Monday 30 September 2019

The Measure of Malice

Image result for measure of malice martin edwards

Life is pretty hectic at the moment, and as a result I've been rather tardy in talking about my latest UK publication! This is another anthology in the British Library Crime Classics series, The Measure of Malice. The theme here is scientific detection. I've been keen with the story collections in this series to ring the changes in terms of theme, as well as trying to ensure diversity of content.

An anthology of short stories needs to have a distinctive personality, I think. On the whole, readers tend not to be tempted by random assortments of stories in a book, however good the individual stories. It's a given, in almost all cases, that different readers will respond differently to particular stories in an anthology, and that they won't like each story equally. That doesn't seem to me to be a problem. The real joy of anthology often lies in a discovery of the unexpected. One buys the book because one is tempted by the theme, or by the inclusion of a favourite story or author, and then one stumbles across something unfamiliar that is, perhaps unexpectedly, highly enjoyable. That's what I find as a reader of anthologies; it's what I love about them. And it's what I aim for when editing an anthology myself.

I'm no scientist, as my miserable Grade 5 in Physics O Level attests (and weirdly, I have never had a single chemistry lesson in my life), but science does interest me, and its application in detective work is of course of great importance. The focus of The Measure of Malice is on early examples of scientific detection - no DNA fingerprinting, CCTV surveillance, or mobile phone tracking here! But although some of the technology now seems quaint, it also has a considerable appeal as well as historic significance.

For this book, I've rounded up the usual suspects, such as R. Austin Freeman, creator of Dr Thorndyke, and J.J. Connington, in real life a distinguished professor of chemistry. And there are great names such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers, the latter making a venture into forensic dentistry in a story that I really like. But there are also less familiar names, such as Ernest Dudley, creator of  Dr Morelle, C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, and Carl Bechhofer Roberts. Who knows, it may be that some readers tempted by Doyle and Sayers find themselves drawn to Dudley and his lesser known colleagues. I hope so, and I hope that crime fans find plenty to enjoy in this new collection. 

Friday 27 September 2019

Forgotten Book - Hand of Fate

Image result for michael underwood hand of fate

Are there any other Michael Underwood fans out there? Underwood was a prolific writer of mysteries which usually had a legal element. His long career began in 1954 and came to an end with his death in 1992. He produced a number of series, the most extensive featuring the solicitor Rosa Epton, together with stand-alones, and he was Secretary of the Detection Club and served as Chair of the CWA. I think it's fair to say that he was predominantly a writer for the library market, but although he seldom scaled the literary heights as a novelist, he was an accomplished entertainer.

My forgotten book for today is one of his stand-alones, Hand of Fate, which appeared in 1981. It's a good story, which showcases Underwood's strengths, as well as his limitations. We begin with a scenario suggestive of the Crippen case. Frank Wimble is a rich, self-made man whose wife refuses him a divorce at a time when he wants to marry his mistress. Elspeth Wimble duly disappears in mysterious circumstances. Local gossip comes to the attention of the police and their investigations take a fresh turn when a severed hand is found in local woodland, bearing Elspeth's ring. Frank is duly charged with murder.

The murder trial takes up the bulk of the novel. Underwood, whose real name was John Michael Evelyn, was a barrister who worked in public prosecutions, and his command of detail is extremely convincing, even if sometimes the information is presented in a slightly dry way. We veer into Verdict of Twelve territory, with Underwood presenting us with insight into the jurors' lives, rather as Raymond Postgate did. This is fascinating, although many of the threads here are left undeveloped. We also learn about the female judge, and I presumed that what was going on in her personal life (her daughter-in-law is having an affair) would somehow link in with the plot. It's not really a spoiler to say that it doesn't. Here, I think, Underwood missed a trick. Postgate was more ambitious with his novel, and that's why it is better remembered.

Nevertheless, I kept turning the pages, wanting to find out what the truth was (I did guess most of it, but the twists are clever.) Underwood had a very smooth, readable style. What he lacked in terms of literary ambition, he made up for by telling a good story. In real life, he was gay, and my guess is that the discretion that evidently characterised his life influenced his approach to writing. He didn't want to give too much away about himself, although there's an interesting development in the closing paragraphs of the novel. This is a light, pacy read, and even if the characterisation isn't too sophisticated, it's well worth reading.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

The Long Call

The Long Call, published by Pan Macmillan, is the new novel by Ann Cleeves, and it's a noteworthy book given that it launches a brand new series - the "Two Rivers" series, featuring a youngish cop called Matthew Venn. The setting is north Devon, and the rivers in question are the Taw and the Torridge. Ann is closely associated with Northumberland, where she lives, and Shetland, where she met her late husband Tim, and has evoked both areas wonderfully well in two series that have become huge television successes, but the move to north Devon is a very sound one. She has a very good sense of the area, not least because it's where she grew up, and as always she evokes the landscape and atmosphere very effectively.

When I was planning my own first novel, I was naturally interested to find out what other writers of a similar age who had managed to get published were doing, and that's how I first came across Ann's work, with her original series about George and Molly Palmer-Jones. I was impressed, and although it's undeniably true that Ann has developed enormously as a writer over the years (as all good writers do), there is real merit in those early books, even though she's always been self-deprecating about them. It's hard now to believe that one of the books in the series, Sea Fever, was even turned down for publication in the UK, though it was accepted by an American publisher, and much later it did come out in this country. I felt that all the signs were there, right from the outset, of a strong and thoughtful interest in character and landscape, elements that have made her books international best-sellers since TV came along, but the plots are sound, too. This is also true, by the way, of yet another of her series, the enjoyable books featuring Inspector  Ramsay.

The starting point for Matthew's investigation is the discovery on the beach of a male corpse. The deceased has an albatross tattooed on his neck. He has been stabbed. The case brings Matthew right back into the heart of a community he left long ago, and a sad story is told with Ann's characteristic compassion. The criminal motivation at the heart of the book, incidentally, is one that used to fascinate Dorothy L. Sayers, a rather different crime writer in many ways, but one who (at least in her later work) shared with Ann a determination to write about credible people and emotions and was not content merely to write a routine whodunit.

Matthew is gay, contentedly married to Jonathan, and religious intolerance plays a part in the storyline, but Ann has made the point in interviews that her objective is not to be politically correct but rather to challenge the ridiculous nature of prejudice of any kind. The series has already been optioned for television and the novel has made the  Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller lists. Not a bad start! I'm already looking forward to the next entry in the series. 

Monday 23 September 2019

Researching Lunesdale and the Lake District

Friday was a beautiful day, and the weather was ideal for a trip with two research objectives in mind. First, I aimed to gather more material for a forthcoming introduction to a novel in the British Library Crime Classics series by Carol Rivett, better known as E.C.R. Lorac (although the book in question will be one of those she wrote under another name, Carol Carnac). I was lucky enough to talk to someone who actually knew Carol Rivett in the years up to the author's death in 1958. It was a fascinating conversation. What's more, I've acquired an original manuscript by the author for the Detection Club's archives, held at Gladstone's Library. Developing the archives is a very long-term project, but one which I believe is hugely worthwhile. It's so easy for writers and their work, even fine writers and great books, to disappear from the public consciousness. The aim of the archives is to preserve a wide range of items of crime fiction heritage, and to make them accessible to members of the public.

My kind and generous hosts also made me a present of two works of art from their Rivett inheritance, as well as showing me a number of fascinating items in their possession. Carol was a gifted artist, and above is an example of a Christmas card, depicting an interior scene from her home in Aughton, which she designed and sent in 1956.

We met in the small village of Gressingham in picturesque Lunesdale, close to Aughton, where Carol Rivett lived for the last fifteen or sixteen years of her life. The next leg of my journey took me to Ulverston. I've been researching the next Lake District Mystery for some time, and I wanted to absorb myself again in some of the countryside (just outside the national park in this case) which provides part of the background for the book.

Earlier this year, while taking part in a talk at Ulverston Library, I met a fellow crime writer, Zosia Wand, who lives in the town. Zosia is the author of Trust Me and The Accusation, and is also a successful writer for radio, coach of writers, and playwright. She's lived in Ulverston for some years, and kindly took me on a tour which encompassed both the Hoad Monument (a lighthouse-like tower on top of a hill) and Conishead Priory (above photo), now a charming Buddhist retreat, with woodland walks to the shore. The views of Morecambe Bay were absolutely magnificent.

I was so inspired by these sights that instead of setting off home straight away, I made the most of the sunshine by driving further along the coast, as far as Roa Island on the tip of the Furness peninsula, with views of Piel Island, which I visited four years ago - yes, I've been thinking about this new novel for four years! And whilst roaming, I came upon the ideal setting for the opening scenes. All in all, truly rewarding trip.

Friday 20 September 2019

Forgotten Book - Dear Laura

Image result for dear laura jean stubbs

The rise of the historical mystery can be dated to the 1970s (although some good examples were written much earlier). An especially strong Victorian crime story is Dear Laura by Jean Stubbs. So good, in fact, that it was nominated for an Edgar. It remains, I think, the outstanding achievement of a capable, Manchester-born author whose wrote a variety of books including a short series featuring the Victorian cop Inspector Lintott. She wrote some novels directly inspired by real life crimes, but this is a story of her own invention.

This is a Lintott novel, and he is called in following receipt of anonymous letters which suggest that Theodore Crozier, a Wimbledon businessman (he runs a toymaking business; I was slightly sorry not to hear more about this) whose death has been attributed to natural causes was in fact murdered. Hid body is exhumed, and sure enough it emerges that he was killed by a fatal dose of morphine.

We are presented with a classic emotional triangle. Crozier was a cold man, and his attractive young wife Laura, having presented him with three children, is fed up with their marriage. Consolation is supplied by her brother-in-law Titus, a ladies' man who is charming but feckless. Lintott, affable but remorseless, probes their affair and also puts the servants of the house under the microscope.

The upstairs-downstairs relationships are very well done, and there's an especially powerful presentation of a cruel nanny. There are lashings of period detail, and just occasionally the painstaking research shows itself a bit too obviously. But overall, it's very well done, and the story progresses in leisurely but engaging fashion. Lintott is an extremely good character, very well portrayed. I'd rank this, alongside Julian Symons' The Blackheath Poisonings among others, as one of the most enjoyable Victorian history-mysteries.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Rye Arts Festival Trip - part two

The Cryme Day that John Case organised for the Rye Arts Festival was designed around four crime novelists: Simon Brett, Lynne Truss, William Shaw, and myself. Guy Fraser-Sampson, another crime writer who lives nearby in Winchelsea, was tasked with interviewing William and Lynne, and at a late stage we agreed that he'd interview me. Even without time for prep, he did a very good job indeed, and it was a most enjoyable experience. I was fascinated to hear William talk about the Dungeness setting of some of his books, while Simon was (as always) highly entertaining. Lynne, whom I last met on the evening Ann Cleeves and I were initiated into membership of the Detection Club, when she was guest speaker and we walked back through the snow, was also very witty. John had organised a murder mystery lunch at the Mermaid Inn, which I enlivened inadvertently by squirting raspberry puree all over the tablecloth. I've always been inept, I'm afraid. At least it looked like blood spatter at a crime scene...

I met some lovely people during the day, and signed plenty of books, while John and his team did a great job. Afterwards, Simon and his wife Lucy, Lynne and Helena and I went out to dinner together at the Ship Inn and had a very convivial time. The Festival was a great success and Rye a marvellous location.

On Sunday, first stop was Lamb House in Rye. This was Henry James' home, and E.F. Benson was another occupant. I can't claim James as a crime writer, but Benson's The Blotting Book does feature in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. The garden of the house is fabulous, and in the sunshine it was a truly lovely sight. After that, it was on to Winchelsea, a pleasing small town with plenty of interesting history (it was once a port but now lies inland), and then Winchelsea Beach, a long stretch of shingle.

William's discussion of Dungeness had fired my imagination, so that was the next destination. A wild and bleak place in poor weather, I'm sure, but benign enough in the sun. I resisted the temptation to go on the steam train to Dymchurch, travelling by car instead to a typical seaside resort. These coastal outposts lie on the edge of Romney Marsh, the setting for Russell Thorndike's Dr Syn novels. There is even a Dr Syn bedchamber in the Mermaid Inn. I have a first edition of the first Dr Syn book, and now I've experienced the landscape I hope shortly to read it.

Then it was off to Sissinghurst, where Vita Sackville-West and her husband created one of Britain's most famous gardens. Again, the weather was perfect. The tower contains Vita's writing room, and this fascinated me. I yearn for a tower of my own now! Anyway, Sissinghurst is a place I've wanted to visit for a long time, and it certainly lived up to expectations.

We were staying the night at Salomons Country House near Tunbridge Wells. This is an amazing hotel, not like anything I've ever encountered before. I was greeted by owls (a local couple fly them around the grounds; it's like walking the dog as far as they are concerned) and was shown to a museum and science theatre. How many hotels have their own museum, I wonder? There was also another tower, which the late Sir David Salomon used as an observatory. As far as inspiring story ideas is concerned, this was the ideal place to stay.

The following morning was again sunny, and there was time to visit Scotney Castle, yet another National Trust property, with a romantic ruin in the middle of a lake as well as a massive country house designed by Salvin and a rather good second hand bookshop. Scotney is really impressive, and the memories of this marvellous trip kept me going as I struggled back home via one clogged motorway after another.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Rye Arts Festival Trip - part one

Readers of this blog will know that I enjoy discovering new places and that in recent years I've spent quite a bit of time combining literary activities with sight-seeing. There are several reasons for this. First, I feel as if I'm making up for lost time - all those years when I was working rather long hours in a law office and unable to get away very often. Second, I find that literary events seem even more enjoyable when combined with a little tourism. I'm not one of those writers who wants to travel long distances (especially on our wearisome motorway network) to do an event, then come straight back home again. Third, the break can be quite inspirational - one has time to think about writing projects, and I do tend to find that ideas come more readily when I'm wandering around rather than chained to my desk. All this is by way of preamble to my reflections on a wonderful trip to Rye Arts Festival, which turned into one of the pleasantest working holidays imaginable.

John Case, whom I met at Woking Library last year, had the excellent idea of setting up a crime day as part of the Rye Arts Festival, a prestigious event in a delightful town; I visited it many moons ago, but only briefly, and jumped at the chance to go back. And I thought that it offered a great chance to explore the south east, an area of England I'm not very familiar with. So when the weather forecast looked good, I arranged to add a couple of days to my touring itinerary, in the hope that I'd come across some interesting places (perhaps with literary associations) and also get a few ideas for future projects - including the next Lake District Mystery. (As it turned out, I also came up with an idea for a short story about knitting, of all things, and a non-Lakes crime novel, so the trip certainly worked wonders for my imagination...)

Sussex is a loooong way from Lymm, and I'd booked into Telscombe Cliffs, a small resort between Peacehaven and Brighton for the first night. I'd never been to Lewes, the county town of Sussex, and found it charming, castle and all. It also claims to be a cradle of American independence, which came as a surprise! There was also a fifteenth century bookshop, which was closed on my first visit, prompting me to return the next morning; very atmospheric, though rather lacking in crime fiction. Then it was off to Devil's Dyke, a National Trust property and ideal for walking. Next stop was another NT place, Batemans, Rudyard Kipling's former home in Burwash. A wonderful house and garden. I duly inspected his certificate in honour of his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and read some of his correspondence which is on display. And I was intrigued to spot a couple of Dorothy L. Sayers books in his library before setting off for yet another NT site.

I'd seen photos of Bodiam Castle, and decided to find out if it's as beautiful in reality as the pictures suggest. The answer is yes. After wandering around and inside the moated castle, it was time to head for Rye. The Festival had kindly booked us into the Mermaid Inn, and this proved to be an incredible location, as historic and charming a hotel as I've stayed in anywhere. I really loved it, and also roaming round Rye as the sun set, figuring out where the next day's event would take place, in a Methodist chapel close to the Ypres Tower (now a local museum) and the splendidly named Gun Garden.

Friday 13 September 2019

Forgotten Book - Cold Blood

I've sung the praises of Leo Bruce's Sergeant Beef stories before on this blog, and Cold Blood, the eighth and last novel in the series, is a good example of the traditional mystery. The book was published in 1952, and is darker and less exuberant in tone than the early novels in the series, but there are still several good jokes, not least the references to famous fictional detectives.

As usual, the story is narrated by the pompous Lionel Townsend, the most snobbish of Watsons. The Beef-Townsend relationship has a distinct flavour and is one of the great pleasures of the series. At this point in his career, Beef is a private investigator, having left the police, with whom he remains on pretty good terms. This is a country house mystery, and Golden Age tropes abound.

Beef is called in by a friend of the late Cosmo Ducrow, who has been found with his head bashed in, presumably by a croquet mallet. Ducrow was a wealthy man, and one of those who stood to inherit, his nephew, is the prime suspect. But those close to the nephew believe he is innocent, and curiously, despite the evidence against him, he has not been arrested.

The plot is very nicely structured, and it certainly kept me guessing. Kate Jackson has also expressed her enthusiasm for the novel in her splendid blog. I'd be interested to know why Bruce decided to abandon Beef in favour of Carolus Deene, who featured in a long series but has never attracted quite as much enthusiasm. One possibility is that, after a spell in prison for alleged sexual offences (a conviction that now has the strong whiff of a miscarriage of justice) he decided to break with the past. 

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Gallows Court in the USA

Image result for "martin edwards" "gallows court" "poisoned pen"

I'm looking forward to next week's publication of Gallows Court in the US by Poisoned Pen Press, and I've been thrilled by the early reaction to the novel in the States. For the first time in my career, I've earned two starred reviews for the same book, in Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. And there have been wonderful advance reviews in the New York Journal of Books and, among other blog reviews, on Jason Half's excellent blog. As if all that were not enough, the novel is one of Apple Books "best for September" titles along with books by the likes of Salman Rushdie. Not often that I've figured in the same list as the great man!

Modesty should perhaps prevent me from quoting the kind words of reviewers, but I'm afraid it doesn't. Publisher's Weekly described it as an "exceptional series launch...The labyrinthine plot is one of Edwards's best, and he does a masterly job of maintaining suspense, besides getting the reader to invest in the fate of the two main characters." PW also carried an interview with me, conducted by Lenny Picker.

Booklist said the book offers: "Highly atmospheric, spine-tingling fun...the way that Edwards keeps deepening the creepiness of this mystery until the very end is utterly stunning." The New York Journal of Books said: "Martin Edwards crafts vivid descriptions of both character and setting that embed the reader into the scene in a way few writers can achieve." Jason Half's nice review makes the point that he'd expected a classic whodunit from me, rather than a thriller. I'm glad both that I have confounded quite a few readers' expectations and also earned a thumbs-up for the way "the plot gallops along and there are more than enough puzzles to work out regarding hidden motives and lurking dangers."

I'll be at the Poisoned Pen store in Arizona late next month, doing a couple of events to promote the novel before heading off for Dallas, where I'll be taking part in Bouchercon. It will be great to get back to the US, and I'm so glad that the new book is available there at last.

Monday 9 September 2019

The Isle of Man and a Douglas Murder Mystery Night

I arrived back home last night after a short trip to the Isle of Man. As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a big fan of islands, and I must have been to the IoM half a dozen times or so over the years. The climate isn't invariably Mediterranean in nature, but I was lucky with the weather and also in the company I kept.

Back in 2011, Jan Macartney, the chief librarian at Douglas, invited me over to host a Victorian murder mystery evening and this time she'd asked me to present a Golden Age mystery night: Murder at Bigelow Manor. It was great to catch up with Jan over lunch after landing at Ronaldsway on Friday, and to meet her deputy Sophie. After wandering along the Douglas promenade during the afternoon, I had dinner with an old friend, fellow crime novelist and lawyer Doug Stewart. The previous day, I'd had the enjoyable experience of watching the Test Match at Old Trafford in the company of another old friend (and former literary collaborator on a legal book) Michael Malone, and Doug, another cricket fan, and I were able to ruminate on the fate of the  Ashes (alas, by the time I got back home, the urn was back on its way to Australia).

I spent most of Saturday with Doug, touring round some of the island's highlights, such as Castletown, Port St Mary, and Port Erin, and walking along the coastal route near Port Soderick in the sunshine. The island looked quite lovely as usual, and I'm not surprised that it's attracted plenty of crime writers over the years, including Chris Ewan and George Bellairs (whose Littlejohn mysteries are now enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the British Library's Crime Classics). And Agatha Christie, of all people, wrote a competition story set on the island, '"Manx Gold".

The evening was devoted to the murder mystery. Three of the four members of the cast which performed so well in 2011 were again involved, and I must say that all four of them performed the script superbly. Jan had secured a sell-out audience, and an excellent local bookshop, Bridge Bookshop, sold plenty of copies of Gallows Court. I was amazed to meet a lady who actually has a house in Lymm a short distance from mine, and delighted to have a chat with yet another Manx-based crime writer, Alan Bradley. It's ages since I've seen Alan, and it was good to catch up at long last. Bob Harrison of Manx Radio conducted a Q and A with verve, and it was a tremendous night, made all the better for me by a surprise cricketing success for Derbyshire in the T20 Blast; I caught the last moments after getting back to my hotel.

On Sunday I had a very pleasant lunch with Jan, and another chance to wander along the front at Douglas. It's a great place, and for those of you who aren't familiar with the island, I can heartily recommend a visit. I did write a short story set in Peel, "Sunset City", a few years back, and one of these days I may try my hand at another Manx mystery.