Tuesday, 14 November 2017

BEST OF CRIME with A J MacKenzie

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


(Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel)

to share their BEST OF CRIME ...

ML:  So many to choose from, but I've decided upon Lawrence Block, who was introduced to me by David Torrens of No Alibis Bookshop in Belfast.  Block writes a range of series from the comic to the very hard boiled, and most are imbued with the soul of New York. Reading his novels awakened a real interest both in harder edged crime fiction and in the city where they are set.

MW: Almost impossible to choose with so much talent out there, but Donna Leon hits the spot for me. The stories are simple but subtle, the characters are great, and they’re set in Venice. What more could you ask?

ML: Rear Window. Not only is it a wonderful film with terrific performances by James Stewart and Grace Kelly and the ever-fabulous Thelma Ritter, but it is also an excellent mystery.  The audience is invited to join the film’s characters in their attempts to solve the puzzle of the Thorwalds and become co-voyeurs.

MW: Key Largo, with Humphrey Bogart and the great Edward G. Robinson. It’s about a gang of criminals, rather than a murder mystery per se, but the writing is terrific. Nothing much happens, but it always feels like something is just about to happen.

ML:  I have happy memories of watching James Garner as Rockford with my mother as a child; more recently, I have really enjoyed Foyle's War; the final post-war series was particularly well done. 

MW: Sherlock. Great stories, great villains, great plots and inspired casting. Nuff said.

ML: For meticulous planning (although not for strong morale fibre) it is hard to beat Lawrence Block’s hit man, Keller who is the anti-hero of 4 collections of short stories and one novel.

MW: this is a toughie, because killers in most crime fiction are either rather weak or rather unpleasant or both. So I’m going for a rather obscure one:  Ivan Dragomiloff, played by Oliver Reed in the film The Assassination Bureau. Stylish and deadly, he even accepts a contract that names himself as the target to be killed. Okay, some people would say The Assassination Bureau is a thriller, not a crime story. But it does have ‘assassination’ in the title. Surely that’s not cheating?

ML:  VI Warshawski. She is brave, with a complex character and interesting back story. The books are different in nature and there is a development of VI's character over time.  They are intense reads, but with a leaven of humour.

MW: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is up there, but top of the list for me comes Marcus Didius Falco from Lindsay Davis’s excellent series set in Rome in the time of Vespasian. He’s a man of action but also very human, cocky and self-deprecating, arrogant and fallible, constantly fighting with both his family and the Roman bureaucracy, and not always winning. He has some great one-liners, too. 

ML:  The one that really intrigued me the first time I read it was in Dorothy L Sayers
Unnatural Death was the use of an tiny air bubble as a murder weapon, which I learned later was not possible (at least not with small bubble). A warning to all crime writers to check before using an ingenious method to kill someone off!

MW: I’ve just finished re-reading Robert van Gulik’s The Chinese Maze Murders and can’t stop thinking about a writing brush that, when heated, releases a small compressed gas capsule, which in turn shoots a poisoned knife into the victim’s throat. We’re going to have to steal that at some point, that is simply too good.

ML: both of my favourites involve wine. The first is in Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh where the victim is killed by a jeroboam of champagne descending onto his head. The second is in an episode of Midsomer Murders where the victim is staked out on the ground and killed by bottles of wine being launched at him.

MW: the killing of the Roman spy Anacrites by Falco and his friend Petronius at the end of Nemesis. I like the subtlety; the killing takes place in a dark alley, and is described using only a few sounds, no visual images at all. And yet, if you have followed the series, there is such satisfaction in knowing Anacrites is dead. Why Falco didn’t rub him out a long time before is beyond me.

ML:   https://www.kent.ac.uk/english/ladys-magazine/index.html The University of Kent’s The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre project has been a great help in providing at guide to a superb resource for the lives and interests of women in the late 18th century.  The free availability of the relevant years of the journal for our Hardcastle & Chaytor mysteries has also be very useful, but the Project’s index has saved a great deal of time (although browsing through the journal is always a temptation...)

MW: www.timeanddate.com enables you to know the day of the week and the phase of the moon at any time in the past. From the phases of the moon you can also work out tide times. Our novels are set on the coast of Romney Marsh in the 1790s, and it’s great to be able to get these details right.

ML: I like a bit of public writing, either on laptop or tablet or with pen and notebook.  Years of working in noisy records offices (yes, really, the can be very noisy places) has made me very comfortable working amongst the busyness of others.  Sometimes I spend a day with an antiques dealer friend as she buys in auctions rooms.  They always have good chairs and I get a lot done!

MW: Everyone writes differently. Find out what recipe – location, type of chair, music on or off, etc – works for you and then stick to it. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or how they write; do what enables you to write and be happy.

ML: Tea, lots of tea.  On particularly cold days (we have a draughty old house) hot chocolate is required.  Also, the excellent cake made by Helen, a local friend and farmer’s wife who makes the best coffee cake in the world.

MW: Chocolate hobnobs are the fuel that keeps the AJ MacKenzie writing machine turning over.  Dark chocolate ones for preference, the milk chocolate ones are too sweet.


A J MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians. They write non-fiction history and management books under their own names, but 'become' A J MacKenzie when writing fiction.

Find A J MacKenzie on their website, on their Facebook page and on Twitter - @AJMacKnovels


Publisher's description
On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim's identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. 
With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor's attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

A Body in the Ice was published by Zaffre in paperback on 2 October 2017.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

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