GETTING RID OF CRIME BOOKS

A juicy eyeball from Agatha

I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it but I think a visit to your GP might be  in order.

It started to rain and a most rare and unusual thought entered my mind. Weed your books. I tried to ignore it, obviously. Usually this voice only occurs once every ten years after a Health and Safety incident. OK – let’s call that a big trip and I’m not talking safaris. Sometimes it can be brought on by the fact I can’t find a book I know I have because everything has gone TOO FAR. I stood up and went and looked at one of my bookcases. It was filled with crime.

It was a crime.

First my eye chanced to light on an author I am never going to give away: Kinky Friedman. Any man who titles a book Armadillos and Old Lace will remain on my bookshelves for ever. Then I seized all of Patricia Cornwell and all of Henning Mankell and marched them to the door. Why? Well, Patricia Cornwell irritated me with a book about a hairy man. I can’t remember which one now, and she got a bit grandiose or maybe that was Scarpetta and I vowed I’d never read another. Or maybe I just had ‘great room’ envy.

Don't touch that drink!

Don’t touch that drink!

Why Henning Mankell? I suppose because I  just know I’m never going to re-read them and those books are fat. I liked the Swedish TV series and the Kenneth Branagh one but re-reading is just not going to happen.

I decided to keep all of Ian Rankin and all of the following: George Pelecanos, Robert Parker, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, Dominique Manotti, Sara Paretsky, Ed McBain, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Jake Arnott, C.J.Sansom, Donna Leon, PD James, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Val McDermid’s Kate Brannigan and Lindsay Gordon series.

What - not another eyeball!

What’s with the eyeballs!

I know Val’s other series is the big seller but I never got beyond a torture scene at the beginning of The Mermaids Singing which I have already disposed of. Wimp, you might say, Yes, I would reply. Torture scenes are not really my thing. Having said that I once wrote one in one of my own books, Bloodless Shadow, but I did it with my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears and singing la-la-la-la, so I’m not sure it counts.

There are a few there I’d forgotten about – Pernille Rygg for example. A Norwegian writer who wrote The Butterfly Effect and The Golden Section. I enjoyed those.

There are some that have such cool titles I’ve never dared read them: Ken Bruen’s Rilke on Black for example. I just feel I’m going to have to start drinking whiskey and turn into Nick Cave before I crack the spine of that one. Or at least get a hair cut like Tilda Swinton.

Murder isn't easy if it involves a spider that big

I’m sorry but murder can’t be  that easy if it involves a spider the size of a canary.

The author I’ve got most of is Ed McBain (21) but Christie (18)  Robert Parker (17) and Allingham (17) are close on his heels. The Fontana 3/6 versions of Christie are my favourites because of their camp schlocky covers, that’s why they are liberally scattered through this post. I love the covers in the same way I love the pictures in Ladybird books and Janet and John books. The images must have hit my visual cortex at about the same time and therefore fill me with drooling nostalgia. It’s probably why I became a crime writer.

So now you know if you want to stay on my shelves

  • don’t irritate me
  • don’t solve your crimes with hairy men
  • don’t have torture scenes
  • do have a camp/kitsch cover, preferably from the 60s
  • do have a good title
  • do be published by Fontana for 3/6
  • Oh, and make me laugh

And then you’ll be mine for ever. Sorry, that last bit sounds a bit sinister.

At Bertram's Hotel

Honey, I know you said it had 5* reviews on TripAdvisor  but have you seen the doorman?

Finally, I’ll end on my all-time favourite Agatha cover. Can you get camper than a violet cream, held elegantly against a non-sweating palm, a bullet (yes, that’s a bullet not a cigarette) and that nail varnish … a cover to die for!

“Death and mystery among the muffins (could be Caffè Nero) and the best Indian tea … set in a hotel patronised by dowagers and bishops … Miss Marple knits and listens (that’s me crouched over a cappuccino with the crochet).”

The book is dedicated to:

“Harry Smith because I appreciate the scientific way he reads my books.”

I wonder if Agatha would appreciate the scientific methods I use to weed my books?

How do you weed yours? Or don’t you?

REVIEW: GHOST FLIGHT – MEL HEALY

Ghost Flight by Mel Healy

Ghost Flight by Mel Healy

Some people read crime for the plots, others read crime for, well, other reasons. I’m an ‘other reasons’ sort of reader. The most important thing for me is the character of the main protagonist. Am I interested in them? Am I entertained? Do I want to ‘hang out’ with them? Otherwise frankly what is the point? Ghost Flight is the third in the Moss Reid series, figuring the Irish PI based in the Stonybatter area of Dublin. The other two in the series are Another Case in Cowtown and Black Marigolds.

Moss, I am happy to say, is well worth hanging out with. He is amiable, funny, not afflicted with irritating flaws and wouldn’t be seen dead falling asleep in his chair while listening to his old vinyl collection. He likes a pint and hanging out with his friends, Colley and Arnaud and although he loves his food, he is not pretentious about it. An amuse bouche is a ‘gob tickler’ and he’s as happy with ‘a big dirty Ulster fry’ as ‘tellines de camargue‘.  Oh, and he’s got something in common with Doris Day and Whoopi Goldberg. Always a good sign in a man.

This is not to say that Mel Healy is a slouch at putting together an intriguing plot and if plots are your thing you’ll find plenty here to keep you puzzled and entertained. It involves three men going missing in a light aircraft off the west coast of Ireland and then one of them turning up in France six years later. Then a woman goes missing…

The reason I enjoyed this book is because I now know a whole load of things I did not know before including:

  • what Developmental Prosopagnosia is
  • what the dual nationalities of Schrödinger of Schrödinger’s cat fame were
  • how to whip up perfect scrambled eggs
  • how to pick a pin-tumbler (that’s a lock by the way)
  • what tellines are and how to cook them; it involves pink garlic and hazelnuts
  • how to get out of a French police station if I’ve been arrested for not having enough breathalyzers or high vis jackets in my car
  • where the flying sequences of the film The Blue Max were filmed
  • what the origin is of the canker which is affecting the plane trees which line the Canal du Midi …

I could go on but I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now. Ghost Flight is very well written and funny.  This is one of my favourite lines:

You can tell a lot about a man from his shoes: who he is, what he’s like. If eyes are the window to the soul, then shoes are the Velux skylight.

So there’s something for everyone here, including a few good recipes thrown in for free. In fact my feeling is that if Kinky Friedman were Irish he might well turn out to be Mel Healy.

The last paragraph in the book is this:

That’s the trouble with this town; when people say, “I’ve just finished that book,” you never know whether they are talking about reading one or writing one.

I, for one, am hoping that Mel Healy is getting on and writing the next Moss Reid mystery right now.

Finally, I must issue a severe warning: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK WHILE HUNGRY. Otherwise you’ll find yourself listening to a growling stomach, while staring disconsolately into your fridge, wishing for Arnaud, Moss and Colley to turn up at the door in Tintin (read the book to find out what Tintin is) and rustle you up some perfect tellines de camargue.

Mel blogs at http://melhealy.wordpress.com and his blog is as funny, idiosyncratic and eclectic as his books. Oh, and there are recipes…