A Saucerful of Secrets

Last weekend we headed to Birmingham for a much-postponed (thanks to the pandemic) treat – a concert by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets.

Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets

For anyone who doesn’t follow prog rock, Mason is a brilliant rock drummer who formed one quarter of the original line-up of Pink Floyd. Recently he’s put together his own band, including other rock legends such as Guy Pratt and Gary Kemp, to play some of Floyd’s older material. As he himself said, the other surviving members of the group tend to focus on Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, but Floyd was so much more than that. It’s also his own tribute to tortured genius Syd Barrett, the front man of the original band, who wrote much of that early material.

We booked the concert pre-pandemic and had to sit on our hands while it was postponed about four times. This time, we were so used to being disappointed we hardly dared hope, but as it was, we arrived at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall clutching our tickets to find it was all happening at last.

Was it worth the two year wait? Yes, absolutely it was. Every last second was amazing, brilliant, masterful – and surprisingly good fun. Unlike the original band, who even a fan like me has to admit could occasionally be a bit po-faced, Saucerful of Secrets are a lot more relaxed and even, at times, mischievous. In between numbers, Mason provided entertaining snippets looking back at the history of the band and some of the songs they played. Like Vegetable Man, for instance, which he freely admitted was never recorded because it was never finished, because none of them had a clue how to finish it!

The highlight of the night was a complete, unabridged, and pretty much note-perfect rendition of Echoes, possibly the first Floyd track to really sound like Floyd, if you know what I mean. It’s one of my favourites, and I sat utterly spellbound for the 25 minutes it took to play. I could almost have been back in the 1970s, before all the splits and acrimony, listening to the Pink Floyd of old. A very special treat, and one I hope we can repeat some day.

The photo above isn’t mine, sadly – we took a few on a mobile phone, but the lights were so bright the lens focused on those rather than the band members, so all it really looks like is a lightning strike. This pic is courtesy of The Midlands Rocks.

Come and meet the ‘real’ Tess!

I’ve been saying for some time that I’m not reading, watching or writing much crime fiction at the moment – but I suddenly realised that I’ve been much too coy about what I’m doing instead.

Most of you know that Tess is a pen name, and I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m currently concentrating on romance. I may even have hinted that it’s LGBT romance. But that’s been pretty much it. Which makes no sense at all, really, since books is books, reading is reading, and although not everyone who reads noir likes romance (or vice versa), in my case the two aren’t as far apart as you might think.

For starters my characters are quite alike no matter what I write. On top of that, there’s often a whiff of romance in my noir (think Sandra and Mike in ‘Gravy Train’, for instance) and there’s some really dark stuff in some of my romance books. So, after nearly ten years of keeping my two brands firmly separate, I’ve decided to change all that and go for the Big Reveal instead. This is because I’m working so hard on my romance books that I’m getting less and less time to log on to all of Tess’s accounts. It’s got to the point where weeks go by without me visiting Facebook, Twitter or anything much else, and I’ve realised that I’m in dire danger of losing touch with all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years I’ve been writing as Tess. And you’ve all been so supportive that I’d really hate that.

So with all necessary fanfares and drum rolls, may I introduce my other half – the real person behind the pen name of Tess. Step forward… Fiona Glass. Fiona (that is, me!) has been writing for even longer than Tess, and while she has written some dark crime and noir (eg in the Radgepacket series from Byker Books) she’s also long specialised in LGBT, dark, and paranormal romance.

If you fancy coming along and finding out more about the real me, why not drop into my lnk.bio page which has links to all my various social media accounts, along with web page, blog, newsletter and gawd knows what else. I really hope some of you will choose to follow the real me, and maybe check out books like my dark vampire romance ‘Echoes of Blood’, or my poignant ghost-y novel ‘December Roses’.

All of Tess’s books and stories remain fully available, by the way. I’m not killing myself off, just making it clearer what I’ve been up to for the last year and a half! I really hope some of you (most of you?!) will make the jump and come and say hello. I’ve valued your friendship and support so very much over the last few years and would love to think we can stay in touch. If you do decide to potter on over and check me out, then hi, and welcome to the real me. And if Tess crawls out of her coffin for long enough to write anything else, you’ll be the first to know.

A sudden outbreak of crime movies

There have been some really good crime movies on Sky recently, after rather a long drought. I mentioned The Burnt Orange Heresy the other day, but we’ve also watched a couple of others – Dark Web: Cicada 3301 and Silk Road – that were entertaining in different ways, and I still have Say Your Prayers downloaded and ready to go.

Of the two we’ve seen, I think I preferred Silk Road. This is the (partly fictional, partly true) story of a libertarian young man who set up a drugs delivery service on the dark web, made a fortune, and was eventually tracked down by the DEA and the police. The film featured some cracking performances from Nick Robinson (as hot-shot cyber drug-dealer Ross Ulbricht) and Jason Clarke (last seen as the slightly less criminal half of the politician/gangster siblings in Brotherhood) who played a grizzled, old-fashioned cop reassigned to the cyber crime unit after a misdemeanour. Given that he could barely switch on a laptop this gave rise to some hilarity but as he himself said, “I may be old and slow but I’m not stupid,” and he taught himself, leaned on an informant for tuition, and came close to bringing down Ulbricht all by himself.

The film started slowly with a lot of character building of Ulbricht, his friends and girlfriend, and Clarke’s Rick Bowden. It got rather soapy at times and I felt it could have been trimmed, while still introducing the characters and their motivations. However, once Bowden started to track Ulbricht the pace stepped up and it became a fascinating cat-and-mouse between a computer whizz who’d set up the definitive ‘untraceable’ dark web site, and an old-fashioned cop who refused to give up. In the end things didn’t go quite to plan for either of them, and there was a nice twist as both suffered the consequences.

I liked the way the director played with the audience’s sympathies; we began with a sneaking sympathy for Ulbricht and his ideals, then switched to rooting for Bowden in his efforts to trace Ulbricht and show up his annoyingly patronising bosses – and then made us doubt ourselves in the dying minutes of the film, and with the explanatory credits at the end. All in all a really solid crime movie, well made and well acted, and I’d happily recommend it to anyone.

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 had a similar theme: a tale about a hacker (Jack Kesy) who breaks into a mysterious secret society who run an addictively cryptic game, also on the dark web, whose previous participants have often disappeared. The tone was quirky, at times even surreal, and the end result felt rather like the love child of Deadpool and Videodrome. It raced along from one clue to the next with stalkers, apparent hallucinations, fight scenes, and a nice framing device where Kesy’s character explained his actions to some kind of special court, with frequent flights of fancy to make the prosecutors who’d been pursuing him look even more inept than they actually were.

In the end it was let down by some shockingly caricatured characters and hammy acting, and by the slight feeling that either the writers weren’t quite as brilliant as the plot needed them to be, or that they were but the whole thing had been dumbed down. Not even a cool twist at the end was enough to fully rescue it, but it was entertaining and fun and probably deserves a bit more (but not much more) than the two stars it gets on Rotten Tomatoes…

Arthouse Noir

Last night’s viewing was a fascinating and unusual 2019 movie called The Burnt Orange Heresy. Based on a 1971 book of the same name by American noir author Charles Willeford, it features Claes Bang (who played Dracula in the recent BBC vampire series) as successful but dodgy art critic James Figueras, Elizabeth Debicki as a down-on-her-luck young American woman partying her way round Italy, Mick Jagger (yes, really!) as supremely wealthy art collector Joseph Cassidy, and Donald Sutherland as reclusive artist Jerome Debney.

The plot centres around a deal made between Cassidy and Figueras: Cassidy will arrange for Figueras to interview Debney (the first time anyone has been able to do that for over 50 years) if Figueras obtains one of Debney’s paintings for him. Since Debney lives in a cottage on Cassidy’s Italian estate this sounds straightforward, but needless to say it isn’t, and events spiral into chaos, stoked by Figueras’s drug habit and growing paranoia.

I was interested to see that Willeford’s book dates from the early seventies, because the movie, although set in modern-day Italy, has a really old-fashioned feel that reminded me strongly of the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair. The “exotic” setting (it was filmed around Lake Como); the wealthy characters; the woman who’s been hounded out of her small town background because she (gasp) had an affair with a married man; even the slightly disconnected, artsy dialogue – all could have been lifted straight from a 1960s film. That’s not a bad thing, mind you – it certainly made this movie stand out from the welter of current, and all-too-standard, heist and hustle films.

The pace is slow, and the interactions between the characters are subtle and filled with sub-text. Tension builds almost imperceptibly in the lazy, heat-filled hours and days at Cassidy’s stunning villa. At first it all seems a little too arthouse, but gradually Figueras is dragged into the murky depths of his own making, one poor choice leading to another in an unstoppable downward spiral. The conclusion is shocking, but also oddly satisfying; the deliberate ambiguity suits the tone of the film and the final denouement was reminiscent of the “My memoirs!” line at the end of Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Reviews of The Burnt Orange Heresy are mixed and there were one or two bits that felt out-of-place, such as a formulaic horror-movie-style murder scene, whilst some of Figueras’s actions are so illogical you do wonder how he’s managed to hold down such a high-profile job. The performances are excellent, though (especially Sutherland, who as you might expect steals every scene he appears in and even a few he doesn’t), and in the end this is a really classy film and one I enjoyed immensely. It makes a nice change to have something other than mad car chases and spraying bullets, and the old-fashioned feel never detracts from the surprisingly dark noir storyline.

One bit of trivia: the official blurb for the film says that Figueras is hired to steal one of Debney’s paintings, but that’s a vast over-simplification of a much more complicated arrangement. In fact, Figueras is reluctant to get involved, and only agrees when it becomes apparent that Cassidy has unearthed information about his background that could damage his career. There’s a nice feel of ‘hoist with his own petard’ at the end, but as with all good noir, nobody really gets out of this unscathed. No wonder I liked it so much!

Where the Heck Wednesday: Beau Johnson

Bet you thought you’d never see another one of these posts, didn’t you? Well, you’re wrong, because I’m hoping to kick-start the series again in the coming weeks. And here’s the very first in the latest batch, from Bishop Rider author Beau Johnson himself. Over to you, Beau…

Book title: Brand New Dark

Location: Culver City

Author: Beau Johnson

BeauJohnsonFiction.com / Twitter

“Oh, hello there. You startled me. I kid. I kid. I know. I know. But if I’m anything, it’s far from conventional. (insert weird face emoji here)


Tess! Thanks for having us! Very kind of you to give this Canadian and his thoughts your time. 

All right, so today I believe I’m scheduled to discuss location-slash-setting. This is correct? Good. Cool. I mean, it’s the only thing I’ve prepared.  But just so you know, I’m not going to be going on about any old location. Why not? Well, Tess, allow me to count the ways! One, like my main character’s life itself, why yes, I do like to make things more difficult than they should be. And two…well, I don’t really have a two. Honestly, I’m just happy to be here, Tess. More important, I really didn’t think you’d let me get this far.


So, Culver. The city itself, this has always been Bishop Rider’s stomping ground. He wasn’t born there, no, but it is the place he dies. In the overall narrative, however, Culver comes nowhere near a setting that I choose to bring to life. It houses roughly a million or so people, sure, and Rider does visit its sister city, Hanson Falls, quite often, but it’s not the be all/end all to the backdrop of Rider and his struggle.

No, Rider has his safehouses for that. 

Which, in my mind, has always been the location that allows this figment of my imagination to shine.  Each safehouse becoming more integral to the story as the years have worn on–both here, with me writing this as I am, as well as the fractured timelines I tell Rider’s story from.

He prefers one safehouse over another, of course, and yes, there had at one time been three, but alas, life has a habit of getting in the way. (insert explosion emoji here)

Would I change things? Make Culver City a living breathing character if I could go back? Nah, I don’t think I would. It serves its purpose, serving up degenerate after degenerate in all the ways I need/have needed it to. It’s those particular basements in those particular safehouses that have come to stand out with regard to location in Rider’s universe. I imagine the upgrades have something to do with this as well, perhaps a killbox or two, but I feel if I give anything else away here I may start spoiling certain storylines to come. It means I’m going to have to back away now, Tess, slowly, while offering my thanks once again as I do. I say this from above the ravine one of those safehouses I mentioned backs onto, as Rider and I look down upon Culver as it sleeps. There are no stars here tonight either, Tess, and nary a moon. There is only the city, its lights, and the glasses of scotch both Rider and I raise to you now.

Thank you for having us, Tess. We appreciate the time. (insert awkward high-five/hug emoji here)”


Beau Johnson is a husband, father, writer, booster. He has written three books, A BETTER KIND OF HATE, THE BIG MACHINE EATS, and ALL OF THEM TO BURN. Each hold Bishop Rider stories, the man’s life and struggle, but on July 12th, 2021, BRAND NEW DARK, a Bishop Rider only book, will be unleashed upon the world through Down and Out Books. Of late, Beau has also found he holds the power to trigger the world’s least favorite/most racist Buffy the Vampire slayer on Twitter. Her followers too, of course, but that’s a bio for another story.

Buy Brand New Dark here.

Carlisle here we come…

One of the many downsides of the pandemic has been the impossibility of seeing friends. This week, after almost a year and a half, I finally got to meet up with a bunch of fellow Crime-and-Publishment-ers in Carlisle. It was absolutely lovely, but it very nearly didn’t happen at all.

With help from Irene Paterson I’d arranged it for Monday lunchtime at our favourite cafe, Cakes & Ale. I was all set to travel up by train, and really looking forward to it, if a little nervous about being crammed into a railway carriage full of strangers for over an hour. At the moment, everything is by advance booking only, so on Saturday evening I sat down to order my tickets – and found to my horror that every last seat on both the outward journey and the return had already been sold.

To say I was upset was an understatement, but Other Half sprang to the rescue, donning a cape and driving me to Carlisle on the day. He spent a couple of hours mooching round and discovering interesting bits of the city, while I plonked myself at a table in the cafe’s surprisingly pretty garden and caught up with everyone again.

Not all of the group were free at such short notice, but we managed to rustle up seven: myself, Irene, Linda Wright, soon-to-be-published Ann Bloxwich, AliceMae Jamieson, John Langley, and the superstar of the group Mike Craven, whose books are now so popular that he’s had a brand of coffee named after his main character Washington Poe.

No hugs yet, but it was super to see people face-to-face at last, and be able to talk for a couple of hours (while still leaving time for tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches or cake – though not all at once). Here’s hoping we can do it again – without having to wait another year and a half.

I took my camera to get a nice group shot of us all and forgot to take the snap! So here’s a picture of the garden instead. Hard to believe this is right in the centre of a bustling city.

Innocent review

This was the second season of a series by Chris Lang, the same writer responsible for the other recent ITV crime series Unforgotten – but involving an apparent miscarriage of justice rather than a cold case.

Like Unforgotten, it focussed on a seemingly unconnected group of characters and events, which all eventually wove together into one coherent whole. As with the original series (from 2018 and starring Lee Ingleby) someone previously found guilty of murder is released from prison and sets about getting their life back together while trying to understand why they were accused and who else might have done the dastardly deed. That makes it sound like a private-detective type thing but actually both seasons were more realistic than that, with the lead characters taking a secondary role in any investigation to the local police.

In this version, young teacher Sally, played by Katherine Kelly (above), is re-tried and found not guilty of the murder of one of her pupils, a bright sixteen-year-old with his whole life ahead of him. The irony was nicely played as the drama showed just how Sally’s own life had been ripped away from her too: she’d lost her job, her friends, her home, her husband, and even, in a particularly cruel twist, their baby in a miscarriage brought on by the original trial.

Unsurprisingly left angry and scarred by her experience, she set about trying to claw back what she saw as rightly hers: blagging her way back into her old job, and trying to tempt her husband (Jamie Bamber) away from the new love in his life. I had a slight problem believing in his character; it seemed shocking that he’d accepted the case against his own wife with so little questioning and hooked up with one of her old school friends soon afterwards. It turned out there was a good reason for all that, though, which led to a nice satisfying explanation at the end.

Less satisfactory was the idea that a sixteen-year-old could successfully hide their sexuality in this age of social media, online ‘outings’, and the vast onrushing machine that is school gossip. Other than that, though, this was a well-written mystery with involving characters and a sense that it really could have happened to almost anyone. My only other complaint was occasionally clunky, daytime-soap-opera-level dialogue, which even a good cast of actors struggled with from time to time. But the added bonus of spectacular Lake District scenery more than made up for that.

Enough with the callous…

I got a flyer through the letterbox the other week from a local chiropodist, advertising amongst other things, the service of “callous removal”. It made me giggle, but it also made me think that maybe I could do with this after all, because it’s partly why I’ve struggled with crime drama, movies, and books during the pandemic.

This has nothing to do with feet, and everything to do with creating some kind of sympathy or empathy between characters and audience. And in many cases, it’s been lacking, to the point where I’ve had to give up watching. This happened with two recent series, both of which I was looking forward to. One was Bloodlands (above, with James Nesbitt as an embittered Northern Irish police officer); the other was Tin Star Liverpool, a slightly crazy sequel to the Tin Star series showing on Sky Atlantic. Bloodlands was critically acclaimed, TSL less so, but I couldn’t cope with either.

I watched TSL mostly for the Liverpool setting as it’s my home city, and sure enough there were some great shots of the waterfront and the city centre, although much of the action was centred on the town of New Brighton on the other side of the River Mersey. I’d never seen the original series set in America, but I knew enough to realise that the main character (played by Tim Roth) and his family had been set up by some AC-12 style “bent coppers”, and were heading home to exact their revenge.

The first few episodes bowled along with a mix of action, dark moments and quirky comedy: so far, so noir. But then, without warning, it took a turn into pure unadulterated nastiness, with the sort of horrific, collateral-damage savagery I’d normally expect from x-rated gangster films. And worse, after a brief moment of reflection and the acting equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders, the main character, and his wife, and his young daughter, simply walked away without a shred of remorse. I was upset for days; switched off instantly, and deleted all the remaining episodes without bothering to watch another second – and probably never will.

I assumed it was a one-off and that I simply hadn’t understood enough about the series canon to know what to expect, but then Bloodlands came along. Again, I watched the first couple of episodes and thoroughly enjoyed them: the atmosphere was dark thanks to the background of the Irish “troubles” of the 1970s and onwards but the storyline was gripping and the characters believable. And then the Nesbitt character did something so apparently unforgiveable that I lost all sympathy for him and couldn’t bear to watch any more.

Those of you who’ve read my work know that I don’t exactly expect characters to be squeaky-clean do-gooders. I like a bit of reality, a bit of grey-scale in between the black and white of good and bad. But it has to be balanced. Characters, especially main characters, have to engage my interest; I have to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I also have to believe that in the end, they’re better than the people they’re chasing – or that if not, they suffer the consequences.

Too often, lately, those last aspects seem to have been missing. I’ve used Bloodlands and Tin Star as examples, but they’re by no means the only ones. And at the moment, with so much bad news, misery and depression around in the world, I’ll be choosing my crime drama very carefully, and leaving the callous, hard-hearted characters in the box where they belong…

Raise the Blade walking tour #1

My first book ‘Raise the Blade’ was also set in and around Birmingham. Unlike ‘Gravy Train’ the locations tend to be more widely scattered so it’s harder to gather them together into tours, but I’ve come up with a handful that should take an hour or so and will hopefully be quite interesting. The first is a circuit of Edgbaston Reservoir, which was constructed in the 1820s as a canal feeder for the city’s many, many miles of canal.

Walk #1: Edgbaston Reservoir

Distance: just under 2 miles


There used to be a car park at the Reservoir Road entrance but it may have been closed due to ‘antisocial behaviour’. Instead, you can park at or near one of the other entrances on Rotton Park Road, Gillott Road or Icknield Port Road. I’m going to start the walk from Rotton Park Road simply because that’s the one I’m most familiar with.

At the entrance to the reservoir there’s a fence, gate, and slightly worrying sign listing all the things you’re not allowed to do during your visit. I’m assuming it’s been altered by someone with a sense of humour…

Walk down the slope to the water’s edge, then turn right. A short distance further on, a high fence marks the garden boundary of several large houses that back onto the reservoir. It was one of these that I used as a location for Brian’s gruesome discovery, although another set of houses on the other side of the lake would work just as well. Watch out for great crested grebes on the water along here.

Keep following the path around the lake shore past the Birmingham rowing club and various sets of parallel bars and other outdoor activity equipment. Just beyond the Reservoir Road car park is the Tower Ballroom, a nightclub and local landmark which used to cater for gay men and was known by one and all as the ‘Gay Tower’. It’s possible that the club is called after the famous tower at Edgbaston Waterworks a short distance away, which was the inspiration behind one of the Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings.

At the edge of the reservoir dam pause for some spectacular views out across the city (see first photo above). Then walk along the dam, which is 330 metres long and 10 metres high with a sluice part way along. This feeds the Icknield Port Loop, which in turn keeps the levels up in the rest of the canal network.

Just over the dam, turn left again and pass by the Midland Sailing Club. If you’re lucky (and the weather is good enough) there might be some yachts out on the water, which makes it look very scenic.

Keep walking along the western shore, past some steps up to Gillott Road and one of the small streams that feeds the reservoir. I don’t know if they’ve cleaned this up but it used to smell very chemical-y and odd! After a large gentle bend through semi-open woodland the path runs behind the houses I’ve already mentioned above and returns to the entrance onto Rotton Park Road.

This is a nice ‘Sunday morning’ stroll taking about an hour. If you really want to push the boat out (sorry) you can leave the reservoir by the Icknield Port Road entrance, turn left and follow the road for just over a mile for a view of HMP Birmingham (Birmingham Prison, originally known as Winson Green Prison). This is where Cheryl visited convicted killer Eric Suggs. Return by retracing your steps, or by turning right into Gillott Road, then taking the footpath back to the reservoir shore.

I hope you enjoy the walk but please remember that lockdown means we’re still being asked to stay in our ‘local areas’. And if you fancy learning more about Brian, Cheryl, Suggs and the other characters who are linked by serial killer Duncan, then you can find ‘Raise the Blade’ here.

New interview

I’m popping in to mention my latest interview, courtesy of Hannah at the Dorset Book Detective blog. She asked me all kinds of questions about my writing processes and background, and I discuss not just where my love of crime fiction came from, but also how I got my first book deal (with Caffeine Nights) and what I hope might be coming next.

Do pop over to Hannah’s blog to check out the results. I hope it gives you some insight into what makes me tick.

Saucerful of Sky Arts

I’ve been posting on here, on and off, about the Saucerful of Secrets concert we were due to go to last year, which has been postponed at least twice thanks to Covid. Currently it’s scheduled for about April but unlikely to go ahead, and it may well be autumn or even next year before we finally get to see it.

However, as a small chink of light in the general gloom, we recently discovered that Sky Arts (newly available on Freeview here in the UK) showed an hour-and-a-half long concert by Nick Mason and his fellow musicians. The band now consists of Mason himself on drums, Gary Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) on guitar and lead (ish) vocals, and three other excellent musicians on guitar, bass and keyboard. And they’re good. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not so surprisingly given the calibre of talent – but at times you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the original Pink Floyd line-up performing.

The material is mostly drawn from Floyd’s earlier albums (up to and including Wish You Were Here) with less emphasis on Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and The Division Bell. There’s clearly still plenty to choose from and the concert was an eclectic mix of really early Sid Barrett songs like Arnold Lane and See Emily Play, and more obviously “Floyd-like” tracks – Echoes, Heart of the Sun, Astronomy Domine to name but a few.

It’s great to see these tracks getting the airplay they deserve. As Mason himself said in a brief ‘intermission’ interview, too often Pink Floyd tributes stick to the same five albums and great though that is, it’s good to have some variety. We enjoyed every second, and are looking forward to the ‘real thing’ even more now that we know how professional it all is.

If you’re a fan of Floyd, or of prog rock in general, and can get Sky Arts on Catch-Up, then do look out for this programme, entitled Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. It’s well worth an hour and a half of any music fan’s time.

Gravy Train walking tour #2

And here’s the next in the series of walking (or cycling) tours taking in the locations I used in ‘Gravy Train’. This one is longer and you might well need to bike it rather than walking the whole thing, especially as you’d have to come back again!

Walk #2: Hockley to Edgbaston

Distance: approx 5 miles each way. I say approx because Google Maps had a major conniption when I tried to change the preferred route, which was for cars and didn’t take in half the places I needed it to. The wonders of technology…


1. Start at the Hockley flyover/Great Hampton Street. The area to the left as you walk towards the city centre is where I had in mind when I described Sandra and Mike’s public house, and there are examples of the type of pub (though nowhere near as rundown as theirs!) in the surrounding streets.

2. Continue along Livery Street, then turn right into Great Charles Street Queensway and follow this to Paradise Circus. This area is currently undergoing major roadworks to install a tram line and road and footpath closures seem to change on a daily basis, so find the approved route to take you across the island to Broad Street.

3. Once on Broad Street walk a short distance until you come to Gas Street, and turn left down here. There are some nice old buildings, now mostly cafes and bars, which back onto the canal basin. Find a cast-iron archway with a path that leads to the canalside towpath and have a good wander round. The area of the Gas Street Basin is fascinating and well worth exploring. I used the arch, the bridge and the towpath in the final showdown between crime boss Vernon Ball and Sandra’s “uncle” George, over the bag of money that Ball’s underling Lenny had stolen.

4. Retrace your steps to Broad Street and continue to Five Ways Island, a vast gyratory traffic system enclosing a green open space, with subways to various roads, offices and shopping centres. This island is central to the action in ‘Gravy Train’; it’s here that Sandra and Mike visit the betting shop to collect their winnings and get mugged by Lenny; and it’s on one of the roads leading to the island that Justine’s car breaks down and she nicks Lenny’s van to get herself home. Here’s a couple of pics of what might have been the betting shop, and the subway where Lenny froze his nuts off.

5. You can end your tour here, but if you’re feeling particularly energetic, take the subway up and onto Hagley Road and carry on walking for about a mile, until you come to the junction with Norfolk Road. There are a handful of clubs and casinos in this area which helped to inspire the Roller Club which Justine breaks into.

6. Retrace your steps, or catch one of the many buses that head along Hagley Road back into the city centre.

And that’s it. Once again I hope it gives you some new areas to discover and a bit of fun poking about. But again, don’t forget that Covid regulations mean we’re all expected to exercise within our local areas, so if you’re not already in Birmingham please don’t make a special trip yet.

And again, if you like the sound of the book then feel free to grab a copy here, and thank you!