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Author of the Month

Name: Stella Duffy

First book: Calendar Girl (Serpent’s Tail, 1994)

Most Recent Book: Mouths of Babes (Serpent’s Tail, 2005)

“…an excellent read written in tight prose with not a word wasted.”

Synopsis:

Saz Martin is back after an unforgivable absence of five years with Molly and a new addition to their lives in the form of Matilda, their daughter. Molly returns to full time work and Saz stays at home to look after Matilda. However, it is not long before Saz gets the scent of a new case and decides to do a little work on the side without Molly’s knowledge.

This is all fine until an old flame of Saz’s turns up on her doorstep with information that includes Saz and the old school gang she was involved with during her adolescent years. Saz ingratiated herself with this group and it was a union that ended in disaster. Now someone who was mixed up with them all those years ago is back and about to collect their due.

 


Review

This novel is all about children and how they can sometimes be the most vicious human beings on the planet. With great insight and sensitivity Duffy has broached this subject and the impact bullying can have on all our lives. In the last few years we have had to read of suicides and mass shootings at schools that are a direct consequence of bullying. Reading this story made me sometimes shiver, and it would be no bad thing if this book were put on the curriculum in all schools. It shows us both sides of the story, from the victim to the bullies.

As I read this novel, I could very easily identify with many of the author’s poignant descriptions. If not against me, then someone I knew had somehow been a victim in one form or another. Duffy is brilliant at describing the little things - like the sign on the sweet shop door advising that only two school children are allowed at any one time. With everything spinning out of control, the conclusion of the book is unexpected and deeply upsetting. This novel has strong characterisation as well as a fast and thought provoking plot. Alongside this, with Saz’s maternal instincts about Matilda, there is a definite feeling of Saz wanting, like all new parents, to make sure that her daughter never makes the same mistakes she made when she was young. This was an excellent read written in tight prose with not a word wasted.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

 

Questionnaire:

1) How would you describe your books?
Eclectic? … London-based, PI series featuring young (ish) woman detective, with a good smattering of sex and drugs and virtually no music references at all! (lots of food though, she is a woman …) I also try my damnedest NEVER to call her feisty or sassy.

2) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Trixie Belden series, The Mystery of the Emeralds
(although Chandler’s The Little Sister comes close!!!)

3) Would you describe yourself as a crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I’m a reading/writing fan and am as happy to read crime as any other genre - and for my money literary fiction is a genre AS WELL!
Among the writers whose work I admire are : Janet Frame (the novels in particular), Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Shakespeare (with the Greeks, Euripides, Sophocles – WONDERFUL crime writers!!), Patricia Highsmith, Russell Hoban, Julia Darling, Patricia Grace.
Specifically on crime writing – Walter Mosley, John Harvey, Val Mcdermid, Mark Billingham, John Connolly, Laura Lippman. (Yes, it is a mate-heavy list! Not sure how to escape that when crime writers are so often such nice people, which is more likely to make me want to read their work.) And Chandler - having only just read all of them this year, am delighted to finally understand what everyone else has been going on about for ages!!

4) Without giving away the solution, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The central revelation in Sarah water’s Fingersmith is the only twist that has ever made me gasp out loud.

5) There has always been speculation of a ‘friendly’ rivalry between Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Which of these two writers’ novels do you prefer and why?
Never read any Dorothy L sorry. I know … it’s wicked of me … it’s just that whole posh people/blue stocking thing has always put me off. Perhaps I need to ignore the telly versions? And not all that fond of Christie either. I liked the Miss Marples when I was a girl, but can’t get up much interest now.

6) Of all the books you have written, which is your personal favourite and why?
Well, the latest book is always the favourite, but I truly do believe Mouths of Babes is the best of my Saz Martin series (though Wavewalker might still be my favourite). Of the literary novels I’d say State of Happiness.

7) Who, in your eyes, is pushing the boundaries of crime fiction today – and why?
Anyone (many of them listed above) who are actively trying to write well in addition to telling a good story. Every now and then (and not at the expense of pace) I love to be stopped in my tracks by a beautiful line or paragraph – one that tells continues to tell story, but manages to do so with elegance and wit and a love of language. (John Harvey is very good at this.)

8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Double Indemnity. Barbara Stanwyck is amazing (as always, but especially good here),and Fred McMurray is so far removed from his My Three Sons persona it’s terrifying! I do think when a book adaptation works it needs something extra brought to it, to compensate for what is cut. In this case it’s a brilliant director and two stunning actors.

9) Where do you see crime fiction going next?
Gosh, if I knew that for definite I’d be trying to write it! (Though I do think the rise in urban terrorism will no doubt be reflected in future novels. We can only hope it’s done responsibly, not merely to induce the fear and hysteria that some of our governments/news agencies would appear to want us to feel already.)