Tuesday 22 February 2011

Some TV Detectives I like Anne Cassidy

He is a grumpy older man who drives a red Jaguar and listens to opera. He works in and around Oxford and likes to do cryptic crosswords. He thinks about solving crimes over a pint of ale. The programmes are slow and this is the beauty of it. You get a chance to really try and guess who the murderer is. There are also lots of red herrings, details put there to mislead the viewer. I am always surprised when Morse reveals the murderer.

DCI Jane Tennison is a wonderful character and the series itself is terrific. Jane Tennison is a woman in a man’s world. She is boss of the murder squad and the men in it are constantly complaining about her. She has her own way of doing things and they don’t like it. The crimes are serious and multiple and the series always has gruesome twists and turns.

Sarah Lund is the female detective in this Danish series currently on BBC4. Sarah Lund is quiet but hard nosed. She is leaving her job to move to a different country but the dreadful murder of a teenage girl stops her and she investigates it with cool authority. I write this while the series is only half way through but it is riveting. I have no idea who the murderer is. And the jumper that Sarah Lund wears through most of the episodes has become a must have item!!

Sunday 20 February 2011

It's a CRIME what they're doing to LIBRARIES Keren David

More than 350 public libraries are threatened with closure across the UK.
Some school libraries - or Learning Resource Centres as they’re now called - are just for computers. There are no books on the shelves, no school librarian to promote reading.

I think this is a CRIME. Politicians may argue about why the cuts are happening, or who is to blame, they may say that other services are more important. But that ignores the unique role a library plays in a community.

Shutting a library STRANGLES opportunity. In a library everyone has the same access to books and knowledge, no matter what their background.

Shutting a library STEALS books from people. There are so many writers that I’d never have come across had it not been for the great choice available at my local library. If those writers don’t have libraries to buy and promote their books, then even more power is handed to booksellers. It could lead to a publishing industry which only sells the books it thinks are surefire bestsellers. So, vampires, vampires and more vampires.

Shutting a library DISTURBS the PEACE. Looking for a quiet place to work? You might not find it at home or in a café. You will find it in a library.

Shutting a library is an ASSAULT on the community. All sorts of groups meet in a library, communicate through its noticeboard, use it as a place to spend time. Shut the library, KILL the community.

There are alternatives to shutting libraries. Haringey Council says that far from closing its libraries, it may expand them, making them centres for lots of new activities, from fitness clubs and community choirs, to places where people can pay council tax.

And it maybe those councils which close libraries are acting UNLAWFULLY. Under the 1964 Museum and Public Libraries Act, councils have to “provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof”. So councillors rushing to shut our libraries down, watch out. You may have to answer for yourself in court.

Friday 18 February 2011

Opposites by Gillian Philip

In my last post I was mulling over the inspiration and motivation for crime writing, and that’s because it’s been on my mind. And that’s because I’ve been editing and proofreading The Opposite of Amber, to be published by Bloomsbury in April 2011.
Like the spark for Crossing the Line, the spark that created my heroines Ruby and Jinn came from an evening on the sofa watching TV. I remember that quite clearly, because I was struggling with another half-begun story that was refusing to play – indeed, it was threatening to take its ball away – and I’d decided an evening in front of the TV was the only way to put my brain into that standby mode that sometimes helps.
And on came a Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary about the murders of five women in Ipswich in 2006. You know, I nearly changed channels – a callous response, but sometimes there’s only so much unhappiness you want to witness.
But I didn’t turn over, and so the seed for The Opposite of Amber buried itself in my brain. The programme gave no special prominence to the horror of the murders, or even to the perpetrator. It was the story of the women and their families, and the focus was very deliberately on them – their personalities, their lives – as the programme tried to rescue them from the easy label ‘murdered prostitutes’. The story was tragic, yes, but there was tremendous strength and hope too. Their families grieved for women who had never meant to follow the lifestyles they did, and who in some cases had been trying to escape it.
I didn’t want to write about those women and their families – it would have felt like an intrusion I wasn’t qualified to commit – and I certainly didn’t want to write about their dreadful smirking killer. But characters had already started to grow in my head: two sisters whose lives spin, barely noticeably, onto wildly different and dangerous paths.
Is that justifiable simply because I didn’t fictionalise real women? It was the real women who gave me my story-spark.
I still don’t know. I know, though, that it’s what I do, it’s what all writers do. I suppose we all have to decide, on our own consciences, the limits of what’s acceptable

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Toxic Top Ten Malcolm Rose 2 and 1

For my top two toxins, I turn to the truly terrifying. One is a nightmare for any forensic scientist on the trail of a poisoner, the other is a nightmare for the victim.

2. Ricin. Obtained from the seeds of castor oil bean, ricin is fatal at levels below the detection limit of forensic tests. One thousandth of a gram is enough to kill a human being. In 1978, the dissident Bulgarian writer, Georgi Markov, was assassinated in London after being jabbed with a poisoned umbrella while waiting at a bus stop. A small metal pellet, with a hole for the poison to leak out, had been injected into his leg. Analysis of tissue samples and the pellet cavity did not reveal the poison but very few chemicals apart from ricin are lethal at such low levels and his symptoms – burning sensation in the mouth, throat and stomach, sickness, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, convulsions, breathing difficulties, death – matched ricin poisoning. (Ricin can be found in Blood Brother.)

1. Tetrodotoxin or TTX for short. When a poison is called “zombie powder” because of its use in voodoo potions, you know it’s going to be a cracker. TTX is in some species of frogs, newts and sea creatures such as pufferfish. It is one of the most toxic substances in the world, being ten thousand times more lethal to humans than cyanide. It paralyses the muscles, robbing the victim of speech and motion, shuts down the organs one by one, but it never crosses into the brain so the victim remains conscious until death from heart failure or suffocation. For a few hours, the victim is like a zombie: alive and awake yet, to all intents and purposes, lifeless. If you like to dice with death while you dine, try fugu. It’s a delicacy in Japan and it’s pufferfish – with the poisonous parts removed expertly (hopefully) by a licensed chef. On average, the meal causes a hundred accidental deaths each year. (TTX can be found in Roll Call.)

That’s me done. I’m feeling strangely exhausted. Eyes shutting, heartbeat slowing, head aching, world spinning. That seafood paella... Surely no one would’ve....

Monday 14 February 2011

More poisons from Malcolm

We’re getting close to the vomit-inducing climax. We are lurching towards the really horrid poisons. As a crime writer and an ex-chemist, I am fatally attracted to them.

4. Anthrax. Originally isolated from a diseased cow near Oxford, anthrax was used to... Sorry. MI5 has just issued a gagging order. Still, there’s always Wikipedia (and Forbidden Island.)

3. Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. This is a bad-tempered creature that will sometimes pursue a human intruder. Its venom thins human blood, making it so runny that it leaks. Victims have blood-filled swellings underneath the skin, bruising, bleeding gums and eyes, and watery blood pools in the extremities and lungs. Once the fluid has filled the lungs, paralysis, coma and death follow rapidly. Probable cause of death is suffocation through internal drowning. (The venom can be found in Framed.)

Thursday 10 February 2011

Meeting Murder on the Way

Rhiannon Lassiter writes about blending the crime novel and the ghost story in her latest book: 'Ghost of a Chance'.

At the beginning of my novel, Ghost of a Chance, thirteen people are expected for dinner but Eva Chance, the unlucky thirteenth guest, has no place laid for her at the table.

The only people who seem to notice sixteen-year-old Eva are the ghosts of the stately home where she lives. Some are friendly, some frightening, and the most dangerous ghost is The Witch, a malign ghost haunting a medieval ducking stool in a cellar full of torturer's tools, who tells Eva something terrible.

"You’re dead, Eva Chance, That’s why no one sees you. You died and nobody noticed. You died and nobody cared."

With horror Eva realises that The Witch is right. No one can see her except for the ghosts. Eva is sure her death isn't an accident, she knows she wouldn’t have committed suicide and she suspects foul play. Eva decides her mission must be to solve her own murder.

Being a ghost detective presents special challenges and has some particular advantages. No need to listen at doors or hide behind curtains: Eva can listen to what the suspects say and do when they think themselves in private. But conversely: no opportunity to question the living where they were at particular times: Eva can only be reliably seen by the dead.

My book follows the rules and patterns of ghost stories and of crime fiction. For example, one rule of the classic crime novel is that the murderer must always be introduced in the opening chapters. As thirteen people arrive for dinner at Chance House my murder is there in those early pages. I won't spoil the story by telling you whether they're an invited guest or not!

The stately home is an ideal setting for a ghost story because of the centuries of people who have died under its roof. From family ghosts to the invisible servants still more invisible after their death, it's not hard to imagine that the grand country houses as teeming with ghosts. My house itself is a sort of ghost, a reminder of a vanished splendid past.

In both kinds of mystery fiction there should be clues and seeding these was at times a delight and at others an agony: trying to reveal just enough to challenge and intrigue, to hide enough that the evolving plot would startle and shock the reader. Readers who pay close attention to the text will find their efforts rewarded. The murderer is guessable if you work at it but there are other secrets too. Where is the missing body? What is the motivation for the murderer? Why does Eva have the powers she does?

There's more than one type of crime in progress, more than one family secret hidden in Chance House. There's a will with unusual terms, a maze within a maze, a sinister history, unexpected relationships and twists and turns as planned and confusing as the formal gardens: now overgrown with a tangle of greenery.

Between the murderer and the curse of the ghost witch there are all sorts of 'accidents' and injuries and by the time the House actually opens to the public the body count is climbing high. As the tension mounts, the two plots become even more closely twined together. The unmasking of the murderer happens just as the characters are challenging The Witch.

Ultimately Ghost of a Chance is a novel of life and death. What I like about Eva as a heroine is that in sixteen years of life she's been passive, allowing others to make decision for her, drifting aimlessly through her own life. But after hearing that she's dead, she suddenly becomes much more active, wanting to make changes and affect the world.

The cardinal sin of writing about crime fiction is to give away the ending. So I won't tell you how all those plots work out and whether or not the murderer is caught and punished. But I was pleased with the eventual solution of the mystery and I hope you will be too.

For me it's been a challenge, a real learning experience and ultimately a huge relief to finally see it published after three years work. I don't know where my writing will take me next but I learned a lot in writing this book and becoming immersed in two genres I love to read.

You can write to Rhiannon Lassiter using the form on her website. Did you guess the murderer? Does Ghost of a Chance succeed in blending ghost stories and crime fiction? Was the ending elegant, terrifying, or a big surprise?

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The Dying Game by Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson

The Dying Game is set in Whitechapel, and although I was thinking at one point about the parallels with the Jack the Ripper murders, this is not Victorian London.

In my story, set right now, a local sixth former, Shehana, discovers a girl, stabbed and bleeding to death, in the car park of her estate.
The girl dies but not before Shehana is catapulted into a London just under the surface of the one she lives in, a world of street prostitution and drug use and the dangerous gangsters that control them.

I wrote it because Whitechapel, away from the up market shops and trendy bars of Brick Lane, is still a series of worlds, the world of the local Bangladeshi Londoners, the world of the newest Eastern European immigrants working hard to make a living, the world of ordinary young girls, the same age as Shehana tricked and imprisoned
in  - what seems to me at least  -  hell.

And when both worlds collide Shehana finds herself in more danger than
she could ever imagine.
Catherine Johnson's, modern London based crime novels include The
Dying Game and Cuts Deep. She is also a screenwriter, her credits
include the acclaimed British feature film, Bullet Boy. She was writer
in residence in Holloway Prison and it was this that inspired another
novel, Face Value, set in the world of modelling and organised crime.

Sunday 6 February 2011

My Favourite Book Detectives Anne Cassidy

JACKSON BRODIE from Kate Atkinson’s books starting with CASE HISTORIES. I like Jackson because he is good at heart but sometimes hopeless in what he does. He helps people and solves crime but he almost gets killed in the process. In the last book STARTED EARLY TOOK THE DOG he ends up in a giant rubbish bin as it’s being hauled up onto the lorry. He’s waiting to be crushed to death in its claws. He also has amazing luck. In the first book he inherits a fortune!

REBUS from Ian Rankin’s novels set in Edinburgh. (First in the series KNOTS AND CROSSES) Rebus is a grumpy policeman who is always at odds with his superiors. He never has any luck with women and he has a daughter who has a love/hate relationship with him. He drinks too much but he never lets go of a case and always finds the killer. Ian Rankin was going to kill Rebus off at the end of the first novel but his publishers talked him out of it! Thank goodness.

KINSEY MILLHONE from the Sue Grafton ‘alphabet’ novels that start with A IS FOR ALIBI and go right through the alphabet (up to U IS FOR UNDERTOW at the moment). Kinsey is a female private eye in California. She drives a Beetle and lives in the annex of a friend’s house. She owns a black dress that doesn’t wrinkle and she takes it out in a small bag in case she needs to look feminine. It’s before the days of computers or mobile phones so she writes down every thing she finds out about a crime on to small white cards and shuffles them up to see if a new lead will come to her. The only food she really loves is sandwiches. She makes each one as though it is a tiny work of art.

PATSY KELLY from THE EAST END MURDERS. I wrote this series of books in the 1990s. Patsy is seventeen and works in her uncle’s detective agency. He tells her to answer the phones and make the tea but she always gets involved in solving the crimes. She loves hats and has a collection of them. Her side kick is Billy, a very old friend who she falls in and out of love with. You might find these books in the dusty corners of your local library (if the government doesn’t shut them all down!). I loved Patsy. She always worked out who the murderer was.

Are there any detectives you like? On TV? From film?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Toxic Top Ten Malcolm Rose 6 and 5

You can poison people with some surprising things, like the green parts of unripe potatoes, mistletoe or salt. The next two on my hit list fall into this category.

6. Air. Given by syringe, air will cause the victim to go crazy and lose control of the bladder and bowel. If the air gets into the heart or brain, coma and death will follow in a few minutes. But beware, pathologists can spot air embolism at autopsy.

5. Shrimps. Poisonous blue-green algae called cyanobacteria sometimes ‘bloom’ in seawater. When they do, their toxin gets into seafood like shrimps. It’s a powerful poison: the amount you can fit onto a pinhead will kill. Eating the shrimps will cause tingling lips, a numb mouth, paralysis and sudden death. (Cyanobacteria can be found in Concrete Evidence).

Toxic Top Ten Malcolm Rose 8 and 7

Plants don’t want to be eaten, so some protect themselves with poison. The Duchess of Northumberland keeps a garden of poisonous plants in Alnwick and offers guided tours. Good research for any crime writer or murderer. The next two toxins in my contaminated countdown are both from plants.

8. Foxglove. Got some pretty foxgloves in your garden? Oh dear. They contain digoxin and eating a few leaves will cause headache, nausea, delirium, visual disturbances, slow pulse and death in about half an hour.

7. The suicide tree. The Cerbera tree grows across India and south-east Asia and it contains cerberin, a toxin similar to the foxglove’s digoxin. More people commit suicide with this tree than with any other plant. Some of those deaths are actually murders in which the culprit disguises the bitter taste of the crushed kernels by mixing with spicy foods. In the West, toxicologists are familiar with digoxin but they wouldn’t recognize a murder by cerberin. Mmm. Got me thinking.

Toxic Top Ten Malcolm Rose 10 and 9

I admire the way that nature develops chemical weapons. It comes up with some (literally) stunning designs for either defence or attack. Some of nature’s toxins will harm or kill a human being and I enjoy dropping them into crime novels. Here are some of my favourites, but please don’t try any of them at home, even though you may have some of the ingredients.

I don’t want anyone to bite off more poison than they can chew, so I’m releasing my top ten two at a time. And I’m doing it in reverse order to inject some stomach-churning tension.

10. Nicotine. Extract the nicotine from tobacco and you’ve got yourself a viable human poison. It causes sweating, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure. In 1940, a woman got rid of her husband by taking the nicotine from cigarettes and mixing it with his aftershave. (Nicotine can be found in The Smoking Gun.)

9. Arrow-poison frogs. Made famous by South American tribes who scrape their darts over the backs of these frogs. Anyone shot by the arrow will feel the effects of the toxin within minutes: nausea, hallucinations and heart attack.