Martin Edwards's Blog

May 5, 2015

I'm back in the UK from another wonderful Malice Domestic in Washington DC (my luggage, however, evidently decided to take an extended vacation in the States...) It was a breathless trip, not helped by a very late arrival in the small hours after an unscheduled half-day stuck in an airport, and a melodramatic return journey, but the tireless team running the convention surpassed themselves and I'm indebted to them for a number of personal kindnesses. To Verena, Joni, Janet, Shawn, Angel and company - thank you.

One of the joys of attending such conventions, and a reason why I strongly recommend them to others, is the chance to combine renewal of old friendships with meeting new and delightful people. The social side is, for me, at least as important as the "business" side of the panels. It's impossible to mention everyone I enjoyed meeting, but there were several highlights. These included the honorees' dinner, to which I was invited because I was co-representing the "Malice Remembers" honoree, the late Patricia Moyes, with the charming Katherine Hall Page, and brunch with Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and a group including Josh Pachter and Art Taylor, who had won another Agatha award the previous evening.for another fine short story.

On Friday, there was a dream dinner for any Golden Age fan. Drinks with a group including Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize winning critic, were followed by a hugely convivial meal along with Doug Greene, Steve Steinbock, Brian Skupin of Mystery Scene, multi-award winning author of fiction and non-fiction Dan Stashower, and "impossible crime" expert John Pugmire. I'd never met Michael, Dan or John before, and it was a real pleasure to do so.

As for the events on the programme, Katherine and I talked on Saturday about Patricia Moyes' work, and some other aspects of post-Golden Age whodunit writing. Sunday was hectic. After that brunch, Doug moderated a Golden Age panel including Steve, Dan, and myself (photo courtesy of Gigi Pandian.) All I need say is that, as throughout the week-end, I felt quite humbled by the kind things said about The Golden Age of Murder. Finally, I interviewed the International Guest of Honour, Ann Cleeves, and the chance to pay a personal tribute to such an old friend was really the perfect way to round off the convention.

Naturally I succumbed to temptation and acquired more books, including the latest from Katherine Hall Page and Shawn Reilly Simmons, and the newly translated (by John Pugmire) The House that Kills by Noel Vindry, "the French John Dickson Carr". I had less time for sight-seeing than I'd hoped, but managed to squeeze in a tour of the International Spy Museum, which was fun.

Later, as I sat for a very long time in a departure lounge, listening to an unhappy US Airlines passenger screaming because of the way she'd been treated, before she was led away by a large man with a large dog, I cast my personal vote for US Airlines in the Worst Airline of the Year awards (I'd already suffered a sense of humour failure when I was prevented from taking a flight to Washington that I'd paid for months in advance, because they sold more seats than existed on the plane and was offered one dollar in compensation), and wondered wearily whether I'd been unwise to embark on such a frenetic trip. I don't think so. The upsides far outweighed the hassles of travel. I am keen to go back to Malice Domestic as soon as I can.

 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on May 05, 2015 08:23

May 4, 2015

The Disappearance of Alice Creed, written and directed by J. Blakeson, is a 2009 film that packs a punch. Cosy it isn't, and there are one or two scenes that are not for the squeamish. However, although it isn't lacking in violence or nudity, it does not seem to me to be a film that you could fairly condemn as exploitative. If it were, I doubt whether Gemma Arterton wouldn't have accepted the very demanding role of the eponymous Alice. She's an in-demand actor, and this film was shot on a low budget, but it nevertheless has a touch of quality about it.

The story concerns the kidnapping of a young woman, though the title of the film has an added significance. The film begins by showing two men making various preparations - it becomes clear that they are organising a secure place where they can hold their proposed victim. They duly kidnap her, bundle her into a van, and chain her up. But then the story starts to move in an unexpected direction,and it remains unpredictable right to the end.

The two kidnappers are played by Eddie Marsan, who seems to have cornered the market in dodgy characters with a vulnerable streak, and Martin Compston. And they, together with Gemma Arterton, make up the complete cast. The interplay between this trio is gripping throughout. Blakeson's script is taut, and his direction efficient, it's all the more impressive that this was his first movie.

The film was shot on the Isle of Man, an island I like very much, but it doesn't set out to make anything of its setting. Blakeson's focus is on the characters and above all, the question of what will happen next. And I found that I really did want to find out.
 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on May 04, 2015 01:30

May 1, 2015

Those Who Walk Away is a Patricia Highsmith novel from 1967, which shares some themes with her earlier book, The Blunderer. I happened to read the two novels in quick succession while away on holiday, and so the similarities were quite noticeable. I'll have more to say about The Blunderer on another day, but overall, I feel that Those Who Walk Away is slightly the stronger of the two books.

One reason is that the book gains significantly from its setting, in Venice. Venice is such a strange, beautiful, mysterious city that one can readily believe anything can happen there. That's why I chose it as the setting for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice", possibly the short story of mine that has enjoyed most success; it's not a story that could really have been set anywhere else. And the labyrinthine nature of the city makes it ideal as a backdrop for the cat and mouse game that is at the heart of Those Who Walk Away.

In fact, the story opens in Rome. Ray Garrett's wife Peggy has recently committed suicide, and her doting and sometimes doltish father Ed Coleman holds Ray responsible. We never learn very much about Peggy, and no grand surprise about her death is withheld until the end of the story - this isn't a puzzle mystery, but a book about the mysteries of human nature. Coleman shoots Ray, and although Ray survives, he doesn't report the incident to the police. Rather, he follows Coleman to Venice, and tries to reason with him.

The difficulty with Ray (and it's a difficulty I have with many of Highsmith's protagonists) is that the tendency to scream at them Don't be so stupid! is at times overwhelming .To enjoy the books, one has to accept certain premises, and to suspend disbelief - sometimes from a great height! Readers who can manage this will enjoy the book as, with some reservations, I did. However, I suspect that by the time she wrote this novel, Highsmith was coming to realise that she could not successfully play the same games with different protagonists in her novels time and time again, and I think that may help to explain the subsequent trajectory of her career, and her increasing focus on Tom Ripley and on short stories.

 •  flag
1 like · Like  • 
Published on May 01, 2015 08:11 • 2 views

April 29, 2015

I enjoyed catching up with Marathon Man at long last so much that it didn't take me long to watch another film written by William Goldman not long afterwards. This is Magic.Goldman really is a gifted story-teller, and it's remarkable that as well as these two screenplays (he also wrote the novels on which each film is based) he was also the man responsible for the Western that even non-fans of Westerns love, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Magic stars that compelling actor Anthony Hopkins as Corky, a rather reserved magician who finds fame and fotune when he adds Fats, a dummy, to his act, and combines magic with ventriloquism. Now, anyone who has watched that classic portmanteau movie knows that ventriloquists' dummies are exceedingly sinister characters. And Fats is as spooky as any dummy could be.

The plot starts to thicken once Corky, who is becoming increasingly troubled, heads off to the Catskills, and meets up with his old flame, Peggy (Ann-Margret). Old flames, in stories like this, certainly don't die down, and the pair quickly become lovers. The snag is that Peggy has a husband, the limited and jealous Duke, and soon Duke's suspicions are aroused. When Corky's agent comes to find what has happened to his client, things take a very dark turn indeed,

This film was directed by Richard Attenborough, and has music by Jerry Goldsmith. In other words, as with Marathon Man, the credits are really impressive, and it shows. The basic plot material could, in inferior hands, be pretty crass, but Goldman and company combine very effectively. I haven't read the book (which I gather has a dimension to its plot that could not be translated to the big screen) but if it's as good as the film, it is definitely worth reading.
 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on April 29, 2015 14:25

April 27, 2015

I've long been interested in spy fiction - when I was a small boy,I was given as a present The Spy's Bedside Book, an anthology by Graham and Hugh Greene, and that fuelled my interest in the genre. In recent years, though, my focus has been on detective fiction. However, partly as a result of getting to know the great Len Deighton, and partly through reading several spy thrillers on behalf of the British Library, my interest has been re-kindled.

So I looked forward to watching the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, based on the classic novel by another great of the genre, John Le Carre (who began life, let it be remembered, as an author of detective fiction.) This version has been widely acclaimed, and the cast is superb. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, and John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth are there too. Plus Kathy Burke. And even Le Carre himself in a "Hitchcock" type cameo. Wow...

I suspect, though, that if you didn't know the story,you might struggle to follow what is going on. Compressing such complex material into a film inevitably requires sacrifices, but I felt that there was too much mystification for the sake of it. And I also thought that it was odd not to devote more time to the relationship between George and his wife,which does have an important bearing on the plot and theme. I can see what the writers were trying to do,but for me it didn't quite work.

Nevertheless, this is a long film which is well worth following right to the end. Partly because of the story, but especially because the cast does such a good job with the material, cryptic though it is at times. Some people regard this film as a masterpiece. I'm not convinced it matches the quality of the original TV series, let alone the book, but it certainly deserves watching.
 •  flag
1 comment
Like  • 
Published on April 27, 2015 11:16 • 3 views

Anthologies have always appealed to me. When I was quite young, I came across the CWA anthology, in those days edited by Herbert Harris, and never dreamed that one day I'd edit CWA collections myself. This I have now been doing for about twenty years. But until now, I've never produced an anthology composed exclusively of true crime essays. The time felt ripe to tackle such a project, and the result is Truly Criminal, which has just been published (very attractively indeed) by The History Press.

I'm really pleased with this book. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? But I do think it offers much that is unusual and intriguing. The range of contributions is terrific. We have essays by several stellar names, including this year's CWA Diamond Dagger winner, Catherine Aird, Peter Lovesey, and Andrew Taylor, plus CWA Non-fiction Gold Dagger winner Paul French. The foreword has been written by Peter James.

There are notable contributions by familiar names in the true crime field, like Kate Clarke, Linda Stratmann and Diane Janes, as well as excellent pieces by novelists Quentin Bates and Peter Guttridge, and a Shetland story by Shetland-based Marsali Taylor. A couple of contributions come from foreign members.

My own effort tackles the "Blazing Car" murder of 1930, a crime that has long fascinated me. It inspired a number of Golden Age stories, as did the Brides in the Bath case, which is the subject of Peter Lovesey's highly original essay, the Maybrick case, covered admirably by Kate Ellis, and the Wallace case, the subject of a recently discovered essay by Margery Allingham (who was a CWA member as well as a member of the Detection Club.).

It's often said - especially by gloomy publishers - that the market for anthologies is very limited. I'm not sure that's right. A book with a pleasing mix of ingredients can have a very widespread appeal. For proof of this, I can't resist mentioning my first two anthologies for the British Library - Capital Crimes and Resorting to Murder. Sales figures for these newly published books are already very high, and in fact higher than those of any previous anthology I've edited. Seems extraordinary, but it's true. And I hope that Truly Criminal will also find a receptive readership. It's a different sort of collection, and the contributors have done a wonderful job in telling their tales.

 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on April 27, 2015 03:41 • 3 views

April 25, 2015

Once a book is written, how does one go about promoting it? Things have changed out of all recognition since the days when authors like Anthony Berkeley, Ethel Lina White, and many others declined to allow their publishers to print biographical information or even, in some cases, to publish their photographs. Nowadays, authors - even those whose publishers boast substantial publicity departments - have to get stuck in and promote their books. But it doesn't come naturally to many writers. Most of us still value our privacy, and we're very well aware that self-promotion is, as always in life, fraught with danger. It can become tedious (and self-defeating) when an author keeps banging on endlessly about their magnum opus.

So with The Golden Age of Murder, I'm groping for a suitable balance. Mind you, I simply can't resist announcing that The Times has this morning described the book as a "richly rewarding study of the genre" - definitely a quote to cherish, and the sort of thing you dream of as an aspiring writer!

I can also report that the book has been chosen as one of Lovereading's Books of the Month for May, and that I've also written a number of articles linked to the book for a range of publications, including Oxford Today in the UK and Publishers' Weekly in the US..

In the run-up to publication, I'm also taking my first ever blog tour, contributing to some wonderful and very varied blogs. I'm truly grateful to the bloggers in question - when you read their blogs (and you should!) the generosity of spirit that is the hallmark of the best blogs and indeed the best bloggers is very evident. The plan for the tour is as follows:

28 April - Margot Kinberg's blog - Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
29 April - The SleuthSayers blog - Rob Lopresti has kindly invited me on to his fortnightly slot
30 April - Sergio Angelini's blog - Tipping My Fedora
1 May - Elaine Simpson-Long's blog - Random Jottings
2 May - Moira Redmond's blog - Clothes in Books
3 May - John Norris' blog - Pretty Sinister Books.
4 May - Patti Abbott's blog - Pattinase
5 May - B V Lawson's blog - In Reference to Murder

All these blogs appear in my blogroll, which incidentally I hope to update soon. The blog tour is timed to coincide with my trip to Malice Domestic, when, among other nice activities, I'll be taking part in a panel about the Golden Age moderated by Doug Greene, a real expert on the subject. Doug read an early version of the book and also kindly allowed the publishers to reprint some wonderful photos in his possession.

Then it's back to the UK, and more events, including festivals in Carlisle, Cheshire and London. Believe it or not,I'm also a keynote speaker at a conference about James Ellroy in Liverpool in July, and again my subject will be the Golden Age. Preaching to the unconverted, perhaps, but I'm sure it will be fun.

Before that, in mid-May, there is Crimefest at Bristol. On the first afternoon of the convention, I'll be moderating a panel focused on (yes!) The Golden Age of Murder, with a terrific group of panellists including this year's CWA Diamond Dagger winner, Catherine Aird. Lots to look forward to...
 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on April 25, 2015 04:57 • 5 views

April 24, 2015

Who is Simon Warwick? is another Forgotten Book that I've chosen by Patricia Moyes, whose memory is being honoured this year at Malice Domestic. This is a book first published in 1978, and whilst I have not read every book that Moyes ever wrote, suffice to say that if she ever wrote a more ingenious whodunit than this one, I would be as surprised as I'd be impressed. Yes, you'll have gathered that I'm very enthusiastic about this one - it's my favourite Moyes.

The starting point is a search for a missing heir - a topic that has driven varied and interesting novels by Josephine Tey (the splendid Brat Farrar) and Julian Symons,(whose novels are nowadays sadly under-estimated, although The Belting Inheritance is enjoyable rather than brilliant) among other crime writers.

A rich man who does not have long to live summons his solicitor, who rejoices in the name Ambrose Quince, and asks him to draw up a new will, disinheriting various hopefuls in favour of his nephew,who was born during the war, and later adopted. This is the very mysterious Simon Warwick of the title.

Despite various well-founded reservations, Ambrose does as he is told, and when his client dies, he advertises for Simon Warwick - but two potentially credible claimants come forward  One of them - at least - is an impostor. But which one? When one of them is murdered, the plot thickens further. Did one of those who were disinherited commit the crime?

Henry Tibbett investigates, and as usual his wife Emmy gets in on the act. There are some splendid plot twists, and a neat solution to the various mysteries that Moyes has constructed with real cunning. She was, really, working in Golden Age territory long after the Golden Age - and using some of the freedom given by changes within society to come up with new ideas. A very entertaining puzzle.

 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on April 24, 2015 03:46 • 3 views

April 22, 2015

A Simple Plan is a 1998 film directed by Sam Raimi and based on the book of the same name by Scott Smith. I haven't read the novel, though it was a big, big best-seller, but if it's as good as the film, then there' s no doubt that it deserves its success. The film is gripping pretty much from start to finish, with good acting, moral dilemmas to think about, and several decent twists.

Hank (Bill Paxton) is a well-educated married man living in a snowy and remote rural community; his wife (Bridget Fonda) is a librarian who is expecting a baby. He has a brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) who isn't bright, but the siblings have a close relationship. One day, they go on a trip with a pal called Lou, and come across a plane, buried in the snow. When Hank climbs inside, he finds that the pilot is long dead. He also discovers that the cargo is a load of money - not far short of five million dollars. So what should they do?

What they don't do, needless to say, is report their find to the proper authorities. After some hesitation, Hank takes control of the money, and the trio agree to wait to see what happens about the plane before spending any of it. To his surprise, Hank finds that his wife soon agrees that they should keep their share of the money. The way in which the film shows essentially decent people making very questionable choices is a real strength.

As you might imagine, things do not go as the three amateur thieves would hope, and before long, innocent blood is shed. Hank and Jacob don't behave admirably, and yet I didn't lose sympathy for them. (Perhaps some viewers will take a harsher view of them, but I felt that Paxton and Thornton did a brilliant job of conveying the way that human beings so often rationalise self-serving decisions.) I'm glad I watched this film. It's one of the best thrillers I've seen recently.
 •  flag
1 like · Like  • 
Published on April 22, 2015 14:09 • 12 views

April 20, 2015

Ann Cleeves is this year's international guest of honour at Malice Domestic, and given the great support she always gives to other writers, it provides a welcome opportunity for fellow novelists as well as fans to express their appreciation of her achievements. I'm delighted that I've been asked to interview Ann at Malice, and given that I've followed her career since she published her very first novel, way back in 1986, I might just be able to manage without any notes!

A few years after that first book appeared, I met Ann at a northern chapter meeting of the CWA, and we have been friends ever since. In discussing her books, therefore, I will not suggest that I'm totally impartial, but I am as sure as I can be that her latest novel in the wildly successful Shetland series, Thin Air, will be regarded by any objective judge as a very enjoyable whodunit.

This is a Jimmy Perez story, of course, and Jimmy is still coming to terms with a bereavement suffered earlier in the series. Whereas I think that Ann's books about Vera Stanhope can probably be read in any order, it may be that some readers would prefer to start the Shetland series at the beginning, with Raven Black, which was Ann's breakthrough book. Whether or not you begin with Thin Air, though, I'm confident you'll find it an appealing story in the traditional pattern, with plenty of the deft touches and shrewd observations about humanity that Ann does so well. Her writing is authentic, but not in such a way that the narrative becomes bogged down. She says in a prefatory note: "I do know that it's impossible to send an email by iPhone from Unst, but this is a story",and this reflects a sensible approach to a writer's priorities - the story must come first.

There are two plot strands. which may or may not be connected - the murder of an attractive woman, and the strange appearance of a local ghost of a young girl, "Peerie Lizzie". There's a mix of suspects, who are nicely contrasted. And the setting is, as always, very well done. All in all, an enjoyable read from a very popular author. Thin Air will be just one of the books of Ann's that we'll be discussing at Malice Domestic.

 •  flag
Like  • 
Published on April 20, 2015 02:12 • 5 views