Wednesday 29 April 2020

Maj Sjowall

Författaren Maj Sjöwall död - DN.SE

I was sorry to hear of the death earlier today of Maj Sjowall, at the age of 84. I've been a fan of her work for decades, and it was a pleasure to meet her in person at a CrimeFest gala dinner almost exactly five years ago. She graciously autographed a menu card for me. A treasured signature, I can tell you.

When Adrian Muller and I put together an anthology to celebrate the 10th anniversary of CrimeFest, we were very keen to include a story by Maj. She'd written just a handful of stories that might fit, and in the end we were delighted that she agreed to contribute "Long Time, No See" to Ten Year Stretch. She also agreed that the new English translation could be made by my daughter Catherine, who is based in Stockholm.

Maj's name is, of course, forever associated with that of Per Wahloo (1926-1975). Their ten-book series about Martin Beck blazed the trail for Scandi-noir long before the days of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. The novels are police stories, and were designed to make a point about society from a Marxist perspective. But because the political stuff was carefully handled, the literary results were much more compelling than most fiction written from a strong political standpoint.

The books remain highly readable, but after Wahloo's early death, Maj didn't write crime novels of her own. She preferred to work as a translator, and left the Communist party; in later years she was content to describe herself as a "socialist". Wahloo had written several interesting books of his own before their relationship and collaboration began, and I'm not entirely clear how their writing partnership worked. But their joint productions were far more significant than anything either of them wrote on their own. I'm sad that's she gone, but her achievements will live on. And I'm glad I got the chance to say hello to her. 

The Jigsaw Man - 1983 film review

The Jigsaw Man is a spy thriller, and a pretty strange one. The ingredients are, in many ways, highly impressive. Take the cast, for a start. Not just Michael Caine, but Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray, Susan George, and Robert Powell. Wow! The director was Terence Young, whose CV included several early James Bond films and Wait Until Dark. The screenplay is by Jo Eisinger, whose credits included that excellent film noir Gilda. And there's even a song by Dionne Warwick - 'Only You and I', though it has to be said that it's so obscure that even I, a lifelong Dionne fan, had never heard of it.

How could you possibly go wrong? Especially when Young was directing a film based on a novel written by his wife, Dorothea Bennett (whom he'd given a tiny role in From Russia With Love) and published in 1977, which drew inspiration from the case of Kim Philby.

The film begins with Kimberley, a senior British politician who has defected to Russia, having his death faked. He undergoes plastic surgery and then an intensive physical training regime which makes him look very much like Michael Caine. He returns to the UK to recover some vital information for his paymasters, but promptly defects - so that the KGB, as well as the British police and secret services are after his blood.

It's a good set-up, but the film is a mess. The script is wordy and keeps shifting focus so that, although one would expect Caine to be the key character, he is off-screen for long spells as the story wanders down assorted sidetracks and descends into silliness more than once. I found it impossible to care about what happened to the characters. Dionne's song isn't one of her most memorable, but it was probably the best thing about this odd movie.   

The Perfect Host - 2010 film review

The Perfect Host is a psychological thriller that seems to be following a familiar pattern, only to take new life as a result of a couple of pretty good plot twists. My expectations when I sat down to watch this film weren't especially high, but there is a mood of black humour right from the start as John, an injured young man (Clayne Crawford), evidently a criminal, gets embroiled in a hold-up from which he is lucky to escape alive. He is desperately seeking sanctuary and seems to find it at the house of a pleasant, rather effete man called Warwick (David Hyde Pierce). John pretends to be a friend of a friend of Warwick's, and although his lies are transparent, Warwick treats him generously.

Warwick reveals that he's about to host a dinner party. He plies John with wine, and invites him to join his guests. John, in a panic, threatens him and instructs him to call the guests and cancel the meal. But soon it becomes clear that all is not as it seems...

At this stage, the story was moving along familiar lines, although with verve. But it starts to take an interesting turn as we learn more about Warwick and the reach of his imagination. There's a cameo role for Helen  Reddy as Warwick's nosey neighbour. Yes, that Helen Reddy, who had chart hits with the excellent and mysterious "Angie Baby" and "I am Woman" back in the day. A very good singer who makes the most of a small part here.

We also see the detectives closing in on John, who proves to have robbed a bank. One of the cops is played by Nathaniel Parker, another unexpected piece of casting, and at first this strand of the story seems insignificant, just like the flashbacks to John's plans to commit the crime, in collaboration with his girlfriend Simone. But really, nothing as it seems.

I liked this film a lot. It's well-written and well-acted, and definitely a cut above the average psychological thriller movies.

Monday 27 April 2020

One Deadly Summer - 1983 film review

Four years ago I extolled Sebastien Japrisot's novel One Deadly Summer on this blog, mentioning the film version, which dates from 1983 and benefits from a script co-written by Japrisot, along with the director Jean Becker. The film was a huge hit in France in its day and I've finally caught up with a sub-titled version.

The film came out a couple of years after Lawrence Kasdan's brilliant updating of the film noir, Body Heat and this movie has been called an example of "pastoral noir". Certainly, the French countryside, lovingly presented, is bathed in sunshine, but after a while the darkness of the story and the central character's motivations begins to dominate.

The book is subtly written and can't have been easy to film, but Japrisot's involvement means that the movie is a good one. It also has one massive plus, the casting of Isabelle Adjani as Eliane, or Elle, the young woman who seduces the amiable but naive fireman Pin-Pon (Alain Souchon). She's as much a femme fatale as the women in Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, but her motivations are subtle and the demons that possess her are, for a long time, difficult to identify.

Adjani captures Elle's beauty and wilfulness, as well as the complexity of her nature. I imagine that the nude scenes in which she appears did no harm to the film's viewing figures and I do wonder if the movie would be shot in quite the same way today. On the whole, though, the sexual content is appropriate to the storyline. It's a long film, and at times I felt it moved too slowly. But the power of the story is such that it's definitely worth waiting for the calamitous events to unfold, leading to a shocking finale. It's a very different film from Body Heat, but quite compelling.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Sheila Quigley R.I.P.

Author Sheila Quigley

I was so very sorry to hear yesterday that Sheila Quigley has died quite suddenly at the age of 72. The newspaper report I've read indicates that although her health declined very rapidly in a matter of a few days, this was not a virus-related tragedy. She was such a vibrant personality that it is hard to believe she is no longer with us.

Sheila's life story was remarkable. A straight-talking former factory worker, she secured a £300k deal for her first two books when she was in her 50s, a brilliant achievement that understandably gained national attention. I got to know her through meetings of the northern chapter of the Crime Writers' Association.

I wrote a blog post about her back in 2009, and I always enjoyed her company. She was a much more outgoing person than me and very different from me as a writer (not least in having secured such a massive deal!). Perhaps because of this, I found that appearing with her at events seemed to work really well. On one occasion she dropped me a line about her delight over a new publishing deal she'd secured, observing that "there are so many broken-hearted authors around.", which remains truer than many on the outside might think.
The last time I was with her was at a bookshop event in Merseyside. She'd travelled, with members of her family, all the way from her home in the north east for that one event. It was an illustration of her commitment to her writing. We had a good time together that evening as always. I shall remember her not only with affection but with admiration.


Friday 24 April 2020

Forgotten Book - The Case of the Calabar Bean

There's something very Golden Age about a title like The Case of the Calabar Bean. You simply don't get book titles like that these days. The author was Cecil M. Wills and the novel was published right at the end of the Golden Age, in 1939. The publishers were Hodder & Stoughton - Wills had moved to this prestigious imprint a year or two before, having earlier been published by a less notable house. At the time, he seems to have been moving up in the crime writing world. He never quite made it to the Premier League, but he is a good writer of the second division.

My own copy bears a pleasing authorial inscription: " regale scanty house of leisure- or to put him to sleep," and certainly this story has an amiability about it that suggests Wills, about whom I don't know much, was an amiable fellow. So is his series detective, Chief Inspector Boscobell of Scotland Yard, generally referred to in the text as Geoffrey rather than by his surname.

An interesting feature of the book is the "prologue", which is actually half a dozen short first person accounts of life in Molton Priory, the scene of the crime - a scene which benefits from two floor plans, on the front and rear endpapers of the book. We are then plunged into the murder case - Rex Farradale is found dead and his wife Myrtle is seriously ill. They have evidently been poisoned. So who is responsible?

The book is presented as a challenge to the reader, although I must say I found it easy to figure out the culprit's identity. This is because there are too few credible suspects. I suspect that Wills came across one very interesting piece of information which he felt he could build a plot around. It is indeed interesting, but I think he could have made better use of it, perhaps by introducing more plot complications. As it is, the story seems over-long. What's more, it seems almost inevitable to me that the culprit's cunning plan would have gone awry. Yet despite these flaws, I rather enjoyed this one. Wills writes agreeably and although he can be a bit long-winded, he was a capable entertainer. I'm definitely interested in reading more of his work. 


Forgotten Book - The Wench is Dead

The title of today's Forgotten Book comes from Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta, which has been referenced several times in crime fiction. The author of this novel was Fredric Brown, and it was published in 1955. I'm intrigued by my copy, which he inscribed to his ex-wife Helen. Whether it was because their relationship was amicable, or he was wanting to make some kind of macabre joke, I don't know, but I suspect and hope it was the former.

I've heaped praise on Brown several times in this blog. He was a terrific writer, but one of those who - despite the admiration he received during his lifetime - seems to me never to have been appreciated quite as extensively deserved. Although he wrote a series of books about Ed and Am Hunter, most of his finest novels were stand-alones. And this one has received praise from various good judges.

I have to say, though, that it's not one of my favourites. This is partly because the plot is relatively straightforward, and lacks the brilliance of Brown's best work. Another reason is because it's a story in which Brown's interest in alcohol and alcoholics is very much to the fore. Much as I like a drink, I find reading about drunks rather tedious.

The protagonist is Howie Perry, who plans to take a degree in sociology, and is gearing up for this by posing as a wino and working as a dishwasher. His pose becomes something of a reality as he starts drinking to excess and gets involved with a gorgeous prostitute called Billie. But things get tricky when a woman he's called on is murdered. Soon, it seems, he is the number one suspect. I didn't find myself as involved with his fate as with the misadventures of other Brown protagonists. The Wench is Dead is a satisfactory quick read, but not one of his masterpieces.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Quiz - ITV review

Quiz, which ran for three episodes on consecutive nights last week, was perfect lockdown televiewing. A family entertainment show about family entertainment, with an ingenious crime and a bit of courtroom drama. Fittingly, for a show about quizzes, it posed a tricky question. Did Major Charles Ingram and his wife Diana conspire with Tecwen Whittock in 2001 in an attempt to cheat a million pounds out of the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I was a big fan of Millionaire in its early years. I've always enjoyed quizzes and the TV show I watch most regularly is University Challenge, where the contestants play for glory rather than cash. A lot of the popular quiz-type shows with big cash prizes leave me cold, but Millionaire fascinated me until it became too samey. Quiz showed how Millionaire began before showing how the Ingrams, and Diana's brother became obsessed with the possibility of winning a million. In short, the issue was whether strategic coughing by Whittock was what tipped Ingram off about the right answers.

Quiz boasted impeccable credentials, with a script by James Graham and direction by Stephen Frears. The Major was played by the always appealing Matthew Macfadyen and Diana by Sian Clifford, who was excellent in Fleabag. Especially brilliant - but when is he not? - was Michael Sheen, with an extraordinarily convincing performance as quiz master Chris Tarrant. The third episode was cunningly written so as to strike quite a good balance between the competing arguments - in effect, the allegation of fraudulent conspiracy versus the defence of innocence and eccentricity.

History relates that the Ingrams and Whittock were convicted of the crime. But they have always maintained that the conviction was unjust. I thought that Quiz was not only extremely watchable but also extremely fair to the accused. It didn't, for instance, highlight the fact that two years after they avoided prison in this case, Ingram was convicted of an unrelated insurance fraud.

Monday 20 April 2020

The Coffin Trail and the Lake District Mysteries

The Coffin Trail: You can never bury the past... (Lake District ...

The Coffin Trail is available today as an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal for a modest 98p - a price which I hope will tempt you if you haven't already read it! (The offer isn't available in the US, I'm afraid.) And this reminds me that I ought to give an update on progress with the Lake District Mysteries. In case you're wondering - I'm writing a new one right now!

The Coffin Trail is the first book in the series and when I went back to it to refresh my memory about a number of details, I was startled to realise that I wrote it seventeen years ago; it was then published in 2004 and shortlisted for the Theakston's Prize for best crime novel of the year. Since the other shortlisted novels were by Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Susan Hill, Stephen Booth, and Lindsey Ashford, it was a truly memorable experience.

When I wrote The Coffin Trail, I intended that it should be the first in a series. That said, I didn't anticipate the direction my career would take in the ensuing years; if you'd told me what would happen, I doubt I'd have believed you. But because I write for the long term, there were ingredients of that first story which I intended would gain greater significance in subsequent books.

The first of those ingredients concerned the garden of Tarn Cottage, which becomes relevant in the second book in the series, The Cipher Garden. The second ingredient - well, I'll leave you to figure it out. Suffice to say that, at long last, I've picked up those early threads in the new book, The Crooked Shore. And readers will therefore encounter the resolution of a mystery they might not even be aware was bubbling under the surface...

I'm hoping that within a week or so, I will have completed the first draft, with a view to the book being published next year. It's been fascinating to return to the Lakes, after a break of several years while I've focused on Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall, among other projects. And I hope that today's deal will introduce a few more readers to the delights of the Lakes as well as the tangled lives of the lead characters, Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind. 

Friday 17 April 2020

Forgotten Book - Murder in Blue

clifford witting - murder in blue - AbeBooks

Murder in Blue, published in 1937 by Hodder & Stoughton, was the first detective novel of Clifford Witting. It was an auspicious debut, proclaimed by Hodder as "a first-class detective story...about the murder of a policeman". It's interesting to compare the first edition of this book with first editions written by debut authors today. Now, readers are always presented with information about the author. Publishers are keen, almost to the point of obsession sometimes, to focus on an author's "platform", i.e. the means by which, it's thought, he or she can attract readers. It was very different in 1937. We are not told a word about Witting.

So who was he? I don't possess a lot of biographical information but I do know that Clifford Witting (1907-68) was educated at Eltham College and worked for many years for Lloyds Bank. He enjoyed a long career as a crime novelist, spanning 27 years, but was much less prolific than many others who started during the Golden Age. In that time he published sixteen novels. Quite possibly, like Cyril Hare for instance, his day job reduced his literary output. But lack of productivity is no bad thing if it is matched by a corresponding increase in quality. He wrote accomplished traditional mysteries and in 1958 he was elected to membership of the Detection Club, a sign of the esteem in which he was held by fellow practitioners.

Nick Fuller writes about Witting on the excellent gadetection site, and asks why he is so obscure, given the engrossing nature of his stories. It's a good question. I missed out on Witting for many years and it was only because of the advocacy of Nigel Moss, an excellent judge, that I sampled him. I'm glad I did, because all the books of his that I've read have merit.

Narrated by a likeable bookseller, John Rutherford, and set in a thinly disguised Sussex, Murder in Blue introduced Detective Inspector  Charlton, who was to become a series character. There's more focus on characterisation and setting than you find in, say, most of the Freeman Wills Crofts books, and definitely more humour. Witting was witty! The story begins extremely well thanks to Witting's smooth narrative style, although I felt it sagged in the later stages. Overall, however, a decent start to a career of under-valued accomplishment.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Charade - 1963 film review

Charade is a film made by an accomplished director, Stanley Donen, who was here venturing into Hitchcock territory with a light thriller starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The movie was a commercial success and boasted a theme song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. When I first saw it, the mix of crime with romance and comedy slightly underwhelmed me, and the same was true (as I said on this blog twelve years ago) when I took another look.

But time passes and views change and on a recent third viewing - intended as light relief in the lockdown era - I enjoyed it more. It's a well-crafted confection of highly commercial if highly derivative ingredients although not in the same league as, say, Hitchcock's North by North West, which is by far my favourite Cary Grant film.

The source material was a short story called "The Unsuspecting Wife", written by Peter Stone. He and Marc Behm (best known as author of The Eye of the Beholder) turned it into a screenplay. When this didn't sell, Stone turned the story into a novel, Charade, which did. Donen secured a high-calibre cast, including Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy.

Hepburn plays Regina, whose marriage is on the rocks at the start of the film. She's not too heartbroken to learn of the death of her husband Charles or to meet a charming man (Grant) who calls himself Peter Joshua. When it turns out that Charles was a crook who nicked a quarter of a million dollars that assorted villains want for themselves, Regina finds herself in danger. Peter comes to her aid - but what's his real game?

There are some good set-piece scenes and I enjoyed George Kennedy's steel claw, which reminded me of Major Whitlow in Mortmain Hall, not to mention Louis Crandell, the inspiration for my character! The Parisian backdrop adds to the movie's charm and overall it ranks as an agreeable piece of escapism. Very suitable at the moment!

Monday 13 April 2020

Walter Satterthwait's Dead Horse

Dead Horse by Walter Satterthwait

I've been interested in the writing of Walter Satterthwait since reading his excellent historical mystery Miss Lizzie shortly after it was published in the UK at the end of the 80s. At that time it seemed to me that he was destined to become one of the genre's major figures. His versatility - he wrote a short series about the private eye Joshua Croft as well as novels featuring such notable figures as Oscar Wilde and Harry Houdini - was in many ways a great strength, but although I admire authors who avoid the same-old, same-old, possibly it counted against him. His work was well-respected but it's probably fair to say that he never quite achieved the level of commercial success that one might have anticipated. Of course, that is true of many, many gifted authors.

I never met Walter but I gather he had an extremely interesting and varied life and he was a good friend of someone I did knows slightly, the late Sarah Caudwell, another charismatic figure who was in many ways a very different kind of character. It would have been wonderful to listen to them in conversation together. Sadly, he died earlier this year after a long illness. The good news is that Stark House Press have recently republished his 2008 novel Dead Horse, together with an excellent intro by Rick Ollerman.

And what a fascinating book it is. Like much of his best work, it's a historical crime novel, inspired by real life events - in this case the apparent suicide of Emily Whitfield, second wife of the hardboiled writer Raoul Whitfield. Satterthwait's version of events is invented, but compelling.

I devoured this book in just 24 hours. Satterthwait's terse style here is very much in the hardboiled tradition. He invents a dogged local cop, Tom Delgado, who is convinced that there is more to Emily's death than meets the eye. It's a doom-laden story set in Santa Fe, where the Whitfields had a ranch called Dead Horse. This is an excellent reprint, which I can recommend. And it's made me want to read Whitfield too...

Thursday 9 April 2020

Forgotten Book - Crossed Skis

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac, Martin Edwards | Waterstones

I've discussed my interest in the detective novels of E.C.R. Lorac often enough on this blog, but I've not had much to say about the work of her alter ego, Carol Carnac, which features a Scotland Yard cop called Julian Rivers. This is simply because I've not read many Carnacs. However, a while ago I was offered the chance to acquire an inscribed copy of the Carnac novel Crossed Skis, and I jumped at it.

The book was published in 1952, and is dedicated to Lorac's fifteen fellow members of a ski-ing party that travelled from England to Lech in Austria: "with thanks for their help and advice and happy memories of their charming company". My copy was inscribed to a member of the party, and I wonder what he made of it. I'm pretty sure he'd have been fascinated, since the story is all about - guess what? - a party of sixteen English people who go ski-ing to Lech...

This is an interesting and fairly unusual detective story, and I'm delighted that the British Library has decided to publish it in the Crime Classics series. There are two narrative strands. The ski-ing party set off for the continent, with some of its members unknown to each other. I did worry that Lorac had made a mistake by introducing too many characters, and personally I think a party of four men and four women would have been viable in this story, but I can see why she thought her plot called for more people.

The second strand of the story begins with a fire in a London house. Is it an insurance scam, is it an accident, or is something more sinister happening? Rivers takes charge of the investigation, and soon finds himself on the trail of a ruthless killer. As the two strands come together, the tension mounts. This is an enjoyable book, even for someone like me, who would rather do almost anything than ski!

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Reviewing and Being Reviewed

Do book reviews matter? As someone who has reviewed crime fiction since the late 80s (and legal books before that), I'd like to think the answer is yes. As an author myself, I'm pretty sure the answer is yes. This isn't to say that great reviews necessarily equate to great sales; the publishing world isn't as simple as that. But reviews affect a writer's morale, both positively and negatively. Perhaps most authors remember the poor reviews more than the good ones, but I think the key thing is to see what one can learn from reviews. As a reviewer, I try to make judgements based on my opinion about what the writer was trying to achieve. And as an author I find that the reviewers whose comments are most valuable are those who "get" what I was aiming to do.

I vividly remember the pleasure I had when Frances Fyfield gave a glowing review of an early Harry Devlin novel of mine. She "got" what I was trying to do with the characters, and that was highly satisfying. Years later, I met her in person and had the opportunity to thank her. The late Matthew Coady and Marcel Berlins were other critics who worked for the national press and showed an understanding of and empathy for my early books. That too was gratifying at a time when I was trying to establish some kind of niche.

The Puzzle Doctor has recently been generous enough to review three very different books of mine, two novels and The Golden Age of Murder, on his blog In Search of the Classic Mystery. Once again he's demonstrated the virtues and value of a thoughtful and insightful reviewer. His comments about The Dungeon House, which is probably my own favourite of my Lake District books, remind me that many fans of series hope for a significant focus in the storyline upon the recurring characters. This is something I'll bear in mind with my current work-in-progress, The Crooked Shore. It's shaping up to be a story that is at least as much about psychological suspense as the police investigation, but it's helpful to be reminded that readers do like to know what's going on in the lives of Hannah and Daniel. 

His comments about Mortmain Hall I found equally interesting. And it's enormously heartening (as well as a relief!) when a good reviewer enjoys a book so much. I'm particularly glad that he feels it's a book that keeps you thinking long after you've finished it. That's a reaction, like Frances', which delights me, because although my focus is definitely on entertaining my readers, I also like to include elements in all my books that provoke thought. Sometimes those elements are a long way under the surface (probably they were too far under the surface in Take My Breath Away, which I wrote nearly twenty years ago and hoped would be something of a breakthrough - but commercially it was about my least successful novel.)

I do understand why some fellow novelists prefer not to read reviews, but my own feeling is that it's well worth hardening oneself against the occasional brickbats, because there's so much to be gained from a well-crafted and constructive assessment of something one has written. The Puzzle Doctor's trio of reviews illustrates what I mean, and I'm grateful to him not just for his kind words but for taking the time and trouble to analyse what I set out to do with each book.

Monday 6 April 2020

Forty Years On!

Last week was, for me, notable for a couple of landmark moments. The one that I concentrated on was the publication of Mortmain Hall on Thursday. But the day before saw another milestone. It was April Fool's Day, and the fortieth anniversary of my qualifying as a solicitor. As it happens, April Fool's Day was also the day when I became a partner in my firm, in 1984, and then an equity partner, twelve months later. Surely some significance in that date...

Anyway, this is a blog about crime writing, so I've avoided discussing my other life as a lawyer. Perhaps this explains why most people I meet seem to think that I retired from the law many moons ago. An understandable assumption, but in fact I am still a consultant with my firm, though on a part-time basis; I retired from the partnership six years ago. The firm in question is Weightmans LLP, with which my old firm, Mace & Jones, merged in 2011. That merger was a great thing for me, as well as for many others. In my case, it opened the door to a fresh way of life, which I've embraced with enthusiasm.

I didn't expect to stay in the law as long as I have, and the fact that I've done so is due entirely to the decency of the people I work with. It may seem invidious to pick out just a few names, but over my career I was especially lucky to work with a series of fantastic secretaries/PAs who were long-serving and perhaps long-suffering: Heather Jones, Ann Geraghty, Lea Doran, and now Jo Wright. I'll always be grateful to them.

Forty years is a long time, and I hope you'll forgive my indulging in a spot of nostalgia today. Since I believe strongly in job satisfaction, you can take it for granted that I've enjoyed being a lawyer. I trained in Leeds, where I discovered employment law, which I hadn't studied at university. At that point, I thought it made sense (and I've never regretted it) to combine working in employment law, then a very new and minor subject, with commercial and corporate law, because of the synergy between those subjects. Most firms, however, treated employment work as a branch of litigation. But I never regarded myself as a litigator, even though in the first half of my career I spent a lot of time as an advocate in the industrial/employment tribunal. And the Liverpool tribunal was a notoriously tough training ground, one which supplied me with a lifetime of anecdotes. As regards commercial work, which I gave up after about ten years, a highlight was working on legal aspects of the film Letter to Brezhnev, a unique experience in my career.

To me, the key to employment work is managing relationships between employers and employees, and resolving disputes - however irreconcilable the parties may seem to be - rather than magnifying the gulf between them. I always believed in acting for both employer and employee clients, so that one had the whole picture. There's no doubt, though, that acting for a deserving employee and trying to secure justice for them is very rewarding. The two most significant cases I ever handled as an advocate, both of which found their way into the official law reports, concerned clients who were very badly treated because they were pregnant. 

Conversely, one attraction of acting for employers is that, over the course of time, you build up pleasant relationships with people, including HR specialists, in-house lawyers, and people running small or medium-sized firms and trying to make a go of it. I was lucky to act for some very high profile clients, such as Liverpool FC for about twenty years, the Health and Safety Executive, Littlewoods, and numerous NHS trusts, as well as many much smaller concerns. The rich mix of clients meant that I got a picture of life inside all kinds of different organisations and I have always found this absolutely fascinating. The reason why employment law appeals to me, I realised eventually, is because it's about people and relationships under pressure - much the same concerns as those of the novelist. A lawyer's work tends to make one cynical, but overall I've come to the conclusion that most bad behaviour results from stupidity or ignorance rather than outright malice, and this means that it is usually possible, in the end, to encourage people to find a reasonable solution to their differences, however bitter the initial dispute.

I also enjoyed writing about the law and trying to make it comprehensible to non-lawyers. My first published book was Understanding Computer Contracts and my various other legal books included six editions of Careers in the Law and four editions of Tolley's Equal Opportunties Handbook. I published well over a thousand legal articles in publications ranging from Good Housekeeping to (believe it or not) Practical Woodworking and Amateur Gardening and I was a columnist for various magazines, e.g. the Law Society's Gazette, The Expatriate, and Social Services Insight. For 18 months I was leader writer for The Solicitors' Journal and this gave me a platform to pontificate about all manner of things - great fun. All this experience has, I'm sure, helped me as a writer of fiction, because even novelists need to understand about the importance of deadlines and the vagaries of the publishing world. It was especially beneficial when I came to write non-fiction about the crime genre, not least The Golden Age of Murder.

Over those forty years, there have been many moments to remember (plus a few I'd rather forget). I recall quite vividly a lunch in the early 80s at the Wig and Pen with, of all people, a leading light in the Workers' Revolutionary Party who predicted the miners' strike - and in particular its outcome - with uncanny accuracy. I enjoyed going behind the scenes at places as different as Heathrow Airport, the Football Association, Liverpool Museum, and Harrods to conduct interviews, while other highlights included receiving a couple of "best employment team" awards at glitzy occasions.   

One of the memories which particularly stands out was a day back in 2008, which with hindsight feels like a transitional moment involving my twin careers. I was taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of Wembley Stadium, for whom I acted, and was allowed to go on to the pitch and into the dressing rooms. Magical for a lifelong football fan. I then headed into central London, visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and then rocked up for the CWA Daggers dinner that night. To my amazement, given that the shortlist included Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman, I received my first literary award the Short Story Dagger; the below photo shows me with Craig Russell. Money can't buy memories like that, and I'm enormously thankful to have had two careers which were not only satisfying but brought me into contact with some wonderful people.

My main focus in the future will, of course, be writing. But the law's been good to me, and I know I'm exceptionally fortunate to have had not just one career that I've enjoyed, but two.