Gig Review: Crime Night at the Rooftop Book Club

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Not being a resident of London I look at the wealth of book events happening in our capital city with a touch of envy. Seeing pictures of all those happy people getting together to celebrate the work of the authors whose books make my life so much better is delightful, but does make me feel somewhat wistful that I can so rarely join them.

When I read online last year about a new initiative from publishers Headline, the Rooftop Book Club, I started to dream that one day I too would stand on the terrace of Carmelite House (the headquarters of Hachette UK) and enjoy a book event whilst gazing out over the Thames. Yesterday this became a reality. The line up for their collaboration with Crime Files was enough to persuade me to make the journey, an eight hour round trip as it turned out, and be a part of something rather than watch from afar.

I attended the evening with my daughter, a student in the city and also a writer (fan fiction rather than a blog). Prior to the event we explored the area as tourists, braving rain, hail and snow between the sunshine. It was one of those days when the British weather appeared unable to decide what to do. Thankfully when the time came to climb to the top of 50 Victoria Embankment the only inclement weather was a stiff breeze. We could cope with that.

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We were welcomed with a glass of wine and had time to venture out onto the terrace and mingle with other attendees before the event kicked off. I recognised a few faces but all seemed engrossed in conversation so I contented myself with playing ‘spot the book celebrity’. The organisor, Caitlin Raynor, then invited us to take our seats and the guest authors were introduced.

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The first panel consisted of James Law, Claire McGowan and Elly Griffiths discussing ‘Sense of Place: Region as Character’. Chaired by the Daily Telegraph’s crime reviewer, Jake Kerridge, this turned into a fascinating discussion during which it became apparent that crime writers like to locate their stories within a broadly defined ‘closed room’ but that this could be anywhere. You could see new ideas for plots forming in the author’s heads as alternatives were suggested.

Each explained their reasons for choosing particular locations – Elly had fond memories of Norfolk from childhood and is inspired by the archaeology, Claire wished to write Ireland out of her system, James worked on submarines for many years and when the idea of setting a story on one was suggested he thought it was a grand idea.

The authors offered the audience an insight into the way a story is conceived. They agreed that a fictional place offers more scope for creative writing, and also avoids the possibility of being sued for misrepresentation!

There followed a short break during which time I helped myself to a second glass of wine and returned to the terrace just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. London from this vantage point was looking very beautiful despite the cold.

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The second panel of the evening consisted of Antonia Hodgson, Sarah Hilary and Janet Ellis discussing ‘London: Past and Present’. Chaired by author, journalist and Times reviewer Antonia Senior they were quizzed on their views of the city and how important it was to their plots. As their novels are set over different historical time periods this offered an insight into how period can be a factor in the detail, but that people are much the same.

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I enjoyed their musings on research and how, for them, Google can be more useful than personal experience of a place. They prefer to allow the plot to lead and characters to develop rather than fretting over factual detail. There will always be a reader pointing out something they believe is incorrect.

The evening concluded with thanks and a show of appreciation from the rapt audience before the authors made themselves available to sign copies of their books. As I had a bus to catch across London I felt compelled to hurry away, pausing only to admire the night time skyline.

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I am grateful to all who made this fun and fascinating evening possible. I may now enjoy the contents of the generous goody bag that was given to each attendee. My tote bag collection is growing.

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Book Review: The Dead Ground

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The Dead Ground, by Claire McGowan, is the second book in a series of crime thrillers featuring a forensic psychologist named Paula Maguire. I have not read the first in this series and was unaware that police forces in Britain, let alone Ulster, employed forensic psychologists. Having been born and raised in Northern Ireland where the book is set, I was interested to see how the author, also a native of the province, would deal with the ingrained beliefs and prejudices of the indigenous population, some of whom may be unwilling to accept the usefulness of such a crime fighter.

The plot centres around a series of abductions and murders. Someone in the small, rural community is taking very young babies, murdering those associated with them, even cutting them unborn from their mother’s wombs. It is a blood soaked, grisly tale with few clues as to who the perpetrators may be. There are undercurrents of religion, sectarianism and fanaticism, but at its heart this is a tale of motherhood and loss.

Alongside the main plot runs the unfolding story of Paula Maguire, whose personal life is a mess. Throughout the book she seems to be on the verge of collapse, a woman badly in need of a substantial meal and a good night’s sleep. I was unclear why a forensic psychologist would be so key as to require waking early every morning by colleagues needing her to attend to some critical matter, especially as she seemed to be something of a novelty within the police force. Ireland has indeed changed if its upholders of law and order now value the input of psychologists so highly.

Putting this view aside, because to enjoy a book it is often necessary to just go with the flow, this is a well written crime novel. The plot is complex but credible, the many twists and turns prevent it becoming too predictable. The ties of family are well portrayed, with some relishing the closeness and others desiring an escape from the stifling expectations of familial bonds. I recognised this Ireland and liked that it was portrayed without being overly judgemental.

The crimes depicted are gruesome and the desperation of the police to stop those involved before more blood is shed palpable. The coldness of the winter weather, remoteness of the locations, fear within the local population as the number of crimes escalates, are all vividly described. At every stage I wanted to know what would happen next and, despite the clues, could not guess exactly how all the loose ends were to be tied.

If you enjoy reading crime thrillers then give yourself a treat and get to know this author’s work. In such a popular genre it is a challenge to find such a fresh voice.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.