This Sunday, I’m interviewing John Harvey, A A Dhand and Fran Dorricott at the Derby Book Festival. They’re writers at different stages of their careers and we’ll be discussing their books within the context of the contemporary crime novel. One of the best things about moderating panels is the opportunity I get to question authors about what they’ve written and I’m looking forward to the event.
John Harvey is the author of over a hundred novels, including the Nottingham based series featuring detective Charlie Resnick and, more recently, his Frank Elder books, of which Body and Soul is the final instalment. Katherine, Elder’s daughter, is recovering from a traumatic relationship with Anthony Winter, an artist whose paintings of her suggest a relationship characterised by coercion and abuse. When Winter is found dead, both Elder and Katherine come under suspicion, while an old crime comes back to haunt them both. I’ve long been a fan of Harvey’s novels and Body and Soul is, unsurprisingly, a compelling narrative and a poignant ending to the series.
City of Sinners by A A Dhand is a slice of noir (in its traditional sense) set in Bradford. DCI Harry Virdee is called to a body found in Waterstones to discover he’s on the hunt for a sadistic killer who has a personal gripe with the detective. Part of the novel is narrated by Saima Virdee, an A and E doctor who is has to care for her estranged father in law. The combination of these two plots – the brutal and gritty search for a killer and the personal backstory of Virdee and Saima’s marriage make this a wonderful read. Dhand perfectly captures the rawness of late night Bradford.
After the Eclipse is the debut novel by Fran Dorricott. Cassie’s sister Olive disappeared in a small Derbyshire town during the 1999 eclipse. Journalist Cassie has returned to look after her elderly grandmother but, as another eclipse is forecast, a girl goes missing. Cassie, convinced that the two disappearances are connected, begins to look at the residents of Bishop’s Green to see if there’s a predator who has been living in the community all along. Dorricott excels at showing the tensions which arise when a crime takes place in a small town.
Three excellent books which I can’t wait to talk to the authors about. Tickets for the event can be found here.
I recently watched a programme about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and the impact of the crimes on the families of his victims. The investigation had been hampered by the police’s assumption that the killer only attacked prostitutes ignoring other victims whose profiles didn’t fit their assumptions. In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold reassesses the five ‘canonical’ victims of Jack the Ripper whose murders in 1888 appalled contemporary society and whose stories have been dissected ever since. I remember going on a Ripper walk when I lived in London and was appalled by the use of post mortem photos of the victims. These depersonalised images were both salacious and shocking and Rubenhold’s book certainly helps to reclaim the women from the manner of their deaths.
The story of the five victims are told with both compassion and with reference to the wider context of women’s lives in the period. Whether they were deserted by their husbands (Polly Nichols and Catherine Eddows) or victims of chronic alcoholism (Annie Chapman) or simply women unable to escape their pasts (Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly) the author shows the limitations of women’s choices at the time. Abandoment by one man necessitated the finding of another to act as both protector and benefactor. Each women’s story stops at precisely the point where most narratives begin – their murder – and this excellent of this book overshadows all the dubious “X is Jack the Ripper” narratives that have proliferated over the years.
I enjoyed Michelle Paver’s two previous novels, Dark Matter and Thin Air and had have been looking forward to her latest. Wakenhysrt is set in Suffolk, a fenland county where marshland wilderness coexists alongside ordinary village life. We meet protagonist, Maud, initially through a newspaper article from 1966 and are catapulted back in time to the Edwardian period where intelligence and curiosity isn’t valued in girls. Her mother, forced into a repetitive cycle of childbirth and mourning finally succumbs to illness and Maud is left alone with her repressive father.
Dark and raw, I particularly liked the way Paver didn’t flinch from the realities of women’s lives, from the bloodied pails after miscarriages, to the choices made by men in relation to the fates of their wives. The countryside is beautifully depicted, the wildness of the fens supporting a community where myths and old stories entwine. Paver has used innovative story telling methods to unfold this Gothic tale and it made a perfect late evening read.