Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Death around the Bend

It’s renovation chaos here: half of the contents of our house is in storage and we’re camped out in one room.  So this week’s BotW is going to be short and sweet I’m afraid.

The cover of Death around the Bend

Death around the Bend is the third in the Lady Hardcastle cozy crime murder mystery series by T E Kinsey.  I read the first one a few weeks back and picked up the third on a Kindle deal, and read it on the commute last week.  The set up for the series is that Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a somewhat more exciting past than is usual in the Edwardian era.  She and her trusty maid Florence have moved to the English countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and relaxation but don’t seem to be getting much of it.

In book three, Emily and Florence have been invited to a friend’s estate for a weekend of racing – but it’s car racing, not horses.  Lord Ribblethorpe has gone mad for motor cars and has set up his own racing team, complete with a track in the grounds of his estate.  When a driver is killed during a race, the police think it’s an accident but Emily and Florence aren’t convinced and can’t help but try and solve the crime.  With Emily asking questions above stairs, Florence is sleuthing below stairs.  Then another body is found.

This is fun and fast moving (and not just because of the cars).  I like the dynamic between Emily and Florence – and particularly that the story is told by Florence.  I picked up the first one as part of my ongoing quest to find other series that scratch my Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple itch and it does this quite nicely – although it’s set earlier than either of those two series.  Unfortunately there are only three books in the series (at the moment at least) so I only have one left to read, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.

All three Lady Hardcastle mysteries are on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (I’m not) but the two I’ve read have come around on discount deals at various points too (that’s how I got them!). You can find them all here.

Happy reading!

Author Interviews

Interview: Derek Farrell

You may remember that the Danny Bird series made it on to my Books of the Year post and I’ve been lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the latest book ahead of the crowd.  You can read that review tomorrow – which is when Death of a Devil comes out – but today I have an extra treat – an interview with the author, Derek Farrell.  So, here we are, and it has book recommendations, so I apologise if this is about to cost you money…

Hi Derek and welcome to the blog!

Can I just say thanks for asking me here today?

I’ve been a reader of VerityReads for ages, and love how the site reflects the books you love regardless of genre, or of what we ‘should’ be reading.

My whole life I’ve read what I like to read, and finding a place on the web that celebrates that – and then being asked to actually talk about what I do – is amazing, So thank you.

Stop it! You’re making me blush! So first of all, where did the idea for Danny come from?

I think he came from my wanting to write a story about a bloke who wasn’t perfect, but who was trying. And who wouldn’t be cowed by the curves life threw at him.

From wanting to make a character, to be honest, who was a lot like me, only better: Smarter, funnier, fitter, younger, and with fewer hangups.

So – and God, I’ll be killed for this – I guess Danny is a sort of wish fulfillment. Only, of course, he now has a life of his own and a readership that means he now gets to dictate his world, not me.

Danny’s got his own posse – a sort of found family – did you always have that in mind or did it just happen?

Always, right from the beginning.

As a kid, I was, like many writers, sort of solitary. I observed, and I read, and I was never unhappy on my own.

But I think, if I’d stayed like that, I’d be a dead man by now.

My family – the one I was born with, the one I inherited when I met my husband, and the one I made for myself – is everything to me.

I wanted Danny to have a family and a set of friends (and sometimes not friends) that he would belong to and with. I wanted him to be part of something, not some faceless gunslinger who walked into town, fixed problems, and left without making any connections.

So I created Ali, the world’s most miserable bar maid; Danny’s (to date unnamed) Dad – a Cabbie with the knowledge of the universe at his fingers; Nick, the pretty but too-nice-for-his-own-good copper; and Chopper Falzone, the part local gangster, who’s a cross between the Werthers Grandpa and Hannibal Lecter.

I also gave him Ray and Dash, Danny’s sort-of-nephews, who are collectively referred to as The ASBO Twins, These two appeared in my original notes as a couple of minor-to-the-point-of-extras characters, but suddenly, when they hit the page, took on a life of their own, and became solid parts of the gang.

But the Queen of the Gang – the woman without whom Danny would be lost – is his best friend in the whole wide world: Caz. Or – to give her full name – Lady Caroline Victoria Genevieve Jane De Montfort, only daughter of the thirteenth Earl of Holloway.

Caz, again, was a ‘friend’ for Danny who – as I wrote her – became more solid, more complex, to the point where people have actually written in to the publisher asking for a standalone Caz series.

But then, we’ve also had people asking for a standalone ASBO twins book, so who knows: Maybe the Danny Universe will expand. I quite like the idea of an ASBO Twins Graphic novel, and a Lady Caz Musical.

So this is the third book featuring Danny – did you always plan it as a series and if you did has it gone to plan or taken on a life of its own?

I honestly can’t remember. I think it started off as a standalone. One I was, to be frank, writing for myself, cos I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to publish a detective novel about a gay bloke that took place in the backstreets of South London and had no sex or open violence in it.

But as I created the backstories for my characters, carved out the universe they lived in and finally realized that this was a world I was excited by and proud of, I finally realized I had enough ideas for more books. And for books that I actually wanted to write.

I know that by the time I had finished the first draft of Death of a Diva, I had started plotting book two, Death of a Nobody, as well as making sketches for what would become Death of a Devil, and the book after the next one.

I think, to be honest, the characters made it a series: They came to life. They had stories to tell, and they didn’t fit in to one book.

So when a pub-full of characters are each shouting “Remember the time I…” it becomes – at the risk of applying for Pseuds corner – the writer’s responsibility to tell those stories.

Plus: I am so much in love with this gang. Who’d want to leave them?

I think I’m in love with them too, although I’m not sure I’d survive a night out with Caz!  Does this mean we can expect a fourth Death of… book?

Damn straight.

Last month I sequestered myself, my two best mates, two liters of gin, two liters of vodka, a case of chardonnay, two botltles of vermouth, twenty four pullet’s eggs, eight avocados (avocadae?) three bottles of prosecco six bottles of Shiraz, a decent Calvados and a stocky block of fur and love called Ellie (part Staffie, part Labrador; totally Danny) away in a cottage in a valley in Wales.

And – in between walking Ellie to the local pub (amazing cider, lovely regulars, barmaids that were aiming for Ali’s crown and a cottage pie I’d sell my soul for – if my publisher didn’t already have an option on same) ordering my mates to make me a drink, and lying in the blazing sunshine reading, listening to music and remembering what LIFE feels like – Danny4 was plotted.

Seriously: Even I was amazed – especially after a pretty dark time last year trying to figure out how to make funny stuff in a world filled with grimness – at how easily it came.

But even better was the fact that the weeks before, and a trip to the ENO rehearsal space in North London, had given me an idea for Danny 5.

Of course, the ideas are easy. The writing is hard. The editing? Well, I shall simply point out that I consider a back sack ‘n’ crack wax – something I have experienced only once, and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy – as preferable to editing.

If Danny’s adventures were turned in to a movie or a TV series, who would you like to see in the cast? 

Ah, now that’s a tricky one.
I have some people in my head, but I’d rather hear what you or your readers think: Who – when you read the books – is Danny? Who would you cast as Caz? Ali? Ray and Dash? Chopper?

All I’ll say is that one third of my cast list are dead; one third are too expensive; and the remaining third are currently serving me with restraining orders, so best we stay schtum.

But seriously: Who do YOU think should play the characters?

I’m not telling!  I think some of mine are dead too though.  Now as you probably know, I read a lot of cozy crime books – and I think of Danny’s stories as sort of cozy-adjacent, but I think they would the spot for cozy readers looking for something a bit different.  So what would your elevator pitch be to people who are more used to crafters, coffee shops and pastel colours on the cover?

The Danny Bird Mysteries were born from a love of Cozys.

I was raised on Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, M.C. Beaton and Rhys Bowen.

The coffee shop, in the Danny Bird books, is a run-down, faded, frankly grim pub in a back street in South London. But it has – as much as any coffee shop, bookstore, or cat hotel – a character of it’s own.

The crafters, in the Danny books, are the denizens of the pub: Ne’er-do-wells, dodgy geezers, lairy birds and penniless toffs.

And as to the pastel colours – well, have you seen the absolutely gorgeous covers?

Of course, none of that is an elevator pitch, is it? So I’d say: If you adore the well- plotted, character-driven books of the golden age, and love the quirkiness and humour of the modern cozy; and if a few well-chosen profanities are unlikely to send you off in a fit of the vapours, then The Danny Bird Mysteries might be very much up your cul-de-sac.

Danny’s obviously a gay guy, living his life and doing his thing – how important is it to have representation like that in books – especially where the fact that Danny’s gay isn’t key to the plot or the most important thing about him.

This is my all-time favourite question. Thank you.

It’s  absolutely vital, I think.

With Danny, I wanted a character where his sexuality was not the primary source of the drama.

Stuff happens to Danny, and it could happen to him if he were straight.

That said, I think his worldview and the fact that all LGBT people tend to get used to viewing the world on a simultaneous micro and helicopter view makes him a more natural observer and commentator.

What was especially important to me was that his family – from his parents through to his siblings and on down to the ASBO twins – be completely accepting. There’s some badinage – the twins refer to him as a “Shirter” in the first book – but it’s a family filled with Love, as was my own, and I wanted that to come through as often as possible. This is drama featuring a man who is gay, not drama caused by the sexuality of the protagonist.

But the reality is that Hate crimes  against LGBT people are rising in the UK, as our government continues to enter into trade agreements with countries where people like Danny – and people like me – can be put to death.

The world is still an uncertain – not to say, a sometimes, terrifying – place for anyone who is less than “Perfect” in an increasingly narrow definition of the phrase.

So The Danny Bird Mysteries are about celebrating people in all their variety.

In Death of a Devil a Trans woman – who is one of my favourite characters ever – is abused and has her home vandalized just because she’s living her life honestly. That shit is happening today, and it makes me furious and sad at the same time.

Frankly, as far as representation goes, I say: Fuck Tolerance. Fuck acceptance. Fuck The Right Thing. Let’s Party.

And now I have a (large) T-Short slogan and an X-Rated interview.

Sorry.

No, that’s absolutely fine by me.  I’m with you.  So, finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to recommend – once people have read Danny’s latest adventure obviously!

Oh, now we are in trouble…

I read a ton of stuff, so apologies if some of this is a bit random, but of late I have read and enjoyed

Helen Cadbury – Bones in the Nest & Race to the Kill

Death of a Devil is dedicated to Helen. When I met her she was an already established crime writer, yet she welcomed me – at a conference in Iceland – with hugs, love, laughs and a genuine interest in Danny & co.

Her own books – I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-release glimpse of Race to the Kill, which is out in September and is Brilliant – are interested in the same things that mine are: The marginalized, the way people get on with their life; the joy to be found amongst the hardships of modern life. And Sean Denton – another everyman with a differentiator he refuses to allow define him – is one of my favourite discoveries in a long time.
Helen died as I was finishing Death of a Devil, and though we knew each other for the blink of an eye, her loss – and the loss of all the brilliant stories and poems she would have given us –hit me hard. Perfect for loves of urban grit with heart.

Jo Perry – Dead is Good / Dead is Best / Dead is Better

I’ve described these books as like Crime novels by Samuel Beckett, and I stand by that. They’re told by a dead man who is accompanied in his attempts to fix the messes the living make by a mute, yet unbelievably simpatico Red Setter (also dead). They are filled with humanity, beauty, and an at times hard-to-take sadness at the horrible things we do to each other. Highly recommended for anyone who loves mystery, literature, dogs humour and – because I imagine him soundtracking the movie – Randy Newman.

Peter Ackroyd – Queer City: The often hidden Gay History of London.

A city I have adopted as my own. A history I feel steeped in. It’s funny, gossipy, heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely human. As all the best histories are. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand how we got to where we are.

Aleksander Crapanzo – The London Cookbook

BIG foodie here. Huge. Seriously: I don’t have a collar size so much as a post code. But this – Current and past London eateries share their best recipes, most of which you can make at home – is brilliant. And I’m claiming it as research for Mr Bird’s future adventures in gastronomy. Get this one if you love London, Food, Restaurants, or books that are nice to finger of an evening. Which sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t. Honest.

Duncan MacMaster – Hack

I hate Duncan MacMaster. He’s on the same publisher as me, only he’s funnier. I don’t know why I’m recommending his book, only it’s a genius blend of the dream all writers have – invited to ghost-write a book with a movie star so famous he only needs one name – with the nightmare we all share – murder, finger-pointing, and assasins shooting at you – makes for one of the funniest romps I’ve enjoyed in ages. Witty and clever. Perfect beach read.

I think that list may turn out to be expensive for me, but I’m totally with you on the Duncan MacMaster – I loved Hack when it came out (there’s a review here) and I interviewed him too (you can read our chat here) – and Jo Perry, she’s on my summer reading suggestions.  Thanks again for talking to me Derek, it’s been a pleasure.  The new Danny Bird book, Death of a Devil is out tomorrow (that’s Monday), when I’ll be reviewing it.  In the mean time, you can preorder it here or start at the beginning of the series and buy yourself Death of a Diva – which is 99p on Kindle at the moment.

 

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Picture Miss Seeton

A shorter BotW post this week, because you’ve already had three great books from my reading last week in my Summer Reading post! But I finished Picture Miss Seeton on Sunday afternoon and wanted to give it a mention.

I do love a stylised cover. As long as you can get a matching set!

A retired art teacher, Miss Seeton witnesses a murder after leaving a performance of Carmen. Despite only getting a shadowy view of the killer, she manages to draw a picture that enables Scotland Yard to identify him. Soon she’s facing peril in the rural cottage she’s just inherited, where the villagers are also taking an interest in the new arrival.

This really scratched my itch for cozy crime with added humour. Miss Seeton is a wonderful send up of elderly lady detectives. She’s impossible to shock, utterly unflappable and practises yoga in her free time. She’s always one step ahead of the police and always manages to be in the right place at the right time to pick up the vital clue. I found the switching points of view occasionally a bit jarring or confusing, but I forgave it because I was having so much fun reading about Miss S’s adventures. It was a perfect book to read while recovering from nightshifts.

I’m fairly sure I’ve seen some Miss Seeton’s at the library (or maybe in the discount bookshop) so I suspect I may be reading more of her adventures in the near future. Picture Miss Seeton is available on Kindle and Kobo and should be available (probably to order) from all the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Lowcountry Bonfire

As you’ll have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a less productive week in reading last week, but that didn’t give me a problem when it came to picking a BotW –  because after I read Lowcountry Bonfire, I went and bought myself another book in the series straight away.

The cover of Lowcountry Bonfire
I kinda like this cover – its simple but stylish.

Lowcountry Bonfire is the sixth book in the Liz Talbot cozy crime series.  Liz and her partner Nate Andrews run a private investigation agency on an island in South Carolina.  Their bread and butter cases are suspicious spouses and adultery cases.  They’re not expecting Tammy Sue Lyerley’s case to be any different.  But when her husband Zeke turns up dead in the boot of the car that Tammy Sue has just filled with his stuff and is trying to set alight, they end up smack bang in the middle of a murder investigation.  Soon they’re trying to work out the truth behind Zeke’s tall tales and uncovering buried secrets.

After a disappointing run of cozy crime novels during my holiday*, this was a breath of fresh air. This is just the sort of cozy crime that I like – a great cast of characters, a quirky setting and a satisfying murder mystery.  And to top that off, Liz is one of my favourite things – a sleuth who has a legitimate reason to be snooping around.  The plot is perhaps a little bonkers at times, but the book is so pacey that you don’t really have time to think about that – which is exactly what you want really.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this so much that I went off and bought myself the first book in the series so I could see how Liz got to where she is.  I finished that on the train home on Monday afternoon and can report that that’s also a lot of fun – although the mystery and pacing isn’t quite as good as in Lowcountry Bonfire.  Admittedly that may be partly because I could spot which townspeople were no longer about in book six and extrapolate some of the solution from that!

My copy of Lowcountry Bonfire came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and available on all the usual platforms, like Kindle and Kobo.  But if you want to start at the beginning, Lowcountry Boil was £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing, as was book two, Lowcountry Bombshell, (although only on Kindle) which I may have just bought myself.  Naughty Verity!

Happy reading.

*Written in Dead Wax (in my book at least) is not a cozy crime.  And even if it was, I read it at the start of the week – it was the mysteries afterwards that were a disappointment!

Book of the Week, crime, detective, fiction, mystery

Book of the Week: Written in Dead Wax

We had a lovely time on holiday last week and I read a lot of books.  A lot. And the pick of the bunch was Andrew Cartmel’s first Vinyl Dectective novel, Written in Dead Wax.  I’d had my eye on this for a while but finally managed to pick myself up a copy at Big Green Bookshop a few weeks back now.

Copy of Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel.
My copy on the beach in Croatia last week. Lovely setting, made better with a good book!

The Vinyl Detective hunts down rare records.  In fact he makes his living by selling the records that he finds while out and about in London.  Then one day a mysterious woman shows up and asks him to find the unfindable – a priceless, impossibly rare jazz album.  And so he sets off on an oddessy around the record shops, car boot sales and charity shops hunting for the elusive record.  But soon it seems he has competition.   Ruthless competition.  He’s not a detective, but when people start turning up dead, he start trying to work out what’s going on.

This has a blurb on the front from Ben Aaronovitch – and Andrew Cartmel also co-writes the Rivers of London graphic novels so I thought that it might be right up my street and I was right.  It was so much fun.  There’s no magic here (apart from the magic of vinyl) but it definitely has some points of comparison with Rivers of London – there’s a similar sense of humour and wry way of looking at the world and it has the geekery that I love too – that makes you feel like you’re a member of a special club of people in the know – even if all you know about LPs is what you learned on your parent’s old record player* and what you’ve read in the book.  The mystery is clever and twisty, there’s plenty of action and it’s really hard to figure out where it is going next.

If I had a problem with it, it was that the female characters weren’t always as three dimensional as they could be – but that was kind of in keeping with the Vinyl Detective’s record-centric world view: he’d be able to tell you (in depth) all the details about a rare record that he once saw, but he wouldn’t remember what you were wearing if you made him turn his back and describe your outfit to you! I tried to make myself read it slowly – and that worked for about 150 pages, and then I just needed to know what happened next and how it would all work out.  Luckily it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this that book 2 is already out and so I can get another fix soon.

If you like PC Grant’s adventures, read this.  And if you like this, then I think you might also like The Barista’s Guide to Espionage – which is really quite different but keeps coming into my mind when  I was writing this review and trying to come up with if you like this then read thats.  You should be able to get hold of Written in Dead Wax from any good bookshop – I’m planning a trip back to the Big Green Bookshop at the weekend to get hold of book 2 – or it’s also on Audible (you might need to be a member for this link to work), Kindle and Kobo.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  I’ve already lent my copy to my dad…

Happy Reading!

*I spent parts of my childhood dancing around the dining room to a small selection of my parents’ records.  A bit of ballet, the Beatles, some Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, the records I created routines too aren’t as cool as the ones the Vinyl Detective is looking for – but I still have my first LP (the Postman Pat soundtrack) even though I don’t have a record player plumbed in to play it on.

American imports, cozy crime, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Cozy Crime

It’s election day in the UK tomorrow, and I’m gearing up for an all-nighter at work.  So the natural way to prepare is to… read some nice relaxing cozy crime books that don’t feature any politics at all!  Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

covers of three cozy crime books
I’m working on making my collages neater… it might take a while

I think I’ve mentioned these before, but Donna Andrew’s Meg Langslow books are a lasting source of delight to me.  They have some of the best punny titles in the genre (all based around birds) and are witty and fun.  There was a slight mid series slump* (but hey where there are 20 books in a series that can happen) but they’re back on form now.  Start at the beginning with Murder with Peacocks – I’ve recently read numbers 17 and 18 – the brilliantly titled The Good, the Bad and the Emus and The Nightingale before Christmas.

I’ve also got a serious soft spot for Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series about a wannabe actress who is a trainee Private Investigator in her spare time.  Each book is based around a different play or musical title  – the fourth book has just come out, Ivy Get Your Gun, and I enjoyed it although I think the second book in the series The Sound of Murder is still my favourite.

I read my first book in Lyn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series a few weeks ago and, although there were a few things that had me confused, I already have another one lined up on my Kindle so I must have liked it.  This follows the trend for small business-owner detectives with a Bookshop-cum-coffee-shop proprietor in a small coastal town.  I like a competent heroine and Jill is good at her day job – or at least she by the eighth book in the series Hospitality and Homicide and she at least has a credible reason for investigating the death.  There’s an interesting supporting cast and a nice relationship to watch develop too.  What more could you want?

I bought the Donna Andrews – and you can get them fairly easily (and for a sensible price) in the UK, but the other copies came to me via NetGalley, so it might be a case of adding them to your book wishlists and waiting for the price to drop, because I often find American cozies are too expensive for me soon after release, especially given how quickly I read them.

Happy Reading – and if you’re up watching the election result tomorrow night, think of me and my colleagues working probably the busiest nightshift of the year!

*SPOILER ALERT: The slump (for me at least) coincided with the period where Meg’s twins were very small.  Once they got to toddling and the books had less feeding and naps, it all sorted itself out

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: The Sussex Downs Murder

This week’s BotW is another forgotten Golden Age crime novel which has been republished by the British Library.  I picked this up at the book barge on Regents Canal, but it’s taken me a couple of months to get around to.  The Sussex Downs Murder is the second story to feature Superintendent Meredith – there are a load more, and I already have another waiting for me on my Kindle now that I’ve read this.

Copy of The Sussex Downs Murder
Yes, I admit it, I read it on the train. Its such a useful handbag size!

John Rother and his brother William live and work together at a farm in the Sussex Downs.  One night John leaves for a holiday and disappears, leaving his car and some worrying blood stains.   Has he been kidnapped?  Is he dead?  Whatever has happened, William falls under suspicion as rumours had been circulating in the village that his wife was getting rather too friendly with John.  Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate, but events soon take a macabre turn when bones start turning up.

If you’ve read a lot of detective novels, you may suspect the solution to this one rather earlier than Meredith does, but it’s still a really enjoyable read.  I suspect at the time, the solution would be a big gasp-inducing moment, but because there’s been 80 years of crime writing since, you may have come across plots like this before.   It is a really well written and well crafted mystery, with plenty of interesting characters and lots of twists and turns.  And if you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries, it’s well worth reading because it has exactly the sort of vibe you get from a Sayers or a Christie – not too creepy, but totally engrossing.

I’ve read quite a lot of these British Library Crime Classic reissues and I’m struggling to think of one that I haven’t enjoyed.  I’m always watching out for them, and I suspect that this will continue to be the case.   It’s £2.99 on Kindle at time of writing, which is a bargain, or £1.89 on Kobo which is an even bigger bargain, but is for a slightly different edition.  You should be able to get order the paperback from all the usual sources too.

Happy Reading!