It provided the antithesis of what John Fullerton said makes a good spy in that panel, but oh, what a film! Bond, now in the wonderful human form that is Daniel Craig, is very noticeable. No woman with a beating heart would fail to notice this man.
Bond, being human, also has an ego and this leads to an error of judgment on his part in the early minutes of the film, for which he gets a severe reprimand from M (Dame Judy Dench on superb form and again, clearly enjoying herself).
Again, making the fictional character a candidate for the P45 in the real world, Bond fell in love with Vesper, the woman from the Treasury, on hand to authorise his millions as he took part in a more than major poker game.
Dead Connection is Alafair Burke's first standalone novel following her successful Samantha Kincaid series. It's published by Henry Holt in the US and Orion in the UK. And it's a rather topical novel using online dating and identity theft within its plot (only yesterday there was another article in the UK press about the risks of online social networking).
So what's the plot for this work of crime fiction?
In a nutshell: Two women have been murdered in New York and both had been on dates through a dating site immediately before, with their murderer deliberately leaving clues to connect the deaths. Flann McIlroy - a bit of a maverick cop when it comes to courting publicity - has Detective Ellie Hatcher transferred to the case as he wants to use her to smoke out the murderer. The investigation becomes personal for Ellie in more ways than one, as her past catches up with her and the murderer exploits it...
Ellie's personal life is a troubled one where she, her mother and her brother are still trying to get over the death of her father. He lost his life when trying to catch a serial killer. Where Ellie became a cop like her father, her brother pursues his dream of success in the word of music, moving from job to job in the meantime, occasionally seeking succour from the more reliable Ellie.
Ellie and Flann are strong engaging characters and they have an interesting relationship where it takes time to build trust. The plot is tight and the narrative moves at quite a pace. Prepare yourself for a shocker before the end; this novel will grip you emotionally too.
Wonderfully topical, this novel both entertains and educates. It's a great piece of crime fiction from Alafair Burke. I question the "standalone" though. Surely a character such as Ellie has a bright future and readers would want to have more? I hope so.
Update: Alafair Burke tells me that she's working on another Ellie Hatcher novel. Good news all round.
Looking at your sitemeter statistics is enlightening to say the least and sometimes a bit of a laugh.
A glut of recent searches coming through has people searching for "Keith Allen dame". No surprises there. But I can promise that it won't be on this site that the "dame" will be outed. I know who'd I'd put my money on, however...
I can only guess that Keith Allen's memoir "Grow Up" was published in Sweden and Norway yesterday, or that he was doing a gig there. Last night's searches suddenly went wild with "Keith Allen Grow Up", all from Sweden and Norway.
Sadly, as this is a blog about books, I've mentioned two TV series on here and they get the next places on entry pages after Keith Allen's "Grow Up" and the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. One relates the last episode of "Prime Suspect" (a class act) and the other is the series "The State Within".
Recent searches have had people hunting information on Mark Mills's "The Savage Garden", Fred Vargas's "Wash This Blood Clean from my Hands", Chris Simm's "Outside the White Lines". All fine novels.
On the "reliably contrarian" blog from Richard Charkin last week, he reported about a Travelodge survey on what British people prefer to do in bed. The results were surprising.
I also attended the "Getting it Right" panel, but took no notes. "Getting it Right" was all about the need for accurate detail when setting novels in the past. There was a last minute slight change to the panel's configuration, but it proved to be an entertaining hour all the same. If you're looking for something different Jason Goodwin's novels feature a protagonist that is a eunuch.
This year was different for me as it was a fleeting visit and I had plans to meet up with a few people. The list grew due to unexpected opportunities.
Donna Moore, author of the Lefty award winning "Go to Helena Handbasket" proved to be a delightful breakfast companion and I look forward to reading her novel. Thanks to Donna for the copy.
Alas, I managed only what felt like seconds, but was possibly a minute or two with Chris Ewan, author of "The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam. I wish we'd had more time. We connected just as I'd managed to touch base with John Lawton and Chris was about to leave. But it was a splendid moment or two, evidencing further the generosity that authors have in leaps and bounds. Chris generously signed my copies of his début novel and John Lawton took interest in the novel. A piece of mutual connection was quickly found. Chris lives on the Isle of Man and John noted that some of his current novel is set there. My thanks to Chris for what we managed in that slender slot of time.
On stage for this panel event were John Fullerton; Dan Fesperman; C J Sansom; The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction author Barry Forshaw, with Natasha Cooper interrogating gently (chairing). Some highlights follow.
We kicked off hearing the panel's thoughts on the secret of espionage fiction. Forshaw said he thinks the best espionage fiction has great texture; it can deal with betrayal and political issues in a more sophisticated way than pure crime fiction. He sees it as "much richer than crime fiction".
Cooper, being the only female on stage was interested in the male female divide. She sees it as a male genre, but with women reading it. Many women have been successful spies, she said. So why don't women write it?
Fullerton replied that he has no idea why women don't write in this genre but thinks that women are better at psychological writing. It's a genre that has every man's toys and breaks all the rules. However, in the real world of espionage, Fullerton was keen to add, "You can't break the rules".
Sansom said his spy is a reluctant spy and not a very good spy. He lacks the key component of being at a certain ease, i.e. enjoying deception. It's considered morally wrong, but spies have to do it. There's an additional dimension to the police. As for women not writing spy novels, Sansom believes it's entirely prejudice as they think it's all about boys' toys. "Men and women", he added, "are good at deception".
Forshaw noted a dip in spy fiction following the end of the cold war but was keen to add that Stella Rimington has written spy novels. He told us that she was more worried about the rise in Islamic terrorism as no one knows where they are.
(Apologies in advance for some blurry pics and the assorted shapes for the pics.)
The debate was "Who writes the best crime fiction? The US or the UK?" For the US we had, below from the left, Harlan Coben (tell everyone he was there) and Lee Child (born in Birmingham in the UK, before he escaped to the US and started his brilliant "Jack Reacher" career in crime fiction). In the middle is Mark Lawson from the BBC, chairing, umpiring and applying scores at his discretion (proving he was a tough nut to crack in respect of the UK's position).
At some point we were told that on this occasion the UK would indeed include Scotland...
Opening arguments from both sides were given five minutes each and Val McD kicked off, certainly filling her five minutes with a well researched proposal as to why the UK led the field. Even Edgar Allen Poe was educated in the UK before moving back to the US and writing crime fiction, didn't you know? The UK simply has so much history as a well established country - the parent of all, including crime fiction, if you like; whereas the US may be considered to be still in nappies (diapers). (My words, not hers - it's a summary for you to get the drift...)
Lee Child came back later with a denigration of all things "cosy" (as he saw it) in the UK, picking on one of the UK's most respected and read crime fiction authors, honoured and now seen as national treasure - Ruth Rendell. OK, we had rain and floods and more rain, during the weekend. But, according to Lee Child, a Ruth Rendell suspense plot revolves around: Will it rain? How long will it rain? Is it still raining? Do I need to take my umbrella? Will the rain cause damp in the kitchen? Or arguments to that effect.
Where Harlan Coben took up the mantle with great aplomb, Mark Billingham was sound with his rejoinder. And vitriolic. I'm not sure when he got to the point of indicating that the Scots could "...bugger off and take the Welsh..." with them, but that's English jealousy for you. (The Midlands got the Welsh Elan Valley water pretty cheap for years, but now Wales has its own WAG. No, nothing to do with football. On this occasion it's the Welsh Assembly Government. And some of us Welshies do love the English too, you know!)
Then after the main arguments, a selection of "team members" added their own thoughts to the proceedings and the scoring, with up to a minute to pour forth...
(I'm having problems with the pics from the Saturday night debate - trying to lose backs of heads and plenty of bald patches for you - so, I'll kick off with the "Crime in the City" Panel.)
This panel featured Graham Hurley (series set in Portsmouth); (Paul Johnston (Edinburgh, London, Greece); Michelle Spring (Cambridge, London); David Hewson (Venice, Rome, Italy); and was chaired by the ever probing radio journalist and bibliophile Paul Blezard.
Blezard opened with a topical comment about the rain and flooding. If I remember the details correctly, he said his MD had just phoned to tell him that they had about 9 inches of water in the basement at the studio - where they have about 15,000 books. (Not sure about the 15,000, but it was definitely in the thousands.) He said he had to deal with it when he "got back". (By the way, as long as you could get to Harrogate, it was relatively rain free and you'd never guess the extent of the country's devastation when there, unless you caught up with the news, or saw some of the destruction en route and then felt lucky to arrive.)
So, on to the authors and here are some notes from the session.
Blezard wanted to know why Hurley chose Portsmouth and two particular characters; what did the characters give to the town and the town to the characters. Hurley said you write about what you know. For him, Portsmouth, or "Pompy" as he affectionately calls it, was a blessing as a one-off airport thriller before he turned to writing crime. However, Portsmouth does not travel well in the world of metropolitan publishing and can bring a smile to a publisher's face - part pretty, part contempt.
Then he asked Hewson why Venice, why Rome, why Italian crime? Hewson said he grew up in Bridlington, which he described as a "grey part of the world", adding "I didn't see the colour yellow until seven years old". But, surrounded by books in that grey world, Hewson loved the Mediterranean. For Hewson, he considers himself much better at writing about what he doesn't know than what he does know. He also added that the market for books based in Bridlington is even worse than for Portsmouth...
A digression I know, but this is important. From the BBC's website, we have a timely reminder about the risks of identity theft, increased through online social networking. Credit information group Equifax is concerned about members of sites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.
Interestingly, the article says "About 80,000 people in the UK were victims of identity theft last year, at a cost to the economy of £1.5bn. "
"Neil Munroe, external affairs director for Equifax, said: 'Fraudsters are taking advantage of the new craze for social networking. The problem is that people don't realise the significance of the kind of information they are putting out on the web and who may be accessing it. More and more consumers are signing up to these sites every day and chances are they'll put on their date of birth, location, e-mail, job and marital status. Fraudsters can use this information to steal an individual's identity and open accounts in their name.'"
Just back from the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival after quite a cross country trek due to the adverse weather conditions. Train cancellations meant that my route up had to change, but thanks to mobile phones and Clare Dudman (saviour of the day on Friday evening when trying to work out connections), I did manage to get there late on Friday night after the last event.
Alas, Frederick Forsyth could not make it on the Saturday night to his sold out event due to the flooding, but the treasures that are some of the best crime fiction authors we know and love quickly put a contingency plan into action. Mark Lawson chaired a debate instead, pitting the UK vs the US on the question of who writes the best crime fiction. (More on that one later in the week, with pics.)
By hook or by croook, or by various forms of transport including a plane and a speeding car, Jason Goodwin did make it to his panel "Getting It Right" on the historical crime novel. Superlative team efforts do deserve acknowledgement.
Also later in week, I'll have some comments on the "Crime in the City" and the "Secrets, Spies and Foreign Affairs" panels.
John Lawton's latest novel Second Violin was on sale at the festival and he has very kindly agreed to an interview for this blog. So if you harbour any burning questions about his novels, please add them to the comments here or email me (see the "about" page). The interview will be posted up here in a month or so. I'm looking forward to the next instalment in the life of Freddie Troy and Second Violin looks pretty damn good from reading the first few pages on the train.
Last, but not least, I was not on the winning team for the quiz. If I'm there next year, I'm taking a good torch with me. (A bad loser always blames her lack of tools...) But it was great fun as usual. There were even more tables in the hall this year; an obvious piece of evidence of increasing popularity for the festival.