Book Review – March 2019 – The Vinyl Detective 1: Written In Dead Wax – Andrew Cartmel


Sometimes, when my concentration isn’t great (right now I blame the sub-tropical temperatures in this hospital!) a change in reading material can help. A fellow patient was generous enough to lend me the first in Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series, books I’d never heard of and would probably never have otherwise come across. And I’m smitten.

Our hero – it’s written in the first person; I know how obsessive some people are about this! – generally ekes out a living by looking for rare and collectible vinyl in charity shops, and selling it on online. He seems to know every charity shop in South West London, and the most time-efficient way to get around them by bus, using his travel card. But one day a woman bearing a card introducing her as, “N. Warren” appears at his door. She has one of the cards he’d had printed up years ago, styling himself as The Vinyl Detective, prepared to seek out any record you wanted but couldn’t find, but his business idea had never had any success. However, after a test of his vinyl knowledge, he’s given his mission: to seek out the fourteenth – and final – release on a promising 1950s Los Angeles jazz label called Hathor Records.

The owner of this company, Bobby Schoolcraft, allegedly killed himself, although various rumours flew around regarding bullying by representatives of a much larger rival company which eventually drove him to suicide. It quickly becomes clear that our vinyl detective’s mission may not be as simple as he had first anticipated. Nor is it as safe, as it appears he and his accomplice, the rather attractive N. Warren (okay, I’ll tell you, but this is the only spoiler you’re getting! – the N stands for Nevada, which apparently means “snowfall”), are not the only ones trying to track this rare piece of vinyl down. And their rivals look to have few scruples, prepared to stop at nothing – even, perhaps, murder – to be first to the prize…

Theres a great deal goes on in this book – but to tell you much more of the storyline would take us into spoiler territory. It has some absolutely wonderful supporting characters, notably DJ Stinky Stanmer and accident-prone dopehead – and fellow vinyl obsessive – Tinkler, as well as “Clean Head,” as the Vinyl Detective names their efficient tail-losing Hackney driver. Cartmel displays his ability to construct a plot that really doesn’t flag; indeed, it zips along for its 474 pages, while taking in trips to Japan and California as part of the Vinyl Detective’s mission. In California he finds out more about the demise of Hathor Records when he becomes entangled with the granddaughter of a talented jazz vocalist (Rita Mae Pollini, who featured on some of the label’s releases), much to Nevada’s chagrin. Cartmel is an exceptionally witty, highly observant writer, capturing the obsessional tendencies of record collectors (indeed, any, generally male, “anorak”-type activity.) I was delighted to find out there were another two books in the series available – I’m currently engrossed in number two, The Run Out Groove. If you need a quirky break from the norm, but still want your fare share of murder and mayhem (plus some great cats!), do check out Andrew Cartmel. Plus you’ll never look at a crate of second-hand vinyl again without wondering if a gem which will make your fortune lies within…

Book 3 – Victory Disc – is available now on Titan Books.

Book 4 – Flip Back – is out in May on Titan Books.

Highly recommended!

This review was taken from a copy borrowed from a friend, and is unbiased.

BLURB: He is a record collector -a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others. Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of an extremely wealthy, yet shadowy, client. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…

Interview with Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver Blog Tour FINAL

At the moment, I’m reading Dandy Gilver And A Spot Of Toil And Trouble (review to come – but I’m loving it, as I anticipated!) I absolutely adore this series, and I also love Catriona’s one-off psychological thrillers. I urge you to read her as soon as you can if you haven’t yet done so – she’s incredibly witty, and creates wonderful characters and very clever plots. So when asked if I’d like to ask a few questions of one of my favourite authors, how could I refuse? I hope you enjoy my wee Q & A!

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The Dandy Gilver books are a homage to Golden Age crime fiction. Are you a big fan of that period of crime writing, and, if so, which authors do you most admire?

Oh, a huge fan! Yes, indeed. The first curtsey has to be to Dame Agatha, of course. I’m pretty fierce about her because she gets sneered at so regularly. People sometimes forget how ground-breaking she was and, now that some of the plots have been often copied (The Moving Finger, anyone?), she doesn’t get the credit she deserves. At least some of it’s pure sexism, I reckon.

But I also love everything Dorothy L Sayers ever did. It was a great honour to be asked to write the introduction to one of the recent Hodder re-issues. And I got exactly the volume I would have chosen too: Striding Folly, the last collection of short stories.

I can’t say I love everything Ngaio Marsh and Michael Innes wrote, but A Surfeit of Lampreys and Appleby’s End are in my top five detective novels of all time.

The one I don’t quite get is Josephine Tey. The Franchise Affair always struck me as snobby in a sort of pinched way (unlike DLS’s glorious snootiness – that’s just funny) and The Daughter of Time is one of those books that everyone else seems to love and I keep quiet because . . . well, I keep quiet.

As well as enjoying your Dandy Gilver series, I’m also a huge fan of your psychological thrillers. Do you have any preference when it comes to writing them? And do you plan to continue writing both for the foreseeable future?

Thank you. I thoroughly enjoy both and they both have highs and lows, to be honest. I come at Dandy knowing some of the characters and knowing I’ve got the voice, but then I need to research some bit of the 30s and try to get it right. The standalones – being contemporary – don’t have that threat of anachronism hanging over them, but each one is a new world I need to kindle from scratch.

All that said, I’ve got no plans to stop either strand.

Personally, one of my favourite aspects of your writing is the quirkiness of your characters – it adds to their authenticity (like the “Hand Of Man”/”Hand Of Woman” – this is part of The Child Garden where the main character, who is a registrar, guesses with her colleague who dressed the babies who are in having their birth registered. It’s very funny.) I also feel you and Denise Mina are the most realistic writers of ordinary working class people, especially women, in Scotland. Does it ever feel difficult to get into that “Scottish voice” when you live in California? Or is it always there, buried in your mind?

Well, that is some high praise there. I adore Denise Mina, especially her characters. I did have someone once ask why I had given a modern character such a desperate life. I didn’t think her life was desperate at all! She had a job in Tesco (as an online-shop picker) and a house and pals.

As to the voice: because I didn’t move to California until I was forty four I think I’m probably going to be okay. And I make a conscious effort not to assimilate linguistically in between trips home every summer. Mind you, I did just have to ask the Facebook hive mind if Scots ever called tracky bums “sweatpants” because I couldn’t remember. Most of the responses came from American friends pledging to call them “tracky bums” from now on.

What have you got on the bedside table at the moment? And is there anything you’ve read recently that really impressed you?

Ha, I love this question. I’m taking my laptop through to my bedroom to catalogue the answer. Okay, the TBR piles (of imminent and current reading (not to be confused with four TBR shelves of maybe one day books) + two I keep by my bed always for comfort + talking books from the library in case of insomnia) left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

Audio book of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Kate Burton
Landscape with Dead Dons Robert Robinson
My Name is Lucy Barton Elizabeth Strout
The Captain’s Verses Pablo Neruda
A Place Called Winter Patrick Gale
Queen Bees Sian Evans
The Fortunes Peter Ho Davies
The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
A Front Page Affair Radha Vatsal
Aunt Jane McPhipps and her Baby Blue Chips Frances V Rummel
The Other Sister Diane Dixon
Nutshell Ian McEwan
Rather be The Devil Ian Rankin
The Two-Family House Linda Cohen Loigman
All He ever Wanted Anita Shreve
Norah Webster Colm Toibin
Audiobook of A Spool of Blue Thread Anne Tyler

I’m reading the Vatsal right now and enjoying it very much. Recent crime fiction I’ve admired – keeping it to crime fiction for Crimeworm: I read my first Bill Crider novel (there are more than twenty) about Texas sheriff Dan Rhodes. Imagine Alexander McCall Smith writing about a small town in Texas. Marvellous stuff! Also, Deep Water by Christine Poulson was a great treat: a character-driven crime novel that was spot-on about the working of a science lab without the details ever derailing the story. And Ausma Zehannat Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead, set in Canada but dealing with the shadow of the break-up of Yugoslavia. It’s a punch to the gut but absolutely spell-binding too.

Thank you so much, Catriona. Can I just ask you what’s next on the agenda, book-wise, after Dandy Gilver And A Spot Of Toil Of Trouble?

Thank you. Today, after I send this interview back, I going to start editing Dandy Gilver No. 13. The working title is Dandy Gilver and The Supposedly Happy Occasion but who knows. Then I’m coming over to launch Toil and Trouble and, later in the summer, a modern book: The Weight of Angels (UK) House.Tree.Person (US). When I get back I’ll edit the modern book I’ve just written (no title yet) and collapse on the couch for Christmas.

Well, there’s plenty of books to add to the TBR pile there! I’m actually going to be reading The Unquiet Dead very soon, but many of the rest are new to me!

I’d like to thank the lovely Jenni at Hodder and Stoughton for giving me the opportunity to question Catriona, and of course Catriona herself for answering them. And look out for my review of Toil And Trouble coming up shortly!

Amber Green Takes Manhattan – Rosie Nixon

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BLURB: When her TV producer boyfriend Rob announces that he’s been offered a job in New York, filming with the infamous Angel Wear lingerie models, Amber knows its her perfect chance to take the New York fashion world by storm.

But Amber wasn’t counting on unruly toddler photo shoots, clandestine designer handbag scams and a Hollywood star who is determined to wear as little as possible on the red carpet. Until she meets a disgraced former designer who could turn her career around…or leave it all in tatters.

Fun, adventure, glamour and high-fashion make this is the perfect feel good women’s fiction read.

So, yes, shocker! Crimeworm has decided to take a break from all the murder-and-mayhem and relax into the enjoyable fun provided by Amber Green Takes Manhattan, follow-up to the highly successful The Stylist. Rosie Nixon, the author, is editor-in-chief at Hello! magazine (the sort of thing I like to find in the dentist. Or hairdresser’s.) Anyway, it’s pretty clear Rosie’s talents are wasted at the magazine and it’s sycophantic interviews with Spanish princesses, etc, as she’s a natural author of chick-lit.

Regular readers will know this isn’t a genre I read often, so I was somewhat dubious reviewing this book – I mean, what do I know about chick-lit? But really, all it had to do was keep me engrossed and turning the pages, and, boy! It certainly does that! I’m quite fond of fashion (handbags are my weakness; I don’t think many designers produce clothes that would fit my quarterback-style shoulders. A farmer’s daughter, indeed.) And it was the fashion aspect of the novel that persuaded me to read and review it for the Blog Tour.

This is the perfect time to release this kind of novel – it screams “beach read” (I’m not denigrating it: far from it; these books are hugely successful!) The storyline basically consists of Amber Green getting in lots of fashion-related scrapes, and escaping them with the help of hunky cameraman boyfriend Rob (with whom she moves to New York in the hope of getting some styling work), and best friend Vicky, who arrives for a break from her workaholic Hollywood director boyfriend Trey. A few serendipitous meetings, and Amber’s career looks like it’s heading in the right direction. Well, sort of…if you don’t count the shoot involving toddlers let loose in luxury Manhattan apartment, or the wild child client, with the sleazy manager, who thinks au naturale (or as close to it as possible) is this season’s look.

If you like the occasional lighter read, and enjoy fashion and celebrity-related stuff, then this book is the perfect holiday read for you. Slip it into your suitcase – or download it to your Kindle, and enjoy it by the pool, or on the beach, preferably accompanied by a very large pina colada – and a male model to rub the sun cream in. (We can dream, can’t we??!)

Highly recommended.

This book was provided to me by the publishers HQ in exchange for an honest review.