A Dead Man’s Grave But a Very Much Alive Talent

‘Dead Man’s Grave’ by Neil Lancaster

For those keen to know more about Neil Lancaster and Dead Man’s Grave, Neil kindly agreed to speak to me about his writing routine and this latest book. You can find the interview here:

This grave can never be opened.
The head of Scotland’s most powerful crime family is brutally murdered, his body dumped inside an ancient grave in a remote cemetery.
 
This murder can never be forgotten.
Detectives Max Craigie and Janie Calder arrive at the scene, a small town where everyone has secrets to hide. They soon realise this murder is part of a blood feud between two Scottish families that stretches back to the 1800s. One thing’s for certain: it might be the latest killing, but it won’t be the last…
 
This killer can never be caught.
As the body count rises, the investigation uncovers large-scale corruption at the heart of the Scottish Police Service. Now Max and Janie must turn against their closest colleagues – to solve a case that could cost them far more than just their lives… (Synopsis courtesy of
https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/dead-mans-grave-ds-max-craigie-scottish-crime-thrillers-book-1-neil-lancaster?variant=39314373050446)

The cover of Neil Lancaster’s latest novel, Dead Man’s Grave

‘“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore, it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell,”’ she said, dryly, as she got out of the car.

‘Sorry?’ said Max.

‘Doyle?’

‘Eh?’

‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you know, Sherlock Holmes. That’s from The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Have you read it?’

‘I only read books with exploding helicopters on the front cover,’ said Max, shaking his head.”

One of the best compliments I can pay Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster is that I’m fairly certain that lead detective Max Craigie would not enjoy it. No exploding helicopters, far too little of the Rambo on the run which people might expect from this genre.

Lancaster has made a name for himself as a writer of kick ass thrillers with fast paced plotting and bone crunching action. And his biography does suggest that, more than most writers, he has the experience to back this up.

Armed Forces background, surveillance and undercover work for the Met and now successful thriller writer based in the Highlands. His debut novel featuring, ‘Going Dark’ was part of a trilogy featuring Tom Novak, a man who seemed in capable of not being chased by various Eastern European mafia hoods and corrupt law enforcement officers.

This time out we have Max Craigie, a former soldier struggling with PTSD and recently moved from London to Scotland under a cloud with a fatal shooting on his record.

When a prominent gangster disappears near a creepily titled grave in the Badlands of Caithness, it isn’t long before Craigie and other outsider from the squad, Janie, is sent to get involved.

Lancaster manages to twirl this plot on a sixpence with no warning for the reader and this is a really attractive trait for the reader. Expectations are dashed at every turn and, for readers who have enjoyed the Tom Novak series, whilst there are similarities between Craigie and Novak – both military men, both are or have worked in the Met, both have ties to Scotland – here the character of Craigie is more cerebral, more open to human relationships and more easily likeable than the sociopathic here of the ‘Going…’ series.

The other aspect of this new series of novels which demonstrate the evolution of Lancaster as a master craftsman is the humour. Whilst plot is clearly where this author lives, funny interchanges between Craigie, Janie and their foul mouthed but essentially cheery boss, Ross, are handled with aplomb.

“‘What’s your instinct on this one?’ Ross asked.

‘Honest answer?’

‘No, I want you to bloody lie to me, you daft twat. Stop pissing about.’”

For my money, this is the funniest novel in terms of character relationships outside another crime writer with a Black Isle connection, Ian Rankin.

And, it would appear that I am not alone in my appreciation of the novel. While I was halfway through my advanced copy, it was announced that Dead Man’s Grave had been long listed for the coveted McIlvanney Prize from Bloody Scotland. This puts Lancaster alongside luminaries such as Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart MacBride and Denise Mina which is the right company for any crime writer, I’d have thought!

My only complaint on that score is that I’ve been a reader for that award since the inaugural year and I rarely get a novel as good as this.

In conclusion, Dead Man’s Grave is a fine introduction to a series and packed with plot twists, enjoyable characters and the verisimilitude of the author’s experience make this a fine addition to the Tartan Noir canon.

Neil Lancaster joined the RAF in 1983 and served as a Military Policeman for six years, in the UK, Germany, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands, mostly as a patrol dog handler.

In 1990 he joined the Metropolitan Police where he worked in a number of roles as a Detective investigating the most serious of crimes in the capital and beyond.  He was a covert policing specialist using all sorts of tactics to obtain evidence against murderers, human traffickers, drug dealers and fraudsters.

Since leaving the Met in 2015 he has lived in the Scottish Highlands where he now writes crime and thriller novels alongside work as a broadcaster and commentator on true crime documentaries.    (Biography courtesy of www.neillancastercrime.co.uk)

Blooming Murder? Blooming Marvellous

‘Blooming Murder’ by Simon Whaley

MURDER IS BLOSSOMING IN THE WELSH BORDERS.

Lord Aldermaston’s having a bad day. A falling hanging-basket has killed the town’s mayor, and a second narrowly missed him. His wife wants him to build her new greenhouse in three days, and some nutter is sending him death threats.

This isn’t the quiet life he expected as the new Marquess of Mortiforde.

It’s the annual Borders in Blossom competition, and Mortiforde is battling with Portley Ridge in the final. But this is no parochial flower competition. The mayor’s mishap looks like murder, and there’s another body in the river. Someone desperately wants Portley Ridge to win for the fifteenth successive year.

So when a mysterious group of guerrilla gardeners suddenly carpet bomb Mortiforde with a series of stunning floral delights one night, a chain reaction of floral retaliation ensues.

Can Aldermaston survive long enough to uncover who is trying to kill him, and why? And can he get his wife’s greenhouse built in time?

My god, did I enjoy this novel. I like a cheeky cozy crime at times and I read the synopsis and thought, I have to get myself some of that. But it far exceeded my expectations.

Blooming Murder is, essentially, what would happen if Gardener’s World had an illicit love child by Midsomer Murders via the work of Tom Sharpe. And it’s all the better for it.

Whaley is clearly an accomplished writer and has a strong track record of non-fiction. His first foray into the fantastical has clearly given him licence to run wild. In the afterwards, he notes that there is a version of this nearly 40,000 words longer – he was right to cut and, in future, could potentially prune the buds of his ambition even further.

But this is a minor quibble – local mayors are being dunted on the head by descending hanging baskets, a newly appointed Lord of the Manor is struggling to come to terms with his new position in village life and his wife is chopping up his camouflage netting and disappearing at all times of the day and night.

With bodies dropping like flies, a competitive flower competition and sexually voracious horticultural judges parading around, Blooming Murder skips along reaching a crescendo of exceptionally entertaining mayhem.

I, for one, can’t wait to read any subsequent outings in the Marquess of Mortforde Mystery series as and when they come. If you like your aristocrats eccentric and your cottage cheese in a very unsual serving suggestion, this novel is for you.

Purchase Links.

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blooming-Murder-Marquess-Mortiforde-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B094DCYK9Q/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Blooming-Murder-Marquess-Mortiforde-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B094DCYK9Q/

Author Bio – Simon Whaley is an author, writer and photographer who lives in the hilly bit of Shropshire. Blooming Murder is the first in his Marquess of Mortiforde Mysteries, set in the idyllic Welsh Borders – a place many people struggle to locate on a map (including by some of those who live here). He’s written several non-fiction books, many if which contain his humorous take on the world, including the bestselling One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human and two editions in the hugely popular Bluffer’s Guide series (The Bluffer’s Guide to Dogs and The Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking). His short stories have appeared in Take A Break, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, The Weekly News and The People’s Friend. Meanwhile his magazine articles have delighted readers in a variety of publications including BBC Countryfile, The People’s Friend, Coast, The Simple Things and Country Walking.

Simon lives in Shropshire (which just happens to be a Welsh Border county) and, when he gets stuck with his writing, he tramps the Shropshire hills looking for inspiration and something to photograph. Some of his photographs appear on the national and regional BBC weather broadcasts under his BBC WeatherWatcher nickname of Snapper Simon. (For those of you who don’t know, they get a lot of weather in Shropshire.)

Social Media Links –

Twitter: https://twitter.com/simonwhaley

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SimonWhaleyAuthor

What a tangled web we weave…

‘The Web They Wove’ by Catherine Yaffe

Also featuring ‘The Web They Wove’ today is The Magic of Wor(l)ds and A Crime Reader’s Blog

Not all killers are who they first seem…

The mutilated body of a young female is found in a popular recreation ground in Leeds city centre. DI Ziggy Thornes and his team are at once assigned to close the case.

With little to no forensic evidence left at the scene at first Ziggy struggles to put the pieces together. When a second body turns up in the same place, Ziggy starts to feel the pressure from his bosses and the media as fear spreads through the city.

Realising that victims have been held captive prior to their deaths, Ziggy delves deeper and relentlessly chases down every lead, taking him close to breaking point.

When the investigation leads him dangerously close to home, will time run out before the tangled web of evil he’s uncovered destroys everything he holds dear?

Catherine Yaffe’s debut, ‘The Lie She Told’ was reviewed on the blog in October last year. Indeed, I was honoured to host an exclusive extract at that time too.

I called the novel one in which “few people…are quite what they seem and motivations are as grey and murky as an autumn day in Gairloch… A psychological thriller which manages the powerful balance of nipping along at pace but also lingering in the reader’s minds…a psychologically complicated novel which doesn’t shy away from the pain that violence and its consequences causes.”

Which sounds about as verbose as I normally am.

The follow up, ‘The Web They Wove’ is both a standalone work perfectly capable of standing on its own merits, as well as expanding on the character of DI Ziggy Thornes, a comparatively peripheral character from the first book.

Here Thornes is on home turf in Leeds, leading an investigation which gets first professionally, and then, potentially, personally dangerous.

Yaffe is a talented writer who really does manage to produce prose which flows and moves the story along at the same time. She is clearly making moves to support other up and coming writers too and this branching out in police procedural novels promises more is going to be heard from the emerging psychological thriller writer.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Web-They-Wove-Tangled-Book-ebook/dp/B0937K58PF/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Web-They-Wove-Tangled-Book-ebook/dp/B0937K58PF/

Author Bio – Catherine Yaffe is a full-time writer of crime novels, based in the North of England. ‘The Web They Wove’ is Catherine’s second novel and continues the theme of questioning how well we know those around us. Her debut novel ‘The Lie She Told’ in October ‘20 was received with widespread acclaim, and so far, has gained over 50 five star reviews across Goodreads and Amazon. 

Social Media Links –
@catherineyaffe

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Death A La Carte And Served with Aplomb

‘Murder on the Menu’ by Fiona Leitch

The first book in a NEW cosy mystery series!

Still spinning from the hustle and bustle of city life, Jodie NoseyParker is glad to be back in the Cornish village she calls home. Having quit the Met Police in search of something less dangerous, the change of pace means she can finally start her dream catering company and raise her daughter, Daisy, somewhere safer.

But theres nothing like having your first job back at home to be catering an ex-boyfriends wedding to remind you of just how small your village is. And when the bride, Cheryl, vanishes Jodie is drawn into the investigation, realising that life in the countryside might not be as quaint as she remembers…

With a missing bride on their hands, there is murder and mayhem around every corner but surely saving the day will be a piece of cake for this not-so-amateur sleuth?

The first book in the Murder on the Menu cosy mystery series. Can be read as a standalone. A humorous cosy mystery with a British female sleuth in a small village. Includes one of Jodie’s Tried and Tested Recipes! Written in British English. Mild profanity and peril.

The cover of Fiona Leitch’s first book in the new Nosey Parker series, ‘Murder on the Menu’

I do have a soft spot for a cosy crime. I know that the beauty of the crime genre lies in its ability to hold such fundamentally different writers as, for recent examples from this blog, Liz Mistry and her gritty crime dramas straight out of Bradford, the latter day Enid Blyton represented by Tessa Buckley  and the, frankly bonkers, charm of Syl Waters and her guina pig detective together under one banner, with something for everyoizlne.

Here Fiona Leitch has managed to create another version of a frightfully nice world – except for the corpses, naturally.

Moving back down to Cornwall after having left the Met, Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker is greeted by a place which has not changed much since she grew up there. Ex-boyfriends are still there, mothers hover with tea on offer and people’s the ex-wives of characters’ drive HGVs up and down the country “with just [a] dog – a Pomeranian called Germaine – for company”. It’s adorable.

It doesn’t take long for the bodies to begin piling up, a man who Jodie used to care about is accused and this catering investigator is putting her skills to good use clearing his name.

If you are looking for an enjoyable romp, this is a nippy, zippy tale with a talented writer with a nose (geddit?) for characters in search of some TLC.

Come back next week for a review of Nosey Parker Book 2: A Brush with Death

Purchase Links

amzn.to/389aWWW  

http://mybook.to/murderonthemenureveal

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brush-Death-Nosey-Parker-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08CTX44K5

US – https://www.amazon.com/Brush-Death-Nosey-Parker-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08CTX44K5

Author Fiona Leitch

Author Bio –  Fiona Leitch is a writer with a chequered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. Her debut novel ‘Dead in Venice’ was published by Audible in 2018 as one of their Crime Grant finalists. After living in London, Hastings and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/fiona.leitch.1/

https://www.instagram.com/leitchfiona/

Blood on the Streets of Scotland – Blood of Brothers

Blood Brothers by Heather Atkinson

When you’re running the streets, loyalty is everything…

Gangs rule the streets of the rough Gallowburn Estate in Glasgow, but the deepest rivalry of all is between Jamie Gray and his friends, known as the Blood Brothers, and their enemies, the Lawsons.

The two gangs clash frequently, but when a phone containing incriminating evidence disappears after a particularly brutal run-in, the stakes are higher than ever.

Jamie’s mother Jackie is as hard as nails and is not going to let anyone hurt her boy – even if she has to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in. What she wants more than anything though, is to see Jamie turn his back on the street life. And when he meets spoilt rich-girl Allegra, who has a penchant for shoplifting, Jackie thinks she could be Jamie’s way out.

But with the Lawsons closing in, and everyone taking sides, there is only one way out for Jamie, and to triumph he must take out his biggest enemy…

If you love Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers, and Jessie Keane, you’ll love Heather Atkinson. Discover the bestselling author Heather Atkinson, her crackling plots, unforgettable characters and page-turning pace and you’ll never look back…

I’ve lived in Scotland over 20 years now. It is a country which has changed immensely in the near quarter of a century since I first arrived.

Additionally, I have lived in isolated rural splendour of tourist trap mountains and charming wee fishing villages as well as in crowded, post-industrial towns where men are hard and drugs rife.

It is a country of contrasts.

The area Heather Atkinson is writing about here – Gallowburn – is fictional. Except, it isn’t. it’s an amalgamation of a whole bunch of places most Scottish readers can piece together without too much difficulty.

Atkinson clearly has an unpatronising affection for her street level protagonists. The characters are rendered as fully rounded humans with clear motivations and driving ambitions.

She also is an accomplished writer of dialogue. Having published over 50 novels, it would appear that she is well attuned to her surroundings, picking up the language of the Scheme and playing it back to readers to create an atmosphere of intense verisimilitude.

Even as her protagonists are sucked further into their worlds of violence and chaos, Heather Atkinson keeps them grounded as the plot runs away outwith their control to the natural end of violence. It is a climax moving, horrifying, engaging and entertaining.

Boldwood Books are an interesting independent publisher who have selected some exciting authors to work with (Alex Coombs, who I enjoyed immeasurably for one) https://pajnewman.com/2020/09/24/missing-for-good-by-alex-coombs/

With authors of the quality of coombs and Atkinson, they will be well worth following in future.

Purchase Link –  https://amzn.to/32GYs5H

Author Bio –

Heather Atkinson is the author of over fifty books – predominantly in the crime fiction genre. Although Lancashire born and bred she now lives with her family, including twin teenage daughters, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. Her new gangland series for Boldwood, set on the fictional Gallowburn estate in Glasgow begins with Blood Brothers which will be published in December 2020.

Social Media Links –

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/booksofheatheratkinson/

Website https://www.heatheratkinsonbooks.com/

Twitter @ https://twitter.com/HeatherAtkinso1

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/heathercrimeauthor/

Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-atkinson

COVER REVEAL!

The Mystery of Montague House by Emma Davies

The cover of Emma Davies’ brand new novel, ‘The Mystery of Montague House’

I am delighted to bring you this cover reveal for Emma Davies’ new novel. Complete with gorgeous basset hound.

When Summer meets Wynter…

With enough rooms to fill a Cluedo board several times over, Montague House has often been the subject of rumour and gossip. Tales of strange goings on, an owner who disappeared one day and was never seen again, not to mention the treasure that rumour has it lies at its heart… But now the present owner has died and the house is to be sold. It looks as if the opportunity has come to finally settle the stories once and for all.

Clodagh Wynter doesn’t believe in ghostly goings on and tall tales of secrets. She has her feet very firmly on the ground and, tasked with the job of valuing and cataloguing the house and all its contents, she’s simply looking forward to working in such a glorious setting. And if she happens across a priceless painting, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Andie Summer is a Finder of Things and desperately needs this job; she’s down to her last few tins of baked beans. So looking for hidden treasure sounds right up her street, even if there was something very fishy about the mysterious Mr Mayfair who hired her. Because it’s just like she said to her faithful Basset Hound, Hamish; I saw something out of the corner of my eye as I was leaving, and you know what that means. It’s never good news when I see something out of the corner of my eye…

As the unlikely pair are thrown together, it soon becomes very clear however that they are not the only ones searching for the treasure. And they’re going to need all their ingenuity, resourcefulness, not to mention chocolate biscuits, if they’re ever going to untangle the web of secrets that surrounds Montague House. One that reaches even further than they ever thought possible…

Purchase Link – https://smarturl.it/MontagueHouse

Former finance manager, now author, Emma Davies

Author Bio –

After a varied career, Emma Davies once worked for a design studio where she was asked to provide a fun and humorous (and not necessarily true) anecdote for their website. She wrote the following: ‘I am a bestselling novelist currently masquerading as a thirty-something mother of three.’ Well the job in the design studio didn’t work out but she’s now a fifty-something mother of three and is happy to report the rest of her dream came true.

After many years as a finance manager she now writes full time, and is far happier playing with words than numbers. She lives with her husband and three children in rural Shropshire where she writes in all the gaps in between real life.

Social Media Links –

@EmDaviesAuthor

www.facebook.com/emmadaviesauthor

www.instagram.com/authoremmadavies

PTSD in the land of the Villains

Detective Constable Bailey Morgan is back doing what she does best – working undercover.

This time she has to infiltrate the inner circle of a notorious underworld family. Posing as a fellow villain, she is on a one-woman mission to bring the family to their knees.

But things are never that simple. Bailey finds that she is forced to confront shadowy wraiths from her past and will come face-to-face with a set of devastating revelations that will shatter her world and threaten her very existence.

With only herself to trust, Bailey is on her own and the stakes are higher than ever.

Heart-stopping and gripping. Perfect for the fans of hit TV shows such as Line of Duty and Gangs of London.

The cover of Caro Savage’s second novel, ‘Villain’

Caro Savage is a new writer to me. I had missed her debut, Jailbird published in October 2019, but I liked the sound of her latest effort, Villain.

The fact that she has the best name for a crime writer since Karen Slaughter, only interested me further!

The atmospheric author portrait of the mysterious Caro Savage

I am happy to report that she lives up to her name: this novel is top notch. Savage manages to sprinkle the consequences of her protagonist’s previous undercover exploits through the novel with a light touch as well create a plucky, highly skilled detective who you want to go on the ride with.

It is not often that we see the far reaching results of exposure to violence and the effect that has on those that undergo it. Here, Bailey is on beta-blockers after a diagnosis of PTSD courtesy of the horrors she has previous undergone. 

Dainty Dialogue

A bugbear of mine in crime fiction is that convincing, flowing dialogue can often be the casualty of action but Savage manages the trick of making her characters distinct, recognisable and also realistic.

The other thing that Savage manages to do is ramp up the tension. Bailey’s interactions whilst undercover make your palms sweat as the threat of violence and trauma hangs over every encounter and keeps you hooked from first to last.

Black Humour

I have to be honest, the seam of black humour which runs through the novel – a severed arm torn asunder by a car bomb landing with a splat in front of a homeless man in the opening pages is a particular treat – keeps this novel from the potential of all thrillers to topple towards melodrama and is like a palate cleanser from the tension and thrills.

Caro Savage has announced her arrival as a writer to take note of with this thrilling follow up to her debut and I can’t wait to come across Bailey again.

Purchase Link

https://amzn.to/2V9uUKH

Author Bio

Caro Savage knows all about bestselling thrillers having worked as a Waterstones bookseller for 12 years in a previous life. Now taking up the challenge personally and turning to hard-hitting crime thriller writing, Jailbird was published by Boldwood in October 2019.

Social Media Links

Twitter Profile: https://twitter.com/CaroSavageStory

https://www.instagram.com/carosavage/

Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/CaroSavageNewsletter

The blog tour banner celebrating the publication of Caro Savage’s new novel, ‘Villain’

‘The Lie She Told’ – Exclusive Extract for PAJNewman

Courtesy of Catherine Yaffe, PAJNewman is delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive extract of The Lie She Told – You can read a review of the novel here

All Kate wanted was a peaceful life.

All Ryan wanted to do was destroy it.

Kate and her son Joe have created a new life for themselves in the Highlands of Scotland and she couldn’t be happier. That is until she picks a stranger up from the side of the road that turns out to be a figure from her past. Will all her secrets be revealed?

“Ryan?” She asked, risking a glance sideways

“Haha, I wondered when it would dawn on you”

“What the hell..how..” Kate was speechless. She’d last seen Ryan on the final day of the court hearing, hanging around outside on the court steps. As memories slowly clicked into place she went through a series of emotions. Her hands started to shake, heart pounding she moved from recognition to anger in a split second.

She swerved violently and pulled haphazardly onto the side of the road.

“What the actual? What are you doing here?” she removed her seatbelt and despite the lashing rain opened the car door and got out.

“Get out of my car now!” she yelled above the cacophony noise that swirled around the hills of the Highlands.

Ryan leaned over into the driver seat and shouted something, but Kate could only see red as rage, shock and fear took over.  

“I want you out of my car now!” she screamed again, shaking with anger.

Reluctantly Ryan did as she demanded and stepped into the monsoon,

“Kate, come on, don’t be like that”, he headed around the front of the car towards her.

She backed away,

“Oh no you don’t, stay away from me Ryan”

Ryan carried on forward, relentless, “Kate, what’s wrong with you?”

“Stop it Ryan, I don’t have to listen to anyone, anymore. I am not the same naive victim that you knew back then, and I will not listen to your bullshit”

Purchase Links 

UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

Author Bio – 

Catherine Yaffe is a former freelance journalist, magazine editor and digital marketing agency owner. Catherine has previously written non-fiction books on Digital Marketing before following her passion for writing crime novels full time.

The Lie She Told is the first in a series of books that challenge the status quo of relationships and makes the reader question how well you know those around you.

Catherine lives in West Yorkshire with her husband Mark and their 2 cats Jenson & Button (she’s also a F1 fan!)

Social Media Links – 

@catherineyaffe (Twitter)

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Instagram cat_yaffe_author

www.catherineyaffe.co.uk

A Dance to the Music of Crime

I have an aunt who once told me in confidence that the greatest relief of her life was when she read an article explaining that she did not have to read Proust in order to be considered well read. She is, by any normal, sane standards, an exceedingly well read lady but no amount of madeleines and tea or epiphanies can persuade her that she wants to wade through the full text of A La Recherche du Temps PerduIn a House of Lies

As someone who is still struggling to chart the full course of ‘Swann’s Way’, I understand those readers who share her aversion when it comes to the writer regarded as the English Proust, Anthony Powell and his masterwork, ‘A Dance to the Music of Time. Interestingly, Ian Rankin does not appear to be one of them. In fact, he’s quite the fan.

I was a member of the Anthony Powell Society (I lapsed, I’m sorry! I’m coming back – promise!) but every year, I re-read the full 12 novel sequence (or, perhaps, re-listen is a more apt description as I listen to the mighty Simon Vance’s audiobook recording?)

This time, I had to bench this particular pleasure as I I was impatient to listen to the latest John Rebus outing – ‘Taggart’ actor James MacPherson having recorded all of the Rebus novels to date and done a superb job.

The_dance_to_the_music_of_time_c._1640

Nicholas Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time

I’ve long believed that Rankin is foremost chronicler of contemporary Scottish life. From as far back as ‘Set in Darkness‘ which hinged upon – and poked fun at – the furore around the opening of the Scottish Parliament, it has long been obligatory to say that ‘Edinburgh is as much a character as the people’ (a compliment used so often it sets my teeth on edge, what it does to Rankin’s dentistry I can only imagine.)

But, for me, it always felt that it was ‘Naming of the Dead’ where Rankin really began to embrace parachuting Rebus and his Watson – boy she’d hate that – Siobhan Clarke like action hero Rosencrantz and Guildensterns charging through the 2005 G8 summit.

And then Rebus reached retirement age and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Rankin managed the seemingly impossible. He brought our misanthrope hero back, he got to have the joy of seeing Clarke outrank her mentor and then he got to play fantasy comic book team up by including anti-Rebus goody two shoes, Malcolm Fox.

Rebus’ Moriarty, “Big Ger” Cafferty also lurched towards retirement although –spoiler alert – maybe not of the lasting variety. The Naming of the Dead

Last year, 30 years after he first beat the streets of our capital, a character now as unrecognisable as the city he is associated with, Rebus took a year off.

It was void in my reading life, for sure.

Hence my impatience to get hold of the big man’s 22ndouting. And then: somewhat unexpectedly, it was Powell that ‘In a House of Lies‘ reminded me of.

You could detail the plot: body in car in woods, old case reignited, Rebus on original investigation, the veteran doing a favour for Clarke who has been receiving threatening calls, but you know what? It’s not important (sorry Ian, I can only imagine how annoying it is after all your hard work) but I just like seeing the team back together.

I love Rebus bristling with Fox, walking his new sidekick Brillo, see him still driving his knackered Saab (“It’s not vintage, it’s old,” he testily informs another character at one point.) It’s comforting to spend time with Clarke.

For a reader, it’s like a warm bath – albeit one with murder, low budget Scottish film making and a distinctly tongue in cheek hat tip to the more cosmetic societal changes of the MeToo movement. Perhaps the greatest trick Rankin pulls off is introducing new characters like

The way characters move in and out of each other’s lives is Powell-esque, as are the coincidences. I wonder how the books play down south where I imagine having a detective who worked the original case and all the spiralling connections seems far-fetched. For those readers I say: come to the Highlands, it seems positively weird if you don’t run into colleagues all the time.

Nick Jenkins

James Purefoy as Nick Jenkins

So, can you directly compare Rebus world to the comic novels of upper middle class manners of ‘Dance’?

Course you can.

John Rebus as Nick Jenkins? I think not. Our hero is far too down to earth and interesting to play the arrogant first person protagonist of Powell’s world. But he (used to) drink enough to be classic soak Charles Stringham and is charming enough when he wants to be to get his own way with a passion for danger so, perhaps, he is the Peter
Templar of the sequence.

Siobhan Clarke is, I think, Emily Brightman. An esoteric pull, I admit, but this seemingly minor character has Clarke’s desire to cut through the flowery prose which obfuscates and frustrates clarity (see her demolition of the French gutter press in book 11 ‘Temporary Kings) which powers Siobhan.

Malcolm Fox is more tricky. He has elements of the Widmerpool about him in his difficult family life, his desire to be “good” (whatever that means in his world) but he also wants to be loyal and, across his immersion in the word of Rebus has become a far more interesting character than in his more staid standalone world. His seemingly magnetic romantic attraction brings to mind Ralph Barnby, although a Byronic Lothario painter is about as far from Malcolm as could be imagined, so a hybrid Widmerpool, Barnby and civil servant Sir Leonard Short is possibly convincing, even if the mind boggles. Widmerpool

And so what of Big Ger Widmerpool then? He has waltzed in and out of the dance of Rebus’ life for nigh on 30 years and, even though pretenders to the throne like Daryl Christie are strong characters, even the best of these never quite move past Pepsi to the big man’s full fat Coke.

That’s why this is where the comparison breaks down. Powell never wrote anyone like the Gothic Cafferty. He’s more like John Le Carre’s Karla, locked in intellectual combat with his nemesis, as Rebus’ dance card fills and people come and go.

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Patrick Stewart as the reticent espionage genius Karla.

Powell’s 12 novel sequence is, arguably, the finest long form work in English. Certainly, as roman fleuve go, it is accessible, amusing and poigniant.

But what Rankin has achieved is truly remarkable. If it was “literary fiction”, whatever that is, it might get treated with less snobbery but for a razor sharp analysis of the monumental changes which have taken place in the last 30 years in Scotland, this is as fine writing as you could ask for. Funny, sharply observed, moving, pacey and rooted in a world recognisable to ordinary folk. And he’s done that over 22 novels (in this sequence alone).

61wMZQZ69PL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_In a 2015 piece about ‘Even Dogs in the Wild‘, I suggested that Rankin was getting better and better. On this evidence, and unlike the unholy trinity of Rebus, Clarke and Fox, I may have understated the case.

‘In A House of Lies’ Ian Rankin, Orion, 4thOctober, 2018, ISBN-10 9781409176886

 

Mister Brunetti and the things that he is not

Is it really 23 years since first we  met? Who could not love Commisario Guido Brunetti and his loveable collection of family and colleagues?

Venice – it is traditional at this point to say that the city is as much a character in the novels as the humans,  – the city Brunetti navigates with as much detached san froid as he can muster as the murky world of Italian police work intrudes on his homelife.

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Donna Leon’s 24th addition to the Brunetti series is Falling in Love

There are many theories as to why people read crime fiction – catharsis born of frustration at their own lives, vicarious wish-fulfillment to name but two – but there’s no doubt that Donna Leon’s characters buck the trend of the standard tropes found in the genre.

So much so, that to define the character of Brunetti, it may be easier to say what he is not.

Brunetti is not divorced. Married to a wonderful professor of literature, Paola. She may have been born into the Venetian nobility, but this rebellious left wing academic with a burning – necessarily unrequited – love of Henry James is mother to his children and always on hand to tease him, gently chide or act as a moral arbiter for Guido if he begins to stray too far from the path of righteousness. Paola can cause him problems, such as when, in fury at the authority’s lack of power to counter a sex tourism travel agency, she was driven to smashing the firm’s window with a brick, but she is almost always on hand to provide a sumptuous home cooked lunch or dinner.

Brunetti is not an alcoholic. Although, he is partial to a little tipple on his terrace at the end of a long day. Or lunch time. Or whenever the Veneziano weather will allow.

Brunetti is not fetishistic about the law.  As a Commisario of the Italian police, Brunetti is most often found examining his cases in terms of real politik – can something be done? If so, at what cost? And, how many favours will it cost a good man? If the answer to any of these is too much; then he may well let things slide. But never too far – after all, he still has to face Paola at the end of the day.

Brunetti is not estranged from his family. He has too children, Raffi and Chiara. They have not aged a great deal over the preceding near-quarter of a century, Raffi is a perpetual teen at university and still coming home to Mama, whilst Chiara has inherited his mother’s social conscience, but both children will still do the washing up after a family meal – even with a little grumbling.

Brunetti is not a lone wolf, or vigilante against the world. Guido relies heavily on a support network of colleagues, most notably his sergeant (later Ispettore) and friend Vianello, who plays Horatio to his Hamlet.

His greatest asset in his work – at least in terms of getting results – is the mysterious Signorina Elettra. His boss Vice-Questore Patta’s secretary, well connected and with a varied dating history, she spends the finances of the Questura on flowers to brighten her day and spends the rest of the time frightening Patta with her intelligence and Brunetti with her ability to circumnavigate the computer systems of the Italian state. Oh and the law, but she never seems to worry too much about that.

Brunetti

Some of the Brunetti books were adapted fro German television, apparently to Leon’s displeasure.

On the other hand, Brunetti is in conflict with his boss. One trope of the genre Guido does fit is his dislike of his boss. Vice-Questore Patta is vain, lazy and southern. Not a great combination in Brunetti’s opinion. He is joined by his subordinate brought along from Naples in the unlovely form of Lieutenant Scarpa who, over the course of the novels, has done nothing but snarl and act as a counter-weight to Brunetti and Vianello’s innate goodness.

Across a series this long, there is some variation in quality, for sure. The earliest novel, Death La Fenice was a promising start, but the series really hit its stride with a run that took Brunetti from a military academy in Uniform Justice to the famous glass works on Murano in Through a Glass Darkly.

Latterly, the novels feel like they have fallen into a comfy rhythm that pleases rather than pulsates on the reader’s palate. The latest novel, Falling in Love, is the 24th in the series and brings us back full circle to the opening opera-themed novel. And it’s fine. Not the best, not the worst.

But, if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the Brunettis, dip in. You’ll not be sorry.

Falling in Love is available from Amazon.co.uk