Author of the Month
Name: Stella Duffy
First book: Calendar Girl (Serpent’s Tail, 1994)
Most Recent Book: Mouths of Babes (Serpent’s Tail,
“…an excellent read written in tight prose with
not a word wasted.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.)