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The Sirens of Suspense




Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver detective stories set in Scotland in the 1920s which have won a Macavity, two Left Coast Crime awards and an Agatha.

Last year she began a new strand of contemporary stand-alones. The first - AS SHE LEFT IT - was one of Kirkus’s top 20 mystery/thrillers of 2013 was shortlisted for the Calamari award at Left Coast Crime, Monterey. The follow up – THE DAY SHE DIED – was released on the 8th of May.

Catriona was born in Scotland in 1965 but moved to northern California in 2010. In previous lives, she worked as an incompetent bank clerk, a passable library assistant and a useless and miserable university professor but is now a full-time writer, rookie warm-climate gardener, good plain cook, scratch baker, dumpster-diver-extraordinaire and the current vice president of Sisters in Crime.


Find Catriona on Facebook and Twitter.

item1 THE ART OF CONSIGN item1

I suppose for some people “You look like you just crawled out of a dumpster” would be an insult. For me, there’s no higher praise. Dumpsters/skips, thrift stores/charity shops, yard/boot/estate/garage/jumble sales are my homes from home. (What they’re not is an area where US and UK English share any terminology.)

And so when I wrote a heroine with a job in a charity shop – actually in a church free-clothing centre – I didn’t need to do any extra research. Here’s Jessie, in THE DAY SHE DIED, sorting a consignment:

Then I kicked a bag that didn’t have clothes inside and hopped about a bit until my toe stopped throbbing.

“That better be boots,” I said. But it felt like metal and my guess was pots and pans. The Free Clothing Project has a massive clue in the name, but when folk get to clearing out their cupboards they just think “charity shop” and if we’re the nearest to where they live, we get whatever they’re clearing. I squatted and untied the handles.

“Wow. Cake tins. Yeah, that’s the thing about destitution. It can play havoc with your home-baking.”

So, in this glamorous tale of the high-life, Jessie rakes through cast-offs for a living. Me? I do it for fun. And the satisfaction of snagging a bargain never grows stale.

Some of my best finds are from the mental health consignment store in Davis, which goes by the California-tastic name of All Things Right and Relevant. At the recent awards banquet at Left Coast Crime I was wearing fifteen dollars’ worth of R&R’s finest – a black velvet, feather-trimmed cocktail dress with matching teeny-tiny evening bag - and I didn’t feel shabbier than anyone else who’d scrubbed up and put their glad rags on.

A month later at Malice Domestic though, I chose a different designer: this time going with the county SPCA thrift, where I lashed out a whopping eight dollars for a real silk shift with sequins.

And it’s not just clothes. My house is – if I say it myself - a monument to the yard sale. One of the many things I love about California is that for months on end every year it doesn’t rain and so every Saturday morning people set their extraneous junk on the ground outside their houses and offload it. To me.

Well, to be fair, I do have rules. These days, I don’t buy anything that needs mended, painted, re-covered or professionally cleaned and I don’t buy anything that can’t slot right into an empty place in the house as soon as I get it home. Mind you, with my anti-minimalist home-decorating style, it’s usually pretty easy to slot in another tchotchke.


But even the county thrift isn’t the source of the top bargains. One of the best things about Davis is the 31st of August. That’s the day the leases expire on the appartments for 35,000 students enrolled at UCD and you would not believe the stuff that gets flung by the young, affluent and disorganised when they move on to pastures a few hundred yards away. I got my first US cooker, dishwasher and fridge at the side of the road where some students had left them (after abandoning my UK cooker, dishwasher and fridge (and washing machine and telly and hairdryer and toaster . . .) because of the voltage difference). The cooker was the best find of all. It fits right in to the vintage kitchen that’s coming together in my house, slowly but surely:


Because it’s not as if I go surfing skips because I don’t care what things look like; it’s more that I think a mixture of heirlooms, expensive antiques and flea-market eurakas looks great! Here’s the rest-and-read corner in my sitting room:


Two expensive antiques, two inherited objects, two thrift store finds, a dumpster find, a present and one item from Ikea.

The only drawback is that if my house were ever to burn down (see lack of rain, above) and I tried to replace my stuff, I’d have a lot of trouble filling in the insurance forms. Unless State Farm lets you say “$1 + 17hrs and the three years it took to decide on handles, plus it goes with the cushions my granny embroidered = PRICELESS!”.

I’m giving away a signed copy of THE DAY SHE DIED to a commenter on today’s blog.

Tell me about your best ever bargain (or of you’re strictly Bergdorf’s only, try to identify the Ikea item in my reading corner) and I’ll enter your name in the draw.


Tell Catriona by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of THE DAY SHE DIED! (U.S. entrants only, please.)



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