Getting Away with Murder

 CrimeFest: Ship-Shape
and Bristol Fashion

As CrimeFest 2018 closed in May there was some concern among delegates at the prospect of the convention having to move to a new venue after ten successful years at the Bristol Marriott Royal hotel. (This was a move necessitated by the hotel, not the CrimeFest team and not, despite scurrilous rumours, because of the unruly behaviour of well-armed panellists taking part in the closing quiz.)

All fears can now be put to rest as CrimeFest 2019 has been confirmed as taking place over the long weekend 9-12 May and its new home will be the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, which I am told is not far from CrimeFest’s old stomping ground.

I have no idea what is planned in detail or who will be the featured authors, though if it does not clash with Eurovision, I can guarantee that a certain Icelandic ‘queen of crime’ will be found on the smoking balcony after dark. Full details will no doubt appear in due course on the official website

And speaking of CrimeFest 2018, I have finally managed to complete the homework I was set there.

At a panel on vintage thrillers, Lee Child recommended a favourite novel I had not read and even chastised me for not including it in my award-winning (have I mentioned that?) readers’ history Kiss Kiss Bang Bang though suggesting this might be because the author was not British. He wasn’t, he was French, and I’ve now tracked down a copy of Daddy and I must thank Lee for the recommendation. It’s a cracker.

Loup Durand (1933-1995) only wrote three or four thrillers and Daddy, which appeared in English in 1988, was his greatest success. It is a fast-moving manhunt story – or to be more accurate, a boy hunt, as the hero is a highly intelligent 11-year-old who carries in his prodigious brain the secret whereabouts of bank accounts worth zillions, which are greedily sought by the Nazi hierarchy. The poor lad is chased across Vichy France in 1942, helped at first by some ruthlessly efficient Spanish bodyguards and then by an American who might just be the boy’s estranged father.

It is a stunning thriller, crammed with ‘tradecraft’ on how to avoid or fool the Vichy police, the Gestapo, the SS and a wonderfully twisted Nazi academic, who hunt our young hero across France almost like ‘beaters’ pushing gamebirds towards the waiting guns. There is stone-cold shocking violence and some genuine cliff-hanging moments and would, I thought, make a breathless television series, only to discover that it had, with plot changes, under the title Entrusted, some time after the author’s death, though I do not believe it has ever been shown in the UK.

I can understand why Lee was so impressed with Daddy thirty years ago and I can attest that it still holds up as an impressive thriller today.


I met the charming Dominick Donald at a party back in February and he told me of his debut crime novel, Breathe, was set in the fog-bound London of 1952, which naturally got me thinking of Margery Allingham’s Tiger in the Smoke set in the same fog and published in 1952. Consequently I promised Dominick I would look out his book which, he assured me, was to be published in early 2019.

To my surprise, but hopefully not Dominick’s, publisher Hodder & Stoughton advanced publication to early in September which caught me rather on the hop as a copy arrived just as I was departing for the airport to attend a family business meeting in Sicily. As Breathe runs to over 500 pages and weighs in at 0.8 kg, luggage restrictions meant a choice between taking it or returning with the grappa I was expecting to be given. The choice, I am afraid, was clear-cut and the novel was left safely in England on my TBR pile.

The length and weight of Breathe however, is outdone by the new ‘Robert Galbraith’ novel Lethal White from Sphere, which has 650 pages and weighs in at 0.993 kg, which is only slightly less than a full bottle of Chianti, so J. K. Rowling’s fourth Cormoran Strike adventure has likewise had to stay home.

Books of the Month

October kicks off with the new John Rebus novel from Ian Rankin, In A House of Lies from Orion, as I mentioned last month, which is surely heading for the bestseller lists.

The month also sees another thriller by a well-known BBC face, John Simpson, from publisher John Murray. Moscow, Midnight is the third novel from the much-travelled World Affairs editor and features dissolute journalist Jon Swift, who lacks diplomacy and charm, but makes up for it by having a lifetime’s list of useful contacts, even in Moscow, which come in useful when a government minister is found dead, seemingly as the result of a sex game gone wrong. Swift is a bumptious, in-your-face character who can’t resist showing off (to the reader) and will not be to everyone’s taste as a hero, but as a portrait of a boorish journalist of the old school, it’s spot on.

There was a time when every quiz at a crime fiction convention would have the question ‘What does the ‘I’ in V.I. Warshawski stand for?’ (Don’t ring in; I know.) Several decades on, it is still a pleasure to discover that the Chicago private eye is back in business in Shell Game by the multiple award-winning Sara Paretsky. Even if she is a well-established and much-loved character, Paretsky does not believe in making life easy for her heroine whose latest case(s) involve murder, smuggled artefacts from the Middle East and a missing niece. It is all done with Paretsky's customary skill and a fierce sense of outrage against injustices at all levels.

Anything Deon Meyer writes is welcome, especially if it features his fantastic South African detective Benny Griessel and if we can’t have a new novel, then a novella will have to satisfy our cravings but the problem with The Woman in the Blue Cloak, published by Hodder, is that it simply leaves us wanting more. Anyone who has yet to discover Meyer – who writes in Afrikaans – or his wonderfully rounded and very human hero is in for a treat, as well as an education on life in modern South Africa, though one really has to ask where those people have been for the last decade. Meyer is one of the best crime writers on the planet. There, I’ve said it.

With his Nic Costa books, Yorkshireman David Hewson pulled off the difficult trick of creating a credible foreign detective and, just as with the late Michael Dibdin’s Auerlio Zen, the resulting stories were an examination and a celebration of all things Italian.  I was slightly worried to learn that Hewson had taken his hero Costa away from his usual Rome and dropped him on the ‘toe’ if Italy, the Calabrian coast only a shotgun’s length away from Sicily in The Savage Shore from the Crème de la Crime imprint. For an Italian policeman, this is dangerous territory indeed as it triangulates the activities of the Costa Nostra (Sicily), the Camorra (Naples) and the ’Ndrangheta (Calabria, though currently expanding north into Umbria). Hewson blends his modern crimes – and scarily ruthless modern criminals – with a fine sense of the history and the Greek heritage of the region, proving that Scylla and Charybdis are not the only monsters on this particular savage shore. This is an engaging, finely crafted novel which offers the tastes, smells and sights of Italy, both the good and the bad, in technicolour detail.

 Busy New Year

I have already received review copies of more than a dozen novels not due to be published until next year; one for May 2019, almost nine months hence. Of course, these publication dates may change at the whim of a publisher, as so many have this year, but one thing is for sure; the predominant flavour for the first three months of the New Year will be Australian and for that I blame the (deserved) success of Jane Harper in the last two years.

First up though is Scrublands by journalist Chris Hammer, published here by Wildfire (Headline) in January, which begins dramatically with a shooting in a remote country church – by the priest!


In February, Jane Harper herself enters the lists with her third novel The Lost Man, from Little,Brown in February and just as she did in Force of Nature, she conjures up a stark picture of the Australian outback.

Then in March we will be treated to a missing child mystery split between Australia and Kentucky, The Nowhere Man by Melbourne-based screenwriter Christian White, published by HarperCollins.

On a personal note, I am eagerly anticipating the latest wartime ‘Martin Bora’ thriller from my Italian archaeologist partner-in-crime Ben Pastor, The Horseman’s Song from Bitter Lemon Press in February.

Martin Bora, an aristocratic German army officer, is a hero to rank with the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and his adventures, written in English but first published in Italian, are finally appearing here, albeit spasmodically and out of sequence. The Horseman’s Song was, I believe, first published in 2004 (to rave reviews in the Italian press) and is set in 1937 around Bora’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. But all the Bora books stand on their own, all are immaculately researched and all are supreme examples of the historical thriller at its very best.


With all the media hype surrounding the BBC’s drama series Bodyguard last month, two television series went, if not under the radar, then probably under-valued.


Killing Eve, starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, was first shown in America (thanks, BBC) and I first heard of it from my colonial chums who raved about this raucous series about a psychopathic female assassin and the intelligence agent hunting her (or is it the other way round?). 

The third series of the frantic – and frantically funny at times – No Offence, set in Manchester and starring Joanna Scanlon and Elaine Cassidy, is already underway on Channel 4, gleefully subverting all the norms of the standard television police drama.

Both shows provide thrills, spills, shocks and cliff-hanging moments, give fabulous roles to outstanding female actors, and deserve audiences as big, if not bigger, than the somewhat overblown Bodyguard.

The Divine Sarah

There was a time when Sarah Weinman was widely regarded as one of the best crime fiction reviewers writing in English and her opinions on new mysteries were eagerly awaited. Of late Sarah has gone legit as a writer on the publishing scene, an editor and as a researcher into true crime, but whatever she sets her sights on, the result is always worth reading. Her latest book, The Real Lolita takes on a true crime case and one of the literary world’s iconic figures: Vladimir Nabokov.

Published here by Weidenfeld & Nicolson last month, The Real Lolita investigates the 1948 abduction of 11-year-old American girl Sally Horner and just how much the case influenced the writing of Nabokov’s notorious novel. This is literary detective work of the highest order and makes you think that if you are planning a literary crime, you really don’t want Sarah Weinman on your case.

A Role for Liam?

I have been reading up on Lionel Black, the author of some 17 crime novels and thrillers as well as non-fiction and the creator, in the early 1960s, of one of the few female secret agents in spy fiction, Emma Greaves (no, me neither).

Lionel Black was the pen-name used by Dudley Barker(1910-1980) – a literary agent before writing full time – and it seems that one of his most successful books, certainly in the USA, was his 1968 stand-alone thriller Outbreak.

Without wishing to spoil the enjoyment of anyone currently reading it (yeah, right), the plot involves the outbreak of a smallpox epidemic in London, the disease brought there accidentally from South America, by a gang of international money launderers and counterfeiters. Twin investigations are tracked in the narrative, which is fast-moving with several genuinely shocking moments, as doctors pursue the carriers of the disease and the police chase the gangsters. Naturally the plot lines converge and at one point the chief medical officer involved has his son kidnapped by the bad guys. As if the poor lad didn’t have enough to deal with, having been named Diggory…

In the crucial scene where Dr Gregson confronts the chief baddie who has his son, he says: “If any harm does come to that boy, I will devote my life to finding you and killing you. Wherever you go in the world, eventually I will find you, and kill you.”

Just imagine that speech as spoken by Liam Neeson in the film Taken, or perhaps even better as performed by Seth Macfarlane doing Liam’s speech in the voice of Kermit the Frog.

The Nazis are Coming

Admittedly that doesn’t quite have the ring of Paul Revere’s famous “The British are coming!” cry on his midnight ride, but in time-travelling thriller fiction, anything might have been possible.

A new novel by Jack Fernley, America Über Alles, published by Unbound, reveals that Hitler’s much vaunted secret weapon in 1945 was not the atom bomb, but time-travel. Faced with a final bunker scene which wasn’t going to end well, a hit squad of Nazis is sent back in time to 1776 and the war of colonial rebellion, or ‘Independence’ as some insist on calling it.

Fernley’s plot premise is that if American history can be manipulated, it could become the first truly fascist state and be an ally rather than an enemy by the time WWII comes around. For legal reasons I have not read the book but the idea of America becoming a bellicose, right wing state presumably lead by an egomaniac Führer figure surely puts it firmly in the Fantasy genre. Doesn’t it?

Not unbound just yet

Several months ago an over-excited reader of this column contacted me with the news that Unbound – the ‘crowd-sourcing’ publisher – was to republish the Philip McAlpine thrillers of Adam Diment some fifty-odd years after author and hero made a spectacular debut with The Dolly Dolly Spy.

Diment wrote four thrillers before disappearing (quite mysteriously) from the literary scene and the proposed Philip McAlpine Collection was to have contained them all. A recent check on progress, however, shows that the Unbound project is still only 5% subscribed, so die-hard Diment fans – whom I suspect are all gentlemen of a certain age (mine) – may have to wait a while longer.

Pulp Sunday

In recent years I have been prevented, either by medical misfortune or the strictures imposed by Network Rail, from attending the Paperback and Pulp Book Fair in London.

However I intend to make every effort to attend this year’s Fair, to be held on the 28th October at the Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way near Russell Square, where I will be looking for vintage crime and thriller titles in pristine condition at bargain prices and, of course, be interested in seeing if any of my own titles are on offer – and for how much.


The Ripster


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