Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Mapping the Scene

Catherine Aird’s new book has arrived. Losing Ground is the latest in the long series featuring DI Sloan and DC Crosby of the Calleshire Constabulary. The novels are characterised by light humour and a smoothly readable style. I’m lucky to have a first edition of Seedy Sloan’s debut, The Religious Body, which dates back to 1966. It contains an excellent map of the fictional county in which Aird sets her books.

At one time, maps often featured in whodunits. Like family trees, and lists of characters, maps have rather gone out of fashion in recent years, but for the whodunit fan, they are often both useful and (if well done) entertaining in themselves. Unable to resist temptation, I included a family tree in The Arsenic Labyrinth, while there was a map of fictitious Brackdale in the US edition of The Coffin Trail.

But I digress. It’s a pleasure to anticipate a new Catherine Aird novel. Her short stories are equally effective, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to include one of them, ‘Chapter and Hearse’, in the 1998 CWA anthology Past Crimes. The tale also provided the title for a recent collection of Catherine’s work in the short form, a book which contains several gems.

Catherine was a UK editor of The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing, an under-rated reference work, and is an expert on the life and work of the late Josephine Tey, one of the greatest names from the Golden Age. Her knowledge of the tricks of the crime writer’s trade ensures that plotting is one of her strengths.

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