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

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland: Aberdeen

Cold Granite (Logan McRae, Book 1) by [MacBride, Stuart]

This month for my crime tour of Scotland it’s home territory, and Aberdeen. And Aberdeen crime, for the last fifteen years or so, has meant Stuart McBride.

I first met Stuart McBride when he was still in a state of excitement at having his first book out. In a moment of enthusiasm, he agreed to take a workshop at Aberdeen Central Library on plotting a crime novel (he favours mind maps). Poor man, he was not expecting to have in his audience someone who had been trying unsuccessfully for years to be published, and was in a bit of a mental pit over the whole thing.
‘How many people here have written a book?’
Several put up their hands.
The hands mostly dropped.
‘Well, the best thing you can do is write a second book. How many have written a second book?’
Just my hand, then.
‘There, you stand a much better chance with a second book! Now, are you published?’
‘But you’ve written a second book?’
‘Hm. Maybe better try a third?’
‘I’ve written seven.’
But he was a very funny man, and the evening (despite me) was very enjoyable, as the many, many people who have now heard him speak will know.

The Aberdeen he portrays is realistic, hard and noir (there are, honestly, very good, attractive, cultural, welcoming aspects to Aberdeen too and I’ve grown to be very fond of it over the years, they just don’t often feature in McBride’s novels!). It is also very funny, which draws me back again and again even when I think the books are just a touch too noir (when you find yourself avoiding the bins in a street in Rosemount because that’s where they found the first body you know the book’s got into your head a little too much). The somewhat hapless Logan McRae and his dreadful boss, D.I. Steele, are just irresistible. He has undoubtedly put Aberdeen on the crime fiction map, which is, for some inexplicable reason, just where towns like to be these days. We’re not quite at the stage of Laz McRae Tours yet, gazing adoringly into the cafĂ© on the beach where Stuart used, at least, to do most of his writing, or visiting the strange little static caravan park by the Don where McRae found a dead body on his roof. No doubt it will come.

There are a couple of other local crime writers (there are probably more in the woodwork of whom I as yet know little): Shona McLean (S.J. McLean) is one to whom I’ll return as she doesn’t restrict herself to Aberdeen. Claire MacLeary’s Cross Purpose came out a couple of years ago and she has a new one, too, featuring her mismatched pair of women detectives. I read Cross Purpose but I wasn’t quite sure what this book was trying to be – a comedy? A noir crime novel? Something a bit more titillating? A buddy movie? Whatever it was, the pieces did not sit easily together for me, and the pacing was odd: sometimes apparently quite quick, sometimes it seemed weeks had gone by with all kinds of irrelevant action referred to in passing. There was a body at one point but what had happened to it was just a bit peculiar and not wholly convincing. The plot seemed to be solved half by accident and half with a sort of resignation, and beyond one of the main characters the others seemed a little flat. And it could have been set, really, in any largish city. Still, I finished it. I might read the second one. But I fear she has a long way to go before she is much competition for Stuart McBride.

Monday 14 May 2018

Indie author for May: Rachel Amphlett

Scared to Death: A Detective Kay Hunter mystery (Kay Hunter British detective crime thriller series Book 1) by [Amphlett, Rachel]

"If you want to see your daughter alive again, listen carefully."

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong.

But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun...

Back to crime for this author, and anyone who thinks that indie books are all stuffed with every mistake an editor loves would do well to take a look at this clean production. And beyond that, this is an excellent first novel that grips from the very first page. It’s a police procedural with a refreshingly happily married female lead, who nevertheless doesn’t have her troubles to seek, as they say. The characters, both victims and perpetrators, are far from black and white (with one possible exception), and all are interesting. The plot whizzes along at a cracking pace and some parts are pretty disturbing, but on the whole it registers about a 3 on the Conyngham scale – not gory, but with a couple of grim bits.

And I'm over halfway now on Tomb for an Eagle - relief, as it now feels as if it might be a book one day! The cover illustrator is already beavering away with some new-look covers for this new series, so the pressure is on, and I'm still enjoying it!

As for Murray and Hippolyta, the plan is still to have another Hippolyta ready for Christmas and another Murray by Easter 2019. That seems like years away, but I know time is going to fly. I'm considering cloning myself, but the trouble is I want to be all of the resulting personalities - except maybe the one that has to do the laundry.

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland - Inverness

Shadow Man by [Kirk, Margaret]

Shadow Man, by Margaret Kirk
A gripping Scottish crime thriller from the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing competition 2016.
Two sisters
Just before her wedding day, Morven Murray, queen of daytime TV, is found murdered. All eyes are on her sister Anna, who was heard arguing with her hours before she was killed.
Two murders
On the other side of Inverness, police informant Kevin Ramsay is killed in a gangland-style execution. But what exactly did he know?
One killer?
As ex-Met Detective Inspector Lukas Mahler digs deeper into both cases, he discovers that Morven's life was closer to the Inverness underworld than anyone imagined. Caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, is Lukas hunting one killer, or two?

 I hadn't been going to Inverness on this tour until Margaret Kirk came to my attention, so I snatched up the book to see if it was worth a visit (silly me, of course Inverness is worth a visit! It's lovely). Shadow Man is written in the present tense, which rarely appeals to me, but despite that I liked the book, and particularly liked the main character, Lukas Mahler, from the start, with his rather less conventional family issues. I immediately wanted to know more about the woman he saw on the flight to Inverness. Not a particularly strong sense of place, but a good sense of community, both the police (some of whom are fully paid up members of the Awkward Squad) and the locals. 2.5 to 3 on the Conyngham Scale, but don't let it put you off staying at the hotel where the murder takes place! I'm looking forward to the next Margaret Kirk with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, I'm back from beautiful Orkney and happy book events at Orkney Library and Stromness Writers Group, knitting some of the wool I bought, reading the pile of books acquired (good thing we had an extra bag for the flight!) and 11 1/2 chapters into Tomb for an Eagle. I swerve between loving it and being sure it'll be a disaster!