Friday, 14 December 2018

Forgotten Book - Left-Handed Death

Left-Handed Death, first published in 1946, is a novel by Richard Hull which draws on his wartime experience as an accountant working on behalf of the government. If that sounds less than enticing, I can offer some reassurance, since Hull was a writer both witty and inventive, and this book bears his hallmarks, even though it's not, in my opinion, one of his major works.

Shergold Engineering Company Ltd is in difficulties. The principals, Arthur Shergold and Guy Reeves (who has lost three fingers of his left hand), are worried that Barry Foster, the accountant employed by the Ministry to check on government contractors, has identified something amiss with the company's records. Yet the accountant in question, Barry Foster, is lazy, and focused mainly on getting "through his duties easily and without argument or fuss". So why be concerned?

Cynthia Trent, a secretary in the business whom Reeves wants to marry, becomes embroiled in a strange scenario when - so it seems - Reeves murders Foster and promptly confesses his guilt to the police. Yet the police are surprisingly reluctant to accept the truth of his story. What is going on? As readers of Richard Hull know, appearances are invariably deceptive. 

I suspect that Hull enjoyed himself in writing this novel, and I suspect that his portrayal of Foster, and of the haplessness of the Ministry and the people working in it was to an extent a jokey expression of his own dissatisfaction with working for a bunch of bureaucrats. As often with Hull's novels, this one has the feeling of a novella stretched out beyond the natural length justified by the plot material, but it provides an interesting picture of the times.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Audio books and Gallows Court


Image result for sheila mitchell actor

This week, Sheila Mitchell has been recording the full-length audio book version of Gallows Court. I was thrilled when she proposed this to my publishers, and so were they. Over the years, I've been lucky in the actors who have recorded my books for audio. Gordon Griffin in particular has done sterling work, and last month I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Franklin, who recorded The Cipher Garden some years back. But this is the first time Sheila has been involved with any of my books.

Sheila has been (as was her late husband Harry Keating, formerly a distinguished President of the Detection Club) a friend for many years. I've learned a great deal from her about such things as voice projection - not that I'm much good at it, even now, though she's done her best to train me! Harry, I gather, recorded one of his own novels, before concluding it was best left to the professionals. I very much agree, and I can't see myself ever wanting to record a novel of my own, even though I did once record a short story, "No Flowers", for an Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine podcast.

Done well (as it needs to be), audio recording is a demanding job. Sheila has recorded countless audio books over the years, and her preparation continues to be absolutely meticulous. During recent conversations, I was interested to find out how she goes about it, and it's become clear to me that an in-depth understanding of the characters and incidents, as well as oddities of pronunciation, is invaluable for someone about to embark on a marathon of reading aloud.

I was greatly impressed by the list of questions she fired at me after her second reading of the text; thankfully, I managed to figure out the answers. Her incisive analysis of the tricky bits will, I feel sure, be a real benefit. She spent the first three days of this week full-time (about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) in the studio, recording Gallows Court. That she's been willing to do this is something I regard as an honour and I very much look forward to listening to the result.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Gallows Court - the special editions


I'm absolutely thrilled that my publishers Head of Zeus have produced two very special editions of Gallows Court for collectors. These are signed limited editions, 75 in a numbered series, and 26 in a lettered sequence. I've never before had a limited edition produced of any of my novels, and this initiative is particularly gratifying for me, given that I'm a huge fan of beautifully produced limited editions, and have quite a few in my own collection.

The production details are: notched case, quarter bound with Wibalin Buckram on the spine. And each copy, as I say, is signed. (Yes, I know the old joke about unsigned copies having greater scarcity value, but never mind!)



For anyone interested in acquiring a copy, perhaps as a Christmas gift, here are the ordering details:

TO ORDER:
Call 01256 302692 or email your order and phone number to direct@macmillan.co.uk and someone will call you back.
The order line is open 8.30am - 5.30pm (GMT) Monday to Friday.
To process your order you will need the title, author name and ISBN (please select the correct ISBN for the edition you wish to purchase from the below), as well as quantity and your delivery address. Payment details will be taken over the phone but your card will not be charged until your order is despatched.
Quote promo code RC5 to receive free p&p within the UK.
Order details: 
GALLOWS COURT SPECIAL EDITION LETTERED, Martin Edwards, ISBN 9781789541748, £100
GALLOWS COURT SPECIAL EDITION NUMBERED, Martin Edwards, ISBN 9781789541113, £50   



Friday, 7 December 2018

Forgotten Book - On Suspicion

Dulan Friar Whilberton Barber (a great name!) was a talented novelist who wrote crime fiction under the rather less memorable name David Fletcher. His career in the genre lasted fifteen years, and the quality of his writing suggested that, (even though I think it's fair to say that he was never a leader in the field), there was a good chance that he might have become a major star. Sadly, it wasn't to be, because he died of a heart attack at the age of only forty-seven.

I remember borrowing his books from the library in the 70s and 80s, and my wife met him when she went on an Arvon writers' course which he was leading; she was impressed. Recently, I was pleased to acquired the inscribed dedication copy of a suspense novel he published in 1985, On Suspicion, which I hadn't come across before.

At first the story looks as though it will turn into a rite-of-passage narrative. The focus is on 18 year old Nick Garfield, who has just passed his exams with flying colours and is destined for Oxford. But the story becomes something darker when, having stumbled across a corpse when taking a girlfriend into the woods, Nick becomes a suspect in a serial killer investigation.

This is, essentially, a book about character and relationships. The plot twists are essentially character-related. We know that Nick is innocent, but he tells stupid lies in a manner reminiscent of John Bingham's Michael Sibley, and the police pursue him relentlessly. It's a highly readable story, and although there are one or two points which bothered me and which I'd have liked Fletcher to elaborate upon, I found it gripping. Dulan Barber alias David Fletcher left us too soon, and deserves to be better known. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Do You Know This Voice? - 1964 film review

Do You Know This Voice? is a shortish British film based on a novel of the same name published in 1961. The author was Evelyn Berckman, someone I've not yet read, but there is enough in this movie to persuade me that her books would be well worth seeking out. Apparently, she was an American who moved to Britain, having published her first novel at the age of 54, and she went on to carve herself quite a reputation. She also published several books on the unexpected topic of naval history.

At first, the film seems to be a mystery about a kidnapping. A mysterious individual makes a phone call to the parents of a kidnapped child, demanding money they haven't got. The parents call in the police, in the fairly sympathetic shape of that excellent character actor Peter Madden. He arranges for the kidnapper's next call to be tape-recorded. But alas, things go terribly wrong. The faint-hearted should be warned that this is a story in which a child dies, and so does a domestic pet. I'm not sure how many writers would risk that nowadays...

As the title suggests, the police issue a public appeal for information about the mysterious caller. But in a plot twist (quite neat, but foreseeable) the identity of the person in question is quickly revealed, and the film becomes a suspense story, as a desperate killer tries more than once to murder the one woman who can reveal the caller's identity.

The tension is nicely built up, and this film has won admirers over the years. The cast is pretty good, with another good actor, Gwen Watford, playing an important part; Dan Duryea is at the heart of the action, as is the Italian Isa Miranda. My main reservation about the storyline is that the killer is ludicrously incompetent. Frankly, it was inconceivable that someone so clueless would ever get away with murder, even though the police make a fair few blunders as well. And the relationship between the married couple at the centre of the story, although very interesting, is not drawn in depth. So I wasn't convinced by the story, but I suspect the source novel is superior. 


Monday, 3 December 2018

The Golden Age of Murder in Japan - and classic crime in China


I've just received my copy of the new Japanese edition of The Golden Age of Murder. And a handsome hardback volume it is. Of course, I can't read a word of it, since I don't speak or read Japanese, but seeing a book that one laboured over for so many years translated in this way is truly gratifying. I'm very grateful to the publishers and the hard-working translators who are, I'm assured by a Japanese friend, highly skilled.

I've never visited Japan (or at least I haven't so far; one never knows what the future may bring) but it's a country that I find increasingly fascinating. This is partly as a result of reading more Japanese detective fiction, partly as a result of having more contact with people from Japan. A couple of years ago, I was flown down to London to take part in a documentary for Japanese TV about classic detective fiction, and there's clearly a great appetite for the genre in Japan.

I wrote about The Tokyo Zodiac Murders the other day, and it's one of a number of ingenious detective novels from Japan which have been translated into English. Pushkin Vertigo have, for instance, published a couple of books by that fascinating character Masako Togawa. I've also enjoyed the work of Alice Arisugawa, whose non-fiction book about locked room mysteries is delightful to leaf through, even if one doesn't know the language, because of the gorgeous illustrations. Japanese culture seems very different to someone like me, raised in conventional fashion in the west. But it's enormously interesting, and Japanese crime fiction certainly appeals to me much at least as much as Nordic Noir. 

I'm delighted to say that there will also be a Chinese translation of The Golden Age of Murder, though that won't be published for another twelve months. In the meantime, I've just received a book from China that I'm really thrilled to see. It's primarily a collection of signatures and inscriptions from classic crime writers, British and American, and again the emphasis on images means that even if, like me, you speak no Chinese, it's still fascinating to look at. I supplied some images of inscribed books from my collection to the two editors, and my congratulations go to Eliot Han and his colleague for producing a splendid and (as far as I know) unique volume. Great stuff!











Friday, 30 November 2018

Forgotten Book - Singled Out

Simon Brett is a multi-talented author, and the range of the 100-plus books that he's written is truly impressive. Not all his work is within the crime genre, but that's the specialism for which he's best known, perhaps above all for his long and very entertaining series featuring the actor Charles Paris. His dark novels of psychological suspense are interesting, but only the first of them, A Shock to the System, is well-known, thanks to the film version starring Michael Caine.

Singled Out was published in 1995. It's not an easy book to write about in detail, because the plot is so elaborate that it's almost impossible not to give spoilers. But let me have a try. The story begins in 1973, with attractive Laura Fisher, whose marriage has recently broken down, setting out to seduce a man so as to become pregnant. In this first section of the book, we learn about Laura's past - and of how she'd been deeply affected by a murder. Laura works in television, and Simon Brett's understanding of the  TV world makes the background seem authentic, even if the events of the story are outlandish.

The story then moves on to 1993, and a sequence of events which forces Laura to confront the horrors of her personal background, and the fear that history may be about to repeat itself. The narrative is concerned not just with murder, but with child abuse and incest. Reading it now, a quarter of a century later, it seems to reflect the mores of the time, which are in some ways rather different from those of the present.

I see this book as forming part of a tradition of British psychological suspense, reaching back to Francis Iles' novels, and including several of the novels of Julian Symons, such as The Plot Against Roger Rider. Like Iles and Symons, Brett is an expert plotsmith, but for me, his greatest strength as a crime writer is his wit. Humour isn't much in evidence in such a bleak story as this, and I suspect that explains why he moved away from this type of writing. Singled Out isn't by any means his best book, but it's an interesting and laudably ambitious example of a fast-paced and very readable novel of suspense.



Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Last Man to Hang - 1956 film

The Last Man to Hang is a movie based on Gerald Bullett's most famous novel, The Jury, which was published in 1935. The film's title reflects the fact that the story has been updated and set in the mid-Fifties, at a time when a debate about whether to end capital punishment in the UK was occupying Parliament. Will Sir Roderick Strood be found guilty of murdering his wife, and pay the ultimate price?

Strood (played by Tom Conway) has been having an affair with an American singer, Elizabeth (Eunice Gayson), much to the distress of his wife Daphne (Elizabeth Sellars) and the disgust of Daphne's devoted servant Mrs Tucker (Freda Jackson). When Daphne dies of an overdose, Strood is arrested at London Airport - he'd been about to fly off with his lover. Unfortunately, what he tells the police seems damning, especially when it emerges that he'd given Daphne some powerful sleeping tablets.

This is a courtroom drama where (as in books like Verdict of Twelve and films like Twelve Angry Men) much of the focus is on the jurors, and what factors will determine their verdict. The story is competently presented, and there's a surprise (and, I thought, highly unlikely) twist ending. Overall, it makes for good entertainment.

I wasn't especially impressed by Conway, who seemed to me to lack the charisma the part required; I was rather surprised to learn that his real name was Tom Sanders, and he was elder brother of George Sanders, who might have made rather more of the role.  Freda Jackson is excellent as the malevolent housekeeper, but it was the supporting cast that really caught my eye. So there's a small comic part for Joan Hickson, while Anthony Newley plays a Jack-the-lad juror. His latest girlfriend is played by Gillian Lynne, who became a legendary choreographer and died not long ago. There's even an appearance by John Schlesinger, better known as a film director. Spotting these familiar faces is enjoyable in itself, and the film is well worth watching. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

Writing Workshops

I've enjoyed an eventful year in 2018. It's also been event-full, as I've found myself in all sorts of interesting places talking about crime fiction. Tallinn, Iceland, Washington DC, St Petersburg, Florida, and New York City, for instance. To say nothing of Guernsey, Jersey, Woking, a fascinating church in Soho, a gorgeous library in Highgate, and places closer to home such as Hawarden, Kirby Lonsdale, and Lancaster. And on Saturday the curtain came down on the year's calendar of speaking events, at the Blue Cap Hotel in Sandiway in Cheshire.

It's a long time since I was last at the Blue Cap, a historic pub and restaurant dating back to the early eighteenth century. In particular, I remember a poignant lunch there with my mother, when I was twenty-two, and my father was desperately ill; thankfully, he recovered and lived another fourteen years. I couldn't help thinking back to that occasion when I turned up to deliver a crime writing workshop organised by Vale Royal Writers' Group. And I was glad that my return to the Blue Cap proved to be convivial and enjoyable.

It's the third writing workshop I've presented this year, although the others were less than half a day long, and so this time we were able to cover more ground. It's always enjoyable to talk to and spend time with fellow writers, and this is true whether or not they are already published - in fact, as at previous workshops, some of those attending had already published or self-published novels. The range of different ideas that come up in response to some of the writing exercises is always fascinating.

In the 1980s, years before I published my first novel, I was a member of a writers' group on the Wirral, and I also attended some meetings and seminars run by Southport Writers. I found all this experience rewarding, and I'd encourage any of you who are interested in writing to check out your local groups. As for conducting workshops, I didn't have much experience of them before this year, and thus I'm still learning, but I have been greatly heartened by the feedback. A few days ago I received an email from someone who attended my Guernsey writing workshop in spring whose first novel is now out, and to get this sort of happy news is truly delightful. So when time permits, I hope to conduct more workshops in the future, and if this is of interest to you or your local group, do let me know. 

Friday, 23 November 2018

Forgotten Book - The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

Today's Forgotten Book, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, dates back to 1981, but more than thirty years elapsed before the novel was published in English by those splendid publishers Pushkin Vertigo. The translation was undertaken by the equally splendid John Pugmire, whose own imprint, Locked Room International, has been responsible for bringing to to English language readers some truly fascinating locked room mysteries.

Shimada's book caused quite a sensation in Japan on its original release, in that it represented a striking move away from a focus on gritty realism. The story has many elements (such as floor plans and footprints in the snow) that are pure Golden Age, and Shimada is a long-time admirer of classic detective fiction from Britain and America, but it is also modern, dealing with some subjects in a degree of gruesome detail that you would never find in, say, the work of John Dickson Carr or Anthony Wynne.

The story deals with a sequence of murders (and dismemberments) that took place in 1936, and their reinvestigation in 1979. The new inquiry is undertaken by a sort of Holmes-Watson duo, the brilliant young astrologer Kyoshi Mitarai and his friend, the narrator (of most but not all of the book), an illustrator called Takeshi Yoshiki. So it's a cold case mystery, and a very complicated one too. But there are some nice touches of humour, as in Kyoshi's witty debunking of some of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories - rather as Holmes affected to disdain Gaboriau's stories about Lecoq.

I've never visited Japan, but in recent years I've become increasingly interested in the country's detective fiction, and it was a great thrill for me when The Golden Age of Murder was bought by a Japanese publisher. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders paved the way for a new generation of writers such as Alice Arisugawa who have made intriguing use of classic tropes in their fiction, combining elements familiar from Carr and company with a Japanese sensibility that I find intriguing. I gather that Pushkin Vertigo are planning to publish more crime fiction from Japan, and I look forward to reading it.