Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Great Idea Robbery

Catriona writes: I am on a fortnight's holiday  (US = two weeks' vacation) but with fortunate timing, my friend, writer and Bloody Scotland organiser Gordon Brown, is here in my place, talking about a sequel I'm delighted to be hearing about, an idea decades in the making, and  - you don't see these every day - an actual honest-to-goodness McGuffin.

Take it away, Gordon.

On the 8th of August 1963, the most famous robbery in UK history occurred when a Royal Mail train, running from Glasgow to London, was raided. The robbers got away with £2.6m (worth about $60m in today’s money). The robbery has achieved almost mythical proportions in the intervening years. The audacity and scale of the raid has engraved the episode in the British psyche. For the older generation, the phrase ‘The Great Train Robbery’ conjures up a mixture of emotions and still serves as a go-to phrase when they want to describe any theft that falls short of being spectacular – ‘It’s hardly the Great Train Robbery.’
It was far from the perfect crime. Most of the perpetrators were caught - amazingly some of the crooks decided to play Monopoly with real money while hiding out at a farm – leaving their fingerprints all over the cash – no need for the services of Sherlock Holmes on this one.
Over five decades later you would have thought that every detail about the robbery would have been exposed. Only this isn’t the case. Of the eighteen gang members, the identity of three is still not known. It took until 2014 to identify the insider, nicknamed ‘The Ulsterman’, as a guy called Pat McKenna. Most of the money was never recovered and conspiracies abound as to where it all went. There have been countless books written about the robbery and every so often Hollywood play with making a movie about it.

The Scene of the Great Train Robbery – Bridego Bridge.

So why in the hell am I droning on about a crime from the sixties? I was a year old when it happened. I probably sat in front of the TV and watched the news that night, sucking a rusk and drinking my milk. Back then the whole world was open in front of me. I could have been an astronaut. Maybe a stellar entrepreneur? Or what about lion tamer? Truth is I wasn’t clear on what I wanted to do but I knew what I liked – music and books. It never occurred to me that this was any more than a personal interest. Something I indulged in when it was ‘me time’.

Roll forward to 2009 and I’m sitting in a book shop signing copies of my first novel ‘Falling’.
Who knew that I could eke a living from people who wanted to read what’s in my head? Tumble forward to 2010 and I get a chance to be a DJ on a local radio station? Who knew I could subject the masses to my own favourite tunes?  Keep moving in time and we arrive at 2016. Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books, whom I’d met at the Left Coast Crime Festival in Colorado a few years earlier, published Falling for the US market. The following year I’m in the final stages of launching three thrillers, the Craig McIntyre series, in the UK when Eric Skypes me and says, ‘Gordon are you up for a sequel to Falling?’

Falling was never intended to be a series. Set in Scotland, it stars Charlie Wiggs, a quiet, unassuming accountant who falls into the world of crime and is faced with three simple choices – go on the run for the rest of his life, fight back or die. At the end of the book he was supposed to retire to the backwaters of the accountancy world and live happily ever after. But now he’d have to be pulled, kicking and screaming, into the limelight once more.
This is where the Great Train Robbery rears its head. I was walking in the hills above the River Clyde with my wife Lesley. The panorama laid out before us was stunning. The isle of Arran lay in the distance, snow still covering the top of Goat Fell. The Bute ferry was ploughing white foam in front of it as it slid across the river, and the sky was the sort of blue that winter can only bring.

Goatfell on Arran
I’m bouncing ideas around for the new Charlie Wiggs book around with Lesley when I mention that Alabama 3, a country/blues/electronic band I like, are on tour. I mention that I had only just found out that Nick Reynolds, the band’s harmonica player, was the son of the Great Train Robbery gang leader Bruce Richard Reynolds (they even have a song named after Bruce). With so much mystery surrounding the robbery I had an idea - what if the real mastermind behind the robbery had never received the credit? What if, after all these years, he now wants to show the world that he was the man behind it all? Next I put a crime lord on the run, a man who claims that he came up with the idea for the robbery. I place his worldly goods on a train as he flees the country, pursued by the police, and I ensure that train will cross the same bridge where the Great Train Robbery took place. Then all I have to do is place a stolen object on the train -  an object that Charlie Wiggs simply has to get back – and the only way he can retrieve it is to be part of the Great Train Robbery 2. And what  ill I call this new book – Falling Too – why not? after all it’s a sequel to Falling. 


Falling Too is published by Down & Out Books and for a limited time Down & Books have reduced Falling to 99 cents for the eBook copy. Click here for both.

You can also find out more about Gordon at 

Bio: Gordon Brown lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK and Spain. He’s married with two children. He also helped launch Bloody Scotland - Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sweet Sixteen! by Cathy Ace

“If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?" 

1) There’s ONE bookshelf in this place??? What sort of a rental service am I running??
2) If space is tight, I’ll have to go with a small but wide(ish) selection
3) I’ll assume I’m only going to rent the place to people who like to read what I like to read!

In no particular order (and hoping you like crime, spies and mythologies):

Agatha Christie: “And Then There Were None” – a lot of people have seen a TV or stage production, but many haven’t read the book! They should :-) 

Colin Dexter: “Last Bus to Woodstock” – written during a rainy holiday in Wales, this is the first Inspector Morse book…as with Christie’s book, above, I find many people have watched Morse but fewer have read the books. They are excellent!

Elly Griffiths: “The Chalk Pit” – any Elly Griffiths book is a joy to read, but this was the last one I read, so it’s on the list!

Lee Child: “Worth Dying For” I enjoy all the Reacher books, but this is the most recent I read

PD James: “The Murder Room” – same as above (though in this case it was RE-read!)

The Mabinogion – Welsh mythological tales, which take a LONG time to read (just in case it’s raining for weeks!) 

JRR Tolkein: “The Lord of the Rings” – it’s always worth having this book around, because it’s a wonderful read from cover to cover, and takes a long time to get through!

John le CarrĂ©: “A Legacy of Spies” – I haven’t read it yet, but George Smiley is back and I cannot wait….so I’ll buy it, read it and pop it into the cottage

Len Deighton: the Bernard Samson trilogy “Faith”, “Hope”, and “Charity” – I cannot get enough of this man’s writing, hence needing three books of his on the shelf…besides, it’s only fair to allow a reader to finish a trilogy.

Linwood Barclay: the Promise Falls trilogy – same as above!

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#4, The Case of the Unsuitable Suitor will be released in hardcover in the UK in September 2017 and in the USA & Canada on January 1st 2018).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What's on the shelf by RM Greenaway

Q: If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?

A: My new E-reader.

When I ask people if they read books on e-readers, their reaction is pretty clear: ugh!

I felt the same to a degree. Another modern convenience that seems to speed up and depersonalize life. You can't feel where you are in the book (beginning, middle, end), you can't commune with the author quite so well, and so on... There's also remuneration; does the author get as much for an e-book as a hard copy? I'm not clear on the economics, but I'm sure it's considerably less.

On the other hand, maybe ten people who wouldn't have been able or willing to spend the money on that author's hard copy will take a chance with the more affordable e-book, which brings the added value of  more readers.

Having an e-reader myself for a couple of months, I don't find it as loathsome as I expected. I think accepting the e-book into my heart is key. I can still commune with the author - it’s the words, not the paper after all, though books are beautiful as objects. With my e-reader, the type gets larger as my eyes get tired -- no more #@*$ reading glasses! It's got a velvety case which is nice to the touch, and in the night its screen is like a little glow-worm. This coming winter I won't freeze my hands trying to hold a paperback open in bed -- I don't know how many times a book has dropped on my face, knocking my reading glasses askew and losing my place -- but instead will just reach out a finger now and then and flick to the next page.

Also I don't have to find space on my many, many overcrowded bookshelves. And I can make notes, too, right on the page, which is coming in handier than I thought. Yes, with a paperback I could take notes on a separate notepad, but will I? Like reading instruction manuals -- no.

There are more benefits. When I head off to my holiday cottage I can pack light, yet stock the shelves with all my past, current, and future reading thrills, AND have room left for a whiskey decanter and a couple of glasses.

For sentimental reasons I might take a few musty, dog-eared Ed McBains though.

Back to the real question, what will I read in my getaway cabin? Lots of Nordic crime! I haven't really explored this niche until assigned to moderate a panel at the upcoming Bouchercon called "Northern Crimes", and I thought OMG, I better start reading, fast. I'm not a fast reader, but I'm now on the fifth of the five panelists, and they're all so excellent.

I'm reading
Kelley Armstrong (Canada)
Caro Ramsay (Scotland)
Antti Tuomainen (Finland)
Alex Gray (Scotland)
Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland).

For some reason, I seem to identify with books in which the weather is miserable -- dreich in fact -- and the landscape forbidding. Maybe being born in Britain did it.

Anyway, I'm happy to report I love these writers' work and look forward to meeting and talking with them in person. There are so many other books out there to read that it's daunting, but I feel like this moderating challenge has got me out of my reading comfort zone (aka rut), and I'm glad of that.

If you're at Bouchercon in Toronto on October 14 at 1 pm, I hope you can attend. Let's talk books!

Monday, September 18, 2017

I've Got My Books to Keep Me Warm

Q: If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?

- from Susan

Having spent some lovely vacation days from Cape Cod to Kauai sitting in houses staring out at the rain, I have either been grateful or frustrated at how various hosts have answered this question. Dog-eared, spat-upon paperback copies of baseball players’ or golfers’ memoirs, outdated Farmers’ Almanacs, paperbacks with covers that show half-naked women with long wavy hair I can only dream about exhaling on the exposed abs of half-dressed men who also have long curly hair I can only dream about….

Here’s a dream bookshelf, in no particular order since what I want to read at any moment changes with my mood:

Angelica’s Smile, Andrea Camilleri
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The Golden Spiders, Rex Stout
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky
Farleigh Field, Rhys Bowen
Cooked, Michael Pollan
Salvador, Joan Didion
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
The Severn Dials Mystery, Agatha Christie
Tripwire, Lee Child
The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger (for especially stormy days)
Through a Glass Darkly, Donna Leon

A baker’s dozen, enough to distract me from quite a few rainy days, although I expect if it were my holiday cottage the library would grow quickly. I’d have to update it every Memorial Day and would probably hit a bookstore in the resort town anyway. There can never be too many books – never!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bullet The Blue Sky

Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

This is going to sound strange coming from a writer who fills his pages with bullets, but I would un-invent any and all handgun innovations since the six-shot revolver. The issue of gun violence and homicides is near to my heart, after losing several members of my immediate and extended family to the bullet, easily fired from the gun of someone who needed not look into the whites of their eyes before doing the deed. My personal philosophy is the end of the body liberates the consciousness of the decedent from the burden of the illusion of onerous existence. The killer, however, doesn't take a life but instead adds a life to their walking karmic debt, and their own challenges are multiplied by the grief of their crime. Perhaps these are the philosophical constructs of a man who has seen far too many guns and gun violence in the first third of his life, but they work for me. They help me focus through the haze of terror in the form of constitutional rights.

Sometimes karmic satisfaction occurs immediately, as with "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" in JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE (Gutter Books, September 2017.) A semi-automatic weapon is given as a purchase reward by a twistedly well-intentioned dealer at a gun show in Mike Pence's Indiana, a stone's throw from Chicago, where assault weapons were banned as far back as the year 1992. That gun is a creation of the intent to spread death, and death comes with cosmic balance, as its custodian comes to realize with gruesome clarity. When so many bullets can hurl through the air with such a generous and forgiving trigger and loading mechanism, it doesn't really matter where they go. Until it does. Then it matters plenty.

More often, guns and the crimes committed with firearms reverberate suffering through the communities they're brought inside, as in my story "Straight Fire," a contribution to the anthology KILLING MALMON (Down & Out Books, October 2017.) In it, to accomplish the task set forth by editors Kate and Dan Malmon of Crimespree Magazine, fictional Danny Gardner kills Dan Malmon simply by bringing him along to share the best barbecue available east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Much of violence narratives in American crime fiction books and entertainment cast black folk as killers and/or immediate victims. No one ever wonders where the bullets that don't make it into the departed go, and what they do, and what lives they mar. Whereas "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" plays it straight and grim, here my trademark gallows humor is on full display. It just irks me that folks care far too deeply about guns when it's the bullets that violate the flesh, but then in America, we are inured to death, unlike, say, taxes.

I'm a frequent user of, which tracks crime statistics in the greater Chicagoland area with an emphasis on gun violence, policing and all related political activities. It offers some commentary yet provides graphical analysis of the truth of Chicago's problem with such stark accuracy, none is really necessary, or rather it serves as its own commentary, because only the most anti-black of folks can look at images such as these, shrug their shoulders and behave as if it isn't their problem:

Photo: S.W. Lauden
This past weekend, I read an abbreviated version of "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" to an audience at The Frog Spot, which is operated by The Friends of the Los Angeles River. I mentioned that several of white America's issues could have been foreseen in the mirror image of their occurrence in the black community. The economic disenfranchisement of the working-class white voter the Dems and Bernie Sanders covet so openly? It happened as soon as the early nineties when Bill Clinton was in office. It just happened to the black working-class voter, so no one noticed. The opioid epidemic that plagues poor white communities looks identical to the scourge of crack cocaine that decimated African American communities in the eighties and nineties. So when one looks at the data for exponentially increased gun violence in Chicago, perhaps this problem warrants consideration as an American affliction, rather than exclusively a black one, if for no other purpose than preemption.

Why would I un-invent any gun that was innovated after, say, the double-action revolver? I understand the vast utilitarian necessity for firearms. I don't shy away from their benefit to society. It's just that when I sit in grief over my hometown and its issues with gun violence, the truth rings in my mind: Chicago is less violent in the current era than in previous decades, even with Bubba Clinton's mandate of weapons sweeps for public housing and assistance benefits. What is vastly different, however, is the statistic of gun homicides. Fewer people are getting shot, but more folks are dying. Better guns, cheaper ammunition. Put anyone on the mound at Wrigley Field with unlimited swings at the plate and, eventually, they'll hit a home run, even off John Lackey on his best day. This is the scourge that's ruining the place my people called home for generations. It's just too goddamn easy to send thirty bullets into the air before the innate sense of guilt and grief has a chance to take over. The self-accusing spirit in mankind just isn't fast enough. Not for a "Nina with that thirty.*"

We can still have our crime fiction stories. We can still go hunting. Sure, action movies will take a big hit, and Call Of Duty will be a far less kinetic video gaming experience, but if we make everyone have to pull a trigger as many times as they want someone dead, feel the physical effort to get the hammer back each time, to reload the barrel with the focus required, and to aim at discreet targets, we can return gun homicides back to the providence of time. The enemy of rage is time for time is the window where guilt and shame crawl in. This could mean the difference between a murder of the heart and a murder that makes it in the news.

* 9MM Semiautomatic Handgun with a 30-shot magazine for those who prefer to color outside the lines.


For those interested in the works to which I'm referring, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

- dg

Works By Danny Gardner


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Un-inventing the Wheel

Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

DISCLAIMER: I love Canada, Canadians, hockey, soccer, babies, puppies and kittens, etc.

This was a tough topic. Oh, I suppose I could be glib and list all the things I hate. Things that many other people enjoy. But I don’t like to rain on other people’s parades. Actually, now that I think of it, I hate parades and wish they’d never been invented. But other than that, why spoil the enjoyment folks get out of things like, say, country music? Even though I dislike it and wish it could be wiped off the face of the earth, I wouldn’t want to do that. Who am I to judge? And don’t get me started on soccer. Who invented
that stupid sport? They might just as well have filled the goal from top to bottom with reinforced concrete for all the scoring that goes on. And hockey’s no better. Who wants to watch a bunch of toothless Canadians dressed like Michelin Men slap a little rubber puck around an ice skating rink? But it would be crass to ruin the joy that so many idiots derive from the game. And while we’re on the subject of Canada, what the hell is up with the metric system? Come on! How are we supposed to figure out how many inches are in a kilogram? It’s too hard! And who thought it would be a good
idea to invent children? Ungrateful little monsters. And if I see one more cute puppy or kitten I’m going to lose it. Booze? Are you kidding me? What about hot water heaters and roofs on houses? Those should be banned and uninvented immediately. A bracing cold shower in the morning and cold rain on your head the rest of the day, that’s what I’m talking about. And did we really need the wheel? How has that contributed to our civilization?

But I’m not going to fall into the trap of trying to wow the Internet—another POS invention, by the way—with my oh-so-clever wit. I’m not going to say anything about Hawaiian shirts, rolling suitcases, televisions, penicillin, vaccines, umbrellas, sliced bread, the cotton gin, Amazon, Jell-O, the alphabet, airbags, the comb, and shoelaces. No, I’m simply not going to do it.