Part two of the highlights from CrimeFest that took place in Bristol this weekend. The panel sessions form the backbone of the event and it is always a struggle to decide which ones to attend. My first panel of Saturday was Fresh Blood: Debut Authors which featured the recently published Alex Blackmore, JC Martin, Fergus McNeill and Tom Vowler. Although the books are written in very different styles, what united the authors is their effective use of the setting to support the narrative. I’m particularly looking forward to reading Tom Vowler’s What Lies Within, an atmospheric thriller set in Dartmoor.
Another great panel was Crime and Crossover which featured authors who span different genres. While writers Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Dana Stabenow write books outside the crime genre, horror and sci-fi respectively, Colin Cotterill and Evonne Wareham are writers whose books are difficult to pigeonhole into a single genre. I’m a fan of Colin Cotterill’s novels although I notice I haven’t reviewed any on this blog. It was interesting to hear that when he first started his books, he wasn’t writing for any particular genre and his novels have been difficult to define since, as they feature elements of crime, comedy, history and the supernatural.
The Sherlock panel had Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, the team behind the popular TV programme. It was fascinating to hear about the discussions that take place before they decide which Sherlock Holmes stories to use. Their approach is to harvest the best bits from different stories to create a single strong episode. They hope to continue the series as long as possible while the actors are willing to participate.
The day ended with one of my favourites of the genre – spy stories. I was delighted to hear Aly Monroe talk about the inspiration behind her post war series featuring Peter Cotton and it reminded me that I must read her latest book
Saturday evening ended with the gala dinner during which the Petrona Award for the best translated Scandinavian crime novel. It was awarded to Last Will by Liza Marklund and is my opinion a worthy winner. The translation was by Neil Smith. More details on the award can be found here.
Crime fiction reviewers and bloggers are a major influence on what I read. In reality I have enough books to get me through (at least) the next couple of months but reading other people’s reviews means that my reading pile just gets higher and higher. And not everything I read I would have picked up through my normal channels. Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan is one such book. It’s set in the trenches of the First World War and features as its protagonist Doctor John Watson, the creation, of course, of Arthur Conan Doyle. I tend not to read books featuring other people’s character but I was sufficiently intrigued by a review from the excellent blog Novel Heights to borrow the book from my library.
Dr John Watson joins the trenches of Flanders Field to use his medical expertise to help the wounded men. But he soon realised that this War is different to his previous experiences of conflict in Afghanistan. Not only are soldiers dying from the effects of gas, shelling and gunshot wounds but he also believes a killer is at work in the trenches. For what easier place would a killer find to hide than amongst the devastation of the French battlefields?
I have read the Sherlock Holmes stories over and over again since I first picked them up as a teenager. However, I do think that there is scope for portraying both Holmes and Watson in a way other than those written by Conan Doyle, as the TV series Sherlock recently proved. In fact, Ryan’s portrayal of Watson was essentially the man in Conan Doyle’s stories and I thought the writer did a good job in capturing the essence of the character. Watson come across as both compassionate and tenacious in the hunt for the murderer. There are plenty of likely suspects and the war has attracted people from around the world, not all of whom are in France for idealistic reasons.
The book is also written from the viewpoint of Mrs Gregson, a VAD nurse with suffragette sympathies who shrugs off the disapproval from the hospital Matron to accompany Watson to the field hospital. These scenes give a flavour of the tensions and petty rivalries rife in the hospitals.
Overall it was an interesting read and gave another view on the horror of the trenches. The pace dropped in a few places but the characterisation was excellent and it has made me curious to read the writer’s other books.
Robert Ryan will be talking about historical crime fiction at Victoria Library in London on the 18th February. Further details can be found here.