fifty-plus novels of John Cassells.

The author’s series hero, Flagg (above), was clearly a force to be reckoned with in his day, as it seems was John Cassells, one of the pen-names used by W. Murdoch Duncan (1909-1976) who also wrote as Peter Malloch, Neill Graham and Lovat Marshall. Even the skimpiest information available on the jolly old interweb shows that Duncan/Cassells/Malloch/Graham and Marshall produced at least 217 crime novels over a thirty year period, but I have to take the shame and admit that I have heard of none of them.

Should there be a devoted fan of John Cassells and Superintendent Flagg out there, willing to give comfort and shelter to The Double-Crosser, I am open to offers.

Pip! Pip!

The Ripster

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