Sunday, 23 July 2017

Dead Good Reader Awards 2017

The winners of the Dead Good Reader Awards 2017 were announced at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate,

At a ceremony presided by Mark Lawson with a guest appearance from Kathy Reichs, six authors were honoured with being best in class as voted for by crime readers. 

The winners were as follows -

The Kathy Reichs Award for Fearless Female Character
Helen Grace, M J Arlidge

The Case Closed Award for Best Police Procedural:
The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

The Hidden Depths Award for Most Unreliable Narrator:
The Escape by C L Taylor

The Page to Screen Award for Best Adapted Book:
Never Go Back by Lee Child

The Cat Amongst The Pigeons Award for Most Exceptional Debut:
Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

Saturday, 22 July 2017

2017 Harper Lee Prize for Fiction

The University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal have announced that James Grippando, author of “Gone Again,” will receive the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.
Grippando is the seventh winner of the Prize. The award, authorised by Lee, is given annually to a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.
I don’t know who’s happier, James Grippando the writer or James Grippando the lawyer,” Grippando said. “Winning the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction is easily the proudest moment of my dual career.”
Seven years ago, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and to honour former Alabama law student and author Harper Lee, The University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal partnered to create The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.
Gone Again” was chosen by a distinguished panel of writers. They are: Deborah Johnson, winner of the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and author of “The Secret of Magic”; Cassandra King, author of “The Same Sweet Girls’ Guide to Life”; Don Noble, host of Alabama Public Radio’s book review series as well as host of “Bookmark,” which airs on Alabama Public Television; and Han Nolan, author of “Dancing on the Edge.”
The Selection Committee honoured Lee’s charge to grant the award to a published work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.

Jack Swyteck is a lawyer’s lawyer,” Nolan said. “He works within the system, relentlessly searching for the truth as he races against time to defend a death row inmate.”

Noble agreed. “If I am ever in legal trouble, there is no lawyer I would rather have than Grippando’s Jack Swyteck,” he said. “The man is dedicated to social justice, resourceful and tireless.”

Grippando will be honoured with a signed special edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and an article in the ABA Journal.

Grippando’s book does a masterful, entertaining job exploring the important topic of the death penalty and actual innocence,” said Molly McDonough, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. “In ‘Gone Again,’ attorney Jack Swyteck focuses on finding the truth while navigating the complexities of habeas petitions for a despicable client.”

The 2017 prize will be awarded at The University of Alabama School of Law on Sept. 14. After the award presentation, the Selection Committee will convene a panel discussion of Grippando’s “Gone Again” in relationship to Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Friday, 21 July 2017

Theakston's 2017 Crime Novel of the Year

Chris Brookmyre has scooped the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Black Widow.

Celebrating its thirteenth year, the Award is considered one of the most coveted crime writing prizes in the country.

Black Widow is a story of cyber-abuse, where ‘even the twists have twists’. It features Brookmyre’s long-time character, reporter Jack Parlabane. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that she had been given the novel as an early Valentine’s Day present by her husband, declaring it ‘brilliant’.

Brookmyre said: “I’m really quite taken aback. I’ve been shortlisted three times before for this award, always the bridesmaid, today I get to walk up the aisle. A book is not just the work of the author behind it. I’d like to thank my editor, Ed Wood, for his calibre and daring that made a good book greater. I’m mainly just very proud.”

Brookmyre was presented the award by title sponsor Simon Theakston and broadcaster Mark Lawson at the opening night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The annual Festival, hosted in Harrogate, is the world’s biggest celebration of the genre.

Chris beat off stiff competition from the shortlist of six, whittled down from a longlist of 18 crime novels published by British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2017.

The 2017 Award is run in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith, and The Mail on Sunday.

Brookmyre collected a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved oak beer cask made by Theakston Old Peculier.

A special presentation was made to Lee Child - the winner of the eighth Outstanding
Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

Lee Child joins Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky, Lynda La Plante, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill as recipients of the Award.

Lee Child said: “It’s an honour - probably undeserved - to be placed in the same category as the previous recipients of this prize.  In particular I would like to thank Simon Theakston for his generous and visionary support of the genre.”

Child has been dubbed a ‘billion-dollar brand’ for his blockbuster Jack Reacher series, adapted to film by Tom Cruise.

Title sponsor and executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “We’re particularly delighted to be honouring Lee Child. He is nothing short of a phenomenon. The Jack Reacher series tops bestseller lists worldwide, with a staggering 100 million books sold.  Lee is very deserving of this accolade, and will have his rightful place in a pantheon of legendary crime authors who have achieved this honour to date.”

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Justice for all – cutting out (not on) the bias?

I’ve been in prison for 15 years for something I didn’t do, for something which I knew nothing about.”  Those were the words of Gerry Conlon on his release from prison in 1989.  He and his family and friends were wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombing, the trial judge, Mr Justice Donaldson, having told them during sentencing “if hanging were still an option you would have been executed.”

Many of us will have seen the 1993 film “In the Name of the Father” in which Daniel Day-Lewis (who happens to be my favourite actor) portrayed Gerry Conlon, to universal acclaim.  And it is generally accepted now that the Guildford Four’s convictions were obtained as a result of a combination of police brutality fuelled by prejudice, hidden alibi evidence, forensic mistakes by experts and the pervading public sentiment of the time. 

In The Pinocchio Brief, a 15-year-old gifted student, Raymond Maynard, is accused of the vicious killing of his teacher and the press is quick to quote other pupils who describe him as “a loner and a bit weird”.  Judith Burton, an experienced criminal barrister, and Constance Lamb, a young and highly principled solicitor are appointed to defend him.  At Raymond’s trial new computer software, called Pinocchio, is to be piloted, which will analyse every movement of Raymond’s face to determine if his testimony is true or not.  As Dr Winter, Pinocchio’s promoter, explains “every word [will be] assessed for truthfulness, every lie exposed.”

Whilst Judith should (perhaps) be pleased that the media’s pre-judging of her client will consequently have little influence at his trial, she is vehemently opposed to Pinocchio judging Raymond and protests to Constance that “machines make mistakes, especially if they’ve not been tested thoroughly.”  But, as Constance is keen to remind her “people make mistakes” too. 

A 2014 study by Samuel Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan law school, concluded that 4.1% of people sentenced to death in the USA may have been wrongly convicted.  The study did not assess any of the cases individually but analysed the numbers of convicts who had been exonerated either whilst on Death Row or later.  If these figures are accurate then as many as 340 people have been put to death in the USA since 1973, for crimes they did not commit.

When these cases are exposed (think Colin Stagg, Barry George or Sally Clark to name but a few other high-profile UK cases) communities naturally soul search and examine whether there is (or should be) a safer system for judging crime, one in which mistakes are eliminated and every case is judged objectively and fairly; using a sophisticated machine appears, at first blush, to be the answer.

Machines are understandably lauded as cold, logical and neutral.  But surprisingly, even machines can exhibit bias.   This is usually the result of the way the computer algorithms, which underpin the product, have been written in the first place.  LinkedIn apparently offers a larger proportion of higher paid jobs to men than women.  And, with potentially more serious consequences, sentencing tools in the USA have been censured because of the bias they exhibit in assessing the likelihood of people reoffending.  In both cases, a lack of diversity in those writing the algorithms probably contributed to their limitations. 

Transparency in how the software reaches its “decision” goes some of the way to addressing this issue; something which Judith, despite her limited knowledge of the technicalities of Pinocchio, understands instinctively.   But Judith herself may not have entirely altruistic motives behind her opposition to Pinocchio.   And she’s certainly not telling the whole truth when she pleads with the Judge to reject Pinocchio at Raymond’s trial.

Abi Silver’s novel The Pinocchio Brief is published by Lightning Books, price ~£8.99 paperback original.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Top 5 Books Set In Brilliant Brighton

EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell
Exquisite is one of those rare books where you 'think' you have a handle on what's going on, but it rips the carpet from under you! Always one step ahead, this intriguing tale of obsession, stalking and violence never lets up from the get-go; there's dark characters, sublime plotting, with a brutal sting in the tale. Set primarily in the Lake District, Alice’s character nevertheless starts her journey to the dark side in Brighton, where Stovell paints a realistic picture of an aimless millennial lifestyle, where drugs and drink are more readily available than work or adequate housing. A terrifyingly plausible tale, this is well worth the read.

BRIGHTON ROCK by Graham Greene
Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to kill him” has to be one of the most famous starting lines EVER – and rightly so. This classic crime tome marked a change in direction for the genre: the notion the detective did not have to be front and centre, but the villain himself! In this case, it’s Pinky, a 17-year-old killer … In 1937, this must have been REALLY shocking, and not least the fact there is no happy ending. To this day, it’s cemented itself in popular culture and more than deserves its spot in this top 5.

THE LIAR’S CHAIR by Rebecca Whitney
Domestic noir at its finest, The Liar’s Chair grabs us via Rachel who mows down a homeless tramp in the country back roads near Brighton. Female leads are frequently under greater sympathy than male ones, or even – God forbid – supposed to be ‘likeable’, but Whitney sidesteps this expectation effortlessly. Rachel’s mix of selfishness, guilt, self-destruction and grief are painted in a myriad of colours, taking us into a troubled mind who’s caught in the midst of a terrible dilemma.

CUCKOO by Julia Crouch
OMG, don’t female characters know by now never let attractive women stay in their home? Well, no one told protagonist Rose anyway and despite the fact she ‘has it all’ – the gorgeous children, the husband, the beautiful home – she lets best friend Polly come to stay. UH OH! Cue Rose’s cosy world starting to fall apart at the seams – her baby falls dangerously ill, her husband is ‘distracted’ … I was reminded of various movies like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or even that episode of The Simpsons when Marge yells ‘USURPER!’ at Otto’s girlfriend Becky who tries to oust her. A melting pot of middle class woe set in the affluent side of Brighton, this book is great fun.

DEAD SIMPLE by Peter James
Obviously no ‘Best of Brighton’ list is complete without a Roy Grace novel! I think of Grace as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and Dead Simple is a total classic: time is running out for our hapless stag, buried underground in a coffin, when all his mates die in a car crash! But of course it’s not quite as SIMPLE (arf) as that for Roy Grace, who must track down not only the stag, but the secrets and lies surrounding him too!

 The Other Twin by Lucy V Hay (Published by Orenda Books)
When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India's death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India's laptop. What is exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her? Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its well-heeled families, The Other Twin is startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as truth...

Buy it from SHOTS A-Store here.