Monthly Archives: September 2015

Killing Spree – Sandra Foy reviews A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride

The Killing Spree continues today as blogger Sandra Foy discusses her love of crime fiction and shares her review of A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride. My thanks go to Sandra for a great post. You can read more of her reviews at her blog readingwrites.

My love of crime/mystery books comes from an early age, when I first picked up an Enid Blyton, Secret Seven book. After reading the first one I devoured the rest. Then I rallied all the kids in the area to create our own Secret Seven Club (I was Pam) which landed us in a whole lot of trouble, but that’s another story. From there I went onto The famous Five who were, in my book, not a good as The Secret Seven, but kept me well entertained nevertheless.
Later, in my local library I discovered Sherlock Holmes, and The Hound of the Baskervilles remains a favourite to this day.
As a teenager I found the love of my life: Agatha Christie. I have read and re-read and re-re-read most of her books. Hercule Poirot, with all his little idiosyncrasies, is one of the greatest characters ever.
Nowadays I read a wide variety of crime/mystery novels; but particularly love Sharon Bolton, Stuart MacBride and Ian Rankin.
What I love about the crime/mystery genre is all of humankind is visible here. Crime is found in all walks of life and you meet every kind of character in crime novels
The crime novelist delves into the underbelly of the human psyche, trying to show how a criminal mind works, if that is possible. But more than that, it is the other characters, the ones who have to deal with crime, the ones who have to live with the fallout from crimes committed. It is fascinating, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, watching different characters trying to come to terms with what life has thrown at them.
One of my favourite crime novels is Song For The Dead by Stuart MacBride, it was the first Stuart MacBride book that I read and I loved it and have gone on to be a huge fan. Here is the review I wrote for it:
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A Song For The Dying
by Stuart MacBride

A heart-stopping crime thriller and the fourth consecutive No. 1 Bestseller from the author of the Logan McRae series and Birthdays for the Dead.

He’s back…

Eight years ago, ‘The Inside Man’ murdered four women and left three more in critical condition – all of them with their stomachs slit open and a plastic doll stitched inside.

And then the killer just … disappeared.

Ash Henderson was a Detective Inspector on the initial investigation, but a lot can change in eight years. His family has been destroyed, his career is in tatters, and one of Oldcastle’s most vicious criminals is making sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.

Now a nurse has turned up dead on a patch of waste ground, a plastic doll buried beneath her skin, and it looks as if Ash might finally get a shot at redemption. At earning his freedom.

At revenge.

I have not read any Stuart MacBride books before, I don’t quite know how I’ve managed that but there you have it. Also I didn’t realise that this was the second in a series; Birthdays for the Dead being the first. However, you don’t need to read them in order, this book works perfectly as a stand-alone.

D.I. Ash Henderson has been in prison for two years, framed for murder by a vicious gangster. He only gets released when Police Scotland needs his help in trying to catch a serial killer that got away from them eight years previously.

I have to say that although Ash Henderson is a hard-bitten, aggressive, violent man, whose answer to anyone who crosses him is to wrap the nearest object around their heads: I absolutely loved him. He just seemed so real. Having Alice, police psychologist, with him throughout was a masterstroke. She brings out a softer side in him, but it is just slightly softer, not sentimental. I can’t decide if he looks on Alice as his girlfriend or the daughter that he has lost. Whichever, he is very protective of her.

Alice herself we don’t really find out too much about her other than she is a psychcologist, she wears red shoes and she twiddles her hair a lot. I would love to see her further developed in future books if possible.

This book is packed with characters, some of them extremely unsavoury, these are not characters that you would want to meet on a dark night; nor in broad daylight come to that. Mrs Kerrigan, Ash’s nemesis, is utterly vile. William McFee, the preacher, whose God is straight out of the Old Testament, is not much better but he works so well. As do they all.

This is a grim book with lots of gruesome violence but there is still a lot of humour to be found and it is very well done. I particularly liked Ash’s internal dialogues.

Macbride has such a flair for language, his description of place and mood of setting are so effective, Scotland in all its hard-bitten granite glory just smacks you in the face.

I have never read a Stuart MacBride book before but I will certainly be rectifying that now.
*****

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Killing Spree – Anne Williams talks about Anna Jaquiery and her creation, Serge Morel

Killing Spree continues today with a guest post from Anne Williams. Here she talks about her love for the Serge Morel series written by Anna Jaquiery. I’ve read both of these books and have to say I agree with Anne, they really are excellent crime novels.

When Janet invited me to write something for her Killing Spree feature, I thought it might be good to talk about a series I’m enjoying. I’m not much of a crime fiction reader really – the Scandi crime sensation totally passed me by, and I do tend to lose interest when I take on a series. The only books I’ve stuck with are the MJ Arlidge books, Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series and the Roy Grace books from Peter James – that’s until I came across the quite wonderful writing of Anna Jaquiery.

There have been two books so far. the first being The Lying-Down Room, published in paperback by Pan in April 2015, but available in hardback and for Kindle a year earlier.

The crime itself was almost incidental to this gripping story, although highly original and well worked through.  What really made the book stand out for me was the characterisation, and the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the French settings through a stifling summer.  The central figure of Commandant Serge Morel is quite mesmerising, his professional and public life set against his solitary private life, his obsession with a former lover, sharing a house with his difficult and ailing father, involved in a relationship with a married woman.  He unwinds by making origami birds and animals – the design and building of an owl sustain him through the most testing parts of the investigation.  

I also loved his team: the feisty Lila, who has a forensic mind for detail but a more troubled personal life, is the perfect foil for Morel, and every other character (including his obnoxious superior Perrin and the sleazy pathologist Richard Martin) is equally well drawn. 

This wasn’t an edge of your seat thriller – its beauty was in the way the characters unfolded. The setting and atmosphere were wonderful – you sweat along with Morel as he sits in the Paris traffic in his cherry red Volvo without air conditioning, wait with him in his car as he stalks his ex-lover Mathilde, feel the awkwardness in his relationship with his father, walk with him and Lila as they enter the unfriendly bar in rural Brittany and feel the rough edges being removed by the cheap red wine. 

Anna Jaquiery writes quite superbly – this might be crime writing, but it’s also up there with the very best of literary fiction – and the world she creates totally absorbed me. When the publishers described it as “an evocative, gripping crime novel with an aching heart” they were absolutely spot on.

The second book, Death In The Rainy Season (published in hardback and for Kindle in April 2015, paperback to follow in April 2016) was quite a surprise. We’re not back in France this time, but in Cambodia – equally wonderfully brought to life and a perfect backdrop for another look at Serge Morel. It was quite fascinating to see him separated from his support network, seeking reconnection with his family, and working with the Cambodian police where very different political considerations come into play. 

I loved this book’s sense of place, but again equally loved the characterisation – I enjoyed the links with what was going on in France, and was so glad that Lila continued to feature because I find her almost as fascinating as Morel himself (almost… but not quite). Morel himself is as mesmerising as ever, but there is a wonderful supporting cast too – a cast of complex and multi-layered characters we get to know intimately as Morel digs beneath the surface to resolve the mystery. The whole book is perfectly paced – totally impossible to put down – and the writing is quite beautiful.  

I have absolutely no patience, and although it’s far too early to share plans for publication of the third book in the series, I was quite delighted when Anna agreed to tell me a little about it:

“In the third book, Commandant Serge Morel takes on an investigation into two deaths on a housing estate, in a troubled suburb north of Paris. Villeneuve is only a short commute from the French capital, but it’s another world. Morel is outside of his comfort zone, and increasingly so as riots break out on the estate following news of the two deaths.

Meanwhile, at home, Morel can no longer ignore the fact that his father’s health is deteriorating and that he needs help.

I wanted to write about what it means to be a North African migrant in France, and to grow up in a place like Villeneuve, where people have to contend with high crime rates, a lack of jobs, and a sense of alienation. The main character in my book, aside from Morel, is a young girl of Algerian descent. It was challenging writing from her perspective, but also one of the most exciting aspects of writing this book.”

Thanks to Anna, and I can’t wait – do try this excellent series if you haven’t already discovered it…

You can see more of Anne’s reviews over at her blog Being Anne.

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Killer by Jonathan Kellerman – Review

Published by Headline

Publication date – 25 September 2014

Source – own copy

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“In this thrilling story from No. 1 bestseller Jonathan Kellerman, psychologist sleuth Alex Delaware becomes the target of a vengeful killer while a baby goes missing.

Well used to elevated emotions, psychologist Alex Delaware shrugs off a joking death threat from beautiful Beverly Hills physician Constance Sykes, whose attempt to secure legal custody of her baby niece is thwarted by Alex’s forthright report to the court. Alex plays down the threat until LAPD’s Milo Sturgis rushes to his side with the shocking word on the street that a hit’s been taken out on him.

But while Alex may be in grave danger, it won’t be from the Beverley Hills doctor, for Connie is soon discovered brutally slain. When her sister Cherie and the baby disappear, apparently on the run, Alex’s search for answers leads him to aged rockers, charming homeboys and even Machiavellian judges.

As the darkest of secrets are peel away, and a cruel system churns through family lives, Alex seeks to stop a vicious killer and save a child from a life of nightmares . . . or worse.”

4 of 5 stars

When he’s not solving murders with his old friend Milo Sturgis, Alex Delaware is a child pyscologist working on a variety of cases, include court referrals. One such referral involves a custody battle between two sisters. Instructed by the court, with only the child’s best interests in mind, Alex advises the court to resolve the case in the favour of the child’s mother. Connie Sykes, the child’s aunt, is not used to loosing. She threats Alex, who believes this is an idle threat. When a former client, and highly placed gang member, prevents a hit being carried out Alex being carried out, he is shaken to the core. When Connie is murdered and her sister Cherie and the baby disappear, Alex realises there is more at stake than his life.

The Alex Delaware series is now well established with Jonathan Kellerman having written over 20 novels featuring the child psychologist and his detective friend. His fan base is secure which can be a double edged sword. There are those loyal readers who will read any novel featuring Alex and co, who are aware of his back story and so need little information about the characters. But that means that those new to the novels may sometimes feel a little left out.

I fall into the former category but I am not blind to the little foibles Kellerman indulges himself in. Alex has perfected a form of narrative brevity that is peculiar to him. I have mentioned it before in other reviews of Kellerman’s novels. In earlier books this was either not present or not apparent, but Alex has a way of speaking that makes him seemingly use as few words as possible. It is a character quirk that I do not mind, in fact it is part of what makes Alex, Alex, insomuch as Milo’s appetite is nearly a character in its own right. It can whoever become irksome and make Alex seem more conceited perhaps than he is.

Another thing I noticed that I hadn’t really been aware of before was that after all these years of reading Dr Delaware tales I have no image in my head as to what he looks like. Most readers for each book they read create their own image of a character, based on the authors descriptions. Everyone obviously imagines a different person, and there is often good natured outcry if a person cast for a film or TV adaptation doesn’t fit the reader image. For all of Kellerman’s description of Milo, Robin, peripheral characters etc, all I take away from this book is an idea of the clothes Alex wore during the story. I can’t recall any description of him, though it may have been given in earlier books. Little is given away about his family, I couldn’t even tell you his age. When I imagine him, I picture Kellerman himself. Now this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book, but I could see a new reader to the series having issues regarding connecting with a character who can seem remote.

As for the story this time it was very engaging. I always find myself caught up in Alex and Milo’s world and enjoy getting lost in the pages of the story.

There were a variety of characters who were well drawn. Connie for example is particularly sinister, and the gang member who ‘aids’ Alex is particularly engaging. There is a palpable sense of urgency, given there is a missing child at stake. I had guessed the ending before the big reveal but there were enough twists and turns to ensure I was entertained along the way.

There tends to be only one Delaware book published each year so I try to wait as long as possible before I read so the wait for the next one isn’t too long. Luckily I managed to get a copy of the next book in the series, Motive, so I read that soon after I finished Killer. That way I didn’t have to say goodbye straight away to Alex and co.

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Killing Spree

Every day this week there will be different post all celebrating crime novels. There will be reviews and guest posts from fellow bloggers discussing such things as the appeal of crime novels and reading crime series. I’ll be reviewing the appropriately titled ‘Killer’ by Jonathan Kellerman and ‘A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody.

I love crime fiction. Although I like to read widely I would have to say that crime fiction makes up the majority of my reading. I love pitting my wits against the characters, and therefore to some extent against the authors, trying to see if I can work out ‘whodunit’ before the big reveal. And of course I love that slightly smug feeling when I do. I love standalone stories and I love series. There are a few authors whose books featuring returning characters I will have to read, a loyalty created over many years, or formed suddenly when I stumble across them and then devour a back catalogue. Whilst I have been introduced to a series by reading the latest book first, I am rather a pedant when it comes to reading a series in order. I feel as if I’ve walked into a story half way through, and on some occasions I find that an author assumes a reader will have read the other books so the previous storylines are given away. I like that attachments to characters can be formed, and that when a new book is released it is often like welcoming an old friend back from a long sojourn.

The great thing about crime fiction is that there really are enough variations to suit most readers. From ‘cosy’ mysteries based in small towns, with amateur detectives and few gory details, to hard-nosed detectives fighting their own demons, from almost horror-esque slaying to old-fashioned, genteel bumping off there is enough variety to ensure the appeal of crime fiction doesn’t waiver.

I hope you enjoy this week’s crime theme. And do let me know which crime fiction you like to turn to when you want to play armchair detective 🙂

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Louise Beech – Q&A

Today I’m very pleased to welcome Louise Beech to the blog. Louise’s debut novel, How to be Brave, was published by Orenda Books on 17th September. I’ve yet to read this book but Karen at Orenda has a talent for publishing fantastic pieces of fiction so I can’t wait to read it. My mum has read it though and thought it was wonderful. She even read it when she woke in the middle of the night 🙂

Louise kindly answered a few of my questions

1. Tell us a little about How to be Brave. 

It all began a few years ago when my ten-year-old daughter Katy, who has Type 1 Diabetes, began rejecting her life-saving injections.  It was a horrible and difficult time for all of us.  The only way I managed to get her to have them was by storytelling to distract her.  Especially when I told her the true story of my grandfather, a merchant seaman called Colin Armitage who survived fifty days lost at sea during the war.  I realised how powerful it was that storytelling saved her life – and this inspired How to be Brave, where a fictional mum tells her diabetic daughter this very story to help her.

2. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?  

This is actually a really hard one to answer.  I’d want to say to never give up, but I already knew that and I didn’t.  I absolutely knew that the only way to succeed was to not let the multiple rejections (oh, hundreds and hundreds) stop my dreams.  I was also a harsh editor all along which is a big part of the process.  I wish maybe I’d known how busy I would end up being and pre planned.  But no, you can’t.  You just can’t.  And it’s all just wonderful!  Wouldn’t change a thing. 

3. What is your writing process? Do you plan it all before you start or just sit and write? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I’m very strict with myself!  I write early in the day, wake up full of life and creativity and ideas.  I don’t plan, in the sense that I never write an outline.  I’d rather just set off, no map, and see where I go.  Like life.  I may have a loose ending place in mind, but it very rarely happens that exact way.  From starting the first line of How to be Brave (on 31st October 2013) to the last (14th April 2014) was six months.  But after that came more months of editing before I sent it out.  And then of course the many tweaks once I got my book deal. 

4. What sort of books do you like to read? Who are the authors you turn to for when you are stuck in a book slump for example? 

I love such a variety of books.  I adore historical novels, like Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I enjoy ones set in places I’ve not been to, like Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  But then I’ve also enjoyed crime books by Ruth Dugdall and Sophie Hannah – and also Cassandra Parkin and Amanda Jennings’ gorgeous indefinable works.

5. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

Ooooh, that’s a good question.  Let me think!  I love it when I’m asked what training/courses/qualifications I did/took to learn how to write and I have to admit that the answer is none.  I used to be embarrassed at my lack of education but now I’m proud.  I learned to write by doing it.  By loving it.  By reading lots.  Hope that inspires people a little.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions and for appearing on the blog.

About the book:

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“All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.

When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.”

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The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto – Review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date – 3 September 2015

Source – review copy

Translated by David Hackston

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“When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life.

Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves.

Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.

Chilling, disturbing and terrifyingly believable, The Defenceless is an extraordinary, vivid and gripping thriller by one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.”

3.5 of 5 stars

An old man has been found run over, seemingly an accident involving a young Hungarian au pair. Anna has been called in to investigate, given her common language with the suspect. Meanwhile her partner Esko is investigating an immigrant gang, who are trying to muscle in on Hell Angels drug dealing territory. It is only when a knife and a pool of blood is found that the two investigations begin to merge together.

Given the refugee crisis that has enveloped the world at the time of reading this story echoes what has been happening over Europe as those seeking help from persecution leave their homelands. This I think makes it even more hard hitting and poignant.

There is something inexplicably sad about this book. That sadness runs throughout the story, echoing almost the long nights of a Finnish winter. Part of the sadness comes from Anna and Esko, both having their own reasons for being sad and unsatisfied with life. The main darkness comes from the story of Sammy, the Afghan illegal immigrant. I will say no more about his involvement in the story for fear of spoiling the same.

Esko’s inherent racism was apparent in full force. Whilst it is part of his character and the racist language is necessary to some point to show his prejudices I did find it upsetting and the constant exposure to it was at times draining.

I would have liked to see more character development. There is a little of Anna and Esko’s separate histories hinted at, though little is revealed. I can see though that this is the author’s intention and that more will be revealed in future stories. There were some aspects of Anna I found contradictory, though this perhaps is a commentary on people as a whole. For example she is very aware of Esko’s alcoholism  but then promises herself she will go out and get drunk. It was good to see more of Anna’s relationship with her family emerge, and  her feelings regarding where she fits in life, where is ‘home’ were interesting reading.

I had commented in my review of The Hummingbird that for me the translation was obvious. By this I mean that I could tell I was reading a translation as some of the words used were colloquial to England. That was not the case with this book. The translation seemed to feel more true to the original, an assumption of course, but one that for me shows the signs of a good translation.

I was however drawn to the book. I wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened and why. The fact that I wanted to read on despite my deep loathing of Esko is an indicator of a good story-teller. Part of what drew me to the book was the location. I love the setting of this book. I found the social commentary on Finland, its cultures, values and views that were decpicted fascinating.  I will be looking out for more books by Kati Hiekkapelto, all the while hoping she perhaps makes Esko less of a racist, sexist dinosaur.

This isn’t easy reading. It is not a cosy crime drama. It is a thought-provoking, at times dark read, that is also a commentary on asylum seekers and those who decide who stays and who goes.

Whilst this is the second book in the Anna Fekete series you do not need to have read The Hummingbird, the first book, before reading The Defenceless. I’ll be keeping a look out for book three.

 

 

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Clare Carson – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Clare Carson to the blog. Clare’s debut novel, Orkney Twilight, is published by Head of Zeus on 17 September 2015.

Clare has kindly answered some of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Orkney Twilight. 

Orkney Twilight is a story narrated by Sam,  an eighteen year old political activist who  is better at playing board games than she is at relationships. Sam wants to find out about her father, Jim, an undercover cop. She has grown up knowing that he has a secret job, and witnessing some of his activities. He has always told her stories and made jokes to explain what he is doing but she decides she wants to dig up the truth beneath the fictions. She sets off on a holiday to Orkney with Jim and her friend Tom, a trainee journalist, and she starts digging.

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book? 

When I was a child, my father worked for a secret police unit that very few people knew about until a documentary revealed some of the details in 2002, two years after his death. I wanted to write a story about the strange absurdities of growing up in a family where private lives and secrets of the state are entwined. I set it in the Orkney Islands because I spent many childhood summer holidays there and I thought the wild landscape and ancient monuments were right for a mystery about hidden histories.

3. Orkney Twilight is your debut novel. What has surprised you most about the publishing process? 

I was surprised to be published! I hadn’t shown the manuscript to anybody before I emailed it to an agent. I pressed send, thought oh well that’s the last I’ll hear of that – and then I had a positive response. It took a while to sink in. And then I got a publishing contract and I was surprised and delighted about that too.

Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

I plan and then I write and I realize my plan is rubbish, but I keep going because at that point I think it’s better to write a terrible first draft than produce a good plan. I wrote the first novel while working and looking after children so the process was stretched out over three or four years. The time line for the second novel is much shorter – it will be about a year and a half from first line to publication.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

I am an anthropologist  and when I’m not writing I work in international development, mainly on human rights. I relax by watching the Great British Bake Off with my daughters. I also walk anywhere to get away from everything including my own niggling anxieties.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s more like a poem or a prayer than a novel. Beautifully bleak but, in the end, hopeful.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

What is that lovely song you are playing and do you always listen to music while you type?

Queen Bee by Taj Mahal and yes, I find music helps me concentrate.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

Thank you for asking.

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About the book:

“All families have secrets. But some have more secrets than others.

Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad.

On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk?

And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths?

As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems…

Set against the harsh beauty of the remote Scottish islands of Orkney, inspired by the author’s own childhood, this is a gripping first novel from an astonishing new talent.”

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James Craig – Q&A

Today I’m very pleased to welcome author James Craig to the blog. James is the author of the best selling Inspector Carlyle series. His new series featuring Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher is published by Fahrenheit Press on 10th September 2015.

Tell us a little about A Slow Death.

It’s a year after the fall of the Wall. Berlin is a city in flux and on edge. Political conflict and criminal activity go hand in hand. Max Drescher is a Kriminalinspektor in the Criminal Investigation Divisions. He has to try a deal with a particularly heinous crime – the massacre of an entire family – while beset by a series of problems of his own.

Your previous novels featured Inspector John Carlyle.  Your new book introduces Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher. Was there any fear in departing from ‘what you know’ and starting a new character? What inspired the new series?

Berlin came first. 

I am a huge fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels and I had wanted to write a story based in Berlin for a long time. Bernie operates in the time of the Nazi regime – a brilliant scenario when you think about it; how can you be a cop when the criminals are the ones so obviously in charge. 

Then came the Wall. Of course I had to find my own time frame. In some ways, the 70s seemed the mirror to the 1930s, with a society struggling to deal with the aftershocks of Nazism. Then I realised the Berlin wall could bookend a series brilliantly, going up in ’61 and going down in ’89, that gave me a 30-year timeframe in which to set a new series. 

Whilst A Slow Death is the first in the Drescher series it actually features his last case. Future books will trace his story back to pre-unification Berlin in the 1970s. Why did you decide to follow this unusual path?

First there was Berlin. Then there was the Wall. Then there was Max. 

Like all good characters, Max seems to grow organically from the page. It was only as I got into A Slow Death and his backstory began to emerge that I began to sketch out the ‘hooks’ for each book. Once I had the chronology in my head, I decided to tell his tale backwards.

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?

Definitely. It makes it easier if you are staring at that blank Page 1 and thinking urrgh. At least you’re not completely starting from scratch.

Beyond that, however, you want to spend time with the same characters. In some ways, I have more time for Max – knackered, heartbroken old Max – than I do for that grumpy sod Inspector Carlyle. In both cases, however, there is a deep well of affection you want to come coming back to them, if only to see what the silly sods are up to now.

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?

I read crime fiction, as you would expect. As I mentioned, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are always top of my list. 

I’m currently reading Don Winslow’s Cartel, the follow up to The Power of the Dog, which is insanely good.

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?

That is a great question, surprisingly tricky to answer.

I guess the question I wouldn’t mind would be Would you like a high six figure advance for your next masterpiece?

You know what the answer would be.

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A Slow Death is available to purchase now from Amazon

 

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By Its Cover by Donna Leon – Review

Published by Arrow Publishing

Publication date – 12 March 2015

Source – own copy

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“By Its Cover is the much anticipated twenty-third instalment in Donna Leon’s bestselling crime series, where Commissario Brunetti is better than ever as he addresses questions of worth and value alongside his ever-faithful team of Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra.

When several valuable antiquarian books go missing from a prestigious library in the heart of Venice, Commissario Brunetti is immediately called to the scene. The staff suspect an American researcher has stolen them, but for Brunetti something doesn’t quite add up.

Taking on the case, the Commissario begins to seek information about some of the library’s regulars, such as the ex-priest Franchini, a passionate reader of ancient Christian literature, and Contessa Morosini-Albani, the library’s chief donor, and comes to the conclusion that the thief could not have acted alone.

However, when Franchini is found murdered in his home, the case takes a more sinister turn and soon Brunetti finds himself submerged in the dark secrets of the black market of antiquarian books. Alongside his ever-faithful team of Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra, he delves into the pages of Franchini’s past and into the mind of a book thief in order to uncover the terrible truth.”

3.5 of 5 stars

Commissario Guido Brunetti is called to a library in Venice. Someone has been stealing valuable books. Even worse, pages have been taken from others, leaving the remaining tomes worthless. Brunetti believes that something other than petty theft and vandalism is involved. His investigation takes him into Venice high society and leads him to a former priest who frequents the library. When he is murdered the investigation takes a deeper turn.

I’m a long time Donna Leon fan. Reading her latest book is like going home. I wallow in the comfort of being surrounded by familiar characters, watching them develop over the years. In fact her books for me are as much about these characters as they are about the crime being investigated.

As always Venice is itself an integral character in the book. I could imagine myself wandering the Calles and canals of the ancient city. I am always easily transported by Donna Leon to this beautiful part of Italy and her love for the city shines through the book as it does in all the others in the series.

Also a word of advice. Don’t read this book if you are hungry. The description of the meals eaten  by the Brunetti clan are enough to make your mouth water.

The story itself was interesting. I had worked out what had happened and who was the culprit before the reveal but this did not spoil my enjoyment. There have been other readers who have commented on the abrupt ending. However I find that Donna Leon’s books rarely have that neat finish to them that most crime novels contain. This would normally irritate me as I prefer finality in a novel, or to know that the story is to continue. With Brunetti I know I should not expect such a tying up of loose ends. Indeed there have been stories in the past where Brunetti has been unable to do as he would like due to bureaucracy or other external forces and I suppose this is more true to life.

I am looking forward to reading the 24th book in the Brunetti series, Falling in Love, as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

 

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Five Mistakes I’ve Made by Colette McBeth – Guest Post

Today I’m very pleased to welcome Colette McBeth to the blog. Colette is the author of Precious Thing and her latest novel, The Life I Left Behind was published in paperback by Headline Review on 13 August 2015

Colette has written a fabulous guest post on the five writing mistakes she has made.

Five mistakes I’ve made. 

I could fill a book with the mistakes I have made and continue to make but the top five, in order of severity, are as follows.

1. Trying to write good words.

I don’t set out to write bad words, but it so happens that I write a lot of them. Hopefully you won’t agree, because by the time my books are published the pages should be rinsed clean of them. But the first drafts? They’re a car crash. It took me a while to realise that this doesn’t matter. No one – and I mean no one- is going to see my first draft. More to the point, it’s only by freeing myself up to write rubbish that I can refine and redraft and polish. First drafts should be about the story, not the words. 

2. Panicking 

Every author I know panics. We all think our work in progress is terrible, and the next book will be a marvel. We are consumed by self doubt, that our editor, agent, mother, the man who sits opposite us on the Tube, will laugh at our pitiful efforts at storytelling.  Mostly we panic because it’s not going well, but if it’s going smoothly, that’s a cause for panic too, because nothing good should come easy. I spent a whole year in a state of panic and wrote a lot of words I really shouldn’t have bothered to write.  Then I threw them all away and panicked some more because my deadline was looming. A certain amount of self-doubt is good, but I know that wallowing in it will get me nowhere.

3. Being dishonest

What I’m talking about here is the kind of writing that isn’t honest. When I started out, I began writing the way I thought I should write. But that wasn’t me. The only person that can write like me is me.  There’s no point trying to be someone I’m not. Readers can sniff a fake a mile off. In my second book I tried to be a lot braver and bolder.  Yes, I was consumed with panic (see above) but I was happier with the end result.

4. Reading reviews…

Or more specifically, reading bad reviews and letting them get me down. This is a tricky one because I do read reviews and yes, they get me down. My books are my babies and when I send them out into the world I want everyone to remark on what works of genius they are. When they don’t, it stings. The one star reviews tend to be the funniest and easiest to brush off. The ones that hurt are the three stars because they often hit upon an issue I wrestled with while writing the novel. But they can be constructive so I’ve made a point not to sulk and take something positive from them instead.

5. Social Media.  

This isn’t strictly writing related but…my god I could be much more productive if I didn’t have it. Or, if I just had a healthier relationship with it. Social media is my chat in the office, and anyone who knows me will tell you I can talk a lot. I’ve met other authors on Twitter and bloggers too. I could chat on there all day. Sometimes I struggle to write three sentences without checking my notifications. My concentration is shot. I know there is Mac Freedom – tried that thank you- but what I really need is a detox. Or a complete personality change. I need to stop talking and focus.

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Former BBC correspondent Colette McBeth is the author of Precious Thing, and this year’s The Life I Left Behind, as well as a member of Killer Women.

About the Book

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“Everyone tells her she’s a survivor. No-one knows she’s dead inside. You know those books you feel jealous of everyone reading? This is one of those those. Read it. Savour it. Talk about it. Share it.

She’s dead but she’s the only one who knows what really happened;

What your friends have said.

What the police missed.

Who attacked you.

So if you want the truth who else are you going to turn to?”

You can read my review of The Mistake I Made here (spoiler – I thought it was a terrific read).

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