Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Nice review of James Swain's Loaded Dice ran in the Chicago Sun-Times a few days ago. Jim's a very interesting guy and a terrific writer. (See my take on his latest book.) If you have any interest in gambling, his books are a must read. Even if you don't, though, I think you'll still enjoy them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

There are a slew of new reviews up on Mystery Ink, including Jack Kerley, Steve Hamilton, Rob Reuland and more. See the list here.

There is also an interview I did recently with new author J.A. Konrath. He's a very interesting guy and his book (Whiskey Sour) is terrific.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Bouchercon, the world's most incredible convention, is only a little more than 3 months away and people are starting to get excited. I know I am. Herewith is some commonsense advice for those of you who might be attending for the first time.

Montgomery's 10 Rules for Attending Bouchercon

1) Stay at the convention hotel. This will minimize time wasted on travel.

2) Arrive the day before the con begins. The first day (Thursday) begins early and you will want to be ready.

3) Scope out the schedule to see what you don't want to miss. (If you see anything like "Michael Connelly interviews James Lee Burke" make sure you plan on attending!)

4) Pace yourself. B'con is intense and long. You won't see everything and that's okay.

5) Sleep when you can. The days are long and tiring. One hour power naps can really save you.

6) Hang out in the bar, even if you don't drink. Everyone will be in the bar and one point or another.

7) Don't be shy. People are there to meet each other and talk. If you see someone you want to meet, introduce yourself.

8) Prepare to go home with lots of books. Not only do you get freebie just for showing up, there will be tons of books to buy.

9) Please introduce yourself if you see me. I'll even let you buy me a drink! :)

10) Have the time of your life. There is no better company in the world than people who love mysteries. Make the best of it.

I've got crime fiction round-ups coming out of my ears today.

Firstly, from Susanna Yager at The Telegraph, who we haven't seen since late March. She takes a look at such books as Mo Hayder's Tokyo, and Connolly's The Narrows, as well as a good few I've not heard of before.

We have two from The Sunday Times, which is excessive but delighting. Officially they are "thrillers" and then "crime". John Dugdale looks at the thrillers (including Monday Mourning, The Narrows, and Tokyo), and Joan Smith looks at crime, and decides to include, bizarrely, Peter Robinson's Playing With Fire which has been available since January. That's alright, though; it fits with her theme. Christopher Brookmyre's Be My Enemy has been out for a good while as well, I think...

The Times also provides yet more coverage for Louis de Berniere's Birds Without Wings, in the form of a review. I could have sworn I spotted another somewhere else, but at present it eludes me.

At The Telegraph, Lewis Jones just loves Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. Quite right too.

Finally, do you know what winning the Orange Prize means? Well, in the case of Andrea Levy one of the things it means is that your book gets put on Reccomended Summer Reading lists an' stuff, when before it'd probably not have even been considered. This one is from The Times, and even has a nice crime fiction section, extolling the virtues of books by Boris Akunin, Reginald Hill, and Henning Mankell. (One issue I have: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas as Summer reading??? Come on, climb out of your rectum there, for a second, before you get lost.)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

From the June 15th issue of The Hollywood Reporter:

"Aarniokoski nails 'Repairman' pic"

Helmer Douglas Aarniokoski, who frequently collaborates with Robert Rodriguez, is meeting up with "Repairman Jack" for Beacon Pictures, sources said. The project is described as "Indiana Jones" meets "The Mummy," centering on a man for hire who tries to track down an elusive evil figure and save the world. Bill Borden and Barry Rosebush are producing along with Beacon Pictures, where it's being shepherded by company topper Armyan Bernstein and development and production topper Suzann Ellis.

Originally written by Trevor Sands, the project was most recently handled by scribe Chris Morgan. Executives at Beacon could not be reached for comment. Aarniokoski is repped by ICM, Nine Yards Entertainment's Matt Luber and attorney Marc Golden at the law firm Gendler & Kelly. He also is attached to direct "The Courier" for Avi Lerner's Millennium Films and producers Willi Baer and Carmen Miller at their Eternity Pictures. For Rodriguez, Aarniokoski has directed second unit on "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" and was first assistant director on "Spy Kids" and "From Dusk Till Dawn."


They never bother to mention that this excellent series and character were created by F. Paul Wilson. Good news for Paul, though.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

I am going to apologise for my mild obsession with the bestseller lists. They might be ever-so-slightly vacuous, but they fascinate me. Besides, it might interest (indeed, please) you to know that this week P.J. Tracy's Want to Play?/Monkeewrench hits number 7 for paperbacks. Val McDermid's The Torment of Others is at number 5 for hardbacks, which I think is her best showing ever. And The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has been bettered by Cornwell's Blow Fly, which is a bit of a shame.

The Sunday Times reviews Elmore Leonard's latest, Mr Paradise.

Since the mind-boggling sucess of Lynne Truss's little book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, there have been ponderances on where the next hit will come from. Advice on spelling, possibly? (Truss's book is riding high on American bestseller lists also, alongside Tolstoy's Anna Karennina, which is reportedly due to undergo a reprint of almost a million copies, thanks to Oprah choosing it for her book club.)

In the very best traditions of Donna Tartt, Thomas Harris and Jeffery Eugenides, Louis de Bernieres has been keeping fans waiting a decade for his next novel. Yet again, rumours of writer's block are not true. The Guardian talks to him about Birds Without Wings, set this time in Anatolia rather than Greece, during the First World War rather than the Second.

Anyway, onto my most disturbing news...

Earlier this week, this was reported in The Telegraph:
James Patterson's latest thriller, London Bridges, will be published in September. Headline, who are determined to make their author "the UK's leading novelist" within two years, are promising to promote it with "the biggest campaign ever seen in book publishing".

I almost cried out. While I admit I would like to see what "the biggest campaign ever in book publishing" looks like, I recoil in horrror at the possibility that Patterson might even hope to become the number 1 author in the UK. I can comfort myself with the fact that it will never happen, thank goodness. At this point in his career, almost anyone who is likely ever to read a Patterson book probably already has done, and has either kept on with him or discarded it in disgust. There are not many people left to convert, basically, and enough people know how terrible he is. Anyway, I remain confident that the British public are generally not stupid enough to let this happen. Patterson will never usurp Rankin in our hearts - dream on. Nor even the mighty Martina Cole. Or even Grisham, probably. I am going to have faith in my nation; we will not let this come about. I hope.

My latest column in the Chicago Sun-Times ran this morning:
"Splendid debut by a Chicago writer". (The writer in question is Joe Konrath.)

It includes reviews of 5 new crime fiction books:

J.A. Konrath -- Whiskey Sour
Jack Kerley -- The Hundredth Man
Steve Hamilton -- Ice Run
Rob Reuland -- Semiautomatic
Richard Cox -- Rift

Konrath's book, in particular, is excellent. One of those debuts that comes along (rarely) and really leaps out at you. Damn fine writer. (He also has a cool locked room mystery in the latest issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.)

Ice Run is also excellent -- but, then again, all of Hamilton's work is.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 18, 2004

This is what Peter Robinson's Canadian publisher has to say about his 15th Inspector Banks novel A Strange Affair, due next January:

When Alan Banks receives a disturbing telephone call from his brother, Roy, he abandons the peaceful Yorkshire Dales for the bright lights of London to search him out. But Roy has vanished into thin air, and now Banks fears this could have been their final conversation. Meanwhile, DI Annie Cabbot is called to a murder scene on a quiet stretch of road just outside Eastvale. A young woman called Jennifer Clewes has been found dead in her car, and in the back pocket of her jeans, written on a slip of paper, police discover Banks’s name and address.

Living in his brother’s empty, luxurious South Kensington flat, Banks finds himself digging into the life of the brother he never really knew, or even liked. He begins to uncover some troubling surprises, leaving Annie to track down Jennifer Clewes’s friends and colleagues alone. It seems that both trails are leading towards frightening conclusions. And when the cases begin to intersect, the consequences for Banks and Annie become terrifying . . .

Strange Affair is Peter Robinson’s fifteenth Inspector Banks novel, and it amply demonstrates why he’s counted among the top crime fiction writers in the world.


Also, Dublin's Impac Prize - which boasts the largest prize-fund of any literary award in the world - has been won by Tahar Ben Jelloun.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Something I forgot to mention just now...

MysteryInk has been updated with new reviews for:
Ice Run by Steve Hamilton
The Narrows by Michael Connelly
The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
and the short story collection, Like A Charm.

It's difficult not to feel snowed under by the constant outpouring of new novels. It's entirely my own fault, I know - after all, I choose to read them, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But at least it's snowed under in a good way. I should by rights be occupying my time with other things (my impending exams, perchance? The first of which rolls around on Friday) but I am just not. Procrastination, interrupted by panicked bouts of "learn something, quick" which alleviate my guilt, has always been my route to sucess, but this time I'm slightly more uneasy about it than usual...

In the past week, I've acquired a slew of books, every one of which I am incredibly eager to read. I've already managed to get the latest by Kathy Reichs and Val McDermid out of the way, but even then I seem to have made little progress. *sigh*. Peter Robinson's Caedmon's Song; Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland; Firewall by Henning Mankell; Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country?, and Steven Sherrill's Visits from the Drowned Girl (which I got yesterday, and is yet another example of that ambiguous, absolutely inexplicable phenomenon: the paperback with a dust-cover.) All of which (and, to be honest, at least 5 more) could be up next. It's just impossible to choose. Not that I'm complaining; it's far better than the alternative!

Anyway...

Last Saturday The Telegraph gave some heavy crime coverage, with reviews for Kathy Reichs' Monday Mourning, Val McDermid's The Torment of Others , and Elmore Leonard's Mr Paradise.

As resported practically everywhere else before now, Shots 22 is online, and a mammoth tome it is indeed. More new interviews than I've ever seen in one place; five great pieces of short fiction; phots; new reviews. Highlights for me? Raising the Bar, by Stephen D Rogers, the interviews with Mo Hayder, Mark Billingham, Michael Connelly, and Michael Marshall, and yet more praise for 2004 Boucheron Guest of Honour Lindsay Davis, who is simply unique in crime fiction: a historical series novelist who is also a huge bestseller (Scandal Takes a Holiday reached number ten on last Sunday's lists.)

Also, exciting news: not only has Brill Bryson (not a typo) just won the Aventis Prize, but his just-released paperback A Short History Of Nearly Everything has ousted Mark Haddon from the top spot, which not even Cornwell's Blow Fly managed. Honestly, it's a tremendous book. I may be being a little hasty here (I often, very foolishly, am) when I say it might just be the most useful, worthwhile non-fiction book ever published? (I know that's not exactly a question, but hey...)

Lastly…it’s the day I’ve been waiting for: the day the marvellous Richard and Judy turn their hand to reviewing P.J. Tracy’s Want to Play/Monkeewrench on their book club. Their general consensus? Cracking; a great read and no mistake. Judy was particularly impressed, citing it as possibly her favourite of all the six novels they’ve chosen for this summer. She also endeared herself to me immeasurably by saying that she loves crime novels. And when she said some aspects of Want to Play? (i.e. the isolation of the central characters in their group) were reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, well, I was sold. I was already keen to read it, but now it’s jumped practically to the top of my pile. Well, after all those other aforementioneds.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Andrea Levy has won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

An extract can be found here, a review here.

Once again, the judges have turned away from the favourites and the big names and gone with a lesser-known work. Honourable indeed, and certainly in keeping with the prize's aims: to bring attention to fiction penned by women, which would otherwise be overlooked by what is seen as (and in all truth probably is) the male dominated Booker prize. With that in mind, I was admittedly surprised that Atwood had even been shortlisted, given that she's by no means under-appreicated in terms of Booker prizes and shortlistings, and I certainly wasn't expecting her to win. Hoping, yes. Definitely hoping. Because, to reiterate, Oryx and Crake is fantabulous. Ah well. At least I can take myself off into a corner and indulge in being grumpy.

Monday, June 07, 2004

As promised, here's the link to the article on 50 essential contemporary reads, as nominated by the festivalgoers of Hay.

Also, I am compelled to bring this to people's attention: a very positive review of part 6 of Stephen King's Dark Tower opus, Song of Susannah. It does contain a whopping great spoiler, but that's okay as the reviewer tells you it's coming so you can skip the relevant paragraph. I didn't bother. The result is that I really want to start reading this series again (I stopped after entry 3, which was long-winded and slightly repetitive), if only to see what could be a marvellous literary trick. The final volume comes in September.

Bored? Want a good book to read? Turn off your computer (or possibly visit an on-line vendor), and rush out to buy a copy of Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers . At a svelte 100 pages, it's a swift, single-sitting masterpiece.

One of the most popular special features on DVD releases are scenes deleted from the original movie. Today, I'd like to present my own literary equivalent, a "scene" deleted from my upcoming Chicago Sun-Times column:

"Loaded Dice (Ballantine Books, $22.95) is yet another winner in the Tony Valentine series from gifted author and gambling expert James Swain. Valentine is a consultant to most of the big casinos; like his creator, he knows all the ins and outs of games of chance and the ways of ripping them off.

In Loaded Dice, Tony is again called to Las Vegas to help figure out how a mammoth casino is being cheated of millions of dollars. He’s also determined to once and for all help his wayward son escape from the perpetual mess of a life that he has gotten himself into.

Swain’s knowledge is so comprehensive that it alone would be enough to make his books interesting to read. Combine that with his considerable skills as a writer, though, and it’s easy to see why his stories so entertaining and readable.

Even though the subplot involving Al Qaeda terrorists feels tacked on, rather than an organic part of the story, the rest of the narrative, especially the wonderful characters and dialogue, is truly top-notch."

Sure, it's not as exciting as those outtakes of Harry Potter using the invisibility cloak to sneak into the girl's locker room, but Jim's book is terrific and deserves all the attention it can get.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

I can find very little today. The Observer review section has barely a word on anything literary. Well, despite this article on the marriage of men and fiction...

Over at The Times Marcel Berlins (who I haven't seen reviewing crime fiction for quite a while, unless he's just escaped me) reviews the latest. Val McDermid's The Torment of Others is called "one of her finest", which seems to be the opinion of every review I've seen. Most interesting of all to me is the review of the latest book from Europe (Iceland, actually) Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason - a book I really, really want to read.

Visitors to the Hay Festival, with a little help from The Guardian, have compiled a list of "50 essential contemporary novels". Unfortunately, I've worn my clicking-finger out looking for a link which just doesn't seem to exist. I'll have to provide that later. But, I am delighted with the list of 50 - a great selection. A few that I'm especially pleased to see are:
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Enduring Love - Ian McEwan
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
His Dark Materials -Philip Pullman
Middlesex - Jeffery Eugenides
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - Peter Hoeg
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
The Secret History - Donna Tartt

According to her agent, Rendell's latest Barbara Vine novel has been delivered to the publisher. At the moment, it's called The Minotaur, and we should see it late this year or the beginning of next. I have to say, I think late this year is very unlikely. Even if it's released in December, that will be only one full month since the release of 13 Steps Down. Admittedly, they're written under different names, but the readership will probably be roughly the same. At my estimate, to give an adequate gap between the two, we won't be seeing it until about next March.

Brilliant news came to me this week about the extension of the Man Booker Prize. (Thanks to Sarah for bringing my attention to this over at her nifty new site.) I think this is wonderful. An international Booker Prize, not for any one work but given to an author for "consistent excellence". I've long thought the Booker should have an award like this. John Carey, Chair of Judges for the first prize (as well as the 2003 Booker prize - Martyn Goff was clearly impressed), insists that it's not a "lifetime achievement" award, but, well, we'll see...

The official press release can be found
here.

Who would have thought it...James Patterson has an official blog. I shall not comment on what I think of this.

I like anagrams. Indeed, I love anagrams. When I get bored, I like to take words to pieces are re-arrange them. My most pleasing discovery was that "fructose biphosphate" is an anagram of "phobic rush to pee fast." Yesterday, I was playing with authors' names.

Anagrams of Patricia Cornwell include: callow Pitcairner, and the somewhat less good Will Price can't oar.

In South America, you may find that Michael Connelly is also the name of a lonely Chilean MC. Do you have a friend called Colin? If you do, I expect Colin can yell "hem!", though why he would want to is beyond me. Finally, there is a comely chin, Nell.

I have more. But I won't inflict them on you. ("Robert Wilson" proved particularly fertile ground.)

I will round this lexical joviality off with a limerick, like it or not.

There once was a writer named James
Whose books were incredibly lame.
Co-authored were some,
though all were hum-drum,
but despite it he still achieved fame.