Friday, April 30, 2021

An inch is better than a mile....


There are times in my life, many of them,  when I wish an adult would come along and tell me what to do. I find that sulking, eating chocolate and writing about killing people is great therapy. Often, I do all three.

At the same time.

I'm not really sure where to start as  my mental state at the moment is very like that of Boris Johnson's hair dresser ( if he actually has one).  I am rather confused, rather befuddled and not a little discombobulated.
And that's not a good situation for anybody.

No matter how confused I am, I'm still not convinced that any kind of Hard Border between us and  the neighbours that share our land mass is a good idea - I'm confused, not deluded.

However I have just done a wee tally of the books I have out this year.  I might be wrong but I think it's eight. Maybe  nine.

Only two are brand new but two new books in less than eight months is some going.
That's The Outgoing Tide and The Silent Conversation.

There's also the supery dupery  kindle publishing thing with Joffe who are really pushing the boat out, and made  me a number one bestseller.
In Scandanavia.

There's also Black Thorn republishing the fourth in the series and also the standalone. The publicity campaign they are putting behind that is massive.

This might have been the reason for something that I can't tell you  about or I would  have to kill you all. But The Cursed Girls ( Mosaic) as it was called in its previous incarnation is very much zeitgeisty.  Not sure if that is a word but if I indentify it as a word, then it must be so!

It's female pysch thriller with good views and good weather,  very much of the moment.

But you get the overall drift I am sure.

I'm sure it will all come to nothing but even knowing that somebody somewhere is even thinking or  talking about it going onto a different medium is a thrill.

So here I am out of contract after  an even number of books, not sure how many, and I started the next one; another Anderson and Costello. I wasn't totally confident that I'd get another deal but I like to be ahead of the game. The book world is in turmoil, there's been a pandemic, money is tight so nothing is  never certain. But it's such a good feeling to get words on a blank page.

 I did indeed get the lovely  email from Kate sort of inviting me to write some more books for them.  But like  say, things are happening, and some things are more zeitgeisty  than others.

So it'd be maybe, kind of better,  you know, to write in a different vein to mix it up a bit. All options are open for  another A&C,  another standalone, a spin off standalone, a standalone spin off.

You know the sort of thing that Val McDermid does so well? Yes? Well that, a few series, then a standalone , then a CD and a song. ( I'm lying about the CD ).

Trouble is, as you've heard me say, I really think of myself as a one trick pony. It's a good pony and the trick is profitable, so what do I do now.

I think ( I know ) that I rely on my two main characters to write the story for me. Colin Anderson looks out a window and ruminates on  the case. Or takes his dog out for a walk in the rain. Then Costello  tracks him down and  points out the one clue they have been missing. To which he says  'Yes, I realised that five pages ago. But the rain doesn't stop until chapter twelve when it starts to snow and the dog has to do its business somewhere in the novel.' Exit Costello in the huff.

And I think I am finally retiring from the day job. The corona virus has broken me. And that was without me contracting it,  it was all the risk assessements that I had to do.

Although listening to the conspiratory anti vacc numpties  that walk through our doors does give me huge ideas about murder- well writing and murder....

So, watch this space exciting times ahead.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

Publication Day!!

Thursday - Michael Stanley 

Orenda Books releases Facets of Death today in the UK and the rest of the world (except North America, where it was released fifteen months ago just before COVID shut us all down).

It's a prequel to the other six Detective Kubu novels and starts on Kubu's first day on the job as a rookie detective. He's thrown straight into the fire because he's been made Detective Sergeant without ever having to walk the beat. His colleagues are not impressed and are out to make his life miserable.

His immediate boss, Assistant Superintendent Mabaku, gives him what appears to be a simple case to cut his teeth on - suitcases that have been scanned as they are put on flights from Botswana to various international destinations fail to arrive. The owners are livid.

Just as he's getting into the case, 100,000 carats of uncut diamonds are hijacked from the world's richest diamond mine (Jwaneng). The heist has huge political ramifications and even rookie Kubu is pulled in to help. The problem becomes even more puzzling when the hijackers are assassinated. However, the diamonds are still missing.

Eventually Kubu persuades his superiors to set a trap to identify the brains behind the heist. And a strange trap it is. The problem is that if it works, Kubu and his boss will be heroes. If it doesn't....

It's been very exciting - over the past month the book has enjoyed a comprehensive blog tour, mainly in the UK, but also in Argentina and on the Continent. To say we're thrilled with the reception would be a huge understatement. It was reported that Michael was seen to blush.
'The landscape of the characters is painted so cleverly, it’s like being in a rich tapestry, and I absolutely loved the book. It’s full of atmosphere and grit and you will be holding your breath for the next turning.' -Books 'n' Banter blog
'You really don’t need to know a lot about Botswana to feel like you are in the heart of this story. The authors have created such a sense of place that you feel every moment of the oppressive heat and understand the power of the local culture and the superstitions which make the locals, including the Detective, believe in black magic.' - Jen Med's Book Reviews

'It is such challenging novel to try and solve yourself and that was one of the reasons that I loved it. If you like a crime novel that keeps you on your toes, then look no further this one kept me up half the night as I just had to know thtruth! ' - On the Shelf Books blog

Reviewers not on the blog tour also liked it. Such as LoveReading's review.

In fact, Orenda Books does a great job with marketing their books. Take a look at this short trailer for Facets of Death:

We've also been delighted that Orenda Books has worked with the Isis Audio, a division of Ulverscroft to produce a terrific audiobook of Facets of Death read by Ben Onwukwe, best known for his role as Stuart 'Recall' MacKenzie in London's Burning. You can listen to a short excerpt below. It is not as good as the original because I had to record from my computer, then convert it into a movie.

If you haven't read any of the Kubu series before, this is a good place to start. 

For those readers who live in North America, you can see the Sourcebooks version here. 

So it's up to the readers now. If you decide to give it a go, we'd love to know what you think. You can get in touch with us through our website, where you can also sign up for a regular (but occasional) newsletter. Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021



In my last post, I expressed how in the lead-up to the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, African Americans were anxious, even terrified, about an acquittal for the ex-police officer. It was a fear on multiple levels, but the overarching dread was, "If they can't or won't convict a police officer [Derek Chauvin] with all this overwhelming evidence, then we're doomed."

In the seconds before the triple guilty verdict, I cringed with my eyes shut tight, and then I was able to breathe again after all three charges were answered to. I was intrigued by Chauvin's look of genuine puzzlement and were it not for his Covid mask, we might have seen his jaw go slack. Wait, what did you just say? You meant not guilty, right?

The abject fear of a Chauvin acquittal is what tempered the response of the crowd outside the Minneapolis court: rather than jubilation, it was one collective sigh of relief. A few people interviewed on TV after the court ruling talked about how justice had finally been fulfilled in a case of a citizen's death at the hands of the police. But the next day, probably even the same day, more than one activist or TV talking head pointed out that justice would have been George Floyd not being assaulted, tortured, and killed because of his allegedly trying to pass a fake $20 bill, or Daunte Wright not being shot by a policewoman, which event occurred while Chauvin's trial was ongoing. On the very day of Chauvin's conviction, a policeman shot Ma'Khia Bryant during an altercation outside the home. Two more shootings, of Adam Toledo and Andrew Brown, made the headlines in rapid succession. So, after a brief period of relief and a very much restrained celebration, we were back where we started.

The two main factors that contributed to Chauvin's conviction were (1) the bravery, foresight, and clear thinking of then 17-year-old Darnell Frazier, who filmed the entire horrific incident with a steady hand. 

Darnell Frazier at work with her phone (Image: Minneapolis Police)

(2) the meticulous presentation by the prosecution team who took the jury members through an eye-opening process from the beginning of the tragedy to the very end. The evidence was overwhelming, and the lawyers also used psychological techniques to their advantage, e.g. they told the jury that this was a trial of one police officer and not of all police. Actually, that's only partially true, but it was a good means of swaying that possible juror who might have believed that the police can do no wrong.

The solid prosecution undoubtedly arose from that video, which was so powerful that it was difficult to dispute. Without it, the official Minneapolis Police report that stated blandly that Floyd's death had been due to a "medical incident" might have gone without challenge and ex-officer Chauvin might not ever have been charged. This kind of dishonest glossing over the truth has been and will continue to be the case in many deaths at the hands of law enforcement around the country. As I write this, a serious case of possible police coverup is unfolding in the killing of Andrew Brown in North Carolina. 

The conviction of Chauvin is neither a representation nor a fulfillment of justice for African Americans. Because it's unlikely that white policemen will anytime soon look at black people as anything else but evil spirits that need to be annihilated, enforcements will have to be imposed on law enforcement. That's where the Department of Justice comes in. I have confidence that AG Merrick Garland will proceed in that direction and bring the full power of the US government to bear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Then and now in Paris

 Before there were lampposts, elevators, refrigerators and all those things that we think are essential today, other techniques were used, traces of which still remain. If you live on the top floor of a Paris building without an elevator there's one thing you want, non?  A pulley or lucarne to bring up those bottles of wine, charcuterie, and groceries, right? At least I'd think so. This one on the Left Back is from two centuries ago.  It was used for  sacks of grain or flour. Even piano's as I've heard. But feeling the ache in my arms from countless trips and down with suitcases, etc I've astounded that no one in apartment building have this inside chez maison entre-nous in the stairwell. It confounds me. 
In the 1880's there were 30,000 wells providing drinking water in Paris. Today, there are little more than 350 wells, sometimes filled, scattered around the city or in cellars. This well, a remnant of medieval times, was the only water source in this building without running water. Just think about carrying up buckets and buckets to the upper floors. Actually people paid people to do just that. Again, not to put someone out of work, but why not use a pulley to haul up water. 
Here's a 19th century shoe/boot/clog scrapper that while handy then with all the muddy streets it's handy now considering all the dog poop on Parisian streets. 

Before the refrigerator, which became essential in our kitchen, we kept food cool in the pantry: its exterior part is still visible in a large number of Parisian buildings. To keep the temperature low, there were street ice vendors who bought whole blocks. Stick your perishables in that grill and add a bit of ice from the ice men who marketed on the streets. My San Francisco house, built in the 1870's, had an 'ice box' space out the lightwell window like this, too. 
Here's a medieval space for a lighting fixture and it would be cost effective too. Carved in the stone of the facades, niches in the shape of bottles were intended to accommodate oil lamps. The lighting of these lamps by the district lighter took place every evening, at nightfall. The lights were switched off automatically when the fuel was exhausted.  

Packed in my bag - ready and waiting to board a plane - are two pulleys just in case!

Cara -Tuesday

Monday, April 26, 2021

Movies About Writing and Writers

Annamaria on Monday

In the face of my current challenges with pain, today I am trying to write something coherent by dictating. Some of you, and many other friends, have suggested this as a way to write while minimizing my computer time. I’m skeptical. But I am willing to try a new way of "putting words on paper.” I hope this first attempt isn’t going to look too foolish. To avoid such an outcome, I’ve taken up a subject that should be easy to handle with the spoken word—talking about movies.  Specifically in this case, films where the plot hinges on writing.  


Almost all my evenings for more than a year now have involved watching a movie. I have found few new releases interesting or engaging. The film industry’s prevailing wisdom seems to aim their work at 15 year old boys. It’s been a long time since I was 15, and I’ve never been or wanted to be a boy.  And I need cheering up.  Or intellectual stimulation at the very least.  So, I have gone back to movies that I know I would find amusing and engaging.  Here are three, all of which portray writers writing a book, or in one case a chapter.  That act of writing precipitates an event or is at the very core of the story.


American Dreamer (1984)


I’ve seen this movie quite a few times over the years. I just love it. It is hilarious, and it is also telling something about the hearts and minds of people who write fiction, that writing is a compulsion.  In this delightful romantic comedy, the heroine is a huge fan of a spy thriller series set in Paris. She enters a contest in which the person who writes the most authentic – sounding chapter for a Rebecca Ryan novel will win an all-expenses-paid one week trip to Paris, where she will meet the author at a special lunch in her honor. Our protagonist wins! And thereby hangs the tale.  The screenplay employs every trope of the spy thriller, both to create suspense and hilarity.




This is one of my all-time favorite movies.  It stars Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. As a screen couple the chemistry between them is electric. I know; Walter Matthau is not most people’s image of an irresistible leading man, but he is mine. He has to have been one of the most charming human beings ever to walk on this planet, and it shows in spades in this film.


Matthau plays Kendrick, a Cold War spy who is “over the hill“ according to his new boss in the CIA. They clash, and the upshot is that Kendrick decides to write his memoirs, a goal that strikes terror in the hearts of the higher ups of the CIA. The screenplay and the performances are absolutely first rate. You won’t believe the twists and turns. Pay particular attention to the names of the characters. Their surnames will be familiar to all who, like me, are dyed-in-the-wool fans of spy fiction.

Stranger Than Fiction


This film centers, in the most interesting way, on the relationship between the character and the author. This story is so unusual and surprising that I want to avoid any spoilers, so I can’t say much.  But I can tell you that it will always amuse and always intrigue you, whether you’re a writer or a reader. Emma Thompson heads a splendid cast. I know I’m not telling you very much at all about the film, but I really think it is best to just press play and sing into the story. It will never cease to stimulate and entertain you.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Lights, Camera . . . Sakura!

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

It is a well-known fact, universally acknowledged, that Japan goes sakura (flowering cherry blossom) crazy in the spring. 

Sakura in Meguro, March 2021

Our hanami (flower viewing) was mostly hana-missing this year, thanks to The Virus That Shall Not Be Named, though I was fortunate enough to enjoy the blossoms in my neighborhood (which has several large and small streets lined with ornamental cherry trees).

More neighborhood sakura

In addition to picnics under the blossoms, one of the most popular ways to see the sakura (in a normal year) is during the nighttime "illuminations" put on by parks and temples--including a number of locations that ordinarily aren't open after the sun goes down.

Two years ago last week, I was in Kyoto (with fellow author Laura VanArendonk Baugh) preparing for the final hikes of my 100-summits year. While spending a rest day afternoon in the ancient capital, we noticed a poster advertising an evening illumination at Tō-ji, a Buddhist temple founded in 796 that also bears the distinction of having been one of only three Buddhist temples in Kyoto at the time the city became the capital of Japan. 

The temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 (as part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" group), and five of the temple buildings are also designated Japanese National Treasures.

According to the poster, this was the final day of the illumination, and since neither Laura nor I had ever seen the sakura by night, we made it a point to go.

Sakura Illumination at Tō-ji

We were not disappointed.

The sakura line the banks of the temple's central lake, and surround the five-storied pavilion at the far end of the grounds.

In 823, the temple was rededicated as a Shingon (esoteric Buddhist) temple, and has remained an active center of Shingon worship since that time. Like many of Japan's famous shrines and temples, it is now both a historical/cultural site of interest and a place of worship.

To-ji's five-story pagoda is the tallest in Japan. The current pagoda is the fifth incarnation (the previous four all burned to the ground, either through human actions or as a result of lightning strikes); it stands 55 meters high and dates to 1644. An interesting architectural fact about the pagoda: it rests on a concrete foundation, with no supporting pillars anchored in the ground. Even so, it has never fallen in an earthquake, because the design allows each wooden layer to shift independently from the others, letting it "shimmy" and remain standing during earthquakes. Pretty cool, considering this is a pre-tenth century design.

Sakura by night

Seen by night, the sakura blossoms almost seem to glow; they also show up beautifully against the darkness of the sky.

They look particularly striking next to the ancient architecture, too.

The Kodo (lecture hall) in the photo above stands at the center of the temple grounds, and contains a 3-D mandala composed of 21 statues, representing various incarnations of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), Wisdom Kings, and Guardians. The arrangement of the statues in mandala form is an important element of Shingon teaching and practice; most mandalas are presented in two-dimensional form, as scrolls or paintings. However, several 3-dimensional mandalas exist at important Shingon temples in Japan, including the one at Tō-ji and another in the three-story pagoda on Kōyasan. (Due to the sacred nature of the mandalas and the halls in which they stand, photography is not allowed--so if you want to see them, you can check the official website of Tō-ji or come to Japan and see it for yourself!)

Of course, the moon put in an appearance too.

The famous weeping cherry

The weeping cherry tree at Tō-ji is over 130 years old and stands over 13 meters (36 feet) tall. The ancient tree is surrounded by a group of wooden supports designed to protect the heavy branches. It's a focal point of the temple garden throughout the year, but particularly spectacular in the spring.

The sakura have already come and gone in most of Japan this year--perhaps with less fanfare than normal (and definitely with fewer crowds and no illuminations), but no less beloved for the loss of the picnics and evening strolls.

In some ways, it was reassuring to see the flowers come (and go) this spring--they were an important reminder that although our lives have been disrupted in many ways, the seasons come and go on schedule. Next spring, the sakura will come again--I hope, on a world that's healthy and happy enough to celebrate the beauty of blossoms in the night once more.

Wishing you and yours health and safety as spring becomes summer. 


Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Fleeting Fluting Glimpse of Naxos

Fish & Olive Art Gallery--Halki, Naxos


April is over -- as least as far as my MIE posts are concerned--which means I can finally step back and draw a breath. It's been a month filled with promotional obligations for the new book, a deadline for submission of the next book, and a farm house that suddenly decided to show its age, demanding immediate attention in the process.

Having now evoked undoubted compassion and understanding from each of you, I'm taking this opportunity to say farewell to more Naxos posts (for the time being) with this pictorial redux essay compiled by the incomparable Photobomber back in the days when we took travel for granted.

 On that last point, I appreciate now more than ever that I'll never have to ask myself the question, "Don't you wish you'd spent the better part of your life living on a Greek island instead of [fill in the blank]."

And that appreciation comes from experiencing places like this...

A man and his flute atop a Greek temple's hilltop

The Temple of Dimitra

The valley above which the Temple sits

The climb

The place

The tree under which I played my flute.
The Old Town

In case you couldn't tell, Barbara is into doorways.

And I'm into flutes...Native American.

And Naxos!

But now for a shot of the one you truly tuned in to see, my photo bomber!


 Jeff's in formation A DEADLY TWIST virtual tour schedule

Thursday, May 6, 7 :30–9:00 p.m. ET
Riverstone Bookstore—Pittsburgh, PA
Learn more