Monthly Archives: March 2015

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary – Review

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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 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

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“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

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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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The Journey to Publication – Helen Giltrow – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Helen Giltrow to the blog. Helen’s novel, The Distance, out now in paperback and will be reviewed here soon.

Today Helen talks about the journey to publication.

Tell us about your journey to publication. When did you start writing?

I started young. I’ve still got the first book I wrote, when I was six. By my teens I was writing full-length novels. I even sent one to a publisher – I got rejected but the editor wrote me an encouraging letter, suggesting I submit it elsewhere.

And did you?

No – which in retrospect was crazy. But I did keep writing. 

In my twenties and early thirties I worked in educational publishing, but the more my career took off, the less time I had to write. Finally I thought, ‘If I don’t have a proper crack at this now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.’ I’d had an idea for a book that really intrigued me, and I’d got some money saved, so I decided to take a year off to write it. I entered the opening for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and quit my job. But half an hour before my leaving party, I got a call to say my elderly dad – whose behaviour had become increasingly erratic – had run away from home. He was found a few hours later. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s followed, Mum (also elderly) decided she wanted to look after him at home, and all my plans changed overnight. 

I made the Debut Dagger shortlist. Stephen King’s editor Philippa Pride was on the judging panel that year and she wrote to me, asking to see the manuscript. But by then I’d put the book aside.

How long was it before you got back to writing?

I worked on the book in short bursts when I could, but for years one crisis seemed to follow another, and there were long stretches in which I didn’t touch it. I didn’t hit clear water again until early 2009. The first thing I did was dig out what I’d written. As you’d expect from that sort of writing process, it was all over the place. But I still loved the story and I thought I could make it work.

When did you finish the novel?

October 2011. I sent it out to three agents during November, and two of them asked for meetings. One of them was Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton. She hit me with a whole heap of comments, but I really liked her, and I liked the way she was pushing me to make the book better. I spent a few months reworking the manuscript, then Judith sent it out to publishers. But secretly I felt it still wasn’t quite right. I thought nothing much would happen.

We got the first offer a week later. By the middle of the next week, six editors had asked to bid – two of those were within the same publishing house, so one had to drop out, which left us with a five-way auction. I couldn’t believe it. 

How did you decide which publisher to go with?

I spent three days going from meeting to meeting, with a heavy cold, dosed up to the eyeballs and trying not to cough all over everyone! Bill Massey at Orion was the last editor I met, and within twenty minutes I knew I wanted to work with him. He saw the book exactly as I did – problems and all. And he made me laugh. 

Shortly afterwards I signed up with US and Canadian publishers too. So now I had three sets of comments coming in.

Was that difficult to deal with?

The hardest part was the waiting. Two sets of comments arrived in early May … then nothing. I tried to work on revisions in the interim, but I found I was looking over my shoulder all the time – what if the last editor saw the book in a completely different way? 

Ten more weeks passed before the last set of comments came in, but at last I could start serious work on the edits. There was one particular issue that took a lot of unravelling – one plot point I’d put in almost without thinking, but which caused a host of problems down the line. Eventually I realised I’d have to take it out completely. It meant big changes, but once I’d done it, everything else fell into place.

You’ve worked as an editor yourself. Did anything about your journey to publication surprise you?

Loads of things! Educational publishing is a world away from trade fiction. And even where the basic processes are the same, as an author you’re coming to them from a completely different angle. For the first time, it’s your book you’re talking about. That makes a world of difference.

So what’s next?

A sequel. There’s been talk of a TV adaptation too. After that – who knows?

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About the book:

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“They don’t call her Karla any more. She’s Charlotte Alton: she doesn’t trade in secrets, she doesn’t erase dark pasts, and she doesn’t break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she’s been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn’t officially there. It’s a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up.

So why can’t she say no?”

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