Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I know this book is supposed to be a seminal work in crime fiction whose style has been much imitated, but a lot of it was lost on me. The main problem was the 1930s American slang, which I found hard to follow. Not only did I miss a lot of the wisecracks in the dialogue, but also much of Chandler’s descriptive prose. This was mitigated to some extent by Chandler summing up the story so far every now and then.

Then for my taste the descriptive passages were too long: I don’t want to know the details of every item in a room unless it’s relevant to the plot.

The plot itself is reasonable, but the protagonist Philip Marlowe doesn’t solve the case through any deductive powers but by merely arriving at each scene and bumping into one of the bad (or good) guys. One murder does remain unsolved however.

The mood is captured very well. This is not the sunny California of beaches and surfing, but autumn when it’s always raining or threatening to rain. This darkness is present in most of the characters giving a noir feel to the whole book. 3 stars.

Harrogate Crime Writers Festival

I spent a couple of days at the Crime Writers Festival in Harrogate.

On Thursday I attended a creative writing workshop. The first session was on creating characters and plot. Working in groups of five with help from the presenters at the end of two hours we had created a plot for a new crime novel. The second session was on forensics, the theme being do we really see what we think we see? The third session looked at six modern crime writers who have each contributed an original aspect to the genre.

We finished with The Dragon’s Pen, modelled on the TV show but far less confrontational.

Each contestant, whose name was pulled out of a hat, had two minutes to make a pitch of their next book. A panel of agents and publishers asked a few questions and if interested agreed to look at the writer’s synopsis and sample chapters. About twelve names were pulled out of the hat; most had at least one agent or publisher interested. I had put my name in the hat for my next book but I didn’t get selected to make a pitch.

On the Friday and Saturday I attended a few more talks. Ruth Rendell and Lee Child spoke about their writing routine (RR 3 hours in the morning, LC 5 hours in the afternoon). I listened to an interview with four German crime writers, a discussion of towering influences for five British crime writers. There followed a panel discussion of Ian Fleming’s James Bond creation: the panel appropriately dressed in dinner jackets and sipping their vodka martinis.

Finally I attended a very interesting interview with forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black.

Walking Tour with a Difference

Recently I went on a walking tour of the Brick Lane area of East London run by Unseen Tours. These are organized by The Sock Mob, a volunteer network engaging with London’s homeless. The tours are led by a homeless or formerly homeless guide who has slept rough on the streets of the area being explored. As well as Brick Lane there are tours of London Bridge, Shoreditch, Covent Garden and Brixton. My guide was Liz and we started in Hoxton Square moving on to St Leonard’s Church, the Boundary Estate, Brick Lane itself and finishing at Spitalfields Market. The whole tour took about an hour and a half and as well as providing the historical background you’d expect from a guide, Liz was a mine of quirky and unusual information about every street we visited.  You can find out more about these tours at

Book Review – Strangers on a Train

This is Patricia Highsmith’s first novel.

Two strangers meet on a train, discuss their problems and one says, “How’s this for a perfect murder?  I kill your wife and you kill my father”.  I was hooked by such a premise and I enjoyed the first part of the book.  However the book soon becomes more of a psychological thriller and less a ‘who done it’.   I did find some of the psychology interesting especially how one protagonist manages to ensnare the other and the guilt feelings of one of them.  However there was a lot of repetitive interior dialogue as the author described what was going on inside the protagonists’ heads and this made for very slow reading. There were a few moments of suspense as the detective Gerard closes in, but rather than solve the case step by step he gets to the truth in a couple of giant leaps. I did find some of the characters unrealistically gullible and the actions of one of the protagonist quite unconvincing.  I found the ending unsatisfying.  Readers who have a taste for psychological thrillers will enjoy this book but I must admit I prefer the straight crime or conspiracy thriller genre.  I think the author improved with the Tom Ripley books. I haven’t seen the Hitchcock film so I can’t make comparisons. 3 stars.