Monthly Archives: June 2011

Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Shortlist Announced!

Okay, the strict embargo has just been lifted and here’s the news……….

Big congratulations to the shortlisted authors and commiserations to those who didn’t get through – but it was a hell of a line up this year, I’m sure you’ll agree.

WILL THE HOLY THIEF STEAL THE 2011 THEAKSTONS OLD PECULIER CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR AWARD?

P.D. JAMES RECEIVES OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO CRIME FICTION AWARD

Debut novelist William Ryan has been given the public’s seal of approval today, as one of the chosen few to make this year’s shortlist for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. One of the most prestigious crime writing prizes in the country, the newcomer will be battling for the coveted prize amongst five crime fiction stalwarts.

 

Also on the shortlist is Mark Billingham, looking to make this year a hat-trick after winning the prize in 2005 and 2009 (for Lazy Bones and Death Message respectively). Lee Child, meanwhile, will be hoping that this will be his lucky year; the bestselling author has yet to win the prize, despite the fact that one of his Jack Reacher novels sells somewhere in the world every few seconds. Both authors will go head to head with last year’s Festival Chair Stuart MacBride, and Andrew Taylor, whose Cambridge-set historical chiller Anatomy of Ghosts won much critical praise upon publication.

 

Lancashire-born SJ Bolton is the only woman to have made the cut with Blood Harvest. Having burst onto the crime scene in 2008, she has been hailed the “high priestess of rural gothic crime”.

 

The shortlist in full:

•From The Dead by Mark Billingham (Sphere)

•Blood Harvest by SJ Bolton (Corgi Books)

•61 Hours by Lee Child (Bantam Books)

•Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride (Harper Fiction)

•The Holy Thief by William Ryan (Pan Books)

•The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor (Michael Joseph)

 

Now in its seventh year, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, in partnership with Asda, and this year in association with the Daily Mirror, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback between 1st January 2010 and 31st May 2011.

 

The winner of the prize will be announced by radio broadcaster and festival regular Mark Lawson on the opening night of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on Thursday 21st July. The winner will receive a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

 

On the same night, a special presentation will be made to the winner of the second Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award, which this year is presented to P.D. James.

 

Born in Oxford in 1920, Baroness James of Holland Park began writing in the 1950s. Her debut novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962 featuring her now famous investigator, Adam Dalgliesh. Many of her books have been adapted for film and television, including her 1992 novel Children of Men, which in 2006 was adapted for Hollywood, starring Clive Owen and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

 

P.D. James said: “It is always a satisfaction and an encouragement for a writer to win a prize, but I am particularly proud to be honoured by the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award because it comes from Harrogate, a town which it is always a delight to visit and which is the home of one of the most distinguished and pleasurable English literary festivals.  I look forward very much to being in this beautiful town again and to receiving an award which, coming in my 91st year, means a great deal to me.”

 

Simon Theakston, Executive Director of T&R Theakston, said:

“I’m delighted to see that the public have recognised the talents of a broad range of authors in this year’s shortlist, from a debut novelist to names that have been bestsellers for several years. This list reflects the wealth of crime fiction talent we have within the UK and Ireland that continues to grow each year.

 

“We are also hugely honoured and excited to welcome the crime fiction grandmaster P.D. James to Harrogate this year, to collect her Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. Few are as prolific as she, dominating the genre for over 50 years. This award acknowledges that immense achievement.”

 

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Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – Buy your books and buy your tickets…

18 Titles Longlisted For Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

On Promotion in Asda Stores Nationwide

Unlike other literary awards, with the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year it’s what readers think that really counts. The public vote was open from 13th May – 5th June, to help determine which books from the Longlist of 18 will go on to take the prize. Voting has now closed and the Shortlist will be announced on 1st July.

All of the 18 longlisted titles will feature in a 3-week promotion in 252 Asda stores nationwide from today, 28th June, to 19th July. As part of Asda’s Summer Reading Promotion, all of the longlisted books are available at 3 for £10, so you can get your copies of this season’s hottest crime titles at a criminally good price.

And….

Still time to book your tickets for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

Taking a lead from the grittier and true crime end of the spectrum, some of the biggest names in the business will be joining us from 21-24 July, for four solid days of wall-to-wall crime at the magnificent Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate. Our unique programme of stellar special guests includes David Baldacci, Linwood Barclay, Lee Child, Martina Cole, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane and Howard Marks. Tickets are selling fast, so we’d recommend you book soon to secure your place. For the full event guide, click here

You can now book tickets at our Town Centre Box Office, which opened on Saturday. Situated on the Victoria Shopping Centre piazza in Harrogate, the TCBO is open 11am-3pm everyday from now until the end of July. All tickets are also available from Harrogate Theatre Box Office.

Phone: 01423 502116

Email: boxoffice@harrogatetheatre.co.uk

In Person: Harrogate Theatre, Oxford Street, Harrogate, HG1 1QF

Opening Times: Monday- Saturday, 10am – 5pm.

Book Online: Simply visit the full programme of events on our website and click on ‘Book Online’ under each ticket option in order to be directed to our online ticket service. Please note that a £1.75 transaction fee applies when booking online.

Payment: We accept all major credit/debit cards as well as Cash and Cheque. Cheques should be made payable to ‘HARROGATE THEATRE’

Tickets on the door: Tickets will be available to purchase from the Festival desk in the foyer of the Old Swan Hotel from Thu 21 – Sun 24 July, subject to availability. Be aware events can sell out in advance. Early booking is recommended.

Refunds: The Box Office cannot refund money or exchange tickets except in the case of an event cancellation.

Concessions: Concessions are available for under 18s, students in full time education and those receiving unemployment benefits. Appropriate identification must be provided. May not be used in conjunction with any other offers.

That’s all you need to know, so go buy some books, then buy some tickets – see you there.

Keith

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The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Published by Orion

The TV Book Club 2011 Summer Read: Book 1.

As excited as I was to find that in the eight chosen books for this Summer’s TV Book Club were titles by crime favourites Dennis Lehane and Camilla Lackberg, I was also determined to attempt to make this the year where I looked to broaden my reading and perhaps step carefully outside of crime fiction just every now and again.

I’ve never been a fan of the local book-club idea, but The TV Book Club (coupled with a bit of tweeting each week whilst watching the show) is okay by me.

If this first title of the series, The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, is anything to go by, then it could be shaping up to be a very good and varied selection indeed.

A bewitching novel of secrets, lost love, perfume and Provence

None of the above description comprises anything that would normally encourage me to pick up a book, I have to be honest, but the mention of secrets of the past and the fact that the key central character, which is an abandoned house in Provence, is about to reveal its hidden past and dark secrets on the rear of the book might have led me in for a few pages…

And, it’s just that few pages that the book needed, because by the time I was that far in, I wanted to be in that house, I wanted to experience all the things that Eve and Dom experience when they move there, the light, the views and the smells.

It’s a novel with a dual narrative, slowly unleashing its secrets in alternate chapters, building on the mystery as it reveals other parts.  I found it a similar read to a great surprise read of mine from last year (Time’s Legacy by Barbara Erskine) in the way that the history and present clash together to form such an intriguing and interesting tale.

And, as a crime and mystery fan, I shouldn’t have been in any way perturbed from reading this.  Although it deals with the mystery of the disappearance of Don’s first wife, there is also a story running alongside the main narrative of the disappearance of a group of young girls too, which somehow seems connected to the house.

Add to that the fact that some of what appears to be going on seems to be being caused by the ghosts of the house’s past, and I was hooked.

It’s unlikely I’ll get outside of England this year for a holiday, so in the meantime, the few days I spent reading and dreaming of living in Provence will do very nicely thank you.

Keith

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COLD KILL by Neil White

Published by Avon – Out now.

This is a real crime book – it feels all too real, all too shocking and all too chilling.

It’s a work of fiction, but reads like it might have been ripped from a newspaper, so realistic is the theme and the way in which the characters interact.

It starts out as what appears a fairly straight forward serial killer tale, with Detective Sergeant Laura McGanity on the case of murdered Jane Roberts just three weeks after the killer’s first victim, Deborah Corley, was found.

Whilst Laura hunts the killer, her boyfriend reporter, Jack Garrett snoops around the Whitcroft Estate for any answers he can print; the estate is run by gangland boss Don Roberts, father of one of the murdered women.  The first victim was the daughter of an ex-Policeman, and Laura and Jack race to find any clues as to who may be responsible before the killer strikes again.

The dynamic of press and Police works really well, often showing the real-life conflict of just how much information should be released to the public – what will assist with the investigation and what will tip the killer off as to how they are doing in their pursuit?

And then the killer starts to email Jack……

It’s a tale of revenge and one of very dark family secrets and just what lengths may be sought for justice.

I loved the characters and they certainly helped flesh out what, in the hands of a less skilled writer, could easily have been a far less rewarding serial killer book.

There’s a very cleverly handled closing passage to Cold Kill and one which left me unsure as to whether the author is signaling closure for his characters or a possible new beginning for them.

But, I will certainly be seeking out Neil White’s previous books (Fallen Idols, Lost Souls, Last Rites and Dead Silent) whilst I wait to find out what he’s unleashing on us next.

A dark, creepy tale well told.

Highly recommended.

Keith

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The TV Book Club Summer Read

Having had the chance to sit in on a recording of The TV Book Club earlier this year when Michael Robotham’s ‘Bleed for Me’ was up for discussion, I am pleased to report that the show is back for a Summer Read and this time, Crime Fiction Fans, there are two crime titles amongst a generally cracking selection of books.

I shall be reviewing all the titles here on the blog over the coming weeks, so come on and join in, watch the show, and read, just read….

The original TV Book Club is back, boasting a short list of authors who include a major motion picture writer and producer, Sweden’s top selling writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The eight selected titles in this Summer’s series will be reviewed on a weekly basis as part of the TV Book Club’s Summer Read strand, which recommends books perfect for holiday getaways. The series will commence on More4 from Sunday 26th June, with repeats on Channel 4. New to this run are exclusive profile interviews with of some the world’s biggest authors including Philip Pullman, Ken Follett, Jackie Collins, Joanne Harris, Jilly Cooper and Jacqueline Wilson.

Funded by Specsavers, the TV Book Club sees presenters Jo Brand, Dave Spikey, Laila Rouass, Ade Edmondson, Meera Syal and Rory McGrath invite viewers to read along as they discuss one title per week, with contributions from local reading groups around the country. Last series picks all enjoyed success including ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue which the show catapulted to No1 for three consecutive weeks.

The chosen titles in the Summer series are:

Week One:  The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Week Two:  Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane 

Week Three: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Week Four: Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Week Five: The Book Of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

Week Six: The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg 

Week Seven: The Radleys by Matt Haig

Week Eight: Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson

Of particular note for regular readers of this blog will be the two crime titles highlighted in bold above:

Dennis Lehane is best known as the author behind Shutter Island, the psychological thriller adapted into a movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Boston born Lehane’s credits also include a stint as staff writer on hit series The Wire.

Camilla Läckberg meanwhile has achieved critical acclaim for her crime novels, and has been hailed as Sweden’s best selling novelist.

Keith

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Dead Men’s Socks by David Hewson

A great introduction for anyone unfamiliar with David Hewson’s fantastic body of work and a nice little addition to those of us who already have a bookshelf of his novels.

Dead Men’s Socks is a bargain Quick Read paperback or download in which the author has conveniently managed to lose a few major characters to give centre stage to one, Peroni, and this clever and somewhat witty tale of murder, mystery and men’s hosiery.

It’s a sweltering July morning when Peroni finds himself teamed with Di Capula as they investigate the apparent murders of two men in the absence of regular head of forensics, Teresa Lupo (at a conference), Leo Falcone (on holiday) and Nic Costa (on an airport security drill).

The two men seem in many ways unconnected, one a eminent psychiatrist and the other a small time crook and traveller.

But, there is one detail the men appear to share…..their socks.

A cracking short read, full of all the hallmarks of a much bigger David Hewson novel and a satisfying lunchtime snack that sits well alongside his larger Rome-based banquets.

Grab yourself some Dead Men’s Socks in a bookstore or head over to download from Amazon as fast as your own little feet can carry you.

Keith

 

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MISSING by Karin Alvtegen

Published by Canongate

Attending the ‘Reading Scars’ event tomorrow (Sunday) at World Literature Weekend (London Review Bookshop) along with Hakan Nesser, Karin Alvtegen is a Scandinavian author who had, so far, escaped my radar.

A while back there was a television adaptation of Missing starring Joanne Froggatt (from Coronation Street) which I missed, not realising it was based on this hit novel (Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger).  Having now read the novel, I want to seek out the adaptation, which strangely seems only available on Region 1 format.

 Sibylla Forsenstrom is a 32 year old woman who appears to be running from a dark past and is trying to score a free meal and a night at  hotel when we first join her.  Things are going fine with her chosen male of the evening, Jorgen Grundberg, although we are given glimpses of her past and the reasons for her being an outcast and rumours that in 1985 she escaped a mental hospital, which set things up nicely for what transpires later.

And then, and this is a crime novel after all, Grundberg is found murdered, Sibylla is already on the run again and is the prime suspect, her face and description appearing in all the papers.

Sibylla seeks refuge with friends from her past, changing her hairstyle and appearance, visits her mother and then continues to run and hide as the press issue news of a second killing, this time a 63 year old man in his cottage.

‘The Grand Hotel Murderess Strikes Again’

Both murders are described as ritual executions by the press with comment that the bodies have been mutilated and organs taken.  In many ways it’s the murders that set this book apart from most crime novels as they are off camera and we’re rarely anyway near the crime scenes or the investigators.

Sibylla asks her old friend, Thomas, to go to her post office box and get her savings for her, to help her continue to stay on the run, but when he returns empty handed she doesn’t know whether to believe him that her mother may have taken the cash or if he has robbed her.  Her world appears to be collapsing and not for the first time.

She has been let down before, flashbacks to her past reveal her discovery that her boyfriend, Mikael Persson was caught cheating on her and then the reason for her solitude and state of mind are brought to the fore as the revelation that she had a baby when she was younger and it was decided by others that the baby should be taken for adoption.

She reveals her past to a young man, Patrik, who visits her and brings her food to her latest hiding place and he suggests to her that they should seek out the real killer for themselves – little by little they start to piece together something that just might lead to the capture of the real murderer.

Beyond the names and the geography of the novel, this is a story that could take place anywhere and with themes that are universal, those of loss and of dealing with loss.

It’s a race against time novel, concentrating firmly on the central character rather than the crimes for which she is accused and, if this is an indication of Karin Alvtegen’s work, then I shall certainly be seeking out more.

Highly recommended.

Keith

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Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

Published by Mulholland Books (Hodder) on 23rd June.

I tweeted Duane Swierczynski last night, well at gone 1am this morning in fact.

This is how that went:

@swierczy could you call my boss tomorrow to explain why I’m so tired please?  FUN & GAMES is superb!  Thank you.

@keithbwalters I will call your boss personally if that would help? (Thanks, Keith.  So great to hear.)

And there it is, the changing face of books, the way we read (this was my first downloaded and read novel on my kindle) and the way we can interact with authors old and new and, more often than not, get a personal response.

I’d been told by more than one person that reading on a kindle seems to be quicker than reading a ‘book’ and I’d agree that the technology and the fact that we are all so used to scrolling through screens of texts, emails and tweets means that the pages do seem to rush by quicker on an ebook.

However, I think in the case of Fun & Games, speed reading is just what the book encourages – it cracks along like many a wreckless driver along Mulholland Drive itself, risking throwing the reader off course at various bends and twists along the way.  But, it’s all okay, Swierczynski has a trilogy here, so we can be somewhat safe in the knowledge that we have a safety belt on, and that his great central character, ex-cop and house-sitter Charlie Hardie is coming back and back again.

In the past, Swierczynski (and yes, I’m going for that rather than Duane, just for the typing challenge!) has worked on Marvel comics and episodes of CSI – all of which has clearly given him a great visual style, a love of movies and a real grip on what makes a great story with characters you want to hear about.

Charlie Hardie goes to the Hollywood Hills in the beginning of the novel, setting out for a house-sitting job – what normally equates to a couple of weeks of living in luxury with nothing to do but drink, eat and watch great old movies on DVD.  However, on this occasion his love of movies comes crashing into his real world with the appearance of actress Lane Madden who is in hiding from the ‘Accident People’ who are said to be out to place a hit on her and make it look like anything but a hit.  The ‘Accident People’ are rumoured to have had a hand in many a celebrity death from John Belushi to Marilyn Monroe.

Peppered with great lines, humour and some fantastic quotes at the beginning of each chapter (everything from Ron Burgundy to To Live and Die in LA) this is a pop-culture meets film noir collision right in the centre of the winding Hollywood roads.

Whether it was the humour of the situations or the setting of the stilt house in the hills, I’m not sure, but it made me recall some great Shane Black scripting from the Lethal Weapon movies (another movie that is quoted), with Charlie Hardie leaping from one crazy situation to another, and none of that’s a bad thing.

I won’t spoil the details here, but WHEN you buy the book (and you will) look out for a great solution to one of Charlie’s problems in which he enlists the help of some major action heroes, including Sly Stallone and Gene Hackman – literally Gene-ius!

It’s also the first book I’ve come across which mentions why Mulholland Drive is named that – again, if you don’t know, there’s another reason to buy the book.

The book is dedicated to David Thompson (who the author describes as ‘my ideal reader’)- probably the greatest crime fiction fan and ambassador that the US crime writing community had up until his untimely death last year at just 38 years old.  It’s very sad that he never got to read Fun & Games as I’m sure he would have loved every page of it – it really is, as Mulholland state in their releases brochure a ‘Rollercoaster read’ and I cannot wait to see what Swierczynski puts Hardie through in the two follow up novels ‘Hell & Gone’ (Oct 2011) and ‘Point & Shoot’ (March 2012).

Go on, go get it and have yourself a hell of a lot of Fun with Fun & Games.

Keith

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2004 – Lesson learned: Crime Writing Masterclass.

As it’s now National Crime Writing Week, I thought I’d reflect on when I think I really got the bug to read and write more crime fiction.

It would have been around 2004, most likely in the lead up to this event in fact, and the team of Minette Walters (no relative) and Mark Billingham.

What follows here is my review of the English PEN/Daily Mail Crime Writing Masterclass, held at London’s Olympia conference centre on 14 March 2004.

Apologies if you’ve read it before (it did do the rounds a bit at the time in Ottakar’s crime fanzine, The Verdict, on Deadly Pleasures website and on Minette Walters’ website but, here it is again anyhow as a reminder to myself of just how I got hooked…

For me, the Crime Writing Masterclass with authors Minette Walters and Mark Billingham was one of those “I’ll probably kick myself if I don’t go and see what it’s like” kind of events. It meant the best part of a Sunday away from the family, an afternoon fighting my way to the Olympia conference centre on various forms of public transport, and a nice soaking courtesy of our glorious British weather.

But, the evening I made the decision to tap my credit card details into the order form to purchase my ticket, I had a feeling the £35.00 ticket price would be a very worthwhile investment and, I’m pleased to report, I was right.

The Crime Writing Masterclass was one of three (the other two being Screenwriting for Cinema and Writing for Television) scheduled as part of the London Book Fair and sponsored by English PEN and the Daily Mail. Peter Guttridge, author and crime fiction critic of the Observer, chaired the discussion, and he did a fine job of keeping the conversation flowing and the event within its three defined sections.

Before entering the hall, everyone was presented with a hardback edition of Sleepyhead – Mark’s first Tom Thorne novel – and a paperback edition of a Minette novel of their choice, plus a pack of notes and the latest copy of ink magazine.

The first section of the class took the shape of a Q&A between Guttridge and Mark and Minette – during which probably no more than a handful of questions were actually asked, with the remainder of the time taken up with interesting tales, anecdotes and advice from both authors.

Minette spoke of her years as a volunteer prison visitor and of one visit in particular that helped her pin down exactly how the character of Olive Martin should be realised on the page in The Sculptress. She was full of encouragement for young, as she put it, “about-to-be” writers rather than “wannabe’s”, and she offered specific advice, such as “go through your writing and take out two of every three adverbs and adjectives! Why say tabby cat when cat will do just as well?”

Both Minette and Mark spoke of their writing techniques and differences in their style. Whereas Mark’s novels feature a series character – Tom Thorne – Minette’s novels are all stand-alone books. They acknowledged the advantages and disadvantages to both styles. While series novels can gather a regular, loyal readership, they risk alienating new readers that might not want to jump into a series in the middle. And, while stand-alone books offer an author more latitude, they, too, carry a risk, since they don’t have a guaranteed fan base for a series character.

On the subject of how they start a book, again, both authors differed in their approach. Whereas Mark always has the theme and an idea of the ending scene of his novels in his head when he starts out, Minette stated that she preferred the “unknown” route. She used an example of driving from London to Glasgow: “When you leave London, there are a hundred different ways to go; by the time you get to Birmingham, there are 30 ways; by the time you reach the Scottish border, there are three; and when you get to the outskirts of Glasgow, it’s just straight in to the centre and you’ve reached the end.”

Minette said that when she’s writing a book, she wakes up every morning very thrilled because she wants to know where she is going next, as well as the reader. “If I knew the route in advance &I would be bored solid!” Mark, who is also a stand-up comic, put his wit to good use and told Minette that he hardly ever feels that way in the morning, so could she please call him and share her enthusiasm!?

After the Q&A session, the tutors gave the audience members some work to do during the 30-minute coffee break. As part of this writing exercise, we had to choose from a series of atmospheric first lines and start a story. The lines included: “The body lay in the snow…”, “The gun never wavered…”, and “The door was half-open…”.

An added incentive was the fact that in amongst the audience were talent spotters from publishing houses and literary agents. I was amazed at the diversity of results that were read out from the same first lines, and the sheer volume of accomplished work that some of the audience members were able to produce in such a short space of time.

Everyone who wanted a few moments to read their work was given the chance to; anyone less than comfortable with public speaking had the added treat of hearing one of the published writers on stage reading their piece, provided they could decipher the handwriting! Following each reading, both Minette and Mark offered helpful and constructive comments and, on more than one occasion, asked if they could steal a particular idea!

Following on from the review of our writing, Peter Guttridge opened the floor to anyone who wanted to ask a question – anything from how much of a novel you should send to an agent to whether they thought it possible to write a modern crime story these days without using the pathology and post-mortem scenes that are so popular in modern crime fiction.

Upon leaving the auditorium, Minette and Mark sat outside in the main lobby and happily signed the free novels and chatted with individual audience members. This is where Minette gave me some very good advice. We both share the last name of Walters (no relation!), and she said it can be a “real bugger” because we’re always shoved at the very bottom of the crime section! She suggested I change it to Billingham to guarantee shelf space at eye-level!

This was an afternoon I am extremely glad I took part in and I would like to thank all involved for their enthusiasm and entertainment. It has certainly inspired me to write a lot more in the week since the event than I achieved in the four proceeding weeks; plus, I’m not kicking myself now!

Keith

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Dead Wood by Chris Longmuir

(Dundee International Book Prize Winner 2009)

Published by Polygon.

As an extra treat at last year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, I bought a ticket to their ‘Come Dine With Me’ Murder Mystery Dinner, which promised each table hosted by a published crime author.

This year a similar event is being held under the title: Criminal Consequences.

I was very pleased to find I was part of Caro Ramsay’s sleuthing dinner team, but was also very pleased to find that on the same table was one of the CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted authors, Kathleen Stewart, and sitting right next to me another published author and winner of last year’s Dundee International Book Prize, Chris Longmuir.

As is the case throughout the festival, you never quite know who you’ve started a conversation with (whether an author, fan, blogger, agent or publisher) until someway into the chat. Once I’d discovered that Chris had her book out there, DEAD WOOD, and she found out I was starting to review more on my blog after the festival, she kindly offered to send me a copy.

When it arrived, I was also pleased to see that DEAD WOOD is published by Polygon – the same publisher from whom my previous reviews of Allan Guthrie’s Slammer came – so I already had a fairly good idea that this was going to be a great read.

It was – and a surprising one too. Despite the title, I knew nothing of Chris’s book until it arrived on the doormat and, if I’m honest, I was slightly shocked at tone and subject and language that this mild mannered lovely lady lets loose with on the page (it’s clear that she is in good company with Mr Guthrie).

Chris writes great female characters, victims and cops, but she also writes great villains, dealers, pimps and killers, and her scenes of crime, post mortems and conflicts are all handled very well.

The characters are well-rounded and several could easily be seen to transfer into a possible series should she choose to. And talking of series, I always like cheeky references to other authors to make their characters fictional in the ‘real’ world of a new author’s book, so the reference to a character reading the latest Ian Rankin Rebus book was a nice touch.

The tale itself is set in Dundee amongst the world of prostitution and drugs and a serial killer who is leaving his victims in Templeton Woods, believing them to be required as sacrifices to the trees there. The two crime worlds collide when young mother and prostitute Kara heads out to make money to pay a local gangster, Tony, back a debt owed to him and she finds herself in the woods with the killer’s victims – one of whom is Tony’s own daughter.

The Police investigation is headed up by newcomer to the area, Louise Walker and her team, and their search for the killer and involvement with Kara’s children who are taken into care is all handled with care and skill right through to the closing pages.

My favourite scene in the whole book has to be where a character has spotted the killer within a room and runs screaming away – but it’s a room full of all the possible suspects, leaving the Police and the reader scratching heads as to which one of them it may have been.

An excellent police procedural but a lot more besides – I really hope it’s not long before the next book comes along from Chris. I would certainly buy a copy and would highly recommend DEAD WOOD.

Keith

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