Thursday, August 30, 2012

CWA Crime Thriller Awards

The shortlists have been announced for this year's Crime Writers' Association Awards.  There are film and TV awards too, but I am concentrating here on the actual writing awards.

The Bestseller Dagger award is between Jo Nesbo, Ann Cleves, Kathy Reichs, Anthony Horowitz - all of them well known - and Stuart MacBride, who I hadn't heard of.  MacBride writes Tartan Noir set in Aberdeen and has the best writer's website I've yet come across.  Check out the innocent-sounding online short stories.  He's on my list of must-reads.

The CWA Gold Dagger nominees are Chris Womersley for his 1919 Australian story Bereft, M R Hall for The Flight, N J Cooper for Vengeance in Mind and Gene Kerrigan for his Dublin-based policier The Rage.  I've read Cooper's Karen Taylor series before and found nothing exceptional, The Flight is about a plane crash (unsurprisingly) and is probably not for me.  Bereft sounds interesting but it is the Kerrigan that appeals most strongly.  He is a previous nominee.

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, for thrillers, is contested by Megan Abbott, for her highschool thriller Dare Me, Robert Harris for his financial thriller The Fear Index, Neal Stephenson for his digital age as dystopia novel Reamde, and Charles Cumming for A Foriegn Country, which is also up for the Bloody Scotland award (see below).

Finally - my favourite - the John Creasey New Blood Dagger for first time crime writers.  The nominees are Ewart Horton, Good People, introducing a maverick Welsh copper; Wiley Cash for A Land More Than Home, set in the North Carolina bible belt; Tanya Byrne for Heart-Shaped Bruise, the personal journals of a female Young Offender; and Tom Wright for What Dies in Summer in which two teenage boys in Texas discover the dead body of a teenage girl.  All four sound fascinating.  However Cash was also longlisted for the Gold Dagger, which I guess makes him a strong favourite, no doubt deservedly.

Winners to be revealed on October 18, televised as usual on ITV3.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

James Russell: Remembering Eric Ravilious (1903-42)

James Russell: Remembering Eric Ravilious (1903-42): Eric Ravilious, Hurricanes in Flight, 1942 (DACS/Artist's Estate) On 2nd September 1942 Eric Ravilious disappeared, along with four Brit...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Murder Joint Enterprise

Well, the BBC certainly knows how to mark a Bank Holiday.  Pick of the weekend's viewing was unquestionably Murder: Joint Enterprise on BBC2 on Sunday night.

The pre-publicity, such as it was, was centered on director Birger Larsen, who has previously directed Wallander, The Killing and Those Who Kill.  This original drama, written by Robert Jones, creator of the seminal The Cops, was set in true Nordic Noir territory, that is to say Nottingham.  (You might think it's bleak in downtown Copenhagen but I've been there and it's nothing compared to central Nottingham.)

A girl has been beaten to death.  Her sister is in the flat with her; the sister calls 999.  One-legged ex-soldier Stefan is picked up driving the sister's car and wearing a bloodstained shirt.  Open and shut case?  Not by a long shot.

The vast majority of the action was spoken straight to camera by the principles, a difficult device to pull off but it all depends on the actors.  The cast here were superb.
Karla Crome as Coleen, the sister
Joe Dempsie as Stefan
and Stephen Dillane as Coleen's super slick QC
Otherwise we relied on CCTV - and how brilliantly gleeful was Robert Pugh as the world's most hardbitten DI when he had the footage from the sleazy boozer enhanced.
Only at the very end, when justice had done its thing, did we discover in straightforward action what really happened that night.  Beautifully done and original in all respects.
I found an interesting interview with Birger Larsen in The Telegraph.  Worth checking out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jacobson at 70

The Feral Beast in today's Independent on Sunday recycles a great joke from Howard Jacobson, presiding patriarch of the English comic novel, who turned seventy yesterday.

"The best advice I heard was on the radio, listening to the late Kingsley Amis.  One: as soon as you hav e finished a novel, start another.  Two: if your manuscript is rejected, always retype the first page.  It doesn't do to have coffee stains on it when you submit it elsewhere."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Parade's End

A couple of sticky weeks after the Olympics ended, the autumn season on TV is finally getting underway.  BBC2's opening blockbuster is Tom Stoppard's five part dramatisation of Ford Madox Ford's four novel sequence, Parade's End.

Ford, of course, is never done on TV.  In the rather smug "documentary" that accompanied Episode 1 the most recent BBC dramatisation of Parade's End was so old, Judi Dench was the 18 year-old Valentine.  The other worrying thing was that scene chosen from the antique was much better than the same interminable scene in the Stoppard version.

The scripts have been kicking around for some years, apparently, no doubt consigned to the back burner in face of ITV1's enormous success with Downton Abbey.  It may be this which made me wonder if the scripts had been somewhat overworked.  All the backstory stuff, all of it concocted by Stoppard and much of it unnecessary, seemed stilted and a little indulgent.  The direction didn't help - the scene of Christopher and Valentine on a horse-drawn carriage in the fog was laughably amateur.  This was a pity because, for me at least, the drama only got underway when Valentine (Adelaide Clemens) made her appearance.

So much for the criticisms.  Parade's End has nothing to fear from comparisons with Downton.  The latter is glossy soap opera and whilst everyone I know watched series 1, I know nobody who watched series 2 and cannot imagine anyone still persisting with the works of Lord Fellowes after the appalling TitanticParade's End on the other hand is proper big-issue drama - a man who relentlessly does his duty despite being cuckolded, captivated and forced to pander to the whims of completely useless politicians.

The acting, by-and-large, is of the highest order.  Benedict Cumberbatch was born to play Christopher just as Rebecca Hall is perfect for his bitch of a wife.  Adelaide Clemens is truly beautiful - her role in the drama will surely develop and let us see her acting skills.  There are wondrous cameos - Miranda Richardson as Valentine's pushy mother, an unrecognisable Rufus Sewell as an insane vicar spouting obscenities over breakfast, Anne-Marie Duff totally unrecognisable as his wife, and Stephen Graham (yes, Boardwalk Empire's Al Capone/This is England's resident psycho) as a careerist civil servant.  Rupert Everett and Jack Huston (also of Boardwalk) could have phoned in their contributions to episode 1 but no doubt have greater challenges ahead.

There has been a token effort to contextualise the action which apparently becomes heavier-handed in future episodes - does anyone actually need World War 1 and the suffragettes contextualising? - but as Sir Tom pointed out in the aforementioned "documentary", "I'm happy to say the Titanic doesn't figure in my story."  A dig at the aforementioned Lord Fellowes?  Not half, and I forgave Sir Tom his crappy sex scenes in light of it.

All in all, it's a co-production with HBO and it shows.  Don't know why it's on Friday, not usually a drama night, but I don't suppose it matters in the age of timeshift consumption.  It has to be compulsory viewing for those of us who love drama and literature.

Will it inspire me to go out and read the original books?  Probably not to start with.  I might warm up with the single-volume Good Soldier.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Roger Wood's Biblioblog: The Chemistry of Tears - Peter Carey

I have copied this across from my biblioblog [Roger Wood's Biblioblog: The Chemistry of Tears - Peter Carey: ] because this is where I charted my first forays into Carey's world.

"What a brilliant artist Peter Carey is. Not only can he do different voices and literary styles (compare Parrot and Olivier, Jack Maggs and History of the Kelly Gang) but his structure, the framework on which his story hangs, can be dazzling. Here, the structure is as cunningly wrought as the automaton which brings together Henry in the 1850s and Catherine in 2010.

"Henry has convinced himself that the only way he can save his consumptive young son is to commission him a clockwork duck of the utmost ingenuity. To do so, he has to travel to Germany, home of the cuckoo clock. He describes his experiences there in a series of journals. The journals are read 160 years later by Catherine, a horological conservator, who has been given the task of restoring Henry's automaton to take her mind of the sudden death of her longterm lover.

"The writing styles of our two narrators are distinct but they are linked early on by shared personal tragedy and loss of love. Embroidered through the narrative is the unfolding ecological tragedy of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (hence the choice of 2010) and the mid-Victorian parallel of the onset of the industrial revolution and its effect on both landscape and craftsmanship. And to round it all off, a highly amusing twist (which Carey has been dropping hints about all along) concerning the wunderkind Carl.

"Not one word wasted ... [and] a perfectly crafted ending, sufficient unto the purpose and no flummery."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bloody Scotland nominees

The shortlist for the inaugural Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Book of the Year award has been announced.  The nominees for the £3000 prize are:
  • A Foreign Country, Charles Cumming: Also listed for the CWA Steel Dagger award, this is a spy thriller which ends up in North Africa.
  • Dead Men and Broken Hearts, Craig Russell: Russell is really interesting.  He writes thrillers set in Hamburg, one of which has just been dramatised for German TV (yes please, BBC4!), and the Lennox series, of which this is one, set in 1950s Glasgow.
  • Gods and Beasts, Denise Mina: The third of Mina's series featuring Glasgow Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow.  There's a great review of it by Mike Stafford here.
  • The Lewis Man, Peter May:  May is another super-prolific writer of crime and thrillers.  This is the second in his Lewis trilogy (the island, not the tedious ITV 'tec), following on from The Blackhouse.  Oddly enough, it has already won the 10,000 euro Readers' Prize of Le Telegramme newspaper in France.  Nice one.
  • Prague Fatale, Philip Kerr: the eighth of Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, which don't run chronologically.  The last one I read (A Quiet Flame, 2008) was set in Buenos Aires in 1950; this, however, is set in 1941 at Heydrich's country pad.
  • Redemption, Will Jordan: Another spy thriller, this time featuring a British army veteran turned CIA spook.

An interesting list, chosen from a longlist of forty, so we can confident all six have something special about them.  Personally, I don't go much on generic spy thrillers.  I am already a big fan of Kerr and Mina and am keen to discover the Lewis trilogy.  I suspect the battle for the prize is between Mina and May but Craig Russell is the one I'm hitting the bookshops for when I'm in the city later this week.  He sounds exactly like my kind of writer.

To be eligible for the competition the writer has to be born in Scotland, live in Scotland, or set her/his novel there.  Let's face it, this has to be the eve of a new golden age for Scottish crime fiction, given that it shares so many tropes with Nordic Noir.  Denise Mina is actually working on a graphic adaptation of the Steig Larsson trilogy!
The winner will be announced September 16.  Full details here.  I strongly recommend you also follow the links through the short story competition and guidance on how to write one.  It makes many interesting points.