Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

Title – Whispers Under Ground

Author – Ben Aaronovitch

Published – 2012

Genre – Fantasy crime fiction

This is the third in the series by Aaronovitch featuring the Police (now Detective) Constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant. I read the second book in the series (Moon Over Soho) in 2014 and leaving a gap of six years has been a bit of a mistake because some of the longer story arc which continues through the series was a bit of a mystery to me – although this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Our hero, DC Peter Grant, is called to attend the discovery of a body of a young man at the end of the platform at Baker Street underground station. He’s been included in the team investigating the death because there may be ‘something off’ about it and his special skills may come into play. Grant gets his own role in the investigation, alongside the lovely Lesley, which involves a lot of exploration of the underground tunnels and sewers. The victim was the son of a US Senator so they’re also joined by an FBI agent, although this is not a particularly amicable partnership.

This book has a lot more police investigation in it and less time based at The Folly and Grant’s magical studies than earlier books and only some brief appearances by some of the River folk.

Another enjoyable read in the series.

1star1star1star1star

What She Saw Last Night – M J Cross

Title – What She Saw Last Night

Author -M J Cross

Published – April 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

You may know Mason Cross for his Carter Blake series – fast-paced, US-set thrillers, but writing as M J Cross ‘What She Saw Last Night’ moves closer to home, opening on The Caledonian Sleeper, the action moves between the Highlands and London.

Jenny Bowen boards the sleeper in a hurry and as she heads for her ‘cabin’ she has a chance encounter with a woman and a young girl. When she wakes the next day the woman is dead and there is no trace of the girl. The police investigation is perfunctory and Jenny’s concerns for the girl are dismissed as ‘fantasy’.

Jenny is at a bit of a crossroads in her life – she’s in the midst of a divorce and is returning to her family home after the death of her father. While the emotional turmoil could have caused an overactive imagination, in fact her concern for the girl gives her some purpose and direction. She starts her own ‘investigation’, trying to find a missing girl to match the one she saw – and in doing so she opens a whole, violent, can of worms.

The book is what I would describe as a ‘police thriller’ – while there is an official police involvement in the mystery the plot is more about a ‘race against time’ feeling to find the missing girl than finding a solution to the woman’s murder. There are some fast-paced action scenes – both through the hubbub of London (hard to picture at the moment) and a more remote setting in Scotland.

I quite liked the main characters but if I have any quibbles it’s that Jenny doesn’t seem to suffer much emotional impact from some of the more challenging events and for a software developer she picks herself up pretty quickly from some physical encounters.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

1star1star1star1star

The Lantern Men – Elly Griffiths

Title – The Lantern Men

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – 6 Feb 2020

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

The last book I read in the Ruth Galloway series was The Dark Angel and to me it felt like a departure within the series – lots of focus on Ruth’s personal life and less on the mystery element – however this 12th book feels like a return to form. In most cases with this series it hasn’t mattered that I’ve not read the books in order but I feel I’ve missed out on some significant changes which I assume too place in the preceding title (The Stone Circle) is I do need to get a copy of this.

A creepy (or charming, depending on your point of view) convicted murder, Ivor March, offers DCI Nelson the opportunity to find the bodies of two furthermurder victims, contingent on Ruth Galloway leading the dig. Somewhat flattered by the suggestion that she’s the best person for the job Ruth becomes involved in the investigation, despite her concerns that March has other reasons for requesting her.

The dig goes ahead and at the same time another woman dies in similar circumstances to March’s victims. Nelson, supported by colleagues Tanya and Judy, leads them to investigate a small group of people who all lived with March in a remote house called Grey Walls – somewhere Ruth is also connected to. As the story unfolds the investigation circles around this limited groups and the ins and outs of their tangled relationships. As with most (all?) of the series it also draws on local folklore with the real life mystery echoing tales of the ‘Lantern Men’.

The author makes the most of the atmospheric locations, setting the action across the historic centre of Cambridge, the expanse of the Fens and the rugged Norfolk coastline. The series is one where the characters are as important and the mystery; as the series progresses the minor characters offer more to each story and there is still the on/off nature of Ruth and Nelson’s relationship which still simmers in the background. An enjoyable read and return to focus on the mystery aspects of the plot.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

Devil’s Fjord – David Hewson

Title – Devil’s Fjord

Author – David Hewson

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a bit of a change in location for David Hewson, a mystery set in the Faroe Islands with all the hallmarks of ‘scandi noir’.

Newly-appointed District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsebeth are looking forward to a peaceful semi-retirement in the remote fishing village of Djevulsfjord on the stunningly beautiful island of Vagar. But when two boys go missing during the first whale hunt of the season, the repercussions strike at the heart of the isolated coastal community.

I have to say it’s not a read for the faint-hearted as Haraldsen’s first real duty in his new community is to take part in the ‘grind’ – a very bloody whale hunting tradition. Haraldsen is at the heart of the hunt and the reader isn’t spared any of the more unpleasant details. It’s during this action that there is an incident between Haraldsen and one of the boys which Haraldsen believes may have triggered their flight.

The couple are outsiders, giving them a slightly different perspective on what the locals take for granted, and this is a community with a lot of secrets that they’re not keen on sharing.  He and his wife are also pretty naive, expecting more of an idyllic retreat than a hard-working fishing village. When the two boys go missing Haraldsen feels that he’s to blame and takes a personal interest in the search for them. One of those brought in to work on the search is policewoman Hanna Olsen, although she has her own agenda. When the authorities feel enough has been done in the search Olsen and Haraldsen put their heads together to mount their own investigation.

The book delivers the usual mix of investigation and culture that I enjoy in Hewson’s Nic Costa series – albeit set in a more harsh and unforgiving environment. It also has a slower pace, more in keeping with translated / scandi fiction. An enjoyable read, especially if you’re normally a reader of scandi or nordic noir.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

1star1star1star1star

The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

91UVzYpWv9LTitle – The Colorado Kid

Author – Stephen King

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been on the lookout for a copy of The Colorado Kid since the TV series Haven was first broadcast in 2010, so I jumped at the opportunity to get a review copy of this new issue. It’s worth saying that if you’ve seen the programme it was LOOSELY based on the book and while you can see a few similarities there are definitely more differences. However, it’s difficult to read the book without picturing some of the characters and locations as those from the screen, regardless of the fact that they’re not ‘like for like’.

King wrote the story specifically for the Hard Case Crime publisher and the new edition includes an introduction from Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, an Afterword by Stephen King and is illustrated throughout. The story is a mystery that fits in the HCC covers without some of the frills and spills that other King books feature.

“The book tells the story of two veteran newspapermen and their investigation into the mysterious death of a man on an island off the coast of Maine. How does a man wind up dead on a beach, alone, with no identification, two thousand miles from home? And what does it mean to grapple with questions like that, not knowing if you’ll ever learn the answers?”

In fact the story is told by the two veteran newspapermen to a young student on an internship at The Weekly Insider. The story is an example of a real mystery, something that may have no rational explanation, something that would make folks feel uncomfortable. It’s also, through its telling, about times changing and passing on the baton.

Unusually for me I’ve actually taken away a quote from the book that really struck me – “A wave is a pretty thing to look at when it breaks on the beach, but too many only make you seasick.”

I’m one of those people who like a story with a firm conclusion, or at worst a ‘musta been’ but this is a lesson in how you don’t necessarily need either.

A good, and short, read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

Crime fiction events in 2020

One of the regular posts on my blog is my listing of forthcoming crime fiction events, despite the fact that I hardly managed to make it to any events this year – a combination of having a new puppy and more limited funds than normal. I hope that I can find a way to attend at least a few in 2020.

Remember this isn’t all literary events (there are plenty of lists of those and there must be hundreds of events) but it is a list of the main dedicated crime fiction events taking place in the UK (with a few notable additions). Please see the bottom of the list for smaller events which are repeated throughout the year.

I aim to maintain the list and update it as dates are confirmed, so do let me know if there’s anything I should add.

Annual events

January

27 January – West Barnes Library Author event
A triple bill of thrills with authors Barbara Nadel, Derek Farrell & Valentina Giambanco. £2 entry, refreshments provided, book in advance with library staff.

February

20 – 23 February – Granite Noir 2020, Aberdeen’s crime writing festival
This is the fourth year for this crime writing festival featuring some of the most celebrated talent from the Nordic Noir scene alongside Scotland’s own Tartan Noir authors.

21 – 23 February – Crime and Punishment, Lockerbie
A slightly different event, this is a creative writing course are designed for budding crime fiction authors of all levels.

March

7 March – MysteryFest 2020, Portsmouth
A one-day event forming part of Portsmouth’s BookFest this one-day event has a great line up of speakers including Guest of Honour Len Tyler, Professor Becky Milne talking about police interviewing and two author panels.

And then COVID-19 started to take hold and most forthcoming events are now cancelled or, at the very least, postponed. Lots of people trying to fill the gaps with online events – keep checking on social media for info. 

 

15 March – Killer Women Festival, London
A one-day event being run by the ‘Killer Women’ group there is a really varied programme with something for everyone.  (I’m personally tempted by the live police dog demonstration!)

28 March –  NOIRELAND International Crime Fiction Festival, Belfast
A one-day festival showcasing some of Ireland’s greatest crime novelists, lending a helping hand to aspiring writers, and highlighting Belfast’s significant impact on the world of crime fiction, on page and on screen

April

3 – 5 April – Quais du Polar – Lyon
The festival is totally free except for film viewings and some events in our partner bars and museums. I’m particularly impressed to see John Grisham and Don Winslow will be appearing.

24 – 26 April – Books by the Beach, Scarborough
Not a dedicated crime fiction event but this does get a good contribution from crime writers, full details still to be published.

May

1 – 3 May – Newcastle Noir, Newcastle
Programme still to be released although the PR says “This year, organisers will seek to widen the appeal of this criminally fine weekend by seeking to attract younger readers and crime fiction lovers with small children.”

June

4 -7 June – Crimefest – Bristol
After last year’s change of venue we now have a change of month. This is a four-day convention drawing top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world.

6 June – Fairford Festival of Fiction – Fairford, Gloucestershire
A small event but the participants are Russell T. Davies, John Connolly and Rachael Stott. 

Crime and Coffee Festival, Cardiff
This would be the third year if and when dates are confirmed.

Slaughter in Southwold, Southwold
This will be the eighth year, dates to be confirmed.

19 – 21 June – Alibis in the Archives, Gladstone Library, Hawarden, Flintshire
An event run in association with the Crime Writers’ Association and The Detection Club.

26 – 28 June – Lyme Crime, Lyme Regis
A new event this festival will bring the very best talents in crime & thriller fiction to Lyme Regis for a relaxed weekend of talks, conversations, panels and other events.

July

2 – 4 July – Captivating Criminality, Bath
The seventh UK conference from the Captivating Criminality’, “Memory, History and Revaluation” will examine the ways in which Crime Fiction as a genre necessarily incorporates elements of the past – the past in general and its own past, both in terms of its own generic developments and also in respect of true crime and historical events. The CfP will thus offer opportunities for delegates to engage in discussions that are relevant to both past and present crime writing.

4 July – Bodies from the Library – British Library, London
A one day conference with an exciting programme of discussions, presentations and panels on the Golden Age of Detective Fiction Writers.

23 – 26 July – Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate, Yorkshire
Four days of Europe’s biggest come writing event, the full programme for 2020 is due to be announced in Spring 2020 and tickets will be released shortly after including Day Rover and Weekend Rover tickets.

31 July – 2 August – Bute Noir, Bute
Bute Noir celebrates five years of its crime writing festival held on the Isle of Bute, bringing together bestselling authors from the U.S, England and Scotland.

August

14 – 16 August – St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend – Oxford
One of the longest running dedicated crime fiction events (it started in 1994) the 2020 event is ‘All Our Yesterdays’: historical crime fiction.

September

15 – 19 September – International Agatha Christie Festival – Torquay, Devon
It’s not clear from the IACF website what the plans are for 2020 but the tourist board are advertising these dates.

10 – 13 September – Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, Norwich, Norfolk
The Noirwich Crime Writing Festival is an annual celebration bringing together superstar crime authors, exciting new talent and fans of all things crime fiction.

12 – 13 September – Morecambe & Vice, Morecambe
The fourth year for this event.

18 – 20 September – Bloody Scotland – Stirling, Scotland
Scotland’s festival celebrating crime writing – bringing together leading Scottish and international writers, showcasing debut voices and encouraging new writers.

October

1 – 3 October – Capital Crime, London’s West End
A second year for this event. The brains behind this event are David Headley, MD of  Goldsboro Books and organiser of the infamous ‘Crime in the Court’ and novelist and screenwriter Adam Hamdy so it has excellent credentials. Capital Crime welcomes some of the world’s favourite authors and filmmakers to London

2 – 11 October – Cheltenham Literary Festival, Cheltenham
I wouldn’t normally include this festival as it’s so diverse and doesn’t have the same focus as most of the other events listed here but it’s worth a check of the programme when published.

November

November – Margate Bookie, Margate
No confirmed dates at time of writing.

20 – 21 November is the biennial Iceland Noir, Reykjavik
No website or programme as yet…

December

All busy shopping for books …

Recurring events

There are a few smaller events which will be happening throughout the year.

First Monday
Regular events which take place on, would you believe, the first Monday of each month (with a few exceptions). A free event with a consistently good panel of authors.
https://www.firstmondaycrime.com

Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers
Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste, Doug Johnstone and Stuart Neville are the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers and after a year that saw them play Glastonbury they have quite a tour coming up in 2020 https://funlovincrimewriters.com/gigs/ 

Noir at the Bar
These are events, apparently originated by Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders, which can be summed up as “A relaxed evening in a local hostelry where crime writers (established, emerging & would-be) read from their work.” Having started in the US they now make appearances in the UK either as part of a larger crime fiction event or as small standalone events. I’ve tracked down a few UK location where you can find them. Let me know if you come across more!

Bath – next meetings 13 Feb and 21 May

Edinburgh – no future events showing

Newcastle – 19 Feb

London – no recent events

It would be nice to be able to find a comprehensive list of these small events as they are so accessible – low cost and take little time commitment.

Managing the TBR pile – part 3

I’ve posted a couple of times in the past about managing my “To Be Read” (TBR) pile and the turn of the year is a great opportunity to see if I’ve made any progress.

I didn’t have any specific plans for 2019 but there is always a general plan to get some of the older books read (and reviewed), prevent the unread books creeping on to the floor around the bookshelves and keeping the shelves of read books well-organised.

As with 2018 there has been something of a dip in books coming in from publishers. In fact this year I think you could say that it’s crashed rather than dipped, I’ve only gained 23 books over the last year (this was written excluding any Christmas books), a mixture of gifts, purchases, Netgalleys and just seven were physical review copies from publishers.

I’ve read 31 books at the time of writing, so that’s a net book deficit of 8 – progress! This means I’ve also read (and reviewed) some books that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Although it’s a little awkward when the PR info that I’ve kept with a book refer to a publicist who has got married, had a baby and is no longer at the publisher 😂.

My reading for this year has been a bit down – the combination of not commuting and having a puppy.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 21.19.43

I’ve posted 21 reviews so far this year although am hoping to get a backlog of about a dozen books to review (yes, some were read in 2018) but I might skip posting a few where I didn’t really enjoy the book.

We have built new bookshelves which are now the home for most of our hardback fiction. The consequence of this has been the ability to unpack all the ‘read’ books we have and get rid of a few titles that we’re not particularly fond of. The ‘TBR’ shelves have also seen a little bit of a clear out.

Now for some other stats. That ‘To Read’ bookcase has 152 (it was 179 a year ago) books on it, there are 82 (103) books to read packed in boxes and there are 37 (39) still to read on my kindle. Looks like my clear out made a bit of a dent but unfortunately slowing down on my reading means it’s actually going to take me longer to get to the end of the TBR than it was a year ago.

I’ve no specific plans for 2020, I’m currently job hunting so having a commute, or not, may affect my reading time. It’s a shame that I’ve received so little from publishers (I’m obviously grateful for what I have received) but I do feel I’m missing out on the continuation of a lot of series I’ve been enjoying and I’m not ‘in the loop’ so much with the popular books of the year. I need to get back to the library and borrow a few titles that I want to catch up on, although as I often have the dog with me when I’m passing they may not be very welcoming!

So how do you manage your arrivals and keep on top of your ‘to read’ books? How has 2019 been for your TBR?