Sunday, May 30, 2004

I've not spoken about the UK bestseller lists for a while. I shall do so now.

Today, (for the 7 day period ending May 22nd) Michael Connelly's The Narrows hits number one. The book didn't quite make it in America, having to put up with the not-at-all-shabby number 2 slot - but hopefully this will be some consolation. Connelly certainly deserves it. The Narrows is very good indeed - although not wise territory for someone new to Connelly, I don't think.

Elsewhere...Michael Marshall's The Lonely Dead drops to number 3. Retitled The Upright Man for the US, it was released as a paperback original there. There's no denying that Marshall is a simply excellent writer, but I've read both his crime books and they both disappointed me. The ending to The Straw Men was quite frankly annoyingly ridiculous, and while The Lonely Dead/Upright Man almost freed itself from the stigma of that ending, he threw in more slices of silliness to spoil it.

Harlan Coben's Just One Look resides at number 5. (Briefly, let me go off on an annoyingly pedantic tangent, for I wish to correct a misapprehension [that is of no great concern to anyone but myself]. Despite some reports to the contrary, there has not been a week when this book was at number one, the bestselling hardback fiction book in Britain. For the 7 day period ending 08/05/04, the book was placed at number 1 for hardback fiction. However, it was not. Hidden away in the same section of the paper, for the first time ever (that I have seen, testament to their status now) a seperate list was compiled: of the bestselling children's novels of the week. At number 1 there was Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky. How many copies had this book sold in the period? 17,130. How many copies had Just One Look sold to reach "number 1"? A mere 3,390. I realise that I'm being a bit silly in bringing this complete irrelevance up, but hey.)

On the paperbacks for this week...it will come as no surprise to discover that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is still at number one. It even performed the remarkable feat of keeping Ian Rankin's A Question of Blood from the top spot, a place he reaches as a certainty every year. His book now slips down to number 7, and has sold a measly 99,570 copies in comparison to a truly massive (considering the book's only been out for a month and a half) 426,635.

For those interested in the Haddon phenomenon, and anyone bothering to keep track, his unstoppable book has won yet another award. The Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Novel of the year.

A short-story a day keeps the doctor away (or rather, a short-story a day keeps more pressing tasks at bay). With that in mind, here is Jawbone by Boston Teran from 2002. I found it yesterday, while exploring the dark corners of his website. Get your mandibles round that one.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

In the week, I finished The Prince of Deadly Weapons by Boston Teran. I’m a bit reluctant to comment on it; it seems like one of those books I have to mull over before I actually know what I really think. On first impressions, I am divided. I loved the first half – the pace, the style, the plot, the parade of characters who promised to become interesting. But I did not much enjoy the second half, because it didn’t really seem to go very far, and the characters remained stubbornly mysterious and static. I was thinking, Get on with it Mr Teran, or whatever the hell your name is, stop with the stylised prose which stops this plot flowing, it is essentially adding nothing. Get on with the story. (As a matter of interest, when I'd finished this book I went back to his debut, God is A Bullet , and dipped into some passages to check that style out again. In that book, I still think it works very effectively, and have no complaints.)

It is very seldom that a crime writer bursts as successfully onto the market and then falls so swiftly from grace as Teran has done. God is A Bullet (which I still adore, and always will) was superb, won the CWA John Creasy Dagger and got a debut Edgar nomination. A fair summing-up was offered by The Guardian:
This searing debut novel is a roller-coaster of an experience, noir as a purging metaphysical experience that will take your breath away.”
Aside from a few comments about its violence, it was practically a universal success. Justly, in my opinion.

Val McDermid even weighed in behind him for that first book, and his second Never Count Out the Dead too. And, let’s face it, support from Ms McDermid never does anyone any harm (Stephen Booth, Jim Kelly, Karin Slaughter, Minette Walters, Jeffery Deaver, Mo Hayder, Robert Crais…) The Prince Of Deadly Weapons was almost universally panned – and not a whisper has been heard about him for almost two years. (The webpage for the book also seemed to be abandoned half-way through, with links - particularly to “reviews” - leading absolutely nowhere.) As quickly as Teran blasted out a place for himself on the cliff-face of crime writing, he has been blasted back off again. In my mind that is a shame indeed. I am keeping my eyes out for news, though…

Now, a little news.

UK cover (well, they might alter it, but who cares) of Patricia Cornwell’s next novel can be found here. I like it.

I’ve got a nice slew of links for Henning Mankell fans today (I can’t keep away from Mankell, can I!). Firstly, some excellent news for those who lament the retirement of Inspector Wallander after only 8 books: Mankell has written a novella, entitled The Grave, starring the dour Swede. It will only be available in Dutch for the moment, though. It has been written for an annual (I think) Dutch crime-writing event: once a year, a well-known crime writer pens a novella, which is given out free with every crime novel sold. It’s an excellent idea, I think. Previous participants include Minette Walters, in 1999. She delivered a novella called The Tinderbox – which is being published in the UK in English this July. With any luck, Mankell’s tale will also find its way into translation too. I wouldn’t be expecting it for a while, though: the translation schedule of his novels into English has been notoriously choppy: the fourth novel in the series, The Man Who Smiled, has STILL to be published in English, even though we’ve had all the others, including the 8th and final one, Firewall. There’s also a short story collection (The Pyramid) yet to come…

After Firewall, in which Wallander retires, Mankell is writing a series of three more crime novels, which is also good news indeed. The protagonist this time around is Wallander’s daughter Linda, who’s become a police officer. The first of these books, Before the Frost, is being published in the UK this September. The US publication date, I have heard, is tentatively scheduled for 2005. The very first English language review (that I have seen), from the Swedish Book Review, can be found here.

Finally, a little more Mankell, then I’ll try and shut up about him for a while. This is a nice article from The Telegraph about how A N Wilson discovered him via Ruth Rendell.

Today, The Guardian have a good article on Jeanette Winterson. Winterson, for my money, has had one of the most interesting lives in the literary world: adopted by a Pentecostal evangelist, she was brought up to be a missionary, destined to go into the world and show heathens the error of their ways. In her teens, she broke free spectacularly by having an affair with another girl. She managed to get into Oxford University to study English after driving there and almost begging them. Oh, and she’s great friends with Ruth Rendell, who she sees as a “mother figure”.

(Incidentally, Rendell’s last novel, The Rottweiler , was dedicated to Winterson. 13 Steps Down, which I’m reading now and enjoying tremendously as it’s everything I want from Rendell, comes with a nice dedication to P.D. James, with “affection and admiration”. The two are also great friends.)

Also, The Guardian run an okay, entertaining short story by Adam Thorpe.

I've read several reviews now of The Book of Proper Names by French novella writer Amelie Nothomb, and now really want to read it. This latest one doesn't dampen that desire at all.

Matthew Lewin takes a look at some recent thrillers at The Guardian. Going under the microscope are Jonathan Nasaw's third Ed Pender novel 27 Bones (thumbs up!), Play to the End by Robert Goddard (thumbs up, a bit), Twisted, Deaver's short story collection (a thumbs up, which I can definitely second. The stories do get very repetitive if read one after another, though) and Jonathan Kellerman's latest Delaware novel (a "stinker").

To finish, today I bought my long-desired copy of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything . Bill Bryson is a God. Well, almost. He is certainly the funniest writer alive (alongside Terry Pratchett, of course!) and his Notes from A Big Country (UK title) is one of the very best non-fiction books that I’ve read. I’m very keen to see the most successful travel writer in the world turn his roving eye to the realms of science. This book was one of the bestselling UK non-fiction hardbacks of last year, at number one for weeks and weeks and weeks. Then, number one isn’t a position Bryson is unfamiliar with in Britain, as his status here is massive – I don’t know if it’s the same over there in the USA. Anyway, I’m very eager to devour this book, even though I had to pay £8.99 for a 687 page paperback, 112 of which are notes and bibliography (yes, you read correctly, 112). I’ve tentatively begun it, and will close with a single, beautiful fact: on the printed page, there are very roughly 500,000,000,000 protons in the dot of a single “i”.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bad news for all you criminals out there!

As the Times reported yesterday, the NYPD is going to be collecting and processing DNA traces from all manner of crimes, including those against property.

"The lab will use DNA samples previously considered too minuscule to collect, like skin cells left in a smudged fingerprint or a ski mask, and match them against databases of convicted felons, suspects and DNA profiles from crime scenes and rape kits."

This is the first time a city in the US has taken such aggressive steps to utilize DNA evidence.

It's an interesting move forward for high tech crime fighting, even though it seems to be of dubious value in most circumstances.

Lee Child, one of the best of the unsung thriller writers, returns with another book featuring former military policeman Jack Reacher. The Enemy (Delacorte) is a prequel to the rest of the series, flashing back to Reacher's army days in the early 90s.

As the book opens, Reacher has been transferred to a base in North Carolina where he is placed in charge of the installation's policing operations. It promises to be another dull, routine assignment -- at least until a high-ranking office turns up dead in a fleabag motel room just off-base.

What follows is a terrific military police procedural that finds Reacher pursuing the case -- and its cover-up -- across the country and even overseas to Europe. By doing so he places not only his career, but also his life in jeopardy.

Reacher remains one of the most intriguing characters in the genre, a complex loner who mixes brains and brawn in equal measure. He might not be the most realistic creation, but he never fails to be fascinating.

If you've never read Lee Child before, The Enemy makes an excellent place to start. If you have read him...well, then you already know how good he is.

Michael Connelly, author of the brilliant Harry Bosch series, sends his detective into The Narrows (Little, Brown, $25.95) on a mission to track down the serial killer who calls himself "The Poet" (and who appeared in Connelly's earlier book of the same name).

Following on a series of extraordinary, powerful mysteries featuring Bosch, The Narrows changes things up with its emphasis on thrills and suspense, rather than mystery and police procedure.

Connelly is such a master of his craft that his story shifts between multiple, connecting perspectives so smoothly that most readers will hardly even notice. They will be swept away by the story, just as the story's hero is by one of the city's aqueducts (the "narrows" of the book's title).

In some ways, The Narrows is like a "greatest hits" volume for Connelly, as it brings back several of the faces who appeared in his earlier works. Because of that, it will probably appeal most to fans that have already read those books.

Even a reader who is coming to Connelly for the first time, though, will still find a lot to enjoy here.

The Narrows is crime fiction at its best.

Friday, May 21, 2004

It has been a very Good week. Incredibly bright and blue and hot. Yesterday, I took myself down to the park and sat. I sat on a bench until the shadows spread over the light, and then I went home. I had a book with me - I almost always have a book with me - but I didn't read it.

It's been good not only for the long spell of brilliant heat, but for myriad other reasons. In terms of me and reading, anyway. A few days ago, I recieved an advanced copy of Jeffery Deaver's Garden of Beasts and read it without hesitation, finding myself impressed enough, even though it's possibly not his greatest work. Today, in remarkable confluence with myself walking sleepy-eyed down the stairs, an arc of Ruth Rendell's 13 Steps Down also flopped through the door in front of me. In recent days, I have also discovered the pleasures of Ed McBain and James Lee Burke, and yesterday read what is probably the best author interview I've come across in quite some while, with Michael Connelly at The Independent. I don't know about you, but I found it strangely poigniant. For some reason, I loved this first bit a great deal:

His Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch novels have sold seven million copies and brought him a vast presidential pile in Florida, a big boat and wildly expensive teeth.

Yesterday I also [FINALLY!] picked up a copy of Boston Teran's The Prince of Deadly Weapons, which has been available in the US for almost two years, but only made it to our shores, officially, today. The immense arrears might have something to do with the fact that it didn't fare too well in America (I'm not sure on this, but I don't even think it's been released in paperback). I am hopeful, though. And whatever I end up thinking of it, I'm pretty sure that my belief will not be shaken that there is not, and has never been, another author with a prose style quite as eccentric as Teran's. Sometimes, true, it seems as if he's trying too hard, but sometimes it smacks of dark, twisted poetry; an abstract dance of metaphor that strains against the conventions of English and desperately wants to break free. Sometimes, I find it damn hard to read, but it seems liberating and so far I have loved it. Anyway, I expect I'll like this one. Even if I don't, I'll tell myself I did.

Richard and Judy's summer reading list has been unveiled. For those who can't be bothered to read the article, here's the selection:

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (Bloomsbury)
Want To Play? by PJ Tracy (Penguin)
PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)
Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy (John Murray/Hodder & Stoughton)
The Mermaid and the Drunks by Ben Richards (Phoenix/Orion)
Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen (Pan Macmillan)

I'm rather ambivalent to it, actually. There's nothing on it that particularly excites me. Apart from P.J. Tracy's Want to Play? (aka Monkeewrench, winner of the Gumshoe for Best Debut). With any luck, it's inclusion will finally spur me on to reading it. For all the books featured, huge leaps in sales are now, of course, guaranteed.

The latest edition of The Spectator carries a review of Secret Smile by Nicci French.

And here's an interview with Jess Walter from a month or so back. My excuse for putting it up is that I've only just discovered it. The interview itself seems rather perfunctory to me.

I read Walter's fiction debut, Over Tumbled Graves a while ago, and it didn't eaxctly blow me away. I read it for the title, more than anything. It can't have been spectacular, as I can't remember a lot about it. Well, apart from that I learnt how to pronounce "Spokane" properly. Due to my "give authors a second chance" policy, I've got his second book all lined up to try.

Lastly... and this might just be me showing my ignornace, but does it come as a complete shock to anyone else to discover that Martina Navratilova is also an author (well, co-author) of thrillers?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Here's an interview with Harlan Coben from The Independent. Interesting to see that the online article is from the 14th of May edition of the paper, which is actually tomorrow. Probably a date mix-up but, still, I like that.

You know, I don't think I'm going to bother reading Just One Look. Certainly not until it comes out in paperback, anyway. Why? Because it sounds - yet again - exactly the same as the others. Coben really needs to get out of his rut (well, that's what I see it as, anyway) and do something different.

Also, from the same paper, a review of Bernard Cornwell's latest "Sharpe" adventure, Sharpe's Escape. And, again from the same paper, yet another.

Maragaret Atwood answers readers' questions here.

And, Henning Mankell's English website has conducted a nice interview with the director of the film of The Return of the Dancing Master.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

"The Crime Fiction Dossier" is quickly mutating into "The Mo Hayder Dossier". If current coverage is anything to go by, anyway.

But I had to slip this in: Another review of Tokyo, from The Guardian. It seems oddly ambivalent, and I can't say I very much agree with Petit's criticisms of the book. But there we go.

For anyone who has not read Hayder, and doesn't particularly mind a little gore splattering the walls, do so. Actually, I'm probably being a little flippant with that last sentence. Hayder (among others) has been widely criticised for her graphic depictions of violence, which I don't actually think is very fair. Most of it is all critical baggage from her first novel, Birdman, which, yes, probably was a little over the top - but nonetheless the blood did its job: it brought Hayder floods of attention, allowing the truly excellent crime novelist that she is to emerge in her second and third books. The Treatment and Tokyo are both very good indeed. It is true that there is violence, but I must also make it VERY clear that none of it, in those two, was gratuitous or excessive in any way. Where Birdman went for the ick factor, the 2nd and 3rd have gone for something else; they explore more the effect of violence, the consequences of it on the psyches of her characters. They are incredibly powerful books, both of them, and Mo Hayder taps into almost frightening wells of personal pain and torment that are far more disturbing that the violence (which, in Tokyo is pretty scant anyway until the last chapters.) To me, anyway.

If you don't like violence at all, then, no, Hayder is not for you. Of course, that's absolutely fine. My grandmother wouldn't touch one of her books with a caber, and her opinion is one of those I value most. However, if you've been put off, expecting waves of blood and bone to engulf you, I'd advise you to think again. Hayder's levels of "gore" are certainly no higher than, say, Karin Slaughter's, or even Thomas Harris's (certainly, I don't think it's possible for gore to get any more pronounced than it did when Lieutenant Pazzi met his death in Hannibal.) Read Birdman. If you can cope with that, then you can definitely cope with The Treatment - which is one of my top five crime novels of this decade so far - and Tokyo. I wouldn't advise you try and read The Treatment first and skip Birdman. Part of the reason why TT is so incredibly powerful is the haunted character of Jack Caffery and his development from book 1 to 2.

Anyway, I'll shut up now. That's quite enough from me.

Recently, I've received word that the Guests of Honour for the 2005 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival will be Ruth Rendell and Michael Connelly. (Thanks to Val McDermid for this info.) I don't think I could possibly pick two better guests of honour. The best crime writer in Britain and the best crime writer in America, together at one festival. I am there. (The website of the 2004 festival can be found here.)

It's been quite a week for Mo Hayder. Firstly, earlier in the week her latest novel Tokyo was reviewed by The Telegraph. Yesterday - and ta to Ali for bringing this to my attention - she was interviewed in The Times. (I hope that article is acessible - it should be: the current week's articles are always professed to be free and available. After then there is a subscription - somewhat miraculously, though, I seem to be able to get to articles from as long ago as two years. Lucky me.) The book has also recently been reviewed at The Mirror, even though the review itself gives away a little more than I'd like.

To add to your joy, respected novelist (ah, the sarcastic humour) James Patterson's UK publisher has provided a synopsis of his next Alex Cross book:

"A bomb goes off in a small town in the Western USA and FBI agent Alex Cross is summoned in to help with the investigation. Calls from an anonymous villain do little to explain the violence as reports come in of similar bombings across the globe. Meanwhile, Alex has been visiting little Alex at Christina’s house in Seattle. As the court date to decide the boy’s custody draws closer, Alex is determined to get his son back somehow. Explosive surprises from his past make re-appearances and Alex must think on his feet. This is surely his most volatile case yet."

A bit more info about Ruth Rendell's next novel (find the wonderfully twisted British cover here, folks) Thirteen Steps Down has also seeped out:

"A classic Rendellian loner, Mix Cellini is superstitious about the number 13. Living in a decaying house in Notting Hill, Mix is obsessed with 10 Rillington Place, where the notorious John Christie committed a series of foul murders. He is also infatuated with a beautiful model who lives nearby - a woman who would not look at him twice. Mix's landlady, Gwedolen Chawcer is equally reclusive - living her life through her library of books. Both landlady and lodger inhabit weird worlds of their own. But when reality intrudes into Mix's life, a long pent-up violence explodes."

Now, if that doesn't sound like classic, shiveringly good Rendell then I don't think anything does. I'll never be able to elucidate the amazement I feel that she is able to write a book (or more) a year and never let the quality drop. Some writers take over a decade to write a single novel that is just as good as one of hers. (And her penchant for odd names clearly remains as strong as ever.)

Finally today, some more words on Henning Mankell, who is, I have now decided, a sheer crime writing genius. I'm slowly becoming obsessed with his brilliant books (well, I was told I would). I finished Sidetracked a few days ago, and was once again blown away. Inspector Kurt Wallander? Excellent. Mankell's writing? Excellent. It's probably even better in Swedish - something is always lost in translation. And his depiction of the anaemic Swedish landscape gradually haemorrhaging with violence is simply remarkable. I can understand why not everyone may like his books - after all, they're damn bleak and depressing at times, but every self-respecting reader of crime novels has to try him at least once, I feel.

I've also been struck by how bizarre Mankell's fictional methods of murder are - his background in the theatre (acting and directing) almost screams out at you through them. In the first chapters of Sidetracked, a girl commits suicide in a rape field, setting fire to herself in front of Wallander's eyes. Later, bodies start turning up with their heads scalped, Native AMerican style. In The Fifth Woman, a man is murdered in a pit of sharpened bamboo canes. One Step Behind finds four youths shot to death in a forest while acting out a masque. In The Return of the Dancing Master an elderly recluse is beaten to death and his feet are flayed, so the killer can leave the steps of the tango printed on the floor in blood. I'm told that a man is fried to death on powerlines in Firewall. This may make me sound very odd indeed, but I love it. They're all rather stark examples of Mankell's refreshing inventiveness. Do yourself a favour - pick up a book by Henning Mankell. There are three great male crime novelists in this world. Ian Rankin and Michael Connely are two; Mankell is now the third.

I might have linked to this before, but this is an absolutely excellent profile of the man himself.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I received a bound galley today of a book that I definitely have mixed feelings about: The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader. "Hmmm," you might be thinking to yourself, "Didn't Robert Ludlum write a series about a character named Bourne?" He did, indeed. A trilogy, in fact: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The first two were terrific books; action-packed, paranoid thrillers of the kind that the late Ludlum did so well. (The third one wasn't nearly as good, suffering as it did from the character's advancing age and weariness, both of which were reflected in the book itself.)

Of course, Jason Bourne has become something of a cottage industry over the past few years. In addition to Ludlum's original books (and the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith), we have Matt Damon appearing as Bourne on the big screen, first in 2002's The Bourne Identity and later this summer in The Bourne Supremacy. It's an overdose of Bourne!

At least the movies are understandable; such adaptations are a regular part of both the movie and the book business. Even if the filmed versions are not particularly faithful to their literary predecents, they are respectable efforts in a new medium. That's all kosher.

A new book, though, is a very different thing. As you probably know, Bob Ludlum died 3 or 4 years ago. So what the hell is this Bourne Legacy? Well, as the ARC loudly splashes across its front cover, it is "Robert Ludlum's Bestelling Character Jason Bourne in The Bourne Legacy -- A New Novel by Eric Van Lustbader." Definitely a mouthful, although it does a good job of spelling out the basics.

Van Lustbader is a somewhat well-known author in his own right, but apparently he has fallen on hard times since the dying out of the whole ninja phenomenon of the 80s, which he benefitted from in slew of novels with names like The Ninja and White Ninja. (I read one or two of them, back in the day, and found them to be decent.)

According to the press materials, Van Lustbader and Ludlum were good friends and admirers of each other's work. I'm sure that's true, but the whole project is still rather unseemly and desperate. If Van Lustbader's writing was worthy of Ludlum's admiration, then surely it deserves to flourish on its own.

It's like people who spend their time writing "fan fic," using characters from Star Trek or Buffy or some other cult production. If something is worth writing, it's worth using your own voice, your own ideas, your own characters. It might be fun to write a story using other people's characters, but in most cases it's little more than literary masturbation.

Probably the worst example of this in recent years was the disgusting graverobbing that John Gregory Betancourt inflicted on the great Roger Zelazny. (That case was particular noxious, as Zelazny had been adamant during his lifetime that he never wanted anyone else to write books set in the world of Amber that he created.)

I don't think I'll be reading this "new" Bourne. I prefer to let the memory of Robert Ludlum, a writer for whom I had a great deal of respect and affection, rest in peace.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

With any luck, I'll be able to dig out quite a bit for you today.

Firstly, here's a look at the UK Bestseller Lists. There's nothing particularly exciting going on. Lee Child's The Enemy still sits nicely at number 2. John Grisham, and James Patterson extend their omnipresence, and Nicci French's Secret Smile climbs a place to number 9 - even though the author info in the books STILL proclaim that "she" actually exists in the person of "a journalist from Suffolk". Why on earth Michael Joseph (and Penguin) don't cut the pretence and label them as the husband-and-wife team (certainly both journalists) that they are I have no idea. Everyone knows it anyway - mainly because no one has actually been trying to keep it a secret. If I were more "in the ken" about publishing, I'm sure the explanation would be elementary. (And despite the fact that I own all their books, I've still not read a single one.)

With the paperbacks, Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding makes it to number 4, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency sneaks back to 10, and Notes on A Scandal stays at number 8. Oh, and guess what's a number 1? Yes, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

Right, now down to the real business...

Over at The Observer Robert McCrum is pleased that the Orange Prize Shortlist has "managed to promote the new kids on the block without trashing the grown-ups", and Jeanette Winterson's new novel Lighthousekeeping is reviewed by Anita Sethi. They also have a good article on the influence of the woman behind Richard and Judy's Book Club, which comes with pleasing news about an impending Summer Holiday Read selection with "an emphasis on emerging authors".

Before I forget, (and how could I), well done Mr Ian Rankin! A tremendous Edgar win. As far as I'm aware, the smart money was always on either Rankin or Bruen, but I can't claim not to be delighted at the outcome. Resurrection Men has actually provoked quite a polarised response from seasoned Rankin readers. Half seemed to love it - the other half thought it was pretty average Rebus fare. Me? Well, I'm in the former camp. It's not my favourite but it's certainly in my top five. A deserving winner, in my mind.

On the subject of Ian Rankin...his latest newsletter/readers' questions answered is online - telling us that, among other things, the US title for his next book is Fleshmarket Alley - as is an article from Scotland on Sunday proclaiming him as the 62nd most powerful Scot. J.K. Rowling sits at number 3, Alexander McCall Smith at number 14!

There are also, at last, a few notable reviews as well. At The Independent, Henning Mankell's Firewall is given the treatment once again, and Terry Pratchett's newest Discworld adventure, A Hat Full of Sky , is also reviewed.

Today The Observer carry a profile of Alexander McCall Smith.

Finally, last night I went to the cinema. I saw Secret Window, which stars Johnny Depp and is adapted from Stephen King's novella Secret Window, Secret Garden. I've read most of King's work, but not that. Nor, now, do I plan to. The only redeeming features are a score by the genius who is Philip Glass, and Mr Depp, who does alright, but again seems a bit too conscious of the fact that he's acting. Other than that? Sorry, the film is not good. At all.

My latest column in the Sun-Times ran this morning. It has reviews of 6 recent crime fiction books, all of which I enjoyed.

This month includes:

Denise Hamilton -- Last Lullaby
Julia Spencer-Fleming -- Out of the Deep I Cry
Terrill Lee Lankford -- Earthquake Weather
Chris Mooney -- Remembering Sarah
P.J. Tracy -- Live Bait
Jonathon King -- Shadow Men

I recommend all of them!