Tag Archives: Ian Rankin

Knitscotland

What’s In A Name?………..

……..Here’s a few names…………Begbie, Rebus, The Gruffalo, Tam O’Shanter, Chris Guthrie, Richard Hannay, Sherlock Holmes, Precious Ramotswe, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Jean Brodie and Dennis The Menace!!!!!!!!!

And what have they in common? Well of course they are all characters from Scottish Books and at the moment the Scottish Book Trust are running a poll to find out who is the most loved Scottish Book character of all time. The poll is being run as part of a wider programme of events on the run in to Book Week Scotland which runs from the 24th to the 30th November.

As I read through the list I realised yet again how rich, varied and fantastic Scottish literature is – it’s ever been thus and it seems to me to be as strong as ever. I found it really difficult to choose and even considered some not on the list. So here are my own famous, favourite five Scottish book characters…….

5. Art from “Young Art and Old Hector” by Neil Gunn

51PRAj6ahEL._SL500_AA300_It’s often referred to as one of the best evocations of childhood ever written – and with good reason. It tells the wonderful story of 8 year old Art growing up and his relationship with Old Hector, a local legend, who knows the surrounding land like the back of his hand and is the finest bootlegger in the area. Art is curoius, mischievous, open and so full of life. The two are old and young in harmony – and it is told wonderfully well!

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4. Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”

This is one of the books of my own childhood – I can remember reading passages from this on wild Scottish nights literally holding my breath. Discovering that Long John wasn’t all he seemed was in a sense one of my first steps in being educated about the duplicitous nature of adults!

3. Isis Whit from “Whit by Iain Banks

This story of a religious cult in Stirlingshire, which includes the wonderful delicacy of ‘haggis pakora’ brought to life ‘Whit’, my favourite character in the panoply of weird and wonderful characters that Iain Banks created. Isis, heir to the cult’s leadership, just had something very enticing, almost alluring about her and she literally leapt off the page at me!

whit

2. John Rebus from The Rebus Stories by Ian Rankin

Rebus-Splash-Screen._V401108337_SX385_SY342_There’s a way to say “John” which sums up this fabulous character – it’s the tone used by his partner Siobhan – she says it in a way which smacks of despair, disapproval, criticism, rebuke, exasperation and an almost limitless well of affection. That’s what Rebus is and what Rebus does to you. For me the greatest fictional detective of the lot!

1. Chris Guthrie from “Sunset Song / Cloud Howe / Grey Granite  – A Scots Quair” by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

hive081

If I had the choice of putting my arms round and saving someone in the world of fiction it would be Chris Guthrie (as portrayed above by Vivien Heilbron). I’d want to save and protect her from men who mistreat her, misunderstand her, disappoint her and aren’t worthy of her. Though I’d probably be no more use to her than any of the feckless men she’s lumbered with in the novels! Still, I love her so much I love her more than I love Tess of the D’Urbervilles……only just mind……but she does it for me every time!

If you are interested in reading more about Book Week Scotland and in particular if you fancy voting for your own favourite Scottish Book Character you’ll find the poll here. And if you haven’t got a favourite character, use the link anyway and vote for Chris Guthrie on my behalf!!!!!!!!!

 

What have these people got in common with Bono?……………….

Very good Mr Bono Sir! Now Can You Read The Bottom Line With The Other Eye
Very good Mr Bono Sir! Now Can You Read The Bottom Line With The Other Eye

……..I was looking at my “stats” this morning. Now if you are a blogger you’ll know what this is and how it feels. If you’re not, it’s easy to describe – it’s essentially pages and pages of information about your blog which boil down to your blog being in one of two categories – either the whole bookish world hangs on your every word or your readers are hanging on your every word by the 80/10/10 principle – that’s 80% of the readers are your family, 10% are the people you WANT to read your blog (that’s YOU by the way!) and the other 10% are eejits who never meant to end up on your blog in the first place! (In case you weren’t sure, my blog is definitely an 80/10/10 blog!)

And at this point, if you’re not a blogger, you’re wondering how the hell I would know if someone came here by accident? Well that’s the magic of blog stats – they don’t just count how many people came here from search engines – that would be too easy! They also record what they put into their search engine when they did end up here! And that’s what all these people have in common with Bono……………………. they still haven’t found what they’re looking for!!!!!!!!!

And I’m kind of glad they didn’t find what they were looking for! Because some of them are……..well……….judge for yourself! I know a lot of bloggers are writing about their favourite reads of 2013 at the moment – I will too eventually – but in the interim, here are the twenty best searches which led to my blog for 2013! (The little bit in bracketed italics is all the work of my own tiny mind though!) And a note of caution – I’ve quoted these search engine phrases exactly as they were written to find my blog – some of it might be offensive so for that, my apologies Mum!

SEARCH 1. Work Done By Ian Rankin In Tesco Apart From Books!

(Hard times obviously for the great man from Beith. There’s clearly not much money in being probably the best selling crime author in the UK! Either that or we have an early heads up that his next book is about murder among the supermarket checkout operators!)

SEARCH 2. How To Achieve A Dialect Like Judi Dench?

(I love the idea that someone thought there would be step by step instructions to Judi Denchdom! – By the way I’ve checked this myself – there aren’t! However if you want the run down on the world of the dialect, I found the dialect blog all about accents and dialects – which confirms Dame JD is a master (mistress?) of Received Pronunciation – that’s another word for “posh” – but which also calls calls me a user of “Scottish English”!!!!!!!! I feel an argument coming on!)

SEARCH 3. I’m Off The Telephone

(You have to worry for someone who needs to look this up on Google!)

SEARCH 4. Anger, fear, aggression,the dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny!

(My advice is if you know this person and they invite you round for dinner………………………….don’t go!)

SEARCH 5. Desperate Dan is a dirty old man!

(To be fair, eating cow pie can get messy!)

SEARCH 6. Sex clubs in Vienna!

(Why the hell would you come to my blog looking for this filth?????! Anyway while you’re here, you might want to try Brothel Maxim Wien on Kärntnerstrasse 61 – 1010 Vienna, Austria +43-1-503 16 20. Recently voted one of the best brothels in Vienna. Don’t believe me – it’s all here at the Brothel Vienna blog! – I kid you not!!!!!)

SEARCH 7. Gay Boys Sex Tube!

(You learn so much from the internet – I thought the only thing that came in a tube was Smarties!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

SEARCH 8. Are Fur Coats For Snobs?

(It seems that, after all, people do come to my blog hoping to find answers to the great philosophical questions of our time!)

SEARCH 9. Why Is It Important For A Male To Be Sensible?!

(A vicious smear campaign, led no doubt by the women in my house. We men shall fight this on the beaches – we will never surrender – long live the “men are eejits and we’re glad to be daft!” movement!)

SEARCH 10. What Music Does Jenny Agutter Like?

(I haven’t a clue. Have you?)

SEARCH 11. Ken White ****** The Queen

(Simply unrepeatable!! You’d probably get carted off to the Tower Of London for repeating this – and as for Ken White – clearly a man much dirtier than Desperate Dan!)

SEARCH 12. Mantel and wellies!

Capture(She’s one of the greatest novelists of our time, a veritable genius, Booker prize wins back to back, and even prepared to court controversy and abuse from the Daily Mail Hate! And STILL someone isn’t satisfied – now they want Hilary writing about wellies or writing while wearing wellies. You just can’t please some people! Anyway this is just for you, whoever you are!!!!)

SEARCH 13. Who Hasn’t Won The Booker Prize?

(Well there’s me for a start! Fortunately on this one – I’ve got quite a lot of company! I think his next question would be ‘Which Scottish footballers have never won the World Cup?!)

SEARCH 14. Why Is The Weather So Wet At The Moment?

(Classic example of stereotyping Glaswegians! Even though we grow up in the wettest city in Europe it doesn’t mean that we are all bloody meteorologists!!!

Having said that the main culprit is probably the jet stream making and moving our surface pressure systems and perhaps in accelerating, the jet stream has caused air to rise upwards through the atmosphere and create low pressure centres and therefore a greater likelihood of rain!

………What do you expect from living under rain clouds 24/7?!)

SEARCH 15. Is John Humphries Ill?

(No! John’s always a cantankerous and miserable old git! That’s what we love about him!)

SEARCH 16. Pissed In Your Chips!

(Personally I prefer salt and vinegar!)

SEARCH 17. Affair With Older Woman!

(Think this will be Dustin Hoffman searching my blog again – frequent visitor to my blog is Dustin – no sign of Mrs R though!)

SEARCH 18. Pishwas Sex Fucking!

(I’ve no idea what kind of sex “pishwas” might be – perhaps it is a specialty in Viennese brothels – so this is another one for Brothel Maxim!)

SEARCH 19. Quarter Turn Left Drive Ropes

(Eh?)

SEARCH 20. “Why Does Rabbie Burns In Ayr, From His Domain In Statue Square, Seem To Gaze On Scenes Afar, And Turn His Back On Rabbies Bar!”

(I include this for two reasons – firstly purely because it’s a poem, written on the wall of a pub, and that pub was where I spent 75% of my time as a student! The other 25% was wasted on things like lectures and reading! Rabbie’s Bar in Ayr – I salute you!

Second reason is that I plan to do these reviews of my search items periodically from now on and post them in the category “Road to Nowhere”, after the lyrics in the Talking Heads song – because I think I know where these weirdos are going but I don’t know where they’ve been!!!!!

And so this is a great place to finish because if you are ever really on the road to nowhere, then where better to stop than a pub!)

So there we have it – the best of my blog searches in 2013. There are clearly some weirdos out there if their searches are anything to go by! Then again those weirdos and their searches led to me – which probably says as much about me as it does about them – still at least I will have company in the queue for the therapists couch!

Braveheart

No Sign Of Mel Gibson!!………Ten Books That Represent My Country

………….. I first read of this idea of choosing books that represent your country on Savidge Reads and subsequently on Annabel’s House Of Books. I liked the idea of it from the start. Both of their lists were fascinating and ranged to every part of the British Isles. But doing it myself for the UK was never an option for me – partly because they’d both done it better than I could have but mainly because I think of Scotland, rather than the UK, as my country – even though I’ve not lived there for over 30 years! This isn’t a tub-thumping, Scottish Nationalist thing,  for I’ve been an exile for far too long to have any right of opinion on the politics of independence. It’s just how it is – I’ve lived more of my life out of Scotland than in it, but it’s still my home, my country. So the notion of a Tartan Ten, was already in my head when Annabel mentioned it in her comments to me – after that I began making up a short list almost instantly!

The parameters set by Simon originally were

1. Books set in your home country (I think I’ve followed that rule if you allow me a bit of poetic license here and there!)

2. Books by authors from your home country ( I think I’ve followed that rule).

3. Books that represent your country geographically ( I’ve followed that rule sometimes but where it didn’t suit me I ignored it!)

4. Books written post World War 2 (I’ve ignored that too!)

5. There should be ten. ( I didn’t exactly ignore that rule but I may have miscounted!!)

So two out of five isn’t bad – though admittedly it might only be one cos I’ve no idea if I followed Rule 2! So in the list below the caveat is I think they were born in Scotland, but if they weren’t I’ve decided to unilaterally adopt them into the race known to one and all ( well mainly known to ourselves) as Gods Chosen People – the Scots!

And I managed to avoid one rule that I set for myself – no mention of the greatest film of all time – Braveheart (unless you count that one just there!).

My Ten (or so) Books To Represent Scotland

Lanark by A Gray

Lanark by Alasdair Gray

If there is such a thing as the great Scottish contemporary novel, then I think this might well be it. It tells the story of Lanark and Duncan Thaw, moving between Glasgow of the 40’s and 50’s and the hell-like other-world of Unthank. At the time I read it, in the early 1980’s, with Scotland in the vice-like grip of Thatcher, the novel was just stunning to read. What fascinated me at the time was the contrast – and at times lack of contrast, between Glasgow life and Unthank life. I remember wondering if Unthank was a kind of vision of Glasgow and Scotland’s future during and post-Thatcher. I don’t think the collapse of morality and decency at the hands of capitalism that I’d imagined at the time came to fruition, though the banking crisis of recent years is a pretty sobering lesson! But outside of that, Lanark is a wonderful read,. It was called “the best book in 20th Century Scottish literature” by Iain Banks – and I’d wholeheartedly agree!

black-blue_rankinBlack and Blue by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin’s creation, Detective John Rebus is so much a wonderful depiction of the Scottish psyche for me. He’s a kind of William Wallace for today in my eyes, albeit without the kilt, the saltire war paint and perhaps carrying a bit more weight than Wallace did!! And of course his books are a wonderful tourist guide to Glasgow’s posh neighbour over the road – the good city of Edinburgh (although in fairness as a tourist guide it won’t necessarily show you much tartan or shortbread or castles in this tour!)

Rebus does represent so much of the Scottish character for me – on the surface he’s all sharp edges, curmudgeonly, argumentative, cynical – what we in Scotland call “thrawn!”. But underneath he’s absolutely human – there’s his generosity of spirit, the kick back at authority and posturing, his down to earthness and above all his appreciation of a decent pub! I love every Rebus story and there are many to choose from but I’ve gone with “Black and Blue” because it wonderfully weaves together a fictional story and a true life unsolved mystery – the “Bible John” murders in Glasgow in the 60’s. It’s simply Rebus and Rankin at their very very best!

Espedair StreetEspedair Street by Iain Banks

Iain Banks is simply my favourite Scottish author. From the first novel to the last I loved his books. His death in June of this year was a tragic loss to Scottish writing but he left a wonderful legacy. So I can’t envisage my country in books without an Iain Banks novel. I picked Espedair Street for three reasons – firstly Daniel Weir the main character is the most fantastic of anti-heroes, secondly it’s a brilliant tale of sex, drugs, rock and roll so what’s not to love about it and thirdly I used to live near  Espedair Street in Paisley!! We have a word in Glasgow for something that’s wonderous in every way – we call it “gallus”. However, being Glaswegians, we can add to that to make it EVEN MORE wonderous in every way – because in the way the rest of the world uses “very”, in Glasgow we use “fuckin”! Iain Banks and all his books, but especially Espedair Street, are fuckin gallus!

Cutting RoomThe Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

There are lots of shades to Glasgow like all cities – this novel includes what I think of as the dark heart of the city and the slightly more upmarket part of Glasgow – or what my mother might call the “all fur coat and no knickers” part of the city! It tells the wonderfully black tale of Rilke – he’s an “auctioneer” – which sounds dreadfully “Home Counties and BBC” – but in Glasgow “auctioneer” is simply a posh word for someone who clears crap from other people’s houses. He’s employed by the wonderfully named Miss McKindless to clear the house of her dead brother. Rilke starts by thinking he’s found a treasure trove including some lovely old porn novels in the old man’s study – however hidden in among them is a brown envelope stuffed with photographs of a woman being sexually tortured and murdered. From there on, as Rilke turns into a sort of amateur sleuth, you journey with him through a Glasgow awash with bent coppers, transvestites who’d fancy their changes of beating the shit out of Mike Tyson and a kind of inner sanctum of pornographers! It’s a wonderful portrayal of the Glasgow that all the stone-blasting of buildings, all the city regeneration schemes and all the investment in being European City of Culture and the like never had a chance of washing away!!

swing-hammer_torrington

Swing Hammer Swing by Jeff Torrington

This is another tour of Glasgow in some ways – but this one is of the city working class in the 60’s, the bars they frequent and their love lives. Thomas Clay is a failed novelist/artist/philosopher – but then everybody in Glasgow is a failed novelist/artist/philosopher – even the ones who are a success at something are usually tormented by the novel that got away! Clay is being tracked by a sinister presence so he tries to stay one step ahead of whatever it is that’s coming his way. His wife Rhona is pregnant, his bit on the side, Becky McQuade is a form of sex-on-tap and much of Glasgow is waiting on something better – it’s just not sure what! In some respects there isn’t really a plot to Swing Hammer Swing – it’s more a diatribe of every thing Thomas thinks, says, hears and does. It’s shot through with Glasgow dialect – Christ knows how anybody from anywhere outside of the M8 motorway is able to read it. At one part of the novel Thomas predicts that someday, bingo will be on offer in public libraries! I loved the idea then and still love it. I work in local government – if there’s ever a brainstorming session about the future of our public libraries I won’t be able to resist chucking this in!

Not Not While The GiroNot Not While The Giro by James Kelman

This collection of stories focuses on the working class communities, people who are socially very much on the periphery of life. They are mainly about young men who are rootless, directionless and lost and they are all in some way or other waiting for something – usually for a pint in a pub, or their turn at a snooker table or for their “dole money” in the post. I chose this because above all it reminds me of my home town in Greenock. As a young man in the early eighties I was unemployed at a time when much of Scotland was in the same boat! There has always been a debate about whether or not Kelman’s books are literature at all never mind whether or not they are good! Even when he won the Booker, his book was famously counted as having used the word “Fuck” 4000 times throughout it’s pages and one of the judges described it as “crap really!” But there is  no debate for me – these stories are part of my growing up and I adored them!

Para handyPara Handy Tales by Neil Munro

We are not all gritty kitchen sink social realism in Scotland! Neil Munro’s tales of the crew of the ‘on-its-last-legs’ boat “The Vital Spark” sees Para Handy, the skipper, (if I remember rightly ‘Para Handy’ is the Gaelic name for the skipper, Peter) and his crew of Dougie the first mate (a man who puts the super into superstitious”!), Dan McPhail the engineer and Sunny Jim the deck hand, who lives up to his name in name only! The Vital Spark plies its trade (barely) on the River Clyde, and up and down the West Coast of Scotland. It visits all the Firth of Clyde places of my childhood – Dunoon, Rothesay, Inellan, Millport etc. !! The desperate barely seaworthy state of the boat is pretty much matched by their sea-skills! But much as the chaotic and shambolic situations they get themselves into are hilarious, what is really special about the stories are the characters themselves from the tight-as-a-duck’s-arse, crafty, Para Handy to the slightly camp, slightly effeminate engineer Dan, with his mutual love of engines and bodice-ripper paperback stories!! They made it into a television series in Scotland and the Para Handy role was played by a masterful Scottish actor called Roddy McMillan. When I re-read the books after the TV series all I could see and hear in my head was the indignation on the face and in the tone of the voice of McMillan at the latest scandalous remark from the hapless Dan McPhail!

Scots QuairA Scot’s Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

I’m cheating just a little here by including this in my ten as it is actually three books, Sunset Song, Cloud Howe and Grey Granite, that tell the story of Chris Guthrie, a young woman in the North East of Scotland, moving from the hard, rural life of her adolescence to adulthood and marriage. It’s a wonderful depiction of rural Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century and describes the development of the working class of Scotland up to, through and beyond the horrors of the 14-18 War. There’s such a strong socialist feel to much of the books and this is hardly surprising for Gibbon (real name James Leslie Mitchell) was a committed Marxist. But for all the politics and social commentary in the books, Chris is simply a wonderful heroine. I read her first as a young man, not long after I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which I loved. For me Chris Guthrie was, and remains in my head, the Scottish Tess! Although she’s not as lost or as vulnerable as Tess she still made me feel that all I’d want to do would be to wrap her up and protect her! Generally the first book, Sunset Song, has long been regarded as a classic of Scottish literature but for me Cloud Howe was the best of the three – and together they are wonderous!

Rapture by Carol Ann DuffyRapture by Carol Ann Duffy

In the same way that I couldn’t even begin to contemplate listing 10 books that represent my country without Iain Banks and Ian Rankin, equally I couldn’t envisage it without Carol Ann Duffy. Although she spent much of her life in England she was born in Glasgow so I’m happy to claim her as one of our own! Rapture isn’t about any part of Scotland, but it is about love – especially the twists and turns of it and the highs and lows of it. We do that as well as anybody else – and from the days of Robert Burns we’ve been bloody good as a nation at writing about love. Rapture is a collection that seems to capture love at every turn and in every facet – it goes from the longing to the downright creepy in places! As she writes “Falling in love is glamorous hell!”. It certainly is – maybe that’s what we love about it more than anything else!

A Choosing by Liz LochheadA Choosing by Liz Lochhead

For all that Carol Ann Duffy is the best loved and the best known of Scottish poets, she’s not for me as naturally and wholly Scottish as Liz Lochhead is. Perhaps that difference between them isn’t so surprising when you think that Duffy is the poet laureate for the UK whereas Lochhead is the Makar, Scotland’s National poet. I first came across Liz Lochheads work as a student more than 30 years ago when I read two of her poems “An Inventory” and “The Choosing” – I loved them back then and I love them still – and I’ve loved everything she’s done in between. And besides, anybody with a double “h” in their name is properly cool in my book! There is always something intimate and up close in Liz Lochhhead’s poetry – she seems to me to get under the skin of people and their thoughts, motivations, hopes, frustrations. She’s a sharp and wry observer of the world, but in particular she sees people, especially women, with such insight. She often takes up a cause in her work, be it the rights of working class girls in Glasgow to the rights of the Scottish dialect itself. But she never gets sucked into soap-boxing – everything she writes always seem to me to have such an easy, chatty, conversational, feel to it. And perhaps ultimately that’s why I chose her – we Scots have a love of chat and conversation!

Burns 9Poems Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect – The Kilmarnock Edition by Robert Burns

Having been round some of our geography, and some of our history and even perhaps parts of our psyche in the books which I’ve chosen to represent my country so far, it’s right and appropriate that I end in Ayrshire with Robert.

Burns is so ingrained in Scotland’s past and present, and no doubt future, that he is everywhere. His poetry is the soul of much of our subsequent literary heritage. He captures the essence of the “lad o’ pairts” – the working class boy made good. He represents the origin of the Scottish working class for me – I romantically think that Robert symbolises Scotland punching above its weight in the modern world for here is the ploughman’s son who conquers the world!! But underneath all that, Roberts work is wonderful and the “Kilmarnock edition” encapsulates his genius. When it was first published in 1786 it sold out in a month! A first edition back then would have set you back about 15 pence. Today first editions of the Kilmarnock Edition will set you back £40,000! Above all though Robert just gets us, he gets the Scots and he captures us wonderfully. My Dad’s name is Willie Stewart. Burns wrote a song for one of his best mates – who was called Willie Stewart. In one verse he wrote “And may she whose arms shall enfold thy charms, posses a loyal and true hairt,for to her be given, tae ken the heaven, she holds in Willie Stewart!!” My mother might not agree but I think my Dad would! And that’s what is special about Robert – he writes a love song to a male friend and it’s beautiful and effusive and charming! And so I think anybody and everybody in Scotland can find their own little bit of Robert that means something to them – he’s in all of us so of course he represents my country and he does it wonderfully!

Return of the Mac!! …..The Spirit Of Scotland Writers Award 2013 Goes To………..

You're Nominated - Good! You Win - Great! The Prize Is Sponsored by Glenfiddich - Died and Gone To Heaven Moment!
You’re Nominated – Good!
You Win – Great!
The Prize Is Sponsored by Glenfiddich – Died and Gone To Heaven Moment! William McIlvanney Wins Spirit Of Scotland Writers Award

…………. Last week the process of Scotland and the rest of the literary world coming to its senses on the talent that is William McIlvanney was in a way completed when McIlvanney was announced as the winner of the Spirit Of Scotland Writing Award for 2013. Incredibly, just 2 years ago his books were all out of print and he couldn’t buy a publisher!!

It’s a much deserved return in my ‘not really very humble at all’ opinion! Since that low point a couple of years ago, Canongate Books (whose website is great and well worth a look) decided to re-publish his works and there are now moves afoot for his crime novels about Jack Laidlaw to be made into a TV series. If you’ve never read Laidlaw think Rebus but a little bit dark and a big bit Glasgow! Mind you if you don’t know Rebus, that comparison is as much use as a fart in a spacesuit! ( Apologies for that simile – an example of boy out of Glasgow but not Glasgow out of boy!!!)

McIlvanney is in some ways the founder of the ‘Tartan Noir’ crime fiction that’s now so popular all over the world. Today gritty, troubled and morally driven detectives are far from unusual – back then the Laidlaw books were a real eye opener for me. I’d grown up reading the crime of Agatha Christie – crime mysteries set in places, and among a middle/upper class society, that I knew nothing of. Suddenly here was Laidlaw and his cases, with settings in the Glasgow I lived in and with characters who felt like people I rubbed shoulders with on buses, in crowds and in bars. It was a revelation to me at the time.

McIlvanney was also a bit of a hero for me. I discovered his books just when I started teaching – and then discovered that he was an English teacher in a secondary school in Irvine or somewhere (Actually I might have made that Irvine bit up in my head as I was also teaching in Ayrshire at the time!). But wherever the hell he was as a teacher, the fact was here was somebody I really admired doing the same job as me – so that was it – I didn’t just want to read McIlvanney I quite fancied the idea of BEING HIM!!!! ( Ordinarily book blogs list spoiler alerts – think I’m straying dangerously close to ‘stalker alert’ territory here so I will stop in case I start to scare people – including myself!!!)

At last McIlvanney and I have something in common - our facial hair is the same colour!
At last McIlvanney and I have something in common – our facial hair is the same colour!

There is though much more to William McIlvanney than the Laidlaw Detective novels. For example his novels about Tam Docherty are a wonderful portrayal of a working class boy to man story, trying to get by and do the right thing in a hard, uncompromising, unforgiving world. I loved both ‘Docherty’ and ‘The Big Man’. (Docherty is so good it’s just been voted one of the 10 best Scottish books of the last 50 years in a poll with the Scottish Book Trust! I’ve referred to that so you know this isn’t just the ramblings of a deranged near-stalker here!!) So not only is this a bit of a nostalgia fest post, because these books are part of my younger self – it’s also a celebration of a wonderful Scottish writer.It’s great that his books are now out there again for new generations of readers.

If you don’t know the work of William McIlvanney, I’d heartily recommend him. If you like the Rebus books of Ian Rankin, try Laidlaw! And if you’ve never heard of the Rebus books……what the hell, try Laidlaw anyway!!!! You’ll love it!

Info – The Laidlaw Series ( Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties) all published by Canongate Press

The Laidlaw Books - Take Your Pick - They're All Fantastic!
The Laidlaw Books – Take Your Pick – They’re All Fantastic!

And if you’d like to know more about William McIlvanney here he is being interviewed earlier this year.

book week scotland

Wha’s Like Us? Gie Few….and They’re A’ Deid! …..Celebrate How Wonderful Scottish Literature Is While You Can!!!

whas like us……………As a nation we Scots don’t just think we are great – we KNOW we’re great! Even when all the evidence says we’re not, like with our football, deep down we tell ourselves we are but somehow the fates have conspired to thwart our greatness coming to the fore!!! And if you’re going to think like that you need someone to blame and take it out on – which is pretty much where the English come in! ( But keep that to yourself as I don’t want my English born family to know that’s their role in life!)

But occasionally we can justifiably blow our own trumpet a bit. Occasionally there’s a ring of truth to ‘Wha’s like us? Gie few….and they’re a’ deid!’ ( It roughly translates as Who’s as good as us? Very few – and those that are as good as us are dead anyway!’ – Moral – We’re the best living thing we Scots)

As part of the Book Week Scotland celebrations, the Scottish Book Trust is inviting readers to vote for their favourite Scottish book book week scotlandof the last 50 years. The short list they’ve complied reads as a veritable great and the good of modern Scottish literature – Iain Banks (with and without an M!!!!), Ian Rankin, Bernard MacLaverty, Kate Atkinson, William Boyd, Alasdair Gray, Robin Jenkins, AL Kennedy, Muriel Spark, Alexander McCall Smith……and the list goes on and on. I could list them all but you might think I’m boasting about just how bloody fantastic Scottish writing is -and you’d be right because I am blowing our trumpet and it is fantastic!

Now those of you who are on the geeky side might have spotted one or two of those names and are thinking ‘ Hang on! William Boyd’s not Scottish and Kate Atkinson’s not Scottish!’  Well if you were thinking that, you completely underestimate us and you are unable to appreciate the power of Scotland and all things Scottish! You see there are three ways that genius is inspired by Scotland. The first and best is of course to have been born one of us. But if you’re not lucky enough to have been blessed by the stars fear not – for you can be inspired just by being near us Scots!!! So the criteria they used for the short list was that if you weren’t fortunate enough to be born one of us, as long as you had either written the novel in Scotland or currently live in Scotland then Scotland would welcome you as a writer of our own!

The short listed books are all available at the Scottish Book Trust site. If you have 2 minutes, follow the link and simply tick the checkbox beside your favourite title or titles (and you can vote for more than one). I hope you will – but be quick as voting ends on 22 November! The short list will get whittled down from there to a top ten and then a winner to be announced during Book Week Scotland, between 25th November and 1st December

Now I’m a believer in freedom of choice, democracy, the sanctity of the ballet box. So if you go to the site and have a favourite, go ahead and choose it. That’s fine by me. BUT, just in case you’ve no idea I’ll give you a wee clue!!! Among the nominees are two I’d most like to see win – the genius that is Ian Rankin and the much-missed, magnificent Iain Banks. Equally there’s one I wouldn’t like to see win – Irvine Welsh – just a bit too much of a professional Scotsman for me!!!!

So – if possible, my request is – DON’T Choose Irvine’s ‘Life, Job, Career or His Big Fucking Television!’

Choose Banks or Choose Rankin instead!

The Bridge by the Great Man - nominated for the Scottish Book Trust Best Book of Last 50 Years
The Bridge by the Great Man – nominated for the Scottish Book Trust Best Book of Last 50 Years

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait!!!!!!……………………What I Thought Of Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

………….He waits. That’s what he does…………..and I’ll tell you what……………tick followed tock, followed tick, followed tock, followed tick…………ah yes good things come to those who wait – and it’s not just Arthur Guinness who knows that! Though this, my favourite of his ads, epitomises waiting for good things!

I know it too! There are three things in my life that, for me, are always well worth waiting on.

It’s worth waiting for the two stages of pouring a pint of Guinness – watching that head grow and settle – lovely!

It’s worth waiting for my partner to get ready when we go out – she always emerges late but she’s always absolutely beautiful and I feel wonderful to think she’ll be going out with me!

And it’s worth waiting for an Ian Rankin novel – they are always good, sometimes great, and occasionally, like this one, truly special!

To all intents and purposes, Standing In Another Man’s Grave is the comeback of ex-DI John Rebus. Now I’ve missed him since Ian Rankin “retired” Rebus. But it wasn’t until he emerged as a character in this book, on the very first page of it, that I realised just how much I’d missed him!

He’d made sure he wasn’t standing too near the open grave. Closed ranks of the other mourners between him and it. …….Rain wasn’t quite falling yet, but it had a scheduled appointment. The cemetery was fairly new, sited on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. He had skipped the church service, just as he would skip the drinks and sandwiches after. He was studying the backs of heads: hunched shoulders, twitches, sneezes and throat-clearings. There were people here he knew, but probably not many………..Words were being uttered but he couldn’t catch all of them. There was no mention of the cancer. Jimmy Wallace had been ‘cruelly taken’, leaving a widow and three children, plus five grandkids. Those kids would be down the front somewhere, mostly old enough to know what was going on. Their grandmother had given voice to a single piercing wail and was being comforted.

Christ, he needed a cigarette.

I simply wallowed and luxuriated in this first paragraph, and from there to the end, Ian Rankin didn’t let me down for a second!

Standing In Another man's GraveThe story sees Rebus re-engaged by Lothian and Border Police in what’s really a cold case unit. At the same time, the disappearance of a young woman, Annette McKie, in Fife, prompts another distraught mother, Nina Hazlitt, to contact the police yet again about her suspicions that this is not a one-off disappearance and is in fact part of a series, which happen along the A9 road, and which began many years before with her own daughter. CID don’t take much notice of her theory for the current case of Annette McKie  – but when she tries to contact an officer she knows within the cold case unit, she discovers he is no longer there – and instead she gets, you guessed it….. Rebus! And there are two things that have always characterised Rebus, his nose for a case and his willingness to take on a seemingly lost cause and have a tilt at what others think are Don Quixote-type windmills! It’s not long before Rebus has wormed his way out of cold case unit and into the McKie investigation team, thanks partly to his sidekick of old, Siobhan and thanks partly to the sheer willingness of Rebus to stick his neck out.

I’ll go no further for fear of spoiling it for anyone who might decide to read it (and you should, you really, really, really should!). But it is a great book, one of the best Ian Rankin books in my humble opinion! The characters of Rebus and Siobhan are as strong and vibrant and doggedly real as they ever were – but if anything there’s an additional spice to their relationship now that there is more of a blurred boundary between boss and subordinate! (It’s kind of like in Winnie the Pooh, when Pooh’s surrounded by water, and he decides to try and sail on a honey jar, which he names ‘The Floating Bear’ – AA Milne writes about how for a while “Pooh and The Floating Bear were uncertain as to which of them was supposed to be on top” – well the Siobhan/Rebus relationship is exactly the same – though obviously minus the flood and the honey jar!).

The writing is as good  as ever, the pace is great from beginning to end though it never feels rushed and the plot has just enough twists to make it mesmerising but never ridiculous. The previous characters of Malcolm Fox and his “Complaints” team are also there as is the sinister menace that is the gangland hard man Ger Cafferty. In the hands of someone less skilled this could end up feeling like a story with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in – but in Ian Rankin’s hands it’s a carefully balanced set of ingredients, blended together perfectly into an absolutely cracking book. I loved it!

Some comebacks aren’t really that welcome – like “Steps – The Reunion” – I mean why would they bother? It’s not as if anybody would have missed them – surely not!

Some comebacks are just plain silly – like “The Doors” without Jim Morrison. Talk about missing the point!

Some comebacks are welcome and long overdue – like the return of Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile!

But some comebacks are the stuff of dreams and a cause for celebration – perhaps my most sought after comeback is the return of Eric Cantona to Manchester United – but if I can’t have my idea of heavenly perfection in ‘The Return Of Cantona’, then the byline on the cover of  Standing In Another Man’s Grave is the next best thing, for it reads

“REBUS IS BACK!”

And as Shrek says to Donkey  – “That’ll do for me Donkey! That’ll do!”

Countdown To Rebus – And Not A “Can I Have A Consonant Please?” In Sight!……….

……….A couple of days ago, it was announced that Ian Rankin’s new novel will be published on November 8th 2012. Even though I’ve got a couple of other countdowns on the go to things I want to read or watch, the news of an Ian Rankin book automatically becomes the biggest countdown of all for me.

 

The new novel, titled “Standing In Another Man’s Grave”, will be another story about Inspector Malcolm Fox and his Complaints Team, but perhaps even more significantly it will include the return from “retirement” of Rankin’s original detective John Rebus. I read an interview with Ian Rankin in which he said he’d made the mistake of making Rebus firstly too old in his first book and then ageing him year by year in real time from there. The net result was that ageing Rebus year by year from too high a starting age meant Ian Rankin was in some ways forced to retire Rebus as a character from his novels. I loved the Rebus novels and so I was sorry to see him go and I always imagined that Ian Rankin felt the same. So it was with a mix of pleasure and no real surprise that I read that the new book will see the return of Rebus in his retirement. What was more of a surprise to me was that Rankin has combined the return of Rebus with retaining the character who followed him. I’ve enjoyed the novels about the new character of Malcolm Fox, who is a member of a small internal affairs division within Lothian and Borders Constabulary, but if I’m honest I’ve never quite warmed to him in the way that I did with the Rebus character. Now I know that the new book will see the two of them together I wonder how Fox will compare and indeed survive as a character alongside Rebus in the same book. But somehow I’m sure it will work as Ian Rankin is such a fantastic writer in my opinion, so I’m sure he’ll get it absolutely right.

If you are interested in finding out more about the new Ian Rankin to come then there is a little bit more detail on Ian Rankin’s website and there is also a really good interview with Rankin in the Telegraph, done at the Hay On Wye festival last week.

So the countdown to to the first Rebus novel in 5 years has started – 110 days to go and counting!

Capture

I Wonder If My Favourite Albums And My Favourite Books Would Talk To Each Other If They Met At A Party?……….

……….I got this odd, fanciful notion years ago when I read something similar in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. In the book they had a discussion about the idea of vetting potential girlfriends through a questionnaire focused mainly on their record collections – it was a very funny dig in the ribs for musical snobbery which, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve indulged in myself in the past.  I mean there’s no way that a man who loves Ryan Adams and The Cardinals could go on a date, never mind spend their life, with a woman who enjoys listening to Gloria Gaynor screeching about survival!!! (This is as you might imagine a far from random example – my love for all things Ryan Adams can only speak its name when she who loves Gloria Gaynor is not at home!)

Anyway I’ve often wondered if my record collections and book collections are well matched – or if they signify some deep-rooted, sub-conscious, split personality on my part! One of the ways I’ve reassured myself on their compatibility over the years has been the frequent references to music I’ve got on my shelves, in either books I’ve read, or in comments by authors I like. I’ll give you an example. I know from listening to Radio 6 and from his Twitter feed that Ian Rankin likes Teenage Fanclub. So in my mind I then perform the following psychological equation:-

I Think Ian Rankin Is Great + Ian Rankin Thinks Teenage Fanclub Are Great + I Think Teenage Fanclub Are Great = My Book and Record Collections Must Be Compatible!

Obviously, authors use musical tastes and preferences as part of the development of characters in their books and from these I make connections like the one above! In addition there are books, like High Fidelity, or Salman Rushdie’s “the ground beneath her feet” with popular / indie music as the setting or context for their novels. Since I loved both of those books and they focus on much of the kind of music I like, it is of course further evidence of the compatibility of my music and book collections! (Of course when evidence occurs to the contrary – such as some of the country music that DI Thorne likes in the Mark Billingham crime novels – well……I ignore that!)

However as I was listening to the radio this morning I heard Lloyd Cole and The Commotions singing “Rattlesnakes”, with it’s name-check for Simone de Beauvoir in the lyrics, and it suddenly struck me that while I can think of several references to music in my books, the number of references to books in my music are few and far between. So I tried to compile a list and this is what I came up with!

First up is that Lloyd Cole song ‘Rattlesnakes’, which has the wonderful lines “She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront, She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance!” Secondly, The Police song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” makes a reference to Lolita with the line “just like in that old book by Nabokov!

Next up is a Green Day track called “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” (Personally my sharp intellectual guess is that Billie Joe Armstrong already knows the literal answer to this question!). Most influentially of all for me, the genius that is Ryan Adams wrote a song called “Sylvia Plath”. I love it ( in fact I may have written this post just so I can encourage anybody who reads this to listen to the song!). It goes:-

I wish I had a Sylvia Plath
Busted tooth and a smile
And cigarette ashes in her drink
The kind that goes out and then sleeps for a week
The kind that goes out on her
To give me a reason, for well, I dunno

And maybe she’d take me to France
Or maybe to Spain and she’d ask me to dance
In a mansion on the top of a hill
She’d ash on the carpets
And slip me a pill
Then she’d get pretty loaded on gin
And maybe she’d give me a bath
How I wish I had a Sylvia Plath

Beyond those it starts to get a bit tenuous I think. I know the Beatles made a reference to Edgar Allan Poe in I Am The Walrus and I know that while the lyrics to Aqualung’s “Strange and Beautiful” don’t specifically mention Shakespeare, the song is based on the story of A Midsummer Nights Dream –  at least I’ve always thought it was! Even more tenuously, I’ve got a Sheryl Crow album in which one of the songs makes a reference to Aldous Huxley, but as I have never read anything by Huxley and as I hardly ever play the album this isn’t one that’s big with me!)

And, for a final two suggestions, both linked to classics, I’ll first offer Kate Bush going all “out on the wild, windy moors” with Wuthering Heights and lastly the lyrics to Don’t Tell Me To Do The Maths by Los Campesinos refers to Jane Eyre – but not perhaps in the way I’d like. They wail out ” We know that we could sell your magazines, if only you would give your life to literature just
DON’T READ JANE EYRE!!!”

So as I’ve reached the point where I’m struggling so much to list references to literature in my record collection that I am reduced to quoting a song slating one of my favourite books I think it’s time to give in!

Though of course, if you can think of any other songs which make references to great books or authors, let me know! (And let me know if you like Ryan Adams! – I might use the weight of popular opinion to try to re-introduce him at home! Then again, on second thoughts…………………………..)

Monday Morning Blog World Tour Sponsored By My iTunes Shuffle……….May 14th 2012

………..I’d originally planned to do this on Sunday mornings – alas following a great wedding we went to in Manchester at the weekend the alcohol flow of the Saturday meant that my Sunday started seriously under the affluence of said incohol and therefore all I wanted yesterday morning was Nurofen and darkness.

However, having come back last night, I’m now fully recovered and so this week, for this week only(unless alcohol gets in the way again, which is very likely) , my easy Sunday morning is actually a Monday!

So this morning with my partner at work and my daughter at school,  it’s again a perfect time to visit the innumerable good blogs out there, most of which are about books, with the odd “mmmmmmmmmmmm I wonder what that’s like?” thrown in for good measure.

I usually like to listen to music while I’m reading or writing but on Sunday mornings (or Monday this week), I listen with my headphones to my iTunes library and I let my iTunes shuffle do the choosing for me.

As I read and wrote this morning, my iTunes shuffle served up the following musical breakfast (or perhaps dogs dinner as my family might call it!). If you read this I hope you find something you like or perhaps a prompt to dust off the cobwebs from some corner of your own music that you’ve not visited in a while!

The Music

1.On The Wing by Owl City (I love this album but I can only play it when I’m alone otherwise it gets shouted down as irritating electro-pop by my family – but if you like jolly, happy, tingly pop with the vocals oft-fed though vocoders then you might like this – reading that description back makes me think it might be a niche market!)

2. Satisfied by Hal (again all lovely harmonies and twanging country pedal guitars – some of the chorus sounds like lush West Coast US Beach Boys stuff before going into a kind of cacophony at the end – I love this album and the lyrics on this are good. I think they went into a bit of a fallow period after this album but I’m pretty sure Hal have made a follow-up lately and it got a decent review through Q – of course I may have imagined that last bit!)

3. Jocasta by Noah And The Whale (My family really dislike NATW – they call it music to get depressed to – but this is more upbeat – ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!)

4. In My Room by The Last Shadow Puppets (Least favourite track on the album – sorry Alex/Miles but this isn’t doing it for me – heave ho!)

5. Hurry Up And Wait (Live) by Stereophonics (Now this will do – although live I thought they were a bit flat – mind you it was in the bloody cavernous Millenium Stadium in Cardiff I saw them – think it needed a bigger and more outgoing personality than Kelly Jones to fill that great chasm)

6. Nothing In My Way by Keane (From the Iron Sea which I think is a bit underrated – think they have new album out today and it’s on the list!)

7. You’ll Never Walk Alone by Frank Sinatra (My partner and daughter are lifetime fully paid-up members of the Liverpool FC Club so they would have this! – as a Man U fan this is NOT FOR ME IN CAPITAL LETTERS! Heave ho!)

8. House Where We All Live by The Veils – (I got this years ago as a present through a friends recommendation. I’d never heard of the Veils at that point but I love this – very Gallic shrug and a bit of a ‘torch’ song!)

9. Birds Flew Backwards by Doves (Doves are one of my favourite bands but this is from Kingdom of Rust which is their most disappointing album for me – however good old iTunes has at least picked out one of the tracks on it that I really like!)

10. Sean by The Proclaimers (The lads from Leith!!!!! I love The Proclaimers. Went to see them in the tent at one of festivals few years ago – place was rammed full of sweaty exiled Jocks all screaming out every word – they are right up there for me with Sir Alex Ferguson, Glenmorangie, Irn Bru, Scottish Pies and Ian Rankin as truly great things to come out of Scotland!)

11. I Saw The Dead by Villagers (Great song, great singer, great band. Saw them support Elbow last year and thought they were fantastic)

12. Try And Love Again by The Eagles (What’s not to love about the Eagles! So it ages me! So I’m old – who cares!)

13. One Light In A Dark Valley by Harry Chapin (It comes from the wonderful Dance Band On The Titanic. I think he’s so under-rated – this is a blast from my hairy, hippy student days!)

14. Sonnet by The Verve (Another song I love musically and lyrically. Heard Richard Ashcroft being interviewed about Urban Hymns on Steve Lamacq’s show a couple of weeks ago – he sounded really proud of this song and the whole album and so he should be – great stuff!)

15. She Speaks by Paul Weller (I’ve gotten more and more into Paul Weller as the years go by – I tend to prefer the more recent stuff like this from the ‘Wake Up The Nation’ album. Mind you I still love singing along with Walls Come Tumbling Down or Headstart For Happiness as well!)

16. Green Gloves by The National. (The National are one of those bands who always seem to get great reviews but a slightly underwhelming response from music fans in the UK. Which is a shame if you ask me. I think they write great songs and this is one!)

17. Jack, You Dead by Joe Jackson (I bought this in the 80’s. Most of my mates at the time thought I’d finally lost the plot – but for a small group of us, the songs from Jumpin Jive became theme tunes to our drunken evenings, of which we had many! God knows how many times I’ve stumbled the streets of Glasgow bawling out “What’s The Use Of Getting Sober If You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again”!)

18. A Scanner Darkly by Primal Scream (Another of my favourite bands but I’m not blind to their inconsistency – occasionally they throw up a stinker – this is one of them!)

19. Cool Cool River by Paul Simon (Lovely rhythms on this as there is on everything on Rhythm Of The Saints – I’d get up and dance but my knees have gone – fortunately!)

And to finish…..

20. Jumpin Jive by Joe Jackson (My iTunes obviously realised how much I loved “Jack You Dead!” so it’s come back to Jumpin Jive album for the title track! It’s great and allows me to sing one of my favourite lyrics of all time ” the jim-jam-jump is the jumpin jive, makes you nine foot tall when you’re four foot five!” – if only it could for a short-arse like me!)

Blog Stuff

This morning I found a reference to a bookmark listing 50 books to read before you die on the Reading Matters blog. I’d already gone through the tome 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die which a friend bought for me last year, to see how many I had read!!! So, anal-retentive that I am, I went through the 50 books listed on the book mark to see how many I had read (I’d read 33 of them) and as I read the list, which was supposed to be a mix of classics by great writers, I was surprised to read that things like Mark Haddon’s “Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime” and Phillip Pulman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy had been included. They wouldn’t have struck me as classics in the same vein as some of the others (The Bible, Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, works by Shakespeare and by Chaucer and a fair smattering of Austen’s and Bronte’s and Dickens etc). However even though I didn’t really get their fit to classics, I’d read them so happily included them in my tally of 33! 33 out of 50 – satisfied smirks all round then!!!!

What I Thought Of………..Good As Dead by Mark Billingham

………..This is the 10th in the series of crime novels about DI Tom Thorne (I think it’s the 10th anyway!) and it’s the 9th of the Thorne novels that I’ve read, and from the outset I have to say this is the best of the lot for me!

The more Thorne novels I read, the more I’m a little uncertain about them before I start. I’ve loved reading these since I first read “Sleepyhead” many moons ago and I guess my uncertainty is that I might suddenly find it all a bit too familiar, a bit predictable, now that I’m 7, 8, 9 novels in. This uncertainty about a series of novels stems from one point in my life when I lived in Tenerife for a few years and getting my hands on reading material wasn’t easy. However through a friend I got a couple of thriller/spy novels by Colin Forbes about Tweed, Bob Newman and Paula Grey. I enjoyed them and read more and more. Unfortunately much as I’d enjoyed early stuff like “The Janus Man”, by the time I got to things like “The Vorpal Blade” it all felt very “conveyor belt production” with the same lines and basically the same plots again and again. (I should have guessed it had reached rock bottom though with a title like “The Vorpal Blade”!!!!!- when an author invents weird, ridiculous titles you kind of know what’s inside will be pretty thin fare!). Ever since then I’ve expected every series of novels I like to start running out of steam – however so far so very, very, good with Mark Billingham (and in a way I should draw positive encouragement from Rebus and Ian Rankin – I’ve read 18 Ian Rankin novels over the years, with most of those about DI Rebus and I’ve loved every single one of them!)

The story centres on Thorne being required to look into the circumstances of a young man’s death in custody, which in turn is linked to a hostage-taking in a South London grocers. It all starts innocuously enough when Detective Helen Weeks (who’d appeared in Billingham’s stand-alone novel “In The Dark” which I thoroughly enjoyed!) pops into her local grocers shop. Following some unpleasantness between the shop owner and some youths, Helen is debating whether or not to get involved officially when all hell breaks loose and the incident transforms itself into Helen and another member of the public being taken hostage at gun-point. And where does DI Thorne come in as a Murder Squad detective? Well the motivation for the hostage-taking is more deliberate than it first appears and the shopkeeper demands Thorne investigate the so-called suicide of his son, while serving time in a Youth Offenders Institution for a crime which was originally investigated by Thorne. And so the hares are set off and running!

This DI Thorne novel is a step up for me though from the others to date. The action essentially flits back and forward between the shop, the work of Thorne and his team, and the police command point for the hostage situation. It’s archetypal race-against-time stuff in many ways but it’s exceptionally well done race-against-time stuff. The events at the hostage taking are drawn in really tight and as a result the book really does create a palpable feel of tension and edge, which it then cleverly releases its grip and then re-tightens again throughout the novel and you therefore get this real feel of the roller-coaster of mood and emotion for both the hostages and the hostage-taker. Meantime Thorne is a great character to build all this action around. He’s still got that down-at-heel, kicked around by the world sort of feel to him, which seems to be classic American gumshoe territory but again it’s brilliantly handled by Mark Billingham. The added touches of humour through Thorne, his pathologist mate Hendricks and in some of the one line banter between Thorne and his team all add to the richness of the book and the characters.

But of course all of that is just as abundantly on offer in all the other great DI Thorne stories so what made this one the stand-out for me? Well it’s basically the way the shift from one part of the storyline to the other and then back again and so on and so forth is built up to a really believable pitch. What was great about this book was that I knew who the killer was well before the end – but I didn’t know how the book was going to end even though I knew who the killer was. And that’s what made this just that bit extra, extra, extra, special for me. I was fit to bursting to get to the end and see how Mark Billingham brought it to a close – I won’t of course say here how it ends but perhaps it’s a final testimony to how good a crime novel this is if I say that I actually didn’t like the ending of the book and yet I still loved it!!! I’ve not had that feeling since I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin when, for me, Louis de Bernieres got the ending to that book all wrong!  And it’s still in my view one of the best books I’ve ever read!

While Good As Dead isn’t a Corelli, it is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read, despite the rotten ending!! I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who likes reading and if you like reading crime fiction in particular I’d say this is definitely a “Not To Be Missed!”

There are other blogs out there with reviews on Good As Dead. There’s one here at Book Geeks, another at Guilty Conscience (which coincidentally seems to agree with me that this is the best of the DI Thorne books so far!) and at Books and Writers. In addition I’d always recommend the “It’s A Crime” blog to anyone interested in crime fiction, whether in books or on TV (it is just such a good blog about all things crime fiction that it’s become a bit of a one-stop-shop for me!)

There was only one surprise for me in Good As Dead – as a mad-keen though despairing Tottenham fan I thought Thorne would have had a view on the Harry Redknapp for England manager saga – but then as it was announced yesterday that the FA have chosen Roy Hodgson rather than Redknapp perhaps that just shows that Thorne knew all along that the Harry-For-England campaign never stood a chance! That’s what I call a detective!