The Crime Readers' Association

Bloody Scotland on a Desert Island, by Caro Ramsay

8th October 2019

It was the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival one weekend in September.  The sun shone, the torchlight parade down from the castle was spectacular. The winner of the McIlvanney Prize Manda Scott said that they were all winners and promptly divided the prize between the four shortlisters.

My panel was a new concept where the panellists chose books to take to a desert island. Well, I know that sounds familiar but our twist was that we would probably end up fighting about it. Trying to keep some sort of control on the situation was journalist and author Jonathan Whitelaw.

On stage with me were the wondrous Abir Mukherjee and some old bloke called Craig Robertson.  Craig and I do seem to end up on a lot of panels together. As well as a skilled master of the art of crime writing, he can give a fair blow on a kazoo but he wrote something in a book once that I have never forgotten and never forgiven. It’s a constant source of friction between us, and the audience have now expected  IT to the mentioned.

Abir is an accountant. I know nothing of his skills on the kazoo.

It sounds an easy thing to do, choose three books that will keep you entertained and in good spirits for the duration of a desert island stay.

The banter started as soon as we had been introduced. I said that I was the only one of the panel who could kill with her bare hands. Craig said that he grew up in St Ninians and therefore, technically was a hard man. Abir said that as an accountant he could bore anybody to death. We didn’t have the nerve to argue.

Abir’s first choice was Door Open by Ian Rankin. Craig’s first choice was the book that really attracted him to crime and adventure fiction, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. My first book was How to survive on a desert island and my second volume (self-penned) was the follow-up How to make a raft from the skeletal remains of fellow crime writers.

I felt I had to explain; I pointed out that men have big skulls but small brains (?) and that if I cleaved Craig’s head with a coconut, I could use the skull parts to paddle myself to safety on board my raft. This is now the Olympic sport known as sculling!

My first choice was a book that changed the law in the UK, and is the fifth biggest selling book in the English language. The wondrous Black Beauty. Many in the audience like me read it as a child and had tried to revisit it as an adult but found it too distressing.

I think Craig muttered something at this point about killing animals in books. He admitted that he had cut a pit bull in half (in one of his books).  I, as the owner of a pit bull, will just leave that comment there.

Abir’s second choice was The Long Drop by Denise Mina and that sparked off a debate on the blending of fact and fiction in the narrative.

Craig’s second book, once we had debated the Anglo-American pronunciation of the title, was the Black Dahlia by James Elroy, another fiction based on fact.

My third choice was one of my favourite books of all time, P D James and The Children Of Men. When I first read it, it was set far in the future. It’s actually set in 2021. Alex Grey commented from the audience that the author had told her that this was the book she’d like to be remembered for.

Abir’s choice again. A classic. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, one man’s battle against the establishment to solve a crime.

Craig’s third pick was about an Irish police officer on a bicycle solving crime in a Dante’s Inferno kind of a way, The Third Policeman. We were all laughing with Craig as he tried, and failed, to explain that the book was a philosophical  novel about a man obsessed with the world being sausage-shaped.

And my final book was good value, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy of five. The book serves as a warning of what can happen when the wrong person is voted in as President.

My back-up choice, I think was voted by the CWA as the best crime novel ever. I read that on the internet so it must be true!

The book? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, of course.


Find out more about Caro Ramsay here



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