Friday, April 30, 2004

Here are the winners of the 2004 Edgar Awards, as announced last night in New York. I didn't read a single one...That either says something about me or the Edgar committee. At any rate, congrats to all!

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown)

Death of a Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel (Soho Press)

Find Me Again by Sylvia Maultash Warsh (Dundurn Group)

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson (Bloomsbury)

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (Random House – Crown Books)

"The Maids" from Blood on Their Hands by G. Miki Hayden (Berkeley Prime Crime) [Note: edited by Larry Block!]

Acceleration by Graham McNamee (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Childrens)

Bernie Magruder & the Bats in the Belfry by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum)

The Practice – "Goodbye," Teleplay by Peter Blake & David E. Kelley

Dirty Pretty Things by Steve Knight (BBC, Celador Productions, Jonescompany)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Sorry, a little more:

The website of bookseller Ottakars has three interviews. One with Bernard Cornwell, one with Lee Child, and a final one with Harlan Coben. There's an especially exciting teaser about Child's next one...

And one last thing before I forget: there is a new TV series in production of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels (and this comes straight from Val McDermid, so I definitely trust it). I was never very sure why they didn't forge ahead with the last one, as the viewing figures were very good... But, anyway, playing the intrepid Inspector this time around is your choice and mine, Ken Stott. (People have been saying he would be perfect casting for a very long time, and they're bound to be delighted.)

I know this is shamefully slow reporting, but the winners of the LA Times Book Prizes have been announced:

Fiction: Pete Dexter, Train: A Novel (Doubleday)
Mystery/Thriller: George P. Pelecanos, Soul Circus: A Novel (Little, Brown)
First Fiction (The Art Seidenbaum Award): Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Doubleday)
History: Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Biography: Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization (University of California Press)
Current Interest: Ross Terrill, The New Chinese Empire -- And What It Means for the United States (Basic Books)
Poetry: Anthony Hecht, Collected Later Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Science and Technology: Philip J. Hilts, Protecting America’s Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation (Alfred A. Knopf)
Young Adult Fiction: Jennifer Donnelly, A Northern Light (Harcourt Children’s Books)

Nice to see a win for George Pelecanos; a great shame that Tobias Wolff's Old School didn't win for Fiction. I admit to not having actually read the victor but unless it is unutterably superb, as I said earlier a crime against literature has been comitted. Oh, and Mark Haddon triumphs again. Who'd have guessed it?

Also, the shortlist for the Orange Prize for Ladies (sorry, Women) has been revealed today:

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury)
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (Virago)
Small Island by Andrea Levy (Review)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate)
Ice Road by Gillian Slovo (Little, Brown)
The Colour by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

It's a shame that Notes on A Scandal hasn't made it, because it is quite superb, but at least Oryx and Crake did, and that is even better, so I am placated. Roll on June 8th.

(As a point of interest, one of this year's judges is Minette Walters - no stranger to awards herself.)

And next, The Edgars...

Saturday, April 24, 2004

This is hardly pivotal to the world of crime fiction, but I had a jolly time today and bought lots of books. Boris Akunin's Leviathan (his third book, but the second translated); The Human Stain by Philip Roth; Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld story A Hat Full of Sky; the paperbacks of A Question of Blood and The Conspiracy Club (I want to give that one a try as Kellerman's best books have been his standalones), David Hewson's A Season for the Dead and - book of the day; possibly the year - Mo Hayder's Tokyo, which I wasn't expecting for at least a week, and thus it was the making of my day. I began it immediately, of course.

Hayder also has a new, very snazzy website (a big thank you to Ali for bringing that to my attention!) Now, I have to say that I don't think I have ever seen such a huge slew of fellow author blurbs as endow the review page for Tokyo. They're all over the back of the book, too. (Well, of course they are.) Minette Walters, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid, Karin Slaughter, and even Colin Dexter! (Who has impeccable taste, by the way.) I was aghast. Not even The da Vinci Code had that many. As I say, I have begun it in earnest, and it is so far every bit as good as its three-year gestation portended it to be.

Now, speaking of The Da Vinci Code...I finished it this morning, after a mere three days, and want, superfluously (after all, what difference am I going to make), to offer my thoughts.

I really liked the plot, and that is all the good I can say about it. It was a great idea, and I was rather impressed by Brown's actual conception of it. However, aside from that the book is fatuous nonsense. The characters are entirely vapid (the most interesting one dies in the opening pages; the most intriguing thing about the protagonist is that he wears a Mickey Mouse watch) and that is only the beginning. The writing is amateur at best, and there is a ridiculous amount of extraneous detail. Brown throws in almost every fact (I hesitate to even call them "facts" as what is true and what is not is stupidly unclear) he possibly can, and a good few of them add absolutely nothing. They were interesting, certainly, but they aided the story not at all and thus should have been removed.

Like I say, I almost desperately want to know what here is true and what is not. Some of the historical details and postulations on famous artworks are absolutely fascinating, but I can't help thinking that Brown has just made it up to suit the plot... Normally, that would be okay, but I would have liked a significant afterword about what was real and what imagined. The problem otherwise is that there are a lot of people about who will take this as gospel. Many of the reviews on amazon are testament to that.

The problem is that there is such a wealth of innaccuracy and unconvincing trash. The British police willing to take orders from the French? I don't think so Mr Brown. Even the geography of London and Paris is suspect; one gets the feeling he took a two-week vacation in Europe for research but otherwise relied on maps, figuring that it wouldn't matter to American readers. (There is another huge insult to the audience later on as well, but I'll get to that in due course.) The "suspense" that propels the reader through the chapters is of the worst kind; simply keeping things and revelations from the reader for a couple of chapters. I won't talk again about how easy some of the codes were to fathom apart from to say that anyone who has even a minor acquaintance with Fibonacci numbers, anagrams, and even the symbolism of poetry will not find themselves taxed. Oh, also, and a Swiss bank in Paris? Operating under the Swiss system? No.

At one point he horrifically misunderstands da Vinci's The Vitruvian man, as well as referring to Wicca as an "ancient religion". Now, paganism may be ancient but wicca definitely isn't. Wicca actually saw its inception in the 50's, through the influence of men like Gerald Gardner and then Alistair Crowley.

I don't even mind that this is "blasphemous", as I am no more a Christian than Brown is an adequate researcher, but there are enough religious misconceptions to leave the plot looking like Swiss cheese. I won't go into them all, but I will go into the one which annoyed me most.

Several points throughout the book, Brown refers to Eve as having eaten an "apple", which truly lays bear the depths (or lack thereof!) of his poor research. That Eve ate an apple is a popular belief, but entirely false. Apples are not mentioned anywhere in Genesis. What it actually says is that Eve partook of the "fruit" from the Tree of Good and Evil. Not an apple. The fact that the ENTIRE conclusion of the book is founded on this misconception completely demolishes the whole thing (the fact that he alters the true geography of the Louvre also doesn’t help.)

If Mr Brown is not aware of his mistake, that is a remarkable ignorance considering how easy it would be to verify through research. However, what is even worse is if he actually is aware but decided to use it anyway for the purposes of the plot. To assume that it will simply pass his audience by is the most appalling example of an author's low estimation of his readers that I have ever come across. Either way, he comes off badly.

Anyway, sorry about all that; it’s all rather disorganised. I have more I could say, but I shall leave it there.

On a lighter note, the winners of various LA Times Book Prizes are announced later. If it hasn't already been done, I'll let you know as soon as I find out. Personally, I'm rooting for Henning Mankell in the Mystery/Thriller category. The Dogs of Riga, isn't one of his best, but I'd still like to see it win. I think it'll actually go to George Pelecanos or, as an outsider, Peter Lovesey. In the main fiction category, if Tobias Wolff's Old School doesn't win, a crime against literature will have been comitted.

(Whoa..sorry that was so long. If you've made it all the way down here, pat yourself on the back.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Telegraph have finally put up their excellent Boris Akunin profile/interview.

April's Rapsheet at January magazine is up, with a huge raft of reviews. I don't know how long this has been up, it could be several days for all I know as I only just stumbled upon it a few hours ago, but as it's not been mentioned before I'm doing so now...

Finally, a large chunk of unsubstantiated rumour that I can't quite source: Dennis Lehane's work-in-progress is tenatatively titled "City of Dawns". He's apparently also said that there might be one more outing for Kenzie & Gennaro, but not two. Given that I've not read any of his books, this doesn't really matter to me yet.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Those cheeky folks at The Guardian are at it again. Here is the digested version of Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos.

Two reviews of Boris Akunin's Leviathan; one from The Independent, and one from a week or so ago, from The Telegraph. That's that decided: despite the fact that I didn't love his first, I am going to try this anyway (although mainly because the French investigator is called Commissioner Gustav Guache.)

Lastly, can you escape The Crimson Room? (I can, but it took me an age.)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Sitting here, cracking open pistachio nuts and drinking coffee, I am in a mild state of perplexed disbelief. Why? Well, as it is Sunday, the hebdomadal (sorry) bestseller lists lie before me again, and the paperback of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time does not even make the grade, slipping off entirely from last week, when it was number 1. Don't be silly! Go and count again, please. You've got it wrong. While it's not impossible, it strikes me as incredibly unlikely that a book that has been so very very popular for so very very long could possibly plummet off the list suddenly. (Whereas the hardback goes back up to number 1? What is going on!?)

Otherwise, there's not a lot of note. Lee Child has disappeared completely, the usual suspects remain (The Lovely Bones, etc.) and The Kalahari Typing School for Men finds itself at number 9.

Elsewhere...The Telegraph, on the 16th, had a good interview with Zoe Heller. Now, if you still haven't gone out and bought Notes on A Scandal, you must do so forthwith! Yesterday, in that same paper, I was also surprised to find a nice profile of/interview with Boris Akunin, but they don't have it up yet, so I can't link it. Fear not, I will do so when they have.

Denise Mina's new book, The Field of Blood has long been scheduled (by amazon, anyway, who I believe far too readily) as coming out this month. I've been hearing rumors, though, that this is completely untrue and that we won't actually be seeing it until March 2005. This doesn't surprise me, because, for an impending publication, everything has been suspiciously quiet. Plus, I read somewhere that she's finding it, "bloody hard work". also has also just put up the UK cover design for Mark Billingham's The Burning Girl. I know this might change, but I always love seeing the first glimpse of a book's cover. It makes the prospect of it so much more tangible...

The Sunday Times also reviews a couple of crime books this week. Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon, and Firewall by Henning Mankell. (I hope you can access those articles...If not, this is a short fragment from the Firewall article:

Gradually, Wallander uncovers a plot to undermine the world's financial system. A group of computer hackers has tampered with cash points and other electronic money outlets in an attempt to cause havoc. Questions of responsibility and morality, of justice and democracy, are explicitly raised. Yet, overall, the book lacks the mordant comedy of the earlier Wallander procedurals, and a certain authorial weariness shows in the writing. Firewall nevertheless remains a compelling Euro-thriller, and Inspector Wallander has never been more attractively grumpy.

And this is a short fragment from the Leon article:

The latest in Donna Leon's Venetian crime novels sees Commissario Guido Brunetti once again battling the apathy, ambition and downright malevolence of his colleagues, most notably the snakelike Lieutenant Scarpa, against the backdrop of a slowly decaying and creakily modernising city in which every undredged canal exudes a stench of corruption. Even the angels, such as Brunetti's acolyte Signorina Elettra, are not above a spot of ethical double-dealing to further their progress; even the sybaritic Brunetti himself is portrayed as giving as much consideration to lunching as to sleuthing. Leon's talent for sketching Venice with equal measures of affection and exasperation is undimmed, and Brunetti and his serious, thoughtful wife Paola remain subtle and pleasing creations.) Both of these are books I heartily reccomend.

(A little more on Henning Mankell. Firewall was also recently reviewed in The Guardian by M John Harrison. I feel I must draw attention to the wonderful line:

"This is partly why we identify with him so. He's less a character than an ongoing rhetorical question reminding us that the world has got out of hand."

I must also draw your attention to a review in The Scotsman last year, which said, "I realise that this is practically heresy, but to my mind Henning Mankell can write the socks off Ian Rankin." Now, coming from a Scottish newspaper, that is a very strong statement indeed. Do I agree with it? Actually, when considering the quality of Mankell's recent books, I do.)

Here's another recently unveiled cover for you to see, this time the US design for Ruth Rendell's The Rottweiler.

Now, a final few words. At the moment, I am reading Half Broken Things (I remain adamant that there should be a hyphen in there) by Morag Joss, and it is another most commendable novel. It was the surprise winner of last year's CWA Silver Dagger (well, it was a surprise, I think, only for those who hadn't read it. When you read it, you know why.) In short, it is about three damaged people who come together and at last discover a life that is worth protecting. Here is an excellent interview with the author from Shots. (It endeared me to her immeasurably, especially when she said that two of her favourite novels were Michael Cunningham's The Hours, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, which also happen to be two of my favourite novels of all time.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The review section of Shots, the online mystery magazine, has been updated again. Particularly interesting to me is the review of Mo Hayder's Tokyo, a book I have been waiting what seems like an age (well, what is an age) for. Also getting a positive review is Michael Marshall's The Lonely Dead - in the USA, it has an undergone a title metamorphosis (one of my pet hates) toThe Upright Man - which hopefully will tie up the mess (well, that's what I think) that was the ending of The Straw Men.

Also, has recently put up a synopsis of James Lee Burke's next novel, In The Moon of Red Ponies (another of his marvellously bizarre titles), which probabaly shouldn't even be glanced at if you have not read Bitterroot but plan to (that taught me a lesson)!: At the end of BITTERROOT, rodeo cowboy Wyatt Dixon - 'the most dangerous, depraved, twisted and unpredictable human being I ever knew' - was sentenced to sixty years in Deer Lodge Pen for the murder of a biker in the Aryan Brotherhood. Now, one year later, he's out, due to the DA's failure to disclose a piece of evidence. Among his many crimes, Wyatt once tortured Billy Bob's wife, Temple, when she was a cop. Dixon declares to Billy Bob that he's a reformed character and he needs his help in a venture to raise rodeo livestock. But how can Billy Bob believe him? Meanwhile Johnny American Horse, a possible descendent of Crazy Horse, whose worst offences till now have been the odd bout of drunkenness and a propensity to believe his dreams, is caught carrying a gun. He tells Billy Bob he needs it for protection; in a dream he saw two men coming for him. Sure enough, those men in Johnny's dream are heading West, with Johnny as their target. Soon Johnny's in serious trouble with only one man to turn to, Billy Bob - and Billy Bob finds himself pitched into a complex battle that pits him not only against Wyatt Dixon, but against the very government he has sworn to support.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Today's blog from Fiona is brought to you by the letter "P", and the number 582,365.

P stands for "punctuation publishing phenomenon", and 583,365 is the number of copies, since late last year, that Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves has sold in the UK. (To put that in perspective, The Lovely Bones has comparatively only sold 765,725 and has been available for two years, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time, a phenomenon enough, has actually only sold 219,235 copies in the year it has been available.)

Now, forgive me that this is only very marginally related to crime fiction, but the book has officially (according to amazon) been released in the US today, and I felt the need to bang the publicity drum for this marvellous little gem. It is a senastion in Britain (although, I have to say, I think only among people who are pretty adept at and interested in matters of punctuation anyway), and has completely turned around the fortunes of its publisher Profile, which went on to win small publisher of the year at the recent Nibbies. Its immense sucess has shocked everyone. Who would have thought that a small, pompous little book on punctuation would sell half a million copies and undergo god-knows how many reprints? Not me. And certainly not the author, her surprise and delight have been well-documented.

For anyone interested in punctuation, or the English langauge in any way, this is a must-read. It's only short; around 200 small pages. It's hilarious in a Bryson-esque way, and it's incredibly informative. Not only about the correct usages of certain much-abused punctuation marks, but on the history of the punctuation marks themselves, which i'd never have believed could be so interesting. She brings us information on the first recorded instances of various marks (semi-colon, for example), and the case of a man who was "hanged on a comma" (or, as Truss more accurately puts it, the case of the man who "tried to get off on a comma" but failed to succeed). And did you know that the word comma itself comes from Greek, meaning, "piece cut off"? I certainly didn't. It's quite a brilliant little book, ideal especially for those who lament the slipping standards of punctuation the world over. So, purchase it without ado! Ensure that it sees as great a sucess in America as it did (and still does) in Britain.

Now, in other areas... The focus of today's "Monday Interview" in The Guardian is Margaret Atwood. Every word I read about her just makes me adore her even more.

Although it grieves me to do it, I must also today admit to an occasion when I was wrong. Well, "misinformed". The Kellerman's have not collaborated on a book called Capital Crimes as amazon told me, but Double Homicide, and it will be a flip-book of novellas. Jonathan also has a new Petra Connor novel coming in November, called Twisted (recent short story collection by Jeffery Deaver, anyone?) That's going to bring his total this year up to three, carrying him into portentiously Pattersonesque waters.

Also, as Sarah has done it, I won't feel too guilty about doing it either. Talk about the Booker Prize, I mean. I've been intending to for a little while, waiting for a suitable opportunity. Firstly, may I draw your attention to the much-jazzed-up official Man Booker Prize website, which I am severely enamoured of. It's also now added a wonderful archive of all previous winners and nominees, which I spent a good two hours studying the other night. Now, I love the Booker Prize. Absolutely love it. You can already hear this year's potential entrants lumbering up to the start-line, and it's a fascinating spectacle. Personally, I would be incredibly surprised if David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas didn't reach the shortlist. It's pretty darn dense, but very good indeed. I'd also like to see The Maze by Panos Karnezis do very well, but I don't think I'll be satisfied. I thought it was excellent, but at times the fact that English wasn't his mother tongue seeped through in slightly curious sentences. Also, if Tobias Wolff's brilliant Old School managed to get shortlisted I would be so delighted that I'd remove much of my garmentation and do a little impromptu dance. Unfortuantely, that won't happen as it isn't even eligible.

Lastly, in an attempt to lessen my guilt that today I've hardly written a word about crime fiction, I'm at least going to offer something amusing. Again, though, it's not about crime fiction. It is about the Booker Prize (alright, the "Man" Booker Prize), though. This here is a wonderfully entertaining article about last year's prize, by John O' Farrell

The latest New York Times' bestseller list contains a number of crime fiction titles (Published: April 18, 2004):

2. THE DA VINCI CODE, by Dan Brown. (Doubleday, $24.95.)
4. 3RD DEGREE, by James Patterson and Andrew Gross. (Little, Brown, $26.95.) (Mystery Ink's review)
5. THE LAST JUROR, by John Grisham. (Doubleday, $27.95.) (Mystery Ink's review)
6. FIRESTORM, by Iris Johansen. (Bantam, $24.95.)
7. ANGELS & DEMONS, by Dan Brown. (Atria, $17.95.)
9. FLASHPOINT, by Suzanne Brockmann. (Ballantine, $21.95.)
10. GUARDIAN OF THE HORIZON, by Elizabeth Peters. (Morrow, $24.95.)
14. WHISKER OF EVIL, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (Bantam, $24.95.)
15. BAD BUSINESS, by Robert B. Parker. (Putnam, $24.95.)
17. A DEATH IN VIENNA, by Daniel Silva. (Putnam, $25.95.) (Mystery Ink's review)
22. SLEEPING BEAUTY, by Phillip Margolin. (HarperCollins, $25.95.)
23. THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE, by John Dunning. (Scribner, $25.) (Mystery Ink's review)
26. BLACK CREEK CROSSING, by John Saul. (Ballantine, $25.95.)
27. THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL, by Lawrence Block. (Morrow, $24.95.) (Mystery Ink's review)
28. THE BODY OF DAVID HAYES, by Ridley Pearson. (Hyperion, $23.95.)
32. THE PRIESTLY SINS, by Andrew M. Greeley. (Forge, $24.95.)
35. THE GAME, by Laurie R. King. (Bantam, $23.95.) (Mystery Ink's review)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The San Francisco Chronicle this morning carries Tom Nolan's review of Edward Conlon's Blue Blood, a memoir of his days with the NYPD. (This piece might have originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which is Nolan's usual newspaper, but I can't tell, since the WSJ site is subscription only. A pox on them!) Nolan has nothing but praise for the book, saying it "may be the most candid and bestwritten true account ever of the joys and frustrations, sorrows and rewards of a cop's life in Manhattan, or in any big city." He makes the book sound excellent; enough so that I think I'll have to pick it up myself.

Once again, The Sunday Times offers up it's bestseller lists, and Lee Child's The Enemy has swooped up to number 2 for hardback fiction. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time drops to number three, but even that is remarkable when you notice that the just-released paperback edition is sitting quite comfortably at number 1. Elsewhere on the paperback list, Persuader goes to number 6, and Mark Billingham's Lazybones sneaks in at number 10, up from 17 last week.

Ruth Rendell (rencetly given the Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Ink) reviews John Harwood's The Ghost Writer.

Now, I'm aware that the subject of Mark Haddon and his book is getting very well-worn, but here he's written a charming article in The Observer about "why Jane Austen was his inspiration, and how he got over the problem of drawing dinosaur legs".

Also, last week I was caught delightfully unaware by the news that Robert Wilson has written a very swift follow-up to The Blind Man of Seville (which, despite what anyone else in the world happens to tell you, was the best book of last year by some way), which will be released in my part of the world this August, entitled The Silent and the Damned: In the steaming heat of a Sevillian July, Javier Falcon is called to a crime scene in an affluent suburb of the city. Initial impressions suggest that the case can be written off as a suicide pact but, troubled by incongruities in the evidence, Falcon cannot shake off the suspicion that the scene has been staged by a cold-blooded murderer. That the next two suicides are genuine, there is no doubt. But what could have made the head of the Sex Crimes squad become the first police officer at the Seville Jefatura to take his own life?

Once again, what is Fiona reading? The White Lioness by Henning Mankell, the first time his Wallander series got really really good. So far, it's a remarkable book. Set in 1992, after Nelson Mandella's long walk to freedom, it is centred around a plot to assassinate him that stretches all the way to Sweden and the doorstep of Inspector Kurt Wallander. He gets over any "Day of the Jackal" problems (i.e. we know Mandella wasn't assassinated) by making a lot of the plot so centred on its effects on Wallander, and Sweden, personally. Now, I must get back to it; last night I left Inspector Wallander as he was chasing off alone into a Military Training Ground shrouded in fog, in pursuit of a suspect with a gun who has taken a man hostage. It's all very exciting.

As an aside, here is an excellent profile of Mankell from The Guardian, and also a review of his latest book published in the US, The Return of the Dancing Master.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Here's an end of March round-up of the latest crime-fiction in Britain, from Susanna Yager. It's nice to finally see some serious review-appreciation for Caroline Graham, whose first novel in five years was published last month, and was up to her usual high standard. Another good review for Jim Kelly's The Fire Baby (for those interested, his next Dryden novel will be called The Moon Tunnel, and I've heard that it'll be out next year; in Britain anyway), and Donna Leon quite justly receives more lush praise for Doctored Evidence , the latest novel in her divinely enjoyable Brunetti series. carries a synopsis of Ian Rankin's next Rebus novel, Fleshmarket Close (in the USA, this would translate to something like "Fleshmarket Avenue"): An illegal immigrant is found murdered in an Edinburgh housing scheme: a racist attack, or something else entirely? Rebus is drawn into the case, but has other problems: his old police station has closed for business, and his masters would rather he retire than stick around. But Rebus is that most stubborn of creatures. As Rebus investigates, he must visit an asylum seekers' detention centre, deal with the sleazy Edinburgh underworld, and maybe even fall in love...Siobhan meanwhile has problems of her own. A teenager has disappeared from home and Siobhan is drawn into helping the family, which will mean travelling closer than is healthy towards the web of a convicted rapist. Then there's the small matter of the two skeletons - a woman and an infant - found buried beneath a concrete cellar floor in Fleshmarket Close. The scene begins to look like an elaborate stunt - but whose, and for what purpose? And how can it tie to the murder on the unforgiving housing-scheme known as Knoxland? .

Val McDermid's website has recently put up an extract of her next novel, The Torment of Others. I myself don't see much point at all in extracts, but if you're interested then go sneak a peek...

Lastly, a recommendation from me: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. Another book plucked from last year's wonderful Booker shortlist (I was incredibly impressed with last year's shortlist; I don't think there's ever been a year when I wanted to read every book on it.) It is is superb - obviously, it's by Margaret Atwood - and I recommend it to all. A dystopia where genetic tinkering has left the natural world in ruins. To quote from the blurb: " Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, now calls himself Snowman and lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility." (If that isn't the most intriguing blurb ever, then I'm John Kerry.) Clever, sharp, wise, and a literate pageturner. It's also, strangely, a thriller, as the book moves forward we become ever more curious about what disastrous events really caused the wastelands that surround Snowman.

Plus, the policing organisation which patrols the scientific research compounds is called "CorpSeCorps". Now, I'm sorry, but that is lexical genius of the highest order.

I've just been watching the Nibbies (aka The British National Book Awards). Who must I thank for this? Richard and Judy (that article tells you all you need to know), the Oprahs of British Daytime Television. Their recent bookclub has met with unashamed sucess, so much so that they are now "one of the most powerful forces in British publishing", and the interest they have created means that this ceremony is now televised for the first time. It was a surprisingly glitzy affair, spoiled only by the fact that Channel 4 tried to cram the whole evening into an hour-long slot, which meant there was some rather abrupt cutting. But that was forgiveable. They managed to squeeze at least three awards into every quarter-hour. The Oscars barely manage one, and I know which one I would rather watch.

It was a deeply satisfying night for Mark Haddon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which won both the Literary Fiction and Children's Book Of The Year awards. It was amazing; every single time his name was mentioned, the audience erupted with applause. Newcomer of the Year went to Monica Ali, who was very conspicuous in her absence. But then, it was definitely a night for conspicuous absences: DBC Pierre didn't turn up, either, or Martin Amis, or Jonathan Raban, among others. Sports Book of The Year...well, I won't bother mentioning who won that because I don't care.

Author of the Year went to Alexander McCall Smith, which was great. It was all the more delighting for the fact that, if he hadn't won, I would not have noticed his wonderful trousers as he strode to the podium: red and green tartan! Book of the Year went to Lynne Truss's absolutely marvellous and thoroughly deserving Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which I will effervesce about in a few days. I was having a lovely time, up until that unfailing point when I collapse with disappointment and anger. This moment always, always rolls around at every single awards event (I call it my "Fox Evil" moment, after last year's terrible CWA judging). This time it occured with the TV and Film Book of the Year Award, which was awarded to How Clean is Your House?, a book spawned from a TV show about two middle-aged women who go around cleaning up shamefully messy houses. Michael Cunningham's brilliant [Pulitzer-winning] The Hourswas also nominated, but didn't win. Now, let me get this straight: are you telling me that what is basically a big picture book about two women cleaning houses is better, more worthy of winning, than a brilliant Pulitzer-winning piece of literature? Is that what you're telling me? Seriously? If it is, shut up and go away. Leave me to sulk in the corner.

(Don't worry, though, folks! Kim and Aggie, the two ladies in question, could not be at the ceremony because they are currently flying to the US to film an American version of the show! All is not lost.)

The Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year, voted for by the public, was awarded to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which was no surprise. After all, bestsellers by their nature have a lot more readers, and thus more potential voters. And as the book in question has sold three quarters of a million copies here, that is a LOT of potential voters. It still, old grumpy person that I am, annoys me. It just isn't that good. Also, where are all these fans of the book? I know lots of people who've read it, but not one real life person who loved it. A couple have liked it okay, but even they always offer the caveat "the ending's no good, though". Please, let yourselves be known. Stand up; raise your hands? Or at least send me an anonymous note...

Thursday, April 08, 2004

To celebrate their five-year anniversary, the independent booksellers of the American Booksellers Association cast their ballots for the titles they most enjoyed hand-selling over the past five years. The result was the The Best of Book Sense From the First Five Years.

There are two crime fiction titles in the "Adult Fiction" category: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (which I hear is kinda, sorta a mystery).

Call me a plebian, but I haven't read either of those, or anything else on the list either. I have, however, read The Hobbit, which makes the "Children's" list. So there!

Penguin Publishing highlights Monkeewrench's win of the Gumshoe Award.

Meanwhile, over at January Magazine, you can see my full-length review of Gayle Lynds' excellent new thriller, The Coil. Galye and I recently had a discussion about female authors in the thriller world and we could come up, woefully, with only a few. Why aren't more women attracted to this genre? It appears that women love to read them; why aren't more writing them?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The winners of the 3rd Annual Gumshoe Awards, presented by Mystery Ink to honor excellence in crime fiction, were announced today!

The winners are:

Best Novel: Steve Hamilton, Blood is the Sky

Best First Novel: P.J. Tracy, Monkeewrench

Best Crime Fiction Website: Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

Lifetime Achievement: Ruth Rendell

Congratulations to everyone!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Well, here is some more old news I've recently stumbled across but found interesting: Ian McEwan's Enduring Love has been made into a film coming out this year, starring Samantha Morton and Bill Nighy (most recently recognisable as the jaded rock star from Love, Actually). I don't know how sucessful this will be. I think probably not very. After all, as with a lot of "literature", much of it is internal and almost impossible to film. The first chapter particularly, which is possibly the most perfect first chapter ever penned, would be reduced to a simple cinematic "action" sequence. Hey, maybe I'm being too pessimistic. It's certainly a film I'll be seeing.

Also, James Pattersons's next Alex Cross novel, entitled London Bridges will burst forth upon us this November. (I've no particular wish to publicise it, but I'm sure his fans will be interested.) Incidentally, he's also written a book for kids (this time, according to an interview, co-written with his son; Andrew Gross not good enough for you any more, James?) which we'll see in October, called Santakid. How very curious.

Here is a lovely old article from the Globe and Mail about, among more general things, Peter Robinson's latest Inspector Banks novel, Playing With Fire, which I though was absolutely excellent until the solution, which was ever-so-slightly disappointing.

From The Guardian today, an interesting piece on the mysterious disappearance of Petrarch's head. As they say, a very curious "medieval whodunnit".

Lastly: had a hard day? In need of some laughs? Well, scoot on over to The Guardian archives again, this time for the condensed version of Patricia Cornwell's Blow Fly. It may be harsh, but it's true. (They also recently had one for Lee Child's The Enemy.)

Monday, April 05, 2004

Pat Anderson has a review of Ace Atkins's new book, Dirty South, in today's Washington Post. He didn't like it as much as I did, but he still has some good things to say about it. I think Ace is one of the better writers to come along in the past few years -- and one of the few writers of Southern mysteries that I really enjoy. I especially recommend his Dark End of the Street, which was short-listed for a Gumshoe Award. (See Yvette Banek's review of Dark End on Mystery Ink. Her review of Dirty South is here.)

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Nice write-up about January Magazine, a web publication that I occasionally contribute to. They do an excellent job of covering crime fiction, for which all of us are thankul. My long piece on Gayle Lynds' The Coil should be appearing there soon.

Interesting news about Matthew Reilly, whom his publicist tells me is "the #1 bestselling author in Australia." I haven't read his latest book Scarecrow, but it seems to be doing well (and it was the #1 book in Australia for the eight weeks leading to Christmas 2003) and is getting good reviews (Kirkus says it's the author's "best yet" and is "immensely entertaining").

Now Reilly is launching his latest project, an online serial novel called Hover Car Racer that will be available to readers free of charge. There are eight installments, available on the 4th and 20th of each month through July. This is the first time that a major bestselling author is offering a complete novel online --- for free.

Here's the plot: "Set in a time a few years from now, Hover Car Racer follows the high-octane adventures of 14-year-old Jason Chaser, a gifted young pilot as he takes on the supercharged world of hover car racing --- where races are run at 810 km/h. But Jason is exceedingly young to be a racer, a boy in a man's world. And so, in his trusty car, the Argonaut, he will race against all manner of villains and rivals in all kinds of races at the famed International Race School and (perhaps) in the larger world of pro racing. One thing is for sure, his high-speed escapes and nailbiting finishes will leave you literally clutching your armchair. You have never read anything faster than Hover Car Racer!"

Interesting idea... I think more authors will be trying stuff like this in the future. It can't help but attract more readers and help raise the author's profile.

Today's Chicago Sun-Times carries my latest column: "Freed from the shadow of Ludlum," which contains reviews of the latest from Gayle Lynds, Daniel Silva, Lawrence Block, Ace Atkins and Michael Black. Some nice stuff in there.

The paper also has a nice piece featuring Ace Atkins taking the writer on a tour to find "the blues in its birthplace."

Well, The Sunday Times Bestseller Lists are up. Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (recent nominee for the Gumshoe Award) is still riding pleasingly high at number one on the hardback list. It's been there god knows how many weeks, constantly bouyed up by a new raft of awards and the fact that it is just so darn good. Next week, I'm pretty sure that it will occupy both number 1 slots - for paper and hardback. (I was a little surprised it didn't this week, actually.)

Holding stubbornly on at number 2 is James Patterson's embarassingly bad 3rd Degree (British public, please! With every week you allow it to remain there you demean yourselves even further), and The Last Juror slips once again, to position 6. That's about it for hardback fiction, aside from mentioning that it's wonderful to see Lee Child's The Enemy debuting at number 9. Next week, in true Child tradition, it will climb even higher I'm sure.

[Editor's note: Don't miss Fiona's scathing review of 3rd Degree on Mystery Ink.]

As for paperback fiction...The Da Vinci Code, a book I do fully intend to read but can't muster much enthusiasm for, still sits comfortably at the top, 6,000 copies ahead of Zoe Heller's wonderful Booker nominated Notes on A Scandal, which is at number 2. Trust me, get this book. That it has risen in the charts every single week since its publication is only one hint at how brilliant it is. Apart from that, there is nothing much of note. Kathy Reichs's disappointing Bare Bones goes straight to number 4. Oh, and The Lovely Bones has now ratcheted up a remarkable 41 weeks in the top 10, which annoys me. Of course, though, 41 weeks is nothing compared to the 77 that Michael Moore's Stupid White Men has dominated the non-fiction charts.

Also in the Sunday Times, Joan Smith takes a look at the latest crime fiction, including Jim Kelly's The Fire Baby, a book which certainly impressed me, and Boris Akunin's Leviathan. I have to say, I tried his Gold Dagger nominated debut The Winter Queen and found it wanting, but mainly because I didn't like the sometimes awkward translation. I will probably be trying this second one, though.

The Sunday Times also carries a nice little article on the recent hugely sucessful Oxford Literary Festival.

Meanwhile, as I delve into the archives of The Guardian, this is a particularly interesting article considering why Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series has not enticed the TV companies, as so many others do.

And, what am I myself currently reading? I want to mention it briefly, because it is so impossibly good. Vodka by Boris Starling, a spectacular portrait of Russia in 1991, after the fall of Communism. I have no idea when it's coming out in the USA (well, unless you believe Barnes and Noble when they say it will be released in 1915) but, when it does, do yourself a favour and get it. It is quite quite beautiful. It's full of enough profound ruminations on the nature of Russia (and vodka) to fill my large notebook. For example, the wonderful, "there is no such thing as Russian cuisine, only things that go well with vodka", or, "like vodka, the onion is another perfect symbol of Russia: onions have many layers, and the more you peel away, the more you weep."

Saturday, April 03, 2004

USA Today has a list of the Top 100 bestselling books of the past decade. You could probably guess #1 (hint: think Hogwarts) -- as well as numbers 3, 4, 5 & 6. The only book to break the boy wizard's streak? Robert Fatkins's do-it-yourself heart attack guide Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution.

The top crime fiction title is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, currently #13, but surely moving higher as we speak. Next highest is John Grisham's The Testament at #24. (Grisham also owns spots #27, 31, 32, 33, 40, 45, 52, 53, 60, 80 & 90.)

There are a few others... Thomas Harris's Hannibal at 57, Michael Crichton's The Lost World (his worst book) at 79 and Timeline (a much better book) at 81, Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor at 84 and Rainbow Six at 86, Dan Brown again, this time Angels & Demons at 88, and finally two more Clancys: The Bear and the Dragon (94) and Executive Orders (95).

Friday, April 02, 2004

Here I am, fresh from the delightfully cultured pleasures of BBC Newsnight Review. I do love review programmes like this. Tonight, our panellists discussing the latest highlights in the world of British culture were poet and critic Tom Paulin, and two of crime fiction's heaviest heavy-weights, Ian Rankin and P.D. James. First up for discussion was Oscar-winner Monster. (It says much about the state of British cinema that this film, which of course won Charlize Theron her Best Actress Oscar almost a month ago, and has been on release in the US for a good while, has only just opened on our shores today.) The basic thrust of their discussion was that it was worth watching for the performances of Ricci and Theron, but the actual structure was slightly lacking.

James said that Theron's performance was a "tour de force", but that the central love story "didn't really work". She also said that she felt "I should have felt more sorry for her [Aileen Wuornos] than I was able to, so in that sense it failed." Paulin compared it to a "feminist version of that great Mailer novel The Executioner's Song", which I thought was a bit of a striking comparison. Rankin said of it: "brilliant performances in a film that isn't in itself brilliant. Certainly, it was a very difficult to watch." This is a film I've been itching to see for quite a while, and I don't think I've really been swayed one way or the other by these comments.

Anyway, I must get onto what I had intended to talk about. I want to discuss blow flies. Well, just one, actually: Patricia Cornwell's most recent Kay Scarpetta novel, which I am finding a most incredibly curious phenomenon. Sometimes, I have been rather shocked by some of the seeming malice which is directed at Cornwell, and I have rallied to her defence with spectacularly reckless abandon on occasion, once or twice leaving behind all my common sense and reason. Blow Fly in particular caused many spewings of disappointment from almost all corners. What I find most notable, though, is that there are actually one or two rather impressive reviews out there for it. The Connecticut Post said that "Patricia Cornwell is on target - and spectacularly so - with her latest Kay Scarpetta thriller". Antonia Fraser, in her review in The Sunday Telegraph, said it was a "tremendous read", if a trifle morally ambiguous, which was certainly true. The reviewer at Shots, who was a Scarpetta virgin, was also pretty impressed (with all except the gore) and said that the final pages were "really first-rate," despite the fact that the ending was the greatest point of contention for loyal readers.

In an article in The Spectator (registration required), Olivia Glazebrook (who, as is clear from the tone of the review, doesn't often lower herself to reading much crime-fiction, certainly not by Patricia Cornwell, thank you very much) seemed to like Blow Fly best of the three she took a look at - if "like" is quite the right word. I have also read several other reviews smattered over the internet, and I have noticed one uniting factor: most (not all) of the reviewers, like Ms Glazebrook, were experiencing Scarpetta and Patricia Cornwell for the first time. Indeed, I've heard of several people who read Blow Fly and became converts to the series. So, is it honestly as bad as lots of readers say? Is it so that only those who have never read the series before, who have no knowledge of the preceding books, can appreciate it? Surely not? Why should this be?

Maybe Blow Fly is mostly fine in itself, and it is just that the first books were so very good that anything less than excellence, or anything vaguely different, is going to be disappointing for longstanding fans. Personally, I'm of the opinion that Cornwell has written herself into a corner in terms of what her readers want, and whichever way she tries to get out will involve walking over a bed of nails. Whatever she does, readers will be disappointed. Partly because they now have disappointment conditioned in them, and I'm pretty sure that any move she makes to extricate Scarpetta from her current situation, any move she makes to move her on (which I actually think she did pretty bravely and successfully,) will be unsatisfying. For a while, at least. I can't pretend to know why this is. Indeed, I can't pretend to know much, but I try. It is clear that fans want a return to the Scarpetta of old, but this just simply isn't possible: Scarpetta has changed; I think, in a very realistic way - no doubt exposure to such events would change a person drastically - and she ain't going back.

To be honest, I think Cornwell has got around the inherent problem of "series longevity" quite well, except very few people agree with me. But there is little doubt that she has kept Scarpetta fresh and interesting and new, I think. She has refused to let her remain static, and that is admirable. There is no way Cornwell could fit her character back into the mould of the lady we met in Postmortem. It just isn't possible, and Cornwell wouldn't dare to try. So, what routes are left open to her? For a start, she could remove that annoying habit she has acquired of tying up her subplots with coincidences. She should also move on from this ridiculous obsession she has with the Chandonne family, the legacy of which is bound to continue into the next book now that Jean-Baptiste is on the loose. Other than that, there isn't actually much wrong with any of her books, as I can see (indeed, the prose itself in Blow Fly was quite remarkable, if a little exhausting!) Maybe this is what those reviewers can see as well. I think that if she can settle the series down again, maybe she has a chance of re-converting those disheartened readers. But what of Scarpetta herself? Where will Scarpetta stand with the readers? As I say, she has changed. And the only way she won't disappoint readers is if Cornwell brings her back bigger and better than before, which, considering how good she was in the first place, is a very tall order indeed.

(Heavens, that was lengthy!)

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Welcome to our new bloggers! A few of the contributors to Mystery Ink have now come onboard the Crime Fiction Dossier to contribute to the madness.

We can now look forward to the thoughts and musings of Yvette Banek, Janine Wilson and Fiona Walker, in addition to yours truly.

I think it will be fun!

NPR has a nice, if short piece on Denise Hamilton, one of my favorite writers. (For the real thing, you've gotta listen to the audio file of their interview.) Denise's new book, Last Lullaby, is out now and it's terrific, with more action than her first two novels.

Got my copy of Mike Connelly's new Harry Bosch novel (The Narrows -- preorder it and get a free DVD, directed by my buddy Lee Lankford, with your purchase) today. I guess I know what I'm reading next! I had actually thought to reread The Poet first, though, since this is a sequel to it. Hmmm...decisions, decisions.

Time Warner is doing something interesting with The Narrows -- rather than printing and sending out a ton of ARCs, like publishers usually do, they decided to forego distributing advanced galleys, thus saving that considerable cost. Their reasoning was that any outlet that was going to review Connelly would just wait until the hardcover is available in order to do so. It's hard to argue with that reasoning, although I did miss getting an ARC.

Well, on the day that Ian McEwan is refused entry to the US, and that Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time goes on sale in paperback in the UK, sure to catapult the book to even more dizzying heights, I step over the threshold here for the first time. Surely there should be some kind of applause, the rolling-out of a red carpet? Well, sadly not :( Looks as if everyone's attention is being taken up by the above two far more important matters. If it were any other day...

Speaking of Haddon's remarkable book, here is a review from The Independent to coincide with the paperback release, as well as a couple of others. The most notable of these is a re-release of Margaret Atwood's non-fiction work, Strange Things, about the "Influence of the Malevolent North in Canadian Literature". Now, as far as I am concerned Margaret Atwood is the High Priestess of Genius, so this is a book I'll be reading.

The Independent also carry a review today of Pelecanos' new one, Hard Revolution. I'm ashamed to say I've never read anything by him before, but I am increasingly intrigued.

What else can I impart today...

...well, this is probably old news by now, but fans of the Kellermans will be interested to know that they have collaborated on a novel, Capital Crimes, and it will be out this coming September. As I say, interesting, but I'm not at all sure it'll work; after all, both authors are supposed to be ailing. I've never read Faye (yet), but I'm growingly increasingly sure that Jonathan's Delaware series is growing far too long. With Therapy arriving in May, I think the total now reaches something like 18 entries, and Kellerman has not proved himself able enough to keep it fresh for that long.

Also, you'll probably be aware of this as well, but given that Patricia Cornwell's website is quite frankly awful this news probably wont appear there until about a week before the book is out. The book in question is calledTrace and IS to be a Scarpetta novel (I'm still waiting for the non-fiction book about these theories of hers about Lady Diana's death; surely she wont be able to resist publishing that one?). A brief synopsis is given on the page.

Fans of Tom Bradby will be pleased to know that he has a new novel due, in the UK at least, this July, to be called The God of Chaos. Looking at the British cover, which is rather nice, it looks as if he's moving on to Ancient Egypt this time. From it seems that America might see it in August, but I'm not sure if this sounds quite right. Surely the publishers in both countries wouldn't be so unprecedentedly remiss as to make the release dates practically the same?

Another interesting piece of (potentially old) news, this time for fans of the unequallable Donna Tartt: she is apparently working on a novella based around a modern re-working of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, as part of a series which will include similar tales by such literary luminaries as the aforementioned Margaret Atwood. No matter how many years it takes her, it is sure to be worth the wait.