December 1 2023
With typical British understatement, let’s just say that 2023 has been a very challenging year for both Linda and Sharon for a variety of reasons, hence real life overwhelming poor old Crime Review. We’re popping in now to wish everyone the compliments of the season and to say that what passes for normal service around here will return in the new year (given good luck, a following wind and all the four-leaf clovers we can gather).
In the meantime, we want to pay tribute to two of our reviewers who died during 2023.
John Cleal started reviewing for us in 2013 and became one of our most prolific and loyal reviewers. He was a voracious reader and even though his preference was for historical novels – he was an expert on military history – he would read whatever we placed in front of him. We did end up banning him from reviewing Scottish noir more than once a year, although this led to a very unlikely swing to reading cosies, which he treated with the same rigor as his usual historicals and the ‘save the universe in 45 seconds’ thrillers that would invariably lead to some entertaining fulminations!
His eventful career had taken him from the army to Fleet Street. That writing ability honed on national newspapers was one of the things that made his reviews stand out. They were unfailingly honest but fair and John could always see good in every book. Linda got used to his voicemails where he would expound at length on the shortcomings of sloppy research. And we still dine out on one of his classics that contained a line that we never expected to see in a crime fiction review! Have a look here – our money is on you spotting immediately which bit still makes us titter loudly.
We thoroughly agree with fellow reviewer Chris Roberts’ tribute to John: “I came to admire the breadth of his experience and depth of his understanding. Whether it was policing, politics, history or whatever, John always seemed to be able to set the book in context, usually with insightful facts about the author or his subject matter, and I regard his reviews as models of excellence.”
Katriona (Kate) Balfour reviewed for us during 2017 and 2018. She was a retired biology teacher and was introduced to us by mutual friend and reviewer John Barnbrook. We knew a dedicated fellow book fan the moment we saw one, and were delighted to welcome her as a reviewer. Kate had eclectic crime fiction tastes and her reviews were always thoughtful and notable for their brisk good sense.
John says: “Kate was a remarkable person, very intelligent, quick thinking, hilariously funny, irreverent but full of strong values. She loved to read, to play bridge, to walk, to do puzzles, listen to folk music and other genres, Morris dancing and mostly just to have lively fun with friends.
“She was a graduate of Zoology from the University of Bristol. She taught biology at St Bede’s school for many years, then moved to Warwick to work at OCR in charge of their suite of new business, IT and computing courses, eventually taking a lead role in the development of such vocational courses nationally.
“She suffered from polycystic kidneys, an inherited condition which had sadly affected many of her family. After years of dialysis she was delighted to welcome Sidney, her transplant kidney, who allowed her to live a full and active life for many more years, until this year.”
Rest well, Kate and John, and thank you for all your dedication to Crime Review.
To tide you over to our return in the new year, here’s a Countdown interview with author Trevor Wood, who, coincidentally, also moved from the military to journalism. We totally approve of the super-duper quick Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, which is one of our favourites, but enquiring minds really do want to know about the rubber bullet and Boris Johnson!
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
Shelves, gangways, cash, shorthand, news, sport, councillors, applause, crime, homeless.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
A rubber bullet (long story involving Boris Johnson); a photo of my daughter; People’s Kitchen lanyard; printer; the houses opposite; lots of books; a chapstick; pen pot; iPad.
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
I do all the cooking, but eight minutes is tight. Maybe Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with some quick-cook spaghetti, chilli, garlic and olive oil