Iain McDowall
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news, events, rants



Today is Agatha Christie's birthday her 126th if she

were still with us: although a lot of the time it seems

as if she is anyway. I'm not personally a big fan of

her style of crime fiction. Amongst the classic crime

writers, my heroes are authors like Simenon,

Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Patricia Highsmith.

But I vastly prefer her books to the ghastly Downton

Abbey-esque treatments they're typically subjected

to on UK television. All that dreary snobbery and

tedious 'national treasure' over-acting. I'm spending

a lot of time in France at the moment where, by

complete contrast, there's a Christie-based TV

series, Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, which is

actually quite a lot of fun. They've transported her

universe to Northern France in the 1950s which

turns out to be an effective move. They don't take

the original stories over-seriously, they’ve added

on a swathe of engaging French characters and

somehow they’ve imbued the whole thing with a

layer of Gallic sexiness. Check it out if you get the

chance - at least it will take your mind off le Brexit ...




As if choosing Boris Johnson as our new mascot

abroad wasn’t embarrassing enough, the British

Establishment continues to make a massive fool

of itself via hysterical over-reaction to the

prospect of Jeremy Corbyn continuing as the

democratically-elected leader of the Labour Party.

The BBC has long since given up any pretence of

impartiality in its reporting of the story as has

ninety-five per cent of the national press: all the

way from the Sun to the Guardian and back again.

Day after day comes the drip-feed of bile, innuendo

and obfuscation. The Guardian in particular –

formerly Inspector Jacobson’s newspaper-of-choice

(and mine) – has morphed into one of the worst

offenders. Watching its regular columnists vie with

each other to file the most virulent anti-Corbyn

copy is spectator sport at its most dismal.


Major celebrities – JK Rowling – and minor ones –

Ross Kemp and an actor I’ve never heard of from

Emmerdalehave already been co-opted to Project

Fear Corbyn so it was only a matter of time before

the dragnet began to be cast more widely.

Predictably enough, the first few crime writers are

now starting to be embroiled – at least if the

anti-Corbyn poem which recently appeared on

Sophie Hannah’s website is anything to go by. That

a writer of light verse should write some new light

verse hardly seems newsworthy to me. But such is

the stop-Corbyn climate, that The Bookseller ran

with it as a front-page item.


The first lines are fairly representative:

It’s the year 2147.

Cancer’s cured & we’ve privatized snow

And a robot’s your neighbour

Yet still, same old Labour

For Corbyn refuses to go.”

Oh dear, Sophie. In the immortal words of Jesse

Pinkman’s high school woodwork instructor: is that

all you got?


For a crack of light in the encircling gloom – and for

grown-up, nuanced analyses of what the Corbyn

phenomenon actually signifies – you might care to

check this article by Mary Dejevsky in the Independent

and this one by Kevin McKenna in the Herald Scotland.

Dr McDowall advises that you read them at

three-hourly intervals with a glass of water until the

swelling starts to go down ...




Gratifying to see DS Kerr on prime-time television at

last (even in the absence of Inspector Jacobson and the

rest of the team). Sadly, the murder detective currently

guesting on Coronation Street isn't the (male) DS Kerr

from the Crowby novels but a completely different one

and entirely the brainchild of the scriptwriters – who’ve

come up with an attractive, efficient female instead of

– well, instead of whatever you think the two-second

description of the Crowby Kerr ought to be.


So it goes – but at least the other DS Kerr is on

Corrie, indisputably the UK’s finest soap, the one that Chaucer/Shakespeare/Dickens would be writing for

if they were alive today et cetera (to settle that old

debate in passing) and not on shouty Eastenders ...




Judging by the preview track, Wristband, Paul Simon’s

new album is going to be a gem. Simon and his band

did an amazing live version of the song on the Jools

Holland show last week, laying down the kind of

infectious chorus and cool sinuous rhythms that you

instantly want to put on endless repeat. And all of

that’s before you start to consider the lyric.


Simon starts out with an apparently simple incident:

a rock star accidentally shut out of his own gig and

denied re-entry backstage because he’s not wearing

the stipulated wristband. But soon enough it

becomes apparent that we’re also in the

territory of a profound extended metaphor. The

privileged socio-economic and cultural elites of

modern neo-liberal societies flash their wristbands

at will. Everyone else is band-less, voiceless

(or unheeded) and shut-out: “towns that never

get a wristband, kids that can’t afford the cool



Many thousands of words will be written this year

by commentators trying to account for the

anti-elite sentiment spreading across the United

States and Europe and finding for itself many

different (and often conflicting) outlets. But just

like Bob Dylan’s best work achieved back in the

1960s, Paul Simon’s new tune presents at least

as much insight within a few succinct verses.

Pretty much a masterclass in how to tell a story

that reaches eloquently beyond itself. And better

yet, you can dance to it ...




I've never envied book prize judges. A large pile of

books to wade through regardless of whether or not

you would actually choose to read any of them. It’s a

lot of work for the sake of a plate of rubber chicken

and a glass of underwhelming prosecco at an awards

dinner. This might be part of the thinking behind the

French award, Le Prix de la Page 112, which has just

announced its list of finalists for 2016. To come up

with a short-list rapidement, those clever French

judges only read page 112 of each entry. If page

112 doesn’t cut it, the entry swims with the fishes.

Ten minutes in the judging room and then off to the

nearest bar. The French, in case you didn’t know,

have a lot of style (and they don’t care for rubber

chicken). It’s an idea that might catch on – and,

of course, all of my books have impeccable page

112s ...




Blackstar is just about all I’m listening to right now –

and may remain so for some time to come. The

biggest Bowie fan in the Jacobson books is probably

Martin Grove from Envy The Dead. The first time -

fatefully - he meets Claire Oldham, he notices Let’s

Dance playing on her car radio. Later on, in one of

his journal extracts, he tells us about the night he

slept out in an open field under a clear sky looking

(at least in his imagination) for “the starman Bowie

had promised us would show up soon and fix the

world’s mess for it. That had been a decade before

– and we were all still waiting. I’d loved Bowie when

I’d been a little kid though, used to play him loud

when my mum was out. Something larger than life

about him. Larger than my life anyway.” 




"But the book’s not done. Nor is it likely to be

finished  tomorrow, or next week."


George RR Martin’s announcement that his latest

Game Of Thrones novel has missed a publisher’s

deadline is certainly the most refreshing book news

of 2016 so far.


Kudos to Mr Martin for being upfront about the writing

process. Kudos also to those of his fans who’ve

posted their messages of support.


In the domain of crime fiction, a new-book-every-year

has almost become a commercial norm, often with

dubious benefits in terms of quality. Writing takes as

long as it takes and good books, on average, take

longer than bad ones.


Sincerely, Iain


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The Evil Thereof

Inspector Jacobson's most disturbing case ever. A case that might also be his last ...

"Riveting ... highly recommended."




Envy The Dead

A miscarriage of justice turns deadly ...

"Dark and extraordinary ... read it and savour every word."




Iain McDowall

"McDowall puts his work at the cutting-edge of the genre."

Read more>>