Sue Wilson examines the latest batch of crime fiction by women.
I Cruel and Unusual/All That Remains Patricia D. Cornwell (Little Brown £14.99/Warner £4.99). Chief Medical Examiner Dr Kay Searpetta. the central character in Cornwell‘s four thrillers. has won quite a following despite her gruesome calling (lots of autopsies). The unsensationalist. though graphic. medical material adds a gritty macabre edge to the books‘ taut plotting — in the new hardback. a series of homicides leads to the suspicion that a supposedly executed murderer is in fact alive and on the streets; the reissue features a cunning serial killer whojust might be a rogue FBI agent.
I The ltate Delafield Mysteries Katherine V. Forrest (all Grafton £4.99) LAPD homicide detective Kate l)elafre1d is another affection-earning serial character and Forrest‘s novels are additionally interesting for their unobtrusively polernical gay-activist slant. All four titles — Amateur City. Murder at tlte Ni ghtwood Bar. Tlte Beverly Malibu and Murder By Tradition - have been newly reissued. with plots ranging from the anyone-could-have-dunnit stabbing of a universally-hated company boss to the
gaybashing murder of a young restaurateur.
I Cracking Open A Coffin Gwendoline Butler (Grafton £4.99) For his trrnpteenth fictional appearance. Butler subjects her outer-London Chief Commander John Coffin to a bit of inner searching. as his investigation into the murders of two female students forces him painfully to examine his own capacity for violence. A tad slow-moving. and the outbreaks of moody psychological ambience sit somewhat oddly with the quirky tone elsewhere.
I Fatlands Sarah Dunant (Hamish Hamilton £14.99) With her smart. bolslry PI Hannah Wolfe. late Show presenter Dunant is among a growing number of talented Paretsky-ish Brits. Plenty of enjoyable irony here. in the cheeky references to detective-fiction conventions dotted throughout a compelling tale of dodgy agrochernieal research and animal rights militants. and some thoughtful moral philosophy too.
I Poetry Competition The Poetry Business. 51 Byrarn Arcade. Westgate. Huddersﬁeld. HDI IND. Seventh annual competition run by Huddersfield‘s poetry teaching and publishing centre; two winners will be published in a single volume under their Smith/Doorstop imprint. Full details and entry forms from address above.
I Tony Benn John Smith & Son. 57 Vincent Street. 221 0890. Tue 22. 12.30pm. Free. The uncompromising Labour MP signing copies of his latest book Common Sense: A New Constitution for Britain (Century-Hutchinson £8.99). I Virago 20th Birthday Party Waterstone‘s. 45/50 Princes Square. 221 9650. Tue 22. 7pm. Free. The world's largest feminist publisher gies it laldy around the nation's bookshops this month to celebrate two decades of successful existence; tonight's event features readings and chat from Virago authors Sheena Mackay. Sara Maitland and Ellen Galford. See preview.
I Feminist Book Festival: Jung Chang Waterstone’s 132 Union Street. 221 ()890. Wed 23. lpm. Free. Signing session by the Chinese author of the hugely acclaimed multi-generation (auto)biography Wild Swans (Flamingo £6.99).
I lloddy Doyle Waterstone‘s. 132 Union Street. 221 0890. Wed 23. 6.30pm. Free. The popular lrish author of the Barrytown
manure- TRAVELLERS’ TALES
I Travellers: Voices of the low Age Nomads Richard Lowe & William Shaw (4th Estate £8.99). After extensive press coverage. it was only a matter of titrre before a book on the Tories‘ favourite bugbear appeared. Lowe and Shaw spent the 1992—3 winter interviewing travellers at sites around the country; using edited-down first-hand accounts. they build up a detailed picture of life on the road in 90s Britain from a rmrltittrde of perspectives — earnestly mystical hippies to blissed-out ravers. The pleasures of shitting in the woods; the
I Thoughts of Murdo lain Crichton Smith (Balnain £7.99) Were Murdo Macrae to take on human countenance. ineomers to the Highlands would say ‘the man is a lunatic‘. They would shtrn his rambling discourses on herring. Gaelic poetry and Caledonian MacBrayne. His adjudications at the Mod — ‘his creation of twenty four equal placings out of a total entry of 21 was the most dazzling arithmetic feat ever seen and also the fairest‘ 1— his attempt to gain public office on the Council aid the tales of his own GBEIL’S anIL I In The Fascist Bathroom (.ireil Marcus (Viking £16.99) The 48-year- old ‘1)can Of American Rock Critics‘ is building himself up a treat little bibliography. what with Mystery Train. Lipstick 'I'raees. Dead Elvis and now this collection of articles about punk. written between 1977 and 1992. Their subjects range widely. but enough key names emerge — Costello. Springsteen. The Clash. Mekons. Gang Of Four. Lilliput. Essential Logic — to make it an episodic sequel to .l’lystery Train. Marcus‘s is a broad definition of
trilogy — The ('mnmitments The Snapper: and The Van — reads from and signs copies of his new novel Paddy Clarke Ha. Ha, Ha (Seeker & Warbtrrg £14.99).
I Feminist Book Festival: Harriet Harman John Smith & Son. 252 Byres Road. 331 1215. Wed 23. 7pm. Free. The Labour MP talking about and signing copies of her new book on modern male- fernale relationships. The Century Gap (Ebury £7.99).
I Rosemary Long Waterstone's. 45/50 Princes Square. 221 9650. Thtrr 1. 7pm. Free. The Herald and Evening Times journalist talks about her life in Scotland and Gambia. as recounted in her autobiography Under the Baobab Tree (Dobby £12.99).
I Roddy Doyle Waterstone‘s. 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Tue 22. 7pm. Free. The popular lrish author of the Barrytown trilogy — The Commitments The Snapper. and The Van — reads from and signs copies of his new novel Paddy Clarke Ha. Ha. Ha (Seeker & Warburg £14.99).
I Feminist Book Festival: Jung Chang James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Tue 22. 7.30pm. Free. The author of the hugely acclaimed multi-generation (auto)biography Wild Swans (Flamingo £6.99) talks about her and her family's life in Communist China: a bi-lingual evening co-organised with the School of East Asian Studies.
I Virago 20th Birthday party Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Tue 22. 7.30pm. Free. The world's largest
pain-in-the-ass ofevictions; the travellers‘ informal mini-economy (contrary to the universal ‘scroungers‘ tag. many eschew the broo. subsisting through casual work and barter); Stonehenge. the Battle ofthe Beanfreld. Castlemonon; the interesting logistics of living in a van: the freedom; the overriding desire to be left in peace. After all the press attention. the book holds few surprises; a more analytical tack. perhaps through a debate between travellers. landowners and politicians. would have been welcome. As a warts- and-all portrait ofa community and a way of life. however. it‘s hard to fault. (Sue Wilson)
religious private detective. Sam Spaid of Ponrec. would be as opaque as a tin ofspaghetti from the Co~op.
Confined to this selection of short notes. letters and accounts of his life. however. he takes on a colourful reality. a delightfully bizarre rival to Myles nu Gopalecn‘s famous Irish Times column. Here is humour and deep irony. yet the tales are anything but impenetrable to those outwith the Highlands and Islands. As the man himself has written: ‘No man is an island. but Harris is.‘ (Thom Dibdin)
punk. embracing King (If/Interim and Nebraska. but context is all. and as the truth of the 1980 election result sinks in. Marcus clings ever more tightly to Costello and Springsteen for meaning. What separates him from the over- subseribed club of rock academics are the glimpses. in between the intellectual aerobics. ofjust how rrrtrclr rrrore personal and desperate his quest for that meaning is. Thoughtful stuff. which is rewarding but often requires sputh of concentration. (Alastair
feminist publisher gies it laldy around the nation‘s bookshops this month to celebrate two decades of succesful existence; tonight‘s event features readings and chat from Virago authors and editors Lynne Knight. Georgina Hammick and Kathleen Jamie. See preview.
I Feminist Book Festival: Margaret leroy James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Wed 23. 7pm. Free. The social worker. sex counsellor and now author talking about her book Pleasure: The Truth About Female Seruality (HarperCollins £16.99).
I John Mortimer Waterstone’s. 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Wed 23. 7.30pm. The creator of television's best- loved lawyer reading from and signing copies of his latest novel Dunster (Penguin £4.99) and also The Best of Runtpole (Penguin £5.99).
I Polygon Award Celebration/launch Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. .725 3436. Thurs 24. 7.30pm. Free. Wine and cake party to celebrate Polygon‘s winning the Sunday Times Small Publisher of the Year award. with readings by John Herdrnan (whose new book Imelda and Other Stories (Polygon £7.95). is also launched tonight). A. L. Kennedy. Frank Kuppner. Gordon Legge and Angela McSeveney.
I Women In Publishing Filmhouse. Lothiarr Road. info 343 2050. Thurs 1. 7.30pm. Free. All welcome. Toniglrt‘s monthly meeting focuses on practical matters of Marnrnon. with a team of financial advisers talking about tax. pensions and so on. plus an EC video Women in Partnership. offering a European perspective.
BEFORE THE BREAK
Author and critic John llerdman, whose new book Imelda and Other Stories, is published this month by Polygon, talks to Sue Wilson about his career.
‘l’m from Edinburgh, originally; I did a
degree in English at Cambridge, 1960-63, and then I’ve really been a professional writer for my whole career. I lived in Edinburgh until about ten years ago, and since, I’ve been mostly in Perthshire. I got a PhD as well, though that was actually awarded for my published work; 1 went back and did a year’s research, then gave that up and got the doctorate years later, for a variety of things, including a critical book on Bob Dylan, and won the double in 19th century fiction.
‘l’ve written mainly fiction — short stories and short novels - and literary criticism; I’ve recently finished my first play, which was a new departure. And I write occasional articles for the Herald; every now and again they ask me do semi-polemical pieces, let off a bit a steam. But fiction’s really been my main interest, right since I first started writing in the early 60$, even though my output hasn’t been very large. The three novellas Polygon published in 1987 had all previously been published separately by small Scottish presses, and there were also another two or three little books, pamphlets really, short prose of one kind or another. I’ve basically worked freelance, with a couple of Arts Council bursaries, and a couple of writer-in-residence jobs. It seems ungrateful to say so, but that never really suited me - l welcomed the financial help at the time, but I’m not really a teacher.
‘There was a time starting in the late 70s when I stopped writing fiction; that was when I wrote those two non- fiction books. That was due to a lot of different personal factors; 1 was getting very disillusioned with the difficulty of getting into print, I also became a Catholic around that time, which diverted some of my energy. When I wrote a story called The Devil and Doctor Tuberose, that was the first substantial thing I’d written for about ten years, and I thought it worked, so that really started me going again; that was a turning-point for me.
‘All the books I’ve written so far have been novella length; I’d like to write a full-length novel sometime - I’ve set out with that intention in the past, but all the books so far have turned out very much shorter than expected. That just seems to be the form I’m suited to.’
The l.lsl IX Jllllc‘ l July “’93