Monthly Archives: March 2016

Railway To The Grave by Edward Marston

Published in 2010, Railway To The Grave by Edward Marston is the seventh in his series of Victorian murder mysteries. They feature Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming of Scotland Yard and are set in the 1850s. Having had a great success with a case involving a train robbery, Inspector Colbeck is frequently called in by railway companies when a case has some link to their property. He’s become known by the press as the ‘Railway Detective.’

This seems a clever premise, providing evocative settings from lonely halts to locomotive sheds or bustling London stations and taking the detectives all over the country. The 1850s is a carefully chosen time when fortunes had been made and lost by the many railway companies and train travel wasn’t yet taken for granted or universally liked.

In Railway To The Grave, a retired colonel deliberately walks along a railway track towards a speeding train. This happens some weeks after his wife has vanished. The two detectives are sent to Yorkshire by their Superintendent to solve the mystery of the disappearance which led to his old friend’s suicide. Set around a village and the real market town of Northallerton, it isn’t long before Superintendent Tallis decides to travel north himself, much to the others’ dismay.

Colbeck and Leeming are likeable and an interesting contrast. The characters are very believable with the spite and gossip of a small community. There are also some nicely handled touches of humour with the Superintendent’s foibles. The plot is fast-moving with plenty of suspects and revelations along the way. The motive isn’t run-of-the-mill and the identity of the murderer is a satisfying conclusion to an atmospheric case.

This is the first ‘Railway Detective Mystery’ I’ve read and I enjoyed it very much. Edward Marston’s evident knowledge of and affection for the steam age makes a lively and absorbing background. I’ll certainly be trying more in the series.

 

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

 As regular readers of Gaslight Crime will know I have a passion for film noir. And there are few better examples of the genre than Otto Preminger’s classic 1950 picture “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

Set in New York, cop Mark Dixon has been reprimanded for being rough with suspects. Dixon is a man who is handy with his fists, never quite managing to throw off a dubious and criminal family background. His father was a thief.

During the course of the movie, Dixon – acting in self-defence – accidentally kills a suspect. The film deals in great detail with how Dixon – desperate to save his career – disposes of the body and tries to throw the blame for the death elsewhere.

To complicate matters Dixon falls for the dead man’s wife (Tierney), and then has to try to protect her when his boss (a terrific early performance by Karl Malden) tries to put her father in the frame for the killing.

In the meantime, Dixon’s own life is threatened by the gangster Scalise (Gary Merrill – surely one of the best, yet most underrated actors in Hollywood).

Dixon’s attempts to defeat Scalise, in a very personal feud, leads to the exciting climax.

The photography in this film (black and white, please always resist colourisation!) is truly wonderful, giving a terrific impression of – usually rainy – New York streets. Preminger’s direction is spot on, a great director working from Ben Hecht’s literate and moving script.

So is Dixon role in a man’s death found out? Well, see it for yourself and find out if the film is new to you. And if you haven’t seen it for a while please do revisit the noir masterpiece.

You can get it on DVD either on its own or in a box set with other great examples of film noir.

 

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The World of Indie Publishing

From Monday -on our other blog http://www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com – I’ll be starting weekly pieces about the world of Indie publishing, looking at such issues as whether it is better to go Indie rather than traditionally publish and some notes on my experiences of both.

I hope what I write may be helpful to writers coming to Indie publishing for the first time, and might trigger a debate and offer an opportunity for experienced Indie publishers to contribute.

So please click follow and come along…

John Bainbridge

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Wolfshead – the new novel

John’s new novel “Wolfshead” is now available in paperback, and will be published next Friday on Kindle and Kobo (Nook on Saturday). Order it now on pre-order and you’ll get it cheaper. Just click on the link below for more information

This new novel is the sequel to last year’s Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, though “Wolfshead” is complete in itself.

WOLFSHEAD

1199 AD
The fate of a silver arrow brings blood-soaked terror to the peasants of Sherwood Forest.
England faces uncertainty as the king falls in battle. Nottingham Castle is seething with intrigue as the Sheriff’s power is threatened and Sir Guy of Gisborne faces an old nightmare. Wolfshead Cover_edited-5

Robin’s fight is more desperate than ever. Friendships are tested as the outlaws confront a new depth of evil.

When even the villagers have turned against him, Robin Hood discovers the true cost of being made wolfshead.

A hunted man – and this time it’s personal…

Wolfshead – complete in itself – is the second in a four-novel sequence The Chronicles of Robin Hood.

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolfshead-Chronicles-Robin-John-Bainbridge-ebook/dp/B01D09B6LO/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1458463387&sr=1-3&keywords=john+Bainbridge

Read Loxley, the first in the series today on Kindle and in paperback. Just click on the link below.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Loxley-Chronicles-Robin-John-Bainbridge-ebook/dp/B00WMJXRUC/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1458463387&sr=1-1&keywords=john+bainbridge

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A Cruel Necessity by L.C Tyler

 

A Cruel Necessity is the first novel in L.C. Tyler’s new series of John Grey Historical Mysteries. I enjoyed it enormously. The author has cleverly chosen to set his series in a little-used and unique period, the short-lived English Republic. This gives the novel a real freshness and its world is very well-researched.

It is 1657, eight years after England saw its greatest change since the Norman Conquest. Life has returned to an uneasy peace, provided people keep their heads down and don’t ask awkward questions. John Grey is a young lawyer, just returned from Cambridge to his small Essex village. When he stumbles upon the body of a Royalist spy, Grey is alone in wanting to find whodunit.

The narrative is written in first person in L.C. Tyler’s customary sparkling style. John Grey is a likable character who speaks to us in witty dialogue with a wry humour. All the characters are interesting and believable. We can relate to them across the centuries with the same motivations and foibles as people of today.

I really like the author’s sense of place. The village is evoked with wonderful descriptions. They draw you in to this sensuous mid-seventeenth century world where you can almost smell the hay, camomile, cucumbers and dung-heaps of summer. Later in the novel a crowded, reeking London is equally well-drawn.

The twisting plot is complex and plausible. L. C. Tyler is a master of deception. One of those books that reads with an effortless flow, a page-turner that’s hard to put down.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, A Cruel Necessity is refreshingly different and a superb treat.

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John Buchan’s “Greenmantle”

John Buchan’s classic thriller “Greenmantle” – first published a hundred years ago this October – is the second of his novels to feature the character Richard Hannay, whom Buchan introduced in “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (see blogs passim).

The plot covers an attempt by the Germans, for their own strategic advantage in World War One, to persuade the Turks to participate in a Jihad against the Allies. This makes it singularly relevant for modern times, when the word Jihad is constantly banded about. (Jihad is usually interpreted as meaning the summoning of a holy war; it actually means working for Islam in all sorts of ways).

The book starts with Hannay, recovering from wounds received on the Western Front, being summoned to see spymaster Sir Walter Bullivant (from “The Thirty-Nine Steps”), who gives him a slip of paper with three very slender clues, and then despatches him to discover their meaning.

Hannay, disguised as a South African of Dutch origins, makes a perilous crossing of Germany, partly in the company of the Boer Peter Pienaar, and the American John Blenkiron. In my view these German-set passages are the most interesting in the book. While the chief villain, von Stumm, is portrayed by Buchan as something like the baddie of anti-German propaganda of the time, the rest of the Germans are represented with considerable sympathy. Which is quite surprising for a British writer in 1916.

Hannay, in his disguise, is introduced to the Kaiser, whom Buchan portrays with surprising understanding, showing him as much a victim of events as anyone else caught up in the Great War. He also gives us a German engineer called Gaudian, whom Hannay likes very much (he reappears in the later Hannay adventure “The Three Hostages”).  Even von Stumm is shown as a balanced figure – you can see where he is coming from.

There are passages where Hannay is ill and given shelter by a German family, and a chapter where he works in great harmony with the German captain of a barge travelling down the Danube. Hannay learns from his experiences that the horror of the war is that it often pits decent people against each other.

Given the anti-German propaganda of the time, this is all the more remarkable. Buchan has too often been labelled as a racist and anti-Semite (usually by people who’ve never read him). He is neither. His humanity shines through his work. If his characters sometimes use expressions that sound uneasy on the modern politically-correct ear, it is because that is the way people spoke at the time. And the views of a writer’s characters do not represent what the writer might believe anyway.

In this book we are introduced to Sandy Arbuthnot (based mostly on Buchan’s university friend Aubrey Herbert.) Sandy is a master of disguise, a man who has lived rough in many parts of the east, and can pass himself off as a native in many countries. The character might sound far-fetched, but the real-life Aubrey Herbert did all of that and more. Peter Pienaar is a hunter from the African veldt, a simple man of great courage. Blenkiron abandons the American neutrality of the time to work for the Allies. Buchan was very fond of Americans and this character is a tribute to many friends.

The other villain of the piece is the German agent Hilda von Einem, who has an obviously sexual obsession for Sandy Arbuthnot, even as he is thwarting her plans to inspire Jihad.

Eventually the four heroes of the book find themselves in Constantinople, a city portrayed in a very claustrophobic and threatening way. Here they discover the secret of Greenmantle, before journeying to the front line in the war, at Erzurum, where the Germans, Austrians and Turks are fighting off a Russian advance. Buchan shows sympathy for the Turks, despite the fact that they are Hannay’s enemies. Sandy is shown to have a considerable empathy with the Turkish people.

The novel ends with our heroes surrounded and fighting against massive odds. I won’t say more because I think you should read “Greenmantle” for yourself. But I think it interesting that Buchan, against the fashion of British thrillers of the time, is not afraid to make Hannay and the others scared.

John Buchan was a great writer in so many ways. He is particularly good at describing landscapes, taking the reader right in there with his characters. You really feel you have undertaken Hannay’s journey across Europe to Turkey.

A century on, “Greenmantle” is still an exciting read. More than that, it is prophetic, given the circumstances of the modern world.

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American Crime Novelist Marni Graff on her English Settings

We’re very pleased to welcome a guest post by crime novelist Marni Graff. Marni is one of a distinguished group of American authors, including Kate Charles, Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George, Charles and Caroline Todd, who set their detective fiction in the U.K.MKGHdshot

Marni’s first series The Nora Tierney Mysteries are an engaging blend of amateur sleuth and police procedural. An affectionate homage to British Golden Age mysteries, the novels have cast of characters, maps, room-plans, satisfyingly complex plots and red herrings galore. Norah Tierney is a delightful character, a young American living on the shores of Windermere and it’s fun to see the foibles of the British through her eyes. 

We asked Marni to tell us why she decided to use an English setting:

Why England?

The setting any author chooses is a deliberate and thought-out selection. It’s the world my characters inhabit and affects their actions, so it was a very important decision for me when choosing where my Nora Tierney Mysteries would unfold. I’m a big fan of writers who manage to bring me into their setting, and I feel most writers wish to have the place a book’s characters move in feel real to their readers. My mentor and friend, P. D. James, always started her novels by deciding on the setting for its influence on the story she’d develop, and I agree and try to have the setting permeate the plot.

After a successful thirty-year nursing career, I was finally able to turn to the mystery writing I’d always planned. There was no question I would set my first series in England. I’ve always loved the UK and on my first visit in my early twenties, I stepped off the plane and felt like I was coming home. It’s a feeling that remains with me every time I’ve been to visit since then. Perhaps I lived there in another life? Whatever the attraction, my affinity for England set my course early on.

Choosing to set my mystery series in England was a deliberate choice, yet one I knew would present challenges. It would also allow me to visit the country I loved, and I’ve returned many times. Visiting new places for future books’ settings is a great excuse to travel, and one recent trip saw me on a train trip after attending St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Conference in Oxford. I traveled to Bath to visit a friend for several days to renew my vision of that lovely town, and was introduced to the owner of Mr B’s Reading Emporium. He agreed to let me use his store as the reason Nora visits the town, for a reading and signing of her children’s books, although he did seem disappointed when I assured him no one would be murdered there.The Green Remains_frontcover_dark

Then I set off to Devon, where I stayed in Torquay and was able to make the “pilgrimage” via a vintage bus to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway. For an Anglophile mystery geek like me, this was nirvana. Next I was off to Cornwall and Penzance, a place that will feature down the road in a later Nora mystery. I went to St Michael’s Mount and to the outdoor Minack Theatre, gathering setting material. Then back to glitzy seaside Brighton and the warren of tiny streets called The Lanes, before visiting friends in Chiswick, outside London. Any excuse to get me to the UK is welcome.

Last summer my husband and I traveled to Normandy. France is his favorite place to visit. But you’d be wrong if you think I could be that close and not visit England! I signed up again for St Hilda’s and Doc came with me, but not until we’d spent a day in Cambridge, another first. I’ve been to Scotland and Wales, too, but very briefly and need to visit in more detail. Those are high on my list for my next trip abroad.scarletwench_cover_front

My American protagonist, Nora Tierney, is a writer who has been living and working in England for several years. While it’s fine to have her appropriate common Brit words like “loo” or “buggy,” her voice has to remain distinctly American versus the other characters in her circle. It’s one reason I read UK authors continuously, to keep the cadence and slang of that country in my ear—plus many of my favorite writers are from there. But the challenges go far beyond language.

Having this lifelong affinity for England and its environs, I originally chose Cumbria, the county containing England’s glorious Lake District, as the setting for the opening of the Nora Tierney series. My visits to the land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter hold a fascination for me and I decided Bowness-on-Windermere would suit me. It is one of the most beautiful natural areas I’ve ever seen, with the bluest skies and whitest fluffy clouds, set against the majestic fells and shallow tarns. I took photographs and came home armed with maps and brochures to use as reference material.

Then life intervened with an opportunity to attend a summer course in Oxford, and I found myself in the hallowed halls of Exeter College, studying Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier, two of my favorite writers. Sworn in as a reader at the Bodleian Library, I was able to read the original broadsheet reviews of The Woman in White.

Oxford is a jewel of a town encircled by the lush green countryside of the Thames Valley. Its mellow limestone “dreaming spires,” as described by 19th C. poet Matthew Arnold, change color with the light and weather. Magnificently preserved architecture reflects every age from Saxon to present, all exhibited somewhere amongst the federation of forty-odd independent colleges which make up the University of Oxford set right in the town.

This mix of “town and gown” is noticed at once when visiting: The university has its dons lecturing in sub fusc, scouts bringing students morning tea, an historic tutorial system, and those forbidden grassy quads (with their tradition of only being walked on by dons), while the town has its own muddle of traffic-choked streets, packed with bicycles and pedestrians, pubs and shops. Both exist alongside green meadows with grazing cattle, and rivers teaming with punters and canal boats.

Small wonder then that I fell in love with the place. I could picture Nora here, too, and suddenly the idea for a new mystery, one that had Oxford at its heart, took over. I set aside my original idea for a Lake District manuscript and started writing The Blue Virgin, a combination of cozy and police procedural. Trying to clear her best friend, Val Rogan, of the suspicion she has murdered her partner, Bryn Wallace, Nora quickly becomes embroiled in the murder investigation, to the dismay of DI Declan Barnes, the senior investigating officer.

I took great care to be accurate in describing Oxford’s history and he colleges, as well as the various locations and sites my characters visit. After all, this is the town that gave the world Lewis Carroll, penicillin, two William Morrises, and graduates spread across the centuries whose influences are still felt. A very short list includes: Shelley, Tolkien, Browning, C. S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, and Christopher Wren. More modern grads you will recognize include Stephen Hawking, Richard Burton, Indira Gandhi, Hugh Grant and Val McDermid.

And Oxford exudes mystery, as any Inspector Morse fan can tell you. I knew that readers would be quick to point out any factual errors I made. I carefully described favorite student pubs, shops, and the wonderful Covered Market, and tried to give the reader the sense of that ancient town, and how living in it affected Nora’s actions.The Blue Virgin_cover_frontonly

When I came home to write The Blue Virgin, I kept an enlargement of the town map taped to my desk–no sense describing a cobbled lane if I had the name wrong. I referred to my research materials often, as well as my photo album from the trip. My characters move within the real town, have tea at The Old Parsonage, and brunch at The Randolph Hotel. The Chief Superintendent of the CID in St Aldate’s Station gave me insight into the Oxford station to add reality to the setting. Only a few settings, such as Nora’s flat, are fictional.

By the time The Blue Virgin was in print and I started writing The Green Remains, I’d moved Nora to Cumbrian. The cover from The Green Remains is based on one of my own photos, taken on a boat trip around Windermere. I saw a stone jetty with a folly at its end. That would make a perfect setting for the climax of a book, I’d mused, and used it in my second book.

The third book, The Scarlet Wench, is set in Bowness, too, but for the one I’m writing now, The Golden Hour, there are scenes in Oxford and Brighton. However, the majority of the action takes place in Bath—which is why I’d spent time there. A series writer must always be planning ahead, and I like the idea of moving Nora around instead of keeping her in one area where she can suffer from what I like to call “the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome,” with too many murders occurring in one small town.

Besides, isn’t that a great excuse to have to visit the UK again?

Marni Graff ‘s first two Nora Tierney Mysteries have won awards as “Best Classic British Cozy” and the third is short-listed for the same award from Chanticleer Media. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press and writes a crime review blog at www.auntiemwrites.com.

Thanks, Marni. That was really interesting – and very kind to us. Sadly, we do have plenty of eyesores and a constant battle to keep developers from ruining our historic towns and countryside.

Marni’s most recent novel is Death Unscripted, returning home with the first in a new series of Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries.

And if you love crime fiction don’t miss Marni’s terrific review blog.

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