What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Rebecca Bradley?

RebeccaBradleyTime to introduce the founding member of our online crime book club to you, the ever-busy and delightful Rebecca Bradley.  If you haven’t yet discovered Rebecca’s goldmine of a blog – a fun blend of book reviews, interviews, writerly news and really interesting video links – then please be sure to visit and say Hi. Rebecca is a writer herself, as well as an omnivorous reader. You can also find out more about the Crime Fiction Book Club on her site, a virtual book club which meets on the third Wednesday of every month via Google Hangouts. I always enjoy exchanging views with Rebecca about the latest crime novels we have both read, and I hope you will enjoy finding out more about her reading preferences.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I started reading from a young age. Like many, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books and the sleuthing of the kids to solve whatever mystery had come their way. I then progressed to Nancy Drew and was in awe of her independence. My next stop was Agatha Christie. It seemed like a natural progression and I haven’t stopped reading crime fiction since.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I tend to like series and am pretty anal about starting at the beginning of the series. For instance, when I was recommended Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta books, she was already nine books in, but I started with the first book ‘Postmortem’. The reason for this is I like to follow the character arcs. Characters keep me glued to books and to series. Outside of series, I like police procedurals. They can be UK, US, or the more currently popular Scandinavian books. Location doesn’t matter as long as the story is good and I’m invested in the characters.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

That’s easy. Cry Baby by David Jackson. It’s a brilliant US based series book with a New York Detective called Callum Doyle. Jackson writes brilliantly, with humour and with a real and deep understanding of people, which is capable of touching you when he really needs to.

I did answer that question based on the fact that we are discussing crime fiction. I do read outside the genre and have recently read some great books that have also stuck with me. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I know you said only one book, but… these are one book – from different genres!

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Only one? Did you see my last answer?! OK, it would be Karin Slaughter. Her books are so character driven I love them and just can’t wait for the next one to find out what is happening to them. It’s like waiting for your favourite TV series to air again. And she’s not gentle with them either. Just because they’re a part of the series, nothing is out of bounds.

KindleRBWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Ha! I have nearly 300 books on my Kindle and my bookshelves are nearly bending in the middle with the weight. There are so many books that I am desperate to read, I just wish I could read faster. I am looking forward to reading The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths though. It’s the second in a series, of which I read the first one at Christmas time last year. It’s something different for me. It’s not police procedural as the protagonist is not a police officer but an archaeologist. Nowadays I spend so much time trying new-to-me writers that I don’t spend the time I’d like to with series any more.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I am becoming more and more interested in the YA genre. I initially thought it was for kids and had some negative preconceptions about it until I read one, and then another and found I loved it. YA can fit any genre that a writer wants to write in, and the books I’ve read have covered some pretty heavy topics, but have done it brilliantly well and have usually had me in tears at some point. And this brings us around the characters again. It’s a belief in the characters that draws me in and has me sobbing and I think YA can do that really well.

I generally think we should read as widely as we can. Try new things. Experiment with our reading habits. I’ve been surprised this past year with what I’ve read and what I’ve enjoyed. It’s all about the reading. Just love the reading.

Wise and beautiful words, Rebecca, thank you very much indeed for sharing your reading passions with us! Over the next few weeks, every fortnight or so, I look forward to chatting to other great readers and bloggers about their criminally good reading pursuits.

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Margot Kinberg?

Good morning, everyone, and hope all of you had a good Easter (if you were celebrating) and at least enjoyed a bit of a longer weekend even if you were not! I am delighted to be back with a new feature. As we were discussing Flavia de Luce last week at the web-based Crime Book Club, the brainchild of the delightful and energetic Rebecca Bradley, it suddenly occurred to me:  I would like to find out more about my fellow crime fiction lovers, what got them interested in this genre and what other books they like to read in their ‘spare’ time. So every fortnight or so I will interview one of my online friends and bloggers about their reading preferences.

Margot Kinberg by www.studiocarre.com
Margot Kinberg by http://www.studiocarre.com

I am starting today with someone whom many mystery fans will know, for she is a walking encyclopaedia of crime fiction lore, a mystery author in her own right, an indefatigable blogger and one of the nicest, most supportive people I’ve met online. I give you the one and only: Margot Kinberg.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

It all started innocently enough. Some Sherlock Holmes stories in elementary school (I blame my Language Arts teacher), and a few Nancy Drews. What harm could that do? But then I started reading some other mystery series and I was in trouble. The turning point came when I received some Agatha Christie novels as a gift. After that, there was no hope for me. I don’t think there’s a recovery program for crime fiction addicts… 😉

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I’m actually pretty eclectic. To tell you the truth, it’s probably easier to ask which ones I don’t prefer. I really don’t like reading truly brutal serial-killer novels. There are a few I’ve read that are good, but in general, something really gory  is likely to put me off. The same is true at the other end of the spectrum. I don’t care much for ‘happy, frothy’ kinds of cosy mysteries, particularly if there’s too much emphasis on a romance and not much on the mystery plot. Other than that, I’m usually willing to try a wide variety of crime fiction. 

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

That would be Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. I’m still reflecting on it even a week after I finished reading it. She is one of my favourite authors, and her work always has a profound effect. This one is no different. It’s a novel of psychological suspense as much as it is a crime novel, and explores several other aspects of human life too. Highly recommended.
If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?
 Oh, that is such a difficult question! There is far, far too much crime fiction that I would hate to part with. If forced to, though, I would probably choose Agatha Christie. Her work has inspired me, and she wrote such a diversity of different kinds of stories. But I would have to insist on the entire collection of all of her work, including her novels as Mary Westmacott. And unless I was caught, I’d probably sneak some other books along too, wherever I could hide them.
What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?
Coming up soon is Geoffrey McGeachin’s St. Kilda Blues, the third in his Charlie Berlin series. I’m very much looking forward to reading that. I’m also looking forward to reading Ann Cleeves’ new Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez novels. Oh, and there’s Mari Strachan’s second novel Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers. That’s also on my must-read list. So is Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt (I’m a Connelly fan). There are a lot of others, too, but that’s a partial list anyway.
Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
I like historical fiction, and in that genre, I always recommend Edward Rutherfurd. James Michener too, for those who haven’t read his work. Kate Grenville’s historical fiction is also terrific. As far as non-fiction goes, I’m a fan of the work of Jonathan Kozol, who for the past forty years has written some brilliant work about education and literacy in the US, and the impact that social class and race have on a child’s chance at educational equity. It’s hard-hitting and eye-opening. I could keep going on, but that’s at least a tiny smattering of what I read outside crime fiction.
Thank you, Margot, for taking part. Quite a few surprising answers there, even though I thought I knew your reading preferences quite well. Hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did! And let me know if you would like to take part in this. I’m a real old Nosey Parker when it comes to finding out what people like to read.



Lego Movie and Creativity

This weekend my children and I watched The Lego Movie and I laughed unashamedly throughout. There was the obligatory ‘everybody is awesome or special’ sentimental message, but most of it was pure satire, making fun of fast food, reality TV shows, following instructions and even capitalism. It may have been above most children’s heads, but I enjoyed the references to films such as ‘Brazil’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Blade Runner’.

Lego Movie Poster
Lego Movie Poster

I only hope that the humour contained a healthy dose of self-irony too, since the key message is that it is better to be creative rather than follow instructions blindly. Furthermore, it is better to move easily between worlds and cultures rather than seek to sharply compartmentalise and separate things. This felt a little contrary, given the increasing tendency of Lego to go into more distinct niche markets rather than just produce universal bricks anymore. In fact, they are using The Lego Movie to launch a whole new series of products… which supposedly encourage ‘free building’.

Personally, I do prefer cross-model building and I believe this message also applies to literature and that rather tiresome separation into genres. Surely it’s time we stopped quibbling about the merits or demerits of a particular genre (see the recent Isabel Allende brouhaha), did away with snobbery and labelling, opened our minds to anything original and truly creative. We don’t have to love it, we just have to give it a chance.

Too Old for Ghost Stories?

TheWhisperingIn the early hours of the morning I finished reading Sarah Rayne’s The Whispering. I have to admit: I downloaded it under the false impression that it was crime fiction, because I don’t ‘do’ ghost stories.  Any more. I did love them when I was a teenager, especially the classics like M. R. James, The Turn of the Screw (which I still think is one of Henry James’ masterpieces), Edgar Allan Poe. But felt I had outgrown them.

Yet I read The Whispering in one day and started wondering why I am being such a pesky little genre snob even when I vow to myself that I will be open-minded. Have I not ventured into sci fi, chick lit, YA, historical or dystopian crime fiction and all sorts of other genres I was less enthusiastic about and been pleasantly surprised again and again? (Well, nearly everything, bar vampire stories.) What put me off supernatural tales after a while was that the stories tend to be rather implausible and ultimately depend very much on the reader’s willingness to believe in them.

This applies to this book as well: when you pick it apart at the end, there are some holes in the story. But ghost stories are not about logic and strong plotline: they are about build-up and atmosphere. On these two counts, this novel does not disappoint. It is a contemporary story about a researcher from Oxford University, Michael Flint, who sets off to a secluded country house in the Fens to visit the reclusive Miss Gilmore. She has family documents about the tragic fate of the Palestrina Choir at a convent in Belgium, so we know there will be a story within a story.

Of course we have all of the traditional and inevitable components of a haunted house mystery: the sinister, unwelcoming house, its strange mistress (whom Michael imagines to be a cross between Miss Havisham and Morticia Addams) the tree falling down and blocking the road, so that our main protagonist has to spend the night in the house. Michael finds it hard to contain his curiosity, even after an unsettling encounter upon his arrival at the front door with an elusive young man whispering demented things. The Fenland storms and mists may frighten a lesser man, but the library is well-stocked, the personal archives are beckoning as are the deep soft chairs and cosy fireplace, so ‘if the research took longer than the planned two days, it would be no hardship.’ Through careful perusing of archives, plus some supernatural inspiration, he begins to piece together the sad story of First World War soldier Stephen and his horrendous experiences at the German POW camp of Holzminden. So quite a topical subject in this centenary year of the start of WW1.

GhostNow, bear in mind that I haven’t read supernatural tales in a long while, so perhaps the fashions have changed and I am merely stating the obvious. But what seems to me to elevate this book above the run-of-the-mill chiller/horror stories is the modern humour and interplay of characters. I have heard that Michael and his partner Nell West feature as investigators into the supernatural in a series of other novels. The author also ably intersperses scenes from the house with the research being conducted elsewhere, which gives a nice respite from the piling on of horrors. Yet there are some genuine frissons to be had and not just one but a few climaxes.

Am I glad I read this book? Yes, it was an entertaining, chilling and thrilling fun-fair ride. Will I seek out ghost stories from now on? Probably not. But I won’t avoid them and prejudge them either.

Your turn now! Are there any genres you shun or dismiss? And have you ever read them by accident? If so, have they confirmed your negative impression or have they pleasantly surprised you?



Reviewing Some of My Reviewing

OresmanLibrary, nymag.com
OresmanLibrary, nymag.com

In an idle moment (ha! as if I ever have those!), I was going through the book reviews I have written over the past year or so of blogging, both on this site and on the Crime Fiction Lover website.  I wanted to see if there were any patterns emerging.

Well, the first and most obvious pattern is that I read a LOT of crime fiction – I would say about 80% of my reading is dedicated to this genre.  And sometimes I worry that this will affect my own writing, as I also write in this genre.  Will I become too influenced by the writers I admire?  My excuse is that I read such a variety of books, from shaky debuts to authors at the height of their powers, from all over the world, with all sorts of different cultural influences and styles, that I am safe.

Within the crime fiction genre, over the past year I have read 26 police procedurals, 10 thrillers (of the high-octane action variety), 10 psychological thrillers (of the ‘hide under the covers and shudder’ variety), 7 ‘form-busters’ – that don’t fit neatly into any category, 6 classic detective novels, 5 cosy mysteries, 5 noir, 1 medical thriller and 1 historical crime novel.  After some pondering, I came to these conclusions:

1) Police procedurals are the most popular form being written today (and I include forensic teams or psychological profilers in that category, as they work so closely together).

2) This doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal preference. I like noir far more than that, and I like action thrillers far less than that, for instance.  However, sometimes you have to review books for which you do not have a natural inclination, which makes me wonder if I am doing them justice.  Perhaps someone with more of an appetite for non-stop action scenes would view them more kindly and convert my 3 or 4 stars to 5 stars.

3) I expected my non-English literature to outweigh my English one.  By this, I mean literature that was originally written in a language  other than English (I did in fact read a lot of translations).  However, in the case of crime fiction, I certainly read more English-speaking authors – 37 – than foreign ones – 31.  When it comes to overall literature, perhaps the balance is slightly better: 50/50.  And this, despite the fact that I am in a place where you have to make an effort to find English or American books (that are not translated into French).  That probably does indicate a slight preference for the familiar or a sense of ‘coming home’ to my well-known authors.  Then again, perhaps it just shows a reluctance to step out too far from my comfort zone.

But perhaps the most obvious conclusion is: with all of the business travel and workshop-preparing, and with all of this reading and reviewing, when on earth do I get time to do any writing?

Answers on a postcard, please.