Getting Away with Murder


The Bristoleers

Due to the ongoing investigation by His Majesty’s Twitter Police, I am limited to exactly what – and how – I can report on this thoroughly enjoyable four-day CrimeFest convention, let alone identify which delegates were taken round the back of the Bristol Old Vic and shot for crimes against ...well, I’m not sure as I was blissfully busy meeting old and making new friends in the crime writing community. And yes, drink was taken.

Among many notable moments caught on camera were meetings with Samantha Lee and David Howe; the first post-Covid reunion of four old Shots hands, namely Peter Guttridge, Mike ‘Tombstone’ Stotter and Prince Ali Karim; the ‘police procedural’ panel  chaired by Caro Ramsay who did a sort of reverse striptease and ended up dressed as a police officer; with John Lawton, forming the curmudgeon element of the team which won the pub quiz, then after a late VAR decision also managed to come second!; being on the comedy crime panel with the wonderful Ovidia Yu who came all the way from Singapore to buy one of my books (I may have misremembered that bit); and the celebratory James Bond panel chaired by Simon Brett, with Corinne Turner, Kim Sherwood and Charlie Higson (see Books of the Month).

[Photo credits with thanks to: CrimeFest, Ali Karim, Mike Stotter and David Howe.]

 Centenary Celebrations

What better way to celebrate the centenary of one of the most popular thriller writers of the 1960s and 70s, Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) than to publish a novel in homage to his style and technique? From Bagley’s dedicated publisher HarperCollins comes Outback by long-time Bagley fan Michael Davies, who completed the draft manuscript left after the author’s death which became Domino Island in 2019.

All the traditional Bagley elements are present and correct in Outback. The setting is exotic, wild and, of course, dangerous – the desert hinterland of South Australia; the unassuming Everyman hero – insurance assessor Bill Kemp; a dubious legacy possibly of great value – an abandoned opal mine – and  gang of well-armed villains. Oh, and Land Rovers, naturally.

The (sadly) late Christopher Fowler remembered Bagley as a writer who ‘hit on a winning combination of craftsmanship, authenticity and excitement’ and with Outback Michael Davies makes a fair fist of hitting those standards.

Green For Danger

It is, I am told, 75 years since Penguin paperbacks adopted their ‘green livery’ for detectives novels and thrillers and I have a much-loved collection of their original (plain green) incarnations and a fair few of the later illustrated covers.

To celebrate the anniversary, Penguin are going back to the green with new editions in their Penguin Modern Classics series of some famous thrillers which will appear over the summer. The first tranche of ten titles to be rolled out will be in July under the banner ‘Crime and Espionage’.

I began to feel my age when I realised I had read all but one of the forthcoming ten, but unreservedly recommend them to the uninitiated, particularly the Ambler, the Deighton, the MacDonald – oh, bugger it – all of them.

And talking of green Penguins, I had reason recently to consult a particular ‘Inspector Appleby’ novel by the great Michael Innes, in what I thought was my complete collection of his Appleby stories. The book in question was The  Daffodil Affair originally published in 1942 but mine was the 1964 Penguin edition and to my horror I discovered it was the one Appleby book missing from my library. (Surely an impossible crime worthy of the great detective himself.)


In my search for a replacement on the dark web (Abebooks) I discovered that a relatively new edition of The Daffodil Affair been issued by Agora Books (no, me neither) along with quite a few more of the Innes backlist as well. I have never seen any of the re-issues – and I still prefer my green Penguin covers – but if they introduce new readers to Innes’ school of highbrow comedy, then more power to their elbow, or plus potential ad cubiti  as Appleby might have said.

Finding Stella

I am about to discover Stella Blómkvist, who has been writing Icelandic crime novels about Stella Blómkvist for twenty-five years apparently. In August Corylus Books publish Murder at the Residence, which originally appeared in 2012 but is now published in English, translated by that master of fire and ice Quentin Bates, who is known in his adopted Iceland as Gráskeggur or ‘grey beard’.


I am not ashamed to admit I have no idea who Stella Blómkvist is, as nobody seems to, the author behind the pen-name being a well-kept secret, though many Icelanders will have a good idea as the books are popular there, as is the television series based on them about the feisty female lawyer protagonist called Stella Blómkvist.


For legal reasons I missed David Hewson’s The Medici Murders when published last year but thankfully I have caught up with the paperback edition out this month from Canongate. It was worth the wait, though I hated the waiting.

Set in Venice and partly in Verona (both instant plus-points in my book), an ageing, egocentric populist television historian is planning a documentary which will ‘solve’ a brace of five-hundred-year-old murders, involving and incriminating many famous names from the Renaissance including Medici, Soderini, Cellini and Michaelangelo.

Amidst the chaos of a cold and wet Carnivale, our obnoxious TV historian (costumed as a Doge of Venice) is found floating in a canal with a dagger embedded in him. A rapid investigation is initiated by a wonderful Carabinieri officer Valentina Fabbri and unfolds through her subtle interrogation – only interrupted by lovingly detailed descriptions of local delicacies – of the mild-mannered retired English archivist Arnold Clover, as possibly the only member of the victim’s entourage who does not have an obvious motive for murder.

The Medici Murders is as crammed with as many twists, turns and dark alleys as Venice itself and, stripping out the central murder plot, the wonderfully-described food, drink and artistic treasures therein could serve as a first-class guide to the city for the discriminating tourist. The Mazor Consegio (or whatever the Great Council is called these days) surely owes David Hewson a gold medal for services rendered to Venice , or at least a colourful sash.

Still in Italy and also (partly) Venice, though mostly Bologna, Italian Rules by Tom Benjamin [Constable] appeared as an ebook over six months ago, but now makes it into paperback.

It is in many ways a conventional private eye story, the interesting twist being that this is an Englishman, Daniel Leicester, plying his trade in Bologna. His latest case involves a Hollywood remake of a vintage Italian film noir, crucial reels of which have gone missing and the search is hindered rather than helped by Daniel’s star-struck daughter and having to accompany a Hollywood starlet to both cultural events and seedy wine bars. (And one of those bars I happen to know quite well.)

The Wisdom of Dorothy

I think it was Dorothy L. Sayers, commenting on an author who had published two novels in the same year, who said that such productivity was likely to be the result of either the demands of the taxman or an over-active thyroid.

I was reminded of that when I came across the name Simon McCleave, described as ‘the million-selling crime-writer’ of whom I had, unforgivably, never heard. Intrigued, I Googled the author and, unless the internet is lying, his first crime novel appeared in 2020 and his twenty-third comes out this year.

I find such an achievement positively exhausting and am more than ever feeling my great age.

Rumours of Retirement Not Exaggerated

The announcement of my impending retirement in August produced a slew of responses from readers. They ranged from the disbelieving – ‘I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to’ (Jake Kerridge); ‘You’re having a laugh!’ (Peter Buckman); ‘Tell me it isn’t so!’ (Antoni Deighton) – to the downright threatening: ‘You are absolutely not allowed to retire’ (Vaseem Khan); ‘Retire? You mustn’t and I say it with more force then many. I know where you live. Just saying’ (David Brierley).

Sadly not one single message was accompanied by a cheque, postal order or Bitcoin promissory note and I understand that the ‘Bribe the Ripster’ page has been taken down from the Go Fund Me site for legal reasons.


I managed only a brief meeting with Jake Lamar, whose novel Viper’s Dream [No Exit] was one of my picks of last month, at the recent CrimeFest. Fortunately, I was able to join the charming Monsieur Lamar and his equally charming wife for a relaxed lunch prior to their departure on the Eurostar for their Paris home.

The table talk ranged across jazz, particularly Duke Ellington and the leporine qualities of saxophonist Johnny Hodges, the benefits of a full English breakfast and the tedium of French crime-writing festivals. It was also revealed over lunch that Maxim Jakubowski had, much to his chagrin, never been invited to the prestigious Chianti Crime Festival in Italy, though I am sure it is only a matter of time before Jake is.


John Lawton’s latest is billed as the fourth ‘Joe Wilderness’ novel, but where is Joe? Lawton keeps us waiting, though the clue has always been in the title. Moscow Exile [Grove Press] is a continuation of Lawton’s sparklingly perceptive, cynically ruthless history of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of characters either defending or taking a scalpel to the British class system There are many familiar names herein, real and fictional, from the Troy family in all its glory (and one of them is also exiled to Moscow), to Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Harold Wilson and even H.G. Wells, and of course, eventually, the resourceful Joe Wilderness, not to mention a starring role for Berlin’s ‘bridge of spies’. Lawton weaves a magic carpet of a plot to fly the reader through three decades of betrayal and deception and spikes it with wicked barbs of humour, even, in the acknowledgements at the end, giving  a nod to Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, which must have confused his American editors. Intelligent, fascinating and gripping. Wunnerful stuff, as Arthur Mullard would say.

In To Die In June [Canongate]  Alan Parks, the brightest dark light on the Scottish crime scene, gives us another hectic few days (in 1975) in the life, and associated nasty deaths, of Glasgow detective Harry McCoy. Apart from his gruesome workload, this time McCoy is semi-under-cover assigned to a police station where corruption and Masonic loyalties are rightly suspected of hindering the fight against crime. This being Glasgow and 1975, there are cameos for Stanley Baxter, Lulu and an up-and-coming folk singer called Billy Connolly, as well due homage to the Tennents Lager Lovelies, which might need explaining to a younger generation. They were different times and Parks captures them, in all their seediness, quite gloriously.

At the recent CrimeFest, Simon Brett identified two types of fictional spies: those who drank cocktails and those who (usually British) had a cup of tea. The spies in James Wolff’s The Man in the Corduroy Suit [Bitter Lemon Press] are definitely in the latter category as this is very much Le Carré territory rather than Ian Fleming’s. And very good it is too, centred on the ‘Gatekeeping’ department of MI5 as it tackles a slew of disciplinary offence and botched operations by its officers. Who on Earth is vetting these people in the recruitment phase? The question of ‘who will vet the vetters?’ becomes crucial when a low-level MI5 officer collapses, the victim of what looks like a Kremlin-inspired poisoning. The investigation which follows, from London to a Suffolk country hotel, is packed with twists, turns, tradecraft and several surprises, without a car chase, gun fight or a vodka martini in sight. Terrific stuff by a pseudonymous  author you feel might have actually been there, done that and got the t-shirt. This is the third novel in a sort of trilogy and though it is not necessary to have read the previous two James Woolf thrillers, you are hereby recommended to do so.

Given that the first James Bond novel Casino Royale was published in the year of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it seemed only logical to try and get a new Bond story out for the Coronation of King Charles III. The author chosen, Charlie Higson, was approached in February 2023 and was remarkably cool under fire when told that the finished manuscript had to be at the printers by the end of March. The result was the novella On His Majesty’s Secret Service [Ian Fleming Publications], which has an ageless Bond taking on Æthelstan of Wessex, the self-proclaimed usurper to the throne with a private army training secretly in Hungary. Along the way he locks horns (if that’s the right phrase) with a stunning and very fierce Icelandic lady, resulting in all the fire and ice you might expect. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT – the Coronation goes ahead as planned.

The plot of The Last Word by Taylor Adams [Hodder] centres on ebook reader and reviewer Emma who gives a gruesome serial killer thriller a one star review simply because you can’t give zero – and we’ve all been there. Having criticised it at length as implausible and cliché-ridden, she finds herself being messaged and then stalked and then terrorised by the author who doesn’t take criticism lightly. Strange, then, that having spotted and criticised all the standard ‘slasher’ tropes in the book, she should isolate herself in a big creepy house miles from anywhere, unarmed and with only a wimpy Labrador and a rather odd neighbour for company, as the mysterious author is determined to get, literally, the last word. Taylor Adams is billed as ‘the critically acclaimed author of Tik Tok sensation No Idea’  and though I have no idea what that means, I am going to be careful and will certainly not be giving it one star.


Ironically, my review copy of The Invisible Web  by prize-winning German crime-writer Oliver Bottini [MacLehose Press] arrived whilst I was in Germany. In fact I was in Berlin, where the novel opens though the action quickly moves to Freiburg  and the Black Forest.

Which is, so far, about all I know as I have not yet had the chance to fully appreciate this latest case for Chief Inspector Louise Boni, whose previous adventures in Bottini’s Black Forest Investigations series I have much enjoyed.

Bucket List

One reason for my impending retirement is to spend more time with my groaning To-Be-Read pile of books – books I want to read rather than feel I have to. This, however, is not one of them:



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