Monthly Archives: January 2017

Jigsaw – Film Review

Product DetailsOne of my Christmas presents was a DVD of the film Jigsaw. Somehow neither of us had come across this before and we both loved it. Released in 1962, the screenplay was written and directed by Val Guest. The plot is a murder mystery and manages to be a gripping police procedural and a fine example of British film noir. All the more interesting as Jigsaw is adapted from Sleep Long, My Love, a 1959 novel by American mystery writer Hillary Waugh (1920-2008).

Waugh became widely admired for his documentary-style procedurals, a style inspired by reading true-crime studies. Sleep Long, My Love was set in small-town Connecticut and its easy adaptation to an English seaside town illustrates how universal are the themes of deceit and murder.

Jack Warner stars as Detective Inspector Fred Fellows. I’ve always liked  Warner, having grown up with fond memories of Dixon of Dock Green on Saturday evenings – his character there was more or less lifted from a more famous British noir, The Blue Lamp (1950).  In Jigsaw, Warner plays his usual avuncular detective, yet with a harder, no nonsense edge. His Inspector Fellows is determined to find the murderer on his patch, assisted by his likeable sergeant, well-played by Ronald Lewis.

The plot is full of credible detective work, twists and turns, hence the title. There’s a classic beginning of a woman in a drably furnished bedroom – ashtray by the bed – soon to be murdered by her unseen lover. In some ways this reminded me of a Francis Durbridge drama – although not quite so convoluted – in part because Moira Redmond was cast as the murdered woman. She always seemed to have a strong screen presence and memorably played the title role in the 1972 TV drama re-make of Durbridge’s Melissa.

Jigsaw is largely filmed in and around Brighton and benefits from that atmospheric setting, chosen by generations of novelists and film-makers. A natural choice as the plot has similarities to the infamous Brighton trunk murders of the early thirties. The setting was one reason that attracted me as I’ve known the town well for many years and never walk those streets without thinking of its literary dark side.

I love black and white films and murder/mystery plots are enhanced by a world of monotones, contrasting sunlight and shadows. Brighton here is shown at an interesting transitional time. This is not the famous town (now city) of the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion roof-line or the lively Palace Pier. We glimpse the sea-front with the lovely old West Pier still intact but this is back-street Brighton of seedy, peeling stucco, corner shops and rooms to let. The surrounding bare hills are just beginning to be marked by footings for new houses.

The period motor-cars are an added pleasure along with some atmospheric shots of Brighton and Lewes railway stations in their steam hey-day. The cinematography is very effective. The murderer is seen in glimpses without the face. We don’t see the body but we watch the reaction shots of the detectives’ faces as they throw open a trunk lid. The camera dwells lovingly on wet streets by night, cigarette smoke, the Cutty Sark on a bright morning.

As so often in these films, another pleasure is seeing a turn-out of familiar character actors, here including Ray Barrett, John Barron, Michael Goodliffe, John Le Mesurier and Brian Oulton. American actress Yolande Donlan – Mrs Val Guest – does an immaculate British accent.

Hillary Waugh wrote eleven crime novels featuring Police Chief Fred Fellows. They’re going on my reading pile when I can track them down.

Warning – If you plan to buy the film, be aware that the blurb on the reverse of the DVD gives away the identity of the murderer! This is an appallingly careless thing to do and we’re indebted to a kind Amazon reviewer who pointed this out.

It was hard not to read the back before viewing but I’m so glad I managed. A highly recommended classic.

 

 

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The Return of Novels and Novelettes

‘Why did he only write a novella?’ was a comment on an otherwise favourable review we had a couple of years ago. A fair question and one we took as a back-handed compliment. We’ve been debating novellas and short novels recently, when as indie writers and avid readers, we note trends in the publishing world.

In the last few years we’ve noticed that novellas are becoming increasingly popular among indie authors. It’s interesting to think about why fashions change in publishing. A cynic might say novellas are quicker to get on sale – that’s true and an important factor – but far from the only reason.

Demand is driven partly by readers and most authors try to write books that will sell in the current market. Unfortunately, demand is also manipulated by the big publishers. For instance, in the 1960s and 70s, historical fiction was very popular. Later, it almost disappeared from the shelves with publishers not wanting to take that genre. It’s hard to believe there were some years when readers went off historical novels when you look at their resurgence today, led by authors such as Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory.

Novellas and short novels are an old literary form which is making a welcome come-back for various reasons. It’s worth taking a closer look at what is generally meant by the terms. There are no hard and fast rules. From the writing guides I’ve read, leading indie author commentators mostly suggest that 20,000 words is the starting point for a novella.

I’ve no quarrel with this, though we feel that a 30-35,000 word-count is right for us. In the two novellas we’ve published, that space was a natural length to produce a well-rounded story, neither padded nor truncated. We felt it was a length to give good value to our readers, which is important to us.

A short novel is hard to define, though it’s currently suggested that 80,000 words is the minimum length for a novel. I guess a short novel is what used in Britain to be called a ‘novelette,’ anything upwards of around 40,000 words. This is an atmospheric old word that is reappearing in indie author’s book descriptions and we’re pleased to see it back. ‘Novelette’ conjures up nostalgic thoughts of garish covers and  exciting yarns like Leslie Charteris’s Simon Templar – The Saint – and hard-boiled Chandler and Hammett. Fast-moving adventure stories used to lend themselves to shorter fiction – perhaps until modern publisher-pressure.

Some authors do use the terms novella and novelette for as little as 25-30 pages.  This seems an unwise strategy. Though their work looks longer on the sales page, I’ve noticed angry reviews where readers’ expectations are misled. To pre-empt complaints of being short-changed by a short story, it’s worth making the length eye-catchingly clear in the blurb.

So, why write a novella? The main reason surely is because a writer wants to explore an idea that doesn’t lend itself to an average-length novel but is beyond the limitations of a short story. A story has its own natural length and far better to offer that to your readership than pad a plot in order to charge a higher price.

It’s natural to perceive larger goods as being better value but some of our most iconic fiction has a surprisingly short word count. Think of Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (135 pages) and The Sign of Four (154), John Buchan’s The Thirty-nine Steps (138) and The Power-House (108), Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male (180) or Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only 65 pages.

This doesn’t apply only to detective novels and thrillers. One of my favourite novels, J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country has  85 memorable pages. Ghost stories too, often work better at medium-length. Incidentally, few speak of these superb stories as novellas or even short novels. We’re simply glad we have them – and many writers intersperse shorter works between longer novels.

In the world of classic crime fiction, the majority of Agatha Christie’s novels are around 190-220 pages. Several written during or shortly after the Second World War are 160, perhaps due to paper shortage. Their quality is certainly no less, they include the much-loved The Body in the Library. Simenon’s Maigret novels are known for their slim volumes. Both writers had a high output.

A quick look along the shelf at many  crime novelists writing from about the 60s will show that their early novels were shorter. You can see this in the canon of Ruth Rendell. Fellow Rendell fans will know that she decided to incorporate themes of social ills in her later Wexford novels, doubling the length of her early titles. I loved them all and it’s a joy to know you’re getting a thick novel from a favourite writer. Yet I’ve come to think that Rendell’s early  mysteries are stronger. The plot of a murder and its detection has a natural progression which is often better for not being expanded. Another of my all-time favourite detective novelists is Emma Page. Her titles are often 180-200 pages .

Don’t get me wrong – I love to curl up with a fat novel. Two of my favourite writers are Trollope and Wilkie Collins, who average 500-700 pages. Trouble is, I rarely get time to re-read them these days and I’m not alone in that. I’ve also seen  – again in the last few years – that many new crime novels look satisfyingly thick until you open them to find an unusually large font and wide line spacing. Do the big publishers think readers won’t notice? I imagine this trend is to justify the staggeringly high price of new hardbacks – and possibly to recoup going on a table display in Waterstones’?

Readers’ expectations seem to be changing in  ways, especially relevant to indie authors who deal mainly in ebooks. We’re living in an over-worked, stressed, time-poor society. Reading – thankfully for our mental health – is as popular as ever. Maybe even more so with people who weren’t drawn to books, finding they enjoy reading on devices. Many people now want a medium-length read they can enjoy on their phone while commuting. Others want to relax with a novella over an evening or two. Sadly, fewer have the time to commit to a lengthy novel.

Another factor in the rise of novellas/novelettes is satisfying the readers who expect frequent titles. Again, this phenomenon only applies to indie authors. Traditionally, readers have expected to wait for a yearly treat from favourite authors, or even a couple or more years. Especially if they’re longing to follow a series and the author has more than one on the go or fancies writing a stand-alone.

These days in our frantic-paced culture, the received wisdom is that readers expect more than a single ebook a year from authors they like. Industry trends strongly suggest that ebook readers’ expectations have gone haywire. We’re told that standalones won’t sell well and we need to get a series on sale fast or our name will be forgotten by readers who enjoyed our first title. And we all know, some readers expect our carefully-crafted months of work to be handed over for 99p! Publishing shorts does go some way towards retaining readers’ interest.

We will always love writing novels but have really enjoyed working on two novellas so far – one for each of our main detective characters. It feels refreshing and fun between the long-haul – maybe like running a half-marathon. Many indie authors are interspersing their fiction with novellas and short stories. It can be a great way of trying out an idea for a spin-off series or exploring a secondary character in greater depth. This is something we’re considering with our historical adventures and Victorian thrillers.

And we’re not alone. In traditionally published crime fiction, famous names such as Alison Joseph and Lesley Cookman have started novella series between their novels. I’m looking forward to Lesley Cookman’s second novella in her The Alexandrians Series which is out on 31st Jan (now on pre-order). She’s had the inspired idea of taking the Nethergate seaside theatre featured in her wonderful Libby Sarjeant series and using that as an Edwardian setting.

Between all these factors, I think we’ve only seen the start of authors producing novellas and short novels. Thanks to technology, writers now have a freedom to write as they choose. An opportunity unseen since the nineteenth century when small presses abounded and individuals sold topical chap-books in the street. It’s exciting to think that indie authors are leading the way.

What do you think? Don’t be shy – we’d love to hear thoughts from other authors.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to comment. One of the great things about the indie authors’ community is the spirit of openness – sharing experience,  helpful tips and support.

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Mystery Reading

If you enjoy a wintry mystery, do look at our new detective novella The Holly House Mystery. Available on Kobo and Kindle as well as in paperback.  Thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far.

The novella is set on the Sussex downs in the last days of 1931 and features Inspector Eddie Chance who first appeared in The Seafront Corpse.

An affectionate homage to Golden Age detective fiction and the enclosed world of country house murder.

If you enjoy the book please do leave a review on the online selling sites and Goodreads. And if you could share this and tell your friends about The Holly House Mystery we’d be very grateful. Reviews help Indie Authors stay in business.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

December 1931. Inspector Chance investigates a country house mystery in a snow-bound Sussex village. Family and guests are gathered for Christmas at Holly House. A body is discovered near the ruins in the grounds. And only one set of footprints in the snow…

Can Inspector Chance solve the murder before Scotland Yard is called in?

The Holly House Mystery is a 34000 word novella, complete in itself, the second title in the Inspector Chance Mystery Series.

What Readers are saying about Inspector  Chance’s first appearance in The Seafront Corpse

“An excellent depiction of good old fashioned detective work.”

“An enjoyable trip down memory lane, authentically written.”

“Excellent period detective piece. Couldn’t put it down.”

“The mystery was good, the characters were GREAT!!”

To order just click on this link:

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The Saint – “Meet the Tiger”

It’s hard to believe that the Saint, Simon Templar, has been entertaining readers for nearly ninety years. Not only in the wonderful books by Leslie Charteris, but in films, on television and radio, and in comic strips.Saint Novel.jpg

I’ve read the Saint books now for many years, but had never read Meet the Tiger, his first appearance in print in 1928, written by an author who was only about twenty years of age, as one of a series of thrillers for the publishers Ward Lock.

Meet the Tiger is an astonishingly assured book for such a young author, though Charteris rather frowned on the title in later years, suggesting that the Saint’s real debut should be in the slightly later volume Enter the Saint. The Saint doesn’t even get a credit in the title – the Tiger is the villain – though this omission was corrected in later editions.

You can see why Charteris was unsure. The Saint as portrayed in Meet the Tiger is not quite the Simon Templar we come to know and love in later volumes in the chronicles. He’s not so self-assured, the witty repartee is not, well, so witty , and he’s not so brave. There is a sequence where Templar is lost in some caves when he comes close to panic. But then the Saint of Meet the Tiger is portrayed as a slightly younger man than subsequently.

Charteris seems to have been so unsure with his hero’s first appearance that he left the Saint alone for a couple of years after Meet the Tiger and wrote novels with other heroes. The Saint of Enter the Saint and subsequent books marks the most wonderful readjustment of any other hero in thriller writing.

Meet the Tiger is fast-moving, elegantly written and sows the seeds for a character who was to become one of the icons of thrillerdom and known and adored by millions of readers around the world. Every fan of the Saint should seek out his first appearance.

In this book the Saint is in Devon seeking out a villainous mastermind called The Tiger. All we know at the beginning is that the Tiger is living in the seaside village of Baycombe. We don’t know who he is and neither does the Saint. This is very much a who-is-it rather than a who-dun-it. In typically Saintly fashion, Templar is more interested in laying his hands on the Tiger’s boodle as much as bringing him to justice.

The Saint of this first book has some of the attachments of his later life. He has his manservant, Orace, a wonderful creation who plays a bigger part here than in the subsequent tales where he makes briefer appearances. I’m rather a fan of Orace. A pity in a way that Charteris never used him in quite the same way again.

The book marks the very first appearance of the Saint’s girlfriend Patricia Holm, surely one of the most delightful heroines ever to grace a page of any thriller. In fact, for some long portions of Meet the Tiger she makes much of the running, while the Saint himself is off-page. One of the reasons I love the early Saint books the best is because of the presence of Miss Holm. Saint books without her are never quite the same.

While this early book doesn’t have Templar’s famous police adversary Claud Eustace Teal, it has a kind of first attempt at him in the shape of Inspector Carn. (Interestingly, in his early literary experimentation, Charteris wrote a story with Teal as the hero, before he ever encounters the Saint.)

Meet the Tiger is a tremendously exciting read. Even if you guess who the Tiger is – and I did – there is still another terrific twist in the tale.

I do think Leslie Charteris – a wonderfully creative, witty and innovative writer – was hard on this early appearance of The Saint. For a writer barely out of his teens it’s a remarkably well-written and assured debut. Eventually it re-appeared in a editions with the Saint getting a mention in the title. I’m unclear if Leslie Charteris revised the text at all – perhaps one of my Saintly readers might know?

 

 

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John Buchan’s “The Island of Sheep”

I have over the past couple of years blogged on all of John Buchan’s Richard Hannay thrillers, with the exception of The Island of Sheep (known in some American editions as The Man From the Norlands), published in 1936 and the last pure thriller Buchan wrote before his untimely death in 1940, during his period of office as Governor-General of Canada.

I first read John Buchan when I was in my teens. He remains one of my favourite authors; to my mind nobody quite did what he liked to call ‘shockers’ quite as well. I can well remember my first teenage reading of The Island of Sheep, by candlight in a tent on a camping expedition. The story gripped me then and has since, though I know it almost by heart.

Richard Hannay is the hero of some of Buchan’s finest novels, from The Thirty-Nine Steps, through Greenmantle and Mr Standfast, to The Three Hostages. Rather like its author, the Hannay of The Island of Sheep is growing old. He feels himself to be sluggish, out of sorts, his adventurous past just memories.

Then an incident from his distant past, when he was a mining engineer in South Africa, comes back to haunt him. He recalls a siege against villains, when he came to the assistance of a Norse fortune-seeker called Haraldsen. At its resolution, Haraldsen makes Hannay and his friend Lombard swear an oath to come to the protection of himself and his family should the need ever arise.

A promise forgotten over the decades. Hannay is now a middle-aged country squire, Lombard an overweight and out of condition banker, and the third member of the trio – Peter Pienaar, the Boer hunter who appears in several Buchan novels, killed in the Great War.

Haraldsen is dead too, but his son is alive, being pursued by a gang of blackmailers and extortioners. The younger Haraldsen meets Hannay again in Norfolk, worn out, a man on the run. So Hannay and Lombard – aided by Sandy Arbuthnot, the hero of Greenmantle – find themselves secreting Haraldsen away, first at Hannay’s home in the Cotswolds, and then at Sandy’s home in the Scottish Borders.

Along the way are many adventures, including a magnificent car chase up the Great North Road – perhaps the best car chase in thrillerdom, certainly the best written.

There is another pleasing addition to the gang of allies, Hannay’s son Peter John, a keen naturalist whose knowledge of the ways of wild geese helps to save the day. Peter John is very much a chip off the old block – he is based on Buchan’s own eldest son, who himself wrote splendid memoirs of his life in Scotland and adventures in natural history. Buchan dedicated this book to his son.

After alarms and excursions in the Scottish borders, the action moves to Haraldsen’s home, the Island of Sheep of the title, set in the wild landscapes of the Faeroe Islands, where the action comes to an exciting climax in what can only be described as a Viking ending.

To my mind, no writer comes close to Buchan in describing wild landscapes, whether it be the meadows and woodlands of the Cotswolds, the glens and hillsides of the Scottish Borders, or the windswept islands of the north Atlantic. His knowledge of the land came from his own explorations. He was, for all his life, a great walker and considerable rock climber. He captures the spirit of the place in a way that haunts your mind long after you’ve finished reading one of his books.

I’ve walked many of the landscapes which inspired Buchan. He got them right. He was also a very fine literary artist. Probably one of the best writers who turned his hand to writing thrillers. No matter how many times I read his books, I always want to start again.

If any writer inspired me to write the kind of books I do, it is John Buchan, though I make not the slightest claim to have anything like his great genius for such stories. My own Scottish thriller Balmoral Kill is my own small tribute to this wonderful writer.

It is pleasing to see that Buchan is now taken seriously as a great Scottish novelist, after years of being sidelined and saddled with misconceptions by critics who rarely actually read what he wrote or studied the truth about his life.

The Island of Sheep is a fine conclusion to the Richard Hannay stories.

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The Holly House Mystery – in paperback, on Nook, Kobo and Kindle

Our new detective novella The Holly House Mystery is now available on Nook and Kobo as well as on Kindle and in paperback.  Thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far.  THE HOLLY HOUSE MYSTERY: An Inspector Chance Murder Mystery (An Inspector Chance Mystery Book 2) by [Bainbridge, John]

The new book is set on the Sussex downs in 1931, in the days between Christmas and the New Year, and features Inspector Eddie Chance of the Tennysham CID.

If you enjoy the book please do leave a review on the online selling sites and Goodreads. And if you could share this and tell your friends about The Holly House Mystery we’d be very grateful. Reviews help Indie Authors stay in business.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

December 1931. Inspector Chance investigates a country house mystery in a snow-bound Sussex village. Family and guests are gathered for Christmas at Holly House. A body is discovered near the ruins in the grounds. And only one set of footprints in the snow…

Can Inspector Chance solve the murder before Scotland Yard is called in?

The Holly House Mystery is a 34000 word novella, complete in itself, the second book in the Inspector Chance Mystery Series.

What Readers are saying about Inspector Eddie Chance’s first appearance in The Seafront Corpse

“An excellent depiction of good old fashioned detective work.”

“An enjoyable trip down memory lane, authentically written.”

“Excellent period detective piece. Couldn’t put it down.”

“The mystery was good, the characters were GREAT!!”

To order just click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4GCWHR/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1482419497&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Holly+House+Mystery

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