Scientific walking tour of London

Nature tour I've been involved in a conference on science blogging for the past day or two, and in preparing for it before that, hence the infrequent posts this week. As part of the proceedings, Nature Network London editor Matt Brown organized an impressive scientific walking tour of London for some of the people attending the meeting. We had such a great day that I thought I would share his itinerary here, in case anyone planning to visit the city would like to recreate it, or at any rate know of these wonderful places that can be seen in the space of a few hours. Many thanks to Matt for such a mind-expanding and sociable day.

10.30 am Tour of Nature's offices (aim to get here for 10.20), kindly conducted by Maxine Clarke.
11.30 am Wellcome Collection – awesome museum of medical curiosities. Includes lots of dead bodies. Free entry.
12.30 Head off to get lunch, taking in some of the blue plaques and scientific sights of interest in Bloomsbury and Soho. [Lunch was at an outside cafe in Russell Square.]
2.00 Tour and talk at the Linnean Society.
2.30 Pop into the Geological Society of London to look at the famous William Smith geology map.
2.45 Whistlestop tour of the Mayfair/St James area, including the Royal Institution, Royal Society, Newton's House and many other places.
4.30 Behind the scenes tour of the Darwin Centre – part of the Natural History Museum – courtesy of Karen James.

Update: photo by Martin Fenner. I'm the bag lady in the middle. Matt is to my left, with dark jacket and blue jeans. For more tour pictures, see Martin's Flickr stream.

Crime comes to the Hamptons

On Tuesday evening I spent a delightful hour at Hampton* Library, at a glamorous event organised by CrimeSquad, a website that, not coincidentally, turns out to be run from a location very near by. The event was an interview and discussion with authors Meg Gardiner and Peter Robinson: the fire and ice of the crime-fiction world? Both authors, with deceptive ease, spoke about their crime-writing careers, including the subgenre of which they would consider themselves to be part. Meg opted for thriller (in the USA, suspense, she said) and Peter police procedural (though he said he is not fond of the term).

The authors read a page of choice from their current books. Meg was the bravest, choosing the heady first chapter of The Dirty Secrets Club — to the applause of many of us listeners (for whom twice times 21 is but a distant memory) at an appropriately breathless, exciting pace (no wonder Stephen King was spellbound); whereas Peter provided more of a slow burn in selecting a subliminally loaded exchange between Annie and Banks in All The Colours of Darkness, and reading it very slowly and meaningfully. I was in full sympathy with Peter when he said that his aversion to giving away anything about plot extended to his refusal even to read the blurb of books. It was a lovely contrast, showing in a snapshot the full breadth of "crime fiction". Meg and Peter were both wonderful to listen to, and kudos from me to Adrian Clark of CrimeSquad, interviewer and host for the evening, who asked pertinent questions that elicited some lovely anecdotes, as well as generously including the audience. A welcome, as well as extremely unusual, hiatus.

Here is Meg's post of the event, at her blog Lying for a Living (watch out for the terrorist nuns if you visit).

*Not to be confused with Hampton Wick or Hampton Court.

Books, panels, web advertising and sheds

Kim at Reading Matters discovers a blog, Books in New York, "a visual catalog of New York City's bookstores, libraries and book collections, both public and private". It seems amazing to me that there isn't such a blog (or website) for London's bookshops and libraries, but according to Kim there isn't, so I second her suggestion that someone starts one.

Here is an excellent primer on how to moderate a great panel at a conference, by Janet Reid at the weirdly named collective blog Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room. I've recently attended my first two book conferences, at which the quality of panel moderation was variable. The post is packed with a distillation of such great advice that I won't highlight any particular part, although it does end with this comment: "if you do a terrific job as moderator by bringing out the best in the panelists, the audience will appreciate you. They’ll remember your name and buy your books. Being a moderator is actually a great sales opportunity – but only if you do it right." A must-read for anyone who intends to moderate a panel, I suggest, both for first-timers as well as a useful refresher.

While on the topic of sales, here is a perceptive post by author and marketing supremo M.J. Rose: Web ads 2.0 about mistaken assumptions in the book publishing industry concerning expectations of web marketing and advertising. Great post, a must-read if you have any interest in the topic. Bottom line: it's all about exposure, not conversion. 

One for Clare: Martin Edwards writes about his friend and fellow-author Kate Ellis, who not only has a new book about to come out (first in a new series set in a fictionalised York), but "she works in what she describes as a garden shed, but is actually a delightful and well-equipped garden room."

As a little PS, Google Suggest, which "guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time" is now being made a default on the Google home page (was previously in "Google labs", their name for pre-beta testing). It remains to be seen whether this is a useful feature for the memory-challenged or a mere irritant.

Who won the Olympic games?

America may count up the medals in one way (totalling golds, silvers and bronzes) and the rest of the world in another, but according to the Times, the Dominican Republic is the overall winner: 47th in the medal table and 179th in GDP rankings gives it a "difference score" of plus 132. Mongolia and Zimbabwe are second and third, respectively. Ireland comes last by this count, with a difference score of minus 32. If you prefer to look at it another way, a contributor to the rec.arts mystery group suggested that Australia should be the winner, with 2.3 medals per million of population. However, although this method would restore that country's wounded pride by putting it ahead of China, USA, Britain and Russia, it would still lose out to the Bahamas, which scored an excellent 6 medals per million population. (Other islands do well, with Jamaica scoring 3.9 and New Zealand 2.25.)

The official table of winners is here.

A little bit of Latin

Via the Book Depository August newsletter and applied language, some Latin terms explained (but not translated):

Ad infinitum — without end or limit
Ad nauseam — to a sickening or excessive degree
Carpe diem — the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future
Caveat — an explanation to prevent misinterpretation
De facto — in reality; actually
Dictum — a noteworthy statement
Et cetera — and others esp. of the same kind: and so forth; abbreviated as etc
Ipso facto — by that very fact or act; as an inevitable result
Magnum opus — a great work, the greatest achievement of an artist or writer
Memento — something that serves to warn or remind
Non sequitur — statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from anything previously said
Nota bene — used to call attention to something important
Per capita — equally to each individual
Persona non grata — personally unacceptable or unwelcome
Post mortem — occurring or done after death
Prima facie –at first view: on the first appearance
Pro forma — made or carried out in a perfunctory manner or as a formality
Quod erat demonstrandum — which was to be proved
RIP — abbreviation, may he rest in peace

Sunday Salon: August reviews

TSSbadge3 A few (four to be precise) of my reviews have been published at Euro Crime over the past few weeks while I have been away and catching up after returning.

I enjoyed Helene Tursten's The Torso so much (as well as the earlier Detective Inspector Huss) that I was unable to resist immediately reading her third, and so far the last to be translated into English, The Glass Devil (best title of the three, not that it's much of a contest). The Glass Devil is well up to the standards of the previous two, but is more stripped-down. This trilogy (so far) of police-procedurals is very highly recommended. From my review: "The author's interest, one feels, is not so much the way in which the mystery is solved, but the nature of fate and self-fulfilling prophecy…….once the case begins to bite, THE GLASS DEVIL becomes a focused, bleak tale about evil stripped down to its basics, portrayed with this author's unflinching yet unsensational style." I gather from reading the Scandinavian mysteries edition of the Mystery Readers' Journal that not only are there more in the series not yet translated into English, but there is a Swedish TV series based on them. Lucky Swedes.

A second review is The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin, his penultimate Rebus book. It is a somewhat meandering excursion for Rebus and Clarke, set at the time of the G8 summit in 2003 and strongly featuring the anti-war protests at that time. The sporadic flashes of familiar excellence and my long-term investment in the Rebus series (I've been reading them since they were first published, before the author became Britain's crime-fiction megastar) allowed me to enjoy the book, but I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't read the earlier books, some of which are a great deal stronger than this. Since I wrote this review, I have read the (possibly) final Rebus book, Exit Music (reviewed here by Fiona Walker), which is just out in paperback in the UK and widely available for £3.99. My take on this book is similar to my reaction to The Naming of the Dead. The start (the set-up) is good, the middle (most) of the book rather dull and stuck, with the investigation going round and round a set of indistinguishable Russians and central casting politicians: but redeemed somewhat by a good ending (though in true life, would three out of three crimes be solved in seven days? Never mind, it is Rebus after all).

Third up is Peter James's exciting thriller Dead Man's Footsteps. All the ingredients for a relaxing holiday read: plenty of action, plenty of plot (four separate strands), all put together with smooth professionalism and lots of style. There's also a tease of an ending that will leave regular readers desperate to know more.

Finally is the superb Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason: my review coincides with the UK paperback publication. From my review: "The interplay between the detectives is drolly portrayed, with Sigurdur Oli as smug and rigid as ever – until his own personal happiness is threatened – and Elinborg is obsessed with her cookery book which is being published and publicised in parallel with the investigation. Erlunder himself becomes momentarily sociable, attending a party in honour of the author, almost relating to his son, Sindri, who seems by far the best adjusted of Erlunder's family, and tentatively proceeding with his relationship with Valgerdur, whom we met in Indridason's previous book, VOICES. But the special beauty of the book, and the reason for its haunting quality, is the story of Tamas, Ilona and the group of students who study together in Leipzig in the 1950s." As with so many of the crime-fiction stories I enjoy the most, the parallel and then intersecting stories of past and present provide depth and lift the book far above "genre". I also learn from Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays that the Icelandic film of Jar City (a.k.a. Tainted Blood), Indridason's first novel, is about to be released in Ireland in a version with English-language subtitles. My fingers are crossed that the film will wend its way to these parts (or the DVD to Amazonia).

Crime-fiction news from R&J and Sweden

By public vote, the winner of the "Richard & Judy best summer read of 2008" is No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. The results were gathered from viewer reaction on the Richard & Judy Channel 4 show. "Utterly riveting. It will grab you on page one and won't let you go until the final, stunning conclusion", says Tess Gerritsen. My review of this book is here. Although I enjoyed it, I did have a few caveats, in particular the fact that the solution depended on someone not looking at something properly, which in context was highly unlikely. The book is certainly an exciting, easy read, though: perfect for a summer holiday.

In other crime-fiction news, The Times today runs an article by Barry Forshaw about Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who died before the book (the first of a trilogy) was translated into English, by Reg Keeland. The article hints that the early death of the author may have been related to his fearless journalism, before revealing that this actually was not the case. The second book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is out in January 2009. You can see the cover and read a mini-extract at Euro Crime. (The commenters agree that the picture of the woman on the cover displays a highly unlikely "model-standard grooming".)

If you are a fan of Stieg Larsson and are finding it hard to wait until January, there are many other excellent Swedish (and other Scandinavian) crime novels that will keep you going until then. If you are keen on the investigative journalism theme, I would recommend in particular my adored Liza Marklund's Paradise, which covers very similar themes to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Mari Jungstedt's Unseen and Unspoken. Asa Larsson (no relation to Stieg)'s debut Sun Storm is along similar lines although featuring a lawyer rather than a journalist. There are so many fantastic Swedish (and other Scandinavian) novels being published at the moment that the reader is truly spoilt. Johan Theorin's debut Echoes from the Dead (translated by Marlaine Delargy, who also translates Asa Larsson) is being much talked about, and I've recently been indulging in Helene Tursten's three books so far translated into English (the first one also translated by Reg Keeland, using the name Steven T Murray).

If you've read everything published in translation from Scandinavia ;-), Karen has just put together an Amazon list for 2009, which I am sure will lengthen as more titles are announced.

Italy invades France, times two

According to The Times, Carla Bruni, France’s First Lady, has drawn the wrath of Pyrenean farmers by taking up the cause of local brown bears, whose reintroduction has fuelled a violent feud between naturalists and sheep breeders.

I wonder if Ms Bruni is a fan of an author from her adoptive country, Fred Vargas? The plot of one of Vargas's books, Seeking Whom He May Devour, does not concern bears, but rather: the "invasion of wolves across the Alps from Italy [nationality of Ms Bruni] is a source of fascination to the wildlife service and biologists, who observe their behaviour and track their movements with almost obsessive interest. One such biologist is a Canadian, Johnstone, who identifies totally with the wolves, giving them names and ascribing a personality to each, feeding rabbits to the one that is too old and toothless to kill his own prey. Everything changes, however, when sheep are brutally killed, in what seems from the toothmarks to be an attack from a giant beast."

According to The Times's account, "President Sarkozy, who married Ms Bruni in February, has so far stayed out of the “bear wars”, which pit environmentalists against farmers and local politicians who say the bears kill sheep and threaten their livelihoods." Ms Bruni, said to be "the epitome of the Parisian left-wing upper class", apparently agreed in 2006 to be “godmother” to Hvala, one of five bears brought in from Slovenia to replenish a population that had dwindled to about 15. The anti-bear protesters, among other initiatives, carry placards stating "Go home to Italy Slovenia."

By The Sea is available in print

Promo_2839972 I am alerted by my friend and colleague Henry Gee to an important new publishing event:

"Horrific bereavement has forced Detective Inspector Persephone Sheepwool to leave London and make a new life on the remote North Norfolk coast. But horror is never far behind, as she discovers when a body is found at a museum in a decaying clifftop mansion whose shadowy staff is dedicated to discovering the secrets of the sea. Investigating the death, Sheepwool finds that some secrets are probably best left submerged. Trouble is, even the most deeply submerged secrets have a nasty way of oozing to the surface."

Such is Henry's description of By The Sea, his mystery/crime novel, now available via Lulu for £6.99 as a print edition. (The book was previously published in online installments at LabLit, the forum for the culture of science in fiction and fact).

Henry blogs at Nature Network (The End of the Pier Show) and at Ernest Scribbler.

SOS from reader of W J Burley

Here is an SOS from the RecArts mystery group, by "Diana":

"I have just finished reading W. J. Burley's novel "Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death".  If anyone here has read this can you enlighten me.  "Who did it?" …… the story goes back one or two generations;  it involves three brothers and at the end of the story two are dead;  one has been murdered, and the other is suicide???  A murdered wife from aeons ago is included in the plot, and on it goes. If you have read this novel perhaps you can tell me the answer.  Did the sister do the dirty deed or was it the brother? This is not an author that I have read very much of so not familiar with the style."

I have read and very much enjoyed all the Wycliffe books, but I can't answer the question because I can't remember the book in sufficient detail. Unfortunately for the questioner, at time of writing nobody else in the group has answered either, possibly because the questioner made the fatal flaw of asking another, far easier to answer, question: "Also, anyone here  have recommendations for murder/mystery authors please? I usually enjoy authors whose origins/plots/locations are in the United Kingdom."

Authors recommended in subsequent replies are: Stephen Booth, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, John Baker, Reginald Hill, Martin Edwards, Colin Dexter, Simon Kernick, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves…and many others.

The question/answer format of the RecArts mystery group is very messy. The recent service called FriendFeed is much better for this purpose. Anyone can ask a question directly onto the web page, and answers are both easily made and captured directly below the question in a neat format. Here's a FriendFeed crime and mystery group I set up, anyone interested in crime fiction is more than welcome to join.