Friday, 30 October 2015

Forgotten Book - Tidings of Joy

Today's Forgotten Book is a collaborative effort from 1936 by two writers who strike me as an interesting if slightly unlikely partnership. Tidings of Joy was one of a handful of titles co-written by George Goodchild and C.E. Bechhofer Roberts. I first came across Goodchild's detective fiction when I was a small boy, while Roberts is someone I discovered much more recently - and I was rather intrigued, and perhaps surprised, to be told by a rare book dealer that his crime fiction is enthusiastically collected by some people.

Goodchild had a long and prolific career, and is best known for his novels and short stories about Inspector McLean. When I was a young boy, my grandmother lived with us, and every week she read "The Weekly News",which I started to read too. McLean stories were a staple of "The Weekly News",and for a time I enjoyed reading them -until, aged about ten,  I realised they were becoming very formulaic indeed.

Roberts was an interesting character, an Englishman with strong German connections at a time when that probably led to a degree of ostracism. He was fascinated by criminology, among many other things. Spiritualism was a particular interest, but he became very sceptical, as is clear from his portrayal of a dodgy duo involved in spiritualism in Tidings of Joy.

The eponymous Joy is a wealthy woman with a habit of widowhood. She and her latest husband, a drunk, are involved in  a car crash, and rescued by a young British doctor called Connell. Joy takes af fancy to the doctor, which he reciprocates at first, before realising she is a dangerous woman to know. The plot thickens from there. It's a light but reasonably unorthodox mystery which I found highly readable. Sayers admired an earlier book by this pair, and I hope to be writing more about them before long.

Forgotten Book - The Red Redmaynes

The Red Redmaynes was published by Eden Philpotts in 1922, the year in which he celebrated his 60th birthday. He had come to detective fiction relatively late, and to this day he remains best known for his books set in and around his beloved Dartmoor (which also features in this story.) He is also remembered as someone who knew the young Agatha Christie, gave her advice, and was the dedicatee of one of her novels.

The Red Redmaynes isn't a tightly plotted whodunit with a large pool of suspects of the kind for which Christie, Anthony Berkeley and others would become celebrated later in the same decade, but it does boast one notable plot twist, a pleasing device that on its own suffices to lift the story out of the ordinary. Another notable feature is that the "great detective", an American called Peter Ganns, only makes an appearance in the second half of the story. There's a particular reason why Philpotts deployed this unusual structural device, but to explain why would be a spoiler.

Throughout the book we follow a likeable thirtysomething Scotland Yard man, who comes across Robert Redmayne while holidaying in the south west, and then encounters a pretty young woman who, he discovers to his dismay, is happily married. But then her husband disappears, presumably murdered by Robert Redmayne, who also goes missing.

The plot thickens nicely from that point, although by today's standards the story moves at a fairly slow pace. Its unorthodoxy kept me interested, and I'm rather surprised that Philpotts wasn't invited to join the Detection Club when it was formed a few years later. Perhaps Anthony Berkeley or Dorothy L. Sayers didn't approve of his work, but I'm not sure why that would be, given that the Club's founder members included some relatively minor talents. A little mystery about a rather interesting writer.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Writing Life

The writer's life is often said to be a solitary one, although I guess there are plenty of people whose experience of office life makes this seem attractive rather than lonely. But I realised some time ago that one of the sub-texts of this blog is that it reflects my belief that, even for a mid-list writer who is far from being a mega-seller, the writing life can be hugely appealing. It's a belief that has survived some mishaps in my writing career, as well as many very happy moments, and one point I often make when giving talks about writing is that, in fact, the writing life offers plenty of opportunities for enjoyable socialising.

As The Golden Age of Murder explains, the Detection Club enjoyed great success because it offered the first social network for writers. Even those who prefer our own company much of the time can still relish the chance of an occasional get-together with like-minded people. Last week brought varied opportunities for me to enjoy social occasions with other writers.

These included dinner with Douglas Stewart, whom I've featured on this blog more than once before. Doug is a fellow lawyer as well as fellow crime writer, and he was stopping over at Manchester Airport on his way from the Isle of Man to Las Vegas. It was great to catch up with him, as well as with a mutual friend who was also a colleague of mine for many years. Not all social events with lawyers are fun, in my experience, but this one definitely was..

Next came a wonderful trip to Oxford in the company of Peter Gibbs, a highly successful writer for television and stage, as well as a novelist whose Settling the Score is one of the best novels ever written about professional sport. Peter introduced me to Vincent's, a sportsman's club in the heart of the city which (given my lack of sporting prowess) I never even knew existed. Fascinating. Peter was once a prominent professional cricketer, not far short of Test match standard, and I really used to enjoy watching him bat. A highlight of our trip was being shown round the cricket pavilion in the Parks where his name is emblazoned on the boards listing the Oxford cricket Blue who have played in the University match. We also attended a drinks party at Balliol hosted by the Society of Authors - an excellent organisation which provides a great deal of helpful advice to authors. If you are eligible to join, I strongly recommend membership.

And then there was a lunch in Boroughbridge for members of the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association. It was great to see there Peter N. Walker, who founded the Chapter 28 years ago. I met Peter and his wife Rhoda at that first meeting, and we've been friends ever since. By one of those strange coincidences, Peter was the author of the books on which Heartbeat was based - and the lead screenwriter for Heartbeat was,,,Peter Gibbs.It's a small world.

Again, the CWA, and its regional chapters, offer a great deal to members, and I've benefited enormously from being a part of the Northern Chapter. I very much hope that any authors who feel they'd benefit from meeting pleasant and like-minded people will consider joining up with a writers' organisation. If my experience is anything to go by, you will never regret it..


Monday, 26 October 2015

Following in the Footsteps of the Great...

Reports that Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write a second Hercule Poirot novel have provoked plenty of interest and comment. There are conflicting views on whether "continuation novels", where present day writers produce new stories featuring long-established characters, are a Good Thing, so I thought I'd contribute a few observations to the debate.

The first thing to say is that there's  nothing new about the idea of continuation stories. People other than Conan Doyle started writing about Sherlock Holmes a very long time ago. But it's fair to say that continuation novels have become much more popular, and common, in recent years. So we have new James Bond stories, written by a variety of very distinguished writers, new Hercule Poirot stories from Sophie, new Wimsey stories from Jill Paton Walsh, new Albert Campion stories by Mike Ripley, and so on.

Some readers take the view that they want to stick with the original stories by the original authors, and that is, of course, a perfectly understandable and reasonable choice. It is also occasionally suggested that there's something inappropriate about present day writers writing new stories about characters created by others. This is a viewpoint I understand, but do not share.

There's nothing at all wrong, in my opinion, in writers - regardless of whether or not they are already bestsellers- being paid to produce stories that people want to read. Those writers still produce books about their own characters, but I am pretty sure that their attitude towards writing about other characters is much the same as mine, when I wrote the stories in The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: there is something very pleasurable about soaking oneself in a fine writer's work, and seeking to give it new life. It's a challenge to one's professional skills as an author. My guess is that this, coupled with the sheer fun of it, is why the likes of Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks, Anthony Horowitz, Sophie, Mike, Jill, and company relish tackling continuation fiction.

For me, the real issue - as with any piece of writing - is whether the story is well done. A poor continuation novel is at least as disappointing as any other poor novel. There are, for instance, some rather laboured Sherlockian pastiches around, though there are many good ones. But some continuation stories are highly enjoyable. The fact that continuations are becoming more commonplace suggests that there is a significant demand for such books, and if this trend continues, I wouldn't be surprised if more detectives from the past are given a fresh incarnation in the 21st century.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Forgotten Book - Henbane

Henbane, by Catherine Meadows, published in the US as Doctor Moon, is a long-forgotten book dating from 1934, which I have wanted to track down for ages. There were two reasons for my curiosity. First, it's a fictionalisation of the Crippen case, which has fascinated me for decades. Having been responsible for my own take on Crippen in Dancing for the Hangman, I'm always keen to see what other writers make of the story. Second, Dorothy L. Sayers lavished praise on the book in one of her reviews for the Sunday Times, and she was no mean judge.

I wasn't disappointed. This is a very readable and capably written novel, and it's all the more surprising that Meadows, so far as I know, published only one other novel. That was Friday Market,another book inspired by a real life crime, namely the Armstrong case. I do wonder if Meadows was a pen-name for someone else,but I've  not found any evidence of this. If anyone knows the answer,or has more information about the mysterious Ms Meadows, I'd be glad to learn it.

Meadows sticks fairly closely to the established facts of the Crippen case,but makes some amendments - more, I think, than Sayers realised. Caspar Moon, who stands in for Crippen, is very sympathetically presented, and so too is his secretary and lover, based on Ethel Le Neve. It follows that his wife Cora (called Flora in the novel) is presented vividly but negatively, as a man-chasing and utterly selfish domestic tyrant. Sayers said: "the book is not merely a costume-piece, still less a study in morbid psychology; it is a fine novel of human passion and suffering."

I haven't kept a statistical record, but it's my very strong impression that the Crippen case is referenced more frequently in Golden Age fiction than any other real life case - including such notable cases as Maybrick and Wallace. The story was sensational in its day, and remains absolutely full of interest - so much so that I enjoyed writing Dancing for the Hangman as much as any other novel I've ever written. As with Maybrick and Wallace, there 's room to debate what actually happened. I don't go along with the theory advanced a few years ago,based on claims relating to DNA, that Crippen's wife survived, and I think it very likely (as, I believe, did Agatha Christie) that Ethel was not quite the dewy-eyed innocent portrayed by Meadows. But Meadows' story, though told at a pace that is very leisurely by today's standards, remains enjoyable, and it's baffling that a writer of such accomplishment should have vanished seemingly without trace. .  

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Agatha and Anthea

Two books today, totally different from each other, but both enjoyable. Little Grey Cells, sub-titled The Quotable Poirot is a stocking-filler for the Christie fan in your life, a small, nicely presented book which includes not only Poirot's words of wisdom on a range of subjects, but also a couple of short pieces written by Agatha Christie herself about her love/hate relationship with the little Belgian.

I was interested in Christie's admission that "I never do see pictorial things clearly". She had an impression of Poirot when she invented him, rather than a complete picture. It may seem odd for a novelist to possess a limited visual sense, but I have to confess that I'm the same. I don't have a clear image in my mind of Hannah Scarlett or Daniel Kind or Harry Devlin, and even when I set out to evoke the atmosphere of the Lake District or Liverpool, I find I have to work very hard to do so. One of the things that has most pleased me about reviews of the Lake District Mysteries over the years is the fact that my descriptions of the Lakes have found widespread favour, even among those who know the area far better than I do. Achieving this has been the most challenging aspect of the series - much more so than dreaming up those convoluted plots.

Agatha found it even easier, of course, to come up with elaborate whodunit plots, though her note books reveal that, inevitably, this involved a degree of trial and error as she played with ideas. Many of the Poirot novels rank among her finest achievements, and this is due in large measure to the fact that, although Poirot irritated his creator at times, his outlook on life largely reflects hers. If you want to learn more about it, you can glean quite a bit of insight from Little Grey Cells, put together by David Brawn, who is the senior editor at Harper Collins dealing with all things Christie-related. He's also, I should disclose, the chap who acquired the rights to The Golden Age of Murder, so you will appreciate that I regard him as a man of impeccable taste!

I turn now to a crime novelist of today. Anthea Fraser kindly contributed a guest blog recetnly about her latest novel, A Tangled Thread, which has been published by Severn House. Although I've read quite a number of Anthea's books, almost all of them have been in the series featuring David Webb, a shrewd and likeable cop. This novel is different, tracing the possibility of an unexpected link between seemingly unconnected deaths. It's written in the smoothly readable style familiar to Anthea's existing readers, and is a welcome reminder of her talents.

Monday, 19 October 2015

E.R. Punshon

Technology has its downsides, but one of its great benefits has been that technological advances in publishing have made it possible for a host of once obscure, and often unobtainable old books to become available again, at modest prices. Yes, the quality of those books is variable, but far better to read the occasional dud than not be able to check out the work of interesting writers. Recent months have seen a host of books, and indeed publishers, make their presence felt, and some of the authors concerned are certainly new names to me - an example is J.C. Lenehan, a minor Golden Age novelist whose work I have yet to sample.

E.R. Punshon is another to have benefited. I've talked about Punshon's books several times on this blog, as well as in The Golden Age of Murder, and I've mentioned his interest in social issues of his time, as well as the sometimes startling variability in quality of his work. He had a long writing career, though his hey-day was certainly in the Thirties, when Dorothy L. Sayers reviewed him very generously, and he was elected to membership of the Detection Club. I've even been lucky enough to find his Death of a Beauty Queen (one of his better books), with a splendid Detection Club-related inscription written in his rather spidery hand.

Fender Tucker's small press, Ramble House, has been publishing Punshon titles for a few years now, and Dictator's Way and Diabolic Candelabra are worth checking out. Their latest titles are both extremely interesting. Bobby Owen, Black Magic, Bloodshed and Burglary is a collection of short stories, which I look forward to reading. Punshon's recurrent weakness was verbosity (cunningly reflected in the book's title!), and the demands of the short story form no doubt provided a good discipline for him.

Documentary Evidence is an exceptionally rare "dossier" novel originally published under the name Robertson Halkett. And Six Were Present is the last of the Bobby Owen police stories, posthumously published in the Fifiies. All these books benefit from introductions by Gavin L. O'Keefe. I haven't mentioned Gavin before on this blog, but he is a talented chap - not only a researcher and writer but also an artist whose artwork adorns the covers of countless Ramble House books. There is a fun aspect to Ramble House's list (who else would publish the complete works of Harry Stephen Keeler?) that is extremely engaging.

I'm also a fan of Dean Street Press, masterminded by Rupert Heath, a well-known literary agent (several agents are moving into publishing, an interesting development that I'll talk about here one of these days.) DSP publish a wide range of books, including cricket books and detective stories by Tim Heald, a fine writer who unfortunately is not in the best of health just now. DSP have also done Golden Age enthusiasts proud, with an extensive series of reprints introduced by Curtis Evans, including plenty of Punshon titles, such as the excellent Information Received and Mystery of Mr Jessop.

I'll be discussing some of these Punshon books in more detail in due course, but in the meantime, I like to imagine how thrilled Punshon would have been in his later years, when he was still writing, but for a pretty small readership, to know that his books would enjoy a fresh life in the twenty-first century. For all technology's downsides, it gives us a great deal to delight in..  

Friday, 16 October 2015

Forgotten Book - The Counsellor

J.J. Connington was once well-regarded as an author of Golden Age detective fiction, and he was a member of the Detection  Club from its early days, but his work had fallen far out of favour until the recent revival of interest in Golden Age fiction. He was among the more skilled plotsmiths of the twenties and thirties, and my Forgotten Book for today is one of the novels he wrote late in his career, The Counsellor, first published in 1939.

This is one of a pair of novels featuring Mark Brand, dubbed (and referred to relentlessly throughout the story as) "The Counsellor". He's a rich young man who has found an unexpected calling as a radio detective. Connington was trying something fresh here, and he was very much ahead of his time. It wasn't until many years later that the idea of a radio gumshoe really caught on, with that wonderful series Shoestring, starring Trevor Eve. I once read a Shoestring novelisation by the late Paul Ableman which like so many TV tie-ins was only so-so, but the scripts were sharp and engaging, and I was very sorry when Eve walked away from the show. (The second episode of the excellent Unforgotten last night provided a reminder of his compelling screen presence.)

Back to The Counsellor. He runs a slick operation in Oxford Street, with a loyal staff ready to deal with any query his listeners can throw at him. His fancy is caught by a letter from a chap who tells him about a young woman who has gone missing. Brand picks up clues as to the girl's destination, and goes haring up to Scotland after her. He only finds her missing car, and evidence that she has gone through a form of marriage with a young American.

The plot thickens from there, but I must say that I found the mystery only average by Connington's standards. Never mind.: I like the way he kept trying to do something different with the traditional detective story, and also his passionate commitment to "playing fair" with the reader. Brand's second case was a definite improvement on this one, with a stronger plot, and I'm rather sorry that the series didn't continue.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Adventures of Moriarty - edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Tomorrow sees the publication of a new, nicely packaged, and very substantial collection of stories edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Its full title is The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty, and its tag line "The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes' Nemesis". The book is published by Robinson, whose Mammoth series has proved so popular over the years.

As a lifelong fan of Conan Doyle, Sherlock and Moriarty, I'm pleased to say that I have a story in this book, and in a way, it brings my ventures into Sherlockiana full circle. Back in 1997, Robinson published a collection edited by Mike Ashley, who is, like Maxim, a real expert as well as an industrious compiler of first-rate anthologies. The Mammoth Book of the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes included my very first Sherlockian pastiche, "The Case of the Suicidal Lawyer".

Writing that first story gave me a taste for further occasional ventures into Sherlockiana, and led ultimately to my producing  The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes,
an ebook collection of six Sherlock stories with various bonus items which is available on various Amazon sites, in the UK, US, and elsewhere. I've been gratified that this collection has sold well since it came out last year, and continues to do so.

Writing a story focusing on Moriarty represented a slight change of tack, of course. I had a lot of fun writing "The Case of the Choleric Cotton Broker", and it touches on two famous real life criminal cases. I rather feel that it's the best of my pastiches to date, and I'll be interested to see the reaction to it. In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to diving into Maxim's anthology. Fellow contributors include Len Tyler, Michael Gregoriou, Alison Joseph, Jurgen Ehlers, Barbara Nadel, Cilla Masters, Christine Poulson and...well, the list goes on. Some great reading lies ahead.

Monday, 12 October 2015


It's always a delight to receive the latest copy of CADS, which celebrated its 30th birthday not long ago. This is issue 71 of Geoff Bradley's "irregular magazine of comment and criticism about crime and detective fiction" and it's a very strong issue, with lots of good things. In all honesty, I should add that from my perspective one of them is a long and lovely review of The Golden Age of Murder by Doug Greene, one of the genre's great experts. I'm glad to say the book also attracts quite a bit of comment in the letters column. But part of the significance of the review is that Doug also contributed to the very first issue of CADS all those years ago, and this underlines the point that Geoff's work attracts a great deal of loyalty, such is its quality.

The issue begins brilliantly with an article by Tony Medawar about a collaborative project that, sadly, never saw the light of day. A diverse group of leading writers got together in 1975 to write a round-robin mystery, rather in the manner of The Floating Admiral, although not all the contributors were members of the Detection Club. Those who were included Harry Keating, Christianna Brand, Len Deighton and (improbably, you may think) Patricia Highsmith. The story was meant to be recorded on LP and cassette, but the full and final version failed to materialise. What a shame.

I've asked Len about this, and 40 years on, he has no memory of the project whatsoever. The memories of other contributors also seem to be lost. This is not unusual - I found when researching The Golden Age of Murder that people's memories are very fallible, and my experience as a lawyer interviewing witnesses taught me as much, many years ago. This makes me feel a bit better when my own memory proves fallible, as it often does. In reality, 'facts' are very often a matter of opinion or questionable recollection, and that's true even in the case of 'facts' recorded in apparently authoritative documents.

If there were a league table of the most notable researchers into the Golden Age, who battle constantly with such difficulties, I'd probably put Tony at the top of the list. His second article in the issue covers a hitherto unknown story by Anthony Berkeley. Quite a find. Barry Pike and John Cooper are leading experts on GA fiction of very long standing, and both contribute very interesting articles. John's tackles Fiona Sinclair, of whom I'd never even heard. She sounds well worth checking out.

There are many other good things too. Examples include Scott Herbertson's report on the Bodies in the Library conference, Mike Ripley's piece on Eric Ambler, and Kate Jackson's article about the Chinese detective Lily Wu, who was also new to me. Compared to the likes of Barry, John and  Tony, Kate is one of the new voices among young GA enthusiasts, and the quality of her writing and research suggests to me that she will become a leading figure among critics of the genre in years to come. Well, that's for the future, but in the meantime, if you like traditional crime fiction, CADS 71 is a must-buy.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Forgotten Book - The Corpse with the Sunburnt Face

The Corpse with the Sunburnt Face by Christopher St John Sprigg, first published in 1935,is a rare book by an author who has returned to public attention almost eighty years after his death in the Spanish Civil War. I've expressed my enthusiasm for his work on this blog more than once, and I'm gratified by the success of Death of an Airman, republished this year by the British Library. This particular novel displays once again his appealing sense of humour, although I do have reservations about the book as a whole.

The title is a good one, I think, although it is a long time before that particular corpse actually makes an appearance in the story, at a point where the plot complications are already coming thick and fast. I don't think I'm giving much away at all when I say that one minor but entertaining feature of the story is the use made of fake tan!

The first part of the book is set in one of those English villages beloved of Golden Age novels. Sprigg amuses himself at the start by having his vicat - of course the vicar plays a part in this kind of story, how could he not? - muse that "Nothing ever happens in Little Whippering". This is, naturally, the cue for all kinds of mayhem to take place. A mysterious and irascible stranger is the new tenant of "The Wilderness" and it soon becomes clear that there are dark secrets in his past. In due course, the body count starts to rise...

In the second part of the book, the actions shifts to an imaginary African country, where a policeman called Campbell pursues his investigation into a rather convoluted crime. One of the most interesting passages in the book comes when a senior British official says: "It's easy enough to call some deep-seated sentiment a superstition. Come to that, the British Empire s a superstition. There's only a group of independent nations acknowledging the imaginary domination of a hereditary Crown. Another superstition. There's no such thing as the British race, there's just a queer mingling of Normans, Gaels, Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Danes, and ancient Britons, with a good many French, Dutch, Italians, and Jews. Still another superstition! Yet these superstitions were real enough for men to die for them in millions during the war!"

I feel sure this passage represents the views of Sprigg, and I kept his views on race in mind when I considered his depiction of black people in the book. He was a progressive, yet there are snippets in the novel which, because of the language used, make for slightly uncomfortable reading nowadays.

More generally, I'm not convinced that the book works. I liked the witty lines, and there are plenty of them, and the plot has some neat twists, but it's rather rambling and - personally - I found it lacked grip in comparison to Death of an Airman. However, it illustrates Sprigg's praiseworthy fondness for trying to vary his approach, as well as his considerable writing skills..

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Unforgotten - ITV review

Unforgotten, the new ITV crime drama which began this evening, benefits from a superb cast and a decent script. And also, I think, from comparison with another new crime show, From Darkness, which started on BBC on Sunday. There are striking similarities between the openings of both stories - human remains are found by builders, and off we go into cold case territory. But overall, I felt that Unforgotten made the stronger start.

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are the detective duo who try to figure out the identity of the skeleton buried in concrete on the site of a building in London, and they make a good pair,likeable and professional and thankfully free of most of the cliches which bedevil so many telly cops. As their investigation moves along, we are also introduced to a host of assorted, and seemingly unconnected characters. An affable priest, a successful businessman, a caring bereaved mother, an elderly man with a wife suffering memory loss. What secrets might they share?

There's a clue to the underlying theme of Chris Lang's script when Walker muses on the question of whether a crime becomes less serious just because it took place a very long time ago. In these troubled times when historic sex abuse cases are so much discussed, it's a very thought-provoking question. I felt that the story was intriguing, without (so far) matching the brilliance of the first episode of Broadchurch or the early series of Taggart. As for the actors - Trevor Eve, Hannah Gorden, Tom Courtenay, Claire Goose, Bernard Hill, and so on - it would be a pleasure to watch them in almost anything.

By contrast, I felt that From Darkness moved too slowly. Katie Baxendale's script had several good moments but it also indulged in quite a lot of time-wasting moodiness that failed to advance the story and didn't even offer much insight into character. It did, however, warm up rather nicely towards the end. I'll gladly give it another look, but given that life is short, the early evidence suggests that if you have to choose between one show or the other, Unforgotten is likely to prove more compelling.  

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Anthea Fraser and A Tangled Thread

It's strange but true that, despite having posted more than 2000 pieces on this blog since its inception, there are still a good many authors of note whom I have yet to cover. The number includes quite a few authors with whom I've been friendly for a long time,and someone who comes into that category is Anthea Fraser. 

Anthea was already a very well-established author when I first met her and her late husband at a CWA conference many years ago. I read quite a number of her books featuring DCI Webb- twelve of the titles in the series had titles with a shared link, all taken from "Green Grow the Rushes-O". It's a series that I can heartily recommend. She's also written a wide variety of other books, and the publication by Severn House of her latest, A Tangled Thread, prompted me to invite her to contribute a guest post. I'm glad to say that she accepted, and here is what Anthea has to say - I was particularly interested to learn of her map-drawing approach to her craft, which I wasn't previously aware of:

"My mother was a published novelist and I’ve been writing virtually all my life. My first novels were on paranormal themes with a crime element in them, and I then turned to straight crime with sixteen books featuring DCI Dave Webb. I’m now working on the tenth about Rona Parish, a biographer and freelance journalist. What I enjoy about a series is that the settings and characters are ready waiting for you when you embark on a new book – like walking into a strange room and seeing people you know.

I also enjoy the freedom of stand-alones involving characters whose story will be completed within the covers of one book, and tend to write them alternately with the series. My latest novel, A Tangled Thread, is an example, where three separate stories are gradually and unexpectedly brought together. Families fascinate me and the tensions between them – the loves, hates, jealousies, rivalries and ultimate loyalties – are, I find, perfect ingredients for a crime story.

Before I start to write, I draw detailed maps and plans of my locations, and sometimes tear out illustrations of interiors from magazines to use as rooms in the main house in the book. By describing houses and streets in some detail, I hope to make readers feel as at home in the environs of the book as I do."

I’m lucky enough to have very vivid dreams which I’m able to remember when I wake, and in fact dreamed the plot of at least one novel and several short stories, which was very useful!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Silent Nights - selling like hot cakes!

I'm delighted to say that my third anthology of Golden Age crime fiction, Silent Nights, has just been published by the British Library in its Crime Classics series. And I'm absolutely thrilled to say that, even before publication, the first print run had sold out, and there was a large scale reprint making the book - already - the most commercially successful of the many anthologies that I've edited.

The book is a collection of Christmas mysteries, and of course our hope is that, like Mystery in White last year, this book will become a popular stocking-filler. From my point of view, it is fascinating to see that the British Library has, in the course of this year, successfully challenged the received wisdom of the publishing world that "short story collections don't sell". The danger of taking such a view is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You would not, perhaps, believe how difficult I've found it at times to interest publishers in contemporary anthologies with a range of stellar authors contributing quite splendid original stories. But  I am sure that many readers love short stories just as much as I do, and I'm enormously grateful that the British Library phenomenon has proved that it is perfectly possible to enthuse a large number of readers about an anthology.

Is this just a Christmas-present buying phenomenon? The answer is an emphatic no, because Capital Crimes and Resorting to Murder have been selling exceptionally well throughout the summer, and now into the autumn. I've had a huge amount of very positive feedback about both collections, and I hope that Silent Nights will also offer a bit of something for everyone who likes an engaging crime story with a seasonal flavouring.

As usual, I've tried to blend major authors, and stories that have been anthologised before, with some mysteries that will be unfamiliar to almost everyone. One story in particular stands out in my mind. It's a very obscure story called "Parlour Tricks" by the equally obscure Ralph Plummer. About a year ago, Bob Adey drew it to my attention, sending me a copy from his own amazing collection. He and I had been discussing holiday mysteries in the context of my research for Resorting to Murder, but the story gave me the idea for a Yuletide anthology. Sadly, Bob died before he could see the book, but I like to think that he would have enjoyed it.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Forgotten Book - Evil Eye

One of the mysteries of crime fiction is why, even today, so few of the crime novels of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac have been translated into English. This was the duo who gave us Vertigo and Les Diaboliques, yet even when they were in their prime,in the Fifties, a good many of their collaborative novels went untranslated. And try laying your hands on an English language version of their earlier solo efforts...All very odd, for they were marvellous writers. I've featured their work several times on this blog, and today's Forgotten Book is Evil Eye, which Geoffrey Saintsbury translated in 1959.

It's a short novel, and the British hardback edition was bulked out by the inclusion of a novella called Sleeping Beauty, which I'll write about on another occasion (the UK paperback edition did not, I believe,include Sleeping Beauty for some reason.) The hardback is very difficult to find these days. When John Norris reviewed the book on his blog four years ago,(and an excellent and very enthusiastic review it was) I commented that I was keen to track down a copy myself. But I've only just managed to find one.

Was the book worth the wait? Yes, definitely. Boileau and Narcejac never repeated themselves, and yet somehow The Evil Eye is very characteristic of their work - one can't imagine it being written by anyone else. Their stories invariably have a touch of weirdness, and the plot is often so improbable that,in the hands of a less gifted writer, the result would be hopeless. But their work is always very readable.

Here, we have a young man, Remy, who is suddenly cured of his long-term paralysis by a healer. Once Remy can walk again and becomes independent, he becomes increasingly concerned by events in the past, which may in some way have caused the paralysis. The mood is menacing, and yet the reader can't be sure what is going on. The hallucinatory style of Boileau and Narcejac is very well captured in the translation. This isn't my favourite of their work - it's too slight, really, for that -, but it held my interest from start to finish.