Monday, December 13, 2010

New Blog

Please note that this blog has now been transferred to a new, more colourful site at

Follow the link for all my latest news and thoughts...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Extraordinary People (of the worst kind)

I don't usually involve myself in political comment. But I am moved by incredulity to condemn, without qualification, the actions of the overgrown schoolboys who currently run the UK, in withdrawing funding from the British Film Council - effectively bringing about it's demise, along with the demise of the British film industry itself. In concert with wielding the axe on the Health Protection Agency (vital to tracing the sources of infectious diseases - I am publishing a book, shortly, on the subject), these morons demonstrate at every turn their unsuitability to govern.

Here is an interesting article on the subject of the importance of the British Film Council

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Of Mice and Men

I am moved by momentous events to write an extra-curricular blog.

After having successfully (well, almost) negotiated two months of events throughout the US, and a hectic French schedule in Lyon, we ended up yesterday in the delightful Romanesque Mediterranean town of Frejus for an event at the Librairie Charlemagne - a prestigious local bookstore.

We were met by the delightful Valerie Mouton, a former radio journalist who was going to host the event, and lunched in a local restaurant before visiting the oldest cathedral in Europe.

When we turned up for the event itself yesterday evening, the bookstore owner hurried out to let us into the store's private parking area, just off the main street. To do this he had to lower a two-foot high, nine-inch diameter post sunk into the sidewalk. This was a highly sophisticated process that involved jumping up and down on it until it stayed down.

With traffic piling up behind me I waited patiently until it was down, and I was waved forward. Unfortunately, as I passed over it, the damned thing suddenly took it into its head to rise up again. There was a terrible crashing and grinding, and I jammed on the brakes, effectively to find my car impaled from below on the pillar. No way to get it off.

And I had an audience awaiting me in the store!

Mindful of the fact that I had a meeting with my French publisher two hours away at Arles at 9am the following morning, plus twelve hours of driving over the next two days to get me to the book festival at Le Havre, I abandoned my poor, impaled Renault Scenic, to do my duty in the store.

As I spoke of research and inspiration, a mechanic arrived to raise my car up on two jacks, while simultaneously inserting a third between the pillar and the underside of the vehicle to force the pillar down. It took him an hour-and-a-half to free it. My concentration was less than perfect - a little like my French!

Now I cannot take to the road this morning without having the car checked for damage and safety. Even assuming all is ok, I will be several hours late for my appointment at Arles, and the leisurely overnight I had anticipated at home to break the two day drive that lies ahead, will be reduced to a handful of hours.

If there is a problem with the car, God knows how it will go...

In the words of a famous Scot: The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.

A certain Anglo-Saxon word of mediaeval origin comes to mind!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Homeward Bound

A little over two months ago I was sitting on a bench on the platform of the railway station ten minutes from my home in south-west France. It was cold, it was wet, it was still winter. I was excited, stressed, depressed, all at the same time.

I was waiting for a train that would take me to Paris, and from there to the United States, where ahead of me lay two months of touring, talks and travel, to promote three new books which had come out at the start of the year.

I was daunted. And, to be honest, if I could have turned around there and then, and gone straight back home, nothing would have made me happier.

A song kept going around and around in my head.

I’m sitting in a railway station got a ticket for my destination...
... And every stop is neatly planned for a laundry and a one-night stand...

Homeward bound, I wish I was... homeward bound...

Ok, so I amended the lyrics a little, but you get the point.

Two months on, here I am sitting at Gate B41 at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. I have given more than 20 talks at events in bookstores and libraries all over the country, culminating at Borders at Bailey’s Crossroads just outside of DC, and the LaPrade Library in Richmond Virginia.

I find it hard to believe that it was eight weeks ago that I flew into Minneapolis, jumped into a rental car, and drove immediately to Uncle Edgar’s bookstore to sign the piles of books that Jeff Hatfield had waiting for me. Since when I have lost my coat and found it, lost my cellphone and (miraculously) found it, lost my voice and found it, and lost my heart to a dog called Odin. I also lost my way in the dark of southern California, and almost got shot. In the end I very nearly lost my sanity - and I’m still looking for it.

But here I am, finally... homeward bound. And I have that song going around and around in my head again. As they call my flight...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Powerfully Close

Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes, Connecticut. So where the hell am I now? Damned if I know!

Wait, let me take a peek out of the window. Draw back the curtains just a touch. Ohhhhh, yes. I remember now. I’m in Oxford. No, not Oxford, England. Oxford, Maryland. On Chesapeake Bay. Just about 40 miles from the White House in Washington DC.

The British (or, “you”, as someone put it to us yesterday) sailed into Chesapeake Bay just over 200 years ago on a fateful expedition to set Washington alight, igniting the war that would wrest North America from colonial hands and establish the United States.

But this quaint backwater, with it’s English overtones (and undertones), could hardly present a more different face of modern-day America. The Oxford Inn, where we are staying, is like an old-fashioned hotel in the Scottish Highlands - from its squeaky floorboards, to its village pub filled with local worthies spilling beer and stories.

Just down the road is the Scottish Highland Creamery, which produces amazing ice-cream from traditional Italian recipes. The owner is, of course, a Scot. From Edinburgh.

There are hundreds of miles of coastline following ragged inlets in and out of bays and creeks. The roads are all inland, long driveways leading off into trees on either side towards hidden houses which face on to the water, each with its own private jetty, and a curious veil of anonymity. People who live here are, for the most part, either very rich, or very private.

As someone said in the bar last night, about forty percent of the population is probably on the witness protection scheme.

But it is also an artistic community, with writers, artists and poets settling in large numbers in search of inspiration and peace.

Among them is Kathy Harig, who recently moved her delightful mystery bookstore down here from Baltimore. Which was where, yesterday, I chatted with customers and signed books, on a damp, quiet Sunday.

Seven days ago we were in upstate New York, since when I have driven nearly 1200 miles, stopping in Connecticut, New York City, and Pittsburgh, PA. There, on Saturday morning, I gave a talk to a full-house at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont.

Owners, Mary-Alice and Richard, had laid on breakfast for their regular customers, who filled all the available table space, nibbling muffins and sipping coffee as I talked about my books. We had a lively and fun session, culminating in the signing of many books.

We left at midday, to pick up a take-away pizza, and get on the road for the six-hour drive south-east to Chesapeake.

I have to confess to a serious dose of fatigue. I feel (and probably look) as if I have aged ten years on this trip. Careful dieting and serious exercise will be necessary preparation in the weeks ahead of ever doing this again. But right now, for the purposes of recovery, all I want is to sleep - in my own bed!

But wait. Again. It’s not over. Today is a “day off”. A chance for some relaxing tourism, to take some fresh air and seafood. Then tomorrow it’s off to DC, an event at Borders at Bailey’s Crossroads, and an overnight at the home of our friend Barbara Busch. Before moving on to Richmond, Virginia, for a speaking engagement at the LaPrade library.

Then, and I hardly dare to believe it, we climb aboard an airplane at Dulles Airport and fly home to Paris.

But for now, that is a thought that I will push to the back of my mind. The game is not over till the fat lady sings.

Tonight, I will go to bed again, knowing that the President of the United States is slipping between the sheets less than an hour’s drive away. Tomorrow night I get a little nearer. For Barbara lives less than five miles from the White House. And that’s probably as close to the most powerful man in the world as I’m ever likely to get.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Connections in Connecticut

Dr. Richard Ward is one of the most pre-eminent experts on crime and international terrorism in the United States.

And it was thanks to Dick that I received my introduction to the Chinese police when I started writing my China Thrillers series in 1997, since when he has been a constant source of research and inspiration for all my books.

He has also become a great friend. And it is with Dick and his wife, Michelle, that we are staying these three days in Connecticut. It is my first trip to New England, towns and villages with quaint English names nestling amongst rolling countryside of spring green natural forest.

They live just outside of New Haven, the home of Yale University. Dick is Dean of the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, a part of the University of New Haven. He moved there two years ago from Sam Houston State University, where he was Dean of the College of Criminal Justice for ten years.

During that time he set up a terrorism monitoring organisation, where data gleaned from open sources is analysed by specially designed software to find hidden links between terrorists, terror groups, and organised crime. The data is collected and entered by criminal justice students, both domestic and foreign, at five different locations around the US.

The group is known as ISVG - the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups - and has its own website.

I took advantage of my time here to sit in on some of their briefings, and talk to the guys who are running the show. Fascinating stuff!

A local journalist thought so, too, and showed up for a briefing while we were there. On the table in the briefing room, was a CV of the Times Square bomber, which the guys at ISVG had put together for him. Not realising it was for him, he proceeded to spend the next fifteen minutes surreptitiously sliding the CV in amongst his own papers so that he could slip quietly away with it when he left.

Oh how we laughed when he was gone. He figured he had pulled off some kind of journalistic coup, when really he was just stealing from himself.

A further source of amusement came when he briefly left the room with his photographer to take pics of the kids entering up data at computers in the facility. We were all startled by the sudden ringing of a cellphone in the pocket of his jacket which was hanging over the back of a chair - the theme from Mission Impossible (a comment on his own self-image, perhaps?). We half expected the cellphone to self-destruct after five seconds.

Dick also does an hour-long weekly radio show which broadcasts to around 400,000 people, so we spent the next hour in the studio, where he recorded an interview with me for the show.

That was Tuesday, an unseasonally cold and wet day.

Wednesday we took the train to New York City to sign books at the Mysterious Bookshop at Tribeca in lower Manhattan. Afterwards, La Patronne and I met up with Susie for lunch. The weather was still cool, but improving.

Thursday was beautiful, with temperatures soaring to 28C, and Dick and Michelle drove us up the coast to the beautiful historical town of Mystic on the Mystic River, where majestic talls ships are berthed in a sheltered harbour overlooked by the original boatyards and chandlers, banks and immigration offices that lined the dock.

Tomorrow, it’s an early start and a long drive south and west to the city of Pittsburgh where I will give a breakfast talk on Saturday at the Mystery Lovers’ Bookshop, under the heading of “Coffee and Crime”.

At the same time, Dick will board an airplane and fly to Afghanistan.

I think I prefer my itinerary.

Dick and Michelle go overboard in Mystic

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When Fates Conspire

Memories of nice people in Scottsdale - Susan and Jim, who took us to the hottest Mexican in town - literally.

Sometimes it seems (and I am not one of life’s conspiracy theorists) that fate simply conspires against you. And when life is stressful it does everything it can to make it more so.

So there we were. Three-thirty in the morning, standing outside the house in Scottsdale, Arizona, due to check-in for our flight at 4am. And the taxi we have ordered is late.

Not just any old taxi. It was a car from Arizona Executive transportation services, ordered and agreed during an exchange of several e-mails. Price nailed, time double-checked.

By ten to four, there was still no sign of it. Just the hot wind blowing off the desert in the dark. I searched through the yellow pages and called a Yellow Cab. The driver said he would be with us in twenty minutes - and the airport would be another twenty-minute drive away after that.

We waited and waited.

Until finally, the cab arrived, with still no sign of the car from Arizona Executive transportation. Of course, I had already phoned them... and got a recorded ad. for their “services”. No one at the other end of the phone.

As we slipped into the back seat of the cab, and hung on for dear life while the driver hurtled, bumped, and swerved his way along the freeway to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, I vowed that I would advise the world never to order a car from AE transport services - AE clearly being an acronym for Absolute Eejits.

So we arrive late for check-in, scramble through security, walk what seems like two miles to the gate, trailing computers and iPads, when I suddenly remember I have to upload my blog for Type M for Murder. I have two minutes to spare. But fortunately there is free wifi in the airport. Perched on the edge of a seat I log in and upload the blog, which I had written the night before, and make a dash for the plane.

Only to be stopped in my tracks by the announcement that carry-on bags are going to be arbitrarily checked into the hold. Strict limits are being applied. I am carrying two laptops, my iPad, all my electrical equipment, money, passport etc, in three bags. No way will it all be allowed on.

As if I wasn’t stressed enough. I was not going to let my computing power out of my hands. So I secreted one bag beneath my coat, and endeavoured to hide another on the farthest side from the check-in girl. Sweat and heart rate increase as I get closer.

She takes my ticket, looks suspiciously at the one immediately visible bag and... lets me through.

When I finally get into my seat, I should have been sighing with relief and relaxing for the rest of the flight. But no. I can’t get my feet under the seat in front. The guy sitting beside me is all elbows. I seem to be twisted in the seat and can’t get comfortable.

It was just going to be one of those days.

Three hours to Chicago, the clock going forward two. A two-and-a-half hour wait at O’Hare Airport, then another hour’s flight to Rochester, New York - and another hour moved forward.

There we meet up again with Susie and pick up a rental car. First of all the boot (trunk) is so small we can’t get all the bags in. Then the automatic gear gets stuck in low as we try to navigate out of the airport. I make two tours of the damned place before returning to the Hertz garage and demanding another car - which they provide, eventually, with a bad grace.

Finally we get to our hotel, only thirteen hours after dragging ourselves out of bed at 3am, and losing three hours on our day.

Of course, we were there for a family wedding - the marriage of La Patronne’s niece, Suzi, to Joel. So it was quick wash, then head off for the rehearsal dinner in a church hall somewhere. A loooong day.

This was not the limo that failed to take us to the airport - it was the bride and groom's ride to the wedding!

On Saturday I slipped into my pre-ordered kilt to discover that I must have lost weight. Only my belt (purchased for the purpose at the Grand Canyon) holds it up.

I won’t go into details of the wedding, suffice to say that all went well. Suzi and Joel finished the day husband and wife, and we all fell wearily into bed around midnight, only to be wakened three hours later by a fire alarm.

Susie and La Patronne do their imitation of Married to the Mob at the wedding.

The whole damned room reverberated to the sound of it, and a soporific female voice urging us to leave all behind and flee from the hotel by the nearest exit. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be parted from my computers, even by fire. So, laden with bags, I toiled down four flights of stairs, half-dressed, to stumble out into the car park. There the entire population of the hotel shivered for the next forty minutes until the fire service determined that there was a “mechanical issue”, and that it had been a false alarm.

Having been wakened from a sound slumber, I found it impossible to get back to sleep, and the whole of Sunday was spent in a haze of fatigue - an early morning drive to take Susie to the airport, a wedding brunch at 10am, coffee by the canal at Fairport, sun streaming through the window to encourage increasingly heavy eyelids to close, and a late burger to settle a growling stomach.

Then up at 5, and on the road, south and east, through Massachusetts to Connecticut and the home of friends Dick and Michel Ward, where there is one day to draw breath before heading by train for New York City.


And tomorrow.

And tomorrow....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nae Rest For the Wicked

And still the sun shines. Relentlessly.

But at least it is cooling down at night, and we can keep windows open and fly screens in and breathe fresh chilled air, rather than the canned AC type.

Arizona is an amazing state. Eighty percent of it is owned by the federal government or given over to Indian reservations, leaving just 20 percent for private development - and this is the sixth largest state in the US!

Two thirds of the state’s population of over 6.5 million, live in the greater Phoenix area. So vast tracts of this state are simply empty. Desert, mountain, high plains, pine forests. The Grand Canyon. It has a stark beauty. Brutal heat in the low desert, ice cold winds and winter snow o n the upper elevations.

Phoenix itself just goes on forever. Since space is not a problem here, no one builds up. They build out. In places you can drive 125 miles to get from one side of Phoenix to the other.

Last Thursday I had an event at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, on the outskirts of town - it was quite a drive. The library is run by the incomparable Lesa Holstine, who took assiduous notes during my talk and reproduced them faithfully on her blog the following day - along with a terrific review of “Freeze Frame”.

Then on Friday we briefly exchanged the heat of the desert for the humidity of Houston in Texas. After a two-and-a-half hour flight, we landed in temperatures of 35C and 85 percent humidity. A hotel on the edge of the freeway, within striking distance of the Bush International Airport, was home for the next two days. Such is the glamorous life of the writer.

As compensation, we found a great Indian restaurant in a strip mall not far away - it is the only cuisine we really miss in France. We ate there on both Friday and Saturday nights, making up for a long period of abstinence.

The book event, at Murder by the Book, drew a good crowd on the Saturday afternoon. Many books were bought, and many more signed. And then on Sunday it was an escape from the humidity, back to the dry heat of the desert.

The trip was punctuated by my failure to meet my obligation to provide a Friday blog entry for Type M for Murder, exacerbated by the failure of my invited Sunday guest blogger to respond. So in the early hours of Sunday morning, I sat with my iPad on my lap in my hotel room, writing an entry for immediate upload. Thank God for technology.

Back in Scottsdale, it was back to work. Monday saw me break the back of the story for my follow-up to “The Blackhouse” - the second in the trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It has been playing elusively around the outer fringes of my mind for some time. But following an hour-long telephone interview with a former “inmate” of an Edinburgh orphanage, combined with some detailed research into “bog bodies”, things finally started falling into place.

Today we had a four-way Skype conference with the French film producers who have bought the rights to “The Killing Room”. We were discussing the first draft long synopsis of the script treatment, and detailed notes will follow in the next two days. A revised version must be produced within the next two weeks. Which will be fun... given that we go back on the road on Friday, and don’t stop till we fly back to Paris from Washington DC in sixteen days’ time.

Then they want a meeting in Paris at the beginning of June. No problem. I only have to fit it in to a schedule that includes three days of promotional events in Lyon, followed by another at Fréjus on the Med., then Le Havre on the English Channel. Not to mention a visitor from Scotland for a week, followed by a research trip to the Hebrides, a promotional weekend in Corsica, and a trip to Hong Kong! I guess I must be the walking, talking incarnation of wickedness.

Anyway. First things first. It’s goodbye to Arizona Friday morning, and hello New York state Friday night. Followed by a family wedding on Saturday.

Ah, well, time to hitch my kilt up around my oxters and get on with it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Crack in the Earth

This was a long and adventurous weekend.

I had an event at the Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona, on Saturday afternoon, and we left on Thursday to go up and stay overnight with friends, who had offered to take us to the Grand Canyon on Friday.

Sedona is about two hours' drive north of Phoenix - a long climb up to around 4500 feet.  We went from 30C in Scottsdale to just above freezing in Sedona, and as we drove up Oak Creek Canyon with our hosts, Pat and Jim, to eat in an incredible log cabin hunting lodge tucked away beneath towering pines and sheer cliffs, there was still snow on the ground from the winter.  It hardly seemed possible after the heat of the desert.

Pat and Jim came to one of our writing courses in France eight years ago.  They recently moved up to Sedona from Phoenix to build their dream home amongst the spectacular red rocks that rise up out of the plains.  And it is almost like a dream being here, with views from every picture window on to stunning scenes of blood red primeval rock formations soaring all around.

The lodge where we ate - Garland's Oak Creek Lodge - was accessed by a perilous crossing of Oak Creek itself, at a ford which is sometime lost beneath torrents of white water snow melt.  Inside we were greeted by a roaring log fire in a huge open hearth, and a set menu featuring the most fabulous lamb - the best meal we have had in the United States, bar none.

Friday was a long, slow ascent up to 7000 feet, through the university town of Flagstaff, to the vast high plains of northern Arizona. Here the oxygen had thinned, making breathing more difficult, and the temperature had plunged almost to freezing. It is an extraordinary landscape up there. Endless scrub plains and stunted trees, distant mountains and volcanoes, and clear, luminous air in the bright sunshine.

And then suddenly... this vast hole in the ground. As if the earth had cracked open. You’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. You expect it to be spectacular. But nothing quite prepares you for the scale of it. And you can only imagine how it took away the breath of those early pioneers, crossing this endless plain to emerge from the trees quite unexpectedly on its southern lip. I have taken some pictures, as you can see. But nothing you can catch within the frame of a camera does it justice. Not even being there. It so dwarfs humanity, that even as you stand on the rim and gaze a mile down to the Colorado River below, or fifteen miles across to the north rim, it seems... unreal.

Then it was back to Sedona - itself almost a miniature Grand Canyon, coloured red. But here, people live among the rocks, putting down roots, and anchoring themselves to a geological history that goes right back to the beginnings of time. Another extraordinary place.

A little further up the canyon, Pat and Jim have a log cabin in the woods, tucked away among the pines, and surrounded by cliffs and mountains. They took us on a tour of it, and offered it as a retreat for the writing of the next book. Incredibly generous. And who knows, maybe I will take them up on it. No danger of unwelcome interruptions up there. And so no excuse not the write!

My book event at the Well Red Coyote was the following afternoon. The bookstore is owned by fellow writer, Kris Neri, and her husband Joe. I had met Kris before, when we shared a panel at Left Coast Crime in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, Kris was unable to be there, but I was made very welcome by Joe, and we held a one-hour workshop on the subject of taking the skills learned from screenwriting into the writing of the novel.

(I have to confess to making a faux pas after the event. Joe asked me to sign an ARC copy of one of my books, and dedicate it to Kris and Joe. Perhaps it was the large Margarita and two glasses of wine at lunch, but I misheard him and thought he said “Chris and Jill”. Duh! Replaying the moment later, I realised my mistake and wrote to apologise, excusing myself by suggesting that I was either deaf or insane, and probably both, and wondering if he knew a Chris and Jill he could give the book to. Joe wrote back saying: “Chris, no problem. Jill.”)

Anyhoo... after the tasting (for the first time) of some (excellent) Arizona wines (bet you didn’t know they made any) at a local vineyard, we set off on the road back to Phoenix, and spent one-and-a-half hours sitting in a traffic jam on Interstate 17 because of roadworks!

Only to have to get up early the next day to get ready for a Sunday event at a Phoenix restaurant, preparations for which included taking Odin (remember the wire-haired fox terrier that went with the house swap?) to “doggy daycare”.

The event consisted of sitting in the dappled shade of the outside terrace at Lon’s at The Hermosa, an exclusive restaurant on the outskirts of Scottsdale, where the good people of the city gather on Sunday mornings for a rather exclusive brunch. A large pile of my books was displayed on a long table, and I sat talking to the customers as they arrived, and signing the books they bought.

A very pleasant way to spend your Sunday, especially when the restaurant laid on an excellent brunch for us at the end of it (even although it was well into the afternoon by then).

Then to more mundane things - grocery shopping at Safeways - before retrieving an excited Odin from his daycare adventures.

And now, with the diary cleared, at least for a few days, it is time for me to buckle down and do some deep thinking about the second book in the new trilogy. I have a research book to read, a phone call to make, and the internet to scour for relevant info. But most of all I have to dig way down into my imagination - almost as deep down as the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon - to find the inspiration to match the first book, “The Blackhouse”, which still feels to me like the best thing I have ever written.

How do you top that?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vaulting the Horse

It’s been an interesting few days of mental acrobatics - tour events, book revision, and now the structuring of a screenplay.

This morning began with editor’s notes on the manuscript of my latest Enzo book - following a reverse route from France to Arizona, instead of the other way round.

Thank God for good editors. And Barbara certainly is one. She offered valuable insights into the book, and made some telling suggestions which will only improve it. So my homework awaits me as soon as I return to France.

Then, in between builders setting off smoke alarms, gardeners nearly letting the dog out, and a jack-hammer pounding ceaselessly through the wall, La Patronne and I began work on the screenplay.

The process had begun with La Patronne identifying and annotating every story development in the book, which is to be the basis for the screenplay. These were then assembled in a piece of software called Final Draft, and printed out. In the meantime, I had been burying my head in detailed Hong Kong research, finding new locations, seeking out new contacts.

I read through the Final Draft printout over breakfast, after digesting Barbara’s notes on the book, and then we cut up the printed sheets to lay out on the dining table - 114 story movements.

What followed were eight brainstorming hours spent re-locating the story in Hong Kong, turning the original tale almost completely on its head, throwing away a substantial amount of story material from the book, and winding up with a running order that, hopefully, is fast-paced and dramatic.

The next step is to reassemble the new structure in the computer, before I sit down to write a dramatic synopsis of the whole, which will go to the producers for discussion.

Just an average sort of day in sunny Scottsdale!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Caption Competition

I’m sorry, I can’t wait.

Following my daughter Carol’s comment on yesterday’s blog about the photograph of her husband, Chris, with a witch on his shoulder...

... I just had to share it with you!

I simply couldn’t resist taking it. The miniature witch on his shoulder whispering in his ear. The poster on the wall behind him, the red-faced blues singer leaning at exactly the same angle, his hands in the same pose as if he, too, were holding a camera (his lobster face was exactly the same colour as Chris’s after a day in the sun).

Now, here’s a thought. Anyone got any bright suggestions for what the witch might be whispering in his ear?

A prize for the best caption! (I’ll figure out later what that will be.)

Bad News/Good News

The bad news is, I thought I was in the shade!

We had lunch on the terrace at P.F. Chang’s, on the corner of Scottsdale and Camelback, under the shade of a huge awning stretched overhead. Only, now it seems that the shade was illusory. It was some loose-weave fabric that still let the sun through. And now I have a big, red face (as well as a horse on my head - see the pic).


Lashings of après sun ce soir, and barrier cream every morning from now on.

The good news is, that the fourth Enzo novel, “Freeze Frame”, after receiving starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal, got a great review in the New York Times. You can see it here.

I got word of it, bizarrely enough, from my own study in France. My US publishers, Rob Rosenwald and Barbara Peters, have swapped houses with us - staying at our home in France, while we stay at theirs here in Arizona.

Rob called us on Skype this morning with the news (I knew it was my study, because I recognised the water stain on the ceiling). And Barbara revealed that she was 130 pages into the manuscript of my new Enzo book. What was strange about that was that she was reading it in the room where it was written! I wonder of how many books she could say that?

Stranger still... next week, she and Rob go to eat at the restaurant of France’s top chef, Michel Bras, who very kindly allowed me to spend three days in his kitchen to research my book. It is a story set in the world of French haute cuisine, and I used his kitchen as the basis for the kitchen of the murdered chef. So Barbara will have the chance to “taste” it first-hand.

She certainly won’t be disappointed by the food.

Later in the day, after getting burned at P.F. Chang’s, I went to meet readers and talk about my book at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. A good and lively crowd turned up, and we passed an enjoyable hour, before I tackled the signing of the piles of books that awaited me.

I met, in the flesh for the first time, one of my fellow bloggers on Type M for Murder - Donis Casey. Sadly we didn’t get much time to talk, but I hope that next time we will.

Then it was off to retrieve Odin from “doggy day care” (remember Odin - he’s the wire-haired fox terrier who takes me for walks every day), before returning through the early evening heat to search for moisturisers and other soothing lotions (not to mention alcohol).

I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security. It has been cool here for the last couple of days. We even - God forbid - had some desert rain! But temperatures have soared again today, so I will cower in the shade all this week (except, of course, when Odin forces me to go out for walks).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Desert Bloom

It was a week ago today that we left the Pacific coast and headed east into the desert.

It is a dramatic drive through some of the most scorched and arid wastes on the planet. But we were fortunate. It is spring, and the desert was in bloom - albeit temporarily. Carpets of yellow, and green and pink covered this normally barren landscape. Until, as we wound our way towards the valley that cuts a swathe through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges, we found ourselves driving through a forest of windmills.

Not the Don Quixote sort. Those tall, elegant, white wind turbines, whose blades turn with deceptive languor in the winds that scour their way between the mountains. Thousands of them. Filling the eyes, like a mirage, vanishing into the fibrillating distance.

We stopped overnight at the home of friends Mike and Barbara Monachino, at Rancho Mirage, a settlement of gated communities somewhere between Palm Springs and Indian Wells. This was an area of extraordinary beauty. A veritable oasis. Rich in blooming flowers and fragrant blossoms, fed from the waters of an underground lake. In the distance, the San Jacinto mountains burn red in the sunset, and in the morning glow gold, cut with deep-veined blue shadows.

And then on again in the morning, leaving California behind, and entering the parched plains of Arizona, the horizon broken only by those bizarrely shaped mountains that used to pepper every cowboy movie. Laid down in strata at the very creation of the earth itself , then fashioned by time and wind. There is something quite primal about this landscape.

At last, almost incongruously, we reach the vast, sprawling conurbation of Phoenix laid out in the desert valley, and our home for the next month in the adjoining city of Scottsdale. This is the home of my American publishers, who have taken a route much further east, across the Atlantic to France, to live in our house during our absence.

Their house comes with a pool, unlimited sunshine, and a dog called Odin. Odin, a lively, intelligent, wire-haired fox terrier, greeted us with initial suspicion. But, as you will see from the photos, he and I quickly bonded, and he takes me out walking for at least an hour every day - which I am sure is good exercise for him, too.

And, so, settled now in this desert oasis, we said our goodbyes to Susie, who headed back to Northern California, and we set up computers to get down to work. For although there may be a pause in the tour, there is no pause in the work schedule. A book to revise, another to research, and a screenplay to write.

Oh, well...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Moon Rising

The first phase is over

It was two weeks ago today that we flew to Minneapolis from Paris. It feels like a lifetime. I have completed eleven events, the last of them last night in San Diego at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.

There, I shared the platform with local author Michele Scott, who was celebrating her birthday as well as “A Toast to Murder”, the sixth in her Nikki Sands Wine Lovers’ Mystery series. There was a lively crowd, and we had a fascinating discussion about the merits or otherwise of changing technology in the book world - e-books, print-on-demand, etc.

Earlier La Patronne, Susie, and I had dinner with Dr. Steve Campman and his family in a nearby Italian restaurant called The Godfather. It was so dark inside I thought I’d left my sunglasses on. Maybe they don’t want us to see the food, I thought. But actually it was good. And a pleasure to see the Campmans again.

Steve is the Medical Examiner in San Diego, and has advised me on the pathology in my books for the last thirteen years. Since our first contact in 1997, when he faxed 40 pages of autopsy material across the Atlantic believing it was three dollars for the lot instead of three dollars a page (!!), we have become firm friends.

(I have come to a secret arrangement with Steve’s daughter, Danielle, to supply me with a photograph of him wearing his prescription autopsy glasses which, apparently, turn him into a facsimile of Mr. Magoo. I will keep you posted.)

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, we head off today into the desert to overnight with friends Mike and Barbara Monachino, before setting off tomorrow for Scottsdale, Arizona, where we can put down roots for the next four weeks and get back to controlled eating and sleeping.

I can’t wait!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wickedly Resting

It’s kinda fatal to stop. You lose your momentum. You let fatigue creep in, and you lose the will to go on.

That’s a little what this weekend has been like.

Friday was a coming down day after the long drive on Thursday, and the adventure in the dark finding our condo. Sadly, Newport Beach seemed to have reserved its worst weather of the year for our short stay here. It was cloudy, dull, even chilly.

Lunch at my favourite seafood restaurant, The Crab Cooker, was first item on the agenda. It is always like stepping back into the 50s, a little piece of vintage Americana preserved in aspic. Plastic cutlery, wine out of plastic cups. Simple, unpretentious shrimp and scallops and salmon and crab cakes.

I love it!

A wonderful, cobweb-clearing cycle along the boardwalk, watching the Easter hordes on the beach, was just what the doctor ordered. Then it was on to the home of old friends, Rob and Linda - Susie’s former neighbours from the house at Dolphin Terrace, which featured in my standalone thriller, “Virtually Dead”.

It was their last weekend in their rented apartment before moving into their new home at the exclusive One Ford Road development near Fashion Island. We had aperitifs and appetisers before heading out to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. We saw them again, just two days later, as they took possession of their new home (which we christened with champagne) - a fabulous three-bedroomed villa with courtyards and decks, and a three-car garage in a street that looked like a set straight out of a movie.

Saturday was tough. I had to wind myself up again for another two events. The first was a one-and-a-half hour drive to the city of Thousand Oaks, just north of Los Angeles, to be greeted Alan Chisholm, owner of the Mysteries to Die For bookstore, and a group of regulars who had come to hear me speak.

After allowing myself to relax for a day it was hard to get myself going again. But once I started it was fine, and I ended the event by signing huge piles of books.

Lunch at Chilli’s, then on the road again to Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Mystery Bookstore at Westwood. Although I was there just for a stock signing, I got into conversation with some die-hard fans. Tim arrived with a huge pile of my books to sign, and to my astonishment was able to quote passages from various novels I had written over the years.

Another fan who showed up was called 50 Winx - her Second Life name. A university librarian, she is a stalwart of the group, Librarians of Second Life, and had actually attended one of my inworld presentations. So I signed the book from Flick Faulds.

Bookstore owner, Bobby McCue, had me sign several piles of China Thrillers, Enzo Files, and Virtually Deads, before we set off again along Wilshire Boulevard in search of the home of our old French neighbours who live in Beverly Hills. A mis-turn led us on to Walden Drive, to be confronted by an extraordinary Hansel and Gretel house on the junction of the street. Turns out it was built for a movie in the 1920s, and has been used as a real home in several different locations since. It was in the process of being prepared for yet another move, and is known universally in the neighborhood as The Witch’s House.

John and Bettie Jensen live on Benedict Canyon Drive, and we met up with them there before heading off to a little French bistro off Sunset Boulevard, with daughter Elizabeth, who had so kindly provided a bed for us in Minneapolis.

Then the long drive back in the dark to Newport Beach, and the best and longest sleep of the tour so far.

Sunday, I never really got out of first gear. The weather was grim. Drizzly dull, the ocean leaden. We ate at Chimayo’s at Huntington Beach, and later feasted on a take-out Chinese meal from P.F. Chang’s that night while watching a movie on the giant TV in the condo.

Today I am having to rev myself up again, write the blog, and prepare for the drive south to San Diego, and an event at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. Before that we will eat with my good friend and pathology adviser Steve Campman, who is the Medical Examiner in the city. I’m really looking forward to that.

Then tomorrow, everything must be packed up again and stowed in the car for the drive east, stopping first at Palm Desert, before heading for Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday, and an appointment with a radio journalist from Austria who wants me to do a live interview from within Second Life.

No rest for the wicked!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

They shoot prowlers, don't they?

An hour earlier we had driven over The Grapevine as darkness fell. Behind us, dusk was settling over the breadbasket of California and a dusty seven-hour drive had left us tired and hungry. Ahead of us, the lights of Los Angeles had spread out like a fireflies’ convention along 40 miles of Pacific coastline.

But that was then. Now it was fully dark, and we had just arrived in Newport Beach, our southern California stopover for the next four days. We had an address and a door entry code for a second floor condo and garage.

Betty (of GPS fame), had delivered us to the appropriate address, but try as we may, we couldn’t find a house with the right number on it. There were streetlights on the other side of the road, but our side was pooled in darkness.

I got out of the car and found myself prowling up dark alleyways, tapping the entry code into every door I could find. No luck. And all the time I could hear La Patronne calling from somewhere in the darkness in a loud stage whisper: Be careful! They have guns here!! They shoot prowlers!!!

Stomachs were growling. It was after ten, nine hours since we had eaten. And I had a pressing call of nature.

Finally, I found myself in a gloomy parking area behind what I thought might be the property, and fumbled my way along a narrow alleyway between pressing walls of clapboard siding. I tried one door. Then another. There were no lights and no sign of life anywhere. I came to the third, and last door, with an increasing sense of desperation (for more than one reason). And... BINGO! It unlocked.

Mad dash for the bathroom.

Then a chance to take in our surroundings. The apartment was a brand new conversion, with a TV like a cinema screen. A huuuge kitchen. Comfortable leather sofas. An internet connection. The ocean just two blocks away, and bikes in the garage (it was the following morning before I discovered how to get into it).

La Patronne, Susie, and I wearily unloaded our luggage, then spent the next half hour cruising the town for a pizza joint that was open. We finally settled for a stale-tasting offering from Pizza Hut, washed it over with several glasses of red wine, and fell into a deep sleep.

Today is my first real day off since the tour began. Washed, showered, feeling almost human again, and about to set off on one of the bikes in search of the ocean. I need to feel the sand between my toes, and the cold waters of the Pacific lapping around my ankles.