A Victorian Crime Wave

For the last few weeks, I have been indulging in my own mini crime wave, wallowing in two collections of short stories. The first anthology, The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories, which I brought back from a visit to mum in October, I don’t think I have ever read before. Once finished with that crime spree, I felt compelled to re-read my Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (OUP, 1992) bought and read in the year of publication but not looked at since. In addition to these short stories, I have been reading a couple of Maigret novels belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up, but I will concentrate on the Victorian Tales anthology for this post.

Where do I begin the conversation about my rather guilty pleasure of detective over-indulgence? There is indeed a sense of a shameful, but delicious pleasure in reading just one more story, and then maybe one more very short one. Like eating one more chocolate from the selection box, you know you probably shouldn’t do it, but you do it anyway. I roved amongst the stories picking titles that grabbed my attention or choosing unfamiliar authors. I deliberately didn’t read the book cover to cover, but dipped in and out, reading whatever story my fancy lighted upon. Clearly, this upset the chronological structure of the book, designed to demonstrate the development of features in the detective story. I also kept popping back to read snippets of Michael Cox’s excellent introduction. However, finally the sad realisation dawned that I had finished the last story, no more left. On a more cheerful note, I have re-discovered stories and authors and created a few leads to follow up on (see the end of this piece).

I want to pick out a few female crime writers and detectives to talk about, continuing a theme that I have written about before, when I wrote about women crime writers of the Golden Age of Crime. To begin with, in Victorian Tales, I re-discovered a Baroness Orczy story that featured her ‘man in the corner’ amateur detective, solving a seemingly impossible crime. When I first came across ‘The Fenchurch Street Mystery’ back in 1992, I had only known Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947) for her Scarlet Pimpernel romps of which I was a great fan. Twenty-odd years later and I still haven’t read any more of the crime stories. The one in this anthology was originally published as part of a series called ‘London Mysteries’ (I assume this was a magazine series, but there is no more information in the sources section) and later reprinted in The Old Man in the Corner (1909). This was the un-named character’s first appearance in print. Here, the thin, quiet man presents a solution to a case that has apparently baffled the police. The entire story takes place in the corner of a bar, as the old man drinks his milk and knots and unknots a piece of string, while he unravels the seemingly baffling crime.

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As the old man declares, ‘There is no such thing as a mystery, in connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation’. When his companion dares to suggest that many crimes baffle the police at present, the old man damningly comments, ‘I never ventured to suggest that there were no mysteries to the police’. As you can tell, he is no great fan of the police and he only appears to take an interest in crime as an intellectual puzzle. He declares that ‘As often as not my sympathies go to the criminal who is clever and astute enough to lead our entire police force by the nose’.

In two other stories in this collection, lady detectives take control of the crime solving. One of the detectives, created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis (1839-1910) goes by the rather un-detective sounding name of Loveday Brooke (clearly, her parents did not envisage her future career). In ‘Drawn Daggers’ (1893) Miss Brooke tackles a case of a valuable missing necklace, the loss of which appears to be connected to anonymous threatening missives containing sketches of daggers. She deals with the case with admirable efficiency. This story was originally published in a magazine called Ludgate Monthly and later reprinted in The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1894).

Unlike our previous detective, Loveday Brooke is a professional private detective. The plot introduces Miss Brooke and her colleague Mr Dyer as they disagree about elements of the case before them. Mr Dyer irritably declares that ‘When a young lady loses a valuable article of jewellery and wishes to hush the matter up the explanation is obvious’. In return, Miss Brooke explains to her sceptical colleague, ‘Sometimes the explanation that is obvious is the one to be rejected, not accepted’. Perhaps not surprisingly the outcome of the case proves her correct, as Loveday painstakingly examines the drawings, interviews household staff and then pre-empts the next move by the crime’s conspirators to conclude the case.

Our second lady detective is equally efficient. In ‘The Arrest of Captain Vandaleur’ (1894) Florence Cusack does the crime solving honours in a gambling themed case. This is a collaborative piece by Lillie Thomasina Meade (1854-1914) and Robert Eustace (1868-1943). Michael Cox’s introduction describes Mrs Meade as ‘formidably prolific’ but it is not clear from the bibliography whether any more stories featured Miss Cusack. From the context of this story, I am unsure if Miss Cusack acts in a professional capacity or as an amateur lady detective. She seems comfortably off, as we meet her in the well-stocked library of her house in Kensington Park Gardens. In the course of the story, it is clear that she has informants and ‘channels I need not detail’ as she phrases it so we can assume that she is an experienced detective, even if an amateur one.

However, we do know that the Criminal Investigation Department called has called her in to assist in solving a horserace betting fraud. This fraud case has a connection to a friend’s husband who has developed a gambling mania. The story particularly intrigued me because of the subject of the crime. Gambling and horseracing do not immediately spring to mind as familiar subjects to Victorian spinster ladies. Nevertheless, Miss Cusack is obviously quite au fait with various confidence tricks and shady characters. Even so, even she is stumped at the meaning of the only real clue and cannot see how the betting fraud is perpetrated. She admits that ‘For five continuous hours I have worked at those few words, applying to them what I already know of this matter. It has been of no good.’ Naturally all ends well, but I won’t reveal the who and the how of it. Miss Cusack did the brainwork backed up by the brawn of Scotland Yard.

To finish my crime spree I will mention my recent discoveries of follow–up reading material, thanks to a quick search on ABE Books. You can buy reprinted editions of Loveday Brooke’s Experiences from the very reasonably priced (Dover Publications, 1986) to the eye wateringly expensive (first edition from Hutchinson, 1894 at £2,675.66). I am sure that you can guess where my inclination lies but I will have to make do with cheap and cheerful. I have also found The Old Man in the Corner: Twelve Mysteries, published by Dover Publications (1980). It is worth mentioning here that Orczy also wrote detective stories featuring Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, found on ABE in various editions (maybe a future blog post). Lastly, Lillie Thomasina Meade was indeed a prolific author and many early editions of her books (she also wrote school stories for girls) are still available, some as print on demand books. I spotted one POD title, which appears to be a collection of her mystery stories written in collaboration with Robert Eustace. Whether these feature Miss Cusack is not clear from the seller’s notes.

In short, I have plenty of ideas for future forays into female Victorian crime writers. Now, I think I will just go and write out my Christmas wish list…

Picture credits: Wikipedia (except for the image of my own copy of Victorian Tales)

Trinity Book Sale Buy: The Tiger in the Smoke

Margery AllinghamThe Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham (originally Chatto and Windus, 1952) is yet another of my Trinity Book Sale purchases (TBS Purchases). As you might have gathered, my TBS purchases forms its own TBR pile within the main TBR Pile (phew!). This edition of The Tiger in the Smoke is a 1953 hardback edition, which was part of a monthly series called World Books, published by The Reprint Society at 4/6 (for members only apparently). I note from the back cover that postage and packing cost 9d extra, (you could also buy Gone with the Wind at 8/- for the same postage price which was certainly a bargain). I love the cover design with the signs of the Zodiac on them, but the publisher doesn’t credit a cover artist which is a pity.The Tiger in the Smoke

I haven’t read an Allingham crime novel for years so it was a nice indulgence to head back into the Golden Age of Crime. Margery Allingham (1904-1966) penned her first Albert Campion novel, The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929. He proved to be such a popular creation that he appeared in a total of eighteen novels and around twenty short stories. I was intrigued to discover that Allingham originally invented Albert Campion to be a spoof on Dorothy L Sayers’ character Lord Peter Wimsey. Over the course of time however, he became much more substantial than a mere jest and matured into a more complex character. Campion has an aristocratic background and his real name is as much a secret as were his missions during the war. Undoubtedly, my affection for Campion is influenced by the stylish BBC series from 1989/90 starring Peter Davison and Brian Glover. This comprised versions of eight of the novels, but not the first one, or indeed The Tiger in the Smoke. I can feel a DVD hunt at the local library coming on!

My last Landing TBR report was full of Elizabethan crimes, or at least political shenanigans and courtly dramas. This time, although we are still in the realms of dark doings, the century and location has shifted to post World War II London. The shady happenings take place in a particularly mysterious and gloomy setting here, as much of the book’s activity occurs in the midst of the worst pea souper in living memory. In fact, the atmosphere is quite Dickensian, there is a sense that Bill Sykes could swagger round a corner any minute. A motley crew of street musicians, threading its way around the alleyways, led by an albino called Tiddy Doll is suitably sinister.

The plot of The Tiger in the Smoke centres on an escaped criminal and former soldier, Jack Havoc who is trying to locate what he believes to be a treasure hoard, a secret he learned of during a wartime raid in France:

He was a man who must have been a pretty boy, yet his face could never have been pleasant to look at. Its ruin lay in something quite peculiar, not in an expression only but something integral to the very structure. The man looked like a design for tragedy. Grief and torture and the furies were all there naked, and the eye was repelled even while it was violently attracted. He looked exactly what he was, unsafe.

The Tiger in the SmokeHavoc’s commanding officer Martin Elginbrodde, who had hidden the treasure, was later killed in action. Elginbrodde had left coded instructions for his widow Meg to retrieve it in such an eventuality. The story opens five years after a Elginbrodde’s death, when photographs supposedly depicting Meg’s late husband alive and well, have appeared in her post after the announcement of her engagement to Geoffrey Levett. Meg is Campion’s cousin hence, his being called in to assist in unravelling the mystery of whether her husband is still alive or someone wants her to think that he is.

In this case, Allingham’s deceptively affable amateur detective makes a late-career appearance in a supporting role, alongside his ever-reliable criminal turned sidekick Magersfontein Lugg. The hunt for Havoc is largely in the hands of the Scotland Yard, in the person of the charismatic and forceful Charlie Luke. I remember Campion novels as being quite light-hearted, but this one is much darker in atmosphere. Perhaps this is because I read previously, novels that were set much earlier in Campion’s sleuthing career. Here he is middle-aged, with a wife (Lady Amanda Fitton) and young son (Rupert) and he is very much aware of what he has to lose at the hands of the psychopathic Jack Havoc, on the loose in the obscuring fog. Campion’s son is blithely unaware of any danger, as his father decides to send him to safety with Lugg as a bodyguard:

Mr Campion looked down at him. He was shocked at the intensity of his own emotion, and more afraid of it than of anything he had ever known. One half of his life, more than half, four foot tall and as gaily confident as if the world were made of apple pie.Note

As I said above, Campion does not have a starring role in this one, but (without giving too much away) he assists in the capture of the Elginbrodde impersonator and his intuition gets Geoffrey Levett out of a potentially fatal situation. The twin pillars taking the weight of the story are the opposing moral forces of Jack Havoc and Meg’s father, Canon Avril. The Canon is a gentle, unworldly man whose faith in God causes him to confront the murderer, because he knows it is something he must do. I won’t tell you how it turns out, but Havoc’s life philosophy, The Science of Luck, which Avril calls The Pursuit of Death is challenged by the one person able to understand.

This is not so much a who-dunnit as a mystery novel that also explores a London still getting back on its feet after the war. The Tiger in the Smoke deals with damaged humanity, not only the prowling Jack Havoc, but also the band of misfits in Tiddy Doll’s gang. In the end, when the mystery is solved and the treasure is finally discovered by Meg Elginbrodde, it seems that peace will finally arrive.

Additional picture credit: Wikipedia (with thanks)

 

 

 

Gladys Mitchell Crime Capers

Gladys MitchellI’m afraid that today’s post about Gladys Mitchell (1901-1983) is going to be another digression from my mammoth Landing Book Shelves task. It is I admit a direct result of wandering into a charity shop for a casual browse. I know that I should avoid these temptations, but it truly is nigh on impossible to pass up the chance to poke around on a bookshelf. I had just popped into Oxfam to scan the paperbacks on my way home from shopping and, lo and behold, a crime novel caught my eye almost straightaway. My searching gaze lighted on The Longer Bodies, one of Gladys Mitchell’s early crime novels. Victor Gollancz originally published the novel in 1930 and it has been through several reprints from different publishers over the years. The Longer Bodies (2014)  is one of a recent series of Vintage reprints and the stylish theme to the jacket seems entirely appropriate to their glittering heyday.The Longer Bodies

After enjoying the twists and turns of the plot in The Longer Bodies, I am baffled as to why it has taken me until now to get around to reading Gladys Mitchell. I had heard of her before, in connection with other ‘Golden Age’ women crime writers such as Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, but serendipity has never thrust one of Mitchell’s books into my hands until now. It won’t be plot spoiling to mention that the title refers to bodies located in the village of Longer, and not bodies stretched on a torture frame to extreme length (I’ve clearly read too many historical novels).  Although as vigorous training for a field athletics event features in the plot, perhaps the title was intended to have a second meaning.

The Longer Bodies provides the third case for Mitchell’s unusual private detective Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley. Mrs Bradley is a ‘small, thin, unattractive, and intrepid’ woman, a ‘psychoanalyst with a flair for sleuthing’. She also appears to have a flair for extraordinary combinations of colour and design in her attire, but I suppose that doesn’t make her either more or less of a detective. She wouldn’t have been able to work undercover though, judging by this description of her while on the Longer case:

The only remarkable thing about her was the almost indecent hue of the mustard-coloured sports coat which she was wearing, with terrible effect, on top of a tomato-red dress. The costume was set off…by a small cloche hat which boasted a single, straight aggressive feather. The feather shot insolently into the air for a matter of twenty inches or so…

The other aspect to Mrs Bradley’s personal appearance is the oft remarked upon resemblance to a predatory reptile. Gladys Mitchell created a female sleuth as unlike Miss Marple or Miss Silver as it was possible to be, as may be judged by this none too fluffy description of her social manner,

With what was intended to be a whimsical smile, but which approached more nearly to the kind of grin with which an alligator on the banks of the Nile might view the coming of a chubby but careless baby.

Presumably, a wise criminal would steer well clear of that reptilian smile of Beatrice Bradley’s, as I’m sure it boded no good. Mitchell also gave her detective ‘yellow claw like fingers’, which is rather disconcerting as I keep thinking of chicken’s claws whenever her hands are mentioned. To complete the picture, Mrs Bradley was prone to fiendish cackles or screeches of laughter, but in complete contrast had a surprisingly mellifluous speaking voice, ‘which gave the lie to her whole appearance’.

Mrs Bradley is in a very literal sense a rather uncomfortable person to have around as she has a penchant for poking her companions in the ribs with her umbrella. This piece of equipment is the weapon of choice of another of my favourite female detectives, Amelia Peabody, but Mrs Bradley appears to be much more ruthless in making her point (sorry!) with her ferule. It has to be noted that it is her young male sidekicks who often suffer the rib poking, in the course of their duties on the case.When Last I Died

I have since had a minor binge on Mrs Bradley, having obtained a couple more of her cases, When Last I Died (1941) and The Saltmarsh Murders (1932) from the library. Though I’ve not yet managed to get hold of Mrs Bradley’s first outing  (Speedy Death). All have been very enjoyable, and I think that overall Gladys Mitchell plays reasonably fairly with the reader’s chances of solving the crime. In other words, I guessed the culprit in The Longer Bodies and I should really have spotted the criminal in The Saltmarsh Murders, because the clues were there. Having re-read the last section of When Last I Died more carefully, I can see the groundwork being laid, so again I would have to admit that I didn’t work hard enough on my detecting.

Mrs Bradley is such as fascinating character, that I would love to come back to her as a future blog post topic. She is not a particularly endearing person, but she is highly intelligent, determined and deliciously eccentric. I think I was particularly touched by her compassion and search for justice for the murder victims in When Last I Died (I won’t plot spoil, but if you read it you will see what I mean).  If you want to learn more about Gladys Mitchell and Beatrice Bradley, there is a well researched tribute site that is worth checking out:  http://www.gladysmitchell.com by American writer Jason Half.

If you read the clues correctly, you will reason that I will be borrowing/buying another Mrs Bradley case as soon as possible…

Picture Credits: All taken from Amazon this time, including the book jackets as I didn’t get around to scanning them from my own copies.

A new book from Landing Author Louise Phillips: Last Kiss

Regular readers of The Landing Book Shelves will know that Louise Phillips was a guest here after the publication of her last book The Doll’s House in 2013. She’s back with her latest novel which has been very well reviewed, with the Independent critic saying that “Louise Phillips goes from strength to strength…. Last Kiss is superior and takes her writing to another, more intense level.”  This all means that I’ve become distracted from whatever I was supposed to be reading from the Landing TBR Pile to get stuck into Louise’s novel. Many thanks to Louise and her publishers Hachette for my copy of Last Kiss; it’s always nice to answer the door to a postman bearing a parcel that looks as though it contains a book.

I admit that I did put this aside for a while before reading it as I was involved in school holiday activities and travel plans. Unfortunately I missed the launch of Last Kiss as I was away visiting my family. When I finally settled down to read my book, I became totally caught up in it to the extent of a couple of late nights when I didn’t want to stop reading. The only reason that it was over two late nights and not one, was that I didn’t want to do what I have done so many times before and crashed on reading, only to spoil the book by reading it too fast.

Last Kiss

Darkness awaits you…

Louise Phillips’ thriller Last Kiss is Dr Kate Pearson’s third outing as a criminal profiler with the Dublin police. When we meet Kate again, she is in the process of deciding (or more accurately delaying deciding) whether she and her husband Declan have a future together. They are separated and juggling childcare for their son Charlie, who misses his dad. Kate’s emotional struggle is complicated by the return to the force of DI Adam O’Connor to help in the hunt for the perpetrator of the ritualised knife murder of an art dealer in a Dublin hotel room.

The story begins with an eerie flashback to 1982 when a young girl called Ellen hides away in woodland to give birth to her child. The girl doesn’t feel as if she is quite alone as she labours in the chill of early morning but she sees nobody. The episode raises intriguing questions about what relevance Ellen and her baby will have to the events that will follow and it gives a chilling tone to the novel:

“The child wailed, scrunching its face like a piece of shrivelled rotten fruit, a primal instinct kicking in, telling it that something wasn’t right.”

The elements and motives of the murder case prove to be difficult to unravel and Kate’s work on the criminal’s profile suggests that the murder probably wasn’t the first one to be committed by this person. Will some research into cold cases reveal a similar crime that could provide a lead? Kate is intrigued by the ritual elements of the crime that indicate that the killer is using Tarot cards. But for what purpose? Revenge perhaps? I was fascinated by the details about the Tarot card readings as it’s not something I know anything about.

In her structuring of the novel, Louise Phillips takes the risk of presenting the murderers’ point of view, in alternating chapters:

“I have reasons for doing what I do. You may not know them yet, because I haven’t told you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s too early for judgement calls, far too early for that… I kill people. I could dress it up, say all kinds of stuff about it, but for now, all you need to know is that I do.”

I said risk, because for an author to try to create a murderer with whom a reader might feel some sympathy/empathy is a tricky manoeuvre to pull off. I think however, that Louise Phillips does so. I wanted to learn more about the killer and to understand the whys and wherefores of the elaborate crime. Why did the murderer feel driven to kill? Is the killer evil or perhaps terribly damaged? This plot device also successfully adds to the twists and tension of the action while building up the history of the murderer and a set of motives.

At the same time as Kate Pearson and Adam are working to solve this case, Sandra Regan becomes increasingly disturbed by a strange presence in her life. She has become convinced that her husband Edgar is having an affair and that the other woman is stalking her and moving objects around in her home, though her friends don’t believe her. The reader must figure out what connects Sandra Regan to the murder under investigation. Is this mysterious ‘other woman’ the Tarot killer?

I don’t want to say too  much more for fear of giving away vital clues. I’ll leave you to read the book and work it out for yourselves. I often feel a sense of dissatisfaction after reading thrillers, a sense of ‘so that’s it then’ when all the twists are over. However, I didn’t get that familiar feeling from the denouement of Last Kiss. The ending was a satisfying conclusion to the case and I have to say that I didn’t guess the killer’s identity before the plot revealed it to me.

As I mentioned above, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Last Kiss from the publishers, so thanks again for that. If anyone out there would like to have my copy (I’m not a heavy handed reader so it’s still as good as new) then drop me a line in the comment box. Deadline is midnight Sunday and then I’ll put names in a hat on Monday morning and pick  out a winner. Good luck!

Finally, if you want to read more on Louise Phillips, here’s a link to a re-blog from Rebecca Bradley on the question of first drafts that I posted recently

Landing Author: Louise Phillips

Red Ribbons & The Doll's House

A Brace of Thrillers

Here as promised is Louise Phillips to add a touch of darkness to The Landing as she answers a couple of my questions about delving into loss and deeply buried emotions. I also couldn’t resist asking a question about Louise’s experience with her promotional video and if you click on the link below you can enjoy a chill down your spine.

I met Louise perhaps not surprisingly, through my job as a bookseller but I have dear old Twitter to thank for enabling us to keep in touch, thus paving the way for this opportunity to have Louise as a guest. Many thanks to the future ‘Grande Dame’ of crime for including me in her Blog Tour and for the thoughtful answers to my questions.

Now, on with the Q & A:

CM: In both of your novels you’ve dealt with the themes of lost children/childhood. Can I ask you what drew you to examine this kind of emotional and physical loss?

LP: I think the ‘who’ of ourselves is found in childhood. I had a challenging one, and it’s made me very aware of beginnings and how the past forms us. With Red Ribbons, I dealt with the loss of a child, and as a mother, this was particularly difficult for me to write. However, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you should back away from it. Being a mother certainly helped the writing, and many of the reviews focused on how the narrative dealt with the emotional bond between a mother and her child. I must have done something right, seeing as how it was shortlisted for Best Crime Novel of 2012 in the Irish Book Awards, and despite the difficult nature of the story, it was a story worth telling.

The Doll’s House is very different, and is a story which questions the notion that the past cannot harm you because it has already happened. In The Doll’s House, the main protagonist, Clodagh Hamilton delves deeply into the area of hypnosis and regression. The child and the adult Clodagh Hamilton get to meet via her fragmented recall of memory whilst under hypnotic regression – this was a fascinating concept to me as the writer, the idea that the child self and the adult self could meet. By and large, stories pick you, and it’s not surprising to me that I use a character’s childhood as the backdrop to the ‘who’ of themselves, and also, why they do the things they do. But a great question, and one I will reflect more on.

CM: Psychological thriller novels such as your own work can be very unsettling to read, leaving the reader somewhat less sure of his/her own world. How does the writing process affect you, as you are so involved in the material?

The Doll's House

Dare you enter…?

LP: In many ways, the fictional world is totally real to me when I’m writing it. It has to be, because if it doesn’t feel real to you, it won’t feel real to the reader either. Without wanting to sound over the top about it, I’m drawn to stories and emotions that force me to question and examine things. It nearly always starts with a question ‘why?’ and then ‘how?’, until I become utterly gripped. In some strange way, there are times when it feels like someone else is writing the novel. Despite being close to the material, I also have to separate myself from it. Readers want a great story that is well written, it’s not my opinion that counts, or what I feel about an individual character or what they’ve done. Maybe that protects me in a way, it certainly doesn’t frighten me. The only thing that frightens me about the writing, is first drafts – they are scary, but thankfully a long way from the finished story!

CM: Moving on to a different aspect of writing: You’ve been involved in producing a publicity video for The Doll’s House and I was just wondering whether you enjoy being a part of the promotional aspect of being a writer.

LP: It’s very different from the writing side of things, and I certainly can’t do any major promotional work while I’m writing. Do I enjoy it? Yes, in the main, but it can be hard work too. You have to put yourself out there, and that means taking risks. I was petrified the first time I was on radio, and then on television. When I did my first newspaper interview, it was the same. Now, I’d still be apprehensive, but I don’t let the apprehension stop me, and once I don’t make a mess of it, I’m happy enough. Things like making a book trailer or looking at other imaginative ways of promoting the novel are great fun. I write, so I love coming up with new ideas. The bottom line is that in today’s world it’s very difficult for a new author to get noticed, and the reason you look to be noticed, is that you want readers to read your book. If they do, hopefully, they will return for more. The recession has hit the book industry in a very dramatic way and readers when making their purchase will usually buy a novel by a writer they are familiar with and trust, namely the well-established names. As a new player in the field, it’s an uphill struggle, and anything you can do to encourage others to read your work, is a positive thing, even if it means asking your son-in-law to pretend to be a dead body in the canal!!

And here is that video….be warned…it’s rather creepy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Louise Phillips

Louise Phillips

Born in Dublin, Louise Phillips returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. That year, she was selected by Dermot Bolger as an emerging talent. Her work has been published as part of many anthologies, including County Lines from New Island, and various literary journals. In 2009, she won the Jonathan Swift Award for her short story Last Kiss, and in 2011 she was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform. She has also been short-listed for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK, and long-listed twice for the RTE Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. Her bestselling debut novel, Red Ribbons, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012) in the Irish Book Awards. The Doll’s House is her second novel.

If you would like to contact Louise Phillips:

http://www.louise-phillips.com

@LouiseMPhillips

http://www.facebook.com/LouisePhillips

Both Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House can be ordered by clicking: http://www.louise-phillips.com/index.php/books/order  or just pop into your local Easons (3 for 2 offer on at the moment) or Dubray branch, or indeed (as the saying goes) any good bookshop.

Thanks again to Louise for taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to join in the conversation, drop a note in the box below.

Credits: promotional material and images supplied by the author with thanks.

Landing Author Expected: Louise Phillips

In the next couple of days, The Landing is moving away from the foggy distant past and right bang up to date with a new #LandingAuthor guest spot. My guest this time will be psychological thriller writer Louise Phillips who has published her second novel The Doll’s House (Hachette Ireland) on the 1st August. If the reviews are anything to go by, The Doll’s House is looking to be as gripping a read as her first novel Red Ribbons.

Louise Phillips held a very successful launch party at Bob Johnston’s Gutter Bookshop on 7  August which I sadly missed as I was away on my hols. Arlene Hunt did the honours on the night and I gather a good time was had by all.

Louise Phillips

#LandingAuthor Louise Phillips

I am very pleased to be involved with Louise’s promotional blog tour for her follow-up to Red Ribbons and to have the opportunity to put a couple of questions to her. Look out for The Landing leg of Louise Phillip’s blog tour on Thursday 29th August.

Just to whet your appetite, here is the blurb for The Doll’s House as a little taster before Thursday:

The Doll's House

Dare you enter…?

PEOPLE SAY THAT THE TRUTH CAN SET YOU FREE.
BUT WHAT IF THE TRUTH IS NOT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO HEAR?

Thirty-five years ago Adrian Hamilton drowned. At the time his death was reported as a tragic accident but the exact circumstances remained a mystery.

Now his daughter Clodagh, trying to come to terms with her past, visits a hypnotherapist who unleashes disturbing childhood memories of her father’s death. And as Clodagh delves deeper into her subconscious, memories of another tragedy come to light – the death of her baby sister.

Meanwhile criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is called in to help in the investigation of a murder after a body is found in a Dublin canal. When Kate digs beneath the surface of the killing, she discovers a sinister connection to the Hamilton family.

What terrible events took place in the Hamilton house all those years ago? And what connect them to the recent murder?

Time is running out for Clodagh and Kate.

See you on Thursday with Louise Phillips!

30 Day Book Challenge – day 9: A book I’ve read more than once

I’ve shared this post, from a great blog that I follow, as it’s nice to see that someone else is a fan of a book previously featured on The Landing.

Maybe one day I’ll get around to a few more Josephine Tey re-reads!

e a m harris

I don’t often read books more than once, but lately re-enjoyed one I’d read years ago.

The book is Josephine Tey‘s Daughter of Time. It was first published in 1951, but in my 77661opinion has aged well and is still relevant and fun.

A detective, Alan Grant, is convalescing in hospital and is bored. A friend suggests that he puts his skills to work on a historical crime. Grant selects Richard III and the question of whether or not he murdered the princes in the Tower.

With friends doing any actual legwork, Grant reassesses the evidence and comes to the conclusion that Richard has suffered from a bad press and was probably not as evil as history (and Shakespeare) has painted him.

I think that today there’s enough doubt about Richard’s wickedness for most people to regard him as possibly maligned. But this is a recent happening and…

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Landing Author: Jacqueline Jacques (Part II)

Head and shoulders portrait of Jacqueline Jacques

Jacqueline Jacques

I hope you enjoyed the first part of the Q and A with writer Jacqueline Jacques, published here yesterday. Follow the link to Part I if you missed it and if you also missed my original introduction of Jacqueline’s historical crime novel on Thursday, then click over to that first to catch up with us! I am working on a piece about the book (which I enjoyed very much) at the moment. I really liked the idea of making the main character an artist who, through his role sketching crime suspects, becomes involved in the events which follow. And of course, Walthamstow was a fascinating character in its own right, at the heart of the novel and all the action.

And now, to the second half of my email interview with Jacqueline…

When you decided to go ‘darker’, did you have any idea in which direction it would take your work?  Did the difficult subjects you chose to deal with in Mary Quinn’s life affect you as you worked?

book cover of Victorian street scene

Colours of Corruption

I’ve tried the paranormal and outgrown it.  Horror wasn’t for me, so I guessed that my next novel would probably be crime fiction of some sort. I didn’t want to be bogged down in police procedurals, clues, clever deductions and red herrings, so I set an artist on a voyage of discovery.  He was the one to find out how ordinary, law-abiding people could become the victims of unscrupulous predators.  I hadn’t, at that point, read any crime fiction apart from Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves, so I fell back on my own studies in sociology, on various news stories, on a story structure recommended by the crime writer, Michelle Spring, and on my imagination.  Eventually, after the third or fourth draft I knew exactly where I was going.  And yes, I was very moved by Mary’s suffering, what she was forced to do to survive. I wanted to make life easier for her, but I couldn’t.  It was horrible but it happened and I had to record it.

I read on your website that you used to be a teacher.  I wondered if you would ever be inspired to write novels for children as other former teachers, such as Roddy Doyle have done.

Possibly, if time allows, but I have a number of adult novels I should like to write first.
I went to a Kate Atkinson interview recently, in which she was asked what minor character in her fiction she would like to revisit and why?  May I ask you the same question?

I’d be interested to see how little Clara grows up, given the trauma I’ve put the poor child through (I feel a little responsible for her.)  I suppose I might get the chance if I write more books about Archie Price.

Just to close with, can I ask you why you decided to move from the short story form to the novel and will you perhaps go back some day?

I find I need the longer form of story-structure in order to explore and develop my characters and plot.  Short stories cannot always contain all I need to say.  If I returned to short-story writing it would be purely as an exercise, I think, to test myself against a word count or the discipline of making a story believable in a few words. I once heard Beryl Bainbridge say, ‘Why waste characters and a good plot on a short story when you can write a book?’

Many thanks to Jacqueline for taking the time to answer my questions about her work. As I mentioned yesterday, she is in the running for the fiction award in the People’s Book Prize 2013 in which the voting is open until 20th May. As well as being a successful writer, Jacqueline is also an artist and you can check out her website for more information on her work. You could also look up her author page on Honno Press, for earlier novels such as her science fiction novel Skin Deep (2004).

cover showing half of a woman's face

Skin Deep, Honno Press, 2004

 

Thanks for reading the Jacqueline Jacques interview and don’t forget to drop a line in the box if you have any comments or suggestions for future posts.

Landing Author: Jacqueline Jacques (Part I)

As I promised on Thursday, here are the results of an email interview that I conducted with author Jacqueline Jacques about her new novel, The Colours of Corruption. I have actually divided Jacqueline’s Q and A into two sections as it is quite a long piece and I will post Part II up tomorrow. Since reading the book and working on the questions, I have learnt that The Colours of Corruption has been put forward by Honno Press for inclusion in the People’s Book Prize 2013. There is still time to cast your vote as the polls close on 20th May (I have already cast mine!).

book cover of Victorian street scene

Colours of Corruption

Art plays a large part in The Colours of Corruption.  Can you start by telling us a little about why you decided to make a painter your protagonist?

 I wanted to write a crime novel from the point of view of someone who was neither criminal nor victim, policeman nor private detective.  I don’t know enough about police procedurals to write confidently about them, but I do know a bit about painting and painters.  Listening to Woman’s Hour one day I heard Lois Gibson talking about her work as a forensic artist, drawing the perpetrators of crime from their victims’ descriptions.  I researched further and was astonished at how large a part such artists play, even today, in the solution of crime.  Archie Price, with his extraordinary gift for almost reading a witness’s mind, would have been invaluable to the police, at a time when photography was in its infancy.  Passionate about his painting, he is, at the same time quite naive about the real world and unprepared for the vicious criminals he comes up against.  He has all-too-human frailties, is weak, is charming.  An unreliable hero.  Perfect.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Brummie, but I still love reading fiction based on London’s many layered past. You said on your blog that Walthamstow features in most of your fiction.  Can you tell us what it is in the place that keeps pulling you back to it in your work?

As a child I felt that it was the best place on earth to grow up in.  It had (still has) an incredible bustle of creativity about it. Easy access to the forest gave me trees to climb, paths to ramble, changing seasonal moods to fire my imagination. There was the wonderful High Street market to explore, the library to feed my soul, the Town Hall grounds to play in, the marshes, the river, Lloyd Park for swings and roundabouts, and London, only half an hour away by train. Why Walthamstow? It was my home and I loved it.

Your engaging and courageous hero, Mary Quinn is an Irish woman whose family had all travelled over to England to find work.  I was wondering if you have any Irish connections yourself.

Probably.  My grandmother spoke of ‘Black Irish’ genes (Spanish Irish) in the family, and of ‘Great Uncle Archie coming over from Ireland,’ but I haven’t done any research on this.  

You really evoke a convincing sense of life in this often sordid part of Victorian England.  How did you set about researching the period?  And I was fascinated by the underground passages.  Did they really exist?

Black and white photo of Jacqueline Jacques

Jacqueline Jacques

 I borrowed books and maps, studied photographs and paintings of the period.  I went for walks on the Walthamstow marshes, through the streets and in Epping Forest.  I trawled the Internet for social history, facts about the police, housing, tile patterns, music hall.  But mostly I relied on my memory. I felt I knew these people; that I’d grown up among them.  I may be a few generations removed from the characters in the book, but we, too, were poor (after the war) and struggled to stay afloat just as they must have done.  My father, who grew up in Walthamstow in the 1920s, once told me about connecting cellars beneath the High Street shops, used by villains on the run from the police.  It may have been a myth for all I know.  My Dad was also a teller of tales. Truth or fiction?  Who knows?  I’m a writer.  I’ll use anything to make a good story.

Following on from the research behind The Colours of Corruption, I was wondering if, while you plotted the novel you knew early in the process where your characters would be at the end of the story.

 I vaguely knew that Archie would be drawn deeper into the criminal network but I had no idea what would happen to the other characters until the very end.  In fact I wrote several endings, none of which worked to my satisfaction.  As I got to know the characters, their histories, their motivations, they more or less told me how they would behave in any given circumstance and I wrote it down.  Sometimes I would drop a fact into the mix, like Mary’s sweet singing voice, or a sword-stick, or a pair of gold cufflinks, just to see where it would take me.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  It’s a haphazard way of working, but there’s nothing like it for excitement.

I hope you enjoyed that look behind the scenes, more from Jacqueline Jacques on The Colours of Corruption to follow shortly.

Jacqueline Jacques and Victorian Corruption

This is just a quick post to flag up a new guest on The Landing, Jacqueline Jacques who will be answering questions about her new book Colours of Corruption (Honno Press, January 2013).

Jaqueline Jaques

Jaqueline Jacques

Just to whet your appetite, this the publisher’s  synopsis of Jacqueline’s engrossing crime novel, set in Victorian England:

Mary, a desperately poor cleaner, is a witness to murder. Archie, one of the first artists to work for the police, to support his other work, draws the man she says she saw at the scene. Fascinated by her ‘face full of bones’, he persuades her to sit for a portrait, but the man who buys the picture really wants to buy Mary. When he realises he’s betrayed her, Archie takes her to hide with his friends, but doesn’t realise what he’s started. He has no idea how this one woman links his wealthiest clients, the poorest slums, terrible secrets, and a violent thug who is now looking for Archie – the man Mary described to the police.
 
As this gripping thriller uncoils, Jacqueline Jacques paints an intricate, vibrant picture of the layers of Victorian London, where the poor are commodities, criminals have nothing to lose and the rich can buy anything.
 
And the murders go on…

colours_corruption

I plan to post up Jacqueline’s responses to my gently probing questions on Saturday 20th April so stop by and take a look. In the meantime follow the link above to Jacqueline’s website to find out more about the author and her previous novels:

Lottie  (Honno  1997)

Someone to Watch Over Me   (Piatkus 1997)

Wrong Way Up the Slide  (Piatkus 1998)

A Lazy Eye  (Piatkus  2000)

Skin Deep  (Honno 2004)

Sharp eyed viewers may recall that Honno Press has featured on these pages before, as I have previously reviewed one of their classic reprints, Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards  for Belletrista.

I’ll be back on Saturday….

Picture credits: Honno Press (with thanks)