Monthly Archives: February 2011

Getting ready for World Book Night

Saturday morning was very busy in the Walters’ household and was, once again, mainly book related.

Firstly, I waited until 12 noon and then dropped the link I’d been sent by the organisers into my search engine and it took me to HMV’s ticket site where I was able to grab a pair of tickets for this coming Friday night’s launch event in Trafalgar Square – fantastico!  Just need to find time to get up to Piccadilly later this week now to exchange tickets for wristbands to gain entrance to the sure to be star-studded event…

Then I placed a call to Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham to confirm that my 48 copies of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories were ready for collection – which they were.

We then wrapped some books we’d like to give to others, so that the shop staff could give them away on the night to other givers at their party and headed to the shop with a sack barrow in the car (as parking nearby is fairly tricky).

We collected the books and gave the shop staff our presents, but Georgia was so taken with the shop that we had to return as soon as we’d loaded the car, so we could explore both great levels and purchase some more books (of course) including a couple of the children’s World Book Day titles.

Great day – now looking forward to next Friday’s launch and Saturday evening to get to distribute Case Histories…

Keith B Walters

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Sanctuary by Ken Bruen

Published by Transworld Ireland

I have to confess that I’ve yet to take in the entire Ken Bruen canon, but have dipped my toe into his work on a few occasions and have never failed to be entertained.

The last of his novels featuring Galway based Private Investigator Jack Taylor that I recall reading was the excellent Priest and, picking up this copy of Sanctuary, I was pleased to see I was back in familiar territory with the setting, themes and character.

Taylor is your standard classic PI, rarely giving a damn for those around him, constantly taking breaks to partake in a heavy drinking session either in his office or in one of numerous watering holes, and hooked on a case.

In this instance the case comes to Jack in the form of a letter, a killer is at large, a guard and a judge become what appear to be the first victims, dying in mysterious circumstances.  Taylor appears at first to be stumbling through the case, constantly getting caught up in some savage beatings along the way – which give the novel some of its darkest and most humorous moments – until he finds out that a child is next on the list, and then the killer really has his concentration.

Kicking off with a nice quote from Cathi Unsworth’s The Singer (I have a Cathi Unsworth special planned for the blog soon, in advance of her attendance at this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival) this is a very swift read at just over 200 pages in paperback, so was my perfect companion for a couple of train and tube journeys this week.

Ken Bruen is a master of getting the story down, without the need for any unnecessary baggage or detail.  His writing is direct and uses simple prose and fantastic dialogue, resulting in a book that whips along and can’t fail to draw you in as it feels like you are in the book along with Jack Taylor and all is happening in real time.

Off to seek out more Ken Bruen now – and a trip to Galway would be nice too.

Keith B Walters

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SACRIFICE by S.J. Bolton

Published by Corgi, an imprint of Transworld.

The first of my Crime Caper challenge books from Transworld and what a great place to start.

Set in the Shetland Isles and full of its myths and lore, Sacrifice is one of those crime novels where the mystery is two-fold.  There’s the crime itself and then there’s what is the real cause of the crime.

I don’t want to give away too much about this one, as the large part of its charm is the fact that the reader and the central character, consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton, are both kept constantly unnerved as to whether the evil acts that seem to have been perpetrated are by human hands or by something even more sinister or possibly supernatural.

In parts I found the book to be akin to some works by Mo Hayder, with its mythology constantly in the background through village rumours and superstitions about the surroundings and the possibility that the shadowy grey men, or Trows, that some speak of, might actually be real and responsible for acts thought at first to be by the hands of mortal men.

The story opens with Tora making a grisly discovery on her own land whilst trying to bury one of her horses – she unearths a woman’s body.  The body is that of Melissa – but if it is Melissa then there is a further mystery as she died much much earlier and was laid to rest in the usual way at the time.

The body also features runic symbols cut into her back – matching symbols in the basement of Tora’s own home – and her heart has been removed as well.

Investigation by Tora and the police begins to unveil a series of unexplained disappearances over the years – women who have gone missing and a suspicion that the Tronal maternity clinic may be involved.  There’s talk of hypnotic powers amongst a group of powerful men, of possible baby selling and abortions that may have not been necessary and all the while there is the talk of legends, ‘legends with a kernel of truth buried within them’.

It’s a claustrophobic tale, despite the open islands setting with walls appearing to be closing in on the central character with alarming frequency as the possible scenarios for what has really happened in the area begin to open up and then close upon her.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sacrifice – would make for a perfect read in a remote hideaway somewhere, as long as you know and can trust those around you whilst you lose yourself in the story.

Can’t wait to read S.J. Bolton’s second novel, Awakening, now.

Keith B Walters

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TV Book Club – Blogger exclusive visit to a recording of the show.

I had a very special treat this Tuesday – an invitation, along with four other book bloggers, to attend a recording of Specsavers’ TV Book Club at Cactus TV’s studios in Kennington.

It was all thanks to Richard and Candice from MEC’s Social Media team, and the fantastic team at Cactus and Specsavers and a very rare treat and insight as the show has never had an audience in attendance before.

We all arrived in time for the 3.40pm meet in the Green room at Cactus and were instantly supplied with refreshments and a rather nice goodie bag each.

It was great to meet fellow bloggers – all of us from a variety of locations and a range of areas of book blogging.

Check out their sites after you’ve read this piece;

stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com – Simon Thomas

davidhblog.wordpress.com – David Hebblethwaite

http://www.cherrymischievous.com – Cherry

http://www.paperback-reader.co.uk – Claire Boyle

We sat and chatted a while, checking out the goodies supplied to us; including books, glasses case, glasses, cleaning kit, eyemask, pen and a very handy £150 voucher towards our next pair of specs – many thanks Specsavers!  It was at this point that Richard told me the good news (I’d been asking if the book up for review might be the one I was looking forward to the most – being a crime fiction fan – and it was), Michael Robotham’s Bleed for Me was that recording’s review book.  I was over the moon.

It was soon 4pm and time to leave the Green room and head into the studio – a surprisingly small space – and take our chairs which were lined up just in front of the kitchen counter for the other show in recording there, Saturday Kitchen – the magic of television, it all appears huge on the telly!

We’d glimpsed Nigel Havers walking through reception earlier, so there was no surprise that he was this week’s guest reviewer when he walked on stage to take his seat along with panelists Jo Brand, Dave Spikey, Meera Syal and, after one of the Cactus team had located her jacket which was on the back of my chair, Laila Rouass.

The recording got underway and, I think we were all surprised, took just over 45 minutes to record the show including a couple of retakes and pick-ups.  Having been to a few recordings of other tv shows a few years back (which took hours to get half a hour of good tv) this was a slick professional machine at work.

The book went down extremely well, both with the panelists on stage and with the recorded session with a book group (ironically based at Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate – the town where I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Robotham at last year’s Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival) with all saying similar things about it.

Nigel Havers said he was already a fan, having read the previous novel in the series, Shatter, and that he had a vested interest as he’d love to play the central character of psychologist Joe O’Loughlin should the opportunity arise.  Despite all the dark themes within the book of abuse and a predatory school teacher, both reviewer groups agreed that it was handled very well and was fast paced page-turner rather than something more blood-soaked and nasty as the title may have suggested.  Without exception, everyone loved the character of Joe and those who had joined him in Bleed for Me said they’d certainly seek out Shatter to read more of him.  One of the reviewers at Harrogate chose to highlight the closing paragraphs as the best way to sum up Joe’s character and, from the video section with the author, it’s clearly a reflection of how Robotham’s own values reflect within his character, he uses Joe O’Loughlin to try and cure ills in the world around him and us.  Meera read this paragraph to show exactly what was meant;

If I could give my daughters one piece of advice I would tell them to make the most of their first times – their first kiss, their first date, their first love, the first smile of their first child…

There can be only one.

This was the perfect episode for crime fiction fans, with even the special feature section having a crime theme: a section on Val McDermid and her relationship with long time friend, Dr Susan Black.  We watched as the two discussed some gruesome details of cases Black had worked on, discussing how uniqueness in hands and knuckles which has led to many recent abuse convictions.  Again this took me right back to the first year I attended the Harrogate festival, where Val and Susan took the stage together and a comment made by her there led to Val McDermid’s novel The Grave Tattoo.  Val McDermid’s latest, Trick of the Dark is out in paperback now.

And then, when the filming was all done bar a few pickup shots, we were whisked into the editing suite to see the crew at work, editing the sound and the images (from five cameras) together to create the final show that we’ll get to see on More 4 on Sunday.  I was amazed at just how many people were lined up across the desk, all with an individual role to play but that in the time we were there the show was complete and ready to go.

Executive Producer/Managing Director of Cactus TV, Amanda Ross, was the perfect host, guiding us through the process and introducing us to all of the team as they went about their work – we were treated to the full behind the scenes view of what work goes into the show.

And then it was back to the Green room for the last time, for drinks, food and a rather large chocolate birthday cake for Charlotte of the production team.  The presenters all joined us for a chat and we discussed the selection process (all the production team are about to start wading through 300 new books in manuscript form to start making selections for next year’s list), that ‘other’ book club, book jacket design, the task of making selections from the shortlist and just how they all find the time.

It was clear from the cast and crew that the sheer logistics of getting all the presenters and guest for a recording slot is a nightmare on its own, with all of them so busy with acting work, tours and other commitments – but, above everything else, what came out was a genuine love of what they do, and a sheer adoration of reading.

It is hoped that future series may be able to expand on the use of bloggers to increase awareness and link to their own reading groups – something I’m sure we’d all be very keen to see and be a part of.

I will never again be able to hear the opening titles of the show without the image of Jo Brand and Dave Spikey jigging along to it on the sofa !

And so, with a huge thank you to the whole team at MEC, Cactus and Specsavers, I leave you with this link kindly provided to me, which will take you to a selection of photos of the afternoon’s event (Warning: May contain me).

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=275366&id=59208632403#!/album.php?aid=275366&id=59208632403

 

Keith B Walters

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David Hewson at Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Londra

Just back from a great evening’s entertainment at the Italian Institute of Culture in London where Crime Time editor and Stieg Larsson biographer Barry Forshaw took to the stage to interview bestselling novelist David Hewson.

Don’t be fooled by the rather serious looking pair above (awful photograph by yours truly) – this was a light-hearted, entertaining and informative discussion about David’s great series of Nic Costa novels (the latest of which The Fallen Angel is out now from PanMacmillan as is fantastic).

David’s always a great author to listen to, his passion for his work and for Rome always just makes me want to grab my laptop and go and book a holiday there – inspiring.

Still no news on who might play Costa in the upcoming television movies, with Hewson citing Ricky Gervais to anyone who asks.  It’s a joke – and I just hope it stays that way *shudders*.

It’ll be the second time that Hewson’s work has been adapted for screen, the first being his first novel which was made into a Mira Sorvino movie, Semana Santa.  What I didn’t realise until he stated it tonight was that the money for the movie was from the managers of Duran Duran, after he rejected the first offer from Antonio Banderas!

Nice to see a good turn out tonight for a gentleman of crime fiction and thanks to Maxim Jakubowski and The Italian Institute for arranging the event.

Keith B Walters

 

 

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Martina Cole’s THE GRAFT – Theatre Royal Stratford East – ON NOW!

This came as something of a bolt from the blue as a review opportunity for me – but one I grasped quickly.  It’s been a long long time since I’ve had a good night at the theatre, and adaptations of great crime fiction novels are very rare.

So, when http://www.theculturevulture.co.Uk/blog and Theatre Royal Stratford East asked if I was interested in seeing Patrick Prior’s adaptation of Queen of Essex crime Martina Cole’s novel, The Graft, I was more than up for it.

I’ll start by saying that I’d never read the novel and I’d never been to this theatre – and boy, was I in for a treat on both fronts.

The theatre is a beautiful building, packed with history and photos from bygone productions.  Set as it is within a lovely square alongside restaurants, bars and a Picturehouse Cinema complex, and just across from the tube station, it’s a venue I’ll be keeping my eye on for future productions – as well worth the short trip from central London.

The  story, from what I’ve been told by Cole fans, is her typically dark style and certainly it had all the twists and dark turns that I’d recently seen in the television adaptation of her novel The Take.

She crafts her stories with a cunning eye, knowing just when to twist the tale again and again until the time comes when you start to wonder if there is any goodness left in any one of the characters on the page or, in this case, on the stage.

The author was in attendance on the night, but kept a relatively low profile in the restaurant next door until time came to take her seat – I’m sure she would have been more than happy with what she saw.

For me, having not read the novel, I was transfixed to the story – having no idea which direction it would go next.  Starting with a break-in in Nick and Tammy Leary’s beautiful Essex home, their perfect life is shattered when Nick beats the young intruder with a baseball bat and the boy later dies in hospital.  But from a dark beginning, with a blood-soaked Nick appearing on the stage, there is so much more darkness to come as, one by one, the people in Nick’s life begin to show their true selves and the reality of why their home was chosen and why by that particular intruder come shockingly to the forefront.

This is nasty nasty stuff in places, but is treated so carefully by cast and the script so as to remain bearable, even when the most shocking events play out on the stage.

I wasn’t expecting a play that succeeds with such a clever and sparce stage to also include a large fireball explosion at one point or some of the most creative balletic fight sequences I have ever seen with the cast fighting in slow motion and beating each other to a pulp with baseball bats whilst red petals fall all around them – amazing scenes – like something out of a John Woo movie at times.

The cast were, without exception, excellent and with two of them playing two parts and the excellent Sheryl Gannaway playing three very different roles, it was amazing to see just eight people taking a bow at the end of a show which felt like it had been peopled by a great many more.  Despite the dark themes, there is also plenty of humour throughout, much of it surrounding the ‘Essex’ lifestyle and the Lakeside shopping centre in particular.

Ex-Eastenders Marc Bannerman is top billed, but to be fair each and every one of the cast should be named above the title – they are all that good.

If you had told me the them of the story, I would have had reservations about going to see it – I went in with an open mind and eyes – and I came out totally, totally impressed.

Martina Cole’s THE GRAFT runs until 12th March 2011.

Suitable for 15+. Contains strong language and is not suitable for the easily offended.

For tickets and information go to http://www.stratfordeast.com

Many thanks to Emma at http://www.theculturevulture.co.Uk/blog and to Corinne and Tessa at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Keith B Walters

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Simon & Schuster’s Bloggers’ event.

A belated thank you to Ally Glynn and Kay McKenna plus the rest of the team at Simon & Schuster for a great bloggers’ event held at their lovely offices a few weeks back.

Unfortunately, my day was very hectic, with three events in one afternoon/evening, so I didn’t get the chance to stay for the whole event at S&S Towers.

I did get to meet a few great bloggers and even put a few faces to twitter avatars whilst waiting for the event to start – great to finally meet Jenny from Wondrous Reads, Miles from Milo’s Rambles, Liz and Mark from My Favourite Books, Alison from Floor to Ceiling Books and many others – just sorry I still managed to miss so many along the way.

Much as I dislike them, name badges next time I think would be a fast identifier.

The event was in two parts.

The break was, fortunately at a suitable time for me to make my departure without causing too much disruption.

Part one was a great panel discussion with the assembled group of authors – a real mixed genre group as you can see from the book jackets displayed here.

Questions were posed by Ally Glynn, primarily from pre-submitted emailed questions from bloggers – how chuffed was I that two of my questions were picked out almost straight away? : = Very!

All of the authors had interesting comments to make about their writing careers, practices and what was due next from them and it made for an entertaining , informative and friendly hour in the company of the magnificet seven.

As I had to make a swift departure it, unfortunately, meant that I only got the chance to share a few words with Craig Robertson before leaving – his debut novel RANDOM being a particular favourite of mine from that week’s reading.

Very pleased to say that his follow up SNAPSHOT will be with us soon, with a third in the offing after that.

I would have loved to have entered the second room with my fellow bloggers, but timing prevented both myself and Miles from doing so.  We could only stare in through the large windows as we left, leaving the others to spend time chatting to the authors, snacking, drinking and steadily filling S&S goodie bags with more great reads for the weeks ahead.

A huge thanks to the Simon & Schuster team and to Ally and Kat in particular for such a well organised and fun event.

Just hope that next time round, I can attend the whole thing from beginning to end.

Keith B Walters


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Martina Cole’s THE GRAFT

Really looking forward to a night at the theatre tomorrow, for the press night of THE GRAFT, based on the novel by Martina Cole and starring Mark Bannerman (he of Eastenders and I’m a Celebrity… fame) at The Theatre Royal Stratford.

Big thanks for Culture Vultures, who have kindly asked me to attend and review for them – will also post a report here.

 

Keith

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In the Place of Justice by Wilbert Rideau

Published by Profile Books.

A true crime/memoir title about a very long haul in prison just didn’t seem to be that it would really be for me.  But, one of the many reasons that blogging/reviewing is such an enjoyable thing is the very fact that every now and again it gives to opportunity to stretch as a reader and try new things that aren’t in the usual comfort zone or that normally pass by the radar.

So, very pleased to say that I surprised myself with In the Place of Justice – an all-encompassing diary/history of one man’s coming to terms with his incarceration in the prison system in Louisiana from 1961 (when he was just 19) through to 2005.

Wilbert Rideau confessed fully to his crime – the killing of a bank teller after a bank robbery he held went badly wrong, but the legal and criminal justice machines took over, and across a backdrop of corruption and racism events took hold that resulted in his escaping a proper trial and the possibility of the electric chair for many years.  To coin the phrase ‘get busy living or get busy dying’ which I believe was ironically from another classic

(although fictional) tale of prison life (The Shawshank Redemption), Rideau chooses to lose himself within the role of a writer within Angola prison, beginning to hone his craft with articles and stories for The Angolite prison newspaper.

So, whilst the legal machine continues to rumble away in the background throughout his years in prison, often plucking him up and throwing him back in front of legal teams and representatives to discuss his own case, he continues to write – to concentrate his energies on documenting prison life in general and highlighting other areas and cases with little to do with his own plight.

Along the way, he uses the newspaper to fight problems, to rectify faults within the electric chair system – he questions where others did not/would not.

Through changes in Prison staff and fellow inmates, Rideau has times where he is fully supported and others where he treads dangerous lines of potentially unleashing tides of corruption and damaging those around him.

It’s a book that deserves time to be read – after all this is a journal of the largest chunk of a man’s life.  Give a book like this the time it deserves and its author certainly more than delivers on their part of the deal.

I must confess that, with a sprawling tale and a central black character in a US prison scenario, I couldn’t fail to hear Morgan Freeman’s voice throughout – and this is a book that would make a compelling tv mini-series or movie too.

It raises questions as to whether in some ways Rideau was saved for a purpose, to do the job he did of voicing what prison life was really like through his newspaper work and then later into television documentaries and films.

For a simple act of violence, a red mist moment, he seems to pay back with so much good inside – turning this into very much a life-affirming tale where he takes every opportunity thrown at him, even when initially they appear to be bad situations.

I found one particular scene at the end of the novel, one that deals with loss, very moving – and, coming totally out of left field, I found it very unexpected.

Throughout the book I had to keep reminding myself constantly that this was a work of true crime memoir and not one of fiction and, despite pretty much knowing how things would turn out, it kept my interest through to the end.

For me, In the Place of Justice, worked in the same way as the excellent Grand Central Winter by Lee Stringer (which dealt with homelessness on the streets of New York).

They are books that give more than enough insight into what their author’s worlds were really like, compelling, interesting and thought-provoking enough, but enough to make the reader realise that they are worlds they would never want to experience first hand.

I feel very fortunate to have read In the Place of Justice  – a world captured so well on the page.

Keith B Walters

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Reading Challenge…

 

A big thank you to Transworld Publishers for coming up with another great reading challenge with their ‘Crime Caper’ for this year.

My selections from the offered list were:

Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton

Past Caring by Robert Goddard

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Making a start on Sacrifice today – have heard very good things about it, so am looking forward to a good read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith B Walters

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