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
Emmerdale – have 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
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.