JOYCE HOLMS 'MOONLIGHTING ON THE FORTH'
Here's the question: which popular British crime writer has served time as a private investigator? Is it Mark Timlin, creator of the South London Mike Hammer, Sharman? Or John Baker, with his York based private eye Sam Turner? Neither of those? Then how about a maternal looking Scottish lady from the refined streets of Edinburgh.
Unlikely as it seems and as far removed as she may be from her colleagues' ideas of how a private eye appears, Joyce Holms joins such illustrious company as Dashiell Hammett, Joe Gores and John Straley, Americans all, in experiencing both the reality and the fiction of investigation. Not that this was a deliberate career choice. Joyce began her investigative career by doing secretarial work for an Edinburgh detective agency run by two former CID officers, but soon found herself co-opted into surveillance work and other duties precisely because she did not fit the archetypal private eye image. It was to be a useful grounding for a crime writing career.
Her stint as a private eye may have opened her eyes to the seamier side of life in Edinburgh's meaner streets, but fortunately for the reader's entertainment, Joyce's books are far from relentlessly grim. In fact, in a city that has more crime writers per head of population than anywhere else in the UK, Joyce seems to have cornered her own niche with a special blend of crime and humour. This may be a more genteel Edinburgh portrayed in the books of Ian Rankin or Chris Brookmyre, with characters more likely to be found in the golf club bar or sipping tea in Jenners - the Scottish Harrods - rather than downing heavies at the Barony or Oxford Bar, but that does not mean that Joyce is prepared to shy away from the grim realities.

Her first book, Payment Deferred 1996, opens with a body impaled on railings, a beginning that bears comparison with Rankin's breakthrough novel of roughly the same vintage, Black and Blue. The plot hinges on a case of child abuse, an issue some our cosier writers would rather avoid.
That said, the reader does not turn to the crime novels of Joyce Holms for the gore but to saviour the delicious interplay between her leading characters; the prematurely middle- aged lawyer Tam Buchanan and his law student legal assistant 'Fizz' Fitzgerald. Buchanan's legal practice offers the excuse for involvement with crime, but inevitably it is the more impestuous Fizz who kick starts the investigation and gets them into trouble. Often potentially fatal trouble.
Buchanan is the establishment figure, having neatly stepped into his father's law practice. His cousin is a doctor, his girlfriends are glamorous professional women, his instinct is for the cautious approach to a situation.
The appropriately named Fizz, in contrast, is a much wilder character. Deceptively young looking, she consistently fools people into believing she is a teenager - it's the ringlets woman! In fact, she is a worldly 26-year old when the series begins. Between a failed attempt at art school and the beginning of her law degree, Fizz was an international gypsy, travelling from country to country and continent to continent. Six books on, she continues to hold some enticing secrets over just what she did in those missing years. She and Buchanan fight , annoy and exasperate each other - Buchanan likens Fizz's arrival in his life to the appearance of an Ebola virus. Of course, beneath it all is the electric chemistry of two people tremendously attracted to each other, but who would never admit it. Somehow Fizz contrives to sabotage all Buchanan's romantic relationships, both deliberately and innocently. Somehow Buchanan cannot help but notice when Fizz receives attention from other men for her 'sensational legs'.
Frustrated sexual tension has a long pedigree among detective couples, think Mulder and Scully in the X-Files or, more pertinently the love-hate relationship between Bruce Willis' character David Addison and Cybil Sheperd's Maddie Hayes in cult 1980s series Moonlighting before both series outstayed their welcome.
Of course, Joyce is too canny a writer to bring her two protagonists together, knowing that the anticipation is everything for her readers and that Fizz and Buchanan's relationship would naturally combust within months. Infact she has said that if Fizz and Buchanan do finally get things together, that would be the end of the series.
Buchanan's first impression of Fizz in the early pages of Payment Deferred is typically deceptive. To him, Fizz is a plump girl of about 17, a teenage bimbo with a 'sweet, dimpled face and an expression of unassailable innocence.' It soon emerges that Fizz is not 17, not very innocent and not particularly plump as she bends the truth enough to herself a part time job with his legal aid clinic. Setting the pattern of what is to come, she soon has Buchanan involved in an unwanted investigation, taking up the case of an old friend of Tam convicted of molesting his daughter. Still protesting his innocence, he wants Buchanan to clear him and sets Fizz on the investigation trail. Joyce balances humour, suspense and the darkness of the subject matter. There is a light touch to her writing that cannot fail to entertain and the reader can expect to put the book aside wanting more of Fizz and Buchanan.
So back they come in Foreign Body (1997), but this time with a change of locale. Buchanan, recuperating from a spell in hospital, is persuaded by Fizz to to come to her home village of Am Bealach in the Perthshire Highlands. This raises another point about Holms. Her series may be based in Edinburgh, but she is happy to move the action elsewhere, especially when she can make use of her personal experience. Places like the Isle of Arran, where she ran a hotel or the Perthshire village of Killin where she also lived. Not that Killin is surely anything like Am Bealach.
'One thing you have to bear in mind about Am Bealach,' says Fizz about her home village 'is that everyone of the locals is a bit nutty, one way or another. It's called the Am Bealach Effect. Living in a place like this with no stimulation to speak of, you lose about one IQ point per year.'
Joyce broadens out her family of characters with the introduction of Fizz's irascible Grampa, a tough, deaf hill farmer with the energy of a man half his age, and Grampa's second wife, Fizz's Auntie Duff. Buchanan may enjoy their hospitality, but even after one book he should realize that nothing involving Fizz is going to be wholly restful. A missing octogenarian and the concealed body of a murdered hiker lead the pair into another investigation, Fizz using her natural charm to win over the local detective inspector along the way. The seemingly idyllic village that harbours lethal secrets is one of the oldest staples in crime fiction, but Joyce writes with a good-natured energy that overcomes the treat of cliché.
It is back to Edinburgh for the third book, Bad Vibes (1999) where the death of a German tourist in a city hotel sends Fizz and Buchanan searching for a missing painting that should have been amongst his belongings, a search that takes them to an artistic community in the Pentland hills and Arran. The tourist has, because this is a crime novel, been murdered. To the reader it is obvious, but not to Fizz and Buchanan who only become aware they are tracking a murderer fairly late in the proceedings. Although it all leads to a suspenseful climax, the stakes and therefore reader interest are arguably not so high as in the previous episodes. Perhaps not the best entry point to the Fizz /Buchanan saga for that reason, it still has much to be enjoyed, not least the reaction of Fizz and especially Buchanan - to the interest Fizz receives from Buchanan's partner.
Holms makes up for the relatively low key third installment with Thin Ice (1999). Buchanan's GP cousin Mark, a recurring and useful character, enlists the dynamic duo to find four - year old Robin Tarrant, apparently kidnapped by his drug addict father. Noticeably than other books in the series, the search leads them to a killer, one who is protected by justice because of their hold over the child.
If the fourth book is Rankinesque in character, getting dark and dirty in Edinburgh and Glasgow, then Mr Big (2000) appears to tackle Rankin and Rebus on their own turf with Fizz and Buchanan investigating the killing of Edinburgh's supposedly leading gangland figure, A long standing, and inept, client of the Buchanan family is on trial for the murder of drug dealer Chic Matheson. So far so hardboiled, but the novel takes a light-hearted twist when the trail to Matheson's killer leads to a home for retired show people. Good news for fans of Foreign Body is the reappearance of Fizz's grandpa. Here, he is the one recovering from hospital treatment and is co-opted by Fizz to become an undercover operator at the home keeping an eye on his fellow residents and giving her and Buchanan an excuse to visit.
The book starts with a splendid slice of Joyce's playfulness as a writer. With talk of winter and summer residences, the reader is fooled into thinking that Glendenning, a witness to murder, is a member of the upper classes - only to find on the next page he is actually a tramp.
Along the way to the revelation of a very unlikely crime overlord, Buchanan sees another promising relationship derailed by too close contact with Fizz and comes as near as he dare admit to recognizing how attracted he is to her. It ends with Fizz with Fizz, having already survived a vicious beating, locked in the boot of the killer's car and being driven to parts unknown. It is this experience that persuades Tam Buchanan detection should be left to the boys in blue in future.
It's not a job for amateurs. We're lucky to be getting out of this one alive. Now's the time to hanging up our bloodhounds, he states at the books conclusion.
'You're right, of course,' Fizz said sadly. 'There's no denying it, but I'll miss it all the same.'
She drew a deep sigh and turned her face away so he wouldn't see her smile.'
True to Fizz's intentions if not Buchanan's, the pair returned last year for a further joust against mayhem and murder on behalf of the forces of good.
Buchanan is charged with executing the will of a gas explosion victim, a task that puts him at odds with the victim's husband. The most powerful advocate in Edinburgh, he has the power to break Buchanan, but Tam cannot help but feel there is sort of a cover up under way.
With potential witnesses beginning to disappear from the village of Chirnside, one of those little communities Joyce draws so well, the pair head to the Highlands once more in pursuit of the truth. By the end of the novel Buchanan has been shot at and Fizz sacked, but even this should not mean the end of the partnership.
Re-instating her to his employ, Buchanan admits he likes having her around, and it is given to Fizz to sign off the novel with the final words: 'Stick with me baby, and you'll go places.'
Unfortunately the next place Fizz and Buchanan will go to will be a new publisher. After six books seeing the series safely into it's stride, Joyce and publishers Headline have parted company. The good news is that this does not mean a permanent farewell for Fizz and Buchanan. Joyce is in talks with another publisher, so there is still a chance of seeing Fizz and Buchanan finally give in and get down to some serious snogging.
But even without Fizz and Buchanan, a partnership that still looks to have a few more outings left, Joyce is not set to hang up her bloodhounds yet.
In a year 2000 interview, she revealed she had an idea for another series, one that would be an 'absolute scream.'
However, it was not one she was willing to write while she remained heavily involved with Fizz and Buchanan. She has also recently changed agents, and is being encouraged to write that breakthrough book. The idea is there and publishers have taken an interest.
One thing is certain we have not closed the final chapter on Joyce Holms' career.