Author: philipgjones

To Aber and Back

It’s Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival 2023. It’s also 3pm on a Friday, and we’ve just checked into our hotel in Aberystwyth. Time, I think, for a leisurely lunch and possibly a swift pint before I clock on for ticket-checking duties at 5.00. There’s a nice Moroccan restaurant in the vicinity and I’m mentally running through which variety of kebab I’ll be making acquaintance with this afternoon and then…and then…my phone plings and it’s the GCCF WhatsApp group. Can I come round to the Green Room at Ceredigion Museum AS SOON AS POSSIBLE because there are 70 goodie bags for panellists that need filling with, well, random goodies RIGHT NOW.

After that, I’m straight into minding the shop at the museum as panellists arrive. Followed by the Dragon Parade along the front. In my Dragon Hat. Keep your dignity, Jonesy. As long as you keep your dignity, it’ll be all right. Well, that worked well, didn’t it?

Then we’re into the Gala Quiz Night, co-hosting with Bev Jones resplendent in deerstalker and me slightly less resplendent in the aforementioned dragon hat. The table with my wife, my agent and old friend James Oswald wins the main prize. This is, of course, a coincidence. I am aware that I haven’t eaten since breakfast, but improvise a splendid dinner from glasses of red wine and mini sausage rolls.

This sets the tone for the entire weekend. You might think that all of us on the organising committee would be passing the time in between panels drinking Martinis and lighting cigars with £50 notes. But in reality it’s a blur of running from event to event, from the museum to the library to back again and – am I checking tickets- am I the microphone guy- am I doing the three-minute “Close Up” reading – or, hang on, a I actually taking part in this panel myself? Tiredness is kicking in by now, and I almost refuse Cathy Ace admittance *to her own panel* and yet it’s only 9.00 on Saturday morning…

And then it’s Sunday afternoon, and it’s all done and, well, we did it. Wales has its own crime festival now, and it is, frankly, a bloody brilliant one! We pulled off a book festival of international standard in the space of about 16 weeks. And now, all I want to do is get home and start writing again. Actually, no, that’s wrong…what I want to do is sleep for about a week and then start writing again.

I met up with some old friends and made lots of new ones. I also learned some important lessons, perhaps the most important being *never go out drinking with Trevor Wood*. 2024 will be online, and that’ll be great as well, but – I tell you what – I cannot wait for 2025 when we’ll be live and back in Aber again!

I hope to see lots of you there!

24 Hours in Naples

Diego Armando Maradona is everywhere in Naples. To be fair, he always has been, ever since unfashionable Serie A strugglers Napoli snapped up the 24 year old wunderkind in 1984. He led them to two league titles, the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa, and the UEFA cup over the course of the following five seasons. To say that he is revered would be an understatement. His image, the replica shirts, the eponymous pizzas, the fridge magnets are everywhere. Diego is Napoli’s patron saint, the urchin from the wrong side of the tracks who dragged a club from the despised and derided south of the country to glory, and they will never forget him.

But, if possible, he seems more ubiquitous than ever this year. The reason is this : Napoli are on the verge of winning the Scudetto for the first time in 33 years. With twelve games remaining, they lead Serie A by a surely insurmountable 18 points. Banners and flags are already out, proclaiming them as Serie A champions with a third of the season yet remaining.

Tempting fate? Perhaps. But no other club in Serie A has Diego Maradona smiling down upon them…

But we’re not in Naples for Diego, inescapable as he may be. We’ve come for the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the Gallerie d’Italia.

We took the high-speed Frecciarossa service from Venice. By booking ahead, we found Premium (somewhere between standard class and business class) tickets for 37 euros each way. And this is an absolute bargain. You get comfy seats with plenty of legroom, as well as complimentary coffee/biscuits/prosecco. It takes about five and a half hours, they apologise for being six minutes late and, really, it’s the only way to travel.

We stayed at the hotel Il Convento on Via Speranzella – good value, very nice breakfast, absolutely lovely staff. Would definitely stay there again. We head out for Negronis, and then off to the pizzeria La Speranzella for those wonderful Neapolitan-style pizzas with charred, pillowy crusts. Mine comes with an intensely rich tomato base, a layer of ricotta and – as a little bonus – half a meatball in the centre. It’s tremendous, but I regret having eaten so many snacks with my Negroni. The waiter discovers Caroline is a new Italian, and shakes her hand. Then we head back to the hotel, stopping to make a reservation for lunch at Antica Capri, for which they reward us with a glass of limoncello.

The following morning is grey and drizzly, but the Gallerie d’Italia is just five minutes walk away. Caravaggio’s final painting, The Martyrdom of St Ursula is upstairs in the private collection but, for once, mad old Michelangelo Merisi is not the main attraction. Today is all about Artemisia. It’s all about looking beyond the appalling events of her early life and that famous image of Judith beheading Holofernes (of which we see two other variations on the theme). It’s about Saint Catherine, Bathsheba and Susanna – inevitably surrounded by sleazy, leery men – and other great female figures of the Old Testament – and reminding us that, quite simply, she was a genuinely great artist. Feminist icon – that’s not for me to say – but the art is what remains. It’s what makes her great. It’s why, four hundred years after being the victim of some truly despicable people, she was ultimately the victor.

I’d say this is unmissable but, given it finishes on March 19th, the odds are you already have. And I’m sorry for that. It’s a wonderful exhibition.

There’s time for lunch, of course, at Antica Capri. Caroline has an amazing-looking stew of pasta e fagioli with seafood, under a crispy, charred pizza crust. I have a huge pile of crispy fried anchovies, with a bowl of chips on the side (I didn’t need them. I ate them anyway) and crusty bread. A bottle of Falanghina brings the total up to about 40 euros, and it’s terrific value. And then it’s time to head back to the station for the long, but blissfully comfortable, journey home. Napoli, the bookies predict, will probably officially win the scudetto in the first week of May. Diego will be looking down. I hope Artemisia will be too. There will be no better place in Italy to be…

Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival 2023

Well, here’s an appropriate post for St David’s Day, as I rattle through what’s been going on over the past few months…

February saw the releases of the paperback of “Angels of Venice” and “Das Venezianische Grab” (“The Venetian Grave”, better known as “Venetian Gothic” – Birgit, my translator, tells me the original title wouldn’t translate very well).

And, indeed, March sees a cracking offer on the eBook of “Venetian Gothic”, available as a Kindle monthly deal for just 99p (only in the UK as far as I know…sorry, I really don’t have any control over these things.)

What else? Well, the next big event will be the hardback of “The Venetian Candidate” in July (and for those of you in Estonia, there should be an edition of “Vengeance in Venice” at some point). There are a few plans for events later in the year, but I’ll stay quiet on those for now.

However, the BIG news is that tickets are now available for this year’s live Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival in Aberystwyth. A lot of people have worked extraordinarily hard to make this happen, and I’m very proud to be involved. The programme is up, and the line-up of writers is exceptional.

I’m in conversation with Belinda Bauer and Louise Mumford on the Saturday morning, and then in the evening with Clare Mackintosh and Katherine Stansfield. But the whole weekend is going to be fantastic – hopefully I’ll see you there!

Oh, and somewhere along the way I even found time to do some writing, for next year’s Nathan Sutherland book.

What I’ve been reading

John Culshaw, Ring Resounding. A brilliantly entertaining account of recording the first complete studio recording of Wagner’s Ring with Georg Solti. Now, this isn’t a universally-loved recording (for what it’s worth, I’d say that it might have been overrated at the time but that’s no reason to underrate it now) but this is a wonderful book, full of stories about that extraordinary cast of singers and musicians.

Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler. An account of the history of German cinema up to WWII. Extremely informative and well-researched (if, admittedly, a little dry), this is one of the pivotal texts on early German cinema. Extraordinary to think it was written as long ago as 1946.

Shirley Jackson, We have always lived in the castle. How have I not read this before? This is fantastic! And if we ever get another cat to keep Mimi company, I think we’d have to call her Merricat…

What I’ve been watching

I like having Big Projects on the go. Back in 2020, musically, it was a complete re-listen of all the Bach cantatas. Last year it was an A-Z of Italian Progressive Rock. And this year I’m attempting to watch every film directed by Fritz Lang. Well, the Project failed at its first hurdle, as the first two silents are lost. Nevertheless, I’ve almost reached Metropolis having enjoyed some of the early minor works, and then the early masterpieces such as Destiny, Dr Mabuse, and the majestic Die Nibelungen. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – no director has a better decade than Lang in the 1920s. I’ll be a little sad when we leave the silent era behind, even though I know there’s a lot of good stuff coming up in the Hollywood period.

What I’ve been listening to…

A Steely Dan relisten, from Can’t buy a thrill to Gaucho. Every time I listen to the Dan, I think I should listen to them a little more.

Quite a lot of Wagner, in particular Eugen Jochum’s recording of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and his 1954 Lohengrin. Both exceptional.

And a recent discovery has been the film music of Gottfried Huppertz, and, in particular, his magnificent scores for Lang’s Nibelungen and Metropolis.

And I think that might be all for now. Hopefully I’ll be posting again early April with more news and the usual ramblings. In the meantime, cheers to all!


Happy New Year, everyone!

Well, 2022 was a pretty good year all things being considered. The Angels of Venice was warmly received and – despite rail strikes and a truly insane heatwave – I managed to do a few events in the UK to promote it and met up with a few mates along the way. Less positively, I also managed to give James Oswald Covid (he was, typically, ever so nice about it).

Elsewhere, I was lucky enough to be a guest at the wonderful Headread festival in Tallinn, just in time for the Estonian release of The Venetian Game. Lovely city, lovely country and we met some great people as well.

David Hewson, Gregory Dowling and myself held a well-received event at the Studium bookshop in Venice and hopefully we’ll look at doing something similar again this year. And, on a personal level, I celebrated turning 56 by visiting the Dario Argento retrospective in Turin. Caroline, bless her, was ever so patient with me…

Anyway, this is just a quick post to keep you all up to date with what’s happening in Nathan-world over the following months.

February is a busy month, as that sees the release of Das Venezianische Grab (the German edition of Venetian Gothic translated, as ever, by the wonderful Birgit Salzman, and the UK paperback of The Angels of Venice.

July 13th sees the release of this year’s Nathan adventure, The Venetian Candidate which is now available for pre-order (and did I ever tell you how much authors love pre-orders?) The paperback edition will follow in February 2024.

At some point there’ll also be an Estonian edition of Vengeance in Venice – more information on that as I get it.

Event-wise, there’ll be the Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival in Aberystwyth, from 21st-23rd April. There will be more, much more, information on this to come – but suffice to say that a lot of very talented people have worked extremely hard to make this happen, and it is going to be epic.

I hope, as last year, to be doing a few signings/events around the UK when Candidate comes out. Again, more info as I get it. But hopefully I won’t get Covid this time..

The big news, however, is that I’ve been delighted to sign another contract with my publisher, which will see the Nathan series running at one book a year until 2026. I find still find that hard to believe. It doesn’t feel like six years since the release of The Venetian Game and now, suddenly, we’re talking about a ten-book series (and hopefully beyond). As I’ve said before – this is all down to you.

With my thanks, as ever, for all your support; and wishing you a very happy 2023!

Listening with Nathan : Terra in Bocca

On the face of it, there was little that was particularly special about I Giganti. Formed in 1964, they were another Italian beat group amongst many, albeit one that once supported the Beatles, and their early work is pleasant and poppy but with nothing particularly special about it. There certainly wasn’t anything to suggest that they’d one day make one of the pivotal albums in the canon of Rock Progressivo Italiano, 1971’s Terra in Bocca (a title that might be translated as ‘Soil in the mouth’).

It’s a genuine concept album, broken up into movements but with no break in the music. In the Sicily of the 1930s a young man, sickened by the corruption in his village that sees the supply of water being abused and controlled by two shadowy figures, takes matters into his own hands and decides to dig his own well. He will, he says, give any supply he discovers to the villagers for free. As a result of which, he is murdered. His father swears vengeance, and shoots the assassin in the face at a crossroads. So far, so operatic but it’s so, so much more than that. It might seem like a perfect short story, but the tragedy of it all is that it isn’t : the supply of water in Sicily has often controlled by the Mafia and the provision of fresh water to villages has frequently been interrupted so that organised criminals can maintain a monopoly on the supply.

It’s a hugely ambitious, angry and passionate piece of work. If you come at it from a strictly prog rock point of view you may be disappointed – there are no long virtuoso instrumental passages to be found. Mellotron and flute add a little texture but, really, this is an album that lives and dies on the vocals and the lyrics. The vocals are raw and impassioned, whilst the lyrics are rich, complex and a brilliant insight into both the Italy of the past and the country about to descend into the nightmare of the murder of Aldo Moro and the “Years of Lead”. Quite simply, if Leonardo Sciascia had made a Prog album, this would have been it.

Terra in Bocca had a troubled history. The “M” word is never mentioned, but everybody knew what it was all about and, as a result, it was never played on RAI. The group dissolved shortly afterwards. There were various reunions over the years, but they never achieved the same heights again. Bass player and vocalist Sergio Martino died in 2006. And then, when it might seem as if the band and the album might be seen as nothing more than an interesting footnote in Italian prog history, they won the 2011 Premio Paolo Borsellino , in memory of the great anti-Mafia magistrate. The three surviving members of the band played an acoustic version of the album at the awards ceremony. 40 years on, Terra in Bocca had finally achieved the recognition it had always deserved.

Unlike albums by Le Orme or PFM there is, as far as I know, no English language version of this; although the lyrics can be found in translation on the web. I would urge you to listen to it. It’s a highlight of Italian Prog, to be sure, but it’s more than that : it’s a profoundly courageous piece of art.

Searching for Howard

 “The twentieth century horror story’s dark and baroque prince” – Stephen King

I first read HP Lovecraft by accident. I think it must have been in the early 1980s, and mum and dad – knowing I was into this sort of thing – bought me an anthology of horror tales for my birthday. Or was it Christmas? The expected writers were present – Poe, Stoker, Bradbury, Dahl – along with a number that were completely unfamiliar to me. It was one of those books made for dipping into, rather than reading cover to cover, and I imagine I’d have first picked out those stories by writers I’d actually heard of; and so it was some time before I came across The Hound.
The story itself follows a familiar enough path : two grave-robbers steal a jade amulet from a crumbling cemetery in Holland and are pursued to their deaths by, well, something (we never do find out quite what it is). So far, so conventional. And yet there was something so compelling about it, something about that gorgeously overwrought, baroque prose that drew me in; as well as hints of a back story of which I knew nothing. Who on earth was Abdul Alhazred? Did the Necronomicon actually exist?
The Hound isn’t a particularly highly regarded work in the Lovecraftian canon. The author himself considered it “a piece of junk”. And, looking back at it now, I can see that, yes, it’s never knowingly underwritten. I don’t care. I love it for the splendid Gothic romp that it is and still recall the thrill of reading it for the first time.
H P Lovecraft, I thought, flicking back to the opening page to double-check the author’s name. I wonder if he’s written anything else? Well, he had but might as well not have done given that little of his work was in print in the UK at that time.
Let’s move on a few years. I’m in my late teens, just about to leave for university, and my best friends and I have become obsessed with a role-playing game called Call of Cthulhu. The strange thing is, we’ve become obsessed with a game set in the worlds of H P Lovecraft without actually having read much Lovecraft. Beyond The Hound the only thing I’ve managed to find in print is his lengthy essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, which gives me a fine list of authors to check out if only they were in print too. Fortunately, Tenby library comes to the rescue as they have hardback collections of some of the key works. We borrow them on rotation all that summer. I think we actually photocopied the whole of The Call of Cthulhu as well. If the role-playing game took its name from the story, we reasoned, we should probably try and be familiar with it.
And now it’s 2022, and the writer who, effectively, never made it beyond the pulp magazines in his lifetime is now published by Penguin Classics. The complete works are on my Kindle, and two handsome Italian hardbacks are on my shelves. We may dream that one day Guillermo del Toro will be able to film At the Mountains of Madness but, in the meantime, we can console ourselves with a Cthulhu cuddly toy and a pint of Lovecraft Unnamable Black Lager. In other words, Lovecraft is mainstream. Which means he isn’t ours anymore. Whisper it (in darkness, of course) but he’s actually considered to be a proper writer.
It’s safe to say that his work isn’t of uniform quality. Much of it, yes, is overwritten and the criticism that he never met an adjective he didn’t like isn’t entirely undeserved. And yet the man who gave us hack-work such as Herbert West : Reanimator also gave us works of genuine, cosmic power such as The Colour out of Space and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; as well as charming minor pieces such as The Cats of Ulthar.
I knew a reasonable amount about HPL as a man from those volumes of the Collected Letters still in print, as well as Frank Belknap Long’s Dreamer on the Nightside and Sonia Lovecraft’s memoir The Private Life of HP Lovecraft. Nevertheless, a few months ago, I decided it was time to attempt that Everest of Lovecraft scholarship, S T Joshi’s I am Providence, a two-volume expansion of his original H P Lovecraft : a Life, that restores 150,000 words cut from the original. Yes, you read that correctly. 150,000 words.
It’s doubtful if any person living knows as much about Lovecraft as Joshi, and very few – if any – have been as responsible for his critical rehabilitation. He’s a man of immense erudition, yet not one to suffer fools gladly (by “fools”, I mean “the rest of the world”) and also a man possessed of, shall we say, Strong Opinions. So I shall tread lightly…
It’s a story of a life lived out in letters, of friendships forged with people he would never meet face-to-face, and it’s chronicled in minute detail. Truly, there is no aspect of his life that goes unturned here. Elsewhere, Joshi’s analysis of the stories themselves is typically incisive, and occasionally provocative. His analysis of Lovecraft’s reputation in the years following his death is spot-on. And, to his credit, he doesn’t attempt to shy away from Lovecraft’s racism.
However, it has to be said that many of those 150,000 words were originally cut for a reason. You’ll learn more about the small press scene in 1920s New England than you really need to know. You can join in with Joshi in hypothesising about the precise identity of the violin sonata that Lovecraft performed in front of an audience in 1899. And you’ll come to understand exactly why “Cooking with Howard Phillips Lovecraft” was never going to be a best-seller.
A cautious recommend from me, then. If you’re a Lovecraft buff you need to read this (or, more likely, you have already). The casual reader might find the sheer weight of detail a little intimidating. But as a chronicle of a life extraordinary in its ordinariness it’s likely to remain the definitive work for some time to come. I think the “old gentleman from Providence” would have approved.

Basil, Nigel and me

Let’s digress a bit from Venice, Nathan Sutherland and Prog Rock for a bit.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that old films are a hobby of mine (I should probably expand on that by saying that I define pretty much everything after 1970 as “a new film”) and over the past few months I’ve been rewatching the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, in order.

Now, many other Sherlocks are available. You may wish to make a case for Eille Norwood, Christopher Plummer, Benedict Cumberbatch, even Buster Keaton. But my three favourites have always been, in no particular order, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing.

None of them are quite perfect, however. As brilliant as he was, it’s distressingly obvious that Brett was seriously ill during the latter episodes of his series, which can make them a difficult watch. Cushing’s film of The Hound of the Baskervilles is a wonderful thing, yet the low budget of his later TV episodes is plain to see and even the actor was less than enamoured of them.

As for Rathbone – well, here we have two problems that, in all honesty, aren’t really problems at all.

First of all, “The Contemporary Setting Problem”. In 1939, 20th Century Fox produced two big-budget ‘A’ pictures – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes before Universal acquired the rights, and put out 12 modestly-budgeted ‘B’s, all of them running at about the seventy minute mark. Universal also set the series in contemporary times, to the extent of having Holmes battle the Third Reich in the early films. But this really isn’t an issue – yes, it’s a bit strange seeing Holmes with a very unHolmesian haircut fighting Nazis, but – after the first three – the series goes all shadows and fog and genuinely looks timeless.

The second one, of course, is “The Watson Problem”. Nigel Bruce’s characterisation, it is said, is silly, buffoonish and far away from Conan Doyle’s conception of the brave, resourceful ex-soldier. This is true. But you know what? I don’t care. Bruce’s Watson is a bit of a silly arse, and all the more so as the series progresses. Yet he’s also brave, kind, warm and – most of all – enormous fun. And that, frankly, is enough for me.

So with the two problems that are not actually problems dealt with, let’s have a quick rattle through the whole series.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sidney Lanfield, 1939). Where it all begins. Tremendously atmospheric, with a terrific cast that includes Lionel Atwill and John Carradine; whilst Mary Gordon makes the first of her many appearances as Mrs Hudson. Rathbone nails the character of Holmes from the off, and Bruce’s Watson is actually played pretty straight here. The lack of a musical score is a bit odd though, and it has to be said that the juvenile leads (Rathbone was second billed to Richard Greene) are pretty wooden.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Alfred L Werker, 1939). Moriarty plans to steal the Crown Jewels. Basil sings “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside”. Ida Lupino, no less, turns up as the heroine. This is enjoyable enough, but, really, it could have been so much better. There’s no getting away from the fact that it looks and feels stagey and, crucially, George Zucco’s brilliant Professor Moriarty is absent for much of the film.

So far, so quite good. There’s now a gap of three years, Universal acquire the rights, and then Basil and Nigel return to fight Nazis. I usually refer to the first three films as “The Bad Haircut Years”. If you’ve seen them, you’ll know why.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (John Rawlins, 1942). And this, perhaps, is where the story really begins. Holmes battles to uncover “The Voice of Terror”, a Lord Haw-Haw figure who occasionally takes over the airways in order to predict imminent death and destruction. It’s an effective and surprisingly grim set up. The great Henry Daniell makes his first appearance in a Holmes film, as does Evelyn Ankers. (Digression : all gentlemen of a certain age with an interest in genre cinema will go all misty eyed when they see the words “Evelyn Ankers” in the credits. This is actually the law. She’s great in this, in a different type of role to the ones she was usually given. And, if she can’t *quite* pull off a convincing Cockney accent, we don’t care).

Note : all the following films in the series are directed by Roy William Neill. Just so you know, because otherwise it’s going to get a bit boring retyping “Roy William Neill” time and time again.

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942). Holmes helps a Swiss scientist evade a trap set by the Gestapo, in order to smuggle a bombsight – the eponymous Secret Weapon – into Britain. Moriarty (Lionel Atwill this time), of course, also has his eyes on it. Holmes gets to wear lots of disguises. There’s a classic “I could kill you now, but instead I will subject you to this ridiculously over-complicated means of execution” scene. And, best of all, Dennis Hoey’s wonderful Inspector Lestrade makes his first appearance.

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943). I think this is generally seen as being the weakest of the “Nazi Trilogy” but I think I actually prefer it to Secret Weapon. Holmes and Watson are in the USA, where the MacGuffin is a microfilm that all all costs must not fall into The Wrong Hands. The Wrong Hands, in this case, belong to George Zucco who gets far more to do here than in Adventures. Henry Daniell appears for the second time; and there’s much fun to be had as Watson experiments with bubble gum, struggles with the US sports pages, reads comic books and declares Flash Gordon to be ” a very capable fellow”.

And this brings an end to the “Nazi Trilogy” or, if you prefer, “The Bad Haircut Trilogy”. They’re all good fun but, from now on, Holmes would look like Holmes and the films themselves would feel more like Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943). This is where the series really kicks into gear. It’s a pretty faithful version of “The Musgrave Ritual”, but Neill ramps up the atmosphere so what we have is a near-horror Old Dark House movie. Watson gets a little more agency than usual, and it’s nice to see that he actually has a life beyond Baker Street. Hillary Brooke and her impeccable English accent appear for the first time, Hoey’s Lestrade is back and – well, it’s just ever so well done.

The Spider Woman (1943). This cobbles together bits of The Final Problem, The Sign of Four, The Speckled Band and probably many others as well. It really shouldn’t work, but it does, mainly due to a bravura performance from the legendary Gail Sondergaard; and Bruce, who gets to show that Watson isn’t quite such a silly arse after all. The climax does rather depend on us believing that fairground shooting galleries used live ammunition during World War II, but the rest of it is so good we can let that one go.

The Scarlet Claw (1944). Ah, now we’re talking! This comprehensively out-Baskervilles Baskerville as Holmes and Watson battle possibly supernatural forces in a remote Canadian village. Terrifically atmospheric, all shadows and fog, and there’s a nice twist to the ending as well.

The Pearl of Death (1944). A retelling of “The Six Napoleons”, but we’re still firmly in horror territory as Rondo Hatton appears as the back-breaking “Hoxton Creeper” (“‘Oxton ‘Orror, I calls him”, says Lestrade). One of the high points of the series, with a splendid performance from Miles Mander at its centre. Oh, and Evelyn Ankers (did I mention Evelyn Ankers? Oh, I see I did) gets to play a villain and she’s ever so good at it and…and…okay…let’s move on.

The House of Fear (1945). “The Five Orange Pips”, relocated to a remote Scottish mansion. Like Faces Death, it’s an Old Dark House film and all the better for it. Secret passages, a sinister housekeeper, an ever-decreasing group of suspects – it’s all here. Oh, and Watson has a chat with an owl in a graveyard as well.

The Woman in Green (1945). This one has a very grim premise for the time : a serial killer is preying on young women, and removing a forefinger from each victim. Hillary Brooke and Henry Daniell are back, and Matthew Boulton’s Inspector Gregson replaces Hoey’s Lestrade. The plot does strain credulity, hinging as it does on Brooke’s Lydia Marlowe being able to hypnotise people into believing they’ve committed murder. No matter, it’s an excellent little thriller, and Daniell’s Moriarty is quite possibly the best in cinema.

Pursuit to Algiers (1945). Adventures on the High Seas, as Holmes plays deck quoits, Watson sings “Loch Lomond” and Sinister Agents of a Foreign Power abound. Annoyingly, Watson is about to regale us with the tale of The Giant Rat of Sumatra when Holmes notices that a party cracker has a bomb in it and so we never do find out just why the world was not yet ready for it.

Terror by Night (1946). This one seems to be a little unloved, but I really like movies set on trains and so, of course, I really like this one as well. Alan Mowbray makes for a good Colonel Sebastian Moran and, down amongst the smaller roles, is minor genre favourite Skelton Knaggs. Lestrade is back for the first time since House of Fear, but, sadly, this is his last hurrah as there’s only one film left…

Dressed to Kill (1946). Another variation on “The Six Napoleons”, this time featuring a hunt for three music boxes made by a convict in Dartmoor Prison which reveal the location of stolen plates for forging £5 notes (well, it was a lot of money in those days). Did prisoners really make music boxes? Perhaps they did. Things go a little bit meta when Patricia Morison’s villainess fools Watson by means of the exact same trick that he had just written up in his account of “A Scandal in Bohemia”. But never mind – he gets to solve the mystery anyway, albeit accidentally.

And that, sadly, was that. Nigel Bruce, I imagine, would have been happy to continue to his dying day, but Rathbone was tired of being stereotyped and decided he’d had enough. He would never get such a great role again. If the more recent films, perhaps, were not quite as good as that wonderful sequence from Faces Death to Pearl of Death, they were never less than entertaining. There were, I think, still a few years of magic left had Rathbone decided to continue. Yet, even though he was tiring of the part, there’s never, ever a sense that he’s just phoning it in.

Fourteen films, then. Some are better than others, sure, but in all honesty there’s not a bad one among them. What we have, perhaps most importantly, is the sense of being amongst friends, amongst a great ensemble cast that stretches over seven years and nearly twenty hours of viewing time. George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, and Henry Daniell. Mary Gordon and Dennis Hoey. Hillary Brooke and Evelyn Ankers (did I mention Evelyn Ankers?) It’s impossible not to feel a little cheered upon seeing their names in the credits. But above them all, of course, are Rathbone and Bruce, slipping into their familiar roles like comfy shoes, relaxed and happy in each other’s company like the great friends they were.

The series has been a pleasure to revisit. So join me, please, in raising a glass to Basil and Nigel : the original Dynamic Duo.

For a far more in-depth view of the films than I could ever hope to give, do check out Adam Roche’s wonderful “The Game is afoot”, a lovely, warm-hearted view of the whole series. Or, for a closer look at The Pearl of Death, listen to All the Best Lines, episode 9

The Angels of Venice – Dates

Well, some of you lucky people have your copies already whilst I’m still waiting to see mine. Which means no unboxing video this year. Although, given what happened last year, that’s probably a good thing.

Anyway, Caroline and I are heading back to the UK tomorrow to see friends and family and – huzzah – to do a few events as well. The last two Nathan novels came out during lockdown and so this will be my first chance to actually, properly celebrate the arrival of a new book since The Venetian Masquerade came out waaaay back in 2019.

One of nicest things about the past few years has been re-establising contact with my old friend James Oswald. James and I first met in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, thirty years ago now and, sadly, lost touch after James and Barbara came to our wedding in 2000. Lovely, then, to meet up with him again, by sheer coincidence, at Bloody Scotland in 2019. Well, I say sheer coincidence. It was in the bar, so perhaps not quite as sheer as all that.

He has many, many stories about me. Some of which may even be repeatable. But to have the chance of hearing some of them, you’ll have to come and see us both in conversation, either in Edinburgh or Dundee.

So here are the dates.

Monday, July 18th, 19.00 : Waterstones, York
Tuesday, July 19th, 18.00 : Waterstones, Edinburgh West End (with James)
Wednesday, July 20th, 17.00 : Waterstones, Dundee (with James)
Tuesday, July 26th, 18.30 : Waterstones, Swansea

Hoping to see you there! If you can’t, well I never pass a bookshop without asking to sign stock, so I’ll be tweeting those shops with signed copies.

It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks and much of it is going to be spent on the train. Many thanks to Jess at Little, Brown for organising all this and, of course, Caroline for dealing with the logistics of it all. It would, frankly, have been well beyond me.

And, of course, many thanks to all of you for all the messages and all your support. It means a great deal. I hope you enjoy the new book!

Ciao Massimo

Hi everyone! First of all, apologies if the subject of this particular blog might seem a bit obscure or not really your thing. But it was something I wanted to write. There’ll be more about Angels of Venice and signing sessions in the next few days, promise…

I often listen to music whilst writing – much of The Venetian Masquerade was written with the Monteverdi Vespers on continuous loop – but I find that words, particularly in English, get in the way of mine. So I listen to a lot of soundtracks, particularly Italian – Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Stelvio Cipriani amongst others. And, as many of you know, I also have something of a Goblin obsession.

I don’t remember when I first came across their music, but it must have been the first time I saw Suspiria. Which means it must be many years ago now. Like the film itself, the soundtrack is not something on which people have no opinion. You either find it a masterpiece, or you find it unlistenable. I’m firmly in the “imperishable work of art” camp. Caroline, by contrast, has only seen/heard the first fifteen minutes…

The band made their name with their soundtrack to Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso, the original composer Giorgio Gaslini having fallen out with the director. The main theme, with its memorable acoustic guitar / keyboard riff was a number one single in Italy. The soundtrack album, selling over a million copies, similarly hit number one in the album charts. It led to further collaborations with Argento, and beyond, in the Golden Age of Italian Progressive Rock and, perhaps, of Italian film music.

Goblin are often seen as being Claudio Simonetti’s band, but that, I think, is not quite the whole story. Yes, keyboards often seem to dominate, but listen more closely and you soon realise how much the others contributed in the classic lineup of Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante-Marangolo. Profondo Rosso is unthinkable without Fabio Pignatelli’s bass, and his work on Tenebre is nothing short of amazing.

Morante, likewise, was a highly accomplished and versatile musician. Just listen to his needle-sharp riffing on Profondo Rosso or his use of bouzouki on Suspiria. Perhaps my favourite work by him, however, is the title theme to La via della droga , a bluesy, almost Hendrixy piece that sounds wonderfully 1970s. In a good way.

The band fell apart in the early 80s. The Tenebre soundtrack was credited to Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante (a legal dispute meant they couldn’t use the name Goblin without Marangolo). Simonetti and Pignatelli were back, this time credited as Goblin, for 1985’s Phenomena, but, by 1989, only Pignatelli remained for La Chiesa. Morante, in the meantime, seemed happy pursuing a solo career.

The four of them reunited for one final collaboration with Argento, 2000’s Nonhosonno / Sleepless. It’s an excellent soundtrack, but the experience was an unhappy one. Old enmities quickly resurfaced, and – in his autobiography Il ragazzo d’argento – Simonetti recounts how he would record in one studio with Morante, whilst Pignatelli and drummer Agostino Marangolo would use another. Various versions of the band – New Goblin, Goblin Rebirth, Back to the Goblin, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (yes, there were a lot of Goblins) – continued and still continue to this day, but this, effectively, was the end.

Massimo Morante died on 23rd June, 2022. He was just 69 years old.

There is one less Goblin in the world now. And that saddens me. Ciao Massimo.

Cooking with Nathan : Monkfish

Or, to be absolutely precise, bocconcini of monkfish with potato, tomato and a black olive crumble.

There really isn’t much to go wrong with this one. The only thing that takes a bit of time is the olive crumble, and you can prep that in advance.

I cooked this with a G&T to hand, and Kraftwerk’s 3-D. Der Katalog on headphones. Not the whole thing, of course. I think I’d barely made it past the Autobahn section by the time we were ready to go.

Now, this recipe is not an exact science in terms of quantities. As a rule of thumb, you’re kind of looking for an equal amount of fish, potato and tomato. That’s pretty much it. Look at the photo, that’s about right.

Ingredients (for two)

Two monkfish fillets (you could do this yourself, but your fishmonger will do it in seconds and maintain a complete set of fingers as well)
Similar quantity of potato
Similar quantity of tomato
Basil leaves
Ten black olives
Olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste


  1. Heat your oven to 120 degrees.
  2. Stone and halve the olives. Lay them on a lined baking tray inside the oven for up to two hours.
  3. Do something else for about an hour and a half
  4. Peel and dice the potato.
  5. Chop the tomatoes into similar sized chunks. Small tomatoes are the best here – I used datterini – but basically just use the best you can find. The key to this recipe is using the best ingredients to hand.
  6. Cut the monkfish into similar sized pieces.
  7. Put the potato cubes on to steam. For pieces this size, it should only take fifteen minutes.
  8. Gently fry the tomatoes. You don’t want them to fall apart; just enough to warm them through and release their juices.
  9. Take the olives out of the oven, and chop them as fine as you please.
  10. When the potatoes are almost done (after about ten minutes), add the monkfish nuggets to the steamer for another 5 minutes.
  11. Add the monkfish/potato combo to the tomato pan. Tear up some basil and throw that in as well. Drizzle with a generous quantity of the best olive oil you have – and this really is a dish that will benefit from the best oil you can find.
  12. Plate it up, and scatter the olive crumble on top. Prosecco or white wine to accompany (doesn’t have to be posh…notice from the photo that ours is coming out of a plastic bottle. A 1.5 litre plastic bottle, admittedly…)

    It all looks very pretty and – the crumble aside – it’s nice and quick to make, so ideal for entertaining. Caroline thought a little garlic might have made it even better but I’m not so sure – the flavours are quite delicate in this dish, and I’d worry that the garlic might overwhelm them. But by all means give it a go!

    Happy cooking and eating everyone!