Getting Away with Murder

 

 ’T was the Season to be Jolly

I have a theory that the publishing Christmas party season is starting earlier and earlier every year, probably to allow for the now traditional five-week vacation in the Maldives or Seychelles taken by most editors in order to make sure they are fully rested for their two-week skiing holidays in February.

  In the year just gone, for example, I date the celebrations of Saturnalia from the moment the champagne fountains were turned on at the Ellis Peters Awards at the end of November. From then on it seemed a constant stream of parties and lavish lunches, many of which I was actually invited to, almost up until Christmas Eve itself.

   One of the most enjoyable events is always the Publishers’ Publicity Circle bash, the one single occasion in the year when hard-working publicists are allowed to let their hair down. In order to ensure they have a few moments respite from the insatiable demands of the authors they have to protect and cosset the rest of the year, the publicists usually hold their Christmas party in a secluded and highly private location. Given my advanced age and frail health, I was delighted to hear that this year’s party would be held in a hospital staff club deep in London’s theatre land and I had visions of a restful evening of physiotherapy alongside some ageing thespians, but to my amazement I discovered that The Hospital Club had long since ceased to practice medicine and the atmosphere was not exactly conducive to controlling my rampaging blood pressure.

   However, thanks to the attentions of the kind and caring publicists who were throwing the party, I was extremely well looked after and it seems that my young apprentice Jake Kerridge, now crime reviewer for the Daily Telegraph, also appreciated the warm welcome on offer.

  It was at one of the season’s parties – I forget exactly which – that I was told – I forget by whom –that the thriller reviewer for the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Jehu, was himself the author of a thriller, The Monday Lunchtime of the Living Dead which was published in 1999 by the wittily-named Citron Press.

    I determined that as soon as I returned to Ripster Hall – although I have little memory of leaving London  – that I would seek out this rare volume and add it to my extensive Christmas List. Fortunately I must have been more nice than naughty in 2010 for Santa Claus delivered (with only a little help from www.Abebooks.co.uk) and it will now be my first read of calendar 2012.

 

Remembering Ross, John and Kenneth

My mention last month of the masterly Ross Macdonald prompted my old friend and fellow boulevardier Walter Satterthwait to get in touch from his island retreat in the Florida Keys where I believe he has adopted the nom de guerre of ‘Johnny Rocco’.

   For several years Walter – that unusual animal, an American with a threadbare passport – and I, along with our ‘third musketeer’ Sarah Caudwell, with whom we shared a publisher, roamed the literary salons of London and he and I even held a joint launch party when we had new books appearing at the same time.

   Yet Walter did not get in touch to reminisce about the days of our gilded youth, but rather to point out that he taken great pride in writing the introduction to a Ross Macdonald short story recently reprinted in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in America. As I expected, I found it to be a well-crafted piece and very worthy of a wider readership and so, with the kind permission of that magazine’s editors, Walter’s introduction to the man and the story can be found in the Shots features section.

 

Greetings from Asbury Park

It is sadly rare these days that I receive books from the famous Gollancz imprint, once a by-word for crime and thriller fiction with a galaxy of star authors (including  Francis Iles, John le Carre, Lionel Davidson, Anthony Price, Charles Willeford and Russell James), but nowadays concentrating very much on Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    Last year, however, I was grateful that they brought to my attention what I believe is called a ‘cross-over’ novel (which has nothing to do with transvestite night down the Charing Cross Road – which always used to be Thursdays, so I’m told); a positively Gothic crime/horrorblend called 15 Miles by American Rob Scott which introduced a drug-damaged homicide detective called ‘Sailor’ Doyle. Although I feared it would be well out of my usual fiction comfort zone, I must say I was hooked by it and thought it an inventive, deliciously over-the-top and genuinely scary thriller.

   I am thus looking forward to the next outing of ‘Sailor’ Doyle in Rob Scott’s forthcoming supernatural thriller Asbury Park which is published, by the legendary Gollancz (now part of the Orion Group) in February.

    And speaking of Orion, as I might as well, I am clearing space in my Boy Scouts’ 2012 Diary, for I keenly anticipate being busy reading three titles from their Weidenfeld imprint.

 First, in February, comes Raylan by the maestro himself, Elmore Leonard; the man who wrote Westerns before turning to crime fiction and then reinvented American crime fiction as a modern Western with the best hard-bitten dialogue in town.
    
  The character of Raylan Givens, a fearless US Marshal who returns to his native Kentucky to tackle crime, corruption and ancient family feuding, will already be known to the dedicated, though pitifully small number, of viewers of the two series of the excellent television show Justified which have been shown in the UK late at night on an obscure digital channel over the last two years.

    In May, Gone Girl, the third novel by the award-winning and devilishly talented young American Gillian Flynn will appear from Weidenfeld. (It’s pronounced Gill-ian with a hard ‘G’ not ‘Jilliane’. I know, I’ve met her and she told me so.)  Her first novel Sharp Objects took the CWA Dagger awards by storm and I highly rated her second, Dark Places, which reminded me of Ruth Rendell in her pomp and I can’t say better than that, so I am looking forward to her third.

In June  – at last – the new Alan Furst thriller, The Spies of Paris, arrives. I have said before and will continue to whine in frustration, but I find it simply appalling that Furst’s historical spy thrillers set in the Europe of the late 1930s and early 1940s have never received the recognition they deserve within the industry and remain amazingly overlooked by the Ellis Peters Award in particular.

   The advance blurb for Spies of Paris claims that the setting is 1939 and “Europe is in the clutches of the Phoney War”….. Now I always thought that back in late 1939, the uneasy quiet which descended following the Nazi invasion of Poland, was known – at least in Britain – as the “Bore War” at the time; the term “Phoney War” (probably coined by an American)  coming into popular usage much later. But then, I am of great age and the memory does play tricks. I am sure Mr Furst will have it spot on in his book.

 

Where to start with Scandinavian crime?

 

Well, the second series of The Killing ended excitingly enough and proved that Sarah Lund’s woolly sweaters are not only fashionable, but bullet-proof.  A third series, I am told, is on the way and a Lego version surely cannot be far behind to boost Denmark’s economy even further.

    For anyone looking for a late Christmas present, I should point out that hand-knitted wool sweaters – as seen in The Killing – are now available, priced around €280 (depending on the state of the Eurozone crisis) from manufacturers Gudrun & Gudrun in the Faroe Isles. No, really, they are. Check them out at www.gudrungudrun.com.

     At roughly the same time as The Killing was departing the small screen, the English language remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was being previewed on the big screen in London to a select audience. For legal reasons I could not attend, although other Shots staff members did and some were given to wax lyrical and at very great length about the experience.

    I had to make do with following the film’s release in the media and was intrigued to read a review in my Daily Telegraph which said: “David Fincher’s methodical adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s pulp thriller is the first of his films that feels beneath him…. Fincher and his crew’s admirable craftsmanship only serves to show up the source novel’s shortcomings.”

    I was also rather bemused to hear the BBC Radio 5 Live reporter covering the ‘red carpet’ at the premiere, declare enthusiastically to his listeners: “Stieg Larsson – is he the new Dan Brown?” Now that, I thought was a tad unfair for surely Dan Brown has suffered enough.

    Although I missed out on the red carpet showbiz premiere in London, I must thank the learned American website The Rap Sheet for pointing me towards: 

http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2011/12/the-girl-with-the-tramp-stamp-tattoo 

 which features a trailer for the film The Girl With the Tramp Stamp Tattoo and even on the briefest of viewings, this is a film I would pay good money to see.

    I am also indebted to The Rap Sheet for providing a link to a fabulous piece by Nora Ephron in the New Yorker magazine from July 2010: 

(http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2010/07/05/100705sh_shouts_ephron)

entitled “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut” which would alone be worth the price of a subscription.

   And I can hardly contain my excitement at the news that Dragon Tattoo, having conquered the world of books and films, is now destined to rule the world of comics as the rumour is it will form the basis of six graphic novels re-written by that wee Scottish wizard Denise Mina.  In 2011 Denise’s book The End of the Wasp Season won the prestigious Martin Beck award from the Swedish Crime Writers Association, though I do not know if this was part of the prize or a resultant obligation.

  
 

 

 

 
  We of course eagerly await Professor Barry Forshaw’s scholarly study of Scandinavian crime fiction, Death in a Cold Climate, which should be available any day now. To fill in the long empty hours until then, Professor Forshawgenerously asked me to select my favourite book of 2011 in a poll for his electronic periodical Crime Time. The results were notable in several respects: firstly for the number of ‘authors’ who nominated their own, self-published ebooks, and secondly for the near absence of any Scandinavian crime fiction. There was a significant exception, however, as one contributor nominated Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy as the best book of 2011….Perhaps he had only just got around to finishing it.

  Although it will not curb my enthusiasm for Professor Forshaw’s academic tome, I do fear that it cannot hope to be a comprehensive guide to the sub-genre as the Scandinavian invasion continues apace with new authors and new titles appearing even as Barry’s book does. 

 

Hot on his heels comes Swedish author Hans Koppel (the pen-name of the established children’s author Petter Lidbeck) with She’s Never Coming Back from Sphere, almost immediately followed by a Finnish crime novel, Nights of Awe by Harri Nykänen (from Bitter Lemon Press), which features Inspector Ariel Kafka of the Helsinki Violent Crime Unit, one of the only two Jewish policemen in Finland.

    Now I admit to knowing very little about modern-day Finland, other than it has a phenomenally high rate of literacy, a rather odd – sometimes dangerous – attitude towards alcohol and that is the home of the producers of the long-awaited film Iron Sky {tag line: In 1945 the Nazis went to the Moon. Now they’re coming back.},and so I am looking forward to trying Bitter Lemon Press’ latest find, for they always publish exceedingly interesting books.  I am particularly enthused by a review of Nights of Awe from a respected German newspaper which states: “Unlike his Scandinavian contemporaries, Nykänen has a sense of humour.”
    
    As far as I’m concerned; say no more.

  One Swedish author which I know Professor Forshaw does cover is Hakan Nesser and he is now so successful that his backlist from 13 years ago is being pressed into service by eager publishers. In April, Mantle will publish Hour of the Wolf, which has nothing to do with the 1968 Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, but is, I believe, the first English translation of Nesser’s 1999 novel Carambole.

     The last word on Scandinavian crime (and how many times have I wanted to say that?), at least for this column must, however, go to that Grand Master and true Godfather of Swedish crime fiction, Per Wahlöö and publishers Random House who have reissued two of Per’s dark and dystopian thrillers from the 1960s under their Vintage imprint.

  Wahlöö, who died in 1975, is best known for the ‘Martin Beck’ series of ten books written with his wife Maj Sjöwall which apart from being prime examples of the police procedural also form a coherent Marxist critique of Swedish society, and were reputedly planned as a single work which just happened to appear in ten volumes.

   The two solo titles being revived by Vintage are less well-known, though Murder on the Thirty-First Floor does have a cult following in this country, and both it and The Steel Spring feature Chief Inspector Jensen, a policeman in an unnamed European country in an unnamed year in the near future.

Due South

Moving away from the frozen north as quickly as possible, the crime fan in search of warmer (though no less inhospitable) climes can cross the Equator this month and catch up on the latest Michael Stanley thriller, Death of the Mantis, now out in paperback from Headline.

    The Botswana-set mysteries featuring detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu are already firm favourites among readers who prefer their crime fiction meat redder in tooth and claw than the gentle whimsy of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Mantis begins with the death of a Kalahari Ranger in the Gemsbok National Park and the initial prime suspects are nomadic Kalahari Bushmen. In a harsh landscape with a history of racial violence, are the Bushmen guilty, or being set up?

    In the space of only three books, Detective Kubu has attracted critical praise as well as a host of loyal followers and are unusual in that they are written by a double-act of old Africa hands, Michael Sears (left) and Stanley Trollip.

 

No need to beware the Ides of March

The may well be murmurings among the plebs and possibly scuffles on the floor of the Senate, but the legion of fans of Lindsey Davis (the Legio XX1 Londinium perhaps?) should notfear the Ides of March this year for on that date (the 15th for those deprived of a good classical education), publisher Hodder, with great timing, launches her new novel Master and God.

  Any grumblings and discontent among the reading masses would be an instinctive reaction to the fact that her new book does not feature her popular series hero Marcus Didius Falco. Instead, Master and God has as its central character no less a figure than the Emperor Domitian, which should not really come as a surprise to fans of Lindsey fans as she is known to be something of an authority on the Flavian dynasty of Roman Emperors – Vespasian, Titus and Domitian (for those deprived of …etc.).

    And if I may be permitted (of course I’m permitted, I’m writing this) to mention my own foray in Roman historical fiction, many of those with a classical education but failing eyesight, have been clamouring to know when  my 2005 novel Boudica and the Lost Roman would appear in Large Print form. Finally their offerings to the Lares domestici (house gods – for those…etc.) have been accepted and a most splendid paperback edition has just appeared courtesy of Dales Large Print.

Writers Worth Shouting About

I have always said that the inventive, often spooky, thrillers of Alex Scarrow were worth shouting about. I particularly liked his October Skies of a few years ago, but since then review copies of his books have been rarely seen here at Ripster Hall. However, I do hope I get a chance to read The Candle Man when it is published by Orion in April, as I am sure that too will be worth shouting about.

  In fact I know it will be as someone will have shouted out already and I know that because the entry for the book in the 2012 Orion catalogue has an illustration for the cover (right) which contains the instruction to the printer: Shout line to go here when cover is complete and ready for production. (I do hope someone notices the instruction and acts on it because as an eye-catching promotional blurb, that’s pretty pants.)

   From what I can glean, The Candle Man involves both the Titanic and Jack the Ripper, a combination which is surely a winner. I will certainly be shouting – that Alex Scarrow is one of our most talented young thriller writers and that I told you so.

    For several years I have also shouted long and hard the praises of American crime writer Marcus Sakey, whose new novel The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes will be published here by Bantam in July. Sadly for me, though probably not for him, I have been well and truly out-done in the shouting stakes as a female American blogger has recently and loudly declared that Marcus is ‘the sexiest mystery writer to appear on television’.

   I think Marcus’ television role was something to do with him climbing (or perhaps leaping at one bound) mountains in America, but I’m afraid I do not know the details. Frankly, as he writes extremely good crime novels (a view which I know isshared by Lee Child), has a delightful and attractive wife, can climb mountains and is now a sex symbol….well, I’m going off him.

 

Dead but not Gone

I have long had a soft spot for the Great State of North Carolina, from its mountains on one side to its fascinating Outer Banks coastline on the other (glossing over the tobacco fields in the middle), and enjoying its food, its music, the hospitality of its people and their ability to tell a good story.
   North Carolina has produced many fine mystery writers, most notably Margaret Maron and John Hart, and now I find a new name (over here) published by Severn House, Katy Munger, with a series of novels originally appearing under the pen-name Chaz McGee.

    The leading character is detective Kevin Fahey who has the unusual attribute of being dead, but that is no handicap to his sleuthing. In fact it might even prove an advantage, as it did in Randall and Hopkirk Deceased – the original series of which was called, I believe, My Partner the Ghost in the USA.

    But what really caught my eye about the series were the titles: Desolate Angel, Angel Interrupted and the latest, Angel of Darkness. From some unfathomable reason I feel a strange affinity with those titles, but can’t quite put my finger on why.

Toodles!

The Ripster.

     
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