What Comes After Sunday?

What comes after Sunday?  When you’ve had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and all the rest and come round to Sunday again – what comes next?  Another Monday?  Impossible.  These may be the feelings of one having to go to a loathed job for yet another week in order to pay a few bills (‘out of proportion,’ as Philip Larkin so sagely observed) – they are also the reactions of one having read the entire Frieda Klein series from ‘Blue Monday’ right through to ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and wondering, what next?  Where can we possibly go now?


‘Day of the Dead’ is the answer to this.  I said, having finished the ‘Sunday’ volume, that it was impossible for them to leave it that way, and so it was: ‘Day of the Dead’ was announced last month (at least to me it was; I expect insiders knew this was coming months ago) and I immediately put my name down for a library copy, knowing that I would otherwise have to wait for the paperback to come out as I’d ascertained from Waterstones that the hardback would cost upwards of £16.

I was already fifth on the list and so expected September to have largely passed before I got my hands on it, but lo! ‘Day of the Dead’ was waiting for me on Monday (I got the email on Sunday and spent an impatient 24 hours before the library opened) and as I’d predicted, within another 24 hours I’d read the damned thing.  Fortunately Nicci French’s books stand more than one reading, in fact I’ve read most of them several times; once breathlessly to reveal the plot and then to think about such things as character and description and to savour the world which the novelists evoke.  This world is I think the best thing about the books; all but one are set in London, and at the centre of this world is Frieda’s house, her haven.  But this haven is destroyed when the body of a murdered policeman is found under the floorboards and so the dance of death which began on Monday, continues.  As I wrote in my review of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’:


Frieda is propelled into exile by these events; not only the policeman’s murder but by attacks on all her friends which are designed to distress her to the utmost, since Frieda is a fundamentally unselfish person.  Behind the attacks is the shadowy figure of Dean Reeve, a man whom police believe to be dead but who Frieda finally convinces them is alive, having murdered his twin brother and taken his identity.  At last the police are on the case – but can they or someone else solve it before Frieda herself is discovered and murdered?  The dance can only end in death – but whose death will it be?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.  I don’t do spoilers – at least, not till a book’s been out a while.

Kirk out

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

I’ve just realised after a quick trawl through some posts, that I never wrote that promised review which I began a few weeks ago, of the latest and possibly last Nicci French book:


You might call the series Frieda Stark’s Week: much darker and more thrilling than Ed Reardon’s Week http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09dy2sb (the highlight of which is something like being caught letting his tyres down to get into a car park) the series begins with Blue Monday and carries on till Sunday Morning Coming Down.  It’s highly dystopian; and as with the recent Val McDermid review I shall hold off on the spoilers a) because it’s new and b) because the ending left me utterly gobsmacked.  I was desolate.  I wanted to phone the authors immediately and cry, ‘How could you?  How dare you leave things this way?’  My heart was broken and my head crashed: as Val McDermid says it was both shattering and inevitable.

But although I won’t divulge the ending, I am free to discuss the beginning and middle.  Like all the Frieda Stark books, SMCD takes place in London; not tourist London but a seamy, hidden city; a city of oil-slicked puddles on abandoned estates; a city of filthy high-rise blocks and rubbish-strewn alleyways: above all, a city of rivers.  Rivers are Stark’s fascination and each book features a hidden river that has been blocked up and built on.  Of course the Thames is always present but other forms of transport, ie buses and the tube, hardly figure because Frieda likes to walk everywhere.  She can walk for hours in the most unprepossessing areas, just for the fun of it – although fun is not quite the right world; serious and dark, Frieda lives up to her surname as she sees life through a stark lens.

Somewhere in this dark world of crime lurks her nemesis Dean Reeve, believed by police to be dead but known by Frieda and her friends to be alive.  Her friends are, as she says herself, her real family, her blood relatives being cold and unloving.  The bright spots in the novel are the gatherings of this surrogate family of friends, colleagues, a sister and niece abandoned by Frieda’s brother, and a jobbing builder who came one day to fix Frieda’s bath and never left.  Add to these Karlsson, a detective whose career has been seriously threatened due to his friendship with Frieda, and you have the whole bunch.  But while they are all fiercely on Frieda’s side in her battle to convince the police that Reeve is still alive and out there, Reeve is threatening them all one by one.

This is high quality crime fiction.  There’s not a stereotype in sight; the world is created every bit as lucidly as Rankin’s Edinburgh and the characters drawn with a mature, clear-eyed vision.  But oh, my god, the ending!  They can’t do that – they just can’t!!

Kirk out

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

I am pleased to report that after Saturday’s horridness I received a very kind donation from a reader who had heard my poem ‘Spike’ the other weekend.  Hence I have now signed up to the garden bin scheme whereby I can get rid of all my prunings: and the guy who didn’t show up and subsequently declined the opportunity to help me out by taking prunings I had made myself, can have this raspberry:


I’m writing this quickly because I know you don’t have much time, ha ha – no, actually it’s because for once I have a Very Busy Day as I’m off to philosophise shortly, after which I will be meeting organisationally and left-unitarianly, following which I must whiz back and finish the painting before heading to an Artbeat meeting.  All jolly good fun, unlike the book I have been reading  which will be returned unfinished to the library.

It’s by the author of Gone Girl.  Dark Places is Gillian Flynn’s latest offering, and the title about sums it up.  ‘What’s the worst thing human beings can do to each other?’ would be a good subtitle, since she seems relentlessly to plumb* the depths of human behaviour.  From chapter to chapter the book goes lower and lower like Dante exploring the Inferno, but with no catharsis at the end.  And it seems to me that this is what a lot of modern crime fiction lacks: by going for gritty realism we lack the redemptive outcome of, say, a King Lear or a Julius Caesar – plays which, in their way, also explore the worst that human beings can do to each other.

The effect of this is not only depressing but also debilitating.  There’s nothing to offset the remorseless dystopia of the world of Dark Places; a world where a family is massacred supposedly by the elder son, on the evidence of the youngest daughter.  The story switches – in what seems to be an obligatory format these days – between the time of the murders (1985) and the recent past, and by the time we’d found out about each member of this family; a son supposedly into devil worship and definitely into drugs; a drunk and barely-coping mother and a father aptly named Runner who only turns up when he needs money and ends up living in an oil drum – I’d had more than enough.  I no longer cared who killed these people; all I knew was, I needed something more positive to read before I, too was killed by dint of losing the will to live.  ‘Goodnight, Mr Tom’ proved a good antidote, fortunately, and Gillian Flynn is now waiting – like some poor refugee under a UKIP government – to be returned whence she came.

Incidentally, I can’t cope with American names.  How is it somebody can be called Runner?  What sort of a name is that?

I must be off now.  See you on the other side!

Kirk out

*note the unsplit infinitive

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Bones…

It’s very difficult to know which of Kathy Reichs’ books you have read, because they are almost all called Something Bones. Or Bones Something, or Something and Bones, or Bones and Something.  You get the picture; lots of bones. In her day-job, Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, and that’s what she writes about in her novels too. Yet even though I’ve read most of them at least once, I still keep picking them up. What is it that fascinates me? Partly, it’s the enduring appeal of murder, partly it’s the endless fascination of human anatomy. Reichs’ plots thunder on like – well, like an express-train, though in quite a different idiom from Ian Rankin’s. Reich’s leaves plotlines hanging in the air, whereas Rankin dispenses quite early with red herrings, as if to say he’s not that kind of writer. But they both work.

And why is it that crime writing is so compelling? Is it our endless fascination with human anatomy? Or is it that the crime novel allows us to explore our own darker side without risk?

What do you think? Tell me who is your favourite crime writer and why.

Kirk out

I’m a Three-Headed Girl

Yes, this morning I am able to divide my head into three, just like Chris Conway’s Three-Headed Girl.  That’s my favourite song of his and I was really pleased when he did it last night, the audience standing in for the backing vocals:


Chris’s lyrics are always amusing and inventive and as a poet I appreciate his use of rhyme.  So that’s one head this morning, reliving the music and the beer – a light and hoppy JSB at the Criterion:



The other two heads are engaged in reading: one has just finished Kathy Reichs’ ‘Bones are Forever’:


and the other is stuck in a Val McDermid, ‘Crack Down’.  Both writers have two main series of novels featuring separate – and female – characters.  The Val McDermid is part of a series featuring Kate Brannigan, a private eye; though her best-known work showcases detective Carol Jordan and her sort-of consort Tony Hill:


So that’s me this morning: a three-headed girl.

Kirk out

What Have I Been Reading?

Yes, it’s Friday which means book reviews: so what have I been reading this week?  Well, I’ve been getting ahead with the Crime Reading Group material and I’ve finished the book for next month, which is ‘Blue Monday’ by Nicci French.  I had not come across Nicci French before, and that’s the great thing about this group: it introduces you to writers you would never have found on your own.  Even so, I had to start this one about four times, since I mostly read in bed at night, and this book begins with about three different stories starting in the first twenty pages, none of which seem to bear any relation to the other.  So inevitably I forgot what I’d read the night before and had to go back and start again, but eventually I gave it a solid half-hour in the daytime and then I got into it.

The first story is about a snatched child who disappears completely and is never found.  This failure haunts the police force who dealt with the case, and destroys the family as well.  Destroyed and failed families are a theme of the book, as elsewhere a pair of twins turns up who are separated at birth and have no knowledge of each other’s existence.  It turns out they share each other’s thoughts and feelings and one, a well-intentioned bloke who is seeing a psychiatrist, finds himself thinking the other’s criminal thoughts.

Meanwhile another child is snatched and the police, lacking any leads, turn in desperation to the same psychiatrist, Frieda, to see if she can help.

The story explores the differences between the logical, step-by-step approach the police have to take, and the intuitive, instinctive and imaginative leaps that Frieda is able to make.  There’s nothing facile here, and nothing comes easily either – or feels certain when it does come.  Even when the truth is discovered and two out of three cases are solved (a woman goes missing during the investigation and is never found) there’s very little sense of triumph or ‘wrapping things up’.  In fact I got a little exasperated with Frieda and her failure to engage with personal relationships or commit to a man she genuinely loves.  But this is an authentic and unpredictable story; and towards the end there’s a plot twist which I won’t reveal here but which actually made me gasp and shout ‘Oh no!’ – something I rarely do.*

Nicci French is an intelligent and accomplished writer and I was pleased to have been introduced to her.  I also have to say that I might not have persevered with it had it not been for the group, as I find stories about disappeared children very upsetting.

Here’s the book:


Oh, and in other news, Holly got an A for her English and a B for Graphics, so we’re very pleased about that.

Kirk out

*when reading a book, that is.  Otherwise I do it all the time…

It’s a Crime not to Read This

So… on Thursday I went along to the inaugural meeting of the local Crime Reading group: this took place in the library and turned out to be an all-women affair, though the facilitator, an ex-librarian, was male.  He proved to be very knowledgeable about crime and got the discussion going; though people didn’t need much encouragement, being a very vocal group.  We began with our favourite authors: M C Beaton was the first to be mentioned, an author towards the cosy end of crime who was referred to throughout as Mrs Beaton, which amused me.  Ian Rankin featured heavily, of course, as did Patricia Cornwell – whom I have yet to read – Kathy Reichs and Val McDermid were also mentioned; many people liked Agatha Christie (which I don’t) and what was surprising in retrospect was how little Sherlock Holmes was mentioned.  A sign of the times perhaps?

There was a potential split between those who wanted to focus purely on books and saw TV adaptations as irrelevant (‘I have only books and radio 4 in my house’ said one) and those – one woman in particular – who seemed very focussed on TV programmes and admitted to reading only ‘short, easy books.’  I suspect most people are like me, wanting to focus on books but also interested in the dialogue between books and other forms – and in particular, whether future books are influenced by past adaptations.  Some people claimed that Ian Rankin’s books, for example, had been changed by TV interpretations of Rebus.  So that will be interesting.

For next month we have a book to read which is based in the Island of Lewis off the coast of Scotland, called Black House.  I’m finding it interesting so far and he evokes the setting well:


And so to the Ale Wagon, where Jan and I discussed Scottish independence and whether the vote would go through if they had it tomorrow.  She reckoned it might…

…and going back to yesterday’s theme, there’s an awful lot of talk about tennis injuries and why the courts are so slippery, but few people seem to mention the obvious: the utterly crappy summer we’ve been having.


Kirk out