Femmes Fatales of the North East

On Wednesday 15th March four female crime writers from the North East of the UK came together in a panel on regional crime fiction – run by Waterstones Newcastle.

The event brought writers Sheila Quigely, Eileen Wharton, KA Richardson and Danielle Ramsey all together to discuss their fiction, in a discussion chaired by Jackie Collins, a lecturer from Newcastle University.

The discussion started with a look the main uniting factor: the regional identity of the authors and their books. All of these women were either born or live locally, and they are down to earth, easy to relate to and understand. Sheila Quigley, with a thick Geordie accent, talks of the importance of producing North East literature, to combat the London and South oriented focus in the industry. However, the dialect itself could pose a problem, all writers note that to some extent if used too much it wouldn’t travel well overseas. However, KA Richardson was keen to emphasise that this makes the books more accessible locally – speaking to people in the way that they speak and about places they know.

In discussing accessibility and the publishing industry itself Quigley points out the issue with ebooks, which are often a similar price to their hardcopy counterparts. Quigley is humorous and relatable, picking up on such issues, and she frequently triggers a wave of laughter throughout the audience.

Looking more closely at their specific books, Danielle Ramsay discussed how her detective character began as a female but she wasn’t flawed enough and ended up being rewritten as a man. This triggered some consideration of the tropes in crime fiction which we have come to expect. Even Ramsay acknowledged that the flawed, anti-hero male detective, a response to previous typical figures, has become a cliche itself.

Quigley described the process of character creation as compositing a number of real people. Wharton notes that all of her female characters are strong, of not likeable – some are even nasty. KA Richardson explains how all of these writers are just real people writing what they know and giving voices to those who don’t have them.

The discussion was so interesting because these writers are real working people – KA Richardson worked as a Crime Scene Investigator, and still works with the emergency services, while Eileen Wharton is a working single mum. They are all enthusiastic about their region and keen to represent the North East within their fiction. I for one will be looking to read more from my local area starting with these wonderful writers!

 

 

Review: The Roanoke Girls

4-stars

I was intrigued by the the premise of The Roanoke Girls and so was keen to get a hold of a copy to review. It sounded like Amy Engel is one of the many authors contributing to the mass of crime thrillers featuring ‘girls’, in the wake of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and more recently The Girls.

The book is short – 288 pages in total and is compelling so it didn’t take me long to read, although by the time I finished I felt incredibly confused and conflicted – and you’ll see why.

The premise is that girls from the Roanoke family have all been disappearing and dying at young ages – all before their teens, with the exception of Lane’s mother, however when she commits suicide, her daughter Lane is forced to go stay with her grandparents and cousin at the family home. There is a taboo subject which lies under the events of the whole novel and is fairly easy to work out from near the start. What is more interesting is the disappearance of Allegra 10 years later.

The novel is split into sections, skipping from the past to present, both focalised through Lane. Interspersed throughout the novel are also short sections about each of the Roanoke Girls. I actually very much enjoyed these devices which helped drive the mystery behind the story and feed ideas of conspiracy – even though we know most of what is going on it becomes more about the detail and how it occurs. Engel used the Roanoke reference – with it’s connotations of mystery and The Lost Colony, very well. Possibly for this reason it also felt reminiscent of American Horror Story  (without the horror and gore). It also felt incredibly cinematic – I could see this making a brilliant noir if the right director picked it up.

The author also dealt well with the taboo subject – exploring the complicated emotions around it, and rather than falling into the trap of victim-blaming she actually challenges this issue.

On the other hand the novel does read a bit like a YA book (to the point where I actually had this on my YA shelf) and it is most definitely not. I don’t know if this is because it is the genre Engel predominantly writes for or a side effect of focalising through a 16 year old for much of the novel. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but I just didn’t feel like the prose was particularly sophisticated. The book also risks romanticising a lot of behaviours – teenage sex and underage drinking amongst other things. The girls themselves are also almost mythologised in the way they are represented as beautiful and alluring.

So all in all I was quite conflicted over what rating to give this but it ultimately came down to the ending which was very good and which I didn’t see coming at all. Engel offers the perfect twist and a brilliant way to conclude the novel.

For this reason I would give what would have otherwise been 3 stars a 4 and I will definitely give any future novels by Engel a go too.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Review: The Night Manager

  

The BBC’s flagship six part drama, co-produced with AMC, has been described as many things, with most recent views being that Hiddleston’s role was an extended audition for the next 007.

     Photo from USA Today

 
But as cynical as many of the descriptions offered were the BBC developed the perfect formula for The Night Manager. A classic spy thriller brings in readers and older generations, while updating the story keeps it current, relevant and original. Pair all of this with a stellar cast and you’ve really hit the money. The six part formula is short enough to hold interest and the Sunday night slot is prime time for drama.   
 Photo from The Telegraph

Hiddleston was suave, sophisticated and wily. Is he Bond material? I’m not so sure but he is certainly well suited to Le Carré’s style and despite the public school accent managed to channel an element of the bad boy, occasionally making us question which side he was working for.
 Photo from the Radio Times

Despite Hiddleston being the main character it was Hugh Laurie who stole the show as Roper, one of the most charasmatic villains I’ve seen on TV in a while. He may not have been the scariest but when his humour catches you off guard and you start to sympathise with him, he bowls you over backwards with what he is capable of. Roper is always in control and he never gets his hands dirty.  
  Photo from the Radio Times

But he certainly has a match, albeit unconventional, in the figure of Angela Burr, diversifying Le Carré’s original characters. Played by Oliva Colman who’s pregnancy was written into the script, her character tops the others by a long way. She is a fierce, determined woman who isn’t taken seriously in her profession and is constantly demeaned by men and younger women in power suits, who exemplify the corrupt echelons of the security services. 

With one of the country’s best funny-men and a pregnant spy you would think the show risked becoming a farce, yet it was far from it. The drama was serious and tense, the humour was perfectly poised and utterly engaging. If it is the input of a successful American channel which has helped this then it is a partnership which I would like to see continue in the future. If anything is going to give channels a fighting chance against streaming services, then it will be series like The Night Manager

Review: The Widow

Fiona Barton’s The Widow has been touted as the next Girl on the Train, following the rise in ‘domestic noir’ or female thrillers that have become popular in recent years, with the rise of Gone Girl.

Barton’s debut is an entertaining tale about the widow of a man accused of the abduction of a young child, the police hunt to prove this and a reporter’s attempt to get the story on it. While most thrillers follow the usual murder mystery format, beginning with a body and working back over, the body we begin with this time is that of Glen, the accused. Barton’s storytelling is intelligent, and she is clearly aware of how to hook the reader, I was as desperate as the detective and the reporter to find out the true story.

The switching narrative points of view stimulate this curiosity, with stories from ‘The Widow’, ‘The Detective’ and ‘The Journalist’ at different points in the investigation, giving the reader a patchwork knowledge of the case which keeps us looking for more. It also helps to reveal information slowly and even keep us second guessing. However, by the time we hit the end it is less revelation than relief and confirmation of our suspicions. In this sense perhaps we could say the novel is more realistic for reflecting what is likely a true experience of detectives in many investigations.

For all that however, The Widow fails to live up to the legacy of Gone Girl. Despite its dark subject matter, the writing doesn’t feel nearly as dark as Flynn’s novel, and the narrative is far less dramatic. Jean, the widow, is intriguing but less captivating than Amy. Put simply, the style of Barton’s novel is less literary than that of Flynn’s which does place it at a disadvantage. This novel is unlikely to have its film rights snapped up the way Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have and it is clear to see why; the plot feels more akin to a BBC or ITV crime drama series than to a huge blockbuster film.

However, for all this it is unfair to compare the book to its predecessors and, particularly for a debut novel, it is a good read. The character’s are irritating and entirely unsympathetic but we still want to read their story which is testament to Barton’s character creation. A very easy and engaging read, I was almost finished the novel after several hours on the train. It is more of a psychological suspense novel than an outright thriller, but as this it is certainly entertaining.

Image by fionabarton.co.uk