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BOOK FESTIVAL REVIEW 1: The Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend returned after two years last weekend with all the ingredients that make it unmissable for crime fiction fans ...


By Margaret Chrystall



Cromarty rewarded the many who returned for the 10th anniversary of the Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend last weekend with a burst of stunning summer weather.

Of course, as bestselling crime writer and part-time Cromarty resident Ian Rankin commented a couple of times over the three days which saw the Covid-postponed event return in its full glory – "The weather is always like this in Cromarty!”

Crime writer Ian Rankin opened Saturday's events at The Stables in Cromarty.
Crime writer Ian Rankin opened Saturday's events at The Stables in Cromarty.

For a festival celebrating murder, subterfuge, conspiracy, lies and general wrong-doing, there is always a spirit of surprising bonhomie among the audiences and speakers at the event where this year the guest speakers were Ian Rankin, Elly Griffiths, Matt Johnson – originally planned for 2020, Mary Paulson-Ellis and Nicola White.

Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend's Saturday events were treated to Cromarty in the sun.
Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend's Saturday events were treated to Cromarty in the sun.

Looking back over the impressive roll-call of guest writers drawn to this festival of writing over the years, it was clear Cromarty was punching above its weight from the start.

In the years since it began, guests have included – Anne Perry, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and David Hewson, Ann Cleeves, Lin Anderson, Alex Gray, Stuart McBride, Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Sara Sheridan, Douglas Lindsay, Caro Ramsay, Mary Paulson-Ellis, Shona MacLean, Helen Forbes, Professor Sue Black, Lesley Kelly, and in 2020, the weekend that never was originally planned to add Mark Billingham to the roll-call. Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman or Ambrose Parry as they write as together, were also planned, but those three would be great names to add in the first year of a new decade for the event.

Crime comes to Cromarty - with a set of vintage Penguin crime paperbacks!
Crime comes to Cromarty - with a set of vintage Penguin crime paperbacks!

The event is always evolving subtly.

There was due to be the return of the short story competition in 2021 – the crime weekend was a casualty of Covid, of course – so that may reappear for next year.

But also scheduled for a Covid-hit event (the 2020 weekend) was Jon Palmer’s community play The Riot Of Resolis.

And Fifth Element and Cromarty Arts Trust with all the others involved who were needed to bring the play to life as the first event of this year have to be congratulated.

The one-time murder mystery served with the opening dinner has become its own feast on this occasion, a full-length play that deserves to have a life beyond the two dates as part of the festival – and a wider audience beyond the streets of Cromarty.

A new perspective on the books and authors and the business of crime comes when you swap sides from reader to writer.

A course run by Mike and Helen Walters last Saturday afternoon attracted a full house, all dying to learn how to create a world to cradle their crime story – or series, if we wanted to think big.

Afterwards, the mean streets of Cromarty suddenly looked full of stories…

And there was a lot of fun from the final event on Sunday afternoon as Ian Rankin, Elly Griffiths, Mary Paulson-Ellis, Nicola White, Matt Johnson and Mike Walters got together for Desert Island Books – or was that Desert Island Crooks?!

From guilty pleasures to all-time classics, the six writers did their best to pitch their three favourite books each, dissing each other’s choices from time to time – and slipping in the odd bonkbuster …

The five reviews below in whatson-north.co.uk – of The Riot Of Resolis, Ian Rankin's talk, Elly Griffiths' talk, Writing Workshop: Building Fictional Worlds and Desert Island Books – take a closer look at the weekend's events … MC

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