Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cops and Coppers - Guest Blogger Colin Campbell

Our guest author today is the real article--an officer of the law.  His Resurrection Man series features Jim Grant, a Yorkshire cop who has transferred to Boston. Colin's ten books include Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, and Adobe Flats.  His  next, Snake Pass, will launch this coming April.   Looking every bit the action hero himself, Colin is also a storyteller at heart.  Today, he tells us the differences between cops on the opposite sides of the pond.  And he shows off his wry sense of humor while he does it.  You can find out more about his work by visiting him at - Annamaria

Okay, here’s the deal. I’m a retired police officer in the UK writing about a Yorkshire cop working in the US. That puts me in the foreign but writing domestic category, if you’re reading this in America. If not I’m just foreign, to everywhere except my house. I thought I’d share some perspectives on the differences that tie us together.

Firstly, English cops do still wear those funny pointed helmets. During 30 years in the West Yorkshire Police I never understood why they thought that was a good idea. You can’t run in them, you have to duck to get through doors, and they give you a headache.

That’s mine in the middle.

Plus, English cops don’t carry guns. I used to patrol a foot beat with a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. And the helmet. (You could only wear the peaked cap if you were driving.) They got rid of the whistles just before I joined and we didn’t get stab vests and CS spray until later. The only time I handled firearms was in the army. Oh, and we don’t stop off for coffee and donuts. That’s an American thing. For us it’s a cup of tea with fish and chips.

Learning to drive. No helmet.

Next thing is the CSI effect. We have imported many things from America, including Starbucks and MacDonald’s, but the most annoying thing is our love of acronyms. Every department nowadays seems to have a snappy title. Maybe I should call it the SPECTRE effect. Or SHIELD. The naming of police departments solely to create a fancy title. Back in my day there was DART, the Divisional Asset Recovery Team, prompting many to suggest we form a Force Asset Recovery Team. The main one that affected me was SOCO, which stood for Scenes Of Crime Officer. I spent 15 years of my service examining crime scenes as varied as burglary, rape, and murder. Taking photographs, fingerprints, and gathering forensic evidence. The cameras were bigger back then. The aluminium powder turned your clothes silver. And POLO mints were essential for postmortems. A whiff of minty freshness amid the bodily fluids. Bringing us full circle, you Americans turned that into CSI, which in turn we imported turning SOCOs into CSIs at the stroke of a pen. You haven’t managed to come up with a replacement for the Postmortem POLOs though. The mint with the hole.

Is that a camera or are you happy to see me?

Finally there’s the warrant card, that fancy piece of plastic that gave me police powers throughout England and Wales. It said so on the back. Okay, so when I was in uniform I didn’t need to “flash the badge” because it was pretty obvious who I was, but when I worked in plain clothes it was embarrassing having to prove my identity with a glorified bus pass. At least in the US your detectives have the prestigious gold shield. I know because I watched NYPD Blue for years. Even in CSI: NY Gary Sinise had the shield. There was something glamorous about flicking open a badge wallet to reveal the shiny metal shield. Even clipped to the belt it looked cool. In complete contrast to the little plastic holder on a piece of string that I had to wear. It wouldn’t deflect a bullet if they fired from 3 miles away. Okay that last part might be stretching it a bit.
Paper or plastic? No, metal.

So, to wrap this up let’s look at what’s the same about you and us. From a police perspective. All cops have a healthy dislike for people doing bad things. They want to make arrests and send the bad guys to prison. It’s a dangerous job. Nobody likes us. We never bring good news. Nobody ever asked a cop to tell your family they won the lottery. We just have to walk the thin blue line. And maybe have a donut.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Twas a Mystery Writer's Night Before Christmas...Redux

From the pencils of

To all of you from the many different corners of our world who so kindly follow us on MIE the very best of the Holiday Season, no matter how you may choose to celebrate the time.  For many of us it’s all about family traditions, and as I’m blessed to be part of the MIE family I have a little tradition of my own I like to sneak in here during the holiday season.  It’s a little something I composed for my Christmas Eve post a few years back and thought you might like seeing again, updated to include the new members of our MIE family. I take great pleasure in brutally fracturing the classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston—history is still not sure who wrote it, so apologies to both. 

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a laptop was stirring, nor even a mouse.
The reviews were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that new readers would soon find them there.

The critics were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of best-seller danced in my head.
And DorothyL in her wimsey, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for the hiatus nap.

When out on the Net there arose such a chatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the keyboard I flew like a flash,
Tore open the browser and dove in with a splash.

The glow on the screen cast like new-fallen snow,
A lustre of brilliance onto writing so-so.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the sight of a blog with nine writers so dear.

With a little bold driver so quick with a thrill,
I knew in a moment he hailed from Brazil.
More rapid than eBooks their creations they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Kubu! now, Aimee! now, Charlie and Thora!
On, Kaldis! On, Justin! on, Mario and Ellie!
To the top of the Times! to the top of them all!
Now Anderson, slash away! slash away pall!”

As wry thoughts, that before the final deadline fly,
When they meet with an obstacle soar to the sky.
So off to their blog-posts these non-courtiers flew,
With a sleigh full of ploys, and opinions not few.

And then, in a twinkling, I saw not from aloof,
The prancing and gnawing of hard comments and spoof
Taking aim at some points so to bring them to ground,
Brought on by hard thinkers from near and far ‘round.

The writers were dressed from each head to each foot
In bold clothes that were tarnished with gashes well put.
A bundle of ARCs each had flung on its back,
They looked like kind peddlers bringing books to a rack.

Their eyes—how they twinkled! Their dimples how merry!
Their cheeks like Jeff Bezos’s, their noses like sherry!
One’s droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
‘Til his bottle of bourbon fell out on the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
Threw up smoke of the kind to fire scotch from the heath.
He had a broad face that would fill up the telly,
And as he reached for his bottle mumbled, “Just jelly.”

Neither chubby nor plump, more like jolly and svelte,
I laughed when I saw him, ‘til his stare I felt.
But a wink of his eye and no twist to my head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

They all spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
And filled all the bookshelves, then turned with a jerk.
And crossing their fingers aside of their noses,
And giving great nods, passed around the Four Roses.

They kept all at play ‘til the ladies gave whistle,
Then each turned as one to read an epistle. 
And I heard them exclaim, ‘ere my charger lost might,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-fright!”

And, of course, “Happy Chanukah” and “Kala Kristouyenna.”


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Greatest Bookshop In the Whole World!

I did my training in London and after spending five years there as a penniless student, it’s good to go back every so often and visit old haunts with some money in my purse.

One of my trips is always to Foyles, the greatest book shop in the world. I shall arm wrestle to the ground anybody who says otherwise.  It stands at the top of Charing Cross Road and when I first went there with my huge list of medical text books I had to buy, we students were sent down the old rickety rackety wooden stairs to the dark basement where copies of Gray's Anatomy were stacked high into the ceiling, Gangon's Text Book of Medical Physiology (unreadable!) filled the far wall and every variation of clinical methods manuals and anatomical atlases were piled higgledy piddledy at my feet   I remember tip toeing my way down the narrow maze like path between the books, hoping that  I  would find my way out.
Maybe hoping I would not.
The smell was  marvellous.
It has changed a lot now.

It had been an independent bookseller since 1903, and is always just called 'Foyles (founded by brothers William and Gilbert Foyle).  They failed their entrance exam to join the  civil service but being enterprising chappies they sold off their redundant text books – and so a legend was born.
By 1906 they opened the shop at 135 Charing Cross Road and they stayed there until 2014 when they moved to the premises I visited last week. As you will have noticed, it moved along the same street.
Charing Cross Road is famous for book and  bookshops, as seen in the film 84 Charing Cross Road. Denmark Street is off it – famous for  musical instrument shops and sheet music. Charing Cross Road changes its name a few times as it goes up to Euston Station. At the Tottenham Court Road part it was always  full of specialist hi fi shops in the good old days of turntables, speakers, amps, tweeters, woofers, ....fade the list to sepia..... but now it has fallen foul to the advancement of large chain coffee shops ... spit anger teeth gnashing....

In 1930 Christina Foyle, daughter of the founder William, started her famous literary lunches that have included  Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, General de Gaulle, General Sikorski and the Emperor Haile Selassie.
In 1945 the control of the business passed to Christina who didn’t seem to share her dad’s golden touch. She fired staff on a whim and refused any modern intervention- such as tills.  I have memories of wandering about being confused about how to pay for my books which weighed a ton as I carried them for A to Z. The payment system was that customers had to queue to collect an invoice for the book, queue to pay the  invoice  at another counter, then  queue again  to collect the books which hopefully were the ones paid for. We Brits are very found of queueing so nobody really cared.
According to come sources, the books on the shelf were arranged via  publisher. Not topic. N author. Not popularity. it was probably a minor miracle that anybody found the book  they went in for, but imagine the delights to be found on the way.
I would happily wandering round for hours, ( free entertainment) reading a bit of this and that while on my way down the wooden staircase.  "Imagine Kafka had gone into the book trade,” was  a famous quote about the shop at the time.  It was famed for these anachronistic practices  and it's rather a shame that the new shop is bright and shiny, well organised and sensible. The staff are still rather eccentric. Nothing  surprises them. As I was being served, the old gentleman at the till was asked if they stocked 'Waiting for Godot.' In Finnish.
'Over at the window, third shelf down.' He didn't blink.Didn't miss a beat.
I think the new shop opened  on 7th June at no.107, just a few doors down from the old shop. The sticky out sign is just the same so you can't miss it. I’m not sure if it still holds the records for its 30 miles of shelf space but it should.  It still has the greatest range of  a books under one roof of any book shop in the UK. It was voted  national book seller of the year in 2013.
The new place has succumbed to the onsite coffee shop trend. But it’s a Foyles and not branded, it does soup and hot rolls. It does tea in a pot with a real leaf dangler. The café is high on the fifth floor and if the seating is full you can wander up to the sixth and eat your lunch next to the grand piano. The lift has opening doors at both ends as the floors of the shop are off set. It causes panic in those  occupants that are facing the wrong door as the lift announces 'third floor' and they are staring at a brick wall, presuming the lift had got stuck and they will stay there for eternity. slowly rotting away with a good book to read.

I meandered through crime looking for a few folk I know, I spotted this. And then this

 and this…

And then I spotted this...

 A book by the Doc Holliday of Scottish writing. You have to witness the coat.  Chris Dolan a multi talented type who I try really hard to dislike him but I can't because he's a nice bloke. He’s a screen play writer,  song writer,  tv writer and general all round smart arse who has just produced a crime book.
 He does redeem himself from all this cleverness by admitting that crime writers are a great laugh and much more fun to hang about with than these intellectual, beardy types.

 Being a smart chappie he produced this little montage and he’s singing the song himself. He is a Glaswegian so I invite you to revel in his dulcet tones. He smokes about twenty Woodbine a day and can still do a pretty shifty ten k.
I will get him to guest blog in the future. I did ask him for a quote as to why he has joined the ranks of 'The Happy Writers' and here's what he said.

He says it took him a long time to try his hand at a genre he loves – Crime.
"Despite what people think, Crime is harder than ‘literary; fiction, or political plays. It’s a deep craft… It speaks about the world and morals and life as it’s lived, but it has to be accurately shaped, profoundly considered. The plot, the characters, the created world. I don’t know if I’ve quite got there yet, but I love writing my heroine Maddy, and with luck and hard work the next novel might be better’.

( That's a bit like Picasso saying he'll be a better painter when he learns to stay within the lines.  And yes, his Fiscal heroine Maddy does wear peerie heels.)

The montage is .... well see for yourself. It's all about his book. 
Once watched, I defy you not to start thinking what a montage about your last book would be like....

Caro Ramsay 9th December