As most will already know, sadly, author Peter Robinson died in October 2022. Mainly known for the DCI Alan Banks series, it’s that series that I wanted to write about.
The DCI Banks novels are set in the fictional English town of Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales. Robinson has stated that Eastvale is modelled on Ripon and Richmond and is somewhere north of Ripon. A former member of the London Metropolitan Police, Inspector Alan Banks leaves the capital for a quieter life in the Dales. Of course, a quieter life is the last thing Banks finds as he investigates a series of crimes in the Yorkshire town. Banks is an everyman, and the character works all the better for it, and the openness with which is flaws and foibles are shown.
“Gallows View”, book 1, introduces Banks to the reader to Eastvale and the team, not to mention his wife and children. This gives a wonderful sense of place, the characters are on the whole fully rounded, and the crimes/solutions make sense.
Thankfully, that is how the series continues. Each book can standalone, but they, of course, make more sense if you read them as a series and you get to follow the lives, careers and happenings in each character. Banks first appeared in print in 1987 and ran for 28 books, not including short stories. I read the first novel back in 2013 and after that I read 19 of the books, in fairly quick succession. Given that that is the same number I stopped on for Stephanie Plum, 19 seems to be about my limit for a series.
One of my favourite characters was always Annie Cabbot, she grows in confidence and ability through the series. If you’re also into Ian Rankin’s work, Annie is in much the same role as Siobhan.
Like all long series this one has its really strong instalments, and it’s weaker one, but there wasn’t one I didn’t enjoy. Of all the books, I’m torn on giving my favourite. I loved “Gallows View” and the way it bring the reader into the series, but of the following books, here are a few that stood out for me.
“In a Dry Season” caught my attention because at the time of reading I was working in the water industry, and I know the kind of emotions seeing those drowned villages reappear can bring some people.
“Aftermath” was just brilliant and chilling, not to mention a shocking revelation of a serial killer.
“The Summer that Never Was” was a brilliant examination of the way childhood friends drift apart as adults, and why their childhoods were never quite what they remembered.
Then “A Piece of My Heart” and its link with music festivals, aging rock stars and the effects of friendship, really stayed with me for some time.
Banks did become a TV series, staring Stephen Tompkinson, but I never watched them because I couldn’t see Tompkinson as Banks. The actor and the man in my imagination just didn’t gel. But TV shows are never as good as the books, so if you’ve never read Banks, I highly recommend that you give him a try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Firstly, I will specify that I am talking about the 2012 film with Tom Cruise, not the series that I haven’t watched.
When I first read “Killing Floor” was I captivated. I loved that book. Found it absolutely stunning. I almost immediately read the next three.
“Killing Floor” was one of those books that really defines the phrase page-turner. I felt I had to keep reading because I didn’t want to miss a thing and I needed to know what happened next.
The scene that stayed with me most clearly was the fight in the prison’s washroom, just because he’d put on his cell mates glasses. That was class.
The rest of the book is just as good, and the way that the plot reveals itself keeps the reader interested. In other words, it was a great book.
Then I heard that of all the actors out there, Tom Cruise was going to play Reacher. I was at CrimeFest when Lee Childs was interviewed about the fact. The mere idea of an actor 5 foot 7 playing a character that’s 6 foot 5 just doesn’t work for me. It’s not that I think Tom Cruise is a bad actor, but he’s not the best, he has done some really good movies. His best, I think, is “A Few Good Men”. He was simply brilliant in that. But I can’t see him as an action figure, not even given that he’s about toy sized. Add in that what little I know of him from the tabloids doesn’t appeal either, nothing much appeals about watching him play Reacher.
To be honest, I haven’t read a Reacher since I found out about the movie. So did that ruin the series for me? No, not really. Given what I’ve said above about Tom Cruise, it might not be a surprise to hear that I’ve not watched the movie. Ergo, the movie can’t have ruined the books for me.
So, what did? What stopped me reading Reacher? Well, honestly, the books ruined it for me. I got to book four, and I realised that there was just such a formula that I wasn’t interested anymore, even when he got the house and seemed to get the girl, I didn’t care, because I’d already learned from the CrimeFest interview that Reacher wouldn’t be keeping the house. Which meant that the old formula was going to come back.
Spoiler alert: The formula is that Reacher strolls into town, sees a problem, gets in trouble for trying to help, sleeps with the girl, sorts the problem, leaves never to return.
I can see why some readers would be happy with that time and again, I wasn’t. So, like Reacher, I moved on, and I’m not likely to go back.
If you like Reacher, please don’t let this personal opinion put you off. Books are about entertainment, and if you’re entertained, carry on enjoying them.
Winter in Aberdeen: murder, mayhem and terrible weather…
It s DS Logan McRae s first day back on the job after a year off on the sick, and it couldn t get much worse. Three-year-old David Reid s body is discovered in a ditch, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. And he s only the first. There s a serial killer stalking the Granite City and the local media are baying for blood.
Soon the dead are piling up in the morgue almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going missing. More are going to die. And if Logan isn t careful, he could end up joining them…
The first of Stuart MacBride’s that I’ve tried and I really enjoyed it.
Logan is a typical damaged hero, rubbish love life, drinks a bit and doesn’t have a great relationship with all of his superior officers. This volume deals with the murder and mutilations of a number of young children (under-fives), and as such there were sections I found particularly hard to get through, but it was well worth the effort.
Logan and the team are vividly and realistically drawn, though there is still one question that came up at the start of the book I don’t think was entirely answered by the end, but Jackie doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
A great start to a series and I’ll be reading more.
I wasfortunate to have met with Victoria thanks to an interview at CrimeTime FM about the Gwyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, and again at CrimeFest this year. I’m very pleased to bring you an interview with Victoria about her latest release.
Twelve-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.
When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murders, questions remain as to his guilt – questions that ultimately destroy both women. Nearly 20 years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free – or bury her deeper?
Clearly “Truly Darkly Deeply” is a dark and psychological thriller that is going to take the reader through some intense emotions. And there’s a sense of uncertainty throughout the book as to what really happened. What took you to the place from which this story developed?
Those familiar with my work, will know all about my fascination with true crime and the criminal psyche- though what intrigues me just as much as the mentality of evil is how serialists are able to dupe those close to them. That it’s possible to share your life with one without ever suspecting it.
So, it’s fair to say I’m more than a little bit obsessed with serial killers! However, I was keen to approach what can feel like a well-worn genre from a fresh perspective.
Much has been written from the viewpoint of the serial killer’s wife, but it struck me that very little has been penned from the viewpoint of a child. I wanted to explore that relationship and its legacy whilst also as looking at what it means to be a monster – and to love one.
The book is told in dual timelines, the stories unfolding in parallel, what did you do to ensure it was clear to both yourself and the readers which timeline they are in at any one point? Were there any tools you used to take you to the right timeframe, e.g. music or imagery?
Music, fashion references and nods to current events were all ways of signposting to the reader when we were in the past.
I grew up in the 80’s and so one of the highlights of writing Truly Darkly Deeply was tapping into my childhood memories and bringing them back to life on the page. Like Sophie, I listened to Madonna (who didn’t back then?!) made a Royal Wedding scrapbook and still remember vividly coming home from school to be told we were at war with Argentina.
The book remains in the first person throughout, so the reader can only know what Sophie knows. While first person is one of the most intimate ways to write, drawing the reading up close and personal, for many writers it’s also one of the hardest stand points to do well. Why did you feel that this story was best told in this way, and were there stumbling blocks were you desperately wanted to show something Sophie couldn’t know?
The first person is actually the viewpoint I’m most comfortable with since it enables you to literally step inside your character’s skin. In this instance, it was the natural choice because of the personal nature of the narrative- particularly its reflective tone and retrospective elements. The fun part was allowing the reader glimpses of what ‘child’ Sophie couldn’t possibly know but what ‘adult’ Sophie had come to suspect!
Given the levels of uncertainty that are examined in the book, do you know the truth about Matty’s guilty or innocence? (Yes or No is a sufficient answer if you want it to be.)
We do find out in the end, yes! I couldn’t leave that question unanswered!!
Without spoilers, because we don’t want to harm a good read, what is the overriding message or emotion that you want your readers to take away from the read? What do you think they’ll be thinking about in the years after they’ve read Truly Darkly Deeply?
There are two sides to Truly, Darkly, Deeply: a coming of age narrative and a serial killer thriller. A tale of the triumph of hope over despair; of losing everything only to find what you really need is inside you all along.
You are a busy mum of two, you work on the Crime Time FM podcast, and now your second novel is out. What’s next for you?
Writing is both my career and my passion so I’ll be writing until I’m told, ‘No more, thank you!’ As well as writing though, I’m also very much involved in building up Crime Time FM with my co-hosts, Paul Burke and Barry Forshaw and by the time Truly, Darkly, Deeply comes out, I’ll have just MC’d the Daggers and be getting ready for my book tour.
If there is anything else you want to highlight or let the readers know, feel free to add it here.
I have a newsletter in which I offer sneak previews of upcoming titles, run giveaways and give an insight into my life as an author. If you’re interested, you can sign up here: http://www.victoriaselmanauthor.com/
Victoria Selman is the author of the critically acclaimed Ziba MacKenzie series. Her debut novel, Blood for Blood, was shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger and an Amazon Charts #1 bestseller for five weeks, selling over half a million copies.
Victoria has written for the Independent, co-hosts Crime Time FM with critics, Barry Forshaw and Paul Burke, compiles the Afraid of the Light charity anthology series and was shortlisted for the 2021 CWA Short Story Dagger.
Her first standalone thriller, Truly, Darkly, Deeply, is being published as Quercus’ flagship crime thriller title on July 7th 2022 and has been receiving praise from household names such as Patricia Cornwell, S.J. Watson and Alex Michaelides.
What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.
And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.
But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…
Warmly funny, rich with quirky characters and absurd situations, The Rabbit Factor is a triumph of a dark thriller, its tension matched only by its ability to make us rejoice in the beauty and random nature of life.
I picked this book up because I was in CrimeFest and I’d attended one panel with Antti Tuomainen. As soon as he mentioned beating someone to death with a giant rabbit ear, I thought “that book’s for me!” And I was right.
I loved this book from start to finish – Finnish even. No? Oh, okay then.
The very first scene is the beating a man to death with a rabbit ear, but you have no idea why. And then the why unfolds. Or maybe it unravels, because that is certainly the way Henri’s life feels, an unravelling.
I have a great deal of respect for Henri. He’s an actuary, he calculates everything. I love maths, and many years ago was accepted onto an actuarial degree course, then life happened, and I couldn’t go. But Henri did and he is very good at it. Also, Henri can’t stand touchy-feely emotionally connective management speak. Totally with you there Henri.
And he had a haughty cat, what cat owner doesn’t? This one is Schopenhauer. I love Schopenhauer. I just kind of wanted Schopenhauer to have had a more active role, but there again, cat, it’ll do what it wants.
Anyway, Henri loses his job, a job he loved – other than the management twaddle – and then he loses his brother. Who leaves him an adventure park. Note that it is an adventure park, not an amusement park, Henri is most particular about that. Then things really change for Henri.
As a fish out of water story, this one is a doozy. As the tale of an innocent caught up in a criminal world, it’s a cracker. It even works as a character sketch of a cat and a pessimist (the philosopher, not the cat, though, who knows…). There’s even a bit of a love story for the softer of heart, but not so much the harder of heart will sneer and put it aside. In other words the funny, the criminal, the ouch and the ahhs are all in perfect balance.
There were a couple of phrases that jumped out when I was reading as lost in translation, but that might be just me not getting it.
This book is just wonderful, and it should be read. Highly recommend.
A robbery in Scotland might not seem like an unusual background for a crime novel-until it’s put into the hands of one of the U.K.’s leading satirists, Christopher Brookmyre. Now available for the first time in the U.S., The Sacred Art of Stealing is narrative catnip for fans of crime fiction laced with dark humour.
This is how the story goes: Their eyes met across a crowded room. She was just a poor servant girl and he was the son of a rich industrialist … Well, the eyes meeting across a crowded room part is true. Where it differs from the fairy tales is that the room in question was crowded with hostages and armed bank-robbers, and Zal Innez’s eyes were the only part of him that Angelique de Xavia could see behind his mask. Angelique had enough to be fed up about before the embarrassment of being a cop taken hostage by the most bizarrely unorthodox crooks ever to set foot in Glasgow. Disillusioned, disaffected and chronically single, she’s starting to take stock of the sacrifices she’s made for a job that’s given her back nothing but grief. So when her erstwhile captor has the chutzpah to phone her at work and ask her out on a date, Angelique finds herself in no great hurry to turn him in. She knows now that the cops will never love her back, but maybe one of the robbers will.
The above is the current blurb from Amazon. However, here’s the blurb from the back of the book from my shelves, the blurb that had me buying the book.
Let us prey…
The press tend to talk about back robberies as being daring, ingenious and audacious. They don’t describe many as Dadaist, even the ones who know what ‘Dadaist’ means. But how else does one explain choreographed dancing gunmen in Buchanan Street, or the surreal methods they use to stay one step ahead of the cops?
Angelique de Xavia is no art critic, but she is a connoisseur of crooks, and she’s sure that the heist she got caught up in wasn’t the work of the usual awn-off-and-black-tights practitioners. She knows she’s dealing with a unique species of thief, and it’s her job to hunt him to extinction – though the fact that is not just his MO that’s cute might prove a distraction.
This was the first Christopher Brookmyre I ever read, and I loved it!
The robbery is daring, ingenious and audacious. I might even agree it was Dadaist if I understood what Dadaist was. What I do know is that it’s very funny, incredibly well written and not at all what I was expecting.
That robbery is the book’s inciting incident and from there it honestly just gets better. It definitely goes places that as a reader I started wondering ‘how on earth is all this going to tie together?’ But it does. And quite beautifully too.
This was one of the first crime novels I ever read that actually made me laugh for all the right reasons – I’d laughed at a few because they were that bad, but this book is meant to be mirthful and it is.
I highly recommend this book and many of his others. After this instalment, I went back and read Brookmyre’s earlier work, and became quite a devotee, turning to buying the hardbacks because I couldn’t wait for the books to come out, I read it all. Right up to Pandeamonium. Which I hated. I couldn’t even finish it, and I haven’t read anything he’s written since. If you like Pandeamonium and beyond, then fair enough, but I’ve not been able to get back into his work since.
I’ve been getting around to reading some of the work from fellow Crime Cymru members. Started with this one as I usually read UK based books, and this was a little further away.
A game of cross and double-cross in Venice, one of the most beautiful cities on earth.
From his office on the Street of the Assassins, Nathan Sutherland enjoys a steady but unexciting life translating Italian DIY manuals. All this changes dramatically when he is offered a large sum of money to look after a small package containing an extremely valuable antique prayer book illustrated by a Venetian master. But is it a stolen masterpiece – or a brilliant fake?
Unknown to Nathan, from a vast mansion on the Grand Canal twin brothers Domenico and Arcangelo Moro, motivated by nothing more than mutual hatred, have been playing out a complex game of art theft for twenty years. And now Nathan finds himself unwittingly drawn into their deadly business …
Nathan Sutherland is an Englishman aboard. In Venice – unsurprisingly, given the title. Nathan is a man alone, sitting in his Venetian flat not translating lawn mower instructions, not cooking, drinking too much, and getting bored with his position of honorary consul and helping tourists find lost directions, lost passport and their way into the hands of the Venice Police where there is in fact, very little he can do for them. The thing he does really well is feed the cat, but then with Gramsci, he would have to.
What is surprising is how Nathan gets sucked into a world of art crime. Luckily, he knows someone. Turns out, he knows several someones actually. But in this case, Federica, the art restorer, seems to be one of the most useful. Not to mention, probably the prettiest.
There is a game afoot, and one that has rather escalated from the version that turns up in most childhoods.
The story is intelligent and interesting, and it shows of its landscape well, the physical one of Venice, and the psychological one of Italian culture as seen through the eyes of an Englishman.
This is the first on the Nathan Sutherland books, and a good start it is too. Would recommend.
There are references to some great music in the first part of the book too.
The fact that Gramsci reminds me of Greebo, the cat who runs Nanny Og and everyone else ragged in Terry Pratchett’s books, actually helped make the whole thing more amusing.
About the Author
Philip Gwynne Jones was born in South Wales in 1966, and has since lived in Holland, Germany and Scotland. He first came to Italy in 1994, when he spent some time working for the European Space Agency in Frascati, a job that proved to be less exciting than he had imagined.
He spent twenty years in the IT industry before realising he was congenitally unsuited to it, and now works as a teacher, writer and translator. He lives in Venice with his wife Caroline.
He is the author of the Nathan Sutherland series, set in contemporary Venice, and his books have been translated into Italian, German and Bulgarian. The fifth book in the series, “The Venetian Legacy” will follow in April 2021. His travelogue, “To Venice With Love” is now available.
He enjoys cooking, art, classical music and opera; and can occasionally be seen and heard singing bass with the Cantori Veneziani.
I was very happy to be asked to be part of the Meal of Fortune blog tour.
Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch approaches him with an irresistible proposition – help launch the pop career of the man’s beautiful daughter.
Meanwhile, Dermot’s former girlfriend Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own rather specialised career.
Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again – thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure the Russian, in reality a vicious arms dealer, into a highly unusual trap.
That’s going to be hard enough without having to deal with a lecherous celebrity chef, a diminutive mafia enforcer with his own agenda or one very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’. And then there’s Anna’s boss, who isn’t exactly playing it straight.
If she and Dermot are going to come out of this alive, they’ll have to learn to trust each other again, and push themselves well out of their comfort zones.
But one thing’s non negotiable. They’re absolutely not going to fall in love again. That’s never going to happen, OK?
I wasn’t at all sure what I was going to get when I agreed to be on the blog tour for this book, but I can tell you I wasn’t disappointed.
Dermot is a hapless chump caught up in something he can’t possibly deal with alone, it’s that far out of his experience. Anna is a strong and archetypal hero, but she’s suffering the glass ceiling. Koslov appears on the page like thug, but the thing he’s hiding is a brain. Bukin is an oligarch with little to recommend him – except perhaps a penchant for daytime cookery quizzes and an apparently great love for his daughter.
Meal of Fortune feels like The Avengers, the original 1960s version with Patrick Macnee. It’s full of action, adventure, a little romance, and comedy. Now don’t get me wrong, this book won’t have you laughing out loud, but it has a real tongue in cheek tone and an intelligent sense of humour that doesn’t take anything too seriously and still elevates the story.
Dermot might not be the best Steed ever, but Anna is a hell of an Emma Peel.
I have two very minor criticisms of the book. The first chapter describes an attack, and by the time the next reference is make to that attack, I’d almost forgotten about it. That said, it wouldn’t have worked if it had been put in the book in chronological order, so it’s best where it is and for someone who reads faster than I do, it won’t be a problem at all. The second point is that there are a few typos that jumped out at me, such as Belgian being used where Belgium should have been, as you can see, I am talking minor errors only. And I report these just to give full disclosure.
I have a tendency to read quite gritty crime, and this was much lighter and easier to read, a very welcome break. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I am intending to read more from this author, so I really would recommend this book. I’m giving it a four not a five because it didn’t completely dazzle me, that je ne se pas was missing. That said, am sitting here wondering if should this be a five star, definitley 4.5 then.
Phil lives in west London with his wife two children and some animals, which also like to call the house home.
He is somewhat obsessed and bemused with the public and media’s fixation with celebrities of every stripe. This forms the backdrop of his books, which also tend to feature spies, gangsters, hit men and TV chefs.
His first novel, The Meal of Fortune, was published in 2017, with a second edition following in 2021. The follow up. Tinker Tailor Soldier Chef will be published in 2022.
Phil’s main rule in life is never to let tomato ketchup touch any food that is green. This may not have any deep meaning, nor may it be the soundest of principles to live by – but it’s better than many he’s come across down the years. Best not to go there though.
Thanks to Phil and Heather Fitt for inviting me on this blog tour.
I was very happy to be invited to join this blog tour, and am very pleased to be able to say that it has added to my aim this year of reading more non-UK based crime.
The Commandments – The Blurb
Former police officer Salka Steinsdóttir finds herself pitched into the toughest investigation of her life, just as she is back in the tranquil north of Iceland to recover from a personal trauma.
The victim is someone she had pursued earlier in her career – and had never been able to pin down. Now a killer has taken the law into their own hands and meted out brutal retribution for ancient crimes. Salka is faced with tracking down the murderer of a stalwart of the church and the community, a man whose dark reputation stretches deep into the past, and even into the police team tasked with solving the case.
As the killer prepares to strike again, Salka and her team search for the band of old friends who could be either killers or victims – or both.
A bestseller in Iceland, The Commandments asks many challenging questions as it takes on highly emotive and controversial issues.
Written by Óskar Guðmundsson and translated by Quentin Bates, this is a story that draws the reader in from the start. We first see the setup of the situation in 1995, it is not pleasant, and the indications are clear from the off. Then we jump to 2014 and then the real action begins. Headlines in the paper that state: “Church covers up child abuse victims tell all” really sets the scene for what’s going to happen through the book. This story deals with grooming and corruption on many levels and how powerful men will cover up for others, until the victims are left powerless and unbelieved.
The writing in this book, the plot and subplots, flow naturally and well, there isn’t a wasted scene. There is plenty of misdirection and hints at a great many things, some of which turn out to be real and some don’t. As a reader you don’t really know which are which until the end, which is great because it keeps you guessing and reading.
All the characters are really well-drawn, they feel like real people with real lives, another huge positive. The investigator, Salka is an interesting character, a lost and lonely woman with a past, and real potential for the future – assuming she doesn’t blow it. Her reality only truly reveals itself on the very last page and it is a surprise, but it also explains so much about the way she is as a woman and as a police officer.
The final resolution is two-fold, the first revelation surprised me, which it probably shouldn’t have done. The second didn’t, though it probably should have. I like that I was surprised, it means I was kept guessing till the end and a good crime novel should do that.
The thing that tripped me up through the book was the names. Obviously, they are Icelandic and most of them were no problem at all, the people (except one) were easily nameable, and I think I’d make a good attempt at pronunciation – but I’ve no idea how to say many of the mentioned places. Reykjavik, Grenvik, those were fine, but in my head, the others slowed me right down and I had to really think to read them syllable but syllable, which in turn threw me out of the rhythm of the story. This is most definitely an issue with me and not with the book, I’m reporting this as my reader experience not criticising the book.
The subject matter of this book is a tough one and I think that it was handled with care and sensitivity. However, the nature of the subject did make for a tough emotional read at times. It makes the reader stop and think, which again a good book should.
I can easily see why this book will get a great many 5* reviews however, I’m giving it 4*. The reason for this is that it didn’t have that undefinable quality that meant I just had to keep reading – don’t get me wrong once I was reading it, I loved it, it really is well written/translated. But there were several times when I thought, oh I could sit and read now, that the idea of reading this particular book meant I didn’t. This is clearly much more of a me issue than an issue with the book, so other readers shouldn’t necessarily be put off by my assessment. In reviewing I have to be totally honest, and the stop-the-world-I-have-to-read-this-now factor was missing for me.
I really do think that a great many crime readers will absolutely love this book, and I would highly recommend it.
About the Author and Translator
One of the rising stars of Icelandic crime fiction, Óskar Guðmundsson has been writing since he was a youngster, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that his novel Hilma was published – and was an immediate success, winning the Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic crime novel of 2015. This was followed by a sequel, Blood Angels, in 2018.
The first of his books to be published in an English translation, The Commandments is a standalone novel which appeared in Iceland in 2019. All of Óskar’s books have been bestsellers and rewarded with outstanding reviews. The TV rights to Hilma have been acquired by Sagafilm.
His latest book is The Dancer, which has been published simultaneously as an ebook, audiobook and paperback – accompanied by an original song in which Óskar’s words have been put to music featuring some of Iceland’s leading musicians.
Óskar’s talents don’t end there, as he’s also an artist and has held a number of exhibitions of his work.
Óskar Guðmundsson is the kick-ass breath of fresh air that Icelandic crime fiction has been waiting for
Quentin’s roots in Iceland go very deep. In addition to writing fiction of his own, he has translated into English books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Ragnar Jónasson and others. One of the original founders of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.
Today I’m pleased to be part of The Sheltand Winter Mystery for Marsail Taylor and Reading Between the Lines blog tours
I understand you live and work on Sheltand, what drew you to the island and what’s your favourite place there?
Well, the answer’s rather prosaic: we were advised, at teacher training college, to apply to every region in Scotland with fingers crossed, as jobs were scarce. My first offer of a job was a letter from the Shetland Director of Education, saying there were two vacancies for a French/English teacher in Shetland. I knew I wanted to be in the country and near the sea, and I liked the idea of a small school, so I chose Aith (school roll 180 pupils aged 5-16). My first view of Shetland was the drive to my interview there, on the most gorgeous summer day, along quiet roads with green, green hills on one side and the sea dancing on the other. I fell in love straight away. That was forty years ago in August …
My favourite place is what’s called “the Minn” locally – Swarback’s Minn, the hand-shaped piece of water between Aith, Brae and the wild Atlantic – my sailing territory. There are headlands with a variety of birds, beaches with seals basking and otters ducking under, porpoises and I’ve even seen a humpbacked whale, all within sailing distance of the marina, which is only 400m from my front doorstep. On a good day I can get from doorstep to the middle of the voe with the sails up and engine off in 17 minutes! Yes, of course Cass’ beloved yacht Khalida bears more than a passing resemblance to my own Karima…
Shetland has its own unique dialect and I understand that you have written plays in the dialect. Will any of that dialect be seen in your novel?
The Shetland dialect is just beautiful to listen to – to hear it, have a look on BBC Sounds for Mary Blance’s Radio Shetland Books programme. The dialect’s a mixture of old Scots and Norn, the old form of Norwegian, with many words of Norse origin still in common use – the islands were Norwegian territory until 1469, and some Norn was still spoken by older folk in Victorian times. Many of my pupils speak in dialect, and I wrote the plays for them to perform at our local Drama Festival. In the novels I’ve tried to give a feel of the rhythm of the speech without putting readers off by phonetic spelling, and I’ve used dialect words where the meaning can be guessed from the context (though there’s also a glossary at the back). The grammar’s also different; for example, a Shetlander would say ‘I’m been’ to the shop, instead of ‘I have been.’ For example, if Cass’s friend Magnie was to greet her with, ‘Now then, Cass, where have you been since I last saw you?’, I’d write it as, ‘Now then, lass, where’re you been fae I saw you last?’ but it would actually sound like ‘Noo dan, Cass, whaur’s du been fae I saa dee last?’
When did you start writing, and why?
I’ve always written, since I was a child. I love telling stories. I began on my first adult novel as soon as I left University, and wrote five before I finally got a publisher for Death on a Longship – two historical romances, and three Shetland detective stories, all still unpublished. My first published works, apart from articles in the local magazine Shetland Life, were Shetland Plays and my self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland. It was meant to be a pamphlet, but so much was involved in the suffrage fight – education, working conditions, divorce, and custody laws and property ownership – and it went on for so long, from the first House of Commons bill in 1860 to partial women’s suffrage in 1919, that it ended up 320 pages.
What motivates you to write?
I write because I love doing it. Every morning after breakfast, I take a quick walk round the village, then head for my desk and get on with Cass’s latest adventure … or my Practical Boat Owner column … or a short story for our monthly local writers’ group meeting. I’m always writing something.
Who is your favourite of your characters and why?
My favourite character … hard question. I’ve got fond of them all! Cass is like a sometimes-exasperating little sister but I love her determination and fearlessness (I wish I had her head for heights!), and her cool head in a crisis. I love Gavin’s quiet sense of humour, his passion for wildlife, his unflappability. Maman is great fun when she swans on in her best dramatic fashion with a mixture of opera theatricality and French common-sense, and I enjoy Dad’s belief that his Cassie will only be truly happy when she finds a good Catholic man and has six children. Dream on, Dad! I genuinely don’t use real people in my stories, with one exception: some day my fifteen-year-old grandson is going to be asking searching questions about who inspired the engaging but naughty Peerie Charlie.
Who is your least favourite of your characters, and why?
Least favourite characters … I’ve created a few very unpleasant people. I won’t name them because of spoilers, but I think the worst are in The Shetland Sea Murders…. which just happens to be my last book. In it, Cass is on board our own tall ship, Swan, for a birthday weekend when a fishing boat goes on the rocks. The book is structured on the history of women’s suffrage and this is reflecting in the characters – so, for example, the first section links to the fight for women to get custody of their children, and involves possible child abuse; the second section links to women officials, and one character has the ambition of being Shetland’s first woman Convenor of the Council, and so on; I hope in the final chapters you’ll see Cass as a modern descendant of those determined women who drove ambulances under fire in World War I.
Tell us about your last book…
My newest book, A Shetland Winter Mystery, is set during ‘the Yules’, the old Norse word for Christmas, which has a number of traditions associated with it. One of them is that during the dark days before Christmas the ‘trows’, Shetland’s little people, are set free to roam round the houses. The book opens with Cass and Gavin waking to find little footprints in the snow around the house – and they’re not the only house to be visited. Naturally Cass begins investigating, and then a teenager disappears from the middle of a snowy field …
What’s coming next…
Well, the next Cass is half-planned and 11,000 words long – a tenth of the way! I don’t do a complete plan because it changes so much during writing, and because it’s more fun for me if I don’t know what’s going to happen next either. However, I do know it will involve the Book of the Black Arts, a book of spells stolen from the Devil himself, last seen in Cullivoe, on the north island of Yell, in Victorian times …
Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women’s suffrage in Shetland. She’s also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.
Bio copied from Amazon.
Thanks to Marsali for answering my questions, and don’t forget to see what everyone else has to say on the rest of the blog tour.