Regular readers of my blog will know that I do love a story with a local setting. Trinity is a relatively affluent area of Edinburgh and according to Wikipedia is “one of the more desirable neighbourhoods”. Although the housing nowadays is very mixed, it is known for some rather large houses built in the early 19th century. One of these is the ‘Fine House in Trinity’ of the title. Just to give you a picture in your mind, here is Stirling Road in Trinity, although the house in the story was considerably larger.
I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel from Lesley Kelly in no small part because large sections are set, despite the title, in Leith where I was born and brought up. Joseph Staines is the protagonist and quite frankly someone I’d probably avoid in real life. He’s a hard drinker, has dabbled in drugs and is well known to the local police force. And yet, somehow, Lesley Kelly has made him a really likeable character. He recently left Edinburgh in a hurry with the ‘tally book’ (record of debts) owned by the deceased Isa Stoddart. The Stoddarts were a feared family in the area collecting protection money from the local businesses. Joe was a childhood friend of Lachie Stoddart, Isa’s rather unpleasant son, but now he too has died and Joe has come back to meet the family lawyers who have some rather surprising news for him.
This was a really gripping book and quite unusual in that the crime is being investigated by a rather dodgy character rather than the police. Joe’s own life is in danger if he can’t figure out who really killed Isa Stoddart and why. It is darkly funny and I particularly enjoyed the chapters of the book looking back at Joe’s childhood and how he grew up. I think they are the reason why I found him so likeable, because I got to know him as a wee boy and to understand the events which make him the adult he becomes. His dad was a great character and I had a lot of time for him, trying his best for his boys in difficult circumstances. There were a lot of memorable characters in the book including the wonderfully named Wheezy, the priest Father Paul and the very scary Meikle.
If you want a twist on the crime novel with a large helping of Scottish humour, this is the book for you. A very entertaining fast-paced debut novel. I’m looking forward to reading more by Lesley Kelly and rather hope that Stainsey might feature again!
A Fine House in Trinity is published in paperback tomorrow (21st April) by Sandstone Press. My thanks to the publishers for the review copy. You can order a copy here: A Fine House in Trinity
I am delighted that Lesley has agreed to answer my Author in the Spotlight questions so read on to find out more about her.
First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m an Edinburgh lass, born and bred, although I did spend about a decade away from here seeing the world (mainly Birmingham, if I’m honest, my world’s not all that big). I live in Trinity, with my husband and two young sons, and work in the voluntary sector.
What inspired you to start writing?
The Leith Festival in 2004 ran a short story competition. I decided to have a crack at it and won – and like a gambler winning his first bet I’ve been addicted ever since! The Leith Festival is also where I tried stand up comedy for the first time, but that’s another story…
Tell me about your journey to publication
In 2008 I won the Scotsman’s/National Library of Scotland Criminally Good Writing competition, with a story about an alcoholic called Staines, who flees town with a stolen tally-book belonging to the local debt collector. I liked the character so much that I expanded the story into a full length novel, which I had professionally edited, then sat on, not quite having the nerve to send it anywhere. I entered the draft into the Caledonian Novel Award, and was long-listed which gave me the shove I needed to do something with the manuscript. My colleague, R.L. McKinney of Blast Radius fame, suggested that I send it off to her publisher, and to my amazement the lovely people at Sandstone Press picked it up!
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
The novel begins with Staines returning to Edinburgh, the debt collector having now died under suspicious circumstances. Her son, Lachie Stoddart, Staines’ best friend, has also died mysteriously and Staines is the sole beneficiary of Lachie’s will. Staines thinks that he can nip into Edinburgh to see the solicitor and get out of town again before anyone sees him, but of course he gets stuck. No-one is pleased to see him back in town, and there are a couple of people who would rather see him dead than inherit the Stoddart empire. And the best that Stainsie can muster in the way of support is his fellow dipsomaniac ‘Wheezy’ Murphy…
How did you come up with the title for your book?
If anyone has seen the cover art for A Fine House in Trinity you’ll see that the title is rather ironic! Trinity has many magnificent houses, most of which are now sub-divided into flats. Unfortunately, poor Stainsie has inherited a rather dilapidated mansion.
How do you plan to celebrate/did you celebrate publication day?
My publication day (21 April) is also going to the date of my launch – 6.30pm at Waterstones on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Everyone is very welcome to join us!
(And I’m delighted to say I’ll be one of them!)
Do you have a work in progress just now?
There are a couple of things that I’m working on at the moment – nothing too firmer up though.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Got to go for three I’m afraid! I absolutely loved The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, a thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the final chapter. I also zoomed through We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, a family saga with a huge twist in its tail. And finally, I know I’m late to the party but I recently finished all 838 pages of Darkmans by Nicola Barker. It was fab but my wrists may never recover!
What are you reading just now?
I’m currently reading Roseanna, the very first Martin Beck novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (March 2016)
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
I’m definitely a paperback person, but now I’m planning a walking trip suddenly having all your holiday reading on a Kindle begins to make sense!
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I’ve always been quite fond of Gilbert Joseph from Andrea Levy’s Small Island. I’d like to have his ability to just deal with whatever life throws at me…
From the back of the book
Joseph Staines, an unemployed chef, has left Edinburgh with the tallybook of the late debt collector, Isa Stoddart. Her son Lachie thinks Stainsie killed her, but Lachie has apparently committed suicide. To his surprise, Stainsie is the sole beneficiary of Lachie s will and has inherited a dilapidated mansion. Isa s debtors and the local priest who paid Stainsie to leave town want him gone. A certain young mum, Marianne (whose uncle, Wheezy, is Stainsie’s drinking buddy) does too, and his old school-friend, Detective Sergeant Jamieson, wants to interrogate him about the deaths. Why are the lawyers lying to him, and who is the bruiser asking about him down the pub?