Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Local wanderings

 I'm trying out a new camera, but I'm not sure I'm that impressed so far. It was an emergency buy, which usually doesn't work for me. Anyway, this is a typical 3rd. New Town crescent in Edinburgh, with its central gardens - in Murray's day it's possible they would have grazed sheep there, as they did in the older squares.

Then it was off to Perth, where I overlooked the underrated Tay and the new flood defences. The weather was beautiful the first day and the river was racing when I first checked in.

You can see the dark rectangle of a flood gate towards the bottom left of the picture. Then a sculpture caught my eye and annoyingly the camera doesn't zoom, so I set off to take a closer look.

From above it had looked like a moulting peacock sitting on a carp, but it's a gull on a salmon, as you can see from the shadow!

Then I took a closer look at the flood defences. Every pillar has a carving on it, so I pottered the length of the wall, snapping them. Here are a few favourites:

They hadn't stinted on the metalwork, either!
The river was glorious, and starting to calm a little.
and by the early evening it was a soothing rush to lull me to sleep.

Well, if you've lasted this far and you haven't already bought it, A Murderous Game is 99p till next Wednesday! No particular reason - think of it as an early Easter egg, and much less fattening!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Indie author for March - Andy Barrett

 Here's another author who needs little introduction on this blog, and one I'm very pleased to return to.  With most of his books registering around a 2.5 on the Conyngham Scale (that is, closer to noir than to cosy), it won't surprise you to find that the author is an experienced CSI himself in Yorkshire where the books are set, and the main characters of two of his series, Roger Conniston in The Dead trilogy and Eddie Collins (oh, poor Eddie - what he puts himself through!) in, for example, Black by Rose. But it's not just blood and gore: these thrillers are both action-packed and decent brainwork, with convoluted plots that all come together nicely in the end, even if the main characters are not always happy. And the authenticity of the forensic investigation - even if Eddie pulls it out of shape - shines through. There are plenty of books in the Andrew Barrett canon - it's well worth starting each series at the beginning and working through. It won't take you as long as you'd like, but there'll be more on the way!

Stop Press: Bloodhound Books have just announced that they've signed Andy for his Eddie Collins books, so if you want to be a purist and only read indie, you'll have to stick with Roger Conniston. But I'd recommend both.

I'm not supposed to be writing the first book in the next series until April, but somehow I'm just starting Chapter Five! Completely incorrigible. And here's the reveal - it's to be called Tomb for an Eagle.

Mailing list people will be getting a Murray novella along with their March newsletter. It's set in Scoggie Castle not long after Murray's appointment to tutor the young Scoggie boys. More information to follow!

If you're interested and you haven't yet bought Jail Fever, it's 99p on Amazon from today till next Thursday, 22nd. If you like it, leave a review!

A Long Time Dead (SOCO Roger Conniston Book 1) by [Barrett, Andrew]
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A Long Time Dead (SOCO Roger Conniston Book 1) by [Barrett, Andrew]

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland - next stop, Dundee!

                                                             This month we're off to the city of jute, jam and journalism for
                                                              our crime - and I don't think there's much competition for the 

Killer's Countdown (DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries Book 1) by [Jones, Wendy H.]

This is the first in Wendy H. Jones' D.I. Shona McKenzie series. D.I. McKenzie is an appealing main character, a police officer with a keen eye for those she’d like to murder if such a thing were feasible, and Dundee is very sympathetically drawn despite the murders. A ‘misery memoir’ thread keeps us guessing about the murderer and her motives as a series of professional women are murdered.  I have to say I have a few misgivings about the investigation – it took a long time to find the connexion between the victims, which would have helped things along significantly. There were a quite a few missing commas, but otherwise this was well presented and very enjoyable, with some light humour. 3 on the scale, maybe 3.5.

Dundee has always had a bit of an image problem, and perhaps thirty years ago it was well-founded. Having the prominent Professor Dame Sue Black, forensic anthropologist, based there (she has recently taken a post in Leeds) was a bit of a mixed blessing - yes, famous, scholarly, always on television, but yes, it's dead bodies again! The city billed itself for some time as the 'City of Discovery', or as Billy Connolly translated it, 'We've got a boat!', as R.S.S. Discovery is berthed there as a maritime museum, along with H.M.S. Unicorn. The museum quarter is about to be seriously enhanced by the opening of the most northerly branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum. But if you still have any doubts about Dundee, visit it by train, from the south. When you cross the Tay Bridge (and you can still see the stumps of the one that fell down), put your Kindle down, be prepared for a sudden silence in the carriage and a scurry of photographers, and look west. The view of the Tay is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Granite Noir - aye, well.

Image result for granite noir 

I’m just out of my last booked event at Granite Noir, and feeling a bit ambivalent. I’m not sure it’s the fault of the festival – well, I’m pretty sure it’s not the fault of the festival. I think if I were going along just as a reader, I’d probably be quite happy (despite one or two microphone issues, and a chairman I didn’t particularly warm to). After all, I saw and heard some excellent writers: Val McDermid, for heaven’s sake (now she was chaired by Fiona Stalker of BBC Scotland, who was terrific), Chris Brookmyre, and one of my own favourites, James Oswald. I came across some new ones, like Will Dean who has written Dark Pines (bought that one and I’m looking forward to it), Michael J. Malone of whom I had heard, Matt Wesolowski of whom I had not (and if they had deliberately gone out to find two white British males to compare and contrast for a panel, they could hardly have done better – Wesolowski thirty-ish, hair shaved close at the sides and a little pony tail, tattooed arms, ripped jeans, DMs, and Malone sixty-ish, bald head, three piece tweed suit and purple bow tie). There was a workshop on plotting with Colette McBeth (I might come back to that later), and a talk by Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books on how best to try to attract a publisher.

There was an interesting panel comprising the actors Hugh Fraser (Wellington in the Sharpe series and Captain Hastings to David Suchet’s Poirot) and Robert Daws (who seems to have been in everything), who are also now both crime writers. They were very amusing about their work and charmingly humble as only actors seem to manage to be. I liked the fact that while the ‘ordinary’ writers, however experienced at this kind of thing, tend to shamble over to the sofa and arrange themselves on it before beginning to ‘perform’, the actors were in part from the moment they appeared, with a pause in the spotlight and a little nod to the audience before they sat.

There were readings from some local authors at the start of some of the panels: I only caught two of these, from John Bolland (writing in Doric) and Shane Strachan. Both were excellent, though I think neither is published in book form yet – Strachan’s retelling of a Denis Nilson killing was absolutely chilling, and Bolland’s retired police officer was hilarious.

Last year the Lemon Tree was lathered in police tape, and this year we had an exhibition of police wanted posters from Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, which made for fascinating reading on the stairs. There were evening events, from cocktail parties to folk music to quizzes, none of which I attended, I have to say, being a person who shies away from socialising, and a few panels I should like to have fitted in, but at just short of £10 a pop I have to look to my budget. And there, in those two facts, lies part of my problem.

I’m toying (again) with the idea of approaching a mainstream publisher for my new series (as yet it has about 1,500 written, so I’m trying to think ahead). I found Karen Sullivan’s talk both useful and interesting. What kind of things help to attract a publisher’s attention? There were the obvious things, of course, but these two set off my own personal alarm bells: a covering letter telling them how interesting you are (I’m not!), and hitting the festival circuit, Harrogate, Bloody Scotland, Edinburgh … I can’t afford to go to a whole festival on my own doorstep, let alone pay to stay somewhere, and anyway, what is one to do when one gets there? Apparently one is to talk to writers, make oneself known, make friends. Well, I’m not very good at that – any time I show polite interest in a new acquaintance I come across as a stalker in the making, and I can’t help thinking that even socially adept people doing the festival circuit look a bit creepy (but that’s probably just me not able to see myself doing it successfully). Elizabeth Bennett would tell me I need to practise more!

Anyway, because of the way my mind works (or doesn’t) this whole thing winds itself around in my head until I begin to look at the work I’ve done so far on the new series and wonder if it’s worth doing at all, and indeed whether any of the publishing I’m involved in is worth doing at all, or whether I should just go and find something else to do with my time. I’m supposed to be trying to make a paper tropical bird for something on Wednesday, and I have a bookcase to put together. Much more useful employment, I’m sure! And maybe they'll afford me some recovery time.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Indie author for February - Cecilia Peartree

Murder or What You Will (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 15) by [Peartree, Cecilia]
I've featured Cecilia Peartree before on this blog, but she's so prolific it's about time to do it again! Her latest book, the fifteenth (not counting shorts) in the Pitkirtly series, Murder or What You Will, is just out and is another delight. Set in and around the fictional coastal village of Pitkirtly in Fife, notoriously riven with murders and miles from any ambulance provision, the books feature Christopher, a nervous archivist, and Amaryllis, a semi-retired spy, along with their various aging friends and neighbours and their dogs. Council politics, local trades, knitting and family history crop up often in the plots which are bulging with in - jokes and insecurities. The series is well worth reading from the beginning (and indeed I am rereading it) for a bit of feelgood, neighbourly murder and a pint or two of Old Pictish at the Queen of Scots.
Cecilia has another series and further books available: the Quest series is set in postwar times with a backdrop of art. Beginning with The Lion and the Unicorn Quest, it has Flora and Oliver Quest as the main characters, a young couple meeting and marrying in London. Oliver is a policeman turned artist, and Flora had an interesting war against which the peacetime world is a little dull. Oliver's sister Clemency, a brilliant mathematician, also features and is perhaps my favourite character - A Quest for Clemency is also my favourite in the series. This series is beautifully researched and the historical setting is perfect.


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Blog Tour: The Good Man

The Company Files: The Good Man by [Valjan, Gabriel]
Jack Marshall had served with Walker during the war, and now they work for The Company in postwar Vienna. With the help of Leslie, an analyst who worked undercover gathering intelligence from Hitler’s inner circle, they are tasked to do the inconceivable: recruit former Nazis with knowledge that can help the U.S. in the atomic race. But someone else is looking for these men. And when he finds them, he does not leave them alive.

In this tale of historical noir, of corruption and deceit, no one is who they say they are. Who is The Good Man in a world where an enemy may be a friend, an ally the enemy, and governments deny everything?

 The Author:
Gabriel Valjan

 ... about whom I have very little information! A mystery man, perhaps, like the characters in his book.

My review: 
Raymond Chandler rewrites John le Carre in this spy thriller in post-war Vienna. An American unit is trying to identify, protect, and ultimately use, Nazi survivors who might have valuable information on Russia. It hits the ground running, and though it lacks the wit of Chandler and the atmosphere of le Carre it keeps the pace nicely.  What did I dislike? Occasionally the writing is a little too pretentious or over-detailed, and sometimes there is a muddle where it’s not quite clear whose pronouns are what, not helped by a bit of skipping about of the point of view.  Some of his key indicators of a British person are not accurate for the period (or even for now).  But the plot holds together and skips along, there’s plenty of room for the sequel (already available) to develop, and the historical note at the end is both interesting and useful.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland and a new Conyngham Scale!

Death on a Longship (Cass Lynch Mysteries Series Book 1) by [Taylor, Marsali`]

 This year, following last year’s Literary Houses thread, I’m off on a Tour of Scotland in Twelve Crime Writers. I wish I were! Though I daresay there’ll be trips to Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and there’s an Orkney excursion booked, but some of the destinations will only be made on paper, not in the flesh (or in the Scotrail carriage).

I’m going to start, though unintentionally, at the top, with Shetland, and Marsali Taylor.

Perhaps there should be a warning on these books, the Cass Lynch or Shetland Sailing series (it’s the same thing), for if you’re inclined to any mal de mer you may suffer as you read. I can’t look at a boat without feeling slightly iffy, but it’s worth fighting it for the plot, and indeed for the romance which is gently done. Cass Lynch is deliberately hard to get on with at first: she is prickly, know-it-all without being self-confident, deeply insecure. But in the first person narrative she definitely grows on the reader, as do the self-sufficient folk of Brae, where the novels are mostly based. They are not lush with description but a light touch sets the scenes well, and the people stand out as real characters that develop over what I at first thought was a trilogy. I’m delighted now to be reading the fourth book and there is already a fifth book: Cass has matured and come to terms with her odd background, though she is still trying to choose between love and sea (I know which I would pick, but I can still feel her agonies).

I’d love to establish a kind of universal indicator paper for crime novels, a pH scale that shows noir at one end and cosy at the other (I hasten to add that this is purely subjective, for one person’s cosy is often another person’s traditional, or 3.5 on the Conyngham Scale). If 1 is noir and 7 is cosy, this series is around the 5 mark: not much blood, sex or swearing and there is a cat, but the people feel very real.

Now, some places will also have an also-ran (some places have several), and in Shetland’s case that’s Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series, main character the dreamy, sensitive Jimmy Perez. I love these books, and I also enjoy the BBC series, though heaven knows whether or not the scriptwriter had ever read the books beyond picking out the names from the text. Dougie Henshall is lovely but he doesn't look remotely like Jimmy Perez, and the overarching plot is completely inside out. The local gen is that Marsali’s books have a much more authentic Shetland feel to them: I’m not a Shetlander, so I can’t commit myself, so I’d strongly recommend reading all the series by both authors – can’t say fairer than that!