Book of the Week: Written in Dead Wax

We had a lovely time on holiday last week and I read a lot of books.  A lot. And the pick of the bunch was Andrew Cartmel’s first Vinyl Dectective novel, Written in Dead Wax.  I’d had my eye on this for a while but finally managed to pick myself up a copy at Big Green Bookshop a few weeks back now.

Copy of Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel.

My copy on the beach in Croatia last week. Lovely setting, made better with a good book!

The Vinyl Detective hunts down rare records.  In fact he makes his living by selling the records that he finds while out and about in London.  Then one day a mysterious woman shows up and asks him to find the unfindable – a priceless, impossibly rare jazz album.  And so he sets off on an oddessy around the record shops, car boot sales and charity shops hunting for the elusive record.  But soon it seems he has competition.   Ruthless competition.  He’s not a detective, but when people start turning up dead, he start trying to work out what’s going on.

This has a blurb on the front from Ben Aaronovitch – and Andrew Cartmel also co-writes the Rivers of London graphic novels so I thought that it might be right up my street and I was right.  It was so much fun.  There’s no magic here (apart from the magic of vinyl) but it definitely has some points of comparison with Rivers of London – there’s a similar sense of humour and wry way of looking at the world and it has the geekery that I love too – that makes you feel like you’re a member of a special club of people in the know – even if all you know about LPs is what you learned on your parent’s old record player* and what you’ve read in the book.  The mystery is clever and twisty, there’s plenty of action and it’s really hard to figure out where it is going next.

If I had a problem with it, it was that the female characters weren’t always as three dimensional as they could be – but that was kind of in keeping with the Vinyl Detective’s record-centric world view: he’d be able to tell you (in depth) all the details about a rare record that he once saw, but he wouldn’t remember what you were wearing if you made him turn his back and describe your outfit to you! I tried to make myself read it slowly – and that worked for about 150 pages, and then I just needed to know what happened next and how it would all work out.  Luckily it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this that book 2 is already out and so I can get another fix soon.

If you like PC Grant’s adventures, read this.  And if you like this, then I think you might also like The Barista’s Guide to Espionage – which is really quite different but keeps coming into my mind when  I was writing this review and trying to come up with if you like this then read thats.  You should be able to get hold of Written in Dead Wax from any good bookshop – I’m planning a trip back to the Big Green Bookshop at the weekend to get hold of book 2 – or it’s also on Audible (you might need to be a member for this link to work), Kindle and Kobo.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  I’ve already lent my copy to my dad…

Happy Reading!

*I spent parts of my childhood dancing around the dining room to a small selection of my parents’ records.  A bit of ballet, the Beatles, some Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, the records I created routines too aren’t as cool as the ones the Vinyl Detective is looking for – but I still have my first LP (the Postman Pat soundtrack) even though I don’t have a record player plumbed in to play it on.

Book of the Week: The Sussex Downs Murder

This week’s BotW is another forgotten Golden Age crime novel which has been republished by the British Library.  I picked this up at the book barge on Regents Canal, but it’s taken me a couple of months to get around to.  The Sussex Downs Murder is the second story to feature Superintendent Meredith – there are a load more, and I already have another waiting for me on my Kindle now that I’ve read this.

Copy of The Sussex Downs Murder

Yes, I admit it, I read it on the train. Its such a useful handbag size!

John Rother and his brother William live and work together at a farm in the Sussex Downs.  One night John leaves for a holiday and disappears, leaving his car and some worrying blood stains.   Has he been kidnapped?  Is he dead?  Whatever has happened, William falls under suspicion as rumours had been circulating in the village that his wife was getting rather too friendly with John.  Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate, but events soon take a macabre turn when bones start turning up.

If you’ve read a lot of detective novels, you may suspect the solution to this one rather earlier than Meredith does, but it’s still a really enjoyable read.  I suspect at the time, the solution would be a big gasp-inducing moment, but because there’s been 80 years of crime writing since, you may have come across plots like this before.   It is a really well written and well crafted mystery, with plenty of interesting characters and lots of twists and turns.  And if you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries, it’s well worth reading because it has exactly the sort of vibe you get from a Sayers or a Christie – not too creepy, but totally engrossing.

I’ve read quite a lot of these British Library Crime Classic reissues and I’m struggling to think of one that I haven’t enjoyed.  I’m always watching out for them, and I suspect that this will continue to be the case.   It’s £2.99 on Kindle at time of writing, which is a bargain, or £1.89 on Kobo which is an even bigger bargain, but is for a slightly different edition.  You should be able to get order the paperback from all the usual sources too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Crossing

I read a few good books this week, but in the end I picked Rachel Rhys’s A Dangerous Crossing for my BotW, although I realise as I write this that there have been rather a lot of historical mystery picks recently, but I know this is one I’m going to be lending out to various people, so it deserves a mention here.  As you may have realised, i’ve got a big soft spot for historical mysteries, but this has a healthy dose of suspense mixed in as well so it does make for a bit of a change, honest!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I love the glamorous 1930s style cover for this – although the paperback one looks like its going to be different.

Set on a liner on its way to Australia in 1939, it follows Lily Shepherd who is heading down under on an assisted passage scheme to escape her past.  On board, she finds herself mingling with people who she would never have socialised with on dry land and is drawn into their intrigues and secrets. By the time the ship docks in Melbourne, two passengers are dead and Lily’s life will never be the same again.

The cast of characters in this is really cleverly constructed.  Lily is young and innocent in many ways and doesn’t always realise that her behaviour is being judged by other people.   A lot of the action focuses around Lily’s table mates at dinner – a brother and sister who are heading to Australia after he had a health scare, a young man whose father is sending him away from the risk of war.  There is the upper-class couple who keep visiting tourist class and a young Jewish girl fleeing Austria without her parents.  Lily’s massively judgmental roommate and an older companion who is supervising them on the journey pop up to point out the class divisions that Lily is crossing when she is mixing with people they see as above  – and below – her station and putting her prospects in Australia at risk.

The mystery itself is a proper slow burn – after teasing you with the arrival in Australia at the very start, you then spend a lot of the rest of the book on edge waiting for something bad to happen.  And it’s very, very effective. In the author biography it says that Rachel Rhys is the pen name of an “already sucessful suspense author”* so that’s not really a surprise.  I thought it was very page-turnery and doom laden but not so creepy as to be terrifying, which makes it pretty much my ideal sort of suspense!

A Dangerous Crossing is out now in Hardback and comes out in paperback in August. You should be able to get it from all the usual places (Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones) or order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  The ebook edition is availble on Kindle and Kobo and there’s an audiobook from Audible** as well.

Happy Reading!

*It’s Tammy Cohen whose other books look far too terrifying for me – if I’d known when I picked this up, I might not have read it, which would have been a shame!

** You’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.

Reccomendsday: Dandy Gilver

Another Recommendsday post, another crime novel.  This time though it’s historical crime and the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson.  I read number 11 in the series – Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit – at the weekend and was reminded how much I like this series.  The previous book in the series was a joint BotW about 18 months ago, but perhaps didn’t get as much love as it deserved so this seemed like a good time to revisit it.

I’m trying not to hold the non-matching covers against them!

Dandy is an upper class lady turned private detective in the wilds of Scotland in the 1920s.  She falls into detection when some diamonds are stolen at a ball and discovers that a) she enjoys it and b) she is really quite good at it.  Soon she’s started her own detective agency with her friend Alec and the cases start coming in.  Dandy’s husband is not keen, but is prepared to put up with it (and the money it brings in) as long as her activities are thrust in his face all the time.  I think the series starts fairly slowly, but really hits its stride by book 5 when Dandy goes under cover as a lady’s maid for a case, although I like the second one, Bury Man’s Day a lot as well.

In …Most Misleading Habit, Dandy is investigating a death at a convent in an arson attack, while Alec, her partner in detection, is looking into a break out at an asylum nearby which happened on the same night.  The two must be connected – but an old war chum of Alec’s is being blamed for it and Alec is convinced that he’s being framed.  What really happened and who is it that’s still sneaking around the convent?

Dandy is often shelved with the cozy crime books – but it’s a bit darker than that. They do have their humorous moments, but the solutions often involve issues that you don’t come across very often in this sort of book.  I’ve spoken before about the Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher series, and Dandy is definitely darker than Daisy and as dark as the darkest Phryne’s.

I’ve read all bar one of the series now – and they’re really worth your time.  You don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning – and several of the installments are very competitively priced at the moment.  I’ve just bought the missing one while writing this because it was only £1.99 on kindle – but a couple of them are only 99p and one of them – Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder is one of my favourites and gives a fairly good indication of what the series is like.

Happy Reading!

Hack

So you’ve read my interview with the fabulous Duncan MacMaster, now you want to know what I thought of the book don’t you?

As mentioned yesterday, Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, writing the autobiogaphy of 80s TV star Rick Rendell.  But when he arrives on Rick’s luxury paradise to start work, people start trying to kill him.  Suddenly the most lucrative job of his career could also be his last one.  But Jake’s used to dealing with scandal and he’s not going to go down without a fight.  What is it that’s in Rick’s past that people are willing to kill to keep under wraps?

Swimming pools, typewriter keys, glamour - I love this cover.

The cover of Hack by Duncan MacMaster


This is so much fun.  Rick was the star of a (fictional) rival of Miami Vice and the book is paying homage to that like mad and it’s great.  Jake is trapped in glamorous locations with glamorous people but someone keeps trying to murder him.  As the book goes on he gets more and more battered and bruised, but some how manages to keep getting up and carrying on chasing down the bad guys.  As Duncan said in his interview with me, Jake is a rank amateur, with no sleuthing skills at all – and that makes him great fun to read as he bumbles and crashes his way around the island stumbling upon clues and trying to stay alive.

Hack is very different from Duncan MacMaster’s first book for Fahrenheit Press, A Mint Condition Corpse.  As Duncan said in the interview, in that Kirby’s a Holmesy, Poiroty type of sleuth – who can make great leaps of deduction out of nowhere and who has staff and piles of money to help him along the way.  Jake is emphatically not that.  But the two books do (perhaps unsurprisingly) share the same sense of humour and a wry look at the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of people, even if the lead characters and settings are very different.

There’s also a great cast of supporting characters – including Rick’s ex-wife who is an aging and faded star who is trying to revive her career in all the wrong ways, and Rick’s daughter who improbably seems to be falling for Jake – despite his terrible Hawaiian shirts, paunch and increasing injury count.

If you’re in need of a dose of sunshine to escape the grey of the weather at the moment, Hack will do that for you – and make you laugh and take you away from whatever’s bothering you.  I got my advance copy from Mr Fahrenheit* who took pity on me and my twitter moanings during my last batch of nightshifts and sent me this to cheer me up.  And it worked.  I was reading it in my lunch break (at 3am), I was reading it on the train home – and if I hadn’t got to the end just as I was arriving into my station, I would have stayed up to finish it.  And I really like my bed after nightshifts.  And I nearly raved about it in Book of the Week that week – but it would have been cruel to taunt you by telling you about it when you couldn’t read it.

Hack is out now – and you can get a copy if you click here.  And if you missed the interview, you should definitely check it out by clicking here.

Happy Reading!

*OK, so his name is Chris, but he is Fahrenheit Press, so in my head he’s Mr Fahrenheit à la Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

Interview: Duncan MacMaster

Longtime readers, heck even short-time readers know that I’m a big fan of what Fahrenheit Press do (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F and I could go on) and as a special treat today, I’ve got an interview with one of their authors, Duncan MacMaster, whose new book, Hack is out this very day.

Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, but ends up fending off attempts on his life.  My review of Hack is coming up tomorrow, but read on to find out more about the man behind the book.

First of all could you tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Canadian, I studied film at university, I wrote comedy for a while, & I had an up and down career before finding a home with Fahrenheit Press with my first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse.

For the uninitiated, how would you describe what you write?

I write mysteries and crime thrillers with healthy doses of dark humour and satire.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Hack, where did you get the idea for Jake, the ghost-writer who ends up with a price on his head?

My first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse had Kirby Baxter who is a sleuth in the Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot tradition and I wanted to do something different. I was thinking of an investigator who was the opposite of Kirby Baxter, in that he had no real sleuthing skills, and was more adept at collecting injuries than clues. He succeeds more through dogged determination to stay alive and hopefully get the girl.

I needed an excuse for an unskilled amateur to get involved with murder and mayhem and consciously thought a ghostwriter doing an autobiography full of scandal and secrets was a good way to do it. Subconsciously I was venting a lot of my career frustrations indirectly through Jake. I had suffered some truly ridiculous setbacks over the years and I needed to get them out, even if it involved making up fictional ones for Jake.

Rick-the-corpse was the star of a Miami Vice-esque TV show and it felt to me like there was a bit of an homage going on to that sort of TV show going on – speed boats, surgically enhanced (or altered at any rate) women, tropical islands – was that fun to write?

It was. I’m a child of the 80s, the golden age of excess, and shows like Miami Vice sort of set the standard for style and swagger. It seems so silly and strange to us now, but back then everything about those shows seemed so cool. It was also a time of indulgent drug use, pre-AIDS sexual irresponsibility, and attitudes that would be shocking to our modern politically correct sensibilities. It’s a ripe target for both a little nostalgia and satire.

Your last book was a whodunnit at a comic book convention, this is a thriller-y mutter in the tropics – what can we expect from you next? Something else completely different or a familiar face? (Please more Kirby, please more Kirby!)

I’m working on more Kirby. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to A Mint Condition Corpse called Video Killed The Radio Star. It puts Kirby, Gustav and Molly in the world of reality television. I still have a lot of work to do on it to make it worthy of public consumption. I’m also developing a more experimental project about unreliable narrators and male archetypes, as well as outlining a potential sequel to Hack called Hacked, where Jake gets involved in a Hollywood computer hacking scandal.

And finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to shout about?

While I’m writing I try to avoid reading fiction, because I tend to be a stylistic sponge, and I don’t want to inadvertently imitate anyone. Right now I’m reading nonfiction, specifically Something To Do With Death by Christopher Frayling. It’s an incredibly researched biography of Sergio Leone, who was the master of the “spaghetti western.” It’s full of the sort of details about backstage life that I like to file away for later use.

However, I must give a shoutout to the other writers at Fahrenheit Press, who are a wonderful band of misfits that everyone should be reading.

Come back tomorrow to find out what I thought about Hack, but if you can’t wait and need to read it now, click here.

Book of the Week: The Riviera Express

Nightshifts are well underway here, so hopefully I’ll be asleep when this publishes.  I say hopefully, if day one is anything to go by I’ll have been woken up half a dozen times by  assorted phone calls, tradesmen and delivery people.   Anyway, as I said last week, I’ve been looking for a new cozy crime series. And as you know, I’m always looking for new historical crime series.  So this week’s BotW is a new historical crime novel from the cozier end of the spectrum which I’m hoping is going to be the start of series.

Cover of The Riviera Express

Cover of The Riviera Express

The Riviera Express is the first book from TP Fielden* about Judy Dimont, a newspaper reporter in a south-coast seaside town in the 1950s.  Miss D has a nose for a scoop, an editor who doesn’t always appreciate her and a rivalry with the paper’s other lady reporter.  The Riveira Express is both the name of the paper and the name of the train which brings holiday-makers to the resort of Temple Regis and one of Miss Dimont’s regular jobs is meeting the train if it’s got a celebrity on board.  But when she and her photographer arrive to meet film star Gerald Hennessey, they find him dead in his first class compartment.  Called away from the scene to a second death, Judy becomes convinced that there is a link between the two – even though the police aren’t convinced that either is the result of foul play.  Soon she’s investigating the links between the film star and the seaside town as well as between the two men and dealing with a couple of highly strung actresses who are mourning the dead star.  Will Judy find out the truth – and if she does will her editor let her publish it?

I hope that sounds like fun, because this book is a lovely romp through an English seaside town with pretensions of grandeur led by a charming character in Judy Dimont.  One of the toughest things to do in stories like this is create a leading character with an excuse to go poking about in murders and mysteries – and a reporter is an ideal one.  Judy has a perfect excuse to nose around and to get information from the police and the authorities.   It also means that she is going to keep coming across bodies in a more natural way than a private citizen would.  And it makes a change from private detectives of all shapes and sizes well.  The secondary characters are well drawn and there’s plenty of potential here for on-going plot strands without it feeling like there’s lots of set up being done.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about Miss D’s past in the next book.

Here’s the rub – The Riviera Express isn’t actually out for another 9 days yet – but you can pre-order the hardback from Amazon or Waterstones  and hope it turns up on the day or on Kindle or Kobo and it’ll download itself on the 23rd as a lovely treat.

Happy reading.

*I would love to know who TP Fielden is – this doesn’t feel like a first novel and there’s very little information that I can find on TP, but their Goodreads biography says that they are a “leading author, broadcaster and journalist” so it feels like a pen name – and I’d love to know who is behind it!