Setting the Scene – A guest post by Christobel Kent & Giveaway

I’m very excited to welcome Christobel Kent to the blog. Her latest book, The Crooked House is published in paperback today.  I read this late last year and loved it. You can read my review here.

Today I have a triple treat. Christobel talks about setting the scene for The Crooked House, in a departure from the norm, there’s an extract from the book and a chance to win a signed copy. Even I don’t have a signed copy. I may enter myself…

Setting the Scene

Having set all my previous novels in Italy, it was a risk to leave territory I’d camped out on for a long time, a place I love, where I’ve made friends and been happy, a place that has enriched me and taught me all sorts of things.  But, The Crooked House is set somewhere I also know very intimately, somewhere I spent some of the most significant years of my life – the grey edge of the island kingdom, the muddy estuaries north of the Thames, one of the most mysterious and secret parts of a crowded and busy country.  After my mother died and my father remarried – ominously quickly, within the year – we moved from a big house my parents, it turned out, couldn’t afford, to a Thames barge on the coast, a sailing coastal barge with big red sails, more than a hundred feet long.  Two warring adults and eight – count ‘em – children.  There were four of us and my stepmother – the standard issue wicked variety –  had four of her own.  It was a disaster, predictably enough, it was squalid and painful, it descended into a nasty variety of chaos that ended with separation, divorce, homelessness and mental illness: I don’t go back often.  My brother lives there still, after years of living on boats with his family they now have a happy house on the edge of a quiet little Essex village that sits on the edge of marshes. It’s a beautiful place, it’s my idea of the most English part of England because no foreigner knows it, its beauty is subtle and understated, an acquired taste like eels and samphire: it’s Eric Ravilious to Italy’s Titian.

But I don’t go back often, because there’s too much there, somehow.  Too much confused emotion, too much dark magic: it was one of the unhappiest and most marvellous times of my life.  So it has stayed in a little box, very precious, quite dangerous, a little box that if you opened it would release a smell of diesel and mud, tatters of posters from the bands I used to hitchhike to with my big brother, the echoes of the vicious rows of a family in total meltdown, sea-fog and a wide horizon: now seems about the right time to bring it out. A teenage girl, alone in her attic bedroom on the edge of marshes on the Essex coast one midsummer night, listens to sounds from the house below her, trying to make sense of them: the more she listens, the more ominous the sounds become. And when at last the dawn comes and she ventures downstairs, her life has changed forever.  Something terrible has come into the house: her family is destroyed, and she is the sole survivor and only witness to a massacre.

My publishers seem to think I’ve pulled it off, which is a relief.  Sometimes what I feel is better than relief, it’s more like euphoria.  Home is always home, and falling in love all over again with something you’ve spent a lifetime taking for granted – whether it’s your back garden or your husband or a grey forgotten landscape – feels like the essential next stage. 

Christobel Kent

 

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To celebrate the paperback publication, the publishers; Little, Brown, have kindly given me permission to share an extract of the book with you. So sit back and prepare to be drawn in to Esme’s world…

Thirteen Years Ago

When it starts again she is face down on her bed with her hands over her ears and she feels it more than hears it. A vibration through the mattress, through the flowered duvet, through the damp pillow she’s buried her face in. It comes up from below, through the house’s lower three storeys. BOOM. She feels it in her throat.

Wait, listen: one, two, three. BOOM.

Is this how it begins?

Leaning on the shelf over the desk, wooden letters spelling her name jitter against the wall. They were a present on her seventh birthday, jigsawn by Dad, E.S.M.E. The family’d just moved in, unloading their stuff outside this house they called the crooked house, she and Joe, as the sun went down over the dark marsh inland. Creek House to Crooked House, after the tilt to its roofline, its foundations unsteady in the mud, out on its own in the dusk. Mum was gigantic with the twins, a Zeppelin staggering inside with bags in each hand. We need more space now, is how they told her and Joe they were moving. It was seven years ago, seven plus seven. Now she’s fourteen, nearly. Fourteen next week.

Ah, go on, Gina had said. Just down it. Then, changing tack, You can give it me back, then.

Esme’s been back an hour. She isn’t even sure Joe saw her pass the sitting-room door, jammed back on the sofa and frowning under his headphones: since he hit sixteen he’s stopped looking anyone in the eye. The girls, a two-headed caterpillar in an old sleeping bag on the floor, wriggled back from in front of the TV, twisting to see her. Letty’s lolling head, the pirate gap between Mads’s front teeth as she grins up at her, knowing. She mouths something. Boyfriend. Esme turns her face away and stomps past.

Mum opening the kitchen door a crack, leaning back from the counter to see who it is. Frowning like she can’t place her, she gets like that a lot these days. What are you doing back? Esme doesn’t answer: she is taking the stairs three at a time, raging.

Outside the dark presses on the window, the squat power station stands on the horizon, the church out on the spit that looks no bigger than a shed from here, the village lights distant. Make all the noise you like out here, Dad’s always saying, no one can hear.

Hands over your ears and never tell.

On the bed she lies very still, willing it to go, to leave the house. Whatever it is.

Her hands were already over her ears, before it started. Why? The boom expands in her head and she can’t even remember now. All she knows is, she was standing at the window, now she’s on the bed.

She grapples with detail. She heard a car. There were voices below in the yard and, after, noises downstairs. Something scraping across the floor, a low voice muttering and she didn’t want to deal with it, with his questions; she flung herself down on the bed and the tears began to leak into the pillow. She would have put on her music but she didn’t want him to know she was back.

Now. A sound, a human sound, just barely: a wounded shout, a gasp, trying to climb to a scream that just stops, vanishes. And in the silence after it she hears breathing, heavy and ragged; up through three storeys and a closed door, it is as if the house is breathing. And Esme is off the bed, scrabbling for a place to hide.
BOOM.

On the marsh behind the house there are the remains of an old hut with a little rotted jetty. The tide is beginning to come up, gurgling in its channels, trickling across the mud that stretches inland, flooding the clumps of samphire and marsh grass and the buried timbers. Behind her the house stands crooked in the wind freshening off the estuary.

The lights of the police cars come slowly, bumping down the long track, an ambulance, the cab lit. It is three in the morning but the inky dark is already leaching to grey behind the church on the spit. One of the coldest June nights on record, and it takes them a while to find her. She doesn’t make a sound.

Want to read more? The Crooked House is available in bookshops now or can be bought from Amazon here.

* This extract is from a copyrighted work of fiction and has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. It must not be copied without permission

For a chance to win a signed copy simply leave a comment below by 9pm on 30 April 2015. (UK only I’m afraid. Neither I or the publishers take responsibility for the prize getting lost in the post.)

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Anna Jaquiery – Q&A

Today I pleased to welcome to the blog Anna Jaquiery, author of The Lying Down Room and Death in the Rainy Season, both featuring French detective Serge Morel. Death in the Rainy Season was published on 9 April 2015 by Mantle. Keep a look out next week for my review.

1. Tell us a little about Death in the Rainy Season.

The novel is set in present-day Cambodia. My French-Cambodian detective, Commandant Serge Morel, is holidaying there, visiting the temples in Siem Reap, when a Frenchman is found dead in a hotel room in Phnom Penh. Morel’s boss tells him he must get involved in the investigation because the victim was the nephew of a senior French politician, who doesn’t trust the Cambodians to investigate properly. 

2. Is there a sense of freedom to write a series? By this I mean does the story arc flow more freely when you know how your characters will act or can they inversely inhibit the story? 

I don’t know that there is a sense of freedom, or if there is, it comes later, when you have more books in a series. But there is, at least, a sense of growing familiarity. Now I’m writing the third Morel book, I do feel closer to him and to other characters. To me, Morel has a complex personality, and I like the challenge he presents as I try to figure out how he’ll think, feel and react in situations.

3. The first Morel Book, The Lying Down Room, tackles a tragic aspect of recent history, one that has almost vanished from the public consciousness. Where did the idea for Morel and this storyline emerge from? 

When I was 22, studying in Paris, I decided to return to Russia where I had lived for three years as a high school student, to try my luck as a freelance journalist. I settled for a while in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s third largest city. This book’s storyline emerged in part from my reporting experiences in Russia. I didn’t visit an orphanage like the one I describe, but I did meet with aid workers who had. I also interviewed Mormons, evangelists and others who had been sent to post-Soviet Russia to proselytise. This was a subject I always felt I wanted to explore further.

4. In Death in the Rainy Season you set the book in Cambodia. Your family originate from South East Asia. Did you feel any pressure to ensure the country was portrayed in a certain light?

My father originates from Malaysia and my mother from France, so there is no direct link with Cambodia. But I did spend the first ten years of my childhood in Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia. My familiarity with the region certainly made the story easier to write. The setting is familiar. 

As an adult, I’ve visited Phnom Penh a few times. I went there two years ago specifically to research Death in the Rainy Season. When I was writing the book, I really wanted to bring to life some of the things I’d felt in Phnom Penh, about the people and the landscape. And yes, there is a social and political dimension to the book. First and foremost, though, this is a crime novel and a work of fiction. 

5. Death in the Rainy Season sees Morel ‘on his own’ without the team we came to know in The Lying Down Room. Was this intentionally done so that the reader could discover more about Morel and was there a danger of breaking the reader’s bond with the team that was so eloquently created in the previous book?

A number of people had told me after reading The Lying-Down Room that they looked forward to reading more about Morel and his team. I knew some readers would be disappointed to find him working on a case without his colleagues, in a different country. I didn’t plan it that way. When I was halfway through The Lying-Down Room, I started thinking about another Morel book and something came to me that I felt I really wanted to write. The premise – the death of an aid worker in Phnom Penh – was very vivid in my mind. I knew that I would be bringing Morel’s Parisian team back in the third book, which I’m writing now. Meanwhile, Death in the Rainy Season does reveal more about Morel. 

6. On a lighter note, who do you turn to for reading pleasure? Are there any particular genres or authors you always rely on to entertain you?

My taste is eclectic and I turn to different genres for reading pleasure. Some of my favourite authors are not crime writers. I’m thinking of authors like Ian McEwan, Colm Toíbin, and David Mitchell, whose new releases I always look forward to. I also read lots of crime novels and psychological thrillers. I’m a big fan of Denise Mina’s books. She is perhaps my favourite crime writer. Belinda Bauer is another author whose books I always enjoy. I can spend hours with a good psychological thriller and recently did just that with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  

7. Authors writing routines are always fascinating. It is sometimes easy to forget that a book isn’t created overnight. What has been the biggest eye-opener for you now you have seen the book process through from creation to publication?

The biggest eye-opener for me was the realisation that a published book truly is a team effort. So many people are involved in turning a manuscript into a publishable book. I’ve learned that there are few things more precious to a writer than a good editor. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with a group of people who are so very experienced, and passionate about what they do. I know authors say these sorts of things all the time, but in my case it’s certainly true.

8. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I guess I’d like to be asked what advice I’d give to writers who still haven’t published their first story or novel. Not because I am in any way an expert on these things. But I know what it means to be passionate about what you do and to put a great deal of effort into the thing you love, over long periods of time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and have learned a few things along the way. One is that if this is what you love to do, then spend time on it every day. And persevere. Perseverance is everything. 

About the book:

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“Far from home secrets can be deadly . . .

Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.

Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?

Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”

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The inspiration behind Letters to my Husband – Stephanie Butland

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stephanie Butland, author of Letters to my Husband to the blog to discuss the inspiration behind the book.

I came up with the plot of Letters to my Husband by going the long way round, to say the least…. I started with the idea of writing a comic novel about a committee. The committee had been formed to persuade the council to put up a fence at a local beauty spot where someone had drowned. An early reader suggested I lose the ‘civic theme'; it was a brilliant insight, because I was discovering that writing about a committee is at least as hard work as being on one, if not more!

 

As soon as I’d got my head around the idea of writing a more pared-down story, Elizabeth’s letters – which are the only element of that first version which have remained virtually unchanged – stood out, asking that the novel be one about grief and coming to terms with it. 

 

So I set off again, writing about Elizabeth’s journey through grief and betrayal, to a kind of peace. But even then, I was well through the writing – maybe two-thirds – before the plot really fell into place. I’ve tried to learn from that experience and put more thought into plotting, earlier on – it’s less painful that way! But I do think books should stand up and walk off in their own direction at some point. ‘No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’, as Robert Frost wrote.

About the book:

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“‘An immensely powerful, and ultimately uplifting, debut novel’ Katie Fforde
‘Heartbreaking, insightful, gripping and beautifully crafted’ Jane Wenham Jones

Dear Mike, I can’t believe that it’s true. You wouldn’t do this to me. You promised.
Elizabeth knows that her husband is kind and good and that he loves her unconditionally. She knows she hasn’t been herself lately but that, even so, they are happy.
But Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when Mike dies in a tragic drowning accident. Suddenly everything Elizabeth knows about her husband is thrown into doubt. Why would he sacrifice his own life, knowing he’d never see his wife again? And what exactly was he doing at the lake that night?
Elizabeth knows that writing to Mike won’t bring him back, but she needs to talk to him now more than ever . . .
How much can you ever know about the people you love?

Originally published in hardback as Surrounded by Water “

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Amanda Jennings – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome to the blog Amanda Jennings, author of Sworn Secrets and The Judas Scar. Amanda has kindly answered a few of my questions.

First things first. Tell us what The Judas Scar is about :-)

The Judas Scar takes a look at the long-reaching effects of childhood trauma on adulthood. It tells the tale of two very close friends at boarding school, Will and Luke, who were involved in an incident when they were fourteen that affected them both deeply. As a result of this event, Luke was expelled, and the two don’t see each other again until twenty-five years later when an apparent chance meeting brings the past and its secrets crashing down on top of them, setting in motion a dark and emotional story of guilt, desire, betrayal and revenge. 

Your novels are standalone. Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. With Sworn Secret it was the passing comment from a mutual friend of my sister and I. This comment got me thinking about the importance of sibling position when it comes to character development, wondering how, if a sister loses her sibling during her formative years, differently her personality might develop. With The Judas Scar it was the effect a phone call my husband received from a police officer investigating historic abuse at his old school had on him. These are just the starting points for the books, the actual stories are different to the kernel of the idea. My next book, which isn’t finished yet, was inspired by a news story I read about fifteen years ago. But inspiration can come from the strangest of places. I had an idea for a book based on the shopping basket contents of a man standing in front of me in a supermarket queue!

What have you learned about the writing and publishing process that you wish you’d known before you started writing?

I think I’ve learnt that determination is the most helpful of virtues. There is so much rejection that comes before signing a publishing contract. I remember signing with my agent, cracking the Champagne and thinking I’d made it. But there was a long way still to go, with a lot of rejection still to come. In a way, I think it’s no bad thing. Facing rejection, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off, shouting onwards and upwards, and trucking on, is all good, character building stuff, and a great way to prove to yourself you’re serious about writing. Hand in hand with this realisation, is the fact that reading is highly subjective. What one person loves another will hate. What one person thinks is groundbreaking another will think is pretentious. What one person thinks is compelling another will think is dull. You’ve only got to read the Amazon reviews of your favourite book to see that there are loads of people who think it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. With this in mind, face rejection full on. A bit of talent, a lots of hard work and a smidgen of luck and you’ve got every chance of making it.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

Seeing your book in a bookshop, hearing from a reader and being told that your book has affected them in some way, and being part of a vibrant, supportive community of other writers are the good bits. The bad bits? The self-doubt that sometimes feels like it’s going to choke you, the almost constant fight against distraction, and the lack of a Christmas office party.

Can you tell us anything about your next project?

It’s set in Cornwall, where my mother is from and where my grandmother still lives. It tells the story of a woman who discovers the people she grew up with aren’t her real parents, and who struggles to battle the tragic truth of her past, and the difficulties of identifying with her new life. 

You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you never been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?

Erm…OK. 

So, Amanda, if you had to be a superhero, what would you be called and what would your magic powers be?

Well, Janet, that’s a very unusual question, nobody’s ever asked me that before! I would be called Empathio. I would be able to fly (obvs) and I would have the power to make people feel the pain they are causing in another person or other people. I would just have to look at them with my laser eyes and if they were saying or doing something unkind they would feel the hurt they are causing. After I’ve lasered them they would be left with the gift of empathy. I think empathy is a very underrated human characteristic. I would also be able to turn broccoli into chocolate without it losing any of its valuable nutrients… 

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No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary – Review

Headline

Publication date : 23 April 2015 (Trade Paperback and ebook) 30 July 2015 (Paperback)

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“From the Richard and Judy bestselling author Sarah Hilary. The phenomenal Marnie Rome returns in the outstanding follow up to the critically acclaimed SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN.

Two young boys.

Trapped underground in a bunker.

Unable to understand why they are there.

Desperate for someone to find them.

Slowly realising that no-one will…

Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…”

4.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author and this is my honest opinion of the book.Two little boys. Scared. Alone. Trapped in an underground bunker. Aware somehow that no one is coming to help them. Five years later their underground tomb is found and it’s horrors unearthed. Marnie Rome and her team are on the hunt for the truth. Who are the boys? Who put them in the bunker? And why haven’t they been reported as missing?

The first four pages of this book set the tone for the rest of the novel. Dark, emotionally challenging, unnerving, rage inducing and moving. In just a few hundred words Sarah Hilary draws the reader in, willing Rome to find out what happened to those boys all those years ago.

No Other Darkness has all the elements of Someone Else’s Skin that I loved. Rome and her team are fantastic characters, each one has their role in the story, none steal unnecessary page space and it was a joy to see their characters develop. In particular I loved seeing more of the relationship between Rome and Ed and Noah Jake and his brother Sol. Further details of Marne’s past were revealed, rounding out her character and the running story arc Stephen Keele and Marnie’s parents is slowly developing.

It is always hard to write a review that says something without giving the game away. The same goes here, even more so in that this is novel is so original in its content. No Other Darkness deals with a topic that I have not seen in crime fiction before. It is necessarily shocking but never dealt with gratuitously. It will move you, dealing with a little known and difficult topic with care and respect and turning the idea of right and wrong on its head.

Sarah Hilary is fast becoming one of my favourite crime authors. Her books are joining those by Jonathan Kellerman and Donna Leon as ones where the wait for the next seems interminable and is always eagerly anticipated. With Someone Else’s Skin she set out her stall as a rising star in crime fiction. With No Other Darkness she firmly fixes herself in the crime writing firmament.

I absolutely adored Someone Else’s Skin and was worried when I started No Other Darkness that it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. I needn’t have worried. No Other Darkness is an outstanding novel. If you love crime novels you will love this. If you don’t, try it, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now comes the hard part. Having to wait for book three….

 

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The Tricks Behind Bryant and May – Guest Post by Christopher Fowler

Today I’m pleased to welcome Christopher Fowler, author of the award-winning Bryant and May series to the blog. Here Christopher talks about the puzzles, jokes and references hidden in his Bryant and May series.

The Tricks Behind Bryant & May

Christopher Fowler

Mystery authors can be tricksters; some of us like to hide puzzles, jokes and references inside our books – we can’t resist it. Musicians do it all the time, and I’ve been doing it for years in the Bryant & May books. The most obvious joke is the names of the detectives, which were taken from a matchbox (this will be made more explicit in an upcoming volume of Bryant & May short stories exploring their lost cases).

A number of characters came from my love of old forgotten British comedies. Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright is clearly an amalgam of several policewomen. I couldn’t take any characteristics from the best one, the long-suffering Ruby Gates, played by Joyce Grenfell in the original St Trinian’s films, because they didn’t suit her character. In one of the films Gates, who is in love with her sergeant, gets hauled over the coals for missing a police broadcast after he finds that the channel was tuned to one playing romantic music. Her response; ‘Oh Sammy, you used to call me your little blue-lamp baby.’ This is only funny if you can picture her.

Instead I borrowed a little from Eleanor Summerfield’s character in the Norman Wisdom film ‘On The Beat’, wherein the sergeant has to avoid suspicion during her investigation of a hairdresser’s by repeatedly having her hair done under the name of Lucinda Wilkins. As the film progresses, she ends up with such strange hairdos that the other officers all stare at her. Here she is meeting gangland boss-cum-hairdresser Wisdom for the first time.

There are also bits of Diana Dors, Liz Fraser, Sabrina and other pin-up models from the 1950s, but to this I’ve added the toughness of a Googie Withers in ‘It Always Rains On Sunday’ and Barbara Windsor in ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’. The first film is explicitly mentioned in one of the PCU bulletins that always start off the novels.

Arthur Bryant’s run-ins with his doctor are parodies of Galton & Simpson’s work with Tony Hancock, and with a scene from ‘On The Beat’ in which Norman Wisdom sings an eye-chart. Bryant’s landlady started out as an Antiguan version of Irene Handl (whom I once spent an enjoyable afternoon with) in ‘The Rebel’. The name of Dame Maude Hackshaw, one of Maggie Armitage’s coven, is taken from a St Trinian’s film, as is the idea of the two Daves never leaving the PCU office.

‘The Victoria Vanishes’ is a direct homage to Edmund Crispin’s ‘The Moving Toyshop’, one of my favourite Golden Age mysteries. I’ve also broken the ‘fourth wall’ a few times in the style of Crispin.

One of my favourite movie puzzles is hidden in the swinging London film ‘Smashing Time'; if you put together all the character names in the film you get the first verse of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’. I’ve been trying to set something like that up for years. There are puns and character names hidden all over the place; things like this keep us sad blokes amused as we write.

“Why would I have picked forgotten B movies to take homages from instead of serious-minded British films? Because I like the peripheral pleasures of small films. These were the last series of home-grown movies made without Hollywood interference. Most aren’t terribly good but they have strange moments and quirky characters.

Artist Keith Page made some of these homages clearer in his drawings for the Bryant & May graphic novel, ‘The Casebook of Bryant & May’, packing his scenes with recognisable character actors.

There are other references to mysteries in the books, most notably to Robert Louis Stevenson and R Austin Freeman. Agatha Christie would have been a little too obvious, I felt. One day I might catalogue all of the jokes and puzzles tucked in the pages, but for now I’ll let you spot them if you can.

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About the book

The Burning Man is the latest in the Bryant and May series and is out now.

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“London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.
But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.
Using their network of eccentric contacts, elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May hunt down a murderer who adopts incendiary methods of execution. But they soon find their investigation taking an apocalyptic turn as the case comes to involve the history of mob rule, corruption, rebellion, punishment and the legend of Guy Fawkes.
At the same time, several members of the PCU team reach dramatic turning points in their lives – but the most personal tragedy is yet to come, for as the race to bring down a cunning killer reaches its climax, Arthur Bryant faces his own devastating day of reckoning.
‘I always said we’d go out with a hell of a bang,’ warns Bryant.”

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The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain – Review

Gallic Books

Publication date – 5 April 2015

Translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce

9781908313867

“Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street and feels impelled to return it to its owner.

The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet.

Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest review.

Laure is walking home one evening when her bag is stolen. Events take a turn for the worse and she is unable to do anything to track down her much loved possession.

Laurent is on his way to the local café the next morning when he sees a bag lying on top of rubbish bins. He makes a spur of the moment decision to save the bag and deliver it to the police station. Unable to do this, he opens the bag, hoping to discover the owner’s identity and return it to her. The only clue to the owner is her red notebook. Though it doesn’t contain her name, Laurent builds a picture of the notebook owner through her words and becomes determined to meet her in person.

I have previously read The President’s Hat by the same author and one of the things that I took away from that book was the author’s ability to weave a sense of magic into such a short space. The same is apparent in The Red Notebook.

This is a charming story of Laure and Laurent. I found myself routing for Laurent from the beginning. I just kept hoping that he would be seen as romantic and not as a stalker! He is very likeable character, well aware of his flaws but charming and kind. Laure too is a similar character and having met tragedy in her life, you want the happy ending for her too. The other characters that appear, fleetingly in some instances, all help drive the tale along.

I was easily transported to the streets of Paris. In fact this story made me want to revisit it even more. Part of the romance of the story comes from the city itself, giving the story a wonderfully warm feel.

Whilst short on words; there are approximately 200 pages, the story does not feel any less for it. It’s brevity in places was necessary and the flow of the novel felt just right.

There is mystery, romance and friendship running throughout this book. It was a lovely little read and one I will probably revisit again.

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Runaway – Peter May – Review

Quercus

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“In 1965, five teenage friends fled Glasgow for London to pursue their dream of musical stardom. Yet before year’s end three returned, and returned damaged.

In 2015, a brutal murder forces those three men, now in their sixties, to journey back to London and finally confront the dark truth they have run from for five decades.

Runaway is a crime novel covering fifty years of friendships solidified and severed, dreams shared and shattered and passions lit and extinguished; set against the backdrop of two unique and contrasting cities at two unique and contrasting periods of recent history.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Midas PR and this is my honest review.

Jack Mackay is contacted by an old school friend. He is dying and want’s Jack to help him travel to London to right a wrong from 50 years ago. From a time when Jack and his school friends ran away from home, headed to London with the hopes of making it big with their band. Returning home a few months later with 2 less friends, lives irrevocably changed and secrets to keep.

This is the first book by Peter May I have read though I was aware of his previous novels including The Lewis Trilogy. Runaway appealed as I liked the sound of the duel setting of 1965 and 2015. Here the characters seemed more real, the lessons of life having been taken on board. The 17 year old boys were to some extent just that. They appeared naïve, unaware of the reality that would meet them when they arrived in the capital, of the dangers of the world outside their own safe, and to their eyes, boring, world at home in Scotland. The character that came to the fore was Jack, the 1965 world is narrated by him and the 2015 world centred around him. To some extent therefore the other characters didn’t appear as well rounded. The development of Ricky, Jack’s grandson, was one thing I would have liked to see more of, especially as more came to light as to what had exactly happened in 1965.

I easily found myself transported to the 60s when the story came to those scenes. I could easily imagine the sites and sounds, the sense of freedom and opportunity that was present. However I did enjoy the 2015 story more and found myself rushing through the 60s scenes. To be fair to the author, I think this had more to do with my impatience that the story. I started the book knowing that something had happened when the runaways were in London, and that the return by the men they had become was to do with that. I just wanted to find out what had happened so we could see what would happen.

I enjoyed the final third of the book much more than the rest. I sped through the book, seeing how things slotted into place. This isn’t really a crime novel, though a crime has taken place, nor is it a mystery, though there is a mystery to ‘solve’. It’s more a story of self-discovery and righting of wrongs. I’ll be interested to read more by Peter May and will be adding the Lewis Trilogy books to my wishlist.

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The British Museum and Fantasy – D B Nielson – Guest Post

Keepers of Genesis, by DB Nielsen is a gripping new epic adventure series perfect for fans of Twilight and A Discovery of Witches. A magical blend of romance, fantasy and fascinating ancient history, this captivating four-part series is already enthralling a legion of young adult readers and crossover fiction fans alike. As the second part, SCROLL publishes this week I am joined by the author Denise who tells us about her love of history, The British Museum and fantasy.

The British Museum and Fantasy by D B Nielsen

As the heroine of my novel, Sage Woods observes, history is often more fantastical than fiction – or fantasy for that matter. Perhaps it’s because history feeds our curiosity and wonder – that we can discover much about the human condition whereby, to know ourselves, we need to understand our past, and at the end of our journey, we learn that all human stories are about love and mortality. 

Perhaps this is why so many Hollywood movies are based on the mystery and mysticism of ancient artefacts and talismans, such as the popular series of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, The Mummy, the Night at the Museum (a new film instalment has just been released) and, of course, The Lord of the Rings (based on the bestselling novels). Some of these films have even featured landmark museums or archaeologists and historians adventuring all over the globe – which is probably why I love them so much (plus the fact that they often have mythical creatures such as dragons and elves).

My own novel begins with Sage at the British Museum as she discovers her extraordinary link to an ancient artefact that leads to the only undiscovered Wonder of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and to the origins of humankind. And whilst this particular artefact is based purely on fantasy, much of the novel shows the strong link between our mythology and history. So let me take you on a journey of the British Museum that will spark your imagination…

Filled with ancient artefacts, relics and mummies, the British Museum is a popular tourist destination, but it is here that Sage experiences her first paranormal incident. It’s no wonder too … the museum is a mysterious, spooky place where history, myth and legend reside within its walls. The lives of others make for interesting stories and, if you’re interested in history like I am, you can travel through time as you gaze upon the Rosetta Stone and statues of the Pharaohs, the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon, and the Viking ship found buried at the Sutton Hoo…

But if you follow Sage’s journey in the novel, the exhibits described in the museum can actually be viewed, such as the ‘cosmic map’ from ancient Mesopotamia. 

This ‘cosmic map’ explains the Babylonian view of the mythological world and is part of the mystery that surrounds Sage’s quest. In fact, this tablet isn’t much to look at – you might miss it if you’re in a rush as it is not much more than ten centimetres tall. But it does contain an interesting cuneiform inscription and a unique map of the Mesopotamian world and the places shown on the map are in approximately the correct positions. Despite giving relatively accurate positioning, it isn’t meant to be geographically accurate,  merely a representation of cosmic geography, a representation of a mythical world.

So what key does it hold to Sage’s future? If you’re interested in horoscopes, the Zodiac and astronomy, take a look at some of the exhibits at the British Museum, especially in the areas featuring artefacts from ancient Mesopotamia…

It is here that Sage first meets the young, enigmatic and alluring archaeologist (move over Indiana Jones), St. John Rivers. It is a meeting that will have surprising ramifications for Sage and, in turn, for humankind…

“It was because I was so transfixed with my find that I initially failed to notice that I was being scrutinized from across the room. The first I became aware of it was a prickling sensation down my back, the hairs on my neck and arms raised giving me goose bumps. I turned my head round nervously, looking back over my shoulder … He stood at a distance, a young man in his mid-twenties perhaps, taller than average. No mere accident of lighting, his slightly curly locks, the colour of polished brass, formed a halo around a face that was much too beautiful to be called handsome. The only way to describe him was golden.”

But that’s not all that’s featured at the British Museum. 

Sage’s twin sister, Saffron is obsessed with the legend of Tutankhamen’s Curse, the curse of the pharaohs. Of course, no such curse exists, right? But, here’s an interesting fact – in 2004, the British Museum undertook a unique project to unlock the secrets of a 3,000 year old mummy, a priest called Nesperennub, by performing a “virtual unwrapping” using cutting edge CT scanning technology and computer visualisation techniques. So was this part of the legend that spawned The Mummy and its High Priest Imhotep? Fact or fantasy?

Or perhaps if you journey through Rooms 40 and 41, which houses the artefacts from Anglo-Saxon England and one of my favourite exhibits, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, it may remind you of the legends of King Arthur and Merlin, and feel like you wandered onto the set of Game of Thrones.

So next time you venture into the British Museum, you may want to look a little closer … a little deeper… 

Who knows? You too may meet an angel or magician or vampire on a night at the museum with its curious blend of ancient and modern…

SCROLL: KEEPERS OF GENESIS II by DB Nielsen is published on 12th March http://www.dbnielsen.com @db_Nielsen

(All images are provided by DB Nielsen and have been used with her permission)

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Normal – Graeme Cameron – Review

Mira

Publication Date – 9 April 2015

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“””The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.””

He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal…and it works. Perfectly.

Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room…the others—he doesn’t need any of them anymore. He only needs her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem—he still has someone trapped in his garage.

Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.” (synopsis taken from US version)

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Our narrator could be anyone. The person you shared a lift with, or stood in line next to at the coffee shop. He has the same issues as you and me, bills to pay, chores to carry out. He has three women in his life; the one he’s just met; the one he saves on a dark night; and the one he has locked up in a cage in his basement. He was going along through life quite happily getting away with murder. His life was normal, it is anything but now.

This is a strange, chilling, intriguing book. The narrator is a nameless, faceless predator. He enjoys killing and disposing of women. Enjoys the hunt. Needs the power and the kill to still the feelings that threaten to overpower him. He is a loner. He is happy with this, until he kidnaps someone he can’t come to kill and falls in love with someone.

Two people may be given the same book to read but they never read the same story. Everyone interprets a book in their own way, picture a character in your mind and chances are you won’t be imagining the same person as another reader. Here, with Normal, that most certainly will occur. We aren’t told details about our narrator. And that is the point. He could be anyone. Killers don’t advertise their predilections. When caught, invariably the response by people is that ‘they appeared so normal’. Graeme Cameron has deliberately made his anti hero faceless and nameless. We don’t know his age, race or even his job. This makes it all the more real, and chilling.

This book isn’t for the faint hearted, there’s murder from the first page. But there is also humour. His relationship with the women bring some comedy and light-heartedness to the book. My particular favourite were the interactions with Erica. This is also a bittersweet tale. You want him to get caught, especially at the beginning. You want him to fall in love and give up his ‘hobby’, almost forgiving him his past if he promises never to do it again. You want him to be normal.

The anti-hero novel is appearing more and more and this is a great addition to the group. I’ll be interested to see what Graeme Cameron comes up with next.

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